Saturday, May 02, 2009

Suzhou's Spring Selection

It's easy to take pictures like a National Geographic photographer when the flora is this lovely.

~Desi

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Whole Lotta Worms Are Killed To Make Your Silk Scarf

This was my take away message after a tour of a silk factory in Suzhou. Not that I'm turning into a "save the silkworm" activist or anything like that. After all, it wasn't that long ago that I ate a few of them myself. And then there is that silk blanket that we were so generously gifted on our last pass through the Shanghai area.

I just thought you all might want to know...

~Steve

Zhou Zhuang

Our driver in Suzhou dropped us off at the water town of Zhou Zhuang. After buying entrance tickets, we walked through the normal gauntlet of small trinket shops. At one stand, something caught Julie's and my attention. They were stamps.

Julie and I have wanted stamps made for a long time. In Shanghai and the surrounding areas, they sell these bamboo stamps (well, actually wood, but they are cut to look like bamboo) that have magnetic caps to protect the carving.

The starting price...120 kuai...Too expensive! 60 kuai for two? 100...80...75...70...65...60!!!

Our friend also brought a bigger one, but I don't know how much it was. The woman told us to come back later to pick them up, because they would take too long to carve. When we came back from our day's walk, the stamps were ready. Mine says 齐曼 and Julie's says 依柔. Five kuai was added to each for ink. Now Julie and I have the diplomatic stamp!

~Z

This Tiger Doesn't Roar

But it had no trouble getting our attention!

One of the more famous sights in Suzhou is not a garden at all, but rather a beautiful tower called Yúnyán Tǎ (Cloud Rock Pagoda) built on a hill known in Chinese as Qiū Shān (Tiger Hill). It was built over 1000 years ago as the pagoda of the Yúnyán temple. Over seven stories tall, its first noticeable feature is its tilt. Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, this structure is slowly on its way to becoming horizontal, although it has been shored up in recent times. No matter, the beauty of its architecture and color scheme, while really simple by Chinese standards, make it stand out amongst so many of the other religious structures we've seen.

As we stood on the hill absorbing its qi, we couldn't help thinking about the pagoda's former and current uses. In the past, we were told, it was used to house ancient religious books. It is supposedly atop the tomb of King He Lu, who was buried there by his son in 496 BC. Legend has it that a few days after his burial, a white tiger came and sat on the hill. Hence its name. Today, it is perhaps the world's most elaborate bird house. With a backdrop of bright blue sky and tall, green deciduous trees, it is an amusing site to see small birds playfully darting in and out of the windows. These little winged friends have found some high priced real estate to call their own, as this Suzhou setting is difficult to top.

~Desi

Suzhou Yuanlin Hen You Ming

This was a line that we practiced constantly in the US. "Suzhou's gardens are very famous." Pimsleur, one of our Chinese learning programs, used this phrase over and over. This was the first time I had ever heard of Suzhou, about three years ago, sitting in the car.

So, the other day, as we were about to enter the Humble Administrator's Garden, the largest of the Suzhou gardens, Daddy kept saying, "Suzhou yuanlin hen you ming."

The flowers and lakes, bridges and rocks, really deserved the hours we spent there. I managed to get a couple of photo shoots while Z ran as fast as he could up and down the rocks.

I have to say this garden had the most beautiful flowers of the day, and Zhouzheng Yuan definitely deserves its you ming title. I guess the Qings got the flower/lake/island/bridge combo just right.

~Julie

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Connection

Ever since my trip to Wuhan last fall, Will, Xiao Li, and I have routinely had meet ups in Beijing and have corresponded about our common research interests in all things Chinese and American. This week, we had the chance to spend two days touring Suzhou (an ancient garden and canal city near Shanghai) together with this intrepid traveling duo. Now that we have connected all over China, can a get together in America be far behind? What do you say, guys?

~Steve

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Experts Service Center

Tongji University has a very nice series of accommodations for foreign experts, like us, who are making quick visits to Shanghai, as well as for those who are spending long periods of time living and teaching in the neighborhood.

~Steve

New Perspectives On The Bund

On our third pass through Shanghai, we finally broke down and decided to take a one-hour cruise along the heart of the Huang Pu River. This gave us a nice opportunity to catch some new views of Waitan, such as close ups of the Pearl Tower and, of course, the construction that is going on as Shanghai prepares to host the 2010 World Expo.

~Steve

PS: Ten bonus points to the person who can, in 140 characters or less, actually explain why the World Expo is such a big deal...

Flat Daddy

As the picture from the previous post suggests, we are back in Shanghai, the home town of guo tie, the Bund, Yu Yuan, and, of course, Glenn Mott. Thanks to the graciousness of Professor Qiu, I had the opportunity the other day to speak to students at Tongji University about the Internet and political participation in the United States.

As usual, the questions the students asked were excellent, ranging from the possibility of holding elections online to the circumstances under which public officials ought to limit the information they provide to citizens about government activities. And, as usual, there was a nice sign put together by the university advertising my talk. This one, though, seemed to remind us of one of our favorite children's books. Luckily, Z had the presence of mind to run down to the street and grab a pump from the bicycle shifu on the corner...

~Steve

Holding On For Dear Life

Wondering how I'm going to handle that not-so-far-away day when Julie will actually tower over me. In a growth spurt that seems to be noticeable on a daily basis, Julie has reached new heights. At her current rate, she'll take over as the tallest female in the house in a day or two!

Thank goodness for my big hair...It may buy me a few hours!

~Desi