Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quick Hello from Japan

I am on someone else s computer --with a Japanese I will be brief. We are having a very relaxing time, and so happy to be reconnecting with my host family from so many years ago. We have been sightseeing in Nara, Kyoto and Osaka so far. A little Japanese has been coming back to me. A hoped for side trip to Tokyo to see my host sister is not going to work out because it is a holiday weekend and the bullet train is sold out. But we will post photos and more when we return. On Sunday its on to Hong Kong for 2 days before we go home. If you comment, be patient -- I wont get to moderate comments for a few days..

Friday, April 25, 2008

Leaving for Japan & Hong Kong

Michael here: we are leaving this morning for Japan and then a few days in Hong Kong. We must be very lax about traveling because we left packing for a 10 day trip to the morning of our departure. Hope we got everything!

I posted an item today about my trip to Seoul. But it is listed at the bottom of the page under April 8 [the day I loaded the pictures].

We are unsure of what kind of internet access we will have on our trip. So bear with us for a while.

Ann has not blogged because she had mid-term exam yesterday. She promises to be a better blogger when we return.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Two Sundays -- one dry and one wet!

The dry Sunday was last weekend when Grandma was still here...and we had the good fortune
to stumble across a procession in honor of some Buddhist feast day. We had told Grandma Mary how lucky she was -- as we had not seen thins kind of local cultural display in all the time we have been in China, although I bet they are common in Hong Kong and Taiwan. My friend Julia sent me some pictures she took...

It was a home grown affair..with marchers and dancers in uniforms, young and old.

The dragons came up and made friends with the girls, who were sitting on our shoulders.

That's a lion perched atop two guys...

These drummers were dressed in the manner of the Hui'an, a Fujianese ethnic group...

Then there were various statues being carried on altars/litters. The most excitement, other than the music, came when these guys would stop periodically to rock back and forth and then dash forward...

Now the wet...on this Sunday it was pouring rain with high winds at dawn (later we found out that the remnants of the typhoon that hit Hainan --southern tip of China-- were passing through). I was wondering if it was a good idea to get on a ferry to get to church!.. Things died down enough for us to go, which I was glad of, because we will be traveling on the weekends a lot in the coming month and I hated to miss it. After lunch Helen reminded us that we have been saying for a long time that a rainy day was the right day for Underwater Xiamen..the aquarium on Gulanyu Island. And who wouldn't want to go -- with a giant Octopus at the entrance!

We encountered an impressive array of fish, including the"ugly blue guy" as we christened him..

And the "big mouth fish"

The best part was a moving walkway through a glass tunnel with dozens of sharks, a ray and other fish ..there's a little video clip to give you a taste..

Now the weekend is over and the weekday routine has begun...studying Chinese like mad for me -- as my midterm is this week (and it has been a good long time since I have take a test...), along with some good conversations with feels to Michael and I like we are beginning to deepen some relationships and beginning to have more meaningful friendships with Chinese people that we know. It makes for some interesting times as we are able to share more of ourselves and also satisfy our curiosity about life in China, especially on the more sensitive issues of religion, spirituality, political freedom, family life, etc.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Miscelleaneous updates

I know we have been off the blog for a while...

Since Michael's Mom left on Thursday, life has been pretty quiet. Of course we were really living it up while she and Mary were here -- eating out a lot, foregoing studying for shopping trips and the like. Now were are all catching up a bit. We spoke to Michael's Mom this morning and she had a fine trip back with no problems, and my sister's luggage has also been found. So no one came to any harm from visiting us, thankfully!

I have a midterm exam on Thursday, and Friday we leave for Japan and our long awaited reunion with my host family, whom I have known since I was 16 years old, and spent the summer there on a Youth for Understanding trip. We are very excited about our visit, although since the Chinese government changed the legal holidays this year, I will be missing a number of days of class. Thomas's school is keeping the original "Golden Week" schedule so at least he will only miss a day on either side. Its notable how strongly dislike the Japanese are here -- still the legacy of WWII, long after the US and Japan have put our differences aside. Of course Japan never occupied the US mainland...even my classmates from other parts of Asia -- Philippines, etc. have nothing good to say about the Japanese. They all are fixated on their belief that the Japanese government doesn't teach school children the truth about the war. I am curious about this....

Other miscellaneous replies to your questions:

Gas prices..I haven't done the math, but on a listserv I frequent they discussed that gas prices are similar to costs in the US. People with cars would not tend to use them to travel long distances -- more often short trips in town or nearby cities. For a long journey anyone affluent enough to have a car would fly or go by train/bus.

I do think that the automobile is changing China -- and not necessarily for the better. Parking is a problem, even in our medium sized city -- especially near campus. We have just learned that the university, who own the land in the adjacent neighborhood where we shop, will begin leveling the block next month to make way for more parking. I am so upset - because the produce market will disappear forever and the vendors told me they have nowhere to go. Some restaurants we like are moving nearby, but other shops are just closing down, and no matter what, the character of the neighborhood will change forever in the name of progress. Xiamen is already a very modern place, with only a few pockets of traditional structures and lifestyle, so its a shame to lose any of them. I will make an effort before we leave to document life along this street before it disappears -- I wish they'd wait until we were gone!

A reader named Jack asked about the food...there is really an incredible variety here, and almost none of it tastes like typical Chinese takeout in America. There are strong regional differences -- Chinese food in the US tends to be more Cantonese style (southern China), so if someone goes to Beijing and Shanghai -- they will be exposed to a lot of different cooking, more breads and noodles vs. rice, for example. I do think that tour groups tend to eat in the worst places --if I compare how we ate on our adoption trip compared to the food available in my neighborhood -- the local stuff is fresh and flavorful and delicious..and there are lots of "ethnic" restaurants offering food from other regions and minority groups. Another major difference is that a Chinese dish in the US tends to mix meat and vegetables in the same dish -- which is just not done here, you order these dishes separately, typically along with a noodle dish or white/fried rice and a soup to "drink". Beverages are not always served. We love the food, and have tried to recreate some at home, with only limited success. The girls are addicted to jiaozi (dumplings) and eat them at least 3 times a week. Thomas favors the meat and fish dishes, but he has started eating a much wider variety of vegetables here -- since he says they taste better.

All right, so much for my ramblings for today. Michael has some photos from his latest trip to Korea that he has promised to post soon.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Showing off Xiamen Part 2

Friday morning began with a trip to the secondhand market, which once a week features dealers from all over Fujian who come in to sell their goods, mostly small items. Grandma Mary and Aunt Mary both embraced the bargain-hunting with enthusiasm, although I was called upon to do the actual negotiating..somehow the price drops faster when they discover that you speak (even a modest amount of) Chinese...

Afterwards we recovered in a nearby tea house, where Michael did the honors serving the tea.

Saturday was the day we had saved for the temple next door -- Nanputuo, which we have seen a number of times of course, but we were ready to enjoy its picturesque views and cultural enlightenment. Sophia and Helen demonstrated the proper technique of rubbing the dragon's foot for luck...

I finally had the chance to capture a frog sitting on a lily pad -- a long awaited moment since I first spotted one last fall in the lotus pond. Most of the good photos are Mary's is the lotus pond and pagoda..

With close up of the details of the Bodhisattva on the pagoda...

Unfortunately the rain really picked up as we went along -- did keep the crowds down, however. And the highpoint was meeting up again with our friend the monk, who took to Sophia at our first visit. Whenever we see him, he always makes a little time to talk, and this time he welcomed our visitors to the temple and gave them some charms carved in a dragon shape.

After the temple Helen was feeling under the weather and ended up with a 24 hour stomach bug that Sophia had had earlier in the week. So a smaller group set out in the rain across the courtyard to the restaurant next door. Since they have no English menu, we have avoided it, but this night was a test of my Chinese, and we ended up successfully ordering soup, broccoli, jiaozi (dumplings) pork neck and a big fish. Above you see the usual way Sophia and I interact in a restaurant -- lately she is rejecting high chairs (so rarely available anyway) and sits on my lap demanding to be fed by me --definitely the Chinese way.

Aunt Mary left on Sunday morning :( and we headed to church on Gulanyu, getting the chance to introduce Michael's mom to our church friends and the staff. As we were getting ready to leave the island, we happened across a parade, complete with dragon dancers, drums, and parading temple gods on portable altars. I had left my camera behind, but saw my friend Julia there who has promised to get us some photos of hers-- it was quite exciting, and the first time we have really seen a religious/cultural display like this in Xiamen. Grandma must be bringing us luck. Later in the day that luck continued when we went to the "top of Xiamen" Pizza Hut and were first told it was a 1 hour wait, and then 5 minutes later sitting at a table with a great view of the harbor with our pepperoni pizzas - so Grandma got to experience the classy place Pizza Hut is in China.

There it is on the 24th floor of a waterfront tower...the views were OK, bu nothing compared to tonight, when we continued our eating out every night fiesta, by going with our friend Roger to his favorite place -- a patio dim sum restaurant at the Harborview Hotel.

With good company, Gulanyu by night as our scenery and dozens of tasty made to order dim sum on our table -- we had a really delightful time.

Helen tops off dinner with some of our fruit sculpture dessert.

We were just sorry that Mary had already left for the US -- just the kind of place she would love...we heard she has arrived safely but is waiting for her checked luggage to show up -- prayers to the patron saint of lost bags (is it St. Anthony or someone else?) are needed, because that bag is full of treasures!

We have three more days to enjoy having Grandma in our midst, planning some more quiet times so we can all rest up a bit after all this fun.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Reunited and showing off Xiamen

It seems the wait was forever, but suddenly they arrived --Grandma and Aunt Mary arrived Tuesday and we have been taking Xiamen by storm ever since. It has been so incredible to have them here, not just because we miss family in general and them in particular...but the thrill of having a witness to our lives here has made this a very exciting visit. Sophia and Grandma are waiting for Helen at the bus stop on the first day...

and when she arrived Aunt Mary snapped a photo with Helen's good friend Xiao Meimei.

On Wednesday it was clear and warm, so we headed out on the water on the "dragon boat," a tour boat Helen has been eyeing for months.

This is Xiada seen from the water. The boat took us out around Gulanyu and out to Jinmen Island..traditionally called Quemoy and part of Xiamen, but which has been under Taiwanese control.

Here are the Chinese tourists rushing to take a picture...

And here is the island with its slogan -- I have asked a friend to translate...I think it is something about one China, three systems, or something like that...there was also a Taiwanese flag flying. We did not dock, and foreigners are not allowed to enter Taiwan this way. Residents of Fujian province are allowed onto Jinmen for short stays. The ties of family and culture are particularly intense between Taiwan and Fujian.

On the way back there was a puppet show on the funny.

We ended up on Gulanyu on the first real summer like day, and everything was in bloom.

After lunch we did some important shopping, so if you are a friend or close family member -- get excited.

And Miss Sophia got a long coveted item.

Here is the whole group -- with Michael still in Seoul.

Lovely Shuzhang gardens, where we finally saw the famous piano museum -- no photos allowed but lots of pianos --

Mary took these great photos of us.

And how about those sea food restaurants? are some stingrays ready to be dinner.

Mary's photo of a beautiful sunset at the end of the day while we were on the ferry home.

And she herself...tired out yet?

I brought them with me to Helen's kindergarten for English class, much to Helen's delight.

We toured the campus a bit.

And after some serious shopping...time for lunch--more noodles anyone?

Back to our building where they are staying one floor below us, which is so convenient. Just in time to reconnect with Michael, back from Korea with some chocolates -- red pepper paste chocolates to be exact.

More to come -- the flea market, tea and the temple...on our 4 day tour package!