The long, dark teatime of Linxie

Trip Start Oct 18, 2006
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Trip End ??? ??, 2008


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Flag of China  ,
Saturday, May 12, 2007

Today has been a day of cultural discovery for us all. People here are far less used to foreigners, so w have essentially become rock stars. While wandering today, I had no end to the stares and inquisitiveness about what unfortunate series of events brought me to this town. Of course, people are generally proud of their city, but they know that it is not exactly a tourist destination.

I found that the two greatest conversation pieces I have are my camera and the very flamboyant and feathery dreamcatcher that Chuck was so kind as to endow me with. Just by stopping and looking around you attracts quite a crowd, but several times now, little kids and old men alike have stood within breathing distance behind me, studiously watching my camera as I snapped away at the scene before me. I hung out for fifteen minutes or so with some old Hui men, introducing them to this amazing soul-stealing technology, and trading phrases on my complimentary and horribly crash-course phrasesheet. I told most of them that I was from England, since Canada wasn't on the list, and the word Canada in itself wasn't exactly understood to be country. I've found out since that point that 'ji'an'a'da' is literally "one more hit" in mandarin. The Muslim ladies we ate with certainly had a laugh at the expense of their children over that one. In the other instance, I used my profoundly white and unfluid skill at charades to explain to some older dudes what a dreamcatcher was for. They seemed to think it was a quaint bit of superstition, much like what I think of their "lucky numbers". And lucky dragons. And lucky happy joy. And meee lucky chaarms. You get the picture. Chuck says that I've caught myself a nightmare, but my feeling is that the dreamcatcher doesn't shuei enough at night.

Again, I ask, why am I so witty? Why?

We met with a middle school English teacher who spoke it pretty poorly for what I had expected of a professional with many years of study, but it seems this is a very difficult area to learn English in this area, as everything is by rote, and from likely poor textbooks. However, he was really gracious, and helped initiate us into the Chinese hosting experience. We were let into his house, a shared courtyard with rooms all around, shared by neighbours and relatives. We had traditional tea for a couple of hours, were served massive amounts of 'snacks', and were generally prodded with simple English questions from all sort of curious people. Afterwards, his neighbour invited us into the next courtyard, and the procedure began all over again - we were served copious amounts of tea and snacks, and asked all sorts of questions, translated by one or two folks. There were many curiosities to get used to, like the nuances of when a male can speak to a female, what sorts of gifts to bring the house one is visiting, which topics to avoid, when (read: not) to refuse food, and so on. I suppose the difficulties are no different than in our culture, but now, suddenly, everything has changed slightly. I spent much of my time monitoring the speech and reaction of the girls I was practicing English with, only to make sure I wasn't starting another world war with some seemingly small faux pas that was taken as a slap to the face, acting as a loose American attempting to pick up chicks in a conservative culture.

As a general rule, we were treated like rockstars. The hosts, even if really poor, go out of their way to offer one their best food, and lots of it. They make huge fuss about you coming to see their humble abode, and make sure you are comfortable to a level that is certainly uncomfortable to someone like myself. To refuse food would be nearly impossible, and the best policy I found was not to do too much, always following Keith's lead, in fear I might offend. Of course, I'm on my best behaviour. I don't think Chuck and Erika would be enthralled by sitting with me in prison, let alone in deep, deep, shame.

Almost too abruptly, though not untimely for us visiting, the girls indicated that they needed to leave. We said our goodbyes, and went back to the hotel, stuffed from all of the 'snacks' and hospitalities, though perhaps a little too hurriedly. It turns out that the tea had worked its magic on most of us, and we were in need of some relief. Never have I seen a group of full and tired tourists like ourselves ascend a five story staircase so quickly.

After reconvening a while later, half of us regrouped for a third instalment of tea, this time a long way out of town. Our hosts were not around, so we wandered. We were invited into another house for tea, and had a very quick chat, a scant two cups of tea.

Following this teatime, we stumbled through the darkness back to our originally intended hosts', for, of course, more tea. By this time, I was sure we had drunk our body weights in tea, and were well used to the whole procedure. Politely accept the tea, politely refuse any snacks, and of course, politely accept once food is insisted upon. We had brought two chickens and some fruit as a gift, which implied that we expected to eat there, and we had a repeat performance of our horribly overordered meal from the previous night. Many dishes were set before us, and few were more than half finished. It was strange to sort of invite ourselves to this place, and then have little conversation other than between ourselves, in a way ignoring our gracious host. There wasn't much to say, I suppose - only two of us really speak Chinese, and even then I presume the conversations are less than profound.

After a long, weary, difficult day of doing nothing but eating, drinking bo bo chao, and politely conversing with our numerous guests, we stumbled out onto the dark alleyway of tarmac and mud walls which serves as the local's road, using Keith's videocamera nightlight to guide our way. In the fashion of regular backpackers, we shuffled into the hotel for a night of rest on unfamiliar, hard beds. I went for an evening walk, listening to my recently acquired music player (apologies to the asceticism gods), dancing and karaokeing as I went, hardly stopped in the backstreet darkness by local's incredulous stares, the kind inspired by the rare sight of a tall and klunky white drip making a fool of himself. And enjoying it. Life is good here, it is a simple place, yet to be entirely spoiled by western problems. I sigh in sadness for the impending erosion of culture, in happiness for what it has, in quiet acceptance that there is little I can do. My heart is somehow happy and bursting with joy despite, perhaps because of, the duality of human nature, of our existence, Linxie's existence, of the depressed-yet-hopeful limbo we float in daily. To ride on this sharp edge, to live in the beauty of grey, to sleep perchance to dream, aye, there's the secret of the disgustingly happy and balanced man.

I hum a final benediction with feeling, look up to the starry ceiling, before I say goodnight. Before we say goodnight.
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