The other day, I went to eat with a coworker at the secret upstairs noodle shop. Some expat friends are friends of convenience, the other English speakers in a foreign country, and after so many rounds of Hello, I am an American and Yes, I can use chopsticks, it’s always good to have an honest, fullspeed chat with other waiguoren on this crazy adventure. But I got so insanely lucky meeting the other Lone Wolves, I legitimately like James, Rob, Ben and Ian so much. I could write an entire essay on meeting the right people at the right time, but the simple version is that I’d be friends with you guys at home! Anyway, Ben and I went up to the secret noodle shop, and had a really wonderful conversation involving Mary Beard and women in games, Roman customs and internet security. This Yangzhou summer is a really amazing adventure.
Then I tried to order us tea, but got bowls of hot water, and coworker Ben tried to pour vinegar sauce from the teapot into it. Chinese life is a work in progress.
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After an unsuccessful hike to find a garden on my day off, I went up to Dongguan to recharge myself with air conditioning and wifi, and I bumped into people I knew! It was very exciting, since I know about 10 people in Yangzhou, and I think 7 of them were teaching that day.
We ended up sitting in the upstairs of iCaffe, looking out through carved wooden shutters and swapping China stories. In air conditioning. Did I mention the air conditioning? Mostly we traded stories of China adventures, and the weird addiction we all share for Chinese life. I’ve met some long-term expats here in Yangzhou, and a few guys who’ve left, had a proper job at home for a few years, and then the siren song of China brings them back.There’s an ease and simplicity of an English teaching job, where all of your basic needs, like an apartment, utilities, and so forth are handed to you, but any of your personal needs (English books, cheese, Twitter, coffee) are rare treasures. By the way, if someone ever says “What’s the grossest thing you’ve even seen in China?” and your stories of cocoon barbecue don’t get much of a reaction, don’t ask him what his grossest experience was. (Meg, why do you do these things?!?!?)
Then I said goodbye and walked up to 个园, Ge Garden. The character 个 is a measure word, so I sort of translated this in my head to a garden, even though that’s not really how that works. I discovered today that the name 个 has nothing to do with counting, actually, the garden is full of bamboo and someone thought that this bamboo looked like the character 个. Which is rubbish because there is already a character for bamboo, 竹, which already looks like bamboo. Because that’s how pictograms work. I have not been so pissed off at Mandarin since I discovered the character for circle looks like 圈.
But the garden. Ge garden looks like dream China. I made it in the late afternoon, and just watched the sunlight slanting over the bamboo forests. I went up the rockeries and looked in the orchid house, but then I sat in a pavilion, surrounded by the bamboo, and it was so peaceful. You don’t get a lot of peace in China, it’s much more constant fireworks, screeching ebikes, those electric megaphones and endless carhorns, but this pavilion felt like ancient, imaginary China. It was a perfect place to write in a journal and feel the incredible peace of being exactly where I am supposed to be.