Archive for the ‘Shijiazhuang’ Category

Recycled

1 October 07

corn_harvest

Corn on the street
Xing Cheng Pu, Hebei 2005

One of my favorite photos, originally posted here two years ago, October 2005.

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The Lost Photos

22 November 06

I was just checking through my bookmark folder when I came across Photobucket – an image hosting site. I had forgotten that last year I created an account and uploaded some photos. I remembered that I had uploaded them, but then lost track of them. So here they are!

These pictures were taken on 1 October 2005, China’s National Day, in Shijiazhuang, China. We (DH, American T & Me) spent the day in the park – being stared at, eating weird things on a stick, and chatting with a little Chinese girl.


The crowded streets & lovely air quality


Me in the park


Decorations in the park
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
More crowds & me in the middle of it all
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Peacock?

Our table in the park where we chatted with a little Chinese girl in English. She ordered her father to buy us beers!

Our favorite restaurant at the Shijiazhuang airport (that no longer exists) The Mongols. Here – a waitress, DH and the American T

Our favorite meal – Pork in Fish Sauce with Boiled & Barbequed Bread


The DH digging in. He is quite handy with the chopsticks!

I can’t believe that these photos are more than one year old! When these were taken I was still very new to China and every day was an adventure. (Actually, that is still pretty true!)

Pics of the City

8 April 06

I took a photos while I was shopping the other day. Notice how gray and dull and slightly grainy all the photos are? No, that is not my poor cameraship, that is just what the air is like here. Pollution.

Here is a shot of the stadium, where our bus parks while we are in the city. Inside the stadium there is a huge supermarket, somewhat like a rundown Chinese Wal-mart.

A bicycle parking area, with attendants. You pay the attendant, and he/she watches your bike for you.

The Provincial Museum. Absolutely boring.

The plaza in front of the museum. Often used for dancing, kite flying, expositions and general loitering.

An intersection in front of the museum.

Traffic police

The World Trade Plaza Hotel. One of our favorite places in the city. Here you can eat a really good Western meal at really high prices. (On our standards.) They have the best hamburger and club sandwiches in town and a great buffet.

That’s all for now!

Pardon My Completely Girly Entry – SJZ Fashion

8 April 06

So I went shopping the other day. Not for groceries, either. I went clothing shopping. Or maybe I should say browsing, since the only thing I could find to fit me was a purse and some shoes. I’m not exactly large. In fact, in the West I’m on the small side at 5’4″. But it is a different story in China. I’m more on the large side of average. The clothes here just don’t fit me. (To be fair I didn’t actually attempt to find my size or try anything on.) Mostly I just wanted to see what the selection is like for Spring in Shijiazhuang.

I first went to Beiguo department store. Like any department store, they have a floor devoted to different things. First floor is makeup, shoes and jewelry. Second floor is trendy junior/misses clothes and appliances. Third floor is higher end women’s clothes and pyjamas. Fourth floor is men’s clothing and some really matronly women’s stuff. Fifth floor is sports clothes, watches, exercise equipment and computers. I may have missed a floor somewhere there, but you get the picture. I toured the misses section and actually saw lots of tasteful, cute things. I was quite the show for the workers there. They followed me around to see what I was looking at.

I wish I knew how to communicate with the salesgirls. I was looking for some socks to accompany my new shoes. In the end, I just took them out of the box, pointed at my own socks, back to the shoes and then a light went off in the salesgirls’ head. She showed me to the sock section, and picked out what she felt was an appropriate pair.

Last summer when we arrived in China I noticed that it was fashionable to wear ankle or calf-high thin nylon socks, like trouser socks or the bottoms of pantyhose, with sandals, something that would be kind of strange back in the West. Evidently this is the time of the year when you need to buy your ankle-hose, because they were for sale everywhere. Reminded me of last October, when the thermal underwear was on sale everywhere and people were lined up to buy them.

Other than the department store, there are also free-standing chain stores and a few boutique style shops for purchasing clothing. My new favorite store is called Honggu. It is a leather goods store that sells really cute handmade purses, wallets and bracelets. (At ridiculously cheap prices and pretty high quality.)

So what are the popular clothing styles here? Chinese girls love to experiment with their clothing, although they are not as crazy or successful as the Japanese. On the streets of Shijiazhuang you will see an eclectic mish mash of styles, but there are a few that stand out.

The most popular among young guys and girls is the sporty look. You know, track suits and trainers? Lots of addidas and nike and other brands I’ve never heard of. Did I mention basketball is huge here?
Then there is the New Wave 80s look. It’s like Pat Benatar exploded or something. Everyone has spiky, multi-layered hair and wears lots of graphics and crazy colors. They even do the crimping iron – remember that? Some people’s style seems to consist of layering on as much sequin, sparkle and color as possible, preferably in the day time.

My favorite look is the art kid look. Seems there is an art school around here. They mix all of the above, but they get it right and look really cute.

As for the older generations, they always leave home looking their best, no matter what that may be. The old men favor suits and old military jackets and the old ladies sweaters and pants. It’s just great to see older people out moving and socializing.

I really enjoy going to the city to observe fashions on the girls because you never know what you are going to see. This trip I made the semi-mistake of wearing a very red, very bright spring jacket. I was like a moving target. As if I don’t get enough attention with my redhair and pale skin. (Did I mention that the other day a cabbie took a picture of me with his cell phone, while I was in his cab?)

National Day!

1 October 05

Today we braved the crowds and went to the city to see how the Chinese celebrate National Day. Lots of flag waving, lots of people wandering around, lots of shopping. Sort of seemed like a holiday in the US!

First we headed to the People’s Park to drink a few Pi Jius. (Beers) We were seated at a little table eating pistachios and peanuts when we noticed a little Chinese girl, sitting beside us, blowing bubbles and saying in English, “Hello, How are you? I like potato chips.” She was really cute and before we knew it, she was talking our heads off. Her English was very good, but very basic. Her father sat at a nearby table just laughing.  The girl began trying to get us to say things in Chinese, which really drew a crowd. We must have had 20 people standing around just watching as we brutalized the language. Everyone was laughing of course. Funny how back in the US I would have just been mortified, but here it just seems natural that a crowd would gather around us at any moment.

After spending an hour or so in the park we went to our favorite Brasilian restaurant and had a feast of barbecued meat – all for $4 per person. We stopped by a very swanky club (on Chinese standards) and listened to a great Filipino band for a while before taking a taxi back to the airport. Another great day as high-rollers in China.

Now back at home on TV we are watching the sort of celebrations we expected on a National Day – military bands, soldiers standing in formation…. Right now a guy in a white military uniform is singing some sort of patriotic anthem while a group of soldiers perform syncronized maneuvers behind him. One thing I noticed in the city, many old men were walking around wearing their old military uniforms, or what remained of them. I took a few pictures and hopefully I will figure out how to upload some here.

Two Unique Chinese Experiences

18 September 05

I have to tell you about two experiences I have had recently – China’s version of a “day spa” and Shijiazhuang’s night life.

China’s version of a day spa is called a bathhouse. Now, I know in the West, “bathhouse” has a sort of negative connotation, but not here, at least not in Shijiazhuang. It is a place to relax, have a massage, a sort of retreat. I went with the girlfriend of one of the other instructors. (update – turns out that bathhouses have both legitimate and sketchy services.)
The place was very fancy and plush, with lots of ornate decoration and marble. It felt a bit like a very nice hotel lobby. We gave a 100 Yuan deposit (about $12 US) and received a locker key. (The deposit reminded me that this is a place for the upper-class. They are the only ones that can afford it.)

The locker room was not like a typical, grubby, sweaty locker room. This one is carpeted with a gold chandelier and dark stained wooden lockers. There are attendants everywhere to help you, for instance, the attendant took our keys and open and closed our lockers for us. You sort of just get used to being constantly observed as a foreigner and the Chinese have a very different idea about personal space than North Americans – there just isn’t any.

After changing, we went to the steam and sauna rooms (none of this is coed by the way, men have their own section with a Jacuzzi, which the women don’t have.) Evidently it is supposed to be very detoxifying; I found it smothering hot at first, and then quite relaxing. Afterward we went to the showers where there was plenty of hot water. (At our hotel we generally only have hot water from 8PM to 8AM or whenever it runs out!)

After showering, we put on a pair of pajamas that the attendants gave us and went upstairs to the relaxation area. The room is sort of like a dimly-lit movie theater, (there is actually a movie screen, too.) It is filled with waist-high cubicles. In each cubicle are two twin beds, separated by a table. There you can sleep, relax, watch a movie or have a massage.

My friend and I decided to have head and foot massages. The head massage included the head, neck, shoulders and half way down the back, and was heavenly and so relaxing. The foot massage was odd at first, because I wasn’t really used to having my feet touched, but I instantly felt de-stressed. The total cost for 90 minutes of massage and use of the spa facilities? $10 US. I think I will go every week!

The second experience is the city nightlife. When we take the bus into the city, usually the latest we can stay is 8PM, when the last bus returns to the airport. At 8PM we noticed that there were tons of people out in the streets, walking their dogs (mostly little Pekingese and cocker-spaniel looking dogs), doing Tai Chi, line dancing, singing Karaoke, eating, or just observing other people. It is really a lot of fun. In one park we came across a whole group of people ball-room dancing.

Last night we decided to stay in the city late to go out and see how the Chinese of Shijiazhuang entertain themselves. We were a group of 5, an Australian, an Italian, another American, DH and I.

Our first stop was at a restaurant. We were led to a private room, something that is actually quite common here. We had a feast of very good Chinese food, some of the best we have had so far. Then we headed to a “lounge” that the Italian had heard of. Well, it turned out to be a singles bar located in a sort of subterranean club, three levels down. I felt like I was entering a speak-easy or something. There were tables full of Chinese surrounding a stage where a few performers were singing. We were not sure whether they were amateurs or not. It seemed like an open-mic kind of thing.

After about an hour we finally figured out how the club worked. On each table there were pieces of paper and a pen. If you saw someone that you liked, you called over a girl dressed like an angel or cupid, and gave her the message you had written, usually including your mobile phone number or email address. These messages were then posted on an electronic display above the stage, all in Chinese, of course. Occasionally the musical acts were interrupted for a betting contest or a free-for-all disco dance. There were even door-prizes. If you are single and Chinese it looked like a fun place.

After the singles club we went to Disco City which is a big multi-level nightclub. On one level was a karaoke bar, (they call them KTV), on another a smaller bar with techno music and on the lowest level and dance floor with dance music. This wasn’t just any dance floor, however, this one bounced up and down with the beat of the music. It must be set on springs or something. It was a lot more fun than it sounds!

The clientele of the club were Chinese in their mid-20s to 30s, and I imagine they are more well-to-do. We were pretty surprised to see about a half-dozen Westerners as well. The Chinese love to drink, as evidenced by several of them passed out in various places of the club! Doesn’t seem to be the big no-no it is in the West. All-in-all it was quite an interesting night.

A New Job

17 September 05

I have a new job! For the first time ever, I happened to be in the right place at the right time! I am now the remedial English tutor for the academy! To get started, I ‘ve spent the last two days editing and proofreading the academy’s English website, which was in “Chinglish” or very bad English, as translated directly from Chinese. I am learning that Chinese is a very flowery language. I hope to learn more, but for now I only know how to say hello (Ni Hao), thank you (Xie Xie) and how much (Dor Shao Che).
Today is a beautiful day. It rained over the past couple of days, sending the pollution away for a few days. I’ve noticed that after the rain, there are rust spots all over my brand new bicycle. Acid rain perhaps? It is noticeably cooler out, too, which I am thrilled about.

Speaking of bicycles, two days after we bought them, DH’s left pedal fell off. He hasn’t been able to get back to the store to have it fixed. I told him he should have not been so cheap and paid an extra $10 for a fabulous bike like mine.
The other day we went into the city to look at mini-refrigerators and water coolers. In China, there is plenty of boiling hot water to be found everywhere, but what we want is COLD water! It turns out that a very nice medium sized refrigerator is only about $200! So we are going to get one. That way we can keep essentials like milk, yogurt and water cold. (DH insists that beer is also an essential.)

It is lunch time (11 AM) so I am off to the canteen.

Double Decker Donkey Trucks

11 September 05

There are a lot of trucks on the highways of China, loaded to the max with all sorts of interesting things. They are not the usual American style eighteen-wheelers, more like the European style with smaller trailers and smaller cabs. I imagine they are transporting all the goods and materials used to make the stuff we consume everyday all across the world. Today I saw a double-decker trailer, loaded up with donkeys, sort of the way we transport cattle in the US, except the top trailer was open to the air. Many of you know my obsession with donkeys, so it was sort of a cool sight for me. Unfortunately, donkey is treated like any other meat here in China, and I have heard that there is a Mongolian restaurant behind our hotel that serves a very good donkey barbecue. I can’t imagine in a million years that I will be checking that out, but DH says he is game to try it.

Today was an extremely polluted day and now I understand why people complain. The air literally tasted of chlorine at times. That has got to be bad for the lungs. The visibility was so bad that the academy couldn’t even do any flights. We went to the city to pick up our now fully-functioning digital camera and stopped by the provincial museum. There we learned that the chief products of the region are chemicals! No Kidding!!
I have heard that Shijiazhuang is one of the most polluted cities in China. What a shame that we are living in it. Actually, I have also heard for the first time ever they are actually trying to do something about it. The problem is that there are many coal power plants and chemical factories around and they have been pretty lax with anti-pollution measures in the past. Now with the Olympics coming in 2008, China wants to suddenly make everything nice and clean. We’ll see. Yes, I know the Olympics will be in Beijing, but we are only a few hours from there and the airport here will most likely be used as a secondary destination.

Hopefully with the coming of fall we will start to have those crisp, clear days that I love so much. (I did say hopefully…)

The Village

8 September 05

Today DH and I ventured to the “village.” (I have no idea what it’s name is, that is just what everyone refers to it as. Sort of makes me think of that creepy movie, The Village.) It was only about a 20 minute walk away. Basically, it is a stretch of road with shops along both sides, for about a quarter mile. The shops sell things like bicycles, food, alcohol, industrial stuff, clothes, etc. It is very dusty and sandy and doesn’t really have any charm at all. But the villagers were very friendly. Everyone kept calling out “hello” to us, which is their only English. Again, we were the morning entertainment. We each bought a bicycle, from separate stores so we could kind of “spread the wealth.” Mine is maroon. Nothing special about it except it has an extra suspension spring. The bikes are like paper and we are worried about even riding over a rock with them, lest they fall to pieces. Quality does leave a lot to be desired here. Still, they will get us around just fine, and for a total of $25 you can’t complain. (Although that is a fortune to the villagers.)

Tonight we ate at the academy canteen. We had rice, a stir-fry with pork, red bell peppers & celery, and a pear, all for 50 cents. It is so unreal!! (I have to admit that although very cheap, the canteen food is not all that great. We are going to try more restaurants around the airport to see if they are better.)

I hope to have a link up to some pictures soon. Back in Toronto, I broke the LCD display on our digital camera, so we were unable to use the menu or see pictures after we took them. Well, we visited an authorized Canon repair shop here and found out that for repair and labor it would only cost $50, so we are getting it fixed. I can’t wait to get the camera fixed so we can take lots of pictures.

Super Long Post

7 September 05

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with sights, sounds and new experiences and I haven’t had an opportunity to sit down and really blog about everything. So I will try to catch you all up on my happenings. Let me first say that I really, really like it here. We are basically living in a rural area with lots of peasants, and we are the first westerners many people have seen. Everyone is friendly, or at least curious about us, but never malicious. We are like celebrities; everywhere we go people watch us. We are 30 Kms from the big industrial city of Shijiazhuang, but there are several buses per day that we can take into the city. It is a new city, growing rapidly since the 50s, so there are not a lot of antiquities or old buildings. But variety there is. Everything can be found here. We went to a supermarket today that had everything you could want, except maybe deodorant. Maybe not the exact brand, but I was surprised to see Herbal Essence Shampoo, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and all kinds of Post cereals. But more about that later!! Now let me tell you about our arrival here, our last few days, and various thoughts and observations.

 

The airplane ride from Vancouver to Beijing was excruciating. If you ever do this flight, go first class if at all possible!!!!! An economy seat is just too small for 12 hours. Neither one of us could really sleep, so we were exhausted by the time we arrived. And what a relief to get off that airplane! The Beijing airport is very modern and easy to navigate – there are signs in English and Chinese. We passed through immigration and customs without any problems.

 

We were met by Ted, the Chinese guy who is a sort of liaison between the academy and the Chinese world. He speaks English, which was a relief. We went to a hotel close to the airport to stay the night. The drive from the airport reminded me a bit of Costa Rica. There were lots of small industrial brick buildings, like auto repair shops and who knows what else. The street was tree lined – Most of the streets and highways are planted with flowers, shrubs & trees.

 

DH and I decided to take a walk around the hotel, to have a look at the neighborhood. It was probably working class, but we weren’t too sure. Everyone just stared at us. I’m surprised there weren’t any bicycle crashes the way they kept their eyes on us and not the road. (By the way, there were bicycles everywhere!) We had dinner at the hotel. The restaurant was comical to us, because we were not used to having a waitress standing over you waiting for you to decide what to order. Basically we just pointed to a picture of what we wanted – no English. We had some sort of stewed eggplant which was incredibly delicious. We went to sleep at 8 PM! DH went for his medical exam and immigration paperwork in the morning, and I watched an English movie on Star TV. He came back with Ted at 11 and we left for Shijiazhuang. On the way, we stopped for lunch and had the famous Peking Duck, which is so good!! You sort of have to look past all the duck fat, and just eat it. The duck comes sliced up. You take a very thin pancake and add a few slices of duck, hoisin sauce, cucumbers and onion, and then wrap it up and eat it like a little taco.

 

Now we are at the Shijiazhuang Airport, living in a hotel. The aviation academy DH is working for is brand new and very impressive. All of the classrooms have top of the line technology, computers, overhead projectors, etc. DH says it really is a dream teaching situation, better even than anything he saw in the US. (Mind you they have Western management). There is an assortment of instructors here from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, France, Italy and now Spain. Everyone seems nice, young and I’m sure they all have interesting stories. The students are mostly well-to-do Chinese and speak English fairly well. There is a gym, a “canteen” for meals and a lounge area at the school. There are a few more restaurants in the area, including a Russian style one we have eaten at several times. Evidently, there are several flights that come in from Russia, I think they must be cargo. So, one can always find Russian Vodka at this airport!

 

There is a small village, about 200 people, close by that we are going to venture to soon. We can buy a bicycle there for anywhere between $1 to $100. A bicycle is a necessity here at the airport, in order to get between the hotel and the academy quickly and also to explore a little bit. So far we have been into Shijiazhuang proper a few times. I like the city. Today we went there to the supermarket to buy some Nescafe, cereal and milk. We had some “street meat” which was a delicious burrito-like thing of shredded carrots, noodles, and a fried egg. It is made right in front of you on an old griddle pan set on top of a wagon, pulled by a bicycle. It was super hot which reassures me. I won’t drink the water, but I will eat food that is very well cooked. Anyway, it was delicious and so far I’m feeling fine. We ate in the botanical garden, across from a huge statue of Chairman Mao. With his hand raised in a salute, I felt like he was welcoming us!

Now here comes the bad news. My job with the school in Shijiazhuang didn’t work out. They wanted me to live at the school full time, and it was very difficult to get from the airport to the school. I didn’t come to China to be separated from DH, so I couldn’t take the job. But, there are a few possibilities for me still. There is a female doctor at the academy. She is here to provide care & first aid to the teachers & students. She speaks very little English, so I thought I could work with her and maybe teach her some Medical English. I know one thing for sure – I definitely want to learn Chinese, and as quickly as possible. Very few people speak English here, and then only a few words. The best purchase I ever made was a Mandarin Phrasebook which has been INVALUABLE, and I’ve only been here less than a week!

My impressions? I LOVE the food. I like the people. I like the language. I don’t like the pollution. (And we haven’t seen the worst of it, because for some reason it all cleared up the day we arrived – must have been the rain.) I feel very comfortable and safe. I’m happy. Everything is so cheap. DH and I ate at the canteen yesterday for $2, and we were full. Our breakfast burritos today were 12 cents each. I had a delicious yogurt drink for only 50 cents. I’m telling ya, life in China for a westerner is total luxury!

Well now you are caught up, I plan to blog more often and keep you all up to date.

Take care and I hope everything is great wherever you may be!

Oh one more thing – other than the internet, which we should soon have in our room, – I don’t have any access to news and what is happening out there in the Western world. I feel very isolated because of that. For example, I don’t have a very clear idea of what is happening in Louisiana and Mississippi, only that it is very bad. Unfortunately some of my friends have been directly affected by Katrina and I just want to express my concern and sympathy. Being on the other side of the planet, I feel completely helpless. I hope to be better connected soon.