I started out this morning without any plans but I ended up with a new friend and a stomach filled to bursting. My host family had to go to work this morning (we have school on Saturday mornings too?) and I was planning to just hang out until they got back and just play it by ear. I ate my leftover salty fish and vegetables for breakfast and I had started some rice before I found out I'd be eating alone so I had to eat it all because I didn't know the protocol on leaving leftover rice. But it's OK to overeat a little for breakfast, right? Because I have the rest of the day to work it off and I just won't eat very much else.
This is when my new friend called. Her English name is Demi, and she teaches at the same school I'll be at and is also a church member. Today her kids were visiting their grandparents and so she had the whole day to take me out and do things. When I got in the car she warned, "Are you hungry? If you're gonna be friends with me, you're gonna get fat." I had no idea.
Our first stop was the local weekly market. It was right next to this Buddhist temple and she showed me around inside - very beautiful, very ornate. Very interesting mix of old painted art and flashing lightbulb art, all combined to pay tribute to a host of local gods.
The market was packed with people, all very friendly, all making comments on how white I am. Almost everyone gives out samples, which makes it kind of like when you go have Saturday lunch at Costco because you're a poor college student.
I wanted to get more pictures but most of the time it was just too crowded. These concoctions are all vegetarian things and pickled and preserved foods sold by a friendly Buddhist guy. I have this soft spot in my heart for religious vegetarians.
Among the other things we ate were a steamed bun thing with mochi on the outside and a glass of fresh sugar cane juice that Demi bought me - so much for my no sugar policy. If my no-sugar policy doesn't include fruit, though, where does sugar cane juice fall? I'll have to think that one over a little more.
I bought some absolutely delicious pineapple and that's one of the words I learned today - feng li. I also bought a whole kilogram of a weird fruit I'd never known existed. It's lovely - kind of like a pear and a watermelon had a baby. Let's see if Wikipedia can help me out - ah. Here it is. I didn't mean to buy a whole kilogram though. Guess I'll be eating fruit for the next few days.
Then we went into Xin Zhu, the "big town," which is known as the "Windy City." Sure enough, everyone was flying kites, and they were selling them at a little booth.
The main attraction, though, was the big fish market, which was the freshest fish market I've ever been to. Most everything was still alive. The shrimp spit at you every once in a while when you try to take their picture.
These fish heads were enormous - I tried to get the scale of them in there. Each one is about the size of a basketball.
On our way out, Demi bought me a weird dessert from a little cart. From what I could deduce from the sign, this is the lucky swastika peanut and orchid cart. Mmm.
You know what, though? It was absolutely amazing. First, you get two scoops of ice cream - you can choose from passion fruit, strawberry and taro. Then they shave this giant block of peanut brittle onto it. Then they add in a sprig of fresh cilantro. Then they wrap it in some sort of a rice flour skin. Umm.... yum. "Aren't Chinese people great?" Demi asked. "We think of putting the weirdest things together." Yes. Yes, and this is why I love you.
Luckily, we went hiking next, which was just lovely. They call it "climbing a mountain," but mostly it's winding your way up a gently sloping trail with carefully manicured flowers and a couch made out of plants.
Afterwards, Demi asked, "Are you hungy?"
"No, not really."
"Ok, I'll take you to my aunt's restaurant."
She is right. We're going to be friends. And I'm gonna get fat.