Hike to Shen Xian Dong – Take One

On a hill behind Weining, there is a large temple, visible from Caohai Lake.Since we arrived here almost a month ago, we’ve wanted to hike up to it, which would probably be no more than an hour’s journey. Who knew getting there would be so difficult?

Our first attempt was about 10 days ago. We left around lunchtime, wandering through the old neighborhoods and market areas. Accustomed to shouts of “hello!” and “how do you do?” coming from giggling youth, we were a little taken back when we heard, “Hello, welcome to Weining!” We looked up to see a the smiling face of a young woman, who we were to soon learn had just graduated from a local teaching college with a degree in English. She was preparing for her first year of employment at a county primary school about three hours away.

Mooncakes. Imagine a hockey puck-sized jelly bean, covered in fig newton-like cookie. It's not as good as it sounds.

Her name is Charlotte and she invited us back to her home, which we happily accepted, as we’ve learned that friendships with English-speakers here are hard to find. During our visit, Charlotte told us about the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival, and invited us to join her family for dinner, lantern carving, moon-gazing and eating moon cakes. How could we say no?

Before leaving, Charlotte gave us a tour of her home, still under construction, including a visit to their roof terrace, where her father-in-law keeps busy with his bonsai collection. We’d spent so much time chatting with Charlotte that morning, that we had to head back to the office, vowing to hike to Shen Xian Dong soon.

While Charlotte’s father-in-law’s hobby is bonsai, her mother-in-law runs a mahjong club out of the first floor of their home. So when we returned a few days later for the festival, the main room was packed with friends, relatives and neighbors.

Mark pretends that he understands mahjong.

Dinner was a traditional Weining meal, with plates overflowing with potatoes (it’s potato harvesting time here), a half-dozen unidentifiable meat dishes (or at least half meat) and of course, pickled cabbage. I stuck to the potatoes. Most dining tables, whether in restaurants or in homes, are an interesting combination of table and wood stove. This seems like such a bad idea on so many levels, but since they’re ubiquitous in these parts, I’m interested to see how many burns we get when the weather gets cooler.

Wood stove dining table. Chimney stack not installed yet, but will likely be piped out through the window. The sunflower seed shells littering the floors are akin to peanut shells on bar floors back home.

After dinner, Charlotte carved our names, a full moon, and a few other designs, into the skin of a hollowed-out green squash, just like a Jack-O-Lantern.

Then we took to the streets to show off our lantern. Local kids were a bit stunned to see a lowai carrying a lantern around, but within minutes a crowd of kids were following him around, giggling and pointing.  The pointing didn’t bother us so much this time!

Next installment: Hike to Shen Xian Dong – Take Two.

2 responses to “Hike to Shen Xian Dong – Take One

  1. Pingback: Hike to Shen Xian Dong – Take Two | Letters To Milo

  2. Seems to be the universal norm that locals point and giggle at the lowai. Carolyn found that kids would stare and giggle in Thailand and Vietnam as well when she was sightseeing on local streets. She has a great pic of a band of young students on a field trip all gathered around her. The blonde hair gives you both away! Love the pics. Sounds like you are experiencing some great local culture. Keep writing. Love the blog.
    Love, Aunt Rosemary

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