(Action sequence live from Bialowieza National Park!)
After this day, I am not sure whether I can meet more hospitable people than the Poles.
Although I barely went to bed until 1 am and, in the morning, turned over in bed trying to resume sleep, when I did get up it was 6.20am. Can someone please reduce my dose of adrenaline?
Max and I waited for Agnieszka, and we eventually set off at around 10am; on the way Max had to “go drop his gun,” since he turns out to be a security guard at the border to Belarus(!). The weather is hot; for a moment I thought I should have brought the sun block, even though I applied some before leaving.
Max and Agnieszka tried to show me an Orthodox “writing icon” museum, but it was closed, very likely due to the Orthodox celebration of St. Nicolas’s Day. When we passed a lovely blue Orthodox church, we saw a whole bunch of people lining up to get inside.
(On the way Agnieszka mentioned the name “Białowieża” a couple of times, and I was wondering why she pronounced “z” differently from the way it should be pronounced. Is it a kind of distortion? Accent? Or hidden rule? Later I discovered that it is none of the above: when I saw the sign, I realized that for a long time I neglected that it’s actually “ż” and not the regular “z” employed in this name! and of course, “ż” comes with a distinctly different sound! I learn this by myself a couple of months ago already!)
We went to Białowieża National Park to see bisons as well as hybrids of bisons and cows. There are also a kind of short horses, wolves, mooses and other types of animals, although aside from the horses, all seemed sleepy. The one souvenir that interest me the most is honey: the area has the tradition of beekeeping, and Agnieszka told me there are several different kinds of honey; one of them has ginger bits in it, and another appears WHITE and has rose pedals in it. It’s a pity that the latter is available this time. In any case, obviously I can bring anything with me, but Max pointed to some souvenir t-shirts asking which one I liked the best. After understanding that I do not want any, he walked to a souvenir stand and came back with a little bison stuffed toy! Now I have a souvenir.
Max also bought snacks in front of a marvelous church for me to sample and showed me the cuisine offered by the two best hotels in this area; one of them occupies the former train station and is furnished with all kinds of decorations from the tsar period in a most tasteful manner. I wish I had known either Polish or Russian, the two languages he speaks, so I could have known what he wanted to do and prevented him from lavishing thus, but as later in the day Agnieszka reminded me of the old Polish saying I came across when I was preparing for the trip, “Guest in the home, God in the home” (Gość w dom, Bóg w dom). Obviously the very attentive Max is an observer of that saying.
After the service probably worthy of the tsar, we went to a place that turned out to be Natural History Museum, and began I knew it I had not only an English audio guide but also a sticker on my chest that allows me to take photographs! Honestly, this is usually not the kind of museum for me, and I normally don’t take photos of stuffed animals in a museum, but since now I have this sticker, I tried not to disappoint my host (I think) and took photos earnestly. (It was funny that many tourists did want to take photos and invariably with flash.) It turned out, rather unexpectedly, that this little museum has a good way of explaining the facts and conveying the knowledge, and the exhibitions are pretty fine! I would even recommend visiting it.
Even though we were never short of food, Max asked Agnieszka to remind me several times that we “also have bananas and apples” in his backpack.
We wanted to visit that very fabulous Orthodox church with wavy shapes of roofs, but there was the celebration, and we returned later it was already closed. Max and Agnieszka went to a place (that I obviously wouldn’t have thought of) to talk in Polish to an intercom, obviously asking them to open since some Taiwanese visitor has this rare chance of visiting. They were told that the security code was already set. We then saw a priest in black robe with strong features (who was previously talking two a couple of very very handsome and yet meek-looking young men), and my friends advanced to ask him for help. He eventually agreed to “allow five minutes,” but as it turned out he had only one out of the two keys, and I never got to see the obviously very fantastic interior of the church.
Maybe I should just learn Polish, marry someone, and visit again.
On the way home my friends asked me more facts about Taiwan, and at a point Agnieszka suddenly interrupted me and asked, “You’re very proud of your country, aren’t you?”
“Well, I was merely talking about facts.” I replied.
I was. But seriously, Taiwan government should really hire me (and pay BIG money) for publicity. Sometimes I really think this is my calling, even though I try to never hard-sell.
There was for quite a while on the car back home when my two new friends chatted enthusiastically in Polish, and I sat at the back, appreciating silently the field view and the clouds magically backlit by the setting sun. I feel I am so very fortunate: the varying lights are a divine sight, and here are all these people who barely knew me and yet went OUT OF THEIR WAYS to make me feel safe, accommodated and cared-for. I am really touched.
After sending Agnieszka home, Max called Greg to translate. They made sure I got the right train ticket for tomorrow, and Max asked through Greg whether I was too tired or I would still like to see the old town. So old town it is! It was a very curious experience: we were two people who could not talk to each other AT ALL, even though through this interaction pattern I learnt a couple of very very basic Polish words (and at a short second feel like a cared-for little puppy). Still, Max is so very patient and let me took my photos. After the city center (which is lovely and atmospheric at dawn), we even drove to a fountain with colored lighting – obviously that was a place for lovers! Couples sat on one bench after another, and when we were to leave I even saw a middle-aged Muslim pair! If this were a movie, we would have and SHOULD HAVE been a hot couple who look each other in the eyes, reach for each other’s hands, and suddenly through the wisdom in the winds break down the linguistic barrier one way or another. But of course this isn’t a movie. (Alas.)
Although I was fatigued and will have to get up early, we continued Google-translating a bit and saw some photos after returning home. Max told me he’ll prepare breakfast and sandwiches for me tomorrow, and I “don’t have to worry.” At one point he gestured me to see what he translated with Google, and there he said, “Do you eat chives?” Yes, there’re going to be chopped chives in my sandwiches.
Gosh, I really hope I am a decent and good enough guest!!!!!
[Photos of Bialowieza, Hajnówka and Białystok = here.]