Friday, 31 August 2007

Islands and me...

Since I was a teenager I have loved islands and island life. I think the movies "Blue Lagoon" and "Return to the Blue Lagoon" (which were filmed in Fiji) started it all for me. How wonderful to live on a deserted island with noone but your mate.. swimming in the aqua blue waters, catching and cooking fish, drinking and eating coconuts, swimming in waterfalls. Of course it is fully impractical and I would miss 'civilization' after a while and probably be very sunburnt and get billions of freckles... so I have to get back to reality.

My favourite flower is the 'bird of paradise' or strelitzia. I liked it since I was about 10 or 12 or so, I liked that the flower looked like a bird's head. I also loved the bright, fun colours. My favourite tree is a palm tree. I don't know why but I love how huge and tall they get and they can bear fruit like coconuts or dates. It wasn't till recently that I put it all together. That for some strange reason, unconsciously my fave flower AND tree are both tropical island species!! Coincidence?

When I was in Year 9 (age 14), my geography teacher showed us slides of her family trip to Hawaii. I think everyone was bored but I was very interested and intrigued. I never forgot all about the things she showed us - the volcanoes with bright red lava, the beaches, the beautiful scenery/landscape...

When I was 19 my father took my sister and I on a trip up the east coast of Australia from Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef. We saw a heck of a lot of places in a short time! My favourite was our last stop. We flew from Bundaberg? or somewhere around there to Lady Elliott island. It was a strange place. The small island was covered in dead coral instead of sand, which made walking rather painful. But I loved it there. Most of all I loved that aqua coloured water (and I think that was when I decided aqua was now my new favourite colour). I couldn't swim very well and stupidly did not bring my swimming costume and had to watch everyone else having fun. I was determined that next time I went to a place as beautiful as this I would be going snorkelling!

I was fortunate enough to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon. It was a bit of a freak occurence because we actually planned to go to Italy (somewhere I am still dreaming about going to!) when I discovered some cheap airfares because a new Australian budget airline (Jetstar - who incidentally just won 2007 budget airline of the year award by Skytrax). I quickly called up my husband at work and asked him what he thought. We both agreed it would be a good idea and far more relaxing and cheaper too. The return tickets from Sydney to Honolulu are normally around $1000-1100 at the lower end, but I got them for only $770 odd. Had I been a bit quicker, I could've gotten them for around $500. Not to worry. I was glad I got some at all! The website was a pain to get into because there were SO many people trying to access it simultaneously.

So anyway we did a LOT of snorkelling in Hawaii. I am so addicted, it's the most fun you could ever have and the beauty is you don't even need to know how to swim because you just float naturally and breathe through the mask. I am a totally hopeless swimmer (can barely manage 25m) and I have asthma so there is no way I could do diving, so snorkelling is the closest I'll ever come to seeing fish up close. I also have a waterproof case for my digital camera and love to take photos and videos underwater. The case is so cool, I always get people staring at my camera wherever I bring it out in its case. Hehe.

In Sydney I lived less than 10 mins drive to the beach. And now, I'm in Shanghai miles away from any decent beach or island and have a craving for beach, sand, sun again. OK we had an artificial beach at Dino Beach water park but it's hardly the same thing ;)

And so, where is this boring post headed? Well, we are not only going to Okinawa (where few non-Japanese have gone before) but we are going to a lesser known island called Miyako. It was a hard choice since there are so many beautiful islands, with different landscapes but I think Miyako is one of the most beautiful, so I'm/we're really looking forward to it. They say that Okinawa is the Hawaii of the Far East. Well they said that about Sanya too ;) so we shall see! (and yes I will be snorkelling till my whole body goes pruney! yay!) :D

What I love about living in Shanghai

For those who have asked me, or for those who just want to know:

* We can live a far better lifestyle than we did back home in Sydney AND have more money at the end of the month.

* We get free health insurance, worth thousands.

* We live in the CBD where there is always nightlife and don't have to worry about parking or how to get home.

* We have a cleaner/cook/maid that comes three times a week.

* We have a huge gym in a building just next to our apartment which we can use whenever want.

* We can eat out wherever and how often we choose (at home we hardly every ate out and there wasn't as nearly as many places to choose from, and it cost a lot more)

* Shopping for clothing and shoes is fun because everything comes in my size (OK underwear and swimwear is a bit harder...) and there is just so much variety.

* Haggling, which may be a bad thing but in most cases it is fun and you can have a bargain.

* Everything is new and different and there are bazillions of interesting things for me to write about or photograph every day :)

* I am quite impressed with myself that I can read more and more characters every day, often without even learning it. If I see something often enough and put it in the context I can pretty much guess how to read the character.

* Every challenge is a new adventure, and every new adventure is a challenge...

Ballroom Dancing in the Park

I don't know why but I have been having so much trouble logging into Blogger due to the stupid TGF. I have all these things in my head that I want to write about but can't login. Then when I CAN get in, I forget or don't feel like writing anymore.. anyhoo. These are some posts I wrote up offline...

Sunday 26 August, 2007

Once again we had a lazy weekend and on Sunday night we decided to go out for dinner. Mike suggested Waga's again and after reading too many free city magazines about restaurant reviews, my brain was all fuzzy so I agreed. I went online and found the address of the one closest to us which was apparently in the Hongqiao/Gubei area, in Maxdo Center. We didn't know where the taxi driver was taking us but wow, it was only 1.6km away from our house! We couldn't believe it was so close. Not only that but there were many other shops and restaurants there too and the area seemed really nice. There was also a ritzy Sheraton Grand (5 star) hotel there too. So we definitely plan to go back to that area!

While we were waiting for the waitress to bring us our food, this guy started looking over at Mike, and Mike started looking at him. I wondered why the heck they were staring at each other so strangely. It so happened that they had met once before! Their companies had competed against each other at a basketball competition. Hmm... interesting. So we chatted to him for a while. He is from the States and had been in Shanghai for 8 months and lived in Songjiang (woop woop) and decided to move to Zhongshan Park.

After dinner we went across the road to Hongqiao Park (it used to be called something else, as was mentioned in Lonely Planet) where it was pitch black but the park was lit up by lamp posts. It was an interesting sight. Music was floating through the air, the air was balmy yet a comfortable 26 degrees with a nice breeze. There was a big group of middle aged and older couples and friends ballroom dancing to Chinese-style ballroom music! It was an amazing sight to see. It was one of those moments, like when I'm watching a great film where my heart just fills with happiness and content even though the event has nothing to do with me. There were many spectators like us standing around to gawk at them too.

I was just amazed by their skill, their flexibility, their agility and their smiles. They all seemed so happy. It was as if they didn't have a care in the world. Half the people were wearing very very casual clothes too. Almost pajama like, but it didn't even matter.

It got me thinking to something else I wanted to post before. At our gym there are people of all ages going there. From teens to people in their 60s or older. Many high school aged kids play basketball while the oldies play table tennis and badminton. There are also younger kids who swim in the pool or play badminton. At gyms in Australia there are no basketball courts or table tennis rooms. At my gym in Australia I would say almost everyone would be between the age of 20-35. I was a bit naive to the whole gym thing and expected to see fat, unhealthy people when I first joined. However, I was shocked to find that most people didn't even look like they needed to go to a gym! There was hardly anyone who looked overweight and certainly not many people over the age of 40.

Sport is big in Australia and most kids and teenagers are quite active in playing sport. However, after high school I think most people don't ever take it up again, at least not on a regular basis. I also think that Australians (and Westerners) are very image and self conscious. Hence the 'fat' people are too ashamed to go to the gym because they are scared of what people will think of them, which is fair enough. Also I noticed the way people were dressed at my gym, wearing the latest fancy gym clothes and name brand shoes. However, in China, no one gives two hoots about what others think (I think this is where I am very Asian as I usually don't care either).

Therefore, the fact that these dancers were old, not necessarily wearing picture-perfect clothes or shoes, not necessarily that great at dancing, didn't matter. The fact of the matter was that they were having fun and enjoying it, and being outside and getting fit. Almost everyone there (around 50-70 years of age) was slim and healthy looking. Most of the ladies were tiny. I really hope to be that happy and fit when I am their age!

Monday, 27 August 2007

Of Large wooden nostrils and love hotels...

Been researching like crazy about our Japan trip.

Tried for FIVE hours to book cheap flights with ANA. Manage to book 2 out of the 3 flights we wanted. So the third I guess we'll have to buy at the regular (higher) price or use Mike's frequent flyer points (hopefully the latter).

I loved everything Japanese when I was a kid. I had a friend who was Japanese and I was so jealous of her cute little Polly pocket style toys, little figurines in little miniature doll houses that folded away and packed flat. I love all that pink and red plastic.

Then, about ten years later when I was studying Japanese for my final high school exams I became fascinated with the 'coolness' all over again. I distinctly remember reading about a device like a pen which, when you waved it over some text in a book stores the information inside. It was so ridiculously hi-tech for the early-mid 1990s!!

After a while I started to not like Japanese and Japanese culture. First of all I thought it was 'weird' that they 'borrowed' the kanji characters writing system from the Chinese. But not only that, the annoying thing is that kanji can be read differently depending on what other words it is teamed with. Eg the character for island 島 can be read 'shima' or 'jima.' I had heard so many stories that it really put me off Japan for a few years. The pervertedness (the - ahem - vending machines selling certain objects??), the sexist society, the workaholic-ness, the racism, the thing about not telling the truth about WWII in history text books, etc, etc...

Anyway, since planning this trip I have started to fall in love all over again. The weird and wacky things that come out of this country have made me (almost) forget about all the negative stuff. Not to mention the sheer beauty of the country.

For example, in Nara there is a temple called Todaiji which has a wooden pillar and a hole cut through it. It is said if you can climb through this hole you will reach enlightenment, have good health and all this kind of stuff. The width of the hole is the same of the giant Buddha statue's nostril. I fully intend to have a crack at this if we go to Nara!

You can read more about it here and even see a Youtube video on it.

The second weird and wacky thing I have discovered is 'love hotels'. At first I thought they sounded dirty and seedy but upon close inspection (reading, rather) I discovered that they were kinda fun and cool. The rooms have all different themes and some even have jacuzzis inside the room and even more wacky stuff like carousel horses, pianos and dodgem cars?!

You can read all about it here.

I am hoping to find one that is camel/desert themed since I really like camels. I have already found an S&M Hello Kitty one! haha. :D ;)

Well I could write more about the weird stuff I have discovered but I think I'll leave it at that!