Inspiration Tuesday

Today’s inspiration comes from a trip to China back in 2011. We spent 5 weeks in the city of Kunming and I spent much of that time wandering around Green Lake, in the middle of the city.

One of my favorite things was to watch the various exercise classes that took place around the lake. In particular, these ladies (whom I have named the “Umbrella Dancers of Green Lake”) captured my eye…..

I have already started working up some of their poses for a possible project!!

Another museum or two…

First of all, here is the hall rug from our hotel……


One problem that I had yesterday on my trip to the museum was that my purse started splitting in two places.   I had bought it right before we left and was enjoying how easily it was working, but alas it was not to continue!!  So, on Wednesday I made a quick trip to a local mall. 

One of Michael’s colleagues instructed me to travel by metro to one particular station and that it exited into the mall.  I got off of the train and was horrified to find out that there were SIX exits out of the station!!!  Fortunately, I had taken a photo on my phone of the name of the mall (in Chinese) so I was able to show this to a station employee and he pointed me in the right direction.

The mall was huge with a basement and six floors of stores…..


Fortunately, the exit that I had taken dumped me out at a Department store with purses the first thing that I saw, AND they were on sale too.   I ended up buying one there but decided to explore the mall a bit as well.

Each type of store was in a separate area of the mall so you had all of the electronics stores together and all of the sports apparel stores in another area, etc. 

I passed a HUGE arcade area and loved watching this group of Dads and Sons enjoying a leisurely game of video fishing…..


On the main floor, the decorations were hosting a circus theme…..


…..with brightly color tents and streamers.

There were cartoon character statues all over  the area and the cell phone cameras were being well used as parents took photos of kids and young women and men took photos of themselves with these colorful creations.

The best part of the scene for me was a little girl (maybe 3 years old) who was posing for her mother.  I watched as she carefully and determinedly set her two fingers to the required “V” formation before smiling for the photo.

I passed a large grocery store and went in to pick up a few needed items.  I loved the checking out process as the checker bowed to me before they started scanning items and again as they handed me my change!!  Maybe Publix should adopt this as well!!

In the evening, we were taken to dinner by two of Michael’s students…..


The food was fairly normal, but I did like this plate of chicken……DSC08665

…complete with the head AND the feet!!!

On Thursday morning, I headed to the Guangdong Museum of Art.  I had been impressed by the website and was anxious to see the exhibits in person…. I was NOT disappointed.

Once again, a driver’s license was all that was required to enter and I happily began my tour.   The entire second floor was devoted to a Retrospective of work by Choong Kam Kow, a Malaysian Contemporary senior artist.  He was born in 1934 and completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961 in Taiwan.  He then moved thru various degree programs, including training in the US as a Fulbright scholar.

I watched an interview with him and appreciated several of his comments.   He said that Contemporary art must reflect traditional value. or at least the traditional value and form must be reinterpreted in contemporary art so that there is continuity in our culture from old to new.  He also felt that traditional Chinese culture needed to be reflected in art and not just follow Western norms.

He prefers to call his retrospective an “Evolving, Creative Journey”, and believe me, it did fit that description…..this man did NOT work himself into a rut!!!

He preferred to work in a series format and the first ones that I saw were watercolors in his Taipei Street Scene series…..IMG_7666

I apologize for the photos not being straight on.   The lighting was such that I had to photograph from an angle to avoid the glare!!

Next were a series of abstract expressionist ink paintings that did not tickle my fancy at all…..


Then came “Creative Interpretative Figure Drawing”…..


I particularly appreciated the few very bold lines that accentuated the shapes and the details that were left to the imagination.  The style was very effective.

These pieces had been displayed in one of the hallway areas and I now entered one of the main galleries……IMG_7688

It was breathtaking!!!

This gallery contained work from 1985 thru 1994 and his art was based on an expedition into the ENdao Rompin rain forest.   The first series was entitled “Rockscape and Earthscape” and the paintings were astounding.

Many of them were painted on thick handmade paper, using Acrylic paint…..


The paper was thick, knobbled and rough and I wondered how he was able to get the paint down into the crevices of the paper.

In some of the paintings, he actually carved into the paper to give yet another dimension to the art……


In this gallery he also had a series of oil paintings of rock formations that were amazing…..


There was a guard in each gallery and the one in this exhibition motioned for me to wait for a minute as he left his post and returned with a booklet describing all of the exhibits in English… was a thoughtful gesture!!

The next gallery contained “The Dragon Tradition Series”.  These were all brightly colored pieces with the dragons’ being hard to find…..


I couldn’t even see the dragons in this piece……IMG_7695

…but when Michael returned with me the next day, he immediately pointed out the two “kissing” dragons in the bottom third of the painting.

The exhibition continued with “The Kungfu Series” which explored the classical body positions of the Kungfu fighter….IMG_7699

The things that stood out to me in these paintings were the fact that although the foreground figures and the backgrounds are basically the same color, the figures are very distinct from the background.  I also appreciated the “pointillist” approach to the backgrounds.

Finally, I noticed the almost imperceptible borders that were included in the painting….. IMG_7709

So, are you singing “Kungfu Fighting” yet?   I am!!!

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Dr. Choong was in New York and was exposed to and influenced by the contemporary art movements, especially Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism.

In “The New York Series” he leaned toward abstraction….


…whereas “The Shaped Canvas Series” was a completely different art form…..IMG_7716

Finally, “The See Thru Series” made use of three dimensional pieces with acrylic overlays allowing the viewer to see thru (and sometimes down into) the art……IMG_7718

This is the (paraphrased) introduction to his “Festival Series”….1970’s saw institutions, art historians and artists actively engaged in discussions with an aim to finding ways to develop the Malaysian identity in modern art.   Dr. Choong was very much impacted and inspired by this movement.  Consequently, he departed from dealing with international modernism and retuned to his own land to search for local identity.  The notions of cultural identity were discovered, transformed and expressed in his “Festival Series”….


This artwork was mostly three dimensional and contained a lot of hand made paper and molded paper, embellished with types of embossing .   The colors were vibrant and exciting!!!

My favorites were these three, especially the  two on the right and left side.  They had a very “quilt-y” feel to them…..


I took a panoramic photo in this gallery and love the results……DSC08672


The final series was called “The Rhythm of Growth” where he explored the growth of mushrooms.  That sounds fairly boring, but his paintings were certainly not!!!


This last painting didn’t really seem to fit in any category but it caught my eye.  It was titled “The Fate”


….with fish happily swimming in the middle section, lying dead on the ocean floor at the bottom and on ice at the fish market at the top!!!

The top floor of the museum was devoted to the photographic works of Li Chan.  These were amazing works where the artist was able to show light…..IMG_7736

…and such amazing detail (look at the water droplets  on her eyelashes)…..


I returned to the first floor to find a mixture of galleries from local artists.  There was an entire room of busts but this one stood out to me…..


….probably because of his kind, gentle expression, as opposed to the bold, haughty expressions on the others!!!

There were a series of black and white scroll paintings on paper which were interesting…..


However, I was more interested as to why the pieces all contained one or more red seal marks, often in places that seemed to detract from the picture…..IMG_7746

I put Google to the test and found out that these seals (or “Chops”) can indicate either who executed the painting or who owned it.  The seals are set in Vermillion red and use an ancient script type that was used during the Zhou and Qin dynasties.  Over the years these seals have been used to authenticate paintings, but as they can be readily copied or forged, they may prove to be less than reliable evidence.  The design of the seal has turned into an art form in itself, the challenge being to find ways to fit the relatively predictable characters into an interesting composition.”

I wandered outside to the sculpture gallery and had a fun time(in between rain showers)  with the artwork displayed there.  I loved this metal tree…..


…especially with the green wall and Canton tower in the background!!

I also liked this very TALL and SKINNY woman…..



…and this crowd of interesting pillars……


As I exited the building, I found these two sculptures that I liked as well…..




There were several concert halls sharing the courtyard and I loved these two additional sculptures.   When I look at the first one, I see a conductor encouraging the orchestra to give it all you’ve got……


….and this stylized pianist is magnificent……


There was another museum on the same property and I showed my license and walked in.  I went thru the entire museum before I ever figured out what it was for!!!!   In passing I saw interesting Chinese dominoes…..


….a fun piece of beaded art…..


….and some really cool chairs that were actually NOT part of the exhibit…..IMG_7785

In the end I discovered the following information……

“Guangdong province has always been China’s gateway to the outside world.  Since antiquity, the people of Guangdong journeyed overseas on land and by sea, transforming themselves into ethnic Chinese outside of China.  They worked to improve the lives and values of their ancestral home towns as well as their new homes”

And that was the purpose of this museum… show where and how far the Chinese people had migrated!!!

As I sat in the taxi heading back to the hotel, I realized that I prefer art museums to history museums.  I think that is because in an art museum, you don’t have to know what is going on, you can just enjoy the art!!!!

I also witnessed a sweet interaction from the back of my taxi.   There was a bicycle being pushed by a young man and it had SEVEN automobile tires balanced on it.  He lost control of the bike and it turned over on its side  Although he made several attempts to right the bike, he couldn’t lift it with the added weight.  Two men were eating lunch a short distance away and, when they saw his distress, ran over to help him put the bike aright again!!!

On Friday, Michael had the day off so we decided to spend a bit of time sight seeing and a bit of time resting.  The sight seeing took us back to the art museum because I knew that he would enjoy the Retrospective work. 

We also headed to a small museum that we had visited briefly on our last trip, the  Museum of the Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum of the Nanyue King.  This tomb is 2,000 years old and was discovered in downtown  Guangzhou in 1988.  The museum showcases the tomb and its trove of artifacts.  The tomb yielded more than 1,000 burial artifacts, along with the bones of fifteen courtiers  who were buried alive with him to serve him in death..

This silk-jade garment made up of 2,291 pieces of jade is the spotlight of the mausoleum……


The museum hosts some interesting items, but the lighting is poor and the extreme humidity was causing many of the exhibit cases to fog up.  consequently, we didn’t spend too long there.

A typhoon had moved thru the day before and today was extremely hot, muggy and sticky, but at least there was no smog!!

We were free for our last night’s meal so we journeyed again to So & Co for a very enjoyable meal.  Michael ordered a double espresso at the start of the meal and then ordered a second one at the end.   Our waitress was hilarious as she couldn’t believe that he wanted more caffeine.  Later, he ordered a glass of wine and she said  “as long as it isn’t more espresso” Obviously he had been cut off!!!!

So tomorrow we head for India!!!


Finally, as we leave Guangzhou, I have to talk about the hotel and the bathrooms.  There was no actual bath ROOM, but a series of 2 rooms (toilet and shower) and an alcove with the sink.   The only problem with this arrangement is that there were full length mirrors in front of the glass shower AND in front of the glass door for the toilet area so you could watch yourself as you did your business.IMG_7810

I kept hanging towels on the door bars to provide a modicum of privacy but the maids kept moving them!! 

Ahhhh the fun of hotel life!!!!

Solo sight seeing

On Monday I had work to do so stayed at the hotel for most of the day although I did make a quick foray down the street to find a few snacks for the room.

However, on Tuesday I hopped back on the train and made my way to the Guangdong Provincial Museum.  We had briefly visited this museum when we were here in 2012 but had two students with us so hadn’t been able to linger and enjoy the exhibits. 

As I approached the museum, I was tickled by this lady carefully scrubbing the
OUTDOOR courtyard floor….


I had seen her out yesterday working in another part of the walkway so I guess that she does a little section each day!!!

I got in line to purchase my ticket but realized that most people were showing their Chinese Government ID and getting a free ticket.  When I approached the window, the woman asked if I had a passport or other ID.   I showed her my Georgia drivers license and she handed me a ticket!!

As I remembered, the museum is beautiful with magnificent exhibits and lots of English subtitles.   I purchased an English guide but could have easily done the museum without it!!  At each exhibit there is an Introduction board and at the end of the exhibit, there is a Conclusion board.   It really made the exhibits feel complete.

The first exhibit was a Religious Diversity temporary exhibit.  In the conclusion board it states that Guangdong is an open and  inclusive province for religious coexistence and growth and plays a significant role in China’s religious development.   I liked the entry mural….


…but in all honesty there wasn’t much else to the exhibit.

I did enjoy looking up into the ceiling of the building….


The next exhibit was the one that I remembered well from our first trip…..the Duan Inkstones. 

In China, the inks used in the calligraphy process come in sticks (like a paint stick)   Water has to be added to them to produce the ink. Per Wikipedia, the process is this…..”The water is added first and then  the bottom end of the inkstick is placed on the grinding surface and then gradually ground to produce the ink. More water is gradually added during the grinding process to increase the amount of ink produced, the excess flowing down into the reservoir of the inkstone where it will not evaporate as quickly as on the flat grinding surface, until enough ink has been produced for the purpose in question. The Chinese grind their ink in a circular motion with the end flat on the surface whilst the Japanese push one edge of the end of the inkstick back and forth.”

The Inkstones that are produced in the Duanzhou area are famous because they are made from a deep purple (almost black) stone that is famous for its smooth texture.  They are known as Duan Inkstones.

The first one that I saw was a modern one that was made in the shape of the Olympic stadium in Beijing……a birds nest….IMG_7545.

I laughed at this one as it was labeled as an Inkstone in the form of a brick….IMG_7548

It reminded me of a favorite scene from the MASH series where Frank and Margaret are talking to a Korean wood carver about making a statue for them.   He holds up a board to show them the quality of his work.   Frank says “It looks like a 2 by 4”.  The carver replies “Thank you…..used to be round”.

Many of the stones have intricate carvings on the back, like this fish……IMG_7557

The stamp on the right shows the carving.

I particularly enjoyed the ones that had recognizable designs in them, especially this happy crab……IMG_7551

One sign indicated that, in order to attain effective art, the shape and decoration of the inkstone should be determined according to the special characteristics of the stone such as color, and vein marks.   Isn’t that the truth with any kind of art….it must take the materials into account.

When we were here in 2012, we purchased a beautiful inkstone (supposedly old but who knows if that means 2 years or 50 years)……


…and seeing this exhibit reminded me just how much I like it!!

Next was a wood carving gallery which had some beautiful pieces, but most of them were covered with a gold lacquer which  ruins my enjoyment of them (I would much rather see the beautiful wood grain)…. 


….although I did enjoy the geometric design of this one.

I took a photo of this “Happy Crab” piece last time and, as I looked at it today, I was even more amazed at the carving……


It is carved out of a single piece of Camphor wood and I cant figure out exactly how the crab was carved INSIDE of the cage!!

The notes around the room told me that Camphor is the most prized of the carving woods but Rose Wood and China Berry are used as well.

The museum has several displays that use statues to show the details of life in Gunagdong with this one showing the carving and gilding process…..


….starting with tracing the design on the wood, doing a rough out of the design, putting the details in place and finally gilding the wood.

The displays in the museum were very professionally done and made for an enjoyable viewing experience….


Signs are posted in each gallery calling for silence and the guards were hard on screaming kids and others that were ducking under the barriers, but, for the most part, the  parents didn’t seem to care.   I saw one Mom smiling broadly as she and her son were being escorted out of the gallery!!

Speaking of kids, it is fun to watch their reaction to seeing me….a round eye….  in their midst.  Some look shyly at me, but some openly gawk.  I just try to smile at them and go on.

There were lots of photo ops happening and I managed to catch a couple…..IMG_7572

This girl’s pose was my favorite…..IMG_7603

The next gallery contained pottery and porcelain.  I particularly like this gourd shaped pitcher……


….and was fascinated by these Porcelain Pillows…..


Personally, I think that they look supremely uncomfortable, but they certainly make interesting pieces of art!!!  


Michael’s comment about them was that “James Bond noted that they were very comfortable (“You Only Live Twice”)”, so who am I to argue with the great 007.

I enjoyed the thoughtful look on this gentleman’s face…..


….and the thought “Happy as a Clam” came to mind when I saw this one……


I really liked this skewed house and was reminded of some of my favorite Picasso paintings…..


There was information about one glaze that is used on much of the pottery….because it is “white as sugar” it is called a “Sweet White Glaze”.

As I listened to the audio guide in this section it moved from dynasty to dynasty (Qin, Han, Sui, Tang) and I finally lost track of which was which.   As I left the gallery I was bombarded with a large shopping area where you could buy your own Chinese treasures and I wondered what dynasty these came from…..


I followed the crowds around the corner and came to the Dragon Boat display…IMG_7593

This boat is 48 meters (157 feet) long and only 6 feet wide, and it can hold EIGHTY people.  I would imagine that it would be fairly unstable from side to side so would have to be well balanced!!!

I particularly enjoyed these two vignettes of daily life…..




There was a large glass case that held small ceramic figures which portrayed all of the various ceremonies in everyday life.


These included weddings, births, birthdays, etc.  But, my all-time favorite one was “The ceremony of resuming a meat diet”!!!

There was a gallery that was touted as a kids gallery with animal art.  There were a few Lego animals shown, but most items were fairly serious art, but art about animals.  I particularly liked this “Save Can”…..


…ie…piggy bank, and this sulky metal frog…..


At the end of this exhibit, they had a bulletin board of art work done by kids.  I first appreciated the artwork itself but then was intrigued by the use of clip boards to allow the display to change…..


I hurried thru the Natural History area as I have seen SO many of these types of exhibits before.   The taxidermy was rough and some of the presentation was weird, but the attention to detail in the ambiance of the exhibit hall was amazing.  All of the paths were either made of rough rock or wooden boards and the lighting was perfect for the exhibitions.  One of the exhibits was about caves and the walls were very cave-like.

The animal exhibit moved into the plant exhibit and I remembered the beautiful silhouette displays of the leaf patterns…..


….sigh…..SO many quilting designs, SO little time!!!

The ocean and fossil display was interesting, but I was pooping out by now.  I did really like the use of paper tiles in the ceilings and as separators between the exhibits…..


I had said earlier that kids were asked to be quiet in the main galleries, but there was no such requirement in these last few animal galleries.  Consequently, the noise level grew greatly as I moved thru these areas but it was just because the kids were having so much fun!!

I reluctantly returned left the museum and took another walk around the beautiful square.   I spent some time looking at this stadium…..


…which was built for the 2010 Pan Asian games.  It is a stunning structure but I can’t figure out exactly what would have been played here.  The “field” is not very big and is concrete, however that may have been changed after the games.   Whatever the case, it was a cool looking structure set on the banks of the Pearl River.

I walked over to the Opera House, enjoying the interesting architecture of the building…..


As I walked around the complex I enjoyed the art displayed there, including this casting of Rodin’s “The Thinker”…..


I also enjoyed the face on this rather strange winged man…..


But my all time favorite was this sculpture that looked like it was falling from above…..


I was hungry so decided to find Starbucks for a quick bite to eat, opting for a ham and cheese croissant and a bottle of orange juice.   The first bite and swig of orange juice immediately put me back in High School, sitting with Michael in his car and eating the lunch that his Mama had packed for us.  It was always Ham and Cheese Sandwiches, Nacho Doritos and a big container of orange juice.    I just needed Nacho Doritos…..and Michael!!!

One final comment about eating in China.  The tables in restaurants are not considered to be clean (even when covered with spotless cloths) and nothing should ever be laid on them or picked up and eaten once it hits the table.  So, while I was waiting for my food in the Starbucks, I accidently dropped my knife and it landed on one of the tables.  One of the servers hurried over to take the dirty utensil from me and replace it with a clean one.

I found the metro and contentedly made my way back to the hotel.

Michael returned “home” shortly after and we were picked up by Xue-Jun and his wife and taken out for dinner.   The restaurant was located on the outside edge of a mall type area and, just outside the window, there were a group of women in their aerobic exercise class.  My attention, however, was stolen by a small girl (maybe 3 years old) who was following along with the class and executing the moves perfectly along with her Grandmother.   It was SO cute!!!

Pulling my attention back to the task at hand….the table was unique in that there were drawers under each section and the table was “furnished” from these drawers.   If you needed a glass, you just opened the drawer and pulled one out!!!

There was a hot pot with boiling water at each table and this was used to fill the teapot which contained a flower tea of some sort….


I (mistakenly) thought that this was for drinking, but it was actually for washing out the dishes before we ate!!  This, apparently, is a local custom and Xue-Jun’s wife took her duty very seriously…..


…who knew that you had to pre-wash your dishes!!!

Once the dishes were clean the food started to arrive.  Once again we had very simple, fresh dishes, including these delicious dry rice noodles…..


…and this very tasty chicken….


Dessert were these buns that had a coconut cream filling in them…..


A very yummy way to finish off a busy day!!!

Sunday in Guangzhou

XueJun had suggested that Michael take Sunday off and we were both excited to have the day free.  As we had breakfast at the hotel, we debated about what to do.  There was a metro station just a few feet from the hotel entrance, and since I had such a good experience in Chengdu, we decided to try it out.

We were headed to the downtown area that we had enjoyed so much when we visited briefly in 2012.  We were happy that there was an “English” button at the ticket machine and were able to figure out how to get our ticket (actually a token).  When you enter the metro turnstile, you scan the token and then when you exit at your destination, you deposit the token.

We figured out  that we should take the main line to the Tilu Xilu (pronouned Ti-loo-See-Loo) station and then changed to the APM line.   This is a “tourist” line that runs into the downtown area.   There are only 8 stops on the line and there is always a guard on each train. 

We got off at our station and then proceeded to try to figure out how to exit from it  There were numerous exits and of course, we chose the one that went into a HUGE, many “armed” mall.  We wandered for about 20 minutes and at last saw a Starbucks.  We had a quick bite to eat  (and a few Espressos for Michael) and found our way out into the sunshine.

This area of Guangzhou is gorgeous.  The skyline is magnificent  (just ignore me)…..IMG_7480

….with beautiful buildings one one end…..


And the Canton Tower rising from the other end (although it is actually across the river)……


We spent over an hour just walking around in this area, arriving at a very cool restaurant area, complete with a river cruise….IMG_7497

The only problem is that none of the restaurants were ever open!!  We went back another time, at a different time of day and everything was closed up.  We wondered if they just opened for dinner!!

Even though they weren’t open, this sign was compelling…..


We loved these “crowned” apartment buildings just across the river….


After walking around for a while and enjoying the nice weather, we decided to head to the top of the Canton tower.   We found the metro again (a closer station) and rode to the tower area. 

We got into a long ticket line (although one of the attendants tried to tell us that the other ticket office was faster)….we should have listened!!!  When we got to the front of the line, the ticket agent took one look at us and flipped the ticket information board over so that it was in English.   He had obviously dealt with us “round eyes” before!!

The tickets were expensive with several different packages that you could buy.   For one price, you could ride the elevator to the top but with some additional Yuan you could go up higher and walk outside.   Then you could pay even more to do the “rides” at the top.   We chose to be able to go outside but gave the rides  a miss.

The escalator ride was honestly the most enjoyable part of the entire experience as it was not only fun to watch the ground grow further and further away, but also to listen to the gasps of the occupants as we ascended.   Michael was NOT as enamored with the elevator trip as he didn’t particularly enjoy being crowded into a small room with about 20 other people!!

The views from the top were not all that magnificent, mainly due to the smog that morning…..


One of the rides was a free fall that went up even higher on the tower and the other was the “Bubble Train”…..


….which slowly drove around the perimeter of the tower.  The thing that I noticed about this is that almost all of the occupants were looking at their phones or looking down and not enjoying the view that they had paid so much for!!!

We took the required selfie…..


….and headed back down again.

When we have been China, we have marveled at the English signs and Tee-shirts.   We saw this sign on a store….


We have no idea!!!!

But, my all time favorite Tee-shirt is one that read “I want to be a unique”….well, I can almost guarantee her that she is!!!

We got back on the APM train to return to the hotel and reached a terminal where we needed to switch trains.   Our train stopped in the middle of the terminal, both doors opened revealing another train on either side…..which do we go to???  We chose one, quickly realized that it was incorrect and then darted back thru the train car and to the other side, always hoping that the doors didn’t close before we got thru. 

Incidentally, Michael and I have a rule when we ride trains.   IF we ever get separated, the first person gets off a the NEXT stop (even if it is not where we need to stop) and waits for the next train carrying the missing loved one!!!  Fortunately we have never had to do this but it is good to have a plan.

We giggled at this sign on the terminal door saying “Please don’t touch me” and another on the other door saying “Civil Ride”….


Also, the “which side of the train” story reminded us of our trip to Rome in 1997 with the kids.  We were taking the EuroRail that morning and had found the platform and were waiting patiently for the train to arrive.   As it pulled into the station we realized that the doors were going to open on the OTHER side of the platform.  You can imagine the mad dash that ensued as we carried luggage and  backpacks and all four RAN to the other side!!  After that we learned how to tell which side and never had to make a mad dash again.

We made it back to the hotel but just weren’t ready to call it a day yet so we both got onto our computers and started searching for “western” restaurants in the area.   Naturally the one we chose was back downtown!!!   Instead of taking the train, we caught a taxi at the hotel and he found his way to “Social & Co”  (also called SO & CO).  We met the owner (from New Zealand) and enjoyed sitting outside and having a delicious meal. 

Our first course were these delicious Cauliflower patties…..


They were a bit spicy and served with a dill sauce….EXCELLENT!!!  They were followed by bread and cheese, sausage with roast potatoes and Thai chicken, dessert and tea.   We were full!!!

We enjoyed watching the people walking around and were interested to find that this was an embassy district with the US consulate being housed in the next block over.  

This little girl made our day as she “drove” past with her Mom…..


Out waitress told us how to get to the nearest Metro station (she actually offered to walk us there if we waited until she got off of work) so we headed out around the US embassy and straight into the Metro.  A quick stop  at the Lenhexi (Lynn- hoo-si) station to change trains and we were home again.  

It was a perfect day!!!!

Getting from here to there


Our time in Chengdu has been fun and we have REALLY enjoyed all of the spicy food however it wont be bad to have some “not-so-spicy” food for a few days!!

As we said, the hotel that we were in was very nice, but SUPER expensive.  We sent one load of laundry out (about 3 days worth) and it came back costing $150!!!  We had planned to pay for it ourselves but Professor Liu said that it couldn’t be done that way.  He suggested that we give our clothes to the graduate students and that they would hand wash everything for us.  We knew that was NOT going to happen, so I bought some detergent and washed clothes in the fancy bathtub each morning.  As I washed I hummed the theme to the Beverly Hillbillies as I remembered their “cement pond”!!!!DSC08475

Fortunately the room was equipped with a retractable clothes line so I felt sure that we were not the only hillbilly guests!!

Later in the week, when we arrived in Guangzhou, we found that the cost was still fairly expensive but MUCH less than this hotel.  I did, however laugh at the sign in the bathroom that offered free clothes de-hydration services!!   I guess that I could have washed them myself and then handed them over for de-hydration!!

On our last night in Chengdu there was a conference starting with hundreds of people attending.  We could never figure out what type of conference it was however the billboard proclaimed that  “this is a magical event, this is a beautiful transformation, let us witness the most beautiful and brilliant moment time to serve you”… why couldn’t we figure that out??

It must have been something fairly important as there was a huge light display being set up in the hotel courtyard, including a 60 panel video display and hundreds of roses with a single LED bulb in the center..….


We had one final meal with Professor Liu and other researchers but this one wasn’t as spicy.  Most of the foods were pretty normal but I did find these steamed dumpling cups interesting…..


And, we watched with much trepidation as they poured the left over soup into a doggie bag that was just a simple plastic bag like we put our veggies in….


There was a fish skeleton that had been picked clean and we were surprised to see that one of the other diners wanted to take it home.  When we asked he told us that it was for his cat, and that yes, his cat did like spicy food!!!

On Friday we left Chengdu and headed back to Kunming for an overnight stay before we traveled to Guangzhou.  We hadn’t organized our schedule exactly right or we would have flown straight there rather than having this extra jaunt.  We had originally booked a hotel close to the airport but decided that we would MUCH prefer to stay at the Grand Park and maybe have the opportunity to eat at Salvador’s again and take a stroll around the lake.

Our night in Kunming was relaxing and everything  we had hoped for.   I took one last trip around Green Lake, stopping to enjoy all of the usual sights, including this little girl intently watching one of the street vendors…..


….and this gentleman playing harmonica while his wife sang along…..DSC08576

This group had a bluegrass sound to their music…..DSC08581

This violinist was sitting on the edge of a group and I got the feeling that he was just there to play along…..


He gave me a big smile just after I took the photo.

All of the groups, even the small ones, are amazingly high-tech.  They bring generators, microphones, amplifiers and everything that they need to out-sing or out-play the group next to them!!!  Here is an ancient, traditional Chinese instrument with a modern microphone ….DSC08579

This little lady twirled and danced between the groups, apparently having the time of her life…..


…and this gentleman also sashayed his way around the park…..


I noticed that a large gate which had never been open before was now allowing people to enter.  Naturally, I had to check it out!!!   I walked into a museum area called the “Chinese Expeditionary Force”.  Basically it was a fort area, surrounded by buildings with nothing to see inside!!!   I did enjoy watching these two girls play with their ribbons, probably imagining themselves as future gymnasts!!!


I was also drawn to this woman proudly having her photo taken in front of the doors…..DSC08590

….it makes me wonder if this place was something special for her.

The next morning we took a taxi to the airport.  Because it is so far to the airport and so hard for taxi’s to get rides back into the city, they are reluctant to make the trip.  Consequently, you always have to “sweeten” the deal, although one person will do it for 120Y while another requires 160Y!!

We have been surprised by additional security that is required before entering any airport.  At the very least, they have done a bomb-detection test on our luggage, but at Chengdu, we had to put our bags thru a scanner and then go thru a body scanner as well.   This was fun as you stood sideways on a moving conveyor belt and it sandwiched you between the scanners!!!

We have always known that many Chinese will cut in line at any time and this is very apparent at airports.  Michael just read a book that talked about this phenomenon and said that many of them are taught that, if they are not first in line, they will be left behind!!  I am sure that mindset makes for many worries about their future.

We have also found that many people do not do well on Escalators.  On one of our downward journeys, two ladies stopped at the very bottom to raise the handles on their suitcases and we all piled up behind them, with Michael basically vaulting over one of them!!  We have seen this several times and now leave at least 2 steps between us and our nearest traveler. 

I have also been interested in the carry-on bags that people travel with.  Many people have 4 or more large shopping bags that contain boxes of some item.  I am assuming that they are gifts of tea or other goodies.  The sheer size of the bags often makes it difficult to find space in the overhead bins!!!

In other airport news, some have carry-on luggage carts that have a video monitor attached between the handles.  I have seen kids playing games on these and also people looking for gate and airport information on them.  This seems VERY high-tech!!!

Our flight to Guangzhou was enjoyable and not terribly late.  We were met at the airport by Xiu-Jun (Jhu-Jhune) and taken to the Yangling hotel which we had visited previously.

Xiu-Jun and his wife returned to take us to dinner and we enjoyed a very simple meal with just four dishes.  This was very refreshing as so many of the banquets have 15+ dishes and sometimes that is just too many flavors to get at one time.   My favorite were these simple vegetables and mushrooms…..DSC08604

  After a leisurely dinner and chat…..DSC08610

…we returned to our room to find our bed turned down and our slippers awaiting our feet……


Tomorrow is another day!!!


On Tuesday, Professor Liu had originally organized for us to travel to a large Panda Breeding facility that was about 4 hours away.  We were to spend the night on the road and then return the next day.  Michael and I were concerned about this for several reasons…..first of all, Ping was going to accompany us and she gets horribly car sick.  I simply couldn’t imagine spending 2 days in a car worrying about her the whole time.   Also, the thought of having to pack up the suitcases again for just one night was almost unbearable.  Finally, Michael was needing to have some “no-science” time and was desiring a day of just sitting and not having to interact.  Consequently, we asked the professor if we could change those plans and instead spend half a day at a local Panda Facility and then have Wednesday free.  He graciously agreed so on Tuesday we headed out for an adventure that we had looked forward to ever since we started coming to China.

Ping picked us up at the hotel and we drove about 20 minutes to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.   She stood in line and bought our tickets at this “Panda” themed ticket office….IMG_7262

When we entered, there were lots of people standing in line to ride in one of the small electric vehicles, including this little girl who already looked like she had seen enough…..


We looked at the length of the line and opted to walk instead, heading first to one of the Giant Panda Enclosures.  The first one that we came to was a “Sub-Adult” male….ie teenager!!!   We were excited to see him out and about and enjoyed a nice long viewing.  He started entertaining us by doing some scratching, reminding me VERY much of my Dad…..I had seen him make those same moves many times before.   And, as a matter of fact, he had the same basic physique!!IMG_7287

Have a look…..

Giant Panda in Action

We were all disappointed when he climbed down from his perch but shouldn’t have worried.  He proceeded to walk behind his play area and take a stroll around his enclosure….IMG_7316 ……stopping to gawk at all of the tourists…..

Panda Gawking

There were people everywhere, especially when there was a Panda on the move……IMG_7320

I laughed as one lady took a selfie with her pointing to the panda behind her!!

Ping had told us that she had never seen Giant Panda’s before and that she was excited to be able to go with us.  I love this photo of her showing her enjoyment…..


Unfortunately this was the only Giant Panda that we saw outside.  It was starting to get pretty hot and, as the sign noted, Giant Panda’s are Heat Intolerant!!!

We moved to the Inside enclosures and enjoyed seeing the Moms and Cubs.  This little guy was playing around while Mom slept…..IMG_7475

….and this one was making good use of snack time…..

Eating lying down

Looking at this video ALSO reminds me of my Dad when he used to sit back in his recliner and have a snack!!!

As we walked into the enclosure we had to step on carpet strips that had been soaked in a bleach solution.   I know that the idea was to keep germs out but it was a bit disconcerting!!!

The enclosure area had glass walls which were fairly steamy and had lots of finger prints on them.  It was good that we were tall because we could photography over everyone’s head and avoid BOTH of those problems….


We all enjoyed seeing these glorious animals!!

There were smaller babies in another enclosure but the line was really long and was not moving at ALL.   After standing there for about 5 minutes, we decided to leave it, although I think that Ping really wanted to visit the babies….


In between seeing the Giant Pandas, we visited the Red Panda Enclosure and had a wonderful time watching these cute, furry little guys.   They are no relation to a Giant Panda and are much closer to a Raccoon or Skunk.  But the best thing about Red Pandas is that THEY ARE CUTE…..


I mean, how can you not smile when you look at him!!!!

One lucky zoo volunteer got to go inside the enclosure and feed the little guys.  This one was very insistent that he was hungry…..IMG_7388

We moved down a bit further in the enclosure and came to an area where they were actively roaming around the compound.   I pictured them as a model walking on a Fashion Runway, circling the crowd, stopping to smile and let people ooh and ahh and then resuming their rounds.

This little guy came right up to the edge of the moat as if he was taunting us….IMG_7418

They are amazing climbers and we all loved watching one of them shimmy down a tree.  It is fun to listen to the sounds that the crowd makes…..

Climbing Red Panda

As we were walking to another enclosure I commented to Michael that, since they were such good climbers, couldn’t they easily get out of one enclosure and into another one.  As we were discussing this, I pointed to one that was just by the fence on the left side of the path.  As we watched open mouthed, he darted thru a hole in the fence, scooted between myself and Ping and then back thru another hole on the other side……


We laughed and said that obviously they are not forbidden to move between enclosures, but actually encouraged to do so!!!

We decided that he only did this maneuver to frighten the tourists because he circled a tree and ran thru another hole, onto the path and back into the original enclosure.   This time he truly did frighten a young woman, giving us all a good laugh.  He probably enjoyed it too!!!

We took a few photos with the Pandas……


and one selfie with Ping……


Obviously we need to crouch more when taking selfies with  Chinese!!!

We left the facility around 1:00 and Ping insisted that we have lunch with her.  After eating “health food” which translated as a type of porridge we returned to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the day.

We did venture out for dinner, heading to the BBQ place that we had enjoyed so much.

We were able to order easily but did have trouble getting the red pepper salt mixture that we loved so much before.  They didn’t speak any English and we didn’t have any idea of how to order it.  We actually returned AGAIN to this restaurant on Wednesday night and this time showed them the photo of the plate from our first visit.  It worked and we got exactly what we wanted!!!

This time I took a few more photos, including a few of the women preparing the skewers…..DSC08507

This woman was amazing….. she would take green onions, roll them up into shallow disks and thread them onto the skewer.  All of this was done without taking her eyes off of the movie on her cell phone!!!!DSC08508

We loved our “napkins”……


….and took a selfie to celebrate Chinese Valentines Day……DSC08513

…now known to us as “the day we saw Pandas”!!!!!

It’s Monday!!!

Keeping with my plan to work one day and sight-see the next, I spent most of Monday in the hotel room.  I did make one foray to Walmart to see if I could find some salt for our travel salt shaker.  I spent a lot of time looking at various powders and finally selected one called “Gourmet Powder”, but alas I was wrong….REALLY wrong.   In retrospect, we think that it may have been MSG!!  We did return a couple of days later and finally found something that said “Salt” on it.

I had one laugh while in Walmart as I passed the fresh fish tank and saw that they had price tags attached to their fins!!!

Just to spend a bit more time out of the room, I walked down one of the side streets and ran into the US Embassy.  I was expecting to see Marines guarding the facility and was surprised that there were Chinese guards instead.  As Michael and I talked about it we wondered if they were there to keep people from getting into the Embassy with the idea of defecting?

Interestingly, all of the shops across the street from the Embassy were for buying Visas and making travel plans!!

As I was walking, I heard a pounding sound and looked all around to figure out where it was coming from.  I found a street vendor who was making noodles….probably rice noodles and found the process to be so interesting…

Noodle making video…

I continued my walk, seeing many street vendors and one shop advertising “Liver Noodles”.   I am not sure what “Cake on Effort” means…..


….although they did have some gorgeous pastries on display.

This restaurant had a very cool entrance……


… this Doorway design caught my eye……


….and this young woman certainly had a load on her bike…..DSC08433

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the hotel is very posh and this is the decoration in each of the six elevators…..


The lobby is a gorgeous (and much photographed) scene……


….and if you look you can see the live musician perched under the tree!

I particularly liked the chandelier (if that is what you all it) in the lobby…DSC08522


Monday night we were taken to a full Hot Pot restaurant, something that Sichuan  Province is known for and something that we had really been looking forward to!!!!

Max and Ping were both with us and studiously selected the ingredients to be included in the spicy soup…..


The cooking pot soon arrived, looking VERY red and dangerous…..


We were each given a small can……


and were surprised to find that it contained vegetable oil!!!   This was poured into individual bowls and minced garlic and various herbs was added to it…..


The mixture was completed with a splash of vinegar from this cute vessel…..DSC08444

After I had finished my witches brew, I asked exactly what it was going to be used for.  I was surprised to find out that the hotpot items will be dipped into the oil & vinegar mixture to cool them off for eating!!!  In most cases we have dipped things to add heat but never to cool  it off.

In another change, our beer was served in this shallow dish, making for some interesting toasts as we tried really hard not to slosh it everywhere as we clinked glasses….DSC08445

Our food requests began to arrive…..


….and were added to the pot one at a time…..


As it cooked it looked so colorful and delicious…..


The only hard part of eating this was to avoid the tiny pepper corns (Sichuan pepper) that infested the soup.  Once you ate one of those, you might as well forget the rest of the night because you couldn’t taste anything else!!!

As you took each bit out of the hotpot (using your chopsticks) you would put it into your oil bowl and then eat it from there…..


It was super yummy but equally as messy and my shirt is still sporting dollops of oil!!

We asked about napkins, knowing that they would be a necessity and were told to look in the drawer on each side of the table…..


…..such a practical and ingenious idea!!!

Isn’t this a pretty bowl……


At the end of the meal, the table may have been messy…..DSC08473

….but we were content…..


A day out with new friends

On Sunday, Michael had to spend the day teaching so Professor Liu had organized for one of his new students (Ping) to take me out to see the highlights of Chengdu.  She had only been in the city for about 2 weeks so she enlisted her boyfriend, Zhu Ran, to join us.  They met me outside of the hotel at the appointed time and we headed out on our adventure.

Ping suggested that we take the Metro so that I could experience the “real life” of Chengdu.   I had been dying to ride on a Chinese subway so was ecstatic for the opportunity.   I am not sure what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness and modern aspect of the entire event!!    Security was tight and our bags were put thru a scanner as we entered.  Everything had English subtitles and it was easy to see which train you were supposed to be on.  Zhu Ran bought our tickets…..


….and we were off on our adventure.

Initially there were no seats available and they apologized for making me stand.  When a seat became available they suggested that “we will be walking a lot today….why don’t you sit”.    I sat!!

The only issue that I had with any of the trips was that the people boarding the train don’t tend to let people disembark before they enter the cars so it becomes a bit of a shoving match.

Our first stop was the Manjushri Monastery, but first we had to stop for a selfie….my first using a selfie stick!!IMG_3239


The temple entrance was marked by this tall tower…..IMG_7228

Zhu Ran said that it symbolizes long life and that each person must circle it once (clockwise) to bring health and  good fortune to your family.

We stepped further into the temple area and found a large building that housed a huge Buddha.  The room was filled with tables full of women (mostly) chanting the Buddhist Holy Book (the Tripitaka).  They were accompanied by a high pitched beat emanating from a very small drum…..


The kids told me that, when you pray, you place your hands together in supplication, say something in your head, bow, touch your head to the pillow that you are kneeling on, and then open your hands to receive the blessing.

The next temple contained a multi-armed Buddha.  I commented that it reminded me of some of the Hindu gods and Zhu Ran said that this one did indeed come from the west (ie…India).


He also taught me that you enter each temple leading with your right foot and exit with your left foot first.  As well, you enter on the right side of the temple and exit on the left.

As we went deeper into the temple, the buildings got larger and the “no photograph” signs became more prominent….IMG_7241

They told me that the Buddha’s each had a special area of interest and I noticed that the Buddha of prosperity, wealth and career was particularly well attended.  Although Ping had told me that she was not religious, she stopped to pray before this Buddha.

The incense pits were doing a smoking business as people attempted to present a pleasing aroma to their god…..


There was a long line to have the opportunity to touch (or hug or kiss)  the Chinese character that means “Happiness”…..IMG_7244

The Hall of the Heavenly Kings was built in 1821 and the courtyard outside was filled with people doing their morning exercises.  Zhu Ran said that when people are “60 or so” they become less active and start coming to the exercise areas.  So, I guess I only have 10 more months before I have to join them!!!

As we were leaving the temple, Ping stopped to buy she and I a flower to pin to our clothes…..


When I asked her about the significance of the flower, she looked at me dumbfounded and said “it smells good”!!

Turtles are a symbol of long life and I  loved this little boy’s reaction to a bucket of turtles ready to be sold……


We boarded another train and got off at our next stop…..the area known as “Wide and Narrow Street”.  This was a huge shopping area but Zhu Ran (always trying to take care of me) told me several times that this was a place to look but not a place to buy!!!   He was right as it was a fairly touristy street mall area.  When I say touristy, I always think of “non-Chinese” tourists, but in this case, I was the only non-Chinese for miles around……



I loved this wall and am reminded of the VERY boring Bamboo quilt top that I have at home awaiting finishing……


Maybe I could overlay some designs like this onto it???

The kids had promised me lots of food to try and the first was this long, stringy, brushy looking stuff…..


When finished, they looked like this…..


The flavor was tasty, but it immediately sucked  every bit of moisture out of my mouth and I was desperate for something to drink.

We stopped at a juice stand and Zhu Ran asked if I wanted to drink their favorite drink.  Of course, I said yes and was presented with something that tastes a lot like a flat, watered down coke…..DSC08320

….but it was cool and wet and I was VERY happy to have it!!

We stopped for lunch shortly after that and ordered four dishes…….


A cold noodle that was wonderful, a Bean curd dish that was also great and a spicy tofu that was ok.  I never got to taste the fourth item (balls on the bottom right) as Ping tried it first and said that it was NOT good!!!  I didn’t argue with her.

We continued strolling down the street with me being as interested in the old, historic buildings as I was the shops…..



They were determined that I try everything and paid for me to spin the wheel to win a prize…..


The pointer landed on the dragonfly and I was presented with a caramelized sugar dragonfly…..DSC08344

….pretty and tasty too!!!

We stood and watched the sugar artist at work and I loved the detail that he put into each piece…..

Watch the video here


One of the things that I loved about the street were these three dimensional sculptures all along the road….DSC08348

   They were almost always covered up with people taking photos.


This was one of my favorites and I really loved the mixture of photography and sculpture……


But my all-time favorite was of this horse “bursting” thru the wall…..DSC08357

However, it was rivaled by this bicycle…..


I felt extremely well taken care of during our shopping expedition… “minder”  in front and one in back, always watching my purse and watching out for me!!

The next stop was to be Renmin Park.  I asked about the word “Renmin” because I have seen it everywhere and was told that it means “Of the people” or “For the people”

Zhu Ran took us down one particularly crowded street and then found out that he had taken us in exactly the wrong direction.  We laughed and turned around to retrace our steps.  When we got to the other side, he asked again where the park was.  I looked at him and laughed and said “let me guess….it really was the other way”!!  He assured me that was NOT the case!!

The park was beautiful and serene and a quiet and cool respite from the crowded streets…..


We were heading for a particular tea shop, found it easily and took our seats at a table near the park’s central lake.  He ordered lemon tea for us and then apologized as it was delivered, saying that he was expecting something else.  I, however, LOVED what we had.  It was served in a tall glass that had rocks of sugar in the bottom with two dried lemon slices perched on top.  Hot water was added and the most delicious warm lemonade was made……


The sugar melted very slowly so as more hot water was added, the taste just got better and better.

We sat at the table and enjoyed watching groups of people playing card games and other families in row boats on the lake.  We laughingly watched one father frantically try to row the boat with his wife and daughter sitting in the front, looking at their cell phones!!!

Zhu Ran said that he had two more stops planned for us but I asked him to pick one more and then we would call it a day.  He chose the Jinli Pedestrian Street (another shopping type area) and, at first, I was disappointed.  But, as we walked thru the area I realized that it was more of an artisan and food area and I enjoyed my time there immensely. 

One of the first booths that we passed was a calligrapher.  I am so enamored with the brushes that they use in their work…..


This artisan is making hand carved combs, painstakingly carving each tine of the comb…..


They were gorgeous……


There were various medical craftsmen on hand as well and this gentleman was getting his ears cleaned while waiting for his family……


The vendors selling ear cleaning would walk thru the crowd with their tools in their hands.  As they walked, they would slap a tuning fork (which is used in the cleaning process) to get people’s attention.  We entered into one of the largest food courts that I have ever seen and was amazed (and horrified) by some of the dishes served.  

I cant imagine what “Three In Mud” is…..


….but I can probably imagine what it tastes like!!!

I caught this man enjoying his grilled “octopus on a stick”…..


This was a “Beggar’s Chicken” stand where the whole chicken is wrapped in mud and then cooked……


The ones on the tables smelled delicious!!

This Octopus (or maybe Squid) hadn’t been cooked yet but made for a fun photo…..



We had two things to eat/drink while we were in this area.   The first was a drink made from fermented rice…..


It was refreshing but not a flavor that I was truly excited about.  However, the second food item was magnificent.   It was a plain yogurt, smooth and cold, and served in this cute container…..


Our final stop was to this “Lover’s area” which was adorned with red ribbons and amulets wishing for love……


Ping let me take this cute photo of her……


We caught a taxi and returned to the hotel, exhausted but happy about our day out and about.  I tried repeatedly to pay for parts of the day but they always said no and that I was their guest…I felt VERY pampered!!

That evening, Michael and I met Professor Liu and his student, Max (at least that was her English name) for yet another spicy, tasty dinner.  This was a type of hotpot but here you filled a bowl with all of the things that you wanted in the hot pot……


and then paid according to it’s weight.    It was delivered to our table in one large bowl…


And as we dipped further down, we found all sorts of delightful things…..


The walk back to the hotel signaled the end to a full, rich day!!!

On to a new city….Chengdu

On Saturday morning, we woke up to pack and head to the airport again.   Each time we have left Kunming, there have been different emotions….

– On the first trip, we were thinking that we might be moving to Kunming so were excited and  feeling sure that we would see it again.

– On the second trip, we had just told the Institute that we were not going to accept the position and felt sure that they were so unhappy with us that we would never be invited back.

  –  The third trip was an exceptionally difficult time and we were glad to have “Kunming in the rear view mirror” and were perfectly happy to NEVER return.

  –  On the fourth trip we took control of our environment and spent much time in our hotel….Michael working on a review article and me planning for our move into the new house.   When we left, we had been told that all of the money was gone so we would not be returning.

Now we come to this fifth trip…… we were surprised to hear that there was more money available for Michael to travel here and, once again, we took control of the trip with Michael organizing teaching gigs all over the country so that we wouldn’t need to be in Kunming for long.

But something happened on this trip and we have truly enjoyed our time in this city and were very sad to be leaving it again.  We know that we will have one night here while in transit next week, but we are both hoping that we will get to return for a longer visit in future years.

We got thru the baggage and security lines quickly and immediately started looking for some place to get coffee and breakfast. As if drawn by the Siren’s song, we missed the turn into our gate and walked straight into a Starbucks…..DSC08286

One thing that I haven’t mentioned previously….before we left the US, we counted the number of airline legs that we would fly before returning home and were astounded to realize that we would take off (and hopefully land) NINETEEN times!!  This flight was number 5…only 14 to go!!!!

We were excited by this trip as it took us to a new city….Chengdu, and a new Province…..Sichuan, best known for it’s extremely spicy food.   We couldn’t wait!!!

We had an easy flight to Chengdu, were met by a student (Ping) and her boyfriend (Zhu Ran)  and arrived at our “University” accommodation.  Those two words have been known to strike fear into our hearts and minds as those accommodations have varied from an 18th century 3 bedroom house to a sixth floor walk-up apartment with no air conditioning, to a University hotel that had no hot water!!!   However, this time those fears disappeared as we arrived at a magnificent 5-star hotel just a few blocks from Sichuan University.

The carpet in our hall was a bit disappointing, however, taking the photo was fun.   The hall lights turn on and off automatically as you walk past so Michael had to run up and down the hall to keep the light on long enough for me to take the photo…..DSC08294

We knew that we were out of our league when we opened the door and all of the lights turned on, the curtains opened and the TV turned on showing a screen that welcomed us by name!!!

We were also enamored by the toilet that had digital readouts and even a remote control….DSC08290

The only control that I figured out how to use was the button that turned it OFF and back into a regular toilet, although the floor beneath the toilet was always heated and comfortable!!!

Michael had to immediately go to the University to start his meetings so I went for a walk to check out the surroundings.   I shouldn’t have  been surprised when I spied the local Walmart on one corner of my street….I guess that I am drawn to them like Michael is to Starbucks!!  I bought our usual needs for the week…..water, potato chips, Snickers, Peanut M&M’s, Listerine and Bar soap.

When I got back to the hotel, Michael sent a text saying that they would meet me downstairs at 6:00 and we would walk to dinner.   Little did I know how much fun this first Sichuan meal would be!!!

We walked to a small restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel.  The first thing that I loved about this place was the tile floor….


As we sat down Michael’s host, Jian Quan Liu  was handed a notebook with an order sheet on it……DSC08296

  He handed it to us and told us to pick out what we wanted.  We were confused but managed to find a couple of things that looked good, made easier by the English translations……


Among other things, we could select from Chicken Skin, Beef Tallow, Small Intestine, Pig tongue,  “the waist piece” (whatever that is), Pork Tripe, Gristle, Chicken Leg Muscle, Squid, and Pig Brains.  Fortunately, there were other choices as well including Shrimp, Beef, Pork, Chicken Wings.  There was also a HUGE list of vegetables from potatoes, leeks, cucumbers, corn, beans and more.

Professor Liu overrode our list and placed a huge order and we patiently waited for our food to arrive.  They knew that we loved spicy food so the first thing on the table were two plates of chili pepper mix for us to dip our food in…..


When the food started to arrive, we understood why the order had been so seemingly huge.  Each item that had been ordered was a skewer holding a few pieces of the meat or vegetable.  They were all beautiful and SOOOO very tasty….DSC08300


Some of my favorites included these gorgeous shrimp…..


….amazingly tasty cauliflower……DSC08301

….magnificent Eggplant…..


….and skewers of super fun corn kernels…..DSC08304

Each item was grilled to perfection and, as witnessed by the stack of empty skewers, we enjoyed a wonderful meal……


It was a great first day of our time in “spicy” Sichuan Province!!!


Eating and other things in Kunming…

Up to now I haven’t talked about any food in Kunming, but we were treated to 3 banquets over the course of the week and spent the other four meals at our favorite “Western” restaurant…..Salvador’s!!  

We first met one of the owners of Salvador’s when we were in China in 2010.   Colin and his wife A-Ling quickly became some of our favorite people and eating at his restaurant was a wonderful, relaxing experience!!   On this trip we only got to see them for a short period of time and were excited to find out that they were expecting their first child in October.  We did, however,  get to spend some quality time in their restaurant.  During those times we noshed on Nachos, Quesadillas, Basil Chicken Sandwiches, Hamburgers and more.  My favorite desert was called the “Star Destroyer” and was a thick, rich chocolate cake with ice cream, whipped cream and a smattering of chocolate syrup.   After eating nothing but Chinese for 10 days, it was heaven!!!

One of the things that we love about Salvador’s is that they are committed to helping young women from rural areas to learn to live and prosper in a city environment.   Colin has recently written a book about their experiences of starting the restaurant and I would highly recommend  it.  It is called “Great Leaps” by Colin Flahive……..

Great Leaps: Finding Home in a Changing China by [Flahive, Colin]

….and when I just checked it on Amazon, it was free for Kindle.

One of our banquets was held on Sunday, and was hosted by Michael’s sponsor here, Wen Wang.  It took a long time to go thru the menu book and pick out which dishes to order…… DSC08155

I have never understood how they can order the food for the banquet so perfectly!!!  There is seldom much left over!!!

Our favorites for this evening were these chili infested mushrooms…..


They were so yummy.

This looked like a steamed bun but was actually a perfectly roasted potato…..


There was a wedding going on at the hotel where we ate and the Bride and Groom were greeting their guests outside of the front door…..


They were handing out cigarettes and hard candies to each of their guests.

As we were leaving the hotel we passed their car appropriately decorated for the event……DSC08172


On Wednesday, I went out for a long walk, ending up in a downtown pedestrian mall.  It was lunch time and I was feeling a bit peckish, so I plucked up my courage and approached one of the outdoor stands…..


…. and purchased my lunch…..


These three delightful treats were well cooked pork (I think), sprinkled with a chili powder mixture.   The server “asked” me if I wanted the powder and I motioned yes.  Then he and the other servers had a good laugh, thinking that it was going to be way too hot for me.  After I had eaten two of the three sticks, I approached the stand again and motioned a thumbs up to let them know that I had enjoyed my lunch.  They all smiled!!!

I wasn’t able to finish all three of them, but didn’t want to throw the extra one away.  I offered it to a beggar checking out the trash can and he shook his head “NO”.   Maybe he knew something that I didn’t !!!!

I will say that I didn’t have anything to drink and my lips were burning so I stumbled into a McDonald’s ice cream stand and came away with a vanilla ice cream in a coffee flavored cone.  It was the only one that had a picture that I could point to!!!!


The ice cream was interesting as it had a slight tangy flavor to it, almost like a touch of lemon.  But whatever the flavor, it cooled my burning mouth.

As I walked back to the hotel, I passed a Catholic church….


….and several “Apple” stores.  We read once that there were only 2 REAL Apple stores in Kunming.   I wonder if it was this one……


….or maybe this one……


On Wednesday evening, we were taken for another meal, this time by Professor Lee (a different one than in Beijing) and his wife.  I had offered to take a taxi out to the University but he said that he would send a driver.  That “driver” ended up being his wife!!!  She was very sweet and we had a fun time talking as we made the 45 minute drive to meet the others. 

As we waited for everyone to arrive, she carefully looked thru the menu and ordered our banquet.  There were several favorites on the table this time including……

…..SPICY mushrooms served on a beautiful plate with words that wished for good fortune……



….tender lotus stems served in a beautifully shaped dish……DSC08188

….yummy potato pancakes that were designed to be eaten with a soup, but we ate them by themselves…..


….and raw “Ice Plant” that was served on ice and with a salted soy dipping sauce and a spicy dipping sauce……DSC08189

The empty dishes at the meal’s end looked very sad indeed…..


We had a laugh at this woman as we were leaving the restaurant.   She had found a very imaginative way to water the flower boxes on the other side of the water feature…..


Our final food outing in Kunming was on Friday night and was also hosted by Professor Lee and his wife.   This time his daughter and son-in-law joined us, as well as one of his students who was good friends with his daughter.   Yunnan Province is well known for its mushrooms and we drove about 45 minutes out of Kunming to a very famous Mushroom Hot-Pot restaurant.  As we walked in, we first noticed the huge trays of mushrooms being unloaded……


The colors and varieties of the mushrooms were amazing and very beautiful…..DSC08250DSC08252DSC08231DSC08232

There were groups of workers sitting around large baskets of mushrooms and using small knives and scrapers to clean the mushrooms…..


They all had a good laugh at me after I took this photo!!!  As Michael put it, we were DEFINITELY the center of attention!!!

We were led to an upstairs room and the hot-pot arrived…..


It looked so beautiful as it started to boil and cook the various mushrooms.   Just as she brought the pot in, the student said “you have to really know how to cook these or they can be poisonous”…..well, that’s encouraging!!!!

As the pot boiled, the mushrooms slowly turned wonderful colors and the aroma became increasingly  enticing…..


Our table setting was an indication of good things to come……


The bowl on the left has chili peppers and other herbs.  Cooking water from the hot-pot was added to it to make a delicious dipping sauce.  The tall cup contains tea, the shorter one has beer and the fruit in the back is called Longan (also known as “Eye of the Dragon”) which is a type of Lychee.  It was a great accompaniment to the rest of the meal.

We began the meal by eating the mushrooms and bits of meat that were already in the pot and then they slowly added other vegetables…..





and greens…….


We left the restaurant happy, full and contented with our time in Kunming.  The drive back took us through a 2 mile tunnel and along a long highway with virtually no traffic.  It was the perfect end to our stay!!!