Daily Archives: June 30, 2014

Taipei

Travel is always glamorous, isn’t it. I remember when I was much younger thinking how cool it would be to have a job where you zipped all over the world. As Colonel Blimp (Ed. note: Also from many years ago) was prone to saying “Harrumph!” We left our apartment yesterday morning at 8:05 and got into our hotel in Taipei 8 hours and 55 minutes later at 5:00 – the flight took 1 hour and 20 minutes.

It is no wonder the Chinese have difficulty lining up. Just where do I stand?

It is no wonder the Chinese have difficulty lining up. Just where do I queue?

How long has it been that you can’t take certain things through security? I understand the bottles of water – but don’t you think the smokers would have got the message that lighters are not allowed long before they got to the scanning area?

I understand the water, but the lighters?

There were at least 15 lighters there…

We were delayed getting on the plane and so  we listened to Delta Airlines announce “Mr. Mike Ross and Mr. Sam Chan please report to Gate 77. This is the last boarding call for Delta flight 211 to Seattle” every 3 minutes or more for at least half an hour and that is absolutely no exaggeration. When we finally got on the plane, they announced that we would be not departing for another 35 minutes. Good news though. When we checked in the woman at the counter looked at us and said “Would you like exit row seats?” Then, EVA Airlines has, without a doubt, the most attractive flight attendants in the airline industry in Southeast Asia. Plus, they enjoy their jobs, are friendly and attentive and smile and laugh! We were on a 747 so there must have been 20 or more of them with a total age of about 1 Air Canada long haul flight attendant.

Friendly, smiling Ava and her equally friendly, smiling, younger  friend Silvia.

Friendly, smiling, beautiful Ava and her equally friendly, smiling, younger, smaller friend Silvia. (Ed. note: That may be the official EVA Airlines sitting position, I’m not sure.)

We are used to getting stares because of Terry’s looks and my white hair, but boy oh boy. While we were in line at customs we managed to get ourselves into the middle of a very large – maybe 100 person, tour which must have come in from western China. I don’t think any of them had ever seen a “foreigner” before and there was nothing subtle about the looking and pointing. Even then, however, they would break into gales of laughter when we said Ni Hao to them.

By the time we got to the hotel and cleaned up, we needed – yes NEEDED a drink. The front desk sent us to a bar/restaurant around the corner. Oh Scott and Karen… Read on and wait until you hear. Our plan was to have a drink and then head to a night market for street food. Only fools make plans. We started with a couple of glasses of wine and they brought us a 7″ cast iron saute pan of mushrooms in a dark thyme sauce as a welcome. They were out of this world. We ordered a couple more glasses of wine and watched the bartender chipping away on a cube/block of ice that was about 4″x4″x4″. They suggested we try their mussels. They were right. The mussels were HUGE and served in a tomato, spanish sausage, basil sauce with, sadly, not enough bread to soak up all the sauce. If the mushrooms were out of this world, the mussels came from another universe. I ordered a glass of Glenfarclas whisky. A very generous pour. We then asked the owner what the blocks of ice, which had been whittled down to tennis ball size, were for. He said that if a customer ordered a good whiskey on the rocks they use a largish glass, and put the ball of ice in. It sits about 1/2″ off the bottom of the glass and then the whisky is poured over it. That way, the ice doesn’t melt as fast and turn the whisky into water. Okay – pour mine over one. It was fantastic. Then we ordered beef and vegetables and were a little disappointed. It was great tasting beef, but served with basil, cheery tomatoes and black olives – very similar to the mussels. By now the ‘farclas was gone so the bartender asked if I would like to try something else. (Ed. note: Scott and Karen this is the part for you) He brought over a bottle of something from a single cask distilling and bottled for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Each cask has only a limited number of bottles – this one was one of 556. I have never tasted anything like it. It was smooth beyond belief, but had a wonderful “afterburn”. I usually prefer a peaty whisky and there was no hint of that but man it was good, especially since it, like the mushrooms, were on the house!

Now it’s Terry’s turn:  We have heard many people say that Taiwan is nothing like mainland China.  Although we have only been here a few days, we certainly have noticed some differences.  First, the citizens appear to follow rules, of the road, for example, and of queuing.  Even on the subway, they stand in line to one side of the door UNTIL ALL the people exit from the other side.  Maybe that’s the problem with the Chinese system–they allow entry from both sides which invariably breaks down to line-breakers pushing through the middle of the exiting passengers.   On the roads, traffic laws are observed with NO honking required.  And get this!  Pedestrians have the right of way!!!!

I'm going to get this printed and plaster them all over Jiaxing!!

I’m going to get this printed and plaster them all over Jiaxing!!

We have been surprised many times when drivers actually stop and wait for us to cross!  Each time, we realize we are in a different place, then smile and wave at the driver because we can hardly believe it and are so pleased.  At every controlled intersection, the crosswalk lights indicate the generous length of  time pedestrians have to cross, and all the drivers wait patiently.  It also appears that traffic rules are enforced.  In front of our hotel, Geoff saw a policeman tell a van driver that he could not stop there to load passengers.  This might have been a bit of overkill since it was a Sunday and traffic was at a minimum, but still.

Another thing that is very different from China–Sunday appears to offer at least a good half day of rest for shop-keepers.  We were up and out around 10:00 but found very few shops in service, with signs indicating an 11:00 or 12:00 opening, perhaps related to the prevalence of western religion here.  In our walk to our first tourist site of the day, we passed numerous small storefronts serving as Sunday morning churches.  We also spotted a handful of  Falun Gong worshippers doing their very public thing on the sidewalk (Do not try this in China).

This city is clean–streets, sidewalks, malls, shops, all clean.  The airport is gleaming, but as Geoff pointed out, Pudong Airport is pretty clean also.  So are the major train stations in China.  But here, we’re talking about everywhere.  Even at a night market where lots of street food is available, the garbage seems to make it into receptacles.  How refreshing! (Ed. note: See next blog for Ed.’s notes)

We walked nearly 10km yesterday and saw only a few of the sites we had planned, partly because we went to the weekend Flower and Jade Market, set up under a freeway ramp!  Again, amazing–the intersections around it are all nicely controlled with long lights so the huge crowd of pedestrians can safely cross when needed (the market spans several blocks and 1 full km long).  We were simply gob-smacked at the quality and quantity of plants, gardening supplies and decor available, and the amazingly low prices.  <$3 would buy mid-size healthy and blooming orchids, cacti, tropical foliage of all kinds.  Orchids common, rare, huge and miniature, in a rainbow of colours.  Bougainvillaea, crotons, any tropical that we can find at plant shops in BC and all spectacularly healthy (imagine–tropical plants doing well in this hot and humid country), and all so so cheap!  It makes me sad for our plants that fail to thrive on our sunny balcony in Jiaxing.  The whole garden area is set up only on weekends, on tables reminiscent of garage sales.  Misters spray frequently so plants thrive and shoppers don’t expire.  Quite a wonderful experience in the heat of the day! (Ed. note: See a wealth of photos below.)

The night market we chose was a bit of a bust for us–mostly food stall set up along narrow streets with shops open.  Geoff tried a few things on the street but wasn’t impressed, so we opted instead for a Thai restaurant with a special on Sangha beer.  VERY very good choice.

The misters keep things - uh - misted.

Misters keep things – uh – misted.

The first surprise was that these orchid roots were sold in bunches of 10 for $100 NT or $3.00 CDN.

The first surprise was that these orchid roots were sold in bunches of 10 for $100 NT or $3.00 CDN.

There were anywhere from 50 to 100 of these stalls selling just orchids.

There were anywhere from 50 to 100 of these stalls selling just orchids. $150NT = $4.50 CDN

More orchids

More orchids

There were mini orchids...

There were mini orchids…

...more mini orchids

…more mini orchids

These

These orchids were so frail and light that the breeze -which wasn’t very much – kept blowing them and making them move when I tried to take the picture.

 

There were bouganvillea plants and

There were bougainvillea plants and

bouganvillea trees

bougainvillea trees

There were ferns being shaped like Bonsai trees...

There were ferns being shaped like Bonsai trees…

and things we had no idea about

and things we had no idea about.

Some, maybe 10%, had signs that said no photographs. I took this before the woman vaulted out of her chair at the back yelling "no photo, no photo!"

Some, maybe 10%, had signs that said no photographs. I took this before the woman vaulted out of her chair at the back yelling “no photo, no photo!” These are HUGE hibiscus.

When we went by Monday morning

Amazing transformation. What a great use of space.

Amazing transformation. What a great use of space.

The Shoe Blog

This photo is the last one I took in Jiaxing before we left for the summer.

shoes

 

 

 

 

Everyone Should Live In China At Least Once

(Ed. note: This post was written by an American woman, Andrea Xu, and posted to her blog*. It was forwarded to us by a friend who was a principal in Shanghai last year. Thanks Lawrence. An original Jiaxing Express posting will follow soon – if Terry gets around to finishing her part of it this morning and stops looking for things for us to do in Tainan City!)
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Preferably, when you’re young and resilient, so you can handle the pollution. Living in the pollution will make you question how so many people can live like this, to have days where you can’t see the sun because of the smog. Living in the pollution will make you have a greater appreciation for the environment, and perhaps, to be more active in conserving it.

Live in China, and be surrounded by the 1.4 billion people that inhabit the country. Surprisingly enough, there will be moments where you feel completely and utterly alone. You will learn the power of human interaction, and you will learn to appreciate your friends and family more. You might become more shameless, and be more prone to striking up conversations with strangers. You’ll build relationships that you never would have had otherwise.

Go and live in China, for the sake of wholly immersing yourself in a culture where the language is completely different, where people are glued to their cellphones and iPads, where most people grew up without a sibling. You will be marveled by how remarkably similar and different we are from one another, but how we are all connected through humanity.

Experience the pushing, the cutting in lines, the yelling, the honking, the gawking, the thumping in your heart as you play Frogger with your life every time you cross the street. You’ll learn patience. If you’re a foreigner who doesn’t look Chinese, experience the fan girl club, of being stopped so often to have a picture taken with you that you might be in the cellphones of hundreds of giddy Chinese girls. If you are a foreigner who does look Chinese (or is Chinese), prepare to be seen as the translator, even if your more foreign-looking counterpart has better Chinese than you. People will be confused about the fact that you are American, but have Chinese origins. You’ll experience identity issues of race and gender you may have never felt otherwise.

If you are a female, go live in China and be subjected to the implicit and explicit sexual discrimination in China. Lift your head up high as you get gawked at by Chinese men, staring at you as if they are trying to peel the clothes off your skin. Exhibit your strength as you fend off men who think they can do or say whatever they want to you; hold your ground when you get passed over for your male counterpart. Use these experiences and channel it into a more steadfast commitment for women’s rights.

Go live in China, and the dormant history nerd in you will emerge. Observe the juxtaposition of towering skyscrapers next to dilapidated apartment complexes, of streets lined with luxury stores such as Louis Vuitton and Fendi when right around the corner are shacks and stands of cheap Chinese goods. Revel in how a country that was turned upside down from the Cultural Revolution only 30-some years ago has transformed itself into a country pushing its way to the forefront. You’ll feel as if you are living through a crucial moment of history, as if something dramatic can happen any moment. Take in the excitement.

Then, leave the big city, and find a rural village. Get transported back into time, and observe a simpler life. Watch the barefoot children play among the fields, farmers planting rice in steeple terraces with oxen, chickens running amok and the elderly with leathery skin and missing teeth. See if anyone comes up to you and asks you to help read to them the writing on the seed packet–I bet you some of them will. Stay in the village for as long or for as short as you want, but just remember this: juxtaposition. How a country can have cities like Shanghai and Beijing, but also villages tucked deep into the mountains you can’t imagine why people would move there in the first place, how basic amenities such as electricity can sometimes be a luxury. Does this qualify China as a developing nation still? Perhaps. So go to a village. You’ll learn to think. Priorities may change. (That, and don’t forget to go to the bathroom there at least once. I guarantee you it’ll just be a hole in the ground).

Go, go live in China and experience the chaos, the people, the culture, the food. Go and meet new people, talk to strangers, learn their history–it’ll be so much more different than what you’re used to. Get pushed and shoved, feel alone, and appreciate humanity all the more when you find that one person who isn’t trying to rip you off or cuts you short when you stumble through your Chinese. Pay it forward. Embrace the nation with two arms, and laugh it off when you get bogged down by so many frustrations that you just want to scream at the nation. Because you will. And when you return to the States, or wherever you are from, you’re going to be a different person. You will have stories. Stories of rickshaw drivers, of baijiu, of tonal mishaps, of being ripped off, of babies defecating on the street, of those euphoric moments where living in China for this brief period was worth it. You won’t regret it.

Everyone should live in China at least once.

*From Andrea Xu’s blog : Thought Catalog (http://thoughtcatalog.com/andrea-xu/2014/06/everyone-should-live-in-china-at-least-once/)

And for more interesting information, this is a piece done on W5 on China’s pollution issues. http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?binId=1.811589