Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hiking Near the Tea Fields

Lately in Hangzhou the weather has been quite warm, reaching the high 50s and low 60s during the peak of the day. It was colder before and I think it's going to get back down to the 30s and 40s later, but for right now, the weather has been great. When I was living in Chicago, we'd get about 5 days all year with weather this nice, so I figured I should take advantage of the sun and warmth while I can. One of my Chinese friends named Master knew about a hike that takes you around the tea fields and ends up at a university's campus in Hangzhou, so last weekend we went. It was a relatively short hike, but it was cool because I had never seen the tea fields so close. What I think was most interesting about the tea fields is that they're grown on the hillside on terraces, which made them look pretty cool. Apparently Hangzhou's climate is very favorable for green tea leaves, which is why the Longjing tea is one of the best in China. Because it never gets too cold in Hangzhou, my friend said they are able to harvest the tea leaves twice a year. It surprised me, though, how much like a normal bush or shrub the tea plants looked. I honestly could see the tea plants being in someone's front yard in American suburbia. But then again, my eye is very untrained in horticulture and I am probably dead wrong. Here are some of views we saw:
Tea Fields
View From Above
Besides the tea fields, we were also able to see some of the surrounding hills of Hangzhou. Hangzhou definitely has some of the best nature of the mid-size Chinese cities. By mid-sized, of course I mean about 6.7 million people in the total urban area (although that number is a bit hazy depending on how they measure it). By China's standards, though, that is not even in the top 20 largest cities. The hike we went on is only a 30-45 minute bus ride away, so most of the hills, gardens, etc. are very accessible from the city. While there are not what I'd consider mountains in Hangzhou, it's still nice to be able to do some hiking.
Hills Near Hangzhou
Hills Near Hangzhou
As you can see from the pictures, many things are still green during the winter, although a lot of the trees have lost their leaves. I'm not sure if it was a foggy day or if that is pollution floating around, but Hangzhou normally has pretty good air quality. After we finished the hike, we got some excellent lunch at the university campus, then walked to the big river just outside of Hangzhou. The river connects eventually with the ocean and my friend said that every year, due to some natural occurrences with the ocean tide, the current of the river reverses and a huge wave goes down the river. Everybody gathers to watch it and somebody always gets injured watching at some of the places closer to the ocean where the wave is biggest. I'm pretty curious to check it out.
The River
There were also a lot of people fishing in the river. Each person would have anywhere from 5-20 fishing poles placed just a few feet apart. Mostly the guys seemed to just be sitting around and I have a hard time believing that they catch many fish from that river. They must, otherwise they wouldn't fish there. The water definitely doesn't seem too clean, though. I hope that's not the fish I am eating at the street vendors here in Hangzhou. They have these fish grilled on kebab sticks with this spicy seasoning that is so good. I suppose sometimes you have to sacrifice dubious cleanliness for delicious street food.
Fishing in this River?
It's always nice to see some new areas around Hangzhou and there are still a lot more places I haven't seen. Come spring time I'll have to see as much as I can before it's 95 degrees and extremely humid. By that time I'll turn back into sweaty foreigner mode and will be confined to A/C controlled buildings. (By the way, being an extremely intelligent person with a computer engineering degree, I just noticed there is this feature that allows me to make my pictures "Large" instead of "Medium". Who woulda thunk it? Surely this is the bleeding edge of technology. It only took me around 20 blog posts to figure this out. D'oh! By increasing my photo size, this should boost the effectiveness of my blog in conveying information to the public at large by at least 57%.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An Interesting Massage

This past weekend I went out with a few Chinese friends. After the night was pretty much over, one of them suggested that we go get a foot massage. The massage places normally stay open pretty late and they are also quite cheap, at least compared to massages in the US. A 90 minute foot massage, including some tea and fruit, cost a little less than $10 (60 RMB). I've had a few massages in China, but don't get them that often. However, when invited, I like to go. The masseuses are normally girls in the 18-30 age range. It also seems that a lot of times most of the people getting the massages are men. Perhaps this is no coincidence as I have heard that some massage parlors offer multiple "services," if you catch my drift. Fortunately, though, the place we went was one of the more well-known parlors in Hangzhou and was legitimate. Normally when they give a foot massage, they'll first bring out some boiling hot water for you to soak your feet in. After that they'll spend considerable time massaging your feet. For the unaccustomed, foot massages can be pretty ticklish, but after you've had a couple, they're pretty good. Don't underestimate these skinny girls, though, as they will give you some deep tissue massages that will leave you sore the next day. After they finish with the feet, sometimes they'll do your back for a short time. However, this time they presented us with an interesting alternative. Basically, they have these glass globes that are a little larger than the size of a baseball. They will light a fire inside the globes to make it hot and then suction the globe to your back, which indeed is a little painful. After the globes are firmly suctioned, they'll leave them on for about 10 minutes. At the time they just said that the suction is "good for the health" without providing many details, which is a typical Chinese response to some kind of action that doesn't make sense to a Westerner, but is supposed to have some health benefits in Chinese medicine. After some research online, I found that the suction is supposed to be good for "detoxifying" your body. Those ubiquitous toxins always seem to be causing trouble. Despite the potential health benefits, the side effect of this suction therapy is of course some huge hickeys on your back. Try to look cool when you have nine large, dark circles on your back. I think I will get this massage therapy before the next time I plan on going to the beach. That way I can demand the respect of everyone who sees me. I took these pictures when I got back that night. I'm pretty sure you've never seen a physique as nice as mine is before, so just focus on the suction marks. You will have to pardon the crooked pictures, as they were taken by me standing backwards to a mirror.
Suction Marks Still Clearly Visible
This is a True Mark of Manliness
They say that the marks will last about one week, but mine are still quite visible after 5 days. Maybe it will take almost two weeks for them to completely go away. I took a few more pictures the day after when it was light outside so that it would be easier to see.
I found a video on youtube that is pretty much exactly what I got. This guy got a few more cups than I did, but the process is exactly the same. Check it out: . See how the skin gets sucked up into the globe? This type of massage might be worth trying, but to be honest, I don't feel any health benefits now that a few days have passed. I think next time I'll just stick with the usual massage.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Christmas 2008

For all of those readers who are mainly interested in my posts about China, you are going to have to endure one more family oriented post as I wrap up my time spent at home over Christmas. My time back in the US was spent doing two main things: spending time with my family and eating as much food as possible. Since all my family and extended family lives in Utah, I was pretty much able to see everyone while I was home. I even found out that my technology savvy grandma reads my blog. I was pretty happy to hear that, so I have to give a quick shout out: "Hi Grandma, hope you're doing well". One of my favorite parts of going home is being able to spend time with my brother Kyle and his family. He and his wife Amy have two sons, so that makes three nephews total for me. I don't need to say too much about them, besides the fact that they're awesome kids and are a lot of fun to hang out with. Unfortunately, I didn't take too many picture of their family, but I have a few.
Parker Enjoying a Bagel
Parker and Kyle
Gage and Parker with the Remote Control Car
As I mentioned, I also ate a lot of food while I was in Utah. With all the family parties and eating out, I must have gained back at least some of the weight I've lost being in China. It was great to eat some American food that I can't get in China. My lust for delicious burritos was sated by making a trip to Chipotle, satisfying my addiction for the time being. I even made some vintage Wes-Allred-style bean dip.
Bean Dip a la Wes
While I was in Utah it snowed and snowed. We definitely had a white Christmas and I enjoyed seeing that much snow. The great thing about Utah is that when it snows, everything becomes more beautiful and the mountains look even better. When I was living in Chicago, snow meant a double drive time commute, salt stains on the bottoms of my slacks, and a general level of filth with the black slushy snow that would eventually materialize on all public sidewalks.
Snowy Mountains
My House
Snowy Mountains
My Dog
Those are the basics of my time home for Christmas 2008. It was great to be home for a couple weeks and to see all my family there. In closing, here a few pics from the plane ride back to China when we were flying over Alaska and meeting the ocean. Unfortunately, the pictures don't do justice to how beautiful it was in real life.
Alaskan Mountain Range See Anything Interesting (See Close-up Below)? This Looks like a Face's Profile, Right? Where the Ocean Meets the Land
Clouds and Frozen Ocean