Travel Destination No. 1:
As I sit here munching on puffed corn, candied orange peels, and slices of processed American cheese, I would like to tell you about my first planned trip. I am planning to go to the Nujiang (Salween River) valley with some friends in early October. The Salween River Valley in northwestern Yunnan is a rugged, rural area that runs parallel to two other major Asian rivers - the Mekong and Yangtze. These rivers originate in northwest Yunnan, but are separated from each other by large mountain ranges. Only one road goes up the Nujiang Valley, and there is no road that connects the Salween to the rivers east of it... you'd have to drive around the entire mountain range to reach the Mekong. The area around the Salween is rain forest, but on the other side of the mountains, only several miles away, the land is dry and arid. It's one of the most diverse geographic regions on the planet. If you're interested in learning more, check out this site:
"The Second-Hand Market"
In an effort to expand my Chinese horizons, I went to the second-hand market yesterday with some foreign friends.
Holding a live scorpion
I was originally attracted to the medicine vendor on the market floor by the smell - a mixture of dead snakes and medicinal herbs - and arrived to find a crowd of people listening to a sales pitch. The man had positioned himself behind two buckets full of live scorpions, with rows of six-foot long dead snakes in the foreground (some were delightfully chopped in half with their entrails oozing out). It turns out he was selling medicinal scorpion juice. At first, I was skeptical of the product ("put in on your throat! your toothache! three minutes, it's gone!"). Then the man popped a live scorpion in his mouth and ATE IT, and I decided he must be absolutely nuts. He just bit into a little white scorpion and munched on it like popcorn, complete with a crunching sound.
Eventually, however, even I was converted into a believer:
To my horror, the man pulled out a knife, waved it around, and then sliced his forearm. Not just a little knick - there was BLOOD running down the KNIFE and all over his arm. The guy just grinned, poured on some scorpion juice and some tissue paper, and said, eyes sparkling, "ok! wait five minutes!"
Like I was going anywhere. I stood there with my hand over my mouth, glued to the ground.
Five minutes later, he pulled away the paper and there was barely a mark on his arm. Trying not to throw up, I pulled out some money and bought some scorpion juice. It's going directly into my first aid kit.
"The Pitter Patter of Little Feet"
Those who know me are probably aware of the fact that children and I do not always mix. Don't get me wrong - I adore the kids I babysit for back home, as well as my little cousins, and I love watching them grow up. But... some kids are not cute, and I am not that girl who dreams of teaching kindergarten and having eight of my own bundles of joy one day.
Knowing this, I am a little nonplussed at how to react to Chinese children. The other day I was drinking my coffee and reading at a local coffee shop, when I sensed someone watching me. I looked up and found that a small boy was hovering eight inches from my face, staring at me. I have no idea how long he had been there, but he was glued to the floor, staring at me like I had a horn growing out of my forehead. When we made eye contact, he appeared terrified and ran away. I was actually a little sad that I scared him.
Here's another example... I like to go running in China - it's a great way to see the city. It seems, however, that children are fascinated by the specter of a tall, awkward, foreigner bouncing through the crowded sidewalks. They usually point at me and yell, "foreigner!" in Chinese. Sometimes they run alongside me for a few hundred feet and try to keep up (which is not hard to do). Although I know I stand out here, it's still awkward getting that kind of attention.
Last note on children: While some children are adorable, this is not: the large number of children I see defecating on sidewalks and the edges of streets. This seems socially acceptable and widely practiced, but is something I have a hard time accepting. It's a shocking thing to round a corner and find... well, I'm sure you can imagine what it looks like.
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