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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This and that

Making room in your hard drive for new stuff can always be a challenge. I remember when having a 500 MB hard drive was considered amazing (yes, 500 Megabytes or 500,000 bytes or half a gigabyte). In those days a megabyte of storage used to go for $1 and we thought it was a bargain – that means that a 500MB HD would cost $500!!! . Now a terabyte (1 million megabytes) is considered a normal size if you are into photography or movies. Today it is very common to have ten times the size on the biggest hard drive from 5 years ago in a memory stick smaller than a pair of nail clippers. So what does this have to do with this posting? Nothing at all outside of that I need more HD space.

As I clean my picture files I saw some pictures of interesting signs we have come across during the last couple of years — I thought I had more; we certainly have seen more than these — and a couple of other images… here we go.

It has been our experience that somethings get lost in translation. While you can get the meaning of what the author is trying to say, some are just humorous. In this case, they seem to be encouraging tourists to behave while on the premises. Must say that in my experience, Chinese tend to do the exact opposite of what the sign says. While this behavior can also be seen in the US and other countries; in China it is taken to a level I have never seen before.

 

We saw this sign while we were touring the Great Wall of China. I think there is solid wisdom behind it.

 

Let’s go and have dinner at Stupid Ox! Can you hear yourself saying this to your date or friends? Must have a complete different meaning in Chinese.

 

This one is not funny, but we were surprised to see such offering. Goes to prove that we live in a new world. Anything you may like seems to be available; if you like to pay for it. As you can see they are fresh. The price is 380 Yuan each or $62…ouch! Good thing lobsters are not something we like much at all.

 

Some signs attempt to make you feel real guilty. Hey, I do admire their creativity.

 

A very popular type of massage in Thailand; making its way into China. My wife had it and liked it. She said it felt real weird, but your legs felt silky smooth – a la Zohan.

 

Last week, while outside the bakery I saw this Segway like gizmo zoom by me. A lot smaller and probably less sophisticated, but seemed to do the job – keeping perfect balance and all. Leave it to the Chinese to copy just about anything.

 

Here we see a master calligrapher writing some tourists name in a scroll for a handsome fee. I am truly amazed as to the number of character there are (they number in the tens of thousands) and the speed that most write them down.
I’ve been told that most people know a few thousand and many of them are slight variations of others. I gave up learning to speak Chinese a while ago. I can only imagine writing being even more difficult.

 

With the popularity of cell phones, in the US public phone booths are just about completely gone. While just about everyone you see in China has a cell phone, you still see a few public phone booths around. This one caught my eye in Beijing. Looks futuristic to me – must be because I am getting old.

 

I did noticed however, that most of the public phones in China work with prepaid cards and not coins (see the card slot below the phone handle). hmmm…good idea.

 

Yes, another bride having their picture taken. Really like their umbrellas as they soften the light falling on them. This one is a pretty lady having her picture taken in Ping Jiang Lu – historic district in Suzhou.

 

Saying good-bye for now with a view from inside the subway in Beijing. Long, long cars with plenty of people everywhere. Can you see where it ends?

Goodbye 2012… Welcome 2013!!!!

Hard to believe we will be in China two years in February. This year ending in a few hours has been filled with lots of good things, challenges, trials, tests and through it all – blessings all around. We said goodbye to Nicholas (the little boy we fostered for a few brief months – his adopted mother picked him up and he is now in the US. We are very happy to get updates on his progress from his mother), we made new friends, continued to get more familiar with older ones and said good-bye to a some that returned home from their assignments. Had a health scare that cleared up after a lengthy hospital stay, family visited in May and we were thrilled to host them. We visited Ireland, Hong Kong and Vietnam. We also ventured into more local areas around Suzhou and visited Beijing and the most important tourist sites around it including the Great Wall. We ended the year by traveling to the US to attend our youngest daughters graduation and spend Christmas with our two daughters. Great ending for sure.

Instead of posting pictures from the last couple of weeks, I decided to review pictures from the last twelve months and post a couple from each month that did not make it to this blog.

We wish all our family, friends and blog visitors an amazing 2013. May it bring you many blessing and may your wishes be centered around making you and those around you better in every possible way.

Sweet Nicholas; the good news is that he is doing very well. His mother sends us frequent updates and we are happy to hear that we are officially uncle Carlos and aunt Bethe to him. We will visit him when we get back, you can bet on that.

Even in the winter Suzhou gardens are beautiful. I am waiting for snow to visit and take some pictures with the cold white stuff around these great places. Hopefully we will get some before we leave in March.

Cold did not deter this couple from venturing out and do some shopping. Happy couple, very much the look you see young people have all around Suzhou. They look happy, friendly and smart to me.

Tai Chi – by far the most popular type of exercise I see mature people do. Early morning the parks have a large number of people doing their Tai Chi for the most part in large groups, but you do see individuals such as this gentleman doing it by himself.

The local market butcher. Always smiling and ready to provide you with freshly butchered meat. I know it does not look as clean as what we are used to in the west, but it seems to work for the local very well. This picture was taken in early spring so the cuts looked good to me.

We had a great time with my sister (left), two daughters (middle and second from the left), cousin and his wife during their visit in May. We were happy to show them around and also happy to see how much they liked everything they saw. They were also very impressed with the local food; now that was a bit unusual, but I am with them on that.

While touring around Ping Jiang Lu with the family we came across this local family. They were having a great time and were happy to pose and smile for the camera.

One of our neighbors decided to buy a very nice car — A 2012 Ferrari 458 Spider…WOW! The look and sound it makes is just amazing. A picture will be all I can afford. Lots of money around here.

A groom looks on as his bride takes some individual wedding pictures. This area is very popular with wedding photographers/couples; there is always a large number of couples taking their engagement and wedding pictures in this area (Moon Harbor – Suzhou).

Had several photo sessions with some friends. Here we have Adam with his son Jenson.

A different view of Jenson while being held by his dad.

During one of our visits to Tiger Hill, we saw a very nice performance, but could not find out what they were celebrating or portraying. This is one of the few times I really wish I could speak Chinese. Regardless, the performance was very colorful and very well choreographed.

Sunday at the park with grandfather. Grandfather is giving the young one some fishing lessons; really like the attentive look the boy has. Great memories for him I am sure.

Meet Miriam, another session I had with a little one. Love the look she has on this one.

My last shoot of the year. How can you not like this smile? Meet Amelia, she was such a flirt.

Well, that is it for 2012 – once again thank you for visiting and leaving comments.
Wishing you a Happy New Year
Carlos & Bethe

ccausillasJanuary 13, 2013 - 5:06 PM

Gracias compadre!

ccausillasJanuary 13, 2013 - 5:05 PM

Thanks Peter.

Peter LiaoJanuary 2, 2013 - 9:33 AM

Many excellent photos and post in the past two years. What a journey! I look forward to reading more in 2013. Happy New Year!

Kathy E.January 2, 2013 - 8:16 AM

Happy 2013 to you both! Heading into the final countdown for the China blog. Have so enjoyed your postings. Maybe you would consider a new blog when you settle back in the States!?!

NastaranJanuary 1, 2013 - 11:57 AM

Always enjoy reading your blog. wish you and your family happy new year.

Claudio RiosJanuary 1, 2013 - 2:43 AM

Great pictures Cosmo ! I'm very glad that you recover from that scare and doing well now , well you have a wonderful New Year with your lovely wife , un abrazo .Leviatan.

RafiJanuary 1, 2013 - 2:01 AM

How I enjoy reading your blogs! Happy New Year!!!

Merry Christmas!!!

Was it a surprise to anybody the world did not end on December the 21st? I think the Mayans got the short end of the stick on this one. As far as I can tell after reading several articles, the Mayans never said the world would end on December 21, 2012. The doomsday message came out of some archeologists interpretation of the Mayan calendars. Now the story is that the calendar was misinterpreted, instead it just reset itself on the 21. I say great, we are good for another few thousand years it seems.

We can now concentrate on Christmas and the new year!!!!

Real happy to be visiting our daughters and spending Christmas with them in the US. We, of course, are having a great time with them. Missing Suzhou weather right now, Muncie, Indiana (where we are) had some light snow yesterday and it is very cold right now (22 degrees F/-6 Celsius, but with the windchill factor it feels like 10F/-12C…burrr).

We like to wish our family, all our friends and blog visitors a Merry Christmas!!! Wish you have a great time with family and friends in this wonderful holiday. We will be back in Suzhou in time to celebrate the New Year, and plan to have a post on that celebration soon thereafter.

May you all have many blessings during this holidays.

Using this as our 2012 Christmas photo.
Our youngest daughter graduated a week ago from Ball State University. We are so very proud of her and Sarah for having graduated from BSU. Looking forward to their continued growth and success.

 

Hairy Crabs

Also known as Mitten crabs are considered a local delicacy especially in Shanghai and surrounding areas. I never heard about them in the US, but my research indicates that they have been introduced into the US and into Europe and are considered a potential threat to the native species in those areas. Hairy crabs (they get their name for the hair like fibers on their legs) are quite ugly and agressive  crustaceans. Hairy crabs can be trace back to an old story from the year 2283 BC, during the period of Monarch Yao who appointed Da Yu to tame the river.

From Wikipedia… “Hairy crab is a famous delicacy in Shanghai Cuisine and is prized for the female crab roe. The crab meat is believed by the Chinese to have a “cooling” effect on the body. Concerns have been raised that the population and origin of the crab may be affected because of overfishing of the species in the Yangtze River.

Chinese spend hundreds of yuan just to taste a small crab from Yangcheng Lake which are considered a delicacy. The crabs cost 680–700 yuan, or roughly US$105, per kilogram. Most of the Yangcheng crabs are exported to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and high-profit foreign markets. Responding to the spread of the crab to the West, businessmen have started seeing it as a new source of crab for the Chinese market. One proposed scheme involves importing unwanted crabs from Europe, where they are seen as a pest, to replenish local pure-bred stock.

Mitten crabs have exhibited a remarkable ability to survive in highly modified aquatic habitats, including polluted waters. Like some fish, they can also easily tolerate and uptake heavy metals, such as cadmium and mercury. Therefore, the farming and post-harvesting of the species needs proper management if it is used as a food.

Recently, China introduced vending machines to sell this species of crab in the subways. The crabs are stored at 5 °C (41 °F), which induces a sleepy state of hibernation. The prices of the crabs range from around $1.50 to $7.00 (USD). They are guaranteed to be fresh and alive.

In the almost two years in Suzhou, my wife and I never tried hairy crabs. Well, my wife would not try any crab regardless of where they come from; period. A few weeks back our driver John invited us to his parents home for dinner. We were surprised to get the invite, but quite grateful so we accepted right away. We have no idea what to expect as we went into a very traditional home where we expected very traditional local Suzhou food. We were not disappointed at all. John’s mother and grandmother turned out to be an excellent cooks and had a real feast for us. Part of the meal included a healthy amount of hairy crabs steamed to perfection. Below are some pictures we took as we accompanied John and his wife Linda to purchasing this local delicacy.

John’s parents home is located in the shores of Lake Tai or Taihu Lake. With an area of 2,250 km² and an average depth of 2 meters, it is the third largest freshwater lake in China, after Lake Poyang and Lake Dongting. The lake houses about 90 islands, ranging in size from a few square meters to several square miles.  This is a view of a very small portion of the lake and a corner of the farm we went to buy the crabs for dinner. Around this lake, in addition to the hairy crab farm we visited, there are many beautiful homes, hotels and vacation spots. Sunday rides around the lake it also seems to be a popular activity for many locals.

 

As we entered a small building where they sold the crabs these two gentlemen were busy selling some crabs to another customer. They paused for a picture without any reservations; they were very quiet, but seemed friendly.

As you can see this store doubles as a home or at least a place you can sleep. These gentlemen are sorting the crabs placing them in buckets according to their size.

Not sure what size these where, but they looked about palm size to me.

A close up shows the hairs on their legs. Not quite as nice looking as a blue crab, but a crab never the less.

This gentleman is tying the legs of each crab before they are sold to assure a orderly cooking process. I also imagine to make sure that on the way home the crabs do not organize a breakout.

 

The brief video below shows the process to tie the crabs legs and a brief look around the store.

After you have selected your crabs you leave the small house next to the lake and walk to the front to pay in cash. Quite efficient process.

I did have one crab and liked it okay. Not a big fan I must say, but we were very thankful for the invite as we enjoyed the company and great food (about 80% of it came form the Taihu lake area and John’s home garden). The hand made dumplings were fantastic as four other dishes that were very new to us. Thank you John and family!

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