Walked out of work today into a Tianjin dirt storm. That’s what you get for being downwind from the desert and powering the place with coal. Dust and garbage and branches were blowing everywhere, even way up between the highrises. Me and a co-worker clawed forward on our bikes straight into the wind, trying not to look straight ahead. I saw, but just barely because my eyes were squeezed almost completely shut in an effort to keep out the dirt but not the taxis and buses, a recyclables collector coming towards us on a loaded three-wheel pedal cart. I was phoning Jessica to make sure she shut the windows when a cardboard box flew off and hit me in the shoulder! Bang! Just like that! On my bike! In mid-sentence! “I can’t believe it!” I yelled. “I just got hit by a box!” But she couldn’t hear me because she was out in the wind/dirt, too.
On the way I stopped to get dumplings at a place where they had a loud, one-legged cricket named Hu Jintao (after China’s president — they thought that was pretty funny). After a whole conversation in Chinese — the standard: Where are you from? How much do you make? How much is your rent? (never: What’s you name?) — the cook still felt the need to mime putting the vinegar and hot peppers and garlic in the plastic bag for me. Similar thing happened when registering with the local police: one of the officers was suddenly surprised when we laughed at something she said to her co-worker (“Oh, they can understand!”) even though we’d already been chatting for half an hour!
I’ve kept my beard so far. The students think I’m from the Middle East and people keep asking if I’m a Moo-sa-leem — even the Muslims, who won’t allow a ham sandwich in their BBQ’d sheep-on-a-stick restaurant but they sure sell buckets of beer every night. An online acquaintance in Xinjiang, where most of Tianjin’s Muslims come from, managed to get an e-mail out to me today saying that the internet is still shut off along with international phone service.
Group bathhouse trip this weekend!