Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lei Feng Pagoda

On my day off today, drilling recommenced outside our window so it was time to get out and see some sights on this beautiful fall day.  I took my camera and headed to the Lei Feng Pagoda which caught my eye on previous excursions but I never had a chance to visit.  It's not in my tour book, and I didn't see any westerners!  I saw some tour groups there but they were all Chinese.  I learned it was originally built in 977 AD to treasure a lock of hair of Sakyamuni, a key figure in the Buddhist religion.  I wonder if my hair will be so lucky when I'm dead? The pagoda was collapsed in 1924, and rebuilt in 2002, on West Lake's eastern shore.
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The forest surrounding the pagoda was brilliant with fall colors.
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The inside of the pagoda was decorated with many Chinese historical figures and depictions of the construction of the pagoda.  The picture on the right shows the pagoda's ceiling which is done in gold leaf.
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Some of the painting decorating the walls...
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In this Pagoda there was an elevator which I refused to take, and instead hoofed it up 4 long stories of stairs.  An easy climb after our twice daily (at least!) climb up the six stories to our apartment!
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Some views on the way up...
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Looking across an arm of West Lake to Hangzhou beyond...
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There were some temple grounds on the other side of the pagoda.
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The pagoda was in the middle of a little forest whose leaves were turning brightly colored.  This is really in the middle of the big city, but it sure doesn't feel like it with all of this nature around!
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... emerging from a walk in the forest to this huge pagoda!
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Some of the striking red leaves on this Japanese maple.  I think the Chinese are good at planning their gardens around the seasons so something is always interesting to look at!
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... having some fun with the camera!
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Emerging from the pagoda and the forest, I was treated to this charming little park.
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Some of the features near the park...
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It was in the 40's and 50's today; definitely coat weather,but the sun sure felt good!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Secret Santa Strikes Again!

The students are starting to perform their Secret Santa duties with each other.  One girl offered, through a 3rd party, to wash an article of her recipient's clothing (they do it all by hand!)  When she received the laundry, it was a whole basketful!  It was definitely more than she bargained for!  Other students have received, notes, cards, some store-bought tea drinks, candy, and pieces of cake.  No one has been found out as a Secret Santa yet, so they are all being very secretive and creative!  However, about 1/3 of my students have not received anything yet, so I have bullied, threatened and cajoled the remaining students to get busy or their GRADES WILL SUFFER!

It is fun to watch the students describe in class the items that they are receiving; I only hope that everyone receives SOMETHING their Secret Santa.  I'm worried that a few of the boys will blow it off.  We'll see!

Sue is doing a Secret Santa activity with her class and NO ONE has received anything yet, so I think she will have to start the bullying too.

Thank you thank you to those of you who have sent packages!  We have been loving all of the U.S. goodies, and it's so much for for us and the kids to open up the boxes!  The University has guards at all of the entrances and all around campus (creating jobs for everyone?).  I was huffing and puffing under the weight of 3 big boxes as I carried them to the bus.  A guard approached me and I thought he was going to take pity on me and grab one of the boxes.  Instead, he wanted to know what was in the boxes and wanted me to open them all right there on the sidewalk.  I certainly didn't want to do that and wreck the surprises for home, so I told him "Chocolate and Toys", and then played dumb until he got frustrated, so he pulled out a book and had me sign my name.

As I walked away he showed my signature to his guard buddies and they all had a good laugh.  It's nice to know the Chinese can laugh at my messy handwriting just as well as Americans!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Teaching Christmas in China

Well those of you who know my utter lack of religiosity will find this funny!  I continued with my Christmas lessons with a discussion on the birth of Jesus. So I put up a Nativity Scene on the big screen in my class and we discussed all of the players; Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the Angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus, the 3 wise men, the star in the East, and of course the virgin birth in the manger.  I printed the story for them from a Christian website, and they were amazed to learn that a large part of the West believes that this story is completely factual.

I also discussed the concept of Original Sin and how many Western Christians believe that if you don't take Jesus as your Savior then of course you are going to hell.  They noted that with 1.5 billion Chinese, perhaps hell will be a very crowded place!

Buddhism tends to be the predominant religion here, although the majority of the young people I have met don't have a religion.  The older generation still has many superstitions and gods, but with capitalism in full force, the younger generation has left these superstitions by the wayside.  It's interesting to note that the lack of religion does not indicate a lack of morality or caring for others.  On the contrary, the Chinese we have seen do such a wonderful job taking care of their young and their old (and their foreigners! ) .  They are very family centered, with Grandma and Grandpa involved heavily in the family and in the day-to-day raising of the children.

Christmas here is apparently a commercially driven celebration.  The stores would like it to be a bigger deal so that more shopping will be done; it's certainly good for the economy. However, it's currently more of a Western imported novelty that doesn't appear to have caught on yet with the general population.  That said, my students seem to enjoy singing the Christmas Carols and hearing the stories of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday in the Park

We ventured back to the East side of West Lake today where we visited our favorite Indian restaurant, and then hung out near the lake on this warm autumn day.  There is a small stream next to the restaurant that turns into a major water feature, which the kids loved playing with.  Sophie found a leaf to float...
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Sophie loved going back and forth over the rocks that were put as stepping stones across the water.  All of the Chinese mothers cringed every time she hopped across.  However, we are very aware of her Super Girl powers of levitation so we weren't worried.
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Sue sat and watched the kids and tried not to look sleepy in the warm sun after a big afternoon meal. We all knew that her Weatbrook genes were kicking in to make her want to close her eyes!
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The boys searched for awhile to find some way to gum up the water works...
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... and they found it!  They used some sticks and leaves to make a small dam for the algae that floated by.  Jack was the engineer for a change as Peter was busy a lot playing with his hackey-sack.
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Tim the blogger, on the wrong side of the lens for a change! 

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... And here are a few more pictures from yesterday's trip to Shaoxing from Sue's camera.  Here are Tim, Peter and Jack on East Lake.
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Tim at the Lan Ting Pavilion
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... and Sophie in her binary, but unpredictable states of ON and OFF.
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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Trek to Shaoxing

We spent our Saturday on a visit to a nearby town called Shaoxing (shau-shing), which is about 1 1/2 hours away by bus.  We ran into a traffic jam on the way there, so we spent 2 long hours on the tour bus visiting with the locals.  We also hired an English speaking guide who was a lovely girl of about 24 years old.  It was a Chinese tour company, so she spent a lot of time translating what the Chinese tour guide said, since she didn't know a lot about Shaoxing herself!  So, trying to listen to her, navigate crowds, schlep all of our things around and keep an eye on the kids was exhausting!

Lin Xun's Residence

Lin Xun (1881-1936) is one of China's most famous modern writers.  He's known for writing over 10,000 poems, as well as stories and books that were at one time considered too dangerous for the general public to read.  Because of this he had to hide out in Shanghai's French Concession in 1927.  Some scenes from his housing compound below.
The drawing room...
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Around every corner, this guy was taking pictures of us (and Jack in particular, I think), so I aimed the lens at him for a change!
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These plaques hanging in the main hall are the family rules.  There were 12 plaques in all.  I think we should get some of these for around the house - once I figure out what our rules are!
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The bedroom area...
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A nice big kitchen with a 7 burner stove!
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Hanging out in the gardens...
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... a look into some of the inner courtyards of the house.
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Some of the garden areas under cultivation...
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This little boy and his family were on our tour as well.  They were on vacation from Wuhan, the same city that Sophie came from!  So, he took to calling her "mei mei" which means little sister and they were fast friends.  They both have the same outgoing personalities!
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The boy did some martial arts posing for the camera that Sophie was trying to imitate.
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The two goofballs, goofing off :)
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Shaoxing Garden

Next, we took a short walk through Shaoxing to a garden on this warm fall day.
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Sophie, going her own way, as usual!
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Some workers repairing the waterworks under the street, the old fashioned way!
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One of the little waterways that meanders through the city.
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Peter and Jack enjoying the garden...
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Some small buildings surrounded the pond of expired lilies, making this a very autumn looking scene!
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East Lake

Shaoxing 080 In Hangzhou there is the famous West Lake, and in Shaoxing there is an East Lake.  There are many high cliffs and carved out stone grottos along the finger shaped lake.  We had rides in small boats run by the locals. 

There were only 3 allowed per boat, so Sue, our English speaking guide, Sophie, and another tourist were in one boat, and myself and the 2 boys were in the other boat.  Girls in one boat - boys in the other!

It was interesting to watch them row the boats.  They row a giant oar with their feet , and use a smaller hand oar as a tiller.
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Sue giving the Chinese "peace" sign as they all do in their pictures!
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Some gorgeous scenery by the lakeside.
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The boys had a fun time on the boat but they wanted to rock it.  When they started, they got a scolding from the boatman :). 
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Lan Ting (Orchid Pavilion)

Next we visited a wonderful garden called the Orchid Pavilion.  It's the wrong season for orchids but it was still a great place with streams and natural surroundings that we all enjoyed.Shaoxing 120
Sue and the kids found some geese, and where there are geese, there are peddlers selling goose food!
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The peddler told Sue to go across on the rock bank, past the Be Careful sign, to feed the geese.
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I think any of these geese would outweigh Sophie!
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In this little brook, the woman floats a small cup of yellow rice wine.  The scholars would sit on pillows on the bank.  If they took the cup of rice wine and drank, they would have to think of a poem to recite or sing a song.
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Here is scholar-Sue, sitting on a pillow made of some sort of organic wicker material.  She looks like a coat-holding Mom here!
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... and here's Danger Girl, standing on the VERY EDGE of a pond of water.  Can she back up 2 or 3 inches?  No, she must be on the VERY EDGE or it's no fun.
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"Hey Sophie! Let's get away from the edge and go look at some bamboo!"
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We ran into a tour of deaf Chinese and they all motioned for a picture of Jack.  He must have had at least 15 pictures requested.  He needs to start charging money.  He was a good sport and smiled for all of them.
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The Incident of the Bus

After a long day of touring, we climbed back on the bus and were on our way home for the 1 1/2 hour bus ride when we were stopped by chance at a checkpoint.  The bus driver had forgotten his license so they would not let him take passengers any further!  They made us wait for a second bus to come get us out in the middle of nowhere.  After an hour wait we climbed onto the second bus, and passed through a toll station.  The toll operator saw all of us crammed into the much smaller bus and told us to pull over!  Two of the tour guides got off of the bus so that we had enough seats for everyone.  Very strange, since on city busses, standing room only is the normal mode of transportation!

Here's Jack entertaining himself by making a raft out of sticks and grass while we wait for the new bus.

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Here's our old, comfy bus that we had to vacate due to improper paperwork.
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This woman was stuffing rice into a bag that she had laid out to dry.  Sophie and her new boyfriend rushed over to help her.  She politely said that she didn't need ANY HELP!  But Sophie and the other boy continued to help her anyway. They are so thoughtful!
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We're definitely ready for today to be over, although we ended it the Western way by eating sandwiches from Starbucks, with a latte to go!