Sunday, October 16, 2011

An Enchanting Weekend: Penglai and Weifang, Part I

A group of about thirty of us took a trip this weekend to two gorgeous areas of China, Penglai and Weifang (they are about four hours away from where I live).  It was a trip full of history, magical moments, odd gustatory experiences (in other words, I ate something that should NEVER be eaten), beautiful Chinese songs, and of course, plenty of "squattie potties"!

I started out on the foreigner bus, which picked us up at 7:30 am on Saturday.  At a brief stop, however, we were told that anyone who wanted to could feel free to switch to the other bus (which the Chinese staff were on).  I immediately told my friend Kathryn that we should switch, and she agreed.  It's not that I don't enjoy the other foreigners (they're all the salt of the earth, as far as I'm concerned), it's just that my closest friends here, besides Kathryn, are Chinese.  Three of them have become family to me over the past nearly three months that I have been here.  In the midst of the difficult time that this last month has been, what with worrying about my mother constantly, Maggie, Linda, and Susie have gone above and beyond to encourage and love me.  So, I am always excited to spend time with them.

Maggie, Linda, and Susie cheered when we boarded their bus.  And then, after some preliminaries, Maggie promptly starting teaching Kathryn and I how to say "rest area" and "highway" in Chinese, much to the great delight of the other Chinese staff on the bus ("You never stop having lessons," one person laughed).  I then taught Maggie how to say "wind turbine" and "toll booth" (betcha can't guess what kind of scenery we were going past!), and then Maggie and Linda wanted to see if I could still remember the three words that Linda taught me in Weihai ("sand", "sea", and "beach").  I accidentally used the wrong tone when saying "sand", and thus learned how to say "foolish".  Isn't Chinese fun?!  Linda amused herself (and me) by teaching me about four more ways to say foolish, three of which I have, sadly, forgotten.  Everyone on our bus, including Kathryn and I, had brought snacks, so a lot of sharing of food went on (I love that particular Asian custom!).  I got to try yet another new fruit, which I really enjoyed, but I can't tell what it is called because I only heard the name in Chinese just once, over the excited din of conversation, and Linda and Susie had no idea what to call it in English (it probably doesn't have an English name).

Coming into Penglai, we saw on one side of the bus apple orchards, rich with luscious fruit, stretching endlessly into the horizon.  On the other side, we were treated to thriving vineyards backed by the glistening sea.  We stopped to look at the thousands of apples, then boarded the bus again and went to a stunning scenic area where we ate lunch.  I didn't eat anything too odd; the oddest thing was the fanged fish that glared at me with its accusing eye, and I wasn't about to touch that, no matter how much Maggie encouraged me to do so.  After lunch, we had a wonderful walk along the sea, admiring the beauty of various statues honoring the Eight Immortals (heros of old Chinese myth, whom Maggie and Linda told me quite a bit about) and the temples and pagodas.

We next headed to our first main destination:  Lottie Moon's church.  The building was restored and allowed to reopen following the Cultural Revolution, and the Southern Baptist church has since donated the funds to build a second church, which is next door.  We stopped in to hear the choir practicing in Lottie's church (I think she would have loved to have peeked into the future and seen/heard that).  Afterwards, we went into the other church to learn more about Lottie's life.  The talk was bittersweet; we learned that the pastor of the second church, as well of his wife, were killed with an ax by a former church member just last summer.  It was tragic to hear, particularly when we learned what wonderful people the Qins were.

We walked around, admiring the buildings and nearly feeling the history of the place course through our veins, then checked into our hotel.  Dinner was, as it always is in China, an adventure.  Owing to Maggie not telling me what I was eating until I had already swallowed it, I inadvertently ate sea intestines (not sure what manner of sea creature they were once a functioning part of, actually) and, to my horror, a tube worm. Although the flavor of both was just fine, I just couldn't bring myself to take another bite of that particular dish -- I have to draw the line somewhere, and worms definitely cross it.  The corn soup with pink sprinkles in it (as in the kind that one generally finds on cupcakes or ice cream sundaes) was delicious, as was the sweet and sour chicken, the mouthwateringly piquant chicken necks, and the wonderful spicy eggplant.

After dinner, a bunch of us took a long walk in the refreshingly cold evening air.  When we got back, I offered to teach Maggie how to play Quiddler, a fun card game that I brought from the states (the object, in a nutshell, is to make words).  Kathryn and another friend of ours, Ben, were also eager to learn, so we had a great game together.  Maggie loved the chance to improve her English, grabbing my arm every time an unfamiliar word was played and saying "Lao-San, shen-me yi si?"  ("Lao-San, what does it mean?"  In the end, she learned about ten new words.  Maggie loved the game!

As Kathryn and I settled ourselves into our beds that night, chatting amiably, I could still seem to detect the faint flavor of the worm I had eaten earlier that night, despite the best efforts of my toothpaste.  I knew it was just my imagination (the worm had no aftertaste), but it was nevertheless persuasive.  On the whole, however, I fell asleep with happy memories of the day playing about in my mind.

Yay Duck:  The scenery, the history, the time with treasured friends, the extra Chinese lessons, the beautiful singing at the church, and the chance to share one of my favorite games with some of my favorite people.

Yuck Duck: The worm.

More about my weekend adventures in my next post!

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"