Sunday, 30 November 2008

Farewelling Rob.....

It's hard to believe that a whole month has gone by with Rob here. We spent his last weekend here in Shanghai, seeing a few sights and enjoying lots of conversation over bottles of wine. It is so great to be able to go to Shanghai and enjoy some amazing restaurants, there are so many to choose from compared to Wuxi!
Goodbye China, Hello Europe!
The weather was absolutely beautiful - crisp, cold days and blue skies. Perfect for wandering around the tree lined streets of the French Concession and sitting in the sun drinking wine! On Sunday, we visited the Shanghai Art Museum, which is housed in a beautiful old English building which used to house the Shanghai Racing Club in the early 1900s. We were able to enter the museum, despite the entry sign declaring 'no psychopaths allowed (if showing minor symptoms, please be accompanied by a guardian)'!! We saw some amazing and some very strange art and managed to purchase some great books for our school library.
Beginning the weekend with a bottle of white and some delicious Thai food Sunday also brought about another new experience for me, one that I was slightly terrified of - getting a bikini wax done in China! And I had every reason to be terrified - as with many Chinese things, it was a very inefficient and painful process but I won't scare you with the details! We caught up with Ash while in Shanghai - enjoyed a long, lazy lunch in the sun at Element Fresh. He is great, working (and playing!) very hard as always. Continuing drinking with red wine on a roof top bar overlooking the Bund - it was cold! After buying up big on gluten free pasta and Australian red wine at the City Supermarket, I was in a panic to get to the train when I discovered that I clearly did not know how to read 24 hour time - I still had 3 hours till my train left! Obviously, another bottle of red wine needed to be consumed while we waited for the train, reminicised about Rob's time in China and planned for his next visit (bring on Tibet 2010!)
Enjoying the sunshine and a healthy smoothie at Element Fresh
After a very tearful goodbye to Rob, I discovered what it really means to be stared at in China - a semi drunk, crying laowai carrying a box of pasta, wine and books onto the train back to Wuxi is bound to attract some attention. Gunnar was there to comfort me when I got back, but unfortunately he has caught the horrible tummy bug that seems to be going around at the moment, so we were both just as sad and depressed as each other! No more Davidson visits till May next year, will just have to get busy planning a white Christmas in Tibet and January skiing in Japan - it's a hard life here!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Fish and chips at a French restaurant in China?!

With only a few days to go in China, I decided that we needed to feed Rob up before he heads off to Europe where he'll be living on bread and cheese! So, on Wednesday night, we headed into downtown to Provence, a beautiful French restaurant, where they serve delicious steaks and great red wine (yes, better than the Great Wall red!).
Enjoying some steak and Australian red wine at Provence
I was also lucky enough to have Dom, another friend from Melbourne, visiting as well. Dom ordered the set menu which looks amazing and we were surprised to see the main course being fish and chips!! And wrapped in paper! Not quite what you expect at a French restaurant in China. Tonight we will go to the Banana Leaf, the starting point for many a big night out here in Wuxi. Rob and I are off to Shanghai tomorrow morning, for a last weekend of Chinese sightseeing for Rob. I was very happy to hear that Rob is already planning a return trip to China!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Big Buddha outclasses the Big Banana and Big Pineapple!

Yes, the Big Buddha definitely does outclass any of Australia's 'big' things. It is a huge 88 metre high bronze statue of a buddha in the mountains near Wuxi. On a very miserable day (rain as well as smog...oops, sorry I meant 'fog') but after a delicious buffet brunch at Kempinski hotel, we set off to see Big Buddha, about 30 minutes drive out of Wuxi.
'Baby Buddha' is born out of a lotus flower
The rain didn't put any of the Chinese tourists off, but we were the only silly foreigners to be out and about in the grey and miserable weather. After buying an umbrella from a persistent hawker, we set off up the hill to pay our respects to the Big Buddha and rub his big toe for some luck. Then, after watching a dramatic 'birth' of a baby buddha from a lotus flower, we head back home.
Rob and Gunnar rub Big Buddha's big toe for good luck! When we arrived home, we did what all sensible people would have done - bought an electric blanket (and contemplated the Christmas decorations!), put the heater on, drank some red wine and settled in for a night watching '6 Feet Under' (my latest DVD addiction!)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

What will I wear in Winter?

Rob and I in our new, matching down jackets.
It is getting seriously cold here and it's not even Winter yet! My apartment is like an ice block when I get up in the morning - will definitely be purchasing my first ever electric blanket and a heater soon. The bike ride to school is like riding naked to school, despite the layers - I have begun wearing my 'genuine, handmade' Thinsulate gloves that I bought at the Great Wall and a polarfleece headband. Thank goodness I had my lovely mother send over a decent down jacket (not that I don't trust the 'genuine' products on sale in China!) - am definitely going to need it during Winter (even had to wear it in Chengdu). A visit to the tailor is definitely on the cards, I will need some more Winter clothes as I'm wearing all my current ones now. I hope everyone back in Melbourne is enjoying the lovely Spring weather! To combat the cold, I'm planning a beach holiday in Vietnam for the Chinese New Year break, something to look forward to.
Rob arrives back in Wuxi tomorrow afternoon, so we will take him out for a night on the Wuxi town - everyone needs to visit a nightclub with a bouncing floor once in their life!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Playing with the pandas in Chengdu ....

Our plan to head to the 3 Gorges didn't work out due to time and cost, so we decided to head to Chengdu to see the pandas and explore some mountains. Visiting the Panda Breeding Base was an amazing experience, they are such unusual animals, so human like in many ways. We were lucky enough to get there early to see them eating and playing before they settled down to sleep for the rest of the day. Rob and I decided to splurge and pay the 800CNY (about $180) for the special experience of touching a panda and having our photo taken with one - it was great!
Just hanging out with a 2 year old panda at the Panda Breeding Base in Chengdu!

There isn't a lot do see in Chengdu itself but we spent a day wandering around anyway. The highlight was visiting a huge Buddist temple where we saw the monks living quarters (even seeing them playing table tennis!). There was a tea house in the grounds and also a vegetarian restaurant that offered 'meat style dishes resembling a vegetarian banquet' - hmmm?!

Real Sichuan food - check out the chillis!
Many of the activities we had planned to do were outside Chengdu and we were unable to do many of them because the areas had been damaged by the earthquake. Even though the earthquake occured 6 months ago, there was still a lot of evidence once you left the city centre. Buildings fallen in piles of rubble, areas of landslide and many people slowly rebuilding their homes and their lives.

A 3 year old panda having a nap after a big bamboo feed.

The area of Mt QingCheng was still available to visit, so we decided to brave the public bus system and head out for a day of fresh mountain air and some spiritual healing! (Mt QingCheng is a sacred Taoist mountain). Along the way, someone decided that we looked like innocent (read - stupid!) tourists and thought that they would scam us. Before we knew it, we were being hurried off the public bus onto a small mini bus and being told to pay 50CNY. I have never really been scared in China yet but I was terrified as the driver hurtled up the mountain along a tiny earthquake damaged road, tearing around hairpin turns with his hand on the horn. I was relieved when we were told to get out, pay our 50CNY and head off up the mountain. Thanks to a Chinese man who was with us, we were able to work out that we had been dropped at the back of the mountain and would save the entrance fee on the other side (only 10CNY more!). We were given a phone number to call if we got into difficulties on the other side with the authorities and off we went!

Enjoying the Sichuan opera - more of a variety show really. We scrambled up the mountain, passing several other Chinese groups who had also been (willingly?!) duped. We eventually appeared on the other side of the mountain, entering a Taoist temple. They were not very happy at all to see us (who needs Mandarin when you can quite accurately read body language!) so we quickly kept going down the hill. So, what started off as a dodgy venture, turned into a fantastic experience as we enjoyed the fresh air and explored the many temples on the mountain.

Hiking the illegal way up Mt QingCheng! Once again, it was great to get out of Wuxi and see another area of China, I can't wait for the next big adventure! Rob heads off on a 25 hour train trip to Yangshuo (where I spent the October holidays) and I head back to a chaotic EtonHouse!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Davidsons take on the Great Wall ...

Wow! After nearly a year of talking about 'doing' the Great Wall together, Rob and I finally make it. It was an exhilirating experience to walk on the Great Wall and to be able to experience it with Rob made it even more amazing. The section we walked was 3 km long - doesn't sound like much but it was so steep and crooked in some parts, it felt like much more.
Playing Chinese tourists on the Great Wall - it is obligatory to pose like this in all photos for Chinese tourists!
At the end of the tourist part of the wall, we decided that we were brave enough (or stupid enough?) to venture past the 'Do not go past this point' sign along the ruins of the wall. This was simply amazing, we were on the wall by ourselves and were able to see the older parts of the wall.
Bush bashing on the Great Wall!
While we were in Beijing, we were lucky enough to have Gunnar's cousin as a personal guide for our travels. She has been living in Beijing for 7 years and knew all the great places to go to eat, drink and shop! We went to some amazing restaurants where we gorged ourselves on authentic Peking duck and lots of good red wines - several big sessions at the gym are a must this week! It was so to go to some lovely bars, there is nothing that civilised in Wuxi!
It just seemed to go forever - such steep and crooked steps too. The Autumn colours were so beautiful.
While we were in Beijing, we also spent time exploring the Forbidden City along with thousands of other tourists. It was a fascinating place, the most beautiful buildings with such vivid colours. Wandering around, it was easy to imagine the emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasty days going about their daily life in the courtyards and halls. We were extremely lucky with the weather whilst in Beijing - crisp, cold days (a little bit of a shock to the system after the humid summer), blue skies and shock, horror, NO smog! It felt so good to be walking around in the fresh air.
Rob and I make it to the Great Wall at last!
On our last day in Beijing, we had brunch at a German bakery where we enjoyed lots of yummy breads (including a rye and potato bread that I can actually eat!) followed by a lazy morning of shopping. We went to a great 'antique' market where there were gorgeous paintings and Chinese paper cuttings. It was so ridiculously cheap as well - I bought 8 original modern Chinese pieces for about $40! Our guide also took us to a huge department store that only sells glasses - I had great fun trying on and purchasing some new pairs. Once again, extremely cheap (about $80 a pair for the frame and lenses!).
Exploring the 'forbidden' part of the Great Wall - Rob was clearly a little more confident than me!
On Sunday afternoon, it was time to say goodbye to Rob (who will be staying in Beijing for a few more days, lucky boy!) and hello to smoggy Wuxi again! We very nearly didn't make the plane though, we got carried away shopping in the airport - Gunnar found shoes that actually fit him and I found English novels (I think I'll be hibernating for the next few days devouring them!). I'm ready to plan the next adventure with Rob now - we are thinking of the '3 Gorges', looking forward to sharing more news of our Chinese experiences!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Wuxi adventures with Rob...

Get stuck into those hand rolls Rob!
Well, this has been a week filled with eating and drinking as Rob and I explore the restaurants of Wuxi. Each night we have been to a different restaurant, most of them being 'all you can eat and drink'! I normally end up rolling out of them, feeling extremely full and slightly tipsy. Rob is having a great time here - he has been brave enough to take my bike out each day and explore the smoggy streets of Wuxi. He seems to cause quite a scene as he wanders the streets - I'm not sure how many tall white boys with long hair are in Wuxi!
To work off all the yummy food and drink I have consumed, I was lucky that we had the EtonHouse inaugural swimming carnival this week. This was slightly different to the way things are done in Australia, given that many of the children have not had any prior experience swimming. Most of the races were 'Kicking for 1 minute', 'Monkeying' and '10 metre swim to the teacher' races! The children had an absolute ball, particularly when they were given time for a 'free swim' at the end of the session! The teacher race was a highlight for the kids too, I came in 3rd, behind the guys - a lot of fun! I'll have to aim to get them back today at the EtonHouse Cross Country championships!
The 'Kicking for 1 minute' swimming race! Go Tang (green house!)
We have a 'Teacher Training' day tomorrow and have all been given the day to do some research into the outdoor education program (in other words, 'Get the hell out of Wuxi for the weekend'!). So, Rob, Gunnar and I are jumping on a plane tonight, heading for Beijing to tackle the Great Wall and the Forbidden City!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Rob arrives at last....

A very busy week at school kept me from getting too carried away counting down the hours till Rob finally arrived in China. On Monday night, the international staff were invited to a special dinner to celebrate the opening of the Wuxi International Education forum. Here, we spent most
of the time out of our seats being introduced to government officials and responding to 'gambei!' (scull that wine!). Friday bought around school camp time......a very different experience to the MLC Banksia adventures! Not a lot of sleep was had on Friday night, mainly because we were all so excited - the kids because they were sleeping in tents with their friends and me because I would get to see Rob in the morning time. We all awoke in the morning to the sound of the construction site next door - not quite the same as the sounds of nature in Australia.
Rob enjoying his first massage in Wuxi - he was a little sceptical about letting someone near his feet!
After farewelling the kids, I could finally get on the train to Shanghai to meet Rob. What a strange experience it was walking into the hostel and seeing my baby bro here! We spent the day wandering around Nanjing Road and The Bund before jumping on the train back to Wuxi for the 'real' Chinese experience! It is so amusing to see Rob clutching at the seat in the taxi as he panics about the traffic! Something that I have gotten quite used to now. On Saturday night, a group of us took Rob out for teppanyaki and then to the bar street where we were lucky enough to see some sort of 'Wuxi Idol' competition happening.
Chang Jiang Lu - the street I live on. They love the neon lights here!

Sunday was a fairly lazy day, DVDs and a wander through the streets of Wuxi. We ended the weekend with a lovely meal at a new Japanese restaurant and introduced Rob to the wonders of foot massage. Despite his initial scepticism, he enjoyed it - full body massages next time! We have a 4 day week now and then Rob and I head to Beijing to 'do' the Great Wall!

At the opening dinner for the Wuxi International Education Forum - tasting a 'hundred year old egg' for the first time, a little strange!