So staying in Hangzhou this past week turned out to not be a super terrible bummer. Ok, well I kind of cheated and went to Ningbo for a few days.
Ningbo is a city about two hours away where a friend of mine, who I met at Oberlin, lives. This girl is a piano major and was at the conservatory, but is now in the process of transferring, so she is back home and invited me to visit. Her family arranged for me to stay in a hotel, which was really nice, but at the same time was the beginning of a bunch of backhanded favors suggesting that they thought I couldn't function on my own. My friend accompanied me everywhere and always linked her arm with mine, as if I might get lost or fling myself into a car should she let go. I’m going to stop complaining now, I have learned that sometimes the line between customary host responsibilities and treating your guest like a child is kind of fuzzy, but she and her family were doing me a huge favor and were very welcoming so I really am grateful. Ningbo was a nice city, though my friend, named Sisi, described it well, saying it is prettiest at night. The main square, Tianyi square, is pretty impressive all lit up, and the nearby church is also really interesting.I believe Ningbo, like Xiamen was a place foreign traders resided when China was first opened to the rest of the world, and like Shanghai, Ningbo has a bund area. My last day in Ningbo, we went to a hotspring outside the city. There, we relaxed in about ten different hot spring pools filled with various Chinese medicines said to help the body in various ways. That last pool was basically a swimming pool sized hot tub with water jet massage chairs…pretty cool. They also had those fish that eat of the dead skin on your feet, but I had had enough of them in Thailand and did not partake.
I should mention that my goal this break was to try as many vegetarian restaurants as I could and I think that I had some success. Before going to Ningbo I found a restaurant by a temple where I was served vegetarian beef slivers. Despite having attended Oberlin for two years, Sisi still did not get the concept of vegetarianism. Our first meal she ordered tofu with shaved pork on top as well as little mystery tentacles dispersed throughout the dish. When I told her I couldn’t eat it, she replied with the typical “but there’s only a little bit of meat!” This time I made up another excuse saying that, because of the bird flu I wanted to totally avoid all meats, including pork. Anyway, to her credit she later took me to a great vegetarian restaurant in Ningbo where we ordered veggie soup dumplings among other delicious dishes. The downstairs also sold a great variety of fake meats to take home and eat and I ended up buying a rather large fake sausage, which I have yet to try.
After leaving Ningbo, and regaining my independence, I found another restaurant across from a famous pagoda in Hangzhou. I ate their sizzling fake lamb hot pot and some pretty questionable spring rolls....but the fake lamb was good! The next day me and the only other student who stayed in Hangzhou made pizza and it was soooo good. We went to a store with a mediocre selection of imported groceries and I bought about ten Hersheys bars and a pack of snack pack pudding….sticking to the necessities. The next day, we trekked out to the Longjing tea fields to climb a mountain. We had a lot of trouble finding the suggested route. When we asked where "美人山“ (or "beautiful person peak") was people seemed shocked we wanted to walk that far and in an attempt to discourage us one person basically said "Oh that's far, you know there aren't actually beautiful people there, right?". I guess hiking isn't that big here. However, when we got to the peak our struggles were totally worth it. The view overlooked the tea terraces, the city, west lake, and other mountains.The weather was also perfect, as it basically has been the whole week. To finish off the day we traveled to a place I had read served hummus and falafel. Upon arriving, we frantically flipped through the menu, searching in vain for the falafel, when I noticed some interesting disk shaped paddies. I asked the other student to look up the Chinese on her iphone dictionary reading out the characters to her: 菲来菲 fei-lai-fei. Then we both realized that’s obviously Chinese for falafel, or as close as they will ever get to giving it a genuine name.
I’m a little sad the break is ending because there are a few more things I want to do, but I trying to promise myself I will make more time for things during the next half of the semester (maybe at the expense of my grades).