In this episode: How I came stumbling home missing part of an eyebrow, immaculate bodhisattva birthwater, three eerie gasp-worthy kinds of lighting, and the vapid insipid mention of rabbit cheese.
Shots first, then answeringz of questions! YOU! back in the query queue! No cutting or scathing!
So, once upon last week, a huge puddle of water appeared in my room with no apparent entry. Windows closed, not leaking from the light fixtures, ceiling, or walls, and my room half an inch higher than the connecting room. Though it had rained while I was head-phoning with the Gaylamonster, I didn't sense any ingression of dampness, and after an initial explanation-free inspection, I just presumed it was holy water from Buddha telling me I should clean. So I used the two unexpected liters to mop my floor and the kitchen. The end.
A different day, upon the suggestion of Ms. Faulkner, (my grammar school poetry teacher now living in Xiamen), I went for a walk in search of butterflies rumored to live in a pavilion up in the hills. I had a free afternoon from school, and after wholesome artistic hour making some rubbings of characters carved into stone down by the beach, I wended my way up a likely road and spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around out of sight of the city. (veyan las fotos) That I didn't see any butterflies is just further impetus to go again. Possibly immediately upon the emission of this eMissive!
Another day, previous to the previous days of mention, Hu Huan invited me out to a luxurious massage. I had never been to such a posh establishment, so I shall indulge in lush detail. They started us in the VIP room, where we denuded and cloaked our shuddering corpulence-- um, our disappointingly ordinary bodies-- in gossamer mumus and slipped into flipflops to flap and swoosh down the hallway and across an indoor bridge, to a steam sauna. We sat for a time in the booth, recounting daily minutia made more colourful for being in Chinese, as our essential salts puddled beneath us in a huddle of refugee minerals.
How long could Hu Huan stand pneumaticking her alveoli in threshold states of matter? Just about long enough to feel a full spongy goodness and a pressing desire to breath oxygen with less covalent hydrogen bonds. So we shuffled back limply to our showers and continued with ablutions of the body, mine being a fair amount quicker. Alone, I padded back into our VIP room where an attendant helped me to gentle repose, and wearing no clothes, onto a princess bed.
She began her ministrations with an all-over touch to awaken my skin, and then deftly proceeded to rub handfuls of course salt onto my back. It crunched and rolled and dulled itself, but not before it ground into my flesh, wriggling towards my blood as if, by osmosis, it might penetrate my organs and take over the countryside vacated by displaced compatriots. A hot damp towel cleared the battlefield, and lotion soothed the scoured plains. Soon, she began kneading, pressing, and pinching in a most delicious way, releasing weeks of tension.
Hu Huan joined me in the adjoining princess bed, and side-by-side, they attended to our topographies. There was some chatting and giggling, but mostly there was a concentrated effort to chart out mountains and coastlines. When at last the far reaches of our backs and shoulders had been mapped out for posteriority, we were expertly helped into a supine position. My attendant resumed her ministrations beginning with a head and face massage, rubbing in some creams and balms and emollients and all manner of oils and lubricants and moisturizers. After an unseemly amount of time squandered and chemicals slathered on my face, the attendant got up briefly and returned to stand beside me.
I groggily opened my eyes and thought I saw her jerk her hand back, concealing something behind her. I was bleary and not too cognitive after her superb palpations, so I thought little of it and sank back into my stupefied chemical redolence. She moved to return to the facial massage, but instead, her finger pressed into the middle of my forehead while the rest of her hand proceeded to shave off my eyebrow. The sudden cat-like rasping pulled me immediately out of my stupor, though I was careful not to make any sudden movements and get a razor in the eye. I asked in clipped Chinese, excuse me, but what are you doing?
She stepped back and warily tensed into an uncomfortable smile. The arcs at the corners of her mouth curved up and away, seeming to curl effulgently into her nostrils, a spiraling smile-smoke that lodged painfully in her sinuses. I imagined I could see it caught there, looking up her nose from where I lay on the table of operations, now under a scalpel, and possibly missing a significant patch of eyebrow hair.
I did not imagine that a decadent massage table would be a scene where I'd need to be fearful of sharp blades, no, quite the opposite. So from surprise and the sheer ludicrousness of my situation, I laughed spasmodically, sputtering out to Hu Huan, "Why is she shaving off my eyebrows?!" The flustered attendant said that my friend had given her instructions to shave my eyebrows. I craned incredulously towards her and asked, was that so? Hu Huan laughed and admitted that she had conspired with the attendant, telling her to make me more beautiful. Which apparently translated to shaving my eyebrows. Erm. Even after I was shown the minimal damage to my hirsute piratical over-eye patches, it took several minutes of chittering and chuckling before I was able to relax again.
Even then, I was distrusting of everything she got near my face. What is that?! "It's a machine to make your skin more beautiful." I waved it away. "I don't care for it." "But..." "Please move the machine away from my face." I really didn't need an ultrasonic wand vibrating my zygomatic arch, possibly infecting my sinuses with her twitching vapour-smile. A second machine was waved away. A facial mask was grudgingly allowed, when it became clear to me that she was not going to touch my feet. What kind of massage involves razors, machines, and an utter neglect of my feet?! My feet are the most important part, for soles' sakes!
We finished up and they gave us gourmet snacks, a sweet bean and rice soup with dainty rice-bean paste cupcakes and a plate of miniature tomatoes. We stabbed their smooth skins with toothpicks while we rocked lazily on the porch swings, occasionally looking up and smiling kindly to assuage the conscience of the still-flustered attendant. The damage wasn't all that noticeable, anyway. So that explains the eyebrow... on to the staggering portion of the day.
It was Hu Huan's brother's birthday. Hu Hong was inviting some of his friends over, and Hu Huan asked me to make my Indian style yellow coconut-potato-tomato-onion-garlic-ginger curry for the occasion. So I joined them for a fine dinner with several friends, one of whom was fellow of significant conceit, I felt. By and by, he opened a bottle of wine and very obviously poured less in my cup, making some unintelligible comment about women. He raised his cup and we toasted to Hu Hong and drank, but strangely, everyone looked around at each other in slow motion and no one drained their glasses, which would have been respectful and customary. The guests were taking their cues from this rather pompous sort, and he was looking at me meaningfully. "Man-man he", he pronounced carefully, for my benefit. He was giving me leave to drink slowly without losing face for doing so, but in so telling me, posing a semi-spoken challenge. It was on.
"Ganbei," I said, raising my glass to Hu Hong, in proper form. We drained our glasses and finished the rest of the wine, at which point, the home-brewed rice wine was brought out. It was handcrafted by the Hu's mother, a peachy shade of rose, and with an alcohol content much higher than the wine. Though it is ordinarily drunk out of small shot glasses, we used our wine glasses. I raised my glass to the pompous man, and again gleamed, smile flashing, "Ganbei!"
"Sanbei," he countered. This man was from Wuyi Shan, familiar with the ritual of drinking wu-yi-san 5, 1, 3 for a total of nine glasses of spirits. By saying "sanbei" he was raising the ante from one to three. It was a puerile game, this challenging and drinking, but I was a woman of formidable riling, and festooned with an already piratical eyebrow, there was little hope of separating this wench from her grog. "Liu bei," I counter-countered, smooth as you please. Six glasses. He darkened noticeably, but after a seconds' thought, he picked up the bottle and poured his glass level up to mine. I relaxed, he had not gone for the Wuyi Shan bei. Though, if he had, I would have drunk him under the table. I may not drink to excess often, but when I do, I can be quite capable. At the end of every night, as the first thing every morning, I still come from sturdy German stock.
So he blithely poured our seconds and our thirds and our fourths. At five, he was showing signs of affectation, and poured my glass fuller than his own. Six was reluctant to pour, but pour he did, and drink we did, down the hatch after slurring a reluctant "jiu bei". I was definitely feeling it, but this was for Science and for Honour and for all the years I never spent dicking around with tawdry frat boys, and so I would prevail. We stood up and moved to the tea table, where we continued good-natured chatting and story-telling. Mr. Pompous got up momentarily and excused himself to leave. I felt rather remorseful about his condition, but he likely wouldn't slight a lady so cavalierly again in the grog and mettle departments.
I stayed and laughed and chattered with remainder, convincingly feigning passable sobriety, until it was time to disperse to our homes. I walked through the park with Hu Huan, sauntering fairly steadily, I thought. I didn't break into sea shanties because I was snockered, you see. I started singing because, it's, uh, tradition when walking through parks at night. And if I was swaying at-all at-all, it wasn't because I was rip-roaring blitzed, but more likely it was because my eyebrows were so uneven; I wasn't used to such new imbalances on my face. So that explains the stumbling.
Ah and the lights. I remember I was walking along the beach road for my nightly constitution, thinking frivolously about alternate time derivations. Why did we measure things in seconds? Because, at first, we never know what we are looking for, and only the second time around are we able to recognize and measure something. It was then I saw a foreigner and I caught myself staring and staring-- how strange and out of place they... I... must look. My attention at that precise moment curved up and to the left, fixing upon a bright light in the sky. It was a soft orange glow that seemed to flicker as a bonfire flame might. It appeared to be a campfire hung in the air a hundred feet above the ground, and slowly rising. I hunkered down and stared at it while a couple, also stopped in their tracks, tried to photograph it. It got further and further away, and I watched it until it looked like our viewpoint of Mars, until it looked like Betelgeuse, until it was a prick of... it was gone from sight.
It's unusual to see lights floating upwards instead of the customary downwards, and I had some theories, which were later confirmed. But while I was walking home thinking of strange lights floating in the air, I saw a flash of green-blue indigo glow near a patch of bushes in tiny street-side park. Fairies in China?! Yes, the now-familiar bioluminescence of the aptly-named luciferase catalyzing luciferin in darling little fireflies.
The third eerie and wonderful light was seen on a camping trip to Zhangzhou. As you see in the pictures, it is a volcanic park with some nice views and a passable beach, though much of the park is fashioned as a tourist attraction and losing some of its natural charm.
I went with a group of foreign students from Xiamen University, aligning our plans through the magic and ease of Facebook. (I endorse Facebook. I would re-elect Facebook over any cheesy competition, even if it was gouda.) We ferried out to Zhangzhou island from Xiamen, and then took a bus for an hour to the volcanic park, where we wandered around wondering where to camp. We chose a logistically appropriate spot on a beach, away from the concentration of tourists and near a bamboo structure for shade.
We spent the afternoon and evening frolicking and playing, but things took a turn for the... well, actually typically Chinese by now. One of our troupe went off to get supplies and water from the nearby village we could see down the beach. He called someone's cell and several of us went to help him carry stuff back. But just before we could veer away from the beach towards the settlement, we were headed off by dozens of camouflaged Chinese soldiers who were also standing among several Chinese civilians who appeared to be in trouble. As their troops surrounded our troupe, I was dearly hoping this wasn't going to be a troupe-troop face-off.
They clearly didn't want us to go past a certain point on that beach, and they were all hefting heavy sticks to drive that point home. Or rather, to point us back to our point of origin. But at some point, they decided that we needed to stay for some questioning. Meanwhile, we were concerned about our friend who was past the line, having appeared non-foreign enough to just walk by earlier. Now he was in military clutches being questioned in some shanty-town dry goods miscellany and likely not able to communicate very well. Eventually, despite some meddling from bystanders more concerned with practicing their English than actually helping us out, we negotiated with the ringleader to let two and only two of us go through to help bring supplies, and our friend, home.
The rest of us were free to walk back to our camp, and we did so, scoffing and talking of all-important military concerns. Of France and its heated position on the Olympic torch what not and so forth and OH MY GOODNESS. THERE! JUST THERE! A green-blue flash. There again! Just as the waves break and roll down the crest curl, a sweep of iridescent turquoise-blue washing in the direction of the current. It kept rolling in, CRAAASHHHHhhhh FLAAASHHHHHhhh, light echoing the sound in an unnerving reversal of mundane order. Was it radioactive waste in the water, some jested. I think it's plankton, I remarked. I had heard of this phenomenon, but never seen it until now. It's stunning.
We gamboled back pointing and wowing, oohing as each surreal surge flushed along the crush of the crashing waves, SWOOOSHHHHhhh. And when we arrived at our campsite, we were surprised to see a hoard of Chinese tourists careening down the beach path straight towards our claimed area. They displaced us from half of our structure, and had the temerity to take down our carefully constructed bonfire tepee and use it for coals in their barbeque bins toted down with large flood lights, tables, chairs, and boxes of comestibles and stuff to light on fire. Here we were trying to enjoy some restful retreat from our respective noisy city drudgeries, finding just the spot to do so, and then being foiled by this reckless bunch.
After filling the air with smoke from their petrol-started fire, they began to roast and smoke all manner of things while setting off large fireworks. The popping, whistling, and explosions were bad enough, but watching the brash foolhardy youth pose for pictures mere feet from where the fireworks are going off was enough to unsettle my spleen. Pose with those peace/victory signs while you got 'em, boys.
We were griping about the air/noise/light/relaxation pollution, when we paused to admire their next trick: setting off fire lanterns. The paper forms had wire loops to which small slabs of solid white flammable material were affixed and set on fire. The bags inflated with the expansion of hot air, and when buoyant enough, floated up and away from the arms of the incendiary party. This, in case you hadn't already concluded, was the fire in the sky I had previously seen in Xiamen. While it was an endearing display of good-natured fun, most of us, already inoculated with the griping fever, could only think to complain about forest fire risk. At last they departed, leaving their trash strewn about festively, and we slumbered peacefully in our tents, rising and falling with breath-wave synchronizations.
So there you have it folks, my recent adventures. Ah, but I've made no gratuitous unrelated mention of rabbit cheese! A Peace Corps cohort mentioned rabbit cheese as a disturbing (wonderful?) idea inspired by her biomedical lab in veterinary school. They are learning about isolating the clotting agent found in rabbits' milk for use in things of Great Medical Justice and, well, Science. But what of Art, and for that matter, Crafts?! And thus I hope you will imagine with me until it is made real by cleverness or brute force, (and clap your hands please if you believe): Rabbit Cheese! (I hear moose cheese already sells for a pretty penny... marketing idea?) Speaking of marketing ideas, this is a fabulous one: http://www.aniomagic.com mentioned here because of a high Fabulousity Quotient in both the maker and her things, because many of you would do well to use these in your creations, and because I really wanted to give my support to her efforts and mention it in the same paragraph as RABBIT CHEESE.
I have made Plans(tm) still in the shaping. Let it be known that my next stop is Thailand, leaving China on July 4th! If you want to come visit me in Xiamen, that is a definite deadline (well, for this time around).
That shall conclude today's discourse. Please see me after class if you want to know if I shall make an appearance in a city near you this summer!
Groping clinging *HUGS*
P.S. So far, collecting hugs and crashing dinner parties in...
Almost Definite: Thailand, Boulder, San Jose, San Francisco, Littleriver.
Quite Likely: Sedona, Fort Collins, Dragonfest
Somewhat Possible: More China, HI, AK, Burning Man, Bolivia, Los Angeles
Vaguely Possible: NE, Dallas (SF would be better, dear), PA, DC, NY, OR, BC (see me for extra credit)