Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Day of Confusion






I don't know how to write this entry. There is so much to say about today...

I went on my first authentic picnic in China. I know all about picnics: a standard western pastime involving any range of comfort and accessories, and food. In my ideal, a blanket is spread on the ground, whereupon the food is laid out. Participants sit on the edge of that layer and proceed to enjoy all manner of gustations and social delight. Ants may partake and, if there are any particularly sweet treats – sodas included, bees might join in. Perhaps later, a game of volleyball...

I had prepared egg salad and bought small cakes. I also had a thermos full of hot water for the coffee Gary asked me to bring. At the bottom of my large bag: a blanket. 10AM sharp he pulled up with his carful: we would enjoy our day with Michelle and Linda, and Michelle's baby. We stopped by a bakery on the way out of campus for 2 small loaves of bread:  one sweet and one sweeter. The Chinese specialize in sweet bread, much to my frustration.   

I forgot to mention that Gary requested I bring my lawn chair, which currently serves as a part of my living room d├ęcor, for it is the only seat high-backed enough to accommodate me comfortably. I have a nice cover draped over it so that it does not look like lawn furniture when in my living room.

The day was perfect and traffic was horrific. We were denied car access to the part of the East Lake conservation area we intended to while our day away at, so we parked further away and hiked in.  While walking along water's edge I got the chance to see the first remarkable aspect of the day: tents. The lawn was dotted with tents!

This startled me for 2 reasons. Camping is only a burgeoning phenomenon here. Two years ago, tents were as hard to come by as any other recreational equipment including bathing suits, and only available in specialty shops. These days one can buy tents and camping gear at department stores, including Walmart and Metro. However, the idea of camping is not yet mainstream and, from what I know of camping in China, it looks pretty uncomfortable. One of my students went on a group camp this summer. Her pictures revealed pitched tents on the concrete sidewalk in front of a temple.

The second reason I was so awed was because nobody seemed to occupy the tents. People sat on a blanket or small stools in front of the tents, whose 'doors' were tied back. Shortly after our arrival a group pitched a tent a few meters from us. I didn't see anyone in that tent the whole time we were there.

As it was near lunch time, we started eating. It seems nobody wanted any egg salad. However, the hard boiled eggs Linda brought were attacked. I had also brought quesadillas, and everyone tried one of them. And then we rolled right into snack time. Fruit, crackers, small vacuum packed goodies. The egg salad remained forlornly untouched. Later, Linda dug into the bread. I had to convince her to try the salad on the bread. She humored me, but then ate 3 more slices without any toppings. I've seen that before: prepare a nice meal and all people want to eat is bread. I'll never figure it out.

Michelle had brought a hammock which Gary strung between 2 trees. Little Miss Baby took her nap in that gently swaying rest. My chair was coveted and fought over, but not by me. I was happy to lounge around on the ground, for the first time since I'd been so sick.

In our camp and others, as soon as food was dispensed of, out came the phones. The Chinese have a mania for their phones, not the least being selfies and micro-blogging – equivalent to Twitter. I opted instead to look around.

Outdoor recreation has come a long way in a short while here, not necessarily indicated by the hammocks. The first year I was here I went to the Botanical Gardens and saw several people sleeping in hammocks.  What is new is that people will now sit on the ground, albeit with something between them and the grass, even if it is just an advertisement flyer. Another changed aspect to enjoying the great outdoors is convenience foods. Again referencing my early trips out, I recall bowls of instant noodles being sold at vendor stands, hot water included. Not necessarily convenient. People sat on little concrete stools to eat.

And they used to carry everything for their outing, usually toting several bags. Today I saw plenty who trundled their day's supplies in shopping carts. One camp close to us, upon leaving, packed the baby stroller full and carried the baby. Go figure!  

Rumbling from waterside: a speedboat! I think that might have been my first time seeing speedboats skimming over the lake in China. Not only were there private speed boats but also yachts! Even the traditional wooden pirogues that I'd ridden in my very first trip to this lake 4 years ago, were now outfitted with small outboard engines, and there were no paddles in sight. I thought I'd seen everything... until I spied a parasailer.

Things have really come along in Chinese outdoor recreation!

How long can one endure simply sitting around, doing not much of anything? I thought we might pull up stakes around 3PM, which would have given us roughly 4 hours of lakeside fun. We stayed until about 5PM. Right around the time we broke camp I remembered what the group next to us reminded me of, with their brand new tent – door tied back, and everyone sitting around in front of it, eating. They looked just like the picture model of camping on tent labels!

I speculate that, because camping is such a novel activity here, people still have to learn how to do it. Perhaps they watch TV? It certainly appeared that this group studied tent advertisements and had the idea that camping should be exactly as shown in the model, for that is exactly what they looked like!

Gary couldn't stop laughing when I confided my impressions.

I'll be darned if I know why we went out to dinner after our picnic. We still had nearly a whole bowl of egg salad, a loaf of bread, several quesadillas, and two full bags of snacks and fruit. We argued over who would take what home. Linda wanted me to take all the food. We compromised: I gave her the quesadillas and she gave me a bag of snacks. The egg salad went home with me, of course.   

At the unquestionably fine restaurant, Gary ordered as though he were starving! 3 different meat plates, several vegetable plates, a particularly tasty tofu dish, rice and rice cakes. There was no way we were going to eat it all. Again Linda said I should take the leftovers home. I told her I had food left over from the dinner I hosted last night, as well as the egg salad and all the snacks, bread and cakes. Just how much does she think I can eat?

In no way do I posit that she is insulting me. That is just being a good friend and hostess in China.  I've come to accept that, but it might take me a while to invest in a tent to bring to a picnic.

I forgot to tell you about the bee!

Here I was, coffee in hand, engaged in mirthful conversation when a rather large bee decided to investigate me. Initially it buzzed around my midsection and arms, but then decided my mouth made a better target... mainly because I opened it to tell everyone to not swat at it.

Bees get angry when swatted at and will sting the first bit of flesh they encounter. Its proximity to me meant that I would be that bit of flesh. While the women shrieked and moaned, Gary manned up, grabbed the bag my chair folds into and started swinging. By this time the bee was perched on my lower lip. I had to risk opening up again to shout at him: “Do NOT swat at it!” Still he gauged his chances, aiming right for my face.

Fortunately the bee had distanced itself somewhat, allowing me to calmly rise and walk away. Sir Bee lost interest and flew off. Only then did the other women exclaim over how fearless I must be to let a bee buzz around me, and even land on my face. Pooh-poohing their awe, I turned on Gary, accusing him of seizing this opportunity to smack me in the face.

We all succumbed to laughter so sweet even the bee could not be drawn to it.

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