So Christoph had a business trip this past week up further north outside of the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Now, most of you have probably not heard of Hangzhou; however it has a population equal that of New York so it is no provincial backwater. We decided to go a day early and could have gone to Shanghai but upon some research, I decided upon visiting the West Lake area in Hangzhou instead. Apparently there are around 36 West Lakes in China but the one in Hangzhou is considered the most beautiful. So we hopped on a plane in the beautifully modern airport in Guangzhou and without much fuss but a lot of stares, we made our way to the Orange Hotel on the western side of the lake. In Guangzhou the weather is very mild, most days since I have been here, the temperature has been somewhere in the 70F range; however Hangzhou was definitely in the throes of winter. We arrived, made acquaintance with Alice (see photo),bundled up and headed out to walk the lake. I actually enjoyed having a wintery gray day, the wind was blowing across the lake and it was dark and gloomy. It is apparently a popular destination because Chinese tourists were out in hordes as well. It was nice to be out of the city and just walk among tree-lined paths and over small stone arch bridges. We ended up at the oldest restaurant in Hangzhou on the east side of the lake and had a decent dinner where once again I showed my highly developed choptstick wielding powers(not!!!!). So that was just Tuesday and there is so much to say about the rest of the week but that will be in some forthcoming posts.
As I stuck my finger into a small bowl full of water wondering if the plants were real, it was to my great surprise that there was an actual occupant somewhat disgruntled by my casual finger dip. I apologized and Alice (yes there was a name and even a note welcoming us) seemed to accept our appearance with rather apathetic resignation.
So today I would like to take a little time to write about the different types of staring styles employed in China because it seems to be a national past time. First there is the extrovert starer, you know, the one that stares, you see them staring they unabashedly continue staring, you look away..you look back, still staring and so you decide to stare back at them, and he/she just stares right on back totally unphased. It takes real dedication and focus to achieve this level of staring. Next, there is the introvert starer. This one is just going about the daily business, sees you and looks away very quickly; however you know they want to look at you again but they do not quite know how because they are trying to be not so obvious. This type of staring technique is most often encountered in elevators and the metro...the way they get the stare in is by using any reflective surface. So you can see them in the glass staring at you but if you look at them you would never make eye contact. Then, there is the serial starer, just going about daily business when something very strange crosses the field of vision. "What! did I really just see what I think I saw" you can tell they are thinking, so they glance back for another look, look away, look, look away and so on, you get the picture. Now this type of staring can involve just the eyes, if they are a professional, or there is the slight head bob and turn that accompanies the repetition of the stare. My favorite though, absolutely is the scared starer. The one that is peacefully enjoying their day when some big white alien invades their peace, maybe by walking into the elevator or walking out a door and bam "AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!", they jump back, eyes wide open, absolutely terrified by the vision in front of them. Don't try and smile at this type, only makes things worse for them. I am sure there are more styles and I will certainly keep you posted but those are the ones I have encountered so far. For those of you who have not been to a foreign country where you stick out, where there is no way that you can blend in, you might not have encountered this phenomena or know what it feels like. It is like constantly being on exhibition, like going to a weird science exhibit, well guess what, you are the exhibit. I have experienced being the object of stares in smaller degrees in other places but nothing like here in Guangzhou. Here they are professionals!
So how does one start one of these things? I tend to like beginnings that one does not recognize as such, that is the problem with writing, the empty page is oh so stark, unforgiving and screams beginning. So I thought maybe I would start with a few thoughts on traveling. For those of you that have only flown using various U.S. carriers, let me tell ya, try flying one from another country, it is such a pleasant surprise. Both of my long flights were with Turkish airlines, even in economy class I had my own tv set with many options, not just six kind of bad movies from which to choose. I did not eat the food but it certainly looked and smelled better that the American counterparts. For those who think humans have evolved past animals, one only has to look at how people exit a plane after a long flight, to realize how far we have not come; the resemblance to cattle is striking. I am always amazed at the complete rudeness of people, all just pushing past so others cannot get out, bowling each other over, quite impressive. Perhaps I am just spoiled by the politeness so rampant in the South, where people actually understand that they occupy a space that is shared with others, not separate to themselves alone. Anyways, and now to China, well Guangzhou is a city of around 15 million so what can I say, it is big, many buildings, many car horns, many cranes, many shops. It is very modern, with a good metro system. One thing to note, if anyone else comes to this part of the world, when the pedestrian light turns green for walking, the cars turning right will not stop for you, they will just go around or into you, so do not expect them to stop. Christoph is terrified that I am going to be smooshed but I got the concept quickly. Cars have the right of way and they assert it with flair so be careful. So far have just been out and around the river and main downtown area but we are hoping to go up to this big mountain and sculpture park that is slightly northwest of the main part of the city on Sunday so look for more photos early next week.