Archive | February, 2012

Exploring – Boracay final photos

28 Feb

It’s been nearly a month since we came back from our trip to Boracay.  I’ve now had time to go through all the photos and remember the blue skies.  Here are some of my favorite photos to commemorate the trip.  Please enjoy!

Profiles – The Monkey King

26 Feb

Every child in China when they grow up is told the stories of “Journey to the West” – also known as “The Monkey King.”  It’s the story of a buddhist monk who travels from China to India to collect the sacred writings of Buddhism and bring them back.  The monk himself is not that interesting, very pious and always being attacked or imprisoned.  He is accompanied though by different companions that he meets along the way, the most famous being Sun Wu Kong (孙悟空) – the monkey king, who has supernatural powers – he can fly, isn’t afraid of anything and has a magic staff that he keeps in his ear and allows him to attack the bad guys.

The original cartoon version from before the cultural revolution

Sun Wu Kong starts as the ultimate bad boy – abusing his powers, causing chaos and not thinking of the needs of others.  Early in the series he gets imprisoned inside a mountain for 500 years.  After his 500 years to think it over, he eventually converts to the side of good, pledging to protect the monk and helping him complete his mission.  The plot then is basically good vs. evil with good always managing to win.

Each Chinese New Year season Chinese TV networks will show mini-series of Journey to the West.  I’ve now seen three different versions – ranging from a mid-80s one where the fight scenes remind me of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers of my childhood, to the new “updated” version with seamless animation and some pretty scary villains.  It’s a super mini-series, with well over 40 episodes, each coming to a close where our hero is fighting yet another villain.  Every villain is either abusing his power and the people and/or beings who live in his area or has a treasure connected with the Buddha that the monk is trying to collect.

Zhu Ba Jie from the cartoon version with his trusty rake

The show has integrated itself into popular culture so much so that the names of its characters now stand alone.  Another companion an individual who looks like a pig is called Zhu Ba Jie (猪八戒) which is basically lazy pig.  If you want to tease someone you can say that they’re a “Ba Jie” and there’s no need to explain the reference.  The ironic part is though, that over the course of the series, Ba Jie actually becomes more and more loyal, puts himself in danger and really does his best to protect the monk and his other friends.

At the beginning when I watched the show I got confused a lot and that still happens some.  The cow villain looks like the fox villain to me and the wives/girlfriends/mistresses of all of the villains in my eyes are almost identical.  There are villains who live under the sea and villains who live in the clouds.  All mystical creatures have the ability to morph into someone else or disguise themselves as an object.  Sometimes if I’m not paying attention three or four new characters will enter and if I don’t ask for clarification I lose the rest of that particular storyline.  That said, the newest version is much clearer – or perhaps my Chinese is getting a little better?

The human reenactors in a version from the 80s

If you have lived or worked abroad, was there a TV program that you connected with in another language?  Sometimes taste will change from one country to another and what you find interesting or even relatable changes as well.  When I first came to China and was teaching English, I started watching a soap opera – because the plot was basic enough that I could follow only understanding every 10th word.  I still have never seen a soap in the states.  Thoughts?

It really says…

23 Feb

Our last night in Boracay, we had dinner at a Greek restaurant.  Towards the end of the meal, Li grabbed his camera and started taking pictures of something behind me.  When I asked what was up he said that there was a foreigner (meaning white person) who was wearing a shirt which said – “Socialism is good” in Chinese characters on the back and he was trying to get a picture.

Our conversation was going back and forth between English and Chinese and suddenly a woman with an Australian accent standing behind Li came up to us and said, “That’s my boyfriend you’re taking pictures of.  He’s paying the bill.  We bought the shirt in Shanghai at a really cool shop.  What does it mean?”

Li looked at me and I looked at him.  We had been found out.  He then asked the woman if her boyfriend was a socialist.  She said that likely not.

At least now he knows!

Our subject for today's discussion - Socialism is good!

I put this akin to getting a tattoo of a character that you don’t know the meaning or the shirts I see in China with random expressions in English.  Anyone had those moments?

Helmet Diving in Boracay – 海底漫步

21 Feb

“Parasailing? Heidi man boo? Windsurfing?  Sunset sailing? Island hopping? Do you have plans for tomorrow?”

On the beach side path and on the beach were endless hawkers, each trying to drum up business for their particular enterprise – each guy (they were all men) soliciting your favor with the hope that you would spend a morning or afternoon having fun with their company.  I wasn’t in the mood to deal with them – you have to bargain and compare and so I told Li that was his job.

As I alluded to in my posts about Chinese New Year, I was going to Boracay slightly down for the count, as previously I had a very bad cough/cold and had pulled a muscle in my side from coughing, straining my ribs.  The warm weather was exactly what I needed, but windsurfing and parasailing (which I had done in Malaysia) were pretty much off the table this trip.  Li tends to get seasick as well, so I didn’t think that he would choose a sailboat ride, which left us with “Heidi man boo”  My initial thought was – “Who is Heidi and is she wearing a costume to scare someone?”

海底漫步 is actually helmet diving – you wear a helmet which has air piped in and then you can walk along the ocean floor feeding the fish and getting an idea of life underwater.  Your head doesn’t get wet at all and it doesn’t require that you know how to swim.  It is extremely popular with Chinese tourists (who often don’t swim) and “Heidi man boo” is the Filipino pronunciation of the Chinese words for helmet diving.

I think the pictures are the best possible description.  We were in about 12-15 feet of water, so not too deep, but enough to see the coral and fish.  Short of learning how to scuba dive, it was pretty cool and definitely a view of the ocean that I had never seen before – plus, my helmet matched my bathing suit!

Acclimating to life "under the sea"

It was a well oiled machine, the company that took us there – the entire thing, from finding the “fixer” to landing back on the beach after the dive took, at most, 90 minutes and the next day a CD of pictures and video was delivered to our hotel.  A very positive experience.

Am I the damsel in distress?

Feeding the fish

What’s been your strangest vacation activity?

Dining at the beach

19 Feb

Boracay has every type of restaurant, shack, bar, stand or cafe that you can think of.  There are so many tourists from different countries that we saw restaurants specializing in everything from German food to sushi.  Eating on the beach is popular and for most restaurants shoes (and shirts) are optional.  Mango smoothies, fresh coconut water, unlimited ice cream and other beach snacks tempt you each time you walk down the path from Station 1 to Station 3.  At night, the rows of beach chairs are converted to tables with all you can eat buffets of barbecue and fresh seafood, each restaurant with its own live music and dedicated staff trying to convince you to choose their establishment.

The majority of restaurants along the beach sold seafood that was packed on ice – not alive – which after living in China makes you wonder if it’s really fresh.  To counteract that, there is a market called DiTalipapa that is off the beach where they sell the seafood fresh and then around it, there is a group of restaurants that will cook for you.  Lobsters, clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs… all sold by the kilo.

The other choice - roast suckling pig. Isn't he luscious?

Li liked the fresh seafood so much that we went in total of three times – each time trying new combinations of seafood and different serving styles.  Our favorites were the butter and garlic, as well as classic steamed oysters with lemon and chilis.  I also found fresh okra at one of the stands and we had that the last day – it was yummy.  I’ve never seen okra in China and obviously the other diners at our restaurant hadn’t either as one of the gentleman (also Chinese) at another table asked if he could take a picture of it!

Since we went three times, we got into conversations with the owner of the restaurant where we had our seafood cooked.  He was a returnee – a US citizen who had lived in California for many years and had just returned to the Philippines three years earlier to open up the restaurant, called Bella.  He had named it in honor of his mother and said that as the Chinese tourists have increased, that the popularity of the seafood market and the restaurants surrounding it have really taken off.  He also told us about the seasons of tourists – around the lunar new year is the Chinese season, then there is the Russian season, the Filipino season, the low season in the summer where the seafood is much cheaper and less people come because of the frequent rain.

We tried to take photos of our favorite dishes, but sometimes forgot in our hurry to enjoy them.  The slides below show a few – hopefully enough to inspire your next meal – or inspire you to take a trip to Boracay just to eat well!

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Where have you eaten your favorite seafood?

Subway encounters

16 Feb

I was meeting folks for dinner one evening and needed to take the subway after work, which I pretty rarely do these days.  I was in a good mood despite the mad rush of people at 6 o’clock- lots of positive things have happened lately – and it must have showed in my face.  I was waiting to transfer to line 2 at the People’s Square station when an average sized man walked up to me and said in English, “I am from North Korea.  What country are you from?”

I was pretty taken aback and just looked at him.  He asked again.  I said, “I live in Shanghai.”  He then tried to hug me.  At that point I was so shocked that I kind of half shook his hand and then took off towards the other end of the station.  Luckily he didn’t follow me.

After a great dinner, I headed home.  I had just switched to line 8 when I noticed a girl in a sparkly pink coat reading a book across from me.  I guess I must have smiled at her because all of a sudden she asked, “”What country are you from.  Do you speak English?”  I said yes and then asked her if she was studying.  She moved into the seat beside me and over the next three stops tried to convince me that we could become friends and I could help her with her English.  My stop came just in time!

Ever had a “subway encounter?”

Sunset off White Beach

14 Feb


Happy Valentines Day.

Photos courtesy of Li.

Boracay

12 Feb

Boracay

An exotic word, linked to an exotic place.  Only accessible by boat.  A place where shoes are optional and blue sky days stretch into starry nights accompanied by acoustic guitar music.  The neighbors in the next room are Russians, Singaporeans, Americans, Europeans, Filipino, Chinese, Australians… all laying beneath wicker fans and listening to the rain beat down at night on the tin roof. A place where the white sand beach continues, uninterrupted.  Mango shakes, fresh coconut, mussels, lobsters and cuisine from around the world.  

I enjoy beach vacations.  Over the last three years I have gone to Honolulu, Hawaii, the Chinese island of Sanya, the beaches of Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo and Phuket, Thailand.  They all have been beautiful.  Hands down, Boracay wins. 

When I spoke to colleagues and friends about my planned Chinese New Year get-away, I got mixed comments – “I went in the early 90s, it was perfect then, unspoiled… now I’ve heard it may not be the same.”  “I went around 2000, it was great – but I’ve heard too touristy now.”  “I went last year, it was wonderful.”  Places may or may not have been better in the past, we only have our own sliver of experience to judge.  From the tourist advertisements in the airport, Boracay has been rated the second best island experience in the world by international travelers after Santorini, Greece and I can see why, though unfortunately that now makes me want to go to Greece!

Looks pretty idyllic to me!

Back now and thoroughly ensconced in Shanghai’s winter, I can see that it is a combination of the Filipino hospitality, the beautiful scenery and the difficulty in getting there (I wasn’t kidding that it is only accessible by boat) that have maintained this place as a jewel in the South China Sea.  The Chinese name 长滩岛 literally translates into long beach island which is a literal description of the locale.  The next few posts will touch on some of the beauty of the island and our short stay there.  Please enjoy and share any other places that you believe would make me reconsider Boracay at the top of my list!

Exploring – Bohol Island, Philippines – wildlife

9 Feb

Along with the river cruise, we also had the opportunity to see several different types of wildlife.  Bohol is one of the last places on earth with the world’s smallest monkey, called the tarsier monkey.  My understanding is that there was a debate for quite a while as to if it really was a monkey – as when you see how small it is and the type of tail it has, it does resemble a rat with very big eyes.  One monkey could easily be carried in my two hands and a small one, maybe in one hand.

They told us that there are less than 300 of them left in the small section of rainforest that the Philippines people have managed to preserve.  In addition – they are nocturnal, so every one we saw – but one, was asleep.  Without the protection of people, this small monkey has very little chance of survival.  It is a bittersweet story – tourists come to see the monkey, but in their coming they also damage the habitat.

There were a lot of tourists there and because it was Chinese New Year, there were a lot of chinese tourists especially.  As we went to see the monkeys as they slept, each monkey had a volunteer standing beside it.  In Chinese, they were saying – “Don’t touch the monkey!  Don’t touch the monkey!”  It fits the stereotype of the rude Chinese tourist – they didn’t say it in English or any other language as far as we can tell.  Even with the warning, I saw at least one chinese tourist reach his hand into the cage.  For once, Americans were the well behaved crowd.

One of the other stops we made exploring Bohol was to a wild animal park.  We snapped some fun shots with the snakes, lizards and an ostrich before heading to our last stop for the day.

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How do you feel about animal preservation?  What’s the right balance between tourism and protection?

Exploring – Bohol Island, Philippines – a river cruise and chocolate mountains

7 Feb

As the first part of our much anticipated Chinese New Year trip to the Philippines, we spent two nights in Cebu, which left us a full day to explore.  Instead of visiting Cebu proper we decided to take a boat to nearby Bohol Island and arranged a one day trip with a driver to see the island’s many sites.  It turned out to be a nice slide into vacation mode – still with lots of things on the agenda, but in a warm, tropical climate with an air conditioned car to ferry us from point A to point B.

We started the day at the Luboc Ecotourism Adventure Park – but our adventure was definitely not of the zipline or speedboating variety.  Instead we opted for a staid river cruise with an included lunch buffet.  The blue sky, water and continuous music were a welcome change from the busy Shanghai every day. 

Our sister ship - floating by

As we were sitting eating lunch we were serenaded by a band who were waiting next to us on the pier and then on the boat we had our own live music provided by a talented guitarist who sang as well. Then, after lunch as we floated down the river, we even witnessed local people on barges doing the pole clapping dance, once again with live musical accompaniment.  Our table sang along to some of the songs and I even got in a couple of mini-head bobs.  Perhaps I could have another career in the Philippines – this one musical – but unfortunately the bar may be too high!

Bohol’s famous “Chocolate Mountains”

After lunch we went to see Bohol’s “Chocolate Mountains.”  Since the rainy season had just ended, the mountains were shades of green and brown.  It really looked like little kids had gone crazy in the sandbox with miniature hills that covered the interior of the island’s landscape.  Our tour book said that this is the only place in the world with this type of hill formation.

 

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After the mountains we headed back towards the coast to view some other wildlife and finish our day on the island.
 
Where have you taken a river cruise?  The one we took in India in Cochin was one I’ll never forget, this one was pleasant – any other places where you can float and eat?
 
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