Inside the tradition, history and real China of Xintian.
Before I begin with the real juice of this blog, I have an update on the weird and wonderful culinary delights of China. The list so far, dogs, mountain cat / rat / racoon, chicken feet, pig gums and now frogs legs. Rather tasty, but kind of off putting when you realize they are still kind of slimy, look exactly like a frogs leg and see your friend demolish a few at a time whilst spitting out the clean bones. So of course, I downed a cup of beer and fished one out of the bowl! Not a lot of meat and as I said, still slimy. However, I call it character building. I have discovered that the Chinese do not draw the line anywhere when it comes to eating animals. I was sat on the bus recently when a young lady climbs on and sits next to me.She is clutching a large sack which to my surprise is wriggling around a lot with a kitten like constant loud miaow-ing. So I figure cats could also be on the menu here too. I think im lucky I just didn't see inside the bag instead had to listen to this crying for the next 30 minutes while she shook the bag to keep it quiet. I was so close to offering her some cash for her supper to be.
A wonderful surprise came about in the form of another foreigner in Xintian last week! This very blog had been noticed whilst browsing the internet by a fellow British lao wai (foreigner) Ray and his Chinese wife Annie and their son Christopher. He and Annie were returning to Xintian to visit her family for a week and so we met up and enjoyed a few beers the British way, for a change. It was lovely to meet them and chat about my experiences here and listen to Annie's life in Xintian and their lives in Hongkong. It was also a relief to finally hear and share some good British humor! Nihao Ray, Annie and Christopher!
So just recently I was beginning to feel alike Simon Cowell as I am whisked off to judge yet another English competition in Yongzhuo. This time the competition was for young children all between the ages of 7 and 12. The competitors were given a topic by their teachers and basically had to recite their reading. This was somewhat surprising and rather impressive, as some big words were being utilized! Then it was our turn to ask them questions which were related to their topic. However, none of them could answer the simplest of questions. So we were informed to ask the students questions with yes and no answers. What a competition eh?! The Chinese tradition seems to believe the best way to learn English is to recite pages of text without knowing the correct punctuation, pronunciation or meaning of it. Hmmm. See what im up against?! Students in my school know the text book cover to cover. Ask them the meaning or pronunciation about something and they usually cannot tell you. So I tend to follow the book from a distance and concentrate on useful more common language and more importantly the British pronunciation! None of this American nonsense! Rah Rah! And yes I have taught them table manners! However the competition was lovely and was also on TV! The judges were paid and taken to dinner before hand which made up for the lengthy 4 hours of speeches mostly about the Beijing Olympics! (which I have truly had enough of hearing about!!)
I impressed myself last week with my Chinese language ability. I managed to discuss my future weekend journey plans around Hunan with various bus and train ticket offices and then buy the tickets very successfully! I even was able to recognize some Chinese characters for the correct bus and ask the arrival and departure times. One step closer to my fluency goal! So I took a 4 hour bus trip, through the mountains and small villages to a small town called Jiangyong to visit some of the other foreign teachers. The other teachers are Liz, Erin, Craig and Cam. It was wonderful to see their town which is quite similar to my own. We caught up and swapped lesson ideas and laughed at ones that didn't work in a true western style over about 6 hours with the beers flowing. Not a ganbei in sight!
Whilst in Jiangyong we visited Nushu. Nushu is a tiny village in the countryside of the Jiangyong region. Nushu is famous for and actually means "a woman's writing". About 400 years ago "traditional China" was known to be male centered and forbid females to receive any form of education. The female's role was to do embroidery and weaving. During this time the women became very close to each other. So when their marriages were arranged, it meant the woman usually had to leave the town or home to start a new family with her new husband. The lanuage Nushu was then developed only between the women in this area and enabled them to share their innermost thoughts and feelings and keep in contact with each other. It also liberated the women from illiteracy. Nushu was supposedly incomprehensible to the men (I suppose this is quite similar to today as language women use today is still generally incomprehensible to men?!). Nushu was learnt by memorizing characters written on the palms of their hands because of a lack of paper. Nushu findings are quite rare as the letters and writings were usually buried or burnt with the female when she died. However, we visited a small, quiet museum and saw some original writings were displayed which were rather amazing. Sadly the language died out in the late 1990's. So to visit this place was so special and something I will treasure. The place had such a great feel. It was small and had a real homely feel to it. It was really special to hear about something so secretive, magical and clever. The wonders of the Chinese will never cease.
Just recently Jane (aka Spiderwoman) and I took to the back streets of Xintian to explore. We walked all around the old streets of Xintian which was wonderful. The streets were so old, dirty and smelly but had such a real character about them. Most of the buildings were falling apart, windows and doors missing and there was rubbish everywhere. I never knew this little place existed, it is so traditional and the people are a real community around here. There were many market sellers, selling hundreds of fruits, unrecognizable meat products, animals, dodgy plastic toys, fans and deck chairs. Kids were playing in the streets and running around whilst the parents were busy bargaining over dandelion leaves for dinner, it was such a wonderful sight and experience. One I won't forget.
In the middle of these old backstreets is a huge "educational" temple! It is called the Confucius temple as it was dedicated to the great Chinese philosopher Confucius. Confucius was a great master of teachings and philosophy and had huge impact on Chinese thought and life. He lived to the grand age of 73 from 551 - 479 BCC in the "Lu" province, now the Shangdong province. Unfortunately we were not allowed inside, I will try in the next few weeks to go back and have a look though. One of his famous quotes is listed below;
Adept Kung asked: "Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?"
The Master Confusius replied: "How about 'shu': never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?"
Makes sense huh?!
So after discovering the birth of some education we came across a fortune teller that Jane is keen to see. This fortune teller is apparently famous in Xintian and predicts quite a few accurate futures. Just as we arrived a woman is leaving having just justified that a prediction he made about her daughter came true. So paying a mere 1.50 GBP he reads my fortune to me! (With the help of Jane's translations!) I have been told to not marry before I am 26 as it will end in tears if I do. (Phew, at least that gives me some time before October 2009 to actually find a boyfriend…) Also that for the best marriage possible, I should marry someone born in 1979 or 1981. (At least my choice is narrowed down now, it could have taken a while without knowing this…) I should under no circumstances marry someone born in 1985. He also says I will marry a foreigner from a country far away from the UK… (Mum, please don't panic, it's not on the cards just yet!) Lastly I will be very wealthy between the ages of 29 and 45 and live a happy exciting life!
Xintian also has many hidden traditional secrets, one being a Monks temple! So we trundle off to just outside the edge of town to visit. It's set on a hill over looking the farming land, a river and is so beautiful and peaceful. A perfect setting. Inside the temple there are Budha's everywhere and it is so quiet. There is only one monk wandering around and so we stop to have a quick chat with him, and I impress him with a whole 3 lines of Chinese! He invited Jane and I to have dinner with him, which we need to arrange as we already had plans for that night. Jane made me laugh when I got excited about it, and questioned, "are you sure you want to have dinner with them, you know they don't eat meat!" I then assure her I can have one meal without meat! It won't kill me!
Hope you enjoyed the blog, I think its my favorite one yet! That's all for now, keep the messages coming, I love to hear from you.
Lots of love, Xieli.