China Assignment (Suzhou) bio picture
  • Welcome to my Suzhou blog!

    For the next two years (starting on Feb 14, 2011) I will use this blog to chronicle our travels while on assignment in Suzhou, China. My wife and I (OK, mostly me) consider this a great opportunity to get to know one of the oldest and richest cultures in the world. We are excited about the opportunity and hope you will join us as we explore this amazing land and it's surroundings. We encourage you to add comments as you see best.
    Thanks for visiting!
    My assignment ended on March 8, 2013. If you like to follow our next adventure click HERE
    Carlos & Bethe

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Farewell for now Suzhou; I’ll be back!

It has been exactly 41 days since we left Suzhou, China. One of the reasons that I have not made a post since then is because I knew it would be my last from our China adventure. After two years one gets used to many things that were initially very strange to us. An example is drinking hot water during lunch or dinner. I find myself asking in restaurants for a glass of hot water with a slice of lemon in it (lemon is my addition). Drinking hot water or green tea is a common practice for Chinese nationals that we found strange as we were used to having cold drinks with our meals. Well, if you think about it, a hot drink makes good sense since is helps move greasy residues or fat content of the food being ingested. It also has helped me improve my digestion, so while I do have a cold drink here and there, if I eat I am defaulting to hot water and lemon.

We also miss the many great friends we made (in and out of work), many of the tasty and somewhat strange vegetables we just cannot get in the US and the various teas that just do not taste the same at home. One example – I tried to buy jasmine tea in the store and ended up with a weak and almost tasteless brew I just did not drink. However, my wife found an Asian store that had Chinese Jasmine tea and she bought me a container. Ah! it was great, she paid quite a bit for it, but it is definitely worth it to me.

Picture taken during a farewell party - the Suzhou team, I worked with the past two years. Great team! Will miss them dearly.

As per our plan, I retired right after returning from my China assignment. Thirty four years with the same great company where I had a very fulfilling career was hard to let go, but the time was right for me to retire. To add to all the changes in our lives, we decided to relocate to Greenville, South Carolina. “Why there?” is the question we keep on hearing from everyone we tell about our move. Well, we find Greenville to have a great mix of what we would like to experience during our retirement phase. Excellent weather with very little snow if any; yes it gets hot, but not Miami like heat. The area is visually stunning, we are an hour away from the Blue Ridge mountains, there are excellent cycling routes and hiking trails and we are liking Southern hospitality. Greenville center is beautiful and has a huge choice of restaurants and activities year around. The city is the home of  The Greenville Drive, a minor league Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and a member of the South Atlantic League. Their Fluor Stadium resembles a shrunken Fenway Park (green monster wall and all). We saw our first game last night and the Drive won by scoring all of their 5 runs in the 8th inning.

A view of the Green Monster wall. Ok, not quite the same as the one in Fenway Park, but it will do for us. Free parking, $10 first row seats right behind first base, $2.50 hot dogs and out the park driving home within 8 minutes after the game ended. Try doing that in Boston.

 

A bit sad, maybe he just does not like baseball, but all this little one did all game was play with his dad’s iPhone.

 

Franklin Morales, a Red Sox pitcher doing some rehab with the Greenville Drives team. He pitched very well, no hits in the three inning he completed.

 

Morales’ windup… fastest pitch I saw was 94 mph one. I have been away for too long, do not really know him at all. Will see how he does this year with the Red Sox.

There are many other reasons we chose Greenville, to hear more of them and what we are up to I hope you visit my Retirement Blog (in development right now – will share the link in this blog as soon as I go live with it). We thank all those who visited, enjoyed the information and also those who left comments on our China blog; your support really made a difference in keeping this blog going. Be assured that we will keep the new blog updated with many activities and trips we have planned. We invite you to join us in our new adventure; stay tuned for the new link coming soon (I will post the new link in this blog, so if you are subscribed to this blog you will get an alert email automatically).

One last peek at Suzhou – for a nice video of Suzhou please click on the link below. There is an advertisement at the beginning and it does start in Chinese, for a small portion in English move the timeline to the 2:35 minute mark. A bit long, but gives you good highlights of Suzhou

For link click HERE

Until the next post!

 

Jessie LiApril 22, 2013 - 9:17 AM

Good memory for me!
Remember all the days with you. Hope to know your new life after the retirement.

Last Day in Suzhou

Hours, days and months went by fast. Two years and one month, has gone by since my first posting on this blog. That means our China assignment has ended and we are back in the US. But I still have a couple of blog posts I need to make before I can say farewell Suzhou. I learned very quickly to love Suzhou and its people. I will miss so many things it would be hard to list them all. So what can we do on our last day in Suzhou? Well, that was an easy question for me; visit Tongli. Tongli is a wonderful water town about 40 minutes away from Suzhou. I like it the best because it has a very local feel, is very large and full of fun stuff to see and photograph.

We invited our Suzhou friends Ali and Nastaran to come along and share our last tour with us. Additionally, we asked John, our driver, to join us and take pictures with us (he has become quite the photographer). Some of you may remember Tongli from two previous posts in August 2011 – link to those are post One & Two. If you are interested in Tongli’s background visit post One.

Below we share some of the images from our last Tongli visit.

You do not seem to see many foreigners in Tongli. That is one of the things I like about it. However, as Chinese become more affluent you do see many Chinese guided tours for those coming from other areas in China. This lady seems to be in very familiar grounds as she enters Tongli with her daughter.

I have visited Tongli around five times. Every time I visited this vendor always yelled at me if I tried to take his picture. I think he did that to everyone, but I could not be denied this time. Waited until he was distracted with his lunch and took one to remember him. Have no idea what he yelled at me, but he seemed mad each time he caught me. I like him for being consistent.

In the center, you see Nastaran and Ali (brown hat) looking for bargains. There are a large number of small stores selling a huge variety of knick knacks. We never left this place empty-handed; my wife loved it.

One of the vendors with a great face – I had to capture him for sure.
Wonder how long has he been selling in Tongli; maybe all of his life?

I am not sure if this lady was a vendor or a Tongli dweller having a relaxed knitting time as the crowds go around her. She was definitely focused on her knitting, she did not look away once from it.

A beautiful youngster making his first Tongli visit perhaps? Love the hat, he was very intrigued with my camera.

A picture of Nastaran and my wife for old times sake. We will miss you (Nastaran & Ali), but we will see each other again; that is the plan.

Spring time at Tongli. This was one of the few trees that had already started showing signs of life. In a few weeks Tongli will be a beautiful sight with many full trees and colorful flowers all around, blending with the beautiful old stone bridges around the area. If you are in Suzhou- Tongli is a must visit.

Young love at spring time – taking a stroll around Tongli on a Saturday morning. Ali asked them if we could take their picture and they were agreeable, but the young man seemed uncomfortable.

One of the 55 bridges in Tongli, with many dating several centuries back — this is a view of a traditional home in Tongli. Many people still live here, but there is a good number of homes where the first floor has been converted into a business and living quarter have been moved to the second floor.

John (left), Ali looking for photo opportunities as Nastaran tags along. Notice the relaxed atmosphere in the background; people just relaxing sipping some tea and chatting probably about the crazy tourists walking around.

John’s photography has come a long way since he bought his first DSLR. He is an avid reader of books and magazines covering photo techniques and many of his recent pictures shows he is learning a great deal. We are keeping in touch and will exchange pictures for mutual critique.

My crazy buddy Ali. Mr. Photo Bomb himself…he is such a fun guy and loves to have his picture taken… can you tell?

Suzhou people I find very friendly. This is one example of a complete stranger; will miss their wonderful smiles.

A very popular water town activity is taking your picture with old traditional costumes. In this picture you see a mother and her boy doing just that? Empress and prince…?

Another guy who only allowed his picture taken by customers. No, I did not buy anything, had to sneak this one as he is making his candy.

Our second visit to a rice wine factory located in Tongli. Ali wanted to buy a gallon of the stuff; and he did. Quite good actually, very mild and pleasant flavor. Here you see some stills, fermentation and storage clay containers. Was told that the process dates back many centuries. This place seems to be the most famous in town.

Always love taking pictures of mature people such as this. This group seemed to be having a lot of fun telling stories to each other. The lady with the cane was the most animated of them all. The one to her left was less than agreeable when I tried to have my wife take a picture of her and I. She had no interest at all and told me very clearly (at least her body language was clear to me).

On the spot next to the group from the previous picture, we have this as stark contrast of the times. This young lady will eventually join the ranks of the well matured, wonder what her story will be by then (the boy in the orange shirt to her left was with her, more than likely her son).

These two wonderful young ladies asked my wife to take pictures with them. They took quite a few and were thrilled my wife accepted. Here they are as we bumped into them an hour later.

Tongli is one of several places that has been given the name of “the Venice of the East”. In this picture you can see a young lady wearing a mask so similar as the ones we saw when we visited Venice. Love the eye contact on this one.

Yikes we will miss Suzhou’s dumplings and dim sum a great deal. I know that you can buy them in the US, but they will not be nearly as good as the favorite one we have come to love. No, we did not buy them here; we have our special places.

Kids love this wonderful happy lady. She sells the hot candy wrapped on two sticks and kids love eating and playing with it at the same time.

The ever-present fried crab on a stick. They still look like bugs to me; we also passed.

I remembered reading a few years back that Chinese did not like their picture taken because they believe you could take their soul away. While I think there is plenty of superstition going around in China, this one I could not confirm. In fact,I found the opposite for the most part. This is one fine example.

One more to prove the previous one was not a fluke. I found the people very happy to pose for you and show their pearly whites…

It was a pleasant surprise to bump into an old friend of mine, well sort of a friend. You see, over a year ago we visited Tongli and this fine gentleman was selling duck eggs and flashing his lack of teeth to all who cared to look. In this picture he seems to be taking a break or may be he retired and is now just hanging with the locals. Regardless, it was good to see one of my favorite subjects; to see the picture I took of him selling eggs please click HERE. You may notice that he seems to be wearing the same hat in both pictures. I hope the B&W gives you as good a feel as it did me when I took it. Really like people photography.

This little tank of a baby was having fun with his grandmother. Have to love those cheeks. I am very familiar with hand dimples in babies hands, but must say I do not remember seeing many in adults….see grandmas’ hand

Yes, the Venice of the East, with Chinese style gondolas and all. Tongli is surrounded by canals and for a small fee you can tour it in these gondola style boats.

As we exited Tongli for the last time we saw this family looking at us. The little one waved goodbye as if she knew something we did not want to say.

As of this post we have already left China. The next post will be on our farewell to Suzhou, China and its wonderful people.

Thanks for visiting.

Cathy HeiseyMarch 25, 2013 - 1:38 AM

Carlos,

I love how you can capture the expressions of the people in Tongli/China! You reach into their souls! Treasured memories that I will always hold near and dear to my heart! Thanks for capturing with the lens!

Agra – Taj Mahal

We were so glad we kept Agra and the Taj Mahal for the last leg of our India tour. We were told by many people the Taj Mahal alone was worth a visit to India; must agree, it is truly amazing building with a beautiful story behind it. This incredible structure is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built-in Agra between 1631 and 1648 commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife – Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.

See below for more information on the Taj Mahal and a few other sites from our last stop on our India tour.

I could not believe I was finally going to get a live view of this beautiful building. I have seen many pictures of it and also documentaries of how it was constructed and why. As we approach the Grand gate we could see a small portion of this large structure. It was late evening and the sun was setting giving us its familiar golden sunset tones. It was a Sunday so there were a lots of people trying to get the best view possible.

 

Finally past the Grand gate and wow; you finally get a full view of this monument from a devoted loving husband. We visited the Taj twice; once at sunset and the second time at sunrise. The main reason is that white marvel is translucent and reflects the ambient light very well. This gives the Taj a different feel depending on the time of day. Here is a picture taken at 7:00 AM on Monday morning, fewer people which was a relief.

 

The marble used to build the Taj Mahal comes from the town of Makrana. The white marble from this area is considered the best quality marble in the world. It is famous for its dense structure which does not allow water so it does not degrade and become pitted as other marbles do (e.g. Carrara Italian marble). No wonder the condition of the marble in the Taj looks so good. Here we see some India visitors mixed with a few westerners enjoying the outer court that wraps around the Taj.

 

I took this photo early Monday morning as the fog from the river Yamuna started to roll over the Taj. It happened very quickly while I was taking some pictures, suddenly I noted the three individuals with turbans walking briskly by. What an opportunity I thought and quickly positioned myself to include them and the whole Taj Mahal. I really like this picture and plan on making a very large print of it when we return to the US.

 

The planning for this building and compound must have taken quite a long time. There is a reason for everything in it and it is carefully planned to assure perfect symmetry and provide amazement. The Taj has 4 outer towers that lean slightly away from the center of the Taj;  I was told by our guide this was done in case the tower would collapse due to an earthquake they would crumble away from the main building. The building has 8 perfectly symmetric sides, precious and semi-precious stones were used in the beautifully inlaid decorations in and outside the building. The verses of the Koran you see flanking this portal are proportionally larger as you follow it all the way to the top; the reason? … so you could read it all the way up while standing on the main court.

 

You are not allowed to wear shoes in the court or inside the building. The price of admission includes disposable booties that seem to do a great job in keeping a nice gloss on the marble floors. This picture gives you a good perspective of the Taj size. By the way, yes, you can go inside and you can see two tombs in it. The emperors body Shah Jahan joined his beloved wife a year later in the main room. Photographs were not allowed once inside the Taj so, I  have none to show. Inside, it is even more detailed and many more precious stones decorate the main hall. The two cenotaph are surrounded by thin marble walls that have been carved in such a way that it looks like lace – really impressive.

 

Photographs were not allowed once inside the Taj so I am using here one from the web (released to public domain). The inside has even more detail and many more precious stones decorate the main hall. The two cenotaph are surrounded by thin marble walls that have been carved in such a way that it looks like lace – really impressive.

 

The main building took 12 years to complete; the rest of the complex an additional 10 years. Thousands of craftsmen and an untold amount of money was spent on this unique building. Here is one small detail of flowers carved in the hard marble; just a sample of the workmanship you see around this whole building.

 

After visiting the Taj Mahal we had the opportunity to see how this beautiful and colorful inlays are made. A slow process of drawing the patterns you want, then hollowing the insides of it, forming the semi-precious stones by careful grinding them with a wet stone and finally placing them so the desired shape and color gives you the desired result. Great stuff.

 

One last look at one of the side of the Taj.

 

A view from the Taj Mahal from inside the mosque to the left of it. A beautiful building in its own right.

 

I would have liked to stay a whole day seeing how the building looked and feel changes as the sun arcs from east to west, but had to get going. I know, it sounds like I am nuts, but hey… it is what it is. So we said good-bye to the Taj.

 

A few miscellaneous people pictures

As we exit another site of interest, this your muslim girl caught my eye. It was a hot day; cannot imagine how hot it must get if you are wrapped in black as she is. She looked cool however.

 

From what we saw of India it is a hard country for the majority of its population.

 

However, there is rest for all; even the camels.

 

This lady seems to be doing a brisk business with her ironing. Reminds me of my mother; boy did she liked to iron. Of course, that resulted in me having to iron most of what I wear.

 

While touring the outdoor market in Pushkar I saw this lady with her colorful sari and pierced nose and ring. Yikes, what if it got caught on something…?!

 

The sacred Pushar Lake – holy to Hindus was one of the stops our guide took us to. A bright and warm sunny day, many were dipping themselves in the holy water for spiritual cleansing purposes. Looked like it had been a resort like place many decades ago.

 

Another view of Puskar lake. The ever-present cow in the background just touring the spot and seeing what is going on.

 

Chatting or maybe gossiping about someone in the small town of Pushkar before getting in for a spiritual cleansing dip?

 

As we start out trip back to Delhi, we saw many interesting roadside sights. This man was very busy making clay pots. Crude, but effective giving the conditions judging for the number of pots he has made so far.

The all familiar sight of crowded vehicles moving people from town to town. How would you feel traveling like this each day? It comes to what you get or must get used to I guess.

 

Another familiar sight, both in India and in China. Judging by the rear tire, this seems to be a large, but light load. Good thing.

 

Necessity often overlooks safety. Remember doing similar things during my young days in my native country of Peru.

 

Have never seen so many alternate forms of transportation than in India. The horse and camel are being used as I have never seen it before. I am amazed as to how these animals are so used to cars and trucks; they just go on without flinching.

 

Loved visiting India. Would like to return and spend more time in smaller towns, but that is unlikely. A wonderful country rich in history and potential with a few people that have in excess, but the majority having very little. Resilient and maybe resigned to their condition would be how I would describe many of the people we saw on the streets of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. A country that has so much, but the individual seems to get so little even thought they show desire to be busy. Just a casual observation.

SarahMarch 12, 2013 - 3:01 PM

Taj Mahal is really a place worth going for a visit.
Really like your photos.

Alma ShurtleffMarch 9, 2013 - 11:10 PM

Amazing pictures!!

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