Hi folks! So mid-October during my self-imposed Autumn break I first went to Thailand (read about it here). I forgot to tell you the whole story about their recently deceased king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, so I will add that here first. The rest of the post will be concerned with my travels to Mainland China to visit my friend Guillermo in Shanghai and Suzhou.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej
This King, who reigned actually as Rama IX from 1946 until 2016 (that’s 70 years — we are speaking Queen Elisabeth II terms here, although she is only the 43th place on the list of longest reigning monarchs, Bhumibol is number 17). The king was loved by his people. And I don’t blame them; amidst all the turmoil Thailand went through in the last 100 years, having a symbol like a king serve as a constant must have provided some constant comfort during this time. As a side note, I do think I find myself being a fan of a monarchy (Belgium is also a Kingdom), although I should make some remarks: 1) Some of my friends have probably heard me express that I wish we were part of an empire, because I think it has a ring of grandeur. I’d rather be Empire of Belgium than Kingdom of Belgium, although I wouldn’t want any of the side effects one of neighbouring countries had when they tried to establish one roughly 70 years ago in their third attempt. 2) While I’m generally in favour of a symbolic role for a monarch, and can agree that they should get some public money, I do not think this should be very extensive for his kin. As for Belgium, this is an ongoing issue. 3) Why I am against a president as head of state, e.g. current president in office of the US Donald Drumpf.
So to return to my original story (thank you for bearing with me, pictures will follow soon), I was in Thailand where I found myself in a mourning country. Everywhere was the head of Rama IX / Bhumibol. Later I was explained I was in the Yellow zone which is considerably royalist and nationalist; contrasted against the Red zone (near Bangkok). And now will come the pictures that this story has been leading up to. Next to Kapoen’s family restaurant there was another vendor whose stall had been completely destroyed because he had denounced the deceased king on facebook, apparently questioning “why we still have a king, is this not a backward thing?”. His place was trashed.
Moving on, I went to Shanghai on the recently extended transit visa (from 72 hours (3 days) to 144 days (6 days)). Luckily they let me in and I made my way to Tongji University 同济大学 where I was greeted by my friend Guillermo, who studied at NTU (Taiwan Daxue 臺灣大學) last year as an exchange student. I have written about him before (in this post where you can also see him dancing with a masked suit on). Here is a selfie of the two of us:
So what else did I do in Shanghai? I went to the excellent Shanghai Museum 上海博物馆, where I had been to twice before (see here for instance). As the weather had decided not to cooperate I was so so so wet. In Dutch we would say kletsnat, in Chinese linshi 淋湿.
I love the masks in that museum, so here is an impression:
They also had some pretty cool paintings by Ren Xiong 任熊 (Qing, 1823-1857), who clearly painted in a style that is evocative of manga. I took pics, so you get pics:
And we also saw some paintings of flowers juxtaposed with a nice calligraphed text, a cool painting of a branch with a circle and text and stamps (never forget the stamps!), and the bronze bells, that Guille loves. He even gave me a miniature version of them that he had bought on the fake market.
I went there alone because Guille had a lot of architectural stuff to do. So when I got back to his dorm, the dorm had been transformed in a Spanish architectural taskforce groupwork unit. Friendly people, although I do not know if they liked me jokingly asking about the difference between their software and The Sims. Haha. Also, the question must be asked, why are virtually all Spanish people I meet architects? Do Spanish universities offer other majors?
Later we also went to a meeting of Flemish people in Shanghai, organized by the VLIS (Vlamingen in Shanghai (Flemish in Shanghai)). I made myself a member at a reduced price with my negotiation skills and got cheaper beer for my friends and myself. I met my dear friend Yoana who studied Sinology with me and was in Nanjing when I was in China), although I apparently took no picture with her, so you’ll have to make do with pictures of me and Guillermo, again.
But I also met my xuedi 学弟 Hsuan’s girlfriend and his classmate Paulien. We went to KTV (karaoke) together. I wish Taiwan would have as many Western songs as this Shanghainese KTV did. Before that we had dinner and they gave Hsuan beer in a milk tea cup. See below.
Next stop on my travels was Suzhou. Ah wonderful Suzhou.
> > 上有天堂，下有苏杭。 Shang you tiantang, xia you Su-Hang Above there is heaven, below there are Suzhou and Hanghzou > >
I studied there in 2012-2013, so if you are interested, you can reread my blogposts about it (click the tag on the left in the tag cloud to get a list of relevant posts). This part is dedicated to my closest friends of then: Joke, Katrin, Youmi, Shengli, Gabriel, Jan (Honza), Misa, Helca, Shanben, Zhuxia… … … (apparently I had many friends)
And coincidence or not, I saw the ayi 阿姨 of my dorm again. She was so friendly and as photogenic as ever. Did you know that one time she gave me small pearls from Taihu 太湖! She hasn’t grown though.
And that day Guillermo and me also met with one of my dearest taekwondo friends, Daniel. We went to have lunch in my favourite restaurant Yangyang 洋洋 where they have the best gulaorou 咕咾肉. We ordered so much that we just couldn’t finish. But it was worth it!!
Next we went on a small city tour, first continuing the campus tour. It was a bit strange, the campus guards (unlike NTU, Suzhou University 苏州大学 is not open to the general public) were being d!cks about letting us in. I guess some people like to abuse the power they are given. On a different note, I bought new shoes because the bad weather in Shanghai had destroyed them. Below is a picture of the bad state they were in.
On our city tour we went to Pingjianglu, where I had booked a Qing-dynasty style hostel. The beds were quite hard and there was a guy snoring so loud at night that I woke him up during the night by taking away his pillow. If I don’t get to sleep, you don’t get to sleep. But jokes aside, I wasn’t the only one woken up, I think that about three people couldn’t sleep so that is why I acted. The other people thanked me afterwards haha.
Then we also went to the Lion Grove garden, my favourite garden in Suzhou. Here are some pictures that paint the athmosphere:
The next day I went to Panmen 盘门, one of the few gardens that I hadn’t visited during my year in Suzhou. Joke had been there and our Cambodian friend Sautta had spent the Mid-Autumn Festival over there four years ago (oh my god, has it been four years?????????????) yet I hadn’t been there, “leaving something to come back to”. So I came back. And maybe I was wrong, because it was a beau-ti-ful garden. I took the bus but couldn’t find the entrance though — people had built a hotel between the bus station and the garden. I subsequently went through the hotel, suspicious but nobody stopped me. And yes, there was an entrance. The lady in green (below) belonged to the hotel staff and asked me which room I was in. When I honestly explained that I couldn’t find the entrance she clearly did not know what to do with me. She just said, “Okay, go in”, not being used to this. It was a nice hotel though.
The garden itself is estimated to be around 2,500 years old. It also harbours the oldest pagoda built in Suzhou (in 247 AD) and it used to be the only entrance (or rather open space) in the city’s wall. I felt it was a quite large garden (though no Humble Administrator’s Garden 拙政园). Or maybe it just felt big because of the small children who were on a field trip.
Next I took a bus back. But it dropped me off at Auchan 欧尚, the big supermarket, so I decided to do some shopping, or window shopping. Never thought I would say this but while I was standing on the rolling carpet that takes you to the upper floors, I kinda teared up. Well, it’s not that I was crying, but it was emotional, because that’s where my year in Suzhou began — buying mattresses. And I never thought that supermarkets could make me feel that way. Also, they still have the cucumber chips. In picture two and three below you can see that I was not happy with that four years ago either.
And as a last picture of this update (congratz on finishing), I present to you a picture of the Gate of the Orient 东方之门 (“Gate of the Orange” in Chinglish), a recent landmark bordering the Golden Chicken Lake 金鸡湖 that was not yet finished when I left last time. Now it was. It still looks like a pair of trousers.