After two incredible years, it all ends here, with one last lousy blog post. A blog post featuring a cheesy song, a couple bad snapshots, and a false promise to a cab driver who will inspire me forever.
And so it begins, this post to end all posts: Yesterday I went out on the street with my bags, all seven of them, after going for my last chaotic, crowd-slowed run around Hangzhou’s West Lake. Still sweaty after my shower (such is June in Hangzhou) and looking for all the Chinese world like the most ridiculously over-packed foreign tourist to ever stay at such a low-class hotel (good ol’ 7 Days Chain Hotel!), I stood there, in morning “high peak” traffic, and executed my best limp-wristed hand wave.
My cab driver, my deliverer from panicked mid-morning South Boachu Road to the calm mid-day Hangzhou Xiaoshan Airport, was a middle-aged, talkative lady from Henan, an outsider in Hangzhou like myself, although she’d lived there much longer. We talked: about how her two sons were now allowed to attend Hangzhou schools, due to changes in how the government regulates internal immigrants to China’s wealthy cities like herself. With this change, she could keep her family together with her in Hangzhou, and her sons’ future prospects were much brighter. I then told her I was re-joining my wife and two-year-old son in the States.
She: “Oh, you have a son! Does he speak Chinese now?”
Me: “Well, he sure understands quite a bit. Doesn’t talk in Chinese so much, but he understands a lot.”
She: “Yes, yes, he’s too young to be talking much. If only he could stay another year! That’s fine, though. You can teach him all the Chinese he needs!”
Me: “Me? I don’t think so. If he learns Chinese from me, it’ll just be bad Chinese.”
She: “No, no, you’ll teach him just fine! You have to teach him.”
Me: “I dunno. He doesn’t like when I talk to him in Chinese. And really, my Chinese is pretty lousy. It’d be a lot of effort, and the result would be very small.”
She: “Me, I love languages. I only had the opportunity to take one semester of English in upper middle school, though. But I kept my textbooks! Ever since my sons were very young, I used those textbooks to teach them English, even if it was just the little that I knew. I believe in helping my children succeed whatever way I can, you know, even if it’s just a little help. You have to! A few months ago, the three of us sat and watched your president’s speech on the computer. The ‘Current Situation of the Federal Government,’ I think that speech was called. You know it?”
Me: “You watched the State of the Union Address?”
She: “Yes! You know, I like having my sons watch your American president’s speeches. He always talks very slowly, very clearly. But we still had to watch dozens of times, maybe a hundred times, before we understood just a little bit! Still, that’s the only way to get better. My sons didn’t want to keep watching, but I made them, and made them look up all the words we didn’t know. I never got a very good education, but I don’t stop learning. And what little I know, I make sure my sons know, too. They will learn English. Better than me. To be successful, they must.”
Me: (Gulping a little.) “You are a good mom.”
She: “Well, you’re a good dad! Whatever Chinese you know, you teach your son. Do it. Say you will.”
So I promised her I would. Amazingly, she actually seemed to believe me, or perhaps she just didn’t challenge me, didn’t want to make me lose face.
Then we were at the airport. We said goodbye to each other, and good luck.
Then I stood in lines, at the check-in counters and beyond, and remembered.
Alright here goes: Welcome to the 中国’s Ode to Hangzhou
(courtesy J.J. Lin)
And… Welcome to the 中国’s Top Hangzhou Scenes
First: The rooftop on Long Life Road:
Second: The benches of North Hill Street (along the way to school):
Third: From the hills: “Above there is Heaven…”
And fourth, to the streets: “…Below there is Hangzhou.”
Finally, some parting words, to gently exculpate the failings of this strange, lousy blog:
Paradoxically, the travel writer knows that he passes through a place for only a brief period of time, but he cannot resist generalizing about essential, eternal qualities of the land and peoples he meets. Travelers project their own personalities and social environment into the landscapes they cross; like fiction writers, they create “autoethnography” as much as objective description. — Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West
The Hu Family