Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Trip to China 4: Back Courtyard

These pictures were taken in the back courtyard of a "Simple Food Restaurant" we went to in the town of Huanggang. I should add that the simple food was very tasty, but then we did not order the bullfrog(!), pictured below in a tank with other edibles, just waiting around to be popped in the pot.

The woman's bathroom shown in the photo below looks pretty grim, but it was by no means the worst bathroom I have encountered in China. Indeed, I thought the way the mops were lined up against the wall looked kind of picturesque.

Monday, March 30, 2009

March Trip to China 3: Returning to Origins Temple

Here are a couple of photos from Returning to Origins Temple (Guiyuan si). The first one is a huge pile of turtles on a lotus structure in one of the temple ponds. Turtles are great. I was not the only one interested in starting at them, as you can see in the reflection if you look closely!

The temple had five hundred golden statues of Luohans (like Buddhist saints), made sometime in the Republican period, I think. Here are just a few of them. They were used as a sort of fortune-telling device. You started in a certain direction and counted off a certain number, according to your own superstitions. The one you got to was supposed to be your sort of patron saint for the year. The next year you could come back. Of course, to get proper information about your saint, you had to pay 10 RMB and you got a little golden pilgrim card. Of course I had to get one, 10 RMB being peanuts for me. I got #230. If I get a chance, I will scan the card and translate it here a bit later.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Out Like a Lion

This photo was taken from our living room window looking out into the courtyard, and it was taken today, March 29. The snow has mostly melted by now, but it was really coming down hard all morning, generating huge puddles of icy slush around all the curbs and a general miserable wet winter's-not-through-with-us-yet feeling.

The good news, though, is that my beloved husband is finally home from his travels and so am I, so after nearly a whole month of comings and goings, we can finally settle down again to our comforting and much longed-for routine. The conference for my field was in Chicago this year, and today was the last day of it. I actually did manage to drag myself out for an 8:30 AM panel, and went to another at 10:45, but I can't say I remained conscious the whole time. I was exhausted.

I went home pretty much directly after the second panel. Climbing the stairs to our apartment, I smelled a wonderful smell, which actually turned out to be emanating from OUR place. Pocket of Bolts, who has been in Ireland, had brought back black and white puddings. To go with these, he made eggs, grilled tomatoes, and--get this--even Irish soda bread. Homemade, by him. Dinner was bubbling in the crock-pot, and he had even made stock. It was amazing. We finally got a chance to relax over a big "Irish breakfast" lunch, and start in on all the things we had to talk about it. Since there's nowhere we'd want to go, let it snow!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March Trip to China 2: At Yellow Crane Tower

Sweeping bamboos over the ticket line. For some reason, I just thought this picture oddly charming.

A grassy little path leading up to a half-hidden pavilion. Not one of the more famous sight here but again the picture really captures a moment and a memory for me.

The cliche typical view of Yellow Crane Tower. Rebuilt in the Qing dynasty, but on the same site as the old Yellow Crane Tower, celebrated because of a farewell poem written by the great Tang poet Li Bo:

"At Yellow Crane Tower, Seeing off Meng Haoran on his Way to Guangling"
My old friend is heading west
we part at Yellow Crane Tower.
In the mist and flowers of the third month,
he goes down to Yangzhou.
His lonely sail just a shadow in the distance,
Then disappearing in the blue void,
And I see only the Yangzi
Flowing to the edge of heaven.

(Translation is mine, but rough and impromptu.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

March Trip to China 1: Shanghai Airport

Here is me, Zapaper, in the Shanghai Pudong airport. I am about 15 hours into a 20 hour journey, sleepy and surrounded by my carry-on luggage. But Shanghai was warm and sunny. The airport had freely available drinking water, Western toilets with toilet paper supplied, places to plug in your computer, and even free wireless. So the four-hour layover there I had passed quite comfortably, no complaints at all.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Birthday Surprise

This weekend was one of the long-awaited events I have not hitherto been able to blog about, namely: Pocket of Bolts father and sister, who each live pretty far from Chicago, in different states from us and from each other, had contacted me about two months ago. They wanted to surprised PoB by flying in for his birthday, and wanted to know if I thought it would be all right. It was not a hard decision to make: of course one says yes. The consequence of saying no if I should have said yes are so much worse than the consequences of saying yes if I should have said no--obviously. But the whole thing cost me a certain amount of mental anguish, believe it or not. I'm not one for surprise parties, either getting or giving them. And lying to my husband, even if it's mostly by omission, does not come easily.

In the event, however, the whole thing worked out so well and smoothly that he was a bit disturbed at how effectively "sneaky" I was. I attribute our success merely to the fact that he is not of a suspicious nature, and we had some good luck. Friday night I lured him into a nearby pub. The surprise guests came in and sneaked up behind him. The look of pure astonishment on his face was quite comical, and for a moment I almost appreciated why people like to plan surprise parties. I still think, though, that he might have enjoyed it more if he could have had longer to look forward to it.

On his actual birthday, Saturday, we had brunch at Ann Sather, and then the three of them went off to see the sights. I stayed home to work and also made a cake. For dinner we went to a nice tapas place, which was delicious, and came back to our place for cake (so many candles!) and drinking and chatting. The whole evening went really well, I thought.

This is a picture of the Pocket of Bolts family having a characteristically lazy and mellow Sunday morning. I was madly translating some medieval poems for a meeting I had later in the afternoon. When the three of them get together I am definitely the odd one out, but I don't mind it. It is fun to see PoB amidst his nearest relations. It was fun to do something unusual for the birthday weekend.

PoB's dad left Sunday afternoon, and his sister stayed on another day. They'd been in a hotel but his sister spent Sunday night with us. That was really nice. PoB is very close to his sister, and they don't have nearly enough chances to really talk. We all had dinner together and then I went into the study to do some writing and the two of them talked. I could hear the edges of their conversation, but I mostly stayed in the study and did my own thing. Brothers and sisters should have some alone time when they see each other so rarely--I think.