Vacation in Korea 10-3-11

October 3, 2011

When we flew into Seoul from China we were accompanied by many Chinese on vacation. It is National Day, here, equivalent to Independence Day in the U.S. There was a man standing at the Seoul entrance welcome area holding a cross with “Believe in Jesus” written in many languages. I don’t know if he stands there all the time, or just when Chinese nationals are coming in hordes, but I appreciate his missionary work. We aren’t allowed to talk about religion in China with Chinese citizens at all. That Korean man with his sign was doing his best to preach to the people we can’t talk with.

We got in late to Seoul and checked into our hotel, the Astoria Hotel. On Sunday we went to church. It was conference in Salt Lake, but here in Asia we watch conference the next weekend because of the time difference. We were greeted by an older man who spoke good English. His name was Brother Cho. He was the first bishop in all of Korea. He was bishop for 15 years. He oversaw the building of the chapel. He gave us a tour. There were only 24 in attendance. One of the ladies told us that 34 members had just moved to a suburban ward. There were wards all over the map in Seoul. They will probably need to adjust the boundaries.

This whole week is Chinese National Holiday. Korea is very close to Beijing, so there are an estimated 70,000 Chinese tourists in Korea this week—including us! It hasn’t been bad, though. It is a bit crowded in Seoul, but lots of fun. We came to Korea expecting it to be like China, but it isn’t. The architecture in Seoul isn’t as beautiful as in Shanghai, but the average home looks nicer and cleaner. The apartments in Shanghai for most people run from shacks to rusty looking places in need of paint. There are some beautiful apartments in China but they are very expensive, and mostly for expats whose businesses subsidize their rent (like ours does). Here the regular apartments look kept up and nicer, at least from the outside.

The whole city looks cleaner. In Shanghai, only the tiny shops in dirty streets have the best deals. Here in Seoul the shopping was cheap and in fun looking places. Traffic in Seoul is different from Shanghai. Seoul doesn’t have all the bicycles and electric scooters we see in Shanghai. Drivers in Korea stop for pedestrians, and they don’t honk as much. In Korea, the public toilets are mostly real toilets instead of squat pots. Squat pots are ceramic holes in the ground. Most westerners don’t know how to use them at first.

We are in the Seorak mountains of Korea. Yesterday we took a bus from Seoul, which is on the western side of Korea, to Sokcho, which is on the eastern side of Korea. The whole trip took 2 ½ hours, and we went from coast to coast! We ate at a small diner near the bus station, which had a great wonton soup and another soup which had a kind of strange fermented soybean flavor that I didn’t like too much but Dad liked it, so we switched soups.

Then we took a taxi (about $16, more expensive than in China) a little way up the mountain to our wonderful hotel. It is a beautiful British style hotel called the Kensington Stars Hotel. It is right outside the National park entrance, so we can walk five minutes to the park. Yesterday we took a cable car up to the top of a mountain. At the top were some rock formations that reminded me of Snow Canyon. They weren’t red, but the rounded shapes were really easy to climb up. We climbed up quite a way. When we came down, it was dark. The lights of Sokcho gleamed in the distance.

Today Dad and I went to Seoraksan National Park again and climbed a mountain. In Asia climbing mountains usually involves stairs. Today’s hike ended with a very long system of stairs and ladders. The path had also been “paved” with large flat rocks that probably come in very handy during the rainy season. We are here in the dryer fall, when they aren’t so necessary. The terrain on the way up was deciduous forest. I could almost imagine I was in the Appalachians until I came to a huge statue of Buddha and a temple complex. We climbed to the top of a huge rock formation that reminded me of the southwestern USA. It was granite, not sandstone, though. I had a serious case of jelly legs when we finished that climb. I didn’t have jelly legs after Angels Landing in Zion’s park, but I really did today. At the top was a view of the mountain below, the ocean in the distance, and a guy selling souvenirs and candy bars from his stand. Kind of like finding a McDonald’s at the top of Mt. Everest! One nice thing about the hike was that at regular points there were refreshment stands and nice bathrooms. They don’t have bathrooms in the middle of hikes in the U.S. , but sometimes I would like them to! Halfway down the hike we stopped and had an overpriced onion pancake. It was very tasty, with lots of green onions and seafood in an eggy crepe. I needed the rest and the conversation with Portuguese man and his Brazilian wife was very pleasant. I find that all the westerners we encounter in Korea this week are on vacation from their jobs in China, just like we are.

Subway accident 9-28-11

September 28, 2011

Here the sky is usually hazy, but last weekend a strong wind blew all the haze out, and we had beautiful clear blue skies. The weather has been lovely, too, in the 70’s and dry. I don’t know where to start to tell you about what our life is like here. Every little thing is so different from the life we knew. Instead of a big house on the ground, we have a small apartment very high up. Instead of a large yard with apple trees, we have a gorgeous view of the Shanghai skyline. The buildings here are skyscrapers built with a space age theme. Many of them look like something out of science fiction, but huge. Instead of taking my car everywhere I want to go, I take the subway or the taxi.

Instead of going to the grocery store and buying many bags of groceries, I buy only a few items from the E Mart, because it is more expensive than other options. In the large store, there are very interesting things in the meat department. There are live snakes, frogs, and fish. When you see a frog, think “dinner!” Parts of animals we don’t eat are there, like feet and fat, and squirrels, and tendons. I buy only a few items at a time, because I need to carry it all back to my apartment, which is next door. I usually only buy meat there, and milk and yogurt. I try to avoid things like intestines, snakes, and squirrels!

Most items are much cheaper to buy from the tiny little shops on the street. I didn’t dare go there much before last week because I was afraid to have to talk to people with my halting Chinese. Now, though, I buy everything I can there. Two weeks ago I needed a new light bulb. I went to the EMart and two electronics stores. They didn’t have it. The tiny little shop across the street had it, though. Another tiny little shop had a wok, silverware, a mop, a squeegee, an electric power strip, etc. Very close, down another street, is a man who sewed a seam on my blouses to make them smaller because I bought them for $3.00 each without trying them on at a different shop. He also irons clothes very cheap.

At a different shop I bought a pair of sandals that actually fit my wide feet. A few days later, when the sole came off the sandals, I found a shop that would cut a new sole and put it on the sandals. When the Apple store wanted $35.00 (converted from yuan) for a little plastic screen cover for my iphone, I found a place where they would cut one custom for me for half the price.

Dad bought me an iphone, which I coveted for its great aps: a map that shows where you are and where you want to go, a taxi driver app that shows the taxi driver in characters the address of the place you want to go, a compass, a translation app that will even take a picture of characters and translate them. It cost about $800.00. I think that is way more than iphones cost in the U.S. but it helps me get around a city where I can’t read anything.
Yesterday there was a subway crash on line 10, the train we take every day. The crash occurred on the line between my stop and the very next stop. In the afternoon I heard multiple sirens wailing concurrently for half an hour before I stopped working to see what had happened. I looked right outside my window where I had a birds eye view from the 18th floor right above the commotion. There were lots of fire trucks, police, ambulances, and buses. I assumed it was a traffic accident, but I couldn’t see any mangled cars. It was strange. I counted 25 ambulances, which would sit still for a while in a line, then drive off and more would come. Buses would be loaded up and then drive off. There were at least 70 police keeping all the crowds at bay. I went downstairs to see what happened, and a man told me it was the train. Later I heard that one train rear ended another train (10 or so cars each). The reports are not all consistent. My friend told me It happened at 2:00 p.m., but no one came to rescue them until 3:00.She said that the cell phones, which normally work in the subway here, didn’t work. The emergency pull didn’t work, either. People on the crashed train were able to post photos on twitter, however. Very strange.

Jeff heard yesterday that the driver was killed. Today he read that the switching control system had a glitch in July which sent a train to the wrong place, but was supposed to be fixed. Yesterday, though, it broke and they were using manual controls. The driver of the first train was told to stop. He stayed stopped for 40 minutes. The people on the train were concerned that they would be rear ended, because the trains usually come every five minutes. Reports say they pounded on the driver’s door. Then another train hit them. Reports say 290 people were injured, some seriously. 95 people are still in the hospital today. The line 10 train was not open today. In April a high speed train was stalled and hit from behind. That accident killed about 40 people. A switching system was at fault in that accident also.

Ambulances at Laoximen in Shanghai after the Subway Crash

For good news, our new ayi (maid) started working for us today. She will come every morning for three hours. Maybe I will be able to study Mandarin more diligently if I’m not doing dishes by hand in water that was boiled just to be safe. Today I also had a tutor this morning. We mostly talked about how to say things like “please wash the windows,” and “mop the floor.” This afternoon I went with a neighbor to the fabric market to see the place where a person can get anything made from any kind of cloth. The silks were beautiful. I didn’t get anything, but I think I will get something made. I can pick a dress style and have it made a little longer, with a bit of a sleeve. Right now I’m waiting for the water delivery man to bring two large bottles of water for our water machine. That’s how we get clean water to drink. A man on a bicycle laden with many bottles labors up the street bringing water to people. That’s a hard job. He always shows up with a smile on his face.

I guess I better go cook dinner. We are having broccoli beef. I finally got serious about cooking after I bought a wok and a pressure cooker. I can even cook cake in my pressure cooker, although I haven’t done it yet. I did make some carrot pudding. It is like carrot cake without the eggs, and with grated potato. It’s gooier and yummy with ice cream or cream. Note from after dinner: My broccoli beef turned out great! I didn’t like it much when I made it in the U.S. I think I have better ingredients here. The beef was awesome and tender. It was a bit expensive (about $6.00 for a small steak). Maybe I will learn how to cook better Chinese food now that I am in China!

Beijing 9-18-11

Yesterday we went to our district conference. Elder Sam Wong is the area authority who attended along with our district presidencies. President Dyer is our District president. He showed a picture of his favorite scripture story. It is a picture of Christ from Mark 2: 1-12 where a man sick of the palsy is let down through the roof. President Dyer likened it unto us. We are all charged with bringing our friends to Christ. When there were difficulties, the friends went to extraordinary lengths, even taking up the roof tiles and lowering their friend with ropes. They were not discouraged, they persevered. We cannot physically bring our friends to Christ like these men did, but we can help them find Him in their prayers. Elder Wong added to the story, noting that the men had to be perfectly unified as they let the man down with ropes. If one of them were too slow or too fast, the man would fall. He likened that to the Relief Society, the priesthood, and the missionaries all being unified.

Our district includes several cities around Shanghai. There were a 46 BYU students from Nanjing who sang two songs for us. Suzhou, Hongzhou, and Shanghai are also included. There is even a virtual branch for those in remote areas where there are no organized meetings. What a blessing technology is! When we were in Beijing, I found out that there are parallel meetings for Chinese nationals in Beijing. They can’t attend with the expats. They are not allowed to talk to each other about the church, but there are Chinese members who can attend meetings run only by other Chinese citizens. The members I talked with said they thought the same might be true for Shanghai, but they must meet in a different building from us. In Beijing they use the same facility. I forgot to ask at church, but I will try to find out.

We had a lovely time in Beijing last week. We flew instead of taking the train. We stayed at a five star hotel for only $100 per night. It was the International Hotel. It is in the financial center, which had no business since the weekend was a holiday. That is probably why we got such a good rate for a lovely hotel. The other hotels in the tourist district were all more expensive for dumpy hotels. We were just a five minute walk from the metro station. We took the metro all over. We went first to the forbidden city. It is a large complex of beautiful buildings. We also went to the great wall at Mutianyu, which is a mountainous region. We climbed up to the wall, and could see it snaking over the mountain peaks. It was a lovely place. We went to the summer palace, which is where the emperor’s family could go when they got bored with the forbidden city. It is a large garden with a lake and many houses. The last empress spent all the money earmarked for modernizing the navy and the military on building new fancy houses and a marble boat (stationary) That is why she was the LAST empress! As soon as she died, the military was overthrown by the next leader. I can’t remember his name. When he tried to make himself an emperor, the people threw him out. Mao eventually took over.

We saw the temple of heaven complex last before we flew home. There are actually lots of temples in China, just not the right kinds! That reminds me, we need to buy tickets to Hong Kong for our temple trip on November 4-5th. Hong Kong is 771 miles from Shanghai. It’s kind of an expensive trip! I wonder if there are overnight trains like there are to Beijing. They are sleeper trains. You sleep in them overnight and arrive in the morning to Beijing. I’ll see if we can get them. They are in some ways preferable to flying because they are cheaper, and you arrive earlier in the morning.

Fast and Testimony Meeting 9-5-11

Yesterday we had a wonderful fast and testimony meeting. I’m so glad the government watcher up in the one-way window got to hear it, too! He/they are the only mainland Chinese citizens who get to come to our church meetings. There are guards at the door making sure no mainland Chinese citizens come in. The testimonies were so good I took notes. I’m sure listening blessed his life, too!

One young wife bore her testimony. Her husband teaches at the college here, and is also a cage fighter. Last week at a fight she prayed that he wouldn’t get hurt. Unfortunately, in the first round he got a blow to the head that gave him a severe concussion and two skull fractures. When she saw him go down, she thought, “that isn’t a very good answer to my prayers.” Then she felt strongly that she should go to him. She went expecting to see him resting, but instead, she arrived just in time to ride in the ambulance with him to the hospital.

They were at a remote area south of Shanghai. He was taken to the local hospital, where they didn’t give him pain medication or a bed. He was stable, though. She prayed, “Should we leave him here at this provincial hospital where he is stable, or should we risk taking him to a better hospital?” She heard, “Take him to a better hospital.” At the second hospital they diagnosed the second skull fracture, gave him pain medication and a bed. She said that even though it was the most scary weekend of her life, she felt closer to the Lord than any other time. She knew he was watching over her and her husband.

A mother from Taiwan bore her testimony. Her daughter is old enough to go to seminary, but they live fairly far from Shanghai. They don’t have enough money for a taxi ride every morning to get to seminary. The first day of seminary she and her daughter took a taxi ride on faith that the Lord would help them find a way. That night, her husband found that a bus line goes right from their town to the house where seminary is held. The bus used to start at 6:30 a.m., which would be too late. Just recently, the bus schedule was changed to start at 5:00. They feel so blessed that the Lord made a way possible for their daughter to attend seminary. The daughter certainly is blessed. Think of her preparation. She started by taxi on faith that there would be a way, and the Lord provided the way. The daughter has to be on the bus at 5:00. She needs to get up early enough to get to the bus stop by then. She is certainly making a sacrifice to attend seminary. Think of the blessing of meeting with other LDS students every morning and studying the scriptures. I’ll bet you wish you could have been blessed to get up at 4:30 to attend seminary instead of sleeping in til 5:30! Just kidding.

A young single sister from India bore her testimony. She was Buddhist and joined the church because of the good example of her boyfriend. She was impressed by his righteousness. One time she was scared and he prayed for her. She felt his spirit. His influence led her to take the discussions. She stressed that she did not join the church just because of him. She developed her own testimony that she could not deny.

Since my last post, Jeff fixed my iphone problems better than the mac store did. I feel much more competent now. I can look at my app and tell what Chinese word I’m looking for. I can look at the map of Shanghai and see exactly where I am compared with where I need to be. I can look at the map of the subway system and see where the nearest metro station is. I can text the name of a place to a phone number, and they will text back the address. I can show a taxi driver the Chinese characters for the place I need to go in great big font. I feel much more sure of myself now. Jeff is a big blessing to me.

Yesterday after testimony meeting I substituted for the Sunbeam class. Four adorable little three-year-olds were there. It was fun! After church we went to Century Park, a big park near the church building. All the parks here are gorgeous.

We were invited to the home of a Chinese couple of professors Dad helped in Detroit. We went from the park straight to their home. We had been fasting until their home, so we gratefully ate the fruit they offered. After an hour and a half, we were about to thank them and go home, when they said it was time to go to the restaurant. It was just around the corner from their home. It was so lovely in Chinese style. We were in a semi-private room with beautiful wood carved screens between us and the next table. The food was so delicious. We enjoyed every dish. They had invited a friend who speaks good English. He is another professor at their school. He said every year they hire 5 Americans to come teach English. The fact that I have a teaching certificate would prove my qualifications even though the teaching certificate is not in teaching English. That would be something I would be interested in if we end up staying here longer than we thought.

This weekend we are going to Beijing. We booked a five-star hotel for just $100 per night by getting a hotel in the business district—a little bit away from the tourist sites, but close to a metro station. The hotel caters to business travel, which is nil for the holiday weekend (it’s the Mid-Autumn festival). That is why we got it for a good price. We plan to see the forbidden city, the Summer Palace, the temple of heaven and maybe the Great Wall. We’ll tell you about it!

Qibao 9-2-11

Here, everything is an adventure. We go to some fun place every day and see some new thing. We also have time consuming little problems to fix. For example, Wednesday I had breakfast in a café in the tallest building in China, walked on the bund by the river and the skyscrapers, rode the ferry across the Huangpu river, met the Shanghai American Women’s Club in a posh area coffee shop not too far from my apartment, ate at two different restaurants in downtown Shanghai—and spent all afternoon at the Apple store trying to get my overly expensive iphone to work properly. Fun and trouble all in one package!

Church is on the east side of the Huangpu river, the Pudong side. Pu refers to the river, and dong means east, so the name of the area just means east of the Huangpu river. Xi means west. The area we live in is called Puxi, meaning west of the river. Pudong has new huge skyscrapers near the river, and nice apartments for the expats who work here. Many of them live in Pudong because there are two good international schools for their children. The Puxi side of the river has more tourist sites, more shops, temples, restaurants and subways. The expats who live in Pudong have to have drivers because there aren’t very many subways. Many of the expats in Puxi have drivers, too. There are two branches of the church in Shanghai, Pudong and Puxi. Both meet in the lovely conference center at a car dealership. It takes us about 45 minutes to get there by subway. All the members are expats because you have to have a foreign passport to attend.

We met many new people on Sunday. Many of us feel the Lord has brought use to Shanghai. It does seem to take a lot of faith to live here. The branch president and his wife raised a large family here. They believe the Lord brought them here. The only period of their marriage where they were forced by job reasons to live in the states was for a period where the wife ended up needing surgery. Their children are raised now. We also see the hand of the Lord in our move here. We felt very blessed in many little ways as we made arrangements to move here. I’ll have to detail them in another post.

There were about 6 young men passing and blessing the sacrament. One of the announcements was about seminary. After the meeting, one of my new friends talked to another parent about how to get their children to seminary. It meets at 5:50 at the teacher’s house. The subways aren’t running at that time. There are three students in the seminary class. The distances are greater than in Appleton because Shanghai is a large city. One of the parents has a driver, but doesn’t think the driver will want to rise that early to take his son. The other parent said her husband is out of town a lot and doesn’t want to drive every day either. I think they are going to end up carpooling. I was impressed at the extra effort it takes to attend early morning seminary here. Our sons made a serious sacrifice to attend seminary in Appleton for four years. The youth in Shanghai expend a lot of energy to be faithful seminary attenders. The members I met are lovely people It will be a blessing to meet them all.

I found out by randomly wandering into shops that things in Shanghai aren’t the bargains I had thought. In my local Emart, conveniently located next door to my building, the hard pillows I got were the equivalent of $12.38 U.S. In Appleton, I could buy more comfortable pillows for $6.00 and pretty nice pillows for about $10.00.

I wanted some short sleeved shirts that would help me stay cool in the heat. I didn’t want ordinary t-shirts though. I have some of those. I wanted something slightly more dressy. In the main shopping areas in Shanghai I finally found some on sale for the equivalent of $27. I can usually find cute shirts cheaper than that on sale in Wisconsin.

Yesterday I spent the morning trying to get some computer glitches fixed. I got a new iphone because it has an app that would let me translate to Chinese very easily Also, there are apps that show the subway system and apps that show the taxi driver the Chinese address very big so they can get you there. It turns out that the iphone here costs about $783 because of tariffs. Way more expensive than in the U.S. Clark Howard says that you should buy your phones in the foreign country so you can get a sim card. Otherwise I would have bought the phone in the U.S. It turns out that you can get iphones with sim card capabilities in the U.S., but I didn’t know it.

Unfortunately, because of two things, I was unable to get any of the aps to work. The first problem is the firewall, and the second is that itunes is so picky about where you get your apps and deleted the ones Jeff downloaded for me from my phone using his account. Very service oriented–not.

In the afternoon I went to meet my possible Chinese tutor and have a demo lesson. I liked them very much, but the minimum price was for 40 lessons, about $626. I have met a couple of people here who are happy to meet with me for free and practice Chinese/English, so I might just do that instead.

Getting to my lesson was interesting. I looked on my subway map and saw what I thought was a transfer point to line 2. It turned out that my line (line 10) doesn’t stop there at all, but bypasses the spot. So I exited the subway and took a taxi. I am more familiar with the subways and hesitant to try to talk to taxi drivers in my broken Mandarin. I always defer to Jeff. Fortunately, I had written down the address characters the best I could from the website, and miracle of miracles, he could read my scratches and I arrived at my destination.

After the lesson, I called Jeff to find out if he wanted to go to the little canal street tourist area we had been talking about. I called him, and he said he would meet me at a convenient subway stop in a couple of hours. So I started randomly down the street to see the corner street signs and find out exactly where I was. There weren’t any signs for a long time, but I found a lovely park called Zhongshan park. The parks here are beautifully groomed. People use them for all sorts of things. Zhongshan park had tall trees in one area. In another lovely maidens in fussy lacy dresses were getting photographed by a stream. I walked on paths through bamboo groves. Five men were flying kites from a shady area where they occasionally had to interweave their lines to keep from tangling. One kite was incredibly high. Many couples were ballroom dancing to some piped music in a pavilion patio area. One little path to led to a badminton game. Two men on one side were playing a little older lady on the other side. There were rides for the kiddies, closed now because school is on, and a 147 year old Plane tree from Italy, the oldest in China. I have a picture of the treed area.

Zhongshan Park

Then, I saw a park exit which I thought was the one near a subway station. It turned out not to be so close, but I came to a Carrefour, a European mall I had heard about which has groceries that cater to the Western taste. I saw more high priced clothing and bought a pastry and a candy bar in case we were hungry on the way to dinner. The subway stop was accessible from the mall through a very long corridor which ended up on an elevated platform instead of underground.

I met Jeff and we went by subway to the canal area, Qibao, with a big beautiful mall which we ignored in favor of the warren of little shops near the canal. It was a good choice, because they had an end of summer clearance, and I got 4 nice cool blouses for the equivalent of $3.00 each. We didn’t even bother to bargain them down. They thought we were funny. I guess we are. The answer to finding cheaper clothes is to go to the street venders outside the main tourist areas. Everything that is geared for Westerners is horribly expensive. We found a store with some shirts Jeff wanted, but the lady said they were too small for him and wouldn’t even let him try them on. Oh, well.

We ate at a picturesque restaurant overlooking the canal. We thought we ordered three dishes, but the waiter only heard two. It was a beautiful spot, but we kept waiting for the third dish. Finally, Jeff asked for the bill, and discovered that they only charged us for the two items. They were tasty, but we were still a bit hungry! No problem, we bought some jack fruit slices, some dried kiwi, and some dried carrot slices with sugar sprinkles. We have both lost weight here, partly because we walk around so much that we forget to eat, and partly because the food isn’t as rich as the U.S.

Well, I’d better get to work on cleaning, ironing, and getting my iphone working. I probably need to go to the Apple store again to try. This time I’ll take my computer. Two days ago I went to the apple store near the base of the huge Oriental Pearl tower. It is a stunning area of skyscrapers on the other side of the Huangpu river. Today I think I’ll go to the apple store in the posh shopping area of Xintiandi, just one subway stop from my apartment. By the way, the apple stores are always crowded with people playing with the equipment. ipads are hugely popular here, even though they are too expensive for most people to buy. They go to the stores to play, like a cheap video game center.

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