Friday, May 28, 2010

Calla lilies and sulfur smoke in Taiwan

The four of us finally made it Taipei for Spring Break, the first week of April. Gene has been coming here for several years on business trips and was anxious to have us visit as well. We were very fortunate that his Taiwanese Xiamen colleague, Sam, was back in the city at the same time and offered to take us around. He and his wife took us on a tour of a mountain that is just outside Taipei, thankfully the rain cleared long enough for us to have a really fun day.

I have never seen calla lilies growing on a farm before so I was glad that our timing was perfect for their apparently short season. After winding along a narrow mountain road and enjoying a lunch at a famous outdoor restaurant, we walked among the fields of lilies. They were a bit like the "u pick" strawberries fields that we have back home, though less strict! We saw young ladies climbing through the mud to pick their favorite blooms. We stayed on the paths since we were not going to take any back to the hotel with us.
Lily fields on both sides of the stream.
My girls weren't as enchanted as I was, but they liked walking along the narrow paths.

The main road was further narrowed by the many stalls selling flowers. These beauties always remind me of my college roommate, Kate, as she had them in her wedding bouquets. Wish you could be here too, Kate!
Next on the agenda was the volcanic sulfur part of the mountain. A different kind of beauty?! I didn't notice much scent from the lilies (unlike other types of lilies that can be detected from far off) but the sulfur most certainly made its presence known through its awful stench. Funny how the flower fields were teeming with people but we almost had the volcano park to ourselves!
It is difficult to capture the size of this outcrop of volcanic rock but try to see the short segment of fencing along the bottom left of the photo...
Now, here is Amanda next to that fence. This was like a crater, except that it was along the side of the mountain. It looked like a giant landslide, though I couldn't read the signs to learn the history and it's been a long time since my freshman geology class! We were mesmerized by the swirling smoke and the little pools of bubbling hot water that emerged from the ground.
Looking back at the road that leads to the viewing area and the lovely farming village beyond. It was refreshing to spend time in this lush mountain park after living in a city of high-rises. Xiamen has lots of nice city parks, but it's hard to compare with this kind of natural setting. I'm sure he'll never read this, but I'll say it anyway...thanks, Sam, for sharing this part of Taipei with us!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Food and drink on Gulangyu

Gulangyu is a small island (some call it an islet) off the coast of Xiamen, which is itself an island and a city in one. A book about the island, written by a friend of ours, Bill Brown, lists the size as 1.78 square kilometers...I still have no idea how big that is, what with the metric reference and all. Gulangyu has a very rich history as it was once the site of many foreign consulates and is also home to China's oldest Protestant church. It was home to Hope Hospital in the early 1900's which served as a nursing school. Apparently there were students here from our own Hope College back in Holland, Michigan. Judging by the many Dutch names that appear in the history books, they made quite an impact. Today the government buildings are no longer staffed by foreign dignitaries, in fact many of them are falling into disrepair. But the architecture
is varied and interesting. Now it is mostly a tourist attraction and shopping destination.

As mentioned in previous posts, a ferry must be taken to gain access to the island and, once there, travel must be done by foot or electric golf carts. Bicycles are not even allowed! As there are many restaurants, hotels and private residences, I have often wondered how supplies are transported. Recently I found myself alone on the island for a quick shopping trip (no friends were available to accompany me) and had the chance to see for myself.

But first, a look at some of the numerous seafood options...
From across the road those buckets look pretty small, but they can hold quite a lot of tempting lunch-time morsels. Actually, they don't tempt me at all since I am allergic to seafood. Sometimes I find myself feeling quite thankful for said allergies as they have gotten me out of some uncomfortable dining situations...
So the way it works is that you point to the items you like in the buckets, sit at your favorite table and wait for them to be scooped out and cooked. I can't even identify half of these things, but I know they include various types of clams, mussels and other shell-dwelling sea animals. I was unable to get any good photos of the numerous live fish and other large creatures as it was close to noon and potential diners were swarming the menageries excitedly.
During my stroll through the narrow, walled and crooked lanes, I found tomorrow's lunch. I believe these are mussels (or shelled long-neck clams) that are, for some unknown reason, drying in the sun. I didn't want to get too close or breathe my germs onto this food, though I doubt if anyone would have cared. It just seemed rude to lean in tight for a better photo.
Now for the answer to the transport questions. There are many long concrete piers extending into the water, away from the passenger ferry terminals. Here I spotted a well-bumpered long boat (perhaps the sea driving is as bad as the road driving...) that was laden with crates of beverages.
I watched from the boardwalk as men dragged carts up the steep ramp. (Xiamen island in the background)
Off to deliver a box of something, cigarette firmly between his lips. I have seen these types of carts all over the island, loaded with a large variety of merchandise, including a piano! (One nick-name of the island is Piano Island as it is home to many music schools)
Precious cargo. I'll admit, these over-loaded carts were the first to catch my eye. Those are cases of beer, each containing twelve large bottles, the type that are ordered for the table and shared among the many small juice glasses. I did not stick around long enough to watch anyone attempt to drag these heavy loads made me tired just thinking about it!

Friday, April 23, 2010

CNY lanterns at night

As the end of the weeks-long Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival drew to a close, we knew we had to take advantage of our close proximity to Bailuzhou Park to see the lanterns all lit up at night. Liz decided to stay back, but Amanda went along with us. Little did we know that this was the last night of the festival...we found out later that there were 100,000 people in the park that night! (or 400,000 depending on which part of the article you believe! Either way, is was very crowded.) A quote from, "No incidences occurred despite the crowded conditions, for staff from Xiamen Municipal Works and Gardens Administration Bureau and Xiamen Public Security Bureau attended Bailuzhou Park to maintain order." What this also meant was that the closest pedestrian bridge from our side of the water into the main part of the park (the one my girls are crossing in their roller blades in the previous post) was reserved for people exiting the park. There were at least twenty security guys in green army-like uniforms stationed at this spot alone. So we were forced to follow the sea of humanity along the water to the car/pedestrian bridge and into the main entrance of the park. The photo above is a glimpse through the trees from the first bridge...looks like the place is on fire!
The main entrance with its giant 2010 lantern, though the number is not very legible.
This photo of our girls and their American and Danish friends was actually taken a week or so earlier while we were on our way to dinner. We didn't linger too long in the park that night because we thought it was too crowded...classic newbie mistake.
There were lanterns scattered everywhere, some in large scenes and others lined up along the walkways. We liked this peacock-type guy.
Lots of people passing under a walkway. Notice the traditional Sponge Bob Square Pants balloon on the left side...East meets West when it comes to selling junk that vendors know kids will beg their parents to buy. We resisted the urge to purchase light-up head gear and flying whirly-gigs.
More gateways and backs of heads.
We think this lady represented one of the many ethnic minority tribes found throughout China.
The "Great Wall." This was not in place during my previous day time trip to the park so this was from the day after our night visit.
The Wall at night--it was made of the same thick wire and fabric covering as the lanterns.

Smiling, upright tigers were a very popular theme as all of China welcomed the Year of the Tiger.
A very happy tiger at the entrance to the exit-only foot bridge. Many strangers also have this picture on their blogs as they took the chance to snap photos of my cute little daughter!
Night view of the floating water scene lantern.
One last parting shot. We were told that small lanterns would be lit with real flames and allowed to float into the sky during the nights of the festival but we never saw any. We were also hoping to see some of the world famous Chinese fireworks, but we read that they were being displayed out at the beach and we were unable to get out there. There is a ban on fireworks on the island of Xiamen but lots of people who live across the water were kind enough to "share" with the form of extremely loud and echoing blasts that mostly occurred some time after midnight, even on the weeknights. All in all, Chinese New Year gave us lots of new and unusual experiences sites to behold!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

CNY lanterns in Bailuzhou Gong Yuan

We had some gloriously warm days in February and took the chance to do some rollerblading in the large park, Bailuzhou Gong Yuan, near our home. Well, okay, my girls did the rollerblading and I did the walking along behind them with the camera. We wanted to get over there to see the big "lanterns" that were being set up all over the park in preparation for the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Crossing the rubber-coated pedestrian bridge over the lake to the main part of the park required side-stepping in the rollerblades!
Now, for your viewing pleasure, lot's of pictures of the lanterns! I didn't really get the "lantern" part of these wire and fabric sculptures until weeks later when we fought the crowds of tens of thousands of Chinese celebrators/picture-takers during an evening when these things were all lit up. Good thing my 6'2" husband was there to take pictures over the tops of the heads--I would've gotten no pictures at all! Night pictures will be posted soon...

This one looks like Winnie the Pooh pretending to be a Buddhist monk, but I'm pretty sure all these guys are supposed to be tigers, in honor of 2010, the year of the tiger.
The wide paths were adorned with tunnels constructed of more lanterns.
The main entrance to the park, with a massive 2010 emblem. This thing was at least two stories tall--can you see the tiny guy in the blue jacket in the middle?
These cranes were waiting to be placed in their rightful spots.

A close-up shot of the panda scene...this one's for you, Lexi!
Four of these guys are doing the same thing, can you tell which one is different? This was apparently an homage to gym class, I guess. Though the dog was a bit out of place.
Now for the floating lanterns that ringed the peninsula part of the park that juts into the man-made lake. We can see these from our balcony, though they are just colorful blobs without the aid of the binoculars.
Stay tuned for pictures of these babies all lit up!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Adventures in fabric

The illustrious Xiamen fabric market--two levels of glorified stalls containing floor-to-ceiling bolts of fabric, row upon row of ribbon and many millions of sewing "notions" (that means buttons, zippers, clasps, etc for you non-sewers). One day I was waiting for my Danish friend to meet me here so we could have some pants (me) and some shirts (her husband) made by a tailor she has used previously. There is another tailor in town, the Shanghai Tailor as he is known by all the many expats who keep him in business, but it is more of a hassle for me to get there. It would involve taking a taxi to the fabric market (cannot figure the bus route to this place and it's too far to walk), finding fabric on my own, taking another taxi to his place and then taking a third taxi home again. So we decided to give this guy a try. I had some pants I wanted to have copied so I showed them to him and he went with me to find appropriate fabric from one of the stalls--I can say the colors in Chinese but not "I want a bit of stretch in the fabric" and other vital information. He was very good at understanding my needs! Then my friend noticed a fitted, wool coat (the kind we call "church coats") on display and asked him if he could make one like it for her. She noticed that it had a fur collar but wasn't sure she wanted it for every occasion. Enter my mad Mandarin skills...I was so proud that I was able to convey the meaning of "removable collar" to the tailor! Okay, what I actually said was "jin tian, wo yao; ming tian, bu yao" which means "today I want, tomorrow I don't want" while pointing at the collar. But we understood each other--victory!! I also had asked my teacher how to say "more narrow" so that he could make the new pants a bit more narrow in the legs...jump ahead to the picking-up day: the pants were not more narrow! He had me try them on in a back room in which a person (woman, I hoped) was sleeping not three feet from the changing area! Not comfortable. Anyway, I asked him to alter them into a better fit, even though that required returning another day to pick them up. My friend's church-coat-with-removable-collar, by the way, turned out fabulous!
Now for the sad and disturbing part of the story...While I was standing outside the market, waiting for my friend, I heard some very loud, very annoying music. When I looked around, I saw a mysterious figure coming toward me exceedingly slowly along the far side of the street.
I didn't want to be rude, but I just had to get some photos of this guy. Notice that this is the actual road, not the sidewalk, and it is quite busy. This guy was paddling himself along on a cart-type thing with a speaker tied to the top, blasting music to gain attention to his plight. He was wearing gloves to protect his hands but was also expending much energy to drag along a metal mixing bowl, in which he sought to collect donations.
While he struggled along, taxis, private cars and even large city busses swerved around him. I was amazed that the drivers could see him in time to avoid hitting him. It took him quite a long time to progress down the road and he paused to look up and get his bearings every few meters (trying to learn the metric system, along with Mandarin...)
When he had passed me, I could see that he was missing his left leg. I wished I'd had a spare wheelchair to give the guy...but I think part of his set-up was intended to draw the most sympathy. Not that I blame him, I know precious little about the social welfare/social security for the disabled situation here in China, but this was a pathetic situation. Anyone care to discuss the current health care goings-on in the US...just kidding I don't care to debate it!