By Amy Wang – HCC Program Coordinator and CXI Director of English Instruction
While Josh and Tim are in China, I have been reminiscing about my time in China.
Shijiazhaung, the capital city of Hebei province, is said to be the home of 5 million people, located just one hour south of Beijing by bullet train. It is a quickly developing city. It was my home for 2.5 years, where I lived, worked, and ate. I will share with you my experiences there.
Please note that I am just one little foreigner to have lived in Shijiazhaung. There are many more places to go and things to see. These are all my personal preferences and my recommendations:
- Ida’s Coffee Shop
It’s small but has the best coffee in Shijiazhuang. Yes, better than Starbucks! I never really was a coffee drinker before, but I would go there as my western getaway. I went there so often that I became dear friends with the owner. She even put my invented drinks up on her board. My signature was a Shijiazhuang Smog, inspired by London Fog and Dirty Chai. It was a London Fog with a shot of espresso.
- Bike rides to the West Mountains
Yes, biking is the BEST way to travel: not necessarily the safest but the most fun. The bus is too slow, and the traffic is the worst. Someone once told me Shijiazhuang has the worst traffic in China. I believe them. There is a large community of bikers who spend their weekends biking up into the mountains.
- Mall Walks in Ler Thai
There used to be this great sign in Ler Thai that said, “No yelling Slapstick.” I used to go to the sign and yell slapstick just to see what would happen. What happened was that a few months later, the slapstick sign was gone. Hmmm, what did I do? Actually a walk in the mall isn’t the most exciting activity, but it offers a new environment and new adventures. Watch out for the slapstick signs.
- Private English Tutoring
If you are an English foreigner in Shijiazhuang, there is a 10,000% chance that, at completely random places, someone will ask you to teach his or her child English. For example, as you have a bite of donkey burger in your mouth, he or she walks up and pushes the child in your face. Needless to say, I had many offers. But really, my favorite opportunity was tutoring my students with TOEFL or IELTS. This allowed me to get to know my college students through one-on-one time.
- Walks around a Park
I would often walk around the parks to enjoy the nature and the classic Chinese-style architecture. I even found a park with smooth enough paths to roller blade on. I loved listening to the impromptu concerts performed by the elderly with their traditional Chinese instruments.
- Cat Mountain
The university I taught at hosted a very special little group of cat families, and we called this place Cat Mountain. Beginning in the spring, new stray cats are born and make their way to Cat Mountain. During this time, students come to feed them and provide boxes, cages, and old clothing homes for the stray friends. Every time I would visit, there would be a student or two who came to relax and feed the kittens.
- The Farmers’ Market
I was thankful our home was just two blocks away from a nearly mile-long farmers’ market. Each morning, the farmers come out bright and early to bring out their wares and again in the evening around dinnertime. Teddy and I would often walk through the market, just to admire what was out. As time went on, I always went to the same vegetable stands and the same fruit stands. I knew they would give me fair prices and tell me if another stall had given me an unfair price.
Oh my, there are so many yummy foods in Shijiazhuang. I loved nearly all of the foods I tried, but some of my favorites were donkey burgers, shui zhu rou piar (pork dish), kung pao chicken, and a spicy green bean dish. I would often return to my favorite restaurants, and they would know my order before I even opened my mouth. I must say my mother-in-law also made some of my favorite dishes.
- Local Street Food Vendors
I got to know the street vendors very well along my street. There was the breakfast crew and the seasonal vendors. One of my dearest vendor friends was the sweet potato man. He would often ask me questions about where I came from and remember I was from Wisconsin. We would often talk about the differences between American and Chinese culture.
There is a part of my stomach, I mean heart, that I left in China. From time to time, it throbs, longing to return.