Friday, 31 October 2008

The Service in Banks

One thing that is really amazing is the wonderful service in the banks that I have been into. It is amusing that in the university early in the semester they changed their computer system and it is unable to take our "long names" so on payday we collect our full months' salary in cash. An envelope with a wad of notes in it.

So we have to go to China Merchant Bank to deposit it in our account or run around with a lot of cash on us, and miss any bank interest.

There is a good China Merchant Bank branch near the city square so it is not a big inconvenience to do it. Though we are annoyed by it.

There is always a guard on duty at the front of the bank, and when one goes inside a service attendant is quickly by your side. They send the English speakers to us - and we are asked if they can help.

"I wish to deposit cash." will result in being ushered to the window of the teller, and usually one that there is no queue on. So very quickly you can complete your business. If we need to exchange some currency we are best going to the China Bank and this too has an identical system where the customer is treated with great respect.

Often as you enter or leave the bank, the "concierge" in full uniform and white gloves will open the door for you.

We have found the banks much better serviced than the banks at home.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

See the fancy brides.

Weddings are big business in China. In China now there is a strong western theme to weddings. Not the traditional Chinese wedding, and not the traditional Western wedding either, but the brides like to dress in something dramatic and beautiful.

Some of the outfits are reall "over the top" and we had a great laugh about these strange outfits in the window of a wedding planning organisation in Hangzhou. Feathers and "foufou" I hope they are more for show, or to somehow entice the bride to be to come in. If I was a bride and saw these aparations I would run a mile. Scary feathery things would not be for me. I wonder.

One of the other things that we see quite a bit of are groups of men (and sometimes women) playing cards. I don't know what game they play, but it is certainly a very popular activity and sometimes they sit on newspaper on the ground in front of shops, or they might play in the tray of a tricycle while waiting for their next job if they are a worker.
There is a group of four that are always playing on the step on front of one of the banks that we go to in the centre of Shaoxing, and we've come to be quite friendly with them although they don't speak English and we can't converse well with them.
Another thing that is common is men in particular carting a little wooden seat - looks like a small table - which they can sit on wherever they happen to stop. Grandfathers who look afte small children will often carry one to the park, so that they have somewhere to sit while the child plays on the playground equipment.
There is not a lot of public seating - so taking one's own stool is a good idea. Mind you I've seen great little fold up ones that would be ideal to carry, but I don't see them - I only see the little wooden ones. I have three in my apartment and they are used as seats or tables. Depends.

Wet and cold

It was only a week or so ago that we were lamenting the continued hot weather. Overnight it changed. Last weekend when we went to Hangzhou it was wet and cool, but today it is wet and COLD. I have two jackets, but I will need a winter woolly or two. I have had a look in the shops in the city, and there are some reasonable jackets or tops at a good price, so next week I will get one or two.

I have some tracksuit pants, but no tops. And I will get one or two of these as well. Especially for the early mornings when I jump out of bed, I need something warm to put on as I don't have a dressing gown and I don't intend to get one here.

Everyone wears scarves and there are some delightful ones around. Very imaginative designs. I do generally wear a scarf during the cooler weather as they really do keep the body warm. I love looking at the scarf designs the students wear and those in the shops, and I do have a growing collection of them.

One of the things that always amuses me here, is that with 10,000 students there is always a parade of umbrellas when it is raining. It is hard describe the scene with so many students leaving the classrooms, and at lunch time or when classes finish at 8.30 pm the long "conga line" of students under umbrellas, often with a strange glow from their mobile phones, as theywalk from the classrooms to the West Gate or to their dormitories.

Speaking of dormitories. I had a phone call from a student last night. His teacher has asked him to invite a "foreign teacher", an English teacher, to the boys dormitory to help them with their English conversation, and he asked me to go on Mondy night. Conversations with Chinese students can often be curious. He did explain that his teacher would be there - but his invitation to come and have fun with the boys in the dormitory I found rather amusing. I sent a text message to one of the other Aussie teachers. "I have been invited by some boys to go to their dormitory to play games and have fun, should I go?" Her reply (and I knew to expect something like this as she does have a wild sense of humour) was "Absolutely" and when I saw her we had a good laugh about that. So that's a story for next week.

So now it is cold I will wear one of my jackets and a scarf, and carry my bag of items for class, and my umbrella. I feel like a pack horse!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Just one of those days - that ended well.

Most of the teachers have had a challenge or two this week. My water machine broke - at least the hot water tap. We have to buy water in huge 20 litre bottles and the bottles are mounted on a machine that is connected to the electricity and dispenses hot or cold water suitable for drinking. Tap water is NOT!

I reported it, hotping that it could be easily repaired, but was told I had to get it over to the service centre (where ever that is), and a student could help. One of the other teachers had problems with her machine, it leaked. So we arranged for students to take both to the service centre, and as they could speak Chinese we would solve the problem of communciation. Only one student appeared, so I decided to put up with my problem and just use the cold water.

So the student and the teacher took the broken machine from the fifth floor, over to the repair centre, and returned with another machine, mounted the 20 litre bottle, and having turned it on, left her room and came down for coffee with me.

Shortly she went up to her room and moments later my phone rang. The "new" water machine had leaked the 20 litres of water onto the floor and it had tripped the power. She had no power. I took my torch and headed upstairs, and a couple who live on the floor above me also joined me.

What a mess! Boxes of thing she had purchased were wet. Shoes were wet. Bags were wet. We were able to turn the power back on, and the floor was mopped.

So back downstairs again. We had heard that a bar had opened on the campus, so we thought we'd check it and see. What a find. There, within pleasant walking distance is a nice place to sit and enjoy a cocktail. Well, we only had two. But it was a rare treat. Very pleasant.

At the table next to us were four smart looking young ladies. I asked "Are you teachers?" They laughed. "Don't you remember us?" They were my students from last semester. How funny. We all agreed they looked quite smart and far more mature than the students in the class room.

Two drinks later we headed back to our apartments. That will be somewhere we will visit again! We had Brandy Alexanders. Very nice!!! I don't get to have a drink much when we are out as I don't drink beer, and can only get a bottle of wine in a restaurant, so choose to drink soft drink or iced tea. The Bar is a pleasant change!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Day two in Hangzhou

Spot Versace????

As we woke after a good sleep we could hear the rain, so we had to decide what to do. We had bought "breakfast" the night before at a little shop - coffee, buns, jellied fruit etc. We had little joy learning about the facilities at the hotel, but we learned on booking out that their breakfast was good. We watched others eating it - wishing we had known about it before hand.

We had decided to go to the Silk Museum which is one of the many attractions around the West Lake and not far from our hotel. It was still raining and while on our way to the museum in the taxi, and noting the absolute chaos of the traffic with huge tour buses, taxis etc in the pouring ran, we decided to go straight into the shopping area near the lake. We didn't want to lug our backpacks around the museum which would have been crowded, so opted for the alternative. We decided we would go back to Hangzhou, but plan our tourist activities during the week when it was quieter.

We had found a good shop on the Saturday, so did a little Xmas shopping there, before finding an Italian coffee shop. Oddly enough it had a great array of stunning cakes in its menu, but had none. (Must have been a busy day on Saturday) so we had to settle for coffee, which was served in wonderful tea cups - just as if we were at a tea party in Oz.

So back to the lake and we walked in the opposite direction this time. Past the designer label shops. You should be able to see them in the photograph.

Now "third world" this country is not! I've never seen so many of the top expensive label shops anywhere and there seem to be on every street corner here! Not far from here was the Ferrari sow room and the Rolls Royce Show room!
Just along from these shops was the Hangzhou Hilton! We had coffee there later, and we nearly fell over when we saw the bill!!!
We have decided to try and get to Hangzhou during the week - even if we have to wait until after the college exams in January. It really is a fabulous wonderful place. Cleaner than Shaoxing, and less chaotic traffic too. The tree lined streets could well be out of any place in the world! It is beautiful!
We left the Hilton in all its luxury and caught a taxi, hailed by the concierge, to go to the bus station, where we had to walk the last few hundred meters as the traffic is so chaotic that the taxis can't get close. We got our tickets and had a safe trip back to Shaoxing.

A night in Hangzhou

Another teacher and I decided to visit Hangzhou for the weekend. Originally the plan was to catch a train - as I am not keen on the human dodgem game that traffic plays on the roads, but when we went to get train tickets, there were no seats left and the idea of spending an hour standing up in a packed train did not appeal, so we chose to go by bus.

So on the Saturday morning we were up early and caught a bus to the "Big Bus Station" and only had 10 minutes to wait for the bus to Hangzhou. There were three of us - my "partner in crime" as Sue has been described by Phillip, who is from Western Australia and was meeting a school friend in Hangzhou - they had kept in touch since college days in India over 30 years ago, but had not seen each other in that time.

When the bus arrived in Hangzhou we caught a cab, but had trouble getting the taxi driver to understand where we needed to go to meet Phillips friend. In the end we made it of course, and Sue and I sat and had ac up of coffee there. Even that was funny. The porter told us that the coffee lounge was on the second floor, but there was a restaurant there, but did not serve coffee, so we went to the restaurant on the third floor which was closed. So back to the ground floor and reception who told us that there was no coffee place at the hotel, but as we were about to leave a guy offered to help us, and pointed to the "Lobby bar" on the ground floor, within sight of the receptionist who must have been at least a little curious as we were indeed served with our coffee!

The amazing stone sculpture was in the lobby of the hotel - Days Hotel.

We eventually found a taxi and headed for the tourist area near the West Lake. Another non English speaking taxi driver, and lots of pointing, writing, and showing the map. One thing we have learned is that even the taxi drivers do not seem to understand reading maps - even if the map is in Chinese, which ours was!
It was raining, so with umbrella over us, we wandered around the shops, and stopped for coffee again, and then lunch, before wandering around the lake. There is no doubt that you'd need a couple of days to see it all, and even with the rain it was quite crowded!
We found a wine bar, but it only sold wine by the bottle. Too much for me so we settled for tea. (How disappointing!) Then when the rain came again we got a taxi and headed for our hotel, which was on the other side of the lake. The traffic was chaotic - so many tourist buses, wedding cars, taxis, and bikes all in the pouring rain. Our taxi drive stopped and told us we were there and pointed to a building with Chinese writing. So we paid and got out, only to find that we were not a the right place, but a kind lady pointed us to a place further along the road, so we had to find it ourselves.
We had seen photos of the hotel, a Chinese hotel called Flower Inn, but the photo was somewhat misleading. It was tucked in the midst of old apartments, but was quite modern. No one spoke English but we paid our deposit (despite giving them my credit card details too!) and the showed us to our room. Sue and I just laughed - it had one double bed in it, so before we even put our bag on the floor we went back to reception, and in the end they found a double room with two beds!
The room was clean and modern, and quite comfortable. Considering we were paying around $40 for it, it was good value. Nothing to complain about at all! After we dropped our luggage we went for a walk as the rain had eased a little. We found our way through luxurious villa cmplex, where the guards - all three of them happily waved us through. It was beautiful - even with two white geese in the pond!
We kept going around the lake. Shame it was raining, but it was even so, quite beautiful. As it was getting dark we headed back to the hotel. We had decided to eat in the hotel as it was wet and miserable, and we'd lost our enthusiasm about finding our way back into the city.
The restaurant "attached" to the hotel was awful, and besides we had to sit outside and it was cold, so we wandered around to another restaurant fo sorts. Quite primitive and no one spoke English, so we were taken into the kitchen to point at the food we wanted. It wasn't bad - but I'd not hurry back!
There was nothing to do - so we lay on the beds watching the Hangzhou Fireworks Festival on TV, until we decided to go to bed. Despite the noisy guys in the restaurant and few other comings and goings, we did have a good sleep!

Friday, 24 October 2008

The setting

I have spent little time on the sports ground, but this morning for the opening of the Sports Meeting we were reminded of the wonderful setting for the college. It is close to the centre of the city of Shaoxing, but there is a range of mountains that start right across the road from the college, so that the scenery is not high rise buildings and factories but rows of mountains. Spectacular really. However, the smoggy atmosphere dulls it somewhat.

The Sports Meeting

This week at the university, the focus is on sport. The Friday and Saturday are the two sports meeting days (and we have no classes on the Friday if it is not raining). I have attended two of the events prior to the sports meeting, but part of it. The Aerobics Competition. One night there were large groups of students - mostly female performing quite an array of actions to music. The girls were all in costume with makeup, and it was a spectacular thing to watch. It was held in the sports stadium with no seating - though many students were standing on plastic chairs. Made it difficult for the shorties to see and I only caught glympses of the performance. On the second night the crowd was even larger - perhaps because the dancing was more exotic! There was much cheering and excitement and I would have liked to see more, but once again only glympses.

But today (Friday) was the big opening ceremony. Just like the Olympics. But it was at 7.30 am and I managed to get up and onto the sports ground in time for the start. I'm so glad I did.

There were officials on the dais, and much shouting in Chinese - officials giving their thoughts and encouragement to the students I'd guess and then the parade started.

Groups of students - some in sports uniform, teachers in their uniform (I have one, but have not worn it yet!), students in dance costume. There were around 100 students carrying pigeons that were let fly during the ceremony. There were girls carrying balloons, and others carrying flowers. It was quite a parade - even with a strange looking Mickey Minny Mouse, followed up at the end by a dragon. Hundreds of students cheered them all on.

The group of students carrying the Chinese flag goosestepped across in front of the dais, and later as the flag was hoisted on the large flag pole the National Anthem of China was played. Hardly Olympc Games standard, but all impressive just the same. The balloons (filled with helium) too were all released en masse during the ceremony.

And the winners of the Aerobics Competition of the nights before also performed. And then the action began.

Students were high jumping, doing the hop step and jump, sprints, long distance running, javelin and more.

Quite impressive really, and my students were thrilled to see me there.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Fuyang - Bamboo paper making.


After lunch at a traditional Chinese restaurant opposite Longman we boarded the bus for the journey to Fuyang and our next stop, which was the bamboo paper making place just out of Fuyang's history goes back to the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC) but is now a modern city - but as usual in China a good mix of the ancient and the new. You can read a little about this city here.

Our destination was a tourist spot which featured the old art. For years paper has been made in this region from huge bamboo that grows in the hills around Fuyang.

The bamboo is pulped and is held in big vats. Boiling water and crushing creates the pulp, and the worker will drop a frame into the pulp, bring it out, and transfer it from the frame to a pile of pulp which is easily seperated in the next part of the process.
In the next area there were four workers with a pile of the paper, which easily peeled off and was put on a hot wall, where it takes 15 seconds for the paper to dry, and it is then peeled off again into a pile of paper ready for use.

These huge piles of paper are ready for sale. We went into another room and were able to use a wood block and some bamboo paper to make our own prints.

There were parts of the establishment that looked somewhat neglected and we found rooms with old things - old manufacturing items. One was the wooden pulp making equipment - where the worker would use a wooden arm to help crush the bamboo.

Our next stop was the inevitable shop - but a little disappointing. The books and paper were expensive and mostly in Chinese. I wondered what my family would do with this expensive Chinese sourvenir when I no longer want it. There was one book, with the Tao instructions, in English but it was 800 RMB. More than any of us would enthusiastically want to spend! Perhaps it would have been nice to be able to purchase some wood blocks - but we have found they are available in other places anyway.

Rice harvesting

Last semester we watched as the rice was planted in the fields around this part of China. Now it is harvet time. Some fields are not quite ready, and others are being harvested. Around Longmen we had a chance to see different stages of the harvest. In the fields, the rice is harvested in differing ways. It appears that the smaller fields are harvested manually, and other places a machine takes off the heads of the rice.

In this field - a small one - you could see a little of the process, including the burning off of the stubble. in a court yard in the ancient city women were raking the rice to keep the drying process going. I would imagine they would rake it up and night and put it in bags, and do the same again the next day. Very labour intensive this way.

More on Longmen

Righteous Gate

Strange equipment.

Building in ruins

More ruins

The photo at the top is of the Righteous Gate. Beside the gate is the explanation, which I have written.

"During the governing years of Emporer Jiejing in Ming Dynasty Longman area once suffered against severe long drought against which a righteious man named Sun Chao spent all his wealth givng relief to the local hungry people. and even handing in all public grain tax for whole village. In order to praise Sun Chao for his rightous deeds, the local feudal government built an arch way with two words "Righteous Gate" on it personally written by Xi Pu, the county magistrate. The virture RIGHTEOUS brightly reflected in Sun Chao's has been passed down in Sun family for thousands of years."

The second photo shows a very old strange piece of farm equipment - and I have no idea what it is used for. In the background in the building you can see grapes laid out on the ground for drying. We were told that they would be making wine out of it.

Longmen Ancient Village

Model of a ship used in ancient China.

A well. These wells are still being used.

An old alleyway

In a museum

Old building

Waterway at the entrance to the Ancient town - sides of the river
and bridges made of small rounded stones.

Old building at entrance made of rounded stones.

We had a wonderful expedition yesterday. We were at the West Gate by 7.30 am and because there were so many of us, there was a big comfortable air conditioned bus. One of the other foreign teachers and I had spoken to the International Exchange about these trips. Usually they give us three or four days notice about these trips and many of us have made other commitments. Perhaps booked to go elsewhere, or made time to spend with students.

In any case, on this occasion, not only did we get several weeks notice, but more details about the intended route and destination. Now we can fill a big bus!

The visit was planned to go to Longmen (Dragon Wall) and Fuyang. Still in Zhejiang Province but both places having historical significance. Longmen was our first stop. This is an ancient village going back to the Ming and Qing dynasties and despite some modernization, it is clear to see the way people lived way back then. Narrow alleyways, old buildings, ancient archways, and lots more.

One thing that appealed to us was that there were few people there. We are mostly accustomed to walking with crowds of Chinese and other tourists, and it was pleasant to have few people around. Sad though, as I would imagine this place would only survive because of tourists.

The ancient village is some 10 kms from the city, and surrounded by mountains and farms. There was rice being harvested nearby - and I managed to get a few photos of this.

I have found very little information about this place on the Internet - most information about Longmen is about the Longmen Grottos another historical place in the area, but we did not see that. I found this interesting information on a blogsite. (

"One familial clan dominates, the descendants of a man named Sun Quan, who was a king during the Wuyue Kingdom. Around 95% of the town's population even today bears his surname, Sun, and a line of descent parallel to that running through Longmen Village was responsible for the production of China's Republican hero, Sun Zhongshan, better known to English speakers as Sun Yatsen. One of the town's own favorite sons was Sun Kun, who isn't that interesting except for the fact that he built ships for one of the most intriguing characters in Chinese history--and my own personal favorite--Zheng He, the eunuch from Xinjiang who captained a fleet of Ming Dynasty treasure ships throughout Southeast Asia all the way to India."

I found reference to Zheng He interesting, as in material for my course last semester, he was reputed to have discovered Australia. You will see a photo models of ships that were used to travel around the world. A small musem of models of these is at Longmen.

The village is quite large and I have no doubt that we saw only a small proportion of it. People still live there - mainly older people and they still carry out their daily chores, just as their descendants had done. However, there is modernisation. They do have phones, electricity, computers, televisions and no doubt other modern appliance behind the ancient timber and stone walls.

It is often difficult to determine what is old and what is new in some places. Some of it is obvious, but others we can not be sure. The incredible stone work of Longmen - some of it must be old, but the stones of the pathways and roads, and courtyards may have been done in relatively recent times.

We came across Chinese traditonal music being played and when we followed the sound to its source found a courtyard where a performance was being held on a raised platform. The performance was near its end when we arrived and there was a small audience seated. I marvelled at the way this old entertainment area had been modelled. It does have modern lighting and amplification, but for the rest it still looks ancient.
It is a remarkable experience to visit these places and learn more of the history of China.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Chinese Pizza

Sell photos on photrade By Elly

Sell photos on photrade By Elly

I am not sure what the folk who invented Pizza's would think (as it the Italians?) but here in the college canteen there is a pizza available. I ordered one yesterday and have to say it was very tasty.

What especially amused me is that it came with (a) a pair of chopsticks - the little bamboo disposable chopsticks that seem to appear with any take-away Chinese meal and (b) a pair of plastic gloves - which I assume was to keep the pizza from dirtying my hands. In any case I used neither.

When I got back to my apartment it was cold, so I popped it in my oven to heat it and sat down with a knife and fork, but really ate it with my fingers when it cooled down. Plastic gloves to eat a pizza? I think not.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Autumn Osmanthus

We saw them before we noticed the fragrance. People were carrying sprigs of a plant with tiny white flowers. I had not seen them before - but have since learned that they do not grow anywhere but in Asia. The Japanese teachers speak highly of this fragrant shrub. There are huge hedges of this evergreen plant which has the tiny flowers at the beginning of winter.

Initially we did not notice the frangrance of the bushes here as apparently the plants here do not have as strong a fragrance as in other places. Perhaps it is because they do not get much sun, I do not know, but we have been able to detect a pleasant fragrance from the plants, but not as strong as some folk describe.
In the bus, the bus driver will have a sprig of it on the dashboard and people take sprigs of it with them. Perhaps picking it from hedges in the street I do not know.
In Hangzhou there is a special event in the Botanical Gardens, and if you click here you will see a much better photo of the flowers.

Bike sheds

With so many bicycles being ridden here it is common to see these shelters to keep the bikes. In the college there are many of these sort of shelters. Rather primitive really, but good enough for us I guess.
Some of the bikes here have almost rusted away - perhaps belonging to someone who has not returned to the college. All must have locks on them as for some reason they go "walkabout" without their locks. Even then some will walk. One needs a solid lock!
You also need to be lucky to get space in the shelter. Some times it is very full of bikes.

Pizza with chopsticks

The canteens at the college serve Asian food - mostly Chinese of course, but some Korean. One new consession this semester is trying pizza's. Quite a challenge really as the 10,000 or so students and teachers are pretty keen on traditional Chinese fare, and only a few venture to the pizza place.
As well the pizza's are more than double the price of other meals, but good value for two or three students. The other drawback is the time it takes to prepare and cook the pizza. It is all freshly made. The base is rolled out, the topping added and put into an oven - 10 - 15 minutes wait, when most of the Chinese dishes take only a couple of minutes.
I decided to "take away" my pizza - in part because there is more than I can eat in one sitting, and I wanted to take the photos.
When one gets a pizza here, we also get two plastic gloves to eat the pizza with, and chopsticks too.
Actually it is a very tasty dish, but sadly the locals are not as enthusiastic about this Italian fare.

The FT's Beer Garden

It looks like a fancy beer garden, and it is the venue for late afternoon drinks and snacks for the foreign teachers here. At least the English speaking teachers - it is adjacent to the building where the Japanese and Korean teachers live, but we've never seen them there. Perhaps because the furniture is "owned" by the English speakers. The chairs are worse for wear and the timber chair in the picture has died since I tool the photo.
The cement pad is over the sewer so some days the "fragrance" is not all that good, but we have little other space to meet. There is no organisation about our "beer garden" - someone will just say, "Is it beer o'clock at 4.30 pm today?" and so it starts.
We manage to bring packets of chips and other snacks, a bottle of beer or two, and soft drink for those who don't enjoy the beer. Wine sometimes. Rarely.
The mozzies are bad, because it is beside the canal, and when the sun goes down the mozzies come out in droves and seem to ignore the mozzie coils that we have going. Sometimes we will have a candle or torch to light up. On really hot days it is often quite a pleasant place as there will be a fresh breeze along the canal.
In any case - this is the only space we have for social events, and despite the drawbacks, it is the scene of a lot of laughter.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

What is this?

While riding the other day I came across this magnificent building opposite what I think is the police academy. This building has been standing for a while, but obviously something went wrong and it has not been completed. Grass and weeds have grow around it, and there's piles of builders rubbish showing signs that they have been there for a while. I did see two men midst the gravel/weed roadway apparently looking and discussing the building, but it seems so extra ordinary that such a grand building would be empty or neglected.
The photo does not do justice to the building - it is far bigger than the photo shows, but I could not get close to it at all.

Monday, 13 October 2008

A ride on the wild side.

Yesterday I did some lesson planning work in the morning and in the afternoon went for a bicycle ride along towards a golf course not far from the university. Even on a Sunday the roads are chaotic here, but there is a road parallel to the main road way which is safer for motor cycles and cyclists to use and it was that route that I took.

The buses in particular have loud horns and more than once I nearly lost my balance as a speeding bus tooted to let a car or cyclist know that it was passing. So loud!

On the side of the road there was a woman killing a chicken - poor think was tied by the feet and hanging upside down from a tree as she killed it with a knife. I kept riding.

Some of the gardens are wonderful along this route - even little lakes and canals surrounded by beautiful gardens. I turned up Yang Ming Lu (Road) following the route to the golf course, but did not get close to it really, though it looked fabulous. As with all housing, golf and other estates there are guards at the gate. I did pass what I now believe to be the police academy - which was a huge building surrounded by gardens and the parade ground. Looked pretty fancy really!

Across the road from the academy was an amazing building that seems to be unfinished for quite a while. It was quite a handsome building but something must have happened to stall the progress. Weeds grow up around it, and it looks rather strange. Just so exotic.

I discovered a young lady trying to ride a bicycle while she carried her baby. The baby was around 8 or 9 months old I think, certainly sitting up by itself and made it quite impossible to ride. She carried the baby in one arm, while trying to steer the bike with the other and going up hill found it impossible.

The area was beside a mountain, and the rocks, lakes and shrubbery made a pretty picture. I peeped through a huge brick wall and saw a flock of ducks enjoying a swim in a lake. Having their last swim before they become someone's dinner?

It has been threatening to rain for several days, but as yet not a spot of rain, however, it was getting late in the day, and the sky was getting darker so I pedalled bck to the campus.

Being a blonde around here is quite funny - people nearly lose balance on their cycles as they gawk at me as I ride by.

A great ride though - I was gone from the campus for over and hour and was quite worn out when I returned. Made for a good sleep though.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Chinese Opera

We made it! We made it to the Opera! The Chinese Opera!

Last semester when I arrived in Shaoxing, I discovered the Opera House. Apparently modelled on the famed Sydney Opera House. As one of my goals was to learn as much as I could about Chinese culture, I was keen to attend a performance of Chinese opera. I asked students, and at our International Exchange office. I think everyone thought I had lost the plot. Chinese opera is not popular with the young folk of China now, anyway, and despite the promises of a number of people to get back to me with information, none did. I did visit the box office of the Opera House but no one spoke English, and I came away with a flyer, all in Chinese, and in the end didn’t get anywhere with it all.

In the second week after I returned to China, we met a distinguished gentleman from the local opera, who promised to get information to us about local performances, but he too failed to do so.
So one day I again approached the box office of the Shaoxing Opera House, and found out that a famed company from Sichuan was performing this week, and we duly booked tickets. That in itself was hilarious. We had decided to pay top money for the tickets – and when attempting to negotiate our preferred seating found some challenges. No English spoken again. But we did get our six tickets in the front row. Sign language, some Chinese, and lots of pointing. The girl seemed to indicate that the theatre would be full. Anyway, we felt it quite an achievement when we left with our tickets.

Later another couple expressed interest in attending with us – and they easily managed to get tickets. The theatre was certainly not booked out!

So last night, in good time we arrived at the impressive theatre on the edge of city square in Shaoxing. The “opera house” if that is what it is really called, was a spectacular sight, all lit up. We easily managed to get in and into our seats. The theatre was quite impressive. Comfortable seats and even the information to the audience about not taking photos etc was in Chinese and English. I wondered if they did that only on nights when they knew a few “foreigners” were in the audience.

The performance started right on 7.30 pm, and continued until 8.45 pm. No interval. The performers certainly worked hard during that time. Chinese Opera is a mixture of singing, acting dance, and acrobatics. The story was of a heroine, and a bad man. But what the whole story was about we did not understand. The performance was in a traditional ancient Chinese language, and on either side of the stage were electronic signs that featured the dialogue in Chinese characters. Of course we did not understand.

The costumes were amazing. Colourful, different, beautiful. The sets were excellent, the performance was most interesting, despite our obvious challenge in understanding all that was going on. The acrobatics were great. There was even fire spitting!

Between the stage and audience, and hidden from us all was the orchestra pit. Almost 20 musicians played traditional Chinese instruments. One of my favourites is the halusi.
At the end, the full cast appeared on stage to much applause and the key performers were given bunches of flowers. There was a standing ovation and people walked to the front of the theatre to applaud and peep down at the orchestra.

When the performance was over, our group congregated in the foyer to discuss briefly what we had seen. We were the last to leave – it seems that everyone left the theatre environs immediately after the show. Yes, we did have our photos taken in the theatre by audience members. Nothing unusual for us though.

Just before we were asked to leave, there were a couple of people standing looking at us – and the young man said he was so impressed to see so many “foreigners” in attendance. We got chatting as we left the theatre and it appears that he, a Chinese from Sichuan province, is also a teacher at the same university as us. He quickly gave me his name card, and has offered to keep us informed of other cultural performances in Shaoxing.

We all agreed it was a good night, well worth going despite our obvious lack of comprehension of it all.

I can tick that off my list of things to do in China.

For more information on Chinese opera - click here or here

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Old and the New

Shaoxing is a modern city. In the city square is an old temple. Beside the temple and below is a huge supermarket. In the square is a huge water feature built around the map of Shaoxing showing its canals.
As well in a glassed in building is a full scale model of the city of Shaoxing. Extra ordinary.
Beside the city square is the Shaoxing Opera House. Modelled on the Sydney Opera House.
There are wonderful gardens in the city square - lots of "garden rooms" so people can sit quietly and reflect whiles just meters away the crazy traffic of this Chinese city fights its way along the main road. Such contrasts. Old and New. Peace and Turmoil.

Bat Nuts

I posted earlier about some strange nuts that I was given. You can see the photos here. You might also see at the bottom of that post that someone has given nformation about these strange things.

You can read more here too.

Anyone for Duck?

Food stalls in China seem to be on every street corner, and it is always fascnating to see what is going on. This duck stall was in the suburbs of Shanghai. We couldn't understand what was going on, except that these poor ducks had been killed and de feathered - probably right there behind the colection of awnings and umbrellas, and they hung like a row of terracotta warriors around a big boiler or roaster.
It was a regular at this street corner - but is the last week or so, the stall just disappeared.

A visit to the supermarket

Yesterday my friend and I had an interesting couple of hours in Shaoxing. First of all we purchased tickets to a Chinese opera. There is a building in the city which is a "copy" of the Sydney Opera House. I'll try and post a photo of it later. It is not my first attempt to get to see some traditional Chinese Opera. I've been thwarted by the language barrier, and the lack of interest by my students who had "offered" to help me. It seems that young people have no interest in the old culture of their country.

In any case armed with the correct about of money, we set out to buy 6 tickets to a performance from the Sichuan Opera Company. It really was hilarious as we used sign language, our book of Chinese words, a few Chinese and English words, and eventually we got front row tickets for the performance tonight.

Then, happily we went to the supermarket. The big Trust Mart in the centre of town, to buy a few snacks for a trip on a canal by boat that we did last night. Venturing into a supermarket is always and adventure. Young people will approach us for our cell phone number, a chat, a photo - any one or all of these. Older people will stand and stare at us, and even look into our supermarket trolley to see what we buy. See what we eat.

Finding one's way around the supermarket shelves is not too difficult. These days many of the familiar brands from home are easy to identify - so for most things it is easy. Fresh food, packaged food - well that is different.

The supermarket has a lot of live fish and animals. A huge tank where you catch your own fish. Smaller tanks with frogs, tortoises, eels, crabs, prawns etc. Catch them yourself. Meat is sitting on beds of ice - and the locals handle it all, looking to see which piece has the most meat, or the least fat, or the least bone.

The food handling procedures that we are familiar with, are not yet part of the scene in China. Although they are clean. Workers wear clean uniforms, rubber boots, hair nets, and gloves. There are some times when we just shudder a little as we pass by.

Yesterday we were looking at cakes - the Chinese make marvellous cakes - when a bag of something jumped up on another supermarket trolley. A huge fish, recently caught from the tank, was protesting it's capture in the big plastic bag and much to our surprise leaped as if trying to escape. Quite frightened us!

Then when we had eventually completed our loading of our trolley, we got on a queue to get to the cash register. They actually have televisions so that you can while away the time on the queue. It took nearly half an hour to make it to the cash register. Shame we could not understand the telly.

The joys of shopping in China.

Monday, 6 October 2008

What are these?

We have had a week's holiday for National Day as I have mentioned and the campus was quiet. Lovely. Over the weekend the students started arriving back, and one called me. She had a gift from her mother for me. So I met her near one of the class buildings and came back to my apartment.
She gave me a bag full of strange things. I had no idea of what they were. She bit one with her teeth and crunched off one of the "wing'" bits. Inside it is like a potato but is in fact it is some sort of water chestnut.
I am not sure what they are called in English. The students call them Da Lin - but I cannot find any other information.

Crowds on holiday

We all agree that holiday time is NOT the time to go touring in China. It is at this time that the Chinese people choose to TRAVEL, SHOP and TOUR.

All trains, buses and the roads are very busy. In the cities around shops there are always huge crowds as many retail outlets offers special discount for holidays. The crowds are quite a shock for those of us that come from countries with less vlume of population.
We did do some touring on our holiday week. Golden Week. The holiday around National Day. But we are glad we did not go far. Other foreign teachers here went to Beijing and reported on the crowds that made visiting very difficult - although one story is fascinating. One couple who live in the apartment beside mine were riding bicycles around Beijing and came across one of the other foreign teachers who lives on the fourth floor above them. How amazing that they should accidentally meet up in that crowded city.

We went to Hangzhou, into the city of Shaoxing, and two of the local scenic spots. Lu Xun Walk, where the life of the famous write Lu Xun is celebrated. And we also went to East Lake, which is written up in the tour guides as "on a par" with the West Lake of Hangzhou. Hardly.

Mind you with the crowds, it did dull the tourist senses. So many people. The highlight of the visit to East Lake was the Chinese opera being performed in a pavilion at the far end of the lake. We had commented that there was very little "Chinese culture" in the celebration of the 59 years since the People's Republic of China was formed.
One of the foreign teachers went to Shanghai and queued for 4 and a half hours to get into the Jinmao Tower. Oh, the pain!
Sadly our touring time is always during holidays.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Golden Week

Chinese people celebrated National Day on October 1st. It is 59 years since the People's Republic of China was formed. They are looking forward to the celebration next year - 60 years. Should be a big one.

Oddly we see very little of the celebration of this National Day. When we have asked the students, they say that it is "celebrated" by being with family and shopping. Shopping is the favourite hobby of Chinese. They say it. Shopping is what friends do together.

I would like to see more traditional Chinese celebrations. Perhaps national dancing, music or similar, but if these sort of events are held, we don't know where they are. We don't see them. Maybe the many Chinese posters advertise these sort of events, but we can't read them. In any case, the students don't know. They say the celebrations are just visiting family and shopping.

Certainly the city shopping areas are busy. This is the time when many sales are held. It is the beginning of autumn so winter clothes are appearing in the fashion shops, and the stores are getting rid of summer stock at discount prices. The shopping frenzy that Chinese people seem to participate in is quite amazing. It is hard to register that much of the world think that China is more third world. Anything but in the affluent cities.

Our visit to Hangzhou on Monday reminded us that a holiday period is not a good time to travel around here. Even in Shaoxing the crowds have been hard to deal with. The busses are packed. Standing room only. No limit on the numbers on a bus here. Pack them in. Tightly. Hang on to your purse. Pickpockets find these times easy pickings.

Sue and I did go to Lu Xun Walk this week. Again it was packed. Lu Xun was one of China's best known modern writers. He wrote several books including Diary of a Madman and Medicine. He was born in Shaoxing, and left here to study abroad. He eventually returned to China, was forced to hide in Shanghai when the Kuomintang determined that his books were unsuitable. H eventually died in Shanghai.

Along Lu Xun Walk is his former residence, a memorial hall, and his former school. We did not go into the exhibits but strolled the street looking at the shops, and scenery. We found a restaurant along the walk and dined there. Much to the amusement of the passing traffic. We had a great meal there, and found the staff spoke English and the menu was in English too.

Later we went in a Shaoxing boat. A rather hilarious journey (overspriced) along a small stretch of canal, where I had to "duck" frequently as the boat went under low bridges and I might have been 'beheaded' if I had kept my head up. It made for a lot of laughs.

We bought a few things. Sue looks great in her new Shaoxing hat - the black heavy felt cap the older men wear during winter. Looks great on her.

We left the Lu Xun area, wandered around the old markets and eventually ended up at a restaurant called Brigadoon. Now the names of some places in China are completedly strange. I had never been before, but it was quite a nice little restaurant. English was spoken a little. We discovered they make great cocktails, so we will visit on another occasion.

Save the crowds it was a good day.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

So many people

We were up early on Monday morning - and met with the other foreign teachers at 7.30 am to catch a taxi to the Railway Station in Shaoxing. We all had our tickets for Hangzhou - and were looking forward to a good day. When we arrived at the station, I remembered why I didn't like travelling at holiday time. The queue to get through security stretched from the station right out to the roadway. So many people trying to catch trains.

(I heard later that from Shanghai on that day 700 trains departed from the main station - these were long distance trains - just imagine the workload for the railway staff!!!)

We did eventually get through and made our way to the crowded noisy waiting room. The system here is that you wait in the "waiting hall" until just before your train is due, when they will open two gates and you get your ticket checked and then go to the platform and line up where your carriage number (check your ticket) is due to stop.

The train comes from Ningbo, on its way to Hangzhou and probably Shanghai - I didn't look. We duly lined up, and when our train arrived there was the usual crush to get in, hardly giving time or space for those who are alighting.

Always when you get on there is someone else sitting in "your" seat. Many people don't buy tickets for seats, and just hope that a "vacant" seat is available. No such luck on this day. We moved on those people who had taken up our seats, and sat on the seats for which we had paid.
There is so much activity on the train - so many people shouting, phones rining, children shrieking and so forth. It is rather fun, but tiring after a while. We arrived at the East Bus station and joined the throngs as they left the train, walked along the station, down stairs, along a concourse, up stairs, tickets checked and out into the busy chaotic streets with hawkers, bikes, e-bikes, food stalls, shouting. We made our way to the bus. Now here I must explain. One of the challenges when travelling in a group. One of our number "knew" the way on the bus. Sure, we got on the right bus, but she can only tell how to get there if she can see the route from the front of the bus. The bus was crowded and she was pushed to the back of the bus.

Some of us, despite the fun we had on the bus, would rather have caught a taxi to the Silk Market. Just a few RMB more. But, we'd been "outvoted" and the bus won out.

We asked someone on the bus to tell us where to get off for the silk market. In the end the whole back end of the bus got involved as everyone tried to help direct us. It was hilarious. Old people, young people, everyone - adding their thoughts to the discussion. Eventually we were told "three more stops" and duly arrived at the Silk Market.

The "Silk Market" is a purpose built commercial area with small shops selling silk items. There are shops fronting the street, and now another row is being built behind them. On a quiet day it is very pleasant, but it was holiday time and the street was very busy with shoppers from foreign tourists like us, to locals.

The street itself is a "walking" street, but all sorts of smaller vehicles ply their trade through the street. Folk on bicycles, folk on e-bikes with two, three or so people clinging to it as it winds its way among the pedestrians, and tricycles carting boxes, food, and all sorts of items traverse the walking street, so one has to have one's wits about them, or risk tangling with these vehicles.

My purchases were minimal - although I enjoy the experience I have been twice before, and I really wasn't in need of buying anything. I did manage a couple of bargains - more pashminas.

Two hours later we had had enough of the Silk Market and ready to move on to our next destination.