Rainy season

During my trip within China from June 1 to June 20, I visited Maanshan, Nanjing, Wuxi, Ningbo, Putuoshan, Hangzhou, Xian, Huashan and Beijing. The weather was perfect the entire time, except in Hangzhou, where it rained. The rain ruined my visit and walk around the famous Hangzhou West Lake a little bit. 

When I was back at my parent’s home in Suzhou, the summer started officially. So did the Asian rainy season. 

The rainy season (Chinese: meiyu, literally plum rain) usually starts at the end of June and lasts a few weeks till July in Suzhou. 

Since last week, it has been raining almost every day. Today it was so humid the vinyl floor in my parent’s apartment sweats constantly. There is no use to mop it. It gets wet and slippery again right after I mop it. 

My parents live in an old apartment building that was built in the 1980’s. Unlike newer apartment buildings, there are no basements or underground parking space in those old buildings. Since they live on the ground floor, there is a lot of moisture during the June/July rainy season. 

My Dad fell on the floor while trying to get up from his lazy chair today. Luckily, he was OK, so far. We had to put some pieces of carpet on the floor. 

The current weather reminds me of the weather in Florida, hot and humid. We just don’t have sudden shower, but constant rain, all day long. It feels wet and sticky. 

The high humidity in the air during this season causes mold to grow. Crispy crunchy food like seeds and nuts get dull after they are opened from the original packages which doesn’t happen in northern China and US. 

Mother nature has been pretty good to Suzhou. There are no earthquakes, drought or flood, except the rainy season.  

A name change brought good luck?

Yesterday during a conversation, my brother said to me: “You made a few good decisions at a young age that changed your life for the better.”

Comparing to my brother, I had a lot more good luck than he did in all aspects of life. The more I think about his words, the more I have to say: “You are right.”

Name change

I changed my first name from Zhen-Fang to Qin. I don’t remember exactly why and when it happened, probably when I was in elementary or middle school.

Chinese first names usually consist of one or two characters. In the old days, they were two characters. The first character was pre-determined by the ancestors. So every male or female in the same generation in the extended family had the same first character in the first name. Only the second character was different for everyone.

For example, all my father’s five brothers have the same first character “Fa” in their first name. All my mother’s five brothers and sisters have the same first character “Xue” in their first name.

In my generation, all the male children from my father’s generation (my male cousins from my father’s side) have the first character “Guang,” and all the female children (my female cousins from my father’s side) have the first character “Zhen.” I have over 20 cousins from my father’s side.

So my given name at birth was “Zhen-Fang” (means treasure & fragrant).

Apparently, I didn’t like my given name “Zhen-Fang.” It was too common and worldly. I wanted a different and more modern name which was a one-character name. So I asked my mom to changed my name.

According to my brother, I was a lay back person. My mom wanted me to be more diligent and hard working, so she or I picked “Qin” as my new first name, only one character.

I indeed was, or became, a very diligent and hardworking person. I studied really hard in school and at the universities.

I remember I lived in a very crowded and noisy home environment. My family with my parents, my brother and I had only one small room as our living and bedroom. We shared a kitchen and dining room with several other families. There were families living above and around us.

There were no privacy and quiet moment for study. During my last year at high school, I usually got home and slept for a few hours, and got up to study when everyone else went to bed. Then I slept for a few hours before going to school in the morning. That’s how I found quiet time so I could concentrate.

School transfer

One year before I graduated from high school, I asked to transfer from the high school in my neighborhood to a better one farhter away from my home, because I heard about a good English teacher there.

My mom was a math teacher in my neighborhood high school. She talked to the administrators at the two high schools and helped me transfer to the new one.

The school transfer was a turning point in my life. Had I stayed in the same old high school, I won’t be able to go to college, at least not the top level one I went to.

I spent only one year in the new high school. Because I had a more competitive environment and better teachers who were very focused on preparing students for college, and I had the best English teacher ever, I was able to do well in the college entrance exam.

My English teacher encouraged me to apply for the best foreign language university in China which is now the Beijing Foreign Studies University. I did apply and was accepted.

German Scholarship

I studied German at the BFSU. After graduation, I got a job at CCTV (Central Chinese Television). Shortly after I started on the job, another German major graduate from Shanghai came on board.

Chinese and German governments had scholarship exchanges. The scholarships were distributed by the Chinese Education Ministry to different government agencies according to needs.

CCTV received one spot. I was the lucky winner without contestant, probably because I was the first one on the job at CCTV who knew German.

I got the scholarship and went to Germany to study without any effort on my part. I received my passport with visa handed over to me, and a quite large amount of money (at that time) to buy clothes and other necessities for the trip.

Like my brother said, I was lucky.

It might have all started with a name change. Who knows.

I will write about my brother someday.

Visiting Tongli

My brother has the day off today. He took us to Tongli, a little town about half an hour of driving from my parents’ home in Suzhou.

Tongli was left behind during the modernization after the Chinese Cultural Revolution when old houses were torn down and new ones were built. As the.result, Yongli was preserved as it was hundreds of years ago. Now it has become a well known tourist attraction in China.

I was really surprised to see such an old town. The sceneries with narrow rivers, small bridges, gardens and old houses reminded me of the old days.

In Tongli we met a mini carving artist. He can carve really tiny words on stones with only a needle sharp knife. He doesn’t even use a magnifier to do it while you do need a magnifier to read it. He said: “I carve using my touching and feeling senses.”

I was amazed by his skills. I asked him to carve the Lord’s Prayer and a cross on a stone that is the size of my thumb. On the other side is my name in Chinese and English along with today’s date and location, see the photos above.

We spent more than five hours in Tongli. It’s a place worth a day trip.

Additional website about traveling in Suzhou and Tongli:
http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/jiangsu/suzhou/tongli_town.htm

An (un)grateful daughter

I wish I had more understanding for my mother today. 

My 76 year old mom has diabestics. She has some difficulties walking. Now she also has some memory loss.

I left my home town in 1981 to go to college in Beijing. So much change has happened in the last three decades, I don’t know any place in my hometown. I have to ask how to get to a place and what bus to take to get there. 

Today my mom insisted on accompanying us to visit Suzhou Museum, though I knew what bus to take and should be able to find it. 

When a different bus came first, my mom said this one should work too. So we got on the bus. But it doesn’t go to our destination. We had to walk for a while. Then my mom told us to get off at the wrong stop. So we had to walk even more. 

We walked and walked. My mom kept saying "It’s not far." 

I got inpatient. If we had taken the right bus, we should have arrived at the Museum very closely without much walking. Now we had to walk several bus stops. 

I was complaining and whining like a child. 

"How could you take the wrong bus and get off the wrong stop?"

"When are we getting there? How far do we need to walk?

"We should have taken a taxi." 

When we finally arrived at the Museum, my mom sat down near the entrance to rest and wait for us. We found her in the same place waiting when we finished visiting. 

Later at home, mom told me: "I am getting old. My memory is not so good any more. Anything can happen any day. Some of my friends died suddenly. They were ffine one day, but gone the next day. This can happen to me and your dad too. If something happens to us, we will let you know after everything is taken care of. Don’t worry. Your brother is here. You don’t need to come home again. It’s not easy for you to come home and visit with two kids. It’s a long and expensive trip. It’s good that you visit us now while we are still relatively healthy. If we are gone, you don’t need to visit again." 

Mom’s words hit me hard. 

My parents always think and worry for me first, what’s the best for me. Yet I was so inpatient and didn’t show any understanding for my mom this afternoon when she got a little disoriented. 

The more I thought about it, the more shameful I was. How selfish and ungrateful I was today! 

I apologized to my mom, with tears in my eyes and sincerity in my heart. 

"Don’t worry. That’s nothing. I just wanted to share with you something that’s on my heart and mind." 

Then we chatted some more about the old days when life was so much hard. 

Mom is very easygoing and content. 

I am so lucky and grateful to have a mom like mine.
 

The most giving parents

The love that parents have for their children is the most selfless and unconditional love there is. This is the universal truth. It’s true no matter where you are.

Maybe I have bias, but I think the Chinese parents in general are the most selfless and giving parents there are.

They give themselves, their all to their children and grandchildren.

Parents in China do their best to raise their children, give them the best education they can afford. When their children grow up, they help raise their grandchildren.  

Both my parents and my husband’s parents have spent years living with us to help raise our two children. We have grandma and grandpa living with us since our first child was born. They are approaching eighties and still trying their best to help us.

The same day I arrived at my parents’ home, my parents handed me 30000 RMB which is more than my Dad’s pension for the whole year. They told me: "You need this to travel in China." 

My parents wanted to give me moeny to use in China, though I don’t need their money. It’s their way of showing love for me. If I do need money, I would have no hesitation to ask them. 

My mom gave me clothings and household items she thought I could use. She saves the best for me. 

When I saw my parents have Lock & Lock containers, I made a comment that I first saw them in a friend’s house and would like to have them. The next day, I noticed a set of the Lock & Lock containers in my suitcase. 

There is a saying in Chinese I heard lately: parents carry three mountains. It takes one generation to raise a child. It takes two generations to take care of a seriously sick family member. It takes three generations to purchase a house. 

Parents and grandparents put their life’s savings to help purchasing an apartment or a house for their children or grandchildren. 

I have a cousin who is retired. But she is still working two jobs to help paying for an apartment she purchased for her son. 

In China, children don’t borrow money from parents or grandparents. Parents usually give money to their children. Borrowing money from parents and paying back with interest is unheard of in China.
 

Neighborhood Center

The China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) is located in my hometown Suzhou.

Today my kids and I visited SIP with my brother who works for SIP and my parents. While my kids went to swimming at the Xinghai Swimming Pool, the rest of us was killing time by visiting the nearby Neighborhood Center, one of the seven Neighborhood Centers to be built in SIP. I found it interesting. 

The idea of Neighborhood Center comes from Singapore. The first Neighborhood Center was initiated in Singapore. It provides daily supplies and combines various community functions  in one location.

The four story business complex looks like a shopping mall. Inside you can find restaurants, supermarket, fresh produce market, community clinic, bank, post office, movie theater, travel agency, salon, bookstore, laundry store, music store, clothing stores, and other specialty stores.

The local residents can get their needs for daily necessities met in one convenient place. 

Health conscious

While China could be the best place to live for senior citizens in some aspects, there are also concerns and problems senior citizens and most citizens face that make China a less desireable place to live.

It’s the problem with health care.  

Although there are problems with health care in the U.S. as well, visiting doctors in the U.S. is relatively simple – make an appointment, see the doctor, and pay the bills.

But in China it’s not that simple. 

In many places, you need good connections to see good doctors and you need to bribe doctors when you see them. Patients give doctors "red envelops," just like adults give kids lucky money at Chinese New Year, only doctors get a lot more than kids and not really in the red envelop. Everyone calls the bribery "red envelop."

Now doctors have a really bad reputation in China. Their reputation is worse than lawyers in the U.S. No one likes to go to hospitals and see doctors. Some like my father refuse to go to hospitals. 

People realize that the best policy against the corruption is to take good care of themselves. Paying attention to nutrition, exercising, living a healthy lifestyle and stay healthy has become the new motto. 

Green and healthy food, and anything that has something to do with healthy living  are popular in China.    

Jackson Hole in China

I had never heard about Jackson Hole in Wyoming, United States, at least it’s not a familiar name for me, until a few days ago when I visited Jackson Hole in China.

A friend of my husband, both he and his wife are doctors in Beijing, invited my family to spend two days with them in their vacation house in Jackson Hole Beijing Villas. It is a resort community near the Great Wall, outside of Beijing. It takes about two hours to drive from their apartment in Beijing to their vacation home. 

Jackson Hole Beijing Villas are modeled after the Jackson Hole in the United States. There are about 800 houses, very unique inside and outside. They have nice views and surrounding environment. 

During the two days, we climbed a mountain in their backyard. On the top of the mountain there are carved ruins where people used to live.

Jackson Hole provides the impression of the American west. The guards are all dressed like cowboys. There are horses for riding for the residents. My kids and I did horseback riding, my first experience.

Our friend and his wife are really proud of their vacation home. “You can’t get this kind of fresh air and mountain view in Beijing. It’s so nice to be able to get away from the noisy city life and come here to enjoy the quiet country life.” 

The prices for the houses have more than tripled since 2005. As word gets around and residents introduce their friends to the resort community, demand has skyrocketed. Now there are higher demand than supply, so interested buyers have to be on the waiting list.

I posted some photos on my Facebook.

Best place to live for senior citizens

I visited my cousin and his wife in Beijing. They are both retired and empty nested.

My cousin used to be a diplomat. He worked for the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the United Nations. He and his wife had lived in other countries such as United States, Swizerland in North America, Europe and Asian. Their only son lives in the US.

Now they enjoy their retirement years and have a very active live in Beijing. They say it’s the best place to live for elderly people, with a lot of opportunities and convenience for living.

China offers free public transportation for senior citizens. With their IDs, they get free rides.

China has universities for senor citizens where they can take classes and learn new things. You can learn a new instrument, painting, crafting, cooking, etc.

Both of them are busy doing crossstitches.

Every morning elderly people gather in parks or on the streets to do things together, exercising, dancing, Qigong, playing instruments, chatting, etc.

Restaurants, supermarkets and convenient stores are everywhere. You can walk to any places. Subways and bus stops are all within walking distance.  

My cousin’s wife said she doesn’t want to live in the US or other countries. "I can’t stand the loneliness there. My home is in China. It’s the best place to live for senior citizens."

 

Public restrooms in China

Today I heard a story from a friend in Xi’an about former President Clinton visiting Xi’an a few years ago. He brought two portable toilets from the US on his trip.

This was the first time I heard about such a thing. But considering the situation with the public restrooms in China, it was not surprising for me.

I think for all the foreign visitors to China, using the public restrooms could be one of the most challenging things to overcome during their whole visit in China. 

Public restrooms in China used to be dirty, smelly and disgusting, some still are, even though it’s getting better now.

A lot of the buildings for public restrooms look very nice and artistic from the outside, but the condition inside still needs to be improved. 

For foreign visitors, it could be a very unpleasant experience the first time they use a public toilet in China.  

Most public toilets are squat toilets.

In 2005 when my daughter visited China, she asked me: "Mom, did someone stole the toilet?" She didn’t find the toilet seat, only saw a whole in the ground.

On the first few days during this trip, my daughter said: "It smells bad." Now she is used to it.

There is no toilet paper in most public restrooms, so people should  be prepared to bring their own paper when they are on the road. There used to be someone in public restrooms selling papers. Now I don’t see people selling papers in public restrooms anymore.   

There are a lot of KFC and McDonald’s in China. They do provide toilet papers in their restrooms, like most restaurants. 

Airports and hotel rooms all have nice and clean seated toilets and papers.    

I just want to share this information with you in case you visit China some day, so you have been warned and can be mentally prepared for a surprising experience.

I hope in a few years this wouldn’t be a problem any more.

But for now, it is a problem, unless you have the status and power of the president who can bring his own toilet whereever he goes.

Now I am just wondering what other presidents, kings and queens do when they visit China. Do they bring their own things as well?  

 

Climbing Mount Hua

Hua Shan (Mount Hua) is located 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province. Today I went from Xi’an to Hua Shan on a high speed train that can reach 350 km an hour. It was a 40 minute smooth ride, my first ride on a high speed train.

Unlike a regular train that is usually very crowded, a high speed train has seats for every passenger.    

Hua Shan is considered one of the most dangerous mountains for climbing in China. If you google it, you can find a lot of interesting pictures.

I went up to the North Peak, the lowest of five peaks with an elevation of 1615 meters. I got from bottom to the North Peak in about an hour. It was a short cut.

First I took a bus that went zigzag up the mountain and brought tourists to the cable car station. Then the cable car took me much higher to the mountain. Finally I had to walk on very narrow steps to the North Peak.

Climbing Hua Shan requires a strong will and a lot of courage. I didn’t have the time to climb the other peaks today, even if I had enough courage. Maybe next time when I visit Xi’an again.

Today’s round trip from Xi’an to Hua Shan and back to Xi’an took only about seven hours. People say you need three days to really climb all the peaks in Hua Shan.  

Visiting Terra-cotta Museum

On my second day in Xi’an, I visited the Terra-cotta Army (also called Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses), located on the east side of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang, the first emperor in Chinese history. It is descripted as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Three pits are open for public viewing. I was told that they represent only one of the 600th percent of what has yet to be excavated and restored at the Mausoleum of the Emperor Qin Shihuang.  

At this Museum, I saw the most foreign tourists during my trip so far. I also saw pictures of Clintons, Queen Elizabeth II, Putin, and other foreign presidents, kings and statesmen visiting the Museum. It’s a popular tourist attraction in China. 

The local farmer who discovered the site while drilling wells in search of water on March 29, 1974,  was present to sign books in the gift shop at the Museum.

Later I also visited the Huaqin Hot Springs where the emperors and emperesses bathed and Tang Paradise to watch a Tang Dynasty music and dance show. 

The photos from Xian are on the following Facebook pages.

Expensive living in China

People might still consider China a third world country, but in big cities, especially in newly developed areas, China looks more developed and modern than many developed countries. 

I have been really impressed by the beautiful landscaping in newly developed areas and along highways.     

In some aspects, such as housing and driving, living in China is more expensive than in other parts of the world.

A house like mine, an average one around $400,000 in Woodbury, would cost at least over one million dollars in China. House price has multiplied many times in the last few years. 

Still, people are buying apartments/houses like crazy. Some buy second or third or more residence for investment or kids.

Driving is also more expensive in China than in the US.

It’s very expensive to buy a car in China. But it’s more expensive to keep a car. That’s why people say you can afford a car, but you can’t afford to maintain a car.

Gas is more expensive in China than in the US.  

All highways in China are toll roads. You get a ticket when you get on highway. Then you pay when you get off highway. The longest time I have been riding in a car on highway was about two hours. I have seen the driver pay about 2-20 dollars each time, depending on the distance. 

High end, brand name consumer products have the best market in China now. People have money to spend. The more expensive the items are, the more popular they become.

It’s crazy.  

I asked  a few people I met in China what’s the average monthly salary is. The answer is it depends. Some say $150, some say $500. Then there are a lot of business people who make way above the average.

Judging from the average monthly salary, you can see how out of proportion the housing and driving expenses are for the average citizens.       

 

Travel updates

Sorry I haven’t posted for a few days. I have been busy traveling. I am usually too tired to write at night. In addition, I don’t like to use the small laptop computer.

Since June 1, I have visited Maanshan, Nanjing, Wuxi, Ningbo, Putuo, and Hangzhou. Today I arrived in Xi’an. I was so happy to find in the hotel room a big screen TV that also serves as a computer with Internet connection.

Xi’an is an ancient capital city in China. The old part of the city is surrounded by a wall on all sides, with four gates in each direction. The wall is 14 kilometers long and very wide, probably 3-4 bus lane wide. It took us 1 1/2 hours to finish bike riding one round. My kids had a really fun time biking on the two-person bike.    

I have taken a lot of pictures. I will share them when I get back home and have time to post them.