28 December, 2007

No.29: Christmassy Moments

Surprisingly for the first time, the University I work in gave us a Christmas party on 21st December. That was the best time they could manage as the students were to have tests from 22nd-25th December. The 5 foreign teachers (1 Canadian, 2 Americans, 1 Philipino and myself) and some Chinese teachers were invited. I was very impressed with the effort they put in to make it Christmassy. They had specially decorated the room and set up a Christmas tree and lots of goodies to eat.

Two media persons from the University were there to cover the celebration for the website. I got a thermos as third prize from a lucky dip for the foreign teachers among the other presents they gave us. There was lots of singing. There I was, home-sick and missing Christmas back home, but the party really cheered me up.

A week before Christmas, I took lessons on festivals. And of course, with Christmas just around the corner, Christmas was the main theme. I organized card-exchange and some games for the occasion. I played some Christmas songs while the cards were being exchanged and the students had a lovely time...including myself :o)

On Christmas Eve, I invited three colleagues (2 Chinese and 1 Philipino) for dinner at an Indian restaurant. We now have two great Indian restaurants in the city where I live. Though they've never tasted Indian food before, I was very delighted to see them joyously gorging down the scrumptious Indian food. Though it's considered disgusting to eat with bare hands in China, I was surprised and impressed to see one of my Chinese friends attempting to eat with his bare hand. You rock, L! :p

Another thing I couldn't miss to mention is that I really felt blessed to receive many Christmas presents this year. It may as well be the year I received the most gifts ever. To top that, I bought a Christmas present for myself. Yep...it's a percolator. I had been circling around different super-markets debating if I should get one. After our dinner on Christmas Eve, we walked back for quite a distance window-shopping and enjoying the night until we finally reached a supermarket where they sell imported goods. As it's a special occasion, I decided to purchase the percolator as a Christmas gift to myself. An ideal purchase at an ideal time indeed! Now I can have real grounded coffee. I know...I'm such a weakling when it comes to chai and coffee. I just can't help it :)

Christmas day was spent with friends and home-cooked lunch and slurrrrp.....cheese cake and apple pie for dessert.

14 December, 2007

No.28: 'Warming up' for Christmas

14th December 2007

It's almost hard to believe we're now spending the last month of this year! The end of the year is all about Christmas for me. Come November, I'd already start reminiscing of my childhood when we'd look forward for the holidays, Christmas shopping, carol, feast and wearing pretty new dress on Christmas day. All the fun and contentment I used to have is now just a beautiful memory. Even then, my spirit tend to soar with expectation around this time of year thinking perhaps this Christmas I can relive those good old days.
This evening, I invited some students for dinner and to decorate my Christmas tree and apartment. They were all enthusiastic as they have never done this before. They are familiar with Christmas trees and Santa Claus but to actually take part in decorating it and learning the true meaning of Christmas is something new and exciting for them. They did a pretty good job on the decoration too. Christmas in China is highly commercialized. In fact, the shopping malls and streets are beautifully decorated and one can hear Christmas songs in many stores for more than two weeks now.

Well, the truth is, when I said I invited them for dinner...I didn't cook. They did all the cooking :) Three of them (two male and one female) are very talented cook. Since they all live on campus, I wanted to create a home-like environment for them where they can make special food of their choice. The weekend home-cooked dinner has become more of a routine for quite a while now. So, it's not yet pre-Christmas dinner. That is yet to come in a few days time. Tonight is just a 'warm-up' dinner :)
Other weekends we mostly had rice but this time they volunteered to make dumplings (momo). Believe it or not, there's only one restaurant (in China) where I like the dumpling so far...only one! But the ones my students made were superb! The fillings were a mixture of pork, leek, eggs and Chinese masala. Besides dumplings, an addition of roasted chicken, stir-fried 'qing cai' and pork-ribs with squash soup made excellent dinner. Burp!

05 December, 2007

No.27: Beijing - Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China
8th July 2005
In the summer of 2005, I went to Beijing with my friend J for a week. That was my first experience of the over-crowded train ride during major holiday seasons. WhenIagreed to go by train, I had no idea just how crowded it could get, but I'm more attuned to it now. It takes about 13 hours direct from Xi'an to Beijing. The Great Wall and the Shaolin Temple are the two most important places in my list and have considered them as priorities for my travel plans. I consider it a great blessing to be able to visit these places in my first two consequent years in China.

Around the end of our stay in Beijing, my friend arranged for us to join a Chinese tour group to go to the Great Wall. We visited other places first and had saved the best for last. My first experience of joining the Chinese tour group didn't leave a good impression on me and have since tried to avoid them. The tour guide yapped away non-stop throughout the whole journey which was quite annoying. I promise you, the tour-guide's voice blaring through the loud speaker, the loud humming of the bus engine, the humid/hot weather and cramped ride can really get to your nerves after a while. We finally reached Badaling Great wall, thankfully, without much further ado. Phew!

There are several Great Wall sections we can visit near Beijing. We went to Badaling which is the most popular and is the best preserved section and is close to Beijing. It is located over 70 kilometers north of Beijing. On reaching the gate, our tour guide bought us tickets which I thought to be the usual entrance ticket. I was very surprised when we were led to this individual sled that were joined together to ride up instead. It's uncomfortable on the way up but turns out to be quite enjoyable on our way down as the sleds were dismantled and we were able to ride and control it individually.

We finally made it to the top of the wall. We went past plenty of souvenir vendors and photographers trying to persuade us to buy their goods and have our pictures taken. Once we reached the foot of the place where we had to start climbing, it was a little overwhelming to see steps after steps leading up to each of the watch towers. I took a deep breath (also because I wore short skirt...lolz) as I could clearly see that the hike up and down was going to be a serious undertaking. It's hard to believe that the old women were also there to make the climb. It was equally unbelievable to see several women with high heel shoes! It took us quite a while to make our journey up the super steep stairs.

Once on reaching the tower, I could see the wall snaking all along the hills in a distant view. The climb was totally worth it and the view was spectacular. It still feels like a dream to have visited one of the (old and new) Seven Wonders of the World!