Sunday, April 6, 2008

Nice Day (of the Dead)

One of my best Chinese friends here is V, a tall, sweet, funny girl that works at an English school and lives in the city's outskirts with her mom. We'd gotten really close in January and February, and she hit it off with my beautiful little Chernobyl from the first time they met. V and Chernobe are not only good friends, but also serious study buddies-- they study Chinese and English together 3 hours a day several days a week, with the ferocity and ambition of two beautiful girls determined to prove they are better than everyone else. It's touching, really.

I got the real benefit today, however, when V invited us out to her place in the sticks for lunch-and-study (which for me just meant lunch). I'd been to her place twice before for grub, and knew that when her mom is behind the pot, shit goes down fo' real. But today's lunch was truly extraordinary--- the Dalian special, seafood hotpot. Oh yeah: we're talking clams, mussels, scallops, all manner of shellfish, plus some thin-shaved lamb meat for good measure, boiled up in some seaweed and mushroom soup, an served with a side of 馒头 and fresh tomatoes. As the Australians say: "bang on!"

The day got better; when V and Chernobyl settled down to study their eclectic potpourri of educational material (i.e. bootlegged Friends, 读者, and bad essays and prose I wrote in high school), I bid farewell and took to the mountains out behind her house.

Mountains mountains mountain, I belong forever in the mountains. Today's hike was made extra special by three seemingly coincidental facts:
1) the weather was beautiful, the blossomy warmth of spring
2) the trail I followed happened to lead me through a large mountain cemetery of close to a thousand graves
3) today just happened to be 清明节, the traditional grave-sweeping day in which Chinese families visit their ancestors and deck out their graves with lots of flowers and comestibles.

I guess the grave-visiting must be a morning affair, because when I got to the graveyard it was empty-- except for a brilliant flower-field of red, orange, yellow, and purple bouquets laid out in little bursts across the entire mountain. A stunning visual effect. As I walked closer, I saw all the food people had left for dead epicureans: fried fish and tofu, cakes and fruits of every shape and color, liquor, 露露, some candy here and there. Feasts for kings, laid out among incense and flowers and arranged carefully on the freshly swept tombs of Dalian's forefathers and mothers. (Interestingly, almost all of the gravestones listed small towns in Shandong province as the hometown of the deceased, as opposed to Liaoning province where Dalian is located; most of Dalian's population came over in boats from the Shandong peninsula some hundred years ago, which is why the local dialects of both places share so much in common).

I walked for four hours and got a long bus into town. Chernobe is at a party tonight, and so I am left to update my blog over some delicious Korean sushi-rolls (kimba, or whatever they're called) and head to the coffee shop to goof around on the internet and cast my net for chess players.

Considering the amount of graves I picked my way through, this was as bright and enlivening a day as one could hope for. It's going to be a good weekend!

Peace and feast,

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