We met Dr. Du at the Weifang airport, when he came over to help us because one driver with a small VW sedan came to pick up our whole family, our 4 large suitcases, stroller and carry on backpacks, and Austin’s co-worker and her luggage. It just wasn’t going to work. The driver only spoke Chinese, and we were trying to figure out what to do about getting all of us from Weifang to Qingzhou, which was about an hour away. Dr. Du spoke English, and so he offered to help translate between us and the taxi driver. At this point, I was following the boys around a little park across the drive from the airport, so next thing I know, we’re hopping into Dr. Du’s car and driving to Qingzhou. We thought he was a fellow airport driver who happened to have time to take us to Qingzhou. In the car, he told us he was a surgeon at a rural hospital in Linqu county. He really wanted us to come visit him and his family. Austin exchanged phone numbers and the other driver paid him, and then we paid the other driver later because we could not find an ATM to take our card right away! Talk about a tough first day in China!
Getting settled in China took a few weeks, because at first we were in the nicest hotel in Qingzhou, but then they would not turn on the air conditioning so we changed hotels to stay in Zibo at the Sheraton, where they believe in a western level of air conditioning. This meant that we moved further away from Linqu county. Dr. Du texted us to invite us to Linqu county to meet his family and see some things there. Of course, we couldn’t turn down a local tour guide! In order to reach Linqu county, we took a train from Zibo to Qingzhou for twenty minutes, then Dr. Du picked us up and drove us for over an hour to our hotel in Linqu.
We had originally planned on just doing a day trip to see him, but with the long drive and the places Dr. Du wanted to take us, he said we needed two days. He put us up in the nicest hotel in the area, and insisted on paying even when Austin tried to pay. That was only the beginning of his generosity. After we checked out our room, we went to lunch in the hotel restaurant. It was a feast of fried chicken and many, many sides. My favorite were the pineapple buns. The boys were not behaving themselves at all for this lunch. It is hard to take them to restaurants anyway, and then we didn’t know what to expect so we couldn’t prep them. After a train ride and car ride, they were not willing to sit down and eat in a formal setting for any length of time. I snuck bites in between entertaining Owen and chasing Landon around the lobby. At one point, Landon slipped and fell on his face, cutting up his lip pretty bad with his teeth. Dr. Du was such a gracious host taking us to lunch, but the boys were not having any of it.
A little later, after Owen napped, we headed out with Dr. Du to Old Dragon Springs. This small lake is fed from a natural spring that is always at 18 degrees C. There were several places where we could see the water bubbling up! Traditional Chinese pagodas and bridges were interspersed with beautiful flowers and trees. We walked all the way around the lake and on a boardwalk through a bamboo forest. Landon wanted to take a boat on the lake, so we went over to the paddle boats. The man at the boats seemed to know Dr. Du and we enjoyed a lovely paddle boat ride around the lake. It was a hot, humid day, and I would have gladly taken a turn paddling, but Austin and Dr. Du had it covered. Landon steered the boat. When we returned to the dock, the boat man would not let Dr. Du pay him, because Dr. Du had done surgery on the man’s son and saved him. Dr. Du tried several times, but ultimately, the boat man won out and so our paddleboat excursion was free.
After the spring, we went to the reservoir and threw rocks into the lake. The boys loved this activity! To cap off our day, Dr. Du took us to a restaurant that served up the local specialty- goat! We had goat stew that came to us boiling hot in a giant stainless steel bowl. The stew had chunks of goat meat and goat blood, onions, and parsley, but the broth was ridiculously good. It was served with what Austin calls “pizza bread,” basically a thin focaccia-texture bread that they bake in big circles and then cut in wedges. The boys devoured the bread and each tried some stew. We sat in a table near the open-air kitchen, and after eating, Owen wandered away into the owner’s home, where he ate a plum and played with all of their stuff.
After dinner, we went to Dr. Du’s apartment to meet his family. He lives across the parking lot from his work at the hospital. His wife and son, as well as other relatives that lived nearby all greeted us warmly. Dr. Du was exhausted from the heat and long day at this point, so he was having a hard time translating and speaking English, and no one else there spoke English either. So, we did a lot of hand gestures, smiling, and fielding occasional questions from the family. The boys played with Dr. Du’s 8-year-old son’s toys and ate watermelon, dripping it all over their floor. Overall it was a good visit, but by the end our boys were getting really tired. When we were about to leave, Dr. Du’s wife gathered up all of the toys that Landon was playing with and just gave them all to us in a bag. We tried to tell them they didn’t have to do that, but they really wanted to. Amazing! These people are amazing!
The next morning, Dr. Du came by to show us where breakfast was located. No detail of our time there was overlooked. After breakfast and Dr. Du’s rounds, he picked us up to take us to the mountains. We drove up into this gorgeous mountain range, higher and higher. The road was winding and narrow, and though nervous, Dr. Du drove us as close to the top as we could get. The plan was to then hike up a little ways up the mountain. Unfortunately, Landon refused to leave the car, so we just enjoyed the view from the road turn off. Learning from struggles in Tai’an the previous week, I didn’t even want to attempt to cajole him up an incline. This was a big deal for Austin and I. We both love hiking, and had prepared to hike up the mountain that day. Dr. Du was surprised that we chose not to, but we needed to respect Landon’s wants and needs as well. I think in the past, we would have forced him to hike, and he may have been fine, but the memory of what he could be like when forced to do something burned in our mind, and it wasn’t worth it on this day. Even when we decided to not go up the mountain, Landon was still reticent to leave the car, and just sat in Dr. Du’s car eating snacks while we enjoyed the view. For the last few minutes, when we took pictures, he left the vehicle and then realized that the ground outside was a whole dirt and rock playground, but by then it was time to go.
Before taking us back to the train station,
Dr. Du treated us one more time to lunch at a small pop-up restaurant in the mountains. This is the kind of place that serves one item per day, and people come for just that item. Well, we lucked out to have goat stew again! There were no seats at the outdoor tables under a tent near the kitchen, so the staff pointed us to a series of metal shacks, more permanent eating areas located on the nearby hillside. The first one that we tried to enter had a very small snake making its way around the edges, trying to find a way out.
Landon needed to go to the bathroom. I thought for sure we would just have to find a place to go away from people this far away from civilization, but they did have a primitive toilet shack of sorts. It looked newly built, and consisted of a concrete slab with two holes in it, with upside down roof tiles underneath the holes oriented at an angle down the hill. A little house was built around this slab, but the front was open to the hill. Landon managed to go potty twice in this toilet while we were there. Unfortunately, there was no water to wash down the waste, as the toilet relied on gravity. That made it a relatively stinky and fly-ridden place to help him go potty…
The goat stew was not as good as our previous night’s goat stew (because after two days of goat stew, we were connoisseurs!), but there were other sides that were delicious, including something fried and steamed buns. It was pretty hot and humid while we were there, and the soup was boiling hot, so we were sweating like crazy eating this stew!
On our way back to the train station, we talked a lot more as Dr. Du had so many questions for us before we departed. We finally asked him why he was at the airport the day that we met. He said that he was dropping off his sister-in-law at the Weifang airport for a flight to visit family. So, he was just taking a break before heading back to Linqu county and offered to drive us when he saw us in trouble. Incredible! His generosity in taking us on a tour of Linqu county and paying for everything is unmatched and will never be forgotten by our family. By the time we made it back to the train station, we were so in awe of his generosity, hospitality and selflessness that when he said that he had one request, we were ready to do anything! He asked for some American money to remember us by. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any U.S. currency on us, as we usually don’t travel with it in our wallets. We were so sad to not be able to give him American money, but I gave him a coin I found in the Mediterranean Sea in Israel, because for some reason I had it in my wallet. Dr. Du not only parked and helped us inside, but sat with us and fielded the inevitable questions from all of our fellow passengers until our train was ready to board.
Dr. Du is one of the most generous people we’ve ever met. We hope to be able to host him and his family one day in the United States, and we all learned something about being a gracious, hospitable and accommodating host. Our kids had their good moments, but for the most part were little monsters when we were with Dr. Du, and he still came away with a positive impression of them and our family. We’re so happy that we met, that Dr. Du helped us out of a hard situation, and that he invited us to visit his hometown. Linqu county was so gorgeous and definitely somewhere we never have known to visit without him. We now keep in touch by email, and Dr. Du reads our blog about our adventures. We will strive to pay it forward and be more generous like Dr. Du!