This weekend we headed to Hangzhou to go and stay by the West Lake. We caught the train from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station which is always an experience in itself. The station is huge and very busy, but it is clean. The train system itself is incredibly efficient with modern, fast trains that always run on time.
The train travels at 170km an hour and it takes 1 hour to do the journey. As you look out of the window the landscape is fairly bleak with lots of industry, construction and high rise apartment blocks. It is only as you arrive in Hangzhou that you see more green on the landscape and hills on the horizon.
We stayed at the Wyndham Hotel and had a beautiful view of the lake. We walked around the lake on Saturday afternoon and it is lovely, but slightly ruined by the sheer volume of people and traffic on the perimeter, not to mention the array of tacky souvenir shops and food stands.
On Sunday we went to the Longjin Tea Village to see the famous green tea plantations. The village and surrounding area are extremely beautiful and we were lucky to visit at a time when the leaves were being picked and dried ready for sale and the cherry blossom trees were in bloom..
新年快乐 - xīn nián kuaì lè
On Friday at school we celebrated the upcoming Chinese New Year. I'm already feeling very nostalgic about this being my last New Year in China, so this year I went outside to photograph the performers of our annual lion and dragon dance before it started and to try and get a front row seat. The performers were so friendly towards me and encouraged me to have some photos taken with them too.
Cue the main event! The school gather round to watch as first the dragon, and then the lions do their traditional dance. The movements are in rhythm with the beating of the drums and the noise of the dance and the scary gestures of animals are designed to scare away the monster Nian.
The performance always closes with the ceremonial painting on the lions eyes which symbolises the giving of life as the lions are now able to see. In other information that I have read online, the dotting of the eyes can also symbolise wealth for the new year as the Chinese word for eye jīng (睛）sounds like the word for gold jīn (金）.
After the performance the students, who had been encouraged to wear red or traditional Chinese clothing, were able to go and complete a variety of activities centred on Chinese culture and New Year customs. As you can see below there was the opportunity to play a chopstick game, paint lanterns, solve riddles, paint Chinese masks yummy sticky rice.
The Mandarin teachers and the local community centre did an amazing job in creating this special day for the students and staff. 谢谢 你们！
The first signs of spring
In January as soon as we returned to Shanghai the Christmas decorations were down and the Chinese New Year decorations were up. I love this time of year when China is glowing with beautiful bright red and gold decorations symbolizing good luck.
Of course in China they do not refer to this festival as New Year, but as the Spring Festival (chun jie - 春节), and there is a definite buzz in the air as people start preparing for their most important annual celebration. The shops are now full of new year displays and promotions featuring the zodiac sign of the dog.
More important than the decorations and shopping of course, is that the festival does literally sing in the beginning of Spring, and in the park this weekend we saw the first buds on the cherry blossom trees.
In preparation for the Spring Festival I have finally been to order a traditional Chinese dress, otherwise know as a qipao (旗袍) from the tailors in the Pearl Market. I can't quite believe that it has taken me 7 years to do this, but better late than never! Below you can see me picking my fabric and some pictures of the Pearl Market which is really famous for its pearl jewellery (obviously!) and all the fake goods that they sell.
Stay tuned for more pictures of the Spring Festival celebrations....
When we first arrived in China in 2011, there was little in the way of Christmas decorations in Shanghai apart from the occasional display in a large shopping centre. Now Christmas decorations, gifts and cards are far more prevalent in shops and it feels like the importance of the celebration is growing amongst local culture.
Last Sunday we decided that it was time that we took a trip to the Hong Qiao Bird and Flower market to get our Christmas tree. The market not only sells birds and flowers, but also beautiful traditional Chinese pottery, furniture, jewellery as well as kitchenware, and of course, lots and lots of Christmas stuff!
On Sunday evening, Ross and I had a rare night out together and we went on the Untour Food Tour to finally try the Shanghai hairy crab. We started off in small restaurant called Linlongfang 麟笼坊 that specializes in xiaolongbao 小笼包. We tried several different varieties of the soup dumplings that contained a mixture of pork meat, crab meat and salted egg yolk. You eat xiaolongbao with vinegar and ginger, and they are by far my most favourite Chinese food.
Next, we went to a big restaurant called Kong Yi Ji 孔乙己 for the main event. The restaurant was originally within the old city walls and the outside was beautifully decorated with lanterns. There were also big pots outside the restaurant that are used to store the famous Shaoxing 绍兴酒 wine that is drunk alongside the hairy crabs. Inside, there were many traditional paintings and decorations, and even a replica rock garden that was made out of pieces of ginger! Our table upstairs was pre-prepared with a sampling range of Shaoxing wines laid out for each person, and a tray of uncooked hairy crabs ready for inspection. The crabs looked healthy (apparently!) and while they were being cooked we were brought various other delicious dishes; lion's head meatballs, crab roe with custard, crab roe wontons, crab roe fried dumplings, stir-fried pea shoots and braised bamboo. When the cooked crabs turned up we were able to try one male and one female. We were taught how to open and eat them, again with a ginger and vinegar sauce, and they were delicious. I'm very glad to have finally tried this Chinese delicacy which was, to quote Moana, "crabulous!"
I'm a little late writing this post, but better late then never! Last week, from 1st-7th October, China was celebrating Golden Week. The 1st October is National Day when China commemorates the founding of the PRC (People's Republic of China). You can see the Chinese flag flying all around the city of Shanghai. The red colour symbolizes the spirit of the revolution and the yellow stars signify the unity of the people under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Mid-Autumn festival was celebrated during Golden Week on 4th October. The festival is celebrated because the ancient Chinese recognised the moon's relationship with the change of the seasons and agricultural production. It is said that the Chinese used to make sacrifices to the moon on Autumn days. There are also legends associated with the festival like that of Chang E who in order to protect her husband's elixir flew all the way to the moon. Nowadays, families gather together to admire the full moon and eat moon cakes. Moon cakes can be sweet or savoury and come in many beautiful designs. In the photos below you can see some examples of fancier, more expensive moon cakes being sold in the Hong-Kong based supermarket City Super. You can also see some ice-cream moon cakes!
As I was wondering through the streets of the French Concession I came across traditional moon cakes being made in a bakery, and also in a restaurant. These two establishments seem to be using different methods to make the cakes, with one baking them in a round press-like oven (seen underneath the tray of cakes), and the other cooking them in a big wide pan.
The bakery were also selling packaged sweet moon cakes (bottom left) which were filled with a coconut paste and very delicious. I bought some of the savoury cakes from the restaurant too (on the right), but these were filled with a type of crab meat and, in my opinion, not so delicious!
So why crab meat? Well, in Shanghai it is the season for hairy crabs. Hairy crabs are considered to be a delicacy, and I'm ashamed to say that I have not yet tasted them as a dish in their own right! Apparently, they are best served steamed with a sauce of rice vinegar, ginger and sugar. On my travels around Shanghai I saw several hairy crab shops that have popped up in time for the crab season. We even saw hairy crabs on sale at the airport for people to buy and munch on the plane!
After a few days enjoying Golden Week in Shanghai, we then jetted off to Seoul, Republic of Korea, for the last half of the week. The next post will follow shortly....
Rainy day ay The Mall
What do you do on a rainy Saturday in Shanghai? Go to the mall. Malls in Shanghai are generally very shiny and fancy with lots of designer shops selling things that I can't afford. We have a membership for Arthur at a play centre called Park Kids Land inside a futuristic mall called L'Avenue. See the pictures below.
Google Hong kong
I'm very excited to be at the Google office in Hong Kong. I'm attending a Google Educator Level 1 Bootcamp and I can't help feeling like I'm in the movie The Internship! I have already taken advantage of the free food. They have the unhealthy stuff hidden in the drawers!
Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day in Shanghai with pollution-free skies. The school grounds were quiet and I took some photos of our lovely school campus and my classroom.
I have finally started having Chinese lessons again. Yesterday, for the first time in two years, I went back to HanYuan School on GaoLan Lu in the French Concession. I'm hoping that at some point in the not-too-distant future, I can sit the HSK level 3 exam. Check out the school and its beautiful old building in the pictures below.
Fuxing park 复興公园
I have posted before about our trips to the park, but it's such an amazing in experience in China that I feel compelled to post about it again. This weekend we went to Fuxing Park in the French Concession and as usual we were greeted with a cacophony of noise and an eclectic mix of people. Local people (the older generation in particular) love to gather together at the weekend and sing, play instruments, dance, chat and debate issues . It is wonderful to see the community uniting just for the pleasure of it. No one in the pictures and videos below is there to make money, they are simply there to hang out and share their talents with others.
I have been teaching French and Spanish for 13 years. I qualified and started teaching in the UK, and I currently work at Shanghai Community International School, China. I have experience teaching GCSEs and IB DP and MYP. Find out more about me within these blog pages or below at Linked In.