Guest Writer: Stephanie's Mom
Our train was scheduled to leave at 9:30AM to Hangzhou, Lucy's hometown, which is yet again another city. Lucy was Stephanie's penpal since S was in middle school and now they are good friends while both in Shanghai. S's grandmother's neighbor's husband's brother's wife is Lucy's aunt. Got that? And the neighbor had heard that Lucy (her American name) wanted an American penpal to practice writing English too, and that was how they got hooked up. This would by my first chance to meet Lucy. Well, she is a charming, funny, wonderful girl!! She has a great sense of humor and fun and obviously loves spending time with Stephanie. We were joking to each other about how 'crazy' and 'rotten' Stephanie is and that I don't have the option to not be around her, and Lucy said she doesn't either, because S is too cute.
We were scheduled to meet Lucy at the south train station at 8:45AM and we thought that as a hoot, we three would wear our panda hats (very hot in Beijing) that S bought for us at the Pearl Market. Talk about crazy laowais! We got tons of stares as we walked around the train station with our hats on trying to find Lucy. The south train station is a very large circular building with multiple entrances, thank goodness for cell phones. We eventually found each other, hugs all around and then we ran to catch the train. We literally had to push and shove through miles of people to get through security and towards the train but once we were on the train, we had assigned seating, so no problem there. It was a little over an hour ride and we chatted the entire way.
It was supposed to rain all weekend but we weren't going to let that bother us. Hangzhou is known for their beautiful West Lake (which is on the Chinese money), for their famous tea, and for the beautiful natural area around the lake. We were met at the train station by Lucy's dad who grinned from ear to ear to see us, especially Stephanie, his American daughter. She had knitted him a scarf for the only other time she met him and he was proudly wearing it, says he wears it all the time. He rushed us to his friend's car with lots of room, 3 rows of seats, and we piled in and away we went.
They brought us to our budget hotel which was very nice. We had two rooms for two each, checked in, dropped off our luggage, cleaned up and ran back downstairs where they were waiting to drop us off closer to the lake. We had until about 5PM to ourselves, and then we would meet at Lucy's grandmother's home for dinner. Lucy suggested we eat lunch now so we would be hungry again at dinner time. She brought us to a restaurant right near the lake and ordered us several Hangzhou specialties. Everything was so good. I love having someone else order for me, especially when they know the good stuff to get.
We walked on a bridge that crosses the lake in the drizzling rain. It was beautiful and the spring buds were starting to open on the trees and everything smelled so good. You could see pagodas and mountains in the distance. We got a flat boat ride to an island which was even more beautiful and peaceful. Due to the closeness to the holiday and the drizzly weather, there were few people there. They had paved walkways and gates and gardens and so much more. We took a ton of pictures, leisurely walked and chatted. Then all four of us decided a foot massage was in order and we had just enough time before dinner.
We grabbed a taxi to the Big Feet Massage parlor, how appropriate. They put all four of us in one room on these really comfy chairs, we each had our own masseuse (like before) and this time they really, really focused on our feet and ankles. Boy, I needed that. But they also did hands and arms, and neck and shoulders and back. Again, we got the elbows in the back and apparently, I was the only one that got knees in my back (I must have really been stiff). As B says, they seem to find where your knots and problems are, and are really able to work them out. This massage was a little more expensive, 85RMB for 80 minutes. The green tea footbath was heavenly.
Lucy's grandma lives just a couple of blocks away from the massage parlor so we walked. She lives in a large apartment complex. Her apartment consists of one great room (divided into a dining area and a living room), 2 bedrooms, a very tiny kitchen with a small sink, another room divided, one half is the toilet, shower and washing machine, the other half has a large sink. It was very cozy and neat.
When we arrived, Lucy's dad and uncle and cousin greeted us. Lucy's mom and grandma were very busy cooking. They had laid out some different fruits and gave us hot tea. They were very pleasant to us and seemed really pleased to see us, especially Stephanie. We exchanged gifts (I am SOOOO glad I thought to bring some gifts from CT) and everyone seemed pleased. The women were more subdued in their thankfulness but that is part of the Chinese culture, don't want to seem greedy. But Lucy's dad was visibly pleased by receiving a matching knitted hat from Stephanie and I got some great pictures of that exchange.
Lucy's cousin is 17 and is learning English too. So he was a translator along with Lucy and occasionally Stephanie at the dinner. Lucy's dad knows a few phrases and was very proud when he used them and we understood. They brought out at least a dozen foods, a real feast. You can tell they went all out for us and we were so grateful and pleased. There were vegetables, meat, fish, sweets, soup, so much. They seemed especially proud of the mutton dish. We ate and ate until we thought we would burst and then ate more because there was so much food. We had beer with dinner which was very good. We talked about all sorts of things and had a good time. Such an experience I would never have been able to have without Stephanie.
We all sat around a round table, all nine of us, close together. The table was covered with a large piece of plastic and each serving place had a small salad-sized plate, a small soup bowl, a soup spoon and chopsticks. I didn't learn until the next day how this works but I'll explain now. You can use the soup spoon or chopsticks to serve yourself or others from the platters. You usually serve into the soup bowls. You leave the scraps in the plate. Soup is usually served last, after you are done eating the real food, you empty your bowl onto your plate, and now use your soup spoon for eating. And at grandma's house, the plates were emptied onto the plastic on the table and it was rolled up and thrown away. Now I know!
Also, at or before this point, B and I were starting to get sore using chopsticks. I knew we should have practiced before coming, and I did, for a meal here and there, but I didn't realize how tiring it would be to constantly use them. We were actually getting a sore near the fingernail where the bottom chopstick rests. We figured we needed a callous there so it wouldn't be so sore anymore. Also, at times, our fingers just wouldn't work the way we wanted them to anymore. All of a sudden, we couldn't pick up our food. This happened to B at this dinner. She reached for some cabbage hearts and couldn't get it. Of course, at this point, everyone was watching her and cheering her on. Eventually she got it and there was a loud cheer.
After the table was cleared, we had more fruit and tea and more chatting. But grandma goes to bed early so soon afterwards, we finished cleaning up and headed out. Lucy had to stop at her parent's house and would meet us at the hotel within the hour. She suggested going to a Reggae bar and we agreed but I said it would be dangerous to go back to the hotel first because we knew how exhausted we were. But we thought we could rest a little and be ready to go out again.
We went to our hotel rooms and there was a business card pushed under the door, for an escort service. I remembered that on my last trip to China, they actually went to some of the student's rooms offering their services, so I warned B about it. We took off our shoes and relaxed, turned on the tv and found one English channel and got real tired. We agreed that we really did want to go out, to have more experiences but were totally exhausted and hoped they would cancel. A little later, we got a phone call, 'Did you order room service?', NO, 'Do you want a hot oil massage?' NO, 'We have…..' At this point I hung up, I thought it was the escort service harassing us. A moment later the phone rang again and I made B answer it. It was Lucy playing a joke on us. She said they were tired and would we mind not going out, and we were thrilled. I think we were in our pjs and in our beds within 30 seconds. We found out the next day that when Lucy got back to their room, Stephanie was already asleep. What a great day and looking forward to tomorrow.