Last weekend was busier than usual for me. Friday afternoon, I checked out the Shandong Museum of Science and Technology, which is right next to Quancheng Square and Parc 66 shopping center. Admission to the museum is free. It has elevators, escalators, vending machines, a snack bar, and one small gift shop. Some of the exhibits have bilingual signage, but others are all in Chinese. I toddled around, pressing buttons and batting at all the hands-on mechanical exhibits. I glanced at the biology displays (not the most impressive I’ve ever seen), and inadvertently skipped the main drawing point: the 3D and 4D movies. I may go back to see those. As I peered into kaleidoscopes, two giggling young women asked permission to take a selfie with me. I indulged them.
In Quancheng Square, I lingered under an overhang, admiring paintings and bronze sculptures. A loud CRACK caught my attention. Then another. And more. Three men repeatedly whipped at spinning, bullet-shaped metal tops.
Later, I went to Parc 66 for a hamburger, fruit-and-frozen yogurt dessert, and an iced latte. This charming creature welcomed me to the burger shop.
The next day, I went to Bai Hua Gonyuan (100 Flowers Park). This is also free. The end of May isn’t the best time to go: too late for cherry blossoms and too early for lotus, but I saw plenty of birds and trees. Azure-winged magpies, sparrows, and blackbirds were everywhere, though I saw few insects. Near an as-yet unfilled cement pool, music played, people danced solo and in couples, and adults and children kicked a ball around. People from a children’s hospital handed out plastic fans. I plan to go back to this park in late June or early July to see the lotus blossoms. At this time, there were pink and yellow water lilies. No dragonflies yet, but I have hopes.
Sunday, the year 12 students from my school celebrated their commencement at a fancy convention center sort of place. A teacher from the U.S. emceed. Younger students filmed the ceremony. Four students read an original poem in Chinese and English. A video played of students singing the class song (written by a student). The principal and a parent gave speeches. Then a coordinator of programs abroad from San Francisco gave a speech. All speeches had accompanying translations projected on a large screen behind the stage. Students donated a sculpture to the school: lotus blossoms with student handprints. (Note: the lotus is the symbol of Jinan city). Parents gave flowers to the new graduates. The principal handed them diplomas and school t-shirts. The ceremony was relatively short: only an hour and a half. Students wore red robes during some parts, but not during others. The boys wore suits. Most of the girls had transformed themselves into sparkling elves and princesses, complete with satin dresses, tiaras, and make-up. One girl wore a suit and bowtie. I was happy that she was allowed to do that.
Toward the end of the ceremony, I realized I desperately needed a restroom. Surely a fancy place like this would have at least one western toilet? They did, but it was locked. Back teeth floating, I went to a service counter and begged the staff member for help with my limited Mandarin and some expressive body language. She took hold of my upper arm and walked me to the bathroom. She pointed at the squat toilets. I shook my head, saying in English, “No, I can’t do that!” and pointing at the locked stall. Finally she opened it. When I was finished, she took my arm again. I broke away before we reached the door to exit the building, telling her thank you and I was okay. I didn’t understand why that stall was locked, but at least the bus ride home would be bearable. When I told a coworker about this, he said that he had deliberately dehydrated himself* so he wouldn’t need to use a restroom.
This insistence on western toilets is not mere xenophobic squeamishness. I can’t squat. My hips won’t bend that way. Readers of this blog might think I am obsessed with toilets. I do like a poop joke as much as the next (twelve year-old) person, but it’s more than that. You try holding it in for a few hours and see how often you think about restrooms.
Most big places like parks or malls have at least one handicap stall with a toilet I can use. Sometimes, it’s locked. Or full of cleaning supplies. Concern over finding accessible toilets has made me slow to explore my new home. (Er, slower. There’s also the language barrier, my bad sense of direction, and my ignorance of the bus system.) Even so, I’m checking out more new places these days. Maybe when I have some time off I’ll even try visiting another city… as long as it has toilets.
*Many kinds of people in the U.S. routinely dehydrate themselves due to limited bathroom access: teachers and nurses (no time to go); trans and gender non-conforming people (risk of harassment or arrest for using the “wrong” bathroom); and disabled people. When I lived in the States, I was privileged in being able-bodied enough and cis-gendered enough not to worry about bathroom access. Even when I wore masculine clothing and a buzz cut, nobody bothered me in the bathroom. In the current political climate, I would be more worried about using a public bathroom in the U.S. while looking androgynous.