Monday, December 09, 2013

Lame Duck

I've been feeling a little bleh about my blog lately.  It's not that I haven't had ideas to write about, I've taken tons of pictures of interesting things with an idea to blog about them, but....  I don't know.  I just haven't wanted to write.  Part of the problem is that the weather has turned cooler and also grayer.  I think another problem is that we got our next assignment.  (USA 2014 BABY!) The Foreign Service lifestyle is good and bad.  I have many expat friends and it seems that knowing a year out approximately when you are going to leave, and where you are going is a rarity.  In some ways it's awesome to know that they are not going to tell me to be out of China by the end of the month (or in 2 weeks as I have heard happening).  It is also awesome to be able to plan for tricky assignments; read up on schools, figure out what we should take, do some seasonal shopping, etc.  
On the other hand, I KNOW that a year from now I am going to be in Washington DC (well, maybe).  So Wuhan no longer holds a great deal of attraction.  It's like having senioritis, but it happens every two years.  I could make new friends, but I'm leaving in a year, I could go explore a new part of the city, but I'm leaving in a year....  See how that could become a problem?  It also tends to make me negative about the place I'm living.  Ew, I'm glad I'm leaving, look how they.....  
This kind of thinking is a trap.  If you do this, especially in the foreign service on a two year rotation, you never end up liking where you are, but are always looking forward/back.  It is very important to live in the here and now, and not focus on where you were 6 months ago, or where you want to be 6 months from now.  
One of the reasons why I write this blog is to help me remember to keep an eye out for new experiences. This lifestyle is a gift, and I should try to keep my sense of wonder about the world around me.  

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Walking in Wuhan

I saw this at Wuhan International Plaza.  I think it was a new shop, offering fur (or fake fur, I didn't go up to feel) for ladies and their pooches.  Babes got a huge kick out of the display and wanted to get a cloak for Honeydog, but, as I pointed out, Honey already has fur (plus the shop looked REALLY expensive).

I don't think they were too pleased about me taking pictures, but they were too afraid to come talk to the foreigner.... Yay for me!

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Wuhan Botanical Gardens

Last week Babes was out of school for the National Holidays.  I was pretty excited I had a whole week with my cutie patootie, all by ourselves (not only was it a holiday, but DH was out of town)!  I had plans to be girlie, but first we set out for exploring.  I've been wanting to go to the Botanical Gardens for awhile now, Babes loves flowers and it seemed like just the place for her.  After checking on my trusty Google Maps, I decided NOT to take the bus (2 1/2 hours!  YIKES) and decided to drive myself (24 minutes!). Well, let's just say that between construction and non-existent roads it took us 3 hours to get there.  Babes was great, she was pretty patient, only pulling out her old lady of endless suffering routine once or twice.  What was so endlessly frustrating is that we were really RIGHT THERE, circling around it for over an hour!  A left instead of a right and we could have saved ourselves so much pain.  But that's neither here nor there.

The gardens are stunning!  We were unfortunately not in the right season for a lot of flowers, we must have just missed the lotus blossoms, and were a little too early to smell the Osmanthus, but the gardens were quiet and ethereal none the less.  I wish I was a better photographer, the late September light, as it slanted through the trees and sparkled off the water was inspiring.  I kept expecting to run into a fairy or sprite as we wandered through the trees and across the bridges.

And oh!  The bridges, if I were a painter I'd exclusively paint bridges.  I love the symbolism of the bridge, spanning the space between.  You are not on water, you are not on dry ground, but somewhere in between.  Every bridge, every pavilion we came across seemed prettier than the last.  I can't wait to go back again (hopefully this time with better directions).

Oh, and one good thing about getting lost, we found this awesome bridge just outside of the butt end of the Moshan park.  Supposedly a rebellion was put down on this spot with a skillfully placed arrow, and they built a bridge to commemorate it.  The archer though is impressive, it looks as if he is rising up out of the water to fire an arrow into the heart of the mountain.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Adding cuffs to Jeans, a tutorial

Ok, so after my trip to the fabric market. I really was inspired!  Babes has entered her 6 yr old growth spurt and has grown an inch since last spring.  While this is awesome, it means that ALL of her pants are entirely too short.  But she has my kid body type, which means she's all leg and no center mass (*sigh* how that has changed!) so the waist on the pants are actually still really loose, but the hems are halfway up her legs.  I was on my way to buy new pants, when I said to myself, "self, these pants are still good, why buy new pants when you can jazz these old pants up?"

So I started with a pair of her old pants and some colorful fabric from the fabric market.  Deciding that just cuffs would be a little odd I took out my seam ripper and ripped out the back pockets and the hems of her jeans.  (I don't think either step is necessary, but ripping out the hem of the jeans added a bit of length to the bottom of the pants and made it easier to sew through).

Using the ripped off pockets as a guide,  cut out two pockets and two cuffs (Make them a little bigger than twice as long as you want the cuff). I sewed on the pockets first, but I forgot to take any pictures.  Basically you just pin, and sew them in the place of the old pockets.

Fold the cuff material in half and sew a seam across the top, to hold the material together. Turn the jeans inside out and pin the cuffs onto the jeans with most of the material toward the knee.  Then, sew the cuffs at the point of the newly opened hem.  Don't forget to sew closed the cuffs before you turn the jeans right side out.

Turn the jeans right side out and decide where you want the cuffs to fall, you want to make sure you cover the seam you just made, but also have the cuffs long enough to make the pants fit right.  To be sure of this, I just did a quick stitch and had Babes try on the pants before stitching the cuffs on more securely with an invisible stitch.

And you're done!  Babes now has a pair of pants that fit reasonably well, AND they look pretty different from the way they looked before.  (If you look closely you can see how long she's been wearing the pants, there are several seam lines from when the pants were shorter, it's almost like rings on a tree)

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Walking in Wuhan Zhongshan Park edition (Bonus-SMURFS!)

Hi All!  Here are some shots taken while walking through Zhongshan park.  Despite the fact that it's pretty close to our house we have never been there before.  It's a decent sized park, and it even has a small amusement park inside it, complete with fun houses, roller coasters, and creepy kid rides.

The Smurfs were not a Zhongshan park, I just happened to come across them one morning on my way to buy bagels at Wuhan Tiandi.  I think they were set up as part of a promotion for The Smurfs 2.  Imagine my surprise when I came across a (what I imagine to be) actual sized smurf village.  I wanted to go inside and play with them, but there was security posted, so I refrained.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Fabric Market

As an amateur crafter and prodigious window shopper I am always on the look out for new places to go see, or places to buy things.  Which makes being in China that much more pleasurable because China LOVES it's markets.  As far as I can tell there is a market for everything.  Need, a pet?  There's a pet market.  Need electronics?  There's an electronics market.  Need shoes? there are shoe markets.  Need a door?  There's a door market (note, I know that this exists, but I haven't found it in Wuhan, yet).
Last week, I took a journey into Wuchang for the fabric market (or tailor street).  It wasn't an easy journey.  Getting there required, trains, buses, and my chevrolegs, but it is totally worth it.
 There are bolts and bolts of cloth of all different types of materials; cotton, denim, silk, polyester, chiffon, you name it, they seem to have it.  Be sure to bargain for your material, but be aware, they will only come down a RMB or two per yard (at least for me, maybe someone else has had better luck?).

I wish I could get down there more often.  The colors, patterns, and textures of the fabric are amazing, just walking around got my creative juices flowing.  

I especially love the Chinese silks.  If I was a hoarder (and I'm trying not to be) I would buy some just to have it on hand.  But really, silk is not practical for a lady with a 6 year old and a dog.  I can't imagine what I'd do with it that wouldn't be irrevocably ruined within the year.  

Are you a quilter?  Their selection of cottons had me thinking about making another quilt even though I swore that I would not ever do it ever ever again....  (It's only a matter of time before I make another one, you know it, I know it, everyone knows it)

The fabric market (tailor street) is located on Yanzhi Lu 胭脂路 in Wuchang.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sometimes you just gotta stop

I love being able to record video on my phone.  I saw this in a store the other day and I don't know that words would ever be able to adequately describe it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pomegranate and pomelo

It's Moon Festival time!  Which means that it's also Pomegranate and Pomelo time!  Pomelos are generally eaten during the moon festival. Someone once told me that this was because they are round and shaped like the moon, but I haven't been able to back this up.  I don't care though, because they are awesome!  They are like dry sweet grapefruits.  They are harder to eat because you have to peel them all the way down to the flesh and can't eat (not poisonous, just tough and hard to eat) any of the membranes surrounding the fleshy part of the fruit, but it is worth it.  If you like grapefruits, which I do, then you would love Pomelos!

Pomegranates are a new love for me.  I remember DH brought some home when we lived in Baku, but I was unimpressed.  Last year I was helping out an acquaintance for the gishwhes (scavenger hunt) with a clue that involved a pomegranate and computer city.  Well I performed the picture needed for the clue, and was left with a pomegranate.  I'm not one to let food go to waste so I cut it up and ate it, and fell in love.  I ate as many pomegranates as I could last year, and this year I waited around until I started to see them in the fruit stands again, and have been buying and de-seeding them like an addict.  I will de-seed one or two at a time and store them in jars in the fridge.  I don't know how long the seeds last, because I generally have devoured them in a day.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Moon Cakes

Last week was the Mid-Autumn festival.  Surprisingly, it doesn't feel like fall here yet, the days are still heavy with heat.  But the moon was beautiful.  The Moon festival is held during a full moon close to the Autumnal equinox (late September, early October).  
Once again we received more moon cakes than we know what to do with.  The boxes are so pretty, but the cakes are dense, heavy, chewy confections.  They take serious energy to eat, and the flavors remind me strongly of what I remember fruit cakes to be like, but with a wild exotic flair.  There are red bean paste ones, some sort of jellied sweet duck egg, a sweet sesame paste, something that might be lotus, and many many other flavors, that I cannot describe.  
But I do love the boxes they come in.  Oh if only the boxes held donuts!  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The bad days

I had a bad couple of days last week.  Actually it might have been a bad week, I'm trying not to think about it too hard.  It didn't start off bad, in fact, it started off pretty good.  I went to a friend's house for a modern day sewing circle, we chatted, ate some baked goods, I knitted the other two ladies quilted, it was a good day.  So what if I woke up that morning with a headache.  A headache in that same place that all the three day headaches sit.  So what if I took drugs and the headache didn't go away.  I haven't had a three day headache in awhile so maybe it would go away.
But it didn't.
Day two of the headache I went to the Crazy Market.  I've been there before a bunch of times, but this time I went with friends.  We wandered around, it was hot, but dry, I didn't buy anything, but it was good to be out again with other people.  I got home feeling a little tired and headachey but ready to go to this Parent Teacher Organization thing way out near Babes' school.  I decided to drive, because hey, that's why we have a car.
I got into what could best be described as a scrape.  It wasn't an accident.  It wasn't a fender bender, nothing was bent.  I can't even really say that paint was scraped off the car (Ok, maybe paint was scraped off our car).  But it was with a taxi driver and he wanted cash.  I'm actually ok with what happened here... sort of.  We got out and looked at our cars he asked for money.  I countered with an offer for about half of what he started out with.  But he didn't bargain.  ?(Has China changed since we first came here?  Do people not bargain any more?) He just said no, and went with his first price.  I made a call for back up.  Then he started asking me how long it was going to take.  I told him I didn't know.  I needed translation help, this guy's Mandarin was horrible.  I was stressed, late, headachey, and he was speaking in the Wuhan dialect (that's my story and I'm sticking to it).  I kept asking him to speak Mandarin and told him that it would be an hour before someone could come and take pictures and make a report.  Because you know this was the way "my company" dealt with accidents.  He decided he didn't want to wait, and got a water bottle and a rag and washed away most of the evidence of the accident (like I said It really wasn't a scrape).  He then took the price that I originally offered and left.  (I took lots of pictures, I hope this doesn't come back to bite me)  I'm not sure if I cheated the guy, or if he cheated me.  I think I'd feel better about it if he had bargained a little.  I missed all but the final minutes of the meeting, but made it to pick Babes up from school, which I never get to do, so it wasn't a total loss.
Day three of the headache was a holiday for Babes and DH.  We went to the park, skated, snacked, had a generally good time.  By this time the headache was a fading thing.  Here one minute, gone the next.  I had minutes of horribleness followed by blessed freedom from pain.
So by the next day I was pain free, but feeling mad at the world.  Unfortunately, I had to go to the store, couldn't put it off for another day.  I'm not going to rehash the encounter for you here, but let me say to you that I let road rage take over my emotions.  Thinking back over what actually went on, I don't think I acted badly to anyone but myself.  But I did allow my road rage to boil over in my head and I was horribly horribly angry at Chinese drivers.  I think the other driver knew I was angry, but I don't know that they thought anything of it (Chinese people can be incredibly patient and zen like, but then if you catch them wrong they can fly off at a moment's notice).
Why am I recounting the week here?  I think what I want to say is that if you are living the expat life, everyone has bad days.  I try, I try very hard to think positively about my host country.  I try, very very hard to allow myself to float free in the current of humanity and not allow myself to get snagged on the rocks.  But sometimes you have bad days, sometimes the current catches you and you struggle to keep your head afloat and steer clear of the rocks.
As with anything else though, a large part of this struggle is mental.  I woke up the very next day and said to myself I had to do better.  If you allow yourself to get sucked into the "I hate this place" blues then you will hate it.  It will eat your soul and you will be miserable.  I'm not saying that you will be able to conquer your blues purely by wishing it, but sometimes that is half the battle.

Friday, September 06, 2013

How I get around

In the past year I started using public transportation ALOT.  I didn't before because, while I can read some characters, I can't read nearly well enough to read those bus maps fast enough to determine where I want to go and how.  BUT that all changed the day I discovered that Google Maps will give you public transit directions. (I know this works in Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, Philadelphia, New York, Washington DC, Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka ) Now, I'm not an expert, but I can at least get you started.  I did this tutorial using my google maps phone app (it's the same for both android and apple) but you can do the same thing with Google Maps on the computer using the mouse instead of touching the screen.

First, you will want to open your google maps app (this is different from the preloaded maps app on an apple device, DON'T USE THAT, it's not good).  You'll see a lot of Chinese on the maps, but there's also Pinyin, so you don't have to be able to read Chinese to use this (and if you're not in China there won't be any Chinese at all!)
When you do you'll get a basic map screen, that will show you your current location.  Decide where you want to go, and then you can either drag the map there with your finger, or search for it using the search bar at the top of the screen.  I recently went from the Flower and Bird Market, to Beihu lake so we'll use that as the example.  This screen is roughly where the flower and bird market is.  

Touch the map on the screen at approximately where you want to go (or type in an address, or location, in the search bar at the top).  It will give you an approximate address at the bottom of the screen.  
touch the address at the bottom of the screen and you will see a page like this: 
At the very top of the screen there is a car, a bus, and a person walking.  If you want public transportation, touch the car.  The pink arrow shows your beginning and ending points (the default is from your current location, but I just added Beihu lake as the endpoint instead).  The purple arrow shows the one of the route options you have.  I usually get 3 or 4 different route options, but this one only has two.  Each option tells you approximately how long it will take and the bus/train number you will need to take.  In order to get directions, you need to select one of the routes.   

The purple arrow at the top shows your starting and ending point and what method of transportation you are using.  The green arrow is showing you the route you selected, which will usually be highlighted in blue.  The pink arrow at the bottom shows which transportation option you are using (if you swipe here you will see the other route options if you decide you want to switch).  

And here is your end point, usually highlighted with a red flag (drop pin, marker, what is that?).  When you see a bunch of blue dots (at the blue arrow) that means you are walking.  One of the cool things about using the mobile app, is that you can follow your progress in the map by watching the flashing blue dot as it moves along your route.  This is a helpful feature because I sometimes will get on a bus going the wrong way.  But it is also good because often the name of the stop is not immediately obvious and the blue dot will tell you when you are getting close to the point where you need to get off the bus/train.  
So there you have it!  Getting around has never been easier right?  

PS, if you live and china and want to buy a bus card (or if you have one and you want to refill it) go to the Hongbai grocery stores, there's a counter, usually near the doors that will chongzhi (充值) (refill your card).  In Taiwan, you can do this at the ever helpful 7-11!  

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Walking in Wuhan - Flower and Bird Market

The weather here has cooled down slightly.  You know it has been hot when you think a 90 (33 for you Celsius users) degree day is cooler.  I was therefore determined, to get out of the house and go see something.  I have been hearing about a big flower and pet market in Hankou, supposedly not too far from Wuhan Tiandi, so I decided to find this place and go there.  I had a hard time finding anything about it in English on the web, though.  The best I came up with, was that it was about 200 meters away from the Wuhan Changjiang No. 2 bridge.  Adding that to the knowledge that it was near Tiandi, I decided to give it a try.  
 Using my trusty Google Maps app (more on this Friday) I plotted a course to the nearest bus stop to the No. 2 bridge.  Once I got off the bus though, I realized where I had gone wrong in planning.  I just figured I could ask around once I got near enough and go from there.  Unfortunately, the area was pretty deserted.  And the few people I did see were not likely to speak enough clear Mandarin for me to be able to understand.  So I used my Chevrolegs to see what I could find.  Surprisingly, I did find it after 30 minutes or so of walking (it turns out, that despite the fact that it felt cooler 90 degrees is still actually pretty hot), and it turns out that I got off the bus right there, but walked right past it.

 I also brought the big camera, but forgot to put the memory card in it, so I had to take the pictures with my phone, again.  But I guess I should be grateful that I didn't wander about all that way only to have no camera and nothing to show for the walking.... I guess.

 I was expecting something much bigger, this was more of a medium sized market than a BIG market, but interesting none-the-less.  It immediately brought to mind the phrase used to describe the Muppet Show-- it was filled with dogs, and frogs, and pigs and chickens.  (actually I didn't see any frogs, but I did not look closely at the aquariums).

If you are looking for this place it is on YanJiang Ave, 200 meters North of the Changjiang No. 2 bridge.  And the sign for the place looks like this:
The characters aren't super clear so here they are again:  花鸟市场 
 And the entrance looks like a parking lot entrance (which it technically is):