Flowers were also very popular today. I saw multiple bikers towing huge bunches like this.
And of course, the red lanterns that I’ve already shared continue to decorate the trees and light posts about every 30 feet. They also light up at night. I’ve learned they’re definitely just for the Spring Festival.
If you repeat those last three pictures over and over again for about 30 minutes, you’ll relive my walk to the lake this morning. It was delightful. The lake itself was even more beautiful today than it was on my first visit because of the bright sunshine, and maybe just in general because of the festive atmosphere. I mentioned before that 2011 is the year of the Rabbit. My biggest regret about the picture below is that because I was slow to action, I missed the little kiss this man gave to his bike passenger:
According to the foreign news coverage I watched later, pet stores have been selling out of rabbits like crazy.
While I was at the lake, taking video and scoring some great pictures of women’s fashion, Liz called. She told me that in 2 hours, she and her husband would pick me up, take me to the grocery store, and back to their home for the big, Thanksgiving-esque dinner that Chinese families traditionally have on Chinese New Year’s Eve. I grabbed some fried rice and a milk tea and rushed home to get ready. (First night in Hangzhou: Bao says, “Let’s get you a milk tea. Very popular.” I say, “Ooh! What’s a milk tea?” He says, “It’s milk. And it’s tea.”) On the way back, I had to stop and take this next picture. I’ve already mentioned that people here hang their clothes outside to dry- all the time- but today marks the first time I’ve ever seen underwear 1) hanging over a major intersection in a city of 8 million and 2) hanging adjacent to…meat. First time.
Okay, so Liz and her husband, Mr. Jiao, picked me up and took me to the grocery store (Liz noted, correctly, that compared to Chinese grocery stores, Cub smells like a breath of fresh air), and then to their home, which is very near HFLS (my first glance at the school in person!). It’s only 10 miles away from my apartment, but it’s in the mountains and though the temperature dropped noticeably from the city center, the air is much cleaner.
Liz and Mr. Jiao have a well-kept, modern apartment in a residential area of only teachers; they get to live there because she teaches at HFLS, and he teaches at Zhejiang University of Science and Technology. Both are within walking distance of their home. They have a 4 year old daughter, Amber (her nickname is Dodo, but her American name is Amber, so…I’ll be calling her Amber), and right now, Liz’s parents live with them to help take care of Amber. Mr. Jiao’s mother is also staying with them, but just for the Spring Festival. Both matriarchs, Liz told me, had been working on tonight’s meal for an entire week. And I am the first foreigner who has ever been invited to their New Year’s family dinner.
After some chit-chat and fruit, we sat down for the 8 cold dishes (8 being a very lucky number in China). And when I say “we,” I mean me, Liz, Amber, Mr. Jiao, and Liz’s dad. The mothers were busy working on the hot dishes in the kitchen, but we started eating anyway (I think this is customary). The cold dishes included: jellyfish salad, bamboo shoots, lotus roots with sticky rice, steamed dried duck, shrimp, spring rolls, Chinese celery, and…chicken feet. All homemade. All amazing.
Then the hot dishes appeared: eel soup, traditional meatballs from the Anhui Province (Mr. Jiao’s home), and 8 treasure rice. By the time I’m done trying all of these dishes (well, minus the chicken feet…still working up to that), I am stuffed and prettttty sure we’re done with the meal.
So of course it’s time for the fish! In Chinese, the words for “fish” and “surplus” sound the same, so it’s served after the main meal to signify that you’re lucky enough to have extra this year and hopefully you will again next year. When Liz’s mom laid it onto the table, she pointed the head towards me, which honors me as the guest. Thankfully, the fish was largely symbolic for tonight, and we didn’t actually eat any of it. This saved me room for dumplings, the final course of the evening, my favorite course of the evening.
Here are a few pictures from dinner. Judging by the amount of leftovers, they probably could have invited 35 other people besides me.