Monday, 31 January 2011

Door knocker

Door knocker
Originally uploaded by joe with a camera
Not all that much to say about this one... it's a door knocker, after all! the wee beastie was lurking on the gate of a small, completely unmanned museum about the Ming Dynasty's activities on Xuanwu Lake (see previous post). Nanjing actually means "South Capital" and it was the capital of China back in the 3rd and 4th centuries, again from 1368-1421, and finally around 1912, when Dr. Sun YatSen (known as Zhongshan - yes, the same as that mountain behind our apartment) became the first president. The Ming era was particularly prominent in its history, and that dynasty's tombs are close to where we live.
But as I say, this is just a door knocker. It's probably even quite a modern door-knocker (most things in China are). But we liked it.

Wild Geese Flying

Wild Geese 2
Originally uploaded by joe with a camera
"Wild Goose Flying" is a classic t'ai chi movement, and there's a whole school of Qiqong centred on it. China is full of these recurring themes, and they're all inter-related... you see, it's not just the movement itself, but the mythology. Wild geese are traditionally associated with taoist immortals - those sages who achieved enlightenment through living in the world, rather than the buddhist perspective of seeing through it. They represent both longevity and freedom from cares, and also feature in Zen (which is literally a cross between Taoism and Buddhism).

Anyway, this gorgeous little statue is in the middle of a lotus pool on an island in XuanWu Lake, a major lake in the middle of Nanjing. A network of islands has been turned into a park, with gardens, museums, statues, and all manner of other things. At the moment it is also hosting an surprising number of giant inflatable rabbits.
We had to work quite hard to get the angle without a litter bin in shot, but it does seem to have worked. The lotus in the foreground is a type of large, and exquisitely gorgeous water lily. It's also edible - we've got a couple of roots in our apartment right now. It's going to be quite something come the summer, but this place has a charm of a different sort right now.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

tea set

tea set
Originally uploaded by hallucygenia
As Christmas didn't really happen for us, thanks to being ill and packing, we decided to buy each other late Christmas presents in China. Now we've discovered that when you live in a one-room apartment there really isn't very much that you need! We had the thought that, since we wanted to buy a nice tea set, we might as well do that now. So here it is.

The tea here is green, rather than "normal" UK black tea. It's drunk fairly weak, without milk or sugar. Many people carry around a jar or thermos with leaves in, which they top up throughout the day. This would taste awful with black tea, but with green the flavour tends to improve after several infusions.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Decorative cabbages

Xuanwu cabbages 2
Originally uploaded by hallucygenia
Today we went out shopping, to buy a nice tea set as a joint Christmas/New Year present to and from each other. Photo of that tomorrow!

On the way we passed through Xuanwu Lake, which is a scenic park with lots of little pagodas, statues, bamboo and interesting trees. Normally you have to pay to enter, but not at this time of year. The benefit of the cold weather is that it isn't crowded! We took a few photographs of various interesting things there. Joe has pictures of statues and so on on his flickr photostream. I took a photo of cabbages, because I think they look rather nice.

The disadvantage of the cold weather is that there it's too cold for most plants at this time of year. However, decorative cabbages are everywhere. They do give rather a nice effect.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The first photo of spring

I was taking some photos today from our office building (this is from the office we didn't get, alas). It was meant to be all about the temple on the skyline, but I was distracted by a student taking a photo of the first sign of spring. The snowy trees are covered with cherry blossom buds, and surrounded by shrubs covered in tiny yellow bells. I have no idea what they are, but they're quite beautiful things.

Despite appearances, this snow is already mostly melted - it's like the April snowfalls in the UK, brief and decorative, and has the feel of the last gasp of winter. The Chinese New Year holiday is technically the "Spring Festival", and I can imagine why - in a few weeks, the temperature is likely to have risen dramatically. For someone used to the slow change of seasons, the speed at which tthey change here is likely to be disconcerting. When the change is so sudden and predictable, this is absolutely the right time to have the New Year.

Next week is mostly a holiday, although we'll be busily beavering away - one paper submitted so far, and another three virtually there as well. I'm sure we'll find some time to see the festivities, though!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Snow on solar panels

Apparently snow is quite rare in Nanjing... but we'd only just got rid of the last lot, and now look! It's still falling at the moment, but isn't quite sure whether to be sleet or not.
It's amazing to see the difference between how people here deal with snow compared with the UK - don't forget they're even less used to it here. We had a few inches in the last bout, but immediately there were large numbers of people out with bamboo brooms clearing the pavements, and putting matting down outside their doors. Perhaps the traffic was a little bit slower (it's hard to tell at rush hour...) but other than that life just carried on pretty much as normal. I only wonder whether most UK workers would have the flexibility in the schedules to take part in the sweeping.

On a different note, the solar panels are good to see - most of the apartment blocks have them, which is probably a good thing given the inevitable pressures on the energy system in this country, I wonder whether Nanjing receives some of the energy from the Three Gorges Dam project, which is not too far away...

Our apartment

Our apartment
Originally uploaded by hallucygenia
Finally, we have internet in our apartment! This is what it looks like - one room plus bathroom, which is just out of sight on the right. We're on the 12th floor (11th by British reckoning) of an apartment building. We have a nice view of a mountain.

Note the air conditioner on the wall at the top right - it will blow hot air instead of cold, although we had rather a cold night before we worked out how to make it do this! Also note the carpetless floor. This all adds up to a climate in which the summer heat is more of a problem than the winter cold. However, it is below zero at the moment, hence the double layer of quilts on the bed. Fluffy slippers are not visible in this photo, but Joe is wearing them.

The cooker is just visible near the bottom left - more on that in another post!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Bugs already!

Welcoming party
Originally uploaded by joe with a camera
Hi All,
A quick update to explain why there are no updates... it seems there are big problems with setting up the internet in our apartment, due possibly to the service provider not setting up the IP address, and possibly just to us having foreign laptops. Who knows? Help is at hand, but we're getting nowhere as yet.

In the meantimen, this delightful chappie is Erthesina fullo, a common shieldbug in these parts. Those who know my appreciation for the things will be delighted to hear that he's hibernating in our apartment. He keeps giving us a bit of a scare by wandering around on the floor and other such hazardous places, but besides that is a delight to have around.

We now have an office as well - we're the first inhabitants of an ongoingly-refurbished old hotel building. Amongst the piles of dust and rubble in the corridors, I've also picked up a couple of dead ones - another shieldbug and some sort of alydid bug, I think. We're thinking it's going to be fun in the summer!

More soon, hopefully!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Luminous penguins, Prague

Joe has got the latest photos of Nanjing, so here is one we took in Prague last year, outside the modern art museum.

We're settling in, but haven't quite got regular internet access sorted out. With any luck we'll be up and running in a few days.

In the meantime, we're enjoying the food - our local supermarket sells at least eight different sorts of mushrooms, and has a tofu counter. Lime flavoured crisps are rather nice, but lemon tea flavour doesn't taste of much.

I'm enjoying being of normal height here - the straps for hanging on to on buses are at such a height that I can hang on to them without my arm going numb. I have also magically gone from being a small size in clothes to a large, without changing size or shape in any way.

There's snow lying on the ground here - some has fallen every night for the past few days. We're assured that the weather isn't normally like this, and it will warm up soon.

More later, with proper photos.


Monday, 10 January 2011

View from hotel, Nanjing

Arrived safely, staying in hotel until apartment is sorted out. The weather is cold, but no worse than it has been in England lately. So far we have acquired bank accounts and bus passes, with more paperwork to follow.

The journey to China went well, although it was long and tiring. The worst part was the two hours on the train to the airport with a trainful of football fans - how can anyone stand to drink beer at 8.30 in the morning?

More posts to follow once we have taken more photos.

We've discovered that, although we can make blog posts through flickr, we can't view the blog. So, if you leave a comment, we won't see it! We can access flickr, so can be contacted through there.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Quick Update

We've got shiny new visas! We've also got flights booked, a nearly-empty house, and a hotel for when we get to Nanjing... on Sunday. Eek.

We've had problems getting fossils shipped over to China, so some are having to be left with friends and relatives for picking up later on. We've been told there are a queue of people and fossils lining up to see us when we get there, so it sounds as though we won't be short of things to work on. I'm hoping there are a stack of undescribed bits of Chengjiang* sponges that people are suddenly dragging out of their cupboards now that they know there's a use for them...

We'll find out soon enough. And we're not scared at all, honest.

*For those not in the know, the Chengjiang Biota is an extraordinary soft-bodied fauna that has been known for a good 20 years in Yunnan, South China. It is very similar in some ways to the famous Burgess Shale, but is if anything even more diverse, and new fossils are being described all the time. The fauna includes everything from arthropods and worms to the earlist fish, and sea anemones. And some sponges, of course, although as yet nothing too revelatory. This picture is of one of the most common fossils in the biota, the palaeoscolecid worm Maotianshania cylindrica:
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.