October 1 represents a special holiday for the Chinese people – it marks the founding of People’s Republic of China. On October 1, 1949 the Chinese civil war ended and Chairman Mao became the founding father of the PRC.

It’s a huge holiday in China, and one of the most popular times to travel home and celebrate with family. I read that 13 million people were expected to travel on October 1, making it the highest recorded number of people traveling on one day ever.

Our original idea for the National Holiday was to travel to Beijing and explore the capital city for a week, but because the police station still has our passports for our visa processing, we didn’t want to risk traveling that far. Our friend Minnie invited us to come home with her for a few days instead and we happily accepted the invitation to Shaoyang, a city less than two hours away.

We bought our bus tickets on Thursday for 60RMB one way, and left Friday morning at 8:40am. I was really excited to see a new city – exploring Hengyang for a month has been wonderful, but I was ready to see something new! We learned so much about traditional families and food in China this weekend, and I’m excited to show you all the food we tried! (Also sorry for group selfie overload…it’s hard not having someone always there to take a picture for us)

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Her father picked us up from the Bus Station in their family van and drove us to her family’s apartment. In typical Chinese style, the family shares an apartment with two bedrooms, a living room, shared bathroom, and small kitchen. I admire the Chinese way of living because of the simplicity – they focus less on materialism and more on family. Her grandparents lived in an apartment in the building next door and many of her uncles, aunts, and cousins lived just a short drive away.

We had lunch at her grandparents apartment and ate traditional Chinese cooking – smashed meat and potatoes, tofu, rice noodles, and cucumbers. We met her grandfather and grandmother, cousin, and her cousin’s girlfriend. Her family spoke even less English than we spoke Chinese, so we had to use Minnie as a translator. I loved her grandpa – he was always laughing and smiling, telling us stories and nudging Minnie to tell us what he was saying. (Her family asked for a selfie!)

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After lunch we went to Zuiwei Park, a little mountain you walk up.  There were all kinds of activities for children like trampolines and rides, and places to rest and play cards with your family and friends.

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For dinner her family wanted to take us to a restaurant that serves special rice noodles – Shaoyang apparently is the only place in China that will serve this particular rice noodle and the people love them. It was a little spicy but very good!

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We walked to the most adorable coffee shop after dinner and played cards – we taught Minnie and her friend we called Jean how to play BS and 99. If you lost the game of 99, you had to do a truth or dare the group came up with ahead of time, like singing in the coffee shop, doing jumping jacks, or answering a silly question.

IMG_8833Minnie’s uncle called us around 10pm and invited us to play a game at this game lounge. I thought it was like a trivia game where you answered questions, but I was wayyy wrong. It was like a mystery adventure game where they LOCK YOU IN A ROOM. The only way to get out is to solve different clues as a group and complete all the levels. We were in a dark room with blood and scary things painted on the walls and it was terrifying but also very exciting. We all agreed the US should have more places like it!

Saturday October 3

We had breakfast the next morning at Minnie’s apartment. Her mom bought us the most delicious sweet bread and salt bread and also cooked porridge for us – the porridge has beans and sugar in it and is a little strange, but is a very traditional Chinese breakfast food.

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Her family rented out a BBQ place for lunch, so we all piled into the van and drove 20 minutes to a popular BBQ site. At first there was a mix up with the tables, and there was a pretty heated argument about who the table it belonged to, but Minnie’s family prevailed and we cooked the most delicious barbecue together! It was just like my student’s barbecue, cooking different meats and vegetables and seasoning them ourselves.

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We went to a beautiful park after lunch and climbed 250 steps up to the North Tower, which was built to defend the city and protect against the river flooding. Afterwards we went to the outdoor market and watched her parents barter for meat.

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We ate dumplings for dinner that night (her mom bought the same bag of dumplings from the store that I buy, and that made me feel super legit) and went for a little walk around the city.

Sunday October 4

Minnie wanted us to learn Tai Chi (actually called Tai Ji by the Chinese) in the morning, so we walked to the river area around 7:30 to find someone to teach us. A kind lady graciously accepted the challenge of teaching the Americans (we are called Mei Guo Ren, which translates to Beautiful Country people. They call America the beautiful country!)

Tai Chi is so hard! We followed her movements for just 10 minutes and it was a struggle. But it was also an amazing experience seeing how much dedication and training the art takes. It’s mostly elderly people that practice Tai Chi in the mornings before work or buying groceries.

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After Tai Chi Minnie’s mom cooked us stir fried noodles for breakfast, another traditional breakfast food. It was definitely a little odd to eat noodles for breakfast, but they were delicious.

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After packing up the hotel and checking out, we went back to Minnie’s apartment again to have Hot Pot with more of her family. More cousins and aunts and uncles came over to eat smashed pork, beef, barbecue, vegetables, corn, fried rice cakes, and tofu.

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We played Uno with her cousins after lunch and then went to the bus station to return back to Hengyang while Minnie stayed home longer. My dance friend Hero also lived in Shaoyang and we were randomly on the same bus back to Hengyang!

This weekend we also learned how to play Mahjong, a very famous traditional Chinese game. We also learned a few more Chinese words to say; Hao Chi (good eat), Ben Ben (the name of the cousin’s dog, which means silly or stupid), Bao Le (full) and Manzou (literally means “walk slowly”, but means “take care”).

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The National Holiday ends on Thursday, but I don’t have class until next Monday! I’m excited to have a week to work on next week’s lessons and meet up with students. Some of my students are hiking Mount Heng, a famous mountain in China, this weekend and I’m hopefully going with them as long as it doesn’t rain!