This is a rather long and somewhat uninteresting review of our week written to give you some idea of what life is like in Hangzhou. Just like your lives, much of what we do is routine and every so often something different or fun comes along. –jk
Sometime during the night on Monday I awoke to make what has become for some number of years now the nightly trip to the bathroom. I noticed that my ankle was sore, as if it had been sprained. I could think of no reason for this, as I had not had any accidents during the day. Nor had I stressed it in any other way that I could remember. I chalked it up to one of those quirks of life—as when a person bends slightly wrong and throws a back out and spends the next two weeks walking about with an oddly tilted posture, or, when a person sleeps in just the right position to cause a kink in the neck and then spends the next three or four days having to turn his or her entire body to turn his or her head—that’s what I thought it might be. Or the gout. One or the other.
All in all, this was not a good thing because Tuesday was the day that my wife had invited her Minnesota teaching associate from Hangzhou Foreign Language School, where they both teach, to accompany us to He Fang Street, a historical and cultural street dating back more than 800 years to when Hangzhou was the capital of China. It’s one of the must-see sites should you ever visit the city. It’s a street where the architecture of the late 18th and 19th centuries has been, if not preserved, then restored. It’s a street that contains anachronisms like Dairy Queen and McDonalds within spitting distance of the food street, where such delicacies as frog or crabs on a stick and duck head, along with other Chinese traditional foods of various animal parts, fill the air with peculiar aromas as they fry and roast and grill in the food stands.
I did not want to miss He Fang Street, but my ankle was protesting. Luckily, the medical kit I brought along contained some Vicodin—a pain medication I use rarely, but when I do, I find it effective. That did the trick. By the time my wife and the other teacher arrived at the apartment around 12:30, I had submitted a 1500-word article to World Hum, an online travel publication, and was in a suitable condition—even though I limped a little—to accompany them to He Fang Street. We rode the bus, always an experience here in Hangzhou, and spent an hour or so in He Fang Street in a kind of reconnaissance mode getting familiar with the area with the intention of coming again later to spend more time exploring. We took a rather long walk back to West Lake where we found a western restaurant and satisfied a craving for a hamburger and French fries.
Wednesday night we hopped a very crowded bus in a steady rain and headed for a coffee house in another part of the city. Hong Mei, one of the teachers who works at Hangzhou Foreign Language School (HFLS) with Char, has opened a coffee house with some friends. It’s called Tutu and it caters to parents with small children. Wednesday evenings, Mei reads children’s stories in English to the Chinese children who have come to the shop. Char and Mei met two years ago when Char taught at HFLS, so Mei asked Char to come and read to the kids. It was quite fun. Char is very expressive when she reads and the kids really seemed to enjoy it. Plus, they got to meet an American grandma and grandpa.
The weather is warming up here (in the 70s today) and with it we are receiving invitations to various activities. Bao and Rebecca, a young couple in their early 30s, have invited us to accompany them to the city of Wuhan, which is an overnight train ride away on the slow train. We were given the choice of taking the fast train, the one that travels 185 mph, or taking the slow train and sleeping on the train overnight. We chose the latter; I have never done that. Char took a sleeper train in Europe in the 70s. We are somewhat surprised that these youngsters want to travel with a couple of old timers.
One of the teachers at HFLS has invited us to accompany her and her family for a weekend to Suzhou, which was Marco Polo’s second most favorite Chinese city. Hangzhou was his first, by the way. She also wants to take us to the famous Dragon Well tea village here in Hangzhou, home of China’s renowned Longjing tea.
Another teacher, who taught in Minnetonka last year, will be entertaining her Minnesota host family here in Hangzhou, and she has asked us to tag along for the weekend. And yet another teacher has invited us to go with her and her family to her hometown, which is famous for bamboo. So we expect to be quite busy for the next few weeks.
The Street Vendor’s Video
Two years ago when we were here, I made a short video of a street food vendor near our apartment. When we went back to the food stand this year, we discovered that the vendor’s son now operates the stand. At one point, I showed him the video of his father. He and his wife were quite excited.
So I showed up at the food stand on Thursday night to get dinner for Char and me, and the next thing I know, the son’s dad shows up and all of a sudden we have a family gathering, complete with a two-year-old running between our legs. They make it clear to me that they want a copy of the video. Of course I can’t speak to them, but three young schoolgirls have stopped by to get snacks and they can speak a few words of English, so they start interpreting for me. Meanwhile, a small crowd of passersby starts to gather, obviously wondering what the heck is going on with this big old westerner. I wanted to order some food, known as cereal pies in Shandong style, but I couldn’t because I am too busy trying to communicate that, somehow, I will bring the movie to them later. Eventually, everyone understands and is satisfied. When I go to order my cereal pie, I discover that the son has already made one for me. I had ordered one several days before when I had initially showed him the video, and he remembered what I had requested. So he gives me the pie and refuses to take payment for it. I went home that night and put the video on a jump drive and gave it to the son the next day. It was quite an interesting incident—quite fun, actually.
Lost Bank Card
After Char took off for school on Friday, I decided to get some exercise by walking to the bank and back, about a 40-minute brisk walk. I’d intended to get some cash using my credit union debit card. It’s a neat system. I think I can get up to $500 a day and the bank on the Chinese end does not charge a fee. The credit union charges only one percent, so it’s a pretty good deal overall. But when I got locked inside the secure ATM booth, I discovered that I’d lost my debit card. I had absolutely no idea where it could be. I know that when I travel, I have all of these pockets and places to put things that are not part of my regular system, and I think that maybe I’ve misplaced it. But in any event, it was not with me at the ATM, so I walked home and initiated a thorough search. It was one of those searches in which you start looking in places where you know it could not possibly be, but you look there anyway just so that you can eliminate it as a possibility. It was gone. I finally admitted it. Best I can tell, I left it in the machine the first time I used it. Chinese ATMs do not push the card out upon completion of the transaction as ATMs do in the States; rather, the customer has to request the card by pressing a button. I’m sure what happened was that I grabbed the money from the machine, counted it (which I always do), and then walked out without requesting my card. So now I’m dealing with the credit union to get a replacement. Fun.
Dinner With Friends
The disappointment of discovering my missing bank card seemed hardly significant by the end of the day, largely because we had been invited to join a Bao and Rebecca for dinner after work. This is the same couple that has invited us to Wuhan. I guess they like us. Bao works with Char at HFLS; Rebecca works for an immigration service in Hangzhou. She rides the #10 bus home after work, and gets home at 7:30. Wow. Bao asked us to take a #10 from our apartment to the end of the line, where he would meet us. Well, as we should have expected, the #10 was completely packed—so much so, in fact, we were literally unable to squeeze onto the first one that came by. The second wasn’t much better, but we decided that we had to get on, so we pushed and shoved and squeezed and managed to get onto the bus—just barely. For much of the ride, it was absolutely packed. When finally passengers started to get off and the crowd had thinned, we discovered Rebecca sitting in the very last seat in the corner in the back of the bus. What a fun surprise.
Bao and Rebecca took us to a Korean restaurant. They have a fondness for Korean fare and they wanted to take us to one of their favorite restaurants. It is hard to say which was best—the food or the conversation. These two are absolutely delightful, and we seem to have compatible personalities. We ate and talked and laughed for an hour and a half, and in the process, created one of those unplanned, memorable experiences.
And that’s pretty much it for the week. Saturday was grocery-shopping day. Sunday we took a walk in the sunny, 70-degree weather to get some coffee at Starbucks ($27/pound!). Earlier in the week, I also started the tutorials to new photo editing software that I have acquired, so we’ll see how that goes. And I have also sent off more queries for articles I would like to write.
For the coming week, we will be going to the police station to get our residence permits. Other than that, I imagine it will be pretty much like your week, filled with routine, just in a different place.