So Many Things

I’ve written about Luyuan Market before.  It is always such an interesting experience, with so many things to see.  I love asking, “what is that?” and not knowing the answer.  I love thinking of those people long ago who belonged to those shoes, that jacket, that bowl.  We think of who wrote that scroll and who read it.  Who will read it still?  We think of who will buy that tiny wooden cage for a cricket.  I don’t suppose I shall ever know.

I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green

I sit beside the fire and think
Of people long ago
And people that will see a world
That I shall never know

But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door

J.R.R. Tolkien

Thank you, Tolkien.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

The Water Towns

We had avoided many destinations in China during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).  We had heard and seen the throngs of people who travel during that time.  This year, being perhaps our last in this big country, we have quite a few cities left on our list.  So we took a chance and got lucky.

Suzhou is a city in Jiangsu Province, just west of Shanghai.  It is in the Yangtze River Delta, which lends itself to beautiful views on many canals and ponds.  It has more than two thousand years of history and is sometimes called the Venice of China or Venice of the East.  The meticulous gardens are, together, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with those in the other water towns along the canals.

It was a quick trip down to Shanghai, then a full day along the canals, and a trip back to the tundra the next day.  On our water town excursion, we spent a rainy morning and midday in Suzhou, then went on to an overcast Tongli and, finally, some sunshine in Zhouzhuang.  It is a touristy area, yes, but lovely, just like all the pictures I’ve admired for so long.  And, because it was the weekend before the Chinese New Year, perhaps many other travelers were with their families.  I hope they had a lovely time because we certainly did.

Enjoy some of our views in the water towns.

Jingdezhen

A little solo trip to the ceramics capital of China warmed my soul.  Porcelain, pottery and perfection – oh my!

The talented people in Jiangxi Province began making ceramics about 2,000 years ago, during the Jingde period of the Song Dynasty.  The classic blue and white started here.  THE blue and white … in the 14th century.  They also invented a red underglaze.  The celadon is abundant too, and pure white. The Chinese regard the kilns as famous.  This area has produced wares for imperial families and royalty around the world, and a few things for me.

Enjoy the first post on this beautiful place.

It Is My Pleasure

Since the fall of 2010, I have volunteered in a Chinese school in Shenyang.  Of course, I have written about it in the past.  It started as one day a week, and now, sometimes, it is five.  I chose it and I love it.  I am so thankful that I was given this opportunity, that I took it, and that we made the absolute best of it.

Feeling that we may leave China in 2015, this school year has been a bit difficult for me.  I have shared and learned so much over the years.  How will I ever express how much they mean to me?

This experience is how I truly learned to say, “You’re welcome” and “My pleasure”, and really mean it.  It helped save me at times when I didn’t like who I was, when I didn’t like some I spent time with and had to make more positive choices in my life.  It is a place I remember how wonderful my real friends are because these amazing people are among them.  Where someone can tell me I’m beautiful and I believe them.  Where a simple thing means love.  It is why pieces of my heart will always be in China.

I hope you all have a place like this, or that you’ll find one in the new year.

Enjoy some snapshots from my phone and ipod.  For more, check out the link.  http://youtu.be/ZeEqu02M0I0

 

Shenyang Too

When the glaring white fills too many skies of our Shenyang and China days, we learn to fully appreciate the blue.  Stand at the window and stare.  See skyline details you’ve never seen before.  Take your pink bike or sneaks out for a spin.

Do not forget that THIS is Shenyang too.

It is not just the staring, the spitting, the crazy, the chaos, the failure to understand and be understood.  It is different, and that is okay.  It is China, and we have accepted the privilege to live here for a time.

Shenyang is also the river, parks and greenery, locals out for the day, “hello” said from a distance, those enjoying the sunshine and shade.  It is the kids who laugh, the workers who work, the riders who ride, and, yes, sometimes, even the skies that shine.

This is Shenyang too.

This Summer – a recall on blue

I took my summer Sperrys out for a walk yesterday, wishing for sunshine. I searched for colors, saw two things I had never seen before, got rained on a little, and shared an overhang with a woman and her gorgeous handbag. While I take a few days to sort photos from our recent travels, I thought I’d share some sights of a Shenyang summer.

I choose not to include one of the dismal sky, preferring to remember the beautiful spring we experienced this year.  This year’s summer sky is one described best by Barbara Kingsolver in Flight Behavior.  She wrote, “Whoever was in charge of weather had put a recall on blue and nailed up this mess of dirty white sky like a lousy drywall job.”  Yes, just like that.

I will keep wishing for sunshine and searching for beautiful things.  Enjoy.

More summer shots on Instagram @thesimpleadventure, including a short clip from a local noodle shop.  This post is ipod pictures only.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Heart is Here

Last week, it was time for our annual cupcake decorating day at school.  This is a day when I bring in 5 dozen cupcakes, perfect frosting, and so many sugary decorations that the children either squeal or stop in their tracks when they see the options.  Then the delicate construction process begins.  The next day was our last day of school, and I never know how many will be back in the fall.  So I cherished every moment, and then, wait and see.

Four years volunteering in the same school, watching children grow up and mature right before my eyes, it is unbelievable.  I am so lucky they are a part of my simple adventure in life.

A piece of my heart will always be here, and here, and there, and with each and every one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Are Cordially Invited

It took me a while to attend my first Chinese wedding.  I’ve seen the traditional processions on the streets, the photo displays in hotels, and the marketing power that is the 80 billion dollar wedding industry in China.  It wasn’t until September 2013 that I experienced it as a friend, and this month gave me my 2nd and 3rd opportunities.

Weddings in China are one of the ultimate cultural experiences.  Many times, marriages still rely on arrangements, contracts, dowries, and family pressure.  Families determine the lucky day and time for a couple to be married.  One friend signed her marriage license at the Civil Affairs Bureau in November, but didn’t have her reception until this month because the families were worried about a marriage in the Year of the Horse.  The license meant they were actually married 6 months before the bride donned the white dress.  From what I’ve read, this giant industry is one of the many ways capitalism has entered this communist country.  Thirty years ago, they say it was license, then a family dinner, move into the new apartment, done.  Now, families save so much money for the photos, apartment, decorating, dresses, meal, gifts, etc.

Rather than having photos taken after the ceremony, as is the tradition in other parts of the world, brides and grooms have wedding packages assembled to be shown at the reception.  Today, that slide show included video of the gorgeous couple around Shenyang, at their church, etc.  It looked like they’d jumped off the pages of a fashion magazine!

When you arrive at the wedding feast, there are usually a few things on the tables – small snacks, some type of seed or nut, cigarettes, bai jiu (Chinese liquor), and beer.  Welcome to our wedding – snack and smoke while you wait for us to make our entrance.  Guests prepare their little red envelopes (hong bao 红包) in order to present the bride and groom with a monetary gift.  Brides and grooms make the rounds to each table, pouring drinks, lighting cigarettes and talking.  Friends will make the couple “do tricks” in order to receive their hong bao.  In our group of school colleagues, these games are fun, albeit a little cruel.   Of the 3 weddings I’ve been to, the bride wears a white dress at the beginning and changes clothes once or twice.  There has always been a red dress among them, and my friends chose not to dress in a traditional qipao, but rather in fashionable and gorgeous full length gowns (complete with bling!).

At the weddings I have had the pleasure to attend, the brides were all work colleagues and friends.  All three couples are in love.  I’ve seen them together and have no doubt.  None seem to want to have children right away, though the family pressure is probably high.  All were ready to move in together by the time of the reception.  As is tradition in China, the husband provides an apartment, and depending on the family’s wealth, other gifts.

One of the parties was a dinner.  They had done the official reception in their hometown outside of Shenyang, so they hosted a local dinner for friends.  It was in a simple and very good local restaurant.

The second was a big event.  The restaurant provided a handsome master of ceremonies for introductions, speeches, jokes, etc. One friend was surprised he was so handsome because “he shouldn’t be more handsome than the groom”.   The bride is a Christian so they did a church blessing on the stage at the restaurant and had prayers with family as well.  At one point in the presentation, they went to light what I thought was a unity candle, but it was actually a unity firecracker…  with a bubble machine in the background.  She had three dresses, including a gorgeous modern take on a qipao.

The third event was very special.  They attend a local church and held the ceremony there.  Church members and friends sang to them.  The pastor performed what we saw as a traditional ceremony, though there were a whole lot of words we didn’t know.  After, guests walked or drove the few blocks to a friend’s restaurant for the reception.  She was an absolutely beautiful bride, never more so than when she wiped a tear from her husband’s cheek during the vows.  Being there today, we all shared in their love and happiness.

So, you are cordially invited to take a look at a few pictures from these three weddings.  I’m sure Songjia, Elim and Xiao Bing would have welcomed you too.

 

 

 

 

 

Taste Test

I love frozen novelties.  It’s a weakness.  From childhood, there was something about hearing the tinny tune of the ice cream truck or asking Dad to buy G and me a cold and colorful sweet treat.  When I travel back to the US nowadays, I stare at them fondly in the freezer box at convenience stores.  I try to walk on by, but I still have my favorite temptations.

Recently, a Chinese friend learned about the phrase, “dog days of summer”.  She said that another American friend had told her, “On the hottest days of summer, you should eat ice cream.”  Of course.  Because we’ve had a few sultry days this month, Zhang decided to share some traditional Chinese frozen novelties with us.

As you can see from the photos, there are some interesting flavors.  A taste test was in order.  Our favorites?  Well, the berry for me.  For T, probably the coconut.  We also tried papaya, mung bean, durian and one that we couldn’t identify.  We thought maybe it was lychee or a coconut concoction, but a friend told us it was a very famous sesame-flavored ice cream.  We’re still not sure.  To be honest, we didn’t care for all of them.  But we celebrated the dog days in frozen splendor thanks to Zhang.

Voltaire once said, “Ice Cream is exquisite – what a pity it isn’t illegal.”  I am very glad it’s not.  Here’s to the dog days of summer – just another reason to celebrate and eat ice cream.