personal note: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is too expensive to order one from USA Amazon. Read it and share it with those you care and love. Peace, steve, usa, June 18, 2019 email@example.com https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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It had snowed steadily on Sunday the day before I was to leave Nanchang for my next stop of my long journey. This time to Wenzhou. At first, Jady was concerned if the snow was heavy, he might have to ask someone to take me to the train station. He did not feel comfortable driving on roads covered with snow, especially on black ice.
To all motorists or drivers, winter driving can be hazardous not only to your body and life, but your car insurance. Why? Because winter driving is not only about snow. Black ice on the road is a real threat, because it forms most commonly at night or in the early morning when the temperatures are at their lowest—snow forms when the atmospheric temperature is at or below freezing (0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit). And Nanchang was unusually cold the few days I was there, especially when there is no sun to warm or heat up the roads. Or on roads that have little to no traffic. And I completely sympathized with Jady. He was a new driver with a new VW car. He might have limited or no experience at all driving on black ice.
For years during winters in America, we were always warned or told that black ice forms readily on bridges, overpasses and the roads beneath the overpasses, because the cold air is able to cool both the top and under the bridge or overpass, bringing about faster freezing. I had to cross one particular bridge near my house everyday and I learned the lesson fast and quick because whenever I crossed it I felt very nervous driving on a slippery road. So what exactly is black ice? It is a thin coating of glazed ice on surfaces of roads, sidewalks and driveways because of light freezing rain or because of melting and re-freezing of snow, water, or ice. The ice is not black but it allows the often black road below it to be seen through it. It is dangerous precisely because it’s hard to detect and practically invisible to our naked eyes.
There is a risk of skidding because of the way we use our brakes to slow our car or because of the unexpected loss of traction of your car tires, like walking on very slippery pavement wearing a worn-out pair of old shoes with very little sole left. So how would I know the likelihood of black ice ahead of me? You can be sure of one thing when you are driving on black ice: more than likely you would see a car in front of you suddenly swerve for no apparent reason, like a car out of control and you can blame it on black ice. It happened many times in my driving in America. So how can you prepare to drive on black ice? In America, I was told to practice driving on slippery surfaces. And there are many open spaces near where I now live. So I could practice driving on ice in a safe surrounding near my house on a snowy day in winters. Or go to a large empty parking lot—and there are many in America—with lots of ice
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on it. I learned how to drive on snow and ice; to see how the car behaves when and how you apply your brakes. Maybe there are driving schools in China—especially for those living in northern China—teaching both new and veteran drivers on how to drive on snow or black ice. Prevention is best the medicine.
From my experiences, I believe the most difficult part is how to remain calm and avoid overacting when you are on black ice. I was taught the general rule: do as little as possible and allow your car to pass over it. Here are a few things to know when driving on black ice:
Avoid hitting the brakes
Keep the steering wheel straight
Make a gentle turn of the steering wheel in the same direction if the back end of your car slides left or right
Steer in the opposite direction, and you risk skidding or spinning out of control
Allow the car to slide over the ice in the direction the steering wheel is facing
Slowing down will give you better control of your car
Shifting into a low gear will also give you more control
Avoid the brakes, and you avoid the skid
Steer the car in the direction you want to go
Go to areas that have more traction, away from the black ice, whenever and wherever possible
In all my years of driving in America, I had only one serious and almost deadly encounter with the black ice. I was driving a small British MG convertible on a major highway to visit a friend one cold winter day. I should have stayed home. But I refused to listen to my small voice inside me. I risked my life driving on a snowy day. I was nervous on black ice. That was no good for my confidence level. I applied my brakes suddenly thinking that would stop my car from swerving and skidding further but it ended up going off the highway. I was so nervous thinking cars behind me would crash into my small car, like a flimsy toy in the hands of a small child. Or like a leaf blown by a strong wind. A feeling of hopelessness took control of me. I could not control the small convertible I was driving. Because I had not learned how to use my brakes correctly and how to steer my car in the direction I wanted to go. Lack of experience almost killed me that day. Luckily, the embankment was gradual, not steep, covered with snowed grass. I was so fortunate because there was no traffic at that moment, a windy cold snowy day, and I was able to steer my car back to the highway and continued my journey and slowly regained my sanity and certain confidence and calmness. I guess it was not my time to die.
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The danger of driving on black ice is no different in China. Jady was worried if the snow should continue to fall Sunday evening. As it turned out, by evening, most snow had melted and disappeared except some dusting of snow powder on pavements, sidewalks, roofs, and on the grass. In fact, we went out to eat the same evening, my farewell dinner for the family. It has been my custom to invite the host family to a final meal in a restaurant of my choosing: my way of showing my appreciation for their hospitality, kindness and generosity. I once carelessly used my favorite American expression: my last supper. My Chinese host was very upset with me because my last supper could be understood or interpreted as a person’s last meal before death…like someone given his last favorite meal before being put to death in death penalty cases in America. I am an American and I am not a typical superstitious man in China. I just want a simple meal to thank my host. A simple restaurant in town, my choice.
It was a cold evening and the restaurant, just around the block from Jady’s apartment, was doing well with families there for dinner. I told Jady and his wife to order their favorite dishes. Usually a simple meal might include vegetables, meats, and soup and steamed rice. That simple. While waiting for the hot dishes to come to our table, I saw a few workers were putting together some dishes from the kitchen on a table to be delivered to a family in the neighborhood. They put on heavy rain coats and rubber boots and carried the prepared foods to a customer. They walked. Too cold for some people to go outside for an evening meal. It was cold and raining outside. We had a great meal. We were careful walking home on pavement covered with light powder of snow.
That night Jady decided it would be safe for him to drive me to the station. There was powdery snow on sidewalks and pavements. Snow had melted on the roads. There was no black ice the next morning. We had to be up early for the 7:07 AM ride to Wenzhou. The train was scheduled to arrive in Wenzhou around 12:59 PM. After a simple breakfast of hot milk tea and bread, we left the house quietly as not to wake up Eric and his mom. It was early in the morning and the traffic was light. A few cars were going in the same direction to the Nanchang train station. Checking in was easy because there were not many people at the station.
From Nanchang, the train was going east to Wenzhou, about six hours away. Along the way, especially going through smaller towns or villages, one ugly sight appeared again and again: it seemed people randomly threw their trash here and there and everywhere, especially on the outskirts of where they live and work. Most were not in trash bags. Just piles of garbage. It seemed so unplanned and random. I remember I told my students jokingly that if they could come up with some brilliant ideas on how to recycle the mountains of trash in their towns or villages where they came from,
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they would become very rich. I saw this near the campus where I spent seven years teaching.
Not far from the campus, one day a student and I were riding our bicycles to an area away from the campus. It was supposed to be an evening leisure ride but what we saw spoiled everything for us. This particular road would lead to famous seaside restaurants where everything fresh from the sea would be served. I had eaten at one of the restaurants. But along this stretch of road leading to the famous seaside restaurants, we saw trash on either side of this road. Garbage from local people. Or people dumping garbage from moving vehicles.
“You know, this is the problem not with the local people who are doing this,” I said, angrily. “I am convinced our local government is not doing enough to educate the people about how to dispose of their trash. So the roadsides become their dumpsters.”
“You are right. More and more people are moving to cities. And they are from rural areas in China. And they cannot continue to live like they are still in the country-sides,” the student said.
“That is the problem the government must face. Urbanization is encouraging more and more people to live in cities. It is the responsibility of the government to use the mass media, or TV, to educate people about sanitation and cleanliness. We cannot be throwing our household rubbish here and there, especially along the roadsides,” I added.
“Sooner or later, someone has to take care to remove all this rubbish. It is a bad publicity for the city or the local community. And we have many rich people coming out to eat at the seafood restaurants here,” he said.
I always believe in my heart, prevention is the best medicine. That means our Chinese government must do more, from the national to the local level, to educate our people about how to keep our environment from further degradation and pollution.
As the train was heading towards Wenzhou, I could not help thinking about what happened in a place near where I lived and worked. I had seen this random trash being thrown out the windows in places near new highrises, too. It seems to be everywhere in China, outside the major cosmopolitan or metropolitan cities. Beyond the boundaries of cities, I had seen trash everywhere. The government must do more to educate the new urban dwellers on how to keep the environment clean. There is enough pollution in the air and water. And now there is pollution on the land.
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I think of Eric and his generation to come. What kind of world will they inherit from us? What kind of world are we creating or leaving for posterity? I have been thinking about this since I came to China. Because I have seen too much trash everywhere I visited. In the end, more innocent people will die because of land, air, and water pollution, the direct inevitable consequences of economic progress in China and the deliberate neglect—for the last 35 years or so—by major industries and manufacturers. This is China. All of us humans are also responsible for the environment we are creating for ourselves, and for our children and for our children’s children. We can no longer continue to point our fingers at the major industries in China.
The world belongs to us all.
This is China.