Holidays

cocktail hour in the laundry room: the dragon boat festival that wasn’t

Monday, June 22:  Good evening and big hugs to you.  I’m so glad you dropped by for another laundry room cocktail hour. Please, have a seat in my comfortable chair.  I’m so anxious to hear about your week.  Would you like a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or a cold Budweiser?  Usually I buy Chinese beer, but I’ve decided it tastes a little too watery for my taste.   I must confess, I already started celebrating a bit before your arrival.  Just a wee glass of wine, or two.  I’m hoping that will make me more relaxed, and more ready to hear all you have to say.

One of many lotus ponds on the campus

One of many lotus ponds on the campus

It’s plenty warm out here in the laundry room, but it doesn’t seem quite as humid as usual, so maybe we can bear it for a while.  The sun is shining, a rarity in Nanning, so we might want to catch some of the rays, even if they’re coming in at a low angle.  Do you agree it isn’t so bad out here tonight?  I’m quite enjoying it because I’ve been sitting inside in air conditioning all day. I’ve been huddled under a blanket, so it’s nice to be outside enjoying the summer evening.

a particularly pretty lotus pond on campus

a particularly pretty lotus pond on campus

I took some pictures with my iPhone this week during several walks I took around the campus.  They’re here in the post so you can see what my daily walks look like.  Well, not quite daily, but at least four times a week.  I had a bizarre thing happen this week, most notably that a young Chinese man on a bicycle tried to proposition me.  This happened quite regularly in Oman, and everywhere I’ve been in the Middle East, but it has never happened before in China.  I was quite shocked by it. I’ll tell more about it, with a picture of the perpetrator, once I leave China.  Don’t worry, I WILL tell you all about it eventually.

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

We should celebrate because it’s been a three-day weekend for the Dragon Boat Festival. I’m always happy to have an extra day in which I don’t have to work, even if I do absolutely nothing to celebrate the actual holiday.

The Dragon Boat Festival was on Saturday, June 20.  Here’s what China Travel Guide has to say about it:  This festival has been held annually for over 2,000 years and commemorates the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC).  It also acts as a chance for Chinese people to build their bodies and dispel diseases.  Qu Yuan was a minister from the State of Chu and supported a fight against the powerful state of Qin.  Because of this, he was slandered by an aristocrat and exiled by the King.  He wrote many passionate poems to show his love for his country, and is therefore regarded as a famous poet in China’s history. In 278 BC, after finishing his last masterpiece, he drowned himself in the river rather than see his country occupied and conquered by the State of Qin.

On hearing of Qu Yuan’s death, the locals were in distress and fishermen searched for his body by sailing their boats down the river. Other people threw food such as eggs and food like zongzi into the river to attract fish and other animals from destroying Qu Yuan’s body. Later, many people imitated these acts to show their respect for this great patriotic poet and this practice continues today.

Because Qu Yuan died on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people decided to commemorate him on that day every year. Dragon boat racing and eating zongzi have become the central customs of the festival (China Travel Guide: Dragon Boat Festival).

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Though the Dragon Boat Festival sounds like a lovely holiday, I didn’t do a thing to celebrate.  I’ve traveled on every single National Holiday since I’ve been in China, and this is the first one where I’ve stayed put. I no longer have the energy to fight the huge crowds that always travel in China on these holidays.  I guess I’m finally starting to feel like often I feel in the U.S. on the national holidays.  I never travel on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day if I can help it.  Sometimes I travel on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but we always try to figure out how to get around the crowds on these holidays.

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

On Saturday afternoon, my student Azura, the one who took me to the apartment restaurant several weeks ago, texted me: “Hi Cathy.  It’s Azura.  Are you at school or travelling to another city?  My parents coming school, and my mother made some different kinds of ‘zong zi’ for you. ‘zong zi’ is traditional food for Dragon Boat Festival.”  After some back and forth emails, Azura had her father drive her to my apartment so she could drop off the zongzi.

Zongzi all wrapped up

Zongzi all wrapped up

Zongzi is pyramid-shaped glutinous rice wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves.  In the north part of the country, people favor the jujube as filling, while the south favors sweetened bean paste, fresh meat, or egg yolk.  The zongzi Azura’s mom made have quail eggs and beef in them, and even some bones!

zings when opened

zings when opened

Eating the zongzi was the closest I came to celebrating the holiday. I’ve been on the go so much over the past number of weekends that I’ve been happy to stay inside all weekend, reading some blogs, writing some blogs, editing some pictures, and watching endless episodes of Revenge.  I also walked every day, and although I’m walking 3 miles a day at a fast pace and sweating buckets, in addition to trying to watch what I eat, I still can’t seem to drop a single pound.  It’s so discouraging!

lotus blossoms

lotus blossoms

Lotus pond

Lotus pond

So, tell me about your week.  What did you do?  Did you travel at all?  Did you enjoy the Summer Solstice? Did you go to any outdoor concerts?  Did you make any lists?  Did you plan any trips for the later part of the summer?  How is work?  Did you have an easy or stressful week?  Did you make a new friend?  Or did you have a conflict with anyone?  Did you have too high expectations in a friendship and did the person let you down?  Did worries keep you from sleeping?  Or did you experience ecstatic joy or pleasure?

IMG_6425

Lotus blossom under cover

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lotus pond and tree

I know it’s been a difficult time in the U.S. with those senseless and hateful killings in a Charleston Church.  Why is there still such hatred in this world?  Why don’t people try harder to understand one another, and to love one another? I find people are becoming increasingly isolated.  It’s a difficult world we live in, so why don’t we all work harder to make it easier, and more loving?  A lot of people have written about this very American racist crisis, and I don’t have anything more to say except that people continue to horrify and disappoint me.  I think most people do have hearts, but we don’t read about them much in the news, do we?

Here in China, life goes on. My students continue to be kind to me, and they reinforce every day that they are the best thing about this job.  When I leave here, I will write about the pros and cons of working at SCIC, and I will also write about what I’m going to miss and not miss in China.   I look forward to writing that post after I leave the country.

I really didn’t do much at all this week except finish my last English Interest Course, “Road Trip American Style.”  This course is not much of anything except having the students watch movies. We watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Little Miss Sunshine, and finally, Chevy Chase National Lampoon Vacation.  The students seemed to enjoy the movies.  The classes are really a waste of our time and the students’ time, in my opinion.  Since they’re on Tuesday afternoons and our last class was this week, now I’ll be finished every day of the week by noon, except for Mondays.  We only have two more teaching weeks remaining, and then it will be exam week.  Thank goodness, as I think we’re all ready to be finished with this semester.

the shady part of my walk

the shady part of my walk

Besides getting totally hooked on the TV series, Revenge, I’ve also been watching Grey’s Anatomy and Mistresses.  I’m still plodding away on Sandcastle Girls. The book is good, but for some reason I seem to be too antsy to read much.  By the time I go to bed, I read about a page or two, and then I’m asleep.

I did attend a small birthday celebration for Nancy, one of the long-time teachers at SCIC.  Here she is with her huge birthday cake, which I was able to partake in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There really is nothing else of interest to tell you about this week.  It’s been deadly dull, to be honest.  Maybe I should have traveled this weekend after all.  I get so bored when there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Once I’m back in my home in Virginia, I’ll be able to find plenty to do, I hope!

I hope you all have a great week.  Please, I hope you have something more interesting to tell me than I had to report!  I need some saucy news! Anything new and adventurous will do.  I can live vicariously through you. 🙂

Peace and love to you all. 🙂

Categories: Agricultural College of Guangxi University, Asia, China, Chinese food, conversation, Dragon Boat Festival, East Campus, English Interest Course, Guangxi University, Holidays, laundry room cocktail hour, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Zongzi | Tags: , , , , , , | 48 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

arrival in shanghai & a visit to jing’an si

Thursday, April 30:  It’s another three-day holiday weekend in China, so I decide at the last-minute to fly to Shanghai.  This holiday is International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day, and celebrates laborers and the working classes.  The holiday is promoted by the international labor movement, anarchists, socialists and communists.

While I’ve been in China, I’ve taken advantage of every national holiday to travel, and of course, when I do, I have to move with the rest of the country.  It’s no fun traveling on a tidal wave of nearly 1.4 billion people, and after this holiday, I decide I’m done.  I will take several more trips, but not again on a holiday weekend.  I finally have come to understand why my colleagues who have been here for years don’t want to bother traveling on the national holidays.  I’ve finally reached that point of saturation myself.

My journey doesn’t start well.  As I’m walking to the main gate of the university to catch a taxi to the airport, the skies open up in a torrential downpour, and even walking under an umbrella, my jean jacket, suitcase and the entire bottom of my pants below the knee get drenched.  Inside the taxi, and later in the airport, I’m shivering because my clothes are wet, and they seem to take forever to dry.

While I’m sitting in the airport, the skies open up again, accompanied by roaring thunder, vicious lightning strikes, sheets of rain, and howling winds.  No preparations are underway for boarding and I know the storms will hold us up.  Sure enough, the flight is delayed 1 1/2 hours due to the ferocious storms.  My flight was to leave at 6:20 p.m., but instead we leave at nearly 8:00, meaning I will arrive in Shanghai at around 10:30.

While I sit shivering in the airport, reading about Shanghai in the torn-out pages of my Lonely Planet China, a Chinese girl sits beside me talking on her mobile phone for three straight hours.  So annoying!

My flights for this trip were not too expensive, but they’re a little convoluted.  I fly into Pudong International Airport, 40 km east of the city, on China Southern, and I fly out from the old Hongqiao Airport, 15 km west of the city, on Juneyao Airlines.  Since my flight out on Monday is early in the morning, I book a hotel, the Pentahotel, closest to the Hongqiao Airport, on the west side of the city.  This means when I arrive at Pudong, I have a very long taxi ride to my hotel.

When I’m making my way out of the airport, the usual suspicious-looking characters approach with “deals” to take me to my hotel.  One driver tells me he will take me for 150 yuan.  I think that price surely must be outrageous, even though I know it is a long way to the hotel.  He points to the taxi queue down below us, and I can see it’s extraordinarily long, but I figure I should try to be thrifty for once and stand in the queue.  It turns out I stand in the queue for nearly an hour.  Then, the metered taxi ride to my hotel takes just under another hour, and it costs — take a guess! — 150 yuan!!  I would have been better off taking the first man’s offer!  So frustrating.

When I go to pay the taxi driver his 150 yuan, all I have is two 100 yuan bills.  He tries to leave without giving me change.  Luckily, a hotel staff person is standing there as I tell him he owes me 50 yuan.  He gives me a 20. I continue to hold out my hand, and he sheepishly hands me another 20.  Finally, I thrust my hand in his face again, waiting for last 10, and he grudgingly hands it over.  Argh!!  I love how people always try to rip me off, especially since I’m a Westerner!  They seem to think we’re all made of money.  Believe me, as a teacher in China, I am certainly NOT made of money.

Finally, after my arduous journey, I’m rewarded by an amazing room at the Pentahotel.  The hotel has a wonderful restaurant and bar downstairs, and my room is excellent.  There is a bathtub, a rare bonus in China, and the bed is the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in during my entire time here.  I arrive shortly after midnight and plan to sleep as late as I need to. I have three full days to explore Shanghai, and although I’ll barely make a dent in China’s largest city, I can at least get a feel for what it’s like.

My room at the pentahotel in shanghai

My room at the pentahotel in shanghai

Friday, May 1: In the morning, I wake up to blue skies and the forecast is good.  This is my view out my hotel window.

the view out my window ~ first sight of Shanghai

the view out my window ~ first sight of Shanghai

The breakfast buffet at the hotel is a smorgasbord of Western and Chinese food.  For 50 yuan, I pile my plate with fried rice, dumplings, sautéed mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, orange juice, and coffee.  On CNN News, reporters talk about the Baltimore curfews, protests and arrests following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, while in police custody.  I’m surprised to see this news here in Shanghai.  It really is a small world.

the restaurant at the pentahotel

the restaurant at the pentahotel

After breakfast, my stomach is not feeling so good.  I don’t know what is wrong with me and the food in China, but we definitely do not agree with one another.  I am here in Shanghai to explore, however, so I am not going to let these stomach problems keep me down.  I head out to the metro station right around the corner from my hotel, the Zhongshan Park metro station, line 2.  I walk through endless corridors filled with shops and I’m amazed at how the Chinese use every inch of space for commerce.  Underground passageways are always filled with shops in China, even in Nanning.  There is nothing like this in the Washington, D.C. metro system.  In these corridors full of shops, there are also restrooms, although they’re not particularly nice ones.  I do appreciate this, however.  I believe all metro stations everywhere should have public toilets.

Line 2 is packed with people, and I stand holding on to a dangling handhold, unable to move in any direction.   It’s so claustrophobic!  My intention is to go directly to the Bund, but instead, I want to escape the crowds, so I get off at Jing’an Si (temple).   When I get out of the metro, I’m greeted by an Old Navy store, occupying a busy corner.

the intersection near Jing'an Si

the intersection near Jing’an Si

I look all around for the temple and finally see it, barely, nestled in the midst of modern high-rises.

the rooftops of Jing'an Si

the rooftops of Jing’an Si, nestled in among the high-rises

At this bustling temple, incense is burning, monks are praying, people are bowing with incense offerings and tourists are milling about, posing for all manner of pictures.

Incense burner at Jing'an Si

Incense burner at Jing’an Si

According to Wikipedia, the temple was first built in 247 AD during the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. Originally located beside Suzhou Creek, it was relocated to its current site in 1216 during the Song dynasty.  The current temple was rebuilt in the Qing dynasty, but during the Cultural Revolution, it was converted into a plastic factory. In 1983, it was returned to its original purpose and renovated, with the Jing’an Pagoda completed in 2010 (Wikipedia: Jing’an Temple).

the main hall and incense burner of Jing'an Si

the main hall and incense burner of Jing’an Si

The temple, known as the Temple of Peace and Tranquility, boasts the longest history of any religious structure in Shanghai. Prior to 1949, it was Shanghai’s richest Buddhist monastery, presided over by the Abbott of Bubbling Well Road, Khi Vehdu.  He was a gangster-like figure who kept seven mistresses and a White Russian bodyguard.  The temple is also the headquarters for the Mi Sect, a Chinese Buddhist discipline that was all but extinct until it was reintroduced from Japan in 1953 (Shanghai: Cultural-China.com: Jing An Si (Jing An Temple)).

the main prayer hall at Jing'an Si

the main prayer hall at Jing’an Si

Buddha

Buddha

Monks in prayer

Monks in prayer

Jing'an Si in Shanghai

Jing’an Si in Shanghai

Today’s Southern-style main halls are all recent renovations using Burmese teak (Shanghai: Cultural-China.com: Jing An Si (Jing An Temple)).

Buddha at Jing'an Si

Buddha at Jing’an Si

Buddha at Jing'an Si

Buddha at Jing’an Si

Paintings at Jing'an Si

Paintings at Jing’an Si

Paintings at Jing'an Si

Paintings at Jing’an Si

Wooden buildings behind the main temple at Jing'an Si

Wooden buildings behind the main temple at Jing’an Si

Porcelain relief

Porcelain relief

relief sculpture

relief sculpture

Buddha at Jing'an Si

Buddha at Jing’an Si

At Jing'an Si

At Jing’an Si

at Jing'an Si

at Jing’an Si

corridor in Jing'an Si

corridor in Jing’an Si

Courtyard at Jing'an Si

Courtyard at Jing’an Si

Laughing Buddha at Jing'an Si

Laughing Buddha at Jing’an Si

Jing'an Si nestled among the skyscrapers of modern Shanghai

Jing’an Si nestled among the skyscrapers of modern Shanghai

Laughing Buddha

Laughing Buddha

View over Jing'an Si

View over Jing’an Si

flying eaves at Jing'an Si

flying eaves at Jing’an Si

After I finish exploring all the nooks and crannies of this temple, I head back to the metro, where I get off at the East Nanjing station.  From here, I’ll head down to the waterfront to see the famous Bund.

Categories: Asia, China, Holidays, International Workers' Day, Jing'an Si, Pentahotel, Pudong International Airport, Shanghai, Travel | Tags: , , , | 19 Comments

mausoleum of the first qin emperor & his terra cotta warriors

Sunday, April 19:  While we drive to the The Museum of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, quite some distance outside of Xi’an, our guide Chelsea tells us the story of the emperor, Qin Shi Huang. After ascending the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13, he managed within 25 years to vanquish the unruly eastern states, thus becoming the first emperor of a unified China.  During his tyrannical rule, he set out to destroy all books, except those about the history of Qin state or practical matters such as agriculture, as well as the scholars who wrote them.  He unified all parts of the empire with a network of roads, mainly to aid military campaigns, and built the Great Wall, conscripting much of the populace to construct it; this, even more than his high taxes and harsh laws, was the thing that finally turned his subjects against him (Lonely Planet China).

He seems to have been an egomaniacal man.  Ever ambitious, he died in 210 BC while on a quest to find the legendary island of immortals and their secret drug of longevity.  The Terra-Cotta Army and his mausoleum, which took 11 years to complete, reflect the workings of a paranoid mind filled with delusions of grandeur.

We finally arrive at the museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.  A scholarly statues welcomes us into the complex.

Statue at the entrance to the Terra Cotta Army

Statue at the entrance to the Terra Cotta Army

There is apparently no historical record of the Terra Cotta Army.  In fact, it was only discovered in 1974, by a group of peasants digging for a well near what is now known as the royal tomb.  They uncovered some pottery there; these discoveries immediately got the attention of archeologists, who established that these artifacts are associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC) (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).  The current museum was authorized by the State Council to be built shortly after the discovery of the Warriors, in 1975, and Vault 1 was opened to visitors in 1979.

The Terra Cotta Warriors vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers and 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum.  Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strong men and musicians (Wikipedia: Terracotta Army).  It is speculated that many buried treasures and sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his afterlife (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).

Chelsea is our guide for today

Chelsea is our guide for today

Seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors is one of those travel moments that takes your breath away.  The sheer number of them and the story behind them defies imagination.  The tale of this egotistical young emperor who ruled with an iron fist, dreamed of being immortal, built the Great Wall as a defense against invaders, constructed a mausoleum as big as a city for himself, and created an army of lifelike soldiers to guard him after he died is a story better than fiction.

Vault 1of the Terra Cotta Warriors

Vault 1of the Terra Cotta Warriors

The museum covers an area of 16,300 square meters, divided into three sections: Vault 1, Vault 2, and Vault 3 respectively. They were tagged in the order of their discoveries. Vault 1 is the largest, first opened to the public on China’s National Day – Oct. 1st, 1979.  (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).

The warriors

The warriors

The Terracotta Warriors are extremely lifelike and vividly depict the wartime scenes of the Qin dynasty. Based on their roles, they are divided into soldiers and commanders of the Imperial Guard. The soldiers normally don’t wear hats but the commanders do.  The hats, as well as the armor, vary greatly between low-level commanders and the generals. The soldiers are divided into infantry, rivalry and carriage soldiers. According to their roles, they are equipped with different weapons. (terracottaarmy.com: The Mysterious Terracotta Warriors).

Warriors in formation

Warriors in formation

Vault One is the largest and most impressive, enclosed as it is within what looks like an airplane hangar. It is believed to contain over 6,000 terracotta figures of soldiers and horses, but less than 2,000 are on display. There are columns of soldiers at the front, followed by war chariots at the back.  All soldiers and horses face east in a rectangular array. The vanguard appears to be three rows of infantry who stand at the easternmost end of the army. Close behind is the main force of armored soldiers holding weapons, accompanied by 38 horse-driven chariots.  Every figure differs in facial features and expression, clothing, hairstyle, and gestures, leading to speculation that each one represents an actual soldier from the emperor’s Imperial Guard; these provide abundant and detailed artifacts for the study of the military, cultural, and economic history of that period. (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).

warriors in Vault 1

warriors in Vault 1

The warrior figures average about 1.8 meters in height and are hollow from the thighs up.  The heads and hands were modeled separately and attached to the mass-produced bodies.  Traces of pigment show that their dress was originally bright yellow, purple and green, though it’s gray now.  Originally, the warriors carried real weapons, bows, swords, spears and crossbows, which were still sharp when found; the arrowheads contained lead to make them poisonous.  Over 10,000 of these weapons have been found (Lonely Planet China).

Me with 1,000 warriors

Me with 1,000 warriors

In the trenches

In the trenches

Vault 1

Vault 1

Terra Cotta Warriors

Terra Cotta Warriors

Warriors in Vault 1

Warriors in Vault 1

Serious warriors

Serious warriors

In the trenches for Emperor Qin

In the trenches for Emperor Qin

Advance guard

Advance guard

dedicated soldiers

dedicated soldiers

Warriors marching forward

Warriors marching forward

the rear guard

the rear guard

soldiers bringing up the rear

soldiers bringing up the rear

warriors

warriors

Terra Cotta Warriors

Terra Cotta Warriors

Terra Cotta Warriors at the back of Vault 1

Terra Cotta Warriors at the back of Vault 1

After leaving Vault 1, we proceed to Vault 3 which is the smallest one, unearthed in 1976. There are only 68 terracotta warriors, many of which are without heads, a war chariot and four horses. It’s obvious that Vault 3 represents the command post, as all the figures are officials.  They’re not in battle formation, but they form a guard of honor.  Animal bones found here suggest ritual sacrifices, which would have been made by an army going into battle.  This vault went on display in 1989 (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3,

We then move on to Vault 2, found in 1976; it is still undergoing excavation.   It contained over a thousand warriors and 90 chariots of wood and was unveiled to the public in 1994.  It is thought that Vault 2 holds more warriors than Vault 1.

In Vault 2, the first unit contains rows of kneeling and standing archers; the second one is a chariot war array; the third unit consists of mixed forces with infantry, chariots and troopers standing in rectangular array; and the last one includes numerous troopers holding weapons. The four units form a rigorous battle array (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).

Vault 2 - still under excavation

Vault 2 – still under excavation

Altogether over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been unearthed from these pits. Most of them have been restored to their former grandeur.  (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).

Warrior

Warrior

High ranking officer

High ranking officer

One hundred sixteen cavalrymen with horses, like the one shown below, were found in Vault 2.

Cavalryman with his saddled war horse

Cavalryman with his saddled war horse

Another warrior

Another warrior

Vault 2

Vault 2

Vault 2

Vault 2

small museum beside Vault 2

small museum beside Vault 2

In a small museum beside Vault 2, two bronze carriages are displayed.  They were mainly made of bronze, but there were 1,720 pieces of golden and silver ornaments, weighting 7 kg, on each carriage. The carriages were so well-made, and so vivid, that they boast being the best-preserved and having the highest rank among the earliest known bronze relics in China. These chariots are the biggest pieces of ancient bronzeware ever found in the world (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).

Sadly, I couldn’t get a very good picture of them as it was so dark.

You can almost see the bronze chariots

You can almost see the bronze chariots

fountain at the museum

fountain at the museum

After we finish with the Terra Cotta Warriors, we go by car to the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang, which is just an artificial hill.

According to UNESCO: Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor: The mausoleum is “the center of a complex designed the mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyan.”

According to accounts by historian Sima Qian, 700,000 laborers spent 36 years creating an imperial city below ground.  The heavens of the central chamber were depicted with pearls on the ceiling and the geography of the world was shown on bronze floors, with seas and rivers represented by pools of mercury made to flow with machinery.  Crossbows were set to protect gold and silver relics.  High levels of mercury have been found in the surrounding soil, suggesting that at least parts of these accounts are true (Lonely Planet China).

The tomb has yet to be excavated and Chelsea tells us that it may be a long time before it is. She says scientists need to figure out ways to excavate without exposing the inside of the tomb to the elements and without being poisoned by the mercury.

Stone marker for the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang

Stone marker for the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang

Our small group poses near a rock marking the site of the emperor’s tomb. The hill in the background is apparently the tomb, but as there’s nothing to see inside, we head on to other sites.

Our group at the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang: L to R: Andrew, me, Mayan, Dahlia, and Mari

Our group at the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang: L to R: Andrew, me, Mayan, Dahlia, and Mari

Andrew, Mayan, Chelsea, Dahlia, and Mari

Andrew, Mayan, Chelsea, Dahlia, and Mari

Andrew and I will head with Chelsea to Huaqing Pool, and Mari and the Israeli ladies are returning to Xi’an, as they only wanted a half-day tour.  Mari and I have arranged to meet at a show arranged by Chelsea on Monday night.

Categories: Asia, China, Holidays, Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, San Yue San, Shaanxi, Terra Cotta Warriors, Xi'an, Zhuang Song Festival | Tags: , , , , , | 20 Comments

a long weekend in xi’an for san yue san | a rainy morning at shuyuanmen & the beilin museum

Friday, April 17:  Today is the beginning of a four-day public holiday weekend in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, so this afternoon at 3:50 p.m., after my classes end at noon, I am flying to Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province. I’ll return on Tuesday morning, April 21.

The four-day holiday is the Zhuang Song Festival, also known as San Yue San, which means ‘Third Month’s Third (Day)’, as it is celebrated on the third day of the third lunar month in the traditional Chinese calendar.

For once, I’m traveling on a local holiday and I’m traveling outside of the holiday’s locality.  Thus, for once, I hope to escape the crowds I usually encounter when I travel on national holidays.

The Song Festival is not only the most ceremonious festival for the Zhuang people, but also an important traditional festival among many other ethnic groups, including Han, Yao, Dong, Shui, Maonan, Miao, and Dong people.  Traditional customs and folk activities include ‘song meetings’, bamboo pole dancing, steaming five-color glutinous rice, making colored eggs, bumping eggs, and throwing embroidered balls, according to China Highlights: The Zhuang Song Festival (San Yue San).

According to China Highlights: Singing folk songs is the most important activity of the San Yue San Festival. Zhuang people are very fond of singing. Zhuang people gather outside in the fields to hold ‘song meetings’. Their songs are about life, work, love, happiness, sadness, and historical events.  The Song Festival is also a good opportunity for young people to engage romantically. Young men and women usually sing in antiphonal style (alternately singing to one another). If a man and a woman fall in love with each other, they will give a gift to each other. The woman will usually give an embroidered ball to the man she accepts.

Sadly, you’ll only hear about the holiday secondhand from me, as I’m leaving Guangxi and heading to another province west of Shanghai.  The 2 hour 15 minute flight to Xi’an is direct from Nanning and is, thankfully, without incident.

When I arrive rather late in Xian, I finally check in at the Fortune Suites, and I arrange with the front desk at the hotel to see the Terra Cotta Warriors with an English-speaking tour guide on Sunday.  I get comfortable in my room to plan my Saturday.  I know that some rain is forecast over the weekend, so I make a plan and then a back-up plan.  My plan is to visit the Xi’an city walls, the drum and bell towers, and the Muslim Quarter tomorrow; however, if it rains, I’ll go to some of the museums and indoor places.

Saturday, April 18:  I have a nice buffet breakfast in the hotel, and then walk out intending to go to the huge south gate of the city walls, called Yongning which isn’t far from my hotel.  The wall is about 14km around and I’ve heard you can ride a bicycle around the top.  I don’t know why, since I know rain is forecast, I never bother to even look out the window, so I’m surprised when I walk out the door to find it cold and raining steadily. Immediately, I return to my room for my umbrella and revise my plans.

I still head south toward the gate, but instead of climbing up and attempting to ride a bicycle in the rain, I turn east inside the gate and walk along Shuyuanmen, a cobbled street lined with art stores and antique shops in the heart of Beilin.

Yongning, the south gate of the walled city of Xi'an

Yongning, the south gate of the walled city of Xi’an

It’s pretty dark and dreary, and very difficult to take pictures and hold my umbrella at the same time.

The gate to Shuyuanmen

The gate to Shuyuanmen

It looks like the street is guarded by the wise Confucius.

a wise figure, probably Confucius, at the entrance to Shuyuanmen

a wise figure, probably Confucius, at the entrance to Shuyuanmen

I find a lot of vendors selling calligraphy brushes on the street.

Calligraphy brushes in the heart of Beilin

Calligraphy brushes in the heart of Beilin

At the end of the street, I think maybe the tall building with the green roof is the Beilin Museum, but it’s not.

On Shuyuanmen

On Shuyuanmen

Building at the end of Shuyuanmen

Building at the end of Shuyuanmen

Artwork on Shuyuanmen

Artwork on Shuyuanmen

These busts must be some famous historical characters, but I don’t know who they are.  I figure the museum must be somewhere close by.

Three famous Chinese men

Three famous Chinese men

Finally, I find the Xi’an Beilin Museum, a museum for steles and stone sculptures that’s housed in a converted Confucian Temple. Its collection of steles has been growing since 1087.  A stele is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected as a monument, very often for funerary or commemorative purposes.  It very often has texts and may have decoration. This ornamentation may be inscribed, carved in relief, or painted onto the slab (Wikipedia: Stele).

Due to the large number of steles, the museum was officially renamed as the Forest of Stone Steles in 1992. All together, there are 3,000 steles in the museum, which is divided into seven exhibitions halls, which mainly display works of calligraphy, painting and historical records (Wikipedia: Stele Forest).

Entrance to the Beilin Museum

Entrance to the Beilin Museum

The grounds of the museum are quite pretty despite the rain.  I love all the pretty pavilions, the flowering and leafy trees, the raindrops on the foliage, and the way the colors pop against the gray skies.

On the grounds of the Beilin Museum

On the grounds of the Beilin Museum

Pavilions at the Beilin Museum

Pavilions at the Beilin Museum

Pavilion at the Beilin Museum

Pavilion at the Beilin Museum

The Jingyun Bell was cast in the second year of Jingyun of Emperor Ruizong in Tang (711 A.D.), hence its name.  It weighs six tons.  The rim of it is in the shape of a hexagonal arc with a beast “button” on its top.  The body of the bell is divided into three sections.  The middle squares in the lower sections are engraved with inscriptions; the other sections are adorned with images of the dragon, phoenix, lion, ox, etc. Eighteen lines of inscription written by Emperor Ruizong discuss the mystery of Taoism and offer praise for the bell.

Jingyun Bell

Jingyun Bell

A Stone Horse in Da Xia is a product of the era in 407 A.D., when the aristocrat of the Huns Helianbobo styled himself the Heaven King, the Great Khan, with the title of reigning dynasty as Xia, making its capital in Tongwan City (now Jingbian County of Shaanxi Province).  The horse’s fore hoof is engraved with characters “the six year of Zhenxing in Grand Xia” (422 A.D.) and “the Grand General.”  It is a highly valued rare historical relic.

A Stone Horse In Da Xia

A Stone Horse In Da Xia

Pavilion and foliage

Pavilion and foliage

Beilin Museum

Beilin Museum

A couple of the steles are housed in open-air pavilions, but I’m not sure what they signify.

Detail on Stele

Detail on Stele

Famous stele

Famous stele

pavilion and gnarly tree

pavilion and gnarly tree

shy pavilion

shy pavilion

Maple leaves and pavilion

Maple leaves and pavilion

Raindrops on maples

Raindrops on maples

Pavilion housing a famous stele

Pavilion housing a famous stele

famous stele

famous stele

According to Lonely Planet China, “the first hall contains the twelve Confucian classics — texts outlining the Confucian philosophy — carved onto 114 stone tablets, a massive project ordered by the Tang Emperor Wenzong in 837 as a way of ensuring the texts were never lost or corrupted by copyists’ errors.”

I don’t take any photos in this hall.  Actually, the steles don’t make very interesting photographic subjects, although the history of them is fascinating.

The Second Room consists of famous stone tablets of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).  For their contents, the “Daqin Nestorian Stone Tablet” and “the monk Bu Kong Stone Tablet” are important for research into cultural exchanges between Tang Dynasty China and foreign countries.   Many of these tablets are models of Chinese calligraphy art.

Details of a stele in the 2nd hall

Details of a stele in the 2nd hall

In the third room are exhibited the valuable stone tablets of various dynasties bearing many styles of writing: seal style, regular script, running hand, and cursive script.

In the fourth room are displayed the stone tablets of calligraphy writing by famous calligraphers from the Song to the Qing dynasties.  Some stone tablets of the Ming and the Qing dynasties, which contain valuable historical data, are also exhibited here.  Various engraved pictorial stones from the Song to the Qing dynasties are gathered here as well.  Many are famous artistic works.

“A Full View of Taibai Mountain,” namely Taiyi Mountain, in Meixian Country of Shaanxi Province, is the chief peak of the Qinling Mountains, 3767 meters above sea level.  The top of the mountain is covered with snow all year round, hence the name of Taibai, “White all the Year.” It is one of the eight famous beauty spots in the Guanzhong area of Shaanxi. On the back of the stone table is engraved a prayer for rain.

Rubbings are often made in the fourth room, where most of the carved drawings are housed.  Thin paper is pasted over a stele and a powdered ink applied with a flat stone wrapped in cloth.

Exhibited in the fifth room are stone tablets of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, especially the Qing dynasty.  They are mainly concerned with temple renovation, records of merit, allocation of fields to peasants, and reconstruction of canals and city walls.  Other stone tablets are also of certain value for their calligraphic art.

Most of the inscriptions on the stone tablets in the sixth room are poems, written by people of the Qing dynasty, while the rest are poems and articles written by people of the Yuan and Ming dynasties.

Outside the six halls, we can observe an artist preparing rubbings.

Artist at work

Artist at work

Outside the museum are many small steles and Chinese paintings adorning the outer walls.

Entrance to the museum

Entrance to the museum

Chinese paintings

Chinese paintings

In front of the museum

In front of the museum

On the grounds of the museum

On the grounds of the museum

Inside the museum are a myriad of sculptures, including a stone lamp from the Tang dynasty (618-907).  It consists of a lamp room, curled-up dragon stone pillars, and a base, and it is usually placed right in front of palaces or temples, signifying the endless power and talents of Buddha. The stone lamp had nine stories originally but now has only seven stories left with holistic roof, exquisite lamp room, and four curled-up dragons engraved in stone pillars. This stone lamp is one of the most well-preserved from the Tang Dynasty in China.

When I finally emerge from all the halls and exhibitions, I am still foolishly hoping it has stopped raining, but it hasn’t.   However, the rain seems to have become a light drizzle, which gives me some encouragement.

Beilin Museum

Beilin Museum

Beilin Museum in the rain

Beilin Museum in the rain

Pavilion at Beilin Museum

Pavilion at Beilin Museum

I make my way out of the museum, planning to catch a bus or taxi to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.

Gate at the entry to the Beilin Museum

Gate at the entry to the Beilin Museum

However, first I cross through one of the lesser south gates of the city walls, where I can look back and see the walls and the surrounding moat.

Xi'an city walls and moat

Xi’an city walls and moat

I end up taking a rather bumpy ride in a three-wheeled motor taxi to my next destination. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Beilin, Beilin Museum, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Holidays, San Yue San, Shaanxi, Shuyuanmen, Xi'an, Xi'an City Walls, Yongning, Zhuang Song Festival | Tags: , , , , , , | 18 Comments

first views of the hong kong skyline from the star ferry

Saturday, April 4:  Today is the first day of a three-day weekend for Qing Ming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English.  Literally, it means “Pure Brightness Festival.”  The holiday is mostly important for its connection with Chinese ancestral worship and the tending of family graves. It also happens to be Easter weekend in the Western world, but it doesn’t feel like Easter here in China.

I’ve decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend to go to Hong Kong.  I’ve booked a flight for this morning at 8:40 a.m. from Nanning to Shenzhen, which is the city on mainland China closest to Hong Kong.  I’ve been told it’s easy to walk across the border from Shenzhen, and since Shenzhen is considered a domestic flight, while Hong Kong is an international flight, it’s quite a bit cheaper.

My first challenge is getting a taxi to the airport in Nanning at 6 a.m.  It’s still dark at this hour and there aren’t many people out and about.  I’m standing on the road for quite a while, searching in vain for a taxi.  A guy on a motorbike asks me where I’m going and I say “the airport” and put my arms out like the wings of an airplane.  The airport is much too far to ride on the back of a motorbike, so he cannot help me. He sits on his motorbike watching me as I wait for a taxi to appear.  I’m getting worried as I need to be at the airport by 7:00 for check-in and the time is ticking by.

Finally, the guy on the motorbike says, “I can help find taxi.”  I say, “How much?” He says, “10 yuan.” In a moment, he’s tied my bag to the back of his motorbike and we’re off.  We zip through the streets of Nanning in search of a taxi.  Several times my driver stops to ask taxi drivers along the street if they can take me to the airport.  No success.  I have no idea in what direction we’re going, but it seems to me we’re going away from the airport.  As time flies by, I become increasingly worried I am going to miss my flight.

At long last, we find a driver who’s willing to take me to the airport.  I make it in enough time, and get settled in for my one hour flight to Shenzhen.

I’ve been told by a friend what to do when I get to Shenzhen.  He’s given me directions to a less-crowded border crossing, but I’m stymied by the first step in the process, which is to take the metro at Shenzhen airport.  I find right away that there is no metro at the airport.  Apparently I have to take a bus from the airport to the metro.  When I tell the woman at information what I want to do, she shakes her head.  “You should take the direct bus to Hong Kong for 130 yuan,” she tells me.  “It’s the fastest way to get there.  The way your friend told you will take much more time.”

So, I take the half-hour bus ride to the border, where we carry our suitcases off the bus and go through the border crossing.  Because it’s the Qing Ming holiday, the Chinese are traveling in force and the queue snakes back and forth like a Disneyland ride line.  I wait and wait to leave mainland China through Shenzhen.  Then I wait in another line to enter Hong Kong.  By the time I get out of the border crossing, it’s about 11:15, nearly an hour after I got off the bus.  Then I get back on the bus, another hour into Hong Kong.

I think if I go back to Hong Kong, I’ll fly directly into Hong Kong.  It would be much easier, and though more expensive, worth the extra money.

Where the bus drops me in the Jordan area of Kowloon is just a couple of blocks from the Casa Hotel in Yau Ma Tai.  I check in and immediately head out to the Star Ferry terminal, two metro stops from my hotel and a 10-minute walk to the terminal.  At the Yau Ma Tai metro station, I buy the famous Octopus Card, which costs 150 HK$: the 100 HK$ is for the transport fares and the 50 HK$ is the cost of the card.  The Octopus Card can be used on nearly every form of transportation in Hong Kong.

I immediately get on the ferry via a down ramp, and end up on the bottom level of the ferry.  I figured I could climb to the upper deck from inside the ferry, but that isn’t the case.  You have to go up a separate ramp, and pay more, to ride on the upper deck.

Victoria Harbor from the Star Ferry

Victoria Harbor from the Star Ferry

We get underway immediately. It’s only a 10-minute ride to cross Victoria Harbour, so you have to absorb all the sights quickly.  I love seeing the big cruise boats and the busy harbor bordered by skyscrapers on both sides.  Today, moody clouds float across a blue sky, which makes for some dramatic photos, I think.

Hong Kong Island skyline from the Star Ferry

Hong Kong Island skyline from the Star Ferry

Victoria Harbour is a natural harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The harbour’s deep, sheltered waters and strategic location on the South China Sea were instrumental in Hong Kong’s establishment as a British colony and its subsequent development as a trading center.  It is home to most of Hong Kong’s port facilities, making it among the world’s busiest cities. An average of 220,000 ships visit the harbour each year, including both oceangoing vessels and river vessels, for both goods and passengers (Wikipedia: Victoria Harbour).

View of Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong

Hong Kong has the tallest skyline in the world with two of the twenty tallest buildings in the world all in a small area around the bay.  In addition, the backdrop of Victoria Peak makes the view particularly stunning.

Looking back at the Clock Tower & the Hong Kong Cultural Center in Kowloon

Looking back at the Clock Tower & the Hong Kong Cultural Center in Kowloon

Hong Kong boasts over 112 buildings that stand taller than 180 metres (591 ft). Hong Kong ranks first in the world in both skyscraper and high-rise count (Wikipedia: List of Tallest Buildings in Hong Kong).

Victoria Harbor & Hong Kong

Victoria Harbor & Hong Kong

Two International Finance Center, or 2IFC, is currently the second tallest building in Hong Kong at 416.8 m (1367.52 ft.) tall. It became the tallest building in Hong Kong upon its completion in 2003 until it was surpassed by the ICC in 2009.

Hong Kong's IFC2, the second tallest building in HK

Hong Kong’s 2IFC, the second tallest building in HK

Hong Kong and the Peak

Hong Kong and the Peak

Victoria Harbor and the Hong Kong skyline

Victoria Harbor and the Hong Kong skyline

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Central

Hong Kong Central

Hong Kong Central and the IFC2

Hong Kong Central and 2IFC

Hong Kong skyline

Hong Kong skyline

International Commerce Centre, or ICC, in West Kowloon, is the tallest building in Hong Kong at 484m (1,588 ft), and the seventh tallest building in the world (List of Tallest Buildings in Hong Kong).

IFC2 in Hong Kong Central

International Commerce Center in West Kowloon – the tallest building in Hong Kong

Looking back at the ferry terminal

Coming in to the ferry terminal on the Hong Kong Island side

Looking back to the Kowloon side, I can see the Clock Tower of Tsim Sha Tsui, once part of the Kowloon Railway Station.  From this station you could once take a train all the way to Europe, by way of Mongolia and Russia.  It sits in front of the Hong Kong Cultural Center with its skatepark-sloped roofline and windowless walls, bewildering considering its location overlooking one of the grandest views in the world.

Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor

Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor

In 10 minutes, I’m on Hong Kong Island, and there in front of me sits the hop-on hop-off Big Bus Hong Kong, beckoning me to come along for the ride of a lifetime. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Central, China, Holidays, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Qing Ming Festival, Shenzhen, Star Ferry, Tomb-Sweeping Day, Travel, Victoria Harbor | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 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.

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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

a morning walk around yangshuo

Wednesday, January 28:  This morning, loud explosions outside our hotel jolt us out of our sleep.  We hear musical instruments, and more explosions.  We hop out of bed, scurrying to the balcony to see what the hubbub is about.   On the street below is what looks like a funeral procession.  People are setting off firecrackers, leaving wisps of smoke and a trail of red litter scattered on the ground.  A street-sweeping crew follows behind to clean it all up.  Musicians are marching beside the procession, playing lively tunes.  Some people are walking backwards, facing what must be the casket, while the pallbearers and the mourners are moving solidly forward.

a morning funeral procession

a morning funeral procession

the sweepers

the sweepers

the procession on the streets of Yangshuo

the procession on the streets of Yangshuo

I guess this is our wake up call.  Esther, our bicycle guide from yesterday, has arranged a boat ride down the Li River for the late morning, so we get showered and dressed and head into town to grab some breakfast.

Yangshuo

Yangshuo

colorful cafe in town

colorful cafe in town

Write a postcard to the future and coffee

Write a postcard to the future and coffee

Chez Valerie

Chez Valerie

It looks like another gray day, but at least at this point, it isn’t raining.

dark street of the town

dark street of the town

We stop at the Rosewood Cafe, which has a warm cozy atmosphere and a great Western breakfast.

The Rosewood Cafe

The Rosewood Cafe

Mike outside the Rosewood Cafe

Mike outside the Rosewood Cafe

Streets of Yangshuo

Streets of Yangshuo

After breakfast, we walk around the streets a bit. As usual, I admire the lantern shops.  I go into one to ask how I’d go about transporting one of the lanterns if I were to buy one.  The two Chinese people at the counter obviously don’t want to have to make the effort to understand or speak English. They look up briefly and wave their hands back and forth in front of their faces, as if to brush me away, and then they get right back to the business at hand: their phones.  Some Chinese people can be so rude!  They just lost a sale, but what do they care?  Customer service is not part of the Chinese mentality.

Lanterns galore

Lanterns galore

Darn it all, I want one of those lanterns!!  I should have just bought one and dealt with the transport.  But after the salespeople’s rudeness, I won’t buy one from them on matter of principle. I will get one, I promise, before I leave China.

More lanterns

More lanterns

The streets don’t have much action on them at this time of morning.  Strangely, outdoor tables are set up at some cafes.  Don’t the proprietors notice the heavy skies?  Don’t they sense the threat of rain?

streets of Yangshuo

streets of Yangshuo

On a nice day, you can imagine this town is really cute, with its canals, bridges, red lanterns and colorful umbrellas and signs.

Canals of Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Canals of Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

bridges in Yangshuo

bridges in Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Pretty little footbridge

Pretty little footbridge

Canals of Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Canals of Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Pond in Yangshuo

Pond in Yangshuo

McDonald's ~ It's everywhere!

McDonald’s ~ It’s everywhere! (Photo by Mike)

The streets outside of the tourist part of town

The streets outside of the tourist part of town (Photo by Mike)

Busy Yangshuo

Busy Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

After our walk, we go back to the room to bundle up some more as it’s likely to be awfully cold and windy out on the Li River.

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Rosewood Cafe, Spring Festival, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , | 17 Comments

RESOLVED 2015!!!

Thursday, January 1:  Happy New Year!! It’s that time of year again, time to give some thought to the year ahead.  I’m always enthusiastic about turning the calendar to an untarnished new year, and getting a fresh start on what I hope will be the life of my dreams. However, I know it’s a challenge to keep myself disciplined. Accomplishing my New Year’s Resolutions in past years has always been a mixed bag. I achieve some of what I set out to do, and other things I don’t even touch.

“If you have the capacity to be more than one thing, do everything that’s inside of you.” ~ Bishop T. D. Jakes

This is the problem. I want to do everything that’s inside of me. And because of that, I actually never get anything done!

the big dreamer :-)

the big dreamer 🙂

I like to think about what I want to accomplish in different areas of my life.  So here are my resolutions for 2015:

  1. Health:
    1. Try to walk 3 miles at least 5 days a week.  I was doing this regularly in Virginia, but ever since I arrived in China, my walking habit has fallen by the wayside.
    2. Eat healthier food, especially vegetables. I have had stomach problems almost constantly in China, and I need to remedy that situation as it really ruins my outlook on life when I don’t feel good.
    3. DRINK WATER!  This is something I never think to do.  I’m afraid my body is in a state of constant dehydration.
  2. Finances:
    1. After my six-week upcoming holiday, when I’m sure I will spend every little bit I’ve earned on travel, I should attempt save as much as possible to take back home with me in July.
  3. Writing:
    1. Send out at least 20 query letters to agents when I return home in July. I finished the third draft of my novel in May of 2014, but I haven’t yet sent out a single query letter.
  4. Photography:
    1. Be bold!  Practice using the manual settings on my camera and experiment with photos.
    2. Get a photo editing program and play around with photos.
    3. Take a photography class when I return to the USA in the fall.
    4. Rejoin Vienna Photographic Society when I return to Virginia.
  5. Travel:
    1. Travel with Mike up to Yangshuo and Guilin and into Hunan Province, specifically FengHuang and Zhangjiajie, in January. DONE!!
    2. Boats on the Yulong River near Dragon Bridge in Yangshuo

      Boats on the Yulong River near Dragon Bridge in Yangshuo

    3. Travel with Alex into Yunnan Province, especially to Lijiang, Shaxi, Dali and the Stone Forest. DONE!  
    4. I’ll fly solo to Myanmar and stay there for about 2-3 weeks during February, visiting Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, Yangon, and anyplace else we can squeeze in. DONE!
    5. Continue exploring more of Guangxi province during the spring semester, specifically Bama, Mingshi Tianyuan, Zuo River Scenic Area near Chongzuo City, Weizhou Island and Beihei, Sanjiang, Daming Mountain, Longhu Mountain, Huangtao Ancient Town, and Chengyang Wind and Rain Bridge.
    6. Go to Hong Kong for a long weekend.
    7. In Nanning, go to the Liangfengjiang National Forest Park, Guangxi Ethnic Relics Center and the Museum of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and the Guangxi Science and Technology Museum.
    8. Return to Ping’An and the Longji Rice Terraces in early summer.

      Nine Dragons & Fiver Tigers rice terraces in Ping'An

      Nine Dragons & Fiver Tigers rice terraces in Ping’An

    9. Visit Bali or Sri Lanka or Malaysia when I leave China, on my way back to Virginia in July.
    10. Go with Mike to Iceland as we intended to do last year but weren’t able to because of his mother’s passing away.
  6. Profession:
    1. I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.  I teach English abroad as a means to an end: to travel.  After countless futile job applications, I no longer have any hope that I will ever break into the field in which I got my Master’s, International Commerce & Policy, mainly because of the age discrimination that runs rampant in America.  Thus, I may attempt to simply return to Northern Virginia Community College in the fall; after that I might attempt to go to Japan to work for one semester in Spring of 2016.  That’s my thought at this moment, anyway.
  7. Language and knowledge goals:
    1. Study Chinese at least 10-15 minutes every day.
    2. Try to learn one new phrase a day.  Make it mine!!
  8. Social:
    1. Try to be more proactive about making friends.  I tend to sit by and wait for people to forge friendships with me, but I need to be bolder and braver about making overtures.
    2. Try to invite someone new to do something once each month.
  9. Spirituality:
    1. Begin a meditation practice, starting with at least 10 minutes a day.
    2. Read books about Buddhism, pilgrimage, spirituality, along with my other reading.  
  10. Reading:
    1. Read 25 books. Here are some books on my reading list for this year:
      1. China Dog by Judy Fong Bates (January 17)
      2. My Last Empress by Da Chen
      3. The Crazed by Ha Jin (March 1)
      4. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler
      5. Colors of the Mountain by Da Chen
      6. The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
      7. Equal Love by Peter Ho Davies
      8. Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman (January 31)
      9. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
      10. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
      11. The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
      12. The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre
      13. The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico  by Sarah McCoy
      14. When I was Puerto Rican: A Memoir by Esmeralda Santiago
      15. The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau
      16. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlan
      17. Fresh Air Fiend by Paul Theroux (finish)
      18. Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer
      19. American Romantic by Ward Just

NOTE TO SELF: You have the day ahead at your disposal. Don’t think in terms too great. Think about only what you can accomplish in a day. 🙂

At first dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable.

~ Christopher Reeve

 ***********************

Ultimately, my dream is to combine writing and travel somehow, either by planning and offering writing retreats in far-flung parts of the globe, or by going abroad for several months at a time and writing like my life depended on it. Writing retreats would combine my natural teaching ability, my wanderlust, and my writing dreams. However, I feel the first step is to get published, so I can establish some credentials, and some credibility. One step at time….. I would love to hear some of your resolutions for 2015.  Please share! 🙂

Categories: Americas, Asia, China, Expat life, Guilin, Holidays, Longji Rice Terraces, Nanning, New Year's Day, New Year's Resolutions, Qing Xiu Shan, Travel, Virginia, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , | 54 Comments

twenty-fourteen

In twenty-fourteen, I: Got waylaid in Denver after snow and de-icing delays on a flight from Washington to Burbank, California.  Shared Sunset Rolls and Fire Dragon Rolls, Sapporo and warm saké, with my little sister Stephanie, and then met The Invisible Woman in LA.  On foggy Venice Beach, wandered past muscle men, tattoo parlors, surfboards and funnel cakes, and contemplated the medical marijuana advertised for sale.  Caught glimpses of adorable houses, with secret patios and lazy cats, on a stroll through the Venice Walk-Streets.  Went window shopping on Abbott Kinney Boulevard.  Drove six hours to San Francisco from LA through a parched California landscape to meet my friend Jayne. Laughed at the antics of harbor seals at Fisherman’s Wharf and met Monarch butterflies that looked like clusters of densely packed brown leaves at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Monterey. Drove 17-Mile-Drive at Pebble Beach.  Sampled some wine on the Silverado Trail.  Saw the iconic cloud-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the deck of the Sausalito Ferry. Laughed at the antics of sea lions at Pier 39.  On the way back to LA, vicariously lived the high life at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  Dropped by Old Mission Santa Barbara, walked through fan palms and California chaparral at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and ate fish tacos on Stearns Wharf.  Visited the garden at Mission Buenaventura in Ventura.  Met Rosie of wandering rose and listened to the reverberations of classic rock at Bob’s Big Boy‘s classic car show.  Was inspired by a Poets & Writers LIVE! event in Los Angeles, where I embarrassed myself in front of Chinese writer Da Chen (My Last Empress) when he asked me the for the title of my book and a business card (I had neither).  Had cocktails at the Brig and ate dinner out of a food truck on Abbott Kinney.  Took a hike with Rosie around Corral Canyon in Malibu and ate more fish tacos at Malibu Seafood.  Left behind sunny California to head back to icy Virginia (nomad, interrupted).

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

Saw tundra swans and parchment-like leaves dangling like wind-chimes on American beeches at Mason Neck State Park. Was inspired by National Geographic’s 2013 Travelers of the Year.  Saw seagulls walking on water at ice-encased Annapolis Harbor.  Learned 20 things about Storytelling Photography from National Geographic photographers Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow.  Chased freight trains and photos along the CSX Main Line at Henryton, Maryland.  Suffered through snowstorm after snowstorm in Northern Virginia, and then searched for spring at Green Spring Gardens.  Heard the thundering roar of Great Falls while strolling with Alex, Bailey and Mike along the Patowmack Canal.  Took a photowalk through the hardscrabble part of Baltimore.  Found the gravesite of the patentee of the Ouija Board at Green Mount Cemetery.  Walked Richmond’s Monument Avenue 10k in the rain with my daughter Sarah.  Drifted with cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin in D.C.  Said “ahoy, matey!” to pirates at the Privateer Festival in Baltimore.  crisscrossed flowing streams & waterfalls at White Oak Canyon.  Stayed overnight at a sleep clinic to test for sleep apnea. Wandered through flowering trees at the Virginia Arboretum.  Was charmed by wisteria at Dumbarton Oaks.  Finally found spring, after a long and grueling winter, at Meadowlark Gardens.  Celebrated Sarah’s 30th birthday in Richmond by sipping wine with the whole family amidst Chihuly’s Red Reeds at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, topped off by a feast at Bacchus.  Cloistered myself at the Franciscan Monastery. Sampled wine and cheese with the family at Doukenie Winery.  Won prizes in photography competitions through Vienna Photographic Society and had my Hot air balloons over Cappadocia photo featured by National Geographic on Instagram.  Finished the third draft of my novel, Scattering Dreams of Stars, but never got around to sending out query letters.  Applied for 40 jobs stateside and didn’t get anything.  Applied for jobs in China and got an offer from Sino-Canadian International College of Guangxi University in Nanning.  Went on safari with sculptures of metal animals in the “American Metal” exhibit at the Corcoran in its last days.  Was awed by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Opened my heart to water lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.  Worked on joining hearts with Mike at Eastern Market in D.C. Saw “Words & Letters” made into art at the Athenaeum.  Felt general malaise at a Civil War Encampment at Sully Plantation. (nomad, interrupted).

Searched in vain for a happy 4th of July, as both my mother-in-law and my father were admitted to the hospital; my father’s problem was corrected without complications, but my 88-year-old mother-in-law’s health went into decline and she went into hospice care in early July.  Went with Alex on a road trip to New Hampshire, where we stayed in a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee, seeking a reprieve from Shirley’s illness and our sadness.  Drove the Kancamagus Highway through New Hampshire’s White Mountains, topped by a hike at the Flume Gorge. Stopped to buy a bird nest ornament in a garden shop in charming Woodstock, Vermont, where I was mistaken for Alex’s girlfriend (ha!). Admired painted “meeses” and mountain lions in Bennington, and scrambled over rocks at Kaaterskill Falls in New York.  Returned home to watch helplessly as my mother-in-law continued to decline; she passed away on July 17.  Went in search of light-crazed sunflowers in memory of Shirley, who loved gardening.  Visited the George Washington Masonic National Memorial as we waited for Shirley’s memorial service, which was on Thursday, July 25.   Took our 12 1/2-year-old border collie, Bailey, to the vet when he got sick the day after Shirley’s memorial service; he died the next day, sadly, at the human age of 88.  Searched for summer, and solace, at Solomons, Maryland, where empty boats conversed in a language of their own, groaning, clanking, lamenting and whining.  Hiked at Calvert Cliffs State Park where a kid told me: “My dad says your name is Stranger.”  Dropped off my passport at the Chinese embassy to get my work visa, and while in D.C., stopped in unannounced at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a brief tour in darkness. Came full circle and revisited summer at Meadowlark Gardens, as I did when I first arrived back in Virginia from Oman (nomad, interrupted).

Shirley and Bailey: both left us in July

Shirley and Bailey: both left us in July

Sampled rum & grapefruit juice with Mike at Mango’s upon our arrival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Was coated like a sugar cookie by a maelstrom of sand at Ocean Park.  Savored every bite of mofongo — mashed plantains — at Raices in Old San Juan.  Had a close encounter with the Baño Nazi on Paseo de la Princessa.  Took a self-guided walking tour through colorful Old San Juan, admiring views of Bahia de San Juan along the periphery of El Morro.  Came face-to-face with an iguana at Castillo de San Cristobal and together we enjoyed views of the Atlantic.  Climbed into a cloud forest on the Mt. Britton Trail at El Yunque rain forest.  Ate fabulous Caribbean Benedicts at El Convento.  Sought shelter from the rain at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.  Visited the “ghost town” of Aguirre in the south of the island.  Was disappointed at Hacienda Buena Vista to see only the historical buildings and not any actual coffee plants.  Got roared at by painted lions at Ponce and took pictures of the historic firehouse and famous landmark, Parque de Bombas.  Looked in vain for 007 (“Bond, James Bond”) and Jodi Foster at the Arecibo Observatory, the setting for Goldeneye & Contact.  Enjoyed a day at the Ocean Park Beach and gorgeous sunset at El Morro before returning home to Washington. Continued to work with Mike on our reconciliation after our seven-year separation and felt good enough about it to go abroad again.  Spent the next two weeks getting ready to move to China.  Left the U.S. on August 30 (notes from north america).

Arrived in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on September 1 and was installed in a gritty apartment with a view over a lotus pond.  Spent the first couple of weeks in Nanning getting a phone, internet, a medical exam, and the visa.  Took a walk with another new teacher, Caleb, on Qing Xiu Shan in dreadful heat & humidity, where we saw koi in Sky Pond and a 1350-year-old Cycas King in the Cycad Garden.  Climbed to the top of Longing Tower where we saw views of Nanning and the Yongjiang River.  Encountered communication problems when haggling in a Chinese market.  Experienced the fringes of Typhoon Kalmaegi as it brushed past Nanning. Spent a frustrating day trying to figure out how to buy train tickets to Guilin.  Finally acquired a bicycle after much rigmarole and rode to Nanning Zoo, where I watched Chinese visitors feeding junk food to the animals.  Began fall semester on September 22.  Encountered students with funny English names: Maleah, Kitty, Yuki, Albert, Hebe, Lancy, Shally, Amber, Azura, Nyako, Spring, and best of all: Yoyo, Echo, Coco, Smoothies and Evita.  Heard tell of other teachers’ students: Biscuit, Yogurt and Potato.  Was flummoxed when trying to find simple household products such as shampoo, conditioner and floor cleaner at Nan Bai Supermarket.  Learned how to say Xièxiè (thank you), Ní hǎo (hello), and Wǒ yào yīgè daizi (I want one bag).

Overcame numerous communication problems and made it to Yangshuo for the National Holiday.  Took a motorized bamboo raft with hundreds of other Chinese tourists down the Li River to Xingping, the scene of the picture on China’s 20 yuan bill.  Strolled around Yangshuo and Green Lotus Hill, where I was surrounded by magical karst formations.  Met Audrey, the niece of an elementary school classmate of mine, at Demo Tiki Bar and then ate Thai food together, accompanied by lots of wine, at Rock-n-Grill.  Bicycled with Audrey through the Yangshuo countryside, where we took an almost-skinny-dip in the Yulong River.  Ate a late lunch at a Passion Fruit Leisure Farm.  Went on a motorbike tour through kumquat orchards to Xianggang Hill, where we saw karst formations with names like Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Lad Worships Goddess, and Grandpa Watching Apple.  Traipsed through the Seven Star Tea Plantation.  Took my own private bamboo boat ride down the Yulong River.  Returned to Nanning, where I began teaching an English Interest Course on Storytelling Photography.  Got hooked on Mad Men and watched all the seasons.  Walked through artistic trellises at the Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden.  Encountered crazy communication problems on a trip to see Detian Waterfall on the Sino-Vietnamese border.  Straddled the border of China and Vietnam in a bamboo boat and was sprayed by the Ban Gioc-Detian Waterfall on my 59th birthday.  Received a cake for my birthday from the Student Union; I happily shared it with some of my colleagues, cherry tomato toppings and all.

Went to a student-teacher Halloween party on a sweltering night where everyone was sweating in their costumes.  Visited the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, where I saw excellent exhibits on Guangxi’s twelve indigenous ethnic groups.  Ventured to Nanning People’s Park where hordes of Chinese people were dancing, singing, and playing traditional instruments. Watched all 8 episodes of True Detective and began to watch Breaking Bad.  Took a trip to Ping’An, where a Zhuang guide led me on a hike to see Nine Dragons and Five Tigers and a Yao long-haired woman.  Posed in traditional costume at Seven Stars with Moon.  Took a 5-hour hike alone to the Longji Rice Terraces, where I got lost numerous times.  Spent an afternoon of disillusionment at Elephant Hill Park in Guilin.  Treated myself to a whole body massage, a foot massage and pedicure in Guilin to try to alleviate my four days of sickness while traveling.

Encountered a styrofoam lady on the way to Wal-Mart.  Watched a Chinese love story with English subtitles, Fleet of Time, that shed some light on the lives of my college students. Watched all 10 episodes of Fargo Survived another challenging Chinese bus ride to Yangmei Ancient Village. Spent Christmas day alone wandering downtown Nanning, sipping a Toffee Nut Latte at Starbucks, watching The Taking of Tiger Mountain at Wanda Cinema, and finally Skyping with my family in Virginia.  Went to a Christmas party arranged by my students, where I attempted to make proper dumplings, played and won a REAL game of Chinese checkers, and sang karaoke.  Went to a free acrobatics show in Nanning.

Happy New Year!  May all your dreams come true in twenty-fifteen. 🙂

Related posts:
twenty-thirteen
weekly photo challenge: my 2012 in pictures

Categories: 2014, Abbott Kinney Boulevard, Aguirre, Alexandria, Americas, Annapolis, Arecibo Observatory, Asia, Burbank, California, Calvert Cliffs State Park, Cherry Blossom Festival, China, Colorado, D.C., Daxin, Denver, Detian Waterfall, Dumbarton Oaks, El Yunque National Forest, Expat life, Golden Gate Bridge, Great Falls Park, Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden, Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Hearst Castle, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Longji Ancient Village, Longji Rice Terraces, Longsheng County, Los Angeles, Malibu, Maryland, Monterey, Nanning, New Hampshire, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, New York, Old San Juan, Photography, Ping'An Village, Poets & Writers LIVE!, Ponce, Puerto Rico, Qing Xiu Shan, Reseda, Richmond, San Francisco, San Simeon, Santa Barbara, Sausalito, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Sino-Vietnamese border, Solomons, Travel, United States of America, Venice, Venice Beach, Venice walk-streets, Ventura, Vermont, Vienna, Virginia, White Oak Canyon, Wine Country, Xianggong Hill, Xingping, Yangmei Ancient Town, Yangshuo, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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