One of best parts about being a part of an international school and connected community are the adventures and opportunities you have to travel with those people! I was very excited when Lianne told me that our staff was planning a trip to a rural town about an hour and half outside of Wuxi. The city we are in is huge, but it still has about 5,000,000 people in it which can make it a little crazy at times. I immediately told them I was interested and was so excited for the journey that awaited.
Before we left I was able to learn a little bit about the town and what exactly we were going to do while we were there. Yi Xing is known for making pottery (similar to the different minorities I mentioned in the last post) although from what I gathered, the people in that town are still considered in the Han majority group. There was also a plan to go biking on a trail that they said would be very beautiful and a place that most people visit when they are there. I was on board anyway because I knew I wanted to see a different part of China.
The morning we left I attempted to get coffee at little coffee shop Costa that is in a shopping center near the apartment. What I didn’t know was that coffee shops here open at 10:00 A.M. Sad day…Anyway, I walked to the school to find that there were other people there that weren’t a part of our staff. Of course, I was really happy they could join us because I like to meet new people. I met a college student who goes to school here in Wuxi and is learning Chinese which was exciting for me because that meant I wasn’t the youngest adult there! I also noticed that there were quite a few families on the bus, and some of the younger kids were even my students (which was a lot of fun for them to see me outside of school). The bus ride was much closer to an hour which was good for me because I was so excited! I sat by Bethany on the bus who actually used to be Rachel’s roommate.
When we finally arrived it was about lunch time. We ate at a restaurant where all the dishes are put in the middle of the table on a round-a-bout and you grab what you want. There was SO much good food. I think the funniest thing I saw was the “squirreled fish.” It was literally a fish, like head and all, with these fried things sticking out of it that made it look like it was going attack something. There was orange sauce on it that was very similar to sweet and sour sauce. I tried it, even though I was a little scared, and it was really good! We also had chicken soup, white rice, eggplant, fresh wild vegetables, pork, tofu, things that are similar to meat pockets (steamed bread that has a slit in it so you can stuff it with meat), and this amazing pineapple black rice that was surprisingly sweet. The bottom line is, the food was amazing, and I would go back there in a heartbeat.
After lunch we were taken to this house where they actually sold pottery. It looked like the owners lived in the upstairs area, and had their store on the bottom floor. Right as we walked in a lady stopped us and was pointing at this beautiful pink flower. I wish I could remember the name of it, but apparently it is very rare because it only blooms once in its entire lifetime. It was actually really amazing because later we looked it up and she was telling us the truth. It was great to see something like that by chance! We looked around in the shop and it was very beautiful pottery. Some of it was its natural clay color and some was painted and glossed over. My favorite style is the natural clay color with either engravings or little bits of color on it. There was a specific area where a man was making pottery, and I looked around and asked how much this beautiful little teapot was that had gorgeous flower and leaf engravings on it. I was told it was 2,000 quai. I immediately put it down because I was not about to spend that much on a little teapot that would be for decoration. We asked why it was so expensive and the man explained to us that everything in that room was hand crafted by him. I didn’t blame him for pricing it that much. Another room had really cute plates, mugs, and tea sets that had colors which were very vibrant and summery, along with adorable designs that were different on each one. I thought most of it looked familiar and then Bethany told me there was a place in that town that target purchases some of its dishes from, and she was pretty sure it was this place. That explains why they looked so familiar!
Although I liked a lot of pottery in that store a lot of it was out of my price range, and I just wasn’t willing to spend that much on one thing. Luckily I wasn’t the only one that felt that way so we went to a different part of town that had multiple pottery stores. Some of the prices were similar to the last store, but if you looked enough you could find good deals on some of the smaller stuff. I was able to buy all the souvenirs I needed to take home as gifts! I’m still amazed at how much pottery there was in that town. I don’t think I have ever seen that much in my entire life.
After looking at pottery we headed to the biking trail. I was expecting a little trail around a lake or something like that with pretty trees and flowers everywhere. Little did I know we were going to an area with biking trails that showed off gorgeous mountains, the bamboo forest, and acres of tea fields. It looked like the kind of “China area” I visualize when I think of China. I was so excited because it was so beautiful I just wanted to see more! When we walked up to the main area to rent our bikes Bethany and I saw little battery powered cars that you can drive instead. I think we both had the same idea when we saw them. Yes, we ended up renting a car and we had to pay a 200 quai down-payment for an hour along with a 15 quai fee for every fifteen minutes we went over that hour. We thought that was fair so we went for it! Let me tell you, it was much better than biking everywhere considering we were already exhausted from the day.
We were able to do so much sight-seeing and take a lot of pictures. I was relieved to be somewhere like this after living in the city for the past five weeks because I am actually from a rural area in the United States. I am used to a lot of “openness” which this area definitely had. I can’t even begin to explain how many tea fields we saw, and all the amazing mountains everywhere we went. Bethany and I also agreed that we didn’t care how long we were gone because this place was so pretty we just wanted to see as much as we could. In a lot of fields they had fake metal outlines of farmers, but then every once in a while you would see actual farmers wearing the straw hats to protect themselves from the sun. Along with that there were these strange cut outs with holes in the heads where you could go into the field and put your face in them. One of those things where you think, that would be a cute idea if they weren’t so creepy. My favorite part of the whole trail was seeing the bamboo forest. For some reason I am drawn to bamboo…I’m not entirely sure why. The forest was so amazing! The bamboo was so thick and so tall. If you weren’t looking close enough you would think it was just a bunch of tall skinny trees. It’s hard to believe that we eat that stuff here!
After about 30 to 45 minutes of driving around we decided to head back, however, we were pretty much lost. There was a specific trail we were supposed to stay on and we thought we were following it, but all the signs were in Chinese characters as well as the map so we could hardly recognize anything! We ended up turning into a residential area and circling all the way back to an area we had already been. Bethany tried asking for help, but the lady told us to turn where we had just been (the place that took us in a huge circle) and we refused to do that again because it would waste more time. Luckily we ran into two people from our group who were also from our school, and they were able to help us backtrack. The hardest part was that most intersections looked the same unless there was a specific landmark right next to them. I think for us most things looked familiar and we found our way back. I’m glad I had Bethany because if I was by myself I would probably still be in that town and would have eventually become a citizen since I’m so directionally challenged.
By the time we made it back we went 45 minutes over our scheduled time which wasn’t so bad. Bethany was nice and paid for the extra even though I offered to help pay for it. When things like that happen I think of how lucky I am to have these people in my life! We waited for the rest of our group and once they were there we headed back home to Wuxi.
Going on this trip was one of my favorite memories about student teaching abroad in China. Learning about the different culture and being in a different area than what I’m used to really put me on my toes and took me out of my comfort zone. And that’s okay because I think that’s what you’re supposed to do when you travel the world. Take time to learn, and take every opportunity you have to be somewhere different, and that makes you do things you’ve never had to do before. Of course, it always helps to be with someone more experienced than you so that, in case you get stuck, they can help you.
The most important thing I learned is to not be afraid and to have faith. Billions of people live here every day, so why can’t I?