Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shift Changes

When you visit or live here chances are you will see the shift change ceremony. It happens with most of the companies, stores, restaurants, hairdressers, security guards and so on...

It's quite unique actually. Once a new shift starts, they will have the manager do a speech and encourage every one to do their best work. The workers will chant something back, or sing in certain cases.

The other day, there was a shift change with our security personnel in our apartment complex. It was quite interesting to see. The manager had them salute for a good 10 minutes while he checked every individual and corrected them when not saluting correctly. Then they changed formation and had their feet move slightly back, so that the toes were on the ground and their heels up. They stayed in this position for a few minutes before they started a new position while the leader inspected them, with a few of them giggling. This continued for about a good 15 minutes before I headed back to our apartment.

I took a few pictures as they were still doing their daily ritual.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Birthday Bash at the Mexican's

It was a beautiful warm day with clear blue skies, something that doesn't happen all that often here so in keeping with this week's theme, we managed to have yet another party for my birthday. Actually, it was more of an excuse for everyone to get together.

The making of a good Margarita!

When a glass just won't do.
We went to the Mexican's as he has a nice size yard. The usual cast of characters arrived for a fun filled day. We drank, ate, laughed the day away. Near the end of the evening, our dear crazy friend, Renee decided that we needed to have a drink of the snake wine that we had purchased for him. Since I didn't want to get sick by myself, I made sure that Mark, Renee and a few others were drinking this stuff with me. Hey, misery loves company! We toasted and tossed it back quickly. We figured it would be easier to get it over with, than prolong the agony. As for the taste? All one could taste was the alcohol.  

I found a few volunteers and no Renee Jr., didn't drink any snake wine. 

Yup, don't think we'll be having that again!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

You & Me 2 - 1 year anniversary

So last night was the big one year anniversary party over at You & Me 2, and we wandered over there early so that we could make sure that we could get a table large enough for all of our friends that were coming over. We showed up shortly after 16:00; there were a few people there, the Chinese band that plays some weekend afternoons was just packing up, and the staff were just starting to decorate by hanging balloons and banners up. Ulf, the crazy old Swede who's bar it is, wasn't around and his wife explained to us that he was back in Sweden because his mother isn't doing well. She then asked if we could, since we had our cameras, take all of the photos for the evening. She also gave us her video camera for us to record the party. Yeah, so by showing up early to get seats we become the unofficial event photographer and videographer...
By 19:00 the bar was mobbed with people, and everyone was enjoying the free anniversary drinks in absolutely perfect weather. Tina took to the video camera and went from table to table so that patrons could congratulate Ulf on one year...

They had set up a video conference with Sweden so that Ulf could call in and cheer everybody on and thank us all for coming. The computer lagged a little bit, but it was good to be able to see him and have him see some of the party that he had put together.

video

All in all, it was a great night, and Tina and I feel like we did a respectable job of trying to document the event. We are a little worried about the video, as with all of the rapid movements of people it seemed to have some trouble focusing, but hopefully they are able to get some good footage. We managed to get about 100 good photos that show the setting up, the crowds, the cake, and the fun night that is the dance floor...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Relaxing Friday

Ah, yes it's the weekend already and what better then to spend the evening enjoy each others company at home, just relaxing knowing that we have a hectic weekend of activity planned.

Yeah, a lot of nothing for a Friday night - we didn't even get around to cooking dinner until a little after 21:00. But then, as things often seem to do, fate decides that we are not supposed to waste away an evening with such perfect weather by sitting indoors. It was about 3-5 minutes after we said "I guess we should think about heading to bed soon..." that the phone rang.

Fifteen minutes later we are sitting outside over at You and Me 2 enjoying a beer with a group of the guys that I work with.
It is nice that we can wander over there so quickly, sometimes we forget how enjoyable it is to sit outside on a nice evening and just chat with a group of friends.

Tonight we are heading back to You and Me 2, but this time it is for their 1 year anniversary party where they are having a full open bar from 18:00-21:00, so we are expecting it to be slightly more crowded.

Bananas in Pajamas

Just to show that we aren't crazy for taking to the Chinese streets in out pajamas, attached are a few photos of how the locals prefer to spend their days...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tina's Birthday Party

Ah, so since Tina's birthday fell in the middle of the week Siew and Siewyih decided that they needed to throw a small dinner party for us over at Temptations. Seiwyih who we all remember threw herself a polka dot / Seventies party back in December. Being that she felt we needed a theme, and she was best at picking this for us, we were told that Tina was having a pajama party and that we needed to show up in pajamas.

Ok, now some of you have heard us mention that on any given day you can see Chinese people wandering the streets in their pajamas, so we figured this wouldn't be a big deal to do. Tina and I wandered up our street to one of the many pajama shops that line the road and bought ourselves some nice high quality ones for a total of $20.

The night of Tina's party we preceded to get dressed up like we were going to bed and then we wandered out into the streets to walk the few blocks over to Temptations.

Walking in our pajamas

It felt oddly comforting to wander the streets in our pj's, and we really can't say that the looks from the locals were any more then they normally would be. We did wander past a group of other foreigners getting out of a car and they definitely gave us a double take...

Once we got to Temptations we noticed that we were alone in our bedtime attire, but Siew quickly changed into her outfit. Jose and Edlin had planned to change at Temptations but managed to "forget" their bag when they stopped off at the travel agency. George showed up and apparently the French sleep in jeans and a tee-shirt, who knew?

Siew and Tina - ready for bed?
Enjoying wine and lamb

The food the Siew cooked was amazing,a nice French onion soup, Greek salad, lamb or chicken and lemon tart especially for Tina. After the lemon tart Tina was then treated to an actual birthday cake, and a bouquet of flowers that Ann had arranged with Siewyih while she was still here. It was a really enjoyable birthday meal.

The highlight, of course, is Siew and Siewyih singing Happy Birthday to Tina in Chinese. A full multilingual party as Tina was sang to in Spanish, Cantonese, French, and of course English.

video

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mexican's pet

While we were in Wuyi Shan, we received a call from our favorite Mexican wondering what wine we had purchased to a dinner party as he needed to buy some.

After some discussion, we would meet him at Temptations upon our return and show him the wine we had purchased as the name escaped us. That being said, I did mention that we would pick up some local wine that is quite famous here in Wuyi Shan.

Mark went to a few shops and found what he was looking for.

Yup, snake wine, apparently very famous in this part of China. According to our guide, good for the blood.

He got a good kick out of his gift, though not sure what his wife thinks of their new addition.

Monday, April 21, 2008

General feel good post....

Now, we know that that all of our regular readers will remember this first photo...

Yes, that's right that and the following photos are from when Matt came over to visit us and we traveled over to Tokyo to see the Red Sox opening series against the A's.

These pictures were taken at a small little sushi restaurant that Matt found near the stadium, the lower one was from the first night we were there and the first photo is actually from when we returned the following night before game two.

The owner was so nice to us the first night, coming over to talk and show off his photo album, that we printed out a copy of the photo from the first night and presented it to him when we returned. He enjoyed it and we ended up taking the second photo of him and his wife in front of their restaurant. We gave him our cards so that he could e-mail us and we could send off the photos from that second night...

Ok, so it's now a month later and today this is sitting in our mailbox.



This confused me - as nobody we know would be able to write out our address, but upon flipping it over we see that it was mailed from Tokyo.

Yes, it was from the owner of the restaurant, he had simply taken the address from one of the business cards that we had handed him. Enclosed was the following letter from him -


We hope you can read that, if not it basically is saying thanks for the picture and for stopping by. He then included three of his own photos of the cherry blossoms for us to enjoy.
Isn't that just the most amazing thing somebody could do?

Wuyi Shan cont'd....

The day after our big ascend to Wuyi Shan, we went to a quaint old village called Xiamei. The architecture goes back to the Ming (1368 - 1644) and the Qing (1644 - 1911) Dynasties. It was very well perserved with local people going about their daily business. The canal was built by a wealthy tea merchant in order to have his tea shipped to Europe or Southeast Asia. It was quite fascinating to see.







Some friendly and curious locals





The above picture was to demonstrate how heavy that slab of concrete was. Back in the day, in order for the son to be accepted into the military, he need only to lift the above over his head and walk 100 meters. The weight is 120 kilograms and the sons would practice until they could do this task. Alas, Mark will not be joining the military.


After lunch at Xiamei, we went rafting down the Jiuqu (Nine twists) Stream and were able to look up and see how far we hiked yesterday. I believe our guide told me that it was over 1000 steps and that's the starting point. He didn't mention number of stairs to get to the base of the mountain. It was probably a good thing. Now Ann know's why she's still sore!

Putting the bamboo rafts together

So today we bid farewell to Ann who has been our guest for the past 12 days or so. She should be flying near Tokyo as I write this blog. It has been a crazy, busy time for all of us and hopefully Ann enjoyed her stay here in China.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Neoguri

So the entire time that Ann has been here our friend Siew has been showing us weather forecasts and warning us that it was going to rain...

Well, other then one morning we didn't see any rain; granted it was cloudy and gray for the first half of her stay with us, but grey is always better then rain. So, of course, now on our first day back in Xiamen, after our quick tour of Wuyi Shan, we manage to get caught in the remnants of Typhoon Neoguri.

Yep, we're starting to get into typhoon season again - isn't that great? Apparently the worst winter on record in some 50 years upset the other seasons and now we get the second earliest typhoon in their recorded history...

So this morning we sat and watched the black skies and the rain coming down sideways and after it starts to lighten up we think - wow, that would have made a great video for the blog.... Yeah, all this guest blogging has slowed down our thinking, but when the rains started up a little bit more we did snap a quick video of it for you. Enjoy and just imagine that it was a lot worse....

video

Ann is leaving us tomorrow, so we will make sure that she leaves us with an additional post or two talking about what great hosts we were and how much she enjoyed her time and then we will return you to your regular blogging enjoyment.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

武夷山

Ok, so here is just a quick group of photos of the first day of our tour of 武夷山 (Wuyi Shan)...










The guy with Tina and Ann is our guide, Daniel. He did a great job of putting up with me and making sure that all of their questions were answered. We'll tell more stories about our trip soon....

Friday, April 18, 2008

Guest Blogger #7

Thursday, went to a French store, not French, just French owned. Fun shopping, lots of weird and wonderful stuff.

Funny cab driver on the way there, he didn't understand but said he did, and we sailed past it and then it took him a long time to finally turn around.

Then back and had a nice lunch near home then went to the airport for our flight to Wuyishan.

Flight was 2 hours late so read and watched women's weightlifting. It was just as fun watching the men watching the TV.

Nice flight, served hot dogs (no kidding) and water. The sky was beautiful.

Landed, met by our guide Daniel and off to hotel. I passed out after crackers and orange chocolate chip cookies. Tina and Mark went out for dinner. They will have to fill you in....

7am awake, shower and down for a questionable Chinese buffet breakfast. I had greasy fried rice and a dough bun thingy. Tried to order tea and got hot water. Tried the milk, creamy and good.

Off to the first Mountain trek. Paths became steeper and narrower as we climbed, but it was worth the view at the top. Being stared at is becoming tiresome. I turned around to find a group pointing cameras at me.

Lovely temple just down from the peak where we sat and had water. I was very thirsty. The sun came out just to make it perfect.

We walked down the easy way, but still very tiring. They had sedan chairs, we took a few photos of them. The guys carrying them must be extraordinarily strong.

Back to bus and on to lunch. Very nice place. Snakes and frogs on offer, but extra charge for us so we didn't try.

On to the next climb into a scenic tea growing area.

Very, very beautiful. We saw 600 or so year old tea trees.

Back to bus and on to tea shop. Tried three different teas, but they were more bitter and very strong.

Back to bus and on to market. Fabulous wood carving shops. Beautiful antiques, but if I had something shipped I think Alan would strangle me.

We are going out for dinner now, more later......

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Guest Blogger #6

Is it Wednesday night already? Tina keeps telling me that I look tired. I can't imagine why given last night.

We got going around 11am today and went to the coffee house for breakfast again. We both had banana milkshakes and they were delish. Tina had a grilled cheese (it seems wrong to be in China and ordering a grilled cheese) and I had thai chicken in lettuce wraps which were somewhat questionable.

Then we went to the bank, and on to look for a t-shirt shop, doing some shopping along the way. We wanted Chinglish tee shirts, but no luck. It was getting hot and steamy, so we hopped back home to drop stuff off and waited for Edlin who was picking us up.

We headed for "electric city" three levels of three buildings that have all things technological. Eldlin knows a place that sells Wii games. We found it but no joy for what I was looking for and we don't know if it will play on a North American player, but the discs were under $1 each.

Then we walked along to a "spa" to have foot massages.

In the entrance, the hostesses are dressed in pink nurses outfits, complete with nurse's cap.

They settled us in a room with three chairs and brought in tubs of HOT water mixed with what looked like tea. I couldn't put my feed in, which they found funny, but when Tina and Edlin had the same problem they brought in some cold water. It was still so hot Edlin's feet were beet red (I didn't look at mine).

While our feet soaked, we were given neck and shoulder massages. It was almost painful (and even was in some spots) they worked at it so hard.

Then on to the foot massage. In some spots it is almost exquisite pain, but feels good too. He found one spot on my foot that I couldn't take (but he kept working it) then he says to me "you have insomnia". Wow.

They spent about an hour on our feet which involved massage of the feet (including hitting), very firm massage of the calves and knees. The only spot he didn't get to was the area on the soles of my heels where the blisters are.

When they finish, they leave and I thought it was over, but they come back with bags of very VERY hot stones and they put your feet on them they your calves then they do a massage with them.

Then the feet went back into buckets of hot water, and they soaped our feet and dried them.

A few more punches to the calves (what did I ever do to him?) and we were done.

It was like heaven.

All for 50 rmb per person, or about $7.

Hopped a cab back home, and went to the local Thai place for a snack.

We had an appetiser platter and bbq pork slices with the most amazing sauce.

After, we asked if I could buy one of their tea pots, because I really like them, and it flew them all into confusion.

There were about 7 or 8 staff members involved! Everything is such a production here. In the end they took Tina's number and will call. Or not!

We had another rest here until 6:45 and then went to a Korean bbq spot around the corner. The place is lovely and the food was very good. We had beef, pork and some sort of shank cut that was so chewy it was almost impossible to bite! We had a good laugh over that. The funny thing is that a girl stands and cooks the food for you and serves you as you eat.

Cheap labour.

Back home and called Alan and the kids, it was so good to hear your voices, I cannot tell you. Mimi too, in the background. Benny, I am very worried about you - your cough sounds so bad. I miss you all so much.

Off to bed now, need a good nights' sleep, if the squealing stops. It is particularly bad tonight.

Guest Blogger #5

They are trying to kill me!!!!!
Anyone who knows Tina knows all about her terrible sense of direction. Well, I thought she had improved - until today. We started out at a coffee house at 9am and smoothies (yes children I have them even when I have a choice and you are not around!!!). I also had tea which of course set my bladder on pee for the day. Then we went for manicures and pedicures which took 90 minutes... I was finished about 1/2 hour before Tina, and she had 2 people working on her for a good part of the time. Two Australian women had been there for more than 2 hours and left undone at the same time as us because they were late. Yikes!!! We then walked to a place to get accessories for tea and we shopped. We then walked through a beautiful park and on...


Then we headed for "electric city" to look for games, but of course we took the long way around because Tina couldn't quite remember where it was... We finally ended up at Chairman Mao restaurant and I said that if I didn't eat I would faint so we stopped for lunch, tea and a beer. Food was fabulous, bok choi with mushrooms, beef with potatoes and hot peppers and some sort of odd cold noodle "salad". Finally made it to electric city, but no games. Lots of game systems but no games!!!!! So we cabbed back home to drop things off.

Then we headed for Temptations to drop off Sue-ee's manicure card. She claimed she suffered no damage from Sunday nights revels, but she was clearly lying. We walked to the bank and then on to the temple, but we cabbed there. First a brief tour of the university, lovely, then on to the temple. Quite lovely but no way I was climbing up the hill to the top. NO WAY!! We walked through a little market and laughed at the Chinglish tee shirts. Quite illiterate and amazing.

Then we took a cab to You and Me 2, a bar by the beach to watch the sun go down, but Tina had the cab driver drop us at something familiar .... and then we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. She says she thought it was about 1/2 km, I say about 4 km at least. (Mark agrees). My blisters got blisters and some burst, so I was very glad to sit down. We had a few beers and even though the sunset was obscured by clouds, it was still pleasant. The owner is a scary looking old swedish man with a very young Chinese wife. Go figure...

This is the part where I wanted to hurt Tina. 1/2 km, no way! Cleary she doesn't know distances!

We had dinner at a seafood restaurant where you pick the fish you want. I think we had periwinkels to start. Pretty shells and delish. We also had fabulous fish, bok choy and a chicken dish that was very good. It looked like we were the only ones in the restaurant, so we got lots of attention. While the staff was lined up outside for training (ask me later) they kept looking around at us and giggling...

Home at 10:30 and TO BED, FEET UP HELP!!!!!

Foot massage tomorrow, either it will make me better or kill me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Guest Blogger - Ann #4

Today we went to Tian-Zhu-Shan park, "a AAAA chinese tourist attraction, and beautiful forest".

Mark's co-worker Rocky picked us up at 10am. There were 4 other chinese people in the car, Rocky's boss from Tiawan, Max who works with Rocky and two young women. We arrived at the park after 40 minutes, and after some discussion (apparently things are always more drawn out and complicated when the Chinese get involved) we set out. Turns out we took a sneaky back way into the park to not pay the entrance fee. We ended up trooping through a few backyards and encountered a funny guy in his underpants who was fishing, with his hands I think.......

I took a picture of him with his fish, and he was so happy, he insisted that I take a photo of his bag with the fish in it. We all laughed and carried on.

The trails were very steep (puff, puff, don't they know I'm old) and slippery. Up and down and up and down, the forest was pretty, but not amazingly interesting. There are several small lakes, on of which we visited from several vantage points. A lovely outlook and a marina where you can rent paddleboats and waterbikes. Unfortunately, the weather was like being in a cloud, so there wasn't much of a view. We headed for one temple and discovered that it was closed, so we had to double back. After a brief break of rice crackers and cookies, we continued on toward the Longman temple. As we climbed the last of the hill we saw a row of chickens perched along a fallen tree trunk overlooking a spectacular view. Off to the far side was a building with two men sitting out in chairs. It really didn't look like a temple so we carried on up the hill only to find that it was indeed and we had missed it!


We continued on up and up and up and followed the signs to another temple (downhill). On the start of the path, we found a shp selling beer, so we trooped on up the 40 degree slope path juggling and trying to drink our beer. It was a beautiful temple (restored) dating back originally to the 1600's. Inside, there were three large golden Bhuddas and the walls were lined with tiny golden Bhuddas. Combined with the scent of incense and prayer music, it was quite magical and beautiful and very deserted. We were the only people there.

After we walked and walked and walked and walked back to the car and headed back to Xiamen.

Lunch or dinner was at a beautiful Thai restaurant and the food was fabulous.

We are headed out nightclubbing tonight (how will I survive), so I will send more later....