Hangzhou Ramblings

Statue of a real family in what was an old area of Hangzhou. They are typical the those who were relocated when their house was demolished for area development. Some went to study abroad, some left Hangzhou, and some were given new apartments.

Barry and I went into Hangzhou earlier this week so Barry could show me the discoveries he has made on his recent solo trips there.  One of the delightful things about walking along the paths of West Lake in Hangzhou is watching all the people and talking with a few.  Chen is the Chinese man we met that day.  He is a recent retiree who worked for the international office of a university and spent six years in West Virginia at a university there.  He asked if he could join us on our walk by West Lake, and we spent the rest of the day with him.

Many come to West Lake to exercise, so we’ve seen groups doing tai chi, couple waltzes, line dances, and some come to sing or play music in groups or individually. Others choose to write on the pavement using brushes dipped in water.  They practice movement and their calligraphy.  Those passing by can enjoy the calligraphy—and then it evaporates.

Chen looking over the calligrapher's left shoulder

Because Chen was with us, we learned that some write poetry or share insights with their calligraphy.  We saw an old man writing a poem in beautiful strokes that Chen interpreted as –if you would understand the incredible ups and downs of the life he has led, you would understand it is as though you knew the ocean and then saw a lake or river; you would know that in comparison they are nothing.

In experiences, this poet's life has been vast like an ocean

What the old man was saying was that his own life has been so incredible that although he looks humble and old, he is like an ocean of experiences.  Other lives are small compared to his.

Poetry in water brushed strokes

Chen also took us to places near West Lake.  One stop was to a famous herbal pharmacy.  Even today, the country leaders come to this pharmacy for their herbs.  Mao was there.

Entrance to a traditional Chinese pharmacyHerb display cases

Pharmacy entrance hall

Just walking into the old building with its interesting scents was wonderful.  One little boy there held his nose, but I took in deep breaths.

Customers buying herbs

Mushrooms for health

You can buy swallow nests for longevity at ridiculously high prices, “worm grass”—which isn’t worms – for your immune system, huge mushrooms, and many things I could not identify.

Swallows Nests - for longevity at about $100 US per package

Worm Grass - not worms - to be made into a tea for your immune system

We watched as employees  filled prescriptions, the ingredients   tossed together without seeming concern as to exact measurements.

Mixing herbal prescriptions

Wooden panels list in Chinese characters various herbs and what illness they treat.

Herbs - and the conditions they can treat

The largest mushrooms I've ever seen

And we got to see two of Chen’s possible living spaces.  He wants Barry to help him decide on his next living place.  Chen doesn’t care about my opinion because I’m just a woman he explained in an honest and common view here.  I must say that such an attitude especially in a man who is educated and has spent time in the U.S. is more than irritating for me.  Such attitudes can’t be good for the women, the men,  or for the overall strength of the country when half its people are not expected to develop their potentials.  Chen says that girls should be brought up pampered because it is the duty of their future husbands to take care of them.  The guys should be brought up with many challenges so they are used to responsibilities.

Many of my students mirror these views—although not all do.  Men here get paid more than women for the same jobs.  But men are expected to buy an apartment or house before they can get married.  And they are to buy a car before they can have a child.  It means that many men have to immigrate to the less developed places in China where it is possible for young men to have a chance to buy property.  Many of the educated women move into the big cities, however, for the excitement and job opportunities.   In many cases it is the man’s responsibility—not a shared goal– for the family’s future, which I would think would lead to unrealistic expectations and many unhappy marriages.  The tradition of a young couple moving in with the groom’s family is not popular now.  They want their own places.  When we had the discussion question in my classes, “Is it more important to enjoy your job or make a high salary?” the responses were about equal.      And most plan to send their children to preschool instead of the traditional practice of having grandparents take care of the children.  The students worry that the grandparents will love the children too much and spoil them so the children will be naughty.    The students also want their future children to learn as many things as possible while they are young to give them a head start on their future years of schooling.

But back to Chen and his choices, he has four options in Hangzhou—all paid for!   I saw two the two humble ones that had been given to his relatives by the Chinese government.  An interior decorator and renovator would do wonders with them.  Both were dark, but that could be fixed, and the one I liked better had its kitchen and bathroom open to the sky (in a city where the temperatures fall below freezing in the winter), but labor costs here are very cheap, so a renovation could take care of that easily too.

The kitchen in one of Chen's humble choices

The plumbing and electricity would need to be completely changed in both.   What made both small apartments so attractive was their locations: both were within walking distance to West Lake and its wonderful paths and spaces, a great book store, a wonderful bakery and coffee shop, and a fantastic noodle restaurant where Mao praised the noodles but then said the restaurant was too expensive since a bowl would cost a worker his month’s salary.  During the Cultural Revolution, the restaurant changed its name to Worker and Farmer Restaurant and served 1-10 yuan noodle dishes (all under a dollar a bowl).  Today, you can get a 388 yuan dish there to share (about $40) but also ones that cost about 10 yuan or a dollar.

During the Cultural Revolution this tasty noodle restaurant was called the Workers and Farmers Restaurant

Chen took us there for lunch.  Chen and I each had a wonderful spicy mushroom noodle soup; Barry had a bok choy and shrimp noodle soup. I don’t think Mao would like the changes in modern Hangzhou, but we love it.  It is a wonderful place to explore.

On Wednesday, I signed a new contract to teach here at ZAFU next semester, from Feb. 20 through July 15.  I’m really enjoying teaching here.   Although I have about 250 students and the way they count it, sixteen classes each week, the stress is much less than at UHMC in great part because I don’t have papers to grade since all my classes  have been oral English’ and we’ve had only two meetings.   Next term I will have oral English classes and two or three reading English classes for juniors.  I’ll pick my favorite readings to share!

Friday, Barry headed off to Hangzhou on the 6 am teacher’s bus to meet Chen.  So I’m sure you will learn more of his story later.

How are you?  Do you have questions that we might be able to answer?  Let us know.  Stay warm.  Aloha, Renée

Affluent Chinese have beautiful pets



About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “Hangzhou Ramblings”

  1. Elaine Woodall says :

    Rene’ and Barry:

    If you were in Hawaii….I would write to John about our weather here and the snow and how yesterday you could not see 5 ft in front of you when the snow was blowing with almost 50 mph winds….The wind has layed today and I am glad as I have to make a two hour drive tomorrow…..to Charleston, Ill.

    Yesterday, the kids were on the snow hill close by my apartment and enjoying sliding down on sleds….

    I have lost my winter boots….so you are warmer than I am….

    How did the Chinese man Chen approach you…??? Did he know you worked at the University….or just that you were Americans and wanted to talk with you?

    Does the food there compare with the restaurant in Springfield…better there? More noodle dishes than at the buffet restaurant that we go to…no noodles to speak of there.

    Glad to hear Chris and Val are coming to see you…that will be fun for both of you…

    Merry Christmas early….Love, Elaine

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Elaine: It’s great to hear from you. We too have gotten some winter weather although it was not as intense as yours. Wednesday morning when I stepped out on our balcony to hang out a few pieces of laundry, I thought at first I felt big raindrops—but no, they were snow flakes, little light ones. I bundled up and rode my bike to class. At the end of those two hours, the ground was covered. For some of the students, those from the south of China, it was the first time they had seen snow. Everyone was throwing snowballs and running around. Your kids on the hill would have fit right in with them. Johnny would have loved it too. I had a night class on Wednesday too, and I worried about how slippery it would be with me riding my bike, but I made it. Thursday, I again had a 8am class and woke to the sound of lots of crunching. It sounded to me like small stones being thrown together by the waves right at the shoreline, but no, it was passing cars riding over the icy road in front of our apartment. I didn’t notice others on bikes, but I ventured out, and my bike and I made smaller crunching sounds all the way to class as my wheels broke up the ice. Everything was covered in about two inches of snow and with the many trees and bushes here, it did look like a winter wonderland. Two hours later, although students were still throwing snowballs (and one student brought me a snowball present), and a few had made snowmen, when I left that class, the sun was out and the trees were “raining” clumps of melting snow. Now it is Sunday, and I can find only a few clumps of dirty snow left. While it lasted, it was beautiful and a novelty for us. I hope your weather has warmed up and your trip to Charleston uneventful at least for the travel. And I hope you have new warm boots and are staying warm.

      Thanks to you and Patty, I am warm enough here. I’ve been wearing the long underwear and the red, padded vest that you sent me for over a month, and I’ve finally added the long, hooded coat that Patty lent me. I really need good clothes here where in an effort to conserve energy, the Chinese government does not allow heat in public buildings in the south of the country. This means the students don’t have heated dorms and classrooms. That sounds terrible, but it means everyone is responsible for keeping warm. Candice says to wear a lot of t-shirts (so you don’t look fat). Tony says to dress like a bear. So that is what we all do. We dress so warmly that we need to open the windows in our classroom although it is freezing outside J. I wear more layers than most. And we do have heat in our apartment, but in a concrete building without insulation or thermal windows even with our space heater on in the living room, we can see our breath. Our bedroom is warmer with a heater and an electric blanket: sleeping is great.

      As for meeting Chen in Hangzhou, that was easy. There are so few Westerners here that people are always saying “Hello”—and then laughing and running away. Even small children have learned some English. Barry and I feel like we are cheering up the world by just saying “Hi” as we exchange greetings in passing. Most are too shy or lack confidence to say more than a few words, but it is really fun to talk especially to the older children. A few will approach us and want to talk as Chen did. He asked if he could walk with us and when we agreed, we ended up spending all day with him, which was great. When we were in Shanghai with its 16 million people, many people in the tourist areas tried to sell us stuff (“watches, bags, shoes”) and that was a bit irritating, but generally the people are polite, kind, and curious.

      As for the food here, I haven’t eaten for instance as many snow peas in restaurants here as I got to do in your fabulous Chinese restaurant in Springfield, but there are many choices: hot pot, stir fry, grilled, spicy, very spicy, no spice, noodles of sweet potato, rice, and I’m not sure what, and rice dishes. Because I’m vegetarian, I am sure I am missing some fantastic dishes (but also avoiding the duck tongues and other not so appetizing choices). We’ve had wonderful bamboo shoot, lotus root, and eggplant dishes that I’ve never had and love. However for the last month we’ve cooked most of our own food, but just last night we went out and for under $6.00 at the best restaurant on campus, which is right across the street from our apartment, we had a fantastic meal and didn’t have to cook or cleanup. And the restaurant has better heat than where our table is in our living room. So we may go back to eating at restaurants. My Mandarin is still very basic and I read only a few of their thousands of characters so getting food we want at many of the restaurants is a challenge. If the cost is low, we figure the dish is vegetable. Did you know that loufa sponges can be cooked into a tasty dish?

      I’m so excited to get a comment on the blog, I may have gone on too long here. But I am very happy to hear from you, Elaine. (Your namesake is doing well). “Hi” to Howard and the kids. Have a very Merry Christmas and holiday season. Love, Renée

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