My Fifteen Years in Wuxi
Oka Masanori (Japan)
Waggling on the bus, I am looking for my yearningdestination. I have been there dozens of times when I was in Wuxi, but it was more than a decade ago. I still saw the signboard a few years ago, but I rarely go that way lately. I am not sure if anything has happened there. Thinking of this, all my memories of 15 years about Wuxi are coming flooding back.
I came to teach Japanese in Wuxi in 2003 when I was 53. Back in Japan, I majored in ancient literature and worked as a language teacher, so I was fascinated with China. We all know that Japanese makes extensive use of Chinese characters. Hiragana and katakana, the two syllabic scripts primarily used in the Japanese writing system, were developed based on Chinese characters. The forms of hiragana originated from the cursive script style of Chinese calligraphy, and the katakana characters were derived from components of Chinese characters.Therefore, in every respect, I have seen China as the teacher of Japan. I wanted to do something for China in return and teach Japanese in China after retirement at 60. I started traveling to China once every year from the age of 40. Spending time here, wandering along with people riding bicycles and looking at so many smiling faces, always made me enjoyable. Meanwhile, I was worried that I might not be qualified to teach here when I got to 60. My worry makes sense because China has been developing very fast, and so has the way the people here live and think. There would be so many big changes that my teaching methods would not be able to fit. At the time, how I wished I could come to China as early as possible! Luckily, a friend of mine asked me to introduce a young teacher who could teach Japanese in China. Though not young as wanted, I could barely meet the requirement, so I decided to come to Wuxi.
I was told a saying called "Wuxi’s code of conduct," which does not mean to be nice to whoever he is but means to try one’s best to help and care about friends. During my stay, I was deeply impressed by the friendship and care from faculty of the university. The president helped me a lot in getting to know the city. Not long after I got here, the SARS epidemic hit China and all classes were canceled, which gave me more chances to stay with the president. When he found that I was worried about the situation, he tried to comfort me by telling jokes. He took me to tourist spots in Wuxi every week. We went to all parks in the city, the Taibo Temple outside the city, and even the Yixing Ceramics Museum and Shanjuan Cave in Yixing not far from Wuxi. He introduced the meaning and calligrapher of every couplet we saw. More impressively, he told me all he knew about Abing, the blind Chinese musician talented in the erhu whose story I had heard about in my childhood. Besides, the president and I joined a tour to Japan at the end of 2007.
Over the past decades, the world has witnessed a rapid rise throughout China. Wuxi is developing even faster. Back in 2003, only two intersections along the way from Wuxi Railway Station to Wuxi New District had traffic lights. Now there are more than ten. The infrastructure in Wuxi is changing. On the one hand, bike paths and sidewalks become shared use paths, where there is even space for parking. It is no longer possible to take aleisurely walk on the sidewalk. You have to be careful about the bicycles and scooters passing by. On the other hand, new roads, buildings, and neighborhoods are emerging from time to time.
Not only the infrastructure, you can see big changes in many other aspects as well. My wife comes to Wuxi once every few years. She is amazed to find that the city is getting brighter, shops are getting bigger, and women are getting more fashionable. It is the case. In the past, shops did not turn all the lights on to save power. The dimly lit inside made them look like they were closed even in the daytime. Women at that time did not care too much for style when they dressed up, which made my wife believe I would never be distracted from work. It sounds like a joke, but it is true. When my wife came again in 2017, she said that Wuxi is changing again, greater and faster. She was surprised that the commercial facilities around the Wuxi Grand Theatre are even more advanced and modern than in Tokyo. Though from different perspectives, we both see the improvements to the city, either the infrastructure or the supporting facilities.
In 2007 when I traveled with a tour to Japan, I met a person who also meant a lot to me. He was a young entrepreneur in Wuxi who had business dealings with companies in Japan. He asked if I could help him with this, and offered me another job totally different from working as a teacher. I became his liaison and interpreter. As a native of Wuxi, he took care of me in every possible way. He likes traveling. Every time he went to Japan on business, he would also go for sightseeing. I then took every of these opportunity to be his guide and show him around, in return for his kindness. Once I went on a business trip with him to Beijing, we were talking in Japanese on a taxi. The driver asked us where we came from. After learning that we were from Wuxi, he said he did not understand Wuxi dialect. He seemed to think we were talking in Wuxi dialect rather than a foreign language. We laughed. This did happen at times. Back then, mobile phones were not widely used. Sometimes when I walked by a telephone booth where someone was on the phone using Wuxi dialect, I always thought he was talking in Japanese. It is good that similar pronunciation makes it easier for Wuxi people to learn Japanese. Electromechanics changes even faster than Wuxi. Now this company does not have as much business to do in Japan as before. Even so, he pays me every month as usual in the name of gratitude, which I feel is more than I am entitled to. I wanted to quit this job more than once, but gave up every time at the last minute. I hate to tell him about this. There is a lot more to say about what he and the president of the university have done for me.
The bus is approaching my destination. It is a storytelling playhouse, a place for relaxation and happiness. Sitting in there with my eyes closed, even though I do not understand Chinese, I were impressed by the rhythmic lyricsand dramatic sound of the pipa. When I opened my eyes and saw actors in ancient costumes on the stage, I felt like I was taken to an unknown world of China, which I was not sure if it exists. I took three of my classmates back in graduate school to the playhouse when they came to visit me. They were professors teaching Japanese literature at university. One of them specialized in storytelling. We all were deeply touched by the show made by a group of young actors who had just graduated from School of Art of Soochow University. My classmate spoke highly of the show. He said it was awesome and was the best one he had ever seen. I could tell from the expression on his face how satisfying he was. I felt the same way. What a good place Wuxi is! How much I hope I will stay here forever.
After getting off the bus, I looked around for the playhouse, but found no sign of it. I tried again before I got courage to ask someone, but still in vain. "Is there a storytelling playhouse around here?" I asked. "It is long gone." "It was over there a long time ago." "It was tore down a couple of years ago." Disappointedly, it is no longer there, sure enough. Gratifyingly, all the four people around answered me kindly and passionately, just like those people I met in the playhouse. I think it is time to start over and work even harder in Wuxi.