Wednesday 2 November 2011
4:00 PM – The office staff have given me a rough, photocopied map of the area around the campus and marked where the Carrefour department store is located so I decide to find it. It’s hot and humid but still raining so I wear the lightweight raincoat I brought with me and I haven’t gone too long before I realize why most of the Chinese are using umbrellas. Even my light raincoat traps in the heat and is uncomfortably hot. I determine to get an umbrella as soon as possible.
The dormitory for the international students is in the back of a building which, on the Nanshan Road side, houses the local Porsche, Maserati, and Ferrari car dealerships—which gives an indication of the kind of neighborhood around the university. It also explains why inside the front door of the dormitory is a stairwell with nothing else on the ground floor. Carrefour is several long blocks away but I find it without too much trouble. At first, when I get to the corner of the building where I expect it to be, there’s an entrance that looks like it goes into a little shop. After standing and observing for a while I realize a lot of people are going in and out, so I decide to go in and explore. Inside is a small lobby where vendors sell things, but there’s an up and down escalator leading to the basement. The down escalator is broken and has been converted into a ramp leading down into the store. I follow the crowd down and discover Carrefour. I find a basket near the entrance and buy Crest toothpaste, Tide laundry soap, a twelve-pack of bottled water, some cheap scissors, a refillable eraser, three notebooks, two sponges (to clean the room) , a pair of plastic chopsticks in a box in case I might need my own, pencil lead, toilet paper (six-pack), a small porcelain dish to put shaving soap in, and a drinking mug for use in brushing my teeth. The mug has a stick figure of a girl with the words “I love daughter.” I plan to give it to my daughter when I get home. By now my basket is full and heavy so I get in line at one of the check-out counters. I watch the shoppers in front of me to see how things are done—pretty much the same way as at home. Most people have brought their own bags to carry things home in but I find, hanging from the check-out counter, tote bags for sale that say Carrefour on the sides. I buy one of these, bag my own purchases, and pay ($19.26). When I get back upstairs the rain has stopped so I stuff my raincoat into the tote bag in one hand and carry the case of water in the other. It’s a long walk back with my heavy load. And I had already learned, the first night in town, that jaywalking is a way of life here and played, it seems, as a competitive sport—cars, buses, bikes, and scooters against pedestrians.
After I get back to my room I put everything away. One notebook I use for expenses, another for my journal, and the third for class notes. And thank heavens for small pleasures—real toilet paper. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and am hungry so I go back downstairs to the dining hall for dinner. The procedure in the dining hall is to wait in line and, when you get to the counter, to point to what you want in the metal heating bins. The attendants ladle heaping piles of your desire onto metal divided trays. They point at the rice and, if you say yes, cut off huge blocks with their spatulas. You can pay cash as I do but most students use a prepaid meal card. They put the card onto a metal-topped scanner on the counter and a read-out tells how much the current cost is and the balance remaining on the card. At the end of the counter is a huge metal cooking pot full of chopsticks and another bin of Chinese-style plastic spoons. I understand now why my taijiquan instructor always wiped off his chopsticks after sitting down in a Portland Chinese restaurant—not that this was probably very effective in safeguarding hygiene. Tonight I try the fried noodles, which are just okay, a mystery vegetable, and something that looks like sliced potatoes in a brown liquid. It actually turns out to be potatoes along with bite-sized chunks of stewed pork with as much fat as meat. But the fat isn’t mushy but firm. This may be the cafeteria equivalent of the famous Hangzhou specialty, Dongpo Pork. At any rate, it’s very good. I would usually be pleasantly surprised in the dining hall, despite the look of things. It’s obvious the attendants are used to foreigners of all kinds who can’t speak Chinese and so they are very patient and go about their work in a matter-of-fact fashion, pointing to things and waiting for a yes or no.
So ends my first full day in Hangzhou.
Next: Day 3