22 August 2011

China Farewell

Our 7 week summer vacation is drawing to an end, as is our year of living in China. And we bloggers will be taking a rest.
Shanghai was a great epilogue to our China experience. As this city model indicates, it's a unique combination of river (the Huangpu), gleaming skyscrapers, and the grand buildings along the Bund.On one side of the river is the modern China ...
... and on the other side is the Bund, representing old Shanghai and its development by the British, French, and other foreign Concessions. Our teaching colleague, Alison, found the site where her grandmother was born in 1904. 
We experienced Shanghai's nightlife with a view from the world's highest lounge, in keeping with China's fondness of being the biggest, fastest, and highest.
But somehow this picture best symbolizes the paradoxical China we've come to know over the past year.

13 August 2011


Japan has left quite an impression on us and we've thoroughly enjoyed our two and a half weeks here.
Hiroshima. Just over 66 years ago the world's first atomic bomb was dropped on this city. The Peace Memorial Park is a somber reminder, as the A-Bomb Domb testifies.
The museum has a powerful display of the city before and after the blast; this model shows the fireball and its devastating results. Given the March 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear reactor problems, nuclear energy is a hot topic in Japan. 
Back in Tokyo at the Contemporary Arts Museum we attempted an artful self portrait.
And met up with Kyoko, our Japanese exchange student from 21 years ago.
Our final day we walked in another one of Japan's incredible gardens, and here enjoyed the teahouse, site of a former shogun's estate in downtown Tokyo, and ...
... watched butterflies at work.
Daniel ponders as we get ready to leave. Sayonara! 

10 August 2011

Love Japan

Our holiday in Japan is absolutely wonderful; it's so different from China.
There's nothing like a stroll through Tokyo's Ginza, one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world. The department stores have basement food emporiums like nothing we've seen, with all the bowing staff dressed in black uniforms.
Even the sake barrels look appealing, although we haven't quite acquired the taste.
We heard the sound down the street, followed the crowd, and ended up at a traditional drumming festival  ... 
... eventually joined by dancers of all ages.
Then to Kyoto, a city renowned for its temples; this is the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji), a Zen Buddhist temple founded in the late 1300's. That's real gold leaf.
And we marveled at beautiful dancers, the tea ceremony, and Ikebana (traditional flower arranging).
The phrase 'City of the Dead' came to mind when we saw this hillside Buddhist cemetary, where each headstone comes with containers for flowers and incense.
And you know you're in a great place when you discover long-hair dachsunds are one of the most popular breeds; one day we counted 8 of our furry friends and had our picture taken with Andy and Jiang.
A day in the coastal resort of Kinosakionsen soaking in the hot spring baths was a real treat, where we joined the tourists wearing yukatas (cotton kimonos)  and went spa-hopping.
We stayed in a traditional inn and enjoyed a full course dinner in our room on tatami mats, although getting up after dining was a bit of a struggle. 

Even the manhole covers are works of art!

04 August 2011

Beijing to Tokyo

Continuing our summer travels, we completed the most essential goal of Beijing tourism and arrived in Tokyo.
We made the trip from Shanghai to Beijing on the high-speed train in less than 5 hours, zipping along at over 300 km/h. The day before we took this trip the Wenzhou high-speed train crash occurred, spurring strong public discussion of official mismanagement that seems on the right track.  
Built for the 2008 Olympics, the Beijing National Stadium is a marvel -- even the light fixtures match the Bird's Nest. 
And having visited the Great Wall, the essential Beijing pilgrimage, we can finally leave China.
Which we did, and arrived at the Lutheran Itchigaya Center guesthouse in Tokyo.
We joined throngs at the Sensoji Temple incense burner and 'bathed' in the smoke, thereby ensuring a year of good luck.
The center of Tokyo is the Imperial Palace where examples of classic Japanese architecture -- gates, bridges, and watchtowers -- have survived since the 17th century.
We came across a group practicing Kendo, a Japanese martial art based on traditional samauri swordsmanship. 
From the 52nd floor of the Mori Art Museum and Observatory we enjoyed a bird's eye view, looking down on an older landmark, the Tokyo Tower. And 3 weeks from today we return home -- finally!

25 July 2011

Cruising on the Yangtze

We just finished a week-long cruise down the world's 3rd longest river, the Yangtze.
The river is at it's low point, as indicated by the water line in the Three Gorges. This area was dammed over ten years ago, displacing over 1.3 million people.
The Three Gorges Dam is China's biggest engineering project since the construction of the Great Wall. It ranks as the world's largest concrete dam.
We took a day excusion to Huang Shan, the Yellow Mountain. The bamboo forests, granite peaks, and twisted pines were simply breathtaking.
The mists added to the ambiance, as did the padlocks young lovers lash to the chain railings as a symbol of their eternal love. Although we recently celebrated our 35 anniversary, we were without a padlock.
The ship's crew treated us to several shows -- by day they're waiters and cooks and in the evening they sing and dance.
We sailed downstream from Chongqing to Shanghai, passing a mix of newly built cities, terraced farming areas, and industrial development such as this coal port.
The Yangtze already transports 70% of China's shipping, and these boats under construction will add to the 2 million vessles currently licensed on the river.

We enjoyed a farewell dinner with fellow travelers -- two French women (one teachs in French Polynesia) and a couple from the UK (he operates a high-end whiskey packaging business in Shanghai and his wife is a retired physician). Gan bei! (Chinese Cheers!, literally "bottoms up").

16 July 2011

From North to South

We've been on the road for a week, making our way from the north to the south of China via trains and planes.
Our first stop was Xi'an, where we met up with our friend Hilary. We attended her wedding last January and since then she's been trying to get a teaching position (interviewers have said she's either too short or the wrong gender). 
This is the bus for Qinzhou University (the photo's not backwards but the sign is), where we will be teaching if we return for a second year. The city and university are of similar size to Baotou (3 m. and 10,000 students).
But the view from our housing is completely different, as we watched rice being planted. We're going from dry and cold to wet and hot.
We also said farewell to our travel companion William, who led the English Bible study we so much enjoyed in Baotou.
And then to Chongqing, one of China's megacities of over 30 m, where the air is thick all day. Shopping is the new liberation, as the relative size of the Liberation Monument and new shopping centers and towers attest.

We enjoyed an evening on the river admiring the lights, a foretaste of the Yangtze River boat cruise we start tomorrow.

08 July 2011

Goodbye to Inner Mongolia

The semester is over and we've been saying our farewells.
Daniel will miss being surrounded by a bevy of attentive students.
One of our teaching colleagues invited us to her home for a taste of Mongolian dishes ... delicious.
And the middle school teachers had us over, where we ate and sang (our contribution was "Happy Days are Here Again").
Students gave us lots of unique farewell presents. This is a cartoon of our family with the apples on the left representing our children and their children. So that's what we look like to them!
Daniel spied this BP sign so paid homage to his former employer.
July 1st was Canada Day (144 years) and the anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (90 years); here we are at the Red Museum.
The church Bible study group celebrated our departure with with food and games.
It's been an absolutely great year. We leave for several weeks of travel in China and Japan, and then to Houston  -- home sweet home!