"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Holiday Travel Phase Four: Guangzhou

I was in Guangzhou from the 11th to the 14th, staying at a Holiday Inn...with a sauna! It was nice to have such comforts, I'll confess, after six days of seafood and small towns. Guangzhou was fun...not as captivating as Shanghai, but interesting nonetheless: a city with a rich history, a gorgeous waterfront, a busy pace of life, a slightly international feel (lots of Africans, especially), and some hidden gems to be found as I spent a lot of time wandering through the city, usually with a plan but a loose plan, hoping to discover sites of interest by surprise.

At the waterfront of the Pearl River, cutting through the center of the city. It felt a bit like Portland, actually, especially with its numerous bridges.

How great is this? This is from Shamian Island, a very old part of Guangzhou dominated by Victorian-style architecture. A Seattle-based company, a tropical setting, old British building, China. I love this sort of style-blending.

My favorite in a series of unique statues.

The Sleeping Wood...a pub near my hotel where I found delicious chicken burritos. It reminded me a lot of a Mcmenamins, actually. Since I get plenty of Chinese food back in Xiaogan, I tried to cherish the American & European food while it was accessible.

One of several busy streets lined with vendors selling flowers, kumquats (Guangzhou-ites love their kumquats, it seems), spinny-wheel-on-a-stick's (better name?), and oversize tiger claw mittens (year of the tiger after all...supposedly a bad year to have children...tigers are trouble).

From Yuexiu Park, a massive park in the center of the city. I love the two monks here, who appear to be holding hands.

Another, more colorful glimpse of Yuexiu.

A dinner cruise on the Pearl River. The scenery was gorgeous, with all the buildings colorfully lit up. The food was disappointing. I hit the Sleeping Wood afterwards for another chicken burrito.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Holiday Travel Phase Three: Xiangshan & Tiancu

This was a different but special phase of this trip, nestled in between stays in larger cities in cozy hotels. I stayed three nights in Xiangshan with the family of Anna (one of my students), followed by three nights in Tiancu with the family of Ruby (a student at my university, but not my student). In both places I was spoiled with great hospitality, challenged to be experimental and brave in trying seafood, had a special time bonding with both students, and enriched by some wonderful scenery.

Some pics...

The tower at the end of a lengthy hike with Anna and the Triplets (so named because...they were born on the same day).

In a fake grove of mysterious trees, at a huge outdoor film/TV studio.

Anna's mom and her wonderful cooking. Some of the food on the table was alive and squirming only an hour or so before this picture was taken.

Appreciate this picture, or mock it...I welcome both responses. This was at a beach resort...my first glimpse of the ocean since last summer.

Anna and I after a lengthy hike around Shipu, an ancient city on a hill. This is overlooking the wharf area we'd visited earlier.

Staring at the ocean. Mightily staring at the ocean.

Ruby's cousin, me, Ruby, Anna (who came with me to Tiancu to visit Ruby) outside a temple in a mountainous area. Sorry for showing so much skin.

They really encouraged us to care for our surroundings here.

The peak of our hike. It was a gorgeous day, and glorious to feel heat...to sweat.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Holiday Travel Phase Two: Shanghai

My sense of wonder, the way I’m working with a loose plan but improvising on some of the details as I go, and the pleasure of meeting various “characters” along the way—these things make this trip comparable in ways to my excursions through central Europe in ’07 and through South America in ’08. This trip has been fun, but educational and perspective-expanding as well, in that it has given me a fuller picture of China: beyond just small-town Xiaogan (only 400,000 people after all) and into big international city life in Shanghai and fishing village life in Xiangshan.

Shanghai…wow. It is one of the more fascinating cities I’ve visited. I’ve never been to New York, but I imagine the feeling of wandering through its streets for the first time is similar to that of navigating Shanghai. Shanghai fascinates not only with what is without a doubt the most creative and diverse modern architecture I’ve ever seen, but also its natural blend of old and new in many parts of the cities. While in places like Prague or Venice, I felt the enchantment of these cities; I think in Shanghai I felt the city’s excitement, a liveliness that captivated me in a different way than these other places.

A summary in pictures…

This was the afternoon worship service of the monks who live and work at the Jade Buddha Temple, one of the hot tourist spots in Shanghai. It was a beautiful and peaceful setting, with elaborate artwork and design. What made this temple especially interesting was that I was able to people-watch a bit and observe numerous worshippers coming to light incense or bow or give money or ask for blessings from the numerous buddhas (all offering different kinds of blessing or meeting different "needs") situated around the temple area. I also enjoyed a lengthy conversation with Craig, a Chinese man who worked at the temple. We had an engaging discussion about our respective religious beliefs, he very intrigued about my Christian faith and what being a pastor looks like, and I very curious about the richness of Buddhism and the level of devotion among the Chinese people, especially among younger people. Which is surprisingly high, according to him...I think maybe there was an era where religion was discouraged as a threat to communist ideals but, as China has changed over time, it has made a place for its cherished ancient religions once again. It was a great dialogue, reminding me again of the treasures in other religions that might enhance our own experience of God and the Christian mission, treasures we tend to miss for whatever reason...some kind of fear, maybe...maybe misunderstanding of where real "evil" is found...or maybe just lack of curiosity.

The prominent structure here is the Pearl TV Tower, overshadowing many other unique buildings on the far side of the river, which you might notice if you look close enough.

The Bund. The famous waterfront street, a distinctly different style from both modern and ancient structures laden throughout the city; this is much more an echo of colonial European influence in Shanghai. Also, many interesting areas of the city were unfortunately under construction in preparation for the World Expo beginning this summer, such as the lengthy promenade along the water.

Nothing too flashy here, other than some interesting brickwork and kind of a quaint feel; I show this because this is the site of the first congress of the communist party in China, led of course by Chairman Mao. There was a nice little museum inside.

Xin Tian Di. This is a popular hub for young Chinese and expats, a neighborhood of restaurants with an international flair. There were Italian, German, Latin, and Thai restaurants, even a Cold Stone. If I lived in Shanghai, I would definitely hang here a lot, as a lot of the restaurants also have live music at night. It’s also a great place to meet people, with plenty of Americans and Europeans and English-speaking Chinese.

Nanjing Rd. A lengthy commercial walking street, a shopper’s paradise, and for me…well…nice to look at. Polished, classy, and lively.

Yuyuan Garden. A gorgeous, ancient park area with a lot of elaborate “rock art” and areas separated by wall and rock designated for contemplation and relaxation, theatrical performance, study, meeting—used for all these things in the past, now mostly a tourist site.

This captures the blend of Shanghai's architecture, with three distinct styles seen here.

Love the blend of ancient and modern here. I passed on DQ, opted for Starbucks.

I have no idea what this place is or WHY it is…but it is.

A shot from the Shanghai Museum, considered the best museum in China. They had some great exhibits of pieces throughout China’s many dynasties, including money, sculpture, weaponry, calligraphy, painting, jade, furniture, and—of course—china.

A collage of skyscraper shots.

Live music at The Paulaner, a German restaurant in Xin Tian Di, on my last night in Shanghai. The all-Philipino band played a variety of American tunes, mostly 70s rock and disco. Talk about a multicultural experience! All enjoyed with an old friend—German wheat beer.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Holiday Travel Phase One: Wuhan

I've been in Shanghai the last several days, having an incredible time. But going back to last week, here are some pictures of how I've been spending the winter holiday thus far...

With Ann and Dorothy at a big mixer attended by the American Consul General for Wuhan and numerous business people looking to make connections. For the three of us, it was a chance to attend a ritzy party with free drinks and food (tacos, pasta, cheesecake, all the comforts of home).

The famous Yellow Crane Tower.

A large bell.

Pizza with students (first time for some).

Visiting Mo Shan (Mo Hill), a huge park with an array of sculptures set throughout the area.

A large head.
I look forward to posting some pics of Shanghai...it is one of the most fascinating and exciting cities I've ever visited (hands down my favorite in China). I'm, sadly, leaving Shanghai today (been here since Tuesday) and heading to Ningbo to stay with a student's family. All for now!