Day 2 – Catholicism

Our second day in The Philippines was spent traveling to and around the island of Bohol.

We reached Bohol via 2 hour ferry ride. They had the temperature so low in business class that I thought I might freeze to death!!! One passenger compared it to a meat cooler. I agreed fully!

I was starting to feel better so we rented a motorbike, and as anyone who knows us or reads my blog knows…. That’s when it really felt like our vacation starts.

This may come as news to the kitty sleeping in this picture… But motorbikes are not only useful as cat beds!

Motorbiking around a new areas is always an adventure. It’s a fast way to get around and it keeps us cool in the equatorial heat. It’s also a ton of fun!

Alternatively, you can hire a Tricycle to take you around. Everywhere we go these vehicles are called something different. In Thailand they’re called Tuk Tuks. Sometimes they’re just called taxis… But most countries have some variety of these nifty little vehicles.

We travelled around the city of Tagbilaran for a while and saw some of the countryside too. One thing was very obvious to us as we scooted around…. The Philippines is Catholic+++.

We visited Tagbilaran on a Sunday and the streets were empty. Today, on a Monday, it took 4x as long to get anywhere. We couldn’t even book our ferry tickets on Sunday because it was an unnecessary service. Sundays are a day of rest wherever possible.

We saw numerous churches and even a monestary. There were Bible quotes on all the taxis and every shop we went into had biblical quotes, paintings and status displayed. There were even reminders graffitied onto walls for people to be honest and good Christians.

I don’t think you can talk about the Philippines and not discuss Catholicism… So I figure this important part of Filipino culture deserves its own post.

The Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta warriors are easily one of China’s most famous and fascinating pieces of history. This clay army was created more than 2200 years ago for China’s famed emperor, Qin Shi Huang. I mentioned in my Great Wall post that China was originally several small settlements that all had separate walls, but later in history, an emperor united all the territories into 1 country. This emperor, Qin, was the same guy who commissioned the Terracotta Army, so that he’d have ample protection in the afterlife.

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It took 700,000 workers roughly 40 years to build this magnificent army. Each soldier (and there – are over 8000 of them) is unique. Torsos, legs and arms were mass-produced with a single mold. The bodies for different types of warriors differed, of course (archers had different bodies than generals, of course), but other than that, the torsos were made in a pretty uniform way. The faces, however, are all different, and it is thought that each one is based on one of the 700,000 workers who built this fascinating army.

As I mentioned, there are several different types of soldiers found in the 3 excavation pits. Foot soldiers, archers, generals and cavalry are all present in the pits and you can learn about each of them by reading the many signs put up around the exhibits.

Terracotta is a type of clay, so sadly, many of these soldiers have been damaged by collapsing roofs and enemy armies. Many of the soldiers are missing their heads or other body parts, mostly due to military attacks.

Archaeologists have been working on restoring some of the damaged soldiers for years, and have discovered some interesting things throughout the process. For example, the warriors were originally painted and very colourlful. Also, there is a whole section of warriors that are based on Chinese minorities and different ethnic groups throughout the country. This was a diverse army!

One of my favourite parts of the visit was seeing the area where warriors are being put back together, piece by piece. When I wasn’t taking Literature or Writing classes in University, I was taking every Classical History class I could. What always amazed me about this field of study, is how much archaeologists are able to learn from a site like the Terracotta Warriors. Just by studying these old pieces of clay, we can learn about ancient military customs, tools, building materials and countless other details. It’s even widely believed that the Terracotta Warriors have Hellenistic roots. Their shape and the way they were created is very similar to Greek artwork.

This army was our main reason for wanting to see Xi’an during the holiday. I must say, the Terracotta Warriors are well-worth seeing, but I wouldn’t recommend seeing them during the October Holiday. The crowds were positively dangerous and more than once, Dave had to grab my hand to get me through the swarms of people. If I hadn’t had photography to keep my mind off the crowds, I would have been in a straight up panic attack.

The worst of the crowds were in Pit #1. This is the most famous pit, where you can see 6000+ soldiers and 50 Chariots.

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The Crowd outside of Pit #1. There were easily this many people behind us in line as well…

I assumed the guards were going to let a certain number of people in at a time, but instead they let everyone in at once…

Unfortunately, the crowds were so intense that I never actually got to see the warriors from the front. I waited for ages, but when people started to panic and push their way through to the front, Dave grabbed me and pulled me out. Neither of us are sure how that railing holds out…

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This is the shot I COULD have gotten, if it hadn’t been for the crowds. Instead I found it in Google Images so that you can at least see what everyone was rushing to try and see.

Once we got around the corner, the crowd seemed to thin out. There was an emergency exit that a lot of people took just to get away from the swarms of people. I didn’t want to give up entirely, so we kept on, along with thousands of other people, including little old ladies and small children. One particularly brutish guy (who was twice the size of most of the people around him) ended up getting my elbow to his chest and my finger in his face as I told him to knock it off! He did calm down, so I’m glad I did it…but all I could keep thinking in this crowd was how easy a stampede could happen.

Here are some pictures that I DID manage to get of the warriors.

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This was right at the end of the exhibit, near the exit. We figured we should try and get at least 1 picture of us there!

After pit 1, we headed to a nearby restaurant for lunch and some tea to calm us down. We were also shown Emperor Qin’s tomb sight (a mountain), but we weren’t allowed in, because of the high mercury levels there. Emperor Qin actually believed that Mercury was the key to longevity, so he ate it as much as he could. It’s probably what killed him. At least he left behind quite the legacy!!!

Next week we leave for Vietnam and Laos! It should be a memorable trip!!!

I’m planning on blogging throughout the trip, much like I did in India last year, so prepare for lots of posts about all sorts of cool stuff! 33 days in South East Asia is bound to be one heck of an inspiration writing-wise!!

When Culture Stops Being an Excuse

I love my life in Suzhou. I’ve made some incredible friends and adopted some awesome cats. I’m working at a great school in a well-run department where I am respected and valued. I have opportunity for growth here in Suzhou, both professionally and personally and I’ve even been able to focus more on my health here, going to the gym and being more careful with my diet. I’ll be 30 soon and I need to stay healthy so that my 30s are as rockin’ as my 20s were. Still, today I’m not feeling much love for the Venice of Asia. Perhaps it’s the smoggy weather or maybe I didn’t sleep very, but China is getting on my nerves today!

This morning Dave and I met a friend for breakfast, and as is often the case with Michael, we got into a discussion about what it’s like living in China. Michael’s still on his first year here and he is still noticing some of the things that Dave and I have learned to ignore and his perspective on life here always reminds me of the things that foreigners live with on a day to day basis out here in the orient.

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A Frequent theme in my blog

And all things considered, there really isn’t very much that we need to worry about. China is safe and the people here are kind and friendly, the countryside in this country is diverse and stunningly beautiful and the expat community is quite large so it’s easy to make friends in Suzhou. But, as is the case anywhere, China (and Suzhou) has its problems…

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve been going to the gym. I’ve been pretty good about going 3 days per week and although I haven’t lost much in the way of weight (I think I’m building muscle), I’m becoming noticeably more toned and I’ve been slimming down. I’m very proud of the way I’ve been looking lately and I feel good about doing something positive for a body that has treated me pretty well so far in my 29 years. But I’ve gotta say…as much as I love working out and feeling energized, it is EXTREMELY difficult to love Chinese gyms!! Where should I start?.

 

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I discovered, while writing this blog post, that Powerhouse is a chain outside of just China.

The Equipment: Although there are about 20 treadmills at Power House, they only have 6 eliptical machines, 1 stair master, 10 bikes and some weight side to side machines that kind of make you feel like you’re skating. Now, I have no problems with the treadmills…there are more than enough and they are in good shape…but I also don’t use treadmills very often because they kill my knees. So that leaves 20 cardio machines that I CAN use…except 8 or 9 of them are almost always broken. The ones that AREN’T broken are such poor quality that they always feel like they’re about to fall apart underneath you. Out of all the elliptical machines, only 1 of them accurately tracks distance and calories…1!!! It’s the same with the weights and the resistance machines. Many of them are missing pins so you can’t adjust the resistance without first hunting down a pin from some other machine. Plus, nobody puts their equipment away after they use them, so there are random weights just hanging around on the floor…a little bit dangerous…

Sanitation: This is a big one. There are no towels or spray bottles anywhere at Power House so people don’t clean their equipment like they do in Canada. I can’t tell you how often I get onto an elliptical and realize that the handles are covered in someone else’s sticky sweat. I bring my Norwex towel with me to help with that kind of thing, but it’s still pretty gross. The bathrooms are also pretty dirty. People don’t flush their dirty toilet paper in China (something about the sewage systems not being able to handle it), so the garbage cans are full of that dirty toilet paper. It smells awful and the cans get emptied so rarely that the entire hallway around the bathrooms and change rooms stinks like urine.   Not pleasant…

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The biggest problem with squatters themselves is that it’s sometimes hard to control where your pee ends up….so most of the time, it ends up on (at least) the bottom of your shoes, and you end up tracking it out of the bathroom…

The People: This is the worst part of going to the gym. I can’t even tell you how many times I haven’t been able to finish my work out because someone is sitting on a machine I need, texting or checking their WeChat accounts…it’s infuriating but I often feel like I’m the only person who cares. This kind of thing was especially bad in January and February, when all the New Years resolution memberships started up. Girls (the worst offenders) would hop on a treadmill and spend 10-15 minutes going back and forth between stretching (on the machine!!) and taking selfies to post on WeChat. This isn’t a huge gym, and while there are plenty of treadmills, that can’t be said about any other machine in the building. Yesterday I gave up after waiting 5 minutes for a guy to get off the crunch machine I wanted to use to target my upper abs. And that one elliptical machine that works…the one I mentioned before…people hog that machine for 50+ minutes…some of them hardly even breaking a sweat they are going so slowly because they are too busy enjoying their favourite TV show on their cell phones.

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And most of the time, people aren’t just taking short breaks between sets…they literally use the equipment like public benches…

And this is where the title of this post comes in…a lot of these problems are annoying but forgivable. After all, I know my standards are high…I’m lucky and I was born in a wealthy country where I have the luxury of having problems as shallow as ‘not having cold enough water’. I also know that the sewage issues in China are complicated and that not everywhere in the world is as sterile as North America (it’s weird coming home for visits by the way…everything feels too clean…the whole country feels like a hospital).  There are absolutely things that can be explained by pointing out cultural differences…and foreigners who have been here for a while are always quick to point out that you’re being judgmental for getting upset about some of the things we deal with here in China.  I always feel bad when someone says that to me, because I try very hard to be understanding of cultural differences…

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A picture depicting the difference between line ups in North America, vs the way it’s done in China…I even learned to embrace this in Guiyang and Xiamen (it’s not to bad in Suzhou).  I put aside my Canadian upbringing and learned to push my way to the front, just like everyone else…

But this morning, when we were having breakfast with Michael, he said something that really rang true with me during my work out today: When can we stop pretending that EVERYTHING is about culture? How many things can we blame on cultural differences, really?? When does Culture become an excuse?

 

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The Chinese think that drinking cold water is bad for your stomach…so even at the gym, you can only find hot water, or room temperature.  At Power House, one of the options is suppose to be cold, but it comes out warm enough to steam up my bottle, sooo…

I don’t think that the selfie taking at the gym is forgivable just because I’m in China and “things are different here”. I also don’t think people have to leave their equipment all over the place for others to trip on. And I definitely don’t think that a gym like Power House, who claims to be the ‘western gym’ and charges western prices, has any excuses as far as buying terrible equipment is concerned. None of these things are cultural…they’re just people being inconsiderate of others. And maybe it’s my Canadian background…maybe it’s just my upbringing…but I really have very little patience for inconsiderate people. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone just paid attention to other people’s needs and tried to be more aware of the world around them?

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Another example of this behaviour..some one took off with the school kitchen’s mop over the holiday.  There was a water issue in the kitchen and the only way I could get the water out of the mop they left behind, was to take it outside and step on the mop to get the water out…People take things from that kitchen all the time and leave messes as well.  I don’t know if they just don’t realize that SOMEONE has to clean it (that someone being me), or if they just straight up don’t care…

So those are my thoughts today. Living overseas can be very hard some days, and although it’s gotten ions easier for me since moving to Suzhou, there are still thing here that tick me off. I guess I still have not succeeded in becoming the Super Wizard that I long to be… a Super Wizard who is annoyed by nothing and can aparate to Canada any time she wants to go to the gym or meet her gorgeous new nephew, Zachary.

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Thank goodness I have these 3 to keep me sane!

There’s still more about India on its way! Thanks for checking in!!!