Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Yesterday I went to Hangzhou with Rocky. It’s a picturesque town outside of Shanghai about an hour and a half by bullet train. Usually people spend a leisurely 2-3 days enjoying the sights, but we were going to squeeze in the best sights in one day. First of all we went to a temple on a small mountain called “Linyin Temple.” I’ll include a small sampling of the 5000 pictures that I took.

The mountain temple was a very earthy place, and I think the most impressive part was the feeling of being there. The atmosphere was not the same as Shanghai at all. Smooth wet stones paved the way and the unevenness in the ground came naturally, rather than from a sewer repair project. Cicadas blasted their music into the hazy summer day with the murmur of Chinese chitchat as the backup vocals. It was hard to distinguish the smoky incense from the haze in the air, and the sweet smell of incense mixed with a just-rained smell.

We walked over a meandering path built into West Lake that took us around to see the beautiful lotus gardens. They were full of healthy giant floating leaves and giant bright pink flowers. No wonder the Buddha is always sitting on a lotus—I’d never realized how big and comfortable looking they were before.

After this, we stopped at a restaurant to eat some famous food of the area and to power up. I think I had an out of body experience while I was eating the “not very fishy-tasting-fish soup.” It was a dark brown color and had slightly thick consistency due to the cornstarch. Julienned bamboo shoots, mushrooms and ginger pieces were suspended in the soup. As I was eating it, I felt my solar plexus getting hotter and hotter as if a fire were building behind my heart. It was quite an amazing and powerful sensation and it really seemed as if I were observing my body from a distance. Then I realized it was just the ginger. Whew!

On the menu, we had Xi Hu Cu Yu, or West Lake with Acid Sauce Fish-- which I think “acid” really means vinaigrette. We split a piece of Dong Po pork, which was named after a famous poet. The pork piece included layers of skin, fat, and meat. I don’t know what cut of pork it came from, but it was probably slow cooked for a long time, which made it really rich and tender. It had to be cut with rice.

Our next stop was Hu Pao Quan, or Dreaming of Tigers Spring. You should have heard me mangle the names of these places when I tried to explain to my classmates where I went. This is where the water from the mountain spring constantly refreshed the air as we followed its small stream up to a teahouse. We drank some famous Long Jing Tea with the Hu Pao spring water.

What makes Hu Pao water so special, you may ask? Well, the density of the water apparently is greater than that of regular water, so it forms a higher than usual meniscus. We tested this theory on our tea several times. We filled our glasses to the top and then drop-by-drop saw how high we could get it before it ran over. We made some pretty impressive menisci and before I left the springs, I never knew I could pee for soooooo long.

Our final stop was the East Shore of West Lake (Xi Hu). Since it was “smoky” outside the sunset was cancelled for the evening, but we took many many pictures anyway. On the banks were weeping willows that said, “Hold hands with your love and stroll slowly. Come on, share an ice cream in this heat!” Weeping willows have a lot to say, it seems. Anyway, we stopped at Mickey D’s for some sodium and my favorite: mango pie. We power walked to the station, and hopped on the train!

The sights were beautiful and I think Rocky did a good job of orchestrating a plan. Everything went off without a hitch and before I knew it, the day was over. I can see why you’d want to spend a few days in Hongzhou. It’s a beautiful place and it begs for you to slow down and wander.

Linyin temple

Me n Rocky
Carving in the wall of the mountain
The fish soup
Entryway to Lotus garden
View from the garden
At the tea house
View of the East Shore

Friday, July 24, 2009

Encounter with the Cricket Vendor

July 22

I was walking back from the corner store eating my salty lemony popsicle when I decided to stop and take a look. A guy had strings of tiny woven baskets containing really big crickets hanging up in a big arch from the back of his bike. The baskets had a soybean pod sticking in, or out, for the crickets to snack on while they were singing. What a powerful noise that comes from such a relatively small bug. I watched as a mother and daughter bought one. The vendor took a scissors and cut one of the baskets free from the cricket basket arch. The mom held it up to her ear to see if she got a lively one. She nodded, paid the 5 yuan (7 yuan is about a dollar) and they were off.

The vendor turned to me and said something, and took my hand so he could “help” me touch the bug. Okay—how much skin to bug contact can be made through the basket? I went along with his little charade.

He thought that was so funny when I ultimately yanked my hand away. I think it was a flesh seeking cricket and it got bigger and feistier when my hand got closer. Just one tiny touch was enough for me, I didn’t need a handshake with the thing. Okay thanks then—wow! Nice bugs! Bu-bye!

I must have made it almost to my hotel when I felt a shoulder tap. The guy followed me down the block to tell me something. He grabbed my hand and put it flat. He stuck the raw, uncaged, wild bug directly in my hand and tried to wrap my stiffened fingers around it and the dang thing bit me—or at least it sure felt like it. My bug-touch-catapult-reflex sent it airborne down the sidewalk where the man caught it and was laughing. Ha ha. One-way laugh.

He seemed enthusiastic and told me important things. When I tilted my head and chuckled, he said it louder, slower, and closer to my face—the international way to make someone understand. He pointed to the cricket, pointed to the cricket cages, and pointed at me while he was saying loud slow things I couldn’t get. I’m pretty sure he wanted me to take the little guy home—after all we had bonded.

At this point, my popsicle was down to the stick. My curiosity was satisfied (sorta) and there was nowhere else for this funny conversation to go. I thought quickly; I pointed to the fake watch on my wrist and pumped my arms like I was in a big hurry. Oh yes, we all understand, yes! I must go now! So sorry! He waved bye and I scurried off. Whew! I almost became an unwilling bug mom.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Solar Eclipse and Wet Chickens

This day brought a once in a lifetime event here—a solar eclipse that would last 5 minutes and will come back around again in 300 years. The forecast predicted rain and clouds, but that didn’t stop my class and I from getting up early and going to the Century Park in the Pudong section of Shanghai.

The rain was holding out and we were able to catch a glimpse of the sun through the clouds on our way into the park. After we camped out on the lawn near some trees, the clouds kept rolling in. I hoped for “rolling by” but they parked there and just about as the eclipse was full, it started raining, and then pouring. We had to break camp and head for the trees. We stood in the rain and the dark and it was quite an unusual feeling.

When it got light out again, the rain let up a little and we agreed that we should take advantage of being in the park. We agreed to rent a bike cart and we rode around. The bike people warned us that the umbrella built into the bike “not avoid the rain” but we ignored that and the five of us crammed into our 4-person cart.

Down the road a bit, it started pouring and the bike people were right. Water was pooling on the roof and dripping non-stop down our backs, into our laps, and on our heads, etc. We decided that we could use our umbrellas in the cart, so we coordinated and re-directed the rain. Plan C was to park our cart in a dry spot, so we did some off-roading to get to a wedding tent looking thing. We waited out the rain and when it let up, I helped push our cart out of the mud.

Sally, one of my students, told me that we were like wet chickens as we were using Kleenex to move the water around on the cart. Despite the unfortunate rain and clouds during an otherwise hot, clear and sunny week; a good time was had by all. We agreed that if the day had been perfect, the solar eclipse wouldn’t have been so memorable. Besides, now we have an excuse to meet up again in 300 years to see the next one. I’m bringing the drinks.

Our eclipse party

Getting darker!

The full on eclipse under the safety of our umbrellas

Our cart at the rest stop

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Random Pics

The first picture is the building we went into.

The second picture is one of the views I caught on film.

3rd is a biking picture. These are fun!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The famous Yu Garden

I went inside Yu Gardens with a student, Sally on my first weekend here. It was a balmy day and the sky was about ready to burst. We ran through the gardens to try to beat the impending thunder storm. We just made it and hid out in a stall selling fancy tourist goods. After the rain let up, we ate some colorful "sweets." I tried chewy steamed rice balls with surprise centers of sweet red bean paste. They are pretty tasty and there's nothing like popping a big bite into your mouth and chewing away!

Chinese Venice

On our first weekend out, Rocky took me to see some of the buildings in Pudong (a burb of Shanghai). We crossed the river in a ferry and went to a walking tour of the Yu Garden district and to see a temple. FIrst, we ate some famous juicy dumplings (dumplings you bite the corner of and drink the soup out before you eat the rest) and some noodles at the Fuchun restaurant. Here are some sample pictures from our tour!

Market stall

Me n Rocky

Me on the boat

Fang Shen bridge

Street scene

Food Vendor

Street scene

Tea of China

View from the Tea house

Bridge from the Tea house window

Fancy table at the Tea house