Finally after about 10 solid weeks of teaching – bar the one day off for Tomb Sweeping Day – we had a long weekend!! Hooray!! Not that any of us foreign teachers had an inkling about this impending event. Unless you study the calendar of Chinese National Holidays rigorously and put reminders in your diary , you only discover these occasions by accident. For instance, like the teacher who turned up to school only to find the building under lock and key and no one present… It happens, communication and advance notice are alien concepts here, a bit like in India…
I stumbled upon the advent of the extended four-day break purely by coincidence. Rumour had it that sports day season was upon us, the day or days when the services of the English foreign teachers are not required and we might just get the day off… Enough for me to put out some feelers and gather information, so I found out about this long weekend a full week beforehand, well ahead of everyone else… And surely, you would have thought this meant plenty of time to organise a trip to far flung places within China. Beijing beckoned with its Great Wall, the Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square… and four days seemed about the right amount of time to just get a flavour without breaking the bank. I surfed the net, invited friends along… only to find no seats available on trains and any flights not already snapped up well over my budget… I had not even started on hotel rooms.
With Beijing out of the running, maybe a visit to Shanghai or Suzhou might have been more manageable. Both are only a stone’s throw away from where I live, especially when travelling on China’s fast and reliable bullet trains, their rocket-noses slicing through the Chinese countryside at exhilarating speeds of over 300 km per hour. But courtesy of the sluggish Chinese internet and with too much ‘umming and ahing’ by my Indian friend about which days to go, which hostel to choose and which train to pick, things did not bode well… Coupled with the fact that it would be considerably cheaper to travel any other weekend apart from this one, there was only one solution: stay put and explore what Hangzhou had to offer… There was no point in trying to travel when the Chinese themselves were all out and about, and who could blame them as days off from school and work are a rarity indeed.
So on Saturday I accompanied Italian Anna to an art exhibition on the outskirts of town, hidden away in the corridors of a cinema complex. At least we were there to give her artist friend Ahmad from Palestine some moral support. Next we ventured to the West Lake, with the rest of Hangzhou’s residents and hordes of tourists. If the area had seemed crowded when I first visited the lake way back in cold February, now the bridges and causeways swarmed with people soaking up the sun and women young and old indecently exposing too much leg and the odd glimpse of underwear… We scrutinized the latest Chinese fashions in H&M under the pretext of Anna needing to buy more comfortable shoes to replace her glamorous high heels which were so not the right thing to wear for a long walk around the lake… We spotted old Chinese men performing the art of water writing on the pavement, ‘reciting’ chunks from famous works by authors such as Shakespeare… We watched animated elderly men with furrowed brows blending seamlessly within a sculptured tableau. In the evening we met up with random strangers in an ex-pat bar where I bumped into a fellow teacher coming all the way from Prestbury, Cheltenham.. It is indeed a small world!!
On Sunday, I finally made it to the top of Linping Hill, the green forested hill overlooking the town, and joined the rest of Linping in search of cool shade, a bit of line-dancing entertainment and a climb up the pagoda to enjoy the view of the town. I had seen the pagoda often when cycling to Walmart; it rather sticks out above the tree line and from a distance seemed certainly worth a visit. But if I was looking for a chunk of Linping history, I was in for a surprise. The pagoda is clearly not ancient, not even old for that matter; entirely constructed using the finest modern metals, it glimmers in the sunshine, a testament to modern architecture imitating China’s rich past and culture.
The glorious weather faded away on Monday, leaving grey clouds and drizzly rain in its wake. Only lunch at Grandma’s Kitchen cheered up the day… and the fact that we queued for more than two hours for a table was just a small inconvenience. The food was gorgeous and well worth the wait.
This left me with Tuesday to fill, the last day of my long weekend… I spent it diligently preparing lessons for Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday… How better to end a long, relaxing weekend than by sitting behind my laptop trying to think up hundreds of imaginative ways to entertain the little Chinese children… Occasionally I need to remind myself that I am here to work, and this everlasting adventure holiday is a figment of my imagination…