Shanghai Junk

Thursday, January 14, 2010

JANUARY 15, 2010

Last weekend, we made arrangements with the recently returned Larry & Therese to meet for lunch and then a trip to the Fabric Market. We decided to include our friend, Tom, as well who is "batching it" while Mimi finishes her holiday vacation in Texas. We agreed to meet at Pier 39 for what is known to be the "best clam chowder in Shanghai" which is served in a giant bread bowl. Sounded good on a cold winter's Saturday.

Randy and I decided to take the subway to Jing An Temple station and walk the remainder of the distance to Pier 39 as is our habit when we can ascertain where an establishment is located from the nearest subway stop. As we were waiting for the train to arrive at our station here on Weining Lu, we noticed one of Shanghai's more "finely" dressed women waiting there too. The style on the street lately is rather unique (and maybe this is what everyone is wearing in other parts of the world but we just haven't read the latest fashion mags) .... leather hip boots (or else those ugly Ugh boots ... I hate those things .... they look like over sized slippers to me) with either hot pants or a very short skirt, dark tights, a puffy, quilted jacket (usually metallic or at the very least, VERY shiny), and a garish hat and bag (the more garish, the better). OK, maybe we're getting old but we do stifle a giggle or two sometimes about what passes for fashion in this city .... it's usually a Chinese twist on something that might indeed be straight off the runways of Milan. We don't know, obviously. But it's a good source of entertainment.

Anyway, this particular gal had the requisite "uniform" of the day ... black leather hip boots, tights, short skirt, I think her jacket might have been fake fur. But the thing that really caught our eye was her shoulder bag. It appeared to made out of a dog!!! No lie ... the bag portion looked just like a medium sized Pekingese with the legs lopped off. But the REALLY disturbing thing about it was that the flap closure of the shoulder bag was actually the DOG'S HEAD!!!! When I decided that my eyes were not literally going to pop out of my head, I started to laugh. And then I couldn't stop laughing (having what our friends Judy and Neal call a "tut" attack). We really chuckled as we speculated about the possibilities on the theme of the "doggy bag." A Chihuahua would make a lovely wallet, a Bull Mastiff could be a very handy piece of luggage!! If you can't bring yourself to completely dispose of dear, old Spot, he could certainly become your next accessory to be cherished for a lifetime (or until Vogue decides that that particular fashion statement is now "out")!! Oh, gosh ... PETA would have a field day with this situation!!!!

Well, we shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. After all, this is the country that has an actual "dog" exhibit at the zoo (living ones, not stuffed). And we won't even go into the culinary possibilities! Yikes!!

Pier 39 turned out to be a VERY small cafe (I think we have closets bigger than this place) where the clam chowder was pretty good but not stupendous. Randy and I later commented that it does seem a waste in this day and age where people are starving to death to throw out an entire loaf of bread after you eat the soup it once contained. And maybe the point is that you would eat the bowl yourself but none of us did.

Tom begged out of the Fabric Market for a conference call but promised to join us later for dinner at a destination that had yet to be decided. We agreed to call him. So we piled into Larry & Therese's van to head to Luijiabang to the Fabric Market. Mr. Ji remembered us and we exchanged, "Ni hao's."

I guess I hadn't been to the Fabric Market on the weekend much because it was crazy busy and jammed with people. I had a remote idea of where we wanted to go because we'd ordered a cashmere coat for Randy there a couple of years ago (has it been THAT long?). Larry & Therese had a particular vendor in mind for some jackets for Larry so we temporarily parted company for our particular stalls. Randy and I found the cashmere vendor and I picked out a charcoal grey trench coat to be made for me. Got measured, paid a deposit, and went off in search of L & T.

We had fun at L & T's vendor where Larry was trying to decide upon a coat for himself. I'd seen a color that I thought would look terrific on him (sort of maple syrup-ish) as Larry is a blue-eyed, redhead. He tried on the sample coat in that fabric and we started telling him how great he looked. We decided that color should be dubbed "cinnamon." Larry ordered his coat, and we wandered out sort of window shopping at that point.

Randy had twice gone over to a shop where they specialized in leather goods. They did indeed have some beautiful leather coats and jackets. We were speculating about the source of the leather as it was absolutely "buttery" in terms of the texture. We were informed that this was lambs leather. I tried not to think too much about that. Larry and Therese started trying on jackets. I wasn't all that interested until I spotted a matte silver leather bomber-type jacket displayed in the corner. I decided I'd try it on just for grins. The proprietor slipped the jacket over my shoulders and it actually fit pretty well. I turned around to face Larry and Randy who were watching me from the opening of the store. They both were staring at me with jaws agape. Randy told me to turn around. I did. Larry told me to turn around again ... slowly. I did. I have to say that I was very much enjoying this moment. I don't think a man has looked at me like that since I was 28 (a very long time ago)!! Finally, Therese said, "You absolutely MUST have that jacket ... it was MADE for you!!" Well, we hadn't planned to spend that money but I glanced at Randy and he was nodding approvingly. By the time we left the leather stall, Larry, Therese, and I had all ordered jackets (our apologies to PETA again). And Randy, the guy who'd started it all by wandering over there in the first place, decided he really didn't want one.

I have to say that this is one of the nicer features of living in Shanghai ... the Fabric Market. You can get anything made, tailored to fit YOUR body perfectly, for VERY reasonable prices. I have taken items that I particularly liked from the states there to be copied in other fabrics. They normally do a very nice job. Randy has mentioned taking some blazers there when we go back to pick up our orders to have them taken in because of his weight loss since we've been in China (around 20 pounds). And we've also thought about having some Chinese specialty items made for us before we move back to the states. Maybe a mandarin dress or jacket for me, and a mandarin jacket for Randy ... just some mementos of our stay in the Orient.

After drinks and cards with Larry and Therese at their place, the four of us met Tom at Element Fresh for some dinner. After dinner, we walked across to the Hard Day's Night bar, a Beatles-themed establishment that had a pretty decent band playing, and had a few drinks. Mimi returns this week and we'll all be meeting again for dinner on Saturday evening as Larry and Therese have guests coming into town and want to show them a traditional Chinese dinner. So the destination is South Beauty on the Bund.

Tonight, we are scheduled for dinner at 1221 with our dear Australian friends, Michael and Ali. After 16 years in China, Ali has decided that she needs to spend more time at home with her kids and grandkids. So Michael has taken a studio apartment here in Shanghai, and Ali has shipped home most of their furniture to a larger apartment in Sydney where they will do the "long distance" relationship for the foreseeable future as Michael's work will not allow him to leave Shanghai. I'm sure they will both be back and forth as often as finances allow. Ali leaves this Sunday, and as she is the first good friend that I made in Shanghai (and you may remember, mother of Ralphy, my sweet doggy companion), I am saddened by her departure. But Randy and I certainly understand missing home, and friends and family there. We wish her and Mike all the best and hope with our entire hearts that this works out for them.

Just a final thought about the current events of this week ... the Haiti earthquake. What a tremendous tragedy! Randy and I have been somewhat glued to the TV this week watching the events unfold. Of course, this brought back all the memories of my very scary experience during the Sichuan earthquake in May of 2008. But of course, my fright pales in comparison to what these folks must be going through. No one is less prepared for a catastrophe than the people of Haiti who have not only dealt with unsettled governments, poverty, and devastating hurricanes in the last few years, but now this. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti. Angelie would say, "Keep thinking good thought .... good will come."


When I first contemplated an entire post devoted to Angelie, I worried I might not have enough information on the subject. Well, the longer we know Angelie, the less that is an issue. She certainly is a marvel of a person of ANY nationality!!

Where should I start in my accolades of Angelie. First off, Angelie took it upon herself to take on additional duties while I was away in the states with very little prompting. That is to say, some of things I normally do that are not part of her weekly routine were accomplished. We only had brief discussions about this before I left for the Thanksgiving holiday but she is so smart and quick that I really needn't have worried. Bed linens were laundered and changed, Randy's laundry was washed, ironed (I hate ironing!!), and put away in the correct places. Plants were watered, turned, trimmed, and given loving care. But best of all, nothing was missing!!! For me, this was the true test of character. It does seem normal practice to discover items missing after having an ayi for a certain period of time. But no worries with Angelie. She is about as honest a person as I've met.

Shortly after Christmas, Angelie presented me with a grocery list. "Please obtain items, and I will make dumpling for you and boss." OK. This piqued my interest because Angelie's dumplings are legendary among her clients. And we had yet to experience this culinary delight. She'd even gone to the trouble of writing down some of the ingredients in Chinese (both characters AND Pin yang) so we would be sure to get the correct items in the correct quantity.

Randy and I took off on foot on a Saturday morning to the wet market across the street. Other than the meat (which CAN be obtained at the wet market but we're a little leery of the open tables of meat that are pawed through by people and pooped on by flies all day), we could get everything we needed there (carrot, mushroom, cilantro, leek, chives). Picked up the meat later (dumplings can be made with chicken, pork, beef, or shrimp ... or can be meatless too) at the City Shop and we were good to go. Angelie had left instructions that I should let her know when the ingredients were obtained because maybe she'd come sooner than her normal Tuesday morning to make the dumplings. So I sent a text message. She said she'd come an hour early on Tuesday. I started thinking, "Gosh, she already comes at 7:15 AM." And given the fact that she comes from a great distance, she'd have to get up in the middle of the night to get here that early.

So I sent her a message to come on Monday evening after work and just spend the night in our guest room. OK, this would be fine. Around 7:30 on Monday, I received a text that she would be later than expected because her bike was stolen. Oh, I was SO mad!! Angelie is such a good person, works so hard, and is MOST honest, and of course SHE is the one to have her bike nabbed. After Angelie arrived, we chatted about the bike situation. She said she always locks her bike by the guard shack at this particular location where she works three days a week, feeling that this is probably the most safe area. Of course, she asked the guards if they knew of the whereabouts of her bike. The answer was that it was NOT their responsibility to look after her bike! Of course.

To be honest, it seemed I was more distressed about this than Angelie. She is just the most pleasant, serene, and caring person I have ever met. I kept going on and on about how unpleasant this situation was for her, and she was completely calm about the entire thing. Randy and I discussed helping her out with another bike which was rejected entirely. No, Angelie had an old bike that might need some repair, and that would have to do. I told her we'd pay to have the old bike repaired. "We'll see," was the reply.

On Tuesday morning, about 8 boxed servings of dumplings were sitting in our freezer after about an hour's work. Again, I offered extra money for her efforts .... NO WAY!! "I love making dumpling!! I love for you enjoy them!!" Randy fried them with some rice and vegetables later for dinner .... as Rachel Ray would say, "YUMMO!!!" They were certainly up to the hype! We had them again a few days later as part of the chicken vegetable soup Randy made that weekend.

The next Tuesday, Angelie arrived promptly as usual bundled up so as to look like the Pillsbury Doughboy or the Michelin Man. It's been brutally cold here lately (two nights ago, the low was 17 which is the lowest I've seen it since being in Shanghai). But Angelie's sunny disposition warmed the room immediately. Her first announcement warmed us even further .... the bike was returned to her!! Apparently, it was found in the garden area of the compound from whence it was stolen. She figures that the thieves couldn't finagle a way past the guard shack so decided to abandon it. In the meantime, she HAD gotten the old bike repaired, so now she has back-up. Great news!!

Well, I'd had a rough night. Not sleeping well, up and down, finally taking a sleeping pill which did the trick. But of course, waking up in the morning was an issue. Angelie watched me pad around the apartment a bit, and when I came past her to get a cup of coffee, she removed her hands from the sink full of suds and dried them off. She then took the cup from me and took one of MY hands, and led me to the sofa where she instructed me to sit down. I sat. She then proceeded to start massaging my neck, shoulders, and back. Oh .... groan!! I mean groan in a GOOD way!! I asked Angelie where she learned to do this. She said, "I read books. I even take test." I think to myself why isn't she working as a masseuse but then realize that taking care of people she loves (and Angelie always seems to grow to love her employers) is what SHE loves, bless her heart. And speaking of her heart, Angelie has also told me that she carries extra food around with her to give to the beggars on the street that have children with them (many carry babies in their arms or tied to their backs to enhance their neediness factor). Said she can't stand the thought of kids going hungry. Amazing!

Anyway, I digress. She then asked me to lay down so I again complied. She massaged my head and face at that point. I felt my body became warm and relaxed, just taking in her gentle care. Finally, she stood me up, and firmly, but gently, started pounding my body from head to toe ("Must get Chi moving!!"). I do not exaggerate when I say she spent over a half hour tending to my physical body in the most lovely way. Finally, she sat me back down on the sofa and handed me my coffee cup .... I didn't even mind that it had grown cold. "You sit. You relax. Maybe sleep again." What an angel. I immediately had the thought that I wonder how I could take her to come home with us!

And Angelie has the most amazing attitude. It does seem that no matter what we talk about, we come to a point in the conversation where she declares, "Make no sense to think about bad things. Only think good thoughts. Think good thoughts, more good comes. Think bad thoughts, bad comes!" Now there, my friends, is a wise woman. And when you think about what Angelie has been through, it's even more incredible.

Angelie is a divorced woman which is indeed a rare thing in Shanghai. I do not know the particulars of her divorce but I know her husband took their young son with him and left Angelie to move in with his parents (probably intimidated by her intelligence but that's just speculation on my part). Now China is still very much a patriarchal society, and that means if you are a woman, you still have very few rights. It's getting better but by only baby steps. As soon as Angelie's husband moved in with his parents, HIS father became the boss. Angelie was then refused all rights to have a relationship with her son. All her attempts to visit him were spurned and there is literally nothing she can do about it.

Recently, Angelie was contacted by her child's grandmother and teacher to say that the boy was having some problems in school, both with learning and behavior. The teacher felt quite certain that it had something to do with the fact that he missed his mother (Andrew is 11 or 12 now). So between the teacher and the grandmother, they were able to arrange some short visits (30 minutes) for Angelie. The grandfather has not been happy about this situation but the effect was immediate. Andrew has been doing much better. Of course, when Angelie went this last Sunday for her visit with Andrew, the grandfather met her at the door to say that "Boy is doing better so you no need to visit again." But a fragile truce has been arranged between Angelie and the grandmother. If Grandpa is not home, Angelie is allowed a visit.

But in her typical Buddhist philosophy, Angelie refuses to see this as a problem. "Only look at good. Not think about bad. Cannot change bad, so no think about." I wish we could bottle her attitude and give it to the world as a tonic. She is happy to have a good job, happy about having even sporadic short visits with her son, happy to have employers she loves and who return that love. Happy to make dumplings!! And we're happy to eat them .... and drink in her goodness. Bless her beautiful heart and her talented hands. And we're so blessed to have her in our lives and her light shining on us for even a short time.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


I did my usual trip back to the states just prior to Thanksgiving. Randy had made the choice to not join me as he likes to save his vacation time to be utilized in the summer when he can take an entire month back home. This is, unfortunately, NOT a popular choice with the family but it IS understandable. One arrives and must deal with eight to ten days of jet lag, only to turn around and head back to deal with it again on the other side. And the trip really cannot be accomplished very well in less than two weeks, especially when dealing with holiday activities.

I had decided (either wisely or stupidly depending on your perspective) to have the big Thanksgiving feed at our house in Frankenmuth. It turned out to be a lovely day with around 20 family in attendance. Everyone brought a dish to pass, and I set up a buffet in the basement. Worked out very nicely! Thanks everyone for all your help!

So I had what felt like a whirlwind trip back to Michigan. I retrieved my precious Mattie for a few weeks (which meant two trips to Grand Rapids), got her groomed, got in my doctor's and dentist appointments (even the dreaded mammogram!), managed to get the Christmas shopping purchased, wrapped, and delivered. I opted OUT of Christmas cards this year. I purchased and delivered a gift for the new baby girl next door, and also managed to pop in on the other next door neighbor, Esther, who at 90 is pretty much a "shut in." There were a couple of trips to Millington to accomplish some business there. There was a quick trip to the hospital with my folks for a scare involving my mother's blood pressure. She's on meds now and seems to be doing fine after a day in emergency and another day of tests. Both my sons took time to visit in Frankenmuth including my daughter-in-law, Melissa, and the grandkids, Aria, Layla, and Stuart (bless you, kids). The BIG news is that the 4th grandbaby is due in April!!! I even managed a few days in Ypsilanti with my dearest friend, Judy, and her husband, Neal, just prior to my return to Shanghai. Whew!! I shoved a LOT into a relatively short trip this time.

Anyway, suffice it to say that the trip went by SO fast, I hardly had time to catch my breath, and I regretfully didn't see everyone that I'd planned. I have to admit that by the end of the month, I was sort of looking forward to getting back to the MUCH slower pace of life in Shanghai (and of course, I missed my beloved hubby).

Shanghai seemed gray and quiet upon my return. Oh, there were a few signs of the holiday but not many. Most expats travel home for the holiday. Randy had put up the tree and hung the stockings to try to capture the spirit. But I wasn't really feeling it. Of course, jet lag is often accompanied by depression for me so I probably wasn't looking at everything with the proper cheery attitude of the season. Anyway, one evening Randy was flipping through one of the local expat magazines and asked me as I was surfing the net, "What would put you in the holiday spirit?" I answered, "Oh, some kind of performance ... maybe something with some holiday music?" He asked, "How would you feel about The Nutcracker as performed by the Russian Ballet on Christmas Eve?" "PERFECT!!!" was my response.

So my thoughtful husband purchased us lovely seats (center section, 13 rows from the stage) for a truly delightful performance of The Nutcracker. It was choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich, and the orchestra was conducted by Valery Platanov. Beautiful!!! We got all dressed up (me in HEELS even ... ouch!) and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I have to mention one thing though. At one point, the prima ballerina actually fell flat on her face. The entire theatre gasped!! I leaned over and said to Randy, "THAT'S gonna leave a mark!" We chatted later and agreed that what had happened was that she performed a leap and came down upon a piece of fallen "snow" that had not been swept up from an earlier scene. Her partner picked her up, she lifted her head, smiled, and they danced on brilliantly (I'd have run off stage crying .... guess that's why SHE is the professional!!). It was truly a most memorable way to spend Christmas Eve!

Of course, our New Year's Eve was also MOST memorable but not in the same positive aspect of the ballet. When Randall purchased our tickets for the ballet, he noticed a production of the musical Fame playing at a new theatre in the Minghang district in the southern part of Shanghai. As most of our friends were in their respective homelands for the holiday, we decided to get tickets for the musical and that would be our New Year's Eve activity this year (back home, we usually go bowling).

We got ready to go to the theater a little early because we needed to hit the ATM across the street first (I wore flats this time). Randy had arranged to meet the driver near the ATM machine which is across the street in the next compound. Got our cash and we're standing on the corner exactly at 6:00 when the driver was due to meet us. Waited and waited. I wondered aloud if he would be coming to our building instead of where we were standing because that is where he always fetches us but Randy said no, he was very clear about being out at the gate (I was doubtful .... you don't change the routine with the Chinese because it just throws them for a loop). About 6:10, Randy's phone rang and it was the driver .... "Where are you?" Of course ... at our building. Randy told him, "Shuicheng gate, Shuicheng gate!!" We waited a few more minutes .... more than enough time for the driver to come from our building to the gate. Finally, I said to Randy, "We weren't where he expected us to be. NOW he's confused and has driven off (exactly what I'd feared ... once they are thrown for a loop, they simply give up completely). After another five minutes, I feared the holiday traffic would thwart us so I suggested we simply hail a cab.

Just about that time, a "black" taxi pulled up and the driver leaned out and offered us a ride (so called "black" taxi because it's usually just a guy who owns his own vehicle looking to make some cash, or a driver of an expat that utilizes the vehicle for making a little on the side when the expats don't need him). Randy showed him our tickets which he examined quite thoroughly, and finally he motioned for us to get in. I told Randy to get the price before we go because that is sometimes a problem with the "black" taxis .... get where you need to go and then they want an arm and a leg for the ride, especially from Westerners (and by then you're out in the middle of nowhere). Driver said 100 RMB (a little more than $14) which seemed a little steep but Randall said no, it's OK. So OK, we go. Nice car .... black sedan, no smoke smell, leather seats, driver wasn't TOO crazy (or so we thought).

We got on the expressway and the traffic was stop and go .... mostly stop. But we had over an hour so I didn't worry about it too much. Supposedly, the theatre was about half hour away under normal conditions but this was New Year's Eve and holiday traffic in Shanghai is UNBELIEVABLE!!! We had a laugh about our conversations with the Chinese who happen to own vehicles because we will ask them, "WHY on earth do you feel the need to own a vehicle when cheap public transportation is all around you?" They always reply that it provides them FREEDOM. And then we laugh thinking, "YES, freedom to sit in traffic jams in your own vehicle!!!" And of course, the more money that is made in China, the more vehicles are on the road, and the MORE TRAFFIC JAMS there are. The road system is sorely underdeveloped here and the longer we are here, the worse it gets due to more and more people owning vehicles (and no fewer buses and taxis to share the road with them). And they all drive like flipping idiots ... which I know I've already mentioned ad nauseum!!

So after moving very slowly on the expressway, the driver decides this is crap and gets off to try his luck wending our way through the city streets .... BAD idea!! Those streets are virtually gridlock. At one point, we go down a bike path which has me a little concerned because you might get trapped there with no way out if the other end is blocked. Every time we got into another jam, he tried to head west to go around it (our destination was primarily SOUTH) and then we'd hit another jam, and so he'd head west to try to circumvent that one, etc, etc.

This went on for what seemed like forever .... over an hour. It was getting close to 7:30, the start time of the musical, and we were worried we'd miss the beginning. Eventually, we thought we were close .... the street names were the same as those on the directions Randy had received via cell phone from Guanxi. But of course, having never been there, we weren't sure either exactly where the theatre was located. We drove around the area for a few minutes, and then the driver turned the car abruptly around a corner only to discover that we'd accidentally gotten on the ramp to the expressway. The driver tried to back down the ramp (of course!!) but the traffic was simply too thick for that. So plan B (or were we at C or D at this point?) was drive down the expressway until we hit an off ramp where we could turn around. Expressway is, of course, stop and go, and nearest ramp is about 4 miles down the road!!!!

By now, I'm all but giving up on the musical. It's past 7:30 and we're headed in the WRONG direction. Finally, we got off the expressway, and brilliant driver (who has made several calls to someone to try to figure out exactly WHERE we were supposed to be going) decided to take a short cut through an industrial park where we too late realized there is NO WAY OUT!!! About that time, I mentioned to Randy that I could see in the near distance the streaks of spotlights sweeping the night sky and wonder aloud if that is the new Shanghai City Theatre where we are supposed to see the musical.

What seems like FOREVER later, we are finally back in the neighborhood where we THINK the theatre is located. We got on the correct street and started trying to check building numbers which was difficult. Big brand new buildings all decorated for the holidays .... but no address numbers anywhere!!! Driver rolled down his window several times to ask folks where the theatre was located. They all pointed at a big new mall area with a huge department store on one end and a Carrefour (the Chinese equivalent of Walmart) on the other. Looks nice but surely is not the theatre. Randy and I insisted that this is NOT the place. But driver insisted it was and kept pointing up .... like it's at the top of this building. So OK, we'll go. We paid the driver and jumped out. We asked a couple other folks in the area .... same answer, the pointing UP!! So we went into the mall and took several escalators to the 5th floor where we found ...... are you ready for this????? THE CINEMA!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, they saw nothing but the word "theater" on the tickets and indeed that IS the "theater" in this neighborhood (at least in their "informed" opinion). If it weren't for the fact that the movie would be in Chinese, we'd have ripped up our tickets and purchased seats for "Avatar!!!!" We could NOT believe it!!!

So by now (if you're still with me), it's nearly 8:00. Not to be daunted (by now, we just want to see if we can even FIND the City Theatre), Randy asked a lady about our tickets, and she ran over and grabbed her husband who spoke excellent English. "No," he told us, "we're not in the correct place." (ya think????) but he wasn't exactly sure where the City Theatre was located. Give him a second and he'll ask somebody. He went to a ticket counter and reported back that we were only a couple of blocks away and across the street ...... from whence the spotlights were coming!!! Of course!!! By now, it's like it's a test and we're determined to NOT fail it!! We started walking. FINALLY, we arrived. Yes, beautiful new theatre very nicely decorated for Christmas. Door man let us in and a nice Chinese woman seated us in our lovely seats about 7 rows back from the stage. We sat down just in time for the curtain to fall for intermission. Sigh!!!

Well, the second half of Fame was VERY nice. The theatre had only about 200 folks in it (I would say it holds nearly 1,000) but the performance (what we SAW anyway) was excellent! Good singing and dancing, high energy. I told Randy that it must be difficult to put that much energy into a performance when there are so few in the audience but they did it nonetheless. I'm glad we persevered.

We hailed a taxi after the show to head to Hongmei Lu and, believe it or not, that driver got us there is less than 15 minutes!!!! I said to Randy that the driver of the "black" taxi just didn't know where the heck he was going at all. And the Chinese are loathe to admit they don't know something or that they are wrong. So then they "lose face" by getting us lost and taking us to the wrong place!!

Anyway, had a nice bottle of wine, a Caesar salad, and a beautiful pizza at Porto Novo (best pizza we've had in Shanghai). And then we went to Big Bamboo for a drink. Rang in the New Year at El Cubano where they had a pretty good party going on. They shot off a BAZILLION fireworks in the street at midnight (this is China after all .... fireworks for EVERY occasion!). We had a mojito (the house specialty) and went home around 12:30.

That was our 2010 New Year!! And Happy New Year to all of YOU, near or far!!


Since having met Larry & Therese, I have to say that we sort of feel like we've found our soul mates in Shanghai. They are about our age, have similar working backgrounds (automotive), similar life style (they live on an inland lake in Michigan in the Detroit area, we have our place on Lake Huron in Grindstone), we love playing cards (especially Euchre ... OUR favorite), enjoy a nice meal and a nice glass of wine or a couple of beers. Also, their love of travel and exploring whatever surroundings in which they find themselves is quite similar to our attitude about living overseas. Of course, we also lament together the shortcomings and frustrations about living in a foreign land too. But having someone that you know understands EXACTLY how you feel (including the homesickness) goes a LONG way toward making it all so much more enjoyable.

We have fallen into an easy pattern of spending most of our Saturdays (and often a few Sunday afternoons as well) with Larry & Therese. One of those adventures happened to be the eyeglass market. The eyeglass market is a five story building in a rather shabby part of town (well, only shabby because it appears to be in a permanent state of construction .... the thought of going into that part of town makes me want to run for a surgical mask due to the excessive dust and pollution). Each floor is chockablock (to borrow a phrase from our British friends) full of stalls selling eyeglasses, sunglasses, contact lenses, eyeglass cases, absolutely ANYTHING pertaining to eyes and eye care. They will copy your current prescription into any frame (and trust me, there are a MILLION frames available), or they will test your eyes right on the spot for your current vision requirements (not sure I trust the Chinese eye test but if one's vision isn't too bad, I suppose it's OK).

Larry and Therese had been there several times and were keen on showing us this resource for optical delights. An entire pair of glasses can be had for around $40 US or even less sometimes, a little more if you want bifocals or tinted lenses. A lot of my lady friends here in our compound have a pair to go with every outfit due to the cheap pricing.

Larry needed to get a pair of glasses repaired. While we were in Hangzhou, he'd broken a bow. As an engineer, he cleverly McGyvered a bow out of either a swizzle stick or a chop stick (I can't remember which now) to get him through the weekend. We'd teased him about starting a new fashion trend ... glasses made out of chop sticks and swizzle sticks. There's probably a patent to be had there somewhere! Anyway, we went to the stall on the 3rd floor of the market building where Larry & Therese had purchased the glasses for the repair. It is great fun to wander the aisles of the market trying on glasses and sunglasses. At Therese's suggestion, I'd brought my glasses along just in case I found some frames I liked (I normally wear contact lenses ... although lately with the addition of reading glasses as needed ... sigh). Well, there was no need to worry about finding something I liked. The problem was finding only ONE thing I liked!

So we left the eyeglass market with a pair of regular glasses for me, a pair of readers for Randy, and a pair of sunglasses for me. I won't tell you what we paid for them because you'll hate us. The regular glasses I had made (they copied the script from the old ones) were spot on in terms of the prescription so I can vouch for the quality. Anyway, if they are not correct, they will fix them until they are right.

Other events shared with Larry & Therese include trying many new restaurants .... Otto (Italian), Coconut Paradise (Thai), Bacaro (Italian), Maya (trendy Mexican),Taikang Lu area as well as frequenting some of our great stand-bys like Peter's Tex Mex and Bubba's Texas BBQ for some tastes of home. Often, we end up at either their house or our apartment to play cards ... always the ladies versus the men. We've been chased out of a couple of bars for playing cards too. Apparently there is some law against playing cards in a bar in China .... might have something to do with gambling (which is done on every street corner ... mah jong or other card games are always in progress here in the streets and parks with LOTS of money changing hands). But more than once, we've been asked to put the cards away while enjoying a beverage in an establishment serving alcohol.

Also, it seems the four of us often end up shopping at the Pearl Market, our favorite "knock off" market in our neighborhood. The Pearl Market is just across the street from the Hongmei Lu pedestrian street which I am quite sure I have mentioned previously. Every kind of ethnic food imaginable is available on this street (no, we haven't tried the Iranian yet) so it's a terrific part of town where we spend a lot of time. Also, the grocery store that carries many imported items is in this neighborhood as well as the Dragonfly where we get our massages. So we find ourselves on Hongmei Lu at least once a week. It's only about a 45 minute walk or a 10 minute taxi ride depending upon our energy level at the time.

Last night, we met with Larry & Therese at Bubba's for BBQ and to watch the Michigan State Spartans play in the Alamo Bowl (tape delayed, of course). They had just flown back into Shanghai after having been home for the holidays, and as they are big Spartan fans (they have a daughter attending there), we knew a meal while watching the game would be a great way to reconnect with them.

So we cherish our friendship with Larry & Therese, and hope that we can remain close subsequent to our respective moves back to Michigan. They live about an hour from our home in Frankenmuth so it's not like they are too far away for this to be an obstacle. Heck, if the traffic is bad, they are that far away from us NOW in Shanghai!! I think more adventures will definitely be had in Michigan by the four of us upon our returns to the states.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Coming back into Shanghai after our return to Bali was a bit of a letdown. But we had missed our friends, Larry & Therese, who suggested to us a weekend excursion to Hangzhou for later in the month of October (actually Halloween weekend). Therese very graciously researched accommodations, and soon reservations were made at the Shangri-La in Hangzhou. Larry & Therese generously offered the use of their van and driver for the weekend.

Shortly after we’d made our plans, it was discovered that this was to be the weekend of a large fireworks demonstration in Hangzhou. We couldn’t believe our luck to have gotten (what turned out to be) the last two rooms in the Shangri-La for that particular weekend.

The guys got out of work early Friday afternoon, and Mr. Ji picked us up mid-afternoon as we were hoping to get out of town before the Friday rush hour which can be a thick, immovable mess each week. We still had a little trouble getting out of Shanghai but once outside the district, the sailing was fairly smooth until we reached the outskirts of Hangzhou a couple of hours later.

The Shangri-La is built into the side of a large hill overlooking West Lake which is by far the most pleasant of attractions in Hangzhou. The Shangri-La boasts some of the most beautiful views of not only West Lake but of the cityscape of Hangzhou in the distance. We had surely chosen well. We had lovely rooms (in fact, Randy and I were installed in a small suite) and use of the executive lounge where we could relax with drinks and snacks while watching the tourists bustling along the water's edge and the boats drifting along the lake’s shore.

On Saturday morning, we started out on foot after breakfast in the above mentioned lounge, and quickly discovered that many of the footpaths with which Randy and I were familiar from our last visit to Hangzhou a couple of years earlier were blocked as the fireworks demonstration was being constructed for that evening. We were restricted to only the paths on the very outside of the lake instead of the numerous bridges and causeways that crisscross West Lake. At first, we felt somewhat disappointed in that our journey was being restricted in this way. But we quickly realized that the silver lining of the situation was that all these outside paths were not being traveled by many others as most folks simply gave up idea of the walking tour of West Lake due to the limits put on the lake area. As such, we had lovely long walks with virtually no crowd to fight. We did however see a few bridal parties that had arranged to have their photographs taken along the lake’s edge. We laughed about the brides moving through the beautiful scenery in their big white gowns under which were jeans and sneakers making for some comical scenes as they lifted their trains and layers of white fabric to go from one area to another. We found a small remote bar tucked into a marsh area where we shared bottles of beer marveling at being the only customers in the establishment … a miracle in a country with the population of China, especially in a tourist destination.

During lunch back at the hotel, we hatched a plan to try to arrive at the executive lounge an hour prior to the fireworks demonstration. We’d been told that the patio surrounding the lounge would only hold about 20 people and we were determined to be among the 20 as this was the best view for the fireworks demonstration on the lake. It seems there was a business expo being held in Hangzhou that week which culminated in the fireworks demonstration. This demonstration is basically a chance for fireworks buyers to view the latest and greatest in pyrotechnics offered for their purchase. We just happened to be lucky enough to have decided to visit Hangzhou during this demonstration.

The plan worked quite well. We were able to secure seats on the balcony for what was absolutely the most incredible fireworks display we’ve seen to date. Shapes and colors that boggled the mind were lauched into the air by a dozen barges anchored in the middle of West Lake. The blasts were timed so precisely that they sounded like the percussion section of a drum corps playing staccato cadences. There were fireworks in shapes of hearts, Chinese characters, in the numbers of ’09 (as in 2009), and brilliant, shimmering drapes of light that reminded me of willow trees on fire. The red color was so deep and vibrant, and I wondered what they did to make it appear so.

The show went on for about 45 minutes after which we retired to our room for some card playing, one of our favorite activities with Larry & Therese as they enjoy playing Euchre as much as we do. Euchre seems to be a “Michigan” thing ... most folks we know who are not from Michigan have never heard of it. And as Randy and I both hail from card playing families, we were thrilled when we met them to learn that Larry & Therese not only play but belong to a “league” back in the hometown of Lake Orion, Michigan.

The next day, the walking paths and causeways were opened up so we were able to hike the more traditional routes around and over West Lake which we did until late afternoon when Mr. Ji showed up right on time to fetch us for the trip back to Shanghai. As usual, another great weekend was enjoyed with Larry & Therese who I must say have sort of become our best friends in Shanghai. As we have SO much in common with them, we always enjoy time spent with them.


After much discussion over the summer, Randy and I decided to take a tropical beach vacation for the upcoming National Holiday in October. At the time that we’d booked, we really didn’t realize that this was to be a HUGE event in China … the 60th anniversary of the current regime. But even after we found out, we didn’t have second thoughts. All the activity was to be in Beijing and we’d heard that it would rival and surpass the Olympics in scope and grandeur. No matter, we were on our way to Bali which had come highly recommended as “paradise on earth.”

Now getting to Bali ain’t easy. When we were researching the flights, the choices were not pretty (nor cheap). There was nothing direct from Shanghai to Denpasar, our destination. But even the layovers were rather bizarre. Most searches routed us through Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with some ghastly layovers. Well, OK, we were undeterred. We selected a flight with a 16 hour layover for the flight to Bali via Malaysia Airlines (trust me, this was one of the more desirable flight options we found) and opted to spend one night in a KL on the way to Bali. The return was even MORE bizarre. The flight out of Bali was 4:00 in the afternoon which was fine but we didn’t leave KL until 1:40 AM the next morning …. talk about a “red eye.” Well, we were excited about the trip and decided that we’d manage. Our arrival back in Shanghai was early Sunday morning so we’d have all day to recuperate.

We were surprised when we found, to our delight, that we’d gotten a free upgrade to First Class (the ever cynical Randy was sure that it was because this was our first flight as Malaysia Airline customers but I was pretty sure it was because we were not Asian …. seemed as though all the First Class upgrades were Westerners). The flight from Shanghai to KL is about 5 hours. I have to say that we were treated like royalty on this flight ….. excellent food and service. And the female flight attendants wear the most beautiful batik skirts and tunics. We already felt like we were on a tropical island. The only disturbing thing about this flight was during out decent for landing in KL, we hit a down draft or something and dropped like a rock for a full 2 or 3 seconds. The flight attendants hit their knees and there were more than a few very audible gasps heard in the cabin (my own included). I don’t think it will matter how often I fly, I’m not crazy about it, and I HATE turbulence.

Coming into Kuala Lumpur was quite interesting. Malaysia is made up of Malay, Chinese, and Indian (or a mixture thereof), and the main religion is Muslim. The vast majority of women wear headscarves, and we even saw quite a number of female travelers in full burka which was a first for us. I’d forgotten that in some of the Middle Eastern countries, men can have more than one wife, and we saw numerous groups comprised of men in tunics and caps (or turbans) along with a handful of wives, and all of their children. Each wife seemed to have two or three children in tow and I wondered how much it must cost to take your entire family on a trip (if indeed it WAS the entire family …. I think I’ve heard that Osama Bin Laden is one of 17 children), then continued to wonder if they use birth control in those countries. Probably not.

It took Randy and me quite a while to find our hotel. We finally figured out that it required a bit of a bus trip but we did indeed arrive in time to settle into our room, do a bit of exploring before dark, and had a nice meal of Malaysian satay (BBQ meat on a stick) and noodles before retiring to bed.

Upon arrival back to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) the next morning, we were dismayed to discover that our flight to Denpasar, Bali had been canceled. We were rescheduled to a late afternoon flight, and while we were a bit disappointed to not be arriving in Bali in the daylight, were still looking forward to our arrival in paradise.

We actually landed in Denpasar at just about dusk. Indonesia is quite serious about their immigration process and, as such, it was quite dark by the time we purchased our “entrance fee” ($25 US per), got our Visa stamped into our passports, and found a taxi to take us to the Bali Mandira Resort. Our taxi driver was friendly and informative. The streets of Denpasar which seemed to flow straight into Kuta where we were staying at the Mandira, were alive with activity. There was strange and exotic music filling the air and the narrow streets were teeming with people carrying various baskets and containers filled with flowers, incense, and various edible offerings for the moon gods. Our driver explained to us that we'd had the good fortune to arrive in the evening of a full moon. Indonesia is primarily Hindu and, as such, the full moon celebration every month is a very important ritual.

When we arrived at the gate of the resort, our driver asked if we remembered a terrorist attack of Bali in 2003 which apparently was just down the block from our resort. He said that over 200 people were killed and as a result, security was extremely rigorous in Bali. Indeed, our vehicle was searched thoroughly and our bags inspected on our way in. And this was the case anytime we came into the resort as well as any large public establishment.

The people of Indonesia (well, at least Bali) are very friendly, smiling, and accommodating. English is not the first language of these people but it does seem they all have a strong command of it so we had no problem communicating. Everyone is helpful and kind, very quick with a smile or suggestion. As we arrived in this mysterious, exotic place, we felt like wide-eyed children trying to take it all in. There was a demonstration of Balinese dancing in one of the open air restaurants where we would be having our breakfasts during the week. The air was thick with the aroma of flowers, sea mist, and BBQ which was being enjoyed at the other restaurant nearest the beach. The moon was full and all the lighting on the resort property was either candlelight or gas lanterns …. indeed quite the romantic atmosphere. We unpacked our bags and quickly found our way to the pool bar where we reclined on outdoor, overstuffed sofas for a couple of fruity tropical drinks and some of the best open fire pizza I’ve ever tasted (or maybe it just tasted so good due to WHERE we were eating it).

The next few days were purposefully (and luxuriously) lazy. Our first morning in Bali found the skies thick with grey clouds, and as such, we didn't bother with the sunscreen. We found lounge chairs at the properties edge which was a bit raised and lined with shrubs and lanterns as a border to the pedestrian street on just the other side. One could enjoy the view of the beach activity very easily from the Mandira property without getting any sand on the toes. And if you did, there was a cleaver large urn with a spigot and a ladle made out of a coconut shell for rinsing the sand off your feet. We alternately lounged, worked puzzles, read, and walked the beach for a few hours the first day.

We realized our mistake later in the day when we came back to our room to get cleaned up for dinner. Both of us were beet red with painful sunburn. So stupid to have thought that just because it was cloudy, we would not get burned. We were at the equator, after all ….. DUH!!!

The subsequent two days were spent completely slathered in sunscreen (or later in aloe Vera lotions) trying to undo that which was already done. Finding a spot in the shade became the priority every day. The Mandira had several of these large, raised beds with thatched roofs and thick cushions for reclining like royalty along the far edge of the property where there was not only a lovely view of the Mandira property (including both pools and lounging grounds) but the beach and the pedestrian road (which included many motor scooters, the main mode of transportation in Bali) as well. So Tuesday and Wednesday, we arose early to place our hats and towels on one of the beds to be enjoyed the entire day under the shade of the thatched roof. Again, we read books, worked puzzles, drank tropical drinks, enjoyed sandwiches or wood fire pizza in the bliss of paradise.

The beach upon which the Mandira is located is called Legian. Bali, in general, is considered a prime spot for surfing, and we thoroughly enjoyed hours of watching surfers of all competencies catching waves while we were in Bali. The beach is well marked to keep surfers in surfing areas while leaving some open areas for swimmers to prevent accidents (although I had to laugh about seeing a clinic on the street called “Clinic for swimming and surfing accident.”). Walking on Legian beach was always an interesting activity. Of course, there is the constant surfing on what might be the biggest waves I’ve personally seen. Here and there, we noticed a few topless women as the beaches of Bali are “clothing optional” although I wouldn’t say that nudity was the norm. Bikinis ARE the dress of the day though. The vast majority of the visitors are from Australia, and most of the remainder are European (although quite a number of Japanese as well), so the skimpy swimwear seemed to be the costume of preference. I had long ago decided that my body was beyond “bikini appropriate” but I have to say that almost every woman (regardless of shape or size) wore a bikini. I felt a bit overdressed in my tankini swimsuits.

The other thing interesting about the beach is the enterprise of “cottage” industry being plied there. If you could purchase a dozen chaise lounges, a handful of umbrellas, and a cooler for drinks, you yourself can have a business on a beach in Bali. For a few rupiahs, the visitor can rent a piece of the beach all to himself for a day under the shade of a large, colorful umbrella. The beach is constantly roamed by pairs of Balinese women offering to give body massages utilizing your favorite sunscreen, and many beach goers seemed to avail themselves to this service (although we did not). There was one “beach bar” just outside the gate of our resort called Billy’s Bar which always seemed to have a lively happy hour around sunset. The patrons would enjoy loud rock, reggae, or blues music while sipping cold beer and watching what are surely some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. And "Billy's" business overhead consisted of a few stacks of PVC chairs, a couple of huge beach umbrellas, and a large, well-stocked cooler full of iced beverages. We were impressed with the resourcefulness and imagination of the Balinese, able to make a successful business out of such a small investment simply by being willing to share their little piece of heaven to the happy tourists of Bali.

I believe it was on Tuesday evening that we decided we’d take a walk down the pedestrian street toward Kuta to see what kind of nightlife we could discover. We’d walked a fair distance when we came upon the Hard Rock Café. I suppose we are the only people in the world that have NOT been to a Hard Rock Café … OK, I take that back. Randall had been once in Chicago when he was taking his daughter, Carrie, there to investigate colleges. But I had never been. So we went inside for a drink and to peruse the dinner menu. It was cleverly decorated with rock concert and celebrity posters and memorabilia. The drinks were very expensive, it was smoky and loud. We decided that a drink would be all we’d consume there. Apparently, we were still enjoying the lethargy of our beach coma to the point that we didn’t want that badly to be awakened from it.

We started strolling back towards the direction from whence we'd come and, surprisingly, a little Chinese restaurant caught our eye. The menu boasted a sort of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Balinese sort of fusion and maybe we just needed something familiar (no Koegel hot dogs to be had here) so we grabbed a table and, if memory serves me right, had plates of lovely Asian noodles for dinner that evening.

After dinner, Randy suggested that we take a pony carriage back to the Mandira instead of walking the crowded streets. We’d noticed the carriages which could carry a couple of good sized riders (or maybe four really small riders). I’m sure Randy thought this would be a romantic gesture, and that would have been the case on Mackinaw Island (where no motorized vehicles are allowed). I have to say that I feared for our lives and the life of the pony for the entire ride (possibly 10 or 15 minutes). Our driver was cute and kept trying to reassure me .. “Just relax. No worries, lady!!” Randy tried to engage him in conversation which was a BIT irritating to me because I felt it was of vital importance that he keep his eye on the street which was teeming with scooters careening around us from every angle. At one point, Randy asked the driver why such small animals were used for pulling the carts. He replied, “Because front of cart would be up in the air if use large horse!!” Well, all righty then. Like the Chinese, the simplest answer is usually the correct one.

On Wednesday, we located a nearby tavern with free Wi-Fi where we sent a quick email to friends and family to alert them to the fact that we’d arrived safely and were enjoying ourselves immensely. While we were outside the hotel grounds, we arranged a driver to take us to a remote part of town where there was a beautiful beach for watching the sunset (although our beach was also terrific for that) and we strolled to a nice restaurant about which we’d read some good reviews. As it was a bit early for dinner, we walked the area near the beach and restaurant taking in all the shrines and temple areas which are constantly adorned with offerings of incense, flowers, and food items resting upon woven banana leaves. These offerings seem to be replenished daily, even numerous times daily, and eventually we realized that one could even find offering stands inside most businesses as well. These are truly a devout people which may account for their friendliness and general gratitude for life (of course, who wouldn’t be grateful about living in such a paradise as Bali … I could surely tolerate it!!). And it was SO vividly colorful!! Everywhere we looked, shrines were draped in colorful hand-dyed batik or plaid cloths, sometimes shaded by a bright, fringed umbrella. One could not open the eyes without seeing some brightly colored vista …. flowers, baskets, wood or stone carving, or some other kind of craftwork complimenting beautiful scenery of seaside and mountains. Quite a visual feast we were enjoying!

The restaurant that evening was again candlelit and mysterious with fountains and statues of various gods adorning the open air building but the food was not exceptional. The luckiest part of our evening was the taxi ride back to the Mandira as this is how we met Wayan, the taxi driver. Wayan owned his own vehicle and, as a lifelong resident of Bali, and a 17 year taxi driver, was quite informative about the area and a pleasant tour guide. He asked us if we had plans for any tours, and as luck would have it, we had thought about seeing some sights. After all, we couldn’t lie on our backsides the entire week, could we? Well, OK, we could, but Wayan seemed a pleasant fellow to show us the sights so we arranged a day trip with him for the next day.

We met with Wayan after breakfast and embarked on our journey. Wayan had mapped out a lovely tour to include some of the area that had been recommended to us by other Shanghai expats that had previously visited Bali. We visited an interesting area where silver craftsmen honed their craft, and I purchased a moonstone ring (to commemorate our arrival into Bali during full moon) and a pair of earrings. We stopped at an art gallery and looked at works of local Balinese painters. We drove through the amazing mountains of terraced rice paddies and stopped to stare in wonder at the beauty that was Bali’s farmlands, again adorned with shrines here and there to ensure a plentiful harvest. We saw bananas, coffee, and jackfruit growing wild, and marveled at the ingenuity of an irrigation system that is not only effective but requires no electricity, only the willingness of each farmer to share the water with the next. This is again, a testament to the grace and generosity of the people of Bali. I don’t believe that I have ever been to an area where people seem to care so much for one another, and are so happy to share that even with strangers.

Eventually, after a nice lunch in a roadside café recommended by Wayan, we came to the town of Ubud. Ubud is known for its large markets and shopping areas, as well as being remarkable for plying the arts and crafts trade. Our friends and yoga partners, Maria and Juan (Chile) in Shanghai had simply raved about Ubud. They liked Ubud so well that they changed their plans upon arrival and decided to spend most of their vacation there.

We quickly discovered the huge outdoor market and began shopping. Everywhere you looked were the wares of Bali displayed in glorious color … baskets, batiks, dresses, shirts, silver crafts, wood carved items of every kind. It was crowded and raucous but not unpleasant. Bargaining is a relaxed, enjoyable affair, less aggressive than the vendors of Shanghai. We were told to expect to pay around 10% of the asking price of any item and we quickly fell into the easy banter of bargaining with the locals of Ubud. We purchased batiks, carved wooden items, and a few other souvenirs. Soon though, we were succumbing to the heat of the day, and decided it was time to head back to the resort where we enjoyed a lovely BBQ overlooking the beach.

We’d decided to spend Friday on the beach and procured a couple of the above mentioned lounge chairs under a large umbrella not far from our resort where we could watch the surfers, the kite salesmen, and the masseuses roaming the beach. We even did a bit of swimming in the clean and clear blue Indian Ocean where the waves could knock you off of your feet in a heart beat. The sand, while not white exactly (more of a dove grey due to lava ash … Bali has three volcanoes) is soft on the feet and the ocean bottom is firm with few shells to bother the barefoot swimmer or beach stroller.

Later on Friday afternoon, we had made a plan to meet with Wayan for another excursion, this time to Uluwatu, a temple built on a large cliff in the southern most region of Bali. Uluwatu is considered by many to be the foremost site for viewing the most exquisite sunsets in the world. On the way to Uluwatu, Wayan had planned a bit of a side trip so he could show us a beautiful new resort being built near there. It included condos, a hotel, a golf course, and looked to be a truly upscale resort in the making. It was called Dreamland … and it was obvious why it was so named. We teased Wayan about his business going so well that he’d be a new resident in Dreamland before long.

We continued on to Uluwatu, and along the way, Wayan explained what we would see there and had some instructions for us. Many of the temples in Bali are considered so sacred that everyone must dress appropriately in order to enter them (and even then not all areas are accessible to us common folk). Even Randall had to wear a sarong over his shorts in order to be admitted. The temple of Uluwatu is overrun with the monkeys that are indigenous to the area, and Wayan warned us to remove any earrings, necklaces, scarves, and take off sunglasses as the monkeys are quite mischievous and will grab and steal anything they can from the visitors to the temple area. I followed his instructions, left behind my purse, and removed my sunglasses, bracelets, and earrings.

Randy purchased the tickets for the temple, and we were wrapped in our sarongs. Then Randy handed me the two snack bags of banana pieces that were meant for feeding the monkeys. We hadn’t walked ten steps when I had a monkey at my feet starting to crawl up my legs. I have to admit that I panicked a bit and dropped the bags imagining I was to be the next “monkey feast” while being attacked by a throng of primates. Well, as soon as I dropped the bag, it was ripped open by little hands that were obviously skilled with the process, and I was safe.

We did enjoy watching the monkeys as we hiked along the mountain path leading to the temple area. The vistas were amazing and the monkeys were a riot to watch. They were not in least afraid of people, and yes, I saw monkeys holding glasses and barrettes stolen off the heads of visitors, proud of their ill-gotten booty. Looking down the cliffs, the beaches were amazing while the waves, here devoid of surfers in this more dangerous area, crashed into the massive rocks below. The temple was very old and sort of covered with moss and vines but still quite beautiful. It was quite the exotic scene with the monkeys running all over and the sacred temple areas covered with tropical foliage.

Eventually, we came to an amphitheater where there is a daily performance of Balinese dancing called the White Monkey Dance which is a very popular ritual in Bali. The amphitheater is just beyond the temple and faces west where the dance is performed exactly at sunset every afternoon. The dance was just about to begin so we quickly purchased our tickets and found seats where we had not only a great view of the dancing, but of the most beautiful sunset we’d surely ever witnessed.

The White Monkey Dance is actually a play that is danced to the accompaniment of the kacek chanters, a group of 70 Balinese men all chanting various sounds and parts. The sounds made by these men was amazing and intoxicating … puts one almost into a trance (which I believe is the point). The dance was performed by brilliantly costumed dancers of women and men with amazing head adornments. The women especially made the most exquisite movements with their hands and fingers which reminded me a little bit of Hawaiian hula dancers. This went on for an hour with various scenes and stagings culminating with a ring of fire from which the White Monkey must escape (and of course, he does). It may have been the highlight of our trip …. the gorgeous sunset, the monkeys, the dancing and chanting, the ring of fire. An amazing ritual that we felt honored to have witnessed.

On the way back to the resort, Wayan, took us to an area of Bali called Jimbaran which is known for fresh seafood restaurants that are set up right on the beach. The patrons of the restaurants can pick from a vast assortment of live seafood which is grilled just behind the tables at which drinks and beautiful beach views are enjoyed. We found a nice table very near the water’s edge and listened to a “mariachi-type” group playing for the diners’ pleasure. Randy picked out a nice snapper which was prepared brilliantly. Unfortunately, either Randy’s cold or his sunburn (or a combination of the two) had worsened to the point that he felt quite ill and wanted to go back to the resort. I managed a few bites of fish and we asked Wayan to return us to the resort.

Saturday was departure day but we didn’t need to leave the hotel until 1:00. So one last walk on the beach was enjoyed after we’d gotten ourselves packed up for the return trip. Once we arrived at the airport, we realized that we needn’t have hurried … our flight to Kuala Lumpur was canceled. It was more a nuisance than anything as we had quite a long layover in KL anyway. But the airport in Denpasar didn’t have much in the way of diversion for a several hours wait … quite a bit of shopping but after a while, we were seeing the same items over and over. Otherwise, our travel back to Shanghai was fairly inconsequential.

Upon reflection, Randy and I both agree that our trip to Bali may have been the best vacation either of us has ever experienced. The tropical beach and resort, the music, flowers, and food, the smells and aromas, and most of all, the people who were absolutely the most gracious folks we’d ever had the pleasure of meeting made for an unforgettable experience that we’d recommend to anyone. While getting to and from Bali might be a bit of a trial, it’s well worth the hassle to spend some time in this, a true tropical paradise.


A few weeks ago, Randy and I decided we needed to make a visit to our dear Chinese friends Wind and Nicole as we had not yet seen the baby (whom we have dubbed “Little Breeze”). We’d done a little shopping and as Wind and Nicole have a pretty good command of the English language, we decided there’s no time like the present to start learning a second language. So we picked up several “I SPY” books at the international book store in the French Concession called Garden Books. We’d also picked up a cute blue teddy bear and a Fisher Price stacking toy as well.

So we made a date with Wind and Nicole for a Sunday morning and walked the two blocks to their apartment. It was a beautiful late summer day, still just a touch humid. Wind met us at the gate and led us to the apartment. Little Breeze was awake but in his crib, maybe just awakened from a mid-morning nap. He was a fine, strapping boy of 4 months with chubby cheeks, alert and curious. I’d worried all week that we’d scare the poor child due to us being (in all likelihood) the first Western folks he’d met. I leaned over the crib and tried out my best “koocheekoo” on Little Breeze. My fears were realized when Little Breeze’s bottom lip curled up and his eyes widened in fright. He looked like he’d just seen a couple of monsters!! Wind grabbed him quickly all the while exclaiming, “Oh my god, oh my god!!” We must have looked like aliens from another planet to the poor kid!!

We’d barely arrived when Wind’s father arrived and relieved Wind of his wiggling burden after shaking hands with us. Wind’s father knew no English and immediately set to cooing and coddling Little Breeze while Wind found photos and videos on their computer so that we could experience the entire labor, delivery, and every subsequent moment since then. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say there must have been 1200 photographs. They are obviously enjoying parenthood and Little Breeze will surely NOT be a neglected child.

One of the things we found rather fascinating though was photos and video clips of Little Breeze floating in a barrel shaped tub of water at the hospital within hours of his birth. They place an inflatable ring around the child’s neck and float the child in warm water as long as they will tolerate it. Little Breeze seemed happy as a clam, floating effortlessly, alert and calm. We’d never seen anything like that. Wind explained that all children are born knowing how to swim and that this floating activity helps them retain that skill as well as makes them feel calm and more like they are in the environment they have just vacated. Being as we are currently awaiting the birth of our fourth grandchild in the spring, I couldn’t wait to tell my son and daughter-in-law about this activity. Wind and Nicole even have an inflatable version of this barrel tub that they float Little Breeze in every day. Little Breeze seemed to enjoy this so much, I wanted to try it. Well, that’s a good idea for a baby gift for the new grandbaby.

Monday, September 14, 2009

SEPTEMBER 15, 2009

Greetings, loyal readers. Time for an update. We've been moderately busy here as the remainder of our expat posse has trickled in from their homelands. It does seem to be the custom for many of the expats (especially the women who are traditionally not employed here) to spend their summers in their respective homelands, and of course, then return to Shanghai in the fall especially if they have children in school. Our compound is again alive with activity, screaming, laughter, and a few hysterical wails from the occasional particularly high strung child. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine that we're back in Frankenmuth at the Kids Kingdom listening to the children play. Makes me miss my grandkids.

Speaking of grandkids, I have great news!! Randy and I are going to be grandparents again bringing the "grand" total to four. David and Melissa are due in early April. I am hoping for a brother for Stuart (being the youngest and only boy currently) but my intuition says we may have another girl. We have a few months before we discover that though, and David and Melissa are determined to be surprised so we won't be finding out before the child arrives.

One of the first major dilemnas with which I was forced to deal was the ayi situation as recorded in the last post. I am happy to report that Angelie is doing a fantastic job. It seems that the previous ayi wasn't doing as great a job as I'd thought. Angelie arrived and immediately labeled her predecessor as "lazy and stupid" as the rags and "tools" (mops, brooms, dustpans, pails, etc.) were dirty. And, according to Angelie, "dirty tools mean dirty HOME!!" All righty then! It was immediately determined that we would be purchasing new tools, rags, and various cleansers and detergents. Angelie got to work and declared that it would take more than four hours for the initial job just to get things up to speed. She spent 20 minutes cleaning the land line phone with a Q-tip .... amazing!! Told me that she thinks it's never been cleaned previously which may indeed be true ..... we never use it, only our cell phones. It quickly become obvious to me that I am no longer in charge here ... I only live here. Angelie has taken over and I am really OK with that.

So while Angelie costs us a bit more for her wages, I will say that I believe it's worth it just to have someone who truly thinks outside the box and is a dynamo in the ambition department. She impresses me in many ways. AND my understanding is that she is an accomplished chef in the kitchen. So she and Randy have agreed to trade skills .... Angelie will teach Randy Chinese cooking, and Randy will teach her more Western dishes. Angelie actually cooks supper 6 nights per week for a Welsh family and they do not eat chicken or any Chinese food (couple of finicky kids, I guess). So Angelie is at a loss as to what to feed them. We figured we could teach her spaghetti, meat loaf, mac and cheese, pizza, and a few staples of "comfort food" that might please the youngsters. Should be a fun experiment.

Speaking of comfort food, Randy and I have discovered a new Canadian restaurant on Hongmei Lu pedestrian street called Julie's. Being as we Michiganders are practically Canadian anyway, much of the food is very familiar to us ..... breakfast all day including eggs and omelets prepared any way you desire, crepes, french toast and pancakes. Lunches and dinners include ribs, steaks, pot pies, fish, and lovely salads. We've visited there a few times recently. The owner is from Quebec and speaks French and English as well as excellent Mandarin. So the service is quite personal and expert. And they have a full bar which of course is right up our alley!

We reconnected with our good friends, Larry and Therese, over the weekend. They are the couple with whom we traveled to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. We were rather anxious to have Larry and Therese back in Shanghai as they are near the top of our list of favorite companions here. We seem to have so much in common ..... hailing from Michigan, working in automotive (of course), our enjoyment of the lakes of Michigan and boating, playing cards (especially Euchre), and having similar life situations in terms of kids and traveling. I met with Therese this past Saturday at the Pearl Market while Randy continued on to the City Shop for some grocery shopping, and Larry had a little work to do at home. Both Therese and I had extensive lists of items for which we wanted to shop so we agreed to divide and conquer. Later, we met our husbands for lunch at Haya's (Mediterranean) before continuing our adventures to the eyeglass market in another part of town.

I had heard about the eyeglass market previously. Several of my lady friends here had managed to collect so many pairs of glasses that they seemed to have one for every outfit. Apparently, the prescription can be copied straight from an existing pair of glasses (the Chinese can copy ANYTHING!) into whatever frame you choose. So I was axious to experience this eyeglass market myself.

Mr. Ji drove us straight to the market which is near the Shanghai North Railway station and parked in the lot located in the basement of the market, a five story building. I have to admit, I was expecting D.O.C. or Nuvision type of store. Au contraire!!! It is a HUGE building, each floor having dozens of stalls, all vendors of eyeglass frames, contact lenses, contact lens supplies, as well as designer sunglasses (knock off, of course). Honestly, I shouldn't have been surprised considering the other markets that I've visited. It's rather amazing!!

I was armed with my old glasses which I wear rarely because my astigmatism is so severe that it can only be corrected with the contact lenses that I wear the vast majority of the time. But the glasses still come in handy for the late night TV watching just prior to "lights out" or the first thing in the morning trek to the kitchen to make coffee. I hadn't had a new pair in 5 or 6 years so I was overdue. Also, Randy and I also were both in the market for new readers (the need for which has become increasingly and annoyingly obvious) which are also available at the market, either ready-made or pick out a frame and they make it up for you on the spot. Also, if you feel an eye test is warranted, they'll do that free of charge as well. It's definitely the one-stop shopping for all things regarding one's vision.

I picked up a set of ready-made readers, Larry had a pair of glasses repaired, Randy picked out frames and had a set of readers made, Therese and I each found a pair of designer sunglasses, and I had a new pair of glasses framed in something a bit more stylish than my old "John Lennon" wire rims. In the meantime, it was fun perusing the never-ending stalls looking at all the frames and trying them on for grins. We will definitely go back there. My new regular eyeglasses (including a hard case) were in the neighborhood of $25 and my readers were $5. Quite a bargain!!

After the eyeglass market, it was decided we'd try a new Italian place about which we heard called Otto. We arrived around 5:30 and wondered if the restaurant was even open. Not a patron in sight. But we were greeted warmly, and had to laugh openly when asked if we had a reservation. Later we understood the question when the restaurant not only filled to capacity but had folks waiting outside for a table as we left after our truly amazing culinary experience.

The interior of Otto was very modern, all black and white with red accents. While the staff was Chinese, they seemed to speak pretty decent English which makes for a more pleasant dining experience. We gals ordered gin and tonics, and the guys ordered beer. We were ready for drinks after a long day of shopping. The menu was quite extensive and everything sounded great .... it was difficult to decide. As we nursed our drinks, the chef (an Italian woman) came over to serve us a lovely bruschetta topped with a chilled marinara that was perfect for a late summer's evening starter. Soon a beautiful basket of freshly baked rosemary bread with three dipping sauces arrived, and this was replenished throughout our meal.

The fellows both opted for the monkfish, and Therese and I decided upon the ravioli. All the meals were outstanding, and everyone cleaned their plates thoroughly. We chased our meals with a really nice Shiraz that completed our selections nicely. Then we were presented with the dessert menu. Again, so many lovely options ..... ice cream, mousses, chocolate cake, tiramisu, and creme brulee to name a few. Larry and I chose the creme brulee trio, Randy chose a sampling of mousses, and Therese picked the tiramisu. Well, I can hardly finish this paragraph because I must go mop up the drool on the keyboard due to thinking about these desserts. They might possibly be the best desserts I've ever tasted! The creme brulee trio was comprised of three custards of vanilla, raspberry, and coconut .... absolutely amazing!! Randy's mousses included one white and one dark chocolate and was served with a shot of Grand Marnier with his choice of coffee (he got a mocha into which he poured his shot). And the "spoons" that were given Randy for eating his mousses were actually lollipops of white and dark chocolate .... extremely clever!! Therese had the most amazing presentation of tiramisu I've ever seen and it tasted better than it looked. The tiramisu was served in sort of a large "martini glass" shaped dessert bowl that was held by a small acrylic box frame. The glass was loose in the frame which made for easier sharing (which she did somewhat reluctantly because she wanted it all for herself ... and I couldn't blame her). We decided that we'll go back to Otto someday and make a meal out of desserts! It was nothing short of an incredible taste sensation!!

Sunday, at the invitation of Ann, an American friend that I met through facebook, we attended an Irish picnic at O'Malleys sponsored by Le Cheile, the Irish expat club. It was a beautiful day for a picnic, sunny but a lovely breeze to cool us. O'Malley's had covered their garden area with tables and umbrellas, and the cold Guiness flowed freely. There were those inflatable jumpy things for the kids as well as a clown making balloon animals, and the children in attendance were having a blast. The BBQ included hot dogs (not Koegels so I didn't go there), burgers, chicken, complimented by french fries, cole slaw, potato salad, caesar salad, and shepherd's pie. We ran into our old friends, Tom and Mimi (Texas), and met some new ones. Ann and Mike are from Pittsburgh, and Ann is the membership director of Le Cheile. Peter is Irish and Mary is from Chicago, and they'd just returned to Shanghai to live after having been a away on a different job assignment for the last couple of years. We enjoyed getting to know them while we ate and were entertained by the Chinese "Irish" step dancers (incredible .... they taught themselves step dancing by watching DVD's) and an Irish folk singer accompanied by his guitar. It was a lovely day and we really enjoyed it. I have to say that I was impressed by the fact that while Le Cheile was started as support group for the Irish expat community, it now includes members from all over the world. Well, everyone knows that those Irish know how to throw a good party ..... everyone wants to be part of that!!

I have continued (and am feeling the benefit of) the yoga classes and, for the most part, it's been a very positive experience. The other good news is that Randy joined the class for the first time last night (and did very well, I have to say, for a newbie). The Monday evening class is shaping up to be a couples class as it was attended by three couples last night. Besides Randy and myself, also present were Maria and Juan (Chile), and Susan and Rink (Netherlands). Of course, Nian, the owner of the business is usually there. And the Chinese gal who teaches the class is Jesse. She was very sweet and gave Randy lots of personal attention last night. Right now, Randy's only opportunity (as well as the other fellows) for the class is Monday evening. All the other classes take place during working hours. But I know that Nian is keeping a close eye on the class size and situation, and is adding classes as necessary in hopes of keep it convenient for everyone. It would be nice if the guys could attend a couple times per week. I checked in with Randall this morning to see if he was experiencing any ill effects such as achy muscles but he said, "Minimal." Good for him!

OK, that's about all the news I have for now. Oh, I should update you on the weather. It's slowly but surely cooling enough to be comfortable outside, and I've been able to open windows for at least part of the day for the last week or so. The highs are low 80's and nightly lows are near 70. Nice time of year to be in Shanghai although I will say that Randy and I are both experiencing a fair amount of homesickness due to this being our favorite time of year to be in MICHIGAN where I understand they are also experiencing fabulous weather.

OK, until next time, ciao for now!

Friday, August 28, 2009

AUGUST 28, 2009

Oh, my where has the time gone? I know my last post was sometime mid-May, and then we were off to the states for graduations, vacations, and travel. And now here I am back in the Orient. Whew!!!!

I remember that I was planning to post about an excursion taken by Therese, Kelly, and myself back in May just a few days prior to my leaving for the states. Kelly was immersed in preparations for her move back to Texas, and I had the thought that it would be nice to do something together before she departed. In all likelihood, she and I will never see one another again. Living here in China is kind of like that .... sort of like living on a military base (well, how I IMAGINE living on a military base would be as I haven't actually done it) in that you make friends (good friends), but then sometimes lose them upon their return to their homeland. Expats come and go here. That is the nature of overseas business and employment. One hopes that you are making friends for life but the fact is that some of these disconnects are permanent.

Anyway, veered off track there. Therese and I planned to take Kelly out to dinner to Zoe's in the Superbrand Mall in Pudong (more their neck of the woods than mine), and then a trip up the Shanghai World Financial building which at one point was the tallest building in the world. It's very tall but apparently has been eclipsed by one or two others since it's completion over a year ago (possibly in Dubai). After dinner, Therese's driver, Mr. Ji, drove us to the entrance of the building and dropped us off. There was a bit of rigmarole to get tickets but we accomplished it. A couple of elevator rides later, we were walking on a glass floor 100 floors above the streets of Shanghai. You could easily see 12 or 15 miles in each direction and the lights of the city sparkled beneath us like a miniature city built around a model train set. We walked around, took photos, had photos taken of the three of us, purchased trinkets, and soon it was time to head for home. We went through what we thought was an exit door, got on an escalator, and soon found ourselves in an area that could not be evacuated. We started laughing ..... NOW what??? Well, they didn't let us linger for long. Soon a door opened and an equally amused Chinese gal motioned for us to come her way, and they led us to another exit. Guess we hadn't been paying attention very well.

I said my good-byes to Kelly, and sent her home with a gift of a framed photo of Randy and me. I'll miss her smiling face. She was a nice addition to our adventures. Good luck, dear. I hope Texas always treats you well.

Our trip back to the states was without problems. It was fantastic to be home but it seemed cool compared to what we'd left behind. Of course, we hardly had time to think straight because as soon as we arrived, we were making preparations for graduations and a big party. As it turned out, Kelli graduated as scheduled. Jake, on the other had, managed to fail a couple of classes and, as a result, had to take summer school and an online computer class in order to obtain his diploma ..... sigh!!! Always an adventure.

I won't go into every detail of the summer. We had a lovely party for Kelli which was catered by the mother and aunt of a dear friend of ours from Kaumagraph. They are Mexican, and we had some of the most amazing Mexican food we have ever eaten, all while getting caught up with friends and family who had come to honor Kelli. We spent as much time as we could at our place on Lake Huron. Again, it was colder than we'd have liked but we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the time we spent there with our dear friends in Grindstone City.

It was just warming up nicely when Randy had to head back to Shanghai. I remained so that I could travel to Chicago to visit friends who had given birth to twin daughters in May. Shortly after my return back to Frankenmuth, Jake flew up from Atlanta to spend a week in Michigan with me, and then I flew south with him so that we could spent some time at his father's lake house in Georgia before driving to South Carolina to spend a couple of weeks with my brother ..... whew!! Can't believe I did all that! Upon my return to Michigan, I also was treated to a beautiful bus trip to northern Michigan by my parents where we visited a handful of casinos and enjoyed some gorgeous scenery of lakeshore areas. It was a lovely vacation which would have only been made sweeter by the presence of my husband. But he was generous enough to give me the time to really relax and regroup before heading back to China. Thanks, Honey!!

I was able to take my first direct flight out of Detroit to Shanghai on August 12 (and thanks to Judy and Neal for helping me out with travel arrangements and luggage schlepping!). Wow .... what a difference that flight makes!! Less than 13 hours, and I arrived. A mere hop compared to the 19 plus hours that it usually takes with the layover in Tokyo. This route is MUCH nicer!! In spite of the warnings about the H1N1 virus precautions that were being put into place in China, I simply filled out a health questionnaire on the plane, and turned it into immigration on my way into the airport. No big deal. My husband was waiting for me, so after a bit of a wait for the luggage to arrive, we were on our way back into a now familiar city.

My transition back to Chinese life has been much smoother than previous returns. Not sure to what I can attribute that but I will not look a gift horse in the mouth. It seemed only a week of jet lag and I was back to normal (well, as normal as I EVER get). I have resumed my daily morning visits to the treadmill in the gym, and it's been very nice to reconnect with my Yanlord posse, most of whom have returned after their summer visits. There have already been lunches and shopping excursions planned although I will admit to begging off some invitations just because of the blasted heat and humidity. I'm telling you, it's brutal here. It's not for the weak of heart (or for us north dwellers such as midwestern American and Finlanders .... we're dying over here!).

Speaking of Finlanders, I was invited at one of the aforementioned lunches the other day to a yoga class by Johanna, one of my Finnish friends. Most of the gals were lamenting having gained some weight over the summer during their vacations (well, wouldn't be vacation without ice cream, now would it?). I felt like I'd done pretty well as I'd maintained my daily walks with my father and Mattie (our dog who is the BIGGEST reason I get enough exercise back in the states ... she can't get enough running it seems, loves to chase the ball and swim in Lake Huron). So only a pound or two was gained. Anyway, I'm veering again.

So I figured a little yoga couldn't hurt me. I met with Johanna by the front gate this morning after a brisk 40 minutes on the treadmill. We crossed the road, went into the building, and up to the 9th floor via the elevator all the while deciding that we wouldn't even stay for the class if it wasn't air conditioned. We were the first to arrive and (YES) the AC was running. After checking out the schedules and the price of the class, we decided to give it a go. Now, I used to do yoga 5 or 6 years ago back in Frankenmuth so I sort of knew what I was in for. I would've felt sheepish about my shaking arms and legs, sweating body, red face, and heaving chest if it weren't for the fact that the rest of the class seemed to be experiencing most of the same. And I'm old enough to be their mother! I decided that this is probably as bad as it will be and (hopefully) it will seem easier as time passes and I do more classes. So I have decided to buy 10 weeks of class time (twice weekly) and we'll see if we can get this body into swim suit shape by October. Nemaste.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Randy and I have booked a beach holiday in Bali, Indonesia for the first week in October (National Holiday) so I have some incentive to get into shape. We are looking forward to that.

The first hitch that I encountered since my arrival in Shanghai was fact that the Chinese government has blocked most online social networking sites as a result of the unrest in Iran after their election brouhaha. I was really bummed out about that at first. I sent an email to all my friends saying that they wouldn't be seeing me on Facebook any more (and I'd really become quite addicted to it), and they'd have to just email me. But my brilliant husband came up with an American vpn to which I can connect for free which seems to get around the "big red wall." I won't mention it as I am certain that it would be read here by the monitors and then that would be the end of that. There are a lot of vpn's that others have used here and there, and eventually they all get shut down. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my connection stays open. Facebook has been a great way for me to connect with other people in Shanghai as well as a great way to keep in touch with friends and family back home.

The other issue I encountered this week was the discovery of the fact that our ayi has been stealing from us. This hurt and disheartened me more than angered me because I felt like we'd sort of become friends. Yes, we have some trouble communicating has she has no English ability, and my Chinese is remedial at best but we'd always found a way around that. I'd given her my cast-offs from the closet and drawers about which she always seemed thrilled, and I often paid her extra along the way. She really does a lovely cleaning job ... that I could always count on. But as I was going through drawers looking for something to wear, I noticed that about half of my bras were missing. Assuming that she'd simply put them away in the wrong spot, I went hunting. Then I noticed that the only ones missing were the brand new and more expensive bras, some of them never worn! Why would they have been moved? Over the next couple of days, I literally tore the apartment apart looking for them not wanting to believe what I feared was the truth. They were NOT here!! And ayi is the only person who has access beside Randy and myself (and Randy assures me he has not taken up the hobby of cross dressing). I made some inquiries of Angeli, the ayi that had worked for Margaret and Tom (also no longer in Shanghai), and it seemed she had Tuesday mornings free and could work for us. So it was with a heavy heart that I asked my friend, Phil, to come and translate for me, and informed ayi that her services would no longer be necessary. The really sad part is that those bras would have probably been hers eventually. But of course, stealing over here is like telling a little white lie .... no big deal. If you have something, and they can get away with it, they will take it. So Angeli starts next week. I'll keep you posted on how that goes.

Randy and I have also reconnected with our friends, Tom and Mimi (from Texas). We had dinner with them last weekend at a lovely place called Mesa/Manifesto. It is upscale Australian. We had some brilliant seafood and lamb served beautifully by candlelite along with a wonderful bottle of red. Another place to add to our list of great places to dine in Shanghai!!

OK, well it's nice to be back on the blog (which also is blocked without the use of the vpn). Now that the Shanghai adventures are starting up again in earnest, I will once again report as timely as possible. Ciao for now.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Xian Terra Cotta Warriors

Happy Cinco de Mayo to all my tequila swilling friends and family (as I write this, it is still May 5 in the states)!! And remember, no drinking and driving. Or anything else that requires more coordination than sitting on the toilet. OK, enough preaching.

Before I jump into the details of our recent trip to Xi'an, I wanted to pass along an amusing bit of Chinglish that came our way last week. We encounter these little nuggets here and there, and usually I don't remember to pass them along. Last Thursday, Randy came home from work with a gift given to each of the staff at ADS .... a bug lamp. When Randy called me to say he was bringing this home, I asked if it was the kind that made that annoying zapping noise as it "eats" the little critters. He said no, it was more of a lamp/fan device (with a cute little hood on it with ears like a cat) that attracts bugs and then the fan sort of sucks them in where they can't escape. Those Chinese are SO clever .... they think of everything (just ASK them)! Anyway, Randy showed me the lamp with the green cat ears when he got home and then handed me the note that Bonnie had written and attached to the box so that we'd understand the intended use of the device. It read "This lamp will make you far way from flies and mosquitoes." We had to laugh imagining that we'd on turn this thing and be magically transported somewhere completely devoid of annoying flying nuisances!!! Well, it was very sweet of her to explain it to us because we'd have probably thought it was just a lovely night light. Now we know we'll need to clean out dead insects every so often.

We set out very early Friday morning for the airport for our trip to Xi'an. The flight was due to depart at 8:15 AM and it takes an hour (sometimes more) to get there via the subway and Maglev which is the cheapest (and often fastest) way to get there. We don't mind utilizing this route when there is minimal luggage involved and being this was a weekend excursion, we'd managed to pack carry-on sized bags. We were were out of our apartment by 6:00 AM, a rather nice time to travel in this city as most everyone is still seeing to their morning ablutions before traveling to jobs in the morning rush.

The airport and flight were timely and painless. We'd steeled ourselves for long lines and delays as this was a holiday weekend in China and, as is the case stateside, a busy weekend for traveling. We were also traveling to one of the largest tourist destinations in China. Xi'an was the original capital of China before it was changed to Peking (now called Beijing), and as these are national celebrations that took place this past weekend, the city was being inundated with government big wigs and officials taking part in national observances of the holiday. But I have to say that none of this seemed to affect our enjoyment of the tour or sightseeing the entire weekend. Not that there weren't some crowds but everything was orderly and the weather was outstanding (sunny and 80's), so everyone's disposition was pretty pleasant and patient.

Our tour guide, Donna, and our driver, Michael, who had been procured by our traveling companions, Larry and Therese, were waiting with smiles for us at the gate in Xi'an holding a sign upon which were written our names. Introductions were made and we were off for the city, about an hour's drive. Donna, who is certainly knowledgeable of Xi'an history, took a lot of time giving us general information about the city of Xi'an, the city wall and moat structures, and some of the more historic sites we'd be visiting over the weekend. After we checked into the lovely Sofitel Hotel, we set off to begin our weekend adventures of Xi'an.

Our first destination was the City Wall of Xi'an. The City Wall is the only completely restored city wall in China. Most (if not all) of the others have fallen by the wayside in deterioration or have been torn down in favor of more modern structures (Nanjing still has retained an impressive looking gateway but the actual wall is gone). But the City Wall and the four gates (one facing each direction) have been carefully restored in Xi'an, and it definitely is a sight to behold. The structure encompasses a 50 kilometer area and was built high enough that an archer would have a tough time shooting an arrow over it. There are parapets all along the outside wall with large enough notches that defenders could shoot through while still being somewhat protected. Here and there, cannons were still in place for effect. The moat (which at this point is more of a stagnant creek) is at an amazing 80 foot depth and would certainly have daunted even the most determined of enemies. Oriental pagodas dotted the landscape periodically along the wall marking the various areas where military strategy would have been determined and look-outs could be posted.

There were rental facilities available for bikes or golf cart type conveyances available but most tourists seemed to prefer strolling the top of the wall on foot. The city had long ago outgrown the walls and, as such, the area inside the walls is now known as City Center. I will say that while the walls and gates are lovely with great arching mouths that can accommodate several lanes of traffic each way, I do believe the entire wall system is a bit of a traffic jammer as the only route into or out of the City Center (where the majority of the action of the city is located) is through these gates. It's beautiful and historic, and certainly adds character to the city, but we often found ourselves in completely stopped traffic as a result of these gates being the only routes available for our various destinations.

The next stop was the Big Goose Pagoda which is a very large (and much visited) Buddhist Temple within the City Center area. The pagoda is positioned within the temple grounds along with the other temple buildings each representing an area in which a particular Buddha can be honored and worshipped. I have to say that this is without a doubt the most magnificent of the temples I have visited to date in China. The Buddha areas were beautiful, clean, and ornate, and also large enough to accommodate the bigger crowds that gathered here for worship and meditation. The highlight of this temple (as least for me) was a room that was surrounded on three sides by beautiful carved jade inlaid walls. The varying colors of greens, pinks, reds, yellows, orange, and white were vivid and striking, and the carving was fine, detailed, and proportionate. We took a lot of photos, and I could've stood there all day examining the beautiful ladies, cherubs, Buddhas, and various landscapes that covered the walls of this particular temple area. Magnificent!! Also, the temple area was surrounded by gorgeous and meticulously cared for garden areas which made for a very pleasant sight seeing event. In spite of the rather crowded conditions, we thoroughly enjoyed strolling the Big Goose Pagoda area.

After the Big Goose Pagoda, we were on to the Small Goose Pagoda. This was a less fantastic experience but worthwhile nonetheless. The Small Goose Pagoda is in some disrepair as the edges and top are crumbling. Apparently, this particular pagoda is considered magical due to the fact that some years ago, it was split in half from top to bottom during an earthquake, and then many years later, was reportedly repaired in the same manner. I'm sure this explains the rather disheveled appearance of the pagoda, and I'm a bit skeptical of the earthquake tale (as least the repair part of the tale), but it does make for a good story. The grounds of the Small Goose Pagoda also included some beautiful gardens, statuary, and the peonies were in glorious bloom making for some very fragrant aromas.

After fighting traffic and a few good sized crowds, we were ready for a break and a quick change of clothes in preparation for the evening's activities. We had a reservation for the Tang Dynasty Show and Dumpling Buffet. This experience had come highly recommended so we did not want to miss it. Donna informed us that she had gone to the trouble to ensure our reservation and had managed to acquire very special seats for us. The theater that houses the Tang Dynasty Show is an older Chinese theater but, in my opinion, made for a more authentic experience. The tiered floor area held round tables of 12 on the main floor just in front of the elaborately decorated stage, with the second, slightly raised, level of tables which held 4 or 8 guests. We sat in the front row of the second level directly in front of the center of the stage ..... a perfect view!! Behind us was a balcony of patrons who were there only to view the show but were not partaking of the buffet.

The dumpling buffet consisted of a meal of cold appetizers prior to the serving of 16 different steamed, boiled, and fried dumplings. And we could order as many of the boiled dumplings (the least difficult to prepare) as we wanted. The tables were already laden with the various cold items that we have had with most Chinese meals ... chicken, cucumbers, various cooked chilled greens, and beverages of beer, rice wine, and sodas were offered immediately. Soon the dumplings started arriving to our table, and an elegantly dressed Chinese woman with a very tall headdress came onto the stage to entertain us by plucking a giant Chinese guitar that rested on a stand across her lap. The music was traditional Chinese which perfectly fit the occasion and the musician glanced up demurely and smiled at us periodically.

We ate dumplings filled with corn, celery, chicken, pork, beans, and spinach, and also various combinations of the above. We ate sweet dumplings and savory dumplings, some steamed, some fried, and finally the boiled ones arrived. Dumplings can be eaten with soy, vinegar, or chili oil (or any combination of those). The revue-style show started as the last of the dumplings and the hot pot soup arrived (with teeny-tiny little dumplings for good luck).

The show was emcee'd by a man and a woman dressed in elegant and colorful Chinese finery. The man announced first in strong and animated Mandarin, while the woman followed in calm, dulcet English both commencing and ending their announcements with deep bows. The 10 acts that followed were of various Oriental themes, instrumental pieces of authentic ancient Chinese music with beautiful Chinese landscapes and buildings as set backgrounds with stunning and frequent changes of lighting, as well as lively dances, and Oriental singing. There were gorgeous ballet type dances of Chinese girls with sleeves that were 8 feet long that made beautiful patterns as they twirled and waved their arms in the air. There was a man that made strange and wonderful warbling noises (I honestly do not know if he was whistling or singing but they were definitely some of the most unusual noises I've ever heard made by a human being) almost like a bird twittering and singing. Quite the ham, he made a huge hit with the audience. There was loud drumming and marching of soldiers holding long poles with red lanterns hanging from them. The program was quite delightful and again, we took many photos.

As planned, we arose early Saturday morning for breakfast in order to get ahead of the crowds for our viewing of the Terra Cotta Warriors. The drive to the dig area was almost an hour long, and it was interesting to see another side of Xi'an and the surrounding countryside. We stopped at an area prior to the archaeological digs to visit an area where they make, among other things, various sizes of terra cotta warriors and horses. We were able to view the process (which is basically fill two halves of a mold with clay and put them together, let dry, bake in a kiln, paint), stroll through shelves of the finished products along with other terra cotta figures, Chinese furniture, and artwork. If I were really into Chinese style design (which I'm not although I can certainly appreciate the beauty of it), I could really load up on furniture and artwork. There were some gorgeous pieces at this place. Just outside the entrance were a couple of life size metal warriors with their heads removed so that we could stand behind them and have our photos taken as warriors. Fun!

The dig areas are very well developed open air, covered buildings that have railings all around the outside edges for elevated viewing. Prior to looking at the digs, we opted to watch the 360 degree screen movie highlighting the discovery of the Terra Cotta Warriors, as well as the history of their designer and commissioner, the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. It is for his tomb the warriors stand as protectors and sentinels. It was recommended to us that we first view the movie as it explains exactly that which we were about to view next.

The history in a nutshell is this: Emperor QinShiHuang ordered the construction of the tomb and armed terra cotta warriors (along with horses and chariots) about 200 BC in order that his soul be protected from any evil (real or perceived) in the afterlife. It is not exactly known how many of these pits and warriors actually exist. It apparently could be dozens of pits in an area approximately 50 kilometers square but this is as yet has not been determined. A farmer digging a well for water in 1974 discovered terra cotta pieces and bronze fragments which were later determined to have historical significance (apparently at first, they were smashing and discarding them!). The area that is currently being excavated and developed is about 20 hectares which includes 3 ongoing digging sites ... pits 1, 2, & 3. We purchased a picture book which has a lot of pertinent information about the site that was autographed for us by the only living man who discovered the significance of the site.

Well, the only way I can describe the sight of these immense pits lined with row upon row of warriors all facing east is awe inspiring!!! One is hard pressed to imagine the manpower and labor that went into the construction of this, the largest tomb known to man. Unfortunately, most of the warriors, horses, and chariots are in pieces as the tomb fell into enemy hands and was all but destroyed and burned several years after it's completion. They can apparently ascertain by the layer of ash that the combustible parts (wooden spears and wagon wheels) may have smoldered for years. So the process of finding each piece and putting it all back together is very slow and painstaking work making the witnessing of the dig sites all the more impressive. Some of the warriors are pieced together with original pieces, some are all or partially recreated in order to achieve the original appearance.

We spent several hours at the dig site viewing each pit, mostly with our jaws agape with wonder, shooting photo after photo. It is incredible that someone even conceived of this endeavor, but to have actually accomplished it is nothing short of miraculous!! The actual tomb of the emperor is many kilometers to the very western edge of the mausoleum area as all enemy attacks would come from the east (in those days .... better luck to attack from the same direction from whence the sun rises), and we were not able to view the resting place of the emperor.

One interesting fact is that pit number 2 was initially excavated and then re-covered as it has been discovered that exposing the terra cotta pieces to the air causes them to commence deteriorating immediately. As they are still attempting to develop a process for preserving them, it was decided that they would simply cover them back up until such a process is perfected. After all, they know now where they are. It's simply a matter of carefully digging them up again. But the mounds are well marked and distinctive. It seems they are quite organized in their processes of recovery of the terra cotta army.

Well, I have to say that the highlight of our Chinese adventure to date has been the viewing of the Terra Cotta Army of the Qin Dynasty. I have been fascinated by the story since seeing it on TV (National Geographic or Discovery, something like that) and could scarcely take it all in once we were able to view it in person. Simply incredible!!!

We took some time later that day to unwind with a rousing game of Euchre with Larry and Therese, sipped a few drinks, and consumed a mediocre dinner buffet at the hotel. After dinner, it was decided that we still had enough energy to take a walk in the city streets of Xi'an to view the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower, and the Muslim street. The Bell and Drum Towers were impressively lit large Chinese pagodas which could be climbed (we didn't), but photos were taken. More impressive, however, was the brightly lit Muslim street which was jammed with people looking to purchase various street foods and treats, and handmade souvenirs being hawked by the numerous Muslim residents of Xi'an. It was a raucous, Mardi Gras-type atmosphere, and it was hard to not get caught up in the gaiety of it. We were full of our buffet dinner so didn't partake of any of the goodies (although the freshly roasted walnuts, and dried figs and dates DID look appealing) but did get quite a few photos. There is apparently a very large and impressive Muslim mosque in the block adjacent to this street but we did not have the opportunity to view it.

The remainder of our weekend was spent leisurely playing cards or enjoying meals with Larry and Therese who proved to be excellent traveling companions. We arrived back in Shanghai Sunday evening in time for a lovely Thai meal at Simply Thai where they were celebrating Cinco de Mayo by having their favorite items on the menu for 5 rmb (about 80 cents USD) ... so we ate well on the cheap.
No big adventure is forthcoming on the calendar at this time. We will be preparing soon to head over the pond to the US of A for a much needed break and visit with friends and family, as well as attend and honor our youngest children, Kelli and Jake, as they graduate high school. But I promise to check in with any noteworthy items. Until then, tsai chien!