Saturday, 31 May 2008


Where do I start?

The Chinese people always seem to be cleaning - sweeping, mopping, sweeping and mopping, but things seldom get clean. Let me explain. The pollution here is really visible some days and it is as if the air is "thick" with something, and I think it is. Maybe dust - but certainly fine fibres from the many textile factories here.

There is little carpet - which is a good idea - but acres of tiles. Mostly polished tiles. At the college the cleaners are continually mopping the corridors, but we get the sense that they are really just moving the dust around. They don't use buckets very much - so the mop (made of fabric) is moved back and forth along the tiles. Cleaning? I think not.

The "cleaners" in the classroom are students who do little more than "tidy" and remove large items of rubbish (students tend to leave a lot of debris in each class),
They sweep using a pretty ineffective little broom, and mostly move the dust particles around.

I tend to think that better quality brooms and mops might help! It seems a lot of time and effort is wasted.

I have a cleaner to clean my apartment. A lovely lady whose English is zilch, but who comes most Thursdays and sweeps with these funny little ineffective brooms, and then mops with my squeegee mop, but often scrapes it along the floor using the metal edge. I'm not sure what she is trying to achieve. If I could speak Chinese well, we might make some changes, but as she is also one of the college cleaners, I reckon she is doing the best that she can.

Perhaps cleaning lessons would be good. I guess all our Aussie brooms, and rakes are made in China, but they don't use the same style that we do. Even the streets and gardens are raked with what looks like a rake make of twigs. They are actually twigs, fashioned in a particular style.

Everywhere we go we see men and women sweeping parks and streets with this strange rakes or brooms. Just rearranging the dust.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Wuzhen Fire Station

I'm sure there is a more modern fire station somewhere in the busy metropolis of Wuzhen, but this is the one in the ancient township.

Sweet making in Wuzhen

We saw two men in different parts of Wuzhen making candy in the street. It was interesting to watch as they stretched the mixture over and over again to make the mixture shine, but I'm not sure I'd like to eat candy made in this way in a busy dusty street.

How the ancient Chinese lived in Wuzhen

Blue and White fabric at Wuzhen

This exhibit was especially spectacular. We entered this museum via a shop that sold a wide variety of items in dark blue and white. There were tableclothes, clothes for adults and children, toys, fans etc all in fabric with flower patterns in white on a drk blue background.

The first area was a "forest" of fabric floating from a high bamboo structure, which looked spectacular. Another room told much of the story of the dying, and as we went along we saw the process in action.

There are stencils and the workers push a type of clay over the stencil, which is dried on a rack and then the fabric is put into big vats where they dye is. The dye is from a locally grown plant which is why the fabric is only blue. It has been a tradition for many many years to make this blue and white fabric here. There was a garden showing the growing of the plant that provides the dye.

During the day I purchased a tablecloth and some fabric.

The Wood carving Museum at Wuzhen

This doesn't look oriental, but this smiling carving graces the museum.

The carvings in this museum date back hundreds of years and some are extra ordinarily intricate. It is hard to imagine how much time and effort that would be required to complete such works. There were many wonderful exhibits of wood carving in this museum.

More photos of Wuzhen

Soon the alley ways are busy with visitors.

Narrow alley way

Lunch being cooked in the street

Monday, 26 May 2008

A Bed Museum?

When we heard that we were to visit a "Bed Museum" we were a bit curious. But in the end it proved a highlight of our visit to Wuzhen. Who would have believed that a bed museum would be so interesting. The museum housed the most interesting exhibits of ancient and wonderfully carved and decorated beds, each with a story and dimensions of the bed.

English or Chinglish?

Some photos from Wuzhen

Residents doing their washing in the canal as the tourists roam around.

Alleyways between the old buildings.

Inside an ancient store

The pole boat.

A boatman

Peaceful water view near the entrance to the scenic spot.

Here are a few photos taken at Wuzhen. "Wu" means "black" and you will note that all roof tiles are black.

Older people still live in the village, and we were told that very few young people live here as it is such an old town. The people left their doors open so we could see inside. They were quite dark and gloomy interiors, but most had a television in them. Many of the floors were cement, although quite a few were modernised with tiles.

The people seem to be comfortable with the crowds visiting their village.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Today we visited Wenzhou which is north of Hangzhou. We had heard that Wenzhou tourist spot was a water town, and sure enough it was, but there was much more to it. It is quite a large place, and many buses arrived while we were there, so it was very crowded, mostly with Chinese people.

There was plenty of English explanations of the many interesting places there. It is a place that you could spend all day visiting, but as usual the crowds of people are off-putting.

The town dates back to 2000 BC - and it is quite obviously old. Strangely enough much has been preserved, though it appears that white ants and/or timber rot is present in some of the wonderful ancient buildings.

There were 9 places to visit within the complex and we did not see them all. It was too crowded and we had other things to do.

The features? A Bed Museum no less. A remarkable place with many beds on display one of which I think was 1300 years old. It was obvious that wealthy people lived in the big house, and many rooms were amazingly created to give a good picture of the long history there.

I would have thought, (before I had seen this display) that a museum of beds might be a bit boring, but the display was incredible with each bed having an English translation of its age, its use, and oddly on each display its dimensions. There's no doubt that it was far from boring with extra ordinary carvings and decorations on the beds.

Many of the rooms of the museums displayed full life sized models of people from history and the clothing they wore. There was so much to see and so well done.

At another part we saw wooden carvings - intricate clever wonderful wooden carvings many of them going back to the early days of Chinese history.

See the report on the cotton dyeing.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

No English in the English Faculty.

I'm not sure how many class rooms, offices and audio visual rooms are part of the English Faculty, but the block I work in is a five storied block with 6 classrooms on each floor. I know there are more, but have no idea where they are.

We think it is strange that the "English Faculty" uses NO ENGLISH. Our class details are all in Chinese (which of course we can't read) and we are often required to sign class attendance sheets, requests for photocopying - all in Chinese.

All notices on the noticeboard are in Chinese. We have no idea if we are expected to read them. And of course we don't. I understand notices were sent to teachers about the three days of mourning and the three minutes silence re the earthquake - but it never came to us. We didn't even get a notice in Chinese on this one.

Even in a university which is supposedly a "foreign language" college, there is little consderation given to any language other than Chinese. It also makes it very hard for the students learning Chinese as they are not encouraged to speak English - and there are no English posters, and so forth. It is hard to get them to speak English in class - except for specific class work. Try as I might, I often have no idea if they are talking about me!

When I visited the hair dresser some days ago there was no sign of English - except for one sign that appears over the entrance doorway when the store is open. Just one word "DOPEN" which I guess means that they are open!!!

Some strange things we've noticed.

Sleeping. One of the really strange things about living here is watching the sleeping habits of the Chinese people. I'm not talking about in their bedrooms, as I have yet to experience that, and don't expect to. I refer to their sleeping habits in public.

We smile at the many men who ride their three wheeled cycles around the city of Shaoxing, some looking for passengers and others geared to transporting anything that is in need of transport. Around lunchtime, or late in the afternoon, or in the evening many of them sleep. Some make themselves quite comfortable in the back of their "tray" or on the back seat of their passenger cycle and doze off. OK, that's fine, but amusing all the same.

There are some men in particular who seem to run small shops - not much bigger than a single car garage (Australia style) and sit in a battered chair at the entrance of their shop, make themselves comfortable and just go to sleep.

As a passenger in the regular buses that go into and out of the city on a regular basis, it is common for young people and old people to nod off and sleep - even for short journeys. I recall
when we arrived at Shanghai Airport and were met by college representatives, who loaded us and our luggage onto the college minibus and promptly fell asleep almost for the entire three hour journey!

The classroom? This is quite a challenge for the foreign teachers! Students often fall asleep - even if one has a class activity that requires a lot of student input. Boys are the worst. (I sometimes don't like to call them "boys" as they are adult in that they are 21 years of age or more - but in many ways their behaviour is comparable with 14 year olds at home.

We always have a "break" between two lesson periods, and it is common or most of the students to put their heads on their arms and sleep during this time. And they have a two hour lunch period, and many of them will have a quick lunch and go to their dormitories for a sleep. (Many of the boys play computer games or watch movies all night - so it is not surprising that they are tired!

Body hair. Strange thing to report on, but as the Chinese men are wearing short sleeved or open necked shirts, it is obvious. No body hair. On closer inspection - well, at least on the bus, yu can see that there is little or no hair on arms, none on the chest, and I gather very few have to shave as facial hair is minimal.

In public men must not go topless - so if it is hot they roll up their t-shirts so that their tummy is showing. It is against the law to go topless, so we are told, but I have seen one man defy this "rule."

Friday, 23 May 2008

Ball room dancing

Ballroom dancers in Shanghai Nanjing St (note the band members complete with hats on the left of the photo.

Dancer with his "virtual" partner in Shanghai.

It may surprise folk in "the Western world" how popular ball room dancing is here in China. Apparently there are groups that dance in parks - especially of an evening. When we did our night time tour of Shaoxing canals, we saw two groups under two of the big bridges here - with 50 - 60 dances all in full swing to the dance music.

I have been told it is quite common in parks all around China.

The only other time I have seen it was in Shanghai - and there right in the heart of Shanghai, in the famous Nanjing Road, there were ball room dancers in the street. The band was on a "balcony" playing their hearts out, while the dancers did there stuff on the footpath.

One lone dancer with his virtual partner amused us. He was so enjoying himself and posed for his photo to be taken.

The Rose Garden

Hard to see - but little "cuttings" of rose bushes.

Roses in bloom - two photos.

When we arrived here in February, at the end of winter, there was a garden bed near the foreign teachers apartment building that nothing but the soil (tragically bland almost rocky soil) with rows of "sticks" approximately 3 inches high.

For many days I passed this "garden" with little interest, but one day I had a closer look and realized that the little sticks were small rose plants. (I learned later that they had been planted a year or so before and already had had one flowering, and were pruned back severely.)

As spring approached the familiar reddish shoots appeared and over the next month or so the "little sticks" grew until they were about three feet tall with copious buds on them.
Right now the roses are blooming - still many buds, and some spent flowers. They are a picture.

(The soil in which the amazing gardens grow here is rocky, and full of clay which clumps. It is surprising to me that they don't compost - and there are many resources here to create compost - to add to the soil to nourish it.)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Three days of mourning

We have had three days of mourning for the earthquake victims and families in Sichuan province - Monday to Wednesday with 3 minutes silence at the time that the quake hit.

Flags are at half mast, movie houses have been closed, and those business that usually play music have been silenced. Even places like Starbucks.

At the school there was one lone flag - the half mast Chinese flag.

The water is hot!

There are some things that we regard as normal, but our Chinese friends experience strange things in our apartments. On Saturday I had a student with me, and she came to my apartment.

She asked for a towel so that she could wash her hands. I produced one of my hand towels and she went into the bathroom. I might add that the foreign teachers here have a "western style" toilet - we can sit to do what we have to do. Chinese people squat to "go" - and a western toilet is foreign to them.

The student appeared with a question. "Di, why is the water hot?"

You see - here in this city it is unusual for hot water to come from taps. The students and other workers around the city that I have seen get hot water from a central supply somewhere in large thermos type flasks. In their dormitories they would pour hot water into their wash bowls.

Here we do live in luxury in comparison to their lives. We have hot and cold running water - in the bathroom and kitchen, and unlike the college dorms, we have reverse cycle air conditioning.

My student friend learned a few things on Saturday. I wonder what she thinks of the way we live?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Travel Guide

One of the things that is frustrating for visitors to Shaoxing is that there is little information in English to guide the traveller.

So I have set up another site at Travellers Point where I am collecting information about places to see in and around Shaoxing. Complete with photos, directions to get to the places, and the cost to enter. This will be helpful for the foreign teachers that come here, as well as those that venture to this wonderful place.

Please visit.

Scary visit to the hair dressers.

I had already had my hair cut here in Shaoxing. Some weeks ago I went to a small recommended hair salon down a little lane. It cost 10 Yuan for my shampoo and cut, but I wasn't impressed. It wasn't cut to my satisfaction and the place was not as clean as I would have liked.

So yesterday, I went to another place recommended by another Australian English Teacher. It was a bigger salon with many staff, two of whom greeted me at the door, with the few words of English that they knew.

I was taken to a chair, and using my fingers to show "cutting hair" as no one spoke English, I sat back and waited to see what happened. I reasoned that if they made a mess of my hair I would only have to wait 5 or so weeks before I left Shaoxing anyway.

The shampoo was done at the table - using a small plastic bottle with a spout water was dripped on my head and shampoo added and a lather was created. Then I was taken to another room where I lay and the shampoo was rinsed out and I had an amazing head massage, before returning to the first room. Here my head, shoulders, arms and hands experienced an amazing massage routine. Bliss. Then the weird part - my ears were gently cleaned out! How bizarre!!!

After that I was taken to another room where a delightful young man with interesting hands - complete with french manicure, cut my hair. Remember no English was spoken during this whole period. Sign language sufficed.

When he had cut my hair, I was taken to yet another room for a further wash of my hair, before returning to my hair cutter/stylist who used the blow dryer and strange (well, I had not seen them before) brush strokes to create a new hair style for me.

It cost 55 Yuan but was well worth it! I have no idea of the name of the salon (cannot read Chinese), but I will go back before I leave here.

What a wonderful experience. And I love my new hair style - though no doubt my curls will reappear and I will look something like I used to!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Olympic Flame comes to Shaoxing

It is hard to tell, but the torch bearer with torch aflame is in the middle of the throng.

Me with one of the torch bearers (with police guard) behind me.

Students from the college arrive en masse to be at the ceremony.

On Saturday May 17th, the Olympic Flame came to Shaoxing China, and I was able to witness part of the relay at very close quarters.

I had chosen that day to visit the resort at the Kauiji Mountain adjacent to the college at which I teach.
Actually I look out of the window of my apartment to the mountain, which is so close to the college, with the huge statue of Da Yu (Emperor Yu). We knew the Torch Relay was to pass through the park, and it was our original intention to visit the park in the morning and then be at the college gate at 4.20 pm to see one of the foreign teacher’s run.

However, our plans changed when we realized that we could be very close to the Torch Relay if we stayed in the park, so we found a place to sit, and waited out the time.
Then we walked the short distance to the main driveway and waited. Many others were to come too, but in the end, it was much less crowded than anywhere else. In fact I received text messages from other friends, who were overwhelmed by the crowds along the city route. We were so pleased we had chosen to stay.

We saw all the official coaches, cars and other vehicles arrive, including the bus of the torch bearers.
We were continually pushed back by Police, but all was friendly and cooperative.

We could hear music and drums from the area of the official ceremony, and heard the fireworks as it all started, and the cloud of coloured smoke that rose above the lake.
Then within minutes there was a roar as people shouting “Go China” in Chinese, swarmed along the driveway flanking the torch bearer.

It was quick, but I had a good view despite the crowds and was able to get a photo or two.

It was all over in minutes, and then we joined the throng following the torch and trying to exit the park. Thousands and thousands of Chinese people, so excited, massed along the driveway to the exit, and then tried to find their way home. It was orderly chaos, and fortunately we had only a short way to go.

I shall always remember this time that I attend the historical event – the 2008 Beijing Olympic Torch and its visit to Shaoxing.

(As it turns out the foreign teacher did not run as planned, at the spot where all our friends waited - due to crowd control problems he was to run a shorter route, but some distance from the place they waited.)

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Shaoxing - Venice of the East

One of the bridges, brightly lit.

Scenery beside the canal.

On Tuesday night - on somewhat of a whim, we did what we have been talking about for some time and took a boat ride around the canals of Shaoxing. Shaoxing has a reputation as a water city, or canal city and it is often called the Venice of the East. I've read that there could be some 5000 bridges - and it wouldn't surprise me as they are everywhere.

The boats leave from a canal which is a fairly short walk from the college - and five us wandered around there and were the first to be seated on the boat which is a pretty ordinary looking craft, different to many in this country.

It was decorated with red lanterns, and on the flat deck were white plastic tables and chairs, and on each table one or two trays complete with teapot, and small cups. Our tour guide put boiling water in the pot, and a tea bag and we were soon sipping lovely China tea.

The tour took over an hour through most interesting places. We would love to see the scenery in day time, but our boat only did night tours, so we will have to find another craft to take us during daylight hours.

It was such a pretty ride - many of the bridges had brilliantly coloured lights, and along the canals, buildings were lit up either by rows of red lights and lanterns, or by garish bright neon lights that screamed their message - in Chinese of course.

Wonderful willows hung over the side of the canals, and we could see into buildings and roadways close by. Fishermen were casting huge nets on bamboo poles, people were walking along the many paths, and as we see often in parks, people were walking backwards. It is supposed to kep the brain more active.

Under some bridges there were groups of men and women ball room dancing, or at one, they were line dancing and another there was Tai Chi. The parks get a wonderful workout here in China, and I don't think it is just that they have small gardens. Some of the apartment blocks have huge wonderful gardens, but the locals just enjoy the night time scenery and meeting their friends, and getting exercise in these fabulous parks.

The boat slowly put-putted along, through some parts that we recognised as it skirted the city, and then went close to large shopping centres we knew, and near the railway station at Shaoxing.

There are many more canals and it was intriguing casting our eyes along little narrow old canals, and along wide ones that disappeared into the darkness. It was such a wonderful and spectacular sight that we are setting off to do the trip tonight - just two nights later.

You can check out a bit more about Shaoxing - especially if you are going to visit!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Mary Poppins

.A sea of umbrellas at the college.

One of the strongest memories I have of the movie "Mary Poppins" is of her riding her bicycle while carrying an umbrella - something I have never tried to master.

Here in China though, I am reminded almost every day. The Chinese young people love their umbrellas which come in all shapes and colours. Some of course are to keep the rain off, but when it is not raining it is to keep the sun from damaging their perfect complexions.

And as bicycles are popular transport here, it is common to see a rider cycle past holding aloft an umbrella, just as Mary Poppins did.

We also find it amusing that the young men also carry an umbrella - and they don't mind if it is a fancy frilly one either - something the young men of Australia would not do. Maybe a black one, but not the style that all use here.

As well, something else young men do hear - and older men too I've noticed - is carry the handbag for their lady. And some of the handbags are quite wild!!!

Earthquake in China

It happened yesterday, but initial reports did not speak of the seriousness of the 'quake. I appears that there are thousands of deaths in Sichuan province which is in south west China, where one or two schools have been destroyed and a hospital too.

I am in southern China, but I understand now that even in Shanghai which is not far from Shaoxing, that the tremor was felt.

For my friends and family I'm happy to report that we have not felt the tremors here. So all is well.

Read more here.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Wedding Processions

The bride and groom's car.

The lead car with the brass band and drummer - second car with photographer

Apparently this is a custom that is known in this area, but not others. Certainly in other cities in this province, the wedding procedures are different. I find this quite amusing - quaint even. Generally this happens on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday as most of the weddings occur on these days.

A small truck or utility with about six musicians in red outfits with hats squeezed onto the back appears first of all, with the banging of the drums and the sound of trumpets. Behind this vehicle is a black car with someone holding a camera standing up with half his/her body out of the car. He/she is filming the procession for posterity.

The next car - adorned with flowers many of them stuck onto the car with sticky tape, appears and the bride and groom are sitting in the back. (I've even seen a smiling bride sitting next to the groom who was busily chatting on his mobile phone!) Then the families follow in several cars, often these are decorated with flowers or red and gold paper, and all the number plates are covered up with red and gold paper too. On Saturday there must have been many weddings as I was sitting in a pizza place in the city and it seemed nearly every five minutes another one of these processions passed by.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Restaurant area

After our day at Houshan and climbing the mountain, we boarded the bus and returned to the city and were taken to a fascinating place for lunch at a very old Chinese place, where much of the old village and canals were still being used. It was fascinating - the restaurant featured traditional Chinese food - and we were lucky to have some of the Chinese teachers with us to explain what it was we were eating. What a marvellous feast! Afterward we wandered around the grounds - we saw close up a shop where there was a wide variety of fish and other water animals that we believe were to be used in the restaurant. I'm OK with fresh fish, but seeing frogs and turtles still living and making their way around a tank not knowing that their days of life are soon to be over and they would be someone's dinner. The complex is quite near a canal with larger water transport, and apparently a boat that tours the canals. We must do that one day. But it started to rain again, so we were glad to board the bus and return to the college. It had been a wonderful, but exhausting day.