Monthly Archives: May 2015

a dark & misty bamboo raft ride down the yulong river

Sunday, May 31:  This morning, Erica and I awake to a steady downpour of rain, but as we walk to the Cosy Garden’s sister restaurant for breakfast, the rain magically tapers off.  The mist doesn’t disappear though, not even remotely; even though no rain is falling, it is still exceedingly damp.  After nearly a year of living in Guangxi province, I’m finally coming to the conclusion that the province is ALWAYS damp.  That’s why you always see pictures of the karst landscape in Guilin and Yangshuo with misty clouds draped protectively over the fantastical mountains.

After breakfast, we check out of the hotel and wait for our ride to the Yulong River, which we arranged yesterday.  When we arrive at the boat launch, an altercation with our driver ensues.  We had asked when we arranged the ride if we could leave our bags in the vehicle while we took the raft ride down the Yulong River.  We are heading directly to Guilin after our boat ride, so we didn’t want to have to return to the hotel, which is quite out-of-the-way.

The driver has apparently not been apprised of this arrangement and keeps arguing with violent gestures (he doesn’t speak English) that we cannot leave our bags in the van.  It gets quite ugly, but we insist on leaving the bags. I have a smaller bag in which I carry my camera, money and passport, so I carry that with me on the raft, but Erica has only one bag, a big one, in which she has everything, including all her valuables.  She wants the driver to lock the car, but he refuses.  We end up leaving the bags there anyway, as he marches us angrily to the boat launch.

We situate ourselves on the rafts and before long, we’re underway.  It’s a dark and dreary day, not ideal for pictures, but… it is what it is.  This is Yangshuo and this is more the norm than not.

bamboo raft central on the yulong river

bamboo raft central on the yulong river

pulling away from the jumble of rafts

pulling away from the jumble of rafts

Our raft on the Yulong River

Our raft on the Yulong River

Every time we come to a drop in the river, shown below, we have to ride over and splash into the lower level of the river.  It doesn’t look very steep, but we can really feel it when we go over.  It’s quite exciting!

the first drop

the first drop

misty morning

misty morning

Erica can speak a little more Chinese than I can, so somehow she gleans from the captain of our boat that his home is right along the river.  He points out his homestead as we go past.

our bamboo boat captain

our bamboo boat captain

It’s fun to watch the mostly Chinese tourists who are floating along with us downriver.  They repeatedly want to take pictures of us, while we in return take pictures of them.

karst landscape on the Yulong River

karst landscape on the Yulong River

bamboo boat jam

bamboo boat jam

The boat captain in the picture below ends up dropping his pole in the river, and as we go on, we wonder what will become of him and his passengers.

fellow travelers

fellow travelers

the bamboo boats

the bamboo boats & Chinese girls

It is a very cloudy day, but it’s still lovely.  The pictures don’t turn out so well though, sadly.

mist-covered mountains

mist-covered mountains

the boat captain's house

the boat captain’s house

At some points on the river we encounter a few pile ups.

traffic jam on the river

traffic jam on the river

And of course there are always the ubiquitous Chinese girls taking selfies.

picture-taking time

picture-taking time

green mountain majesty

green mountain majesty

reflections

reflections

bamboo rafts

bamboo rafts

the Yulong River

the Yulong River

more views from the river

more views from the river

magnificent karst landscape

magnificent karst landscape

karst heaven

karst heaven

rafting down the Yulong

rafting down the Yulong

bushes and karsts

bushes and karsts

We pass by the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat on our way down the river.

Yangshuo River View Hotel

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

wonderful rafting

wonderful rafting

Yulong River scenes

Yulong River scenes

When our raft ride is over, we have to wait nearly an hour for our driver to appear to take us to the bus station.  Because our bags are in his van, this causes us some consternation.  Luckily we have the phone number for the woman who sold us the bamboo boat ride, and she is able to contact him and hurry him along.

In the end, we make it to the bus station with enough time to grab some lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant.  Then, we’re on the bus to Guilin and from there, on the train back to Nanning.  It’s great to have had a little adventure with Erica, as I’ve traveled alone on all my adventures this year.  I’m glad I got to share what little I know of Yangshuo with such an enthusiastic friend and colleague. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , | 17 Comments

an afternoon bike ride in the yangshuo countryside

Saturday, May 30:  After we finish the Li River cruise, Erica and I drop into town for a quick pizza lunch at the Rosewood Cafe and then head out immediately for a bike ride.  As we only have a short weekend, I’m trying to compress what I did in four days into less than two days.  We take off into the countryside in a steady drizzle, hoping that it will let up before long.  By the time we get into the heart of the countryside, it has stopped raining, but we are fairly damp.  The moisture in the air is thick, making for some hazy views.

Yangshuo countryside

Yangshuo countryside

I’m trying to lead Erica by memory into the countryside, following the route that Audrey led me on in October.  I’m surprised that I am able to recognize landmarks and find my way, despite only having been once on this route.  Sometimes I have no sense of direction, and other times I have an uncanny internal compass that enables me to figure out the lay of the land.

the farmland of Yangshuo

the farmland of Yangshuo

We come to a spot along the Yulong River where some girls are standing under the trees trying to keep dry, as it has started raining again.  We get off our bikes and join the girls under the trees, as there’s quite a deluge.  While waiting, we’re lucky enough to have a farmer cross the river with his cows.

The Yulong River

The Yulong River

A farmer and his cow

A farmer and his cow

I love it how the farmer rolls up his pants and wades confidently into the river, and his cows follow obediently behind.

the farmer crosses the Yulong River with his cows

the farmer crosses the Yulong River with his cows

farmer crossing

farmer crossing

wading across the Yulong River

wading across the Yulong River

I am thrilled to experience this little slice of life in the Yangshuo countryside!

disappearing act

disappearing act

bicycles Chinese style

bicycles Chinese style

When the rain lets up, Erica and I get back on our bikes to continue on our journey.

Erica and her bicycle

Erica and her bicycle

Before we leave, two young men come by on a motorbike.  I can’t believe it, but they try to cross the river on the bike.  One of the men gets off and walks alongside.  Of course the bike stalls, but they get it started again and make their way gingerly across.

crossing the Yulong River on a motorbike

crossing the Yulong River on a motorbike

There’s all kind of activity on this rainy day in Yangshuo.  We encounter another farmer leading his cow along the path.

another farmer and his cow

another farmer and his cow

His cow goes off into the bushes to scrounge around, but the farmer doesn’t seem to mind.  After all, cows will be cows.

and the cow goes scrounging in the bushes

and the cow goes scrounging in the bushes

Chinese countryside

Chinese countryside

more farmland

more farmland

We pass more farmland in the midst of the karsts, and we glimpse farmers and water buffalos in the fields.

a farmer in the field

a farmer in the field

water buffalo in the field

water buffalo in the field

Erica and her bicycle

Erica and her bicycle

I have to take a convoluted path to get us to Dragon Bridge. There are no English signs to point out the way, but I use my 6th sense, just letting my body lead us in the right direction.  We go through a parking lot and then emerge on the other side to find the trail continuing along the Yulong River.  Once again, I’m surprised and pleased that I’m able to remember the way to go.

Erica hasn’t seen the bamboo rafts at Yulong Bridge, and she is delighted by the sight, as am I.

the view upriver from Dragon Bridge

the view upriver from Dragon Bridge

Looking downriver from Dragon Bridge

Looking downriver from Dragon Bridge

bamboo rafts on the Yulong River

bamboo rafts on the Yulong River

the Yulong River from Dragon Bridge

the Yulong River from Dragon Bridge

The rafts go downriver, and as the boatmen go by, they toss these ID tags up on to the bridge, where someone collects them.  I’m not sure exactly how this system works and what the point is.

boat ID tags

boat ID tags

As we’re leaving, we catch this character shooting the breeze with a companion.

Do you like my hat?

Do you like my hat?

We pass by a cute little bridge beside a coffee shop in the countryside.

A little bridge in the countryside

A little bridge in the countryside

coffee shop in Yangshuo

coffee shop in Yangshuo

view from the little bridge

view from the little bridge

We stop at the Giggling Tree, a hotel that always seems to be booked whenever I’ve come to Yangshuo.  This hotel is popular among Westerners.  We stop in the courtyard and have some mango drinks.

the courtyard at the Giggling Tree

the courtyard at the Giggling Tree

I was hoping we’d end up back at the Passion Fruit Leisure Farm, where Audrey and I ate lunch in October, but Erica is tired from our long day and wants to make our way back to town.  So we ride back into Yangshuo, where we stroll around the town.  Here, I finally buy a couple of cool lanterns, after dreaming about them during my whole time in China.

Lately, the lens on my Olympus Pen has been acting up, and I’m disappointed to find that many of my pictures are not quite focused.  I’m not sure if they’re like this because of the dense mist in the air in Yangshuo, or because of the lens not focusing properly.  I think it’s going to be time for a new camera soon. 🙂

a little Chinese girl poses at a shop in Yangshuo

a little Chinese girl poses at a shop in Yangshuo

the town and canals in Yangshuo

the town and canals in Yangshuo

After dinner, we hop on our bikes to head back toward the Cosy Garden.  While we’re riding over the bumpy cobblestones under the long pavilion, Erica says she’d like to stop at Demo Tikki Bar, which Audrey took me to in October; it has now moved from the middle of Yangshuo to this somewhat deserted stretch under the pavilion along the Li River.

Audrey had introduced me to the German manager, Peter, and when we stop in, I ask Peter if he remembers me from when I came in with Audrey. He does because he added me on WeChat at that time, so he’s seen all my posts.  I’ve seen his as well, so everything finally comes together: all his posts about Demo Bar’s move to the new location now make perfect sense. We sit at a table and have some beer and cheese plates and Peter joins us when time allows. When he sits with us, he shares his excitement about the restaurant/bar’s new location and all his plans for this and another new restaurant in town.

Erica over beers at the new Demo Bar by the Li River

Erica over beers at the new Demo Bar by the Li River

After dinner, Erica and I hop back on our bicycles to ride through the drizzling dark to the Cosy Garden.  The staff at Cosy Garden gave Erica a miniature headlamp, like what a coal miner wears, when we left the hotel this morning.  At the far end of the long pavilion, we both take turns struggling to turn it on and put it on our heads; finally it’s me that wins out.  We cycle forth into the darkness, a beam of light shining from my luminous head onto the road ahead.

Earlier today, I asked Erica if she’d rather take the bamboo raft down the Yulong River tomorrow, or if she’d rather take a motorbike tour up to the Seven Star tea plantation and Xianggong Hill.  There is only enough time for one or the other.  She was so charmed by the Yulong River rafts that she’s decided she’d like to do that tomorrow; we arranged it in town when we returned from our bike rides earlier.

We settle in quite late at the Cosy Inn, preparing for another raft trip and for our long journey back to Nanning tomorrow.

Categories: Asia, Bicycle tour, China, Cosy Garden, Demo Tiki Bar, Dragon Bridge, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Rosewood Cafe, The Giggling Tree, Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangshuo, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

a short weekend in yangshuo (& another li river boat cruise) ~ the third time’s a charm :-)

Friday, May 29: This weekend, only one of two times that I have traveled with a friend in China, I go to Yangshuo with my friend, Erica.  She has lived in China for seven years, but only started working at SCIC in Nanning at the same time I did, in September, 2014. Though she’s traveled all over China, and around southeast Asia, she has never been to Yangshuo.  This is my third time:  the first time I stayed four days during the National Holiday in early October, and the second, I stayed three days with Mike in January.

This weekend, we only have about 1 1/2 days, as it’s not an extended holiday weekend and we have to spend about 6 hours traveling at each end.  Erica decided long ago she was done traveling on China’s public holidays; I only just came to that conclusion after my last trip to Shanghai.

Erica and I leave directly from our classes at noon and spend the next 6 hours in transit, by bus, by train and by bus again.  The time goes by quickly though as Erica and I chat nonstop about anything and everything, and we share a lot of laughs.

Finally, at the Yangshuo bus station (well, not really a “station” but a dusty parking lot where we get deposited), we search for a vehicle to take us to our hotel, the Cosy Garden.  We try several drivers in vehicles of every make who want to charge us what we think are exorbitant sums, and finally, this gentle man takes us in his bumpy vehicle, where we sit on a plank of wood placed across the truck bed.  It’s a very bumpy and noisy ride through town and down a long pavilion over a cobblestone walkway to our hotel, which is quite a distance outside of town; in the end I think we got him at a great price!

Erica sits on the wooden bench in our transport to Cosy Garden

Erica sits on the wooden bench in our transport to Cosy Garden

As Erica is normally much thriftier than I am, I asked her to choose the place, and this is what she found.

Cosy Garden

Cosy Garden

The Cosy Garden allows free use of their bicycles after 4:00, and since it’s about 6:00 by the time we arrive, we hop on the bicycles and ride into Yangshuo for dinner at the Rock-n-Grill, and then we take a walk around the streets of the town.

Mangoes in Yangshuo

Mangoes in Yangshuo

Gentle vibes

Gentle vibes

It’s a little more difficult riding our bicycles back to the Cosy Garden as the long pavilion is quite dark and the road after we leave the pavilion is even darker.  We can hardly see a thing in the black night!  I don’t know how, but we somehow make it safely back to our hotel without riding off into the Li River.

Saturday, May 30: To optimize our condensed time in Yangshuo, we’ve arranged to go on the Li River boat ride first thing in the morning.  At the hotel, we can have breakfast, but we have to cook it ourselves; this turns out to be quite challenging as it’s always difficult to cook in someone else’s kitchen.

After breakfast, we ride our bicycles into town where we catch the bus to Xingping.  Our boat ride begins here.  Below is Erica with the boats and the Li River and karst landscape of Xingping behind her.

The boat dock at Xingping on the Li River

The boat dock at Xingping on the Li River

Erica at the Li River in Xingping

Erica at the Li River in Xingping

Of course Xingping is known as the most scenic area along the Li River, and because of that, it is on the 20 yuan bill.  Erica holds up the bill in the front of the bamboo raft.

Erica holds the 20 yuan bill at Xingping

Erica holds the 20 yuan bill at Xingping

And then we’re off.  We’re sharing the boat with two young Chinese men; Erica and I go directly for the front seats as this is her first and last time to do the Li River cruise.  She’s planning to leave China for good at the same time I am.  I do feel a little guilty for grabbing the front seats, but I also figure the Chinese tourists can easily come back.

Heading up the Li River

Heading up the Li River

The scenery is breathtaking as always; each time it brings tears to my eyes, it’s so stunning.  I can see Erica is quite moved by the experience too.

Li River Cruise

Li River Cruise

The Li River

The Li River

upriver on the Li

upriver on the Li

Ever since we arrived in Yangshuo, it has been threatening rain, but we’re lucky it doesn’t rain a drop while we’re on the cruise.

grassy patches in the Li River

grassy patches in the Li River

islands of grass

islands of grass

boats on the Li River

boats on the Li River

Moving up the Li River

Moving up the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

boat jam

boat jam

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

overwhelmed by beauty

overwhelmed by beauty

Li River scenery

Li River scenery

Li River karst scenery

Li River karst scenery

karst scenery along the Li River

karst scenery along the Li River

The Li River

The Li River

Li River cruise

Li River cruise

looming karst scenery along the Li River

looming karst scenery along the Li River

up close & personal

up close & personal

We can see the Li River boats that come from Guilin go zooming past toward Xingping.

still heading upriver

still heading upriver

The Li River

The Li River

We stop at little pebble beach, where our boat driver gets out and eats something with some friends.  Meanwhile, we’re left to wander and take pictures while we wait.  Here’s Erica with our two boat mates.

Erica and our two Chinese boat mates

Erica and our two Chinese boat mates

And Erica at the beach.

Erica at the pebble beach

Erica at the pebble beach

As always, I like to take a few pictures of Chinese girls posing in ridiculous poses.  I just missed this woman with her hands in the air.

posing for pictures

posing for pictures

Chinese girls doing a silly pose

Chinese girls doing a silly pose

We could go on a pony ride if we so desired, but we don’t. 🙂

two bedraggled fellas

two bedraggled fellas

Finally, our driver finishes eating, and we’re back in boat, heading back to Xingping.  The light isn’t so great in this direction.

back on the river after our break

back on the river after our break

heading back to Xingping

heading back to Xingping

Below, you can see (and hear) a video of our trip down the Li River in our motorized bamboo rafts.

cruising down the Li River

cruising down the Li River

View at Xingping

View at Xingping

The Li River at Xingping

The Li River at Xingping

Xingping

Xingping

Soon, we’re back on shore and Erica and I each pose with the 20 yuan bill.  This is a chubby time for me; after being in China, it turns out I picked up 7 pounds, which I don’t realize until I return home!

Erica at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

Erica at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

a chubby me at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

a chubby me at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

Finally, we head back up the path to meet our driver and head back to town.

fruit vendor in Xingping

fruit vendor in Xingping

When we get back to town, we’ll have some lunch and go on a bike ride in the afternoon.

Categories: Asia, China, CNY 20 Banknote View, Cosy Garden, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Li River, Rock-n-Grill, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Xingping, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , | 32 Comments

cocktail hour in the laundry room: a social week, train ticket dilemmas, a retreat and sunday afternoon ktv

Monday, May 25:  Isn’t it amazing how quickly the weeks go by?  Here it is again, time for cocktail hour in the laundry room.  I’m sorry I had to postpone our Sunday night gathering.  I had already downed a couple of beers early on Sunday, as I met some of my students for four hours of KTV in the afternoon.  I’ll tell you more about that later.  For now, though, please, come on in!  Have a seat in my comfortable chair and I’ll pour you a glass of Rioja.  It’s all I have left, so I apologize in advance.  I haven’t had time to make my bi-weekly trip to Wal-Mart for my 3 bottles of wine for 99 yuan.  It’s been a busy week, and the next couple are not likely to be any better.

I realize my life has morphed into something very unlike the life I lead in Virginia.  If you were coming to my house in Virginia for drinks, I would have prepared appetizers and several types of cocktails.  I’d have some music playing and I certainly wouldn’t have you sit in my laundry room.  Oh well, this is what happens when I live abroad.  I become too lazy to go to the effort I normally make back home.  Everything is pared down, simplified.  Life is lived with the bare minimum of “stuff.”  I have learned to be comfortable in places I would have never thought it possible to call home.  I feel as if this is my home, just as I felt my apartments in Oman and Korea were home.  Still, it’s nice to know I have my house in Virginia to truly go home to.

I finally took down my lavender flowered sheets from the laundry line because it’s rotation time.  I took the ugly plaid sheets provided by the university off of my bed and washed them, so they’re now hanging on the line.  I rotated the lavender sheets onto my bed.  They’re so much softer than the plaid ones, which are pretty scratchy, so I love the alternating bi-weekly lavender sheet period.

Come on in and join me for some Rioja. :-)

Come on in and join me for some Rioja. 🙂

It’s been miserably hot and humid and damp here, as usual, but it’s not so bad out here this evening, for some bizarre reason.  So I am actually sitting here in the laundry room, drinking my wine, and writing this post to all of my blogging or other friends who care to visit.

I’d love to hear about your week.  Did you work in the garden or do some spring cleaning?  Did you swim a 2-mile swim?  (My husband Mike did, and did it in just a tad over an hour; it was an open lake swim, which I’d be freaked out about, but he’s very calm and deliberate about that kind of thing.)   Did you read a good book?  I love hearing about the books you’re reading and promptly add them to my Goodreads list, so I do want to know all about your reading list.  Did you watch any good movies or TV shows?  Did you dance in the streets (I know Pauline and Jack did!) or did you take a walk in the countryside (as Jo always does).  Did you have any interesting conversations, or did you reveal a deep dark secret to someone?

I don’t know about you, but I’m really on edge about the Nepal earthquakes, as I visited Nepal in January of 2013; I can picture Kathmandu and Durbar Square and all the historical and religious sites that have been destroyed.  My friend Dai, who lives in Nepal and has a Nepali family, happened to be in Portugal looking for a new apartment during the earthquake, but his family is still living in tents because of the aftershocks. And now monsoon season is upon them. I really hope all the aftershocks stop soon.  It really is heartbreaking.

Tell me anything you want to tell me. I’m here to listen. 🙂

This past week, I wrote a blog post about a horrid horse-cart driver in Ava, Myanmar: a horse-cart ride through the former “kingdom of ava”.  I was chatting with Mike on Skype on Sunday morning and, as always, I asked him if he read my post.  I said, “Wasn’t that guy awful?”  He said, “Yes, it was awful how he was beating that poor skeletal horse.”  Then he added, “You know, I can just see the situation now.  He has it figured how much time it will take to go to all the places in Ava.  And the Korean lady fits with his schedule because she’s not taking pictures and she does a simple in and out at each place.  But what the guy doesn’t figure in is you and your camera and the hundreds of pictures you take at each place. I could see by the number of pictures you posted that there was no way that trip could have taken one hour!”  Oh my gosh, Mike always has a way of calling me out on things.  He knows me all too well.  I cracked up laughing when he said that.  He’s got me pegged; I guess that’s the great thing about knowing someone so well.

And then there are the people I don’t know too well.  Last week, I finally cornered my friend (the one who I thought had been ignoring me, so in turn I started ignoring him) and mentioned that I was about ready to write him off as it seemed he didn’t value our friendship.  He often says he’s awfully busy, and I do know he works multiple jobs outside of the university, but that excuse is bull malarkey.  People can make time if they want to.  I said I’d be happy to back off and leave him alone, but that wasn’t what he wanted as he says he does value my friendship.  I told him there’s something he should know about me: I am never one to chase after a friend, and if I sense someone is backing off, then I will back off even more and give that friend plenty of space.  Then he said there is something I should know about him: he really believes no one likes him.  He always assumes people don’t want to be around him so he tends to give people their space.  He also argued that a friendship works both ways, that I could easily invite him places.  But I said I’m not going to invite someone who’s always so busy; if he is as busy as he claims to be, I’m always going to get rejected.  Since he’s so busy, I figure I should leave it to him to let me know when he’s free.  Around and around with misunderstandings.  And so it goes.  Why do relationships have to be so complicated?

This week was better all around; not only did I share several meals with him, but I also shared meals with some other friends at the university.  In addition, I went on a two-day work “retreat,” a very positive experience, which I already wrote about: a work retreat: a cultural exchange at pingnan high school & a rainy morning walk at guiping xi shan.  I was happy to have a bit of a social week, although sometimes it goes in the opposite direction and it’s a little too much for my reclusive self. 🙂

After nearly this entire year of my traveling alone, my friend Erica, who always works multiple jobs on weekends, said she wanted to go to Yangshuo and wondered if I’d give her some advice.  I said I’d be happy to go along if she’d like the company. She said she would.  So I took care of checking on the train tickets, and she took care of finding a hotel.  We were going to share a room, but then she asked me the dreaded question: “Do you snore?”  It’s a good thing she asked, and I told her the truth: I do snore and apparently a lot.  I always drive my son Alex crazy when we’re traveling together.  So she arranged for separate rooms, a good thing to preserve a friendship.  We had to get a Chinese student to buy the train tickets for us, and then we went to the ticket office near the university main gate to pick them up. However, after much mysterious dallying, they finally told us we had to go to the train station to pick them up, as we needed to show our passports to the people in charge.  It’s such a hassle to go to the train station, but we hopped on the #605 bus and went, where amazingly, there was no line at the English counter!!  Miracle of miracles!  It took us a while, but we got our tickets in hand, and we’re leaving for Yangshuo on Friday afternoon at 13:15.

By the way, while sitting here at my cocktail hour, I’m munching on peanuts in the shell, which I have to crack open of course.  It’s a little hard to write a post on the computer while cracking peanut shells, so I’m taking a lot of breaks.  I eat peanuts in the shells because most snacks in China, say potato chips or other supposedly “salty” snacks that I crave, always have a little sweetness to them.  I found this in Korea too.  It’s very difficult to eat snacks that don’t taste similar to what you’re used to.  I haven’t found many snack foods I like in China except some chocolate mousse cake squares, which are my downfall for sure.

As for TV series, I’ve now finished Homeland, The Fall, and Scandal.  I was sad to finish them up.  Now I’m engrossed in Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy and Season 1 of Madam Secretary.  I’m enjoying them both very much.  I’m still reading Sandcastle Girls; it’s interesting but taking me a while to really get into it.

My air conditioner in my living room is leaking and though I’ve asked the university to repair it, no one has shown up.  This is one of the annoying things about depending on some organization to keep your house in order.

Now to the Sunday afternoon KTV activity.  I met a small group of my students at the front gate of the university and we walked together to a KTV place.  KTV refers to karaoke television, a kind of interactive musical entertainment.  I have wanted to go ever since I arrived in China, as I used to do noraebang in Korea all the time and greatly enjoyed it: south korea … land of the “bangs”.

The lobby of Singing Soul KTV

The lobby of Singing Soul KTV

A noraebang is a “singing” room where everyone takes turns singing English or Korean songs, some rockin’, some lovely ballads, some classical songs.  KTV in China is the same; it’s basically a “singing room” that you reserve for a period of time for a fee.  You can order tea, snacks, beer, or anything else you want. During that time, you pick either Chinese or English (even some Korean) songs from a computer and put them on a list, and when the music video plays on the TV screen, you can sing along with a microphone.  I love to sing, even though I’m no good at it, so I always enjoyed it in Korea.  I enjoy it here as well.  I even did this in Northern Virginia as the Korean community in Falls Church is quite huge and there are tons of Korean restaurants and some noraebangs as well.

Fountain & lobby at Singing Soul KTV

Fountain & lobby at Singing Soul KTV

This place is called Singing Soul KTV.  Singing soul!?  Sounds like something you’d read on a poetic Chinese placard at a tourist spot.

Singing Soul KTV

Singing Soul KTV

Colorful fountain at Singing Soul KTV

Colorful fountain at Singing Soul KTV

We reserve a room and settle in.  Here are the microphones.

microphones for KTV

microphones for KTV

The KTV singing room is very dark, with a strobe tossing colorful dots of confetti light all over the walls.  We sit on long couches in a semi-rectangle around a long table and sing, drink, eat and talk.  I do have to say there isn’t much talking that can go on here, as the music is so loud.  I take a multitude of photos, but not many of them turn out.  Oh well, you can get the general idea from the photo gallery below.

I pick some of my favorite songs from a computerized list.  Many that I would choose are NOT available, such as “Happy” and “Get Lucky” by Pharrell Williams, “If There’s Any Justice” by Lemar, and “How to Save a Life” by The Fray.  However, I am able to sing: “Hotel California” by the Eagles, “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and Papas (I’m really showing my age!), “Somebody that I used to Know” by Walk off the Earth, “Incomplete” by Backstreet Boys, and “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol.

What really surprises me are the students’ selections.  They go from “Yesterday Once More” by the Carpenters to “S&M” by Rhianna!  Wow, what an extreme.  They pick a lot of songs by Bruno Mars, Jon Legend, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry.  Of course, they also choose a lot of Chinese songs, many of which are beautiful or rocking!  One English song they choose brings tears to my eyes: “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce.

Below is me with my students after four hours of KTV.  I heard today that the students stayed for two more hours after I left.   This class of students, the 1408 class, seems to enjoy doing social things with me.  The Leo on the far right was my student before midterm of fall semester; sadly he got moved out of my class, but I really love his personality.  He’s a great singer and a charming boy and I miss having him in my class.

Albert, Robin, Spring, Jack, me, Leo and Leo

Albert, Robin, Spring, Jack, me, Leo and Leo

I always enjoyed noraebang in Korea, and now I can say with authority that I enjoy KTV in China.   I’m slowly but surely getting all the Chinese experiences I wanted under my belt, now that my time here is winding down.

It’s getting dark now, so I think I’ll go inside and eat some leftover Korean bibimbap.  I had some from last week when I went out to a Korean restaurant for dinner.  I’ll top off my meal with one of those chocolate mousse cake squares I love so much.  I suppose you’ll want to go home for some dinner as I have nothing to offer, and there aren’t enough leftovers to go around.  But thanks so much for coming.  As always, it was great to see you, and great to have a chat. 🙂  See you next week, maybe Monday or Tuesday, as I’m going to Yangshuo over the weekend.

Categories: Asia, China, conversation, Entertainment, ESL Teacher, Expat life, Friendship, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, KTV, laundry room cocktail hour, Nanning, Singing Soul KTV, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language | Tags: , , , , , , | 37 Comments

a work retreat: a cultural exchange at pingnan high school & a rainy morning walk at guiping xi shan

Friday, May 22:  Today, 13 of the 25 foreign teachers from our college, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), leave for a two-day retreat in Pingnan County, in eastern Guangxi.  It isn’t a total “retreat” as we are required to teach two 40-minute classes at Pingnan High School, a school of over 4,000 students, on Friday afternoon.  On Saturday, our plan is to visit the Guiping Xishan Scenic Area, a mountain that houses a Buddhist temple, Longhua Temple.

Originally, the plan was to take the fast train, which would have been a 1 1/4 hour trip.  However, as we also had the Chinese staff along, more than doubling our number, the administration was unable to procure enough seats for all of us on the fast train.  Thus it was decided two days before the retreat that we’d go by coach, and we were told in an email we should expect a 2 1/2 hour bus ride.

As soon as the bus gets underway on Friday morning, we’re told the trip will be 4 hours.  We foreign teachers protest loudly, as many of us don’t like bus rides because of the inability to use the toilet when necessary!  Luckily, the bus ride turns out to be not bad at all, as the scenery of the Chinese countryside is quite lovely, and the bus makes two bathroom/snack stops along the way.

I love traveling through the Chinese countryside, with its sprawling farmland and small towns.  At this time of year, as it’s monsoon season, it’s very wet, and the fields are green with crops, especially rice.  I am mesmerized by the scenes out the window.  I find the countryside in China is the best thing about being here.

Once we drive into the town of Pingnan, we see the typical things we always see in Chinese towns: people wearing cropped pants and plastic shower slippers sitting on stools in open air shops, people in small groups playing games of mahjong or cards or checkers, big slabs of meat laid out on wooden plank tables, construction debris everywhere, mud and piles of dirt, stores selling tires, bicycles, motorbikes and tools, vegetable markets, people on motorbikes covered in colorful rain ponchos.  Though the rain is intermittent on our ride, we can see the glistening of wet surfaces and mud puddles everywhere.

When we arrive at our hotel in Pingnan at around 1:00, we head straight to a banquet room, where we sit at a round table with a lazy Susan, where dishes circle the table for our eating pleasure.  Of course, I can’t eat many of the meat dishes as they have the typical bones, fat, gristle, chicken heads, and fish heads.  I do eat some vegetables, a decent soup, and some of the fish.

After lunch, we check into our hotel rooms and have a short time to get situated.  I get my own private room with a bathtub, something that always makes me happy.  We then meet in the lobby, where we board the bus to the high school.

As soon as we get off the bus, it starts raining, so we’re immediately escorted to a conference room where the administrators and Chinese English teachers from the high school sit on one side of the room, and the SCIC staff sits on the other side.  Official welcome speeches are made by a Pingnan County official and the headmaster of the school, welcoming us and our participation in this “cultural exchange.”  Luckily, two young Chinese graduate students in English are sitting at the head of the table and they translate everything.  I have attended official meetings like this in Korea and in Oman where no one bothered to translate for the English speakers.  On the other side, our Dean Qin makes a speech in Chinese, which the girls duly translate, and then one of our chief coordinators, Geoff, makes a short speech in English, which the translators then translate into Chinese.  We are each then assigned to follow a Chinese English teacher to his/her classroom, where we’ll teach one 40-minute lesson.

The high school is laid out much like classrooms in the Korean public schools.  The school has several stories and the walkways are on the outside of the classrooms overlooking a courtyard. We pass by the open windows of the classrooms where the students are sitting dutifully in their seats; they are watching us with great anticipation as we walk past on the walkway balcony.   We’re told that the average class size is 73 students (!).

I’m led into class 9 where I’m introduced to the students.  We were told we could do anything with the students, including having a simple conversation if we wanted.  I have a 140-slide Power Point presentation about my family and home in Virginia; it also covers all my travels since I started teaching in Korea in 2010.  I can go through it quite quickly, so it’s not quite as daunting as it sounds; my students at SCIC loved it when I showed it to them in September.   However, when I put my USB into the computer, my version of Power Point is incompatible with the computer!  Oh no!  Now what will I do for 40 minutes?  I tell the students something about myself and where I live and my family; I also tell them where I have taught before.  Then I ask them if they have questions for me.

Class 9

Class 9

Chinese students are the most respectful and well-behaved students you will encounter anywhere.  When they ask a question and you call on them, they stand up and formally ask their question.  There is no chatting or mumbling from the other students; they are all silent as the student asks the question.   I get questions such as: What is your favorite Chinese food?  How long will you stay in China?  What do you like most about China?  What is your feeling about travel in China? I find it odd that they are so inward-focused and don’t ask anything about my life in America or any of my travels abroad.  I ask them if any of them have ever traveled outside of China.  No one raises their hand.  Finally, some students point to one boy who stands and tells me he’s been to Guangzhou.  Well… that’s not exactly outside of China!

There is a lull for a bit, and I decide I’ll try my other USB in the computer to see if by chance it’s just something about the first USB that makes my Power Point unworkable.  When I open that USB, I find a slide-show I’d created for the Vienna Photographic Society about Oman. I’m able to open that, so I show that quickly in order to kill some time.

Then one girl stands and asks me if I will sing a song for them!  Oh dear.  I tell them I’m not a very good singer, although I enjoy singing.  I hem and haw and for the life of me, the only songs I can think of are the songs I used to sing to my sons when they were little:  The Barney theme song (“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family!”), and the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies!!  I have some favorite songs I enjoy singing, but I need to have the music playing along to sing.  Finally, I pull out my iPhone and find “If There’s Any Justice” by Lemar.  I love to sing that song, so I play it on my iPhone and sing a few lines: “Yeah, Yeah!! I believe….If there’s any justice in the world, I would be your man, you would be my girl.” I accompany this by hand gestures pointing to myself and to the class.  “Oh yeah. If I found you first, you know it’s true.  He would be alone, I would be with you… and you’ve seen a thousand times, there’s not much justice in the world.”

Luckily, a little ditty plays over the loudspeakers signifying the end of that class, and I’m shuffled into class 10, but not before the teacher takes a picture of me with as many students as can squeeze into the frame!

Class 9 students

Me swamped by Class 9 students 🙂

When I go into Class 10, they’re all up and about because Karyn has just left and they’ve been taking pictures with her.  Immediately many of the girls come up to me and ask me if I can have a hug.  One girl tells me I remind her of her grandmother!  Of course, I don’t yet have any grandchildren, although I’m certainly the age where I could have some. I really don’t like anyone to tell me I remind them of their grandmother!!  Never mind, I give as many of them hugs as ask for them.

They are all so excited to have a foreigner in their midst!  I’ve never seen such excitement bubbling over in young people; they can hardly contain their enthusiasm.

In the second class, I try my USB again in the computer, and I’m thrilled to find the Power Point opens!  I’m able to show them my slide show.  With nearly every slide, they exclaim simultaneously and loudly, “Wow!” The love the photos of my children, my house, Washington, Oman and Korea, and many of my travel pictures as well.  After the slide show, they ask me questions, again similar questions to what the first class asked.  Luckily they don’t ask me to sing; Karyn is a great singer and as she preceded me in this class, I would have paled horribly by comparison!

One of the students tells me I have such a nice voice.  I’ve never heard that before!

At the end, the students crowd up to the front with their notebooks and ask me for my autograph!  I must sign my name at least 30 times.  One of them asks me if I’ll sign my name on the board so they can photograph it with their phone.  When I finish signing all the autographs, they line up for hugs, boys and girls alike.  This is really surprising to me as I’ve never experienced the Chinese as touchy-feely people.

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

The whole experience is an adrenaline rush and is quite moving.  I can’t imagine being so excited at seeing foreigners, but honestly, these students have probably rarely seen or interacted with anyone from outside their culture before.  Being from America, a country of immigrants, I see people from all cultures all the time, so it’s so commonplace for me.  It’s hard to understand their total awe of us, but it is nice to feel like a celebrity for 80 minutes today!

Class 10 students

Me with Class 10 students

After our classroom experience, two SCIC teachers pair up with two Chinese English teachers to talk about teaching styles.  We speak with Daniel, who feels his lessons are often boring because he has to spend time teaching mainly grammar and vocabulary to an exam.  He asks, “Shouldn’t the students be learning to communicate with each other?  There is no time to do that because I’m so busy teaching the boring grammar lessons for the tests.  I feel like my lessons are so boring; all the students do is write and write and write.  There’s no time for speaking.”

Daniel, a Chinese English teacher

Daniel, a Chinese English teacher

On the bus ride home, some of us teachers share the kinds of questions asked by the students.  I tell the story about my singing of “If There’s Any Justice in the World.”  They don’t know the song so I sing them a few lines of it and they find it funny.

Back in the hotel, as we sit down to the banquet tables for dinner, I sit beside the two Chinese translators. One of them says I would enjoy KTV because I’m such a good singer.  I ask them if they heard me singing in the classroom to the kids, and they say no; they heard me on the bus when I was singing to Matt and Reed.  They say, “You are a really good singer.”  I say, “Thank you very much, but I don’t think I’m a good singer at all.  I LIKE to sing, but I’m no good at it.”  They disagree strongly.  They also tell me that I look like Kate Winslet from the movie Titanic.  I say “Really?!!” I’m utterly astonished. “But she’s so young and beautiful!”  Of course, that’s a BIG stretch and I figure, to them, all white people really must look alike. 🙂

After dinner, where many of us drink a lot of wine, I head up to my room where I promptly fall asleep. I hear later than many of the teachers were up until 1:00 at KTV.  They’re not feeling so good in the morning.

Saturday, May 23: I wake up this morning to huge thunder claps and lightning and a torrential downpour outside my 12th floor window.  My first thought is that our trip to Xishan Mountain will be called off.  However, by the time I take a bath and get dressed, the storm has passed and it’s merely cloudy and drizzling lightly outside.

Guiding from my 12th floor hotel room

Guiding from my 12th floor hotel room

After eating breakfast, it’s raining steadily outdoors, but we check out of the hotel and load onto the bus.  We head to Guiping, a county-level city about an hour from Pingnan.

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area is one kilometer west of Guiping City, near Nanning City, and its name originates from its position; it means the “West Hill of Guiping.”  We hop off the bus and head to the entrance to the park, where we find this teapot.  Apparently a spring flows through a cave here throughout the year; it has become a natural ingredient for world-famous Xishan Tea and Ruquan Wine.

Teapot at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Teapot at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan is famous for its beautiful forest, strange rocks, sweet springs, and holy Buddhist temples. Since the Liang Period of the Southern Dynasties, it has enjoyed a history of 1,000 years, and is famous for its ancient Buddhist nunneries and temples that can be found everywhere.

Dragon relief sculpture at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Dragon relief sculpture at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Incense burners at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Incense burners at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple was built in the Song Dynasty, and repaired three times in the reigns of Emperor Kangxi, Emperor Qianlong, and Emperor Tongzhi.   After another two repairs in 1974 and 1988, it is now a reinforced concrete structure. It was finally unveiled in 1990 after several repairs.  Buddhist pilgrims actively worship here today.  Longhua Temple, also known as Up Temple, has had more than four generations live here.  It is currently the Guangxi Buddhist Association temple.

It backs against Flying Pavilion on Yao Rock, with Soul Stream on its left, Milk Spring on its right, and Blue Sky at its bottom.   There are statues of the four guardians and the 18 disciples of Buddha in the temple.  The statue of Sakyamuni Buddha sits in the main hall, “Sakyamuni Hall” house.

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Gene's wife makes incense offerings

Gene’s wife makes incense offerings

incense burning

incense burning

incense stick

incense stick

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

We climb the granite steps up the mountain to the halfway point, but we’re told we need to be ready to return to the bus by 11:50.  It’s raining steadily and it’s very warm and humid, so we’re getting soaked both inside and out, from the rain and humidity and from our own sweat.

There are some beautiful carvings and structures at the temple, and we have quite a good time despite the rainy weather.  I’m glad we came and didn’t let the rain scare us away.

carvings on the walls

carvings on the walls

Armelle looks down over the steps leading up to the temple

Armelle looks down over the steps leading up to the temple

Dragon details

Dragon details

Happy Buddha

Happy Buddha

Figures at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Figures at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Pavilion

Pavilion

Tree and mossy stone

Tree and mossy stone

Some of the group, including Dean Qin and most of the Chinese staff, stay at a little tea shop near a pavilion, while most of the Western teachers climb up to the halfway point.

Dean Qin and R.T.

Dean Qin and R.T.

Gene and his wife

Gene and his wife

Finally, we go into a nice hotel in Guiping, where we have another fancy Chinese lunch before we head back to Nanning.

It’s difficult to capture the countryside from inside a moving bus, but I take a few pictures of the rolling farmland out the bus window with my iPhone.  They’re not good quality, but you can get the general idea of what we saw during our three-hour drive back to Nanning.

Farmland out the window on the way back to Nanning

Farmland out the window on the way back to Nanning

Farmland out the bus window

Farmland out the bus window

Farmland and clouds

Farmland and clouds

the green farms of southeastern China

the green farms of southeastern China

Overall, the retreat was a really positive experience and I’m so glad I went along!

Categories: Asia, China, ESL Teacher, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guiping, Longhua Temple, Nanning, Pingnan County, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Xishan Scenic Area | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

cocktail hour in the laundry room: an apartment restaurant & an outing to liangfengjiang national forest park

Sunday, May 17:  It’s Sunday evening again, time for cocktail hour in my humble laundry room. I’m so glad you could drop by! 🙂  Five o’clock is wine o’clock, so please, come in and have a seat in my comfortable Wal-Mart chair while I pour us some chilled Merlot.  I know we’re not supposed to chill red wine, but if I hadn’t put it in the refrigerator, it would be toasty. Warm red wine isn’t very pleasant, not at all.  I used to do this in Oman as well; it seems I’m always living in hot climates and have to refrigerate my wine.

“She wished it were evening now, wished for the great relief of the calendar inking itself out, of day done and night coming, of ice cubes knocking about in a glass beneath the whisky spilling in, that fine brown affirmation of need.” 
― Michelle LatiolaisWidow: Stories

I won’t bore you with a picture of the laundry room this time, but I can tell you that my lavender flowered sheet is still hanging right where it was last week.  The sheet dried during the week, but I never got around to taking it down. The weather got moist, so the sheet is now damp again.  I guess I’ll need to leave it up a while longer until it dries out.

I know I haven’t yet responded to all your comments from my last week’s cocktail hour, but I will, I promise.  Hopefully tonight, after we’ve shared a glass or two of wine. Or the cocktail of your choice.

“The writer is a mysterious figure, wandering lonely as a cloud, fired by inspiration, or perhaps a cocktail or two.” ~ Sara Sheridan

So, how was your week?  Did you get outdoors for some springtime walks?  Did you hear a new song you liked, or did you watch a good movie or read a good book?  Did you eat anything interesting?  Did you make a new friend, or lose an old one?  Did you have a special shared moment with someone, or did you have a falling out with someone?  Did you explore a new place or have a crazy adventure?  Did you sing in the shower or in the car?  Did you get any exercise?  Were you stressed out by work or did you have a relaxing week?

I was happy to get so many responses to my last cocktail hour.  I really wish we could all get together in one place, all of us bloggers, and have a real cocktail hour.  I think we’d have a grand time; I know we’d share a lot of laughter and stories.  I’ve met a few of you in person: Jo, Marianne, and Annette; I really do hope to meet the rest of you one day.

“If you were to ask me if I’d ever had the bad luck to miss my daily cocktail, I’d have to say that I doubt it; where certain things are concerned, I plan ahead.”  ~ Luis Bunuel 

I was a bit curious about some comments I received.  I know I talked a little about my depression last week, but I guess I should clear the air.  I do get depressed from time to time, but I wouldn’t say it’s a constant state of mind.  I’m not crazy about daily life in China mainly because I don’t have one good friend (and I’m normally a “one good friend” kind of girl), but I still have plenty to do and my depression and frustration come and go like dandelion fluff in the wind.  So, I’d like to assure you that you needn’t worry about me.  I’ll be fine.  One thing I’ve always been is a survivor.

I was especially intrigued by Vee’s comment; she guessed I was depressed because my photos looked so dark.   I guess some photographers do that; maybe the best photographers purposely take pictures that reflect their moods. I thought about the pictures I took recently, and the only ones that stick in my mind are the ones in Hong Kong, looking out over Victoria Harbour.  I love those pictures; I think they are some of my best. I felt really lucky to have been there with that fabulous moody late afternoon light and those dramatic dark clouds hanging over the skyline.  I do wonder, do most of you go out taking photos hoping to reflect your state of mind?  Maybe I should be more aware of that.

I had some interesting things happen this week. I met with a fellow novelist, Paul, for dinner.  We are reading each other’s novels and it was time to report back to each other our thoughts about the other’s work.  Paul was very encouraging and told me he can’t believe I’ve been sitting on my novel for over 10 years.  He said he can’t imagine an agent or publisher wouldn’t pick it up.  I was happy to hear that from him, and I don’t think he was just being nice.  I also think he’s an excellent writer; his book is clever and fascinating, especially as it’s somewhat autobiographical and I recognize some of the characters. 🙂

I finished up my midterm marks and handed them in on Friday.  That was a relief.

On Friday night, I met one of my students, a very stylish and cute girl named Azura, for dinner.  She planned the whole evening.  Online, she reserved a table for two, and a meal for four (!), at an “Asian restaurant.”  She wasn’t sure how to find it, so we wandered around behind the NanBai Supermarket looking for an “E” building.  Then we got on an elevator in what looked like an apartment building rather than a commercial building.  On the 11th floor, we walked down a narrow hallway and Azura knocked on door. There was no sign whatsoever indicating it was a restaurant.  A woman in an apron answered the door and invited us in.  Her living room was set up like a very cozy restaurant.  The walls were painted green and she had little decorative knickknacks everywhere: potted plants, stuffed animals, vintage dresses, old guitars.

Azura in the

Azura in the “apartment restaurant”

The woman got busy in the kitchen, cooking up a set meal in big wok.  Azura grabbed some bowls, spoons and chopsticks from a table.  She also grabbed us two kumquat drinks served in clear plastic bags (sort of like Capri Suns in the USA).

kumquat drinks and Azura

kumquat drinks and Azura

She told me we’re allowed to have four of these altogether, since she ordered a meal for four.  When she told me she ordered a meal for four, she said, “I hope you’re hungry!”  I wasn’t that hungry and would never eat that much food, but I tried my best since she went to such effort.

the apartment restaurant

the apartment restaurant

the view out the window of the apartment restaurant

the view out the window of the apartment restaurant

a shelf of knick-knacks in the restaurant

a shelf of knick-knacks in the restaurant

The woman served up pineapple rice, clams with pineapple, fresh fish (head and all) with cilantro and tomatoes, cabbage and potato soup, and pork ribs wrapped in aluminum foil.  We talked about Azura’s dream to get into fashion design and the two boyfriends she once had in high school (“It wasn’t a very good thing,” she told me.)  She’s a Year 1 student, so I sometimes had trouble understanding her, and vice versa, but we only had to resort to our online dictionaries a coupe of times.

After dinner, I tried to pay the bill of 88 yuan (about $14), but she would have none of that.  She wanted to split the bill, so I gave her 44 yuan.  As she prepared to pay the proprietor the money, the woman requested that she please pay online for the meal!  How strange.  Azura had the cash right there, but maybe she just wanted the money to go directly into her bank.

Later, I put up a picture on Instagram explaining this situation, and my friend Dai from Nepal mentioned he read somewhere that “apartment restaurants” are all the rage in China!  I’ve been here for 8 1/2 months, and I’ve never heard of them before now!

We planned next to get a manicure, so we walked down a long street in the pouring rain under Azura’s umbrella because I had left my umbrella at home.  Azura got a manicure, but I ended up getting a pedicure and manicure, my first in China; I’ve never been able to find a salon before now!  After our treat, it was still storming, so I bought an emergency umbrella for 25 yuan, even though I already had one at home.  We leapt and splashed over puddles on the way home, but shortly after I bought the umbrella, it stopped raining. Wouldn’t you know?

It’s getting awfully hot out here in the laundry room now, so why don’t we move inside?  My apartment is rather dreary, but at least we can be cool in the air conditioning.  Can I get you another drink?

On Saturday, I helped a colleague, Erica, sort out her spread sheets for her grades, and then we had some dinner together after.  When I came back home, I watched an episode of Homeland, Season 4, Episode 8.  I couldn’t stand not knowing what would happen next, so I watched episodes 9 and 10, one right after the other without a break. I also saw the season finale of Scandal, which seemed to have been wrapped up very nicely.  Does that mean there are no more scheduled seasons for Scandal?

I also got involved this week in an Irish detective show with Gillian Anderson called The Fall.  I watched all five episodes of Series 1, but I can’t seem to get Series 2, so I’m very frustrated as I can’t find out what happens next!!

Today, I decided to explore a place a colleague, Gavin, had recommended to me some time ago: Liangfengjiang National Forest Park.  Approved by the Ministry of Forestry in September of 1992, the park was one of the earliest national parks in Guangxi. In 2003, it was regarded as one of Nanning’s top scenic spots.

Gavin had told me to take bus 707, changing to bus 301.  I had forgotten the details, but I got on bus 707 and was on it for a long time.  I showed a girl on the bus the Chinese name of the park and she pointed out that I needed to get off in 8 stops to get on bus 301.  Before I got to that stop, a Chinese woman with blonde hair asked me “Spreek jig Duits?”  I said, “You speak German?”  She said, “Yes, no English!” She motioned that I should follow her off the bus at the next stop, and she put me on the phone with a friend “from America.”  I couldn’t hear the woman on the phone because the bus was so noisy.  The blonde Chinese woman kept motioning for me to get off the bus with her, so I did.  I regretted it.  She wanted me to come to a friend’s house for lunch, but I just wanted to go to the park, so I told her I couldn’t. This meant I had to wait a long time for the next 707 bus.  Some other men came up while we were at the bus stop and tried to help as well. They told me the blonde woman wanted me to have lunch with her and her friend.  Of course I hadn’t understood at first, otherwise I would have never gotten off the bus! Here are the whole lot of them.  They were a really helpful bunch!

I then got on bus 15, following their advice, and I got off at what I thought was the right stop.  However, the bus sign said nothing about the #301. So I got on the 707 again, and then I knew I’d gone one stop too far because the Chinese characters didn’t match.  So I got on the bus going the opposite direction, and got off again at the same spot, where someone convinced me to wait for the 301 even though the sign said nothing about the 301.  Finally the 301 came, and I was on it, packed in with people, standing room only.  I finally made it to the park about 1 1/2 hours after I started out!

And what a disappointment it was!!  I could kill Gavin for having recommended it to me.  He had told me it was a nice park in which to take a walk.  Maybe he’s just been in China too long.  It was the shabbiest, most unkempt place I’ve been in Nanning.

The paths were muddy and rutted, the arbors were untended, and the river was murky.  There was the hugest, tackiest picnic area imaginable, with stinky garbage everywhere.  There were people running around flying kites, and there were arcade games where you could throw darts at balloons.  There were miserable-looking ponies to ride.

Now I can cross that place off my list and stop wasting time thinking about it.  How could any Westerner have recommended it as a nice place?   I kept walking around hoping there would be something good to see.  There wasn’t!  Plus I got eaten alive by mosquitos.  The only saving grace was finding some ice cream for sale: I bought a vanilla flavor with chocolate on the outside and banana on the inside.  I think I will stop venturing around Nanning.  There really is nothing to do in this town!

Overall it was a good week, but I did have a sort of falling out with someone.  At least I think I did, although I have no idea why.  Basically we have both been ignoring each other for the last two weeks.  I don’t know what’s going on, but when I feel ignored, I withdraw, and then that probably has a domino effect and makes the other person withdraw more.  So now I feel our friendship is out in the hinterlands, never to be restored.  How does this happen?  I know I can be ultra-sensitive, and I often take things as slights that aren’t meant to be.  Mike tells me that all the time, anyway, and he knows me more than anyone.  Why do I have to be this way?  Is anyone else like this, or is it just me?  I know that I often sabotage my friendships, and I don’t know why I feel the need to do this.  I do know I don’t like feeling hurt or angry, and sometimes by pushing people away, I can avoid those painful feelings. I’m also never the kind of person to run after people, or to beg a person to be my friend.  I just accept it; if someone doesn’t want to be in my company, then I back off and give them space.  Lots of it.

Oh well, at least I have plans to be away the next three weekends.  I’m heading on a work retreat next weekend.  The following weekend, my colleague Erica and I are going to Yangshuo if she can get a day off from her Sunday job.  The weekend after that, I’m supposed to go to Beihai to meet a lady I met in Xi’an.  She’s Finnish and works for a Finnish company there.  So that will get me through the first weekend in June.  Thank goodness!

Cheers to you all, and I hope to see you again next week! Have a wonderful week with lots of happiness and love.  Sending hugs your way. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese food, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, laundry room cocktail hour, Liangfengjiang National Forest Park, NanBai Supermarket, Nanning | Tags: , , , , , | 34 Comments

cocktail hour in the laundry room

Sunday, May 10: I’d like to invite you to join me for a Sunday night cocktail hour in my laundry room.  It’s a bit of a nondescript and narrow space, but I’ve been imagining it’s something nicer, and I’m hoping you can stretch your imagination as well.  We’ll imagine we’re in an embassy house, sitting on a screened-in porch in a Mediterranean country somewhere, perhaps.  That’s what I’ve been doing, ever since I read American Romantic by Ward Just.

I always wanted to be in the Foreign Service, but I failed the Foreign Service exam in 2007 and I never bothered to take it again.  Never mind; it’s too late now.  Their cut off for entering the Foreign Service is 59 1/2 and I’ve already passed that dubious benchmark.

Here is my boring laundry room

Here is my boring laundry room

I’m afraid I don’t have any hard liquor, but I do have some red wine that I bought from Wal-Mart.  It was a good deal, 3 bottles for 99 yuan, or less than $16. Now you know that’s a really good deal for red wine, but of course you can’t expect the wine will be very good.  That’s okay.  We can imagine it is and we can sip on it and enjoy some nice conversation.   I have three kinds: a Brise de France Cabernet Sauvignon, a Marques del Norte Rioja, and finally a Merlot Vin de France.  Which would you prefer?

I can also offer you a Tsingtao beer, but I only have one and it’s a small one.  Maybe next time we meet, you can tell me what you’d like, and I’ll make sure to have it around, and in larger quantities.

Today, in honor of your visit, I washed my prettiest sheets and hung them on the line to create a special atmosphere.  See how much nicer I’ve made it look just for you?

my decorated laundry room :-)

my decorated laundry room 🙂

The view through the windows isn’t very nice, as my laundry room looks out over a characterless courtyard behind a hotel.  We can observe the laundry hanging from the hotel guest balconies.  Maybe we can make up interesting stories about the owners’ lives by looking at their drying clothes.

the view from my laundry room window - think of the stories we could tell from that laundry

the view from my laundry room window – think of the stories we could tell from that laundry

I meant to buy a couple of houseplants to make it more homey, but now that it’s hot, I don’t imagine we’ll want to sit here for long.  We might even have to go inside to the air-conditioning as it’s so hot and humid out in this laundry room, which is really an outdoor room, like a patio, but not.

another angle to the view

another angle to the view

If my laundry room were on the other side of my apartment, and if it were a balcony, like most of the other apartments in our building, we’d be overlooking a pond.  Of course, if we were on the pond side, we’d have to talk VERY LOUDLY to be heard over the screech of the crickets and the gurgle-swallow-burp noise of the thousands of frogs.

the view on the other side

the view on the other side

I’m sorry that I only have one comfortable chair that I bought from Wal-Mart, the only place in town where you can buy some useful Western items.  I’ll give you the comfortable chair, although when I actually have real people join me, I’m often quite selfish and give them the hard chair.  The hard chairs are the only chairs provided for us at the university.  I apologize for their hardness, their total lack of comfort, but these are the chairs the Chinese use.  We better get used to it, I guess, if we’re going to be here in China.

Sorry, I'm in the comfy chair.  However, I'll glad give it up for you. :-)

Sorry, I’m in the comfy chair. However, I’ll glad give it up for you. 🙂

Anyway, welcome to my humble abode and cheers!  Clink!  I’d love to hear about your week.  Did you go anywhere interesting or do anything extraordinary?  Did you do anything at all, even something mundane?  Did you see any good TV shows, watch any movies, read any books?  Did you hear any good music or possibly make a playlist you’d like to share?  Did you have any deep conversations about how you always wanted to straighten your hair when you were younger?  Or did you maybe talk with someone about the meaning of civilization?  Did anyone reveal their deepest darkest secrets to you?  Did you have an altercation with anyone?  Did you have a romantic liaison?

I really want to hear about your week, but I’ll tell you a little something about mine first.  I returned from Shanghai on Monday by noon after a fun but partly rainy weekend.  On the plane, I finished the book I was reading, The Memory of Running, by Ron McLarty.  I could relate to it as it was a kind of quest for the protagonist, Hook, to find meaning, and to find himself, after growing up with a crazy sister.  I know about crazy. I grew up with it too.  I don’t want to do crazy any more; and I’ll avoid it at all costs.

Upon finishing that, I immediately embarked on reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.  I’ll tell you more about it when I get further along.

I had to invigilate for midterm exams on Tuesday morning, which was deadly dull, as always.  The Foreign Service it’s not!  Then over the rest of the week, I marked 146 essays that were mostly poorly written by Chinese students who tend to say, “You should turn down the voice” (meaning turn down the sound of the music) or “You often listening the loud music late at night,” and “…so I often lose sleep and it let me can’t get up on time in the morning,” and “Is it convenient for you to stop the way of life?”  Or they have to explain a not-so-complicated bar chart that they make ultra complicated in their analysis.  I wished for someone to put me out of my misery, but no one came to my rescue.  It’s okay.  It’s over now, thank goodness.

welcome to my cocktail hour! cheers!!

welcome to my cocktail hour! cheers!!

I had dinner one night at a Korean restaurant and another night at the Red Sign Dumpling place which has suddenly gone upscale.  They used to have metal chairs and uncomfortable tables with a bar across the space where your knees should go, and they used to have no air-conditioning.  But they got new tables and cushioned chairs and they even have a brand spanking new air-conditioning unit!  It was like heaven eating dumplings, mashed potatoes, pork wrapped in wonton skins, and chicken with vegetables there.  Accompanied by a tall bottle of beer.  It hasn’t always been so pleasant to eat there, although the food has always been good.

Me at the Red Sign in February.  It's really gone upscale now.

Me at the Red Sign in February. It’s really gone upscale now.

I walked 3 miles several times this week and did sit-ups and edited a lot of pictures and wrote a lot of blog posts in between marking my exams.  As a matter of fact, I can only stand to do ten exams at a time and then I need an hour of another activity. Some of the hour-long filler activities included watching episodes of Homeland Season 3, Grey’s Anatomy Season 5, and the 21st episode of Scandal‘s Season 4, which just aired in the U.S.  I even began watching the first episode of Madam Secretary, which seems pretty good. By the way, do you know that here in China we can watch any TV series we want for free on Youku?

It’s been very hot and humid here in Nanning, and I am inclined not to go outside unless I have to.  At other times, we’ve had the sky let loose in torrents of rain.  It’s not very pleasant, and I find myself counting the days until I go back home to Virginia.

I find myself quite depressed here lately.  My income in China is very low, and it barely pays for the travels I’ve done.  I was hoping to go somewhere on my way home from China, but that’s out.  I want to take a CELTA course in Washington when I return home and I don’t want to work next semester, so I won’t have any more income coming in until I find another job in spring of 2016.  This is the worst-paid job I’ve ever had, about half what I made in Korea and much less than half what I made in Oman.  In both of those places, I also earned one month’s salary as a gratuity for completing my contract.  I don’t get that here.  Of course, Mike supports me and I have a home to return to, but by not having my own money, I forfeit my independence.  I don’t like that.

But that’s not the real reason I’m depressed.  I’m depressed because I don’t have a partner in crime here.  There is no one I connect with here who is adventurous or fun-loving.  In short, there is no Mario.  It’s often a lonely existence, and that’s why I waste my time with a lot of ridiculous activities like watching all these TV series, something I have rarely done before.  I usually am not a TV watcher at all.

I do have some friends here, but I find we have an unbalanced relationship.   I am a very open person.  Anyone who reads my blogs knows that.  I’ll always tell anyone anything they want to know. I’m an open book.  But I find it’s always me talking and never getting anything in return.  I feel like the friends I have know everything about me, and I know almost nothing about them.  They’re reticent, reserved, or unwilling to open up.  These are not the kinds of relationships I like, and I find myself getting annoyed at the one-way nature of them.

I’m tired of people here who have never lived or worked anywhere else but China, and who have blinders on.  Not knowing any better, they think China is the be all and end all of existence.  It isn’t.  I can guarantee you that.

It’s time for me to go home.  I hope I’ll survive my loneliness and my deteriorating attitude for two more months.

As you can see, it hasn’t been a very exciting week for me here in Nanning.  The most exciting thing in fact is this cocktail hour in my laundry room. Please come again. I promise I’ll give you the soft chair next time around.   But only if you’ll stay awhile.  And only if you’ll share a part of yourself.

This post was inspired by Robin’s Weekend Coffee Share over at Breezes at Dawn: If we were having coffee

Please, tell me something about your week in the comments.  I’d love to start a conversation. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese food, conversation, Dumplings, Guangxi University, laundry room cocktail hour, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Tsingtao Beer | Tags: , , , , , | 62 Comments

shanghai days | the old city: fuyou road, yu yuan & xintiandi |

Sunday, May 3:  After leaving the Pudong waterfront, I get on metro for one stop and switch to line 10, where I get off one stop later at Yu Yuan.  I’m heading into the Old City, the traditional urban core of Shanghai, formerly known as the Chinese City. It was based on the original walled city of Shanghai, dating back to the 11th century.  After the Opium War in 1842, foreign concessions (ceded territories within China, governed and occupied by foreign powers) were established to the north of the Old City, which remained under Chinese control.  Only foreigners could settled in the concessions (except for the Chinese who already lived there), while newly arrived Chinese residents lived in packed and squalid conditions in the Old City, which was a kind of ghetto.  Most of the Old City walls were dismantled in 1912 (Wikipedia: Old City of Shanghai and Lonely Planet China).

I have no idea where to go, but I follow the crowds to Fuyou Road, a small street running east-west along the northern edge of Yuyuan, where the Sunday market is in full swing.  A frenetic atmosphere pervades this street as shopkeepers holler for attention and shoppers rifle through goods on tables and racks, leaving chaos in their wake.

Merchants and crowds on Fuyou Road

Merchants and crowds on Fuyou Road

In this little video, you can get a sense for the noise level on a busy Chinese street.

Fuyou Road

Fuyou Road

I poke into a few shops to check out the scarves and textiles of various sorts, but they all look cheaply made, so I continue on.

Fuyou Road

Fuyou Road

Fuyou Road

Fuyou Road

Fuyou Road

Fuyou Road

street food on Fuyou Road

street food on Fuyou Road

little pretties on Fuyou Road

little pretties on Fuyou Road

street vendor on Fuyou Road

street vendor on Fuyou Road

At a big corner on the pedestrian-only street heading toward the Old City, three young people approach me and ask if they can take their picture with me.  We pose together and then I ask them if they’ll take a picture of me with my camera.  Their English is very good and they tell me they’re students.  They ask where I’m going and I tell them I’m looking for Yu Yuan Garden.  They tell me this is Yu Yuan Garden.  I don’t believe them, as this looks nothing like a garden. 🙂  Already I’m suspicious.

Fuyou Road

Fuyou Road

me in the middle of Fuyou Road

me in the middle of Fuyou Road

After conversing for a while in a laid-back way, they tell me they’d like to take me to a tea house they know of.  Aha!  The Shanghai Tea Scam, again!  This is the second time in three days that young people have tried to pull the tea scam on me.  I tell them no thanks and start walking away, and then they get quite aggressive: “Why? Where are you going?  Why won’t you come with us?”  I should have said, “Oh!  The famous tea scam!” Instead, I hightail it into the crowds, where I follow the signs to the Classic Chinese Street.

I figure if this is Yuyuan Garden, it is nothing like any garden I’ve ever seen. I figure an actual “garden” will turn up if I just follow the crowds.

on the way to Yuyuan Garden

on the way to Yuyuan Garden

on the way to Yuyuan Garden

on the way to Yuyuan Garden

The center of the activity in the Old City is an area called Changhaung Miao, where I find, in the midst of a modern touristy bazaar, one of the most crowded tourist sites in the city: Huxin Ting Teahouse.

on the way to Yuyuan Garden

on the way to Yuyuan Garden

Huxin Ting (Heart of Lake Pavilion) is a two-story teahouse sitting on an island at the center of an ornamental pond, reached by a zigzag bridge.   Many famous people have come here for an expensive cup of tea, including the Queen of England and Bill Clinton (Lonely Planet China).

tea house

Huxin Ting Teahouse

A convoluted walkway leads to the tea house and across the pond.  The walkway is packed and policemen are blowing whistles and prodding people along.  The line moves at a snail’s pace with every Chinese person taking pictures along the walkway with the tea house as a backdrop.

the line past the tea house on the way to Yuyuan Garden

the line past Huxin Ting Teahouse on the way to Yuyuan Garden

Traditional Chinese buildings

Traditional Chinese buildings

the pond and tea houses

the pond and tea houses

the pond and tea houses

the pond and tea houses

When I emerge from the walkway on the other side of the pond, I see a line forming at a ticket booth.  I almost walk past but then I ask some foreigners, “What are the tickets for?” They tell me it’s Yu Yuan (Jade Garden).  Ah, finally, the elusive garden. I buy the ticket for 40 yuan (~$6.50).  I find a number of halls that look similar to the one below, but I don’t linger long.

a hall at Yuyuan Garden

a hall at Yuyuan Garden

According to Lonely Planet China, Yu Yuan (Jade Garden) is “a classical Chinese garden featuring ponds, walkways, bridges and rockeries.”

The garden “was finished in 1577 by a government officer of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) named Pan Yunduan. Yu in Chinese means pleasing and satisfying, and this garden was specially built for Pan’s parents as a place for them to enjoy a tranquil and happy time in their old age,” according to China Travel Guide: Yuyuan Garden.

Due to fluctuating fortunes and historical events, the garden went through numerous changes. During the late Ming Dynasty, it became dilapidated with the decline of Pan’s family. In 1760, some rich merchants bought it and spent more than 20 years reconstructing the buildings. During the Opium War of the 19th century, it was severely damaged. Today’s garden is the result of a five-year restoration project which began in 1956. It was opened to the public in September, 1961 (China Travel Guide: Yuyuan Garden).

keyhole in the wall

keyhole in the wall

flying eaves

flying eaves

Yuyuan Garden

Yuyuan Garden

Stone creature

Stone creature

Chamber of Ten Thousand Flowers

Chamber of Ten Thousand Flowers

Gardens & ponds

Gardens & ponds

The garden is packed with people on this holiday weekend, but I love it anyway because it is so iconically Chinese.

One of my favorite features of the garden is the whitewashed undulating garden wall topped with a dragon made of tiles.

Dragon head on the gate

Dragon head on the gate

After leaving the garden, I head back into the Old City and make my way through the narrow alleys back to Fuyou Road.

Back in the town

Back in the town

pretty cups all in a row

pretty cups all in a row

Back on Fuyou Road, I stop to check out the scarves, where I pick up 3 for 10 yuan ($1.60). When I get back to my hotel later, I find two of them have flaws in them, bright white lines cutting through.  Oh well, even one for $1.61 isn’t bad.

I get back on Line 10 of the metro and go two stops to Xintiandi, which consists of two blocks of renovated shikumen converted to a Western-style open air mall.  Shikumen is a traditional Shanghainese architectural style combining Western and Chinese elements that first appeared in the 1860s.  At the height of their popularity, there were 9000 shikumen-style buildings in Shanghai, comprising 60% of the total housing stock of the city (Wikipedia: Shikumen).

At this place, I almost feel like I’m back in the USA, as this kind of open air mall is so familiar.  Both Chinese and Western people are wandering about at this mall, and I almost feel like I’m home.  At this point, I think that I could almost live in Shanghai.  Of course, that would be disregarding the numbers of people in the city.  However, this small area is not as crowded as the Bund or Yu Yuan, as this is not such a tourist spot.

I stop for a lunch at a “healthy spot” called Sproutworks, where I order two sides: orzo and cauliflower (soaked in oil) for 25 yuan (~$4).

Two sides: orzo & cauliflower

Two sides: orzo & cauliflower

Xintiandi

Xintiandi

Xintiandi

Xintiandi

Xintiandi

Xintiandi

Xintiandi

Xintiandi

After walking through Xintiandi, I feel tired and want to return to my hotel.  I don’t feel like tackling the metro again, so I take a taxi for 25 yuan (~$4).  At this point I still have 51 yuan on my metro card which I will never be able to use.

Back in my neighborhood, I walk down the street and buy a peach yogurt drink and head to a massage place where I pay 119 yuan (~$19) for an hour-long aromatic foot massage.  It feels great and makes me feel really sleepy.

Massage place

Massage place

I stop at a discount shoe store but I don’t find anything of interest.  My silver sandals are really worn out and my tennis shoes are still wet from yesterday, so I was hoping to find a cheap alternative.

Back at the room, I relax until 5:00, at which time I go down to the hotel bar for a glass of wine.  Tonight is salsa night at the hotel, so I enjoy watching the Chinese folks doing salsa on the dance floor.

Chinese folks doing salsa

Chinese folks doing salsa

Dancing up a storm

Dancing up a storm

I had seen some dumpling places on the street, so I go outside in search of dinner.  I always love dumplings in China, so when I find a spot, I go inside.  However, the only menu is on the wall in Chinese, which makes it impossible to translate with my WayGo app.  I can’t even figure out how we’re supposed to order.  As I’m totally ignored, I decide to try another place.

Dumpling shop

Dumpling shop

dumplings in bamboo stacks

dumplings in bamboo stacks

Finally, I find a place where I can sit down and read the menu with my WayGo app, and I order Chinese cabbage pork dumplings (6) and shrimp and greens pouches (6), all for 25 yuan.  I mix some minced garlic and red-hot oil with the soy sauce and dip the dumplings into the sauce.  They are delicious!  I’m hooked now on Shanghai dumplings. 🙂

Chinese cabbage pork dumplings & Shrimp & greens pouches

Chinese cabbage pork dumplings & Shrimp & greens pouches

Back at the hotel, the salsa night is in full swing and I don’t really feel like hanging out in the crowded bar.  I’m more of a quiet-bar-kinda-girl.  I return to my hotel where I take a long hot bath and relax and read for the night.  I have a super early flight back to Nanning tomorrow from Hongqiao Airport, which is luckily closer to my hotel than Pudong International Airport, from where I arrived on Thursday night.

Categories: Asia, China, Fuyou Road, Huxin Ting Teahouse, Old City, Shanghai, Sunday market, Travel, Xintiandi, Yuyuan Garden | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

a stroll along the pudong shore for a cloudy-day view of the bund

Sunday, May 3:  Last night, I accidentally set the alarm for 6:30 p.m., so this morning I slept a little later than I intended to. 🙂 I make some coffee in my room, catch up on Instagram and then soak in a long steamy bath.  I go out without having breakfast in the hotel, and that seems to work to alleviate some of the stomach troubles I’ve been plagued with all weekend.

I get on metro at 9 a.m. and go straight to the Lujiazui stop in Pudong.  I head directly to Riverside Avenue, bypassing the long queues waiting to go to the top of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.  I have no interest in standing in those queues as it’s a dark and cloudy morning and the view from the top wouldn’t be anything special.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Pudong

Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Pudong

Pudong

Pudong

Modern architecture in Pudong

Modern architecture in Pudong

Traffic circle in Pudong

Traffic circle in Pudong

downtown Pudong

downtown Pudong

To be honest, the view from the riverside isn’t great either.  When I was at the Bund on Friday, I was frustrated that the sun was to the west, foiling my attempts to get decent pictures of the old colonial buildings lining the Huangpu River. Thus I determined that this morning I would head directly to Pudong, so when I looked across the river to the west, the sun would be behind me.  However, it’s so cloudy and grey, that the views are not good.  No matter.  They do give you an idea of how different the west side of the river is from the east.  The Bund is old, classic and a little stodgy, while Pudong is glittering, colorful and modern.  I find it fascinating that the two sides of the river are so different.

The Bund from Pudong

The Bund from Pudong

Of course, since I’m on the Pudong side, I have to take some pictures of the modern side too, especially the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Shanghai International Convention Center.

The Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Shanghai International Convention Center

The Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Shanghai International Convention Center

The word ‘bund’ derives from an Anglo-Indian word for an embankment along a muddy waterfront.  That was what the Bund was originally (China Highlights: The Bund of Shanghai).

According to Wikipedia, the Shanghai Bund boasts dozens of historical buildings along the Huangpu River that once housed numerous banks and trading houses from the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the Russian and British consulates, a newspaper, the Shanghai Club and the Masonic Club. The Bund lies north of the old, walled city of Shanghai. It was initially a British settlement; later the British and American settlements were combined in the International Settlement. Magnificent commercial buildings in the Beaux Arts style sprung up in the years around the turn of the 20th century as the Bund developed into a major financial center of East Asia. (Wikipedia: The Bund)

The Bund

The Bund

The Bund across the Huangpu River

The Bund across the Huangpu River

As I walk along the Pudong waterfront, a small flotilla of official-looking boats comes down the river blaring trumpets and other loud instruments, much like a marching band in a parade.  I guess they’re celebrating International Workers’ Day, which was Friday.  This is, after all, the holiday weekend.

The Bund as seen from Pudong

The Bund as seen from Pudong

a musical flotilla

a musical flotilla

a celebratory parade of boats

a celebratory parade of boats

a musical celebration of the Labour Day holiday

a musical celebration of the Labour Day holiday

The Bund from Pudong

The Bund from Pudong

A cloudy day on the Bund

A cloudy day on the Bund

I guess I’m just not meant to get any great pictures of the Bund this weekend. 😦

The Bund

The Bund

Pudong and the Shangri-La

Pudong and the Shangri-La

Flags at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower

Flags at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower

looking up in Pudong

looking up in Pudong

After my riverside walk, I make my way to the metro.  My next destination is Yuyuan Garden.

Categories: Asia, China, Holidays, Huangpu River, International Workers' Day, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Pudong, Shanghai, Shanghai International Convention Center, The Bund | Tags: , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

rainy day in shanghai: yufo si, renmin square & a chinese massage

Saturday, May 2:  This morning, I eat the buffet breakfast in the hotel and thus get a later start than I planned, leaving around 9:30. I take line 2 of the metro to Jing’an Temple Station then switch to line 7, where I go 2 stops to Changshou Road Station.  It has been forecast to rain all day today, and as I walk the 10 minute walk to Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple, the skies are getting heavier and more foreboding.  By the time I reach the temple, it’s looking like the skies will open up any minute.

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

The temple was originally built in 1882 to keep two jade Buddha statues which had been brought from Burma by a monk named Huigen. The temple was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, but the statues were saved and a new temple was built on the present site in 1928. It was named Yufo Si, or the Jade Buddha Temple (Travel China Guide: Jade Buddha Temple).

The temple is a lively place of worship, with believers kowtowing before past and future Buddhas, and incense wafting from large incense burners in the courtyard.

As I enter the courtyard, it starts to sprinkle, so I head indoors to the central Great Treasure Hall, which holds three huge figures of the past, present and future Buddhas.

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

The gods of the twenty heavens, decorated with gold leaf, line the Great Treasure Hall, like stern headmasters welcoming new students to a prestigious school.

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Monks and worshippers are actively praying and making offerings in the Great Treasure Hall.

Devotees at Yufo Si

Devotees at Yufo Si

Yufo Si

Yufo Si

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

At the back of the Great Treasure Hall, I see a monk and I motion with my camera to ask if it’s okay to take his picture.  He doesn’t say no, but as I put my camera up to take the picture he opens his umbrella to block himself from my photo.  An Italian woman who is nearby scolds me: “No!  You can’t take a picture, not of him!”  I said, “Oh, no one told me.”  Obviously her tour group leader must have told her that.  I’ve taken pictures of monks all over China and Myanmar and have never had a problem.  She scolds me again, “No! Not him!”  I feel like saying but I don’t: “Who appointed you the photo police?”  I wish now I had said it!  I really hate it when bossy and nosy tourists try to tell me what I can and cannot do.

According to China Travel Guide, “the two precious jade Buddhist statues are not only rare cultural relics but also porcelain artworks. Both the Sitting Buddha and the Recumbent Buddha are carved with whole white jade. The sparkling and crystal-clear white jade gives the Buddhas the beauty of sanctity and make them more vivid.”

I have to pay an extra 10 yuan to see the the Sitting Buddha, housed in the Jade Buddha Tower.  It is 190 centimeters high and encrusted by agate and emerald, portraying the Buddha at the moment of his meditation and enlightenment. Sadly, no photographs are allowed.  Again, these no-photo rules annoy me because I honestly don’t see any reason for them.  If they want to keep their temple for worshippers only, then they should do so, and they shouldn’t open it up to tourists. If they open the temple to tourists, they should allow photos.

Below is the courtyard of the Jade Buddha Tower.

courtyard at Yufo Si

courtyard at Yufo Si

Courtyard at Yufo Si

Courtyard at Yufo Si

After leaving the Jade Buddha Tower, I walk down a corridor under red lanterns toward the Recumbent Buddha Hall.

Lanterns at Yufo Si

Lanterns at Yufo Si

red lanterns

red lanterns

The Recumbent Buddha is 96 centimeters long, lying on the right side with the right hand supporting the head and the left hand placed on the left leg; this shape is called the ‘lucky repose’. The sedate face shows the peaceful mood of Sakyamuni when he left this world. In the temple there is also another Recumbent Buddha which is four meters long and was brought from Singapore by the tenth abbot of the temple in 1989 (Travel China Guide: Jade Buddha Temple).

Below is the Recumbent Buddha brought from Singapore.  Again, no photos are allowed of the smaller and more famous recumbent Buddha from Burma.

a reclining Buddha

a reclining Buddha

In front of the small recumbent Buddha (which of course is not pictured), a group of older Chinese ladies are chanting with their hands over their heads in prayer stance.

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

guardians at Yufo Si

guardians at Yufo Si

guardians at Yufo Si

guardians at Yufo Si

When I return to the courtyard, the rain is coming down in a steady drizzle and I’m hoping as I prepare to leave that I can simply take a taxi to Renmin Park.

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple

Outside Yufo Si, there are no taxis in sight.  I walk down the street to a more heavily traveled road, but the taxis that whiz past are all occupied.  I accidentally step in a puddle and one foot is then soaked.  I stand for quite a while in the pouring rain hoping for a taxi, but I finally have to give up and walk the 10 minutes back to the metro.  By the time I arrive at the Changshou Station, the bottoms of my pants and my feet are soaked through.

I take the #7 line back to Jing’an Temple station, and then switch to the #2 to People’s Park, also called Renmin Square.  As I walk toward the square, I pass by the Shanghai Grand Theatre, with its convex roof and its transparent walls and pillars.

Shanghai Grand Theatre

Shanghai Grand Theatre

Shanghai Grand Theatre

Shanghai Grand Theatre

Renmin Square, or People’s Square, is the modern heart of Shanghai.  The area was originally the site of the Shanghai racecourse, built by the British in 1862.  In 1941, Chiang Kaishek converted it to a sports area, as he thought gambling immoral.  During WWII, the stadium served as a holding camp for prisoners and a temporary mortuary (Lonely Planet China).

I am in search of museums today since it is raining and forecast to rain all day, but when I get to the pot-shaped Shanghai Museum, I see there is a long line of people huddled under umbrellas waiting to get in.  I guess everyone has the same idea.  I decide not to bother.

The Shanghai Museum

The Shanghai Museum

the umbrella brigade

the umbrella brigade

rainy day at the museum

rainy day at the museum

Shanghai Museum

Shanghai Museum

I decide to go in search of the Shanghai Art Museum.  The park is huge and I see some signs for the museum, but whenever I follow them, they don’t seem to lead anywhere.  Some girls stop me and ask if they can take a picture with me.  I let them and then ask about the museum.  They tell me it is no longer here in Renmin Park but has been moved across the river to Pudong and is now called the China Art Museum, moved in 2012 to the former China Pavilion of Expo 2010.  That’s what I get for depending on my 2010 edition of Lonely Planet China.

Both of the girls who have stopped me are very fluent in English and are asking me all kinds of questions about where I’m from and what I’m doing in China.  The next thing I know, they’re asking me to accompany them to a tea house ceremony.  Alas, this is my first encounter with the famous Shanghai Tea House Ceremony Scam, a common scam pulled on Westerners in Shanghai and Beijing.  The scam involves a small group of friendly Chinese students (usually 3-4) who approach Westerners, talk to them in a friendly manner, and invite them to a tea ceremony which can end up costing 650 – 2000 RMB.

Luckily I recognize the scam for what it is, and I suddenly tell the girls I have to leave.  They protest too loudly, but I continue to walk away.

Next, I go in search of the Museum of Contemporary Art in the midst of the groves and ponds of Renmin Park.  Here, I find an exhibit called “Echos” by Oliviero Rainaldi, an exhibit of human forms in utmost simplicity.  You can read about the exhibition here: ARTLINKART: ECHOS – SCULPTURES BY OLIVIERO RAINALDI.

Walking upstairs at the museum, I find a kind of children’s area, where children can make art.

in the children's area of the Museum of Contemporary Art

in the children’s area of the Museum of Contemporary Art

world map

world map

I also find an inviting cafe where I decide I will eat, mainly because I need a place to sit down and rest out of the rain. I order a set lunch with an appetizer of mousse with crabmeat and grapefruit and a glass of white wine, followed by a main course of shrimp, asparagus and mushroom pasta.  I figure I can’t go wrong with Western food in such a nice restaurant.  The meal is quite expensive too, at 238 RMB (~$38), the most I’ve spent in any restaurant during my entire year in China.  I realize I’m spending all this money just because I’m tired and want a place to sit out of the rain.

mousse with crabmeat and grapefruit

mousse with crabmeat and grapefruit

A group of well-heeled Chinese women of a certain age, maybe in their 40s and very stylish, are enjoying lunch at the next table.  I feel generally miserable and frumpy, as my hair is a mess and my clothes are wet. Though I have a nice view of a lotus pond out the window, I still don’t enjoy the lunch mainly because I feel so grubby and unkempt.

Restaurant at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Restaurant at the Museum of Contemporary Art

I soon find that I’m wrong about not going wrong with Western food.  As I’m eating the meal, I feel progressively sicker and sicker.  What is wrong?? I’m so baffled by all my stomach problems in China.  No matter what I eat, almost everything makes me sick.  This is from someone who, during three weeks in India, where EVERYONE gets sick, NEVER got sick.  I’ve been a whole year in China and have been sick almost constantly.  The meal looks perfectly harmless, doesn’t it?

shrimp, asparagus and mushroom pasta

shrimp, asparagus and mushroom pasta

I also eat some waffles with berries and ice cream, hoping the waffles will settle my stomach.  They don’t.

I visit the bathroom, where I find some very unusual wallpaper. Don’t be shocked by what you read between the petals.

the bathroom wallpaper

the bathroom wallpaper

After I leave the museum, I walk through Renmin Park.  Finally, it has stopped raining, but now I’m no longer in any mood to explore as my stomach is cramping and I’m exhausted.

Renmin Park

Renmin Park

Clocktower seen from Renmin Park

Clocktower seen from Renmin Park

Renmin Park

Renmin Park

I decide I don’t feel like doing any more sightseeing today.  I’ve been defeated by the weather.  I go in search of the metro, which takes a long time to find, and take it back to Zhongshan Road.  I bypass the hotel and go straight to a massage place, where I have a great Chinese massage for an hour, for 168 yuan (~$27).  It feels great and is something I really need.  I feel pampered and refreshed after.

I stop at the Family Mart near the hotel and buy an orange juice, a grapefruit juice, a banana and a Snickers bar.  I eat and drink all this for my dinner and then take a long hot bath in my nice hotel.

I feel a lot better after all that, so I decide I should take advantage of the nice bar in the hotel, so I go downstairs, sit at the bar and order a glass of red wine, just before the 8:00 happy hour deadline.  A young man next to me asks where I’m from and I tell him I’m American. He mentions that he just met an American girl today who works in Shanghai and told him where he could buy some curtains. He says he’s a pilot with Lufthansa. I say, isn’t that the airline where the pilot committed suicide and brought down the whole jet, taking all those innocent people with him?  He says that was Germanwings, owned by Lufthansa.  I say, it must be a hard job, sitting in that cockpit for hours on end.  He says he loves it because it’s what he’s always wanted to do.  I say, you seem so young to be a pilot and he responds that he’s 36.  I say, from where I sit, I think everyone seems to be in their 20s.

What a ridiculous conversation it is, with me saying so many foolish things!  Anyway, I head up to my room after that one drink, ready to get a good night’s rest so I can tackle Shanghai for one more day!

Categories: Asia, China, Jade Buddha Temple, Museum of Contemporary Art, Renmin Park, Shanghai, Shanghai Grand Theatre, Shanghai Museum, Travel, Yufo Si | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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