(click here to read part two)
Journal Day Four - Off to see Lawrence’s Grandma
So the house that we were staying in is one large room. And it was time for me to change my clothes. Since it was just us guys (my buddy, his Dad and brother) I awkwardly asked if I could just change right there. Lawrence replied, “After we finish eating lunch” in his polite way. It was then that I realized I have lost a lot of social awareness in the past few years, to the point where a friend has to tell me to wait to change my clothes so that, he can finish his meal without seeing me shirtless/pantless. Sigh. I still have 60 years of social awareness decline in me. Wow, where is this train going?
I need to tell you that in Chinese culture if you offer someone something only once, Chinese people will never say “yes” the first time. To be more polite, you say “yes” after being offered something a second and third time. So I realized that was why everyone was asking me if I wanted tea and what-not over and over again… they simply didn’t believe my first decline.
It’s also interesting how school is run here. If you’re from a local village you would come to Weijialou (the town we were in) and stay with four or five other kids your age in a dorm style house. The school cooks your meals. This starts as young as seven years old. And the kids only go home during the school semester every couple weeks on those Friday market days I was talking about earlier. But the schooling is free up until the ninth grade.
Like I said, most of the people in this area HAD NEVER seen a non-Chinese person before! This was made clear when we were waiting to leave and I started handing out candy to the kids in the streets. Many of them looked at me suspiciously, with some kids refusing the candy and retreating to their homes. I don’t bite, I promise.
Well after my “changing clothes” incident we waited for a few hours till our ride to Lawrence’s Grandma’s Village was going to leave. My friend hooked us up with a free trip that fortunately was making a delivery to the exact area we were going to. After waiting a while we got the call that we were ready to leave. As we walked up to our ride I realized it was going to be a bit of an adventure, since our ride was a huge truck loaded with concrete blocks. The truck was purple and after some internal debate I settled on naming it “Purple Thunder”.
On our way to visiting Grandma my friend informs me that as a seven year old her feet had been bound. I had only read of this so it was interesting to be meeting someone who actually experienced this. What they used to do in China (they no longer do this) is when girls were seven or so they would bind their feet so that they would stop growing and instead stay small. This was viewed as attractive, but was very painful to the girls who were subjected to this.
On our way up the mountain my friend and I got to chat with the driver of “Purple Thunder” he was a really friendly guy. He told me that I changed his view of Americans which made me feel good. I mean… I represented a nation… How often does that happen?
We arrived to meet Grandma. I loved the scenery here and enjoyed the surrounding farm setting. I almost felt like I was back in Montana. After being introduced, I gave my friend some space to get caught up with his Grandma. Her house is a lot like the one we’re staying at in town, but is much older. After snapping some pictures with her and giving her some gifts we brought, our ride was ready to leave. Our stay was short, but something happened which surprised me and left an image I will not soon forget. My friend’s Grandma started to cry as he left. It’s not often, by not often I mean almost never, that you see a Chinese person cry. And seeing my friend wipe the tears off her face was a precious moment.
We had done it, completed all our tasks for the trip. And we were about 40 minutes or so into our return voyage home for our last night, when “Purple Thunder’s” tire sprung a leak. We pulled over in a small village to assess the situation. By we, of course, I mean the driver, since I don’t really know man stuff. As we waited for the tire to get fixed I drifted over to an area with a couple homes. I noticed some kids and still having some candy on me I offered it to them. Soon I had seven kids gathered around me practicing their English. Once that started, my teaching skills just took over. For the next hour or hour and a half we had our very own free English lesson right on the side of the street. It was fun to teach the kids English and help them with their pronunciation.
Truth be told, in teaching foreign languages, you can’t help that much in a short time, but what you can do to help is give a kid confidence. So as much as I could, I encouraged them in what they excelled at and showed them that they could be confident in using their English. It was a blast!
Nightfall came and it got even colder than it already had been. Lawrence and the driver had climbed in the cab of the truck and I decided to walk up the road a bit. I was about 30 yards from the truck when I heard a rustle in the dark just off the side of the road. Being pitch black and remembering that wolves used to roam this area I quickly scurried back to the truck. By this time “Purple Thunder’s” driver couldn’t fix the tire so he called in some help. When they arrived they got the tire off the truck and soon were in town getting it repaired. Lawrence and I were left to guard the truck and tools.
We waited with the truck with a couple of my “English Students” and chatted a bit before an old man walked up to us. He was part of the local communist government and a really nice guy. He had the kids gather firewood and they made us a fire on the street in front of our truck, which warmed my hands and soul. It was cool to chat with him as he shared about the future of China and taught us that we need to help people in need. I was blessed to get to chat with him.
Side note: I ran to the grocery store to buy hot dogs to cook over our fire on the street… but it was an epic fail.
Four hours after our tire got a hole in it and we were off again for my friend’s home. Our driver took up his normal routine of occasional lighting up a cigarette, texting, and calling people as he sped down the curvy mountain road. But now it was dark out. We got home safe and sound. I was grateful that he let us hitchhike up the mountain with him. And I was glad I left him with a good impression of Americans.
Journal Day Five - RETURNING TO XIAN
The morning came and I was so excited to see my family again. I missed them terribly while I was away. After saying goodbye to Lawrence’s family, Lawrence and I headed to our “bus stop”, but before I left, my gracious hosts gave me a bag of Chinese dates (the fruit) and two boxes of the local specialty “yellow rice”. We weaved through his town following the streets back to the highway. We climbed through the barb wire fence and finally climbed a staircase that lead up to the highway.
I was a little nervous about the bus stop situation. You just wait there until your bus comes, but if we miss it (or it misses us) I wasn’t sure when (or if) the next one came.
It was way too early and freezing out when we heard the same music we heard when we arrived to my friend’s home town five days earlier (also accompanied with fireworks). My friend again assured me that it was either a wedding or a funeral (which was crazy, because of how early it was… for either of those things). My friend spotted the marching group of people playing music and lighting fireworks. Many of them are wearing white robes, which meant it was a funeral. A minute later I noticed a handful of camp fires starting up throughout the mountain and I asked my friend why the people were starting fires. He told me that it’s because it’s bad luck not to start a fire when a funeral procession walks past your home.
My bus arrived and I gave my friend a hug goodbye. I boarded the bus and as I settled into my bus seat I started to write down my final notes from a great trip. A trip I will not soon forget.
And on that note I will conclude my journal. It’s little information like the funeral stuff that I would have no idea about if it weren’t for my good friend Lawrence and if it weren’t for our trip together. I’m incredibly grateful for both of those things. To understand China, you need to know the city, but also the countryside… where she’s come from. It was interesting and I look forward to getting to see more of the countryside in the future. ‘Til then...
(In case you're wondering what happened to all the hiking I was talking about doing. In the end we didn't get to do much hiking at all. It saved us a lot of time to just catch a ride to the places we were going, so we decided not to do it. Maybe next time.)
Thanks so much for reading this!