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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We watched as employees filled prescriptions, the ingredients tossed together without seeming concern as to exact measurements.
Wooden panels list in Chinese characters various herbs and what illness they treat.
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 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.
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