Category Archives: Life in the Bike Lane

Gripping tales of buses, rain and check-out ladies in Hangzhou, China.

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.  Continue reading

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For Spacious Skies: An Emotional Re-Entry

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I’m back in America. Owen and I landed yesterday morning, after a long and sleepless but blessedly uneventful trip home. The first thing Owen said when we landed was, “America is closed. Go back to China.” I laughed so hard I choked. Twelve hours back across the Pacific? I didn’t think so. But how was I supposed to convince a two-year-old of the awesomeness of our “new” home? [We moved to China when he was 2.5 months old, so it is his only known home.] I tried the weather: “Look at the blue sky! And the mountains and the grass and the trees!” I was choked up, actually streaming tears in seat 41K as we pressed our faces to the plane’s window. California must be the loveliest point of entry. Owen was somewhat impressed, but unconvinced. “We can pick strawberries here,” I offered. His eyes lit up. He jumped up in the seat and yelled to all the passengers, “Go to America now! Pick strawberries!”

The immigration agent asked us jokingly if we were siblings, and we shared a short, easy laugh. When I requested that he stamp Owen’s passport (the general practice for re-entering U.S. citizens is to pass through immigration without receiving a stamp), he grinned. As he leafed through Owen’s passport, his eyes widened. “Wow, extra pages! This boy’s been all over. I’m going to give both of you stamps.” And he did: thwack, thwack, “Welcome home.”  Continue reading

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On Biden’s Speech, Coming back to America from China, and Thinking Differently

4437e6a340051228e2e956[1]Nick here. Yes, it’s been a while. After I last surfaced in Mae Salong, I continued into Myanmar, came back to China, shut myself in a room for 7 weeks and wrote a little master’s thesis, and then hauled 白丽 White Beauty and 鸥汶 Little Seagull off on one last trip to see Zhejiang’s coastal islands.  All stories worthy of a post or two, and maybe I’ll actually write something intelligent now that I hold a graduate degree from such a prestigious Chinese university. Although, truth be told, my made-in-China degree may be pretty worthless even here.

But anyway, speaking of college degrees, and their being conferred at graduation ceremonies and such, there’s one thing I want to write about first: Vice President Biden’s commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania.  Continue reading

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Over and Almost Out

SmileI’m flying home in one week. That means my two years in China are nearly up, and so you all must be chomping at the bit to know what my highs and lows are, top-ten style. Well, okay. Here, then, a dual list: things I will miss and things I will not. (This may become a short series, but I’ll stick with ten for tonight.)

Things I Will Not Miss
1. Grandmas constantly scolding and chastising me for my parenting decisions, from warmth of clothing to choice of snacks to leniency in allowing my child to do things on his own
2. Going into a clothing store and realizing that I am the completely wrong size, shape, dimension, and height for every item (including shoes) Continue reading

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The Doctor Will See You

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I’m pregnant.

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The hospital where I have my prenatal appointments is the best in town, and I am fortunate to be allowed to see a doctor at the international clinic (foreigners only!), where service—besides being conducted in English by bilingual Chinese people—is relatively fast, easy and warm. The price is higher than in the regular hospital, but it is still a fraction of what I would pay out-of-pocket in the States. (An ultrasound, for example, costs $22; a visit with the doctor, $30.) The service for the average person at this hospital (the average person who is Chinese, that is) is agonizingly slow and convoluted. The waiting rooms are crammed with sick people, some with bodily fluids leaking out. The floors cannot stay clean with this many people, and the paper on the patient beds is not rotated. Every service takes place in a different hall, floor, wing, or building, so people can expect to spend all day walking from waiting room to waiting room, forking over papers and cash and endless patience. I reiterate that this is the premier hospital in town, and that I am extremely fortunate to be seen at the VIP/foreigner clinic there. My experience has, overall, been good, and certainly it is leaps and bounds better than what I could expect as a Chinese person in the normal medical system. But, there have been some humorous moments in my time spent there, and I relay them to you now. Continue reading

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At the No. 6 Park, Mama Non Grata

I’ve written about the park across the street, No. 6 Gongyuan, previously here. But, as with Heraclitus’s river (which you cannot step in twice, for each time both the river and you have changed), so it is with the Chinese public park: no two trips are identical, and in fact the longer we live here the more unpredictable our outings here become.

Since I last wrote about the place, Owen’s ayi has taken to airing him out by the West Lake nearly every day, and apparently she is not nearly as turned-off as I am by the thronging fans (read: she tells people his name when they ask, which I have stopped doing for reasons that will soon become clear). Thus, everyone who lives and works within a mile-radius of our home knows Owen’s name. The men who paddle the boats on the lake whoop “O-wen!” when I pass by; the woman who sell the laser-beam-and-blaring-music-enhanced automated bubble guns in the shape of sharks clucks “O-wen!” as we stroll; and the men and women who plant flowers and sweep and pick up trash with 4-foot-long metal tongs wheel around when we show up, smiling, his name on the tip of their tongues. Continue reading

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Hair

faithamericanFor going on two years now, I’ve gotten my hair cut at a fancy place across the street. It used to be called Hair 1981, but they updated the name recently to the more modern Hair, and in a sign of supreme styling self-confidence here in Asia, put up signage translated into Korean. It’s staffed by 6 or 8 young men at a time, all from small villages out in the hills of Zhejiang Province, all of whom compete with each other to have the biggest, cutest hair in the place. When not shampooing or styling the well-maintained locks of their discerning customers, they sit in the chairs and work the blow dryers on themselves with a vigor and attention to detail unknown in other sectors of the Chinese economy. Each resembles a different sort of lovely, rare bird of the K-Pop Amazon, their piles of hair dyed orange or light orange and tufting beautifully every which way. It’s really something to inspire confidence in a flat-haired American like myself. Continue reading

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Hot, Soup and Candy

Photo credit: ADOur ayi is skilled at many things, not the least of which is understanding my extremely imperfect Mandarin. From Day One, she’s shown herself adept at finding the intended meaning in my messy tones and bungled syntax.

So, today’s conversation took us both by surprise. It went like this:

Ayi: “Do you want me to cook some food today?” [She stir-fries veggies for us once or twice a week]
Me: “I was thinking some tang would be good. Y’know, since it’s cold outside.”
Ayi [looking a tiny bit confused]:Tang? Like, what kind of tang?”

Me: “Well, we have chicken, and garlic, and green beans. You could put them in this pot and make some tang.”
Ayi: “Chicken? You want me to make tang with chicken in this pot?”
Me: “Yeah, and please use the water from the water jug, not the tap, since we’ll be eating it, you know, because it’s tang.”
Ayi [very confused now]: “Um. What kind of tang?”

Me [also confused—she has made soup in the past and it was good]: “Just simple chicken tang.”
Ayi [grinning broadly]: “OH! You want tang! Sure, I can make tang. I thought you wanted tang.”
Me: “Oh, jeez, I’m so sorry. No. That would be really gross.”

Tang (2nd tone) is sugar, and the word can refer to “candy” or “something sweet.” Tang (1st tone) means soup.

Oh, and when you eat soup, you’re sure to say, “Careful, it’s tang (4th tone),” which means it’s hot.

With three months left to go, the adventure continues on the daily.

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