Tag Archives: expat

Tongli water town

Tongli 2_opt

 One of many bridges in Tongli ancient water town, Jiangsu Province



I’ve taken advantage of the winter academic break to start exploring some of the ancient towns around Suzhou. One of these, Tongli, is about 45 minutes by bus to the southeast of the city, located in what is now a seemingly endless expanse of suburban development along China’s densely-populated east coast.

The day trip offered a tranquil opportunity on a warm, sunny day in January to escape somewhere different. To be absolutely honest, my main reason for making this the first of many “water towns” to explore was to visit the Museum of Ancient Chinese Sex Culture. It was on all the tourist maps, yet after an hour of wandering around trying to find it, it wasn’t there. My discrete inquiries to local businesspeople resulted in nothing but mei you – it isn’t there. Only after returning home did I learn that, after its initial founding in Shanghai, the museum had moved to Tongli for 10 years, and only last year had been relocated to Hainan, off of China’s southeast coast. Pity. It would have been my first sex museum.



Tongli 5_opt

 ancient lane – undisturbed quiet


What I liked about Tongli was that its ancient core hadn’t been completely tarted up for tourism or Disneyfied, as so many other Chinese ancient towns have. It is still a lived-in town, and if you want to escape the tourist crowds, a simple detour into a side street leads you into a quiet residential area with no shops, only tranquility and a pleasant opportunity to wander down narrow lanes.




Tongli 3_opt

 busy shopping street



The town is arranged along canals – as is Suzhou – offering opportunities for boat rides, or sitting at outdoor tables of restaurants or tea houses. You can make the visit as touristy as you like, or ignore the historical attractions and just wander, which is pretty much what I did.



Tongli 12_opt

 canal-side houses



At the university, we have just finished marking final essay exams, and the new semester doesn’t start until March 2. I doubt that I will do nay extensive travel, but I do plan several more weekend excursions to nearby scenic or historic spots.



Tongli 13_opt


Chicago food

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks basically living out my food fantasies in Chicago, or re-living fondly remembered tastes from my past. Chicago is a food-lover’s city; if you’re in doubt, just check out the Flickr group Chicago Gluttons.

Here’s a photo tour of some of the food highlights, both alone and with my brother Kenton:




sultans market

My first meal in Chicago after getting off the plane at O’Hare: my brother took me to Sultan’s market for inspired middle eastern food – chicken shawarma, hummus, falafel, salads, pita bread. Yummmm.




Vegan Thai

Urban Vegan Thai food




Millers Pub Reuben

Grilled Reuben sandwich on rye, Miller’s Pub; a blast from the past – I adored this sandwich when I was a college student in the 70s.




Native Foods nachos and chicken

Native Foods – vegan nachos and “chicken” appetizers




Karyn Cooked

Karyn Cooked, River North area: vegan falafel sandwich




Mexican restaurant Loop

Mexican lunch in the Chicago Loop, La Cocina Mexican Grill



Rangoli 4

Rangoli Indian restaurant on North Ave., one of the best Indian meals I’ve had; I ate chicken korma.



Rangoli 2

Rangoli appetizer, fried cauliflower



Five Faces

Another blast from the past: Five Faces on Division Street, open till 5 am. In the late 70s my friends and I would come here after the bars closed for the gyros sandwich with fries. The place is still here after all these years.



Five Faces gyros

Gyros sandwich at Five Faces – just as I remembered



ethiopian food

Amazing dinner in Uptown at Demera Ethiopian Restaurant



Ann Sather salmon lunch_opt

Grilled salmon at Ann Sather on Belmont, “Just good food”



Ann Sather breads

The star at Ann Sather is the home-baked bread; each meal comes with cinnamon roll, cranberry bread, or assorted other delights.



24 hours in Shanghai


Shanghai Pudong at night, viewed from the Bund promenade


My trip to Shanghai last week was incredibly rushed, and not entirely pleasant. The reason for the quick trip was to take the Cambridge DELTA Module 1 exam at the British Council office, the results of which I’ll get in February. I didn’t have a good feeling about the exam, which left me in a not-so-good mood. It also left me with about 5 hours to play tourist in the city. Much of this time was spent navigating the labyrinthine world of the city’s metro system, trying to find places using the Google maps app on my new Nokia Lumia 1020, and fending off a seemingly endless stream of people offering me “massage.” I was feeling tired, stressed, and headache-y, and a bad meal that left me with intestinal trouble didn’t help. My one attempt to sample the city’s 小笼包 xiǎolóngbāo dumplings was also disappointing.


The Bund, illuminated at night


On the plus side, I was able to see the Shanghai Bund at night, and to get a quick sampling of the city’s infinite variety of architecture. I spent the night at the rather pleasant Mingtown Etour Hostel near People’s Square, and rather enjoyed the ride to the city from the airport on the maglev train at 430 km per hour. My plan to visit a foreign-language bookstore, however, failed completely when I discovered the store had closed at 6:30 pm. The city’s frantic pace and the condescending manner of many of the people, however, left me indifferent to spending more time appreciating the city’s other charms.

All in all, I was happy to get back to Chengdu.



 Crossing a busy street with a stuffed toy, East Nanjing Road


Shanghai Pudong Airport ed2_opt Shanghai Pudong Airport, prior to returning to Chengdu