notes from China

Pat’s photos from her trip

Click this link to see photos from Pat’s trip. She traveled to Gozo, part of Malta in the Mediterranean, from Oct. 24-Nov.8.  Here is what she says about Gozo:

“It is a Maltese island located in the Mediterranean south of Sicily and north of Libya. Several movies (The Gladiator for one) have been filmed there.  The scenery is stark, but beautiful.  I was visiting a friend who bought an anciend Roman ruin and she and her husband renovated it.  It was once a mill where flour was ground.  She lives there alone now and has a circle of friends most of whom are European, but I also met her Gozitan friends who are charming.  One brought over fresh goat cheese that she had made and she gave me two big bags of sea salt that her son had gathered from the family’s salt pan.  Fennel, capers, and arugula grow wild over the island.  It was a very interesting experience.  The people are friendly  and there is much history to be experienced.  I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it as a travel destination!”

This link is from her trip to Japan.

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more photos from Pat’s overseas adventure

Pat shared some more photos from her travels. She was thinking recently about what it must be like in the Philippines right now and wondered if maybe this could go in the blog to warm up our Quota Club members.

She went to visit her Quota friend, Evelyn in March. Not only did Evelyn show Pat around Leganes, which is the school that we have sent Club-to-club money to, but Evelyn even took Pat to a luncheon held by the Iloilo Club. It was great fun and the members were, of course, lovely.

Pat’s photos

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The Best of Shanghai

“What will people think?”  Most of us move around in society motivated by association with other human beings.  We dress ourselves for the eyes of others.  We modify our behavior to be acceptable to others.  We often even quantify our worth by the impact we have on our world.  What do we do for ourselves?

For most of us, we hope to come to a balance of acting for our own benefit while simultaneously doing what we think will be accepted by or what will benefit others.  Enter:  ‘Umbrella Man’.  We don’t know his name or his background.  We only know him as the man who walks by our apartment every morning between 8:20 and 8:30 bobbing his umbrella up and down while singing out to his public in a voice that can be heard from a block away.  “Here he comes!”  My husband usually hears him first.  We run to the balcony to watch and listen as he passes.  His voice rises above the cacophony of horns, screeching brakes, and bus engines.

Many people roll their eyes at the ‘crazy man’ and the Chinese staff members of our apartment complex show surprise when we mention him.  “You like him?” they ask incredulously.  We love him.  He makes our day.  Not only do we enjoy the melodious flow of his voice, but we admire his sense of freedom and pleasure as he struts down the street.  We are sure that we cannot be the only ones who benefit from his carefree singing.  In fact, he is serious about it.  He leaves his lane every morning at 7:30, returning at 8:30.  He usually wears black velveteen pants, white gloves, and a baseball cap.  He has a metal contraption of some sort strapped around his waist with a cord that sends the music to an earphone in his ear.  He refuses to be interrupted by any obstacles or attempts at communication.  He looks straight ahead.  He sings without pause.  He bellows with confidence.

As I watch him, I wonder why.  Why does he do this every day in all kinds of weather?  Is he pleasing himself?  Is he trying to bring the pleasure of his voice to the masses?  Does he know that he pleases us and quite possibly others?  Is he showing off?

Then I wonder if it matters why.  Or even if it matters whether or not he knows that we await his cadences on a daily basis.  He alone knows why.  He does what he does and we appreciate his efforts without applause or cheers.  He is there and we are here.  My only hope is that I might be able to do what I do because I enjoy doing it and, simultaneously, have an impact on others while I am going about my business of enjoying the simple pleasures of life.  One of those pleasures is hearing the Umbrella Man every morning.

Umbrella Man

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Pat’s trip to Hong Kong

Pat may get around to writing something, but for now enjoy her pictures from their trip to Hong Kong!


Here is what Pat has to say about her photos:

The Big Buddha

Nihao from China!

Here is just a bit of background about the pictures of that Big Buddha I saw in Hong Kong.  First of all, for those who are not familiar with Hong Kong (as I was not before going there), it actually includes a group of small islands that are very close together.  They are also quite mountainous which is why you see so many building clusters.

On Lantau Island, you can go up in a cable car (or you can walk like the people we saw on the trail below the cable car) until you get to a small touristy village.  From there you can walk to the Big Buddha where you can become enthralled!

The Buddha is called Tian Tan Buddha because it is the Altar of Heaven.  Tian means sky/heaven in Chinese. The altar is patterned after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  This Buddha is one of five large statues in China.  It is made of bronze and was finished in 1993.  It shows the harmonious relationship between man and nature and the raised hand signifies the removal of affliction.  The Buddha is 34 meters (110’) high.  You must climb 268 steps to get up to the lotus base that surrounds it.  The six devas at the base are offering flowers, incense, a lamp, fruit, ointment, and music to the Buddha. It was really quite a fantastic thing to see.

The pictures in Hong Kong are on the other islands.  The buildings at night are on Hong Kong Island looking out from Kowloon across Victoria Bay.  They look at Victoria Peak and the many banks, hotels, and office buildings across the bay.  The bay has been shrinking through the years because they have been filling it in with dirt for more buildings to be built.  I wonder if the talks about saving energy should start here—I have never seen so many lights!  And the Christmas lights are not even on yet!

Oh, another note—the coils are all incense burning in a small temple and the trees growing “out of the stone” are banyan trees and those are their roots hanging down like Spanish moss.

Has anyone ever seen the movie, The World of Susie Wang? It’s an old William Holden/Nancy Kwan classic filmed in Hong Kong. We watched it before we left and it really made us appreciate the sights a bit more. It gives a good idea of the masses of people in HK (all of China).  We saw the hotel where much of the movie was filmed—it is where the Steelcase office is. The friends we visited there happen to be from East Grand Rapids.

Enjoy the photos!


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Pat’s trip to Korea

We went to Seoul, South Korea for a very short visit—just a day. What we saw filled us with both sadness and admiration.

Saturday morning we embarked on a tour of the DMZ.

I did so with much trepidation, but am glad we went. I had all kinds of opinions—many misconceptions—of US involvement in the country of Korea. It is evident, though, that the South Korean people are grateful to Americans for their help in the Korean War.

The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) divides the Korean Peninsula in half on the 38th parallel. It is 151 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide (2 K on each side of the line). Without human intervention, the DMZ has become a refuge teeming with wildlife. When you look at the lakes and rivers in Korea, the first thing that is apparent is the lack of boats. The bodies of water that I saw were pristine and blue.

The DMZ was formed in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. There was never a peace treaty—just an armistice—so it remains fortified; in fact, it is the most fortified border in the world. That being said, there has not been activity to match that distinction. There have been incidents and shootings, but nothing of note since 2006. What surprised me was that the North Koreans have been planning attacks even though the war supposedly ended. As late as 1990, the South Koreans found a tunnel that was being dug for underground attack to Seoul! Four of them have been found coming from different places along the border. The third one that was found is open to tourists. We walked through part of it. It is very scary to think that while the innocent people of South Korea are going about their business of developing their society, someone is secretly planning to end their progress. It made me realize how I lived my whole life until 2001 without having to deal with that constant fear.

The sad thing to see is how much the South Koreans are hoping for and expecting reunification. Families have been divided. A week after we were there a reunion of chosen families was held and, only after having been there, did the poignancy of that event affect me. Be sure to note the sign at the railroad station about the future Transcontinental Railway. I wonder if the citizens of North Korea have similar hopes.

I know that there is a definite competitive outlook in the North. The white South Korean flag was raised and, later, the North Koreans raised their red flag to be higher than the South flag. Stories I heard about life in North Korea, however, make it sound similar to Eastern Europe when it was part of the Iron Curtain. I was in East Berlin when the wall was still up and it sounds so much the same as what I saw—very few cars and people walking around in military uniforms with no real jobs to go to. The majority of people belong to the military. That’s why we see so many people marching on the news clips!

Seoul was a very pretty, clean city. The people were friendly and there are many Americans there because of our military bases right in Seoul proper. Leather goods are the main attraction for shoppers. The food was OK, but for me, can’t compare to Chinese or Thai cooking.

After our tour, we returned to Seoul, bought a leather backpack, had a long wonderful lunch, and took a taxi to the Foreigner’s Cemetery on a hill overlooking the Han River. This was our most important mission. My husband’s mother was born in Korea to missionary parents and her mom died when she was 14 years old. (She just turned 96 a few days after we were there.) She wanted Joe Allen to visit her mother’s grave. We were so worried about not being able to find it but we got there and it was the very first one we saw! A man offered to take our picture and walked away. He came back a few minutes later and told us that this was one of the most thrilling days of his life! He was so happy to meet descendants of the Christian missionaries who changed the lives of many Koreans. It turned out that he is a pastor in Seoul and comes to visit the cemetery and adjoining church with his children whenever he can. (This was a Saturday evening.) “Mission accomplished.”

Korea remains, though, primarily a Buddhist country. While Joe Allen was working, I went to see a temple the next day and it was quite interesting. The pictures show pretty much of what I saw. Again, the people were warm and welcoming, but my time was short as we had to hurry to the airport.

It was a short, but satisfying and informative visit for us. I would love to go there and have a week stay at a temple in the mountains as many tourists do. I would love to explore the streets of Seoul as I do here in Shanghai. For now, I’ll take what I can get and enjoy it. This was one of those trips that reinforce my feelings of gratitude for my place in this world.


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Pat’s trip to Thailand

We went to Bangkok on October 3 –a 4-hour flight from Shanghai.  A driver picked us up at the airport and drove us south for two and a half hours to a town on the coast called Hua Hin.  This is the place where the King of Thailand has a royal residence, so you can see ships out in the ocean that stay there to guard the coastline.  Hua Hin is a fairly typical beach resort town with hotels and shopping malls, etc.

We stayed with a friend of my husband who is from Grand Rapids–a former Steelcase employee.  He and his wife just bought two apartments on the beach for renovation and future sale.  So, we stayed in a brand new beautifully furnished apartment and had a great time.  We swam in the pool, walked on the beach, walked up the hill to a temple, and ate delicious meals on the beach under a full moon.  I splurged on a massage at the Hyatt which was an experience in pure luxury.  Indescribable!  They wouldn’t even let me take any pictures inside!

The pictures of Hua Hin speak for themselves, but there was one experience that was unforgettable.  We had a drink at the bar (the one in the pictures with the plastic palm tree) where the barmaid/owner was playing a CD of Etta James–a favorite of mine.  We sang together to “I’d Rather Go Blind” and became instant friends.  Before I left Hua Hin the next morning, a motor scooter with two women on it came up to the apartment parking lot and I was presented with a fragrant flower ‘lei’ and a bag of Thai curry pastes with handwritten recipes and many hugs and wishes to return to Thailand.  Nice people, those Thais.

Off we went to Bangkok to enjoy the sights, more delicious food, and nice people.  Again, the pictures can speak for themselves.  I, too, hope I can return to Thailand one day.  One reason is that I didn’t get to see any elephants!  Despite the heat/humidity that kept us dripping wet the whole time and the bugs on the beach, we had one of the nicest trips ever.


follow the links to see pictures


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photos from Pat

Pat sent several photo albums of all the various things she has been up to in China. Rather then post each seperately they are all listed below. Enjoy!

Pat’s Perfect Panda Adventure


Random & recent photos

New Year in Shanghai

Chinese New Year 2009

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Pat & Dumplings

Pat makes Dumplings

These are some photos from my dumpling class.  We chopped vegetables to mix with pork.

We made the flour ‘casings’, then stuffed and stuffed.  It is quite an art getting it all in and took a bit of practice to get some nice ones.  The green ones have water from the vegetables in them.

Stuffing is a bit of an art and it took quite a lot of practice to get some nice ones formed.  Total time for the whole procedure was four hours.  They can be pan-fried, boiled, or steamed in a wok or bamboo steamer (best).  Can you imagine making these every day?  They are a staple here in Shanghai.

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Silent Night

We all sang “Silent Night” at the office Christmas party. I guess it’s a common event-something we all do every year. This year, as I looked around at the people singing with me, they were Asians–most likely atheists or Buddhists. How surreal it seemed to me to see all those beautiful faces surrounded by black hair as I thought how different they look from the typical carolers I am used to seeing. What am I doing here in China and how am I fortunate enough to know these people who work so hard to learn our language and are willing to sing in English just to please their American colleagues? Do they know what the carols are about? How many have ever seen a real snowman? Does Christmas have any meaning other than merchandising and an excuse for a party? I’m not sure about the answers to any of these questions, but I do know that Christmas is alive and well in Shanghai.

OK, we all had printed lyrics and we did sing in Chinese after the English version. Still, I was struck by the strangeness of it all. As I sang, I felt touched by the scene–in fact, I have an imprint that will take a long time to go away. I know that Christmas is fun and special, but I witnessed how a community embraces it to make others (foreigners) happy. People gaily wished me a Merry Christmas; our apartment building had a life-size Santa greet us at the door; elaborate decorations and lights included a Christmas tree at the door of each building; and a month was spent making a concert stage IN A LAKE for New Year’s Eve. All that hard work and time spent for the non-Chinese population is just a warm-up for filling the city with red lanterns and preparing the fireworks for January 26. That’s when the real celebration begins. This will be the Year of the Ox. While English-speaking friends advise us to leave town if we want to get any sleep at all during a two-week period, it almost seems like the wrong thing to do. After all, Christmas is a respected holiday and those of us who are visitors in this country should show a reciprocal respect for the home holiday. Numbers tell us that there are so many more Asians in the world than non-Asians, so we are the minority in the grand scheme of things.

As for a silent night, I don’t think there has been a silent night here since my arrival and do not think one exists in this city, yet I am trying to embrace the noise of life around me. I guess what I am trying to say is that the Chinese people are very fine hosts. I am happy to be here and my wish for any Quota member reading this is that you are happy wherever you are in this brand new year. Don’t you just love the feeling of starting off with a clean slate? My goal is to be the best guest that I can be. What is yours?

Wishing you all a happy 2009!


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