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Spring in Nantong!
Finally, spring has arrived here. Trees are blooming flowers and new leaves, many blooming colors, and WARMER weather! The days get up to 65 or so and into the 50s at night. Yanti finally believes me when I kept telling her that it WOULD get warmer. It's been interesting to observe Yanti's reaction to this weather change. Since she comes from Indonesia where the weather basically does not change day-to-day or month-to-month; nor are there trees that lose their leaves in the Winter, she's been fascinated with it all. When we arrived here she just assumed that a tree without leaves was a dead tree! So she's been amazed at all the leaves on the 'dead' trees, and all the colors. We are in the process of obtaining a teaching position in the south of China for the Fall term. Even though Nantong is a very nice and very beautiful city; the school is really great; and all the friends we've met here are soooo nice; we MUST be somewhere where it won't be cold come November and December. ! But for now, we both can enjoy the 'Spring' here.
(All images are here)
For our first vacation since arriving in China we went to Shanghai. There were several ways we could have gotten there -a 4 hour bus ride or a 2 hour hydro-boat trip. We choose the 2 hour 'fast', non-stop, boat ride. The boat flies down the Chang Jiang (Yangzi) River between Nantong & Shanghai. This river is so wide that when we were in the middle we could not see either bank! It is the longest river in China (6,300 km or 3,906 miles) and the 3rd longest in the world. It originates up in Tibet and ends at Shanghai and is said to be one of the most scenic in the world. The boat left Nantong at 10:30AM and we arrived in Shanghai a little after noon. The total cost was 70 RMB (US$8.50) each for the best seats in the front of the ship. We found a very nice 4 star hotel near the center of town for 274 RMB (US$33) per night, including breakfast. Taxis are everywhere and the cost is 10-25 RMB (US$1-4) depending upon distance. We ended up taking taxis everywhere we wanted to go! They're clean and nice. One of the problems of traveling in China is that not many (yet) speak English and they use characters instead of our alphabet. So it's difficult to find your way around if you want to depend upon a written language. We had the hotel write in Chinese characters for us where we wanted to go or we would point to the Chinese characters in the Lonely Planet 'China' book which was our bible! We never did get lost!
Shanghai is like New York City because of its size, density, and population. But imagine New York City if it had been undergoing a massive urban renewal project for the last 12 years AND electricity was FREE. There are a huge number of sky scrappers all built with very interesting architectural details. All have incredible lights on their sides and/or tops; even the freeways have a beautiful blue neon light running along the edge, so that at night the elevated freeways seem to float in the air. We visited several museums and many restaurants (of course). The food is delicious there. We had Dim Sum (one of my many favs), but our favorite was Brasil Steak House! It was an all-you-can-eat steak and salad/dessert bar place. Wow, I was in heaven. The salad bar was great (4 different potato salads!) and even tapioca for desert - Mmmm. But the draw (and it WAS crowded) was the meats. There were 4 different guys (wearing Brasilian cowboy outfits) coming around to the tables carrying hunks of roasted beef, pork, duck, sausage, and chicken on skewers, then slicing off a hunk for you! WOW. All for 66RMB (US$8) each! We also visited the 'Foreign Language Bookstore' where we bought our map of Shanghai and I also bought the biggest book I could find (books are expensive here). I got 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' for 70RMB (US$8.50) and a book for Yanti and I to share - 'Godfather'. She and I have been watching the 'Sopranos' on DVD here and she's been really enjoying it.
We also did a lot of shopping. Yanti is a great shopper and bargainer. We found a huge market with lots of great clothes and such. She was in heaven (I spent time in the Starbucks, across the street). Things are cheaper here than in Indonesia! I found a computer mart where I got a USB mini-drive (128MB) for about US$15! We also needed to find a 'western' market to get some foods we can't find here in Nantong (vanilla, spices, etc). In all we were able to find just about everything we needed in Shanghai.
But most of the time we walked around to take it all in. They have a historic street which has been the main shopping area in Shanghai for 100s of years. They've turned that into a 4 block long pedestrian mall! They've also taken "People's Park" and put a huge shopping mall underneath!
Forget any ideas or pictures you might have about what 'Communist China' might be like. It's NOT. Shanghai has huge high rises of modern apartments; car dealerships (Volvo, Buick, even Rolls Royce!) and shoppers are everywhere - all very nicely dressed and smiling. They're even completing a Formulae One race tract here!
For Yanti's birthday we found a wonderful Indonesian restaurant to go to. It sits in "People's Park". I spoke to the waiter about it being Yanti's birthday AND that she was Indonesian. A few minutes later the sweet Indonesian chef appeared. She and Yanti chatted in Indonesian and she prepared a special dinner for us. It was very nice. Afterwards we took a cab across the river to the Pudong district were even larger and newer high rises are going up. We went to the bar on the 57th floor of the Hyatt for some drinks and the view. Wow. Since Balinese buildings are limited to the height of a coconut tree (about 4 stories), Yanti had never been so high! She was amazed at the sights we could see from there. All in all she had a great birthday.
Our main purpose for coming to Shanghai was to begin the process of obtaining a US Visa for her so we can come visit in December for my folks 60th wedding anniversary. We had to get some photos taken but otherwise had all the documents we needed. We paid the US$130 and everything will be sent to Beijing and then on to Guangzhou (in Guangdong province) where she will pick up her new Immigrant US Visa in about 5 months. It seems to be much easier to get this type of visa than a tourist type. Plus, since she is married to a US citizen, they seemed to be much nicer.
So after an exhausting 5 days we took the ferry back to Nantong for a rest! (I have 2 weeks paid vacation while the students here are preparing for and taking their mid-term exams).
(One note of disparagement about China. The way people drive here! It really is chaos! Cars, bikes, and motorbikes all park on sidewalks; pedestrian cross walks are 'speed-up' zones for vehicles; and everyone is honking all the time! People drive on either side of the road; pass other vehicles on the left or right and the bigger the vehicle the worst the driver. I understand there are some new laws that will take effect in May, so we'll see how that makes things better. OR maybe, it's all part of a population control plan by the government - who knows!)
(Another web site with a nice little story & a bunch of good photos - HERE)
This Summer we hope to teach and live and see Beijing and Xi'an. Beijing to see the capital of course, and the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Xi'an to see the 6,000 full size terra-cotta soldiers!
In the Fall we are looking at a teaching position in the south of China, near Macau or Hong Kong. That area has much milder climate, much closer to San Francisco.
We both want to return to California in the middle of December to help celebrate my parents 60th Wedding Anniversary. The entire family of 5 children, 8 grand-children, and 2 great grand-children will be taking a cruise to Mexico to celebrate! Then Yanti & I will head to Las Vegas to be married in the United States. No real reason for us to do this, but itíll be fun just the same. How many of you were married in Vegas by Elvis? Then back to San Francisco for News Years Eve and more celebrating!
We look forward to seeing everyone!