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How I Spent My Spring Festival Vacation

Date:2011-06-26 Author: Hits:clicks


By Chinese standards, Zhuji is a small city - only about a million people or so.
One thing’s for sure - it's not Shanghai. Mine was the only non-Chinese face I saw the entire time I was there. People stopped in the street to stare at me. Once, getting off a bus, a teenage kid who was getting on began shouting “Laowai! Laowai!”               VIP insurance

A couple of years ago the New York Times did a story on how whole cities in China have been put into the service of manufacturing a single product. Well, Zhuji is the socks city. If your socks were made in China (and they probably were), it’s a safe bet they were made in Zhuji.               Healthcare insurance

Zhuji is famous for being the hometown of Xishi, China’s most legendary beauty, born in 320 BC. To this day it has the reputation for producing extraordinarily beautiful women. If my friend Celia is a typical example, then it must be true.              global insurance

  I had asked Celia to find me a cheap Chinese hotel that was near to her home, and I got what I asked for. At only 60 RMB a night ($8.33), it was a stone’s throw from her parents’ building.              

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What do you get for $8.33? A room with a bed, a bureau, a TV, a coat-tree and an overhead fan. Bathroom in the corridor, no shower and no heat! Instead they give you a plastic basin and two daily two-liter thermoses of hot water.               Maybe it’s a holdover from the days (not so long ago), when most everyone was poor, but the Chinese will not turn on the heat in their homes when another layer of clothing will do just as well. They consider it an extravagance, not to mention unhealthy. This is the most festive time of the year. Every lunch, every supper, whether at Celia’s home or with her relatives or with her friends, was attended by at least a dozen people, every one of them sitting at the table bundled in their winter coats! We ate in a luxury apartment, and we ate at a home in a dirt-poor village, and every place we went was at least ten degrees colder indoors than it was outside, and outside it was COLD. Wine poured chilled stays chilled. I’d be sitting with Celia’s family watching TV at 9 PM and they’d have a window open! They think it strengthens your constitution. I’d go back to my room and get into bed fully clothed. In the morning I’d have to  sponge bathe and wash my hair in a room that was freezing! After three days of this I hit some kind of wall and felt I just couldn’t stand it any more, and decided to cut my trip short and go back to Shanghai - but I didn’t. It was a true-blue Samuel Beckett situation: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”               For five days I smoked like a chimney. Nearly all the men in China smoke, and Chinese etiquette dictates that when you light up, you hand out cigarettes to every male present - even if they’ve already got one going. To refuse is considered bad manners. The best you can do is to say that you’ll save it for later. When I met Celia’s Dad, he hadn’t finished shaking my hand with his right hand before fishing out his cigarettes and offering me a smoke with his left. Eventually Celia owned that if I declined they would make allowances for me being a laowai. Of course, cigarettes being the insidiously addictive things that they are, by the end of the week, I found myself WANTING to have a smoke!                Outside of an international city like Shanghai, sit-down toilets are still few and far between. Squat toilets are the rule, just porcelain holes in the floor. Celia’s parents’ bathroom had a sit-down toilet, thankfully.               Travel Insurance

Spring Festival feasting is endless. I’d be eating breakfast at Celia’s at 10, and by noon I’d be staring at a dozen different dishes for lunch; twice as many for supper. I know it’s the tradition, but it’s gastronomical overkill. My final night there I could barely face dinner.  The quantity of dishes was surpassed only by the variety - and (for me, anyway), the exotic nature of what I was eating. I ate duck’s head, cow’s stomach, sheep testicles (sliced, if you need to know), duck’s stomach, and dog! Dog looked like flat, ragged pieces of beef jerky in a bowl, and it’s eaten by dipping it in a coarse salt first.               Celia’s parents were poor when she was growing up. Now they’re doing better. Her dad owns the building they live in. All the same I can’t imagine that they have a lot of money to spare. They don’t for example own a car, the #1 symbol that says you’re middle class here. But they wouldn’t let me pay for anything. They insisted on paying for my hotel, the transportation and entry fee to Wuxie National Park, the one meal we ate in a restaurant, even my train ticket back to Shanghai. Who knows - maybe they see me as a future son-in-law. I could do a whole lot worse.                   And that’s How I Spent My Spring Festival Vacation.

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