May 3, 2011

Ending on a high note

Well, I've spent my last weekend in China. Weird. It's been one big buildup and countdown since I came back for spring semester. I'm in a strange state of mind about coming home -- there are things I'm excited for and things I'm certainly going to miss, but rather than being sentimental and nostalgic, this post is going to be dedicated to the most fantastic final weekend of my very odd existence in the People's Republic of China. 

Thursday afternoon I went on an adventure for one of the few souvenirs I'm bringing home with me. For fear of giving too much away to the gift's recipient (who is a loyal follower) I'll have to keep this vague. Two of my friends and I ambled in to what we thought was a store, and ended up weaving together our three small Mandarin vocabularies in order to converse with three men in their house over cups of this season's finest West Lake Longjing tea. The gift ended up being complementary, too. For every gut punch this country offers up, the random doses of generosity still catch me by surprise.

Later Thursday night Team Oprah regained the crown of mediocrity at trivia. That's all there is to that.

Friday and Saturday felt like summer, with highs approaching 90 degrees. I spent both days walking or biking around the madhouse of the city. In addition to this being China's Labor Day weekend, Hangzhou was also hosting a national comic convention which drew 1.8 million extra people to the city -- not to mention all of the other tourists who came because of the long weekend. 

My going away party was Saturday night; two of my friends have been planning the shindig for a while, and one graciously provided her apartment as the venue. Even though the AC was broken and the apartment was unbearably hot, it was still a great time. More or less 40 people came to hang out or bid me adieu, I didn't really realize how many friends and acquaintances I've acquired in my seven months here. I felt so loved and grateful for everyone.

Sunday was an outrageously long but great day. The weather cooled off a bit, and the city was still a circus. Biking was the most efficient way of getting around, but even that was challenging. Weaving through cars, people and buses was stressful, it was like a real-life version of Frogger. It took my crew almost two hours to finally all arrive at brunch. 

We had free-flowing sparkling wine as we ate copious amounts of sushi, omelets, steak, desserts, and ice cream (I swear, the Hyatt has everything). Our gluttony continued as we waddled on to another cafe down the street to sit outside and watch the sea of people. After a few hours, we went on to restaurant number three (we didn't actually eat at any of these places, it was more leisurely lingering over tea or beer). 

Finally we decided it was time to make a move to actually eat again. After being blinded by nonstop traffic after sunset, we made it to a small Italian restaurant with one cook and maybe five tables. They didn't have room for our party of six for another hour, so having nothing better to do we went to hang out by a statue near the lake which celebrated Chinese bravery during the War of American Aggression in Korea in the 1950s. 

The night ended in an extraordinarily sleepy ride home after a hearty portion of decent pesto pasta and a day filled with well, nothing of any importance, just enjoying the company of friends.

Monday, China's Labor Day, was a little more adventurous. That afternoon, three of my girlfriends and I went for massages and cupping. We were recommended to a place that was like the antithesis of a relaxing spa. We all laid face down on massage tables, there were a few other men in the room getting massages too. All of our clothes were kept on, but the men around us were making a lot of noise. One was snoring, the other sounded like he was euphoric, and the workers  were all loudly chatting with each other. At one point, we caught one of the masseuses taking photos of us with his cellphone. We called him out on it in Chinese, but we ended up getting made fun of in the process.

It was one of the most intense and painful massages I've ever gotten; my friends were all feeling it too. The weekend was toxic to our bodies and our backs are knotty from sleeping on curious excuses of mattresses. Once the 60 minutes was up, the cups were torched and suctioned on to our backs.

As long as I stayed perfectly still, it was a wonderful kind of pain. It was hard to keep from laughing though because two of our guy friends came in and were dishing out commentary. The cups were taken off after 10 minutes and now my back is a connect-the-dot of 20 circular bruises. Some are much darker than others -- the dark ones signify where I have "bad blood" or muscle troubles. It's certainly an interesting souvenir to bring back home with me. 

This weekend was very normal, but also very "China." I'm so grateful to be leaving this country feeling loved and feeling like I've truly etched out a home and a normal life, at least "normal" by China standards. The rest of this week I'll be working and spending the last few days with good friends before flying back to fresh, clean North Dakota on Saturday. My next post will most likely be from Meiguo, literally translated: the beautiful country.


  1. Did you decide on someone to give your bike to?

  2. Yes ma'am :) My friend Nate is the lucky recipient, he'll be in China for another 2 months or so and will use it well