Monthly Archives: June 2013

Off to Bali

Tomorrow (Sunday) we leave Jiaxing for an overnight in Shanghai before travelling to Bali for a week and just in time too. Terry is very tired and needs a rest! We have had a very busy couple of weeks.

Yes, I am tired.  It may be the “I want it to be over” syndrome where everything slows down and gets particularly tiresome, just before you start wishing you had more time to finish all that you need to do.  We have had two more entrance exam sessions, plus one more for a single student yesterday who, thankfully, passed.  This past week at school, we ran four course exams, compiled report cards, and threw a Canada Day party for the kids on Friday–our last day of school (but not for the kids who have 3 more exams in Chinese).   Two days this week, I went apartment hunting with Mr. Zhao, and on Friday night, Geoff and I went out to dinner with Mr. Zhao (George) and his wife, Xiao Ming.  Both these events are blog-worthy.

(Ed. note: soon on youtube: a video taken by a student of me doing a solo, a capella version of O Canada. Likely to go viral, so watch for it.)

Rental apartments are predominantly furnished, I believe.  At least, all the ones we looked at were furnished.  The same standards that we live with are not in practice here.  For example, it is not important to leave your apartment clean, just as it is not an expectation that the apartments you will view will be clean, or that they will be clean when you move in.  On our first day out, we saw a range of units whose cleanliness level could be described as tolerable (This will have to be scrubbed by someone before anyone can move in) to horrible (a crew of 8 could spend the entire day here).  One unit we looked at was laughable, really.  I tried to explain to my Chinese friends that this guy wasn’t really making much of an effort to rent the apartment as NO effort had been made to clean.  The deck was filthy, the furniture  moldy, the tiny kitchen and bathrooms grimy.  The shower stall in this place was so small, Geoff would have to crouch to get in, then gawd help him if he dropped the soap!  It was in the tower in Jiang Nan Mall, which coincidentally, I had wandered into last week while searching for a foot massage.  At that time it felt creepy–the halls are all kept relatively clean and free of clutter but the lighting was dim and the whole place felt abandoned.  Now that I’ve seen the inside of one of these units, I understand why!

Another place we saw was a three bedroom, two bath place, right along the canal.  Not bad, I thought–a view to the front, right on the Jiaxing Greenway and  lots of space.  The only thing it lacked, really was an A/C-heat unit in the living area.  When I mentioned it, Mr. Zhao began to negotiate with the owner who gesticulated that their were sliding doors at both sides of the apartment, making for great air flow.  Yes, I said, in the summer that would be dandy but in the winter, double-cold!  The bathrooms were fairly grungy also but seemed like they could be cleaned up and made livable.

The next unit was also large and was not too much different than the first one except for the dirt level.  OMG, it was filthy–and that was only what you could see!  Have we mentioned the black dust that settles on everything in Jiaxing?  There wasn’t a surface that wasn’t completely coated.  The transition strip on the floor between living and eating areas had apparently come lose and was held down with some sort of wide clear tape that had since yellowed to a nice golden colour, and was now peeling up at every corner.  Mr. Zhao caught me studying the light fixture.  “It’s not very clean, is it?” he asked.  We left pretty quickly after that.

Next came another two bedroom walk-up on the second floor of another building.  We had to pick our steps to get in as it had been raining all day and the drainage tiles in the front courtyard were over-flowing.  The owner was late so we waited on the front steps for awhile, giving me time to observe the overgrown plants and abandoned dining room chair in the courtyard.  Finally, we were buzzed in.  I must say, it does give one pause to enter a rental unit to see the chimney above the stove fan in pieces on the kitchen counter and a plunger in the toilet.  No problem, though, these things would be fixed by move-in date.  Uh-huh.   As a sales point, the owner pointed to a unit in the next building and said there were foreigners living there, I guess to suggest that at least one other white person found the place acceptable.

This morning, we saw two more units in newer buildings.  The first was a two bedroom, one bath that I thought was nice, not just doable, but nice.  Clean, modern, western mattresses, comfy leather furniture and lots of built-in storage cupboards.  Great neighbourhood, close to the school and downtown with easy access to a vegetable market and lots of small restaurants near-by.  We are looking for our new teachers so I wanted to make sure they will be comfortable and happy.  This one was a winner.  In the same complex, we looked at a studio for the third teacher.  Again, it was modern and clean but just too small.  It would feel like living out of a suitcase, with was no room at all for guests to come by, even for a drink.  So we gave it a pass and asked the agent to find us a one bedroom at the same standard as this one.  I wanted to make sure he understood so after George explained, I said, “Bu yao Jiang Nan Mall.”  He laughed and nodded.  Not interested in anything like that!

Earlier in the week, Mr. Zhao invited us to join him and his wife at a western-style restaurant in The Sunshine Hotel, which we know is nice.  We agreed to meet at 5:50 so took the bus down and found our way to the restaurant right on time.  Imagine our surprise to see that George and Xiao Ming had started without us!  Another cultural difference, obviously, for these two are the picture of graciousness.  They implored us to find something to eat from the buffet which was spread out into different stations.  Not resting on ceremony or a pre-dinner drink, we got up and had a look around, then started with some fresh seafood and sushi.  The standard cultural peculiarity of pushing in line was in full play, especially around the seafood.   It was an all-you-can-eat-and-drink place so why the need to fight over a crab leg?  (Ed. note: It is a good thing the red wine was an average vintage and there was no white wine or who knows what shape my princess and I would have been in.) The food was pretty good but it became clear to us that another cultural difference is that it is entirely acceptable for kids to be let run wild in restaurants.  We have seen this–and been irritated by it–in Krabi.  Kids, ages 4 – 8 or 9, simply tear around the place playing tag or some other game of chase.  No one stops them, no one says anything.  Of course running games result in a lot of shrieking and screaming, which certainly adds a dimension to dining but not one that we particularly enjoy.  The restaurant caters to kids–one station makes candy floss and caramelized sugar suckers which are sculpted into wonderful shapes.  The poor guy who was making the floss was grimacing while the kids screamed at him for floss, but he said nothing other than meekly trying to shush them.  The kids climbed brazenly onto the staging when the entertainment came on, peering around the musician and singer and hamming it up for each other.  How the singer kept in tune was a miracle, but she was wonderful!  Another Filipino act, with a Whitney Houston voice and her brother (I think) on keyboard and back-up vocals.  They did three sets while we were there and sang tunes from the decades, starting with some 1950s Patsy Cline and making it as far into the 90s with “I will always love you.”  Good times!  It made the children go away, finally. (Ed. note: The singer was quite lovely, had the obligatory short shorts and 7″  (literally) stiletto heels. Most of the time she just stood still and moved her legs while singing. The best part was after each set, she carefully and gingerly stepped down the two 8″ risers and IMMEDIATELY removed the shoes and put on running shoes. It was so funny. We were right by the stage, and as she left the second time she looked at us and laughed about it. She certainly wasn’t wearing them anywhere but on stage!)

And so our first year in Jiaxing comes to a close.  (Ed. note: we arrived here exactly ten months ago today.) We have spent the day doing laundry, packing for our trip and moving our plants around, hoping they will survive with a few waterings by Tina’s mommy.  There’s nothing to eat in the house except a few crackers and a bit of fruit so we are eating it all and starving, saving up to try a newly opened Tibetan restaurant in the mall.  Then tomorrow, we head out to Shanghai as our flight to Bali on Monday leaves too early to make from Jiaxing.  Then 9 days of relaxation before we head home!   We can’t wait to get there to see our family and friends and to breathe some of that wonderful, fresh air.  BC, here we come!

(Ed. note: last weekend for the Travel contest entries.)

Remember, you can’t win if you don’t play!

 

Travel Contest, Week Two

(Ed. note: 5 more entries.  Once again, names have been removed to protect the entrant from future harassment, but for those of you who are wise, you may be able to figure the “owner” out. All italicized preambles are the words of the entrant, but all photo captions are mine. There is still one week to go, so get those entries in.)

Remember, you can’t win if you don’t play!

Enrty #10

Gerry and I were on a trip to Central America…some nice hotels, some backpacking, some hiking into jungles and some quiet time exploring ruins etc.
One embarrassing time was when we were the only ones on this Mayan ruin..a smaller one in Belize. The guide showed us the way to go up the back…a one foot wide stairway without an outside rope or railing. Would not pass safety guidelines anywere in the civilized world. …but up we went clinging to the wall. At the top there was an amazing view on a platform without a railing so we clung to the inside wall…and marvelled. You could see the tops of some temples bursting out of the jungle …some under excavation and the sounds of monkeys. Neat.

However…now we have to go down that outside, back, one foot wide stairway…

We both tried but could not overcome the panic and fear of falling off the edge and were stuck. Help? Who was there? No one!!! Cries for help finally got the attention of the guide down on the ground and he came up and we were able to get down partially on our butts! Embarrassing but we had to laugh as we imagined the story told to the guide’s family…about the white dudes who could not get off a small pyramid. Then there ws the one about Gerry having to climb back down from the inside of a pyramid on his hands and butt but that is another story. All for the sake of understanding ancient civilizations.

Entries 11 AND 12

1. Business travel: Returning from a great two week vacation in Hawaii I left my wife Debbi at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, her to return home to Virginia, me to carry on to Cadiz, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal on business.  Eleven time zones in all.  I was jet lagged, you can imagine, when I arrived in Munich (I think it was) to hook up with a colleague for the connecting flight to Cadiz.  Managed to leave my laptop at security.  Failed to respond to what later I seemed to recall as subliminal hails that came over the PA system from security personnel who had found my name on the computer and were trying hard to put me together with it.  Proceeded obliviously on to Cadiz where the missing laptop was discovered quite quickly, if too late.

Next day I got sick as a dog eating what I think was tainted mayonnaise at a customer provided luncheon.  Really, really sick for the rest of the trip.

Next day after that, flew to Lisbon, sick or no.  Spent an awful day there avoiding food, being useless at a prospective customer meeting, and trying to find some sort of over-the-counter stomach relief.  In a pharmacy I was offered an 8 Euro bottle of Tums.  A big sigh for language barriers.  Remembered that Debbi likes port, so bought a nice bottle, maybe 20 Euros, to bring home to her.

Next day at the airport, in my nauseous daze, I had my gift of port snugly in my carry on as I went through security.  Whereupon the nice security may reminded me of the three ounce limit on liquids and gels, all to be stored in a 1 quart zip lock baggy.  The port got left behind.

Later the same day my colleague and I arrive at Dulles Airport in the middle of one of those northeaster snow storms.  Connecting flight and all potential alternates cancelled.  Decided to rent a car and made my colleague drive the four hours or so through the snow in the middle of the night.  Finally home with absolutely no vacation afterglow left.

Probably more than 200 words, but I had to get it off my chest. (Ed. note: No penalty called)

2. Vacation travel:  Took family east from Vancouver to Toronto to spend some time with sister in-law and her family at the lake.  To save money, we only purchased three seats, as our son Jeremiah was only two, and we figured he could sleep on parent laps if necessary.  On the way out there were so many empty seats we had a whole center row of a 747 for the four of us.  Jeremy, slept the entire flight stretched across several seats.  Three weeks later, nicely relaxed and ready for work, we found ourselves on the Friday, 4:00 PM DC-9 that  was completely packed with weary business travellers returning home.  Us with only three seats.  Needless to say, Jeremiah stood on his feet on first my lap, then Debbi’s, and screamed and fussed the entire 5 hour flight home.  He never knew how close he came to being victim of in-flight homicide.  Vacation over.  Sigh.

Notes for the file:  The kid still lives and can still irritate his dad.  The computer was recovered unharmed thanks to some nice people who also worked for Tyco (my employer then) over there.  I made it to bed that fateful night and recovered a day or two later…weekend, of course.  When else does a working person get sick?

Entries 13 AND 14

I was travelling home alone after a trip to Europe and when I was waiting at the baggage carousel in Vancouver to collect my luggage I noticed a suitcase go by which was completely encapsulated in what appeared to be heavy duty saran wrap. I thought to myself, hmmm  now there’s someone who is a bit anal about their luggage getting damaged.  Several minutes went by with no sign of my suitcase arriving.  I did however then notice that there were some pairs of ladies panties, a bra and some socks loose on the carousel and also what looked like a card of some sort.  Perhaps a birthday card or some such thing I again thought.  I thought, oh dear, poor unfortunate person that has to step forward and claim those.

More time elapsed as the assembly of ladies undergarments went unclaimed.  Hmmmm.  I moved closer.  OMG, imagine the horror when the card went by again and I recognised my Mother’s handwriting on the card.  It was a birthday card that she was sending back for one of the kids birthdays.  Oh dear Jesus, did that mean that the other accoutrements were also mine? Yes, indeed they were.  Did the embarrased female step forward and claim her items?   Yes, she did but only when the carousel had stopped, the other passengers had left and one of the baggage handlers lifted the “anal” piece of baggage from the carousel.  It was wrapped because the zip had broken. Enough said.

Another story, this time at Thanksgiving weekend Monday in Belleville Ontario.  October 1980. We were coming back from a long weekend at Lake Placid and as we were very new to Canada and living in Ontario we weren’t really up to par on the total significance of Thanksgiving.  We arrived in Belleville on our way back to Toronto and were really tired so decided that would do us for the night as we really needed to eat, drink and sleep (and not necessarily in that order). Well, guess what?  All the restaurants (I use the term loosely) were closed and there was only one “hotel” in town.  We decided we would have to bite the bullet.

We checked in and were met by a very nice  lady who gave us our key and told us the restaurant in the hotel would be serving dinner for another hour.  We quickly made haste for our room.  Once in the room I asked my beloved did the hotel remind him of anywhere else.  Yes, indeed it did but he had been afraid to broach the subject with me.  It looked like the hotel from The Shining. Ok, enough said.  We would go and eat and retire to bed and then hit the road early in the morning.  Good plan.

We showered and stepped out into the corridor a half an hour later and we had to step over someone asleep in the hallway.  He seemed to be breathing so when we reached the front desk I reported the person and was told oh yeah, that’s so and so he just didn’t make it into his room, was harmless and not to worry!!! Fair enough.  We were too tired to worry and they could deal with it.  We went to the restaurant and the same lady that checked us in came and was our waitress for the night. Alrighty then.  It is Thanksgiving after all and staff are probably multitasking.  Had a nice meal and decided to have a nightcap before retiring.  In we go to the bar and lo and behold the same lady comes to take our drinks order. We are now helpless with the laughter. We are finishing up our drink and the next moment, music starts and guess what?  Well it’s going to be a stiptease seemingly.  I said to my beloved, if that lady appears again as the stripper you will have to carry me out of here with the laughter.  Enough said.  I was right.  We retired for the night. In hindsight we often wondered what her interview process was like.  “Can you multitask?  “Yes”.  Little did she know!.  Belleville you are indelibly imprinted in our minds.

Travel Contest, Week One

(Ed. Note: Okay folks, one week after announcing the contest and a few days after shaming you, we now have 9 entries. Names have been removed to protect the entrant from future harassment, but for those of you who are wise, you may be able to figure the “owner” out. All italicized preambles are the words of the entrant, but all photo captions are mine. There is still one week to go, so get those entries in.)

Remember, you can’t win if you don’t play!

Entry #1

Fifteen years ago we sublet a Russian family’s apartment for a week. The family of four (including two adults and two male teenagers) lived in 400 square feet. The apartment was on the 9th floor of a bleak building among several others. More than six locks were opened to get us in the apartment.

The owner suggested that we  shower before going out, first me. The bathroom was exceptionally small. I began. Got lathered up. The water went off. Off!

I called for Sheila. She spoke to the owner.
He said that the state had not told him it would be going off today.

Several gallon jugs of distilled water later, I was done.
And so began our week in Russia…

Entry #2

I immediately thought of the attached photo when I first read of your (what I expected to be) hotly contested challenge. But since it pokes fun at my ever-loving hubby I decided to desist. Okay, you talked me into it.

The photo shows Mark and our two sons in London, with the Tower Bridge in the background. Mark spent an inordinate amount of time wandering about London with his face in his smartphone. He was determined to make his walking GPS work, and if that meant missing what was going on around him, so be it! The boys and I would forge ahead, enjoying all that London has to experience. Then we would turn around and wait for Mark to catch up as he walked, looking only at his phone. This candid photo captures Mark and his beloved phone, Cody to his right (your left), face in palm, and Sean to his left (your right), semi-comatose with frustration.

"Which way is London Bridge?"

“Which way is London Bridge?”

Entries #3 AND #4

Had it in my books to do this…have been inundated with work and all!!!…but would like to give you guys something back for all your blogs that I enjoy (and maybe I win a prize….lol…)

Florida 2008Daytona Nascar’s 50th Anniversary Race…remember that time Terry when I left work in February…my mom took all of her kids and grandkids…photo of my brother walking into the race after suntanning…. #3 Dale Eirnhart (sp?) on his back…I just love that Pic…and he was such a fan of Dale…he was actually crushed when Dale died in that crash…sentimental travel photo

"#3 - Harry Howell"

#3 – Harry Howell – 19 straight Seasons

Bogie 2006 – on our trip to the East Coast…remember that Terry when I took 4 months off work….Bogie…we were camping in the Walmart parking lot in Sault St. Marie, Ont…our view…Home Depot…lol…and who would think you could camp with your trailer in a Walmart parking lot for free!!!!….we did it a few times…most entertaining.

"Don't bug me - I'm comfy right here!"

“Don’t bug me – I’m comfy right here!”

Entry #5

I needed to take a cab from Luwan to Nanyang Model High School for a meeting.  I had only been there once before by subway so I wasn’t really sure where I was going.  I had my China Direction phone with the correct address on Ling Ling Street as well I knew how to say “I want to go to Nanyang High School Ling Ling Street” in Chinese. What could go wrong?  The driver had a long conversation with me in which I kept repeating Nanyang Model High School,  He was clearly trying to tell me something but I had no idea what,   After 20 minutes of driving in no traffic, I knew the driver was lost. He pulled up to a smaller school with a flourish and announced he was there.  I phoned Greg who put a kind Chinese lady on and told the embarrassed driver how to get there.  It turned out the driver figured because I was white, I wanted to see Nanyang Junior School where the famous basketball player went to school.  Who knew?

Entry #6

Geoff,
All right, you shamed me into this so here goes. 

A few years ago, Erin and I took a wonderful mother/daughter trip to Italy. We had been wandering around Capri and on the way back to our hotel, tired, hot and just a little bit grumpy, we discovered a wonderful little shop that sold wine and all sorts of other specialty food items. We went in and spent some time ohhing and awwing at all the goodies. We emerged with snacks and a bottle of Italy’s finest, we thought. Once back at our hotel with mouths watering for a glass of wine and some appetizers, we discovered there was no ice bucket or ice to be found. We even called the front desk only to be told they didn’t have such a thing. However, not to be thwarted in our desire for a glass of wine, this is how we chilled the wine. How’s that for using good Canadian ingenuity?

When in Rome?

When in Rome?

After an hour or so, we pulled the bottle out, washed it off and popped the cork. Looking forward to this wonderful wine we made a short toast and each took a sip. It was awful! The rest of the bottle went down the drain and we went out for a drink.

So much more civilized, don't you think, Darling?

So much more civilized, don’t you think, Dahling?

Entries #7 AND #8

Sorry Geoff, have been busy. Here are two embarrassing times.
No 1. A friend of mine was returning from one of many business trips in the US and had made his way to the baggage carousel, through throngs of people, and he spied his suitcase….with a pair of USED underwear not quite packed properly and most of the piece of clothing “on view”!! He immediately retreated to a corner of the large room, and then watched every other person on that flight claim their luggage. When all had left and suitcase with caught briefs still going round and round, he raced over to grab it, and tore out of the building, hoping no one would notice that he was the owner of that bag. Poor guy.

No 2. Myself and a girlfriend were in Madrid, a few years ago, at the train station. Very busy it was there, many escalators going every whichway. Bev and I were very tired as it had been a red eye trip from Barcelona. Not being fluent in Spanish, we thought we could find the right moving stairs to where our luggage was. Wrong. We “charaded” with a couple of older, serious attendants, who pointed us in another new direction. They were fairly courteous and smiley, at us, two grey haired senior women, (and travelling on our own in Spain, with backpacks). Probably not seen too much in a very family oriented country. Anyway, we met these two fellas about 4 times before they threw their arms in the air, and escorted us to our luggage where it sat all alone waiting for owners. And, all clothing inside was packed properly. We said “gracias, mucho gracias”. Fun times. Incidentally, is charaded an actual word? (Ed. note.: Not likely but we are complaining!)

Entry #9

Dennis drinking water from a unique source at La Manga Golf Club in Cartagena, Spain.  The funny part we were with another couple who had been there before.  We were wondering what the hick these fixtures were on the golf course.  We then mentioned how thirsty we were and there was no water to be found on the course.  The couple then explained that those funny fixtures were where you drink the water.

"It's not red wine, but it will do in a pinch"

“It’s not red wine, but it will do in a pinch”

Sad News to Share

I have some very sad news to share with you. It appears that the vast majority of our friends and readers have led sad, pathetic, uninteresting, boring, mundane travel lives – if in fact they have travelled at all. I say this as only one (1, Ee, une, uno) person has shared a travel anecdote and no one has sent an interesting travel photo. As I result, I can only surmise that you all have little experience travelling, which is interesting since I know, without even putting my memory to work, that: Aucoin (France, Belgium), Buczewski (China), Carabine (China, Thailand), Cregg-Guinan (Ireland, Spain), Crumley (Palm Springs), Goodridge (Arizona), Hendricks (California, Cabo), Kintzinger (Maritimes), MacPhail (Scotland), Nikolai (Italy), Rollins (Arizona, Hawaii),   Simpson (Southeast Asia), Therrien (Southeast Asia), Waldie (Germany), Watt (Saudi) just to name a very few, have all travelled to various parts of the globe in recent years. It is impossible for me to believe none of you have interesting thoughts or photos to share.

Thus it appears the prizes are viewed as too overwhelming or pitiful. Let’s see what the polls say:

Post #156

Hello folks. Today is an auspicious day, as we publish Post #156. This sets a new record for us, as previously, we had only published 155 posts. In order to mark this significant event, we are running

CONTEST #2**

The most exciting part of this is that you get to participate in one of two ways and have a chance at some incredible prizes.

First the contest

Prepare an anecdote of a unique, touching, amusing, or embarrassing moment in your travel history. Limit it to 100 – 200 words. (Ed. note: As a guide, the first paragraph of Terry’s previous blog on pregnancy is 247 words long.) Submit it to Ed. Note at ggeoffwatt@gmail.com with the subject “I want to win!”

OR

Submit a photo of a unique, touching, amusing, or embarrassing moment in your travel history with a brief description or caption. Submit it to Ed. Note at ggeoffwatt@gmail.com with the subject “I want to win!”

PRIZES

1st Prize (for two)

  • Two nights stay at the luxurious Leeden Hotel* overlooking Jiang Nan Mall and Amusement Park
  • 2 breakfasts with Geoff at his reserved table at Starbucks
  • A personalized tour of the BC Offshore Program building at Jiaxing Senior High School with Terry
  • A guided bus tour of Jiaxing with a stop at Auchon for their famous two flavour ice cream cones
  • A self guided tour of the Communist Museum at South Lake
  • A guided tour of South Lake and the Junk where the Chinese Communist Manifesto was signed
  • Lunch “on the street” at one of Jiaxing’s famous “floating pork” restaurants
  • An accompanied bicycle ride on the Jiaxing Greenway
  • Dinner with both Terry and Geoff at Krabi Thai Restaurant
  • Taxi to AND from the Jiaxing South Railway Station
  • This prize package is valued in excess of 1000 

2nd Prize (Unlimited)

  • For all those who enter and request it, an autographed, digital photo of Geoff in funny hats. Value is priceless.

Rules and regulations

  • All entries become the property of “The Jiaxing Express” and may be published at their whim with due recognition of the owners
  • Entries close July 1, 2013 (Happy Canada Day)
  • Winners will be announced shortly thereafter, depending on the judge’s Internet access in Bali
  • Although the prizes are suspect, they are real and the desire to publish other people’s experiences is sincere. The Assistant (Geoff) to the Head Judge (Terry) thinks it would be fun.
  • *The Jiaxing Express can only guarantee that if you don’t smoke, your room will be a non-smoking room while you are there. We cannot be held responsible that previous guests observed the no smoking suggestion made by the hotel.
  • **Contrary to the declaration of the head Judge, the Assistant Judge does not have too much time on his hands – just too much caffeine to let him nap this afternoon. Get those entries in!

Remember – You Can’t Win if You Don’t Enter!

What I’ve Learned about Maternity and other musings

Things are a tad different in this country regarding birth and babies.  For starters, most urban women deliver by Cesarean section because “it avoids the pain of childbirth.”  I speak from experience when I say with some certainty that it might accomplish that objective but the recovery pain from surgery is longer lasting.  In Canada, after a baby is delivered, the goal is to get the mother on her feet and out of the hospital asap.  Not so here.  Women are encouraged to rest in the hospital for 5 days, then head home where they begin “the best time of their lives,” not because they will be home with their newborn but because they get a solid month off!   A new mother is expected to rest and to be waited on for an entire month, not even venturing out of the apartment in case she catches a cold or worse.  Who cares for the baby?  Judging from our neighbours , the woman’s parents move into the home (or come in every morning) and are joined by the husband’s parents in the evening; all 4 of them stay for dinner and then fuss, feed and fret over the baby.  An ayi might also be hired–usually a young girl who will get up with baby at night so that mom can rest.  Our friend David and his wife recently had a baby and it is much the same:  her parents have moved in but he gets up for the nightly feedings.  Which might make the next point obvious.

Breast-feeding seems not to be done here.  I asked Tina about it once.  She didn’t really understand the question because she answered that she “sometimes” does it.  Again, speaking from experience, it is not possible to breast-feed “sometimes.”  You either are or you are not.  Biology does not allow it as an occasional experience.

After David’s baby was born, our students told me that his wife had the baby on June 1st.  I was surprised that it was exactly that day since David had given me a range of dates and I know that first babies are often late.  The kids scoffed at my surprise and said, “Of course, it was scheduled.”  Right.  So then I asked a few questions and discovered their monumental lack of knowledge.  When I asked if most women had babies scheduled, one boy answered, “Of course, how else?”  So I told them that most women in the world delivered babies naturally and that in the west, a lot of women and doctors do opt for C sections but very many women choose natural delivery and many of those choose to have their babies at home.  The horror!  I thought it best not to explain natural delivery right then as there are a few things they need to know before that, such as how the baby gets in the womb!  I also asked about breast-feeding and it became fairly clear that a good number had no idea that breasts perform this function. No, they insisted, no one does that here.  I have since been told by our teachers that the kids grilled them later about whether breast milk was better than formula, as I had offered as the opinion of science, and were in disbelief that that could possibly be true!  Obviously, they teach a slightly different curriculum in this part of the world.

So next week, we are going to teach some facts of life to our kids as part of Planning 10.  In BC, kids learn about reproduction starting in grade 7.  In grade 10, the kids are well past the basics and  the lessons are  about STDs, safe sex and birth control.  We are going back a bit to cover first things first.  I will take the girls and the two male teachers will talk with the boys.  Should be interesting.

After 3 months of maternity leave, women go back to work and the grandparents become full-time care-givers. This role seems to be coveted by some–there are doting grandparents everywhere–but it is also a duty and expected.  I’ve written about this cultural expectation previously.  It is an answer to universal child care but certainly defines the “golden years” in a way that we might find hard.  Say good-bye to the golf course, grandma!

In an effort to maintain discipline,  boys and girls on campus are not allowed to have girl and boy friends as it interferes with their studies.  This is probably a good policy as the kids live in co-ed dorms that appear to be loosely policed, and while they may not have all the facts, they will certainly have the desires of young people everywhere.  Nation-wide, the official attitude towards sex is clearly that it should occur within the bounds of marriage.  There are penalties and stigma attached to having children out of wedlock.  In one province, the fine for having a child this way is up to 3 times the woman’s annual salary!  We have heard that citizenship is sometimes withheld from the child, but we have not had that confirmed.   Condoms are on display in convenience shops everywhere, so once married, sex is okay, but keep the one-child policy in mind.   Again, not a bad policy for a country with a huge population.

On another note, I violated my personal policy of choosing unpackaged products and purchased a tube of mascara.  It came in a velvet bag, inside a tin which was wrapped with hard paper.  Y135 or $22–way more than I ever pay at home (thank-you, Avon).  I was desperate, what can I say?  Cosmetics are expensive in China, especially quality skin care products.  Whitening products are very popular and American drug store brands like L’Oreal and Olay have moved in to the market in a big way.1

2

3

We are getting ready to come home and actually packed a bag today.  We are excited and looking forward to friends, family and good times.  I think I may rouse Geoff to head downtown to our outdoor bar for a cold beer in preparation for the patio!

Hair

I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy
Snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Oily, greasy, fleecy
Shining, gleaming, streaming
Flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka-dotted
Twisted, beaded, braided
Powdered, flowered, and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied!

The Cowsills sing “Hair”

I don’t know about you, but when I am in the  barber’s/stylist’s chair, I have a lot of time to reflect back to and remember other experiences in similar situations – this is particularly true when the person cutting your hair has no English. I thought I would write about some of my time in the chair.

#1

1963 – Grade 7 – I came home from school one day. Short version:

Scene 1

Dad: We are going to get your hair cut.
Me: Not today, I am going to Kennedy’s to play hockey.

Dad: We are going to get your hair cut.
Me: Not today, I am going to Kennedy’s to play hockey.

Dad: We are going to get your hair cut.
Me: Not today, I am going to Kennedy’s to play hockey……

Scene 2

Barber: lifts my head.
Me: drop chin to chest

Barber: lifts my head.
Me: drop chin to chest

Barber: lifts my head.
Me: drop chin to chest

Scene 3

Dad: You will never embarrass me like that again.
Me: Oww Oww Oww…..

In retrospect, it was not my finest hour – I found out later that my Dad was under tremendous pressure for things not related to me. Sorry Dad. (Ed. note: And no, I was not abused.)

#2

1982 – For some reason, I start going in to Vancouver to the very famous “Suki’s” to get my hair cut. I am talking to Debbie, the stylist (note the change in occupation). I ask her what we could do differently with my hair. She says, “How about a perm?” “Okay.” I spend about three hours there and as I am leaving, she says, “Now remember, don’t wash it until Tuesday!”

I get home and am met by Terry-Ann and (direct quote, I swear) “What have you done to me??!! We have people coming to dinner next week!” I go straight to the shower and wash it – now I have what could only be called a semi, limp perm. Ahhh well.

#3

1992 – This is when I develop my theory about the colour of one’s hair. If I pay <$15, my hair is considered grey, if I pay >$15 and <$30, my hair is silver and if I pay >$30 it is platinum.

#4

All this leads to Tuesday – Terry and I go in to Barbra’s (no spelling mistake) to get our hair cut. Interesting experience. Greg and Chan (Shanghai friends) both go there and I have been once, with not a bad job. After the first hair wash, they bring you a price list – all Chinese – and ask you which one you want 48rmb ($8), 128rmb ($21), 198rmb ($33), 298rmb ($50) or 398rmb ($66). The last time I went for the 48rmb, but I thought what the hell and went for the 198rmb middle range. I was wondering what the difference would be. I mean, I am a guy, what else can they do? He spends almost an hour cutting – I think he went a millimetre at a time.  Then he finishes with a straight razor on the side burns and my neck. If I go back I may go all out just to see what 398rmb gets me.

However, that isn’t the big story. The big story is that halfway through, Terry calls me over. She also went the 198rmb range. Her guy has cut her hair so short that she needs a new colour done (middle price – 880rmb or $147)! It was going to be an hour or so more now to do the colour so when mine is done I toddle off to the wine store. An hour and a half later, down the stairs she comes. I’m thinking that it is about 1/2 the length it was when she went in. Now, I’m not saying it wasn’t a good hair cut – even if Terry says it is the worst haircut of her life – no symmetry, too short, not good colour, no way to do anything with it at home etc. etc., but it took everything I had to be supportive and not burst out laughing. Even as I write this I know I am likely to get into trouble later. However, this morning (Thursday) she was able to make it look 100% better and as you all know the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is about two weeks. Also, she doesn’t feel that she will need another for two months – so that’s a good thing. Not surprisingly, she won’t allow photos to be taken, let alone posted.

Finally, yesterday I got my Harry Potter glasses. They look great.

(Ed. note: You know how sometimes you feel someone watching you? Well I just turned around and standing outside the window staring it at my typing away is a Jiaxing Police Officer, looking very stern until I wave, he smiles and walks away. very strange.)

The Director’s Cut

As we wind down our Beijing Experiences, here are a few photos that made the director’s cut only.

What could this be for, do you think?

What could this be for, do you think? Take a WILD guess.

I took this 15 minutes after we took off from Beijing. 7 of the 8 people in these two rows were already asleep and basically slept the entire way home. It is amazing to us where the Chinese can sleep.

I took this 15 minutes after we took off from Beijing. 7 of the 8 people in these two rows next to us were already asleep and basically slept the entire way home. It is amazing to us where and how quickly the Chinese can fall sleep.

I know you will find this difficult to believe - but this guy is asleep as well.

I know you will find this difficult to believe – but this guy is asleep as well.

These lovely red velour chairs are seats for a bar, but taken out of the rain. Just down the way there were purple ones just like them. Lovely.

These lovely red velour seats for a bar, but taken in out of the rain. Just down the way there were purple ones just like them. Lovely.

Our hotel adjoined this one - The Beijing Hotel. People spoke of it with reverence - "It is a government hotel". There wasn't a time that we walked by that someone wasn't taking a picture of someone else standing in front. So ....

Our hotel adjoined this one – The Beijing Hotel. People spoke of it with reverence – “It is a GOVERNMENT hotel”. There wasn’t a time that we walked by that someone wasn’t taking a picture of someone else standing in front. So ….

I think it is supposed to be a knock off of "Clark's" - but who knows.

I think it is supposed to be a knock-off of “Clark’s” – but who knows.

Now, I am all for garnish on a blueberry danish - but parsley?

Now, I am all for garnish on a blueberry danish – but parsley?

"Hospital of Femoral Head" - just what the hell has to be wrong with you to wind up here?

“Hospital of Femoral Head” – just what the hell has to be wrong with you to wind up here?

This building is at the entrance to the airport. I wonder if something is lost in the translation?

This building is at the entrance to the airport. I wonder if something is lost in the translation?

And on our way home…

We have tried all year to get the photo of the Baldor factory - but it is hard as the train goes by at 300 km/hr. Finally, however, here it is - top right corner! Hi Terry and Beth.

We have tried all year to get the photo of the Baldor factory just outside Shanghai – but it is hard as the train goes by at 300 km/hr. Finally, however, here it is – top right corner, yellow rectangle! Hi Terry and Beth.

And once we were back in Jiaxing…

All the staff received a box of lichee fruit yesterday. The interior of the container is 18" x 12" x 4". Thank goodness we got them to stop giving us 2 of everything!

All the staff received a box of lichee fruit yesterday. The interior of the container is 18″ x 12″ x 4″. Thank goodness we got them to stop giving us 2 of everything!

Finally…

Just where did YOUR mind go?

Just where did YOUR mind go?

Beijing Bird Nest and more

By the time we got back from our sodden trip to the Great Wall, the rain had stopped falling.  After hot showers and a nap, we walked 3.4km to The Silk Market, the Beijing version of a knock-off mall.  Much nicer than those in Shanghai–very clean, glass-enclosed shops monitored by video camera, making it a hazard for shop owners to pursue would-be clients out of the shops ( a regular occurrence in Shanghai). We spent a bit of money, walked back the 3.4 km and pondered the differences between Shanghai and Beijing, China’s two biggest cities (at the moment.)

Shanghai is a busy,  multi-ethnic, hip, happening place.  It ‘s architecture is endlessly fascinating, and not just in Pudong.  Take a cab anywhere and you can see a variety of building styles, cheek by jowl, but with space in between.  Today I noticed that many of the buildings are curved or in some way, divergent from rectangular, as if it is a crime to build regularly shaped structures.   There are still many 5 or 6 storey walk-ups, interspersed with stately old homes and modern buildings.  Look up at the skyline and you’ll see pencil points, turrets, pagodas, crowns, pearls, gilt domes and bottle openers.  In the French Concession, stately old French-style mansions still exist along tree-lined streets and lanes.  It’s a wonderful clutter of styles.

In Beijing, our overwhelming impression of the architecture was that things were built to impose:  along the 12-lane Chang An Lu, the buildings are squat, heavy, linear affairs of no more than 18 or 20 storeys, largely lacking in points of interest.  Even their more adventurous buildings give the impression of  somewhat dour bulk.  No walls of video or flashing lights here.  The Museum of Natural History is off-putting–the thought of that much “natural history” was decidedly uninviting:  the staid-looking building is nearly a block long.  Many more traditional-style buildings remain in Beijing, whereas all but Yu Yuan Gardens in Shanghai’s were razed during The Cultural Revolution.  The hutongs or alleyway neighbourhoods in Beijing also differ from those in Shanghai.  They are enclosed in walls and structured around ancient rules regarding the four directions.  Streets of all sizes are tree-lined, shady and lovely and there are many small lakes designed for relaxation and a slowness of pace.    A visit to the Houhai neighbourhood gave us a taste of local cuisine, hutong insights garnered  from a pedi-Tuk-Tuk, and a vision of the pedi-boats to be rented on a clear day  Nice, but hip and happening, no, although the bar scene looked like promising, judging from the plethora of velour-covered banquets.  Beijing takes itself seriously, as the home of the government must.  Cabs don’t honk, drivers obey traffic signs and pedestrians wait for signals.  All very correct. (Ed. note: One of the things which really stood out to us was that Shanghai’s women are FAR more sophisticated than Beijing women. Even Jiaxing women match the Beijing women. )

Our pedi-rickshaw driver was quite a card.

Our pedi-rickshaw driver was quite a card.

The lake was quite lovely - and in the sun would have been quite the place.

The lake was quite lovely – and in the sun would have been quite the place.

A different view of the lake.

A different view of the lake.

Residences along the hutong.

Residences along the hutong.

This tour was very obnoxious - they come in to a small, enlcosed area and if the guide isn't yelling through their mike, the people are yelling at each other (likely "Look at the foreigners").

This tour was very obnoxious – they come in to a small, enclosed area and if the guide isn’t yelling through their mike, the people are yelling at each other (likely “Look at the foreigners”).

(Ed. note: For the sake of accuracy and journalistic integrity, the 5 preceding photos were actually taken on Friday, the day we visited The Forbidden City, and not after we went to The Great Wall.)

On our last night, we decided we really had to try Peking Duck.  Officially, it is now supposed to be called Beijing Duck but somehow it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  After reading the Lonely Planet guide book (thanks, Michael and Barb), we decided on Dadong, where the duck is purported to be 43.5% leaner than others.  Pretty exacting numbers, we thought, and decided to give it a shot.  We asked the concierge to call us a cab but instead, he directed us to a new Dadong a block away, just off Wangfujing Lu, a pedestrian shopping street.  WOW!  It was an average-looking sort of restaurant with pretensions to modernity, but the food was simply amazing.  Of course we ordered the duck immediately upon seating, as it takes some time to prepare.  Then, we started with duck pate, enough for 4 people at least.  Really really good.  Then sauteed eggplant with about 20 garlic cloves and a wonderful sauce.  Again, amazing.  We weren’t expecting fried rice noodles with osmanthes to be anything special but it was fantastic!  First the accoutrements, then the duck finally arrived.  It is hard to describe how delicious this was.  The skin was crisp and razor-thin, and dipped in sugar, it literally melted in your mouth.  The duck meat was unbelievable–so lean, moist and delicious!  The finale was  fresh lichee, still on the branch, set in bubbling dry ice.  Too much wine and a few scotch for Geoff and the meal was perfect!  No question it was the best meal we have had in China.  Cost?  $150 and worth every penny.

More rain greeted us on our last day so we rented a private cab to take us out to the Bird Nest, then on to the airport.  We all saw this structure during the 2008 Olympics, and it still has the power to inspire.  The beams that make up the ‘nest’ are huge– Geoff stood in the picture for perspective –with lots of odd angles that make for lots of dusty ledges, very difficult to clean.  It is, nonetheless, a wonderful stadium, still in use.

The Bird Nest from afar - sort of. We are in the Olympic Park.

The Bird Nest from afar – sort of. We are in the Olympic Park.

Look at me - I can stand on one foot!

Look at me – I can stand on one foot!

I am sooooooo tiny!!

I am sooooooo tiny!!

Because of the weather, we didn’t bother with the Summer Palace or the Temple of Heaven, but we enjoyed our quick view of the capital just the same.