Monday, September 4, 2006

Airline Restrictions

Despite all the stuff we sold, gave away, threw away, and sent in boxes to Turkey ... we still had overloaded suitcases to travel back to Oz with. And we were not totally sure how (if at all) the new security measures would affect us.

As we arrived in Shanghai in the pouring rain, the departure boards were full of delayed and cancelled flights from Shanghai to Hong Kong - where we were to catch a connecting flight to Perth. At the Dragon Air counter there was a huge queue, and as a result we ended up getting shunted into "the Elite" channel where there was no one waiting. Maybe this was why they paid no attention to our overweight luggage or the number and sizes of our carry-on baggage (even though there was a sign warning that the limit for hand baggage was 5kg). The attendant was too busily engaged instead getting us booked onto a different flight, because ours had in fact been delayed.

We practically flew through customs and security, no questions asked. The new plane was also delayed, but only by a few minutes, and the gate number was changed after we had waited for a few minutes - but that didn't phase us.

The flight to Hong Kong was uneventful. We went to the transfer desk and got our seat allocation for the flight to Perth - Row 59! Phew, must be a full plane for us to be that far towards the back. Usually a bumpier ride, but theoretically safer ... and easier to reach the loo when you need to etc. But the departure lounge was half empty. And then when we got on the plane and pushed our way through the people stuffing their baggage into the overhead lockers at the front of the plane and made it to the back section, we were the only ones there. We laughingly asked one of the attendants what we had done wrong, why we were banished to the back all alone ... and he told us they were just balancing the weight in the plane.

How rude!

But then he told us that we should be ready when the seat-belt sign went off because there would be an unholy rush for the empty 3- and 4-seat rows, which we were closest to. Sure enough, with our hands ready on our seat buckles, we were the first to jump into the empty rows, and ended having a good sleep on the 7-hour flight down to Perth.

At Perth airport things were very casual - there wasn't even a quarantine beagle on duty sniffing bags. Once again no one asked questions or wanted us to open bags, and we were through in a jiffy.

I hope the flight to Turkey in four weeks will be as easy.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Day in Paradise

All this time living just down the road from "Heaven on Earth", and "The Venice of China" - to mention just a couple of the tourist plugs for Suzhou - we had never quite got around to visiting there.

Now the owner of our private school has just bought herself a new apartment there, and so we were all invited to a "come-see-my-new-apartment-and-farewell-peter-and-ruth-and-welcome-christian-and-leo-(who-has-been-here-for-a-while-anyway)-party. Yes, really.

We went by train, and when we got out at the station in Suzhou we were pounced on by a (some) English-speaking lady and her husband who wanted to offer themselves as our guides for the day. Well, it was a very hot day (42degrees and muggy) and they had an air-conditioned van, so we accepted the offer to be chauffeured around all day rather than try to find a map and catch buses or taxis - we weren't even sure what we wanted to see anyway.

First they took us to one of the parks - Calming Garden, I think it was. We paid our way in (parks are not free in China) and wandered around in the heat, looking for shady spots and breeze.

teapot sz

And trying to avoid the tour groups with the MEGAphones ... Hmmm, "Calming garden ..."

At the end of the park there was a larger section of water, and - to our surprise - we realised our tickets entitled us to a short boat trip back down the waterway.

boat park 7 sz

Then our guides took us to the "Number One Tourist Spot in Suzhou - Tiger Hill." It was, of course another park with an entry fee, and a hill to climb with a tower on it. It claims to be 2 500 years old - yeah, whatever. The tower looked very old and definitely had a slight lean. The opening time for climbing said tower apparently ended moments before we arrived. Another guide offered us a ride to the top of the hill in an electric cart - we decided it was worth the price, and we all got the definite impression the ride down the hill was include ... but as soon a we dismounted the cart abandoned us and took off back down the hill.

The heat was intense and the humidity oppressive. We sat in the shade for a while, and then wandered back down the hill.

Oh, and the tiger? Something about the chap who was buried here (2 500 years ago), when he died someone saw a tiger here ...

In this park and the previous one there were some signs that offered some special interest:

park igin 2a sz

park sign sz

And the always curious bins:

bin sign sz

Our giudes told us that number three tourist spot would be the canal, but first we went for some lunch. They took us a to nice little restaurant where we ordered five dishes - including a Suzhou special "boneless" fish for 100 kuai. Well, the fish was nicely done in a sweet and sour sauce with all the bones removed (except head and tail), but considering the whole meal (for five of us) only cost 200 kuai it was a very expensive dish. (Soon be back in Oz, real fish and chips!)

Time for the canal - "number 3, canal", they kept saying - and then they stopped and told us to get out. "Canal?" we asked - because it certainly didn't look like it. "No, that's next. This is a silk factory ..."

silk sz

Well, it may be a while before we see yet another silk factory - do they have silk factories in Turkey?

The bit that always interests me is not this part (above) where they spin 6-8 strands together, but where they make doonas (quilts) out of the "double" cocoons - the ones that have a male and female insect inside.

silk 5 sz silk 4 sz

silk 6 sz

She starts with this tiny cocoon and stretches it over a frame, and then a bigger frame - its incredibly strong.

silk 8 sz

And then four people get hold of this scrap of silk and stretch it to double bed size.

silk 7 sz

After several layers of that, you have an amazing doona.

We escaped without buying any. Then it was time to go to the canal! We drove down some incredibly narrow alleys to get to the canal, but the little man our guides were supposed to be meeting wasn't where he should have been, so we went back and drove across to the other side of town to find a canal ride.

Not the sort of problem to expect in "Venice" ...

By now we were very tired, and tired of the hot weather, and pretty much out of cash. And so the offer of a ride in a canal boat (not a gondola) for 68 kuai each lost its appeal. It was time to go to the party in

The Apartment

The apartment is in the Suzhou new Singapore Industrial District, the fifteenth floor of serviced apartments belonging to the Crowne Plaza, right on the edge of the lake with views of the (man-made) islands.

marissa view 3

The Crowne Plaza itself is in the process of being knocked down and rebuilt - a little thing they seem to like doing here in China - so there was a lot of construction equipment and noise nearby, after all the place is brand new.

There are fountains built in to the edge of the lake, and we were looking forward to the show in the evening - as were many others who gathered - but apparently they heard we were coming and decided not to do the show.

marissa view

Still the view is specky. Don't think I'd like to live here - nice to visit and see.

And a good time was had by all. (At the party ...)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Soup and Shatter-Bread

Yep, that's what I had for lunch today.

shatter bread

I can't take it any more. I can't face any more Chinese bread with that sickly sweet coconutty smell (and sweet taste). I can't face any more Chinese street food, nor funny bits of various animals. Its just not nice. I want something plain, a little bit savoury, familiar.

Yes, the soup is still in a Chinese packet, but it just tastes like "cup-a-soup" ... a little thinner, more watery, than back home.

And the shatter-bread? Well, if you buy the bread-sticks - the only non-sweet bread we can get most of the time - we buy several at a time because we have to travel to a big supermarket to get them, and they don't have any preservatives or whatever ... so they go hard as rocks in no time. Who needs croutons? Just use shatter-bread.

Ok, I admit it. I haven't been out of the apartment for two days and I'm a little bored.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Putting them up and tearing them down

Or doing things in the right order

I like sewing, I like turning a flat piece of material into something someone can wear. I like cooking too, turning some powders and liquids and 'goo's into a nice rubbery piece of cake that looks nothing like the ingredients it started off as. With everything, though, I have learnt by hard experience, you need to do things in the right order ... otherwise you end up un-picking and un-doing and doing over.

Jian Kang Lu,

our street, has always had a charm of its own. The first time we were driven down this street my heart sank - what a grotty place, the back-side of town! The road surface is bumpy, the pavements are 'splooshy', and a whole lot of people live and operate their businesses on the narrow pavement area making it necessary to take your life into your hands and walk on the road. And there are dozens (literally) of pink rooms with friendly girls who pop out to invite you in.

But what was always unusual about this street is that for the most part of it there were actually three rows of big, shady trees. One row of younger trees were on the edge of the street, and then two rows of huge trees separated the car lanes from the bike lanes. Over the summer at least it gave it a real "green leafy" feel, despite the decrepitity of the rest of the street.

jian kang lu bus stop

Our apartments nestle at the corner of this street and Wu Ai Lu - and for our first four or five months here WuAi Lu was just a construction sight, closed to most traffic, most of the buses were redirected down Jian Kang Lu. Suddenly they finished resurfacing WuAi and planted instant big trees and it was a nice place to be.

When we head to work we tend to go out to Jian Kang Lu to catch a number 40 bus - infrequent though it tends to be, because it takes us directly from our gateway to the front door of our office.

Last summer we stood baking on the pavement in front of the construction wall where they were building some posh new apartments next to the bus stop. Then they finished and knocked down the wall, and we stood and shivered through winter next to the instant garden they planted there, (complete with underwear trees). The buses would come bouncing into the stop over the rough surface, splashing muddy water from the puddles all over the myriad of cyclists clinging frantically to their vehicles as they clanged and bumped their way through.

Then they re-bricked the pavement by the bus-stop! I spent several happy hours over several days waiting at the stop and watching the little men (especially one particular one-eyed elf-like man) lugging the pavers from where they'd been dumped and carefully laying them in a neat pattern.

Then they put up a new bus stop sign - instead of the old bit of tin wired onto a power pole.

And then, oh joy! They finally gave us a bus shelter! After nearly a year of standing around in the weather, we finally had a bus shelter.

But I wasn't quick enough to get a photo of it, it was only there a few days, then it was gone.

bus stop

That's where it was. Now we were all back to standing in line in the shade of the power pole like this lady is. I waited with her, and the bus finally came and we climbed aboard. But this was the day they started cutting down the trees in Jian Kang Lu. They hadn't closed the road, but there were trunks and branches and leaves and great gaping holes in the road, not to mention the heavy machinery that was doing the work.

The bus-driver - apparently taken by surprise by this development - found the road ahead blocked, but then he saw a space on the extreme left of the road (yes, they drive on the right here - mostly) so he wormed his way over there, and drove down the pavement for a bit. Then the bus jammed a bit between a couple of tree-trunks. Undeterred the driver scraped his vehicle onto the left-hand bike lane instead. Finding this blocked too, he headed back to the extreme right-hand side - through several muddy holes and over a heap of dirt - and drove on the pavement there for a while. Of course he wasn't the only one meandering back and forth. It was peak hour traffic and apparently no one had known they were going to start digging up this busy road today.

Of course its much worse now. They still haven't actually closed the road - as far as I can tell - but the buses have quit coming down here. I am so glad we are not living right on Jian Kang Lu, the noise at night time would be very hard to sleep through, we are three buildings back from the road and the machine noises are mostly drowned out by the dogs barking, squeaky bike brakes, doors slamming, doorbells ringing ...

All that you get used to. But I am totally puzzled by the lack of coordination between departments. The people who do pavements and bus stops obviously have no language in common with the people who do roads and drains. This is a level of incompetence I really only thought was possible in the west.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Cheek by Jowl

All of a sudden the "heat wave" has passed. We can turn off the air conditioners and open the windows - at least for part of the day.

And rediscover our neigbours.

kitchen neighbours

There they are, just a few metres away. And over here as well ...

living room neighbours

Everywhere you turn - people, people, people ...

Last night I spent some time in the bathroom ... and the people were all still there. The man downstairs walking between the buildings shouting "Wei! Wei!" (hello) into his phone, and the baby in an apartment that was wakened by this and started to bellow, and the dog that decided its owners and everyone else should know that something was going on. A few metres away, in the next building, someone had come home at 2 am without a key apparently. Each apartment has a strident doorbell that screeches "Avon! Avon! Avon!" when you touch it. (Except ours which is, thankfully, not working, again). The occupants of the apartment were asleep, or maybe out, or possibly dead, but the person at the door just kept on pressing that bell, again and again, and even I finally fell asleep again despite it.

Our students often use their country's overpopulation as an excuse for many things, including poor study habits ...


and falling asleep on the job ...

corporate class

The real problem is not the number of people in the population, but the lack of concern they show for each other. It's not that hard to talk quietly on your phone at 2am, and to not spit all over the pavement, and to not push when you are in a queue, and to look out for other people when you walk past them ... all those little courtesies we were taught as youngsters.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The owl and the pussycat

Our daughter-in-law, when she was much younger and still 'the girlfriend', often ate at our house but didn't like to eat her vege's - especially her "greens". Just for fun, we always kept a few green "icy-poles" (lime flavour) in the freezer to make sure she kept to a balanced diet.

So when you see an ice-cream with this wrapper:

pea green wrapper

What flavour of ice-cream do you expect?

pea green lick

If you didn't know that ice-cream came in "pea" flavour, then you obviously haven't been to China. Or maybe you are in China but not game to taste this delicious (and cheap!) dessert!

And this is not one of the best ones. Last year in Zhengzhou we often bought pea-creams that had chocolate, nuts and sultanas in the middle.

Maybe this would have taught young Jenn to eat her greens!

Owl and pussycat? Who needs a pea green boat when you can suck on one of these beauties...

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

of Blains and Blawn

I was at the office, slogging my way through a five-and-a-half-hour stint with one business class, and badly in need of a (second) cup of coffee ... and for the second time that day I found that the bottle on the water machine was (still) empty, so I headed down to the other end of the office to fill my cup from the other machine. [Had there been a spare full bottle next to the machine, I would have replaced it - but I didn't fancy carrying (or rolling) one from the other end of the office.]

As I stood at the other water machine, I noticed Manager Mark slaving away at his desk, working on next week's timetable, and so I mentioned in passing that we could do with someone with 'muscles' to replace the water bottle in the teachers' office.

At the end of my lesson I returned to the teachers' office to be greeted with this sight.

clazy laowai

What are these clazy laowai doing?

Well, apparently neither of these chivalrous males had ever before changed a water bottle, nor even watched one of the skinny little office girls do it, nor applied their problem-solving skills (blains) to thinking about how it is done.

They attacked the full bottle with great gusto, removing the plastic cap and blue collar, and then stared in amazement at the open, naked bottle neck, wondering how on earth they would up-end it onto the machine. So then they looked longingly at the empty bottle,

empty bottle, with collar

still wearing its little blue collar, and wondered if they could somehow get the water into the old bottle.

They hunted around and found a plastic folder, which they twisted into a funnel, and voila! Great problem-solving skills, guys!

(P.S. For those that are not familiar with the term, "laowai" is a general Chinese term for us foreigners)

Ringing in my ears

Last night I was having trouble getting to sleep. My ears were ringing. I felt like I had been at a rock concert or something. Then I remembered.

Talkative Taxi Driver

I have to travel out of town a-ways to teach in a couple of different factories. One of them sends a car - makes the whole 30-40min trip quite relaxing. For the other, I must take a taxi. I had a couple of bad experiences with drivers from the inner city getting lost on their way out there. So now I have a regular taxi booked by the Chinese staff at work. I climb in the back, and relax all the way there going over my lesson notes and enjoying the scenery.

There is always a line of taxis there waiting when its time to come back. At the end of my two hours of teaching there I am tired and hungry and I just want to get home for tea.

As I emerge from the guard room at the front of the factory the drivers are standing around in a group, discussing me. No, I'm not paranoid, they really are. By the time I've taken a few steps towards them the front driver has the door open ready for me and the engine running, and all of the drivers are chanting the few words of Chinese that I know and use when I tell them where I want to go. So, no need to explain anything - just laugh and agree, get in and go.

Several times the driver of the front taxi was a little lady who can barely see over the steering wheel, even when she sits up straight in the seat and doesn't let her back touch the seat-back. She drives tentatively and makes me a little nervous, but at least she is quiet.

Last night I stepped into the waiting taxi which had the door open and the engine already running, and smiled at the driver. We were a few metres down the road when he got conversational.

He wanted to practise all of the English words he knew, and he wanted to teach me a bunch of Chinese. We "discussed" where I come from, and my job, and his, and where I live. He pointed to things we passed and said their names in (very bad) English, and how to spell it, and how to say it in Chinese (with a Wuxi accent). All of it was shouted at the top of his voice. We went through the days of the week, and numbers - he missed "seven", but I decided I didn't care.

About fifteen minutes into the trip he patted his hand against the ceiling of the cab and yelled "langa!" He was staring at me, questioning. I looked from him to the road ahead and back to him frantically, wishing he would also look at the road. "Long?", I asked, and suggested, "You mean 'tall'?" Silly me. "Langa, langa! L-Ooow-N-G!" he shouted. Obviously I didn't look convinced, because he turned on the cabin light and opened a tiny notebook from the dash, and started flipping through it. Again I was watching the road ahead hoping nothing jumped in front of us while he read the scrawls in his notebook. I decided I would not disagree with him again, and stared out of the window wishing he would just stop talking. "Short! S-H-O-R-T!" he was shouting at me. I agreed with him, and tried hard to repeat the Chinese words he was throwing at me. Finally he was tired too, and started "singing" (loudly) instead.

We were still a couple of hundred metres from where I wanted to get out, and I had my briefcase and a CD player to carry. He started practising words again. "Stop! S-T-O-P!" he bellowed. "Ting che," I said quietly, wanting to show that I knew at least a few words of Chinese. He took me at my word, and stopped straight away. For a brief second I thought about telling him I didn't want to stop right yet, but thought better of it, I would rather lug my stuff the last bit than put up with any more shouting in that small space.

This morning my ears are feeling better. And tomorrow I will be out there again catching one of those taxis.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Happy No More

This week I said goodbye to my best little friend, Happy the Hamster. After an illness of several weeks she is finally gone.

In Loving Memory of Happy


I remember the first time I saw her. (Wedding Anniversary and a Hamster.)

We were in Zhengzhou, hurrying through the streets in the sub-zero winter weather, on our way to celebrate our wedding anniversary at a restaurant. And I saw her.

I stopped to watch this tiny creature running for all she was worth in the icy wind, in her little blue wheel which was clipped onto the side of a cardboard box. Peter said, "I leave it up to your conscience."

happy's wheel

Well, what would your conscience have told you?

Very soon she became quite tame. (mentioned in Semester End) She was the softest, gentlest little creature, and never ever bit anyone (not even Marilyn) no matter how you handled her.

But pets come with special problems, like when she escaped into the wall on a couple of occasions, and disappeared down the drain one night. (Hamster down the drain.)

And it gets worse if you want to travel. Travellers cannot afford the luxury of pets - even tiny ones. We went to Beijing and Qingdao on the train, and there was no one to look after her (and I didn't trust her to look after herself) ... so she came with us. First I crochetted a warm woollen bag that I could slip her tiny cage into it and carry it nonchalently onto the train. (New Year 2005 have hamster will travel.)

Here is Peter modelling Happy's bag on his head ...

happy's bag

Her little cage is on the table behind him. And so we went, and she was fine in the daytime - sleeping away in her warm little nest. Here she is on the train to Beijing. (You can see her bag on the table.)

happy on the train

In Beijing we stayed in a "Hostelling International" place, in a dormitory room with wooden bunks and wooden locker under each bed. It seemed like the perfect place for Happy to spend her active nights while we slept.

Happy in beijing

But between her desire to rearrange all her "furniture" during the night, and run in her wheel, and exercise her teeth on the edge of the door she managed to get hold of ... and the box acting as a huge sounding board, it turned out to be a bad idea.

We brought her with us when we left Zhengzhou (Leaving Zhengzhou) and our good friends in Wuxi, Leanne and Ryan, did a wonderful job of looking after her while we visited our family in Australia.

When we moved into our apartment here in Wuxi (New Home Wuxi), she really got going in the hamster wheel I brought back from Australia for her. And then she took up residence in the glass cabinet in our living room - Happy's New Home.

Now the cabinet is empty. So sad. I keep thinking I hear a little noise and I look over there ...

empty cabinet

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bye Bye Boxes

I've been a bit busy.

That would be a first for our time in China, generally things are pretty laid back and easy-going. But it was time to face the music and deal with the junk. Who would believe how much stuff you can accumulate in just two years!

And then you realise that you are moving to a new country and you are allowed 20 kg of baggage each - plus hand-baggage.

Peter (hubby) always has these great ideas about how we should travel with loads of hand-baggage, the way all those other annoying people do. (You notice this when you are waiting to get into your seat on the plane and they are stuffing things into the overhead locker.)

  • So you stack on all the clothes you can, including a couple of coats, and a coat over your arm - complete with pockets full of stuff ... yes, I know its summer here (and stinking hot) but it will be cool on the plane and its winter when we get to Oz.
  • And then you are allowed to carry "reading material" - just how many books would they allow us to carry for a 10 hour flight?
  • And then there is your actual hand baggage - some people seem to stagger on with a full-sized suitcase.
  • And I can have a handbag as well.
  • And a brief-case - maybe.
  • And then there is the lap-top. In its bag, with its bits and pieces.
  • And an umbrella - can I stuff things into that?

But even with all that, we still have a bit of a problem. We originally came out with a large amount of excess baggage - a whole 40kg - and just gritted our teeth and paid because our travel agent had misled us about the allowance, and it was the middle of the night, and there nothing else we could do (other than abandon our bags in the middle of the airport lounge). And then we have been back to Oz twice, and each time taken empty cases and returned with full ones. And then there is all the wonderful stuff we have bought so cheaply here!

The little people on the streets that collect the rubbish and scour the neighbourhood for recyclable materials have had a bit of a treat lately as we have been depositing all sorts of useful bits and pieces in their way. And then we have sold some stuff, and given some away.

But in the end, there is more than 20kg worth that we want to keep and take to Turkey. We tried all sorts of possibilities. You just can't send things from here to Turkey by regular means. In the end we settled for a freight company called Seven Seas. Its going to take them ten weeks to get our boxes from here to there. By camels, maybe?


That's all of it. Three boxes, 30kg each. They were very efficient about getting the boxes to us here in Wuxi, from Shanghai - they came complete with sticky tape, permanent marker, and paperwork (in English!) that made no sense but had to be filled out anyway.

We asked them on the phone how they would get the boxes down the stairs from our 5th floor (no elevator) apartment, and they replied "manpower", so we expected a little man (or two) with one of those trolleys that can bump down stairs. On the day it bucketted in rain, and we watched anxiously for the truck from our balcony. No sign during the morning when they were expected. Finally in the afternoon a man came trotting down the driveway - parked the truck way out on the main road - and panting up the stairs. He stared in disbelief at the three heavy boxes - what did he think " three 30kg boxes" would look like? - and phoned his mate in the truck. Mate brought the flat-bed trolley. And the two little men lugged the boxes down the stairs one by one to the waiting trolley. I was glad there was nothing really breakable in there!

boxes going

Five more weeks here, and five weeks in Perth before we see that stuff again!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hey! It's me!

The 'K' buses (the ones with working gear-boxes, and airconditioning) these days in Wuxi all have TV sets installed - those little flat-screen thingies - two of them, one near the back and one behind the driver. Usually the sound is turned right down low and its just a Chinese babble, and someone else's head is generally in the way so we don't even bother to try to watch it. Occasionally we hear an English word or two and our heads jerk up to take a look - usually it's an advertisement from the opposition English language school here in town. But the other day Peter and I were sitting on the sideways seats just behind the driver, and I glanced up at the TV because I had a clear view of it ... and saw myself on TV. We both had a good laugh, as did the guy sitting opposite us who noticed what we were amused about. It was actually an advertisement for our English language school - a very brief one, and was of course immediately followed by a much longer, more interesting, advertisement for that other school.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Essences of life

A friend asked me if we can get vitamins and health supplements here in China. I admit I had never really tried - I guess the sight of things like "lizard on a stick" suggested to me that the meaning of "health supplement" is blurred here.

lizard on a stick

I have never worked out what one would do with one of these - lick it? wave it like a fan? - nor what the desired effect might be. I've read and heard how generally the idea of the medicine is that you take on the characteristics of the creature you are consuming, or that is being waved near your fevered body.

multiple medications

Obviously here every possible condition is covered.

But, to be fair, you can buy what look like regular 'western' health supplements. Today I was in the shopping centre, and was attracted to what appeared to be a small health supplements shop because it had a sign bearing a large American flag and a picture of Uncle Sam. There were bottles of pills, and a poster with pictures of pills ... but all the labels were in Chinese, the attendant only spoke in Chinese, and the only other clue was another sign announcing "American beet products". I dunno.

So I wandered across to another health shop, and walked up and down the shelves looking for something I might recognise, some clues. There was something for babies' nappy rash - judging by the pictures - and containers with pictures of cows and the word "colostrum" - more baby stuff.

Then I found another English word: Yak Essence. But who wants to be big and hairy? And which part of the yak ... I went further and finally found something familiar - a bottle with a picture of a kangaroo. It must be something Australian! And English words too: Essence of Kangaroo.

I still dunno, really.

The Pig Knows

While we are into essences. Have you ever eaten a pig's nose?

I thought about it.

nose food

Though, I must admit, not for very long. At least these noses are vacuum packed ... do you know what they smell like out in the open freshly cooked?

When we are at work in the city during the day we often duck down an alley as the quickest way to a Starbucks during our break, and as usual in these alleys there are a great many food vendors along the way keeping out of the way of the police. For the last few weeks there has been one particular stall that we hurry past because the aroma and the sights are ugly. It sells all the yucky parts, the inside bits, and it always has at least one pig face ready cooked for a hungry customer. And its all sitting there out in the open catching whatever the atmosphere chucks up at it.

We were in the supermarket this morning, and it was packed - being the summer hols and all. The freezer was full to over-flowing with frozen chicken bits, and people were (as usual) pawing their way through it - no gloves, no bags, no tongs ... just reach in and grab. It did overflow, some unprotected chicken pieces clattered onto the floor. Remarkably (because usually anything on the floor is readily discarded) the thoughtful patron bent down and retrieved the pieces and returned them safely to the freezer.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

That Rascally Panda

And caring for animals the Chinese way

Yesterday we thought we should visit the pandas before we leave Wuxi. After all, maybe they don't have pandas in Turkey ...

It was a normal summer day - miserable hot, insufferably humid. We got up early in the morning because all the information we could gather said it was best to visit in the morning. So we snagged a taxi in the morning rush-hour, and stepped out of its icy air-conditioned interior into the hot soupy air outside XiHui public park. There was Chinese music playing, and a huge crowd of older people dancing slowly around in a big circular area outside the park. We stepped up and paid our 45yuan each, and went into the park. Here were more groups of people exercising together (or pretending to be statues) - surely they didn't pay that much money each just so that they could do this inside the park instead of outside.

It was apparently "national bad taste" day - no, I jest, its like this every day - because most people were in singlets and boxers, or pajamas, with stockingette anklets and slippers on their feet. But let's cut to the chase and get into the zoo!

Some people were in the zoo gateway arguing about the price of their tickets or something - I don't know, establishing a relationship with the gatekeeper maybe? It seems to be another necessary part of Chinese culture.

And then there were those making the best of the opportunity to make some money.

panda stall

And there was The Panda Enclosure, with absolutely nobody standing anywhere near it.

panda enclosure

And there was Mr Panda himself, flopping around and disconsolately chewing on his bit of bamboo. He was obviously hot and thirsty, but there was no water evident in his enclosure. And the door was closed to prevent him returning to his inside room.

Of course he's not the only panda the zoo has (on loan), but you have to admit that the other ones look more like foxes than pandas, even though they are called (red) pandas.

red panda

So we hung around and watched the panda for a bit - a little bit of a breeze started to blow, so it was a good place to be. Very soon people noticed that the foreigners were looking at something and came over to stand next to us, point and laugh at the panda, and talk loudly about us.

The breeze did not seem to be reaching the panda, he was panting, and he could also hear/smell someone on the other side of that door behind him. He kept getting up and putting his head through the hole in the door, making sad little chittering noises. A woman appeared at the hole, laughing and teasing him a bit, and gave him a piece of watermelon to chew on. But he dropped it, and couldn't find it again.


He sat on his big hairy butt, looked across at us, and gave a big sigh. A whole year in this zoo, poor boy.

While we were there and the breeze was helping things along, we decided to wander around the rest of the zoo. But its not a good place for animal-lovers to visit.

The monkeys are always amusing. They had rocks and a climbing frame, and a big space to run around in, and some greens to eat. There were some cute babies, and some very sick looking monkeys among them, and - as in many of the enclosures - cats helping themselves to the animals food.

monkeys and cats

Everywhere was old, grotty, poorly looked after. There were broken things not mended, sick animals not taken care of, and the zoo is built in the old style - concrete and bars.

We came to the bear pit, right up near the edge of the zoo - can you imagine living in these houses right next to the bears and listening to them at night?

brown bear home

As soon as we arrived, the normal crowd gathered. Now what do you think these black bears are so interested in? (Obviously they have lost interest in the drink bottle someone threw to them.)

black bear interest

The little boy! Throw down the little boy ...!

watching the bears

It would be so hot down in that concrete pit, with only a puddle of stagnant water, no shade, and the doors closed to stop them going inside.

Enough zoo. Let's go home and play with my hamster.

Saturday, July 1, 2006


I'm wet. Well, damp. Kind of 'tacky' really.

Some of it's sweat, and some of it's rain - along with all the chemicals that probably come down in the rain in the place like this.

I hate this weather.

Sometimes our thermometer on the kitchen window drops all the way down to around 30 - at night, and in the first few minutes after a rain shower. Like now.


But it doesn't really give you much idea of how it feels.

Its so hot - it's like breathing hot cotton wool - and any clothing that isn't natural cotton, loosely woven if possible, may as well be a plastic bag.

So here is my going out gear - sandals, and a brolley. Not a good combination really. Sandals to keep my feet cool, brolley to keep me dry (on top of my head, at least).

brolley and sandals

Slip-on sandals can be hazardous at the best of times, but as soon as there is water between my foot and the sandal I am in real trouble. (I can not wear those stocking-type anklets a lot of the women wear, and I'm sure they only make this situation worse.) And while an umbrella can be a useful weapon for maneuvering through a crowd, when you are trying to cross a busy, splashy road and the wind is getting under it pulling in all directions and trying to turn it inside-out, it tends to block my view of the traffic and distract me from the task of avoiding being hit.

It's m' burthday

Well, it was my birthday, on that very very hot Tuesday. It has become traditional (well, it's happened a whole twice) for birthday people to be feted with a cream cake at our office. But it was my day off, I didn't want to go in to work just to have a bite of cake. And, as I said, it was soooo hot. So, new tradition - some purty flowers!

birthday flowers

You might notice that there are some with stamens loaded with orange pollen, and some without. That's because we noticed when we were given some of these sweetly smelling blooms as a house-warming when we first arrived here, that if you let the pollen get away it leaves greasy yellow stains on everything, and ruins clothes - I had to bleach Peter's shirt after that. So the one still with pollen has only just opened and hasn't been doctored yet ...

Hot Pot

And then some of the chaps from work went out for 'HotPot' to celebrate. It was a nice time.


New Threads

But the best bit was going down the road to the tiny little shop that sells cotton materials, and buying some cloth to make myself some new threads.

new shirt

Yeah - I made that one at the back and I'm making the other.

And today (Saturday) I went to work in my new check shirt, feeling like I was just the ant's pants (or the bees knees, or something).

But the time I puddled my way home, I was nevertheless quite bedraggled.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Kindy Graduation

Oh, I feel old. In my day you didn't "graduate" until you were at least leaving high school. We certainly didn't "graduate" from kindergarten - um, I don't think I even went to kindergarten.

kindy graduation

But today I got to go and be a judge for the English competition at the kindy graduation. It was kinda fun.

Every time I arrived at kindy to teach I saw the tiny tots practising their moves for this show. They have such short little arms and legs, but they can really wiggle those little hips of theirs!

aerobic display

Of course, the little Apples were just the cutest, they sang and the kids in the back row shook their little maraccas.

little apples

And then there was a class play about Miss Mouse whose parents wanted her to get married, and she wanted to marry the strongest man - she tried the sun, but the cloud was stronger, and the wind was stronger than the cloud, and the wall (a cute, sturdy boy!) was stronger than the wind, and it turned out that the boy next door was stronger than the wall ...

class play mr sun mr cloud

Then some amazing little kids did nursery rhymes, told stories, and sang songs, and I was one of the five judges. Here is one of the story-tellers - somebodies' mothers stayed up many late nights making costumes...

butterfly storyteller

Two little girls came out to perform the "ABC Song" - I had seen them practising this at the kindy and they were pretty good. But one of them suffered from costume failure - her tinsel head-dress came off half way through the act. She picked it up and stood there holding it with her lip stuck out, refusing to do any more. She and her partner were not the winners.

And then they all got back into their little tartan school uniforms to do some songs and poems and to graduate.


It was hard to be a judge, because - despite the microphones the children were using - there was so much noise from the peanut gallery at the back of the hall we could hardly hear the kids who were performing. That was a bit sad.

I hope the rest of their education goes well for them, I've done my bit.