We have recovered from Wednesday’s market disaster. Part of the recovery involved NOT GOING to the market or, rather, sending Manuel on a bicycle without anyone else, esp. our punching-thunder-tempered-wretched-four-year-old. Tomorrow we head to Jing Hong—the city we flew into, which promises a western restaurant and a grocery store. As of tonight we have acquired a bread maker—borrowed from the Indonesian woman next door. She claims flour and yeast can be procured in the city. I’m also told that I can purchase chicken without the feet, head, eyes, feathers, etc…. And we have pretty much cleaned the town out of milk so we can buy a few cases of that. The two boys drink more little boxes of milk than the rest of Xishuangbanna and Sipshawnbanna combined. The kids continue their acquisition of Chinese words and yesterday learned to say butt. Thankfully, their 8-year-old tutor claimed not to know the words for poop or pee, which they also asked about. The cultural exchange of book v. practical knowledge continues, and today’s discourse involved explaining that “many men in Malaysa have an earring in one ear indicating that they have survived a work accident” The local response was “Chinese men have earrings because they like to look silly.” Tonight we’re discussing the epistemology of ghosts. The other wives are apparently afraid of the ghosts that live up the hill and claim the dead don’t rest easy here. So the kids want to know if ghosts are real and while we’re at it they want to know about the difference between a ghost and a reincarnated. I have no response. And in nature lessons they have discovered the joys of rainy season mud and seem have discovered every possible way to get full of red mud which leaves delightful little footprints all over the white house. It was even prettier when they fell into the Lilly pad pond. I had to promptly call Manuel on the phone and ask him if there were any diseases in the water—he says no. We’ve instituted a foot washing station in order to keep the dai cleaning ladies from killing us. And yes we do have two cleaning ladies that come every single day. That might be my favorite part of being here!
One of the most bizarre things about being here are the cognitive dissonances created by technology. In the event of an emergency we could not possibly get home in less than three days. But we can email, facebook, skype and google phone at will. This means that, for example, I google phoned my grandparents. The shock almost did them in but……. On their planet granddaughters don’t call from China. And my sister sent me a text from Harvard Yard saying she was waiting for the graduation procession. The kids have had some moving skype calls with their cousins, mostly related to the butt and potty themes mentioned above. One of my friends pointed out that I could go into business as a girlfriend night shift—my all night is all day in the States. (It’s also with noting that when Eli wanted my attention rather than whining or pulling on my arm he merely unplugged the internet cable thus disconnecting the call….). This is all radically different from when I did this kind of travel twenty years ago. When I taught in rural Kenya I had to walk or hitch to a town a few miles away to make a phone call, which I did once a week at most. When I was in Bratislava playing in the opera orchestra and my sister was dallying with Tibetan Buddhism in Katmandu my parents said we could talk on the phone for her birthday. I tried to call her and was told “there is no such country.” She finally reached me at a hotel in Prague. We spoke for ten minutes and it cost $265 bucks. That was the end of that. And while she was shacked up with a Tibetan monk, airdropped into the Himalayas, my parents received no contact from her for a month other than a fax from a trekker who had passed through. When Kircher fashioned a speaking tube to talk to porters in the courtyard, I doubt that in his wildest dreams he imagined the possibility of talking to China. Nor, I’m sure, did Bell when he made his gadgets for recording the vibrations of speech imagine anything like this.
And there is the much-touted completely uneven modernization of China that plays out in technology and is tied to class and status. With the proper gadgets and skill we can watch John Stuart on hulu, download books onto our kindles, practice Chinese on youtube, and other fun things. But I got misplaced running the other day and wandered into the area of the garden where the ground crews live, and they have no running water or electric wires. While we were playing in the lily pond, the kids found a set of bathroom tiles. It turned out the construction dudes were using the pond to wash them. The same woman who gave me the bread maker explained to me how to make sticky rice by picking a banana leaf from up the hill (with the ghosts). The market has a booth that sells cell phones but vegetables are weighed with a scale that looks like Confucius might have used it.
Tonight’s wild life excitement was a lizard crawling up the wall.