Friday, 24 August 2007

A colourful week

Left to right, top to bottom:

Beautiful street with trees and bicycles (Fuxing Lu), beautiful sunset and our everchanging skyline view, woman selling jewellery on Huaihai Lu, nice shoes on sale, my new swimsuit and matching cap, plate of fruit salad, pizzas, free beach bag I got with the swimsuit

I'm fat and I'm OK with that.

Maybe I should rephrase. I am fatTER.

Last night we went to have dinner at my great aunt's house. She lives in the same building, just a couple of floors down from us. When we first arrived in Shanghai we ate there almost every day/night! (we share the same ayi/cleaner/cook) but now we do our own thing and it had been so long, plus I was slack and had nothing prepared for dinner so suggested to hubby to go down...

Her son and his wife (who are around the same age as us, despite the fact that he is my 'uncle') were also there (they live in another building in the same complex) and both commented that I had gained weight. Then, my great aunt said I looked 'healthier'.

I freaked out. I said to Mike, "Do I really look fatter?" I really didn't have a clue because all my clothes felt the same. Strange. So when I got home I weighed myself and I had gained about 1.5kg! OMG! This is the girl who never gains weight. Haha. Guess I have been eating too much good food and should hit the gym more! (LOL). Nah, seriously it doesn't really bother me because all my clothes fit.

It's only when they get really tight or really loose that I start stressing and they all seem to be fine so I honestly don't know where the weight has gone to! My nose?

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Taiwan and my grandparents...

Not long after I wrote my last post I got an email from my father saying that my grandparents were quite frail and ill and literally fading away. He told me that my grandfather (his father) was a mere 42kg and his mother was only 32kg. When I read this I felt very sad I started bawling my eyes out. I wrote an email to hubby saying that we HAD to visit them. SOON. We were originally going to visit them before we arrived in Shanghai but it would be too time-consuming and costly since we would then also have to stop in Hong Kong or some other place. When Mike came home that night he mentioned that their combined weight was about his weight!

All this time I had been planning a trip for us during either late October or late November. Since it would be my birthday present it was my pick of where we could go. The only stipulation was that it couldn't be too far away as flying for long periods is the biggest drag and time waster (not to mention the airfares would cost more) and it had to be somewhere that neither of us had been to before.

I went through a whole list of domestic destinations: Hainan (Sanya), Qingdao, Xiamen, Jiuzhaigou, Yunnan, Zhangjiang and God knows how many more!? Then the more I read and the more I found out the more I was itching to go overseas. I had a brainwave! Okinawa!

Mike had been telling how much he had wanted to go there ever since he found out that "Mr Miyagi" the main (fictional) character from the 80's movee "The Karate Kid" 'lived there'. (In actual fact the Okinawa scenes were filmed in Hawaii and interestingly, we visited some of them while we went there, and saw the 'hut' they built for the film too.)

Yes, it would be perfect! Beachey and sunny (the only decent beaches in China are in Hainan but after seeing Hawaii I thought we were be majorly disappointed), pristine and perfect.

I started researching like mad... I poured over EVERY Miyako (Okinawa) related photo on Flickr.

Then, Mike had a brainwave. He had a lot of frequent flyer points built up and JAL is a partner with Qantas. It turns out he JUST had enough points to get us BOTH from Shanghai to Osaka and back!!

Unfortunately Okinawa required more points. Hmm.. what to do.. Okinawa or Osaka... Osaka or Okinawa? Oh well, can't decide - why not go to both? :D

So anyway, now with this news we somehow have to fit in Taiwan as well.

For those that don't know, due to political tensions between China and Taiwan you cannot fly or take a ship between the two countries. So by combining our Japan and Taiwan trip into one we would save money and time since we'd have to fly to another country in between anyway.

Once again I started researching like mad. I thought it would be 'fun' to take a ferry between Okinawa and Taiwan. Then, I read something I found interesting here.

Taiwan, which suffers increasing isolation in the world due to its conflicts with China over Taipei's sovereignty, is also economically marginalized due to its five-decade ban on direct trade, sea and air links with China. The bans have also hurt Taiwan's tourism industry.
In 2006, only 12 foreign cruise liners made port calls at the Keelung Harbour, prompting the harbour to offer incentives to lure foreign cruise companies to put Keelung on the route of their round- the-world cruise tours.
Analysts said that Taiwan, which sits at an ideal location, is shunned by foreign cruise lines because their ships cannot sail directly across the Taiwan Strait - from Taiwan to China or from China to Taiwan.
Andy Lew, Star Cruises' Taiwan manager, said Taiwan had great potential, but Taipei's ban on sea links with China was a handicap.
'From a long-term point of view, we see great potential here in exploring the Taiwan-China, Hong Kong market. If it's possible, we would like to launch services from Taiwan to Shanghai and Xiamen (China),' he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Because of the ban on sea links, foreign cruise ships visiting Taiwan must sail to a third territory, usually Hong Kong, before they can visit China, or vice verse.
In recent years, Taiwan, which has beaches, mountains, temples and wonderful food, has taken a series of measures to boosts its tourism, including the waiving of visa requirements to certain countries and giving fruits to foreign tourists, but the results have been limited.
While many countries' foreign tourists outnumber their population, only 3.5 million foreigners visited Taiwan in 2006, accounting for 6.5 per cent of Taiwan's 23 million population, according to the Tourism Bureau.
The number of foreign visitors in 2006 rose merely 4 per cent from 2005.
But out of that total, only one third, or 1.1 million, were tourists. The other two thirds were foreign businessmen, workers and maids.

I felt a bit sad reading this because I have been to Taiwan maybe 10 times now (most of my extended family live there) and it's a great country to visit. I have always felt rather puzzled why nobody in Australia wants to go to Taiwan for a holiday but will quite happily go to many other Asian countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, China..

I asked my father about this and he said he wasn't quite sure either except that maybe they hadn't marketed and advertised enough in foreign countries. I have never in my 27 years of living in Australia came across someone who had been to Taiwan unless they had family there or unless it was for business/work purposes. It is rather a small country but not so small that you could quite easily spend two weeks or more exploring the whole country.

So getting back to before, planning this trip had taken a rather unexpected turn and there are so many limitations because we have guests visiting us in early October, early-mid November, and certain flights only fly on certain days, the ferry goes once a week, etc etc.. not to mention the hubby also says we have to do it for as cheaply as possible... ARGH it's all getting a bit too stressful!!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Eating habits, food, swimsuits, and underpants!

I think too much. I spend all day and all my life constantly thinking. I read too much which leads to more thinking. I'm fascinated by psychology and have read quite a few psychology related books. I am interested in the correlation between eating habits, health and body weight/size, and the mind.

One of the topics that is constantly on my mind is food, and eating habits. Like all women, I have a strange relationship with food. I have a very strange one, in that I've never met anyone with the same characteristics!

I've never had a problem with weight. I can eat what I want and never gain weight (bet you all hate me now). That being said though, I have a small appetite. I get full quickly and hungry quickly. I am a fussy eater. I will only eat something if I like it or want it. Otherwise I just won't touch it (even if I am starving). No, I don't have an eating disorder.

Growing up as kids, we could have whatever food we wanted. We could have McDonalds, oven fried items, snacks like potato chips, soft drinks, the works. Couple this with the fact that I was always a quiet indoors sedentary sort of kid I am still amazed I was lighter and thinner than the average kid. Maybe I just got 'good' genetics, who knows? Friends would always come to our house and be amazed at how much stuff we had in our kitchen. I have to admit I think my mother liked to hoard food. However, my sister and I both have small appetites and not much interest in food so a lot of went to waste, unfortunately. We barely even touched anything. I mean we ate it, we just didn't wolf it down like most kids would after school.

Now, I am a fairly healthy eater but I quite often indulge in chocolate, potato chips and other common snack items. I hate soft drink. I hate the bubbles, I hate the fizz, I hate the sweetness and artificialness. I never touch the stuff. I think my brain was already wired from a young age not to like unhealthy stuff. Even as a child I would pick the fat off meat and not eat chicken skin. I hated anything oily and didn't eat fried stuff often.

I love to eat out and when I do I tend to pig out as I hate wasting food that we've paid good money for. But when we eat at home I don't enjoy the aspect of eating so much and my family and husband roll their eyes at me when I take 3 hours to eat my dinner.

So, as you can see I am pretty screwed up food wise! Haha

I found this article which was interesting.

"In less developed countries in Asia, people are primarily intuitive eaters," said Hawks. "They haven't been conditioned to artificially structure their relationship with food like we have in the United States. They've been conditioned to believe that the purpose of food is to enjoy, to nurture. You eat when you're hungry, you stop when you're not hungry any more. They have a much healthier relationship with food, far fewer eating disorders, and interestingly, far less obesity."

Hawks says that "normal" dieting in the United States doesn't result in long-term weight loss and contributes to food anxiety and unhealthy eating practices, and can even lead to eating disorders.

"What makes intuitive eating different from a diet is that all diets work against human biology, whereas intuitive eating teaches people to work with their own biology, to work with their bodies, to understand their bodies." said Hawks. "Rather than a prescriptive diet, it's really about increasing awareness and understanding of your body. It's a nurturing approach to nutrition, health and fitness as opposed to a regulated, coercive, restrictive approach. That's why diets fail, and that's why intuitive eating has a better chance of being successful in the long term."

I have noticed this since coming here that people are snacking all the time. And not always on healthy stuff either! I guess for most Asians eating is a pleasurable activity to be enjoyed whereas in the West it's looked down upon. Getting back to the psychology thing I think that's why people binge eat or starve themselves or end up with eating disorders. Their mind is all screwed up because they have been told that such and such is 'bad' but then they crave it so they buy it and eat it, feel enormous guilt, etc etc. Then there are the people who 'comfort eat' who use eating and food as some sort of morale booster (definitely not me!) Also stress... what I tend to find is that those who are overweight will put on weight when stressed, and those who are underweight will lose weight when they are stressed. It's as if the body is going into "stop, you are being stupid!" mode, "stop stressing! see what you are doing to yourself?"

Anyway that's my little essay for the day!



In other news - Despite being fairly thin (I think?) I have a fat bottom!!

I decided I needed a new swimsuit and went shopping for it on Sunday night with the hubby. Boy oh boy was it hard work. It took me about an hour to get one. First of all, I am totally pear shaped and noone believes me when I tell them I need a bigger size. The salesladies in the fashion department frustrate me to no end. I say I want to try on "this" and hold up the item and they go, "Let me take a look... nah, this is too big for you. Here is an M." and I'm smiling and trying to be polite but deep down (after it has happened a billion times) I want to strangle her, "No, you don't understand, I have really big hips. I know it doesn't look like it..." and well, basically they don't believe me until I step out of the change room and the size LARGE pair of pants fit me perfectly. I have one in a size M and one in a size XL but most of my pants are size L.

So anyway, I wanted to buy a two-piece tankini (because I don't like one pieces and am too chicken to wear a skimpy bikini) but it appears you have to buy it as a set. In Australia (and US and most Western countries I'm sure) they sell them as 'separates' so you can not only mix and match colours and patterns you can mix and match sizes (great for us pear people). Hmm..

Anyway, this lady was trying to get me to squeeze into a pair of size M pants. Umm.. I literally could only get them on over my knees. I couldn't even fit into the L. There goes my morale!! In Australia I have to buy the smallest size possible and here I have to buy the largest size possible!!

So after an hour of exhaustion and almost pulling my waist-length hair out and getting myself, my hair and the swimsuit all knotted up whilst in the change room - I finally made my choice. Let's not forget the salesladies yelling "Xian sheng" 先生 rather comically, and other staff and customers looking at me when I stepped out of the change room (ugh). Luckily they let me get two different sizes though. So I got a top in size L and bottoms in size XL.

Hubby also got some men's swim trunks.

So it was exhausting but worth it. I can't believe I got the little overskirt, the cap, and a beachbag for free too. You never get any freebies in Australia. Last night we took our new gear out for a 'spin' in our gym's pool. :) Whilst I was in the change room and pool I noticed some very familiar patterns - of swimsuits I had considered.

Another thing is underwear. I have had to buy size L underpants and hubby who usually takes a L in Australia has to buy XXL ones. One time he bought some XL ones and they were too small for him. I put them on for a laugh and amazingly they fit me like a glove. I can't believe I am admitting to wearing men's underpants! hahah.. I've gone from wearing size S undies in Australia to size XL men's ones in China - C..r...a...z...y !!! :D

Learning Mandarin

I came across this article this morning.

Increasing Foreigners Show Desire to Learn Chinese

Growing numbers of foreigners are showing a desire to learn the Chinese language, latest statistics from the Ministry of Education have shown. By the end of last year, nearly 30 million people from 85 countries and regions were learning standard Chinese -- putonghua. China is also witnessing a growth in the number of foreign students who come to study Chinese and related courses, according to Friday's China Daily. This English-language newspaper says an estimated 410,000 foreign students have signed up for Chinese courses over the past 10 years.

It is estimated that the number coming to China to learn the language has maintained an average annual growth rate of 35 percent over the past few years.

China's continuous economic growth and the strengthening of its trade and business ties with the rest of the world have been cited as the major factors behind the interest in learning Chinese.

These kinds of business engagements have in turn sparked a huge demand for professional employees in foreign countries with a good command of Chinese. And the trend is more evident among some of China's largest trading partners, particularly Japan, the United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and some nations in Southeast Asia.

"I think a good knowledge of Chinese can help me secure a good job back in my country as there is a growing number of companies setting up operations in China," said a 24-year-old female student of Peking University who comes from ROK.

She added that a certificate of the Chinese Proficiency Test, or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK), is important when seeking a job in a large company in ROK.

The KSK test, which began in Beijing in 1988, is national standardized test designed to assess foreign students' command of Chinese.

To date, the Office of the State Commission for the Chinese Proficiency Test has set up 44 testing centers in 27 Chinese cities, including Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, and 55 centers in 24 other countries in Asia, Europe the Americas and Oceania.

Since 1991, a total of 380,000 people from 120 countries have taken the test in those centers, according to statistics from the Ministry of Education.

I think it's interesting because when I was in high school (oh so long ago now!) the only languages they offered were French, German and Japanese. These were deemed the most useful at the time. Some schools also offered Indonesian (because of its proximity to Australia). Little did they know back then that Chinese Mandarin would be far more useful!

Poverty and Beggars...

Poverty is everywhere in China and everyone knows this. However what many people fail to realise is that China has more wealthy people than any other country. The gap between the rich and the poor is huge yet they manage to live together harmoniously.

When we left Dino Beach we witnessed something quite disturbing and chilling. I'm still not exactly sure what it was about. Maybe someone can enlighten me? Out of nowhere I saw a woman run past me, at first it freaked me out because i was holding my camera and thought they were going to steal it from me. But nope, it was actually a policewoman who ran out of a police car that has just pulled up on the kerb. She and other police men/women ran towards an elderly lady and confiscated a bag from her. My husband and I could not even agree what was in the bag, it happened so quickly. He thought she was selling things illegally on the footpath outside the water park. But we saw some stuff fall out of the big plastic bag and all I saw were empty plastic drink bottles so my thought was - was it recycling? Then, another elderly lady had her tricycle confiscated from her. I have no idea what that was about. The tricycle was empty! She didn't seem to be doing anything wrong. Both were quite old, and had deeply tanned skin typical of poor people who come from the countryside to seek a better life in a the 'big smoke' aka Shanghai.

It was quite terrifying to watch. We were also very confused about what the heck was going on! Once the police managed to confiscated the goods (the ladies put up a good fight), they had to handcuff and arrest the women (what for? I guess I'll never know). The women were lying on the ground underneath a police van (another one that pulled up, not the original car) and refused to be taken away.

We decided not to stay and watch because it was dragging on and a bit too emotional, plus it was 5 o'clock and if we didn't get a taxi soon we would be stranded in the middle of nowhere (aka Minhang)!

I/we have been to Xujiahui so many times now I have lost count. We go there because there are so many shops and because it is the closest shopping area to us (just over 2km). We always get dropped off at the Orient department store and then walk underground to wherever else we want to go. It takes too long (and too much money!) to just sit in traffic and go through that huge roundabout there. Anyway, almost always at the stairway leading down from the Orient to the subway there is an elderly lady (sometimes two) with a paper cup asking for money. It's not much but I give her a dollar every time I pass by there. I am not sure if it's the same person or not though.

After that police incident my husband and I both started feeling enormous guilt about how 'wealthy' we were in a country where so many don't even have enough money to eat or a roof over their heads.

There is so much we can do (will investigate some more) but for the moment I suggested we buy our ayi (maid)'s son a basketball. Every time she comes over and cleans our apartment she mentions to me that he keeps bugging her to buy her one. And sure 30 RMB is a lot of money to her but not so much it's totally unaffordable, but her problem is time. She works 7 days a week and just has no time. He is in his school holidays and bored out of his mind. Whilst we were at Dino Beach and I watched all the kids and teenagers playing I had all these thoughts running through my head of just how lucky they were, and how lucky I was in my childhood too. That I had my mother/parents take us various places doing fun activities like that with friends. Whilst other kids have to make their own fun with nothing at all.. forget the playstation or nintendo, our ayi's son did not even have a $4 ball to play with :( So we bought him one and this morning I told her and she was so over the moon. Her face lit up like anything and it was if I had given her a trip overseas or something! Well that totally made my day too :)

My mother always told me I should not give money to young beggars but should give it to the elderly, since the young are still capable of working (obviously if they are not blind, crippled, etc) and the elderly can not work anymore. Well I don't know about other areas of China but in Shanghai I've only ever seen elderly beggars.

In Sydney in the downtown/CBD area there are quite a few beggars on the streets who are young. This is appalling and disgusting. And they don't even actively beg. They sit on the street with a big cardboard sign with some stupid story and just expect money to fall at their feet, literally. Some of them only look 20 years old. This is disgusting in a country such as this which has welfare. First of all they should be working and if they can't for whatever reason they can get welfare so that they don't starve and also get rent assistance. It's strange because although I've seen elderly homeless people in Sydney I don't often see elderly beggars. Maybe they are too proud? I don't know... I dont think there would ever be a young beggar in China. Everyone is so ridiculously hardworking that no matter how poor the conditions are, how long the hours are, how low the wages are, there is someone to do the job.