The next day, Sunday, was my day off. BJ said he and Christina wanted to go swimming in the reservoir so I accompanied them, but this time I was going to bring my unicycle. When I had gone last time, I was scoping the slope of the dam and decided I had to uni it, as many extreme sportsmen do when they are without their ride, specking out a spot they deem supreme; be it a skateboard, mountain bike, snowboard or unicycle, especially if it not only seems challenging but a good photo/video opp. I borrowed a few bungee cords from BJ and strapped my muni to the seat of the scooter, leaving just enough room for my own seat and even sat slightly on the tire to ensure that my thousand dollar device of deviousness wouldn’t loose itself on the way. I followed them somewhere south of our house and then we stopped halfway at a small convenience store sporting some flotation paraphernalia under a stand alone awning. BJ bought a few for Christina and himself and I eyed the cooler nearby and decided on a beer. The woman in charge said it was 3 quai but I didn’t have any cash on my so I offered her a $1 bill, at first in jest. When she refused I insisted and told her it was worth 6 quai. Then she seemed to take to the idea and then told me I should take two. I could not understand but a word she said, which might have been something to the tune of the number two, or liang ge, meaning two of, but rather I inferred from her gesticulations. I then showed her my currency converter app on my phone and how one dollar was worth just over 6RMB. She then smiled a great smile after handing me my two beers and then held the dollar bill at arms length with both hands and admired her acquisition, and then proceeded to flaunt it to her nearby children. I left feeling happy to know that I had probably made her day, not knowing if the bank would charge her for a conversion, but thinking that she would probably keep it for herself or as a gift for her children.
We passed by many gardens and small crops of diverse produce, so picturesque that it seemed to pop right out of a national geographic magazine. Men and women alike under straw woven conical hats to keep the sun from their brow as they tilled the earth. We passed under a traditional Chinese architecture archway as if to greet us to wonders which lie behind. We soon came to another large similar structure overtaking the road, this time filled with several people in the middle, who were apparently stopping cars for a fee and BJ zoomed right past them so I followed suit and some tried to block my passage and I dexterously maneuvered around them while angrily sucking my teeth at them and allotting a disgruntled “bah!” in annoyance as I passed by, for they truly seemed to want to be run over. We came to the gravel parking lot and soon parked our rides and started to lock up the tire with the metal U-lock. Some of the locals came running up to us angrily, which I knew was because of our avoidance of their payment demands. BJ soon retorted with his defense, in which his tone seemed to portray a sense of right and clear obviousness which, to me, seemed to say that we were locals as well and not to be taken advantage of, for we were not going to pay money to visit that which was our right to visit. His tone seemed that of obviousness and disgust and then soon turned to jest as he smiled at them and got them to agree with him that it wasn’t a big deal and even teased them a little pushing the shoulder of the man closest as if saying ” am I right or am I right?” and even they started to crack a smile and slowly started to saunter off. I inquired about the conversation and he said that he simply relayed that we were only here for a short while and would be gone before the traffic of most cars came. Looking up at the dam, I soon realized I was seeing it from a different view. It was much higher, and I wondered why we hadn’t gone up to a higher level. We started up the long stair way and once we had crested I realized we were in an entirely different location from that which Alex and I had visited the week previous. This one had a floating dock deck area made of large plastic puzzle like pieces in the middle, which enhoused a small shop and ensquared a covered pool area. I had BJ get a shot of me unicycling a high wall which dammed the lake and reserved an aqueduct behind, about 40ft down and was almost flush with the water level on the front. Some people were sitting on the wide concrete with their feet in the water and I had plenty of room to move right past them and then at the end I did a little hop and turn and came back. We then took a brisk swim in a lake full of people with their various colored floaties.
After an hour or two of relaxation, there were some guys our age who wanted to take pictures with us and they awed at my unicycle. I then motioned for him to see me ride and he relished at the opportunity so I gave him my phone to record me and I attempted to Uni down the dam’s hill, which was a bit of a hard task, since there was no smooth transition from the top walkway to the brick and grass slope. Only a stairway opening, so I had to drop down a step before hitting the slope at an angle and then try to turn to face straight down the hill. That one step transfer proved harder than I thought it would be. The difficulty was not in the step but in changing direction down a steep angle to be able to just manage it with my handbrake. Within 2 tries, practically the entire crowd of the reservoir gathered around to watch a crazy foreigner brave the wall on his dulunche. They only received an amusing show of failure as I only made it past the step perhaps a few yards. I was soon out of breath with attempts, and stopped the recording. After a break, I started at the top of the slope adjacent to the stairway, holding onto the railway and the brake as I hopped on and then took the slope that way, with my tire already pointing in the right direction. There were many woops and hollers from the guys who rooted me on as I balanced my way down the bumpy terrain of dirt moss lumps and grass, with one hand waving in the air for counterbalance like a modern bullrider. I crested a halfway platform and then continued down the remainder of the hill, covered only in concrete brick and finally made it down the end, of course without anybody recording. Next time. I looked up and saw a throng of people looking down, and some started to turn away, knowing the show was over. I took a picture, well knowing there were almost ten times that amount who got a free show.
Soon after, I got my first real experience in the grocery store. Da run fa which was named RT-Mart, was actually a mall and grocery store and target in one. There were stores and restaurants, an appliances and household items floor, and one reserved for food. The grocery store experience is always an interesting one in another country; strange foods and smells, packaging unfamiliar and familiar but with a twist. Seeing animals dried and hanging along with other meats and multicolored fruits on display in the market fashion, brought back many memories of my similar experience in Spain, at La Boqueria food market just off Las Ramblas. Dragonfruit and green tangerines, squid which was scooped by the handful, flat flounders on ice, live fish tanks full of fish and frog and eel. I stocked up on some vegetables and many packaged food I needed and most I just wanted to try. Trial by error, that’s how you find out what you like. Their stock of cereal was limited to about 4 choices, many of which were expensive. I was delighted to find that they at least had Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and peanut M&M’s. Once home however, I was dismayed to find that the cookies were a bit thinner and drier than what I was used to, and tasted like coffee. A great coffee complement, but not the classic I was hoping for. Even the Cheerios were different. You’d think that an international foods company would strive for some sort of consistency if they were going to use the same branding logo. The peanut M&M’s were my only constant, which I was truly grateful for.
The next week I was more easily acclimating to the swing of my classes. They loved the flash card game where I simply put them in a pile and we gathered around to be the first to touch the one called out. I was adding rules and making it harder by calling out similarly sounding words or replacing B’s with P’s and S’s with Z’s and even mixing the vowels, and I made them give back a card for every one they touched that actually wasn’t there. On my free time I rested and read and practiced my Mandarin. One day I decided to go out on a ride, while trying to scope out some karate studios. I found that if one simply slipped behind the veil of a major street, they would find themselves transported as if to a completely different neighborhood, with poverty and dilapidation lurking just behind the facade of a thriving city. All around me in plain sight were the small territories of mud and dirt that was obviously being used to grow some food for some unknown seedplanters who would find time to walk there from their home to cultivate; in every ditch by the road that allotted some rainwater there grew stalks of corn and produce variegate in size. It was public property and therefore used as publicly by deemable fashion; for the sustenance of those who tended to it. I imagined a typical california suburb community doing that in Rancho Cucamonga or Huntington Beach, where there were simply miles of plots of grass by the sidewalk with ample soil and tree shade and even a public property watering system that would be tastefully and logically maintained by those who lived nearby, or those that had no home to live by, for supplemental vittles, vegetables and herbs. But alas, the voice of Logic was trumped by the voice of Public Decency to disallow such vagrants as they who, would have enough time for time was all they had, flock to such public locations. I suppose that’s where the “Freedoms” of America somehow seemed lacking in comparison with the communism of Asia. I took many photos and cruised around and found myself near a park I hadn’t seen so I decided to have a gander. It was a beautiful, enclosed park with careful and thoughtful planning to the ponds and pagodas and the wooden adornments of artwork which graced their sides, complete with wooden bridges and walkways of stone patterns. It seemed more of a beauty garden than a park, although the main floral attraction was, of course, the omnipresent pink lotus, whose spires jutted forth from the depths of murky water covered mostly in large green lily pads.
That Saturday, we had open class again and we were going to do “cooking.” I decided to give them some American culture and we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ants on a log, and lemonade. Most were disgusted with the thought of a PB&J but once we made them, many had changed their minds. There were varying responses for the ants on a log; some rather enjoyed the celery, most preferred carrot, and there was a general disliking for raisins which allowed the peanuts its time to shine on the paste of its battered and buttered brothers. Many complained however, in the end, all mouths were full and busy with mastication more than expostulations. That night I had planned to keep to myself in my quarters and do a whole lot of nothing, and around 21:30 BJ came by my room to check up on me. He said he was going to the club. “Why donchu com wit me man? You ant doin anyting, its been awhile, comeon.” My bottom lip pursed up in a typical De Niro fashion of “why not.” I agreed and promptly changed then we rolled out onto the the thick oriental air cutting through the night as smooth as silk on our electric scooters.