Sunday Salon: May reads

Hmm…haven’t being writing anything in Sunday Salon since the last one I posted in March.  Have definitely been reading but slow in pace – not my own books but those from other side of the world which through Bookcrossing I got to read them.  If not for all these books that I have signed up, think I could be lazy sometimes reading my own.  And though this sharing by mailing has digress a little from the original Bookcrossing theme of leaving books in the public for someone else to find, but at least the books get read and journalled instead of being “lost” somewhere out there not knowing in whose hands the books have gone to.

Anyway, back to this sad read received from a fellow bookcrosser about an air-balloon tragedy in 1897, how a group of three Swedish explorers set off to the North Pole by air and never returned, only 30 years later in bones, as some parts of their bodies were being taken as food by Polar Bears.  I’m always fascinated in reading adventure stories about people participating in dangerous expedition, and admired their courage and determination to achieve their goals against all odds.  And for those who did not succeed, but ended up in injuries and deaths, I’m also amazed that their bodies could be so well-preserved by the cold climate, and looking at their faces just couldn’t help to wonder what was in their head at that point of time facing death in such kinds of unforgiving environments.

Another more delightful read also from bookcrossing was JK Rowling’s new fantasy book ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’.  The stories are all very creative and interesting and I especially like “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump” and “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot”.  The first I thought was quite like the muggle world fairy tale “Emperor’s New Clothes” excluding the magic.  Just wonder will all these new magical short stories be make into a film as well.

Currently I’m reading “The Bookseller of Kabul” but in a snail pace.  Nothing to do with the book, it’s interesting but though slow at least it keeps me going because it’s a bookcrossing book and knowing I have to pass it on after I’m done.  And also reading other readers’ reviews make my day.

Shanghai – Rest and Relax cum Shopping & Gastronomical trips

There were days we didn’t go anywhere but stayed indoor watching TV programmes, eating in and resting, since it was a month travel and there were elderly with us we chose to go out 2 days rest a day kind of schedule – free and easy & no rush just like back home in Singapore.

Sometimes we took turns to do marketing at the nearby supermarkets, such as Auchan 欧尚 (in Kunshan), Walmart 沃尔玛 (Kunshan) Tesco (Shanghai) and a 大润发 (Kunshan) for our daily cooking needs. We bought breads for breakfast, meat and vegetables to do our own cooking. There are many shopping centres and supermarkets around, but you must remember to bring your own shopping bags, as all supermarkets there do not provide them, unless you ask and pay for it. They are really into the green movement thingy.

In Singapore we have the BYOBD (Bring Our Own Bag Day) which used to be every Wed, but over in China it’s every day. A few times we forgot so instead of buying the bags, we just carried our buys in our hands, anyway we were staying just behind the supermarket. This was in Shanghai.

On days we visit our relatives, they are very hospitable and always invited us to stay for dinner and would prepare lots of dishes until we are all so stuffed up, having no more strength to travel. Of course, seeing us finished the dishes make them pleased. Other times they would treat us to restaurants food, no wonder all my pimples started popping out on my chin – too much good food every day – and getting fatter.  We eat everywhere we go.

Tour of Suzhou City (04-Apr’09)

On the 3rd day, we continued our visit to another classical garden in Suzhou, 挫政园 (The Humble Administrator’s Garden) together. Ticket was sold at RMB50.00 per person. It’s also a guided tour, and in between the guide’s long poetic descriptions I heard bits and pieces of names like Wang Xiancheng, Hong Jun and Sai Jinhua (塞金花), which intrigues me to do some research on the story upon my return.

“Sai Jin Hua, born in 1872, became a prostitute at the age of 20. When she was 23 years old, she married a scholar Hong Jun. He did well in his exams and became a high ranking officer. Sai travelled to Russia, Germany, Australia and Holland with Hong Jun as the ambassador’s wife. Her wit and charm were legendary, and won the praises of the foreign diplomats she met. Then tragedy struck and Hong died. She was forced to leave his house. During this period, the Eight-Nation Army entered Beijing and Sai was forced to go back to the brothel. She became the lover of a German marshal and persuaded him to implement a peace treaty, once again demonstrating her legendary wit and charm. In 1903, she was arrested for torturing young prostitutes and imprisoned. She spent her old age in poverty and eventulally died in Beijing.”

Nothing mentioned about her relation with the garden, but it was said that the garden site was appropriated by Wang Xiancheng, an Imperial Envoy and Poet of the Ming Dynasty, from a recluse Tang Dynastry Scholar Lu Guimeng 陆龟蒙.

This time we didn’t manage to tour on our own, as by the time the guide finished her talk it’s already after 2pm and we haven’t yet had our lunch. The restaurants are all located outside the garden, so it’s either we continued our walk or go for lunch and once stepped out we cannot go in again. And due to raining, everyone decided to go have lunch instead. Well, isn’t strolling in the rain a good way to enjoy Spring?  Next time I know to bring along sandwiches and small snacks.

We had lunch at a Cantonese Restaurant located in the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (CS-SIP), which is a modern Industrial Park both Governments joined hands in developing in the East of Suzhou. Seeing the familiar banks and buildings we felt as if we were back in Singapore.

 

 

On the way, we came to a place called 金鸡湖(Jinji Lake aka Golden Rooster Lake) which is said to be bigger than the West Lake in Hangzhou 杭州西湖。We alighted from the car and strolled along the walkway taking photographs in the drizzle. Nothing much to see probably because it’s day time & raining, and also there were some constructions going on nearby. But was told there are performances with lasers and musical fountains on the lake every night. Seems the best time to visit is still in the night.

During the drive, we saw a lot of interesting road safety awareness slogan, which are like poems:

酒后驾车 Drinking and Driving

生命打折 Lives will be discounted

滴酒不沾 Be a teetotaller

出外平安 Safe journey going out

It was also Ching Ming Festival (Tomb-sweeping Day) on the day, just like the famous poem written by a Chinese poet of the late Tang Dynasty, Du Mu.

清明时节雨纷纷

路上行人欲断魂

借问酒家何处有

牧童遥指杏花村

A drizzling rain always fall on the Mourning Day

The mourner’s heart is feeling sad on his way.

Where can a wineshop be found to drown away his sorrows?

A cowherd points to the Apricot Flower (杏花) village in the distance.

And in China, highways cover all cities we visit and a toll is always charged. On this trip, I’d also learnt some famous Chinese sayings:-

  • 生在苏州 To be born in Suzhou (as it’s renowned for its beautiful women and educated citizens);
  • 吃在广州 eat in Guangzhou (for its culinary delicacies);
  • 穿在杭州 live in Hangzhou (for its natural beauty and scenery); and
  • 死在柳洲 die in Liuzhou, as the place is renowned for its 楠木nanmu wood which is used mostly in making Chinese antique furniture and coffins for its durability. Some tomb excavations in Jiangxi Province found 47 coffins made of nanmu wood that are reported to be about 2500 years old dating back to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty period. It slowed decay.

Here’s another one:-

  • 上有天堂Above there’s Heaven
  • 下有苏杭Below there are Suzhou and Hangzhou (which means Paradise on Earth)

Hope you enjoy reading my travelogue, and that it will help in your travels in some ways. I would definitely revisit all these places again, and explore more when opportunity arises.

Till the next write-up, stay tuned…

Kunshan City, Jiangsu Province, China (Apr’09 Day 1 & 2)

It has been an exciting, enjoyable, eye-opening and educating one month China trip for me and my family in April’09.  As it was my first time going to China with my parents and siblings I was real excited and looking forward to it.  We travelled on our own without taking any tour group package, and paid only SGD590 for a round trip airfare on Singapore Airlines.  5 hours on flight and we arrived at Pudong Airport, welcomed by the cold breeze and our cousin with his friend already waiting to pick us up in their van.

Our first stop was Kunshan, and it took another 4 hours from Pudong Airport to reach our hotel destination.  During the drive, I noticed that the driving side is on the left.  And the vehicles plates all start with the province followed by alphabet then number, eg. E.N1J45 which means this car is from 苏州 (Suzhou).  K.J3N83  is from 北京 (Beijing) and so forthIf the plate is red, means the vehicle belongs to the army.  In Kunshan, taxi meter starts at RMB8.00, whereas in Shanghai it’s RMB11.00.  It will start increasing RMB2.50/mile after the 3rd mile starts.  Taking a cab from Pudong Airport to Kunshan will costs about RMB350 (approx).

Upon arrival, we realised we had underestimated the weather there thinking our cardigan would be enough to keep us from the cold, but we were so wrong.  We had to put on windbreaker on top of our clothes and sweater.  The wind was especially chilly in the night, not even the windbreaker could help keep us warm.

Day 2

We visited 周庄 (Zhou Zhuang aka Venice of the Orient, a floating village of low stone houses with narrow pathways and stone bridges.  There are many shops selling souvenirs, antiques, paintings and accessories all priced very low compared to the city, as well as tea houses and restaurants.  The most famous dish in all the Zhou Zhuang restaurants is the Braised Pork’s Knuckle 万三蹄, which is named after 沈万三 (Shen Wanshan)And it’s through a painting of Zhou Zhuang by a famous painter 陈逸 (Chen Yifei) this ancient town became famous.

The story was told to us by a tour guide representing this ancient town.  She’s so learnt in the cultural and heritage of the place that you can’t help to admire her for her knowledge.  Every word flowed from her mouth was as from the pen of a master, like the Chinese idiom 出口成章, haha :-D.  I sincerely complimented her for her knowledge and was told she had to sit for exam so as to be qualified as a tourist guide.  Wow, you have to be there to listen to her lengthy description for yourself to believe it.  After the 20-30mins guided tour, we continued at our own pace to explore the place on our own, so travelling on our own has its advantage.

To be continued…

 … how the braised pork knuckle dish got its name 万三蹄 from a wealthy man of Jiangnan (South of Yangtze River) by the name of 沈万三 (Shen Wansan) and his relationship with the Ming Dynasty Emperor 朱元章 (Zhu Yuanzhang).