Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy 牛 Year

It's strange to be in Xiamen during this first weekend of the Chinese New Year as it is very quiet. Most all of the shops are closed up, the market was open and full this morning but by the afternoon it too was quickly starting to empty out.

Closed stores in Xiamen

At least when we wandered we found that the ladies that we always go to when we get our shoes polished were still in town. There were about 10-12 people out waiting to polish shoes today, and when the two that we always go to saw us they lit us with big smiles and immediately started to wave us down.

Pricing, however, became something of a sticking point.
Usually Tina pays about 3 kuai - I barter more and pay 2 kaui (0.30 USD) - but today being New Years' Eve I was in a giving mood and had agreed to pay 4 kuai for a good polishing. All was going well until Tina finished first (damn her tiny feet) and gave her girl 10 kuai, this got my girl into thinking that she also deserved a little extra pay. Second problem was that I only had a 10 and thus required change. The photo above is taken after I finally convinced her that she needed to give me change and she decided that 2 kuai were all I needed. I tried to argue and the small crowd quickly formed. I've learned from them that as if I refused to move it meant that I didn't accept her agreement so I sat there and just kept saying 不好 (bu hao - no good) until she got up and walked away from me. The other shoe shiner in the purple coat told me to take her shoe polish station instead of the change - this was all done in good fun and joking (at least we believe that, these women might be cursing us when we leave). Finally I did manage to get another kaui out of her, making for an expensive 7 kaui (1.oo USD) shoe polishing...

Then to top it off, she tried to refuse the 3 kuai I wanted to give her as a tip when I said 新年快乐 (Happy New Year).

Tomorrow we are off to Malaysia, chances are we will not be posting again until we return from that trip on Sunday. Enjoy your Chinese New Year, year of the 牛 (niu), the ox or cow.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chinese New Year

Yep - it's that time again, the lunar new year and all of China seems to shut down as most people head back to spend the week with their families. We learnt today that Temptations had already closed for the holiday so we were suddenly left without a chance to purchase some wine....

I think Tina mentioned it earlier, but we are now moving into the year of the Ox, or Cow. I think that this is supposed to be a good year, as opposed to the year of the Rat that we just finished with. Steveo over at AsianRamblings.com has two good posts on the whole zodiac - here and here. I find linking to him is easier then pretending that I know what I'm talking about, or taking the time to actually get a better understanding of how this system works and what it means.

So with a week off we will be travelling again, this time heading back down to Ipoh, Malaysia to see our adopted sisters and to catch up with Big Red, Ben, and Daniel since they moved from Xiamen. We fly out Monday, the actual first day of the new year and we are looking forward to heading down to the warmth that is the 30c of Malaysia.

Friday, January 23, 2009

What's for dinner?

The other day we were startled by the sound of a goose honking, at first although odd we just presumed it to be one on a layover to where they fly in this part of the world.

Then of course, as the noise continues we realize is coming from our neighbors balcony and we rush to get our camera to record the annoying sounds of this poor animal in distress

video

If you watch the video you notice that he is quite camera-shy and shuts up as soon as we start to record him.

Of course we try again....
video
... but he remains quiet - I think it's from the intimidating visit that he got. Kind of a "Yeah, we're going to kill you - making noise won't help you, nobody is coming to help you" only implied in Chinese. I am assuming that this goose thinks in Chinese.

Later that night while in the kitchen we noticed that the deed had been done and a few members of the family were all huddled around and plucking the goose. We're sure that they enjoyed a great meal the next evening; he sounded like he'd be tasty....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Shanghai again

When we returned back to China after our holiday trip of Canada and the States we stayed overnight in Shanghai our first night back.

Needless to say when you get off that plane after the short 14 hours you're a little tired and grimy feeling. Nothing that a quick shower at the hotel doesn't cure, and then we are off to meet up with some colleagues for dinner.

This being the lead up to the big holiday of Chinese New Year you get a lot of work parties and the such, when we first got to the restaurant it was packed full of celebrating Chinese. It's sort of like all the holiday parties that we have before Christmas only with more drinking - I know, I didn't think it possible either....

In addition to the general loud fun of a work outing, we were at a Middle Eastern restaurant so we also got to enjoy belly-dancing shows every 15-20 minutes.
The table nearest the stage were quite excited and they all brought out their big camera equipment so that they could capture all the fun.
Poor Tina and I didn't think to bring our big cameras so all we get are these quick shots that we took with our little point and shoot cameras.

The next day, since we had a few hours before our flight, Tina made sure that we got up first thing so that we could return to the big market in Shanghai. This market we've mentioned before, it's located beneath the Technology Museum, and you can get great deals on clothes, jackets, shoes, purses - all that stuff. This time we returned to purchase material to take back to our tailor in Xiamen as the material seemed to be of a slightly better quality up in Shanghai.

Well once we trek down to the market we find out that it doesn't open as early as we thought. We had to return back to Xiamen without and material...

But we did wander around that morning outside near the market and managed to snap this photo of the new World Financial Center, that almost makes it worth it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Shanghai

About a month ago we were able to spend a weekend up in Shanghai - following are a few photos we took and some of the fun that we had. That Saturday Tina and I wandered over to the Shanghai market so that we could buy some good low cost items.

That evening we went up to the Jin Mao Grand Hyatt to have a drink at their Cloud 9 bar. That's the building on the right in the lower picture.
It's not too bad, the wine isn't overly expensive and they provide snacks and water for you whilst you are enjoying the scenery.
That view is across the river over to the Bund - we were there on a fairly clearly night which was quite enjoyable.

The next night we went over to the new Park Hyatt in the new Shanghai World Financial Center (this is the big bottle opener building on the left in the first picture). There we went up to the 100 Century Avenue Bar which is up on the 87th floor, also a great view - although there was some fog that rolled in and slowly took away our view...
Looking from the World Financial Center past the Jin Mao over to the Pearl Television tower. Problem we had with the Park Hyatt is that the same wine is almost twice the cost, they will charge you for any water that you want to drink and there weren't any snacks to make us happy. We did try to argue with that a little but to no avail...

At least by the time we left a nice fog had rolled in which did a good job of framing up the Pearl television tower.
But, of all the issues that we had with the Park Hyatt we did fully enjoy the bathrooms. I had originally read about it over on the She's Electric blog where she talks about how the toilet seat opens up to greet you when you walk into the stall. Below is a photo of the remote for operating the toilet - it's on a little hanger so you can take it down and hold as you make adjustments to the cleansing water....
If they had served drinks in the bathroom one would never want to leave. Well actually, you would need drinks and snacks before it was really worth it....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The fun of travelling in China....

For those of you who haven’t heard, China, over here, will be celebrating their New Year’s next week. We are going to bid adieu to the Rat and welcome in the Ox.

And in keeping with the theme, I thought I would share a story or two about the adventure one can have traveling within China during this festive week.

It started out innocently enough. Yang, my Taichi teacher, asked how long my flight back to Chicago took. I explained it took approximately 14 hours and then we had to wait a few hours before heading up to Toronto. He thought that rather quick.

The first time he left Xiamen to go to his hometown in the Henan province, he took a bus. This trip lasted 55 hours. The second time he opted for the train, which took less time, only 30 hours. After how long it took him to travel to his home province, I would agree.

The discussion then went into safety of the trains and buses in China during these peak times. According to Yang, the issue with the system here in China is the guanxi, and the the process of purchasing tickets. Unlike home, one doesn’t purchase a train ticket via the Internet or phone, one must go to the train station and queue up. Basically, it’s you and thousands of your closest friends. Bring a good book, and perhaps a meal or two. Generally one can only purchase the tickets a few days ahead of time.

Guanxi, which is common practice here in China, is basically the art of “gift” giving. This helps the person purchasing the ticket to secure a bunk (if you gave him a large gift, or a seat, if you were too cheap to cough up more money). Not that much different than Chicago politics but I digress. The trains are always oversold, and if you weren’t lucky enough to secure a bunk or seat, your only choice would be to stand, unless you find the bar car first. As for the rest of the travelers, well that means being vertical most of the trip. Yang has seen people sleeping, standing up the entire time. Some were so exhausted they couldn’t stand anymore and would fall on people’s laps.

He also told me of a story about 3 years ago, where the train was so crammed during this time, they found 7 people in the toilet, as there was no place else left on the train to stand. Apparently, if you needed to relieve yourself, you used the windows.

The buses are no better. Typically, the buses will call out to people who weren’t fortunate enough to get a train ticket, and then cram as many as 100 people on them.

Yea, I think I will stick to airplanes…

Monday, January 19, 2009

The fun begins...

After three weeks of fun, and living out of suitcases, it's great to be back in China, settling into a routine again.

It was nice to have left the day before the Arctic weather descended upon us, however, this will be short lived. This weekend we are about to enter our winter here in Xiamen. It's going to go down to 9 Celsius, and before everyone starts on the bandwagon of making fun of us about the temperatures, just remember this. It's the same temperature inside out apartment.

Since last year the only time I was warm was either in the shower (short-lived, after all there is only so much hot water) or in bed (after I sent Mark and my heated rice sock in to warm my side), I decided this year, the hunt for the warm slipper would be my priority when we were in Chicago. I didn't want to spend the crazy prices of Uggs, so I went for the next best thing...

..that's right, a pair of sheepskin winter boots. I figure if they are good enough for the frigid Chicago winters, they will be good enough for our apartment. The beauty of this, is that they will double as winter boots once we move back home.

The big test will come this weekend....

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chicago roundup...

Ah, our time in Chicago - not quite enough to really get to see everyone but Tina made sure that we had a complete full schedule that packed in seeing friends along with going to work and all of our other errands that needed to be completed prior to returning to China.

We already wrote about New Year's Eve as a guest post on Happy Bungalow, so we won't bother to tell you about that again...
January first we were able to watch the winter classic, not at the actual event - but we did wander around Wrigley the day before to get some good photos of the place all decked out for hockey. My parents were in town over the holiday, my mom actually working as a usher at Wrigley field and out there in the bitter cold for the day - we thought about that while watching on television. But since they were out in Chicago took them out for dinner on Friday night, an early birthday present for my mom. We took them to Blue Water Grill which we enjoyed and then a week later they closed the restaurant.

Saturday we returned to Sushi Mura, the best sushi in Chicago, and meet up with a big group of our friends.


Monday Tina and I went to the dentist, such fun, and Tina was able to schedule a root canal for the following night. After getting her tooth drilled out we took a novocaine filled Tina down to La Petite Paris, what must be one of the best french restaurants in Chicago. It was a short trip - only the best of everything for Tina and myself...

Wednesday night we dined at the house of Tina's friends Bob and Linda. An excellent meal was prepared by Linda and we were able to relax and catch up on all that has been going on with them.
The rest of the week while I was working Tina was out having lunches with old friends and coworkers. We managed to squeeze in a meal with Jean and then Friday came and we dined with friends Justin, Jessica, and Emily at Vermillion, another excellent meal. From there we went off to see Buddy Guy play...
That night Chicago decided to get a good heaping of snow, nice for us to see but a bit of a pain - it made it so that Heather and Mike couldn't get down to see Buddy Guy with us.
Then another Saturday with a full group out for dinner, and more snow.

On Sunday, our final day back in Chicago, we went over to Heather and Mike's again to transfer photo files and thank them again for letting us crash with them for our first few nights in town. To show our appreciation I even helped to clean off Heather's car.
And that was it, the next day we were on a plane for the long flight back to China carrying luggage loaded down with wine and black beans....

Saturday, January 17, 2009

more of the past....

To continue with our memories of the past...

After an incredible weekend with Tina's family we moved south for a short stint with my family in Massachusetts. Sure we missed Christmas, but we more than made up for it in family. My mother pulled together an absolute feast and we enjoyed much happiness.

It made for a great post Christmas fest, and this year we were able to spend even more time with my family, so we are thinking that next year everyone can enjoy Christmas with us in China....

Friday, January 16, 2009

It seems so long ago...

As I believe you all know, Tina and I flew back from China to spend time friends and family. We had a bit of a weather delay in Chicago which held us up for a few hours, getting us into Toronto just after 3 am. Luckily our friend Barb waited up for us with a nice bottle of wine - I this late night added to our troubles adjusting from being 14 hours off...

The first weekend we spent with Tina's friends and some good food and drinks. A great time catching up people that we hadn't seen in a full year. From there we went off to Tina's father's to spend Christmas with the Schmidt family.

This year there were no naked Asian calendars given as gifts, but it sure seemed like everyone in the family enjoyed seeing us again. An excellent dinner one night at the brother Wilfred's and then the Christmas eve with the Schmidt family.

We'll be brave and leave you all with a video of one of the traditions that they seem intent on keeping going...

video

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ah, you know you are back in China when....

Mark and I were back in Shanghai taking the subway when this conversation happened with a young Chinese man.

Chinese dude: "Do you have 200 USD I can have?"

Mark and I: "No"

Chinese dude: "Do you have 20 USD I can have?"

Mark and I: "No"

Awhile later

Chinese dude: "Do you think this is beautiful?" ( A sticker on the subway that's been ripped)

Mark: "Sure.." (bewildered look on his face)

Chinese dude: "Really? You think this is beautiful?"

Mark: "No"

Few minutes pass

Chinese dude: "Can you give me a job? Here's my resume."

Tina: "Sorry, can't help you, I'm a tourist"

Chinese dude: "You are a tourist? Oh"

And he was sober.

Welcome back to China!

Back in Xiamen

Tina and I are now safely back in our current home after a quick 14 hour flight from Chicago to Shanghai that put us in yesterday evening. An early night to bed after meeting some coworkers and today we made the final hour and a half flight down to Xiamen.

It was a packed trip this year filled with family and friends and once we get some of the photos that we took downloaded and organized we will provide a quick recap of the time that we spent back in Canada and the States.

As for Xiamen, it's warmer then the -18C (0F) that Chicago plunged into once we left on Monday morning, but it's still a chilly 11C (55F). I know that doesn't seem too cold, especially if you're back in those sub-zero temperatures, but remember that there isn't any heat in this part of China. We were welcomed back into our cold concrete apartment with the only comforting thing being that the humidity was at an amazingly low 50%.

I'm sure that you'll hear more from us about the weather in the following months, but for now it just feels good to be back in our apartment, unpacking, doing laundry, and just getting back into the routine that we have known for the last year and a half.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Guest Blogging from the Bungalow

While in the States we had to put in a guest post at our friends blog - so follow the link below to head to their site and read how we spent our New Years....

Happy Bungalow