A snow day in Suzhou

Trip Start Aug 22, 2010
Trip End Jul 01, 2011

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Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday January 21, 2011
Today is a snow day in Suzhou! It is clear sunny and beautiful but more snow had been forecast so the school is closed! The shock and chaos that swept the school was incredible yesterday when they announced that the Spring Festival holiday would start early. I was in the midst of teaching a grade 10 math class when one  of the Chinese teachers entered and made the announcement.  Cheers erupted and I had no idea what was announced!  I asked William to explain, but his English is so limited he could not.  I asked one of my now dancing and jumping students to explain what William had said - I could scarcely believe my ears.  There have been endless discussions and concerns over the number of days in session, trading Saturdays and Sundays of work, making us do 8 and 9 day stretches straight, in exchange for only 2 four day weekends coming in April and May... and now suddenly and without warning we had 4 days cancelled?  I dashed over to the offices building and asked Pat - the Principal!-  what was up.... he didn't know about the decision or the announcement! How very typical of our existence here as foreigners. We were all completely gobsmacked, but I must say delighted.  So here I sit at home, just finished 2 hours tucked in bed hiding from the cold of the house, finishing an amazing book Madonna had lent me: Peony in Love by Lisa See. A wonderful and incredible read. It is an historic novel, set in Hangzhou, where I've been twice, in the 16th century.  It explores the role of women in Chinese society, the superstitions around ghosts and serving one's ancestors, a marvellous insight to the history behind practices continued today. I absolutely loved it.
Earlier in the week when it first snowed I dashed off to Mudu Old Town at lunch to snap a few photos.  It was the day John left for Hong Kong, so I didn't have the good camera, but still wanted to capture the look of the canals covered in snowy surounds.  Leslie, Courtney and I were joined by Chinese teacher Linda and we had Music Man (of taxi fame) drive us at lunch.  I've been here for 5 months now and it was first time off-campus for our 2 hour lunch break. (Which speaks volumes about how much work there is, that a 2 hour lunch always flies by with prep to do, and in 5 months I hadn't managed to get off campus!) Old Town was very quiet with most of the shops closed.  It was a lovely walk, but we struggled to find anywhere to eat.  At the south end of Old Town we emerged onto a busy street and settled for what are called 'coffee-houses'.  They do not resemble coffee-houses at home, and the food tends to be overprices and terrible:-) Never mind. Our meals were predictably terrible, I got a picture of Leslie's which was very like my own that arrived 15 minutes later.. and then we retreated back to school. 
As I write, John is still in Hong Kong having adventures of his own. His visa expired on January 20 so he was advised by my school to travel to Hong Kong - considered leaving China - and apply for a 3 month tourist visa. Of course, information wasn't as it was presented and 3 month tourist visas are no longer available in Hong Kong! John called this morning and explained his new double entry 30 day visa! He will return to Suzhou on Sunday, using one of his entries and be able to stay in China for 30 days. He will then have to exit again and will be granted one more 30 day stretch upon his re-entry. We are in the midst of researching how to tackle the next application... so visa challenges will be continuing!  Eric, another teacher from our school, is also in Hong Kong with his visa problems, and he and John are now playing tourist together.  I look forward to seeing John's pictures when he gets home on Sunday... I'm sure a blog posting won't be far behind:-)
 My own pictures to share from the happy-snap camera are fairly varied.  Last weekend we ate at a large restaurant in SND with Tom & Louisa, Leslie and a friend of her's, Andrew. The noise in the restaurant set a new record in my dining experiences.  There was some sort of office party, Chinese New Year coming up, celebration going on.  The men were crouching on the floor and using the chairs for arm wrestling, there was much toasting and chugging of alcohol also.  There were kids loudly grabbing the party's microphones too adding who knows what to the various announcements.  I took two videos to capture a moment of the scene - beware it is loud. I also took a photo in the restaurant of the chair covers that are used when we dine out.  After you put your coat and/or purse on your chair back, the restaurant staff drape the chair with a fabric sleeve.  I think it is to protect and secure your belongings? This restaurant's covers were red, but many have been purple or yellow. 
I also took a few pictures of the Mao statue across from the school.  Back near Christmas someone draped a red scarf on the statue and I've been enjoying it ever since.  Once snow arrived this week, I had to take yet another photo.  I biked in the snow the first few days, it seemed more like slush anyways, but on the third day with snow, as I went to leave the house at 6:30 am., I realized yet more snow had fallen and I had best abandon my bike plans. I phoned Jen next door and joined the taxi load. She had heard my door open and figured I was about to call! The day before I had heard an e-bike wipe out just after passing me heading the opposite direction. The driver seemed to pop up to their feet, so I don't think they got hurt, but the roads have been incredibly slippery. Our hot water went on the blink again this week, but John got it going again and I've been keeping the tap dripping while he's been away and so far I have hot water! It's now time to peel off the multiple layers of fleece I'm wearing and brave said shower:-) Madonna and I are then going to go for a walk in the snow.  Tonight there is a music event at downtown Suzhou's 'bookworm' - a westerners retreat/bar of sorts. Tom and Louisa are going to meet me there for 7 pm. Madonna is going to show me where she gets her hair cut downtown as it is time for me to get tidied up a bit.  It'll be the second chapter of pampering since the school's snow closure.  Yesterday I joined Madonna and Jen for their massage outing.  I haven't been since the group outing a number of months ago and I must say I quite enjoyed it yesterday.  As you enter the massage business there are a number of plastic cards with numbers on them by the counter. These numbers are of the girls who are working at the moment.  Madonna suggested I choose 618 - one of her favourites... very generous of her as she chose an unknown-to-her 'number'.  I found 618 to be wonderful! 150 minutes later we emerged $17 Cdn each poorer but feeling very pampered.  Parts of the experience really are great: the foot bath, the 'hammers' they use to pound the bottom of your feet, I could have that for hours instead of the 45 minutes you get! Some of the other techniques are fairly jarring and not at all my idea of a good massage.  It is all done through your clothes in various positions: sometimes sitting, sometimes lying down, mostly just reclining on a lazy-boy type chair. All the while there is a tv on, which we do have a remote for, but the remote does not control volume? We had it on a Much-Music-like station with Brittany, Avril etc, not the drowsy instrumental stuff I associate with massage.  I read my book for part of it and shared other bits of conversations and laughter in various bits of Mandarin and hand gestures with our 3 girls doing the massages, Jen and Madonna. When the girls were done with  us, they left us with our tea and peanuts.  After another 15 minutes we put our shoes back on and wrapped ourselves up against the cold and headed back out into the snow where Music Man was there to drive us home. So different than life back home!
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Jen on

Life at home is different. I miss my Friday Foot Massages! I hope you all have a wonderful traveling time together!

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