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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gu Gong

Where was an Emperor to live with his Empress and 14 concubines during the Qing Dynasty?  A little place in the middle of Shenyang did nicely.

The Shenyang Imperial Palace (Gu Gong  沈阳故宫) is more than 60,000 square meters, 300 rooms, and home to 40,000 relics from the Qing Dynasty and other royal families.  The main buildings were constructed in 1625 when Nurhachi was in power.  The site was completed in 1644 under his son, Hong Taiji (also referred to as Huang Taiji).   Shortly after, the capital moved to Beijing, though Qing emperors spent some time in Shenyang every year.  Qianlong expanded the palace in 1780.  It has been well-preserved and was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2004 as an extension of the much larger and only other existing palace in China, the Forbidden City in Beijing.

On a recent visit, I was fortunate enough to see the dragon robes on display, learn more about the external chimneys as a part of the advanced heating system of the time, and see a performance of the royal wedding of Hong Taiji to his favorite concubine, Harjol.

“Actually, a pretty nice little Saturday.”

Short videos of the wedding performance show can be seen here. http://youtu.be/wv5ARlFCeTQ  For more details, click on the photos.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes. Please.

There were quite a few authentic and traditional Chinese dishes we had to try when we went to Xi’an.  We did our very best to eat our way up and through the Muslim Quarter.  Some things, we had to try more than once or twice, just to give it a fair shake.

Rou jia mo is like a Chinese hamburger on a flatbread-type bun.  Every one of the 4 I tried (ha!) was fantastic, and the spicy vegetarian version (cai jia mo) was fantastic too.  Biang biang mian is a carbohydrate dream – wide, thick, long hand-pulled noodles in a sauce of varying spiciness.  Yang rou chuanr is a lamb skewer and at each stall, there are different spices available for you to add your own.  Cumin is a regular favorite.  There were sweet rice cakes, nutty candy, fried little potatoes, noodles, fruits and vegetables, drinks, nuts, breads and so much more.  Enjoy!

Build Yourself an Army

Is it only emperors who can build themselves an army?  My friend, the talented potter / highly educated chemist, can she build herself an army of ceramic cats to protect her from unseen forces?  If I buy enough souvenir Eiffel Towers and display them in organized columns, will they come to life and become my garde militaire?  Seems like reason enough to buy another Eiffel magnet.

Last month, I had the fortune to travel to Xi’an with friends.  It was a whirlwind weekend of seeing and tasting, laughing and thinking, being with people full of love.  It was a weekend of armies, history, emperors, relics, food and a little more food, and plenty of photos.

Xi’an, located in the heart of China in Shaanxi Province, was home to 11 dynasties over a period of 4,000 years.  Nearby is the Banpo site, home to a village in the Neolithic period, 6,000 years ago.  Xi’an was the farthest eastern destination of the Silk Road and the first capital of a unified China more than 2,200 years ago.   Today, it is home to 14km of intact city walls, pagodas, the Terracotta Army, and, in my opinion, one of the best history museums in the world.

In 1974, 3 peasant farmers were digging a well and came upon the tomb-guarding warriors of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.  Little did those farmers know that there were three pits and more than 7,000 life-size soldiers, archers, officers, horses and chariots.  Each one was once colored with pigment and had a weapon, and they all have an individual expression on their face.  Huangdi knew how to build himself an army for his life after death.

The Shaanxi History Museum is an eye-opening experience.  Not only can you see the terracotta soldiers up close, but you can see thousands of relics from the varied history in this province.  On special exhibit while we were there were relics discovered inside two large pots.  Again, a Shaanxi farmer was digging for something and found Tang Dynasty treasures instead.  This museum is amazing and the displays are very well done.

I’m not sure I can choose just a few photos for this blog post.  Keep an eye out for more on the food in Xi’an.  Enjoy.

 

Close your eyes and clone yourself.

Build your heart an army.

To defend your innocence

while you do everything wrong.

Don’t be scared to walk alone.

Don’t be scared to like it.  

Worry, why should I care?

John Mayer – “Age of Worry“.

 

New Outlook

After 4 years in 10D, we have a new view.  The diamond is slightly obstructed now, but look what we get in return.  A different skyline.  The 72 story Maoye building.  The gorgeous Kepu Park.  The tai qi ladies in their blue and red silks making their moves at 6am.  Kites flying in the library field.  At night, we can see the K lit up on the Kempinski Hotel 3km up Qingnian.  And 2km past that, that circle building with cranes sticking out the top.  So despite a new upstairs neighbor who wears high heels at home, and the feline issues with shifts in sunlight, all is well.

Call it a cultural experience.  When a couple gets married in China, it is the husband’s family that is responsible for a place to live, maybe a car, the wedding, etc.  More than a year ago, our landlord’s son got married.  With their baby on the way, the landlord will give our old apartment to his son and daughter in law, and the soon-to-be grandchild.   They were apologetic and appreciated our care of the old place.  They wished us well, and were happy to know we would stay in the neighborhood.  In fact, we now live in the same building as the landlord’s mother.  Maybe she is one of those tai qi ladies?

A new view or a new outlook are sometimes forced upon us.  Sometimes, we have to find a new place to sleep in the sun.  We could look at it as a pain the ass, or we can just accept it, deal with it, do it.  And who knows what we might get in return.

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Ten Thousand Elephants

There is a shopping mall in Shenyang called Wan Xiang Cheng.  The wan xiang means 10,000 Elephants … No wonder I like the place.  They are currently displaying gorgeous and decorative little hati.  It is a promotion for all the stores in the mall.  Mont Blanc on an elephant is a beautiful thing.  Big smiles and lots of photos.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trip to Seoul

Earlier in October, we took a fantastic trip to Seoul, Korea.  This is another city, and country, with an amazing past and future.  They have had a turbulent history over the last 600 years or more, and they fight an ongoing war with their northern brothers.  It is an incredibly international city; friendly, clean, hilly and green.  Coffee shops on almost every corner, of few of which we enjoyed.  We learned so much about people who live well, in a developed and advanced nation, all the while living in anger and fear over a border and historical dispute.

We had the enormous fortune to meet and old friend and a new one in Seoul.  Tim worked with Kyu in Lexington SC, and he was there visiting his family.  Kyu and his brother were our knowledgeable guides and translators, and treated us to some fantastic food (and a half dozen Krispy Kreme)!                

Seoul is a great city for foreigners.  It is easy to navigate from the airport and in the city, and they have a great city tour bus with various routes.  We bought a day pass and got off the bus at the sites we wanted to visit, and then hopped back on for the next adventure.  We saw palaces and modern skyscrapers, architecture and green spaces, a military base and a military museum, costumes, colors and Koreans, oh my!  Enjoy the photos.  Also, there are 3 short clips from the palace re-enactments if you’d like to take a look:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQGYiec-_8o  OR http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xC8qiYpu-6o  OR  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlZGmzZg8EM

Some thoughts after 1 month

It is May 26, 2010.  We have been in Shenyang for a little more than a month.  In that time, we lived in a hotel for about 3 weeks, and moved to our apartment last weekend.  Our shipment has yet to arrive from the US.  As of Saturday, it was in Dalian, China, about 4 hours south of here.  The Michelin contact says it is going through customs now, and we should receive it next week.  Our cats are in transit from North Carolina.  Actually, they are on their flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong right now thanks to Pet Relocation and KLM.  So for the last 10 days, I have been doing a major cleaning of the apartment, watching hulu and studying my Chinese.  The cleaning is going alright, though I’m bored with that and wish my Dustbusters folks were here.  The Chinese is going alright too, and my teacher thinks I’m doing well so far.  Or maybe she is just being nice.

I have some pictures to process before I post our latest excursion, so this post is just some ponderings and experiences, in no particular order. 

… Top Ten Responses.  When we told people we were moving to China, there tended to be a lot of the same questions, and we got to the point where we could say the answers before the interrogation began. 

  •      Yes, China.
  •      No, we’ve never been there.
  •      He will be working on a new plant construction project for Michelin.
  •      I don’t know what I’m going to do with my time.
  •      Shenyang. It is in the northeast, close to the Mongolian, Siberian and North Korean borders.
  •      4 years.
  •      No, we don’t speak Chinese (yet).
  •      We will live in a furnished apartment.
  •      We can take 1100 pounds of our stuff in a shipment.
  •      Yes, we plan to take the cats.

…  Services.  In preparing for this move, and in doing research, I began using this phrase a lot – There has to be someone who does this.  For example, when we lived in France, our amazing friend, Donna, was kind enough to check our po box and mail things to us periodically.  This time, I kept thinking there has to be a service like this for businesses, expatriates, world travelers, drug dealers, etc.  And so there is.  We use a mail service and are able to maintain a US address in Miami.  (insert your own drug dealer joke here)  And unlike the last time we lived overseas, you are now required to keep a US address in order to maintain US bank accounts. So we’ll be keeping the service throughout our time here.  Friends and family members might send mail to us in Miami, or they might send it directly to China.  Purdue will send it to China.  We are still determining what mail goes to which address.  When we receive a piece of mail in Miami, the company takes a photo of it and sends us an email.  When we log on to our account, we can look at the photos and also find out how much the piece weighs. We discard it or keep it.  And when we save up enough for 1 pound, we tell them what to send and where, and off it goes in a DHL envelope.  We pay for 1 pound regardless, so we save up.  The envelopes take about 4 days to reach us, and they deliver to the door.  The last envelope included my Fine Cooking magazine and some final notices from utilities and banks following the house closing.  There were ribs on the cover of FC, so I think you know what I looked at first. 

… Another “there has to be someone who does this” moment happened last week when I googled “using email to send letters”.  My Mom doesn’t have nor will she get email, so she looks forward to what arrives in her mailbox everyday.  I haven’t quite figured out the postal system in China and was wanted to send her a letter.  Turns out there are online services where you can submit a letter electronically, then they will print it and mail it for you.  It costed $1.10 for 2 pages.  Then I also submitted pictures to walmart.com and had them mailed directly to her.  So despite her lack of email or desire for it, she is still benefiting from the internet in other ways.  And I’ll have a little less guilt during the next phone call.

… Wrong numbers.  It is an amusing annoyance to me getting wrong number calls in China.  You see, they don’t have voice mail here.  I know it sounds crazy. We didn’t really believe the cultural consultant when she told us this two months ago, then we arrived and found it to be true.  No voice mail, no answering machines.  They answer their cell phones anytime.  They text.  So in the US, when someone calls the wrong number and you answer, you say hello and you both realize that it’s wrong. Click.  Or they get your voice mail and realize it is the wrong number.  Click.  Here, if you don’t recognize the number and let it go, they get ringing and more ringing, and they keep calling back.  One person called me 8 times on Saturday, until I answered the phone and said “hello, are you calling for Julie?”  Click.  (This also helps end the telemarketing calls quickly.)  On Sunday, they called me 4 times, until I texted them in English.  They still call me once a day, and unfortunately, this morning it was at 6:15.  I’m not sure why they don’t have or use voice mail in China.  I’m sure it is something about how they value relationships and that answering a call will help build a relationship much faster than voice mail.  It may also be that they do not have the same sense of order nor interuption as Westerners do. (see below about waiting in line)  Please understand this is not a criticism, just something different about their culture.  I told my Chinese teacher about the wrong numbers and told her that, this morning, I had asked them, “Ni shuo Yingu?” (do you speak English?).  She thought it was amusing that I would use wrong numbers to practice my Chinese.

… Sterilizing with ozone.  We have an extra contraption in our kitchen, a sterilizer.  It is about the size of a large microwave and is mounted between cabinets above the sink.  You need this because there are bacteria in the water.  It is not safe for drinking, and despite washing the dishes, you still need to sterilize them in some way.  You can use a bleach or vinegar mixture, or use the heat sterilizer in the dish washer.  Since I don’t really care for our dishwasher, and it took me a few days to buy bleach and vinegar, I got used to using the sterilizer.  It has a dish rack, so you wash items and then put them in the sterilizer, turn it on for 45-90 minutes, and it generates ozone to kill bacteria.  It makes a low buzzing sound, and you get used to it.  I realized that you could also wash fruits and vegetables and put them in this machine.  That helps.  I found that they make ozone machines with tubing also.  I’m going to look for one of those.  You put fruits or vegetables in a bowl of water, insert the end of the tube, and the machine generates ozone that travels through the tube and makes bubbles in the water.  Fascinating.

…  Waiting in line.  The Chinese gather, or congregate; they don’t wait in line.  Store employees or customer service reps will serve multiple people at a time. Waiting for the elevator is a free for all.  A restaurant buffet is like watching ants attack spilled soda on a sidewalk.  And the traffic, oh my, the traffic, and the honking!  From our apartment, we look down at a 6 lane street that often has 8-9 lanes of cars.  Taxi drivers turn left from the far right lane, and will use opposing lanes of traffic to go around slower cars.  The traffic could be many paragraphs all by itself; let’s get back to lines.  There aren’t any, or many.  I believe the only reason people wait in line at the grocery store checkout is because you are funneled toward the cash register.  Recently, we went to an event of the European Chamber with other Michelin folks, and it was chaos.  It was one of those events, like a Taste of Shenyang, where there tables around the room providing information and sample food and wine.  Nice, huh?  In principle.  Imagine 100 Westerners, or NAFs as I say, non-Asian faces, a term I came up with because Western doesn’t describe those from down under.  Imagine these Westerners getting in line for the pasta station; waiting patiently to choose which pasta, which toppings, which sauce, mmmmm.  Imagine another 100 people who don’t have the same concept of waiting in line. Suddenly, the pasta station becomes this crazy place with pushing and hovering and personal space invasion.  For those who know me, you know that order and structure are paramount to my sanity.  Make fun if you will; I own it.  The driving and traffic don’t bother me so much, probably because I am not the one driving.  But lines and order, hmmm … our stint in this country will either calm those tendencies in me, or I’ll end up on some sort of OCD medication soon enough because of a freak-out in the grocery store. (insert your own Julie/control issues joke here.  @#*%&@#* – there might  be children reading)

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading.