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May Day in Hefei, Anhui province

24 May

If you look back, my post a couple of weeks ago on May 1st (international labor day), was actually in celebration of a water festival that I inadvertently attended in Tengchong, Yunnan.  So, you may ask, what was I actually doing on international labor day?

With the three day weekend, Li and I went west to his home province of Anhui and spent a couple of nights in the capital, Hefei, where his sister and her husband lives.  His parents came from their home town and met us in the middle and we spent two days exploring what Hefei has to offer.   I have been to Hefei before, but that was a couple of years ago and I was interested to see what type of impression the city would leave on me this time.

If I turn to my Lonely Travel guide, it grants Hefei even less space than it did Shenzhen, which I wrote about last December after our great trip to the side of Shenzhen that isn’t publicized.  Hefei is a city of around 2 million people and still has the feeling of a place that is looking for why it should be important.  It is the capital of the province and has a certain amount of government importance, but all of the famous scenic spots are clustered in the south, away from the capital.  These include Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) which is on the list of the four most scenic peaks in China.  I still haven’t gone – but then neither has Li and it’s his home province!

I abdicated responsibility for this trip – I couldn’t find any English language tourism info and so settled into the role of the agreeable tourist – everything sounds good – sure, let’s try that, over the two days.  We spent them going to Hefei’s parks and seeing what type of culture the city could offer.

The first day we went to a large park called Hui Yuan (徽园) which inside had created separate areas/pavilions for each of the scenic spots in Anhui province.  No more than 10 years old, it had a mini-Huang Shan, a replica of a very large buddha from somewhere else, exhibits on calligraphy and famous poets, a lake with the typical paddle boats and bouncing things for kids.  It was a very large park and pleasant enough, but the weather was against us and kept threatening rain.

My favorite part of the park was that because it was May holiday there was a group doing a Chinese opera performance in a replica of an opera stage.  It wasn’t traditional Beijing style, but instead was a local Anhui version.  I  was able to follow along, kind of, with the action and some translation help and it was really amusing – they used physical humor, music and wordplay to keep the audience spellbound.  From this demonstration I could see why Chinese opera has developed such a following – it wasn’t just for the rich, kind of like how Shakespeare’s plays were bawdy and funny and rude, this less stylized type of opera was pretty interesting.

The second day we went to another park which was an amusement park called Xiao Yao Jin (逍遥津) – but the majority of the attractions (save a couple that were new) looked like they had been built in the 1950s and 1960s.  I suppose it says something about my level of comfort with roller coasters and bouncers – but I managed to convince both Li and his parents to get on a very old ferris wheel and view the park and we also bicycled around the top (or rather, Li and I pushed his parents) on a ride that I’m pretty sure is older than I am.  It was absolutely packed – there was no entrance fee and you only paid for the rides (if you tried them).  There was a children’s area with some newer attractions and a classic carousel with two layers.  I ponied up for a ride for myself and Li’s mom and whirled away – remembering all of the carousel’s in my past – Jackson County Fair and Disney World and that it is my mother’s favorite ride – and didn’t really want to get off when it stopped.

I think that’s the lesson of my Hefei trip.  Any place can be an incubator of hopes and dreams and memories.  It doesn’t need to be the place with the best tourist attraction or most people or most famous area or spiciest food or…  anything else.  I don’t have those connections with that city – but lots of other people do.  Our train connections worked, we could find taxis when we needed, we ate well and cheaply, stayed at a decent hotel, met Li’s family and had a fine trip which I think is probably the best result possible for a May Day in Hefei, Anhui.

Where do you travel to see family?  Any small memories that have been made in not so important places?  Please share.

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