Remembering China (Part 1)

I.  Pandas

See that panda?  Yeah, I never saw one in China.  However, that’s what I look like every morning when I wake up.  I can’t complain about that.
II.  “I Woke Up This Morning…”
I felt great this morning, and I am figuring my recent vibrant mood stems from going to the gym.  Granted, it has been two days; however, the sense of accomplishment has never been more applaudable.  I went downstairs and did the usual making breakfast (today:  English muffins and cranberry juice) and preparing lunch (PB and PBJ sammys, bag-o-pretzels and a granola bar). 
The highlight of the morning has been picking out tea.  Yes, tea.  One of my voluntary resolutions–if you so choose to call it that–is to tea more and coffee less.  It has gotten to the point where I can drink coffee socially at any time of the day, the addiction fueling me to the point where I can drink black coffee a couple hours before I go to bed, and I am not kept awake.  The only thing that keeps me is awake is anxiety.  How do I get anxiety?  Please reference the Syracuse and Providence game; my heart was racing faster than a cat’s on catnip.  
I don’t have Chinese tea, however; well, I don’t have anymore.  I have this Indian jasmine tea, which is absolutely fantastic, but we have English Twinings Tea brand for the morning caffeine punch.  I still have an episode here and there of Chinese jasmine green tea that I repeatedly had.  Of course, tea bags have a different effect than drinking tea loose. 
Like that.  No, it’s not kelp.
It’s the stuff grown here:
No, those aren’t grape vines in Sonoma.  In China, they have sake (rice wine). I utilized the parenthesis, because you’d be surprised on how many people do not know what sake is; they just order it, because they’re “cool.”
The beauty of the loose tea is that it tastes fresher and you can get multiple cups out of it, unlike the tea from the bag.  What goes in the bags are the leftover scraps.  It’s sad, but it’s true. 
As the 20-some-odd of us sat around a big U-shaped table setup, the gentleman leading the presentation–he comically referred to himself as “Dr. Tea” a few times in an attempt to install this in our heads, an ulterior motive to try to buy into this tea business–gave us each a glass with a handful of loose tea.  Next, the business magician known as Dr. Tea had his assistant come around and pour scalding water from great heights into the glass.  We then let the tea steep and the water to cool down.  The assistants poured the water from a kettle which happened to resemble a fountain on their property:

The kettle poured a perfect stream as the assistant began pouring at the mouth of our glass and finishing an arm’s length above our heads. It was actually quite entertaining.  I’ve tried this trick in front of Sarah, pouring water from the Brita into pint glasses.  Each time–yes, I’ve tried multiple times–the excitement level was at a bare minimum; and I spilled water on an occasion, resulting in my girlfriend looking scornfully at me:  a nonverbal Look what you have done!, and a verbal, “Why do you keep doing that?”  It’s a sundae, and the cherry on top is when she rolls her eyes.
I tell her the cats love it.  That’s why I do it.
With that aside, drinking tea is revitalizing.  I used to drink it during the day and at night, every day.  Unfortunately, I stopped and there is no explanation as to why.  It’ll be great to keep it up this time around. 
III.  To Visit, or Not To Visit?
This morning while I was drinking my Twinings Irish Breakfast tea, I played with the cats.  I looked at Cork and realized what a little lion he is.  Lion statues, Shishi, are commonly found in pairs, representing a male and female.  As feng shui and to symbolize the yin (female) and yang (male), initially these lions were carved from stones, such as marble, and were available to the elite.  The male lion can be seen with its right paw upon a ball, symbolizing either the world or wealth (maybe both?) and is symbolic for structure; the female has her left paw upon a playful cub and protects the individual or family. Facing out the entrance of a building, looking with the lions, the female is on your right and the male is to your left.  When looking at the building, the positioning is the opposite.
It’s the culture and stories like this that make me itch for more. 
The first time I went to China, there were very few people who seemed to think this was a great idea.  My parents thought it was a great idea and an opportunity too good to pass up.  Most of my friends thought I was crazy.  The closer it came to taking off, the more excited I became.
Looking back, there was foreshadowing in regard to my traveling to China.  It was short moment, but it sparked something in the back of my mind.  A handful of years ago, I took a train to Brooklyn to visit Cole and Becky for a few days.  The revisit has been long overdue since and I hope Sarah and I have not missed our window of opportunity.  However, while staying at Cole’s parents’ house, after speaking with his father (Don) about his worldly trips and explorations–especially Italia!–I noticed a book about China on the coffee table.  I remember looking through it, saying that China would be a great place to visit one day.
Looking back at China, again (this hasn’t been the first time), I would definitely go back again.  I cannot say I would in the very near future, but someday.  I have already promised Sarah a trip to Italia, and we already have a lot of exploring to do here in the states.  Sarah’s been to India, and she highly enjoyed it.  India is a place I had planned on visiting with intent to volunteer my time with the building of schools.  However, I had met Sarah and thought spending my time with her would be more worthwhile.  While going to Ireland, I feared she was going to meet someone else. I had already been patient during the previous months to her breakup. I didn’t want to spend a whole month away from her come December/January.
Then I lost my job.  Sarah still put up with me.  Thank God.
Sarah would enjoy China, however. She’s cool like that.
Going somewhere like China, I feel a second visit is necessary.  The culture shock is so immense, you don’t know what to do with yourself.  You need a second visit to pick up things you have missed.  The atmosphere, as populated as the country may be, is pristine and quaint.  It’s a country with a lengthy timeline and a fascinating culture.  Being present, you are as shocked to see as many Asians, as the Asians are shocked to see an American (let alone a few dozen).  Being pale and tall as myself, they did not miss an opportunity to take a picture with me in awe.  I think there are pictures of me with one Asian gentleman: one where we are looking at the camera and another when I am looking down at him, comparing statures. 
The latter picture is somewhere in Beijing, framed and on some family’s mantle. 
III.  City Life
In Shanghai, I was able to take a moment and explore the city by myself.  Daytime was the best time to roam around the city.  The guy I was paired up with, a gentleman who people thought was my father–my response time correcting others on the trip went from quick and snippy to slow and sarcastic, or vice versa–put on his rebel cape and ventured out in Beijing one night in search for a battery.  This was the last night in Beijing. 
I knew he was going to come back with a story.  The very first night was a nice blind date. I learned that this less-than-fit individual (be nice…) liked to sleep in nothing but his tightie whities.  Secondly, he gave me a gift: earplugs, because he had been told he is quite the snorer. Numerous times he got up to use the facilities, turning on his flashlight and/or the bedroom lights, waking me up.  After the toilet was deemed “clogged,” room mate turned on the lights and paged the front desk. When the attendant arrived, I learned room mate a) did not know how to say “shitter’s full” in Chinese, b) proved that speaking really loud and slow does not  automatically translate easily into Chinese, c) Americans are loving their fast-food-restaurant diet, and d) great first impressions are made by answering the door in nothing but the tightie whities you have been wearing since you left America and sitting in during the 13-hour plane ride. 
No, room mate is not a friend on Facebook.
So, it’s the final Beijing night and the room mate goes out in search of batteries.  He comes back with a big grin on his face.  I knew something was afoot.  I asked him, What?  Room mate tells me he was propositioned.  My jaw dropped.  Really, I say.  I wanted to make numerous jokes, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to express the desperation of either party involved in the proposition.  I wanted to say the economy wasn’t that terrible.  
(Be nice…)
Okay, okay.  Aside my going out with one night and having a blast at Cloud 9 bar and then our group getting kicked out of the soon-to-be-learned exclusive bar atop the world’s tallest building (the one in Dubai was still under construction), I didn’t make it a point to be a night owl.  All the food consumed put me in a self-induced coma of satisfaction.
I did go out during the day in Shanghai.  It was an overcast day, but I needed to clear my head while taking in more culture to bring the meter to “full.”  I saw many inhabitants of the city staring at me, as if I was crazy.  They hadn’t seen Anthony Bourdain in a while and realized I was an impostor.  There was one guy riding one of the many bicycles, but a large television was strapped to the back.  

Another tourist apparently had the same idea I did.  Tourists, I tell ya, getting pictures that expose the illustration of culture shock.
I did go to the market.  The odors ranged:  grilled food, fresh produce, fish, chicken.  The sights:  chicken in cages, fresh produce and other foods, fish heads.  The sounds:  yelling Chinese consumers, squawking chickens, more yelling Chinese customers.  However, they were all about the tall American and they tried selling me things.  I had no idea what they said, so I smiled and walked away.  I could have returned to America with a Chinese Chicken.
Shucks! (snaps fingers)
To be continued…

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