Jeremy Rubinstein was the 2015-2017 Shansi Fellow at Beijing Normal University. In May 2018 he sent this follow up on his life in China.
In late February, 2016, I traveled by myself in Guangxi, a scenic province in southern China, and visited some small villages, which were all in an area called Liuzhou.
I was a little nervous because it was my first time traveling alone in China, but that trip has remained one of my favorites to date.
An ethnic group called the Dong People, known for their distinctive architecture, inhabited the villages that I visited.
The most celebrated structure there is a bridge called
Chengyang "Wind and Rain" Bridge, built at the beginning of the 20th century.
To get to the villages, I took a long-distance bus that passed by the villages on the way from one city to another. I told the driver where I wanted to get off, and he dropped me off there. To leave the villages, there were vans that would drive through the main roads a few times a day. People stood by the side of the road at any point in vans' path, and the driver picked them up and took them to nearest town with a train station.
When I got on a van to head back to the train station, I was the first passenger. The driver told me the price; I thought it seemed a little expensive, so I tried to bargain with him, and managed to lower the price, slightly. With my level of Chinese at the time, and the dialect the driver spoke, it was a little difficult for us to communicate, and he said some things I didn't understand. As more people got on the van, I noticed he was charging all of them less than my post-bargain rate. I figured he probably thought I wouldn't understand what they were saying and wouldn't pick up on what was going on. After a few minutes, I spoke up, and said I would pay the same as the other passengers. He said, in an agitated tone, that we had already agreed on a price. At that point, two young men in their late twenties who were sitting behind me defended me, and settled the dispute. At the end of the ride, the driver grumpily accepted the lower amount from me.
Toward the end of the ride, I started to chat with the two young men. They were both
from different parts of Guangxi province, but one of them had attended university in Beijing, and the other in Tianjin, the city right next to Beijing. We all talked about our experiences living, working, studying, and traveling in different parts of China. Before we parted, we took a picture together near the train station, and added each other on WeChat, the main social networking app in China.
The one on the left is an architect and the one on the right is a landscape architect. They travel quite a bit for their work. In the past two years, I've often enjoyed looking at their posts on WeChat, which usually have pictures of intriguing buildings, plazas, streets, and natural landscapes, as well as their own sketches, inspiring me to travel and visit more places. Although we haven't been in frequent communication, we have occasionally checked in and said hi, and they have also commented on a few pictures that I posted. The landscape architect, who goes by the English name Sam, lives and works in Shenzhen, and he has warmly recommended I visit Shenzhen sometime.
At the beginning of this past April 2018, Sam commented on one of my WeChat posts, saying he would be coming to Beijing soon. As we talked, I learned that he had started his own company, and has also been pursuing a master's in urban planning, on the side. Since that time Sam and I met in the van, I have begun studying Chinese linguistics at Peking University. Peking University has a second campus in Shenzhen, which is where Sam's master's program is held, and he would be coming to the Beijing campus with a group of his classmates for a week of classes and activities.
One afternoon in late April, a few days after Sam arrived in Beijing, I got out of class, walked over to another campus building, and met up with him! We went to Great Leap, my favorite brewery and pizza place, and two of his classmates joined us. On the way, we stopped at Wangjing Soho, a complex of office buildings designed by Zaha Hadid.
The following weekend, before they all headed back to Shenzhen, I joined them, and four more classmates, on a two-day road trip to Gubei Water Town, a picturesque vacation resort built in 2010, with convenient access to the Great Wall, where we hiked in the afternoon on the second day.
This was definitely a series of exciting surprises, a delightful pause in my daily routine, and a reminder that casually remaining in contact with acquaintances might lead to special moments together someday.