Thursday, July 28, 2011


Skipped SCM on Monday because it was looking to be a crazy busy week. On Tuesday The Trucker came over for dinner. I made Chicken and Basil Pesto Gnocchi. Turned out quite nicely, I thought :) Last night I went to a work dinner at The Grillhouse in Sandton and I hope that was the last time I have to go there. Their service was dreadful (we were a very large table, admittedly, but at least bring all the bits for each individual's meal at the same time!). Note: This time I did not have wine.

In a bit of a weird mood this week. Things are uppity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

17 May: Dubai to Johannesburg

A very uneventful flight from Guangzhou to Dubai. But, you'd swear none of these people had ever flown before based on their multiple or oversized items of hand luggage! What a hassle. It really does annoy me, every time.

Watched Up while waiting for them to get the evening meal done. I'd heard how good it was from quite a few people but, I just found it on par with all the similar animations. I think I just don't "get" animated movies.

Didn't get much sleep on the plane either :( The seats were too high for me so I couldn't comfortably sit with my feet on the ground so my knees kept hurting. Oh well. Had breakfast before 3am :p

When I arrived in Dubai (3:40am Dubai Time = SA Time + 2hrs), I did try to get onto the (6hr) earlier flight to Joburg, but they were already boarding so they wouldn't let me :( But, that is why I didn't risk booking that flight in the first place.

Spent another 6hrs or so in Dubai's very dull duty-free. I had something to eat ... I was trying to be healthier so avoided McD's or Burger King, but I think I would've been better off sticking with the known. I ended up spending more with a less satisfactory sandwich at an Irish sandwich spot. I will say tho, the hot chocolate was worth it ;)

The flight back to Joburg was better. Pretty empty flight and I had 4 seats to myself the whole way home. Managed to stretch out and get some rest :)

Watched I Am Number Four. Was not particularly impressed at all (perhaps because I watched it in bits & pieces in between sleep, while eating and when I had to sit up and fasten my seat belt thru turbulence). It seemed a pretty average sci-fi attempt, honestly. And has the predictable ending allowing for sequels (which I will not bother with, except perhaps if there's nothing else to watch on another long-haul flight ;) ).

I also watched, No Strings Attached, which I quite enjoyed. This kind of light feel-good entertainment is way better for flying :)

And then I landed home, eventually, after a very long journey. To find that instead of being met at Sandton Gautrain station by The Trucker, he'd caught the Gautrain to the airport to meet me at the gate (awe, sweet!). But wait, it gets even better ... he'd also bought me a bag of groceries (since he knew my fridge was empty after more than 3 weeks away!) :) *spoilt*.

Neuropath by Scott Bakker

Tom's life is not what it once was. His marriage to the beautiful Nora is on the rocks and he now sees his two young children only on her say so. His best friend - and best man - Neil has moved away to California to teach neurology. He has one successful book - on human psychology - but he now wiles away the time teaching bored grad students. But that all changes when Neil comes back into his life. For it seems that his best friend was no teacher - he was working for the US government, cracking the minds of suspected terrorists. But now it is Neil himself that has cracked and gone AWOL - what's more he has left behind evidence that he has been employing his unique skills on civilians - obsessed with the idea that he can control the human brain. Thus begins a terrifying sequence of events as Neil starts to kidnap and mutilate people with a connection to Tom. But it is only when he gets near his ultimate target does he reveal the full horror of his plan...

Um, I'm not really sure if I liked this book or not. Honestly I think it got a bit wrapped up in "The Argument" which was tricky to follow in some particularly convoluted spots. Still, if you get into it, I think this could be a pretty good book. It feels like it had potential to be, but honestly, it lost me in the detail.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Movies & Food

Well it was a varied weekend :) On Friday night The Trucker came over and went to Ghazal's for dinner. He'd never been before and it was fabulous. Yumyum. We got a Chicken Mahknie and a Chicken Korma to share :)

On Saturday he headed off to do some work and I had an admin morning, cleaning the bunny hutch and dropping off my mountain of recycling. In the evening we went to Cedar Square and had some sushi at Yamakazi. Wow, I'm pretty fussy about my sushi, but I liked this spot. I especially liked their Strawberry, Cheese & Salmon Rainbow Rolls. Such divine flavours :) This will become a standard spot for pre/post movie sushi, I expect :)

And then we went to watch Horrible Bosses. It was alright, definitely some funny bits, but not at all what I was expecting. I guess I wasn't expecting something quite as frivolous ... but it was a star-studded cast.

On Sunday morning I went and had breakfast with InterviewingForAHusband who was up in Joburg. Awesome to catch up :) And then I went and depressed myself by attempting to house-hunt a little. Sigh. I just thought maybe I'd have a look and see what's available at the moment ... and it did nothing but frustrate me :(

In the evening I went back to The Trucker's house and we went for a walk and then he made dinner and we watched The Adjustment Bureau. meh. It was okay, but it took a while to explain itself and it didn't really feel very compelling at all. I would definitely wait for a bored night at home to watch this ... don't go out of your way.

Friday, July 22, 2011

16 May: Kunming to Guangzhou to Dubai

Urgh. I think this has been one of the longest days of my life! We fell asleep to the sound of the rain storming outside and woke up to find the weather not much different. We had a final breakfast together and then there was much faffing around.

Eventually it stopped raining so I went for a bit of a walk, which did nothing more than confirm that either this city is a wasted stop for tourists or we're terribly situated. I guess in some ways it is always interesting to wander an area where real life takes place, as opposed to being in a completely touristy part of the city. Although I probably would lose interest equally quickly if we had been surrounded by yet more of the same tourist trinket shops too. Not entirely sure what I was hoping for from today, but I didn't find it. I think this trip has been a bit long for me.

I did go to the spot next to the hotel for a whole body massage, which was probably the creepiest massage experience of my life. Although you remain fully clothed, I just don't think I like a male masseuse. The whole place gave me a weird feeling and the massage was quite sore too. Overall, not something I'd recommend, even if you're looking to waste and hour. It was not a relaxing experience.

I had a quick shower afterwards and then checked out of my hotel room. My Airport Shuttle was early and I was the only passenger and I ended up with 2.5hrs to waste at Kunming Airport waiting for my 18h25 flight to Guangzhou. Boy is it noisy when an airport has constant announcements. Although it all sounded like there were loads of delayed flights.

I left Kunming on time after a very uneventful wait. The flight to Guangzhou wasn't too bad - aside from it being a stop-off point from another destination so the plane was already packed and instead of my aisle seat (I always prefer an aisle), I ended up sitting between 2 little old ladies because someone else had already swapped my seat. Ah well, I don't really mind since I'm traveling alone and it was only a 1.5hr flight. Which I had nothing to do on. Seriously, a Kindle would've been a genius purchase for this trip! But they did feed us so that kept us mostly occupied.

Guangzhou airport was insane. For a place I've never heard of before, it was massive and packed. I had to collect my luggage from the local flight and check-in again at International Departures.

Oh My Word, you would've sworn Guangzhou was the gateway to Africa. I've never seen so many people with excess baggage. I could've sworn I'd arrived at some kind of freight counter. I just hope my luggage arrives and doesn't get bumped for that one guy's 11 washing-machine-sized boxes! I even saw a guy check in a flat screen TV. And I've just seen someone else with a screen as hand luggage too.

Anyway, on to Dubai.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Awe, I had such a lovely evening last night :) <3

But first, the week. Monday I headed back to SCM for a very quiet evening. But nice to see everyone again :) Last night I stayed home and was miserable and read my book in bed from about 7pm. This was largely due to a minor misunderstanding over text between The Trucker & I which we were both too stubborn to fix immediately. But after about an hour & half I caved and called him and we had a lovely convo. So far things seem to be really good in the resolving and talking thru minor issues department. I think we're at the stage of testing boundaries and seeing what's okay and what's not. And handling it smoothly :)

So I was thrilled when my dinner plans for last night fell thru and instead he booked us a dinner in Olivedale at a surprise destination. Turns out it was at Cafe del Sol (no idea when he actually did that since apparently he's been trying to get a booking there for about 2weeks now!).

The restaurant is lovely. The decor is fresh and the place was busy but didn't feel crowded or loud. The service was good and not pushy. The food was divine! We started with their Beetroot Carpaccio which I would really recommend. What an amazing combination of flavours!

I had the Amatriciana sauce with their home made Tagliatelle, which was *supurb* - I think The Trucker was a little jealous :) Am looking forward to the leftovers for lunch! And although we really weren't planning it, we were tempted by their Chocolate Lindt Cake for dessert. Completely decadent and reminded me a little of The Attic's Hot Chocolate Pudding. Yum.

> Follow Cafe del Sol on Twitter

And then I braved staying at his house during the week and facing the traffic this morning. Was up about 20mins earlier than usual but got to work before I normally leaving my house (all that with a half hour drive). I feel like I've been awake for hours already!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

15 May: Kunming

We were lucky again, after an early train arrival (before 8am), to be able to check into our rooms immediately this morning at the Camellia Hotel.

After a shower, we took a stroll to what seemed to be a central pedestrian shopping area in Kunming (but real shops and an awful lot of familiar brands, not touristy shops). We found what I think was the Bird & Flower market nearby but, really, it was not great. There were plenty of pet stalls that just broke my heart. So many gorgeous little bunnies in tiny individual cages, or loads of bunnies in larger cages with barely any floor space for all of them :( I so wanted to cuddle them and take one home. Can't wait to see my 3, little do they know the cuddles they are in for - haha. They will be so annoyed :)

And not only bunnies, but birds, lots of terrapins, even crabs! Hedgehogs, squirrels, chinchillas, kittens, bearded dragons, scorpions and spiders!

We found some lunch and then made out way back to the hotel. I tagged along on a trip to The Loft, which was supposed to be some kind of arty area with galleries, but it seems it's not open on a Sunday. So we wandered around the area a little. And I'm almost sure we saw a very old Chinese lady who had lotus feet!

There really is not much to do here in Kunming. There is the shopping area (about a 2.5km walk away, apparently) but it's not really my kind of shopping. I did go for a wander around our hotel in the opposite direction to where we'd gone this morning. Nothing terribly interesting. We seem to be in real-life China and no longer touristy China. And I'm just not that interested in Sporting goods or Appliance stores. I was again amazed at how their shops selling the same products all seem to be clustered together, I can't imagine how it makes good business sense.

Another interesting thing we've seen is these outdoor areas that look like parks, but instead of swings and slides, they have sort of gym equipment, but made out of metal like park-stuff would be and all brightly painted.

We went out for our final Intrepid Tour Group dinner. It was sadly, I think, one of the least enjoyable meals we've had this trip (comparing against other meals in similar Chinese restaurants, not the awful hot-pot or instant noodles we've been eating on the trains). Usually we struggle to finish the communal meal our Leader orders but, this was clearly more Westernised because it was the first individual portion sized food I've seen in any of the traditional restaurants here.

We did go for a drink at another spot afterwards but none of us are really big drinkers although the drinks here are really weak anyway.

It wasn't a late night at all. Although my roommate and I did end up chatting in bed till about 11pm. It's weird for me to think about the differences between the end of this trip and my last one. This time I'm looking forward to getting home to someone and last time I was leaving someone behind.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

14 May: Chengdu to Kunming

Didn't do much this morning before leaving Chengdu. Another breakfast at the hostel (this ones had the best food in my opinion - although Xi'an had the best hot chocolate). Then a quick visit to a nearby supermarket to stock up on instant noodles (I have had more on this trip than ever in my life before) and snacks for our 19hr train ride.

And then, after repacking my bag, I took one last wander. Am amazed how they can have identical shops just 2 doors apart here. Am also amazed by how much ready-to-eat vacuum-packed meat is for sale, they have entire shops dedicated just to that!

Then it was back on a train again. I think I may have over estimated my capacity for train travel on this holiday. The novelty of going thru tunnels has also bee completely lost for me now.

It was a very uneventful day, really.

Monday, July 18, 2011

13 May: Chengdu

Since we'd already done the main highlight in Chengdu (the Pandas), we decided to spend our full day here doing a day trip out to Leshan (a 2 hour drive away) to see their giant buddha. He's 71m tall and carved into the side of a cliff where 3 rivers meet.

I'll admit that although I don't subscribe to any religion, I do go and look at churches and temples, like I suspect most people do. But, after a certain number of them in a short space of time, no matter how spectacular, they do all get a bit same-y for me. Because, I suspect, they hold no particular relevance for me, other than a nice or interesting old building.

And so, I still went to see the buddha because it must've been quite a feat to create it and well, I needed something to do :)

It was spectacular to see. The area around it is lush and felt quite tropical with the light rain. The first thing you see is the giant buddha head (apparently his ears are 7m high!) and then you walk (or get shoved by the mass of tourists, all with a leader yelling into a microphone, of course) down a steep path on the cliff to get to his gigantic feet! He's *huge*.

Didn't do much else here, except climb a lot more stairs and try an Apple Fanta. And then we had a bit of a struggle to find our driver and a bit of a worrisome drive home because it seemed like he spent the entire 2hrs trying to keep himself awake (literally slapping himself and shaking his head!!).

Anyway, we arrived back in one piece and after a quick bite, I went off to wander the Tibetan streets surrounding our hostel.

For dinner this evening we went back to the JinLi area and ate food from the stalls. I tried some chicken dumplings, cake with chicken (which was basically chicken cooked into the middle of a dough thing, the shape of a small pita) and roasted duck spring roll, which was the best. For dessert we had these weird strawberry ice cream in a cake things that had been deep friend. Hmmm, healthy!

More Quiet

On Thursday evening, CollegeInstructor and I went to watch X-Men: First Class. I loved it. Thoroughly enjoyed it :) Definitely recommend it. Haha.

Friday was quieter. I picked up pizza and went over to The Trucker's house for dinner and we ended up watching The Joneses, which I'd seen before but he hadn't. And we were both definitely in the mood for something light.

On Saturday I was on a mission to hunt down something to wear for the 90s party we were going to that evening. So we had breakfast at Foood in Cresta. And I spent the rest of the morning trying to reassure The Trucker that really, I wasn't that bad when shopping normally ... only when I have to find something so specific. Hahahaha. Poor boy.

But, I did find something in the end. Erring on the side of the 80s, because really, for me, the 90s ranged from Standard 3 (Grade 5) till I finished college. It was a bit varied. Some people got it amazingly spot on tho! Hahaha. The party was fab, at a place called Salsa in Illovo.

It was great fun. Lots of the work crowd and everyone got to meet The Trucker. Although I think he felt a bit lost ... like all the other partners. Oops. Ah well, I guess it happens.

Sunday was very relaxing. Breakfast with one of the Trucker's friends and then a lazy day spent reading in the sun and an afternoon nap.

Friday, July 15, 2011

12 May: Chengdu

Wow, noisiest train ride ever! Sigh, people really have no idea about personal space or consideration in situations we take so for granted. There is no such thing as a personal call because everything is said so loudly. And it's the same on the trains, regardless of people who might be trying to sleep.

Admittedly when the lights go out at 10pm it does seem to quiet down. But I'm always trying to get to sleep long before that because, really, there is simply not that much to do on a train.

Anyway, I slept averagely and was woken super early because they switched on the lights in preparation for the last stop, Chengdu, about an hour before we arrived. Which was still in the dark at 05h30.

We'd arranged yesterday to get collected from the train station and go directly to Chengdu Panda Sanctuary, which opens at 07h30. We ended up faffing about in an empty car park for almost an hour and a half. Yawn.

We were the first people to enter the park this morning (our tickets had been pre-bought for us already) and we headed off to have some much needed breakfast before Panda viewing (because of a connection our tour leader had, they specially arranged to have the coffee shop open for us early, how awesome!).

And after breakfast we started to wander up to the Panda enclosures. Honestly, there is nothing quite like seeing an animal for the first time. Okay, so they're not quite in the wild like the Gorillas or Polar Bears, but they are about as close as I can get.

The adults weren't terribly interesting yet, all still snoozing because feeding time is only at 09h30 (which is what we'd come early for). Then we moved on to some gorgeous sub-adult bears who didn't put on much of a show for us, they were far more interested in their food.

The true stars of our visit was a Mom with her 3 cubs. Wow were they ever all having fun together! Was absolutely adorable watching the babies all play and tumble about together.

And then came the real highlight of the trip for me, I got to go in, have my shoes plastic wrapped, gloves and a gown put on, all so that I could hold one of the gorgeous Panda babies!

It was incredible. I think the grin on my face and general elation lasted a good few hours after. The "little" Panda I held was a 7 month old girl called YaYun. While she sat for photos, she was appeased with honey covered bamboo and she barely cared about us awe-struck humans at all!

Interestingly she had no animal smell. And their fur isn't soft (although it is hard to tell with gloved hands). More coarse like all other wild animals, not soft like my Rexy-boy. Haha.

We had watched the 4 young Pandas all sleeping or playing high up in the trees a little before I went in to hold one. Amazing how they don't fall (like so many other animals, but they seem like they should be too heavy for that somehow).

We wandered past a few more adult Pandas who were munching their breakfasts and then spent some more time watching the mom with 3 cubs - could've spent all day here!

We did have a look at a few of their Red Pandas, but they were far less exciting, poor things. And then it was time to head to Holly's Hostel and check-in.

Yay, our first Chinese accommodation with an enclosed shower (which is still not great if there is no drainage :P). We relaxed and showered (and I finally got to catch up on free wifi - yay!) for a few hours before we headed out on our orientation walk.

Was pretty awesome because we caught a bus to The People's Park and wandered around there for ages. It seems to be a hang out spot for mostly senior citizens who were dancing and watching what looked like talent shows, all blasting their music on top of one another. There were people playing board and card games and singing karaoke. All in all quite a surreal place but, with such a great vibe!

There is even a spot where people put up profiles of themselves if they are looking for a husband or wife! Apparently the 3 questions every Chinese girl wants to know before she'll date you is 1. Do you have an apartment 2. Do you have a car 3. Do you have a job. And they list these answers on the profiles specifically.

For dinner we went to a nearby restaurant to try a hot-pot. Basically you sit around a table that has a gas cooker in the middle and they bring a big pot which heats up at your table. I gather the base is some kind of fish soup - there was an entire fish floating in ours! We had 2 flavours (an inner pot and an outer pot), one which was spicy (apparently it was their mild, but it was quite hot for all of us!) and one that wasn't. And then you order your "fillings".

It's a bit like a fondue cause you're cooking your own food but here you just throw it all into the liquid and then try fishing it out with your chopsticks later. Keep in mind you cannot see thru the liquid so it's all chance (pot-luck?). I am not a fan. We came back and had a drink at the hotel after.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

11 May: Xi'an to Chengdu

We only had the morning left in Xi'an today before we got on another train trip (16 or so hours this time) and headed for Chengdu.

Xi'an was fantastic and it was nice to have a couple of jam-packed days :) I spent my morning visiting the Shaanxi Museum of History. It was not that spectacular and, honestly, was one of my worst museum experiences ever. But, in no way because of the museum itself, but more because of the quantity of people.

It took over half an hour of queuing to even get and entrance ticket! Tickets were free with a valid id or passport.

And then I went inside and the place was absolutely swarming with people in a way I've never seen before in any museum. I mean, touristy things have been busy in China. I can't think of a single occasion where the western tourists have ever been even close to 50% of the visitors anywhere. I don't know if the Asian tourists are Chinese locals visiting their own country or if they're from elsewhere, but they are everywhere, en masse. Which, if they are Chinese locals, I think is fabulous, for the most part.

The downside is a cultural one. They are not even trying to be discreet or not disturb other visitors, nor do they feel anything about pushing in front and crowding around something, blocking the view completely. The other thing I found most odd was that they all seemed to want either photographs of almost all museum artifacts or photographs of themselves posing alongside the artifacts. I mean what on earth is that bronze pot going to mean to you when you get home and go thru your photos??

Anyway, I sped thru the museum reading up on the bits that interested me and skimming past others. I must be honest that Chinese history still completely confuses me but they do all seem way advanced for the times.

There are other weird cultural things we've had to get used to here. Least of which is not flushing your toilet paper (I remember that from Thailand) and the squat loo's (plenty of those on other trips I've done).

It's things more like the guttural throat clearing followed by spitting just about anywhere. It always sounds like someone retching about to throw up.  The other bizarre thing we've noticed is the kiddies pants (I assume only up until they're potty trained). Basically they are split from front to back in the crotch, allowing for easy squatting whenever and literally where ever they feel the need. We've seen plenty of kids squatting on pavements going to the loo as we drive past on buses. And don't worry, the parents do clean up after them.

The train ride was pretty uneventful but we should be seeing the Panda's tomorrow straight from arriving in Chengdu, since our train gets in just after 05h30 (am seriously considering paying a fortune to hold a baby Panda for a minute!)

Big Smiles

Right, right, I'm sure I owe you a *real* post by now ... but honestly, it hasn't been a very eventful week.

I skipped SCM this week. Needed a break. I'm not really good, generally, at seeing the same person/people as much as once a week (unless I'm dating them). And SCM has somehow skipped passed this subconscious rule of mine because it's usually a completely different dynamic because of the different people who show up each week. So it tends to not feel the same every time. But in the last few weeks it has been getting a bit too much of the same for me. So I decided to take a night off and stay in. The Trucker was supposed to be playing cricket, but then that got postponed to this evening, when we were planning on watching a movie. And he'd made plans to work on Monday evening instead. So, an evening home alone for me (note: the first of many this week). Well, until he surprised me by offering to come over. Cue surprise and disbelief. At 9pm on a Monday night, when I live 20mins away ... really? (I'm too practical for that) But it turns out, really. Hahaha. This boy is very sweet to me and I was thrilled :)

On Tuesday (thinks back...) I had an action cricket game. And then last night he had to take some friends to the airport and I was home keeping warm again (seriously, there was a *lot* of that this week - haha!). And again he surprised me by calling on his way home from the airport and asking what I was up to. Honestly I was about to start reading a few pages before turning my light out ... but instead he came over :) Another nice surprise.

I know, it probably sounds ridiculous. But it's what made me smile this week :) Post-Varen I have this constant expectation of The Trucker bailing on just about every plan we make ... and he never has and just keeps surprising me. It's really lovely :)

Other than that we have spent this week getting our August trip to Botswana organised and just about all our accommodation is booked & paid for (only 1 night left to arrange. It's going to be fabulous, although with a *lot* of driving around. Makgadikgadi Pans and Moremi ... can't wait! Hahahaha, and last night we were even discussing adding an additional 2 nights (an extra days leave for me, which I don't really have, but hey, that's what negative leave is for, right?). And so begins the count down to Bostwana 2011 :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

10 May: Xi'an

Woke up at 7am this morning to get out by 08:30, off on a mission to see the Terracotta Army. We caught a local bus from South Gate to the train station where we caught another bus out to the site.

It was another pretty miserable grey and drizzly day. But, no worries cause the Warriors are all indoors :)

The place is surrounded by loads of touristy type shops (of course) and the entrance gives no indication of what is to come. We hired a local guide (between 4 of us it was cheaper than an audio guide each) and set off on golf carts.

We got a bit of the history, but to be honest I'm still not clear on all the Chinese Dynasty's and how long ago they all were and who was emperor when etc.

I'm also still pretty confused (after yesterday and today's visits) as to why things are buried miles away from the actual tomb mounds (or outside them at all?). And why no one seems that interested in the human remains (seems quite contrary to Egypt with all their mummies). I would've thought that'd be equally interesting ...?

Anyway, Pit 1 is exactly like all the photos you see, but to stand in it and look out across at the vast number of life-sized and unique statues is something else! It's such a pity you can't get closer, they are all fascinating.

What is really appealing to me is wondering how different it'll all be if you visited again in 30yrs, since it has only been 36yrs since it was first discovered at all and there are archaeologists working constantly at the site (and surroundings, no doubt). Just imagine the progress! (I wonder the same about what the progress at the Han Yang Ling site would be too, actually).

It completely boggles my mind, the scale at which these emperors were doing things 2000 years ago. And it's quite awesome to think that these warriors have achieved a sense of longevity in the sense that we know what they all looked like.

Anyway, Pit 2 has not had much dug up yet and Pit 3 is quite interesting to compare because of the different types of people in it and it is so much smaller.

All in all *amazing* and we did head back for a 2nd look at Pit 1 after our guide had taken us for the obligatory shopping stop. I didn't buy any jade, it was super expensive.

We also wandered thru the museum which has pieces from other places they've excavated including 2 bronze chariots. Although 1 was just a replica because the original is in Shanghai. That's the other cool thing about the abundance of warriors. Plenty can go to other museums around the world for display. Quite a unique ability, I'd think.

Eventually we headed home (on the same 2 buses), but after a quick stop at Subway for lunch. Yes, exactly the same as home (but better than McDs, at least).

So, we had some more time to wander Xi'an before our evening plans. I splurged on a Hello Panda top :) And ended up in a more local mall looking at lots of adorable baby bunnies in a pet shop (it is the year of the rabbit, you know). I also tried a Peach Fanta. It has a pink label and the liquid is a dusty clear colour.

In the evening we'd booked to go see a show and have a dumpling buffet. It was fab! The show was called Tang Dynasty Palace Music and Dances and was 10 different dances and music typical of the Tang Dynasty (still not sure when exactly that was). I enjoyed it far more than I expected.


The dumpling dinner was less of a buffet and more just a sample of a wide variety of dumplings. I think we had about 25 different ones each by the end. They were all quite yummy, except the boiled one.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what Chinese parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it…

Amy Chua’s daughters, Sophia and Louisa (Lulu) were polite, interesting and helpful, they were two years ahead of their classmates in maths and had exceptional musical abilities. But Sophia and Lulu were never allowed to attend a sleepover, be in a school play, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, and not be the #1 student in every subject (except gym and drama). And they had to practice their instruments for hours every day, as well as in school breaks and on family holidays.

The Chinese-parenting model certainly seemed to produce results. But what happens when you do not tolerate disobedience and are confronted by a screaming child who would sooner freeze outside in the cold than be forced to play the piano? In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua relates her experiences raising her children the ‘Chinese way’, and how dutiful, patient Sophia flourished under the regime and how tenacious, hot-tempered Lulu rebelled. It is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs.

It’s also about Mozart and Mendelssohn, the piano and the violin, and how they made it to Carnegie Hall. It was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how you can be humbled by a thirteen-year-old.

I have been keen to read this book ever since it came out. And it just so happened to coincide with a trip to China (not that that was relevant). It is a fascinating read tho, although the ended was a bit meh (how could it not have been). I definitely don't think there are any circumstances I could ever be a Chinese mother. I was definitely raised to question things and have opinions. My mom read this book earlier this year and I'm looking forward to discussing it with her too. Culture and society. Interesting stuff.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

09 May: Xi'an

Arrived in Xi'an on the train this morning. It's still pretty grey, overcast and damp here.

But we got a transfer to the hotel and had some french toast for breakfast (ours rooms weren't ready immediately). And then after we'd all showered, we caught a taxi to the Han Yang Ling museum. Which is basically this fantastic underground museum, built around the semi-excavated burial pits at the Emperor Jingdi's tomb. The only downside is you see no actual long-dead people, but other than that, it's all pretty amazing.

I was completely awed by how much they've found in the small amount they've dug up so far. The ceramic animals were incredible: dogs, sheep, pigs, chickens, goats, oxen and horses. Along with loads of people. Much tinier than the famous larger than life terracotta warriors, but en masse and intricate none the less. Makes me much more excited for tomorrow (when we visit the Terracotta Army!).

We went to the underground museum, watched a 4D movie about the history of it, visited the South Gate and went to another archaeological museum nearby that had even more of all the items, but you could see them much closer up here. Fascinating.

That was pretty much our afternoon. By the time we got back to the hotel, the rain had really set in.

We spent some time at our very awesome hostel, Xiangzimen Youth Hostel, desperately trying to connect to their wifi (which everyone else seems to have no issues with, but I only managed to connect to once and just before we left for the museum :( ). No luck.

That evening, we headed out in the pouring rain for our orientation walk, which we'd put off earlier (to get to the museum sooner). It ended in the Muslim quarter where we'd planned to have dinner.

We did a bit of shopping first because it really seems like we'll have very little free time in Xi'an, what with the warriors tomorrow during the day (and I gather it's a 1-2hr trip to get there) and we've booked dinner (a dumpling buffet) and a show in the evening.

Aside from getting quite drenched by the rain, we did stop and have some noodles (real ones this time!). They're sposed to be really good here, but I wasn't blown away to be honest. That said, not since Thailand do I remember any of my trips having such good meals. What a pleasure!

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