Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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November 2019

Eleven more days till we enter decade #3 of the 21st century – or enter the final year of decade #2? Not sure how you count anymore…but wow. Life continues to be hectic but as always there is beauty to be found and enjoyed everywhere. Let’s dive into November 2019.

A variety of plants on a shelf by the entrance of my office. The small lemon plant on the far right belongs to me. It was a company birthday gift that I never brought home because it would only die without sunlight in my small studio…so I left it in the office. We have a small balcony where I bring it out to breath occasionally so maybe…it would have a chance to survive.

There was a free open day at the Wuhan Botanic Gardens for a science festival, and I secured two tickets and went with Jian. It was a rare day of relaxed roaming in a natural setting – though with a lot of other people! November wasn’t a great time for plant-viewing, but there were some beautiful water lilies in a pond that caught my attention. These were small and delicate, different than the large ones that bloom during the summer. In Chinese they’re called “sleeping lily”, almost like sleeping beauty!

Some final rays of sunlight before winter finally set in. November was unusually warm this year, with temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius even during the last week of November and first week of December. Sunshine was so abundant that I took the opportunity to go out for lunchtime walks around my workplace. Ah, warmth, do I miss you now!

An area around my workplace that looked like an undisturbed oasis in the midst of a concrete jungle. Not a bad place to take a slow stroll before a busy afternoon…

Dramatic cloud formations like these tend to make my day, especially when I see them early in the morning on the way to work. They remind me of the greatness of God and his creations and make me calm just to think that nothing is ever so big that we have to worry and fear. On with the day!

More clouds encountered during the final cycling trip of the year. Jian was out of town that weekend and I suspected that it would be the final weekend with weather suitable for going out, so I went on a solo cycling trip around the East Lake area. Peaceful and serene, so rare in a big city like Wuhan but thanks to the East Lake it’s not that hard to escape from the urban chaos into a piece of heaven 😉

For Thanksgiving, Jian and I attended a dinner gathering of our church small group. As it was a weeknight, only approximately half of the group members were able to attend, but it was a cozy night with lots of laughter and fun conversations. Oh, great home-made food, of course! In a more or less secular society, it really is necessary to bond with people of the same faith, even though we may only have limited time and energy. Christmas dinner soon (tomorrow, in fact!)

Subway selfie! My colleague remarks that I am always right in front of the camera in selfie shots but hey, it only makes sense because I’m the one taking the photo 😛 A lot of Chinese ladies don’t like being in the front as apparently it makes their face appear round and bloated. Meh, I don’t care, I think it’s cute, don’t you? Someone’s gotta take the selfie, after all 😛

Of course we were taking the subway to Hubei Theatre, where we saw the Mandarin theatrical play for “Tuesdays With Morrie” by Mitch Albom. TWM was the first book that I read by Mitch, who ended up becoming my favourite author. I had already seen the Cantonese version of the play years ago in Toronto, and with the Mandarin version coming to Wuhan, there was no reason to miss it. Morrie was played by a famous actor in Taiwan and Mitch was played by a Taiwanese comedian/singer whom I watched on TV when I was a child. The long-awaited play certainly did not disappoint – well, at least it didn’t disappoint me. Somehow TWM always manages to make me teary-eyed, maybe because it was a true story and the characters are REAL. Don’t know what Jian thought as he hadn’t read the book. He said he liked it though he did fall asleep in the middle for 10 minutes so…

The past week has had its ups and downs but I’m still keeping my cool and optimism. Early mornings and crowded buses may still be my least favourite things but there I continue to find things that light me up with hope and joy. See you soon, 2020!

Wedding day

After almost 8 months of planning, the wedding happened on October 4th in magical Bordeaux. Yep, I married Jian, the love of my life, in the city where we met. Well to be exact, it happened in the village of Quinsac, about 15 km from central Bordeaux where a church friend owns a château. Enormous thanks to Lilly for hosting us and providing us with a perfect venue, along with catering and planning assistance. Definitely could not have done it without her!

I was never the girl who dreamt about her wedding day or believed that it would be the most important day of her life. Rather, I enjoyed the entire process of planning the wedding and looked forward to the day for two main reasons: (1) I genuinely LOVED planning and organizing such a large event, especially because it was such a personal one and I got to interact with and work with so many friends (although all at a distance), and (2) I viewed this as a grand reunion of the people whom I love the most, whom I’ve met at various stages of my life. It was a celebration of love but also one of friendship and life!

We had around 65 guests coming from four continents, some flying in from China and as far as Martinique! Jian and I individually invited people who have made personal impact in our lives, so that this would be a cozy wedding with the people whom we cared about and who cared about us. We wanted the wedding to be about the guests as much as it was about us, so we involved them in all parts of the planning process – people helped design our wedding pamphlet, transport accessories from China, set up the audio system, move tables and chairs, emcee, etc. etc. All in all, it was more like a big informal party! Endless gratitude goes out to every person who attended and made it such a meaningful day for both Jian and me ❤

We were grateful to have David Page as the photographer of our day. After having contacted no fewer than ten wedding photographers able to work in the Bordeaux area, we chose to work with David because of his enthusiasm, professionalism, and most importantly style. Also, although we didn't have an exclusive engagement session, we did have an opportunity to get some individual photos taken after the ceremony and before the evening reception, with gorgeous nature as our backdrop! We wandered around the grounds of the château with David, looking for different perspectives and new inspirations. The results were outstanding, as you can see in the gallery of our wedding on his web site (password: wuhan), and David managed to capture some valuable candid moments. Here are just a selected few photos that I really loved and put into mini-collages.

Top left: Dad walking me down the “aisle” and me trying very hard not to trip on my dress while still smiling; Top right: Saying our vows, with Pastor Alan as our officiator; Bottom left: The groom seemed a bit nervous? Bottom right: Exiting at the end of the ceremony, with guests throwing flower petals at us!

Top left: Family photo; Top right: The Glasgow people; Middle left: Bordeaux Chinese Christian Church; Middle right: Bordeaux International Church, English service; Bottom left: Homies from Canada; Bottom right: Friends of Jian, AKA Annie and all the cute guys 😉

Top left: Obligatory pic of the bride and the bridesmaids; Top right: Annie and Amy, designer of the wedding pamphlet; Bottom right: Annie and Peiguang, good friend and English/Chinese translator of the day; Bottom right: Huge hug to Andy, still the same after nine years.

Top left: Château grounds; Top right: Annie, Jian, and nature; Bottom left: Just enjoying a nice walk and a fun chat; Bottom right: Gorgeous living room of the château.

Top left: Guests helping with preparations for the outdoor ceremony; Top right: Guests chilling after the ceremony, with perfect weather – maybe even good enough for a dip in the pool? Bottom left: What’s Bordeaux without WINE?! Bottom right: Dinner preparations…mmmm the food was good, so good…

Top left: Tea ceremony for the parents, not really formal or done in the traditional way and mainly done for fun 😉 ; Top right: Behind the scenes of champagne-opening time (actually just sparkled wine), where I showed my true colors by revealing my 3+ chins, thanks to the sister for noticing -_-; Bottom left: The sparkle in my eyes was filled with warmth and satisfaction, so maybe my new husband said something that impressed me…? Bottom right: As foreshadowed earlier, someone (hint hint: the groom) was going to take a dip in the pool, whether he wanted to or not. Would you believe me if I said that he requested to be thrown in?!!

Top left: Family photo after the morning tea ceremony; Top right: Mommy putting on a necklace for me; Bottom left: Casually chatting with dad after the ceremony; Bottom right: Extremely touching and well-delivered speech by Sherry AKA the sister AKA the blob AKA one of the bridesmaids AKA someone who means the world to me.

Top left: Intimate, quiet moments with Jian away from the guests for a little while; Top right: Receiving blessings from Pastor Alan; Bottom left: Presenting our “first dance” with a Chinese children’s tune, “Two Tigers” (tune of “Frère Jacques”); Bottom right: The guests were treated to another song from Annie and Jian’s private concert 😉

Top left: Wedding pamphlet containing the program, song lyrics, and dining menu; Top right: Behind the gates; Bottom left: Wedding gifts for the guests; Bottom middle: THE ONE RING; Bottom right: Dining table set-up, courtesy to my lovely helpers throughout the day!

Special thanks to the following people: Jian for unconditional love and support, resulting in an unforgettable day; mom and dad for granting me the freedom to pursue my dreams; my sister Sherry and my friend Mini for an amazing hair and make-up job and for taking care of me so well as my bridesmaids; Florence for the emotional and spiritual support; Alan for officiating the wedding and Pat for the beautiful bouquet; Andy for traveling all the way from Martinique and offering love that never seems to have a limit; brothers and sisters from the Bordeaux Chinese Church for helping out with planning and coordination, especially Jade Blanche the emcee, James and Luming the groomsmen, and the members of the choir; Kathryn for her gentleness and continuous prayers; Regine for marriage counselling; LS for translating; Mario for transporting guests back and forth between Bordeaux and the venue; the Glasgow crew, especially Amy for designing the wedding pamphlets, CQ+LY+XQ for transporting materials, YBB and WB for operating the sound system, Joy for assisting with small things throughout the day, and Pastor Pan and Anita for the encouragement; the Canadian homies for traveling all the way (one flying in from Singapore) and maintaining our friendship for 10+ years; and everyone else for participating in setting up, celebrating, and having fun. Yup I basically thanked everyone, this felt like a prolonged Oscar speech, thank you very much. (This was why I enjoyed writing the “Acknowledgements” section of my PhD thesis so much.)

In the end, the day had to come to an end, but love and friendship continue to thrive and remain to connect us with each other. Let this be a memory and a seal of all that is joyful, peaceful, and hopeful. Cheers!

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.

March 2019

Spring is here! I’m hoping it stays awhile before the impending doom of Wuhan’s summer arrives and sucks the life and sweat out of me. March has been a month of generally good weather that made it comfortable for going out, especially to view the various types of blooming flowers, including tulips and cherry blossoms. But I’ll write an individual post about the seasons of Wuhan in the future. For now, let’s talk about spring and March 2019!

This month was all about nature and one of my favourite phenomena to observe is dramatic cloud formations. Like THIS. Let’s ignore the fact that Luoyo Road was madly congested in the opposite direction and enjoy the smooth ride on our electric scooter (operated by J, with me as a passenger), against this fabulous sunset hour!

Dramatic cloud formations #2 – at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology campus. Again I was on the scooter and I told J, “STOP! I need to take a photo of this!”

Dramatic cloud formations #3 – enjoying another sunset, before the sun turns into a monster in the summer. The road was rather crowded with people when I was taking this photo, but I was sufficiently distracted by the unexpectedly lovely scenery and wasn’t as annoyed as I usually would have been.

Onto the flowers – first up, white magnolias in the technology park where my company was based. Well, I think they’re called magnolia, as that was what a colleague told me. One day they just appeared out of nowhere and sprouted and bloomed around the park. It instantly lit up my lunchtime stroll and I couldn’t stop myself from taking way too many photos of these beauties ❤

And here’s a collection of the many types of flowers that I noticed during my walks around the park. I can’t name them all or…any of them, to be honest. I’m going to guess the bright red ones at the top right are late-blooming plum blossoms (peak bloom happened about three weeks ago) and the others are various types of peach blossoms. Someone please tell me what they really are??

As I mentioned previously, peak plum blossom season was approximately three weeks ago (early to mid-March). On a gorgeous Sunday, I went to the plum blossom garden at East Lake and it seemed like every resident of Wuhan was also there – it was so crowded! Can’t blame them though, the weather had been so horrendous for weeks prior to that, so even the slightest sliver of sunlight was able to attract anyone to spend the day outdoor. Though crowded, the garden was beautiful and the plum blossoms were magnificent! I might even have to say that they are my favourite March flowers, compared to tulips, magnolias, and yes…even cherry blossoms!

This shy feline friend of mine appeared around my neighbourhood one day and kept trying to run away from me, but stopped to stare every few seconds. It reminded me of the fox who asked the Little Prince to tame him before they could become friends, and if I could have, I would have brought home this little fella with me. I wonder if it’s still lurking around somewhere nearby…

Almost-obligatory-monthly-photo of me and J, this time in a Ferris wheel (which you probably can’t tell). I was smiling but that was to hide the fact that I was hella scared. And J tried to make me look down at the highest point of the ride… not cool at all.

This height-free photo was certainly a lot more pleasant, phew. Apparently in addition to white magnolias, there were also red/rose/violet magnolias blooming in an area around where I live. Here’s a rare capture of a candid (or intentional?!) goofy moment. It seems like my fiancé isn’t all about all that serious research and teaching stuff, after all!

I still don’t like Wuhan but admittedly the city has been made a lot more bearable with nature’s beautiful exhibitions in March. I can’t emphasize enough that I’m NOT looking forward to the arrival of summer, which is inevitable and the single most detestable thing about Wuhan. Summer, please skip us this year??

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…

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