A Travellerspoint blog

Seeing the eclipse in Lishui, China

sunny 32 °C

Months ago Ciarán, friend and delightful obscurantist, alerted me to an interesting upcoming event: a total solar eclipse. It would only be visible over a certain arc of Asia, a curve which happened to sit just a few hundred kilometres above Lishui.

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Ahead of time we weren't even sure we would be in China on the day, but that all worked out and so on 22 July we were out on the balcony in our PJs buoyed by eclipse excitement.

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Our frequently unseen neighbours, a mix of teachers of all ages and their kids, were out in force too.

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These guys, not seen since they were watching us barbecue like they were seeing a bizarre exotic ritual, even had eclipse glasses for the occasion!

Another block over, meanwhile, a lady and her son had gotten hold of what looked like a piece of glass doused in black ink and were determinedly using it.

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This Chinese girl, age unknown (they look the same from 11 to 35!) spent most of the time on either her house phone or mobile, and then went running off down the hill right in the middle of the eclipse for some reason.

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As for ourselves, well I discovered you could look askance at the eclipse with two pairs of shades on without going blind. I realise this is not medically sound, but was a working solution for a lazy observer! We really only got the 85% version of what they had in the actual path of totality - the sun still had a tiny sliver of moon-like presence.

It still looked really cool - the campus was cloaked in semi-darkness of an unnatural kind, while the inside of the apartment was as dark as the middle of the night. Made me think of the eerie, tinted vision of U2's 'Last Night On Earth' video. Mere minutes later, the sun came back out and normal 30-plus scorching service resumed as if nothing untoward had occurred.

So it's at this point, as the eclipse fever starts to fade, that you start realise the hype behind an event like this is considerable. 'The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st Century', not to be outdone in anybody's lifetime we're told but only in the year 2132. You believe it without realising you're just being sold a different superlative each time.

Credit must go to BBC News for at least partially dispelling this myth: the next total solar eclipse is not an unreachable 123 years away, it's next summer. That's right, for two minutes or so on 11 July 2010, be in Argentina or be square. Until next time dear readers, consider that if the sun being blocked out is supposed to be the amazing part, why does anyone but the geekiest scientist care that it's a few minutes shorter?

Posted by BillLehane 01:11 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

The curious incidents of drinking out in Lishui, China

That red wine needs a bucket of ice

sunny 33 °C

First up, a warning. If you order Chinese wine, it will probably be pretty awful. Harsh vinegar like you wouldn't believe, in fact. The best domestic wines they have, if you're lucky enough to choose a good one, are about level with an own-brand supermarket wine back home. One called 'Enduring Pulchritude' (that's 'beauty', thesaurus fans) should really be called 'Enduring Fortitude', and not because it's well aged!

The good news, however, is that here and there you'll find a smattering of foreign wines that, for the most part, are really quite drinkable. But most locals here in Lishui seem not to know what to do with them – they obviously never order them themselves for a start, as many a dusty shelf can attest. Furthermore, if you do order one in one of several comfy but slightly off Western-style café bars in the city, you might just get something like this:

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No complaints about the huge decanter, but you can't really enjoy wine from a brandy glass! Funnier still was the second time we ordered this particular wine – quite nice, really, and a great deal in Euro terms to drink out for €10 – when it arrived with a small bucket of ice for us to dip into our drinks!

As for pub drinking there's not a lot going on mostly due to our location in a developing city and the fact that the Chinese style is more to have drinks over dinner. So we really got a treat the other week when by chance we came upon Lishui's first place with beers on tap, the Yes Bar. Tiger and Carlsberg, to be precise. And unlike the café bars above, it has a real wooden bar and the pleasing look and feel of a classy jazz club.

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Imagine our surprise, moreover, on learning first that it had only been open for the previous two days – we don't miss a trick 'round here – and then that it even sold cans of Guinness!

The actual night time atmosphere of this place isn't great, sadly. It's all flashing lights and bad Chinese music, leaving the deck chairs outside as the only good spot. And like many other outlets of various kinds in Lishui, some of the staff just don't know how to handle us laowai.

One of the first times we went, Megan decided to order us two pints of Carlsberg. In what I can only assume was her usual flawless Mandarin, she asked the girl for two pints of beer, referring in addition to 'the green one' and pointing to the tap. Several minutes later, we weren't even looking at what was on the table when suddenly these arrived. We just had to hold up our hands and laugh!

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Until next time, dear readers, remember to be thankful for life's simple pleasures and the privilege of ready access to them!

Posted by BillLehane 20:33 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Haircut headaches in Lishui, China

Who needs kneading knuckles

sunny 28 °C

We both knew this wasn't going to be a simple mission. Indeed Megan first broached the topic by telling me about her friend Stacey's botched dye job here a couple of years ago. Who knows what style she was going for, but needless to say, it wasn't meant to turn out blue.

So, taking fellow Lishui resident Sandra's recommendation of a new hair salon off one of the main streets that had verily achieved the shortening of her hair, we resolved to give it a try. Just on yours truly though, since my average male top suggested few major upsets could occur.

You would think. That was before they slapped me in a barber's chair that was either unadjustable or was already at its highest setting, and asked me to slouch. Our excuse of me having a 'stomach ache' (read: bruised ribs; so nasty) just barely satisfied the lady below, who could scarcely reach above my head.

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After what seemed like about 12 rounds of lathering gloopy shampoo in my hair, the lady then started trying to massage my head. I know many people in the world like massages, but I'm not one of them, and most especially not on my head. She was actually aiming both index fingers at the back of my head and then flicking me. This hasn't happened since secondary school, when it was meant to be annoying. So was this.

Thankfully Megan saved me from the worst part of the massage, which was to drop the chair back to horizontal and start bashing my shoulders. Nonetheless the lady tried ignoring our entreaties a couple of times, and was getting a bit injured at our reluctance to her wares. She had also stuck a huge ear bud in my ear and nigh on fondled my brain with the goddamn thing. Mercifully she could not physically make me be massaged, for she seemed as though she would have liked to.

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Several rinses later, we came to a different chair and, finally, the actual haircut. By this time I was breathing a sigh of relief to be presented with a man with scissors. Sorry ladies, it's just so much easier that way. A few brief instructions from Megan and a nod from me, and he was cutting away. Aside from a few friendly questions, I had a serviceable cut in no time at all. I even consented to having it combed into a Chinese boy-style fwap at the front afterwards (see below), purely in the name of intercultural dialogue obviously!

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Once washed again at home the next day, my hair was back to normal and looking just like it did about a month ago. Which unfortunately means it may have to be cut again sometime soon. Dear readers, is long hair back in fashion by any chance?

Posted by BillLehane 15:40 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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