I’m a little late in reporting it, but autumn has definitely arrived in Hangzhou, and we’re enjoying the great weather. As you can see, there are indesputable signs that fall has arrived. Even the 10rmb midget potted tree on top of my refrigerator is behaving accordingly. So we’re desperately soaking up this beautiful but ephemeral weather. It’ll be dreary rainy cold before long.
So about the vacation to Zhou Shan/Putuo Shan… Our group had about 14 people in it. 5 Americans (I was the only non-Chinese American of that group), 2 Kiwis, 1 Scot, 3 Japanese, and 3 Chinese (including our driver). Plus there was Bob, our tour guide in Zhoushan. He didn’t even know his name was Bob, but it was. So decreed Helene. I don’t think the driver knew his name was Joe, either, for similar reasons.
We had our own private minibus, and we drove all morning (leaving around 6:30am!) to get across on the ferry to Zhoushan at around noon. Then we met up with Bob and ate. We soon learned that in Zhoushan you eat a LOT of seafood. Every meal. Fortunately, it was good stuff. Probably the best shrimp and fish I’ve had in China. Way better than Wenzhou. Then we checked into our hotel, which was right on the sea in an area called Shen Jia Men, and it was off to the Sand Sculpture Festival.
I was annoyed at Bob at the beginning of the trip because he would speak to me like I was retarded, speaking really slowly and exaggerating pronunciation, all the while gesticulating to get his point across. He even said to me at one point, “We can even communicate, if I speak really simply.” I wanted to smack him. You can’t stay mad at Bob, though. He’s a good guy at heart. Toward the end of the trip he was speaking more normally to me.
We were kind of disappointed when we first got to the Sand Sculpture Festival, because there were tons of people there, all seated around a distant stage. Where were the sand sculptures?? We figured out pretty quick that what was going on onstage was just typical China singing/dancing entertainment–the kind of thing that’s on TV in China all the time–and nothing that really interested us. So we migrated over to the actual sculptures. They were pretty massive, and amazing. Check out my pics.
That night we went to the seaside outdoor restaurant. It was within walking distance from our hotel, and the cook tents and tables seemed to go on forever. There was some weird food there (stewed barnacles, anyone?), but good shrimp and fish, too.
The next day we did Putuo Shan, which was sort of a bunch of temple-type stuff, all on the sea. It was nice. Huge Buddha statue and all. I can’t get too excited about this kind of thing anymore, because I’ve seen too many places like it in China. But the seaside part added something.
One of the temples was selling Xian Shui — “mystical water” — for 1rmb ($0.125) per cup. Lots of people were buying it and drinking it. I overheard another guy telling someone it was clean, safe to drink. I bought some and tried it. Tasted OK. I got Chen Yao, our trip coordinator to try it, against her better judgment. Then we met up with Bob, and he promptly informed us that “mystical water” gives you diarrhea if you drink it. Great. If that’s the “mystical” part, then a whole lot of food in China is mystical! Fortunately no one drank more than a few sips.
The trip home was looong… There was a huge traffic jam getting onto the ferry. Everyone was trying to get back. Putuo Shan is a famous vacation spot. Somehow the Chinese people on our bus convinced the police to let us go straight to the front of all the backup just because we had foreigners onboard. Amazing. We wouldn’t have made it out of there that evening if not for that trick. We somehow made it back to ZUCC that night around 11pm, pretty much on schedule, even dropping Vivienne off in Shaoxing on the way. After two packed days of travel, we were all exhausted.
So the week long “National Day Holiday” is now over. I went on a school trip with some fellow teachers from ZUCC to the Zhoushan International Sand Sculpture Festival and the famous Putuo Shan Island. Fellow China blogger and friend Erin Shutty was supposed to come over from Shaoxing with her Scottish friend Vivienne, but instead she tried to devastate us by getting ridiculously sick and cancelling. But Viv still came. Of course, we missed Erin, but we had a blast somehow anyway. More on this trip soon, at a time which isn’t dangerously past my bedtime.
In other news, Wilson and I took the plunge today. We just had too much money sitting in our bank accounts, I guess. We both decided to get new desktop PCs. I thought that I wouldn’t go back to using a desktop, but notebook PCs are just too expensive now, and desktops are too cheap to refuse. My poor little P1-233 is more than ready to retire. We went down to the “computer town” and put together our new machines from our own specs. Ahhh, I will soon have a P4 1.7GHz, with 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and a flat screen monitor. It’ll be ready Wednesday. After I get that bad boy up and running, some major updates will follow (e.g. new photo albums and other goodies).
I used the excuse of my time at home this summer being sort of a sidebar from the theme of this weblog, life in China, so I think I’m going to make the story of my three weeks in Japan sort of a sidebar too, and put it on a separate page. That page will also include links to photo albums, so check it out…
For those interested: classes here at ZUCC start Monday, September 16th. Still plenty of time to relax and prepare…
All right, Wilson has put the Yangshuo pics online. Do take a look; there are some good ones! Unfortunately, none from the mud pit, but oh well…
Well, I am home at last. It took me over 24 hours of traveling to get here. Yesterday when I arrived at the airport shuttle bus station they told me there were no tickets left! So I had to take a taxi. Instead of paying 20 RMB I paid 800! And I didn’t even have that much on me, so I had to pay US$50 and 400 RMB. Not exactly a deal. But there was all kinds of backup on the freeway, and my crazy driver knew all kinds of back roads (and took them at breakneck speed). Then when I got to the airport they told me since I didn’t reconfirm my flights they had all been canceled! What the heck?! I thought that whole reconfirming thing was optional. Anyway, I made it home. All is well.
It’s hard to believe that just last weekend I was vacationing in Yangshuo with Simon and Wilson. That was quite a nice escape… We flew out there for 3 nights, 4 days of fun. We spent most of our time in the town on the happening little West Street. It’s lined with Western bars and restaurants. The food was really quite good, and although it was double the price of a Chinese restaurant, it still came out cheap for us foreigners. Our hotel room (triple) on West Street was only 100 RMB per night, thanks to Simon’s bargaining skills.
Anyway, we had a blast… Mountain biking through country roads, exploring a cave full of water (and bats, and mud, and a waterfall, etc.), climbing mountains, taking a river cruise, enjoying breathtaking scenery, visiting minority villages…
Traveling is definitely a good way to get to know friends in a new way. I’d say this time it was a complete success — great memories and no regrets…
So what’s been going on with me lately? Things have been busy as the semester winds down. Here’s a quick rundown of recent events:
29 May – 02 June :: Most of the teachers from the English department went to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) for the semester trip. It was the second time I’d been, but we had a great time. My pics will be online soon. Until then, Wilson’s will have to suffice. 🙂
03 June :: Small surprise birthday party for Wilson as well as Japanese teacher Noriko. Not many people were there, and the whole thing was kind of thrown together at the last minute because we didn’t realize that the Huang Shan trip was going to be in the way. All things considered, though, it turned out to be an amazingly fun party. My pics are coming; some of them can be seen on Wilson’s site along with the ones he took.
05 June :: My debut on national Chinese television (CCTV4). I was a guest on a show called Travelogue. I was on the show to share my impressions (in Chinese) of a nice little town called Xitang. I got a good little bit of airtime.
06, 11, 13 June :: I’m doing English training courses for a company outside the school. The pay is decent, but 7 hours with the same people is sort of a new challenge that I’m not used to. Working on these days (which I normally have off) also means my week is much fuller.
12 June :: Sendoff party for the Australian teachers at the Shangri-La Hotel. At 98rmb (US$12.50) for a pizza dinner, we’ll be eating in style — Western style, for a change…
Things around here have been kind of crazy lately, and I’m not exactly sure why… I seem simultaneously busy and free. The classic case of lots of free time on one’s hands and not enough time to get everything done. I’m still trying to figure out this summer. Originally I wanted to go back to Japan for about a month, but it looks like I’m not going to have the funds. In any case, I’m definitely going home this summer. We’ll see what else happens.
But here’s some small news. Last Friday Wilson and I went to our new favorite barber shop to get haircuts. We also got a color change. He got a red tint and I bleached the hell out of my hair. It took five hours because they weren’t getting it as light as I wanted (and it all still only cost me US$10 total). In the end, it was still yellower than I wanted, but they said they got it as white as they could. Take a look. Anyway, if I thought I was standing out before, I really am now. I’m getting lots of reactions from my students. Lots of them are saying it’s cool, and lots are also telling me it looked better before (with remarkably little tact at times). Oh well. It’s fun for now…
Last Saturday I went with the church gang to a place in southern Hangzhou called DaQing Gu. Helene and Simon went along as well. The place was interesting because it was sort of a natural, remote location, with fresh air and lots of trees and mountain scenery, as well as tea fields. But then it also had carnival attractions like bungee jumping, target practice, games for prizes, etc. A strange combination.
Anyway, we had a great little mountain climb. It was an actual climb, instead of the typical Chinese “mountain climb” of climbing stairs up a mountain. We were actually scrambling a bit, grabbing onto roots and saplings, and ropes in places, to make it to the top. The funny thing was that a whole mixed group went, including middle-aged women, little kids, and girls who were horrified at getting dirty. There were quite a few slips resulting in dirty knees and butts, but no one got hurt, and everyone was able to make the climb, even when it got pretty steep. I don’t think the same group would have made it (or tried, anyway) had all the participants been American.
Simon and I also tried this thing called “Tan Tiao Fei Ren” (“Bullet Jump Flying Person”) in Chinese. It’s this thing where you’re strapped into a harness, and both sides of you are tied to bungee cords. You’re sort of in the pouch of a giant slingshot. Then they mechanically raise the ends of the bungee cord, and slingshot you up (it’s hard to explain clearly, but no, you don’t come back down and hit the ground!). So you can do lots of flips, suspended like that. It’s pretty fun, and was only 30 RMB (less than US$4).
Well, I just got back from Nanjing. I saw the city as well as my friend Ray. A lot of people have told me that Nanjing is a boring city and not worth seeing, but I still wanted to check it out. It didn’t wow me at all, but I did think it was a nice city. It’s bigger amd more modern than Hangzhou, but without some of the touristy “West Lake and surrounding green mountains” charm.
So I got to hang out with Ray and his friends Yunfei and Xiao Zhu. It was an interesting experience. We saw the place where they work, a sort of weight loss clinic. Weight loss by machine, that is. Check out the photo section for pics of some of this.
Nanjing doesn’t have a lot to see… “Purple Mountain” and Sun Yat-sen’s tomb (along with some scattered attractions of scant interest), the Ming Wall around the city, museums, The Yangtze River, and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. This last one was of greatest interest to me, as my studies have gotten me caught up in both Chinese and Japanese culture, and the relation between the two as well. I read The Rape of Nanking a few years back, and it left a deep impression. So I got to see the memorial to the estimated 300,000 victims recently.
It was definitely shocking. The memorial was built on the excavation site of one of the mass graves where the Japanese dumped the bodies of Chinese soldiers and civilians. This excavation site is on display, the bones of the victims laid bare for all to see. You can see skeletons of 3-year-old children, decapitated skeletons, skeletons with gauges in the bones and holes in skulls from Japanese bayonets and iron nails. It was really disturbing, realizing that these are the actual bones of those poor people I was looking at. There were plenty of photos and textual documentation within the museum as well, but the skeletons in the excavation pit hit hardest.
It was very moving. The horror, the plight of the Chinese. The bravery of those that tried to help. A letter written by a Japanese schoolkid who learned about everything for the first time on a visit to Nanjing. (It was on display, and I read it, but it was all in Japanese, without even a Chinese translation!)
But in some ways it was disappointing. Although some items, like the letter mentioned above, were not translated, most displays were in Chinese, Japanese, and English. However, I couldn’t help but compare the Nanjing Massacre Memorial to the two memorials to the atomic bomb victims I have visited in Japan. I can’t name many specifics, but those Japanese memorials just left overall impressions of very well-composed memorials (even taking into account that the Japanese displays make absolutely no mention of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor or the rest of the wartime context — they’re presented like war crimes committed in a vacuum!). Perhaps part of my disappointment was linguistic; captions for Chinese exhibits have a habit of telling you how you should react emotionally to what you’re seeing, and that’s definitely distracting and tacky to Western sensibilities.
I’m not going to make a laundry list of complaints, though. Overall it was done tastefully, the smoldering animosity the Chinese feel to this day over war crimes that still have not been atoned for or even fully acknowledged was withheld from the text of any of the displays.
It makes for a very depressing and draining several hours, but I feel like it’s something I have a human obligation to see. The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is a part of my China experience that will stick with me.