I had been in China about three months when I went to explore a little of Shanghai for a weekend. I stayed with American friends at the very posh Shanghai Tennis Club.
Wandering down Nanjing Road in central Shanghai towards the Huang Pu River I checked out the many sights. A very long walk, but it was all new and interesting to me. By the time I arrived at the river over three hours later I spotted river cruise boats. Just what my sore feet needed; I took an hour long cruise and rest.
My return walk was made easier by using the small shuttle buses that operate in the central area of Nanjing Road. About 5pm as I was heading back to my bus stop, I became aware that the man walking beside me was talking to me. It’s quite common for touts to do this, but after a few questions I realised he just wanted to chat. He told me he was a music teacher, played the violin and his dream was to play in the Sydney Opera House. Upon finding out my name he said, “I know a song with that name in it, ‘I Dream of Jeanie’.” Then, much to my embarrassment, he sang this song to me as we walked along the street. I looked around at the masses, but no one took any notice. Very strange!
I had to wait 30 minutes for my bus so we went to a nearby Starbucks for a drink. There he told me that the person who wrote my song also wrote another very famous song called “Beautiful Dreamer”. He then sang this song to me in Starbucks. I was so embarrassed, but again, no one took any notice. Not even a raised eyebrow. Never before had anyone sang to me, anywhere. This was a very new experience!
Upon my return to school I found my apartment door locked. I never locked my door as our building was very secure and I was unconcerned about my house mates. My key did not work. Feeling annoyed I called Andy, our house minder and history teacher. All school staff multi-task. Andy was great fun and we’d become good friends. He arrived and immediately opened my door.
“What, how did you do that?” I asked.
“Turn the key the opposite way!” he said.
Another lesson learnt. He had locked it as during the weekend there were guests staying in the building.
He followed me in, insisting on an immediate English lesson as he had some spare time. I used these times to ask him questions about his life. He grew up in a very remote hilly area in the west where there was a nuclear plant. His Dad worked there as an engineer, retired at 60 and died from cancer soon after.
I asked him about the Tiananmen Square event.
“That’s a very politically sensitive subject,” he said quite seriously.
“I know, but tell me what you were doing then.”
He was in his first year at university in Guangzhou. His brother was in Beijing at that time and he forbade Andy to go there as it was too dangerous.
“I could be dead now,” he said.
I told him I wanted to buy a push bike.
“Good idea, let’s go and buy it now.”
We caught the local bus into the city centre and bought a bike. With great delight I rode it back to school. I noticed a small problem so I stopped off at the first bike repair man I saw. He made a minor adjustment and waved me off when I went to pay him. I continued to use this man for minor repairs for the rest of my year-long stay and the only thing he ever charged me for was an inner tube. This man never smiled, never greeted me, he just fixed whatever was wrong.
One day I was telling my students about this man. I often told them stories to help their listening skills. They were very surprised to hear that he never charged me. In one class a boy’s voice was heard to say, “He must be your husband.” I laughed along with all the students.
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