Another detour on the way to Haungshan stories.
Sunday was my birthday and from my last post, you know how important it is for me to acknowledge the day for myself–to do something that makes the day stand out from every other day. It started with cake with my team on Friday, lunch and board games on Saturday, and ended with climbing and dinner on Sunday.
Picking up on Sunday with no work alerts and nothing significant planned, I finally had the time to socialize with a few people online, take my time setting about my day, and simply relax. I did some much needed yoga and even took a nap (I’m trying hard to recover from this bronchial thing). The idea to visit the Suzhou Museum and the Suzhou Center was high on my list of things to do, but motivating to head out and still make my climbing plans later in the afternoon seemed like it was better just to hang back. While I did eventually venture out to the Suzhou Center (mall) just to get out of the house, I found the Center overwhelming and crowded, which really isn’t my scene. It was a relief to make it a short excursion because of the sensory overload from being in there!
Because I made the decision to go to the Suzhou Center so late in the day, it meant I would run late getting to the climbing gym. I took that hit as a forcing function to keep me from climbing too much. Again, having been sick for so long, I’m really trying to not overdo it so I can get better. When I arrived, my new friends had already been climbing for a bit. It wasn’t crowded and I felt good, best I’ve felt in weeks. I wanted to have some superficial goal, like 48 routes, or something and instead did as many climbs as I could until people appeared to be done. While I could easily have climbed another hour or more, I respected that I came late to my own gathering and therefore, should not hold everyone up.
After climbing, and true to their word, we all went for dinner. Even though we simply walked across the street to a restaurant arranged by none other than gym owner Liu Chang Zhong (or LCZ), I was blown away by the setting.
We had views of the lake towards Suzhou Center, and across to the Ferris Wheel and the very tall IFS building with the Church in MoonBay lit up just outside. We were in a private room with a round table, our own private bathroom (inside the room), waitstaff (inside the room), and both relaxing chairs and dining chairs complete with a television.
LCZ ordered Huang Jiu, which in my mind is still something to stay clear of. It hits slow and hard and therefore can be dangerous to drink. I’ve tried a different variation called Bei Jiu and will never try that again. It’s like moonshine or something. Yuck. Now you’ve been warned. Be wary of Chinese spirits. 🙂
Dinner was a fantastic number of dishes including local Suzhou crab, fish, shrimp, water lily, and more. The tea was delicious and the cake was incredible. The whole experience was more than I could have hoped for to have a wonderful birthday. And, it wasn’t just that they took me to dinner and we had great conversaton, it’s that they really put thought and time into making it significant for me. I was moved.
As has been my experience with every meal in a room like this, the food is bountiful and we could easily have had a few more guests to help us finish it. I also learned that like European restaurants, you are not pressured to leave the room. Dinner comes quickly, but conversation and drinking goes on for a lot longer. One of my new friends, Milo, describes these types of events as typically turning into a drinking party, though none of us had the mind to do that.
I did my best to eat what I could, sampling everything, which is the main benefit for me with these types of meals. And, our conversations could have gone on for much longer. Poor Milo turned into a translator throughout the night when stories needed to be shared in both languages for full inclusion and understanding. Milo moved to Canada when he was 9 and back to China for a year in High School and now back to China for a work endeavor so his Chinese and English skills are thankfully impeccable.
This phase of language learning, for me, feels like I’m handicapped. For instance, while getting ready at the gym switching my shoes at the benches, the kids (maybe aged 6/7?) ending their training session were enamored with me, saying “hi” in English. I would respond both in English and Mandarin. They were so cute and one girl was very dramatic about how difficult the training was and how tired she was that she literally plopped down on the mats next to me chattering away, arms and legs splayed as though she was too tired to move again. I understood this much but lacked any words to communicate with her until I heard her say she was ready to go to sleep. Then I laughed as I said “go to sleep” back to her in Mandarin. She giggled and rolled over, blushing and chattered some more. I fell back into handicapped mode and wished I could learn Mandarin faster. It was a similar feeling at dinner, though Milo’s gracious translating and engaging conversation helped keep me involved and in touch with everyone else.
After dinner, a cake was brought out. Zhou’Er is a baker but he didn’t bake this cake. He and his wife, however, ordered it and added some final touches to it. You have to know how much thought went into this because they asked the bakery to make sure the top looked like mountains, and Zhou’Er’s wife (so sorry I can’t recall her name) had to hunt for the climbing additions she added. It was perfect!
In the States, you can’t bring in outside food into restaurants because of health code violations or some such thing. They didn’t seem to have a problem with us bringing in a cake and eating it there. Once again, the cake came with it’s own cutting spatula, cake plates, and cake forks. I’m really enjoying the cakes I’ve been having because even though they are cake, they are not overly sweet. Traditionally, I have not appreciated Chinese “sweets” because of the strange tastes and the lack of sweetness, which always threw me. Now, I’m finding an array of items that I enjoy eating because they taste good and don’t need to be any sweeter.
Though the meal was over and the cake eaten, drinks were still being served and we continued to chat. I believe if people didn’t have other obligations, and it wasn’t a Sunday night, we could have chatted for much longer than we did. We eventually walked back to the gym where I retrieved my scooter and everyone said farewell. Except, when I came back from getting my scooter, they were still there and a man who looked like a crossing guard (could have been a policeman) approached on his scooter (much fancier than mine). I was puzzled.
This man was trying to pack his scooter into the car. Everyone was just standing there while Zhou’Er was speaking to the man. The scooter didn’t fit in the back seat so they were going to try the trunk. The scooter man lays a blanket down and the scooter rests on it then they close it up and the man prepares to drive the car. I ask Milo what is going on and he tells me drinking and driving laws are fierce and if you’ve had any amount of alcohol, you are safer to call for a driver to drive you home, than risk getting pulled over and put in jail.
I was shocked! Of course people shouldn’t drink and drive, but a zero tolerance society was…wow! I thought at first this man was called to check their alcohol levels to validate they could drive or something like that because he was so formal. Then, I’m told you order this man through an app and pay for his service. It’s really genius. Many times myself, or my friends don’t want to leave their vehicles in the city and uber home and have to uber back to get their car. This would solve that. Of course for safety and etc. there should be corollary laws in place to protect citizens, the vehicle, etc. but I still think it’s a good idea. It’s a relief to know that your friends will get home safely.
We wrapped up the night and I’m happy to say the best gift I received was the enlistment of these new friends to become the new LCZ adult training team for climbing!
I was over the moon excited they were interested that it was all I could talk about to anyone who would listen. We have LCZ, former Captain of the Chinese National Climbing team, myself a former US National team competitor, Zhou’Er a strong but recreational climber, and Milo, a fairly new but improving also recreational climber with mountain climbing aspirations. Now that we have agreed to be a team for the next 6 weeks, we need to decide how we want to train. We don’t have all of the resources I’m used to so the training will have to be a bit creative and for that I rely on LCZ’s input. For the structure, we will decide our approach and plan tonight at our first training meeting. I can’t wait!!
I’m moved by how much generosity and genuine interest these strangers have for me and their commitment to climbing. I’m excited to get to know them better and I’m looking forward to getting stronger and improving my climbing for the duration that I’m here. I think we will learn something from each other and I look forward to sharing what I learn with you, the reader and my friends back home.
Once again, thanks for reading my blog.