First thing's first: we had a great weekend with different folks coming in to see Lee while he's still here. It was really good to meet a lot of the Westerners that Lee's had a chance to get close to. Talking openly was really encouraging--and three of the people, including a young couple around my age, only live two or three hours away. We went to the zoo, played some Phase 10, chatted and told a lot of stories. It was pretty awesome.
Yesterday, Lee and I went to a village. The people there said we're probably the first foreigners to ever go there, which is a pretty crazy thought. We went to visit the home of a high school student that we're friends with. The father kept trying to get Lee to market this thing in America--it's essentially a dried caterpillar attached to a stick, and you're supposed to eat the whole thing and it makes you strong. It was funny, though--at first they said it was a plant. And I said, "Wait, is that a caterpillar?" And our friend said, "In winter, it is caterpillar. In summer, it is plant." Hm. Hm. In any case, the man gave Lee some samples even though he tried to turn them down, so I think we may fear-factor them sometime this weekend.
We had a good time hanging out there, though. People grow corn, wheat, and potatoes out there, and the whole area was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen--huge hills, covered with the deepest shade of green. It was worth the stomach problems that resulted from our lunch there.
Last night we hung out with a friend's family, and afterwards I went for a late-night walk. It's been cold here, and it's a great feeling to be bundled up against it. I was surprised at how eventful the walk was. First I met two Muslim women in a store on the riverfront. We had a very halting, difficult conversation in Chinese for a couple of minutes before they asked me what I do. I said it's difficult to say, and one of them says in perfect English, "In English." And I said that my job was to mail things out for my boss, and they understood perfectly, when I'd been struggling over how to say that I work here.
I met another guy whose invitation I declined to go into a karaoke bar. I met a Muslim who felt like he should be anti-American (which is rare) that I had a short conversation with that ended very well. And I was called over to a table of people, half of whom were drunk, and I sat and talked with them for a few minutes (fairly unsuccessfully). Because they were a little far gone, they were talking very quickly and slurring, so not much actual conversing occurred.
And overall, it was just kind of a good time to be alone in the city. I arrived home feeling very refreshed.