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An Intercultural Christmas

Two kinds of Indian in one day

semi-overcast 2 °C

'An Eagle Ceremony At Tesuque Pueblo' by Gustav Baumann, 1932

A few days before Christmas my friend Paul, a videojournalist from Dublin, commented that if I had been told a year ago that in 12 months' time I would be married and living in America, I would have laughed.

To this quite true observation I added the fact that on that day last year, I was getting ready to take my then girlfriend, now wife Megan to an Irish family Christmas in Rathfarnham, Dublin. A year later and I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas Day at a dance and feast day at a Native American Pueblo!

And so it was, very enjoyably so indeed. Myself, Megan and my mother-in-law Patricia glided up a near-empty Interstate 25 past the snow-dusted Sandias from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. By the time we got there, notwithstanding our final destination of a feast, we were already in need of some lunch.

As our server noted on our way out, it was the only restaurant aside from fast food and Starbucks that was open in Santa Fe on Christmas Day. The funny part was that it was an Indian restaurant - as in New Delhi, Calcutta and Mother Teresa. While the buffet lunch was delicious, the stop was especially worth it for the even more delicious double entendre!

Suitably stuffed, we trailed down the 285 past some spectacular snowy scenes to Tesuque Pueblo. We first met some very helpful Tribal Police who guided us to our hosts. There we found an adobe dwelling that was just like any other American home on the inside.

We were treated to some tasty posole and other local treats too spicy for this writer, as well as some more familiar turkey. Five minutes later, and we were joined by the same two policemen, who sat down to eat and were quite fascinated to be in the company of an Irishman! We traded questions about international and Native American cultures in a very friendly and equitable exchange - what could be more in the spirit of Christmas!


The dance we saw was the Deer Dance - as represented by the figures on the right of this old postcard (credit). While it was brief, we were quiet glad to get in out of the sub-zero temperatures. The only drawback of the day was not being able to visit the church within the square of the pueblo - innocently, it was just closing, but perhaps it was not a great omen for Christmas Day!

Our trip was bookended by two more conventional celebrations that combined with Christmas Day to create a very enjoyable holiday season - drinks in at our new place on Christmas Eve with our friend William, and food with family for what I still know as St Stephen's Day at Megan's aunt Jane's house.

So until we meet again in the new decade, dear readers, consider that the Christmas spirit can be found and enjoyed in the most unexpected of places. Happy New Year from New Mexico!

Posted by BillLehane 17:18 Archived in USA Tagged postcards Comments (3)

Steel in the sky in Shanghai

Towering views in tiny shoes

sunny 20 °C
View Shanghai on BillLehane's travel map.

First things first, Shangai is big. It might sound obvious, but when you get there you really feel it too. Although myself and Megan had a more gentle introduction to millions on the move because we arrived off the night train on the main day of the Qing Ming festival. For the Chinese on this day, as on of my students put it: 'We visit graves. And eat a lot.'


Threading a little line around some of the principal areas using the metro is otherwise heavy and harried, as we discovered the next day. People move in packs of hundreds between platforms, like any other metro system I guess, but on a much bigger scale. Spotting the laowai (foreigners) in this case is rather amusing, as a white man tends to stride a foot or more taller than the 300 Chinese heading the same way.

Our top destination was the Jin Mao Tower, both because Megan had been to the Pearl TV Tower and because we could get a great view of same by visiting the taller one. Off we go 88 floors up - eights are lucky in Chinese, hence the Olympic start date of 08.08.2008. Here you don't feel the ascent at all in the 45-second lift, which makes it a bit more comfortable to oggle the view at the top.


Elegant, enormous and impressive it certainly is, but the Jin Mao is no longer the tallest building in Shanghai - the World Financial Center, otherwise known as the bottle opener - has that distinction at least until another, the Shanghai Tower, is built right next to both of them at a gargantuan 128 stories.

Elsewhere in the city, it's still all about eye-catching buildings. The Bund is an amazing spot for this, but it's oppressively crowded even in a downpour. The savant's way of, eh, drinking in the view to its full extent is to get up high nearby. The Captain hostel bar (below) is surprisingly quiet considering its considerable visual asset, but then it's really somewhere you have to know to go. Who needs a boat ride!


Tall tales aside, Shanghai also yielded much great food and drink, if you can ignore the price tags. Baozi (below), steamed buns with yummy fillings, are quite delicious, especially when you walk away from the shops outside the rather boring Yuyuan Gardens and get fresher ones quick and cheap.


Cosmopolitan delights also abound, especially for us small city dwellers - Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and a German brewery were all enjoyed, the latter especially for the pork knuckle. (Takes me back to Bavaria's Andechs Abbey and the sunny, swilling feast on the hill for Oktoberfest 2004.)


So while I'm not one to shirk from big city lights, you quickly get the impression that Shanghai is really too big and several million over a healthy population. The one time it felt small was on a walk through Nanjing Road, the city's main shopping street. Bright lights yes, but gaudy, hawker-filled and ultimately pretty tame in comparison to teeny 12-million Tokyo. It was strangely comforting then, dear readers, to remind myself - as I retreated to lean, green Lishui - that biggest and boldest does not always mean best. Until next time, zai jian.

Posted by BillLehane 19:33 Archived in China Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Hustle and bustle in Hangzhou

Easy on the eye, the lungs not so much

sunny 25 °C
View Hangzhou on BillLehane's travel map.

Week two: Cue the first stop of what will be a whole series of trips for us around China, and in time further afield - Hangzhou, above. It's much bigger than Lishui, with a population of somewhere over two million. The mission - visit the famous West Lake area, nab some hard-to-get Western goods and crash with Meshell, Megan's friend from her last posting here.

The city itself has several nice wide avenues, and comes off in general as fairly well put together. On the bad side, I noticed it was getting progressively harder to breathe over the weekend - we did do lots of walking out in the traffic and Meshell's boyfriend Dave is a bit of a heavy smoker but still, God help me when I visit Beijing!

The West Lake area - famed for its natural beauty and praised to the hilt by Marco Polo - is particularly nice it must be said. Wispy, willowy trees invoke a relaxing mood in us as we watch Chinese women right around the park all stop to take identical photos of themselves partly enveloped by pink blossom branches. Must be a local thing.

In the welcoming heat of the morning sun, we took a nice boat ride out to one of the partly man-made islands on the lake, one called Lesser Yingzhou or Fairy Island that also graces the 1 yuan note. Heavy people traffic here (and it's only March), with some unsightly construction work, but the prettiness of the island was certainly palpable.

As for the Western goods, well, we stocked up good. Coffee does not exist as a commodity in Lishui - you can buy it by cup here and there, but there are no beans or bags of ground anywhere to be found; indeed, I had to bring a coffee pot in my luggage. So I got a few bags of Lavazza plus some Carrefour own-brand to tide me over until our next trip. Similarly we picked up cheddar cheese, Tack-It blue tack and a few other small things. All are made appreciably better by the challenge of getting them!


Without doubt the finest city in the world

- Marco Polo

Megan's friend Meshell kindly put us up in her apartment and accompanied us to a Mexican bar, where I just couldn't resist a 'draught' can of Guinness. Here, the challenge/appreciation rule does not apply :-) Luckily, Chinese beer is actually nice, nicer indeed than any among the narrow selection of Western beers you tend to find. Although the Hangzhou bar scene such as it is is inescapably less, well, special when chock-full of young Brits abroad and other wide-eyed gap year students from various places. So we were happy enough to head back to lush Lishui and our own place.

Transport-wise, the trip was quite a mixed bag - three hours up there on the motorway on a coach with comfy seats but a stir-crazy driver (the schedule said four hours). And that was the good half. The way back took six hours on a un-express local train with only a sink to sit on for the first four hours. I kid you not. I mean, those little trolley cart beers only take you so far and then they're sold out. We were told we didn't need to book ahead, but needless to say, next time, we'll trust our own judgement first.

Before you go, dear readers, you must have a read of Megan's really hilarious post on the experience. Until next time...

Posted by BillLehane 22:20 Archived in China Tagged postcards Comments (0)

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