Ahhhhhhh. We've been home in Xiamen since Saturday night and it's been quite relaxing. On Sunday we wrapped up our tiring three weeks on the road with a luxurious day at Ri Yue Gu hot springs
(another AAAA-rated Chinese tourist site). For less than US$30 we soaked in water infused with lavender, rose petals, lemongrass, several kinds of tea, wine, beer, ginger, and curry. (Not all at once, natch.) I discovered a new Trevor Superpower: evacuating Chinese from pools. When they saw the big laowai with hair all over his face, chest, and legs get in the pool and then squeeze the air bubble out of his baggy swim trunks they would exit as soon as they felt it would be polite. Perhaps two or three people got in a pool while we were already immersed. Maybe they think chest hair is a water-borne contagious disease. But we didn't mind the luxurious solitude. To complete the experience, we spent an hour soaking in a special pool full of Turkish hot springs fish. They think dead human skin is hau chi (good eats), and tickle visitors mercilesly in pursuit of such morsels. I kept my feet out of water or well-guarded, but the rest of me served as a tasty platter. The fish didn't seem keen on my chest hair either.mollybzz
is back teaching school this week. Her schedule is pretty gruelling; she gets up at 6:15 to catch the bus to the mainland. She teaches a few classes each day and takes an hour-and-a-half nap in her on-campus apartment. When she's not done early, she takes the bus back, returning home at 6:30. Add dinner and there's not much time or energy for personal improvement tasks like learning Chinese. I joined this schedule on Tuesday, talking about myself and my interests in English Comprehension class. Then after lunch and nap, I used the period designated for computer class (for which there were not yet any computers) to teach a U.S. geography lesson. The night before I'd drawn on paper a fairly impressive U.S. outline from memory. Armed with a print out, I struggled a little to get the right proportions in chalk, but it proved quite serviceable. I asked the students to name cities and universities they'd heard of. The first was San Francisco and I drew an enlargement of the bay with the city, Berkeley, and Stanford. We also covered Boston, NYC, Washington DC and State, Miami, Disneyworld, Austin, Houston ("Does anyone know another city in Texas? What team does Yao Ming play for? Yes, the Rockets. What city are the Rockets in? Yes, Houston..."), Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, LA, Yellowstone, the Mississippi/Missouri river, and Boulder. In the university/attraction color I wrote "Hollywood" under LA and "Molly's woods" in Northern California.
The rest of my time in Xiamen has been fairly laid back. I walked around Xiamen University, encountering a woman who recognized me from the fish pond. She posited that Chinese people think my beard makes me look like Karl Marx. When I asked at school, the kids came up with "Osama" and "Saddam." To be fair, Americans usually come up with those two before Marx too. Her dad took a picture of us by the lake and then pulled out a battery-operated digital photo printer, which was a nice exchange. I should've kept count of the number of pictures I've been in with random Chinese people. Yesterday a guy was very excited to see me and insisted he take a picture of me standing next to his girlfriend. Perhaps the next time I see a Chinese tour group at a national park I should run up and say "Ni hau" and motion to them, my camera, and a fellow traveler and say "Take picture girlfriend" very excitedly. I don't mind the photo requests, though. And I usually don't mind the folks who call out "Hello!" and then giggle when I say "Hello" in return (even though it's kind of like shouting "Hola!" and then laughing every time a person who looks Hispanic walks by). I've taken over 1100 pictures of Chinese mountains, buildings, signs, vehicles, and people, so the least I can do is give back my unusual personal presentation. I'm just a walking tourist attraction.
Xiamenis a pretty diverse city. It's an island across from Taiwan (and has flowed over to the mainland). As a big city in Fujian with a natural port, it's undergone a lot of growth lately. Skyscrapers are done in six months. Particulate matter from autos, busses, and factories adds to the coastal haze. Migrants from elsewhere in China seek their own slice of high income (and setting up some great restaurants as a side effect; we ate some very tasty Xinjiang-style food last night). But there's still lots of charm. Maybe its time as an opium war concession port brought some playful sensibilities. While I only saw a statue or two in Yunnan and Guilin, Xiamen is full of statues of people and books and lightbulbs and animals. There's a lovely lake on the university campus and another lake by the main city park. (The latter will be packed with people tonight, enjoying the glowing structures, fireworks, and human chaos for Lantern Festival.) Gulang Yu is a small island off the main island on which
automobiles are not allowed. It's got some nice walks among old European-style buildings, piano music playing from speakers in the park and along the sea walk, and a rediculous fee to walk to the highest point on the island. Quaint, but touristy.
I'll bus back to Hong Kong this weekend and then I fly home on Monday. It's been a great vacation; I'm very grateful that I have the luxury of taking a month without pay to fly across the Pacific Ocean and have adventures in The Middle Kingdom. If you need to do anything auspicious, there's a lunar eclipse tonight at 8:01 MST. Have a happy Lantern Festival and eat a tasty meal. You only have so many days left, you know.