Saturday, April 10, 2010

Get Some Fresh Air

I can remember Las Angeles being described (or was it Jersey... I dunno - one of those forsaken cities) as having a perpetual and unnatural cloud over it during the 90’s.

Zhengzhou is currently in that state. It has been that way since I have been in the city, and I greatly fear for my lungs HAH. The air quality here is very poor, and it is an every day affair to look off into the distance... and fail to see very far, not owing to your own ocular incompetence.

When I recieved an invitation to go get some fresh air with a Chinese friend’s family - I took the opportunity as an important venture. First off - I love hanging out with these people. Second and third, any opportunity to be ‘in’ a Chinese family is greeted as a very important inculturating moment, and also a language learning opportunity. Finally... it is good to get away from the concrete and hordes of people for once.

I have come a very long way from when I visited New York all those years ago (Yes, I know that sounds funny coming from a 21 year old). On that trip - when I went to New York with the Saint Louis Symphony Children’s Choir to sing at Carnegie Hall. I was very unimpressed with the idea of “cities”.

When we touched down at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, I was greeted by a floating runway and one miserable hill of grass that had “Welcome to New York” tattooed into the side of it. That was the only green I saw the entire time I was there. Coming from a lush and definitely larger than average green back yard with fairly old trees on it. I was hankering for some nature by the time I got back home to St. Louis. It was in that trip that I decided I did not like cities.

Little did I know that the one thing that would really hold constant in my life in the following years would be my aptitude for change.

My apartment in Zhengzhou had been without water for about 5 days... so I was feeling rather in desperate need of a shower. The only real redemptive thing I can say is that sponge baths “do the trick” when one hasn’t many other options.

Fortunately, my Chinese friends are incredible hosts, and had volunteered their shower to me the day before: so I packed up my towel, shampoo etc and zoomed over in the morning after collecting some books and what not so that I could do a little work while “getting fresh air”. Crazy... I know - but I am a new teacher.... and I want to at least be working my butt off - even if I am not the most phenominal at my job.

After taking a wonderfully hot shower and sharing some incredibly delicious United-Statesian coffee with my Chinese friends - we departed for a distant reach of Zhengzhou.

A good while in the car later, the city was still there. However, things did start to look more rural. Instead of 25+ story buildings in every direction, we began to see only about 5.

In our riding, I really began to develop my understanding of what a developing country is. China has a thriving economy and a serious population, but standards of living, and environmental standards are definitely clear markers of China’s status as a developing country. It was humanizing. In the car ride my friend, her american husband and I had a discussion on the way China treats the environment. He, being a modern and what I understand to be “new-age” thought it was a tragedy that China treats the environment the way it does.

I agree - it is a tragedy, but I also agree with his Chinese wife (my friend, and connection to the family) - it is not fair to expect a developing country to put environmental protection ahead of economic development. I don’t know any leader that would sacrifice the well being or happiness of their people for the sake of the weather: especially when those things are directly connected their own social-economic status.

We arrived at our first destination a little while later. Behind some very dusty hills that reminded me of Southwest Texas, we found this Buddhist temple with certain composite parts that were over 1800 years old. It was a very interesting place. However I would be lying to say that I wasn’t a little bit uncomfortable inside the main building.

After walking around the grounds, marveling at architecture and taking a few pictures of the particularly old (and albeit smaller) building, we got back in our car and made our way to the lake that had been talked about. It wasnt really a lake... it was more of a pond, but there was still water, paddle boats and possibly the most vile outdoor squatty-potty behind concrete barriers that I have ever been in the remote proximity of. Oh my. I have been camping a-plenty and this out does any of the camping lavatories I have seen.

The wait for the paddle boats was far too long - especially because there was no real time restriction on how long you had the boats for - so we hiked back to the car and went to another location.

Not before we stopped at a village for lunch. Well.... you need to understand that masculinity in China often involves Baijiu - which is thoroughly described in a previous blog - if you have the desires to find it. White lightnin’ with a very distinctive taste for those of you who have no other context.

OK so moral of the story is - I hadn’t eaten too much at breakfast... and they had me drinking before I had really eaten. My hyper active metabolism did me in right quick. I was very coherent - and knew when to cut myself off, but I was definitely on fire till dinner time.

Not that I was very hungry however.

Chinese meals are a huge schmorgespord, and I was so very stuffed after lunch that I thought I wasnt even going to be able to eat dinner. That is of course... until my eyes got ahold of me at dinner.

Anyhow - not to go too far! We went to another lake-ish area with paddle boats (im beginning to think there is a theme) and “relaxed” for a while. We circled the area a few times like a tired dog and then chose our spot. I drank the coffee I brought with me - because honestly... few things go better with nature than coffee.

I am not so sure if the air was super fresh, but the nice breeze on a warm day while seated next to water was definitely appreciated.

Somewhat later as the afternoon was getting along - we got back in the car and headed back to the downtown and tangible shroud of Zhengzhou. We picked some friends of the family went to the restaurant.

We’ll - Dinner is an affair all to itself in China. I have to say I love it.

The next day I was feeling pretty pudgy from a few days of binge eating. I decided I needed to stop that kind of thing... and so i’ve been watching what I eat for the past few days and biking as psychotically as usual and I feel nice and skinny again.

Go ahead and roll your eyes -your just GREEN with envy.

Hyperactive metabolism doesn’t help when drinking... but it does help when one enjoys eating.

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