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.