In the summer of 2007 I was given the chance to spend several weeks in Ningxia Province with a group of amazing people from Washington and Iowa. We had an intense experience that completely prepared me for life here in Hangzhou. In many ways I feel like I would not understand Ch.ina the way I do without that experience of the "other" side of life in this country.Happiness:
One of the greatest treasures of that experience was my friendship with two girls from Iowa, Lizzie and Jess. On the last day in the public shower we decided to "outlast" all the Chin.ese girls that would shower for the whole hour and shouted "we are the champions" as we ran in a victory lap around the awkward square room. That moment will forever be one of my favorite memories.
We all kept in touch with reunions in Iowa and Washington, and then I moved to Chi.na last year and we all have not seen each other in a year and a half. In an exciting turn of events, Lizzie now lives in Chi.na near Beijing as a teacher. Jess is an incredible friend and bought a plane ticket to travel to Chi.na for 3 weeks during Christmas and New Years. I knew that I could not pass up the chance for all of us to be together again in Chi.na, where it all began!
After looking at a thousand options of how to get together over a 3 day weekend because we were still working through the holiday, we decided to meet in Qingdao which is supposed to be half way between our two cities. Well, in true Chin.a fashion, it is seemingly impossible to get from Hangzhou to Qingdao cheaply and quickly, with there being no direct train. Luckily, Jess and Lizzie are good at logistics and we devised a plan for me to take the Wednesday night 18 hour train to Lizzie's home, then bought a ticket for me to travel with them on the Thursday overnight train to Qingdao. From there I would train to Shanghai and then Hangzhou. It was allllooooooot of training, but so worth it.
It was like no time had passed, and we were all incredibly giddy. It was amazing.
We spent New Year's Eve dinner at an incredible restaurant with Lizzie's co-workers and then headed to our train. We shouted "Happy New Year" in Chin.ese to the whole train car at midnight. It was awesome to spend New Years on a train in Chin.a together.
We arrived in Qingdao to freezing temperatures and blue skies. Qingdao used to be German occupied so it has a very European feel. The city is most famous for its brewery, homemade dumplings, and seaside. We partook of each of its delicacies, drinking beer from a plastic bag on the street, eating clam and tomato and egg dumplings, and walking along the rocks beside the Yellow Sea. It was a wonderful 2 days. We shopped the night market where we each got sparkly glasses with no lenses (the newest amasian item available) and told all the shop owners that they were our "New Year's Glasses." We basically shopped, ate, and walked our way through the city taking in the grandeur of the old German governor's mansion and sitting in a noodle shop for 3 hours during lunch to escape the snow flurries. I never wanted to leave.
Alas the time came to train home Sunday morning. Leaving them was hard because who knows when we will all be together again. Lizzie is leaving Chi.na after this year and Jess starts pharmacy school rotations this summer. I am so proud of both of them. It's cool to see where we were during our Ningxia trip and to see how somehow we all ended up right back here where our friendship began. After some train hullabaloo I ended up at home at 4 am, just in time to sleep for one hour, shower, and head to work. But fatigue couldn't touch me because I was floating from such a happy weekend.
Some photographic evidence:
At one of the "bathing beaches" where people were actually swimming even though it was between -3 - 2 degrees celcius.
I worked this week giving final exams to 260 students. That is always an adventure with students showing up for the exam having never come to a class. (more stories on that to come later.) And now I am officially on Chin.ese New Year break until February 22nd!
The next few weeks are going to be insane. After next Wednesday I will be in Hangzhou for only 48 non-consecutive hours over the next 6 weeks. The passport is going to be getting a good workout. America is the first stop, followed by backpacking from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and then spending Chi.nese New Year's at a few Chi.nese friend's houses up in northern Chi.na. There's a lot of logistics still to work out, like affording/buying plane tickets to Vietnam, getting a (legit) Vietnamese visa, getting train tickets to Shandong Province even though I will be in Vietnam when the ticket box opens, and wondering how jetlag is going to play a role in all of this. haha. It should be fun.
But first things first, today I will clean my house and bake a coconut cake.