A Travellerspoint blog

'Thrilling Games, Harmonious Asia'

Guangzhou Asian Games

sunny 28 °C

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Starting from November 15th, Guangzhou hosted the Asian Games. Since I’ve arrived, the world seems to have revolved around these games; everyone in the community has got involved to try and ‘better’ their city in preparation for the arrival of millions of people from all over Asia. My school was repainted, more than 30 chemical factories from all around Guangzhou were temporarily closed to clear the air (which made a HUGE difference), the sun was made to always shine as china chemically dispersed the clouds and controlled the weather so that it didn’t rain (yes, seriously), more English translations popped up around the city than before (including a ‘smoothie’ type shop just near me, which was brilliant because I could finally choose what I wanted to order rather than pointing randomly!), Asian Games commercials were constantly playing on tv, and security was at an all time high. Bag and body scanners were brought into all of the metro stations, which really jammed up the metro queues, especially around rush hour when lines were sometimes out of the station! They even made the metro free to travel for a couple of days, but they had to stop that for safety issues because there were literally millions of people more trying to use the metros. The sheer volume of people was just dangerous!

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In addition, 60 thousand people became volunteers for the Asian games (apparently almost 1 million people applied, two-thirds of whom are students). They stood on every corner of every intersection, and at frequent points in between, throughout the entire city in their matching white and green uniforms. You could never walk more than 100 metres before seeing another volunteer standing at their position. They all worked incredibly long hours, and really did it as a kind of service to their country; it was something they were all very proud of. Somehow I can’t really imagine this kind of ‘do good for the country’ attitude prevailing in young people in American or in England. When we’d go to the games, even with gazillions of volunteers walking around everywhere, we still seemed to be the centre of attention as we were asked for numerous photo requests!

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When the tickets to the games came out a few weeks before they started, Roger was in charge of booking my tickets. I told him to book a few, and that I’m not really fussed about what I see. I was expecting maybe to see 2 or 3 events, but I should have known better! He proudly announced that he got 11 events for us both to see. So my weekends were fully booked over the two weeks of Asian Games! Typical boy, eh!

The opening ceremony was designed by the same guy that did the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, so it had high expectations, which I personally think it fully lived up to. A ‘green city’ was one of the themes of the games, ironically, because the day before the opening ceremony everyone in Guangzhou got a leaflet through their door asking everyone to keep their lights all day and night, especially if you have a flat facing the river. This is to help the pictures come out better, apparently. The city council also asked everyone with a flat facing the river to leaving their doors and windows open so they can make sure there are no snipers or something I guess!?!

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Attending the games was always eventful. We had our pile of tickets, and could never really figure out where we had to go. One of our first events, Wushu, actually ended up being very close to Hong Kong! The stadium was absolutely in the middle of nowhere, apart from a small village boarding the stadium, which was obviously meant to be hidden through the newly planted trees. When we arrived we were starving, so we went on a hunt for food to this village we could see. After numerous guards and policemen told us there was no food in the village, we refused to believe it after local people we met pointed to the village and said we could get rice there. As we wanted to appease our appetite, we walked down the little roads and around the corner when we were confronted by a new gate with a handful of guards policing who was entering and leaving the village. It came as a surprise when we were quickly ushered away and told that there was no food there. It was a really strange experience, and the only reason I can think to why it was blocked off is that they didn’t want foreigners to see poor village life.

So we went back to the wushu, with hungry stomachs, expecting it to be a sort of martial arts dance, but it ended up being a very violent boxing sort of thing, which we had front row seats to, as we were promoted for being the only foreigners in the entire stadium. In the first couple of matches, we saw a few broken noses and someone get passed out. When she was face down on the mat, obviously not moving, the ref continued, in typical Chinese fashion, counting to five just to make sure. Then the medical team quickly ran out.

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I might have mentioned in other blogs that in China, the number 4, said as ‘si’, sounds like the word for ‘death’, so its known as a very bad number. This extends to the point that we were told we should never give students a mark with 4 in it, so if they get a 94, I should give them a 95. And people refuse to live on the fourth floor of buildings (perhaps this is why I was given a room on the fourth floor now I think about it!). Anyways, so there is a kind of china-wide hatred for Japan. I found that out in the first weeks of being here when I was told that Japan ‘exports’ their good people to England and America, while it ‘exports’ the ‘useless’ people to China, and was then subsequently asked to ‘gambeii’ to some sort of anti-Japanese saying. So it came as no surprise when the Japanese runners somehow ended up with the number 444 and 440! As if they could really pretend that was just a coincidence!!? While I’m on this subject, Roger recently had to act as a British business man in China, and his lines were literally ‘Get outta here you damn japs!’ ... Hmm... wouldn’t see this in England or America, would ya?!!

It was pure luck that we happen to be in Guangzhou the year of the Asian Games, and it’s helped me to see a whole new side to China that I otherwise would not have had the chance to witness. So for now I’ll continue to enjoy *Harmonious* *Green* Asia. That’s all folks.
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Posted by Anna1289 00:12 Archived in China Tagged asian games Comments (0)

Little stories from big china

Funny English corners, and cute Kindergarteners

sunny 25 °C

Now that I've settled into a routine here in Guangzhou, it is little stories and small things that make up my life; it's no longer the big culture shock as it was when I first arrived. Although I try to make most of my blogs at least have some sort of a theme, this blog entry is really just little stories from my daily life.

At 12:15 every day lunch begins at school, and instead of staying around to search for something vegetarian in the canteen, I go to my local fruit and veg market. I've tried to venture from my normal tofu and vegetable stir fry that I make at home by using beans and lentils.... my market is excellent for these sorts of things! While at this particular stall, I decided it would be a good idea to try and get some vegetable stock (I should've known this was an impossible task), so in my limited Chinese, I ended up pointing to the 'Knorr' chicken and fish stock on the side and trying to ask for this but without any meat, only vegetables! The salesman look completely confused, as if there is no such thing. Then an elderly man standing by the stall says 'whatdayawan', at which point I kind of looked around to try and figure out what he said, assuming it was in Chinese until he repeated it and I understood he was actually speaking English! I should tell you that whenever I am out and I need someone to translate something for me, I always ask people who are under about 25 years old, as typically they are the only people who know any English. It's rare that older people know English, and I have never met any elderly people who speak it! So when this really old man started speaking English it came as a complete shock. It turns out he (his name is Shu) learned English 80 years ago. As English is so new to the culture, he surely must have been one of the few people in China to know English back then! Anyways, we had a really nice chat as he tried to tell me that chicken stock isn't really chicken. Its just chicken powder (yes, even people who speak English don't understand what NO MEAT means!).

Another cute story comes from the kindergarten. This week we were learning family names 'Sister, Brother, Mommy, Daddy, Grandpa and Grandma', and to help them learn I put all the pictures of the people on the floor and the kids take turns putting a rubber ring on the picture that I tell them to. When it was one of the really clever little boy's turns, I was surprised when he let his opponent race ahead of him and get to the picture first while he just stood there looking at me and muttering something in Chinese. After trying to coax him to put the ring on 'Grandpa', the Chinese teaching assistant translated for me and said the little boy didn't want to put the ring on grandpa because he didn't want to hurt him! Awww.....

After preschool I was invited by a friend to attend an English corner at a University in Guangzhou. I didn't know anything about it until I met up with him at the metro station, where we got a taxi to the University. He told me that a company who specialises in helping Chinese students study abroad in America sponsor the English corner, and I will kind of be there as a rep, but really I'm just there to talk to them. So on my arrival to the square in the centre of the university, I was shocked to see about 70 students waiting... for ME! I was introduced by the organiser ('We are all so excited that finally our special guest has arrived', she says), and immediately ushered onto the stage to give a 'speech'. While I was briefly telling the students that I'm an English teacher at a Middle School, and a little bit about myself, there were flashes going off all around me as I was being photographed. After my 'speech' I ended up standing in a circle of students which was a few rows deep with everyone fighting to be in the circle and talk to me. It was a really nice time actually as they spoke amazing English. They were all really interested in the fact that I have a boyfriend, as it is forbidden here to be in a relationship by most parents, until they leave University. And they were interested in the American 'party culture' that is portrayed in the media, and wanting to know whether it really is like this. To be honest, the 'college' life in America, and the University life in England is a world apart from University in China. Students in China genuinely go to University to learn and to better themselves educationally, rather than in places like England where University is much more of an experience and a bridge to adulthood.

When it came time to leave, a few students asked to hug me goodbye, and would then freak out with their friends, as if I'm some sort of a celebrity or something. I think this experience would generally have freaked me out if I wasn't already used to this weird obsession some people have with speaking to foreigners. But I guess, as these students put it, they have learned English their whole lives and as they can't really travel out of China, their only change to speak English outside of class is with foreign people they meet.

Although most experiences have been really positive, there are also some really sad stories intertwined with these positive ones. Most of them come from my animal rights side, and not wanting to see animals suffer in any way. I often walk by things that I really don't want to see, but I guess I'm becoming a little bit hardened to it in some instances as I really don't have a choice. I've seen a man selling tortoises in a net near my house a few times... and that really gets to me A LOT. Tortoises can generally outlive humans, without human intervention. And the tortoises they sell have to be quite old for them to be so big, and it seems so wrong for their long future to be cut short just for a human to enjoy a few mouthfuls of 'tortoise soup'... why not just stick to su cai (vegetables in chinese). On streets, there are always people on bikes with little wagons tied behind them, or with those big wooden chinese wheel barrels full of something they are selling (ranging from vegetables and fruits such as oranges and pok choi, to chickens, fish, snails, and all sorts of other 'food'). By far the worst thing I've seen was a dead, skinned dog tied on the back of a bicycle... that was absolutely horrible.

Whereas in America there might be photos of a tasty salad, or a bagel full of cream cheese to entice customers inside a restaurant, here in China outside some restaurants they have big photographs of a pile of dead tortoises, which to me just looks like a tortoise massacre... I totally do not understand how that can even look 'tasty'? They also specialise in photographs of dead cockroaches on plates, and dead roosters. There isn't anything else to these photos other than just the dead animal.

I've thought that maybe I should keep these sorts of stories out of my blog so that people keep reading what I write, and up until now I've largely managed to do that, but that is the real China. And that is what I face everyday!

So while most of my small stories are genuinely positive, it always seems to be those relating to animals that give me the 'bad china' days. But on the whole, I am really enjoying getting up every morning to ladies doing tai chi outside my flat, and the old men playing Chinese chess outside the vegetable market. That's all for now folks. More random stories to come...

Posted by Anna1289 03:06 Archived in China Comments (0)

Judging in Jiamen

Little stories from an English competition for toddlers

sunny 25 °C

Through some contacts I have at the kindergarten I teach at, I was asked to attend an English competition... for three to five year olds... and as the judge. Who knew I was qualified to do this, eh? I had absolutely no idea what to expect as I left my house bright and early, just in time to catch the oldies practising tai chi, and walking around backwards and clapping their hands (apparently doing this gets the toxins and illnesses out of your body as it forces them to your fingertips and out). After a two hour bus journey, we arrived at the tacky-castle looking preschool (which are what all preschools look like here actually), with banners and signs posted around reading '...NATIONAL ENGLISH COMPETITION.... ' and teachers standing outside, awaiting our arrival. As always, me and my friend Salman (from Saudi Arabia) were the stars of the show, treated like celebrities, with photo shoots galore.

Immediately after walking into the big, empty room, with just a table and 3 chairs at one end, I couldn't help but think back to my Clarinet competitions I did when I was younger... and the fear that accompanied my performances! It's intimidating enough to be watched by judges as a teenager... but for four year olds?! All the children dressed up especially for the occasion, sometimes in butterfly outfits, or little tuxedos. My personal favourite was the boy who came in wearing a shirt and tie with a duck hat on his head, and orange underwear worn outside his trousers (to go along with his duck song he sang for the talent show section). No matter what, though, they all came with bright blue eye shadow, hot pink blush, and sometimes red lipstick and sparkles too. That includes all the boys!

Each child was ushered into the room by their teachers standing outside, and as the door shut behind them they either recalled what they were taught (which was to walk military style, with sharp corners and straight lines in an awkward square shape to get to right in the centre of our table)... or they just froze. When this happened, we ended up spending most of their allocated 6 minutes trying to coax them into the right place. Some of them started immediately introducing themselves with their memorized lines, which they do with little actions they are taught). The general idea would be

Hello my dear teachers. My name is _____. I am 4 years old. I am a boy/girl. I am handsome boy/lovely girl/sometimes naughty/very clever. I have teachers and I have friends. I love my teachers and I love my friends. My family has 3 people in it. There is my mommy and my daddy. My mommy and my daddy love me, and I love my mommy and my daddy. My mommy is beautiful. My daddy is handsome. My mommy is a worker/doctor/teacher. My daddy is a worker/doctor/teacher. (this is the point where a lot of them would freeze up, but some would continue on) I like fruit. Fruit is healthy. I like apples, bananas, so on. I like to sing, I like to dance, I like to read, I like to write. I play basketball. I play basketball every day with my friends. That is me. Thankyou (and then a little bow at the end)

After their introduction, they did a talent show. Some of them would forget what their talent was so we'd have to prompt them (well the other two Chinese teachers would have to do this in Chinese). They kids are on such automatic, like little CD's or something, that sometimes they'd just start their introductions from the beginning again!!

One of my favourite 'talents' started out with 'Let me make a fruit salad for you' (as she put her little plastic gloves on, and organised her little plastic fruits). This is an apple. The apple is red. Let me cut the apple. The apple is ok (puts into the bowl) This is a banana. The banana is yellow. Let me peel the banana. (and so on until the salad was complete)

Another made a bowl of vegetable soup, and another of my favourites came in with a plate of real veg and described the veg as he put it on a piece of bread to make it look like a face... that was really cute. A lot of them sang songs they've been taught (everything from ABC to versions of row row row your boat), and a few made little origami shapes and talked us through the folds ('This is a square. You fold this and now it is a triangle') and then they'd say it looks like a star, and immediately burst into a song like 'twinkle twinkle little star'. So those two parts were 50 points together (I did actually have to mark them!).

For 30 more points they matched words with pictures, and then they came over to me. My role was to greet them, and maybe ask them their name (one response I got was 'I'm sorry I do not know'), how they are, or how old they are. Typically when I'd ask them 'Good afternoon. How are you?' I'd get in response 'I am 4 years old'. Then I'd ask 'How old are you?' and they'd say 'I am fine, thankyou.' (I realise now how close those two sentences actually do sound!). Then I'd ask them to flip over a card with a picture on it and ask 'What do you see?', and then ask them a few conversation questions like 'How do you go to kindergarten' 'I go to kindergarten by foot/motorbike/bicycle/car', or an easy question is 'how many people are there in your family' 'There are 3 people in my family'. This last section, worth 20 points, was always the hardest for them because most, if not all, have ever had contact with a foreign teacher so I think they were petrified just to be standing in front of me, let alone trying to remember their phrases!! After they'd finished, they were given a little calendar and the next one would be ushered in. This pattern remained really cute throughout the 6 hours or sitting their, although my eyes could have really used a rest! Unfortunately I didn't have the use of a camera to document these moments, but hopefully the little stories will still be worthwhile reading :)

Posted by Anna1289 03:50 Archived in China Comments (0)

Time fly's when you're having fun

Random stories from daily life here in GZ

sunny 22 °C

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It's hard to believe that I've been in China for over three months already. It seems as though the weeks are just flying by! As the saying goes, 'time fly's when you're having fun'; and although it is definitely not all fun and games, I have a system of work hard and play hard. Before I came out here, I was warned repeatedly that about 1 to 2 months after arriving, the 'euphoria' and 'excitement' period will have worn off, and I'll start to have 'down' days, where the cultural differences really get to you and all you want is to wish the time away. I have yet to experience that really, except for a couple of days where I do get fed up with all the people gawking and the 'blondie', trying to charge me 10 times the amount they'd charge locals, or when people jump underneath me as I am sitting down in an empty seat on the metro, literally pushing me over. Yes, there are some very big cultural differences here, but 99% of the time I love it. It keeps my life constantly interesting, and every day is a challenge. I can't get my head around the fact I'm really only a month away from Christmas (and saying that... a month away from giving every one of my students, all 800, a spoken exam. I'm not quite sure how that will pan out?)

One of the things that I've kept up since arriving is Mandarin lessons (two hours of spoken lessons a week, and an online character's course). I think it's helped me enormously with feeling apart of the society, rather than just a visitor. When arriving in China, there was a huge communication barrier, written and spoken, between myself and the locals. But slowly I can see the wall fading away, just a very little bit, but when it does it is so exciting. Like when I ran out of water in my water cooler, I had my 'water ticket' ready to go, but I knew that I had to phone someone to bring the water to me. After practising what I could say to the salesperson on the other end, who inevitably wouldn't know a word of English, I did my best to communicate that I need one big jug of water delivered to my flat. Amazingly, just 10 minutes later there was a man knocking on my door with a big jug of water for the cooler! This might sound incredibly insigificant to those of you who can 1) speak Chinese or 2) live in a country that speaks your language, but to me this was my first huge milestone.

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Another communication example would be the guards at the end of my street. I walk by them numerous times a day, and I always make an effort to say Ni hao (hello) to them. Although the conversation has never been able to progress any further than that, really, I still would say they're two of my friends here. One of the guards has a little 2 year old boy who sits in the hut with him sometimes, and who gets to sit on the back of his dad's bike in his little special seat when he has to do the rounds down the street and back; his name is Chung Chung. Initially Chung Chung was terrified of the strange person (me) trying to talk to him, but now he smiles and comes out to say hello and bye bye to me. Again this might sound really pathetic... but this is what the language barrier really does to you!!To say the least, it's really helped me to appreciate being able to communicate.

Just before the little hut where the guards sit, there is a row of door shops that I pass every day. My second huge milestone was when I passed the shop and I realised that I could actually read what the shop was called! Although it was only about 5 characters... I was still ecstatic. It's all these little moments that show me my language work, and being immersed in the language, is actually making a difference.

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Sometimes when I have my English corner by the school gate, there is a woman that walks by with a little 4 year old boy, whose English name is Steven. Every week, Steven randomly appears at my side 'talking' to me in the preschool English he's learned. These conversations are normally 'Hello Anna! hello, how are you? I am fine thank you,' and a little bits like that (I'm always impressed by his English level!). The other day I was outside the metro fighting my way through the crowds when I heard a little voice saying 'Anna! Anna! Hello Anna!', and there was Steven! I think he was with his grandmother because she looked completely confused when he was talking to me!

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Another thing I love about China is the shopping here is excellent! Although I really haven't bought much (I'm saving up to travel in the Spring Festival) it is always really tempting. For example, GHD's (the really nice hair straighteners that sell for £100+ in England) are 100 Yuan here... so £10. Amazing! And although I've been bread deprived since I got here, I've recently discovered a bakery that sells bread that is very similar to American bread (it's the closest I've found!) AND it has chunks of cheese in it. It is absolutely delicious (maybe I wouldn't think so if I had nice bread readily available, but here I do!). Another thing I've been deprived of is coffee, and this morning when I was wandering the little alley way's I ran into a little side shop that sells all sorts of coffee. OK, so it's not the nice french or columbian coffee that my mouth watered for in England... rather, it's the instant Chinese nescafe and different assortments of not so great coffee, but it is still coffee. Goes to show that a little searching and wandering, I can find home comforts that I miss. This is something that I am very lucky to be able to have, as I am in the third biggest city in China, and what is considered one of the most internationalised (although I really don't see that).

Since I've not had coffee here, I've fully started absolutely loving the tea here. It's fabulous! From Oolong, to Jasmine, it's all delicious (and healthy!). Apparently Jasmine is meant to 'improve looks', Oolong is meant to 'improve health' and pu'er (which I think tastes like a mix of dirt and fish juice) is meant to help you lose weight. I've got stuck into the Chinese way of carrying around a water bottle that has a tea filter at the top, so I just put in a pinch of leaves every morning, fill it with warm water, and just top up with warm water throughout the day. You see everyone here carrying these water bottles of tea around. I've also seen people put a handful of red beans in with warm water for a red bean tea... sounds strange, I know, but here they love red beans; they are in everything from ice creams to milk shakes and teas. I've also been told that once the tea gets cold it's very bad for you stomach, just like I've heard that cold water is bad for you, and spicey food makes you break out.

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The actual teaching part of it is definitely getting a bit easier as well. One of the big criteria's for getting accepted into the British Council was to be able to be 'adaptable', and this is SO true. Just half an hour before one of my classes started I was told that it would be cancelled, as would all of my classes the next day. Unfortunately I found out too late, so wasn't able to make any travel plans. And then the following week, I went to the only class that I have on a Monday, and half way through class my students asked me 'Anna why did you miss class today? Did you skip class for the Asian games?' I was certain that I don't have any classes Monday, and pointed out that no, I teach them on Friday afternoons. Eventually they were like 'but our schedules have all changed.' ... that's when I realised I had been given a completely new schedule, but it had taken me missing two classes for anyone to think to tell me! We have an office board, which I assume has this information, but it's all in Chinese and I can't read Chinese. Although, people tend to assume that even though I can't speak Chinese, that I can read it, for some reason. Often times when I'm trying to communicate through my little Chinese and it's not going very well, the person I'm speaking to will search out a pen and paper and write down what they are saying to me... Bu ming bai jiga (I don't understand this) is a phrase that I am very familiar with.

So that's my daily life update of my life in Guangzhou. Keep tuned for another update! :)

Photos from this blog are taken in Yuexiu Park and the Orchid Garden, in Guangzhou (The orchid garden has no orchids in November though!)
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Posted by Anna1289 20:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

The biggest (bronze) Buddha (in Asia)

My journey to Xiqiao Shan Buddha

sunny 25 °C

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Xiqiao, where one of my best friends in China lives, is an hour bus journey and then a short motorcycle ride, from my house. This town (or what would be a city in England) is famous for the biggest bronze Buddah in Asia, which is sat at the top of Xiqiao Shan (Shan means mountain). So when I had this past weekend free, the first thing I did was to go and visit! Xiqiao felt so rural to me in comparison to the hustle and bustle of Guangzhou, so it was a welcomed escape.

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On Sunday morning, we woke up really early, in an effort to miss the normal crowds and the heat of the day, and both jumped on the back of one of the motorcycles that act as taxi’s and took the 5 Yuan (50pence) trip to the bottom of the mountain. The motorcycle driver couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t just get the motorcycle to the top of the mountain, like most of the other Chinese people visiting. It seems that only the ultra fit would even consider the possibility of actually walking up the mountain (which by the way is just a whole lot of vertical concrete steps), instead of getting a car or bike to the top.

Xiqiao Shan reminded me of my visit to Dingu Shan a few months ago; it was beautiful with its little streams running down, and views of the suburbs around us, but it was still built up with concrete paths and roads, instead of the fresh and natural look that people in England would perhaps be seeking on a weekend away.

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Once up the initial long set of steep stairs to the top, we could see a lake overlooked by a Buddhist temple and a peaceful little town, as well as suburbs beneath us covered by a semi-transparent layer of smog. As we approached the temple, the smells of incense and the chants of many Buddhist monks echoed throughout the little valley. We passed many rooms with small groups of men sitting around rectangle tables, books open, and chanting away. It’s such a nice, soothing, peaceful atmosphere to be around on an early Sunday morning.

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There were pyramids of oranges, apples and other fruit in the centre of the table, all taped together with long stretches of clear tape. I couldn’t help but to smile at the normal Chinese cheesiness that even trespassed into this Buddhist temple.

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Eventually, after pulling myself away from the chanting, we stood at the bottom of the massive, HUGE Buddah. It was so much bigger than I could ever have imagined. After Roger and Luke raced each other up the steps, we spent a while looking at the coy who spent their life swimming in circles in the moat around the bottom of the Buddah. Inside the Buddah (yes, you can go inside it) they actually sell the fish, which I had to remind Roger that they don’t actually eat the fish because they are Buddhist, instead they sell them to let them free into the moat.

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Posted by Anna1289 00:35 Archived in China Comments (0)

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