After my last post, I’m sure many of you are wondering why Dave and I choose to stay in such a polluted country (we both ended up with chest colds after that sandstorm, by the way…). Well, there are plenty of reasons.
The cost of living is low and salaries are high
Suzhou is a gorgeous city where there is lots to see and do
Living in China provides challenges that make life a lot more interesting
Working in China as a teacher, I’m able to make a huge impact. It’s a great feeling
The holidays……3.5 months per year, to be exact….
In addition to summer holidays, I also get 5 weeks for Spring Festival, a week for National Day and several small holidays throughout the year as well. Tomb Sweeping is a yearly cultural holiday that takes place in March/April. I had 3 days off, so Dave and I decided to hop on over to Seoul.
It only takes about an hour and a half to fly to Seoul, but when you add in train-rides to Shanghai, plus the drive from Seoul’s airport to downtown, we really didn’t have a whole lot of time to see the sights. Still, we made the most of the 36 hours we had!!!
As always, we found a hotel close to the metro line, and found our way around the city that way. Metros are great because you can get from one end of the city to another in so much less time than it takes to drive. Unfortunately, Metros are also terrible in Asia, because their maps sometimes look like this:
Many people go to Seoul for the shopping or the vibrant night life, but Dave and I aren’t big into either of those things. Instead, we head for Namsan Park and Mountain, where we were able to see Seoul Tower and a beautiful panorama of the city.
The only picture of us I took in Seoul lol!!!
Nice little path
A ‘bonus’ sight Dave and I saw while on Namsan mountain were Seoul’s Love Locks. The idea is simple: if you love someone, get a padlock, engrave your names onto it, lock it to a bridge and throw away the key. This action is suppose to signify that you are bound to a person forever. Of course, 1 or 2 of these locks wouldn’t really be noteworthy, but all around the world, couples are creating mass displays with their ‘love locks’.
Sure, it’s a romantic idea…but it’s also become a bit of a problem in some parts of the world! Paris once had the world’s most famous collection of love locks, but officials had to remove the locks off of Pont de Arts bridge because the weight of them was going to cause the bridge to collapse! The problem was so extreme that the additional weight on the bridge was the equivalent of 20 elephants!
Love Locks have been around for ages, all over the world. They were made most famous in Paris, but their origins trace back to China and Siberia as well. Seoul has quite an impressive display, and officials there were prepared there. They created places for the locks to be placed that were actually designed to hold the weight. The displays were lovely.
I spent quite a bit of time looking at those locks….they were really quite impressive. They seem colourful from afar, but up close, you can see that there are actually quite a few old and rusted locks among the shiny new ones. I guess displays like this don’t happen over night!
When we were done at Namsan, we decided to visit one of Seoul’s many parks. We chose 1 park specifically because of its many Geo Caches. Dave and I each found a couple, and we enjoyed a lovely walk among the budding trees.
It was a beautiful spot to have a camera
There were some interesting sculptures in the park as well.
We spent both our evenings in Seoul enjoying fantastic Korean food! I wouldn’t say South Korea is the best place to visit for vegetarians, but if you like meat, this is the place for you! Meat is grilled fresh right in front of you, and when it’s done, you wrap it in a piece of leaf lettuce, along with Kim Chi and whatever other little dishes they give you. It’s some of the freshest, healthiest tasting food I’ve ever had!
I’m a little sad we didn’t have more time to see some of the rest of South Korea, but I can say without a doubt that Dave and I will be heading back that way again some time soon. Korea is absolutely lovely. The people are friendly and helpful, the service industry is WAY more customer service based than China’s and the city, in general, is very organized!
In fact, I saw something on our last night there that even puts Canada to shame! I noticed a stack of free post cards at our hostel and picked one up. It turns out that the South Korean government provides postage-paid postcards so that visitors can alert officials of any problems they had in the city! A program like that would be INVALUABLE in cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where your first experience is often being ripped off by a taxi driver!
We spent a lot of time walking around during our stay
A Canadian restaurant and bar! We didn’t go in….but it had great reviews online!
A funny name for a restaurant
Stay tuned! I’ve got plenty more planned for my next few posts!
I have always loved being a student. As stressful as it was finishing my degree a few years back, I felt so incredibly motivated while I was at the University of Winnipeg. My major was in English Writing & Literature, but I took classes in Anthropology, Classical History, Drama, Psychology, Astronomy and so much more. These classes taught me about the world, taught me to think and dig for information and most importantly, they taught me that there is always more to learn!
There are 2 classes that I feel really changed the way I see the world. The first one was Physiological Psychology. In this class, I learned about the different structures of the brain and what they are responsible for. I also learned what happens when you damage those areas of the brain and I learned a lot about mental illness as a result. Now, 4 years later, a month doesn’t go by when I don’t either think about or discuss things I learned in that class. I finished Physio Psych with the worst grade of my degree, but it was one of the most eye-opening courses I ever took.
The other class that changed my perspectives was a random elective course I chose to fill out my semester. I literally chose it because it was available in a convenient time slot, but by the time the first lesson was finished, I was hooked and knew I wouldn’t be skipping my Tuesday night 6pm lessons. “Needs of Refugees” was all about refugee crises around the world.
The focus of the class was mostly on the process these people go through to get placement in other countries. I had 2 professors for that class. One of my profs was a woman who had spent months abroad working in refugee camps in Palestine, Kenya and a few others I can no longer remember. The other professor was a Somali man who had fled Mogadishu with his family when he was a child.
Through this class, I met several refugees, all from different conflicts and different areas of the world. I met a woman who had to flee Iraq because her husband had been arrested and the government was coming after her next so she had to flee with her two teenage sons. I met a woman from Myranmar who had fled years ago, who began her own small weaving business in Winnipeg.
I also interviewed a man from the Congo. He was angry. He’d been in Canada for more than 10 years when I met him. He’d been struggling for a decade to find a suitable job, but because he’d been living in a refugee camp for the better part of his life, he had little education and few skills. It frustrated him that he had so little opportunities in Canada. Still, at the end of the interview, he took a moment to clarify that although he was angry, he was also grateful. He told me he’d rather have no opportunities in Canada than to wake up to the sound of bombs back in The Congo. He taught me a lesson about gratitude.
If you have me as a friend on Facebook, you know how I feel about helping Refugees. You also know how I feel about mental illness and trying to fight past the taboos that prevent people from getting help. I didn’t always care about these things. I’m sure that I’ve made thoughtless comments about mental health through the years. I know that there was a point in my life where I never really even thought about what a refugee even was.
But school isn’t the only place where my perspectives have shifted. Travelling has taught me so much about the world. Since moving to Guiyang in 2014, I’ve learned about what it means to be an ethical tourist, I’ve seen real poverty and I’ve spent a great deal of time educating myself about the history of South East Asia and India (something never covered in my high school history courses…).
Of course, being in Vietnam has also given me some new perspectives. I knew about the Vietnam war. I knew about the draft, the protests and I knew about the fight against communism. I had never really considered what all this meant for people on the other side of the ocean though…
One of the many tanks used during the Vietnam war
Now, I’m not here to say that the Vietnamese didn’t do awful things to American soldiers, but when you see things that that happened to the people here, you can’t help but wonder how Vietnam could have possibly deserved the war crimes they endured during that horrible war. Napalm, agent orange and mass bombing campaigns nearly destroyed the country and even today you can see victims of Agent Orange. The chemical created genetic defects that are still being passed onto the current generation. It’s pretty awful stuff.
It’s easy for people in North America to shrug off the Vietnam war because it was so long ago now, but in Vietnam, the war still affects people. There are still bombs all over the country that never detonated properly during the war. Every year, people lose limbs and lives because of these UXOs.
We visited the War Remnents museum when we were in Saigon, and learned about the war through pictures as well as through a few displays. Horrible stuff was done here.
A model of one of the prisons where the Vietnamese POWs were kept
Weapons used against these POWs
An eerie model.
A Guillotine that was used to kill enemy soldiers.
We also made a short visit to the Phu Quoc prison, where thousands of enemy soldiers were kept during the war. The first thing both Dave and I noticed was how much the prison looked like a concentration camp.
The tiger cages were a horrible punishment. People couldn’t even stand in them, and they were left in these cages for weeks
The door to this metal room was closed with all of these people inside. People died of both heat and of freezing
The models did a good job of bringing the place to life and giving in a touch of reality
Layers of barbed wire kept prisoners in
But Vietnam was not the only country affected by the Vietnam War…
Laos is often forgotten during discussions about that 20 year war. I’ve mentioned in other posts that Laos is the most bombed country in the world. We learned more about what that actually means at the UXO museum in Luang Prabang.
America dropped 260 million cluster bombs on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. There are still 78 million bombs in Laos, that need to be detonated, and as you can imagine, this caused a lot of problems from this developing nation.
Large bombs were dropped from airplanes on the country
These bombs were full of small ‘bombies’
Notice how they kind of look like balls? Or toys? 60% of the victims of these bombs are children…
The UXO museum was quite an experience…In addition to having a wide variety of bombs on display, there were a few videos to watch and lots of information of how the UXOs still affect Laos today.
These bombs prevent agricultural development in large portions of the country
When people are wounded by the bombs, their families are often left without their primary bread winners
Something as simple as starting a fire can cause bombs to go off
Many kids are blown up when digging…one boy lost his eye and scarred his face when he dug for worms too aggressively. He just wanted to go fishing…
I guess what I’m getting at with all of this is that there’s always more to know. There’s so much happening all over the world right now…I feel like the best thing any of us can do is to educate ourselves. After all, how can you really have an opinion about things when you only ever hear 1/2 of the story.
I know that when I have kids, I will encourage them to travel. You can learn about so much more than food and temples when you’re in another country.
So there you have it…those are my two cents.
Next, I’ll be writing about our week on the island of Phu Quoc! Stay tuned!!!
Day one of our 33 day holiday is coming to an end, and it’s time to recap and reflect.
Hanoi City – Organized Chaos
We have begun our trip in Hanoi: a bustling and historic Vietnamese city. We’re staying in the Old Quarter of Vietnam’s capital, where coffee shops are on every street corner and motorbikes are the primary means of transportation. There’s an organized chaos here, in every sense of the word.
There are thousands of shops piled atop one another, and everywhere you look, there are people eating bowls of Pho on the sides of the street, and sipping coffee at tiny tables, sitting on tiny plastic stools. What’s interesting, though, is that all those tiny little shops are organized and neatly merchandised. My (extremely neat) sister would be impressed by the level of organization these shop owners manage to have in their little side-of-the-road shops.
A good friend of ours lived in Vietnam for 4 years and she gave us valuable advice before we left for Hanoi. She told us that the roads here are like a river; vehicles weave in and around one another and never really stop moving. She told us to walk boldly but slowly and that vehicles would mostly just part around us. It was terrifying at first, but she was right. There are no crosswalks in the North American sense, but somehow, we got around just fine. In a lot of ways it was less scary than India. Ok…in every way.
French colonialism is easily identifiable all over the city. The streets, buildings and even French language are visible everywhere you go. Cambodia was also colonized by the French, but the impact there wasn’t as obvious as it is in Hanoi.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake – Passive and Pleasant
After a long day of travel yesterday and a long semester of 60-hour weeks, I wasn’t up for much today, so we mostly spent our time down by Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which was a lovely experience. The lake is a beautiful spot for wedding photos, so we saw several happy couples being chased by photographers.
A Monk, enjoying the view
Some interesting trees
A cobblestone bridge. I love cobblestone!!!
A happy pair of newliweds
Some beautiful bonsais
There was a small temple by the lake as well. We paid 30,000 dong each to enter (less than $2 Canadian) and enjoyed the quietness of the place.
There’s plenty to see walking along the lake. The Old Quarter is a lovely place to spend the afternoon!
Different from Delhi / A Change from China
One of my favourite parts of travel is walking around at night, when the shops are lit up and the weather has cooled. Vietnam is so different from India. While there are shops everywhere, just as there is in New Delhi, nobody grabs you by the arms and nobody is too terribly pushy. South East Asia, though hectic and tourist oriented, seems to have more of a dignity about it. People bargain, but don’t try and rip you off. People try and sell their goods, but if you say no, they move on with their days, un-offended and un-worried.
The restaurant where we had dinner. They greeted us when they saw us looking at the menu, but never grabbed me by the arm to try and pull me in, as was the usual experience in New Delhi
Tonight we walked around for a little while and found a restaurant where we enjoyed the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had. Although I love Chinese food, the oil has started to gross me out a bit. Vietnamese food is fresher and crispier…with more raw vegetables and coconut sauces. Dinner was delicious…and the coffee I just finished was an excellent way to end the night!
Tomorrow we set off for HaLong Bay…another UNESCO World Heritage Site to add to our list. We’ll be spending 2 nights and 3 days enjoying one of Vietnam’s greatest treasures.
About a year ago, I purchased a map off of this neat website that had all sorts of unique and beautiful products. Although I loved the look of the map, it wasn’t just the design that encouraged me select it among the many choices the website offered. This map is special, because you can scratch off areas of the world that you’ve visited.
About a month ago, Dave got around to making a proper mount for this beautiful map. He spent a few hours finding supplies on TaoBao, and a few hours making it, and I decided to take care of the fun stuff: scratching the places we’ve been! Being the travelers that we are, I figured that I’d spend hours scratching away. I was disappointed, however, to discover that so much of the world remains unseen by my eyes! So, tomorrow, we set out on our Golden Week Holiday to Xi’an, with our friend Kevin.
Of course, now that I’m about to head out on another adventure, I realized that I should probably write about our last adventure: Vancouver. So here it is, the post all of my Canadian readers have been waiting for! Part 1 of our stay Kitsilano, Vancouver!
Kits Beach and Area
When first pricing out hotels in Vancouver, we were a little overwhelmed with the cost of accommodations. Vacationing in Canada is EXPENSIVE when you compare it to the places we’ve been in Asia, so I was a little worried we’d need to forgo some of the things we wanted to do because hotel prices were so high. I’m pretty sure we are the luckiest people in the world though, because as it turned out, a good friend of ours was going to in Manitoba while we were in Vancouver, leaving her apartment in Kitsilano free for us to rent for the week! We couldn’t have planned the timing better if we’d tried!!
I loved all the big trees in the area. I don’t feel like China really has big trees like these
We walked by this Totem Pole probably 10 times in our 7 days in Vancouver. Dave found a Geo Cache under it 🙂
Kits beach at sunset
Our first view of Kits Beach
We fell in love with Kits pretty quickly. The beach was gorgeous, Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe was an adorable place to stop for a good breakfast, and we were a short walk or bus ride away from pretty much every thing we wanted to see. We were originally thinking of staying downtown, but I am SO glad we spent our time in this little suburb of Vancouver.
Downtown, Gas Town and Canada Place
Two days of our trip to Vancouver were spent exploring downtown and Canada Place. When I first visited Vancouver 8 years ago, I was blown away by its gorgeous skyline. Of course, now that I’ve traveled to cities like Shanghai, Bangkok and Mumbai, Vancouver seemed a little less spectacular, but the little areas in the city’s center still impressed me.
Gas Town is probably my favourite area of down town. There are tonnes of little shops where you can find maple-flavoured everything and tonnes of little restaurants to try. Best of all, the architecture in Gas Town is pretty cool. I regret that I didn’t get many pictures of that particular area, because every time we visited it was after dark, and the area can be a bit shady. My camera is one of my most prized possessions, so it stayed tucked away in my bag.
Canada Place was quite impressive too. The last time I was in Vancouver, it was all under construction because of the upcoming Olympic games, so it was nice to see it all finished. Dave especially enjoyed this part of our time downtown as he was able to watch planes take off while I hunted Pokemon!!
Of all the places we visited in Vancouver, Granville island is where we spent the most time. We wound up on that sweet little island 4 or 5 times throughout our stay and this was mostly because we enjoyed walking down there so much! It took about 40 minutes to walk from Kits Beach to Granville island, but it was such a lovely walk through parks along the beach, that we tended to gravitate in that direction any time we went out.
Entering Granville Island
Some artistic Silos
The view along the walk to Granville
Granville is the place to go if you want fresh sea food, craft beer, shopping or if you want to book a whale watching tour. There is also a lovely park on the island, where we walked around a few times…just to breath in the fresh air and admire the ducks and geese that hang out there.
I miss these birds when I’m in China!!
These ducks shall not be roasted in Peking!!!
Granville Island also has a huge green initiative. It really is a lovely place
Meeting New Friends
During our week in Vancouver, we met up with a couple of people that I’d never met before. Dave’s cousin, Michael, lives in the area so we met up with him and his girlfriend, Gabriella, during our stay in Kits. We hit it off, and I think we were all a little amazed at how much Dave and Michael are alike! This new friendship lead us to take a trip up to Mount Seymore for the Persius Meteor Shower, which was spectacular and unlike anything I had really experienced.
A gorgeous Sunset atop the mountain
The area was just beautiful
The little town where we had a delicious Sushi supper with Michael and Gabriella
We also spent an evening down in New West Minister with an old friend of Dave’s. Sitting by the harbour, eating wings and poutine, was a fantastic way to spend a night in that lovely city. While enjoying our evening in New West, Kaitlin gave us lots of tips and ideas of places to go while in Vancouver. This led us to one of the most exciting parts of our stay in BC; the Vancouver observatory! While we were there, we were able to see a gorgeous view of Saturn (rings and everything!), a close up of the moon, and the Herculese star cluster, which happens to contain 300,000 stars and is 200 thousand light years away.
The Vancouver Museum of Anthropology
Although we very much wanted to climb Grouse Mountain, I realized that after 6 days of being on my injured leg, walking 10km+ per day, I needed to take it easy(er). I did a quick look online to find a more low-impact activity for our last day in Kits, and came across the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology. It was a lovely visit and we saw everything from traditional and modern Aboriginal art, to 4000 year old pots.
This artist’s work was interesting…he was very critical of the government’s treatment of the earth. Can you guess who he was representing in this painting?
More work from the same artist
Some traditional Aboriginal art
It was difficult to even understand the number of artifacts this museum contains and I know that we could have easily spent an entire day (and then some…) exploring every little thing the museum had to offer. The museum has little areas for countless cultures and in each area, there are pull-out drawers that contained hundreds of small artifacts to admire. Although it wasn’t the most glamorous thing we saw in Vancouver, I’m really glad we made the stop.
A Japanese display
Each of these drawers contained nearly 50 artifacts.
Modern art from New Guinea
New Guinea was a commonly discussed topic in the Anthropology class I took while in University
It was interesting seeing these ceremonial masks in person. They are hand carved, hand painted and no two masks are alike
That’s it for part 1 of my post. In part 2, I’ll be writing about my 2 favourite parts of our stay in Vancouver: Stanley Park and seeing Resident Killer Whales off the coast of British Columbia!
It’s hard to believe how quickly 6 weeks can fly by! After 5 weeks in Manitoba and then 1 week in Vancouver, it’s an understatement to say that I was happy to sleep in my own bed again! Our cats were well cared for over the holiday and are happy as clams to have us home, back in our little routine. Poe continues to act as my alarm clock and Hugo seems to be even more cuddly than ever! Life is good here back in Suzhou!
Manitoba was a grand time. We were able to catch up with friends, spend time with family and I even got to meet my nephew, Zachary, for the first time. It’s funny because adults change so little from year to year, but the kids….WOW do they grow! I’m convinced that at least 1 of my nephews is going to be taller than me next year! My niece, Ellie, learned how to read over the past year and her little sister began talking…things change so much in their little lives while we’re away!
Addyson is growing up into such a goofy kid!! And Ellie continues to be all sweetness and intellect
My nephew Dmitri! He didn’t know I was taking a picture haha! We spent an evening help him build a wooden model we brought him home from China
Getting to know my little Zachary
Our 5 weeks in Winnipeg were spent well. We were able to see a Fringe Show, visit the Forks and even visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights! Last year had been too rushed to stop by this architectural marvel, but I really enjoyed our afternoon there, learning new things and being reminded of things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
I really love this building
We visited the museum with one my favourite people in the world: Dianne!
Beautiful ramps going up the museum
Why is Fair Trade helpful? Because it allows people….
My views on reconcilliation
Loved in interior architecture!
I organized a Paint Night with some of my favourite gals and that turned out to be a tonne of fun! I’d recommend it as a fun night out to anyone who wishes they can paint or actually can paint! I have artistic skills in that way and mine still turned out pretty well! See!!!
A good portion of my summer was spent outside. I was able to play at the pool with my nieces and nephew, sit around bonfires and spend LOTS of time outside! The air is so fresh and clean in Canada and the temperature is perfect for being outside. Currently, it’s sitting at about 40 degrees Celsius in Suzhou, so I definitely miss the Prairie temperatures already!
Sitting out on the deck with our dear neighbor Yvonne and her fabulous puppy, Brodey!
Playing with the girls at the park
Geese at the Forks
Oddly enough, it was a game that took up most of our time in Manitoba! Pokemon Go was all the rage back home and Dave and I spent countless hours walking around Steinbach and The Winnipeg Forks trying to catch a Pikachu or hatch a Snorlax. I was never lucky on either of those counts, but my sister managed to catch 3 of the little yellow Pokemon! I will forever be jealous, because Pokeman Go is banned in China. It runs through Google Maps, which is blocked by the Great Fire Wall, so there is no Pokeman here for us to play.
Finding Weedles at Tim Hortons! Such a Canadian Picture!
My gorgeous sisters 🙂
We often paired up our Pokeman hunting with Geo caching! We were able to find a few in Steinbach!
We also had our yearly BBQ at St. Malo Provincial Park! It was such a blast last year that we planned it out again this year. We had loads of people come down and spent the day out in the sun with ys, playing in the water and enjoying WAYY Y too much food!
The yearly update picture. None of us felt like taking it seriously this year!
My dad takes any opportunity he can to spoil the grandkids!
My sister, keeping a sleeping Zach company (hahaha! Such a sport for coming out, even though she was ‘under the weather’!!!
My sister knits the cutest hats!!!!
I mentioned the food…
My oldest friend, Veronique, make her way down to the beach even though she only had 30 minutes to spare! My summer would not have been complete without her!!
It’s hard to point to a ‘favourite’ memory of our 2016 trip home, but the most inspiring event was definitely Steinbach’s 1st Pride Parade. Dave and I attended, expecting there to be a small crowd of maybe 100 or 200 people…little did we know that over 3500 people came in from all over the province for the event! There were actually people who flew in all the way from Orlando for Steinbach’s first pride. It was a pretty huge deal!
The number of attendees was inspiring in of itself, but Steinbach’s reaction to the event was also good. The Automobile City has caught a lot of flack over the last few years for their stance on LGBT rights and a variety of other subjects. There have been issues within the school division over these matters and protests regarding bullying bills aimed at protecting LGBT students. But instead of holding a protest or causing a fuss over the parade, Steinbach let it happen.
Some Mennonite Humour!!!
By standers brought signs too!
Although some companies in Steinbach refused to support the event, far more came with signs and showed their belief in equality! It was fantastic!
There were plenty of spectators there who were watching the parade and there was a tonne of support. Many people in Steinbach have softened their views on homosexuality as they’ve grown to know people in the LGBT community or have learned that people in their own families are gay. I saw many signs that said things like ‘proud parent’ or ‘supportive parent’. It was really beautiful to see such acceptance in a city that has previously been branded intolerant. It was a huge step for Steinbach and although I know not everyone in the city agreed with the event…that’s not the point! It’s ok not to agree with it…I’m just happy no one showed up with eggs or protest signs. That’s what tolerance is, after all…accepting that people might thing differently than you. You don’t have to agree with them, but you should give them the freedom to have their own beliefs.
It isn’t pride without some crazy costumes! These guys were my favourite!
Even the animals showed up!!!
People came from all around the province!
3500 people showed up!
Dave and I…happy to see so much acceptance in our city!
So that is a very brief summary of our stay in Manitoba! Our final week in Canada was spent in Vancouver, which I will be writing about soon! I have 1 or 2 posts planned before I can get to our time on the West Coast, but I’m still off work until September 1st, so I should be able to get a fair amount of blogging in between now and then!
So, stay tuned for entertaining posts such as:
Beginning a new Semester in China…things teachers should know
Tips for new Expats living in Suzhou
Vivacious Vancouver: From Kits Beach to Stanley Park
Whether you’re in your apartment or at a restaurant, the standards of comfort in China are very different from out west. Beds are often rock hard, couches are frequently nothing more than a wooden bench, and restaurants (in certain areas of the country) forgo purchasing conventional tables and chairs, and have everyone sitting at child-sized tables, with plastic stools.
And it’s not only your butt that will miss the comfort. People here have a different idea of what ‘public space’ means. I frequently see people watching movies on their tablets in public spaces (in the metro…at Starbucks…in restaurants…), without using ear buds. When you have several people doing this in the same space, the room becomes so cluttered with noise that it’s difficult to think.
Smoking is also common place here, and you will see it everywhere you go. Restaurants, shopping malls and even some schools all allow smoking and although Beijing and several other cities are beginning to make smoking illegal in public spaces, China still has a long way to go before you can enjoy a meal without choking on someone else’s cigarettes.
And even in private spaces, China finds it’s way in. People in our apartment building frequently leave their front doors open to air out their personal spaces….this often results in my own apartment smelling like cigarettes. Our neighbours across the hall have apparently run out of room in their apartment, so they’ve begun storing personal items outside of their door, in the hallway…They are currently keeping their baby stroller and several other objects (including open umbrellas…) right outside of our door.
And Fireworks….The Chinese use them to ward of evil spirits and the following events all merit their use:
New Businesses Opening
Just because they like to make noise…
Even babies don’t get any break from the discomfort of living in China. I can’t help but wonder what this sort of thing means for this poor kid’s neck muscles…
6. Traffic Laws are Non-Existent…and Mayhem most Definitely Ensues…
It’s rare that you will see a police officer pulling people over for bad driving. It’s so rare, in fact, that the only time I can remember it happening was in Guiyang, when police officers caught on that they could get bribe money from e-bike drivers who aren’t wearing helmets.
The results of this lack of enforcement are terrifying. In Suzhou, the driving isn’t TOO bad. There are e-bike lanes and for the most part, people pay attention to stop lights and stay in 1 lane at a time…Well, ok, that might be a little generous…
I don’t have many pictures of this stuff, because, I’m usually trying to jump out of the way of drivers who are busy taking selfies instead of watching the road, but this video that I took in Guiyang should give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like driving, or ever walking, in China…
7. You’ll Begin to Appreciate the Most Surprising things…
The most mundane things in Canada become the most appreciated in China. Something as simple as Shake n’ Bake chicken is the cure to culture shock and bad days. Although I was never really big on Deviled Eggs back home, I’ve grown to love them in China, because they remind me of Christmas and Thanksgiving.
One of the best things is getting care packages from home. Getting Coffee Crisps, clothes that fit and western spices is such a great event! It’s like the best Christmas gift you can imagine!! I especially love getting letters from my nieces and nephews, though it’s common that China Post loses those. I’ve had countless letters mailed to me over the past 2 years, but I’ve only every actually received 2. Most of our family and friends have given up sending things, and I can’t say I blame them. Canada Post charges an exorbitant fee to send packages overseas, and when they likely won’t even make it to us…what’s the point?
On the subject of ‘stuff from home’, I realized something amazing about myself while I was finding pictures to use for these posts. I apparently have a need to photograph any western-brand sign I see. It must be the excitement of seeing something from Canada or America IN China…
8. Signs: The Good, The Bad and The Incomprehensible
This category doesn’t need much explaining….Let’s start with the good…
And, of course, the ones we can barely understand…
9. Things are Just Done Differently Here… (Part 2)
Of course, there are a few things I forgot to write in this section of my last post, so here they are…
Public space is used differently here…Below is a photo of a man shaving. In the metro. On his way to work…
Advertisements are weird. These women are serving pie…in a glass cage..to promote a new restaurant. They’re white…and it was weird…so people stopped.
Products are also weird. The grossest one I’ve seen are the facial creams that are supposedly made of human placenta. They have a rejuvenating quality to them….yeah….no thanks….
Crowds….crowds like you have never experienced…
Chinese medicine can be questionable. I have tried acupuncture here and it did not go well. I wound up passing out and I think the guy did more damage than good. I’m a pretty firm believer in scientifically backed treatments, but if you want to try eastern remedies, I do urge you to seek out professionals. Cupping is one of the most popular thing for westerners to try out. It’s pretty harmless, and it leaves some pretty wicked (temporary) scars that you can show off. Every Chinese person I’ve asked swears that it does wonders…
Some Final Tips for your Time in China
Buy clothing and shoes before coming to the country. Even petite girls can have a difficult time finding clothing here, because generally there is NO ROOM for curves in Chinese clothing. If you’re busty…shop at home accordingly, because you will not find anything above a B cup here. Similarly, it’s difficult to find shoes bigger than a lady’s size 6 or 7 (36 or 37 in European sizes).
While the Chinese are perfectly ok wearing mini skirts where you can actually see their bums when they bend over, cleavage is a nay nay…Be prepared to have pretty high cropped shirts here, ladies. It’s inappropriate to show off your goods (on the upper part of your body anyway…)
Learn how to use Tao Bao! It is truly a life saver. You can use Bing Translate or google translate if you have a VPN. ***Tip: Translate whatever it is you want to buy into Chinese (Google Translate works very well). The prices are much lower if you search in Mandarin.
Buy bedding foam. There’s very little worse than having a bad sleep. The first time I lived in China, I was able to get used to the hard beds, but now…I find it unbearable. There are all sorts of foam mattresses you can buy (Tao Bao is your best bet!) to soften up your bed. They are invaluable and I HIGHLY recommend buying one!
Find a local store that carries western goods. Metro, Carrefour, Walmart, Decathelon and Euromart are some of the best. Tao Bao also carries a wide range of western brands, so that’s always an option as well. It’s amazing how comforting it can be to find taco seasoning or salty popcorn when you have had a bad week.
Get a VPN (preferably before you enter the country)! I couldn’t blog or keep in touch with anyone on Facebook if it weren’t for my VPN. For $100 a year you can get set up with Astrill or Express, and both are reliable and fast. The government does sometimes crack down on that stuff, so expect the occasional glitch in service, but for the most part, I feel that they do pretty well.
My last piece of advice before ending this post: surround yourself with positive people. There’s nothing worse than spending time with people who do nothing but complain about the culture and the country. Of course, it’s inevitable that you will need to rant now and then, and that’s totally okay. But I’ve met so many foreigners who spend their time abroad angry that the people here won’t conform to what THEY think it normal. Those types of Lao Wai kinda suck…so don’t be like them. Remember that there are good things and bad things in EVERY culture, and you don’t come from a perfect country any more than the Chinese do. Be tolerant, and when it gets REALLY bad…grab some western bevies (because Chinese beer is pretty terrible) and chill out with people who are going through the same things you are.
That’s it for today! My next post will be an update on life in Suzhou! I’ll have pictures from my first gigs (I’m singing in a band :)), the Drama Festival at my school and all the stuff that’s been keeping me busy and away from my blog!
It’s difficult to imagine a country more diverse than India. With 22 official languages, 6 major religions and countless traditions and cultures, your experiences in India will depend greatly on the areas you visit. Of the places we visited, Rajasthan was the most flaunting of their customs and traditions, and no matter where you travel there, you get a taste of the individual cultures that make up this desert state.
Rajasthan is a state located in north-western India. Although it is mostly famous because of its Thar Desert, Rajasthan has much more going on than just sand. We visited 5 cities (and could have doubled that number if we’d had the time) and had some pretty awesome experiences. Here are some of the highlights of Rajesthan.
Palaces and Forts
Prior to its independence from England in 1947, India didn’t look the way it does today. Although it is now a democratic country, India used to be made up of several small city states, run by kings. As a result, there is an abundance of history in Rajasthan and if you like seeing antiques and learning about the past, the palaces and forts in Rajasthan are excellent ways to spend your afternoons.
The fees to get into some of these palaces were quite high, and from what I heard from other tourists, not always worth the money. In Udaipur, we opted to skip the palace because of the high camera fee. We were relieved to hear from a couple later on that it had been wise to skip it; there was little more than a few paintings to see. In other places, like Jodpur for example, the forts (and attached palaces), are well worth your time and money.
There are often museums in the forts. They are a great place to learn about pre-colonial culture in India
A cradle for young Jodpur princes
Ornate rooms where Kings met with royalty from other parts of the country
one of the innner rooms in the palace
Our hotel in Jodpur sat right under the fort
Built over the course of hundreds of years, you can actually see that the newer parts of the fort have been built on top of the older parts
Cannons for protecting the city
Damage to the fort from neighboring Udaipur’s army
Many of the hotels in Rajasthan are actually old palaces and government buildings from past rulers. We stayed in several of these buildings, known as Havelis, while in Rajesthan…each had beautiful architecture and interesting rooms.
The lobby in our hotel/haveli in Pushkar
Ornate walls in our Jodpur hotel
The grounds at these hotels were also beautiful
Each city we visited in Rajasthan seemed to have a nickname. Jaipur is ‘The Pink City’. Udaipur is ‘The Lake City’, Pushkar is ‘The Pilgrimage City’, Jaisalmer ‘The Golden City’ and Jodpur ‘The Blue City’. Each of these nicknames comes from the unique architecture and geography in the area.
The Pink City, where citizens paint their homes pink to honour a special historical visit of kings
The Pilgrimage City (this is considered a holy lake)
The Golden City, where everything is made of sandstone.
A view of The Blue City from Jodpur fort. Similar to Jaipur, citizens paint their homes blue in the old part of town.
Jaisalmer impressed me the most with its beautiful sandstone carvings. Not only is the golden colour of the sandstone beautiful, but the intricate detail found all around the city is a photographer’s dream.
A stable in Jaisalmer
Similarly, Udaipur’s gorgeous hotels built along the lake are a sight to see. The white buildings reflect on the lake, giving the city a serene atmosphere.
And if the cities themselves aren’t beautiful enough for you, the temples and other landmarks in India are also sights to behold. After all, the Taj Mahal is just one of India’s famed buildings…there are many, many more!!
A garden of temples in Jodpur
A stable in Jaisalmer
A temple outside Jodpur
A restaurant in Jaisalmer: Saffon. VERY worth stopping in!
If shopping is your favourite pass-time during travel, Rajasthan is for you! Every city we visited had markets where you can check out Rajasthan’s unique textiles. And, for a state famous for its desert, you wouldn’t believe the colour you’ll see in these markets!!
What many of the stores look like once you’re inside.
Traditional Rajasthani stitching
The market in Pushkar
The market in Pushkar
One of a hundred shops in Udaipur
Among the best cities for shopping were Pushkar and Udaipur. While the shopkeepers in Jodpur and Jaipur were pushy and known to chase you down the street…Pushkar and Udaipur had a much calmer feel to them. There was an abundance of art and textiles (bedding, scarves, clothing etc…) to see everywhere we visited in Rajesthan, you could only really peacefully visit shops in these two smaller cities. We bought the majority of our souvenirs in Pushkar, where the prices were fair and where I was given the chance to try things on without people grabbing my arms and trying to drag me into different stores (a frequent experience in Jodpur!)
The salesmen here were EXTREMELY pushy! Several tried grabbing us by the arms. One convinced me to ‘follow him upstairs…where he had the kind of shirts I was looking for’. He didn’t. He had button up t-shirts…They were for men…
The clock tower, where all the action is at in Jodpur proper
Of course, you do need to be careful when shopping in Rajasthan. The prices aren’t nearly as inflated as they are in the Golden Triangle, but you will still be ripped off if someone sees the opportunity. Pushkar specifically had an interesting scam that involved locals trying to push you into paying for flowers that are originally presented as being free. A rule of thumb in Pushkar…people are really nice…just DON’T BUY THE FLOWERS!!!! And, of course, be weary of anyone telling you that their products are 100% Kashmir or Pashmina…they most likely aren’t. I paid 1000 rupees for a scarf that I saw for 400 rupees only a few days later in one of the smaller cities. Be skeptical of initial prices and BARGAIN HARD! (even when they try and make you feel like you’re ripping them off…it’s part of their shtick)
Wildlife and Landscape
Rajasthan is THE place to visit if you are interested in diverse landscapes and wildlife. From monkeys to cows, there won’t be a day you don’t see an animal while in India. And because Rajasthan covers such a large area, the landscapes change a great deal as you travel around the state.
The farm life within the cities is astounding. Not only cows roam the streets of Jaipur and Jaisalmer, but also goats, sheep, pigs and chickens…
Some goats being herded near Pushkar
A goat in Jaisalmer
Some cows munching on garbage in Udaipur
There are monkeys all over the place in Rajasthan! I’m always afraid of being bitten because monkeys can be so aggressive, but the zoom on my camera made it easy to get some good close ups of these cool little dudes…
Mama monkey in Jaipur
Baby monkey in Pushkar
Monkeys running along a building in Jaipur
Rural black monkeys on our way to Jaisalmer
And of course, I can’t forget about the friends we made in the desert…
The most remarkable animals we saw in Rajasthan were the famed Demoiselle Cranes we saw outside of Udaipur. These cranes are famous because they have the most difficult migration of any bird on earth. Not only do they need to fly over the Himalayan mountains to get to their breeding grounds in India…but they get attacked and eaten by Golden Eagles along the way! Don’t believe me? Watch Planet Earth! We watched the episode about Mountain Landscapes after we got home, just to see the cranes that we’d been lucky enough to see up close in Rajasthan!
These cranes nest in India by the thousands
The area where you can stop and watch the birds1
A sweet close up with my camera allowed us to see these birds up close
Some Cautionary Tales
There are far more ups than downs visiting Rajasthan. For Dave and I, the biggest downer was our driver, who was strange and actually pretty terrible at his job. Look around for drivers that have good reviews before booking because you’ll be spending 35+ hours in a car with that person…and trust me…you don’t want a guy who plays the same 5 minute Ohm on repeat the entire time! It can really ruin a trip!
Additionally…it’s a good idea to book ahead of time. While it’s often better to book tours once you’re IN a country, you will be overwhelmed with the number of tour guides trying to sell you packages once you’re in New Delhi. Many of them will lie to you to get your business (ours assured us that they were government run…they were not!) and they will all try and rip you off. Check Trip Adviser before you get tied in with anyone in India.
Aside from drivers…make sure to look around before buying things so you get a feel for what prices are in markets. Don’t believe anyone who tells you their scarves are 100% anything…they are lovely, and I wouldn’t discourage you from buying 1 (or 3…), but I would caution you to limit how much you spend. Most of the time, the Kashmir or Pashmina scarf they’re selling you is mostly silk or even polyester.
So there you have it…Rajasthan is chalk full of things for every type of tourist. From gorgeous landscapes to intricate architecture, you’ll find something interesting at every stop you make. If I could do things differently, I would have taken 3 of the days we had in New Delhi and added them to our time in Rajasthan so we could have seen Bikaner or Rathambore. Perhaps some day I’ll get the chance…