Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's Not What You Know, It's Who!

For those of us on a budget that still want a vacation, we usually go somewhere we have friends, stay with them and save a bundle. It works that way here too. We have been in China long enough to make friends. Our friends in Dali helped us find a very nice hotel for almost nothing a night. It's not where all the foreigners stay, but its clean, quiet, and run by a sweet elderly couple who are the salt of the earth. The wife never learned to write but she has no problem counting money! We have been fed several times for free, feasts, including a Chinese family reunion. Last night we treated our friends to dinner and they took us to a restaurant we would never have found on our own. Away from the tourist's streets, down a market alley, nestled right next to the public toilet. The place has been around for about 100 years according to our friend and one word to the owner gave us a discount. The local price versus the tourist price. His family knows their family. The next time we go, we only have to mention that we also know them and ask for the locals' price. Like I said, it's not what you know...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dali Picture Gallery!

These are the spiky fruits found on the roots of the local water plants. they are harvested by hand, wading out into the water and pulling up the plants. Then they are boiled and sold. The flavor is similar to a boiled peanut without salt. I never had to worry about puncturing my lip with a peanut though.

This is Westerner Street. The tour guides make sure to point out the abundance of cafes and the possibility of spotting foreigners eating. They have a hayday when they spot Frank and he has to tell them "no photo!" He offers a pic for 5 yuan but so far, no takers.
These women are picking mint to take to market. One of the guys showing us around was amazed to hear that we made mint sun tea as children. He asked what flavor the tea had. Uhhh, mint?


Dali, in the Yunnan Province of China, lies along Lake Erhai which looks more like the ocean. There is the "Old Town" full of tourists and stalls selling just about every colorful knickknack imaginable. The river winds its way through the city, cascading in small waterfalls and flowing through sluices cut into the stone walkways.  It creates a natural, relaxing atmosphere. Outside the walled city though, are several fishing villages where water is life. Fruit is harvested from the roots of the floating waterlilies. Snails, fish, crabs, and more are caught and sold at the local restaurants. Water is drawn from shallow wells or collected in plastic jugs from the spring bubbling up in the Old Town. Even in the chilly weather, boys enjoyed swimming and splashing in the fresh water coming down from the mountains. Now, if it would only stop raining!


The night we arrived in Dali, our friend met us at the train station with two big bags of meat. She proudly showed Frank the bag of paigu, short ribs. They are Frank's favorite Chinese food and everyone knows it. We followed her across highways and down alleys to her friend's house where about ten guys were busy cooking up a storm in the tiny kitchen attached the main house. This is the spread they laid out for us. A few of the guys make their living cooking in hotels in Guangzhou, a city at the border of Hong Kong. It was delicious!! They were very happy to explain how to prepare several of the dishes and a few others I asked about. I find it amazing that we have only been here 3 years and yet we have friends in several places around the country. Connections that provide VERY cheap lodging, free meals, serve as tour guides to areas other foreigners may never go, show you where to avoid being cheated and that are just great friends!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hide and Seek!

Some of our friends organized a treasure hunt/hide & seek game that sent us running through the little lakeside village, searching for Chinese characters on signs and listening for the tinkling of bells tied to our pursuers shoes. We had to photograph the signs on the list and hide from the bells without ducking into buildings. Impossible. We never heard them coming. With one item left on our list, they captured us all at once like a cheetah after gazelle. Not nearly as graceful though, with us screaming our heads off and laughing hysterically as we stumbled downhill. More like a cheetah chasing drunk hyenas. Before we were captured, we ran into a little alley and passed some elderly women, two of which gazed at us in amazement. The other smiled knowingly and called out, "They're foreigners just playing an exercise game!" Good guess on the foreigner part. But is it really such a regular thing to see us running, screaming and laughing down the alleyways of this little village? Hmmm. The losers (all of us) were to be thrown into the cold lake as punishment. That didn't work so well since all but three of us couldn't swim and freaked out when we, the experienced ones, ventured out further than waist deep. We did come here to swim right? That did explain the abundance of life jackets, arm floaties and other flotation devices. As well as the regular megaphone announcements that since the wind was blowing, it was dangerous to swim and everyone in the water needed to don the bright orange life vests available for rent.
All in all, it was fun simply because we were with friends. We played games into the night, crowded into one hotel room and shared French press coffee in the hallway the next morning. We even convinced a nearby restaurant to cook Chinese scrambled eggs and rice for breakfast instead of noodles. They did a surprisingly good job too. Tired, full, and happy, we climbed aboard the bus for the long ride home.
"Sometimes, the journey isn't about where you go, but who accompanies you."-Mandy

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Observations From a Train!

We are on our way to Dali in the Yunnan Province. We are on a budget this year so we opted for seats instead of the hardsleeper. It cut the price in half. Imagine our surprise when we boarded the train and discovered our seats were on the bottom bunk of a hardsleeper! Six people shared the bottom two bunks. The other four beds held luggage and straw baskets full of mysteriously shaped objects, and as Frank found out, people are not allowed to sit or lie on the empty bunks. Dirty luggage, no problem! Clean bodies, get your butt on the bottom bunk SIR!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Lake!

 There are many beautiful beaches around the world. We have had the privilege of visiting a few of them.  White sands, crystal clear, deep blue waters, peace and quiet. The lake we visited this week had the blue waters, the deepest blue I've seen yet. The white sand was shipped in and fenced like a giant sandbox. I was afraid to take my shoes off for fear of who had used it. The actual shore was rocks, sharp ones. As for peace and quiet, well, no there was none. Especially peace. The cheating and taking advantage began as soon as we set foot on the beach. We sat down at some tables to enjoy our picnic lunch, after verifying with the nearby shop owner that it was ok and no charge. We were almost finished eating when two women came up and demanded that we pay for each table used. Where were they when we first arrived? They waited till the last minute to approach us, so we knew we were being cheated because we were foreigners.  It is difficult to stay calm when they are yelling at you, pulling your arm and blocking your way. We (the guys) patiently and firmly explained how we don't pay cheaters and that the best move was for them to leave us alone. We packed up all our stuff and headed down the "beach" past little booths selling whole fried crab, tiny shrimp on a stick and other fare, along the water front completely blocked by paddle boats for rent. The mean ladies followed us. I was surprised at their audacity as they pulled on Frank's arm and stood in front of foreigners twice their size. We brushed right past their empty threats of police retaliation. Along the shore was a small patch of empty ground that had not been confiscated and we put our stuff down to claim it. Careful not to place anything on the table nearby, we moved it back a foot. Bad idea! The woman ( a different one) came running.  Frank stopped her in her tracks with a look and a firm sendoff. She moved her table back, then retreated to a safe distance but hovered the whole day like a greedy vulture. One of them told us the ground had to be rented too and the only free part was the two feet of shore before the water's edge. She was also told to get lost after being directed to the many Chinese tourists making free use of both tables and ground. It put a damper on our spirits at first, but the water was free and were soon laughing and splashing in the cold deep blue, oblivious to the gnashing teeth. The idea is, we are foreigner, so we are rich. Therefore, we should have to pay.Little did they know. 


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pass the City Limit Sign!

Most of our time is spent within the confines of this city with its 5-7 million inhabitants. But, right pass the city limit signs are “small” towns where the traffic is light and you can hear yourself think. The land is open and dotted with little villages and farms. China, of course, is developing these areas and soon the land will disappear into high-rises, shopping malls too expensive to shop in and the villagers will have to move on or adapt. This "small" town we went to probably had a population close to a million, I'm not sure. The most developed area looked like someone had dropped a brand new city in the middle of an empty lot. University campuses, still shiny and new were grouped together with brand new apartment complexes rising out of the dust behind them. All around were vineyards, fruit trees, and dirt. The developing has already begun. We toured one of the Universities and sat by the pond for awhile before venturing out to the real-life village. It was just another city, smaller than ours and with some areas that reminded me of Wagener and Batesburg, SC. Peaches and grapes from roadside stands and old shacks down little dirt roads. The main attraction was a flower market outside their city limits. We walked what felt like miles, (and actually was)  just to see. If I had a car, I would go back and load up on plants. That, and I would need a yard to plant them in of course. If you take Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart and any other's garden department, multiply it by 100, you might have an idea of the vastness of plant life available here. It smelled sweet and earthy and I didn't want to leave. I only managed to carry back a mosquito repellant citronella plant. There is something special about small towns, population 1 million or 200. Roots, fresh air and a simplicity you can't find anywhere else.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Last Day of School!

We found out this weekend, that our last day of school would be on Monday. The school forgot to tell the only student left, Joe. I had to break the news to him this morning. We thought we still had a week left! So, on his last day, Joe had to take my final exam. Bummer. Now we are sitting quietly, he writing a letter and I typing away. Frank will meet us for lunch. I prepared taco salad for Joe. Without notice, he has to get everything together to leave tonight. He spread some things on the back table and labeled them garage sale items. My boss and I bought up what we could to help him out. It didn't hurt that I got a nice cooling pad for my computer and a laptop table for the bed. Got anything else?  He just wants to get rid of stuff because he can't take it all on the bus. His entire school life is contained within a small rubbermaid container and his backpack.  I tossed my curriculum book in the trash and he fished it out. "This is a memory!", he said as he stashed it away inside the rubbermaid. The school locked the dormitory last Friday and he has been sleeping in a spare classroom on a gym mat! What kind of a place is this? And yet, this place has special memories for all of us.  So, one of the best students I have ever had will head home tonight on a bus. I know I have written a lot about Joe, Sun Yi, but if you met him, you would understand. He is the kid that makes you love your job and love him. I wish him all the best, and more!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day at the Park!


Ralph and Kay's school held a picnic at the lake last week so Frank and I paid our way in and crashed the party. Missed out on the bbq but it was a perfect day for a walk in the park. Frank who hates walking did really good staying with me and we enjoyed the afternoon. The park was loaded with people but most were at rest, hanging in hammocks or laying in tents so it was still peaceful. The crowd of foriegners attracted alot of attention. It was funny to see people taking pictures of tow headed kids like we take pictures of their children. The school arranged some rather childish games for grown students to play. Pretty much chase, tag, run around like a bunch of kindergardeners. We just watched from the sidelines. The best part was renting a five seater bike and cycling the park. It was so refreshing to be in the fresh air and my mood improved drastically. Its easy to get weighed down by city life here but a day in the park was just what I needed. I can understand why parks are such a part of Chinese culture. People smile a lot here but even more so when they can relax, play cards, drink tea, and chat. m Here are some of the things we saw: