Friday, February 15, 2008


It was bound to happen. I actually expected it sooner. Tonight a firework went off dangerously close to us as we were lingering outside McDonald's contemplating what to do next with our Valentine's Day evening. Some residue from the explosion fell into my hair, but aside from yet another mild heart attack brought on by these sudden crashing booms, we were left unharmed.

A few of us who are in town decided to celebrate this annual lover's holiday by gathering for a dinner of hot pot. The streets, the restaurants, the stores were all crowded, and I noticed for the first time a lingerie store which seemed to come out of the woodworks for this special occasion. I guess Valentine's Day calls for women to shed their layers of matching, unattractive pajamas for something a little more impractical.

In People's Square people had gathered to shoot off fireworks (recklessly in the direction of people at times) and to light a fire underneath paper lanterns (yes, a fire underneath paper lanterns) which carried messages of well wishes into the sky. They traveled rather high becoming distant lights in the night's darkness. Of the several we watched go up, only one turned into a burning disaster and left a glorious trail of fire in its wake as it gracefully drifted to the ground.


On Monday I took a bus to Xiangfan, a city about two hours from Shiyan. My friend Alice had invited me to spend a couple days with her family. I always like visiting my friends' hometowns and meeting their families to look for clues as to what has shaped their personalities. I guess it's the psychological perspective of discovering how both nature and nurture have influenced the person I have come to know independent of these things that's thrilling for me.

Anyway, Alice's parents and aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. were all very kind and welcoming as is my usual experience with a Chinese family. My three weeks of Chinese language school did little to help me communicate with them, however, as what little Mandarin I know is useless in aiding me while trying to understand the Xiangfan dialect. I suppose I depended too much on Alice to translate too. I'm sure I could have made a better effort to communicate, but I clam up when I'm around people (i.e., Alice) who understand English. I actually do much better with people who speak no English or at least no more English than I speak Chinese. Regardless, Alice's parents did their best to include me, an effort that is more appreciated than they could know.

I was also fortunate to be taken on a tour of the city during my two days there. Monday afternoon Alice's dad took us to the Mi Fei Memorial Hall which is a park-like area dedicated to the works of this famous calligrapher from the Song Dynasty. I had to Google all this information later because I didn't really understand anything while I was there. I did for the first time, however, have a new appreciation for calligraphy. After spending a few weeks learning to write characters, seeing both the precision and beauty of Mi Fei's work was astounding.

Tuesday we took a family field trip to Gulongzhong, a beautiful area just outside the city where Liu Bei, founder of the Shu Han Kingdom during the Middle Kingdoms Period (220-280 A.D.) was said to visit Zhuge Liang, a famous strategist, three times for war advice which subsequently aided him in overtaking some opposing forces. The history is interesting enough, I suppose (again, it was lost on me at the time), but the scenery was absolutely gorgeous.

We returned home Wednesday. I had planned to visit another friend in Xi'an, but now I have no desire to fight the relentless mass of people traveling during the holiday season so I'll just remain in Shiyan until school starts. The city's still not back to normal. Our favorite restaurants are closed and the campus is littered with lots of children and no college students, but I imagine in the coming days the community will settle down from the high that is Spring Festival and return to the routine I've grown to love.

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