Friday, December 30, 2011

The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers

Christmas Eve: French-style Japanese teppanyaki with Matt and Megan. Meat, seafood, rice, fruit, veggies, wine. Yum.

Christmas at DisneyEnglish: Wore pajamas, listened to Christmas music, 2 turkeys and a ham potluck Christmas lunch, and a new class.
Christmas Lunch at DisneyEnglish

Due to rescheduling, I had Monday off, so I got some chores done before I took my first intra-China flight to Xi'an. Getting to the airport was a bit of a challenge, but I had no problem navigating once I arrived there. In Xi'an, I met up with my host for the weekend, Andrew. A former/fellow Disney cast member who I met at the Chinese embassy when I was getting my visa back in August.

Xi'an is the capital of Shaanxi province, and it was the capital during the Song Dynasty, at which time it was apparently much larger than it is now. It's also konwn for the Terracotta Warriors.

Andrew and I had breakfast at the market Tuesday and went to the statue marking the beginning of the Silk Road. He took me to do some book and DVD shopping - I bought The Giving Tree in Chinese. One day I will be able to read it. Then we had a yummy lunch of pao moa, breaded noodle soup stuff. Then I went on adventure to the train station to catch a bus to the Terracotta Warriors, where I was accosted by a tour guide, but got some nice extra information and to see the farmer who discovered them.
Statue marking the Beginning of the Silk Road
Terracotta Warriors - Pit 1

The Terracotta Warriors were created to guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang. The project started when he was 13 and took 700,000 laborers 38 years to complete. You can only see into 3 of the over 600 pits. The soldiers that have been reassembled look complete - you could never tell that they had been smashed into pieces over the years. Except for the pieces laying in the parts of the pit where archaeologists are still digging. It's quite a work in progress. (Perhaps there will be a Spanish archaeologist working there one day.)
Beiyuanmen Street
When I returned from the warriors, I explored the city center and the famous snack street in the Muslim quarter, and we went out with some of Andrew's co-workers. Wednesday was another full day of touring, beginning with the Shaanxi History Museum. Then onto the famous culture street for some window shopping and the city wall - completely intact around the city center. We walked it until we got tired, since bikes were not available for some reason, and saw the beginnings of Xi'an's Chinese New Year decorations. If the decorations are any indication, it's going to be quite a spectacle.
Xi'an City Wall
We returned to the Muslim quarter for lunch (rou sham boa? - a kind of meat  and found our way to the Great Mosque. It's large and lovely. In one hall, there are engravings of the Koran on tablets in Chinese and Arabic. The details of the buildings are quite ornate. We sadly were not allowed into the prayer hall.
The Great Mosque
Mosque Courtyard

After Andrew played a quick game of badmitton with a Chinese man - I'm pretty sure the most fun he had all day - we took a cab back to his apartment, and I began my final adventure of getting back to the airport for my flight. Note: ALWAYS plan extra time for this, especially during rush hour. Between cab, bus, and airport shuttle, it took me 2.5 hours to get to the airport, which was longer than the flight took.

All in all, a fabulous final trip for the end of the year.

Note: Theoretically, the comments section will be fixed soon so that you can add comments. I know this has been a problem for many people. Sorry! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's My Favorite Part Because...

I took my first overnight bus and overnight train this week. Monday night I left for the overnight bus (with beds!) to Kaifeng. It is the oldest Jewish city in China and a former capital, from the time of the Song Dynasty. I had finished reading Legends of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng by Professor Xu Xin right before I left, so I was very excited to go. The bus left at 9pm, and it was supposed to be a 9 hour trip, but it dropped me off at 4:30. In the morning. So I got in a cab to the train station, where I talked to some people - with the help of a Chinese person who was studying English. Then when the buses started running he and I got on the bus and he helped me find my first tourist spot (Tie Ta, or Iron Pagoda) on his way to the university. It wasn't opened yet, so I walked up and down the street and danced with some ladies in the parking lot while I waited for it to open. The Iron Pagoda is the most visited sight in Kaifeng. It is 13 stories tall, over 1000 years old, made of ornately designed glazed bricks (the brown makes it look like iron), and has survived floods, earthquakes, fires, and other disasters. I wandered around the park area, which was very deserted and hazy, for a bit and then got back on the bus for my next stop. (The one bus went basically to all the tourist places I wanted to go. It was great.)
On the bus to Kaifeng
Tie Ta - Iron Pagoda

Play about the Song Dynasty
Processional at the Dragon Pavilion
Next stop was LongTing Park, where the Imperial Palace used to stand, also home to the famous Dragon Pavilion and where I saw the most amazing thing I've seen in China. When I got there, bells chimed and music played, and there began a processional introducing - whom I presumed to be - the main characters of the Song Dynasty. The costumes were amazing, and the beards were wonderfully fake. I stood and watch until the end of the procession, when I went in and walked up to the Dragon Pavilion. There was a lot of construction going on, but the height at which the pavilion sat was very impressive. I wandered about, looked at the sights of the former imperial palace walls, the rockery, garden, and lake. As I was getting ready to leave, I stumbled upon a play starring the Emperor of the Song Dynasty. I think it was about him finding a husband for his daughter. It was recorded, so the actors were mouthing their words and you could see the straps on their mustaches and beards, but it was very entertaining. I walked past Millennium City Park - a giant amusement park - but decided to keep going. 

ShanShaan Gan Guildhall screen wall
I went instead to the ShanShaan Gan Guildhall, which was built by merchants from various provinces during the Qing Dynasty. It was beautiful, bright, and very ornately designed. 

I walked from there to the Da Xiangguo Si (Prime Minister's Temple) and had lunch in the local market. The temple is famous for a gold plated statue of a goddess with 1000 arms, which have eyes painted on the palms. It's carved from a tree. What I can only imagine was an incredibly large tree. Down the street is a smaller temple called Yanqing Guan, which is famous for a bronze statue of an emperor. It was neat, but the best part was when I was getting ready to leave and this priest-like guy invited me to sit at a table, and I picked a stick (I think I've decided it was a prayer stick or something) and proceeded to give me a blessing or fortune in Chinese. I wish I had recorded it because it seemed very positive, and he spoke very enthusiastically. 
Qianshou Guanyin-1000 Armed Goddess of Compassion
Yanqing Guan Priest (monk?)

Next, not originally on the list but on the way, was the Memorial to Lord Bao on Baogong Lake. He was a mayor of Kaifeng who was beloved for being honest and upright. There was a neat exhibit about him, in Chinese, but the murals were beautiful and had English captions describing 4 examples of his uprightness. It also had one of the most beautiful rockeries I've seen, with stone statues and a waterfall. 
Lord Bao Mural

Rockery at Memorial to Lord Bao

Kaifeng Museum
Chinese People's Hospital, where the Kaifeng synagogue once stood
Teaching the Torah Lane
Plaque identifying the site of the former synagogue
Next, and one of the two things I had most been looking forward to was the Kaifeng Museum. The museum itself, which was very nice and contained the usual historical artifacts, relics, and models of the city, is also home to 2 steeles describing the history of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng. They are locked up on the fourth floor and are the only part of the museum you have to pay money to see. The guide could not tell me why, except that very few people, mostly foreigners go to see them. One was rectangular and laying down was almost as long as I am, and the other was 2 steeles linked together which were shorter and looked a little like a tombstone. Of course, they are from the 1500s and 1600s and have been buried under floods, so one had barely any legible writing on it and the other had none, but they and a giant lotus bowl are all that's left from the long history of the Jewish people. There was also a map of the Silk Road, by which the Jews came to Kaifeng when they were forced out of the West. I was sadly not allowed to take any pictures. But after this I went to the site of the former synagogue, which was laid out in traditional Chinese style and modeled after the Second Temple. It is now a hospital and there is only a stone plaque in Chinese on the side of the road identifying what it used to be. But down an alley around the corner is "Teaching the Torah Lane" and the Zhao residence, where Ester lives. Ester is the last remaining Jew in Kaifeng, and the Zhaos were one of the original families that settled in Kaifeng and had a great influence over the community. I met her by accident as I explored the alley and she happened to be coming out of her house. Using my phrasebook I told her I was Jewish and she invited me into her house, where I saw Jewish pictures and artifacts and memorabilia from her life. It was an incredible experience. Unfortunately, my Chinese is nowhere near good enough to have asked her about her life and her family, but I was very thankful to have met her.
Ester, the last Chinese Jew in Kaifeng
Some artifacts in Ester's home

Teaching the Torah Lane was the last thing I wanted to see on my list - I haven't finished my tourist list for any city the whole time I've been in China. Except in Shanghai, when I had 3 weeks to explore. But Kaifeng was small enough for me to walk to most places, which was great, and it felt very Chinese, while most of the other cities I've visited have some Chinese parts next to increasingly modern areas. Anyway, it was still pretty early so I walked around, went to a market, and found a classic culture street, another name for a pedestrian tourist street. It was neat. Lots of food vendors and clothing stores. I kept walking until I got back to the lake and sat down and read for a bit. Then I got on the bus for a night ride around the city before heading to the train station for my overnight train to Shanghai. 

Wednesday, DisneyEnglish in Nanjing went to Shanghai to volunteer and do crafts with children of migrant workers. But since I arrived early, I had breakfast with my friend Hope from training. I met up with the Nanjing people for lunch and we were off to our volunteering event. There were 3 teachers from the school there, and we were supposed to help the kids do traditional Chinese crafts. There was knot-tying, paper tying, and painting. I ended up at the table with the painting, where the teacher did not have enough materials for the group and spent the entire time modeling how to do the craft. Some trainers had a late train and stayed to make sure those kids got to do all the crafts. We also gave each kid a giant Mickey and Minnie Mouse plush toy. It was pretty fun overall. Hopefully there will be future events in Nanjing. 
Nanjing-Dongbao VoluntEARs
When we got back to Nanjing, some of us went to KTV for the rest of the night. It's kareoke in a private room, kind of expensive but very fun. We went to a night market for food after and then I went home to get some sleep before work started. 

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It Only Takes a Moment

I am in love. Suzhou is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. It's the city I wanted to be placed in when I applied for DisneyEnglish. Plus, it's small by China standards. I went there this weekend and saw 2 gardens, 2 museums, and 2 pagodas. I will definitely be going back to see the rest of the city and enjoy it in the future. I would still like to live there for a bit, but I also think that might take some of the wonder away.

My new keychain
Before the weekend, I was very productive at work, and we started our language exchange, so I might actually learn some Chinese before my contract is up. We also got a new trainer at work, as did the other center. We had a gift exchange, and I got a cute little sparrow-whistle keychain. The gift that I bought (SwissMiss with marshmallows) was highly coveted by the rest of the staff, so it was fun to watch them fight over it. I start a new class on Friday and another one on Christmas. Yes, I work on Christmas. But we have New Year's Day off, which is especially exciting since it's a Sunday.

Tuesday I left in the morning for Suzhou, but my train was delayed, which in this instance turned out to be a good thing. Tuesday was the anniversary of the Nanjing massacre and every year on that day there is an air-raid siren that goes off in the morning to commemorate the event. Because of my train delay, I got to hear the siren when it went off - well, sort of. I had to strain my ears to hear it since I was in the train station, but it was still cool. Nothing else really happened; people kept doing whatever they were doing during the siren.

When I finally got to Suzhou, I dropped my stuff off at the local DisneyEnglish center and went to the Suzhou Museum to learn some history. It was one of the noisiest, most crowded museums I have ever visited.
Suzhou Museum
There were lots of people pushing to see everything, but there were flyers in English explaining all the exhibits which was very helpful and let me get away from the crowds a bit sometimes. They also had a special exhibition on British contemporary art (so I now have a pin that says "Made in Britain") and a little garden courtyard. More importantly, it's next to the Humble Administrator's Garden, the biggest, most popular garden in Suzhou, where I went next.
Part of the Humble Administrator's Garden
Beautiful is an understatement. It had a great view of the Beisi Ta Pagoda (which I visited the next day); the water was clear; the trees were colorful; the rockeries were awesome; and the pavilions offered great views. I realized that even though it's December, many of the trees were still green and leafy. I was there until it closed and then met up for dinner with the girl with whom I was staying.

The next day, I took the bus to the western edge of the city center to see Tiger Hill "The number one tourist spot in Suzhou". The advertisements say it's a pity if you don't visit it, and I have to agree. Tiger Hill consists of a series of pavilions on the side of a mountain - trees everywhere - and an ancient pagoda (Cloud Rock Pagoda) that actually looks ancient and leans to the side. It's where the founder of Suzhou is buried and is called Tiger Hill because legend has it that 3 days after he died, a tiger appeared at the pagoda as if to guard it.
Tiger Hill Cloud Rock Pagoda

Yard of Rocks at the Lingering Gardens
From there, I walked to Liu Yuan (Lingering Gardens), which was very nice, but not as impressive as the Humble Administrator's Garden, though I really liked the Yard of Rocks.

Then, as it was getting toward the end of the afternoon, I took a cab back to the city center and went to Beisi Ta Pagoda, which is a 1000 year old pagoda next to a temple and with a Buddha statue in front. You can climb to the top of the pagoda and you're supposed to be able to see to the south side of the city, but I think that depends on smog levels. The view was nice anyway, although the walls of the pagoda itself were covered in graffiti from previous visitors, and there was a mural of the city and sights on the wall next to the temple which was interesting. I walked around the temple, which had another smaller garden, and listened to a bit of the service that was going on.
Beisi Ta
View of Suzhou from Beisi Ta

Finally, I went to the Suzhou Silk Museum, which was half under construction, so I only saw half of it, but it's pretty cool. I went to the silk store and was saddened by the cost of silk products. Then I stopped by the goodbye dinner for Kelly (the girl I stayed with - she's heading back to the States next week) before taking the train back to Nanjing. It's good to be traveling again.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life is a Highway

I finally feel like things are kind of getting back on track. On Monday, I planned a term's worth of lessons for my class and we had our first of way too many (in my opinion) "Christmas parties" (referral events). Yesterday, my kitchen light got fixed; my gas got fixed; my Internet got installed; I napped and cooked and played on the computer, and I finally finished the book I've been reading for 2 months. Today, I visited 5 more stops on the metro and met with Nat about our Chinese New Year trip. It's cold and rainy, so back for another movie night on the computer. And Friday I plan to buy train tickets for a trip for next week; plus, our language exchange is starting at work, so HOPEFULLY I will finally start to actually learn some useful Chinese and one day be able to have a conversation. Sorry, no new pictures this week - they'll be back next week.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Be prepared

I have moved. I now live in a lovely tiny (70 sq. m or about 630 sq.ft) 2 bedroom apartment near 2 coworkers, 2 bus stops from work in the opposite direction from previously. That's kind of where the focus has been for the past week. Tuesday was moving day, signing up for Internet, and shopping for stuff for the apartment.  Thank goodness for Tina. Wednesday, after my shower curtain was installed, I sadly went shopping at Walmart for more supplies, but then the afternoon was free, and I played on the metro. I rode to the end of line 2 and visited 5 stops before I got too cold and decided to go back to the apartment. Met up for dinner with some training friends who were visiting Nanjing, and then back to work Thursday. That night I finished setting up the apartment and had a movie night with "Wall-E", Oreos and milk, and my Snuggie and got ready to get "back to normal".
My 33 story tall building

My apartment

The kitchen area

My room with the laundry room through the door

The bathroom
The small bedroom

This morning I went to Nanjing University to meet with a professor who is a friend of a friend of the family and the director of the Institute for Judaic Studies. We had a nice chat, and he showed me around the Institute and the library and things before driving me to work and giving me a mini tour and history of part of the city.

Until next week...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bippity Boppity Boo!

And Happy Thanksgiving to you!

It has been a long week. Sunday started out well enough - my demos went well, and a bunch of the staff went to hot pot after work. Then I got back to the apartment and found out I had to move by the end of the month. So Monday and Tuesday were apartment hunting days. Monday was also bowling after work, and I made my first Chinese dinner, my first self-cooked meal since I arrived actually. Fried noodles - a success if I do say so myself. Tuesday I also went swing dancing at the local university in the evening. A small group of people, but very fun. 
Yum - Fried noodles
Yangcheng Museum
Wednesday was day trip day. My coworker Joanne and I went to Changzhou. It's about 40 minutes away, unless you're on the slow train, like us, and then it's about an hour and a half away. We decided we wanted to go to the ancient town of Yancheng. It turns out that that town is on the outskirts of Changzhou - about 2 hours and 4 buses away - but we met some nice local girls who helped us find our way. And they bought us lunch. When people are helpful, they are extra helpful. Yancheng was very nice. We didn't quite get to the ruins, but we saw the museum and some traditional looking buildings. 
Miniature of Yancheng
Then we took a cab back to the center of town. There was a slight miscommunication - he took us to the dinosaur park instead of the temple we wanted to see. But we snapped a picture and then he kept driving. Our final stop was the Tianning Temple and pagoda. It's a 1300 year old temple - with some more modern parts. We had a nice view of the town and looked at some mini-Buddha statues. Then we went to dinner and got back on the train to return to Nanjing. 
Tianning Temple
Tianning Pagoda

Thursday - Thanksgiving. I worked, signed my housing contract (I will post new apartment pictures next week), and went to dinner at the local hangout with all the foreign staff and Nat's parents who are visiting from England. It is very rare that all of us go out together, so it was really nice to spend the evening with everyone, even without Thanksgiving food and knowing that there is a duck carcass hanging in the laundry room. I don't know why. Plus, Christmas has started at work, so now I am listening to the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special.
My mini-Chanuka rebellion at work

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oh, it's a Jolly Holiday...

Last week, my water cooler arrived, I got a textbook for learning Chinese, and my roommate bought a toaster oven to make cookies. Good start.

Friday began with a trip back to the Nanjing Massacre Museum to take pictures of the things I did not get when my camera died. I sat at the base of the Peace Statue for awhile and people watched. It was very peaceful.
Peace Dove Park @ Nanjing Massacre Museum
Peace Statue

Then I bought train tickets for my business trip to Shanghai and my fun trip to Hangzhou. My trip to Hangzhou was my first over-night trip in China. 

Monday night, I left work to go to Shanghai. The meeting was okay, but my hotel was right by the Bund, so I got to see a night view, which I hadn't done while I was living there. Very pretty. 
The Bund @ Night
Pudong @ Night
The next morning, I got on a train to Hangzhou, then took a bus to meet up with my friend, Carol, with whom I was staying. We ate lunch; she went to work, and I headed over to the West Lake. Hangzhou was one of the 2 top places I wanted to be placed with DisneyEnglish, but when I was hired, I was told there were no openings. When I got off the bus and started walking towards the lake, a Chinese person asked me for directions there! (After thinking about it a little more, she probably could have been asking me if I was going to the lake, but I like my original version better. I think she was a tourist, too.) Hangzhou was the capital of China during the Song Dynasty, but most of the historic buildings were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion, so the West Lake is now the big attraction. It was the one big thing on my list to see; everything else was secondary. It's one of the most scenic places in China - the grass is ultra-green, the leaves are changing colors, and it's surrounded on 3 sides by mountains. It's recommended to visit in the spring, but it is fantastic in autumn, too. It's beautiful. I walked the whole thing (3 square miles) and saw many of the touristy scenic places. The next day, Carol and I took a boat to the island in the middle of the lake.
View of West Lake
Autumn on West Lake

On a side note, though the Communist party may run China, but capitalism is alive and well (at least in the big cities) as evidenced by the abundance of Starbuckses, KFCs, tourist shop stands, and gambling. (While in Hangzhou, Carol and her roommates taught me to play cards, which you can always see people playing and betting on in parks or the streets.)
Chess Statue at West Lake

Also on Wednesday, before I had to head back to Nanjing, Carol and I spent the morning/early afternoon finding Feilei Feng - or the Peak that Flew from Afar. (The cab driver didn't want to sit in traffic, so he dropped us off "10 minutes" - read 30 minutes - walk from the peak). It's mountains and caves to the west of West Lake where 100s of Buddhist images are carved. It's also near Lingyin Temple, which has a large wooden Buddha, but I've seen a lot of temples, and Feilai Feng was amazing. It was nice to have Carol there, also, to explain some of the writing and some of the significance of what I was seeing. 
Feilai Feng - Peak that Flew From Afar

Back at the train station, there was a very nice Chinese woman who started talking to me and asking me about my time in China. She told me about when she studied in the States and about how helpful her "American mother" was to her. I told her I was having a very good time, and most people, especially my AT and roommates, were being helpful to me. When she decided to let me get some sleep, a new passenger got on the train and had the seat next to me. We proceeded to talk about our jobs, sports, make-up, US government, and the pronunciation of English words. 

Then, at work yesterday, we received the exciting news that beginning January 1, DisneyEnglish is giving all their employees additional days of each year! They are fixed days around Chinese New Year, but that means that we get almost 2 weeks off in January, which is very exciting, especially since you only get 5 days of annual leave. Now I need to figure out how to do things with those days. 

SP - I took this picture for you.

Ice & Fire - dessert @ The Grandma's in Hangzhou