May 22, 2012

Southwest Trading Center of China

Time for shopping

Click on the photo above for a short slideshow from the Southwest Trading Center of China.

Way back in October, we got on a bus that we educatedly guessed was the tourist loop - one of our fellow teachers had mentioned that there was a good tourist bus (with a very specific look that she described) that went all around the city.

Something obviously was mangled in both translation and interpretation, because this turned out to be a regular city bus that took us out to the edge of the city and dumped us out in the middle of this construction site. (We’ve since learned that buses here don’t loop, they just pendulate from one end of their route to the other.) There were two other people on the bus with us, and they were just as confused as we were. I’m sure our teacher didn’t mean to send us to a construction site, but we never resolved what she really meant when she told us to get on that bus.

But, anyway. Recently, ads touting the finished product of that construction have popped up all over town. It’s called the Southwest Trading Center of China, and it’s a giant mall! Some of the ads even show an Ikea! Last weekend, we went and checked it out.

The bus ride was way more populated this time, but it still let out at the edge of the city. Only now we were confronted with the biggest mall complex I’d ever seen. It was seriously giant. It was also still under construction, even though there were posters celebrating the grand opening on April 29. But some stores were up and running.

All of the stores somehow related to home building, which makes sense because a quadrillioin apartment buildings are going up here every day. Can the local economy support such construction? Beats me! But STCoC is ready to supply everyone who needs its wares. (It could possibly supply every home builder in Asia.) Each giant unit of the mall had a different focus. There was the ceramic tiling unit, with 30 different stores selling tiles; the bathroom fixtures unit, with western and Chinese toilets; the kitchen fixtures unit, which made us salivate with envy because our kitchen is so badly designed for our big, western bodies; and so on. Everything on sale was shiny and new and expensive-looking.

Like I said, we weren’t the only ones to make the ride out there, and I got the impression that the other people weren’t really shopping either. Like us, they were there to get a gander at the flashy new city (basically) that was erected right outside our old one. We didn’t spot an actual Ikea, which was disappointing but expected; it’s common practice to use clip art - sometimes clip art you don’t actually own - in making advertisements. (The other day I spotted a McDonald’s ice cream cone in a sign for a mom-and-pop scoopery.) But in a few months, we’ll go out there once more to see what we see. And I’m still hoping for an Ikea, if only to see if Chinese Ikea still serves Swedish meatballs.

May 14, 2012

Snaps: Down the lane

Summer approaches our neighborhood

Couple in the sunshine

It’s only May, but it feels like summer is here.

May 2, 2012

A Buddha emerges from the mist

On the far side of the river

The Buddha in his grove

As I said last week, springtime here is sunny, whereas autumn was not. Because of this, we’re noticing all kinds of things that we haven’t seen before. Including this giant statue of Buddha built into the mountain across the river from where we usually sit.

Here’s a wider shot of him to give you some sense of the scale:

Look at the other side!

I’ll report back if we find out any more about this guy.

Apr 23, 2012

Taking a ride

Riding sheep by the river

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous this week — sunny and 80s every day. We’re taking advantage of that by going on lots of walks … and so is everyone else. The walkway by the river is a hive of activity with people walking, playing carnival games, eating snacks, dancing and more.

Above, Peter has captured one of the big squares where a lot of people hang out. You can see a father and his daughter riding a mechanical goat around. We’ve been seeing this kind of ride all over the place - anywhere there’s space for it, someone sets up shop to rent out some kind of mini-vehicle.

Mar 5, 2012

A small city looks abroad

Getting out of town

Everyone wants to learn English from me.

Last week, I helped one of Linda’s former students prepare for an interview for a position in the UK. (That’s him above, with Linda, on the left; he took us out to dinner to say thank you.) His English is pretty good; he currently works on an oil rig with American and Canadian co-workers. I mostly added some polish and gave him some advice on Western interviews (for example: Don’t bring up your faults unless they ask you. And then, bring up a fault that actually shows how excellent you are.)

It was pretty cool to help him out, and interesting to realize that he’s one of many Luzhou-ites we’ve met that have a real possibility of going abroad for work or study. In comparison with the rest of China, Luzhou is small. The east coast considers this part of the country backwards and unsophisticated. But the people here have global aspirations. The Singapore kids that we work with are all hoping to go to university in Singapore, and many of our other students are starting to ask how they can go to college in the U.S. A few of our fellow teachers have been educated overseas. It’s not what we expected when we moved to a town that other Chinese people refer to as a backwater. But the longer we’re here, the more we see that our school is pretty ambitious and progressive. They have big hopes for their students, which is a really great thing to be a part of.

Feb 12, 2012

Another afternoon in Zhongshan Park

Hanging with the animals

Our second trip to Zhongshan Park was on a much nicer day than our first one, and the park was abuzz with activity. At the entrance, there was a man making candy in the shape of Chinese zodiac symbols, and a large crowd gathered to watch him. Further into the park, we saw people playing badminton and basketball, as well as renting boats in the two lakes.

We checked out the aviary and the zoo. In the aviary, I bought a little baggie of corn to feed to the birds, which included ducks, chickens, roosters, peacocks/hens and two emus. I was a little worried that I would be mobbed when the birds saw I had food - most of them roamed free inside the enclosure — but fortunately that didn’t happen.

The aviary was spacious and clean, and the birds looked well cared for. The zoo was a little bit sadder. The animals did look healthy, but their cages were definitely on the small side. It was kind of a weird experience. Made weirder by the fact that one of the zookeepers latched onto us to show us around. He didn’t speak English and didn’t seem to care that we didn’t speak Chinese, but he very nicely led us around and pointed out all the animals to us.

We wrapped up our trip with a stop at the tea house. This time we both got flower tea - which is only a tea in the sense that it’s a plant soaking in hot water; tea doesn’t always equal caffeine here. But it was tasty.

Feb 8, 2012

Luzhou: The Jiucheng Hotel

Luxury at home

A liquor store near the hotel
Take a tour of the Jiucheng Hotel in our photo album.

We live down the road from one of Luzhou’s swankiest 5-star hotels, and during our vacation, we decided to pretend we were fancy-pants and spend a night there.

And, as you can see from the pictures, it was totally luxe! (The first photo is me buying a real bottle of wine — it’s not always readily available and it is expensive, but it was a special occasion.) The lobby was huge and decked out in marble, and our room was maybe bigger than our apartment in Brooklyn. We stayed on the Executive Floor, so our room even came with a full office kitted out with a computer and a fax machine.

For dinner, we dressed up in our finest and went down to the hotel’s Korean restaurant. We didn’t have huge expectations; foreign food just isn’t that big here, so I’m pretty sure most of that stuff is pre-packaged and microwaved to order. Here, however, that wasn’t the case. The food was pretty good. It also was not Korean, which was a little disappointing, but we tried some new dishes and had a good meal.

It wasn’t a terribly wild night and we were just down the street from our apartment, but it really did feel like we were on a vacation.

Feb 6, 2012

A night of dancing by the river

Chatting with the locals

The weather’s been lovely this past week — it’s getting warmer, there’s less rain — so the other night we grabbed some beers after dinner and went down to the river. (Don’t worry, there are no open container laws here!)

There were tons of people out for a postprandial stroll, of course. But they were also just hanging out … and dancing! In the video above, you can see our older gentlemen bench neighbors who struck up a conversation with us. What you maybe can’t tell is that neither party speaks ten words of the others’ language. (OK, I can speak almost 10 non-number words of Chinese. [Brag No. 1.])

We have a lot of conversations here that are just like those scenes in “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” where the English-speaking Ghost Dog talks to the French-speaking Haitian ice cream truck man; somehow it’s meaningful to talk, even if you can’t be sure of being understood.

Anyway, I did understand that they thought I should dance. So I danced, even though I didn’t know the steps. I did pretty well for myself (Brag No. 2.), watch and see.

There are a few more videos at this link.

Jan 31, 2012

Spring is just around the corner

Even though it’s very cold

We’re smack in the middle of Chinese New Year — aka, Spring Festival — and while most people have returned to work, there’s still a party atmosphere in the city (and a ton of firecrackers). Today, also, was the first sunny day in a while. And, the weather is starting to get warmer.

All of this added up to: “Too nice to stay inside.” So we took our camera and got out there.


A group of musicians giving an impromptu performance by the river.

We found a new bar! You can hear people doing karaoke in the background, of course.

Jan 10, 2012

Crossing the river

Ferrying across the Yangtze

Get on a boat
Check out our album of photos from the Changjiang River.

So we’ve actually been on vacation for the past two weeks, and while we have some travel planned starting tomorrow, we’ve been taking this opportunity to explore our own city a little more.

Last week, we had a not-cold, not-rainy day, so we went out for a walk by the riverfront. We finally decided to try out one of those tea places that we always walk past. I pointed at some drinks on our food list, and we ended up with some hot sugar lemon water, which was actually much better than it sounds. As we sat, vendors wandered by, offering their services to the few patrons who were out that day. A very aggressive ear cleaner came by, but one of my life rules it to limit how many strangers I let stick pointy things into my ear, so we said no until he went away.

While we were sittin’ and sippin’, we noticed that one of the boats that we had mistaken for a restaurant was actually a ferry landing. “We should go across the river some afternoon,” Peter said. “How about this afternoon?” I said.

The boat was oooooold looking, but not unsafe. There was a basket full of life-preservers in the middle of the passenger area, and some people took them up. Not knowing the protocol, and wanting to err on the side of caution, we took some too. Once the boat got underway, it became clear that we didn’t really need them.

What a different scene on the other side! It was like we stepped back in time to what I imagine pre-’80s China might have looked like. The architecture was very utilitarian, and everything was a little bit crumbling. It was just dark, gray and concrete. As we walked further away from the river, the high-rises gave way to shorter buildings with storefronts on the bottom floor selling everything from salt (now that we know what we’re looking for, its everywhere!) to novelty socks to dish detergent.

I don’t think we’ll go back there, but it was interesting to see.