I mentioned in my last post that Kaifeng was my favorite city. It’s not as big & exciting as Shanghai or Beijing. It doesn’t even have all of the history you find in Xi’an. But Kaifeng will always hold a special place in my heart for a few reasons, which I’ll get to soon, and there is a decent chance I might go back there next year to teach English.
So our first day in Kaifeng, after we arrived on the train, we went to one of the campuses. As I believe I mentioned before, Jackie works at Henan University, which is in Kaifeng. The University has two campuses in the city – “the old campus” and “the new campus.” We were staying at a hotel on the new campus. But our first stop in the city was the old campus which was really beautiful. Jackie teaches English and some of his students met us there that day. We split up into groups and the students gave us tours of the campus. One of the girls that I met that day, Bella (her English name, obviously), is one of the people I’ve kept in touch with. A really sweet girl.
We walked around for a couple of hours. Walked through some of the buildings. I should’ve taken more pictures. It is such a beautiful campus. We eventually made our way towards the Iron Pagoda park. I don’t remember all of the history attached to the Iron Pagoda but I do know it’s nearly 1000 years old. Yeah. 1000. It has survived earthquakes, floods, and who knows what else. Really quite amazing.
This was the beginning of another ongoing joke. We saw so many pagodas on the trip that it became a thing we’d say – “Pagoda, Pagoda.” Like “Tomato, tomato” (which, we used interchangeably, by the way, but without the different pronunciations – to-may-to, to-may-to). “Pagoda, Pagoda” took on a couple of meanings. One way we’d use “Pagoda, Pagoda” was to refer to or comment on things, which honestly were really amazing, or beautiful, or interesting for whatever reason, were kind of starting to seem almost ‘normal’ to us – since we were seeing so much in such a relatively short amount of time. So we’d say “Pagoda, Pagoda” in a sort of “meh” way – not as a way to dismiss it but kind of in a way that reflected the sheer amount of new experiences. Like, with the pagodas – we saw so many of them and they were so impressive, full of history, and beautiful but at some point, it just of becomes “pagoda, pagoda.” That probably makes no sense. Inside joke, I guess.
After our campus tour, we met up with Jackie and went to lunch at this great little noodle place. We referred to it as “Jackie’s noodle place” because when he was asking us where we wanted to eat, he mentioned this place as one of his favorite restaurants in the area, where he frequently goes for lunch. And I understand why – the food was so good. A couple of different types of tofu still stick out in my memory as being favorites from the entire trip. As a vegan, I was a little bit worried about how difficult it’d be to find food in China. I decided before I left that I was going to tell people I was vegan & what that meant and then simply trust that they’d tell me what was or wasn’t vegan. That said, I’d be surprised if some of the stuff I ate didn’t have an animal base or some type of byproduct in it. I’m normally very careful about what I consume but I didn’t want to make it a thing and risk offending or being rude in a country where I was a guest.
After lunch, we met up with a different group of Jackie’s students and toured a couple of parks in the area. The day kind of blurs together in my memory, and even in my journal, when I was writing the next day about everything, I couldn’t remember everything. It was a beautiful day but very hot. And by the end of the day, we’d done so much walking around and seen so many different things that I couldn’t remember what was what or where.
One thing I do remember about the day though… We kind of felt like celebrities throughout the trip. For different reasons in different cities. In Kaifeng, where there aren’t as many foreigners – or, at least, not as many non-Asians – people would stare at us. Dr. O, a dark skinned African-American man (actually originally from a country in Africa), frequently had people staring at him, practically in awe. That day, it was my turn, though. We were standing just inside one of the parks and this old, Chinese gentleman came up to me and started speaking to me. In Chinese, of course. And I, of course, couldn’t understand a word he was saying. So, I got the attention of one of the Chinese students and asked her to translate for me. He wanted to take a picture with me. I obliged. I so wish I’d asked one of the girls to take a picture of us with my camera. It still makes me laugh. The man had to be in his late 70s at least.
One of the other things I remember noticing around this time for probably the first time on the trip (but certainly not the last), was the contrast between the past and the present. In the U.S., we just don’t have as much history. In China, it’s everywhere. In the picture above, you see the traditional style of buildings in the front but in the background, across the water, you can see the city with all of the modern buildings. You might also notice a KTV van in the picture. There was some sort of attempt to set a world record going on that day at the park. Not sure whatever came of that. I should check into it….
I think it was that evening that we had dinner with Director Ma – Jackie’s boss – and the Director’s daughter, who will be studying at our school in the not so distant future. (I say I think it was that evening, by the way, because the further we got into the trip, the less chronological my journaling became – I’d start to write and then get distracted or interrupted. I’d make little lists of things I wanted to write about eventually but the timeline is a little bit unclear both in my journal and in my memory.) It was one of the more formal evenings we had. We didn’t see Director Ma again until we were leaving the campus a few days later and he came to say goodbye to us. A very kind and generous gentleman.
Okay, well this post is getting rather long so I’ll stop here and finish up Kaifeng in another post.
Until next time —