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My Brother's Wedding

overcast 46 °F

First off, an apology and explanation for why it's been so long since I've updated my blog. I have been faithfully working on my task of at least one touristy thing a month (actually 2 in November!) but due to a number of factors, laziness being up at the top of the list, I haven't finished writing the blog so that I can publish it.

For two weeks in October, I got to leave behind the teeming metropolis of Shanghai to go back to my hometown of Kernersville, North Carolina. Although both Shanghai and Kernersville experience the same extremes of temperature and high humidity, I've noticed in recent years that hot weather comes later to Shanghai than Kernersville and the same holds true for cold weather. While Shanghai's weather was still pleasant enough that you could get by with just one light layer of clothing, Kernersville was experiencing distinctly cooler temperatures, especially in early morning and then after sunset. In the meantime, the trees were clothed in the finest colors that fall offers. I found out that just a few days after I left America, rains and strong winds effectively stripped the trees of their leaves, so I happened to be home at the best time for viewing the autumn colors.

I spent the bulk of my time in the States either trying to see as many friends and family as possible, or buying clothes and other things that I can't seem to find in China (but that were actually made here!). Therefore, I feel that I completely squandered a lot of opportunities for taking pictures just down the road from my parents' house and even in their own backyard! I should have done there what I do here at least once a month - load up my camera and associated equipment and start walking around, snapping as many pictures as my 8GB SD card will hold (which is a lot!).

Since I missed the opportunity in America, I would try to take advantage of it here in Shanghai instead, but the amazing colors are just not here. Obviously there aren't as many trees in a huge city as there are in a rural town, but I can't recall seeing the variety of colors in the leaves here either. Shanghai's streets are typically lined with plane trees, which seem to shed their leaves without going through all of the dramatic color changes. I guess I need to plan my next trip home for the fall as well so I can make up for this time.

Well, the reason for my trip home was that my one and only sibling was getting married. As of today, it's a done deal - he's been a happily married man for more than a month now. Without further ado, here are some pictures from home.

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This tree is in Old Salem, a historic part of Winston-Salem. It is also just up the street from my alma mater, Salem College.

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This fountain is between the humanities and science buildings on campus at Salem.

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I only lived on campus one year, due to Salem being about 15 minutes from my parents' house (and expensive, since it's a private school). This was my dorm, Bitting. My room was on the third floor on the other side of the building.

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Lehman Hall used to be the infirmary, but at some point since my student days it has become another dorm.

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Blum Street looked beautiful and very well-shaded. It's just down Church Street from Salem's library.

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A view of Main Street looking north.

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The enclosed lawn is Salem Square. Salem's Main Hall (that's its name, "Main Hall") is directly behind it. You can see the church on the left, beside Main Hall.

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Finally, some pictures from the event that took me home in the first place. This is my niece Helen, who was also the flower girl

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My brother waits with his friends and Doug (our minister from our childhood years) for his beautiful bride Kristi to walk down the aisle.

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Helen is so tall, it's hard to believe she's only five and a half years old! She's standing next to one of the bridesmaids, Kristi's sister Stephanie.

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First kiss as husband and wife.

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I love this picture because they both look so incredibly happy! I wish I could find someone who makes me look just as ecstatic.

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Insta-family!

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Husband and wife's first dance

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The groom and groom's mother (hey, my mom too!) dance.

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Cutting the cake - each layer was a different flavor. I think the top layer was chocolate, so I was resigned to not having any, but happily the lowest layer was vanilla. I know I'm strange, though quirky sounds like a nicer description: I like chocolate candy bars and brownies, but I don't like chocolate cake or chocolate icing and I HATE Oreo cookies. Some people have accused me of being un-American when they hear that, but as far as I know, my brother doesn't like Oreos other.

I feel like I should quit while I'm ahead. I've finally finished writing descriptions of all the pictures and rather than think of how to phrase any other thoughts from my trip home, I'm going to publish this blog. I may feel the need to revise things later, but finally, I'm done. Sorry again, but thanks for your patience in waiting!

Posted by feiheli 04:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

Jason's Wedding

sunny 73 °F

On September 1st, I attended the third Chinese wedding I've been to in the past seven years. My first was in 2005 here in Shanghai when one of my students from 1998-1999 got married. The second was in March 2010 when I went to a small town in the countryside of China to see a friend get married (I met him when he was a guard at a friend's apartment complex in Beijing and I was staying at her apartment to take care of her dog while she was in America). This third one was my friend Jason's wedding. I met him when he was a student at my current school, and although he and a couple of other students and I used to hang out a lot, Jason wasn't in my class more than one or two times.

He told me he was getting married around the time that I found out my brother was also getting married and Jason originally told me to plan to attend his wedding in October. When I told him that my brother is getting married in October and I'd be going home for that, Jason cried out, "but you have to come to my wedding!" A few days later he told me his wedding would be on September 1st. While I don't necessarily think that he changed the date just for me, these are the facts as I know them.

When Jason hand-delivered the invitation to me a couple of weeks ago, he told me that he wanted me to go with him to pick up the bride and do all of the other traditional things before the wedding. I made some non-committal noises and comments and heard no more about it until Friday afternoon. At that time, he sent me a message saying he'd pick me up at 7. Since I knew the wedding reception started at 6, I responded with a question: "7 pm?" He replied, "7 am," so I messaged him back and said "no way, that's too early." For a bit of background information here, my work hours are 10:30 to 7:30 every day and the absolute earliest I get up is around 8, usually more like 9. There was no way I'd be showered, dressed and ready to go by 7. And as much as I'm sure that I missed out on some great picture opportunities, I had to refuse.

Instead, Jason told me to be at the reception site at 4 because that's when he'd get there. I got there early and most of the pictures I have here are from prior to the dinner ceremony.

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This little girl is one of the two flower girls, both are daughters of different cousins of Jason. I'm not really sure if they had any duties other than looking cute. Most of the Chinese wedding is just the reception rather than the ceremony. They may have had some official duties, but if they did, I didn't see them at work.

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This is Jason with both of the girls. This is one of my favorite pictures from the reception.

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Here's Jason with his dad. I got a couple of pictures of his mom, but none of just her and Jason together, unfortunately.

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I really liked the chandeliers, but oddly enough, they were only on the bride's side of the reception hall. I don't know if all Chinese weddings are like this but at this one, half of the tables were on one side of a raised walkway and half on the other side. Like the seating in a church, each side was also for either the bride's or groom's family and guests.

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This is the seating chart for the guests. Guess how many non-Chinese people were there? That's right, just yours truly. I asked Jason why he didn't have my Chinese name printed on the chart and he said that he didn't know which characters were in my name. Hopefully, since I wrote a note for him and his wife in Chinese, he'll remember in the future.

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If you remember from my entry about the "Shanghai Film Park," I told you that taking wedding pictures is big business in China. The future married couple takes a day (sometimes an entire weekend) and travels from place to place having their pictures taken. They wear several different outfits from several different decades and centuries. In addition to giving one picture pride of place in their apartments, it's common to show many of these pictures at the reception. This is one they had taken at Shanghai's riverfront, the iconic "Bund." By the way, Jason's wife is Jessica. Perfect names for a young couple, Jason & Jessica!

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When I lived in Atlanta, I attended a Chinese church. In my three years there, I was a guest at many weddings. I remember the first one I attended, just a couple of months after moving there. After the ceremony and before the reception, the couple engaged in a curious event: they had their pictures taken with nearly everyone attending the ceremony. At the time, I thought it was a strange thing to do, but I also thought it was awesome. I've been to countless weddings where the ceremony ends, everyone shuffles out of the church so that the bride and groom and wedding party can run back into the church and pose for various pictures. Once the reception begins, you're lucky to get to talk to the couple for one or two minutes and maybe even get a picture with them.

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Jessica and Jason with her parents and his parents.

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Jessica and Jason with just Jason's parents.

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This is just one of 5 dresses Jessica wore during the reception. Unlike Americans, Chinese brides usually rent their dresses, therefore it's much more affordable to have 5 here than it would be back home.

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What I thought was a speaker on stage turned out to be a bubble machine.

Posted by feiheli 21:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Fenghuang by the Numbers

A very short trip to a very picturesque town

77 °F

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Two years ago while watching the weather report at the end of the news, the station showed pictures of different locations around China. When I saw the picture for Fenghuang (凤凰), which means "Phoenix," I think I gasped out loud. From that moment on, Fenghuang was among the top of my list of places to visit in China.

The opportunity finally came last weekend. One of my Shanghainese friends and I were planning on taking a short trip to South Korea, but when she had problems getting a visa, we decided to stay in China. I suggested Fenghuang and I had our plane tickets in hand just a few days later. While four days might be enough time to really enjoy all that Fenghuang has to offer, you also need to factor in travel time outside of those four days. We neglected to do that, so it meant that out of our four days, we only had about one day in Fenghuang itself.

I'm calling this entry "by the numbers" because it seems like a great way to show just how busy these four days were. First are some numbers you can find on the internet:

  • the whole county has a total area of 676 square miles (we only visited the old town which is much smaller than that),
  • the population is 416,900 (for the county, I have no idea for the old town itself),
  • 50% of the population belongs to the Miao (also known as Hmong) and Tujia minorities (Most Chinese are from the majority group called "Han," actually 91.51% of the 1.3 billion people in China. Among the minorities, the Miao count for 0.72% and the Tujia 0.62%. That means together, the two minorities in China number around 17,420,000 people! By contrast, my home state of North Carolina currently has a population of around 10 million - 0.72 and 0.62 don't seem like such small numbers anymore, do they?)

Actually, it's hard to find a lot of information about Fenghuang in English on the internet. So here are my numbers:

  • one four-day weekend,
  • one subway ride travelling 8 stops from my apartment to the airport,
  • one misplaced airline ticket that was later found in the bathroom at the airport,
  • one 2-hour delay at the Shanghai airport on the first day of our trip,
  • one flight lasting about an hour and a half to Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province,
  • one "black taxi" (translation: private car) from our hotel to the restaurant,
  • one dinner with a former student and her husband,
  • one protest regarding the contested "Diaoyu Islands" on the walking street near our first hotel,
  • one 6-hour long bus ride from Changsha to Fenghuang,
  • 26 tunnels on the bus ride from Changsha to Fenghuang,
  • 24 hours in Fenghuang (about 9 of them sleeping hours),
  • 7 bridges of various sizes, styles and conditions in Fenghuang,
  • the same 26 tunnels back to Changsha from Fenghuang,
  • another bus ride back to Changsha (this one longer than 6 hours since the bus had some mechanical problems and the driver stopped every 30-60 minutes to get out and check the back of the bus),
  • two taxi rides in Changsha where we got ripped off by drivers with "faulty" meters (the charges were double what they should have been),
  • one more protest about the Diaoyu Islands that prevented us from staying in the same area as Friday night's hotel,
  • 4 squattie toilets (only when there were no other options),
  • 7 meals,
  • 4 snacks that had to substitute for meals,
  • numerous bottles of water,
  • countless packets of tissues,
  • 200+ pictures (not so many for me!),
  • NO Starbucks,
  • one temper tantrum at the Changsha airport (mine, I'm sad to report)
  • one more hour and a half long flight back to Shanghai,
  • one more 8-stop subway ride to my neighborhood,
  • one short, hurried taxi ride to pick up my cats from the kennel,
  • one ruined skirt, and
  • one more short taxi ride home =

ONE WHIRLWIND TRIP!

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My former student, Ginny. Although her hometown is Changsha, I first met her in 1998 when she was studying in university in Shanghai. My friend and travel mate Sylvia unknowingly paid me a compliment when she said it didn't seem like it had been 12 years or so since Ginny and I had last seen each other.

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Sylvia at the riverside our first hour in Fenghuang.

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Sylvia in front of Fenghuang's "Hong Qiao" (虹桥) bridge. Interestingly, we flew out from Shanghai's Hong Qiao airport at the start of our trip. Notice how much nicer the light is in this picture than in the previous one. It's better in this direction because the sun was behind me.

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Me with Hong Qiao bridge

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I've mentioned the "Diao Yu" (钓鱼) islands (known as the Senkaku islands in Japan), but perhaps the Americans reading this may not know why they're in the news here. China is currently in conflict with Japan over these islands, which may have a reserve of natural resources below them. I have no idea how new these signs were on the outside wall of this bar, but I thought it was interesting that the same English translation has been applied to all three signs. If you don't read Chinese, you don't know that the first sign means the bar has air conditioning and the second says that they have wi-fi. Also, the English isn't even translated correctly. I haven't included this picture to offend anyone and I have no vested interest in which country the islands belong to, other than the desire that the situation would be resolved quickly and without violence. (Sylvia's dad called to tell her that the biggest protests in China were happening in Changsha, the same day we headed back there. Fortunately, we were safe and the protests seemed to have stopped after the weekend.)

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View of the rooftops near the vehicular bridge over the "Tuo Jiang," (沱江), the name of Fenghuang's river.

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The bridge here in the foreground appears to be new - I never saw any people on it and I never saw pictures of it online when doing my research. But ain't it a beauty?

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As my Australian friend and former colleague Michael would say, here's another beauty - Sylvia in front of the aforementioned bridge.

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When Chinese people travel around the country, they love to try local foods and every city, town and region has its specialties. One of the specialties here is ginger candy, which you can see in its early stages being repeatedly pulled and stretched from the hook on the wall.

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Some of the fresh food on offer at the outdoor barbecue grills. I don't know if Sylvia wanted any, but it would have been fine by me if she'd bought it and chosen not to share.

IMG_0077.jpg Hong Qiao by night. I'm not exactly sure why my daytime pictures aren't much to look at, but I'm extremely proud of my nighttime shots. Even though I left my tripod in the hotel, I was able to brace and prop my camera on railings and beside posts so that many of the shots are still clear.

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Lanterns hanging from the ceiling in one of Fenghuang's many souvenir shops.

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A pretty nicely renovated area of the old town.

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Sylvia bought a necklace at this spot.

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These are tiles on a roof adjacent to Hong Qiao bridge. I liked the look of how they just keep going and Sylvia pointed out their similarity to Xian's terra cotta warriors. I'd never had a desire to see the warriors before but now I'm anxious to see them with my own eyes and my own camera. By chance, I even caught an episode of a show about them on TV earlier this afternoon. I have to admit, they're pretty impressive. Even more incredibly, no two of the figures are alike.

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Again, Hong Qiao bridge. The lower floor is lined with souvenir shops and the floor above that was a tea shop. I'm not sure what was on the top floor. Maybe an incredible vantage point for taking pictures that I missed. Oh darn, I guess I'll just have to go back...

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Our hotel/hostel was to the right of the pagoda behind the trees. This section of buildings here was basically the end of Fenghuang proper. Incidentally, it didn't seem that you could go to the top of the pagoda - I didn't actually go inside but I walked past it several times and never saw any stairs.

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If you look on the left side of this picture at the point where the buildings and river meet, you'll see a small boat that looks remarkably like a slipper. For all I know, the resemblance is intentional.

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I'm not actually sure what this building is, but the way it's lit up, it seemed to be floating - this is actually one of my favorite shots from the weekend.

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Sunday morning came with a persistent drizzle, which you should be able to see if you look at the surface of the water. Once again, my rudimentary photography skills have resulted in a washed-out scene.

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This little (dead?) guy was stuck to the window of our brunch-time cafe.

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Sylvia striking a pose that's worthy of the catwalk.

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A local Miao woman waiting patiently to sell her wares.

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No, this isn't the same bridge from the day before. It's actually at the far eastern edge of town, closer to our hotel.

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I believe these are cormorants. When we first saw them, they were all sleeping with their heads contorted and tucked into their backs (!). While I took pictures, first one, then another one woke up to stretch. A third woke up long enough to send waste streaming from his bottom into the river.

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You can see the third one in the front row is awake now. Later, the one directly across from him also woke up.

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My last parting shot of Fenghuang on our way to the bus station - perfection!

Posted by feiheli 18:49 Archived in China Tagged fenghuang hunan_province Comments (0)

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