So our first long weekend in Baoding has already been packed and filled with adventure!
Yesterday, Friday, I didn’t have to teach and Duncan only had a half-day so I spent the morning sleeping, reading, chatting with people, and being a lazy bum. But once Duncan’s weekend officially began, we celebrated by riding Kuai Long around Baoding and found a new part of town we’d never been to before.
After comparing, it seems that the street our favorite coffee shop is on is within the hair salon district. It seems like every other shop is a barbershop, hair salon, or something else related to beauty and hair. This new part of town we discovered yesterday, however, seems to be the music district. Shop after shop, some right next door to one another, were selling instruments of all kinds – guitars, erhus, really expensive violins, drum sets, you name it! So we wandered around in those tiny shops, rode past a huge gathering of old people listening to traditional music in a park, and found a guy who was really excited to play an instrument he clearly could not.
After that street, we continued exploring and ended up finding another cool couple of blocks filled with Westernized shopping centers and upscale stores. In the midst of this chaos, we saw what looked like a temple behind a stone wall and we decided to check it out. It wasn’t until we were already inside the walls that we realized we’d quite unintentionally found Lotus Pond!
As soon as you are behind the gates to the park, the city noises are drowned out and you hear some lonely traditional music and the sound of moving water. Luckily, we stumbled into Lotus Pond at an off-hour so minus some older people sitting on benches, we were really the only ones there. So we took our time looking at some calligraphic tablets from 740 AD, wandering through some stone formations Baoding is famous for, standing on top of the very steep and very old bridges, and enjoying the beauty of the gigantic lotus plants inside Lotus Pond. Of course, amidst the natural beauty, we still found piles of dirt or trash to remind us that we were, indeed, still in Baoding.
Behind the waterfall:
On our way home I got a tiramisu in a cup and we spent the rest of the evening studying Chinese characters and reading while listening to a thunderstorm outside.
This morning we woke up as early as we normally do (6:30-7:00) and once again rode Kuai Long to a part of Baoding we are not used to being in. This time, however, we did know where we were going – to the Hebei Agricultural University district to meet some friends of ours to go on an adventure.
After ordering our breakfast in Chinese and beginning the day quite proud of my (very limited) linguistic abilities, we hopped in a rented van with our friends and headed out of Baoding. The drive was supposed to be only about two hours but ended up being closer to four because, as we were driving through a small coal mining town in the middle of nowhere (a place that actually is dirtier than Baoding), we were once again reminded that Chinese traffic laws are mere suggestions and not actually enforced. A huge traffic jam happened on one road because three 18-wheeler trucks decided that a two-lane highway was actually a three-lane highway and they consequently got themselves stuck together blocking the entire road. And what did we learn from this? We did not learn to stay within the lanes, but instead we learned that when there is a traffic jam in our way, in China you just go around it. Our van driver pulled us off the road, drove through two little rivers and a river bed, and then plopped us up on the other side of the traffic jam and we kept going on our merry way. This was not the only traffic jam we encountered because for some reason in these little mining towns, it was decided that the best place to store huge mounds of dirt and coal is, where else, in the middle of the road. So to add to the chaos of trucks and cars and bikes and people all trying to cram into the same space at once, the space was made even smaller on an unusually heavy traffic day. The second driving lesson I learned today is that in China when the roads are too full or the cars are not going as fast as our liking, the sidewalks and parking lots also become roads for going around the traffic jams.
We eventually got out of these towns and stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant for lunch. I got to experience my first outdoor squatty potty and a part of the world that could, at best, be described as developing, but the food was absolutely delicious. Our van driver, who spoke no English, told me I was using my chopsticks wrong and spent half of lunch trying to help me to hold and use them the “elegant” and proper way, but I failed miserably and kept using them the way that actually gets food into my mouth. We had a tofu and leek dish that was better than any tofu dish I thought possibly could be, scrambled eggs with sautéed vegetables, a whole fish, and some special naan made for us “honorable” guests.
After lunch, we drove a little ways more and suddenly, out of nowhere, ended up on top of a gigantic dam overlooking little village houses on one side and a huge lake on the other side. After crossing the dam and going down a little hill, we found ourselves on the edge of the lake. The seven of us plus the driver scrambled into a very tiny motorized boat in which we had to seat ourselves carefully so the boat was somewhat balanced and we took a short ride out to a little island in the middle of the lake.
We wandered around the little island, skipped rocks, and ended up going swimming in some of the clearest, bluest water I’ve ever seen. We were afraid it was going to be too cold, but the water ended up being the perfect temperature and we enjoyed jumping off the banks and squishing in the mud for an hour or so before heading back.
Once back on mainland, up and over the dam again, and back through the somewhat less chaotic mining towns, we ended up in a place called Quyang where we wandered through the Daoist Beiyue Temple. This temple, despite its lack of lotus pond, was very pretty, very large and spacious, and very well maintained.
After our explorations, we took the van (after stopping to pick up beers which we, as passengers, had in the van because there are no open container laws in China) back to our dirty but comfortable Baoding home where we spent the evening with other friends in the coffee shop exploring the Chinese Amazon.com (Taobao) and wandering through the Military School Park where we saw a rainbow LED-lit water fountain show. I also had a full conversation in Chinese with a street vendor when I ordered two kabobs for our dinner, responded to his question that I only wanted one spicy, and paid him, thanked him, and wished him well for the evening! I didn’t need Duncan’s help or reassurance that I knew what the vendor was saying at all. I’m starting to get good at this Chinese language thing!
Tomorrow we have plans to play badminton with our friend Enkui and his wife and to do some lesson planning for the week ahead.
The past two days have been very enjoyable and have demonstrated to us that we made the right decision in coming here. Teaching has been much easier than I was expecting and time, this past school week especially, is flying by. It will be winter break before we know it!
To send you on your way I must share one more lesson I have learned this weekend in China (from our waiban): to stay healthy, do not change your clothes too frequently!
Xie, xie wo de penguomen (Thank you my friends)!