Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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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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May 2019

Here goes May, the month where Wuhan tried to initiate summer but sort of failed, thankfully. (I feel like I can’t start a Wuhan-related post nowadays without talking about the weather – go figure.) The temperature hovered between 25 to 28 degrees Celsius during the final week of May, which was PERFECT, and as much I know it’s wishful thinking, I seriously hoped that it’d be like this all summer. Mid-May also marked the one-year anniversary of my official arrival in Wuhan so at least I could say that I reached a milestone. Good to be still hanging in there 😉

One of the things I do to keep myself sane on a daily basis is to take photos of beautiful things that I see, one of which is cloud patterns. I often see the stunning artworks of God in the form of clouds and they are enough to make my day. This photo was taken at the Guanggu 7th Road subway station in the late afternoon, and it almost seemed as if the smoke was emerging from the sky lit by the setting sun.

Another photo near Guanggu 7th Road station, this time taking in the early morning, from the other direction.

Third and final photo of beautiful clouds in this mini-collection, taken near dusk in Yancheng, Jiangsu province. J and I attended my cousin’s wedding in Yancheng and was heading to Nanjing for the evening, and saw this while waiting for the train. The sun and clouds fascinatingly accentuated the silhouette of the city, sending us a perfect goodbye gift.

A change of scenery here – a view of “Fairy Island Lake” from the highest point of the scenic area. This was taken during a company spring outing and though I honestly did not enjoy 90% of the trip, I give credit to the 2.5 hours of free time that we had in the end. It was raining pretty horrendously when this photo was taken (rain only during the free time, great) but I somewhat managed to capture the surroundings successfully. Perhaps the rain made it more…”fairy-like”??

Not going in chronological order, this is the Pagoda/Temple of Gratitude in Nanjing during the evening. It is named so because it was commissioned to be built by a king in the Ming dynasty as an expression of gratitute to his mother. I think the original has been destroyed and this is a replica, but it looked magnificent at night. The pavilion is lit up in alternating colours but there is a 20-second window every 5 minutes where it is lit up in multi-colours. Very beautiful!

Still in Nanjing, this is a serendipitous photo of a little girl staning in front of the lyrics of the Chinese national anthem carved into a wall, with the score. I was wondering why there was no English version, but I think the four languages at the bottom might all be ones spoken by minority ethnic groups in China. I’m going to venture a guess from left to right…Mongol, Sanskrit, Arabic, and transliteration of Korean. Can someone confirm??

Probably the most random photo of this post is of this small cocktail that J ordered as part of a meal deal. The deal doesn’t exist anymore so unfortunately I can’t find its name, but it certainly was an aesthetically pleasing little addition to an otherwise great (and very large-portioned) meal ^_^

This set of pig figurines (and the large piggy bank) that was displayed at the front desk of the Nanjing public library made my day and I wish I could have gotten the entire set! So adorable!!! The last one on the right must be doing some sort of yoga post, heh, I love it ❤

Obligatory (almost) monthly photo of me and J, taken in Yancheng. J looks so sleepy and clueless in this photo but actually it was just him being his usual dorky self 😛

Overall May 2019 has been a pleasant month, and I think I’m finally realizing this: I can constantly complain about various aspects of Wuhan, but at the end of the day, I have to accept the fact that I’m living here and learn to embrace its imperfections. I will probably still complain just as a way to vent (and it is necessary), but again, keeping a record of beautiful encounters will be my way of maintaining sanity and reminding myself of the good things in life. Yes, even in Wuhan.

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!

26 days in China, part 3 – Suzhou and Hangzhou

There’s a saying in Chinese that goes, “Paradise above; Suzhou and Hangzhou on Earth”, describing the beauty and elegance of the two cities in southeast China (the Jiangnan region). The convenient locations of Suzhou and Hangzhou made them the perfect day trips from Shanghai and Huzhou (I was going to write the Huzhou post first, but decided to save it for the next chapter), and with some time on our hands, my mom and I were off to explore paradise on Earth ^_^

First up: Suzhou, located in Jiangsu province. Suzhou is famous for its many elegant classical Chinese gardens and canals and is known as “Venice of the East” (though, why can’t Venice be “Suzhou of the West”?) Upon entering the city, we were greeted by tranquil rivers and old bridges, a picturesque scene reminiscent of a painting. All of a sudden we felt like we stepped into the set of a historical TV drama taking place in ancient China. Bring on the costumes!

Perhaps the most famous of Suzhou’s gardens is the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Lin). The garden was said to be named as such because its original owner, a former government official, decided to build a garden and live a simple, quiet life after retirement, planting trees and growing vegetables for leisure. Hence, the name of the garden referred to the life of its owner, a humble man. From the outside, the garden isn’t all that impressive, but you’d be surprised how HUGE it is inside! Lakes, pavilions, bridges, stone sculptures, hills, bamboo forests, bonsai gardens, courtyards, artistic corridors and windows…I was told that every layout and every element was intricately and delicately designed to display an ultimate sense of aesthetics!

The other garden (we only visited two out of the tens of them) that my mom and I visited was the Lion Grove Garden (Shi Zi Lin), named so for the (too) many lion-shaped rocks scattered around the garden. I actually liked this one more than the Humble Administrator’s Garden, precisely because of the rocks that formed a complex maze throughout the garden. Going through the interconnected tunnels formed by the rocks and going up and down the steps made us lose track of orientation multiple times, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it took us 20 minutes to finally find the exit. Lots of fun, actually, if you have time and patience to play hide-and-seek with a bunch of friends…!

You may have noticed the appearance of willow trees in the previous images and that was one of my favourite things about any of the Jiangnan cities. I had always compared willow trees to a classy lady dancing in the wind with graceful movements, and in Suzhou, these ubiquitous trees complemented the classic beauty of the gardens so well. Of course, the most beautiful one was my mom, who wore the perfect bright red coat that day (with her red-dyed hair!) to contrast the colour of the willows. Too lovely!

After Suzhou we went to the other paradise on Earth, Hangzhou. I had been here in 2010 during the summer and upon seeing the lotus ponds 6 years ago I had to gasp, “What beauty that makes me faint!” It was then that I made it my bucket list item to come to Hangzhou at lease once during every season, and this trip fulfilled the “winter” part of that goal. Although there was no snow as I had wished, the West Lake, which is the defining feature of Hangzhou, was still as beautiful as ever.

Selfie time at the West Lake! So happy to be travelling with this wonderful lady in red AKA my mom! It was also probably only one of the two days during my entire 26 days in China where the temperature was below 10 degrees Celsius – rather windy too!

And here are the rest of my companions – MC, the lady in red; YX, MC’s son; and YH, my host from the nearby city of Huzhou (next post) whom I haven’t seen in four years! In fact I met all of these great people in my Bordeaux fellowship, so it was a mini but precious reunion in China!

At sunset the West Lake was getting ready for rest as the sun began its descent behind the smoky clouds. And of course the willow trees were ubiquitous here, just as they were in Suzhou. We didn’t see much of Hangzhou aside from the West Lake this time but for a first-timer like my mom, that was sufficient as the highlight. As for me, you know I’ll be back – spring and autumn!

A final look at the West Lake before it got completely dark. The layering mountains in the background made this look almost like a traditional Chinese landscape ink painting and even in the dark, the West Lake still hasn’t lost its unique charm. So will you say that you agree with the saying that Suzhou and Hangzhou are like paradise on Earth? 😉

This is one of the few posts in the “26 days in China” series that does not include any food, since Suzhou and Hangzhou were done as day trips and we mostly packed just snacks and simple foods. Rest assure though that food will be aplenty in the upcoming posts 😉 Next up: arguably the most anticipated city, Huzhou! (Yes it will be Huzhou for real this time!)

Cottage time in Barry’s Bay and Algonquin Park

October is a magical time in Toronto because the fall season brings with it the art of transforming foliage, which covers the city and surrounding areas with vibrant colours. I’ve known this for almost the past two decades, but only began to truly appreciate the beauty of Canadian autumns last year. I thought it would be the perfect time to take a trip back to Toronto during mid-October this year, right in time for the Thanksgiving long weekend, and head north to Barry’s Bay in the Algonquin Park area with my family for a short cottage trip.

In the 19 years since I’ve immigrated to Canada, I had never been to Algonquin Provincial Park, which is a 3.5-hour drive from Toronto. It might have been past the summer cottaging season, but mid-October was definitely a popular time for Canadians to enjoy a final cottage break before winter kicks in, especially in the north where the autumn foliage colours were already in bloom. I won’t include too many words for this post – the photos speak for themselves.

Aside from canoeing on Carson Lake, exploring Algonquin Park, and relaxing at the cottage in Barry’s Bay, the trip included a hike in Madawaska Valley, a beautiful surprise and a rare time when all family members hiked together (mainly because I insisted). The colours of the autumn foliage were at their best in mid-October, which was exactly why I went back to Canada and headed up north with my family. The vivid orange and red leaves are lovely complements to my even more lovely parents and sister, aren’t they 😉

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