Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Day in Shanghai

(Ed. note: This post has four photos included. If you click on one, it should give you a larger version of it.)

What an interesting day!  We left home at 9:30 am and returned at 6:00 pm, feet hot and swollen, eyes sore, tired but feeling good, having walked at least 10 miles (actually 17.2 km) through Shanghai on a holiday weekend.

After Geoff’s haircut at a place in our neighbourhood, our first destination was the Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market.  We headed directly to Jackie’s, the tailor recommended by Terry and Ron Walsmith, who lived here for four years.  Are you ready for this:  I am having made 3 skirts, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of slacks, a warm hip-length outdoor jacket, and a white shirt for me and 3 pairs of shorts for Geoff for the princely sum of (wait for it) – 2700 Yuan (that is – $450).  Tailor made.   Pretty ridiculously cheap.  Here’s hoping they turn out!

On our way to The Bund, (Ed. note: this is kind of like the Stanley Park Seawall) we walked down back streets through dilapidated neighbourhoods where the contrast between modern and falling down slums was amazing, but here people live and thrive.  Hard to call their homes slums, but to us they were too run-down to consider living in.  It is a different world, even from the streets surrounding theirs.

We continued our walk to The Bund where we strolled the boardwalk along the river–see pictures of the amazing buildings in Pudong on the far side.  Pics also of living walls, planted with ivy, potato vines, small ferns, petunias and daisies.  I would love to replicate one in our backyard!

We walked all the way to Nanjing Road, the major shopping street made into a pedestrian walkway (filmed on our last visit).  Here we squandered our savings on ice cream at a Haagen Dazs store where ice cream has been made into an art form.  Making our way past the lines of people waiting to buy Moon cakes for this special holiday, we joined the line at the Haagen Dazs cafe.  Really.  The extensive menu shows ice cream presented in amazing forms–sushi lookalikes on platters; ice cream transformed into elaborate chocolate confections; others that come with a hot plate–the waitress fries crepe-like pancakes for you to make ice-cream-filled bits of heaven.  (Ed Note: in the middle of the photo is the crepe, just made by the waitress; to the left of the crepes is ice cream “sushi”, to the top of the crepe is more ice cream and just “below” the crepes are bananas  and a variety of sauces. Before we leave China ….)

Haagen Dazs Crepes

We chose a sherbet/ice-cream sundae with frozen fruit and a layer chocolate-nut sundae.  Not the best choices.  The bill?  $29.  We have been enjoying 10Y ($1.66) cones since our arrival so I’m not sure what came over us but it was really fun.  The place was like Grand Central Station with so many people and an ongoing din.  See Geoff’s picture above.  The crazy thing is we will probably go back!

It looks like I may be having some shoes hand-made as I have been able to find any in my size.  A few game clerks have brought me size 39, knowing full well that my big foot is not going to fit.  Thank goodness I was smart enough to bring my boots.

Tomorrow we will hook up with our friends Al and Mary Lee Thomas from Coquitlam.  No plans yet but we are hoping they include Western style food.  We had our first burger last night at Blue Frog.  When in Shanghai, eat your fill of everything good that you can’t get in Jiaxing!

The Universality of Relationships

So here is Geoff’s morning:

I believe I witnessed a guy get caught having an affair. I was in Starbucks this morning and a 35ish couple were sitting just in front of/beside me at the window. The woman got up and headed off to the washroom. Another woman came in on her phone and looked around and then saw the guy (I think she was using the phone to trace him – at least that’s what it looked like).  She came over and stood beside him and he slowly looked up at her and then back down. She said something to him – no response. She started to walk away and then came back, bent over in a very intimate way and says something to him. No response. Now the first woman is on her way back and the second one leaves – passing each other with no indication of recognition. The couple have a very quiet conversation, with meaningful looks. The the second woman came back and handed him what looked like 3 6″ x  6″ x 1/4″ photo albums and left. They obviously have some meaning since he just stared at them and then out the window with the thousand yard stare for a few minutes, followed by more quiet conversation with the initial woman and sad eyes on his part. Wow. Quite amazing. Don’t understand the guy – the one he is with is pretty, but the other one was far more attractive.

He continued giving off a lot of of far away looks. He then moved over to the one who went to the bathroom and  tried to talk to her and hold her hand, but she was having none of it and kept pulling away. I think she received something on her ipad (email from the jilted?) as she passed it to him, he read it, handed it back to her and then he came over.

After 15 more minutes of meaningful and distant looks and quiet conversation, they left. However as they walked to the car (a Lexus parked just outside) there was both physical and emotional distance between them.Very sad.

Moral: never go to Starbucks with your lover!!

Geoff’s afternoon : After the morning’s excitement, I needed a long walk to get in touch with what is important in the world. So I crossed the river. Now most – okay none – of you will understand the significance of crossing the river, but it means that I have ventured out into heretofore undiscovered territory. As I crossed the bridge over the river I see a series of 5 scows, toodling up the river with coal on them.

After the bridge I come to a major intersection. There is a new hotel (looking quite deserted) and adjoining business tower on one corner. (May I add that there are 6 lanes running north-south and 4 lanes running east-west at this intersection). The other three corners all have highrises under construction on them. In fact, there are 7 highrises in the immediate vicinity being “built”. I say “built” because at each site as I walk around, there are only security guards at each gate. No workers, no noise, no nothing. It is one of the eeriest feelings I have had. There is, as usual, minimal traffic on the roads, so it is much like I would imagine a western ghost town would have been. It was actually quite unsettling. As I walked down the street I came across a kind of newish (maybe 10 years old?) strip mall of maybe 25 stores with a couple of floors of apartments above. The “retail units” are almost all empty and look quite run down already. When I say “retail units” you need to understand that these are simply 12 x 15 concrete cells with either a gate or a pull down garage door on them. It was as if they were built for the boom and it didn’t happen. Much like elsewhere in the world, and much like the towers being “built”.

Moral: Never cross the river in hopes of being cheered up – it doesn’t work.

(Ed. note: Wednesday night we went out to dinner with Daisy from school. Check out the pictures of our meal on our Flickr account on the right hand side of this page. I may be becoming a vegan.)

Relax – we are still here…

I know that after the barrage of posts over the weekend, many of you were getting concerned that something had happened to us, but all is well. After all, we do have jobs you know (well, Terry has a job, I have a lot of time to fill.)

Anyway, it is Tuesday evening and I am sitting on our new 3 seater couch, two seats of which recline – it is remarkably like the chairs we bought for our family room, for those of you who have seen our family room chairs. We had had it with the love seat and chair which was the “furnished apartment” furniture. It was ugly, uncomfortable and (we thought) causing me an allergic reaction to the silver ‘lead’ painted arms, as each evening as I sat in it, I started to get a horrible itch on the inside of my elbows. Alas, as I sit on the new couch, I am still getting my evening itch. I suggested to Terry that perhaps it was the wine – her response was “When have you ever reacted to red wine?” Thanks God, someone with sanity lives here. Now, if I could only convince her to do something about the chandeliers….

Sunday we did some shopping and I bought a couple of cables which allow us to watch whatever we can get through the computer on the TV. Technology! We watched some new NBC show and then I downloaded Season One of Boardwalk Empire. We are thrilled that we will get our Survivor fix on a large (well, larger than a computer) screen. It is interesting how the different networks allow access to their shows. NBC and CBS are immediately after it airs in the east, for ABC you sign in (not that there is anything worthwhile on ABC) and FOX you wait 8 days.

This is the Mid-autumn Festival and yesterday the school very generously gave us each two boxes of Moon Cakes (click here for a Wikipedia explanation).  Let me explain about Moon Cakes. First, the packaging. Like everything in China, they are concerned (I assume) about the safety and presentation of things.

Moon Cake and packaging

We received two gift bags (see photo) and in each bag was a box  just slightly smaller than the bag itself (sorry, the box has already gone down to the recycling). In each box were eight smaller boxes, two of the larger one shown below and six of the smaller one. In each box is one Moon Cake in a plastic tray encased in plastic wrap. When you open the plastic wrap, you get to the Moon Cake. The Moon Cake is shaped like a moon with very flaky pastry and for taste think a cross between a Mincemeat Tart and Matrimonial Cake, but heavier.  They really are quite tasty and one can last you all afternoon! It is quite a festive occasion when you have one – Terry is thinking that perhaps they might lead her to a happy dance.

Terry here. Yes, we are pretty happy with our comfortable seating.  Feels much better.

A few more comments on school life:  earlier I mentioned the music used to change classes.  I may have missed the daily schedule:  first period; daily physical exercise; second period; third period; eye exercises; fourth period.  Music is used to indicate each of these.  Eye exercises last for 5 minutes with a most annoying piece of music blaring out of the speakers.  Mr. Zhao, bless him, is going to install volume knobs for us so that we can turn it down so as to finish last minute instructions to the students.  What seemed like a nice way of operating is starting to wear a bit thin as I long for some different tunes to come forth.  Adding to the general noise level is the random but highly frequent sound of fireworks, at any time of the day and night, signaling (choose one) a birth, a death, the opening of a new business, the closing of an old business, a holiday, etc.  Several times we have been interrupted by the sound of fighter planes launching themselves into the sky.  We don’t know if there is a base near-by but assume that some of these might be patrolling Daioyou Islands, currently in dispute with Japan.   Yesterday we were in a staff meeting with Mr. Zhao.  A plane took off while he was talking and we were desperate to hear what he was saying.  Between these noises and the honking of traffic, it’s a pretty noisy place.

Back to the new sofa for a minute.  It was delivered by one man on an electric cart.  He hoisted it onto his back in the lobby and man-handled it into the lobby then the elevator, sent the car up to our floor, took the other elevator, then somehow brought it in to our apartment.  Pretty amazing.  The only problem:  he didn’t bring our new area rug.  I am thinking of The Godfather.  Perhaps his wife is receiving a nice new rug this evening.  “I did someone a favour.”

Stop!  The carpet just arrived, via a different delivery man.  We must get over BC time and remember we are in China.

(Ed Note: Re Packaging: Terry recently bought a package of wheat crackers. It was approximately 5 inches by 12 inches. She thought she would get 24 – 30 crackers or so. No no grasshopper – she got 16 individually wrapped crackers. They are manic about wrapping here.)

One package 4″ x 2″ x .4″ – one cracker – 3″ x 1.5″ x .25″

Jiaxing Weekend

Friday afternoon, we set off by the #28 bus to Auchan, a big grocery store about 10 km away.   We have been there before but this time we discovered all sorts of things that we had missed:  wheat pasta, mayonnaise, western spices (read:  those we can recognize), olives, cereal.  Better prices than City Shop in Shanghai so now we know we don’t have to pay through the nose for our treats.  They also carry a decent assortment of drinkable wine.  Our habit is to have soft-serve ice-cream on the way out, which we thoroughly enjoy.

We hailed a cab for the ride home, which we have done several times.   We say the name of the school, Jiaxing Gaoge–“Jye Shing Gow Gee”–and they take us there, at which point we gesture forward down the 3 blocks to our home.  We have practiced our home address and thought we could pronounce it reasonably well.  This driver appeared somewhat confused when we said it but set off in the right direction.  Before too long, however, he turned down uncharted territory, roads that we knew we had not been on before.  To add to our confusion, a dense low-lying cloud enveloped the city so we couldn’t see very far or get our bearings.  It seemed to be taking a lot longer than the 20 minutes it should have done and sure enough, we finally emerged from the clouds at the Jiaxing Train Station, not even close to where we were going.  Geoff said it was like driving from Lougheed Mall to our place via Guildford!  Or possibly getting lost on the new Cape Horn Interchange?  We turned him around and headed back in the direction but the driver was not confident.  He finally pulled over to speak to a policeman who was stationed on the side of the road and asked him to ask us where we wanted to go.  Off we went. When we  arrived at our gates, the bill for the cab was Y85; it should have been Y25.  The driver was so distraught when we gave him Y100, he tried to give us Y60 back!  When has that ever happened?!  In North America, the driver would give us hell for not knowing where the heck we were going!  We explained as best we could that the mistake was ours and he was to keep the money.  He was confused but happy in the end, and so were we.  We really have to work harder at getting our pronunciation right!

A bad thing happened today at Walmart!  Somehow, I lost Geoff’s pull-cart.  We always put it under the shopping cart and take it out at the register, but when we got there today, no cart.  It is gone and we will have to buy another.  The prices are great here but if we keep spending 4 times the amount for cab rides and losing things, we’ll won’t be able to buy our ice-cream cones!

We spotted two Caucasians shopping and stopped to talk.  They were both from Germany, and in Jiaxing to open a new Mars candy plant.  We asked if they knew there was a big Dove plant in Jiaxing–Mars makes Dove, they told us.  The new plant is to make Snickers.  I told them that my cousin Bruce works for Cadbury in New Zealand and were they connected to them?  No, Cadbury is their biggest competitor.  So there you go, cousin Bruce.  Maybe time for Cadbury to branch out in China?
(Ed. note:

  1. Today we bought a scale to check my weight. When we were at the airport, there was a baggage scale and I got on it. I weighed 99 kg. The scale we bought, which is accurate since Terry got on first and checked it, indicates that I weigh 93.8 kg., a loss of 5.2 kg. or 11.44 pounds!. Be assured, Mal and Scott, that the weight loss has just begun. Get your money ready!
  2. We did not buy this scale.)

    Would you buy ANYTHING from this man?

The Classroom

Our classrooms have ceiling fans and wall mounted A/C out of necessity:  it is still warm and humid.  Every room has a water cooler, my office included, except that the Chinese do not cool their water.  It is either at room temperature or the machine will heat it for you.  We may enjoy that feature in the colder months.

The main entrance to our building does not have a door; instead, a metal pull-gate is closed and locked at night.  There would not be a point in a door as the all the upper floors are open to an inner courtyard, California style.  On one side of the hallways are the classroom and on the other, half-walls with railings.  Each of the school buildings is designed the same way.  If this were California, the weather wouldn’t be a concern but alas, this is Jiaxing.  We have been told that the winter temperature  is close to Vancouver’s, so I will need to layer up.  Geoff, of course, will be quite comfortable.

Last Wednesday, we moved to another building and classroom for our first parent meeting.  Unlike our rooms, which have fewer than 25 desks in them, this room had 72 desks plus bench seating along the wall!  The Chinese are used to such large classes but for us, the mind reels.  The school has technology, with every room equipped with internet access and LCD projectors.  Students are forbidden to use their cell phones or other hand-held devices in class and the phones are confiscated if discovered.  In our classes, we have said no to electronic translators as we want our students to avoid getting hung up on defining every word and seek to use context for meaning. So far they are coping well.

Some things are not modern in approach.  Report cards, for instance, are  filled in by hand by the hapless homeroom teacher who must collect marks from each teacher and record them in each student’s book.  Teachers who have lived through this approach know how frustrating this can be.  However, I suspect in China, all teachers meet deadlines.

The parents are like any others, wanting their kids to do well and setting high expectations.  At our parent meeting, one of the questions was, “What percentage do students need to get into famous Canadian universities?”  I answered by suggesting that the standards were high but that we were several years away from having to answer this question and it was a bit too soon to worry!

One of our students is already showing signs of stress and needed to be reassured that he is a smart young man and will do well.  There are a few that we would like to get a bit more stressed!  We are still looking for ways to connect and build relationships with them so we can learn how to motivate these ones.  Sounds like a day in any Canadian school.

My Favourite Photos So Far

Thought I would post these photos, just for a laugh.

believe it or not, wait for it now, ……… a beef restaurant. (Apparently, it has gone out of business – gee I wonder why?)

get rid of all that styrofoam?

This is the man responsible for cutting the lawn of our playing field. Next time anyone you know complains about cutting the lawn, let them see this.

A static shot looking down Nanjing Road before we started walking.

Looks like a classic English Morgan – well maybe not, but this is the one I want.

These capes cover both the “moto” and the driver in the rain.

Without a doubt the most unpalatable thing I have ever seen. Came to the table as a wobbly, gelatinous brown mass. However, under that was the most delicious pork meat – Fabulous.

The traffic, theoretically, drives on the same side of the road as we do.

600ml – 83 cents

Did you want breasts, legs or livers?

Mr. Xu is the principal of the big school. He has been very supportive in getting us settled and started.

Who is the white haired guy in the background?

At last!

When you’re away from home, small things play large.  Some of you will recognize my feelings about fruit.  Yes, fruit.  I like my apples crisp, won’t eat them if they are soft.  Plums are unpredictable;  I avoid them.  In my world, bananas have a very narrow shelf life:  I wont’ eat them if they are too soft and spotty.  In China, most bananas are sold well past their prime.  Imagine my excitement then, when Geoff came home with a bunch of green bananas!  Apparently the shop keeper thought he was quite mad in choosing them and tried to call him off the purchase.  I ate two today,  I’m so happy.  It’s been awhile.

It’s strange but we’re eating things here we would never eat at home.  Ramen noodles come to mind.  We know  they are full of fat and have very little nutritive value, but every week we doctor up a package with veggies and a bit of meat and call it dinner.  As I write this, I’m eating  hors d’oerves of tomato-flavoured potato chips.  Last night it was shrimp flavour.  When do I ever eat chips?  Never is when.

To mix metaphors, and change the subject, the pace of play at school is not what I am used to. For example,  I cannot imagine starting a school year without a school calendar.  Here, the calendar is generated for half the year at a time and the holiday times for school children and staff is set by local government, which is also true in BC except that anyone can go on the net and see all the important province-wide dates for the next 5 years.  Here, each province is different.  Again, not so different from Canada except that our province here is only 60 miles away from Shanghai but has different dates for school start-up and holidays.  In the first few weeks we got the schedule for the first half of the year, which had the start of the winter holiday but not the end.   We got the end date yesterday but it had changed again today; I advised  staff members to let friends know when to book flights for visits.

We met the parents this afternoon, which was fun.  Even in the first few weeks of grade 10 they are focused on marks needed for university entrance at some “famous universities.”  Might I say they are way more focused than their  grade 10 students!  We have our work cut out for us as the students do not have a good grasp of English and all of us, teachers and students, will have to work hard to achieve fluency–the main goal of our program; that, and getting in to North American universities.    I’ve checked the costs for International students and it is very dear.  Not sure if our families can afford them but this much is clear, the parents and this school want very much for the kids to have a broader experience and foundation of knowledge which they trust will help them to be globally aware citizens.

I have only begun to process the time things take to happen and am glad this has happened early on in our stay.  We have a lot of lead time right now, so if I can anticipate most things, I should be able to manage.  It will be only the surprises that cause stress.  We have learned quite a bit about how things work and that decisions may change many times before they are settled.  That in itself will prevent surprise.

Tomorrow after school is a teachers’ basketball game.  Basketball is hugely popular here, so we’ve heard, so it’s bound to be loud!  Just like every Canadian school I’ve ever been in!  Looking forward to it.

(Ed. note:

  1. One thing I have noticed here is how much the Chinese people are alike to our southern neighbours. They are a very patriotic nation and view the world with much the same perspective in terms of their role in the world community. Their awareness of others is also very similar. Very interesting.
  2. Today I went back to do more Walmart shopping – but on the way saw a woman locking up her scooter. Her small child was with her. How would you like this as the car seat for your grand-daughter? Although I didn’t see it in action, I would assume (after seeing other mothers on scooters) that it would sit on the seat behind her while she drives.

When you want only the safest for your child…

Shanghai!

September 17, 2012

What a place!  Impossible to count everyone but a close guess, give or take a few million, is 22 million people.  Imagine:  one city, almost two-thirds of the size of our own country.  And that’s only the people they counted.  There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who live below the census line, in passages and tiny places without addresses.   Every strata of society lives in this exciting, churning place.  Walk down any sidewalk, on Nanjing Road or in the vast train stations and subways to experience the life and people of China.

To get to Shanghai, we took the fast train (300kph) from Jiaxing to Hongqiao Station, a massive building that also connects to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.  As we made our way to one side, searching for directions to taxis, we saw many official-looking men with signs around their necks and carrying clipboards.  One of these people stopped us and inquired if we were in need of a cab, as indeed we were.  He took us to one of many booths where a woman filled out a contract, quoted a price (which we paid), then passed us over to another woman who began leading us away.  After about 40 steps, she met a man who took over.  “Are you our driver?” Geoff asked.  No.  He led us to another man, then another man.  This person, he said, was our driver.  Finally we were taken to a car where he opened the trunk to stow our bag.  No luck, already full of luggage but no passengers.  We got in and he took the front passenger side, holding our bag.  Another person, number 7 if you’re counting, began driving us to Shanghai.  A few miles out of the airport, he stopped in the middle of the left turn lane (not unusual so far), jumped out of the cab and ran across the highway (this is over the top, even for China).  The man in the passenger seat then switched seats and drove us to Shanghai!  After another totally insane ride, we arrived safely at our hotel. You can probably finish the story:  turns out that we were charged about 4 times the going rate by a black market cab.

(Ed. note: Yesterday afternoon Terry wrote the above and then emailed it to herself at home. When she came home she spent another hour working on the rest of it. You can guess this as well, I’m sure. She saved it and then it disappeared off the computer. Anyone else out there identify with this? Frustrated? Angry? Ya Think? Anyway, I am going to do some writing and have her edit/input into so that you get two perspectives on our weekend.)

In the early evening Greg & Chan and Bruce & Kim (Greg and Bruce are the principals of our sister Cinec schools in Shanghai) came to the hotel and we all went out to a fabulous restaurant –Lost Heaven– for dinner(click on the link to check it out). Chan, who is Vietnamese, did the ordering of the dinner and Greg, who spent time in Kelowna, ordered the wine. Since it was our first real chance to unwind we consumed great quantities of both, or as Terry so eloquently put it the next morning, we drank our faces off!

The next morning Terry and I wandered down the street to DONQ – a really nice bakery/deli for breakfast. We had a kind of breakfast pizza, pineapple strudel, blueberry strudel, fresh oj and fresh watermelon juice for a total of about $8.00. A good start to the day.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel… just kidding. We met the other four at ten-thirty and began a day of sightseeing and shopping. We started off taking the subway – remarkably clean and modern (I can’t get over how clean and unlittered it is here). When we got off we wandered down a tree lined street to the Shanghai Exposition Grounds where there was an Ex-pat conference going on – basically it was just a trade show of all sorts of businesses related to ex-pats – travel booths, international school booths, learn chinese booths, wine importer booths etc. Not particularly interesting, but I did have a great chocolate crepe!

From there we went to Nanjing Road. Nothing prepares you for that. Apparently it is the most expensive shopping street in the world (but what city doesn’t claim that?). We wandered past all the stores you would predict:  Dior, Gucci Apple – saw the largest Cartier sign I have ever seen! And people – wait until you see the video. (Ed. note: the video is approximately 3 minutes long. I could have edited but thought it would give you a good idea of the people. Also, the reason it dies so abruptly is because the battery died. To view the videos full screen, click the little arrows in the bottom right of the video.)

We also went in to The People’s Park of Shanghai. Unreal. This is where parents try to marry off their children. Geoff explains it in the video so I won’t go in to great detail, but it interesting to see the individuals as well as what appears to be brokers all involved in this. To be fair, it may be also a situation where many of the lookers may have been like us, but it must be a serious business as well since it continues year after year.


Anyway, back to Nanjing Road. The masses of people were amazing – on a normal Saturday afternoon – apparently on a holiday there are two to three the numbers. It is a long pedestrian mall, but with cross traffic. At one point we were in an intersection while a bus, cars and scooters were trying to go north south and three hundred  people were going east-west. It all worked out, but it was a slow go for the vehicular traffic!

From there we were on to the clothing market. “Want to buy a watch – how about a bag? No, then underwear – very nice underwear!” What a hoot. There was stall after stall – I am sure that on the three or four floors there had to be anywhere for 300 – 400 (Terry’s estimate) to over a thousand (mine). You get get genuine NHL jerseys too! (Well, genuine Chinese jerseys as our guide Tiger said. Yes our “guide” – they latch onto you at the entrance and are with you every step of the way!  I don’t know how they make their money. I bought a backpack:

Saleswoman: “Good quality – Swiss Army”

Me: “How much”

S. “560 yuan” ($93.)

M. “75 yuan ” ($12.50)

S. “400”

M. “75”

S. “350”

M. “100”

S. “225”

M.”Too much. Time to go”

Get out into the aisle

S. “Okay 150 yuan”

M. “Okay 150 yuan” ($25.)

Works quite well – packs groceries and everything – I am a regular something or other now! Terry bought 4 very nice sweaters and a polo shirt for golf – total $94.50.
We then proceeded back to the hotel to rest up before dinner and went out to an area called Hongmie Road (I may have got it wrong).  We had heard about The Big Bamboo, owned by Canadians for ex-pats.  Just a bar, really, with a pool table, a dance floor and live entertainment–except when we were there.  It appeals to the sports fan as well, with TVs on the walls in several spaces.  We started on the patio in front of a big screen playing soccer, but the sound was so loud we gave it up and moved around the side of the building.  A disinterested waitress took our orders but all in all, we’d give the Big Bamboo a miss.

On to choose a dining spot along the strip of territory running along the way.  Probably 40 or so choices; ultimately we landed at Simply Thai, voted the best Thai food in the city.  It didn’t disappoint–and the price was excellent, once again.  Food – $30 for two, same for the alcohol.  If you didn’t want to drink, you could get by very cheaply!

Sunday morning we had breakfast cooked by Chan at their place. Very nice Asian twist on bacon and eggs!  Later Greg took us to his school and provided me with a lot of insights and info that are going to make my life easier back in Jiaxing.  His school was beautiful and I confess to a little envy at his very modern, pristine building.

We took a cab back to the train station and got ripped off, again.  Not as badly as before and I probably could have put an end to it by simply taking out a pen and recording his licence number, but I didn’t have the energy for it.  The ride cost under $20 so it wasn’t going to break the bank.  In the station we had time to look around.  At each end there is a concourse on the upper floor which gives you quite the view of the hoards of people below.   It’s hard to estimate these things but I would guess that the floor area is the size of maybe 10 football fields?  Huge doesn’t really cut it.  Vast, maybe.  Anyway, things flow quite smoothly.  People wait then 15 minutes before the train arrives, they are allowed to pass through the turnstiles to wait on the loading platforms outside.  We have heard that it’s a little scary when it’s crowded and a “pusher” gives you a good nudge to cram into an already crowded car. We didn’t have that experience, however, and were able to comfortably enter the train to our designated car and seats. and away we went.  We had run into Puneet and Wes, the other two teachers in our program, at the train station so when we saw them again, the four of us shared a cab back into town.  All of us had stocked up on comfort food (read:  things we recognized and loved) and were ready to face the new week.  We loved Shanghai and look forward to a longer trip over the Mid-Autumn festival in a few weeks.
(Ed. notes:

  1. For those who missed the entire tour of our blog and our view, the complete and updated versions are now on The Apartment post.
  2. For those who have waited with baited breath to hear the results of our extensive medical tests, Terry is totally healthy, while I have Frequent Atrial premature beats, Atrial tachycardia and a fatty liver. While none of these things are going to kill me in the near future, I will have to, sadly and with great difficulty, limit myself to 2 glasses of wine a day. Please say a prayer for me!!
  3. For those who think I am stalking the couple ahead of us on the Nanjing Road video, fear not – it was Greg and his girlfriend Chan.
  4. I am adding some photos to our Flickr account – just check the photos on the right hand side. I have also added some descriptions to the set of photos called “Things I have seen on my walks.)

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The Good, Bad and Mythical of China

Today we welcome a new blogger to the site. Although not nearly as eloquent or loquacious as Terry, we are confident you will enjoy Geoff’s musings.

Terry has focused on a number of topics which are, I am sure, of great interest to all of you. Today, however, I am going to write about what I perceive to be the good, bad and mythical of China (hence the title). First the myths.

Myth #1. Geoff and Terry will stand out in Jiaxing because of their height.Not true! A great percentage of adult males are as tall as Geoff. While there haven’t been many taller than I am, a couple of our grade 10 boys are already my height. Granted, I do tend to tower over many of the women our age and older, but then I do that at home, don’t I Wendy? Where I do stand out and where many looks go to are my shoes, since I left my Loud Mouth clothes at home.

My Walking Companions

Now as to Terry, while she does stand out because of her height, it is also because of her beauty and her hair. It is true that there are some attractive women in Jiaxing, they don’t match her looks. Also, I don’t believe I have seen any hair colour other than black since we got here – in younger or older women – and mostly in ponytails! So her short hair must be another reason people turn and stare at her.

Myth #2. Chinese drivers don’t follow the rules of the road. This is definitely not true – generally because there aren’t any rules of the road. Just because you have a green walk sign and are in the crosswalk doesn’t mean the car, scooter, motor cycle pedicab or bus (yes I said bus) will slow down let alone stop for you. If you are lucky, they will make an effort to go around you – but it would be best for your longevity if you tried to avoid them. On the other hand, they do drive very slowly and so you aren’t in any real danger – unless you think that just because the lane you are crossing is a southbound land so only southbound cars will be in that lane – there is occasionally a northbound car in that lane as well – best to get out of its way as well.

Myth #3. Shopping at Walmart is shopping at Walmart. Now to be fair, I haven’t been in many Walmarts in North America. However, in the ones I was in and did some food shopping, I wouldn’t buy the meat because I didn’t know how long it might have been in the packages at the deli counter. Here, I don’t have to worry about that since the meat isn’t in the packages, it is just out in the middle of the aisles on beds of ice – chicken breasts, legs, feet, red meats of some kind or other, fish (mostly dead and on ice) but some still “swimming” upside down in tanks of water. (An aside – went to a vegetable, meat and clothing market the other day – the flies which weren’t flying around the meat were already attached to the flypaper next to each display of meat.)

That’s enough of the myths for now, lets go on to the Bad and the Good.

  1. Bad – I perspire sweat profusely and constantly due to the humidity – even when it isn’t humid.
  2. Good – The pounds are flowing off me – Look out Scott and Mal.
  1. Bad – Women in the 16 – 35 age bracket must be very cold and have very sore feet at the end of the day.
  2. Good – Women in the 16 – 35 age bracket are keeping the 6″ stiletto heeled shoe and 10″ skirt manufacturers in business in a big way. 🙂
  1. Bad – Starbucks is Starbucks
  2. Good – Starbucks is Starbucks
  1. Bad – I can’t yet make myself understood to the multitudes.
  2. Good – They are a VERY friendly people. Whenever they stare at us as they walk/drive past us and we say Nie Ha (Hello) they smile, wave and say Nie Ha right back at us.
  1. Bad – We haven’t had a whole lot of meat since getting here.
  2. Good – I am actually eating actual vegetables.
  1. Bad – Our entire apartment block of approximately 200 apartments deposit their garbage each day in a 2 garbage cans each smaller than the size of a recycling bin at home.
  2. Good – It appears the garbage is picked up almost hourly and taken away as there is never any kind of build up around the cans.
  1. Bad – We have about a 30 minute bus ride to Auchon – a good grocery store.
  2. Good – They have a good wine selection in the $13 – $15 range.
  1. Bad – Terry won’t let me buy an electric scooter for $350 – $400 range.
  2. Good – There is very little traffic on the road. (See photos below – taken on a major Jiaxing road at 10 am. – both directions)

I will now brave the elements – it has started to pour rain (am I back in Vancouver?) and make the 8 minute walk back to the apartment from a very dry and comfortable Starbucks. If you have enjoyed my musings today, please let Terry know so that I can write again. Thanks for reading.

Looking North

Looking South

Commonalities and Differences Sept 12, 2012

When I first arrived at Moody Middle School in 2005, I couldn’t seem to tear my eyes away from the spots on the linoleum that were worn right through to the cement underneath.  The current building on St. John’s street in Port Moody was built in 1972 or 73, I believe, and it was well used.  After  a few months, I stopped seeing the lino, the lockers that were in dire need of replacement, the heaters in the cafeteria that were barely hanging on to the wall, and saw instead the positives:  a phenomenal staff, kids and community.

I’m having a similar experience here in Jiaxing.  The school is much newer, built in 1997 or 98 but it hasn’t been properly maintained.  There are tiles that have fallen off the exterior walls, floors that are peeling away, tables in the caf that lean dramatically when you sit down on the attached chairs.  Because of the hot and humid climate, paint peels, mold grows and dust sticks.  It would take an army to keep up with a school this size but there just isn’t that much staff.  In the first few days, a caretaker arrived to clean my office, take out my garbage and see to the other rooms in our wing.  I haven’t seen her for some time.   Things work differently in China.

Kids are expected to contribute to their school periodically, so it is the kids who wash the floors in the morning and dung out the washrooms–sort of.  They are kids and not particularly pushed about standards of cleanliness.  Things are okay but not super clean.  Classrooms don’t get much a wipe at all so consequently, there’s a fair bit of chalk dust and outside grime that wafts in the open windows during the day.

The school has obviously gone to considerable expense to renovate some of the rooms in our area.  I have a palatial office as does my  co-worker David, and there is a beautiful reading room and a meeting room for all of us to use.  The teachers have a nice office as well and all of us have really nice, new furniture.  I admit to being a bit fussy but it drives me crazy that there seems to be no real concern when things go awry.  Case in point, on the first day, I noticed and pointed out that the ceiling in the reading room was dripping water, causing not only a large, mold-growing stain on the ceiling but also ruining the brand new laminate floor.  A week later, someone came to have a look and seems to have stopped the drip from above but the floor was already damaged.  I really value the expense and effort gone into improving our area so it drives me a bit crazy to see this happen.

Teachers back home might consider themselves well off if they realized that here, teachers  are responsible for bringing their own toilet paper, paper towels and soap.  None of these are provided in our washrooms.  Earlier this week, I killed a cockroach which had been hiding behind my office door.  I guess that’s a similarity:  at Moody, all we had were rats.  That was before their access points were sealed!

In due course, I am sure that I will no longer notice the short-comings of the buildings.   Jiaxing High School has a great faculty and kids and is hugely supportive our BC Off-Shore School within their facility.  Just like home, it is the people, not the things, that make a place wonderful.  It’s starting to feel like home already.