A Travellerspoint blog


I now have reliable internet so I can post some more.

overcast 24 °C

I had a few free days in mid June so I thought I'd go someplace I'd never heard of. And so I found myself in Wuxi.

Wuxi is certainly a lovely city but the only problem is it has enough tourist sites to have the facilities shatter any illusions of intrepid travel, but the tourist sites in Wuxi might be better suited for domestic travellers in China. These sites include sets for TV dramas and the standard-issue gardens, but there is one place that made Wuxi worth visiting: a Buddhist theme park.

That's right, a Buddhist theme park. Alright, so there are no roller coasters, but there are mascots, lineups, overpriced snacks, live shows, musical fountains, and even a working monastery. The best part of the whole thing is the fact that entry is stupid-expensive (188 RMB or $25) so the there are no crowds. Okay, I guess it is a little snooty to revel in the exclusive nature of this park, but the noisy, pushy, sweaty crowds of China can wear down the nerves of people much more tolerant than I. I was happy to have the break.

The park sprawls downhill from an 88 metre tall bronze Buddha overlooking Taihu lake. The number 8 symbolizes prosperity in China, so you take bus #88 to the place where you pay 188 RMB to see the 88 metre Buddha. The Buddha who freed himself from worldly possession and desire, that Buddha. As a Catholic who enjoys the occasional visit to the Vatican I'm not judging, I'm just giving you enough info to do so yourself. In fact, It is nice to see that even the oh-so-ethereal Buddhists allow for contradictions and excess, it is a world religion after all.

Anyway, the standing, Indian-influenced Buddha is the highlight of the park, and thus busloads of tourists follow their guides up the hill to stand at the base of the Buddha, only to come back down to be bussed back into downtown Wuxi for lunch. But while the Buddha is the highlight of the park, standing at one of his minivan-sized feet is hardly a way to appreciate his grandeur. Wandering the empty, but perfectly maintained gardens beneath the structure to observe the shine of his enlightened head proves to be a much more rewarding experience. The exorbitant price of the ticket goes toward maintaining turtle-filled ponds, bird-filled trees, and butterfly-filled shrubs, precious silent moments after a month in China.

I wander on and come to a lonely pavillion with a sign that reads: Visitors are welcome to enter without meat or alcohol. A relaxed, young, smiling monk appears "You're looking for a toilet?" "No just looking around." His smile deepens slightly. "Please, feel free to continue looking." Then he was gone. Alright, so he walked back to his little office and sat down at his desk, but the rest actually happened.

I start to get hungry so I visit the on-site vegan restaurant. It's 2pm and no one else is there. The waitress appears and gives me the foreigner treatment: "STEAM BUN OR SOUP NOODLE?" "Actually, I would like to take a look at the menu." "There is no menu." I point past the stack of menus to the chalkboard with today's specials. "Oh, well maybe I'll have the..." "The chef is gone, how 'bout a steam bun?" "I'll have the soup thanks." The soup turns out to be magnificent, full of greens, half a dozen types of mushroom, a few types of tofu, carrots, daikon, and edamame. As I finish, plates of stir-fried dishes arrive at a table of recently-arrived men, I'm glad I ordered the noodles.

After my lunch I go to the theater complex at the base of the hill. The Sino-Indian design is a meant to honour the homeland of Buddhism, and the land of its flourish. Aside from the theater, there is a cathedral-like central hall, all shimmering marble, wood carvings, and paintings of important moments in Buddhist history. One painting is meant to portray the Buddhist link between China and Japan, the caption reminds visitors of the positive interactions between the two countries. A refreshing sentiment. But this being China, a dash of nationalism is thrown in when describing a painting of a Chinese princess marrying a Tibetan king, "an example of the common development of Chinese cultures." Across from the theater, a Sino-Tibetan structure is being constructed. It is almost finished and undeniably beautiful, located on an island in the middle of a lake of pink lotuses. One can only wonder what they'll have to say about that.

I while away most of the afternoon wandering around the misty park, postponing the dreaded bus ride back into Wuxi. I exit into the parking lot and a swarm of Ayis (aunties) come and try to aggressively sell me plums. I glide past, happy to be back in China.

Posted by markseidel 18:39 Archived in China Comments (0)


"Chinese women always want to marry foreigners... even Indians!"

sunny 33 °C

Alright. I've finally decided on a format for my blog here, so instead of giving you a mundane day-by-day I'll tell you about various things that catch my interest here in China.


In China foreigners are seen as a homogeneous mass of pleasure seekers. At first I thought this attitude came from the xenophobic superiority/inferiority complex that I naturally assumed to be ingrained in every Asian society, but now that I'm here I guess I should try to give my hosts a little more credit.

There aren't many other foreigners here in Nanjing, I think I've seen about 10 visibly non-Chinese people outside of our group since I got here. I've been sticking mostly to the nice parts of town and the University area, so that amount might even be a bit inflated. To be fair the non-Chinese who find themselves in a small city like this (8 million people) are actually relatively homogeneous. None of us are working very hard, most of us like beer with lunch, we all complain about the heat, and we do actually act like we all know each other.

The other day a group of us were in a fancy modern grocery store. The young attendants all huddle at a safe distance to giggle into their palms in the stereotypical Asian girl sort of way, and the middle aged taitais all widen their stances and start rolling their eyes. A Sudanese man is looking for bagged black tea to no avail so we go over to help him out. One of the taitais sighs "zai lai laowai"... here come more foreigners. We start explaining his situation to the taitais in our shitty Chinese and most of them start beaming, but one refuses to be impressed. The man finds his black tea and as we all ride off into the sunset my roommate Dan brings up a valid point: "So we went over to help out that Sudanese guy just now, but in Edmonton we would never do that, no wonder they think we (the foreigners) all know each other (all the other foreigners)."

Our teacher Miss Wang took us to a typical Chinese food market that same day. Wang-laoshi is a fiercely proud Nanjinger who now teaches full-time at the University of Alberta, and she has no interest in sugarcoating her hometown. At first I thought we would be going to the vegetable market at Fuzimiao, but according to Wang-laoshi "it's too clean over there, I want you guys to see a real one and actually learn something." And so we find ourselves among the live chickens and eels, scrutinizing pork sitting in the 33-degree heat and asking just how one goes about coagulating duck's blood. Wang-laoshi yells "Everyone has to learn the Chinese names of five things! Remember to take pictures if you brought your camera!" The sellers take more amusement in us than we do in them. One shouts "who knows what this kind of bean is called" and points to a pile of plump edamame, "they're called máodòu because they're fuzzy, see!" I go to the duck's blood stall and explain that I'm not buying anything and ask if I can take a picture. "Of course you can!" "Thanks" "Why thank me? You're the one who took the picture!"

So I guess the Chinese can't be blamed for treating us like we're all the same, but they definitely do not all treat us in the same way. Since I got here barely a week ago we the foreigners have been admired for our joie de vivre, scolded for our gluttony, taken for fools, proven to be actually fools, and studied intently. Nanjing has many excuses to be a xenophobic, weary city, and some of the people here are xenophobic and weary. But I've found the vast majority of people here are genuinely curious about the world and enjoy interacting with strange people.

I'll post photos soon. I promise.

Posted by markseidel 22:13 Archived in China Comments (1)


So tomorrow morning I'm off to the mysterious Orient, but before I go I think I should express my gratitude...

In the middle of the night on March 11th I got a text message from my brother David: "Japan had an earthquake." David was concerned because I was planning on leaving on the 23rd of that month for a semester in Tokyo. While I sincerely appreciated his concern, I was bound by my fraternal obligation to be a little shit and snarkily replied "Japan always has earthquakes." And so I rolled over and continued my carefree sleep, not realizing that Japan was amid her most painful trial since the Second World War.

In the following days I had my eyes glued to the computer monitor, making sure that my friends were all safe and hoping against all hope that the good folks at the U of A wouldn't cancel my program. My mind raced for days Mio lives in Niigata--why haven't i heard from her yet?... Bulat's in Chiba--was he close to the coast?...WHY DID THE GOVERNMENT ADVISE AGAINST TRAVEL TO TOKYO?...What was that girl's name at clubs fair??...Sakura?...wherewasshefromagain?...Sendai...Shit...Sasaki-sensee's from Fukushima...oh and Naomi's sister...please God keep them safe...

While my close friends knew that I hadn't yet left for Japan, friends of friends and my parent's acquaintances only knew that I would be leaving in March. The phone rang off the hook. Hello? Hi Mrs. Brice... Oh Brett Zon's aunt! I'm fine, I haven't left yet but I'm not sure if I can go anymore... I had never actually met Mrs. Brice, she was a hockeymom and knew my little brother Michael. It was at that moment when I realized how lucky I am to live in such a supportive and caring community. I had always complained about being raised in such a gossipy community where everyone was all up in ma bidness, never stopping to consider how everyone around me actually cared about me and wanted to know how I was doing.

So before I leave I want to express my thanks to everyone who supports me and encourages me, especially my parents. I am truly lucky to live in such a loving and open-minded place, and my wonderful parents have not only allowed me to pursue my own interests, but actually enthusiastically encourage me to do so.

Needless to say, I'm not going to Japan anymore. Thoughts and prayers to the people of Tohoku. I know I'll make it there someday.


Posted by markseidel 11:20 Comments (0)

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