Monthly Archives: April 2013

Guilin, Day 1 and Day 2

These are some of the 28,000 hills in the province.

These are some of the 28,000 hills in the province.

(Ed. note: Just as Terry started writing this blog, I had the most surreal experience. I had taken off my clothes and laid down on the bed, and I suddenly thought, we are on a 4 day mini holiday in CHINA, for God’s sake!)

Wow!  Here we are at one of the most magnificent places we have ever been!  The city itself has been beautified to attract a healthy tourist crowd since as much as 85% of the population works in tourism.  The natural beauty of the many Ozmanthus trees (from which came the name Guilin Gui being the Chinese name for the tree and Lin, meaning forest, therefore ‘Forest of Ozmanthus trees”) and the limestone karst formations that surround the city make Guilin beautiful enough, but the local government has added river walkways and gorgeously planted boulevards and baskets, all of which are softly lit at night.  Set along the Li (Lee) River, Guilin has a slower pace of life and the relaxed feel of a holiday town.  In addition, there are many stellar attractions that draw people to this area.

On our first afternoon, our tour guide Yang Yang or Daniel, took us for a walk in the area of our hotel along the tree-lined road and walk ways along the river.  From the bridge we took a picture of a sculpture of 9 horses, see below, while Daniel told us that in the rainy season, they could easily be under water. We find that a little hard to believe.

Nice Horsie...

Nice Horsie…

This apartment building is still inhabited although in a state of semi-destruction.  The government planned to expropriate the land and move the tenants to new larger apartments 5 km away plus give them some money, in order to take advantage of the great value of the land, ideally located on the main drag with a clear view of the river.  The tenants had other ideas, however, and disagreed with the whole affair.  The new apartments were too far away, they said, and the amount of compensation was not enough.  A stalemate has lasted 8 years, in spite of efforts to drive the tenants out, such as erecting a smelly garbage disposal site upwind from the apartment block and playing music at all hours of the day and night.  A particular favourite is the pile drivers that were on site when we were there, banging away in preparation for the day when the new “city park and parking lot” would be built.  Rumour has it that this is a ploy to create public pressure on the tenants to vacate.  And so it goes.  The apartments till have electricity and water but some are missing walls or windows…

Sure the government will replace the old building with a park and parking lot - right across the street from the Li River.

Sure the government will replace the old building with a park and parking lot – right across the street from the Li River.

 

 

On our first evening in town Daniel joined us for dinner at a place where the locals eat.  The congee was terrific as were the bamboo shoots and green beans and everything else we had, even some oysters for Geoff–all of it sufficiently spiced with hot peppers to keep us happy.  Cheap cheap Chinese prices, too.  Next, Daniel took us on a tour boat of a second river, or at least a section of the river that has been channeled off to make one a series of  (tacky ?) tourist lakes.  Both shores are lined with Ozmanthus and one passes under or by a number of world famous landmarks that have been recreated in Guilin:

Who knew - L'Arc de Triomphe is really a bridge in Guilin, China.

Who knew – L’Arc de Triomphe is really a bridge in Guilin, China.

The Arc d’Triomphe, The Rialto, The Golden Gate plus a few locally inspired designs such as a glass bridge and a huge tree whose roots extend into the water and may or may not be real.  “This is China,” says Daniel, and we are really good at copying!”  Along the way are various stations where entertainment has been devised for the river traffic:  a segment of a Chinese opera, folk girls singing and dancing, an ethnic presentation involving drumming and chanting and real cormorant fishermen demonstrating their technique as we watched from the boat.   Wonderful!

Fishing with the cormorants at night.

Fishing with the cormorants at night.

First on our Day Two agenda was a boat ride down the Li to Yangshou.  All boats are boarded some 30 miles from the city so as not to clog the immediate area.  We got on one of the newer ones and set off on a 4 hour trip that was wonderful.  All the way along karst rock formations formed a stunning backdrop to the river on this dry day, something of a rarity in this area.

These are either the cat's ears with body going back, or goat's horns, depending on how you look at it.

These are either the cat’s ears with body going back, or goat’s horns, depending on how you look at it.

Guilin is in sub-tropical SW China, so it is humid and rainy much of the time.   The clouds make for a soft light that softened images, so the mountains look quite mysterious as you pass by.

If you can count 9 horses on this rock face, you will be "Number one scholar" in China. (I got 8, but we were travelling by.)

If you can count 9 horses on this rock face, you will be “Number one scholar” in China. (I got 8, but we were travelling by.)

Daniel was a great guide and knows the river well, so well that he could tell us down to the second when certain formations would appear.  One is called the Moon, as it appears to rise up in the sky as the boat passes a certain point.  The moon part is actually a hole through the mountain that was eroded by water when it was still underground many moons ago (ha ha).

Two views of the "Moon".

Two views of the “Moon”.

We were served a passable Chinese lunch on the boat, with enough time for me to have a nap on the deck before we disembarked in Yangshou.

Yangshou is a crazy place. Thousands of people come every year to see it, the Dragon bridge, and rice terraces.  In fact, 17, 000,000 people descend on the town every year!  Fortunately, we were there before the National Holiday which is May 1st, Labour Day in China, and avoided really massive crowds.  We wandered around for an hour before meeting up with Daniel to take a small river cruise on 2-seat bamboo rafts, followed by a trip to a small “real Chinese” village.

Terry and Geoff (like you didn't know) on the 600 year old Dragon Bridge. We were part of Team Panda.

Terry and Geoff (like you didn’t know) on the 600 year old Dragon Bridge. We were part of Team Panda.

By this time the day was hot and to be guided down the river on our private raft, watching a demonstration of cormorant fishing and wandering among water buffaloes, was wonderful.  Actually, a glass of cold white wine would have made it perfect but it was still a mellow way to spend an afternoon. The little village was rough, very poor but interesting, and we learned about the red couplets hanging on each side of the door to keep out demons as well as the mirrors above to scare away ghosts when they see their own reflections.

His girlfriend looked at me, smiled and rolled her eyes when she saw me take the photo.

His girlfriend looked at me, smiled and rolled her eyes when she saw me take the photo.

The next part of the trip was wild.  Daniel and two other guides told us they were going home but no problem, he would write instructions for the rest of the evening along with some translations for “I’m lost and need to get to Guilin” which should have been a sign right there.  He charged Geoff and I with taking care of two Thai ladies and a German couple and left.   We had dinner with the couple and then followed his instructions to get to a massive outdoor theatre for a show called Impression Liu Sanjie, directed or developed by the same guy who put together those cast-of-thousands shows in the opening of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.  We arrive at the entrance to a scene of absolute chaos, or regular way of doing things in China.

We saw the ticket booth and then spotted the blue flag of the tour company in front of it and found our new man.  He recognized that we were from Daniel so added us to his group.  Did he then turn to the ticket booth to get our tickets?  No, he did not, because one does not get tickets from the ticket booth; instead, one has to cross through and in front of other groups, then travel into the park, leave one’s tour group, then run into another building where the tickets are dispersed, then run (literally) back out and distribute tickets by calling out names and checking them off a list.  Needless to say, we were the last name called but he could not put it together that my name written on the paper Daniel had given me was the name on his list.  Reluctantly, he gave us the tickets. He then ran back outside and picked up another group and proceeded through the same rigamarole. Finally we, with the Thai ladies under our wings, could move into the seating area.

Other than the incredibly disrespectful, rude behaviour of many Chinese who talked on cell phones or to each other all the way through the performance, it was impressive.  Again, it was a huge but smaller cast of around 600 actors but the backdrop were the real karst land formations and a lake where most of the performance took place.  It was only later that we really understood some of the nuances but suffice to say the story was about the beliefs and life style of the local people and was really quite stunning.  Many of the effects were worthy of an Olympics and even though we didn’t understand the words, we appreciated the spectacle of the show.

What you are looking at are the hills across the lake all lit up for the prelude of the performance. It was spectacular.

What you are looking at are the hills across the lake all lit up for the prelude of the performance. It was spectacular.

As she ran from side to side, she "rocked "the moon back and forth.

As she ran from side to side, she “rocked “the moon back and forth.

The "boaters" pulled themselves across the lake by lifting up and then pulling on these red "ribbons". After their part in the show, all the ribbons were pulled out of the water by hand. They must have weighed a ton.

The “boaters” pulled themselves across the lake by lifting up and then pulling on these red “ribbons”. They would raise and “slap” them down in to the water to create thunder I think). After their part in the show, all the ribbons were pulled out of the water by hand. They must have weighed a ton.

In keeping with the non-stop talk, about 10 minutes before the end of the show, many people got up and began to leave the seating area.  We believe there were 3500 folks there, so was this distracting to the performers?  Who knows?  Did anyone care?  Perhaps a few foreigners in the crowd but what the heck.  Our next task was to somehow find a bus to Guilin. The Thai women had a bus number but there were many many buses, all of them backed in, so to find our number was going to be a crap shoot at best.  We walked along and saw a bus with some people aboard and the door open, so I went up and asked the driver if he were going to Guilin.  No worries, it is easy.  Just stick your head in the door and say “Guilin?” with heavy emphasis on the question mark.  Amazingly, he was going to Guilin!  The women with the paper and the bus number go first.  He lets one on, then reacts to the second woman but only momentarily before letting her board.  Then I get on and say “Yang Yang” or Chinese for Daniel.  He pauses and looks at his list where our names don’t exist but what does he know, he let’s us on.  Next come the German couple with whom we have become friendly.  They are not part of any tour and certainly do not belong on this bus but we try to explain that they too are going to Guilin and will pay, and finally, out of desperation at not understanding any part of what we are saying, he lets them on, too!  Then, with 4 seats remaining on the bus, arrive the last 6 people of his tour!  We all tensed as the scene unfolded; however, after a few minutes, he simply moved some gear from two front seats and got everyone situated.  About 10 miles down the highway, he pulled over and let two more people on the  bus!  First he jumped out, opened the storage compartment and produced 2 plastic stools, and once again, everyone was seated and we were on our way.  This is China!

Twenty minutes later, Geoff’s cell rings and it is Daniel asking where are we, the bus is ready to leave.  Geoff:  “We have left.  We are on a bus going to Guilin.”  Even Daniel is thrown by this bit of news but hangs up, only to phone back in a few minutes, asking to speak to a Chinese to determine whether in fact the bus IS traveling to Guilin.  We guess that he could see his bedtime slipping away if he had to leave to fetch us from wherever we might wind up but sure enough, we were on a bus that was prepared to take us to our hotel.  All was well.  We arrived without further fanfare at our hotel, just before 11:00 pm.  Good night, all!

Cyprus – the new Vancouver?

The view from Rick's (Ken's brother) place in Cyprus.

The view from Rick’s place in Cyprus.

Reading the China Daily English newspaper today I was taken with a story on Cyprus, largely because we have been there.  We went one Christmas break with Ken and Sheila as Ken’s brother Rick was in the process of building a house there and it was to be ready for us when we arrived.  Alas, it was not ready so we moved into a fairly new condo.  The drought of some 6 years ended that very day and the roof of the condo began to leak.  Everyone was surprised but we guessed the builders  simply hadn’t tested it–why bother, really, if it never rains?  Long story short, we were moved into a lovely unit with roof intact and thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring the island.

So, when I spotted the article, I was keen to read.  What is the story?  Cyprus is offering permanent resident status to any Chinese buying property worth over 330,000 Euros and so far, over 500 Chinese have done so.  Will Nicosia become the next Vancouver, ie home to many many former Hong Kong Chinese who took their money west instead of east when H.K. was repatriated?  Never mind their presence on the local Cypriot golf courses, what about the takeover of one of the most strategically placed islands in the world?  North Americans can relax:  the Chinese will be taking over Europe first.  And they don’t have to ask!  The same paper had a full length article quoting business and government leaders from a variety of European countries saying they would welcome Chinese investment.  France, Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany–“We admire your business acumen!  We respect your ways of doing business! We are in awe of your incredible wealth!  Please… pick my country!”  I look forward to the Turkish response.

One of our new best friends - Jasmine - has family who felt the tremors. Luckily they are all right.

One of our new best friends – Jasmine – has family who felt the tremors. Luckily they are all right.

The paper was also full of news of the earthquake in Sichuan province.  It’s not too far away from us but apparently in far less stable conditions.  Our friend Charlie told us that Zheijiang province is known to be “disaster free” and has experienced no threats from mother nature.  Other than the frequent strong winds, we find this to be true although the soil everywhere appears to be nothing more than dense clay.  Isn’t that the kind of thing that liquifes when shaken?  Could someone please consult with Richmond and get back to me?

Terry adopts the Chinese pose!

Terry adopts the Chinese pose!

Meanwhile, Geoff has been busy nesting.  In the last month, he has purchased and placed two rocking chairs and 5 planters full of begonias on our deck/balcony/laundry room and this week had installed bamboo roller blinds to block out the afternoon sun from the west.  They are very nice and should make a difference to the temperature indoors and on the deck once things warms up.  Finally, he located a full length mirror and installed it on the wall of our second bedroom.  I have been missing that one for a long time!  We’re going to have one heck of a sale when we leave or else the owners of this apartment will been the benefactors of many improvements.  It really is quite comfortable and homey now.

Well, it’s happy hour–4:30 in our house–so it’s time for a refreshing glass of cold white wine.  I have given up drinking the cheap stuff, now that we have a supplier of some really nice wines.  Life is too short, isn’t it?  Cheers, friends.

The Saga of Wilma and Betty (and Pebbles, Bam Bam and Dino too)

The Sad Saga of Wilma and Betty

The Sad Saga of Wilma and Betty

What a week this was. Last Sunday we went down to Moon River and bought some water born plants, some small white pebbles and a couple of goldfish to add to the homey ambiance of our apartment. We have a tall vase so it was a perfect home. Many people in China have the same arrangement. We brought them home and got them all settled in and they seemed very content. We named them Wilma and Betty. Jan Therrien told us that all they need to live is the plant that grows in the water, so we didn’t even feel we needed food, or that we would have to worry about them when we go away. The perfect pets. Well that lasted for about 24 hours. I came home from school and they were just like the Norwegian Blue Parrot – they were no more, they were late goldfish, they had gone to meet their maker, met their demise, they were ex-goldfish, dead, pushing up daisies, they weren’t kippin’, nor pining for the fjords. (Monty Python, 1969). We don’t know if it was a lack of food (24 hours?), the tap water or lack of aeration. In talking to Mr. Zhao and David they said that you needed to let the water from the tap sit for a day or so after if comes out of the tap. Ah, so.

So on Wednesday I go back down to Moon River and buy the complete set – bowl, 3 fish, water, rocks, plant – the whole shootin’ match. I also buy food and have a student translate the directions on how much/often to feed them. 24 hours later – all three still alive and swimming, so we name them Pebbles, Bam Bam and Dino in honour of their mothers. What a great feeling to know that if you do something right, you get the correct result. Friday afternoon comes – bye bye Pebbles and Bam Bam.  Pebbles was floating on the surface and Bab Bam was trapped in the plant, but not breathing, despite my best effort at the recommended new CAB (chest compression, airway, breathing) version of CPR as opposed to the old ABC version (2010, International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation). Alas all we had left was Dino.

Now, many of you know that we have a plethora of canals and waterways both in Jiaxing in general and in our complex as well. Thus, on Saturday on our way to Shanghai, we took Dino down and freed him to join his many cousins and friends in the canal. One of three things likely happened to him:

  1. He died immediately of shock from the change in water temperature.
  2. The cat just along the way got him just after we left and before he could get out from the edge.
  3. He met his cousins and is now feeling great.

Being the positive optimist I am (not redundant, just reinforcing the concept),  I’m going with number 3, despite Terry’s skeptical attitude.

Shanghai here we come. A couple I have met through Ken are moving to China this summer to open a wine importing business so we arranged to meet them for dinner – who doesn’t want to get to know people as nice as Shelley and Rob (and their two very tired sleepy little guys Matthew and Zander. The two of them slept on their chairs right through dinner they were still so jet lagged.) We went to Lost Heaven – our ex-favourite restaurant in Shanghai. It was without a doubt the worst meal we have had there. They didn’t have 3 of the items Terry chose, the curry dish came with almost no sauce, the beef tenderloin wasn’t, the sea bass smelled similar to stinky tofu (you don’t want to know), BUT the two wines Rob chose were fabulous. Thank goodness for that.

Must also give Rob and Shelley credit for perseverance. I gave them the address for the restaurant – sadly, it was to the wrong address. Their taxi dropped them “at the door”, according to him, but they had to pack their two boys about three blocks to the actual restaurant – only to find that it was “Coconut Paradise” at 38 Fumin Road, instead of “Lost Heaven” at 38 Gaoyang Road. Now they are sister restaurants, but come on Geoff, get it right! I’m sure their gracious smiles were belying their real thoughts as they came upstairs. Again you two, my apologies.

I bought a new bus pass last week (April 19th) after losing my previous one in a taxi. Maybe it’s time to get the spring cards out, what do you think Jiaxing?

Happy Winter Travelling

Happy Winter Travelling

We did a lot of walking on Saturday (in the rain) and Sunday (in the sun). Went to the knock off mall where I bought a pair of bamboo briefs (I’m missing our floor). They are so comfortable, I went back on bought 5 more pair – including a purple pair, which, according to the Aussie who was also buying some, is the international gay colour. (He bought red and black). We also went so far out on a limb that it is a twig and bought me a  couple of pairs of glasses. They are wood frames and very cool.  For the two pair with some heavy duty lenses in them because it is a strong prescription, we paid 1700 RMB or $284.00 – that’s $142.00 each. I’ll include some photos in the next blog as we get them this week. If any of you want to live a little on the edge let us know. We can send you some photos of frames, take your prescription in and get them made and bring them home in July. They do a really good job – Terry has had 2 pairs of prescription sun glasses, 1 pair of glasses and I have had a pair of glasses made and bought a pair of Chinese Ray Bans and we are very happy with everything there – and we are getting great prices because they know us so well now. (Mary, FYI we are much happier here than at the other one.)

On our way back I saw this sign. Now I know what it really means but I thought that with the 16000 pigs in the river and the bird flu going around, maybe the Chinese are making a new kind of protein food.  Just sayin…

Noz

Noz

Look – and a First…

I have been thinking about this topic for some time now. Unfortunately, it is one which is difficult to get photos to demonstrate what I am talking about. The topic is “The Look”.  As we make our way through our days here in Jiaxing, we are frequently given “the look”. It is somewhat similar to golf swings – as many people as there are, there are swings or looks. Generally, however, they fall into these categories.

1.The cursory glance – they see that you are different from them and they just give you the cursory – “Oh, a foreigner” look and carry on with their own business.

2. The once over – they note that you are a foreigner so they have the right to look you up and down before carrying on with their business.

3. The unaware stare – they are actually staring at you without realizing it (really). As soon as you say “Nie ha/how”, they realize it, respond in a somewhat embarrassed way and look away.

4. The hooded look – I love this one. As they approach you they try to look like they are looking down, but really, they are looking at you through the tops of their eyes.

5. The frequent eyer – if I look at you repeatedly, but only for a second and then look away again, you won’t know I am looking at you. (Of course, I may trip on something, but that is irrelevant)

6. Pass me by – and then I will turn and watch you walk away. (Great fun – they don’t seem to realize that I can turn around and see them staring!)

7. I’m lookin’ at you– you are in my country and if I want to stare at you I will.

8. Shorts – you’re wearing shorts? – the warm weather has returned and with it my attire has returned to shorts. Now, we don’t think that Chinese men wear shorts a lot – so I get a combination of all of these looks as I am white, wearing shorts and either sandals or shoes and no socks.

Now here are three examples of people today.

I loved this guy. The buses here have a variety of seating arrangements. Today I was on a bus with two seats facing each other and this gentleman was facing me. He was very friendly but he just could not stop looking at me – until I turned my cell phone/camera on him.

If I have my eyes closed, my soul is safe!!

If I have my eyes closed, my soul is safe!!

This woman was sitting across the aisle on the same bus. She looked me up and down and over several times – again until I took out the camera.

I can look at you - but no photos!

I can look at you – but no photos!

Finally these workers couldn’t get enough of the shorts (BTW – just plain brown shorts). By the time I got the phone out though, they had gone back to work.

Okay, boys, excitement is over - just a white guy in shorts. Back to work, now.

Okay, boys, excitement is over – just a white guy in shorts. Back to work, now.

A couple of addenda:

In December, they put the bikes out. In March, they put up the supports and in April they will put the roofs on. Anybody else think it might be out of order?

Hmm...

Hmm…

Finally, I really thought (and hoped, prayed and wished) that I would never have to resort to using a “squatter”. But finally I had no choice and today I was forced in to a McDonalds to use the facilities. I am now a full fledged local…

Food on the Trains

Subways, trains–same same.   Yesterday, a family of a mom and two grown up children sat across from me.  Out came the snacks.  I notice that I am past the point of finding these foods interesting and am now mostly grossed out.  “Please don’t let it be a package of chicken feet,” I think to myself.  It’s not but it’s something unidentifiable from where I sit.  I can tell that it is very dark and chewy and might be some sort of dried fruit, so I go with that.  I look away and try to enjoy the scenery before the subway dives down below ground.  Alas, these three are smackers, ie open-mouth chewers who like to smack their lips with great regularity.  Because there are many vacant seats, I drag my suitcase to the next car and sit again.  One is not always so fortunate.

As we move closer in to the heart of the city, the crowds press in and in changing cars at a terminal,  I lost my seat so was standing.  I watched a beautiful young woman eating what I assume was a pre-packaged breakfast sandwich, made of the kind of fluffy white bread they have here that makes Wonder look heavy.   Instead of just eating it, this woman was breaking off little pieces of meat (?) then bread with her fingers and sucking it into her mouth, where I am certain it simply dissolved on her tongue.  Across from her, another woman opened a package seaweed-wrapped rice and scarfed down two very hearty rolls while engaged in a lively conversation with her friend.  She topped if off with a drink of some sort–or maybe not a drink, now that I think of it– that came in a flat-ish package made of opaque plastic, a corner of which she stuck in her mouth and sucked on for the rest of the trip.

Readers of yesterday’s blog will know I was exhausted and hungry on the final train ride to Jiaxing.  I joined my cabin members with Starbuck’s in hand, stowed my things and immediately began eating my red bean scone.  It occurred to me that a scone is white too and maybe these folks are grossed out by its apparent density and the dark thingys on top.  If so, it didn’t put the two guys next to me off eating.  These cars are a cheap mode of travel (Y24 or $4 to travel the 60 miles from Shanghai) and while they do offer some snacks for sale, most often people bring their own.  When one fellow began rifling through the bag, I immediately began to pray:  “Please, please, please don’t let it be some really disgusting and smelly packaged meat products with bones and gristle and lip-smacking and horrible smells.  Please don’t let it be chicken feet, I’m begging, please not that.”  The guy in charge of the snack bag pulls out a package and I take a look.  It is a packaged product which I’m guessing is a meat item, although I can’t be sure.  He passes it to his friend (right beside me) who takes it, looks at it, turns it over in his hands, then decides against it.  Hooray!!  He passes it back and then accepts an apple.  I’m so happy I don’t care if he is smacker but it turns out, he isn’t!  He eats so quietly I don’t even notice and I’m so happy I smile at everyone in the car.  Life is good.  Jiaxing Nan, my stop and I’m gone.

Exhibit A:  what is this? It says "Jinda Zhou" on the package, but what it is we do not know.  The surfing mushroom isn't much help either.

Exhibit A: what is this? It says “Jinda Zhou” on the package, but what it is we do not know. The surfing mushroom isn’t much help either.

A fine example of packaged prepared meat.  This is a chicken leg.  Are you drooling yet?

A fine example of packaged prepared meat. This is a chicken leg. Are you drooling yet?

Tofu in some sort of sauce, ready to eat out of the bag.  Especially good for train travel.

Tofu in some sort of sauce, ready to eat out of the bag. Especially good for train travel.

These are chicken feet.  Yummy.  Uh-huh.

These are chicken feet. Yummy. Uh-huh.

A package with English.  Mother certainly looks happy but the breakfast sausage's face tells it all!  Thank gawd we were closer to lunch time on the train! These are just a small sampling of what is available in our grocery store snack aisle.  The store employees frown on pictures being taken so I actually bought these ones for blog purposes.  I will give them out for prizes this week.  The kids will be happy--or maybe not.

A package with English. Mother certainly looks happy but the breakfast sausage’s face tells it all! Thank gawd we were closer to lunch time on the train!

These are just a small sampling of what is available in our grocery store snack aisle. The store employees frown on pictures being taken so I actually bought these ones for blog purposes. I will give them out for prizes this week. The kids will be happy–or maybe not.

Traveling Alone

I flew to Bangkok this past week to be with my good friend Jan while her husband was unexpectedly hospitalized while they were on the last leg of their Asian trip.   This blog is solely about my travel experiences.

The trip started perfectly as Mr. Zhao had arranged for the school driver to take me to Pudong Airport after work on Tuesday.  No problem checking in and even scored lucky number 34 seat, which everyone in Asia knows is two rows behind first class, so very quick to get off at the other end.  Aisle seat, one seat empty and a non-talkative person with a large bladder  by the window.  Perfect.  The flight was uneventful.

Arrived in Bangkok Airport (actually a name with about 18 letters but same same), squandered 15 minutes in a line-up for visas that I didn’t need, then passed through customs,  found a bank machine and the cab service that Geoff had arranged for me on-line.  It’s not quite the same as seeing your name in lights but still, an old guy holding a square of paper with Watt written on it, well, it doesn’t happen every day.  Off we went, arriving at the Shangri-La without event…until I attempted to pay the driver.  “This is a 100 baht,” he says.  I look and sure enough, all I have in my wallet are 100 baht bills.  I requested 5000 baht from the ATM but apparently got short-changed.  Did I have my receipt?  No, of course not.  So, I’m down about $150 and I haven’t checked in yet. I give the driver a 1000 baht for a bill that is 910.  Never mind, everyone, yes, it is twice what the trip cost back from the hotel–I know it was too much–but Geoff set it up, it’s too late.  The driver makes almost the lamest attempt at looking for change I’ve ever seen, so of course he gets the 90 baht as well.  I’m too tired to make a scene and 90 baht is about $3.  Hey, we got there quickly.

Another day, I may comment about my time in Bangkok but for today, I just want to capture the actual travel.  So…the return trip:  I talked to the doorman about getting a cab for the airport.  “Set price or meter?”  Set price includes the two road tolls and is easy, in theory, so okay, set price–400 baht.  Sounds good.  Quick ride out to the airport which we had worried about as it was the night before Songkran–Thai New Year–and we had been warned to allow 4 hours before  flight time to get to the airport.   I give the driver a 500 baht bill and then he does the LAMEST excuse for looking for change I’ve ever seen–and of course, makes off with my 100 baht.  Remember there’s no tipping in Thailand but rest assured, they get it somehow.  Next, in to check in.

I had been worried about the airport.  When we flew out last time, the scene was total chaos, insane.  In principal, the airport is designed well.  The check-in centers are organized by letters, alphabetically, so all one has to do is locate the correct aisle and find the appropriate line-up in front of an airline representative.  Having arrived now a good 3.5 hours ahead of time, my flight wasn’t yet on the board so I sat down to wait for China Eastern to appear.  Sure enough, by midnight, there it was.  (Yes, I said midnight.  For the second time, Geoff organized a 2:00am flight leaving Bangkok–hasn’t quite figured out the 24 hour clock).  I made my way to the line-up and low and behold, they even had stanchions in place this evening, laying out a course for all of us to snake our way to our turn at the front.  Almost all of us.  As usual, there were people who butted in front by entering the area for Sky-Flight service, then cutting over to the economy class line.  Geoff has rubbed off on my a bit and I thought I would take on his self-imposed role as regulator (aka Line Nazi) and try to dish out a little guilt.  I tapped a woman on the back and said, “Do you realize all these people (gesturing behind me) have been waiting in line for a long time and you have simply butted into the front?  You should be in the back of the line and wait like the rest of us.”  “Oh,” says she,  “I didn’t realize,”  then turns her back on me and continues to stay right where she and her group of 6 are, next at the counter.  Two women, a mom and daughter within the stanchions but behind me, tried to lift the ropes to join their husband/father in the cheating line but I called them on it.  They didn’t cross over but the dad stayed where he was, too, but here’s the beautiful thing:  the sole baggage handler for the 4 windows walked past these women who told him their sad story.  He looked at them, he looked at me and said to me, “Come this way,” and took me to a newly opened window around the group!  Exonerated! Next great thing, I get assigned row 33 so once again, I am able to get off quickly, get through customs and begin to make my way home to Jiaxing.

Here’s where the saga begins.  I’ve had about 4 hours of interrupted sleep and I haven’t eaten for 14 hours.  I come out and check all my options for getting to Hongqiao Train Station.  For some reason that’s a mystery to me now, I don’t opt for cab but decide to take the subway instead.  On I get.  I know that the ride is going to be about an hour 20 but think I can handle it.  What I didn’t count on was zoning out, falling asleep, whatever–I don’t really know how it happened but I remember thinking I was two stops away from the train station when the announcement came on about a terminal stop, which means everyone gets off, crosses to the other side and gets on another train.  Which I did.  Five stops later, it occurs to me that I should be at the station.  I pay attention to the recorded voice naming the next station.  Sure enough, I’ve been there already and have in fact ridden back 5 stops from the way I came, adding 40 minutes to my ride.  I thought of crying and almost did but tried to wake up sufficiently to hear what was said at the stop I thought I got off of–no such message.  I was concentrating so hard that when we came into the next stop, I couldn’t remember if we had already passed the airport and this would be the train station.  I tapped a lad in front of me and, speaking clearly and slowly, said, “Is this the train station?”  Yes, he says.  I repeat, “The train station?”  Yes, he says.  So I disembark and take the escalator up.  It’s the Hongqiao Airport.  So now, go back down to the subway or walk?  It turns out it’s not far so I make it easily by foot and find the two sets of escalators to train level and happily, am able to buy–with the help of a nice young man– a ticket for the next available train to Jiaxing.

To my absolute joy, a Starbuck’s has appeared in the station since my last visit and I know I must have sustenance and caffeine if I am to stay awake, so I make a dash for it, since I have only 20 minutes till the train leaves.  Extra hot triple shot non-fat latte and red bean scone in hand, I run to the gate, the platform and on to my car only to realize…it’s a D train.  Meaning:  my seat is not a seat but a space on a hard but padded platform in a ‘cabin’ shared by 5 other people.  It’s a milk run and we’re stopping as often as possible but so rarely do foreigners travel on this train that they don’t bother to speak English when announcing the stops.  I keep the door to our cabin open, swill my coffee and attempt to keep alert so I don’t wind up in Hangzhou.  When I hear Jiaxing Nan, I know it means Jiaxing South but still I check with my Chinese friends:  “Is this Jiaxing South station?”  What an impression I must make!  Anyway, it is in fact my stop, I disembark, get a cab and get home, roughly 4 hours after I began.  Next time, take a cab from Pudong to Hongqiao, or better still, accept Mr. Zhao’s kind offer of sending a driver to bring me back on Saturday.

Question:  how do the Chinese sleep on subways, buses and trains and manage to wake up in time for the right stop?

Not Quite Getting the Concept…

In my wanderings I often see things that make me think that some people, somewhere just aren’t quite getting the concept. Some examples:

In our complex, we live in building #1 (a highly sought after number in China, I might add). Not to be outdone, however, there is another Building #1 in our complex as well. Reminds of the old drinking game “We are table #1, where is table #2?”

We are building #1 - where is building #1?

We are building #1 – where is building # uh – 1?

Now admittedly we don’t get a lot of rain, but then again we get some and so we need downpipes to take it , well, down. But why do we need downpipes for holes coming out of walls in the middle of the wall – and not actually attached to the hole, either?

Holy, holy, holy...

Holy, holy, holy… Look closely.

Somebody went into a car dealer and said they wanted a silver car – and that’s what they got. This isn’t a wax job, the car really is a silver metal of some kind or other.

This guy must have a lot of money!

This guy must have a lot of money!

If this is “no entrance”, how did all these cars get parked facing away from the sign?

At least one guy can read - likely a woman.

At least one guy can read – likely a woman.

I was walking home from school and saw road construction ahead. They had dug a trench across the road for some reason or other. But, do they close the road? No. They just redirect all vehicle traffic, including buses, up onto the sidewalk to the left and around.

No Detour

No Detour

Yesterday I watched two very industrious workers replacing all of the broken tiles outside of my office (okay, Starbucks). They had all the tools of the trade – trowels, chisels, cement, brooms, dustpans, wheelbarrow etc. When I came back today, however, they hadn’t bother to clean up after themselves, rather….

Sweep

leaving it for this woman and her partner to do today – and they didn’t even complete the job as you can see at the edge.

My broom i(and almost every other one used to clean the streets) s made from twigs.

My broom (and almost every other one used to clean the streets) is made from twigs.

I am on my way to the bus, these three are in front of me and the one in the middle happens to look back for some reason. I’m sure the conversation then went like this – to the guy on his right “Don’t look now, but there’s a white guy behind us” and the guy on the right immediately looks back. The guy on the left says “What did you say?” I said “Don’t look now, but there’s a white guy behind us” so the guy on the left turns around. For the next 100 yards or so, they must have turned around half a dozen times each – the concept of subtle was WAAAYYYYYY beyond these three.

Don't look now...

Don’t look now…

Finally, parallel parking. They grey one is actually up on the curb and the red one is just three cars along. What else can I say?

Well, at least they are "parallel" to each other.

Well, at least they are “parallel” to each other.

Even – and Odd

Some photos and reflections on life the last few days.

First of all I am on my own for the next few days. Terry is  off to Bangkok to see Jan and Peter Therrien. They were to be in Bangkok sight seeing for this past weekend on their way home from Vietnam, but Peter was experiencing a lot of pain, similar to what he had last August when they returned from Beijing  So they went to the hospital and there he has stayed until today, when he hopes to get out and spend the next couple of days at the hotel. He has been cleared (as of this writing) to fly home – but only if he can get a business class seat. Poor Jan – economy for her. Hopefully it will be on Friday. I know you all send them your best wishes for a quick trip home.

Now, we were in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago and I was on a walk to check out a restaurant. The address was 1303 Yanaan Road so I started at the 300 block, on the odd numbered side of the road – walked for 9 long blocks, looked up and saw this. How does odd all of a sudden become even?  I started to pay a little more attention to the numbering – sometimes the odd numbers were the 700 block and across the street the even were the 330s. How do you ever find your way around?

Where did the odd numbers go?

Where did the odd numbers go?

A traditional English dinner!

A traditional English dinner!

I quit drinking again this weekend. We were at Vanessa and Mark’s for a fabulous western style dinner – roasted pepper and tomato soup, roast pork with crackling and gravy, potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, cheese plate and port and ice cream cake. Sadly, once again, the wine was flowing too freely… Thanks again you two – and to Jeremy for having a birthday to celebrate and especially to Jasmine who went into Shanghai to get me socks that go up past my ankle!

This restaurant is not far from us – in fact, I may have posted this photo already but I don’t remember and I find it such an usual name – I think it must be Chinglish.

?

?

Was in Rt Mart to get some chicken.. Enough said. Anyway as I strolled the aisles I hear this very loud air compressor – and I mean loud. It was at the end of the orange arrow. However, it failed to disturb this guy who was absolutely dead to the world. I don’t sleep that well in my own bed.

SSSHHH.

SSSHHH.

Terry and I saw this tree on our walk on Sunday. The blooms (see inset) were like snapdragon flowers

Can't wait to see it in full bloom.

Can’t wait to see it in full bloom.

and there were about five of the trees in a vacant lot. We haven’t seen anything like them anywhere else.

Fashion

Now, I admit that I am a bit of a fashionista, so I am always on the lookout for clothes for Terry as well to see how others dress. Terry had seen this top in a shop window one day, so on Sunday we went back to get it. I thought she would look good in the shorts which were on display with the top, as did the saleslady. I even suggested that she could get a pair of the popular 4-6 inch heels and just wear them around the house. We came home with just the top.

One can fanta - whoops, visualize, can't one...

One can fanta – whoops, visualize, can’t one…

(Ed. note: Terry’s is just a t-shirt – not an off the shoulder type – sadly)

This woman, however, doesn’t seem intimidated by the fact that she is well over 50 (I could tell from the front when I saw her face, trust me). I guess she believes in dressing young. I am told by Terry that young fashion (short skirts – and this is short) are for the young.

"I am proud of my legs"

“I am proud of my legs”

Finally next to Starbucks is some store that serves as the backdrop for its own modelling photo shoots. I would think that once a month this woman, her photographer and entourage show up for a couple of hours of shooting. It is quite amusing to see her make a quarter turn and hold the pose then another quarter turn hold etc. then change clothes and do it all over again. Just another scene in Jiaxing.

Hold it!

Hold it! (Like the expression on the woman in the background?)

Mea Culpa, $12.50 and No Corkage

(Ed. Note: Let me begin by offering my most profound apologies to Ken and Barb. To Ken: Please accept my most sincere apology for not remembering that on January 1 you were, indeed, our first guest blogger (Shanghai Calling and a bit of Jaixing, too). Clearly, my memory is not what it once was (at least, what I think it once was, but perhaps I don’t remember what it once was). But I digress, I think. Now where was I? Oh yes. In my defense, though, since I post a blog for you almost every week (when you remember to get it to me) it is almost understandable that I would forget. Nevertheless, my apologies.  To Barb: Please accept my most sincere apology for getting you all excited and then pulling the rug out from under you. I know how disappointed you must feel about no longer being the first guest blogger, but take heart – you are the first (and maybe the only) blogger  to add 22 photos to your posting! Now to the two of you – you are lucky that I didn’t add an ie to Barb’s name in the first line…).

Moving on. Yesterday Bruce, Kim, Lawrence and Steve had an adventure. I am sure that Bruce and Kim will regale you with the tale of getting here from Shanghai and their interpretations of Jiaxing. (See The Carabines Conquer China). I will just say that I admire their perseverance at the Hongqiao Railway Station. However, when they finally arrived they were hungry and thirsty so we had our 4:30 hors d’oerves and accompanying wine early and then headed out to show off Jiaxing – on a lovely mostly smog-free day. We started on the roof of our apartment, where we discovered that some people think it is good place to leave their dog for a while (no “leftovers”, just an actual dog wandering around). From there it was off to show them Terry’s school, where they all offered the usual platitudes about Terry’s office etc. We got on the No. 28 bus to head downtown. Now there are only 3 stops from where the 28 starts its run and the school and so it is usually almost empty. Not yesterday however – it was half full and on get 6 white people. Unfortunately, I was busy paying and didn’t get to watch the faces of the passengers, but I can assure you that there would have been a lot of looks!

Back Row: Terry, Steve, Bruce, KimFront Row: Lawrence, Unknown, friendly young woman

Back Row: Terry, Steve, Bruce, Kim
Front Row: Lawrence, Unknown, friendly young woman

The young woman sitting in front of Bruce, busily ignoring us was quite funny. At one point I said to the group that I wanted to learn how to say “I understand Chinese you know” and she started to grin. Bruce told me how to say it and the woman sitting across from me (not in photo) turned around and smiled. Then the young woman started to chat with us a little. Poor Lawrence. He can’t stand taxi drivers here and is RELUCTANT to get in one, so he travels by subway in Shanghai – but in Jiaxing, only buses. The drivers, according to Lawrence, are just one step above the crazy taxi drivers, but at least the bus is big enough to withstand most accidents. He was white-knuckling it for the first while of the ride!

We went down to the Chinese Communism Museum, but didn’t go in, electing to leave it for another day when the inside temperature of -12º is more acceptable (well, maybe it isn’t -12º but it sure is cold in there). We headed off to South Lake for the ride to the famous junk (talked about in previous blogs). (Ed note: On the way I bought a couple of pineapple on a stick treats for us – there are people all over Asia selling these things. It is approximately 1/4 of a pineapple on a skewer. I paid 10rmb (1.60) for the two of them. On Terry’s bike ride the other day she paid 30rmb ($5.00) for one. She said to the guy that he was charging downtown prices but to no avail. Memories of a shoeshine on Christmas Day, anyone?)

After a sail on the lake (I don’t know who took more pictures – Bruce, Kim, Lawrence and Steve (combined) of the lake, the islands, the building and the junk or the Chinese people of these 6 white people – all in one place at one time -could be a toss up), we hopped on a bus back to our end of town to go to – you guessed it – Krabi Thai for dinner. But first the check-in at the hotel. What a show.

Daisy had made reservations for us – 1 room with a queen bed for the Carabines and 1 room with 2 singles for Lawrence and Steve. Simple, right. Not so much. Took the desk clerk about ten minutes to get it – then he gave Lawrence a key that wouldn’t open the door and put B and K in the room with the two singles. Bruce was back down at the desk trying to explain with pictures and arrows (Alice’s Restaurant comes to mind. BTW for those of you who know/remember Arlo’s song, I REALLY encourage you to listen to this version. It is a recording he did in the mid 1990s and it has a great ending) and after 5 minutes of trying to explain what he wanted, was about to give up when Lawrence came back and said that they had the queen bed. Ahhh Jiaxing!!

Off to Krabi. I must admit, I was a little nervous. Krabi is usually great – but every restaurant has off nights. We have extolled its virtues so much that Bruce and Kim were salivating at the opportunity to dine here. There was no need for nerves. It was fantastic. I have no idea how many dishes we had – but we were stuffed when we finished. (Terry’s ed note:  we had 10 dishes including grilled squid and mussels, beef tamarind salad, chrysanthemum salad, baked mixed mushrooms, green curry, vermicelli noodles with eggplant, green beans with pork,  beef stir fry with hot peppers, and another baked dish that was fantastic but I don’t remember what it was called–had chicken or pork and lovely baked yam or something like yam; and rice.  When the bill came, Geoff took such a long time looking at it that I was getting nervous.  Finally he looked up and said, “It’s $75.  $12.50 each!”   Amazing!)

Our Favourite Philippino Singer (along with Charley, of course)

Our Favourite Philippino Singer (along with Charley, of course)

We have talked before about Charley and the band. Last night I chatted with the woman singer. She is lovely. She’s 39 married and lives here – her husband lives in Lafayette, Indiana and her 18 year old son lives in the Philippines. Her sister, who worked with the band until a month or so ago, lives now in Hongzhou (60 miles away). She works in a bar and is about 23 and also very lovely and doesn’t drink. She keeps getting hit on in the bar. It is very sad and my friend at Krabi was very closer to tears talking about it. When I look around at what other people have to do in order to survive, we are very lucky to have been born and have we have in Canada.

We also learned a number of less philosophical things last night:

  1. It is okay to bring your own wine – and no corkage fee to pay!
  2. If you order cold water, they bring you a tea pot of hot water and a bucket of ice cubes.
  3. They close just after 8 and if you sit there too long after that, they will turn off the lights and stand by the door to make sure you leave.

Anyway, as usual at Krabi there was singing and dancing. The band always sings “Unchained Melody” to Terry and we always join in – much to the other diners delight. I particularly enjoy the high notes.

Then Bruce and Terry got up on the dance floor. Terry’s partner Charley taught her Swing and Bruce’s partner sang her song the whole time they danced. I give you a  snippet of the action.

Sadly, today it is raining and our tourist activities were seriously curtailed. (Ed. note: I started off my dreary day with my first two cups of Kona coffee which Michael had brought a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, Michael. BTW, Michael, the chocolate macadamia nuts are LONG gone :-)) After meeting at Starbucks for coffee we came back to the apartment to drop off the luggage. Kim, Bruce and Geoff sat around chatting while Terry, Steve and Lawrence went for a walk along the Jiaxing Greenway, then up to the ticket office to purchase return tickets (Lawrence and Steve were stunned at how quickly and easily that was), a stroll through RT Mart and then the amusement park at Jiang Nan Mall. We put them all on the 1:00 bus to the train station and our days of hosting were suddenly at an end. Sad. However we have just cheered ourselves up by having two of the best mangoes ever. We received a box of ten from the school on Wednesday and boy did they ever get it right! They are fantastic.

Enough for now. Time for a nap.

(Ed. note to B., K., L. and S. – please send us some of the photos you took. Thanks)