Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tequila, Tequila and more Tequila

The Mexican invited us to have a tequila tasting at his house last night. Recently returning from Mexico, he thought we should try the "good stuff" as well as enlightening us about the different types of tequila. Who were we to say no?

We show up ready to take the test. First he announces that he will pour the different tequilas and we were to give our two cents opinion on which we thought was the best tequila. I'm not sure he understood the concept of tastings. Last time I checked you were to have a sample of the alcoholic beverage not 2 ounces. After trying a few we decided that we liked the Herradura.

My head was a little sore today. I think I'll just stick to red wine!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

We would like to think we're not wusses...

According to the news here in China, this has been the coldest winter in the past 5 or 20 years. Depending on who you ask or what paper you read.

Periodically, okay, just about everyday for the past 2 weeks, I have been griping about how cold and damp it is here. No, it's not the cold winters of Canada or the U.S. where it may get -20C or so. The temperature if you look at it, will read about 12C. That's nothing, was the response that I received from my brother. I protested and complained that it wasn't just the cold and draft coming through the windows (apparently you don't have heat in apts. if you live below the Yellow River) but also the dampness. You can't even see the outside of the windows after we take showers. I still got the "whatever" attitude and without saying it basically called me a wuss.

Just to show that I'm not the only one here squawking, there are some blogs out there written by fellow Canadian, Brits, and Americans commenting on the frigid weather. One has a list of things you should do to keep warm. People are wearing hats, long underwear, and gloves, and yes this is inside their homes. I will even provide a link for you to read just to prove our point.

Here's a little blurb from China daily the other day: (This is the province where we are located.)

"Last night, 100,000 passengers packed the square in front of the railway station in heavy rain; another 50,000 crouched inside the building or under nearby crossovers," said an official in Yuexiu district of Guangzhou."

Passengers queue at the Fuzhou Railway Station to buy or refund tickets after the bad weather blocked trains arriving in Fuzhou, East China's Fujian Province, January 27, 2008.

And from Reuters: "Police and soldiers stand guard as tens of thousands of passengers crowd Guangzhou Railway Station, in southern China's Guangdong province, January 29, 2008."

I have tried layers of socks and different slippers which don't seem to help, and once your feet are cold, it's difficult to warm up. As we were in bed, Mark commented how this felt like camping to him with the sheets damp and cold. Okay, my camping days are over.

Finally I broke down yesterday and decided to by a heater. We wanted to get one that had a drying rack so that socks and towels could dry. Off I go to TrustMart only to discover the price for these puppies where quite high and couldn't find one with a drying rack. So I bought the next best thing.

Yup, fuzzy, pink, pig slippers. My feet are nice and toasty! The beauty of these slippers, is that they have a rubber sole and are 1/2 inch from the floor.

As for the cold damp bed, I did what any good wife would do...

Have her husband hop into bed first to warm up her side!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mystery Fruit?

Ah, yes that lovable stinky fruit that we talk about yesterday. We figured that some of you would know what it was, and that maybe some of you might hazard a guess.

Well, I would think that letting you know it was a Malaysian fruit that stinks would have been enough for anyone with an internet. In fact typing in just that "Malaysian stinky fruit" returns a list of sites that tell you exactly what it was we ate.

Apparently the smell is so bad that it is banned in a lot of places throughout most of Asia. However, here in China, it's out in the open and they cut it apart right in the supermarket. Once I knew what the smell was I was alright with buying the meat in the supermarket, but before that I just presumed that there meat was starting to rot.

To quote from that semi-credible source Wikipedia:

  • Writing in 1856, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace provides a much-quoted description ... “The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the eatable part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop.

  • Travel and food writer Richard Sterling says “... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia.

  • ...in Singapore, the strong demand for high quality cultivars such as the D24, Sultan, and Mao Shan Wang has resulted in typical retail prices of between S$8 to S$15 (US$5 to US$10) per kilogram of whole fruit. With an average weight of about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb),..

Yep, read up on it, and if you're visiting we will try and see if we can get a sample of some durian for you to try.

Local, well sort of, delicacies.

So while we were over Temptations over the weekend, Mark and Siew ,decided to bring us another local fruit for us to try. Local being Asia, as this is a favorite of Marks that comes from Malaysia. We had seen it around, and well before you see it you can tell that the market has it by its distinctive odor.
Yes, the smell is a little off putting, but George had a solution to that problem. We had tried this before mixed into an ice cream, I wasn't impressed but Tina seemed to like it. When I later said "It tastes just like it smells" Tina responded with a simple "Oh, my nose is plugged."

Trying the real stuff wasn't that bad, at least for flavor, but as you can see from Tina's reaction her nose was working that night...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gulang yu, My Way, and other peoples stories...

Yesterday morning we arose early so that we could help one on my colleagues that was here for the week. He wanted to buy some paintings and a purse for his wife before he returned back to the states. For the purse he was surprised that, unlike the south of China, here knock offs are hidden away. A lot of the Chinese seem to think that these things don't exist here when you ask them, but we know where they are. Actually Tina knows, and I offered up her expertise as a tour guide on Saturday morning.

So, bright and early we meet up with Yang and Syed for a trip over to Gulang Yu, the little island just off the island where we reside. A quick ferry ride and we are walking through the streets and alleys and then into the back room of a shop where the walls are covered with purses and a center table is littered with watches. Nice.

From there we go to a painter that Tina has talked to before, he does excellent paintings and we are waiting for us to find that perfect photo from one of our trips for him to paint for us. We spent a while looking through all of his paintings, and Syed grabbed a few to take home with him. We even bought one, a nice scene from Suzhou, a city we are planning on visiting in May. I'd post a photo of it but we asked him to sign it for us and therefore we need the paint to dry and will pick it up after the spring holiday.

From there, we sat down and enjoyed several teas at a tea store. Tina and I are becoming well versed in tea, and drink quite a bit of a local favorite, oolong tea.

That was close to a full day for us, and we left Syed in the late afternoon so he could catch his flight. After that, we met up with Ravi for dinner and a few drinks. Ravi had been at work all morning working and we think that a good meal and a few drinks was just what he needed.

An excellent hot pot meal, a quick stop at Temptations, and then a few drinks at the little pub we just love, My Way.

It was a fun day, and Tina is getting really good at playing tour guide. For those of you coming to visit, you should have a lot of fun being shown the odd and hidden aspects of the city.

And, for other peoples stories, we have been reading some other blogs written by folks over here in China and have updated our sidebar with their links. Some are good funny, and some may only be funny to us since we live here but try them out anyway. I'd recommend this link to a story from pastey white guy's blog. Most of these sites don't post as often as we do, maybe that's why they seem to read better. Also, while we were relaxing today we uploaded even more photos up to our Flickr site, enjoy...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Chinese DVD

Ok, we have bought our fair share of DVDs over here. There are stores selling your standard legal copies, or so we presume, for what equates to around 6-8 USD, and then there are the hidden stores where we are certain that they are copies. These knock-off copies sell for around 1-2 USD.

In our time here we have also bought one or two of these cheap copies. When we do, we always ask at the store "好 / 不好" which translates to "Good / No good" This works well, and they will take movies from you telling you that they are no good. Why they stock movies they don't sell is beyond us, maybe to make us feel better when they sell us the good movies.

Last night we watched a bad copy. We had a copy of Jarhead, but when we put it in the only thing that opened was a screen showing chapters, just like opening your computer directory. Ok, we figured that out, but thought the movie it would stop for a second then play on. Three times it hiccuped and returned to the menu screen....

But we got through it, and tomorrow the plan is to take it back to the store, hand it to them and simply state "不好"

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sometimes you just have to trust people..

Last night we headed out to one of our favorite places to dine called Xin Shan Tong as Mark had colleagues from the U.S. visiting China for a few days. It's the shrimp place we love to go to minus the fishing.

Mark had called earlier to see if I could just hop in a taxi and meet them. No problem, he would call when they were close to the restaurant. Finding a taxi was about as difficult as finding one in New York at 5pm. It wasn't going to happen. As I was about to give up, a young man in a very nice car pulled up saying that he was a taxi and asked if I needed a lift. Interesting I thought he didn't have a taxi sign on his car. Oh well, I thought what the heck, I can't find one and he seems nice enough so I hopped in. Now as unusual as this may sound to you back home, it's common practice to see strangers picking up strangers to give them rides here in Xiamen. Off we go and head to the restaurant except he has no idea where this is, so I called Rocky who explained to him where the restaurant was located. He practiced his English and I practiced my Chinese. He told me how pretty I was, and I thought great with my luck he's going to kidnap me or something. Nope he just wanted to practice his English. We eventually got there and as I paid him for the ride, he gave me his business card.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Spring Holiday

I'm not sure if all of you know this, but this year the Chinese New Year is on February 7th. For the New Year, China shuts down for a week called the Spring Holiday and most people go home and spend that time with their families.



Most companies here are shut down from February 5 through the 12th, but due to travel times most people will take additional time of before or after that holiday. Apparently the time from Friday, February 2nd until Sunday February 17th are the time that most people will be traveling and enjoying their holiday.

But, the fun of it is that the travelling has started already. Because of the mountainous countryside trains take a long time, buses even longer, and most people still don't have the luxury to fly back close to their home town. Some people are spending 3 days just to travel home.

When I go to work in the morning, at least this week, there have been over 100 people lined up outside at the bus terminal, and it looks like they are waiting just to purchase tickets. The train station has actually set up tents and lines for people to wait in, and it's always full of people waiting.

Makes me think twice about all of the complaining that I used to do when traveling home during the Thanksgiving rush.....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The absurdity of it all....

Recently I have been noticing just how bad the driving is in Xiamen , not that I haven't seen this
before but there have been a few examples recently that made me gasp. I figured I would share a couple of those experiences.

The other day, a woman with a brand new Audi decided that she needed to make a left hand turn, but wasn't quite sure how she was going to do this as she was in the right lane of a 8 lane street. Cars were heading in her direction, but that didn't deter her as she continued to turn her car ever so slowly and proceeded to go over three additional lanes stopping her car in the middle of the street. I guess she wasn't sure where she wanted to go. I stood their mesmerized as cars were coming towards her. She decided that she wanted to make a u-turn but then stopped for a second. My guess is she saw a driveway and it seemed safer. She had to cross over another lane before she reached safety. As I stood and watched this, I noticed that no one honked, yelled or screamed at this person, they merely drove around her. Glad I wasn't a passenger!

Yesterday, I was travelling on the bus heading to school, when a van in front decides he will go from 100 kms to 10kms in a blink of an eye sending the bus a screeching halt, catching people off guard and throwing passengers onto fellow passengers. Apparently the man in the van didn't like the direction that he was travelling and decided he too was going to make a u-turn. He turned the car, while the bus and the oncoming traffic patiently waited for him. At this point he decides he doesn't want to complete the turn and returned the car in the original position. Like the first crazy driver, no one honked, yelled or screamed, they waited and continued on as if nothing happened.

We learned that there were articles written in the China Daily News back in the spring about the number of Chinese paying friends to take their written tests. Comforting to know that people are driving around China with no clue as to the rules of the road. We also discovered that many times people will graciously hand over "gifts" to the instructors. Just to ensure that they pass their driving test. That may explain some of the taxis we've been in. We know of two people where taxis ran over their feet.

One of our Chinese friends proudly declared that if they can drive in China, they can drive anywhere in the world. Mmm, I've seen some of those drivers back home, and I'm not that convinced.

Foot Massage

Massages are relatively inexpensive here and apparently one of those things that you just have to experience when you are over here, especially the foot massages. That said, you've read Tina telling stories about how much she enjoys her massages, and how Edlin and her had recently found a great new place for massages.

So, although I've been fairly certain that I wouldn't enjoy a massage, I went with Tina, Edlin, and Jose a few weeks back. I did my standard grumbling but decided that I could at least try and have an open mind and see how good it felt.

The place was nice, in a clean hospital sort of way, and we took our shoes and socks off and I settled into a big comfy chair next to Tina. Nope out of the chair, we are directed and we sit on the ottoman facing the chair. Then then bring a bucket of boiling tea water for you to soak your feet in while they massage your back. This is where I become a baby, this is scalding hot water, and send my girl out to get some cold water to cool the bucket down, even then it takes a good ten minutes before I could immerse my feet in the water.

From the foot soak and back massage we then get to use the comfy chairs and they get to work on our feet. Tina has a man and I have a tiny woman at my feet, apparently you always get the opposite sex for these things. I don't know how many of you read Tina telling of the pain involved, but instead of being quiet like Tina and Edlin did last time, I yelped. Several times, pulling my foot away each time, it hurts a lot. Every time I did so Tina and Edlin laughed and my masseuse just grabbed my foot back and started back in on the same spot. Wow.

Eventually it starts to just feel numb, and they finish up by washing your feet again in boiling water and then liberally applying lotion to your feet. That wasn't too bad, they felt all soft and brand new. This is what people are talking about then, the pain isn't worth it but this soft toes thing isn't all that bad. Still, I pretty much decided that this is something Tina can do on her own next time....

The next day we take our fresh feet out for a walk, nothing crazy maybe about 2 hours of walking around. My feet did not like this, to the point where I blistered up. I haven't had blisters on my feet since the last time I ran more then 20 miles. Baby feet I am not supposed to have, that masseuse took away all my hard earned calluses and I paid for it. That just cemented it into my mind that this is not something I will try again.

And, to finish the story, it's been over two weeks now and the balls of my one foot still hurts. I think she bruised them.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Practicing our tour guide skills

Over the weekend we had the opportunity to play tour guide since a colleague from Mark flew to China for business, and had some free time. Now that we know more people will be visiting us this year, we thought we should practice our tour guide skills. Ravi was the perfect guinea pig. Saturday was the road trip to Jimei and yesterday we thought we would show him the "old town" . We started off at Huayan Temple and found that it was much larger than we thought. There is a very large park in the back, where people can sit and enjoy card games, read or simply enjoy the view of Xiamen. Later we headed to Zhongshan Lu, where Ravi was quite shocked at the number of people shopping. We explained that this is their favorite sport here in Xiamen. We continued walking through some alleys where one could see how some of the local people live. Many of the older buildings in this area are being torn down as new condos are being built. We will miss walking through some of these alleys as it really gives you a sense of what it must have been like living in China 30 years ago. That being said, it will be better for the people when their living conditions improve. Weaving in and out of the alleys, we made our way to the local market, where you can buy anything from vegetables, to live ducks, goat heads, snake, eel and so on.
.
To quench our thirst we headed to one of our favorite spots, Temptations, where we enjoyed a nice bottle of Shiraz before heading out to dinner. We finished our tour with a nice seafood dinner by the harbourfront before saying our goodnight.

We congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

China International Garden & Flower Expo

Yesterday we went over to the 6th China International Garden & Flower Expo, which is in Xiamen and set to run from September 2007 through April 2008.

It was a large park, and set up really well for walking and just enjoying the scenery. A lot of it is still under construction, and we didn't see anyplace where they were showing off flowers. The only exhibition type building was locked up and looked empty, but we no longer question the way these things work.

The weather was nice, so we had a good time. Getting back was also odd. There was no set place to catch taxis or a bus, you just cross a highway and stand on the side of the road. When you see your bus number you wave it down like a taxi and run after it....

Friday, January 18, 2008

Definition of hell or heaven...

It's amazing sometimes how life works. When I first arrived in China, the excitement of moving to another country wandering the streets of Xiamen, checking the shops out, learning to adapt to another culture lasted a few weeks before the reality of not working hit me. While Mark was away at work adjusting to his new work life, I was struggling to find things to do during the day. One can only shop, sightsee, and do so many massages for so long before it becomes monotonous.

Ah, then school started, that's when things changed. We had three hours every day, while also dedicating about 3-4 hours of homework and studying. While doing that, I have been helping some Chinese learn English and taking Tai Chi. At this point my days were quite busy and I was glad for that, and so was Mark.

Now that school is just about over and we have a month before the next semester, I am actually excited about having some down time. There are books, books and more books that I haven't looked at since I started school and looking forward to having some down time to read a few of them.

What I thought was hell, having all this spare time, I've come to the realization that it's quite the opposite. It's more like heaven, though I'm sure by the end of this break, I will be anxious to get back to school.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The visa issues really never go away....

We are still finalizing our trip to Laos and Cambodia, while at the same time doing some preliminary research for our Trip to Tibet in June.

Since we are not travelling alone, and have others to consider we need to determine timing, prices, tours etc. I have started on this project about a week ago, when I came upon an interesting piece of information. Apparently if you are travelling to Tibet from China, you can do this if you are on a tourist visa and not a business visa. Okay, for once I'm glad that I got an L visa, though I can't say that for Mark who happens to be on a F visa.

Well, I can always show him pictures of our trip!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Adjusting back to China.

Well, now that we are back in China we are once again freezing most of the time. To think that we were so worried about traveling home over the holidays because we wouldn't be able to handle the sub-zero temperatures. The entire time we were back we always felt like it was too hot, and we really enjoyed being able to go outside for a brisk walk.

Now we are back in Xiamen, and it is always cold. The temperature outside is a somewhat chilly 12 degrees (54F), and the humidity here has dropped down to around 65%. The major problem is that our apartment, as we have noted before, has no heat and therefore stays at a fairly constant 20 degrees (68F). That should be warm enough, but with everything damp it just feels cold.

At work and at school there is no heat everyone just keeps their jackets on, and most of the time they like to keep the windows open so that you get a breeze. I think that they do that to keep from getting to warm and having to take their jackets off.

We keep hoping that it'll warm up soon, right now we are trying to layer up with sweaters and blankets....

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

One semester down......

Today was the last day for exams. The exam was to last 2 hours, of which we needed every minute. Except one part of the exam, the entire exam was all characters.

The first part of the test was to translate the characters Pinyin, with of course the correct accent. Okay, I'm lucky I can get the word let alone the correct accents. Next came the quantifiers. Many nouns used in the Chinese language have their own measure word with the default measure word 个。Personally my favorite but I digress and we weren't allowed to use this one. After that we had a few sections where you had to choose the correct character for the sentence. Now the fun starts. One section was a string of Chinese characters that you had to put together to form a sentence that someone from China could understand. Okay, when I speak, I limit my words to maybe 4 or 5 to make a sentence, apparently our teacher thought we needed to form longer sentences. After that was done, we had sentences that were incorrect and we had to correct them, followed by words that were presented to us to make a sentence, and last but not least a story (3 paragraphs) followed by 5 questions that needed to be answered. Oh and did I mention, that all the answers had to be in Chinese characters. Two hours wasn't long enough.

Our teacher did reward us after the exam with a cake to celebrate our success and to say good-bye to some students going back home or moving to other parts of China.

For the rest of us, there will be class again next week.

Monday, January 14, 2008

For the love of Catena...

It's been awhile since we ate Indian food, so we decided that last night would be the night to see our friend over at Indiano Johns, and with any luck hoping he has some Argentinian wines for purchase.

When we were there last, John was going to purchase more of our favorite wine and would ship them to us. All he needed was an email from us to remind him. Okay, we dropped the ball on that one, but were hoping we can make up for it tonight and grab a few after dinner.

Ah yes, he remembered us and like last time, we ordered his last bottle of Catena for dinner. Okay, not exactly what we were hoping for, but that didn't stop us from purchasing a couple more bottles of wine with hopes that our Catena will be arriving soon.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fresh fruit

You've all been listening to us talk about how great the fruit is here. We are always buying fresh fruit, either at the local supermarket or in the street markets.

Pretty much ever since Emily came to visit and went on and on about how lucky we were to be able to enjoy such a selection, we have realized just how lucky we really are to live in a temperate climate where fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available.

Well, today while wandering through said street markets, buying fruit and vegetables, we stumbled upon a flower shop that had small little fruit trees on sale.
Yep, we brought a living thing into our home. For the low price of only 38元 (about $5) we are now the proud owners of the tree shown in the above photo.

Now the only question is, can we keep it alive and enjoy its fruit?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Saturday Errands

Yep, today was a nice and quiet day spent running a few quick and easy errands.

Last night we went over to Temptations and caught up with Mark, Siew was taking care of a sick child so we didn't get to catch up with her, and we gave them gifts of magazines that we brought back from the States. It was good to take some time to catch up with Mark, and to just sit and relax and enjoy some wine.

Today we slept in until around 10:00, and then spent the early morning just cleaning up and finishing organizing. Later in the afternoon we wandered over to Apple travel and locked in our New Years holiday travels and then stopped over for a quick break at a local restaurant, My Living Room, which actually has a great selection of wines and an impressive western food menu. This is a place that we will need to stop back at sometime to try and enjoy.

Ah, then a nice quick dinner at a local Chinese restaurant and an early night. It's nice to be able to relax after all of the running around that we did whilst back home.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Coming out of retirement

The Spring Festival is soon approaching with everyone trying to finalize their travel plans and we are no exception.

Now that Mark found out about the dates that he can take off we started working on our itinerary Laos and Cambodia. We headed to the travel agency on Saturday and held tentative reservations. They were more expensive than we orginally thought, with flights that took longer than our trip back from Chicago to Shanghai.

I corresponded with our agent back and forth during the week to try and see what other options we had but space was limited. Apparently everyone inside and outside of China are travelling during this time period. FYI, for anyone thinking of travelling during this time period either within China or Asia, it's very busy so make travel plans early.

As our agent provides me with a couple of options there are flights within our itinerary that are waitlisted. I advise her that we will take the original flight even though it means travelling the entire day back to Xiamen. She emails me back to say that it was cancelled and of course my question back to her would be why? Of course no response. So I call the agent and she informs me that the airline cancelled the ticket because of the missed deadline. What deadline I ask? There was no mention of the ticket deadline when we held the reservation and I have a witness, my husband. (no I didn't say that). Okay now I'm starting to sound like all those clients of days gone by. She then informs me that the airlines just cancel the ticket when no payment is given and space is tight on the aircraft. Okay, that's a new one to me no payment I get, but when the flights are tight they make up a date so that they can cancel the reservation? At this point it really doesn't matter who or what happened what we need are 2 tickets to our destination.

The day was spent instant messaging our agent to figure out what flights were available to us. What I find interesting, and what I heard so many times during my years in the travel industry was the complaint that the agent didn't show any originalilty when searching for flights. I can see why clients get frustrated but I also know that I'm not the only client that she has, and instead of pointing out what she didn't do, it's best to work with the agent and see if the issue can be resolved. Most of the day was looking into various options to see what would work with our timeframe.

The day was successful and we now have 2 seats going to Cambodia and Laos. Who says I don't have patience?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Coming to an end.....

It seems like yesterday when I started classes at Xiamen University learning how to say 你好 and already the semester is quickly coming to an end. We have finals next week, and as odd as it may be we have an additional week of classes the week after.

The classes are buzzing as everyone's talking about their upcoming trips and whether they will come back for another semester. Some students in my class are travelling during the holidays, some are moving to other parts of the country to learn Chinese, while others are returning home.

During this short time, many have become close friends with hopes that they will continue to remain so. There will be a few students I know I will miss. Hey, you never know when you may end up in Sweden and need a place to crash.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A warm welcome back....

Leaving the marathon and feeling pleased that we had done our contribution to motivate the runners, we headed out to finish out errands and finally resting for a drink by one of our favorite bars, You & Me 2.

We hadn't seen Olaf since his 6th month anniversary party and thought it was time to catch up with him. He told us of his plans for his dream bar. The plans are quite aggressive and should be interesting to see if we will be around to see his dream come to fruition. Olaf mentioned that a band would be playing this afternoon, and it would be a treat for us to see. He found this band practicing in the park and mentioned that if they want to practice they could do so at his bar. They took him up on his offer.
They were a group of older people who sing traditional Chinese folk songs and play traditional Chinese instruments along with violins and accordians. There were approximately 40 people that came to play, sing and dance. They entertained the barflies as well as the local Chinese walking along the boardwalk. At one point, one of the organizer/singer walked over to us, and had me recite from his music sheet so that I would be able to get up and sing with him. I gracefully declined. The issue that Olaf has, is that they will call a day and ask, so it's not something that he can advertise.

It was great to see that not only did they enjoy performing for us, the local Chinese cheered and clapped as well as us patrons. It was a nice welcome back to China.

video

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Marathon

This last Saturday morning was the 6th annual running of the Xiamen marathon. Normally they run this marathon in March, but it was moved up to use it as a final qualifying event for the Chinese into the Olympics.

We both discussed signing up to run in this, actually we discussed this with a bunch of other ex-pats when we first moved here, but we got busy. By the time we looked to sign up the 5K, 10K, and half marathon were already booked solid. As for the full marathon, I looked into it and although I hadn't trained and wouldn't have the time to decided that I could at least sign up and not worry about my time. When I went back in to sign up then, the full marathon was also fully booked.

So, we got to spend our day with both of us as spectators. The route ran right past our place, so from our standing point we got to see the runners at 17K, and then on the opposite side of the road just past the half way point at 24K.
The early runners all looked good, not breaking a sweat, and you could tell that this is their job.

The later runners looked like I presume I normally look while running, exhausted and looking to the crowd for support. That's where were really helped them, two laowai standing amidst the masses of Chinese stand out, and Tina's voice was easily heard among the other spectators who all only shouted "Jiyo" as encouragement.
We don't know what they we saying, apparently some sort of "Keep going", but we were cheering and actually shouting "Keep going", "you can do it", "looking good", you know standard things. Some of the foreigners running would look and smile or wave, but huge quantities of the Chinese would wave and say "Thank you" or "Hello", some would high-five, one stopped to take a picture of us.
It was fun to watch, even for me who has never really watched people running, and just knowing that we were able to help encourage some people, especially the half marathoners who you could tell were ready to quit, made it really enjoyable.

Dinner back in China

After almost two full weeks of thoroughly enjoying western food, by the time we wrapped up our trip home we both were looking forward to Chinese food again.

That's not something that I presumed I'd ever be saying, but even on the flight Tina was talking about how good it would be to have authentic Chinese noodles, and to get to the market and stock up on all of their fresh fruits. We'd both definitely been yearning for a pomelo, that is one fruit that we will really miss when we are all said and done here.

Our first night back, in Shanghai, we ended up eating at a small noodle shop and satisfying our noodle cravings. This just moved Tina on to a strong desire for her spicy chilies fish dinner and so upon returning to Xiamen our first dinner was at what is fast becoming a local regular restaurant.

Tina orders the fish plate and I scan for something to eat and pick the duck with peppers selection. This is where sometimes I, or we actually, forget all that China can offer when you get food. Shortly after ordering a steaming pot with a chopped up duck was delivered to the table, complete with the duck head peering over the lip of the pot. The meat was good, after you worked it off of the bone, and this wasn't nice breast pieces, but the meat at all of the joints and wherever else you can get it. You had to work to get the meat off of the bones.

All said and done, it was a great meal, but it does quickly bring you back to a realization of how different Chinese and western food preparations really are. In the bowl was also the lower part of the duck bill, and I did try that along with the duck foot that was also included. A little more work then I'd like, but really tasty meat.

Tina stuck mainly with her fish and politely declined to try the duck's head.

Visa Stories

While we were back in Chicago we also took some time to head down to the Chinese consulate and see if we could get our visas updated from a 30 day maximum stay up to a 90 day visa.

After what we went through trying to get our visas in Hong Kong, we tried to make sure that we were prepared this time. We had a new invitation letter, and it had Tina's name on it as opposed to just inviting me and my wife, which should allow her to get the same visa that I do.

One thing that we weren't sure of was if the consulate was open, being New Years' eve, and their web site doesn't really explain when they are open all that well. At the beginning of December Tina emailed the consulate to ask their hours and received a "We don't know yet when our holidays are, please check the web site when we are closer to the date." Ah, three weeks isn't close enough?

We got up early, got our visa photos taken, and made it down to the consulate at 08:30, a full 30 minutes before they opened and, yes, a line had already started to form. We stepped in and patiently waited for them to open.

By about 9:10 we were up to the window and then the new fun begins. The girl working looks through all of our documentation and tells me that I'm all set, then she looks at Tina's and says "I'm sorry, you can't get a 1 year multiple entry visa, for non-US passports we can only give you a 1 or 2 entry visa." What? That doesn't help us, we explain that we need one and that nowhere on the web does it mention that they can, "New rules," she says "they just changed them." Finally she decides to go in back and ask someone else, just to see if she might be able to make an exception for us, that's when we notice that right on the window is posted the new visa fares, and they have pricing for 6 month and 1 year visas for foreign passports...

Turns out she was wrong, and they will gladly provide both of us with new visas. We selected the same day turn around, seeing as we were flying back the next day, and she told us that we needed to make sure that we were back as soon as they opened after lunch to pick up our visas.

The consulate is open from 09:00-11:30 and then from 13:00-14:30. Not a very long day, but she informed us that because it was New Years' eve they would be closing early. "How early?" we asked, but they didn't know, just that it would be earlier. So, we made sure that we were there right at 13:00 to pick up our visas, as fun as it sounded we didn't want to have to spend another few days in Chicago.

We get our visas, beautiful 1-year multiple entry visas that allow us to stay in the country now for 90 days at a time. Tina's old visa was clearly marked with a giant red "CANCELLED" stamp, but my old one was not. Not good, I'm thinking, in case they let me in using the 30-day, I'd hate to end up in a Chinese jail for something like that, and we've heard stories about that happening to others...

I go back up to the window and ask to have my old visa stamped cancelled, and the lady looks at my passport, the old and new visas, and starts asking questions. "Why you get a new visa? Old one still good until September. You don't need a new visa." Great, I'm thinking, she's going to want to take my new visa back. I explained the need to stay in the country for more then 30 days at a time, but it didn't seem like she liked that answer and she finally said "Wait" and disappeared into the back.

She came back and had stamped my old visa cancelled, all is now good in our world. This visa experience was much less painful then Hong Kong, but still with just enough questions to make us worry a few times that we wouldn't get exactly what we wanted.

A quick New Year's recap....

Even though we are back home in China, we are still thinking about the short lived fun that we had while back home, and therefore we are going to continue to bore you with those stories...

After a relatively easy Sunday night, being a work night where we needed to get visas and I had to run into the office, we decided that we should try and do New Year's eve right and really enjoy ourselves. Thinking ahead, as Tina often does, we had booked a dinner party at La Petite Paris at 17:30 on Monday night.

I say that we thought ahead, but not really enough to get a late dinner, only enough to get that oh so early 17:30 sitting, where one needs be finished by 20:00 for the people who think to reserve their New Years' in advance. In retrospect, this worked out better for us.

We dined out with Heather and Mike, and fully enjoyed the dinner. Tina knows the owner, Alain, and he too was shocked to see us when we walked in. Again, the beauty of having someone else make the reservation for us, he was shocked to see us, and it was nice to be able to talk to him for a short time on this busy night.

As dinner finished we moved into the bar area, so they could set for their 20:00 reservation, and we enjoyed a few hours of happy reminiscing of the year past and what all it had seen. Around 22:00 the SIM cards in our phone quit, so no late night obnoxious calls could be made to our friends, and by 23:00 we left Heather and Mike to head home. They were heading out to another party where we presume they partied until at least 05:15...

On the way home we were happy to see that it was snowing, a nice thick snow that was beautifully sticking to all of the trees and cars. We got home and were in bed before midnight, ah that's a happy way to welcome 2008, with a sound sleep...

The next morning we arose early and finalized our packing and then strolled the streets to enjoy this new coating of snow.

From there we left for the airport and our 14 hour flight. Due to the snow that we so appreciated, once we boarded we had to wait for well over an hour for plane de-icing, so our flight stretched into the 16 hour range.....
But, after the completely hectic week that we had at home, the flight and the sleep went quick and before we knew it we were back being greeted with Chinese that we had just started to forget. It was a great trip and, again, we are glad that we got to see everyone that we did, and we are sad that there are still more people that we wanted to see or spend more time with.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A night on the town

Knowing that it may be another year before we head back to Chicago, Mark and I gathered a few of our friends together to enjoy a dinner at Sushi Mura (our favorite sushi place) followed by drinks afterwards.
As we met up with Mike and Heather we walked into Sushi Mura, and the owner Monica was almost in tears (or so we thought) when she saw us. She was in total shock. We were regulars here and Monica was quite upset when we explained that we were moving to China. I would like to think that she was going to miss our sparkling personalities. After dinner, she presented us with 4 bottles of sake. Mike (the expert of Japanese tradition) continued telling us that this was a big deal in the Japanese tradition. My concern was, we don't have anymore space in our luggage after my shopping trip from Jewel. Nonetheless, we really appreciated her kindess and will truly miss Sushi Mura.

There were about 10 of us, and many haven't seen each other since the night before we left for China, so it was good for everyone to get together again. The original thought was to go to Green Mill, however, due to the fact that one shouldn't talk if you are listening to jazz we opted for a local bar where we could continue our conversations and laughter.
After a few shots of Jameson for the boys, we finally called it a night about 2:30am.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Back in Xiamen.

Well, a full day and a half after leaving the beautiful snowy scenery of Chicago we are finally back home in Xiamen. Because of the fresh snow in Chicago, and the added requirement of de-icing the plane, we ended up sitting on the plane for an additional 90 minutes before it backed out of the gate. I never like being delayed, but adding that time to a fourteen hour flight is just mean.

Last night we arrived in Shanghai and made it to the hotel around 19:00, we were slightly less tired then the first time we came here, so instead of going straight to bed we went out and enjoyed a nice Chinese noodle dinner. We realized that we both had actually missed having noodles.

Back in the hotel we also realized that we hadn't missed the hard beds, and were thankful that it was only one more night before we were back in our, now well cushioned, bed.

Now comes the fun of unpacking everything that we brought back with us and organizing ourselves back into a normal routine....

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year...

Welcome to 2008, today we are up bright and early to finish up our packing and then off to the airport for our flight back to China.

This has been a whirlwind trip back, through Canada and the States, and it was great for us to be able to spend this short time with family and friends. When we get back into Xiamen and are finally unpacked and settled in we will post up all of our pictures and share some of our stories about our time in Chicago.

But until then, for the next few days we will be traveling and we just want to thank everyone for making last year such fun and we hope that you all have a great 2008...