Archive for September, 2008

Xitang in the early morning

Monday, September 1st, 2008

When we got up in the morning, we discovered that Anne had gone out early to take pictures.  These are a few of the beautiful pictures she took.  On a previous trip Carol and I noticed that Anne’s father has a gift for taking particularly beautiful pictures, and now we know that he passed that gift on to his daughter.  We’re so glad she shared these pictures with us!

This picture seemed particularly fitting as a goodbye to a beautiful place.  Compared to our home, Xitang was probably the one place we visited that felt most unique.  While we were there, it seemed like the world just closed in around us, and everything was contained in that one little village.  People were friendly, even if they felt that we were a little amusing at times, and there was always something we could do.  Many of the contrasts we experience in daily life were here – we had hot weather and rain, daytime and nighttime, the cool water and the hard, hot stone. We did a lot of walking and a lot of sitting, a little hurrying and a little waiting.  We shopped, ate, watched artists work, watched people catch a fish in a net, rode in a boat, slept in ancient beds, fought off the spiders, and captured a gecko.  We celebrated an American holiday with Chinese fireworks.  What a lot of memories for one day!

The Canal at Night

Monday, September 1st, 2008

At night, the canal looks very different.  We bought tickets for a boat ride on the canal, and we loved it.

But we had some time to kill before our boat ride, so we went to a cafe to have a snack.  We weren’t very hungry, but we needed to find someplace with air conditioning.  And this cafe was really cool.  Besides air conditioning, it had an indoor goldfish pond, and getting to our table required each person to cross the pond on stepping stones.  As we waited for the darkness to fall, we ate a dessert that seems really simple – kind of a snow cone on a plate.  The dessert was made of shaved ice mixed with condensed milk, topped with jam.  We tried strawberry, apple, watermelon, and one other flavor that I can’t remember.  Maybe blueberry?  Anyway, it was a perfect dessert for the occasion, and since then we’ve heard about a restaurant in Provo that serves something similar.

After dark, we headed over to the boat dock.  We rode quietly for a couple of minutes, then Anne told us that “We have an activity.”  She had purchased some little folded paper boats with candles, one for each person to light and float down the canal.  Between the candles and the red lanterns, the canal was exceptionally beautiful that night.  The little candles were supposed to represent each person’s hopes and dreams.   It seemed like a perfect time to light a candle and watch it bob along in the canal, thinking about our hopes and dreams, until Nick lit Anne’s boat on fire.  While we were busy teasing Nick about the accident, a big boat full of passengers ran over his candle.  Before long, the “hopes and dreams” for all of us men and boys were extinguished.  But Carol’s boat floated to the foundation of a bridge and stayed burning there for a long time.  And when we went back to the dock, we found Anne’s candle still burning, still floating in the water even though the paper was burned away.

After the boat ride we did fireworks, but that’s another story.  And after the fireworks, we got some cold pop and snacks, then played charades on a covered bridge near the boat dock.  We don’t have any pictures of the charades – thank goodness – but we’ll always remember that quiet evening, the sound of the boat oars, the red lanterns, and laughing together while trying to guess which animal each person was pretending to be.  I later learned that this was a cultural experience for our Chinese friends, because apparently Chinese parents would be more serious than Carol and I were that night.  We had a good time being a little silly together.

A Bridge in Xitang

Monday, September 1st, 2008

I don’t know the name of this bridge in Xitang, but it’s very graceful.  We saw a whole class of art students sitting in the shade, painting the bridge.  We tried not to bother them too much, but we certainly were impressed with their patience and concentration.  We hope their pictures came out looking good!

After dinner, Carol got some fireworks.  It was the 24th of July, so in Utah this was a holiday when fireworks are legal.  In Xitang, apparently you can do fireworks on any day.  Since it was night, the art students were gone and the area around the bridge was pretty clear.  We lit 50 sparklers and 3 roman candles with 40 shots each.  Those were so much fun that we went back and got 8 more roman candles.  We set those fireworks on the top of the bridge and tried to light them all at the same time.  Unfortunately that meant that all of us were lighting fireworks, so nobody was free to take a picture.  So we don’t have much proof, but our 24th of July fireworks more than made up for our feeble 4th of July celebration.

While we cleaned up after our fireworks, we noticed a lot of geckos lurking on the walls of the nearby buildings.  Geckos are really quick, so we wondered if we could catch one.  It turns out that I was able to catch one on my very first grab, but that wasn’t quite as cool an accomplishment as I had thought it might be.  Apparently Chinese people don’t think reptiles are particularly cool.  Anne and Shirley didn’t want anything to do with it, although they might have bravely touched it for a second, and the people who passed by – even the young men – were afraid of it.  Our boys boys touched it, and just to show that it wasn’t dangerous, I let it bite me.  But that didn’t convince anyone else.  In the end I started to put the gecko down on the ground that that prompted a very quick suggestion to put it on the wall instead!  Maybe people were afraid it would run up someone’s leg.  So I put the gecko back on the wall and it ran away.  But I learned the Chinese word for “gecko” – it literally means “wall tiger.”  Good name for those feisty little guys.

Xitang Shopping

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Big surprise… shopping in Xitang was actually kind of fun! 

The shopping street ran parallel to the primary canal.  The street had an interesting mixture of shops and restaurants, and of course everyone wanted to talk to us foriegners.  We bought some embroidery – a couple of beautiful pieces – and a few other fun things.  The longest shopping stop was probably at the jewelry store.   The jewelry was fun and colorful, and Carol found several things that she liked. 

It seemed like everyone had a good time.

But that’s not the only fun shopping picture… Ryan let Shirley talk him into trying on a hat, and somebody snapped a picture.

And at some point – I think it was in an embroidery store – Jacob ended up holding a Chinese flag while Anne held an American one.

But we still haven’t figured out quite what Nick was thinking.

Our Xitang Guesthouse

Monday, September 1st, 2008

The guesthouse where we stayed in Xitang was a very old building.  We had to enter through a small unmarked door between two stores, then find our way through a narrow passageway to a courtyard.  From the courtyard there was a central room with a couple of square tables, a water cooler, and a fan.  I was never quite sure how well the locks worked, but that was no problem because the place was guarded by some of the largest attack spiders I’ve ever seen.  The landlady said that kind of spider only eats mosquitoes, but it looked to me like their fangs were best suited for eating poodles.  Anyway, if the spiders were earning their keep by devouring mosquitoes, I’m really sorry.  They’ll have to recruit some new guards, because I killed all of the spiders I could find before anyone went to bed.

The owner told us that the upstairs room, where Anne and Shirley slept, was a place where a famously beautiful young woman once lived.  This picture is taken in the main room.  The stairs to the upper room are on the left.  Nick and Jacob’s room is on the right. 

Carol and I took the room with a view of the canal, and we opened the windows for a while so we could hear the quiet sounds of the wind and water.

Andrew and Ryan took the room next to ours, but their room did not have windows to see the canal.  This guesthouse had a fantastic history and atmosphere.  The guesthouse didn’t provide some of the comforts we’re used to in America, but I don’t think it’s possible to have that kind of comfort without destroying the adventure of a place like this.

One interesting challenge was the difficulty of recognizing our doorway.  All of the shops, restaurants, and guesthouses are connected, and our doorway was simply one door between two shops.  There wasn’t any sign that I could recognize, and things looked different at night than they did during the day.  So when we went out in the evening, I took this picture with my phone to help me recognize the doorway when I wanted to return.  I had a bit of trouble finding this door, even with the picture to guide me.  I walked past it twice before the people in the shop realized I was lost and told me this was the right place.  It’s a good thing the people were so friendly!