Archive for the ‘Travel’ category

Hiking the Chief

March 11, 2017

Last fall, in late September, I hiked the Chief in Squamish, which I try to make an annual habit.  The Stawamus Chief, as it is officially named, is a massive knob of granite overlooking the town of Squamish, BC.

Some claim it to be the second largest granite monolith in the world, after El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California.

In any case it is an impressive hunk of rock.  I can see why the local natives might view it to be of spiritual significance.  In some sense it has become that to me: as I get older it becomes a measure of what I can do, and it has long been my favorite hike in the Lower Mainland.

Although steep and mildly challenging in a few parts of the ascent, getting up to one of the three peaks, and back, can be done in a long afternoon.

I’m talking here about the hiking trail; the Chief is probably more famous as a destination for rock-climbers.  I remember sitting up on First Peak with a friend having lunch near the rim of the cliff overlooking Howe Sound one day, when a helmeted head peaked up at us from over the sheer drop, shortly followed by another.  Two young guys clambered over the rim, gathered their ropes amidst the clanking of carabiners, said hi, and made their way nonchalantly to the trail we had come up on.

There are three main summit areas, First, Second and Third Peak, but apparently there is also a more distant peak called the Zodiac Summit, which I’ve never been to.  On the occasion of this hike, I decided to go up to Second Peak.

At 65, the steepness of the hike over the rocks, although occasionally arranged stepwise by those who maintain the trail in this provincial park, made me understand more of the reality of aging.  I had to stop and rest a number of times, but I was glad to see that many of the younger set also had to pull over for a moment or two to catch their breaths and allow their legs to recover.

I don’t know how many more years I will be fortunate enough to clamber upwards on the Chief, but I am grateful for all the the times I have done it.  To stand on the top on a sunny day and gaze over Creation with a friend or on my own lifts my spirits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Chief

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the Trail Bottom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Steep Hike

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Alternate Path to First Peak

Upwards to Second Peak

First Peak

From Second Peak, the View Over Howe Sound

The Way Down

[Home]

Note:  Photos taken with my little Olympus XZ-1.

A Short Trip to Ireland

October 8, 2016

This summer my wife and I took a trip for the first time to the Republic of Ireland.

My wife is Chinese in origin; I am probably of old English stock  with a last name corresponding to a large British city.  Neither of us have any forebears as far as we know from Ireland.

We ended up on an extended week-long tour of the Emerald Isle after giving up on going to St. Petersburg in Russia, my wife’s first choice.  The Russian visa process was alarmingly expensive, and required you to feel like you were being vetted for possible spy duties, given the extensive background information the forms required, back to who your friends were in high school and whether you’d ever viewed any satirical cartoons of Putin.  I exaggerate, but that was the feeling that the bureaucratic invasion of privacy engendered.

After deciding we weren’t going to St. Petersburg, in order not to lose our tour deposit, we looked at our remaining choices and plunked a finger down on the world map and said, “There!”  Ireland.  Just the southern part of the Republic.  We didn’t get to Northern Ireland.

protestant-cathedral-dublin

We landed in Dublin in July and toured our way by bus in a rough circle route, as far east as the Cliffs of Moher, north to Galway, then south to the Ring of Kerry, back through the south towards the east and Waterford and finally back up north to Dublin.

Looking back on it now after several months, my most general impressions are of a startlingly green place, even more so than the “Wet Coast” of Vancouver, a place of extremely variable and often inhospitable weather, and overall basically a very tidy and friendly land.

And everyone spoke English!  This was disconcerting to my wife, who felt afterwards that Ireland just wasn’t very exotic; it didn’t seem foreign enough, and the weather was as bad as rainy Vancouver in the winter.

dublin-pub

Myself, I appreciated the subtle Tolkienesque effect of Gaelic on every sign, the medieval castles we came across, and the impression of a history much more turbulent and freighted with violence than anything anyone, thankfully, has suffered on the west side of Canada.

But we were unlucky with the weather.  Sun and blue skies did appear on our first day in Dublin, but as we made our way across Ireland towards the Cliffs of Moher, one of the scenic highlights of the trip if only we could have seen it, the clouds descended thickly and the rains hurtled down.

Our guide on the bus tour charmingly referred to the torrents as, “Oh, but we’ve got a bit of a mist this morning,” but we got soaked all the same when we did venture out.

Despite that disappointment and the continued gloomy weather as we continued along the Ring Of Kerry, a purportedly scenic and panoramic 100 km drive, afterwards the weather did finally break and become relatively pleasant for the rest of our travels.

We did enjoy the castles and other medieval sites, from Bunratty Castle between Limerick and Ennis, to Blarney Castle near Cork, to Glendalough, the early Christian monastic site in County Wicklow founded in the 6th Century.

The medieval feast at Bunratty Castle was a highlight with costumed entertainment, food consumed completely with our hands, and humorous sing-a-longs.

Of course, Castle Blarney has the Blarney Stone, which is supposed to induce eloquence in all who kiss it.  I am of the view that I could go out into a random field and kiss any old boulder with likely the same effect.

The long line-up to go to the top of the castle, lean out and have yourself anchored by others so you didn’t fall and then smooch above you the rough stone where thousands of predecessors have also so spitted did not appeal to either of us.  (We were assured that as often as four times a day, alcohol is applied to the stone for sanitary reasons.)

But the castle itself is impressive, and as both my wife and I are enthusiastic amateur photographers, we had lots of subject matter.

home-for-the-little-people

Overall, I enjoyed the trip, with my wife somewhat less enthusiastic.  Similarly to the experience we had of Greece and its people in the previous year, I was left with the impression of a hardy people, capable of retaining their culture even after enduring periods of oppression and internal wars.

As an example of specific Irish culture, I found fascinating the widespread enthusiasm for the Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football.

Hurling, a game with stick and ball which resembles lacrosse to me, is said to date back to prehistoric times, and may be as much as 3000 years old.

Every county has its own team and the regional competitions are fierce and more interesting for the Irish, it seems, than that of more well-known sports such as soccer (football) or cricket.

[Home]

Notes on my photos (from top down):

1. This photo of a Protestant cathedral in Dublin indicates the Irish past of considerable religious strife.  The majority of cathedrals are Protestant rather than Catholic, despite the latter being the predominant flavour of Christianity in Ireland, as a result of the historical suppression of Catholicism by the British.

2. A fairly typical Irish pub in Dublin, with the ubiquitous Guinness signs.

3. A home for the Little People…. At the Irish National Stud Farm, there were a grove of trees with these abodes for the Little People.  The Irish National Stud Farm was on the tour apparently because the Irish are just mad about horses.

The Dust of Greece on My Shoes

October 25, 2015

Embedded in the seams of my black oxford walking shoes there can still be seen the light-coloured dust of Greece from a recent trip there.

I was almost going to write “the ancient dust,” since we traversed the Acropolis in Athens, prehistoric Corinth, Olympia and the original Olympic games site, Delphi, the monasteries of the high Meteora outcrops, and Thermopylae before we headed off to the tourist islands of Mykonos and Santorini.

But the dust in Vancouver, of course, is just as ancient, although it lacks the molecules, and the echoes, of far-distant human history and prehistory if not the gods themselves, that must float around in Greece still.

I swear that you could march off a couple of hundred yards or metres in any direction there, start excavating and before too long discover some sign of ancient civilization — that was how dense the presence of Greece’s history felt.

Up to the Acropolis

Up to the Acropolis

Our tour guide for the mainland part of the tour, which was really an archaeological one, was a young archaeologist between digging gigs who made ends meet by taking around, in this case, a bunch of Americans, Australians, and two Canadians — my wife and me.  Our guide was very serious about her job — so proud of her country and its heritage and eager to impart a detailed knowledge of the sites we visited.

Greece’s universities produce many archaeologists, given its many ruins and artifacts and the interest of many parts of the world in its rich history.  But probably too many, especially given its current economic troubles, of which we observed some signs.

That evidence included expensive half-built homes left undone in the dust and heat, and the shells of uncompleted businesses abandoned until times get better.  In the larger cities could be seen much graffiti on building walls which our guide said had cropped up most extensively in the last couple of years with all the troubles.  Mainly they were messages about politics and sports teams, she said.

But there were no riots in the streets, no bonfire-fueled protests or chanting demonstrations.  Both our guides during the trip expressed frustration with the way the media gets stuck on the most dramatic snapshot of events and then repeats that image well past where the reality has changed and moved on.  There is no question that there is hardship in the country: high unemployment, reduction in wages and access to money, political corruption, but most people cope as they struggle and make do amidst the uncertainty of their lives.

Meteora Monastery

Meteora Monastery

Tourism is a huge economic engine for the country, and although there had been some cancellations due to the economic unrest and the migrant crisis in other parts of the country, there were still many coming to the ancient land.  Tourism and olive trees — everywhere.

Highlights of the trip:

♦ The hilltop plateau in Athens with the Acropolis and the hordes who accompanied us to the top. Making our way through the sweating crowds up the steep pathways to the top seemed like a secular pilgrimage of sorts.  The old temples and reminders of the old gods – Athena, Apollo, Poseidon, Zeus – although now just backdrops for thousands of digital snapshots and selfies, still have an essential dignity and grandeur.  This feeling of pilgrimage was strong in me and perhaps also, if unconscious, in many of the multitudes standing on the doorstep of the beginnings of Western Civilization.  These gods and the Athenians who worshipped them somehow engendered the idea of democracy.

Oh, Athenian democracy was limited.  You had to be a citizen of the city-state, to have completed your military training and to be male to qualify.  Athens became an imperial power, often cruel in the way of empires.  And as somebody once said, like Christianity, democracy has yet to be thoroughly practiced — even or especially by the Athenians.  Yet, in that era of authoritarian and tyrannical gods and rulers, somehow the Athenians were the very first to find their way for a time to the idea that direct participation in politics, in their own governing, was both possible and necessary.  Theirs was not a “representative” democracy, where one periodically is allowed to vote for those made available by the elites, but direct, where one had to be in attendance, both figuratively and literally.

♦ Seeing the Antikythera Mechanism in the flesh, so to speak (or in the metal) at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.  In my enthusiasm I’ve written about that unique and mysterious machine or computer in a couple of posts here over the years (The Antikythera Mechanism: Ancient Computer and The Antikythera Mechanism Revisited).  I’m still amazed at its existence: it gives you new respect for the minds at the dim edges of the history we are able to know.

♦ The Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church monasteries perched atop the rocky crags of Meteora.  In a landscape of surreal rocky crags, the six perched monasteries look over the valley below.  Two of them are for nuns. One we were told was inhabited by only three monks, two in their nineties.  The Eastern Church, as its brother Catholic Church, is not the attractive vocation of young people as it was once.  But we did find there tourists and buses from all over Europe, especially places such as Romania and Serbia.  Many who came were of the faith, there to pay their respects.  After climbing up the steep stone stairs, one can only marvel at the efforts it took to build these places, mostly in the 1500s.

♦ Once we left the mainland, it was on to the more leisurely islands of Mykonos and Santorini.  The Aegean is as blue as the tourist brochures show, and the white and pastel buildings glow in the sun.

Santorini Church Bell

Santorini Church Bell

There were many other places of course: the sonically impressive theatre at Epidaurus, the ruins at Delphi, and the original Olympic grounds near Olympia.  I even ran back and forth over the race track in what remains of the stadium.  I hope that allows me to say I’m an Olympic athlete….

I came away from Greece with a new appreciation for the Greek people, subjugated and over-run by various empires for centuries, now going through the current crises — they are enormously resilient to have kept their culture and sense of identity.  They have a justifiable pride in their country and their history.  In the wet fall of the Pacific Northwest, I like to look at the faint line of white dust in the seams of my shoes.

[Home]

Note:  More photos from Greece in addition to the above will eventually be on my photo website, The Suspended Moment….

Shanghai Before Christmas 2014

December 29, 2014

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”
– G.K. Chesterton

I’ve become an old China hand, at least in some superficial ways.  I’ve been to Shanghai a number of times over the years, and less frequently to a few other parts of China.  I’ve seen the Great Wall, the terracotta warriors at Xian, the peculiar karst hills of Guilin, the giant Buddhas of the Longmen Grottoes, and stood with the fighting monks of the Shaolin Temple for a special photo.  But sadly I only am able to speak the most limited of Chinese, in stock phrases to smooth my way, and certainly not to converse at any length.

Mostly we go to Shanghai, because that is where my wife’s family lives.  Shanghai has changed a lot in the 20 years or so I’ve been going there on a semi-regular basis.  It’s now a city of high-rises, high-end shopping centres and high-volume car congestion.  Without the Chinese characters there are many places where if you were set down unexpectedly it could be almost any modern city in the world.

Fortunately for me, my in-laws were always cosmopolitan and well-travelled, especially my wife’s mother and father, unexpectedly so in Chinese of their generation.  This befitted their role as medical doctors in demand at international conferences and other gatherings.

In a way they became my second set of parents, after my own passed on many years ago.  They always welcomed me into their relatively humble apartment, where in any conversation one might hear Mandarin, Shanghainese, English and French.  As a Canadian, my high-school French actually became occasionally useful.  And my wife’s dad spoke passable English, which certainly helped.

The reason we went back for only just over a week this time was the final ceremony to lay to rest the ashes of my wife’s mother, who died earlier in 2014.  She was a social live-wire even as she turned 90 years old, but endings find us all.  It’s been very difficult for her husband of almost 70 years, especially since they were closely together all those years not only as partners in life but colleagues in their profession.

I remember her most fondly for her jolliness, her sincerity and her intelligence.  When they last visited us in Vancouver in Canada back when they were young folks in their late seventies and early eighties, they always seemed such accomplished travellers.  Mom always liked to be photographed in front of every tourist sight-seeing mecca.  Dad worried about plane tickets and travel arrangements.

There were the rituals of packing, going to the airport and final waves as they left us each time.  They weren’t able to visit us in the last decade or so — visas were refused due to their increasingly fragile health.  So we — my wife more often of course — went back to see them in Shanghai.

Her father now copes as best he can after his loss with the assistance of the extended family.  Although his health remains relatively good, he doesn’t smile much any more.

But he’s taken up occasionally singing and humming quietly to himself, whether to lift his spirits or as a way to commune with his wife, I don’t know.

As we packed up to return to Vancouver, as we rolled the luggage into the living room and I worriedly checked that I had my passport and our tickets, Dad looked up at me with a brief, clear smile.  There was acknowledgement of past moments together, of getting ready to go.  We are all just travellers here.

—————

Whenever I go away from home, I’m keen to take photographs.  I always hope that like Chesterton above, I will learn to see the places I know when I return with a little bit of that same exotic feeling and a refreshed eye.

Here are a few photos from our trip.  In Shanghai, there are many locals, such as taxi drivers we ran across, who resent Westerners always looking for the run-down parts of Shanghai to take photographs.  They feel insulted by foreigners who don’t have a proper and respectful attitude towards the modernity of present-day China.

But the older, and not always run-down, streets of Shanghai still embody what all the sterile modernity can never do, a sense of community.

More Shanghai photos will be seen on my photo blog, The Suspended Moment, as time goes by….

One short note about the photos: we came across a park where every day in mid-afternoon there would be community dancing.  The local gossip was that many affairs were initiated at these events….

Stepping Lively

Stepping Lively

Sidewalk Cobbler

Sidewalk Cobbler

Shanghai Santa Claus

Shanghai Santa Claus

Shanghai Alley Fancy Entrance

Shanghai Alley Fancy Entrance

New Mexico Pilgrimage

September 27, 2013

We’ve just returned from a trip to New Mexico.

As recounted elsewhere (Of Money, Marriage, Dogs and the Nahanni Valley), my parents first met while attending classes at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.  This was not long after the Second World War, in 1947-48 or so.

My father probably arrived direct from Michigan, where our family on his side were mainly farmers, except in the case of my grandfather, who for a time was the owner of a furniture factory.  There’s still a hamlet in Michigan, Bristol Corners, named after those who lived and died there for a few generations.

Dad had returned home after savage fighting as a Marine in the Pacific against the Japanese.   Before the war, he had painted sensitive oils and hunted with a passion.  After the war, damaged in some ways, I think he returned seeking the most peaceful thing he knew, and tried to study art at the University of New Mexico.

My mother was there from her home in Illinois, the daughter of an executive who spent the war in Washington, D.C. as a “dollar a year” man, and of a housewife and church organist.  Political science was her major as befitted an opinionated and socially conscious young woman.

My parents met, and decided they wanted to raise a family rather than wait to complete any degrees.  They married and departed New Mexico, poor as winter, drifting first to San Francisco and then eventually to the Pacific Northwest.

But their photos from that time, and the few items of the southwest we had about us as I grew up — a colorful patterned cloth, a rough Navajo rug, the Hopi prints they gave my grandmother — always seemed to me to be of exotic and adventurous origin.

The few black and white photos especially, the stark shadows and brilliant light on adobe walls graced by noir characters in wide-brimmed hats, have always lurked in my memory.

So when casting about for a new place to have a vacation, the thought of New Mexico, and making it a kind of casual pilgrimage to where my parents once found themselves together, made sense to me.  Both my parents are long gone, my father in his forties and my mother in her early sixties.  The trip in part became a way to reconnect with who they were.

Flowers By the RoadI’ve briefly travelled in neighboring Arizona and did not much like it — too hot and desert desolate for me, at least where we crossed.  But New Mexico, as my wife and I started our journey in Albuquerque and eventually travelled to Santa Fe and Taos, seemed  to be an environment of more interest — nubby pines, occasional rock hills in subtle earthen hues with mountains in the distance, even some greenery and flowers from recent heavy rains and careful irrigation.  And the skies!  The big sparkling blue skies, often filled with the most amazing clouds.

We stayed at a hotel on the outskirts of Old Town in Albuquerque, and took a day to visit the University of New Mexico.   I wanted to see if the university could possibly have any record of my parents.

It’s a big, modern campus: young people scurrying to classes in bright sunshine with iPods and smartphones in hand.  We tried to find an administration building, and finally found an office where I was given a phone number and an email address for an assistant registrar.  In a campus Starbucks, I used my wife’s iPad to introduce myself, and hoped he could check the school’s records.  We didn’t hear anything back immediately, and we went on to explore Old Town for the rest of that day.

(If you ever get to Albuquerque’s Old Town and want a meal, be sure to go to the Church Street Cafe — the best southwestern food we found all trip.  Nothing too fancy or trendy, just tasty and reasonably priced.   Huevos rancheros!)

Eventually we ventured by rental car to Santa Fe for a couple of days, then on up to Taos and the pueblo there, and back to Santa Fe, and then Albuquerque for the flight home.   We enjoyed Santa Fe a lot — there’s a surfeit of art galleries everywhere and we even ventured to narrow Canyon Road and its end-to-end galleries. Santa Fe also has an opera house out of town in the desert.  One of our neighbours, an opera buff, recently attended there for a week of performances in August.   It’s not a huge structure but large enough, with open sides that let the audience take in the sunsets as they watch Madame Butterfly or whatever is being performed.  (I’m not an opera buff.)

And Santa Fe also has the Georgia O’Keefe museum.  Its paintings reflect her passion for the New Mexico landscape, which was a coming home for her to a place she had never seen before.

Taos too had its charms, primarily the pueblo which has had people living in it for roughly 1000 years.

Taos PuebloIn Santa Fe we heard by email from the university registrar.  Their electronic records only went back to 1950.  They would have to search hard copies by hand.  What were my parents’ birthdates?  1918 and 1927, I sent back, a little shocked since not really thinking about those dates for many years, how far back they are now surprised me.  I realized that had my father lived until today, he would be 95.

We’ve returned home now and not heard more from the university, although I hope some young assistant continues to burrow diligently through their dusty records.  But whatever they find, or if they don’t, is not so important.

When my father was in art school there, he seems to have been fascinated by Roman Catholic iconography.  He was not a religious man at all, he had no use for organized spirituality — although I remember he always emphasized that he was agnostic rather than an atheist.  But I recall, and my brothers may still have some samples, the stylized and detailed colored woodblock prints of St. Francis of Assisi and the small squared-off sculptures of St. Francis that he had done and kept for years where we lived.  This is interesting to me, given my father’s necessarily cruel and violent life during the war and his pre-war affinity for hunting juxtaposed against St. Francis’s storied love of man and animals.

I too consider organized religion pernicious, although I have Buddhist and Taoist sympathies, but I made it a point to stand next to the ornate doors of the small St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe and have my photo taken by my wife.  I’m sure my father and mother must have been there at some time.

I like to think my father stood where I stood, and looked out into the New Mexico sunshine.

[Home]

Notes:

Photos from top down —

1) Along the road, driving to Santa Fe.

2) The pueblo at Taos.

I will be posting photos from the trip from time to time on my photography blog, The Suspended Moment.

 

Hanging Out In Shanghai

March 2, 2013

I travelled once more to China with my wife this year for Chinese New Year’s, visiting my wife’s parents and relatives for the brief period of just over a week.

The week of Chinese New Year, this year from February 11, and the week preceding it is a time of travelling chaos in China.  The whole country is on the move.  Children of all ages are expected to visit their parents wherever they may be. International students and others from abroad must return to visit their families, so flights are crowded.

But we made it there for the rounds of constant banquets and socializing, which is a nice trick for me since my Chinese is only of the most rudimentary kind.  There was a lot of gesturing going on, and occasional words of English and French to help along the way.

For a camera this time, I took along my fairly new Olympus XZ-1, which is basically a bunch of electronics in support of a pretty fine lens (down to f/1.8) for a compact camera.  I played around in Photoshop for some of the resulting photos.

This first photo is in one of the downtown areas with the typical masses of residential apartment skyscrapers moving into the distance.  The smog in Shanghai is much less of a problem than the infamous stuff in Beijing, but is still present.  (I was pleased to see blue skies in Shanghai while we were there.)

This downtown location has what amounts to a private garden in the midst of the surrounding apartments.  There are a lot of gated residential areas here.

Shanghai Downtown and Park

The next photo is the interior of an older Shanghai hotel where my wife went (with me in tow) to order a select menu of dishes for one of the banquets.

This is an intense matter, I observed, for Chinese, and especially for the women who pour over menus in great detail looking for just the right items for the occasion.  Notes are made, discussions with hotel staff ensue, crucial decisions are made.

The weather was just above freezing when we were there, and like most places the lobby was not heated.  A chilly breeze blew in the door when anybody entered, and all the hotel staff in the lobby wore heavy winter coats.  But then the sun came out….

Shanghai Hotel

Of course, getting around in Shanghai is most easily done by taxi.  The next photo is from the backseat, on the driver’s side.  A common complaint of taxi drivers these days, my wife says, is that business is down due to so many people buying their own vehicles (and as the frequent traffic jams display).  There was a marked difference from even a couple of years ago in how often one could find an available cab.

Usually in the Shanghai cabs, from the backseat position on the passenger side you’re looking a small TV screen with ads for watches or liquor cycling over and over again.   On the driver side, I noticed the ad like a seal shown here in the lower right corner.  It proclaimed that Chrissie Chau, one of the Top 100 Sexiest Women in the World would be appearing at a nightclub called Richbaby in March.

This amused me.  In a country of approximately 750 million women, to be in the top 100 sexiest is surely a staggering achievement.  How are such things measured?  And who does the measuring?  Apparently in this case the magazine FHM (formerly For Him Magazine) has taken on this massive if arrogant chore.

Shanghai Taxi Back Seat

I’m fascinated by city alleys anywhere…. they always give me a sense of off-stage life.  Particularly in China, the alleys intrigue me, since especially in the older areas they were how most people used to access where they lived.  Shanghai as it modernizes has lost a lot of that old alley culture, but it still persists in many parts of the city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One day we went to the  Qi Bao area of Shanghai, which is an older heritage part of the city, I guess you could say.

It was a day off for many people, so the streets were jammed.  On the way to one of the main streets sat this musician playing for his supper.

Shanghai Street Music Linear F2

There were shops selling knickknacks, bakery goods, dried fruit, paintings and much more.  Here’s an example from one of the knickknack stores… an ersatz stage with strange players.

Shanghai Knickknack Shop

This is an area of picturesque canals as well.

Qi Bao Canal

I was happy to catch this shot of a boy enjoying a snack.

Shanghai Boy Eating

Besides alleys, I find doors evocative, the symbology of leaving and entering, of thresholds and openings and privacy.  Here’s one….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And finally, a shot that’s been manipulated to look as timeless as possible, of a Qi Bao canal and its bridge:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That’s it!

—————————————–

[Home]

Thoughts on Visiting Shanghai 2012

May 4, 2012

The last few years I’ve been going to China, and Shanghai, about once a year.  My wife’s family is there, especially her elderly parents.

This year, in mid-April, was my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party, so it was a big occasion.  Besides having an extended family of brothers, sisters, cousins along with many friends, both my wife’s parents have been very well known endocrinologists their entire lives.  So they have quite a few generations of students and colleagues to also pay them tribute.

Outsider at large

I’m always an outsider, of course, not so much in the family which always welcomes me warmly, but in China and Shanghai.  I thought I would provide some impressions and photos from this year’s trip.  Some of the impressions are new, and some are the kinds of things that seem to register with me every time.

One of them is the Chinese way of counting birthdays. My mother-in-law, who by the way is completely inspiring for someone at her age with a strong voice and intelligent manner, is 89 years old by the way we count in North America.  In China, the gestation period is counted as one year, so everyone pops into the world already slightly aged.

Banquets are another experience in China different than in North America (except perhaps with Chinese in Chinese restaurants here).  Cold dishes are brought right away to start at big round tables usually sitting 10. It will have a lazy susan so the dishes can revolve around the table.

Me and Davy Crockett

As I was brought up in a way more similar to loggers, mountain men and Davy Crockett than to anyone cultured, it has taken me time to develop the patience to politely take just one small morsel with chopsticks and place it on my plate.  I wait for a moment so as not to appear as famished, greedy and starving as I might be, then bring it slowly to my mouth until I get to swallow it.

It sounds painstaking, but eventually enough dishes come, and people loosen up enough so you feel not so abashed about helping yourself more freely. You do get enough to eat eventually, especially as a guest or Westerner since your neighbours at the table will tend to drop things on your plate so you don’t have to commit the gaucherie of reaching for the good stuff yourself.

The area in Shanghai where my parents-in-law live has been massively redeveloped over the years.  They live now in a cluster of apartment towers. Such clusters may have their own manicured grounds and are usually gated with security guards.  These gated groups of apartments are just about everywhere in the widespread newly developed residential areas.

But something new this time I hadn’t seen before were beggars on the sidewalks outside some of these areas.  One was doing fake karaoke warbling with an amp and dramatic gestures; another, with one missing hand, held the other out, also misshapen, for money.

I don’t know if this phenomenon is just new for this area of Shanghai where I always visit, or whether it’s a more general reflection of the growing disparity between rich and poor in China.  Perhaps some of both.

Vehicular traffic follows quite different rules than in North America.  For starters, any vehicle has more right-of-way than pedestrians, from bicycles to scooters to motorcycles to motor cars.  Step off a sidewalk, and you’d better be sure there’s nothing coming.  In a paradoxical way, it may be almost safer, because you have to be alert and not assume vehicles will stop or pause for you.

With the number of people, it almost has to be that way, otherwise the steady stream of people on crosswalks would bring traffic even more to a halt.

And on the sidewalks, scooters and motorcycles expect to motor on past you as well.  Some sidewalks are halved with a line for motorcycles on one side and pedestrians on the other.

Since I first visited Shanghai and China back in the 90s, the respect for traffic lights and lane markings has increased substantially, although one can still occasionally experience in a taxicab a very flexible notion about where the lane is, even with oncoming traffic.

The prevalence of smoking is much higher than what is typical nowadays in North America.  I don’t see the giant posters for the rugged cowboys of the Marlboro Man ads anymore, but they’ve accomplished their Chinese mission, apparently.  Enclosed rooms in restaurants still provide ashtrays; smokers welcome.

Most Chinese air-dry their laundry. And most will hang them off poles extending from their apartment window balcony.  Some will dry them hanging  on lines or hooks just above or at street level, underwear and all.

Shanghai’s redevelopment has taken away a lot of the sidewalk commerce, from shoe and bike repair to street food, which I am partial to.  But still pockets of the older Shanghai remain in between the KFCs, the Starbucks and the McDonalds.

[Home]

———————–

Notes on images, from top down:

1) There are still many little storefront restaurants for busy office workers.

2) At first we thought this fellow had a really nice voice for a street singer, but after a moment of careful observation, we detected he was doing a bad job of lip-synching.  Not sure about the function of the sitting attendant with the big stick, but maybe he’s there to beat off those who want to retrieve their donations after being taken in by the “singer”….  Also note the laundry hanging nearby.

3) A cart of bright fresh oranges. There’s a lot of fruits and vegetable sold directly from carts like these, and they also are an integral part of the traffic between suppliers and shops.

Powered by Qumana