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Yesterday, to celebrate the end of classes for the semester and the completion of a week of speaking exams, I spent Saturday in Shanghai, taking the 8:14 am train from Suzhou and returning the same evening. It makes a nice day trip; the express train only takes 25 minutes. The weather was cold, but the sun was out, but I still spent the whole day coughing from pollution. I just call it my “China cough.” When I returned to the USA last summer for 3 weeks, the cough disappeared after about 7 days.
I explored parts of the French Concession, a section of the city filled with old villas and many older buildings ranging in style from classical to art deco. I visited a French cafe and bakery, Farine, I’d just read about online. I had my first Kouign Amann, a Breton pastry, as well as a croque monsieur and a an espresso. The sunlight streaming through the front window took away the chill, as did the atmosphere and smells of the bakery. The breads looked tempting, but were quite expensive. Nearby was a Marseille wood-fired pizza restaurant that I’ll try next time I’m in town.
I next took the subway to the disappointing Tianzifang area, a traditional enclave of narrow alleys re-colonized by artists and craftspeople, but now tarted up as a tourist destination with upscale eateries, Hard Rock T-shirts, and quasi-artsy vibe. Then it was back to the central city, to walk along Fuzhou Road, one of my favorite areas, with bookstores, a shop specializing in Yixing teapots, and a pretty good foot massage place I frequent when I’ve been walking too much. Lunch was a Reuben sandwich at Tock’s Montreal smoked meat deli. The meat was delicious, but the sandwich couldn’t compare to my memory of Miller’s Pub on Wabash in Chicago. Now that was a Reuben. Oh yes, I visited V Coffee Roasters for a bag of almost-freshly-roasted beans. The coffee was a delicious way to start my day this morning.
Curls and shadows, Shanghai French Concession
Farine cafe and bakery, French Concession - home of authentic French baked goods. I read online that they import their flour from France. The espresso isn’t bad either.
Kouign Amann, Farine cafe and bakery, French Concession. Pastry was delightful but the caramelized sugar coating was a bit difficult to bite off.
fancyfruit, in a deco building
Normandie Apartments (Wukang Mansion), French Concession
jewelry display window
December strawberries, street market, Shanghai
“1927,” old buildings in central Shanghai
Steamed shrimp dumplings, Shanghai
Roasted meat sandwiches, Shanghai
Boating on the canal, Suzhou
Shantang Jie 1
Shantang Jie 2
Watery view – narrow canal
Suzhou Industrial Park scenery, near where I live
It’s now November, and already we’re in Week 10 of the semester at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou. After the headaches of the visa process, everything since has seemed like a piece of cake. The summer is gone, autumn grows colder, and life is comfortable.
I live in the Lotus Flower residential community, a vast sea of 5-story apartment buildings that are all exactly the same. Fortunately, I haven’t wandered into the wrong building too many times. I am somewhat of a curiosity here, as I seem to be the only foreigner in residence. Other university personnel seem to be clustered in apartment towers nearer to campus or in more expensive locations further afield. Xiao Gou Gou and I have established a rhythm for our morning and evening walks that center mostly around a wonderful food street just across the road. In the morning we can feast on fried dumplings or on the Chinese version of flour tortillas filled with egg; the evening brings such delights as sliced spit-roasted meat sandwiches, fried noodles or rice, roasted chickens, stir-fried vegetables, or other goodies we haven’t tried yet.
Tourist boat on the canal, Suzhou
As far as teaching goes, I teach EAP (English for Academic Purposes) to 4 classes of Year 2 Math majors. Our lesson plans are prepared for us by a module coordinator, supplementing the Oxford EAP textbook, greatly lightening the class preparation load. I add my own PowerPoint presentations or additional readings, and manage to make it through my 16 weekly class periods relatively unscathed. Unlike previous teaching jobs, we are expected to be on-site – in the classroom, office, library, or other university facilities – 40 hours a week. Since I have my very first private office, this is not much of an imposition, as I can also work on my University of Nottingham M.A. during office hours.
Teahouse interior, Pingjiang Road, Suzhou
I spend one day a week in Suzhou; I say “in Suzhou” because the central city is some distance from the greater suburbia I inhabit, a vast swathe of joint China-Singapore development called the Suzhou Industrial Park, or SIP for short. The area is beautifully landscaped (see top photo), but a bit, well, dull, and most shopping is either distant or in big-box stores such as Auchan.
Ancient courtyard house, central Suzhou
In Suzhou I have discovered the picturesque areas, parts of town like Pingjiang Lane which have been preserved and done up for tourists, but on weekends these areas are jam-packed. Suzhou is one of the top tourist destinations in China because of its ancient canal system and whitewashed traditional houses, but the crowds are overwhelming at times. Once or twice a month I make it to Shanghai, for a bit of variety. In addition to my teaching job, I also just re-certified as an IELTS speaking examiner for the British Council, which in the future will necessitate travel between Suzhou and Shanghai a couple of times a month.
In my next post, I’ll talk about my new interest, collecting Yixing teapots.
Logan Square corner