Monday, November 26, 2007

上海! (Shanghai!)

ChHappy Thanksgiving all! 10 of my friends and I went to Shanghai for our Thanksgiving break, and I had a fantastic time! Shanghai is a fantastic city - very cosmopolitan and Western. It's already gone on my list of cities I'd like to live in.

Here's a picture of the skyline - the pink building on the left side is the Oriental Pearl Tower - it's a very famous icon of the city.

We ate Western food pretty much over meal except Thanksgiving, oddly enough. This was our Thanksgiving dinner pretty standard Chinese fare, actually. No turkey, or even poultry to speak of. (And definitely no pie, which was the saddest of all.) It was delicious and cheap though, and we enjoyed ourselves.

I actually have some pictures of myself that I thought I would include this time. Here I am enjoying a steaming dish of rice and soy-braised beef. Yum!

We did some serious shopping while in Shanghai. There was an incredible range of options, from the Western brand name knock-offs, to very Chinese jade and pearls, to 9 story malls filled with familiar stores from home. This picture is from one part of a giant street of shops we spent the day at.

Gingerbread lattes at Starbucks are lovely, but we couldn't resist picking up some street food for breakfast on our way to the metro. Shanghai has a great metro system, actually. It was extremely convenient, clean, cheap and easy to understand. I had it figured out by the second day, and the well-translated English signs everywhere were a big help.

As you might expect a city of 17 million to be, Shanghai was extremely crowded. It was also filled with Western ex-pats. It was an off role reversal - normally when we travel in China, we Westerners are stared at by the Chinese people. Here in Shanghai though, we Westerners marveled at the huge amount of other Westerners, while all the natives didn't even bat an eyelash.

Shanghai at night is also quite a sight - lots of gorgeous architecture.

The Oriental Pearl at night - much less gaudy, in my opinion.

One last picture of me, with some of my friends. We're staring at the Oriental Pearl, actually, having just crossed under the Huangpu river via an underwater tunnel.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Temple of Ancestor Worship

Before the main point of my post, I wanted to share with you all how safe I feel in China. It's amazing - besides needing to of course watch my belongings and zip up my purse (pickpockets are a big problem,) I always feel safe. China has extremely low violent crime levels, and I always feel safe walking home after dark from a local internet cafe. When my parents were in town, one girl who was worried about moving to San Francisco for university, was horrified to learn she shouldn't walk home along at night - it's just not something you have to worry about, especially in a place like Xiamen. It helps that everything is open very late here, and there are always people around, no matter where you are or what time.

We visited a series of temples with my Chinese culture class last week. First we visited a local temple to a local, Fujian/Southeast coastal China deity - the Holy Mother. Then we visited a beautiful Daoist temple. The last temple though, a temple for ancestor worship, was be far the most interesting. It incorporated Buddhist and Daoist elements into its style and worship methods, and the decorations were fascinating.

Along one wall were dozens of paintings depicting scenes from famous Chinese moralistic stories. They are designed to teach filial piety. The one I have included above shows the story of a son who, because every night mosquitoes kept him and his family from sleeping well, took off all his clothes one night so as to attract all the mosquitoes to himself and allow his parents to sleep.

I am, unfortunately, not sure who the figures in the painting represent. Venerable town ancestors, I would guess. I just liked the painting, which was on the door going into the temple.

The amazing things about nearly every site we visit in China, whether historical building, temple, or tourist shop, is that they are all inhabited. The temple of ancestor worship had beds along the opposite wall, but here you can see their table and cooking area. This was not in a back room, but simply in the temple proper.

Here is someone's bicycle leaning against part of the entranceway.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Tribute to Better Internet (with pictures)

Orphanage update: as was perhaps inevitable, I have fallen in love with the children at the orphanage. They are growing up so quickly! Only a couple could walk when we first started going, but now about half of them can walk around, especially with help.

One of my favorites is a little boy who almost never shows any emotion. He never smiles, except that I have figured out if you tickle the bottom of his feet he will just barely crack a smile. Generally though, he sits back and observes what is going on around him. His very serious, pensive mannerisms have led us to nickname his the “little old man” “xiao lao ren,” in Chinese.

My absolute favorite though is a little girl who will be all smiles and laughter if you tickle her. If you smile at her, she will always grin back. She is so adorable – I have to be careful not to play favorites with her. I never used to understand how a couple could choose a child to adopt – how could you choose between so many children? And how would you know which one to choose? But now I think I understand. Don’t worry! I’m not going to bring back a baby from China. I will miss them all though when I go.

More on food: (an integral part of Chinese culture - apologies if I seem like I talk about it too much.) I have tried both silkworms and a fresh coconut, and I must say, the latter tasted much better. The silkworms were stir-fried, I think, and tasted salty and crunchy on the outside, and kind of bread-like inside. Not great, but not completely disgusting either. Given a choice between that and starving to death, I would survive.

Fresh coconuts though are fantastic - I quite recommend them. First I drank out all the juice, then I dropped it to break it open and eat the meat. Not terribly exotic, but I was delighted.

While I'm making very un-Chinese recommendations for your palate, let me recommend a british mini-series for your free time. I have been watching Planet Earth for a few weeks now, and I can't say enough about it! I feel like a hippie after watching an episode, because I'm always so in love with our world - it's such a cool place! Again, not very Chinese, except for the (probably) pirated status of my friend's DVD.

Below are more pictures from my bus tour. We visited a beautiful park, and saw lots of Chinese people doing recreation. It's another custom we really should import.

Here are a group of people being led in song. You'll notice in all my pictures, that the people participating in the activities are adults, very different from what you'd see at most parks in the US.

Here is a group of people playing a Chinese version of hacky-sack. They're extremely good at it!

Here is a father teaching his son some sort of martial arts. In the background you can kind of see some people practicing Tai Qi - also very common in Chinese parks. If I get up and run in the morning, I always see people (generally elderly) practicing Tai Qi around campus.

As you can see, the park was very picturesque. We didn't have time to rent paddle boats, but they looked fun.

This is a phone card that a friend of mine bought, and once I saw it, I had to take a picture. The panda character is one of the 2008 Olympic mascots. To be fair, it's probably just illustrating one of the shooting events/competitions. Probably.