Thursday, July 27, 2006

July 27 Journal

I'm still having some issues with margins, so I hope you don't mind if I do a journal page and separate picture page. I'm not a big journal writer, but I feel compelled to write about our trip so that we can share our meager knowledge of Maya's homeland with her someday. Feel free to skip to the pictures!
I just had to include the picture above of our favorite waitress, Xia Yongping. She works at the Chinese restaurant on the 1st floor of our hotel. With the exception of KFC one day and a lunch in our hotel's western restaurant (4 times more expensive than the Chinese), we've only had Chinese food and have totally loved it. The hotel restaurant has more choices than I have ever seen. They have two rows of pictures which go all the way around the large restaurant showing each dish. David told us on our first day how to order. First, we sit down and they give us a ticket, then, we get up and peruse the choices and tell a waitress what we want. She writes it all down and then we go back to our table. As I said, all the dishes are pictured, but the writing is in Chinese. Hence the need for Xia Yongping. She has the most adorable little voice and cute accent. She tries so hard to find things that we'd like to eat. A typical ordering session goes something like this.
Lyle: We'd like noodles tonight.
Yongping: O.K. You want a noodles. You want a egg noodle, a rice noodle?
Lyle: How about an egg noodle.
Yongping: O.K. You want a flat noodle or a round noodle?
Lyle: I guess a flat noodle.
Yongping: O.K. You want a long noodle, a short noodle, a long cut-up noodle?
Lyle: I suppose a long noodle.
Yongping: O.K. You want it a stir-fry or boiled?
Lyle: stir-fried.
Yongping: O.K. You want it taste sweet, a sour, or pungent?
Lyle: I'm not sure what pungent tastes like, so how about sweet and sour?
Yongping: O.K. We have a sweet and we have a sour. You want two noodles?
Lyle: No, just one. Sweet and sour.
Yongping: I so sorry. I don't know what you mean.
Lyle: That's fine. This dish in the picture here looks good. Maybe we'll just have this.
Yongping: O.K. That a frog. You like a frog? You want it with noodles? You want egg noodle or rice noodle....?
Really, ordering has been such an adventure! We have had very few things we haven't loved. We even got a whole fish today and even though I'm normally not a fish eater, I loved it! She said it was a vinegar fish famous in this region. I believe it! I love the family style way the Chinese have of eating. Lily said it's frustrating for her in the U.S. to see something tasty-looking on someone else's plate and not be able to share. Why don't we do that? I think it makes so much more sense. An interesting thing here in China is that the wait staff is not tipped. On our last day, even if it's not typically done, we want to try to give Xia Yongping a tip. If anyone has ever deserved one, its certainly her!
Another reason I wanted to include Xia Yongping's picture is that her willingness to help us has been typical of all the Chinese people we've met. I don't think in the U.S. we treat foreigners with the same amount of courtesy that we enjoy here. If you don't speak English in the U.S. and know our customs, we tend to be easily annoyed. Here, we've felt like complete idiots so many times and have only met with kindess, O.K., maybe a little laughter, but definitely kindness. When I was waiting for our group outside of Wal-Mart the other day, a sweet woman walked up to me and said with such concern, "You look lost. I help you?" Of course I just said, "No thank you, I'm fine." What I really wanted to say was, "Yes, I was walking in America, when I guess I made a wrong turn and wouldn't you know it, I wound up in CHINA! Can you point me in the right direction?" Lyle lost Adam in a crowd a couple of days ago, and with no words needed, a woman grabbed Lyle by the elbow, pulled him down the road a bit and then pointed to Adam in the distance. Even Lyle knows how to say "thank you" in Mandarin, and trust me, we've used it a lot!
We feel like little children here. David and Lily watch out for us every step of the way. When we wanted to leave an excursion early the other day and head back to the hotel, Lily wrote us a note to give to our cab driver and David checked on us right when he got back, just to make sure we made it. So many things are different here. Just shopping, for example, I still can't totally figure out. Sometimes we leave our purchases somewhere and pick them up someplace else, sometimes instead of our merchandise, we're given tickets. We get confused and try to explain in English that we want our stuff, and David always comes to the rescue and explains to the shopkeepers that we're clueless Americans and don't know how things are done and that it's his job to babysit us. He hands us our bag of stuff later. I still don't get how that all works.
Now that Maya is with us we get some interesting stares. People always do a double-take. They look at us, they look at her, they look at us again, they keep looking at us even after they pass. One older woman at the crosswalk bent down and was talking to Qiu Ju in her stroller. I don't know very much Mandarin, but I know she said "Chinese child." It must have been something to the effect of, "I don't want to alarm you, but you look American, and from a practiced eye, I'd say your baby's Chinese." As we walked away Lyle said, "Well, there was that Chinese postman."
One resource that China certainly has going for it is manpower--and let me tell you, they use it! People work so hard here! We've been amazed that the same night staff is here in the morning too. Here in Nanning, everything is so well manicured and of course to keep it that way takes work. With tools much less sophisticated than what we use in the U.S. every space has beautiful sculpted hedges and decorative, intricate rockwork along the sidewalks. Our group visited a park today, and let me tell you, the Chinese know how to make cool parks! There were beautiful pagodas, koi swimming in the lakes, and gorgeous scenery everywhere we looked. We walked through this incredibly long bamboo covered bridge built by the Dong minority group. They built the whole thing just with mortise and tenon joints, not a single nail. Lyle was very impressed.
The Guangxi province really isn't even a province at all. The official name is the "Zhuang Autonomous Region," because there is such a high population of this certain minority group. Apparently the Zhuang people have a characteristic look, and I asked David if he thought Maya was Zhuang and he quickly said, "Oh no, definitely not Zhuang. She is Han, original Chinese." Who knows, he may be right, all I know is that he says he is Han, and I have a feeling if I asked someone who is Dong, they'd say she was Dong, or Miao and they'd say of course she's Miao. Still, regardless of her ethnicity, it's been interesting to learn about the minority group that is so prominent in her region. We bought a "loving ball" to put in her China box. The Zhuang women each make their own loving ball and in the year of their 18th birthday there is a huge festival where the people gather and all of the eligible women get together on some sort of outdoor stage. The eligible men stand around the stage and when the woman sees the man she loves, she throws him the ball. If he catches it, he is saying that he loves her too. He will then go work for the woman's family for two years without any pay and at the end of the two years the girl's family will decide if he's worthy. David said that for that reason alone, he won't date any Zhuang women!
At the park the kids went on the bumper cars. The money we paid was equivalent to only 50 cents U.S. money and I swear they rode those things for a good 10 minutes. Fifty cents in the U.S. will get you about 30 seconds on the mechanical horse at Toys R Us. The kids are having a blast on the trip, but we all are really missing Abby. Tomorrow we get Maya's passport and then our group flies to Guangzhou at 8 PM and will have our consulate appointments on July 31st.
We would love to hear from all of you. Leave messages in the Guest Book section. We especially want to hear from Granny and Grandpa and get a report on how Abby's doing. I hope the family reunion is going well! Maya's already asleep for the night, so we'd better do the same!

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