Wednesday morning (1/25/17) was a bright an early morning for my family and I. From Phoenix to San Francisco to Beijing to Taiyuan (t AY-y uu-aa n), the overall the flying experience was about 25 hours total with the layovers and flights. On the twelve hour flight to Beijing, every passenger, except for seven passengers, were all Chinese. Due to the Chinese New Year everyone was going home to their families. For me, I slept most of the time and when the food would come around for meals, I would make sure to be awake.
I was sitting in between two gentlemen, the one to the left of me didn’t talk, only tapped me when he wanted out. The gentleman to the right of me was super nice, his name was Andy, we talked a little but the topic of our conversation was mainly focused on College. We finally arrived in Beijing and the airport was packed with people traveling for the New Year, the funny thing about the airport that I recall the most was the music because they were playing was Christmas music.
Sadly the first meal for me was McDonald’s. We were stuck in the Beijing airport for seven hours, and it was the cheapest place we could find, so we ate some fries and a mcflurry. The airport was still running with life at 8:30pm, as people tried finding their flight to their homeland family cities.
We arrived in Taiyuan at 12am and were the only Americans on the flight. We hopped on a transport/shuttle to the get to the plane that was taking us to Taiyuan, everyone was confusingly looking at us because we were foreigners going on a plane to Taiyuan…and Taiyuan never gets foreigners. Finally getting off in Taiyuan, the airport was completely dead. We were picked up and taken to our apartment and may I say that the driving in China is nothing like it is at home.Our driver was literally driving on the dividing line between the lanes and stopping right in the middle of the road, luckily there was no one else on the road. When we finally arrived at our apartment it was 1:30am and we were all beyond exhausted. Although extremely exhausted and worn out from all the travel, we managed to stay up an extra three hours talking to the other Americans that were already here and unpacked our things.
So now we arrive to Friday, and you may be wondering where did Thursday go? Well, since China is fifteen hours ahead of us we lost Thursday during all of the flying and layovers. The apartment we are in is very “westernized”, yet there are some modifications to be noted. For heating we have pipes that go underneath the flooring that heats up the apartment, if we want hot water for showers, we have a heater for water that we have to turn on thirty minutes before we take a shower, the toilets have a button for pee and poop, and no they aren’t squatty potties in our apartment. Also to be noted, the beds are just wooden boards with a thin mattress and a comforter with a rice pillow, they are ok/so-so to sleep on but you have to sleep on your back because if you sleep on your side, you will get bruises. We live on the 24th floor (out of 29), so the view is pretty nice.
Friday we had the opportunity to sleep in and see the “Star Outlook” facilities, the building that we are going to teach at. We were then picked up by James (a Chinese national associated with Star Outlook), and we were going to spend the next few days with his parents and grandma (host family), at his grandma’s house in the country. The village was called Nan Shen Tou. So the house we stayed at was more traditional (a typical small town home) than the city. They had the traditional red door way, with the wall that gives protection to the home. An interesting fact about that (the wall), is that if the homes don’t have a wall then it is not a good house to enter into…according to James. Another fact is that for the New Year they put up red paper around the sides of the doorway for protection and good luck, and another interesting element is that for the house we stayed in had purple paper on the doorway. If you have someone that died then for the first New Year without them, you put nothing up on the doorway then for the next three years you put up purple paper and the fifth year after their death you go back to red paper signifying the end of the grieving. The grandfather had died two year ago so they had the purple paper surrounding the door ways. James showed us around the house, he showed us the different gods that they worship and invited us to come to the house every New Year. The most important God is Toudi, he protects the land, and makes it prosperous. James showed us the stack of coal that they burn to signal the Buddhas to come to their house, and he showed us the bathroom, which is just a hole in the ground with wooden planks over it to stand on. When we met the grandma she was so excited because we were the first foreigners she had ever seen in real life (seriously though…the first outsiders they’ve ever seen), she had seen white people on television but was so excited to see us in person, considering that she was eighty seven years old that was a real honor.
That night we learned how to make dumplings, ate a tone of food, and watched a little bit of the New Year show. And since we were all tired we did some fireworks, which were in my opinion, a little out of control. They had some that just shot into the sky and others that were connected in a long chain that exploded crazily and were supper loud. We couldn’t stay up till midnight since we were all extremely tired so we went to bed earlier than normal.
Fireworks literally were going off all night forcing me completely awake at 5:30 in the morning. At 6am they lit the pile of coal to signal the Buddhas that they are ready for them to light their way to their house.
We went to bed, and when we awoke we went and ate breakfast. They had the dishes set up in a special way to show respect, four bowls in the middle with plates surrounding them. Also they do what’s called a doubled bang; they do three bangs before every meal to tell the Buddhas that they are eating and to invite them into the house as they eat. During breakfast we ate some dumpling and five of them had coins in them, I was lucky to find one after eating over twenty of them. A while after breakfast we walked around the village saying “guo nian hao”, which means happy New Year, to the other villagers. We then made our way through the village to the back of the highest point where a Buddhist temple stands. The temples name was Guo Shan, which was in the process of being rebuilt because during Mao’s reign he had all the Buddhist temples destroyed, and slowly the villagers were rebuilding them one by one.
The next day we had the opportunity to go to the Shi Gu temple, located on the Tianyan mountain. This temple is dedicated to the minister who was loyal. The legend goes along the lines of how he had saved a poor and starving village by cutting the meat out of his leg to feed the people, and how he left the city when the other ministers had become liars. He hid himself in a mountain and the emperor wanted him back in his city, he didn’t want to come out so the emperor burnt the mountain, killing the minister inside it. The temple had three sections to it, one section is for the minister wherein the walls had three shelves one dedicated to hell, another earth, and the top shelf to Heaven. The second to the gods who granted wishes with having kids (the lady gods), money, and one to give thanks to (the main female and male Buddha). The third section was for the big Buddhas, which were still under construction.
It was so cold that we had to quickly leave because phones were shutting off and our hands/faces were turning purple and red. We went to a warmer place, and that place happened to be KTV, which is basically karaoke. We had so much fun; James sang a song for us, along with his dad and mother. James told us that the Chinese usually sing one at a time, and everyone sits down and watches, whereas the Americans were dancing and singing together. That night we ate at Jame’s Aunt’s restaurant (she also owned the KTV), as we ate our meal so many people were glaring at us, so we opened the window to look outside and there were people staring at us, so we waved and they got all giddy.
Monday was an odd day because I woke up with a major toothache and I couldn’t eat, so for the morning I sat in my room drinking water, waiting for the medicine I took to kick in. The courtyard was clean, and James told me that the reason they clean the mess on the third day was because it means now other family members can come and visit. Later that day we drove to the mother’s family to have dinner with them. There were a lot more family members! I learned yet another interesting fact that they always eat the cold food first, then the hot food. We talked with those that new English and then took a lot of pictures. We made our way back home, took a shower, and got some sleep.