Archive | May, 2012

A travel month

27 May

Another trip…where’s the destination this time?

This month has been a travel month.  So far I’ve been on five different airplanes and four different trains, plus countless car, bus, taxi and subway experiences.  To put it another way, I was counting and I think I’ve slept in 8 different cities this month.  I’ve had these type of months before, but with my business travel tend to come back to home base more often that I have been recently.  There are lots of positives about travel – frequent flier miles, eating great food, seeing people who are wonderful friends but are typically emails not face to face, exploring new things and places and revisiting old favorites.

I am a planner – my blog posts are typically planned out a couple of weeks in advance with ideas and stories and photos.  I then throw in things that I come across in daily life (for example my music post a couple of weeks ago) and shuffle others around.  That said, I haven’t been home a whole lot this month and may not be able to post as frequently as I’d like for the next week or two because I just haven’t had the time to plan.

However – because of all my travels you can expect that when I finally get to sit down I will have lots of photos and stories to share and take you traveling with me!  Thank you for following Zhongguo Jumble – your comments and likes really inspire me to push the envelope and keep posting.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend to my readers in the US and the unofficial kick-off of the summer season!  I plan on putting my feet up for the holiday and get in some rest and relaxation and am lucky enough to celebrate with my family.

How do you keep balanced and keep up when you’re traveling a lot?  Please share – I could do with some tips!

May Day in Hefei, Anhui province

24 May

If you look back, my post a couple of weeks ago on May 1st (international labor day), was actually in celebration of a water festival that I inadvertently attended in Tengchong, Yunnan.  So, you may ask, what was I actually doing on international labor day?

With the three day weekend, Li and I went west to his home province of Anhui and spent a couple of nights in the capital, Hefei, where his sister and her husband lives.  His parents came from their home town and met us in the middle and we spent two days exploring what Hefei has to offer.   I have been to Hefei before, but that was a couple of years ago and I was interested to see what type of impression the city would leave on me this time.

If I turn to my Lonely Travel guide, it grants Hefei even less space than it did Shenzhen, which I wrote about last December after our great trip to the side of Shenzhen that isn’t publicized.  Hefei is a city of around 2 million people and still has the feeling of a place that is looking for why it should be important.  It is the capital of the province and has a certain amount of government importance, but all of the famous scenic spots are clustered in the south, away from the capital.  These include Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) which is on the list of the four most scenic peaks in China.  I still haven’t gone – but then neither has Li and it’s his home province!

I abdicated responsibility for this trip – I couldn’t find any English language tourism info and so settled into the role of the agreeable tourist – everything sounds good – sure, let’s try that, over the two days.  We spent them going to Hefei’s parks and seeing what type of culture the city could offer.

The first day we went to a large park called Hui Yuan (徽园) which inside had created separate areas/pavilions for each of the scenic spots in Anhui province.  No more than 10 years old, it had a mini-Huang Shan, a replica of a very large buddha from somewhere else, exhibits on calligraphy and famous poets, a lake with the typical paddle boats and bouncing things for kids.  It was a very large park and pleasant enough, but the weather was against us and kept threatening rain.

My favorite part of the park was that because it was May holiday there was a group doing a Chinese opera performance in a replica of an opera stage.  It wasn’t traditional Beijing style, but instead was a local Anhui version.  I  was able to follow along, kind of, with the action and some translation help and it was really amusing – they used physical humor, music and wordplay to keep the audience spellbound.  From this demonstration I could see why Chinese opera has developed such a following – it wasn’t just for the rich, kind of like how Shakespeare’s plays were bawdy and funny and rude, this less stylized type of opera was pretty interesting.

The second day we went to another park which was an amusement park called Xiao Yao Jin (逍遥津) – but the majority of the attractions (save a couple that were new) looked like they had been built in the 1950s and 1960s.  I suppose it says something about my level of comfort with roller coasters and bouncers – but I managed to convince both Li and his parents to get on a very old ferris wheel and view the park and we also bicycled around the top (or rather, Li and I pushed his parents) on a ride that I’m pretty sure is older than I am.  It was absolutely packed – there was no entrance fee and you only paid for the rides (if you tried them).  There was a children’s area with some newer attractions and a classic carousel with two layers.  I ponied up for a ride for myself and Li’s mom and whirled away – remembering all of the carousel’s in my past – Jackson County Fair and Disney World and that it is my mother’s favorite ride – and didn’t really want to get off when it stopped.

I think that’s the lesson of my Hefei trip.  Any place can be an incubator of hopes and dreams and memories.  It doesn’t need to be the place with the best tourist attraction or most people or most famous area or spiciest food or…  anything else.  I don’t have those connections with that city – but lots of other people do.  Our train connections worked, we could find taxis when we needed, we ate well and cheaply, stayed at a decent hotel, met Li’s family and had a fine trip which I think is probably the best result possible for a May Day in Hefei, Anhui.

Where do you travel to see family?  Any small memories that have been made in not so important places?  Please share.

Exploring Shanghai – Red Town sculpture garden

22 May

As I wrote about earlier, I spent a lovely morning exploring Hongqiao Park and Xinhua Road.  After lunch I headed to the last stop on the walking tour, which was Red Town.  Red Town is an artistic community with lots of galleries, but there is also a huge central park area of sculpture.  I took several pictures of the sculptures and even tried to include myself in one shot as proof I had been there.  For any trivia lovers – on the side of the sculpture of Albert Einstein’s head it said that he was in Shanghai when he found out that he won the Nobel Prize.  In addition, there are several cafes where you can have a coffee or a tea and observe the sculpture away from the bustle of the main road.

Enjoy the photos.  The sculptures really range from the very life-like (the ladies on the bench) to the entirely surreal – a whole bunch of colored legs.

The whole day was full of interesting sculptures – from Deng Xiao Ping to naked ladies to bicycling clowns.  Any favorites?  What sculptures inspire you?

Exploring Shanghai – Hongqiao Park and Xinhua Road

20 May

Shanghai as a city of over 20 million people is physically a big city.  Even with no traffic, driving from one side to the other can take well over two hours.  Since I live within walking distance of my office, there are days where I don’t exceed my little one mile bubble, but it is good to get out of my ordinary routines and walk through neighborhoods and parks that I typically don’t see.

This walk starting at Hongqiao Park and then continuing down Xinhua Road was inspired by another of the Time Out Shanghai walks that I have taken before.  I have posted about a couple of them last year – the walk around Longhua Temple and walking through Shanghai’s Jewish district.  I’ve also done another couple but haven’t posted but may eventually.   Because they are walks they are best done in the spring and fall – it’s not really fun to freeze and/or sweat incessantly when trying to snap photos and enjoy the street life and architecture.

I chose a beautiful spring day for this walk – sunny and clear.  It started from the Line 10 Yili Lu subway station which is right next to Hongqiao Park.  I wandered through the park, snapping photos of the beautiful sculptures and even saw a couple taking their wedding photos.  One thing that I noticed was there is a small red bridge in the park – Hongqiao translates to red bridge, so I thought that was fitting.  There were lots of folks with baby carriages playing on the grass and others sitting on benches reading a book.  The quiet of the morning was refreshing and very “un-Shanghai” – at least not like the district that I live in.

After that I wound around until I eventually got to Kaixuan Road.  From the magazine I discovered its history.  Kaixuan Road used to be called Amherst Road which was where the wealthiest merchants in the late 20s and early 30s built their houses.  There were many different styles of house – none of which I would typically relate with Shanghai.  There were traditional English Tudor Houses, Spanish colonial styles and other less defined, but non-Asian types.  The leaves on the trees have filled in over the last couple of weeks and a green canopy shaded the sidewalks and houses.

I had been walking steadily for over an hour and decided to get some lunch at a large restaurant on the main street.  It was very Chinese – no English menus, but I ordered some veggies and another dish and chomped away.  Once my stomach was full I continued down the street to a very modern area of Shanghai called Red Town which I’ll share in another post.  Red Town is right next to the Line 10 Hongqiao metro station, so once done, I got on and went back home.

In total with my lunch stop and the time it took me to get there on the subway it was about a four hour exploration (one hour of which was subway time), not too long, and allowed me to be outside and enjoy the beautiful day.

What places do you explore in your city?  Where would you like to go, but never find the time?  I used to joke that I only saw new things in Chicago when I had visitors in town, but in Shanghai my visitors are few and far between so I’d better get used to exploring without them!

Death by conference

17 May

I was lucky enough to attend an actuarial conference recently, speaking on the health care profession in Asia Pacific.  I like the interaction with other professionals and have spoken at previous conferences.  It is good to keep up to date with the community and change up the daily schedule.  Only in a setting with other actuaries can I satisfy my need to talk about mortality tables, medical trend and the values of group insurance.

A three day conference is a bit like a marathon – you have to pace yourself.  I always bring a wrap, a bottle of water and lots of business cards.  Slowly I am recognizing more faces each time, making my place in the community.  The presentation mix is always a bit hit or miss and the stereotype that actuaries are not well known for communication skills sometimes does hold true.

At this conference in particular I had had remarkable luck with presentation quality until my last session on the first day.  The session was supposed to be about alternative models for health care cost prevention.  The topic is interesting and very relevant to my job, so no danger signs in advance.

The presenter’s English was a little shaky, but after nearly 5 years in Asia that doesn’t bother me much.  He then started with a disclaimer, but again – OK, sometimes I do that.  Things then got weird.  The presentation was a strange mixture of disturbing photos with methods and conditions to improve health ranging from: breastfeeding to the removal of tapeworms, enemas to food rotation diet strategies and finished with a discussion of meridian points and a demonstration of the key acupressure points in your hand.

I have no idea how this individual thought this topic fit with an actuarial conference and I strongly doubt that he was actually an actuary.  People streamed out as he was speaking, but I stayed until the end, trying to keep from laughing the entire time.

Death by conference – little did I realize that it would be because I laughed too much.

Any other conference experiences to share?

The Bund at and after sunset

15 May

In my post a couple of weeks ago about exploring Shanghai with friends, I commented that after our day of exploring the older sections of town, we went to the Bund at sunset.  After going back to the US and combing through his photos, my good friend David was willing to share some of his remarkable photos from the end of that day.  These are images that symbolize Shanghai – past and future and the photos speak for themselves.

If you would like to see the larger photos you can click on each photo to see the detail.  What’s your favorite shot?  What epitomizes Shanghai to you?


Shopping behind the temple

13 May

A few weekends ago Li was traveling and I was on my own on a Sunday afternoon.  I had exercised in the morning with my trainer, gone to the grocery store and had been about as productive as possible during the day.  After debating with myself whether I would stay in and watch TV or get out of the house, I eventually went for a nice long walk.

It was a windy day, but not too cold and oddly clear weather for Shanghai’s spring.  My apartment is close to Wen Miao which is a small temple but quite historic.  I decided to head that way – I thought it was likely the temple had already closed for the day, but it’s a lively area with lots to see and eat.  As I wandered I snapped a few photographs to try to remember the day and the place.

Because there are two schools – elementary and a high school nearby there are lots of things that would appeal to kids. Many of the stores have stationery and school products and this time I also noticed an awful lot of Japanese stickers and Hello Kitty merchandise. The snacks are cheap and fast and you could see young couples and friends sharing food and browsing in the small stores. Even though I was by myself I felt very comfortable just observing.

I like the way that this temple is part of the community – a backdrop to daily life.  I’m glad I got out of the house.

Where do you go when you need to get out of the house?  What’s your favorite secret shopping spot?

Hiking, horses and hot springs – Tengchong, Yunnan

10 May

Tengchong, Yunnan – when I told Chinese friends that’s where my company’s outing was going to be, the typical answer was either, “Where?” or “Who planned the trip?  They must really like history.”  Tengchong is not a well known name, except for the fact that there was a monumental battle there between the Kuomintang government and the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese war.  It is a “developing” tourism spot in the mountain district and facilities and options for travelers are still relatively limited.  The highways are still for the most part under construction and there is no high speed train meaning that the pace of live is much slower than Shanghai or the eastern part of China in general.

It is also the home to one of the largest hot spring complexes in the area and many hiking trails through the mountains exist.  Because it is so remote, the number of tourists is much smaller than in Dali or Lijiang and the overall atmosphere was very friendly, though we still had a tour guide who was pushing her own agenda, wanting us to buy jade at her family’s store.  Tengchong had the feel of a prosperous small town (of 600,000) with folks involved in construction, the tourist trade and the jade industry.  I learned quite a bit about jade and perhaps some day will actually purchase the jade bangle that my mother has been suggesting since I moved to China.

Traveling always stretches my Chinese ability – picking up place names and words specific to a region.  This trip I am proud to say that aside from asking the meaning of some words I spent four days locked into Chinese conversation – from breakfast through to bedtime.  It felt good – I wasn’t thinking about it, just speaking and living and enjoying.

The photos here are a summary of some of my favorite moments during the trip – trying to capture the joy, the ease of the trip.  This was a smaller group – we were about 15 people, the perfect number for a small coach – and the familiarity and comfort with each other was something that you don’t find every day.  I feel very lucky to have had the experience.

Have you ever gone to a developing tourism area before it was fully developed?  What has been your favorite “off the beaten track” experience?  I typically don’t like tour groups but in this setting it worked very well.  What kind of groups/or not do you like to travel with?

Christmas in May?

8 May

I was in a coffee shop waiting for a friend a week or so ago.  I hadn’t been before – it wasn’t a large chain, but had comfortable chairs, the ubiquitious free internet and tasty looking pastries.  I had purchased my beverage and just settled into a corner table.  Then I started listening to the music.

They were playing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

I have no idea how that song wound up on their mix tape.  It’s not even the correct time for Christmas in July.  Quite a random event for a Thursday morning.

When the song finished I listened to hear what would come up next.  The song after was some kind of rap mix.  I’m not sure if the random songs are enough reason to go back or avoid the shop in the future.  Even though Shanghai is steadily becoming more international the moments like this – that make me smile – seem to be happening more and more.

What do you think?

What’s a loquat?

6 May

Any guesses?  Here’s a few…

A. Chinese car

B. The tail of a wild chicken

C. Yellow plum like fruit

I actually learned the Chinese word for loquat before I learned the English word – the Chinese word is 批把 (PEE BA).  They are the plumlike fruit of an evergreen tree which is indigenous to southeastern China.  When I first saw them, I thought that they were strangely oblong apricots.  Last year I bought a few at my local fruit stand, but they weren’t apricots – there are three to four large pits in the middle and the taste is different as well.

When I was in Tengchong, my colleagues bought fruit every day and they purchased a lot of loquats at one fruit stand.  It turns out that the home of loquats is Yunnan province – there were even a few in my pictures of fruit at the Kunming airport if you look closely.

Unfortunately my coworkers must not have the best sense for how to purchase ripe loquats as the ones that they purchased, while beautiful to look at were very, very sour – so sour that my mouth puckered.  Let’s just say that at that point I was not a loquat fan – but perhaps that was the point as many of them also like those very sour plum candies that I don’t particularly like either.  However, when I came back to Shanghai the next week I noticed that loquats were everywhere!  Fresh food in season.  I bought a small basket that my local fruit lady assured me were ripe – and they were!  Much better – not as pretty, a few black spots, but much sweeter and very pleasant.

Li helped me take a photo of the loquats that I brought home – that passed the taste test.  They are about the size of a fat thumb. Maybe I’ll buy some more!

Have you ever eaten a loquat?  Do you have any food that you had to give a second (or third) chance before you liked/appreciated it?

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