Working in China, Jeff and I live in a xiaoqu –-neighborhood– that could be called a Wow-que. It’s secure, beautiful and infested with Americans. It’s a cocoon of Western Culture in the middle of Kunming. But over the past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit a small village outside of Kunming. One where terms like liposuction, Starbucks and power panties have never been uttered.
A place where ladies have never asked, “Does this make me look fat?”
Their faces were roadmaps to lives that took totally different paths than mine.
Their toilet facilities weren’t the latest from Kohler, but a row of wooden outhouses in the middle of the city.
I wonder how strange I looked to them.
I bet they wouldn’t share my excitement for finding a new store in Kunming that carried wax paper and Good N Plenty.
We shared smiles and I know we all shared good stories.
At times like this, I wish I had a Polaroid to share the memories. I don’t think they download photos from flickr.
While Jeff and I are having fun experiencing the world of China, the real reason we are here is to teach. We are teaching at an international school, meaning, we have students from all over the world, except uh, China. One of my classes, a computer class where students are creating mini-magazines about themselves, is a mini-united nations. The tweenagers are Danish, Aussies, Singaporean, Taiwanese, Korean, Swedish and English.
When writing a food review, we were discussing the weirdest food you have ever eaten. Now in Asia, that question takes on a whole new dimension. Live birds, fried caterpillars, bug larva, cow stomach and goose gut soup are just some of the foods kids eat without squirming. There are other food oddities on the infamous “if you don’t eat it, we’ll send it to starving kids in America” list. But strange enough, I found out that most of my students have never eaten an American Pickle. Sure, they might have nibbled slices on a McBurger, but most have never had the warty, deep green oddity straight from a pickle jar.
So I went on a scavenger hunt to the various stores in Kunming that catered to the American palate, searching for gherkins, dills, butter chips, or slippery slices. I found two jars and brought them to class.
I also found a set of twins husking corn. I wanted to bring them home with me, but their mother objected.
Come Monday, I brought the pickles to school. My students enjoyed the experience of trying American pickles, but didn’t necessarily enjoy the taste. Some likened the experience to licking a toad, eating dynamite or crunching green ketchup. Others thought that pickles tasted like pizza. Go figure.
One student wanted to drink the jar of pickle juice. I said no, even though this same student has eaten a live lizard and spiced baby bird.
The pickle tasting was a great experience.
I am sure that this local woman has never eaten an American pickle. I am as foreign to her eyes as the garlicky dill taste is to my students’ taste buds.
Some things are just too weird for words. Others are just too weird for pictures, like yesterday. We went to a Chinese Style Spa for a day retreat with the rest of the staff members at our school.
The spa was in the beautiful forests outside of the city, on a sloping mountainside. After gorging ourselves on a lunch of crunchy chicken feet, pigeon and pumpkin, we got to roam the spa grounds and explore different pools.
First, there were the ice cream pools. One was milky white and steamy, filled with the essence of coconut. Next to it was the light green lime pool and the mint pool.
There was the rose pedal pool. It was like soaking in a gigantic air freshener.
There were plane pools, kiddy pools and Jacuzzi like pools, but the best pool was the one we called the McNibbler. The pool was filled with tiny fish that nibbled the dead skin off of your body.
And this was supposed to be relazing.
The fish came after our bodies like a baby pack of piranhas.
They viewed our American flesh like an Old Country Buffet, nibbling on every part they could access.
First, they made appetizers of my healing mosquito bites.
Then, they feasted upon our calloused toes.
One nibbled on Jeff’s nipple.
Both of us discovered we had dead skin in places we never imagined!
It beat any exfoliation treatment you could get at a frou-frou spa in Chicago.
After we were finished being snacked on in the pools, we snacked on the Chinese alternative to ice cream, called Bean Ice. It looks like a snow cone covered with florescent Dairy Queen toppings, but instead of having flavors such as butterscotch and cherry, the ice is topped with outrageously read beans, screaming yellow corn and lime green peas. They were sweetened and colorful. The bean ice hit a place a little left of my sweet spot. It was good but definitely not a banana split.
After our shriveled bodies exited the pools, we were treated to a Chinese massage. Each guest was loaned a pair of Chinese PJs to wear. Clad in our PJs, we entered a big room full of rows and rows of beige Lazy Boy style chairs, all facing the world’s largest plasma screen TV. In this group setting, dozens of guests got the knots and kinks kneaded out of their bodies while watching Chinese game shows.
It felt good.
Better than the feet nibbles.
So that was yesterday.
Today, we are ready for another adventure at the supermarket.