November 30th

I haven’t forgotten! I’ve just been busy! With exams this week, I’ve been spending every second prepping. Students spend 2 full days writing exams 3 times every semester. It isn’t easy on the teachers either.

My final post for the month is about sweet potatoes. Hang on… It’s more interesting than it sounds.

Every year, as it gets colder out, these sweet potato vendors pop up all around the city. They’re perfect, really. Sweet potatoes are tasty, filling and simple to prepare. They’re also cheap, making them the snack of choice for the impoverished and the students (redundancy?) of China.

The problem with these stands is that those sweet potatoes are sometimes the only filling food that people can afford, and while these snacks are high in vitamins A, B5 & B6, they’re very low in calcium, potassium, vitamin C and protein. Simply put: if you’re eating these things 3 times a day, you might be in trouble.

On the bright side, it doesn’t look like it would take much to start a sweet potato business!

November 29th

Behold, China’s greatest secret: How to fit far too many cars into virtually no space at all.

I took this at the end of our walk last night, and my biggest regret was that I hadn’t captured the much worse version of this parking job that we’d seen the night before. You see, there isn’t nearly enough parking available in China, so people just sort of park wherever they can. Some of the most impressive parking jobs I’ve seen:

  • Parking in front of other cars (as seen above)
  • Parking on the side walk (sidewalks are difficult to walk on because of all the cars…)
  • Parking in the middle of an intersection (so that your car becomes an extension of the median)
  • Parking on the ramp of a parkade

I don’t know if we’ve ever eaten a meal at the restaurant behind our building without the waiting staff coming in at LEAST once to ask if we had driven there, because somebody was boxed in, and they needed a car moved.

This is reason #211 why I have no desire to drive in China.

November 28th

This is the little side street that runs behind our building. There are plenty of little restaurants down this road, as well as a couple of hotels and Euromart. It’s a popular area for people to eat, and get a few drinks.

This also happens to be the little road that Dave and I were driving past when we were hit by an e-bike.

Our bike was ok, and Dave was uninjured, but the guy drove directly into my shin. I suppose I was lucky that my leg didn’t break, but that’s not to say the injury wasn’t severe. Even now, a year and a half later, I have bruising, and I’m a bit afraid that the nerve damage will never fully go away.

I call this intersection “Shattered Shin Pass”. My shin may not have actually shattered, but my love for late-night e-bike rides surely did.

November 27th

Suzhou is a massive city and home to 8 million people. We live in Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), which is a nice area of city where many foreigners live.

Just down the street from us, is The Gateway to the Orient, more commonly called “The Pants Building”.

Aptly named

The whole area around “The Pants” has been under construction since we arrived in Suzhou more than 2 years ago. On November 11th (the annual shopping festival), Suzhou Center opened directly in front of Suzhou’s most iconic building.

Concept art of the building before it was finished

The entire building takes up more than 16 MILLION square meters (yeah…) and is a shopping mall, a hotel, office space and more. It’s architecturally beautiful and an endless maze of shops and restaurants.

Among all those shops is a skating rink. Complete with a Zamboni and bleachers. I was surprised that so many people knew how to skate… But we could tell some people were going to have very sore ankles (and bottoms) later that night!

Seeing kids skate for the first time made me happy!!

Maybe when there are less than 100 people lined up, waiting for the chance to try, we’ll have the chance to try out the rink. Either way… It was glorious to hear the sound of blades on ice again!!

Oh! And i finally got to stand directly under The Pants!!!

November 26th

We moved to Suzhou more than 2 years ago now. Time has flown. It seems like just yesterday we were wandering around Rainbow Mall looking for pillows and some other odds and ends that our apartment was missing.

While searching for pillows one evening, we passed by a hot pot place that smelled good. When a server saw us looking at the menu, she came out and greeted us with excellent English. We explained we were new in town and in need of some things, and she kindly sent us in the direction of the bedding stores. We never made it back to that restaurant for food that day but we became regulars later on.

Over the next while, we got to know Linda better. Her father owns the hot pot restaurant, and her whole family is from Taiwan. Eventually, we added one another to wechat, so we could trade pictures of our pets (she and her husband have a dog). Saturday night, I had a show at Ollie’s, and she and her husband came to see it.

After the show, we chatted with them for a while. We discovered we had a whole lot in common with them. They’re also in their early thirties, married and without kids. They both love animals and travel and even make some of the same lame jokes as we do.

Before we knew it, an hour and a half had passed and the bar was closing down. When we got home, I realized how much I regret having never spent time with Linda before that night.

Making friends in China can be tricky. When we randomly meet local people, it often feels like they really only want to talk to us because we’re foreign and interesting. I wonder how many people I’ve brushed off, assuming they’re “collecting foreign friends”, when really they’re just nice people, being friendly.

I’m glad we didn’t brush off Linda.

November 25th

Most of the places where we eat are nearby, but now and then we need to take a taxi.

Once in a while, we get a competent driver, but the guy who drove us to dinner on Friday was purely maniacal.

For starters, he had a tv show playing on his phone and was watching TV while driving. Not just at stop lights, but while actually driving.

Then, after being stuck for some time, he decided to drive into oncoming traffic (that lane was momentarily clear). When the light changed and people started driving toward us, he cut off multiple vehicles (2 of them buses) to get back into his lane.

The Coup de Gras was when he turned right on a red so he could do a U-turn right away and carry on down the original Street. Because stopping at a red light for 2 minutes was unimaginable.

November 23rd

This is my beautiful girl, Poe.

She is my little sunshine. Since it started getting cold, she’s been extremely cuddly. She spends most of her time with Dave the rest of the year, but when it’s cold, I’m a furnace, so I get lots of Poe cuddles.

We adopted her and Hugo 2 years ago this week. They’ve been such good friends. I can’t imagine life without them.

My November Perspectives project wouldn’t be complete without at least 1 post about Poe!!

November 24th

If Poe is Pretty & Poised, Hugo is Dashing & Derpy. With a missing leg, a slightly cleft pallet and stinkier-than-death breath, this boy stole my heart within 3 seconds of me walking into the SSAPA shelter. We walked in and he marched (limped) over to me for pets. He chose me.

I have never met a more pathetically needy cat in my life. If he could spend every second of the day in my lap, he would.

But he gives as much as he takes. If either Dave or I are feeling stressed or sick, Hugo is right there, cuddling, purring and head bumping us until we smile.

He is pure love.

November 22nd

I work at a huge foreign language school in Suzhou. We have 3 separate middle schools alone (I work in 2 of them). In reality, we’re sort of a dozen or so schools all kind of crammed into one campus.

Each department runs a bit differently. Classes begin at 7:40am school-wide, but each department ends at a slightly different time. In kindergarten, they are finished at 4:30, but my students don’t finish their school day until around 7:30pm. (Yeah… Let that sink in).

This means more than 3000 thousand students are leaving the school daily, in shifts, beginning at 4:30 and going all the way up to around 8pm. This is fantastic for street vendors, looking to hock their goods.

There is almost always a guy selling flowers outside the school gates. Not sure why, but he must sell enough of them because he’s always there.

There are also the kind of vendors you’d expect outside of a school: guys selling candied fruit and other snacks. The kids see it and beg their parents for a treat. It makes for easy sales.

Occasionally, I see pet vendors there. They sell rabbits, birds and other small animals. That really bothers me. Luckily, I’ve never actually seen them make a sale, and they don’t come around often, so I don’t think they’re very successful.

Today, I noticed a new vendor. He was selling candied dates on skewers. It’s a popular snack and we see people selling them off the back of ebikes all the time. But this guy was doing it in style…

My camera didn’t quite pick up the colour properly, but his goods were all lit up with colourful and flashing lights. It was definitely eye-catching. I thought it was a pretty brilliant way to attract customers and to hopefully get an extra sale or two.

November 21st

China is one of the least free countries in the world as far as internet is concerned. Facebook, Google and Twitter are all blocked here and more recently, WhatsApp was also banned. Now, they’re talking about taking Skype out of the Chinese app stores, which is bad for us because Skype is essential for Dave to do his job. It’s also how we keep in touch with people back home.

The idea is that by blocking these apps, the government can better control the information their citizens are receiving. Until they are able to effectively block every VPN though, it’s a bit of a pointless task. People will always find a way to post bad memes, after all.

Of course, China isn’t without social media. WeChat and QQ are the most used programs out here. Several of my friends and family members have downloaded wechat over the past few years, which makes my life easier.

WeChat is amazing on so many levels. It’s primarily a chat platform but it also has “Moments” (essentially like a FB wall) and all sorts of other nifty features that can make life better.

I can transfer money, pay my bill at a restaurant, top up my cellphone and call a DiDi (basically Uber), all through WeChat. I can also subscribe to news articles and get connected with other Canadians, teachers or musicians through group chats.

Best of all, the app runs extremely well (if you’re in China), unlike many other Chinese websites and programs that are bogged down with advertisements.

Most recently, I discovered “WeRun”. I’ve paired my Xiao Mi step counter to WeChat and throughout the day it updates and shows me how I’m comparing to all my WeChat friends.

Today, I won 😀.