Xian — A Step Back in Time

Louis and I just came back from a wonderful trip to Xian, an ancient city in Shaanxi province, China. We decided to explore this historic city during the 7-day Golden Week holiday celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China, or the new China. We stayed at 7 Sages International Youth Hostel, an old army barracks in use hundreds of years ago. It’s unique charm and modern amenities made our stay quite pleasant.

The unique hostel where we stayed

The unique hostel where we stayed

We walked for hours each day exploring the city’s 14 km Ancient Wall (built 194 BCE), Muslim Quarter, modern downtown area, and of course, the museum complex featuring the famous centuries-old Terracotta Warriors, the statues created in 210-209 BCE by China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang who lived from 259-210 BCE.

The 14 km ancient city wall

The 14 km ancient city wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, we got to the terracotta site on our second attempt. Why? The onslaught of human flesh pressing against each other. In other words, the crowds! Let me explain something. During any holiday Chinese people travel across this vast nation to experience and celebrate their unique culture.

So, just image standing in a queue of about five thousand people waiting to board a bus. Well, we figured it would take us about four hours to reach the front of the line. Not happening! So, we tried our luck the following morning, arriving at the bus depot early in the morning and to our delight the queue was about one thousand, so our wait was just over one hour. Yeah!!! It was worth it; definitely the highlight of the trip.

The breathtaking army

The breathtaking army

 Closeup of the soldiers

Closeup of the soldiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the braids are visible

Even the braids are visible

Adding to the high point of the trip was the vibrancy of this unique city. From morning to late at night people were in the streets dancing, peddling fruits, veggies, clothing, electronics, and just actively enjoying life in China. We even bumped into Michael Jackson. Well actually, fans who so idolize Michael that they became the musical legend.

Michael Jackson lives x3

Michael Jackson lives x3

Moving from the flashy colors of the modern downtown area we stumbled onto the Muslim Quarter, an area inhabited by the city’s Muslim population. Walking down the pedestrian thoroughfare, we experienced a visual feast of colourful foods, crafts, sounds, and costumes.

Floral tribute to the national flag

Floral tribute to the national flag

We even witnessed a traditional Muslim ritual, or rather the preparation phase — the slaughtering of a lamb. During Eid al-Adha, an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide, a lamb is butchered symbolizing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of submission to God. The meat is then shared among family, friends, and neighbours.

Beautiful Muslim woman in Xian's Muslim Quarter

Beautiful Muslim woman in Xian’s Muslim Quarter

Cooked lamb feet

Cooked lamb feet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making candy in the Muslim Quarter

Making candy in the Muslim Quarter

During Eid al-Adha Lambs are sacrificed to commemorate Abraham's trials

During Eid al-Adha Lambs are sacrificed to commemorate Abraham’s trials

Waiting their turn?

Waiting their turn?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indeed, China is a world of cultures. Traveling to the different provinces is like going to different countries because the traditions and practices are so varied. That’s why we feel so welcome in China; we are part of the rainbow fabric that make up this remarkable east Asian country. Yes, we are different. Hey, we are black people in a field of an estimated 1.4 billion Chinese. In fact, we can’t go anywhere without the paparazzi in tow. Louis certainly has a growing fan base. “You look like a movie star’, say many, referring to him as Morgan Freeman. Really? So, we smile and strike a pose.

Louis and his Chinese fans, Cherry and Nora

Louis and his Chinese fans, Cherry and Nora

See you later, our fans are calling…

Dawn

 

Missing China!

Well, I have been in South Florida for nearly four weeks now, and guess what, mih miss China. There, I said it. And it’s actually true. Lawd, mih a tun Chinese! Living in Tianjin, China for more than a year now, whenever I come ‘home’ to Florida on holiday, I realize that home is truly where you make it, not always where you originally put down roots.

What do I miss about China? For one thing, I miss my wood ears, a type of edible fungus. Yes you heard me right. It’s called mù ěr in Chinese and it grows on old tree trunks. You’ve seen it in forests, on old trees growing in the backyard. Check the picture, really looks like ears doesn’t it? In China, it is a staple vegetable plate found in just about every restaurant. It may not look appetizing to you, but cooked in garlic with a sprinkling of Chinese five-spice seasoning, it’s absolutely scrumptious. On a related note, I also miss the huge variety of mushrooms you get in China. Wood ears

 

I miss the easily accessible vegetable markets you find in just about every neighbourhood. Some sprawl along for blocks, others are hidden away in narrow alleyways in bustling shopping districts. You find everything from mangoes, to jackfruit, to live fish in these markets. The colours, the freshness, the variety, and the fact that everything is super affordable, or cheap, makes it all the more attractive.

When I happen upon a new market, I spend hours exploring it, looking for a new kind of vegetable or fruit to experiment with. Of course, when I sit down to eat my new creation, I use chopsticks. That’s the other thing I miss, It's easy for menot getting these traditional Chinese utensils at restaurants in the west. Yuh waah sih mih a expertly use mih stick dem, It’s old hat to me now. So guess what I did the other day, I took my personal chopsticks with me when I met friends at a South Florida restaurant for lunch. I refused the knife and fork and tek out mih stick dem. The waiter looked surprised and watched me for a while. But, mih nevva mek it stap mih.

Of course, after the meal we all went to our respective cars to drive home. But, that now feels foreign to me because I walk or tek bus or subway in China. Public transportation is so easy and efficient, mih miss it. Buses come just about every 5 minutes, and the subway (Metro in China) arrives every 3-5 minutes. In South Florida, if you miss a bus you are likely to wait about forty minutes or more for the next one. There is no subway, but there is a tri-county train (TriRail and MetroRail). But again, they are scheduled 20 minutes to 1 hour apart depending on the time of day. Mi cyaa get used to dis.

Indeed, it is the China public transportation system that allows me to explore my adopted home. You are always surprised, taken aback, or in awe when you buck upon a new sight. One of the delightful things I miss is seeing young newly married couples taking wedding photos in picturesque places…this takes place everywhere in China. In fact, wedding photography is big business on the Asian continent. And, whether it’s day or night, the cityscape adds to the mood of the nuptial photos, especially those taken at night with the brilliantly lit buildings and causeways.

Newly wedded in red, Tianjin

The beauty of Tianjin at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing in parks and open spaces every night all over China

One thing I have gotten used to and absolutely miss right yah soh now, is my nighttime choreographed chinese dance routines with a group of women in the park. The picture on the right is just one example of what takes place every night all around China. Yes indeed, we dance to Mongolian, Tibetan, and even reggae music. So, when I get back at the end of August, mi haffi go play catchup. I miss the warmth, the laughter, the missteps, the hugs, the broken English and Chinese.

Speaking of the park, the other thing I miss is the fit elderly man I meet on my morning walks who eagerly teaches me Tai Chi. We may not speak the same language, but we clearly communicate on a human spiritual level. As well, the bevy of playful toddlers with their grandparents in the park every morning always makes my spirit shine.

I see these things as humanity at play, simply being. These are the things I miss.

Dawn

 

things you thought you knew…

well, i’m back just a day and i’ve started to feel nostalgic about china.  why?  well, here i am up in westchester, going to a ‘restaurant’ which should really be called a diner, having lunch, and the bill for 2, w/o drinks is $62.  what?  yep, that’s what we paid for a small piece of salmon on greens, which included of an overcooked, dried out piece of cheeseless cardboard someone called an omelette, on some little greens, and a small bowl of calamari.

perhaps its the latitude that has made me grumpy but in tianjin i recently ate a 5 star buffet at a 5 star hotel, which included all the tsingtao beer i could drink, sauteed snapper and salmon, a wild assortment of meats, fruits, fresh vegetables and desserts for less than $45.

food in china is so cheap, that i know i’m gonna suffer multiple sticker shocks for the next 2 months, just eating some basic dishes.  like even the salmon we got, was minute compared to what i get at ‘seasons 52′ in sofla, overcooked, and more expensive.  a great dining experience it was not.

anyway, this blog is not about westchester, but catching up on my journeys in china.

this blog can go under the heading of ‘things you thought you knew about china but have to get rid of immediately’.

i’m not sure if one can measure a country by the number of millionaires and how fast that number is growing.  and i’m not sure if you can judge a country’s growth by the amount of luxury malls.  but if those were measures, then china would be right up there with the top.

how would i describe a luxury mall?  hmm. well, not being in the luxury circles from any perspective, i could only guess that it would be a mall that carries primarily expensive luxury items, stuff that most people can only look at with envy. GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

 

in tianjin, there are several of those malls, amongst them hisense and galaxy.   going to any one of them is like an ‘ohhhh’ moment.  its like, if you have to ask where these malls are, you can’t afford it… and well, i did ask where they were….

 

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the one above is galaxy and to the left is hisense.     hisense is named after the chinese company which manufactures tvs, refrigerators and a/cs.

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while hisense is basically in the business and shopping center of town, galaxy is located next to the museums.   i could not help but be impressed by the architecture.  from the outside, it looks like a massive carrier from a star wars movie.

 

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is there the money to support these malls?  apparently.  again, refer to the rising numbers of millionaires.

you name the high-end product, you can get it in china.

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we found this jamaican product at galaxy mall.   hmmm.

 

 

galaxy mall at night

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-loui, from westchester, new york

 

chinese food for thought

i’ve always had issues with food… like almost my entire life, since i was about 3 or 4.  me not eating meat is not a choice.  let’s just say, it just is.  and for the record, that includes vegetables.  i tend to tell people that i’m non-carnivore, not a vegetarian as i find it difficult to eat many vegetables.

i have been doing better over the last 15 years or so, eating stuff that i had resisted for nearly a lifetime.  some fish has come not my diet and now in china, more vegetables are doing so.

china is essentially a big meat eating country.  they love their food, but most of all, they love their meat.  almost anything.  you walk on the streets and you see the offerings.  sometimes i’m close enough to blanching.  and to answer that unasked question, no, i’ve not seen any fried dogs.

anyway, eating has been an adventure, but more and more i’m introducing more stuff into my diet.  china isn’t very much into bread, cheese and plantains.  we eat out a lot, because its easy and cheap.  very cheap.

take this meal at the food court in lotte (not lotto as i’m prone to say) mall. it consisted of mushrooms, some greens, some kind of vegetable cake, and hot peppers.  you can add anything you want into a metal bowl (you pay by weight) and they will prepare it for you in a kind of sauté way.  they add ginger, peanuts, garlic, some liquids (probably some kind of soy sauce).  GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAGEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAwith that we had 2 kinds of fried noodles, and some brown rice with stuff.  quite tasty and extremely filling for both dawn and i.  cost?  less than US$8.00 each.  oh, yes, that included 2 8-10 ounces of freshly squeezed fruit juices.  orange and papaya in one, kiwi, orange and something else in the other.  98 yu (just about US$16.00), filling, and very healthy.

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i was struck by the zen-like quality of the layout, very calming, very green, lots of space.

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by the way, this lotte mall, is probably a mid-tier mall in tianjin.  probably.  definitely not top tier (that would probably be (hisense or exchange malls).  but there is not many in south florida to compare.   perhaps town center in boca or aventura.  but those 2 wouldnt compare to hisense or exchange.

but remember, tianjin’s comparison in the states would probably chicago, atlanta, seattle, san francisco etc.

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this is a dish i ‘made’ myself, if ‘made’ is the right word.  its actually left-over noodles that i stir fried with other stuff… green peas, tomatoes, onion and some kinda baked vegetarian dumpling that i absolutely love.  add some olive oil and peppers and i was good to go… chopsticks and all.

obesity is not an issue in china yet, but with the proliferation of foreign franchises like mcdonalds, kentucky fried, and one or two others, i do see some worrying signs.

still, as it is, it is very hard to gain weight in china.  dawn certainly has lost weight and i’m sure that in the first few months, i have dropped a couple of pounds.  however, i stay away from the scale…. prefer the sense of surprise joy when i finally do weigh.

 of course, along with the above american franchises, there are subway, starbucks (virtually on every corner), and pizza hut.  but this is a different pizza hut than we are used to.  here, pizza hut is a high-end restaurant where pizza is generally incorporated into the meal as the entree. however, there are the traditional appetizers and desserts as part of the meal.  it would be just like you go to a restaurant that also serves pizza.  but this is a pizza hut franchise  but very different.  but this is china.

and of course i have to round this out with tea and beer.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAtea, as a beverage, originated in china (check wiki) and there is a long history of it.  the british popularized it, exploited it and has now brought it to its new low… tea bag blends.    

here in china, almost anything is used to make teas, and its the real thing.  not blends or additives.  real bush.  the image right has from clockwise from top: chrysanthemum, buckwheat, oolong, sorrel, with lemon in center.  image below:   a special kind of green tea.

when i look back into my youth, i almost invariably had hot liquids first thing in the morning and last thing at nights.  it was just what my parents taught us and i think somewhere along the line we were told it was healthy.  somewhere along the way we began drinking cold drinks like apple and orange, then sugary syrup drinks and now even babies are given colas in their first few years.  ugh! the damage this is doing…

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but in china, tea is drunk mainly hot all throughout the day.  when you think of it,  you can understand the benefits.  firstly, most teas are naturally healthy.  but there is real benefit in drinking something hot in the morning and at night.  heat breaks up oils, cold causes oils to congeal.  think of that in your stomach.

in fact, most drinks are served warm in traditional chinese establishments.  only  in food courts and hotels are there options for drinks to be served cold.  and in most traditional restaurants, you have to ask for ‘bing’- ice.

most often, beer is served warm.  the local beer is called tsingtao, pronounced ‘chingdow’, and tastes something like corona or better yet, stella artois.  quite nice really and you often get it in large bottles.  of course, i am quite used to seeing jamaicans drink war m beer, but for me its ‘bing kuai de boli, qing’ (a glass of ice please).

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Pass dih Flittahs!

Fifty-one years, that’s more than half a century…and it’s how long the Darbys have been married. We celebrated with professor (now Dean–congrats!) Darby and Mrs. Darby on Sunday April 20 their post-Golden anniversary in true Jamaican style…in China no less.

 

Percival and Norma Darby marking the occasion

Percival and Norma Darby marking the occasion

Indeed, “who seh wih cyaa av authentic Jamaican food eena China?” Well, check out dih pikcha dem. Roun dih table, all yuh cud a hear is “pass dih ackee down ere soh nuh; a who a ole on to dih flittahs and fry dumplins? Mi nevva get no plantain! Then pon top a dat, wih lick back wid bun ‘n cheese and black weddn cake.”

 

Di ackee did nice yuh sih

Di ackee did nice yuh sih

Even faraway family and friends were enjoying the visual feast, through Skype. The Darbys’ daughter, Robin, blew kisses and wishes to her parents, while friend Gloria Christian raised her merlot-filled glass in honour of the couple.

 

Actually, you can’t get Jamaican food like this in China. It is thanks to the Darbys who brought their much loved island food with them that made this special occasion so memorable.

 

Heavenly flittahs

Heavenly flittahs

Sweet sweet Jamaica bun

Sweet sweet Jamaica bun

Black cake, a symbol of their wedding day

Black cake, a symbol of their wedding day

Yes indeed, it felt like we were sitting around the breakfast table in the heart of Kingston, not Tianjin, China. Even the Darbys’ Chinese guests, Qing Qing Li and Danqing Liu, were enjoying the experience. And, of course, the obligatory lesson in Jamaican patwa sealed the Jamaicaness of the day.

 

Not only did Qingqing and Danqing get an education in Jamaican food and customs, they also learned about Jamaican-Chinese and how they helped shape our beloved island. They also shared their culinary delights with us, adding a little Chinese spice through the jiaozi (dumplings filled with veggies) and cooked peanuts. It was truly a family affair, with lessons learned all around.

 

Jiaozi

Jiaozi

“It was nice to share our special day with my Tianjin family,” said Mrs. Darby.

 

Fifty-one years! Not many marriages last that long. Percival and Norma Darby are indeed an example of the unconditional love, patience, and selflessness that bonds two souls. If we all learn just one thing from their journey together, it would make our spirits shine brighter.

 

Happy Anniversary from all of us

Happy Anniversary from all of us

Peace, till next time. Dawn

 

hats. yes, hats

so the last time you guys saw me in the physical, i was wearing those weird hats.  i know the prayers were, ‘please, let him get out of that phase’, or perhaps ‘i hope that there is a law in china that outlaws those stupid hats’ lol.  no such luck my friends.  enjoy this little pictorial.

134_0005   this was likely your last look at me (stoopid hat lol)

 

but hah!!        134_0009

 

and it only gets worse              134_0020

 

and worser still.  look who is infected

134_0032           134_0031 134_0026          134_0022  but you gotta admit that she carries it off better than me.

well, its no fun being upstaged… i’m so borrred with this 134_0038

 

 

oh well ‘zai jian’.

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-loui, from tianjin

 

Fragrant Harbour

WARNING!!! This blog is picture-heavy.

so i might as well jump the chronological order of my time in china.  i’ve done a few extra things and had a few more interesting experiences.  but since i was in hong kong over the weekend, from where i was able to use Facebook for a mass shoutout, let me just jump to that.

according to wikipaedia, “The name “Hong Kong” is an approximate phonetic rendering of the pronunciation of the spoken Cantonese or Hakka name 香港, meaning “fragrant harbour”.  the truth is, i wouldn’t recommend swimming in the harbour right now… but that’s a different story.

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these are images of hong kong harbour. the one with dawn and this are looking from the island to the mainland.

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we only made a short visit to the island and really never got further than the ferry port. aah, next time.

we were invited on the hong kong trip by the previously mentioned professor and mrs darby.  both have had a long previous history there and not only wanted to go back there to reanimate memories and stuff, they were kind enough to invite us to share the experience.

it was a long trip, which ate into the weekend that we would have.

road travel to the tianjin airport was nearly an hour, and the flight to shenzhen was almost 3… just like traveling from new york to ft lauderdale. in fact, there were other such similarities.  tianjin is breaking into the spring much in the way that ny is.  tianjin, remember, is in the north.  shenzhen is in the south and its climate is more like that of south florida.

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at shenzhen airport

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ode to elle schorr

ode to elle schorr

mock battle at one of shenzhen attractions

mock battle at one of shenzhen attractions

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breathing in shenzhen kind of reminded me how much more noticeable fresh air is when you don’t have it for a while. it should be said that when the media speaks about pollution in china, the idea that comes across is that this is nationwide.  that’s far from correct.

shenzhen struck me as a place i could live… but thats really an impression based on instinct rather than a deeper investigation.  but the roads are lined with mango trees which were in blossom, so…

anyway, from shenzhen, we have to pass thru immigration to get to hong kong.  this is really an interesting experience.  read up on hong kong.  it was under british ‘ownership’ for a long time until they were ‘forced’ to give it back to china in 1997.  they however negotiated some special accommodations which came to be known as ‘one country, two systems’.  in this, hk was to remain a separate country with its own borders, even for mainland chinese citizens.  administration remained with the hk’ers for now but that will soon change. overall control lies in beijing, something the hk’ers resent.

anyway, from shenzhen we crossed the border into luohu (china)/lu wu (hk) for another 1 hr metro trip to hung ohm, which is the last stop and is regarded as hk.  there also, is the island of hong kong, just across the bay.  check wikipaedia (hong kong, kowloon, the new territories).

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inside the well known salisbury ymca

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construction always going on

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pubs off nathan rd

pubs off nathan rd

 

 

 

hk is regarded as a shopping destination for mainland chinese.  however, as is not unusual for those colonized by the british, there is major contempt shown for ‘others’.

that’s one of the legacies of british colonialisation… leaving behind them a hot bed of confusion, destruction, mistrust and self-hatred.  many of us think that as one-time british subjects, we are better than those who managed to keep free of british governance.  aaah, how we  fool ourselves. we, the consequence of british rule, need to recognize that the sun has long set.

there might be a saying, ‘when the dragon is inevitable, feed it… don’t antagonize it’.  something the hk’ers seem not to grasp.

as we were there, there was a story in the hk newspaper about the need for legislation restricting the amount of tourists who ‘clog up the streets making it difficult for hk’ers to walk’.  those words were aimed at tourists from mainland china.

however they will tell you, “the british have no money, the australians have no money, the americans have no money etc.  the only ones with money is the mainland chinese”.  there is some irony when those you are most contemptuous of are the ones who put food on your table”. ironical, yes. but not strange.

and then there is the politics of the whole issue.  but that again, is another story.

so shopping is the thing in hk and the mainland chinese flock there.  prices apparently are great.  actually i found a few things i couldn’t find on the mainland so i was glad to visit there.

there are a couple interesting phenomena.  on the streets, well tailored men will flock around wanting to make a suit for you.  i doubt there is any other country that has this concentration of tailors.  and they will make your tailored suit in  hours, good cloth, at great prices.  so if thats what you want, make sure to figure that in your visit.

another one is there is widescale fakery here in premium brands of bags and watches.  touters will approach you telling you straight up that they have the best in fakes.  they are not trying to con you, just making you know that you can con your friends for a great price lol.

another interesting thing brought to my attention, was that the scaffolding used in building these huge skyscrapers, are made of bamboo.  think about that.

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nathan rd (once known as the golden mile), where we stayed, is the main thoroughfare of hk, and i’m told that there is not many times when the streets such as nathan road isn’t crowded.

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just off nathan road

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nathan rd at night

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an alley off nathan rd

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there were some other attractions but the short time and the weather (slightly foggy) made it impossible to visit.  would i like to come back?  of course. but i’m happy enough that that’s off my bucket list.

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GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA   So we left hong kong and its back to tianjin via shenzhen.  the  long journey begins in reverse.  but its not without some interests.  this time we are travelling in the day and i gots a window seat.  i’ve been in china

since what? february? yes… and this is the first rain i’ve seen… at shenzhen airport.  i’ve seen rare droplets in tianjin, but this was rain, south florida/jamaica-style rain (awesome?).  the weekend before, it was pouring in hong kong, so i’m glad we missed that.  timing is everything.

 

 

as the plane drifts into tianjin airport, i was able to get my first view of tianjin by air.  yep, it was no shenzhen.  but then the air quality has been worse.  i was able to see more of this large city, and its layout.  being the end of winter, i’m sure the view isnt as sparkling as later in the spring.GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

i noticed the large tracts of unused land and hoped that they were used for farming.  one of the issues of china currently is population drift. china is busy building new cities all over the place, and this is causing the youths to leave the countryside to seek better opportunities in the cities.   history tells us where this is headed.  many are urging that something is done to stop this drift of youth and labour by refocusing on the agricultural areas.  but sometimes the obvious never gets done.

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Bye for now.  louis

 

 

 

design matters

one of the first things i noticed here in china, is how much they put in design.  i must say that i’m more than impressed by the measure they go to make presentation an important part of their products.  Traditionally the guidelines on packaging in China are always “for the convenience of the users” and “pleasing to the eyes”. i think american marketers could learn from this.

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better still, the package does not seem to affect the price too much.  were we to buy such packages in florida, we would pay through the teeth for something as tasteful and unique.

and great presentation isn’t limited to expensive stuff.  even the simplest of products are handled with a flourish, as if they were presenting diamonds to royalty.

the pack of cards here only cost 5 yuan or a whopping and mind-boggling 80 cents. so the question is, ‘why is the same pack of cards, sans packaging, so expensive in the states?’.  hmm.

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bye for now

louis davis

 

So spring is here… sort of.

 

it was with a certain amount of subdued joy that i greeted the first signs of spring. after all, i was told how beautiful it is, and i am looking forward to it. So of course the first signs has excited me. when the first blooms showed, the day was bright, the sky was blue.  but the winter gray is not done, and the days are a mixture of fog and smog, with low visibilty.  i can tell only by the acridity in the air which it is.  never thought my nose would become so important in weather lol.   the variations in temperature is wild . like 55˚ in the morning, to 80˚ by midday.  still, its not a hot 80˚, but somewhat humid.

garments are changing.  a few times i have seen a few citizens looking at me warily as i seem to be dressed more appropriately for late spring that late winter. it must be something about mad dogs and jamaicans…

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i was asked recently ‘what is happiness?’. my reply, ‘oftentimes, its the simplest of things’ …and it is. just the first signs of blooming flowers was enough to set me off.  now i’m prepping myself for the full bloom of spring.  already splashes of colour are beginning to show a new face on the city.  so, i just want to share some of my first images of the beginnings of spring.

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bye for now

louis davis

 

dorothy, we are not in kansas anymore by louis davis

Many of us are completely discombobulated by the thought of changing zip codes, much less changing countries… even more so when the country we are relocating to is completely different from our comfort zone.

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one of my last views of ‘merica

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my first view of china

Since late February, I have been living in Tianjin, China.  Tianjin is a port city in northern China, some 80 miles/129 kilometres to the southeast of China’s capital Beijing.

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When the news ‘leaked’ out that I was moving from Ft Lauderdale, Florida to China, the response was predictable, “What!  Why China?”.  Many people were happy for me, though puzzled by my choice.  Many openly wondered how I would survive there, “The Chinese are so different. They have a different government.  Why don’t you go to somewhere safe (meaning less of a challenge)?”.

I do admit that I knew that coming to Tianjin would be challenging, but it was one I am prepared to meet.

One of the ingredients for enjoyable traveling or successful migration, is not to bring too much baggage and negative perceptions with you.  You have to be open-minded.  Just because ‘they’ do things differently doesn’t make you right and them wrong.

People everywhere will be different, even if they are just a few hundred miles away.  Language, foods, lifestyles, transportation, race, religion, politics, climate are just some of those differences.  Countries have their own identity, and the people develop along that identity. Change happens, in one direction or another.  The cultural norms you are used to certainly isn’t the only way, and certainly isn’t ‘right’.  That attitude will just aggravate and frustrate you, and make your stay miserable.  Go with the flow.  Be observant, curious, but not judgmental.  Learn to adapt.  You’re not in Kansas anymore.

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this is an area Dawn calls 'spanish town road'  because of its similarities to the same place in jamaica

this is an area Dawn calls ‘spanish town road’ because of its similarities to the same place in jamaica

I take it this way, ‘The Chinese love their children too’.  In essence, they are not different from anyone else. They just want to get up in the morning and live a fulfilling life.  The differences are inconsequential, they can be overcome. I simply adapt.

I knew that my main challenges would primarily be language and food differences.  Language is obvious. But I’m prepared to meet that and hopefully in a few years, I will be conversant in Chinese. At least I’m willing to try.

So far I have been getting by with help from a few friends (well-known South Florida figures Professor Darby and Mrs Darby- who have lived in China for many years, and from Dawn, who has been residing here for a year).

Bit by bit, I’m making new acquaintances in some form or another. Recently, (March 2) I went with a couple students (Harry and Danny) of Tianjin University of Commerce to buy some badminton gear.  That went well, and now I’m playing badminton.

But I constantly meet new people.  And as expected, I find myself an item of curiosity, especially for small children and older people.  After all, there are not many of my complexion here.  The babies stare, hide behind and draw their parents attention, and they in turn tell the babies to wave ‘hello’.   The older persons just stare.  Its not hostile and I’m getting used to it.  I’m more often than not, tempted to smile… which is an ice-breaker. The smiles are not always returned but its not out of hostility.  Sometimes I just nod my head and move along.

Many have engaged me in casual conversations (as casual as one can have without either knowing a word of the other’s language). Recently, a man and I started to converse about hats.  He didn’t like the selection at the store and neither did I.  I liked his hat and he tried mine on.  Then we went our way.  Things like that.

On other occasions, Dawn (THERE is someone who really draws curiosity) and I have been approached by strangers eager to try out their English, and many times random strangers have come to our aid when they notice our querulous looks (like when we are ‘lost’).

Being here a year longer, Dawn has mastered some key phrases, expressions and words that are key to communication. My vocabulary so far consists of ‘Ting bu dong’ or ‘Wau ting bu dong’ (I don’t understand), and ‘Ni hao’ for ‘hello’. But I will get there.  Other than that, its a lot of pointing, miming and other gestures.

Daily, I jot down stuff in my book.  Words, phrases, observations, numbers, directions etc. How to say “Wo rou or bu rou” (no meat), or “Wo buneng chi rou” (I can’t eat meat).

For some people food wouldn’t be a problem.  For me, it is.  I don’t eat meat, in any country, in any way, shape or form… except for a little fish, usually prepared by myself.  And despite what many people think, I’m not a vegetarian.  My menu choices even in vegetables are thin, one page at the most, double-spaced.

Yet almost everyday, I’ve eaten something new (hopefully no meat), cooked, fried, sautéed in ways I never imagined.  Some I enjoyed and others will take a little getting used to. I’ve come to love noodles and there is quite a variety here.  I am trying to eat with chopsticks as well and that’s a source of amusement to those (everyone) around me lol (why would I force myself into another challenge?  I have no idea… but).  Practice.

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nightlife in tianjin

nightlife in tianjin

Because of how cheap dining and transportation are, the Darbys, Dawn and I, eat out frequently. Perhaps my best dining experience ever, was a trip to the Banyan Tree restaurant, downtown Tianjin.  Folks, if you go there, be sure to ask for the hotel tour.  Fabulous place… but my next visit certainly won’t be for the decor.  They have a wonderful buffet (not talking Subways or Sbarro… a totally superior level). That grilled snapper… damn.  Perfection.

Same night we went to the Tangla, a so-called 6 star hotel.  Not sure it would get that rating from me, but it seems that every visitor to Tianjin is encouraged to spend at least one night in their luxurious rooms.  You can arrange for a tour there as well.  It runs 50 stories high so I guess the view is the thing.  Haven’t eaten there as yet, but I’m told that its certainly not on the level of Banyan Tree.

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In the brief 3 weeks or so since I’ve been here (arrival- the night of February 21st) I’ve been enjoying myself immensely with one unforeseen exception.  I never expected the level of pollution that has virtually settled over the city since I came.  I was prepared for  infrequent smog.  But man, with only a couple of day’s clean air and bright unmasked sunlight, the rest of the days have been toxic.  But hey, I’ve not seen anyone fall down and die in the streets, so onwards I go.

I guess all this is the by-product of the ‘great leap forward’, and no one can question that in a few short years, China has made an immense leap from the country it used to be in 1950 to where it is now.

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When you move that far in such a short space of time, its not unexpected that there will be cracks in the framework.  And apparently, the government is taking the pollution problem seriously, enacting legislation requiring stricter pollution controls on industry.

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One thing I can say, is that photographers might really love photographing in these visual condition, just not breathing it in. See the before and after difference above.

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Actually, the days have started to warm up and the last few days have been nearly decent in terms of the smoggy haze.

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Another surprise was traffic. No, not congestion. For those thinking of coming and renting a car to drive around… not going to happen.  I suggest taking taxis or hiring a driver. I’ve never seen a foreigner drive but I ‘hear’ it can be allowed.  But there is one good reason for that… driving here is an exercise in ‘uncontrolled chaos’.  Driving in Jamaica or Miami is like a day at the beach, compared to trying to drive here.

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popular transportation… sometimes on the edge of being ingenious.

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“Uncontrolled chaos”, a double negative.  Perhaps that’s the key, and it certainly works for them.  There seems to be some sort of psychic understanding between bus, truck, van, car drivers, pedestrians, motor-bikers, pedal cyclists, tuk-tuk drivers, all of whom seem to want to occupy the same physical space  at the same time (physics lesson anyone?) despite such things as traffic lights, pedestrian lights, white lines and many other road traffic rules that are constantly ignored (Oh, I’ve yet to see a stop sign.  I don’t think they exist).

I once saw a man standing in the middle of road (fast traffic) with his back to oncoming vehicles, on his cellphone, with a total disregard and lack of concern.  Really?  Sir, I can tell you… don’t try that in Paris.

“I’m going the wrong way? Now what would lead you to think so?”. Perhaps the fact that you are moving in the opposite direction to everyone else and the arrows in the road should be a hint, heh!  Yep.  Its not strange to see a ‘tuk tuk’ or some other form of wheels traveling without hesitation, against the flow of traffic.  Yikes!

Its all about the bluff.  Everyone bluffs and someone usually yields.  There’s no rhyme or reason for that.  In Jamaica or Florida, the small man yields to the bigger vehicle.  Not so here.  I’ve seen bicyclists back down truck drivers.  Hmm.  And like in Jamaica, the pedestrian doesn’t get a pass, even if the pedestrian light ‘gives’ them right of way.  Its everyone for himself.  Don’t don’t worry about them here… they are part of the flow like everyone else.

And like in Jamaica, there is a constant cacophony of horns… each with its own message.  But it works.  I’ve only seen a couple fender benders, nothing major compared to Jamaica or Florida.  Not saying that there aren’t any.  Just haven’t seen any. That would qualify as a miracle in South Florida.

Another thing that fascinated me earlier on, was fireworks.  When I came, I thought that the fireworks I heard were left over from the Chinese new year.  Not so.  Chinese use fireworks all the time, for every celebration, wedding, baby, store opening, sometimes no seeming reason.  I saw 3 men dressed in business clothes, setting off fireworks at about 8 am, on the street.  There didn’t seem to be anything to celebrate… but you never know.  Mostly on weekends, it often sounds like a city on siege.  From all around, you have the small fireworks (sounds like machine-gun fire), or the big bangs (sounds like heavy artillery).

chinese new year decoration

chinese new year decoration

fireworks

fireworks

I’m told that the government believes that fireworks significantly contribute to the pollution problem and is trying to tamper its usage. But its part of life here.  One day I will set off my own fireworks display.

Tianjin grows fast.  Its a very big and important city in China. Read the history of Tianjin.  Interesting.

Tianjin- 4540 sq miles.  Pop: 14 million.  4th largest urban population in China (wikipedia)

Miami Dade- 55.27 sq miles.  Pop:  420,000

You can certainly see I’m not in Kansas anymore.

While many countries fret about 2% growth, they are aiming for above 16% this year. Construction is like mad.  Places sprout up like trees.  The Darbys have pointed out areas that were farmland just 3 years ago, and I can’t tell that those areas weren’t concrete jungles for decades.

new construction. those on the left (more than 20 storeys) have been completed, while those on the right is in progress. foreground, is undeveloped, one-time farmland

new construction. those on the left (more than 20 storeys) have been completed, while those on the right is in progress.
foreground, is undeveloped, one-time farmland

So that’s it for now, my little travelogue.   Its been wonderful and I’m going to make sure it stays that way.  Stay tuned as I bring you more from China.

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