Thursday, November 8, 2007

China to Turkey to England ...

And here we are in England setting up our own private English lessons, and home tutoring for overseas students.

Take a look at our NEW WEBSITE

It's called English Torq. That's because we are living in TORQuay. And we teach ENGLISH. (And people TALK in English.)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Where Now?

From October 2006 we will be working in Istanbul, Turkey.

When we first told people in Australia we were going to China they usually responded with something like, "Going to China? That's weird!"

And going to Turkey: "Turkey! Where's that?"

See my blog about Turkey.

Then when we said we are going to work in the UK - "doesn't everyone in England already speak English?"

And from August 2007: - the UK. See my blog about our adventures in Britain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Howling Pigeons??

This was my first foray into blogging. Then I backtracked to fill in the posts before that.

("Howling Pigeons of Long Hu" is a remake of my blog "China Time" because of Blogsource closing down.)

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.