The kindness of strangers.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable receiving help from other people.  That’s not to say I never have, because of course I have (from probably everyone who’s reading this blog), but I always feel like my expressions of gratitude are really inadequate and almost worse, really inarticulate.  I don’t think it’s pride; I’m pretty sure it’s just adolescent awkwardness I’ve yet to shed.  And anxiety that I’ll seem like some sort of ignorant ingrate, when in fact, I’m just the opposite.

Being in China is very good for someone like me.  Every person here to whom I have even the most minor connection treats me like visiting royalty, and I am not exaggerating.  And I have to accept their help, because 90% of the time, I have no idea what I’m doing.  Not only have Liz and her family treated me like a honorary Jiao, not only have DW’s relatives taken care of me like I’m the teacher of their daughter instead of their nephew, not only has Bao made sure that I’m not lonely by texting me every day (knowing I have only 3 contacts in my phone), but even the girl who regularly works at the C-store I like to patronize gives me the special shopper discount.  Granted, she probably feels sorry for me because 50% of my purchases there are wine-related: “Oh, here comes that poor boozy American!  Another night in, I see.”

So I’m getting better at accepting the generosity of others, and having a very limited Chinese vocabulary ensures that I can’t get too hung up on whether or not I’ve said just the right thing.  Spending yesterday with DW’s cousin, aunt, and cousin’s friend was the perfect time for me to practice my new skills.  Sidebar: in an earlier post, I promised to tell you DW’s relatives’ names, once I found them out.  His aunt’s name is Yifei, and his uncle’s name is Jirong.  Daisy is their daughter.

The 3 of them picked me up at my apartment and gifted me a bag of fruit.  This was awesome for the obvious reason but also because the bag contained pears, and I have been looking for pears since I got here!  Amazing and so kind.  Then, Daisy, who is 15 and speaks English well, introduced me to her friend and asked me to give him an English name.  I picked Sean because it sounds a little like his actual name, which (and I am purposely writing this phonetically because I have no idea about the actual spelling) is something like “Zheu-re-ow.”  And okay, “Sean” might sound nothing like that really, but the first consonant sound is sort of close.  I clearly had no idea what to do with the “re-ow” part.  Then, in the absolutely charming way that nonnative speakers of any language sometimes choose the almost-right verb, Daisy said that they’d be carrying me to another part of town to see the Grand Canal.

The Grand Canal, it turns out, has another name: The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal.  That’s because it stretches from Hangzhou all the way north to Beijing (I bet you never would have guessed that).  It is an astounding 1,100 miles long.  It’s not all man-made- large parts of it incorporated extant rivers or other canals- but it still really blows my mind.  When Matt and I go to Beijing later this spring, I think I’m going to write myself a message in a bottle and see if it makes it all the way to Hangzhou.  (I’m only kind of kidding.)  Not only did Daisy, Yifei, Sean and I spend time walking around the canal, we got to ride south to the downtown and back on one of the canal tour boats.

The canal is very, very wide.

Daisy and me next to a statue representation of the labor used to create and maintain the canal.  Isn’t she just the sweetest?  She asked me in the car if I thought she looked like DW, which she absolutely does.  I told her yes but that she’s much prettier than him.  That pixie cut and those rosy cheeks!  More of her later.

This bridge is guarded by two water dragons.

Ascending the bridge from the picture above.
Getting on the boat!  That’s Sean in the foreground, then Daisy, and finally Yifei with the great purse. The best part of this trip was when the 4 of us sat down at table next to the windows, and all 3 of them began pulling snacks and treats out of their bags.  Yifei, like the excellent mom she is, had two big bags of snacks that she put on the table, and then Daisy surprised me by taking a bag of oranges out of her bag.  Even shy little Sean got in on the action and pulled out a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts!  I thought about what was in my own purse. “Um hey everyone, want to split these two pieces of ginger candy that I have?  Or maybe I can interest you in half a Kleenex?”
This is what our boat looked like.
The underbellies of the bridges had these stately decorations and carvings.

This is the tallest building in Hangzhou, which Daisy told me is a nature museum.  I took this from the boat.

These houses are in a part of the city called Xiaohe Town.  This is a preserved historical neighborhood that has recently been refurbished and restored to rival Hefang Road.
Funny note about the boat tour: we traveled south on the canal, and then disembarked.  I thought about the car parked in Xiaohe Town and figured we must be taking a taxi back, but then we stayed on the pier.  For some reason, everyone had to disembark and then re-embark for the trip back.  Yifei laughed about it and shook her head like, Who knows!

Second funny note about the boat tour: I mentioned before that Daisy is 15.  During the tour, I was showing her pictures of DW, and she just kept flicking through the pictures that came after him.  First she found the pictures of Matt (and Vilas) making wine, which I felt a tiny bit weird about explaining- like I was telling one of my sophomores about it- but she understood.  And then, she found this picture:
Oh geez.  For this one, I had to explain so many things: what a wine caddy is, why it’s a joke gift, why my mom would appreciate it, the fact that this picture was for a fake brochure, what a brochure is, why Matt and I think this is funny, why I continued to domestically partner with Matt after this, etc.  Oy.  My cheeks were burning with embarrassment.  Shortly after this, I found an excuse to take my camera back.
After our water excursion, we had lunch at this great place in Xiaohe Town.  Yifei ordered- get ready- 9 dishes for us.  For 4 people.  It was an incredible meal: taro and pork soup, spiced pumpkin, some kind of root covered in blueberry jam, two different types of tofu, a glazed pork and plum dish, stir-fried greens, fish dumplings, and pickled radishes.
Fat and happy, we then went on a tour of 3 museums: first, the China Fan Museum; second, the China Museum of Knives and Swords and Scissors (yes, that is its real name); third, the China Umbrella Museum.  All of these things have important roots and/or presences here in Hangzhou.  Here are some of the highlights:
The China Fan Museum
Sweet giant feather fan.  Used for kings.
This display used a projected image and motion sensor technology to allow Daisy and Sean to “brush” away the sand on top of the image using real fans.

Of all the fans, this one was my favorite.

This one was titled something like “In Continuing Support of Chairman Mao.” 

This fan has a painting of West Lake on it.  It was rescued for a department store fire 20 years ago.

Children who visit the museum can design their own fans, and there’s a special display for them.  Lots of these have rabbits on them.

Yifei said (through Daisy), “Jennifer!  You must draw yourself on a fan!”  I have possibly the most cataract-ic artistic eye of anyone I know, but I said, “Okay!”  I drew all four of us- well, I drew our heads.  Poor Sean ended up with purple hair because I thought I grabbed a black marker but was mistaken.

I love, love, love this picture of Daisy (taken right after she mercifully added some lotus blossoms to my cartoonish fan).  She is darling, outside and in.  With her cute haircut and cool punk-ish outfit, she reminds me a lot of my sister, Becca.

The China Museum of Knives and Swords and Scissors

These two robot arms were thrusting and parrying.  (Those are fencing terms, right?)

This is Sean, playing a sort of virtual video game that lets you spar against a computer-generated opponent.  He was really good at this game.

While it was nice to stop and appreciate the functionality of scissors in our everyday lives, some of the displays seemed really…ordinary.  But I had to post this picture for my Packer-backing friends and family.  I only wish they had purple and gold ones too!
The China Umbrella Museum
The display at the entrance.

This translation of the introduction to umbrellas cracked me up, the last sentence in particular.  It gives the reader so much credit!

This is a replica of a very famous Chinese painting that holds over 850 people, all of them created as individuals with unique faces.  This replica is designed to illuminate the presence of umbrellas in the painting.  It’s much, much larger than this, but I took a picture of the corner with the most umbrellas.

At these stations (bottom of the picture), we designed our own umbrellas and then they were projected onto the umbrella above.

An umbrella with a painting of West Lake.  The constructions of fans and umbrellas are very similar in some ways, though their functionalities are so different.

A chart of Chinese constellations.  Daisy said the Chinese separate the sky into 28 different sections.

A big fancy umbrella for emperors.  Even if the size and material didn’t scream “Emperor!”, the embroidered dragons would.

This was a game we played after touring all 3 museums.  You had to answer questions about the museum displays correctly, and you’d get points to redeem at the souvenir counter.  Because Daisy and Sean answered basically all of my questions, I got some very pretty bookmarks and a postcard.
So it was a full day!  I am so thankful for my new Chinese friends.  I’m scheming to find ways to repay their kindnesses while I am here, but ultimately, I hope, hope, hope that they will all travel to the United States, so I can smother them with attention and Welcome-to-America love.  They won’t even know what hit them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s