My little garden

I’m often dreaming of a garden from my concrete-enclosed apartment, especially after having such a big backyard in Adelaide! I miss spontaneous pancake breakfasts on the BBQ outside. I miss hammocks. I miss the avocados that dropped over the fence from next door. I miss my yellow deck chairs.

So, I’m trying my best to keep a little bit of green in my apartment. It’s a little sad that the compound we live in only has a carpark. I’d swap it any day for a nice big piece of lawn. That said, last weekend we found ourselves in Chaoyang Park having a lovely picnic in the sunshine. So, it’s not all that bad.

From L-R: Okra, thai basil, lemongrass, oregano, orchid, rosemary, basil, random plant, mint. Plus, hanging cactus.

Back: random lettuce, eggplant, chilli; Front: tomato plants from Tara 

This is the jungle of wet washing and trees that is my bedroom balcony!

Autumn is on it’s way. There’s a chance that I might lose a lot of this in the two weeks where we have no heating in November. Fingers crossed they make it through!

You might also like: Gnomes… 1,2,3

Eating through Zhejiang

Every holiday turns into a culinary adventure, whether we like it or not! Here are some of my foodie memories.

I pulled out the camera way too late on this one! Fried prawns with preserved seaweed (or other related water weed). So good, we went back again another day. Hangzhou.

This was a little strange. It was deep-fried tofu. It kinda stuck to the roof of your mouth. And the sauce was scary. Hangzhou.

One of the specialities of the area – dongpo pork. Basically, it’s braised pork with a massive layer of fat. Delicious, but not nutritious. Hangzhou.

Another local speciality – prawns and longjing tea. But the prawns weren’t as fresh as the ones in the first photo. Hangzhou.

THE MOST AMAZING DISH IN THE WORLD. We found ‘tudoubing’ (umm… potato cakes?) at a tiny little place next to the bus station. We devoured one plate, then ordered two more serves for the bus trip. We were the envy of every passenger. I have since found out that these are only good with Zhejiang potatoes. I intend to experiment anyway. Hangzhou.

Large whitebait at a She Minority Village. Outside Jingning.

Freshly made hotpot with a fish we chose from the pond out the back. Outside Jingning.

Deconstructed Duck. Jingning.

OMG. We found it AGAIN! Jingning.

We had a choice of freshly caught seafood everyday. Nanji Island.

Nanji Island.

These are a b***h to eat. They are so spiky and seem intent on ripping your skin off. I have since been told that if I master my chopstick skills, I can whip these out in a second! Nanji Island. 

 Nanji Island.

The most amazing fish in the world. And superb eggplants – thin and sweet. Nanji Island.

Nanji Island.

Tofu wrapped tofu. Shaoxing.

Pork and prawn in crunchy noodley things. Lovely garnish. Shaoxing.

Bus photos from our Zhejiang Travels.

Fake Disneyland/Copyright Infringement Park/石景山游乐园 Shijingshan youleyuan

On another Asiaobscura adventure, we jumped on Line 1 subway to the far west of Beijing. Bajiao subway station is almost the last stop, which means enduring a loooong trip on the busiest subway line in Beijing! But we stuck in there and after only a short walk from the subway station, we found ourselves at Shijingshan Amusement Park.

For those of you confused by the title of this blog, this amusement park is famous for blatantly copying Disneyland, as well as a number of other famous children’s brands. I think the photos will speak for themselves.

It’s great value for money. The entrance ticket is only about 30 yuan ($5) and you pay per ride. The little kiddy rides vary from 5-15yuan. And the bigger things up to 50yuan. I would suggest bringing food though, as there were only pitiful ice-creams and stale popcorn. But if you brought a picnic – it would be extra awesome!

However, don’t bring any butterflies. They’re banned.

The rollercoaster to nowhere. We weren’t quite sure what was going on with this one.

These kids were having a great time. Bouncing up and down and around and around.

It’s one of those parks where you have to take your own safety into your hands. You kinda weigh up the pros and cons before attempting any of the rides.

Clearly only this one guy was brave enough to attempt this one.

We weren’t brave enough for this ride.

For that reason, we mainly stuck to haunted houses. We tried all the haunted houses and they were weird. Weird. You either walked through or rode through on a train and were presented with a series of puppets and dolls which had light sensors and sometimes moved – there were all sorts of scenes.

The worst one was pitch black. And it wasn’t scary for the puppets, it was scary because we couldn’t see! We traipsed through hand-in-hand, not knowing what was around the corner.

There was definitely a theme of musicians in the haunted houses. Are drummers that scary???

This is the copied Disney castle. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s identical!

This one I couldn’t quite work out. It’s a rabbit, dreaming of a hamburger, that’s trying to eat itself, which has a live fish and noodles in it.

And, happy rabbits all shoot guns, right?

Fancy a ride in a vegetable or fruit?

The boys braved this one. It was like the Gravitron, but without a roof. It span around and around, holding the boys into their seats. Kinda. In a dangerous way. There were a few bumps and bruises after this. But the loud disco music made up for it!

All in all, it was a fun day. I only wish I had photos of the massive water boat fight ride. Picture 8 of us wearing plastic ponchos that were too small for us, piled into two boats firing water pistols at each other. Gold.

Find more photos from this trip on the Asiaobscura website.

Have a look at my photos from an abandoned amusement park in Beijing.

Temple experiences

Sightseeing in China often involves temples. And temples. And temples. You can easily reach a point where everyone feels the same. I though I’d hit this point. Until I went to Zhejiang and experienced 3 fascinating, and totally different temples.

In Hangzhou we visited 灵隐寺 língyǐnsì. The temple was in a forest, with lots of stone carvings. This provided an amazing backdrop. The temple itself was beautiful, but nothing new. It was a small temple tucked to the side that caught my eye.

The smaller temple was in the shape of the Buddhism swastika. Each brach of the was lined with massive bronze statues of what I can only describe as ‘brothers’. That’s all I could work out from the chinese. Being a temple, I don’t have any pictures from inside, but here are some etchings of the ‘brothers’ that were on the outside of the temple.

Everyone of them was unique. They had different facial features. They had different props. They had different emotions. Why did I enjoy this temple so much? It was quiet and peaceful inside as I guess most people were in the main temple. Because of the shape of the Buddhist swastika, it was rare to see anyone at all! As you drift around the corners, these ominous figures are looking down on you, and their presence is quite calming.

I’d love to here from you if you know who/what these figures represent. Drop a comment below – I really want to know more about them!

Just outside of Jǐngnìng, there’s a small She (pronounced ‘sher’) village, called Dàjūn, set up for tourists. The outside looks very contrived and false, but if you explore inside you just might walk up a small staircase which leads past some tiny little temples used by the original village. As you walk up the staircase, you meet door after door, and each one has a tiny little altar inside.

The names of all the people who donated money to help fix up the temple, and how much they donated.

The highlight of 绍兴 Shàoxīng was 吼山 Houshan park. This park was downright eerie. There were big rocks. There were low clouds. There were menacing surfaces. There were barking dogs. And not a person to be seen.

Inside this park I experienced my favourite temple of all time. There was nothing special in particular about the temple, but the atmosphere was amazing. Outside the temple it was seriously LOUD. There were cicadas everywhere. One step inside the temple and it was silent. Except for one tiny little illuminated radio, turning circles, and playing Buddhist songs. The temple was lit by oil lamps, candles and lotus-shaped lights. It was total peace.

Laowai travel

Travelling in China as a Laowai (foreigner) can be frustrating at times. I love getting off the beaten track and exploring new parts of the country, but it’s sometimes difficult to cope with the laowai ‘reaction’ that follows you closely wherever you go.

We had particular difficulty in a town called 舟山 Zhōu shān. As we walked down the street, we were met by lots of ‘hellos’ and giggles at our Chinese. At first, you don’t notice so much, but it starts to get wearing.

So, why do I get so frustrated at people say ‘hello’ to me? (You must be starting to think that I’m a grumpy bugger). I think the biggest problem is that I don’t like being put in a box. I don’t think it’s fair to the millions of non-English speaking travellers through China. The assumption that every person with white skin speaks English is downright unfair. I consider myself very lucky to have been born in an English-speaking country, but if I hadn’t, I imagine that the assumption that I was would drive me crazy!

So, I don’t reply. The ‘hello’ stalkers either disappear, or keep repeating ‘hello’. The repeat offenders sometimes get in trouble if they frustrate me enough. Short, sharp Chinese snaps back at them from me. In the worst case scenario they throw “Oh, your Chinese is great!” back at me. At that point, I have to walk away. This conversation is going nowhere. Fast.

In my mind, I’m thinking, “My Chinese is crap. I’ve said two sentences”. From their side, they’re trying to compliment me. But compliments just don’t work at this point. I’m quite happy to accept compliments. But talk to me for five minutes. Look at my conversation skills. Look at my pronunciation. If we can carry out an enjoyable, interesting conversation, then you can compliment me.

The other favourite conversation starter is: “Where are you from?”. I totally understand why. Some strange-looking people are traipsing through their countryside village, covered in sweat, carrying all their belongings on their back and you want to know where they’re from. I get it. But, woah, this starts to get old. And, truly, the correct answer at the moment is Beijing. I live and work in Beijing. But if I say Beijing, this just leads to a conversation full of confusion. Again, I think of the ‘laowai’ who have been brought up in China. There are so many of them in Beijing! Walking past the local high school, I see ‘foreign’ children switching between two or three languages, one of which being Chinese, with ease. Many of these kids consider themselves Chinese. They’ve been brought up and educated in China, so of course they do! I imagine, however, that they face this ‘laowai’ frustration on a regular basis.

Some places were great though! In the little town of 景宁 Jǐngníng, most passersby were surprised by our presence and asked: “What brings you here?”, “Are you travelling?”, etc. These questions open up an conversation that naturally develops and answers all of their curiosities as we chat. As a result, we loved staying here and learnt a lot about the area and it’s people.

A lovely lady in 杭州 Hángzhōu spent a few minutes chatting whilst waiting to cross the road. Her final words were: “时间长就会了” (If you study for long enough, you’ll be able to speak Chinese). This is the reaction that I love. This is the encouragement that I need.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love China. I love Chinese people. I live here!! If I didn’t love it, I’d live somewhere else! I know that we’re unusual, but it’s just that I don’t like being treated that way. And, I think that’s in part due to my upbringing. I don’t like being singled out, I’d much rather just fit in with everyone else.  However, thinking about Chinese culture, people who are different are always treated differently. Teachers, relatives, guests are showered with gifts. Are we being respected? If this is the case, then I should be grateful. But, why do we have to be? It’s never going to feel comfortable.

On a lighter note my favourite conversation for the trip went like this:

A girl (to her friend): 啊呀!两个外国人![”Oh, wow, two foreigners”]
Zac: 啊呀!两个中国人在说中文呢! [”Oh, wow! Two Chinese girls speaking Chinese!”]
Girl (to Zac): “!” “You can say Chinese?”
Zac: No.

(Ah, sarcasm just doesn’t cross cultural divides).

All these ideas can be summed up beautifully in this song by Ember Swift.

老外 (LAOWAI)

复歌
我不只是一个老外
我不只是一个老外
我不是那么奇怪
只是一个人

我不是一个动物在一个动物园
你不能总@拍我的照片
除非你先付钱,一张一百快
还有一个好注意:走开!
(复歌)

我进了一个饭店,我想点菜
饿死我了,“服务员,请你快来,快来!”
她来桌子笑着问我:“你也会用筷子吗?”
“请你快上菜!”我太不自在!
(复歌)

外国人不都是一种类型
我们从世界每一个地方来@到北京
我们都会说一点中文
都习惯了中国菜
有些也有中国的爱人
我们不是那么奇怪!
(说唱:牛牧)
(复歌)

我不是一个动物在一个动物@园。。。
(复歌)

English Translation (although no English version exists)
FOREIGNER

chorus:
i am not just a foreigner
i am not just a foreigner
i am not that strange
just a person

i am not an animal in the zoo
you can’t just take my picture
not unless you pay me first, each shot 100RMB
here’s another good idea: go away!
(chorus)

i go into a restaurant, i want to order
i’m starving “waitress, please come quick!”
she comes to the table and laughingly asks me, “and you know how to use chopsticks?”
“please bring my food quickly!”  I’m so uncomfortable!
(chorus)

foreigners are not just one kind of person
we come to Beijing from every corner of the world
we all know how to speak a bit of Chinese, we are all used to Chinese food
some of us even have Chinese spouses, we are not that strange!
(rap: by Niu Mu)
(chorus)

i am not an animal in the zoo…
(chorus)

Photos from a moving window

Our adventure across Zhejiang involved many a train and bus trip. The Chinese countryside landscape is fascinating. Here are a few snaps…

Mountains, farming, cottages, powerlines. 

Speeding along…

Farming and cottages

“I know, let’s build a spire for our gingerbread village!”

Ready to build.

Any ideas??

Anyone want to live next to the railway line?

Spires must be the “in” thing.

Daddy buildings and baby buildings.

A little bit of old China.

A neighbouring train.

The next Mawson Lakes.

Where are the trees? 😦

The next railway line under construction.

A yet-to-be-connected pylon.

Dam.

The new highway that’s about to open.

Best house ever! 

We passed through a ‘toy town’. We think all the toys in China may be made here.

A colourful load.

These churches suddenly appeared on the landscape. They all had the same red crosses on top.

A little one snuck in next to the bus station.

Shaoxing-wine-bottle-shaped bus stops!

Read more about Zhejiang in my Green Tea Blog Entry.

Read more about Zhejiang in my Green Tea Factory Blog.