A weekend and a day later in the city of Hangzhou in the nation that dared to name itself the Middle Kingdom, I have made a cosy nest of my empty dorm room. My suitcase, still full of personal items (read: too many face masks – the beautifying ones, not the pollution filtering ones) and boxes of Panadol Rapid and Codral, is finally empty of my clothing and the suitcase has found a new home above my little wardrobe. My bathroom smells pleasantly of the reed diffuser (Oceanique, Circa Home) that was gifted to me by some friends and my favourite pillowcase from home sits at the head of my king single bed, encasing a strange pillow that is a little too high for me. I’ve also been abusing an adorable tea cup I purchased on the first day; it’s been filled with cups and cups of T2 tea from home (more gifts from friends). New mingles alongside the old, and I’e surprised myself with how comfortable I’ve made my little corner.
My body seemed to arrive in Asia before my mind registered that I was there. Having slept very little the night before I was due to fly, and given that it was a night flight, I fell asleep almost instantly and awoke only because breakfast was being served. The first day (Saturday) was a logistical nightmare – though there were 11 of us UTS students in this big city, we managed to get lost on our search for wifi or Chinese SIM cards. It turned out that we weren’t allowed WiFi until we officially registered (which was to be on Monday); following that, we also learnt that obtaining a SIM card for foreigners was not a straightforward process (a theme that is common for the Chinese, it appears – see Juliana’s post about BUREAUCRACY and RED TAPE) and involved paperwork that could not be processed over the weekends. Out of sheer desperation, we lingered at a nearby convenience store that thankfully had wifi and many of us were able to make contacts with our friends. I missed my friends terribly but slept well given my exhaustion from a long, long day.
The following days were not so bad – my brother came down to Hangzhou to see me and took me around. Though it was packed with people, West Lake was beautiful and retail therapy from nearby shopping outlets eased the pain of being in a new unfamiliar city.
I returned home excited about my new sweater, new skincare products and various homewares, but with eyes full of dust, a sensitive nose and a head full of indignant anger about the rudeness of taxi drivers and wait staff I’d encountered during the day. Did ‘hospitality’ translate with the same connotations in Chinese, I wondered? Did drivers on the road realise that traffic would probably flow a lot quicker if everyone didn’t insist on cutting each other off all the time? Most of the time, I was happy to find that I was growing more comfortable with my fellow UTS friends, having hosted a face-mask-and-tea-party in my room. I drank the golden-green liquid as if I would find answers to the loneliness that niggled me during my quieter moments at the bottom of the cup.
I am constantly struck by the way the sun seems to shine differently in China. Colours are …muted; the barely-visible blanket of smog in the sky seems to distort and soften the sun’s rays, obstructing colours – covering cars, softening walls, muting paint on the pavement – from coming alive. Indeed, the colours of the buildings here don’t help; many are painted pastel. But what the city lacks in colour it makes up for in the clothing and personalities of many of the people. Most locals are friendlier than you might find in other busier cities in China – having spent many weeks of my childhood in one of the busiest (Guangzhou), it is humbling and pleasantly surprising. (Many taxi drivers I have to exclude from this.) Many people are also not used to kindness, which gives me more reason than ever to show it – people just don’t use manners here. ‘Thank you’ isn’t said often.
Hangzhou city is beautiful by Chinese city standards, I must admit, which I surmise might be what contributes to the relative laid back attitude of Hangzhou locals – deeply green shrubs, hedges and trees naked from the waning winter and waterways with oriental details frame the whole city. Effort has clearly been put into reducing pollution, and street paths are constantly wiped clean by council workers. While the effect is generally quite pleasing (again, comparatively speaking), coming from vibrant Sydney, I can’t help but feel it is also a little artificial. I have not seen any hints of wildlife (save from a single white dove nesting in a tree, which was clearly a rare sight because there was a HUGE crowd underneath it, gawking); not seen any ants, even cockroaches or rats. This morning, I woke up far too early for no reason and caught some birdsong and it struck me that the sound was so much more rare than it should have been. I longed to see the bird in flight.
It’s 12:09am and I have to be up at 7am. Already, I am falling into my old habit of sleeping far later than I have any business to be sleeping. Tomorrow’s challenges will be exciting – I’ll be sitting the placement exam which will dictate what level of Chinese class we’ll be placed in for the upcoming classes. I keep finding myself in situations where I appear to be able to communicate fluently in Mandarin, only to stare blankly back when a phrase outside my very limited vocabulary pops up. People here must think I’m a special kind of stupid.
tl;dr Hangzhou is ok so far, pollution can be a bit shit, need more friends (and birds apparently) but my dorm looks cute af and i bought some more summer clothes as tho i FUKN need more my god. sum1 pls mail me some sweatpants, im not even joking