Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I Want Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere

Last Saturday marked exactly one year that I have been in China. Last Sunday was my last day of classes. Last Monday was my last day of work, and everyone's last day at our center. We're relocating (finally) due to the construction in our building. We finished packing and had a rice fight. Today I moved out of my apartment and head off for a week on my last big in-China trip. Soon I will leave China for the Trans-Mongolian Railway and the United States. It has been a challenging adventure of a year. I feel good about it. I'm looking forward to the next one.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

You Ain't Never Had a Friend Like Me

A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit Guangzhou, which is the city where I was supposed to be placed but the opening was delayed. It is now open and I stayed with a friend of mine who is working there. We saw temples, Shamian Island (which is where the embassies used to be), and went up Banyan Mountain. It was beautiful and very green. I had a lovely time. 

Then, 2 of the awesomest people in the world came to visit! SP and Lisa arrived in Beijing last Saturday, and I took off work and surprised them at their hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel wouldn't let me stay with them (even though there was plenty of room) since I didn't have my passport (I had dropped it off to get a visa for another trip), so I stayed with another friend. Saturday night was very laid back - we had dinner and wandered around Tiananmen Square and the local food and snack street and caught up and talked about how exciting it was that they were here. 

Sunday morning we journeyed to Jinshanling, an un-renovated part of the Great Wall of China. We walked up, climbed past 18 towers and thousands of stairs, took lots of pictures, and had an awesome day. The weather was great - a little hazy but mostly sunny and no rain. Since it was un-renovated, there were many parts that were sandy, pebbly, or otherwise in crumbles, which made the walk very interesting. But we survived, tired with minor blisters, but with great memories. We had a noodle dinner and off to bed. 

The next day we took the train to Tianjin, a smaller city 30 minutes outside of Beijing. My new boss had worked there for a year and given me a scoop of the cool things to do there, so we spent the day exploring. First, after lunch, we went to find the house of the last emperor of China. When we finally found it, it was closed for lunch, so we wandered, and SP and Lisa wrote some postcards at the local post office. Back at the emperor's house, we watched a biographical video of his life with English subtitles and saw a group of people filming a documentary, which was odd and unexpected but still neat. Then we went in search of the tall building to get a view of the city, as it was too cloudy to spend money to go on the Tianjin Eye (like the London Eye but built on a bridge in China). Instead of the hotel we were looking for, we arrived at the Tianjin Financial Center and took some pictures from halfway up that building. Then we backtracked and went to the Dabei Monastery (Compassion Temple). Some parts were under construction, but we did see a Buddhist service and a monk gave Lisa his bottle of water. Then we did some souvenir shopping on the Ancient Culture Street, picked up our bags and went to the train station to catch our train to Nanjing. 

Tuesday was pretty laid back. The weather was muggy. We slept in. I sent SP and Lisa to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum while I ran some errands, then we visited my center, and went to finish souvenir shopping and SP and Lisa went to the Confucius Temple. We had a nice dinner of Nanjingese food, went to KTV where Lisa serenaded us for an hour, and met up with my coworkers at a local bar. 

The next day was busier. We started our morning with a Chinese breakfast - pizza bread, sesame bun things, steamed dumplings, and Congee (rice porridge - not a big hit) - and then went to Xuanwu Lake where we went paddle boating for an hour. When we finished boating we walked around the lake to where we could get on the city wall (and SP gave us a tour of the mini-museum inside), and we walked along that until we reached Purple Mountain. We were going to climb to the top, but couldn't find the right direction but we wandered in the shade through the trees for an hour or so. We found a girl practicing the Pipa (Chinese Lute), and a monument to someone, and as soon as we left, it started to rain, so that was good timing. Then it was back to the apartment to pack and rest before Kungfu. One of my co-workers studies with a teacher who studied at Shaolin Temple (the place to study martial arts in China), so we tagged along for a free hour lesson. Great fun. Sadly, after the lesson, it was time to take SP and Lisa to the train station for their overnight train back to Beijing and their flight home. 

I can't wait to see them again soon!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon

I realized the other day that it's been about a month since my last post. To be fair, nothing very exciting has happened in that time. Brief recap:

I renewed my passport.
I started job hunting.
We got new FTs and ATs at work. (That may have  been in June. After about a week it's like they've always been here.) 
We went to a bar for "America night" on July 4.
I nearly drowned my phone and camera in a puddle during a week of intense rainstorms. 
I joined a yoga studio and started the Insanity workout program. 
I went paddle boating on the lake.
I did some souvenir shopping and ordered a tailor made qipao (traditional Chinese dress for myself). 
I was not involved in any traffic accidents. 
There has been massive construction - in the apartment next to mine, at my grocery store, at the market by work, and especially at work. Which prompted me to write a song today:

"Dongbao center's falling down, falling down, falling down. Dongbao center's falling down. Oh my, Mickey!"

Also, it has been hot (40+ degrees Celsius (100+ degrees Fahrenheit)) most days and super humid. The past few days have had blue skies, which has been really nice. Also nice, the following things that are awesome and totally throw off my sense of money:

Breakfast wraps for $0.33-$0.50
Popsicles for $0.25-$0.33 (some days I buy 2...)
Whole watermelons for under $1
A water bill for 2 months that's about $5

So I'm still here. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Under the Sea

Nanjing is quickly becoming a sauna. It's hot, humid, and sticky, and you can't step outside without breaking into a sweat. 

This past weekend was Dragon Boat Festival, which is a holiday commemorating a famous poet who either drowned himself or was sentenced to death by drowning. The boat races represent the people trying to rescue him. The race is fun. Disney didn't have a team, but a friend of one of my coworkers did, so Friday morning I went to Mochou Lake to cheer them on. They came in third in their race, as they were mostly foreigners. But it was fun to watch. I couldn't stay the whole day as I had to work. 
Dragon Boats and racers

Saturday was a day off for the holiday (as opposed to the 3 days most other people had). I went to a couple new parks in Nanjing that I hadn't been to before and relaxed at home. 

Then on my actual weekend, I went to Qingdao. I like the fast trains. They have comfortable seats and air conditioning. Anyway, Qingdao is a seaside city, founded by Germans, where my friend/former short-term roommate moved for work. It's a nice enough city, great architecture, and the weather was wonderfully cool compared to Nanjing - a little too chilly to actually go in the water, but refreshing none-the-less. My hostel was in an old observatory, which was very cool, one of the first built in China. It even had a telescope on the top floor, though the roof was covered, so you couldn't see anything out of it. 

Observatory/Youth Hostel

View from the hostel rooftop cafe/bar

Tuesday, I had ice cream for breakfast. The streets are much too complicated to navigate (like snakes, one local told me); maps are no help; so I spent Tuesday wandering and seeing sights (including Chinese couples taking wedding pictures on the beach) along the boardwalk. It was very nice. 

Zhanqiao Pier (famous image on the Tsingtao beer bottles)

Wednesday, I tried wandering the streets again for a little to find some sights. I found a street market with lots of seafood and meat and other things, and I found the church I had been looking for. Then I taxied my way to all the sights I wanted to see but couldn't find the day before. I saw nice views from the top of the sightseeing TV tower and a pavilion in a park - I recommend the pavilion; it's cheaper and you get basically the same view. Plus, apparently there are different types of tickets for the tower, and since I got the cheapest one, I didn't get to go all the way to the top. I didn't go to the beer factory (Qingdao is also known for it's locally named brew - Tsingtao - super cheap, supposedly good, advertised at all the local restaurants). After a rest by the water and some more ice cream, it was time to head back to Nanjing. 

Sightseeing TV Tower
St. Michael's Catholic Church 
Stall at street market

Train station - cool architecture

Friday, June 22, 2012

Climb Every Mountain

Oops! Sorry, I thought I posted this. I wrote it a week and a half ago. 

I'm healthy again, and I hadn't traveled for a month, so this weekend I took a trip to Mount Huangshan (aka Yellow Mountain, named for a Chinese emperor, not the color of the mountains). It is a very steep mountain that everyone who lives here says is a must climb. So after work Monday, off I went. 

I woke up early Tuesday to catch the bus to the mountain gate. Then there was another bus to the start of the hiking trail, from which out one window was mountains and out the other window was clouds. It was very cool. I started climbing the stairs. (If I haven't said so before, most hiking trails in China are stairs.) It was hazy, so a little difficult to take pictures of the scenery, but the mountains were amazing. After about 15-20 minutes, I wanted to go back down and take the cable car up. Instead, a lovely Chinese student named Kathy asked if I was traveling alone and suggested we climb together. She kept me going for the next 3 hours, which is what it took for us to get to the first stop up the mountain. She was very nice, and she was ready to hike. She had a walking stick (and made me get one) and sneakers on. Interesting thing about hiking in China: many women wear high heels. I didn't see any heels on this whole trip, but I saw a couple pairs of sandals and fancy flats. I felt terrible because there were definitely people 3 times my age hiking. And at least one 5 year old. And several men carrying their body weight up the mountain in food and drink on a bamboo pole. But I made it. 
Me & Kathy

When we got to the "top", Kathy and I had lunch and then parted ways. She was going to stay on the mountain for the night (like a smart person - you must plan 2 or more days for this hike), and I wanted to get to the peaks and had to catch a bus around 5pm. I am very thankful for her help up the eastern trail. She made it much easier. 

I kept climbing to the peak - Brightness Summit. It's the second tallest peak on Huangshan at 1860m. It looks out over a sea of mountains. It's beautiful. And people put padlocks there to show that they have been there - they are sold as you walk up the mountain. It's pretty neat and different from other things I've seen people leave at tourist sights. 
View of Huangshan

I started heading down the western side of the mountain, which is a much steeper and longer climb than the eastern way up. There's a little fork where you can choose between 2 paths to get to the cable car on the way down. One is kind of straight, one is up to the tallest peak and down the other side. I thought I had read that Lotus Peak was closed - I was wrong. There was only .2km to go up it, so I forced myself up. I stopped about every 10-20 steps to catch my breath. The view at was very similar to the one at Brightness summit, and the peak was much narrower and cramped for everyone pushing to take pictures, but again, I'm glad I can say I did it. My favorite part was cheering on other hikers and being encouraged to keep going. Especially since we would just kind of look at each other, laugh and point in the direction the other one was going. It was also fun seeing men who had been carrying bamboo poles with food and drink who had dropped off the supplies and were now walking with just the poles, smiling and much friendlier. 

Then I happily headed down to the cable car and took the 20 minute ride to the bottom. (Remember, I had already walked 15-20km and had a bus to catch.) There was a bi-lingual recording about the mountain as you went down, which made me laugh because there had been very little English the rest of the day. I can count on one hand the number of foreigners I saw on this trip. Then I took the bus back to the hostel, had dinner, and slept for 11 hours. 

When I got back to Nanjing the next day, I found out one of my friends was getting a degree from a Chinese university (he had studied there for a year when he first came to China), so I headed down there to go take pictures for the afternoon. Very fun. Then dinner and more sleep. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

2 Worlds, 1 Family

For the past month, I have been hanging around Nanjing. I went to the mountain, explored some parks, laid around the house. 

This week, my parents and my brother arrived in China. My parents were here to see me. My brother was here because it's China (I think). They spent a few days in Beijing and arrived in Nanjing Monday afternoon. After getting my parents settled in their hotel (Hilton Nanjing - very nice) and visiting my apartment (where Steven was staying), I walked them to work where they looked around, and then we had dinner. Then my parents went to sleep, and I took Steven out around town, and we ended up hanging out at my friend's apartment. 

Tuesday, Steven and I went to the hotel for breakfast with my parents, and I hung out at the hotel while my family went to the Massacre Museum. Then we got in a cab and went to Purple Mountain. I had decided to take the cable way to the top of the mountain to get a view of Nanjing. However, it was very gray out. About halfway up, it got very windy and the cable cars started to sway. I also found out that my mother had wanted to see Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum. Oops. At the top, I pointed out some of the mountain's sights and we took some pictures. Then we walked down the mountain and went to dinner at the local mall. My parents went back to the hotel, and Steven and I went home and rested before going out for our second dinner - dog. 

I had successfully avoided this until my brother came to town and said he wanted to eat something weird. Nothing I suggested was weird enough, but my friend suggested this and Steven agreed, so Tuesday night we got 2 plates full of dog meat, put it in soup and ate. The parts that weren't super fatty actually didn't taste too bad, basically like any other type of meat. I only had a few pieces, as I was still disturbed by the fact that it was, in fact, dog. 

The next day was gray again. I took my mom for a foot massage while my dad repacked and my brother did something else. We got noodles for lunch and spent the afternoon in the hotel. A lot of the stuff to do and see in Nanjing is outside, and it was not an outdoors day. But they needed rest, and I got to swim in the fancy hotel pool and nap in a soft bed, so it all worked out. We went to a steak dinner and said goodnight. 

They left this morning for Shanghai for a few days, and I got back to work. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

One Jump

Last week, Andrew (from Chinese embassy and Xi'an) came to Nanjing to start his vacation. We went to Xuanwumen Lake and the Yuhuatai area and he did other exploring when I was at work. Sunday night, we took the train up to Beijing. 

Monday we met up with 2 girls whom Andrew had met when they slept on his couch in Xi'an a few weeks prior (Lara and Sissi) and their new roommate (Monique). We went to the Forbidden City. As someone mentioned (I forget who), it's not so forbidden anymore. It was also a holiday, so there were masses upon masses upon masses of people. 
We saw about a quarter of it as we shuffled around. The garden was nice. Then we went far far away for some peking duck. Then Lara, Sissi, and Andrew went to find a camera shop, while I went with Monique to pick up her ticket for the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and I picked up a business card for future reference. We all met up later to walk through the night market. 
Forbidden City

Tuesday, Andrew and I moved from our hostel to room with Lara and Sissi at their hostel, which was more centrally located. (Monique had left for her big railroad trip.) Eventually, we headed off for the Summer Palace. We spent a majority of the day exploring some parts of that, including taking a boat ride on the lake and climbing a very steep hill to see the Hall of Buddhist Incense. Chinese emperors definitely knew how to take up a lot of space with their palaces - it was ridiculously huge. 
Hall of Buddhist Incense on Longevity Hill
Wednesday was GREAT. Woke up early, got the train, bus, and taxi to Mutianyu, a slightly less touristy part of the Great Wall of China. The sun was out and the sky was blue. It was even more awesome than I thought it could be. The mountains were huge. Took a cable car up to the top and we walked from Tower 6 past Tower 1 where the wall wasn't so well preserved back to Tower 14 (there are 23 towers on this section) then to Tower 6 to toboggan to the bottom. The views were incredible. The climbs were steep and the stairs sloped to the side. The breezes in the towers were life-saving. It was glorious. We then went back to the city, and the three went to get haircuts and I went to see Tian'amen Square at night. Very pretty.
Can you believe I walked this?

Thursday was my last day in Beijing. I woke up early again, walked around Tian'amen Square, and headed toward the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is really the Hall of Prayer for the Harvests, but it has a great big garden and a marble altar for sacrifices and was very pretty. Picked up my bag and got a train ticket back to Nanjing. 
View of Tian'amen Square

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (AKA Temple of Heaven)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Very Merry Unbirthday

Monday night, we went out for my belated birthday dinner at a local Turkish restaurant with people from work. Tuesday night was another DisneyEnglish birthday celebration. Wednesday, I took a day trip to Yangzhou. 

Yangzhou is a small town about an hour or so away by train. One of the ATs at work is from there and had given me a short list of things to do while I was there. I arrived and jumped on a bus to the lake. I joined an older Chinese couple and a student named Susan. Susan and I spent have the day exploring the beautiful Slender West Lake Park. The coolest thing I saw there was a piano on wheels. The pianist and his violin playing wife played Hava Nagila at a park in Yangzhou, in China. I was highly amused and pleased. 

Susan and I eventually went to the culture/food street to eat. Although there were more tourist shops than restaurants on that street. Until you got to the Song Dynasty East Gate at the end of the road. After lunch, Susan went to one of the gardens, while I caught a bus back to Nanjing and went to bed very early. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

How About a Change of Scene?

Note: This blog entry will be very, very long. 

I know this blog is supposed to be about life in China. But what's life in a country without a trip outside the country?

I went to Turkey for my birthday. I went with a list of sights my cousin had done with a friend of his in 10 days with the goal of completing all those things in 3.5 days. Mission accomplished. And then some.

After work on Saturday, I took the train to Shanghai to go to the airport for my 1:40am flight. It supposedly took off around 2, but I slept through take-off and most of the flight. After a layover in Moscow, I arrived in Istanbul around 12:45pm on Sunday. My cousin, Marshall, met me at the airport, and took me on the scenic route to my hostel. We saw a fountain the Germans gave the Turks, which they had to build, so it cost them a ton of money; pillars from the Hippdrome (the ancient racetrack that was connected to the Imperial Palace of the Ottoman Empire and now forms the courtyard between the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque) and the Imperial Palace; and the Hagia Sofia (I-ya-sofia). 

The Hagia Sofia is a church that was built by a sultan during the 1500s and it was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. It is awesomely huge (fact stolen from the Internet: the Statue of Liberty can fit inside with room to spare) and incredibly beautiful. There are mosaics of Christian images and signs in Arabic for prayer, a coronation corner, and much more. Marshall showed me the mosaic of the emperor whose face was changed 3 times as the church was being built (it took so long to build the building, there were 3 emperors) and a Viking's signature, and the wishing hole. Incredible. From there, we went to get my first real Turkish meal - Iskender. Iskender is meat on flat bread with a tomato sauce and yogurt to dip in. It was delicious. We walked up a giant hill to the Galata Tower, but the line to get to the top was longer than we wanted to wait, so we continued on to a synagogue and wandered Istiklal Caddesi (the main street downtown), had some Turkish coffee (so strong and gross), and played backgammon at his favorite hookah bar.

Monday was the big day. I had the free breakfast at the rooftop bar of my hostel - fabulous views by the way - and got ready for the day. On my way out, I met a very nice girl from Morocco, Ines, and we decided to explore together. We started our day at the Blue Mosque (Sultanhamet), a large and imposing mosque across from the Hagia Sofia next to our hostel. Gorgeous. 

Then we stopped at the Basilica Cistern, an underground cistern that was used to collect water during the empires (sorry, I don't know my history of that region as well as I should). One neat thing Marshall had explained was that the pillars all look different, kind of like they had recycled various parts of other pillars to build these. The base of 2 of the pillars were Medusa heads - one sideways, one upside down. No real reason why. Very cool. 

Next we walked across the Galata Bridge, where we saw people fishing. And we climbed the giant hill and went to the top of Galata Tower, were we saw incredible 360 degree views of the city. Istanbul is a city on 2 continents, so we looked over Europe and Asia. And then we got on a boat to Asia. 

We only stopped on the Asian side long enough to buy a boat ticket to the Prince's Islands, where we spent the majority of the afternoon. Prince's Islands are called that because that is where crown princes were sent so they wouldn't kill each other to be crowned sultan. We went to the largest of the islands, Buyukada, had lunch and explored the very expensive looking neighborhood. There are supposedly wild horses on the island, but we didn't get to the right part, though we did see horse drawn carriages. The whole thing was incredibly beautiful. We eventually headed back to the European side and made our way to the Cemberlatis Hamam. 

A hamam is a Turkish bath. You go, take a shower using a bowl in a fountain, then lay on a towel on a hot marble slab until a large Turkish woman (or man, I presume, if you're male), scrapes off your dead skin with a loofa glove. Then you receive a bubble wash, which was really cool because there was a towel-like thing that when dipped in water and shaken turned into a bubble-pillow thing. So cool. After you're rinsed, you go sit in a warm indoor pool. Ines and I decided to splurge on the oil massage too, so then we went for that, which was much more relaxing than Chinese massage. I stole a towel before we went to dinner and a very happy sleep. Ines also gave me a necklace she had from Morocco for my birthday, which I thought was extraordinarily generous of her. I felt slightly guilty accepting it, so I treated to dinner.

Tuesday got off to a bit of a late start. And it got even later after I had to wait in line for a half hour at Dolmabahce (Dole-ma-bah-chee) Palace. Word of advice: Dolmabahce was not on my original sight-seeing list; it had been recommended by a Turkish woman Ines and I had met on the boat the previous day. It is expensive (for Turkish sights), and requires guided tours, and you have to wait around a lot. So I recommend going with an organized tour group (they get priority) or first thing in the morning so you don't waste as much of your day; or skip it. It is very beautiful and ornate, but you barely explore 1/10 of the rooms, and the only super-interesting part of the Harem is that you get to see the room where Ataturk (founder of modern Turkey) died. (He had a short bed with a bedspread that looked like a Turkish flag - there; saved you a trip.) And of course, no pictures allowed in the whole thing. 

From there I headed over to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. Which, despite the name, has more than just spices. It has candies, sweets, jewelry and other touristy things to buy. I bought some Turkish apple tea that Marshall had gotten me hooked on. (It's not the same.) Then I stumbled into the Grand Bazaar, which is huger than huge. It covers over 10,000 square meters. The covered portion has been around since the 15th century. As not much of a shopper, I was completely overwhelmed by the number of shops and people and I found my out as quickly as possible. I passed by Istanbul University and  arrived at Sulemaniye (sue-le-mon-ee) Mosque. 

I don't know why, but I liked Sulemaniye Mosque better than the Blue Mosque. It is gorgeous, and they provided real scarves at the door if you needed one instead of pieces of cloth. It was also less crowded. I recommend both. Then again, there are lots of other mosques to visit too...

From there, I made a quick stop back at the hostel before catching a bus to meet Marshall at his university for dinner with his friends (2 he met while traveling in Georgia - as in formerly of Russia) and a boat party on the Bosporus to celebrate the end of midterms. Key phrase: a boat party on the Bosporus straits. Between Europe and Asia. At night. We floated past a castle, under a bridge, and we think we saw a dolphin. The stars eventually came out. It was wonderful, to say the least. 

*Addendum - before we got on the boat, we had dinner, a drink, and a waffle. A waffle, though, is not just a waffle. It is like a make your own sundae bar, but instead of ice cream the toppings go on a waffle. Yum!

Finally, it was Wednesday, my last day in Turkey. I got another late start, but spent the morning exploring the Turkey Archaeological Museums. Yes, plural. There is one building of ancient civilizations with the usual museum artifacts - coins, weapons, hieroglyphics, statues, etc; a pavilion of mosaics and pottery; and the third largest building built to house the many sarcophogai found in Sorin, somewhere in that region. Pretty interesting. I enjoyed it. 

Then lunch with Marshall, Leslie, and Bernard (his friends from the previous night) and exploration of the Topkapi (Toe-pa-cop-ee) Palace, which is where all the sultans lived before Dolmabahce was built. It's huge. And much more interesting to explore than Dolmabahce, in a much more leisurely way. Cooler artifacts, too. Unfortunately, we were a little too leisurely and didn't make it in to see the Harem, which are the private rooms of the sultans, but we looked at the book in the gift shop. 

We split up - Leslie and Bernard went to meet another friend of theirs, and Marshall took me to Cemberlatis (chem-burr-lah-tiss) - the burnt column. It once held a statue of Constantine, which was knocked down by a hurricane, later replaced by a cross, which removed by the Ottomans, and later the column was burnt by a fire. If you look at it from a certain angle, it looks like it's wobbling and about to fall down, but you can be sure from it's history that you're safe. 

Finally, I went to see a performance of Whirling Dervishes. A dervish is like a Muslim friar; someone on a spiritual path. They wear big hats and long white robes and whirling dervishes is a ceremony (and now a tourist attraction) where they spin in circles from a symbolic state of non-existence to one of existence. The music and spinning is extremely calming and mesmerizing. In the introduction they wish the audience a "peaceful spectacle". 

After that, I picked up my bag from the hostel and met with Marshall for some final non-Chinese foods. We took the Tunel - an underground train to get up the hill by Galata Tower - and walked along Istiklal to get some food souvenirs for my co-workers. Then we had a food parade to finish as much of Marshall's suggested food list as we could before I had to leave for my flight. 

I flew/slept through Thursday and arrived in Nanjing to go to work on Friday. It was a wonderfully fantastic week!

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Spoonful of Sugar

We started reciting this at lunch yesterday. Who knows why.

But little weekend trips are like medicine; they make things better. Not that they're bad. Anyway, this weekend, I went back to Suzhou. This time I went with Laura and Karen, and we stayed in a lovely little hostel on a historic street by a canal. Very quiet and pretty. After we arrived on Tuesday and checked in, we found lunch at a little dumpling place and ordered what the waiter/owner recommended, very helpful since we couldn't read the menu. 3 kinds of dumplings later and we split up to do some sight-seeing, since it was their first visit and my second. I headed south from where we were and went to see twin pagodas that someone had built for their teacher, a garden, and the southern scenic area. It was mostly sunny, so it was nice to walk around and sit by the water in the garden. The scenic area (Pan Men) had a pagoda to climb which supposedly had a great view of the city. So I splurged the extra 6RMB ($1) and decided to climb. They were the narrowest most steep stairs ever in a pagoda, and I actually had to duck my head between levels. Also, you can only climb to the 4th of 7 floors, so I don't know if I'd recommend it, but the view was nice enough. I kept walking along, climbed the wall, which is a land and water gate; I think it said the only one in China. By this time it was starting to rain, so I headed back to meet the girls for dinner. We had some more dumplings, went back to the hostel, realized how early it was, and went for some tea at a teahouse down the street from our hostel on the canal. Delicious.
Courtyard outside our hostel door
Twin Pagodas built for a teacher

Master of Nets Garden
PanMen Scenic Area

Ruigong Pagoda
Some of the steps in Ruigong Pagoda

The next day, we were debating what to do and eventually decided to take a bus trip to Tongli, a water town a bit outside Suzhou. We had heard it was beautiful; I had heard it was a place that offered to for a temple stay; and we had heard there was a sex museum. When we got there, we had our tickets to enter the city, which included some gardens and historic halls, no boat ride on the canals in the water town. It was a bit, very touristy, and I only recommend it if you get there very early to do more of the sights. From the bus station, we took an electric cart ride for 2RMB to the old town's entrance, went to a garden. It was a meditation garden but there were 1 or 2 schools on field trips there, so it was not so peaceful. Fortunately while we were there, someone informed us about a better garden (much nicer and quieter), and we walked there. Then we went to the China Sex Museum. It was surprisingly interesting in an informative and educational way, though it had some fun statues as well. It's the only one in China, and tells about the history of sex and how it progressed. 
Garden in Tongli
The red things are prayers or wishes for  ancestors at a temple in Tongli garden

Statue in China Sex Museum
You don't see that every day

Then we had dinner, caught the bus back to Suzhou and the train back to Nanjing. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Today is Tomb Sweeping Day, when Chinese people take care of the graves of their ancestors to show respect, bringing foods, burning fake money to provide for them. They also visit graves of significant historical people or of people who died in big events in China's past. Because of this, I had a real weekend - Saturday and Sunday off to make up for the schedule change related to the holiday.
Fake money for sale to burn for Tomb Sweeping Day
Friday before work, I went to lunch with a couple of girls from work, and we ordered somethings from the pictures on the menu. Then the restaurant gave us complimentary turtle soup. We tried to tell them we didn't order it, until they insisted it was free. One of the girls got so sick she had to leave the restaurant; the other one and I tried it. It was fishy. 

Saturday and Sunday were beautiful. Megan and I saw a dog show on our way to go paddle-boating on the lake, and then we ended up going in a circle for a half an hour. Afterwards, we had dinner and met up with people to go out for the night. Sunday, I had brunch with a non-Disney friend and relaxed in the afternoon. I went to dinner with another FT, and we had steak. Real steak. I had a yummy 3 course meal for 59RMB (about $10). The manager gave us his card so we would come back again.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Out There

At DisneyEnglish, a year is divided into 4 terms, each 12 weeks long. We give assessments and report cards at mid term and end of term (the equivalent of after 6 hours of teaching each in the States) and then we have an end of term performance where the parents come and watch about a half hour of class and their kids "graduate" to the next term. That was the past 2 weeks, so it's been a bit hectic. 

Sunday after work, I went to my friend Carol's house. I met Carol in on-boarding, and her parents live in Nanjing, and they invited me for dinner since she was visiting. They live south of here on the top of her parents' sofa factory. Her mom made tons of dumplings (I got to help with some), and halfway through dinner her sister-in-law and 4 year old niece came by. She and I exchanged a few words of English and Chinese. It was fun; everyone was very nice. They invited me to come back another time with more Disney people.
Carol, her parents, and her niece
The dumplings - plus another half of a tray. 

Then on the weekend, I went to Hefei with 2 new FTs, Laura and Alex. Well, I went up Tuesday morning, Laura joined me in the afternoon, and Alex came up Wednesday because her days off are different. Hefei is the capital of Anhui province and an hour or so west by train. It was very important during the time of the 3 Kingdoms, when there were wars as China was becoming modernized. We went to a couple parks, saw the temple, and explored some markets. The weather was hot, but we had a good time. 
Mingjiao Temple, Hefei
Xiaoyao Lake Park
Lord Bao Park

There's a holiday next week, so we all get this Sunday off, and trainers with my schedule have Saturday off, too, so we get a real weekend, which is very exciting. More about that next time. 

Residence of Li HongZhang - famous historical Chinese figure

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Can You Show Me

I think it's spring. When it's not pouring rain, the sunny days are almost warm. I lucked out and this week's sunny days fell on my weekend.

Tuesday I went with Jessi and the Nanjing International Club that she's a member of to see the plum blossoms on Purple Mountain. Apparently there's a Plum Blossom Festival every March (which I presume is something like the cherry blossom festival). There were no festivities when we went but we walked along the paths and the trees were beautiful and sweet smelling and it was sunny outside, so it was good. We had lunch at a surprisingly not very expensive restaurant on the mountain and then Jessi had to leave for work. But Joanne and a girl named Karen and I went to explore the Xiaoling Mausoleum (tomb of the 1st Ming Dynasty emperor). 

Pretty, pretty plum blossoms

First, there are apparently 19 mausoleums from the Ming Dynasty in China. They are all huge. For this one, you cross a bridge and go through the first gate, and that area is where the kitchen and wardrobe hall and things once stood. Then there was a second building: Imperial Tablet Hall. It housed an important tablet with some characters that honored the emperor. Beyond that is the Sacrificial Hall, where sacrifices were made to the emperor. Finally you get to the Inner Red Gate. From there you can see the Ming Tower and the enormous wall that surrounds the Treasure Mound where the 1st Ming Emperor and his wife are buried - 500 meters below ground. Standing on top of that wall was surreal. Joanne noticed inscriptions on some of the bricks and Karen said that they were markings by the people who made the bricks. I had seen that before at other places, and I think it's amazing to have that evidence of the work and time to build something so massive.
Ming Tower and surrounding wall. As an idea of the magnitude of the wall: the little black speck next to the door is me.

Wednesday I slept very late and spent the afternoon exploring the market by Confucius Temple with Nat. Mostly because I couldn't waste the sunny day inside. 

Then it rained. The road I walk to the bus stop was slowly becoming a river this morning. I'll take a picture next time.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Why Should I Worry?

Yesterday was officially 6 months that I have been in China. Hard to believe, isn't it?

Anyway, last Friday, I visited another park in Nanjing. This weekend, I went to Ningbo, on the coast of China about 2 hours east of Shanghai. One of the sales girls who worked at our center in Nanjing just got promoted to Ningbo, so I went to visit her. It was much bigger and nicer and more beautiful than I was expecting. Ningbo is smaller than Nanjing and it was very peaceful. And sunny. And warm. Springtime! On Tuesday, she took me around the city, to the town square, shopping mall, and a food market that is supposedly famous for having food from all over China. We also walked around Moon Lake and visited 2 of the Disney English centers there. That's one of the reasons I love traveling to certain cities - the people at Disney English are mostly all very nice. We went out with them to a bar on the river that night, where we saw a man walking his pet monkey. First one I've seen I think.
Moon Lake
Wednesday we went to a Buddhist temple and to Tianye Ge, which is an old library combined with gardens and museums. I was very excited to go, but then discovered there were no books displayed. There were some books, but they were blank. That was disappointing, but the gardens were pretty and there were a bunch of stone carvings, and we saw a Mahjongg exhibit (the only one in China. I didn't know Mahjongg was developed in Ningbo). After lunch we went back to Moon Lake and went paddle boating and had ice cream by the lake side. We also briefly met up with a girl I did training with back in September, but then it was time for me to catch a train back to Nanjing.
Tianyi Ge Library Pavilion

Garden outside Tianyi Ge Library
Since I've been here 6 months, I took some pictures of a "typical" day. Here you are:
The Kindergarten next to my apartment

The fruit stand by my apartment. If you look closely, you can see the Santa cling on the door.

The trash lot I walk past on my way to work. I believe my old  neighbor called it "soul killing."

A person cleaning a bus

The place where I have started buying breakfast on my way to work when I  run out of cereal and milk.

This breakfast wrap cost 3RMB (about $0.50)

I call them "marshmallow babies" - so bundled up for winter, they look like giant walking marshmallows. This one's not so covered because it's getting warmer, but I like the orange in its mouth.

The rooster that crows in the morning as I walk to work.

The mall where I work - Disney English is the only thing left open in the mall. The rest of it shut down around Christmas