Monday, January 21, 2008

Much-Delayed Update

It's been a busy new year; I've had too much to do to manage to find time to mention it, instead of not having enough to do worth mentioning.

Early in '08, Liz volunteered to take me to HangZhou to spend the day. It's one of the more scenic spots near Shanghai, and I think that she was even a little excited to go, as she'd just been seeing the place in one of her Chinese dramas that she watches. Mostly she was going for me, though, since she knows that I want to do sight-seeing and what traveling I can while we're in the area.

We had to wake up much too early to make it to the train station in time for the fast train to HangZhou. It made it a one-and-a-half hour train ride instead of a three-hour ride, with just one really short stop halfway there. We didn't have any plans once we got there, other than heading to the lake (one of many "West Lakes" in China, apparently the one that all the others are named after, even though it's not a real natural lake, and is instead a man-made thing). Having many hours until the train was to leave back for Shanghai, we decided to do the half-hour walk to the lake instead of catching a cab.

Later I decided that a cab might have been nice, since they were so easy to find at the time.

We walked around for a few hours, stopping frequently to take pictures (with the photo gallery now available) before we got tired and decided to get lunch. Liz had heard about a restaurant there, so we looked around for a bit before we finally found it.

Or so we thought. After we'd eaten and paid our bill (surprisingly cheap for the amount of food they served, although Liz hadn't realized her fish was going to be priced by weight), we continued on our way, to find another restaurant and a boat both with the same name.

We saw quite a few places in the day we were there, visiting both the seal engraver's guild and the yellow dragon cave. There was way too much walking, even though we only managed to see the north side of the lake, and not even all of that. Before we knew it, though, it was time to head back to the train station.

Or feet knew that we'd been walking way too long, though, and were all too happy to get back to somewhere they could sit down. They were hoping for a cab, but didn't realize that apparently all cabbies go off duty at 4pm--or at least that's what the first two cabs we flagged down told us. Eventually, after another hour or so of walking, we did manage to grab a cab, saving us from another half-hour's hike, only to find that the train station was standing-room-only.

We were both exhausted, but all-in-all, it was a day well worth the effort.

That's not the only traveling that we've done in the new year. Three weeks in, and we've gone on a couple of major trips. Shortly after our HangZhou trip, we took a trip to Sanya with work. Four days there had two four-hour meetings in Chinese, but it still made for an interesting trip. And not only because Liz ended up falling ill, meaning I got to go on the sight-seeing portion of the trip by myself (or rather, with other people from work, but without Liz along).

We had 4 days in Sanya, (although the last day was mostly sitting around waiting for the bus to take us to the airport to catch our plane back--getting back to our apartment by 1am or so) including a couple of stops at seafood places (for which my taste is not growing), and a vegetarian place that served vegetarian dishes that pretended to be meat but generally were actually tofu (for which my taste also is not growing). Still, the trip did bring me to the Buddhist Culture Center and the ends of the earth, and even though I generally had no idea what was going on, not understanging the tour guide myself, I got to see some interesting sights.

That trip required a three-hour-ish flight each way, and was the first major trip. The other being the many-more-hour flight bringing us back to our current stop in California, on the way to my sister's wedding next weekend.

Traveling isn't the only thing keeping us (or at least me) busy this year. Chinese class is also going well. This year we already took a field trip in class to a nearby fruit market. The five students that showed up that day were split into two teams to determine which team could get the better deal at the fruit market.

My team, getting the seedless grapes marked at 28.8 RMB/500g for 25 RMB/ beat out the team that got the price of 9.8 RMB/500g-marked strawberries to 9 RMB/. I, however, think it was a mistake, as the price we were told was 27 RMB, but when they entered the price onto the scale, they marked it down to 25. However it worked out, I was still happy that I knew enough Chinese to know how much food cost, even though I didn't know the names of all of the fruits they were selling.

It helped me feel better, though, that my Chinese teacher didn't know either, and when we asked him what the fruit that looked like Bart Simpson's hair was called, he had to ask the workers there.

For now, it's much too early in the morning to be writing, but having just arrived back in the states yesterday, we're unable to sleep any more. We were happy to manage to make it to our home church here after flying in, and were glad for the warm welcome we got on coming back. I think our pastor was also happy to tell everyone that it was the first time anyone had told him that they'd just flown in from China, and that it should make everyone else feel much better about their commute.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Mazing Enigma

Liz and I have been incredibly busy, surprisingly so for holidays spent mostly by ourselves and away from the incredible business that comes with family gatherings. Christmas wasn't nearly as big a deal here--we ended up having to take a day off of work to be able to spend Christmas day at home, even. It was a really nice, day, though. Sleeping in a little bit, and then spending some time opening presents and enjoying each other's company before the cleaning crew came in for the day.

Christmas on a Tuesday made the week interesting at work. We worked on Monday, and then had to be back to work on Wednesday. But then, with New Year's coming up the next week, we actually had to work through Saturday, giving us Jan 1st off instead.

New Year's itself was pretty nice too. Liz's parents took us out sightseeing on New Year's Eve day, helping Liz and I to realize that we've been in California for possibly too long. The temperature was somewhere close to freezing, but I started to fear that my fingers were going to be falling off. It probably wasn't helping that I was playing around with my camera for much of the morning.

We ended up spending the morning in ZhouZhuang, a place that was founded over a thousand years ago. Now it seems to be filled with a bunch of stores trying to sell things to tourists, but it was still a lot of fun to walk around and keep from trying to freeze. Lunch was at a nice little place where I managed to get some really good Kung Pao Chicken (or however it's supposed to be spelled). But we didn't stay too long before we bundled back into the car where I got to read while Liz and her mother slept for the trip back.

We spent New Year's Eve as just the two of us, watching movies and whatnot. Shortly before midnight we heard such a commotion outside that we just had to run to our window and see what was happening--an entire throng of what appeared to be ants (hey, it's kinda' fun living on the 20th floor) had crowded around the huge Christmas tree by our building. We debated running down to join them, but it was too late. By the time we would have made it down, they would have mostly been gone anyway. So instead we just watched them from our nice viewpoint, and then enjoyed seeing the fireworks in the street.

Decorations are starting to come down from the holidays. The place we had lunch today had removed all of theirs already. Sadly I fear I'm never going to understand why there was a plexi-glass maze in front of our building that was always closed off. It had something to do with Christmas, I think, though. Why else would it have been red?