Overdue blog entry, no thanks to Facebook

Filed in Stress Busters, TravelsTags: ,

A month ago today, I was in Taiyuan Zoo visiting Feng Yi’s firstborn, Gong Gong. I was on a 17-day panda trip to visit 22 pandas in seven cities. Taiyuan was the fourth city. If I’d been a bit more organised, this post would’ve been written at the time I was there.

If I’d been more organised, I would’ve written daily posts about the various cities and pandas during the trip. The first time I thought about writing a blog entry, I realised I’d forgotten my password for my Chet’s Chatter blog. Not surprising as my last blog entry was more than a year ago in April 2015. And I blame Facebook for it.

The reason I thought about posting on my blog was because Facebook is blocked in China. Facebook has taken over the need for a blog. It’s only when I’m in China and have no access to Facebook that I remember Chet’s Chatter. It’s not fair to my blog. But I’m digressing …

So a month ago today, I was in Taiyuan Zoo. It was my second day there. The entire 17-day trip had actually been planned so that I would be in Taiyuan on the 17th and 18th of May. Why? Gong Gong turned 33 months old on 18 May. That’s why.

I’ve been visiting Bifengxia Panda Base every May since 2009. I’ve tried to be there every 12th of May, the anniversary of the 2008 earthquake. When I was there in 2014, I also visited Gong Gong and was with him when he turned 9 months old on 18 May 2014. Although I returned to Bifengxia in August that year to celebrate his 1st birthday, I knew I would not be able to be there every year for his birthday which is only five days before his mother’s. So I made a promise to myself to be with him every year on 18 May instead of 18 August; at least, I would be with him on the right date, even though not the right month.

So I was with him on his 9th and 21st “monthdays”, both times in Bifengxia. And I was with him on his 33rd “monthday” this year. This time it was not in Bifengxia; he and his buddy Shun Shun had been moved to Taiyuan Zoo in October last year. There was no hesitation in choosing to be with him instead of being in Ya’an on the earthquake anniversary.

As it turned out, I did not miss the earthquake anniversary – the eighth this year – but spent it in a most meaningful way; I was with my second adopted panda, Gong Zhu. At the time, I didn’t realise how significant it was that I should be with her on that day. If I’d blogged about it a month ago, that significance would’ve been missing from the write-up. It was only after I returned home, when I thought back to my visit with Gong Zhu, that it became clear to me why I was with her on 12 May 2016. So maybe it was just as well that I forgot the password to my blog and didn’t get round to writing up about my trip until now. Again I digress …

So I got to be with Gong Gong on his 33rd “monthday”. That’s 2 years 9 months. The last time I saw him before this trip was in early November, the earliest I could see him after learning that he’d been moved there with Shun Shun.

Enough rambling. Here is Gong Gong’s 33rd “monthday” photo and a couple of videos from my visit a month ago. Hopefully, I will write about the actual visit to Taiyuan, plus my visit to the other six panda places, in a more organised manner soon.

Feng Yi’s firstborn, Gong Gong, at 33 months old on 18 May 2016GG-160518-1

Getting around Guangzhou

Filed in Travels

I’m very impressed with the Guangzhou Metro. The last time I was there in September 2007, there had been none, at least not for me. It was my first time there and I had only two days, so I got the hotel to get me a private car to take me to Guangzhou Zoo to see Shi Shi, and Panyu Safari World (as Chimelong Wild Safari Park was then known) to see if a panda there by the name of Dong Dong was Bai Yun’s mother (she was).

This time I took the Metro. I thought it hadn’t existed back in 2007 but a quick google proved me wrong; it has existed since 1997, with the Hanxi Changlong station, the stop for the safari park, opened in 2006 and the Zoo station in 2009.

Back in 2007, I paid 300 Yuan for the private car; this trip, I paid a total of 40 Yuan for two day passes costing 20 Yuan each. I didn’t visit both places on the same day as I was told the best visiting time was in the afternoon for both so I did my visits on two consecutive afternoons.

There are altogether 15 lines and almost twice as many interchanges but no confusion at all in taking them. On each train, announcements for the destination and next station names are repeated in Mandarin, Chinese and English, and also rolled out, ticker style, beneath the line’s map and in sync with the announcements. The station names are also lit up on the map and dimmed as the train leaves each station. Before boarding the train, passengers can also see, above each door, the name of the station they are in, which line the station is part of, as well as the name of the next station either to the left or right which also serves as an indication to the direction of the train. There is also a line map similar to the lit map inside the train. For passengers changing trains, the line names are also colour-coded to show them the way.

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At Ouzhuang station; next stop – the Zoo!

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Sign above door to train at Zoo station

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Similar sign at Hanxi Changlong station

That was not all. The first time the first train we took rolled into a station, I looked for the name to see which station and was surprised to see it in “handwritten” Chinese calligraphy (the main signage) and “printed” Chinese calligraphy (on pillars). However, the station names are only in Chinese.

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Zoo sign in “handwritten” calligraphy

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Hanxi Changlong sign in “handwritten” calligraphy

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“Handwritten” and “printed” calligraphy signs for Ganding station near our hotel

One other thing which impressed me: the next train announcement features not just the expected wait time for the next train but the next three trains, and not in a ticker-style format but on a TV screen alongside the news. As with the station names, these announcements are also only in Chinese.

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Next train in …

After two days in Guangzhou, I know the Metro enough to send directions to a friend who will be there soon; I mean the directions to the two stations that matter most – Zoo and Hanxi Changlong.

365 nights ago

Filed in Family

It’s a year since mother left us on 23 April 2013.

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There are two things that stand out from that night of nights.

The phone call

I’d set Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as the ringtone for the nursing home, so that anytime my phone rang with that piece of music, I’d know it was from them about mother. Most times, the calls were to let me know I needed to bring some item or other for her the next time I was going there. But on the early morning of 23 April 2013 when I was awakened by that familiar tune, I knew at once it was the call I’d been waiting for.

“Your mother’s gasping, you better come now.” One of the staff said when I answered the call.

I sat in bed, feeling very anxious but telling myself I needed to calm down because I needed to call my sister and to drive over as soon as possible if we wanted to see mother one last time.

In the end, we did not get to see mother one last time. Later, when I thought about this, I realised that mother passed away surrounded by the people closest to her: not her children but the carers who’d looked after her during her final year.

The moment mother passed away

We were driving past the school that was along the way to the nursing home. I was thinking about mother and realised I was thinking of her in the past tense. I would later find out that that moment was very close to when the Lord had taken her home and the Holy Spirit had prompted me that mother was now a part of my past and no longer in my present or future.

One year on

So it’s a year since mother left, and nine years and eight days since father left on 15 April 2005.

mother-1st_ann-2-apr2014Their last photo together

I used to wonder how I would deal with not having both of them around. I told a good friend I might have to move away because my parents were so much a part of where I was staying and the places we frequented together. And I did move away after father’s passing, but only from the house I’d shared with them. It so happened that the lady renting my apartment said she would be moving out to her own place so I was able to move in to mine in early 2006.

It was hard the first few months after mother left; I would commemorate the 23rd of each month, remembering exactly how many months since. Saturday afternoons were the hardest cuz that was when my sister and I would visit her. Gradually I adjusted, not even commemorating the 23rd of the last couple of months leading up to this day, the first anniversary of her passing. But some Saturday afternoons, I would find myself suddenly thinking where I was a year or so ago, visiting mother, sitting next to her, sometimes holding her hand, and always feeling some response from her as she grasped mine in return.

mother-1st_ann-3a-apr2014One of the last times we held hands

Walking Stats 2013

Filed in Health

According to my pedometer and the log I kept, I walked a total of 2,615,596 steps in 2013. Sounds impressive? This averaged out to 7,166 steps per day, less than the recommended 10,000 daily steps. Granted, I was told to walk less for the last six weeks of the year due to a broken bone in my left foot. Then again, the numbers would have been less if not for my four trips to see my beloved pandas throughout the year. Needless to say, the highest numbers were recorded during two of those four trips (May and September).

As for aerobic steps (more than 60 steps per minute measured after the first 10 minutes and continued), the total of 604,980 aerobic steps accounted for only 23% of the total.

I look forward to doing better in 2014. I think I need more black and white visits, too.

Found in Ya’an: A Muslim neighbourhood

Filed in Food, Travels

We were trying to decide where to have dinner this evening. I mentioned a preference for beef or lamb and Amy, my good friend at the panda base, said how about we go to the Muslim neighbourhood.

There is a Muslim neighbourhood in Ya’an? I was intrigued and agreed to check out the makan shops there.

It was within walking distance of the hotel. She wasn’t sure of the way and stopped to ask a couple for directions to the mosque. They pointed to a spot across the road.

I was expecting a grand mosque, and was surprised with how modest it was.

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My first sight of the mosque in Ya’an. Two doors away to its right is the office.

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The main entrance.

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Past the entrance, the first doorway, with what I think are sayings
from the Koran in Chinese.

The makan shop next to the mosque was full so we opted for another one across the road. The meal we ordered was a familiar local favourite with halal ingredients.

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Halal hot pot just put to boil. We ordered beef, tofu, meat dumplings
and straw mushrooms.

Something very familiar …

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Cili padi!

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Green chillies, Ya’an style.

The only thing missing was the soy sauce.

I’m happy to find this Muslim neighbourhood in Ya’an for the Zoo Negara vets and keepers who will be visiting soon to train ahead of Fu Wa and Feng Yi’s arrival in Malaysia next year. From what I’ve heard, a main concern was food. No need to eat instant noodles all the time while here, guys.