Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: family

June 2019

We’re gonna start our monthly summary post with a brief but obligatory weather update: IT’S NOT SUPER HOT IN WUHAN THIS SUMMER. Last year it was 35+ every day by the end of June, and now it’s almost mid-July and the highest temperature we’ve seen was around 33. Perhaps my prayers of a bearable summer have been heard!!??? And 33 is still hot, especially when it’s humid and sticky and yucky, but it’s so far been so much better than what we had to deal with at this time last year. I do have a feeling, though, that the worst is yet to come, or the entire summer is being shifted back so it’ll still be ridiculously hot in October.

As a result of the not-so-horrendous weather, I went out more than anticipated in June. One Thursday, the Internet was down at our company, so we had a spontaneous day off (which was made up on the Saturday that week because there is NEVER a free day off in China). Anyway, on this unexpected day off, my colleague and I made a short trip to East Lake – I do that often enough already – and wandered around the Moshan scenic area. We stumbled upon a place where we could climb up to get a panoramic view of East Lake – and THIS! In the far distance is the skyline of the commercial district of Wuhan, and closer to us, at the center of the lake is an elevated greenway that traverses the lake from north to south. On a nice day, a lot of people like to take walks or cycle through the greenway and enjoy the beautiful scenery, but don’t underestimate the distance! This is definitely the highlight of East Lake and what makes it well known as one of the best places to relax, for both locals and tourists.

This photo was taken as the high-speed train I was on was pulling into Wuhan Railway Station, and the name of the station here is in mirror image. I’ve been to Wuhan Railway Station many times but have never taken a photos from this angle…or any angle, in fact.

A lot of young people nowadays like places that are quaint and artistic. There are often at least one of two of these streets or areas in a big city, lined with small shops selling hand-made art, trinkets, and random accessories. I used to like them too but they’ve become all the same and too commercialized, like anything in China that gains popularity. I’ve read about “Da Li Cun” (“Big Lee Village”), which was apparently not so far from my place, so one spontaneous day I went to look for it. There are supposed to be these cozy hostels and unique art shops and cafes but…the surrounding area was being dug up and reconstructed! I felt like I actually stepped into a worn down village and not an artistic world as advertised (though I knew better now than to trust embellished advertisements). The hostels and art shops were there, alright, but how should I put this…there was an indescribably eerie feeling in the air. Definitely not a place I recommend going to…at least not before the constructions are complete.

I think these are characters from Kung Fu Panda…well I only watched Kung Fu Panda 2 many years ago and remember the panda itself, so I don’t know who the other guys are.

For my wedding in October, I am giving out custom postcards as favours. They are all of photos that I personally took of Bordeaux, Wuhan, Canada, or other places to which I’ve travelled with the specific recipient. The company that I found that prints postcards does it quite well, and I’m satisfied with the quality, given the price. Here is a sneak peak of the ones that I got as samples to test the quality – not revealing the ones I’m actually giving out!

There is a place at the Optics Valley commercial area called “Fountain Square”, but I didn’t think there was a REAL fountain there. One night after dining with J, we were walking around and stumbled upon a musical fountain show at the Fountain Square! Pretty cool, especially because it wasn’t planned at all.

We saw a large “I ❤ HUST” sign at the grand entrance of HUST one day and I insisted taking a photo of J with it – because I know and he knows that he loves his university. In the background is a statue of Chairman Mao, which is the landmark of HUST. I would say I love HUST too, but I have to add…HUST’s food! I don’t work there so I don’t spend >50% of my life there, but I do eat at the canteens there at least four times a week so I’d day…yes to HUST food!

We found out later that the “I ❤ HUST" sign was only there temporarily for the graduation season so that people could take photos with it. At another building, there was a sign that says "Graduation time!" with a large banner in the back that says "Degree conferral ceremony of the graduating class of 2019 at the HUST". I of course was neither a student at the HUST nor was I graduating (my last graduation was more than five years ago…ha!) but I liked to pretend that I was still a youthful student with hopes and dreams. Just look at that big smile with aspirations for a bright future!

We end with the only group photos of this post, which is a family photo taken at the famous Yellow Crane Tower. A lot of people thought that the lady behind me is my mom, but it’s actually my aunt. She and my dad visited Wuhan at the beginning of the month and of course we had to take them to some tourist attractions, Yellow Crane Tower being one of them. My dad still has that typical “what, a photo is being taken now?” look on his face which I find funny and adorable at the same time 😛

As opposed to most previous posts where I complain about life in Wuhan, I will actually say that life has been rather fine lately mostly because of the delayed onset of bad summer heat. I will take a cool rainy day over a 33+ degree day any time, thank you very much, though I KNOW that the heat is still yet to come. Wedding planning is also stressful, especially because everything is done over long distance, but it is more enjoyable than stressful. Less than three months to go…

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A very Canadian Chinese New Year

In February, I went back home to Canada to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family, bringing along my boyfriend (now fiancé) who was visiting for the first time. After around 16 hours of flight time, we landed in Toronto 9 months after I left, with 13 hours of time difference, halfway across the Earth, just in time to catch some freezing weather and a couple of snow storms!

Being back home means lots of quality time spent with the fam and lots of yummy food! Chinese New Year celebrations included one home-cooked meal and another out at a restaurant, but both were perfect because of the company. I especially missed my goofy sister, who is happily in love with her boyfriend. What’s worthy to note is that we actually got a photo of my dad SMILING! *GASP* Now how rare is that!

Ohh yes it was cold. The boyfriend J and I, along with the entire family, visited Niagara Falls for a few days (more on that later) and were welcomed by a winter Wonderland. J’s smile in the top photo was super forced and seemingly conveyed the expression of “I’m only smiling so we could finish taking this photo and get back in the car”. But then J decided to brave the cold and take a walk around the neighbourhood on the coldest day during the two weeks that we were in Toronto (bottom photo). DEFINITELY NOT THE BEST IDEA EVER. I mean yes I’d love to show you the area where I grew up and my elementary school and all (and we did go) but you could have picked ANY OTHER DAY…but fine. I’m the true Canadian, I could endure the cold, but can you???

One of the highlights of this trip was attending my first ever live NBA game! This was the game between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards at the Scotiabank Arena and it happened to be Jeremy Lin’s first game after joining the Raptors! I never paid attention to basketball, but everyone who went with me did – J, my dad, my sister, and her boyfriend.

And it was so much fun! The live atmosphere was so intense and the audience was extremely energetic and hyped up (I could only imagine a Leafs game…) It was also a close game as the Raptors were behind by approximately 10 points at around mid-game, but we caught up and ultimately won 129-120! Overall this was a fantastic experience and I was glad to have shared my first-ever NBA game (it was the first for all of them as well) with the ones that I love!

Oh yes, Niagara Falls. Referring to J, my dad said, “Who visits Toronto for the first time without going to the Falls?!” Yea, I hadn’t thought of that, but after he suggested we stay overnight at Niagara, I was sold. I got to see the falls frozen AND lit up at night? Sign me up. In the end, it was less about J seeing Niagara than me taking as many photos of the falls as I could. Not only were the falls frozen, so were my hands!! It was cold AND windy, the worst combination, but I couldn’t resist taking some long-exposure shots, this being my favourite one. Such a majestic view, and only we would be foolish to stick around for long as there was almost no one else out that night, compared to the always-jammed-packed tourist areas during the summertime. Worth it? A million times yes!

And this was yet another phenomenal view – barren, skeletal branches of trees along the cliff the next morning. There was a short stretch right by the large Horseshoe Falls where the trees seemed like they had been stripped of life, and as the car passed by I had to say, “Stop! I need to get off a take some photos!” In fact, it was raining that morning, and the raindrops got on my camera lens but serendipitously resulted in a blurry effect. I thought the photo were ruined at first but upon further inspection, I really liked the way it turned out! It was almost intentional, but not. It felt even a bit ghostly and delusional, as if I were dreaming…of running back to the warmth of the car because the rain was freezing!!!

Time to meet with some good friends and the ones I couldn’t miss every time I visit Toronto were Florence and Darwin and their daughter Elissa (my sister tagged along too). Florence was my university housemate for three years and from seeing each other every day, we now only reunite maybe once a year at most, but it’s always the most anticipated meet-up in Toronto. Love and miss you!

Because J is the most unromantic man in the universe (whom I love anyway), I decided to at least try to be a bit romantic and get him something for Valentine’s Day – a cute bear holding a chocolate rose. OK, I admit it, I got the bear because I thought he was too cute. What’s yours is mine anyway, no? ^_^

Finally, another group photo with the fam AND the food that we had for the home-cooked meal. There’s we go, that’s the more typical “dad expression”, which my sister says is like a bulldog. Oh, what a delicious meal and what a lovely reunion with my dearest ones on the entire planet. Chinese New Year is just an official reason to go home but now that I’m so far away from Toronto, any reason to go home is a good reason. Let’s just not mention the amount of weight that I gained from eating so much good food during those two weeks…

My stories 02: Chinese New Year

It is no surprise that the Lunar New Year is the most important event of the year for the Chinese, and growing up in a Chinese family, we observe it every year. We didn’t go all out with the rituals and celebrations, which themselves vary among regions across China. For us, it’s usually just a simple meal with the immediate family. The last time I spent Chinese New Year at home was in 2014, and my dad cooked a huge New Year’s Eve meal. I remember, though, that my mom unfortunately had to work that evening and was absent, so it was a dinner for three – my dad, my sister, and me. This year, however, I was finally able to spend New Year’s Eve with the entire family, after five years.

During the Chinese New Year celebrations, elders are obliged by cultural norms to give youngsters red pockets containing lucky money, or “lai-see” in Cantonese. When I was a kid, I would receive lai-see from many relatives and friends of my parents. What did I do with the money? Well, I’d be lucky if I knew how much money was in the lai-see. Why is that? Well, my mom (and many Chinese moms do the same) would claim that I was too young to spend money anyway, so she would “save up the money” for my future. After that, I would never find out the whereabouts of the lai-see. Another thing is that only married people are expected to give out lai-see – I think this is a Cantonese norm, but I’m not 100% sure. So, even though I’m in my 30s, I still receive lai-see from my relatives and am not condemned if I don’t “return the favour” by similarly handing out lai-see to their kids. I guess that’s another reason not to get married yet…

And then there are firecrackers. Perhaps it’s an irrational fear, but I’m deathly afraid of sudden, loud noises – popping balloons, thunder, and firecrackers. I can’t recall what prompted this fear in me, but I do remember shivering and hiding in the house when the firecrackers were lit in my childhood days. Nowadays, firecrackers are prohibited in many cities in China, but are still a widespread form of celebration in the countryside. It does seem like traditional Chinese heritage is being compromised by the diminishing popularity of firecrackers, but at least it effectively alleviated my pain and suffering from the deafening noises that remain in my memories.

Red pockets containing lucky money, given out during Chinese New Year.

26 days in China, part 6.2 – Guangzhou (continued)

Though I planned my China trip so that I’d spend most of my time in my hometown, “most of” still only meant ten days, which was rather short. The happiest part of my segment in Guangzhou was spending time with family and friends, hearing the soothing sound of Cantonese, and feeling like I was part of the city again!

In the last post there was a group photo of my relatives on my mom’s side of the family, and this time it’s one of my dad’s side, only without my dad being present. Some of them came all the way from Hong Kong to be with us for Christmas!

In Guangzhou I also got to meet up with my very good friend, LS. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see each other often but I love this girl so much and am still indebted to all that she’s done for me in France. Here we are at Shamian Island (again for me) as I got to be the guide of my own city ^_^

Of course we had to meet up with the Lam family again before we went our separate ways, so it was like another mini Bordeaux fellowship reunion after the one we had in Hangzhou and Huzhou. It’s amazing how the friends I met in France all those years ago are now scattered all over the world, yet we still have these rare opportunities to meet and reconnect, all by the grace of God. Take care, my friends – I will see you again in Zhuhai or Xi’an or Lanzhou or Malaysia or…wherever you guys happen to be next time I decide to find you guys!

One phenomenon that has been very widespread in China in recent years is that of “square dancing”. Nope, not the western-style square dancing. “Square” here refers to any public open space where people could gather and dance to very catchy music with a good beat. Apparently this is especially popular with middle-aged women, and it’s more like a form of socializing or physical exercise. I gotta say…I almost couldn’t resist joining because it looked like so much fun! Watching the people dance and enjoying the music has become my guilty pleasure and it is my secret wish to join them one day…if it is still popular when I’m 40?!

On a perfect sunny day, I revisited Sun Yat-Sen (known to use as Sun Zhongshan) Memorial Hall, a tourist attraction in Guangzhou. I wanted to go back to Sun Yat-Sen’s statue because I remember a foolish thing I did as a child. Pointing to the statue, I ignorantly asked my aunt, “WHAT is this thing?” The funny thing was that I didn’t even ask “who” it was…I literally asked “WHAT” it is, as if Mr. Sun was a “thing”. My aunt didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry, and when I told LS this story, she jokingly said that I’ve committed the crime of disrespect to our “Father of the Nation”. I’m sorry, Mr. Sun…please forgive my stupidity as a child!

Guangzhou’s subway tends to get quite crowded, and Chinese people will know what I mean when I say “people mountain people sea” (a literal translation of the Chinese expression meaning “extremely crowded”). Squashed into a corner on a subway, I saw a woman carrying this bag with the words “Jesus Loves You” in English and Chinese. I didn’t manage to visit any churches in Guangzhou this time around, but I’ll make it a goal to do that next time I go home 🙂

Here I am with two of my favourite people in the entire world – my beautiful mom and my aunt Yaya, who was almost like my nanny/caretaker for many years when I was young. Every time I go back to Guangzhou, Yaya is the one I look forward the most to seeing. As for my mom, spending 26 days with her (more like 20 because actually some of the days were without her) was a luxury especially now that I’m living away from home again. Back in Glasgow all by myself, I’m missing her all over again 😦

I also miss some good ol’ shrimp dumplings (ha gow) that are arguably the most classic Cantonese dim sum. These are sexy, irresistible ha gows right there – large and translucent with the perfect shrimp-to-skin balance. The shrimp was bouncy and the texture of the skin was on point!! One of the most beautiful creations of mankind ever… ❤

And I end the Guangzhou posts…with tea. Ah yes, good tea with good conversation – that’s livin’ the Cantonese lifestyle. Another cup is always welcome!

Side note: My Welsh pastor once asked me, “Are you Canadian, Chinese, or a strange mix of the two?” I had to smile and commend him because there’s really no better way to describe me than “a strange mix of the two”. This trip back to Guangzhou, though, made me feel slightly more Chinese. Perhaps nostalgia kicked in harder than it ever did before when I went back, and perhaps the familial ties, which are such an important Chinese value, are also pulling my ever so subtly. You know…if I were to return to this city of my roots, I think I could get used to living here, but still, the notion that I’m considered a “foreigner” instills in me so much uncertainty…

26 days in China, part 6.1 – Guangzhou

Guangzhou, home time!!

Previous trips back to the third largest city in China have always evoked complicated mixed feelings of nostalgia and unfamiliarity, giving me a strange sense of melancholy every time I stepped into this place I call my hometown. I wanted so much to still be able to call myself a local, a true Cantonese, but I’m never sure if I can anymore. Well, at least that’s what it was like several years ago

Then I realized that I had been overly sentimental and what I really should do was just enjoy this city, whether as a local or as a former resident or as a tourist or whatever! This was going to be the trip where I could spend precious time with family, be a host to some foreign friends of my own, and eat lots of good food! No existential crisis in Guangzhou for me this time – I’ve got all the fun and relaxation to look forward to during my first “winter” in Guangzhou since…1995. The average temperature in late December was 23 degrees Celsius, there was no smog (yay for being in the south), and I missed most of the infamous “frigid damp winter in southern China”. How perfect could this get!

First up: group photo with the extended family! Growing up, I’ve always been very close with my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mom’s side of the family. The opportunity to see them together is rare, and this time my mom and grandma were also around, making this a super long-awaited reunion (though missing several people)!

I decided to go down memory lane and revisit some places that were so familiar to me in my childhood, starting with the kindergarten that I attended for four years. It was after classes and the gate was closed, and I doubt I would have been able to enter even if it were open. Still, I could see the vivid pictures of my childhood passing by in front of me. Those annoying boys that destroyed the brick zoo that we made, dancing to classic karaoke songs, being the head of the lion for the Chinese new year lion dance, school lunches with pickled radish, English classes…things only I would remember!

Continue down the road and we reach the elementary school that I attended for a year and a half before moving to Canada. As my caretaker, my aunt used to take me to school on a bike, so I never really had to walk to school. Through the eyes of a child, however, the school felt so far away from where I lived. Now, the trip takes me merely around half an hour, a distance which is considered quite small for a city as large as Guangzhou. And to think that second-grade-me felt sooooooo grown up…if only I could be a child again!

We now jump all the way from my own childhood to my DAD’s childhood, to a place where he spent a majority of his time when he was a young boy – Shamian Island in the Xiguan area of Guangzhou, a territory formerly leased to France and the UK. My dad always likes to ramble on and on about how he used to play with his siblings on Shamian and laments how much the place has changed over the years. However, since I haven’t experienced the evolution of Shamian through time, Shamian to me is just a tranquil place to spend a day away from the crowded metropolis. To be fair, I had been to Shamian several times, but never alone with the opportunity to walk around to my heart’s desire. Perhaps to some, the European architecture and remnants of colonial times make this place an attractive gem in Guangzhou, but I guess I only wanted to visit it again to try to imagine what it was like for my dad to grow up here, no matter how much it has changed beyond recognition (true words from my dad).

What I loved about Shamian were the bronze statues that are scattered all around the island depicting life on Shamian in the past. There must have been at least 20, but some of my favourites are shown here. Top left: an old man taking his caged pet bird for a walk, something that elderly people seemed to enjoy doing a lot in the past. Top right: a kid in clothing worn in the Qing dynasty, dropping a letter in the postbox. Middle right: an old man playing the fiddle. Bottom left: children catching fish in the river. Bottom right: elegant ladies singing and dancing to Cantonese opera wearing qipao.

Meow. I spotted this shy white cat hiding behind some potted plants near a church on Shamian and just wanted to say…hi! It kept running away from me though, and I could only observe it from a distance and try not to scare it. What a beauty you are!

Back in the city, it was time to meet up with my Malaysian guests! I had already traveled to Hangzhou with MC and YX but here in Guangzhou we were joined by MC’s husband, Mr. Blue. Of course I had to take them out to lunch and what better way to do it than the most traditional Cantonese way – “yum cha”, which literally means “drink tea”! To most people this only means dim sum, but tea is such an important aspect of the Cantonese lifestyle. Good tea and good dim sum complement each other, and good company makes it all the better!

I never used the word “beautiful” to describe Guangzhou until I took this photo from a pedestrian bridge. Friends who saw it commented that Guangzhou is such a beautiful city, and you know…I think they’re right. Like many of the places that I’ve called home and taken for granted, I hadn’t noticed its charm until I don’t live there anymore and returned to see it again with fresh eyes. Five years ago it would be an unfathomable to say that I’d even consider going back to China and living/working there long-term, but that possibility doesn’t seem so farfetched anymore. Who knows…I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow, but a stroke of luck, I end up back where I started…

I’ll end this post with a mission that I set out to complete in Guangzhou: the search of two famous local eateries in the Xiguan area. Needless to say, wonton noodles are one of the most popular street foods in Guangzhou, and Wucaiji (left) is one of those hole-in-the-wall places that locals know and love. I had heard about Wucaiji a while back and decided to finally look for it, and it took me a bit of time because it was literally located in a secluded alley and easily missed unless you looked closely. At Wucaiji I got their classic wonton noodle (top right) with wontons made the traditional way with pork only and without shrimp (according to my dad). It was a warm day (24+ degrees) and the soup was hot but so flavourful. I was sweating as I was eatiing – luckily I also ordered a bottle of cold soy milk – but I enjoyed it so much even with sweat dripping down my face. The simplest things are the best! After the noodles, I headed for a dessert shop 15 minutes away called “Nanxin”, which specializes in double skin milk pudding (bottom right). It may look plain and ordinary but it was spoonful after spoonful of sweet goodness with a custard-like texture. Delicious or as we say in Cantonese, “Ho sik!”

This is only the first of three posts in the Guangzhou mini-series in the grand “26 days in China” series – yes yes I’m showing obvious favouritism to my hometown, heh 😛 Part 2 is coming up and of course there is going to be a post dedicated to more amazing food!

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