it was wonderful to see my old friends, chris and john! chris and john, expats from australia and the US respectively, had returned to australia last winter (er, summer as it were, since they were down under) but struggled to find work what with the economy being what it is and all. so, they decided to return to china, but not xi'an--wild and crazy kids!--because they wanted to try something different. john first came to china 15 years ago, and chris is no stranger to the middle country either, so it seemed a logical choice to return to their other home (australia and the US not withstanding), and to a new city just to be adventurous. they've been in changsha for about a month, so the city is still quite fresh to them. this being the case, divi, christian, and i got to help them explore their new turf. and thus we had a whirlwind of a weekend.
their new campus is situated on a mountain top, over the river and away from the city.
what's awesome about their campus is one has to pass a tomb to get to their apt. apparently, the woman buried in the tomb was Very Important during her reign but had long been forgotten. until the tomb was unearthed during campus construction. (stuff like this happens all the time here.)
we later saw a write-up about this tomb at the history museum.
Chris had to teach on friday so we had some lunch (featuring hunan's ever present Bucket O' Rice) at the fish hot pot place where we didnt get fish hot pot...
and then the fellas and I went to the lei feng museum. John was giggly about going to the museum because he knows a great deal about lei feng. once, while traveling, john got an instant discount at a local haunt where he had been eating a few days in a row. why did the price suddenly drop, john asked the shopkeep. well, he replied, "向雷鋒同志學習!" john was sporting his lei feng tshirt with the popular slogan, "learn from/be like lei feng." so who is this lei feng guy? a chinese person will tell you he's REAL. but some in the west doubt he really existed. this is why the museum is so brilliant. lei feng was a selfless and dedicated model communist. when he wasnt darning socks for his comrades, he was helping old ladies cross the street, or teaching the youth about the revered Chairman Mao. he wrote about all these activities in his journal, published posthumously, which is viewed as a companion piece for the little Red Book.
in this picture, you can see "him" writing in his journal. with his gun. oh, what a dedicated comrade!
the museum is awesome because all of the pictures of lei feng are not really lei feng! all of the photos of his deeds? re-creations. FANTASTIC! in small print, in chinese, it says this. and yet... just fantastic.
the museum even has a sock that he darned!
lei feng was killed while helping his fellow comrades fix their truck. john says there are two versions of the story. in one, the truck lurches forward and runs him over accidently, and in the other, the truck lurches forward, hits a pole, and the pole smashes lei feng, killing him instantly. john likes the pole story.
here's the statue that greets visitors:
outside the museum, we saw this guy:
and divi and christian decided to "have a rest" themselves. john said the grass was too prickly. and indeed it was.
we headed back to campus and had a tofu snack. this guy makes really spicey grilled tofu. john says he's never seen this kind of snack anywhere else in china. a shame i dindt know of its existance. it would make trying to explain a tofu-burger so much easier. im trying to spread the gospel of tofu-burgers. it doesnt always work. "wait, you grill the tofu?!" yes, instead of meat. "you grill the tofu?!" yes. you make everything the same. just with tofu instead. "you grill the tofu?!" *sigh*
walking home, christian and john showed what they had learned about being good communists and did some healthy exercise. exercise equipment is everywhere here. on the school campuses, in parks, in random town squares....
we met up with chris and went into town.
it's a bird... it's a plane...
we walked around for quite some time, checking things out and people watching.
before we picked a place to have dinner, we watched these bouncers get ready for their shifts. they started by standing in formation, then marching, and then doing pushups.
then we had dinner. yes, this meal looks remarkably similar to what we had for lunch. why's that? because in hunan, in most restaurants, there are a handful of vegetarian choices. and they seem to be the same choices no matter where ya go. however, they're good dishes. something funny about changsha: they dont do broccoli. john says he's gotten strange looks when he's tried to order broccoli. however, cauliflower is the Thing in changsha. sadly, even though we ordered it meatless for lunch, it came with huge chunks of fat, reminding us all that fat doesnt equal meat. it's different. LOTS of green beans in changsha too. tasty yummy goodness.
changsha is a rather happening city. it feels far more progressive than xi'an. the buses run 24 hours and the town center has a pulse. not that im a wild and crazy party girl, but i appreciated the youthful vibe. we stopped and watched a breakdancing performance.
and we laughed at how ironic china has become. just like the mao statue in chengdu, there was a happy communist guy (dang if i can remember his name!~oops!) AND mcdonalds. oh, juxtaposition!
we walked and walked and walked around. then we walked across the river. and saw a boat with a huge billboard.
i was also disturbed by this:
and this ad as well:
the above ad is the first ad for beer using a sexy lady i have seen in china. i dont like this.
next day, more adventures! because chris and john havent been in changsha too long, we got to go on bus field trips! where does this bus go? i dunno! let's find out! chris had her map, and that was quite helpful, but on this day we had to exit the bus at the end of the route in confusion. "i thought this bus went to orange island," chris said. well, not today! answered the driver. oh, china.
first thing we ran into? a nunchuck school/competition!
we were trying to find mao's school--where he was a student and also served as principal. my research interests lie in this particular area, so i was quite excited about it. mao was born and raised in this area, so it's quite a mao-happy place.
we walked past where we had been the night before. instead of breakdancing, sponsored by mountain dew (yes, mom, panther piss has made it to china!), it was a dance performance sponsored by a chinese energy drink.
we made a pit stop at the mall wherein i snuggled with a giant teddy bear and bought teenage mutant ninja turtle spock and teenage mutant ninja turtle kirk!
this was particularly amusing because later in the day, christian and i watched the new star trek on an imax screen in the cool, comfortable theatre. the other kids watched the new terminator.
then, after walking around a bit more, we realised, hey! we're near the city wall (what remains of it), so that's where we headed. we found a restaurant now dubbed the dragon den (there was a picture of a dragon lady in the window) and had a lovely meal. while the food was similar to what we ate the previous day (we did get a few different dishes), the waitstaff was excited! to! have! western! people! so they took lots of pictures of us eating. unlike xi'an, changsha doesnt have a ton of westerners. they gave us a special tea designed to cool one down on a hot day. and changsha is HOT. xi'an gets hot too, but changsha, being further south, is drippingly hot. melty hot. move two steps and you are drenched with sweat hot. poor john was forced to drink pepsi. as a south carolina native, this was very sad for him... so we, of course, had to tease him endlessly.
after lunch, we moseyed down to the city wall. it's in a lovely park and we happened upon a nest of mahjong (麻将) players. changsha is mao crazy, but even more mahjong crazy. to quote the phrase of the day, "that's what i'm talking about right here!"*
(please note, sign says "place for walkin' with caged birds" i love how it's walkin' and not walking.)
then we went for another walk to find mao's school. chris got out her map, and she found some cool streets. well, to be fair, she didnt know they were cool. she just saw that they would take us where we needed to go. my favourite was the ally of sin (30Y for two hours at a hotel!), filled with gambling houses and brothels.
then we rounded the corner, and ta-da! mao's school.
me, christian, and a bust of young mao:
guns at the school:
across from the school was some deconstruction:
there was, all around the school, garbage and destroyed buildings everywhere:
we flagged down a random bus and found our way back to the city core. from there, we ventured to find chris and john's new jaozi place (SO much more expensive than xi'an because it's in the south, so jaozi is "special" ... as seen by the bucket o' rice, southern china is rice country) just up the road from chris's new foot massage place. john didnt do a foot massage so he headed home and we got our feet rubbed which was lovely.
next morning we got up early to make our way to the provincial museum.
we waited in line for quite some time, and were entertained by a bunch of students, some of which thought christian looked just like Paul Gasol!!, then had our passports scanned AND went through a metal detector. but before we would go through, we had to wait.
the museum only lets people in a group at a time, so we had to hang out until our time was called. chris and i went looking for nice cream (it was HOT) and found instead, much to our surprise!, the barbie expo we had seen advertised at mao's school the day before.
the BEST part was when a bunch of school girls were looking at the indian barbie display. their teacher was explaining, look, it's india, see the taj majal? how beautiful! divi happened to be right at this display at the same time. right when the teacher said something like, "indian people live in india," divi leaned in and said "I'm an indian!" (我印度人!) and the girls turned, saw him, shrieked! and ran off. pure comedy.
the whole barbie display was quite comedic as barbie was barbie--blonde and blue eyed--representing everything from chinese minority groups to indians. i loved how the indian barbies were modified.
the rooms following the two rooms of barbies were of other crafty things. and so i was quite pleased, being a crafty person myself. what a treat!
and then THEN! we got to go to the museum. there were lots of goodies.
textile geeks will appreciate the fine silk and embroidery work.
and! the Coup de grâce! we got to see the pickled lady. she is a very well preserved royal lady mummy, buried for over 2000 years.
following our museum adventure, we were starving but knew not where there was a restaurant save KFC which does NOT, in my book, qualify as an eating establishment. and so we had a snack of stinky tofu to calm the savage beast that was rumbling in our bellies. stinky tofu (臭豆腐, choudoufu) is, well, stinky. it's fermented and then fried. it really has a... unique smell. i like it. but maybe that's because i grew up in the country. hell, i find the smell of dairy farm comforting. the changsha variety has a crispier texture than the xi'an variety. smells the same but has a slightly different taste. a taste that's near impossible to describe.
a while later, we found a restaurant decorated with lots of mao pictures and happy communists. my favourite mao picture was the one with president nixon.
people watching (or as my students would say, the Daily Life):
up next? orange island, where mao used to read and hang out. i'm sure it looks just the same as how it looked when he was there... it was so bourgeois! we took the tram ride around and enjoyed seeing the city from a different perspective.
they are building a statue of mao on the island, which is what we wanted to see, but it's still under construction. we had a funny exchange with our tram driver.
said we, "can we see the mao statue?"
she replied, "you can't see mao, he's dead!"
we said, "..."
we returned to chris and john's and had time to pack, eat some nutty noodles (noodles with peanuts and pickled bits) and head off into the sunset...
*in the morning, as we had our brekie, we happened upon an american fishing competition. in a lull, that's what the fisherman said, and the day's theme was born. points were distributed for proper usage of the catchphrase. divi took it a step further, practicing his southern accent by saying "i'm gun' gut you like a fish, boy"
remember kids, if you see a pig, RUN!
we learned from this Public Service Announcement posted at Mao's school: