Thursday, 29 January 2009

Wine and women

In Shaoxing during my visit to the Lu Xun Native Place I visited many of the exhibits. Each corner I turned I found something else of interest - and had a lot more questions to ask, but often no one to ask.

In one small corner I found a small room with a table on which there were many Shaoxing Wine Jars, and two young ladies painstakingly painting them. They did not look up, just kept on with their work. Perhaps the wine bottles were on sale in one or more of the wine shops in the place, but I did not see the finished article in my journey. Perhaps they are boxed for sale, I do not know.

There was no sign in English that explained what was going on - I can only guess that these wine bottles would be filled with the famous Shaoxing Yellow Rice Wine. Perhaps getting ready for the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Shen's Garden

It took me a long time to discover these places. Sadly there didn't appear to be any brochures/information in English, so bit by bit I found my way around to these interesting places.

Shen's Garden is not far from Lu Xun's Native Place - in fact the area has quite a few interesting places as I discovered.

Shen's Garden was tucked away behind some shops and the sign "Shenyuan Vieware
a" was a bit misleading. If I wasn't actually looking for "Shen's" garden I might have missed it!

Again I used my Tourist Card, but this time had to supply my fingerprint. There was a pad that I had to press my finger on before I was admitted. Anyway, they let me in.

The garden is some 600 years old and of course belonged to the family Shen, and there is a lot of history here. Not that I learned much about it. There was of course a lake, and performance areas, and I could see that turning up to visit on my last day in Shaoxing was NOT a good idea. Why hadn't anyone told me about the regular performances here? Oh, well, next time........

There were in fact several performance areas in the gardens. These gardens did look a little sad on the day I visited, but it was mid winter. I shall surely visit if I am in Shaoxing in spring!

I wandered around taking photos, and as it turned out having photos taken of me! Yes, in China any foreigner is likely to be part of family photos of Chinese families and I wonder how many photo albums I turn up in! Again I found the Chinese friendly and in one pavilion had quite a chat with a Chinese family. They are all keen to help us, and the sales folk all keen to sell us more stuff, but I was all shopped out. I didn't think there was any room for anything in my luggage now. And by this time I had sent the last of my boxes of things back to Australia. All four of them!

When I came out of Shen's Garden - I had walked through the garden and the exit was a block away. I found it was next to another Shaoxing Museum - and the Shaoxing Library. The latter I might have peeked in, as I am sure there was little I could read there, but the Museum might have been worth a visit. Next time perhaps.

Eventually I found a taxi and returned to the college - but there was obviously a nasty car accident just along from Shen's Garden as their was an almighty traffic jam. On the journey home we passed another accident, where a car and a motor bike had collided and the ambulance had just arrived. How I wish I had my camera at the ready as we passed as the two nurses, complete with white uniform and white nurses caps climbed out of the ambulance to help the injured as we just drove by.

It would have been a good photo to capture!

Still travelling

I've gone from a country with -6 degrees (Shaoxing China on 15th January) to 43 degrees (Adelaide , South Australia, January 28th) - and my poor wracked body is "feeling the heat" in more ways than one. I think I heard that it was likely to be the worst heat wave since 1908!

My folks live in the lovely city of Adelaide - so they were keen to see me after my China adventure, but it always seems to be some record of temperature when I am here (coldest, wettest, hottest etc) so it is no surprise about this heatwave in the midst of summer.

That's just the way it is. No air conditioning in my parents' or sister's homes, but I will manage. Keeping quiet - doing little.

Maybe time to catch up on my writing................................

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Last Days in Shaoxing

I knew I would "run out of time" - there was so much to see and so much to do. There were two places in particular that I had to visit before my departure. I had often walked through Lu Xun Native Place. I'd discovered the little shops, and purchased the lovely sugar candy from the shops there, but I'd never been IN to the various places.

Lu Xun, was born in Shaoxing, and is considered to be one of the greatest Chinese writers of the 20th Century. In this place on either side of the main walking street are places of great interest in Lu Xun's life. His real name was
Zhou Shujian. The Zhou family home is there - and the family garden.

Lu Xun's former residence and the small private school, which is known as Sanwei Shu Wu (Three Flavor Study), that Lu Xun attended are open to visitors.

Lu Xun Memorial Hall is there, and many other exhibits. Lu Xun apparently studied medicine in Japan, so he is also popular in Japan and Japanese tourists visit this tourist place.

I wished I had taken the time to visit this historic place before - certainly NOT the place to visit in a hurry as there is so much to see. I found that in most places there was adequate English to understand. In fact each room had Chinese and English explanations.

The reality is I think this is the most perfect exhibition of ancient China - the gardens, old kitchen, old water tanks, bedrooms, etc. I know that when I return to China - and I am sure I will - I will make my way back to Lu Xun NativePlace again. And take more time next time. I hope that I would have done more research BEFORE I return too.

Adventure on my own

My companion for the two days in Hangzhou was a fellow teacher from Australia - and despite a lot of differences we got on well. She was a nurse, I had been a nurse, she was from Tasmania and I was from the mainland, she liked to smoke, I hate smoking - and so it went. She also liked to stay up late at night, while I liked an early night, and she enjoyed sleeping in while I was an "early bird", so the next morning I was up early, dressed and headed out for breakfast at Starbucks. (Not that I am a great fan of Starbucks, but the food is pretty good and it was close by!)

The lake was a wonderful picture as you can see from the photos. Around the lake in the parks are often groups of people doing their morning exercise. This is a common sight all around China, and even if they do not go out into the parks, people do their daily exercises religiously. It is important for "good health."

I sat and enjoyed my breakfast before setting off to Hefung St. The tourist books said this opened at 8 am - but perhaps that is summer. In any case I set of along Yan'an Road enjoying the new scenery.

At one stage a man came "flying" towards me on roller blades and said "hello". I replied "hello" and he said "Great, you speak English." These sort of conversations are common - not all light skinned foreigners are English speakers! He was asking for direction. Now, of course, I'd not be the best person to ask directions would I? I mean, I'm not a local. But where did he want to go?

Starbucks! How funny! As I had not long ago walked out the door, I certainly knew where it was, and I laughed as I told him the directions! Funny world, isn't it?
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When I reached Hefung Street it was mostly deserted, but some of the stalls and shops were beginning to open. I had come specifically for the music one, but it didn't open in the time I was there.

However, it was great to wander around without crowds milling around and I wandered the whole length of this historic street taking photos and looking in the shops.

I met a calligrapher and he showed me some of his work and I was delighted to buy a little piece, and then I bought a magic trick for my grandson, before I headed back to Wushen Square and caught a taxi back to Starbucks where my fellow traveller was enjoying her breakfast.

We went back to the hotel and grabbed our bags, checked out (and yes, ) we did get the balance of the "deposit" back. However, we did think it was very funny. "Wait a moment" the receptionist said - and the young man who was also working on the counter went up to check. Perhaps he counted the condoms, perhaps the towels, but he soon appeared and we saw his "thumbs up" from the staircase and the money was duly handed over to us.

We found a taxi and headed for the East bus station and got our tickets - and only had to wait 10 minutes for the bus to Shaoxing.

We were back by early afternoon after an uneventful bus journey. Time to finish off preparing for our departure from Shaoxing back to Australia.

A dinner to remember at Shangri La

We set out initially to go to a Holiday Inn Hotel but discovered that it was way out of Hangzhou - we were interested in the buffet and we had asked a young Chinese girl if she could explain where it was - we had an advertisement from More Hangzhou, but she explained it would take 100 RMB in a taxi to get there, so we changed our plans.

The magazine had great things to say about Peppino's at the Shangri La Hotel, which is on the other side of the West Lake from where we were, so we hopped in a taxi and travelled to the hotel that was set in beautiful gardens high above the lake. Now this is a place that I MUST go back to if I return to China. It was a shame that we only had the opportunity to see this place after dark. The hotel was certainly splendid - with a most wonderful piece of artwork in the foyer and another in the restaurant. The food? Absolutely fabulous! We had the Antipasto Buffet - which had a wonderful array of foods. We started with three fabulous breads, and a bottle of great Australian wine. The buffet included real smoked salmon, pate, vegetables as only the Italians do for their antipastos, and real cheese. Now this is something we really missed. CHEESE. The Chinese are not cheese eaters, so this was one of the many Western foods we craved. What a meal! So enjoyable. We noticed that many "foreigners" also enjoyed the restaurant, but there was a fair sprinkling of Chinese too.

After the meal we went back into the little shop near the foyer. These shops are a feature of most upmarket hotels and they sell all manner of expensive Chinese artifacts including Jade jewelery, Jade figurines, tea sets etc. And to our surprise (due to the financial turmoil we were told) there was a 90% discount! Oh, if only we (a) had more room in our suitcases and (b) had money to spare!
Initially we were going to get a taxi from the foyer, but I suggested we at least go down to the lake edge and see the view. I'm glad we did. It was around 10 pm and the night was still, cool, but comfortable and the view of the lights around the lake was almost breathtaking. In the end we walked back to our hotel along the pathway at the edge of the lake. We heard the ducks, we saw the lights and quite amazingly an "airship" flew overhead with one side of it a screen where advertising was being played.

We found a little place for a coffee near the West Lake before walking the last few paces to the hotel.

Back along the West Lake

I could spend a week around Hangzhou and the West Lake and still not be satisfied. There is so much to see - so much to do - so many places to eat and drink! It is alive with tourists and activity.

After our gallery visit we walked around the lake - well, not ALL around, but we followed various paths back and forth past places of interest. We found a little cafe for lunch and watched with interest as the guard on duty in the park nearby did his 'work'. One wonders what first timers in China might think about the heavy numbers of guards, but by and large their are friendly souls with seemingly little to do - unless something goes wrong.

"Our" guard stood quietly behind the building apparently trying to keep out of the cold winds, and then when he did wait on the pathway, he redirected people who had dared walk on the grass, and occasionally gave directions.

We had lunch and wandered back around the little shops and kiosks just taking in the scenery. There were many decorations in preparation for the Chinese New Year (January 26th), and people seemed to be in quite a holiday mood.

We had no agenda, and walked back to the afternoon for a power nap.

West Lake - Hangzhou

Marco Polo visited Hangzhou and said wonderful things about the place which had been an ancient fishing village hundreds of years ago. Now it is a top tourist destination - being not all that far from Shanghai. The West Lake, reputed to be the most beautiful lake in all of China is a feature. Here are some of my photos of the lake taken in January 2009.

Art Galleries

We'd seen an exhibition advertised in More Hangzhou and we had some idea where the gallery was, so we kept walking from the China Silk Museum and the hotel, and eventually came across this building. No where could we see any English, but I thought it was the gallery. As you can see from the photo there was no English visible, although I certainly recall from a previous visit to Hangzhou, that this was a gallery.

The row of cane floral arrangements suggested that something had started. In China these appear in front of new businesses or places where there was a big event occurring, so it was a good guess.

We went in and sure enough there were two floors of beautiful traditional Chinese paintings. we spent quite a lot of time admiring the artwork before heading off back in the direction of our hotel.

Along the way there were several other galleries and we wandered in and looked around. There are advantages in being foreign in China - one is that often rather than try and test their poor English on a foreigner they hide and let him or her wander through unhindered. If they speak English well, they tend to pester. Luckily for us we found no one interested in talking with us!

Another find along the way was a marvellous homewares shop - we could see the merchandise through the window, but where was the entry? We wandered close to where we felt the entry should be and a great wall opened - a wide timber door that looked like a wall!

Inside there were many wonderful items. Luckily (or unluckily) our suitcases were already overflowing so our spending was on hold.

A bit of culture in Hangzhou

The China Silk Museum was on our agenda for the next morning, but first of all it was breakfast at Starbucks. The weather was wonderful, the sun was shining, the skies were blue and the cold didn't seem to penetrate the way it did in Shaoxing. We dallied over breakfast - there was no hurry - and when we left we hailed a taxi to the Silk Museum, which is not far from the West Lake. It is such a pretty city and each time we see it we see the changes brought on by the seasons. It was winter and many of the trees had lost their leaves. Hangzhou is a clean and beautiful city! The Silk Museum soon appeared - quite a modern grand building (sorry, no photo from me but you can see it here) surrounded by beautiful gardens. We went inside and followed the trail.

The exhibits were marvellous and each one had English for us to read, so we were able to understand everything.
This museum was different than the Silk Museum we visited in Suzhou - it focused on the silk thread and fabric. As you walked towards an exhibition hall which was dimly lit, the lights came on making it somewhat of a mysterious journey through the museum. Each exhibit behind glass windows was exceptional. There was so much to see, so many fabulous fabrics, so many amazing old clothes, so much to learn. It certainly begs several visits and as it is FREE it would be good to see often.

We wandered for quite a while - and surprisingly did not see another visitor there. Is it on the tourist route? It certainly should be, but the tourists were flocking to other places around the lake. When we returned to the reception area, we saw a display of memorabilia and asked at reception where the shop was. Isn't there always a shop???? In a rather casual way she pointed to a set of stairs at one side of the grand entrance hall, and said "there". The only sign at the top of the stairs was "Toilets" so we wandered down. At the bottom of the stairs we found ourselves in the midst of a busy construction zone. Picking our way through piles of rock, bricks, cement and timber we set out to find "the shop."

Soon Chinese speaking people yelled at us and with difficulty we tried to explain we had been sent down her to "the shop." One of the ladies said "Come" and we followed her through more construction areas, and then a long walk along paths, through gardens and past ponds, to "the shop." which turned out to be the place where people were buying silk clothes. That is not what we wanted but we thanked her, and wandered around with what appeared to be a bus load of tourists (ah, so tourists do visit the Silk Museum??) before finding the exit.
We walked back to the entrance, still couldn't find the shop to purchase the small gifts we were after, and set off on another adventure.

By this time we were looking for a W.C. - and there were many signs along the road and through the gardens pointing in one direction or another, but we never found the building we were after, although we did find a construction zone which indicated that there were more renovations happening.
On the opposite side of the road was a hotel - so it was there that we spent the next half hour or so, not oly taking advantage of their facilities, but enjoying a cup of tea in the Tea Bar overlooking a wonderful garden. It was winter, but we could only imagine how this garden would look in Spring or Summer. On foot we set off again - holding our copy of More Hangzhou which had inforamtion about an Art Exhibition near the West Lake. Some more culture would be good.

The Hangzhou Jazz Club

Well, we were early - in fact the first to arrive! But then few would have had so little journey to take to get there as it was almost outside the door of our hotel.

It was surprisingly small - we had thought it might be bigger, but there appeared to be rooms upstairs. For quite a while it was only recorded music, but slowly the place filled up with a motley collection of people - both Chinese and foreign. In fact one foreigner we recognised from the Hilton that we had visited earlier to get a copy of the magazine "More Hangzhou". He was there waiting for a friend.

The atmosphere was good though - and brought back memories of long ago in "The Primitif" and "The Cellar" in Adelaide many years before.

We knew that there was a big concert elsewhere in Hangzhou that night and many of the performers from the Jazz Club were also performing there, but there was also a promise of other performers from overseas to come to the Club.

Soon the musicians arrived and slowly the music got underway. And what a treat. I can't recall all the names but the lady singer is great - you can listen to here sing here, and then the famous folk from New York etc arrived.

It was quite an exciting night. We did leave before it was all over - around midnight.

We would have stayed longer - but we were tired and planned a big day the next day. We'd had a few drinks, a good meal, enjoyed good music and had a lot of laughs, so we returned to the hotel.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Two Days in Hangzhou

Hangzhou is only 45 minutes or so from Shaoxing in the bus, and we'd visited several times. Usually it was a day trip - a quick trip on the bus or train early in the morning, and back home to Shaoxing in the afternoon.

We had several interesting places to visit regularly - one was the Silk Market. Rows of little shops selling all sorts of merchandise made of silk. Every time we went it seemed to have different products but the usual ones were there. Always a magnet for us to buy gifts.

A short walk from the Silk Market was the Foreign Languages Bookshop. Here we'd get our fix of English books - and there were always plenty to choose from. As well this bookshop had to other things that interested us. A western toilet and a Cafe.

The cafe was great - always good food and it was a very relaxing place to sit and chat after a busy day buying in the markets or in the bookshop. And of course the "pitstop" as we left for our journey home, which was usually a taxi ride to the bus or train station. Always very hard to get a taxi though, as we were often on the move at peak time.

All in all it was a wonderful day, and piqued our interest in staying there longer. I did stay for two days when I attended the TEFL conference, but still not long enough. So we decided to fit in two days before leaving Shaoxing, and after finding a little hotel near the West Lake we decided to book in. As they spoke little or no English, I found a student to do the booking and agreed to pay a deposit when I was next in Hangzhou.

Just a couple of weeks before our trip, we were in Hangzhou with a teacher who could speak a little Chinese so we went to pay the deposit. They asked for 200 RMB which we happily paid and of course kept the receipt.

When we arrived with our luggage on 11th January, there was a little drama. They asked for 1200 RMB deposit. Our two nights there was going to cost us just over 500 RMB so why the big deposit. There was some shouting and we continued to refuse the pay the exorbitant amount of money. In the end we paid 600 RMB and hoped we would get our balance back when we left

The room was OK - but some things fascinated us. The huge box of different condoms was a feature of the room, and the wall between the beds and the bathroom was a glass wall. It wasn't clear glass, but all ablutions could be easily seen by whoever was in the bedroom! Since we were both nursing folk, it did nothing bus amuse us.

So having checked in, we went walking to get some lunch, and check out the shops again. We wandered around the West Lake area, in and out of little shops, and cafes and eventually settled on some Chinese snacks, and coffee at an Italian place that we had previously visited.

That night we planned to visit the Jazz Club, that was conveniently within a few feet of the door of the hotel.

Back home and trying to recover!

I've been back in Australia for just over a week - and I'm still trying to "recover". Coming from -6 degrees to 30+ degrees seems not to have agreed with this old body and I've found it all very tiring. I have had a few "power" naps, and very early nights.

Leaving Yuexiu was quite emotional. I've had such an amazing time, and made some great friends, it was such a wrench to go, although the cold was something that I no longer wish to experience.

But I'm coming good. I decided to "lay low" for the week - but managed to get my glasses fixed (why didn't the Chinese optometrist notice that a screw was missing? - he tried to convince me I needed new glasses), a visit to the podiatrist to see why my feet were aching (my feet have turned slightly inwards - perhaps because of the hard surfaces I walked on in China), and I have had my hair cut (in Australia a hair dresser does not refuse to cut hair because "it is already short.") I've had a pedicure, and a massage (full body - oh, how wonderful), and a day sailing on Moreton Bay on the South Passage.

Bit by bit - I am coming good. Today I am taking two grandchildren into "the Valley" to see Chinese New Year celebrations, and tomorrow will be declared another "rest day" before we embark on great celebrations for Australia Day on Monday 26th. On Tuesday I fly to Adelaide.

I've added the last of my Chinese photos to the photo gallery and within the next day or so, will add further posts here.

Slowly, surely, I am coming good.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Yingtian Pagoda

The temple that I wrote about here is called Yingtian Pagoda.

Tourist Card

In September there is a "Tourist Card" which becomes available for students and teachers. One of the students studying French had advised her teacher of the opportunity to get one, in October or November. The card would give discount or free entry into Shaoxing tourist places. It cost 55 RMB, and one had to supply a photo and some details. Even though I only had a fairly short time to go in Shaoxing, I decided to purchase one.

I had it for several weeks, and my time in Shaoxing was fast coming to an end, and I had only used it once. I knew that, regardless of the card, there were a few things I was keen to see before I left the city, so I would "pack" them into the last few weeks. And so I did.

I am pleased to say that the card saved me almost double its value, so even for this short time was well worth the money I invested in it. Great decision on my part, and other teachers who procrastinated later realised the cost of their indecision.

So there'll be a few posts on my adventures using the card.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Back home - but a back log of China stories!

I'm feeling rather "spaced out" - after arriving in Brisbane at 10.35 am on 16/1/09 after leaving Shaoxing by bus at 7.30 am on 15/1/09 and having little sleep! The bus trip was uneventful as for some reason there was little traffic on the highway between Shaoxing and Shanghai, and we arrived at the airport in good time. But over two hours to wait for our Singapore Airlines plane to leave.

There were three of us on the plane from Shanghai to Singapore, but we left Singapore on different planes. Mine was the last to leave at 10 minutes past midnight. So seven and a half hours in the plane.

Both flights were fairly uneventful, but there was quite a lot of turbulence especially between Shanghai and Singapore, so we (and the cabin crew) remained seated for much of the flight.

In Singapore I wandered around looking at the shops - didn't really spend any money of note, but kept walking as I thought if I sat down I'd fall asleep!

I had a glass of Chardonnay at Harry's Bar and a great Toasted Chicken Sandwich at the Hard Rock Cafe (which I'd recommend! Highly) - it was big enough for two people!

I dozed on and off on the plane - probably because of the chardy and the drink at the HRC, but was still quite tired when I arrived. MM and two granddaughters were there to meet me, and I headed home for a short time before my dental appointment. (I'd broken a tooth on New Year's Day - so had a repair job done.)

MM bought me an E-bike for Christmas, so I've yet to try that out!

I'm still feeling a little surreal but slowly coming good. Had my hair cut today - and did a little shopping, so bit by bit I'm coming good, but still tired.

I have some great photos of visits I made in my last few days in Shaoxing and Hangzhou, so will post those in the next day or so.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Freezing cold - let's go.

The temperature is -6 degrees in Shaoxing! I can't wait to feel warm again. Back in Brisbane it is around 30 degrees. A difference of 36 degrees.

Makes for some interesting planning of what to wear on the plane. I really am juggling clothes right now - still trying to decide!

When we leave here in the morning it will be around -6 - so we will have to rug up for the trip back in the bus. I was going to post my winter jacket, but now will have to wear/carry it! It will be too cold for me without it!

Arriving at Brisbane, I'm going to look a real dork with a heavy coat - but it has been my friend and has a lot of life in it yet.

We've decided that Hangzhou is not as cold as Shaoxing - here we just can't seem to get warm. The sun is shining and the sky is bright blue, but the atmosphere is so dry and cold.

Time to go home.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Saturday, 10 January 2009

My calligraphy box

I purchased this box to take home with me. It is a rather battered box (will probably be more battered by the time I get home to Australia), but its contents are fascinating.

The contents are: 3 calligraphy brushes, a plate to mix your ink, and an ink stone to the right. Just add water and grind it in the dish to the colour/consistency that you require. There are three pieces of blue and white china (and I have a collection of blue and white china pieces at home). One is the rest for the calligraphy brushes, to use when you are creating.

To the right of the brush rest is a space for two "chops" these are the little stamps that have Chinese characters carved into the stone. The blue and white bowl below the brush rest contains a red pasty substance which you use with your chop. Just push the chop into it, and then stamp away.

On the right is a little bowl, with tiny brass spoon to hold additional link.

In China if someone is a writer - it is often considered that he or she, not only creates the story but writes it in Chinese characters. Of course that is what the old writers did - using these wonderful brushes, wonderful paper, often made of bamboo, and hey presto.

I'm not sure what I will do with it in Australia, but one day I might try to create something with my Chinese calligraphy set.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Preparing for Chinese New Year

The Chinese love festivals and one of their most popular festivals is Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year (the lunar new year).

This year the festival is in January - and it is the year of the Ox. I was surprised to see so much celebration for Christmas, and there was much decoration, but by Boxing Day, the decorations were being changed. In fact on Boxing Day in Hangzhou we saw the first of the red lanterns being put up in Hefang St.

In the last couple of ways stores have been transformed and in the supermarkets in particular great displays of food and gift items have appeared. These supermarkets are busy at any time, but as folk buy their stores for the Spring Festival it seems crazy.

Just near the checkouts were huge piles of cartons of items ready to be put on shelves - as soon as the shelves are cleared, they are filled up again.

I heard in the media that sales are up on last year, despite the economic downturn. I suggest the Chinese are going to have a great festival in 2009.

Popcorn explosions

I first saw these strange contraptions in Shanghai and the people using these did not like being photographed for reasons that we do not know.

Until last week I had not seen one operating in Shaoxing, but in one of the old streets the other day this fellow was there. It is a little hard to explain exactly what is happening, but with his left hand he is operating something that is being heated.

After a few minutes, he removes a part of it, and then turns the "machine" over and it's spout is pushed into the tunnel which appears to be made of shadecloth. Then there is a loud explosion and the tunnel is filled with popcorn, or other "popped" delicacy.

They "popped" stuff is then bagged and sold for around 5 RMB.

I bought some of the things that looked similar to cooked prawn crackers, and may well have been. They are quite tasty.

Students and teacher at Yuexiu.

The Farewell Dinner

Departing teachers were invited to dinner with Professor Lu, and staff from the International Exchange Office, in the staff canteen on campus. The canteen has two private rooms, that open up as one, and there were two round tables - and we managed to fill both of them. Again a freezing cold night, but warm inside with the heaters and the Shaoxing Wine.

There were no speeches, but many "toasts" to each other, good wishes, and thanks.

The food was quite remarkable. One dish was presented as a ship, with a crayfish (lobster) as part of it. We wondered why the two long "antennae" of the crayfish had a ring around them - until we saw it move. The front part of the lobster only was there, as on a plate as part of the decoration was the raw meat, which had obviously been prepared to eat. It was in small slices, looked unusual and was quite tasty with the soy sauce and wasabe. It was odd, as every now and then the crayfish would move!

The dishes were all fabulous. This one was a very spicy fish soup - with great chunks of white fish, and plenty of chili.

One of the other dishes was fried icecream - pink icecream surrounded by a crisp bread-like biscuit which was deep fried. There was plenty of Shaoxing yellow rice wine flowing too.

Paper Cutting

As a farewell gift from the University departing teachers were given a framed papercut piece of one of the many bridges in Shaoxing. I haven't been able to work out which bridge this one is, but it will none the less be a treasure of mine.

Papercutting is an ancient art, and it is incredible the detail that appears in this one piece of paper, cleverly cut to reveal an extra ordinary scene or picture.

I have several pieces for my collection, but this one will forever remind me of my tour of duty at Yuexiu.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Editors needed!

My time in China has shown me that the Chinese language is not easy to translate into English - and that more quality editors are needed. So often there is a literal translation from Chinese to English and the folk think that it is a quality translation.

For example the word "river" - it seems that in China an element of water that in the English language in the UK, or Australia, a river would be a large flow of river, a
natural water course. Here "river" is used to describe waterways that clearly are not natural, and don't resemble anything I would call a river.

Recently while staying at a hotel that was described as 'overlooking a river' I discovered it was a "canal" - a somewhat polluted man made waterway.

I've written elsewhere about that - but additionally when things are printed - the come out different, because the printers do not know the difference. If they are typesetting in English, it is very hard for printers. Thankfully things are more computerised now, but still no one can pick up the errors.

I have had students in exam consistently write some bad English - when I refer to the text book, the errors are there. The students are learning incorrectly from text books that should have been edited and corrected.

If a Chinese company hires a translator to translate from Chinese to English, they usually do not know that the resulted words are Chinglish, and don't make sense in English. It is impossible to translate directly from Chinese to English without editing. Impossible!!!

As well, with Chinese English teachers, they often have to rely on material that is prepared without an editor. Not only that, Chinese naturally have difficulty pronouncing some sounds "th" and "l" in particular. So "mother" becomes "muzer" and "fall" and "tall" become "for" and "tor".

Then comes a foreign teacher whose native tongue is English and it is somewhat of a nightmare. The students believe their Chinese English teacher!

It is a nightmare for a foreign teacher to mark examinations because in many cases one knows that the errors are because the students have been taught incorrectly. The longer I am here the more I understand.

What to do about it? I have no idea!!!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

More Chinese mysteries solved.

I had a wonderful discussion with a Chinese teacher - and have learned a few more things about these complex people.

Several weeks ago I attended a conference in Hangzhou, and my room mate was a Chinese teacher. Oddly during the night she had a shower (flooding the bathroom) did not use any towel or bathmat, and disappeared in the night. I had many questions about this experience. Did I do anything wrong? Nothing I recall. But even then, I was told that a Chinese national could not room with a foreigner. She could not do it.

My Chinese friend added further to the mystery. My friend, whose name I will not use, but for this exercise will refer to her as C, gave me some explanation.

Chinese girls in particular are very suspicious of the linen used in hotels. They don't believe that the linen is clean. So they take their own towels. (So my mystery room mate used her own towel when she showered.) C said that she could never get into a bed in her night attire in a hotel, but would go to bed fully clothed. Just take off her shoes and coat.

No doubt the Chinese teacher was very uncomfortable with a foreigner for a whole range of reasons. It is surprising that knowing that, that the conference organisers would choose to put us in the same room. For me, it worked out OK for I did not want to share, but would have had to pay a lot more money to be alone and I had already paid a lot to attend the conference.

As it turned out I did have the room to myself, without paying extra. I had understood the cultural difference would have made the young Chinese girl uneasy, but it is interesting to have more information on this.

Strange but true.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Keeping the plants warm in China

I've written before about the method used to preserve plants during winter. By early December many of the trees are painted white - I was told to keep the trees warm, but I think it is just part of a process. Perhaps there is some fungicide or similar in the white "paint", which is applied before the trees are wrapped in rope.

You can see in the photo above that some of the trees are wrapped in rope. In the fore ground are some trees wrapped in hessian. It is quite curious, but it obviously works as come spring when the coverings are removed the plants spring into life.

Dressmakers in China

Some of the other teachers here had discovered Chinese dressmakers. They are quite extra ordinary - making clothes of quite good design with no pattern. For we ladies, it is quite an experience.

Many of the dressmakers are in little "shops" which are about the same size as a single garage. It is usually filled with lots of fabric. In winter the heavier fabric is on display, and in summer the light weight fabrics appear.

They have books with designs and patterns, but I've yet to see a pattern in use. It works like this.

First of all - find the design you want - you can even bring a magazine, or draw it yourself. Then select your fabric and then negotiate the price. There is some room for bartering, but essentially I have accepted the price.

Then the dressmaker gets out her tape measure and measures every inch of your body - at least where the garment is going to be! And it is written down - and with any luck you will be ready to get her to proceed. Sometimes there might be negotiation on price at this point as variations are discussed. Lining? Pockets here? Then the price is settled and a deposit is requested. Often we happily pay 50% or more.

I might add this is all done without much talking. The dressmaker will only speak Chinese, and my Chinese is very minimal. But somehow we manage to understand one another.

Then the huge calendar appears and a finish date is negotiated. A receipt with details of the order, and deposit paid is provided.

When you return the garment is usually hanging from a rack dangling from the ceiling - and with a hook it is located. Try on? I think we are so used to undressing and trying the garment on in a tiny corner of the shop, and often other customers (all Chinese). Everyone offers comment or suggestion.

Sometimes an alteration is required. Other times all is OK, and one can depart with the finished goods. Mostly we are are satisfied, but sometimes we've had to go back for further alterations of fixing up.

I have used two dressmakers - Jing and Tian. Jing is my favourite - she speaks no English and I found her by myself on the ground floor of the fabric market. I chose her because she had personality and I thought I could get on well with her, which proved to be correct. She's been great.

Another one who has been popular with teachers here is Tian, who works out of a dingy shop front in the middle of a rather low class lane. She's easy to get on with and has a sense of humour but I have been less satisfied with her work.

I'd like to get Jing to make me a coat - but as I have little need for a coat (in Queensland) I've not done so, but if I come back...................

Plumbers and electricians

Following my previous post about discussions with students about "qualified" electricians and plumbers I tried to search on the internet to source more information. I had to laugh - nearly all the Google entries came up with something like "Help! Does anyone know a plumber in Shanghai?"

My rather meagre investigation suggests there are such people in Shanghai, and maybe Beijing. I suspect that some of or all of the large construction companies have someone who is familiar with plumbing or electrical work, though I'm yet to determine if there is any formal training here.

A couple of us have had discussions and we are not sure. The language is a huge issue. For example there probably is no Chinese word for "plumber" that is defined as we know it. It could be a "Pipe mechanic" for example, although I'd guess it is not that simple. So when I ask a student about "plumbing" even the boys don't know what it is about.

I'm really curious now. We have all experienced the great drama of getting to a toilet, especially a "western" toilet and finding out "it is broken". Often there is a sign on the door - in Chinese ofcourse warning us that "it is broken" but we can only guess it's meaning.

What if there is no formal plumbing training and all these wonderful high rise buildings that we see on television have some sort of plumbing defect because there is really no plumber with the expertise?

The mind boggles. Another one of China's mysteries.

Time is going quickly

This week is my last week of classes. What I have been doing is showing some films in class. One DVD is about Australia and the other is a popular movie.

Sadly I have been unable to access the class rooms with audio visual facilities for my Oral English class. Sure one does not want to show movies all the time in English class, but they are very helpful.

Because it is the last lesson I have not used them as I would normally do in English class, but there is English subtitles, and English dialogue and it is a musical so the students can sing along with the cast members.

In class movies can be very helpful but to do it properly there is quite a lot of planning required. It is helpful to give students information on some of the dialogue - especially words that they might not normally have seen or understood.

There are some tearful farewells too. Yes, and some of the tears are from my eyes. I have made some great friends.

It is funny though. For the final examination of the Oral English students I have included an interview with them. Some conversation and some reading. On two occasions boys - and there are few here - at the end of the class, ask if they can hug me. They will miss me!

I do laugh a little about this. Are they trying to woo the teacher a little for extra marks? Probably. But at the same time probably not. I'm hoping that the guys are genuine in their affection for me, and that is all. Rather funny really. And no, they don't get extra marks.

Last night I spoke with two students in the coffee bar, and walked about the different cultures and the different manners. I told them about the time I went with a student to dinner and how the student spat our her bones and other wanted food onto the table. (It is quite acceptable in China and is done in all the nice restaurants!) Of course I found it quite appalling. Also the loud eating of food - munch, munch, crunch, crunch - often with the mouth open.

We also talked about the issues with spitting and smoking. Few women smoke in China, in fact the only one I have seen is an English teacher from Australia. I find it very uncomfortable in restaurants, in elevators and in the taxi when the cigarette is lit up and I have to endure a gulf of smoke. Strangely there is a sign in taxis that smoking is forbidden, but that appears to exclude the driver!!!!

Even the Chinese students do not like the spitting. And the disrespect for other peoples property too. They acknowledge that there is a problem with rubbish - pollution. Of course there are waste bins everywhere, but many Chinese people just throw their stuff on the ground.

I would hope that the students at university now understand some of the things that their country needs to change. Some of the above. I learned that men who do plumbing work and electricians do not need to have training. Anyone can do it.

Which is probably why there is so much problem with plumbing here. It is common to find a toilet "broken" - "it is broken" and no one can fix it.

All I can see is that there are many opportunities - yes, for plumbers and electricians to be trained, for education on pollution, and spitting, and for education on maintenance (not done much at all!), and so on.

I know a lot of people are highly critical of some aspects of life here in China, and there are days I can slip into frustration about it. But this country has had challenges that no other country has faced, and I think they are doing well. Extremely well.

Just more opportunities and challenges. It will be interesting to watch China develop.