PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is too expensive to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, steve, usa, April 23, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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As the train moved slowly towards the north, suddenly I felt I should have worn thicker clothes against the encroaching cold. Not just any cold. It was biting cold. The cold that seemed to penetrate through the minute pores in the clothing you wore. The cold that came into contact with the parts of your body that were exposed to its impact and you yearned for warmth from a heater somewhere inside a room. Like someone pricking fine needles at your skin, at times. That kind of cold. I was able to call Yang Kun the time of my arrival at the Hangzhou train station. I did not have to worry about which exit I should take at my arrival. When the train arrived at Hangzhou station, and despite the many passengers getting out of the train, I saw her walking towards me; she was dressed very warm with her hat and scarf and winter boots. Not a common sight in China. She looked very cosmopolitan, like someone I might see in New York or Beijing. She took me immediately to have something hot to eat. Something to warm me up, through the stomach, since the station was icy cold with no heaters anywhere inside the train station. I saw different shops selling different kinds of foods and snacks. Xiamen is in the south, warm most times. Not here in Hangzhou. She ordered me some hot soup to eat. Obviously, she did not have her breakfast. She ordered, to me it seemed, a big breakfast for herself. I enjoyed the heated store more than the foods.
From there she took me to buy a pair of gloves. It looked like a shop for females but we saw the gloves right at the entrance to this store. I picked one that I thought would be ok for a male. The selection was limited. Mostly for females. I was sure the gloves were for a female. Who cares! It was cold. I felt good wearing them. I welcomed her gesture because for the first time I felt the cold in China.
She insisted on visiting a famous tea house near West Lake and so we took the train. Since she is new in Hangzhou, she told me, she was not familiar with the roads and the traffic—too many cars for her liking—and left her car at her apartment on the campus. This is the same car she had driven while living and working in Xiamen the last 10 years or so. It was a short ride to West Lake.
It seems every major city in China has a West Lake. (In my home country, it seems every state or a major city has a Washington Street.) The name sounds familiar. But the most famous West Lake, a major tourist attraction and destination is the one in Hangzhou. And so when people mention West Lake, they are talking about Hangzhou. Hangzhou is West Lake and vice versa.
While walking around the West Lake area looking for the tea house, a silent movie
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was playing in my head, about an unforgettable experience that took place when I was growing up in a farming village in Malaya. Suddenly, I realized I had known West Lake many moons ago watching a Chinese movie based on a famous story that happened on West Lake, Hangzhou centuries ago. West Lake, Hangzhou was no stranger to me. When I was growing up in Malaya, my sister and I and other teenagers would visit a cinema in town, a bicycle ride away from our homes, scattered in the village. That was the only entertainment available to us then, except the occasional circus coming to town. The American missionary, who was the principal of the mission school I attended, would show us movies on Fridays after school. I remember clearly my sister, now living in England, was the brave one and she would carry me on the back of the bicycle to see a movie in the dark. The only problem was we had to pass by a graveyard on the way to town. I grew up in a world full of ghosts and spirits (mostly evil ones according to our mother) and I could not help imaging some evil spirits would follow us, with me sitting at the back of the bicycle. Sister would pedal a little faster when we neared and passed by the graveyard. Even during daylight hours, when I rode my bicycle to school, the only means of transportation then for almost all students from the same village, I would pedal a little faster by the graveyard. The fear of the evil spirits following me was real all the years attending the high school.
I will always remember the movie called The White Snake, a Chinese movie about a conflict between good and evil spirits, which took place in West Lake, Hangzhou, China. It is now considered one of China’s Four Great Folktales. There are different versions of this tale but the movie version is about a white snake who came to the human world because she wanted to live a human life and met a scholar and married him. She and her husband became famous in a town because of their Chinese herbal medicine shop and how they helped many poor people. Fa Hai, a monk, came to visit and recognized her as a white snake and told her husband about it. To prove it he wanted him to give her a drink during the Dragon Boat Festival when people would do everything possible to drive away the evil spirits, including drinking a special wine. She drank the wine to please the husband but because she was pregnant and her magical powers had decreased, the drink proved fatal to her: she became a snake in her bedroom. Her husband almost died because of this sudden revelation of who she was. One day the monk came to visit carrying what looked like a big bowl and it started to fly in the air and landed on the wife. It captured her completely and the monk buried her under the Leifeng Pagoda at the bank of the West Lake. I cried and cried watching the movie because I felt it was terribly unfair for the monk to do this to her. But the monk believed humans and spirits should not live together. The son grew up and got first place in the Imperial Examination. He then offered sacrifices to his mother in front of the Leifeng Pagoda. I cried and cried again, moved by what the son did. The god was moved by his filial piety and love for his mother and caused the
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pagoda to collapse, thus freeing the mother. The family was reunited.
Many years later and now I am walking around West Lake, enjoying the cold winter air with a good friend, looking for a tea house to relax and drink some hot tea. And the movie The White Snake continued to play in my mind. West Lake is a man-made freshwater lake in Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang Province in eastern China. It was created to reflect Chinese love for garden-style parks. Embraced by lust hills on three sides, it is noted for its natural beauty and has numerous temples, pagodas, gardens and artificial islands within the lake. As one of the top ten scenic areas in China, it was listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO on June 24, 2011. It is the pride of Hangzhou, located on the eastern shore. Definitely a favorite place to escape the hustle and bustle of the modern city. In the words of an old Chinese saying: “There is a paradise in heaven, Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth.” Marco Polo, an explorer and merchant from Venice, once a guest of Kublai Khan in his palace, Xanadu, in China, said in the 13th century that Hangzhou was the most enchanting city in the world. Ancient Chinese people praised the area around West Lake or Xihu (in Chinese) as a land of intoxicating beauty, a beautiful and romantic spot.
“Ripping water shimmering on a sunny day,
Misty mountains shrouded by the rain;
Plainly or gaily decked out like Xizi;
West Lake is always alluring.”
These words composed by the famous Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo (960-1127), compared West Lake to Xi Zi, one of the four beauties in ancient China.
And so when I mentioned that I would be spending two nights in Hangzhou, Eason Hu, who was a student at the college where I taught and now a young lawyer in Shangdong Province, told me he would like to visit with me. He had decided to travel around China during the Chunjie holidays, visiting many of his friends, most of them young lawyers like himself, partly to spend some time with friends but also to investigate more about friends who are working as lawyers in their parents’ law firms or offices. He wants to move to another city to continue his law practice. I might work for a friend’s father who has a law firm, he said to me. Eason loves to travel and the money he had earned from some generous clients could support, in his words, my travel lust.
Eason is one of many students who came to know me because he wanted to learn and improve and practice his English while he was studying law on the campus where I was teaching. And he was a fast learner because of his intense desire to be a good
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English speaker. In fact he did more learning after I returned to the United States via the internet and QQ International. Now he speaks and writes with ease and could write paragraphs and paragraphs sharing his work as a lawyer in a town in Shangdong Province.
Often times when I tried to talk to him from USA, he might be on the road driving his parents’ car to some places away from his hometown. He loves to drive and he loves to travel. When my son was in high school in America, he had to drive his car. I told Eason only the restless Americans must drive at all times, that they would simply wither away like some flowers if they must stay home for a whole day without driving somewhere. Like many other Chinese, new to owning cars, Eason also has this incurable urge to drive and drive, “I just like to see small towns, different from my home town.” It did not surprise me when Eason asked me if he could come and see me in Hangzhou. By the time I arrived in Hangzhou, he had already booked into a hotel near the West Lake. Now he would move to the hotel Yang Kun had arranged for me, in an area, in her words, “where most of the universities are located in Hangzhou.” There seems to be a trend in modern China to build new campuses in area outside major metropolitan areas, away from the “sins and temptations” of central urban areas. Is it for moral reasons? I doubt but it is a trend. Maybe land is abundant and cheap outside urban areas. The truth is nothing these days could stop any student from traveling to urban centers to enjoy their life and money. This is China.
Yang Kun suggested we first visit the tea house by West Lake and later report to my hotel. We told Eason to meet us at this tea house. And also Terry, who is now doing his graduate studies in a school in Hangzhou. He had just graduated from the campus in Xiamen and he is doing his graduate studies in Hangzhou, where his parents live. Terry knows the area well. Actually, Yang Kun did not remember the exact address of this tea house and we had to ask people for directions. It was a cold day with cold breeze touching your face. The sun wasn’t hot enough to protect you from the cold air coming from the vast lake. I wished I had something bigger and thicker to cover my body. Yang Kun kept saying it was a walking distance from the lake. Walking distance? I was feeling a little exhausted and bored having to drag my luggage along with me. We were moving in the right direction but the actual address eluded her.
I am willing to admit I am not a globe trotter or a seasoned world traveler and a tea house means nothing special to me. I was reminded of a famous teahouse, Guanyin Pavilion teahouse, in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, now fast becoming a high-tech city. A friend decided to pursue a graduate degree in math in Chengdu and it allowed me a brief visit to the city. Guanyin, of course, is a famous Goddess of Mercy to the Chinese people. This 300-year old teahouse was once an ancient Chinese
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temple, dedicated to the Goddess Guanyin, now a relic in a country being overrun by influx of many Western coffee cafes. Religious frescoes and motifs appear on the high beams. And on wooden panels are decaying paintings of Chairman Mao Zedong, founder of China’s Communist Party and slogans praising socialism.
The 50-seat Teahouse represents a way of life that is a throwback to the past in a society that is becoming increasingly internationalized in this era of globalization. This state-owned establishment does not offer premium teas. Here customers in their 60s, 70s, 80s sit on bamboo chairs in small groups to enjoy each other’s company. Most are local people, some walk a long distance to come here every morning. In the words of one frequent customer: “The teahouse offers customers a place to socialize and escape a materialistic and individualistic society they struggle to fit into. In today’s world, people are getting further and further apart. It’s so good to see your friends here.” The teahouse is famous for its timelessness. Unfortunately, a new generation of Chinese beverage drinkers or the young educated cosmopolitan professionals prefer coffee shops, like Starbucks, that continue to spring up in major cities across the Chinese landscape.
This is China.