Go To China, Be A Lady.

17 May

Huan Yingers and Jennifer

Last week I went to the Ningbo Foreign Ladies Group‘s luncheon. Yes, my backpacking days are truly over, I am a Lady now.

I’m hoping I’ll meet a few future friends there, and if not that, at least get more inside information about Ningbo and living here and maybe some contacts for jobs.

I arrived shortly before noon and women started introducing themselves straight away; I guess any new face stands out in a small expat community where everyone knows everyone. There was a lot of milling about at first and I just stood around awkwardly but eventually I was seated next to two other “younger” women, both from Mexico. There was a small speech made by the president welcoming everyone and introducing the newcomers (hello!) but then it was all about lunching and mingling with your seating neighbours.

There were about 40-45 women that day, some with kids in tow, and we all got a copy of the debut issue of Ningbo Focus (which has proven to be a good introduction to Ningbo as a city) and the 2011 edition of the Ningbo Taxi Book. This little book, Dave’s 2010 edition already dog-eared and raggedy, is a life-saver at times. It’s the size of an IPhone albeit a lot thicker and has about 400pages of addresses for of shops, restaurants, markets, schools, housing districts… everything you can think of… in both in English and Chinese. So, if the taxi driver doesn’t understand your pigeon Chinese all you need to do is show him the address in Chinese characters. If that still doesn’t solve it the book also lists the places’ phone numbers so you can call them and a Chinese-speaking member of staff will hopefully be able to direct the driver. Life-saver.

So all in all, I really enjoyed the luncheon. It was fun talking about shared problems about living here and I already have some great tips about everything from Chinese classes, gyms, restaurants and spas. The luncheons are held once a month and I already look forward to the next one because I’m keen on having a social life outwith Dave and the university. After lunch I joined the Mexican girls and a Dutch girl for a Starbucks coffee and a trip to a mall I hadn’t been to and almost joined them for a pub quiz at The Shamrock but Dave and I had been invited to a birthday dinner at a Japanese Restaurant. (The birthday dinner turned into massive drunken shenanigans… how I love mid-week drinking and how I love that I don’t have to get up for work the next day!)

Through the Ladies Group I have now joined their “Huan Ying” group. Huang Ying (歡迎) means “Welcome” in Mandarin and the group is supposed the help newcomers get started here in Ningbo. At the moment it’s getting headed by Christi, a Norwegian woman in her 50s who has lived in Ningbo for over 10 years (and over 13 years in China). Our first meeting was yesterday and there was 4 of us newbies: Susan (US), Johanna (Austalia), Patricia (Cuba) and me. After a couple of hours at Christi’s house getting to know each other and talking about what we’d like her to show us we went to the Ningbo tea market for a tea ceremony. Christi’s Chinese neighbour Jennifer who is married to a German guy came along as a translator. (Christi, despite having lived here for so long has never really learned the language apparently.) Dave and I went to a tea ceremony in Beijing over the Christmas break so the whole thing wasn’t entirely new to me. Also, “ceremony” is maybe not the right word, it’s more of a tasting session. Which is great because you get to Try Before You Buy, ey!?!  And just like wine tasting a good tea tasting makes you really appreciate what you drink. There’s so many differences in taste, texture, occasions and ways of drinking. I bought a whole bunch of “Flower teas;” some of them are actually quite gross-tasting but they’re really spectacular to look at. They are tied tightly into 2cm balls but once emerged in hot water the ball unfolds and different flowers pop out.  I don’t know how they’re made but it looks like intricate and delicate work and I don’t how, after being dried and sitting in a jar, the flower petals still retain their original colour. And there must be quite a lot of man labour involved but for some reason they are super cheap even though tea is generally pretty expensive.

Flower tea

Afterwards we went into the centre of town for a good lunch and then Christi and Jennifer took us to Cheng Huan Miao, a four-story shopping “mall” set in an old temple compound.  Christi specifically wanted to show us the fourth floor which a lot of people miss because the only way to get up to it is via a rickety old staircase that looks like it leads to a broom cupboard. But alas, you go up the stairs and there’s a huge store of… junk. Well, no, it’s not junk (though the quality of some of the items is dubious) but this store sells EVERTHING. Everything you didn’t know you needed until you see it in that store. And it’s CHEAP! Even cheaper than regular stores which are already ridiculously cheap. The store is set up into sections dedicated to a price. I think the most expensive section was 10rmb (£1) but there were 2rmb and 1rmb sections as well (20p and 10p respectively).

The rest of the mall is filled with tiny boutiques and stalls selling all things related to fashion. There is some truly hideous stuff (Chinese girls love their lace, flowers, ruffles, diamantées, cartoon prints, preferably all on one garment or shoe cvf) but there’s also some really nice, decent quality items there. But unfortunately to be able to fit into any these things I would have to lose 75% of my body weight, half a meter of my height and bind my feet.

So, that was my huang ying. It doesn’t really sound like much but we spent a good 5hrs with each other and I’m really looking forward to our next meet next Monday.

Tea ceremony

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