Monday, May 24, 2010

China Trip, Chapter Three, "China!"-Under construction

Chapter Three - China!


Penny, Liping and I were off to the silk market on foot, amid a cacophony of sights,
sounds, smells and motion! I could not always identify what we were looking at but I think these are dried (perhaps salted ) fishes.

There was an assortment of bulk, dried fungus and critters for sale.



I was glad that I'd put on a cooler top than I had been wearing on the flights, as it was warm out. The market was a hall lined with  vendor's booths separated by tarps. My first purchase was a pair of socks as the
ones I was wearing were too short and my heel was getting sore. I paid about 45
cents for these NBA anklets.


We found small hand crank flashlights for less than a $1.50 each and we each got one.


It was a sight to see. Many of the vendors screamed their own advertising at the top
of their lungs. One woman was selling dried mushrooms by weight and she had her
small child strapped to her back. They both seemed quite content with the
arrangement.



Penny bought the most, scoring silk pajamas (which Meiya petted when I wore them -
she liked the feel and so did I), a jewel encrusted cardigan and three silk blouses.

I bought a necklace for 1O Yuan (about $1.35) and a silk blouse for 10 Yuan. Liping
got two tank tops for 40 Yuan (just under 6 bucks) and also one of the silk blouses.

We nearly had to give the silk blouses back as Liping had bargained for a 30-Yuan
price and then the vendor raised it to 38! Penny was going to wear one of the new
shirts as it was thinner than the one she had on but, Liping made her take it off
and we were instructed to walk away. After a heated discussion, the dealer relented
we ended up with our price.

We stopped by a teahouse on the way home and bought a
tea presentation case and one "disk" of Puehre tea (black tea native to Kunming).

Once home, we were served a delicious dinner of many courses.
I was having some coordination problems working the chopsticks and decided lack of sleep was to blame!
As soon as dinner was over, I went straight to bed since I'd had little more than
naps for the last 2 days. On my pillow I found a baggie of my favorite homemade
peanut butter cookies, baked by sister Penny and carted to China, as well as a new
towel, terry cloth robe and washcloth. Near the door were new slippers for me and a
pair of thongs or shower shoes, to be used when going to and from the shower. I'd
also been provided a brand new toothbrush and cup for rinsing! Liping and her
parents had thought of everything! It was like a luxury hotel.

The next morning, Liping's father served us large round fried eggs and a cereal that
looked like paste and tasted like dirt to me.

 The eggs were good. Milk comes in little cartons like juice boxes or bigger cartons about the size of a small cereal box.

We got a call from Nate (Penny's son, my nephew, Liping's husband, Meiya's
father) that we should let Jim know that I had arrived safely! Liping set me up on
the Yahoo messenger site and I called and talk to Jim.

We then got ready and headed
out shopping! Many tiny shops abound, one right next to the other with homes
upstairs.

Wares were displayed floor to ceiling and even on the ceiling in some
shops! We tried on jeans in one place after the shopkeeper measured us however they
didn't even begin to fit. If the hips fit okay, the waist bagged terribly.

We spied a street vendor who had watermelons in a little cart behind his bicycle.
Liping bought one to take home.

 The street vendors were everywhere, selling  everything you can imagine. Many of the English translations on t-shirts and such  made little sense and we found them hilarious! Some t-shirts seen were:

"I give all a cheerful smile because I am in the happy monkey." (Alright then!)


"When all hope is lost, glitters is gold." (Huh?)

"She is my princes." (No spell check?)

We also saw a shirt with a picture of a cute little orange cartoon character
flashing the peace sign. Emblazoned below it was the not-so-peaceful message: "
F**K OFF" (Something was certainly lost in translation there!)

Penny was toting a "Mao bag" (canvas bag with a picture of Chairman Mao on it) that
she had purchased while waiting for me to get to China and I also got one at the
same shop while Penny got a camera bag. Liping did all the "bargaining".


We lunched at a teeny ancient "restaurant" (and I use the term loosely).


It was really just a hole in the wall lunch counter with seating for about 4 on the street level and
seats in the attic for about 12 up a steep narrow set of stairs. Liping ordered for
us and Penny and I climbed up the stairs after squeezing by those sitting at the
counter.

A few short legged tables and chairs were up in the attic and there was a
"window" that allowed a view into the attic next to the restaurant.   I found it odd to view a person's legs through the "window"!

Our lunch was noodle bowls. They were a mix of color and texture and were very
picy. Dessert was a gelatinous clear pudding with sugar and a little cake patty
that was soft and made of rice. You were to stir it all up and then eat it.


After lunch, Penny bought a blue and white pottery bowl and a fancy chopstick set while I
bought a red lipstick case and mirrored jewel box. We each got lacquered boxes at a
shop brimming with interesting and ornate wooden items.

 I got two smaller boxes and  Penny got a larger one. Liping did all the bargaining for us at this point, giving
us hints in English.


On the walk back home, I bought two pair of sunglasses and it was a good thing as I let Meiya hold mine and she promptly broke one of the bows off of them. I'd had that pair for several years (which for me is a record) so I was due for new ones!

Once back home, we are served a banquet of many dishes and after, Liping, her
father, Penny, Meiya and I walked to the silk shop to order clothing.

 Penny is measured for a jacket and blouse and I for a top. There is a lady with a horribly
bent spine and a large hump on her back working there. She's only about 4' tall but
has a dazzling smile and beautiful face. We see several other women sewing clothing
including one working on a very large hand embroidered silk wall hanging. She had
been working on it for 6 months and when finished it would only bring about $1400.00
US.


On the second floor were bolts and bolts of silk and a woman sewing at an
ancient machine. A birdcage clung to the ceiling and a bird fluttered about in itsbamboo prison seeming quite upset by our presence.


Meiya became restless so I took her for a walk down the street to where a shoe store
is playing music. Meiya is mesmerized! She loved the techno beat and danced by
shifting her weight side to side, stiff legged.

After a time, we head back to the
silk shop where Liping's "Baba" (father) thinks that Penny's jacket or shirt should
be mid thigh length and he gestures as such, repeatedly and vigorously. (We will
later have hysterics about the gesturing in regard to our "wide parts" on a regular
basis!)

Liping is irritated by her father's strong, antiquated opinion. Penny
suggests that he take Meiya and head home, a suggestion, which Liping apparently
agreed with. We are pretty sure that Liping does not ask her father to go home but
possibly orders him to go. He leaves immediately; we finish the measuring and soon
follow.







The next day will bring our trip to Lijang and I have trouble sleeping. I am mostly
ready to go and even so my wheels keep turning, thinking of the many things I could
be up doing. I had green tea before bed and suspect it was a caffeine load that I'm
not used to at time of sleep. Penny woke to use the bathroom and since we were to
get up at 0430 a.m. anyway, we stayed up talking and giggling until finally we got
up and showered. We were ready for breakfast by the time Baba served us delicious
oatmeal, boiled eggs and fruit. Mama and Baba hailed a taxi for the four of us
(Penny, Liping, Meiya and I) and we were off to the airport where we decided that
the city speed limit must be 65 mph!


We caught an early morning flight to Lijiang. Set our alarm clock, Kitty's watch
alarm and instructed Nate to call us, all for 4:30 AM. Two out of 3 succeeded (the
watch was set correctly but not turned on). Kitty and I coulnd't sleep well for fear
of missing our flight - some residual trauma from earlier missed flight issues,
perhaps? Or perhaps it was the continual peeing (no more tea for Kitty before bed)
and pooping (3 times in one night - she's no longer full of shit). And she came back
admiring the rainbow hues of the last one. I asked if she took a picture and the
giggles were on. By the way, there will be odors in China, and some of them will
come from you! You will probably find yourself coming out of a restroom humming
'smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you'...

Things I have learned:

China has dairy and bread.

Guests are not allowed to help with meal preparation or dishes after the meal.

Attempt to carry a used bowl or chopstick to the kitchen and you will be instantly
surrounded by 2 or 3 excited Chinese people that I think could play guard for the
NBA. They will remove the dish from your hands and escort you to a soft seat.

We arrive at the Kunming airport and get in the line to check in with a large tour
group. One couple was from Pittsburgh! Locals! We get our boarding passes and go
to security where Liping and I are wanded and frisked! (I was thinking oh,
no...."examined" again!) I imagine that a small Chinese woman carrying a squirming
toddler does pose a significant security risk. Penny only had her bag riffled
through...her knitting needles and hairbrush were closely examined.

 We have time for a quick cup of tea before boarding and after proceeded to our "waiting hall" which
is what the boarding gates are called at the Kunming airport.

Flight recording on the way to Lijang: "The passenger in the lavatory should put
oxygen mask on their position!" And you thought it should go on your face!

We arrive in Lijang after a short flight over mountainous terrain. We were picked up
by Liping's cousins, one who worked at the hotel we stayed at (known hereafter as
Hotel Uncle), another cousin who worked in a bank (known hereafter as Uncle Banker)
and a life long friend of theirs who was no relation (known hereafter as Uncle
Wannabe). They arrived in a nice mini van and there was enough room for us all. The
ride into town was unusual; we drove in all lanes, honking as we prepared to use the
centerline as another lane in passing. Apparently the centerline is only a
suggestion!

We saw many people threshing bountiful wheat crops by hand! They were standing the
shocks up to dry. We did see one teeny motorized threshing machine, about six feet
long and a few feet wide. We also saw water buffalo picketed, grazing. Many people
were walking along the highway wearing traditional dress of the nationalities of the
area.

One of the men was smoking in the car and there was no ventilation. I was starting
to feel a bit queasy when Meiya threw up all over her poor mother! I told Liping to
tell the men that Meiya was allergic so they wouldn't smoke in the car with us
anymore. I don't know what she ended up telling them but we never experienced anyone smoking in the car with us again after that, at least not for long!

We pulled up to a fancy hotel and Penny approaches the counter with Hotel Uncle to
check in. She dug into her soft cotton money pouch that she continuously wore
tucked into the waistband of her pants for security and produced her credit card,
intent on paying for our rooms, only to have it waved away by Hotel Uncle. It was
at this point that she noticed Hotel Uncle was wearing a nametag that matched that
of the woman behind the counter and she surmised that Hotel Uncle was an employee,
causing us to wonder if perhaps he got an employee discount? We decided that maybe
we were to pay upon check out. My notes say Liping told us 'he paid for it' at this
point.

We followed Hotel Uncle into the elevator and rode to the 8th floor where we
discover that we have not one but, two rooms with two beds each, complete with down
comforters, spectacular views of Jade Dragon Snow mountain, fridge, hot and cold
drinking water, green tea bags and complimentary slippers. Other complimentary items
included a shower cap, bar soap, toothbrush with toothpaste and a comb. The glass
door showers had soap and shampoo dispensers in them and the facilities included a
western style toilet complete with toilet paper. We tried to talk them into just one
room, but Liping decided the beds were not large enough for Kitty and I to share and
get a good rest. Over-ruled, which we are becoming quite accustomed to. I even
sniffed my money yesterday at one point to see if it was bad! I gave Meiya a quick
bath in the sink and some fresh clothing (there was a slight vomit-scent about her
).
We unpack and get to rest a bit before lunch. Penny takes a nap and I can't sleep so
I peruse the hotel literature. I find a book that describes the area, the mountain,
the local food, "old town" and many other attractions to be found in both Chinese
and English, again with hilarious translations. One of the neatest things in the
book (which I later bought) was the hotel sending "warmest regards to your family"
to each of the guests! How many times has a hotel sent written, warmest regards to
YOUR family?

After our rest we are whisked away to a restaurant via tour bus! Uncle Banker,
Uncle Wannabe, Singing Uncle (dubbed this for obvious reasons), and "Little G" (son
of Uncle Banker who we picked up on the street near the hotel) complete our
entourage.

Little G gets his nickname based on his 'Urban Frog Prince' jacket and
electronic gadgets. At the restaurant we meet more family members. We are served on
a large glass rotating lazy Susan perched on top of our table. Our dishes are a rice
bowl with two teacups and chopsticks. We get our first taste of Yak Butter tea,
which Penny thought was NOT good - tastes a bit like I imagine it would if you
dipped a yak in hot water. I found it to be okay and even had seconds. It's a bit
salty and more like broth than tea. The meal was wonderful with many colorful
dishes, most spicy. We all ate "family style", each grabbing bites of food from
the serving dishes with our chopsticks, which were directly eaten. Note: If it
looks like asparagus, it may not be asparagus. It may really be a very hot pepper
that will remove feeling from your lips and mouth. After stuffing ourselves, we
visit a large statue of chairman Mao where pictures were taken.

While leaving the parking spot in our personal tour bus, we catch a fire hose style water line being
used to flush out a plugged sewer line (I'm guessing here). There was much hollering
preceding our screeching halt. The Uncles and the workers were looking and
discussing this dilemma amongst them and finally the water was shut off until we
could get untangled from the hose. I'm not sure if our hosts had to pay for the
damage but we did see cigarettes being handed out just before we left the parking
lot, leaving the hose somewhat mangled and leaking in our wake.

Next stop was Black Dragon Pool. While there we observed Naxi dancers, walked
around the huge, natural pool (was a small lake really) and visited a Buddhist
temple. The 3 women in our party entered whilst the Uncles entertained Meiya in the
troller. You must step over the threshold when you enter, as that is considered
the shoulders of the religious leader (I think it was) and you would never walk on
him.

Calligraphy was on display and for sale in the lower area, with the monks and
Buddha upstairs.Liping stuck 1 Yuan for each of us into the collection box, and we
each lit an incense stick (Liping had 3, I suspect one for Nate and Meiya also). We
knelt down on a pillow and bowed low and then stood up. Repeat until you've bowed 3
times and place the incense at the altar. I believe the smoke carries your prayers
to God.

It was my first visit to a temple and therein we met a monk who spoke
English. He asked for an American dollar, which of course we did not have, since
US currency is not widely accepted in many parts of China. He said he was
collecting currency from around the world and currently had 18 countries (no US). I
offered to mail him a dollar once we returned to Kunming, to which he readily
agreed. The monk wrote his address on a slip of paper, handed it to me and I put
it in the rear section of my neck pouch for safekeeping. (Later, I went through
all my things looking for that address and couldn't find it! I did find it upon my
return to the US. Since it's written in Chinese I'll just have to tape it to the
envelope and at Liping's instruction, I'll add PRC and the zip code. Hopefully it
will mean more to the monk when he gets mail postmarked "Wolf Point, Montana,
USA"!) The railing outside the temple held many padlocks. Apparently young couples
apply one as some sort of togetherness symbol.

We stopped for tea in a little shady
garden. Liping's cousins doted on Meiya and entertained her with much gusto! It's
hard to believe that Chinese couples want boys after seeing the way they all doted
on Meiya. But the eldest son is responsible for taking care of the parents by
tradition - that's probably where it comes from. He will remain at home after
marriage - his wife moving in with the family to help with the work (this is still
the case in rural areas).

Before leaving, Penny and I visited the facilities and
yes, they were of the "squat" variety. I had already been "schooled" to bring my
own toilet paper. In my preparation research, I had learned to grab the "packets"
of napkins that are served with each meal in restaurants and this was good advice.
I also had laid in a supply of Kleenex travel packs and they came in very handy for
this purpose as well. We also learned to stand well back in the toilet to avoid alot of splash.

We load back up in our own personal tour bus and arrive at "Old town". This is a
very historic city, ancient even (700 years old), that is a great attraction for
many. This is to be our first solo-shopping foray where we fail miserably. We
thought we had made a good deal however Liping told us to only offer 1/4 of the
asking price at most. I think we'd bargained the shopkeeper down to half or less and
we did buy a couple of the purses at that price. Liping told us we could get better
prices at another shop.

Meiya spied the little Naxi ponies and she and Grandma Penny go for a ride on one.
Meiya thoroughly enjoyed herself!

We all sat at tiny tables at a little "restaurant" in the alley (again I use the term loosely) and have tea and a snack (some grayish gelatinous substance I believe is tofu or soy?) before Penny, Liping and I took a
little walking tour through the living quarters of old town. We were shown a "motel
room", a second story building turned into guest quarters. The room had a western
toilet and a sky light over the bed. I was quoted 100 Yuan but really was 180 Yuan.
The girl didn't know how to say "eighty"! (Total about 26 US dollars and change).



Next came a surrey ride through old town. Meiya hollered, " Woo, Hoo" the whole way
and had a big grin on her face. The driver got the little Naxi pony running and the
ride was fairly rough. With each bounce of the surrey Meiya giggled with delight. I
don't know how the ponies got footing enough to run on the ancient, slick
cobblestone streets, especially with 6 or 7 of us in the surrey!

Old town was something to see. There was a canal running through the streets and I
saw people washing their greens in it, dipping in to fill buckets (for washing and
drinking I'm sure). We saw people doing their dishes in buckets right on the street,
even at the open air "restaurants".

 There were little pathways winding this way and
that and it would be terribly easy to become disoriented or even lost if one didn't
know their way or pay attention when walking the narrow streets. It was easy to
imagine people walking those same streets hundreds of years before and to wonder
what their lives were like, and their clothing.

When our surrey ride ended, we again loaded into our tour bus and drove to another
restaurant. The feast was beginning as we pulled up, we just didn't know it! While
parking, we saw a man bleeding a chicken. Turns out it was hand picked to be
butchered for our supper! We entered the restaurant and went upstairs to a private room
where we were served tea in tiny paper cups inserted into plastic handled holders. We
were served many dishes and later a "hot pot". A hot pot is a boiling cauldron of
broth in which meats, greens, tofu and vegetables are boiled and then eaten. This
was to be our first experience with chicken feet and heads.

 Rice wine was served with the meal, and it was not good. It tasted a bit like lighter fluid. Two sips
made my eyes cross. Very high alcohol content. Fortunately the hot pickled veggies
were excellent and that removed the jet fuel flavor from my mouth. There were many
bowls of greens and veggies brought in and placed on a rack to be added to the hot
pot at our leisure.

 One of the bowls contained clotted chicken blood balls. I did
try one out of curiosity and they were bland tasting. "A bit like boiled veggies" I
told Penny as I handed her one to try. She made a face that was I'm sure similar to
that made by me when tasting the rice wine! I knew from the look on her face that
she was mentally beating me up at that moment, while she slowly chewed her bite of
boiled, clotted chicken blood! Yes, I will get even for that one. Biding my time.

As I dug in the hot pot for "just the right piece" I was startled by an eyeball that
came floating up, still attached to the chickens' head! I whispered to Penny to
quickly look and then, right in front of her, the chicken's foot came popping up! We
got a picture of the foot, it was black:

We left the restaurant and again went to old town to take it all in after dark when
it becomes a totally different place, complete with bars blasting music from bands,
lip synching actors, karaoke and DJ's. The shops were uncrowded for the most part
and we bought postcards. We walked and looked a lot and Singing Uncle (cousin who
sang a lot) packed Meiya around. She loved hearing him sing, as did we. He had a
great voice. It was just "Little G", Singing Uncle. Liping, Meiya, Penny and I
threaded our way through old town. Liping knew I was searching for the "old" coins
with the holes in the center to make earrings out of and she bought four!

 As we were leaving, we saw a beggar laying face down on the street. He had no meat on his leg
bones, which were cut off about at the knee and stuck out at 90-degree angles from
his body. He had a bucket in front of his face for money. I was mesmerized and
horrified at the same time. I momentarily considered taking his picture but quickly
decided against it. I later saw another amputee beggar but the image of the first
beggar was seared in my mind. We walked many blocks home. Liping carrying Meiya all
the way, and now know that next time, we'll take a taxi!