Ode to Hangzhou, or: It Ends with a Promise

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After two incredible years, it all ends here–with one last posting to this lousy blog. 


My last moments in Hangzhou began anxiously.  I was standing out on Baochu Road with my bags, all seven of them in a leaning stack on the uneven pavement, wiping the sweat off my face after the short movement from the hotel check-out desk. I look for all the Chinese world like the most ridiculously over-packed foreign tourist to ever stay at such a basic hotel (good ol’ 7 Days!), and hopelessly ignorant about my chances of landing a cab in the middle of morning “high peak” traffic. In between continuing sweat wipes, I execute my best limp-wristed hand wave, signaling my hopes. A light ahead turns green, traffic surges forth, a cab stops without pulling over and the hot morning air becomes loud with horns. “GET IN!” She yells.

My cab driver is a middle-aged lady from Henan, and cheerful. She’s an outsider in Hangzhou like myself, although she’s lived there much longer, and so we have a connection. But my prompts about life in Hangzhou don’t elicit the normal 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 seemed to truly, fully believe me, and was very happy with me.

Then we were at the airport. We said goodbye to each other, and good luck.


Welcome to the 中国’s Hangzhou Memories


From the rooftop on Long Life Road:

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Sunrise: Winter 2012

West Lake after a summer afternoon storm, 2011

Mid-day: Summer 2011

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Late afternoon: Fall 2012

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Evening: Spring 2013


The benches of North Hill Street (along the way to school):

Winter 2012

Spring 2012

Summer 2013

Fall 2011


 From the hills: “Above there is Heaven…”


To the streets: “…Below there is Hangzhou.”


And finally, some parting words, to partly exculpate the failings of this 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 End.



The Hu Family



Filed under Life in the Bike Lane

2 responses to “Ode to Hangzhou, or: It Ends with a Promise

  1. Jean

    Unbelievable it has been two years. And I think I would agree with your lady friend..keep him speaking whatever Chinese he has–it will be easier for him to regain this when he gets older. Make it a game so he doesn’t feel like it is work. Ask him, “what was the word for _ _ _ _ _ in Chinese? I can’t remember it” or something like that. Or just throw the Chinese word in a conversation…
    this is the teacher side of me speaking, and if you choose to ignore me, you are welcome to do so. Jean

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