Monday, March 31, 2008

Campus Scenes - Monday Afternoon cont.

The main Engineering Classroom building:

The recently constructed bridge over a very busy street that connects the main camps to the dorms, dining halls and athletic facilities. This helps relieve the congestion in the tunnel which previously was the only way across:

One of the (ugly) dorms, complete with free clothes drying service. This is one example of a Communist-style utilitarian building seen everywhere in China.

From the dorm area: heading to afternoon classes. Notice the umbrellas - it's not raining. Many Chinese women have the annoying habit of using an unbrella rain or shine. They are deathly afraid of the sun and turning "dark". The plethora of skin whitening products on store shelves is eerie.

Continuing on to the classroom buildings:

Campus Scenes - Monday Afternoon

It was a beautiful Spring day for snapping photos.

The welcome sign at the north gate:

The heart of every campus: the library. This is the main square area where kids of every age skateboard, fly kites, etc. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Blossoms lining one of two boulevards that stretch from the north and south gates:

One of the nicest aspects about campus is the multigenerations that utilize it, like this grandmother and grandchild:

Returning from lunch at home to the elementary school at the other end of campus are these two handsome future Party members:

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Our Extraordinary Ordinary Weekend

Some new doings, some old:

If it's Friday, that must mean package day. Two weeks in a row! A girl could seriously get used to this! Here's G. doing the honors:

Wow! Goodies for everyone! And candy, candy and more candy. This is being hidden from the kids. If they saw it, then it's "I want everything - now". The candy will be a nice surprise in about a month and the activity books will come in handy for that loonngg plane ride home. A big, big THANK YOU to the B. family from Troy. You're the best Terry and Mary Jo!

After we opened the box, G. and I had a special treat - a weekday lunch off campus. The kids had a school field trip to a park; therefore, they didn't come home for the afternoon break. You bet we took advantage of that rare set up.

On Saturday, while G. was at his game, the kids and I went shopping. First, we stopped at the post office to mail Abuelita Rosa a birthday card (April 15). Then we headed to this clothing store. This is my favorite place to buy kid's clothes. Everything is 10 yuan ($1.40). E. especially is hard on her clothes and she's growing fast. Her lightweight pants from the Fall all look like capris on her. (Photo by C.!)

On the way back we stopped at a DVD store. DVDs cost about 50 cents to two dollars. The selections and quality vary, so it's certainly "buyer beware". I couldn't pass up the entire series of The West Wing (I love that show) for $2.00. Then I worried all the way back that it wasn't in English, only Chinese! Luckily, it works and it's in English! I've seen a few episodes of Strong Medicine on Lifetime and for 50 cents, it's cheap entertainment. C. picked out one of his favorite Chinese cartoons and E. loves her Pokemon. However, that DVD was not in Chinese as expected, but in Japanese!

On Sunday, after church services, we had lunch at Manna Heaven. It's a Chinese food restaurant located along a "Western strip". It has won many awards from Kunming's Western food publications, so we wanted to give it a try. Everything was delicious and we were the only foreigners in the place! It's probably the closest thing to a higher end American Chinese restaurant - but no chop suey or chow mein here! The prices were not dirt cheap like the common noodle shop, but still were half those of the Western style restuarants. C. couldn't get over how good the tea was!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

China v Australia

The two national teams had a match today at Tudong Stadium. G. had a great time with his buddies, the kids were at school and I enjoyed an afternoon alone listening in peace to podcasts from Michigan Radio.

Australia (l) and China (r) standing at attention for the national anthems:

G's view of the game:

Kunming's "hooligans":

The Chinese fans outnumbered those rooting for the "socceroos":

The final verdict:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Unlike Christmas, which has become very commercialized in China, with its images of Santa, trees, wreaths and wrapped boxes everywhere (and in some cases, still visible), the Easter season doesn't exist. (I did see some chocolate eggs at the European owned Metro Store (they were also the only place I saw Halloween themed merchandise) and one of the big hotels sponsored (an expensive) Easter brunch and egg hunt.) So coloring eggs and getting baskets will happen next year. However, we did have a lovely Easter Sunday.

Enjoying the fellowship before services:

Inside before the service. It was G.'s first time at a non-Catholic service. After a few songs and a bible reading, he asked "When will the Mass start?"!! The kids really liked the Sunday School and G. saw some soccer teammates. So we'll probably return a few more times.

Later, we checked out Tudong Stadium. The Chinese and Australian national teams play on Wednesday and G. has a ticket, naturally.

The original plan was to have lunch at a Western restuarant. We got to one, sat down, looked at the menu, and nothing piqued our interest! Hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries, deli style sandwiches, grilled cheese, pizza, western style breakfast, etc. were not at all appealing. The Chinese food menu was way overpriced. So we left and headed for the noodle restaurant next door. I think our taste buds have changed! We had a a couple of noodle dishes and steamed chicken (that's what's in the terracotta pot) and couldn't have been more satisfied, along with the added bonus of being one-fourth the price of the Western style restaurant next door.

After lunch, we crossed the street to a KFC to have coffee and give the kids the opportunity to burn some energy on the playscape. Many of the fast food restaurants gather up the litle kids, play games and hand out prizes.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

No pastel eggs, but a big yellow box

arrived from the Easter Bunny! Not much is more sweeter to our ears than to hear these words from the waiban in the university's international office: "There's a package for you from America"! And of course, it's not just a simple walk to the office to pick up said package. First, I do go to the office to pick up the package slip, then we (or usually just me) board bus 83 to reach

the downtown post office. Only one location receives incoming foreign packages: And no, I didn't have to stand in that line. The PO also serves as a bank and bill paying center.

After I showed the slip and my passport, sign my name and write the passport number, I was given this:

On the return trip, I wonder what exactly is in the box, and guard the treasure. This is what was inside: treats for the small kids and treats (newspapers) for the big kids!

I picked up the package Friday morning. Since the kids return from school at noon for the afternoon break, I left the box out to see their reaction when they came through the door. E. took one look and screamed "Tia Karen's here!!"

Notice E.'s body language saying "It's all mine!" How long do you think 80 packs will last?!
Thanks Big Gar and Karen! We're lovin' it!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Xi Shan - Western Hills cont.

The Taoist patron saint of scholars:

Peach blossoms sure pretty up the place:

The 1.5km descent is lined with souvenir stalls:

All that's missing is a Fu Man Chu:

Back in the city: a late lunch at a Muslim restaurant. Seems that we moved from one Muslim capital to another! The menu is on the wall in Arabic and pictures. No chicken shwarma, hummus or tabouli here. But the food is always plentiful, delicious and inexpensive in the many Muslim restuarants in Kunming/Yunnan.

Xi Shan - Western Hills

Western Hills is a large range of mountains and parkland that is visible from all of Kunming and stretches almost the length of Dian Chi lake. From our living room, if we stick our heads out the window and look left, we have a nice view of the Hills! Included in the park are several temples (of course), famous tombs and Dragon Gate - a group of grottoes, sculptures, corridors and pavilions that were hacked from the cliff between 1781 and 1835 by Taoist monks. We spent the day at Dragon Gate with our friends Lew and Chris.

First, a 1.5 km charlift ride up the mountain:

Checking out the view from the top:

The view: Kunming from above

In one of the corridors demonstrating the Chinese salute:

The group basking in the warm sunshine:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Yun Xing Park

It was a nice Spring Saturday, so while G. was at a soccer match, the kids and I headed to this park. There are several of these types of parks in the city - a traditional park that has rides for the the under 7 crowd.

The kids had fun paddling around this pool-for almost an hour!

A classic ride - the merry-go-round:

These storytellers drew a (majority senior citizen) crowd:

For one yuan (14 cents), a kid can be in the driver's seat:

Friday, March 14, 2008

To Market, To Market I Go

Grocery shopping takes me the better part of the week. Now that I have most afternoons free, I prefer to do the shopping then, instead of the weekends. Because the stores are so packed on the weekends, this chore becomes downright painful. There have been times that I didn't pick up an item simply because I couldn't get down the aisle! Also, during the early afternoon weekday, the buses are less crowded and I'm pretty much guaranteed a seat. The downside of shopping during this time is that I have to go by myself; which means G.'s strong arms aren't there to help carry the bags. So I'm limited in buying only as much as I can carry; thus, one reason for the multiple trips. The other reason is that I can't or don't want to get everything at one place because of availability, price, freshness and/or convenience. I go to three places: the mega market Carrefour (or in desperation Wal*Mart and sometimes Metro -they carry other imported items like additional cereals and graham crackers), a small neighborhood supermarket and the neighborhood "farmers' market".

I've allocated 1000 Yuan ($140) monthly for food. This is getting harder to stay within budget because the US dollar is getting weaker (in September 100 Yuan = $12, now 100 Yuan = $14) and food prices in China has risen 10% since then. I spend 150Y per week for food, paper products, etc., 200Y per month on the university dining card, 100Y for our monthly Western restaurant meal and 100Y for our weekend ice cream/coffee treats. G. and I have our main meal (lunch) in the university dining halls five/ six times per week where it costs 8-10Y for both of us per meal to eat. The kids have breakfast, lunch and a snack at school. So dinner and weekend meals are usually prepared around the kids' tastes.

Carrefour is the place to buy Western goods. It's here I buy spaghetti, sauce, cereal, butter and cheese (all imported). I can also buy China produced ketchup, Nesquik, coffee, tea, jam, pb, soup, (millions of) noodles, oatmeal, frozen dumplings, frozen chicken breasts, and banana bread. Plus all the other foods and paper products, soaps, etc. a mega market would carry.

The farmers' market: I buy fruit here or at one of the many fruit stands that line the streets.

This is the place for vegetables: Luckily, the kids like rice/noodles/dumplings and vegetables, soup, cereal or spaghetti for dinner.

Fresh chicken and duck are readily available. Also, a lot of pork, lamb, beef and dog(!!) that has been sitting out all day. I've shared many a bus ride with live and dead chickens/ducks. G. has been wanting to buy one of these chickens-not to eat, just to have around! Several of our neighbors have chickens and ducks. Can you tell which one of us was raised on a farm and which one grew up in suburbia?!

The small supermarket: I can get most everything here that I can get at Carrefour (minus the imported and frozen items, jam, pb and banana bread). There are also other mega Chinese markets like TrustMart and ParkNShop, but these do not carry any imported Western products.

The small supermarket carries milk. We get milk and juice twice a week. Juice (more like orange drink) comes in 1, 1.5, 2 and sometimes 3 liter bottles. The largest milk size is one liter (about one-fourth of a gallon). We also like these little bags of milk - stays fresher! Imagine, a year ago, I was buying every week, a gallon each of whole milk, 2% reduced milk, chocolate milk and orange juice. No wonder I needed a car for grocery shopping!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

After School Activity Success

Today the kids attended their first weekly after school activity class - paper folding and crafts. Here's C.'s result:

All smiles:

E. has a semi-successful experience. Her class did paper folding. She came home a bit upset (thus, no mood to be in a photo) because she thought her Papi forgot to pick her up! The kids are in separate classes. C.'s class is on the third floor, while E.'s is on the ground floor. G. picked up C. first.... (I was at the homefront preparing dinner.)