Friday, January 28, 2011

A hop to Xi Shui

As I wander into experiences and all over China I try to maintain a degree of objectivity so that I can report to you what I see, feel and find as though you are experiencing it yourself, unclouded by my prejudice. I regret to inform you that this time I have failed miserably. You will see and feel my heart in my words, because there was so much heart put into my visit to Sam’s home.

Xi Shui (pronounced she shway) is the town where Sam’s parents live. I like to read up on my destinations so I can learn what to expect when I get there, but I did not get any knowledge prior to going, other than Sam calling it a town and telling me it takes two hours to get there. ‘Town’ is a misnomer; the population exceeds that of most major cities in the States save for the real biggies like New York or L.A..

There is precious little information about Xi Shui on the Internet and I soon found out why. The city is touted as the most environmentally friendly city in China… because it has no industry! It seems there is nothing remarkable about the place that would be Internet reportable. Based on my failed attempt at research and Sam’s description I thought it would be a small village, so I prepared accordingly: a pack of cigarettes to distribute – a customary ice-breaker in China, a bag of candy to treat little ones with and wine for Sam’s parents.

I will have to write about the experience of traveling by long distance coach in another post. For now, suffice to say that I was a bit dismayed that, as we neared the two-hour mark on our travel we were in a rural area and the bus driver started dropping people off on the side of the road. Again my American experiences formed my perceptions; I thought that the driver would announce the stops he was making along the route. The driver was not announcing anything when he made these stops. This being my first experience with long distance busing, and not knowing that Xi Shui was actually a pretty sizable city, I started panicking, not knowing if we had actually passed my destination and I didn’t know to get off the bus.

I asked the traveler sitting next to me if Xi Shui was still ahead and he did inform me that we had not arrived yet. I breathed a sigh of relief. When the driver pulled into a lot with other buses and turned off the ignition, and all of the passengers got up and got off the bus, I took that as my cue that we had arrived.

People milled about, smiling, smoking, hailing each other or taxis. I did not see Sam anywhere so I sent him a text message. Soon afterward he limped up with a smile on his face and a greeting on his lips. Wait… limped up? Sam, what happened? He had fallen down the stairs the day before, just after I had sent him a message that I was buying my ticket to come visit. The scariest part was that he was holding Baby Erica when he fell! Fortunately, Sweet Erica is just fine, probably because of all of the bundling Chinese babies wear to ward off winter cold. She was scared though and spent some time crying, seemingly commiserating with her father who was not happy about his sprained ankle.

I feel a degree of guilt at his falling.

His family home is a mere ten minutes away from the bus station and during that short walk (or hobble, in Sam’s case), I tried to take everything in: the red and gold decorations for the impending celebration, the multitude of street vendors, the buildings and the people, the lack of organized vehicular traffic and the cacophony. I had a hard time doing so because, in spite of China’s progress and modernization everywhere else I’ve been, this town’s sidewalk was in such bad repair that I risked a twisted ankle by not watching where I was going. Or, I might have run someone over… decidedly not something I wanted to do during my first few minutes there (or at all).

Sam and I are babbling as though we had not seen each other in years instead of just days; he is such a gracious host and was honestly happy that I had come. All smiles except for when he grimaced in pain, he could not wait to show me around and introduce me to his family. Soon enough he steered me into a narrow hallway between a clothing store and an optics merchant; it seems we had arrived.

The hallway let into a large, high-ceilinged room painted royal blue on the bottom third and white the rest of the way up. The front of the room houses the tools of a tailor’s trade: two treadle-type sewing machines, a workbench and two sergers. A square table and a mantle occupy the back of the room. Two doors; one leading to living quarters upstairs and the other into a diminutive but serviceable kitchen flank the mantle. Chairs and a low, green, antique couch line the walls. That is the family living and dining room. That is where I met Sam’s parents.

I will leave you to visualize all of this for now while I gather my impressions for the next post. Let’s get ready for a merry time around the dinner table!

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