SONYA’S HOUSE: Day 151, Monday January 27 2014

We are on an overcrowded bus to Tai An right now. I barely have elbow space to write. Nate is asleep beside me and if my shoulder wasn’t blocking him he’d probably roll right onto my lap. The isle is filled with baggage and every seat is taken. We are lucky as Sonya says sometimes on spring festival there are people standing! The ride is 2-3 hours!”

The view out the window is gorgeous though. Tai’an (near our destination) is on the southern point of our mountain range (Jinan is on the Northern end) so we are taking windy streets that bring us past mountain after mountain after mountain.

The second bus we caught to take us out to Sonya’s village was much less crowded and much more pleasant. It was only half full and had spacious reclining seats and big windows that bathed us in hot sun.

We got a ride to the bus station with Sonya’s boss. The back of her car was already full of bags by the time she picked us up, a lot of them were Sonya’s. I guess she’s bringing a lot of big gifts for her family.

Sonya’s father, a short man with spiky black hair, smiling eyes, and a round face, was the first to great us on arrival. He led us to a big red van where Sonya introduced the man behind the wheel as her brother. At first I was confused because Sonya had not told me she had a brother, until I realized the man was her sister’s husband. The child hiding behind the seats in the back could only be her niece.

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Somehow we jammed ourselves and all our luggage inside and the brother drove us to a restaurant for lunch. Sonya told us her mother and sister would soon meet us there. The little girl was very quiet for a long while, refusing to even make eye contact. We were the first foreigners she’d ever met. Eventually though she began creeping her way around the table closer and closer to us. When Sonya’s sister and mother arrived she became much more bold and even played peek-a-boo with Nate under the table.

Sonya, her sisters, and her niece, all look very much like her mother, who has short somewhat curly hair and a round middle, though I suspect that is on account of the layers of clothes. Her younger sister is thin, hair also cut short, but straight.

Lunch included a chicken, green peppers, and carrot stir fry, a plate of fried egg plants, a huge plate of fish, a big plate of chicken, and to finish it off we all were brought a bowl of dumpling soup. The dishes were all placed in the middle of the table, and we were given little plates to eat off of. The dishes in the middle everyone took from with chop sticks. Sonya’s father pointed to each dish and turn, waiting for us to try some before he dug in. There was an endless supply of tea in our cups. Every time we took a sip one of our hosts would hurry to fill it.

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Sonya’s family took us to the town to do some shopping. The streets were packed. There were fireworks and year of the horse banners everywhere. Every eye turned to us as we weaved our way through traffic and shoppers, “Maybe you are the first foreigners ever been here,” Sonya laughed at the attention we were getting.

We followed Sonya’s family into a big super market, and then back out onto the street. The street market stretched out along the bank of a swampy river. There were fish and roosters and wanza (fried dough balls with stuff in the middle) and big metal cleavers, clothes, food, and toys for sale.

I am now in Sonya’s house with her family. I have a belly full of bugs, I have just finished peeing with goats, and Sonya’s niece is bouncing a ball featuring the Canadian maple leaf across the hard living room floor. I am bundled up in all my layers because the house is made of concrete with no insolation, high ceilings, big windows, and only a very small fire place to heat it.

When we drove up earlier today, after our shopping experience, were were surprised to find her yard full of goats, cows, and roosters. There were fields with small plants sprouting outside their walls. The house consists of two buildings, the main one with living room, dining room, and bedrooms, the other with two bedrooms and perhaps a kitchen. We had been warned that it was cold in Tai an, but had not been informed that it was cold inside at Sonya’s house. The walls were just concrete with no sort of insolation, so on a nice day it was actually colder inside then outside. We were not dressed for it. All layers stayed on the whole trip.

Sonya’s family had two bathrooms! One had a squat toilet, but no electricity so at night it was dark, and the only way to flush was to carry in a bucket of water and pour it down the hole. The other was a more natural option… with the goats. The goats had their own room with their own door, and Sonya called this the “traditional Chinese toilet”. She said some people’s toilets had pigs in them, and she didn’t like the toilets with really big pigs.

Dinner included a plate of celery and fatty meat, a plate of pickles (too salty for my liking), a plate of crackers and cheese (bought specially by Sonya to accommodate her western friends, a plate of cooked mushrooms prepared by Sonya’s father, and some fresh steamed buns. For Nate there was beer, and for everyone an endless cup of tea.

The centre piece dish was a big plate of cicadas. My first bite was tentative, but the taste was not bad and they had a nice crunch and meaty inside. They were a bit dry, but I had an endless cup of tea to wash them down! Apparently tomorrow night we’re eating grasshoppers.

After dinner we were brought peanuts, oranges, and candies. I’m beginning to think Chinese people never stop eating!

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We were told to wash our face and feet before bed. We were led to the furnace room where big plastic wash basins were set for such purposes. There was a kettle on the stove that we used to heat the water to a good temperature. My feet had grown rather cold in my non-insulated boots so the hot water felt very nice. Crawling into bed with clean and toasty toes sure helped as we heated the cold blankets.

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