In January, I spent two weeks visiting my son, Glen, who is teaching English in Huzhou, China, this year. What an amazing experience.
The first week, we stayed in Huzhou, and Glen showed me the places he loves there. We walked a lot: climbed Ren Huang Shan (Humane Emporor Mountain), strolled in several beautiful parks, dodged traffic in the city center, and went up the steep stairs of Feiying Pagoda. We ate in little street-side cafes, in lovely restaurants, and at a Chinese Pizza Hut.
I learned to count to 100 in Chinese, though I never quite mastered the tones, which are important, so I’m not really sure what words I was saying when I thought I was saying numbers! Glen, having been there for five months, was able to understand quite a lot, and make himself understood in many situations. (I learned that gestures are not necessarily the same in all languages, so you have to be a little careful with that.)
And I learned that when you are in a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s important to have written directions, in the local language, not in English, to give to a taxi driver (wouldn’t you think I would have figured that out long ago, and not needed to learn it now?). Though knowing how to say numbers was very helpful in such situations. And, as I find everywhere I’ve ever been, people are willing to help, and interested in communicating, and it can be fun to converse across languages.
A few things I loved right away:
People in many different public places, drawing, singing, dancing, teaching and learning different kinds of movement. All ages and body shapes. Dance seemed to be for good health and pleasure, not for performance, a sense of community about it. (We also saw several dance performances, but I loved the feeling of joy and dailiness of this.)
Tea–the way it is served in glass glasses sometimes, the green tea leaves floating on the top at first, then slowly sinking. Like drinking a garden. And it comes with a thermos of hot water that seems to say, “You can stay here and enjoy your tea in this beautiful place for as long as you like. Just keep pouring hot water over the tea leaves and your tea will last forever.” Not quite forever, of course, but a good long while.
Chinese breakfasts–rice porridge with pickles; hard boiled eggs with soy sauce in the water (shells cracked just enough to let the soy sauce flavor the egg); dumplings with a variety of fillings.
Noodle shops–quick, delicious, inexpensive, meals.
After a few days in Huzhou, we were in Hangzhou for one day, most of which we spent walking around West Lake, famous for Longjing “Dragon Well” tea. Beautiful lake, and as Glen remarked, “Everyone here seems happy.” Sort of a vacation place–that might have been part of it, but also a certain joy in the landscape that people were part of, or became part of as they (we) walked there.
Then we went to Guilin for four days. An elegant city, surrounded by beautiful karst mountains. The city planning has been such that no tall buildings obstruct the view of the mountains, so everywhere you look, there is beauty. We went on a river boat ride at night, through the city, and another, longer one during the day, out into the countryside. Each time, we saw cormorant fishermen, reminding me of “The Story of Ping.”
We also went on a road trip out into the mountains, up into a village surrounded by terraced rice fields. It was not growing season, or harvest season, so the fields were brown, but still, I found them beautiful. We had lunch in the village, delicious and plentiful, again accompanied by green tea.
I’ve only touched on this whole experience. I did not experience any jet lag at all when I arrived in China (a 13 hour time difference), but since I’ve been home, I’ve found that I get sleepy at odd times, intense and sudden. And now I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open…
oh one other thing–the day I returned home, the bluebirds were here, as if to welcome me. Travel is good, and home is wonderful.