30 January 2007

"It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"

Currently listening to: Garrison Starr, The Sound of You and Me

Currently reading: Lonely Planet, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring (Countdown to Thailand...11 days!)

I've recently struggled to remember to take pictures of what's going on here. I think I mentioned it before, but life here is just becoming more and more normal, which is a good thing, but it makes it more difficult to document. So I forced myself to take a bunch of pictures yesterday in an effort to make this post. The theme for today will take the form of a question: What changed in Wuxi when I was gone for Christmas? Answer: EVERYTHING!!

I think everyone is familiar with the breakneck pace of things here in China, but sometimes the reality is truly overwhelming. Let me give a tour of my neighborhood while pointing out some of the recent changes.

It is only fitting to update my loyal readers of things from previous posts.

My neighbors bought another chicken and it's huge (this picture doesn't really do it justice). It's been around for a few weeks now so it's only a matter of time before it becomes dinner.

They are making huge progress on the apartments around the corner.

It's hard to believe that people were living in houses that are no longer standing on this land when we first arrived.

This is a picture from my porch looking down on the construction site (it's huge!). The white and red, and white and blue buildings in the middle are the temporary housing for the construction workers. I think the red housing is new within the past few weeks.

Our precious Orange Restaurant...there is notable progress and it has the potential to look quite cute. I think it will be upgraded from "hole-in-the-wall" to "award winning" because of the remodel (that may be a bit generous...who knows). We're holding out for after (maybe before...again, who knows) Chinese New Year for the Grand Opening.

The Bank of China next door that it to blame for this whole remodel craziness. It does look very nice inside now.

Tour of the Neighborhood (AKA What HASN'T Changed?)
My picture safari led me to try to capture everything that has been installed, constructed, lit, and deconstructed within walking distance of my apartment.

The new trashcans in front of the school..."Protect CircumStance Begin With me"

The apartments around the corner from the school--they used to have green protective netting up all over the outside.

The construction project just across the street from the school. I'm not quite sure what exactly it will be, but there is a serious foundation in place.

These kinds of vehicles are so funny. I'm not sure what their purpose is and where they are going, but they sure look dangerous (Note: The engine is completely exposed and very loud).

This bridge did not EXIST when we came 6 months ago. We have watched it through the various stages of construction.

Same bridge, just a different view...It's not in use yet, but I'm sure it won't take long for that to change. A similarly placed bridge on a parallel road closer to school got completely torn down in the time I was gone for Christmas. Speculation has it that it was torn down to get built again because it's quicker to do that here!

Brief Interlude: My Apartment
I have received many kind notes and wonderful letters over the past few months and I have taken to decorating the backs of my doors with them. Leave me a comment or email me if you don't have my address and you would like to send me a letter.

The back of my front door (with most of my Christmas letters).

The back of my bedroom door.

The back of my door to the living room (the orange couch room)--with many birthday greetings.

Final Round: The Last Batch
Here are last few pictures of note.

The middle school right next to our complex. They got decked out with the blue edge lights sometime after the October holiday.

Yet another construction project on my street? It certainly looks like it, but there are still homes behind it and the heavy-duty equipment is nowhere to be found, at least for the time being, all though it will be one spot for me to keep my eye on.

This bridge also did not exist when I came and the crazy thing is that it opened up during the time I was gone. It's really cool, it's a viaduct, but it has a nice little exit for our road. Note all the bike and motorbike traffic--that's rush hour in Wuxi.

I'm not sure where it leads, but I'm sure it's someplace cool.

These pansies got planted a while ago (apparently the pansy is a nice 'winter' flower, I wouldn't know because I've always lived where it frosts in the winter [no quotes=real winter]).

Looking back the opposite direction--the yellow lit bridge is just barely visible in the middle, that's the way we go to downtown.

The place where we get massages also recently got lights on the trim.

I didn't even mean to have this be another artsy picture, but I really like faint outline of the sunset in the background...that's my street--Chang Jiang Bei Lu or Chang Jiang North Road.

The only thing I have left to say is how it was for life to just keep going while we had limited internet over Christmas. What would have been big news for me stateside, the death of President Ford, was just a passing piece of news. Had I still been in GR or even CO, I'm sure I would have followed it all with interest.

The death of Saddam Hussein was unexpected for everyone I think. It's funny how I define my connectedness to the real world on whether or not I have access to the important news agencies online. I don't think I read one single article about the whole situation and now it seems so minute. I'm not passing judgment on that whole situation, but merely reflecting on how important it was at the time and now how inconsequential it seems a month later to me here.

My last social/cultural commentary was how it was so refreshing to NOT to watch Dick Clark countdown to the New Year. I've never understood how he is still doing that show, but I never particularly enjoyed it in the States. Despite my negativity towards that iconic American tradition, I must admit that it felt surreal to watch the bilingual program that welcomed the New Year on CCTV 9. Sometimes I forget for a split second, or maybe a few hours or days, that I live in China and things like that program, or more recently, dinner with some local friends, are nice friendly reminders of how far I have to go in my understanding of what I experience daily.

Random thought: It's been sunny the last few days here and it's glorious. I love the sun. Even if it's still cold (which it has been), I'd so much rather have that than a bit warmer weather and rain or something. I guess that's what growing up in Colorado, where it's sunny some 300 plus days a year which is more than Florida, did to me.

Wow, talk about procrastination...I have some serious finals to write.

Peace be with you,


27 January 2007

Belated Christmas Pics

Currently listening to: Sean Watkins, Blinders On

Currently reading: U2 by U2, Sliding Down the Surface of Things 1990-1993

So I finally made some time to write an update about my Christmas vacation to northern China. My journey began by taking a taxi to the bus station, then I took a shuttle van to the Shanghai airport, then I took an Air China flight, and once I arrived, I got in another taxi. I am astonished that a.) I didn't have to drive AT ALL and b.) I did this all by myself c.) using my very limited Chinese.

It was wonderful to see Dan and Sara and the kids, and Sara and I got down to business the next day by painting Mia's room purple for her 4th birthday. We had a wonderful Mia's bday/Christmas Eve celebration by going to a Korean restaurant and then doing the traditional opening of one present early. Two teachers from the school joined us for Christmas morning. It was really fun to be with kids for Christmas--it totally kicks the celebration into high gear. After opening presents, we went out to hot pot (yummy, yummy) for the "traditional" (maybe our new tradition in China?!?) Christmas lunch with some local friends. Then Sara, Wendy-a local friend, and I went to Beijing by train. Funny train moments included literally running through the station to catch the train and then having it be standing room only for the trip.

Once we arrived, got oriented and settled into our hotel, we ventured out for some Mexican food. The happiness of any sort of Mexican food in China is truly immeasurable, and needless to say, Sara and I were quite happy to introduce Wendy to 'real' (well, as real as it can get) Tex-Mex. Talk about a wonderful Christmas present!

The next day we went to the Temple of Heaven (a better translation, as I'm learning from a new book, is the Altar of Heaven). It is a beautiful structure and it was built for the Emperor to offer a border sacrifice to Gd on the winter solstice. The history around this complex is amazing! Later that afternoon, we picked up our friends from Grand Rapids, Jen and Melva, at the airport. As jet lagged as they were, we were able to convince them to venture out for their first Chinese meal. I met up with one of my fellow Wuxi teachers, Megan, and her mom and brother, who were visiting from Washington State. It was fun to get to meet them and hang out for a bit.

The 27th was a very full day as we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I had seen both sites back in August in just a skirt and tank top--to be contrasted with this visit's two pairs of socks, long underwear, shirt, hoodie, scarf, hat and pea coat. But as always, the Chinese architecture was compelling--it was worth freezing my extremities to see again. This time we hit up the unadvertised Starbucks in the City complex. Ah, the paradoxes of modern China--a relatively new Seattle coffee megacompany in the thousands year old palace dedicated for the Chinese Emperor.

Once we got back to Tianjin, we hung out a lot, played multiple games of the Cities and Knights of Catan, and got caught up on life back in MI. On New Year's Day, some local friends took us to the Ancient Culture Street and gave us a tour of the temple. That Friday, we got a tour of the local Catholic building, followed by a wonderful dessert at the local DQ--more happiness in the form of food (perhaps a common theme for the vacation...) While I'm on the topic of good food, some dinners at the Kennedy household included Make-Your-Own-Soft-Taco night, baked cheese noodles, wonderful Chinese food, another Christmas dinner (with the same amazing ribs from our Thanksgiving meal) and a night of Sharing with local friends.

But my personal favorite was our night of teaching some friends how to play the Settlers of Catan. I had told some of them about the rice pizza we make because of the gluten allergy in my family, so I made 4 pizzas and then 2 batches of coconut macaroons (I even brought some back to Wuxi!). Then we proceeded to have a fully translated game of Catan--it was amazing.

It was a wonderful, relaxing time of building new friendships, continuing old ones, and being loved on by my family in China!

As always, pictures below: (Don't forget to click on the picture to enlarge it)

Part I: The Altar of Heaven

There are different admission prices to the Altar complex, people like this just pay to get into the park, where they come to exercise...

...or just hang out.

Me all bundled up in front of the Hall for Good Harvest.

Wendy and I braving the cold together!

An up-close picture of the Hall.

Looking over at the Hall from another area.

An attempt at an artsy picture--this kind of ornate artwork is all over the ancient structures in Beijing.

Looking over towards the Dan Bi Bridge that connects the north and south parts together.

The Altar Mound--if you stand on the top stone of the mound, your voice sounds usually clear.

The park on the very south part of the complex.

Melva, Jen and Sara at the beginning of our visitors' Chinese adventure.

Part II: Tiananmen and the Forbidden City

Makes me wonder what is permissible...

The Chinese flag flying in the uncommonly blue Beijing sky.

Looking across the city to Chairman Mao and the beginning of the Forbidden City.

They are currently refurbishing everything before the Summer Olympics next year and even the ceilings are beautifully finished.

The old tiles laying around near the scaffolding.

"Mind Your Step/Made Possible By the Pride Group" Hmm, this brings to mind a few questions...Who is the Pride Group? Do they want me to have enough pride to mind my steps? Why do they care? ;)

Another artsy-fartsy pic, this one inside the City complex.

I somehow forgot to mention that my Christmas wish for snow did get fulfilled, just a few days after Christmas. Even though it was just a dusting--what mattered to me was that I got to see snow this winter. I didn't realize how much I missed it; it was so much fun to play in!

Some of the ex-pat kids enjoying the snow.

The bikes with their dusting of snow in front of the Kennedy's gate.

Mia getting ready to whack me with a snowball.

Part IV: Ancient Culture Street and temple

Dan and a local friend enjoying their first cup of Starbucks in the New Year.

A fashion show for everyone to enjoy--All I can say is that I think those girls must have been freezing, because again, I was cold and I had multiple layers on.

Dan's friend gave us a tour of the local Buddhist/Taoist temple that sits right off the Culture Street. This is the entrance where people go to first burn incense.

The lion still had some snow from the previous day.

Traditional dolls for sale.

A food artist who made these beautiful designs--this one is a rooster--from a honey-like substance.

A nice view of the Ancient Culture Street.

A sign in German?!? Happy Day! German is on the top, English is on the bottom--my favorite part of the whole thing is that someone took a permanent marker and corrected the English version.

Could the Kennedy kiddos be any cuter?!?

Part V: Various Tours

The MBA building of a local university. Some of the students were kind enough to give us a tour of their campus.

One of Wendy's friends goes to this church and offered to show us around.

The outside altar still decorated from the Feast of Epiphany.

Me, Wendy, the local priest, our friend Abbe and Wendy's friend in front of the altar.

Looking down the shopping street to the Building.

Abbe and I at coffee.

Wendy's friend, Melva, Wendy, me and Abbe together for our last day.

Part VI: Misc. Pics from Wuxi

How to move a mattress: Chinese style--Tie it on a rope, then hoist it up the gate...

...then carry it up another 5 flights of stairs.

My new "Blue's Clues" slippers that Sara got me for Christmas to match my awful orange couch. Note: There is nothing on them that even resemble the Blue's Clues characters we know in the States--remember that copyrights are often forgotten about here.

My new tissue box tells me that "The air is full of breath of the autumn wind/take a deep breath of this sense/softly and gently we dance."

That's all for now