Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pied Pipers

(Stories first for the curious; pictures at the end for the rest of you.)

Ever since we arrived here in Haiyuan, we have been attracting stares, giggles, and photo requests.  The first day we walked to school (10 foreigners in a town that only rarely sees foreigners), it was as momentous as if a giant marching band made entirely of monkeys was dancing down the street.  Traffic was slowing down just to get a look at us.

By now most of the people and on our regular route to school seem to have gotten used to us walking down the road looking all strange and foreign.  In the past couple of days, some of them have gotten up the courage to ask for a photo as we go by, which invariably leads to a 10-minute stop where more and more family members and passersby get dragged into each successive photo.  This is great for us because we want to take pictures too, and so everyone is happy.

The people here have been unbelievably friendly and welcoming.  Yesterday I stopped in the copy shop to make a few copies, and the husband and wife who run the shop immediately sat me down, cut up a melon, and pulled up a chair.  That's never happened to me anywhere else in China.  I stayed for awhile and had a nice time telling them over and over how cute their baby was.

This weekend is a much-needed time of rest after a full week of teaching.  A few foreign teachers and I decided to go for a walk to explore our neighborhood.  One place we wanted to see up close was the mosque not far from our hotel, from which we sometimes can hear the call to prayer.  As we were standing on the street admiring the mosque, a crowd of men coming out the entrance saw us and pulled us into the yard.

Once inside we saw dozens of tables set up in the shade and many Muslim families eating together.  Groups of men in their round white caps were standing or sitting in various places around the yard.  As soon as we came in, our magnetic foreign-ness attracted a dozen or so curious people to come talk with us.

They encouraged us to go take a look at the mosque itself, so we walked up the steps and then sent my teammate Larry (the only man with us today) for the full tour.  I wasn't at all dressed for a mosque visit and even though men and women alike were telling us it was okay to go in, I thought it would be more polite to stay outside.  I stood on the steps and took photos with some of the ladies.

Then we decided it was time to go.  Not so fast!  A couple of English-speaking guys had commandeered Larry and wanted him to meet the imam (an older man who had been surveying all of the excitement from a second-story balcony).  So Larry went off to meet the imam and a few ladies literally pushed us over to the tables to go eat something.

Four bowls of noodles and mutton were placed in front of us, as a curious crowd of at least 30 men and boys (and a few women) watched us ply our chopsticks.  I was able to talk with them in Chinese, and although I didn't catch everything, I did find out that we had come on a special celebration day -- it was the grand opening of this building.  That's why so many people were there and why they had prepared a meal for all the families.  The man told me that 5000 people would come to the mosque that day.

By this time we had been there for forty-five minutes or so and were looking to make a graceful exit.  They asked us to stand in front of the mosque for a photo so they could show people that the building was so wonderful that even foreigners wanted to come take a look.  As we left, we thanked them for their hospitality and friendliness.  "We are all brothers," said one man in English.

The whole time we were there I kept saying to my friends, "I will never, never forget this day."  It's really something to be welcomed so warmly by a crowd of strangers whose community celebration we just blindly got pulled into, especially when we were probably making cultural and religious blunders left and right.

Then we turned our attention to further exploration of the neighborhood.  A few minutes of walking took us to a large market area, where the stares and curiosity continued.  It's always fun to explore a Chinese market, and we certainly had a nice, sunny day to be outside.  Three boys from the mosque followed us from a distance the whole time we were in the market.

I'm sure not everyone loves us, and some people probably resent our presence or wish we wouldn't wander around acting like tourists and taking photos of everything.  But I haven't really gotten that feel from anyone yet.  For the most part, we seem to be giving people a lot of joy simply by showing up, being foreign, and smiling at everyone we see.

After the market we went home to the hotel.  I rested at home for awhile, and then I got a haircut.  Soon we're going out for meat-on-a-stick.

A great Saturday in China?  Absolutely.

Road near the edge of town.  I never see a sky that clear in Shandong!

The mosque

The building itself, after we'd walked into the yard

Larry and his crowd

Families eating under the tents and others just hanging out

Photo shoot on the stairs

A new friend

More of the eating area

Barrel full of watermelon

My teammate Carrie and our crowd of onlookers

All these people, and many more, watched us eat

The man on the right is one of the trainees in our teaching program this summer.  He was explaining some things in English.

Some of the kids who were sitting behind me

More kiddos

The entrance to the market

Larry & hat

More of the market.  In the foreground are some of the blue hats some of the ladies wear.


This lady came right over when she saw us walking by and tried to convince her little boy to wave at us.  It took some coercion.

The lady and her boy

I saw this lady selling oil (or something) from these barrels, and I liked the little shaded canopy she had made for herself.  I asked if I could take a photo and suddenly all these other people materialized.

Leaving the market

Just another street

Another mosque and some watermelon: Two common sights in Haiyuan

We got a nice view of a countryside village as we made our way home.  Can you see the sheep on the hill?

Another view

Back toward the city center

1 comment:

  1. What a great and unforgettable day! I love the photo of you with the kids. And those really are some blue skies.