Archive | October, 2013

The Shanghai Postal Museum – finally!

31 Oct

I had tried to go to the Shanghai postal museum last year only to find out it was closed.  Recently I had a friend in town and so when he asked for things to do, the museum came to my mind again.

After a little bit of confusion – the museum is only open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays – we headed out on a Saturday afternoon to see what was up.

Approaching the museum

Approaching the museum

This time the museum was open – at least the second floor, but the first floor was closed.  That was fine – it was an improvement from before when I couldn’t get in at all.

Posing by the mural at the entrance

Posing by the mural at the entrance

I was pretty impressed.  The museum was very informative and almost all bilingual.  The main exhibit was the history of the postal service in Shanghai which in some form is less than 150 years old.  Prior to the standardization of the service in the 1940s/1950s there were a lot of private delivery companies and no standard service.

The father of the Shanghai postal system - Zhu Xuefan

The father of the Shanghai postal system – Zhu Xuefan

One of the first post boxes in Shanghai - really beautiful.  Note that it is in English because of the concession system going on at the time.  Also - the dragon - pretty special.

One of the first post boxes in Shanghai – really beautiful. Note that it is in English because of the concession system going on at the time. Also – the dragon – pretty special.

Because the post office is now a state owned enterprise in China, there were a lot of things that made me smile.  They had done a propaganda movie and were showing it – sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s about the valor and strength of post office workers.  There was also a postal song – which you could listen to over headphones.

The post office song

The post office song

And me listening to it - not Mozart, but pretty good

And me listening to it – not Mozart, but pretty good

In addition to the specific history there was also a collection of post boxes from around the world and of course lots and lots of stamps.  I also noticed a pretty decent children’s exhibit that explained what the post office did.

Any guesses on which countries?

Any guesses on which countries?

A few of the many stamps on display

A few of the many stamps on display

After going through, the only regret was that the third floor roof garden wasn’t open.  I had heard that there were beautiful views from there of Lujiazui.  Talking to the security guard he said that it has been closed since the Expo finished (back in 2010) because they believe it is too dangerous for visitors.  Makes me a little suspicious, but couldn’t do anything about it at the time.

Lujiazui - from behind!

Lujiazui – from behind!

The museum finished, we went and took a couple of shots looking back at Lujiazui from the edge of Suzhou Creek.  I am glad that I finally made it to the museum and would recommend it.

Happy Halloween to you all!  It was six years ago today that I got on the airplane for my first trip to China.  I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone and how much has happened in the last six years.  Keep reading and commenting and I’ll find the time to keep blogging!  Your support keeps me going.

Chania, Crete – Greece Day 2

29 Oct

This post is part of our adventures in Greece in September and October of 2013.  To see other posts in the series, click here.

Chania, Crete is not nearly as well known as Athens – or even the other more famous Greek Islands of Mykonos or Santorini.  Chania is a beach town, known for a beautiful harbor, a mosque and a tangle of streets that draw you in with restaurants and sweets and vendors.  Crete is the cradle of civilization, home to the Minoan ruins which are even more ancient than the temples we had seen the previous day.   We would see ruins the next day, but first, Chania itself.

We woke to a beautiful morning overlooking the sea.

Day break from the balcony

Day break from the balcony

After a long walk to enjoy the fresh air and sand between our toes, we headed out to explore the town.  The town is situated on a harbor which is surrounded by restaurants overlooking the water.  There was a breaker protecting the harbor that curled out into the water where I would guess there had been a fort or perhaps a guard post.

I don't often find octopus hanging on my way - made us smile

I don’t often find octopus hanging on my way – made us smile

Initial view of the main harbor

Initial view of the main harbor

Church in the square

Church in the square

We wandered until we found lunch.  After lunch we checked out a maritime museum with exhibits on making rope and filling holes.

Looking back at the harbor from the other side

Looking back at the harbor from the other side

A street performer on the way to the museum

A street performer on the way to the museum

There was this cool exhibit of the lights used in lighthouses as well

There was this cool exhibit of the lights used in lighthouses as well

We then walked all the way to the end of the breaker – a long walk under the pounding sun but worth it for the incredible views.

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Finally we had some frozen yogurt – mine with peaches and honey and then wandered back to the hotel to watch the sunset.  The owner of the yogurt shop was extremely friendly – even insisting that we not pay until we finished the yogurt and making sure it was up to snuff.

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Sunset over we returned to the town and found a restaurant where we could view the lights of the harbor and eat seafood.

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The next day we would take a bus to the capitol and see ancient ruins, but for that day we were happy being beach tourists under starry skies.

Both of us agreed that Chania had caught us under her spell.

Have you visited a less famous town during a trip and had it enchant you?  Those are the places that you talk about first, before the ones that everyone recognizes, the secret that you want to share – or go back to.  Crete was that for us.

Horizons of Chania, Crete

27 Oct

As I was going through the hundreds of photos from our trip to Greece, I realized that there are many, many shots of horizon lines, especially where the ocean meets the sky.  These four photos were chosen from our stay in the town of Chania, Crete and capture one day – from early morning through sunset.  The photos were taken from different points as we explored the coast.  Each time I look at them it takes me back to that beautiful September day.

Morning in Chania

Sea and sky - Chania

Afternoon sky - Chania

Sunset in Chania

To see how others responded to the Weekly Photo Challenge – Horizons, please click the link.

What do you see on your horizon?

To see other posts from our adventures in Greece, please click here.

October jumbles

24 Oct

October is my favorite season in Shanghai.  The weather is perfect – Indian summer-like and after the holiday at the beginning people tend to be in a good mood.  This October is no exception.

With my new position and new routine though – my October this year is passing in the blink of an eye.  Lots of great things are going on, but they seem to be occurring at light speed.  My thoughts are jumbled – not clear and not calm.  Here are a few of the jumbles:

  • I am trying to get used to a new way to work and have now tried going by subway and by taxi.  I think taxi should be easier – but that is contingent upon telling the taxi driver the correct address.  I switched one syllable yesterday and we wound up driving around an extra ten minutes before I finally recognized the street.  It was an elementary mistake – unlike my command of the language in Hangzhou.
  • Went to a great restaurant for dinner last Saturday with friends.  A coworker asked me where he should take some American visitors and I recommended there.  He said they hated it.  Are my tastes so different then other Americans?
  • Walking home from my yoga studio I noticed a beautiful scent in the air.  It felt like the park by Xintiandi was perfumed.  I closed my eyes and breathed it in, then noticed that all of the trees are budding.  I don’t remember this happening before, but I am glad I slowed down enough to notice.

And so the month continues.  I don’t anticipate a slow down anytime soon.  I will have to adjust to this new normal for a while.  Posts may be delayed until I can get back into some semblance of a rhythm.  How do you calm your jumbled thoughts?

As a final note I would like to send a belated birthday shout out to my mother.  Happy belated birthday!

A mandarin milestone – traveling and translating

20 Oct

I have been lucky to have had a visitor in town for the last week or so.  Each visitor is a gift – I know that crossing the pond is a big thing and I do everything I can to try to make the trip memorable.

This time, as I have been blessed with some free time I took my guest out of Shanghai to Hangzhou during the middle of the week.  I haven’t had that opportunity for a couple of years as most guests have been in the city while I’ve been working so I can only grab a day or two to  spend with them.

Going to Hangzhou was a revelation – not only because it is a beautiful place but because how I communicated during the trip.

Because my friend doesn’t speak any Chinese – I was on my own in terms of setting the plan, asking questions, ordering food, etc.  I wasn’t with a group of colleagues who let me follow along and I wasn’t with my husband who typically plans our travels within China.  If I didn’t get it right – we weren’t doing it.

I rocked it.

We ate at restaurants where the only menus were listed on the wall.  We successfully navigated the Hangzhou bus system – three times – with me looking at the bus diagrams in characters, choosing the right bus and getting us off at the right stop.  I bargained for gifts and I even chewed out a taxi driver who just didn’t want to take foreigners because they were “too much trouble.”

What I found really interesting was that even outside of my “comfort zone” in Shanghai, I was still able to function – people understood me and helped me and I finally asked questions to make sure things were right.  Sometimes having a guest makes you fearless.  For yourself you can accept certain elements of discomfort – but for your guest – no way!

Over the years I have noticed that this time of year – autumn – tends to be the time when I notice a significant change in my Chinese ability.  I remember my first phone call, my first meeting where I “got it” – my first presentation to a big group in mandarin.  All of those were milestones at the time.  This one was unexpected and very validating.

Have you had a language milestone recently?  Have you ever had others dependent on your translation ability?  It can be stressful – or it can be a gift.  This time, it was a gift.

To read about past mandarin milestones I have had, try the posts below:

Mandarin Milestones

Another Mandarin Milestone

Another Mandarin Milestone (2)

The 9th quarter review

17 Oct

The last quarter has flown by – it seems like just last week I wrote my last post celebrating Zhongguo Jumble’s two year anniversary.  Even though there was only one major trip in the last quarter (our trip to Greece) – I feel like I have been all over.

The posts show that as it was in the last quarter that I published many of my travels from the previous quarter as I got caught up with such a busy summer.  Travel posts were very popular and the following especially so:

Posing over 50 floors up

Posing over 50 floors up

1) Roppongi Hills & Tokyo City View – a post on my visit to Tokyo in May and getting swallowed by a spider (not quite)

Ready to dig in!

Ready to dig in!

2) The Pineapple Cake Wars – tasting two competing pineapple cakes in Taipei, Taiwan and hearing which kind others will choose.  The food in Taiwan was so good.  I would like to go back just so I can eat.  Taiwanese sausage has now become a staple in my kitchen.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

3) And We’re Back… – the initial post on our trip to Greece with just enough of a taste to keep people coming back to see what will happen.  I’ve only had time to get through the first day so far.

There were also two posts that sparked a lot of comments based on their topics which were more philosophical –

My mandarin accent – where I thought back to how I got my mandarin accent prompted by a taxi driver in Taipei, Taiwan

The Chinese dream – looking at the propaganda campaign that the Chinese government has been pressing lately and talking about what your dreams are.  Make sure you check out the comments on this post if you haven’t before, lots of good commentary that made me think even more.

And finally – two posts that I especially liked with some great photos to share.

The pavilion perched on the river with a tall building in the background

The pavilion perched on the river with a tall building in the background

A walk in Hefei – where I saw the possibility of a beautiful park over the Mid-Autumn Festival

Hammock with feet

Without a care in the world – photos from our trip earlier this year to Michigan, the place where I can put up my hair and dance crazy circles on the lawn.

It was a wonderful quarter and I look forward to the next one.  Did I miss your favorite post?  I’m still debating about the book possibility, so maybe more to come on that front.

More changes to come, so stick around and keep reading!  I anticipate more trips and of course, more views of Shanghai.  Autumn is my favorite season.  Happy Fall!

Taking a taxi in Athens

15 Oct

This post is part of our adventures in Greece in September and October of 2013.  To see other posts in the series, click here.

We debated if we wanted the hotels on this trip to help us with airport transfers.  In Crete and Santorini we did, just to make things easier because the airports looked very small but for Athens we decided to just wait for a taxi at the airport.

Taxis were plentiful and some of them were even Mercedes – very posh.  Li had done research and there should be a flat fee of 35 Euros that you pay for any trip from or to the airport from the center of the city.  During our four rides to and from – we never paid 35 Euros.  We had four taxi rides because the first and last days of our vacation were spent in Athens.

The Mercedes taxis made us think about Greece’s economic melt-down.  A country that can spend that much on a taxi must be very well off.  We wondered if all the cars had been purchased in full or people were still trying to pay down loans.

Despite the large sign by the taxi stand, no taxi driver admitted that was the correct price.  The first driver tried to charge us 39 Euros which we eventually paid after the hotel refused to help us negotiate.  The second driver charged us 40 Euros – after insisting there was an “electronic booking fee” because the hotel had called a taxi for us.  Funny how the hotel never mentioned the fee?

Coming back to Athens we were nervous waiting in the taxi line at the airport again.  We didn’t know what would happen or how much money they would ask for.  The third driver took the cake – he said that we should pay 49 Euros.  He kept giving us tips as he drove us into the city center and I think he was trying to butter us up with a very high taxi bill.  We finally paid 40 Euros – claiming we had no more money.

Before the final taxi ride to the airport I tentatively asked the bellman how much he thought it would cost.  He said – 38 Euros – all taxis from here to the airport are 38.  I told him that we hadn’t paid that amount before.  He said he would speak to the driver.

The last driver was a woman – she charged us 38 Euros.  We were relieved – but we never did pay the stated price of 35 Euros.

I don’t know why it is so acceptable to rip tourists off in Athens.  It created the only bad taste in our mouth we had from a beautiful city.  If I were to go again I would arrange hotel transfers.  I may pay a little more money but I would know the price before and not have to worry about the drivers.

Has anyone else visited there and had the same thing happen or were we just really unlucky?  Any taxi stories?  Please share yours.

Athens Day 1 – after the Parthenon

13 Oct

This post is part of our adventures in Greece in September and October of 2013.  To see other posts in the series, click here.

After viewing the Parthenon we headed behind it to the other temple – the one originally with the pillars that we saw in the museum – the temple of Nike.

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These pillars are replicas - the real ones are in the museum

These pillars are replicas – the real ones are in the museum

We made an effort this trip to get more photos together.

We made an effort this trip to get more photos together.

Under the techni-color blue skies, we headed down the hill with the intention of viewing the Ancient Agora as well as another marketplace.

A view from over the fence of the Roman Agora

A view from over the fence of the Roman Agora

Since it was so late though, they had closed for the day (at 2:30!) and we continued down until we found a restaurant perched behind the temples.  We settled in for our first Greek salad, stuffed tomatoes and spinach pie.

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Stuffed tomatoes - a vegetarian lunch

Stuffed tomatoes – a vegetarian lunch

Stomachs full we wandered back to the hotel enjoying the narrow streets of the Plaka neighborhood.

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Hadrian's arch

Hadrian’s arch

We happened upon Hadrian’s arch in the distance and then sneaked into the temple of Zeus just before closing time.  The timing worked perfectly.

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We then hurried back to the hotel so that we could head to the airport and continue our adventure in Crete.  The first day of our trip was a success.

Have you ever stumbled across a great restaurant by happenstance?  Eating when traveling can be hit and miss and so much depends on the atmosphere in addition to the food.  Where did you find a hidden gem?

Athens – Day 1 anticipation

10 Oct

We woke up early on our first full day in Greece because of the five hour time difference from Shanghai.  After eating a quick breakfast at the hotel (where we experienced our first Greek yogurt and honey) we headed out with the goal of seeing as many major sites as we could before we flew out that evening for Crete.

The hotel had been chosen because it was within walking distance of the Acropolis so we headed first to the Acropolis Museum at the base of the hill.  The museum is built over the remains of a long lost town and there are clear tiles at different points overlooking the archeological site which you can see beneath your feet.  A sign by the  door said that hopefully in the near future tourists will be able to walk those same ancient streets with the ruins.

Walking "above" the ancient streets

Walking “above” the ancient streets

As a museum, it is a streamlined building with spectacular views.  Some of the important statues from the Acropolis have been relocated to the museum to protect them from the elements.  There was also an informational video playing that gave us a sense of what had been – the buildings and temples before the wars and conquistadors that ruined them.  It was a good introduction to the general area.

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Posing with the reconstruction of the frieze on the top of the Parthenon

Posing with the reconstruction of the frieze on the top of the Parthenon

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The back of the pillars gracing the smaller temple.  I love the braids.

The back of the pillars gracing the smaller temple. I love the braids.

From the outdoor café of the museum - with the Parthenon as back drop

From the outdoor café of the museum – with the Parthenon as back drop

After the museum we then purchased our tickets and started the long climb up to the top of the Acropolis.

Theater of Dionysis

Theater of Dionysis

The sun was beating down, but we took the time to enjoy each site.  There were theaters and temples and about halfway up, the most beautiful music coming from around the bend.

Heading up - what these stones have seen!

Heading up – what these stones have seen!

A postcard perfect view

A postcard perfect view

We slowly approached and then realized that a musical group was doing a dress rehearsal in the recreated theater ahead.  The acoustics were stellar, even though the group was over a hundred feet below the amplification was perfect.  We must have spent 20 minutes there – listening, enjoying, absorbing.  It was magical.

The top of the theater, musicians were far, far below

After rousing ourselves, we then approached the Acropolis itself.  It’s huge – meant to inspire awe and the entrance itself is stunning.  We took many shots trying to capture the beauty that was there.

Climbing up

Climbing up

The pillars are so big - truly not on human scale

The pillars are so big – truly not on human scale

And then finally, we were there.

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Our trip to Greece was starting really well.  We had only been there slightly over twelve hours and already seen so much.  After taking a break in the shade we moved out to continue exploring.

Sometimes trips really hit it out of the park – this one started with a bang.  Have you had a trip like that before?

And we’re back… (or should I say – from Alpha to Omega?)

8 Oct

After a lovely 10 day vacation, we have returned to Shanghai – this time to be welcomed by Typhoon Fitow that has turned the last day of the Golden Week into a perfect day for napping and watching the rain pound down. It was a stand out trip – the perfect honeymoon.

The title of the post gives a clue to where our travels led – we spent our time in Greece soaking in the culture, history and blue skies from Athens to Crete to Santorini and back again. I didn’t want to leave.

It was a random comment by Li that resulted in the destination.  Greece is on the Aegean sea and the translation of Aegean into Chinese is Ai Qin Hai (爱琴海)which literally is “Love piano sea.”  However, the pronunciation is the same as Ai Qing Hai (爱情海)which is translated as “Sea of Lovers.”  With the second translation in mind, he suggested we look into it.

From our good luck at getting upgraded to business class on our first flight, through stumbling on a professional music group playing in an open air amphitheater on the Acropolis, to catching a sunset in Hania to the European cultural heritage days in Heraklion – we enjoyed ourselves. We searched for blue roofed churches on Santorini, viewed the changing of the guard at Parliament and indulged in one too many Greek salads, lamb chops and fresh orange juice.

I have three single-spaced pages of notes from our trip, 3800 photos and over 30 minutes of video. It’s safe to say that I will not lack blog fodder for a long, long time.

Please enjoy a few photos that serve as a taste of our beautiful trip.

The Parthenon, Athens

The Parthenon, Athens

The ubiquitous Greek salad, which we consumed every day without fail

The ubiquitous Greek salad, which we consumed every day without fail

Sunset over Chania, Crete

Sunset over Chania, Crete

Catholic Church in Fira, Santorini

Catholic Church in Fira, Santorini

The three blue churches of Oia, Santorini

The three blue churches of Oia, Santorini

And so, it begins…

Lunch in Santorini overlooking the cliff

Lunch in Santorini overlooking the cliff

Have you been to Greece?  Where did you go on your honeymoon?  Any stories you are willing to share?  As I have told my husband – why not have a honeymoon every year?  Who says one is enough?

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