Archive for December, 2005

Christmas Weekend

26 December 05

Happy Boxing Day!

We had a great weekend, but it was very tiring and now I need another weekend to recover!

First of all, to my friends and family, no, I am not Scrooge, I am just lazy. Which is why you didn’t reveive a card (via snail mail nor email) from me this year. I hope to use this blog space to let you know that I was certainly thinking about you all, and I wish you the very best for a very Happy New Year.

Now, the parties… As I mentioned before, Saturday evening we were to attend a Grand Opening Party for the Mansion Hotel. We did, and here is the scoop.

Let’s be sure one thing is clear – the hotel is a bit tacky, BUT when you are in rural China, tacky isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s actually quite fun. And to be fair, the exterior and interiors are a little over-the-top, but it is new and interesting and I think it is great.
Grand Opening
All the red lanterns, streamers and arches are traditional Chinese decorations. The brown thing in the foreground is a trash can shaped like a tree stump. Do you see the big, plastic cacti?

At 3PM we arrived for a tour. We were greeted by Santa Clauses at the door who were handing out small stuffed animals. Some of the hotel workers were dressed up as Santa Clauses, and since they all have a small frame and definately are not fat, they seemed a bit out of place as St. Nick, but it was a great effort.

The Lobby was really quite overwhelming, with marble and columns and a huge crystal chandalier. It opened onto a dining area, where we were seated for tea. That area is called the Four Seasons Hall. It has a water fountain running the length of the back wall, which was pleasant, and a large window in the ceiling to view the sky. (Or a cloud of pollution depending on the day…). Next to the hall was the tea bar, which is decorated with lots of wooden screens and panels and looks like  place I would like to relax and drink some tea. We were allowed to go upstairs to view the standard hotel room which is very clean and bright, with windows facing out the front of the hotel. It looked very nice, although a little smaller than the room we have now. Turns out that the Turkish Baths and recreation center was not yet ready, so we didn’t see them. I”m also very disappointed to say that the swimming pool won’t be put in until next year!

The second part of the tour concentrated on what our brochure calls the “Biology Restaurant.” With visions of dissections and anatomy class swimming in my head, we left the hotel and walked over to a large greenhouse, which I had just assumed was only a place for growing the plants for the hotel. It is really amazing, actually, because it is a huge restaurant, with footpaths and a meandering stream with fish. All of the tables are hidden among the plants. They had a buffet set up and that is where we ate our dinner later in the evening.
Biology Restaurant
In this photo, you can see a footbridge over the stream. Here is a group of us eating dinner:

Dinner at the Bio Restaurant

One nice thing about the evening was that we were a pretty good mix of Westerners from the Academy and Chinese guests and hotel workers. After dinner, there was a huge fireworks display which was beautiful. (Actually the fireworks were set off very close to where we were watching, so on one hand it was probably pretty dangerous, but on the other hand, it was amazing because they were exploding directly above us. It was a sensation I had never felt before; it was as if the fireworks were coming straight at us in 3-D.)

Sunday evening, a group of about 30 instructors and guests went to eat a Western-style Christmas Dinner at the World Trade Plaza Hotel restaurant in the city. It was delicious. So much so that I over-indulged, stuffing myself to the brim with cheese, salad, bread, turkey, sausages, sauerkraut, cod, vegetables, desserts and coffee. Never knew that sausages and sauerkraut were very Christmasy, but I will not complain, it was heaven!

Christmas in China was not bad. I enjoyed the weekend. I have to admit, though, that although the city was decorated with trees and lights, there was a certain feeling missing. Perhaps it was because it didn’t snow. For me there is something really magical about waking up on Christmas morning to find a snowy view out the window. (Something that hardly ever happened in Texas, but I got used to it in Toronto.)

Tomorrow I will be going to Beijing for the night because I have to have a medical check done for my visa.  I am looking forward to seeing Beijing, even if it is just briefly, and also seeing what the hospital or clinic will be like.

Have a good week!

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Let the Christmas Party Season Begin!

24 December 05

So it turns out that we didn’t need to spike the punch. At our first Christmas party of the year, there was more beer and MaoTai (Chinese Vodka) punch then I have seen in some bars! It was a fun evening. We didn’t even have time for the silly party games. (Whew…what a relief.) Most of the evening was taken up with eating, handing out Secret Santa gifts and, for me, posing for a photo with just about every student there – close to 150! I think everyone really enjoyed themselves, and it was interesting to mingle with the students in a social setting. The relaxed setting allowed even the more shy students the opportunity to talk with instructors. I received a big box of Dove chocolates as a gift from my Secret Santa and I have already made good use of it.

Now we are preparing for our 2nd party of the season – the grand opening of the Mansion Hotel, which is really called the Oujing Holiday Hotel (pronounced O-jing). They have it all decked out with lights, huge floating red lanterns and inflatable red arches over the driveway, which are part of traditional Chinese celebrations. We are to arrive at 1500 for a tour, and from what we have heard, it is pretty darn luxurious!!! I can’t wait!!! Then at 1800 the dinner and party will begin, ending with fireworks at 2100. I will get lots of pictures and share all the details tomorrow, before our 3rd feast at the World Trade Plaza Hotel in the city.

It’s absolutely fabulous celebrating the holidays in China! We are even planning on spending New Year’s in Beijing next weekend. I hope your holidays are great wherever you are!

Happy Winter Solstice!

22 December 05

Today was the shortest day of the year and here in Shijiazhuang the sun set at about 5 PM. It truly does feel like winter here although we still have not had any snow. The temperatures are staying at just below zero and there has been some brutal wind over the last few days. The skies have remained mostly clear and there hasn’t been any really heinous pollution lately.

To celebrate the solstice we followed the Chinese tradition and ate a selection of meat and vegetable dumplings. They were delicious. I have always had a kind of non-scientific hypothesis that all of the world cultures have some sort of bread wrapped food. Whether it be Polish Pierogies, Spanish Empanadas, Turkish and Eastern European Boreks, Chinese Dumplings, Asian Spring Rolls, Italian Raviolis, etc… I’ve made it a goal to discover what tasty creation every culture can make with some type of bread-like wrap and some sort of delicious filling, be it savory or sweet. Really, it is a life ambition. Just like my goal to learn how to say “cheese” in every Earth-language. We’ve got to have goals!

Tomorrow night the school is having a Christmas party for the students and instructors. I’ve been assigned to come up with some games to play… you know, like musical chairs. Not too thrilled about that. From the sound of it, no one else is too thrilled about playing games either. Not unless we spike the punch….

The Catching Wind Bird Catches Wind

19 December 05

Last night DH and I “cooked” another meal in our room, if making a salad counts as cooking. It was labor-intensive enough to be considered hard work, that’s for sure. Because of my paranoia about raw foods, I had to hand wash every piece of lettuce and then hand dry it. (I’m also a little paranoid about the water, so I wanted to make sure everything was dry.) You try that and see how quickly making a salad wears you out! It turned out delicious, though.

Today was another long day with five hours of teaching. This evening I had two hours of Chinese lessons. I really like the lessons because the two girls who are teaching me are so sweet. Next week I am going to try reviewing English with them, although their English is amazing compared with my Chinese.

Oh!! Shocking news! I just remembered! My bicycle was stolen this weekend!! I was sooooo sad this morning when I went to the bike parking area and I couldn’t find it. It was bound to happen, though, because the bike lock was broken. Oh well, I guess this means I’m going to have to make a trip to the village to buy another one this weekend. Having your bike stolen is so frustrating. This is the second time this year for me. (Once in Toronto and once in China.) It is a long walk from the Academy to the hotel, especially at night!

Holiday Season in China

18 December 05

To give you an idea of the class of Christmas decorations in the city, see below…

Here the DH and I pose with the tree in front of the Beiguo department store.
(It was really cold and windy.)
Christmas Tree
Happy Holidays!

Cafe Latte Grande

18 December 05

Yesterday we spent the afternoon and evening in the city. After some shopping, we stopped at a bar/lounge that is popular with the instructor crowd for its live music. We were waiting to take the academy bus back home and had a couple of hours to wait. We had been in the city for about 6 hours already and I was tired. I ordered a cafe latte – something I had never ordered here before. Imagine my surprise when the waitress brought me an entire bowl of coffee. I’m not joking, the cup was huge! I was instantly reminded of the opening scene of “So I Married an Axe-Murderer,” the Mike Myer’s movie from the early 90’s, when he freaks out over the size of his cup of cappucino… Here are a few photos to show you what I mean, although I don’t think that photos really do the tankard justice!
The biggest cafe latte ever Its as big as my head!
The photo of me is not the greatest!! Please keep in mind it was late and I was really tired – hence the need for a an entire gallon of coffee.

A Most Esteemed Government Official Visits our School

16 December 05

Yesterday, our school was visited by the head of the CAAC – the Civil Aviation Authority of China. This sort of thing is a very big deal here. The road to the Academy from the airport was lined with flags. The campus was spruced up and we were made to hide our bicycles around behind some buildings. A huge red banner welcomed the big guy in both Chinese and English. All of the students and instructors lined up outside to greet him and clap as he arrived, as is the Chinese custom. He then made a quick tour of the school, led by our general manager and president. After a mini-conference, he left the school and flew back to wherever he came from. The whole thing didn’t take more than an hour, but the novelty of it gave the whole day a festive feel. DH and a few others told me that the visit of some government official in their own country wouldn’t cause even the slightest stir. It was very interesting to see how the Chinese reacted. I am just glad that I can park my bicycle in front of the school again.

This is really the only interesting thing that has happened around here lately!! Except the fact that the weather has just been brilliant the whole week. What a sensation! To look up and see blue sky! and the horizon! and the sun is actually yellow, and it hurts to look at it! (Most days here the sun is more of a burnt-orange color and you can look directly at it thanks to the protective pollution layer…ha ha)

Satellite Update

14 December 05

One more post…

The master satellite channel made a complete cycle of all its channels and this is the line-up:
Nickelodeon, CNBC, Fox News, ESPN, MTV Philippines, Star Sports, Channel V, Hallmark, National Geographic, Adventure, ETC, CNN, Animax, Sports Plus, E-Talk, EWTN, IBC, Bloomberg, Deutsche, TV 5 France, HBO, Cinemax, Net 25, Studio 23, ABC Asia, SCTV, TBN, Discovery, Discovery Travel & Living, Animal Planet, BBC World, Living Asia, 4UTV, AXN, PBO and about 5 other Philippino stations. Now it is safely tuned in to HBO.

Satellite Fun

14 December 05

As I was sitting here reading and working on the computer, the TV suddenly came alive, scaring me near to death. See, I had been hoping that BBC or HBO would come back on so I left the TV on. All of a sudden, somebody downstairs must have started changing the satellite channels – turns out we have a lot more channels than I thought. I watched as they channel-surfed. So what do they leave the master channel tuned to????!!!!!!!

PBO – A movie channel from the Philippines!! At least I can understand one word out of every 50 – there are a lot of Spanish words in Tagalog. But what I want to know is, we are in rural China, right? We are lucky if the hotel staff can speak a little English and some Russian. Who the heck is watching Philippino movies? Reminds me of a lot of the nurses I used to work with, though, so that is kind of nice.

Oh wait, they just spoke a few words in English, too. Now there is some sort of Philippino Rap band playing and everyone is dancing hip-hop style, but they keep getting interrupted by a barbershop-quartet 50s style singing group. Hmm… It seems the movie is about a high school reunion. I’m just bored enough to watch it….

Hotel Christmas Decorations

14 December 05

Hotel Decoration 1 Hotel Decoration 2
Hotel Decoration 3 Hotel Decoration 4
These are all pictures of the 6th floor at our hotel. The housekeeper girls spent a long time decorating this place up. In the first picture, there are lights hanging across the wall, usually they are on and blinking. In the past couple of days some of the decorations have begun to sort of wilt and fall off the wall, ceiling and tree. Yesterday I noticed that the tree had been enhanced with what appears to be ornaments made out of carved, blue foam. Good intentions and a lot of spirit went into these efforts, regardless of the result!