A Travellerspoint blog

June 2010

If You Look Closely-Old China is Still There

Sheila's China Odyssey

semi-overcast 26 °C

I’ve been in China for the past few days and as the plane landed my mind went back almost 30 years to the first time I arrived in this country. It was a hot August night and the streets were crowded with people trying to cool off while playing mahjong and card games, or just chatting, under the dim street lights. The Cultural Revolution was over, but the devastating toll it had taken on China’s economy and educational system was evident everywhere. It was a world very different from the one I had left and, for the next three years as I rode my bicycle through those ancient streets, I felt like I was living on the set of an old Chinese movie.

Modern China

Modern China

This time as I arrived in Chengdu, I found a very different place. Now the wide, modern roads are crowded with fast cars, the tall buildings are festooned with bright lights and the stores are full of products that would be at home in any Canadian mall. Today, Chengdu looks just like many western cities and, as I went to sleep in my hotel room on the 31st floor, I felt a little nostalgic for the old China. However, I discovered that even in this city of 8 million people I could still find remnants of the China that I had known in the 1980s. Just around the corner from my smart hotel is a bicycle repair shop and, nearby, an old-fashioned noodle shop.


There are still a few cyclists, road sweepers and old men drinking tea on the sidewalks, and in a nearby market I found “little red books” and Chairman Mao buttons.


From Chengdu I went to the Primary School in Yingxui. Three years ago I visited this school to celebrate Vancouver Island University and Holland College’s successful completion of a five year rural teacher training project. The upgraded teachers demonstrated their new methodology and their pupils obviously enjoyed the student centred learning. I was greatly impressed as I watched the students working in groups and seeing the brightly coloured displays of their work. Here are some of the happy students as I saw them in 2007...


I could never have imagined that I would return three years later to mourn the loss of 222 of the 437 students and 20 of the 47 teachers. On May 12, 2008, Yingxiu was at the epicenter of the magnitude 8 earthquake that killed 80% of the town’s population. 9,700 people perished that day in this pastoral community of just 12,000, and all that remained of the school that I had been so pleased to be connected with was the flag pole.


To be continued...

Posted by Hawkson 19:56 Archived in China Comments (1)

Postcard from London

semi-overcast 20 °C

Weather is fine but cool. London is absolutely fab. You'd love it. Food is great; natives are friendly; and there is so much to see and do. We've done Big Ben; Buckingham Palace; Hyde Park and the fantastic museums, (unbelievably, all the museums and art galleries are free!) Tonight we're going to see Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall - Wish you were here.
P.S. Home tomorrow, but watch for a really special surprise blog on July 1st.
Luv. Sheila and Jim

Posted by Hawkson 07:09 Archived in England Comments (1)

Toulouse- Today and Yesterday

semi-overcast 24 °C

Last year we visited the Airbus factory in Toulouse to see the giant A380s being assembled, and we were in such a rush to glimpse the future that we completely missed the past. This time the historic waterway of the Canal-du-Midi led us directly into the heart of the city and we awoke to this view from our cabin’s porthole…
Today, France’s fourth largest metropolis is a vibrant city bustling with students and high-tech aviation experts, but it has a storied history and a wealth of fine buildings mainly dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Here is Le Capitole in the centre of the city.
The approach to the city was lined with a motley flotilla of barges being used as housing – many of them floating slums. However, once we had passed these boats and broken through the shell of industrial development that surrounds the city, we discovered a golden core – an absolute “ouvre” as the French would say. There is a maze of cobbled backstreets with quaint storefronts that appear not to have changed for a century and markets of all kinds appear around every corner. The iconic brick architecture gives the city its epithet of, “The Pink City.” Here is the basilica…
And here is one of the many of the squares that are filled with outdoor cafes...
As we leave Languedoc-Roussillon and head to London, we say “Au revoir and thank you” to Carmen and her owner, David. And we can say with certainty that we will return.

Posted by Hawkson 11:29 Archived in France Comments (2)

Carmen - Queen of the Canal-du-Midi

sunny 27 °C

The weather gods must be blog readers … No sooner had we mentioned that we were being climatically prepared for our return home than the wind dropped, the clouds parted, and the temperature shot up to 27 degrees. We are now approaching the city of Toulouse, where both the Canal-du-Midi and our cruise will end. Carmen, with David at the wheel, will carry on to Bordeaux .
Carmen was originally built in 1925 as a working barge and over the past few years has been lovingly converted by David into a luxury cruiser. She is three or four times the size of the ubiquitous hire boats; has cabins more spacious and far more lavish than many hotel rooms; has air conditioning and absolutely all home comforts. She is undoubtedly the Queen of this canal. Camera wielding gawkers appear at every lock and bridge to wave us on our way and we bask in the glow of Carman’s notoriety, and feel like minor royals, as we glide regally past while nobly acknowledging the onlookers. Crewing this magnificent vessel has been a sheer delight and we will be sad to leave her. Here’s Jim at the helm…
And here is Sheila tending the herb garden on the top deck at 6.2 kilometres an hour as we pass Villefranche-de-Lauragais…
Creating local culinary delights has kept Jim busy in the galley for the past two weeks and here he is preparing tomato salad with herbs from the top deck – Now that’s what we call local!
Over the last few days we’ve enjoyed duck breasts with cherry sauce, lamb’s liver crusted with herbs, and pintarde au pot, (a special variety of chicken that is normally eaten by the French as a Christmas treat), together with a slew of accompanying dishes. But this evening, in Toulouse, Jim handed the ropes to the chef at Le Bistrot de l’Etoile and let him take the strain.
Here we are enjoying the ambience and food at Le Bistrot...

Posted by Hawkson 00:24 Archived in France Comments (2)

It's All Downhill from Here

semi-overcast 21 °C

We are on the top of the world as far as the Canal-du-Midi is concerned, 600 feet above sea level; the high point of our trip. Behind us, to the east, is the Mediterranean – ahead is the Atlantic Ocean – and from now on we will be going down in the locks. As if sensing that we are on the downhill run of our journey the weather gods have decided to re-acclimatise us to our Canadian home and have dropped the temperature ten degrees, ratcheted up the wind and turned on the showers. However, the sun shone on us in Castelnaudary – a canal-side town of terracotta houses with an Italianate feel – and Sheila put out the laundry on the foredeck.
Castelnaudary is renowned for cassoulet, a dish of white beans, (lingots), duck thighs and Toulouse sausage, and, as expected, it was superb. Cassoulet may look just like Heinz baked beans to the uninitiated, but that’s where the similarity ends. It has the flavor of duck, the smoky aroma of cured ham and a crisp golden crust. We ate in the restaurant that claims to serve the finest and most traditional cassoulet – but they all say that. Here is Captain David enjoying his…
We also visited the market – one of the best in our experience – and provisioned the boat with local lamb, duck and chicken, together with the freshest of fruit and vegetables. Tonight’s dinner began with escargot en vol au vent, (snails in puff pastry with garlic butter), followed by stuffed cutlets of lamb, petits pois, baby carrots and tiny new potatoes. Primeurs is the name given to these first vegetables of spring and the tender newborns are highly prized in France. The main course was accompanied by individual flans of infant leeks topped with a local cheese,
The French are justifiably proud of their cheeses. Here’s a small selection especially for Gary and Jane to consider for our Village Store…
Castelnaudary is a pick-up point for hire boats and, in the space of a few hours, we had bumped into four groups of British Columbians, including a whole boatload of people from Powell River. But visitors from all over the world come here to cruise on the Canal, and that’s not surprising with views like these around every corner…

Posted by Hawkson 23:14 Archived in France Comments (1)

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