April 2, 2011

An Average Week

Even though my week got off to an awful start with the taxi debacle, the week served up a copious amount of random goodness.

On Tuesday, I went to lunch with one of my colleagues. He had just purchased a new car and is learning how to drive, so we went to the outskirts the town I teach in and went for a cruise. Countless housing developments are under construction where we went. Each development consists of a dozen or so high-rise apartments and some have western-style “villas.”

Massive billboards and fences proclaim “elegant luxuries,” “prosperous homes,” and “discovery mansion.” Rendered images show perfectly landscaped artificial lakes and decadently decorated parlors and living rooms – nouveau riche.

My colleague suggested that we go tour a house, he would pretend to be my driver and I would be an insanely wealthy foreigner. In my leggings, dirty boots and $8 coat, I was graciously given a tour of a 22 million RMB ($3.3 million USD) home.

The four-storey house was decorated in an over-the-top tacky American Southwest motif and the paint was starting to flake off some of the concrete walls. The house itself was lovely, there was at least one veranda on each floor, the bathrooms were large, and there was a nice yard – but it felt like little more than a façade of a comfortable home.

If I were to spend more than $3 million on a house, there’s no way in hell it would look anything like the one I toured. I was amused that they assumed I could afford it solely because I am a foreigner – white privilege in its purest form. It’s upsetting that the only reason why I was allowed in to look at it was a result of my ethnicity.

At any rate, it was an entertaining lunch.

On Tuesday night, two friends and I went for an evening bike ride around West Lake and then went shopping in the night market. We found loads of funny Chinglish shirts and silly sunglasses. I purchased a fake LeSportsac backpack that is covered in creepy rabbits. The odd pattern reminds me of China; though it looks like a backpack a third grader should have, I’m looking forward to rocking it stateside.

Before Team Oprah went to trivia on Thursday night, I hosted a little kid birthday dinner at my apartment, complete with Kraft mac ‘n cheese, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and gingerbread. I don’t even remember the last time I ate Kraft in the states, but it sure tasted good that night.

Saturday was the creme de la creme of random fun. I met up with my friend at noon with the intention of getting a facial and lounging around in a teahouse all day. The spas we found that offered facials were outrageously expensive, so we went to regroup at our friend’s indoor mini-golf shop (yes, indoor… it’s very cool though).

We finally decided to scrap the facials and opted instead to bike to the Four Seasons Hotel for tea. The ride should have taken 30 minutes, but ended up taking more than two hours. A road that we thought was a shortcut took us instead to the river on the northwest side of the city.

Most of the ride was through beautiful hills and forest, so we lost context of where we were. In fact, we thought we were crossing a bridge in West Lake until we noticed the large barges hauling coal, and there are definitely not boats like that on Hangzhou’s most famous attraction.

We finally made it to the Four Seasons and decided to get the all-you-can-eat dessert menu. Our afternoon snack included tiramisu, cheesecake, chocolate cake and an apple tart – it was delicious, but we could only take a few bites of each one before we were in a sugar coma.

For more than two hours we soaked up the peaceful ambiance of the café. The hotel is located on West Lake and is surrounded by nature. The complex is designed to feel like an ancient Chinese villa in the countryside, while the inside of the hotel is tasteful, modern and welcoming. It’s neither uncomfortably pretentious nor outrageously lush and the food was surprisingly affordable.

Fearing a sugary stomachache, we set out on our bicycles to find street food before a massage. Once again, we failed at finding one of the most common things in a Chinese city. After more than an hour of biking in the cold and wind, we found a noodle shop hidden behind a construction zone on a side street.

Even though we had passed countless restaurants on main roads, many of which looked quite good, we wanted something cheap and simple. The restaurant was a lean-to attached to the owner’s home. I’m certain the place broke every health code imaginable. The restaurant was the antithesis of the Four Seasons.

The woman who prepared our noodles kept ladling sauces and chunks of things into the bowl, while adding in an array of spices. For 75 cents each, we enjoyed a fantastic bowl of noodles that offered up all sorts of surprises of vegetables, eggs, and meats. Of course, the owners and neighbors were curious about the strange foreigners – I wouldn’t be surprised if we were the first expats who have dined there.

At last, at 9:45 p.m. – nearly 10 hours after we initially sought it out – we finally got a much-deserved massage. And I was happily asleep before midnight.

What a week, indeed.

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