The 10 Things We’ll Miss About China

As we get ready to turn in our computer at school,  and will not be able to easily blog for 3 weeks; we look back at what we’ll miss most about China…here’s our Top Ten List of Things We’ll Miss About China:

Shangri-La women out for a morning stroll

1. The Chinese people-after almost 3 years here, the one thing we have learned, the Chinese people are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  They love foreigners, if you love them back.  They’ll help you if you need help.  They smile. They laugh. They will do their best to understand your poor Chinese, or wild and crazy hand-gestures.  They are sweet people.  The young, the old, the in-betweens…they are wonderful!  One note:  the Chinese government, you see on CNN, is not the Chinese people! There are many different groups of people in China.  Although most are Han, there are so many other groups like the Uyghurs, the Hakka, the Miao,…a minority may have 20 million people!

Xinjiang “camel-wrangler”

2. The Chinese respect for older people-they do respect their elders here.  If you are on a bus and an older person gets on, the younger people give up their seats.  They’ve even done this for us (are we old???)!  Older people are everywhere…not confined to the Old Folks’ Home.

Older Chinese sitting in the sun, taking a “snooze”

3. How the Chinese love their children-the One-Child-Policy assures this, but it is quite a thing to witness…these children are revered by their parents, of course, and their grand-parents (often both sets) who do “day-care” while the parents work.  It’s a system that has been in place for a generation now!

One “One-Child”

Another “One-Child” (with Gram and Mom?)

4. The fresh cheap vegetables and eggs here-we don’t ask where they come from, or what they are treated with…we just buy them for little money and enjoy all year round…we have not been sick from them!

“Green” gold!

“Eggs” -ceptional!

5. The Chinese lights and fireworks-everything here is festooned with lights in bright colors, buildings, bridges, highways…fireworks are so common, we hardly look at them, as you would at home…they light fireworks to move into a new home…to move out of an old home…to celebrate a wedding, birth, death…the whole spectrum!

Harbin Lit Ice-Sculpture

6. How the Chinese embrace/love American culture-most Chinese love Mickey Mouse, the movies, Sponge-Bob, …they are proud if they can speak English…they come up to us and say “Hello,” and they laugh when we say, “Ni hao!” back.  They watch American tv shows and listen to American music.  Many learn English this way!  They love McDonalds and KFC too…(hope they don’t get fat like Americans!)

Gotta love those Mickey Crocs!

7. The Chinese snack foods…these are not to be confused with “junk-food…they are things like corn on the cob, melon-on-a stick, pineapple-on-a-stick, tofu-on-a-stick, cucumbers, roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes from a roadside roaster, sticky rice in a lotus-leaf triangle, green-pea and green-tea ice cream, pomegranates…Buddha cookies, moon cakes….YUM!

pomegranate tree

8. DUMPLINGS!  There are all kinds of dumplings here…meat, vegetable, shrimp.  They come in flour wrappings, rice wrappings…they are small and large. The Chinese love them, and we do too!

Shrimp dumplings and green Buddha cookies

9. The crowds-there is something amazing about crowds here…you can be in the middle of one and not feel you are about to be crushed…it’s more like being in the sea…you are moved about by the current, the flow…there is something “ordered” about it…it isn’t scary, after the first few times…it makes you feel like you are part of humanity…

A crowd waiting in line for dumplings (Tom too!)

10. The Chinese love of simplicity of life-like wearing something silly like bunny-ears, or their pajamas out in public…or sleeping whenever they get the chance…  They would rather be comfortable, than look perfect…they have a sense of humor about themselves…something we can all learn from.  There are many things we will miss when we leave China…these are just some!

Some young Chinese bunnies

Fashion or comfort? Obviously comfort!

It pays to nap when and wherever you can!

China Lights

Barbara, outside ancient Jing’an Buddhist Temple, downtown Shanghai…surrounded by shopping centers!

In China’s modernization of its cities, they have made a conscious effort to deck things out in colored lights everywhere, at least in the cities, that is!  The buildings are lit, the highways are lit, the trees are lit,  the water is lit…everything imaginable!

“Blue” highway!

Shanghai “Bottle-Opener” (a.k.a. World Financial Center) Building at night.

The Bund, lit up at night.

“Ho-Jos” is alive and well in China!

The ubiquitous “Pearl Tower,” Shanghai’s Pudong district’s iconic image.

NOT VEGAS, just Shanghai’s East Nanjing Road, or “Walking Street.”

Pudong’s Aurora Building at night…during the day, it’s just a “boring” solid gold color…!

So, China loves lights…they’re happy…they look cool…they could be like fireworks(another popular thing here!).  They do use energy…and China is aware…but it keeps them lit, until 10 each night…then lights out!

Chinese sign…I think it says, “OPEN FOR BUSINESS.”

One more shot of “Sleepy” Pudong.

Chinese Banks

Back to writing about China…we are in our last month here, and still have much to report on.

This post is about Chinese banks….there are so many banks here, it is difficult to know where to start.  The obvious bank to start with  is the Bank of China (well-named!).  When you see the skyline of Hong Kong, it is the iconic building, designed by I.M Pei, with the many triangles…also criticized as all these straight lines are not good “Feng Shui.” Image

You would think that this would be China’s biggest bank chain, but, no, it isn’t.  That would be ICBC, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest bank.  There are so many banks in China, one has to ask, “Why?”  All these banks must be for the Chinese to put all their money in.  We all have heard how much money the Chinese have now.  So how much do Chinese people save?  “The most credible estimate places China’s household saving rate for 2007 at nearly 26 percent.” (,1)


How does this compare to the rate of saving in the US?  “U.S. savings rate falls to zero. The personal savings rate hits its lowest rate since 2001 as Americans put their faith in the rising value of their home.” (…/USSavingsRateFallsToZero)  So, the Chinese save more.  We guess that’s the reason for all of the banks.  There are over 36,000 banks and credit unions here in China (Wikipedia).

There is the state or government-owned bank, the People’s Bank of China, along with the “Big Four” banks:  Bank of China, Chinese Construction Bank, the Agricultural Bank of China, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC); the state-owned commercial banks that manage all of the government’s money.  Then there are all of the provincial banks, city banks, and foreign banks.  The interesting thing is, the government has ultimate control of ALL of these banks, even foreign banks.  The state retains a 51% share of these banks, so even though you can buy shares in these banks on the stock exchange, the Chinese government is still the major share-holder. (Wikipedia)  So there is no question about regulation, or bank fraud, unless the government is doing the fraud (?).  That is one of the advantages of a “totalitarian” government.  As we know the Chinese have most of our money, and it is in all of the these banks.  Our question, though, is, why do they need so many banks, if the government has the ultimate control?  We don’t have the  clear answer to that question.

The banks do have many of the amenities of regular banks in the US.  They issue bank-cards or debit-cards.  In fact, for a place where credit-cards are not that popular, there are over 1.89 billion debit-cards in use (Wikipedia), more than one for each person in China!  We have a debit-card, issued from our bank here.  So, obviously, the government wants people to be able to access their money and spend it…got to keep that economy going!  Banks are open 7 days a week here, no problems on Sunday…religion is not an issue!  There are ATMs everywhere, with minimal charges…the banks do not need them to make money!  All banks here use a system similar to the Department of Motor Vehicles; you go in, get a ticket with a number on it, sit down until your number and window are called, then go to that window and get service.  All the tellers who handle money are behind glass, and they have pocket windows to hand money through, so no bank robberies unless you can shoot through the glass, but wait, no one has guns here…so why the glass?  Guess it must be because the weapon of choice is a knife of cleaver, so that’s the what the glass is for!

Within a block of where we live there more than a dozen banks, with new ones being built…that’s what many of the new buildings going up are…more banks!

So think of all this the next time you complain about the banks at home and the fact the Chinese have all of our money…what are they doing with it?   It’s sitting in their banks!  Moving China ahead!

Hiroshima & Nagasaki

The A-bomb Dome

Being an American, visiting both Hiroshima and Nagasaki (in that order), and standing under both “hypocenters,” (geographic places where the atomic bombs exploded) was a moving and sobering experience.  Each city has established a Peace Park with museum that tells the details of the explosions of the atomic bombs and their aftermath.  These Peace Parks promote peace, of course, and share knowledge on the danger of  nuclear proliferation.  We were constantly stopping, looking around, and really thinking of the devastation that these two bombs wrought.  Talk about “pause for thought”!

The  Hiroshima bomb was exploded at 8:15 am on August 6, 1945.  It was a beautiful summer day with clear blue skies. The picture above of the A-Bomb Dome shows the remains of the building which was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall.  The bomb exploded approximately 600 meters above this building.  The heat from the bomb melted the copper dome on top.

A-Bomb Dome with "before" and "after" picture

After the blast and the ensuing cleanup, there was much controversy in Hiroshima about whether or not this building should be torn down, as many other buildings were.  Many Japanese wanted all reminders of the blast removed or erased.   Obviously it was preserved, but it took over 20 years to reach a final decision.  It was decided in 1966 by Hiroshima to preserve it; it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, again after much discussion. China was against it becoming a UNESCO site because it would downplay the fact that Japan had killed many more people during the war in places like China, etc. so why should their war memorial be made a UNESCO site?  The US was also against this because it said that having a specific war memorial would not consider the whole context of the war itself.  The US did not cast its vote in this decision. (Wikipedia).

The reason why much of this building survived intact was because there was less downward force from the blast…more force went out horizontally.  The people working inside this building were all killed instantly.  Overall, over 70,000 people perished at the time of the blast, and another 70,000 died from injuries from the radiation (Wikipedia).  The magnitude of this was all very hard to fathom. Hiroshima had a population of about 340,000 to 350,000 before the attack.

Japanese tourists at Cenotaph, memorial to Hiroshima victims

Cenotaph inscription

Tom, approaching Hiroshima flame, with Peace Park Museum in background

The Hiroshima Museum is a very comprehensive account of what happened after the explosion, along with the history leading up to it, complete with a letter from Albert Einstein to FDR, saying the splitting of an atom could be used to make a bomb, and the Germans were probably working on it…to the attack, after effects, to the individuals’ stories of those who died, to the modern day problem of nuclear proliferation.  It was filled with artifacts from the blast, like personal remnants; a child’s lunch box, that was the only piece found by one parent to remember their child by…all very sad stories…  Many middle-school-aged children were killed because they were there, not in school, when the bomb went off.  They were involved in the war effort tearing down buildings to make fire lanes, in case of fire from the imminent bombing that they expected.  Hiroshima had been spared from bombing, along with the other potential targets, as the US wanted to isolate and thus measure the force of one bomb…

Model of Hiroshima before...the "T" bridge at upper right was what the bombardier was aiming for...

Model showing what was left...after

Photo of after, looking towards A-bomb Dome

We saw some of the paper cranes made by the Japanese girl Sadako Sasaki, who was two when the bomb hit.  Ten years later she developed leukemia, and while in the hospital she started folding origami paper cranes, because it was believed if you folded 1000 cranes, the gods would grant you a wish.  Folding these origami paper cranes has become a symbol of peace.

some of Sadako's cranes

Some of the facts about Hiroshima and the bomb were unimaginable…the flash was so bright that people’s shadows were “burned” into stone…people who happened to be touching a window towards the flash developed black fingernails that grew abnormally long…children were burned unrecognizable, but were still alive (but died later in a day or two), and whose parents only could identify them by their voices…we left the museum feeling drained. We sat on a bench along the river to regain some energy.

Part of the memorial to children who died in Hiroshima

strings of hanging paper cranes

In Nagasaki, we also visited the Peace Park.  Nagasaki is more hilly, and is in a large bowl, so the destruction was great there too, when the bomb exploded at 11:01 am on August 9, 1945.  Its population was about 240,000 before, and casualties numbered  70,000 dead, 70,000 wounded, and 120,000 left homeless…effectively the whole population… (from plaque in Nagasaki Peace Garden Park).

Nagasaki Peace Garden Pointing Statue

The fact that the only two atomic weapons used in war were in these two places, stayed with us.  Add to that the tsunami and nuclear damage from Fukushima, and Japan has been severely damaged by nuclear devices; it’s no wonder they are closing all of their nuclear plants!

After visiting these two places, we left thinking how important peace is, and how hard it is to maintain.  Barbara said that this experience really made her want to do something about peace (more than she already does in her work as a counselor).  “If peoples want peace, it is possible, if we are willing,” she says.

Peace be with you all, and with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A Few Highlights of Tokyo

We spent only about a day and a half in Tokyo but got to see a bit of the famous city.  We were staying in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower, so we visited that.  It is patterned after the Eiffel Tower, and was built in 1959.

Tokyo Tower

Closer view

Night view of Tokyo from top of Tokyo Tower

Another night view from Tokyo Tower

Young Japanese couple admiring view from Tokyo the girl's socks!

We got up the next morning at 4:45 am to go the the Tsukiji Fish Market.  You have to get there early in the morning, as that’s when all the action is…if you go later in the day, it is over, or closed.  This fish market is the largest fish market in the world (sorry Portland Fish Market!).  It covers a number of blocks, and has fish coming in, fresh and frozen, daily; that is unpacked, sold, and packed up and shipped all over.  There is a fish auction where things like tuna are auctioned off…we did not see this, as it is sometimes open to tourists, sometimes closed, and the number of tourists let in is limited…but tuna can sometimes fetch over $30,000 a fish at this auction!

large "tuna-in-waiting," flanked by electric flat-bed trucks

There are aisles and aisles of fish on display, being cut up, packaged, not packaged, on ice, in tanks, being bought and sold.  The electric flat-bed trucks race up and down the aisles bringing fish from large trucks on the outskirts into the heart of the market…you have to watch where you are going and jump out of the way sometimes, or risk being hit! The Japanese are very formal people; they wait in lines quietly, they don’t push…but in the Tsukiji Fish Market, you will be pushed out of the way, if you are in the way of their work…tourists are, after all, tourists…and these guys are trying to make a living!

Outa the way!!! Comin' through! I got fish to move!

A Japanese fish-worker moving a few slabs of frozen fish

Some fresh octopus...?

Or a "little" squid?

Fish market man cutting up whale (we think...?)

To the Japanese, fish is an important part of their diet, so all fish are valued.  Also, because Japan is a small, mountainous country with a lot of coastline, fishing is historically important.  That is why they still hunt whales and eat whale.

How about some red fish?

Or "gold" fish?

Or "silver" fish?

Happy fish workers getting ready to run a big frozen tuna through the band-saw...

Another fish market man cutting up smaller pieces of tuna

Not only at Tsukiji were there fish; there were clams, oysters, other mollusks, and things that we could not identify for sure.

This picture does not show the scale of these clams...the foot was as big as Tom's hand!

more monster mollusks

Not sure if these are fish, eels, or sea-snakes...? They are for sale, for 1900 yen (or $23) for a kilogram?...

We purchased a few items while at Tsukiji.  We bought some fresh cut cubes of tuna to eat later as sashimi, some salmon roe (or eggs), some specialty items as pictured below.

As you see from the sign, this place sells seafood omelets

What the finished packaged omelet looks like

There were many restaurants around Tsukiji, featuring fish, of course, so we had a breakfast of fresh salmon after our visit.  We brought back our our goods and had a real Japanese meal of sashimi with raw tuna and salmon roe later in the day.  We had to buy some soy sauce and wasabi to go with the tuna, some rice crackers for the roe, and to drink, some Suntory whiskey…so our Japanese meal was complete.  (We ate the omelet the next day for breakfast.)

Fresh tuna we used for sashimi

Tom, chop sticks master, eating sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi

Preparing salmon roe on rice cracker

Barbara enjoying the delicacy

We thought of the movie “Lost in Translation,” starring Bill Murray, and set in Tokyo, as we drank our Suntory whiskey.  His character was doing a commercial for this, which was, or course, dubbed into Japanese, so the only word an English speaker recognizes is “Suntory.”  Each time we raised our glass to have a drink we would say “Suntory” with a Japanese accent!  Silly, but fun!


Tokyo was a very ordered, clean city. People followed the rules.  They would wait for the “Walk” sign to change to cross the street, even when there were no cars.  In comparison to China, Japan is much more reserved, sedate, and quieter…obviously the Japanese are a different people!

Cherry Blossom Time in Japan

We just spent a week in Japan visiting Tokyo, Nagasaki, Oji, Nara, and Osaka; where the the cherry trees were in full bloom…along with the plum trees, and the magnolias too.  Here are just some of our “cherry” photos of the blooms, the people loving springtime, and the Japanese scenery!

Tokyo Cherry Peepers with Barbara

Tokyo temple roof-line shrouded with cherry blossoms

You "white" up my life... (with some pink too...)

Japanese women in traditional dress having their picture taken under the cherry tree near the temple

Same Japanese women "all dolled up"-view from back

Almost ready to pop young blossoms in front of Tokyo temple

More Japanese women at the temple

Tom & temple roof-lines

A couple of Japanese men not to be outdone by the women...

On to Nagasaki and Glover Garden

Glover statue shaded by cherry blossoms

British-style house in Glover Garden surrounded by cherry blossoms

A splash of red from a different tree...not sure what kind?

A sweeper trying to keep ahead of those pesky cherry blossoms...

Some purple magnolia thrown in for variety

Trees budding out at Oji Buddhist Temple up in the hills

Cherry blossoms near the temple

Flowering kale

"full-on" blossoms

Temples and blossoms

Tom & blossoms of Nara

Nara tourists and beautiful blossoms

White magnolia opposite cherry blossoms

White cherry blossoms in Nara over Japanese letters

In Osaka, Japanese reveling in spring and cherry blossoms...put out the blue up the hibachi...break out the sushi, saki, beer, or wine!

Osaka Castle under cherry blossoms

Barbara, Tom, and Japanese ladies in traditional dress in front of Osaka Castle

The cherry blossoms of Japan were  just gorgeous…so if you missed them in Washington D.C., enjoy these…because that’s where the ones in DC came from.  This is the centennial of the gift of 3000 cherry trees from Tokyo to DC, back in 1912.    It’s easy to see why the people in both places love them!  Hope all your springs are just as pink, blooming, and beautiful!!!

Medical Tourism-What is that?

Do  you know what “medical tourism” is?  It is also called “health tourism,” or “medical travel.”  It is where people travel to specific destinations, like Thailand, Singapore, or Malaysia, to get medical care, like major operations such as hip or knee replacement, cardiac surgery, dental surgery; or less major operations like cosmetic or plastic surgery.  There are over 50 countries offering medical tourism (Wikipedia). The reason for traveling to other countries for these procedures varies.  Some come because, in their home country, they would have to wait a long time to get the procedure, like in the UK or Canada.  People from the US often come to these places because it is much cheaper, especially if it is a procedure that they have to pay for “out of pocket.”

Patients rolling in to Bumrungrad Hospital

Tom became a “medical tourist” in January when he went to Bangkok, Thailand, and  had eye surgery.   This allows him to get rid of his thick glasses.  He has worn glasses since second grade.  Ten years ago we ( Tom & Barbara) had gone to Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok to look into this possibility.  At the time Tom was considering having LASIK surgery, but after consultation, the doctor told him that this would not correct his poor vision enough…he would still need to wear glasses.  So, it did not make sense to try this type of surgery.  The doctor did ask him if he considered having lens-replacement surgery, or cataract surgery, as “we will all get cataracts if we live long enough…” This operation was more complicated and more costly, so we did not decide to do this then.

Bumrungrad International Hospital

But ten years later, and ten more years of vision deterioration, made us reconsider it. There also have been advancements in this type of surgery.  So we went back to Bangkok, back to Bumrungrad, back to the same doctor from ten years ago, had another complete examination, and decided to have the lens-replacement surgery.  This surgery is called IOL surgery, or Intraocular Lens surgery.  The process involves the surgeon making a small incision in the side of one eye, removing the old lens and replacing it with a new plastic lens. No stitches are needed.  The operation is done with local anesthesia and the patient is awake throughout the procedure.  It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete for each eye.

Eye Center Entrance

Waiting at the nurses station at the Eye Care Center

“Medical tourism” is big business.  Bumrungrad is a huge facility.  It almost does not seem like a hospital as it is geared to handle “medical tourists,” not just patients.  It has a huge lobby resembling a classy hotel.  It has its own “in-house” McDonalds and Starbucks, and even has a whole building of hotel accommodations for people who want to stay right at the hospital. We saw people from all over Asia and the world there.  It is estimated that in 2005, about 55,000 Americans came to Bumrungrad. One patient had coronary artery by-pass that cost $12,000 there, as opposed to $100,000 he estimated it would cost in the US (Wikipedia).

Bumrungrad Lobby

Bumrungrad McDonalds

Latte Grande?

Barbara came along as Tom’s nurse.  She helped him through the recovery period.  We were in Bangkok for two weeks, as the initial eye exam was done on Tuesday, the first surgery on the left eye scheduled and done on Wednesday, followup exam on Thursday, and then the right eye was done the following Monday, with followup check-ups on Tuesday and Friday.  We flew back to China the next Tuesday.  We were fortunate to have a long break from Christmas through almost the end of January, so we had time to carry out this process.







Tom-Before the surgery

Left eye done

Right eye done

Tom-After the surgery

The whole process went very smoothly, and we actually relaxed in our hotel room, or by the pool, had great Thai food, watched many movies, which Tom could see now without glasses.  He does need to wear glasses to read, but his regular vision is much improved.  His doctor did tell Tom, that he did, in fact, have cataracts, so his insurance may cover the procedure, which it did.  So the experience was very positive.  We would recommend Bumrungrad to other people; they do a fantastic job there.  The “eyes” have it!

Singapore-City-State/Country of the Future…Land of Shopping and FOOD!

During our Christmas break, we traveled to Singapore, where we spent four days visiting this magnificent city-state/country, being taken care of by Singaporean natives, school colleague Joanne Foo, Priscilla (former school colleague) and husband Steve Chua.

Front: Tom, Barbara; Back: Singaporeans; Steve & Priscilla Chua, Joanne Foo

It was excellent to have real Singaporeans show us around, so we got to know what the place is really like.

Singapore, as the map shows, is a large island with a number of smaller islands.  The largest island is about 15 miles wide by 24 miles long.  It has a population of 4.8 million people (Lonely Planet).  “The territory of Singapore covers a slightly smaller area than that of New York City (minus Brooklyn).”((  It became a country in 1965, after splitting from Malaysia, both having been British-controlled.

Singapore had been developed by the British in 1819, by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles of the East Indian Company, because of its location, along the Straits of Malacca, partway between India and China,

Strait of Malacca

and was an important part of the trade route from India to China and back.  Raffles described Singapore as “the navel of the Malay countries.” (Lonely Planet)  You can see from the second map this is true.  This trade route has much to do with Singapore’s  makeup today.  It is a “free-trade” port, meaning no tariffs are paid by ships stopping there.  It ranks as one of the busiest ports in the world (a lot like Eastport…?).

This early trade route and its British control shaped its population/organization of today.  Singapore’s people are a mix of mostly Chinese, Malaysians, and Indians, many brought to the place by the Brits to work.  The city was laid out by the British in quarters, giving each group a quarter, and the Brits the other quarter.

Singapore is almost on the Equator, so it is quite warm, most of the time.  Its average temperature is about 25 to 31 degrees C. (77-88 degrees F.) with 70-80% humidity.  So how do Singaporeans stand the heat? Air-conditioning is important, it is found most everywhere…they also try to keep out of the sun too.  So what do Singaporeans do for fun?  Besides being prosperous and ordered, Singapore is known for two things: great shopping and great eating.   After being in Asia  for 3 years, we are “shopped out,” so we focused on the eating!  Singapore did not disappoint us!

Ice Kacang-a mixture of ice, jelly, fruit, syrup, other things like corn? Great in the heat!

We visited the Indian quarter, or Little India, and purchased some curry cooking spices.

Hindu temple in Indian quarter...maybe needs a little more decoration, don't you think???

We ate some vegetable curry and garlic nan in Little India.

Colorful buildings in Indian quarter

On we went to the Chinese quarter, or Chinatown.

Guide Jo says, "See! We're in Chinatown!"

So much to see! So much to eat!

In Chinatown, you can get fresh fish-bellies...


Tom, duckin' out...(Barbara photo)

Pomelo to go...

a little meat, for a treat...

Another "Where's Waldo?" in Chinatown, Singapore (Barbara photo)

As we ate our way across Singapore, we tried traditional Malaysian dishes like prawn (shrimp) satay and chicken satay, laksa noodles,  other seafood like barbecued sting-ray, blackpepper crab, razor clams, foods with Chinese influence like duck, chicken rice,…we could have eaten non-stop all day long and not had the same thing!  The best place to get these foods were in “Hawker Courts,” large open-air food courts (with roofs overhead as it does rain often), where you could go from stand to stand to find the foods you liked.  “Hawkers” call out their foods that they have to sell at these food markets.

At a "hawker court"

At a "hawker court" the food choices go on and on...

Most people know Singapore as a small island country with many rules and regulations, that is very successful financially.  This is somewhat true, but it is a lot more than that.  It is a microcosm of what urban living and cities of the future will be like.  Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, who helped shape Singapore from 1965-1990 (now his son is the the prime minister), set into motion a model city that has been emulated by other countries, like China in its new cities (where we are living, Suzhou, China, is modeled after Singapore).  It has used its British background to make city planning, education, transportation, and work priorities so its people can live and prosper.

Test/exam stand in a kiosk in shopping mall...showing how important education is in Singapore...get the latest test here! Do you think this would sell in the US?

Lee says that Singapore follows a Confucian belief system that puts the community needs first over the individual.  Does he believe in communism?  Not at all. He is an advocate of socialist programs like health-care, retirement pensions, government-sponsored mortgage programs.  87% of Singaporeans own their own home/apartment.  Singaporeans work hard and save/spend their money wisely.  They are extremely successful and, for a tiny country, have great influence.  There are more millionaires in Singapore per-capita than anywhere else in the world. (

There are regulations/taxes on some rights, like owning a car.  “Car buyers must pay for duties one-and-a-half times the vehicle’s market value and bid for a Singaporean Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which allows the car to run on the road for a decade. The cost of the Singaporean certificate of entitlement alone would often allow one to buy a Porsche Boxsterin the United States. Car prices are generally significantly higher in Singapore when compared to other English-speaking countries and thus only 1 in 10 residents own a car.”(Wikipedia).

Singapore uses electronic cameras to collect tolls.  People driving at rush-hour pay extra tolls for being on the road then.  So there are many rules to be followed.  Probably you have heard there is no chewing gum in Singapore, you can be caned for certain crimes, and drug dealers get the death penalty; making some people think it is a repressed society.  We  did not find this to be so.  People here follow the rules and understand it is part of living with almost 5 million others on a small island.  They even have a sense of humor about all of the rules.

T-shirt you can buy having fun with all the things you can be fined for...

Our friends helped find us local accommodations, as hotels are expensive here. We stayed at the Costa Sands Resort.  It is a complex located near the water, where Singaporeans go to “get away.”

Entrance to Costa Sands Resort: view through the side and up through walk under the pool to enter the complex

What do Singaporeans do when they “get away”?  Well, there is a pool and water park…

there are nicely appointed rooms with air-conditioning, tv, comfortable beds, in “chalets” nearby…

with pits outside for barbecuing…

where you can barbecue with your friends…

there are trails/walks to hike or ride your bike on…all very nice…but the main attraction…


Along with the resort is a complete shopping center with countless shops, movie cineplex, bowling alley, a kid’s section covering three floors with arcade/computer games, 3-D rides, and a full-size Ferris wheel, all inside!

4 girls on "scary" 3-D ride in kids' area

Add to this two large food courts, and many restaurants…why would you need to go any where else?  Which we barely did over the next few days…we found it quite relaxing… and we did not even participate in serious “retail therapy.”  We think the place should be called the “NOT Costa-Lotta,” as we left with many Singaporean dollars still in our pockets!

Serious Singapore recycling outside McDonalds

Singapore was another interesting place where we learned so much, especially by having our friends who are Singaporeans show us around.  We plan on going back there again!

Harbin-China’s Winter Wonderland!

Amazing giant snow sculpture

We had the opportunity to fly to Harbin (also spelled Haerbin), Heilonjiang Province, China, last weekend to attend the annual International Ice and Snow Festival there.  This has been going on since 1963, with a break during the Cultural Revolution; it resumed in 1985, and has happened every January since then.  “The Harbin festival is one of the world’s four largest ice and snow festivals, along with Japan‘s Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada‘s Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway‘s Ski Festival.” (Wikipedia)  Other winter activities in the Harbin area include skiing in the mountains nearby and winter swimming in the Songhua River, which has to be cut open for this activity…this makes smelt fishing look pretty “cushy’!

St. Basil’s Cathedral in snow

Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, is in the northeast of China.  Since we think the map of China looks like the profile of a “chicken,” Harbin is located at the “chicken’s head” or “face.”  Its location is about 45 degrees North latitude, so it is about the same as Maine, but it gets strong winds from Siberia, so the average winter temperature is -16.8 degrees Celsius, or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is not uncommon for it to drop to -35 degrees Celsius (-31 degrees F.)(Wikipedia).

So the snow and ice sculptures keep quite well.  The festival officially starts on January 5th and is supposed to last a month, but it is so popular with tourists, it often lasts longer; that’s why it was still on when we were there.  There was actually no snow, to speak of, on the ground, but there obviously had been plenty for making the sculptures back in December.  You can see from the map, Heilongjiang is next to Russia, so it, and Harbin, have a strong Russian influence.

Frosty and his family

Barbara & her “cool” friends

It was cold when we were there, around zero degrees Fahrenheit, so we bundled up and wore layers.  As you can see from the pictures, there were many, many snow sculptures. Some were huge, the size of large buildings, and some were small.  Many were comical, or had a serious message to them.  They were carved from teams from around the world.

Title: “In the same boat”

Snow “Big Mac.”  Title:  “Wasting Away,” with caption,”Our sculpture is based on modern day consumerism. The burger represents human consumption and the greed of modern society.” Team U.K.

Frozen kiss

Frozen kiss in shadow

Through the eye of a sculpture

Many sculptures to see

Sculpture called “Pulling the radish”

a snow excavator

Russian snow village

Tom (the dragon) battling “battling dragon.”

the whole view of the largest sculpture

Even the coffee shop was a snow sculpture! Iced coffee, anyone?

The snow sculptures were fantastic, as you can see, but it is the Ice and Snow Festival, so we went to see the ice sculptures that night in Zhaolin Park, when they would be lit up.  The Chinese originally came up with the idea of making “ice lanterns,” where they would let water in a bucket partially freeze, pop the shell out of the bucket, carve a hole in the bottom and let the unfrozen water out, stick  a candle in the hole, and VOILA!  An ice lantern that the wind does not blow out!  So later they said, when they had lights, “What if we put colored lights in, instead of candles?”  Way-cool colored ice sculptures!  The blocks they made resemble cement blocks, you can see through, as they are made of water.

N-ice house!

Green ice camels…one hump or two?  I’ll get “Bactrian” to you on that…

A n-ice blue pagoda

Barbara & friend Barbara “chillin’ out.”

B & B at the ice “moon-door”

Colorful ice wall with strobe lights in windows…Freaky!

Traditional “stone boat” made of ice and lights!

Barbara & Tom at Ice Bar…the waiters were icy, service was cold!

Entance to ice hall

Traditional Chinese gate made of ice

Temple of Heaven reproduction in n-ice colors!

A few ice sculptures with color added

Close-up of light in ice-column

The lit-up ice sculptures were beautiful and a real feat of engineering. We really enjoyed them.

Not to leave commercialism out…have an ice-cold Coke!

The Russian influence in Harbin is everywhere, in the buildings, signs, and in the shops.  There is a beautiful Russian Orthodox church named St. Sophia, that is one of the symbols of Harbin.  We bought some fine Russian chocolate and some Russian vodka too.

When you want to get “blasted”!!!

This is also good…it’s what they used to preserve Lenin!

St. Sophia Russian Orthodox Church

The Sunday we left Harbin, it was warm…between 10-20 degrees  Fahrenheit, with no wind.  People were out in the square by St. Sophia, soaking up the sun and warmth.

Ahhhhhhh…beach weather!

A caption on one of the snow sculptures we had seen the day before summed up Harbin’s Ice and Snow Festival philosophy.  It said, “Summer is for fun.  Winter is for health.”  So, enjoy your winter and stay healthy!

Visit to Borneo, Malaysia

We just returned to China after 4+ weeks off…a result of combining Christmas and Chinese New Year holidays into one break…we even came back about a week early.  Our time off took us to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand.

We started out with a week in Malaysia, visiting Borneo, the third largest island in the world, behind Greenland, and New Guinea (Australia doesn’t count…it’s a continent!). Part of Borneo is Malaysia, the states of Sarawak and Sabah; part is Indonesia, the state of Kalimantan; and the country of Brunei is also on Borneo.  Borneo is where the “head-hunters” lived.  We didn’t run into any…  We flew into Kota Kinabalu, or KK, as it is called, the capital of Sabah, and our base for a few days.

The city itself is not impressive.  It has over half a million people, lots of concrete, beautiful sea-side with turquoise water, and many beautiful islands offshore.  Its history and placement meant that, as the city of Jesselton, it was destroyed not once, but twice during WWII, by the US, as the Japanese used Borneo in its “island-hopping” plan of conquering Pacific Asia.  It was rebuilt after the war and renamed Kota Kinabalu in 1963.

Many of the islands near KK, have villages on stilts, beautiful snorkeling, and wonderful fresh fish.  Much of Borneo is a rain-forest, and we experienced this rain, so we did not visit the outlying islands, but did other things.

Borneo, Malaysia is mostly Muslim (63% Wikipedia), followed by Christianity (25% Wikipedia).  Borneo is a mostly a  mix of ethnic Malays, Chinese, and Filipinos.  We saw many women covered with Muslim head-coverings called “tudungs,” or “covers.”  They seemed to be on sale everywhere.

Get your "tudungs" here!

A wide variety to choose from...

Barbara modeling "tudung"

Barbara modeling "tudung" side profile

Barbara modeling "tudung' side profile

We saw many women wearing these “tudungs”.

They even have them for women workers at McDonald’s.

"Tudung-wearing" ladies eating at "Mickey-Dees"

"Tudung-wearing" workers

One of the great features of  Malaysia is the food.  We went to the Night Market in KK and ate wonderful large fish.  You could have your choice of tuna, red snapper, giant shrimp, lobster,…all fresh!

Setting up the fish for the Night Market

Fish on display

Here's looking at ya! Fresh Tuna!

Malays eating at the Night Market

We left KK and took a van to Mount Kinabalu National Park. The main attraction is Mount Kinabalu.  It is 4095m tall. We did not go to climb it, just to see it.  To climb it you have to have a permit and it’s a two-day climb, part of which is during the night, so you can see the sun rise from the peak.  We opted to just seeing it on the way there…as the rainy season kicked in again.

Our view of Mount Kinabalu from the van traveling there

When we got there, the mountain was in clouds already.  We took a nature walk with a ranger for about an hour and learned about the plants in the lower rainforest, such as orchids and pitcher plants.  Then the rain started.

Rare "Tiger Orchid"

Another orchid by the roadside

pitcher plant

We caught another van and continued our trip, heading for Poring Hot Springs.  The hot springs were set up by the Japanese during their occupation during WWII, and is one positive thing left behind by them.  They are located near the town of Ranau.  We went on Christmas, also the weekend, so the place was busy.  We noticed the women were covered here also.

Poring Hot Springs

Christmas Day at the Hot Springs

The next day we caught a local long-distance bus and headed towards Sandakan, on the east coast of Borneo.  We did not have tickets, so we sat on the floor of the bus, as it was full with locals.  Barbara did get a seat, as a grandmother held her grandson in her lap, so Barbara could have a seat. The road we were on is the only main road from west to east.  Because of all the rain and big trucks, the roads are in rough shape.  We traveled from KK  to Sandakan and the time it took was long, over 6 hours, to go about about 150 miles as the crow flies… the road twists and turns up through the hills, and has much traffic as it’s the only road.

Malaysia is a rapidly developing country because it has oil, so there is much money pouring in.  It also produces palm oil on palm oil plantations, which is used for cosmetics, cooking, and more recently “bio-diesel.”  We saw many big oil trucks, that were carrying palm oil.  The palm oil plantations are controversial, as you can see, because they cause deforestation of the rainforest.

palm oil truck

We heard that the Chinese who live in Malaysia are the businessmen.  The palm oil truck with Fang Lee on the side supports this idea.

We arrived in the town of Sepilok, the home of the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre, one of four orangutan sanctuaries in the world.  We experienced rain most of the time we were there, and we kept saying, “Well, it is a rainforest…!”.  We were able to see a mother orangutan and baby at the feeding table but were not able to get a good picture as it was too gray and rainy.  We have included the best picture we took and got some from their website.

Our best shot of orangutan mama and baby

coming down the line at feeding time (

The “wild man of Borneo” is actually the orangutan.  The natives did not hunt the orangutan, and they would collect any orangutan skulls they found in the jungle and worship them, just as they did with their enemies’ skulls (Lonely Planet).  Orangutans are beautiful animals.  Sadly though, their habitats are being destroyed for things like palm oil, coal mining, etc. so there are only about 15,000 left in the wild (Lonely Planet).  Borneo has other interesting primates like the proboscis monkey, but we didn’t have time to see them.

In the rain in the rainforest with umbrella

jungle tree

Borneo, Malaysia was a very interesting place…again we learned  so much… about the place and the people…traveling does that!

Next:  Singapore