Posts Tagged With: cultural norms

Travel Etiquette

I just returned to Shanghai with a 14+ hour flight and before we left the ground I almost blew a gasket! It had to be the worst flight ever. Travelling on a small piece of metal hurtling through space which is already cramped and crowded you need to think about fellow passengers and not to mention customer service.

I have learned travelling with Chinese is just like trying to get on the subway metro. It becomes survival of the fittest. Push, shove and why wait for others to get off before getting on? If you are polite and orderly then you will miss the train. Before the attendants are even at the gate they line up waiting to get on the plane. Umm has anyone told them the little piece of paper called the boarding pass is guaranteeing them a seat and place on the plane? I don’t understand the logic of lining up when seats are called by row to help ease the flow of boarding. I have started to do the same now only because if you wait for your seat chances are there is no room for your carryon luggage. A few times it has to be stored 5-10 rows away from where I am sitting which is fine until you try to retrieve it. Soon as the plane stops moving they are up out of their seats pushing to get off the plane. What is the hurry? You can’t go anywhere until the doors are open! So basically I end up waiting until the flight is almost empty to get my things. Patience is not in their vocabulary 😉

SardinesFlight

This flight I was caught a little off guard and they started to board soon as the attendants arrived. I was also leaving from Toronto and last flight in January anyone who tried to board ahead of their called rows was turned away, so I didn’t feel the urgency to get on just yet. Lesson learned; never assume things will be like last time! I thought we were on a larger plane with over 60 rows of seating, so I got in line when they called my row in the 40s. Once on the plane I realised I was sitting at the back and ¾ of the plane was already on board! While still waiting in line the last rows were called and the remaining passengers tried to push and cut into line ahead of the other passengers who were already waiting. Common courtesy is just not observed.

As I tried to fight my way upstream to my seat, through the many people blocking the aisles who seat rows had not yet been called, the people behind me were close enough I could feel them breathing down my neck. As I stopped and waited patiently for the blockers to rummage through their carry on the people behind me began to push. Really where do you want me to go? Should I trample the other passengers? After about the third time I said out loud ‘Really? You need to push me? People are in the way’. The people behind me backed off ever so slightly.

overhead bin cartoonI got to my seat to see all the overhead compartments stuffed full. No one put anything under their seats and large carryons (most people had 2 plus a large bag of duty free). Obviously the carry on luggage rule was not carefully monitored. I asked the flight attendant to help me find space and she said go back and look closer to the front of the plane. I said ‘No I don’t think I need to put my luggage near the front when there should be space here. I boarded when I was suppose to and all the others came on early and took up all the space. That isn’t right.’ She just walked away. Great customer service… thanks for your help. Did she come back later to see if I found space? No of course not.

Thank you to the kind gentleman who tried to help me squeeze my bags into an overhead bin, but there was just no room. He also had an unfortunate situation where his wife and small baby were near the front of the plane and he was near the back. The flight attendants said there was nothing they could do since the flight was pretty well full. I doubt they asked anyone to move. I am sure if someone knew the situation they would have helped. I also had asked for an aisle seat hoping they could do something at check in. After explaining I was travelling alone, needed to get up and move around and needed close access to a bathroom I was told I had a window and that was a good seat. Again thanks for your understanding and good customer service.

Now just add a small wheelie bag and purse to the picture and you will have my view.

Now just add a small wheelie bag and purse to the picture and you will have my view.

With no other option and I wasn’t about to try to swim back downstream I shoved my small wheelie bag under the seat in front of me along with my purse. In an already small environment I now had no leg room. Good thing I am short and I am not claustrophobic because this would have put me over the edge. My seatmates came along and luckily didn’t have large bags. They settled in and it started to snow, so the long flight was about to get longer as we had to go to de-icing. Luckily it was a light snow and hadn’t had time to accumulate so the icing process only took a few minutes.

Soon as we were in the air the fellow in front of me reclined his seat and immediately started to snore. Could this get any worse? As it would have it yes. I had difficulty sleeping due to my cramped positions and my body just ached and was all tingly from pins and needles. My body was finally tired enough to sleep through the pain. Not long after I got some sleep my snoring friend kept opening the window to see outside even though the night lights were on. The blinding light woke me up from the 2 hours of sleep I managed to get. He had to have opened the blinds at least 3 times. Hey buddy yes it is still sunny… just like it was 15 minutes ago. I guess he already slept 7 or 8 hours and didn’t notice the other sleeping passengers around him.

This is how I felt only more confined being at the window and having my carryon underfoot.

This is how I felt only more confined being at the window and having my carryon underfoot.

In my already cramped position I noticed my middle seat mate had the legs propped up on my luggage which as you recall was under my seat. She had lots of space on her side, but I guess thought I needed less. At the end of the flight an announcement was made to stay in your seat if you needed assistance and a flight attendant would happily help you. Well sitting at the back of the plane I couldn’t get out and I had to wait for my seat mates to leave so I could pry my things from under the seat. Did any attendants come to see if I needed assistance? No of course not. They were all too busy gathering their things and leaving the plane. I left BEHIND some of the flight crew. I guess the announcement is not put into practice, but sounds like good customer service. I have done a lot of travelling in my life and this had to have been the worst flight with common courtesy and customer service I have ever had. Maybe if I put it out there in the universe people will stop and think about travel etiquette… Here are a few things for travellers to think about.

1. Carryon luggage – if you have more than 1 bag stow one under your seat so others have room for their things.
2. Think about packing light and not carrying all your belongings on the flight with you.
3. If you want people to fly your airline again acknowledge them and be kind, don’t ignore them and walk away. Maybe they wouldn’t be so grumpy with you if you treated them like a valued customer and wanted their repeat service.
4. Wait for your seat row to be called before lining up to get on the plane and the airlines should reinforce this.
5. Personal space… in an already cramped environment need I say more?

Now this may not be the worst travel horror story, but having back trouble and requiring to move every 2 hours or less, leaving my husband in Canada (and hopefully seeing him before July) and dealing with family illness back home I was sensitive and emotional as it was. All the small things built up and made the trip back here alone difficult. (And I didn’t even get into the taxi situation once I arrived in Shanghai…).

All images from Google Images.

What is your worst travel story? Or what can you add to the travel etiquette list?

Categories: Chinese Adventures, post a week, social graces, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Weekly Photo Challenge: TODAY

OK so I was disappointed yesterday that I did not have a cool or interesting photo for the weekly challenge: TODAY. I got a lot of comments on the flowers and it seemed to be well liked 🙂 Thanks so much for all the comments and likes.

Jo Bryant commented that is nice to see that China is somewhat the same as home. Thanks Jo, and yes that is true and they are people, live and love just like us (westerners) and I believe no matter who you are or where you live we are all people and deserve to be loved, cared for and treated with dignity and respect. However, living in China (for me) is nothing ordinary! Coming from a small town and country of 30 + million to a city of 25+ million (my whole country could live in Shanghai!) things have been different. Here there have been so many weird sights, sounds and customs that greet us almost everyday. Many I don’t even notice anymore. All of these wonderful events have become a part of my blog and a reason to blog… it keeps me sane, all these posts will make wonderful memories and it makes people back at home wonder or laugh. Really I DON”T make this stuff up!

Please don’t get me wrong… I was disappointed because I couldn’t share with you something that makes China unique and interesting… one of the few reasons I signed on for another year, even though I fulfilled my 2 year contract, I wasn’t ready to leave yet. China has that effect on some people.  Today camera in hand (well bike basket) I rode along to work hoping to see the bird lady or the ducks/chickens. Some old world traditions still hang on in this city of growth and modernization… Imagine my delight and chance to share with you all when I saw them on the path along the river. I quickly went down the path and bravely asked to take a photo (although he thought I was weird from the stares I got and his comments in Chinese. I don’t understand a lot of Chinese but  I got the gist of this one ;))  On the way back to the road I also got a view of today’s catch.

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Enjoy! Here is part of my world today…. what did you see today? Bet you can’t beat this 😉

Stay tuned for more…

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, everyday occurances, Photography, post a week, strange adventures, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Cooking & Final Thoughts: More on Vietnam

Can you tell we really loved Vietnam? Who knew such a short vacation that was mainly spent lazing by the pool would amount to 4 posts! God help me if we ever go away for a month… you would never hear the end of it 😉

The last full day in Mui Ne was an unexpected adventure and my favourite. It was not what I wanted to do, but I am so glad I did because it made the trip so much more enjoyable. John inquired about cooking classes and they were offered at the hotel. He wanted to sign up, but for some reason we could not at that time and had to come back the next day. It was nearing the end of the trip and panic was setting in that soon I would be back at work and up to my eyeballs in things as the school year was winding down. I wanted to savour every last minute of relaxation and sunshine that I could. We didn’t go out to the dunes as we had hoped -couldn’t give up an entire day of R’n’R for an early morning and long day in the oppressive heat. The last day I planned to go to the spa for a massage and read and John would do a cooking class. That was until they signed us both up. Quickly I jumped in and said NO I am not interested… just John. They informed him the class either couldn’t go ahead as planned with only 1 student, or he would have to pay double (for 2 people). He was going to pass on things since he knew getting away was a much needed escape for me. I didn’t want him to miss out, so I agreed to join. The happy employee signed us up and gave us the details in where to meet and what time the next day. I was very touched that John was willing to so easily give up what he wanted for me 🙂 He is such a keeper!

The next morning we finished our breakfast (more pho -yum) and went off to the lobby to start our cooking adventure. We waited for the cook to arrive and then we would be off. First they would take us into town to buy the ingredients and then return and cook. We had a private car with driver to take us, the cook and a tour guide. I felt like royalty with all the attention… Our tour guide pointed out things along the drive and answered questions about what we saw. She informed us of the building going on at a large development on a hill overlooking the sea just before getting into the beach area (in which a cemetery had to be moved to a new location!), pointed out some places of interest and asked us about our home country. Soon we were in town and left to walk in to the wet market. Our guide told us to watch our belongings and they helped us cross the chaotic street as we entered the crowded market area. Vietnam is a very safe place, but like anywhere pickpockets are always on the lookout for an easy target and foreigners are viewed as rich and good prey.

Buying the Pork

Immediately we saw fluffy little yellow chicks for sale at the entrance. I was falling behind and didn’t want to get lost in the maze of stalls, so I missed a great photo-op. Inside the dimly lit market stalls were crowded in every available space with produce, meats, cloth and other necessities. The ground was stained and soiled from years of debris. We squeezed through the narrow aisles and followed our cook who knew where to get each ingredient. As she went our guide kept a look out around us to keep us safe and explained things as we went. Locals often sat on their table tops squeezed in with their wares since there was just no space to spare and allow them to stand. It was hot and humid outside and inside the tarps and thin roof the heat was oppressive, but they didn’t seem to notice with their long sleeves and pants. Before going I had read that they are modest and don’t dress in tank tops and low-cut outer wear and frown against those who do. Many of the locals wore brightly coloured patterns of matching pant outfits (t-shirt like top with short or long sleeves and pants) in the same pattern/colour or sometimes mismatched pattern or colour. Younger Vietnamese wore jeans and more modern t-shirts.

 

This is what I imagined the Chinese Wet Market to be like but wasn’t. This one was crowded, smelly and somewhat dirty with scattered bits of produce, blood and guts tracked into the floor. I was SO glad I opted for the running shoes today and not the flip flops! The market was a hive of activity where people were buying and selling their daily needs and moving goods in and out. When we stopped to buy some meat and shrimp. As the cook asked for what she wanted, as the guide told us she knew this stand was of good quality. The seller pulledout a large knife and quickly slammed it into the meat and cut off the requested amount. I was glad to move on from the meats and into the spices and vegetable section.

This one grandma?

The colours were so vibrant and the smells much more pleasing. Actually the smell wasn’t as bad as the fish market I went to in Granada, Spain if memory serves me correctly. That stench was unbearable and lingering everywhere, and this was just a bit unpleasant as you went by the meats. As the cook bought some carrots, cucumbers, taro, mint and other items I snapped up pictures and took it all in. We became the tourist attraction as we did not fit; I felt like an example of ‘what is wrong with this picture?’as people did a double take on us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our whirlwind tour through the market we were back outside in the sunshine. Our driver had to drive around to meet us, so they took us to a temple to get out of the hot sun and see all the worshipers. It so happened this was a Chinese temple, or many Chinese worship there. Our guide told us today was busy because it happened to be a full moon, a day for them to pray for good fortune. Later I remembered it was also Qing Ming Festival and this may have also been areason it was busy. Many people were inside the temple with incense which they held near the middle of their foreheads and rocked their heads back and forth as they prayed. Certain statues were spread throughout and people gathered near them and touched them, which was a ritual we didn’t understand. You could see the worn areas from many hands caressing the statues. I felt like we were intruding and I didn’t venture far past the door and took a few pictures before our air conditioned comfort was waiting for us.

Little girl waiting for her parents as they worship

The temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the hotel we were given a break while cook prepared the ingredients. We sat by the pool for a few minutes before heading into the restaurant. To our surprise everything was cut and ready for us, we just had to do the assembly! We were making 2 style of Vietnamese Spring Rolls (yum!) Cook cut some large rice paper into triangle shapes and we added our ingredients and rolled the spring rolls up like little cigars. We made some with pork (for me) and others with

Making the Cold Spring Rolls

shrimp(for John). These would be deep-fried slowly in a warm oil. When we used that up we turned to cold spring rolls which were more vegetable with cucumber and mint and would not be cooked. As time went on I got better at rolling – cook who did not know English laughed at my first attempts and even made me do a few again. John on the other hand did well first try -show off! As we worked on the cold uncooked rolls our guide fried up the first batch and by the time we were done we had our meal! They treated us to a table for 2, an amazing cold iced tea (chamomile maybe?) and we ate our creations. Oh they were delicious! As I write this my mouth waters. I really enjoyed the cold ones, so refreshing on a hot day. Fully stuffed we enjoyed the rest of our day by the pool.

 

The next day we were checking out and heading back to Ho Chi Minh City. We spent our last hours by the pool catching the last rays before a long drive. Back in Ho Chi Mihn we wandered the streets and alleys near our hotel and bought a few souvenirs. We learned that many things are made locally and provide people with work and much-needed income. I bought a lovely woven yarn scarf, John a few t-shirts and an interesting purse with embroidery. There was other handicrafts and art work, but we packed light and had nowhere to put it without the purchase of another suitcase, so we had to pass.

The next day we had to leave early so we turned in for the night. The next morning we checked out of the Liberty hotel, the same place where we stayed when we arrived. It was a simple hotel, cheap, without frills and good enough. Breakfast was included and we had to check out before breakfast began so we thought we would have to forgo our free meal. They were kind enough to offer and pack us a little meal to go! Loaded into the taxi we wove through the dark early morning streets as the city began to come alive. Motorbikes loaded down with supplies and materials were being transported to the local markets before opening time and large blocks of ice sat on doorsteps to help keep meats and other items cold. As the sun started to rise we reached the airport and it was time to say goodbye to Vietnam.

Vietnam is considered third world, and doesn’t have all the frills that other international big cities may have, she certainly isn’t as sophisticated and rich as Shanghai… but there is a hidden beauty, an inner light that shines through that made me fall in love with Vietnam and definitely want to go back and see more…. the terraced rice patties, historical tunnels from the war, the floating markets and revisit the beautiful beaches.

Stay tuned for more next time…

Categories: Culture, everyday occurances, Photography, post a week, social graces, strange adventure, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Long Road to Paradise – more on Vietnam

After a short few hours wandering the streets in Ho Chi Minh city we were off to the beaches of Mui Ne (Me-you Nay) which used to be a fishing village before someone decided the great silky white sands would be a haven for tourists to relax and sun themselves. We hired a car for the 4-5 hour journey through one of the many travel agents that lined the streets in District One. Luckily our car had air conditioning and the promise was made if the A/C broke down our trip would be free… how is that for a deal?

We returned to the travel agents with our backpacks and we loaded into the car and were off. Looking out the windows the world passed us by. Houses that were small thin buildings with corrugated tin rooves, or fancier ones with balconies and large gates lined the streets. Every available space was filled with a sign of life… bikes, houses, laundry or bits and pieces of things that were salvaged and could be reused elsewhere.

Ho Chi Mihn City

Not to mention all the motorbikes loaded down with wares or families sped past. The hydro wires were big bunches of tangled webs that were rolled into a spiral at corner on small towers… very much like we saw in the Philippines only much neater and organised.

Soon we were heading out of the city and things were less crowded. We got on a small stretch of highway but before long the highway ended and we were driving through small towns and villages on a 2 lane road. On each side of the street there were numerous shops. Each shop was a small 3 wall cement building and inside it was full of items, many recycled car parts. There were axles, tires, motor parts… then beside this was a furniture shop with wood furniture, chairs, tables and beds, or a place that made coffins and wedding dress shops. Amongst all this dirt and unpaved store fronts to see a white (even blue, red and pink) wedding dresses looked a little out-of-place. The one thing that was missing was animals. For some reason my mind assumed animals should be wandering among all this… no longer the thought crossed my mind I saw a few dogs, cats and chickens.

Once we left some of the towns we passed numerous plain houses and rest stops amongst open spaces. Cows were tethered to yards and chicken ran wild. Some houses were large 2 story building with a large gate with a high fence and maybe a car or motorbike in the drive. Other houses were simple narrow long rectangular buildings that looked to be 1 or 2 rooms. Most of these places the doors were left open wide and you could steal a peek inside their lives as we raced by. The houses were simply furnished with a wooden frame sofa with a large cushion. Maybe a table and few chairs were also off to the side. Many had no electricity, but a few had a static-y TV left on with no viewers. Families sat on door steps or worked in the yards. On our return trip many places also had various nuts and items spread out on tarps drying in the sun. With so many family members home during a work day I wondered what these people did to earn a living. I can only guess they sell some of their farming wares or provided a few dollars by setting up a food stand at the side of the road. Many places had a few tables and chairs set up under a tarp. Smoke billowed out from open fire grills and a drink cart displayed all the soft drinks available. This reminded us of the country side and houses we saw in Cuba when we did a day trip to Havana. It was all so familiar like we had been here before.

The best thing about the drive was the rest stops. Numerous rest areas were along the roads and they were like nothing I had  ever seen before. These rest stops were not like what we see in North America or even Europe; large chain restaurants, gas stations and souvenir shops. These were simple stops with trees providing shade, tables and chairs, and hammocks! Now that is a rest area! Some were nicer than others and had places to use the restroom or get food, the rest area may have a thatched roof to provide shade. Others were a corrugated tin roof or tarp. Some had been weathered and the tarps were ripped and set up on small A frame sticks tied together. People used them and took a break from their long travels between point A to point B.

Some of the typhoon still left some rain in its wake. The skies darkened and we drove through some heavy rain. Fields were flooded and in some places water went up to the front doors of houses. This area is prone to flooding and after the typhoon the night before a lot of water had not had

Flooding left over from the typhoon

a the chance to drain away. In one place the road was flooded and I thought we may have to turn back. This was nothing and people just slowed down and kept on driving.

We arrived into Mui Ne village and saw many bright blue fishing boats as we wound our way through the town and passed by the water. We got to the top of a hill and saw the sparking South China sea to our right and a huge building development on our left. Soon a golf course, condos and shopping centre will grace the hill-top and be a draw to more travellers. We arrived at our hotel, The Seahorse Resort and quickly jumped out of the car and into the warm sunshine and cool breeze. The front desk was an open air lobby with a few cushioned benches. Quickly they booked us in and took us down a path to our room. Everything was green and lush… like we were in a garden. Our room was fantastic. We

Entrance to our room... fancier than we expected!

entered into a small sitting room and then through a door way we entered a large bedroom complete with comfortable bed, flat screen TV and small balcony. The bathroom was a room with a view! Large windows overlooked the gardens and palm trees outside. To shower a blind was drawn to give you privacy.

Stay tuned for more…. next time our R & R in Mui Ne.

Play nice all photos belong to ME and cannot be used without permission!

Categories: Culture, post a week, strange adventure, teaching overseas, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Miss Saigon – a visit to Ho Chi Minh City

After some delays we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and crashed for what was left of the night after the long delay in Cambodia as we waited out the tropical storm/typhoon. We awoke early to a buffet breakfast that was included in the price of the hotel. We were filled with anticipation to get out and explore the city before heading off to the beach in Mui Ne. From the 9th floor restaurant I could see the city streets and a park across the road. People were already out and exercising before the heat of the day. The park, like those in China, has interesting equipment to work out. A few couples were dancing down the sidewalk and weaving around others walking, or sweeping away the remaining debris from the storm. Further down the sidewalk was a small parking area for all the motorbikes and mopeds. Cars are a huge luxury here and everything travels on motorcycles! Speaking of luxury looking out over the skyline there are few skyscrapers and most buildings are 10 stories or under, very different from the fancy architectural delights that line Shanghai and we have become accustomed to. I remember hearing about how different things would be here and the most important travel tip given to us was “keep an open mind, and not everything will run smoothly, so again KEEP an OPEN mind!” I also knew traffic would be crazy, even more chaotic than Shanghai… if that was possible. Soaking up the sights and sounds and feeling the welcome warmth  I watched the motorcycles zoom up and down the 2 lane road 4-6 bikes wide at times…

More 2 Wheeled Traffic than 4

A taxi stopped at the hotel beside us let out a few newcomers to the city. Bags in hand there they stood there with their heads bobbing back and forth like they were watching a tennis match as the traffic continued in a steady stream and it looked like it would not let up any time soon. The taxi driver sensing their hesitation and probably very familiar with this got out of his taxi, rolled his eyes and started to cross weaving between the bikes and motorcycles. Turning back they still had the look of fear in their eyes, so he motioned to them to come on and held his hand up high to show motorists he was there. They eventually made it across. I had to giggle as I totally understood the fear since it took me maybe a month before I felt somewhat comfortable crossing the streets here in Shanghai… and this was even more intense and congested.

Breakfast done we went for a walk to organise our transportation to Mui Ne. There are so many travel agents, every other shop almost. We found one and went in and ended up booking a car since the next bus was going to be very late that afternoon. With some negotiation we got a reasonable price. We allowed ourselves a few hours to look around the city before having to leave. We were staying in District 1 which is the “backpacker” area so there are many reasonable hotels, travel agents, laundries, tourist shops… we walked about 2 blocks from there to Ben Thanh Market. Along the way we saw a few downed trees that fell during the storm. The roots were now facing skywards and the rest of the tree was cut into large logs for easier removal. (I added a picture of this last week).  The tree had fallen on a store front and part of the awning was now torn away from the building. Life goes on and all around the businesses were open and ready for customers as workers diligently worked to repair the damages and remove the debris. We passed many restaurants with Western names and menus with staff calling hello and inviting you inside. We made it to a large intersection and the first stoplight we have seen along our walk. Traffic was thick and motoring through as bikes were loaded down with people or items to be transported elsewhere. Families of 4 held on and weaved through traffic as well as busses and a few cars. At the waiting red light so many motorcycles awaited the change to green. It reminded me of all of a sudden seeing a bunch of motorcycle gangs waiting to spring into action. Once we crossed this intersection we were more into the ‘local area’ where rundown buildings, sidewalk restaurants that spring up in any empty section of pavement with folding chairs, tables and stools house locals drinking iced coffee and breakfasts. Across the street another park was filled with people strolling along or resting in the shade. The market was across a busy intersection and no traffic lights to guide us, so we had to dive right in, or stand and wait all day for an unlikely break in flow. Crossing the street was actually much easier than Shanghai as a pedestrian we DO have rights here and bikes will slow down, go around you and beep to warn you of oncoming traffic. We just waited to cross when no large busses were barreling along.

So many things... where to begin?

Inside the market it was jammed floor to ceiling with bright colours, clothing, bags…. you name it. No individual stores, but countless stalls squeezed in every available space. Vendors called out to us “Lady what you want to buy?’ Some even reached out to touch your arms to tempt you with their wares… that was a bit freaky. My experience of markets and no eye contact got us around with little hassle. The market was divided by sections into like with like… clothes, shoes, bags, souvenirs, food, and produce. We left the crowded aisles and moved into other areas to explore. The most interesting was the produce area with women cleaning and gutting fish, washing vegetables and chopping and crushing ice. Families all worked together and small babies slept on counters as their parents went about their daily work. Locals came along with their interesting coloured and patterned outfits and typical cone-shaped hats haggling for a good price.

Funky Purses in SO Many Outrageous Designs

After snapping a few pictures we left the market and back into the sunshine and humid temps. Walking back to the hotel we passed people carrying the balancing scale type baskets filled with items to sell to those on the street. Back in the backpackers area we were approached by those selling everything from sunglasses, bracelets, CDs and tall stacks of books. Here you don’t have to look for them they will find you. Some travelers told us to beware as these sellers sometimes pickpocket and stealthily take cell phones or cameras, that tourists leave on the tables for quick and easy access, to easy targets of theft. We had time to sit in a cafe on a little narrow street and watch the locals and tourists go by and we enjoyed fresh mango smoothies… YUM! Lots of young people, hippies with dreads, and older men wandered by. I guess this is what Europe used t be so many years ago. Now it is so easy to go there and explore more daring, adventurous and different travel is sought after… and South East Asia being so cheap and easy to get around is starting to become the destination of choice.

With time almost up we returned to the hotel and checked out ready for our ride to the next few days of vacation… a sleepy little fishing village that has started to be less of a diamond in the rough and more bright star attraction.

This is my second post for today (my first was my second blog award :))and I was thinking for those of you who don’t know you can have an email sent every time I add a new post that way you don’t miss anything 🙂 All you have to do is hit the follow button and a link to each post I write will be sent to you seconds within being posted. Click on that link and voila… easy peasy! Give it a try.

Stay tuned for more… I haven’t posted the weekly photo challenge yet this week and if I find a good example I will do that later… next week more from Vietnam!

As always these pictures are all property of ME and have been watermarked with CTB 2012. Use is prohibited unless given written permission. Thanks and stay tuned for more…

Categories: Culture, everyday occurances, post a week, strange adventure, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Under Pressure

Thank you to all the new readers, followers and “likes” I have picked up over the last few weeks as a result of the weekly photo challenge and the ABC award (thanks again Jennifer). As I sit here and watch my blinking cursor flash and wait to move across the page I feel the pressure to write something smart, fun, witty, clever and entertaining enough to keep you wanting to come back to my humble blog. With new popularity comes more responsibility and pressure to write and not just ramble on…

This blog was a result of coming to work overseas and keeping in touch with friends and family. I didn’t think I could do it, but with the encouragement from Amy and Mary I decided to give it a try. Each week I would have some hits and a few comments (thanks Freda & Leslie). The response that someone ‘out there’ was reading was enough to keep me going. I now enjoy writing and try to write something funny about our travel adventures so far from home. Writing has kept me sane as things don’t go as expected and common sense is not the norm here… experiencing these frustrations just make us giggle and say “now that will make a good story for the blog !”

I just reached a few blog milestones… 90 posts and 20 likes! Now this is #2 today. I did another weekly photo contest with the theme “through” be sure to check it out 🙂

So onto this week’s musings…

When we are away from home we sometimes get baffled by how different things are and experience culture shock. Some cannot handle the differences and complain about everything and question the diversity rather than revel in the experiences and soak up the culture. For some there is no place like home, but for others seeing what is out there is what gives us energy and excitement.  My husband and I are pretty open-minded travellers and rarely if ever have we been upset about the differences we experience in travel. The most important thing travelers must pack, and many forget, is an OPEN MIND.

In China even the simple things never work all the time or as planned. It is a part of life and you get used to it. Sure it gets frustrating when you hit print and go up 1 floor to retrieve your documents only to find it not there… When you switch on the light and it doesn’t go on… you go to have a shower and the city has shut off all the water for a few hours without telling anyone… But give it time and try again and it usually works the second or third time around.There are so many things we take for granted and until it doesn’t work we forget how easy we have it back home.

There are a few things that you sometimes cannot live without. No matter how much of an open mind you have there is somethings that you cannot compromise… mine is bathrooms and facilities. Going to a public washroom here you are taking your chances. Many are those little foot rests with a hole or if you are lucky enough to get a toilet bowl, chances are it won’t have a seat. Paper – forget it… you must carry little packs of tissues with you at all times! Stores sell those little 8, 10 or 12 packs of tissues like crazy! The smell is also disgusting. It always smells like sewer. Besides that you cannot flush paper here so the discarded tissue is in a basket or garbage can beside the toilet which doesn’t help the smell. For some reason the floor is always wet… I wondered why and if you watch the toilet habits here maybe it would explain a few things. Once in a long line for the ladies toilets a mother came rushing in and decided not to wait or ask to go next. Instead she pulled her kids pants down and she went on the floor! The cleaner yelled at her, but that did not matter. No one else batted an eye… common occurences? I guess so. A friend of John’s works for IKEA here and they said parents do the same in the store. They tell them that it is NOT OK, but they say my child had to go. I guess they don’t think ahead or make their child hold it until an appropriate location can be found. Children go wherever they are …

Traditional Split Pants

Traditional Split Pants

… street, store it does not matter. This is why those split pants come so in handy! Just last week at the grocery store a dad was holding his child over a potty! It looked like a little dog water bowl… I want to know where he emptied it! John once saw a man holding his son up to a garbage can and the child was like a mini ‘fountain’. It doesn’t stop there as grownups do the same. Many taxi drivers work 12+ hour shifts and use the bushes as their urinals, some places more than others… just use your nose and you can tell where. I am sure the street vendors do the same. Now I understand the street cleaners  and big water trucks that come and hose down the roads everyday.

Another thing we take for granted is toilet paper and tissues. They are not the same as home. Tissues are so thin you can see through them so god help you when you need to blow your nose. They try to trick you with the same name brands sometimes, but they are not comparable. Itchy, scratchy sand paper just doesn’t cut it… after trial and error we finally found one that is acceptable and although we are tempted by cheaper prices, or one on sale we have learned the hard way that it just isn’t worth it.

So what thing can’t you live without when travelling?

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more…

 

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, everyday occurances, post a week, social graces, strange adventures, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Smoke Smoke, Fire Fire

Smelling smoke when you don’t expect it is scary. Hearing a fire alarm gets your heart racing and you hope it is a false alarm. When I lived in the condo we had the alarms go off all the time. Someone would pull it, something would set it off because it was so sensitive… but once there was a real call late one night just after I curled up in bed. Thinking it was another false alarm until there was a loud banging on my door. That was not a good feeling. I raced out of bed, grabbed the cat and put her in a carrier, grabbed a makeup case, my purse and keys. Funny what you grab and think is important when you think you have seconds to leave. It was a very cold winter night and we had to wait outdoors as the fire department investigated. Turned out someone had a small grease fire, so no real damage. Once they blew out the smoke we were allowed to return to our apartments. That was scary… not knowing at first was scary, but imagine this in a country where you can’t speak or understand enough of the language.

Today as I watched TV I started to smell smoke. Thinking someone was burning things outside I ignored it. Soon it got stronger and I started to worry. I opened the patio door, but it wasn’t outside. A quick run through the apartment turned up nothing. I went out into the main hall where you could see a slight haze and smell it very strong. What do I do? The lady downstairs, another teacher from school also came out to investigate. She ran up a few levels of stairs to explore. She saw her neighbours who also said they could smell smoke, but they went into their apartments. That should have been a clue I guess. She suggested we call the guards for help. Each apartment has 2 or 3 red buttons which turns out are emergency call buttons. We pushed it and waited.

Again I am in my PJs, in the middle of laundry and cleaning the apartment. I wonder should I grab a few things and leave? Grab the cat? Where would I go? All this races through your mind and fear of the unknown sets in.

It seemed forever for anyone to come. We couldn’t tell where the smoke was coming from and it was hard to pinpoint a direction. It was strange how the smell was stronger and a few steps away there was not much. Finally the guard came and with actions and sniffing the air he knew what we were concerned about. He went off. He came back and tried to tell us or ask us something to which we both went “I don’t know what he is saying”. She decided to ask her neighbours and the guard explained something to them and with limited English they in turn explained that someone was burning paper. Was it an accident, kids playing around, under control? All things you want to ask, but cannot because you will not be understood. We tried to ask was it OK, no danger and they seemed to think it was OK. Do they really know what we mean? Did they pick the wrong words to explain, so there really is a different meaning? Finally the guard motioned for us to follow and we went with him 2 floors down to see an older woman with a small pile of burnt papers.

Stupid foreigners don’t understand our custom must have been what they said next… from our limited understanding we figure they were burning the papers as a funerary offering or ritual. All was OK. With limited English and Chinese between us the guard lucky decided to show us what was happening and put our fears to rest. We were relieved, a little embarrassed, but also glad we had each other to figure this out. Maybe we over reacted, but how did we know? It is also nice to know if needed the guards are there and will come to you in an emergency. They probably arrived quickly, but with worry and slight panic setting in, the time probably seemed much longer than it was.

So that is how I spent part of my Saturday. What did you do for yours?

Stay tuned for more. I have a few ideas brewing for my next few posts.

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, everyday occurances, strange adventures, unique experiences | Tags: , , ,

Chinese New Year – Oh the Noise

Wow 2 posts in 1 week!

Firework Litter

I feel like the Grinch… “Oh the Noise, Noise Noise!” I couldn’t stop the celebration from coming, it was here and we could hear it all around. It started soon as the darkness settled in, the first firecrackers echoed off the neighbouring buildings. It was a cold bitter night with below zero temperatures and a high windchill. Soon as the fireworks went off the red papers would blow along the street littering the road. The wind carried the sound and sulfur smelling smoke like grey clouds across the night sky.

We wandered the streets in search of more fireworks. We watched as people with arm loads and shopping cards full of boxes with the noise makers set up their displays for small congregations of neighbours. Even with ear plugs, a hat, a hoodie and hood on the noise was deafening… my ears rang for days! To be heard you had to shout, but the noise drowned out your words. The noise was so loud that you could feel it deep inside you, and it was loud enough I am sure I felt the ground move! The smell of smoke and sulfur filled the air and burned the back of our throats.

Finally the cold got to us and we went inside to warm up only to head out again when the real party began around midnight. The noise was even more intense as fireworks were going off constantly as people ran to light more and more all at once. Men unrolled 500+ firecrackers in long red lines that snaked along the road, large boxes were set up in the middle of the roads. These large boxes “the cake” were the beautiful light displays that we are used to seeing light up our skies at home.

Walking along the street felt like walking on a stoney unpaved road as the debris from firecrackers littered the streets. Small piles of red papers were gathered and burned to help clear things away. Tubes, ‘cake boxes’ and paper disks were discarded as the spent firecrackers had been used up and the crowds dispersed looking for larger crowds who still had some poppers, or heading inside to escape the bitter cold winds.

By 1AM most was quiet and Year of the Dragon had entered with a big bang.

Thursday was another night of fireworks, much louder and intense that Sunday night. Maybe some prize fireworks were saved and waiting for a warmer night. Tonight was more comfortable in temperatures and no wind to chill you to the bone.

About 8PM they started again about every 5-15 minutes. At midnight the flashing night sky, loud bangs echoing off the tall apartment buildings woke us up. The noise would wake the dead! I stood and watched from the living room window and even more splashes of light filled the sky that New Years Eve. All night the noise continued late into the next afternoon. If I didn’t know any better I would think I was in a war zone. I can’t imagine living in a place where the noise is not a celebration, but one of fighting for peace, land or country and wondering IF and WHEN it would end. The fun had worn off and the noise just became an annoyance. The noise is meant to scare off evil spirits, and by now I think they were long gone! I knew it would have to stop soon, and that would be a relief.

This was our first Chinese New Year and it was a worthwhile experience. To  understand another culture first hand is certainly the best learning experience. Discovery through immersion. The locals were more than happy to share their custom with us, and smiled and said Happy New Year in English as we passed or stopped to watch. Xin Nian Kuai Le. We were not lucky enough to receive a red envelope, filled with new ‘lucky’ money. Maybe next year 😉

Stay tuned for more from China…

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , ,

Daily Trek

Let me describe my daily trek to work… Now that I drive on my little bike I can see things that I may otherwise miss.

Each day I see the street cleaners sweeping the streets with their twig brooms and emptying the trash into their little green push carts. They sweep away the garbage, leaves and twigs that may cause dangerous obstacles for the many bikers along the bike lanes off to the side of the main highway.

Driving can be hairy as you have to constantly be looking around since some cars run red lights, turn right and left from the wrong lanes and bikes and other vehicles can be traveling the wrong way down the street or bike lanes. Watching carefully at all times keeps you safe and aware. I keep 1 hand on the brake and the other on the horn… beep warnings if you don’t think someone sees you. No one shoulder checks -that is what horns are for!

As I drive off the main street, to the road where my school is, I pass over a little bridge and some days the ladies fan dancing are along the river bank moving to the Chinese music, other days the men with the large square fishing nets are there instead, raising and lowering their nets. In the afternoons the older gentlemen are there with bowls with various size turtles. I am guessing they caught them in the river, and are now for sale, but not as pets. A few times we have seen this ancient, very large turtle with a large spiky shell. One of the girls from work says it looks like a stegosaurus. We now have decided he is a pet and this old fella takes “Stegosaurus” for a daily walk. She has seen him at one of the local shops, and he is at the bridge regularly. What else could be the reason he is always there? It is a very distinct turtle, so it has to be the same one. “Come Stegosaurus, time for your walk!” Wonder how long it takes them to get from A to B?

Friday on my way to work I saw a man pulling a fish out of the river. The fish was HUGE. It was almost as big as he was. I swear it had to be 5-6 feet long and I am not exaggerating! It was massive; I have never seen anything so big. The water is so muddy and murky I wondered what these fishermen were trying to catch. The water is not that deep since sometimes you can see men standing in the water up to their chests. The China sea is not long from here and the Huang Pu river empties into it. Maybe this small river is also linked to these main channels. Could this massive fish be a migrant from the sea? Could this shallow water support such large fish?

The lovely tree-lined street leading up to the school has an entrance to Regency Park, an area with big, beautiful homes. It reminds me of a resort in the Caribbean with the marble, fountains and gardens at the entrance. Driving along here is peaceful with all the trees, birds singing and few cars. occasionally in this area I pass a man singing as loud as he can, without an MP3 player. Lately I have also seen a woman singing out loud -what is that expression? Dance like no one is watching… how about sing like no one is listening!

My favourite things along my drive have to be the bikes laden down with things. Sometimes they are piled high with cardboard, styrofoam pieces or plastic jugs tied together like large bunches of grapes. Sometimes I see bikes with baskets filled with chickens and ducks. They are so calm and just look around despite the speed and noise.

It is getting cooler now and I am not sure I can survive the cool drive through the winter. I can bundle up, but the wind makes my eyes tear… and I don’t think I am up for one of those crazy visors they wear here. They are like the visors people wear for tennis, only they are darkened like sunglasses, but with a rainbow of colour reflects on the outside. So if that is not bad enough the visor goes down from your forehead to your chin.  They just look hideous!

Hopefully you can see this image to see what I mean! My bad fashion limit is already exceeded with my helmet and neon green jacket!

We are about to start reports next week, not to mention extra time to practice the school Christmas concert, so I will do my best to write a blog over the next few weeks. Stay tuned…

 

 

 

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, everyday occurances, post a week | Tags: , ,

All a Matter of Perspective

By now many of you may have seen the Chinese video of the small child being hit, run over and killed by a van. Many people around the world have reacted and wondered how this horrific event could have happened. Let me play ‘devil’s advocate’ as I explain something from another point of view. We have seen this video and reacted from a Western Perspective through the cultural norms we hold as a society and define events such as this. I am not saying in China this is normal or accepted, but things are sometimes very different here. Before we judge and jump to conclusions we should try to understand the rules and norms of another culture that can be very different from ours.

When I first arrived in China I was afraid to cross the street; pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way and cars, bikes and mopeds often ignore traffic signs and signals. Lights seemed to be a mere suggestion and the size of vehicle and decibel level of a horn gave right of way. I soon learned that you must be very aware of your surroundings and continue to look and watch for traffic on streets, sidewalks and around every corner. Major intersection lights are often obeyed, but side streets may not. People do not look for traffic and use mirrors or shoulder check, but instead rely on others to beep to tell them of their location. Horns tell other motorists and pedestrians to look out. Streets are busy and sometimes waiting is not an option, so if there is space to squeeze through and jump to the front of the que than do so.

Slowly more and more cars are taking over the streets and traffic is a nightmare…. you think the commute in North America is bad? Many streets are not always equipped for such traffic. The result is many blind spots and traffic flow are obstacles in the way. Not to mention the completion for space from many modes of transportation all sharing the same roads. Bikes and motorcycles weave between cars because they can. Where we live in Shanghai, streets are wider and well-marked, but smaller villages, towns and older parts of cities do not have the luxury of rebuilding streets and must navigate and use what is there. It can cause many traffic issues that we never have to experience.This does not excuse the driver, but merely offers an explanation of how something like this could have happened.

Some people may question why was the child alone? Well again things here are different and we must understand before we pass judgement. Children are rarely in daycare. I am not even sure if there is such a thing. I see happy grandparents parading children down streets, through parks and in front of apartment buildings. I assume the grandparents care for the small children if both parents are working. If a grandparent is not available the children go to work with the parents. From small babies to small pre-school aged children I have seen children at their parents place of business. Now I haven’t seen this in larger stores, but markets, fruit and food sales  people who sell their wares on the streets  often have their children with them. The children amuse themselves with toys, sitting in strollers or wandering close by. These parents are often the lower-income earners and busy trying to make a living. The child is not being ignored or abandoned, always with in close proximity of a parent, but not under the same eagle eye we have on our children. Again is this wrong or merely different? These parents are no less responsible as this is their way of life and earning a living. The children have a bit more independence and know to come when a parent calls.

For another point of view read this news article from the Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/toddler-in-china-hit-by-2-cars-then-ignored-dies/2011/10/21/gIQAmamL2L_story.html

Global News also reported on this event and a Chinese-Canadian was quoted in how the West has viewed this incident and portrayed it in the media as China being “uncivilized”. Read more at:

http://www.globalnews.ca/chinesecanadians+grieve+for+girl+hit+by+vehicles+question+western+media+coverage/6442504032/story.html

This is exactly my point. We often view things from our own perspectives, knowledge and prejudice and then are quick to jump to conclusions without considering other points of view. Our culture and society shapes who we are and how we think. How can we judge another culture from our perspective and not consider theirs? The media perpetuates this and often shapes our views. This is where we need to be critical thinkers and not accept everything we see and hear.

Many locals are also upset by the incident and questioning their moral fabric of what has happened or should have happened. A few ‘bad apples’ should not shape our opinion or understanding of another culture, location or event without knowing and understanding all the facts. I certainly am not saying I am above this and all-knowing because I live here and completely understand the culture. I am only asking, as I always do, for people to keep an open mind and try to understand what it is like from someone else’s perspective before making judgements and jumping to conclusions.

Stay tuned for more…

Categories: Culture, everyday occurances, social graces | Tags: , ,