Buddhism and Baijou

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Asia » China » Zhejiang » Putuoshan
October 30th 2009
Published: November 2nd 2009
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We reluctantly got out of the comfy bed around 7am, took hot showers and headed downstairs to the breakfast room. It was a typical Chinese breakfast buffet- fried rice, lots of meat and random Chinese pickled vegetables, toast, random baked goods, watermelon, hot juice that tasted like Tang and probably was and of course rice porridge. We ate until we were full and then headed outside with everyone else to the bus. As we waited for the few stragglers, a few teachers started playing their version of hackey-sack (they kick around an object with feathers on it) and Martin joined in, getting lots of laughs and "very good!" comments from everyone. It was cute.

We found out that we were actually in the city of Ningbo and were on our way to yet another high school. This one was also over 100 years old, and had been built around a historic area where there were remains from 1000+ years before of statues and such. It was beautiful, and kind of a shame to think about how little the students probably get to enjoy it. If they're at all like our students, they sit in their classrooms most of the day and rarely get to enjoy the beauty around them! All of us were led on a tour around campus and this time Maria stayed back with us and explained what some of the things were for us. Once again, we piled back onto the bus and were driven for about 20 minutes to what appeared to be a boat terminal. We were told by Ben that we were going to take a small boat to Mount Putuo and stay there overnight, so we grabbed all of our stuff and headed into the large waiting room. Suddenly someone yelled something and we found ourselves in the middle of a gigantic Chinese mob pushing each other to hand tickets to the agent and get out to the boat. This is also another constant theme in China- the existence of so many people in one place causes this mentality of 'must get there first', and there are no such things as lines. Old women will push you, and you learn to have no shame in elbowing them out of your way. When we get back to the states I fear that I might forget how to stand in a line patiently.

The boat was probably the rockiest thing I'd ever been on, crowded and hot. The whole time the crew played different Chinese music and a video about Mount Putuo that they were also walking down the aisles trying to sell. I immediately closed my eyes and was lucky enough to drift off to sleep for the hour-long boat ride- I had been afraid I would get seasick, but we both made it. 😊 We pushed our way off, dropped our luggage in a huge pile with the rest of our group and headed straight into a restaurant where there was once again food waiting on the tables. It was another race eating session, this time with one of the men in our group making fun of my technique of holding chopsticks. I smiled and said in English "it still works, right?" and pointed at the fact that food was getting in my mouth.

Putuoshan is a small Buddhist island that can be reached by boats from Shanghai or Ningbo. It has numerous temples and I guess you can actually walk around the whole island in just about an hour. We were led around a few parts of Mount Putuo by our tour guide and spent awhile gazing at Guanyin, the famous Bodhisattva statue that the island is best known for. The whole area was just gorgeous and so peaceful; for awhile it felt like we weren't in China, as the crowds of people seemed to be much less. After looking at another temple area, we walked for a bit and ended up in front of another gigantic, fancy hotel- the Putuoshan Hotel. Like magic, our luggage was inside the lobby and we were quickly given a room key and told to meet back down in the lobby in an hour for dinner. What? Relaxation time? It was amazing. We set our stuff down, checked out our equally nice hotel room as the night before and went on a walk around the island for a little bit. We got juice and coffee at a store across the street and then just spent time taking pictures and enjoying the peaceful scenery- I especially enjoyed the fact that there were trees with BROWN LEAVES that were falling off to the ground and crunching under my feet- not to mention the weather wasn't stifling hot for once! I've been missing autumn in the Pacific NW pretty badly, so it was very nice to have some semblance of fall.

Disclaimer for Parents and or other adults (except for our own, because they know the truth): If you'd like to think we don't occasionally drink, keep in your dreamworld and skip this next paragraph--

As we all gathered in the lobby at 5:30 for dinner, Maria turned to Martin and said "The leaders want to know if you like to drink?" When Martin said "Sure", knowing that it's an important cultural thing to be invited to drink baijou (Chinese alcohol) with the leaders, she said "They invite you to sit at their table. What about you Staci, do you?" Many Chinese women don't drink- and if they do, it's just a small amount of wine. It's always pretty funny when we go out with friends here and each order 1 beer per person- the Chinese people don't know how to deal with the fact that women are drinking a 24oz bottle of beer by themselves. Sometimes even 2 bottles, gasp! What can I say, us American women can drink. I'd been pretty conservative thus far with our school, only drinking small glasses of wine when offered at banquets, but figured I might as well live it up. They were inviting me to join them, so I did. Martin and I sat at the head table with our 4 school leaders (including Ben), Maria, and one other female teacher who liked to drink, so I felt more comfortable having two women with us. The food was already there, and small shotglasses (about half the size of a regular one) were quickly filled with baijou and passed around the table. Another important cultural aspect here is the idea that it's not accepted to simply take a drink without first being toasted by someone. If you'd like to take a sip of even your wine, you should probably find someone to toast first. Toasting happens constantly, especially at a dinner like this one where they are curious to see how much the foreigners can drink. Ben and Maria kept reminding us that we could say 'no' whenever we wanted, which turned out to be a lot easier for me than for Martin, given the idea that they are more used to women drinking much less. At one point during the toasting, when all the Chinese men were well on their way to being very drunk and I was just getting buzzed, Ben said "Are you both okay?" to which I responded "Ben. I'm bigger than all the men here, right? I can probably drink more than all of you." He laughed and translated it to the rest of the table which left everyone dying of laughter. Next came the compliments of how fair my skin was and how beautiful I was and how lucky Martin was to have a wife as beautiful as me. One of the leaders actually said "You lucky have sex with beautiful girl!" Uh...what? Was that just seriously said? We nodded and smiled awkwardly...story of our lives here. And then just kept eating and toasting. I said no more, and everyone accepted that as final. Martin tried to say no more, and they said "Just one more! One more!" Occasionally another teacher would come to our table to toast Martin with a glass half-full of baijou, and tell Martin he needed to take 2 shots to their one gulp. I let my normal sarcastic self come out and defended Martin, telling the other teachers if they wanted him to drink 2 shots, they had to 'ganbei' their glass, which basically means 'bottoms up'.

All in all, it was a pretty hilarious evening that allowed us to practice more Chinese, get to know the leaders a little better, laugh at all the men getting drunk and enjoy ourselves without being quite as reserved. Everyone headed back to the hotel and we took another walk around the island with Ben, Maria, the other female teacher who had been drinking and one other leader. I learned how to say "My parents are coming to visit" after lots of repeating, so that was pretty cute. Don't know if I can remember how to say it now though. After the walk, we retreated back to our hotel room (by now it was only 8:45pm) where Martin proceeded to read and sleep and I ended up watching 'Baby Mama' on HBO. It was a fantastic second day!


2nd November 2009

What an exciting and interesting evening! Glad you too the opportunity to do some drinking with them...and what a cute comeback you gave them! Glad you had some time with Maria to translate more of what you were seeing during the trip. Let's hope they ask you on another trip soon! What wonderful memories you will have of your time in China!

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