A little bit of home in China

Trip Start Aug 24, 2007
Trip End Jul 04, 2008

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It was dark out as Erin and I stumbled about carrying our bags and trying to wipe the exhaustion from our eyes.  We had just left a sweltering train that we had been riding for the last ten hours and the young man who had kept me awake for the past couple of hours with his incessant spitting.  It was the type of spitting that Chinese men do every fifteen minutes.  It's a full body spit.  It starts in the gut, slides up along the spine until the force of the gooey blob rounds the shoulders forward, rumbles in the throat and comes out in a big, juicy, slimy wad through the mouth.  He was sleeping in the berth directly next to mine and I was terrified that eventually, his enthusiastic spitting into the narrow aisle between us would end up with me being covered in Chinese smoker's mucus.  I didn't sleep well.
Now it was 5:30 in the morning and sluggishly, we had to find our way to Suzhou Daxue by ourselves.  Fighting through the overly aggressive taxi drivers, Erin and I somehow ended up at the right place and in front of Jess's dorm.  The problem?  Her dorm wasn't going to be unlocked until 6:30.  Unrolling Max's crusty and dirty sleeping bag we had borrowed, Erin and I crashed in front of the Overseas Dorm in a big cuddle pile.  We instantly fell asleep on the dewy grass.  Eventually, we heard some shuffling and as Erin and I slowly lifted our heads up, we were greeted by a pair of red fuzzy slippers, oversized yellow fleece pajama pants, an oversized matching yellow and white fleece pajama top, tousled dyed red hair, and a very confused looking woman who had her head cocked to the side.
    "Babble babble babble babble," the crazy lady sleepily muttered to us.
    "Uh, Jessica?" I said, pointing up to the landing where I had seen her when she delivered the news that we couldn't get into her building for another hour.
    "Babble babble babble babble," the crazy lady said to us again, but this time with hand motions that I couldn't quite interpret.

Not quite knowing what to do, but realizing that the door to Jess's dorm was open, Erin and I quickly picked up our bags and the sleeping bag.  Walking quickly through the door, we braced ourselves for a reproach in Chinese that never came.  We finally located Jess' dorm room, crashed on her floor and slept, slept slept the morning away.  It was fantastic.
We spent the next few days walking around the canals and gardens that make up Suzhou, otherwise known as the "Venice of the East."  There's a Chinese saying that goes "There is Heaven, but on earth there is Suzhou and Haungzhou." Suzhou definitely earns its title.  The city is smothered in leafy green trees that droop over the canals that weave and wind through the city.  Beautiful Chinese gardens are tucked behind whitewashed alleys that leave the city feeling incredibly bright and clean.  Everywhere throughout the city are intricate and beautiful lattice work windows that cut through walls to allow sunlight to flood sidewalks and private courtyards.  You could peer in through the windows' loops and swirls to see leafy and relaxing spaces of quiet - a novelty in China.
Parts of me kept becoming completely disoriented as we walked through the city.  We'd be walking along a canal in a tiny alley and parts of my mind would flash back to walks I had in Bruges or Venice.  Take away the Chinese characters on signs and parts of Suzhou could comfortably relax in any canalled European city.  It would be very strange and hard to experience a part of China that was so closely related in my mind to Europe and then have to shift into a mental mode that could handle a completely Asian experience, like walking through Auchan.
Jess had warned us about walking through Auchan, a giant European mega-grocery store.  Even though I had seen the outside of the building and heard about her experiences about being swept away in the human horde that is Auchan, I definitely was not prepared for the chaos that was this grocery store.  The behemoth parking lot outside the structure is only for mopeds and bicycles and it is packed.  As soon as you walk through the door you're relegated to the start-and-stop walk pattern that constitutes Asian walking.  You have no choice because you are instantly swept up in a wave of Asians battling to get onto the escalators that take you up to the second floor where the shopping is.  Once you battle through the entrance way and the cashier stands to get into the actual shopping center, you're suddenly overwhelmed by everything you could possibly need, shopping carts that steer sideways and employees on roller skates.  I was constantly battling the slow herd of people and trying to weave my way through the crowd, only to be stopped by more people.  They were everywhere and you couldn't escape them. 
But everything overwhelming that has ever happened to me in China was offset by the sheer beauty of Suzhou.  It didn't matter that Auchan was overwhelming or that I was terrified of being covered in mucus slime on the train ride there.  I was able to walk through bamboo forests on Tiger Hill, sit along a giant goldfish pond in one of the best preserved gardens in the city, eat Mexican food! (Best Mexican food of life, due completely to circumstances, but still. It was awesome.)  And I did it all with Jess, which was first of all, surreal.  Sometimes, the best thing that can happen to you when your life is crazy and seems a little out of control is to sit with someone who knows you so well and say "remember when..."  Who ever knew that we would grow up from the girls who would shout messages to each other across the street from our bedroom windows to cavorting around in China?  It was especially bizarre while Erin and I were lying on her floor while she was talking to her mom.  At points she would say "Oh, your parents are leaving the party" or "Pam Walsh says hi."  The whole weekend was a strange convergence of St. Johns and China leaving me to think once again, "What's going on with my life?!" 

But even though the weekend was incredibly relaxing and it was comforting to see Jess, I was glad to step off the train and be back in the 'Feng.  There's something about this dirty and cheap city that still pulls me back to it, no matter how often I'm tempted and lured by the shiny promises that developed China has to offer.  The trip made me realize that day by day, Kaifeng is quickly becoming home.
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jess.joy on

I am honored

It was such a pleasure having your and Erin's company this past weekend. I am currently having a party with Sam Cooke. You should come join. Or.. I'll just see you again in 'the Feng' in T - two weeks and counting.

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