Being the "laowai" (foreigner) is often times a problem. However, sometimes even problems enjoy their own special brand of absurdity.
When I got to the Kunming Botanical Institutes's Chinese Herbal Medicine garden, I found myself alone for the first time in the week I'd been in China. I sat down in a beautiful pavilion overlooking a pond full of lilies and rested for a few minutes, enjoying my dried mangoes, a Pepsi, and a bag of potato chips described on the package as "the flavor of pungency".
Mmmmm - pungency.
At the time of this trek, I was just on the tail end of a really bad cold/flu. I was still suffering from profuse nasal drainage, red eyes, and a general desire not to be looked at. Having just finished my hourly sneezing fit I leaned back beginning to plan out my day of photography in this so-called "100 Medicine Garden."
Just then, I see some 8th grade children running in through the main gate of this garden three hundred yards away from me. I know that it is a matter of time, a short matter of time before I am spotted. Yep, it didn't take long at all. In minutes, I was surrounded by about fifty eighth graders.
There was nothing I could do. I couldn't be cold and ignore them. They were all around me. Each one waiting silently for some pearl of exotic wisdom to come spurting forth from me like a guru at the top of a mountain. Just to add some drama to the moment, I said absolutely nothing until one of them spoke. The bravest of them came forward, and in a decidedly British accent said "Hallao".
"Hello, how are you?" I countered, and the pavilion burst into laughter.
"What is your name?" A tall girl asked, being prodded by two of her friends.
"Al." I responded.
In unison, suggesting to me that this was part of their memorized classroom dialog, the two friends followed up with "can you spell that slowly for me?"
I opened up my left hand to use as a writing tablet, and with my right index finger, drew an "A" and an "L" on my hand. I asked one of them what her name was.
"Tian, Lin Feng."
Wow. That translates to "Heavenly wind of the forest." She wins that one.
The young man who was the first to speak to me, was also the first to actually walk on water, or so it appears as he peers into the lily pond.
A man that seemed to be in charge of the children arrived in the pavilion. I made my way over to him and asked them if they (the children) were his friends. He said "yes", and even said that their English teacher was here somewhere though I never did find her. We were having this dialog in Mandarin. We really couldn't understand each other too well.
I decided to go ahead and scout around for some good pictures. I was being followed, step by step by fifty young people. They were milling around me like I was an oxygen tank and they were all under the sea, needing me for air.
Again, I was sick. I didn't feel well, and I certainly didn't feel presentable, given the constant sneezing and dripping nose. Yet, there was absolutely nothing I could do, so I gave into it and took some pictures of the children, and even had a little fun with them.
Two girls, spooked away when they saw me taking their picture. Chinese students wear team uniforms. Schools are organized into teams.
I used the children's ability to read the Chinese characters dangling from many of the medicinal herbs to determine just exactly what they were, since my experience with Chinese herbs is in the pharmacy, after the herbs have been dried, processed, and generally altered in appearance.
Here's a nice shot of Huo Xiang (Patchouli).
Huo Xiang is used for nausea and vomiting among a few other things.
I attempted to tell the kids about Huo Xiang by mimicking a headache and nausea. I must admit, that I enjoyed mimicking the dizzy retching, that's the eighth grader inside of me, but they weren't really too interested in the medicinal herbs.
To them, the real blossom of this garden was the one plant they've never seen before. The tall one with the white skin and round blue eyes, the one with all that stuff coming out of his nose.