Saturday, 8 November 2008

The "bake"

One of the students prefers to "pose" for photos.

The eating continues.

Trying to cut the beef with a blunt knife.

Waiting for the hot coals.

The area for the "bake" - and one of the many chickens.

It might take me several posts to tell this story. On Thursday some students invited me to go with them to Lanting. I had been to Lanting before, but did not know that there were two parts to it. I was about to discover the other part to it.

They asked me to invite another foreign teacher which I did, but she declined as Saturday is our sleep in day, and we were required to be at the West Gate at 7.40 am. So I agreed to go alone.

There were several text messages between me and the student, and on the Friday night I went out with a group of foreign teachers (I'll report on that, later) and left my cellphone back at my apartment on the charger.

When I arrived "home' I looked to see if there was a message, and sure enough there was. It read "Teacher, I am Ellen. Sorry. I put off the time on the sunday. Because it will rain heavily in tomorrow morning. The food will be prepared. And there are two another English teachers going with you. Ok? I will phone you with the detail time."

It was 11 pm. Too late to phone her, but I assumed that the "bake" to which I had been invited had been postponed. She will let me know when it is on. It has been raining heavily for several days, so a postponement was not out of the question on weather grounds.

So when I awoke in the morning, I wandered around doing a few things of little importance in my apartment , and made my usual "instant porridge" and was about to eat when the phone rang.

"Dianna, where are you. The bus is here."

"We are waiting for you."

"OMG. Er, I'll hurry."

So I raced into the shower, ate some of my breakfast, dressed, and raced out of the door all within 15 minutes. And ran to the West Gate.

There the whole class of nearly 40 students was sitting in a bus waiting for me. They had hired a bus (which as it turns out had been late.)

So in the pouring ran, we travelled to Lanting. When I arrived, I saw it was different to where I had been before, but apparently the part that I had been - the more famous part - was close by.

We trekked for a while past lakes, picnic areas, through beautiful forests. Apparently tigers used to roam there, but I am assured that there are none now, just venomous snakes, but I think the cold and wet would keep them in their holes. Along the way, one of the students gave me a gift. An extra ordinary gift as it turns out. She asked "Do you know Edwin Mayer?" Of course, I do. Despite the fact that my TV seldom works, I do know him as the guy from Australia (who was a newsreader in Victoria for the ABC) who is the newsreader/anchor man for CCTV9 in Beijing. It is the only English TV station here.

She handed me a book, written by Edwin, called "My China Daily" which chronicles his struggles with the language and culture when he came to China, which is a collection of stories from his column in the China Daily. In a strange way the gift was going to have a greater impact on me that either of us realised, although I suspect she may well have read it and knew.

Eventually we came to an area beside a lake. There were cement tables with tiled tops with holes in them. Little bench seats surrounded the tables. There was much confusion, chaos and loud shouting until we eventually sat down in our "families" I think we would say "groups" but that is OK. I didn't count the girls, but there were three of the four boys in the class with the girls.

Shortly a piece of paper was thrust into my hands - with Chinese characters and English as it turned out. I had to choose what food I wanted. It included pigs gizzards, duck tongue, and dog meat. All of those I said I would not eat, but at the end of the day I have an inkling that at least some of that passed my lips! Not the dog, hopefully!

Soon the girls brought trays to the table with two awful looking wooden handled pastry brushes, a small stainless steel bowl with oil, and another with spices and a dozen or so metal skewers. Soon there were trays of meat - chicken wings and legs, a slab of what they said was beef, which we all had turns at trying to cut with a knife that was so blunt that we couldn't make much headway. The meat had an unpleasant odour about it - it was not as fresh as I would have liked!

Shortly after a man came with a pole across his shoulders and hanging from each end was a box of burning charcoal. Each box was carefully placed in the hole in the table, a metal frame was placed over it, and we all sat around and started the cooking process. Each table had two boxes of coal, and we had to fan the coals to keep them going initially. I was surprised that each group had a supply of flattened boxes that they used for fans. Soon another tray of food came with octopus, prawns, and other strange small pieces of meat on skewers. There were buns, and cobs of corn, and more chicken.

I helped - in fact we all played a role in cooking the food and then putting it on the top of the rack so people could take it if they wished. There was so much food - typically the Chinese people tend to get more than they can possibly eat.

We had a lot of laughs doing it, as we played with the fire to keep it going. The man returned with other pieces of charcoal to add to the fire later on.

Meanwhile other groups of students had joined us - two or three other colleges with their groups somehow fitted under the roof, and all prepared and cooked their "bake" just as we had done.

The rain continued, several dozen "chooks" or chickens ran in and out of our legs picking up what ever fell to the ground, and there were groups of girls attached to MP3/4 Players, others on their mobile phones, and others still cooking and having loads of fun. This continued for about 4 hours. Students were still eating, and the rain certainly restricted any outdoor activity.

Eventually though the cooking and eating was over. I think for an hour of this I was the most photographed blonde in all China, as students had photos taken of me with them. Some silly photos when I was getting sick of it and hammed it up for the cameras.

The mess left behind was awful. The tables and floor underneath were littered with food scraps, paper, corn cobs. I said "Aren't we going to tidy up or clean?" "No, the waiter does it." It seems that the staff at the establishment clean up all the rubbish.

Next it was back along the path that we had travelled previously, but this time we trekked in another direction, which was past more buildings, more lakes, more groups of students having their "bake", two restaurants and lots of people and chickens.

Soon we came to the inevitable steps - slippery stone steps reaching high into the forest. With a wry smile I continued with the students being very careful where I placed my feet on the slippery moss covered steps. We hadn't gone far, when one of the students announced she was tired. Too tired to walk. Then someone reminded us of the departure time by the bus, so we decided to return to the bus area. Thankfully!

So back down the slippery steps - but this time we had to "share" the step with umbrella wielding students from another group coming the other way. I was pleased to arrive safely at the bottom of the steps!
We slowly wandered back to the bus place, but our bus wasn't there, so it was time for more photos and this time a young man who was nearby took the photo of us all. Soon the bus arrived and we were all on our way back.

We had a sing-song on the bus, and students sang "Click go the Shears" in Chinese. For me. The song that had so impessed Edwin Mayer when he first heard it sung by a Chinese family in Beijing.

They are such an amazing bunch of young people and despite the rain I had a wonderful time.

I am still confused about the text message that I thought was "postponing" the event.

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