I know I promised so much more than what I’ve given. I said tomorrow and now it’s been over a month since I updated! So, the rest of Dandong and then the rest of Harbin then the beginning of Hangzhou—probably with bullet points and random thoughts and photos.
Dandong: Hushan Great Wall
Endless stairs and narrow tunnels. A view of the separation between North Korea and China. Then down down another set of stairs—as the first of the larger group, we didn’t know where we were supposed to be going or where we’d end up but we followed some Chinese tourists from Harbin who led us along the side of the hills that bordered the creek between countries. A much more natural path than the steps we were so used to taking, with footholds in smooth rock and small natural caves. We climbed a gate that didn’t actually need to be climbed and eventually reached the point closest to North Korea (一步跨 which translates to “A step across.”) There, there were guards and a wire fence but also women washing clothes in the creek. Eventually, the others in the group came down the trail and our teacher, Li Laoshi, told us it didn’t used to have this fence or the guards and that the step across used to be just that—a step. Afterwards, lunch at a restaurant specializing in North Korean food along with a performance of dancing and singing, including some of the guys in the program. Then, a quick stop at a bookstore and then the train for card games and conversations about the differences in the way males and females think (problem-solving & in parallel, according to one male roomie) and the education system in China. Back to Harbin at 2am.
The last few weeks consisted of a mishmosh of stress and anxiety about preparing to leave as well as cramming my brain with as much Mandarin as possible. Also, there was a bit of snow as the temperature dropped rapidly (but heat got turned on before I left!) There were mid-autumn festival with balloons of fire like stars and walking along a bridge during sunset and tests and sesame brittle (where is my sesame brittle in Hangzhou?? :[ ) and massages and juggling lessons and badminton and hallway bowling with water bottles as pins and dancing at Rox and delicious meals and buying suitcases&headphones&jackets and trying to do everything before it was time to leave. And then there was the graduation ceremony/dinner with all our teachers and afterwards, the awkwardness of being allowed to speak English. Thinking about it now, I actually do miss the language pledge a bit—there’s a simplicity and a directness to conversations when both you and the person you’re speaking to are limited by language and I think it affects your relationship (and, of course, your understanding of a person.) There’s just less subterfuge because the words you choose can only have one meaning since that is the meaning that you’ve both learned. Does that make any sense?
Anyway, it was terrible saying goodbye to everyone and not having enough time after all our tests, etc, to actually relax and be with these friends you’ve lived with for 4 months, whom you’ve seen every day, studied with, eaten meals with. It was such a jolt to find myself (all alone!) navigating the shuttle to the airport, taking the plane and then finding myself in a new city where the temperature was 30 degrees warmer and there were palm trees everywhere. Like another planet!
Hangzhou: (in bullet points)
-Palm trees! Warm weather! The smell of sweet olive trees and camellias! Mountains within walking distance! And a giant lake!
-Lost 1000rmb on a real-estate agency when N. and I backed out of a 3 bedroom apt that was a great location but old and honestly, not ideal. But we felt so pressured! Whatever, current situation is 1000000x better. Because I’ve got my own room with private bathroom and huge bay windows! Near mountains!
-My aunt and cousins came to see me and we ate at all the most well-known restaurants! And took a boat out on West Lake! (西湖）
Hangzhou’s bike sharing program is pretty awesome. Except for the fact that the stations close at 9pm. But sometimes, you get a really great bike that you want to keep forever and other times, you pick a bike that feels as if it will fall apart any second. But it’s the largest bike-sharing program in the world and really convenient. Although I think biking here is fairly dangerous—so many silent electric bikes! No signalling! People squeeze into any little gap and sometimes I’m not sure whether the cars will stop or not! I bike way more aggressively here than in the U.S. One of my house-mates today estimated that it’d take me two hours to get to one of the shopping centers near West Lake—it took me 40 minutes. (but maybe he just rides really slowly?)
-Bakeries! So many egg tarts. Also, midnight chow mei fun is pretty much the most delicious thing ever.
-Making friends in hostels. Two of whom have my last name and are from Fujian province!
-Gawking at all the ladies’ shoes and the interesting sense of fashion around here (usually involves feathers & ruffles and lots of black.) Definitely a trendier city than Harbin. And more expensive. Where are my rice+3dishes for 8rmb meals? Where are my cheap underground shopping centers? Everything’s name-brand here!
-Really pushy salespeople. Every time I go shop for something, it feels like a battle.
-My advisor is really cool and wants to bring me to a traditional village! Will start reading some stuff at the library tomorrow. If I haven’t forgotten how to read Mandarin yet…
-The accent here isn’t too hard to understand; the main difference is just that people make the “s” sound instead of “sh.” I’m not finding it too hard to get around and get stuff done and my new housemates are really cool and helpful (plus they help me with my Mandarin!)
-Will post pics of adventures at Huangshan next time!