Home Hospitality in Shijiazhuang

April 18, 2011
china, culture, working abroad
Home Hospitality in Shijiazhuang

My roommate from my semester abroad, Rose, lives in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province. Since we’re both in
northern China, I’ve been wanting to get out of Beijing for a few days and go to visit her. So a couple weeks ago I picked a date, emailed Rose to confirm I was still invited, and next thing I knew I was buying my ticket to Shijiazhuang.

At 1:45 on Friday I entered the train station and hurried to my platform, where I found a train so crowded I could barely get on board. Once I squeezed my way into the car, I still couldn’t move, much less walk into the aisle and head towards my seat. The car was so crowded because of the number of people who had bought standing-room only tickets. A migrant worker girl in tight jeans stood in front of me, and in front of her were a middle aged couple refused to budge.

Behind me, people complained and called for those in front to squeeze further into the aisle. Finally I opened my mouth and asked, “Can you please either walk forward or let me through?” Everyone stared, but it was like the surprise of hearing a foreigner speak Mandarin jolted them into letting me pass. I struggled down the crowded aisle to my seat, and the rest of the three and a half hours passed by without incident.

Home Hospitality in Shijiazhuang

Rose met me at the train station and we went to eat hot pot for dinner. After she graduated in May, she tried to find a job in Shanghai but eventually gave up and moved back home. Her English is incredible. How does she improve? Lately, by marathoning episodes of America’s Next Top Model. I more than approve. Rose’s latest news is a budding romance with a young man she affectionately referrs to as “the pangzi,” or “the fatty.” He has taken her out on several dates already, each time driving a different car, but this week he hasn’t texted her, so she isn’t sure if it’s going anywhere. By the third date this young man was already talking about, “When we’re married…” I thought that sounded bizarre and told her so, but Rose wasn’t fazed. I always forget: the Chinese by and large date not for fun, but for marriage.

We woke early the next morning and ate a very Chinese breakfast: thick ropes of fried bread with fresh homemade porridge and pickled salted vegetables. After eating, Rose and her mother and I took a bus out into the countryside to visit a temple. Looking out the window, I watched small figures walk along rows of wheat crops, wide-brimmed hats shielding them from the sun. Shirtless men with leathery skin squatted by the roadside, resting, watching passersby. The few villages we passed through were run down, dusty and dirty with garbage everywhere and many buildings crumbling and in poor repair. Dogs and chickens scampered around. Children ducked behind their grandparents when the bus rumbled by.

Longquan Temple, built in 1157, is really a collection of small temples placed up the side of a mountain. A smooth paved road allows cars and hikers an easy way up about a fourth of the distance, with about three small temples to stop and see and pay respects. Anyone who wants to climb higher must take a narrow dirt path up a steep incline, marked by Tibetan prayer flags. Rose’s mom was afraid to climb higher, saying it was unsafe, so we just looked on from below. The landscape was beautiful, in a dusty and understated way, a million shades of brown and gray swept out over low old terraced mountains and ocher-roofed temples and earth colored villages and in the distance, the city.

Home Hospitality in Shijiazhuang

Sunday morning we arose early again and ate another Chinese breakfast of fresh noodles in soup with fried bread and porridge. We spent the morning walking around a park. I love Chinese parks, which are large and peaceful, with lakes and bridges and walking paths and pagodas. Old people gather to play music and mahjong, women stroll, children eat ice cream and clutch their grandparents’ hands. Many parks have a mini amusement park area with ferris wheels and carnival rides of dubious safety and carnival games that are likely rigged. Rose and I just wandered and took it all in.

That afternoon, after gorging on our lunch of fresh pork dumplings (“Eat more!” her mother urged me, in the manner typical of Chinese moms), I ended up almost missing my train – it departed at 2:09, and I ran into the station at 2:00. But the hassle was well worth it – it was a really nice trip, great to see a new city, fun to see my old roommate, and overall a very satisfying adventure.

 

Home Hospitality in Shijiazhuang

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