Monthly Archives: January 2014

Hoi An – Going to the Dogs

Joe was here in 2010 and noted a tremendous difference in the growth and feeling of the town since then. Let’s just say it’s gotten fairly touristy, prices are up and the streets are more crowded.  Mind you, it is the Tet holiday today—Vietnam New Year.  The flower vendors line the streets and already yesterday, half the shops were closed.  Most of the rest of them, including the markets, will pack it in later this afternoon and stay closed for 24 hours.  What are we to do?

The first night in Hoi An we wanted a traditional Vietnamese restaurant so we left the hotel and headed off to walk to town – about 1 km they said. We walked, and walked and walked while it got darker and darker and darker and less inhabited and less inhabited… you get the idea. Finally we came across an older woman on a bike and asked her where Hoi An was – back the way we had come. Apparently we should have gone left instead of right out of the hotel. She indicated we were walking towards Cua Dai. Geoff pantomimed eating and she nodded. So off we went – the five of us with her walking her bike and singing to Terry and Sam. When we got to Cua Dai, she parked her bike and came in with us. I guess Geoff had invited her to eat with us. Anyway, after a few minutes discussion with the server, she left the seeds on the table, waved and left us to enjoy a mediocre dinner.

We think these were her offerings to thank us.

We think these were her offerings to thank us.

Tuesday was a day for exploring Hoi An and the market. Never having been “threaded” before, I had no idea how painful it could be. The lovely woman doing it kept calling me a baby every time I said “ouch” – which was a lot! Then she started on Geoff’s ears. Talk about a baby!

What a pair of babies!

What a pair of babies!

We found this great place for dinner one night—Red Dragon.  It’s down by our end of town, away from the old town and towards the ocean.  The food was awesome and reasonably priced, and the owners loved us because Geoff spent the time convincing passers-by to come in and eat, filling the place up on an otherwise slow night.  When we noticed that they would do a cooking class for us, and allow us to choose what we cooked, we signed up.  We’ve been back for about an hour, with our bellies full and rhapsodizing about the food.  Here’s what we made and ate.

Get those Vietnamese sized aprons aprons and cool hats on.

Get those Vietnamese sized aprons aprons and cool hats on.

First, fresh spring rolls.  Geoff and I made these—sort of—on the cruise in Halong Bay but they were nothing nearly as good as these.  The secret was in the lemon grass chicken we prepared for the filling, along with the teaspoon of peanut oil, used to fry shallots, put into the dipping sauce just prior to serving.  Oh my.  Half ripe mangoes, cucumber, fresh herbs, carrots, lettuce and some great, slightly heavier rice paper.  Amazing dip!  Next, cau lao, also amazing.  We had eaten some downtown the previous day but what we made left no comparison.  Again, the key seemed to be in the preparation of the pork that went into it.  First we caramelized it with garlic, shallots, lemon grass and other things, then allowed it to finish cooking for an hour.  Finally, we made Tom Yum soup.  When we’ve had it before, it was so hot as to be inedible, but this was perfect.  Fabulous!  $22 per person, including a market tour.  If you ever come to Hoi An, look up the Red Dragon.  Our chef is planning on starting a cooking school a few kilometers out of town, to be called Red Dragon Farm.  We are sure it is going to be fantastic!

This soup was FABULOUS!

This soup was FABULOUS!

Sam is totally focussed and Terry is justifiably proud of the substance, if not the form of her.... roll.

Sam is totally focussed and Terry is justifiably proud of the substance, if not the form of her…. roll. (For a better view, double click on Terry.)

This is the total cooking area of Win's kitchen. How he prepares what he does is beyond me.

This is the total cooking area of Win’s kitchen. How he prepares what he does is beyond me.

We are all feeling a little lazy.  Good thing it is hot and we have nice comfortable loungers by the pool!  Later we might feel like renting some bicycles and checking out the ocean.  Or maybe not.  Life is good!

(Ed. note: Some photos of Hoi An for you to enjoy. The reason for the title of this blog is that every morning at 6 the 4 or 5 dogs in the house behind our room decide it is time to wake up the neighbourhood – along with the rooster and the buddhist monks who play some lovely music adding to the cacophony of noise. I always thought roosters only crowed at dawn but here it is all day long – I guess they figure it is dawn somewhere.)

Just another Vietnamese butcher shop - who needs a clean counter.

Just another Vietnamese butcher shop – who needs a clean counter.

After taking your motorcycle through the Motorcycle Wash...

After taking your motorcycle through the Motorcycle Wash…

...Get in line for gassing up.

…Get in line for gassing up.

This guy was pushing the tree down the street. When his phone rang, he dutifully stopped and went to the sidewalk to chat, leaving the tree in the middle of the street.

This guy was pushing the tree down the street. When his phone rang, he dutifully stopped and went to the sidewalk to chat, leaving the tree in the middle of the street.

Just a tad thirsty

Just a tad thirsty so he got himself a drink at the pool – guess it is just another crawl up bar to him.

Remember the Norwegian Blue, just kippin' on its back (Dead Parrot Sketch). Well, this is the Vietnamese version.

Remember the Norwegian Blue, just kippin’ on its back (Dead Parrot Sketch). Well, this is the Vietnamese version.

Beer in Vietnam: (l. to r.) Hanoi, Hoi An, An Hoi

Beer in Vietnam: (l. to r.) Hanoi, Hoi An, An Hoi

The Shoe Blog

These are beautiful shoes – but how the hell does she stand in them, let alone walk?

She laughed and laughed when I wanted to take this picture.

She laughed and laughed when I wanted to take this picture.

Ha Long Bay, Days 2 and 3

We continued our private tour of Ha Long Bay by taking a smaller boat off through the karsts and into a bay where we got into our kayak.

Crown Prince Frog Karst

Crown Prince Frog Karst

Candle Karst

Candle Karst

Human Head Karst

Human Head Karst

Tony Onley Karsts?

Tony Onley Karsts

They Were Clearer When You Were Closer Karsts.

They Were Clearer When You Were Closer Karsts.

Geoff has never kayaked and I suggested that he sit in the back and just follow my lead. Sounded like a good idea. The problem was that sometimes I went:

  1. Right, left, right, left… but sometimes
  2. Right, left, left, right… and sometimes
  3. Right, right, left, left, right, left

This was not my fault though, because Geoff would paddle with more force and then put us into a turn and I was trying to correct it. We seemed to take five minutes to get to the same point Tattoo would get to in two. Ah well, it was worth it when we got into some of the lagoons.

One of the few times are paddles were almost on the same plane.

One of the few times are paddles were almost on the same plane.

It was more than a little frustrating to watch these kids row their boat with their feet!

It was more than a little frustrating to watch these kids row their boat with their feet! And they wanted a dollar to take their picture!

After we got back to the bigger boat, we sailed off to a secluded bay for lunch. Clearly, someone did not get the memo that there was just the two of us. The wonderful menu:

  1. A plate of fresh, hot crispy french fries
  2. Fabulous Chicken and Carrot Soup
  3. Fried Chicken Tenders
  4. 10 Jumbo Steamed Shrimp
  5. Squid and Vegetables
  6. Grilled Fish with Tomato
  7. Cucumbers
  8. Cabbage
  9. Rice
  10. Fresh Oranges and Mango and
  11. Choco Pies (Wagonwheels)

Clearly, they meant that we wouldn’t eat for a week. We were also “entertained” by two women (one with a daughter) who desperately wanted us to buy something from them – anything! They hung around the boat for an hour, trying to make us feel guilty. (Ed. note: We did buy a couple of little things at the beginning thinking they would go away – no dice. They didn’t leave until we did.) Then the “hostess” on the boat came out with various pearl items to sell. (Ed. note: The only purchase in Ha Long Bay was your birthday present, Judith. Happy Birthday – someday.)

"Do you have enough to eat?"

“Do you have enough to eat?”

Direct quote: "Hello, you buy something" Nothing subtle about the Vietnamese.

Direct quote: “Hello, you buy something.” Nothing subtle about the Vietnamese.

From there it was back to the ship for another cooking demonstration, another dubiously priced two for one happy hour, dinner and a lovely sunset.

Sunset over Ha Long Bay

Sunset over Ha Long Bay

The next morning we were up to go off and see more caves (Ed. note: Between New Zealand, Guilin and Ha Long Bay we are officially caved out.) Then it was back to Ha Long City to await our ride back to Hanoi and the boys arrival. However, we had an hour or so to wait, so what do you do? How about some hygenic personal grooming?

This isn't your $50.00 haircut salon

This isn’t your $50.00 haircut salon

They have special tools to do your ear hair

They have special tools to do your ear hair – and they aren’t scissors. His tat reads “Have barber tools, will set up shop anywhere”

That ash got almost to the filter before it fell off

That ash got almost to the filter before it fell off

The haircut and shave – $10.00 – was it a rip? Well the Vietnamese guy before me gave him a fifty dong note ($2.50) and got change. I had been looking forward to the straight razor shave and watched him take the new blade out of the package. It was the most painful shave I have ever endured – even worse than the one you get with those cheap bic razors. It not only ripped the whiskers out, it didn’t even get them all. Anyway, it was an experience not to be missed or forgotten.

The Shoe Blog

These beauties were waiting for us in Hanoi when we got back.

Sparkles Galore

Sparkles Galore

Da Plane, Boss, Da Plane!

Wednesday morning we were picked up for the 4 hour road trip to Ha Long Bay. We were the only two guests on the 9 person mini-van. The road from Hanoi  is under construction. It is a dusty, dirty trip marked by one stop at a government sponsored shop (Ed. note: think one floor of the old downtown Woodwards) where disabled people hand-make things to sell – anything from leather goods to embroidered pictures. Now, we aren’t saying it is overpriced a tad, but here is an example. In Hanoi I bought four little 4” x 6” bags which you can hang around your neck and carry a passport, credit card etc..  The four cost 100,000 VND or $5 US. In the shop 1 (one) was 189,000 VND or $9.50. But it is for a good (?) cause…

We arrived in Ha Long City and were transferred to the ship – the only two guests on the ship for the afternoon. Lunch was served by some of the 18 staff there to respond to our every wish. After lunch we were taken on a tour of the floating fishing villages (Ed. note: Yes,  just the two of us). These villages have been there since the early 19th century. There are about 1000 people living on about 400 “houseboats” in 4 different residential communities. They subsist on fishing, pearl farming, “squidding” and tourist dollars. We were told that the government plans on moving them to land in July because it is too dangerous – they have been there through wars, typhoons and gawd knows what else, but suddenly it is too dangerous. Can anyone else say private tourist attraction coming soon? It is outrageous. No one thinks the villagers will be able to survive on land.  Water is their way of life.

Fishing Village 1

Fishing Village 1

Fishing Village 2

Fishing Village 2

Fishing Village 3

Fishing Village 3

This is a "Squidder". They go out at night and shine the big lights on the water, The squid are attracted to the lights and they are swept up in the net.

This is a “Squidder”. They go out at night and shine the big lights on the water. The squid are attracted to the lights and they are swept up in the net.

They get their groceries from traveling "supermarkets".

They get their groceries from traveling “supermarkets”.

Pearl Farming

First, implant a little bit of the mother membrane (the woman) and a small plastic bead (the man) into the shell.

First, implant a little bit of the mother membrane (the woman) and a small plastic bead (the man) into the shell.

Second, attach a number of the oyster shells to the ropes hanging from the buoys.

Second, attach a number of the oyster shells to the ropes hanging from the buoys.

Third, wait three years and then pull them up.

Third, wait three years and then pull them up.

Fourth, be rewarded with a pearl. The man chose a shell at random, popped it open and there it was.

Fourth, be rewarded with a pearl. The man chose a shell at random, popped it open and there it was.

After the tour we came back to the boat (Ed. note: joined by 7 other interloping guests) for a cooking demonstration (Fried Spring Rolls), Two for One Happy Hour (Ed. note: Figure out the math – at lunch the glasses of wine cost 150,000VND, at the 2 for one, same wine 220,000VND for 2 glasses. Harumph!). After an okay dinner and some bad guitar playing and singing by one of the staff we were off to bed.

However, before we got to bed, there is a knock at the door and Michael our guide is there. He is so clearly inebriated I don’t know how he was able to stand let alone talk or walk. He wants to give us some packets of coffee and a Mozart CD to listen to. Okay… The next morning we tell him that we didn’t have the coffee but thanks and we are going to keep it. There is a blank look on his face and after a good 20 seconds he says that he does not remember doing that. Small wonder. We refer to him as Tattoo. You figure out why.

Da boat Boss, da boat

Da boat Boss, da boat (Ed. note: the multiple chins are due to the fact that I did not want to stand straight up and tower even more over him.!)

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Good morning, Vietnam!  We are in a coffee nation, thank you, thank you, thank you!  I am not even much of a coffee drinker at home in BC but that is because we don’t have Vietnamese coffee. If I told you that the way to drink it here is to start with hot Carnation evaporated milk, then top it with scalding, thick, dark coffee, you would probably think I was mad, but seriously, there is nothing nearly as good.  Starbuck’s is a sad sad comparison, I don’t care how you take it.  And after so long trying and failing to find a decent cup of tea in China, it is so wonderful that I am up to 3 cups of java a day.  Yum!

Getting here was the usual story of leaving China—late to get off the ground, for whatever reason.  We landed in Hanoi an hour and 15 later than we should have, and then patiently made our way through the email visa process and customs.  So far, so good.  Things went south shortly thereafter.

Nowhere else in our trip have I bothered with a guide but for this leg I decided to use a contact of a friend.  Problem was that he couldn’t be paid on-line with visa and needed cash upon arrival, millions of Vietnamese dong. (Ed. Note: 22,454,000VND – or $985 US – honest).  It is really difficult for us to get money or do much of anything with banks in China as we are paid in Canada and do not have an account there.   We had tried to wire the money or do an email transfer but neither would work, so we were a little worried about getting out as much cash as needed.   Geoff spotted the ATMs and went over to start the process.  Bad luck, the machines would only spit out the equivalent of $94 at a time, so Geoff told me to get going on other machines, which was when I discovered I hadn’t brought my cash card with me.  Let’s just say he was not happy with me.  (Ed. Note: No comment)

Let’s also say he was not happy when the machines stopped giving him money after only 2 transactions – $188.00. Continuing on, let’s say he was still not happy with me when we arrived at the hotel and he asked the bell boy to show him where there was another ATM.  He was still not happy when the guide showed up and said no problem, he could be paid tomorrow or the next day or the next day, it didn’t matter. Stopping in the middle of numerous trips to the ATM, he called the TD bank in Canada and went on a rant about constantly having his card blocked in Asia and will they kindly see to it right NOW? (Ed. Note: they did) He was even less happy still when he realized that neither he nor I had his wallet and that he had left it, with his credit cards, driver’s license, $200, medical card etc. etc. at the airport ATMs.  Several days have passed and although still no wallet, happily for me, Geoff is happy now.

Hanoi is not like any city we have experienced.  Our friend Peter mentioned getting culture shock when they arrived here last year.  Living in China we thought we wouldn’t experience that but what a shock!  Remember that motorcycle count I did in Jiaxing, 65 bikes in 5 minutes?  Downtown Hanoi, 65 passed in 37 seconds.  The traffic is crazy in China and the sidewalks are sometimes a little precarious but in Hanoi, they are impassable.  Motorbikes are parked from curb to doorstep and where you might be able to walk a little ways, you are constantly running into outdoor ‘cafes’ where groups of locals perch on tiny, smaller-than-child-size stools, drinking coffee and or eating pho.

Coffee time on the street.

Coffee time on the street.

So mostly, you walk on the road, along with thousands of motorcycles, a small number of cars, scooters and other assorted modes of transport.  You must walk and watch at all times.  Our son, Joe, described crossing the street as making a go for it, just keep moving, knowing the scooters will move like a school of fish around you. It works but not in a relaxed way.  In one night and day, we had a good look around the old quarter and found some good food and great coffee (did I mention the coffee?).

We also took a one hour tour by bicycle. After a little awhile we noticed that other bicycle drivers were looking at us and making comments to our guy. It appears that although he offered to take both of us, it is normal for one person, one cart. This poor guy was wheeling somewhere in the neighbourhood of 320 pounds around. Plus, Geoff mentioned that every once in awhile he would slow down, to which I responded, “That’s because he’s lighting up another cigarette.” Go figure. (Ed. Note: Why are there so many scooters? Reason 1. Average annual income – $3000. Cost of gas – $1.00/litre Reason 2. Tax on cars imported – 2-3 times the cost of the car).

There are  lot of street vendors – and some of them really get in your face. (Ed. note: A twinge of guilt when you say no – this is how they keep themselves and their family alive)

Even while you are buying from one, the other two are chirping away - "One more shirt" "One more hat"...

Even while you are buying from one, the other two are chirping away – “One more shirt” “One more hat”…

On the other hand some of them are quite trusting. I bought some t-shirts and needed a larger size for one of them. The woman handed Geoff her stock and took off down the street to get the one she needed.

Want to buy a shirt mister?

Want to buy a shirt mister?

This woman wants to keep up on current events.

Button, button, who's got the button?

Button, button, who’s got the button?

We don't know if these are stoves or smokers. Interestingly, there is a brand name of equipment here called INOX. On these, in poorly printed, blue felt pen is INOX.

We don’t know if these are stoves or smokers. Interestingly, there is a brand name of equipment here called INOX. On these, in poorly printed, blue felt pen is I NOX.

And then there is the option to buy food.

This woman is peeling the chestnuts. I'm thinking she has enough to keep her busy for a while. She also has mini apples.

This woman is peeling the mangosteens. I’m thinking she has enough to keep her busy for a while. She also has mini apples.

Maybe you want hand picked/peeled snails for dinner.

Maybe you want hand picked/peeled snails for dinner.

And how could you resist buying your meat from this ... uh... shop.

And how could you resist buying your meat from this … uh… shop.

After all that hard work, you need to wash your hair.

After all that hard work, you need to wash your hair.

Getting electricity to the buildings is no easy task.

Getting electricity to the buildings is no easy task.

The architecture seems to be a combination of French style, with Asian size.

The architecture seems to be a combination of French style, with Asian size.

Vietnamese New Year (anyone recall the Tet offensive?) is this week. They celebrate by bringing orange trees and peach blossoms into their home and decorating them. How do they get them home, you ask.

One orange tree, one scooter.

One live orange tree, one scooter.

The Shoe Blog

The shoe blog may take a hit over the next couple of weeks. At first blush, Hanoi and perhaps Vietnam does not appear to be the fashion capital that Jiaxing and Shanghai are. Thus it is back to China for this entry. If you remember, a couple of postings ago Geoff talked about the Mercedes convertible outside Starbucks. Well one of these shoes belongs to the woman driving it and the other belongs to a woman who drives a black Malibu (Ed. note: when she is home.) 

Well, they ARE in the same colour family.

Well, they ARE in the same colour family…

Terry Finally Blogs

We’ve come full circle, folks.  It is now Geoff’s blog to which I occasionally make a guest contribution.  So here are a few observations I’ve made in the last while.

It is cold here in Jiaxing.  Maybe not cold as in eastern ice storms or prairie winters but cold nonetheless.  One morning as I head to the bus stop, I see a man warming up his car.  He gets out, holding the ubiquitous thermos of tea (don’t leave home without it) and has a look at his frozen windshield.  Sip of tea–spit on windshield; sip of tea, spit on windshield.  Okay. TIC.  Why turn on the defrost — the car gets too warm inside for the 5 layers of clothing worn daily.  How do I know it’s 5 layers?  Because that’s how many I wear every day to stay comfortable at work!

The hot fashion item for women this year is the skater skirt, as in ice skater.  Think very short, cut on the bias, ultra flared.  I mean very short, like 1″ below the bottom of the bum.  How do these girls stay warm?  (Ed. note: I DEMAND she get one – who agrees?) By wearing super thick, sometimes plush-lined tights.  How do I know?  Because I have a couple of pairs.  NO, I do not have a little skater skirt over top!  (Ed. note: Again, I DEMAND she get one!) Warmth trumps style for me.  I do think these tights will come in handy for winter golf, though.  I remember freezing on the course in Hemet one Spring day–never again, with these.

Regular blog followers may remember our tales of the great (Chinese) New Year’s party the school threw last year for all the staff.  Good food, lots of booze, karaoke, prizes and fun!  We were really looking forward to it but we had it confirmed that it is not happening this year because of the federal government’s new policy of “no frills” for government or big company employees and employers.  The new president is trying to combat the image of corruption with some people living high on the backs of the tax payer — think Harper with Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy.  In addition to going without our party, we have noticed that the gifts of food are also less frequent.  No lucky fish for the New Year.  New policies are enacted quickly in China.  The local authorities are called up and the new edicts go into effect.  Responsive government in action, but then it is easier to do when the provinces can’t trump decisions. (Ed. note: How come it is always the little guy, who doesn’t get a lot anyway, who has to suffer? Bet the big boys still get their perks!)

Just to set a little perspective, I counted the motorbikes and scooters as I waited for the bus on the way to work one day.  Within 5 minutes, 65 bikes went by.  In Canada, only the very hearty (some would say fool-hardy) ride their motorbikes everyday, including winter.  Here, one puts their hands into thick gloves that fit over the handle grips, puts on an extra coat back to front to keep out the wind chill and away they go.  It’s a good time to be on the back or, as a child, wedged in the middle.

Matching mitts and wind protector - Nice orange scooter too.

Matching mitts and wind protector – Nice orange scooter too.

Non-matching mitts and wind protector...

Non-matching mitts, wind protector, scarf, face mask and hat…

The perspective on the numbers of bikes will be tested when we arrive in Vietnam tomorrow.  Something tells me 65 is a paltry number.

We had an interesting morning yesterday.  Our friend Tim took us on a tour of the Cone Denim factory here in Jiaxing, where he is the general manager.  In 600, 000 square feet (Ed. note: How big is that? Well, a Canadian football field without the end zones, is 110 yds by 65 yards – or 93,000 square feet. This plant is more than 6 times that!), they take bales of raw cotton and turn it into denim, largely for the western market.  A great deal of the finished product is shipped directly to manufacturers of jeans in China and Vietnam before it shows up in shops at home.  He told us that GAP and J. Crew now mention Cone on their labels but most of us have never heard of Cone, even though they have been producing denim for 120 years.  Levi is one of the major clients as well as some high end brands and many in between. (Ed. note: He also told us that the difference in price for the denim between $25.00 jeans and $500 designer jeans is — about $15.00).

These are loosely stranded fibres, which are yet to be spun tightly to form yarn.

These are barrels of loosely stranded fibres, which are yet to be spun tightly to form yarn.

The fibres are spun from the barrels into these "packages" of tightly woven yarn.

The fibres are spun from the barrels into these “packages” of tightly woven yarn.

The various machines in the plant are computer operated, some with robots that automatically monitor and fix thread breaks and it is fascinating to watch them at work, sorting, cleaning, carding, spinning, dying and finally weaving these fibres into fabric.  However many machines there are, the plant still needs a  human eye to maintain quality control, monitor the machines and of course, kept them fed with raw materials.  Chemists work on new colour and treatment formulas to meet specific demands of designers for different slubs, finishes and tints, and of course, many people are needed in quality control where they test each batch of finished cotton by washing and drying samples to check for shrinkage and colour change and compare batches.  The plant employs 750 people.

Cone seems like a pretty good place to work.  All employees work in teams and are paid on an incentive system based on the quality of their work (what do you mean, we can’t do that in Canada?).  Additionally, they are provided with a small apartment that has both hot water and AC/heat (Y40 per month, about $8), a cafeteria and games room.  The hot water is a big deal because, as Tim pointed out, MOST people in China do not have hot water in their homes.  And I complain about the sketchy heating system!

(Ed. note: Despite the attractive benefits etc., there is such a demand for labour in China that each year, Tim has to hire 500 new employees to replace the 350 that annually leave. The extra 150 or so leave after a week or two.)

The witch-hazel is in full bloom in our complex–Spring must be on the way.

January 19th

January 19th

We have a nice long winter holiday now and were looking forward to sleeping in this morning when the firecrackers started at 6:50 am and ran for a solid minute and a half.  We have not been here for Chinese New Year and although it is sure to be interesting, we are not sorry to miss it!  Restful it would not be!  So we are packed to head to Vietnam tomorrow — Joe and Sam are meeting us in Hanoi on the 25th to travel with us for a week.  Am I excited?  You bet!

(Ed. notes:

  1. The other day I am at the office and I hear a buzzing that just doesn’t stop. When I look around, I see one of my regular office mates (an interior designer) holding a mirror and shaving with an electric razor! Come on…
  2. As we approach Chinese New Year, I am sure you are all familiar with the traditional red envelopes used to give money. Well, I am at the Shanghai-Hongqiao train station last week and as you purchase your train ticket, the agent gives you your change, the ticket and a red envelope. No, nothing in the envelope, just with your stuff. They slide all of it through the little opening and people then just leave the envelope on the counter. Every few minutes a janitor/custodian comes along, knocks all of the envelopes onto the floor and sweeps them up. There are thousands of people who go through there every day – the waste is astronomical.
  3. I don’t know how much money is in Jiaxing, but the other day I look out and an Audi, BMW and gorgeous red Mercedes convertible are all parked in a row right outside the Starbucks window. I asked Tim about the early thirty’s women who drive them and he says it is generally Daddy’s money buying them for Daddy’s little girls.
  4. Donkey...

    Donkey…

    I don’t know why Terry didn’t mention how we started our holiday. Friday we went with “the boys” to a restaurant which specializes in donkey – and other stuff. We had four dishes with various parts of the donkey – tail, liver, other…

    In the circle is a part of the donkey tail - the light coloured part is the bone that runs down the middle.

    In the circle is a part of the donkey tail – the light coloured part is the bone that runs down the middle.

  5. It also serves

    No we didn't try the larvae - maybe next time.

    No we didn’t try the larvae – maybe next time.

The Shoe Blog

And just to show that Geoff is not the only one who can spot cool, weird or beautiful boots, here’s a pair that I spotted at the hair dresser’s.

Very Cute - but what exactly is that? Terry thinks it is a chinchilla (faux of course).

Very Cute – but what exactly is that? Terry thinks it is a chinchilla (faux of course).

Sunday Meandering

We had a quiet Sunday wandering down to Dai Meng De Gou, also known as Diamond Mall. Interesting shops along the way.

Nice Lamps

Nice Lamps

Now, if you need coloured twine, this is the shop for you. Not often you see a window display like this.

"We have a window so we have to put something in it."

“We have a window so we have to put something in it.”

As we walk in to Diamond Mall, we come across Uncle Tetsu’s. We could not believe the lineup. Apparently Uncle Tetsu makes cheesecake – and not just cheesecake, but LUCKY cheesecake!

Uncle Tetsu

Uncle Tetsu

There are some interesting clothing stores in Diamond Mall. This one is Hipanda – which we thought was Hip Anda, but is in fact, Hi Panda. This fetching hoodie was only $250.00 (yes dollars).

Friendly Face

“Friendly” Panda – but no, it is not hanging in my closet

Across from Hipanda was “Devil Nut” another very trendy store with over priced strange clothing.

How do they come up with these names?

How do they come up with these names?

Cinderella comes complete with fangs…

Comes complete with pillow for sleeping on the train, the plane...

Comes complete with pillow for sleeping on the train, the plane…

On the way out, we bought 10 chocolates – $1.80 each. For that price, you get this little box  and you need to put it in a big bag to take home.

It is good chocolate, though

It is good chocolate, though.

The drivers in China are in a hurry.

Traffic #1

The other day I am crossing the street on a green light. There are 5 (five) cars stopped on the red light. Out of nowhere comes another car driving in the oncoming lane so that it can make a right turn and does not want to wait along with everyone else.

Traffic #2

Okay, so follow closely. This is a three lane road. The inside lane (the black car) is to turn right to go in to the mall parking lot. The red car doesn’t want to go so tries to get into the middle lane. The white car (far left) came down the middle lane and then cuts off the red car because he wants to turn right into the lot and does not want to wait along with everyone else.

More traffic issues

More traffic issues

The Shoe Blog

This very cute couple was in Macau. Her thigh high boots were great.

Cute couple

Cute couple

You Thought LEAVING China was Tough

(Ed. note: You may have noticed that the last post was mostly photos with a little prose interspersed. There are no photos to accompany this entry, however.)

Our pal Ken. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ken Haycock, let me introduce him. I have known Ken for almost 34 years. He is successful, educated, urbane, witty, well regarded and respected by friends and peers but mostly he is incredibly well-travelled with a wealth of travel experiences. In fact, I have often tired of reading his yearly Christmas letter describing all the places he had visited in the previous year. All of this is to say that he is quite unflappable.

Saturday we discussed how Sunday would look. It was a fifteen minute taxi ride from our hotel to the ferry terminal where we would catch the 7:30am ferry back to the Hong Kong International Airport. I said I wanted to leave no later than 6:15 – Terry and Ken were all for getting there around 7. I won – we got there at 6:25. There was already a 15 minute wait to check in as you check in for your flight at the same time. At about 6:45 we finally get to the counter and the agent goes through all our documents, issues boarding passes to Terry and I, checks our luggage and sends it through. He then goes through Ken’s passport several times. Now, because Ken travels a lot, I figure he is just looking at all the stamps. Finally, he says “Sir, where is your visa to get in to China?” Ken takes the passport back and says “It is right here” “No, sir, this has already been used.” Now, I am beginning to get a little twitchy. Ken says, “No, this is the one which I got in Vancouver and I told them I was going to Macau and they said, no problem, Macau is part of China.” The agent says “No, Macau is not part of China. I cannot let this person on the ferry to China since he does not have a valid visa.” (Ed. note: This is really what he said – ‘this person” not ‘you’ and continued this throughout the rest of the dialogue). By now I am getting really twitchy and people in the line are starting to look at us. Ken says “What do I have to do?” “This person has to go to the Chinese consulate and get a visa” “Are they open today – it is Sunday” asks Ken. “No” the agent says. We discuss how this is going to work. He can go back to the hotel, wait until Monday, see how long it will take to get a visa etc. etc. Finally, he says to the agent “But I have a flight out of Shanghai back to Vancouver on Tuesday – how will I make it?”. By now it is well past 7 am and Terry has gone to MacDonalds to get us breakfast. The agent then has to reissue our baggage claim stuff since he put it through under Ken’s name. Ken recites his mantra “There is no problem a little time, money or initiative can’t solve, so just relax”. (Ed. note: I’m thinking he recited it several hundred times.)

The agent then asks to see Ken’s itinerary and calls Cathay Pacific. He spends 5 minutes talking to the agent there and then says that “this person” can travel to China and has 72 hours to transit China without a visa to Shanghai. Ah, thank God, since it is now 7:20. We all get on the ferry and off we go on the 55 minute crossing.

At the airport we are in line to get on the plane and, once again, they are checking our passports. The woman looks at Ken and after being asked, says “Oh yes, your visa is perfectly good”. So much for the ferry agent!

We arrive in Shanghai and get in the line for checking documents. There is a special line for “People in Transit without a Visa” and Ken gets in it. There are about 6 people in the line and we have about 60 in front of us. “I’ll meet you at the luggage carousel.” We get through, wait about 10 minutes for our bags and look around – no Ken so we figure he has gone through the exit and is waiting on the other side. Wrong – we go through and no Ken. Behind us we hear him calling “I’ll be out in 5 minutes”.

Now we wait and wait and wait. No Ken. After about 15 minutes (Ed. note: seemed a LOT longer), out he comes. Now, I wasn’t there so the following is all hearsay, but his little adventure went something like this. He got to the counter and the agent was young and inexperienced (Ed. note: Why was she on that counter, one wonders). Because he had no visa, (Ed. note: Remember, this is the line for people with no visa) she calls over a supervisor, who calls over another one who then takes him into a back room. Eventually there are five of them questioning him – the first four in either Chinese or broken English. They want to know his itinerary. He tells them he is flying on Air Canada flight 26 “There is no such flight number” they say. “Yes there is”. Then they tell him to go sit in a corner. They phone Air Canada and confirm there is such a flight and that he is booked on it. Now he is called back and told that they will issue him a temporary visa. The officer holds it up (it is about 3″ square) and tells him to read it out loud . “Seriously, you want me to read it out loud?” “Yes” the officer yells. “But it is in Chinese” “Oh, so sorry” the officer sheepishly replies and turns it over to the English side. The visa says he is not to leave the environs of Shanghai. “But I am going to Jiaxing with my friends.” The officer points to the line that says he is to present himself to the local police station to verify his residence. (Ed. note: Dr. Haycock also shows remarkable restraint at times. For example, despite wanting to, he did not say “Do you think I want to sneak into rural China and disappear?” to the immigration officer. Good choice Kenny!) With that he is off and out to meet us. Apparently you do need a visa to transit 72 hours through China without a visa. Either that or these guys missed the memo – the January 2013 memo .Click here.

We have a long discussion about whether he should just stay in Shanghai until Tuesday, until Terry points out he has a whack o’ stuff at our place, so off to the train station we go, hoping that there is nothing on his passport which will come up when we buy the tickets home. (Ed. note: You need your passport to buy train tickets). Luckily he is okay and we get home that night okay.

After more discussion about him being in Shanghai by himself the next two days and going to the fabric market by himself to pick up his new overcoat, I decide to trust him on his own. I put him on the train from Jiaxing to Shanghai late on Monday morning – it was like sending your child off to school for the first day. The amazing thing was that with only getting taken to the wrong market by the taxi driver and then being laughed at by a police officer, he did just fine. At least, I think he did. I haven’t heard how he did as he went passed the “bars” (Ed. note: “Where you go mister? You want to come in and buy me a drink?”) on his way back from the restaurant to the hotel last night – and I don’t think I want to know!

Thanks for coming to visit, Ken. Next up: the boys in Vietnam and Lynne and Martin in March (and they are going off to Beijing by themselves!)

A Bevy of Beauties

 (Ed. note: Before we get in to the blog, a little information for you. You have to love the Chinese education “system”.

  1. We were originally told the New Year’s holiday would be Jan 1, 2 and 3 plus the weekend and made our reservations to go to Macau with Ken. On Dec. 9 we were told that the government had decided that we would only get Jan. 1 off. Oh oh. Mr Zhou asked if we could make up the two days by working a couple of Saturdays instead. When we looked a little askance, he immediately said no problem, he would just have the Chinese teachers cover the classes.
  2. Our Chinese New Year holiday is supposed to start Jan. 22 and run through  Feb. 15th. Then, we start work on the 16th and the kids come in on the 17th. However, at last Monday’s regular admin meeting Terry was asked if we could start the holiday on the 18th of January instead since there won’t be any Chinese teachers around after the 17th. Let me think about that. Okay.
  3. Next, we come back on Monday from our holiday in Macau and she is informed that at an emergency meeting of the Jiaxing Ministry of Education on Jan. 4th, it was decided that there should be no kids on the campus when the Chinese exams are written on Jan. 9 and 10 of this week.  Although we have to “work”, there will be no teaching.
  4. Pressure – what pressure? Also this week at the monthly meeting with the Chinese principal  and after showing Terry (again) the plans for the new school, he said, “It will cost 30 billion RMB and will be the most beautiful campus where you have ever worked!”  Then Mr. Zhao says, “You must stay for the opening year.”  No pressure here.  If it gets approved and everything goes well, building could start soon and the school could be ready by next school year.  This is hard to believe, as is the school costing 30 billion RMB–isn’t that $5 billion?  Krikey!  How could I not work in a school like that? First, we think he means million, not billion, but still…. Plus, they haven’t even started yet. It does make one wonder about the quality of the workmanship.)

Anyway, on to the bevy (Ed. note: In this bevy there are 27) of beauties. We present to you a large number of photographs from our trip to Macau. There weren’t too many adventures (Ed. note: Until we tried to leave).

We recommend that on most of the photos you click on them and then maybe click again to magnify for greater detail. (Ed. note: Just not of Ken)

Saturday night we went to A Lorcha Portugeuse Restaurant for a fabulous dinner. It is supposedly one of the two top restaurants in Macau. Terry wasn’t impressed with the start, however. She felt that Ken’s bean salad was mostly canned vegetables.

2 of the 4 giant prawns

2 of the 4 giant prawns

Here is Ken in a more frivolous time (Ed. note: more on this later).

Ken3 Ken4 Ken5

"Don't know if I like the salad or the wine and beer more"

“Don’t know if I like the salad or the wine and beer more”

You want gold? There are hundreds – no exaggeration – of gold shops in Macau, although they may be outnumbered by the designer watch shops. And, apparently they are the real deal, no knock offs, no bargains (Ed. note: the watches, not the gold – well, there’s no deal on the gold either).

Gold1

Check out the one little piggy necklace on the left. Subtle.

Check out the one little piggy necklace on the left. Subtle.

Terry maintained there was no way she would ever wear the three little pigs, but who knows?

Terry maintained there was no way she would ever wear the three little pigs, but who knows?

Casino Heaven. There was a report recently that Macau does $45 Billion a year in gambling, 7 times more than Vegas (Ed. note: thanks Joan). The first American casino was built here in 2004 – it only took 9 months for it to make back the total costs and begin turning a profit. I think there are presently 36 casinos here and there are 6 more being opened next year. Of the 6, I think 4 are owned by the same companies which already have one here. Unbelievable. We visited Wynn, Grand Lisboa, Sofitel, City of Dreams and The Venetian among others. The Venetian is actually listed as one of the top tourist attractions.

Wynn

The ceiling in the main entrance of Wynn. This is about 35 - 40 feet in diameter.

The astrological signs ceiling in the main entrance of Wynn. This is about 35 – 40 feet in diameter. (

The building outside is just as impressive – and it is one of two matching towers.

Tower One

Tower One

The Grand Lisboa – oldest casino in Macau

The Grand Lisboa Hotel - it was me that was cock-eyed, not the hotel

The Grand Lisboa Hotel – it was me that was cock-eyed, not the hotel

The Grand Lisboa Casino, across the street from the hotel. The inset does do the lighting up at night justice, but you get the idea.

The Grand Lisboa Casino, across the street from the hotel. The inset does not do the lighting up at night justice, but you get the idea.

The Venetian

An amazing floor

An amazing floor

This is one of two matching SPIRAL escalators.

This is one of two matching SPIRAL escalators.

How tall is the tree? Can you find 6' tall Ken?

How tall is the tree? Can you find 6′ tall Ken?

Terry on her big winning streak! Totally focused.

Terry on her big winning streak! Totally focused.

Finally, the shops at the casinos. They are all repeats – Versace, Gucci, Coach, Dior, Tiffanys etc. etc. Who buys there – the people who won the big jackpots?

Macau Tower

During the day on Saturday we took the Hop-on – Hop-off buses to see the sights of Macau. If you ever get to Macau, you simply must remember not to do this. I’m not saying it was a rip, I am yelling IT WAS A RIP. We visited Macau Fisherman’s Wharf, a deserted, desolate shopping area, the Macau Science Centre – we were so enthralled with the outside, we didn’t even go in and the Macau Tower. Although it was only 60 stories high, it was worth the money – sort of. The guy on the bus told us it was 50% off that day. This is how 50% works: Terry and I pay full shot and Ken, who as a senior gets a reduced rate anyway, gets in for free. Go figure – maybe that’s how they make $45 billion.

Anyway, these are for you Karen.

Those are my toes jutting out and looking through the plexiglass. It was amazing how many people were afraid to walk on the panes.

Those are my toes jutting out and looking through the plexiglass. It was amazing how many people were afraid to walk on the panes.

The bridge to Taipa

The bridge to Taipa

Our Hotel

Our Hotel

No, Terry is NOT holding on for dear life!

No, Terry is NOT holding on for dear life!

Remnants

The modern Japanese family out for breakfast together

The modern Japanese family out for breakfast – together?

Imagin how many mosquitoes you could keep away with these babies! Incense coils all burning outside a small buddhist temple.

Imagine how many mosquitoes you could keep away with these babies! Incense coils all burning outside a small Buddhist temple.

"Just give me a minute - I know I have one of those somewhere."

“Just give me a minute – I know I have one of those somewhere.”

The bridge from Macau to Taipa (no, not Taipei)

The bridge from Macau to Taipa (no, not Taipei)

 

Terry and her panda at the Panda Park

Terry and her favourite panda at the Panda Park

Remembeer Terry and Pomelo Head from a year or so ago? Well…

Terry and Portugeuse Bread Head

Terry and Portugeuse Bread Head

Finally

The Shoe Blog

This woman was part of some kind of tour coming to Macau from somewhere. She was getting on the people mover (the train that moves people around the Hong Kong Airport). The best part was watching Ken’s mortified look as I asked to take some photos of her “beautiful” shoes and then got down to do so. I do believe he wanted to be on another train – or planet.

All sorts of stuff going on

All sorts of stuff going on