You know your friend is a special one when she scours through Chinese high-priced grocery stores to make sure that you have a feel of normalcy in a faraway place where fancy things like chips and salsa are rare and considered a delicacy. Back in sweet Caroline I couldn't possibly even begin to imagine how many gallons of salsa, guac, and cheese dip, no less pounds of tortilla chips I consumed with friends, coworkers, and sisters. Thanks Marissa for giving me that taste of home... I mean Mexico.
This past weekend China celebrated its national holiday. In honor of the country's official call to Communism, Brad and I decided to utilize this time off of work to travel and visit friends. Yes, we actually have friends in China. There are three people, all once teachers at JT Williams in Charlotte, NC, who teach at a private English tutoring school in Hangzhou, near Shanghai. We flew (how fun it was to be a 'domestic' flier in China. Yeah, I live here.. :) ) in order to save the many hours it would have taken us to travel by train or bus instead. We arrived on the 1st (actual National Day) and stayed through the 5th.
We had no idea what was in store for us. First of all, here in Qingdao we live a pretty isolated life. Not that we are isolated from other people, we ARE in CHINA, but we are not around a lot of 'expat' people like us. That is NOT the way it was in Hangzhou. There were so many (it seemed) 'ex- pats’ in Hangzhou who all hung out together. Many of them work at one of the two campuses operated by “Bear” school. (I realize now that I’m not 100% sure that b-e-a-r is the correct spelling, though I know it is the correct pronunciation.) They were so much fun and appeared to get along really well with each other. Brad and I met people from El Salvador, Australia, the U.S., England, Japan, etc. Most of them had been in China already for longer than a year. It was a reallycool community of friends. Brad is sure that we can find a similar group of people here, but I just don’t think it would be the same.
There was also a lot to do. There were many non-Chinese restaurants, a cute coffee shop outside a college campus that also served hot-dogs, fun bar/pub spots where expats hung out together, and of course LOTS of great street food. (The first night we were there we went to an Indian restaurant to celebrate the birthday of a guy who worked at the Bear school part-time but is also a full time student at the art school in the city. Ballpark – we ate with about 80 people, all foreigners. That was nuts.) There were also beautiful tourist things to do. Hangzhou apparently is a HUGE Chinese and international tourist destination. The city is situated around a series of lakes (the biggest entitled “West Lake”) andthey made the scenery A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.
Each day our hosts had planned outings. On the firstwe walked along the lake, were tutored in the history of the lotus flower and leaf, and had lunch at this adorable place called the Tea House, situated rightly so in a huge tea field off the side of the lake. Talk about great food – wow. (One option we ordered was this warm, freshly-baked loaf of white bread with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top. It was served coincidentally before anything else and came cut up into bite-sized squares and served with toothpicks. Move over Applebees!) The next day we did a little hiking up to a temple of some sort, but more importantly the view of the city from this location was enough to make you stop dead in your tracks, which we did for a while, just looking out over the city and the roads we had walked just the day before. The third afternoonwe were taken to a Buddhist monastery. It was first founded there in the 300s A.D. by Indian monks, though the grounds and temples we saw were built sometime in the 1700-1900s. The place was unbelievable. I cannot believe I have beenso blessed in my life to have experienced something so drastic and oppositeofmy culture and belief system. To sayI felt lucky to be there would be an understatement. The grounds were massive and included temples, multiple statues of different Buddhas, caves, and of course tourist market stalls. It was crazy busy with people so I loved taking video footage and am already excited to be able to show the videos to my future students back at home.
Towards the end of the afternoon we ventured all the way up the mountain (though more the size of a really big hill) to the top monastery / temple. This view also overlooked the outline of the lake and the tall city buildings behindit all – breathtaking. But something else happened here. A monk who was given the task of watching the grounds walked up to me specifically, said hello, and welcomed me to his ‘beautiful city’. The girl from the Bear school who was with us, and really appreciates the philosophy of Buddhism, about died. She said that was her favorite moment of the day which was so sweet of her to say. (I sort-of felt like the main character of Avatar on his first night in Pandora when all those special flashy things fell on him... Sorry,
that’s the extent of my memory on that one.) Since the monk didn’t know that much more English and I didn’t know any (for the most part) Chinese, our conversation pretty much ended there. I asked if we could take a picture and he said yes. Afterwards I had this urge to give him a hug, but I didn’t. I still wish I would have. Being there was powerful for me; it helped me to understand why some people say ‘I am a follower of Christ,’ rather than, ‘My religion is Christianity.’ It reaffirmed to me what it was to be a follower. Touring the Buddhist compound has made me a stronger Christian. Love how that worked.I do have to say, the most thrilling story happened at a bar. We were taken to see a band. The people in the band do not speak any English, though the lead singer is studying Russian so I’ve been told. The band sang Chinese songs at first, but then transitioned into English songs as the evening grew later. This band sings heavy metal, mixed in with some Bon Jovi (that's right, Lisa. You can hear Bon Jovi live, even in China!) and sings them …really well! The band members are really talented! This was the first time that Brad actually thought that our brother Mike Brown would actually LIKE being in China. (On another family note, an expat we met that night was named Addie. Of course she was super-cute. Can't wait for my niece Adelaide to get here!!) One of the last songs of the night was Enter Sandman by Metallica. Our quiet yet observant new El Salvadorian friend Nestor COULD NOT BELIEVE what he was hearing. I heard more words out of that boy’s mouth in the short time we were together after that show than the whole time I was around him the previous two nights. We even were given hugs by him as he left that night. Turns out everyone likes the feel of home from time to time, no matter what country they’re from or even how long they’ve been gone.