I’m pretty certain there was a sign somewhere on the table that said “Look out for the dumplings!!” Of course, it would have been written in Chinese. And it would have said that inside the soft dumpling was a soft plum. And inside the soft plum was a really hard pit!!
I had an early departure for the flight home and grabbed something easy to eat on-the-run. But the sudden crunching noise in my mouth slowed me down. And so with the car waiting, I stood there in the middle of the dining hall, feeling around inside my mouth to see what was different or missing….
That was how my adventure in Nantong ended. How it began was much more auspicious.
Cars and trucks are backed up for miles waiting their turn on the small ferries. But as we approached, my driver swung into the (empty) oncoming lane and drove straight to the front. He stopped, hopped out of the car with some letters bearing my name and went looking for someone in authority to explain he had a “V.I.P. in the car. Three minutes later he was back. They lifted the exit gate and we drove through.
The driver wore a satisfied smile across the entire river, knowing he’d just skipped a two hour wait…
In Nantong, the national Chinese Traditional Kite Championship was underway. Fliers arrived at the hotel and assembled their kites in the lobby. Kites were then measured, categorized, and registered for the coming competitions.
And I’m thinking that if they display their kites, I should display mine too. Susie hates it when I get those kinds of ideas….
The night before I’d seen a large fan used to dry the carpet on my hotel floor. So I asked my translator to arrange to borrow the fan. I unrolled a 60 foot Teddy bear in the lobby, plugged in the fan, and blew him up! Hotel staff actually seemed amused and the kite folks were delighted. That night, the festival and the Bear were on Chinese national news.
Being a kite celebrity is something special. You get a translator, a car, a private room with internet service. You get to sit at the head table when the event starts and you get to dine with the mayor at the table with good food. Everyone you pass smiles and says hello.
But being a celebrity also involves special obligations and unexpected challenges.
You get to make speeches with no notice, and are interviewed by every television, newspaper and highschool newsletter in the region. Each day I was assigned a new translator – some of whom understood me and others who did not.
My place at the opening ceremonies was marked with a card that most people pronounced “Daa-way Gam-berger”. And each night, you are invited to eat frightening things at dinner.
Chinese festivals are media events and organizers always work to make it look like there are lots of foreign guests. So invariably, foreign language teachers from around the area are invited to participate in kite ‘delegations’ and march onto the field. Now frankly, this has always bothered me because being part of a kite team is an honor and most of these folks in the German, American, and Australian groups wouldn’t know a kite from a kangaroo. By noon, most had gone home and I was left as the only western kiter at the festival.
These events tend to have no field integrity. People wander everywhere and like to get in close for a good look at anything interesting. That can make it challenging to launch something big.
I put the Manta Ray up on two lines. I’d hold one and invite spectators to take the other. The power of the kite always surprised and delighted. We had people lined up 100 deep for a flying turn.
But later I added the Bear to the stack. His toes bounced along the ground and dozens of kids grabbed, punched, kicked and pulled at him. Nothing I did could move them off – which I wanted for the safety of both the kids and the bear. So finally I put him away and focused on the higher flying Ray.
In addition to interesing food, dinner each night was punctuated with enthusiastic toasts.
It is an important process You are obligated to drain your glass each time a friend drinks with you. The drink is strong and the toasts are frequent. So they take turns in a none-too-subtle game of “let’s get the foreigner drunk”.
The trick is to spill more than you drink – to politely re-direct the toasts to others at the table – and to weigh twice what any of them do.
I’m not sure if that was for flying, or killing one of the kids.
And then suddenly it was time to return home. That’s when I broke a tooth. Just before a 20 hour trip! I phoned Susie in the middle of her night and asked her to arrange a emergency dental appointment for the morning I got back.
Nantong was delightful. I enjoyed the people, I enjoyed the kites, I even enjoyed the food. The special attention was nice, but each day I phoned home to Susie who would laugh and remind me that the V.I.P. treatment would end when I got home.
Coming through immigration, the officer seemed as weary as I felt. “Where you coming from?” He asked. “China”.
“Business?” “No.”. “What were you doing in China??”
“I was flying kites.”
The officer looked up at me. “Why were you doing that??”
“Well, because I like to fly kites and because I was invited.”
“By whom?” “The Chinese Kite Association.”
“Why would they do that??”
I had to think for a second. “I guess they think I’m famous.”
“Well, are you??”
I had to think again. “Yes”, I said with a smile, and he waved me through.
See you out there somewhere!