At the beginning of this week, Sarah and I returned to the two cities where we lived for each of the two years we lived in China. Shaoxing and Hangzhou. I’ve been to both cities several times since I’ve been here, but for Sarah it was her first time back in 3 years.
In Shaoxing, we stayed at a great hostel where I stayed last time I was there, near the city’s main tourist attraction, Lu Xun *Gu Ju*, the former residence of China’s most famous modern writer. The Lu Xun hostel is nestled in the old streets of Shaoxing, and is kind of a remodeled traditional Chinese house. Nearby, they’ve updated and remodled some of the tourist landmarks of the city (including a very tasteful renovation of the Old Xianheng Hotel – think we’ll try it out next time), but the hostel has a well-worn, comfortable feel to it. Our room had a door that led out to a central courtyard complete with fountains, a fish pond, and Chinese easy-listening music piped in through the speakers. I was able to finish my interviews for my research, while Sarah had a chance to chat with a former colleague/friend.
We had dinner with a colleague and his wife who we’d become close friends with while in Shaoxing, at a Yunnan style restaurant called *Jin Ma Bi Ji*, or Golden Horse Jade Rooster (I think). Getting there was a bit harrowing, as it involved a wild goose chase in a motorized *sanlunche* (a three wheeled vehicle which can be easier to catch in Shaoxing than a taxi during rush hour, though the fare is more negotiable and the overall experience less safe = we clipped at least one cyclist along the way), but once we arrived the conversation and food were great. It was pretty amazing to meet their 3 year-old daughter, who had just been born when we last left China. The next day we met with other old friends and colleagues, including the secretary of the English department where we worked, who took us out to a great lunch of traditional local food in a beautiful restaurant overlooking the canals of Shaoxing, then for dinner we went to the “villa” (the Chinese version of a single-dwelling detached home of our friends Gareth and Ying, who we got to know when they lived in the same apartment complex. Gareth works at the university and has also, since we left, started a private English school for kids, which is growing into a booming business. They also have (two) kids now!
We didn’t have much time for sightseeing, but I think for us Shaoxing isn’t a tourist spot so much as it is a kind of home. We both felt there was a kind of strange dreamlike quality to our return; it’s sort of hard to believe that we used to live and work here, but we did!
Yesterday we hopped a bus to Hangzhou, where we spent one night in the building we lived in during the 2008-2009 schoolyear. I did several more interviews for my research project (I’m finally done with data collection for this leg of the project!) and we ate the *jiachang doufu* at a local restaurant which Sarah had been dreaming of for a couple of years. Today we walked around the always lovely West Lake—it was a beautiful day for it—and had lunch at the Qing Teng Teahouse, which is a nice, relaxing place to spend an afternoon sipping tea and eating a buffet of traditional snacks.
Overall I think it was nice to sort of revisit some aspects of our old life, rather than trying to cram in sightseeing and new experiences. We’ll have time for that in the next few weeks. In a way, the last few days felt utterly natural: *Here we are in Hangzhou, doing the things we do when we’re in Hangzhou*. I’m just beginning to get a feel for how globalization affects people who live the kind of lives that we do, how it’s possible to feel at home thousands of miles away from where you live. I find it both unsettling and comforting, somehow. We said goodbye to Xiao Wang, the friendly *fuwuyuan* in our old apartment building (“my wife is tired because she’s pregnant,” I told her. “I thought she looked a little fatter,” she said), and embarked for the Hangzhou train station in a somewhat sketchily double-booked taxi (two groups of passengers each paying full faresI’m writing this from a train to Shanghai, where we’ll spend the night after eating Thanksgiving dinner, complete with pumpkin pie cheesecake, atop the Shanghai Art Museum, assuming we find our hostel and actually have a reservation at the restaurant. I’ve learned never to be too certain about these things in China, because I never know when I’m going to make a stupid language-related mistake and end up on the wrong bus, or street, or train station. We’ll see.
UPDATE: Dinner was a great success: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, the works.
ALSO: We were recently informed of a Chinese superstition that a child can correctly predict the gender of an impending baby. So far we have asked two three year-old children, and have gotten one vote each for a boy and a girl. To avoid any gender discrimination, I have simply nicknamed our baby *xiao mian bao*, or little steamed bun, for the time being.