I soon formed a tight knit group with my newfound friends and we hung out often. It was sometimes comical to see Xin vie for the affection of Yong, who had a boyfriend in the military and pretended to be the disgusted and uninterested victim although she did seem to enjoy the attention. I finally talked to him about it asking why he kept pulling at her when she was obviously pushing and suggested a reverse approach. I told him that the female is very similar to the feline, an animal kept as a pet but rarely acted as one. When you chase or even move suddenly to pet a cat, it runs away. But when you wait for the cat to gravitate near you then you simply reach out slowly and pretend to pet it, and the cat will arch its back to reach your touch. He said it was good advise, but he already knew that she wasn’t interested so he liked making a joke of it and torturing her a little since she already knew. Yong was the youngest in the group and sometimes acted as a child throwing a tantrum but never overdone in an annoying way but rather endearing, and her outbursts usually made me smile. Helen tried to teach me Chinese at every opportunity and I returned the favor, because she was as eager to learn as I was. When I told her a new word she would repeat it and ask “how to spell?” and look down and wrote on her hand with her finger as I told her and she repeated. Once, late at night we were at an outside restaurant after catching a movie, Xin was saying that he had a headache and felt a bit ill, and Yong was telling him that he must do zhua sha; a strange phenomenon that mostly Yongkang locals partook in, whereby someone pinched the skin on your neck in certain places and pulled up hard making a snapping sound and leaving a bruise mark. This was done repeatedly until a line about the length and width of a finger was left, and usually done in pairs or even on either side of the neck. He protested at first, but his weakness for Yong soon gave way and he allowed her to do this strange practice. She patted some water on his neck to make it easily pliable, and pulled away. He groaned in pain at each pull, and it was even painful to watch.  I can say I wholeheartedly believe in the practice and thought of acupuncture, as everything is connected within the body and indeed the Universe itself, but i found myself a reluctant believer and dubious bystander for this one. And this was something that not all of China practiced so I don’t know anything of its true validity however the next day he said he felt better and still was, so there must be something to it.

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Soon after I went on a unicycle ride one day and decided to tackle the nearest hill and wandered around it and the only entrance I could find was a long series of stepped platforms which could easily be tackled by a better rider than I, but my Oregon was pretty heavy for a muni and I’m only good enough to conquer a few at a time. I pushed my uni up until I found a trail and tried my luck at a steep incline and ended up pushing it along until I came to some negotiable trail. Nearing the top I found some horizontal bamboo attached to some trees for a workout area and the area around was cleared. It looked ancient, and probably has been a long standing practice to make areas like these for who knows how long. Once at the top I found a small playground like area for exercise, much newer than what I had previously seen jimmy-rigged by some handymen. There was rubber flooring and varying types of colorful gymnastic bars. A photographer with a large telephoto lens was surprised to see me and requested I ride for him and he shot a few photographs and we exchanged wechat info so he could send me a shot. The environs of the playground was surrounded by yet more bamboo climbing poles and exercise areas supposedly erected by the community and I noticed one of them had ancient Chinese inscriptions. I made my way down the large hill by stairs and trail, which I thoroughly enjoyed and once at the bottom on the other side from which I came, I meandered through a small poor neighborhood and happened upon some old low tombs overgrown with tall grass and vine. I saw a man sauntering along the road with a fish in net in hand and a pole slung over his arm so I followed behind him to get a few interesting shots. What a parade we must have shown! He with his fishing accouterments and I following on unicycle reaching out to with iPhone to take a few pictures. Once I had almost found my way home I found a small path again leading up to the hill and decided to have a look, and came upon an interesting small dirt road with very deep ruts on either side and then a small path ran perpendicular so I took it on whim and I soon came upon a hidden shrine of some sort. It might not be hidden per say, with a path leading directly to it, but it was definitely shrouded in overgrowth. Once inside one was greeted by numerous Gods and a colorful display of adornments. In one corner was some hanging iron band in a spherical fashion with spikes for candles, but it looked more like a medieval dungeon torture device. The ground below with pooled with ages of dripping wax. I reminded myself to go off the beaten path a bit more in China as it seemed very rewarding.

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Later that week was the last week of the August summer month term, so we planned something special for the kids on the last day. We would take them to Da Run Fa, the local grocery store and they had to bring only 20RMB and learn how to budget by buying whatever they liked but they couldn’t spend more. For the older kids we rented a KTV room for them to have a small party and karaoke. We did it all in one day. We grouped together all the children, which was only about 20 in all. But there were 3 teachers and several assistants as well so it wasn’t too difficult. We then met at the KFC inside the Da Run Fa and went over the rules and guided them through each section like Books & School supplies, Toys, and then Snacks and Food. We were pretty much a store parade, and everyone else wanted to be involved in some way or watch the spectacle as foreigners were showing Chinese children around the store. Some tried to help the students say the correct price in English if they knew it well enough. One woman who was in the Toy isle with her son was helping them say what some of the toys were and when I spotted a Chinese Hackey Toy (a group of metal circular washers or coins with a fletch of feathers coming through the middle, allowing it to float ever so slower through the air) I was excited to see it, as my friend Mark had brought some back from China when he visited and I tried doing it to no avail. The woman picked one up and went at it as if she’d been doing it for years, and probably had. I was very impressed with her impromptu skills. Other bystanders were simply that; awkward. In the States they would be shooed off as potential predators. The children had usual likes, however seemed more interested in school supplies than toys, and had an odd taste of snacks. Then again this was an entirely different culture from that I was accustomed and even their clothing was odd. Most of it covered with English words in arrangements that made no sense. With the children we talked about what each toy and food was and how much they cost and wrote down their tally on a piece of paper and at the end we got in line and they each paid for their items. Surprisingly, many were not sure about the payment protocol even at 12 years old. Most just gave their money immediately before the items were priced. KTV ended being a headache, literally. The microphone was always turned up too loud in those rooms and in Chinese fashion, being louder and more enthusiastic overwon cadence and rhythm. They all brought many snacks, most of which carried a foul odor, and the place was thrashed when we left looking like a true rager had taken place. I felt sorry for the cleanup crew.

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