Monday, May 02, 2016

Half marathon and much more China

There’s a joke that goes like this:

Q: How can you tell if someone has run a marathon?
A: They’ll tell you.

It’s true. We bring it up in every conversation possible, proudly wear our finisher t-shirts, and post pictures on social media.

We also always complain that we’re not ready for race day: “I haven’t trained as much as I should have” or “my knee’s been bugging me” or “my only goal is to finish.”  I’m guilty of all of that so I'll say no more. 

Here’s Dale and I after running the WPS half marathon yesterday. We couldn’t have had a better day for it … perfect temperatures and not a cloud in the sky. I’m not going to say it was fun, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Now back to China …

There were a few things that surprised me about China, which I will now proceed to tell you about in great detail with many photos. 

China was a lot prettier than I’d imagined. They have many green spaces like parks, gardens, and public areas. Also lots of trees everywhere. There was a large park near a temple that we went to in Beijing where seniors could go and hang out every day and play cards and mah-jong with whoever else showed up. 

It was a warm, sunny day and I decided that’s what I want to do when I’m retired. If Winnipeg doesn’t have a place like that, I’m moving to Beijing. However, apparently their main purpose of playing games is to gamble so maybe it wasn’t as idyllic as it appeared. Also at that park was also a large group of seniors that were singing revolutionary songs of praise to their country and to their communist leaders.

I’ll probably just stay in Canada.

A friend who went to China three years ago said the smog had been so bad that when they looked out of their 53rd floor hotel room (!), they couldn’t see the top of the tall buildings due to the smog. (She was there the same time of year we were, when the smog is at its minimum.) But it wasn’t too bad when we were there. It was a bit hazy in Shanghai (above photo) and you could sort of feel it in other cities too, but it was better than I imagined. They are trying to reduce or eliminate the use of coal as a power source, so hopefully they are heading in the right direction. Also, the photo above was taken from the 88th floor and this neighbouring skyscraper (creatively named the Shanghai Tower - still under construction) towers far above.

The photo below is taken from the 88th floor observation deck as well, but looking down into an interior glass window. The top 50 floors of this building is a Hyatt hotel, so we're looking way down to the hotel lobby. The rooms are all around. That's where I'd like to stay next time.

There were quite a few discrepancies between what the guides told us and what is probably the truth. They say communism is awesome and that it’s much more open than it used to be. Yet they continue to block western social media and websites* and are currently removing crosses from buildings and trying to scale back religious freedom. Here's a recent Globe & Mail articleDoesn’t sound that awesome to me. They also don’t like to discuss what happened at Tian An Men Square or the empty ghost cities.

* One of our guides said the reason they block Google is because on Google maps it shows that a couple of fought-over islands belong to Japan and not China.
Tian An Men Square. There is space for a million people to gather.

Construction everywhere, and yet many buildings seemed almost empty.

I was also surprised by how few people spoke English. English is mandatory in school (so they say) but it was almost impossible to find an English-speaker when you needed one. I know China is huge and powerful and doesn’t bow to western influence like other countries, but I guess in my self-centered worldview, I thought at least the young people would know English. In Cambodia and Vietnam, communicating was never a problem but here it often seemed like they didn’t even try. Ordering food in a restaurant or even speaking to hotel staff was a struggle. Some of us tried to take a taxi one night and even though many empty cabs drove by, the only one that stopped quoted us an exorbitant rate. When I asked our guide about this later, he feigned surprise and said it was probably because they were concerned about the language barrier. I think it was because they didn’t like foreigners. We ended up taking the bus back to the hotel, after someone with decent English told us which bus to take. By that point, I was suspicious of everyone and was kind of surprised when the bus route actually did go to our hotel.

We had to work very hard to order our food and still weren't sure what we'd get.

This server was an exception - she worked VERY hard to communicate with us via iPhone translation. There were a lot of things lost in translation and some swear words added but we ended up with a delicious dumpling meal. She loved us a lot and waved to us til we were out of sight. For all I know, she's still waving. 

While taxi drivers may not have liked us, Chinese tourists sure did. The big tourist attractions we went to were jam-packed with tourists, usually from other parts of China. Apparently some of them rarely see westerners, so a group of 49 white people was a sight to behold. Often they would stand near the group with their selfie sticks and take selfies with us in the background. Or they would approach someone from the group to pose for a photo with them. They especially loved tall, pale or blond people. I can just imagine them showing their friends back home all us freakish Canadians. 

The rest is just random photos ...

This is a wall of flowers along the Bund in Shanghai. It's made up of thousands of individual flower pots.

This is where we lost one of our group members for ten minutes. See all the people on the right? Needle in a haystack, I tell you. At least it was a white needle.

Crazy architecture in Beijing

The Bird's Nest - built for the 2008 Olympics and will be used again in the 2022 Olympics.

Rickshaw ride through Hutong, an old part of Beijing

Our guide joked that laundry was China's national flag.

This food contained hooves of some kind. Mmmm

We were all pretty impressed with these brightly coloured fruits until our guide advised us not to buy them. He said they're injected with questionable dyes and didn't even know what fruit they were.

Lovely cruise on West Lake.

It wasn't clear why there was a giant Charlie Chaplin and three mossy elephants here.

Watching hockey on the bus
Some garden somewhere


someone said...

Your China comments made me laugh!! And some of them made me mad, particularly the part about speaking English. ESPECIALLY because if what is happening in Vancouver...

Way to go on the marathon!!

xo Sio

Anonymous said...

There is a place in Winnipeg to play games when you're old and retired! In fact a few. You can play bocce with old Italian men on Corydon or cricket in Assiniboine Park (actually I prefer to take a little snooze on the bench while listening to the white noise of cricket playing in the back ground -- best nap evah). Also there are cress/checker boards across the street from Laura Secord School (on Wolseley) right by my house. We could meet there and play chess/checkers or I can bring my backgammon board or the Rook cards. You can Dale could run over (because you'll still be running marathons) and Steve and I will use our power scooters to meet you there.

The inside of that hotel was very cool. And the architecture is crazy! Has Daniel ever been there? He should go next time. ;)

I like that the hockey viewing was blatantly going on while the tour guide was talking at the front of the bus. The reason they speak Chinese is to say, "Those jerk Canadians ignored all my lies about communism and have no idea how hard it is for me to make up stuff on the spot just so they can ignore it." :P

We need to have coffee so we can exchange trip info. The Chamber should totally go to Iceland.


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