East Lake Garden has been returning to life after the two week New Year holiday, although I’m glad to report that the construction site remains silent, muddy and desolate. The mosaic of windows in the block opposite our kitchen is beginning to light up in the evenings. Young men drop off their elderly parents, who emerge from the car laden with gifts; couples and children are coming back from visits to their home towns to get ready for work and school, which starts next Monday. They too have gifts – at dusk, the child in the flat opposite us plays with a big remote control car that has flashing, white lights. The English language newspapers reported much hand-wringing over the large amounts of money children received or expected to receive from relatives. Parents were grateful, but pointed out they had to reciprocate. Some people spend two month’s salary to fill the red envelopes to the required levels.
Unfortunately, the weather seems to have taken a backward step, and it is colder than before our trip away. Nevertheless, white plum blossom is out and birds are singing vociferously – they must know that spring really is on the way. Many of the small local shops around the estate closed for at least one week – including the water shop – but these too are now back in business. Waterman, his wife and son all came to greet me when I went to order our ‘liang tong shui’ – two barrels of water – on Sunday afternoon. The supermarkets kept going, and their depleted stocks of fresh goods have been replenished. Abendbrot resumed its deliveries today, so we once again have excellent brown bread.
Yesterday Alice gave us a hand-cut, red, paper new year’s gift of the character for good fortune – fu – which we now have displayed in our sitting room. She seemed eager to come back to work, even though admin staff were required to come into the university last Saturday to get ready for the return of students on Monday. Too many family visits perhaps?
Like us, many staff and international students went on sun-seeking holidays. Popular destinations included Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. I’m looking forward to asking a couple of students who went to visit the families of their Chinese girlfriends, how they got on. Apparently, a key issue was to avoid being present at the New Year’s eve dinner as this would indicate to the gathered relatives an intention to marry the girl…..
I’m delighted to have passed all my exams, especially Elementary Mandarin part 1. In the second semester, I’ve started on a new history module about Ningbo. This is based entirely on primary sources and yesterday a group of us made our first trip to Ningbo public archives. Our task was to find out from original documents what scientific and intellectual contribution was made by American Protestant missionaries to life in Ningbo from the late 19th century onwards. The choice of topic meant that there were records in Mandarin and English to suit the make up of the student group.
Foreigners are treated with slight suspicion at the archive, and my American fellow student and I were required to show our passports. However, once we were settled at a table in white gloves, with our cache of crinkly brown, type-written letters, budgets and meeting notes from 1928 to 1935, an official photographer emerged and asked to take our photos. To show the archive in use? To show friendliness towards foreigners? To make sure we weren’t up to anything subversive? Who knows? Apparently the archive is mainly used by irate local people trying to prove their ownership of land and property, often a bone of contention in Ningbo’s rapid urban development. There was a reminder of this as immediately outside the archive, hoardings are up covering the construction of the new Ningbo metro system.
We studied the records of the Hwa Mei (Sino-American) Hospital, funded mainly through contributions sent by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. Of course, these were probably random snippets that have survived by chance, but they still revealed a lot of information. The salary of the doctor and superintendant was several thousand dollars, while the annual budget for rickshaw coolies was 10 dollars. The superintendant was very exercised about buying a new x-ray machine that would be of the standard expected at a small American hospital. However, he was anxious to take more holiday than usual in 1935, probably because of the ongoing war with Japan, although he cited ‘family reasons’ for extending his ‘furlough’. The woman treasurer resigned in order to focus more on evangelism. One meeting was all about how to invest 10,000 dollars sent by an American in memory of her husband, surely a huge sum of money in the late 1920s. I wonder what she would have thought of the fact that after the Communist ‘liberation’ of 1949, the hospital had a new life as Ningbo Hospital Number 2. The kind of new beginning she would have wanted?
A Chinese student and I travelled back to the campus by bus together and compared our experiences at the archive. He was slightly frustrated as he had been refused access to files about Catholicism in Ningbo. The excuse was that these weren’t mentioned in our research description on arrival, but he thought that they were probably deemed too politically sensitive, although he wasn’t sure why. For much of the journey I attempted to answer his question about the difference between Catholics and Protestants. Quite a challenge when the person you are talking to doesn’t know what Christianity is and also has limited English. There are large – about 12 million strong – communities of both denominations in China nowadays, although the Catholic community exists outside papal control. Presumably there is not much interest here on who will be providing the new start at the Vatican.