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Friday, 22 October 2010

Farewell China...

This will be my last blog post because I made the decision a couple of weeks ago to finish my work here and leave China. VSO is ending its Basic Education Programme across the whole of China as it really hasn't been a success - something I have been thinking myself for a while now.

Anyway, my last few days in Danfeng were incredibly busy. I went to lots of dinners, a final karaoke (where I did my party piece of singing a song in Chinese) and had loads of photos taken.This is me at my favourite roadside barbecue restaurant. They're only open for the summer months and do a delicious spicy prawns dish.While we were eating, the owner came up and told me that because I was a regular, he'd like to give me a free plate of food. My interpreter told him that I was leaving in a few days, so after he'd brought us a plate of deep fried sesame tofu, he came back 10 minutes later with a gift of fried fish as a leaving present. Aaawww! (the owner is the one in the background.)
This is me at one of the teacher's houses. She invited me for lunch - pork and leek dumplings! The dumplings are below - this is before they were cooked.After I left Danfeng, I spent a few days in Xi'an and all my old interpreters came to visit. I took them out for various dinners - the most successful being to an Indian restaurant as most Chinese have never tried Indian food and have no idea what it looks or tastes like.

My year in China has been a fantastic experience - the culture, the history, the food and the landscape - and especially getting to know and understand the Chinese people. I have promised my friends there a return visit in the future - see you in Danfeng in ten years time guys!

Friday, 17 September 2010

A tale of two marriages

Thought I'd share with you a couple of stories from the China Daily which I enjoyed recently.

Husband tries to end life after wife refuses to wash clothes

Police in Xinyun, Jiangxi province, rescued a man who attempted to drown himself after his wife refused to wash his clothes. Mr Li headed to a nearby river to end his life after a quarrel with his wife over his dirty laundry. Mr Li's son then phoned the police who pulled the suicidal man back to shore.
Li later told the police that the decision to end his life did not just ride on the fact that his wife refused to wash his clothes. "I'm upset that I married the wrong woman," he wept. "We haven't spoken nicely to each other for years."

Secrets of an 8o year marriage

This week, Zhang Mucheng and his wife, Xu, are celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary. Living in a century old house in Shanghai, the couple have seen it all - war, famine and hardship.
Zhang and Xu got married in 1930. They came to the marriage as complete strangers, as was common then. "We knew that we would have many years to get to know one another," Zhang laughs.
Xu spent her childhood living away from her parents after a fortune teller said her horoscope was not compatible with her father. Zhang started work helping in his fatehr's drugstore at the age of 14.
Zhang has lost some of his hearing but Xu always repeats what's on tv for him. Xu has lost some of her eyesight but Zhang is always happy to read her the newspaper.
When asked what they understand love to mean, the couple say they don't know but they just feel good when they are together.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

New office, new building, new job!

I don't often write about my work here in China - for various reasons. However, since the start of the new term, there have been a lot of changes in my host school. The headteacher was booted out, my main contact in the school left and there was very little support or interest in VSO or me.Bold
After a few unhappy weeks, I decided to do something about it. So, I have now moved to the nursery next door to the school (which is where my main contact in the school moved. She is the new head of the nursery.)
The place is brand new and lovely. Lots of space and the rooms have aircon! I will be working there in the mornings, planning an English curriculum for the teachers to follow, making resources for it and training the staff - both in how to teach English, in general child development skills and knowledge, and in health and hygiene.
The rooms are bright, clean and have suitable furniture but no other resources at all. No wonder the kids look bored (below) - they get 3 "lessons" a day (Chinese, maths and English) where they simply listen and repeat. There is no paper for them to draw on and nothing like sand, water, dressing-up or house corner. This isn't due to lack of cash, but due to lack of awareness. To the staff, education is about looking, listening and repeating - not about practising gross or fine motor skills or developing understanding through play. This is partly what I hope to achieve in the training - and I think it'll be fun!
This is my new office on the second floor of the nursery. It's SO different from my old office with its concrete floor and broken windows.
However, this is the view out of my office window. It's the accommodation block of the teachers at my host school. It's strange how old and new, rich and poor sit cheek by jowl here in China.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Danjiang Mountain climb

Last weekend, a year after I actually came to China, I finally got round to climbing the mountain behind my town. It's a beautiful thing - and I enjoy looking at it at different times of day when different types of light hit it.
The walk to the mountain is also pleasant - with mini farm plots on either side of the path (currently growing maize or potatoes) and with small tombs belonging to the farmers' ancestors. It's common practice in rural China to place your dead in tombs on your own land. (see above!)

I was aware that there were Buddhist caves carved out of the rock but I didn't really realise what that involved. When I got there, I realised that 2000 years ago, the monks hadn't simply carved out a shapeless hole but had carved gods and other images out of the rock and along the walls of their caves. They're in remarkably good condition considering their age - although most of them are hollowed out from almost vertical cliff faces so I reckon that no-one went near them for hundreds of years until Danfeng Municipal Govt reckoned a good tourist money maker would be to add some paths and steps for visitors. Not that there ARE many visitors - there were only 5 of us on the mountain the whole time I was there.
These statues were inside the caves (there's about 10 that you can enter, though there are many more carved into the cliffs that are too dangerous to climb to.)
This cave has been recently repainted to show what it would have been like (sort of) 2000 years ago. The caves would have originally had similar bright colours.
The top of the mountain at last!
My interpreter doing a very dangerous climb to investigate what's at the top, Turned out there was nothing but an old birds nest.
I love this view. You can walk along the ridge for quite a way.

And, as a bonus, there were interesting bugs up there too!

All in all, a fantastic day out. I had sore calf muscles the next day though...

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Great China Adventure (part 2)

Still in Hong Kong then (happy Mr Mogg?) we spent a very pleasant day on Lantau island where there's a cable car ride up to a giant bronze Buddha on top of a hill. I was slightly disappointed to find out that the Buddha is a new addition (1993) to the Hong Kong scene, rather than an ancient monument, but you can't have everything...
View of Lantau from the cable car

The bronze buddha

You can climb right up to the Buddha (and, in fact, there's a small museum inside the base of him.) This is the gorgeous view from the top.

The main statue is surrounded by goregous larger than life bronze goddessesIn the south of Hong Kong Island, there's a pretty little seaside town called Stanley with a reasonable beach.

Lots of businesses in Hong Kong have these small shrines outside the entrance

Next stop was Chongqing, back in Mainland China. Apparently, despite the British handover in 1997, Hong Kong is NOT part of China - something my mum found out when we were at the airport to fly to Chongqing and she wasn't allowed on the plane cos she had already used her China visa.

Luckily the HK authorities were very good and issued her with a new Chinese visa within 6 hours - she didn't even have to leave the airport! She caught an evening flight and the lovely Victoria Jenna (river boat) waited for her before setting sail down the Yangtze.

One of the gorges along the Yangtze

More lovely scenery (you can see the flood line where no vegetation grows.)

Chinese sampanThe most popular part of the Yangtze is along the 3 Gorges - there is a tributary off this section where you can sail on a smaller boat to see the 3 mini gorges (actually more beautiful than the main ones!) This is one of the mini gorges.The lovely Victoria Jenna

Our cabin - complete with French windows and private balcony
Sampan driver
These two photos are of the same cliff. In the first one, it's much easier to see the cave with a wooden coffin inside. In the second picture, look near the top to see the same crack with a row of caves. These coffins were put there by the Ba people, who lived in the area around 200o years ago.
How they got the coffins, bodies and grave goods there in the first place is still a mystery...

It's lovely to watch boats of all sizes passing by as you sail along

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Great China Adventure (part 1)

It's been a while since I've written as in August I was away on my Great China Adventure with my mum. It all began in Danfeng, where my mum was invited to dinner with my landlady and offered goose head and donkey.

At a hot pot restaurant with my friends in Danfeng
Happy street food seller in Danfeng

Then it was on to Xi'an where despite temperatures of 39 degrees C, we managed to fit a lot into our 3 days there.

Of course, we went to see the terracotta warriors
A calligrapher in the painting market
This is the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, built around 650AD to house Buddhist stone tablets brought back from India
These people are looking at crickets for sale in tiny cages
The Drum Tower at dusk. In the past, the drums would sound at regular intervals through the night to let the people know the time
Then it was on to Shanghai, where the temperature was a much more pleasant 28/29 degrees C

Outside the Yuyuan gardens - lots of pretty ponds, trees and old buildings
A detail on one of the buildings in Yuyuan
One of my favourite day trips was to the City Temple in Shanghai, where lots of locals popped in to pray to a variety of gods, both Chinese ones and Buddha

All ages were there...

And Haibo, the cutesy Shanghai Expo character was EVERYWHERE!!

One of the best sights in Shanghai was definitely the skyline seen from the Bund
Beautiful both during the day and at night
A view down the Huangpo river

This was the Bund on a normal Tuesday evening, with tourists there to take pics of the skyline at night. I was SHOCKED - it was busier than Edinburgh at Hogmanay!
Next stop was Hong Kong.
And you can't visit Hong Kong without a trip on the Star Ferry from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon...
Locals having dinner in a street market in Kowloon
Dried squid for sale, Kowloon