Thursday, October 16, 2008
I've returned from 2 weeks in China, volunteering at the panda research base in Bifengxiao (which is spelled wrong, I'm sure). So what did I learn? China is as magnifent as I thought it would be. And old. The Great Wall is a sight to behold. There are alot of people. Traffic is horrendous and it's a miracle I didn't get hit with a bike or motorbike. Chengdu was my favorite city, followed by Xi'an and Ya'an. Beijing was ok, not real green and very busy.
I could say so much about our volunteer experiences with the pandas from cleaning the enclosures of the adults who watched our every move (and made their cute little panda noises), to playing with the kindergarteners (1-2 year olds) to bathing! the 60 lb 1 year olds. To have those little eyes look up at you, or have them "hold my hand" with their paw threw me over the edge of happiness. Watching a 3 week old cub pick up its head brought a sigh from all of us.
I wasn't sure if I'd have a major aaaahaaaa enlightenment moment; you know, where you go someplace hoping to find all the answers to the burning questions, or if it would be a disappointment. It was a trip full of surprises. I thought I would see more feng shui cures for sale, or baguas placed over the front door of a home. I managed to hear about a few feng shui things and never saw a bagua. Never saw anyone doing Tai Chi either which was a big disappointment because I was ready to join in. So I found a spot early in the morning in a park and stumbled through my routine.
Which brings me to ... food. Meals took, on the average, close to 90 minutes to eat. There was 10 of us, and we had a variety of dishes to taste. All dishes were placed on a large lazy susan and we spun it and took what we wanted with our chopsticks. Usually there was just enough for all of us to sample the dish. Towards the middle of the trip we placed spoons in the dishes because most of the travelers (not me) caught colds. LOL Our plates were a little smaller than a salad plate - maybe a little bigger than a saucer. Needless to say, you didn't fit much on the plate, and it always looked full. Rice was served at the end of the meal. There were no eggrolls, wonton soup, chow mein noodles or chow mein for that matter. All the food was freshly prepared with just enough sauce to flavor it. Corn and potatoes were a big staple (surprisingly to me) and were yummy. Bok choi was infused throughout the meal, as were tomatoes, bamboo, string beans and lotus. No salt on the table! Oh, and we drank beer with lunch and dinner (mostly because we were so sick of bottled water). The glasses were small juice glasses which reduced swigging it down. And by the time the rice came, you were comfortably full. Dessert? After every meal we were served thin slices of watermelon. Occasionally there were other melons on the plate but usually it was just watermelon.
So what's my point? Nothing more than what we haven't heard over and over again. Sit and savor your meals. Enjoy the company of others. Share your thoughts about the food - well, maybe we were making yummy noises only because it was different to us. But converse about pleasant things. And we would voice an opinion if something wasn't "that great". Everyone would relunctantly try that dish and either agree...or love it! Engage the senses. Have joyous conversations and look at each other instead of focusing down on your plate. Laugh. Go ahead and try using a smaller plate to help with portion control. Spice it up to bring out the flavor of foods. And try chopsticks - if you have used them, you will fine tune your skills (try rice and corn!) and if you haven't, you'll learn. There's no wrong way as long as you can get the food from dish to mouth. I'm sure my stick handling was observed as being mediocre at best. But it worked, a few kernels at a time. They will definitely help in slowing you down. Enjoy what you have termed "off limits" by having smaller quantities - use a smaller glass if you want some beer and let someone finish off the bottle. Two weeks later and my senses are still engaged. I'm still reaching out to turn a non-existent lazy susan. It took a day or 2 to get used to a fork - I'm gonna get some chopsticks. And yes, I'm using a smaller plate! (and no beer!).