June 5, 1999
Last Sunday morning, one of my students took us to the Liaoshen Campaign museum in Jinzhou. Jinzhou is famous because it was a very strategic town in the Communist liberation of the country, and the museum is devoted to telling this story.
Anyway, we were only in the museum a few minutes when Lara started in with the refrain, "I want to buy a gun, Mama. I want to buy a gun!." I didn't know what she was talking about. There were plenty of guns on display, but I couldn't figure out why she was talking about buying one. Then we came to the souvenir stand, and sure enough, they were selling toy guns. So, Lara picked out a large one that makes a big noise when you cock and shoot it, for 5 yuan, and after that was a little more amenable to strolling through the many displays of black and white photos and battle strategy maps, etc. (But not much!)
The weekend before last, the Foreign Affairs Office (FAO) took us out on a two day tour. That was an interesting story. One of the things advertised for this job was 'Free Local Touring'. Well, ever since we arrived, I've been waiting for the touring, and have asked about it several times. As we got to the spring vacation, there was a lot of talk of taking the foreign teachers to several of the local sights, but at the late minute the trip was canceled.
As the weather got better and better, I was definitely getting cabin fever and wanted to get out, but still there was no word from the FAO about a trip. So, I started telling people that Lara and I were going to take a bicycle trip to Yi Xian. This is a small town north of Jinzhou, and the reason I wanted to visit there is because this is the town that is mentioned in the book, "Wild Swans". The Grandmother was born and raised in Yi Xian. Well, of course, the Chinese because very nervous and overprotective with the idea that Lara and I would simply set out on bicycle for an unknown town, and several of my students alternatively tried to discourage us or agreed to go with us.
By Thursday, the plan was pretty well set that we'd got to Yi Xian on Saturday with several of my second year students. I happened to mention this to Leanne (FAO) and she surprised me by replying that the FAO was thinking of taking us foreign teachers to Lu Shan and Yi Xian that same weekend (Remember this was Thursday and she was talking of the same weekend!) Then, when I returned from teaching my late afternoon class, Leanne asked me if I could take the next day off, because the FAO wanted to take us on the trip. Luckily enough, my Friday class had just been canceled, so I said, "Sure!" and proceeded to get on the telephone and start canceling all of my weekend plans. Then, I packed a bag for Lara and me, and bought lots of snack foods and bottled water for ourselves.
Well to make a long story short, we did take a two day trip with the FAO. Leanne and her husband and baby went, and Darwen, and Han jie, and another foreign teacher, Denis, and Lara and me. We ended up taking a public bus to Beining, and we spent a night at a hotel there. Leanne's family is from Beining. That's where Meng Meng lives, too. We went out to the local sightseeing spot, Lu Shan, in the afternoon. Then we had a nice dinner in Leanne's sister's restaurant, and afterwards went to her sister's home to sing a little karaoke.
Denis adores karaoke, and is very proud of the fact that he can read Chinese characters. It's a shame he sings worse than about anybody I've ever heard. (and loud, too!) I've been learning a Chinese song, Peng You, and was persuaded to try to sing it, but I couldn't remember a lot of the words. Still, it was fun.
At dinner, Leanne invited Lara and me to a wedding. It seems that one of her relatives was getting married the next morning at 5am, and we could come along if we wanted to. It sounded like fun, so we agreed, and the next morning, we were out on the streets at 4:30 am, then put into a large van/taxi and being driving out into the countryside. Very soon, we arrived at a small country shop, where we waited for a little while. Then, as the sun began to rise, we walked down a few country blocks to a home decorated with fireworks and red banners with a crowd of people. This was the groom's home, and everybody was waiting for the bride and her family to arrive.
Luckily, I had brought my camera and camcorder, and I was encouraged to take loads of photos. Had I known in advance that I'd be going to the wedding, I'd have brought more film and my tripod, but I was able to take plenty of photos nevertheless. Lara and I were treated as honored guests at the wedding, and Leanne made sure that I was present for all of the importants parts of the ceremony.
A huge meal was served as well, and we were fully sated at 7am with banquet food. It was definitely the highlight of the weekend outing, and I'm convinced the real reason that our foreign teacher's trip was schedule for this particular weekend and location.
After the wedding, we returned to town, and then set off (with Meng Meng and her Grandmother) to Yi Xian. The drive up the canyon road was very pretty, but when we got to the top of the pass, we were stopped by policemen who refused to let us continue to Yi Xian. With much reluctance, Darwen explained that there was a murder in town, and nobody was allowed in. (Two days later, Leanne said that story was wrong. The real reason was due to potential political problems in town. Who knows the real story?) Anyway, we were turned back, and ended up going to another local sightseeing spot called Qing San Si, which was pretty, but not that interesting. It was also too hot to want to climb up 3000 steps to see the religious statue at the top.
On the way back, we took the train, and got home around 2 pm on Saturday afternoon.
It was an interesting trip, but fairly stressful, and reminded me that I really prefer not to travel with groups. Denis' evaluation was far less kind than mine. Still, I'm glad that we got to go to the wedding. That was my favorite thing.
This past week, students came over and taught me how to make jiaozi, including how to roll out the wrappers. Here in Jinzhou, you don't buy wrappers, you make your own. So, now I know how to not only make potstickers from scratch, I have also learned how to make flour tortillas (though, here they call them 'bing')
Last night, my first year students invited Lara and me to another one of their English corners. This was as formal as the other one we attended at the first of the semester, with Lara and I having the seats of honor at one end of the classroom. Lucy, who is graduating this month, and is considered sort of an honor student in school, was also an honored guest with us. The food this time for the honored guests was a big bowl of peaches. Lara immediately set to work on them with great gusto, and ate up nearly half of them during the gathering. I like the first year students very much, but this sort of event can only be described as work. It's far too stiff and formal for my liking.
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