Monthly Archives: September 2015

Guest Post – How I Spent Three Weeks in China by Thea van Diepen

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By Thea van Diepen:

In the summer of 2013, I went to China to visit relatives – no, they’re not Chinese, they just live there. 😛

It was my first time ever being off the North American continent, my first time travelling alone, and my first time in a country where I only knew two words of the language (previously, I’d been to the U.S., Belize, and Mexico. So, yes, I know a little Spanish). It was also the first time I’d gone to visit my relatives, instead of seeing them when they came here to visit.

And it was super cool.

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The only picture I have of myself from the trip – I was too busy taking picture of everything else!

My relatives live in Chengdu, which is in the Sichuan province. The Sichuan province (“si” means “four” and “chuan” means “river”) borders Tibet, and a lot of Tibetan people live in the mountains of that province, as well as in the cities. It’s an area known for its spicy food, and Chengdu is known for being very hot and humid. And probably other things. But that humidity is pretty darn hard to ignore. 😛

For the first couple of days, I stayed in Chengdu with my relatives and processed all the newness around me.

Because everything was new. I’d made it a point before the trip not to have any expectations of what I was going to see and experience. Since I’d never been to China before and had only heard about it and seen pictures, I knew that none of the ideas in my head about it would be accurate.

Which was such a good idea.

I remember the ride from the airport to where my relatives live, seeing all the buildings, the signs, the cars. The traffic patterns.

The cars there are smaller than here in Canada, for one thing. And the shops are open at the end that faces the street (unless they’re closed, at which point it’s literal as well as figurative), which would be crazy here because of how cold it gets, but is perfect there because it lets the breeze in.

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Not Chengdu, and I don’t think those are shops along the street, but you get the idea

Oh, and the food is amazing. It’s the perfect amount of spicy for me, which is hard to get in Canada outside of Asian restaurants, and so, so flavourful. I returned from that trip with a lasting love for baozi (steamed pork buns, eaten for breakfast), numbing pepper (not spicy, but it makes your tongue numb for a few seconds when you chew it), and this one dish with pork and garlic shoots (which are sweet!).

Baozi, my one true love :3 And a couple regular steamed buns

Baozi, my one true love :3 And a couple regular steamed buns

Then, for about two weeks, we went into the mountains to see some Tibetan towns and villages, putting our lives in the hands of bus drivers. Seriously, they drive really fast there, and the roads along the mountains don’t even have the nice guard rails they do in Canada, so I spent most of the bus rides not looking down.

We stayed at guest houses, walked the streets, got asked by some very nervous police officers to sign a waiver written in questionable English, ate lots of in-season fruit, and enjoyed the beautiful, beautiful scenery and architecture.

One of the guest houses we stayed at

One of the guest houses we stayed at

One of the meals we ate there

One of the meals we ate there

My copy of the letter given to us by the jumpy police officers after we signed the waiver

My copy of the letter given to us by the jumpy police officers after we signed the waiver

I took in as many details as I possibly could. The shapes of buildings, the texture of stone, the way everything was on an incline because we were on the sides of mountains, the tell-tale signs of fields and houses way up in the mountains.

The colours are different, the mountains are different, the air is different. We were up so high, I felt like I could touch the blue curve of the sky if only I reached enough. And, fascinated as I already am with clouds, I loved how they would wrap around the mountains in mysterious, eerie perfection. The opening credits of Mulan with inked drawings in the background made a lot more sense to me after seeing that.

The coloured pieces of cloth along the roof of the bottom house are prayer flags, meant to protect the house and collect karma as they wave in the wind

The coloured pieces of cloth along the roof of the bottom house are prayer flags, meant to protect the house and collect karma as they wave in the wind

On the way back, we saw yaks, bought a pail of fresh yogurt, got giggly with a touch of altitude sickness, and tried to get our driver to dance to the music playing from his car as the valley spread out below us and the huge, huge sky.

See what I mean about that sky?

See what I mean about that sky?

We hung out in Chengdu during the last days of my visit, where I got to fulfill my second goal of the trip: buying an erhu! It’s a musical instrument, also known as the Chinese violin, known for its beautiful, emotional sound. If you’ve seen the first of the new Star Trek movies, then you’ve heard it in the music that related to Vulcan.

An erhu, beautifully played by a performer at the Sichuan opera

An erhu, beautifully played by a performer at the Sichuan opera

I also (finally) learned more Mandarin than just ni hao (hello) and xie xie (thank you), and I also learned some Amdo (a Tibetan language), all from the same teacher. She didn’t speak much English, which made our lessons interesting, to say the least, but we had a lot of fun and I really did learn quite a bit.

After that, it was time to head home.

And home was beautiful, too.

A sign at the Chengdu panda park

A sign at the Chengdu panda park

Many thanks to Thea for her guest post!

11th October 2014 – No.65: Get Married

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_DSC2797Elliot and I met in 2007, at a shared friends birthday party. After that, he moved away for a while but when he came back to Hastings, he rented a room at my daughter’s dad’s house and we started to notice each other a bit. Elliot is extremely shy and I am just a bit dim about other people’s opinions of me, so we went around liking each other for ages before we realized the feeling was mutual. We started dating on May 8th 2011 and got engaged when on New Year’s Eve 2012. We set our wedding date for the 14th October 2014.

Elliot and I signing the marriage register

Elliot and me signing the marriage register

We stayed at different houses the night before so we could get ready separately.  I spent the morning at my mum’s house with my sister, daughter and the rest of my bridesmaids. The morning passed in a flurry of dresses, make-up and warm pain au chocolat, with less stress and panic than I’d suspected there might be, other than getting rained on a bit on the way to the car. Our wedding was taking place at a venue called the Azur, which has stunning views as it’s basically on the beach. Incidentally, it’s featured in the movie Byzantium (quite a lot of it is filmed in Hastings, where we live), so if you want to see what the room where we got married looks like, you can see it in the scene where Saoirse Ronan’s character is playing piano.)

Hannah's Cat form the traditional archway

Hannah’s Cat form the traditional archway

Arriving at the venue, I waited with my mum for my interview with the registrar (for those of you who are not English, they have to do a last minute interview before the ceremony to make sure it’s all above board.) I was feeling pretty nervous by this point, but happy nerves. Eventually the Master of Ceremonies said it was time, so I went into the hallway and joined the rest of my bridal party. My morris side was there to support me and they kicked things off by processing in, accompanied by live music. My bridesmaids Sue and Lou went next, followed by my twin sister and my daughter, who was scattering rose petals.

 

Elliot and me with our Lucky Sweep

Elliot and me with our Lucky Sweep

At that point, I realized I’d left my bouquet in the kitchen sink. There’s a rather funny photo taken at the point I told my mum this; she looks horrified.  Finally, it was my turn, so I took my mum’s arm and we walked in. I could see Elliot waiting for me, looking awesome in his suit. We did the part of the ceremony where my mum gave me away (when I first asked her to give me away she wasn’t keen on participating in what she viewed as an archaic idea of male ownership of women, but I pointed out that to me, it was more like saying, ‘I’ve spent my life loving this person and now it’s your turn; I’m trusting you to look after her heart.’ Then she was OK with it.)

Photograph ALL the guests!

Photograph ALL the guests!

The ceremony went pretty flawlessly, Elliot came in too soon on one of his vows and ended up saying “I will” twice. When it was my turn, I did the same thing as a little joke. We signed the register and processed out of the wedding room under the tradition arch of staves my morris side does whenever one of us gets married. We had some time then for drinks and congratulations and for photographs. We got several with our Lucky Sweep. It’s a dying British tradition that a chimney sweep at your wedding brings good luck and this particular sweep is the one who cleans the chimneys at my mum’s house -he used to make the brushes dance out the top of them to entertain me and my siblings when we were children. Since it had stopped raining and was actually quite beautifully sunny, we went outside for more photos, taken by Matt; the son of a friend of ours named Barny who had quite a hand in getting us together, since he was the one who told each of us that we liked each other and this is what resulted in our first date.

The bridesmaids and grooms men with the happy couple

The bridesmaids and grooms men with the happy couple

There are always an enormous amount of photos taken at weddings, so the photo-taking went on for some time and took up most of the gap between the wedding and the meal. I got a lot of compliments on my dress, and most people were surprised to discover it had been made for me by a very good friend out of about £30 worth of curtain fabric (we had a very low budget for our wedding.) We’d paid for a special package provided by our venue, the Azur, called the ‘Grand Wedding for a Grand’, so £1000 got us the venue, the master of ceremonies, a three course meal for 50 guests and the use of the venue for our reception at no extra cost. They were even happy for us to bring our own buffet for the evening. The meal options were very nice, a choice of gnocchi or winter root soup for starters, chicken breast in Marsala wine or  (actually, I’ve forgotten what the vegetarian option was because I didn’t eat it) for the main and warm chocolate brownie with mint ice cream, or apple crumble for dessert. Elliot bucked the menu, he said it was his wedding day and he was having steak, so he did. There were some rather envious looks when it was brought in sizzling away on a hot stone platter.

First drink together

Our first drink together as a married couple

The meal was of course followed by toasts, which we kept limited. Elliot’s cousin Be made one, since he was the best man -it was well put together and very funny. It is also the reason large numbers of people now refer to us as ‘Lizziot.’ My mother made a speech full of in jokes for me, which was very sweet but lost on most people, especially as my mother is a very quiet speaker and most of the room couldn’t hear her. Elliot wasn’t going to make a speech but ended up doing it off the cuff after our Master of Ceremonies announced him as doing one (obviously assuming he was planning on it.) It was short, simple and perfect. While dinner was being digested we took the chance for some more photo’s and then went back inside to socialise and welcome our evening guests.

My morris bells and Elliot's Joker socks

My morris bells and Elliot’s Joker socks

Our evening entertainment was a fantastic ceilidh band called the Sugarloaf Band and we had a whale of a time dancing the night away to their wonderful Irish music. Elliot and I had our first dance alone, consisting of an awkward shuffle in random circles because neither of us can waltz. We did actually try to get lessons but our teacher kept cancelling on us due to laryngitis, so we gave up.  Fortunately with ceilidh dancing you have a caller giving instructions, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the dance, it’s just a load of fun. It’s also not that easy in a fishtail dress.

Swapping headgear...

Swapping headgear…

We spent a happy evening chatting to our guests as they enjoyed the dancing and buffet, and all the guests that weren’t Elliot’s family commented on how many of the guests actually were his family -Elliot has a very large family and we had them visiting from places like Denmark and America as well as all over England. For our wedding cake we’d selected a chocolate cake shaped like a caterpillar. I thought it would be a waste of money to buy the usual fondant covered fruitcake that you usually get at weddings and I figured a party cake from our local Marks and Spencer’s would do fine (and it did.) Since Elliot’s cousin Sam had used a sword to cut the cake at his wedding, I’d been joking to Elliot that we should outdo him and use an axe -I was quite surprised when he suddenly produced a giant battle axe (courtesy of Be.) We duly used it to decapitate the caterpillar, which was funny until Be said ‘Now it’ll never be a butterfly’ and my daughter started crying. I think she was pretty tired and overwhelmed by then.

Cutting the cake :)

Cutting the cake 🙂

All good things come to an end and eventually we had to go home. Surrounded by joy and good wishes from our loved ones, we piled into a taxi with all the gifts, which we wouldn’t open until the next day. We got back happy and exhausted, made some tea, got into bed and watched Armageddon, since it was on TV.  It was a perfect day and I couldn’t have had it go any better.

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The doomed caterpillar cake meets it’s fate