Thursday, 25 April 2013

Friday 26 April 2013

Our campus is full of bicycles. Cars are also numerous and you can see that the campus has not
been planned for automobiles. Around our apartment building, cars are parked wherever there is a space or even no space.
They are taken good care of by the owners. You never see a dirty car and you never see a pick-up truck.

The students have bicycles. Just off campus there is a place where you can rent a bike.
The bicycles are not new and modern, but they work. Very often the bike will be carrying two
people. Even among the older residents on campus, a bicycle can often be the main mode of local transportation,
unless a bus or the subway (metro) is needed. It is charming to see girls and older women all dressed up and perched behind
the driver, sitting side-saddle perfectly balanced and not even holding onto anything or anyone. It is equally sweet to
see little children riding, even on busy streets, with their fathers or grandfathers, having what could only be the best time of their lives.
We try to not worry about the lack of helmets. You will even see infants in arms being carried on bikes.

This morning, many of the bikes were equipped with umbrellas, since is was raining. At the same time, these umbrellas
come out on sunny days.

When we first arrived we were worried about crossing the road to get to the teaching building. Every morning a stream
of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of swift bikers are barrelling down the incline and racing to their classes. At first I wanted to wait for the right
time to cross the street, but soon realized that the bikers would avoid me. I think that I could almost close my eyes and cross and
be safe, unless a vehicle was coming, and it wouldn't stop at all.

Bikers beep when they want to pass you on the street or in an alley. If you have an image of China as a country with a billion bikes,
you would be right.

Some of these bike pictures were taken on campus during noon rush. They really don't show the numbers. It is one of those things that
you have to see to appreciate. Many of these students flock to local eating places for lunch. There are also vendors with outside woks and
burners ready to accommodate the students' hunger.

Congratulations to Thomas Takahashi and Jane Thomsen on their engagement. Grandpa and I are more than happy for you.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Wednesday17 April 2013

I couldn't resist sending this picture showing was $10 can buy at
our local grocery store down the street.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

One of the little luxuries of living in China is having a foot massage.
Don says that it will be something that he misses the most, and I agree.
Yes, we really are that shallow.

The foot massages are fun, healthy for your feet and very cheap.
The cost is usually between 88 and 98 yuan, which is under $15 and they are for 75 minutes.

First, you soak your feet in a bucket of hot water and herbs. Some places have little blossoms floating in the water.
The massage therapist then gives a good neck and shoulder massage while you are soaking.

Then the feet and legs are worked on. This is so wonderful for sore, tired feet.
At some places you have a heated cup placed on your feet. It can be either rubbed along your
arch or suctioned onto your foot. It is uncomfortable if your feet are stiff.
The first time the massage therapists brought out the fire to heat the cups, we were intrigued..
There are many surprises in China.

All our visitors have had fun with foot massages.

I have added a few photos are of the pearl shop that we enjoy going to. We are making some purchases for others and
it is ALWAYS a favourite place to go. Here is the fellow that helps us. He is the son of the owners and works with his mother, and he
speaks English very well. The tiny shop is in the wholesale pearl district and is about 12 feet wide. There is a photo on the wall
that shows the Queen of Sweden buying her pearls there. We always chuckle to ourselves that we are buying our
pearls where the Queen of Sweden buys hers.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Monday 22 April 2013

For the past few months Don and I have been teaching an extra English class every Monday evening.
The students are three children from the neighbourhood. We were asked by Wendy, our supervisor in
the foreign teachers office. Since she has been so attentive, we thought that it was impossible to
decline. That is Chinese guanxi in action.

The two boys, Hao and Bill, are eight years old and Luna is ten. To be honest, the little boys are very
unruly, but I wouldn't want to generalize. We are becoming attached to them and they are starting
to conform to our expectations, somewhat. They are fun, competitive and anxious to please, and are
excellent with their hands. Don's paper airplane was a clunker compared to their fancy creations. When
we had a button-sewing lesson, to keep their hands busy, Luna sewed on her button with the fanciest
design I have ever seen. The field trip outside lasted about five minutes, because how do you tell
children who don't speak English to stop running away? I do the lesson planning, but Don has promised
that he will be there. Last semester Paul refused to help Ann, and Don understands.

It is interesting to observe the various personalities. I have noticed that without good language communication,
you notice different things in people's natures. Hao is very dominant and a social "alpha male." Bill has been
described as backward and slow by Ann, last semester's English teacher. We couldn't disagree more. He
is a slow English speaker and is very shy, but his creativity and focused intent make us think that he is
the brightest of the three. Probably a late bloomer when it comes to socializing. Luna is a typical, nice
little girl. Once in exasperation I blurted out, "Are only little girls taught manners in China?" Then again,
by the time these "little emperors" are young adults and in the university classes, their manners are superb.

Below is a photo of Hao (on the left), Luna and Bill. Don't even ask what Don and I look like, and I am used to
teaching Primary children, who are often naughty.

Another picture is of a busker playing a guitar and singing while standing on his head. There are many
buskers in Guangzhou and they make the city fun and colourful. For those few who have visited, this was taken
by the Pizza Hut. Wait! Maybe that is Don after our last Monday night class.

And finally, Don wanted me to take a picture of the wonderful bruschetta that he ordered last week in a
new-found Italian restaurant. When Westerners get together, much of the conversation turns to
food, good and bad.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Rats and rain.

Yes we have rats and rain.
The last month has been very rainy. It is usual and a sunny day is a good day.
March and April are wet and everyone needs an umbrella. We have
experienced heavy downpours which are something to behold. During one of our
morning classes a storm came in and quickly darkened the sky in an eerie way.
Even the students wanted to go to the hall and look out. The thunder was deafening,
which is the only way it thunders here. Lightening provides a true light show. This
particular storm, which occurred in broad daylight, made the streetlight sensors
turn on the lights. For some reason, it triggered the alarms in many of the parked cars
on campus. Another storm, a few weeks earlier, caused damage and even fatalities
with the accompanying hail. These storms are spectacular to see and hear.

The students don't like the rain. Clothes are damp for weeks. Laundry doesn't dry on the
balcony. (Neither does mine) The walls in our apartment are damp and mould can be a problem. We are not
used to living in a humid climate. Last night it felt as though we were walking in a cloud,
a mist. But, it is never cold, even if you are soaked.

The rats are always here, in rain and sunshine.
Coming from rat-free Alberta, they were a shock. They are large and can be seen when I look
out my kitchen window. They gather around the garbage basket and scurry to the bushes
whenever someone walks past. One day I watched as a little girl "played" with them. The rats
would run to the bushes. She would wait quietly until they peeked out and then she would stamp
her feet, making them run away.

Rats also come into our apartment building, which is quite open into the stairwell. There is a low
table on every floor, to service the four apartments in each cluster, that is used by us to place
our bagged garbage on. Often, holes have been made and the contents scattered. More than
once, a rat has been surprised and is seen racing down the steps and under the door.
Ian can tell you that this is true. I say that if a rat gets into our apartment, I am leaving.

The students have problems with the rats. The dorm rooms are not very secure as the windows are
often left open. They complain about rats coming into the rooms and eating their food.
The rats could enter these old buildings and rooms even if the windows were closed. The students love
the freedom and adventure of being at university, but their living conditions would surprise and even
shock our Canadian students.

On another topic, friend Sheila Sinclair commented that she was hearing some scary things about China these days.
There is avian flu in the Shanghai area, but so far it seems to be under control and observation. They take
this very seriously. There is worry over North Korea, but it is not urgent or passionate and you probably
have better information than we do. If anything, the sadness in Boston makes me feel safe here in China.

Here are some photos of our campus, taken by Alisa.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Sunday 14 April 2013

You have probably noticed that China has a new leader, officially, as of last month.
His name is Xi Jinping.
You pronounce  "Xi" like "she."

He is the President of the People's Republic of China (PRC)
and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party.

I can only comment on what I have observed from the students.

There has been excitement and satisfaction over his promotion.
When I have asked if they like the new leader, they say "yes," although
nothing else would be expected.  When asked the reason, they say that
he has a good reputation for caring about the rural, poor people, who are
 called "peasants" by many people.  It is still surprising to hear
that term.  The second reason is that he has been a force for
fighting corruption.  The students like both of these reasons. They
know about the corruption of some government officials, mainly at the lower levels, they claim.
However, there is always a practical  assessment with the Chinese.
As one student said, "Time will tell."

He is an appealing leader and the young students like that.  On the world
stage he should appear  young, very strong, and "modern."  The
students are interested in his fashionable and beautiful wife who was
once a well known popular singer.  They have one daughter studying at a 
good university in the United States.  To me, they look like a couple that
will present to the world a positive image of China.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, has been visiting this week and President XI
stated that trouble in North Korea would be in nobody's interests.  The comments
by the students over the past few weeks agree with this statement.  North Korea
is largely taken as a joke by many of them.

The feeling about the earlier  Daiyou Islands dispute was a very different story.
There was passion and anger about that.

We are mostly insulated from politics in China, except for the English TV channel CCTV, broadcast
from Beijing.  It is a government channel.  But I can report that the country has been  happy with
President Xi.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Friday 12 April 2013

Day 2 in Nanjing

We went to the Yangtze River to explore and to imagine what Great Grandfather William Wood could have seen.
I have already written about this, but could add that the river is wide and the valley is flat. There are no steep cliffs along
the edge of the river. As a matter of fact, the surrounding Nanjing area was relatively flat and we could see from the airplane that it was intensively farmed.
There were some hills, such as the Purple Mountain, but it did not appear to be a rugged wilderness region.

After our river adventure we found the Nanjing Memorial Massacre Museum.
This is a big and impressive structure with heartbreaking sculptures along the entry way, depicting
the terrible events of late 1937 when Japanese soldiers occupied Nanjing. The atrocities are
well documented and it surely is one of the most infamous examples of wartime brutality.
Admission was free and there were many Chinese tourists. It was an extremely well done museum.
It is obvious that this story is an embedded part of Chinese national consciousness. About half way
through the museum all four of us reacted with what could only be termed "overload." I wondered, to
myself, how can an honourable memorial be balanced with the hope for future world peace? I have not
found a resolution to that question.

We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the South Gate of the City Wall.
This was spectacular. The Ming era wall is in good repair and it shows just how massive and grand the
city walls were 600 years ago. This gate is really a series of gates and the whole gate is more a barracks for the troops
that protected the city. We walked along the wide expanse and enjoyed the grandeur of the structure.
The wall was thick, high, and impossible to breach. The only hope for an invader would have been to go over.
An entire army with horses and cannons could have been assembled on this structure. The outer wall is lined
with a beautiful walking garden.

A group of school girls wanted their picture taken with Don and Brad.

We loved our visit to Nanjing or Nanking, for all you "older" blog readers.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Wednesday 10 April 2013 #2

There were a couple of oddities in Nanjing that first day.

The first was a little white poodle that had its ears and tail dyed pink.
The toenails were also painted pink.
This is definitely not Chinese. As a matter of fact, you don't see many pet dogs at all.

The second incident is not actually unusual for China, but we still think that it is odd.

At the Presidential Palace we were waiting for our tour guide, Jimmy, to buy tickets.
Susan Hertz leaned over and said, "They are taking pictures of us."
A large group of young adult girls were taking pictures of Susan and me.
Soon they were coming up and wanting individual photos.
I wonder if they think we are Judy Dench? Hillary Clinton? Mother Teresa?
Anyway, it is fun for us, but still a mystery.

A few feet away, a look-alike Chiang Kai Shek was posing for photos for 1 yuan per photo.
He eventually came over, as if to say, "you are taking my business away."

Brad Hertz laughingly said, "You are more popular than Chiang Kai Shek."

What can I say. China is a great place to visit!

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Day One in Nanjing

Don had arranged for a one-day tour to see the tourist musts in Nanjing.

We started at 9:00 and had a full day. We could see that Nanjing is a large, but
charming city. With one third the population of Guangzhou, at only 8 million, it
seemed manageable. All cities, except Guangzhou and Hong Kong, have a lower
profile since tall apartment building jungles are less dominant.

First we saw a lovely Ming Dynasty garden compound (Zhan Yuan Garden). Many of the sites are from the Ming
era, which is basically the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. This housed the Taiping Kingdom History Museum, but we
weren't taken to it, and I am still feeling sad about not being more aware of what was there.

For all of you who may be interested, the Taiping story is a fascinating story with pseudo or semi-Christian undertones.

Then we visited the Confucius Temple which is in the centre of the tourist area. The temple has beautiful jade relief carvings
that tell the story of the life of Confucius. The surrounding area was busy with tourist rickshaw rides, shops and fun. We ate a
traditional Chinese meal and enjoyed the Nanjing specialty of salted duck.

After lunch we made a quick visit to a park that honours the famous Ming admiral, Zhenge He, who sailed the world with
his treasure ships. His story, including his personal life story, is equally interesting.

The Presidential Palace was another good visit. Since Nanjing has played such a prominent part in Chinese history, the
Presidential Palace was useful in putting the history in some sort of order. It had been a Ming compound when Nanjing was the Ming Dynasty capital, then the
headquarters for the Taipings, a headquarters for Dr. Sun Yatsen and later the headquarters for Chiang Kai Shek when his Nationalist party had
to leave Shanghai.

After, we visited the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum. This is in a beautiful area on Purple Mountain and the grounds were lovely with pink shades of
blossoms on the trees. The approach to the tomb had huge, cement animals facing one another. The tomb itself has not been opened. It was
an impressive and lovely place.

Day 1 in Nanjing was great.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Monday 8 April 2013

We loved our weekend in Nanjing, a beautiful city on the south bank of the Yangtze River.
Since I went primarily to capture a feeling for Great Grandfather William Wood, let me report
on that first. As an interesting coincidence, just as I was thinking about William Wood, I received
an email from Ian (Wood) and then another one from Aunt Betty (McPhee) telling about a distant
"cousin" who is a descendant of William's brother. He lives in New Zealand and is working
on family genealogy.

Back to Nanjing.

Our hotel was near the bank of the Yangtze River, where the Qin Huai River flows into it.
The second morning we decided to explore along the banks and walk down the river, past the
island that was preventing us from seeing the whole expanse of the river. As we left the hotel
grounds, the most interesting thing happened. We were surrounded with noise that sounded
like cannon shots, just like what William Wood would have heard as they were fired upon sailing
past Nanjing in 1859. We laughed about it. It was either booming, and I mean booming, from a
work site, or else it could have been fireworks from a Tomb Sweeping party, although it was
louder than usual fireworks.

We tried to follow the river to the east. The path took us down near the river and we saw that it was a
working river. Finally the sidewalk ended and we were more or less walking on our own, across
small docks, up and over stairways , and around little garden plots planted by the river. We climbed
over a little fence and were in a nice area. When we saw a fellow in army fatigues running to get someone,
we wondered if we were in the wrong area. We were. An older guard came and told us to leave. He was
slightly bemused and told us "no pictures and go back." I wondered how he thought that we had
gotten into the place. It was an army area that had vessels to patrol the river. We went back, over the
fence again and felt as though we had had our adventure for the day. It is always an adventure when
you follow Don.

We could see that the river at Nanjing is a very wide, busy and important working river. We could
see river barges and docks on both sides of the river. There was a lot of activity. Great Grandfather
Wood's group could have easily maneuvered in such a wide river. I had a nice "family" feeling being
down by the river, looking out over its width and thinking about ancestors and the sacrifices that
this particular one made for all those that followed him. A twenty year old "kid" could never have
imagined that there would be thousands of us.

The pictures will give some idea of the river. Notice the canola that is grown on every available spot.
The picture of me shows the electrifying time we had on our adventure, or it could just be a bad
hair day that is common here in China.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Thursday 4 April

Today is Tomb Sweeping Day in China.
It is a national holiday where people think about their ancestors and have certain activities
that honour them.

We are going to think about one of my ancestors today.
Don and I, along with fellow teachers Brad and Susan Hertz, are going to Nanjing.
We are going by air, after investigating the other options.  The bullet train was almost
the choice, but it was not direct to Nanjing.

Nanjing will be interesting because of my Great Grandfather William Wood.  He
was in China in 1859 as a member of the British navy.  His vessel was included in the
first group of British ships to officially travel up the Yangtze River.  The purpose
was to assert British influence.  William Wood was only 19 or 20 years old and was
the butcher on HMS Retribution.  He also served as a sailor, an ordinary "Jack," and
at Nanjing his ship was fired upon by the Taiping rebels that had their headquarters
in the city.  His journal tells of the sailors rushing about, barefooted as they always were,
on bloody decks.  He lost a shipmate and friend during the incident.

I want to see for myself what Great Grandfather Wood saw.  What is the river like there?  How
wide is it?  How fast is the flow? Would the Taipings have been on a hill or is the city flat?
Can I visualize how the city could have looked 150 years ago?  

For any of you who may enjoy history, the Taiping Rebellion is fascinating to learn about.
A place to start could be God's Chinese Son by Jonathan Spence.

Nanjing has many other sites, and we will see them during our 2-day visit.
It would be wonderful to have Bob and Anne Baines show us around "their" city.

The photo is of 2 cormorant birds on a traditional raft on the Li River.
They are diving birds that are used for fishing.  A band is placed around their necks so they can't swallow
the fish.  Their size was a surprise.  Not very large.