Today was a really great day! We got to sleep in for the first time since we’ve arrived in China (only until 8am) and then we got on our bikes, rode into town, and started our day. We got these delicious egg/bread packets filled with green things for breakfast and headed to our favorite coffee shop so I could have coffee to start my day (also for the first time since we arrived here). Since it was before 10 am, we got two mini pastries filled with custard for free and we ate them outside while enjoying our drinks, food, and the cooler weather (even though today was even smoggier than yesterday).
While walking around a park, we stumbled upon a very loud car show. Every car company was there with their own shows going on and massive tents filled with people and information. Every company had their own stage with performances continually happening while being blared out of tremendous speakers. Truly, everything in China seems to be excruciatingly loud because everything is trying to drown out all the other already too loud noises around them. So you end up across the park from a performance but it sounds as if you have your head to the stadium-sized speaker. I might be deaf by the end of this year.
(I wanted to post a video I took of one of the performances but it would not load. The performance is of two very angry-looking Chinese girls in neon green costumes like you see in dance competitions dancing to an old school Britney Spears song I believe is What You See Is What You Get.)
Also at this car show, we found huge tents filled with all the different brands of motorbikes, scooters, bicycles, and motorcycles. The past couple of days we have been jokingly toying with the idea of buying a motorized bike to use to get around town instead of the bikes we were given by the school so we went into one of the tents and looked around and got an idea of prices but soon left when we realized we couldn’t speak enough Chinese to actually get enough useful information.
So we rode our barely-held-together bicycles down the street quite a ways and found Dong Feng Gong Yuan (East Wind Park but also known in our minds as “the watery park”) where we parked our bikes and had a nice stroll along a waterway. While there, we found the coolest kids’ playground in existence. It’s basically an obstacle course but scaled down to fit 5 year olds (or me).
(Please ignore my finger.)
After strolling around, we rode our bikes back to the coffee-house to meet a friend and ended up resting there for a while and enjoying the Wifi. I also had my most exciting Chinese language moment yet when I asked if the lady behind the counter had a pen. It turns out that I told the lady she had a pen instead of asking her, but I spoke in Chinese and they handed me a pen so I consider it a success!
One of the downsides to being in such a rural place is that, for many people, we are two of the only foreigners they’ve ever seen. The two of us, in particular, stand out due to Duncan’s height and curly hair and my mane of light blonde hair.
Which brings me to the stares…
Our presence, though certainly noticed, was never an issue when we were in Shanghai because it is a major international city and the people there are used to seeing foreigners. But our uniqueness in Baoding has made leaving the apartment a bit of a nuisance. Everywhere we go, even riding our bikes down the street, we are stared at. If a person knows any English they will come up or yell to us and say “hallo” and try to have a broken conversation in English. Normally, though, “hello” is all they know so it ends up being kind of awkward. People will pass us on their bikes or in their cars or while walking down the street and continue to look back behind them at us until we are out of sight. The other day, even a dog gave us the lao wai (foreigner) stare as he was running down the road. Some people have even pointed and said “meiguoren” (American) or “waiguoren” (foreigner) while staring right at us. Before the end of this year I might just point back and say “zhongguoren” (Chinese person) at them.
The whole situation actually reminds me of when you were little and you said you wished you were famous until some adult told you that you would have no privacy and that wouldn’t be very fun at all.
We met our Chinese friend, who speaks impeccable English and hopes to one day become a translator, and we walked back over to the park with him. And then, after some negotiating and translating on his part, we bought a motorbike!
Total, it cost us about $200, which we split between the two of us. It’s pretty awesome. Those of you who know me, I am against motorcycles. I think that they are loud, polluting, dangerous, and all about getting people to pay attention to you. But this motorbike, has all the positive qualities motorcycle people use to try to get me to change sides, but with fewer negatives. It’s electric and the battery is removable and will charge in our room at night so it is cost-effective and eco-friendly; It doesn’t go stupid fast; It gets us both around very comfortably; It’s quiet; And it’s not flashy.
The one we got, somewhere in between super fancy and basic, is basically steal-proof. Not only is it so heavy that I cannot pick it up, it has three different locking mechanisms on it (including a battery lock and a wheel lock) but it also came with an external lock like a bicycle lock. The bike also has lights for at night, blinkers, and an obnoxious “get out of my way” horn (perfect for contributing to the noise chaos all around us).
Of course, I am still hoping to ride our bicycles around occasionally (especially after our really wonderful rides today) for the exercise, wind, and fun, but this motorbike will cut the time in half to get anywhere and isn’t likely to fall apart underneath us in the middle of the intersection. And we will still take walks when the weather is nice and the air is somewhat more breathable. All this considered, we’re super excited about our new motorbike!
We rode back towards our apartment and stopped at the happy baozi guy’s food stand to have dinner. He was very happy to see us again and kept talking to us in Chinese but we couldn’t catch any of it because his accent is really thick. He did, however, hand us what I’m calling “handmade Chinese English muffins” after saying to us that they are free and only for his friends. Tonight’s baozi were even more delicious than last time and, to make things even better, I found my new favorite drink after coffee – pear tea.
So today was a really good day and we are both very happy and content. We are even feeling inspired and comfortable with the idea of our yearlong stay here. Tomorrow we are going to do some exploring on Quay Long and at some point attempt to do laundry. Other than that, we’re going to rest up to prepare for our first full week of teaching.
And as I finish this post, I keep thinking of two things – a Chinese person saying “this no problem” in very heavy Chinglish and the scene from Moulin Rouge where Ziegler says “everything’s going so well”!
Indeed, both are true. 🙂