Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day Three

We are at the International Symposium of Crisis Intervention in Beijing. The CEO of Centerstone, the largest provider of community-based behavioral healthcare in the US, David Guth, and the President of International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Tom McSherry, speak through the morning and take questions. Helena pops up every once in a while to clarify in Chinese, which of course has nothing to do with clarity for us non-natives.

At lunch, Anthony Kuhn, Beijing correspondent for National Public Radio comes to interview me. He waits patiently as we have our photos taken behind the statue of Chairman Mao (who is not in the picture) and then interviews me and also speaks with David and Helena. He is charming and asks good questions and takes the time for the answers. I don’t know when the show will air.

I ask Helena about Chairman Mao when I see his statue in front of the university. She says he was an honorable leader. That he lived modestly and was devoted to the people’s well being. He was frustrated that, with good will and hard work, it didn’t turn out the way he expected and wanted. They think kindly of him, she said. However, when I ask someone else, he says Mao died in 1976, that he’s largely irrelevant, and no one but the older, poorer people miss him.

The afternoon consists of Tom again and Becky Stoll, from Centerstone, who speaks on suicide. It is long, as each sentence must be translated, but the time that the jokes should have gotten a laugh is saved, because they sometimes fall flat, although the audience is with us and appreciative and intent on learning.

I am a compulsive “God bless you” sayer at the slightest hint of a sneeze. Harry used to say that if we were hiding from the enemy and one of them sneezed, I’d pipe up and give us all away. When I ask how you say “God bless you” to a sneeze in Chinese, I am told that they don’t really acknowledge it. One might say, solicitously, “Oh, you’re getting a cold,” but no one wishes another health or whatever the blessing is. I’d heard that everything in your body stops when you sneeze and that’s why we bless people, that they may return to themselves again. But clearly that’s not a universal philosophy.

Photographers are everywhere, some on duty, most just members of the audience, snapping obtrusively. The photos of last night’s dinner with the bigwigs is on the screen as a placeholder. It’s a little like a hall of mirrors. Everyone takes pictures of everyone else doing everything. It’s a little like real life once removed. And we are treated like celebs.

I am listening to the strategies and goals of the CISM process and wondering where my presentation fits in. Light. I must remember it’s really only light I bring to offer.

We go to a Mongolian Muslim restaurant where there is abundant delicious food

There is abundant food, some non-meat alternatives for some of us, and our hosts are considerate, warm and wonderful, laughing at our attempts to speak Chinese.

I go back to the room which I share with Helena easily. She wears my silver earrings because she has come not from her home in Shanghai, but from Seattle, where she was on vacation with her daughter until the earthquake shook everything up and she had to arrange to get all of us back to Beijing for this conference. I wear her perfume.

She tiptoes back into the room late, after meeting conference administrators to plan the next activities. Then she wakes up at four. I am aware of all this and hardly sleep, myself.


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