After my 6:45am class ended this morning, I had a few hours to waste. I’m trying to organize a Thanksgiving potluck for the English department teachers on Friday. So after I found a simple recipe for pumpkin soup, I set out to find a supermarket I remembered passing on a bus route. I found it and wandered around for an hour; not seeing much I haven’t seen in other grocery stores…same old tanks crammed with fish and bullfrogs, same old aisles filled with uncountable milk tea flavors, same old packages of dehydrated meats and strange fruits.
I did see a guy about my age that looked Western. Yeah, “western” because he wasn’t Asian, but I have no idea where he was from. He could have been American, but he could also have been from any country in Europe or, maybe, from South America or Australia…anyway, I held back from running up to him and asking where he comes from and how he ended up in such an off-the-map town, like Jiangyin. It’s hard not to get excited every time I see somebody that might speak English—that’s why foreigners tend to stick together in cities anywhere in the world—because you need that sense of belonging. Not that I don’t “belong” here, but I’m definitely an outsider—a “laowai.” The strong need to belong is what creates the Chinatowns, Little Italy’s, Germantown’s, etc. in the U.S.
So this alienated feeling was kind of bothering me today. I’m going to blame this feeling for why I got off at the wrong bus stop on the way back. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I knew I got off too early. I didn’t know how long the same bus would take to make a full circle and pick me up again, so I started walking. After a block, I crossed the street and glimpsed what looked like a temple gate. Curiosity took hold and I wandered in (luckily there was nobody inside the ticket office). I met two guards and after jabbering at me in Chinese they motioned for me to walk around. The next person I met was a lifesaver.
A lifesaver and a painting teacher. She explained this was her day off and she likes to come here to paint. She had a makeshift easel set up and was just about finished with an oil painting of the temple and garden. After finding out I was also a teacher (she knew more English than the guards), and that I was lost, she offered to give me a ride back to my school if I waited for her to finish her painting. I almost hugged her.
Jiangyin doesn’t have famous history like Beijing, and it definitely is not as upscale as Shanghai, but it’s a great city. There is history if you know where to look or are willing to get lost to find it. The painting teacher, Xia Jing, gave me a ride home after I got a chance to explore the temple. Before I got out of the car, she wrote her phone number inside a beautiful published book of her own paintings, and gave me that too. It must have been some kind of good luck for me to get off that bus too early.