Monday, 31 August 2009

Lots of stories ....... Lack of photos

It is incredibly frustrating not being able to load photos onto the blog. I have heaps of stories to share that just don’t seem to have the same effect without photos to accompany them. Like the story about having a man hanging out my 26th floor window frequently over the past few weeks. After getting over the shock of a man looking in my window 100 metres above the ground (I think he might have been more shocked at seeing a laowai through the window!), I assumed that he was cleaning all the windows. On my way home last night, I discovered that I was wrong. The windows remain dirty but my building now has beautiful neon lights flashing in patterns up the side of it! See, a photo would make that a much better story! And then there is the story of the ‘hook’. As I headed off to the toilet on Friday night, a new colleague pulled out a plastic contraption from her bag and exclaimed, “You’ll need this!” What she was wielding was possibly the most practical thing for a woman to bring to China – a plastic hook to put over the back of the public toilet door so that you can hang up your handbag and squat with no worries of dropping your bag on the often filthy floor. Again, you really need to see a photo so that you too can exclaim over the wonder of this nifty invention. This is number one on my list for Dad to bring over later this month! I also miss taking photos for the blog. Since living here, I carry my camera everywhere, often thinking, “Ah, that would be a good picture for the blog!” In fact, last week, a returning staff member informed our new colleagues that “You haven’t been initiated into EtonHouse and Wuxi until you’ve had an embarrassing photo on Anna’s blog!” I don't think there have been any embarrassing pictures yet, just silly ones?! I was desperate to get my camera out last night and take some pictures of a new discovery in Wuxi - an amazing dumpling restaurant! The kitchen was open, so we could peer in and watch the chefs making the dumplings, and the food was delicious. For $4 each, we devoured three huge plates of dumplings with various fillings, a plate of pork, a plate of egg and tomato (a Wuxi speciality) and a scrummy dessert of apple covered in toffee (a Muslim delicacy apparently). You'll just have to imagine the delicious food without the aid of pictures! Right now, I’m off to email fellow blogger, SHEinChina to see how she gets her photos on Blogger!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Has the Wuxi weather switch flicked?

The last week has been characterised by hot, humid and stormy weather. Each afternoon has brought a huge storm. But, waking up on Saturday morning, I felt cold. The weekend has been cold (okay, so I'm still wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but cold compared to the past few weeks) and it is extremely windy. So, I'm wondering, has the Wuxi weather switch flicked. I am hoping that this is the case, because I was sick of the storms, for the following reasons. Firstly, thunder is not the only sound you will hear during a storm. The minute a loud noise happens, all scooter alarms simultaneously begin their whining and beeping. The same is true if you happen to walk too closely to the scooter, and heaven forbid you accidentally bump the scooter! Secondly, the drainage system on many of the roads appears to be non-existent, or certainly not able to cope with the heavy rains. On many afternoons, I have ridden through mini rivers on my way home from school. As I write this, I am looking over the construction site opposite my apartment is rapidly filling up and resembling a dam as opposed to a future block of apartments. During the holidays, I was regularly kept up to date with the status of storms and storm damage from those still working at school. The first email I received simply said, ‘Dear all, the school has had a flood. See attached pictures’. The pictures showed several sections of ceiling caved in and classrooms ankle deep in water. Not good. The second email read, ‘Dear all, there has been a typhoon and lots of rain. We lost all the audio equipment.’ Even worse. Luckily, the school’s building partner kindly provided the money to replace everything. So, here's hoping that the rainy season is over!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Hot and humid = Slow and lethargic

As you can see, I'm still unable to upload photos and centre the text, something that doesn't sit well with my slight OCD tendencies! I like everything perfect. And perfect the weather is not here in Wuxi at the moment. It is stinking hot and extremely humid. When I step outside the house, I'm instantly covered in sweat, feeling sticky and horrible. Thank goodness for air conditioning and cool showers. The most frustrating thing in the heat is the lethargy that seems to come with it. By mid afternoon, I'm feeling exhausted and going to the gym is the last thing I feel like doing. Yesterday, I went for a morning run thinking that if I exercised in the morning I wouldn't feel so lethargic. This seemed to work but I'm not sure about breathing in the smog that early in the morning, particularly since I've just returned from the fresh Australian air. Onwards I will go though, hitting the gym tonight after my first Chinese lesson after 6 weeks of no practise - Ahhhhhh!

Monday, 24 August 2009

A seemingly simple task .....

On Sunday afternoon, I headed out to Metro to stock up on some pantry staples such as nuts, seeds, organic vegetables, smoked salmon and frozen berries (a new discovery!). I also decided to purchase a counter top oven, as my landlady was reluctant to install a regular oven. Sounds like a simple task, right? Not in China. There were about 15 different models to choose from and I spent a considerable amount of time deciding which one to purchase based on a few simple questions – How easy were the Chinese labels to interpret? Would the oven be able to cook fish, meat, toast and possibly puddings? How heavy was the oven, should I want to move it to my next international posting? After much deliberation, I decided upon a medium sized oven that seemed easy to use and was moderately priced ($100). Decision made, I asked one of the many shop assistants if I could have the oven in a box. “Mei you”……. “I don’t have”. Hmmm, it seemed that they did have the oven, after all it was sitting on the shelf in front of me. But no, it wasn’t available. The woman went to get someone else, who repeated that I couldn’t have this oven. I was persistent and communicated via basic Chinese and a lot of sign language that I wanted the oven and I wanted it in a box. By this stage, a crowd had gathered – who was this laowai, thinking she could buy an oven that was on the shelf?! Several staff members were now involved and after much hunting involving a forklift, a box materialised. Not the box for the oven, but a box for a large free standing fan. The oven would have taken up a third of the space in this box. Frustrated (but still smiling), I handed over my shopping bag and together, we pushed the oven into the bag. Mission accomplished! The next challenge came when I arrived at my apartment and I considered how I was going to get two bags of shopping, an oven, a tea set and a bucket filled with shopping up to the 26th floor by myself. Enter elderly Chinese man dozing in the back of his bike trailer. The kind old man loaded up my purchases, drove to the building and helped me to carry them up to my apartment. He left, happy with the bottle of beer that I pressed into his hands. Nothing is simple in China, but with some perseverance and patience, things happen. I can now cook a roast, toast bread and bake a chocolate pudding! (As you can see, I'm still unable to load pictures ...... Peter? Help!!!!!!)

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Back to the land of rice ....

I've been back for nearly a week now and already I feel like I'm back into the swing of living in this amazing land of rice, MSG and crazy traffic. Firstly, apologies for not having written earlier, the internet is being remarkably slow which is odd given that the Chinese government are so keen to have contact with the outside world! Even as I write, I am unable to load photos. Patience, patience, patience. I'm quite surprised at how good it feels to be back here. I was slightly nervous to come back, a little worried about how I would react from leaving the fresh air of Melbourne and coming back to the smoggy air in Wuxi. But, as I stepped out onto Chang Jiang Lu on Monday morning, I got a real buzz at being back on the chaotic streets (or maybe it was just a rush of toxic air hitting my brain?!). Already, I'm seeing unusual things as I go about my daily business. For example, this morning I was making myself some toast in the kitchen (in my underwear, having just got up!), when a Chinese man abseiled past my window! I'm not sure who was more shocked, him at seeing a white girl in her underpants or me at seeing a person at my window on the 26th floor. I also ventured into the gym this week and for once, I wasn't the only female in the weights room .... the other woman was wearing gold stilettos and dressed for a night club, not a gym. Very funny, although it made me feel slightly unfeminine in my shorts and t-shirts, sweating outrageously. So, my second year in China has begun and I'm incredibly excited about the upcoming year - the travel opportunities, visitors from home, soaking up the Chinese culture and the expat lifestyle, as well as being challenged and inspired in the work environment. Stay tuned for the second year of 'Anna's Adventures in China'!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Do not ...... ....

I'm currently hanging out at the Melbourne airport because my flight has been delayed due to bad weather. When I'm bored and have time to kill, funny things capture my attention (or maybe I just have a weird thing about taking pictures of signs in toilets ..... remember my first trip to a Japanese toilet?!)
So, here are two signs at the Melbourne airport that I am sure are in place for the majority of passengers travelling on a flight beginning with CA (Air China)...........
A brief lesson in toilet etiquette in Australia
This sign is above the water fountain

Six weeks of relaxation and indulgence come to an end ....

Ahhh, blue skies!
It seems a little surreal that I’m heading back to China now, I really did slip back into ‘normality’ very easily. It’s been an amazing six weeks, filled with lots of fun, plenty of sleep and heaps of things that I just can’t do in China. I have been incredibly lucky to have spent so much time with my wonderful family and friends. The blue skies, fresh air and uncrowded places have been a welcome escape from my new 'normal life in China. Rather than ramble on about my time, I thought I’d take advantage of my love of lists and share some of the highlights from my summer (well, winter really!) holiday.
Me and my mummy!

Top five things I’ve done:

  1. Hanging out with my mum, whether it be at her apartment in Moonee Ponds, bunkering down during a tsunami warning in Broulee, or dodging Ned Kelly look-alikes in Beechworth.
  2. Catching up with my lovely friends. The last six weeks seems to have been a blur of brunches, lunches, dinners, drinks, coffee and cakes! I really do feel lucky to have so many interesting and fun friends to spend time with. I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone and scheduling Christmas time catch ups!
  3. Playing with our adorable dogs, Charlie and Lexie. I really do miss the dogs an awful lot, there is something comforting about coming home to a slobbering, excited four legged friend.
  4. Finally getting to do some of the cultural things in Melbourne that I always say I’ll do but never seem to get around to (see next list!)
  5. Eating and drinking all the naughty things that I shouldn’t be eating but I did because you can’t get them in China!

Dinner at Tom's place

Top five cultural events I’ve been to:

  1. Salvador Dali exhibition – Weird and wonderful.
  2. John Brack exhibition – Another interesting character whose paintings are slightly more conventional but just as fascinating.
  3. 'A Day in Pompeii’ exhibition – A new historical and scientific learning experience.
  4. An AFL game at the MCG – a must do Melbourne experience. Such an amazing game too, Geelong beat Hawthorn by 1 point after the siren.
  5. ‘Ned Kelly Weekend’ – An out of the blue experience that was interesting but I can’t say I’ll visit Beechworth during that time again! I loved Beechworth though.

Hockey girls

Top five movies I’ve seen:

  1. ‘A Year Without Sex’ – An Australian movie. It was good but nothing special.
  2. ‘Beautiful Kate’ – Wow! A very confronting but extremely good movie. The scenery in the Flinders Ranges was stunning.
  3. ‘Coco Avant Chanel’ – A gorgeous movie with the beautiful Audrey Tatou (spelling?!) I love French movies and will see any movie starring Tatou.
  4. ‘The Class’ – Another French movie that won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. A good movie but it requires a lot of thinking!
  5. 'Towel Head’ – Another confronting movie but fantastic movie. I think Toni Collette is a fantastic actress and I’d watch anything with her in it.

Parma and chips at the Avairy with Kate

Top five books I’ve read:

  1. 'The Slap’ by Christos Ts (someone!) – Great book that looks at the dynamics between family and friends in Melbourne.
  2. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – I’m sure I will horrify many people when I admit that this is the first time I’ve read this! I adored it, I loved the language and the innocence. “Everyone has won and all shall receive prizes!” “Curiouser and curiouser” – beautiful.
  3. ‘Handle with Care’ by Jodi Picoult – I’ve read all of Picoult’s books and really enjoy them but I’m starting to tire of her standard recipe of ethical dilemmas!
  4. ‘Raising a Bilingual Child’ – No, I’m not planning on raising a bilingual child any time but the book really applies to the lives of many of the students at EtonHouse who are being raised in a bilingual environment.
  5. A book about leadership in schools – A nerdy book about leading change in schools, which has given me some great ideas for my role at EtonHouse.

Hanging out with my puppy dogs

Despite feeling sad to be leaving home again, I’m also looking forward to going back to China. Top five things I’m looking forward to:

  1. Living cheaply. My new name is ‘Thrifty Anna’ and I’m going to become a super saver during my last year in China.
  2. Massages. No explanation needed!
  3. Having visitors – Dad and his partner arrive in September, a girlfriend is arriving next April, Mum arrives in June, so plenty of visitors to look forward to.
  4. More travel. It truly is addictive and I can’t wait to get out and see some different parts of China. The Yunnan province and Kazakstan are on the list this year!
  5. A new year at school and learning more about leadership and EAL teaching.
Thank you to everyone who has made my holiday so memorable, I'm already looking forward to seeing everyone at Christmas time!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Technical stuff and travelling ....

You may have noticed the little blue badge that has popped up on the right hand side when you log in to my blog now. Well, it's official, the blog is finally featured on the Ruba website! Those behind the new Ruba travel website contacted me a long time ago wanting to feature some of my entries, and their China section has finally appeared, including my posts about Tibet. It's taken a while to get the badge to appear here, but the lovely Peter Throsby kindly deciphered the code that was required ..... a big thank you! Peter is also the genius behind me being about to get around the Chinese government blocks to write on the blog, thank you again! I caught up with Peter and his wife, Diane, a few days ago at their house in Collingwood. Diane is currently running her interior design business from here ...... her ideas and fabrics are fabulous, so if your house ever needs a makeover, she is the woman to visit! Her website is (which of course Peter is in charge of!). Also, check out Vogue Living next week for a feature on Diane's gorgeous house.

A day (and a night) on the farm ....

Wild About Fruit
One of the things I miss most of all when I'm in China is escaping the city and heading out to the farm for a weekend - the fresh air, the sound of birds, the green hills, the trees and the horses. I've been to farm a few times since I've been home but this week, I decided to head out to the Valley for a few days. I was keen to spend some time with my wonderful friends, Anita and Ben and to meet their one year old Golden Retriever, Harley. Lexie was not so keen to meet Harley and at nearly 30 kilos heavier than her, I don't blame her!
Lexie escapes from the huge Harley and onto my lap
Trying to make the bed, with two dogs impeding our progress!
After a beautiful home cooked meal and a bottle of Tasmanian bubbles on Wednesday night, we got up early on Thursday morning to go riding. I was a little nervous about riding, it's been over a year since I was last on a horse. Woody is a huge horse as well, particularly in comparison to my beautiful horse, Dookie, who was a fairly slim and elegant horse! However, riding a horse must be like riding a bike (something that I've rediscovered in the past year too!) ..... once I was up there, I was fine and it felt like I had never left the saddle!
The boys relax
"That's my toy!"
Before heading back to the city, I couldn't resist a visit to the Wild About Fruit farm shop that Anita runs so successfully. I stocked up on some crispy apples, pure fruit juice (made at their other farm), apple vinegar and homemade tomato relish. Anita began the farm shop about four years ago, when her and I set up a trestle table with some bags of cherries and off we went! Now, the shop is a hugely popular stop for those wanting fresh fruit and vegetables, bread and a range of gourmet Yarra Valley products. For those of you living in Melbourne, I can highly recommend a drive out to the Yarra Valley with a stop in at the shop. Simply head along the Maroondah Highway, turn left at the Chirnside Park shopping centre (along Edward Road) and the farm is directly at the end of the road.
Lexie the farm dog
Kangaroos in the mist
I am now back in Melbourne and have one more day of family, friends, fresh air and blue skies left before I head back to smoggy China on Sunday morning!
"Lexie, it's not a good idea to walk under Woody's tail!"
"That's better!"
The sun finally came out!
Anita teaches Woody the 'natural' way to do things!
Horse paddocks
Paddock near the Yarra River - where Fantasy, my first pony is buried
Beautiful 'Devon Downs' farm
Anita in the farm shop

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A weekend of surprises .....

The 'Ned Kelly Weekend' in Beechworth!
Whilst on holiday, Mum and I seem to have a habit of booking accommodation at the last minute and finding out that we are arriving in our chosen city during major events. In 1999, upon arriving in Dublin, we found ourselves amongst the World Cup soccer competition. Australia and Ireland happened to be playing the next day, so do you think we could find a bed to sleep in anywhere in Dublin?! We chose to go to Beechworth this weekend to meet up with Dad and hand over Charlie, the family dog, who has been residing in Melbourne during my holidays. When attempting to book a room for the night, which can be fairly challenging when travelling with two 4-legged furry companions, we soon discovered that we had chosen to come to Beechworth on 'Ned Kelly Weekend' ...... we were in for an interesting time!
Mother and daughter in Thyme Cottage, Beechworth
Enjoying a cosy night in front of the wood heater
We arrived fairly late on Friday night and after a bowl of soup and a couple of reds, we hit the sack ready for our immersion in 'Ned Kelly Weekend'! The day dawned with a blue sky and plenty of frost, which Lexie was fascinated by having not seen the crisp white covering on the lawn before. After breakfast at a gorgeous cafe/nursery, we headed to the railway station to watch the re-enactment of Ned Kelly's arrest and subsequent journey to the gaol. The performance was fairly lack lustre, Ned was very compliant and wasn't even in handcuffs! I was so surprised at how many people had turned out for the weekend, including many Ned Kelly look-alikes, complete with long, flowing beards! We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the beautiful buildings in Beechworth and driving along the Gorge Drive, through the bush.
Lexie discovers frost for the first time
What a stunning spot for breakfast!
In the afternoon, we set off for the short drive to Albury to meet Dad, driving along some of the smaller roads, where we found our second surprise of the weekend ..... A Viennese patisserie in the middle of nowhere! Here, we enjoyed some beautiful cake and a scalding hot coffee, in the 'authentic' Austrian log cabin. The things you find when you venture off the main roads! We ended up in Albury, where we met Dad for a coffee before the sad handover of Charlie. I seem to miss the animals more than humans sometimes because I can't chat to them on Skype (despite my attempts to get Charlie to look at the computer!). I'll see Dad in 6 weeks time when he comes to China! Only one week to go.....sob, sob.
The re-enactment of Ned Kelly's arrest
Ned was very calm as the police led him towards the gaol!
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
A beautiful Beechworth cottage
The restored front facade of the old Beechworth hospital
Perfect weather calls for an open air vehicle!
Thelma prepares herself for the wind
View from the car on the Gorge drive
Charlie contemplates life whilst overlooking the Beechworth valley
Lexie impersonates a meerkat
The beginning on the Beechworth Gorge
Rolling green hills
The Viennese patisserie at Allans Flats

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The cultural experiences continue ......

Pompeii exhibition at the Melbourne Museum
I continued my cultural and educational experiences today by visiting the Melbourne Museum to see the 'A Day in Pompeii' exhibition that is on show for the winter. I've been to the museum many times with school excursions - I think I could probably describe most of the Human Body exhibition in great detail and I've learnt a lot more about the TV show, 'Neighbours', at the museum (hey, I was teaching 10 year old girls!). My favourite part of the museum is definitely looking at Phar Lap, which brings back memories of my favourite high school assignment - a negotiated study of our choice and being a horse-mad teenager, guess which topic I chose?!
Exhibition buildings near the museum
Anyway, so today my purpose was to learn more about Pompeii. I will admit my cultural ignorance here again and tell you that the only 'Pompeii' I have heard of is the race horse Pompeii Ruler, who I can tell you has won over two million dollars in prize money (yes, I had to look that up!) and he looks very similar to my wonderful horse and companion, Dookie. So, given my lack of historical knowledge, I was in for a lot of learning today!
The city of Melbourne from the museum
The three most fascinating things that I discovered today were:
1) The huge archeology effort that has gone on for many years to discover, preserve and pass on the events of the 24th and 25th of August in 79AD. I can't even begin to imagine how painstaking it must have been to sift through all the remains, even hundreds of years later. I'm so amazed by the passion that these people must have and I guess we should all be grateful that these dedicated people work so hard to pass on such fascinating stories to us.
2) The beautiful frescos and mosaics that the people of ancient Pompeii adorned their houses with. The interiors of the homes were absolutely stunning and I loved the design of the houses, the inside/outside areas, much like what seems to be trendy in house design these days - the 'modern' look (I wonder if the designers knew that most homes in Pompeii were like this 2000 years ago?!). I love the idea of dining whilst you are sitting in a special chair reclined backwards - of course, this was reserved for those with a higher social status!
3) The volcano and the science behind the preservation of so many objects, including the mosaics and frescos that I admired. Apparently, the lava doesn't actually do the damage when a volcano erupts, it's the raining pumice stone, which does have a technical name that escapes me at the moment. Basically, this storm of pumice rock and ash rains down, filling buildings and preserving most things inside - all the bronze objects, frescos and mosaics were preserved. As the rock and ash harden, casts are made of the people who died during the event. A clever archeologist then decided to fill these cavities with plaster and create a series of incredibly eery casts of the dead, still in the positions they died. Many people have pulled their clothing up over their face to prevent the inhalation of the toxic fumes and ash from the volcano, and you can only begin to imagine how terrifying their last minutes would have been as they realised the proximity of their fate.
To finish on a lighter note, my day of culture continues as I sit down with a glass of red to enjoy a French movie, 'The Class', which was awarded Best Picture at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Overindulging ......

Parma and bubbles at The Aviary, Richmond
Morning tea, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, coffee and cake, drinks........My life is just one big blur of food and drink at the moment. Those who follow my blog regularly will know that I do like writing about eating and drinking - there are always interesting dining experiences to be had in China, consuming both local delights such as chicken feet or cow intestines and western treats (ie. anything from Uberfood!). Since I've been home, I always seem to be out for at least 1 meal of the day, as I catch up with family and friends. When I'm not out for meals, I'm trying to detox my body with fruit, vegetables and lots of green tea, which my digestive system is probably thankful for. So, here are just some of the pictures of the many culinary delights I've enjoyed since I've been home .... none of which contain chicken feet, internal organs or MSG!
Mussels at Merimbula
Profitejies at Moruya, NSW
Coconut icecream in Adelaide
Chocolate and raspberry mousse cake for Mums' birthday in Williamstown
Wine from the Yarra Valley
Oysters at Giant Steps in Healesville
Chocolate cake straight from the oven at Bellevdere, Yarra Valley
Apple turnover (aka Kate Robinson special!) at Kingston Hotel in Richmond
Meat pie at MCG!
Parma and a pot at Kingston Hotel, Richmond