With me feeling better today we were able to venture out into Lanzhou. Our first stop was the Gansu Province natural history museum. We saw dinosaur and mammoth skeletons, a great deal of pottery, replicas of past Chinese civilizations, ancient jewelry, tools and carvings. It was interesting for us and something to do for the kids. There was a place in the pottery wing where on the wall was a picture of a piece of pottery which was composed of 9 tiles attached to the wall by magnets. One takes down the tiles, mixes them up and the child places them back up correctly to form the picture. Prompted by Steed, Sam began the task of assembling the first picture. A few Chinese people began to form a loose crowd around him to watch the “little boy”. He had such a good time that he moved onto the next picture, and then a third. On the third I slipped in a 10th tile from a different picture to see if I could slip him up, and to solicit a reaction from the group around us. Smiles and chuckles ensued but Sam could not be stumped. When Sam turned around to see the “crowd” he broke into a big smile, but would not take a bow. He can be a ham, but usually in the confines of more familiar settings.
Next, we drove down a back alley way, got out and walked down this intimidating street - but with Steed around we really feel no trepidation. We strode into an open air market, not designed for tourists, and looked around for a while. When here the last time we had a writing done in Chinese characters of Jenna’s name, birthplace and birth date. This time we had Jack’s, Sam’s and Alana’s done to complete the set. Steed gave Sam and Alana Chinese names which I will describe in a future post. Lane - I had to describe you and your personality to Steed in order to get the name just right ;-).
We moved onto lunch at the oldest and best noodle house in Lanzhou. We ate in a private room - yak beef (yes, yak beef) noodle soup with various appetizers (thinly cut string potatoes, radishes, spicy cabbage, bean sprouts, very crunchy celery) to place in the soup around a large lazy susan in the middle of the table. Steed, our ever-trying to please host, knowing of Michele’s wheat allergy was going to have Michele eat some barbecue before heading into the noodle house. As he approached an outside vendor to grill up some whatever, Michele politely, and probably wisely, declined.
After lunch we moved onto a shopping mall, as Sam wanted to see the toys that Chinese kids play with. The Chinese definitely have the whole marketing thing down. Just about all vertical space, outside and inside, is covered with some sort of advertisement. Signs blaze and blink at night, colorful and sometimes humorous signs catch one’s eye while traveling down a street, and street vendors call out at surprisingly hushed volumes. Subtlety is not an attribute which they have applied in the advertising realm. Anyway, advertising they have in buckets - retail presentation - not so much. The mall consisted of stores with shelves with toys and junk piled on. I mean piled on, not artfully arranged so as to be pleasing to the eye, rather just stacked to take advantage of all available space (somewhat similar to their housing situation). The checkout station in each store consisted of a metal desk, calculator, receipt slips and a pouch to hold the day’s revenue. The larger department stores were somewhat better, but still with more emphasis on space utilization rather than presentation. With the Chinese being all about presentation and saving face in so many areas of their day-to-day lives it was surprising to see such mere utilitarian approach to selling merchandise.
On a funny note. We were walking with Steed through the shopping mall and he happened along a friend. They were talking and catching up. The friend handed him a business card and we moved on. Steed showed me the card and asked if I am familiar with this company “Amway”. I described what a pyramid scheme consisted of and he realized exactly what it was all about. Apparently, such businesses had until very recently been illegal in China but now one can pursue such endeavors. China is changing. Steed told me he was too busy for such things - he is a smart guy.
Anyway, yesterday was a very good day as we were out of the hotel room for several hours getting some “fresh” air. Note: If you look up Lanzhou under Wikitravel http://wikitravel.org/en/Lanzhou , under “DO” you will see “Get out. Really”.
Today, we check out, have a late lunch of Chinese pizza, visit the water-wheel park and lady of Lanzhou statue and make the drive to the airport. Our flight is not until 7:45 pm so today will be a long day, probably not settling into the White Swan until 11:30 or so. Fortunately, I am feeling much better so the trip should be just fine. It will be very interesting to see Jack’s reaction to the whole travel experience. Whenever he has experienced something new, like Playdough, he gets a “Home Alone” expression - hands to the sides of the face, wide eyes and open mouth. Wednesday after his nap, Jack became sad, standing by the bed, working very hard to hold it in, with tears running down his face. He let Michele hold him to help reassure him that everything would be alright. In attempt to comfort him we showed him the pictures that the orphanage director left with us, but this seemed only to increase the tears - no sound mind you - only tears. Fortunately, a bath was in order and he perked up, looking forward to putting on his pajamas and sleeping in his inflatable "Cars" bed.
It will be a sad departure from Lanzhou as this very likely be the last time we visit this city in the center of China. Both visits have had their ups and downs, and each with their particular memories. Not being able to visit the orphanage to see where Jack and Jenna spent so much time is a real disappointment. We will miss Steed - our guide who has been so gracious, welcoming and attentive to us. We had a rare opportunity to see someone familiar in China - to visit and discuss previous times - what a treat. Steed is the man of Lanzhou. He is great with kids, expert at the paperwork and bureaucratic maneuvering, terrific host, caring individual - a man with a big heart. We plan to continue a long distance relationship with Steed via email and hope one day to see him again.
Hope all is well back home.