Thursday, 14 May 2009

A symphony of car horns ....

China is a noisy country, I don't think anyone who has visited or lived here would disagree with that. Common sounds that are heard on a daily basis include car horns, scooter horns, bicycle bells, shouting, mobile phones ringing, children crying, road works, buildings being demolished, buildings being repaired, people hawking up the phlegm in their throats, people spitting out the phlegm in their throats and my favourite, fireworks. At least with fireworks, you (normally) get the accompanying sights, the beautiful colours lighting up the smoggy skies of Wuxi. After a while though, the noise seems so normal, it is almost unnoticeable. However, this morning, my ears must have been a little more sensitive, because all the noises seemed much louder than usual. The upside of this was that I could actually hear the birds twittering in the trees as I rode down a quieter lane way. Lovely.
7.30am at my favourite intersection in Wuxi, where a delightful symphony of sounds greets the humble bike rider on her way to work .......
Assessing the situation... Inching out into the intersection ... Nearly in the middle of it ... and not brave enough to continue to ride and take pictures after this one!
Today, I was a little distracted as I got ready to go to work. I was racing around, checking I had anything for Beijing, pre-cooking my dinner for tonight (I hate the plane food in China), drying my hair, the usual. Then the noise started, which I would normally ignore, but this morning it really, really annoyed me. So, I took a video of it to share (excuse the dirty windows in my apartment) - fireworks about 2km from my apartment, at 7am this morning. Listen out at the end for the scooter alarms that always begin ringing as soon as someone breathes near them.

Fireworks at 7am

Tapering .....

I have a feeling that the scenery will be much more spectacular than this surbuban Shanghai street!

I'm enjoying the terms 'tapering' and 'carbo loading' this week. For the uninitiated, tapering is where you rest before a big run and carbo loading is eating lots of carbohydrates before a big run. So, the idea of not doing vigorous exercise, resting, stretching, having massages, eating lots of pasta and drinking lots (of water that is!), sounds perfect to me! I had my last session on Monday - 45 minutes on the bike. I intended to go for a light run on Tuesday but had a major headache and sore throat, so skipped it. Apart from riding my bike to school each day, I haven't done any exercise. I thought I would enjoy the break, but I'm starting to get a little antsy, which is probably a good thing as it means I'll be ready to go on Saturday morning.

Big plate of noodles!

I must say that I am much more nervous than I thought I would be, and I've narrowed it down to three main worries - 1. Finishing the actual race. 2. The transport to and from (dealing with my irrational anxiety issues). 3. What will I do after the race is over? So, I'm going to use a little positive thinking here (thanks Amy!).....1. Of course I will finish it, I will travel 21 km by foot, whether it be running, walking or crawling (let's hope not for the crawling!). 2. I live in China, I have routinely dealt with large crowds on transport, if I have to stop, I can. 3. Hmmm, what will I do to remain sane in Wuxi when the race is over? Well, I'm tossing a few options around, namely joining a hockey club, doing more running events (Shanghai half marathon is already on the list), playing gaelic football in Shanghai, travelling more. We'll see. skies and steep hills!
So, it's off to Beijing I go tomorrow after school. I'm still a little in awe of the fact that I can finish work on a Friday afternoon and be in the capital of China by 9.00pm that evening. What a crazy thought. I'm looking forward to meeting all the others from Wuxi who are crazy enought to sign up for the run - I know some of them, but it will be a great opportunity to meet some new people. It will be a long evening of travel - 2.5 hour flight to Beijing, followed by about 3 hours in a van to the race site, where our hotel is. The actual race begins at 7.30am, and the opening ceremony is at about 6.30am, so we'll have to be up nice and early to eat something (the last carbo loading feed ... sob sob) and get ready to run.
Can you imagine this sight with hundreds of runners on it?
After the run, we all head back into Beijing where I'm sure we will find the nearest pub to begin a night of celebrations. Hopefully, I'm feeling okay on Sunday - I feel a shopping spree coming on! Stay tuned for more pictures of the Great Wall on Sunday evening.
Stunning scenery.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The Wuxi weather switch has been flicked again .....

Can you see 'The Hill'?? Sunset in Wuxi.
This time the switch has been flicked to BOILING! It is only spring here, but already the temperature is hard to handle. Before I left for the Philippines, I was wearing stockings and a jacket, but upon arriving back in Wuxi, I'm wearing summer clothes, the air conditioning is on and I'm still sweating. The last few days have all been over 30 degrees and very humid and sticky. But, we have had several clear days where the blanket of smog over Wuxi has lifted, which has been lovely. Thank goodness I have been winding down my training in preparation for the big run on Saturday because I don't know if I can keep up drinking so much water! I did an easy 45 minute bike ride at the gym last night and still managed to drink 2 litres of water before, during and after the session. I am hoping that the weather forecast for Beijing this Saturday is correct - a minimum of 11 degrees and a maximum of 27 degrees. The run starts at 7.30am, so hopefully the temperature will stay at the lower end of that spectrum for the whole run!
A clear night in the Wuxi New District.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Happy birthday Pete!

It's Pete's birthday next week, and he was kind enough to bring forward his party a week so that Tony and I could come (we'll be in Beijing next weekend). The night began with a delicious dinner at a Japanese restaurant in the New District, where the beer was flowing freely and tasting extremely good. The party then moved onto Ronnie's, the Australian bar, where 10 kuai ($2) beers and Pete's generously provided keg continued to ensure all were having a good time. I was thrilled to see that the footy was on - I miss chilling out and watching the footy on a Friday night. The game was Hawks vs Bombers and there were several dedicated fans at Ronnie's to cheer both teams on. After the AFL, the rugby was on - Australia vs New Zealand, a game which is always going to bring out the rivalry between the Aussie and Kiwi expats in Wuxi. Happy birthday Pete!
Tony wishes Pete a happy birthday.

'Well, we are in China' - smoking over dinner. The single ladies. Amy, Sam and me.
Brian, 'The American', behind the bar.....but more importantly, the footy on in the background.
Kisses for the birthday boy!
And more kisses.
Some of the boys - Cam, Paul, Ricardo, Pete.
Six what Brian? Amy and Brian play the dice game.
The AFL boys aren't the only ones with muscles.
Pete and the lovely Lily
Sisco and Peter deep in conversation.
Amy and Tony - always up for a dance.
Cam and Sam.
The EtonHouse gang.
Sisco shows Tony the dance moves.
Tony worships Sisco, the dance master.
New friend, another Peter.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

'Bike Riding in China 101'

Beginning of 'Bike Riding in China 101' - Wearing a helmet!

As I rode my bike home the other night, I thought about how my bike riding confidence has increased since I've been in China and I have come to the conclusion that I have passed 'Bike Riding in China 101'. What are the criteria for this challenging course??? Here are my criteria:

Proud laowais with their new bikes.

You have passed 'Bike Riding in China 101' when you can:

  • Ride with no helmet (took me a while to master this one!).
  • Ride through red lights in a safe manner (safe = looking both ways, riding with hand on bell, avoiding trucks and buses).
  • Carry multiple items whilst riding (I demonstrated this when I rode home from Uberfood the other day - laptop, handbag, school books, 1 loaf of bread, 1 bottle of wine, 2 desserts, 1 jar of pesto).
  • Ride whilst wearing a giant raincoat.
  • Confidently use the bell to warn others that a laowai is coming, move out of the way!
  • Ride on both sides of the road with ease.
  • Ride wearing a skirt, with one hand on the handles and the other holding the skirt down.
  • Overtake people electric scooters, electric bikes and push bikes, as well as pedestrians.
  • Carry an umbrella and pedal at the same time.
  • Survive at least one minor (anything smaller than a truck or bus) crash.
  • Ride home safely after several wines.
  • Ride the bike with only one brake working.
  • People of China, any others I've forgotten?
Haven't quite mastered the 'dink' (or the 'dub' as the NZers would say)

What happens in the next course? My next goal is to 'dink' someone on the back of my bike. Best to try this sober first, me thinks. Will keep you updated on my progress.

Peak hour at a busy intersection. Obeying the green man!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Early morning on the streets of Wuxi ....

A clear morning in Wuxi - you can actually see 'The Hill' but not in the photo apparently!
The weather has been absolutely stunning here in Wuxi for the past week.....well, stunning for China at least. Every morning, I do my daily weather check by looking out my kitchen window, past all the apartment buildings and factories, towards 'The Hill'. If I can see 'The Hill', I know it's going to be a relatively clear and sunny day. If I can't see 'The Hill', I know not to breathe too much during the day! It actually took me several months of living here before I realised that 'The Hill' existed - I remember the day because I was on the phone to my mum and she got a shock when I suddenly exclaimed, 'I'm looking out my window and I can see a hill that I haven't seen before!'

The quiet streets of Wuxi at 5.30am.

On Tuesday morning, I was feeling motivated enough get up at 5.15am and hit the streets of Wuxi for a run. After the initial shock of the early start, I settled into 'the zone' for a good 1 hour and 20 minute run, and discovered that it's actually a really nice time to be out and about in Wuxi. The streets were quiet, it wasn't too hot, the air was relatively fresh and most importantly, I didn't get too many stares.

Who is ever this happy to be running this early in the morning?!
I have been running along Chang Jiang Lu, the main street in the Wuxi New District and the street that my apartment is located on. It's a good place to run because it's straight, so I can zone out and not worry about getting lost, and along the way there are several little parks, where I have been stopping to look silly and do step ups (authentic training!). But, it's a fairly boring run because there is not a lot to look at, mainly factory after factory.
The sun rising through the trees and factories.
The change in weather has made everyone here in Wuxi feel a little bit more joyful and there are so many people out and about in the evening, enjoying the beautiful weather. I'm hoping that the heat doesn't get worse over the next week, if it can hold off until after the run, I'll be happy. Today, it's forecast for 28 degrees, heading up to 32 on Sunday. On the weekend, I'm planning to head towards 'The Hill' for some outdoor relaxation (park, grass, bare feet, book, sleep ..... nice).
Small tractor and taxi - note that the taxi is about to cross onto the other side of the road and drive in the wrong direction! Street cleaning bikes ready for another busy morning of cleaning.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Look at the laowai run!

It's only a week and a half to go until the big run in Beijing and I'm feeling pretty good about it. After a busy first day of Term 4 yesterday, I hit the streets of Wuxi last night for a run and test out my new gadget. I bought a running belt type thing that you can put a bottle of water in and hook your camera to etc. and I wanted to try it out to see how comfy it is because I'm very keen to run with my camera but not to carry it the whole way. But, it looks super nerdy, so as you can imagine, I had a lot more people staring at me than normal. One guy in particular was hilarious, this is what happened. One minute, I was running along in my own little world and then there were several flashes. Fireworks, more neon lights coming on, I thought. Then I realised that it was a man taking photos of me. Thinking nothing of it, I smiled, waved, and ran on. A few minutes later, he appeared again, this time on a scooter riding along next to me, giving me the thumbs up and a big grin. I gave another smile and a wave. He motioned for me to stop, so, feeling a little miffed, I stopped quickly to see what he wanted - a close up photo of my red, sweaty face. Hmmmmm. Another smile and a wave and on I went. The man then continued to ride along next to me and started telling me to get onto the back of his scooter and he would give me a lift. Politely, I declined and he continued to persist, gesturing that I didn't need to pay him. I continued to decline and tried to explain that I was actually running because I wanted to, not because I had to! He seemed to get the idea and just continued to ride along next to me, grinning madly, until he got sick of it and scooted away. A funny little experience for a Monday night run!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Single ladies hit the Phillippines!

The holiday began with Uberfood cake at the airport.
That's right, the two single, sexy and sophisticated ladies of Wuxi (aka 'The A Team' - Amy and Anna), descended upon the small island of Boracay for a week of recreation and relaxation. In keeping with tradition, lots of food and drink were consumed along with some very enjoyable eye candy to entertain us as we sipped our cocktails on the beach. The boat on the left was our transport to the island of Boracay. Single ladies looking tired and dishevelled after a long night travelling. We chose the perfect location in the island of Boracay, a tiny island in the middle of the mass of islands that comprise the Phillippines. Boracay is only 9km long and only 1km wide at its most narrow point. It is a fairly touristy destination but the resort we chose, Asya, was perfect. Set just off the beach, it was quiet but still only a 2 minute walk to the main beach and the restaurants and bars. The resort also has a private cove for it's guests to use and we visited 'The Cove' several times when we wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of White Beach. If anyone is planning on visiting the Phillippines, I can highly recommend Asya - the staff were wonderful, the facilities were excellent and there were many small touches (free mini bar anyone?!) that made our visit more memorable. We happened to choose a busy time of the year for our visit and there were heaps of tourists, the majority being Korean, Chinese and American. The weekends were extremely busy as many Filipinos vist the island from their home towns. Our first glimpse of 'The Cove' - a private beach owned by the resort.
Relaxing at 'The Cove'
We spent most of our days on the beach, alternating between 'The Cove' and White Beach. There was a huge amount of action happening on White Beach which meant that there was always something exciting to look at. The Dragon Boat Festival was a highlight, which ran for 3 days, all filled with races and good looking Filipino men to look at. There was also a conference for the Othopaedic Surgeons Association of the Phillippines - not so interesting to look at. The real giggles came with the Mr and Miss Boracay body building championships - lots of men in skimpy clothes flexing their muscles, very amusing! Along the beach, there were also many promotions for various products, the big one being Nescafe. Thanks to Nescafe, we were able to watch an amazing band from Manila, perve on gorgeous models, participate in dance classes (I passed on this!) and not drink a drop of coffee!
Happy hour - 'Two for one' cocktails and beers.
Relaxing by the pool.
The Filipino people are simply gorgeous - both to talk to and to look at. Everyone was so eager to chat to us and find out where we were from, as well as try to persuade us to participate in many of the activities on offer. It wasn't uncommon to be offered a massage, parasailing and KTV all from the one person! Despite their persistence, the hawking was always done in a polite and sometimes amusing manner, unlike other irritating hawkers in some parts of the world. Many of the Filipino men showed no shame in constantly asking us if we were married, had boyfriends, why we were single, did we have company with us, why didn't we have company, did we want company? So many questions. We held our heads high and explained that we were independent women and that we didn't need any company, but that we would look for a boyfriend and return next year with them! Often, following this rather amusing exchange, the men would tell us that they were single and that they would be our boyfriends. One night, we did organise a 'date' with one of the resort staff, PJ, who Amy and I both fell in love with, but we were both so tired we didn't make it.
A HUGE sunhat!
Boracay International School - hmmmm, next international posting?!
The food. Well, Amy and I were both in heaven. As you all know, Wuxi doesn't offer a huge array of Western foods for the homesick laowai. So, it was with huge delight that we discovered the restaurants of Boracay. We spent the week gorging ourselves on a huge variety of delicious foods - fresh seafood, Greek, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, fish and chips, ice cream and beautiful (flourless!) desserts. The seafood on the beach was so amazing - you picked the fresh fish and they grilled it for and served it with a new favourite of mine, garlic rice. The squid was particuarly good, the best I've ever had. Icecream goes hand in hand with the beach, so I maintained my daily icecream quota with a huge selection from the local icecream shop, even tasting new flavours, cheese and avacado! My cravings for Western foods are now satisfied and hopefully will be until I head home in ...... only 2 months!
Sunset over White Beach.
Listening to a percussion band at sunset.
Drinks on a beach holiday are always worthy of a few words. Happy hour began at about 2pm each day and continued till about 8pm, so, needless to say, Amy and I were very happy for those few hours each day. Most places had '2 for 1' offers, so it wasn't unusual to see Amy with 2 frozen margaritas in her hand and 2 San Miguel Light (tasted better than the regular!) beers in my hand.
White Beach.
Platter and bubbles on the balcony at Asya.
Other treats that Amy and I discovered were the local deli and the Boracay Books store. In a 'normal' life, these things are taken for granted, but as we were coming from China, we were thrilled to find them. For dinner one night, we splurged on cheeses, cold meats and other deli treats, complete with a bottle of bubbles. On our last day, we headed back to the deli to stock up on some hard-to-find-in-China treats - dried apricots, chaomile tea, nut bars and curry mixes. Yum! The book store also got several visits and I left the Phillippines with 6 new books to my name for the ridiculously cheap price of 1000 pesos (about $30).
Filipino boys kayaking.
Paying my respects to Mary on Willy's Rock.
The weather was beautiful for most of our trip, but on one day when it was raining, we decided to treat ourselves to a day at the Kai Regency Spa, a new and luxurious spa that has recently opened in Boracay. We signed up for the 'Tranquility Treatment' which consisted of 4 hours of treatments - a body scrub, jacuzzi, volcanic mud wrap, massage and facial. It was so decadent and relaxing, although I did feel a little bored and ready to go by the time we got to the facial.
The beginning of our day at Kai Regency Spa.
Kayaking at 'The Cove'.
The most simple relaxation on the holiday came from lying on the beach, with a bag full of books and magazines to read. I managed to read several books on the holiday, mostly 'chick lit' novels, but I also read 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas' and can highly recommend it as a moving book that is written in a simple but beautiful way.
Rocking chairs on White Beach.
Happy Hour again.
On our last day, we both felt a little bit flat, the week had gone by so quickly and it was time to head back to smoggy, characterless Wuxi and back to the reality of work. A week of relaxation on the beach, with blue skies was just what I needed and I've come back to Wuxi feeling refreshed and ready for the last term of my first year of international teaching. The holiday couldn't have been more perfect - the location was great, the company was fantastic (thanks to my BnF' friend, Amy!), the weather was good - what more could I ask for?! The journey back was a little eventful, with issues with our baggage at the Caticlan airport, a delayed flight, disappointment over the absence of The Body Shop at the Manila airport, flying through a storm as we approached Shanghai and then being asked about recent contact with pigs as part of the swine disease. The Cebu Pacific airline, a budget airline, was great and once again, the Filipino staff were fantastic. Each flight, when the seatbelt sign had been switched off, the staff would play some games with the passengers. You could win small prizes by doing what the staff called out, from simple things like 'Show us your 10 fingers' to saying tongue twisters over the loud speaker. A fun way to end the holiday!
'Mogito to go'?!
I'm now back in Wuxi, preparing for another term of work. I have spent the day pottering around my apartment and doing some grocery shopping - a fairly major expedition here in China! Am now off to have a foot massage and an early night. Stay tuned for more photos of the Phillippines coming up!
The entrants for Mr Boracay.
Dance lessons on the beach.
Dragon Boart Festival.
Dragon Boat race tower.
Swimming at White Beach.
Dessert on the beach - coconut balls.
Single ladies on the beach.
Amy gets a henna tattoo.
Great band playing in the Nescafe tent.
Enjoying squid tentacles for the hundredth time on the holiday!
Only 6,258 km to Australia!
The pedestrian walkway in Boracay.
At the ferry station with our new love, PJ, from the resort.
At the Caticlan airport where passengers seemed to have a fairly free walk around the planes!
The holiday began with cake at the airport and ended with an amazing Belgium flourless chocolate cake on the plane home!
Cebu Pacific staff entertain us with games to play on the flight home.