After a long hard month, and after getting over a self-indulgent feeling of defeat in not finding a (legal) job in China, I have, once again, begun my travels...with full gusto!
This weekend in Hangzhou encapsulated everything I have learnt about Chinese culture so far and more. It was China that fitted nicely into a box, wrapped up, with a bow.
Hangzhou, "Shanghai's back garden" lies close to a large lake. It was so refreshing to be out of the city and back to nature, or so I thought! The hostel was in a serene location, on the banks of the lake. However, as we started to explore the surrounding area, it soon came to light, that the park (in which the hostel was located) seemed more like a film set, or a mini China in a dome. Everything was so perfectly placed, two "randomly placed" rocks on either side of every bench, carefully manicured flower beds, spottlessly clean walkways, and best of all... we had a sound track playing for background music. Yes... they had actually camouflauged speakers in the undergrowth, and were playing "have-a-relaxing-afternoons-walk" music, while we were TRYING to have a realxing afternoons walk. There also seemed to be more park attandents in the park, than patrons of it. Now these park attendants were in uniform, and looked more like soldiers. What were they waiting for? a dog walking on the grass? (there are actually no dogs) a child outrageously crying? A world terrorist attack? Who knows. To top it all, we were surrounded by weddings photo shoots. This, is a very common thing to do in China. There are photo boutiques simply everywhere. I am not sure whether a couple choose to have a wedding photo shoot before or after they are married, all I know is that any park you enter, you will be sure to find a woman dressed up on a mirangue style wedding dress, followed by an enterage of men in ill-fitting suits and trainers.
Do not fear my fellow readers, there is more....! On saturday we stopped off in a very nice coffee shop by the river and here I learnt a little more about table ettiquette, Chinese style. A group of middle aged men were sitting on the table next to us. When I turned around to glance over at them about half an hour after we arrived, their feet were almost covered in nut shells. They had gone through a huge bowl of seseme seeds and pistacio nuts and simply spat out the shells. At dinner, Gary and I tried this (when in China...) Its quite a nack. To put the whole seed, plus casing in your mouth, crack it open, eat the seed and spit out the shell. Try it at home kids.
Finally, on Saturday night, we met up with one of Gary's friends from University, Yetta. She was such a sweet girl and she very enthusiastically showed us around her hometown. We fistly stopped off at a huge fountain display. The whole show was great, including the announcements before and after, they went something like this..."the fountain display is about to start, please watch and be quiet" and after " the fountain display is now over, please leave in an orderly fashion"! Talk about control. Yetta then took us to a Chinese restaurant, with a fantastic array of food consisting of.... snails, frogs, mianbao (cat ears) and chicken feet. On a yummier note, there were lotus root with glutinous rice, big wagamama-style bowls of noodles and of course...diaozi (dumplings).
To conclude, the walk in the park, our quiet coffee by the lake, and evening out was an insane microcosm of Chinese culture. It was almost too much to handle.