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Living and teaching in Hangzhou

Day 17: Intrepid New Yorker

CHINA | Thursday, 23 April 2015 | Views [306]

cell phone & sleeping baby

cell phone & sleeping baby

We finally gained access to the Bauhaus Collection here on campus. It took a couple inquiries to find out when, if ever, the place actually opened to the public and if there was anything in it beyond time lines and photographs. Turns out that a small portion of the enormous number of items recently purchased are on display and a whole new museum structure is being built to house the entire collection. Even this tidbit was delicious – the beautiful design of the household objects, a few of the toys and a quick sequence of furniture – occupying us for an hour and a half. No photography is allowed, yet many take snapshots with their cell phones. Rob has decided to take his students in to see this, since it is part of the architecture school and the public art students really do not know about it, nor have any of his class members ever been to it. 

We went our separate ways after lunch, he to see the final results of the exploration of plane and introduce line using metal wire, all part of assignment 2, that will be unified in the next coupe of days into pieces that integrate line and plane before starting the final assignment.  I took my place at the bus stop and started out on my first solo trip downtown on the #4. It was a very crowded bus all the way down. So I stood near the back door, moving out of the way each time the door opened towards me. There were several admonishments by the driver as we stopped and more people squeezed on. It seems easy to imagine he is saying, “please move to the back,” or something like, “there’s a bus right behind this one.” But I really don’t know. Lots of noise from the assembled crowds waiting at the bus stops too – and sometimes a sequence of running towards the bus coming in behind ours. 

I got off earlier than I had thought I would, just because it was so hectic as we neared the downtown Lake area. The one thing I know for sure is that if I follow the outline of the lake, I won’t get lost. My orientation is to West Lake and the route of the #4, both familiar to me now. The major shopping/business streets that run N-S and E-W are also fairly predictable, huge new construction sites mixed in with very large blocky buildings (all from within the last 20 years I would guess), and the occasional alleys and smaller streets with the earlier form of large apartment building – which can’t hold a candle to the enormity of the new ones, but clearly are packed with residents by the look of the laundry hanging out over the balconies. One local described the different between the new apartment buildings and the new office buildings as “the residences have balconies.”

Thinking that Monday would be a quieter day than the weekend days, I started my plotted route, imagining that I could walk to the upper edges of the Lake and perhaps walk on the Bai Causeway or meander among the paths leading to sites in the park. The crowds were incredibly thick, though, and progress was slowed by coagulations everywhere around singers with microphones and many areas of public dancing. This is not the performance style dancing, but a stylized ballroom type of dancing that seems to sprout up with a boom box and a willing spirit. Sometimes 10-20 couples will be gracefully sashaying around a section of sidewalk. It makes a steady pace of walking impossible.  So I walk slowly, halting and dodging as everyone takes their selfies and portraits of each other “at the Lake” and with this or that pose. By the time I approach the Bai Causeway, I’ve pretty much had it with waltzing in the crowd and can see that the Causeway is no different than the sidewalk, totally jammed with people. It’s like waiting in a crowd that slowly moves along. Not for me. So I head away from the Lake, thinking that perhaps being closer to the Silk Market, I might ask my blistered toe to put up with a little more walking before heading back for the bus. Well, I wander through a section that is “women’s fashion area” on the tourist map. My character is not changed by my location, and I feel no less impulse to walk into those stores here in Hangzhou than I would any where else. I’ll stick to the very small, personal, low key shops near the campus if I do any more shopping. A couple of girls wearing black and white outfits stopped to look in a window full of more black and white outfits. I, however, walked on. When eyes meet a shop clerk standing in a window dressing a manikin, we both smile, she waves enthusiastically, and I wave back. This is my contact moment.

By now I’ve reached the vast roads of huge buildings. I know that it is nearly an equal walk to get to the silk market area, and taking stock of my feet and the time of day, I decide to turn towards the bus rather than keep going even further afield. Another day, I think to myself. The great pleasure of getting on the bus at the start of its route is that I get a seat the whole way back – which is just over an hour’s ride at this time of day, not quite the rush hour time yet.

Rob arrives just minutes after I do, saying that one of his students is playing in a basketball game right now and we have been invited to come. I pull my just-elevated bare feet back into shoes and we head out. What a blast! It is a school-based competition of two teams, both seemingly from the China Academy of Art. “Our” team – the one with two students known to us – is ahead, and stays ahead. There is no hollering or kibitzing or sighs of disappointment or words of encouragement. A very quiet audience except serious applause after shots – once even for a 3-point shot made by the other team but only once. Twice a call and response cheer breaks out over the course of the game. Meanwhile, Rob and I are trying to follow along, not making too much noise – but an oooph here at a missed shot, or a “yeah” there at a good steal can’t be totally squelched. Congratulatory noise among the team mates at the end of each quarter – and then the game ends. Rob’s student invites him enthusiastically to attend the Saturday night game – but we will be in Suzhou. Oh, sad face, but then there’s another game, perhaps Friday night we can make? We’ll see.

We trawl for supper near the grocery store – avoiding the two noodle places we have already tried. Bold as usual, we walk into a nearly empty place thinking it could be a total strike out, just two men drinking some kind of fruit blenderized drinks, and a mom and kid eating rice with meat in it. Turns out they have an extensive menu of drinks and dishes, some of which are entirely vegetable – no, really, entirely! The young man who had been standing in the doorway to invite people to enter, uses the word for vegetarian that really means like religiously vegetarian. So Rob gets out his scanning phone and we see cabbage and other vegetables. Dinner is simple and quick, though the ambiance is a little strange – a poster of Santa Claus is on the front window, and there is definitely a red/green theme, plus a goofy floor tile pattern. But hey, for 22 Yuan ($4) we’ve had supper. We top off the evening with a stop at the grocery store to pick up wine and beer since we are meeting a new person for dinner tomorrow and believe it is BYOB at the restaurant we have selected. 

I am surprisingly worn by being out all day in the world. Everywhere I go, I feel the way people glance at me, and make a conscious effort to keep my face arranged in a friendly, open aspect. I stand with an emphasis on balance and ease, hoping that I am doing the American people proud, while at the same time giving off the message that I am approachable and not lost. Only once, on the bus coming home, do I have a moment of doubt that perhaps I am not actually on the right bus, since the signage at the front of the bus flashes the time and such correctly, interspersed with the number “25” and that concerns me. So I type into my translator phone,” Is this the #4?” and show it to the young woman standing next to me. A small sharp nod. All is well. Another contact moment.

Tags: basketball, bauhaus at caa, being other, crowds, downtown hangzhou, traveling solo, west lake

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