Before I start on the day, I want to tell you a couple of things that will be different with this blog….China does not allow any form of social networking, so Facebook, You-Tube and Blogspot (to name a few) are blocked. Thus, I was not going to be able to post anything at all. Instead, I emailed my son, Brian, and asked him if I could send the posts to him and he could post them for me. He has been sweet enough to do this….thank you B. The only problem is that it takes a long time to put photos into the blog, so I am not going to send them right now. I will keep working on a photo post and will put it up when I return to the States.
Now, on to a WONDERFUL day in China.
If you remember, we got into bed about 1:00am this morning. Well, about 3:30am the air conditioner started making funny noises and woke us both up. Once we were awake, our bodies thought that it was 2:00pm (Georgia time) and we could not go back to sleep. So, our day started at 4:00!!!
We slowly dressed and got ready for the day and headed downstairs at 5:45 to meet Doug and his wife, Sophie at 6:00. As we walked down the stairs, we realized that the bottom floor was a beautiful tropical garden . We spent a few minutes strolling thru and enjoying it before they arrived.
We were driven back to the airport and caught our plane to the city of Dali. We actually almost missed the plane because the boarding call was made by a man using a bull-horn….not exactly the announcement we were waiting for. The trip was only about 40 minutes of flying time, but the last 5 were VERY interesting as we hit wind shears and were shaken up and down and side to side. It was wonderful to touch the ground!!
We were met at the airport by a driver from the Linden Center and drove about an hour to get to the actual center. During the drive, Doug had asked if the driver would take us to an ATM. When we got there, Doug hopped out of the side door of the small van and the driver kept on driving up the street….with the door open!!! After a bit he made a u-turn and started back toward the bank…with the door still open and me sitting on the middle bench staring out into the street!!
We noticed a few things while seeing China in the daylight. First of all, it is a lot like India….there is much manual labor, things are either being torn down or rebuilt and they approach driving with a fluid mindset. The biggest difference with the driving is that the Chinese go much slower than in India. Even having said that, we did witness a “Toot-Off” (my term), where one car pulled across the lane to turn left, blocking the traffic, while a second car attempted to pull across our lane of traffic and resulted in a head- on meeting with the first car. Then, our van drove up to complete the blockage and all three vehicles tooted at one another until one finally moved out of the way!! At least this was accomplished at a slow speed and no fenders were lost in the disagreement!!
We noticed that the city was in a constant state of flux with apartments and other buildings being torn down or re-built. Doug said that most of these were only about 30 years old, but that they simply weren’t good enough for today, so they were being replaced.
As we drove more into the country we saw small agricultural fields on both sides of the road. These were mostly planted in rectangular plots and contained many different vegetables, but was dominated by the Broad bean. In almost every field, there was at least one person working the ground or tending to the crops….most wearing the stereotypical triangular shaped hat. Some of these workers were men, but there were many women hoeing, raking and weeding. In one area they were harvesting wheat, and we saw several people with large baskets of wheat on their back, held in place by a band of cloth around their forehead.
Our destination this morning was the Linden Cultural Center, located one hour North of the city of Dali. This center has been in existence for 18 months and is founded and operated by a couple from the US. He (Brian) was a CNN correspondent and photographer for many years and she (Jeanee) is a 3rd generation Chinese American. Their idea was to set up a place where non-Chinese (mostly) could come to learn about the culture of China. It is housed in a gorgeous building which has been classed a “Type A Relic” (one that the Chinese government wants to save). It has been beautifully renovated and will accommodate 26 people at one time.
As we pulled up and were welcomed by Brian and Jeanee, we could see a fairly large group of older people (Chinese and Caucasian) waiting on one of the patios. This group was made up of Jeanee’s parents and about 20 of their friends from the San Francisco area. Brian quickly told us that this group was just getting ready to leave for an expedition to a local market (only open on Monday) and “did we want to go to”. After a hearty “yes please” we all piled into the awaiting bus and drove to the city of Shaping.
Now at this point, I must veer a bit and say that Michael has always vowed that he would “never go on a tour group, so this was a fun experience for him as well!!!
The market was an amazing mix of STUFF….everything from live chickens and doves to incense for the gods. We learned not to make eye contact with the vendors, because at that point you became a potential buyer. I also learned to just say “No” instead of “No, thank you” because when you added the “thank you”, they thought that you wanted to buy their product. Many of the women carried baskets on their backs, always supported by a strap across their forehead. The colors were incredible, especially in the area where incense and other religious items were being sold. There were several women selling hand-made goods, but since many of the vendor’s had the exact same items it became clear that they were handmade by SOMEONE ELSE. There were vendor’s selling candies and baked goods. Doug bought cookies for us, but declared them as being ghastly so we never tasted them. I enjoyed the vendors that had fabric goods and yarns or threads. I bought one Indigo-dyed fabric piece that I am looking forward to playing with when I get home. There were numerous small cafés set up where all of the ingredients were out in bowls and people could pick what they wanted cooked in the woks that were set up a few feet away. There was an area of stalls selling meat and meat products, both raw and cooked. There was also an area where you could buy teas, tobaccos and medicinal herbs and spices. Many of the women wore something on their heads….either a scarf or a very ornate (normally red) headdress that is about 6 inches tall and goes around ¾ of their head. Some of these even had long tassels as well. One of the most interesting things were the scales that they used to weigh the beans, candies and meat. It was hand held and they were SO fast at using it.
We walked from the market to a Buddhist temple that is partially being used as a rice wine distillery. We were shown the rooms where they store the wine as it ferments. This was an interesting place with all of the pottery jars holding the wine, but the smell was overwhelming so we couldn’t stay in there for long. After going thru the “factory”, we were given a couple of bowls of the wine which we all sipped from in community fashion.
As we were walking out of the market area, a man and little boy walked passed us. The little boy looked at my white face and said “He..ll..o”. He gave me a big grin when I smiled and returned the greeting.
We loaded onto the bus again and drove to a small restaurant that is owned by friends of the Linden’s. The group split into two or three rooms with each room having a large round table with a huge turn-table in the center. There were 9 people in our room. The meal started with a pitcher of hot green tea, quickly followed by an amazing array of dishes. We had scrambled eggs and tomatoes, spicy pork, spicy cold cucumbers, deep fried potato (or some other starch) cubes, pepper shrimp, and lots of sautéed vegetable dishes (carrots, potatoes, broad beans, mushrooms) . Afterwards, we went upstairs to a room where the café owner had antiques for sale. There were four women in one corner playing Mahjong and several people grouped around to watch them. When they had finished the hand, they pushed a button on the table. The center of the table rose up about 10 inches, the tiles were pushed into the opening and almost immediately flaps opened on each side of the table and a set of neatly stacked tiles emerged in front of each player. Every one clapped when this happened and then proceeded to stand and watch the next hand so that they could see it again!! I think that we disrupted the ladies game, because they soon took a break and quit playing.
After leaving the restaurant, we drove to my favorite place….a Fabric Dyeing business. They do traditional tie-dying (like we did in the 70’s), but also do some ornate designs by taking the fabrics and sewing or wrapping them to make amazing patterns. They showed us the entire process, from soaking the fabrics in a solution that allows the fabric to accept the dye, to the process of tying the fabrics and then the final dipping in dyes. Most of the pieces are dipped several times to increase the intensity of the colors. All of the dyes are organic based with their specialty being in Indigos. Needless to say, I spent a good amount of time in the sales room!!!! When Michael “complained” that our bags were heavier, I pointed out that our wallets were lighter so it all worked out fine!!
The final stop of the day was at a private run Kindergarten that was owned by more friends of the Lindens. We sat in a courtyard on little short stools and all of the kids came out and sat on the porches in front of their classrooms. One of the women in the group was a retired teacher and she soon had them laughing and interested in us. Then several groups of the older children performed a series of dances for us. They were so cute and SO serious about their performance. It was getting close to the end of their school day and they asked our group to perform something, so we did the HOKEY POKEY for them (and they joined in). The really funny thing was when the parents started arriving to pick up their kids and looked at our dancing group like we were all NUTS!!!
The drive home was interesting in two ways. Firstly, we started down a street that was apparently the wrong one, and the driver had to back the bus up over a culvert. There were a group of young boys apparently hoping that we would end up in the ditch. He then turned on to the new 4-lane highway…the only problem is that the highway is only the early stages of construction and we rode on dirt roads, having to dodge the huge piles of dirt and rubble that were going to be used when the highway was actually built. AND, we were not the only ones on the road!!!
We arrived back at the center and started looking for a cup of coffee and black tea (as opposed to the green that I had drunk all day). Frank, one of the helpers here, set me up with a pot of a local tea. He showed me the process of making the tea….first it has to be rinsed two times with hot water. Then it is put into a tiny teapot, water is poured in and it is allowed to steep for a brief time (depending on how strong you like your tea). It is then poured into another glass pitcher and then into small round bowls. The teapot can be replenished with hot water as you want more tea.
Dinner was wonderful, having fried cheese, sautéed zucchini, pork balls, sautéed spinach and a soup with tomatoes, potatoes and carrots.
We fell gratefully into bed at the end of a most enjoyable day!!!!!