Posts from the ‘Tours’ Category

Nu Wa Storytelling Journey September 12-26, 2014

 

Welcome to the Nu Wa Blog as you follow Eth-Noh-Tec and the storytelling delegation on their adventure to CHINA!  We launched this week on Sept 11 and arrived the following day on Sept 12 (with all our luggage! YAY!).  Please copy this link and share it with friends to hear more about our storytelling adventure: http://tinyurl.com/nuwachina

DAY #1, , ,4: Sept 12, 13, 14, 15

BUSTLING BEIJING

We arrived in Beijing in one piece!!  It was a pretty good flight with Air Canada’s wide seats and . meals, unlike last time when we went on United with one meal at the beginning of the flight and none for the next 12 hours!

Beijing is sooo filled with people and cars and tricycle bed trucks and scooters and busses and bicycles and pedestrians, all weaving, seemingly haphazardly, through each other to cross the wide boulevards and streets.  With the people finally getting some living wages, there are many more obvious signs of, not necessarily wealth, but enough to buy beyond food and shelter.

MEET THE NEW GEMS OF 2014

Our Nu Wa delegates are (seen in pix above left-to-right): th timer Elaine Stanley, newbies Doris Feyling and daughter Kirsten Feyling, and sisters Luanda Wesley and Melinda Kanios.  This is our th time.

We are having a great time eating, sightseeing, in the parks participating with dancers and game players of all kinds.  And, we have become the Nu Wa shopping tour as well!

Our delegates are all women!  So shopping is indeed a draw.  Both Robert and our all time favorite guide Peter Liu, who is with us for the 4th time, are ever so patient!

Sunday Sept 14: HEAVENLY!

This is our third day and we have been to the Temple of Heaven, Panjiayuan flea market, the Silk & Pearl factories, the Summer Palace, on boat rides filled with people because, once again, many more Chinese are finally above survival and can travel to see their own country.  So one has to imagine what it was like to be one of the concubines, or handmaidens being the only ones walking the beautiful landscapes surrounded by mountains, lakes and gorgeous architecture in these temples and palaces.  Or if one dares, to imagine oneself the Empress Dowager… and for Robert, the Emperor or … a Eunuch!

DAY #, : Monday Sept 15 &  Tuesday 16 

WALKING THE WALL

Today we are off to the Great Wall. What is new at the Great Wall for us is a new area opened that has a tram and a chair lift going up and down, or if one wants, individually driven toboggans to maneuver on the way down.  Of course walking up and down those hundreds and hundreds of uneven stairs is definitely the way to go so one can say they’ve “… climbed the Great Wall!”

Breakfast time, so see you in the next blog!

- – - – - – - -

Yesterday, the Great Wall was amazing as usual, but very special was that there were not many people.  We have been to the Badaling area of the Great Wall many times. In 2002, it was sparse with visitors.  But every time after, it was so crowded it was difficult to maneuver.  Again, the Chinese nationals are able to visit places in their own country.

STONES & BONES: Day #4 Monday Sept 15

In this new place, however, it was not crowded, perhaps also because it was Monday. Thus the walk was pleasant and the views were magnificent. We had time and space to ponder the unfathomable amount of hard labor, freezing winters, hot summers – impossible conditions of the steep mountains upon which the conscripted laborers had to work.  Countless lives were enslaved and lost building the great wall over the 600 years of constant construction.  We were walking on the skeletons of these laborers buried under the wall.  We were winded just walking up and down the many stairs let alone carrying up heavy bricks and cement blocks to build walls, stairs, towers. With reverence, we gave thanks to those ancestors who were sacrificed to build a wall that the common people didn’t care about.  It is unbelievably mind-boggling.

Still, for us contemporary humans, we not only appreciated the wall, but enjoyed it. The gondola, chair lifts and toboggans were fabulous.  The weather was perfect: blue skies, sunny, about 75 degrees and a lovely breeze.  Our energy was well spent climbing hundreds of stairs, and so were we!  Still, we stayed awake for the astonishing feats of the Chinese acrobats that night.  We even had enough energy to roam the alley outside of our hotel afterwards to eat at a downhome eatery.  We then slept well despite the hard beds!

 DAY # Tuesday Sept. 16:

IT’S TEMPLE TIME

The next day, at the Lama monastery, we lit many sticks of incense to give thanks to our ancestors and to make requests for our troubled world.  We next roamed the grounds of the Confucian Temple, then off we went to have lunch and pick up ONE MORE Gem, Xiao-Juan Shu who will be joining our adventure as a part of the translation team.

Now on to the real heart of our Nu Wa Cultural Exchange in Gengcun.  We arrived in the city of Gaocheng where we stay.  Rainy, cool and dark.  The first thing is we tested our beds!  Pads on the box springs!!  We ate the specially delicious food of this hotel and then sorted out all the gifts we were bringing for the classrooms and for the tellers, chiefs and heads of the associations.

 

 

DAY # Wednesday Sept 17:

ARRIVING AT THE GENGCUN VILLAGE

Then, the magic began the next morning!  Our shuttle got closer and closer to the village’s red gate. We passed under and soon we could see a small group of villagers standing near the school.

We pulled up.  We heard music.  We looked out the windows and saw a group of 12 dancers dressed in red under the roofed entrance of the school to welcome us. They were dancing, not a traditional dance with Chinese drums as before, but disco music!!  Dancing in two lines to disco music!  It was fabulous!!  We cried when we saw our old storytelling friends.  The people are so warm and open hearted.  We hugged and ‘Ni hao’ed’ everyone!!  Smiles smiles smiles!

Welcome speeches in the new Hall of Stories, smaller in size but the same set up with tables making an rectangular shape, chairs all around with the center empty.  They gave us gifts of tea and tea caddies.  We came empty handed.  Drat our lack of knowledge about the proper rituals, even after all these times! (YIKES! our “Bad!”)  We DID have gifts however, but we were waiting for the following days to give.  And we didn’t know how many officials would be there to give gifts to. Oh, for me – to be Chinese American!  It is right when the elder Chinese who immigrate to America meet Chinese Americans and call us ‘jook sing’.  It means ‘like bamboo: looks like something on the outside, but empty on the inside’.  We don’t know our culture at all.  But, why would we?

ART FOR HEARTS SAKE! ALL HANDS ON DECK! (or Desks)

We ended the day with sharing stories both in the Story Hall and with the children in the school.  There are only classes left: 1st, 2nd and 3rdgraders about 8-15 in each class, and what a rowdy group – the boys of course!  We were happy to unload all our school supply gifts to the “oohs and ahhs” of the children! The following day we returned to the classrooms to an arts activity.

A very satisfying, and quite exhausting day #6 (and part of day #7).

Day #7 Wed. thru Sat Sept 17-20

SWAPPIN’ STORIES IS WHY WERE HERE!

Story sharing in Gengcun is the highlight of this trip.  We went into the village, into their homes to share stories.

A typical home is one large room with a couch, a dresser and a large very hard bed.  There is now often one extra room on each side: another bedroom, a room used as a kitchen.  In our western world, these are not rooms we think of like in our own homes.  Each of these 3 rooms are concrete squares or rectangles.  Then they are filled with what the function is.  Kitchens will have a concrete sink and a wide concrete ledge for portable propane burners.  A small very used wooden table sits in the middle.  We rarely saw a refrigerator and if we did, it was in the large middle room where one gathers with the family or friends, and in our case, storytellers.  We sit on the bed, the couch and the tellers share these spaces with us.  If there are not enough spaces, the tellers sit on small, low little benches for a single butt.  At ages 70’s and 80’s they can still ‘squat’ so these tiny benches are nothing for them to sit on and get up quickly.  We, on the other hand, would mince going down and groan coming back up!

MEET OUR STORYTELLING UNCLES & AUNTIES!

Most of the storytellers are now the women.  Many of the male tellers have passed since the first time we came in 2002.  Other mid-level tellers between 40-50 seem to be out of town, possible working jobs in bigger cities and sending money home.  It is so very sad. Another 7 have passed away since Robert and I came by ourselves in 2011:  5 more men and 2 women storytellers we adored.  Nine altogether have passed from our circle of Gengcun storytelling friends since we started 12 years ago.

NU WA MASTER TELLERS!

Still we are enamored, we are in love, we are thrilled to be in the warm smiles, embraces and stories of our friends.  We tell after they tell; they then tell after we tell.  We laugh together, we watch as they often go back and forth about a story.  We can only gather from their patter and laughter that they have different versions of the story being told and they all have opinions about it!

Their Chinese dialect is different than standard Mandarin, so our wonderful interpreters Peter Liu and Xiao Juan often have to go back and forth as well trying to understand what they are saying.  A chorus of the women will pipe in to try to explain what a word or phrase means.  It’s quite a spectacle to behold, all in feverish dialect skirting across from one person to another at a very rapid pace, all in good humor.

Day 9: (Sept 20) & 10 (Sept 21)- PLAYIN’ WITH THE PEEPS

Now on the weekend, we are privy to all the other children who go to the school in the next village or a boarding school.  So the village is fuller with young people waving, curious and very friendly.  They stand at the cross paths or gather wherever we are going. They are on foot and many on their bikes.  And, they practice their English with us.  And, stare!

 YOWZA! JIAOZI!

More story sharing, and a bonus – we got to make pot stickers with one of the tellers! And they were more delicious than any we have tasted here in restaurants as well as those restaurants in the states.  We made many, and ate more!  Bowl after bowl, boiled but not eaten in soup.  And so many pomegranates off their trees plopped in our arms!  Another teller made us a treat called ‘eight treasure’ biscuits made from eight ingredients including many kinds of rice and some beans and yams.  Very hearty! Could eat one and it would last in your stomach for a week! Good for winter!

Speaking of which, the weather has been perfect!  Not too cool and not too warm.  Blue skies over the Great Wall and blue with clouds over the Forbidden City, a bit grey over all the other temples.  One day of rain, so what did we do? An art museum instead and… Shopping!!

But back to Gengcun.

GENGUN VILLAGE STILL A “WORK IN PROGRESS”

We have fallen in love again with the storytellers, the children and the village.  The village is changing.  Behind several of the simple concrete homes we see 2-3 story mansions.  We were not privy to enter any, as the storytellers do not have those mansions.  We have worried about how the young adults all go to the big cities to find a job that pays well.  This  breaks the continuity of the transmission of storytelling to the next generation.  At first they did not take their children with them, so the children still heard stories from grandparents either at home or in the school.  But, now years later, they have begun to take their one child with them (which is why the school population is so small and those left behind are placed in other schools).  Now these young adults are doing very well, send money back to their parents and build them these mansions.  We find that the walls depicting story scenes however, are still not renovated and continue to fade and chip. And there are still very poor villagers living in very poor circumstances.  Ahh, this is progress…

NEW STORYTELLING ASSOCIATION

There are two associations in the village: the village association and newly formed – the storytelling association.  A man named Jin Chun Li has taken upon himself to represent the storytellers who have not personally been rewarded for being the attraction of the village.  I personally don’t think the village officials care.  But for the first time, we were charged for each person per day to go into their homes and share stories.  Mind you, American storytelling delegations (Jimmy Neil Smith lead 1997, and 5 Nu Wa Delegations 2002-2011) have donated many thousands of dollars to the village. We have helped build their school, paved the first road into the village, renovated their Story Hall, connected their homes to the new water well, and because of our visits, we have brought fame to the village.  They are recognized by the country as a treasured storytelling village, the tellers have gained more respect from the other villagers and the young, and the young are proud to let others know they are from the famous Gengcun.

We always hoped that the village would develop cultural tourism and a micro-economy of storytelling could evolve.  This is progress! We would not mind being charged if the monies somehow went to the storytellers, who knew nothing about the charge, and who were just told by Mr. Jin.  They were very shocked.

 

Now with the new Storytelling Association, we also have a direct way to give funding to the tellers themselves.  We just need to research how this money is to be used, what do they need and how we can help this happen.

LAST DAY IN THE VILLAGE

On the final afternoon, we had a lovely village celebration of drumming and dancing together.  We passed out goodies from large bags of Costco healthy treats – nuts, dried fruit and nut crisps, i.e. fancy delicious trail mix brought by Elaine Stanley and Melinda Kanios. Photos of each school child are handed out by Kirsten Feyling through her special project.

NEW EYES

The storytellers and hosts have all gotten reading glasses from Doris Feyling and Luanda Wesley.  Oh how grateful the elders were!

GOTTA DANCE!

It was so special to dance to disco music with the younger adult dancers and the children! The kids were pretty amazing following the fixed dance steps of those dancers. Spotted some potential Eth-Noh-Tec tellers for waaayyyy in the future! We wish!

We also wanted to dance Gengcun’s folk dances, so I made the request. The drumming started!  Now the elders joined us. It was lovely!

HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?

Of course we then taught them the ‘famous US’ dances – the Hokey Pokey and the Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes.  And the Limbo!

A surprise visit from some Railway University English teachers and students, who wanted to meet us, arrived.  It turns out one of them is translating some of the village stories into English! We have been searching for such a person! We were gifted several times with volumes of their stories, all of course in Chinese.  Now we have a connection and Eth-Noh-Tec will partner with them in this endeavor! We’ll see if we can get them published. Surprises are welcomed! Below is pictured: Zaizhao “David” Zhang (head of English Dept), Wei Yi &  her husband Zhou “Joe” Jiang and two other students

PARTING: ALWAYS SWEET SORROW…

Too soon the end comes: Speeches, gifts to the village Secretary General and Mr. Jin, and a loooonnnngggg goodbye, as usual.

It is always so difficult to leave them. For Robert and I, and for them, there are always years in between.  We have been to their village six times and hugged hello and goodbye six times. We all hug and say ‘Zai Jian’ – goodbye. They tell us we are welcomed back again next time.  We all say ‘Xia ci zai jian’ – see you again, though we never know when (or if) we’ll ever see them again!

Day #11: Sept 22 BEIJING BIRTHDAY… AGAIN!

Back in humongous Beijing.  What a difference from the small rural village and the ‘small only 2 million’ populated city of Gao Cheng where we stay when we visit the village.

 

Back to sightseeing, back to shopping, shopping, shopping!  Back to crowds! We have been to a Chinese tea ceremony, the Face/mask changing art form, the Kung Fu show, Chinese acrobatic show, squished with millions of other sightseers at the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, the Olympic stadiums. And a wonder: a beautiful Beijing blue sky with floating wispy clouds. Yesterday’s rain cleaned the air and today a lovely breeze and about 72 degrees.

We celebrated Robert’s birthday with these lovely activities and a cake from Peter, our wonderful guide.  Happy Birthday Robert!

 

Day #12: Tues Sept 23- “SO CALLED” SILK

Yesterday’s rainy day produced some excellent purchases shopping at the ‘silk market’ also known as the ‘fake market’ where you can buy name brands that are not real!  It is now inside rather than on the street, and directly connected to a subway station.  Floors and floors of little stores.  We see so many tourists buying new luggage to take home all their many purchases! It is quite hilariously similar to ourselves because, oh yeah, we’re tourists, too!

Day #13: Wed. Sept 24 – MORE FAREWELLS

We bid our wonderful-each-time-we-come guide Peter Liu farewell.  We also say farewell to our friend Xiao who joined us in Gengcun village as another interpreter.  She journeys on to her hometown here in China to visit her family for a month, as this is a national holiday time (but we get to see her again as she lives in the Bay Area!)

 

The next three days are optional days that don’t require Peter’s services, or a driver, and we will all soon disburse to other places – some within China, others back home.

METRO MADNESS! 

We will take the bus or subway or taxi, and without anyone speaking ‘putonghua’ – Chinese!  Wish us luck!

Day #15, #16, #17

 

Day #15: Fri. Sept 26

Luanda Wesley and Melinda Kanios have left us for Shanghai after we all scurried to shopping areas, the Ethnic Minority Park and a farewell dinner and drinks.

 

That leaves Doris Feyling, Elaine Stanley, Kirsten Feyling and us.  The day after the sisters left, our Kirsten departed back to Washington.DC and the rest of us to Guilin where those amazing karst mountains jut astonishingly and suddenly up from river banks and fields in peaks and sheared shapes, and often seen in Chinese paintings and written about in poems.

Day #16: Sat. Sept 27 – SOFT BEDS AND “BING CHILING”

Our first night in Guilin was on soft beds, meaning actual mattresses, not box springs.  We all didn’t want to leave our beds for any reason! It was heaven after sleeping on a week+ of box springs in Beijing. (Say, that sounds like the beginning of a song – “…slept on box springs for a week in Beijing, licked ice cream also known as bingchiling!” … It’s the heat folks!))

 

It’s a hot 96 degrees and humid! Fog, not smog.  Climate change, as it’s suppose to be in the 70′s this time of the year.  Oy and ah ya!

 

In the evening we decided to take the expensive tourist boat to see the city lights at night and some fake dancing of the minority groups in this area.  We also got to see the tourist paid fisherman show us how their cormorants catch fish for them. The birds have a thin rope around their necks so that the birds can’t swallow the fish – just catch them for their masters.  They train these birds from a very young age. Alas, the whole thing was “staged”.  However, on the way back, we stopped by a Lijiang Waterfall Hotel that nightly at 8:30pm has a waterfall and a water show on the back of their building.  From the roof each night at the exact hour, about 20 floors up, tens of thousands of gallons of water cascades down it’s slopes while a long color lit water fountain spurts water in patterns.  It was lovely, and we all felt like climbing into the water to cool off!

 

Day #17: Sun Sept 28 CRUISING DOWN THE RIVER

We took a 4.5 hour cruise to Yangshou down the Li River along miles of curves nestled between the remarkable mountains of Guilin! Even tho it was 100 degrees out, the breeze on the decks of the boat made it tolerable. These extraordinary mountains are a sight to behold – Almost unbelievable.

There are some fishing villages along the river, small villages, some villages building bigger homes with the boon of tourists bringing in lots of money.  There are tents under which one can stop and eat, workers building embankments of round rocks. This funnels some water along the shore while allowing the majority of water to flow in the middle of the river so as to deepen the river for the tourist boats.  There are small raft boats, some motorized, others that move across the waters using long poles to push the raft forward which we will take tomorrow on a branch of the Li River and called the Dragon River.

We were picked up and driven to Mushan, a suburb of Yanshou.  And now, exhausted from the heat nonetheless, we rest in our rooms with soft enough beds and views of some mountains at the Snow Lion Resort.  Robert immediately into the pool to cool off, the rest of us into cold showers!

Dinner time and the resort has a huge selection and a very good chef! All is lovely. This 3rd week option is for R&R and it looks as if it will happen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed as: At the Moment, China 2014, Tours  
 

Announcing 2014 Nu Wa Delegation to China!

Our Journey to a Chinese Storytelling Village

Following our sightseeing in Beijing, we will be visiting the traditional storytelling village of Gengcun. This is the center, this is the heart of our tour.

"It was absolutely wonderful." - Charlotte Blake Alston

There, a plethora of tales and myths will meet us amidst a tradition so grand, that the researchers have deemed this rural farm community…“An Ocean of Stories.” This year we will be participating in their annual Geng Festival that lasts several days. Music, dancing, special foods and storytelling will celebrate the founder of the village—General Geng, the step-father of an Emperor.

What is the Gengcun Storytelling Village?

"The high point was, I think, the warmth and welcome we got in the village...That was an unforgettable experience." - Jay O'Callahan

We will be welcomed by this story-loving village, home to over 134 storytellers capable of recounting age old yarns, legends, personal histories, folk tales and myths drawn from the communities’ centuries old legacy of listening and telling. This ancient village was once along a major merchant trade route and within the walls of many a tavern and inn. Along its alleys and rest stops at the watering holes, the Chinese storytelling traditions were fostered, nurtured, and preserved as these farmers, goat shepherds, and brick factory workers maintained its rich narrative heritage.

Telling Between Two Worlds East and West

The master tellers of Gengcun are well-versed in over 500 stories, mid-level tellers may know 200-300 stories, and yes, even the children tell stories! Eth-Noh-Tec brought tellers of all levels with them as these Chinese storytellers invited their Western visitors into their homes and in their “Hall of Stories” to not only share their Chinese lore, but listen to stories from other parts of the world. Children peak in, listen, some tell, and then scoot out with giggles.

Team Leaders

This delegation will be hosted by the Nu Wa Team: Nancy Wang and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo of Eth-Noh-Tec (San Francisco) China Journey 2014 will be the sixth visit to the village lead by Eth-Noh-Tec. Previous delegations took place in 2002, 2006, 2007,2010, and 2011

Join us!

Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of a lifetime!

 

Filed as: China 2014, Programs, Tours  
 

Our Final Week in China, Part 2

Did we view into a portal? Brigadoon?

The other day, in the taxi, we passed by a park nearby where we saw people doing tai ji, badminton, social dancing, and fan tai ji. Waiting until our last day when there will be no class, we hope it won’t be another lost attempt to actually be amongst them like in Beijing when we couldn’t find the same at the Temple of Heaven.

So, with the first day of blue sky and our last day here, we eagerly walked to see China’s ordinary citizens being healthy and socializing with their friends and colleagues. We were not disappointed!! It was full of people young and old. Lush with tropical greenery and magentas and deep reds, we walked from one lovely activity to another: graceful ladies floating with Chinese dance movements, Chinese opera scenes by elders, women and men taking turns singing popular Chinese traditional songs, badminton, tai ji sticky (push) hands, croquet, waltzes and tangos, ping pong amidst the bamboo trees. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday — or every morning for some of the retired persons. Next time I’m here, I’m joining the ladies to learn some of the graceful Chinese dances!

Swaying, swirling, bowing, singing — it's Arts in the Park!

After a wonderful experience there, we left the park toward a very busy alleyway, where we found rows and rows of wood sellers for making all sorts of beautiful crafts, then rows of antiques, then jade, then books, furniture, odd and ends, beautiful plants — all grouped together by items being sold — some items presented for blocks on end.

Whittled crafts, collectibles, and... Bamboo Christmas trees?

Old Section of Hai Kou, Hainan

Hours later we caught a cab to the ‘old section’. Again blocks and blocks, actually miles and miles of narrow crowded streets and alleyways lined with shops — again grouped together. So for blocks on both sides there would be shops selling light fixtures, or red fancy paper decorations, or Santa objects, or tools, or cloth, or frame shops. The Santas looked decidedly Chinese…

Turn down an alley and blocks of every imaginable dried meat or sea animals including sea horses and star fish; turn down another alley and there are the live sea animals — turtles, cobras and sea snakes, every kind of fish, then down another alley and it becomes the live rabbits, chickens, and OMG cats, and yet another with dead cleaned fish and squid to take home to cook.

Cobra for medicine, dried Skate Fish for a dish…and kitties too?

Every narrow alley is crowded with people walking, people selling, people buying, people on bikes, people on scooters, people pulling loads on 3 wheel carts of piled garbage or boxes of goods, people people people!

We finally found a place to eat in one of the alleys — amazing food! Turnip pancakes with green onions, carrots, and egg. It was also a bakery! Fresh out of the oven, we tried the most tasty, light and sweet bun with coconut flakes sprinkled on the top while the middle had been rolled lightly in sweet red bean paste. There were so many kinds to savor, but we were too full! Later, we mourned that we hadn’t bought a variety of pastry for later or on the plane.

Where we’ve been staying seems to attract the young, and so at the old section, it was wonderful to finally see the wizened faces of elderly women and men eating, playing mah jong, fan tan, cards, and shopping for fresh meat or fish. Unfortunately, we also noticed that it was often the poor and the old women and men who dragged the heavy wooden three-wheel carts loaded with bags of garbage or other discards. Strong and wiry, but where are their children who should be taking care of them? Still, we heard later that Hainan has the highest population of elders over 100 years old. There are 48,900 citizens of China that are over 100 years old most of whom have lived and worked in the countryside all their lives. One couple just celebrated their 90th wedding anniversary!!

Here we saw people engaging with people — hardly anyone on cell phones, texting, or playing computer games. People were in relationship to each other in a myriad of ways — cooking together, eating together, playing together, running a business together… We felt like we were in a sea of humanity flowing in a current of vital life energy.

Finally, we headed home, our feet and legs tired, but happy for the experience of old and new China in Hainan.

Flying Home

Well, we spent one last night in Beijing in a hotel near the airport. And behold! A mattress like home sweet home!

We hired a driver after some swift price bargaining to take us to the houtong district where we stayed the first nights so we could shop shop shop!

We took our sweet time roaming the alleys and stores looking for any last minute desires. Though back in the freezing weather, we were able to just take our time, savoring the sights and sounds of this last night in China. We once again saw chefs rolling the dough to make fancy dumplings, lovely ladies offering little cups of tea for sampling, the silk shop, the plaza store of everything under the sun to buy, life size bronze statues of Chinese of a past era visiting, reading, trying on new shoes, and so on, depending on what the store was selling.

We ended up eating in the Taiwan district (which is interesting given the relations between the two countries) at a Korean restaurant of all things. However, not after we had two long sticks of roasted garlic lamb from a street vendor. Of course this meant we had left-overs because as usual Robert ordered many dishes. But with the left-overs plus a packed roast duck, we were assured we wouldn’t starve on the United flight home. We remembered they didn’t serve dinner, just lunch when you got on the plane and dried up egg and nasty sausage for breakfast before landing. That’s 9-11 hours in-between! (This is a warning if you are considering traveling to China on United).

One Last Glimpse of Great Chinese Food!

Here’s a peek at several photos we took of great food, the varieties, the flavors and the cheap prices — all will be savored in salivating memoirs and flavored by photos.

Zhongguo cai hen hou chi = "Chinese food is delicious!"

We waved goodbye to China and thanked her for an extraordinary month of so many different experiences and places. China is so huge and has so many different kinds of terrain and cultures, we can’t but wonder at the amazing thrill it must have been for Marco Polo, who spent 24 years in China and still didn’t cover it all. (Ironically, when he returned to Italy, his published journal accounting all the cultural wonders, inventions, architecture and science he saw was nicknamed “The Millions” — which his critics implied — millions of lies. He was sent to prison.) As we now know, he was an exceptional friend of China and reported the absolute truth of China’s treasures.

Home Sweet Home

Still, we were ready to come home. And so it is that we close this part of our adventure and hope you have enjoyed sharing it with us.

Filed as: China 2011, Programs, Tours  
 

Our Final Week in China, Part 1

Hainan — The Hawai’i of China: December 6, 2011

After leaving Gengcun, we made our way back to Beijing by train and then left the next snowy morning for Hainan, an island in the south of China. We craved some warm weather, more retreat time to write, and wanted to study Chinese at the Language Institute there.

We arrived in pouring rain…but there were palm trees, coconut trees, a balmy breeze! It was warm! In the 70s! Ahhhh…For the next 3 days it was overcast with high clouds, still in the 70s until yesterday when it felt like San Francisco in the low 50s. Everyone bundled up. We donned our winter jackets again. Today, however, the sun has peeked out. Lovely breeze — the low 70s.

Chinese Lessons

What did I (Nancy) learn the first lesson? That I’ve not understood my own Chinese name all my long life!!

I’d been told by my parents that my Chinese name meant Perfect Jade — which I viewed as a heavy burden!! Now it turns out that due to my not being able to write my Chinese name clearly, the teacher gave me three possibilities for the ‘perfect’ character depending on how it is written. It could mean 1) whole or all, but usually this one is used for males; 2) a bamboo fish trap (!); or 3) fragrant — all depending on whether it has 2 crisscrosses above the character, or if it has a crossed line, or if it has neither! Now which would you choose? Both my parents have passed, so I have no way of knowing.

Am I Whole Jade (the closest to perfect) or Bamboo Fish trap jade or Fragrant jade?!

Nancy taking on the Chinese Language... YIKES!

One of the things Robert learned was how to say mixed blood in Chinese!! The way he looks and with his last name, he’s been a curiosity!

This school is really quite wonderful and relaxed. We’ve met students of all adult ages from the US, Russia, Germany, France, Canada — all studying Chinese for various reasons. Mostly they’ve said that they are studying because it’s an important language to learn in this era.

We all laugh a great deal in our attempts to speak the language in class. The teachers are friendly, fun and patient. However, once we’re out of the class, and we attempt to speak to the taxi driver or at the market or restaurant, all they do is look at us oddly and shrug their shoulders! It’s those dang tones!! And to think, Mandarin only has 4, while Cantonese has 9 to 11!! Still, we’re loving it!

This is our 5th time in China (actually Nancy’s 6th), so it’s about time we learn the language – not that we can imagine being fluent! Luckily they use Pinyin (Roman letters) on most every sign throughout China!

The Chinese are still surprised that Americans can look Chinese. I’ve just learned to say that my ancestors came from China. I’ve been saying that I am Chinese American, but they might think that means I’m part Chinese and part white since most people around the world think Americans are only white, or black as well because of American sports and movies.

Today we had many children who are learning English come to our class and they loved that Robert was part Japanese because they all love Japanese Anime. But I must say, the children seem wild here — not like the Chinese kids in America. They explain that it’s because they are spoiled as an ‘only child’ due to the one-child policy. They call them Xiao Huang Di — Little Emperors, named after the first Emperor Huang Di (who built the Great Wall). The girls would be called Xiao Huang Hou — Little Empresses (according to online translator). And if they are really ornery…hmm maybe instead should be named Ci Xi — the Empress Dowager! Some of these single children, in their one-child only households are quite energetic!

Hainan Language School- Always fun learning with people!

 

The Streets and Traffic

Like everywhere in China (and many places around the world), there is little attention paid to what we would call traffic rules when it comes to driving a 3-wheeler, a bicycle, a car, a truck, a bus, taxis or a scooter. Forget the pedestrians! There is one rule that is maintained: the Rule of Survival!

One takes one’s life completely in one’s own hands. Sometimes there are no lights for pedestrians to cross. There is so much jaywalking. Scooters will drive against traffic — i.e. on the wrong side of the road. Even scooters and bikes ‘jay’ drive! You look for where the most pedestrians are crossing and join them, hoping that safety in numbers will stop a car from driving over you!

Cars park on the sidewalks. Scooters park on the sidewalks. Bikes park on the sidewalks. As pedestrians we are constantly changing from walking on the cement platforms in front of large establishments, then down a few steps to broken tiles as sidewalks, then down off the curb to walk on the side of the street because either there are no sidewalks or they are crammed with vehicles. It all seems so impossibly unruly! I keep thinking of the American game – the Chinese Fire Drill!

On a positive note- we do see that the majority of scooters, bikes and motorcycles are electric thus cutting down on fossil fuel consumption. Boy, I wish we could get our hands on several of these electric bikes. Last time we asked about costs, we were told one could be purchased for only $200- $300 US Dollars. (Hmmm, the problem would be how to get it into the airlines over head luggage bins!).

The cars are darling. Small, gas efficient. Some even had eyelashes!

Go- go - go- go- go! ... blink of an eye!

The streets are filled with vendors selling fruit of all kinds. Their displays are so very colorful. There are absolutely no chances to starve here. The Chinese love food and Robert keeps saying that the Chinese culture has the most varied dishes in the world. So we’ll see tiny stalls serving soup, others dumplings, others noodles, others meat on a stick. Restaurants are plentiful with amazing prices ($4) to prices almost like in the states. We did however stop to buy a mango and it was $10! It was from Australia. We put that baby back and got one from Hainan.

Our Hotel

Our hotel is called Hai Kou Hotel. I think it means ‘welcome’ — hai meaing hello and kou meaning mouth. Don’t necessarily trust me on that, though…It is situated in a very busy busy neighborhood full of stores, karaoke clubs, restaurants and huge buildings full of stores which they call plazas. Besides Chinese clothing stores, there’s Playboy, Esprit, and Calvin Klein and lots of McDonalds and KFC — which seem to be the favorite food of the kids that came to our class.

Luckily there is a non-smoking floor here and a fairly bouncy mattress. Our balcony looks out over roofs and across to other tall buildings. Noise is constant, especially at night with the clubs and Karaoke singing. But, they have put double sliding doors so the sound is kept out pretty well. The cost? $30/night. It’s not the penthouse, but it’s just fine.

We see a canal blocks away from one balcony, but not the beach. Hainan is a pretty huge island. We’ll be skipping seeing the beaches this time. Like in SF, we rarely see the ocean.

Bustling Boom of High-rises

Like any tropical point of destination, especially in a booming economy as China, Hainan serves to offer relaxation and great weather. With the rise of a middle class comes rising real estate, and towering high rise apartments for vacationers and the youth, income-generating urbanite. Just googled an image what this waterfront property formerly looked like: the bird’s-eye view showed hutong style villages — similar to the old style single family home, probably belonging to local fishermen, service workers, low-skilled laborers and their families. All of this bulldozed to make way for the modern towers.

Giant high rise loom over 2 vegetable farmers

Here an old couple maintains a small oasis of agriculture amidst the construction rubble — still able to produce lush green vegetables.

As the Chinese have been on a fast track to modernize, so have they inherited the woes of an alienated, urban dominated culture. The breakdown of classic, rural-based social structure, the sweeping advances towards capitalism and massive increase in urban populations have caused an increase in what we in the United States have become eerily accustomed to: the homelessness.

Spare Time

Having some evening downtime with no phone ringing for us, no junk mail to go through…basically no distractions have given us well needed time to work on our long term projects. I write the blog (which we found out is bo-ke in Chinese) and just relax after class now that I have bronchitis and a cold…bummer. But, I’m taking a very effective syrup from here and it’s working!!

Robert in his spare time after class continues to work on the Kojiki — Japan’s Creation myth. It’s so complicated and we’re slated to perform it in April, so lots to do. It will be at least one hour long! Mixing pleasure with work is a good thing, giving meaning to our time.

But stay tuned for Part 2 of this final segment of our China trip for more ‘pleasure’!

Filed as: China 2011, Programs  
 

Our China Adventure Continues

Week Two at the School

Our teaching schedule has continued to be quite demanding, with some 6th grade classes meeting with us for the first and only time, while others from last week continue for a 3rd session.  For these we are now ‘coaching’ their pieces.  Some are travelogues, others original poems, while others  are monologues the students have written from parts of a book entitled ‘Seed Folks’ about a Vietnamese teenage girl coming to live in Cleveland, and the Chinese Language classes are telling folktales in Chinese.  Now that’s been challenging, since we don’t speak Chinese.  We ask them to paraphrase the story in English first but then they tell it in Chinese.  We do our best!  But it is a bit embarrassing for me (Nancy) to be Chinese and not know any Chinese except for Chinese food!!

Students scribbling away on their scripts

Students scribbling away on their scripts

All the students except the 2-3 minute travelogues, are asked to tell only 2-3 sentences for us to coach.  Seeing over 400 students does not allow us to go much in depth with the coaching, but we do our best to get them to gesture, to use facial expressions, staging that keeps them open to their audience, and for group tellings, to create interesting shapes with each other that give pictures on stage every moment.  We use the word ‘Big C’ all the time, i.e. ‘Contrast’. The eye and the mind love contrast, but if all there is is contrast, then it’s not contrast.  So sometimes it’s good to throw in chorus-like movements to create contrast from contrast. Confusing?

Nancy coaching kids to focus their energy!

Nancy coaching kids to focus their energy!

Anyway, like teens everywhere, trying to get their arms to detach from the sides of their bodies was a major task! To get them to use dynamics in their verbal expression vs. a flat expression was another major task. Others were naturals, however, and what a delight that has been!! Contrast for us! Still, it is always important to acknowledge that everyone does their best no matter the result. Pushing the limits of each person’s comfort zone must be appreciated! And we did ask them to do just that!

Bodies make shapes, shapes tell stories

Bodies make shapes, shapes tell stories

On our last day, we did stay late to watch one of the classes perform their travelogues and there were some really wonderful successes!!

All the teachers, we’re happy to say, loved what we taught their students and have mentioned more than once that we should be on staff full time!!  They know these kids, who are 52% Chinese from the US, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and the others from the USA, India, Maldives, Qatar, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and so on, really need more than the academics.  Kids everywhere do!

Spinning tales round the world - one kid at a time!

Spinning tales round the world - one kid at a time!

Gengcun, Storytelling Village

Well, we left Beijing, our penthouse, coal dust air and the school with not much fanfare and arrived 3 hours south of Beijing in Gengcun to visit our special friends – the storytellers.  This is our 5th time to be there.  However, whereas we take a group of American storytellers to swap tales and celebrate our common love of stories with us each time, this time we wanted to stay in the village to experience everyday life.

An interesting development on the way by private car was that the freeway was closed down due to fog.  Where we were, there was no fog, so as we sat on the freeway as if in a parking lot with all the other hundreds of cars, we were all quite perplexed.  But after an hour we began to drive again and indeed just about half an hour later, it was quite foggy.

When we got to Gengcun, it had snowed about 8” and we were told it was quite a blizzard two days before.

Here’s Robert’s scenic account of our arrival:

As we rolled down the familiar road (first paved by donations made from the 2006 delegation) we couldn’t help seeing the vast open fields that once grew tall corn stalks that flanked the road.  We’ve always come in the Fall… now barren snow streaked furrows raked brown and white lines diminishing into the wintry mist.

Snowy Gengcun Village!

Snowy Gengcun Village!

The car pulled into the town weaving around snow piles and dodged mud holes, and slurries of ice and dirt through the sleepy village of Gengcun.  An occasional motorcyclist, an elderly man, propane vendor on a three-wheeler would come by puffing of frost and curiosity as Nancy and I peeked and waved at the locals.  Red drums welcomed us – four ladies dressed in their red jackets as we walked down the street.

Drums & Gongs Greeting

Drums & gongs greeting

Yang Zai Liu, a wonderful translator

Yang Zai Liu, a wonderful translator

Winter in the village casts an odd spell over the Gengcun, especially with the juxtapositions of decaying walls and new constructions, shabby one room brick huts next to walled two-story mansions… all with a powdering of snow.  Local villagers in spanky new, bright plastic winter coats and boots, tip-toeing across muddy slushy streets… dodging snow and mud.  A old makeshift cart, a brand new Toyota land cruiser, a huge diesel earthmover and an old tractor laden with bricks from the brick factory- all roll by, foretelling of the village’s slowly changing, but ever-changing evolution.  The barking dogs seem to be the only time-held constancy here.

 

When we arrived in Gengcun, we were introduced to our translator. Luckily he was a most wonderful translator, a student with an English major from a nearby university and thus could understand the dialect of Gengcun: Yang Zai Liu (Frank was his western name).  He was most soulful and so appreciated the storytellers and the elders.  He said to us: ‘The most important thing as a translator is to be able to express the heart of what is being said.”  Wow!  We could not have done any of this visit without him.

Gengcun Homestay

We did not stay in a hotel as usual.  We stayed in the home of a storyteller couple (Xu Hai Jiang and Guo Cui Ping) .  She did all the cooking and interfacing with us as her husband had just had throat surgery for cancer two weeks prior.

Our host family

Our host family (left to right): Xu Hai Jiang, Guo Cui Ping, Xu Ying Hang (and his dad)

We slept in her son’s bedroom and luckily there was a 2-inch foam mattress!  Each night we piled on thick heavy quilts.  Robert liked about 4 of them and I could only bare two they were so heavy.  Luckily, we brought a hot water bottle with us, although their delightful 5 year-old grandson kept us hopping!

Still, we never took off our coats whether indoors or outdoors.  Their cement block homes have barely any heat.  We even ate with our gloves on in the freezing cement block kitchen.  But oh, was the food delicious!!  Three amazing meals a day for us – breads, soups, hot cereals, vegetable dishes, dumplings, oh so delicious!!  All cooked on one table-top propane burner.

Home cooking

Home cooking

Outhouse

The outhouse was just that.  Out of the house in a three walled cement structure… Brrrr…. But they gave me (Nancy) a shallow pan to do my duty in the adjoining cement room that was used for heating water.  Thank goodness!  It had a sink and a kang – I think that’s what it’s called – a cement block where the coal is burned underneath and one can heat things on the top.

Robert put together a video/powerpoint to show to the Gengcun tellers.  It was of the class we taught this summer at East Tennessee State University on Global Storytelling.  The students chose from 11 stories heard in Gengcun to either retell or tell a story from their own culture that was triggered by reading a Gengcun story.  Robert then put together their thank you’s and all of them waving hello.  He also included some of the messages from storytellers who have come with us over the years.

Jin Yan Sheng tells his tale to the Youth Tellers

Jin Yan Sheng tells his tale to the Youth Tellers

Gengcun tellers

Gengcun tellers

 

The streets that are mostly dirt roads and pathways down alleys were either muddy or icy. So, we walked to some of the elder tellers’ homes to say hello since it was too dangerous for them to walk.  Unfortunately, we also found out in this past year, 3 more of our storytelling elders passed away.  We are so concerned about the future of this 600+ year traditional storytelling village.  With so many elders passing away, and the middle-aged residents leaving for jobs in a big city, who will learn all their stories?  How will the tradition continue?

Smile Say “Eggplant!”

Here are shots of our storytelling Gengcun Gems!  Say “Qie zi” (That’s their way of invoking smiles during photographing, like our version of “Cheese!”- actually means “Eggplant!”).

Procession

Procession

 

Gengcun Weddings

We were only there from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, but in that time, the village was preparing for three weddings!  The auspicious lunar date of Monday the 5th of December had been chosen and so food preparations, decorations, special bedrooms filled with nine (good luck number) brand new quilts for the newly wed had to be finished.  Posters of Chinese babies face the bed with hopes for a son soon!

Wedding decor

Wedding decor

What was so lovely, was that both sides of the family come together to make the preparations – and of course their friends. The cooking is all done outside over kangs with huge pots, the tips of long tree branches burning to provide the heat. As the tip of the branches burn away, they are pushed in further, keeping a nice hot fire going. There are several in the yard as well as outside in the street. All the prepared vegetables, meat, onions, and spices are all laid out in dishes on the many tables waiting to be cooked. Over a THOUSAND of Jiaoza dumplings are in the storage areas waiting to be boiled in soups and many fried fish waiting to be served. Whole chickens boiling in plastic bags. We assume it’s to keep the juices in the meat.

It definitely takes a village to feed a wedding!

It definitely takes a village to feed a wedding!

Men are the cooks and stand about the yard socializing.  Women fold the dumplings and prepare all the decorations and quilts.  The women are mostly inside the homes socializing.

Real men know how to cook!

Real men know how to cook!

Wedding Ceremony

First the groom must travel to the bride’s home to do ceremony there and then bring her to his home. They then travel in a procession of cars led by a brass band walking down the street to the groom’s home where all the preparation activity is going on. Long strings of red firecrackers are lit and the popping seems to go on forever! Once at the groom’s home, the bride goes through another ceremony, standing outside before an altar where later she will kneel for another ceremony. Between these two ceremonies, it is mandatory that the groom’s many male friends enter the wedding bedroom and play tricks, mock and tease the couple. We were told, however, that it is nothing compared to what they will do on their wedding night!

Wedding Bride

The bride wears a white western wedding gown with a red fancy jacket over it. The groom wears a western suit with a red silk flower. The father of both the bride and groom draw a mustache on their faces to represent that an ‘important magistrate’ has also graced the celebration. There are pink and red decorations to welcome guests and the wedding couple as they enter each yard. Children are running all over and dogs are eating anything they can find that has been dropped on the ground. There is a lot of waiting for who knows how far the bride’s home is and who knows when their ceremony is done. No one seems to mind. Lots of happy men smoking; lots of women happy and giddy.  Only the bride seems exhausted!

Wedding magistrate and participants

Wedding magistrate and participants

 

Unfortunately, we had to leave too soon to witness more.  And, we were invited to feast with each wedding party!  Oh, too bad!  It looked so delicious and the smells as they began to cook!  Ohhhhh….. But….

Good News About Gengcun

Yes Good News!!  This is what we found out from the Gengcun Folk Association president:  They have assigned each of the remaining storytelling elders two residents to apprentice.  In addition, they just received a 5 million RMB donation from a cell phone company to begin to build up the village so that it can become a more desirable place to showcase the unique character of the village.  In this way, it is hoped that the younger storytellers will be able to make a living with their storytelling in the village attracting tourists, and thus remain in the village and carry on the tradition.  Eth-Noh-Tec and our Nu Wa Story and Cultural Exchange project has been working with Gengcun on this goal together.

Nancy meeting with Jinchun Li

Nancy meeting with Jinchun Li

We have also arranged for our next trip to be in the spring of 2013 during their Geng Festival, which we will participate in with the Gengcun tellers!  So start saving your money now!  There should be a new Story Hall by then and maybe even the Geng Burial mound and temple will have been built!  Their story murals will be spruced up and who knows what else!

Sigh! Once again, it’s time to leave our Chinese home-away-from-home!

Sigh! Once again, it’s time to leave our Chinese home-away-from-home!

NEXT BLOG: OUR ADVENTURE IN HAINAN – THE HAWAII OF CHINA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed as: China 2011, Programs, Tours