Days the Eighth and Ninth – 25 & 26 August

You get both days at once because today I’ve just been working from home. Not even a cockroach sighting (but there’s plenty hours left in the day for that, not that I’d appreciate such a sighting). Most noteworthy things today are probably the thunderstorm in the middle of the afternoon when they sky went really dark, and my writer’s block. Nothing more exciting. Which is why it’s good that I have things from yesterday to show you…

  • Is it just me, or is the word “eighth” really awkward?
  • We start the day with a bruise-update: I think the flash has somehow made it look less purple? Either way, it is still all various shades of purple, a bit painful, a bit swollen, and I look forward to it GOING AWAY.
Frankly, at a distance, it looks like I’ve got dirt on my knee. Annoying.
  • I feel that I should be writing today, but I also feel that I should have a proper day off, after a rather nutsy week, just to regroup, and actually poke my head out to do SOMEthing that’s neither work nor work-related admin.
  • I settle for mentally planning and writing down a to-do list, before I tackle the cleaning – an acquaintance of my Dad and his daughter, who is, as I later find out, five years older than me, want to come over and have a nosy about this flat that I’m staying in. The plan is then to drive to theirs [the parental domicile, where the daughter stays during weekends: the pull of the big city!] and go out for dinner!
  • I tentatively turn off the A/C, and open some windows – taking care to pull shut the mosquito-nets while the windows are open – to weather the place, since the windows are always closed due to said A/C. But it’s already muggy (prepping for the thunderstorm later in the day), and somehow that amplifies the smell of car exhaust, which gets carried in by the wind, even though I’m on the fifth floor.
  • Ground floor is level one in China.
Can you make out the net?
  • Anyway, the windows get shut after five minutes, and I need to turn the A/C on again, not to cool the place down, but to dry it out.
Side-ways opacity.
The net actually comes in a retractable roll, and stays in place with a magnet. I’m trying to demonstrate this, but feel that it’s failing.
  • The new acquaintances arrive, and they’ve brought gifts?!
  • They look around the flat, ask me about my work, how I feel about being in China etc. Then I take the freedom of discussing the admin details of my visiting studentship (they both work at universities) to Beijing, and receive some helpful advice. For one, they recommend that I just buy a single ticket there, and another single back, when I know what my return date will be. I will try to visit a ticket office on Tuesday, and ask if they do open returns or how much it costs to change a ticket, etc. And then just BUY IT.
  • Well, after my queries to the PKU admin lady comes back.
  • I get along well with the daughter, who spent time studying at Nottingham, and we natter the whole way to theirs. Although I do remember to ogle West Lake as soon as it appears outside the window.
  • Beautiful.
  • But I have no pictures. We didn’t stop, and I decided not to unleash my inner hipster and also tourist on the first meeting. It will also be a motivator to make sure I actually make a purposeful trip to West Lake in due course.
  • They live in a lovely penthouse near one of the Zhejiang University campuses. The mother greets us and immediately furnishes me with tea and lots of snacks. Then I get the quiz about work, life, etc.
  • We watch telly. Even though the TV in my room both works, and I’ve figured out how to control it, I haven’t really watched much telly. We catch a showbiz gossip programme, and something that’s similar to… SNL maybe? Only this was in the afternoon, so with more family-programme style jokes.
  • The father gets called in to work (academics and Sundays, eh?), but the mother, my new friend, one of her old friends, and I head out to their local branch of The Grandma’s. A restaurant chain serving really good Hangzhou cuisine.
  • Or so I’m told. And I have verified. *nods like she knows it all*
There’s a waiting area in The Grandma’s. But instead of an aperitif, you get a little tea-tumbler.
  • The friends ask me if there’s any food I don’t like. I mention the coriander thing but quickly add that it’s no biggie.
  • Only it is, but still. One ought to be courteous when treated to dinner.
  • Again, no hipstering at first meetings. There’ll be plenty more pictures of food later.
  • As I am the youngest, I seem to have lots of food shovelled onto my plate after each dish is brought on.
  • It was so good though! Including a fish-and-lotus-root stew with enough green peppercorns (and some red chillies) to make my tongue go numb, but I still couldn’t stop eating it. Huh. And the sweet-osmanthus-honey (there is nothing I won’t google for you) glazed, fried sticky rice cake? I let myself have three pieces of that. One must draw limits. But ugh was it good. Then there was shellfish, misc Chinese greens, ear fungus, and super-tender beef, stir-fried with a mountain of fresh coriander (which I discreetly peeled off and deposited in my by-then-empty clam shell).
  • The place is really popular. At one point, a table next to us seems to have a dish missing, and the customer yells at the waitress. I understand the wrath – we’d all complain if there’s food missing from our order. But the making a scene… augh, I’d still rather skip that part.
  • Through pudding, we get a lecture from the mother in What’s Important When Looking for a Husband. I can’t resist but poke in a few humorous comments, was I’m wont to do, but otherwise we’re good Chinese girls and just listen through.
  • We also talk about their travels! The friend and her parents toured the Nordic over the summer, and the friend’s friend went to Africa for a month. Jealous? Who?
One of the gifts. I haven’t touched chocolate since I arrived, but won’t say no if it’s offered to me.
  • The thunderstorm has truly broken out when we leave, and since it was a little walk from theirs to the restaurant, and I hear them mention taking a taxi, I presume they mean to get back to theirs, so that we can discuss which bus I should take to get home.
  • But in the taxi, my friend describes the exact spot where I live, and I’m slightly surprised. Then, the taxi is already on the road, and it would be awkward for me to tell [friend, and friend’s friend… let’s call them XF and LW respectively, since they might come up again] them that they don’t have to come with me, so we continue the chatter. This time it’s TV series and the such.
  • When we arrive at mine, LW has to get out in order to let me out – a good thing about Chinese taxis maybe? That they don’t even let you get out on the side of the traffic? And I chuck a note that’s roughly equal to my trip home at XF, who’s in the front. She jumps a little – we did spend part of dinner talking about creepy-crawlies – but finds the note, and by that point I’m already waving from five metres away.
  • This bit comes from many times watching my mother and her father (i.e. my grandfather) fighting over who pays for taxis etc. Frankly, I don’t know what the etiquette is among friends, so I just assume the universal equal-split applies in this situation.
  • That said, I get the feeling that XF’s and my father are good friends, and now she’s sort of decided to “big-sister” me a bit while I’m here. So rather than fretting too much over bill-splitting etiquette, I’ll try to put together a nice present once back in the EU and send over instead.
  • Totally knackered as soon as I step in the door.
I could probably cook with this if I get really desperate, but I’m not, and don’t plan to be. It’s a very pleasant rose-scent. That said, it’s the “watsons” logo that’s important here – makes me all nostalgic about Hong Kong.

Well what of today then?

  • Lie-in. And after breakfast I fall asleep again? What is this?
  • I’m having to take a break from sci comm as well as hist sci to deal with some pure museology. It’s easy to get stuck in the histories of these too, before I remember that it’s the theories that I need to take away with me to discuss in my essay.
  • Email from Hanban at last, detailing the layout of my scholarship. It’s quite complicated, as all these things are, but I think I should be able to manage it. Although I might have to send one more email to the poor International Relations admin lady at PKU to make sure all plans match up…
  • Temperatures have dipped below 30 C (temporarily, if the forecast is to be believed), but it’s muggy muggy muggy. Which makes it feel warmer, and mostly clammier than it is. If the dampness wasn’t there it would almost have been kind of nippy in my shorts-and-vest combo today. 25-29 C is very “comfortable” weather in this region, as my new friends from yesterday said.
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