Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields. . . Strawberry Fields Forever!"

(How 'bout that? A Beatles reference! Boy, I'm into 60s music these days!)

Sunday was a berry, berry good day! We had made arrangements to meet a family whose daughter is in Maya’s class to pick strawberries. They told us to take bus 47 and wrote out our stop in Chinese characters. We were to meet at the bus stop at 9 a.m. Sunday. I’m not sure what happened, but they didn’t show up. Maybe the bus driver left us at the wrong stop. Or maybe they decided that, because of yesterday’s rain, it was too muddy to pick strawberries. Anyway, we waited for them until 9:30, and when they didn’t show, we followed a group of people down a path I hoped led to a strawberry patch! The path deposited us in a courtyard full of cement ponds and people washing vegetables. I could see fields of strawberries next to the courtyard, but had no clue how the pick-your-own strawberry thing worked. So I walked up to a group of people and asked if anyone could speak English. Luckily, one young lady did, and led us around to the strawberry farm. The farmer handed us a bucket, and away we went!
It was muddy, but the girls really had a ball trying to find the perfect strawberries. The farmer followed the girls around to point out all the good strawberries they missed, and throwing away any green ones they picked – which I thought was pretty nice, since they’ll never ripen and make her money now. She was tickled to have us there, I think, and smiled and laughed at the girls the whole time.
The farm was interesting – in addition to strawberries, she was growing lettuce and tomatoes. There were some kind of fruit trees, too. The fields were neat and tidy, and the ramshackle house definitely wasn’t! The garbage heap was right against one wall of the house, topped by a sodden mattress spilling its guts all around. There was a dog tied up outside the front door, and she growled at us as we walked by, the perfect security alarm. A puppy followed us to the field, and lay down among the strawberry plants to watch the girls. His right eye was completely opaque – Laurie (the vet!), does that mean he was blind in that eye? The girls wondered. . . .

Speaking of security alarms – there were lines of rope strung across the fields, with aluminum cans hanging on them. Each time the wind blew, the cans rattled. Quite effective in keeping the birds away from the strawberries, I’m sure.

We picked about 1.5 kilos (3.3 pounds) of strawberries – here’s the proof:

I wondered how our farmer was going to figure out how much to charge us – our helpful English speaker had told us the strawberries would be 8 yuan per kilo. After looping the bag of strawberries on the hook, the farmer slid the weight up the stick and showed me the mark where the weight and the bag were balanced. It was just under 1.5 kilos, so I pulled out 12 yuan, but the farmer couldn’t handle the fact that I was paying full price for an underweight bag, so she dashed into the field and picked a few handfuls of strawberries to add to the bag!

We were home by 11:30, and longing for strawberries with our lunch. But washing raw fruit without peels is a bit challenging here, between nasty pesticides banned in the U.S. and non-potable water. So first I rinse the strawberries with non-potable water to get most of the dirt off. Then I soak them in non-potable water spiked with a little chlorine bleach – kills the germs in the water, and helps to strip the pesticides. Then I soak the fruit in boiled-and-cooled water to get rid of the chlorine! But then we ate and ate and ate and ate yummy strawberries! In fact, after strawberries for lunch and for an afternoon snack, we have exactly two strawberries left!

After lunch, a rest, and a snack, we took a CD of our photos from International Women’s Day to the local photo shop to be printed. We want to give a set of photos to Si Bo to thank him for the silkworms. They said come back in two hours, so we went to the international bookstore we’ve seen several times but hadn’t visited yet. The girls were excited to see some children’s books in English, but they were just as thrilled to look at Chinese books, too – especially the ones with the Little Mermaid and Snow White! I found some large laminated posters with colorful pictures and English and Chinese (both pinyin and Chinese characters) translations. We bought 5 of them – fruits and veggies, animals, colors, opposites, and food (the picture of donuts has the label “sweet wheat enclosing!”).We’ve already taped them up in the girls’ room and it brightens up the place considerably.

When we returned for the photos, they were not quite ready, so we headed home. Around 5, we went back for the pictures, and to a restaurant nearby. After we ordered, I pulled out the photos to divide into two stacks, and we were SWARMED by the waitresses who wanted to look! I’ve never seen anything like it – those photos got passed through the entire restaurant, discussed, analyzed, compared to the real likenesses of Zoe and Maya . . . and just when I thought we’d get our pictures back, another member of the waitstaff would arrive to look at the pictures. It was hilarious! I wish I'd had my camera. They were so delighted that we cooperated that we were treated like royalty from then on. After Maya finished eating, one waitress picked her up and carried her around the restaurant – including upstairs – to show her off. Apparently I’m no more entitled to sole possession of my children than I am to my photos! Maya was delighted by the attention, and Zoe was incredibly jealous not to be carried, too. But Zoe was almost as tall as the little thing toting Maya around! The waitress spoke a little English, and asked Maya what her name was, and she answered, “BingLi!” I was really surprised – she said she wanted to be called BingLi at school, but everyone is calling her Maya there. This is the first time she’s introduced herself with her Chinese name.

So all in all a great day, despite the miscommunication (or whatever) with the friend from Maya’s class. Maybe we’ll go back with them to pick strawberries another time.


Kim said...

I'm jealous! It'll be 3 more months before we can pick strawberries here! :)

Lynn Cameron said...

I am absolutely loving your blog! Your daughters are precious and I'm getting all kinds of vicarious pleasure from your giant adventure. I have a sweet 7 year old son who currently lives at the Xiamen CWI, so having these wonderful glimpses into his hometown is just great! I'm hoping to travel for him sometime in May-June. Perhaps I'll be allowed to visit the orphanage and we can meet up with you and your girls then- I'll also be traveling with my three daughters, who all are from Guangdong (ages 6,6 and 4). Anyway, many thanks for sharing all your fun!


Anonymous said...

Loved this entry...especially the scene at the restaurant of the photos being passed around. Too bad you did not have your camera. We love to see the pictures of our girls. Very surprised to have Maya introduce herself as BingLi. We miss them a lot and still hope I can come in May/June.

Anonymous said...

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Maria Scott