Actually, it gets worse|
Wednesday 12 June: Wednesday morning, Ping was not present. This wasn't too surprising. I imagine she finally became ultimately annoyed that A) we refused to be herded like sheep, and B) Mom and Dad were constantly correcting her chinese grammar. Hey, chinese is a complicated language. My folks know what they're talking about. They got out of the country before the communists ruined the educational system. (Yes, NEA members, I'm talking to *you*.) Anyway, in her place was the terribly uncomfortable Mr. Xu, whom we promptly dubbed "Gomer".
I don't know where we were originally scheduled to go, but Mom and Dad got Gomer to take us to the Big Goose pagoda (another buddhist temple) instead. Within minutes, Mom and Dad vanished (we later found then in back with the monks). Upon recovery of the parents, we went to the "Forest of Steles". A stele (pronounced "stella"... STELE!!! STELE!!!... oh, sorry) is just a large tablet upon which has been inscribed something, usually an essay or a poem. It's also a way to preserve examples of great calligraphy, famous texts or both. An early Xi'an emperor founded a kind of library of steles for scholars who wished to study texts (because believe me, it's much easier to make a rubbing of 20,000 characters instead of copying them by hand). The collection grew into a kind of scholar's compound and now houses something like 10,000 tablets. I bought a rubbing of one of my favorites, a poem hidden in bamboo leaves, written by a captured general.
In the middle of one of China's many wars, one kingdom captured a key general from another and held him hostage. They offered him a good life if, in exchange, he would lead their army.
On the night he escaped, he left a painting of two bamboo trees painted on his wall. His captors later realized that the intertwining leaves formed a poem stating his loyalty to his king (and adopted brother) that essentially translates to, "thanks but no thanks".
Gomer dragged us to another one of The People's Stores that afternoon, where we were taken on a forced march through the jade carving area and then redeposited on the showroom floor. This was a bad move on his part since we had clearly expressed our reluctance to go, and having been forced to see the place anyway, were now getting that feverish look of murder in our eyes.
Rich had been examining a few stone carvings in the lobby but a gap-toothed salesgirl attempted to show him "better" ("identical but higher priced") pieces in an adjoining room. She repeatedly insisted, "For you, half price!"
Outside, I sat down on a pile of 1'x2' carpets, and on a whim, flipped one over to read the partially obscured price. The salesgirl stopped pestering Rich, thinking I'd be a better target.
We left before I could hit her.