Your Membership has Expired

Last Wednesday night, as I do on most Wednesday nights, I went to the gym/health club that's situated in my apartment complex. And, as I always do, I got out my membership card and handed it to the gal behind the front counter.

She: Your card has expired.

Me:  Come again? 

She.  Your membership card has expired.  It's no longer valid.

Me:  I just used it yesterday.  When did it expire?  Today?

She (after checking the computer):  October 11, 2009!

Me:  What??  It expired in October?  But I've been coming here almost every day and you never told me it has expired!

She:  Well, the card is no longer valid.

Me:  OK, but I don't have any money with me tonight to renew, but can bring it tomorrow.  In the meantime, can I go in and exercise tonight?

At this point she directed me to a nice lady who had been hovering off to the side watching and listening to the exchange.  Apparently she's the manager, although in the 3 years I've been a member there I'd never seen her.  I explained me situation to her, highlighting the fact that for 6 months (except for the 2 months I was on crutches, of course) I'd been showing the gals behind the desk my card and that THEY never caught that it had expired. 

We took a seat at one of the tables in the lobby and she went over the membership options for me, trying real hard to talk me into the 3 year membership. I finally settled on the 16 month membership, and she went over all the wonderful benefits I will receive.

Now I must say here that this nice lady is not from around here, and thus speaks her Chinese with an accent that made it difficult for me to understand the details of what she was saying. I was fairly sure, however that she was telling me my membership was for 16 months and that I'm entitled to 5 or 6 free sessions with a personal trainer.  The other stuff I didn't catch, but just let slide. 

I signed all the papers, promised that I'd bring the money by at noon the next day, and she let me go on up to exercise.

This week she's called me a couple of times and asked me to stop in her office to see her the next time I'm in, but the next two times I went she wasn't there.

Today, when I walked into the lobby of the gym, she was there to greet me. 

She:  Oh, there you are!  Come over here and choose a bicycle.

Me:  Come again?

She:  Choose a bicycle.  The membership plan you signed up for includes a free bicycle. Do you want the black one or the blue one?

So that's what she's been trying to tell me for the past week…..that I need to come in and select my free bicycle!  

Now I have a brand new blue bicycle, all because I've been using an expired membership card for six months.  Go figure.

A Particularly Bad Sign

Poorly translated signs continue to abound in Beijing, the pre-Olympics campaign notwithstanding. This one, in my neighborhood supermarket, is particularly bad:

It’s trying to remind you to check your cash before leaving the counter.  It makes perfect sense in Chinese.

The Older One

Last week while I was in Changchun, I went to the Chinese teachers office at Northeast Normal University to see if I could find a former teacher who I know is still teaching there (she teaches some of my friends there now). Things have changed a lot since I was there, and I didn't know anyone in the office. The conversation with the office worker went like this:

Me: I'm looking for Teacher Y  Do you know where I can find her? 

She: Which Teacher Y?  Do you know here given name? 

Me:  I'm sorry, but I can't remember her given name. 

She:  Would she be the older one or the younger one.

Now this question stopped me dead in my tracks because I don't remember ever thinking of Teacher Y as being old.  Then it slowly dawned on me just how long ago it was that I had studied with her.

Me: Well, since I was her student 20 years ago, I'm guessing it must be the older Teacher Y.

When they said her full name I recognized it.  They kindly gave me here phone number and I gave the older Teacher Y a call. 

Later in the afternoon I met up with her and the former head of the Foreign Students Office (also named Teacher Y) for an afternoon of laughter remembering the 'good old days.' and realizing that all of us are now the older ones.

Outside the Wall

This past week I made a quick trip up to Changchun, they city where I lived for most of the 1990's. I had a bit of a new experience getting there in that I took one of the new "D" trains — a high speed line — that makes the run in 6 and a half hours.  The newness of this experience lies in the fact that when I lived up there the trip took 15 hours, always an overnight run. When they can lop off 9 hours off of a train ride you know that the old train was either going really slow or this new one is going really fast.  I think it's a bit of both, but probably more the latter.  We hit a top speed of 289 kph.

About 2 hours out of Beijing, perched between the edge of a mountain range and the ocean is the city of Shanhaiguan. This town is famous for being the eastern terminus of The Great Wall, where it marches down from the mountains and into the sea (literally). Both the seaside sections and mountain sections have been restored and turned into tourist spots. The wall in between has been urbanized out of existence. 

But not entirely. As our train (slowly at that point for some reason) moved through the gritty industrial part of town, I spotted an old section of the wall still visibly standing in a slum area. I could see the ramped earth inner core and a few of the outer bricks (although most have been hauled away by now).  It comes up to the edge of the tracks, then forlornly stops. 

The name Shanhaiguan means "mountain ocean pass" because this narrow strip of land between the mountains and the ocean marked the transportation route into what is now northeastern China.  The wall here was built by the Ming rulers of China (1300's to 1600's), to mark the northern boundary of the empire.  To the south was a civilized land — China — and to the north were the barbarians (Manchurians). 

In the 1600's the barbarians eventually got into China proper (legend has it that they bribed a guard at one of the gates in Shanhaiguan), took control, and established the Qing Dynasty.  They managed to stay in power until 1911. The Qing didn't do any further wall building since there was no one else to keep out, but the wall, in this area particularly, came to be a demarcation line between China proper and the Manchurian ancestral lands.  The area south of the wall was called "Guan Nei" (inside the wall, or pass) and the area north of the wall was called "Guan Wai" (outside the wall, or pass). 

Even though Guan Wai today is officially referred to as Dongbei (the Northeast), the terms guan wai and guan nei are still used.  In train station ticket offices in northeastern China, ther are giant charts on the wall listing train destinations, and there are always two categories of destinations:  guan wai and guan nei.  Outside the wall and inside the wall. "Inside the wall" referrs to destinations south of Shanhaiguan and "outside the wall" referred to dstinations north of Shanghaiguan, in Dongbei proper.  

As the train left Shanhaiguan, and sped away from the wall, I could tell by the distinctive village architecture that I was back in Dongbei, outside the wall.

End of an Era

The era of the knee, that is.  On Wednesday I saw my knee surgeon for the last time.  He examined my knee, gave me my third injection of "chicken goo" (as my friend calls it) directly into the joint, said he was very pleased with my progress and told me that I didn't need to see him anymore.

So there you have it.  The end of a relationship that started last July when I had my first appointment with Dr. CC Kong, from Asia Medical Specialists Group in Hong Kong. That day I had arrived at the SOS International Clinic in Beijing (he flies in twice a month) with MRI's in hand, which he looked at and then promptly declared that my knees were a mess. Fortunately he didn't leave it at that, but was able to suggest some surgical procedures short of total knee replacement that he felt would significantly reduce the wear and tear on my right knee and extend the life of the joint significantly.

After consulting with other doctors and physical therapists I decided to go ahead with it, so flew down to Hong Kong to let this man I'd met just once slice open my knee, move my kneecap, and insert three screws to keep it in place. Kind of crazy if you think about it for too long.

Three months of intense physical therapy, hard work on my part at home, and now injections of chicken goo into the joint are all in the rear-view mirror, and now I'm finally beginning to experience the benefits of the surgery. No, that doesn't yet include running or squatting or climbing mountains, but it does man pain-free walking, standing up from a sitting position, and going up and down stairs. The era isn't totally over, but now I'm completely on my own for continued improvement.

As I was leaving, his nurse gave me a big hug. I thanked Dr. Kong for everything and told him I'd only call him if I had a screw loose.