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Blueberry Farm

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What happened to capitalism and what happened to communism?

At first we thought it would be a luxury hotel. Then someone said it was going to be a winery still others said a display home. Whatever was going up at such a rapid rate was looking quite interesting. It was going to be kind of French as there is a large development going on across the street called ‘Chateau de Bourdeux’. By the large scale developer Haichang Land Limited. They were over in Paris at a wine festival recently pushing our neck of the wood’s wines.

It was all a mystery until today when after two months of watching this thing being built it looked rather complete and we decided to have a look-see. The person at the front door of the mini-castle, built in a few months, was very friendly and invited us in. The fact he could not speak much English and our Chinese has yet to kick in did not matter. It also did not matter that we looked pretty scruffy. I had not shaved for a few days as it is Sunday and I slum it on the weekend and Narda was not dressed for a party either. We live in Campus Village across the street and have been watching the building from our window.

We really did not expect what we saw. It was like one of those USA Michaels arts and crafts retail chain store had dumped all their most tacky plastic stuff into one place for a showcase; Michaels on steroids. In the main area of the showplace thingy there was a pretend bar where we were served coffee. Wine bottles were everywhere as well as wine barrels. They do not sell or serve wine, it is just for looks. We asked to go on a tour of a display home and Peter (his Western name) Chinese people take on Western names because us simple people cannot pronounce their Chinese names. I know this is good at school, especially in my class where there are four people with Kim for a surname and Korean names I am unable to pronounce for their given names. The Chinese names are even more difficult to say, at least for me. In our office at school, Snow is the one that keeps us surviving in this environment and Sunshine works in the front office too.

So Peter shows us around the ten-million RMB house (about 1.2 million US). It is four-story and looks as if someone read a child’s picture book of France and threw in a bunch of made-in-China things, oh wait! This is China.

They are building 700 of these homes across the street from us. These are summer homes for the wealthy, mainly from Dalian. So far, according to Peter, no one has bought one because they are too expensive. But the idea is they will be lived in for four weeks a year as holiday homes. The rest of the time our neighbourhood will be empty except for us teachers.

We wanted at least a new restaurant or pub or some shops put in but Peter does not think that will happen.

What happened to capitalism and what happened to communism?

There is a video on youtube at http://youtu.be/dTioCA7Ct44

And that is where we live – in the back to the left of Narda on the third floor facing the castle for the rich Chinese and us school teachers get to live at Campus Village but we are happy and that is what matters.

Funny that I happened to be wearing my Tour De Francetee shirt today from when we were there last year in the real south of France. Those cranes to the right of me in the back are where they are building the 700 new homes as part of Chateau de Bourdeux. Go figure!! The blue roof in back of Narda is the school’s new swimming pool. In the hills to the left is Blueberry Farm and a great restaurant we all go to on Friday after school.

A Chinese Wedding

The Wedding! Someone else’s style.

Finally taking a weekend off from our full-tilt life. I think we took a weekend off several months ago in NYC and since then we have been on the go throughout months in Australia and now for a month in China. Today is five weeks since arriving on a Saturday morning at 2 am. We were so excited arriving in Dalian and meeting our new boss and entering our new home for the next couple of years. Since then we have had few stopping moments. It is after 8 on a Saturday morning and Narda is still asleep. I was up, as usual, before six. Every other weekend we have been off to Dalian or Kai Fa Qu on the school’s shopping bus. During the week? Well we work and after school we are off to Kai Fa Qu on the shopping bus or riding our new bikes to the Jinshitan market, or walking to Golden Pebble Beach in the morning before school. It is not just us, half of the teachers are where we are too. Last night we walked the five-minutes over to the Blueberry Farm. The food is really very good there. It came out to be about $12 USD for Narda and I with about seven dishes, about one vegetarian. The eggplant and sweet potato are my favourites.

The exciting new news is that we have found out what a big project going up across the road from us is. We have been watching a few French-type buildings go up and it does look like southern France. This is across from the large development called ‘Chateau de Burgundy’ which I spoke about in my previous blog http://blog.neuage.info/?p=34 it is a winery that will be selling wine from the new Golden Pebble Beach Grape Valley vineyards, just a bike ride away. This will surely make the school day end that much more pleasant. Actually we found an Aussie pub, The Jinshitan Kangaroo Bar, (read about it on the Dalian Expat Page)  a fifteen minute walk away on Jinshi Road at Jinshi square near Discovery Kingdom and the sprawling over the top Yosemite housing area for the Intel and other wealthy non-teacher types. Yes there is a Disney-like-theme-park just down the road along the beach from us. Narda and I will pop in someday when we need a break from whatever it is we would need a break from.

According to a blurb I found online about the Yosemite development; “The resort area is located approximately 40km away from the Dalian central city. Tourist attractions already established at the Golden Pebble Beach include: Golden Pebble Golf Club (on the top ten best in the world list), Golden Rock Park, Waxwork Museum, China Martial Arts Hall, Mao Zedong Badge Exhibition Hall, Model Art School, and the International Hunting Club”. Oh yes there is a hunting club nearby – between the constant fireworks, the 24 hour a day building across the road and the hunting club nearby this gets to be quite the noisy place. It is a different noise than New York City – I have gotten use to it, though I do wake suddenly when a lot of fireworks are set off. There is a university – an art school, a technology college (this is China’s Silicon Valley) and a fashion school – nearby and those students love their firecrackers. Another piece on Yosemite says “The “Oriental Yosemite” is the biggest comprehensive tourism project in the Golden Pebble Beach State Tourism Resort. It is created by the Dalian Luneng Realty Co., Ltd. with 15 billion Yuan investment. A few days ago, another two projects were started. They are the Golden Pebble Commerce Centre and the Golden Pebble Ocean Hot Spring.” 15 billion Yuan is 2,349,580,000 USD, so it is nice to know they are spending some money on housing in our neighbourhood.. There is a bigger project than Yosemite nearby and I will put that into a video I am doing of this area soonish.

Other news: I got a soy milk maker for my birthday – and even though the instructions are in Chinese somehow I got the thing to make me a cup of milk from a cup of soybeans – seems like quite an effort but I know it is not going to have lots of other stuff in it. Another item to add to my tofu site at http://tofu.neuage.us  It was more than thirty years ago when I started making soy milk and from that, tofu for eight years, in Adelaide and now I am in China with my little soy milk maker all these years later. Tonight I am bringing tofu burgers to our neighbour’s birthday bash.

School is great – I will have some news about stuff regarding that in a couple of days. I am writing up on my educational blog http://neuage.us/edu/blog.html later today or tomorrow or sometime soon.

Life is so different here at Campus Village. We seem to have lots of instant parties. Someone’s birthday and we swarm – beer is so cheap (though I am told not very good) here. Tonight it is actually a planned party, and I am making tofu burgers – seems I am stuck in my ideas of anything new. I never lived in a college dorm but I am told life in them is similar to this; a cross between a college dorm and a timeshare apartment. It seems we are on a permanent holiday.

This blog is not really about all that is above. It is about the wedding we went to last Sunday. Our first Chinese wedding. Aside of leaving Sunday morning on the ‘shopping bus’ to Dalian at 7.30 Am when all we wanted was a big sleep in we were most entertained. The groom was one of our IT staff. The first part was having a toast in the couple’s house. Marriage in China is a long drawn out event. They were actually married two months earlier, but the presentation or whatever it is – like coming of age or something was last Sunday. First of course was the fireworks – I will start my video off with that, which I hope to post tonight in between parties – after all we have that dorm-type of life with stuff always happening in our building. The teachers all live in this building, and the administration and couples with children live in the next resort like building. We have two floors of living, then the lobby and a restaurant and in the basement, the gym and recreation room. Like all couples here we have a two-bedroom apartment, so when you come to visit we can put you up; single people either get a one-bedroom apartment or a loft. People tend to not like the lofts; they are two-story with an open floor plan. I think if I was single I won’t mind, especially if it was in Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne, New York City or wherever there was a city. We are out in the country, about an hour from Dalian or half an hour to Kai Fa Qu which is a city-suburb and fifteen minutes from Jinshitan but Jinshitan  is not really an expat type of area. There are about 16 apartments per floor here at Campus Village and I think only a couple of them are empty. There is a guest apartment for when one of us need a place to put visitors – in-laws and people like that (down the hall and not in our apartment – just kidding mum/dad). There is a huge shopping mall being built not far away so that could make shopping easier though we prefer to go to the local Jinshitan market and haggle for already cheap as can be fruit and veggies. Then before long there will be the new city they are building, supposed to rival Hong Kong they say. There is a model of it which we keep meaning to slot in time to go see that is really quite impressive. With the new city there will be the new China movie industry headquarters. They have been building the infrastructures for years with huge freeways (everything done in China is huge) and lots of land clearing including the leveling of three large hills that I spoke of a few blogs ago. It will rise up between Kai Fa Qu and where we live here at Golden Pebble Beach. There will be a world-class yacht arena too. I think we are mid-way through a ten-year plan for that.

After the fireworks the groom comes in then the bride all dressed in drag (no not New York City drag) but wifey just married drag (OK so that could be NYC too). Then lots of stuff is said in Chinese. There is a table with bowls of fruit and a plate of cigarettes – they love their cigarettes here. And some stuff is drunk. Then a little boy jumps up and down on the couple’s bed – this is too bring good luck and a male child, then they throw nuts on the bed, not sure why, but perhaps that too is in hopes of a male… then flowers are tossed on the bed and well us males from the school kept our hands to our self, and then the couple closes the bedroom door for a while and us male teachers as well as most of the female all have our thoughts and try to keep them in check. The parents have a bedroom too as the trip here is that the parents get together and buy a new apartment for the couple and I think when they get old one set of them gets to live with the kids. Not sure how that works out, perhaps they throw dice or arm wrestle to see which couple gets to do the old age thing with the couple. It all seems quite awkward with this one kid policy they have in China.

At some point we all take off the slippers that were given us when we entered the apartment and head out to the bus and go to the reception. The reception was in a huge banquet hall with about eight people per table. I end up with about four other couples from our school and we just were plain silly. The beer was flowing and so was something that was about 60-proof, and it was only ten in the morning. There was lots of food and of course a plate of cigarettes on the round thing that the Chinese love to put on tables and that us westerns just spin around. I guess I broke the silly barrier when they put the lone chicken head on the plate on the revolving table and I stuck a cigarette in its mouth and sent it for a bit of a spin. It is in the video – you’ll love it. I also like the part where the bride-chick comes around and puts a chocolate or a cigarette in each person’s mouth (though she missed the chicken). That too is in the video. Overall we were there for several hours and got home late in the afternoon wishing we had another day to the weekend.

Today, Saturday, Narda went off to Kai Fa Qu shopping and I had a day home puttering around. She came back with a printer/scanner, lots of food and bags of stuff. It is still hot here though I think it will cool down soon.

Narda will be writing in her blog tomorrow, forgot what but I know she has said a few times of the past couple of days, “I am going to write about that in my blog”, so don’t miss that at http://blog.narda.us

Next Thursday I am off to Shanghai for a few days for an IT conference and Narda is taking a four hour drive with several of the women here to some really cool city north of here for a few days. It is a long weekend, with Monday some sort of national holiday. A lot of the people are going north to Dandong where the China-North Korea Friendship Bridge is. I really wanted to go but couldn’t fit it. It is only a couple of hours away so Narda and I will go up in the near future for a weekend.  And that is all from here for today.

Dalian Days and Dalian Nights

Three weeks? I thought it was just a few days ago that I wrote a bit of a blog. It has been such a full-on section of life with non-stop everything. I look out the window and see (and hear) the 24 hour a day building across the street with eight cranes in one area and several a block away along with jack hammers, lines of trucks, and just so many workers and just like life in China it just does not stop. On the way to nearby Kai Fa Qu, Dalian counted 41 cranes working on buildings in the 25 plus story range – apartment buildings, then I saw as many a few kilometers further. And there is the new city they are building nearby that will not only host the new China movie industry but will have a yacht marina and housing for zillions or so people. The area across the street from us will be million dollar homes (yes this is China) in a walled-in area called ‘Chateau de Burgundy’ and a block away what they are building is identical to where we were touring a year ago in southern France. It is even being built to look old. french chateau next to Dalian American International School
french chateau next to Dalian American International School

As I sit here trying to get caught up from the past three weeks I hear the fireworks. It is 6.30 AM Sunday. This is China – fireworks and more fireworks. They love their fireworks. Anytime of the day or night there will suddenly be a barrage of them. Whether here in the countryside, or in downtown Kai Fa Qu or along Golden Pebble Beach, downtown Dalian, or where we shop locally in Jinshitan (which is also Pebble Beach – go figure) there will be smoke and ashes and noise of the fireworks.

The water to Pebble Beach (Dalian Golden Pebble Beach National Resort is the first National Resort approved by the State Council of P.R China, the main function of which is for hosting foreign guests) was turned off for a couple of days. We filled our bath tub and every bucket we could find but since it was Friday we decided to go into Dalian City (about an hour away) for the weekend when school let out. Two other couples went with us. We took a car in (our driver we call Jack, not that we know who Jack actually is, we just all have Jack’s phone number on our phone and we ring Jack wherever we are and a car soon arrives and we are taken where we want to go. It is often a different driver each time. We just go up to the car and say Jack? and they nod and off we go. We try not to look out the window when in a car. It is the scariest thing you could imagine. Where there are three lanes marked, ‘Jack’, or the shopping bus, or whatever we are in, often makes a fourth lane. Drivers rarely signal and everyone goes really fast, beeping horns and coming so close to constant disaster. I had to go into Dalian for some medical stuff last week and my driver was easily doing close to a hundred coming back – it was a van. We came to a blocked area of the freeway so instead of patiently (there is no patience in our neck of the woods) he made a sudden turn off the freeway up a dirt construction road around a hill and got back on the freeway further up where there was no traffic jam. It was absolutely terrifying. Oh, and he was on his cell phone most of the time. I suppose he felt he had to have me back at school as quick as possible so I won’t miss any work. And of course there are no seat belts.

So this past Friday, with no water into our building or the whole area we went into downtown Dalian. Outside of too many dealings with government officials to get my working visa finally through we had not been in Dalian, except for one night we had a school trip to Brooklyn, the expat pub and pizza diner in downtown Dalian. Once our driver fought his way through the heavy traffic going into the city (we went in two cars for eight of us, four couples, and six of us ended up at the same hotel) and dumped our bag in our rooms we went out in search of a meal. Our Chinese lessons begin next week so for now we depend on our electronic translator. We went into a restaurant that covered several stories. When we made enough gestures to prove without any doubt that we were starving we were sent up to about the fifth or sixth floor. After being herded into a small room the food started coming out and we cooked it in boiling somethings on our table. I have a video (and photos) that I will post soon on my Dalian Page http://dalian.neuage.us/ that shows what would be too difficult to explain. Needless to say the food was really good and we had some of the best laughter up to that time.

So after dinner everyone seemed to be in the mood for a drink (it is difficult to keep people over 55 from partying) and we went off into the night. Near our hotel was a 30+ story hotel with a name very similar to ours (so we initially thought we had booked into the wrong place) and we were riding up and down the elevator
looking for a pub type of area and on the fourth floor saw a sign that seemed to mean a place to have a drink. We barged into a room that had a bar and lots of alcoholic bottles on the shelf only to instantly be met by about a dozen women with tight red dresses. Realizing that we must be in the wrong area we looked into another room with the same response. (I have a video of this too but I think we were laughing so hard – damn rude Westerners, that it may be a bit shaky – it will soon be on my Dalian page in the video section). The third room seemed better as no women in red tight dresses greeted us. We sat down at a long table on comfy sofas and hoped that someone would soon be in with the drinks menu. Instead two people came in and started handing out microphones and put on the large TV screen, we realized then that this was actually a karaoke bar/room and Shawn, one of our traveling mates/teachers/new found friend, said that we had a friend downstairs waiting for us and off we went into the night again. We never did find a place to drink. Like pirated DVDs prostitution is illegal in China and like pirated DVD’s they are everywhere. We saw girls with flashing neon badges dressed to the nines and signs that read ‘sex’ with large arrows.

The next day, Saturdaywe headed to Zhonshan Square and had lots of fun shopping, hopped on a falling apart bus because we were so tired to go to the Ikea store outside of downtown Dalian. We showed the driver an Ike shopping bag and he held up three fingers so we paid the three yuan (47 cents USD, 45 cents Australian) and as all drivers he made his own lane which in our case was the opposition direction lane. Somehow he squeezed back into the lane that was our direction as cars came racing toward us and next we knew there was Ikea. I wanted to go see the aircraft carrier that China is building which is only a few blocks in back of Ikea but with all the bags of stuff we had purchased and five tired old people trailing behind me it was not going to happen. We ended up just buying lots of Swedish food because we need a change from Chinese food and then Narda and I went to the Decathlon sports store next to Ikea and bought really good bikes and helmets an locks and etc. which will be delivered in a couple of days. Hopefully we won’t get killed ridin our bikes on these incredibly dangerous road ways. We plan on doing lots of riding. Then we took the light rail, so crowded that we barely got in – New York City subway you hold nothing on a crowded Chinese tram.
[dudes with hats]
our new red-star hats

The shopping bus leaves Campus Village (where we live) on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday morning. It stops in Kai Fa Qu on the way into Dalian. We use to go in during the week but after a day at work we just go in on Saturday to Kai Fa Qu. Two weeks ago we walked the hour hike to the light rail that starts in Jinshitan (there is a planned station for our school but it may be another year or two before it happens) and took the 4 yuan half hour ride and fortunately got a seat in and after buying way too much stuff we took the shopping bus in the afternoon back home. Home is great. It is like living at a four star (five star for China) resort/hotel. We are sparsely furnished but it is OK– our heap of junk we shipped from NYC won’t be here until October. We have a two bedroom apartment with a balcony (there is or will be a video in our video area of my Dalian site) for some photos see http://dalian.neuage.us/photos/Aug%2012%202011/ (sorry about the URL will fix it sometime). We have a gym on the first floor, it is not the New York Sports Club which I took a liking to for the past five years but there are some machines and heaps of free weights so I get to stretch and groan every day. Then there are the guards. Not sure why. It is safer here than most places we have lived. The whole property, Campus Village and the school have a large fence all around and there are guards at every entrance and every building. Twenty-four hours a day. They are not the doorman they are guards usually dressed in army uniforms. Whether they are protecting us or being sure we do not suddenly move out I am not sure but they are friendly and we have learned to say ni hao (hello) but I said hee haw for the first couple of weeks – probably means something not nice.

Narda and I found a small shopping area twenty minutes walking away. It is so local, and so cheap. We both got haircuts for 15 yuan – about $2.50 both haircuts look quite Asian.

School so far is great. After teaching at the NYC Charter school, Ross Global Academy (the Courtney Sale Ross, widow of Steve Ross, the former C.E.O. of Time Warner, experiment in education which was closed down by the city of NYC for its momentous failure) this is such a contrast. The kids are behaved, want to learn and we are having a great time. I make big mistakes such as asking if anyone could speak Korean as my student was not following me at all only to be told by a Korean student that ‘he is Chinese’. And names? Forget it. Most of the Asians have taken on names like Tony and Oscar. Our life-saving secretaries, Snow and Sunshine keep things rolling. I still have not had time to set up a VPN so I can get on Twitter and Facebook and post my new lots of video on youtube but I have an eighth grade student who has found a Japanese VPN that he is setting up on my machine. I have several students whose parents work for Intel nearby. Campus Village not only houses the teachers for DAIS but for the big overseas companies that are moving into this area which is kind of a Silicon Valley of China. They live in townhouses and we live in apartments so there is a difference but we are not complaining. Narda likes having a maid and getting our house cleaned and clothes washed and ironed but I am not sure – though it is cheap, it seems a bit unnatural to me.

The building around our area makes me dizzy but in the midst of it all, across the road, five minutes away, is the Blueberry Farm. A very large area with a pub, tea rooms, lake, streams and a great restaurant. Nine of us trekked up to the restaurant a couple of Fridays ago. Nothing was in English, fair enough, this is China. I managed to get across I was a vegetarian and the first eight or nine dishes that came out were so amazing, some of the best food I have ever have had. There was so much food, and beer, and soda and at the en it came out to about eight dollars USD each. I have a couple of photos http://dalian.neuage.us/photos/BlueberryFarmDAIS/ and will put a video soonish in the video area of my Dalian page.

We rarely watch the news. There is just too much going on here. We get about 35 channels, mostly Chinese but we do get HBO, BBC, CNN and an Australian channel so I have gathered some of the males over to watch Aussie Rules Footy. It looks pretty grim in the States. I know we have lost about 15% on investments in less than a month and we have no intentions of selling houses. We are becoming quite removed from the rest of the world and we are happy with that. We have a two year contract which we may or may not renew or maybe they won’t want us. It does not matter now. We feel like we are on a holiday and life is just great. We have begun planning our trip to Hanoi for our October week break. Everyone here, being from the States, or in our case, Australia-States, the talk of travel is the number one conversation (after the academics of course – hey we are working) and where everyone is going is compared and shared. We are off to Australia for Christmas than to the ice festival in Harbin in January and maybe India for spring break then the States for a couple of weeks for summer than on to Australia then back here. I am so happy I managed to stay alive this long. There were some very rough years and for now life is great.

Well Narda is off with some ‘girls’ to get a foot massage in Jinshitan. They have rung ‘Jack’ and several cars are on the way to collect them. Me? I am finally having a bit of time to myself, think I will work on so many dozens of videos I have started and perhaps do some lesson planning for next week and edit some photos, go to the gym, take a walk, take a nap – it has been such a full-on three weeks, make tofu burgers for din din and try to figure out how to use my soy milk maker that Narda bought for my 64th birthday eleven days ago.

Next weekend we have been invited to a Chinese wedding so that will be fun. Apparently it is a good thing to invite or have westerners at a Chinese wedding and these are big events here.

Narda has a great blog – well she has posted some and more is waiting to be posted after her foot massage today. blog.narda.us
tri color city in Kai Fa Qu
just a pub in Kai Fa

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yesterday perhaps before