The morning sun was up and Donna had been in bed (with a varying amount of overnight solid sleep) for about 11 or more hours. I knew that my jet lag had turned around rather easily with the same kind of schedule. I thought she would be good to go if she could get out of bed and stay up again all day again. No Chinese naps for her. Fortunately, she’s not a napper anyway. After some coffee, tea and some breakfast foods we were ready to explore the new world before us.
The first place I took Donna was about 200 yards from the apartment. It was the parking lot of one of the campus buildings. Every morning at some early hour about 30-40 women would gather for Tai Chi morning exercise and Chinese dance/choreography. It looked very cultural as they often had fans and red cloths that were being waved as they proceeded through their synchronized routines. I had seen this several times before and I tried to take some photos but I thought that might be a bit intrusive. I took a few shots anyway when they were deep in the concentration of what they were doing. A couple of ladies and an elderly man were also in another spot finishing up doing some routines. They seemed to be staring at us so I made way over to them and much to their delight and surprise I greeted them good morning in Chinese. Unfortunately, I do that pretty well, but after that they think I can speak Chinese, and they soon learn otherwise. They tried to engage me in conversation but soon realized I could not, so they just smiled as we waved “Bye-Bye” to each other.
Going shopping in a store without a Chinese student host wasn’t done very often. When I tried to go and shop by myself it was always fun. I took Donna to what I called the convenience store without the help of one of my student hosts. It was a small grocery and sundry store near the campus gate that we exited and entered most often. It was bigger than our traditional American convenience stores and for a small store had an amazing amount of food and general products that anybody could use in their kitchen and household. It was always busy and buzzing with people. Whenever I did go there without the aid of a translator, I just looked a lot and then pointed to a few things that I could purchase. I was never really sure how much everything cost, so I always handed them more than I thought would be necessary and waited for the change. That usually worked pretty well. On this occasion we found a few things we needed that I had encouraged her not to carry over here because of weight, easy accessibility, and low costs here in China.
At 10:00 a.m. Alice showed up at our appointed time so that she, Donna, Mia and I could all go to open street market together. I knew this was a must see occurrence for Donna and the fact that I had a couple of local Chinese girl translators with me was going to make it even more informative and interesting. The street market was loud, busy, hectic, colorful, and very culturally eclectic. It was the place where anyone could buy and sell their fruits, vegetables, baked goods, plus other food items both raw and cooked. All sorts of other tangible goods and services of crafts, merchandise, small livestock and more were available from this market. The street market stretched about 4-5 blocks in all directions from the Southwest gate of the campus. It was made up of very narrow streets with all sorts of transportation modes of bicycles, motorbikes, scooters, trailers, and a variety of other wheeled transportation modes. Horns on these vehicles were prominently on display as no matter what the circumstance everybody apparently felt the need to use them profusely. It was crowded with all sorts of people and all in all an amazing site to behold. I knew that Donna would be wide-eyed but I also knew that she would not like the cleanliness of this venue. It really is a muddy mess of dirt roads, food waste and other muckiness.
Alice and Mia knew a lot of the details of the various foods that were for sale. A variety of fruits and vegetables, seeds, herbs and dried meats and more were all available. Some of the more fascinating items featured live snakes and frogs, plus chickens, ducks, doves, and all sorts of other fowl creatures. What they didn’t know much about we inquired, or we didn’t even want to know! We strolled through the market taking photos of the uniqueness of the offering and the venue. It was a truly fascinating experience.
We were only at the open street market for about an hour and a half before Alice needed to leave us and go on to a teaching appointment she had, but we were ready to leave anyway. On our way out of the market place we bought some fresh fruit for that night’s dinner party. Mia negotiated our price and transactions for us. The pictures of this event are much more telling than my words will ever be. Check them out!
When we arrived back at the apartment it was nearly lunchtime. Edwin met us as we arrived with an invitation to go along with several others who were beginning to gather. There were about ten of us that were going to walk to a restaurant in town called the Yellow Tablecloth.
This was to be Donna’s first venture out to a commercial eating venue. I had given her a very primitive lesson in Chinese table decorum that morning, explaining the use of the small bowl and the small plate at each serving place. I laughed when I told her that the waitress table server would probably throw a few packaged tissues at us for what they call napkins. The restaurants in China do not have as a part of their normal set up napkins or water. In fact, if you want water you should buy a bottle before you arrive and bring it with you. As announced, the server soon came in and literally threw about half of the tissues we would need for this meal. The food was typical Chinese and for the most part was very good. We ordered about 11 traditional dishes for us all to share. We had Blanche with us so she ordered for us and we made sure that the food was not prepared with the hot and spicy that is their normal method. Among the dishes that we liked but had not eaten before in various combinations were: eggs and tomatoes, shredded potatoes with green peppers and onions, and Tofu (which is something I still have not acquired a taste for but the Chinese seem to love). There were a total of ten of us and the bill only came to ¥160, which is about $23.50. That’s only $2.35 per person for about 11 different dishes, tea, tax and tip, which is always included in the price of the food. I could never do that in the states. I’m not sure we could even buy the food at the store and prepare it at home that cheaply.
When lunch was over we returned to the apartment because it was time to meet up with Jessica again. She had returned to Hengyang from visiting her aunt in Changsha. Mia had gotten separated from us lingering and talking with the others and her new friends. Mia is so sociable that she may really be my Chinese daughter. Mia and Jessica are best friends at Harding and it was a fun reunion for them even though they had only been separated for a few days.
Aurelie knocked on my apartment door. She was going to be gone for the Dragon Boat Festival holiday weekend with one of her Chinese friends. She knew I would be gone by the time she returned and wanted to meet Donna. Aurelie and I had become friends because I was actually able to speak to her in more French (albeit not much) than anybody else on campus had been able to do. She was one person I was pretty sure that I would never see again. But stranger things have happened and by now I should know better than to make statements like that. None-the-less, we said our aurevoir’s and she left.
When we all settled in I announced to Donna, Mia and Jessie what our evening plans were to be. I wanted Donna to experience some of the students coming to the apartment and the cooking the way they did for us. I had invited about 20 students over to the apartment, to bring their food fixings in various completion forms, and continue the preparation at my house. I told the ones who were going to cook to arrive about 5:00 pm with the serving to be about 7:00 pm. I thought we needed some basics for the evening like some disposable bowls, cleaning products and a few food items that were to be my contribution for the evening so a trip to the store was in order. I wanted Jessica and Mia to go with me to help read the labels and translate if necessary and they were delighted to do so. The Xiang Jiang General Store was the big supermarket and was about 8-10 blocks away. It is always a fascinating experience for me to attend any local grocery store, but especially one where the people and culture are so foreign to me, (no pun intended). Jessica and Mia helped us get what we needed and they bought some things we needed for a Sunday morning breakfast they were to prepare for the Meyers and us.
We returned from the Xiang Jiang General Store about the time the first of our guests started to arrive. Where did the day go? It was 5 o’clock and it was time for the food to start cooking. I had learned that it takes about two hours to prepare the food and besides that it was a fun experience.
This was not a typical weekend. The school had actually moved a few of their classes from the following Monday and Tuesday to this now Saturday and the next day Sunday, because of an impending national holiday called the Dragon Boat Festival that was to be on the following Wednesday. They wanted to give everybody three days off instead of only one on Wednesday so they just moved the Monday and Tuesday’s class schedule to Saturday and Sunday. This change was announced after my dinner plans were made. Unfortunately, this affected my students’ arrivals and some weren’t able to attend at all. Many of the invited students had gone home after their Saturday class to start the holiday sooner.
By 7:00 o’clock there was little to no food to serve! One student came to me and said, “I’m hungry, when do we eat?” I called a few of the participants together to figure out what to do and soon a back-up plan was conceived and placed into action. A few of us were going to cut up the fruit purchased at the open street market to be served as appetizers, (and buy us some time), some were going to go back to their apartments to retrieve and fix anything that they had and could bring back, while Jessica and Mia went into to town to buy whatever else they deemed necessary to feed the now smaller group than expected. I had given Jessica and Mia what I thought was enough money to get what they needed. They ended up purchasing some take out already prepared food of noodles and a few other novelty items (like cheesecake). We had plenty of food rather quickly. Soon enough, we had more food than we could eat. One of my students, Avil, had brought enough bananas to make (again just for me) some fried bananas for desert.
The evening ended up being a wonderful experience of fellowship of new and old acquaintances and just a lot of fun. I had Sally return with her sidekick, Violin, carrying friend Johnny, to play for us again this evening. There were several teachers that had only heard our reports of Sally’s violin playing skills, so they were excited to know she was to play again for us.
As the evening was winding down I noticed Avil seemed particularly sad. When I inquired as to why, it was because I, and our Harding team, would be leaving the next morning and Monday. She had grown close to us and now was realizing that her new friends would soon leave and she may never see us again. I tried to encourage her to be happy because we had the chance to meet and not sad because we were leaving. Here is a copy of the e-mail I later received from Avil regarding my advice:
I know you have already returned to US.
Do you know you really a good Professor? You send me a lot of information about America. It is totally fresh to us, and you let me know more about your culture and your lives. Your habit is so different and very attractive to me. Thanks a lot.
I know life is composed of meeting and department. I should not be sad about department. In contrary, we should be pleased with our knowing each other. So... I will be happy all the time.
Recently I am very busy, because I am preparing for my final examinations. How about you? Are you busy with you company? In all, remember to be happy with your lives.
Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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