Friday, August 31, 2007

Getting Ready for The China Trip 2007

It’s been another while since I posted something, but I was busy organising our trip around China. It’s all sorted out now, which is just as well as it starts tomorrow!!! Mind you, it looked like we were going to be on park benches in Chengdu until last night, but it’s OK, we have a hotel sorted out now.

I was at the Post Office a while ago to send a letter. The stamp was no problem – but the ‘par avion’ sticker was more of a challenge. I needed to glue it on. Fine, there were several pots of glue in the Post Office, all with small paint brushes to use. I got it stuck on, but I’d got myself into a bit of a guddle and my hands were all sticky. I’d come out without my bag, so I’d no wet wipes, and a tissue wasn’t working. I looked up, and in the corner of the Post Office, next to the door – there was a sink, with soap!! Fantastic, I can’t imagine that in Scotland. I was all cleaned up in a jiffy. I doubt I’m not the only person who has problems with the glue.

The Facilities in the Post Office

I was standing waiting on my train the other day, and decided to take a photo of the unofficial taxis waiting for people to come off the metro. The cars are QQ, a Chinese brand, and come only in bright colours. I also took a photo of the outdoors escalator. I can’t remember seeing open-air escalators anywhere else than China. I’m very glad of them, ‘cos it’s quite a climb up to the platform. Oh, they switch them off when it’s raining!

The Unofficial Taxis

I have now got a good system set up with the bloke I buy my DVDs from. I have to walk past him every day, as his spot is between the metro station and my flat. Most days we just exchange ‘ni hao’, but when he gets in new stock (once or twice a week), he shouts me over so I can go and see what he has! I’m sure he has a better idea of what’s in my DVD collection than I do! I think I must be a pretty good customer ‘cos earlier this week he waved me over to give me The Bourne Ultimatum, and wouldn’t take any money for it!!

The Outdoor Escalator

Hopefully at the end of next week I can post some photos of the first leg of The China Trip 2007 – from Lijiang down near the Laos/ Vietnam/ Burma borders, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s a World Heritage Site, so should be impressive. Watch this space.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

More weather in Shanghai

Sorry to keep going on about the weather here, but it has such an impact on my life. The plum blossom season has finished, so no more days of 32 degrees and 94% humidity. Now it is just hot!! The headlines in the newspaper the other day said that the temperature had reached 39.6 degrees! That equals the hottest day in 63 years and is the second hottest since records began!!! The hottest temperature was 40.2 degrees, seen on July 12, 1934. This year is set to be the hottest summer on record. Oh, joy! It’s cooling to 32 degrees at night, so much against my principles; I’m sleeping with the air conditioner on. I still find it very strange opening the window to find it hotter outside than in. So, because of the heat, I’ve not been doing much – it’s really tiring in the heat – even if I do spend most of the time in air conditioning.
Pavement or bike park?

I try not to go out too much, as the heat makes me tetchy, and my ‘pavement rage’ is worse than usual. Most of the pavements are very wide – but when you add in the bicycle parking; the little stalls selling everything from DVDs to handbags; the people selling fruit from their baskets carried around on a yoke; the recyclers and all the other people just walking along the road, there is very little space from me. I get so frustrated having to walk so slowly that I develop ‘pavement rage’. Just to give you an example of how busy a pavement can be – I live 5 minutes walk from the metro, and most nights on my way home I pass:

  • 2 or 3 people wanting you to fill out a survey (they never ask me – one big advantage of being a Westerner living in China!)
  • a bloke making wire and bead jewellery to order
  • somebody selling handbags and purses
  • 2 or 3 people selling fruit from baskets on a yoke
  • someone selling cigarettes
  • 2 DVD stalls
  • English books for sale from a sheet on the pavement
  • A girl selling crockery from her bike
  • 2 sets of people recycling rubbish (this bit stinks!)

The recycling zone

There are other people who appear occasionally – hot-dog vendors, some blokes weaving grasses into animal shapes…. Not bad for a 5 minute walk.

So, it’s getting near holiday time again!! Yesterday I booked our flight tickets for the trip around China in September. I was a bit worried given the last experience I had booking tickets – but this was really simple. I’d booked the first couple of flights on line, then had a confirmatory text, then an email and finally a phone call. During the phone-call the lass asked if she could book the rest of my flights – no problem, all done. ‘The courier will be round with your e-tickets at 4pm.’ Next stop, the bank. I needed to pay cash, ans the highest denomination here is about £6.60, so I felt like someone from a film walking out of the bank with my big bundles of cash. So, 4 o’clock came, and went…. As did 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock…….. then at 6.30 I got a phone-call, from the courier, I think, but he only spoke Chinese, so all communication failed! At 8.30 the door-bell went, and my tickets arrived!!! In China, e-tickets are real tickets, printed on fan-fold paper, that are just the same as real tickets!!! Anyway, the pile of tickets was bigger than I am!!! It’s going to be fun!!!

The tickets are as big as a door!

I was looking out of my office window the other day, and saw that the company fire engine was parked on the road. I know that the hot weather is causing a shortage of water, but this is just silly!!!

The Fire Engine
At the back of the fire engine!!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Shanghai Aquarium

Last weekend, I decided one way to keep cool was to get a haircut. I knew that it takes a while here in China – your hair gets washed 3 times (twice before and once after), you have a shoulder and arm massage as well as your haircut and blow dry – so I went on Sunday afternoon. It took even longer this time, as after I’d had my shoulder and arm massage, I was asked if I wanted a full massage. Why not? Did I want 2 hours or only 1 hour? I’m glad I chose I hour – ‘cos I woke up on Monday morning covered in bruises!!! I like my massages to be firm – but that was just too firm. My coccyx was all black and blue – and you could see finger marks on my thighs!! Not quite the relaxing massage I was looking for.
The Pearl Tower - honest!

In my last post I threatened to go and jump in with the fish at the aquarium, so yesterday I went to visit them. It was a bit cooler than it has been, so much more pleasant – 28 degrees. As I was walking to the metro I looked at the sky and thought that I should have brought my brolly, but didn’t think it was threatening enough to go back for it. I’m Scottish, what’s a little bit of rain??? Hmmm. I got out of the metro at the other end, and it was fair – for about 30 seconds! The aquarium is just by the Pearl Tower, and I had to get a photo of the clouds so low that the Pearl tower was disappearing. I’d just got the photo when the heavens opened, and it was like somebody was throwing buckets of water all over me!! It took me no more than 2 minutes to run to the aquarium, but I arrived there completely drenched. I formed my own not-so-little puddle in the ticket queue. I had decided to get an annual pass – and, of course, that meant I needed to have my photo taken!! Let’s just say that it would make a good passport photo and leave it at that.

Fish from the River Yangtze

The aquarium was really good. There are 3 floors, and loads of exhibits. There’s even a display tank that you travel through on the escalator – strange experience. There are lots of sharks and rays – of course, but there were turtles and seals – I was very pleased to see that the seals had some toys in their exhibit, and didn’t seem institutionalised, not like the seal in Listvyanka; tropical fish – from little neon tetras to poisonous tiger fish (I didn’t see any zebra barbs); wrasse – which I’ve seen when I was diving in Scotland; and some giant Japanese crabs who looked like they were the model for a sci-fi alien invasion – creepy!! There were also displays on tiny jelly-fish, and some really bizarre ‘box fish’, which are, well, shaped like a box!

Formation Flying

One of the Seals

Some of the Tropical Fish

Tiny Jelly-fish

When I came out of the aquarium, there were hundreds of police standing waiting – no, not for me. There was a global concert taking place – Live Earth. There were still tickets for sale, but as the only performer I had heard of was Sarah Brightman, I didn’t go. I then went and sat on a newspaper, on a seat down by the river (well, it had been raining), and watched the boats go by. I am always amazed at how busy the river is. It never stops. There was an enormous container ship that went by, and then 6 barges tied together, as well as other barges that I’m sure are moments from sinking. I don’t know if it’s an optical illusion, but it always looks like the boat is below the surface of the water, and only surface tension is keeping it afloat. I chose a much more robust boat to cross the river – the ferry! I then had a new experience, and got the bus home. I had realised that there is a bus from the Bund to my flat, so I decided to jump on the No. 42 and try it out. It took 45 minutes to do the trip, but I had a seat, it was air-conditioned, and I could see where we were going, mind you, there was loads of traffic. The metro is quicker, but much more crowded, and costs 3 Yuan, instead of the 2 Yuan of the bus (20p instead of 12p).

It makes the sky-scrapers look small
6 barges tied together

It’s hot again today – 32 degrees, and I’m sitting on the balcony with the sweat gathering at my elbows and behind my knees – I think I’ll go and hide indoors with the air-conditioner!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dumplings and Mah Jong

Phew, it’s gotten hot here! I spent all weekend hiding from the heat. It’s reached 36 degrees (- that’s 97 degrees in old money), but the humidity is only at 94%. Yes, the rains have stayed away so far, but they are forecast for the next few days. That will make things even more unpleasant. All I can say is thank heavens for air conditioning!!! Needless to say, I have done very little sight-seeing this week, although I was thinking about the aquarium – so that I could jump in with the fishes!!!

The temperature increase seems to have encouraged the mosquitoes too. I’ve been woken up a couple of nights with a mossie whispering in my ear …….bzzzzzzz. Luckily I have my revenge. I invested 2 pounds in a battery-powered tennis bat – except instead of strings it has wires, which are live. Great for swatting flies – they just atomise!! So if you hear of a woman in Shanghai practising her back-hand at 3 o’clock in the morning – it’s me, and I’m after a mossie. I had thought that being on the 18th floor would help protect me from the mossies, but I've discovered that they are really bright - they take the lift!!! i had to share the lift with a few the other week. They wouldn't say which floor they wanted out on, so I made sure they all got out before they reached mine!!

Anyone for tennis???

The other Saturday, I had some of my work-mates come round to play mah jong and t
each me how to make Chinese dumplings. We had a great afternoon playing (and yes, I lost all my money!), and then had fun making dumplings. I think we got carried away, as my freezer is now filled with enough dumplings to feed me for a week. They are good though! I still have to work on my dumpling-making skills, but I’m sure I’ll find a volunteer or two when I return to Scotland.

The dumpling Masterclass

The dumpling production department

Big excitement – they have re-opened the bridge near work, which saves about 2 minutes from my commute. Mind you, I’ve had quite a few taxis taking the bridge, even before it was re-opened. There were concrete blocks all across the road to stop cars using it – no problem, you just drive the car up the kerb across the bridge using the pavement, back down the kerb and away you go! Life is has its moments of adventure here in Shanghai.

Ganbei – that’s the toast you make in China. Literally it means ‘dry glass’, but when you’re drinking a toast it means you have to empty the glass. Last night, I was invited to go out for dinner with some of my work colleagues and some visitors from Japan. We went to ‘King Duck’ restaurant (yes, we has Peking duck – yumm!), and enjoyed our meal. One of the Japanese was on the receiving end of many of the toasts, and had to empty his glass quite a few times. He was drinking beer, but even still, he put quite a bit away. He had to fly back to Japan this morning, so I haven’t seen him. I don’t envy him his bad head this morning though! Luckily I was girly enough that I didn’t get involved in the toasts, so just got to enjoy the food. We started talking about drinking traditions at the table, and I learnt that there is a tradition in the North of China based on the position of the fish on the table. Usually there is a whole cooked fish included in a meal. The tradition states that when the fish is placed on the table, the person who is sitting facing the head needs to empty 2 glasses. Extra traditions can be added for the people facing the tail, back and stomach, if required! I must admit to having a problem with fish in restaurants here in China. I know that fresh fish is best, but I can’t go to a tank and choose which fish I want for my dinner, I just can’t do it. I blame it on my brother! I remember when he’d gone fishing and caught something. He brought it home – still alive. I can still see it swimming around the kitchen sink, and a little while later sitting on a plate.

Talking of swimming – my swimming pool is getting busy. For the last few months I’ve has the pool virtually to myself – maybe a couple of other people. Since the weather changed, it’s become much more popular. There were 6 other people in the pool with me the other day!!

Friday, June 22, 2007

A trip to Mission Impossible 3

I was on the train the other night, and we ended up talking about bacon. Yes, you can get bacon in Shanghai, but it’s smoked, and not my favourite. Anyway, by the time I got out of the metro I NEEDED to have bacon for tea. I dropped into the local supermarket and bought some bacon and some eggs. The eggs – well, I bought GREEN EGGS, but to be honest, they are just ordinary eggs – sorry for all you Dr Seuss fans out there!!

The rains have started here. I was feeling right at home – the rain started on Tuesday night and continued all day Wednesday, and all day Thursday. It was almost like being back in Scotland, except that it was warm (25 degrees), and there was no wind!! Luckily it didn’t get very warm, so the humidity wasn’t a problem.

One of my Chinese colleagues took me out to be a tourist last Sunday. We went to visit Xi Tang. This is a pretty village near Shanghai became famous a few years ago because they filmed part of Mission Impossible 3 there. It’s just a small place, with traditional Ming and Qing dynasty houses sitting on canals. I’d asked for the authentic Chinese experience, so we used normal transport to get there. There are tourist buses which go there from Shanghai, but where’s the challenge in that?? We met up at Shanghai South Railway station – what an amazing place. I don’t think I’ve seen a train station which is nearly so modern. It’s circular, and all the outside – including the domed roof is made of glass. It’s really big and airy. It just opened last year, and is very impressive. Considering hat it’s a train station in one of the biggest cities in the world, it wasn’t at all crowded. Yes there were lots of people there, but there was plenty of room for everybody. We got on our train and found our reserved seats, and at 10 o’clock we left Shanghai. Well, that’s not strictly true, we lest the station. It took at least another 20 minutes to leave Shanghai. The train trip itself was only 40 minutes long (and cost 60p!!). After

a short walk, we got on a bus which dropped us off at Xi Tang about 15 minutes later (cost = 20p). We then got in a bicycle rickshaw and were taken to a restaurant for lunch. I’m not a big fan of rickshaws, following our escapades in Beijing, but this one was OK. After lunch we went wandering around Xi Tang – a nice place, with very few non-Chinese tourists. Of course, I took a few photos!!!

After a couple of hours, we took the bus back to where we’d got off the train, where we’d planned to catch the bus back to Shanghai. Slight problem – the bus tickets were nearly sold out, so we had a couple of hours to kill before we could get a seat. Not a big problem, as after a little wander about we found somewhere to stop for an ice cream. The bus took an hour to get back to Shanghai -fighting through the traffic, but it was very comfy, and three times the price of the train!!! I’d a great day out – and spend an extravagant sum of just over 5 pounds!!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Life in the Big City

I know that living in the one of the largest cities in the world has it good side (ask my poor over-worked alarm clock about the down-side), but today’s experience was just a bit surreal!!

It all started off a few months ago, when I started learning Mah Jongg. Of course, never one to keep my mouth shut, I was talking about it at work – and so the idea of a Mah Jongg session was born. So, in a couple of weeks, some of my work-mates are coming round for an afternoon of Mah Jongg, followed by a ‘teach Rhona to make dumplings’ session, then a whisky tasting session – talk about a mix of cultures!!! The only problem I have is the table for playing Mah Jongg. I don’t have a table the right size for 4. My dining room table is for 6, and my balcony table is barely big enough for a cup of tea! No problem. I live in Shanghai – they have tables here! I have no idea where, but I’ll find one.

Mah Jongg table

So, it’s Saturday afternoon, and the weather has cooled down – a lot, so I decide to go for a wander in the neighbourhood. I needed to go to the bank, so that meant walking past the DVD shop (I was very restrained and only bought 5 – well, I was on my way TO the bank!). Then I decided to wander down that street there, as I’ve not been there before. Guess what area I ended up in? The furniture shop area!!! Spooky. I had no idea that there was a furniture shop area, never mind that it’s 10 minutes walk for where I live! Most of them were a bit too rich for my blood – and what would I do with marble flooring anyway – I’ve nothing to floor!!! I was drawn into the sculpture shop (which won’t surprise – but the fact that I came out empty-handed might. Nothing was leaping up and down enough saying buy me-buy me to make me give in. Strolling a bit further got me to a shop selling chairs. Now, I’ve been searching all over for chairs for my balcony, and had given in to folding chairs a few weeks ago – buy now I’ve found where the chairs are. Then I spied some folding tables hidden in the corner – just what i was looking for. On looking closer I saw that a couple of them were even specifically Mah Jongg tables. Perfect. I am now the proud owner of a ‘Silent Mah Joing’s Table Smooth Absolutely Pushing Tireless For Longer’. I’ll still loose though!!! It reminds me a bit of the card table that used to come out on a Saturday night at my Auntie Jean’s, to be filled with cups of tea and plates of cakes and, of course, pancakes!!! Who knew then that I would own a similar table 30-odd years later, but in Shanghai!!!

Shanghai Science and technology Museum

Last Sunday the weather was hot, so I decided that I would use somebody else’s air conditioning to keep cool. (Can you tell I’m Scottish??) I went over to the other side of the river to Pudong, and spent a few hours in the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. It’s an amazing building, and they have some good stuff to do. Unfortunately my Chinese wasn’t up to making the most out of my visit, but a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon. One of the bits I enjoyed the most was archery against a robot. The competition side didn’t interest me, but the archery was pretty cool. I think it’s something I’d like to learn how to do. I’ll need to see if I can track down an English-speaking archery coach in Shanghai (knowing my luck, there’s one next door!). I was a bit surprised at one point, as there was a big display dedicated to James Clerk Maxwell – the Scottish mathematician and physicist, who gave his name to the building (JCMB) where I studied physics at Edinburgh University all those years ago. The Scots get everywhere!

Display on the works of James Clerk Maxwell

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

If you are reading this, then I have managed to sort out my computer problems. I had a big screed of news all written, and then lost it somewhere in cyber-space. Technology is NOT wonderful. Ah well, I’ll try again.

It’s not too traumatic. I am currently sitting out on my balcony, in the sunshine – the temperature is a very pleasant 26 degrees, and there’s a breeze. Well, maybe a bit more than a breeze, but nice all the same. I’ve got myself a table and some chairs, so I just need a barbeque and I’ll be all set for summer. Seemingly June is the time for the rainy season in Shanghai. The humidity is 90 degrees and the temperature gets into the 30’s. There is so much moisture in the air that your washing doesn’t dry. I’m not looking forward to that. Mind you, there has been no rainy season here for the last 3 years, so I may be lucky!!

So I was practising for the hot weather in Las Vegas – while we were there the weather broke all sorts of hot records for April. I took a photo of the thermometer in the car one evening!! (94F is over 34 degrees.)

So how was Las Vegas?? It was great, we’d a fantastic time. The day I flew out was a bit bizarre. I left Shanghai at 3pm, and arrived in Los Angeles at 11.30 the same morning. This International Date Line thing meant that although I’d been flying for 11 hours, I arrived before I left. In fact, at the same time as I was leaving Shanghai, I was lying on the beach in Los Angeles. WOW!! My hotel was just next to Venice Beach – just like in Baywatch. The difference was that I had the beach virtually to myself! The poor lifeguard was so bored, he kept driving past to see if I was OK, but I hardly moved.

I wasn't quite alone at Venice Beach

One thing that really struck me when I arrived in Los Angeles was how BIG the Americans are. Mind you, the first people I came into contact with were the Immigration people and that might have been deliberate! After spending months being one of the tall people, it was quite a surprise to be ‘shorty’ again! Another reason they are intimidating is to perhaps stop any rioting in the arrivals hall. I know I was nearly ready to start rioting before I got into America proper. I had joined a queue to get through immigration, and had been standing there for 20 minutes and then the desk shut and the bloke went for his lunch. I don’t grudge him his lunch, but we were made to join the end of another queue. Fine, OK, it’s annoying, but I understand. At least I did until it happened for the THIRD time. I was all ready to get on another plane and head back to China. Eventually I did manage to speak to an Immigration person, and felt as though I was being interrogated. I know that the USA has tightened up on its Homeland Security, but I just was to hang out with my pal and have some fun. I’m even going to spend some money! It’s much easier to get into Russia or China!!

So my next big adventure was my drive to Las Vegas. I had printed out my instructions for Mapquest, and they’d suggested 4 hours 18 mins to do the trip. I set off from Santa Monica about 2pm, and joined the traffic jam out of LA. THREE hours later I was still in LA. No, the car hadn’t broken down; I hadn’t stopped for a cup of tea or anything else. The traffic was just moving so slowly that it took me 3 hours to drive 50 miles. Then just like traffic jams everywhere, most of the cars just disappeared..... and I still had 220 miles to go until Las Vegas. SEVEN hours later, I managed to make it to Las Vegas, find the hotel (which wasn’t hard as it was on the Las Vegas Strip, and I’d stayed across the road last time!!!), check in and have a shower before heading off to the airport to meet Sheila. As the airport was across the road from the hotel, and our room overlooked it – not hard to find!! OK, OK, the terminal was on the other side, and with the 10 minute walk to the hotel car park, 5 minutes to find the car (We did manage to completely lose the car one day – our little VW Beetle convertible was hiding behind a big truck.), then parking at the airport and walking to the terminal. It took nearly half an hour – and we could almost tough the planes from our hotel room!! After completely missing each other to begin with, Sheila and I did manage to meet up and head back to the hotel. After cups of tea and blethers, we decided we were hungry and headed off for something to eat. It was 1.30 in the morning, but that was one of the reasons we went to Las Vegas. It was no problem. In fact, the restaurant was over half-full... at 1.30 in the morning!!! Very strange!

View from our hotel room - we could nearly tough the planes

Anyway we managed to amuse ourselves very well over the next week. We visited a shark reef; went to see Mamma Mia; ate in a French pavement bistro, overlooking the Bellagio (I had moules frits!! Ahh); visited the conservatory in the Bellagio; did some shopping and even managed a couple of afternoons hanging about at the pool. Except the pool was a river. There was a current, so you didn’t need to swim to do a circuit. Pretty impressive!


Me up close with a Sting-ray - Sheila took the photos!!!

The Conservatory at the Bellagio

The neighbourhood cat at the MGM Grand

We managed to meet up with some famous folks. We were wandering through the lobby of our hotel one morning, and it was full of people. The boxers Mayweather and De La Hoya were due to make an appearance before their big fight. So we hung about for a bit and saw them. In case you don’t know, Mayweather won, and he was much nicer to our crowd too!!

The Lobby in preparation for the Big Match


De La Hoya

After a week, I had to drop Sheila off at the airport and then head back to LA (where the traffic jam just lasted for 1 hour this time) and enjoyed my last sunset over the Pacific before coming back to Shanghai, and heading into work. Time to start planning my NEXT holiday!!!

Sunset over the Pacific