Monthly Archives: March 2013

Big Action on a Sunday Afternoon!

Terry and her "stolen" bike.

Terry and her “stolen” bike.

(Ed. note – be sure to scroll right to the very bottom of the post for a treat for your eyes.)

Geoffy is not well today, seems to have caught the flu that’s going around, so I set off on my own this lovely morning.  First stop, the bicycle rentals across from the mall.  I laid my citizen card against the machine as required but it would not release the bike.  Fortunately, there was an attendant near-by so I called her over and asked her to try my card–all in English, mind you, a word of which she didn’t speak.  When she couldn’t get it to work, she took the card over to a kiosk and put it in the machine which would tell her what the problem was.  It took longer than I thought it should so walked over to see if I could figure it out.  No problem–the screen was all in Chinese except for the number Y444, which was the amount I now owed for NOT returning my bike the previous and only time we rented one.  “I did return it!” I told her, then mimed sliding the bike into the slot and applying the card to the surface.  She called someone on her cell phone and began a conversation which effectively left me out, so I called Daisy and explained the situation.  Yes, she said, that is what happens if you don’t return the bike.  But I did return the bike!  Why would I be here wanting to rent another one if I didn’t return it?  She calmed me down and, after talking to the attendant,  told me to wait while she phoned the bike transit people to see if they had found “my” bike.  In about 10 minutes, she called back with instructions on how to get clearance on the card–somehow she had my fine waived!  I don’t know if they have the bike back in the system or she told them I couldn’t be held responsible because I couldn’t understand the Chinese voice giving instructions, but I don’t care!  My card was cleared and I rented a bike.

I went south for 3 blocks and got on the Jiaxing Greenway along the canal, then headed east.  First stop was at a little park with people selling and flying kites.

Angry Birds, Pleasant Goat, Hello Kitty, Disney Characters all adorn the kites.

Angry Birds, Pleasant Goat, Hello Kitty, Disney Characters all adorn the kites.

This was my first check point to see if I could correctly lock and unlock the bike.  I could, so continued on my route, coming out at Mei Wan Street, then crossed the bridge to Nanhu–South Lake.  Somehow I remembered how to go behind the museum there and followed the path along the lake to the point you can take a junk out to an island and see where the Communist Manifesto was signed (Jiaxing, Very Famous City!). People were out in full force; I witnessed 3 wedding photography sessions and a multitude of kite flyers and families walking.  It is not like Vancouver where you can expect to see exercise hounds out in droves.  Exercise in itself is not a concept that really seems to have a lot of merit in the minds of the people here. They build those nice parks with outdoor equipment but they don’t seem to get a lot of use.  And don’t start with me about the PE program at school.

I knew that if I followed the lake all along the  opposite side, I would come out close to downtown.  I turned in to a path that had barricades and a sign with a no-cars logo.  After about 30 feet, I realized that the guard yelling “Wei!  Wei!” was yelling at me:  Hello!  Hello!  I stopped and turned to listen to him talk to me in Chinese, then said in English,”I don’t know what you’re saying but I get it.”  He understood also and thanked me.  Who says Chinese is complicated?

So, I wend my way around the lake and am looking up at the skyline to get my bearing when I realize there are train tracks between me and my destination, so begin to scan for a way over or under.  No problem–there is the turn for the underpass up ahead and I’m good to go again.  Actually, I’m better than good because I realize that this underpass is the very one we use every time we come back from Auchon, our grocery store, and I navigate it on bike!  You have to realize what an accomplishment this is!   The traffic is so crazy and you never can be sure where cars, scooters, Tuk-Tuks or trucks might be coming from and here I was on a bike!  It was great!  I took the left turn and there I was on Zhongshan Road, right where I wanted to be.  Immediately scanning the sky-line again, I spotted the wee McDonald’s arches on the top of a billboard on top of a building at the Diamond Mall.  Yes, the Golden Arches are prevalent here in Jiaxing.  Sad, isn’t it?

I successfully parked my bike for the second time, crossed the street and went in to Sephora–yes, they have Sephora in little Jiaxing.  I bought Daisy a gift for saving my sorry hide from the transit police, then headed off for my first experience in the SECOND Starbuck’s in Jiaxing.  Woohoo!  Finally, after two months of delays, it was open and was the joint was jumping!  It might have been a good experience but for 3 things:  first, far too many over-indulged screaming kids; second, tinny Chinese music set as background noise; and third, a pineapple bun which turned out to have pork and pineapple inside, which might have been okay if I knew that but I couldn’t make the adjustment.  In spite of all that, I sat down and stared back at all the folks who were staring at me, admired the latest fashion and marveled at the short skirts, the high heels. and the guys’ big hair.  The weekends are days for girlfriends and couples to go out to see and be seen, and I imagine, do a little shopping also.   One fellow garnered a lot of attention also but not because he was white but because he was at least 6’6″ and black.  Dude!  I also saw the model for the Laughing Men sculptures at the foot of Denman and Davie but with hair.  I was desperate to take his picture but I didn’t want to give him or the rest of the crowd the satisfaction.  What a great day!

Again crossed the street and successfully parked the rental bike, jumped on a road all the way back to Hongbo Lu and walked home.  Sadly Geoffy is still sick and pathetic but it is almost happy hour!  Life is good.

One scared penguin - maybe because penguins don't fly!

One scared looking penguin – maybe because penguins don’t fly!

(Ed. note: For those who may have missed it, these are one of the two pairs of new sunglasses Terry has purchased – like people didn’t look at her enough before!)

Hip and Happenin'!

Hip and Happenin’!

The Colours of Spring in Jiaxing

A beautiful lazy Saturday in Jiaxing.  Couldn’t resist taking pictures of the incredible colours around our neighbourhood today.  Check that sky out–we don’t get blue too often.

More beautiful trees at one of the gates to our complex.

Beautiful trees at one of the gates to our complex.

Aren't these amazing?  Anyone know what they are?  These ones are also in our complex.

Aren’t these amazing? Anyone know what they are? These ones are also in our complex.

This beautiful image is of the canal through our complex.  Our tower is like the one pictured but to the right.  On the left and behind the red plant are three-storey townhouses.   Not pictured here but there are small docks or viewing platforms built along the canal.

This beautiful image is of the canal through our complex. Our tower is like the one pictured but to the right. On the left and behind the red plant are three-storey townhouses. Not pictured here but  small docks or viewing platforms are built along the canal.

These are the most spectacular trees!  I have no idea what they are but as you can see, the blossoms sprout directly off the branches.  Absolutely stunning!

These are the most spectacular trees! I have no idea what they are but as you can see, the blossoms sprout directly off the branches. Absolutely stunning!

Signs of Spring along the pathway.

Signs of Spring along the pathway on the Jaixing Greenway, about a block from our home.

Blossoming orchids outdoors.

Orchids blossoming  outdoors.

Look at the spectacular colours in this borrowed earth garden!  That's a highway above.  All of these photos are within a few blocks of our apartment.

Look at the spectacular colours in this borrowed earth garden! That’s a highway above. All of these photos are within a few blocks of our apartment.

If you look closely, you can just make out a fence of branches on either side of this gate.  Enter if you dare!

If you look closely, you can just make out a fence of branches on either side of this gate. Enter if you dare!

Here's a close up of the yellow plants you've seen.  They are a vegetable because they have been planted to be harvested.  I think they look like a member of the broccoli family but if so, not sure why they let them go to flower. If they show up at a local market, we'll try to find out how to cook it.  Ha ha, little joke there.  Steam or stir-fry, take your pick.

Here’s a close up of the yellow plants you’ve seen. They are a vegetable because they have been planted to be harvested. I think they look like a member of the broccoli family but if so, not sure why they let them go to flower. If they show up at a local market, we’ll try to find out how to cook it. Ha ha, little joke there. Steam or stir-fry, take your pick.

Another mural depicting proud students sharing their school work with doting parents.

A mural depicting proud students sharing their school work with doting parents on a wall of the overpass.

Paintings underneath the overpass along the Jiaxing Greenway.

Another painting underneath the overpass along the Jiaxing Greenway.

River traffic; a barge moving a load of sand.

River traffic; a barge moving a load of sand.

Life on a barge:  what is this woman doing?

Life on a barge: what is this woman doing?

She's doing the laundry!  Here she is using the force of the moving water to rinse a pair of jeans.

She’s doing the laundry! Here she is using the force of the moving water to rinse a pair of jeans.

Is this a German or French bridge over a moat?  No, it's a foot bridge over the locks on the canal in Jiaxing.

Is this a German or French bridge over a moat? No, it’s a foot bridge over the locks on the canal in Jiaxing.

A lone fisherman along the banks of the canal.  It was a beautiful warm sunny day--the first in awhile.

A lone fisherman along the banks of the canal. It was a beautiful warm sunny day–the first in awhile.

Hey Barb - The People's Court!

Hey Barb – The People’s Court!  (inside joke, sorry)

Elbows up!

Phew!  Buying groceries in China is not a spectator sport–you’ve got to go in with purpose.  A quick wrist and a threatening demeanour help.  Geoff and I met at the bus stop, then walked to RT Mart to pick up a few things for dinner.  All the vegetables have to be weighed and stickered before you can take them to the till, so there I was politely waiting my turn, watching the aged grandfather throw his lotus root on the scale, by-passing the elderly granny who hesitated oh-so-little but just enough to lose her place in line.  Even though I was standing there with my two items on the counter, another women came after me and forced her things onto the scale.  I picked up my cilantro and spinach, moved in and waited for the next person to try to jump queue.  Sure enough, a hand reached out from the crowd, but before it could drop it’s cabbage on the scale, I was there!  On went my cilantro!  As soon as it was weighed and lifted, I deftly slid the spinach into position, throwing the hairy eyeball at the person on my right.  The crowd moved back a pace as I glared at them and took my purchases away.  They won’t mess with me again.

Next, we stopped at the postal service to mail a letter to Shanghai.  Simple enough, right?  Nooooooo, not so.  I had neatly printed the address on the envelope and put my postal code into the boxes provided on the upper left.  She looked at it, said something to me in Chinese, another fellow looked at it, they pondered together.  What could be the problem, I wondered?  She understood it was going to Shanghai–I could recognize that when she spoke–but clearly something was amiss.  Phone David, says Geoff.  Right.  So she and David have a brief chat, then she hangs up and looks at me.  Well?  I gesture.  Wait a moment, says she.  David is coming.

David arrives and tries to make sense of the envelope.  It turns out that I have addressed it backwards!  For international delivery, letters are addressed the way we do it in Canada, return address top left, etc.  But for internal mail, it is reversed.  The clerk could not figure out why I wanted to specially post it to Jiaxing!  David then tried to translate into Chinese but it wasn’t going quickly.  I was getting an uneasy feeling, as the letter was to claim health care expenses and the company will only accept original receipts, which were in the envelope.  Finally, we decided that it would be best if we started with a new envelope and Chinese address tomorrow, or maybe even Fed-ex.  Remember, one supplier of something we ordered did not recommend we use China Post.  We also recalled it took three months for a few postcards to reach Vancouver, so the letter is still in my purse.  This after a day when I was able to call my bank in Port Coquitlam and talk to a person via Skype, find the info I needed and move on.   As a friend says, “TIC”:  This is China!

Meanwhile, back at school, we are experiencing some plagiarism issues and having to get down to brass tacks with some of the kids.  The answer is to avoid the whole thing is to only ever do in-class writing assignments. If they are writing right under our noses, the chance to cheat is minimized and only the very daring would try.  Not saying they wouldn’t but it would be harder.  As if we can’t tell the difference between the English in Wikipedia and their own.

I really have to marvel at how far our kids have come, overall.  English 10 in not intended to teach English language, it is literature based, so for most of them to be as fluent as they are is quite impressive.  A smaller number can write well but we are making steady progress with most.  It certainly is rewarding although tremendously frustrating at times.

So after a few days of really cold weather again, we hit 19 today and Geoff and I are sitting like a couple of old folks on our rockers on the (sun) porch, enjoying a glass of cold white before the sun sets and we have dinner.  Life is good.

So Many Stories, So Little Time

I have been away for one night and I have an awful lot of information to share with you so let’s get started!!

David Overgaard, (a golfing buddy from North Vancouver) principal of Seycove Secondary was in China (left today) with 65 music students on a whirlwind Spring Break tour and got into Shanghai on Sunday evening so I went up yesterday (Tuesday) to see him and have dinner.

Story #1. Cost of travel in China. On Sunday Terry and I came back from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway station to Jiaxing South Railway station. Cost of first class ticket: 28.5 yuan ($4.50). On Tuesday I went from Jiaxing South Railway station to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway station. Cost of first class ticket: 61.5 yuan ($10.50). Today I came back from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway station to Jiaxing South Railway station. Cost of first class ticket: 34.5 yuan ($5.75). Can any one suggest why there is a different price seemingly everytime?

Story #2.I may not speak Chinese, but I drink Scotch. I was staying at the Grand Mercure Baolong Hotel and while waiting for David to join me, I tried to order two one ounce shots of Macallan 12 year old whisky. They brought me one 2 oz. shot, so I ordered a 2nd 2 oz. When we drank we both agreed that it wasn’t Macallan (we know our whiskys) – it was likely bourbon. “Oh no,” the woman said, “I can show you the bottle. ” Like that will help! Anyone can pour bourbon into a whisky bottle. From there it was off to Kaveen’s Kitchen for a fabulous Indian dinner and then a long walk back down Nanjing Road to the Bund, which brings us to

Story #3. Does lady mean sex? The closer we got to the pedestrian mall, the more people (men and women) approached us asking if we wanted a massage – and it was either a lady massage or a sex massage. (I think it us upwards of 10 times in the 15 minutes we were walking there.) Now, I have several questions about these:

I don't think David looks any more gay than I do - wait, I mean...

I don’t think David looks any more gay than I do – wait, I mean…

  1. Are they the same thing?
  2. Do the masseuses really look like the photos they were showing us on the phone?
  3. When they say younger women, do they mean young girls (God forbid) or just younger than me (God, I hope so since I would not want a “massage” from anyone older than me!)
  4. When I was asked by a woman if David and I were gay followed immediately by the statement that she and her partner are lesbian, just what was she getting at?
  5. How come today around noon I was only accosted and offered “massage” 6 times in the same stretch of street?

Story #5. Lose a lung? After taking in the lights of Pudong from the Bund, David and I jump in a cab to head back to the hotel. Now, we were only in the cab for fifteen minutes, but we think the cab driver snorted and sniffed harshly enough to lose one, if not both lungs if he ever decided to rid himself of all the phlegm he must have accumulated. I think, conservatively, he snorted every 6 seconds – it was most disconcerting. He got his though. When we got out of the cab, two very drunk guys got in!

Story #6.Starbucks has nothing on the Mercure.I get up this morning and decide to go down and sit in the restaurant, have a cup of coffee and do some work. The restaurant tells me if all I want is coffee, I can go to the lounge – which is great as they have some very comfortable chairs there. I order coffee. Now, I see that it is Blue Mountain, one of the worlds finest, and that it is 78 yuan ($13.00) but I think that it must be a small carafe for that price. Wrong. One cup – and then they add on 15% service charge so it was just a tad over $15.00 for one cup. And people say Starbucks is expensive. (Plus when you go in for breakfast, coffee is unlimited and included!)

Story #7 A walk in the park. I checked out of the hotel and proceeded on a 11km walk across Shanghai to pick up some new eye glasses Terry and I order on Sunday. On my way I passed through a lovely park which was very busy with all sorts of people:

Utilizing the ubiquitous workout equipment available throughout the parks of China

Utilizing the ubiquitous workout equipment available throughout the parks of China

Lots of people were waiting to get on the courts as well.

Lots of people were waiting to get on the courts as well.

Playing a friendly game of cards - well, maybe not so friendly.

Playing a friendly game of cards – well, maybe not so friendly.

Gangnam style hits China. We also saw  all sorts of people doing this last night on the Nanjing Pedestrian Mall.

Gangnam style hits China. We also saw all sorts of people doing this last night on the Nanjing Pedestrian Mall.

Doing the 2 step (I think - but then, what do I know about dancing?)

Doing the 2 step (I think – but then, what do I know about dancing?)

Story #8 Through sleet and snow…Well maybe we won’t actually deliver it to you, but we will bring the parcels to the gate of the university and then spread them out and you can come and pick it up from us.

Which parcel is yours? There was another guy just like this one right next to him.

Which parcel is yours? There was another guy just like this one right next to him.

Story #9 News item “Local woman opens recycling depot” On the sidewalk as I trundled though a number of neighbourhoods, I saw a few of these. Someone collects the recycling and then brings it to a central area, where they drop it off and get paid for it.

The local recycling depot.

The local recycling depot.

Story #10 Terry was right, damn it – well sort of. When we first got here, Terry had a minor disagreement with one of the students, She said that the scaffolding they were using was bamboo and he said it wasn’t. Upon closer inspection it was shown that the scaffolding itself was iron but the protective fences were bamboo. Well, I am here to tell you that if we had been in Shanghai then, she would have been right!

This IS bamboo scaffolding!

This IS bamboo scaffolding!

Story #11 This was a supervised event – don’t do this on your own. We saw this on Saturday as we wandered through the backstreets of Shanghai with Barbara and Michael. Don’t worry, the parents were right beside him playing cards – and he wasn’t going anywhere.

One way to make sure he didn't run away - and he was adorable.

One way to make sure he didn’t run away – and he was adorable.

Story #12 This really happened, I swear. Now I know that many of you are not going to believe this – you are going to call me a prevaricator, a spin doctor, an outright liar. But I swear on my mother’s grave (well on the Pacific Ocean where we scattered her ashes) that it really, truly happened. I took a cab from the Ritz-Carlton Portman to the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway station today. It was a distance of some 20 kms and a time of approximately 30 minutes. What happened you ask. It’s really what didn’t happen. Not once did the cab driver honk his horn. That’s right NOT ONCE! It’s true, I swear.

Now, where was I?

Now, where was I? Oh yes, Terry’s inspection. I will let her tell you about that.

I was hoping for a good night’s rest the night before our big inspection but the mother of all thunder storms kept me awake for a good portion of the night.  Sometimes it sounded as though the lightening must be directly overhead and later as though it was circling our apartment, coming in from different directions.  Zeus was clearly PO’d about something!

The inspection was just short of 4 months since our first one, so most of the pieces were in place but nonetheless, there were  last minute details that needed attention and people to organize.  It feels good to say that everything went off swimmingly:  the files were all in order and the teachers’ lessons and students’ conversations pleased the inspectors.  Our kids may not write very well but they are fairly conversant and enjoy talking with foreigners.  They understand that the teaching style of Canadians is quite different from that of the Chinese and they are happy for it.  They impressed our inspectors with how well they could speak.  It was nice to hear a different perspective because we tend to worry most about those kids at the bottom of the class and neglect to think about our successes with the majority of our students.  We were told that we have everything in place for a first class school and should look ahead to continued growth and success.  Number one indicator is the good relationship we have developed with the Chinese administration; second, the absolute commitment of the Chinese to support our efforts and remove all obstacles to success.  We are very pleased and proud of the work we have done and the partnership we have developed.  Onward and upward!

(Ed note: Don’t let Terry fool you – her efforts toward achieving success where HIGHLY lauded by the inspectors!)

Mr. Zhao had very kindly arranged for the school driver to take me into Shanghai after our celebratory banquet on Friday night, and Daisy had graciously agreed to accompany me (in case something happened and I needed to speak with the driver) so I arrived around 9:30pm, pleased but exhausted.  Geoff arrived a half our later with our guests, Barb and Mike, and I got my second wind and was able to share my good news and excitement of the inspection.  Once I told them my story, they tried in vain to describe the Szechuan meal they had had–hot to the point of numbing the mouth, but none of them could describe the actual taste.  That they hadn’t eaten all of the prawns or the beef tells me that it was perhaps a wee bit too hot.  Geoff had planned to take them to Simply Thai but two too many martinis  on the 52nd floor of the Ritz Carleton put an end to that.

(Ed Note: We had been told by our pal Steve  that Morton’s of Chicago served 2 for 1 martinis with free steak sliders every weekday from 5 to 7 – so where do you think we went to? You got that right – but we didn’t arrive until about 5:05 –  it was already full, there was a waiting list of 3 and an hour wait – so we did go to the Ritz – much to Barb’s self-imposed embarrassment. She was dressed in jeans, running shoes  and advertising Moody Middle via her sweatshirt. (But, I don’t think it helped that I made sure I had a sports jacket on 🙂 ). Mike and I assured her that the colour of our money was what mattered.

Barb looking far too relaxed, given how she was dressed for where she was. (Just kidding Barb - couldn't resist one final shot)

Barb looking far too relaxed, given how she was dressed for where she was. (Just kidding Barb – couldn’t resist one final shot)

 Witness the next table: three thirtyish people, two women and one man. The man (also dressed in jeans) curled up with the overstuffed pillow and slept for at least half an hour and slept so soundly that when the women wanted to leave, they had to shake him awake! In the hour we were there, they didn’t order a single thing. We, however, had two martinis each – and Barb was set to order another round, when Micheal reminded her that they were $20 a pop. We asked the fabulous Kelly, maker of the most extraordinary Red Pepper Martini, where to go for spicy food and she recommended the Sichuan Li restaurant. Terry was right – it was indescribable. Remember we told you that “Western medium” is 3 peppers and”Thai medium” is 10 peppers – well, this had to be 15 peppers hot. The problem was also that they brought the hot things first, with no other dishes to sort of balance them off. The duck rolls, noodles, rice and eggplant made valiant efforts, as did the beer but all to no avail. It didn’t really burn all of your mouth and throat, but we weren’t looking forward to Saturday morning, I can assure you.)

Mike trying to draw in some cooler air in. The one in his right hand is the shrimp we left and in the left is the beef. How much didn't we eat? Well, this was at 9:00 and the two of them tried to order pizza (unsuccessfully) at 1:00 in the morning.

Mike trying to draw in some cooler air in. The one in his right hand is the shrimp we left and in the left is the beef. How much didn’t we eat? Well, this was at 9:00 and the two of them tried to order pizza (unsuccessfully) at 1:00 in the morning.


Saturday we began a whirlwind tour of Shanghai:  after breakfast, we walked to the Shanghai Museum and spent a few delightful hours, then on to Yu Yuan Gardens and the House of Crap.  We continued on through the back alleys or hutongs, making sure Barb and Michael caught as many sights, sounds and tastes of the city as possible in one afternoon.  Our path took us to the Fabric Market where I picked up some jeans and capris at Jimmy’s and our visitors wandered around, marveling at the number of different tailors to choose from.  From there we took a cab into the French Concession in search of an English bookstore.  Michael found the guide book he was looking for and then it was back to the hotel for a wee rest before dinner at a new Thai restaurant called ChiangMai Thai.  This place puts Simply Thai to shame.  For the first time, we were able to control the pace of dining by ordering one glorious dish at a time, allowing us to savour each of the flavours separately.  The seafood salad was so much like what we had in Chiang Mei we were in awe.  Same same for the ground beef and basil, green curry, spicy green beans, prawns and squid.  The only downside was that we were forced to drink more wine as we waited for courses.  (Bad, Terry!  Bad!) (Ed. note – C’mon Terry, it was only 4 bottles of white shared among the four of us!) After dinner, we took a cab back to the hotel, then headed to the Rat Tar Art Bar, a block away.  This is a pretty funky set-up, with lots crazy painted couches and black ink drawings of rats on the walls, open space and quiet seating areas but virtually no people.  The bartender told us that the joint gets jumping in the good weather but on this rainy night, only a few people were sipping the martinis.  (Bad, Terry, Bad!)  After Michael left some DNA on a plate glass door and Geoff absconded with chrome martini spears, it was time to go. (Ed. note – C’mon Terry, it was only 2.)

Look closely at the arm on the right side of Mike's head. This was just after he introduced himself to the plate glass door. BTW do you see a pattern developing in the photos of Mike?

Look closely at the arm on the right side of Mike’s head. This was just after he introduced himself to the plate glass door. BTW do you see a pattern developing in the photos of Mike?

Needless to say, Sunday was off to a slower start.  After breakfast in the hotel, we headed on foot down Nanjing Road.  Not a very nice day, lightly raining and cool.  I managed to make the best of it and bought a cheap and cheerful jacket for Spring and a few new light coloured Ts while Michael went to get his glasses fixed (see plate glass window, above).  We kept to Nanjing until the Knock-off mall where Geoff and I bought some funky glasses and Barb finally found some Chinese-themed stickers for her students.  She didn’t want things she could get in Canada so pounced when she spotted Pleasant Goat, pandas and Chinese flags. By this time we were all flagging so headed to a noodle house for a HUGE bowl of hot beef and noodles to restore our tired selves.  Our last stop was People’s Square to see the parents and agents advertising their 20-30something children to other parents in the hope of making a match.  The rain put a damper on the activities so it wasn’t nearly as crowded as usual but it was enough for Mike and Barb to get the flavour of the place.  We took the subway  back to the hotel where we picked up our bags and bade good-bye to our friends. It was so wonderful that they came to see us in Jiaxing and allowed us to show them a little of Shanghai.  They are off to Guilin where we are planning to go soon, so we look forward to their reports before the end of the week.

(Ed. note: In a recent blog I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t find any martini glasses. Well Barb and Mike did and presented them to us this morning. Mike said he hoped they would remind us of the weekend. I told him that I would always remember this weekend – it was the one where I became a recovering alcoholic!)

The Week That Was

Here we are back in Shanghai after a whirlwind week of travel back and forth. Barb Buczewski from Moody Middle and Michael Wurtz, an old friend of Barb’s from Hawaii landed in Shanghai on Tuesday. What kind of people are they, you ask. Well, they were thirsty on the subway ride from the airport, so they traded a couple of shots of tequila to quench that thirst. Despite not following my directions, they did manage to find the hotel, where I picked them up and brought them back to Jiaxing on Wednesday.

Wednesday afternoon they experienced our Walmart, our vegetable market, our low lying cloud cover cum pollution, smoky martinis (Grey Goose and Laphroaig Whisky, 5-1) and The Grandma’s Restaurant (from where I was forced to appropriate 2 glasses to better serve martinis instead of white wine glasses. Hey, you do what you have to on both counts.)

On Thursday we had a BIG walking day. After Starbucks we headed to Terry’s school for a tour. The kids were great – happy to talk to other “foreigners”. Then we were off to downtown for lunch and touristy things. BUT WAIT! As we turn a corner on the bus, Terry calls out, “Geoff! – Chairs!” and there is the traveling chair salesman. We have been looking for him as we want to buy a couple of rockers for the balcony. I hop off at the next stop and hoof it back. There is a guy sitting there doing a crossword or reading or something but he was totally disinterested in talking to me. Probably figured I was just a tourist and not a resident! Finally after about 5 minutes of trying to get him to recognize my existence I phoned David and got the process of buying going. After a couple of minutes a young woman who spoke English came along and helped me conclude the deal and arrange delivery for Monday morning. They are beautiful chairs and very comfortable $92 each. I may post photos later, but this was the guy in the fall.

Want to buy a chair? I have seen this a couple of times around Jiaxing. He pulls it by hand - honestly.

Our chairs will be delivered on Monday.


Anyway, I caught up to the rest at a Korean restaurant, where the had been subjected to:

  1. Stares from the patrons
  2. Stares from the staff
  3. The janitor loitering at their booth long enough that Terry was about to tell him to go away
  4. The cook coming out of the back and standing at their table looking at them.

When I got there we ordered food, joked with the servers and had a great lunch.

Then it was off to wander downtown Jiaxing. One great adventure.

Really diggin' the label on the lens look!!

Really diggin’ the label on the lens look!!

Barb needed new reading glasses and we came upon a woman selling them on the street. When we started to bargain, all of a sudden these 5 guys showed up to watch us.
Interested and entertained spectators.

Interested and entertained spectators.

We had a misunderstanding over the price. We thought the price was 200 rmb ($35) and she was trying to say the magnification was 2.0 When I said too much, all of a sudden they all understood and said “NO NO” – 28 rmb (4.50), so the deal was done. Other than that we were just showing our guests our usual haunts. We headed back to our place for more Smoky martinis, straight whisky, wine and disappointing vodka infused cherry tomatoes. I had told them the night before to make many holes with toothpicks in the tomatoes. They interpreted that as puncture the skin. Thus, half a bottle of Grey Goose didn’t really make its way in to the tomatoes. Ah well.

For dinner, it was off to Krabi with with John Simpson who is/was in town for Terry’s inspection. It may have been the best meal we have had on China – it was certainly the best in Jiaxing. They really outdid themselves! Barb thought she would move here just for Krabi.

Barb and Michael rockin with Charley and the band!

Barb and Michael rockin with Charley and the band!

Friday was a big, big day as the inspectors were in to see if Terry’s school was good enough to carry the BC brand, but more on that later.

In closing, I was glad this week to hear that Tiger and Elin got back togther. Best thing for the kids, don’t you think.

"I don't go for any particular type of woman."

“I don’t go for any particular type of woman.”

Meandering Shanghai

Here we are in Shanghai. We came in for some Cinec bonding and pro-d. Cinec is the company which owns three schools in the Shanghai vicinity – ours, Bruce and Kim Carabine’s Luwan High School and Greg Corry’s world renowned (seriously) Nanyang Model High School (better know as Nanmo). Before going any further, many thanks to owner Harvey Su for springing for all of the costs associated with the day.

Friday night we met with Bruce and Kim for appies and dinner. Sadly, they are leaving at the end of the year and we will miss them. Thanks to Kim, though, I have a new appetizer recipe.

  1. Start with cherry tomatoes.
  2. Spend time poking them with a toothpick, making sure they have lots of little holes.
  3. Lay them out in a dish – size depends on how many you poke.
  4. Cover them with vodka (we thought gin might work too).
  5. Put them in the fridge overnight.
  6. Restrain yourself when starting to indulge the next day – they are great.
  7. Serve with a variety of “dipping spices” – Kim had salt, lemon pepper, and a mild cajun spice mixture
  8. Could add them to martinis (GRRRRRRR – more on this later)

(Ed. note: From Kim: info: I used the leftover vodka from the tomato soaking for a killer pasta sauce! We still had some tomatoes left, so I chopped them up with a bunch of onions and more garlic, and cooked them up until they were soft. Then added the vodka, 1/2 a brick of cream cheese and a can of tomato paste. Turned out great! (You can also use the vodka to make a bloody Mary ).)
After these and two bottles of red wine and Terry’s white, we headed of to dinner. Now they have told us about Spicy and we had said we wanted to go so Kim tried to get a reservation. No dice – they were booked but we could go and get in line and try that way. (If you are booked, why would you suggest people come and try?) Anyway we go to the mall – yes it is in a mall and get off the escalator on the fourth floor to the restaurant and a mass of people waiting. Our wait – two hours. Yeah, right! Instead we go off to LotusLand – an Indian restaurant. It was fabulous and in a really funky area. I think we would have gotten lost without B and K! Tiny little lane ways and shops all over the place. This sign was at the entrance to the place.

Welcome

Shops selling all sorts of stuff – but way overpriced. Think Gastown in its heyday.

Saturday morning and Terry goes off to the Pro-D (since I only work .3, my plan is to join them for the last hour) and I go off to Ikea. My mission is to get martini glasses for us and planters for our balcony. it is an hour and half walk. Along the way:

More Window washing. These guys were each hanging by a rope with a bucket. I wonder a) how clean that water was and b) if they had to pull themselves back up to the top.

Look closely

Look closely

Now these two cars were both parked illegally – I guess. The one on the left – the one with the ticket on the window, was one of four cars parked on a very wide sidewalk – and the only one ticketed. The one next to the hydrant was one, along with the one in front, which effectively blocked another 6 or so cars on the left from getting out of where they were parked since this street had no exit in the direction these two facing. But hell, let’s not give him a ticket.

How does this compute?

How does this compute?

Shanghai has hundred of installations all over the place of very cool sculptures. I really liked these guys.

Cool

Cool

Shanghai is nothing if not a constant contradiction. This was a set of stores which takes up an entire block. They are all VERY HIGH END kitchen stores. I would have killed for a kitchen out of any one of them when we redid ours. Right on top of these are the apartment blocks the inhabitants of which will never in their lives ever afford to even walk into one of these places, let alone own one. The little refrigerators were in the first store – they looked really cool!

The Old and The New

The Old and The New

Mini Fridges - bigger than a bar fridge, but smaller than a regular Chinese one.

Mini Fridges – bigger than a bar fridge, but smaller than a regular Chinese one.

I’m sure, you, like me, have felt like this so many times when out and about, but we just didn’t have a couch with us upon which to lay down.

I'm tired, man.

I’m tired, man.

Okay enough of all of that. On Saturday night we went out with Lawrence, Steve Henrichsen (who is still in town – sorry, inside joke), Kim and Bruce, Greg and these two – Chan and Angela. Angela is teaching Greg and Chan English. They are a pair of firecrackers. Greg is very lucky to have Chan in his life, but Kim and I decided that if the two were ever out together in a bar, they would have have the guys lined up and eating out of their hands! Better continue being a great guy, Greg!

A pair of troublemakers if ever I saw one - or two! (They were teaching me bad words all night!)

A pair of troublemakers if ever I saw one – or two! (They were teaching me bad words all night!)

On the Road to Veganhood

Don’t know if anyone out there has seen this, but I thought I would get it to you so you know we have.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-21766377

Now, beef is out because what there is, is just too tough. Seafood is out because in Jiaxing it just doesn’t seem too appealing. According to Terry’s latest hairdresser, chicken is fed with steroids to make them grow faster. And now this, although we should be okay since the water is all flowing downstream to Shanghai – look out Bruce, Kim, Lawrence, Steve, Shelley and Rob!

Looks like it is vegetables for everyone now. Love that eggplant.

New Friends and Yellow Wine

(Ed. note: Get a cup of coffee and settle in – it’s a long one today)

It is Sunday afternoon and Terry and I are having a very low key day and while it may not be the kind of day we had planned coming in to the weekend, it is one of necessity after last night. Before we went away to Thailand, we were in Starbucks and got in to a conversation with Jeremy and his lovely wife Jasmine. Jeremy has been in China for 11 years and is the General Manager of a company which make the paper for tea bags and cigarettes – two very desirable products in China. We agreed that after we returned we would get in touch and get together and so last night came about. Jeremy arranged for a dinner of ex-pats and a few others – there were 15 of us in total. However, before I get to the dinner part let me describe how we got to the restaurant.

The bus which stops just outside our apartment is the No. 28 and, fortunately, it goes right by the restaurant (Jiaxing Impressions) and takes about 25 minutes. Great. Our reservation is for 5:45 so at about 5:05 we go out to the bus stop, knowing that the bus runs every 15 minutes. Now, we have written before about the nature of Jiaxing public transit and the, let’s say, lack of dedication to an exact schedule. We wait, wait and wait some more – no bus. Finally a girl of about 15 comes by with her father and I ask them if the bus runs on Saturday evenings. She speaks quite good English and tells us yes, but we might have to wait for up to 30 minutes and suggests we might want to walk over to the mall and catch a different bus. Then she asks where we are going, and I say Meiwan Street. “Ah” she gasps, “that is where my father and I are going.” Still no bus. She and her father have a brief conversation and she says “My father and I are going to ride bicycles  (the ones for public use all over the city) to Meiwan Street but my mother and grandparents are going to drive. Do you want to go with them?” Still no bus. We say “Are you sure?” “Yes” says she and he phones his wife to come and get us. He gets out his business card and gives it to us and Terry gets hers out. “Oh” he says “Jiaxing Gaoji School – my very good friend George Zhao is the vice-principal there.” “Yes” says Terry “we live in the same building as him and he is our friend too!” The bus now pulls up – and he says “No, no”  As it pulls away, his wife pulls up, we pile in and off we go. The wife and grandparents speak no English, but drive us right to the door of the restaurant. We walk in the door of the restaurant at 5:45. Remember now, Jiaxing has 3.5 million people. Would this scenario have played out in Vancouver, Calgary or maybe, Toronto – a city of comparable size?

Our reservation had originally been for 6pm but I got an email from Jeremy saying it was moved up to 5:45. I suggested to Terry that maybe he wanted us to come a little early to get to know us a little better – we had only had a 10 minute conversation in Starbucks, after all. Couldn’t have been more wrong – we were the last to arrive.

About the gathering. There was Jeremy and his wife Jasmine; Mark and his wife Vanessa from England; David from Scotland; Tillo and his wife Angela from Germany; Jessica and Mr. Jang from Shanghai; Chip and wife May and daughter Grace from the U.S. and Jason from Jaixing. Small world #1: We had met Angela in the September luncheon on National Teacher day and Terry had run in to her on Wednesday at the school after the Women’s Day affair.  Small world #2: Vanessa says to Terry “You got your haircut at Toni and Guy in Shanghai” “Yes – how did you know?” “That is where I go and my hairdresser told me that a woman principal from Canada living in Jiaxing had been in the shop.”yellow-wine-0809L

Back to the action- first question – what would you like to drink? How about yellow wine? Now I tried yellow wine when we first got here, and honestly, it wasn’t my favourite. It is literally the colour of gasoline. I said that I would have a beer. Somehow or other, though, I changed my mind and said I would try the wine. First mistake. When it came I poured my glass almost full. Second mistake. Some important information.

  1. The glasses at Chinese restaurants are multi-use. People use them for wine, beer, pop, milk, whatever. I think they hold about 5 ounces.
  2. In my experience here when out to dinner, people don’t sip wine. Rather the custom is to toast each other and then “Gambay” – bottoms up.
  3. People know this and so only put a small amount in the glass.
  4. Geoff is a slow learner and likes to fill his to the top.

To be fair, anytime I was involved in a toast, the matching person also filled theirs so it was a one to one correlation, but I toasted way too many people. Anyway we had a fabulous meal and copious (and I mean copious) amounts of beer, yellow wine and white wine brought by Vanessa – one of our new best friends. I think the following happened towards the end of the evening – but I could be wrong, it might have been only half way through. Chip brings out a bottle of Baijiu. According to the online Urban Dictionary:
Baijiu – Pure distilled evil in liquid form. Chinese firewater that could be used to put a man on a moon of a planet in a far off  galaxy.

Wikipedia: Baijiu is a Chinese alcoholic beverage. The name baijiu literally means “white liquor”, “white alcohol” or “white spirits”. Baijiu is often translated as wine or white wine. However, it is actually a distilled spirit, generally about 40–60% alcohol by volume. (Ed. note: This was 53%.)

From Scene Asia: Baijiu isn’t for the easily tipsy. Richard Nixon’s advisers famously tried to keep the president away from the strong Chinese liquor (baijiu translates as “white spirit”) at state dinners during his first visit to China in 1972.

Do you get the picture? Thankfully, they serve it in thimble size glasses, but as my pal Nancy said this morning, all those thimbles add up to a cup! I have no idea how many thimbles I had – but any more than one was too many.

All of a sudden, dinner is over and someone says something about going to a club (I think). We stand up and away we go. I have no idea how I got downstairs, because by now I am beyond four sheets to the wind, drunk as a skunk doesn’t even come close to where I am and no newt was ever as pissed as I was. As we hit the street we were at the back of the group and I think I said that we were just going to go home.

We found a taxi and came home. Now here’s the good part. I learned that if you consume enough yellow wine, you can sleep quite comfortably on the tile bathroom floor for several hours. Your wife can wash her face, brush her teeth and it doesn’t disturb your rest. I don’t wish to gross anyone out, but you can even be sick and have absolutely no recollection of doing so.

Some of you may be wondering how much all of this cost. I have no idea. When Terry (Ed. note: Don’t think that Terry was Miss Perfect last night either. In fact, today she says that she doesn’t remember ever being as drunk as she was) finally got up this morning she asked me if I had paid any of the bill and I realized that I hadn’t – I had just gotten up with everyone else and left. Nice touch. Don’t pay and then slink off into the night without saying goodbye. This is how you build relationships with new people. I did email Jeremy first thing with our apologies and he graciously assured me that dinner was on him and no need to worry – and even said they were looking forward to seeing us again. And Vanessa emailed Terry saying that we would get together again but wondered if we were too ill to respond to the email.

All in all a great day in Jiaxing, but one which I don’t wish to repeat all of – anytime soon ever.

WWMT?*

Today I start out with five photos – which I took on my 9 minute walk from our apartment to Starbucks. As I walked I was struck by ho much things must have changed in China in the last 36 years – or even less. From there I will go in to my own little rant.

These two Audis (and they are no cheaper here than at home) belong to the family who lives in one of the three story townhouses in our complex.

These two Audis (and they are no cheaper here than at home) belong to the family who lives in one of the three story townhouses in our complex.

We don't know who owns this - whether it is a traveler from afar or one of the residents' new purchase, but it has been parked outside the entrance to our complex since our return from Thailand. BTW, just beside it is the "No Parking" sign - sound familiar?

We don’t know who owns this – whether it is a traveler from afar or one of the residents’ new purchase, but it has been parked outside the entrance to our complex since our return from Thailand. BTW, just beside it is the “No Parking” sign – sound familiar?

Do you want Original or Crispy or Thin or Thick Crust?

Do you want Original or Crispy or Thin or Thick Crust?

I am now getting confused as to which of the signs at this mall is the one which would be most associated with America - the KFC, the Golden Arches, Starbucks or ...

I am now getting confused as to which of the signs at this mall is the one which would be most associated with Capitalist America – the KFC, the Golden Arches, Starbucks or …

Walmart?

Walmart?

*WWMT – What Would Mao Think?

Cultural Differences?

I have a question for you to ponder. Who should be looked at with some suspect? One of these people who are still dressed for winter or me who is in shorts and golf shirt today? Oh, the temperature right now –  77/25 degrees.

You have your full length winter coat...

You have your knee length winter coat…

...your ski jacket...

…your ski jacket and hoodie…

or your quilted winter coaat.

and your quilted winter coat.

Banking in China

Okay, now my rant. Terry has been thoroughly enjoying the TimeOut Shanghai magazine. So much so that she asked if I could get a subscription. No problem, I think, just go online, fill out a form, give them a credit card number and away we go. After all, it is media so they must be up to date with technology, right. Wrong. First of all they email me a Word document that is just a in table format. No big deal. I fill it out and send it back and then they send me an email asking if I want the 150rmb rate or the 180rmb rate for the year. The difference is that the first is that the magazine is sent by China Post and the second delivered by courier. The tell me that they don’t recommend the first rate as thy can’t guarantee delivery. Okay then, I choose courier. Then they ask how do I want to pay – give the courier the cash upon first delivery, deposit to their account or send bank draft. I say I’ll pay the courier. Oh sorry, because you are in Jiaxing and not Shanghai, you can’t do that. (Remember now, these are emails going back and forth). Okay then I will deposit it directly to the magazine’s account, so they send me the bank, branch and account number. Yesterday morning I go on a 3/4 hour search for another branch of the Bank of Communications. No luck. In the afternoon Terry and I go on another search and – Eureka! we find one.

When you go in, you are given a number, much like a butcher shop and you wait your turn – very civilized. I get some help from a lovely young woman who helped me fill out the deposit slip with the correct information. – Of the 7 tellers open, however, only three are actually taking “cash” customers. After a ten minute wait I get a teller who starts to process my 180rmb DEPOSIT ($30). This is looking good, I think (although why it is taking 10 minutes to make a deposit is beyond me). He calls over the woman who helped me and tells her he needs my passport. What? I need a passport to deposit money to someone else’s bank account? How does this make sens? After another 10 minutes discussion with the teller, a supervisor and the woman, I take my money back and go home. Frustrated? Your guess.

Today I go back with my passport for another round. Same woman sees me and helps me to the teller (different one – but same supervisor). It takes another twenty minutes to process this DEPOSIT! My passport? They did exactly what I thought they would do. They looked at it, asked me to print my name and sign the DEPOSIT slip and gave it back. Now I have to take a picture of the receipt and email it to the magazine and Terry will (I hope) start getting her magazine.