Sunday, May 31, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Longmen Town

Thursday was a public holiday in China so I decided to take a motorbike ride through the countryside. It was a steamy, hot sunny day, and I wanted to escape the stagnant air of Fuyang for a while. The hills around where I live give an idyllic feeling of ancient China. Once you leave the town it's easy to find yourself wondering how you ever got to such a foreign place. You see farmers working out in their fields with no machinery, only their livestock to help them along with their own back breaking labor. Living in Fuyang, I see so many different parts of Chinese culture that most westerners who come to China may never see. It's part of the reason I love living in a small town.

I rode for about half an hour out of Fuyang and breezed into Longmen (Dragon Gate). The town sits at the foot of Longmen Mountain, and the scenery around it is exquisite. Nothing but green and emerald colors covering the hills. Unlike the water in Fuyang, the streams here run so clear that you could dip your cup right into them and drink. I had been there once before during the Fall Festival when the little village was booming with people, and I felt like I wasn't able to appreciate it for what it is. Now, standing and contemplating which way to enter the village, I could comprehend the quaintness and serene lifestyle that is Longmen.

The town covers two square kilometers total and has a population of 7,000 people. More than 90 percent of the people that live here are descendants of King Sun Quan who ruled over the Wu kingdom back around 250 AD. Because of this, almost everyone who lives here has the name Sun. It's one of the few places left in China that has managed to preserve the traditional Chinese lifestyle and look. The Chinese government has invested a lot of money into helping Longmen maintain its beauty, tradition and also to protect the environment around it.

Walking through Longmen is like finding your way through a labyrinth. It's made up of narrow alley ways with little shops and the homes lined up on either side. It seems around every corner, you could look into a small business or restaurant and find the elderly people of the village smoking cigarettes, playing mahjong, and just reveling in a spectacular day. The lines on their faces tell the story of their own experiences and hard work. I have no doubt that the life of a person in a village such as Longmen is nothing but arduous. Yet, seeing these beautiful aged faces, enjoying their surroundings, it seems so fruitful and fulfilling as well.

Woven Shoes for sale.

The narrow ally ways.

I believe this is used for grinding wheat and making it into flour. This room smelled like and was covered in flour.

Bamboo bridge?

Wheat that was laid out on giant mats to be dried out in the sun.

Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Jie)

This is a festival in China to celebrate the beginning of the 5th month. It's celebrated on the 5th of May according to the lunar calendar, so this year it was celebrated on our 28th of May. It's tradition to have dragon boat races during this time, but unfortunately I wasn't able to witness any of these events. But I did get to learn how to make zong zi, a traditional Chinese type of dumpling where sticky rice is wrapped in bamboo leaves and then boiled. They also usually fill it with different types of meat and beans along with the rice.

Attempting to keep the rice inside the bamboo leaf.

A nice lady trying to help a hopeless case.

My Chinese teacher Flora having a go.

Somehow her's turned out perfect.

Finished products prior to cooking.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Thought on Leaving China

So we finally got word last week that we will be leaving China, with a date set for July 18th. I am so excited to get this news because for a long time we have never had a definite date, and now there is an end in sight and we can actually plan for it.

If we had known when we first arrived here that we would be staying for almost 11 months there's so many things I would have done differently. But for the past 9 months we've been thinking that we're leaving in just a couple months and I don't feel as though we ever really settled into China fully. For example, I would have gotten a job that was going to last longer, and I would have started taking Chinese from the very beginning.

So I am happy that we finally have something we can count on (fingers crossed). But I was talking to some friends of mine who live up in Nanjing the other day and we were trying to make plans to meet up in Shanghai. While we were talking it dawned on me that it might be the last time I ever see these two girls again (one is from Dublin, the other England). And it also occurred to me that we are actually leaving this place that has become our home.

In some ways I still feel like we've just arrived, but in a lot of way I feel like we've come so far. It's no longer daunting to walk into a restaurant that doesn't have an English menu. As we've both learned so much Chinese, and in doing so life here has become so much easier. This place that made me frightened to leave our apartment has really become a place I truly love and is now one of the few places I find myself calling home.

This is such a foreign place in so many ways. Sometimes I absolutely despise things about it makes me so glad I'm from the West. But some things about China are very liberating, and it feels good to know that we've come to one of the most foreign places to the Western world and have found ways to navigate life here. I will miss China when we leave, and I hope that our travels bring us back here someday. I have wonderful photos, friends and memories from this place but none can actually replace the feeling of being and living here.

Here's the Top 10 things I'll miss about China:

10. Finding new ways to communicate with people other than using verbal skills. i.e. drawing pictures, pantomiming, making sounds and eventually consulting a English to Chinese dictionary.

9. Talking to the security guards at our apartment complex. Since we got here they've always been very eager to talk to us, and as I've learned more and more Chinese I've been able to talk back.

8. Not driving a car. It's a very comforting feeling knowing that I don't have to try and operate a vehicle in Fuyang town. The driving here is crazy and there's been a number of times I wasn't sure we were going to make it out alive. But just not driving in general has made us both realize that we don't need a car to get around. We've traveled to smaller towns than Fuyang without getting a taxi and made it back just fine.

7. Having to be creative and find new ways to still enjoy the foods that we can only get at home. Ingredients are not always easy to find. It's not that China doesn't have them (although sometimes they just don't), but a lot of times it just goes by a different name. It's been really fun creating grocery lists half in English, half in Chinese so that I can ask the store clerks to help me find it.

6. Finding new places to explore that not every westerner that comes here knows about. Fuyang is pretty isolated little town as it is, but it's been really cool going to places like Yellow Mountain and Green Mountain Lake that most foreign tourists never even hear about.

5. Not being able to understand what people are saying around me. At first this really bothered me as I never knew when people were talking about me. But now it's so nice just to be able to tune out all that extra noise. I've found I really don't care what other people are saying or talking about. When I went home I almost found it annoying hearing other people's conversation.

4. Studying Chinese and being able to practice it every day. I still plan on studying after we leave China, but it's true what they say, there's nothing like being totally immersed in a language and culture to really learn it. It amazes me sometimes how much Eliot and I have learned and it's going to slow way down once we leave.

3. Being told I'm "so beautiful" wherever we go (ni shi hen piao liang). I'm not sure what it is about Western women, but we tend to get a lot of compliments on our looks. I believe it's just because we look so different and also most famous actors and actresses are Western and although we know we look nothing like them, the Chinese think we look a lot like them. Also, all women here are often referred to as "mei nu" which means pretty lady or "xiao jie" which means little miss (also if used in a different context can mean prostitute, but most of the time it isn't used like this). I always feel well respected when someone calls me one of these things even though I'm not Chinese.

2. The food. Although it took some getting used to and mostly just searching for the types of things I liked, I am really going to miss authentic Chinese food. As many of you know I've become a vegetarian since living in China, which has created a whole new set of challenges. But there are so many vegetable rich foods, and not only that, but the Chinese have perfected the art of cooking tofu. I never liked tofu before coming here, but there are so many different kinds and different ways to cook tofu and I really hope I can find what I like when we get back.

1. Probably what I'm going to miss most about being here are the friends and people we've met that have made this experience so wonderful. People in China have such great attitudes and outlook on life. It's amazing to me how you can meet someone who may be very poor, but they're so excited to buy you a beer to welcome you to China, and they always want to show you something new to help make your experience all that much richer.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sewing Projects (Made in China)

Since we've been here I've had a bit of spare time and in an effort to avoid going completely stir crazy I started looking for a new hobby. I've been having ideas of sewing projects and decided to try and get a sewing machine. You'd think that would be easy here in China since probably 90% of sewing machines are made here, but it turned into quite the task. Eliot and I searched Hangzhou, I looked when I was up in Shanghai, we recruited many Chinese friends to try and help us find one, and we still had no luck. Finally, one day at work one of the Chinese guys on the factory floor overheard Eliot asking someone about it and brought in a business card of someone he knew who owned a sewing machine shop right in Fuyang! We couldn't believe all the searching and there was one right in our little town. So we got it home and I still needed a table to put it on. We found a small desk and Eliot cut a rectangular hole in it for the sewing machine to sit in, so the part you run the fabric through is flush with the desk. It's a bit older machine and I really have to be careful not to sew anything very thick, but it's been really fun to play around on. Here are some photos of a few of the things I've done. I haven't had a pattern for anything and so nothing I've made is symmetrical in any sort of way. But like I said, it's all just been for fun. Also, please excuse the model in a couple of the photos;)

These are quilts I made at Christmas time for my niece Logan and Eliot's God daughter Lily. The front is quilted velvet and the backing is satin.

Some handbags...

These two photos are of the same reversible bag.

I cut up an old shirt of mine that I liked and used it to help me make these two.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blogspot blocked

Part of living in China is we have to deal with the issues every once in a while. Right now, I cannot access without going through a special proxy server, and even then I can write a post but I can't post any photos. Apparently this isn't the first time blogspot has been blocked in China, so I'm hoping access will be restored soon. No one really seems to know why it's been blocked this time but some have suggested the reason being the approaching anniversary of an event in China. Until it's restored my blogging will be minimal, the photos are he best part anyway. As soon as blogspot is back on I'll post what I've been up to.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wedding Season in Fuyang

Three designers in Eliot's office decided to get engaged this past month. Why they all decided to do it within two weeks of each other, we're not quite sure, but since one of the guys, Jackie, is from Fuyang he had his wedding here and we were lucky enough to get to go as well.

We weren't sure what to expect and we didn't even really know how we were to dress so we just decided to go with what we know (I believe I was probably was overdressed). When we arrived we were taken to the upstairs of someone's 4 story house. The only parts of the house that were furnished were the first 2 floors and the 3rd and 4th floors were completely empty of any furniture at all. So they used one of those floors to set up several tables for the guest to sit and eat at.

There was no ceremony at all. We're not sure if they did it on a different day or if Chinese weddings just don't have ceremonies. So we all kind of hung around the main room and watched the people cooking down below on the front patio. I was asked by a couple of the bridesmaids (?) to get my picture taken with them. This happens a lot in China and a lot more in Fuyang because they don't see very many foreigners and I was the only foreign girl at the wedding. After that the bride even wanted her picture taken with me so I had Eliot take a picture of us as well.

Once the food was ready we all sat down to eat and they just kept bringing in more and more food it. Then several guests went around to different tables and cheersed the people sitting at that table. Whenever someone came to our table we made them cheers everyone one by one. It's always customary in China to try and get people as drunk as possible, so we were just carrying on tradition. In a while the bride and groom came around and cheersed each of the tables and the groom also went around with a big bowl of cigarettes to pass out.

Pretty soon the room was empty and it seemed that the foreigners were the only ones still sitting and eating/drinking. It was the weirdest thing, as soon as everyone was done eating they got up and left and the wedding was over after only about 2 hours. But it was really cool to be a part of it and to see how two people getting married is celebrated in China.

Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain)

Since we arrived in China we've heard so much about Huang Shan and have wanted to go there. A beautiful mountain out in the countryside that has become an icon of China's beauty. Sometimes while living in the city it's hard to remember that China does have these natural ornaments, which makes going and seeing them all that much more spectacular.

We took the bus from Fuyang to Huangshan city, and on our way it started to really rain. We hadn't discussed yet whether we were going to try and climb the mountain the day we arrived or the next day. So I told Eliot that I didn't mind hiking in the rain but I thought we should hold out until the next day in case the sun comes out. So we made our way to the hotel at the foot of the mountain and decided to scout out where we were going to go the next day to start our hike. Sure enough on Sunday we got clear blue skies and a gorgeously sunkissed mountain.

The hike up was spectacular as we made our way through a valley between two of the peaks, then we took the steps around the backside of one of the peaks and made our way to the top to hike along the ridge to the highest peak. When I say "hiking" I mean climbing steps. There were no trails that we had to navigate, the only path to go was straight up for 6km (just under 4 miles). We definitely made several stops along the way to take in the views and catch our breath. When we did finally make it to the top, after about 3 hours, the view was just that much more exquisite, having hiked it rather than taking the cable car. We both felt so good about the day. It was also another one of those times when I am so greatful to be with someone who loves to go and do the same things as I do and is happy doing them together.

My Trip Home

I recently left China for 2 weeks during my birthday to go to Bellingham and catch up with friends and family at home. I had a great time and was able to do some sailing, which wasn't always the warmest but was so refreshing. I also did some hiking and of course lots of eating. I really missed some of the western foods you just can't get in Fuyang, one of them being really good bread. It was so good to catch up with my family and friends. I'm really lucky to have so many great people to go home to.

Related Posts with Thumbnails