Friday, August 22, 2008

T minus 2

Rather than schedule those last possible meetings (difficult now that my cell phone is out of minutes!), I resolved to spend my last 2 days in Lijiang calm and relaxed. And I’m so glad I did, because the morning rightfully started out with a bang.

This past Monday, I was supposed to meet two older men for a “picture hand-off” in the main square. I had interviewed them with Lily over the weekend, and had promised them printed pictures. However, because of Monday’s morning rain, the two men personally made their way to my hostel instead, so I did not have to walk through the downpour. So wonderful of them! Sadly, though, the pictures had not yet been printed, and they had to leave with only umbrella in hand.

For two more mornings, they trekked to my hostel. And, for each of those mornings, they were without luck; the pictures were not yet ready.

But finally, today they were.

Mama Naxi helped me call one of my picture-questing friends with the news. Thirty minutes later, there he was, all navy blue of him, umbrella-turned-cane in hand. I gave him the pictures, he smiled thankfully… then invited me to their home. How could I resist? I dropped everything I was doing and accompanied him on the 20-minute walk to their house.

As I followed the cute navy-blue 81-year-old, I was thrilled for the invitation. We left touristy Old Town, and went to where the residents actually lived. Calmer, greener, with pretty views of the rolling green hillside. I’m so lucky I got to see this part of Old Town before I left.

We arrived at a courtyard-style home—the most squeaky-clean abode I’ve been to in all of Lijiang. The floors were sparkling white, the flowers huge, the birds calm. I sat with Kind Navy Blue Man and his cousin, Smiley Beard Man, for perhaps an hour, chatting lusciously about little things now and then, but mostly sitting in comfortable silence while sipping Puer tea. I have a hard time just sitting when visiting with people. I feel like I should be talking, doing, inquiring. But, sometimes just sitting is the best way to visit; the company is all that matters. Especially to these men.

After picture-taking and walnut-munching (and of course, water pipe and well system-inspecting), they walked me over to another water source: a large 3-pit-well in southern Old Town. The men told me that in the past, when Black Dragon Pool ran low, they would often fetch their water here. In the background, in the third pool, women washed mountains of chives to be eaten later that day. (As it was morning, perhaps no one had yet done laundry, and vegetables were still OK to wash in the third pool). The women were loud, and green, green, green.

This really was old Lijiang, life away from all the tourism. I feel lucky to have been a part of it—if even for a few minutes.

I had my second-to-last calligraphy class today; I’m going to miss this place. While my normal little friends were not there this time (school starts soon—September 1), I really do enjoy sitting against the sunlight, with a teacher-offered pear in one hand, and an ink-sopped brush in the other, trying to avoid the stares of the passerby tourists (Chinese & Western alike). For me, this is stress relieving—I can sit in concentration for two hours (2 hours = 100 characters) and not even realize it. Definitely will be continuing this routine back at home, for my own sanity.

As I finished my characters, Mama Naxi (my hostel owner) popped her head in, her loud voice booming. She saw that I was getting ready to leave, and quickly invited me to go with her to buy plants for her hotel. I agreed right away—but when found out it would be a two-hour endeavor—politely declined. “OK, Fine,” she conceded. “But, I will take you to eat.”

Without really agreeing, I was whisked away, Mama Naxi holding my hand, laughing at me as she took me through the streets. We pranced through my favorite Zhongyi Market, then out to a Muslim Halal Restaurant. As we sat there, just the two of us, she ordered her favorite beef dish—Mama knows best. While delicious, Mama Naxi made sure that I ate my whole share of the tender beef in soup, fat and bones and all. (Thank goodness I had not eaten lunch! Though, I do believe that my next two weeks of meat-income is now taken care of.) This sort of hospitality just is Mama Naxi. Treating you to lunch at a restaurant that’s not her own, paying for a meal more expensive than at her place, laughing and shoving food in your face until you threaten to explode (through hand motions & facial expressions, but not words, of course.)

And so, I waddled home.

Hospitality at its best hurts.

1 comment:

michael bird said...

Another good look at the lives of these people. Too bad you are already down to "T minus 2". I'm sure your elderly gentlemen were absolutely thrilled to have you visit with them. Can't think of an elderly gentleman who wouldn't be.