Living in China. August 18-20, 2012. Killing Time

Saturday. August 18, 2012. Since most offices were closed today, Sea and I rented a car to visit the little crossroads where she was born. It is called Regiment 71, and is about a mile outside of Xinyuan. I assume it’s under the jurisdiction of the 71st police or army regiment, and that’s how it got its unusual name. We picked up her friend who still lived there and went to the cemetery to visit her father’s grave.


The cemetery as at the end on a very unmaintained gravel road. I thought most Chinese were cremated, but after a mile or so we came to the most unusual cemetery I’ve ever seem. The graves had 4-6 foot high stone markers standing in front of 4-6 foot high mounds of earth under which the people were buried. They looked like giant ant hills. There didn’t seem to be any order to the graves. There were no rows or sections, and the cemetery was completely unmaintained and grown over. Sea and her friend got out to look for the grave. The driver and I parked in some shade and stood outside. After about 30 minutes the girls emerged from the cemetery. They had been unable to find the grave.
Then we drove around 71 Regiment and looked at a couple of places where Sea had lived as a child, the place where her parents worked, her schools, etc. Everything was shut down and falling into ruin. Occasionally we’d pass by a small house that was still inhabited, usually by very old people. Most had a small garden and a few geese or chickens.

Let me backtrack a little. Early that morning I asked Sea what time we would be going on our excursion, so I could decide whether or not to take my pee pills. She didn’t know. It was up to her friend who would be sleeping in this holiday morning. So I took them at breakfast. Big mistake. No sooner than I took them, the friend called. In 15 minutes the car was at the hotel and we were off. The first time the car stopped so Sea could look at some ruin that was part of her childhood, I peeded. I peeded twice more at the cemetery.

Then I had to go again, and the driver stopped at an inhabited hovel and asked the old man who lived there if I could use his bathroom, which was a shallow hole in his outdoor garden. It was surrounded by Chinese cucumber plants and spinach. I guess the ground was very fertile. I thanked god I didn’t have to poop.

The concept of time seems to have a very different meaning to Chinese than to westerners. I don’t think I’ve ever asked Sea a question about time where I got a firm, or even approximate, answer. I have known Sea for nearly 5 years, and don’t think I’ve ever gotten a satisfactory answer to a question I’ve asked about time.

The main reason 71 Regiment was falling into ruins is that the government was building a nice new apartment complex for the few residents who remained. That, and because people like Sea got out. Anyway, it was in this new complex where Sea’s friend lived. After our sightseeing was over, we went there. It was nice, new, clean, and had modern conveniences like a western toilet, white tile floors, a large flat screen TV, and two burners in the kitchen. It didn’t have air conditioning or even a fan, so it was uncomfortably hot. At least to me.

There were four rows of four buildings, each was four floors high and looked exactly the same. There was a fifth row of four buildings under construction. My guess is each building had 40 apartments. Sea and her friend talked non-stop for 7-8 hours. The husband was in and out, mostly out. I amused myself on Sea’s iPad. The girls prepared a very nice dinner.

Later I asked Sea about the apartments. Who owned them, what was the rent/price, why were they in the middle of nowhere, etc. I don’t think she understood my questions, and I certainly didn’t understand her answers.

I was about to crawl out of my skin when we left about 21:30.

It was still dusk when we got home. I was so I suggested we get a couple of beers to take to the room to cool off. We did, but in typical Chinese fashion, the beers were warm even though they were in a cooler. The perfect ending to not so good day.
Sunday. August 19, 2012. Today and Monday are Muslim holidays. All government offices are closed. Sea got together with her friend again. They planned to visit old friends. I decided to stay at the hotel. Of course they didn’t know when they were leaving or when they’d be back.

 About 11:00 the friend showed up, and they were off. I told them if they were in the neighborhood to call me and we’d meet for lunch. Lunch time is about 14:00 and dinner is around 20:00 because it stays daylight so late. Stores and offices generally start opening around 10:00 because the morning comes so late. The breakfast buffet at the hotel doesn’t open until 9:00.

 There is a park across the street from the hotel, so I walked over there and spent a few minutes. It’s impossible to find any English language newspapers, so I got bored and headed home about noon. I decided to give the girls until 15:00 to call if they wanted to have lunch together. About 13:00 I walked to an ice cream stand where we had stopped a few days previously. It is outside under a tent on a very busy corner. I figured I’d do some people watching until 15:00. The owner was from 71 Regiment, like Sea, and of course he remembered me.

 The stand had 3 small tables, so I sat at one with 2 Chinese who seemed friendly, but no English. Every time they lit a cigarette they offered  one to me. They also offered to buy me a beer, but I wouldn’t let them. I was afraid we’d get into a round buying contest, so I bought my own beer. Every time someone took a sip we’d all three have to clink glasses.

 About 15:00 I left and headed to a restaurant where we had been before and ate a mutton dish. Very good. Then I returned to the room and watched a karate movie on TV. I think I might have fallen asleep for a few minutes.

Sea returned about 17:00. About 20:00 we went for a walk to look for dinner.

Monday, August 20, 2012. Today was yet another holiday, so Sea and her friend planned another day together. I was invited, but decided I’d rather wander around on my own. About 11:00 the friend showed and they were off. Of course they had no idea when they’d be back.
When Sea lived here one of her mother’s friends had 3 kids. 2 of them died in their teens from cancer. Then the  father was in a very serious automobile accident that left him a vegetable. When the mother was attending to her husband, the surviving daughter stayed with Sea, and even called her mother. The mother has since died. Today they visited the now grown daughter.

I walked to the Muslim bazaar to look at the rugs. They were very poor quality. I didn’t bother to price anything. I’m sure everything was very negotiable. Then I bought a pair of too small ankle length socks to help my newly broken toe. They didn’t help.

On my way back to the hotel I noticed there was an empty table at the ice cream/beer stand, so I stopped and sat down. In no time I was joined by two Chinese, neither of whom spoke a word of English. They must have been Muslims because they were drinking sweet drinks. I gulped my beer down and headed home.

I turned on yet another bad karate movie and went to sleep for an hour or so. Sea returned about 17:00. Shortly after she arrived she got a call from another friend who wanted to have dinner. For some reason she declined. I told her she should go because she might never see the friend again, but she decided to remain in the room. About 21:00 we went out for dinner. The weather was pleasant.
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About Charles Kirtley

Have been living in SE Asia and China since 2007. I have an opinion on most every subject, and don't mind sharing them. Lover and collector of worthless facts.
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