(Editor’s Note: Drema Drudge, one of glo magazine’s feature writers, spent the last two months in China with her husband, Barry, who was summoned to Changzhou for a work trip. Despite the 13-hour time difference and being thousands of miles from Fort Wayne, it didn’t stop her from continuing her writing. In fact, the trip proved worthy of a little reflection on her experiences… which included everything from eating thousand year old eggs to watching window washers dangle from one of the tallest buildings in the world.)
“How would you like to spend two months in Changzhou, China?” my husband, Barry, asked me this winter, during yet another bout of snow. I barely glanced out the icy window before saying yes.
Within weeks, we found ourselves waking to tooting horns (a language all its own) and merry fireworks (marking everything from weddings to moving into a new home) just outside our five-star hotel, the Sheraton Changzhou Xinbei, where we were treated royally. On weekdays, we would get up early and exercise, eat a leisurely breakfast at the hotel’s vast buffet, and then I would see Barry off to work before heading upstairs to my writing desk. On the weekends, we became tourists.
During our first weekend in China we visited Shanghai, a city of infinitely fascinating architecture, such as the red striped beads of the Oriental Pearl Tower. We also zoomed by elevator to the observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center, once the world’s second tallest structure. The city is well known, too, for its bargains in the pearl and luxury item department, and we bought gorgeous pearls for me and for our daughter. What dazzled us the most, though, was watching window washers dangle from buildings on single lines, no platform in sight.
Just a few weeks after Michelle Obama and her daughters visited the Great Wall we also visited Beijing, although via the fast train at just over 300 mph. During our whirlwind stay we saw the world’s largest city square, Tiananmen Square, the adjacent Forbidden City where the emperors used to live, and of course climbed a section of the massive Great Wall.
Sadly, one thing that quickly became apparent about China was the disparity between those who have money and those do not. There was always a selection of Bentleys, Mercedes, Rolls Royces and more parked just outside our hotel, while in the street hordes of more affordable electric motorbikes swarmed by. The numerous towers of apartments nearby sprout metal laundry racks because so few people own washers or dryers. Often the sparse amount of clothing on the racks represents nearly all of the clothing a person owns, while adjacent to our hotel is an upscale mall with a few beggars in residence just outside it.
Despite the average worker’s salary, the Chinese are generous. When they ask a guest to dinner, the guest is not allowed to pay. We mentioned we were looking for a set of Changzhou’s famed combs, and the next day we were the proud owners of a fine set, no money accepted for them.
The food was far superior to most stateside versions of Chinese food. We were delighted by turntables spinning communal dishes of fish in tomato and carrot sauce, creamy shrimp, endless bowls of broth-drenched noodles, platters of beef-stuffed buns, and our favorite, thick, fat-topped sweet pork. We tried chewy squid, slick seaweed, escargot, pungent smelling “thousand-year-old” eggs with grey yolks and pigeon broth. After the first week, I had pretty much mastered chopsticks, although most restaurants do offer forks and knives.
Our hotel gave us tickets to the Badminton World Federation Grand Prix Gold finals at the Olympic Sports Center where we were transfixed by the triumphant comeback of former World and Olympian champion Lin Dan who had been absent from the international circuit for eight months. When Lin entered the arena, the crowd erupted. When he won, they went wild.
There were things I found myself homesick for while in China, but what I missed most was feeling self sufficient. Changzhou has few English speakers, so sometimes it took hand signals and the few words of Mandarin we know to try to communicate, which is always tough on a writer; there is no place like home where you know you will be understood.
That said, there are few places like China. Perhaps I’ll take a page from Pearl S. Buck’s book and find myself writing stories about it. Maybe I’ll start with those dangling window washers.