Nanning Wuxu International Airport

cocktail hour in the laundry room (or maybe we’ll sit inside where it’s cool!) :-)

Sunday evening, wine o’clock: If you dropped by for cocktails this evening, I’d be so pleased to see you that I’d usher you right past my laundry room and into my icy air-conditioned living room.  It’s so hot, humid and miserable outdoors that your clothes and body would probably be drenched in sweat, so you’d breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not making you swelter in my laundry room.  Then I’d offer you either a cold Budweiser, as that’s all I have this week, or a glass of Chile Cabernet Sauvignon – Valle Central 2013.  I forgot to chill it though, as I can never get used to chilled red wine, so it might be a little warm.  We can always add an ice-cube or two, but I don’t know if you’d feel safe with it as we don’t drink water from the faucet in China.  You might get sick, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.

lush lotus

lush lotus

Have a seat in my comfortable chair and tell me about your week.  It’s June, so summer is upon us. Hooray!  Do you have any travel plans over the summer?  Are you starting to visit farmer’s markets and getting some fresh produce?  Have you been to any outdoor concerts?  Do you have some time off from work?  How about family visits?  Do you have grandchildren or parents or children or friends coming to visit?  Will you go to the beach or a pool for a swim any time soon?  Will you be having a barbecue?  If so, what will you make?  Will you invite me? 🙂  I sure would like some grilled corn on the cob (hint-hint!).

perky lotus

perky lotus

I took a short walk around one of our lotus ponds on the campus this afternoon.  It’s nice to have fresh flowers for a cocktail hour, don’t you think?  I couldn’t stay out long because sweat kept dripping into my eyes, I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos, and my camera lens kept fogging over. I think I’m late in the game in photographing the flowers. I should have done it earlier when they were at their peak.  Now they seem to be fading a bit.  I guess their late stage goes hand in hand with my final days here in China.

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, so I’m sorry I’ve missed hosting a few cocktail hours.  Don’t worry; I didn’t have one and not invite you.  You’d always be invited, and very welcome.

Two weekends ago, I went with my friend Erica to Yangshuo.  She has never traveled anywhere during her year in Nanning, although she’s been in China for seven years and has traveled prior to this year. We had to squeeze in a lot during a short time, so it felt a little rushed, but we still managed to do shortened versions of three of the four things I did in Yangshuo during the 4-day National holiday in October.  It was a lot of fun, although we got rained on a few times.

Lotus flower

Lotus flower

It’s unbelievably damp in Nanning.  I’m so tired of feeling hot and wet all the time.  I know, that doesn’t sound good, but that’s how I feel.  I get all showered and blow-dry my hair and put on clean clothes in the morning, only to walk out my door and immediately become drenched in either sweat or rain.  I really hate this weather in the south of China; it’s one of the biggest reasons I look forward to my escape on July 15. I wish for once I could work abroad in a nice climate, such as somewhere in Europe on the Mediterranean. Or even a northern country, where I’d have to stay bundled up all the time.

Umbrellas in the hallway of the 9th floor of the Experimental Building - this is Nanning :-)

Umbrellas in the hallway of the 9th floor of the Experimental Building – this is Nanning 🙂

Escape is in the cards. It’s visible on the horizon.  I bought a ticket for July 15 from Nanning directly to Seoul on Korean Air and then on to L.A. where I will visit my sister in Reseda for about a week on my way home.  A week after I bought that ticket, Korean Air canceled that flight, so I had to search for a new flight. Now I will fly to Beijing, then to Vancouver, then to L.A.  The scary part is that I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver, and I already know I will probably miss the connection.  Planes are notoriously late taking off from airports in China, so I’m preparing myself already.  At least it will be Air Canada’s problem if I miss the connection, because both flights, from Beijing and from Vancouver, are with Air Canada.

Lotus blossoms

Lotus blossoms

Yes, my time in China is winding down.  Because my departure is imminent, I dropped out of my Chinese class.  This was long overdue.  Our teacher, Miss Hao, kept telling me I was very clever, because I was able to figure out sentences and vocabulary meanings in class.  The problem was that when I left the class, I never studied.  I could be a clever person if I actually applied myself. 🙂  Also, the other two people remaining in the class, Gavin and Reed, are very advanced, and frankly, I was holding them up.  So I made a quiet and uneventful departure.  However, Miss Hao was keen on inviting our class to her house for dinner, so we went on Wednesday night, June 3.

Miss Hao lives on the 18th floor of a new building on the university campus; during many of our Chinese classes, she was busy on her phone talking to contractors and decorators about fixing up her house.  It’s a lovely sprawling apartment with great views over the university campus.  However, she doesn’t have air conditioning.  It wasn’t that she hadn’t turned it on; she decided not to have it built into the house at all.  I can’t imagine no air-conditioning in Nanning’s heat and humidity, but I did have the (ahem) pleasure of enjoying (i.e. suffering through) the heat for this one evening.

She had originally promised us we would get to help her make dumplings, which none of us were thrilled about because we’re all pathetic at making them and don’t enjoy the process at all.  But we prepared ourselves, only to find, voila (!), she’d already made them when we arrived.  The lack of air-conditioning was something I was prepared for however, simply because I know the Chinese mentality.  I predicted she wouldn’t have it and I was right.

Left to right: Reed, Gavin, unknown Chinese friend of Miss Hao, Miss Hao

Left to right: Reed, Gavin, unknown Chinese friend of Miss Hao, Miss Hao

We did have a lovely evening there nonetheless, and I loved the dumplings.  Dumplings are one of my favorite things to eat in China, and these were especially good. Gavin and I brought our own beer, and I’m glad we did because Miss Hao didn’t have any.  She did bring out a refrigerated bottle of red wine partway through the dinner, however, so we could make toasts to each other.

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

Besides that little outing, I met fellow-novelist Paul for dinner one night to exchange our novels. He’s given me the next 50 pages of his, which I’ll read this week, and he’s said he’ll finish mine.  He’s leaving in a week and a half, so we’ll see if we get through them.

lotus leaves

lotus leaves

I had a couple of lunches with Gavin, but now he’s mad at me because I didn’t leap at the chance to help him make the listening final exam over the weekend.  He knows my strong feelings about preserving my weekends for myself, and so the fact that he didn’t plan ahead enough so I could help him before this weekend showed a bit of disregard for my beliefs.  As a teacher, it’s all too easy to let your planning and marking, which must be done outside the classroom, spill over into your personal time. I like to have a clean line between work and pleasure, so I keep the line very rigid.  Only in an emergency will I let work encroach on my personal life.

Oh well, if he doesn’t get over it, I’ll be leaving soon anyway.

dropping petals

dropping petals

Last weekend, I went to Beihai, the only coastal city in Guangxi province, to visit Mari.  Mari is a Finnish lady who lives and works in Beihai for a Finnish company, Stora Enso, known for publication and fine paper, packaging board and wood products.  She’s in charge of supply chain management for container board used in milk cartons.  I met her when we went on a tour of the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an.  She kindly invited me to visit her in Beihai, sending her personal driver to Nanning on Friday afternoon to pick me up and drive me the three hours to Beihai.  He then drove 3 hours each way Sunday night to return me home. Besides that, she invited me to stay in her apartment, which was beautifully decked out IKEA style.  She was the perfect hostess; and we had a great time and lots of laughs.

lotus flowers in the pond

lotus flowers in the pond

In addition to those two weekends away, my students turned in 73 outlines and brainstorms/clusters that I had to grade in the first of three staggered deadlines.  They’re writing their final research papers for my class and there are three stages in the process.  I thought I’d be able to go through them quickly, but it was very time-consuming mostly because they were a total mess and many of them were off topic.  Oh dear.  If we get through this process it will be a miracle.

lotus pond on the university campus

lotus pond on the university campus

Since our last cocktail hour on May 25, I’ve mailed one big box home by ground; I sure hope it makes it back to Virginia.  I should mail another this week.  I went out for a “drink” with one of my students, which turned out in fact to be a “mango mountain.”

I finished watching the first season of Madam Secretary, Skyped several times with Mike, Skyped with Sarah, and finished watching Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy. I also watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, one of the few DVDs I brought here with me, for about the 20th time.  I continued to plod away on the depressing Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian; it’s a hard-to-take book but I’m learning something about the Armenian genocide prior to WWI. It’s always good to learn something new about the horrible things we as humans are capable of.

lotus

lotus

I also had an interview with Teaching House in Washington, D.C. because I applied to take an intensive CELTA (Cambridge Certificate for English Language Teaching of Adults) course in September. I passed the interview and committed to the class.  So now I know what I’ll be doing this fall: taking the course and enjoying the holidays with my family.  I’d like to stay home for a while, but who knows how long it’ll be before I get itchy feet again.  Going back to work at NOVA is not something I can get excited about.

lotus blossoms under cover

lotus blossoms under cover

I’d love to hear all about your last couple of weeks, so feel free to stay awhile, and tell me what’s on your mind.  There’s no rush.  I have nothing to do tonight because I don’t work on weekends. 🙂

fern and leaf

fern and leaf

I do want to apologize for not visiting many of you as often as I’d like.  My internet is very slow here, and often I open the pages to your blog and wait and wait and wait for them to open.  By then I’ve gone on to something else, or I’ve gone to bed.  I hope to be better once I return home to the US of A, where the internet works smoothly and quickly and without issue. 🙂

Categories: Asia, California, China, Chinese language, Chinese language class, conversation, D.C., ESL Teacher, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, laundry room cocktail hour, Los Angeles, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Reseda, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, United States of America, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | 28 Comments

exchanging mike for alex in nanning & onward to kunming

Monday, February 2:   We get to the airport in time for Mike to check in and he says his goodbyes to me at the departure gate.  I’m sad to see him off; I’m also disappointed that our holiday didn’t go as I had hoped it would.  I had envisioned us being energetic and outdoorsy, hiking through the pinnacles of Zhangjiajie and riding bicycles, motorbikes, and bamboo rafts through the stunning karst landscape of Yangshuo.  It was not even close to what I imagined it would be, although I think Mike still managed to appreciate it for the cultural experience it was.  While I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia, this was his first time to the region.  I’m sure it was an assault on the senses much as it was to me when I first I arrived in Korea in February of 2010.

Mike has promised me that he will write something about his impressions of China.  When he writes it, I’ll post it here on my blog.

I think it’s important that my family sees my living situation in a foreign country.  Alex has experienced all three countries in which I’ve lived and worked, as he visited me in Korea, Oman and here.  Mike visited me in Oman with both boys, and now he’s been to China.  It really helps when my family has an understanding of how I live, and they can see and feel what it’s like for me.

Mike wonders if he will get to see Alex as he gets off the plane.  Mike will fly to Beijing on the same plane on which Alex arrives.  Once Mike disappears to board, I have to wait some time for Alex, so I sit in McDonald’s and have some coffee.

When Alex finally arrives, he tells me that he was walking on a lower level while departing the plane.  Suddenly, he heard Mike call his name from a higher level.  They were able to chat for a few minutes and then Mike went on his way, and Alex walked out to greet me.   Pardon this picture. I took it hurriedly with my iPhone and it’s really blurry!

Alex arrives at Nanning Wuxu International Airport

Alex arrives at Nanning Wuxu International Airport

We take a taxi to the university campus main gate and, rather than taking Alex directly to my apartment on campus, I take him, suitcase and all, to my favorite dumpling place, the Red Sign, across the street from the main gate.  He enjoys his first taste of Chinese food in China; this is after all one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Nanning.

After he drops off his suitcase, and gets the two-minute tour of my tiny apartment, we go out for a long walk around the campus.  After that, he’s tired and wants a rest, and I have a couple of errands to do to prepare for our trip.

Later in the evening, I take him to my favorite Korean restaurant at the City Comfort Hotel, which he loves.  Later, we return to my apartment, where we happen to find a couple of good English movies on Chinese TV.  There isn’t much to do in Nanning, as you can probably guess.

Tuesday, February 3:  This morning Alex and I wake up to a steady rainfall.  Enough already!   I’ve really had it with the rain over the last two weeks.  There isn’t much we can do in Nanning but wait until our 3:30 flight to Kunming, the capital and largest city in Yunnan Province.

At the airport, we check our bags, but mine sets off an alert.  They take it aside and open it, finding my offensive iPad inside.  Apparently that is the problem.  The security woman waves the suitcase through, but forgets to change the alert.  When we go to the departure gate, we’re pulled over by police because of the original security alert.  A policeman takes me back to security, where the woman again waves us through.  However, she still doesn’t change the alert, because when I actually go to board the plane, I set off another alarm.  Luckily, after a few moments of general alarm, they allow me to board.  I guess I must be careful to put my iPad in my backpack for our remaining domestic flights.

Our flight is delayed for nearly an hour, which I’m told is typical in China.

When we fly into Kunming, we can see blue skies and not a cloud in the sky.  The weather forecast for the next week is fabulous.  Kunming is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its perpetual spring-like weather; it’s an ideal climate for blossoms and lush vegetation. Located at an elevation of 1,890 meters (6,200 ft) on the Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau with low latitude and high elevation, Kunming has one of the mildest climates in China, characterized by short, cool dry winters with mild days and crisp nights, and long, warm and humid summers, but much cooler than the lowlands.  The period from May to October is the rainy season and the rest of the year is dry.  With monthly percent possible sunshine ranging from 30% in July to 69 percent in February and March, the city receives 2,198 hours of bright sunshine annually. (Wikiipedia: Kunming: Climate)

We take a taxi to our local Chinese hotel, the Fairyland Hotel.  It’s nothing special; I didn’t want to book a really nice hotel when we’re just in transit to Lijiang.  No one at this hotel can speak English, which makes for some challenging moments, the first one being when they give us a room with a double bed despite the fact that I booked a room with twin beds.  Luckily I find “twin-bedded room” in my Pleco dictionary: shuangrenfang.  I show the word to the receptionist and she gives us another room.

By the time we get settled into our hotel, it’s dinnertime, so we go out in search of a restaurant.  We find a bustling Muslim restaurant, where we order beef dumplings with Chinese chives and beef dumplings with carrots, and a cold cucumber salad. It’s a great little meal, and so far Alex is loving Chinese food.

Muslim restaurant in Kunming

Muslim restaurant in Kunming

Alex at dinner

Alex at dinner

Our meal - beef dumplings with Chinese chives, beef dumplings with carrot, and cold cucumber salad

Our meal – beef dumplings with Chinese chives, beef dumplings with carrot, and cold cucumber salad

Back in our room, I look through the pages I’ve torn from my Lonely Planet China guidebook about Kunming, trying to figure out what we can do tomorrow.  Our flight to Lijiang doesn’t leave until 7:55 p.m., so we have a lot of time to explore. 🙂

Sadly, Alex has to put up from here on out with my snoring, which is a continual frustration for him.  In retrospect, I should have suggested he bring some earplugs. 🙂

 

 

Categories: Asia, China, Fairyland Hotel, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Kunming, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Travel, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

mike’s reflections on china

In late January, my husband Mike traveled from Virginia to visit me here in China.  We went to Hunan province, where we visited Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie, and to Guangxi, where we visited Guilin and Yangshuo.  I was disappointed for him because we had horrible weather for nearly the whole time he was here.  His one and only experience of China was a rainy, fog-enshrouded, cold and gloomy one.  In his reflections below, you can see that despite our hardships, he managed to see the experience as a positive one.  This was more than I could say for myself, but then I’ve seen better days in China.

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Here are Mike’s reflections, along with some of the photos he took.

——————————————————–

After Cathy decided to go to China to teach this year she suggested that I should plan on visiting and traveling with her on one of her breaks. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. My first inclination is to plan relaxing, stress-free, outdoorsy vacations away from crowds and the fast-paced life I deal with in the DC suburbs. After giving the idea some thought and talking more with Cathy, I committed, leaving the planning to her, providing feedback on trip options when asked. I am an avid reader, like Cathy, and have an interest in cultural anthropology and world history, which I get from a fictional and non-fictional perspective. In addition to having the opportunity to spend some time with my nomad wife, I would see firsthand how one in five people on our planet live.

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

I knew from the outset that this trip would be a challenge, starting and ending with the long time-zone crossing flights halfway around the globe. From Cathy’s early travel experiences in China I knew that our in-country travels would not be easy. Neither of us are much on tour groups, preferring the freedom to move about at our own pace, surrounded by local folks, being forced to figure things out on our own. That‘s half the adventure. The apprehension we felt every time we ventured out to our next destination was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and relief upon arrival. I came with no expectations other than to relish the uniqueness of China. Cathy put a lot of time and energy into our itinerary, hoping to show me the picturesque and historic side of Guangxi and Hunan provinces. You seasoned travelers understand the tenuous balance between trying to visit as many places as possible within a tight time window and allowing oneself the time to soak in the essence of each layover, and recharge, before diving in to the next adventure. I felt like we achieved that balance.

Fenghuang

Fenghuang

Cathy was very honest on her blog in describing her disappointment with the cool damp weather during my visit. Besides yielding a series of fog shrouded photos for her blog, she was sad for me. I am sure that many travel bloggers portray only the positive aspects of their trips, which is not reality. You have to accept and learn to deal with weather and other circumstances that don’t go your way. I like how Cathy freely shares her personal frustrations in her blogs.

Yes, I would have enjoyed some clear sunny days, but I was so alert to the sights, sounds, smells and the way of life wherever we went that the weather had much less of an impact on me than Cathy. The mist encased quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie and the limestone karsts of Yangshuo looked whimsical and mysterious. The one rainy day where we didn’t go trekking was spent lounging in bed reading and treating ourselves to a muscle relaxing massage. That was just what we needed, some down time to recover.

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

I was constantly fascinated by assorted modes of transportation, the unified flow of scooters, bikes and buses on the crowded streets and dusty rural roads, the lack of heat throughout, the family way of life in the shops, service bays, and eateries, the variety of critters and body parts offered on the menus, the placid acceptance of a quality of life that few westerners could imagine, the third world toilets, the often derelict trains and train stations, the rural communal hamlets we cycled through, the villagers laboring in the never-ending fields, and the general friendliness of the people we encountered.

I wanted to see where Cathy lived, where she worked, the students she taught, where she shopped and ate, how she traveled, the soul and spirit of the bustling cities, the steady march of the rural farms, so I could get a sense for the environment she moved about in during her life in Guangxi. Thankfully those impressions will now be with me for the rest of her stay in Nanning, sensory impressions catalogued and brought to mind as she shares with me her weekly recap on Skype. Instead of her face and the stories she tells in words, I will see much more.

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

There are so many memories and images that come to mind from our two-week excursion, all fascinating to me, many of which Cathy has already shared in her blog. Some of these memories can’t be captured by pictures and words. They were moments of interaction, on some level, with others, in a land where one feels so isolated, despite being surrounded by 1.3 billion people. The thirteen hour plane ride seated next to a mother and her young son from Mongolia on their return trip from studying at the international school in Miami, Florida, the respectful sharing of a small train compartment for twelve hours with two young strangers, the prideful smile on the face of our dumpling lady in Fenghuang who was thrilled to see us show up for breakfast three mornings in a row, the conversation with a young woman, employed in international sales, on our boat ride on Baofang Lake, the engaging conversation with Duco, the young Dutch backpacker, on our bus ride to Yangshuo, the family we traveled with on our Li river bamboo raft, and the many challenging interactions arising from the language barrier at every twist and turn.

the town of Yangshuo

the town of Yangshuo

In one of Cathy’s blogs about Alex’s time in China she mentions a tension-filled afternoon. This is to be expected, in less than ideal travel situations and close quarters, as individual expectations collide with circumstances and each other. I suppose the key to traveling with someone else, successfully, is to recognize that this will happen and what to do when it does happen. I think in Alex and Cathy’s case, space and time was all they needed, and by the evening they were fine. It was surprising to me given all of the traveling we did and the inclement weather we encountered that we didn’t really encounter any moments of tension. Perhaps I’ll chalk that up to my laid back nature; HA! Just joking Cathy, I know it takes two to make this happen.

In looking back on my two weeks in China, followed by Alex’s two weeks, followed by Cathy’s trip to Myanmar, I am amazed at Cathy’s stamina, especially in light of the cough she came down with on our trip. Both Alex and I were exhausted after our short journeys. I can’t even begin to imagine doing that for six weeks. Cathy is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going!!!

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

As I left China I realized that this was truly a once-in-a-life experience. It is an experience that for myself, and for Alex, will resurface in years to come as we put global events into perspective, as a result of having the opportunity to glimpse a way of life so different from our own. I am thankful for that opportunity.

Categories: Airplane, Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, Bicycle tour, Bus, Changsha, China, Fenghuang, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Hunan, Jishou, Li River, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Spring Festival, Train, Transportation, Travel, West Street, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Xi Jie, Xianggong Hill, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

an overnight at the guilinyi royal palace before heading back to nanning

Friday, January 30:  In the afternoon, after our drive through the kumquat orchards, tea plantations and karsts north of Yangshuo, we arrive in Guilin at our classy hotel, the Guilinyi Royal Palace.  We stayed here, if you remember, before we headed to Yangshuo, but at that time we arrived late and departed early, so we didn’t have time to enjoy it.  The hotel sits in the midst of Guilin Central Park, the city’s botanical garden, and I want to have time to explore a bit of that before heading back to Nanning.

Entrance to the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Entrance to the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Sadly it’s just as dreary and dark as the rest of our holiday has been.  Still, the grounds of the hotel are lovely with their ponds, bridges, rock sculptures, tropical plants, and traditional buildings with flying eaves.  There is a swimming pool on the grounds, which I have never seen in a Chinese hotel, and I tell Mike that one hot summer weekend, I’m going to come back to Guilin and pamper myself.

on the grounds of the Guilinyi Royal Palace

on the grounds of the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

This is our room from the outside.  It’s the one on the left.

Our room at the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Our room at the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace (Photo by Mike)

We are hungry for lunch, but we decide first to take a walk through the botanical garden on our way to look for lunch outside of the garden.  We admire the koi ponds, the pavilions and the tropical plants.

Guilin Central Park

Guilin Central Park

Pond in Guilin Central Park

Pond in Guilin Central Park

koi pond in the botanical garden

koi pond in the botanical garden

Koi pond (Photo by Mike)

Koi pond (Photo by Mike)

road through the gardens

road through the gardens

tropical abundance

tropical abundance

tropical pavilions

tropical pavilions

pavilions in the sub-tropics

pavilions in the sub-tropics

botanical gardens

botanical gardens

succulents in the botanical garden

succulents in the botanical garden

We are feeling rather hungry, and I’m tired of being cold, so we leave the botanical garden and head to what looks like an outdoor shopping mall.  We can’t find anyplace to eat in this mall except a McDonald’s, so we stop to grab a bite.  Surprisingly, I  feel full after scarfing down a fish sandwich and some French fries, and I never even get hungry for any kind of dinner.

Walking back to the garden, Mike takes some photos of Guilin’s streets.  They capture the typical Chinese city outside of the touristy spots.  It’s nothing special, so I’m long past taking photos of such scenes, but I guess he still finds it interesting.

apartment buildings surrounding the botanical gardens (Photo by Mike)

apartment buildings surrounding the botanical gardens (Photo by Mike)

one of many unusual vehicles seen on the streets of China (Photo by Mike)

one of many unusual vehicles seen on the streets of China (Photo by Mike)

In the end, we go back to our hotel where I soak for a long time in a hot bath, and then snuggle up under the covers in my pajamas, trying desperately to keep warm.  I have been chilled for so many days now, I feel that I’ll never warm up again.  We never leave the hotel room for the rest of the night.  Both of us are really feeling sick with colds, sore throats and coughs, and we’re in misery.

Saturday, January 31:  In the morning, we take the 11:55 a.m. train to Nanning, arriving at Nanning Railway Station around 2:30.  By the time we get back to my apartment, it’s well after 3:30.  As I always do after a holiday, I immediately unpack and do laundry while Mike relaxes.  In the evening, Mike and I go out to one of my favorite pizza places, outside the west gate of the university.  I am wearing the gray wool hat you’ve seen in some of my photos, one I’ve had since I lived in Korea.  It isn’t until later, when I’m packing for my upcoming trip to Yunnan with Alex, my 23-year-old son, that I realize I must have left the hat in the restaurant.  At that time I don’t have time to go look for it. 😦

Sunday, February 1:  All day today, Mike and I stay hunkered down in my apartment, as it’s raining and cold in Nanning, just as it was in Guilin.  We’re both still sick, so it’s good to have another day of rest.  I’m busy packing for my trip to Yunnan, which luckily is forecast to be sunny and in the 60s and 70s (F), with nights dropping into the 50s.  This forecast is for the next 10 days at least. 🙂  It’s lucky that Alex’s experience should be an improvement over Mike’s.  I still feel sad that Mike had such bad luck with the weather on his holiday.

In the evening, to get us out of my cramped and depressing apartment, I take Mike to my favorite Korean restaurant close to the campus, where we have sizzling oven-proof casserole dishes of bibimbap and delicious potato pancakes.  We both find the place quite charming and lively.

Tomorrow morning, Monday, I will take Mike to the Nanning airport for his 11:40 a.m. return flight to Virginia by way of Beijing.  He has to check in two hours early, so we’ll arrive there by 9:40.  Alex is due to fly into Nanning at 10:55 a.m.   It’s so nice that I only have to make one trip to the airport to both drop off Mike and pick up Alex.  Mike wonders if they will cross paths, as Mike is getting on the same flight to Beijing that Alex is coming in on. 🙂

Categories: Americas, Asia, Beijing, China, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Guilinyi Royal Palace, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Travel, United States of America, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

a 30-hour marking marathon & mike’s welcome arrival

Monday, January 12: We had our Year 1 Writing Final Exams today from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.  Normally the students are given one hour to write two paragraphs, meaning that they don’t have time to ramble on and on.  However, this semester, the powers-that-be decided to give the students two hours to write two paragraphs.  This meant that I got 73 papers with two very long paragraphs each.  As we got the papers late in the day, we started marking very late.  I only got 11 exams marked over a several hour period.  As Mike’s arrival was scheduled for Monday, January 19, I felt a lot of pressure to get all my papers marked, tally my grades, and get signed off so I could collect my travel allowance before the weekend.  It was a lot of pressure to complete everything in a very short time.

Tuesday, January 13: We had to invigilate the Year 1 Reading Exams, even though, as a Writing teacher, I don’t teach reading.  After invigilating, I marked 25 more of my Writing exams.  It was a grueling day with hardly a break, but I had set a quota for myself and I had to do it.  As I couldn’t start marking until after noon, when the Reading Exams were over, it really compressed my marking time into about a 6 hour period.

Wednesday, January 14: Today we had to invigilate for the Year 2 Listening Exams from 8:30-10 a.m. and another set from 10:30-12:00.  This meant that I got another set of 37 Listening Exams from my Year 1 students to mark.  For the rest of the day, all I did was mark exams: 19 Writing exams and 12 Listening exams.  It was a thankless day.

Thursday, January 15: Luckily, I didn’t have to invigilate for any more exams, so I hunkered down and marked the final 18 Writing exams and the final 25 Listening exams.  Needless to say, it was a very long day.

Friday, January 16: Today, I had to transfer all the grades from my exams (73 Writing and 37 Listening and 37 Speaking, which we had given last week) to spreadsheets and double-check them, and write a summary as to why the grades are the way they are (SCIC requires that all classes have an 80% average (+ or – 4%)). I did it all, handing my grades in by 4:00 p.m.  However, I found out the office handing out the travel allowances was closed until Saturday.

Saturday, January 17 & Sunday, January 18: This morning, first thing, I went to the office with all my signed-off papers and got my travel allowance, which is really just the money reimbursing us for our original flight to China back in September.  It really isn’t anything but a back payment for money we’ve already spent.  However, I was determined to get it before I left on my holiday.

Meanwhile, during this horrible week of marking, I was also booking hotels and flights for Alex’s and my trip to Yunnan in the first half of February.  I also was working on booking my in-country flights and hotels in Myanmar, which I never had time to complete and had to do while I was traveling.

Over the weekend, I was still working on booking things for my holiday, getting my apartment cleaned for Mike’s arrival, taking care of banking matters (I had to get crisp new U.S. Dollars to exchange in Myanmar), and packing. And during my down time, I spent countless hours watching all the episodes of the final season of Breaking Bad, one right after the other. 🙂

Monday, January 19:  Mike is due to arrive in Nanning at 10:55 a.m. on Air China, so I take off from my apartment at around 9:45 to walk to the front gate of the university and catch a taxi.  Luckily I get there in time and I capture him as he comes in through the gate with the other mostly Chinese passengers.  I am very happy to see him after being away from home for four and half months.

Mike arrives at Nanning International Airport

Mike arrives at Nanning International Airport

We get in line at the taxi stand where I show the driver my trusty Nanning map with Guangxi University on it, since the drivers can never understand me when I say “Guangxi Daxue,” which means Guangxi University.  I don’t know how I’m saying it incorrectly, because whenever I listen to a Chinese person say it, it sounds the same as when I say it.  However, no one can EVER understand me.  As an English teacher who works in foreign countries, it’s really pathetic at how bad I am at learning new languages.

the taxi stand at the airport

the taxi stand at the airport

It’s about a 45 minute drive from the airport to the university and Mike is bewildered by the lively chaos that defines the streets of Nanning: motorbikes, e-bikes, bicycles, three-wheeled contraptions, fancy cars and SUVs, plus vendors selling every item known to man.  I’m sure a city like Nanning is a shock to someone like Mike who has never been to Asia before.

We take his suitcase to my apartment and head out directly to my favorite dumpling place across the road from the university’s Main Gate.  We order dumplings with pork and Chinese chives, dumplings with water chestnuts and my favorite ultra-salty and spicy green beans with red peppers.

Mike tries dumplings at my favorite dumpling place

Mike tries dumplings at my favorite dumpling place

I take Mike to my favorite dumpling spot

I take Mike to my favorite dumpling spot

After lunch, we change into some walking clothes and take a nearly 4 mile walk outside of the West Gate of the university.  I have to pick up a poncho I dropped off at a dry cleaner there, so I choose that route for today.  I figure he’d like to move around after sitting on a cramped airplane for endless hours.

I give him a little time to relax in my apartment while I finish packing, as we leave Tuesday at 5:20 p.m. on an overnight train to Jishou.

For dinner, we go to a Japanese restaurant which I used to like but now has a much reduced menu.  I actually don’t order anything because I’m stuffed from the afternoon’s dumplings, but what Mike orders has some kind of meat prepared in the typical Chinese style, full of gristle and fat.  He doesn’t eat much either as he gets tired of spitting out all the unsavory parts of the meat.  We do however toast his visit with a Tsingtao beer. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese language, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

nǐ hǎo: easing into life in nanning

Monday, September 1:  I have a long chat on the plane from Beijing this morning with two people who know a lot about Nanning, and they recommend some places I should go while here.  The young woman, Yilan, who works in Beijing, is traveling to visit her family for a holiday.  She recommends I visit the north sea of Beihai, Yangshuo, Yinxi, and Detian Waterfall.   Of course, I have a lot of places I want to visit, if time and money permit: Guilin & Yangshuo, Kunming in Yunnan Province, Hong Kong, Burma and Laos.

Nanning, meaning “South Tranquility,” is the capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China and is about 99 mi (160 km) from the Vietnam border.  It is known as the “Green City” because of its abundance of lush tropical foliage.  If you’d like to read more about the city, you can check Wikipedia: Nanning or China Travel Guide: Nanning.

Nanning sits in a hilly basin with elevations between 230 and 1,640 ft above sea level.  Qingxiu Mountain dominates the southern part of town.  The city has a warm, monsoon-influenced humid subtropical climate, with an annual mean temperature of 71.3 °F (21.82 °C). Summers are hot and humid with July, the hottest month, having a 24-hour average temperature of 83.1 °F. Winters are mild and somewhat damp with January, the coolest month, averaging 55.2 °F (12.9 °C) in January. From February to August, rain is most frequent and relative humidity consistently averages above 80 percent; the annual rainfall is 51.6 in. The area is also frost-free for all but 3 or 4 days a year and snowfall is virtually unheard of in the city.

I disembark at the tiny airport of Nanning Wuxu International Airport, which seems way too small for a city of 6.6 million people at the prefecture level, 2.5 million in the metro area.   Amy, a student at the university, is a little late picking me up, which gives me a bit of a panic.  She takes me directly by taxi to Guangxi University, on the west side of Nanning.  We drive through the bustling city, clogged with cars, buses, motorbikes, trucks and people scurrying along in all directions.  The city is currently building an underground railway, and later I’m told that the railway construction is making for greater congestion than normal.

Amy leaves me on the sidewalk with my bags to wait while she fetches a key from another building.  While I’m standing there, a group of young students comes by and wants to pose for photos with me.

My first encounter with Chinese students upon my arrival

My first encounter with Chinese students upon my arrival

After I drop my suitcases in my apartment, Amy offers to take me to lunch.   She takes me to a fast food restaurant, where she pays for my lunch and then takes off to head to the airport again.

Noodles with vegetables and eggs

Noodles with vegetables and eggs

My first impressions of the apartment where I’ll live for the next 10 months are much like my first impressions of my first house in Oman, a run-down villa: my first floor “villa” behind the shoe store.  That place was run down, dirty and filled with bugs of every stripe.  This apartment in China is smaller, and similarly rough around the edges.  I don’t have a couch at all in my apartment, just some hard chairs, so I don’t see me using the living room much.  The kitchen is small and stained and the bathroom is gritty, but at least there is good water pressure and hot water.  The bedroom does at least have a nice view out over a lotus pond.

My bedroom

My bedroom

the view out my bedroom window

the view out my bedroom window

the living room

the living room

the tiny kitchen

the tiny kitchen

Later, a fellow teacher tells me that at the university where he was last year, he had a spacious brand new apartment, so he wishes he could go back “home” to there, despite the fact that the pollution was so bad he never saw sight of the sky.  Today, he was thrilled to see blue sky and white clouds.

The worst thing are the fluorescent light fixtures.  The previous tenant left a floor lamp, but it has no bulb.  Getting one will be my first priority, so I can read comfortably in bed. Right now the only light is a bright fluorescent light on the wall opposite the head of the bed, not very useful for reading.

Upon arrival, we immediately get busy with settling-in matters.  All of our tasks are done on foot, walking around the campus and the surrounding areas in the sweltering heat and humidity. First stop, a photo shop to have mug shots taken: I am told to keep my mouth closed and not smile, put my hair behind my ears, and pull up my somewhat low-cut top.  What results is the most horrific photo imaginable.  We proceed to the police station to register; I feel sure those pictures will put me on their most wanted list.

Then we go to the bank to open our bank accounts, but they require a phone number before they can proceed. This will have to be put off until tomorrow.

Caleb, about the age of my oldest son, is another newbie to Guangxi University; we’re going through all these processes together.  He’s from North Carolina but studied in China for several years and taught at another university in China last year.  He speaks fluent Chinese, so it’s great to have him around. He’s an easy-going and bright young man and  I’m happy to have met him.  Chen, the Human Resources person at the university, is also very helpful.  He’s patient with all the long waits and paperwork and his patience rubs off on me.  This is highly unusual, as I’m not known to be a patient person.

I meet another teacher named Kelly.  She, Caleb and I seem to be the only new teachers who need a visa, as most of the other teachers have one already from having worked in China before.  Kelly came from Indonesia where she just bought a bungalow.  She’s here in China to work to pay for the property.

I’m trying to think of the positive and to enjoy the experience, although it can be trying.  I do love being out on the streets and seeing all the interesting sights.  Once we get all these necessary things done, I hope to take to the streets with my camera.  It’ll be a while, I think, before I’m settled, and can explore further afield.  I’d like to go into Nanning proper at least by the weekend.

For dinner tonight, I eat nothing.  I am too exhausted to go out, and I don’t have any food in the house.  Maybe this will help me lose some weight, all this walking and not eating.

Tuesday, September 2:  The air-conditioning in my apartment is freezing, and I can’t seem to adjust it to a more reasonable temperature.  So in the middle of the night, I turn it off and open my window, which looks out over a lotus pond surrounded by weeping willows and other lush trees. This is around 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, and I can never go back to sleep.  It’s lovely on this first morning in my new apartment, seeing the sun rise and listening to the birds singing, with a view of the pond. I’m so envious that most of the other teachers have balconies looking over the pond but I don’t. Oh well, at least my bedroom has a nice big window, with bars on it, that allow me a lovely view.

the view of the pond out my apartment window my first morning in Nanning

the view of the pond out my apartment window my first morning in Nanning

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morning view of the pond from my apartment

the pond outside my apartment

the pond outside my apartment

When I finally get up, a neighbor named Eddie offers me a packet of coffee, that kind of three-in-one coffee I had all the time in Korea. I boil water in a frying pan as no saucepans or kettles are evident in my apartment.  It takes a long while on the stove contraption I have.  When the coffee is finally ready, it’s time for me to meet Chen and Caleb to go to the phone company.  I don’t even get to drink the coffee, and I have no breakfast.

We proceed to the phone store, where I get a Chinese SIM card for my iPhone.  It doesn’t work too well, possibly because my iPhone 5 is a 3G, and the Chinese SIM is a 4G (whatever that means!).  The phone stuff takes hours. By this time, Caleb and I are starving, so we go to a food stall to slurp down delicious noodles. Then on to meet Chen at the bank, where it takes awhile to get our accounts in order.

When I’m walking around the campus, I feel like I’m not in China, but in some combination country of Vietnam and Korea.  Lots of people, including teachers, ride electric motorbikes everywhere.  Many of the locals wear masks while riding about, or carry umbrellas.  Some people wear what looks like flowered or patterned hospital gowns or long-sleeved shirts, worn backwards, maybe to block out the wind or protect their skin from sun.  There are also a lot of strange transport contraptions, funny looking trucks, bicycle rickshaws, old-fashioned bicycles.  Driving through Nanning Monday on the way from the airport, we passed people on motorbikes carrying caged chickens.  Today, someone motors by with a cage of groundhogs.  Maybe they are going to cook them up?

The lotus pond behind my house, from a different location

The lotus pond behind my house, from a different location

In the afternoon, Caleb and I go to an outdoor food market, and I buy fruits, vegetables and eggs.  When you buy eggs here, they don’t come in a carton.  The vendor just puts them into a thin plastic bag.  I bought 6, along with some plums, walnuts, a passion fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, a red onion and some cabbage.

the open air fresh food market

the open air fresh food market

We walk all the way home carrying our goods, the bag of eggs nestled carefully at the top.  While unpacking in the apartment, I pick up the eggs and SPLAT!  They drop to the ceramic floor as I am putting them in the fridge.  Egg yolk and whites seep across the floor among the shattered shells!  I wasn’t planning on scrambled eggs, but that’s what I get.

fresh food market

fresh food market

By this time, I am exhausted.  Chen had already told us he wouldn’t be able to set up our internet until later, around 6:00 possibly.  In my room, I lie down on my nice hard bed to read Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, which I’m quite enjoying.  While reading, I drift off and sleep for three solid hours.  I guess I’m not on Chinese time yet.

I wake up to a phone call from Chen, who wants to come hook up my internet.  I am excited to finally have internet, although I can’t get on Facebook or WordPress.  I expected Facebook to be blocked but not WordPress, so this is terribly disappointing.

Despite my numerous trips to the market, I still have no oil to cook with, so I don’t cook anything for dinner. I have no salad dressing, so I don’t make a salad, even though I have lettuce, tomato and cucumbers.  I have one plum and a handful of walnuts for dinner.  It’s like I’m doing everything piecemeal.

As soon as I send a long email to Mike, my computer shuts down and restarts all of a sudden because of a “problem.”  That leads to nothing but frustration, so I go back to The Bonesetter’s Daughter until I drift off to sleep.

Wednesday, September 3:  This morning, after I walk 0.6 miles each way to the NanBai Supermarket, Caleb and I stop by the SCIC (Sino-Canadian International College) building to talk to the schedule coordinator, Lisa.  She tells us orientation for the teachers will be next Wednesday, the 10th, and teachers of second year students start teaching on the 15th.  Teachers for Freshmen (me, apparently) won’t start until the 22nd.  Wow, that’s a lot of time to kill, especially if I don’t have internet.  We pick up our textbooks.  It looks like I’ll be teaching Speaking & Listening and Writing, as well as an English Language Interest course of my design: “Road Trip, American Style.”

After our brief meeting with Lisa, Caleb and I take the K-1 bus to downtown Nanning, where we walk around downtown, and Caleb, a Starbucks lover, is anxious to find his favorite spot for coffee.  We find couples dancing and people sitting on squares of newspapers playing cards and other games in a lively square.  We walk amidst brightly colored buildings, electric motorbikes galore, and a mosque.

dancing couples

dancing couples

dancing couples

dancing couples

Nanning

Nanning

Nanning

Nanning

Motorbikes in Nanning

Motorbikes in Nanning

a mosque

a mosque

Colorful downtown

Colorful downtown

We end up finding a paved walkway beside the Yongjiang River and we wander down that for awhile.  We see some of Nanning’s bridges and some interesting statues, fishermen, and boats.   As we headed back toward the city, it starts raining.

Along the river

Along the river

River in Nanning

River in Nanning

the river

the river

fishermen and fishing boats

fishermen and fishing boats

the river in Nanning

the river in Nanning

fishing boat

fishing boat

baskets and debris

baskets and debris

statue in a park

statue in a park

statue in a park along the river

statue in a park along the river

sea nymphs

sea nymphs

Statues along the river walkway

Statues along the river walkway

Eating snails

Eating snails

We end up in a shopping district called Chaoyang Lu, with pedestrian walkways much like the main shopping district in Daegu, South Korea.  At one point, I stop for a strawberry milk tea with surprising tapioca balls that I have to chew up.  The cute girl who runs the shop wants to have her picture taken with me, so we take turns posing, her coworker taking the shots (you can see him in the mirror). Caleb gets some bite-sized pieces of fried chicken; he shares a bit with me.

a cute Chinese girl after she serves me a strawberry milk tea

a cute Chinese girl after she serves me a strawberry milk tea

Finally, hot, sweaty, and drained, we find a Starbucks and stop in for a coffee, a bit of air-conditioning and some free wi-fi.

Nanning

Nanning

We make our way back to the bus stop and take the K1 bus home.  I ask Caleb how to say “chicken” in Chinese and he says “jirou.” He heads home, and I stop at a little fast food restaurant and say at the front counter: “jirou?”  The boy behind the counter looks at me quizzically.  I say, “jirou?”  He hands me a menu with pictures and sweeps his hand over it.  I can’t tell what’s what from the tiny pictures.  I say again, “jirou??”  More bafflement.  Finally, I do a chicken imitation with my arms, making little “bawk, bawk” noises.  He still has no idea what I’m saying.  Starving, I just point to something on the menu that looks like it might be chicken.  It is, thank goodness, and it’s delicious.

As I walk back from lunch, I take some random pictures of the campus.

Front Gate of Guangxi University

Front Gate of Guangxi University

A rock in a garden on the campus

A rock in a garden on the campus

statue on campus

statue on campus

Reflections

Reflections

Lotus pond on campus

Lotus pond on campus

Lotus pond

Lotus pond

I loved the reflections on the pond

I love the reflections on the pond

motorbikes ~ the preferred mode of transportation

motorbikes ~ the preferred mode of transportation

the view of our pond from another part of our building

the view of our pond from the patio of our building

motorbikes with personality

motorbikes with personality

I go back to the apartment for a while to wait for Chen to come back by to fix my internet.  He comes by and takes my Mac to Internet Services.  At that time, I walk to yet another market to buy some more household goods, including some light bulbs.    On my way back, I find yet another lotus pond.  There are plenty of them on the campus.

Lotus pond behind the supermarket

Lotus pond behind the supermarket

When I return Chen brings back my computer with the internet working… sort of, slowly.

My dinner tonight is really special.  I make a salad of lettuce, tomato and cucumber with a little olive oil.  No vinegar, no seasonings of any kind.  I should be wasting away to nothing with the little eating I’ve been doing.

I settle in with The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and freezing once again, I open the window,  even though it’s quite muggy.  I enjoy hearing the calls and twitters of the birds.  I also hear cheers and slogans from the students doing military training on the campus.

My biggest pleasure is having the floor lamp beside my bed to read by, light bulb and all.

Thursday, September 4:  This morning, Chen takes us downtown to do a Chinese version of the medical exams we already completed in our home countries.  We need this in order to get the resident visa.  When we finish that process, we take a taxi back to campus where Caleb and I search in vain for a dim sum restaurant that Chen told us was in the “mall,” which I see as more of a department store.

Caleb says he has leftovers to eat, so he heads home and I go to the supermarket again.  As I prepare to cross the street near the front gate, my arms loaded with supplies, a man in a truck drives slowly past.   I haven’t found a lot of people staring at me here in China as I did in Korea and Oman.  But this man is staring at me out his window.   As he passes me, I cross the street behind him.  Suddenly, I hear a loud crunch.  The truck has pinned a motorcycle beneath it.  The shaken motorbiker stands and brushes himself off.  I wonder if that truck driver hit the motorbiker because he was staring at me.  Oh dear.

Settled back into my apartment, I spend the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out how to get my internet to work properly.  A Xiaomaiwang beer helps the process along.  I finally do, after many long hour and fruitless attempts, and that’s why you can now experience a bit of my life in Nanning on my blog.

And by the way, I do cook a dinner tonight: a stir-fry of broccoli, mushrooms and red onions, served over the rice I had leftover from lunch.  Maybe I won’t get skinny after all. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Chaoyang Lu, China, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Xiaomaiwang beer, Yongjiang River | Tags: , , , , , , | 33 Comments

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