Time plays a part in one of those funny memories I have of our early years in Northwest China. China is a big country. There is only one official time – Beijing Time. That is the time anything official, such as government offices, airports, trains, etc., runs on. That is all good and well, except if you live far and away to the west of Beijing, or if you are a local who grew up far and away west of Beijing. It just doesn’t jive with what the sun is telling you. So anytime there was an event we had to pay attention to who was telling us about it. Was it an official or a local person? Or we just had to ask directly: “Is that Beijing time or Xinjiang time?” Being somewhat rebellious children of the 60’s and 70’s we kept local Xinjiang time along with most of our local friends.
Now that doesn’t seem too complicated, but there are a couple more issues involved. Daylight savings was introduced somewhere along the line while we were living there and then later abandoned. Some folks just flat-out refused to pay attention to that. So now we had Beijing Time, Summer Beijing Time, Xinjiang Time, or Summer Xinjiang time. If that wasn’t complicated enough we always had to keep in mind that events never started when they were stated to start. Weddings, parties, most social events always started a couple of hours later than posted. It took us awhile but we did get used to that. The only problem was that some of our friends, knowing that we were foreigners and clueless at times, would tell us to show up at a certain time for an event and they meant that time. You can only imagine how often we showed up too early or on occasion too late for an event.
I look back on the “time” issue with a smile. Time just wasn’t that big of a deal like it is to us here in the West. The important thing was just to show up at some point and join in the festivities. We were always welcome and never lacked for food or fellowship. In fact it was often difficult to leave as our hosts would pull long faces and say things like, “Oh you don’t like the food.” Or “You are bored and haven’t had a good time.” They would say those things after we had been there for at least four hours and stuffed ourselves so full we could hardly move to the door!