Friday, 29 July 2011

To the east, to the west ...

I know, I know, I'm always on holidays.  Whilst it's not my choice, I'm certainly not going to turn them down!  I'm taking advantage of them to get out and about and see Canada.  Starting today, I have 10 days off and C is taking some time off work, so we're heading off on two little adventures.

The first adventure, which begins tomorrow morning, takes us on a 7-8 hour (car) journey over the Rockies and into British Columbia.  There, we will spend three days lakeside, soaking up some rays, visiting the nearby wineries and fruit farms and generally hanging out.

The second adventure takes us east into the prairies.  We spend one night in a tiny little town that is famous for its theatre productions of WO Mitchell's books (he's the guy who wrote 'Who Has Seen the Wind' and other stories set on the prairies).  After our country cultural experience, we head to a friend's lakeside cottage (that's 'shack' for the Aussies in the crowd) where we will enjoy a few days of eating, drinking and being merry in the sun.

At first, I was kind of disappointed that our journey wasn't taking us into the mountains (we planned to go to Montana, but being the height of summer, all accommodation was booked out) but now, I'm super excited about visiting parts of Canada that I haven't ventured to yet.  And, as for the ridiculous amount of time off I get, I'm just going to make the most of it!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Sleeping Chinese ...

I often marvel at the ability of the Chinese to fall asleep anywhere, anytime.  At the school I worked at, it was not uncommon to wander into the security office (the only room with a microwave) and find the driver and security guards fast asleep at lunch time!  Spotting 'Sleeping Chinese' brings me such delight, I thought I'd share some of my 'Sleeping Chinese' finds from my recent trip to China.  Enjoy.

Zhongshan Park, Shanghai

Wuxi train station

People's Park, Shanghai

People's Park, Shanghai

People's Park, Shanghai

People's Park, Shanghai

If you enjoyed these pictures, you can also go to the official 'Sleeping Chinese' website and check out hundreds of delightful pictures of the 'Sleeping Chinese'.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Calgary Folk Festival ...

The Calgary Folk Festival was held once again last weekend.  In my humble opinion, it's probably the best event in Calgary.  It is held on Prince's Island Park, situated in the middle of the Bow River, right next to downtown Calgary.  So the location is pretty special.  Add to that some sunshine, the company of great people and a ton of terrific music, and you have yourself a good time.  I was slightly apprehensive about the festival because it was just so amazing last year.  But, I wasn't disappointed.  I discovered heaps of new bands and listened to some live music that Australians rarely have access to.  Jewish rapping anyone?  How about some bluegrass music from a hillbilly band?  Or perhaps the music of a 70 year old Native Canadian is more your style?  Well, the 2011 Calgary Folk Festival had it all.  Here's a sample for you ...

The hit of the festival - The Head and The Heart, a Seattle based band ...


Wayne Petti (also a member of Blue Rodeo) singing 'Alberta Bound' ...

The hillbilly band led by Morgan O'Kane on the banjo ... 

Canada's favourite band, Blue Rodeo ...


Joseph Arthur, king of audio looping ...

The folk fest is such a great way to discover new bands and enjoy those you already know.  Over the two days I saw a total of 29 bands and loved most of them.  Famous musicians such as k.d lang and Blue Rodeo were unsurprisingly excellent, but it was the unknowns who proved to be the big hits for me.  I bought several CDs and downloaded a ton more songs on itunes, mainly from my favourites from the weekend - The Head and the Heart, Joseph Arthur, Felice Brothers, Imaginary Cities.  Give them a go if you're after some new music!

Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - his wife (on the washboard) had such great attitude

CR Avery - this guy did the most amazing spoken word performances, interspersed with beat boxing.

Les Chauds Lapins (The Hot Rabbits) - I saw these guys in NYC with Mum last year.  Cool, quirky songs.

Oh, I'm in love - The Head and The Heart

I love the look on Wayne Petti's (on the right) face - 'Who are these crazy hillbillies?!'

Another crazy hillbilly from Morgan O'Kane's band

Buffy Sainte Marie - 70 year old Native Canadian singer

The lantern parade

Baby is set for the day

TD water guys

Two Tassie girls wearing their free TD sunglasses

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

An Australian fix ...

Catching up with Gemma, an old Tasmanian pony club friend

Over the past month, I've been fortunate enough to have an Australian fix, with the opportunity to hang out with several Australians, some old friends and some new.  When you've been overseas for a while, there's nothing like hearing an Australian accent every now and then.  It's like a comfy blanket, hearing that accent and chatting about the important things in life, like where to find Vegemite in Canada (well, I actually flew to China to buy an $11 tube of Vegemite) and the funny habits of those not from the sunburnt land of Australia.  It's not something I need all the time (although, I'm starting to make some Aussie friends here in Calgary), but every so often, a girl needs a little slice of home.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Peace Hotel ...

The Peace Hotel (from the Bund)

On our last night in China, C and I had dinner with some Australian friends from my time in Wuxi before wandering along Nanjing Road, headed for the newly renovated Bund.  For the whole time that I lived in China, the Bund was under renovation in preparation for 2010's Expo.  I was excited about seeing the finished product.  I was a little disappointed actually - it was nice but, for me, it didn't have the 'wow' factor I was expected.  The real surprise was when we stumbled across the Peace Hotel which, like the Bund, had been closed for renovation for quite some time.  We were both excited to wander inside the famous hotel.  Even more wonderful was when we entered the beautiful bar to find an old Chinese jazz band playing.  It simply called for us to order a glass of bubbles to enjoy whilst being taken back to the glamorous days of Shanghai in the 1930s.  Enjoy this short video of the experience ... 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Making dumplings ...

I generally have a hard time uploading videos to blogger, however, C used his iphone to take this great little snapshot of the making of the dumplings at my favourite restaurant in Wuxi.  Enjoy.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hao chi (delicious) ...

I adore Chinese food.  It's definitely one of my favourite types of food, so I was thrilled that I could spend a whole week gorging myself on the cheap, tasty and MSG-laden cuisine.  Every day, I grazed on street food during the day and ate huge dinners in the evening, washed down with a Tsingdao of course!  I'm normally particularly fussy about setting up food photos but I've become a little more slack about it lately.  So, excuse the poor photos, but, if you enjoy Chinese food, I hope they make you salivate with the deliciousness of all the dishes!

Spinach and egg dumplings, sweet & sticky pork and tomato & egg

Tofu & veggies and hot candied apple

Spicy fish in oil

Chicken & green peppers

Shrimp dumplings

Green beans - probably the best Chinese dish ever invented!  And, oh so simple

A new favourite - cold rice noodles with chilli and vinegar ... a popular hot weather snack

Soup dumplings and BBQ pork buns

Coconut cake

Soft shell crab

Mandarin flavoured pork balls

I'm not quite sure what this is, but it was delivious!

Tiramisu with chopsticks!  (and it was frozen too ... weird)

I adore these - Portuguese egg tarts

Suzhou fish ... looks gross, tasted delicious

One of my all-time favourites - ma po tofu (tofu and mince in a spicy sauce)

Red bean paste dessert - yum!

Deep fried egg and spinach cake-type thing

70c dumplings ... 

... and this is the street-side restaurant where I got the above dumplings

Hot shredded potato

By the way, the much anticipated visit to Uberfood with C was a non-event.  Unfortunately, it was closed for the summer, despite their assurances to my friend, P that they would be open. Needless to say, I was very disappointed.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Is this Wuxi?!

New train station

When I was in China, I was super excited to visit Wuxi, the city in which I used to live.  Whilst C was working, I made a trip down there for the day and was amazed at the changes in the city.  Firstly, there is now a fast train to Wuxi.  It only takes 45-50 minutes, although there was one train on the schedule that made the journey from Shanghai to Wuxi in just 31 minutes!  All the fast trains depart from the Shanghai Hongqiao 'transportation hub', where the airport, train station and bus station are all located.  However, the tickets on the fast train are significantly more expensive than the slower (by about 15-20 minutes) train and the comfort level of each is about the same.  So, if you're on a budget, perhaps it's not worth it.  Still, it's a great option if you're short on time or commuting regularly to the big smoke.

Still working on the bus station

New train station - the old station is to the left, just out of the picture

The next surprise I got was when I arrived in Wuxi.  The train rolled into a sleek, clean, bright new train station that was nothing like the old one which was dark, smelly and crowded.  The only thing that remained the same was the never-ending, carbon-monoxide-breathing queue for taxis.  I later learnt that the new train station had been open for a mere 6 days.

New station - so clean and lovely!

My old bike at EtonHouse!

On my first visit to Wuxi, I had lunch and a foot massage with some Chinese friends - all at my favourite Wuxi establishments, of course.  We gorged ourselves on dumplings, sweet sticky pork and hot candied apples before relaxing with a cup of tea and a wonderful foot massage at Fushiwu, the massage place where I spent a lot of time when I lived in Wuxi.

Hazel and I with the gift she gave me - A Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jumper

Mmmm, food at my favourite dumpling restaurant in Wuxi

In the afternoon, I met up with a fellow Aussie (and it was so great to hear an Australian accent!) in a new part of Wuxi.  The government recently bought a heap of old property on a canal (in the old days, Wuxi was a city criss-crossed with canals) and have re-developed it into a new 'old' street filled with bars, restaurants and shops.  Many of the bars and restaurants were shut, so we just wandered along the street catching up on the gossip.  It was a beautiful street and if I still lived in Wuxi, I imagine that I would spend a lot of time there.  Before I knew it, it was time to hightail it back to the squeaky clean train station and head back to Shanghai.

Part of the new 'old' street

Wuxi?!  Is it really this pretty?!

After our Suzhou visit, C and I headed to Wuxi (only 15 minutes on the fast train from Suzhou) so that I could show him around the area I used to live.  We visited the school where I worked and I was amazed at the progress that had been made - in just 18 months, the school has grown from about 60 students to 150.  I was also amazed that many of the displays that I created in the hallway are still up!  We re-visited the dumpling restaurant where I converted C from a non-dumpling-lover to a dumpling-lover and then went back to Fushiwu to sample their full body massage.  C was amazed at the size of the 'small city' that is Wuxi.  I too was amazed at the changes that had taken place - heaps of new buildings than when I left and even more buildings in the construction phase.  Ah, that's China for you - progress, progress, progress!

The new 'old' street - lovely bars, restaurants and shops

Blow torching pig trotters in the street ... as you do

What the new 'old' street used to look like

What a beautiful building for a Starbucks!