Today was the last "normal" day here in nanjing. Although we didn't have a culture class or an evening activity, so our night was free. And the students knew that tomorrow's schedule is going to be weird, so they sort of acted like it was the "last day of school." And they were coming around and asking for our autographs and email addresses and stuff like that. Maybe this day wasn't all that normal, I guess.
So with my evening off, there were still a few gifts that I wanted to pick up for people, so I wanted to go to the market place by the Confucian Temple. We ran into a little bit of trouble finding a cab that would take us the 30 minute drive from the hotel to there, and we ended up losing a lot of the group that was going to go with us. But Ron and I persevered! We got one of the ladies who works at the hotel to convince a cab driver to take us. Who knew if we'd find a cab driver to take us back or not, but we'd cross that bridge when we got to it.
The market, not unlike the aushan market that we went to the other day, is sort of divided into two sections: a cheaper section, and a section that feels just like an American mall. But the cheaper section isn't like a Wal-Mart, it's a bunch of vendors in little shops that are willing to bargain to get rid of their miscellaneous, tourist-y, China-y stuff. It's a pretty cool place to experience, even if you don't buy anything. We each picked up a couple of small things, but left maybe a little disappointed.
So before we tried to hail a cab home, we were hungry and it was past our usual dinner time. There is a mix of tourist-friendly restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints that seem pretty sketchy. There is also a row of vendors selling street food from behind carts, almost like at a county fair or something. Except, unlike at a fair in America, I couldn't read the words on the signs, or tell how much anything costed, and most of the time I couldn't tell exactly what the food was by looking at it. And there was no one around who spoke any English to help us.
One day, about 2 weeks ago, we had just arrived in China, and we were fascinated by everything that we saw. And we were amused by all of the funny signs and t-shirts that we saw that had poorly translated English on them. We later found out that the Chinese actually call this "Chinglish" and, yes, they are aware that it is funny to us. One shirt, in particular, stood out to us early on. It had only 4 words on it: Don't Only These Days. At first, we had no idea what it was even trying to say. Was it missing a verb? Did it have something to do with "seizing the day" or "these are the days of our lives"? Was it just a literal, word-for-word translation of some Chinese saying? Or a reference to something that we'd never heard of? Maybe it was just nonsense meant to confuse American tourists. There was no way to know, and the guy got away before we could ask him or even take his picture.
But slowly, it started to all come together for us. It meant: Don't only these days. It was that simple. "Only" was the verb in the sentence, and it was telling us not to do that with these days that we have. You shouldn't "only" today, or you'll probably "only" tomorrow, too. And before you know it, you're "onlying" every day of your life.
Ok, so maybe that explanation makes no more sense than the ridiculous shirt itself. And for a while, we used this as a joke fairly often - any time we saw any Chinglish. "Don't only these days!" Or any time that we saw someone doing anything that they possibly shouldn't do. "Don't only these days!" Or pretty much any time there was a silence long enough to say it. "Don't only these days!" We maybe overused it a bit... And maybe this is a stretch, but I think it actually became more than that. When we went to the great wall, we had the option to take the easier or the harder path. I took the harder one. Because, when will I ever come to China again? Or because you only live once (YOLO!!) Or because: Don't only these days. When we had the option one night to go out to dinner on our own, and a massive group went to pizza hut, a few of is decided to go walk around the streets and find something a little...Chinese-ier. And sketchier, ha ha. Because I can get pizza any time, and I'll be in China just this once. I didn't want to "only" these few days that I had in this country. (It should be noted that I did end up going to pizza hut on another "free" night and that I ate McDonald's at the train station, and I'm glad I at least experienced those things in their Chinese versions while I was here.)
But I tried to incorporate this philosophy into all that I did here. Whether it was sampling every different, weird type of food that was placed in front of me, or trying to learn a lot of the Chinese language, or wearing lots of communist swag while I was here, I wanted to Don't Only These Days. And Don't Only them I did!
Which brings me back to today at the Confucian Market street vendors. I could have had KFC, which actually I haven't had yet in China and it's more popular than McDonald's is in the united states, so I kind of do want to try it! I could have also eaten in one of the Chinese restaurants that were little hole-in-the-wall joints similar to the one that Ron, Troy, and I ate at last week. But I'd already done that. Doing it again might be dangerously close to onlying these days? I think you know what I did. I ate at one of the street vendor carts. I pointed to a pile of noodles and the lady did the rest, scooping various other things into the bowl and handing it to me along with a pair of chopsticks. She hand signaled to me how much I owed her, and I paid and then dug right in!
How was it? It was okay. It tasted good, and had good seasoning with a little kick of spice. Although it was cold, which I didn't expect, and it had a couple of little chunks in there that I wasn't sure what they were, but overall not a bad dinner. And more importantly, it was another day that I didn't Only.
And the cab ride back was actually way easier than I thought it would be. The first cab we saw agreed to take us and he drove us right there. Walking home would have been REALLY not onlying these days, but I'm not willing to go that far! Thankfully the cab ride worked out!
So tomorrow is my last full day in China. I'll teach one more time, say good bye to the kids, and have a closing dinner where I say good bye to all of the adults. And I want to make sure that this trip ends on as good of a note as it started on, and as good of a note that it continued on for the whole two and a half weeks. And when I return home, I hope that the things I've learned here and the experiences I've had here will stay with me in whatever I do. And I hope that I make the most of every opportunity that presents itself to me. And while I will most certainly not have another opportunity this unique in my life again, I want to try as many new things and step out of my comfort zone as much as I can. I want to, as a famous t-shirt philosopher once said: Don't Only These Days!