Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hypothesis: The people in Beibei are very nice.

Example #1
Local buses in Beibei come in two varieties: a school bus size that is usually older and more crowded and costs $0.06 per ride; and, a mini-bus that seats about 15 (and can hold up to 25) and costs $0.12 per ride. Usually there is a price induced difference in the typical clientele of the two types of buses. (If you harbor any thoughts that China is a classless society, forget it).

Monday evening we boarded one of the mini-buses and to our amazement the driver was a woman. I bet you would not have seen that a generation ago. She acted like we were long lost friends (don’t forget that all Americans look alike). There are five gates into the University with a stop at each gate. Our stop is the fifth and last gate. At the second gate she stopped for a long time and signaled to me that we should get off. I told her no and we went on. This routine was repeated at the next stop. As we approached the fifth gate I went to the front of the bus and motioned that we wanted to get off at the next stop. As she pulled over she looked at me and with great effort said “this one?” I replied “yes”. As we stepped down we both thanked her in our limited Chinese.

Example #2
Before leaving Gainesville, we sent several boxes of books ahead by mail. It was a pleasant surprise to find that books (as opposed to personal effects) could be sent at a very low rate if we were willing to accept delivery in an estimated six to ten weeks. Since we expected to arrive in Beibei in late August, I figured ten weeks delivery would require sending a shipment in mid-June. So, I put the books I had set aside for pleasure reading into three boxes and took them to the Post Office. In mid-July we sent another three boxes of texts and other teaching materials that we needed.

Upon our arrival in Beibei my most helpful faculty sponsor presented us with one box that had been delivered to the University and five claim slips that would have to be taken to the main post office to claim the other boxes. Getting to the post office is another story, but just let me say that there are some very kind, helpful people in Beibei.

At the post office we finally found the right window and presented our five slips. In short time the clerk returned with two boxes. As best we could, we tried to explain that we were expecting five boxes corresponding to the five delivery receipts. After about ten minutes of poor communication, the clerk made a phone call and in a few minutes another most kind and helpful clerk appeared who had some English capabilities. She explained that they only had the two boxes and someone who could find the other boxes would be in later in the afternoon and that they would call when they had further information. As a contact, I gave them the “foreign experts” office at SWU, but not my residential address.

About four hours later, two very nice ladies from the post office showed up at our apartment door. Through a translator we were able to determine that the five receipts included one for the package that was delivered to SWU before we arrived and the other four were first and second notices for the two packages we had picked up in the morning. The fate of the other three packages was unknown. They were extremely relieved when we told them how much we appreciated their visit to our apartment and that we did not hold them responsible for the missing packages—it was just one of those things that happens when you try to ship internationally.

The moral of this story is not about boxes of books received or lost; nor is it about an international postal service that seems to be more efficient than the clerks in Gainesville imagined. Rather it is an insight into the character of the people in Beibei. When was the last time you had a public servant (or two) come to your residence concerned that you had not received the service you expected? The day before we had a similar experience in the private sector as we went from place to place in an effort to buy a printer for our computer ($50 for an HP color inkjet).

Again and again, in small and frequently insignificant ways, we have been shown sincere kindness by a variety of local people with whom we can barely communicate. First impressions are lasting, and we like the people of Beibei.


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