The last time I went anywhere far away, it was ChengDu China. I went there in the summer of 2003 to teach some middle school kids English and P.E. Yes, P.E.
I could hardly say no. They paid everything. Food, hotel, airfare. And then when I got home there was a buncha money in my account. See, this is the way to travel. Thank you, SARS!
I will write about China here because I have become such a lazy traveller, I never really document what ever happened. Now that my life revolves around children, the memory of China is so refreshing, I want to linger over it a bit. And for perhaps the first time, I want to write about it.
It was HOT and very HUMID (the kids were wilting). The food was amazing. It was beautiful, felt very safe and I wanted to stay.
Most Chinese we met took and “American” name. Probably to avoid having their names butchered, but nevertheless, I will never forget the kid who chose the nickname “CCTV” and was made fun of by other kids because obviously, it was Closed Circuit Television. But it was the first English thing he could think of. So, I called him CC. He is still fresh in my memory, a gentle, brilliant young man who was kind of larger than all the other kids. He was also the one who fought in class, because another boy called him a “girl”. Have you ever tried to calm a fight in a Chinese classroom? Me neither. The little teacher stood there kind of like a teacup chihuahua and barked as seriously as she could and did not relent until the boys stopped. It was actually pretty cool to watch this little bitty woman (she could not have even come to my shoulders– maybe 4 foot 9 inches?) command these boys off of each other.
It worked, her authority won. I barked too, but barking in a foreign language just sounds odd, not really as effective.
I recall the first time I spoke to her, I was looking for something, hoping very much to find it. Some basic tool, like a stapler. Showing her this and that, and asking, describing. She merely looked at me and said “You have such beautiful English!” I realized she hadn’t understood anything, the dear woman.
Our translator was named Rocky. He was a very sharp, good humored young man. Serious when he needed to be and very adept at working with our group. He was at once tireless, always even keel, and had everything ready at all times. He was pretty amazing, actually. He loved basketball and The Godfather. There was nothing that we could throw at him that would unnerve him. Though I think I threw him once when I asked him if he was a spy for the communists (haha! what can I say, I was reading a book about communist China).
Indeed, the minute we arrived, we had to go shopping for underpants because all of our luggage was lost. So his first task was to take these old ladies (we were old to him, I think he was maybe 21) underwear shopping. In China, custom is strong and strict and I am sure somewhere in their byzantine code of appropriate conduct with strangers it forbids underpants shopping with older women.
And it wasn’t at all further complicated by the fact that Chinese women don’t seem to come in sizes larger than 6. Can you visualize a bunch of white women in a mall in china holding up underpants with an eye as to whether they would fit?
Rocky’s reaction was completely appropriate. He hid.
Because the interviewers had wanted to make sure we were seasoned in the area of traveling, it was really unusual when the woman who was chosen as our “leader” chewed Rocky out because she couldn’t get a piece of white chicken meat. She really went at him for a long time. I think he must have been very wise, because I never saw white chicken meat there, so he knew that his bosses wouldn’t hold this against him. So he just let her yell and accepted her abuse. For quite awhile, as I recall. I remember feeling embarrassed.
As far as the chicken went all I can tell you is there were no birds anywhere, and, I think the definition of meat overall was a very loose one. That based on a scientific drawing of a hypothesis and rigorous testing 3 times a day being served meat of dubious origin, that is, until I chose to just eat the noodles and the vegetable dishes. The lack of birds and the unusual qualities the meat had made me wonder how chicken in China could be so different.
And truthfully, I hardly cared, everything was so delicious.
And so to food. We were in the Sichuan province where Mandarin Chinese is spoken. The food was other-worldly. The flavors, colors, combinations they conjured were… even in street food, amazing, every meal. Hot Pot was the big thing there.
Now, folks, after living overseas and in a couple countries where meat is really anything and everything that is an animal, I have learned that I, myself can digest and enjoy any fruit, vegetable, noodle, bean, rice whatever combination! But “exotic” meat can make me sicker faster than anything.
There was a little surprise that I would be so bold as to decline this delicacy of Hot Pot. If one declines, your fellow travelers may decide that you are a weenie (unless you have a bleeding ulcer or some other shocking medication condition). But at this age, who in the world cares? I would rather not spend the remainder of the evening being ill, thanks much.
And so the Hot Pot, it was two large bowls of boiling broth or oil or something. One was very spicy hot and the other not so much. And then from there it was sort of like fondue, grab your chopsticks and a duck foot and cook that bad boy and then eat it. That’s right! Eat that duck foot! Or goose stomach, or dog heart, or boar blood, or shrimp. Shrimp, ok, I can do shrimp. But the stuff that they hot potted was … oh, it was… well it wasn’t for me.
And can I tell you that everyone in my group got sick after hot pot every time EXCEPT FOR ME?
Even though we worked an awful lot, they also made sure that the weekends were jammed with sightseeing. I am such a lazy traveller, truth be told, I wanted to be excited, but I really didn’t know much about China. So when they said things like we were going to see an irrigation project, well, it just didn’t sound all that appealing. However, when we arrived and started taking things in, it is safe to say that my socks were typically blown off.
Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage, the first place we went when arriving the first weekend. I had no idea who Du Fu was, or what was the big deal about his cottage, except that it was about 500 years old.
We saw, towards the end of our trip, The Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an in Shaanxi province. I didn’t know anything about them except that they were famous. It was the end of the trip and honestly, I was just a little exhausted after a month of teaching 6 hours a day and weekends crammed with activity. Despite the 3 hots a day, I had lost 15 pounds owing to weather and significantly increased activity.
We were on a tour bus, a short bus. There were only about 8 of us. We were all wilting, but holding up well in spite of it. Though most of the pictures are us in front of these magnificent vistas looking like all we wanted was a nap.
The Terra Cotta Warriors were incredible. There were some incredible number of these individually sculpted clay life size “warriors”, my estimate is about 1, 100. All of them were unique. On the pathway there, poor folks were selling smaller versions, but our guide warned us not to buy them because they were made of cow manure. However, they looked amazing, and I was tempted. We also knew that our guide wanted us to buy from a guy he would take us to, but we didn’t because they were much more expensive than most of us were ready to pop for. But one of the ladies did buy a set from the sales people who approached us and showed us on the bus. One of the ladies looking a them marveled at how well made they were. But then it was suggested to smell them. And we found our guide was true.
The blind masseuse.
One of the things that Judy, the coolest lady in our group who happened to be from Australia and had a life full of amazing stories, and I liked the most was going to the massage parlors. Okay, that might sound dicey, but let me tell you, they had these places all over! You could get a full body massage for like 5 bucks and we only did it because you get to keep all your clothes on. I started getting foot massages almost daily. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The interesting thing was that alot of these massage people were blind. It was very new to me, but come to think of it, it makes quite a bit of sense. There wouldn’t be a whole lot of lines of work open to a blind person, but massage would.
I sometimes wish now that we had those little places where you could go lay down and practically forget everything for about 20 minutes.
Here are some more just pics.
Close to ChengDu was the Panda Breeding Sanctuary. Here is the rundown on Pandas. They lay about and they eat. That’s it. They eat bamboo and they lay about. Apparently they also breed.
Everywhere people played MahJong. Some people said it was like gambling. I don’t know, but there would be teahouses packed with people playing. Beats sitting on the computer?
We went to one of many Giant Buddhas there. This one is in LeShan in the Three rivers region, where three rivers meet and there can be quite a few boating accidents. Buddha helps make fewer accidents, I have heard.
I have to admit when they said we were going to an irrigation project, my eybrow lifted and I wondered if maybe, maybe we couldn’t just have a day off instead. But after going there, my hair sufficiently blown back, it was truly something to behold. I have read that in China, a superpower in the world until the 1500’s, it has been said that if the leader can control the waters, he can control the people.
Left out here are what seem like countless trips to Taoist and Buddhist temples. There were always many, many stairs at the Taoist temples, where one could climb for 2 hours solid and still not reach the top of the temple. Mt. Qingchen, Sanxingdui Museum where a pit was uncovered with countless artifacts from Chinese history, The temple in Xi’an where there was a basketball hoop for the monks… and many various sundry recollections of this trip.
All I can say is that child-rearing has surprised me, it is the only thing that has approached the level of education that traveling affords.