Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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December 2018

With the end of 2018 also came the end of December…or it really should be the other way around, but I like a little bit of plot twist 😉 The monthly photos continue as Wuhan entered winter in full swing, without central heating of course as we’re considered to be in the “southern” part of China according to the heating division. It’s harsh, alright, very harsh, but what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger! Here is December 2018 in nine photos.

Dining at Hutaoli, a (sort of) fancy restaurant with nice decorations and atmosphere. They pride themselves on the live musical performances, which are nice, but it’s definitely not a place to be if you want a quiet, intimate chat with friends because the music is SO LOUD. I guess the point is to try to mimic the style of a bar, so it isn’t somewhere I’d like to go often!

Friends with whom I dined at Hutaoli. On the left: my PhD labmates JJ (front) and YF (back). On the right: J (front) and me (back). JJ and YF are both from Wuhan, and we reunited here years after we all graduated!

A random cat that I encountered in a parking lot at Wuhan University. Not sure that it was impressed that I was taking photos of it and getting closer and closer by the second…

Photo taken by J when he went on his morning run – yes, even in the snow! First snow of this winter season but the final one of the year, and I didn’t even realized that it snowed so hard until after I got up (much later than did J). So cold, but so beautiful!

View of the neighbourhood in my residential complex from the window of my flat on the 11th floor. The snow didn’t make it for a white Christmas, but it was just in time for the new year! Traffic that morning was horrendous, and whereas it normally takes me about 20 minutes to get to church by bus, it took almost an hour T_T

Taking a short stroll around the residential complex in the evening, I passed by a lone lamp that lit up the frigid air. It was probably around 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, nothing compared to the -20s in Canada, but it was still freezing!!!

A trip to Shenzhen in the TRUE south of China in mid-December (warmth!) brought me to the summit of Lianhua (Lotus) Hill, where I was able to get an amazing panoramic view of the most prosperous area of Shenzhen. There was supposed to be a light show that got cancelled the day that I went, but since I didn’t know of it beforehand, I wasn’t disappointed because I didn’t expect it anyway.

Obligatory selfie with J! This is me going, “Why is it so cold in Wuhan 😦 I miss central heating 😦 😦 😦 ” J’s response was probably something like, “Hurry up and take the selfie so I don’t have to pretend I’m holding some sort of pose XD “

This photo was taken at the worst angle as it reveals without mercy the chubbiness of my face, but it was the only angle that was able to capture the Duomo Cathedral (not a real cathedral, but it mimics Notre-Dame de Paris) with the Christmas tree in front of it. Once again J was like, “Are you done with your selfies yet -_-” but no J, one can never take enough selfies, especially with the one you love!

And that’s all, folks, for 2018. It’s only day 2 and I’m already looking forward to the Chinese new year and going back home to Canada in exactly one month! 19 more work days to go – wait for me, my home!

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November 2018

As I was walking this morning I thought, “The only time that I liked the city that I live in now was when I didn’t live here.” Sounds pessimistic, I know, but the air this morning smelt disgustingly of grease and gloominess (was it smog?) to the point where I wanted to puke, and at that moment I couldn’t gather up any pretension to say that I liked the city. Oh well, it’s the end of November, and it’s been a tough one, but we got through it safe and sound, thanks be to God! One more month till 2019…let’s go for it!

Third time in Macau. Away from the casinos and central tourist spots, Macau has maintained its history and traditions in hidden alleys and little-known districts. The red sign with the golden words says “Back in the day” in Chinese.

Annual chrysanthemum festival (one of the locations) in Wuhan, where the flowers bloom for weeks in the autumn. Such beautiful colours!

An insect on a leaf, caught while I was taking a stroll outdoors after lunch. Little details like this remind me of how much I loved taking photos of random things, the process during which I could sharpen my senses toward the world around me.

Sumptuous buffet in Macau, courtesy of my local friend and her family. Unlimited servings of lobster, scallops (and other types of seafood), sashimi, sushi…among other varieties of delicious food – indulgent and luxurious!

Another meal in Macau: traditional dim sum (or yum cha, as we call it in Cantonese). This famous family-owned restaurant, Long Wah, is well known for its cha siu, or roasted pork (red in the center). Of course I also had to order my favourite, steamed spare ribs. You could never get too much dim sum!

Speaking of ribs, another spare ribs dish that I love very much is the garlic deep-fried spare ribs. I don’t know what the secret is to this dish, but the first time I had it in Glasgow, it was instant addiction…and it tasted even better in China!!

Movie night with the boss and the colleagues at a mini private theater. Good company, good times, good evening 😛

My company during the Macau day trip, TK (local friend) and LS (friend living in Zhuhai, which is literally right next to Macau). Bus selfie, cheese!

I love this man so much and I would go to the ends of the Earth for him – literally, because Toronto and Wuhan almost couldn’t be farther apart as they’re almost on the exact opposite side of the Earth as each other. It’s not been an easy month for him but we’re still fighting together. 明天加油!

Paris, je t’aime…?

The curious thing about the verb “to love” in French – “aimer” – Is that it is the same as the word for “to like”, so the title of this post is a slight play on words. (“Je t’aime” = “I love you” or “I like you”.) You see, I’ve never loved Paris, not even liked. If you’ve ever read my posts on Paris, you would have seen that I make this point clear every time, and I’ll spare you the explanations. However, my most recent visit to Paris last month changed it all and I might even say…that I like Paris now, just a little…?

The original plan was to go to Paris with my friend TK, who’s never visited. I mean why else would I go back to a city that I never liked? Everything was booked except…TK missed her flight back to the UK because of Typhoon Hato in Macau, and that was the day before leaving for Paris. WELL THAT AIN’T COOL. Consequently, whereas the two of us were supposed to fly together from Glasgow to Paris, I ended up flying alone and spending the weekend in Paris without a companion…well that’s not true, I ended up meeting a lot of old friends as a result. In fact, the trip turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had expected.

Aside from my sudden lack of company, the most unconventional thing that I did this time around was that I left my DSLR at home and only had my phone camera on me, so all photos were taken and edited on my phone. I had to learn to not rely on Mr. Nikon all the time, and it was not easy! Also, at this point, the glamorous side of Paris (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc.) doesn’t appeal to me anymore, and I was more drawn towards the local neighbourhoods that were just waiting to be discovered. With a bit of research beforehand, I narrowed down my long weekend to a few places that I wanted to see…beware of photo spam coming up!

Coulée Verte René-Dumont

If there was a place that could define “urban oasis”, then this was it. Situated in the 12th arrondissement, the “coulée verte” is a park-like promenade that spans ~5 km from nearby the Place de la Bastille to the edge of central Paris. I only walked part of the elevated segment, from one end of the Viaduc des Arts (which itself was a place I had wanted to visit) to Bastille, and what a nice walk! From 10 metres above ground, you traverse the heart of the 12th through a long garden full of greenery, with many viewpoints of the city and several fun murals along the way. Joggers seemed to particularly love this place, as there were plenty of them passing by in each direction. Certainly a quick and easy escape to an otherwise hectic Parisian city life!

Père Lachaise cemetery

Père Lachaise is a huge public cemetery in the 20th arrondissement of Paris where many famous people including Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Bizet were buried. Walking through the cemetery was like taking a stroll in a maze covered by fallen leaves upon the remains of those who have passed. The peace and silence were calming but not eerie, and I would have liked to spend more time there if it weren’t 30 degrees Celsius that day and if I hadn’t already walked all day…

Rue Crémieux

The first thought I had upon turning into this secluded street in the 12th arrondissement was, “Seriously this exists in Paris?!?!?” Delicate houses with colourful shades of pastel on both sides – you would have thought this was Burano or Cinque Terre but no, there it was, right in the midst of a grey, busy Paris. I could see why this place is often overlooked – the “entrance” is so inconspicuous that you’d have to actually know where you’re going to find it, but wow it was a beautiful street. The walls of each house was painted in a different colour with a different design on each door, and my favourite would have to be the pastel green house with the painted tree and the motorcycle parked in front. Such a unique find!

Mur des je t’aime

I guess this photo fits today’s post quite well seeing that it’s all about “love” or “je t’aime”. This is also probably the most “touristy” and well-known place out of all the ones in Paris I’m writing about here. The “I love you wall” has, as the name implies, “I love you” written in over 200 languages. Though it’s situated in a small park right outside Abbesses metro station at the foot of Montmartre, it is easily overlooked because people usually just head up to Montmartre and don’t venture into the park. A lot of couples come here to take their photos taken for obvious reasons, and I actually thought that it was cuter and more creative than the love-lock bridges that seem to be everywhere nowadays. I rather liked the quote that was inscribed above the wall: “Aimer c’est du désordre…alors aimons!” (Translation: “Loving is chaotic…so let’s love!”)

Parc Buttes-Chaumont

The Parc Buttes-Chaumont, located in the 19th arrondissement, is another one of those places where locals go to escape from the city centre. With an artificial lake, a small temple perched on top of a cliff in the middle of the lake, and several bridges crossing the lake, the atmosphere of this green haven was peaceful yet dynamic, as there were many runners, cyclists, and dog walkers throughout the park. In fact this was a lovely place for a picnic, but I had to catch a flight that afternoon and didn’t have time to prepare for a picnic. Not wanting to miss out on a beautiful day, my friend MM and I went to the nearby McDonald’s and grabbed some good ol’ burgers and wraps, found a space on one of the grassy areas, and enjoyed a sunny break with many locals who decided to do the same. Not a conventional picnic, alright, but still cherished as we had so little time to spend together!

Murals

Murals are one of my favourite types of art. Though I have heard of the street art scene in Paris, I had not intended to look for street art specifically during this trip. That is, until I caught a glimpse of several gigantic murals out the window of the subway during one segment of the ride on line 6 that was overground. WHAT. The bonus point is that it was actually only one stop from where I was staying, near Place d’Italie, and I estimated that it would take no more than 10 minutes to walk from my hotel to the mural area. Well then LET IT BE DONE. On the last morning of my stay, I went down Boulevard Vincent-Auriol from Place d’Italie and as expected, found no fewer than 10 impressive murals in various locations within a 15-minute walk (some shown here), on both sides of the street. Some of them were so huge and impressive that I had to stop and marvel for a good 5 minutes before continuing the hunt for the next. Now this was a surprise and certainly THE highlight of the trip. I late found out that the 13th is actually famous for its street art in Paris…well I know where I’m staying again next time! (Side note: the drawings on the wall in the Bastille metro station on line 1 and the ones outside of Gare de Lyon were also spectacular!)

Friends

Of course I had to meet up with some friends in Paris. The original plan of showing TK around Paris was completely foiled, and so I had more time than originally anticipated to spend with friends living in Paris. These were mostly old friends that I met in Bordeaux during my PhD days, those who in the past years have either settled down or been temporarily working in Paris. I had the chance to eat delicious grilled seafood at the famous Pedra Alta with Jiang, explore much of the above-described parts of Paris with MM, and attend Ara and Victor’s wedding celebration (where I also saw Diana and Edgar too, of course!) Definitely not a weekend wasted! Sorry TK, you’d have to come back to Paris again some other time 😦

So, this turned out to be the longest and perhaps happiest and most positive Paris-related post that I’ve ever written in my blog, and I’ve written…quite a few. I guess I can now say, perhaps with a little less reluctance…Paris, je t’aime 😉

26 days in China, part 8 – Hong Kong

The final stop of the 26-day China trip was Hong Kong, perhaps the most prosperous city that I had ever been to. I must have mentioned before that I have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong – love because of its friendly people, convenience and efficiency, and diverse cultural scenes; hate because of its “I’m not part of China” mentality (Taiwan has grounds to say that, but not you HK). But I’m not here to talk politics. With two days in Hong Kong, I wanted to discover parts of Hong Kong that I had not yet seen in my previous visits, and indeed my explorations brought me quite a few surprises…

Most people go to Victoria Peak to get the best view of Hong Kong, and I had thought of going there (I don’t even remember if I had ever been during any of my past trips to Hong Kong), until I discovered the sightseeing elevator in a “guide to secret places in Hong Kong”. From the 17th floor the glass elevator takes you all the way up to the 56th floor amidst all of the other tall buildings in the Wan Chai area – what an experience!! Here you aren’t just looking AT skyscrapers from a distance – you ARE part of the densely packed skyscrapers and you just feel like you are soaring and excelling through them. It was so fascinating that I made the journey twice, along with a family with several kids who did the same, heh. Oh, did I mention it was free? 😉

During the day I travelled through the Central-Mid-Levels Elevator, an elevator system designed to transport commuters uphill or downhill in the Central area on Hong Kong Island. At 800 m it is the longest outdoor covered elevator system in the world. A lot of elevators on this trip, huh. The elevator has breaks at various points along the route at different neighbourhoods around the area where I was able to stop and explore. Hong Kong really is the city of skyscrapers, no doubt about that. On the left is a church banner that says: “Jesus says – my peace I give you.” The one in the back says: “Do not be anxious about anything. Be joyful in the Lord.”

Final destination Hong Kong meant that I got to see the last group of Bordeaux friends, Ting and Sharon. Had a nice time catching up with the ladies over afternoon tea and our conversations made me realize how tough and hectic life in Hong Kong could be. Take care my dear ladies!

The thing I enjoyed the most this time in Hong Kong was travelling across Hong Kong Island on the old trams, also known commonly as the “ding ding trams” because of the sound they make. It was a cheap and convenient way of sightseeing when you’re not in a rush, and not being in a rush is very important because the trams are rather slow, shaky, and often crowded. As I was staying in a hostel on Hong Kong Island, the tram stop was two steps away and I found myself using it often not only to get to my next destination but also to immerse myself in the everyday life of the city. In fact, the trams were a nice contrast to the running pace of the crowds in the subway during rush hour.

One evening, I managed to get a front seat on the top level of the tram and saw Hong Kong Island from the driver’s eyes. Passing by lit up streets, people crossing the road to get home, and trams coming the other way, life never felt more ordinary. It was then that I played the role of philosopher and began to think about the eternal question: What is the meaning of life? But then, who knows? Who really NEEDS to know?

Philosophy aside, I managed to make a trip to Stanley, an area to the south of Hong Kong Island that is known for its expat communities. Hong Kong is a wonderful place to travel to, but it’s easy to get weary from the extremely fast pace of the city. On new year’s eve, I hopped on a mini-bus from Causeway Bay, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong, and within 20 minutes arrived at Stanley, a touristy but much quieter place to enjoy my evening. The ambience of the entire place made me feel relaxed and I almost thought I wasn’t in Hong Kong anymore. Combined with a gorgeous sunset and magnificent night views, it was a perfect end to my 2016.

This time around I also wanted to explore some of the nature that Hong Kong has to offer. After finding out that Dragon’s Back in the Shek O area (southwestern region of Hong Kong island) is a popular hiking route, I decided to hike it on new year’s day, and my local friend May – with whom I spent the first day of the year in 2016 as well – offered to accompany me! I gotta say, the views from the top of Dragon’s Back were amazing!

Oh yes, it was windy! You could clearly tell from my flying hair in this photo with May, heh. The climb was quite easy, and the best part was the two of us catching up on things that’s happened within the one year that we haven’t seen each other. May would be the last friend I saw before leaving Hong Kong and returning to Glasgow the next day, but I will see her again very soon, during the summer in the UK, where the travels will continue!

After the descent from Dragon’s Back, we ventured into Shek O village, which was a short ride away. There I passed by a house with some nice decorations hanging above the front gate, including Santa who seemed to be having a jolly time parachuting. Christmas may be over, but Santa is always welcome any time, anywhere!

Hopewell Centre, Central-Mid-Levels elevator, Stanley, Shek O – all new places for me, not too bad for two days, huh! I know Hong Kong is full of interesting places and I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but that’s what happens when I spend no more than 3 days there every time. Oh well. At least since Hong Kong is so close to my hometown I’m sure I’ll come back again 😉

26 days in China, part 7 – Kunming

We’re nearing the end of the “26 days in China” series with two more posts to go. One destination that was a spontaneous addition to the itinerary was Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province. As I travelled to different cities along the east coast of China in search of friends whom I have met either in Bordeaux or Glasgow, I felt a bit regretful that I wouldn’t be able to also see XQ, who was living in Kunming, as Kunming was in the southwest and kind of out of the way. Then one day I thought: I’m in CHINA, which doesn’t happen often – it would be foolish to not make a trip to see XQ in her hometown. Who knows…I might not get another opportunity. I had around 12 days to spend in Guangzhou anyway, so what the heck, why not. There and then I decided that it’d be worth it to take two days and head to Kunming to see my dear friend as the flight was only 2.5 hours one way and was rather affordable. Alas, a new destination was added, and I couldn’t wait to see the “Colourful Clouds of the South”, a beautiful name for Yunnan (which itself directly translates to “Cloud South”).

With limited time, I was only able to get a condensed tour of the city of Kunming, guided by my friend XQ who had returned to Kunming from Glasgow just a few months earlier. We first headed to Cui Hu Park (literally “Green Lake Park”) in central Kunming for a relaxing stroll around the area. “Leisure” would be the word that I’d use to describe Kunming as everywhere I went gave off a relaxing vibe. There was no rush like in the big cities, everyone went about their business at their own pace, and it just felt…nice.

A curious sight that could only be experienced during the winter is the migration of the red-beaked seagulls at Green Lake. Apparently these birds come to the south in December because of Kunming’s warm climate, and flocks and flocks of them dwell around Green Lake, so many that they’ve become a tourist attraction themselves. People have taken advantage of this migration and started businesses of selling bird food around the lake, and a common activity was indeed feeding these seagulls either with the special bird food or just with white bread. Throw a piece of food and a bird would target it and catch it mid-air as if it was a trained expert. They almost never miss!

Never would I imagine that seagulls would be of any interest to me, especially since they’re usually a nuisance, but I have to admit that I was quite awed at seeing perhaps THOUSANDS of these seagulls all swimming on the lake. Now, here’s one that landed quite close to me…hi there!

Scattered around Green Lake Park were pavilions and public areas where people assembled in small groups to sing, play music, or just hang out. In fact, outside the perimeter of the park, there was a series of what I called “free outdoor concerts” where groups of different musical styles performed for people passing by. Soft rock, 60s Chinese jazz, classical, opera…you name it. Many of the performers sounded quite professional, and I was rather impressed. I particularly liked this small group of musicians consisting of a vocalist, a flutist (I play the flute myself), and an elderly gentleman who was just…observing the flutist?

Aside from music, there were also other forms of artistic activities taking place. My favourite would have to be the man with the gigantic calligraphy brush writing on the pavement with water, as if the road was an open ancient scroll. This was right up my alley because I have developed a keen interest in Chinese calligraphy and even took lessons several years ago. Every stroke was laid down so firmly and aesthetically, and every character was constructed with so much precision. What gorgeous penmanship, even when magnified!

Moving away from Green Lake, XQ took me to another landmark of Kunming – Dian Chi, or Dian Lake. This wasn’t a city lake like Green Lake, but one on a rather large scale, stretching onward for tens of kilometres beyond the city limits. To experience Dian Chi to the fullest, we had to head southwest from Kunming to Xi Shan, or the West Mountains. It was said that “If you don’t visit the West Mountains, then you haven’t REALLY been to Kunming”. Not sure if that’s an old saying or a slogan for publicity’s sake, but that matters not. Upon arrival, a cable car took us to the top. The view of Dian Chi was amazing especially as we were moving up slowly and could take our time to enjoy the moment.

Of course, the second part of the above “saying” is, “If you don’t go to the Dragon Gate when visiting the West Mountains, then you’ve pretty much visited in vain”. Uh huh. In fact, the cable car took us all the way to the Dragon Gate, which was a series of temples, caves, tunnels, and stone steps along the cliffs of the West Mountains. At the peak of the mountain stood THE Dragon Gate, as written on the stone tablet above the gate in front of a temple. Having travelled up to the top via cable car, we were glad that the part of the journey that was on foot was DOWNHILL as we passed by people walking up in the opposite direction, sweating and panting as they charged onward. Normally I’d be up for the hike but on that particular day, I preferred to just take it easy with XQ ^_^

Time for food! As a host, XQ certainly kept me very well fed during my stay in Kunming. In addition to introducing me to some local eats, XQ took me to a special restaurant that serves Dai-style food. Dai is one of the many ethnic minority groups of Yunnan province and I am perfectly happy to admit that I’ve never heard of more than half of the things that were on the menu – still quite excited to try them! During dinner I found out that another friend from Glasgow, Mrs. Cai, was also in Kunming and was joining us for the meal. Selfie time with the food before our chopsticks touched the plates!

If I were to choose, I would say that Kunming gave me the best new dining experience during the entire China trip. I only chose five dishes to represent the whole experience but trust me, there were a whole lot more. Top left: Dai-style dish, stir-fried bajiao (banana?) flower. This is one of those things that I was hearing about and trying for the first time, and though it may look like chicken, it was meat-free, colourful, crunchy, and delicious! Bottom right: Dai-style dish, pork belly and cheek platter, so greasy yet sooooooo sinfully tasty. Top left: Breakfast food item, er si (no idea how to translate this) with soft shredded pork. It was like a bowl of really good noodles with a slightly different texture soaked in excellent broth, except they were…not exactly noodles. Sliced flour? Rice cake shreds? Middle right: Miao-style sour daikon and beef slices. Surprisingly the daikon complemented the beef extremely well, and the whole thing was made perfect with a bowl of rice. Bottom right: Definitely not leaving Kunming without trying the “Over-the-bridge” rice noodles, an iconic favourite of Yunnan province. The noodles were soaked in steaming broth with an assortment of side items including pork slices, crispy pork rind, scallions, and leafy greens. THE BOWL WAS SO HUGE it might as well have been a wash basin…

Two days was not nearly enough time to experience all that Kunming has to offer, not to mention the other more well-known places in Yunnan province – Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La, and Xishuangbanna, just to name a few. I hope that the “Colourful Clouds of the South” will await my next visit and hopefully my good friend XQ will still be there to show me around!

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