Weekly Musings

6 03 2011

I’ve nearly crashed my bike twice this week, neither of which was really my fault.  The first time was when (as usual) a car pulls out onto the bike road (which runs parallel to the main road) without looking, and it’s worse that this particular junction is at the bottom of a hill so you may have picked up some speed, and I had to brake very sharpish to slow down.  The second incident involved another cyclist who for reasons beyond me was cycling on the left hand side, which would be the wrong side in China.  I was going faster than him, and on the correct side of the road, so decided to undertake.  Just at the moment I was about to go past, he decides to turn at the last possible moment into the entrance of a housing complex, right at the ‘end’ of the turning for this housing complex.  I had to bring my bike to a compete stop very quickly, and the guy looked surprised by what was happening.  People really need to pay more attention to their surroundings and traffic safety.

Last night I went to a cafe bar on campus called Cafe 1921.  They had live music in there, which was nice, and not that common a sight to see here.  I managed to baffle the staff by ordering a rum and coke, which after about 5 minutes of waiting, someone asked if I wanted something else because apparently the guy who knows how to make a rum and coke wasn’t there.  I was a bit beyond belief that this guy didn’t know that a rum and coke was exactly that; a shot of rum mixed with some coke, not rocket science.  Anyway, once I explained this, a light came on in someone else’s head and they promptly acknowledged what a rum and coke was and made it for me.  I decided not to order that again, and instead opted for a tequila sunrise, which wasn’t really a tequila sunrise, which is supposed to look like this (beach not included):

Tequila Sunrise

Mine was not made properly, containing only tequila and orange juice, so just looked orange and not like the sunrise the drink is titled after.  Oh well, I’ll have to try something else again next time.


A Bad Week

26 02 2011

I haven’t had a great week.  I’ve been overly tired due to a cold and roommate issues, and therefore haven’t gotten a lot done.  On Tuesday I was bedridden because I had a cold, so I didn’t do anything that day, and I’ve been slowly recovering since then.  I did go to my class on Wednesday afternoon, and the Advanced Algorithms course is as daunting this time as it was last time.  Maybe more on that another time.  It’s Saturday now though, and I am feeling almost as good as normal.

Last night I decided to make some chocolate corn flake cakes since I have lots of corn flakes and wanted some nice chocolate desserts, and these cakes are extremely simple to make.  The corn flakes I used aren’t that great actually, so if I make them again I may try another brand, or if I’m feeling very luxurious splash out for Kellogs.  Anyway, here’s some pictures of my yummy cakes.



Spring Festival Aftermath?

18 02 2011

Yesterday I popped into Carrefour to purchase some bits and pieces.  I’m disappointed that they didn’t have any chocolate finger biscuits, which they haven’t had for about a month (not a good sign for future imported foodstuffs if you ask me), real cheese (though of course they had the “plastic” sliced stuff), butter or hamburger buns.  In fact the bread section is pretty lacklustre and expensive, so I tend to buy my bread elsewhere.  In fact it hasn’t been a great few weeks at the supermarkets, especially annoyed at my trip to Metro last week when they were out of stock of most of the things I wanted.  Let’s hope this is just a temporary setback due to the Spring Festival.  My favourite restaurant on campus is also out of my favourite dishes at the moment.  Why can’t these places plan in advance for post-spring festival demand?

Anyway, whilst I was browsing the shelves, I did notice this boo-boo caught my eye:


If you can’t read it (sorry for the poor quality photo), it’s “Brown Sugar with Cane”.  I don’t think so…

More Baking Goodness

17 02 2011

Last night in my downtime between watching Battlestar Galactica and studying, I decided to try my hand at making shortbread biscuits.  It’s pretty simple to make, requiring only butter, sugar and flour, so it didn’t take very long to mix it altogether and make it into biscuit shapes.  About 20 minutes later they came out of the over smelling so delicious, so I immediately ate one.  Straight out of the oven is without a doubt the best time to eat them.



Making Roses

15 02 2011

Last week I ventured out into Xiamen to buy some baking supplies.  I wanted to buy a pastry bag and icing tips to decorate the cupcakes I so love to make.  I searched on taobao, and after making an ill-advised trip to Metro to see if they sold what I was looking for, and it turned out they did but were out of stock.  They were also out of stock of most of the other things I wanted to buy.  When I got back from Metro, I remembered that you can search by location on taobao, and found some places in Xiamen that sold baking supplies.  So off I went, and eventually found one of the places that was based in an apartment block which was not so easy to find.  In fact one guard I asked at another apartment block said he couldn’t understand, despite having the address written in Chinese which the other two guards I asked had no problem understanding; I guess he just wasn’t feeling helpful.  Anyway, I managed to buy a pastry bag, 24 icing tips and a tip adapter (so you can easily switch the tips mid-icing).  I have however discovered I’m going to need a bigger tip adapter for some of the tips (they didn’t have any at the place I went to), and probably another pastry bag for the large adapter. 

I made some cakes, and since it was valentines day I decided to ice them as roses.  Here’s how they came out.


It was my first time at trying this, and I think they’re not bad.  There’s definitely room for improvement, which just means I’ll have to make more delicious cupcakes.  Oh no!


29 01 2011

This was my forth or fifth visit to Shanghai, so I’ve already seen most of the tourist attractions here.  The last time I was in Shanghai was Summer 2009, when the city was abuzz with the sound of construction for the Expo.  Fortunately the construction is over, though I didn’t notice a lot of change myself, mostly a little change around the Bund.  Whilst I was in Shanghai I caught up with some friends, did some shopping, and generally relaxed.

The final day I was there I did decide to visit the Shanghai Sculpture Park, which is an hour ride away from the centre of Shanghai.  It’s pretty expensive too, at 120 yuan per ticket, but luckily when I went it was half price.  After two weeks of travel in some of the coldest parts of China, today was the day it decided to snow.  There was a lot of snow in Harbin, but it didn’t actually snow whilst I was there.  The snowfall in Shanghai more than made up for it.  At the sculpture park, it seemed I was one of very few visitors, most likely because it’s not peak season right now, and of course the weather.  There were a group of people filming what looked like car advertisements for Audi cars, most likely because there was an Audi showroom/office nearby I had passed whilst on the train. 


The sculpture park was interesting, with lots of different types of sculptures from artists all around the world.  There was also an indoor exhibition which was nice (especially because I was able to get out of the cold for a while).  There was also a really fun looking “sculpture”, which was like a few bouncy hills, but unfortunately I didn’t get to try it out because it was closed off.


Bouncy Hills

Apart from the fun looking bouncy hills, there are many many other sculptures in the huge park.  There’s even a man-made beach with some figures of people having fun on the beach, which fooled someone when I showed them a photo taken from a distance (though said person was viewing the photos on the small camera screen).  The snow got a bit heavier whilst I was in the park, but wasn’t really settling, and softened up a bit after I’d been in the indoor exhibition, though there was enough snow in some places to get some nice photos.






28 01 2011

It took much longer than it should have to get here.  Unfortunately Suzhou doesn’t have an airport, so my choices to get there from Dalian were a 22 hour train ride, or take a plane to Pudong Airport in Shanghai and get to Suzhou from there.  I took the plane, then at Pudong I had to decide between a coach or train.  I decided to go by train even though it would require me to change a few times, since I wanted to try to buy my ticket back to Xiamen, which it turned out wasn’t going to be available for a few days.  When I arrived at Shanghai station, I entered a room full of automatic ticket machines, and tried to buy a ticket to Suzhou.  I had already checked the available trains to Suzhou on the internet, and none of them were appearing.  I quickly gave up trying to buy that ticket and instead tried to buy my ticket to Xiamen, again giving up because I wasn’t able to find Xiamen as a destination.  I was going to go to the ticket office when I saw a second lot of automatic ticket machines in another room.  I decided to give it a go, and found that these machines were a lot more co-operative; you could choose any stations in China to buy tickets for.  The next train to Suzhou was apparently sold out, so I tried to buy my Xiamen ticket again but it was too soon.  So I went off to the ticket office and bought a no-seat ticket for the next train which was apparently sold out.  So much for those automatic ticket machines…

I arrived in Suzhou after about 1 hour 20 minutes, using my backpack on the train.  I finally arrived at my hostel 9 and a half hours after leaving my hostel in Dalian.  If only Suzhou had an airport you could take 4 hours off the journey…


The Hostel

Suzhou is famous for it’s gardens, so I spent most of my time in the gardens.  I visited three of them altogether; Lion Forest, Humble Administrators Garden and the Lingering Garden.  My favourite was the Lion Forest, named so because it’s full of strange rock formations which are said to resemble lions.  I didn’t see any I thought looked like lions, but did see some that I though resembled other things.  Amongst the rocks there are lots of paths and caves to walk through which made it more interesting, and the garden was well preserved. 


Funny Skull



I visited the Suzhou Museum the first day as well, since it was free and next to the Humble Administrators Garden, so I thought why not.  The problem I find with museums is I lose interest quite quickly, especially in this one since I was quite tired and it was pretty warm inside.  I had to take a few sitting breaks in-between the exhibitions.  The museum had similar things to that of the Shanghai Museum; Chinese paintings, calligraphy, pottery, stamps, furniture etc. so I’d seen many similar things before.  The museum did have an exhibition of some American paintings as well which was interesting. 

Next on my itinerary was the Humble Administrator’s Garden.  I’m not sure why it’s called the Humble Administrator’s Garden, it wasn’t particularly humble; it was bigger than the Lion Forest in fact.  Perhaps the Administrator was a humble fellow?  I wandered around the gardens, thinking to myself ‘it looks much bigger on the map’, and ‘this looks awfully similar to the Lion Forest’.  It seems the gardens of Suzhou all follow a similar style, so it’s you get the feeling of ‘seen one, seen them all’.  There was a nice collection of bonsai trees though. 


The second day I walked to the Lingering Garden, one of the largest and most important classical gardens.  During my walk I noticed how terrible the traffic is in Suzhou, much worse than in Xiamen.  It was mostly all kinds of bikes that were the problem.  The pavement was lined with bikes, from one end to the other, leaving less room for pedestrians, and to make it worse people would ride their bikes on the pavement making it quite the danger zone.  It is made worse by the fact there are dedicated biking lanes adjacent to the pavement, and fenced off from the road so it’s completely safe to ride on them. 

Eventually I reached the Lingering Garden.  There were far fewer tourists visiting this garden than the previous two, maybe because it’s further away.  The garden was indeed bigger than the previous gardens I’d visited, but again it was designed in a similar style; that is with halls, pavilions, rocks, ponds, all in the Chinese style.  This garden also had some nice bonsai trees. 


After night fell I went out into Pingjiang Road, where the hostel was situated, to take some night-time photos along the canal.  It’s quite a pleasant street, reminiscent of what old China might have been like.