Sunday, March 31, 2013

苏州 , 周庄

I had an organized weekend excursion on March 22nd.  I chose to go to Suzhou 苏州, one of the major water towns (“oh, it’s population is just 10 million”) in China.  Less than two hours south-west of Shanghai, it was once a capital in the imperial age of China, and many sprawling gardens remain.  Suzhou is famous for its silk, though I bargained for a few polyester scarves instead.  Cheaper fabric, but still pretty.

We spent the day and night in Suzhou, then halfway back to Shanghai we stopped in Zhouzhuang周庄.  This town is known to be the most beautiful of water towns in China.  We took gondola rides on the canal and ate lots of the local food.
We wandered around the old town streets and shops.

The squishy red bean-based desserts at Suzhou were SO yummy. 
 The Suzhou Museum wasn't enormous but I love art, so I enjoyed it.  The newer section was actually designed by I.M. Pei, an acclaimed Chinese American architect.  He has also designed the J.F. Kennedy museum in Boston and The Louvre museum pyramids in Paris!  Also, he is 95 years old and still alive according to Wikipedia.  HUZZAH for Asian longevity!   
 The old side of the museum hailed back to the elegant dwellings of nobles.
 Vendors outside. 
 Artsy photo-op of Facundo in a round passageway.
Then we spent some time at the Lingering Garden, which was absolutely stunning.
 Friends on the trip!  There were about 30 of us.
 Here I am, standing amongst the distinct 'rockery.'
 This is supposed to be the tallest and best known natural rock formation.
 Matt and I, standing in front of what we think Huangshan/Yellow Mountain should have looked like! :)
 Bonsais!  Mind you, this is STILL the same garden.
Even the hotel had pagodas and a small garden.
When we had freetime at night to shop in Suzhou, we hung out with an extremely cute baby for a little while.

After parting from Suzhou, we went to Zhouzhuang.
 Mary and I at Zhouzhuang.
 A fisherman's boat of cormorant birds!  These birds are natural fishers, so when they dive into the water and catch something, the fisherman has a rope around their neck that's tight enough that they can't swallow.  But of course they allow the bird to eat their catch every now and then.  I'd like to think that some traditional ways are still utilized.
 Riding along on the canal, rocking back and forth on these sturdy gondolas.

This blog post was pretty lacking in substance because I’m in a rush for class again (what else is new), but I hope it was visually splendid!  Here’s to another week.. and April!   Hope everyone had a nice Easter weekend!

Listening:  The morning sounds of life in Putuo (my apartment’s district) ~ the simmering wok from the kitchen, boys always playing basketball, rattling Shanghainese, chirping birds, the flowing erhu and other traditional music playing for morning exercises. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Same excuse, different story

Apologies!  I haven't posted about my trip to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang next week and now I'm about to leave for an ultimate frisbee tournament in Ningbo!  I'll post when I'm back Sunday if exhaustion and school work don't get the best of me.

Have a beautiful weekend!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Four Weeks In

I haven’t updated in a while because my lap top decided not to turn on for the last four days.  However, there must be a quote somewhere about Chinese persistence because after hustling around this morning with my host mom, one of her friends figured out how to fix it.  As I’ve noticed quite frequently, when the Chinese want things done, they do it.  


Long overdue telling of my weekend at Huángshān 黄山, or Yellow Mountain.  From Shanghai, it was a five hour bus ride southwest into the misty mountains of the Anhui Province.  I was quite happy to take a break from the city.  Huángshān is the most visited mountain in China and has a series of peaks, known for their swirling seas of clouds, cragged pines growing out of sheer cliffs, and breathtaking sunrises.

Well, not if the earliest bus from your hostel doesn’t leave until 6 AM and the clouds bring torrential rain!  The day looked promising, but once the rain began, we couldn’t see beyond 20 feet of ourselves.  We were initially surprised by the wide, concrete steps, stone-carved railings, hotels, cable cars, and family-run gift and refreshment stops every few kilometers.  The Chinese have an interesting perception of national parks, though I suppose in a country of 1.3 billion, very few places remain untouched.  

 Yet the development was deceiving—the hike became ridiculously step in certain parts.  Major props to the men in business suits and that one woman in 3-inch pink high heels; I’ll never understand, nor do I want to.  In spite of the crazy tourist crowds in matching ponchos, soaking gear, and sore legs, I am thrilled that we went!  We jovially called ourselves the soggy masochists and sang, danced, shared snacks, bartered in the old town Tunxi 屯溪 district of Huangshan City 黄山市, and ate family style for our meals.  The hostel was extremely affordable and just as awesome as those I’ve visited in Europe (kind and helpful employees, clean, safe, good vibes)!  

 Incredible, but brief, views of 黄山 from the Gondola. 

We saw a family of monkeys right away on the trail, and this burly father came down onto the path.  He looked hugable but it was a bit disconcerting because they're known to be unfriendly.

 Team Soggy Masochists, hiking, hopping and counting steps in Chinese your way!
 The misty forests were mysteriously captivating.
 Quintessential summit marker foot shot. 
 Poncho pants were really starting to make sense by this point.  
 This man had to be at least 70 and was carrying supplies to a restaurant.  I actually have nothing to complain about in my life anymore.

 Self-portraits from my iPhone.

Six hours later, soaked to the bone and still smiling.
屯溪  City roof tops from the charming hostel terrace.

I also ate maladofu, or spicy tofu.  Except this was fermented to the point that the tofu grows furry hair!  Not even frying oil and chili peppers could mask the distinctly musky taste.. haha!

Honestly, if I have enough time and money before the end of my program, I would consider returning because I would love so much to see the vistas we were promised.  It’s definitely a must-do while in China!


This past week was another quick one.  Tuesday afternoon, Mary and I went wandering in the French Concession.  I was trying to find a particular street, though of course we went everywhere else but this particular street—and found a crêperie!  The crêpes were the authentic, Bretagne galette-style and my heart simply melted as my stomach cried in elation.  The Shanghai spring began to rain, so we took respite and ordered different styles of the best street food to come out of France.  This was Mary’s first time ever eating la crêpe, and she loved it!  And yes, it is ironic that we should find such good crêpes in China.

Mary's excited face!


 Wednesday night I went to a concert that I’ve known about for a few weeks: the Canadian, airy techno producer, Claire Goucher, aka Grimes!  She creates what she calls ‘post-internet’ genre music; lots of glitches, ethereal hooks, and endless beats to jive to.  When I first entered the Mao Livehouse venue I was speechless because suddenly all of Shanghai’s late 20’s to early 30’s ex-patriate hipsters were in one place!   But then I jostled my way towards the middle front as usual and danced my whole way through her set.  If only it was longer!  She had such a fun stage presence and a sweet demeanor.  She wore a silk lotus flower robe with Chinese dancers on either side (I think I’ve seen them at clubs before), which was an interesting take on Orientalism.  Regardless, I love live music and I can’t wait to see where Grimes goes next with her career!


Alright, that’s enough for one blog post.  This past weekend my program had a trip, but I’ll talk about that next.  I have to be up early because my Chinese class is going to the park next to school so we can ask old people about their exercises (HA!).  好玩的!

Listening: "Last Known Surroundings" by Explosions in the Sky