Today, I took a lovely trip to Hangzhou, another nearby city. I originally planned to go with an American friend I met at my hostel but a friend from ECNU kindly connected me with her friends who study in Hangzhou; they offered to be my guides for the day. After much confusion and walking back and forth at the train station at 7am, I was able to pick up the tickets I purchased online. Train stations are some of the most difficult places to figure out for someone who is unfamiliar with the language. The long train ride was as beautiful as I suspected, but probably quite ordinary for all accompanying passengers. I was greeted by four extremely sweet friends but only one speaking conversational English.
Hangzhou is much larger than I suspected and has an extensive metro system. I was first taken to see the West Lake which looked particularly eerie in the light rain; we went up the Leifeng Pagoda which turned out to be a replica of the ruins that were still housed inside. It also had the first system of escalators I have ever seen on a landmark… It certainly prevented my legs from crying. The views from different levels dramatically varied; I got great views of the lake, mountains, smog and dragon boats. Extremely impressive wooden carvings were exhibited inside the pagoda.
I have never rode in so many taxis in one day. Two boys and I made our way back to downtown Hanghzou and met the other two friends who already reserved a table and ordered us food at a restaurant. There were so many meals that were unknown/strange for me; I have never seen chicken feet on a table… I ALMOST tried them. But I did eat lotus root which is now one of my new favorite foods!
Two friends headed back to their campus while I was brought to the Linyin Monastery. It was fiercely pouring at this point, soaking my shoes and flipping my umbrella inside out. It was for the better though…The monastery was spacious with many forested areas and even a river. The rain made the experience so much more eerie and breathtaking, I was in absolute awe watching it hit the river and numerous Buddha statues carved in rocks. For once, I was extremely happy that the sun did not make an appearance. I did not think I would ever see anything greater than what I saw then and there.
Despite the things I saw and the lovely company I had, I felt extremely uncomfortable every time someone refused to let me pay for anything. I always appreciate the hospitality but I do not know how to act when this happens in the cultural context – am I supposed to continuously deny it and insist on paying, or peacefully let them? I settled somewhere in between those two.
Since it was a rainy day, I noticed an interesting norm in which men open and carry umbrellas for women; one of the boys kept opening one above me every time it started sprinkling. I kept telling him not to worry, especially since I had my own umbrella (and I dislike such assumptions of fragility). After the third time of him opening it, I got a feeling that it would be extremely rude of me to pull out my own umbrella from my backpack so I went along with it. It was probably one of the most uncomfortable short walks I have taken… I was also constantly asked whether I want my handbag carried. I have seen this on the street but I previously thought it was strictly a “dating” thing, but it just seems like courtesy.
Being here, my heart feels more open than ever before.