Anyway, I ventured out on Saturday after lunch to look around and wandered. I was kind of intimidated by the attention I got and since I had read a lot about name seals in English but didn't know much about what to say in Chinese. After a few walks around and a venture down DaPing Lu to find a bunch of tea shops, I finally decided to ask my liaison to come with me which I've avoided doing partly because she has a daughter in Changsha that she only sees on the weekends. To my surprise, she actually agreed to come the very next day when she was done teaching classes. I had just asked her if there was a good day to go together because I assumed she would be away, but I guess with the high school entrance exam coming up she had to teach classes on Sunday morning as well as Monday-Saturday. So we agreed to meet when she was done teaching. We left at about 11:30 together. Actually, I’ve never really asked her to come with me for much of anything. I tend to look up words on my own or move on my own. She goes shopping with the other foreign teacher a lot but since I’ve never been too into all the clothes (they’re fun to look at, but wearing and using them is something else for me). She said she was actually happy to help in this case since she spends so much time trying to think of what might interest us around here and my inviting her allowed her to see some of my interest. She also took on the job of liaison to improve her English so there’s that aspect as well.
My liaison helped me to find the cheapest seal I could, a square bottomed red stone with nothing carved on it for 50 yuan. She asked if I wanted anything carved on it and I asked for my Chinese name and, if possible, a sheep on top since my birth year is the sheep, it’s currently the year of the sheep, and the sheep was the first new year I actually spent in China. He surprised me by asking if I wanted to carve it myself. I said no because I had no experience in this kind of thing and no tools. He told me that to carve something on both sides it would cost me 450 yuan in total. 50 for the stone, 200 for each side carved. My liaison was surprised at how expensive it was and wore an expression similar to the one I had when she said her clothes shopping budget was 1000RMB. I told the shop owner that was fine (and I’d have been surprised if he did that kind of work according to my requests without me paying a few hundred yuan) and we started working on some of the details. He showed me various kinds of script styles and suggested an ancient style of script that he felt would show up well given that I picked a smaller stone for my name seal. I told him I would trust him on that. Then he asked about the sheep and asked if an image similar to a picture of the Buddha he had on the wall was ok. I said that was fine. Then he asked me how I wrote my Chinese name and I felt a little stuck between the traditional characters I learned first around 5 years ago and the simplified characters I’ve switched to since coming here. I just wrote it in simplified and watched as he immediately wrote out its ancient equivalents and added a fourth character to balance out everything. It was really impressive to see him use nothing more than his hands and his head to produce it all.
With the deal sealed (ha) he told me he’d call my liaison when it was finished and that I would leave a 200 yuan deposit for now and pay the last 250 when I picked it up. He told me to expect around a week. Funny thing, that’s roughly the time it will take for my residence permit. After that, my liaison and I wandered out to check out some of the odds and ends for sale. She introduced to PiXiu, the 9th dragon son who is good for wealth because “See? He doesn’t have a butt. So money goes in his mouth and doesn’t come out. Many businesses have one of these.” There is much to be revered in ancient Chinese culture. There’s also a lot of strange ancient Chinese humor that comes with it. I have seen a tea pet version of Pi Xiu online but it didn’t come with the explanation I received here. She went through some of the other things and I told her that I’d actually invited the other teacher to come but she was busy. She agreed with me that it was the kind of place she’d like. So we stopped into a clothing shop nearby before heading back to the apartments and running into students along the way. I’m really pleased with how the whole experience went because my liaison found a cool new spot, I finally have my seal, and not only that but the shop owner invited me to come back anytime and especially on the weekends when his students come to practice painting and calligraphy. He said he’d teach me Chinese and all about Chinese art and culture. My liaison said he could probably tell me all kinds of things she wouldn’t be as familiar with without the same training he had to go through to set up his own painting and seal shop. I’m excited that he’s extended that opportunity to me and having seen him at work when we talked about my name seal, I have no doubt that he’s a great resource. He said he could tell me all kinds of things about Confucianism.
And here my long Sunday post finally ends. My name seal is on its way, I’ve met someone who really wants to share what he knows about Chinese culture, I finally went to the pagoda along the Xiang, snapped some pictures of Zhuzhou, and am now preparing to check off the final big two things on my list: the world’s biggest Chinese restaurant and Zhuzhou tower. I’ll hold off until the end of service conference to write about both that and the restaurant. I’m excited to check out something so unthinkably big (to me anyway) that doesn’t get as much attention as some other sights in China do. Sorry for the lengthy post, it was just kind of exciting to make some new connections and wander some more in this little city of about 4 million people.