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Jurong Diary & Blog

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April Archive

This is the April Archive of our blog (including some late additions from 25-April onwards posted in May due to editorial overload!).  Get back to the main blog page here
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Suzhou, famous for it gardens, was the next stop on our trip from Shanghai to Jurong. After travelling to Suzhou on the new fast, 250km/h, D-series train service we checked into a modest JJ-Inns hotel in South Suzhou: judging by the stares and lack of English, they don't get so many tourists down there...

Then we visited the small "Master of the Nets" garden. We looked at the nearby market stalls we walked and waited for ages to get a taxi. Holiday season in Suzhou showed us how busy the main centres get during the peak holiday periods.

Please be Quiet - This is a Peaceful Place

Suzhou - Radio Tower


Shanghai - Day 3

Today we got to see Pandas!  We went to the Shanghai Zoo with the goal of seeing the Giant Panda. We were not disappointed and it was great to see this icon of China.

The smaller Red Pandas were much more active and cute to watch than their elder, Giant counterpart. These are not silly animals: they know the dumb humans can't read the "Don't Feed the Animals" signs and that they will have tasty food thrown to them if they put on a bit of an act and beg. A clever squirrel was also quick to get in on the act and scurried around the enclosure and the footpath outside the Panda Area searching for tasty morsels. We know understand the speed of "Hammy" from the movie "Over the Hedge".

We spent most of the day looking at the other exhibits including bears, a polar bear, wolves, snakes and crocodiles (or were they alligators?).  On the way back to the hotel we saw some life-like statues of horses on the roadside.

As it was the start of the Holiday Week, Neil went to the Railway Station and bought train tickets to Suzhou for the next day. It proved to be easier than expected and lulled us into a false sense of security about how easy it would be to get bus tickets back to the small city of Jurong.

Giant Panda

Wild Horses


Shanghai - Day 2

Our hotel was near Zhongshan Park. We wandered through it today and watched lots of kites and some large groups putting on dance performances. We hired a small boat and Captain Sam navigated us around the small lake.

After this we went to the Bund area.  It was a sunny day and fairly clear so the skyline was very impressive. We took a trip through the Bund Tunnel and wandered around the Pudong side of the river. We bought some Weet-Bix at the City Shop there before Neil & Gran went up the Jinmao Tower to its observatory / lookout on floor 88.  Sam was not keen on being up so high and so he wandered around the base of the building with TJ. We had a fantastic view of downtown Shanghai and marvelled at the light show when dusk fell. The new IFC tower will be slightly taller than its neighbour JM88 but it may not have as good a view of the Bund area.

With our feet firmly on the ground we were awestruck by the Pudong and Bund light show.  We went into the pedestrian mall of Nanjing East St and found some dinner there. There were also some very impressive neon light shows there too.  And a whole army of people selling toys, fake watches and bags.

Pearl Tower

Bund - Night Scene


Shanghai - Day 1

The airport was very quiet when we arrived to meet Gran. We hardly had time to roll out our NZ flag and welcome poster before Gran appeared from the security area.

After greetings were exchanged we went to the "Maglev" station to take the 431km/h magnetic levitation train into Shanghai. It was very cool to fly along below the tree tops. We think the hundreds of Chinese school children who were on an expedition enjoyed seeing Sam and saying "hello" more than the train trip. We took the Shanghai metro to our hotel and checked in.

Our first expedition was to the Yu Gardens, an area in the old part of Shanghai where there are restored old-style buildings and lots of tourist market shops. We also looked at one of the Confucius temples in the area.  The temple area was bustling with street stalls outside, but inside in the gardens it was very peaceful. In between these two sights we wandered along some narrow alleys with some very old buildings and caught a glimpse of how daily life may once have been.
No such thing as trains too fast...

Yu Gardens


Off to Shanghai

Gran arrives tomorrow at about 9am in Pudong airport. We are taking the bus to Shanghai so we can meet her.  We are also doing a "dummy run" of the start of our return trip to NZ using public transport and staying in an airport hotel.

Neil took his laptop and Sam watched a DVD on the bus - it was a good way to pass the 200km on the Huning Expressway.


Cooking Lesson

Today Pei Lin brought a chef from the brand new Polytech Hotel to show Neil how to cook "Gong Bao Ji Ding": one of our favourite Chinese dishes.  It is chicken and peanuts with bamboo shoots in a medium hot red pepper sauce. As with many dishes the recipe varies at different restaurants and it occasionally has garlic and perhaps potato instead of bamboo shoots. In one restaurant it contained a seed that produces a slightly bitter anaesthetic when bitten. Fortunately we did not use it today.  The texture of bamboo shoot is fairly similar to "just cooked" potato.

After the chef had left, Neil had a go: the result tasted OK but did not have the same "visual finesse" of the professionally prepared dish.  It also took twice as long to prepare partly because Neil had to cook the bamboo shoots while the chef had bought some "he had prepared earlier".

Wet Sunday

Sunday was very wet. We guess there was at least 25mm of rain during the day. We had some new friends visit and it forced us to stay indoors rather than checking out some of the campus facilities.  Fortunately the boys entertained themselves with computer games. The adults had good conversation and we looked through our NZ picture books and some of the photos we'd brought with us. TJ practiced her Chinese with Renie.

After sampling some freshly made (French) bread, we adjourned to the Polytech dining hall for lunch.  We've translated the "3rd floor" menu boards and have been there two or three times recently.  We were fairly confident we could get Chinese meals that would be suitable for our guests and they were happy with their meals - a great relief to us acting as hosts for the first time.

Sam enjoyed the walk to and from the dining hall because, unusually, there was a stiff breeze blowing while it was raining.  He was delighted with being able to turn the umbrella inside out and back the right way by changing the direction he was facing.  Fortunately the umbrella survived the impromptu science lesson.

Chinese Family Travel

We are the very happy owners of an electric bicycle.  As you can see it comes equipped for family travel. It is rather pleasant zipping along with only a token pedal effort.  We can now make an effortless quick trip to the supermarket with the wind in our hair (no helmets required in China).

No, the legs are NOT whiter than the bike frame...

We had test ridden a few bikes and arrived at this model mainly because it can be ridden on NZ roads without a drivers licence and we only need to wear bicycle helmets. It is a Giant Lafree brand bike and so we expect it to follow the brand reputation of high quality. More powerful bikes and scooters are available but in NZ they become "Mopeds" requiring a drivers licence to use them.  Also, some of the bikes had pedals that were an annoying decorative function rather than useful for motive power.  The Giant was very good for pedalling. 

Neil walked to the shop on Saturday and TJ and Sam travelled on TJ's bicycle. Sam enjoyed the soft pillion passenger seat on the new bike much better than TJ's bike carrier.  He also enjoyed racing Mum home!

We had written a few specific technical questions and asked a friend to translate them into Chinese.  This made asking questions very easy at the bike shop.  Understanding the answers was a little trickier but we got there. We made the mental note to have multichoice answers next time!


Trimble Gear in the Wild

On Friday Neil tested a new bus route to the Metro Supermarket in Nanjing. Following the directions from one of the students, he took a Jurong city #10 bus to its terminus. He was stared at a lot while he was waiting at the bus stop (and once he boarded the bus) as we've never used the Jurong city buses before. Then he took a bus from the outskirts of Jurong to Dongshan, a southern suburb of Nanjing.  From here he took one of the Nanjing city buses (#101) into city and alighted at the Metro stop.  Most of the time the Nanjing buses stop at every stop, but because there are so many 101 buses on this route and most people go into the city, the driver calls out to see if anyone wants to get off at these "early" stops.  Neil was aware of this and as it had happened a couple of stops earlier he was prepared to shout back "Xia" when the driver asked.  All too easy and it is cheaper and faster than the alternative service though Maqun followed by the #142 and #27 Nanjing buses.

The bus ride from Jurong to Dongshan was quite slow with a maximum speed of around 50km/h and frequent stops: at least he got a good view of the countryside! The route took a small diversion through Tu Qiao, one of the small villages along the way. There, it went past a row of at least 6 pool tables on the footpath of one establishment: very impressive. With a 30ºC day brewing it was very nice to have the breeze through the bus windows.  The "in-flight" entertainment was the ticket man "posting" his newspaper pages out the window as he finished reading them.

Along the journey, Neil noticed some survey equipment on the road.  He was pleasantly surprised to see it was made by his former employer, Trimble Navigation.  It also gave him an opportunity to try the camera on his new mobile phone.

Trimble Survey Equipment

After that find, the rest of the trip to buy beef, raisins and cornflakes seemed too mundane, so Neil bought some Köstritzer Schwartzbier in order to celebrate.  And a mighty fine brew it is too. Neil was very tempted by the 5 litre mini keg but settled for a 4-pack of cans as this was all that would fit in his pack. With its red and black packaging it would be fantastic if it were to become the preferred "Canterbury Drink".


Safe, Secure and Trusting

We have had two electric jugs expire during our tenure here.  They get a fair hammering because we don't have a hot water tap over our sink.  We boil the jug for drinks and also for dishwashing.  We bought a whistling kettle for the gas stove when the first one died and we were horrified at the prices of replacement electric jugs.  It was sort of inconvenient because we only have two burners on the hob.  Fortunately some friends gave us an unused electric jug they had acquired.  Well, yesterday it too let the smoke escape (or it would have, had the element not been sealed). What to do: buy a new one for 3 months or try and get it repaired?

Today Neil disassembled the jug and took the element to one of the small sole trader businesses he passes on the way to the supermarket.  This electrical repair shop has second hand TVs, microwaves, stereos, PC monitors, washing machines and an assortment of spares: elements, switches, cables etc in it.  Holding out the dead element, Neil asks: Ni you mei you? (You have, not have?). You was the reply and the cost was RMB15. Sweet! But he explained he would have to go and collect one from another shop and bring it back (or Neil thinks that is what he said).  So leaving his shop unattended but for Neil and another customer, he took his scooter and disappeared down the road. About 10 minutes later he was back and exchanged a new element for the cash and began to serve the next customer. Neil is not sure what amazed him more - that he actually succeded in buying a replacement element or the carefree way the owner left his shop attended by his customers!  This contrasts with bicycles and electric bikes that everyone locks whenever they park them.

This trader is typical of the small businesses around Jurong city.  Many are run by one or two people and they often have small, e.g. 3m x 5m, shops with a roller door on the front.  Sometimes they are even smaller, like the bicycle repair guy who uses the footpath and has about a 2m wide by 1m deep lockup.  It is very common for there to be a row of 2 or 3 businesses selling identical products side by side.  This also extends to department stores: there is a cluster of them in the centre of town, all with similar (often the same) products. In front of one shop, there is a group of locals who play cards under a large picnic umbrella.  Several shops, including Neil's favourite hardware shop, have groups of friends who congregate to pass the day in conversation and laughter.


"We don't know how propitious are the circumstances"

We are often asked, "Where does Sam go to school?" We respond by explaining that he uses the NZ Correspondence School material and that "School in China is very different to New Zealand Schools".  Sam has joined an on-line class and after some "coaxing" is warming to the bulletin board and the potentially interactive aspects.  It was a battle to get him to complete his "profile" and his first "Hello" entry on the class bulletin board but he was delighted when his profile appeared alongside those of his new classmates.

In the China Daily news there were a couple of articles highlighting to us just how different the education systems are. For the 12 year old middle school child named in one article:

  • He rises at 5:50am and arrives at school at 7am, one hour before lessons commence at 8am.
  • He takes math, English and Chinese classes during the weekend as well as learning to play the horn.
  • His mother (a high school teacher) is concerned that he will not get entry to a quality High School.
  • His mother is quoted as saying "Of course I want my son to have more sleep, more exercise and more fun," she said. "But the common saying is that if you give your child a happy childhood in China, you give him a failed adulthood."
  • One official said "... the problems are rooted in a system that seeks to evaluate students solely on their academic scores" and "It will also take time to change people's traditional mindset that a college diploma is a ticket to a good job".

While some schools are starting 15 minutes later "to give children more time for leisure and play", there are conflicting opinions about whether this is a good thing. As well as this, some schools are trying to combat increasing obesity by having 1hr PE classes every day. At the same time "In many schools, PE classes are cut short or even canceled (sic) because they are considered a waste of time. For many teachers and parents, academic records are all that really matter."

Here at the Polytech, the students have compulsory morning exercises at about 6:40am, 6 days a week - unless it is raining. The campus PA system stirs everyone (including us) to life about 6:20 and then the students line up to take the exercises which are performed to music and an announcer on the PA system. At least it is warm now.

In NZ, to quote Mr John Clarke (Fred Dagg), "We don't know how lucky we are." In the context of education we're confident this is still true, although it should be said that this song was written back in 1975 when the kiwi dollar wasn't so actively conspiring against the NZ export industries.

School Sports Competition

On Friday and Saturday, the Polytech held its sports competition.  With no classes scheduled for these days many students took the opportunity to go home for a long weekend.  Those that remained were fortunate not to have the normal Public Address System alarm clock and morning exercises.

We went along to the track to watch some of the events and it was good to see that participation and supporting competing classmates were important aspects of the day. There were a mix of running and clothing styles: some were kitted out with spiked (track) running shoes and conventional running attire while others opted for T-shirt, jeans and flat soled dress sneakers.

If the sports didn't interest the students then the only other campus distraction was pouring concrete for a new paved area. Rather than on-site mixing, as was done for the driveway of the new apartment block beside us, a stream of trucks brought premix where it was pumped - just like would happen in NZ.  Sam and Neil went and checked out the construction site.

Concrete Pour

Advertising Banners

Spectators - Where did those legs come from?

Set for the Womens 1500m


Buses or Not, That is the Question

For Easter, we went to Nanjing and stayed with our USA friends who are based at Nanjing University.  Getting there was a saga of uninformed frustration.  Or it would have been frustrating if we weren't now used to the sudden and unexplained changes that occur in this small part of China.

A little history.  There are two bus stations in Jurong that we know of: there may actually be more - but that would be a different topic!  For want of their actual names, we refer to them as the small bus station and the big bus station. They are about 200m apart and if our taxi driver tries to leave us at the wrong one we simply point to the other one (although we can say "stop here" or "stop over there" in Chinese, some people have a mental block when it comes to foreigners speaking their language and take 5/8ths of no notice). Both had buses that went to Nanjing and we would choose which service to use depending on who we were visiting or what shops we needed to go to.

From the small bus station, the buses head north-west and then west to the east-Nanjing "suburb" of Maqun. Conveniently, they go past the nearby Farmers Vegetable market (about a 7 minute walk from our apartment) where we could flag them down. Unfortunately the Nanjing #51 bus from Maqun to the centre of the city "Xinjiekou" takes up to an hour while the bus from Jurong to Maqun takes about 40minutes, or less if it is a so-called "Fast Bus" that does not pick up people along the way or go through the small town of Tangshan.  Further, the #51 bus is almost always something like a sardine can - packed with people and possibly a little smelly on a hot summer day. It is not comfortable with our travel packs laden with gear and groceries.

The 16 buses per day from the big bus station headed west and then north through the southern suburb of Dongshan before arriving at Zhonghuamen.  The great thing about this route was that it went past a large supermarket "Metro" that we bought beef, NZ or Aussie butter, NZ cheese, raisins, high gluten flour and a few other imported items at.  The drivers would let us off as they went past and if we were very attentive, we could flag them down for the return trip and therefore avoid backtracking 20mins each way on city buses. Also, the Zhonghuamen bus station is beside the subway (also known as the Metro, which takes about 10minutes to get to the centre of Nanjing), an airport bus stop and a train station: very convenient.  It has a couple of hotels nearby that we'd use if we couldn't get a seat on the Jurong bus.  This bus service was always full and then picked up several people who stood in the aisles. We used it so frequently that the ticket people would greet us when we got on.

Anyway, when we went to travel to Zhonghuamen on Thursday, the ticket people said "Mei-you" meaning "not have". "Whaddaya mean mei-you, my pronunciation is not that bad, its the middle of the afternoon and there should be at least 5 more buses to go!" So we tried again, "Nanjing, Zhonghuamen/Dongshan" and pointed to the gate that it used to leave from. Much waving of hands, unrecognised sentences and pointing followed. We were passed on to another bus station officer who wrote something (unintelligible to us) and pointed towards the other bus station. Ahhh, "Maqun?" we asked, and we got smiles and nodding of heads. The bus services to Zhonghuamen carrying in excess of 500 people per day in each direction had been cancelled.  So, we caught the bus to Maqun along with a few other people, confused at the loss of the Zhonghuamen service.  The flip side is that the frequency of the Jurong-Maqun service has increased: every 15 to 20mins from 6am to about 6pm.

We can speak some Chinese but we can't read very much. Place names, cardinal points of the compass, street, road etc are fairly easy to recognise.  When people use hand written Chinese we find it barely intelligible unless we already know what the character is (or is supposed to be) and/or they give the pinyin romanised words.  Our PDA Chinese - English dictionary PlecoDict requires us to write characters fairly clearly for them to be recognised and translated. Handwritten Chinese is not sufficiently clear for us to copy and get good results.

At English Corner this week, thanks to some very helpful students (who are from Nanjing), we found out there is a less direct bus service to Zhonghuamen that uses the Jurong "city buses" to the outskirts of Jurong, another bus to Dongshan and then a couple of Nanjing city buses to Zhonghuamen.  Neil will give it a try in the next week or two and see if he gets lost...

Easter in the Spring

Being in the Northern Hemisphere affords us the opportunity to experience a Springtime Easter. It is very different to be surrounded by flowering wisteria, leaf buds, warm breezes and 25 degrees Celsius days rather than approaching winter storms and frosts.  So far, April weather in Jiangsu is great - no mozzies, low humidity, warm days, mild nights and light breezes: makes one want to roll out the BBQ and "Export Yourself"... 

We joined our friends as they celebrated Seder, the traditional last supper that Jesus had at the Passover. It was very interesting to experience some different Easter customs.

TJ does not have classes on Friday and she took a day of "annual leave" on Monday so that we had a traditional long weekend. Many Kiwi shopkeepers would be delighted with the commercial opportunities of Good Friday and Easter Sunday in China: even the banks are open.  All of our Nanjing friends worked on Good Friday as it is officially "just another day" here.

We went to the "Sun Palace" swimming pool for a spot of waterslide action because we were told it opened in April. But we were again disappointed as it does not open until April 28. This heated pool complex is only open for summer, essentially May - September. Maybe it is linked to Chinese traditional beliefs - they don't give cold gifts in Winter. In the same vein, ice cream has only just reappeared in the supermarket freezers in Jurong: little do they know we Kiwis would have kept buying it through the winter as the NZ$0.60 chocolate trumpets are a great dessert.

Wisteria Blossom



The Wonders of Modern Communication

As a part of explaining to the Polytechnic staff how easy it is to get information about TESOL jobs in China, Neil used Google to find a review of Jurong from an Australian who taught here a couple of years ago.  He fired off an email not really expecting a response and was delighted when we got a reply. Through the short time we've had email contact with Glenys we have been introduced to a local restaurant and met a teacher at one of the local schools. We also have a list of local sights, shops and restaurants to check out as well as the names of some other folks to meet. Thank goodness for all this modern interWeb stuff!

In addition to boring old telephone conversations, we keep in contact with our friends using text messages (SMS), email, Skype (both chat and free VOIP "phone" calls) and MSN (Windows Messenger). "QQ" is the favourite internet chat application here but we haven't needed to use that yet.

Being grounded and grumpy without any flying (being a passenger on a commercial airline does NOT count as flying), Neil downloaded a Gliding Simulator demo called Silent Wings. This is a very good simulator and despite us only having a 3yr old laptop and a cheap joystick it has provided a few hours of light relief, winch launching and aerobatics around a Norwegian airfield.  Not everyone in the house is as enamored with the pip-pip-pip-pip of the vario on the stops at 10kts up or the very loud alarm from SoarPilot when it loses the GPS data from Silent Wings ;)  Unfortunately the website of the other leading gliding simulator, Condor, is not available from within China.

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