Monday, November 5, 2007

Parents come to visit from the Midwest Motherland

My parents came to Dalian in the dark. I was almost offended when in true American style they continued to wear their shoes past the threshold of my apartment. I asked them to kindly remove their shoes. They did so obligingly, but mostly likely thought they were humoring their daughter who is trying to live Asian style. The next morning, they saw the city in the daylight. I took them to the market where we walked over slimy fish guts, rotten vegetables, and vendors’ yellow spit wads. Throughout the day I am sure they noticed the piles of dirt and dust from the ever-present construction and maybe even one or two young children squatting to take a leak (or more) on the sidewalk. When we returned to the apartment they took off their shoes immediately, the day’s sights explanation enough for the new custom their daughter has apparently embraced.

It took me weeks of confusing meetings and phone conversations with the Chinese travel agency, but I finally successfully planned a much too ambitious vacation to visit the city of Xi'an and multiple locations in Yunnan province for the three of us.

Yunnan is a mountainous province in Southern China bordering Tibet to the West and Laos and Myanmar to the South. It is famous for holding 26 of China’s 56 and some odd ethnic minorities. We hired a private driver which was key to reaching some remote mountain towns and stopping whenever we pleased. I was astonished to realize that my freshly learned Mandarin Chinese did me no good in most of the places we visited. I held my breath while my mother traipsed out into a rice paddy to converse (in English) with a minority farmer who surely did not even speak Chinese! I am sure the story of the day that the white woman came to his field made him the center attention in the village for months! As far as I could tell, these people’s daily life, language, and culture has nothing in common with and is most likely indifferent to Beijing and the central government.

Other travel highlights include: the old minority woman who guffawed at the mud slick on my mom’s backside from an unfortunate topple in the old woman’s banana field; all of us cringing during the crazy Chinese driving on mountain roads and my father demanding that the seat belts be released from under the seat as a direct result; my mom riding a yak across a mountain river; and the live chicken that got loose in our ATM booth! My father reported that in Ohio, he probably encounters three new images in any given day, giving his brain plenty of leisure time to process these new encounters. Yet on this trip, each day felt like a marathon as hundreds even thousands of new images were packed into his brain. What troopers!

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