Monthly Archives: August 2013

Riding Around

I’ve ways been a fan of public transportation when traveling. I think part of it stems from the lack of options where I’m from back in America. Having to drive everywhere gets old quickly.

The ability to multitask on a bus or subway is pretty great. I’m actually writing this post while taking the bus across town. Instead of sitting and fuming in traffic, I’m sitting and writing in traffic. A much better option I think.

The cost of using the local transportation is also a huge draw. Unlike Washington DC where a single bus trip is more than three dollars, municipal transportation is still seen as a public good in most places which keeps the prices low. It’s always far cheaper to get around like the locals than take a taxi when traveling. I’ll save my money for fun things like food and adventures thank you very much.

A final reason I prefer buses to cabs is what you can see. The bus is great for people watching; everyone going about their daily lives of work and school. It’s a small glimpse into another world. I also enjoy watching the city or scenery go by. You never know what you might find in passing. Taxis have to drive quickly to make more money. Buses have to drive slow and stop often because that’s their job. A bus trip is a great way to learn more about the layout of a place.

However it’s not always perfect on the bus. Sometimes, like literally right in the middle of writing this entry, you realize that you got on the wrong bus. Or in this case the right bus going in the wrong direction. It has happened to me more than once so I’ve learned to give myself lots of time to get somewhere. I can bring a book to wait with.

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The Big Buddha

The heat wave finally broke. After almost three weeks of faily temperatures in the upper nineties, things have cooled down. It couldn’t have some soon enough. I was beginning to catch a serious case of cabin fever. When I wasn’t working all I’d be able to do is lay at home next to the fan and try to avoid drowning in sweat. But now that the weather has turned I’m able to get out again and enjoy myself.

 

I’d been wanting to see the Grand Buddha at Lingshan for a long time. Someone had mentioned it to me a while ago and I was seriously interested. The center of the Buddhist universe someone said. I’m pretty sure they were exaggerating just a little bit. But even so, with that kind of recommendation how could I skip going since it’s so close?

 

One morning I gathered my things and was planning to head out. I ran into one of my friends here so we sat and had coffee like we often do and just chatted for a few hours. By the time we had finished it was just about noon. No problems I thought, plenty of time left in the day.

 

Getting there: Take bus 88 from the Wuxi train station all the way to the very last stop. The ride is about an hour and half or so.

 

I was on the bus listening to my headphone and dozing off a couple of times since it was such a long ride. Eventually I began to think I had the wrong information and was on the wrong bus. Right about then I looked out the window and saw the Grand Buddha. At 88 meters tall it dominates the surrounding landscape. Eighty-eight because in Chinese eight and rich sound very similar so eight is a lucky number. Anyway that lifted my spirits knowing I was on the right path.

 

At the final stop I hopped off of the bus. By now I was the only person left. I found my way to the ticket booth, bought a ticket (210 RMB, kind of expensive) and began my visit.

 

I was surprised, there was so much more to the area than just the giant statue. In fact, Wuxi Lingshan Buddhist Wonderland is a sprawling complex made of Buddhist museum, temples, gardens, and other attractions. It was built only a few years ago to host the World Buddhist Conference. It was also built with tourists in mind so there are plenty of things that make it convenient like easy to find bathrooms and air conditioning to beat the heat in the buildings. The newness detracts from the sense of history and awe many famous religious sites have, but still 88 meters! That’s huge! It’s twice the size of the Statue of Liberty. The whole park is no different than any other religious construction built through history, it just happens to not be hundreds of years old yet.

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When I purchases my entrance ticket I got a map and another small ticket with a bar code and time printed on it. Obviously it was a ticket to some special event in the park, but I didn’t know exactly what. Turns out I got pretty lucky here and happened to be inside the museum at the right time. The time that’s stamped on the small ticket is for a live show with dancers in masks inside the museum. If I had arrived fifteen minutes later I would have missed my one opportunity to see it.

 

Unfortunately not everything was so wonderful. I didn’t learn until after I had entered the park at around 3:00 that it closes at 6:00. Seriously, 6:00 in the afternoon. I assumed I’d have at least until dark to be there. If I had known it closed so early I would have skipped coffee or just not even gone that day. Because of that and the live show that was about forty-five minutes long I ended up not seeing about half the park. I’ll return with some friends at another time, but that was kind of a downer.

 

Basic Information:

 

Cost: 210 RMB

Hours: 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM (5:00 PM winter)

Directions: Bus 88 from Wuxi train station to the very final stop.

The Old Man and the Kite

Kites are cool. Flipping and flying and floating in the wind, it’s pretty hard to not like a kite. Most people are happy with the simple and cheap kites that you can find anywhere, but some people want something more. Like a random old man I saw at the park one day. Somewhere in his life he decided that building kites was going to be his hobby and he took it up with a passion. This one kite of his was made out of recycled materials and looked like a ‘fracking Gyrados’ in the words of one of my friends.

 

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Eating Out

I’ve been busy getting used to China after moving here that I haven’t had time to actually write anything. I’m trying to get back into the habit so I don’t forget what I did as I figured things out. So here goes.

 

It was the boss’s birthday recently so he treated everyone to a day off to celebrate. Most of the day was spent at the local park where we played a bunch of team building games my friends and I developed for our Green Camps in Armenia. It was fun but nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Dinner was a little different. We all went to a sit down Chinese chain restaurant. Think something like a TGI Fridays or Ruby Tuesday’s in China and you get the picture. Eating out in China is a bit different than eating out in America or Europe. The first difference was that the table was round. That’s nothing too out of the ordinary, but not very common. Another difference comes in how the food is served. Everyone orders from a menu like always, but when they bring the food out it doesn’t go to the person who ordered it. The food is for the table.

 

What ends up happening is the table is stacked with dozens of dishes. Each dish has about enough food for one person to eat completely and be pretty satisfied. But the dishes aren’t for anyone in particular, it’s community fare. It’s a little different, but no different than many family style restaurants where the food arrives and people serve themselves.

 

The big difference is how you eat the food. There’s no filling up of plates and settling in. You could do that, you do get an empty plate, but it’s not what you’re supposed to do. Instead of piling your plate high with food, you reach across with your chopsticks and grab a bite of whatever you think looks good. Every bite you take you’re reaching across the table trying to get something. When eight people are around a table and you have eight arms and eight pairs of chopsticks pecking at the food, it gets a bit fun and chaotic.

 

I think there are a couple of real advantages to this style of eating. First, it’s really social. There’s no way for you not to interact with the others around the table. It’s all too common in American restaurants to have a good conversation interrupted by the arrival of the food. All of the sudden everyone is more interested in what instead of who is in front of them. The social benefits get even more interesting. The way you address the food is so different. It’s ‘Try the chicken,’ not ‘Try my chicken.’ There seem to be fewer barriers when eating communal food instead of individual portions.

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The other great benefit is less metaphysical and more immediate. It can help you lose weight. Overeating is common because many people eat too fast. What happens is they put food into themselves so quickly their stomach doesn’t have time to register it’s already full. When you have to make a small effort and spend a few extra seconds in between every single bite, the time spent actually eating during a meal drops. Your stomach has more time to process the food and by the time your stomach feels full you’ve probably eaten less than you would have at an American restaurant.

 

Eating this way isn’t just when you go out to eat. I’ve visited a Chinese friend’s home for dinner a few times and it’s exactly the same with less food. I think it’s the best way to eat a meal with others. Except for burgers and sandwiches. Those would get difficult to share.