A Travellerspoint blog

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all!

View Huangshan on rdut's travel map.

Monday classes were canceled at the school this week as Sunday was Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival. About all I know about the holiday is that it's a time when people visit their families and eat mooncakes, small pastries covering a various filling (usually sweet). Though, and fortunately not due to personal experience, I have now learned that some mooncakes are filled with various kinds of meat. This surprised one of the other teachers as they bit into a mooncake expecting a sweet filling and ended up with a mouthful of unknown animal!
Due to the long weekend, I was hoping to have a chance to travel to Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain to see another locale in China. Unfortunately, since virtually everyone in China had a three day weekend, the only tickets left on the trains to the mountain from Suzhou (about a 9 hour train ride) were standing-room only. Evidently, Chinese national holidays + 1.2 billion people + only the same number of trains routes as in Germany + not being able to purchase tickets prior to 5 days before your departure date = not enough tickets to go around... So, I ended up staying in Suzhou this weekend, explored more the city with other teachers at the school, ate dinner at an all you can eat and drink sushi place to celebrate the birthday of another teacher, came down with a cold, and went to a night market, among other things.
This past week also included Teacher's Day in China, a national day where all teachers in the entire country are celebrated. Our school's festivities for the day included an assembly including lots of speeches that I didn't understand, and a few dances and performances to music (including one Ricky Martin song) from some of the Chinese teachers and students, and a huge raffle with bicycles and electric teapots as the gifts. There are about 300 Chinese teachers at our school and 15 foreign teachers, so whenever a foreign teacher would get their raffle ticket number drawn and run down to the stage to claim their prize, the entire auditorium would erupt into applause and cheering. I get the feeling that the main reason we are at the school is to provide endless entertainment to all of the Chinese teachers and administrators to see what crazy thing we will do next (and a few of the teachers definitely live up to their "role" as an entertainer). The assembly was quite crazy and I spent most of the time trying not to burst into laughter at the various antics.
A few pictures that I had mentioned are now posted in last week's update (I figured out how to attach pictures into the body of the text. You can also see all of my pictures I've uploaded at http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/rdut/ ...) I promise more will be added this week.

Posted by rdut 22:54 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

My bicycle

View Huangshan on rdut's travel map.

This past weekend, I stayed around Suzhou to get better acquainted with the area as well as go on a hunt for a used bicycle. To be fair, the bicycle hunting part was supposed to be fairly easy as I had made contact with a woman who had a used bicycle that she no longer needed/wanted. So, we planned on me going to her house Saturday morning to check out the bicycle before I committed to taking it. She told me the neighborhood she lived in (about an hour’s bus ride away – on the other side of Suzhou) and I started my trip. Once I was in the general vicinity of the area where she was supposed to be, I called her to get exact directions and an address. Her husband told me what cross streets they were near and that they were in “Block 7, room 2204”. I made my way to the intersection he told me to go to and then I saw some white apartment buildings that I thought must be the right ones (he had told me their apartment was white). I wandered my way through the complex, found building 7 but realized there was only a 204, not 2204. I figured I had misheard and buzzed. Nothing. I buzzed again, and nothing. At this point, I decided that I was in the wrong complex and thought that it was the apartment complex across the street. I backtracked, crossed the street, and made my way into what had to be the correct complex. I wandered around, and couldn’t find any building numbers. At this time, it had been about 30 min since I had talked to the guy, and he called me seeing if I was lost. I was. I realized while talking to him that the street that I had been crossing was “Xing Gan” whereas their apartment was on “Xing Gang”. Of course. Silly me. Not only can I not order Chinese food in a restaurant, but now I would probably get lost trying to find a restaurant in which to eat. China’s awesome!
But, the story turns out with a happy ending as I went the one (long) block to the correct street, found their place, and now am the proud new owner of a chintzy, Chinese-made women’s bicycle.
Some of you may be thinking, “But Ryan, I don’t believe this is even the first women’s bicycle you’ve owned. Didn’t you also have a women’s bicycle when you lived in Germany?” And to this I say, “Why yes, this is my second women’s bicycle I’ve owned.” But, at a cost of $0, I am happy riding my women’s bicycle.
The rest of the weekend was spent testing out the new bicycle, going to various stores to buy parts for the bicycle that had fallen off or were about to fall off, and seeing some more of the ‘pretty’ parts of Suzhou. I’ve added some pictures of my apartment, the new bike, and a couple pictures of some of the neat parts of Suzhou. China is wonderful, the weather is nice, and teaching is going quite well. More on that next time!

Posted by rdut 04:22 Archived in China Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

Settling into Suzhou

View Huangshan on rdut's travel map.

After five days on the ground in China, I have now settled into my "apartment". It is hotel room-like other than the perplexing kitchen/balcony that is at the end of the room (pictures forthcoming). I was provided a refrigerator, hot plate and microwave, but seeing as how I don't enjoy cooking, I don't think the appliances will be used a great deal. My refrigerator's contents currently consist of beer and water and I''m pretty content with those.

I've had a chance to explore the old part of Suzhou a little bit (the school where I am teaching and living is actually about a 30 min bus ride away from the old city). According to Marco Polo, Suzhou is "the Venice of the East", and other say that Suzhou is one of two cities in China that is heaven on Earth. I can tell you that those designations were given to the city a few hundred years ago as this "little city" of 6 million people is also simply a large, concrete Chinese city. Though, there are a few places I've been to so far where you are able to see glimpses of what much more of the city must have looked like years ago (again, pictures will be added soon) and those areas are very nice, consisting of canals, small bridges, and quiet.

An anecdote to finish off this post:

Yesterday, I was exploring the city by foot and realized it was about lunch time. I ducked into a restaurant on the street that was fairly crowded and preceded to point to a line of characters on the menu, having no idea what I was ordering. I paid my money (about $1 US), and took a ticket the lady gave me to the kitchen's counter so that they would know what the cook for me. I then sat down and tried to ignore all of the eyes in the place staring at me to see what I'd do next. After a few minutes, a plate came to the counter, and a server picked up the plate, and started walking towards me. I got up, met her halfway, and she gave me the plate. It was a dish with rice covered with potatoes and some meat in a yellow curry sauce. I was quite impressed and pleased with my ability at ordering blindly from the menu and sat down to enjoy the food. A few minutes later, a girl at another table started talking quite loudly with the server and pointing and the cashier, the kitchen, etc. Having no idea what she was saying, but being an excellent judge of intonation, I decided she hadn't gotten what she had ordered. The discussion went on a few seconds later, and then all of a sudden, everyone was pointing at me and my food and laughing... It turns out I was happily eating the food the girl had ordered. Of course, being the stupid foreigner, they couldn't get mad at me, so after a few sheepish glances around at the concerned parties, I continued eating "my" food. I still have no idea what it is a really ordered, but so far, taking whatever food comes near me that looks good has served me well so far, so I may continue down that path! I need to learn Chinese (or at least how to order a few things without blindly picking from the menu).

I hope everyone is doing well. And again, visits to China (specifically to see me) are encouraged. I promise if you come, I will be able to at least order food!

Posted by rdut 19:21 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

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