Well now I've had my first weekend here and things are still amazing, giving me what will be lasting memories.
The military parade took place in the rain on Saturday morning in front of chain-smoking dignitaries including the Party leader, some army people, College president and others, plus teachers and students. Each department marched then did its own routine and the 'excellent' departments and individuals (in their training ) were given awards. Then came the speeches again. No occasion is complete without them.
On Sunday I decided to venture into town alone, having been shown around by Peter, my co-volunteer who also drew me a basic map. The market was my first stop and was a fascinating slice of local life. The fruit, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, bean curd, meats and fish were a delight to the senses. I could identify just a few of the vegetables and wouldn't have a clue how to cook most of them. I moved slowly through the hustle and bustle of people with enormous baskets on their backs, through the strident noise of people bargaining for their purchases, through the many people in ethnic dress. The 'miao' women wear colourful pleated skirts , embroidered head-dresses and wrap-around leggings but I didn't want to damage the experience by taking photos on this occasion but will take some one day before I leave. I also watched an ancient man testing the dried beans, picking one or two from the sack, tasting them before chucking them back in. Then I moved onto the chicken stalls -live ones up to the point of purchase, brought to market in big green bags. They were kept tightly packed together, as were the smaller chicks and other birds. Maybe I'll go vegetarian . The fish were similarly fresh at point of purchase. The farmers eke out a living, though, and the produce is extremely fresh and tasty. Being preservative -free you have to buy very regularly - vegetables don't keep for a week here. After two days in the fridge carrots are past it.
After leaving the market I got horribly lost, even with Peter's map. He'd marked the main features but just one road name. However, as you may know, I can get lost going in a straight line and somehow missed a turning. Looking at buildings didn't help at all as they're all in Chinese characters, I had only one street name (at least they're written in pinyin) and I couldn't ask anyone. No other foreigners here. Eventually I decided to take a taxi and looked up the word for 'College ', which the driver didn't understand, showed him the Chinese in the dictionary, which he still didn't understand ... Despairing, I pointed to one of Peter's landmarks on my map. the Cultural centre which looks like the Eiffel Tower. Flash of recognition from the driver and we sped off with him talking to me ,or rather, shouting to me, in Chinese, the whole way, laughing at this strange foreign person who couldn't speak Chinese. He kept repeating 'ting bu dong' ( doesn't understand) and guffawing. I paid him 4 kuai (good job I knew the going rate) and was glad to be out.
My adventures of the weekend made a good basis for a lesson plan, however, and I've now got students falling over each other to come round tomorrow and Wednesday to help me out. We've got a rota established - and this is only with the first class of the week. They're going to try and show me what foods are what, so I won't mistake soy sauce for vinegar again and point out some of the unknown vegetables. I'm also organising a cooking group with another of my classes at my flat. As they live in dormitories it's a treat for them to be in a flat with cooking facilities albeit in what to me is a small kitchen. I'm realising how much I take for granted.
As usual, keep sending me your news. Love to hear from you.