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Archive for China

Shaolin Temple

On the first day when I didn’t have a class to teach I headed to Shaolin Temple (少林寺), the birthplace of Kung Fu. The monastery has more than a 1,500-year history. However, most of the current buildings were built since the 1980s. Thanks to the pollution, it seemed much older.

Lots of Kung Fu movies have been filmed here, or at least the studios were made to look like they were shot at Shaolin Temple. This has contributed to the place becoming too touristy now.

There was a story about these lotus stones in the temple. I think the founder of the temple was able to walk across a river on lotus flowers or something. People walk on the lotus stones now for good luck.

Nearby there are several Kung Fu schools with hundreds of students in colorful, Kung Fu uniforms. The students were outside practicing all day.

I apologize for the poor quality of the above photo. Our driver never stopped at these places (which seemed less touristy and more interesting in some regards than the temple) so I took this photo from a speeding van.

The students are in these schools full time so they aren’t receiving a regular education. In addition, these schools are more expensive than regular schools in China. Our guide said the goal of the boys (or rather their parents who paid for them to be in these “boarding schools”) is to someday appear in Kung Fu movies.

There is one Kung Fu academy on the temple grounds. I caught these Kung Fu kids on their lunch break.

There is a dry river bed that runs along the walk on the side of the temple grounds. On the other side is a rather decent view. From photos like this, the haze gives the appearance of that special, mysterious Kung Fu feel. In person, the smell tells you that the mysterious fog is actually smog.

A stroll through Lvyin Park

Between my hotel and the university was Lvyin Park (绿茵公园). Normally I would take a taxi between Fengleyuan Hotel and Zhengzhou University of Light Industry since cabs are so cheap in China, but on the days when the weather was decent I would walk the 30-40 minutes and cut through the park.

Chinese kids were the only people willing to talk to me. They could tell me their English name, age, favorite food, and where they were from with ease and good pronunciation. After that they just wanted a picture with the extremely rare foreigner. Chinese kids take English courses, but they rarely, if ever, have a native-speaking teacher. I didn’t teach English in Japan, but I asked my students if they had ever had a non-Chinese teacher. The answer was “no.”

One kid, who called himself Sam, claimed to be from Australia, but I think he was a bit confused. Maybe he was the exception, and his teacher was from Australia.

绿茵公园

“Ground calligraphy” is very popular at this park. Every time I walked through there were at least three or four working on their characters. Do they write poems? I’m not sure. One guy (not the one pictured above) seemed to be writing the name of businesses.

Music could be heard all over the park. Perhaps six or seven different “groups” were playing, some with a singer.

While taking the above photo a lady approached me and started speaking to me in Chinese. Of course I couldn’t understand a word. I showed her my pictures, and her expression seemed to indicate that she had never seen a camera before. She indicated that she wanted me to take her picture along with her two friends so I did.

Notice in the above photo the tank ride in the background. I zoomed in for a close up.

This was the result. Having children ride in tanks seemed a bit strange, but it wasn’t the last time I saw the military/weapons influence in China.

Fengleyuan Hotel

My residence in China was the Fengleyuan Hotel in Zhengzhou. The place looked pretty cool from the outside at night. This first picture was taken from my room.

I went on the roof one night to see if I could see the nightly fireworks that I was hearing. I could barely see the top of them (perhaps coming from the CBD, new part of town). The place looked even better from up here, much better than during the day when gray building under gray sky looked more depressing than anything else.

The hotel was OK on the inside. The floor mat in the elevator changed daily which was kind of fun. The staff was friendly to me, although communication was difficult, to say the least, as none of them spoke or understood English. I could usually get my requests across by writing kanji or by writing a single word in English which they would look up in their electronic, cell-phone dictionary.

The biggest problems with the place are probably the same as those at any hotel in China–the smells and floor. You can smoke anywhere in the hotel (or China for that matter) and most Chinese males seem to always be smoking. The floors were also not clean, which I found to be true in restaurants and the two hotels I stayed at on my way out of the country as well.

Modern China

Based on what others have said, especially those who have only been to places like Beijing or Shanghai, and the propaganda from the Beijing Olympics, showing a modern China, I was expecting something different than I found. Sure, there are some modern buildings in Zhengzhou, and those living there claim that things have developed rapidly over the past couple decades, but most of what I saw looked like it was out of the pre-1970s era.

If you look closely you can see that some kids were playing on the above building.

Many of the buildings and walls around town made things look like a prison. The constant, extreme air pollution added the gas chamber element to complete the less-than-pretty picture.

Chinese people

Zhengzhou is an ancient city, currently under going some major changes. City conditions can be extremely different just by walking a few blocks. The area around my hotel was more old school, with loads of poverty, and many signs of, and buildings from, China’s 1950s and 1960s. Today’s blog entry features some photos I took on my first couple days in China.

The man in the top picture was parked outside an elementary school with two baskets of baby chicks to sell. I wonder if parents are happy when their child comes home from school with an armful of chicks.

For some reason most kids showed up to school a half hour or more before they could actually enter the gate. Therefore, there were lots of people with food carts selling the children something to eat. In addition, there are several tiny toy stores near the school entrances.

This little guy was eating french fries while riding on Pikachu.

Nobody thought this scene was the least bit unusual, except perhaps me. I realized why in the subsequent days as these kinds of loads were common; some were even larger.

It was a cold day to be sitting outside selling fruit. Rummaging through the remains of one of Zhengzhou’s many dilapidated buildings for some bricks didn’t look like fun either.

This was my favorite bunch of students at Zhengzhou University of Light Industry (郑州轻工业学院). They were cold, too, even though we were inside. The building had no heat (or AC in summer) so the room seldom exceeded 5 degrees C (41 degrees F). I taught in thermals, four shirts, a coat, and sometimes a scarf and gloves. On my first day of teaching (when I wasn’t prepared with all those layers) I shivered through my lecture.

Authentic Chinese food

Upon arrival at my hotel in Zhengzhou I was very hungry. I had a piece of bread for breakfast at 5 a.m., portions of a light, airline meal (which wasn’t good) on my first flight to Beijing, and nothing was offered on the flight from Beijing to Zhengzhou. I would have eaten in the Beijing airport, but I couldn’t get Chinese Yuan out of the ATM in the airport as planned.

So after checking into my hotel I went to the hotel’s restaurant hoping for some Sweet and Sour Pork or Kung Pao Chicken. I soon realized that authentic Chinese food is nothing like the Chinese food in the United States (or Japan for that matter).

My choices were limited to things like pig’s knuckles, …

… chicken, with more body parts than I want to see on my plate,

crocodile (at least that’s what it says…),

camel hump???

sea bowel (I’m not a seafood fan, and bowel, of any kind, isn’t something I want to see on my plate so I passed on this one),

and the name “five year sentence” was enough to turn me off to this dish.

I could tell from the Chinese characters that this one had some kind of old chicken in it. But does anyone find a description like exploding, old, adopted mother appetizing?

I thought about ordering a plate of broccoli, sans the cow hoof. However, I can’t speak Chinese and no one at the hotel or restaurant could speak English or Japanese so I was worried that I would end up with a cow hoof, without the broccoli.

Like I said, I was hungry, but not hungry enough for a big turtle (or even a little one).

At this point I knew it was going to be a long two weeks.