Friday, 30 October 2009

Happy Halloween!

Halloween pumpkin at Uberfood
Happy Halloween everyone! It's not something I ever thought I'd say to anyone, but here I am celebrating Halloween in China! Halloween isn't a big celebration in Australia but here in China, it is huge, well at least at school and in the expat community. We celebrated the event at school yesterday by dressing up and participating in a series of activities set up by the Middle School students. There was apple bobbing, boxes of 'guts', 'eyeballs' and 'brains' to plunge your hand into as well as the standard haunted house which brought more than a few of the younger students to tears. Some classes came trick or treating and were probably a little disappointed when I gave them non-candy treats (what a spoilsport!). It was a great way to end an incredibly busy week at school. Last night, several of us treated ourselves to grown up treats - we gathered at my house for red wine, cheeses, Uberfood bread, Belgium chocoloates and some good laughs. And right now I am going to treat myself with a lovely foot massage! Enjoy the weekend everyone!
Bread, cheese and wine - what more could a girl want after a busy week?!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Wuxi weather switch seems to be stuck .....

Here in Wuxi, the weather seems to switch from hot to cold and vice versa very quickly. There is normally only a week or two at most of ‘in-between’ weather. Last year it seemed that one day I was stepping outside in a summer dress and immediately being soaked with sweat and then all of a sudden I was wearing boots and stockings the next day.
Okay, so the sky isn't this blue (this is Beechworth in Victoria, Australia) ..... but it's blue for Wuxi

This year, the Wuxi weather switch seems to be stuck half way. The weather is absolutely beautiful. The temperature is hovering in the high 20s every day. The sky is clear, blue and sunny which has left me wondering if all the factories have stopped work for a while. Some days it even feels like I am at home in the fresh air!

In fact, when Dad arrived in Wuxi, he was surprised. He thought that I had been exaggerating about the air pollution. He just happened to be here on some of the clearest days I have ever seen in Wuxi.

The normal 'fresh' air in Wuxi

I feel like I have a new wardrobe because I am wearing clothes that I haven’t been able to wear before – those in-between season clothes – it’s great!

Whilst I am hoping that the switch remains stuck for a few more weeks, I'm not getting my hopes up. This morning has dawned hot but rainy and the temperature is due to drop 10 degrees over the next few days. Maybe it's time to bring out the boots?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Uberfood ...... a taste sensation!

Wonder chef, Ralf and lovely waitress, Sarah
This is what some of you have been waiting upon for a while - an Uberfood post. Whilst I have been cycling out there at least once a week to collect a loaf of fresh corn bread and a treat (normally some chocolate chip cookies or a carrot muffin), I haven't had dinner there for a while. So, it was with delight that a group of us booked a mid week Uberfood taste sensation. Enjoy the beautiful food below (well, the sight of it at least!) ............
Good company, good food, good wine - a perfect mid week outing
Complimentary starter - Scrambled egg, beef tartare, salad
Entree - Variation of salmon
Entree - Fish soup
Palate cleanser - Sorbets and yoghurt
Main - Chicken with avacado sauce
Main - Lamb loin
Main - Duck breast with cranberry sauce
Main - Salmon steak with champagne sauce
Dessert - Death by Chocolate
Dessert - Chocolate souffle
Warning - I did not eat all the food above! This is what everyone at the table ate - I had the salmon, duck breast and souffle, simply delicious!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Local bus trips . . . . theme park thriller rides?

"Tunxi! Tunxi! Get on my bus!" Conductor drums up business - no leaving until full!
Some of the most terrifying experiences I have had in China have been on the local buses in Anhui province. Like most bus experiences in China, the trips I have had in Anhui have been ‘interesting’ – but add the windy mountain roads into the mix and it’s a little scary.
No room for the conductor to sit down
Local buses in China generally don’t leave until they are full. If you’re the first person to arrive, you get your pick of the seats (great for me who is fussy about bus seats) but you may have to wait a while until it fills up. Arrive late and you have to fold up your legs and possibly balance your backpack on your head. Finally, the bus is ‘full’ and departs, taking you on a wild ride to your destination. It is now that the bus conductor (normally female) comes around to take your fare. However, many stops are made along the way, where the conductor leans out the window hollering out the destination. Just as you think that not a single person extra can squeeze on, children’s plastic stools appear from nowhere and a few more people can cram on. On my first visit to Anhui, the bus drove up and down the main street of Tangkou until the bus was jam packed before finally heading onwards to Tunxi.
Anhui bus driver (note the slack seat belt just thrown across his body - we were just approaching the police when he slung it across himself!)
During my first bus experience in Yangshuo, I found this all very interesting (and slightly terrifying as anxiety set in at the thought of being stuck at the back of the bus) but now, I just take it all as I come. Generally, I get myself settled with my ipod and fall asleep. However, this is impossible on Anhui buses as the buses travel through small villages and up windy mountain roads. Add the total disregard for the rules, small children playing on the road, hair pin turns, adults strolling across the road and scooters putting their way up the mountain and it becomes like a ride at a theme park.

Everyone is crammed in but they are all still able to have a nap!
But, I’m still here today (albeit with a slightly raised blood pressure!) and I will definitely be on a local bus again I’m sure!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Anhui dishes - yum!

Selecting dinner
It's safe to say that I love eating and drinking and China is a great place to indulge in both. Whether it be in a restaurant or on the street, there is yummy (and some not so yummy) food to be tried everywhere. In Tunxi (capital of Anhui province), I found a restaurant that served its food yum cha style. You chose from the huge selection of small dishes by ordering on a pad of paper, paying and then waiting to enjoy. Each dish was very cheap (about $1-2 each), so I ordered lots of things to try and when I didn't finish them all, I was able to take some on the train for a late night snack.
Green vegetables with tofu
So simple but so delicious - cucumber with garlic
Mouth watering - sticky rice roll with a tender piece of pork on the bone in the middle
Deep fried goodness! Savoury pancake
More deep fried food! Potato and vegetable balls
Steamed pockets of rice and vegetables
The Chinese love their 'snacks' and everywhere you can find a huge range of local snacks to nibble on. The old street in Tunxi was a great place to wander down, admiring the architecture and trying the huge range of local snacks from the street vendors.
Street food - hot pastries filled with a spicy savoury paste
More street food - a chewy rice flour concoction with sesame seeds
Not so yummy - peanut squares that crumble in your mouth and come in all sorts of flavours (kiwi fruit flavoured?!)
More (yummy) peanut snacks and the rice flour/sesame seed treat
Okay, so it's not quite Uberfood, but all these dishes and snacks gave me a delicious taste of Anhui. Dinner tomorrow night is at Uberfood, so stay tuned for another 'foodie' post soon!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

West Sea Canyon in the morning = moments of tranquility ......

Sun covered mountain peaks out from the shadows
After an amazing nights sleep (well worth the $216!), I was up early to watch the sunrise over the mountain before beginning the walk I had been looking forward to for ages.
Early morning sun on the mountain tops
My dreams of a quiet contemplative moment watching the sun were quickly shot down when I got to the Bright Summit. I soon realised that there was going to be no chance of seeing the sun rise behind all the Chinese tourists (it would have been about 30 people deep), so I headed back to the hotel to collect my things and begin the walk into the depths of the West Sea Canyon.
Can you see the path? That's where I was heading!
I began the hike by heading down towards Fairy Walking Bridge. For the most part of hike down, I was on my own. It was beautiful – so quiet, so still, so ….. tranquil! Autumn has set in and the colours of the trees were just stunning – so many shades of red, yellow, orange and brown. It was so amazing to have those couple of hours pretty much to myself in the mountain.It made me think about Canada and how wonderful it will be to live in the mountains and have that feeling of stillness more regularly.
Once I reached the bottom, it was time to head upwards towards the Cloud Dispelling Pavillion (so many enchanting names). It might sound strange, but I enjoy the uphill climbs so much more – much kinder on the knees. It was some serious uphill climbing though, with some of the paths jutting out from the cliff - I don't even want to think about how they are attached to the rocks. Definitely not for the faint hearted. But the views, wow!
Crazy path!
There were many people walking the opposite way but no flag wielding, microphone wielding tour guides with their troops, thank goodness. Independent travelers are just so much nicer – they generally say hello in a friendly way and I always meet some interesting people along the way.
Don't look down!
I was prepared to walk for the better part of the morning, after the Lonely Planet recommended a minimum of 4 hours and the hotel receptionist said definitely not less that 6 hours. So, you can imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion at 10 am, just 3.5 hours after I set off. And this included several stops for breakfast, photography, breath catching and water guzzling. There must be some seriously unfit people walking the track!
The colours in the trees were beautiful

At the end of the walk, I found a (relatively) quiet and sunny spot to sit and relax with some water, some rice snacks and my journal. So lovely. After a rest, I headed back to the cable car for a knee saving ride to the bottom.

View from the squat toilet!
Despite my disorganisation, I still got my relaxing afternoon in Tunxi – a shower, massage, wander through the streets, reading and some yummy dinner (stay tuned for some pictures later).
I was definitely not going to be stepping up this path!
Well, I can truly say that a return visit to Huang Shan was worth it – clear skies, fresh air, beautiful scenery, energising walking – what more could I ask for!
Cable car ride down the mountain

Mountain ….. tranquility ….. not to be used in the same sentence whilst in China!

Finally, I can see the mountains!

I’m currently back in Huang Shan for a second time. When my mind is set on something, I become focused on achieving that – seeing Huang Shan on a clear day was my mission. After 14 hours of travel (13 on the train, 1 on the bus), I arrived at Huang Shan this morning. My plan was to catch the cable car up, hike around the West Sea Canyon and then head back to Tunxi on the same day for a relaxing Sunday.

Follow that flag!
My plan was ruined when I didn't fully listen to the Lonely Planet’s advice – arrive very early or very late for the cable car… can imagine my frustration when I arrived in the queue at the sign reading ‘It is a 2 hour wait from here’! Having already paid my ticket, I was reluctant to turn back, so I waited. Luckily I only waited about 30 minutes and I was on my way. At the top of the cable car, huge queues were lined up to walk up the mountain. So, I had to abandon my plans of completing the 9km strenuous hike and getting back to the cable car by 4.30 pm and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to spend a night in an expensive, characterless Chinese hotel.

The autumn colours were stunning
Of course, I hadn’t booked anything and after calling 8 hotels and reciting the same thing (“Do you speak English? Do you have a hotel room for tonight?”) and getting the same response (“A little.” “We have no rooms tonight”), I started to get a little worried. Luckily, I met some new friends who were in the same situation, so we hunted for a room together. We managed to find a hotel with rooms and it was totally different to the last place I stayed at – clean, friendly, great. But, cleanliness and atmosphere came at a price – 1080 rmb ($216) a night for a twin room. Not exactly what I was planning on, but hey, that’s the price you pay for winging it. It’s better than the tents that many Chinese were setting up outside earlier!
Beautiful mountains
After settling in, I went for a wander down a quiet path, where I was able to watch the sun set by myself. It was an early night for me ready to walk the West Sea Canyon the next day. As you can see from the pictures though, the day was clear and I was finally able to see the mountains that I had missed out on my first visit to the Anhui province.
Setting up the tents - you'd never miss these tents in a snow storm, so bright!
Autumn colours
Sunset over Huang Shan