First of all, with the last story, there was one thing that I failed to mention. The first two foreigners in the city, we sat down for a meal in a small village home on a hill in the middle of nowhere, and while we were eating, they put on... Michael Jackson music videos. And then the English channel, a special on metalworking or something. It was really sweet that they were trying to make us feel at home.
I also figured out what it was that they were trying to get Lee to market. Actually Meg was right in her comment--it's called chongcao, and it's a type of caterpillar that burrows into the ground. Then spores of a fungus essentially find it and burrow into its head, mummifying the caterpillar alive. At one point in the spring, the fungus grows out of the ground as an iridescent blue stick, and it's pulled out with the caterpillar still attached. No one's really sure of what type of relationship the fungus and caterpillar have--the jury is out on a lot of things related to this phenomenon, but people think it's really crazy healthy, so they're sort of expensive.
Since the last time I wrote, things have been really busy with trying to finish meeting Lee's friends and see everyone one last time. On Thursday night we had dinner with my boss's family and two women from Finland doing linguistics fieldwork for Helsinki University, studying the dialects of the people in our area. One of them studied Chinese for a year in a city that I've been to several times, so it was fun to chat and hear about how it's changed.
On Friday the two girls who visited at the beginning of the month came back through. The day before, I'd actually found a crock pot at a supermarket there, and I was excited about the chance to use it to make Apple Chicken stew. Well, I bought everything, and managed to get everything ready just in time to leave for lunch. I turned it on high, and we ran out.
Well, the thing is, the crock pot had had a hole in the lid. I'd duct taped it, engineer that I am, since most of them in the states don't have that. But then I was thinking--am I sure it's a crock pot? It could be a rice cooker. Which would actually make more sense. I asked Lee, and he confirmed that, in fact, neither of us read Chinese. So we have no idea. Luckily, even though I still don't know what it is, when we went back later we discovered that it can indeed function as a crock pot, regardless, and the stew turned out to be pretty delicious alongside Lee's famous mashed potatoes. The girls brought homemade cookies and brownies, and it was just lovely. As one of our courses we actually had the mummified-caterpillar fungus, which I have to admit I did not expect to actually eat.
We had a good night playing Imaginiff and just talking, and then on Saturday we traveled with them to a Tibetan village that sits at 10,500 feet above sea level. I thought I was high at 5,500, but there I got winded after walking maybe a hundred yards. I had met two people there that I wanted to see again, and a friend of mine also started a Western restaurant in this city that we wanted to visit. And it was just so wild--these people we stayed with have no running water in their house, they don't take showers or brush their teeth, and they love it. And they're amazing, hilariously sarcastic people, around my age. We played Skip Bo and watched The Office on their kong. Good times.
We also got to have some great pizza and yakburgers (he calls them "Big Yaks"). And the rides there and back were through some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It's like at every turn you see a different postcard.
But now? To the big city, and then America.