Day 8: Into the Smoke

No, I was not lit on fire, but it certainly felt that way…

I’m going to try to make this a shorter post (sorry, mom), because I really need to start a reasonable sleep schedule (I figured that staying up until midnight to write an hour-long post was rather dramatic). So, like usual, I’ll have quick little updates and one “bigger” story at the end. Here we go…

So, as I mentioned before, it’s hot here. And, for whatever reason, Chinese people love hot drinks and food. While I’m sweating like a pig over my bowl of rice, my family is quite content in the blistering heat. Whenever Yuan Yuan offers me a cold drink, she says “I’m sorry, but it’s cold. Is that alright?” YES, YUAN YUAN, GIVE IT TO ME BEFORE I DIE OF HEAT STROKE. All good fun.

Since all water must be boiled before consumption to avoid killing people, almost all drinks are hot. Except for fruit juice. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love fruit. All kinds of fruit. But I’ve never been a big fruit juice kind of person… until now.

See, the fruit juice is kept in the fridge (because that’s the only way to keep it fresh), so it’s always cold. It’s the only thing I drink at dinners because it’s the only thing that doesn’t produce steam/light my insides on fire.

My family has noticed that I drink a lot of this juice (and frankly, I drink every kind of juice they buy- no matter the flavor- just for the ice). So, being the wonderful people they are, they decided they would buy fruits to make juice for me so that I would have a fresh drink every morning and night made with all natural ingredients.

Of course, I appreciate this greatly…

But…

The juice they make is hot.

Really??????

Not much I can do now. I’ve tried explaining to them that I like cold drinks, but I don’t think they really understand my reasoning, plus they grew up without ice water. So, if you don’t hear from me again, it’s because the heat finally conquered my ice-deprived body.

And fast forward…

For this story, I need to talk about a particular friend of mine; let’s call him Nolan. Nolan is a… special kind of guy. His name is often used as an adjective, and our group members just understand (i.e. “this soup is so Nolan,” or “that jacket screams Nolan”). He is the most outgoing person in the group (for better or for worse), and has almost died several times on just this trip… When craving dumplings, he found a random Chinese guy and managed to ask the old man for jiaozi (this part is still a mystery considering Nolan really stinks at Mandarin). The man led him to a sketchy back alley and gave him dumplings for basically nothing (they were fantastic, but jeese, Nolan, that was a dangerous move). He’s obsessed with one of our Chinese language partners with the American name of Crystal, and has confronted about 20 random people on the sides of the streets to exchange contact information… this kid is nuts. We all secretly wish we could be that outgoing.

So, for our cultural class today, we visited a museum at the university. A few of my friends and I noticed that during our group picture on the front steps, crowds of Chinese men were gathering behind us, taking their own pictures of us American teenagers. After spending an eventful afternoon with Nolan, we were feeling rather adventurous. So, I grabbed my friend and turned him around and we posed for the Chinese men and their cameras.

Well… this kind of became a photo shoot.

The men were super nice, and even posed with us after asking strangers to take the pictures for them (they all love holding up peace signs when posing with Americans). In the end, Nolan was very proud of us. He exchanged information with the men, and we now have the pictures… (sorry, I still can’t post them with this horrid wifi).

Later on, I had a long chat with one of the tour guides (she was super cool and had red hair). She asked for my contact information (which I gave to her; don’t worry, mom- it’s totally safe) and offered to take me around the city whenever I wanted. Good things can happen when you channel your inner Nolan.

Okay, and now, the main event!

So, Yuan Yuan guided me around the city wall and the Southern gate while also showing me Bell Tower and Drum Tower from a street view (we tour the buildings in a cultural class later in the program, so she wanted to spend more time in places I will not visit during classes).

So, we dove into the market.

Now, this is no ordinary market. This is a Chinese market. You think New York City is sensory overload? You’ve seen nothing.

Yelling, left and right. Thousands of people crowded a single street (although the market probably spanned a few miles in each direction). Mopeds raced between bodies and beeped their horns right before skidding by. Street performers blasted music while singing, dancing, and doing everything imaginable. Vendors screamed out prices to lure tourists into their food cart, nail salon, jewelry store or even bike shops. Plus, pick pockets. Keep your bags in front and your eyes moving.

Yuan Yuan would grab my elbow, or gently press on my back to weave around bodies in the less crowded areas, but soon we were holding hands to dodge motor bikes, swerve around pedestrians and jump into a shop. “Everything is very expensive here, for the tourists,” she explained. “You want buy something? I take you somewhere else. This is for show. The food? Not so good here. But it’s an experience.”

Yes, it was quite the experience.

Clouds of smoke hung low over the crowds and caused a choir of coughing. Strange smells sprang into the air and clashed, making every step have a new taste.

Yuan Yuan suddenly pulled on my arm, and we both ran to the side where she spoke rapidly with a vendor. They smiled and laughed, and my mom even helped the woman prepare a chunk of food. She waved her hands over bowls of black goop to swat away the flies, and then she backed away to hand me a foam container filled with white mush coated in a brown syrup and shaved… something.

It was incredible. Really incredible. Best thing I’ve had so far. The only thing I can really connect the dish to is coconut, but even the sweetest bite of that fruit does not do this food justice. “This, is my favorite,” she declared with a grin that dominated her face. “You can eat all of this; I can get it at any time.”

Well, I feel fat, but boy am I happy. I’ll just play some tennis later…

Another stop lead us to a small cart with rows and rows of jewelry. “The price is cheap for good quality here, so look around.” Beads and jade were spread out across the cart with various pendants and colors.

I had always admired the maroon bracelet that Yuan Yuan wore daily; it was a wrap-around with multicolored beads and pendents lining her wrist. I saw her eyeing similar bracelets on the cart, and I joined her by that side. Instantly, she picked up a green one and offered it to me. “Try,” she said and lifted my hand.

Wrapping the beads around my wrist, I surveyed the smooth surfaces of the earthy beads and accent pieces. It was nothing I would have picked out for myself, and quite honestly, I liked another white one much more. She let me try on the other ones, but kept saying “I love the green. The green is perfect for you. Get whichever one you want… But the green one fits.”

Something told me to trust her. Despite my protesting, Yuan Yuan payed for the bracelet.

Wearing the jewelry now, I am certain that any other color would not have “fit.” I cannot imagine myself having any other color displayed on my wrist. It’s perfect, just like she said.

Well, I must shower and sleep now. Good night to everyone! Well, no, some of you are just waking up… Oh well. I like China time.

Zai jian!

Ana

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