December 7, 2004

Trip Start Aug 08, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Thanksgiving arrived just in time. Cold weather and homesickness made the preceeding week a little miserable. I spent a lot of time trying hard to look at life here with new eyes, remembering what I liked about being here in the first place. Where else would a student come up to a teacher and say, out of the blue, "Teacher, you're beautiful!"? Where else would 12 year olds get so excited about playing pictionary or hangman? Today I rolled out of bed late, didn't have time to shower, and threw my hair up into a haphazard ponytail. When I walked into the classroom, the kids starting clapping and exclaiming, "Lauren! How beautiful!" If that doesn't make your morning, I don't know what would.

I got the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Thanksgiving week off. It had nothing to do with Thanksgiving, obviously, but the 75th anniversary celebration of the school. That Wednesday, Rola planned an excursion to the countryside to visit a farmhouse. The trip was fine, up until the very end, when we realized that the motorbike drivers, who were supposed to take us home, had downed 5 shots of baijiu a piece at lunch. Riding on those things is a death sentence when the drivers are sober, much less red-faced and stumbling around. So, we waited by the side of the road for a bus. For an hour. Once again, I am amazed at the tolerance level of the average Chinese person for situations like this. As Rola said, "Maybe a bus will come... But, maybe it won't." I had one of those moments where I suddenly thought about the strangeness of life-here I am, standing alongside a road in the middle of the Chinese countryside with a 6 foot 2 Nigerian man and a 5 foot tall Chinese woman named Rola, waiting for a bus.

Thursday, I headed into Changsha to celebrate Thanksgiving with the WorldTeach crew at Pizza Hut. For the traditional carving of the Thanksgiving pizza, of course. The Hut was all decked out for Christmas, which made it festive, although for the wrong holiday. Christmas carols played in the background and all of the waitresses wore antlers on their heads.

Friday, Shannon and I trekked down to Zhuzhou to meet Melissa, then the three of us continued down to the city of Heng Shan, which lies at the base of the Heng Shan mountain. The mountain is one of the five sacred Taoist mountains in China. Buddhists and Taoists both live on the mountain, in the many temples dotting the landscape. We stayed the night with the kids on the Stanford program-Dave, Kiel, Megan, and their friend John who was visiting from Guanzhou. When we first arrived in the town all of the power had been shut off, so we wandered the streets in the eerie darkness, which was punctuated only by the occasional flickering candle.

We woke early, around 4:30am to start hiking up the mountain by the light of the full moon. We spent the whole morning walking up, visiting the many temples along the way and enjoying the clean air. At the top of the mountain, the Nanyue Temple was hopping with people, bus loads of Chinese tourists who had come in tour groups to pray to the gods. The solitude I had expected was nowhere to be found. Between the canned music that played constantly, the firecrackers set off by the tourists to honor the gods, the souvenir shops in the temple and the monks walking around with their cell phones, the serene mystique of the mountain disappeared. Walking down was much quieter, especially once we took a detour along tiny side trails and were able to take rests next to clear mountain streams.

So now I'm back in Liuyang, where I've been for the past couple of weeks, coping with the pervasive cold that has finally set in. My apartment has a heater, but I think my bedroom might be the only heated room in the city. Even then, I can never tell when the power will be shut off due to the ongoing energy crisis, sometimes for hours at a time. It's a strange feeling, to walk into a building when it's cold outside, and not be greeted with a blast of warm air. Teaching is especially difficult, since the classrooms are also not heated. I'm back to the regular grind, a mixture of teaching and other extracurricular activities. Erhu lessons on Wednesday nights, dinner with the doctor on Tuesdays and Thursdays, English clubs and spending time with new friends...
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