As the time for my departure to England comes closer I am being
invited to even more lunches and dinners by just about everyone I have
ever met in the city. Yesterday a group of the teachers invited me for
a picnic. Well it was pitched as a picnic but it turned out to be more
of an outdoor barbecue and in many respects it was typical of our
barbecues in the west. That is to say - food that ranged from raw to
incinerated, tasting of charcoal, eaten from plastic plates with dirty
In other ways though it was different.
For a start, it began at eight O'clock in the morning rather than
eight O'clock in the evening. Valerie called me at 7:45 and said that
she was outside my apartment in a taxi with her small daughter. It
took us to the bus station where we were met by four other teachers
and one more small child - Lucy's son.
Half an hour later we got off the bus in what seemed to be a
collection of a dozen ramshackle houses in the middle of nowhere and
set off along the road on foot. Only by being extremely persistent did
I manage to get them to let me help by carrying one of the
inexplicably heavy bags that they all had.
We turned off the road and into a large complex of buildings. It was
The Yellow River Tourist Leisure Resort. The buildings were leisure
centres, hotels, holiday apartments, sporting facilities and even a
large conservatory full of exotic plants.
Down by the river water had been diverted into some fishing pools and
a long, wide, paved path followed the bank. On the path canvas
shelters protected picnic tables and chairs from the heat of the sun
or, as the water-filled bulges in the canvas suggested, from the rain
should it be necessary.
We arranged ourselves under one of them and moments later two resort
employees brought a portable barbecue and a selection of implements
and condiments. The others set about barbecuing. It was about nine
I tried to help. I really did. They just wouldn't let me. It was
certainly a novel sensation, sitting there in the sunshine like the
lord of the manor while five women went about the business of
preparing a very early lunch for me. The kids were playing on a large
sponge mat that Valerie had unfolded from a carrying bag. They played
happily while the cooking continued. At one stage they got into a
screaming competition. Standing facing each other and taking turns to
see who could scream the loudest - the non-screaming one being allowed
to laugh or giggle. Lucy told them to go along the path and see how
far they could get before we couldn't hear their screams. At two
hundred yards, where the path bent and would have taken them out of
sight, she called them back. From that distance the noise had been
reduced to merely ear-shattering.
The meal took shape. There were green peppers, green beans, aubergine,
broccoli, chicken wings, sausages - even a couple of very large, whole
fish. No wonder the bags had been so heavy. All the teachers present
were English teachers and most of the conversation was conducted in
English. They wanted to know primarily if I would be returning to
number ten school next year. As I have told them before, I would love
to return but it isn't up to me. It's up to the school and Jane. As
Jane seems determined to send me to school number eight next year I
don't think it will happen.
The food was, as I said, cooked in the typical random botulism method
of western barbecues and everything - be it animal, vegetable or
mineral, tasted charred - albeit, charred with a hot peppery spice
It was around two when we finally cleared away and left and around
three thirty when I got back to my apartment leaving me just time to
shower and change out of the charcoal smelling shirt before I had to
rush off to my next apartment - dinner and mahjong at my friends'
apartment a few blocks away.