Day 9 - Saturday June 7, 2008

This sculpture was in the part in Kaifeng. Appropriate pic for the year of the "Rat" (Christel's year). Their depictions of rats are usually very cute - almost mouse-like.

We were on a little “holiday” for the long weekend here, traveling to see some other cities with historical sites. It was very interesting, a lot of fun and there were A LOT of stairways! I did very well with hours of walking every day (well, it was more like strolling, because there was a 3 yr old child with us). Michael was impressed with my energy - I would not have been able to do all this walking and climbing of steps if I had not done my 3 levels of HPS over the last 10 months. I can now say that China is made of steps, and that's ok.

This was one thing we could see from our hotel room.

There were 6 of us traveling together this weekend: Chunhong, her 3 year old daughter, Gua Gua, and her mother who is in her 50’s but does not read or write in Chinese. And our driver Mr. Cui - a pleasant older man who sometimes got tired behind the wheel and closed his eyes while driving! Apparently he had driven trucks before driving for the university and was quite experienced - that was some consolation.

Mr. Cui

Chunhong and Gua Gua

Chunhong told me a bit about her mother’s difficult life. Chunhong’s grandmother had some sort of sickness that wouldn’t allow her to be pregnant, but she wanted a child badly and so did - a year later she died. A few years later her father died and she went to live with her grandfather and his four boys.
At 12 she left home - because her grandfather wanted to be his wife... he had not treated her well at all and so leaving was better.
(Now she is in a position to help him because he's still alive, but she won't because he had been so mean to her.)
She worked in the fields and during that time in the 1960’s communities worked, lived and ate together, so she had no problem surviving. I’m not sure how old she was when she got married and I didn’t get all the details, but the man she married became a teacher and they had 3 children. They lived and farmed in the country and the rules about having one child were not as strict there.

The oldest and youngest children are the favourites in China, so Chunhong being the middle child was not favoured. She, however, was a very persistent child with her own mind (like her daughter Gua Gua). She was discouraged from attending kindergarten at 6, but insisted that she wanted to go. Her parents thought she wasn’t very smart and wanted her to just work in the fields, but she studied hard and proved to the teachers and her parents that she was smart so they let her go to kindergarten at age 6. She won some sort of city award for mathematics later on and was disappointed that it still did not impress her father.
At some level in grade school her older sister went to the city to live with her father and go to school; so that was her plan too. But her father didn’t think it was right for her (middle child, yadda, yadda, yadda) so she gave her father a long speel, telling him that he didn’t love her because she was the middle child but she was smart and wanted to go to the city. When he asked her why she wanted to go to the city, she said it was because she liked the tall buildings. So, he let her come and live in the city and go to school. She got where she is today because she was stubborn and knew what she wanted - at a very young age.

Gua Gua - like her mother she absolutely knows what she wants!

I asked her how she met her husband and here's the story: In university she had a girlfriend who was not from the city and this friend insisted that Chunhong, because she knew all the guys from Zhumadian, should find her a boyfriend. She’d had a boyfriend of her own and proceeded to introduce a lot of guys to her girlfriend.
One day she introduced a fellow who had been in grade school with her... but he was not interested in her girlfriend. He asked Chunhong if she had a boyfriend, and at that point she did not (her previous boyfriend did not want to continue with his university education and went into the army... she did not like that because she knew it was a hard life for a wife).
Anyway she told this fellow that she did not have a boyfriend and was not interested in having a boyfriend. Well, I guess that interested him... they got married. He’s a heart surgeon and works a lot, but he’s good to their daughter and Chunhong is very happy working at the university.

Right now I want to back track a little to say that when we left Zhumadian, we took Frank and Able with us as well, but just to the airport in Zhengzhou. Frank was going to his home and family in Shanghai - he’s a Canadian, born in BC, has two children (5 and 7 months) and his wife is Chinese. He’s been in China for 6 years.
Able is from Taiwan or the Philippines I think. He is also teaching at the University here and has been in China for 7 years. He’s 40 and has been travelling for many years; he’s lived and worked in Canada, the US, Australia, France and other countries. I think he’s the type who doesn’t like to settle although he’s been in China for 7 years. I think it’s his favourite place - says he wants to see all of China.

Another little digression, so I don’t foget; back outside the hotel in Zhumadian, there was a young man descending on a single rope from the top of the roof of the six-floor building. He was about to paint. And earlier this morning we saw two guys hanging from ropes and scraping the paint off of the windows. I said, “How wonderful!” because I thought the windows looked very bad with all that paint dripped on them. But there’s still dripped paint on the screens - don’t know how they’re going to fix that!

So, back to our weekend:
We finally got to the hotel, which was right in the heart of Kaifeng. Two things famous in Kaifeng (other than the historical sites) are the night market and the street food; and we were situated right in the middle of them. But the city is full of old style buildings and everywhere you look there is some fascinating thing to see. It was extremely crowded but come to find out, the daytime is not nearly as crowded as the night time.

First thing we did was go straight to a small restaurant-type place. They don’t seem to care about making their eating establishments clean and tidy. Chunhong ordered for us (thank God we had her as our “guide”). The food is always very delicious wherever we go, whatever the place looks like. The vegetables are always freshly cooked, so that’s my favourite choice, but there's always some sauce or seasonings added. It was VERY LOUD in this restaurant because there was a large group of Chinese men in the partially enclosed area beside us.

Strange - they served the boiled chicken wings in a plastic bag and set that on the table. Then the other food came; there’s always soup and always some vegetables and it seems that this area of China is famous for dumplings because they’ve come with every meal.
When we were heading back to the hotel, we happened to meet Greg from Perth (who I had just met two days earlier at the university. He was with a scottish fellow, David, whom he had just met. What are the chances eh? meeting another teacher from Zhumadian in a huge city of many, many people. Could be that he spotted us and then made his way through the crowd to meet us...

Then we took the van to the park - the forbidden city of the Song Dynasty - there was a large area around a lake that represented the emperor’s palace and all it’s paraphenalial buildings. We were told most of the buildings were rebuilt in the fashion of the ancient temples and buildings, but they looked pretty authentic to me. Very beautiful buildings on very beautiful grounds, in very hot weather. I loved it of course.
There was lots of climbing to do here because of the many tiered palaces/temples. See pics.

After lunch we went for a shower and a nap and then met our company in the lobby at 7:30pm. Just outside the hotel on the street were dozens, maybe 40 food wagons and a large area with stainless steel tables and chairs. Chunhong found a place for us to sit and she ordered all the food, confering with Mr. Tueh (our driver). The food was different again and all very tastey. It’s an adventure every time we sit down to eat.
There was a little bit of a kafufel after we were almost done eating. Chunhong had ordered some soup, but it came too late so we started to walk away. People came running after us and there was a lot of loud talking. Although I was full, we sat down to have some of the lovely soup that we’d been waiting for.

You just can’t say no to the Chinese... they won’t let you. That’s where not speaking the language comes in real handy. If I knew what they were saying, the soft hearted me probably wouldn’t be able to walk away from them.
The only way for me to be at ease and safe in China is by not knowing the language...

After eating we began to walk along the road with inumberable make-shift stalls with metal rod frames. Like anyone would do in a market. I learned from Chunhong how to barter; you just walk away when you don’t like the price and they will lower. (ah, note to self). Michael gracefully bowed out of continuing on the interesting market journey and went back to the hotel - which was just around the corner). I bought some jewellery, a small mirror, two hats and a pair of shorts and t-shirt for Michael. By the way, I conclude that the chinese have big heads and big feet but small bodies - surprisingly the hats and shoes fit me!
Chunhong and I were back at the hotel at 11 pm. It was a good day.

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