So after two incredible years, it all ends here–with one last, glorious posting to this lousy blog. Here is the grand crescendo, the final finale, the nail in the coffin. It features a music video. Never-before-seen pictures. And drama, with an ending so sublimely bittersweet you’ll laugh and cry at the same time. Hopefully not just from the bad writing.
The End begins: My last moments in Hangzhou… standing out on the street with my bags, all seven of them, and wiping a steady stream of sweat off my face after my short movement from the check-out desk. I look 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!), and right in the middle of morning “high peak” traffic. In between sweat wipes, I execute my best limp-wristed hand wave. A light ahead turns green, traffic surges forth, a cab stops. “GET IN!” She yells.
My cab driver, my deliverer from panicked mid-morning South Boachu Road to the calm mid-day Hangzhou Xiaoshan Airport, is a middle-aged lady from Henan, she tells me. She is talkative. She’s an outsider in Hangzhou like myself, although she’s lived there much longer, and so we have a connection. But my prompts don’t elicit the usual complaints and comical stories about Hangzhouvians that so many smirking or bewildered workers from other parts love to tell. Instead she has great things to say about Hangzhou. She tells me her two sons are 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 can her family together here, instead of sending her sons back home, probably to be watched-after by their aging grandparents in a poor village. With this change, her sons’ future prospects seem much brighter. As a mother, she has tremendous hopes.
I then told her I was re-joining my wife and our 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. Obviously you can teach him all the Chinese he needs!”
Me: “Me? Ha, 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! And I mean, 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, seeming puzzled by my pessimism: “Well 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