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Poor Ing. I think she thought there was some special western significance to doing something together on January 1st. She was gracious enough to go out this afternoon with me, and she, her husband, and I had a lovely time. Well, okay, I had a lovely time, and they seemed to have fun.

The city was crowded. Ing told me that most of the people had the day off (I've gathered from various web logs that most of the students have the next few days off), so that's why everything was so full. Every place we went was packed with people, and I managed to avoid being run over simply because I have wavy brown hair. It's easy to see me as laowei from a distance. *smile*

Anyway, after poking around a few stores, we ended up in my first Chinese tea house. I'd been inside one in Shanghai, but all I did there was stare at everything like I was in a museum, and buy tea. Here, we sat where we could see outside, and drank tea and had far-ranging conversations.

A glass bowl was set on the table with a tea light in it. (This was the first time I'd ever seen a tea light actually used with tea. In Canada, they're typically for decoration.) The tea pot was glass, and tea leaves and sugar were poured into a cylinder in the center. A woman poured hot water into the cylinder, which had holes in it so the tea would fill the pot. I'm explaining this so poorly. I wish I'd had my camera with me, because I would have gotten a picture of it.

The tea (Ing's husband, Wei, told me it was called "German Flower Tea") tasted a bit like lemon meringue. This strange combination of sweet and tart. It was absolutely wonderful.

Wei doesn't speak a lot of English, but he's always so eager to share his knowledge with me. It turns out that not only is he a classical music buff (he keeps asking me questions about French and Italian), he's also interested in History and Linguistics. I told Ing I'd happily take him off her hands any time she wanted. I used to think he just tolerated having me around, but I discovered today that he's usually so quiet around me because he's gathering his thoughts. He gave me a quick and dirty history lesson on Jiangyan, talked to me about the Dragon Bones, showed me some of the ways Chinese characters have changed over the centuries, and asked me questions about how I perceive the characters.

(For the curious, Jiang is a family name, and Yan apparently means dam. He talked a bit about geography and three rivers coming together and the soil being great and all this other stuff. All I had asked Ing was "Tell me about Jiangyan.")

After two hours of sitting and talking, we went around to check out some more stores. I asked a ton of stupid questions about the wall hangings, about Spring Festival, and about the Lantern Festival. Sometimes I feel guilty, because whenever I mention the slightest interest in anything, Ing is always ready to find me someone to show it to me. Today they were telling me about how, about ten years ago, the people in Jiangyan used to make their own lanterns for Lantern Festival, but now they don't. I got all giddy and excited and talked about how much I'd love to make a lantern (even though I'd do a horrible job of it), and she offered to see if she could find someone in the countryside that was still making them.

On the way back I had more fun Chinese food. The popcorn the street vendors are selling is sweet, more like candy corn than what I was expecting. I also had fried tofu on a stick (yummier than it sounds), and some sort of drink that was made of some sort of plant. (Yes, I know, that's not helpful.)

And the best part was, she helped me buy a plant! It's some sort of water plant. She told me the name, but I can't remember it. It's "water", and then the name of a Chinese fairy-tale heroine. So I've decided to call it Rapunzel. (Yes I know that's a type of cabbage.) Ing was told that it was "guaranteed" to bloom by Spring Festival (January 22 this year). It's a water plant - no soil. We'll see if I can manage to keep it alive till Spring Festival. But now I know where to buy another one if I need to, and about how much to pay for it.

I think tomorrow I'm going to go back to the tea house, drink more German Flower Tea (or maybe another tea, who knows) and study Chinese for a couple of hours. Maybe I'll even manage to mail Jeanne-Marie's letter.


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