Lax, lax, lax. And I'm not talking about an airport in Los Angeles. I'm talking about me and this blog. I've been letting things slide, failing to post, generally not keeping up with the task. The trouble is that there isn't really all that much too say. Life here is very easy, very pleasant and very much the same as the last time I didn't have much to say.
Here's me saying it anyway in a brief round-up of stuff from the last few weeks.
I went out with the rambling group for a second trip which was a little easier than the first and didn't feature insane scrambles down loosely-packed, peaty hillsides or apparently endless flights of knee-jarring, stone steps. It did feature a nice climb up a dry river bed, a steepish few minutes up to a tiny temple and one of the most amazing views I have seen in a very long time. through the mountains to the river. It was a couple of weeks ago now so that the trees hadn't yet lost their leaves but had turned red and gold in the bright sunlight. One kind of tree (don't ask me which, I'm nearly as good an arborialist as I am an ornithologist) lined the river with thin, straight, silver trunks and had started to shed. Its leaves were paper thin and white, covering the ground with a strange carpet as if someone had cut book pages into leaf shapes and scattered them across the path.
Here and there, there were areas of burnt stubble or piles of crops awaiting transport to town for sale. One small home was almost completely buried under the piles of sweetcorn – some glistening and yellow, some still wrapped in its darker leaves.
We had lunch on a sandbar in the middle of the river, an odd choice given the intense heat of the sun assaulting us both directly and reflected from the water.
The Chinese group were holding a bit of an impromptu disco when I left to climb to the road and get the bus back to the city.
The following week the weather had turned and a bitter blizzard on Friday gave way to thin icy rain on Saturday so their next walk was quite sensibly called off.
I took a visit to an art gallery a couple of days ago. I hadn't realised that there was such a thing in Baiyin and, truthfully, it's really more of an art studio. One of the other teachers, Ben, is a keen amateur artist and he had found it in his quest to locate materials. Usually, he tells me, it's hung with paintings from multiple artists who work there but on this occasion it was all the work of the owner that was on display. I'm not sure what I had expected but I hadn't expected it to consist of faux-impressionist landscapes, reminiscent of Alfred Sisley. It did though and they were all remarkably well done, though landscapes always leave me a little cold. The artist works in various styles, though, and dragged out a few more modern pieces for me to take a look at while we sipped green tea. They were much more to my taste with bold shocks of colour subtly enhanced with gold geometric designs. A very talented man, albeit a man with a rather wide collection of styles.
On the same night I went for a stroll to the local barbecue the streets were lined with people burning joss paper ghost money and gifts for their ancestors. I've talked about this before. Whenever there is a Chinese festival you can see this phenomenon. People burn piles and piles of paper gifts and these can be representations of money or paper bottles of imaginary alcohol or paper clothes to keep the spirits warm; or they can be more elaborate and imaginative paper cars, houses or i-phones.
I checked which festival this one was and was told "Ghost Day", though all my internet sources agree that we are a couple of months too late for that.
Anyway, I counted at least fifty people making offerings in my short walk and probably three or four times that in piles of ash where others had already completed their ceremonies.
In the barbecue I met up with Carole and we had finished eating and were about to leave when a Chinese couple on the next table ordered a dozen bottles of beer and persuaded us to join them. Their English was roughly on a par with my Chinese – which is to say virtually non-existent but somehow they communicated the rules of the drinking game they were playing and an evening of drinking Chinese-style ensued.
Let's explain what I understood of the game.
Lay out three cards. Put the rest of the pack as a stock. Take turns. On your turn choose a pile. Turn the top card of the stock. If it is the same suit as your chosen pile put the card on the pile and drink a shot glass of beer. If it is the same rank, drink three shot glasses of beer. If it is either next or next but one in rank – in either direction – drink a shot glass full of beer. If it is the same suit AND next or next but one drink two shot glasses of beer. If you had to drink, it's still your turn and you choose again.
A quick count will show you that for any given card you choose there are twenty cards that make you drink one glass, four that make you drink two, three that make you drink three and twenty four that don't involve drinking. A better than evens chance that you'll have to drink something. You could try noticing what cards have gone already to improve your odds but you rapidly reach a point of inebriation where that's no longer possible.
This is very typically Chinese. A large part of their drinking culture revolves around games that get people very drunk, very quickly.
By the time we left – still quite early at a little after ten thirty – four of us had gone through two dozen bottles of beer.
It's time to go to get ready for my morning lessons now so, if I remember, I'll complete this round up of recent weeks tonight.