So I made it. I successfully completed my first solo trip up to Yanqing. Big deal, right? It's not difficult to get here, it just involves a few potential hassles with the kind of idiot who equates pale skin with rich tourists, the kind who can't see past skin colour. Anyway, to minimise the hassle, it was arranged that when the bus passed Badaling, I'd phone my mother in law, and she'd come meet me at Dongguan and take me up to the village. Of course, I could've just waited for the 920, which stops at the very same Dongguan stop, but never mind.
Anyway, so for the second time running nobody tried to force me on to the Badaling bus, so naturally I was expecting some really huge public transport karma to kick me in the teeth. No, nothing serious. A few minor hassles, but nothing too serious. Just south of Changping town a sign warned drivers of roadworks ahead and asked them to take State Highway 110 instead (the Badaling Expressway and State Highway 110 split at Changping town and take separate routes across the mountains). Naturally, everybody ignored it, and so, just north of Juyongguan we ran into a huge traffic jam. Funnily enough, there were roadworks, and one stretch of the highway was reduced to a single lane. But once we got past the roadworks all was good. Until we got past the end of the expressway and on to the regular road from the Badaling area into the county town. There's still a huge truck jam there, stretching from somewhere on the state highway just outside the county town most of the way back to the end of the expressway. And there's a sign clearly telling all passenger vehicles (buses and private cars) to use the side road on the left. However, this time some particularly stupid, selfish truck drivers had decided to try and cheat whatever was causing this backlog of trucks and followed the passenger vehicles up the side road, with the inevitable consequences. Honestly, police are worse than taxi drivers: The place is crawling with them when they're least wanted, but when you really need them, they're nowhere to be found. Why wasn't a cop posted at the end of the expressway making sure none of these idiot truck drivers tried to cheat? Stupid thing is, there's normally plenty of cops at the end of the expressway, so what the hell where they doing? Fortunately, there were cops forcing these truck drivers back where they belonged, but the result was a bit of a traffic jam while the cops cleared them out.
But that's ok, we got in to Dongguan, I got off the bus, looked around for Ma, she hadn't arrived yet, no big deal, getting into town from the village can be a hassle sometimes, even though the village is right on the highway (the public buses run every half hour, and there aren't as many miandi filling the gaps as there used to be, and besides, around midday most of the miandi drivers are at home having lunch). Of course, this meant me being hassled by idiot taxi drivers. I don't know what's so difficult about this: I get off the bus, they yell out "Taxi! Taxi!" I look around, ignoring the drivers, obviously looking for somebody else, then stand in the shade and wait. Really, who in their right mind would still think I wanted a taxi? Anyways, Ma showed up, we wandered up the road, we found a miandi driver ready to start the bus run up our way, we got back. All was good.
And yesterday was such a beautiful day. Clear, blue sky. Down in Beijing there was still a smog haze in the distance, of course, a distinctly brown haze, too. But once we crossed the mountains.... It wasn't the clearest day I've seen up here, but popping out of the tunnel on the north side of Badaling I could see clear across the basin to the northern range of mountains. Awesome.
And I wished last night that I had a good enough camera and the photography skills necessary: In the last weak rays of twilight I walked outside to take a leak. The mountains behind the village were a jet black sillhouette against the last slip of faded blue sky, and the wispy clouds that had been creeping in in the late afternoon were like dying embers as the last few rays of sunlight hit them. Beautiful. In the absence of a good enough camera and the photography skills, I wish I at least had the writing skills to show you what I saw.
So I'm back in the village and it feels really good. Like I said the other day, something about the city was really getting to bug me. Being up here feels like a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I can't believe how astoundingly well I slept last night. Lots of weird dreams, but provided there aren't so many as to affect the quality of my sleep, that's a good sign. The weirder my dreams the better my quality of life. The more my dreams look just like my waking life, the more I desperately need to change something. I've learned to trust my dreams that way.
Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the couch totally veged out staring at the TV, hardly taking anything in, switching between Al Jazeera English (which is quickly becoming my favouritest ever news channel), TV5 (dead boring most of the time. The only interesting programme I've seen there so far was one on yesterday about a windsurfer and some woman who kayaked and cycled around America, and that was only interesting considering the rest of what TV5 broadcasts) and Deutsche Welle (pretty good. I like the half-Deutsch half-English, regularly switching between the two, broadcasting English and German versions of the same shows format) and NOW (the weirdest sports channel I've ever come across, but they do have lots of cool alternative sports, like multisports of all varieties, x-games, and so on. I don't know who decided it would be good to put computer games on TV, though, or why it suddenly changed into a Cantonese business channel at one point yesterday afternoon) when one of the neighbours ran in, banged on the window to shake me out of my stupor, and said the sheep had run away. I thought Ma was around the house working on something or resting, so I hadn't bothered about the sheep. Ah, it should be explained: When Ba takes the sheep out to graze in the afternoon he leaves the lambs behind. It was the lambs (some of whom really are lambs, some of whom are getting big enough to go out and play with the adults) who had run away. So Zaizai (my dog, remember?) and I ran out to find the sheep. Fortunately they'd only gone up to the alley behind our house and some of the neighbours were watching them. Don't know why the didn't chase them back themselves, but nevermind. So Zaizai and I are both equally incompetent shepherds. The only thing either of us knows how to do is chase the sheep and hope they turn the right way. Unfortunately they didn't. They ran into one of the neighbours' courtyards. The neighbour ran in after them, and after much barking of dogs and other random noises inside, she chased them back out while I held Zaizai down until they'd gone past in case he chased them in some even more random direction. We got them back down to the end of the alley, and most of the sheep turned right and headed home, but three broke off and ran north. I hesitated, but one neighbour said get those sheep back first, then come back for the others. So I got Zaizai to chase them back at top speed (he's good at that) while I ran along behind, then, the sheep back in the courtyard, I turned back and went for the others. Trouble is, Zaizai was with me and we were between the sheep and home, so he could easily chase them in some worse direction. I held him down again while the neighbours helped get the sheep back on the right course and finally we got them all back in the courtyard. That was yesterday's excitement. Funnily enough, I'm not about to give up teaching in favour of a career as a shepherd.
Some opera troupe is in the village performing. In the daytime the play an opera, at night it's some song and dance show. I can hear them down at the stage by the township government building. I'm kinda curious to see, but I know all too well that if I go, I'll become the spectacle, not the opera. I dunno, maybe I'll pop round for a look this afternoon. See, this isn't so much a village as several villages grown together (hence the township government building, township hospital, township high school, etc, all being here), and, although nobody gives me even a second glance at this end of the village because they all know of me, at the very least, in the other places I venture to less often and where the family knows fewer people I'm still a bit of a novelty. But even so, I have to deal with far less bullshit up here than in Beijing or the county town. The worst I've had to deal with anywhere in the township is people from out of town here for a yangge competition doing the old "Hey look! It's a foreigner!" rubbish. The locals who don't know about me, at worst, will just stare or ask Ma or lzh or whoever if I can understand them. The worst treatment I've had from a local was the "doctor" at the pharmacy/clinic refusing to give me an IV in case my body somehow worked differently from Chinese bodies (I've seen highly qualified scientists on CCTV 9 spouting the same racist bullshit; real doctors treat me like just another patient) and if something went wrong he'd be held responsible. Of course, he was more than happy to sell me antibiotics over the counter. He did, though, make sure he only sold me medicine I'd taken before. But still, over the counter antibiotics..... Sure, no country is a stranger to dodgy medical practices, but if you ever find yourself wondering why so many people get sick so often in China, just think, over the counter antibiotics. Anyway, the episode with the sheep yesterday shows just how well accepted and treated I am in this corner of the village where everybody knows me. No bullshit, the neighbour ran inside and told me in Yanqinghua the sheep had run away and I had to come get them back. Neighbours I don't know speaking to me in local dialect as if I were a local just like them? That's a good sign.So just in case you missed the point of this long, rambly post: I'm back in the village and it feels great. Fresh air. Peace. Quiet. Satellite TV and wireless internet. No pressure. No stress. No noise. Awesome.