Chinese SAGAS – My new job – part 1

I was teaching in a university in Min Hou but one day there was no more job for me and I had to find something else to do.

I had worked like a maniac, almost 50 hours per week plus the time it took traveling to and from the school. I was dead tired. In the evening I went to the English corners in the neighbour hood universities. That was kind of my contribution to the community and I loved it. Meeting students from other schools was interesting and educating for me as well.

Now my place was nowhere. What could I do? I needed work. Friends of mine, foreigners, had information from a friend who told them about some company in Beijing that hired foreign teachers and it did not matter if they were over 30. I contacted the company and 2 days later I had a contract, a signed one, and was supposed to teach in Jinjiang which is a county-level city of Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China. It is located in the south eastern part of the province, on the right or south bank of the Jin River, across from Quanzhou’s urban district of Fengze.

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Since I had a signed contract all my worries vanished, or so I thought. Now I could begin preparing for the spring festival.

Although there was one thing I found confusing. Why could I not get the name of the school I was supposed to work in? I wanted to gather information on how to get there so the name was very important. After many e-mails I was told that I would get the name just before I began teaching because the company could not risk that another company would interfere in our contract. Maybe another one would offer me better salary? I don´t know what they were afraid of.

Now, the Spring Festival was there and everything went quiet. That is what happens during the holidays in China. Everyone goes to their hometowns and nothing happens until 10 days after the Spring Festival. This year the festival was 14th of February and I was worried. I was supposed to start my new job 1. of Mars and should be in the school 2 days before the semester. Not quite according to my books, I have to make arrangements long before everything, to organize.

I tried to contact the lady who made my contract. She was not on Skype during this period, she did not reply to my e-mails. I was getting really worried and a bit furious as well. So, I sent a very frustrated e-mail to the lady and told her I was beginning to think I had signed a contract with a phony company. An e-mail came back. She was on holiday and would be back the 22nd of February. I can’t say this made me at ease, but at least there was a sign that the company had not died.

23rd of February the lady called.  She asked if I did mind going to Quanzhou instead of Jinjiang? I told her I did not mind and thought that most important was to get work. Quanzhou is also closer to Min Hou and it would be easier to travel home during weekends. Someone had to make sure that my house would not go away and it would not be swimming in water. There had been problems with water coming through the walls!

The lady called again an hour later, it was almost 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and she asked if I could go to the school tomorrow?

Tomorrow? I had not heard from them in 20 days and now I should go with no preparation at all! I was not willing to let them treat my like an idiot and told her I could go next Wednesday. It was not just that I had not heard anything from the company in 20 days, I was going to drive to the school and did  not have a clue how to get to the highway from Min Hou.  Had never done that.

I went to my architect and he drove up the route into the highway and told me it was really easy. The day the lady called me I tried and got lost again and again. I had to find a solution. I called a student from a university  in my neighbourhood and asked if he wanted to come with me to Quanzhou. I knew he was studying for his exam. My stomach had many knots and I imagined me going on my own to Mongolia or God knows where. The young man was willing to come for a drive. We managed, after a while and some phone calls to my architect, to find the highway but of course we got lost. We drove past the driveway to the city and had to follow the highway for half an hour just to turn and another half an hour to get to the entrance. This was just an adventure and I saw the airport and we drove through the centre of the city.

The young man was carsick and was almost dead when we finally stopped.

We called the school. We asked someone to pick us up. No, that was not possible but the nice teacher  guided us through the streets of the city and finally we arrived at the school. It was almost 4 o’clock and I wanted to be home before dark. I was not at all sure how to get back home to Fuzhou and it had to be  before dark, if there was any hope for me to manage.

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The teacher did not understand at all why I was in such a hurry. He found it strange to drive to Quanzhou and immediately back to Fuzhou. This was a bit similar to when I go to Hong Kong and back to Fuzhou 2 hours later, just to renew my VISA but of course he did not know that.

I saw the school, not the apartment, and the teacher came with us to the tollgate. He was not quite sure how to get there. Did not drive a car so of course we got lost and drove around but finally there was the gate. What a relieve. It was almost 5 o’clock and I still in Quanshou. I would be in Fuzhou when dark and how would I find my way home?

My destiny in the country was to be confused about where I was. All maps in Chinese and difficult to figure out where to turn right and where to the left.

Eventually we managed to get to Fuzhou and the young man wanted to see my house. That was not a problem. We arrived at the house at 8 in the evening, spent some time exploring the foreigners house and then I drove him home. An adventure I won´t forget and he probably not. He had never been to Quanzhou. He had never travelled in a car, just in trains and busses. Many of my Chinese friends have the same story to tell. It was heart warming to hear him admire the mountains and the scenery while we drove and even though I was not the best one to find my way and he was carsick, we had a good time and a good laugh as well. And the sun was shining.

The next day I had to get to the school on my own and that is a story for tomorrow.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

Portuguese SAGAS – What can I do?

28th of October 2017

What can I do to help? I am just one person, powerless and the problem is huge.

When driving to Coimbra yesterday, through the national road, half way between Penela and Condeixa I stopped to take those photographs. I wanted to show you what I see every morning and every afternoon on my way back and forth.

I am not crying anymore. That is over. I am though sad and disappointed. Disappointed in the government for not taking action years ago, to stop the madness. They could have, but they did not.

Why they did not do anything I can not explain but to me it looks like there is some lack of common sense there. Don´t they see that something drastic needs to be done about a problem that has been escalating through my 7 years here in my little land? There was a committee, a new one, established after the fires in June this year. I have heard that the contributions to the people in Pedrogáo Grande have not been distributed yet. If that is true I am shocked. There is little use contributing if the clothes and other things are just sitting in some warehouse waiting.

Let me show you what is in front of my eyes every morning when driving to Coimbra.

These photos are from yesterday.

On one side of the road is destruction. On the other side everything is untouched by the fire. This tells me that it was not the wind but something else that made this happen only few days ago. Have those who lit the fires been found? I do not know.

There is more destruction in sight, just from where I was standing.

The devastation is complete. Naked trees, black soil, nothing left.

A sight like this is all around the centre and north of my little land. My land needs help. I am just one person, a foreigner, that has settled down and made my roots spread with love and passion for the little land. I am 72 years old, so as we say in my new land, I have got many years. These years are my life and they should be used for something good. Can I use them? Yes I can.

I am going to plant one tree for every year of my life. 72 trees I will plant this year. Next year there will be one more year added to my life and I will add one year to my contribution. Next year I will plant 73 trees. Slowly, I will use my added years to help my little land recovering from this years disaster.

The idea is mine, but I need help. I need help to make it real, and that is where my dear friends come into the picture. I have asked them to help. I don´t know anything about trees. I don´t know anything about what kind of trees would be best. I don´t know how to apply for this and get permission. My friends will help. I am not in super good health so I also need help with the planting. That is where my friends are also coming into the project.  I asked for help and they said YES without hesitation.

It will be exciting and it will make me feel amazing. Now I am just waiting for the process to begin. I will tell you about how we do. I am sure everyone will be interested.

I don´t know how many years I have left, they may be many or they may be few. I am not worried about the number. I am just going to use them well.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

Portuguese SAGAS – How can I help?

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This summer and many other summers the last 7 years there have been huge fires in my land.

Although this summer has been the worst, some of the others have also been really horrible. What had been added this year is the draught. The horrible lack of rain.

We are morning in my land. We are afraid in my land. We are on the verge of despair.

The devastation is immense.

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Looking out of my window and seeing the beauty in the morning and in the afternoon the horror has taken over. People have lost their homes. People have lost their lives. People have lost everything. Companies have burned down to ashes. Animals have been sacrificed by the fires. I cry when I watch the news. Is it never going to end? I ask.

What can I do to help?

Where is the help?

What will the government do?

These questions have been struggling in my mind for some months. During this summer and particularly the latter part of it I have realised how deep my roots are in my little land. The land has taken me under its wings. Here I have friends, true friends, that are supporting me through thick and thin. Here I will bear my bones and here is my final destination on this earth.

I am not going anywhere soon, but eventually I will cross over and become a famous opera singer in my next life.

Now is the time to ask myself what I can do for my little land. For the land that not many decades ago was under dictatorship and is trying to become a modern democracy.

There are some things that need improvement but there are also other things that are perfect. The people and the friendships I have enjoyed are like diamonds and I appreciate each and everyone that has helped me, supported me, taken care of me when I needed and been there for me, always. Those are the people of my little land. Those are my friends. Now they need my help. What can I do?

I know what I can do. It came to me while I was driving through the beauty from Penela to Condeixa and the horror appeared. The wood has disappeared and there is just empty hollow black reality.

We need trees. We need to plant trees. We need to rebuild the woods that have burned this summer like no other summer.

It is easy to say; We need!

It is important to say; I can help and I can do something!

I am going to help.

I know what to do but not how to do it. I need help to be able to help.

I called my friend when I came home from the gym today. I asked her if she would help me. She said YES. She always does when I ask her.

I am going to plant a tree for every year of my living. I am 72 years old. That means 72 trees at least and one more every year until I leave this earth. I am going to plant the trees in my little land and help to rebuild the destruction.

I am not crying anymore. Now it is time to take action. There are rules and regulations that have to be respected. I don´t know anything about trees. I don´t know how to buy them or how or when to plant them. I don´t know what kind of trees would be proper, how big they should be and what species. Should there be oaks or pines or olive trees or some others. I don´t know. That is where I need help. I also need help to apply to the rules and regulations. This is where my friend and her family are going to step in. They are going to help me to do the right thing. I know where I want to plant. I want to plant in Molelos, which is a freguecia in Tondela. Tondela is in the north. My friends live there. My Portuguese family lives there and I want to plant my trees close to them.

I am excited today. This will be great. There will be an adventure every year for the rest of my live where I and my friends will plant trees in the name of love, love for our country and our environment.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

The Outcast – chapter 3 – the coin

The sun was shining and it put kisses on her cheeks.

She was 3 years old.

The mother gave her a coin and the little girl got permission to go to the shop on the corner to buy a candy.

This was a fortune and not often that the little one got a shining coin for treats.

She ran out of the house, towards the shop, which was just a few meters away.

She fell.

She hurt her knee. There was a lot a blood.

She was almost at the shop.

The coin, that she kept in her tiny palm, bounced away, far away.

She was just a little girl and now her world collapsed. She saw a lot of blood. A lot of blood.

She made it home, crying, and the mother took her in her arms, scolded her a bit but when she saw the blood she said:

We need your father now!

The father was just next door; his house was a few meters away. Yes heard the girl screaming. His little girl, and he came over.

He smelled of cigars and medicine.

They put her on the kitchen table. She screamed. He looked at the knee. Some stiches needed here, he said. The little one did not know what that meant, but she knew that when the father came over she was always put to bed and the door closed. He  closed the door. She did not like the  door closed. She was afraid of the dark and she did not like here father who let her stay alone in the dark, while he was talking to the mother.

The mother never closed the door.

Sometimes the mother was working when the little girl went to bed but she never, never closed the door. The door was always open and she could hear her mother using the sowing machine and she could see the light.

It was just the father that closed the door, when he came over, most of the time in the evening when she was already in bed, and he always, always, closed the door.

Now the little girl just wanted to be in her mothers arms and cry. Why did the father have to come when she was in so much pain and there was so much blood? So much red blood.

The problem was that the father and the doctor were the same man.

Now it was not dark outside.

Maybe it would not be dark in the room if he closed the door.

The doctor made the stiches and left.

He did not have to talk to the mother this time.

That was good.

She was safe.

The little one got another coin and went to the shop, now with the mother. They bought 2 candies, one for the mother and one for herself.

The sun was shining again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portuguese SAGAS – Rocking the boat

22.october 2017

In my land there are regulations about how to behave in a condominium.

Those regulations are, I recon, to be followed.

Well, there are regulations and there are customs. They don´t always walk hand in hand.

As a foreigner I tried to follow the law just to make sure the neighbours would not kill me, the bloody foreigner that rocked the boat.

Every week I wash my clothes and try to dry them outside, when the weather is good. I have a huge balcony, which was at the beginning, and not until last year, open. Last year I put up a glass wall so now everything is closed if I like to, which I  quite often do.

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My neighbours, upstairs, have 2 days per week where the cleaner comes and among other things she does is washing the laundry. Unlike me she hangs the laundry outside the balcony.

This is understandable in a way, she gets more wind and the laundry dries faster. The problem though is that this is not allowed according to the Portuguese law. You can not hang your laundry further down than your balcony floor.

As you can see in the pictures above this is a bit, a BIT beneath their balcony floor and stretches down to my view from my balcony. I just have to reach up and can touch the linnen, which of course I don´t. I am a well behaved woman!

I discussed this problem with a friend of mine in Iceland. He suggested I cut the laundry, the cutting should be from my balcony ceiling and those upstairs would get the message.

Of course I did not cut anything. If had I would not be writing this, for sure I would either be in prison or dead. No doubt in my mind.

Even though I did think about it. I thought about cutting the bead sheet, I thought about it every week. I visualized  it. It was real in my mind, but I did not act on, I did not dare.

Maybe you can spray a paint on it, said my friend.

I did not have any paint in my house and was definitely not going to spend money on the horrible, annoying clothes. No way.

One day, when I came home, this was on Friday, the sheets washing day, I heard a loud discussion above me. The mistress of the house was home and she was furious. What had happened? I was a bit scared.   I had not done anything, I was sure of that. I had thought about it but thoughts don´t materialize, or do they? No, they don´t. I’m not that powerful.

Anyway, the lady upstairs was talking to the people living in next condominium. She was hanging her sheets out and making sure they got as far down to my balcony as possible.

She was telling the lady that I had put a red paint on their  sheets!

Seriously!

This was too much. There was no red paint in my apartment and had never been. I did not have ANY paint at all. The painters had finished painting 2 years ago and my apartment was whitish.

Well, she was convinced that there was read paint on her sheets. I could not do anything about that. For several weeks the sheets you see in the pictures above, the yellow ones, she patted like a baby and hung again and again and again, always making sure it went as far as possible down to block my view.

She hated me, there was no doubt bout that. When I came home and she was leaving with her daughters she made sure the front door was closed. Closed in my nose. What a wonderful upbringing that was. I took out my keys and made sure that if I was leaving and she was coming home I left the front door open for her and even stood there until she had entered. I tried to be polite. That was my revenge.

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The laundry does not go quite as far down as before, but now I have got a glass wall and her laundry washes the upper part of my glass. Does she hate me? I don´t think so, not anymore, but there is no lost love between us. The holy ones are nice and considerate, there is no doubt about that! There is no way that I am going take the blame when the laundry upstairs gets dirty while washing my windows. It is not my responsibility, not at all.

Isn,t life wonderful?

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

 

Chinese SAGAS – The Generations

20th of October 2017

On my walks through Fuzhou I often came across interesting people.

I am interested in people and there are always adventures meeting new ones.

One day I was there and came across those two.

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Here is a father with his son on the scooter. The son strapped so he won´t fall off. The father with a helmet but not strapped. Just an ordinary day in the Chinese traffic in Fuzhou!

They are the younger generation. I asked if I could take a photo and that was ok and they happy to please the foreigner. These 2 live in the city and always have. They don´t know about the struggle that comes with poverty. That is good. The little one will be spoiled and then he goes to school and the hardship arrives. In school he will have to obey rules. He will have to study hard and make his parents proud. The parents will see the headmaster and the teachers and they will tell how the little one is doing. Sometimes it is difficult to leave home and not see your family every day. Those who live in the dormitory, those who come from faraway, sometimes suffer from loneliness and are home sick. There is nothing to do about it. This is Chinese life. Those who live nearby are lucky. The parents pick them up every night and bring them back to school in the morning.  How will it be for the little on in the picture above? I wonder, but now he is happily enjoying sitting on his fathers scooter, driving through Fuzhou.

Then I came across these 2, the women with their story written on their faces.

Have you ever thought about how beautiful wrinkles are? They tell the story no one will tell you. The mother and daughter in these photos have a story to tell. They have been living in the land for decades. They have experienced the change and they have been part of the growth.

The mother was a farmer but now she has moved to her daughter in Fuzhou and lives with her the last part of her being on this earth. When the daughter gets old her children will take care of her. The circle goes on and on.

The mothers wrinkles tell the story of hardship. The story of struggling to have food on the table and to be able to send her children to school.  She did not go to school but her child did. This is the story of so many families. Then came the time when the farmers had to give way to the newly rich and their buildings. The farmers moved to the cities and the government made new houses, new islands, new condominiums, all for the rich ones.

In Min Hou I got6 to know one farmer who did not want to move. He was in his little cottage in the middle of the school premises. There was no way he was going to leave. The government was going to pay him for his land. No, that was not it. This was his land, his home, his living was there and no one going to convince him that a better life was waiting in the city. Eventually he had to give in and one day the little cottage and the farmer were not there anymore. It was sad. It was sad to see first hand how the luxury of the rich ones affected the poorer.

That evening, when I drove to my house, I thought about who and how many farmers had to be moved so I could live in my luxury house? Where did they go? Did they still live in the neighbourhood? Had they found work?

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My beautiful district is  handmade islands. Islands made on the farmers land.  Islands that make my life beautiful and serene but what about the farmers that left? Are the ones I see when I leave my area those who had to sacrifice their homes for me? They are all friendly when I meet them. I have not asked where they come from. I don´t dare to.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

Chinese Sagas – My life in China – The dog

20th of October 2017

One of my neighbours had a dog.

Dogs are not allowed in the are. At least not walking free. If there are dogs allowed they have to be small, the owners have to carry them on their arms, they can not walk on the road and they can not be running around like this one did.

These neighbours did not live in their house all the time. They came sometimes during weekends, and sometimes during holidays. I’m sure they worked somewhere, at least the man. The woman was the boss. She was the boss and  the workers had to obey her command.

She was the one who shouted at the workers if they did not do what she told them to do. She was definitely the boss and the husband perhaps the provider. Interesting couple and they had a daughter. She was maybe 20 something. At least  not a teenager. She came sometimes with the parents, after the house was decorated, and she even spent some days in the island.

With her came the dog.

The white dog.

The big dog.

The dog that everyone was afraid of.

In the morning the daughter let out the white one to pee. She just opened the door and he sprang out. After a while she came out in her pyjamas, trying to get the naughty one inside. She begged, she threatened, she was nice, she was mad, she was everything, but the dog had a blast and wrapped her around his finger. No problem there. Usually she went inside without him.

When the security guards came on their scooters the dog had a blast. He barked at them and jumped at them, he bit their heals and was having a blast. The guards were afraid of him. He followed them everywhere.

This was the dog that one morning stood at my front door barking.

Oh no, you are not going to stand barking at my door, at my house, and think you can intimidate me.

No way. Now you are going to see where David bought the ale, stupid dog, I said inside my door, contemplating what to do.

Well, something needed to be done about this. The workers were afraid of the dog, they could not come to the area  on their scooters. Even on their scouters they were attacked. Well, not attacked but barked at and intimidated and nipped at.

Now he was standing at my door, barking like hell, and I decided to feed him!

I opened the door and gave him an apple. An apple!

He looked at me, I looked at him, he looked at the apple and I looked mad.

Oh, she is mean, he must have thought. She just thinks I am going to eat an apple in the morning, an apple, seriously!

Yes you ugly stupid dog, you are going to eat this apple. I have got more and that is all you get. You are mean and I am meaner. I am not afraid of you and you better stop barking at my door.

He looked at me, and ate the apple.

I went outside, to take a walk.

You can come with me if you behave, I said.

He followed me. We took a long walk, a really long one. He got tired and went home ahead of me.

He never barked at my door, not anymore. I won the staring.

I am not saying we became best friends but I spoke to him in Icelandic that sounds quite harsh and he was used to Chinese begging. There was no begging at my part and he just waited outside my door the next morning for his apple and a walk.

Hulda Björnsdóttir