Much has been written about the great Chinese cities; Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong to name three that are well known to the west, and rightfully so. Each is filled with history and culture that predates Colonial America by thousands of years, and yet they rival the most cosmopolitan metropolises in the world. On the other hand very little seems to be written about the billion Chinese who don’t live in large cities or Mecca’s for tourists. To my knowledge, limited for certain, no westerner has ever written about Pinghu, and I think that is a shame.
Pinghu is located between Shanghai and Hangzhou, bordering the China Sea on the Hangzhou Bay. It is small by Chinese standards, but with a population exceeding 500,000, it is roughly the same size as Denver, Portland and Washington D.C, and many other destination areas in America. Pinghu has a bustling downtown surrounded by high-rise apartment complexes that highlight a booming construction industry. There is a reliable and remarkably inexpensive (thirty cent fare) bus system, excellent hotels, good food and a number of places worth exploring. If Pinghu was in the United States it would be on many lists of places that should be visited.
I do not, however, want to write about Pinghu through the eyes of a tourist, but rather as a resident. I work here, teaching Chemistry and Algebra in a Chinese school to Chinese students. My wife, Lisa, and I live in a community in which we are two of three westerners amongst thousands of Chinese. This is our home and I want to write about Pinghu because it deserves to be written about by scribes far better with words than I.
It is a fair question to ask, why should you read about a city you will most likely never visit. My reply is quite simply, come and see it. There is more to China than the Great Wall, the Bund, West Lake and Terra Cotta Soldiers. Pinghu represents much of the real China, still untouched by western culture. Read about Pinghu because its story stretches thousands of years to the past while sitting on a precipice that offers a clear view toward the future.
There is of course more to these essays than Pinghu. The city serves as a backdrop for a story, told thousands of times across cultures and generations, about the fears we must face when we leave our narrow comfort zones. Lisa and I live in a city where English is seldom spoken and westerners seldom seen. We are stared at, in a curious way, and sometimes stopped to have our pictures taken. We are truly strangers in a friendly land and this story is about a city of people who have welcomed us warmly without the need for common words. Here we relearn the lesson that it is possible to communicate with only a smile and a laugh over a shared hot pot filled with delicious food.