Independence Day 2009 – China

Independence Day is over, but the celebration could not have involved a more well rounded perspective.

We had planned a BBQ, not quite all-American, but darn close.  We contracted with a local ‘chuar’ guy, these are the guys who cook meat on a stick along the street, and he agreed to move it set up to our apartment complex where he’d cook for us and our party.  Sweet! and he’d bring the beer too, in little kegs.  Double Sweet!  He was going to bring three tiny kegs.  Triple Sweet!  I had spent my morning in a confused haze of sickness from the meal the night before.  Alexi’s going away meal.  Someone opened a bottle of “biegeio” (spelling) and then I ended up ordering something on the order of 5 more bottles.  Needless to say I was feeling very rotten the whole day after a long night of vomiting.  Plus I woke up in a different city… but that’s a different story.

Overcoming the sickness through sparse sleep, bits of food, and lots of water, at about 5 o’clock I was ready to start this shin-dig.  7 PM arrived and so did a grip of guests, but still no chuar man, unfortunately.  So I walked over to meet him and without much trouble he was at the apartment and cooking.  Once the beers were poured and the meat was on the table we felt invincible, it was wonderful.  Friends, BBQ, nice summer evening.  You couldn’t ask for more.  It was delightful!  It reminded me so much of what the 4th of July is like at home.  Problem free.  After folks were fed we debuted the American Flag and everyone toasted.  HOORAH!

Then, I was reminded why we celebrate the 4th.  We take time out to acknowledge our freedom to live different lives from our neighbors.  The freedom to not go to work on a monday.  The freedom to have a party and the freedom to get angry when someone else has a party.  And in the All-American sense of Freedom, we had our party and someone else got upset.  Expected.  Dan did a wonderful job of mitigating trouble early in the night and we moved ourselves along nicely, making sure not to make too much racket, avoiding loud songs and shouting, and we only played the national anthem 4 times, but it too was really soft.  However, at about 9:30 without our fireworks (Which are sadly still in the packaging) there was a massive explosion and it was all in Chinese.  Ting Bu Dong – I kept drinking my beer.  But it was impossible to ignore, so minutes later we were all (35 people) involved.

Neighbors, not happy with our trodding upon the grass-lands, not happy with our gathering of foreigners, not happy with our consumption of alcohol and pork, and not happy with the American flag set-up, made it their goal to relay their frustration.  The message came loud and clear as a tall chinese man wearing a very bright white suit, appeared in the dusk and began screaming at everyone present.  Because it was Chinese I felt the freedom to ignore most of it, however, the bulk of our friends are Chinese and they all understood.  A wide division surfaced and half the party made moves to ‘discuss’ the problem with the upset parties while the other half made a whole-hearted retreat.  The BBQ was over.  I was a bit sad.  I put the flag back upstairs into safety, and briefly contemplated securing the Chinese flag to the pole and unveiling it, but some sort of better sense came over me (I think here Dan would exclaim some sort of miracle occurred) and I left it alone.  Against my better judgement, but with the wishes of the majority of our friends we walked into the street, leaving our BBQ man behind to deal with our mess.  Behind our neighbor continued to yell and scream.  It was going on 10:30.  Out the front gates we enjoyed some ice cream, U.S.A. and a great deal of loitering, U.S.A. however it was eventually clear to each of our guests, that the party was over and one by one they hailed cabs and drove home.  Dan and I and a couple of close friends stayed to pick up the pieces, but were quite shocked when the pieces had turned into shards and smashed to bits.

After the party left, our BBQ man and his team (essentially his family) hurried to clean things up, they stacked chairs, put away food, and scurried as fast as they could, as the tall man in the white suit was becoming more and more irate.  Many of the neighbors and our friends relayed their fear.  I think in the states we call this assault.  A tricycle flatbed was called over to move the gear and before it was loaded up, tires were slashed and the family was chased out of the complex.  Their chairs and tables were then taken and locked away and the cool evening turned bitter cold.  It began to rain.  About half an hour later Dan and I were led back into the apartment complex with Arena, our friend from school who graciously helped to set the whole party up.  We found many police cars had arrived and there was still quite the argument boiling, this time, however, at the public fountain.  Dan and I took a seat behind some parked cars while Arena approached the trouble and began to sort through the mess.  Half hour later, the BBQ man’s brother, an individual we had drank with on a previous night when we had first contracted with the BBQ man, was there and he was a police officer.  SWEET!  It took him about five minutes to tell us he’d fixed the problem and things would be okay, the next half hour was spent publicly humiliating and disparaging the residents of our neighborhood as ignorant and evil people where only one third are honest and good.  I was embarrassed.  We paid our BBQ man 700 RMB for the event, apologized deeply, and said good night.  Dan and I walked up stairs, congratulated each other on the event and apologized to each other for the trouble then went to bed.

The next morning I read a slew of messages from friends thanking me for the party, celebrating the invitation to such an event, and in general hailing the Fourth of July as a wonderful holiday.  I feel it couldn’t be closer to the truth.  Friends and enemies gathered, we celebrated and shared our heritage with many people (including the Brits.) and we both accepted and refuted new ideas in a general sense of discussion and openness, like shouting.  I hope our friends and neighbors are bold enough to not hold the ‘culture’ responsible for the actions of the individuals within it and can wait to pass judgment.  I believe it’s possible.

– With that said, I’m a bit peeved the guy shouted so much, I would have offered him a beer, but I think that was part of the problem.  :)

Finally two knobs in the shower!

10 hours of travel and three buses over, we´re off the farm (the farthest south we shall go on this journey) and in the third largest city in Ecuador, Cuenca. After almost three weeks of lying about, gardening, hiking, and building a bridge, we´re ready for some new sites and sounds and panama hats!

Back in time …..

* Fell a tree – stuck myself in the head with a 4 inch spine – head ache. Milked the cows – roped the cows – grabbed the bull by the horns – drew a diagram – made butter, buttermilk, sour cream, and cheese. Rode the horse – walked the horse – on the school bus – went to school – taught some English – drank with the local ´on duty´ police officer – taught more English – explained a Beatles song to 40 Ecuadorians – said the alphabet over and over again – Dos Jhons make a presence. Remembered my Boy Scout lashings – strained my back – finished the bridge. Ran out of gas – started cooking on open flame – rain – made more bread – salty bread – it´s hard tack – ´it IS nice to have a fire in the morning!**´. Packed up – cleaned up – enjoyed some cane wine with Hans – said good bye – off the farm.

To Cuenca!

The ride from Loja took us up into the southern highlands of Ecuador through rolling hills and had it not been for my ears consistent whining, the increase in altitude would have gone unnoticed. The countryside is an amalgamation of sights, smells, and sounds… I suppose such is any experience… just go with me on this one… For a bus ride it was remarkable. We passed pristine pastures, sheep, pine trees, adobe buildings next to wood sided ones next to piles of block, next to the beginnings of a new structure next to a pile of muck, workers roping cows and children chasing sheep. Every new valley had new sights and every climb out had new turns and exciting swerves and curves. ¨Gracias!¨ signaled the stop where we make a passenger drop. After 6 hours of travel we dipped into our last valley and saw only the lights of the large sprawling city. A cab ride from the bus depot to ´downtown´ via one ways, through narrow streets, and over cobblestone roads helped to make the city seem smaller than it really is. Consulting our Lonely Planet we identified a number of hostels and concluded we would do our own reviews. We soon dropped our things and went in search of some milk and Oreo cookies to accompany our television, separate mattress covered beds and quiet quarters, our reward for the long day of travel. With the church bells in the morning we woke up to the joy of the first left knobbed*** shower since leaving the states.

Nescafe and Jugo has got us ready for the day. The city is alive this morning.


* In the style of the writing of Kon Tiki – a book I´ve recently begun to read and finish (you should pick up a copy from your local library)

** Jon spent the better part of 2 frustrated hours trying to get a decent fire going… we needed hot water for coffee! As soon as fire was indeed produced (and what a fire it was!) Tina (freshly arisen from bed) strolls up casually behind us and says “It IS nice to have a fire in the morning, isn´t it?” Like King Edward IV telling his lovely maid, Lucy, “It is nice to have serfs, isn´t it!” as he enjoyes his fresh cheese and turkey.

***look at your shower at home and tell me what the left one does.