Already a memory are my visits to RL and MS, the two towns where I spent a year from 2009-'10, teaching English and studying Chinese, making homemade ice cream and running with a high school track team amongst other activities. MS is a town of rapid change, but the same is true for perhaps several thousand other towns its size. 50-60,000 reside here, with another 75,000 just 100km away, and not much lies between them. But there is talk that these two towns are poised to become the gateway to international trade, natural resources delivery, tourism on the SW corridor to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and the rest of Asia. Already, new direct flight routes have been established to Beijing, CD, and Shanghai; new roads are being built day in and day out, and new 20-story buildings line the new highways and main street of MS. Thus, this once-quaint, off-the-grid town is making a name for herself, and the goal of RL becoming a million-person city in the next ten years seems plausible, though nonetheless audacious if actualized.
MS is the town where I taught kindergartners to adult students introductory English and conversational English, accordingly. RL is the border town with Myanmar, poised for greatness, or at least the hope is held for it to become such. Golf courses line the river, duty-free Rolexes and goods line the streets by the border, salesmen ply their jade jewelry in droves, 1000's of apartment units await new owners to finish out the units with flatscreens and rice cookers and fill the garages with Audis and BMW's, a several hundred-mile pipeline is being laid to transport an unknown substance (24" diameter perhaps--any guesses?), trees four feet in diameter are trucked out of Myanmar's lush forests into the restaurants and homes of wealthy Chinese as this movement to see this city become akin to Shenzhen in the SE picks up steam.
Upon arriving in MS, familiar faces I greeted, familiar dishes I ingested, and familiar streets I strolled (is that acceptable noun/verb usage?!)...But, a few things were distinctly different. A KFC was undergoing renovation, occupying the first floor of a flashy, new 20-story building, a new temple complex was arising out of the tropical woodland atop a mountain adjacent to the existing one, and traffic more resembled downtown KC than the 3-year old memory of water buffalo and bicycles meandering through town. It was great to see many of the expats (foreigners living abroad) I came to know while there, and I also spent an evening over dinner with a former student of mine. One lady, especially appreciative of my patience and teaching style, was excited to hear I was back in town. It was a blessing to see her and her friend; though Annie’s English has improved since I’ve left, we resorted to Chinese; I had a hard time at some points understanding their inquiries, but for the most part, conversation was unhindered as we ate a 'hot pot,' which is a smorgasbord of different veggies and meat that are cooked in a boiling broth right on the table we sat at. Just so no misinformation goes forth, Annie is about 50 years old;)
The past week was full of short bursts—meals with friends, a dip in the RL River and skipping rocks with children, my first soccer game in 15 years, several basketball games that quickly reminded why I took up running instead, a couple massages which more resembled a comedy show, a Sunday gathering with families whose “quivers are full of arrows,” loading a moving truck with a friend’s possessions so they could move down to the southern tip of China near the Thai border, and a couple 12-hour overnight bus rides that epitomize the transient state of China’s residents.
And now I'll head down a rabbit trail on diet and dress; I originally wrote this just to convey a bit of what is on the minds and palates of the people here, so here's my take on it. There are a few classic dishes that have become staples in my diet, and as I've found them in about every restaurant in the southern half of the country, I'd say they're pretty popular all-around. Egg and tomato (with plenty of oil), eggplant and pork in a tasty sauce (with plenty of oil), fried pork rib pieces, creamy potatoes with chives and hot peppers, sweet and sour pork or chicken, bok choy (in plenty of oil), and last but not least, steamed dumplings or buns filled with various things…one would think that after eating the dish itself there wouldn’t be much oil left, but one can actually pour off about 1-4 oz. of oil! As most Chinese don’t consume dessert, soda, or candy, though (as they’d much rather chew on some spicy tofu or chicken feet!), I tend to think that they are, overall, fitter than the average American. But, as smoking has made incredible inroads, I wonder how that’ll effect an ever-increasingly aged population. Much has changed in this country in the past 10 years; Western fast food chains now dot every major road in big cities, NZ ice cream is not hard to find, Dove chocolate and Snickers can be found most anywhere, Coke products lag only behind green tea and cheap, light beer, and Western-style bakeries waft tantalizing aromas down many streets. As far as communication and transportation, smart phones and iPads fit the bill where radios and bicycles no longer suffice, and foreign car manufacturers are having a heyday in China currently.
Lastly, but perhaps even the biggest index of Western influence, the fashion styles and dress have made about every place in China look akin to West Hollywood…the places we’ll travel to this week out on the plateau have retained some semblance of conservative dress, but for the most part, the women in my generation and younger are into saving as much fabric for the next dress as possible! Sadly, though, that's resulted in a culture where identity and value is misplaced, easily (mis)shaped, and acceptance is thought to be gained by giving oneself away. But, may we who know the Truth be part of the wave that turns the tide to see not only the women, but moreover the men, know who they were created to be--sons and daughters of One who gives freely abundant value, endless love, faithful promises, and friendship and intimacy with others in this family to those who have gone searching to and fro to have these needs met and come up empty, wounded and disillusioned. May restoration, redemption, reconciliation, and new life spring up out of the deserts, so that out of their dry places a river of Life may run through them!