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March 28, 2004

The Pied Piper of Xue Tian Nan Yuan

As the weather warms, more Nantong ren (Nantong people) are outside, including in our neighborhood.

Our apartment development is called Xue Tian Nan Yuan, which more or less means Study Field South Garden. Today, I got my first haircut in China. (Actually, my first since I've moved here. Jim Kaplan will be happy to tell a funny story at my expense about my previous one.) I think I got ripped off, because the hair stylist told me the price was 10 yuan on my way in, but the boss collected 20 on my way out. When I complained, she said something I didn't understand, so I just went on my way. The haircut was good, but I'll probably try another barbershop next time. In China, as increasingly in the U.S., all barber shops appear to be unisex.

On my short walk home (this and half a dozen other barber shops are within a 5-minute walk from our apartment), a mother (Cheng Meijun) and her teenage son (Feng Jui) struck up a conversation with me. Then, a woman (Zhou Meirong) who runs a little cigarette, newspaper, and drink shop out of a garage in the building across from ours joined in, along with her daughter (Jing Wen) and niece (Zhou Chenxi). Jing Wen is 14, and Zhou Chenxi is about 10. Both parents hoped I would help their children study English.

Feng Jun's English is already a little better than my Chinese. He and his mother invited me to their apartment for a visit, and she insisted on cooking me an excellent vegetarian lunch. We chatted a little, and I played a game of xiangxi with the boy. (Close, but he won.) Incredibly, as a middle school student, he leaves for school at 7:00 am and returns home at 8:00 pm. I agreed to spend some time with him every Sunday afternoon.

Next, I returned to the outdoor bench in front of Zhou Meirong's little shop and spent the next hour and a half chatting with her, her daughter and niece, and several other relatives and friends who dropped by. Near the end, her nephew (Zhou Yuan) came home. Zhou Yuan, who has an American name -- Kevin -- speaks excellent English and is a second-year student at a college near Terry's. He accompanied the girls for a visit to my apartment, because I could see that the older one was a little nervous. I agreed to spend a little time on Sundays with Jing Wen and Zhou Chenxi. Eventually, I will try to merge them into a single "class" with Fen Jun. Although we don't have exactly common interests, I learn from speaking in Chinese with these youngsters. (The girls speak very little English.) Also, it gives me an opportunity to get better acquainted with their parents.

Life in Nantong is fun. It is really a great experience to be making local friends and improving my Chinese at the same time.

Posted by now at March 28, 2004 07:33 AM