Friday, November 28, 2008

Class is in Session

We are finally able to start school! I am very excited. I haven't made much progress in my language skills since being here. It is easy to cheat and play the dumb foreigner by pantomiming and nodding. That is not good! I learn better in a structured environment with someone expecting me to be prepared. I guess that is why I loved school so much. (I know, I'm a nerd. Sorry) We start Monday morning bright and early. Every weekday from 8:30-10:30am we will be immersed in Chinese. We haven't recieved our textbooks yet but I know they contain writing exercises too. I will be writing characters!! I have actually been texting in characters to people I meet. The messages are very simple and usually checked by someone fluent, but every time I compose a message and hit send, I am amazed and grateful for the wondrous force that aids our natural ability to learn. Today, I looked at the bus routes and could recognize several characters. I don't know what they mean put together but I know what they are. It is a very weird sensation.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Most Beautiful Province in China!

We recently visited several places in the Yunnan Province of China. This area is said to be the most beautiful in the whole country. It has the highest mountain ranges and the deepest valleys. We only had time to visit three places in this vast province; Kunming, Lijiang, and Dali. Frank wandered around the city of Kunming the first day while I visited ShiLin (Stone Forest) with friends. The "forest" is actually miles of rock formations believed to be caused by erosion over a very long period of time. It is like walking through caves and caverns above ground. We had inside information and were able to enter a part of the park that had no entrance fee. It also had no other visitors. We took a very backwoods trail through thick brush and steep inclines to get there. It was very much like the hiking I did as a child. Then we wandered for hours through the rocks all the way to the top of the mountain for a spectacular view. We sang familiar songs and yodeled to hear the echo. At times the caverns demanded complete silence, and we respected their request, quietly admiring the majestic beauty before us. We came away with a sense of awe for the wonders of nature provided for our enjoyment.
The next day was spent in Kunming's city center where there are markets and shops that would take days to explore. In the very center is a bronze map of Kunming on the ground about 20 ft. x 20 ft. Very impressive. We wandered the shops all day until it was time to catch the night bus to Lijiang. It is called a sleeper bus, but with bunks only big enough for children, pillows of metal and a driver that sends you sliding forward at every turn, there isn't much sleeping. I think Frank compared it to a coffin and that is pretty accurate. Your feet are encased in a metal sleeve that goes under the head of the person in front of you and there is a small rail on one side of you to keep you from falling out. Your other side is squished against the wall of the bus. Very cozy. About 3am the bus pulled over for breakfast, at 3 am! The "restaurant" was a large, dark, dirty room of tables and a few young girls in the corner making fried rice and noodles. The drivers were all in one corner playing cards and drinking. We checked; ours was having tea only. An hour later we were on our way and arrived around 7:30am. Lijiang is rather quaint compared to Kunming. The mountains in the background reminded me of pictures I've seen of Aspen, Colorado. The ancient city was all China though, winding streets of shops and hostels that held character and history around every corner. We made it to the top and found a cute coffee shop with a breathtaking view. No one was around, so we made ourselves at home. Frank discovered the free wireless connection and we decided to soak in the sun and the landscape while he surfed. "Can I help you?", we heard suddenly. The owner had arrived. We ordered coffee and commented on his very good English. "I'm from California", he explained. WOW! It is amazing the people you meet. We chatted for awhile and headed back down to visit another old part of town he suggested we see. ShuHe was just another tourist trap but the prices were much cheaper and we got to practice our haggling skills. Joe, the Chinese Californian, told us there was a Mexican restaurant in town and we decided to scout it out. It took us about an hour of hunting, about three or four different sets of directions from "helpful" passersby, but find it we did. Frosty Morning serves THE best hamburger in China. I know, it's a Mexican place, the tacos are ok too, but the burger is IT! I made the mistake of ordering tacos and missed out. Two large patties cooked perfectly, topped with mushrooms, onions, and... a pork chop. Served with fries. Frank did not know what to do with himself. If you ever visit Lijiang, you must visit David and his Aunt Maria at Frosty Morning for the Frosty Morning Burger. You won't regret it. We returned to the old part of Lijiang as the sun went down. The streets were lined with red lanterns and there was music in the air. It was absolutely beautiful.
We caught a bus to Dali the next day, about four hours away. Even if Dali had been a dump, I would have paid just for the ride. We had to delete pictures on the camera to make room for more because every turn was a masterpiece. The city itself was also very nice. It's a tourist trap but the prices are so reasonable for everything, hostel, food, and souvenirs, that you don't mind being trapped. It is a haggler's paradise and Frank had a ball. I bought a shawl for 15Kuai without bargaining and he got upset that I didn't try, so I told him fine, you do it, see if you can get this scarf for me too. Minutes later he walks out with the scarf which was set at about 45K. He paid 15K. He took to his newly acquired skill like a true shopaholic. Every time I turned around, he had another parcel in his hands. After ten minutes at one shop, the lady finally gave in with a sigh and a shake of her head. "You good bargainer", she said. Frank just smiled and cached his spoils with the rest of the loot. The highlight of the market was one art shop. There we found a 16 year old deaf boy selling his paintings. He was so cute, we all bought something from him and then tried to think of a way to bring him home with us. I learned a few new signs. He took a liking to me since I was trying to communicate and we spent about 30 minutes just talking and admiring his work. I don't think he was fluent in even Chinese Sign but he definitely knew the language of bargaining. He was so happy to sell his work, he was almost bouncing. We saw him later on in another part of the market and he ran up to us to tell us about another gallery further down. None of us had a suitcase big enough to put him in, so he had to stay behind. Too bad.
We finished up our trip back in Kunming mainly resting from the rest of the vacation. The plane took off in the evening and we are safely back home. Someday, we would like to come again to the most beautiful province in China.
PS- I have loaded more pictures on Kodak Gallery. Send a note if you would like to see.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Adaptation and Assimilation--- Possible?

Assimilation infers complete immersion, loss of one’s own culture in exchange for another. I think perhaps this is not a country that would allow that. We will always be outsiders here. However, adaptation is another thing altogether. This is possible, with patience, humility, and a willingness to learn. I believe China will permit us this. We have already been learning to adapt in many ways. The Asian toilet was a huge step forward. I guess that’s forward. Most of our cooking has been Chinese as well. Learning to do without a fridge as they do, has taught us simplicity and contentment. What we don’t have to eat, we simply don’t need. We like rice and that is non-perishable. We are given practical wisdom on a daily basis to use what funds we have in the best way possible. What to buy, what not to buy, a simple issue of contentment. There is something to be said for a simple life. Stress free for the most part, leaving more time and energy for the most important things. Walking everywhere keeps us healthy and allows time for meditation as does riding the buses. The language barrier keeps our minds active, searching for ways to chip it away.
It still surprises me how easily I have adjusted to city life, riding buses alone, walking for miles on my own in areas I have never been before. I am seldom fearful, lonely perhaps, but I can find my own way. I appreciate the air of small town life here though; the market where I can buy fresh cut meat and vegetables with garden soil still clinging to them, the little dogs and cats running free, and especially, the sound of hooves on our street in the wee hours of morning as the local horse-drawn taxi passes slowly by, merging with more modern traffic and disappearing into a cacophony of horns, security alarms and sirens. We are adapting, slowly. If we and they remain willing, I believe we can find our place here.
While we fully expect continued strength in our operations going forward, course correcting adaptations are vital to the execution of a focused agenda,
Barry Diller

Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have.

Shou Yu (Hand Language)

Here are some additional pictures for your enjoyment. There was a photo slump while the rain was here but things should pick up. Things are definitely getting busier for us. The most exciting thing happened to me on Saturday. While walking in a local market, I saw deaf people! Their picture is above. Before I could get nervous, I was tapping one on the shoulder. Before I knew it we were having a conversation (somewhat)!! They understood me!! It is amazing! Now I have to see them again and maybe they will help me learn their sign language and I can share what I know with them. I was so excited my face was beaming, or so I have been told. Perhaps I do not have to give it up after all. How awesome would that be? Anyway, here are the pics. Enjoy!

A Stroll Through the Market

You can get almost anything at the market. You can get fresh sugar cane juice pressed by the sweetest YeYe (Grandfather) in the city. 1 Kuai or about .15 cents buys a dixie cup of sweet goodness. We had sugar cane in our garden as a child. It tasted like a memory. YeYe and his wife have been squeezing cane juice for over 15 years. He had a lot to say about everything and we listened for about 15 minutes.
If you still have time, you can sit and enjoy your juice while having those nasty ingrown toenails clipped and cleaned.
Have a problem with wax build-up? No problem. The local E.N.T. (Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor) has a shop set up right next to the pedicurists. He is very handy with a penknife or chopstick or whatever else sharp long and pointed he has in his hand. The victim (patient) was nice enough to inform us that
the process was hen shufu (very comfortable). No Thank You!
If you can still hear after that, you can walk down a few paces and take dance lessons. If you aren't deaf already, you will be after enduring the instructor's booming voice blasting the next steps in your now wax-free ears. In other stalls you can sit and have your hair blackened or have a facial, but only under one eye or on one side of the face; you have to purchase the product to get the full experience.After pampering yourself, you can sample the plethora of eatables for sale: dried shrimp, handmade sausage that would make an Italian cringe, pickled pears, face of pig, a plethora. Actually there are a few familiar items: kabobs, boiled peanuts (not salty), pork rinds (spicy and plain), peanut brittle and sesame candy. Visiting the market is a culturally stimulating experience, come and enjoy!


"If fools went not to market, bad wares would not be sold"