Parks, parents, pedalos (and princesses!)
I'm aware I've been neglecting the old blog somewhat of late - it's now been over five weeks since my last entry - but really have just been waiting until I have enough newsworthy / interesting tales to entertain you with. Which is hopefully now!
When I left you in my last blog post we'd just gotten back from our trip to Xi'an, the weather had taken a dramatic turn for the better, and I was feeling rather positive about life in China. Am glad to say this hasn't changed . It's pretty much constantly above 30 degrees and sunny(ish) - thank goodness for air con - and things are still looking pretty peachy. Here's a little round-up of the past five weeks of my life in China:
The lovely weather has bought with it new opportunities to enjoy something which the Chinese really do do rather well - parks. In fact I think the big park in Xingtai is the only attractive thing about this place - it is a welcome haven from the concrete sprawl which characterises much of the city. So Sarah and I spent much of May (timetable permitting) lazing on the grassy banks by the beautiful lake, eating crisps and ice-cream, and even fulfilling our dream of renting a pedalo (although it didn't work terribly well..). Lovely! Not having a garden it is so nice that there is a place nearby where we can go and sit in the sunshine… I guess this is perhaps why China has so many nice parks actually- because much of the population (in cities at least) reside in high-rise apartment blocks without their own gardens. One of the things we've decided we like best about parks in China is how easy it is to find a grassy spot in the sunshine - in England on a sunny day members of the public fight for a spot under the midday sun, groups settling uncomfortably close to eachother - but here everyone likes to sit in the shade and remain as pale as possible, giving us our pick of locations!
Parents in China
One thing that truly made my month was my parents' trip to Beijing at the end of May. It was great to see them after over 3 months away from home, and I think as well as the undeniable pleasure of getting to spend time with their firstborn they were also very glad for the excuse to come and visit China - somewhere my mum at least has been interested in for quite some time (she even started Chinese lessons in anticipation!). Being a teacher in public schools I have to work during the week, but I managed to fit in two long weekends in Beijing with my parents which were just lovely! On the first weekend I travelled up from Xingtai alone and stayed in my parents' hotel for a few nights - very luxurious after 3 months of hard mattresses both at home and in hostels! We spent most of the weekend chatting, wandering round (including another trip to Jingshan Park - spectacular - and a trip to Houhai for pedalo fun) and eating. I am not over exaggerating when I say that I ate some of the best food I have ever tasted in my life on that Saturday night at a Sichuan restaurant chosen by my mum's Chinese friend Grace, who had taken the 7 hour train ride from her home town in the north to join us. The black pepper and chili tiger prawns in particular will go down in history as the most delicious seafood I have ever had the pleasure of consuming - I think I must have eaten about 30 prawns…. I still have dreams about them. It was a most enjoyable weekend, but on the Monday it was time to return to Xingtai for a week of teaching, leaving my parents to a busy week of sightseeing which took them to places like Fragrant Hills Park, the Temple of Heaven, and a 4 hour trek along a remote section of the Great Wall.
The following weekend Sarah and I took the trip to Beijing together. We stayed in a hostel in the Sanlitun area - famed for its bar street - and a few of our other teacher friends joined us, and my parents, for another weekend of fun. Again a major theme of the visit was good food - including a great Indian restaurant with a rooftop terrace and a rather special Goan Fish Curry. We also managed to fit in a trip to the Summer Palace - one of the top attractions in the Beijing area and definitely somewhere I would recommend visiting to anyone who makes it to China. The Summer Palace essentially does exactly what is says on the tin - it was built as a summer haven for royalty from the heat of the city. Centred around the huge, glittering Kunming Lake, the grounds are an intricate web of winding pathways, gardens, temples and pavilions. We decided to forgo the underground and instead caught a boat there and back, which travelled from the City Centre through a network of canals to the South Gate of the Palace - a very pleasant journey indeed. We then spent the afternoon leisurely wandering around the lake, stopping for a picnic at a pavilion on the West Causeway. Long a fan of picnics, this one was no disappointment - in fact I think it was my second favourite picnic of all time (the honours go to a delightfully delectable affair on the banks of Lake Ontario in Toronto last summer). We had stocked up on treats such as brie, cheddar, sweet cherry tomatoes, and freshly baked bread rolls at ex-pat heaven grocery store 'Aprils Gourmet', and enjoying these in such good company with the sun shining and the beautiful Kunming Lake as my backdrop really was a high point of my trip. It was one of those moments you have that you want to be able to bottle and go back to when things aren't as good and you need a reminder of how happy life can be.
It was really sad to say goodbye to my parents on the Monday morning, as it'll be another three and a bit months until I return to the UK and get to see their lovely faces again, but it was so nice that they had managed to come out to see me at all so I was mainly just really grateful for that. I spent the rest of Monday at Beihai and Houhai - two lakes in the city centre where we managed to get our pedalo fix as well as a nice lunch- with Sarah, Seb and Rachel - before it was time for Sarah and me to catch the train back to Xingtai.
Back to normal life
…So now it's back to normal life in Xingtai. We've mostly been spending time doing the usual: lesson planning, teaching, trips to fruit and veg street, cooking... but everything is starting to take on a bit of a veneer of finality now. We're nearing the end of our teaching (some classes I teach I have just one lesson left with) and in less than 5 weeks time I will be on a plane to Vancouver for the next leg of my trip. We've got another trip to Beijing planned, as well as an English competition at our Training Centre and the much anticipated trip to the seaside to look forward to - so i'm hopeful that the final month in China will be just as good as the previous four!
And lets end with a few amusing anecdotes
-Sarah and I got paid 100 pounds each a few weekends ago to dress in ridiculous 'European princess style' polyester dresses and hand out flyers advertising a construction company in scorching sunshine inthe local park. Cue gawping onlookers and forced smiles for many a family photo! I dread to think how many mantelpieces we are now adorning….
-I recently discovered a comedy huge pink bicycle poncho which is just perfect for those occasional late afternoon downpours, and is quite a hit with Chinese grannies from all over the city, but makes my inner Gok Wan scream in disgust…
Hope life is treating all of you very well, everything seems better in the sunshine doesn't it?!
Ps. For up to date photos, have a look at my facebook album (you don't have to be facebook friends with me / have a facebook account to view them):http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2439932&id=61402388&l=c07ec1ef14