Monday, April 14, 2008

The Weekend in Taiyuan

I had a fantastic time in Taiyuan. Regardless of the bus ride, it was really good to travel again and to see Sigma, who I have not seen since her 21st birthday party back in late 2006. Who knew when we saw each other again we'd both be living in northern China?

The city was not as bad as I expected it to be. Size wise, it seemed just like the areas right outside the heart of Shanghai- busy, but not overcrowded. I heard it was horribly polluted and there was not much to do, and I think those things are true on some level, but I was expecting much worse. The pollution seemed to me to be about the same as in Shanghai; the sky was generally a hazy gray and you could see the sun and moon as colored, somewhat distinctively shaped blobs in the sky. As far as things to do; well I'm sure for a weekend I was greatly satisfied, but the nightlife was definitely sketchy (our time at bouncing floor club was short-lived but very interesting). There's always KTV in China though, and that's what we did Saturday night. I can't believe I'd been here over two months and still hadn't done KTV with friends yet.

It was cool as well to see how the teachers live; I mean my expat friends here in Dalian are all teachers as well but with Sigma I actually lived the teachers' life, haha. I stayed in her provided "apartment" that was really just a permanent room in the school hotel, I went with her to a teachers' meeting, had lunch with two of her best students, and we even paid two students of one of her friends 50 yuan to clean her bathroom (it was just a little on the sketch side). Oh, and Sigma had a motorcycle too that we rode around in for a bit, it was awesome to feel the wind blowing in my hair.

Saturday I actually cut off most of my hair. It would have been my grandmother's 88th birthday, so I cut off about nine inches and am going to donate it in her memory. The people at the hair salon were soooo confused though as to why I wanted them to just chop off all my ponytail and stick it in a ziploc bag, and I even had to threaten to leave before they would agreed to just cut it off first, and then discuss hairstyles. It turned out pretty well; it's uneven but I've learned at this point that I will never be happy with a Chinese haircut so I am just grateful I look decent with a short haircut.

Sunday then Sigma and I had pictures taken! Photography studios in Taiyuan were so abundant, and all around China in fact, and they're relatively cheap and loads of fun. For about 55 dollars total we got to dress up in two outfits each (the package we got was meant for one person so we had to split some aspects of the deal), get our hair and makeup done full out, and had a professional photographer take our pictures and make us do silly poses and whatnot. I'd actually had it done in Shanghai for my senior photos back in 06, but the guy in Taiyuan actually had a crew! He had people that would just fix our dresses and the lighting and whatnot so all he had to do was call out the poses and take the picture. They turned out GORGEOUS, I mean Sigma's did anyway- especially the ones with this huge black hat (I'll post pictures later). She's going tomorrow to the studio to sort through them and decide which ones we want to keep.

Then I had lunch with my grandmother's younger sister. We went to a hotpot restaurant, and her daughter (my dad's cousin), son-in-law, grandson, and his girlfriend came along too. It felt nice to be surrounded by family again, even though I'd never met any of the other four, since I haven't been around any relatives since I left Shanghai. She reminded me so much of my grandmother, and then she took me to her apartment after lunch and was so kind I just became overwhelmed and started to cry. It was a good kind of cry though; I was really glad I had been able to visit her.

After that then it was almost time to leave for the airport (there was no way I was doing anything but flying back after the horrendous ride out) so Sigma, Aussie David and I went to this tea bar where for 18 yuan a person you had all-you-can-drink teas, and bubble teas, and smoothies and more. Our favorite was this yogurt drink with REAL strawberries mixed in, it was so delicious to have proper dairy again.

Then Sigma saw me off in a taxi; the taxi driver made a comment later in the trip that "your friend didn't look like she wanted to let you go" and I think I wanted to stay more than she did! But the taxi driver also tried to rip me off twice that trip so I wasn't very happy with him in general. I thought for sure I was going to miss my flight because he was taking his grand old time, since he was mad I wouldn't pay him a flat rate of 60 yuan to go to the airport and told him to run the meter instead. (It ended up only costing 40, and when I handed him a fifty he refused to give me change at first claiming he had to pay a toll along some part of the road).

I made the flight though, and actually ended up talking to someone who lives maybe a ten minute walk away from me. He even had a driver and gave me a lift home, saving me quite some time and taxi fare. In fact when I got home I realized I still had time to make Trivia Night, and arrived in the middle of just the second round. It was really nice to be able to recognize so many people when I came home as well; I didn't realize I'd made so many friends in the last month. Since going away to Taiyuan, I think I'm actually going to miss Dalian when I leave in less than three months. The weather also jumped up about 20 degrees while I was gone, which makes me incredibly excited to see this city in bloom. I'm a Shanghai-er, that's for certain, but citites I never thought I'd be able to survive in, like Taiyuan and Dalian, have definitely managed to take a hold of me as well.

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