I had never stood next to John before the day we rode the “green skinned” train to Yiwu. I asked John out for lunch before we rode the train, and, as he stood up from his chair, there he was — more than two inches below me, and many pounds lighter.
Caroline’s mother doesn’t believe me when I say I’m full. She is a typical Chinese hostess, deciding that I am being polite, even as I’m being truthful every time I tell her chibaole — I’ve eaten enough. “Eat, eat, eat” is her mantra as we sit around the dinner table at this home in Yiwu, feasting on eggplant, fried pumpkin, and — for Caroline and John — chicken feet and shrimp.
Our “green-skinned” train to Yiwu had no air conditioning on this sultry evening of July 13, 2002. My two translator friends, Caroline and John, were with me on the hard-seat section of this train. The three of us sat on the same seat — with upholstery in the same dark green color as the train — across from two soldiers in the People’s Liberation Army. I borrowed Caroline’s plastic fan from time to time, and sometimes caught a breeze through the open window. But mostly, the humidity loitered painfully around us, and we hoped, in vain, that it would go away.
There is a word for this weather in Chinese: 闷热 or menre, meaning muggy. The first character, men, is made up of the character for heart (心) contained within the character for door (门) — as if to say your heart is shut away or contained.
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