Still Pictures

Upon closer inspection, you can see the name of the school, class number, and the name of the student written on the surface of the note.

Upon closer inspection, the name of the school, grade, class number, and the name of the student can be seen written on the surface of the note in ink.

Many gestures of student appreciation took me by surprise, but I hadn’t banked on being offered money. One day before class a tall, slight boy gave me a meticulously folded one yuan note. I pulled a one yuan note of my own out of my pocket to compensate his loss. He initially resisted payment, as he had intended it to be a gift. But I had to show my gratification somehow. I hope he didn’t spend the next class period doing origami instead of taking notes. I may have contributed to derelict behavior.

My ticket to Beijing.

My ticket to Beijing. 无座 is printed next to the car number to help me remember that I would have no right to a seat for the duration of the 7 hour train ride.

On the first of August 2012, I made the much anticipated move from Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin, to Beijing, the famed capital of the vast Middle Kingdom. The ticket I had used to make the trip–seven excruciating hours of alternately standing and squatting on a vacillating surface–was the second of two tickets I had purchased to make the move. That’s right, I missed the most significant train ride of my life. I missed the train after going out to procure a pair of Beijing-appropriate shoes earlier that afternoon. I had made the shoe selection fairly quickly, but it had taken the shoe salesman–who may have been drunk, based on the odor I detected emanating from his mouth–more than half an hour to retrieve the shoes from some unknown location. I hadn’t had time to catch the bus, and it had taken me twenty minutes to get a cab. I had ended up spending my last night in Changchun not in my own apartment, but in a Seven Days Inn, so that my neighbors would think I had caught the train; you know, like a normal person. Strangely enough, if ever I find myself back in Changchun, I will certainly look up that shoe salesman again, not to sock him, but to buy another pair of shoes. He really had a fine selection, and my size too.

A bit of rock I used to leave my mark on the Great Wall in a more lasting way than the others.

A bit of rock I used to leave my mark on the Great Wall in a more lasting way than the others.

One day in November 2012, I quit a job I had not held for more than four months. Well, I hadn’t exactly quit the job. I had intended to quit, but then I realized that my boss wasn’t too keen on letting me go, so I used that fact to negotiate a two week vacation. My reason for this strong armed maneuvering? The company was adamant that they could not acquire a work visa for me. I told them they could, and they would, or I would catch the next flight back to the US. I couldn’t believe my luck when this very wealthy company relented and went to work on getting my visa. I found myself with conjunctivitis in my left eye, and two weeks ahead of me with absolutely nothing to do. So I decided to visit the Great Wall. I made arrangements to go to Mutianyu, and see the wall from there. I had hiked the wall before, but that had been with a tourist group. I would do it again, the right way: I determined to take my time, to stay there all day if necessary. What more can I say? That is exactly what I did. Only this time I decided to leave my mark on the wall. I noticed that there were several spots along the wall which were painted white, so that visitors could scribble their names on it. Those walls must have filled up quickly because none of the entries were older than a year. I write my name here, I thought, and it will be painted over in two months. I hiked to a secluded section of the wall and took up a piece of loose rock I had found in the window. On one of the bricks, I scratched the characters: 周迈科. That was the name I went by in China. I often wonder if my mark is still visible.

The paper flag.

The paper flag.

The reverse side of the paper flag. Written on it are the names of two Uighur students I met in Changchun.

The reverse side of the paper flag. Written on it are the names of two Uighur students I met in Changchun.

 

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