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July 2, 2007 - Guyuan, China

Green Apricots and a Donkey

That would be quite the punchline - instead it was my day.

Yesterday I had the privilege of going with some friends to their laojia - a traditional family home - set in the mountains behind my town, Guyuan. We had a 45 minute taxi ride on some pretty interesting roads. And by interesting I mean small, twisty, dusty and very very steep. Kudos to the taxi/rally car driver that got us there and back.

The visit was initiated after an argument about apricots. Thats right, apricots.

I held that the orange apricots that I bought in town were the best - my friends however asserted the best were from a tree not far from from their grandmothers door. After meeting the family, the cousins, the uncles, aunts, sons, neighbors, neighbors family, townspeople, officials and the family donkey we were able to put a leg up into the trees and pick some fresh apricots. Filling a few bags - and my stomach in the process - we spent a few hours hopping between trees looking for the sweetest, biggest and hardest to reach fruit.

After a very thoughtful and, of course, very pushy (in only the best of ways) lunch we went out to take a walk. We visited the family cave a short walk away - perfect for staying cool in the summer heat and warm in the winter cold - as well as the family sheep herd and came back to the ornery little donkey.

The donkey, wandering around the yard, tried his best to nail every third person walking behind him - so I cant say he was too ornery (if he was, it would have been every person). I attempted to placate him a bit by scratching his ever so soft ears and opening the bag of apricots for him. That was a big hit and the next thing I knew I was covered head to toe in black donkey hair, the apricots softened had his little donkey heart. From that point on I had a big black hairy shadow.

Just to put it in context, donkeys have a bit of a stigma here in China - namely, that of a jackass. Whenever I am in class and want a laugh I can say 3 words to my 15 year olds, "love" (and give a little sigh), "kiss" and "donkey." Its even better when I combine the 3.

Noticing my follower, the entire group of family and friends started pushing me amid cries of "Qi lu!!!!" and "Ta bu hui tiao!!!" - "Ride the donkey" and "He won't jump." I wasn't about to get of of this.

Visions danced through my head of small sturdy donkey galloping through the dusty hills with a foreigner flopping behind him - foot caught in his rope bridle. Even me taking a bit of a bareback donkey joyride around the compound would have been cause for a riot.

I was a bit worried I was going to cause a few heart attacks the way some of the old folk were laughing - giving them something they had never seen before - the foreign uncle riding an ass. The donkey took it in stride - thought I swear he was a bit embarrassed to be part of the spectacle.

The apricots were pretty good too.

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