Soaking up sun on the porch
Yang Niu and her cousin
Yang Niu, her mom and aunt
Old Chinese middle school
Rocky's cousin with the puppy 'Xiao He'
Anyone who’s been reading this blog for some time should know about my friendship with Rocky, alias ‘the Hunan boy.’ He’s one of the trainers working at my gym and over the year that I’ve been working out there we have become great friends. When I told him last week that I would be spending the wknd in Changsha he got really excited, and told me that I should get in touch with his sister and his family that lives in on the countryside, somewhere outside Changsha city.
First I wasn’t sure, as it felt a bit strange to call up a complete stranger and ask if I could visit her town, but then I thought ‘well, why not?! Rocky is so lovely so I guess she will be too?’ and called her. And that was a good call!
Rocky’s sister, who’s name is Yang Niu (杨妞） invited me and my friends to come and visit her village, a small country village called ‘双溪’(Shuang Xi) during the Saturday. We decided to meet at Changsha’s south bus terminal at 9.30am in the morning as she was scared we wouldn’t found our way to her village without her help (and that’s something that she was definitely right about).
From the first moment we met her we knew it was going to be a great day. She was so friendly and happy, despite the fact she had never met us before. She didn’t speak any English so this was a perfect opportunity for me to rely on my spoken Chinese, and it went way better than I had expected it to. All in all, I think I spoke more Chinese that day than I do during 4 weeks of classes at the university (traveling is really the way to go to improve your spoken Chinese, especially traveling to smaller places where the people don’t speak English).
Together we caught a ‘bus’ (more like a minivan) where people were sitting almost on top of each other, to get to her village. We became the object of curiosity already on the bus, as I suppose most of the passengers had only seen laowais on TV before. 45 minutes later we had left the gray looking city and entered a totally different looking landscape. Green trees, red, muddy ground, and a chaotic wet market greeted us when we stepped out of the bus and into (what felt like) a completely different world. Think that it only takes as little as a bus ride to put a different China in front of your eyes: the people of this village were nothing like the city residents of Changsha… (and quite a contrast to the glamorous Shanghai residents that we have gotten used to) They all looked much more ‘rough’ and ‘worn out,’ and they were all so tiny. In fact, Rocky’s sister, who is quite tall for being a Chinese girl (1.70) told us that her height had become a problem for her, because she is too tall for all the men in town… So ironic! Every other Chinese girl I have met have told me they wish they were taller –and not this girl wishes she was shorter.
First we went to a wet market to get some fruits and veggies before we walked for 25 minutes to get to Yang Niu’s home where the family was preparing lunch for us.
Everywhere we went we got curious stares but no one yelled ‘hello’ or anything like that. They were just looking at us, and I guess I would have been staring too, because we looked completely out of place and were probably the first laowais to have visited this tiny little village.
Once at the house we were introduced to Rocky’s family: his mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, uncle, another uncle, cousins, and some other people. We then sat down and enjoyed a fabulous lunch that they had prepared for us. The food was delicious and it was really nice (and a bit weird) to sit there and talk to Rocky’s family. The old people spoke with heavy Hunan dialect which was hard for me to understand, but Yang Niu helped translating and I was positively surprised when I realized that I could actually have proper conversations with his family members, rather than just the very basic ‘oh this food is so good,’ ‘I really enjoy living in China’ –talk.
After dinner we moved our chairs to the porch and enjoyed some tea and snacks and continued chatting. Friends and neighbors kept dropping by, as we quickly became the ‘talk of the town’ and everybody wanted to come and meet the ‘Chinese speaking giants’ that had come for a visit.
We sat there for hours, soaking up sun (it ended up being a lovely day with a blue sky, fresh air, and 20 degrees! We even managed to burn our faces only during those hours in the sun) and chatting, before they wanted to take us for a walk and show us some mountains and lakes. Rocky’s mom, sister, aunt, and cousin joined the tour and we walked on muddy roads and saw some quite wonderful nature scenes (as you can see in the photos). Every now and then we stopped and had some fruits (that Yang Niu had thoughtfully brought) and took photos. And the aunt kept filming us with her flash mobile phone! It was a really lovely walk. And SO NICE to be out of the city and see some real nature. Not just a park, but actual mountains (or big hills as I would call them), trees, and wild flowers. We all told ourselves that we have to do things like this more often. It’s like therapy when you are living in an urban jungle like Shanghai/Suzhou.
Back at the village we spent some hours at the grandma’s house, being offered all kinds of local snacks and candies. Everything tasted quite different but most of the stuff was very good. Time flies when you are having a good time and soon it was 5pm and time for dinner. Rocky’s family had again prepared a delicious feast and even gave us some snacks to take with us home. I don’t have enough words to describe the friendliness of this family?! They had never even met us, they just knew I was a friend of their son, and they treated me and my friends like royalties. And still, they kept apologizing for their home being ‘so simple’ and ‘nothing special?’ If there is something us Swedes have to learn from Chinese people it is how to treat your guests.
After dinner we said our goodbyes (and I was told that I HAD to come and visit again next time Rocky came home, I could even get my own room and stay for a week) and Rocky’s uncle drove us back into Changsha city. What a day!!
Although we were exhausted from all the new impressions (and there was almost smoke coming out from my head after all the Chinese I had been speaking. For a while I couldn’t understand my Norwegian friends’ dialect… it became language-overload for my brain) we decided to head to a cute little pub that we had driven by a few times for a beer before we called it a night.
The pub (called Coco Bar) proved to be an excellent choice. Cozy setting, good tunes, friendly waiters, and a laid-back crowd. It didn’t take long before the manager sent over a complimentary fruit plate for us to enjoy, and a moment later 3 Chinese men came over, welcomed us to Changsha and asked if we wanted to join them for some spicy fish head.
We declined the food offer and they left, but 20 minutes later one of them came back and wanted to hang with us. He was very friendly and we were in a great mood, so we decided to head for a KTV and sing karaoke.
The guy (whose name was Jackie –he was a lawyer from Beijing) was really friendly and once at the KTV he ordered in loads of beers and snacks, despite our protests. His English wasn’t that good so he sang mostly Chinese songs. But then came ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which he knew, so we ended up singing that one over and over again…
Sometime way beyond bedtime Jackie suggested we’d go for ‘spicy snake’ and we thought that sounded like the best idea ever (note to self: never agree to eat anything after 3am in the morning). We went to a dirty little restaurant located in the middle of nowhere and ordered all kinds of strange food, including some bird, crab (which was delicious), rice pudding, clams, eggplant (of course –our third one that day too, gosh!), and snake… The spiciest snake they had. Actually, it was so spicy that Jackie couldn’t even eat it, and he screamed in delight when he saw us dig in, not the slightest concerned about how the chili peppers were burning our mouths.
As for the snake –it was kind of gross! I actually cannot believe I ate it now afterwards?! But it was fun to try and I think we were in the right kind of mind to try it that night (If he would have suggested ‘bugs’ I think we all would have screamed ‘YEAH BRING IT ON!’ –get my point?). Jackie insisted to pay for everything, and refused to take the money we offered (he kept saying 入乡随俗 -when in Rome, do as Romans). When we continued to protest he suddenly revealed that he was quite loaded, making some insane 90,000 yuan/month??! (although not every month of the year.. in fact, he said he only worked maybe half a year and then took the other half of the year off to go backpacking because the job was so tiring) Our jaws dropped to the table. He definitely didn’t look the part, dressed in jeans and a hat and sneakers? (also, I should add that he didn't say it in a 'show-off' way at all...)
When we spotted a large rat at the restaurant we decided it was time to leave, said goodbye and went back to the hotel. What a day/night! Although it was hard to get up the next morning it was well worth it -that's a day I won't forget at the first place.