Thursday, July 31, 2008

...and we're off.

Today we leave for a few weeks of much needed holiday...

For the next two weeks we will be touring through the western world of Europe, beginning in Austria, then up through the Czech Republic and ending up in Germany. The first part of the trip is with some of Tina's friends, two of whom are celebrating a birthday and felt that not only did they want a nice party, they deserved to have it in a nice location. Fair enough, these are some of the friends that I was allowed to tag along with when Tina and I were first married and we went down to Argentina. It was nice that they let me join their trip then, and I suppose that I'm glad they liked me enough to invite me along again.

The second half of the trip we will be in Germany, where Tina's mother was raised, visiting her aunts and cousins. As an added bonus, Tina's father is flying over from Canada to meet us.

So, that all said, we aren't sure how much posting we will be doing in the next few weeks. We know that we will have internet connection the first week as we are staying in nice hotels, but the second week we are crashing with family - so most likely no computer access. On top of that, as much as we love posting stories for everyone, we will most likely rather be wandering the streets of Prague then writing about them. We can save those posts for when we return.

And for this holiday, we leave you with a post of the construction still going on outside of our apartment here in Xiamen. It'll be nice to be able to sleep in without having to listen to this.

video

The noise is near constant now, they've stepped it up to a new level. This is pretty much always in the background from 06:00 until 22:00, other than the 90 minutes they take of for lunch in the middle of the day. We can only hope that this extra effort they are putting in will help them to finish before we return.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Calm before the Storm

Mark and I were just told that not only is the Mexican and family leaving Xiamen very soon, so are Edlin and Jose. They will be departing China to go back to the U.S in September.

The move will be stressful for Laura, the Mexican's wife, as she, along with her three children, will be leaving one month before her husband, Renee, and will not only look for a new home, but. also a new school for her children. She is leaving in two weeks.

I decided that Laura needs a bit of a break. Consider it the calm before the storm. Laura and her daughter Alejandra, as well as Edlin, Giovanna, and myself planned an afternoon of indulgence.

First we met up for lunch, followed by a very nice, long, foot massage. Alejandra enjoyed it, considering the first time she had a foot massage, it was a little too intense. She got to watch some T.V show, while the rest of us enjoyed a glass of wine. We talked about the first time they landed in Xiamen and their reaction to China, and how life has changed so much for everyone. We discussed, what they will miss, what they wished they could have done or seen, and the memories that they will have of China.

Edllin, myself, Laura, and daughter Alejandra



It seems very strange, that both Edlin and Laura's families, were to be in China longer and now within two weeks, due to circumstances beyond their control, they both will be leaving within the next 8 weeks. They have become good friends and we will truly miss them.

We wish them the best!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Night on the Town!

We planned on Saturday night to dance away the hours in one of the hottest nightclubs in Xiamen. Why? Good question. The Mexican has his best friend and brother-in-law visiting Xiamen and since no one in our group has ever gone to any of the nightclubs here in Xiamen, (nor did they ever want to go to one), we figured this would be a good time. Afterall, The Mexican and family will soon be moving back to the U.S.

We started off at one of our favorite places Me and You 2 and then went out for dinner.

Me and You 2

After dinner, we headed to KK, the first nightclub and we could not figure out for the life of us how anyone likes this. You can tell we're all getting old here or in some cases, especially the guys, they had no desire ever be in one. They much prefer the small, dive bars, and I don't blame them. KK is a typical Chinese nightclub, I was told. Really? I asked. What's the difference? Chinese go to them.

We had a drink and of course we weren't allowed to take any pictures in KK. We tried and someone threw their hand in front of my camera, however, Mark managed to get a couple before a bouncer came over and told him that he couldn't. The pictures were a bit blurred but you get the idea.
Such a rebel, my husband is!

Mark taking a picture before he was ordered to stop.

Afterward we blew that pop stand, we went to the newest club called The Key. This was much better. We ran into Sherry, the lady who has been living in Xiamen for the past 9 years. After hello's and what not, she directed us to some great seats, ordered some appetizers and then left. She was having a great time with all of her friends. The Key has a live band, from the Philippines, who are considered one of the best bands in Xiamen. Usually Filipino bands are loud, but this was very good. They also had a bartender, who entertained us with his ability to juggle a few bottles of liquor and then proceeded to do some fire breathing and fire eating stunts. Look out Tom Cruise, I think you may have some competition.
Tom Cruise wannabe

The Mexican and Laura left first, followed by Jose and Edlin. We then left a short while later, while the visitors stayed on, hoping to catch more of the show.

I think we will pretty much stick with our old haunts.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Happy Birthday Mark!

Today is Mark's birthday, and as some of you may or perhaps not know, he's not one to remember it, let alone wanting to celebrate it, so his sister-in-laws, Hong and Yih decided that it would be celebrated the Sunday at Temptations. Notice I said, told, not asked. His only stipulation that there would be no theme parties and he wanted cheesecake. They acquiesced.

Though Hong would be in Malaysia, the other sister-in-law was in charge of his birthday dinner.

Siew Yih's friend, Lucas joined in the festivities and purchased a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate. Though he had one very persuasive Malaysian convincing him to buy it, nonetheless, it was very nice of him to do so.




We arrived early and Siew Yih had everything planned. We had soup, homemade bread, salad, pasta, Cordon Bleu, and a very yummy chicken dish.

For someone who has an aversion to celebrating his birthday, he managed to get Siew Yih to bake him a strawberry cheesecake, though, we had our doubts she actually baked it, and got the other sister-in-law to promise that she would bake him his favorite desert, carrot cake, once she returned from Malaysia.

Mark's birthday present- a new camera bag

Yea, he's not spoiled!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Xiamen Symphony

On Friday night we decided to go out and get ourselves some culture, so off we went to see the local Xiamen symphony orchestra. Tina had heard about this way back when when we first got here, and although we've always wanted to go we just never got around to it.

So Friday Tina went off with Edlin to purchase some tickets, and that evening off we went to meet up with Edlin and Jose at the symphony. The fun was that apparently this is one of the few places in town that the taxi's do not know how to get to - even when we handed him a card with the address. Our driver had us going in circles, and finally when Edlin called wondering where we were, she had one of the girls that worked there explain to the driver where they were located.

Our driver handed the phone back to Tina, drove around the block again, and then kind of shrugged his shoulders in that universal "I've got no idea" way and we got out of the taxi. Tina asked the first guy on the street that passed us and he pointed us in the right direction. Needless to say, with this delay we arrived after they started so we had to wait for outside for the first set before we could go in...

video

They were really good, and the show that we saw was a sampling of music that had been played at the Olympics in the past. A nice, happy, fun evening of good music.

video

After the show we decided to head over to a local western restaurant for dinner, but for some reason everyone agreed to follow me down an alley for what we thought was a shortcut - ten minutes later we wandered out of the alleys onto a main road far from where we needed to be. Also at this time we looked at our watches and realized with it being 21:30 that most restaurants would be closed or closing, so we just headed back to the the hotel that Jose and Edlin are living in and ate a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Artists in China - Getting our portraits done.

A few weeks ago we had our portraits done, not be one of these fly by night Chinese artists that sit at all the crowded markets, but from one of our friend's children. That's right, when last we were over at the Mexicans their youngest, Pax, decided that he would do some quick drawings of us.

Here is the artist with the drawings that he drew of us, after he first presented them to us we had him sign them for us. We can see these being worth something once this child becomes famous for whatever it is he'll end up doing....

Not bad for a five year old child, no?

And, just because we know you are wondering, we scanned these drawings in for all of you to look at. I love how he truly captures the depth and color of Tina's eyes.....



Friday, July 25, 2008

Fun with flying...

Just this last week I was off traveling for work again, this time I was somewhere in the outskirts of Shanghai, so had we been smart enough to get ourselves some local airline mileage cards when we first got here I'd have racked up even more miles towards a free flight. But that's a different kind of stupidity, and not what I was planning on writing about today.

Basically I wanted to talk about how, at first slowly and now at a maddeningly quick pace, the airlines here are learning from the worst traits of the American airlines and are starting to add all sorts of new restrictions to what can and can not be brought along on a flight.

Back a few years ago, when the US first when liquid mad and banned carrying any fluids onto flights I was over here and in the airports the had special security lines set up for American bound flights, and then they would do a full carry-on search again right before you boarded the plane. I lost a few pens this way, the ink being a liquid in the Chinese inspectors minds, but this craziness was only something that those flying to the states had to deal with.

When we first arrived here, the security was nice and easy, something akin to the US way back in those freewheeling late nineties. It was nice, but after a few months they followed suit with banning liquids from outside and requiring all your shampoo, bug spray, and whatever to fit into one of those little ziplock baggies. No lighters or matches on the planes, standard stuff, but with the neat added benefit that all lighters would be taken from the check-in down to just outside of baggage claim so that the smokers could just pick up a new lighter when they landed.

Recently though, security has been stepped up to levels that we never expected. Apparently it has something to do with some sporting event that will be going on here in China in, I think just under 14 days. When we left Xiamen for Ningbo last week nothing was different, and when Tina returned to Xiamen from Ningbo a few days before me it was about the same. Actually she did get stopped for carrying her bug spray as a carry-on, but she used her basic Mandarin skills, and smile, to get the guard to just wave her on.

I however did not have such luck. I flew back out of Shanghai, so that I could spend a full day in Ningbo, and saw a whole different world of inspection. When I checked my bag in it was stopped at the scanner and I had to go in the back to open my luggage and go through it with security.

"Do you have lighters in here?" was his question. Of course we did, as we had picked up some lighters at a bar in Ningbo. I had five of them in my luggage, thought they'd be fun to give to some of our friends.
"Sorry, no lighters allowed on the flights."
Ok, no problem, that's why they are in my checked luggage....
"No, no lighters at all. Not even in checked luggage."
What?
"Sorry, new rules.", and then in a slightly hushed tone "Olympics."

So, out came all out lighters that we made sure to not send home with Tina since she wasn't checking luggage. They were from a bar that we had stopped at, the bar was just full of women and one other western guy. I think these women are there just to talk to you, maybe go home with you or something, but who knows? All we know is the lighter had their name and address on it and a note about the girls. We asked the bartender if we could take the lighter and she gave us five of them. In my frustration about having to let the guard take them, I at least pulled the wrapper off the lighter so that I could share that....
Even better, after pulling the label off I found that it was one of the novelty sexy lighters with a photo of a topless girl on it. Awww, and I had to leave that behind....

So, after all that fun I manage to get over to the security where they have now started making people take their computers out of their bags. My bag trips a flag and they pull all the computer cables out and run it through again, then they find that I've got a little pocket screwdriver set in my bag. Unacceptable, so I have to go back out and have them get my luggage so that I can check it. This is a small little fold up screwdriver kit, maybe 2"x3", and it has been in my bag for every flight we taken since we got here, who ever would have expected this to be an issue?

Back out front I'm told it's too late to get my luggage so that I've got to pay to have it boxed up so that I can check the box in. This is where I did what I do best - play dumb. That worked and the agent ran off and came back with a 6"x9"x4" box, dropped the screwdriver in it, taped it all together and gave me a luggage receipt. Then back through the security line to have my computer bag completely pulled apart again before I was finally allowed to pass.

This week, I left my screwdriver at home, and had no problems breezing through security in Xiamen. Coming back from Shanghai I found that they added even another layer of security at the airport. Now, everyone is stopped outside the airport, in the heat, and they let small groups of 10-15 in at a time. Each group has all of their luggage wanded down with that little explosives testing swab, and nobody gets into the airport until the machine gives a good signal. Kind of a genius way to do it, I thought, and other then creating huge crowds around the doorways outside of the airport it actually moves through fairly quickly.

We will have to see what they add next, we will be back at the airport again next week. At least, so far, we haven't had to remove our shoes.....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Now where do we go?

It's become quite a habit now, that, once a month Mark will get a haircut and then have his shoes cleaned. Of course, I tag along, since the little barber doesn't speak a lick of English and periodically he will try and have a conversation with Mark. At that point, Mark will look at me as if to say, "are you going to help me out here?" I digress.

Afterwards, it's off to get our shoes shined, though I only get mine done in the fall and winter.

We walk down the alleys, where we then come upon a street, where they sell just about everything, from Viagra to fruit. It's the same ritual each time. The ladies who polish your shoes, will point at yours and explain how dirty they are, then you ask how much, they tell you the price, you tell them it's too much, and so begins the process of bartering. Next thing you know, you are sitting on the little chair getting your shoes polished, while the local Chinese gather around to watch and discuss, we assume, how we paid twice as much as the locals. Often we try to listen while a local Chinese is getting their shoes polished, but since we seem to be the source of entertainment, we never find out.

Waiting patiently

Jackpot Laowai's

Local discussing how we just paid double!

Last weekend we go to our street to find it's empty. All the vendors that had stalls in front of the buildings, as well as the ladies who shine our shoes, have disappeared. We were stunned. They were just here a week ago. Now the question is, where do we go?

When talking to my little sister Siew Yih, she said that this is the time of year when China holds a competition for the Best Liveable City, so all the cities do their best to clean up their act. She told me not to worry, they will be back next month once the competition was over.

So today, I went to the street to take some pictures for this post, and find that they are now doing some roadwork. I get the feeling that they won't be back for a long time, and I hope I'm wrong.

We will keep you posted whether we will once again be able to have our shoes polished.

Just when we finally bartered them down to 3RMB!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

China's favorite pasttime.

Since living in China this past year, we have come to realize China's favorite pastime, napping. I know you were going to say shopping, well that's a close second.

It's amazing to think that a society is this tired, all the time. Not sure why that is, but everyday you will pass someone sleeping somewhere, be it a park bench, on a chair, or on the ground, it doesn't matter, they are comfortable sleeping just about anywhere.

Here are a few pictures, to prove our point.

Xiamen Xiamen
XiamenShanghai
Wuyi ShanXiamenNingboXiamen
This lady actually had her arm still in the bag while sleeping
Ningbo

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

His first born

Last week while we were celebrating the Crazy Mexican's birthday, he was thrilled to take the opportunity to show us his new baby.


This plant came directly from the U.S, and was brought over from his last visit.
Yup, his first jalapeno pepper!

As you can tell from the picture, one very proud papa!

Monday, July 21, 2008

One Year in Xiamen

Well if yesterday was one year that we arrived in China, today marks our one year anniversary in Xiamen.

It's strange to think that we have been here a year already. Mark and I often discuss how if crazy it feels to be living in China. We sit out on our balcony overlooking Xiamen, and still find it hard to think that we live here.

When looking back at our pictures, it was amazing that one of the first places we walked to was the market, and to this day it's one of our favorite places in Xiamen to go to on the weekend. Yes, Gu Lang Yu, is very lovely, and Nanputo is also quite serene, minus the crowds of course, however, Lundu market holds dear to what we believe is the essence of Xiamen.

In a year we have learned to be speak Chinese to help us through the day, though depending on the day, that could be debatable, seen some fantastic places both within and outside of China, our favorite vacation is still Vietnam, found a wonderful wine store, Temptations, which everyone knows by now, been to more Karaoke bars than I want to admit, made some wonderful friends, played tour guide to a host of people, have mastered walking across the street like a local and can negotiate a decent deal,when purchasing goods, though we still pay more than the local people.

All in all, it has been one of the best experiences in our lives. We don't know when we will be returning, but, whenever that day comes, we both know this will be one experience that will be tough to beat.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Another anniversary

Some of you may have noticed that we didn't post yesterday, and since we are usually overly vigilant on posting daily, we figured that we should provide everyone with our thought process for that lack of an update.

One year ago yesterday, we took these two photos -

That's right, today we celebrate one full year of our life in China. By this time last year we had checked into a hotel in Shanghai for our first night, and we would have been sitting in a small noodle shop on Nanjing Lu discussing what we had done and what we were in for, and we were probably wondering if we weren't just slightly crazy for agreeing to this move.

Tomorrow night will be our one year anniversary of actually being in Xiamen, for memories sake you could re-read our first real post from China, or for good fun you could even re-read all of our July posts. I was trying to update our sidebar for the archives to add a calendar so one could easily scroll into the past and view our posts, but for some reason I can't quite get it to work and now I'm just overly frustrated with it. Actually we can't tell, you may see the calendar, and all of my frustrations may just come from all the hoops that we need to jump through in order to view our blog due to the restrictions in China. We also can't tell if anyone can see the videos that we post, so if there are any problems somebody be kind and let us know.

So when we stop and take a quick look back at our year, it really has been a lot of fun. We met a lot of great people when we first moved here, and that has built itself into some great friendships that we really cherish. We would hate to think about how hard it may have been to adjust to the differences if we hadn't had our friends. The year has gone both quick and slow, we are amazed that we've been here for a full year already, but sometimes it also feels like this is our home and we've been here for years and years. I think the speed of change to stores, building, roadways, really everything in China somehow distorts time. Xiamen is different then it was a year ago, especially as new high rise housing complexes rise up and the old buildings and small alleys and torn down and replaced. It'll be amazing to see what changes continue to happen here, just today we realized the street we always went to for getting our shoes polished had been totally cleaned up and all of the little stores and vendors are now gone...

Change is what China is all about. Yesterday we stopped over at our friends, the Mexicans, in the afternoon to bring Rene his birthday present and we ended up sitting and talking far longer then we ever expected to (it could be said that this is the real reason we didn't post yesterday). They are moving back home to the states next month, and we really will miss them. From there we went to another birthday party for another friend who is also leaving for home.
This is Vicky and her boyfriend Yoyo, she is moving back to England in two weeks. She's been here 3 years and is going through a lot of emotions dealing with leaving the China that she's fallen in love with. We can understand, for as much as we miss all of our friends and especially our families back home, we have truly grown to love China, its culture and its people - we do hope that does come across in all of our writings.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Language Lessons

Recently Tina has stepped up with even more language learning, only this time she's the one doing the teaching. Yes, Tina has once again decided to use her vast knowledge of the English language to help educate those who are yearning to have some basic English skills.

Some of you may remember hearing from Tina before when she was getting frustrated teaching a six year old girl English. Well, she wasn't frustrated with the teaching, she was frustrated with the parents re-teaching while Tina was still there. Apparently simple questions from Tina, like "What color is this ball?", would get a "Blue" from the girl and "No, No, White" from the mother. Just standard dealing with the mindset over here fun, I would usually tell Tina this is what it was like for me at work, except without the child. The ball, by the way, was red.

So, just over six months later and when a friend asked if she could help teach English, she apparently forgot that frustration and simply said "Sure, I'd love to." This time it's a little different, as Tina is helping to train restaurant staff with the simple words and phrases so that they can all communicate when a laowai, that's one of us westerners, happens to wander in.

So far she's been having fun with this, and they are all really enjoying learning. They've gotten most of the basics down, and Tina now has them role playing so that they can practice their English, that's what the attached video shows - we hope you enjoy it, we both find it quite funny.

video

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Crazy Mexican's day

Yesterday was the Crazy Mexican's birthday, and since all the birthday bashes are at his place, it would only be fitting that he too enjoy a party at his own house. Let's face it, he's the only one that has a house and a yard.

According to him, he was turning 35. Didn't buy it, but hey, it's his day.

Birthday boy, Renee, aka, Crazy Mexican

Naturally, being Mexican, the meal consisted of re-fried beans, tacos with some extremely hot sauce, and Spanish rice. Of course, the tequila came out, homemade margaritas were made, and cigars were smoked. Good times were had and I'm sure the tequila continued to flow well after Mark and I left.

Happy Birthday Renee!

Taking you back to Malaysia

Okay, so we have one more post regarding our trip to Malaysia.

One of the brothers, Alex was classically trained on the piano. Alex studied in England while doing school workshops during the summer. One of his summers was spent in Toronto, studying at the conservatory of music, part of U.of T.

I had asked my sisters if he would play a piece for us, and both mentioned that it would depend on his mood, after all Alex is an artist.

After spending a few days with Alex, I asked if it would be possible to hear him play a piece of music for us. Alex, was kind enough to grant our wish.

Mark took a short video of his performance.

video


According to Alex, he made a few errors, and the next day he practiced, sans errors.

Naturally to the untrained ear both Mark and I didn't notice, and as far we were concerned he played beautifully, so thank you Alex

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 2 of Ningbo

Sunday morning we attempted to sleep in, figuring we would get some much needed sleep. We thought this would have been possible in Ipoh, but alas our schedule was too busy. Figuring that we had the weekend in Ningbo we would at least sleep in a little bit, as there is no construction to jolt us out of our dreams. Apparently, the universe is against us, right across from our hotel, was a very nice church, which happens to ring its bells every hour starting at 6am. We muscled through it, and finally woke up around 9am, pretty much exhausted from the day before.

So, day 2 in Ningbo we decided to take another route to see where that would lead us. We first went through the plaza where all the shops including Starbucks were located. The area around our hotel, called Tianyi, is considered pretty much the "downtown" of Ningbo.

We walked through an area that was a typical China town, clearly preserving some history before tearing down everything that resembles China of old. There was a quaint tower, called Ningbo Tianfeng Tower, which use to be the tallest building in Ningbo. It was originally constructed during the Tang Dynasty and then rebuilt during the Song Dynasty. You get a very nice view of the city, granted it's only 51 meters tall, but it is still worthwhile to climb.

Tianfeng Tower

The construction in Ningbo



After lunch our journey continued where we came upon an area that appeared to have buildings that went back about 100 years, though perhaps longer. The buildings were typical of what one expected when coming to China. It was quite interesting to see this neighbourhood as this is what we have been searching since arriving Ningbo. We really wanted to take photos, but since we were the only non-Chinese people, the locals saw us coming a few blocks away.

We managed to see a few buildings during our walks

We then found a ship museum close to the Lao Wai Tan area and checked that out. It was quite interesting to see the display of the different ships and how they improved during the various dynasties.

We learned about Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea and that over 1500 temples have been dedicated to this young women. Mazu, could cure the ill, predict the weather and announce when it was safe to travel. She died at the age of 28, and has been revered ever since. To this day, many sailors still pray to her before and after their journeys.

Later on, we walked back to the hotel for some much needed rest. Later, we enjoyed a nice dinner before retiring to bed, exhausted as usual.

It was great to have seen this city as it wasn't on our "must see, while we're in China" list and found some very interesting sites we were not expecting to see.

The next day, I flew back home, while Mark remained in Ningbo.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ningbo

We weren't sure what to expect from Ningbo so first thing in the morning we took our little map, and started to walk and see where we would end up. It didn't take long to notice that Ningbo, was a clean city. The sidewalks are wide and free from garbage, and the roads have designated bus and motor scooter lanes. The locals generally follow the traffic lights .The city is quite attractive with the all the bridges, canals, parks and waterways.


Ningbo


Mark and I enjoy strolling through the alleys and snapping photos of the local produce and people at the markets back in Xiamen. We figured, that should be a good first place to tour, after all every city in China has markets. Well, easier said than done. We walked, walked and walked. We finally came to a covered market that was quite large but not like the markets we were hoping to encounter while here in Ningbo. We tried to find some of the alleys, and though we caught glimpses of some of the older architecture and streets, it appears that Ningbo like many Chinese cities, is currently destroying the older buildings, making room for the new high rises. According to one person who has lived here for the past 5 years, Ningbo like Xiamen has completely changed.

We came across
Tianyi Pavilion Library, China's oldest library. The library was built during the period from 1561 to 1566 and houses over 300,000 books. The library itself is quite large and houses old mahjong's sets, along with tablets of writings dating back to the various dynasties.


Tianyi Ge

mahjong set

We then headed toward Moon Lake which is approximately 97 hectares of parkland. By this time we were too tired and hot to walk through it, but here's a glimpse.


Afterwards, we continued walking and weaving our way through the various streets, when we came to an area called Lao Wai Tan. This is where you will find your local Laowai or foreigner in English. It's quite similar to the French Concession in Shanghai, where the streets are cobble stoned and the buildings though new, have the appearance that they are a throw back to days gone by. There are many restaurants offering you a wide variety of dishes. We decided to go for the Irish pub.

We walked back to our hotel, luckily it wasn't too far and took some more photo's. It was a long and hot day a mere 36C. We were both very glad to get back to the hotel and shower before heading out to dinner.


.
Ningbo from our hotel room. Tianyi Square