In Hangzhou we stayed at the Shangri-La hotel across the street from West Lake. The hotel was grand and the lake was picturesque. Breakfast at the international café continued to sustain my sense of normalcy.
We started the
day with a walk around the lake and over the famous broken bridge. We took a short boat ride in a small touring boat on the lake, dodging the swans and viewing the remnants of water lilies that were now mere reeds poking out of the water. It was January and
although I loved the reeds for the simple artistry they created, but I couldn’t help but envision how magnificent this lake must be in the summer when the lilies were in fully bloom. This was a fairly large tourist area and was quite beautiful with small
pagoda style buildings on the docks and on the resting area along the walkways. A lovely young Chinese couple stopped us along the way to ask if they could have a picture with me. Being different makes you a bit of a celebrity. Of course I accommodated them.
My Chinese teammates were warming up to me by now and they teased me about being a reluctant celebrity. Sometimes the focus was intense. I have never been center of such attention in public but I understood how different I was so I simply accepted my
We got back in the car and our driver took us to XiXi (sisi, like sissy) national park . We took a boat tour along the river and through the wild life preserve and into old fishing village that was in the process of being restored.
At one stop we got out to look around. The buildings are very simplistic and were all smooth plain white walls with tile roofs. It fulfills my vision of what a Chinese village on a river would look like. It had the typical small areas for workers
to sleep and a much grander home surrounded by white walls with gates where the richer patron resided. At the boat docks, as were queuing up to get back on boat to continue to the second part of the preserve, I ran into the first Caucasians that
I had seen since my arrival in China. A man and his mother were traveling from Australia together. He spotted me immediately and said with a wisecracking Aussie accent “look another cracker." I laughed knowing how unexpected it was to see another white
person. His mom was so excited to see me she hugged and greeted me like I was their long lost friend. We all laughed knowing that anyone who speaks English and looks like you is somehow your kin in this faraway place. Our exuberance attracted even more
attention and stares. Pretty soon everyone on the dock was laughing with us in what appeared to be a universal understanding of our situation. We were laughing and talking to each other loudly as is typical for our culture but by quieter Chinese standards
we were a bit of a spectacle. I don’t know what the chances of the three of us meeting in the middle of winter, on a boat trip in a remote Chinese national park but I can tell you, it was a relief not to be the only odd person to focus on for a moment.
He was large and bald with a red goatee; she was my size with her red hair tied in a bun. They stood out more than I did. The Chinese rarely see red hair and they are not shy about noticing. This woman had had her picture with a lot of curious people
already and I knew it was not going to stop until she got home. I was grateful for my brown hair.
Lunch was a simple bowl of homemade noodle soup. Ah comfort food…..
We arrived back in Shanghai and a colleague from home and I went
for an evening massage. The technique is quite different than what I had experienced before and since I couldn’t communicate with my masseuse, I could not ask her to please use a lighter touch. How can someone so small be so strong? I was
laying there wondering is my body this out of whack from travel or was this was some kind of torture. Can someone please tell me how to say “wincing” in Chinese? After the masseuse finished with the main part of my body, I felt completely
relaxed. Then she started on my feet I had to actually start to get off the table to get her to stop. She understood. But she went right back to the same spot and was not giving up until the knots were gone. I swear she had needles in her tiny fingers. I have
to admit, afterwards I felt great and my feet no longer hurt. She was some kind of miracle woman.
Did I mention the spa had a bathroom complete with a real toilet, paper and seat covers? I treasured every small bit of familiarity.
This was a lovely spa and they brought in a small bowl of soup directly after the massage. It was delicious, warm and welcome.
After the massage, we went off to a late night tea to visit with some local college friends of my colleague. As she introduced
her to me one woman stood out because her accent was quite different. With our tea we ordered fried rice with and she asked me if I wanted” Ketcchuuup with your Frieeed Riceee.” She somehow sounded like she has a US southern accent
when she spoke English and I just could not grasp the concept of ketchup on fired rice. Something was off here. Well funny thing, she lived in Houston for several years before moving to Shanghai. That explained the southern drawl in her tone and the
ketchup all at once. I would later learn that ketchup was a common condiment and ingredient is some sauces.
While we were eating, the college friends had all kinds of suggestions on how to spend our limited free time while we were in Shanghai.
“You should go get a hand tailored cashmere coat made for about $100.” I said “Why Not!” This had been a full weekend but I was up for squeezing out every ounce of fun out of this trip; the work would start soon enough. They give
us the address to get measurements and we made plans to go in the morning. Things are looking up!
After a morning visit to the City Temple visit and of course the tailor, we had lunch and went directly to the office in Shanghai
.After a short meeting an a quick tour of the office areas we headed to the airport to fly to the next city where we would meet up with the rest of our group for the main purpose of our the trip.