Monday 10 October, cool but sunny with a light breeze. I’m at work and have some sniffles which came on last night. I’ve worked the weekend to catch up and my next day off is Friday. (OK so now its Friday, yes I’ve been down with a cold and have had to work all week. This week has been cold and rainy but today it’s sunny again. I’m feeling better but cancelled the run proposed for this morning with Peggy just to give my chest another day to feel a bit better)
After a decent nights sleep in the hotel I met up with Tom and Peggy and walked into town (pronounced Bey Jom Jen) where we were going to meet Aj at his wife’s parents.
Bey Jom Jen
For many of the locals we were a sight to behold, in some cases we were so shockingly different jaws dropped open wide and stayed open as we were stared at for some time. But on the whole people were friendly and responded to our Ni Hoe’s (Hello) with a smile, a wave and a reciprocal greeting. There were often other comments which of course we had no idea if they were being friendly or we were being offered the Chinese equivalent of ‘Get Orf My Laaaaand!’
We were offered a cup of coffee (Nescafe, black) at AJ’s and we demolished some of the chocolate biscuits that we had bought as gifts the night before. Again we were the centre of attention, especially with the kids that roam the street playing. Once we were ready we wandered up the street with AJ and his wife to take in the sights.
We wandered along looking at the shops and the sights, saying hi to loads of people. At the fruit stalls Xia bought some sugar cane for us to try. It wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be, and Tom and Peggy, who were acquainted with sugar cane in the US, also said that it wasn’t very sweet. I didn’t much care for it myself. Tom cut a piece of mine off and put it in his coffee, but I soon got rid of mine.
We looked in at local women’s tailor and Peggy considered having a winter coat made to measure, she wasn’t sure if that’s what she wanted so we moved on. Across the street a load of girls came out of a sewing ‘factory’ and were smiling and waving so Peggy ran over and we took the obligatory photos.
Along another street we came across a bridge across a relatively dry river bed. The water was still running but it was evident that the water was low. Women were doing their washing in the water and there taking it easy were a couple of water buffalo. Well for some reason Tom wanted to have his picture taken with the water buffalo so we trooped off down the river bank and across to the buffalo which I am pretty please to say are rather placid animals despite their ferocious looking horns.
Tom got his photo having had to get in touch with his inner Hemingway, which became a bit of a theme whenever Tom was a bit reticent about trying something new we had to encourage him to get in touch with his inner Hemingway.
By now, after more obligatory photographs with students that wanted to chat to us it was getting near beer o’clock so we started to wander back, knowing also that lunch was being prepared back at Xia’s mums place. But we did stumble upon a chicken burger place where AJ and Tom and Peggy had to sample the food. (Breakfast had been sparse to say the least).
Lollipops were once again the currency of the day
As we wandered back, Peggy once again went to the tailors, this time having decided to get a winter jacket made. The ones that were hanging up as examples were Kappa knock offs and to have one made to measure was about 250y I think, that’s about 25 pounds. Of course Peggy had to be measured for the fit. Who would believe that a blond American, ex cheerleader being measured up on a side street in China would attract a crowd? Well Peggy did. For about 10 minutes she was the best side show in town and people actually stopped driving past to get a look. The coat was promised for 6am the following day, now that’s service for you!
After lunch provided by Xia’s (pronounced Shaa) mum we were provided with a car and a driver to take us further up into the mountains to visit a Temple. Tom, fully embracing his inner Hemingway followed on a scooter. So up and up we went, on to dirt roads, Peggy fretting and making sure that Tom was still behind us as we bounced over the ruts and holes in the road.
When we got there the place took my breath away. It was simply fantastic. The views were spectacular and the Temple itself was quite modest but beautiful in its simplicity. We paid our respects to the Buddha and met with the monk who told us that we were only the second foreigners ever to visit the temple.
We stayed there quite a long time and I must say I found it a hugely emotional experience. The temple, the place, the views affected me immensely. I must say I got a bit emotional. It is one of the best places I have ever been in all my travels, I would have loved to have stayed there longer, or to live closer to the place so that I could visit it on a regular basis – maybe Ill have to become a monk!
Too soon we had to leave. We were off to visit Xia’s aunty who now lived in the house where Xia was bought up. So more hills, more dirt roads, more mighty views.
This is Xia’s aunt and her home, which seems like it’s been there forever. This is the real China. This is not like where I live. Nanjing is like a strange bubble which bears no relation to what China is really like. When we sit outside the Blue Marlin we could be in any city in the world drinking Carlsberg beer and eating French fries. Here, in the real China, you have to work to stay alive. The house has no heating, no running water, no inside toilet and as you can see a basic kitchen. When we arrived aunty (I forget her name) was in the fields tending her crops.
Xia showing how she ate breakfast as a kid looking at the mountain framed by the doorway
Where Xia's parents once slept - note straw as mattress
Aunty, Tom and Peggy
After leaving aunty we went back to Xia’s parents house and as it was after beer o’clock we sat outside drinking and entertaining the passers by and the children.
This little girl wouldn't take a lollipop but she stayed around
Lovely, Happy, Friendly Kids
Later that evening we had a meal at the hotel with Xia’s parents which was nice. Even in the Hotel were we the target of some curiosity and spent the meal being watched by the local children (the hotel workers children) through the window. At the end of the meal we had a huge cake, Tom was soon encouraging the children in to take a slice, which of course endeared us to them, whereas before they were a bit shy, if not scared of us, the offer of cake soon dispelled those fears. We then went outside and let off a long string of Chinese crackers and a huge roman candle type of firework - it was great and I lit the crackers woohoo!
After the parents and AJ and Xia had left Peggy, Tom and I were finishing off our beers in the dining room (where we were the only customers) still being watched by the kids, and some of the parents. So we encouraged the kids in to say hello and soon we had them singing and dancing with us. We went through (me being the lead singer and the knower of most of the songs) Wheels on the Bus, with actions, 10 green bottles, ring a ring a rosie, and others I cant remember, soon we had an audience of appreciative parents. Then the hotel manager rushed out and fixed up the Karaoke machine for us to use. So we had them doing YMCA, Michael Jacksons Beat It, Doe a Deer from Sound of Music and others – guess who had the microphone and had to lead the singing and the actions. We really had a great night with those kids and I’m sure they will remember for a long time the night the foreigners entertained them. (Unfortunately I didn't have my camera Tom went up and got his so maybe some pics later)
The other thing that happened that evening was that Peggy’s new jacket turned up. It was ordered about 11 am in the morning and was delivered at 6pm, done just as she wanted it, with extra padding for the cold and the specific fasteners she wanted. How’s that?
Now that was a pretty fantastic day!
AJ being uncharacteristically colourful (joke!)