Where did Yagou this weekend?
Walking around the streets and entering the shops of a foreign city is probably the best way to get acquainted with a new city. That and Wikipedia. But seriously, it's great, you get to see all sorts of things that aren't distilled and purified for easy consumption in language class. It also gives you a bunch of chances to make a dammed fool of oneself.
For example, purchasing things. I'd like to think that I have "mastered" the ability to read signs and purchase associated products. Apparently not in Chinese. One day I noticed that a store was having a sale on Kleenexes - perfect, I was running low. I go in, look at the sign, read the brand name and as I'm reading the rest of the sign reach out to grab a package of something that matches the part of the sign I've read so far. I look down and see a female employee giving me the strangest look. I look down and quickly drop the package of female sanitary pads I had just been holding so contemplatively. I then proceed to get lost in the same store for another 15 minutes and repeatedly pass the same employee who continues to stare at me with a strange mix of accusation and incredulity.
Or simply walking. I see two women burning something on the sidewalk just outside of campus. Being the curious and tactless foreigner that I am I go up and ask them what's up. "We're...burning paper." I keep walking, thinking that that was, if not illuminating, at least a sufficient answer. There were in fact burning paper. However, I was pretty sure I was missing something - such as the reason. So I run back and ask one of the women "Why?" "Oh it's uh... a tradition." "Like a holiday?" "You could say so." And that's when I noticed the tears on her face. My eyes go wide and I recall that this is a traditional way to honor one's dead in China. Good thing my instinct when faced with overwhelming embarrassment is to run away, rather than to freeze up and just stand there.
This is not, of course, to say that if you go outside by yourself you'll definitely make a fool of yourself. Occasionally you discover something that you never thought you'd ever see. For example, I ran into a donkey carrying tofu. As I told the man who owned it, this is definitely not something that I have in my hometown. And in case you were wondering, the donkey is simply named Donkey. I'm guessing he's a big Eddie Murphy or Shrek fan.
Before I sign off, in reference to the title, this weekend a bunch of us with CET went to Yagou Reservoir and associated giant snowy hill-mountain. This is one of those moments where words can't do it justice and pictures really are worth a thousand words.