“Ignorantly is how we all fall in love; for it is a kind of fall. Closing our eyes, we leap from that cliff in hope of a soft landing. Nor is it always soft; but still, without that leap nobody comes to life.” ~ Salman Rushdie
ZZ is affectionately how everyone here refers to my new city, Zhengzhou! Being American and of a particular age, ZZ conjures up bearded men playing guitars; hehehe! Not that there’s any comparison with Zhengzhou and ZZ Top, though there is comparatively great energy here for an ancient city that is full of people and living! It is here in this ancient, historic city, I am taking my first leap into living differently, into living my dream of working and living in a new culture, into understanding how others live everyday, and into becoming that bridge between cultures.
So, I arrived at Zhengzhou airport at 6:00 pm on Monday, August 15, 20016. I flew business class from Taipei on Mandarin Airlines, an affiliate to China Airlines, which I flew from San Francisco to Taipei. The aircraft was smaller and older than the one I flew on the first leg, though the ground crew and flight staff were equally stellar! I sat across the aisle from an elderly Chinese Muslim couple. They didn’t speak a word of English, but were delightful to engage as much as we could with one another. The flight was around three hours in duration, and though I was a bit tired, my anticipation at arriving in ZZ kept me from catching those zzzz’s, however, Ma Nature didn’t disappoint with the most incredible cumulus cloud display I have every seen! We flew at about twelve thousand feet and the apparent depth of the clouds was amazing. I kept thinking of my friends in South Asia with their drainage problems and likewise my friends back home in California suffering drought, since these clouds surely held some amazing amount of precipitation!
We must have circled Zhengzhou airport a couple of times and when we finally landed, my excitement and anticipation were at a peak! We disembarked quickly into one of the most massively big airports I have every been in! The one hundred plus passengers on my arrival plane were dwarfed in the wide open space of the gate area. As I got off the plane I had to stop at the ladies facilities and dontchaknow it was my first introduction to the traditional squatty potty! This is common in many parts of the world where the toilet is in the floor. I had myself a good giggle and thought it perfectly appropriate that here I am, straight off the plane and into my new way of life! Without too much detail here, all went well, and I was off on the moving walk way in the massive gate area on my way to baggage claim and customs.
My flight mates and I moved along through the gate area, up an escalator to a large area, much like the TSA check stations in the States, but wide open (not segmented or roped off as we’re mostly familiar with) and people fell into various lines, behind a yellow line on the floor, waiting to be called forward to the government official checking all passports and travel documents. For our viewing pleasure while waiting in line, there were videos overhead of the Chinese military doing good works around the country and a public service announcement to the young people to come and find their future in the military. I also noticed military lined up around the hall. This branch was in green fatigues, perhaps the Army. They weren’t wearing flak jackets and holding automatic weapons like I experienced in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, though I think the soldiers here at the airport had gun belts on. They seemed to be posted there and simply observing arrivals.
I had filled out my customs card on the plane, and as I was called to move forward across the yellow line, I wondered if I would be questioned about my intentions while in China, who my employer is, etc. The agent greeted me with a smile. There are cameras at chest level directed at my face and there is a bank of observers directly behind the agent in a separate glass enclosed room, I would guess reviewing those of us on camera. The agent was quite pleasant, smiled at me and welcomed me to China and to Zhengzhou! He asked me if this was my first visit to China and then also to Zhengzhou. He asked me what I was doing here, what sort of school I would be working at and then he stamped my passport and wished me a nice visit. My time in line and with the agent wasn’t any longer than any of the native people I observed passing through.
I moved forward to the baggage claim area, which was also a massive room with free luggage carts, and then the bags began to slide down onto the carousels. I lugged my very heavy bags off the carousel and made my way to the exit. Here the bags arranged on a conveyor belt and x-rayed. I again lugged my bags onto the luggage cart and then made my way to the greeting area, which was another doubly massive area and there was a hand written sign on bright purple paper “Susan Bradley ~ Welcome!” and two bright and happy faces there to greet me!
As I sat at the Taipei airport awaiting my connecting flight, I thought about how I was feeling and realized I felt peaceful and calm about this whole new adventure of mine. I had no sense of trepidation nor did I feel afraid of what was upcoming for me; I found I felt this next step, this traveling to unknown places, to be exactly what I am meant to be doing. I share this because as I greeted these two lovely ladies, Emma the Controller and Elsa one of the teaching assistance, we hugged and they shared how excited they were for my arrival. We took some photos, for which I must have looked a fright after over twenty hours of travel with possibly 6 hours of restless sleep sitting up! It was as we found our car and driver and were leaving the airport that Emma said she thought it was destiny that I was here with them and our company here in ZZ! This very moment in this car, the cool air from the from the car’s air conditioning cooling my very red cheeks, the conspiracy of the Universe, God’s plan for me, gave me a reassuring glimpse that I am in good hands here, and on my correct journey’s path here in ZZ!
As we drove from the airport it was around 7:00 pm; I’d actually made it to my final destination, through customs, baggage claim and was now traveling to my new apartment in what felt like record time, really! We chatted about the ZZ and I was pleased that I’d arrived before dark so I could see the city scape and to be able to gather a first impression of my new surroundings. The road from the airport is super wide with many lanes and a toll booth. It is a long highway, feeling almost like an extremely wide boulevard, new as well, and quite clean. The driver did a great job, and I realize the driving here in China is of a selfish nature, not defensive type driving that we learn in the States, but rather one of out of my freakin’ way, I have somewhere to be. So there are quick and deliberate lane changes, and it feels as though drivers are just looking for the next open space and it is those behind that are watching out, so to speak, as they are looking for the next open space as well, and so on and so on.
We approached downtown ZZ and the street is still quite wide and lined with big trees with high-rise businesses and apartments just on the other side… we drove past the Culture Business District. I asked whether ZZ had its own symphony and opera and the answer was yes to opera and that most Chinese love the classic opera and know all the tunes. There are many colorful lights on the buildings, big Chinese characters with the business names. A tall cone-shaped building pulls your attention to it, and first impression is that I’m entering a large modern city. As we exit the freeway and make our way to my apartment building, real life in ZZ begins to emerge… there are people on electric bikes (e-bikes like scooters) zipping in and out of traffic, again that sort of selfish, non defensive driving style, cutting in an out in front of us, loads of pedestrians and cars, too. The streets are set up with retail shops (apartments above) a deep side-walk full of parked e-bikes, a curb with cars and pedestrians, a metal fence of sorts and then two lanes of traffic and then the same repeated on the other side of the street. Traffic lights are universally red and green with left turn arrows, cross walks with curbs for handicapped or wheeled vehicles are at each corner, too. The e-bike riders are just zipping all over all the time as are pedestrians! Our driver, pulls up to my apartment and it takes the two of us to pull my bags from the trunk, and we three ladies make our way in to my apartment building.
The entry is large and looming, dimly lit with a security desk and four of the friendliest security people there, and the opposite side is lined with packages I’m told are goods ordered on-line and waiting for pick up by apartment dwellers. There are two banks of elevators, one going to the eighth floor and the other form the ninth to the fifteenth floors. The apartment building is separated by two sections, A and B. I reside in section B on the thirteenth floor. My space is small, maybe 800 sq. ft., with a small galley like tiled enclosed bathroom, with a nicely tile floor and kitchen opposite of it. These are on the outside wall of the apartment which is a glass wall looking into the city… this is the place I will set up my writing desk! The kitchen reminds me of an Ikea kitchen, modern cabinetry with soapstone counter top, no cook top though an over head hood. There is no gas in this apartment so cooking is done on an electric hot plate or something similar. My apartment has a small dorm sized fridge and a washer/dryer combo (nice and lucky to have this dual unit, I am told). My apartment has a reasonably sized closed with mirrored doors that reflect the light from that full wall of windows in the kitchen! I have a full-sized pedestal bed with two drawers and space to store my suitcase(s) as well as a lounging/fainting couch, side tables, and a couple of metal desks that I will use as areas to dress and do make-up and the other as a side table to house laundry supplies and possibly a cocktail area. I also have a wall mounted television. The walls are wallpapered in coordinating gray striped and floral paper, in fact the apartments colors are a conservative gray and white combo.
As is par for the course for me, my new living space requires my hand at cleaning, which writing this post, I took a break from doing! One of my new Chinese friends and I, had a good conversation about perspectives, specifically on what clean is. I learned that, interesting to me, Chinese people are typically focused on what they use, in other words at the surfaces they use, so the counters in my space were cleaned but, soffits and lights and corners of the floors, and walls in my space not so much and could use a good washing from my perspective (this whole thought of what is square in front of us, or what we use, being priority is every so true in what I can see as I get out n’ about here in ZZ, too). There were a couple of things in the apartment that required attention and correction and the team responded immediately to taking care of these things straight-away! My friend told me further, that they all just want me to be as comfortable as possible and that they were sorry these things needed addressing… they just saw things differently.
Awe, cheers to the first lesson, and reminder, for me in my new surroundings on how we all see the same things differently… an age-old lesson and reality the world over, to be sure, though my heart was touched with the expressions of love and support from new friends here in ZZ.