Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunny Blanket

The couch blanket I started in mid June is now finished! Despite the warm summer weather we had this year, it did not stop me from forging ahead one stitch at a time, piecing together one block at a time until 24 squares were crocheted into one big blanket. I did run out of yarn, fortunately the store had some in stock from a different dye lot. See the lighter yellow in the bottom left? The trim was also finished off in this paler shade. Nevertheless this sunny blanket in 100% soft wool conjured up all kinds of warm thoughts as we snuggled on the love seat.

Wishing everyone a Happy Halloween!!
P.S. I also made the cushions pictured above!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cool Sunny

The weather is changing, temperatures are cooler now. The odd sunny day witnessed a single red tree amongst the evergreen against the backdrop of downtown buildings.
There is snow on the mountains, lots more to come I'm sure.

Sunset Silhouette

Two pictures of an autumn sunset taken before the start of the rainy season, soft glowing colors that were once a summer staple are a rare sight these days.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

China Journal Day 15 Guilin Around the Hotel Part 1

Hello Thursday! We carry on with our China trip and bid farewell to Shanghai as our plane landed in... Guilin!

Oh Guilin, I heard so many stories about its beautiful scenery as a child I am so glad for this opportunity to see it all for myself! However little was found about this small city during our research and our stay was brief so we decided to join a tour to accomplish more things to see and do. At the airport counter, the tour tickets were too pricey so we passed. Luckily for us, the cab driver drove so slowly we caught sight of CITS (China's biggest travel agency) near our hotel, where we purchased tour tickets for 30% less than the ones at the airport!

After a quick bite at a dim sum restaurant nearby, we checked into our rooms and were greeted by this scene of Shanhu Lake below.
We napped for part of the afternoon then ventured out towards Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbishan). Pictured below the view from the park located next to our hotel, a perfect reflection of twin pagodas and the surrounding trees silhouetted against the soft colored sky. What I like most about this was the two tiny glowing suns.
Another perspective at the same site accompanied by hanging branches from a nearby tree. The camera captured several different compositions, we could stay there forever in its calming atmosphere but there was more to explore.
The path led us away from the lake through the park, all was quiet except for a few visitors. Amongst local tourists there was a couple of young children selling artificial roses. We came to realize Guilin was not as crowded as other Chinese cities we had visited.
There were not as many flowers either, the only ones we came across were by the white sphere pictured below.
By the main road, the slow-moving delivery man with the smart looking white hat caught our attention. A cart overfilled with toilet paper, where was he going?
We continued walking along Binjiang Road and saw there was not as many cars as there was in Beijing or Shanghai.
Just like other parts of China, we noticed man powered wheels were the best choice for hauling. Below older television sets on the go, probably replaced by flat screens, I counted 8 of them and hoped they were being recycled.
Following the TVs came the bike with balloons, brightly colored covered with cartoon characters they would cheer up any kid!
Under the shady canopy, on the very wide sidewalk a few youngsters were rollerblading. Although I do not rollerblade I wondered if there was a rental shop close by.
Bikes left by the stone fence on the paved path, where were the riders?
Lots more bicycles parked neatly side by side. We saw many sights like this throughout our China visit, despite the increase of road vehicles we were pleased to see the two-wheeler was still the choice of transportation of the people.
Across the street by the little supermarket, a spiffy looking compact car, one of the very few we encountered in China. Colored in roaring red complete with dragon head and flames, waiting for its driver to return.

On this note, I pause this post as we continue next week with another episode on our China escape!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shanghai Diary Day 14 Trains, Haircut and Massage

Let's head on over to China today and continue with Day 14 of our trip!

Back at the train station in Shanghai, we decided to take some pictures of our snazzy looking bullet train. Parked by the deserted platform, the futuristic locomotive awaits its next destination. To the right a bright LED display said Nanjing in Chinese characters, one of this train's many stops.
Pictured below the long line of cars where passengers have just 3 minutes to board at each stop. Like many others we were able to find our seats quickly, but some ended up standing for the ride. Traveling at over 245 km per hour, the trip was a smooth one.
Inside the empty car, a cleaning lady was busy tidying up the seats, we were impressed with its spotless condition.
Below on the right, an orange and white sleeper train. Seconds before the curtains were drawn, we witnessed the crew changing the sheets on the beds, they saw us and immediately smiled and waved.
We returned to the hotel at 9 PM and noticed some of the salons around the hotel were still open. David wanted a haircut so I negotiated 20 RMB ($3 Canadian) for a wash and cut. This included a head massage which he later described as very relaxing. While I waited the owner chatted away, when I heard he was from Suzhou I spoke of the lovely visit we had earlier that day, he smiled proudly. He came to Shanghai to learn the trade and started his own business a few years ago. A tiny shop cramped with funky 70's style orange chairs, it offered men's haircut on the lower floor while upstairs catered to ladies hair, facial and manicure.

By the time David was finished it was 10:30 PM, so we asked for advice on where to get a good foot massage. The kind owner sent one of his hairdressers to take us a few blocks to the store pictured below.
The ladies promptly prepared a herbal soak for our feet. As they worked on us we visited and found out they were from small towns, all came to Shanghai to earn money to support their families back home. They spoke of their village, the crops they grew, the ducks and pigs they reared. One of them lived by the Yangtze River and was glad to hear how wonderful the cruise was.

Most of the girls were mothers but some were as young as 14 years old. They started at 10 AM, worked 36 hours then rest for 12 hours, the place is open 24 hours. They are trained on the job and learned the ropes from senior staff. They speak very little or no English so I helped translate other customer's requests, much to their delight! Most clients were regular, some come daily, others every couple of days.

Each foot massage cost 20 RMB, a body massage cost 30 RMB. At 50 RMB ($7 Canadian) we were there until 1 AM! The ladies were very good with their craft, gone were the aching feet and sore muscles, we were thoroughly relaxed. Pictured below the group of hard working staff at the massage parlor.
Back at the hotel, we did not finish packing until 3 AM and had only less than 2 hours of sleep. Below the view out of our hotel room in the early morning, past the residential buildings in the distance were the businesses located on Nanjing Road.
Pictured below a closer look at the high-rise on Nanjing Road. Shanghai was a mishmash of interesting events, David's hospital stay was unfortunate but the awesome finds at the museum and the beautiful garden and friendly people in Suzhou made our stay so much better. Not to mention the fascinating visitors at the train station and the lovely neighborhood around the hotel. We thanked the staff at New Harbor Service Apartments (see reviews here) for their dedicated service and left for the airport.

Join us next week as our China journey continues in a different city!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Suzhou Journal Day 14 Around the Humble Administrator's Garden

Hello and welcome to this week's edition of our China trip! There was still some sun after visiting the Humble Administrator's Garden, so we decided to wander around Suzhou. Pictured below against the setting sun and orange sky, the row of shops that led us away from the garden.A close up of a couple of souvenir shops, hung on the walls were silk scarves, silk blouses, silk handbags etc. Apart from the gardens, Suzhou is also known for its silk products. At this late afternoon hour, some local tourists were still shopping.
Below one of the shops with the most radiant display, it drew me in to browse the store but I did not buy any accessories.
What I was most interested in was the embroidery, I had found some colorful scenes of village life at a store in Vancouver Chinatown, the owner told me they came from Suzhou. I discovered similar style embroidery at this store below and ended up purchasing several more joyous depictions of a bountiful harvest, flying kites, gathering fish... I now have a total of 9 in my collection! The man assumed I was an international student and priced them at wholesale, 15 RMB (about $2 Canadian) per piece.
As the street of shops ended, we came to a bridge that overlooked a river. A couple of tour guides approached us and said the boats were for hire, 40 RMB (about $6 Canadian) per person down the river for 30 minutes. We were very tempted but decided to walk and enjoy various waterways at our own pace.
42% of Suzhou is covered by water, we found many rivers that ran through the city and were absolutely delighted to find Venice in Asia! Floating on a stream by residential dwellings, this lonely tourist boat with the red lanterns was the best looking one of them all.
Just a few steps away, more homes reflected on the gentle water framed by hanging branches of willow trees. I would very much like to call the beige one with the red framed window my home.
On the other side of the bridge, the setting sun peaked through the delicate leaves casting a flaming tint onto the creek.
Further down, another tributary, this one surrounded with low rise residential buildings. We could hear the busy kitchens and smell dinner in the air.
Next to where we stood, some neat rows of potted plants with vibrant flowers, it instantly made us feel welcome. Displays like this were a common sight throughout our China trip.
Across from the show of blooms, a very busy intersection.
It was not as crowded nor as noisy as the ones in Beijing or Shanghai, but we quickly realized this was rush hour in Suzhou.
All kinds of vehicles and numerous people were going this way and that, the ever changing lights were directing their movement, we stood and watched the bustling activity around us.
There were lots of motorbikes, many parents were on their way home after picking up their kids from school.
Not everyone had a motorized bike, this devoted mother and her daughter cycled away from the crowd onto a much quieter street.
Pictured below, the red 3 wheeler in the middle caught our attention, it reminded me of the becak in Jakarta.
A whole row of cycle rickshaws for hire, but where were the drivers?
David suggested riding one of these back to the train station, it was getting dark and we were tired, we also did not know how often the buses ran. Pictured below a successful negotiation took place, the driver quickly prepared the seat for his standing customers.
We decided to explore a bit more and keep an eye out for a free rickshaw. Below manpower in motion, the cart filled with long strips of wood and metal looked very heavy, the driver slowly pulled up to the cement mixer on the left.
Another cart, this one towed by an older lady was full of cardboard boxes.
Yet another one packed with pieces of wood. Just like the one above, it looked crudely built with extra pieces of 2 x 4 nailed together for extra reinforcements to accommodate the hefty loads.
On a side road, a man dragged a cartload of with burlap sacks, he looked very fit, where were they all going?
At this point we spotted a free tricyle and negotiated 20 RMB (about $3 Canadian) for a 10 minute ride to the train station. We had spent only one afternoon in Suzhou but I had fell completely in love with this city, it was one of my favorite spots in our China visit. The Humble Administrator's Garden was a sheer charm, we absolutely adored the peaceful scenes of nature. The city had the most wonderful waterways, it was interesting observing the rush hour traffic.

But what I like the most about Suzhou was its people. Kind strangers helped direct us to the garden, the store keeper I bought the embroidery from was very friendly. Pictured below at one of the crossroads, a comical sight. Two schoolboys noticed me with the camera, the fearless one on the right immediately made a face and continued to do so as he came right up to me! His friend, a much shyer persona, started to giggle and covered his mouth in embarrassment.
I saw this elderly lady walked along the river towards the main street, when she came close I snapped a picture of her and smiled. She smiled back instantly.
Below taken from our hired rickshaw, one last image of the streets of Suzhou.
At the train station, we had KFC for dinner. We promised ourselves to experience only local food while in China but we were too hungry. The chicken was crispy and less greasy, the turnip salad made use of local ingredients, the soft drinks had the right fizz, everything was very good! Tummies filled we rode on the train back to Shanghai.

Join us next week for another episode of our China adventure!