Mary Tours China

It seemed appropriate to give the “softer side” of our trip to China, observations I noticed, such as the flowers, which were every-where possible and all trimmed and lovingly cared for. One example was a wall of flowers in an elaborate pattern composed of plants in individual pots and somehow set into it; apparently this is a standard planting technique for flower beds as well, at least the ones we saw. There were few overweight Chinese as the majority walk or bicycle everywhere. They need to be agile, as cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, scooters, motorized bicycles with a rickshaw setup for passengers, all competing nonstop for spaces in traffic, and pedestrians do not have priority. As Chris told us, “Look four ways twice” before trying to cross a street! The other part of the street scene is vendors trying to sell passersby everything imaginable, “very cheap” and they are eager to haggle, in fact almost insist on it. These folks are also present at every tourist attraction; the walk up to the Great Wall was lined with them. Meals, ordered by our translator with input from us, were placed, dish after dish, on a huge lazy-susan in the middle of the table. They included lots of tofu, spicy or not, always bok choy, cabbage or swiss chard, a fish and/or meat dish, then rice, and last, soup (it is impolite to fill your soup bowl to the top) and fruit – usually watermelon. Then came the challenge to master chop sticks in order to get the food to one’s plate, not to mention in your mouth – there were spoons for the soup! Speaking of food, we went to a “wet market” where vegetables and fruits were displayed. The meat section was piles of meat – pork, chicken, beef – to be picked over by buyers – a big pyramid of hamburg that was picked up by hand and placed in a plastic bag to be weighed. It was a little shocking as we are used to everything being packaged and in a cooler, but we learned that food is purchased every day, taken home and eaten right away. I stayed away from where the live chickens were, with customers waiting. There were fish, eel, shrimp, clams, crab, etc., swimming around in tanks. Back on the sidewalk there were, besides “very cheap” sellers, street cleaners, mostly women, using what looked like a witches broom made of twigs to sweep up any bit of debris – a lot of cigarette butts, despite “No Naked Flames” signs. There were bicycles passing by with huge loads of cardboard folded for recycling and laundry was hung from racks attached to apartment house balconies. We visited temples which were crowded with people burning in-cense, bowing and praying to Buddha as well as patting the heads of big reddish fish which is believed to bring good fortune, and leaving money in and on the various statues of gods. There are many rituals and traditions the Chinese observe. One last thing to mention were the ladies rooms away from hotels – the “facility” is a porcelain basin set into the floor, no hand holds, and paper goes into a wastebasket. Enough about that! The Chinese people seemed genuinely anxious to try to talk with us Americans, which was gratifying, and their work ethic is to be admired. For someone who originally said no way she would go to China, it was an extraordinary trip, largely thanks to Chris Barbieri’s great organizing, choice of guides, introducing us to new Chinese foods, sights, and all with a fun group of VAE members.

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