Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Fruit for Christmas

My Christmas gifts this year were quite unusual. Quite a few students gave me fruit. Several apples, a large basket of small oranges or mandarins (which I have happily shared with other foreign teachers - there were too many for just one person. And a Dragon Fruit.

Some students knitted me scarves. Now at Christmas in Australia, a scarf would be the last thing on the Christmas list! I have two new purple scarves and one delightful fluffy white, yellow, blue and green model. Certainly essential wear here in winter.

I had eaten these fruit in Australia and seen them here, though I don't recall every having a whole one in my kitchen. I do miss my Kitchen Whizz here - could have made a great juice with it, using all of the fruit I have in the kitchen.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The final assessment

As part of the assessment for my Oral English students I chose to do a short interview - asking a few questions about the way they choose to practice their English conversation skills, and then do a reading for me.

At the mid semester I did the interviews just outside the classroom door, but it is too cold right now, so I arranged to do it in the Green Cafe, which is a new modern coffee place on the campus.

I tried to get some 6 students at a time - but without an assistant that was not the way it was and the students "en masse" migrated to the Cafe. It was quite a novelty for them - though they didn't spend any money - just tried to get to do their test before their friends. A little distracting but I managed it.

The tests went well really, although several students interrupted to ask about my leaving date, and say nice things to me. Were they trying to influence the "tester"? In any case each time the subject arose, I suggested that we talk about it next week. Some of the students really think they are "in love" with their foreign teacher - touching, but I find it somewhat unusual!

In one class their is only one male student. Nice looking guy - and given quite a hard time by the rest of his classmates. His English is quite good - but he needs to practice more, but it is not always easy.

At the end of the "test" when I told him (as I told all of the students) to have confidence and to practice more, he said "Can I hug you?"

Trying to influence the tester??? Mmmmm.

No, I said, next week, on my last day in class you can hug me. What a day that will be!!!!


Lu Xun (Lou Shin) is famous in Shaoxing. He was a poet and writer during the early 1900's in the old city of Shaoxing, although he later went to live in Shanghai and died there where there is also a famous place to celebrate his life and work.

But he was born in Shaoxing and one of the most popular tourist places here is the village where he was born, and where he started is amazing career.

He was born in 1881 and spent his early years here in Shaoxing. In fact he went to school here and in one of the displays is his desk on which he carved "early" in Chinese characters to remind himself that he must be early to school.

His ancenstral home is preserved - which was recorded as being built in 1754 - and various other places here to record his amazing life. Lu Xun was his pen name, but that is he name that people are more familiar with - not his real name.

At weekends and public holidays Lu Xux walk is ful of Chinese visitors coming to see the place that they know well from the stories.

There is a big construction site at one end of the walk and here one is always accosted by tricycle (rickshaw) riders wanting to take you on a tour. The area is a bit messy due in part to the construction and I imagine when the construction is completed there will be a whole new vista here.

Along the walk are many stalls selling all sorts of items - fromthe antiques at the antique market at the entrance, and in the little alley ways, from the paper cut stalls, wine stalls where the famous Shaoxing Yellow Rice wine is sold in barrels, to all sorts of items connected with, or totally unconnected with Shaoxing and Lu Xun.

I have not as yet been in the halls and residences, but hope to do that before I leave here. I have a ticket which will give me free entry to them, so I had best use it before I go.

We found what appears to be a new, or at least newly renovated wine shop too - oh, how I wish I did not have a limit on my luggage back to Australia.

A picture with many stories

It was Sunday December 28th - cold and wet miserable day in downtown Shaoxing. We'd stopped to watch part of the wedding procession that was in progress but had stopped - they'd "lost" the bride's car.

In the background you can see the brass band on the back of the small truck. It is tradition in Shaoxing for this little band of merriment to play while leading the procession of 6 - 8 prettily decorated vehicles around the city. Rain or Shine - it doesn't matter. Of course you can see it was raining and the musicians had their uniforms protected by an assortment of waterproof garments.

They were stopped out the front of McDonalds, waiting for the bride's car. They were playing "Oh, Susannah, oh, don't you wait for me....." and my friends and I stopped to take a photo, and the band played on and soon we "dancing and singing with the music" much to the amusement of the ladies on cleaning duty in the street.

My friend from Shanghai was not familiar with the wedding tradition and she was fascinated. The muso's kept playing, we took photos and danced and the cleaning trio thought we were all quite amusing.

Moments later, more vehicles appeared - the bride looking very beautiful in her very un-Chinese weddng gown, and vehicle with the photographer standing up with his head and shoulders through the opening in the roof of the car continuing to take the movie of the events.

This wedding procedure is traditional Shaoxing at its best.

More laughs in my Chinese adventure.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Living in a demolition zone

In Australia if a building is being demolished it is a "no go zone" - fences are erected to keep people out. Here in China I have seen some quite curious (by our standards) things in many of the buildings being demolished and there is no shortage of them around Zhejiang province alone.

Many buildings are past their "use by date" and are being slowly pulled down, and people previously living in the units or homes have been relocated to other places. Oddly in many of them there appears to be people still living in them - with the demolition very close to their living quarters.

If you look closely at the photograph above, you can see washing hanging out of two windows. Now I have no idea of knowing whether the washing has been abandoned, or the people who put it there are squatters, but if it is the latter I would suggest it would be rather precarious living.

I have seen similar in other places and recall seeing on my return from Shanghai a couple of weeks ago, lights on in one part of a building where all around was in a state of chaotic destruction.

I am impressed though that the demolition of many places is done so that many of the bricks, tiles and other building materials can be used again. Not the huge machinery that we often see when a building is coming down, but often teams of men using jack hammers, or swinging mallets, to save as much as they can of the building materials.

Caught Napping

Today the China Daily website carries a story about some workers who were caught napping at a meeting and apparently subsequently sacked. I am sure it will raise quite a bit of interest here in China. I have written before about the strange sleeping or napping habits of many Chinese.

I've wondered how they can just fall asleep so easily. I have known many people in Australia to doze off during boring meetings or conferences, even in lectures. Here in China students fall asleep in class (OK, so they find it boring - but it is common and a complaint from many teachers!), and I see folk asleep in the strangest of places. People standing up in a bus, holding on to the handle dangling from the top of the bus, and sound asleep! We often remark bow easily people fall asleep - on the bus or train is common.

In small shops the owner, or worker is often asleep during the day. I've posted photographs of men asleep in the tray of their tricycles.

As a past nurse I find it a little curious? Not enough protein in their diet? Not enough sleep during normal "sleep hours"? I have no idea, but certainly I have never seen so much sleeping during day time hours. It is not uncommon to go to somewhere like a Dio Coffee Lounge and see Chinese men curled up on the lounge fast asleep during the middle of the day.

So to discover the story on China Daily and such severe punishment for sleeping during a meeting or conference is rather amazing. Incredibly severe penalty for doing something that people are always doing - and I suspect many will continue to do.

I would like to know why there is so much need to sleep during daylight hours. Is is that the working hours are so long? Many people work 6 - 7 days a week. I have been told that they are not supposed to - that employment laws say the that workers should only work 40 hours a week, but that the boss often insists (despite the law) that they do so.

I have been talking with students who are concerned right now about getting work, since the financial crisis has caused some shrinkage of the job market, and young women are being pressed into signing three year contracts. It has been explained to me that this is supposed to protect the worker - but when you learn that they must pay to break their contracts I think it is tough. Many young people taking their first jobs do not know what they want to do - so a long contract can be very difficult for them. I do not know the employment rules, but it seems very high expectation of young people.

McDonalds in Hangzhou

It was freezing in Hangzhou. Though not as cold as it can get. Cold enough for us to scurry into a warm place for a hot cup of coffee and what better place to find both but McDonalds.

As it turns out the street in which this Macca's was, the whole street was in chaos as it is obviously being landscaped. Getting into the McDonalds store was a challenge as we picked our way through piles of stones, a new water feature, and the missing steps into the store.

In any case it had all that we wanted. The coffee was hot and the surroundings were quite cosy. It was here (on December 26th) that the Christmas decorations were being dismantled. If we had stayed much longer we might just have seen them erecting the decor for Chinese new year.

The wearing of masks.

I think we have all seen vision on television or on film of Chinese people wearing surgical masks, or something that resembles surgical masks. I have always wondered why, and perhaps this post will give some explanation.

I remember asking a student once about it and he said in a rather vague way that he thought they were suffering from some disease. In typical Chinese style if it is not in "their radar" or they have no need to know, they just don't know.

Of course in supermarkets or in health centres masks are worn. In the supermarkets if the staff work with food (butchers, hot box, rice wine etc) the staff will wear masks, and of course doctors and nurses wear them in medical centres. The latter is to be expected.

Now the cold weather is here many more people wear them. I now know it is because of the cold. I can tell from first hand experience that the cold air in one's mouth can cause a sensitive tooth to ache. If one is riding a bicycle, or a motorised vehicle the cold air rushing into the mouth and nose can be uncomfortable.

In the last few weeks I've seen wonderful designer masks - complete with little flowers on them. Coloured masks with decorations. Quite cute really.

So now when I see Chinese folk wearing masks, I will not automatically think that they have some health problem, although I do know that some folk will add a mask to their daily wear if they do have a "cold" or want to prevent one.

Crushing Peanuts

We were visiting Hefeng Street in Hangzhou, when we came across this sweet stall. There were two fit young men, armed with wooden mallets smashing some sort of peanut sweet. Smash, bang, crash as the peanuts were crushed, and then the sweet was carved into neat squares. We did not buy any - but watched in fascination as they were made.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Lost in Hangzhou

We have discovered that many Chinese people cannot read maps, and get lost frequently. Again we have been lost - but it was not our doing this time.

The foreign teachers who have renewed their contracts for 2009 are required to have a medical examination and it must be done in the special centre in Hangzou. So it was organised for a bus to take the foreign teachers on Boxing Day - December 26th. Two of us, who did not need to have a medical - were offered a trip to Hangzhou anyway. And so it was that I was one of the passengers of the bus.

Everyone who has done the trip witht the college bus reports the same. Despite the fact that several trips a year are made to this place, the bus driver can never find the way there. We thought it might be OK this time, but when we discovered we were heading back out of the city, before we had found the medical centre, it was obvious that the driver was indeed lost again!

So the bus stopped - awkwardly on an intersection I might add - and our 'guide' jumped into a taxi to guide the bus to its destination. But it was peak hour traffic in Hangzhou and for a while we "lost" the taxi!

Thank goodness for mobile phones!

We soon "found" the taxi, and followed closely, but the taxi got lost too! And we foreigners (English speakers who can read Chinese signs a little - and obviously better than our Chinese driver) - were further amazed when we missed the turn off - again!

So eventually the taxi, followed by the bus, stopped some distance from the medical centre and the folk had to walk!

We certainly saw the funny side of the whole episode, especially as one of the men was really keen to pee, and he was almost distraught by the time the bus eventually stopped. One of the other passengers who suffers from motion sickness was also in a mess as the constant stopping, turning and backtracking did not help her condition.

Not once can anyone remember getting to the Medical Centre without being lost! And it was our Chinese "guides" sent to help us as we might not find our way on our own - that were almost most confused.

Just another funny story to tell about our adventures in China.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas from China.

My best wishes for a very Merry Christmas to all who read my blog. It is quite interesting to see how much the Chinese people are celebrating Christmas - they love festivals, and though they are not Christian they are joining in or crating celebratory events.

Monday, 22 December 2008


This morning it is cold - and it snowed for the first time. Not a lot as you can see - and I didn't see it fall, but it is there none the less. The temperature gauge says -2, but there is a wind blowing so outside it feels a lot colder than that.

I don't know if we will have any more snow forecast - but hopefully we will see a little more of it.

There is a little snow on the car which was parked there overnight. Actually the guy that drives that car is currently in Victoria, Australia. My apartment is directly behind the snow covered car. Ground floor (or first floor as it is known here) - I'm told it is warmer than the floors above.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Dinkum dunnies

Most of the toilets in homes and public places are what we call "squat toilets" not the western style sit on dunny (toilet) that we are more familiar with. It is exciting to see so many plumbing/bathroom supply shops with pedestal toilets and hopefully more will be installed in public places.

As well, it would be good to see the public loos cleaned well - as some of them are quite a challenge to "go" to.

Chinese children in winter

Babies being carried in baby holders on the back of their mothers. Sometimes it is impossible to see the baby, as they are well rugged up during winter.

Often the little children play on the streets in front of the shops that their mother or father own. I'm not sure about this little fellow, but he was certainly enjoying his activities with the game that he had to bang on the little characters that popped up from the holes.

The little children are well rugged up during winter - and we find it slightly amusing that they are so dressed that they would have trouble walking, or bending their knees or elbows - such is the thickness of the clothes that they wear. This little fellow as being carried by his mother in a cane basket - I suspect that they are strapped in. These baskets are common and carried on the backs of the women who come from villages.

Food drying in the streets

Out in the streets in the midst of all the human and other traffic, and dust and pollution are rows of foods drying. We saw fish, chickens, ducks, pieces of pork and other meats, sausages. We saw people making the sausages with big bowls of meat (it looked like pork, and soy sauce) and they used parts of plastic bottles as their funnel, and at one place we saw a woman on the footpath cleaning out pig intestines which are used for the skin of the sausages.

Quite an array of fish - obviously cleaned and opened up - some of the fish and chicken were held open with small wooden skewers.

Hanging out in the street to dry - rather strange sight to us!

Vegetables are drying too. These were on a bridge over a canal on a busy street - hard to tell how much dust and other foreign matter they would collect. Dogs, cars, carts, and spitting men pass this spot continuously.

In the village the sausage shop had rows and rows of product drying.

Drying sausages - almost like a curtain near the canal.

Duck in a tree and othe dried bits

Winter is upon us and the locals continue their preparations. Apparently this time of year is good for preparing all sorts of dried foods. I had seen racks of dried fish and chicken in Shaoxing, but in Hangzhou I was amused to find the dried foods hanging with the washing.

On our adventure to Anchung we discovered a lot more dried foods. In fact it was everywhere.

We went into the grounds of a temple (for which I did not have to pay the 35 RMB entry fee because of my new tourist card!) and there looking like a strange sacrificial beast, was this duck drying out in a tree in the main court yard. The duck had lost it's feathers and feet - but otherwise appeared intact.

It looked quite an odd sight sitting (or hanging) in the tree.

Other dried foods here.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Another Amazing Adventure

When I tell the folks back home that every day is an adventure here - I know it is true, but we talk about how impossible it is to explain it all to everyone. It sounds like we are all crackers - but it is what happens. The language and the culture barrier hits at every turn!

Three of us had planned to go to
Anchung - an ancient village near Keqiao, which is about 45 minutes from Shaoxing. There are several buses that go from the bus station near the college, so we walked to this bus station and were told that we could get on one of the two buses that were ready to go.

It wasn't long before we realised that we were on the wrong bus. It did head in the right direction, but eventually headed through small villages, through fields where the rice had just been harvested, and through places that didn't look like they were on the way to our
destination. In the end we chose to get out of the bus and walk around while we worked out our next "step".

It was
probably not a very old village - but it was dusty and dirty. Above the village were great rock formations, but it was not easy to get photos of it. We walked around the village, looking for a bus stop for bus number 118. We knew that we needed to be on this bus to get to Anchung. We waited at a bus stop, but in the mean time all the men at the bus stop - very friendly and chatty - convinced us to ride on a tut-tut to get to Anchung, so after negotiating a price, we set off. These little carts are most uncomfortable - we felt every bump on the long and bumpy road, and we watched in awe as we almost sideswiped more than one vehicle on our journey, but in the end we were safely deposited at the entrance to Anchung. We chose to look for some food first and ended up in a restaurant where no one spoke English, but with a lot of pointing managed to get a fabulous meal - pork and mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas, rice and eggplant. It was very tasty!

From there we walked into the old village - which at first seemed to be deserted, but we soon found ourselves in the midst of a whole range of stalls and shops parallel to the river. It certainly was old territory there.

Everywhere there were chickens and ducks or parts thereof, and ausages and fish hanging to dry for the winter. Quite an odd sight as often the dried meats are haning with the washing!

I bought a couple of things that I had wanted to buy, and as we wandered in amongst the dried fish, dried chicken and ducks and sausages hanging on lines, a Chinese girl called out to me. "Hello teacher" - I was most surprised. She had been a student in a class I taught some months earlier in
Keqiao. Hard to believe!!!! Shirley was great - she had her own business apparently - a Shaoxing Wine shop - so we spent quite a bit of time there with here - and we purchaed some of the wine to take home in beautiful ceramic jars. (How we get it back will be another story!!!)

Then we found a fabulous knit shop - where the guy had a few English words and we had so many laughs with him as he struggled to communicate with us with his converstion peppered with the exclamation "Oh, my God!" We made some fine purchases there!!!

On we went - until we walked out of the ancient village into a busy street. We asked some one about the 118 bus to get back and we were sent to a street, which quite clearly was not going to get us onto the right bus. We had young kids and old folk all trying to talk with us - so manylaughs and so many "tinboudongs."

Eventually three girls who were also waiting for a bus which didn't come helped us get into a tut-tut which took us to a bus stop where bus 118 was supposed to come. WE discovered that was not the case - so in desperation we flagged down a taxi which for 50 RMB took us all the way back to the university campus. I think we laughed all the way.

The Wedding

It is apparently a lucky time to get married here in China. When walking early yesterday morning around 8.30 am I was rather surprised to see weddings underway.

Later on in the day I was in Shengli Lu (Shengli Road) in Shaoxing and was in time to see a bride and her new husband leave a building and with all the excitement, walk to her car. I quickly got my camera going. There is always a brass band of 5 or 6 people in red outfits, including drums that play a rather boring tune.

Rather than walking on a red carpet there were men scurrying around making sure the bride stepped on the hessian bags - I don't know the significance of this. (Couldn't afford the red carpet perhaps?)

As the party emerged from the building these "poles" were activated spraying the wedding party with thousands of sparkling bits of paper.

It is only a very short clip as I "lost" the couple in the crowded street.

Just start the video. Click on it and enjoy.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Shaoxing hats and boats.

It is not easy to see but the guy in the top photo is clearly doing the "V" sign and you can see some of the men wearing Shaoxing Hats which are famous here. I don't know what they are made of, but most of the older men wear them all winter. Apparently they keep the head warm very well.

I think I know someone with little hair on his head that might look good in a Shaoxing hat!

Reflections on water

Every time I go on one of the buses from "the big bus station" or the long distance bus station (same place!), I see wonderful scenery along the river. It is not possible to take photos from the window, so I decided to go to the long distance bus station and walk along the river to take photos.

The river is quite wide here and for quite some distance is parallel to the river. I had talked of riding my bicycle along the river, but it would be an all day ride just from the university. I would like to spend more time along the river, but today's effort will have to suffice.

For a start I had the challenge of getting across the highway. It was around 8.30 am, so the roads are pretty busy here at that time, and there was no space provided for pedestrians, so I had to wait for breaks in traffic to get accross. One thing I hadn't bargained on is dogs - guard dogs near a fishing hut. Happily after they'd nearly scared the life out of me, I realised that they were tied up, but I still scurried on!

I walked for some distance along the pathways and into some rather neglected public gardens, but managed some fabulous photos.

At one stage I found some men in some boats (sampans we might call them) and they called out to me. They saw me taking photos and posed for a photo, which will be in the next post. We laugh because most Chinse young people do the "V" for victory sign with their fingers when having a photo taken, and so did these men!

There are fish farms in the river, as well as pearl farms - as this area is a big pearl growing area.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Fruit in toffee

One of my favourite snacks is toffeed fruit. On this occasion the venor was in the village, and had not long set up in the lane. Strawberries have just come on the market and he was selling six strawberries on a skewer with a small apple type fruit at the end.

They are sticky, and delicious!

In the village

Across from the campus is a "village" - actually a series of lane ways that meander through little shops and cafes, where vendors set up every day hoping to make a few kwai from the students - with 10,000 of them on the campus nearby it is quite an attraction.

I had a piece of fabric with the words "Merry Christmas" in red and green printing across it, but I wanted it hemmed, so I went over to the village because I know there are ladies there with treadle machines right in the laneways who will do any stitching at a low price.

My ask was for the hem to be stitched all around - which the lady did as I stood waiting beside here, trying to dodge the traffic as it hurled through the narrow alley way. She charged me just 2 RMB - which is around A42 cents. I paid her double. I was pleased with her work, and now I have a Christmas tablecloth!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Hefang Street

Old Hefang Street was a great find! Why had I not seen it before? I have no idea. When we go to Hangzhou we usually end up at the Silk Market, but this street was wonderful.

Whiles the real old Hefang Street was ruined some years ago, it has been recreated. There were Chinese entertainers, wonderful shops selling all sorts of goodies from food (many restaurants), tea, linen, silk quilts, musical instruments, Chinese arts and crafts, artifacts. Everything!

We did not go all along - but I am not worried. I will go there again soon, and I will get there when we stay in Hangzhou next month, just before we return to Australia.

This is some of what I came to see. Real Chinese entertainers. Real Chinese stuff.

Add Image

Our next stop - Wishen Square

Two Canadian Foreign Teachers with Father Christmas.

The short walk took us into Wishen Square - and I had not been there before. First of all we came to the ceramic market - which had not long ago been in Shaoxing. Lots of huge ceramic pots and other wares on sale there.

Just beyond that was a promotion fo some sort - so many children leanring to put together gingerbread men for Christmas.

Standing to one side was Father Christmas wearing quite a simple outfit that would be laughed at in Australia. But he posed for a photo with two of the Canadian teachers.

By now it was around 10 am - and the crowds were beginning to build up. There were lots of market stalls and other activities in the park, and many people climbing stairs to heaven knows where. we followed our guide slowly through the square until we came ot a wonderful shopping/walking street called Hefang Street. I was in awe.

What a great place.

Orioles Singing in the Willows

The leaves have fallen from the Willows now, but the avenue of weeping Willows is rather stark as the leaves have fallen with the cold weather. The trunks of the trees have been painted white. I was told it was in part to keep them warm, but I also learn that the white paint has some chemical that kills parasites. I think this is in preparation for wrapping the trees in rope. The process is to keep the trees warm and strong during winter.

Between the avenue of Willows is some wonderful stone carvings with willows and birds. At the entrance is the round stone with the carvings of many birds (orioles) . You can read more about it here.

I have been there when the grass was a brilliant green, and the green leaves on the willows helped make a very pretty picture.

Hangzhou weekend

Around the West Lake.

I went to Hangzhou for the conference for foreign teachers, and there was a proposed tour of Hangzhou in the afternoon of Sunday, but as the conference was scarce on numbers it finished n the Saturday afternoon, and the conference organisers offered a tour of the city on the Sunday morning.

Our first stop was the West Lake and the Su Causeway which takes one across from one side of the lake to the other. Our bus took us to the start and was there waiting when we finished. There were already quite a few people walking whe we arrived not long after 8 am, so it would have been packed later.

There were some beautiful photo opportunities - and with the water so still, there were some wonderful reflections. It is not surprising to hear that this has been voted by many as one of the most beautiful spots in China.

We visited the site of the Southern Song Imperial City and the Orioles Singing in the Willows. Our guide was not a tour guide - so it took us a while to understand that when she stopped walking we were "at" the place that was on our sheet!

I had previously been to the Orioles Singing in the Willows but did not know it then. We got back on the bus and after a short distance on the bus, it stopped and we walked to Wishen Square and Jefang Street. Wow! That was wonderful.