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November 2005


 On our walks home from school in the evenings, we often pass an elderly fruit seller whom we call “The Banana Man.”  He is friendly and cheerful, despite spending all of his afternoons and nights bundled up on the sidewalk peddling oranges, apples, and bananas.  He always tries to speak Chinese to us, and is undaunted by our blank stares.  When I point to the apples and say, “zhe ge” (this) he always responds by repeating “ping guo” (apples) several times.  I guess he’s trying to civilize us and help us to develop beyond our cave man grunts of “zhe ge” every time we want to buy some fruit.  He will also help me select the correct apples through the simple advice of “hao chi” (delicious) and “bu hao chi” (not delicious).  After we have chosen the apples and oranges we want, he always gestures to the end of his table and asks, “Banana?” with a sheepish but proud little grin at his knowledge of this English word.

 On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we were buying some oranges from the Banana Man on our way home.  It was late, around 8:00 pm, and he asked us, “Chi fan le ma?” (Have you eaten?)  I replied, “Dui” (yes).  Then he asked, “Shenma?” (What?)  Zac replied, “Gong bao ji ding” (stir fried chicken with peanuts).  The Banana Man laughed at the pronunciation and asked, “Gong bao ji ding duo shao qian?” (How much did the chicken with peanuts cost?”)  I replied, “qi kuai” (seven RMB—less than $1).  He approved of the price and said, “Hao!” (good).  Realizing he had fully taxed our Chinese conversational ability at that point, he wavedThanksgiving hike goodbye and said, “zai jian” (see you later).  As we walked back towards our apartment dangling the bags of fruit, I commented, “You know Zac, that’s the first real conversation we’ve ever had in Chinese.”


Thanksgiving Thursday was a warm and beautiful day—sunny with temperatures in the mid 50’s.  We met our friends Pat and Felicia near Pat’s university (where he’s taking Chinese classes) and had lunch in the cafeteria there.  Then we took a hike on some hills between his apartment complex and the sea.  We were walking through some trees and noticed that one section partitioned off with sticks and wood.  Pat, who was also in Namibia, said, “Look, it’s a homestead!”  But it wasn’t—there was nothing inside, no huts, no oshithema, no chickens.  On top of a little plateau there were some small gardens carved into the ground, with more makeshift fences.  Nothing was growing anymore except a few cabbages here and there.  There was also a little pond up there.  To one side of the pond we noticed a bunch flowered wreaths floating.  Felicia said they were for dead people.

 On our hike the path was covered with dry brown leaves and I realized the landscape had become quite bleak. It seems Fall slipped by us here without our fullyChinese grave site realizing it.  It was easy to miss in the city where there are few trees.  We climbed over the hill and reached the sea.  We were on a beautiful little secluded beach, full of rocks and boulders.  We wandered around and enjoyed our last foray to the ocean for the season.  The wind wasn’t very bitter yet, but we knew it was coming.

 We left the beach and climbed over some other hills.  The tallest hill was also a cemetery and the path wove through the graves.  They take good care of their dead here, offering them oranges and stacks of paper money.  There are a few times a year when relatives burn the fake money for their deceased relatives, but due to strict no-burning rules in the forest, the paper money was just stacked on the graves and weighted down with bricks.  At the top of this hill, there was a partially destroyed building that had been converted to an informal Buddhist temple.  The walls had decrepit paintings of various Buddhas, and the part that was covered with a roof had a little shrine.  From the top of this hill we had a good view of the ocean and the hazy city that crept to its shores.

 THANKSGIVING BIRD FLUThanksgiving dinner

On Thursday evening, we joined a lot of the other western teachers at a restaurant called All’s Well Coffee for a Thanksgiving buffet.  We were hoping for the works: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, pumpkin pie, etc.  But I guess it is unrealistic to expect a proper Thanksgiving dinner in China.  There was indeed a turkey, and some baked potatoes, but the rest of the food was just the Chinese vague notion of western food.  We dined with relish nonetheless, although we joked a little about whether or not it was possible to get the bird flu from the turkey.  There was no pie, but they did have some delicious cakes, which I managed to eat a lot of.

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