Monthly Archives: November 2012

Extra, Extra!

In a Skype call to friends Lynne and Martin earlier this week, I speculated that there may be a ban against pan-handling of any kind, with the exception of begging done by disabled elderly.  We see no beggars with the odd exception being seriously disabled elderly folks who sit outside the Jian ‘An Temple, close to where we stay in Shanghai.  It got me thinking about the elderly and so when I read the English language China Daily this week, my eye caught one headline stating 600 Hospices for disabled seniors to be built by 2015.  The country is seriously short of services as there are 3.3 million elderly people unable to care for themselves with 1.1 fully dependent on nursing.

In other news, some parents are spending more than 10% of family income on extra math classes (Math Olympiad contests) to ensure their child gets a spot in a good middle school.  That’s right, elementary aged kids are spending hours studying math and their parents’ money trying to get a leg up into a decent school.  This article brought to mind the outcry (finally) of the problem with Charter schools in the U.S.A..  Simply stated, those who have, do better and those who don’t, get left behind in less than stellar schools.  Long live the Canadian education model with all its flaws.  At least everyone can be guaranteed a high/decent standard of education.

Speaking of left behind,  the biggest story lately is about the “Left-Behind Kids,” those children whose parents leave their kids in their rural communities while they head to the cities to find work.  It is not clear to me how “left behind” they really are, ie, who is looking after them, if anyone?  What is clear is that they are not getting the care, attention or education they should be and of course, this spells a problem for the future.  The paper suggested that in 2011, there were 22 million migrant workers and that today there are as many as 58 million.  If each couple left only one child behind, that’s still a lot of children who are lacking a reasonable standard of care, stability and family love.

One article that caught my attention was called “The Imperfect Art of China Bashing” which suggested that foreign writers should leave off attacking China for child labour (which is largely unfounded) and focus instead on the single child little princes and princesses who are spoiled and do no work.

In this article, attention was brought to the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, illustrated by a satirical cartoon showing one large glass with one large person sucking up the contents with his straw while 10 others, all much smaller, competed for their share of the drink.   Reference was made to a twitter comment from a ‘princess’ extolling the virtues of her father who had mangaged to procure a $32, 000 dress for her for her birthday.  Meanwhile, 128 million people live on less than 6Y ($1) a day.  Is there unrest in China?  I think so.

Finally, the internet is the people’s tool against abusive officials.  In one case only 63 hours stood between the posting of a blog about a teenage mistress and the dismissal of the official from power.

Interesting, isn’t it?

 

Update!! Update!!

Okay folks, I know many, if not all of you have been wondering about Sour Lady and her refusal, inability unwillingness (yes, let’s go with unwillingness) to smile. Well today may have shed some light on it. Yesterday she was nowhere to be seen, which is unusual. Today I saw her boyfriend/husband/partner arriving by car and she was walking up from the other direction. Hmm, I thought. They never stay, just get their coffee, get back in their car and go. However, they came in, got their coffees and sat down and had a very quiet conversation (remind anyone else of Universality of Relationships). After about 15 minutes, he got up, went out, got in the car and left. She sat there for another half hour and I could see her crying at different times. She then got her coat, hat and gloves on and went out. She wandered back and forth for about half an hour but no boyfriend. There is a hotel just around the corner in the direction she came from and finally wandered off in. Seems like Starbucks might be the local break up joint! Stayed tuned for more drama. (Maybe if she had smiled more often… just saying.)

It was a dark and stormy…

It was a dark and stormy night. The old couple were weary from their many escapades and neither needed, nor wanted, any further adventures. They had spent the previous two days in the big city. They had supped at Starbucks (not an establishment known for its Friday evening cuisine) prior to attending a Rock and Roll concert, which they thoroughly enjoyed, but which left them late to bed.

On the morrow, they had traveled to the Shanghai Spinning Materials Market, where the woman had delivered to her her new blouses, jeans and jacket. The former provided the old woman with much pleasure, but the latter creased her face in such disappointment that the tailor agreed to remake the jacket entirely. The old man had new trousers delivered to him, but such had been the state of their meager fare, that they were too large around the waist and had to be adjusted.

After a simple lunch of dumplings and potatoes, served by street vendors, they plodded off to the market where the old man had earlier procured 2 pairs of the newly developed spectacles – one for reading the few tomes they had acquired inside and one for reading outside in the bright sun. Alas, the darker ones hurt the old man’s eyes, made him dizzy and he could not see anything clearly. The vendor laughed and said, “No, only for reading up to 30 cms away”. Lo, when the old man looked through them again, they did not hurt or make him ill – as long as he “focused” on written words only 30 cms away.
By this time fatigue was setting in on the old couple and so they made their way back to their inn where they rested and drank some red and white spirits in anticipation of a fine meal that evening. They supped with other travelers and heard all about their journey to that most majestic of spots, Mount Everest base camp. They were thoroughly intrigued and fascinated by the tales and they look forward to viewing the images captured by the leader of the troupe, known as John the Climber.

Although the inn’s bed are luxurious, the old couple slept poorly, particularly the old woman. This was portentous as the following day would be a long, wet, cold one. They started off with a trip to the market, to buy special milk to help the old woman digest her meager breakfasts better. Then they returned to the Shanghai Spinning Materials Market where the old woman had to purchase a beautiful new coat to keep her warm and two more blouses to brighten her days. This all cost her $150 – more of her hard earned money going to a good cause.

From there they were off to the famous Yu Yuan Gardens where they visited the “House of Crap” in order to purchase some supplies to celebrate the upcoming festival. They bought images of the famous giver of gifts known as “Santa”, they bought long strings of bright sparkly candle-like items and assorted other colourful trinkets to amuse the local children in their village.

Now it was back to the inn to get their packs and begin the trek home. Although it was cold, wet and windy there was a horse powered vehicle available to take them part way. From where the kindly gentleman dropped them, they managed to catch a train and the old man, seeing how tired his beloved wife was, purchased tickets which gave them large comfortable seats on the train. In no time, it seemed they arrived at their destination – in much less time than normal the old man thought. They gathered all their belongings – much more than they had taken to the city, and got off the train and began looking for some kind of horse powered vehicle to take them to their humble hut.

However, the place looked strange and unfamiliar. The first two or three vehicles they approached just shook their heads no and soon all the vehicles had left, leaving the old couple felling lost and bemused. The old man and old woman, standing in the dark and stormy night, looked at each other questioningly and then a kindly stranger came up and asked what the problem was. Sadly, they couldn’t understand his foreign tongue and so they went into the train station where they found a man who could speak a little of their language.

This man said that the old couple were in a village called Jiashan and not in Jiaxing. In their muddled, tired state the old couple had gotten off the train too early. The man said that there were no more trains going to Jiaxing that night. The old man was sad and fearful as he knew his beloved wife was very tired. They looked out the window and saw the kindly stranger outside, talking to his friend. The old couple went back outside and tried to talk to them. After a few minutes, the old man pulled three gold coins from his pouch and the kindly stranger agreed to take them to Jiaxing in his private vehicle. The old couple were very relieved.

One hour later the old couple arrived back at their abode. They unpacked their belongings, had some more red and white spirits and watched Survivor, knowing how it feels to be lost in a foreign land.

Elton John

Elton is at the piano

Quick, name me your favourite EJ tune. Did he play it? Probably – the set lasted for two and a half hours and he covered practically everything. About the time I said to Geoff it has to be Crocodile Rock in the encore, he played it and then Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting and THEN the encore–Your Song and The Circle of Life. The complete set list is at the bottom of the post, for those who are interested.

The show wasn’t flashy in any great way – it was simply all about Elton. He came out in his signature sequinned long tunic style jacket with Madman Across The Water emblazoned across the back.  Cameras to two large side screens on either side of the stage focused mostly (let’s say 75% of the time)  on Elton. After each and every song he got up from the piano and walked toward the crowd with arms extended seemingly saying, “Don’t you just love me” and gesturing more applause, more applause — the crowd complied. The back-up singers and band were great. The drummer, Nigel Olsson, has been with him since the start and the lead, Davey Johnstone, for 43 years. They were fantastic.  Elton can still play an incredible piano. (A camera right on the end of the keyboard showed him playing. It puts to bed any thought that you need big hands to play – his are short and stubby!) While he can no longer hit the high notes, his voice at the low end of the spectrum has gotten richer and deeper with time. He knew when to sing and when to let the audience play their part. He didn’t even attempt the “la la la la la” chorus of  Crocodile Rock but simply held out the mike to the audience to fill it in, which they gladly did.

The crowd was largely ex-pat and relatively sedate.  They stayed in their seats, jumping up only at the end of songs to clap and cheer.  Elton was happy with their response and at one point thanked us and said that he didn’t expect this great of an audience in Shanghai.   Perhaps he thought the Chinese would have had little experience with his music, created largely in the 70’s.  He didn’t have to worry though.  These fans knew every word and throughout the show, were singing with him .  Everyone, that is, except the woman sitting one seat over from me.  She brought along a 4 page song sheet, if you can believe it, and used the flashlight from her phone to light the lyrics, as she followed along.  Perhaps there was a quiz later?  Not sure why anyone would go to a show to read a sheet of lyrics.   It was a great evening, just the same, and even more special experiencing it in Shanghai.

Geoff’s observations:

  1. Now I know I am getting on in years and I have been to a lot of concerts in my time. Frank Zappa, The Stones, Dylan, Pink Floyd, Springsteen, The Beach Boys etc. etc. and now Elton John. It seems to me that at those concerts, people went to hear the music/band. Last night I could not believe the number of people who were up and down the aisles and back and forth with beer and coloured wavy toys. It was a constant flow of people. Sit down and listen.
  2. Terry says sedate – I say they were lucky to get such a good concert, given that Elton couldn’t have gotten any energy from them. For instance the couple beside us – in their forties and Asian, were so taken with everything, they forgot to applaud until the very end. Perhaps it was because they didn’t understand the words.
  3. Terry has mentioned the woman with the song sheet – but REALLY? A SONGSHEET? Did she think we were going to be singing Christmas Carols? And the guys next to her are both looking at the sheet and not watching the concert.
  4. When I first started going to concerts we didn’t do the swaying match thing. In fact I don’t think I ever did that or why it was done, but at least I understand that the crowd was usually in sync. Now they do it with their cell phones, but here is a tip people: No one on your side of the arena can see which way you are swaying with it since the screen is pointed away from you. It looks ridiculous – a couple of thousand people all swaying at different times.
  5. Speaking of cell phones, there were sure a lot of them on during the performance.
  6. I will admit I learned something too. One cannot record a concert on a cell phone – but I learned it by recording about 10 seconds of audio, not trying to record the entire encore like the two guys standing in front of us.
  7. I thought towards the end I was at a Canucks’ or a Lions’ game – people were leaving long before Crocodile Rock which was long before the encore. I guess they were bothered by the strobe lights which were often pointed in the crowd’s direction. (It was so bad during The Bitch is Back that I thought we would have to leave to avoid Terry getting a migraine, but it did get better). Anyway, why would you leave a good concert early?
  8. And now I will answer my last question. You leave a Shanghai concert early because you know, unlike the 15000 or so other expats, that it is now 10:50 and you are 30 minutes walk from the subway and the subway going in your direction shuts down at 11:00 and and so you have to take the one going in the other direction to another line that could get you home, only to find that it too has shut down and you have to find a taxi to take you home, but they really don’t want to go that far so they turn you over to someone else to take you. Conversely, you could have taken one from right outside the arena which would have cost you 200 yuan instead of the 65 you eventually had to pay.

Set List

  1. The Bitch Is Back
  2. Bennie and the Jets
  3. Grey Seal
  4. Levon
  5. Tiny Dancer
  6. Believe
  7. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
  8. Philadelphia Freedom
  9. Candle in the Wind
  10. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  11. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
  12. Hey Ahab
  13. I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
  14. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
  15. Honky Cat
  16. Sad Songs (Say So Much)
  17. Daniel
  18. Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
  19. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
  20. Are You Ready for Love
  21. I’m Still Standing
  22. Crocodile Rock
  23. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting

Encore

  1. Your Song
  2. Circle of Life

Oh my God…

1. Oh my God Lady, take your turn. My first unpleasant experience at Starbucks this morning. First of all let me say that service at Starbucks in China is very pleasant, but very slow. I was patiently waiting in line behind four people for approximately 10 minutes while they place their orders – they are all together and chattering away (there is also one woman behind me). As they go off to the end of the counter to wait for their drinks, and as I step up, another woman comes out of nowhere, stands beside me and starts to give her order to the barista, who starts to ring it up. I put my hands out and say “What’s going on – I’m here” (honestly, that is exactly what I said – not what I thought.). The woman says “Oh we are all a group together – I’m just going to order and pay for me.” (yes, she spoke English). I say – “Well, I’m a group of one”. She smiles, sardonically and says “Well, yes” then continues on paying and goes to the end of the counter. I fixed one and all with my steely, flinty glare. Their group was just across from me when I sat down and I glared a couple more times, intimidating them from conversation in any language for 5 to 10 minutes. Victory is mine!

2. Oh my God, did I get ripped off? I admit it. I am new to this vegetable thing. (Perhaps if my dear, departed mother – God rest her lovely soul – hadn’t cooked the ^%$# out of everything, I wouldn’t have grown up this way). I am certainly enjoying them here though. They are amazingly fresh and have wonderful flavour. However, when I went to the market this morning I picked these up.

Fresh Vegetables – 2 kinds of hot peppers, mushrooms, shelled peas and a leek (I think)

What I don’t know is  – is $3.00 too much for this?

Next door

3. Oh my God, will it ever stop? Today is Day 2 of rain (well light mist really) – and it is forecast to continue right up until tomorrow afternoon, when the sun returns. Right now the mist is so thick I can’t see the top of the building next door. I am thinking of ordering an ark  in order to sail into Shanghai for the Elton John concert and to pick up our clothes from the fabric market this weekend. (it would be delivered in time by a guy on a pedicab).

4. Oh my God, they’re clean already!  Yesterday it was time for me to get a haircut – my first in Jiaxing. We asked our neighbour Tina to call the salon and set up a cut and colour for us and she kindly did (or so we thought). We arrived and they escorted us in. Now at home, I just wander in, Stephanie sprays a little water on my head and starts cutting. Not here. Terry described the shampoo process here. What she didn’t mention was that two or three times during the process, the shampooer gets most of the suds off your head and takes them to the back of the salon to dispose of them somehow – likely a sink. Very weird.

My Shampoo and Ear Cleaning Person

Then after my hair was all rinsed, she took me back to the chair. Now, I don’t wish to gross any one out, but I pay close attention to my personal hygiene including regularly Q-Tipping the wax out of my ears. Apparently I don’t do a good enough job. This lovely young girl spent likely 5 minutes per ear and God knows how many Q-tips cleaning my ears. Now I know they weren’t that waxy, since I had cleaned them Monday morning. Then it was over to Abo. I must say it is interesting getting a stylist to understand just what you want when you don’t understand each other, but I think he did the best he could with what he had to work with. David tells us that this is the best salon in Jiaxing.

This was taken after the colour but before Abo totally finished the cut and then we forgot a front shot.

5. Oh my God, so this is what water tastes like.  I am venturing into unremembered territory. I seem to have plateaued at the 9 kg weight loss mark, so I have decided to take some drastic, some would say heretical, action and eliminate wine from my Monday to Thursday diet, drinking water instead. I know, I know, many (likely most) of you will scoff at this effort and not believe it can last. However, I am committed to making it until December 24th, which is the first day that Ken is here that is not a weekend – I could never let him drink red wine alone. Wish me luck, people.

(Ed. note: Okay – It really is Abo doing the cutting, but it isn’t me in the chair. Terry had some colour done to hers.)

Housekeeping (and a little more)

As we travel around, we see things that really don’t merit an entire post, but that generate a second look from us. We have gathered these together and today they are combined into one posting. (Ed. note: In the Sun, one of the sports writers called them “items that might make it into an article sometime”.)

Smile, Lady. There is a woman who comes into Starbucks everyday – sometimes alone, sometimes with her spousal unit. She has been coming in since we got here. I have yet to see her smile. When the door opens, all the baristas, without fail, call out Nie Hou or Hello. They are all very friendly and helpful – but no response from Ms Sourpuss. I even asked one of the girls if they had ever seen her smile – maybe once or twice. One day when I was confusing the girls with my, order she was behind me and I apologized for slowing everything down. No response, nothing. She must REALLY hate China. Come on lady, SMILE – nothing is that bad! (Of course, today was the one day she doesn’t come in – I was going to get a photo to share.)

Please, please. I’m not a sadistic person (well maybe just a little), but before we leave China I really want to see a minor accident. Many, many of the people who travel on scooters can’t help themselves. They see us and they stare as they approach us, as they are passing us and after they pass us, turning their heads for up to three or four seconds – which is a long time when you are driving a scooter. Please, please let one of them run into a parked car sometime – no one gets hurt, no damage to the scooter, just shock. This guy for example. I know it is a little blurry, but he really was staring at us.

Keep staring pal.

Discrimination. I know, even as I start this one, I am going to be in trouble with The Real Blogger, but I can’t help it. It has to be told. Ever since we got here we have being discriminated against because of the colour of our skin. I can’t begin to count the number of times that we have been walking down the street and come upon someone who is handing out flyers advertising anything from apartments to restaurants. They take one look at us and don’t even try to give us one – they must think we can’t read Chinese or something. I feel hurt. I have looked on the web for the Chinese branch of the BC Human Rights Office but no luck.

Pet Peeve. The last time we were in Shanghai, I made the following video to give you a flavour of how traffic flows. Some of you may know that when it comes to the use and pronounciation of the English language, I am bit over zealous, perhaps. I have even written to the CBC to complain about some of their announcers and the frequency with which they drop their “g’s” (eg playin’, goin’). Imagine then, my embarrassment when I replayed this video and heard how frequently I was guilty of the same “g” dropping. I will certainly be paying more attention to how I speak from here on. Nevertheless, enjoy.

Kim and Bruce. Kim and Bruce Carabine are a couple, also from Coquitlam who are also in their first year in China also doing what Terry and I are doing (except Kim is actually working). They, however, are living and working in Shanghai. I really encourage you to take a look at their blog as well. They provide a very similar AND a very different perspective on life in China in general and in the big city specifically. It’s a fun read. Check out the link to the right – The Carabines Conquer China.

Le Pièce de résistance.  Some of you may know John Simpson and Al Thomas – former educators in Coquitlam. They have been on an experience which many of us wish we could have. They have just trekked to Mount Everest base camp and will be back in Shanghai this weekend. Below are some photos John shared with us along with his comments (in quotes). I am posting them without his consent, so I hope he doesn’t mind. We are really looking forward to hearing about the trip this weekend.

“Yeah – Really is a bathtub”

“Typical transport trucks of Nepal”

“Mt. Everest from Kalla Patther – nowhere near summit – but still damn cold!” (Ed. note: Mt. Everest is the darkest peak directly above John’s head.)

And on that awesome note I bid you all happy travels to wherever your heart leads you.

In the Wrong Profession?

This morning as I left our complex and began my walk to work, I noticed that a handful of the boulevard trees had lost their yellow leaves—all of their leaves, at once.  What strange phenomena had caused this, I wondered.   How could it be that while most of the trees still held leaves, these seemingly randomly placed ones were completely bare, with their leaves at their feet and in the roadway?   Perhaps a rare Chinese wind had blown through, selecting these chosen ones to rattle.  Then I noticed our little street sweeper.   He was down the road a little, on the other side, madly pushing at a tree and standing in a shower of leaves.  He stopped to wave and shout a greeting; I just had to smile and shout back.  A few minutes later the truck sweeper passed by and collected about 90% of his leaves.  I imagine that by the time I head home, all the trees will be bereft of colour, the street clean, and my little friend proud of his day’s labour.   So much for enjoying the Fall foliage… but I have to admire his pragmatic approach! (Ed. note: These are the tress, taken from out apartment window. Really, the photo doesn’t do them justice.)

The Beautiful Trees

I wonder if those at home who walk to work on a regular basis have similar experiences.  Driving can take the fun out of things and leaves little time to notice the world outside the window.  On the other hand, I am a big fan of trees and have always had a few favourites that I would look for on my daily commute.  One was a glorious dogwood on Prairie Avenue in Port Coquitlam that I passed when teaching at the old Terry Fox.  There were no leaves for blossoms on this tree and it held on to them for months, it seemed.  My other favourite is a grafted maple at the foot of Falcon Drive at Barnet.  In the Fall, this tree has strands of deep red, intense yellows and orange—truly magnificent.  Some days I detoured onto Dewdney just to appreciate the stands of cottonwoods there.   In this part of China, there are not many trees but they have planted lots of sycamores downtown in Jiaxing and in Shanghai, and all new developments count the plantings as part of their charm.  I imagine they lift everyone’s day, not just mine

Attitudes and Latitudes

Readers of this page will know that we were out for the evening last Saturday with a group of young married couples, ages 24-30.  All of them have either started families or are keen to do so.  At one point, one of the women pointed at one of them and said that she was the youngest.   She spoke the least English but replied in Chinese,, “Yes, but I have a baby.”  It was a bit of a shot that clearly indicates a certain status decreed to those who have children.  We also discovered how it is that some people can have more than one child:  if you are an only child and your spouse is an only child, you are allowed to have two children.  Some of those women are choosing to have the second child take the mother’s surname, thereby allowing both of the family lines to carry on.  Most of the women return to work after childbirth and grandparents, especially grandmothers, step in to help raise them.  We see elderly folks with small babies and older children everywhere around Jiaxing.

Attitudes towards women among our students appear easy to decipher.  One day in class, the teacher mentioned that males are nurses in Canada.  The loudest and most self-assured boy guffawed, “Nursing is a woman’s job.”  Even when the teacher explained that nursing is a very good career for both sexes, well paid and respected, this young man refused to accept it.  No one else of either sex spoke up to question why a person’s gender should have anything to do with career choice, a comment, I think, on their lack of worldliness.   I will pick my time but down the road I will let this young man know that he would be lucky to get out of most Canadian high school classes alive after uttering such a sexist comment!  I plan to speak with the girls privately to encourage them in career choices but also to stand up and be counted.

On our Sunday walk, we stopped to marvel once again at an abandoned lot given over to people gardening.   Take a look at the attached photo and realize that this was taken yesterday, Nov. 18th.  Can you imagine a crop this healthy and green growing in the lower mainland right now?   It helps to know that we are closer to Los Angeles in latitude than Vancouver.  Unless inside a heated greenhouse, it wouldn’t be possible at home. These “gardeners” are growing vegetables not only for themselves but also as cash crops.  There are many places where they can easily sell their produce and the Chinese are very keen on freshness, so no doubt they benefit doubly from their efforts.

Growing Vegetables in November

Speaking of fresh, it is orange season in Jiaxing!  They are magnificent!  Oranges are my favorite fruit and I live for their season to arrive, in January or February back home.  These ones are huge and juicy, so fresh they still have leaves attached.  Tangerines are also available everywhere and are such a bright orange, they are hard to resist.  And me with 5 pomelos still to eat!  No matter, I love oranges and no time can be wasted!  Apples are also fabulous right now.  The Galas are so huge and juicy, simply incredible.  Needless to say, I am eating a lot of fruit!

Weighing our Oranges

Working late tonight doing an English self-study block with kids who need help, so will be heading home just after 7:00pm.  The students have to carry on till 9:40!  By that time we will be safe and snug and ready for sleep.  By the way, all the people we were with on Saturday night commented on how early we head to work.  No kidding!  Is there any need to start at 7:30?  Well, yes there is but it still seems cruel and unusual punishment to a formerly retired couple.  Take care, everyone.

Another Weekend, Another Adventure

What a weekend!  We woke up Saturday morning to blue skies and sunny weather.  So gorgeous!

I apologize for the anti-climax of the arrival of my eliptical machine.  It was purely Geoff:  I don’t think of it as a toy but rather a necessity to combat the physical discomfort my body has undergone since I’ve been back to desk-work–really the greatest down-side of coming out of retirement.   I am sure the eliptical will help me iron out the kinks, since my knees object to running now.

Tina and Klos (and Server) Inexplicably and invariably, every time a camera pops up, Chinese people flash the V for Victory.

In the afternoon, we walked and did a bit of shopping and generally enjoyed the wonderful day.  Then at 5:30 we were taken out to dinner by our neighbours, Tina and Klos, to a rather posh Chinese food restaurant, the same place that our school leaders took us to on our first Friday, The Lounge.  The place is a series of private rooms with adjoining washrooms and “butler” areas where the food is arranged prior to delivery to the table.  What a feast!  Tina had invited some friends to join us, so there were seven of us in total.  Klos ordered enough food for 10, she said, but I think it was for more like 12 or 14.  We were absolutely stuffed when more food arrived, including an enormous platter of stewed goat.  Fortunately, just like home, they were able to have the remains packed up to take home.

What did we eat?  Well, all sorts of wonderful things:  some sort of fungi (spicy and chewy but very good), salad, a variety of green vegetables (Geoff inexplicably now loves them), thin slices of beef cooked rare which you drag through finely ground pepper (fabulous), cooked lichee nuts, a new vegetable with the taste and texture of potatoes but which were long and thin like smallish carrots, an egg drop soup of some sort, a fabulous custard/sauced dish with a morsel of abalone in the center (lovely) and a special fish dish that they had to order in advance.  It arrived in a steaming, covered  clay pan, much like a paella pan.  All of the food was set on the table on a lazy Susan for self-service, but this dish was in honour of us as “foreign guests” and so was served to Geoff and me first.  I could see steaming pieces of beautiful white fish and was happily anticipating my portion when I heard something about the head of the fish.  I may have said this aloud, I’m not sure, but I was thinking, “Don’t give me the head, please don’t give me the head.”  The waitress passed me my bowl.  I looked down.  A fish eye looked back.  I may have temporarily blacked out.  I heard Geoff say, “Do you eat this?” and Tina replied, “Of course, it is fish!”  Shortly thereafter, I spooned out the fish portion and discreetly (I hoped) put it on the plate, as close as possible to my bowl so no one would notice.  Meanwhile, Geoff gamely popped his serving into his mouth, but not before discarding the fish eye into his side-dish, saying politely, “I can’t eat this.”    Let me just say that the broth was delicious.  So was the lovely white meat I spied initially and which I managed to spear as it passed by on the Lazy Susan later.  But I will never forget what that fish eye looked like when Geoff deposited it in his side-bowl.  I felt both honoured and horrified at the same time.  Needless to say, it is considered the most delectable morsel of the entire feast, but neither of us could bring ourselves to eat it.  Our hosts graciously overlooked our short-comings. (Ed note: Eyes Right)

The Signature Dish from The Lounge Restaurant

After dinner, everyone went to a bar except Tina and I.  Why?  Because I had asked her earlier in the week if there were any hairdressers in Jiaxing who spoke English.  No, she said, but it would be her pleasure to take me to her hairdresser.  I did not expect this to be at 8:00pm on a Saturday night but, sure enough, on we went.  I was pointed to a chair where I would get a shampoo.  I did not see any sinks so thought that perhaps I misunderstood but soon enough a lad arrived to wash my hair.  First he squirted some shampoo on my dry scalp and began to massage in a little water from another squeeze bottle.  Gradually he worked in more water so eventually my head was completely in suds.  Then, we moved to a sink for the rinse.  This was my second experience having my hair cut in China and I have to say that their sinks are vastly superior to ours.  They are built so there is no issue getting the chair adjusted so that your neck is supported.  Your head tilts back onto an almost completely flat sink.  Very comfortable.  Next on to the stylist.

With Tina translating, I explained that my last haircut had been too short and that while I wanted him to cut around my ears and trim the back, I did not want him to touch my bangs, which were still ridiculously short.  “Like yours,” I said to him.  Voila!  He shaped it all rather nicely while following directions.   What more could I ask?  Tina and I headed to the cashier but as I took out my wallet, she told me that she was paying.  What?  I tried to insist but after the fish episode, I didn’t want to risk causing her to lose face, so graciously accepted.  “Next time, you can pay,” she told me.  I’m not sure if that means that we are now tied to each other’s hair cut schedule but I will find some way of repaying her.

We met up with Geoff and gang later at a semi-private wine bar in the upstairs loft.  I managed to join the conversation.  All of Tina and Klos’ friends date back to middle school and have varying degrees of competency in English.  Their friend Jerry was probably the most comfortable and when I complimented him on his fluency, I remarked that it seemed that he thought in English.  He concurred; he lost no time in translation and was able to tell us about his exporting business (auto parts and tablets – go figure) and even told jokes.  A most entertaining fellow.  Likewise their friend, Connie, who unabashedly told us that she likes to drink and smoke but would have to quit in December after her wedding.  Her fiance was not with us so she told us that he wants to start a family right away and insists that they give up their vices.  She invited Geoff and I to her wedding but we had to decline.   With a guest list of 600, we guessed that another two wouldn’t make much difference.  She was offering it as a way to experience more of Chinese culture–very generous, we thought.  All in all, it was a wonderful evening, with great food and company.

Sunday the sun continued to shine!  Much warmer this day.  We skyped some friends (we miss you all!), then headed to Starbuck’s and made our way to a “Chinese” supermarket, ie, one that doesn’t have any imported food or English subtitles.  Goodbye, Walmart–Hello, RT Mart!  What a bright, clean, well-organized store!  As we have found everywhere in Jiaxing, the staff is so helpful and really do their best to take care of us, while the clientele were essentially dumbfounded by our presence in their store.  The place is busy so the food is incredibly fresh.  We will return and save Walmart for heavy bulk items that we don’t want to haul too far home.

We have cleared the mystery of “Self Rotation Beans Fishing.”  We did know it was a restaurant, so today, as we were walking past it to check out the local cinema (since we learned last night that we can choose to watch a film in English), we peered into the window and discovered that it is one of those places we have seen on The Food Chanel where portions of food pass tables on a conveyor belt.  Diners help themselves to whatever strikes their fancy as it passes by their table.  Will we try it?  Stay tuned.

Today we discovered another dining establishment called Jiaxing Fishing Port Limited.  We couldn’t figure out what it was because, while it was almost on the canal, we couldn’t really see anyway that it could be considered near a port.  We went in to have a look and found out that the lower floor is full of fish tanks containing huge variety of live sea creatures.  Apparently, you make your selection from a tank, head upstairs and wait for it to arrive, prepared to order.  We may check this place out again with someone who knows how it all works.   I am not sure if I really need this experience as  I enjoy a little distance between the source and the dinner plate.  Will see.

The highlight of the day:  we watched three men in suits lighting fireworks in a lane way, no obvious reason for celebration.  I laughed out loud, thinking about our uber concerns with safety while these guys were lighting extremely short wicks on powerful sticks that flew into the air with the first blast, then exploded again high above them.  When the last one sounded, I applauded.  They had no idea we were watching and smiled like school boys, proud of their showmanship.  What fun! (Ed. note: You may wish to turn your speakers down a little.)

We have just finished our Sunday meal.  I made linguine with clam sauce, our favorite comfort food.  Special, special thanks to my Book Club and to Terry and Ron Wallsmith who brought the clams all the way from Maple Ridge.  I had mentioned the fact that we can’t get canned clams here during a Skype club meeting and the next thing I knew, Sheila had organized her sister Terry to deliver two cans and a year’s supply of neon Post-Its when she and her husband Ron came to Jiaxing to do some work with a local school.  Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!  I made enough for two meals so will enjoy again later in the week.  Thank-you also to Terry for transporting 2 Scrabble games all this way.  Very helpful and fun for kids learning English!

Thus ends a wonderful weekend, full of new adventure and discovery.

TERRY’S NEW TOY!! (PART 2)

Okay folks, first of all, the entire time it was being made functional, she was in the bathroom, either

  1. to maximize the surprise factor of what it would look like
  2. so that she wouldn’t get in the way of the installer
  3. she wanted to clean the tub/bathroom and she really doesn’t give a rat’s patutti about this.

Here is the first picture of her newest acquisition. It certainly adds to the living room decor, don’t you think.

Happily at play

Hope you are all just as excited as she is.
Now then, to fill up the rest of the space, some thoughts.

1. Right hand turns. Imagine, if you will approaching the intersection of Hastings and Renfrew Streets (or any major intersetion of your choice) on a bus. There are two lanes going west and two lanes going east. You are heading west on Hastings. The light ahead of you is red. Your bus driver wants to make a right hand turn and go north but there are three cars stopped in each of the two lanes ahead of him. He stops and waits, right? No, he simply pulls out into the oncoming lane, passes the stopped vehicles and makes his turn. You look at your spouse, partner, significant other and simply laugh — Traffic in Jiaxing on a Friday evening.

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2. “Nigah, Nigah” We often hear this expression when listening to people talk. Terry, in her innocent, naive perspective on life believes they are just saying “um, um”. I’m not sure.

3. Doing Business in Jiaxing So yesterday I was at Starbucks and watched as a business deal was consummated between a Chinese ladder manufacturer and an American importer of some sort. There were two Americans (one was Jewish, which I add only because he felt the need to loudly announce to everyone in the place “I’m a Jew”)  and a translator for about half an hour and then a Chinese man and woman showed up with a couple of extension ladders. Interestingly, they were in their own product boxes with German writing on them. Over the course of the next forty minutes or so, the Americans did everything to test them, short of climbing on them. (One would think that might be a standard test of a ladder, wouldn’t one?). At the end they wrote up a deal for ten thousand of them (I thought that might be high for an initial order, but what do I know.)  I’m not sure why they chose Starbucks to do their business – other than the manufacturing plant is a 3 hour drive.

Each of the metal bars is a rung which collapse and expand vertically. It collapses into an item totally flat and about three feet high. They have two models, one with heavier duty rungs.

4. Doing Business in Jiaxing, Part 2. For the past week this has been the view outside Starbucks. It was set up a week ago Thursday and last night we saw that they were taking the cars away (there were two) and beginning to dismantle the display centre. I guess it moves around from city to city in order to generate some interest. Our mall is quite large and this was on the plaza in front of it.

The Beetle comes to Jiaxing

5. Riding the Elevator  Finally, last night we went to our  favourite restaurant, Krabi Thai, which has been written about in this space previously. As usual, it was both fabulous and cheap. (Dinner for 4: 7 dishes, plus rice, plus fruit plus 3 16 oz beer for $85 – and no tipping allowed). What was unusual was the elevator ride down. The restaurant is attached to the third floor of the mall. There is a bit of a lobby in front of the elevator doors and some 6 inch x 8 foot strips of heavier plastic which separate the lobby from the mall proper. As we are standing there and just before the elevator doors open, through the plastic comes a motorcycle and a motor cycle rider with a cigarette in his mouth. The door opens, he drives on and away he goes, leaving the four of us slightly stunned. Just as the next elevator arrives, another motorcycle shows up (no cigarette), but we are quicker this time and Terry, Puneet and Wes get on. I stay behind to get the photo. Remember, we are on the THIRD FLOOR!

Riding the Elevator