Unscripted moments and orange-pickin’ trips

JISHOU, HUNAN — Among the joys of teaching are those moments when circumstances dictate chucking normal classroom decorum. This afternoon, we had the sunniest, warmest day in what seems like weeks of cold, wet weather. I had planned to conduct class as usual in our somewhat chilly, spartan classroom, when Clara asked if we could have class outside. Two seconds’ pause … sure, why not? It’s a writing class, and I had a moment of inspiration right then. First, let me fill you in on some background. This class, the freshman G2 writing class, had told me last week of their plans to go in a hike and picnic Sunday, and they asked if I wanted to go. I agreed, and Clara was the student who was supposed to call me with the meeting time and place. Only she didn’t. Somehow, signals got crossed and they thought I had gone to Dehang with another class. (It was actually David, the new foreign teacher, who went.) So, Clara never called. Oh, but she was so apologetic on Sunday evening that it was impossible to be angry with her. Today, when I entered the classroom (two minutes late, and slightly out of ...

The Fenghuang trip, part 2: ancient Fenghuang

JISHOU, HUNAN — Following our odyssey to the Miao village, we returned to our hotel in Fenghuang to rest up for the bonfire party. Now, I had the impression it would be a participatory event: a group of people gathered around a big bonfire having a party. Seems reasonable, right? Way wrong. The Bonfire Party is a performance in an amphitheatre near to the Golden Phoenix International Hotel, featuring local dancers, drummers and musicians. Included in the festivities were an auction of three pieces of art, the local tourist gimmick of “put on the Miao girl’s costume” on stage, and a long conga line at the end. Don’t get the idea I disliked the experience. On the contrary, the dancing and music were wonderful, although it would have helped if I had had the libretto, and costumes dazzling. The photos I took unfortunately do the colors no justice. The girls did a good job explaining to me what was happening on stage — depictions of various aspects of Miao history and customs — but the details eluded me. Kentuckians are probably familiar with “The Stephen Foster Story,” that perennial outdoor dramatization of the musician’s life and work in Bardstown. It ...

Teaser: what I did this weekend

JISHOU, HUNAN — I’m too tired right now to provide a detailed summary of my weekend trip to FengHuang, so I’m dropping two photos here as teasers. My guides on this trip were these ten fine young women from my sophomore Oral English class. We were in a cave leading to the Miao Village, a tourist destination, where I met a 105-year-old woman who in turn met her first American. Our base for the weekend was the historic town of FengHuang (now a small city catering to tourists). As it happened, there was a Miao couple getting married today, and these ladies were singing in advance of the ceremony. The Miao are another ethnic minority in China, and are also a mountain people like the Tujia. Way back when, Miao were bandits and generally a real pain in the ass for China’s emperors. In response to the Miao problem, the Han Chinese built the Southern Great Wall 500 years ago. Unlike its northern brother, the Southern Wall gets little press, but parts of it still stand in western Hunan. Miao women traditionally wear blue pants and tunics with embroidery on the cuffs. Older women also wear tall, black turban-like hats. ...

In praise of the Hunan orange 5

JISHOU, HUNAN — Little did I know I would move to an orange lover’s paradise. This time of year, oranges are everywhere – in the supermarket, in the sidewalk fruit stalls, piled high in the back of farmers’ bicycles and carts. Of China’s 22 contiguous provinces, Hunan is the third largest producer of oranges, so it’s no wonder you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Let me tell about these oranges. Every single one I’ve had so far has been sweet and juicy. The skin is thin and easy to peel off with your fingers, almost as easy as peeling a banana. There are no seeds, at least ones I can find. It sections easily, and there’s very little inner rind to spoil the chewing process. I suppose if I had ever lived in California or Florida, or some other orange-producing part of the world, I suppose I would not marvel so much at the Hunan orange. As it is, I lived in places where oranges had to be trucked in from someplace else. They weren’t always fresh. Their rinds were like leather. And once in a while, an entire bag or oranges would be either sour or dry or ...

China travel plans, take 1 2

With visa in hand, my next step is to actually get to China. In June I booked flights through a discounter, www.cfares.com. You can join for free and search for and book domestic and international flights, as well as hotels. There are three main choices for arriving airports in China: Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. As it turns out, the HK prices were somewhat lower and placed me somewhat closer to my final destination. Besides, I figured that landing in HK would ease my transition, since they speak English in HK. My ticket cost $663 one-way to Hong Kong. I fly out of Louisville Wednesday morning and cool my heels in Chicago-O’Hare for a couple of hours, before boarding a 15-hour nonstop to HK. Crossing the International Date Line means I arrive Friday afternoon (local time). Originally, I was all gung-ho about immediately boarding a plane or train bound for Hunan. After some reflection, it seemed wiser to stay at a hotel after so long a journey. So, returning to the wonders of the Internet, I went to www.hotels.com and www.lonelyplanet.com to scope out a reasonable compromise between cost and amenities. (In other words, I didn’t want a hostel or ...
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