Modern Technology on the Long Haul Flight
Two other things I found fascinating were 1) the tinted windows which allowed me to watch outside during the flight without disturbing the other passengers from resting (yeah!) and 2) the now interactive map on the back of the seat in front of me which I could manipulate to see satellite pictures of the planet as we traveled. I found it somewhat amusing that I could only find St. Louis by following the Mississippi River north from the Gulf of Mexico until it met the Missouri River. Even then, as you can see on the map, it never named the place St. Louis. I played around with the map enough that eventually it named the area Florissant, which I’m guessing is due to relatively recent events. I have also added visiting Vulcan, IL, to my bucket list, a place I’ve apparently lived near but never knew existed until being on a flight thousands of kilometers away!
Arriving in China
Living away from Igor has been really tough, to say the least; however, my first view of Shanghai was enough to remind me of one of the bigger reasons why I left to go back to the US and restart my studio. The first picture is of the sky prior to dropping below the clouds. The second is the air when dropping below the cloud line. No, it is not clouds; it’s pollution: Welcome to China.
The next part of the trip was the part I had worried the most about: getting myself from Pudong Airport to Hongqiao Railway Station…on the other side of Shanghai…during rush hour…in less than three hours…first clearing customs and immigration (no time to wait for luggage, so I traveled with only a backpack)…to make the last train to Linhai. With the aid of my seatmate, who helped me hone my pronunciation, I was able to ask directions to the right bus, made it to the station, through security and got my ticket printed with precisely an hour to spare before my train departed. I even got an oddly granted reprieve from the weather: I had just been thinking how hot I was as I was sitting on the sweltering, non-air-conditioned bus when the bus lurched to a start and I got a can of ice cold cola dripped on my head from the luggage rack above my head. To my jet-lagged amusement I was wiped down with baby wipes by two Chinese girls, apologizing profusely: Welcome to China! No worries, ladies: I got my wish: relief from the heat and humidity.
The Final Stretch
The train ride was probably the roughest part of the trip as by the time I sat on the train, exhaustion finally kicked in and I passed out against the window. As far as I recall, three separate men came and went along the three hour trip, but then a woman came who poked me awake with a razor sharp fingernail to the ribs and demanded I trade seats with her, she had a voice to wake the dead and her complaints about me to her friends over the phone kept me from falling asleep again and thus I was saved from passing my stop, something Igor and I had both worried might happen after so many hours of travel. Inside every curse, there is a blessing! I was so thankful that Igor was waiting at the station for me and the taxi ride to the apartment was not long enough for me to fall asleep. After a quick shower and a few bites to eat, I fell into deep slumber.
Pikachu: Our Little Chinese Cat
I vowed to myself and the boys that we would NOT be taking on any animals when we moved to China because taking on a cat or dog is upwards of a 20 year commitment and we had made plans to be in China at most 5 years. So when Adrian brought in a small, starving kitten just “just to show me and feed him and take him back outside” I told him we could feed him and do just that: take him right back outside. However, between the kitten scarfing down a dropped sweet potato that I was peeling and me noticing signs of torture on his tiny body, I held out long enough to find someone who would take him, which I did within a few hours…except the other teacher kept having a conflict and couldn’t come by to pick him up. Needless to say, the cat bonded with us during this time and 4 years later, we have ourselves a rather spoiled cat who speaks no Chinese, but is fluent in Russian and English. He speaks to me every day on Skype and when Igor is late to call (or calls too late), the cat is there to let him know of his disapproval! (And, when the time comes, we will be bringing him back to live with us here in the States.)
I finally woke with Igor’s alarm and walked with him to school, where we parted after he pointed out a new grocery store. I was given the full Chinese welcome once inside. People in Linhai are far less obnoxious than people in Wuxi were, but no quarter is given in the arena of shopping. Despite the store being practically empty at 7am, I was shoved, pushed and prodded, though only mildly stared at and largely left alone to make my purchases in peace. (In Wuxi, people would follow me around in the stores and whenever I would pick something up to read ingredients or give closer examination, there was often a mob of curious on-lookers grabbing at whatever I had touched to look at and put in their own carts. We used to joke that the store should pay me to pick up things at random as I think many people made purchases due to me having to read ingredients. So far, this kind of behavior has been largely absent in Linhai.)
Even though the lack of safe foods for me was one of the two primary reasons I left China, there are certain foods that I have missed from living here. At the top of my list I bought this morning: fresh mangosteen (if there were a Garden of Eden, this fruit was surely in it!), fresh mango (no mangoes I’ve eaten in StL have come close to the flavor of mangoes one can buy in Asia), fresh ginger (not dried out and crusty), fresh Dragonfruit (I prefer the red kind, though white is good in a pinch), and what Igor and I have named Slimy Vegetable. [The sign calls this root vegetable “Mountain Potato”, but I’ve seen this name on a couple of different root vegetables, so I’m not sure what its name in English is. Slimy vegetable is a fair description, though, because when you peel it, it practically shoots out of your hand like a squeeze toy from all of the “slime”. It’s really yummy though and as a starchy food, is fairly filling as well. I like using it in stir fry, but when I lived here before would often batter up and fry to make a type of French fry with a Chinese flair.]
Despite my marathon of sleep and the medicinal effects of mangosteen, mangoes and ginger, I still managed to get in a four hour nap and barely touched the Chinese I had planned on studying today!
There are so many odd animal sounds here that were not here when I was here last summer. Tonight is the first night that I was aware of how loud they are. In addition to the many frogs, there is one animal which sounds like a ratchet toy, one which sounds like an animal being eaten alive and several birds which sound familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I do wonder what they are and what they look like, but am too exhausted to contemplate hunting them down.
Outside of Igor’s School
View from Igor’s School
Walk to/from Igor’s School
Hello Kitty! Scooter
Today is Thursday
My mantra for the day: Today is Thursday. Somehow a million years have passed by and I haven’t a clue what day it is. Igor assures me that it is Thursday and Thursday is the day we travel to Taizhou to register with the police and process our residency paperwork for next year.
For whatever reason, I’ve always had an aversion to seeing the tourist version of a country. So, though I’m never fond of dealing with government bureaucracy, the bus ride to Taizhou is my kind of cultural experience and made the bureaucratic necessity almost palatable. The bus reminded me of a bus I took in Tijuana when I was a child–it was probably made in the same year. This bus, however, was not overcrowded and there were no goats or any other animals on board, so the ride was relatively tame, if not downright luxurious in comparison.
On the way to Taizhou, we passed through several tunnels through the mountains and over a bridge crossing the Jiaojiang River, which empties into Taizhou Bay and eventually into the East China Sea. This is about as close to seeing the ocean as I’m going to get this summer, except when flying into Pudong Airport in Shanghai (and, of course, flying over several oceans). Unfortunately, no one we’ve talked to knows how to access (or has even contemplated going to) the ocean, which I imagine probably has a great deal to do with the levels of pollution one finds rampant in China.
One of my great joys in China is finding amusing translations of signs into what is affectionately called “Chenglish”. China has been cutting down on these signs, so imagine my joy at discovering these two signs at the bus station. (The character that looks like a square is pronounced kou3 and means “mouth” or “opening”. The first sign is designating the opening where you get change returned and the second is the opening where you can pull out what you’ve bought from the machine.) Needless to say, Chenglish is the spice of life for an English speaker here in China and is like finding an Easter Egg.
On the way home, we stopped by a street festival just opening for the evening and through the shrill screaming of recorded messages advertising the wares at decibels designed to make one either deaf or insane, Igor and I managed to find my favorite treat: roasted chestnuts, which I’ve been happily munching on ever since. Sadly, I am unable to try many of the treats for fear of accidentally poisoning myself with gluten. I wish I could have tried what looked like black ice cream or any of the spears of food that contained assortments of roasted meats or swirls of a mysterious yellow substance or any of the various drinks with odd chunks of various colors and shapes and even more odd shapes and colors of straws and the containers themselves. Then there was a container that was actually a small toilet, though it is a complete mystery what was contained inside of said toilet…or whether or not it was meant for consumption or simple amusement. In addition to the food, there was a merry-go-round, a small roller coaster, a bounce house and what was advertised as a circus, though it was confusing since it appeared that one of the animals was a dog shaved to look like a lion. Igor and I have an aversion to circuses, so we did not explore further. I did, however, stop to take a picture of a couple of Peppa the Pig statues outside of the bus station, as I know several students are big fans.
Igor and I waited at the bus stop, confusing the locals as to why we weren’t taking any of the available taxis. There’s something about taking the bus that gives you a glimpse into the lives of others that one simply doesn’t get in the privacy of a taxi. (I’m going to note the irony of my own statement, as all taxis I have thus far been in this time in China, in addition to all security checkpoints and other forms of transit, have had cameras, presumably linked to the face recognition software which is linked to the new social punishment system that was introduced into China in the past year or so.) Still, riding a bus allows you to people watch when people do not have their guard up and gives you the ability to see an authentic side of China. We then had a pleasant walk home along a narrow street where to either side were people tending small gardens eked out of patches of what appeared to be wasteland with tools that looked to be borrowed from the grim reaper, past small houses with laundry blowing in the breeze and small outdoor wash basins with vegetables washed and lined up waiting for dinner, getting glimpses through open windows and doors of grandfathers scooping rice in their mouths with clicking chopsticks and toddlers running around in split pants, laughing gleefully. It is the mural no one is presumably paid to paint on the side of a building no one seems to even look at, filled to capacity with broken down boxes and making room for yet another overloaded cart being driven by a grandfather boasting a man-kini and a grandmother in a proper blue checked dress, white stockings and bright red high-heeled shoes…this is authentic China; there is no pretense here. And, it is beautiful.
Today is Friday. I’m not sure why I feel the need to remind myself of this: hypothetically I’m on something of a vacation. I wonder if I have an innate need to keep track of the passing of time and some primordial fear of losing track of it is being triggered by the days of travel and sleep I’ve just had. Perhaps it’s simply yet another manifestation of that part of me which is Type A personality. Or, most likely, both. Alas, today we have rain, so I am able both to contemplate this and to wrestle technology and post pictures online. Thankfully, internet is functioning today!
I didn’t get out much today due to the rain, but I’ll post a few pictures from my walks of the past couple of days.
Erhu: The “Two-String” Chinese Violin
Something I have wanted to try since I first read about them in college, is the two-stringed “Chinese violin”: the erhu. One of my two goals on this trip was to purchase and figure out how to play one. Much to my joy, today was the day that that happened! Igor and I returned to the small shop we had discovered just prior to me leaving last September and managed to negotiate with the owner to purchase an erhu, bow, case, rosin, tuner and book (a minor miracle considering the man only spoke what we think is the local dialect and seemingly knew neither Mandarin, nor of course any English). He did manage to show me a basic bow hold, where the bow is suppose to travel and at what angle to place the erhu on my leg. I regret not having Igor record my first attempts at making a sound on the erhu, as the caterwauling was quite possibly the worst sound I’ve ever made on any instrument in my life and one which allows the greatest room for improvement! I’m sure I gave the owner of the store plenty of stories for his friends: The Laowai and the Erhu may already have become urban legend. I did have Igor record one of my attempts at Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and hope over the course of the next week and a half to sound a little more musical and a little less like a tortured cat! Unfortunately, it was not until we returned to the apartment and upon closer inspection of the Chinese notation did I realize that the book I bought is basically entirely of exercises in the various tunings. (I had hoped for more Chinese melodies.) Thankfully, there are plenty of erhu videos on YouTube for me to explore…when the internet allows for it. One song I did learn today was Scarborough Fair…Chinese style. 🙂 Someone less than enthralled with my musical adventures is Pikachu, who has been giving me dirty looks ever since I first pulled the bow across the string.
Plums for the Plum Rain
Igor was finally able to wrench me away from my new toy in order to go into town to buy groceries. Appropriately enough, I picked out some yummy yaomei (a type of plum) to eat during this day of plum rain (called so because it is the rain which is supposed to ripen the plums).
With all of the rain from the past couple of days, the normal trickle in the canal has increased to an almost deafening roar. It was quite a sight to see.
We were quite lucky in our timing with the rain and managed to miss most of the downpour.
Linhai is such a small village in China (with a population of only about a million residents) that foreigners are rarely seen. Today I surprised a little girl so much that she nearly dropped her ice cream as she took a double take and blurted out, “WOW!” to her friends. We all had a good laugh and I wonder what her story to her parents was that evening around the dinner table.
A Displeased Pikachu
Almost Overflowing Canal
Breakfast of Mangosteen
Today has been a lazy day: slept in late and had a breakfast of Mangosteen, second derivative coffee and chocolate and almonds I brought from the US. The rain seems to have stopped momentarily, allowing for beautiful hazy views of the mountain and clouds that appear to be rain moving upwards. Over the past couple of nights, I have become convinced that Linhai is where the sound editors captured the soundtrack for Jurassic Park. I’m not sure what animals are actually making these sounds, but I can perfectly picture hatching baby velociraptors and screeching pteranodons. I’m not sure if I should be concerned, but thankfully these creatures only make noise at night, so I will hope China has limited its cloning program to only include human babies and sheep.
Nice Walk Before the Rains
I woke up early this morning and walked with Igor to school. I took a long walk, though most of the shops were not yet open. I managed to make it home just before the rains hit.
I must have managed to poison myself with something, though I have eaten nothing except what I brought with me and fruits, vegetables and rice. Igor suspects it is the water, though we thoroughly boil it before consumption. Igor is less affected than I am, but it does have an effect on his energy level. I wonder how the Chinese manage to cope with this their entire lives. I spent the rest of the day in bed, completely exhausted and trying to hold really still to keep from being in pain. I pity those who cannot escape this feeling!
Lunch: Radish, Bamboo, Mushrooms, Ginger, Green Something & Beef
In the morning I forced myself to stay in bed, though by noon my headaches and bodyaches had dissipated…for the most part. I managed to fix lunch for Igor as well as wash and hang laundry. There was absolutely no access to the internet–on my phone or otherwise, so after lunch I probably drove the neighbors crazy trying to play all of the songs off of my playlist on the erhu: Gloria Gaynor, Glenn Miller, Lale Andersen and Bylat Okydjava, among others, never sounded so Chinese. 🙂 We spent the evening having a nice long walk and grocery shopping. It was a pleasant day all in all.
Pikachu & The Erhu
Pikachu still has not made peace with the erhu, but at least he has not hunted it to extinction…yet.
I’m fairly convinced that whoever designed the United Hands poster has or has had a Chinese washing machine.
Return of the Internet
We figured out why there was a complete shut down of access to the internet yesterday: it was the 30th anniversary of an event the vast majority Chinese to this day have no idea even happened. (Supposedly only 15% are aware of the event that virtually everyone knows about outside of China.) One is simply not allowed to speak of it. And, while Igor and I are here, neither will I.
Pictured above was our dessert of Lychee and Longan.
Into the Mountains
Today is Gaokao for the entirety of China and a day when Igor is not allowed anywhere near the school campus. (Gaokao is the college entrance exam.) We had thought to travel somewhere during this time, but found out that this year gaokao corresponds with the Dragonboat Festival, making travel anywhere a crowded and unpleasant event. So, we spent a lazy day sleeping in, talking about education, calculus, physics, e, i and pi, then went on a walk to discover the entrance to the mountains our son had found during the winter. What we found was actually mountaintops filled with yaomei orchards and beautiful views of the mountains which surround Linhai (ancient Taizhou). Today was quite possibly my single favorite day of all of my combined time in China. It is the closest to nature I’ve come in China as well as the closest I was able to see what old China may have been like prior to the revolution. (My second favorite day was the day we spent on the Great Southern Wall, also here in Linhai.) We discovered a mountain spring whose trickle leads to a small waterfall, several different kinds of dragonflies, and surprised many people who worked in the orchards tending the trees, who when greeted with a “Nihao!” turned their astounded expressions into broad, genuine smiles.
Beginning of Pathway into the mountain
Ducks of a Feather…
A Lonely Goatherder
Between the Rains
This weekend has been filled with rain. We managed to get out a couple of times in order to get some groceries, but for the most part we stayed at home and enjoyed our time together while discussing Igor’s new research project.
In accordance with my own experience and the research I have read which highlights the negative effects of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, I have closed out virtually all social media accounts. This page has been made due to requests made by students and parents to share pictures and experiences from my trip to China.