Annie Bananie en Europe

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Spring in Wuhan, China

If you’re not already aware, Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, has been under lockdown since mid-January (along with the entire Hubei province, where Wuhan is situated) in an attempt to contain the coronavirus. What this means is that all points of exit have been blocked (highways, airport, and train stations), and people in the city can’t get out. Technically it is still possible to get in, but it is perhaps the most difficult task on the planet at the moment. For Jian and me, who live and work in Wuhan, this means that after our trip to Japan, we were unable to return home, and we had been staying in the city of Dalian since February. It seems promising that as the coronavirus situation gets better every day in China, Wuhan will be “unlocked” soon (whatever “soon” actually means), but until then, we wait patiently.

Didn’t manage to book a free ticket to Wuhan University’s sakura festival last year, so I went to the one at East Lake. So many colours, but many more people… (not obvious here, but trust me)

Rapeseed flowers covering vast areas by Yujia Lake last March. Not as huge of an attraction as the cherry blossoms so the crowds were not as heavy.

I think back to last March, when spring covered the city of Wuhan in blossoms and fragrance. I always say that I hate the climate of Wuhan – scorching hot summers and damp, cold winters. But spring is the exception and that ray of hope. March is the time when the dampness finally begins to disappear, and we welcome the sunlight with open arms because we know it won’t be long before we wished that the sun would hide itself again. People begin putting away their thick coats, and the East Lake suddenly comes to life with joggers and cyclists who can’t wait to embrace the warmth of nature. Little wild flowers appear out of nowhere and dress the city in a colourful gown, giving off the most subtle but pleasant scent without the need of a single drop of perfume. The hibernating spirit awakes – this is spring.

Countless violet-pink magnolia buds on the east HUST campus, some already in full bloom!

Tulip festival in Jiefang Park, among other locations. Didn’t have to go to Ottawa or Keukenhof to see these beauties!

Except that’s not the case this year. The unexpected COVID-19 outbreak has put Wuhan into a prolonged pause in 2020. The city continues to quarantine itself, and though spring has already arrived, the streets remain empty, the parks remain desolate, and the city remains quietly asleep. I miss the gorgeous cherry blossoms at Wuhan University, the endless sea of rapeseed fields at Yujia Lake, the graceful magnolias that bloom on the biomed campus, the vibrant tulips at Jiefang Park, and the humble yet charming peach blossoms that line my way to work. I regret that I will not be able to enjoy my favourite time of the year in Wuhan, but OK, I ought to be less greedy and give spring a break. For once, the spring air will be clean and without human pollutants, and nature itself will have a chance to breathe and rejuvenate. Isn’t that a lovely consequence of this seemingly unfortunate event?

Pretty little peach blossoms were everywhere I looked en route between my workplace and the bus station. They are my favourite spring flower in Wuhan because they’re so delicate and cute!

Night falls in Wuhan. We are still waiting for the day the city becomes its vibrant self again!

After all, spring will come back again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. For now, Wuhan, rest and heal. You’re almost there!

December 2019

(Written on December 31, 2019)

Good-bye 2019.

Time is continuous, so it is curious that humans artificially divide it into years, months, days, hours, seconds… Though, perhaps that is the only way we could live – in never-ending cycles of years rather than in a straight line. So then, a new year is a much a new “year” as it is a new “month” or a new “day”, an ephemeral moment in eternity. Only by establishing these time “points”, these “rites”, can we say that anything is “new”, see our lives in a relative point of view, and realize over and over again that all endings are also beginnings (we just don’t realize it at the time).

(The last part of the last line is a quote from “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom.)

Perhaps the final sunset for a while as we stepped into winter – and winter came fast. Though, compared to last year, winter has been quite mild so far, with temperatures hovering around 5-10 degrees Celsius and no snow (yet?) in Wuhan. Looks like we may be headed for a completely snowless winter… 😦

Perhaps because of the relatively mild weather, the Chinese roses outside my workplace haven’t wilted by December. Some of them were as large as my palm and were looking as lovely as ever!

No maple leafs around here with gradually changing colours, but this area around the HUST campus put me in a good mood because the red-orange trees were looking gorgeous. Bright colours are certainly welcome especially in constantly gray, misty, and smoogy skies X_X

One more nature photo – this one taken at a random park in Chengdu, which was a lot warmer than Wuhan when we visited in late December.

So the reason why J and I went to Chengdu in the first place was to attend his groomsman’s wedding! Congratulations to James and Hannah for tying the knot and giving us the perfect opportunity to revisit Chengdu. We also got to reunite with some old friends (Tingting and LS) and meet new ones, a lovely occasion indeed!

The day after the wedding, the bridal party treated some of the guests to an authentic Sichuanese skewers hot pot meal. This was my second time having it and I will honestly say that I prefer the classic hot pot without the skewers. The food was way too heavily marinated and I was not a fan so…this would probably be my last time. Still I had a good time with good company 😉

In Chengdu, I met with a former Glaswegian buddy and we had a brief but pleasant night of night-market-hopping – though I didn’t eat much as I was super full from lunch. We did grab these grilled cold noodles though (with spam and sausage fillings). I realized about 10 minutes after we parted ways that we didn’t take a photo together…SMH. So my memory of her from this her will be represented by grilled cold noodles – delicious, by the way!

After Chengdu, J and I dropped by Chongqing for a few days. Chongqing was a city that I had wanted to visit for a long time and I finally found the chance to go with J. It is known for its mountainous terrain that resulted in a lot of hills and steps. There was some interesting street art as well, like this one along the “Mountain City Alley”. Meow, I see you there.

Finally, we found a nice little cafe in a very secluded area in Chongqing to have a break in the afternoon. I ordered a regular latte while J got the matcha-flavoured one, and we sat there for a good two hours writing and resting. Ten years ago, when I travelled to a new city, I would hit all the tourist spots and take a million photos. Now, I would rather take some time to relax and reflect in the midst of travelling and just enjoy the moment. And all I need is a pen and a notebook. And a good cup of latte 😉

We’re well into 2020 already and the world has seen some sad and scary things, especially in China. Especially in Wuhan, where I live. More on the coronavirus situation in the next post…soon.

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!

September 2019

So what happened recently? Well first off I got married to the love of my life in Bordeaux on October 4 – yes, photos will follow in the next post. We got to Bordeaux at the end of September and spent 12 hectic but fulfilling days there and that’s why most of the September photos were actually taken in/around Bordeaux. Let’s neglect the fact that it’s the end of OCTOBER already…my excuse this time is that I’ve taken quite a bit of time to re-adjust to the Chinese working schedule and pace. And still I feel like I’m in permanent jetlag, i.e. tired all the time. Ah well, let the post go on!

The mid-autumn festival occurred on September 13 this year (August 15 in the lunar calendar) and while I didn’t go moon-watching on that day, the then-still-fiancé and I went for a walk two days later, and the moon was still as bright and round as ever.

Another photo of light, this time, sunlight. Or well, the sun was about to set as I took this photo from the new physics building at HUST, where ZJ’s office is now located. Because it is new, everything is clean and shiny and the environment is perfect for work. No wonder I have been a regular weekend visitor for the past month…

Hmmm, wine bottles? This must mean Bordeaux! This photo was taken at the chateau where my wedding took place, in Quinsac (20 minutes away from central Bordeaux by car). I never became the wine connoisseur that I aspired to be but hey, having a wedding at a chateau was not a bad idea, as you will see in the upcoming post 😉

What else do you get in France other than wine, you ask? Why, croissants and coffee, of course! Pastry in France in general is divine, and the croissants, warm and crispy and flaky, are unparalleled anywhere in the world. Though, Bordeaux is more known for the pain au chocolat (or chocolatine as they call it locally, not pictured here), which is similar to a croissant but in a rectangular shape and with chocolate chunks embedded inside. I would have to say that my preference is chocolatine – oh such wonders!

Now onto some lovely people. First up, an old friend (literally…) from Glasgow, David, visited me in Wuhan, so naturally ZJ and I had to take him around a bit. Seemed like he wasn’t used to the heat…nor was I, as it was 34 degrees Celsius on the day he visited!

And next we hop over to Bordeaux, where I reunited with the family before my wedding!! My dad and sister have visited Bordeaux during my Ph.D. studies but it was my mom’s first time there. Clearly my sister was a little over-excited but that was probably because we were on our way to a seafood buffet…who WOULDN’T be excited?!?!

Well, not before I got a photo with the blob aka the sister. She would also be one of my bridesmaids and I love her to bits and pieces and even more.

Finally, the long-awaited SEAFOOD BUFFET! I’ve been to Merci (name of the restaurant) a couple of times when I was in Bordeaux and brought my dad there when he visited. I hadn’t actually intended to bring my family there this time (because it was quite far from central Bordeaux) but my dad specifically said that we had to go. Wow, didn’t know he loved it that much, huh. The price is currently 37 Euros per person, and you get 6 oysters, an unlimited buffet of chilled seafood, one hot dish, and one dessert per person in a fancy atmosphere with great service. Quite a deal, actually, as the seafood was fresh and amazingly delicious. We really should have filled the table with food before we took this photo…blah, an oversight as we were all too eager for the group photo. In addition to the immediate family, we also welcomed blob’s boyfriend Marcus, whom we consider as half-family already 😛 Ho, boy, was I full by the end of the evening!!

Finally, a group photo of friends at a home-cooked meal chez Kathryn in Bordeaux. Some were old friends and others were new acquaintances but we shared a joyful time just the same. What’s interesting was that this house was where I met my then-still-fiancé ZJ two years ago, where he was helping Kathryn with painting the walls and renovation. Now, the house is well renovated and ZJ and I are happily married 😉

I shall definitely post some wedding photos within the next two weeks – stay tuned!!

August 2019

In August I got married!! Well, legally married. In China, the process of getting legally married is usually separate from the wedding. We call it “getting the certificate” and it was a half-hour process of registration, after which you are officially husband and wife. The wedding often takes place after the legalities are taken care of, which is the case for us. We are still planning the wedding, which will take place in BORDEAUX in October, and while everything seems ready, at the same time nothing feels ready. It’s difficult to do everything remotely and distance definitely adds to the stress. A lot of uncertainty, but an equal amount of anticipation…

Right after J and I got officially married, we went on a mini long weekend honeymoon to Lushan (Lu Mountain) in Jiangxi province, which was right next to Hubei. We based ourselfs in Jiujiang, which is where most Lushan tourists stay. At the highly recommended Floral Hotel where we stayed for two nights, there was a small tea corner in our room, which was what attracted me to book here in the first place. Though the hotel was right by the main road, the closed windows served as an excellent sound insulation, and the room was peaceful and quiet, perfect for some relaxation time. Of course, J and I actually went out to buy tea just so that we could properly make use of this intricate little corner…or pretend to, at least. Fancy and classy…we tried!

Speaking of fancy, we had a candle-lit dinner…not buy choice! When visiting our favourite Cantonese restaurant in Wuhan, there was a short power outage, and we were without light (and air-conditioning!) for about 20 minutes. While we waited, the servers lit a candle at our table so that we could enjoy some unintended “romantic” time, though I’d rather have a fan because it was 35+ degrees outside!

August was scorching hot but that didn’t stop J and I from exploring the East Lake on bike…always after 4:30pm when the temperature declined a bit. I didn’t realize this before but the East Lake was HUGE! We went cycling three times for approximately two hours per session, and I think we only covered about half of the East Lake Greenway. One segment had a long mural of random art, and this particular one of Lapras and Charizard caught my attention – and I think that’s a Krabby next to Lapras? There are surprises everywhere along East Lake. There shall be a post on the East Lake to come!

Next up, some photos of beautiful sky. I head west when I take the bus home after work, and when I reach the subway station, it’s usually just when the sun begins to set. As a result, I often see colourful patterns in the sky right in front of me when I hop off the bus, and some are quite impressive! Here a cloud was blocking the sun with its arm extended…or maybe the sun was wearing the clouds as a cloak and this was its idea of *smack my face*, ha!

Another view of the sky as I was walking to the subway station – how gorgeous are those clouds! Now that the sun is setting earlier and earlier, it will be harder to take photos like this because by the time I get to the subway station, the sun has usually set. Optimal time frame for photos at this spot: mid- to late August. Noted for next year…if I’m still working at the same company 😛

I love taking the train in China because you’re almost certainly going to pass by some amazing scenery en route. Sometimes you might also catch an almost-sunset, if you’re on the correct side of the train 😛

At Lushan, while everyone was busy taking photos of mountains and peaks (it wasn’t a very clear day so the photos didn’t turn out great for me), I saw this little guy chilling by a rock. I leaned in closer for a photo…or two, or three, or too many. Luckily it cooperated long enough for me to take a clear enough photo – and how pretty it was!

To prove that we went to Lushan and conquered the Five Old Men’s Peaks we took this photo. I think this was either at the second or third peak and my expression said it all: “It’s hella hot and I can’t feel my legs. Can we go home???” J’s expression was more like “I actually don’t want to take this photo, but we’re here anyway so we must take a selfie of celebration.” Let me just say that it was a VERY long day that consisted of probably 6 hours, 28 km, and 40000 steps of walking…all either uphill or downhill. At the end of the day my legs were shaking like mad and I literally had to lean onto J in order to walk properly. And my legs hurt and didn’t recover for an entire week afterward. Ugh. Never thought I’d fear walking DOWNHILL. An experience to be cherished, but maybe I’ll just stick to gentle hills in Scotland, thank you very much!!

We end with a group photo taken with DM (far left), a friend who visited us in Wuhan, and his friend XQ. We don’t get visitors often so it’s always pleasant to meet and chat when someone does come by. I think J was especially happy because he finally has someone to whom he could tell his secret guy stuff, ha!

As I write this we are counting down 27 days to the wedding…27 days!!! When the next monthly summary is posted I will have already arrived in Bordeaux…just the thought of it fills me with excitement!!!

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