Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Tea Picking that Wasn’t

After Korea my parents came to stay with us in Suzhou before returning to the States.  It was a great visit and they got to visit both of the girls’ schools and even see LBean perform in a dance recital. 

Because my parents had already visited Suzhou, I was looking for a new activity for us to try.  I had read an advertisement in our local “What’s On” calendar for tea picking.  Most tea picking is done in April and May, so I was very excited to see an opportunity to see the tea fields in June.  The ad proclaimed that for a small fee we could see the tea fields, pick some tea leaves and then enjoy what we had learned by drinking tea.  The best part was the address and phone number was in Chinese so I could easily show my driver where to go.

One day while Jamie was at work, my parents and the rest of my family piled into the van and we took off.  We drove towards Taihu Lake, which is at least 40 minutes away, and then we kept driving.  Over bridges to islands, down long lanes, over more bridges and islands and we finally arrive at the “ticket office”.  I kid you not, the place looks like a deserted movie set, possibly a Western.  No people are milling around, dust blowing around, and of course my mind automatically asks, “And what are the bathrooms going to look like?”  (and secretly hoping not to find out).

The point of no return.  Our driver couldn't take our van
past this point and we thought we had to start walking.
My poor driver was probably panicking at this point (and maybe me too, but just a bit).  He is trying to do his job and his crazy employer has made him drive out into the middle of nowhere and we can’t quite figure out what is going on.  He finally tracks down someone to buy tickets from and then he drives to the “entrance” and turns around and shrugs his shoulders.  It looked like we were going to have to hike up to the “tea picking”.  We got out, put on sunscreen, pulled out the stroller and were prepared to move.  At that moment, an extended golf cart goes whizzing by taking other people up the side of the mountain.  My first reaction is “Oh good, we’re not the only crazy people up here today” and “hey, where do we get one of those?”

This picture pretty much sums
it all for EBean!
My driver caught my eye and said, I’m assuming, in Chinese, “I’ll be right back!” He came back in a few minutes with a driver and a golf cart.  I tell you what, if he hadn’t gotten us a golf cart we would still be marching up that ridiculous mountain.  We went for miles!  At the near top, there was a small grouping of buildings and I was still holding out hope for a tea picking experience.  But, we got out and the man pointed to the steps and we started hiking to the very, very top of the mountain.  The air was thin, but the view was spectacular.  When we reached the top there was a tea picking, but there was a temple, with two monks selling incense sticks.  We left a “donation” for our incense, enjoyed the view while trying not to be blown off the side of the mountain and started our trek back down to the golf cart.

The rows and rows of short bushes are indeed tea bushes,
but that is as close as we got to them.
On the golf cart and headed up.
Climbing higher and getting a bit breezy.

The pagoda is what we eventually hiked up to.
Looking back to make sure we
had indeed made progress.
Going up, up, up! 
Stopping to take a break.  No comment as
to which one needed the break! 
What a view!
EBean inspecting some
part of nature that she had discovered.
There wasn't tea picking at the top, but
there was a temple where we could make
a "donation" after we lit some incense.
Attempting to not blow off the side of the mountain.
Before we could leave the top of the mountain, one of the girls decided she needed to use the bathroom RIGHT NOW!  There was a sign for a public restroom, but the sign looked like it was telling you to walk off the side of the mountain (no lie!) and hang a right.  The bathrooms were literally hanging off the side of the mountain.  I sent my parents to scope it out and they reported that the bathrooms were actually clean. Still, though, taking care of “business” hanging off the side of the mountain. We quickly finished and got out of there.

Our ride to the bottom of the mountain was absolutely breathtaking.  It was green and the wind felt great.  We could see (just not touch) thousands of tea bushes.  At the bottom there was a bit of confusion with my driver as to where we had ended up.  While he and I were texting back and forth (thank goodness for my translating app on my phone), we stopped to enjoy an ice cream and Coke break.  It gave us enough time to have a conversation with the store owner.  Between my minimal Chinese skills and her limited English, we pieced together a nice conversation.  I love it when people are patient enough to keep talking with me and keep trying! 

We made it home before Jamie returned from work and even though the experience wasn’t what I had planned, it was still a good one.  And...a good workout, my muscles were sore the next day!

Here is what I posted on Facebook about the event:

Oh today was a classic China moment. I thought we were going to go tea picking & tea tasting (in my mind I envisioned a quaint little tea house on the side of the mountain where I would lean out the window "pick a few leaves" and then drink some green tea, while only a few steps from the parking lot). But, instead I climbed the highest peak overlooking Taihu Lake, looked at the temple at the top and walked down again...with kids in tow of course. It was a great adventure, but something got lost in translation!

Here is the advertisement for the tea picking from a local monthly publication:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Women Divers, Jeju Island, Korea: Part 2

Continuing on with our Korean adventure (you can read part 1 here: Bulgogi, Waterfalls and Ponies: Jeju Island, Korea Part 1) and my list of favorites from the trip, I’d like to share what captivated me most on the trip, the women divers.
4. The Women Divers
I am so enthralled with the haenyo, the women divers of Jeju Island.  I had never heard of them before and I was even more surprised to know that they’re women divers in Japan, China, Russia and other places.

Wikipedia ( says this about the divers:
Statue outside the museum
Until the 19th century, diving was mostly done by men. The job became unprofitable for men since they had to pay heavy taxes, unlike women who did not. Women took over the diving (which was considered the lowest of jobs) and, because of the great dependence on sea products in most places on Jeju, became the main breadwinners, making Jeju a matriarchal society. It could also be said that women simply were more adapted for the job, with their bodies keeping them warmer and being more suited to swimming than a male, with more body fat. With that, they often became "the head" of their family. On Mara Island, where sea products accounted for almost all sources of revenue before it became increasingly attractive as a tourist site, gender roles were entirely reversed. Often men would look after the children and go shopping while the women would bring in money for the family.
This evolution clashed with Korea's Confucian culture, in which women have traditionally been treated as inferior. As a result, administrators from Seoul (unsuccessfully) tried to bar the women from diving, ostensibly because they exposed bare skin while at sea.
Haenyo are skilled divers who are known to be able to hold their breath for almost two minutes and dive to depths of 20 meters. The divers must also contend with other dangers such as jellyfish, and sharks.
Starting from the late 1970s, exports of sea products to Japan such as abalone and conch have made the sea women richer than ever, allowing them to fix their houses, build new ones in Jeju City and send their daughters to college. However, there is a threat to the haenyo's continued success; with their daughters choosing to work in the island's tourism industry or in the big cities, the haenyo will most likely disappear. While in 1950 there were as many as 30,000 haenyo on the island, in 2003 there were only 5,650 sea women registered as divers, of whom 85% were over 50 years old. With the number of sea women declining and with tourism giving Jeju men more opportunities, it is unclear what will happen to their daughters' status in their communities and home, though it is unlikely that the matriarchal family structures will continue to survive.
We spent an hour at the Women Divers Museum and as we walked through the museum EBean was insistent on seeing a real woman diver.  I thought it was pretty spectacular to hear a 3-year-old so intent on something.  EBean was in luck because as we were driving to our next destination, we were able to stop and watch (and hear, the divers make a whistling sound as they exhale & inhale when they resurface) a pair of divers at work.

Women Divers Museum
Standing with our own "woman diver".  Only within
the last several decades have they dived with a wet suit;
they used to only wear a cotton outfit.
As we were driving to our next destination after touring the museum, we were able to see a pair of divers in action.  They were possibly diving for abalone, sea weed and other edible sea products.

A diver coming up to let out the CO2 and take in oxygen,
which produced a "whistling" noise.
There she goes! No oxygen tank for her.
Up again for another breath.
Here is a link to a book I purchased
from Amazon about the women divers:
 Moon Tides, Jeju Island Grannies
Drying the day's catch.
A few "boats"
Absolutely beautiful!

5. Spending time with my Family
Of course the highlight was spending time with my family.  On our last night, the whole family attended a dinner hosted by a company in the pig industry.  It was a beautiful dinner complete with women performers in traditional Korea dress, Korean barbecue prepared at our table, and Korean fans as party favors.  It was a nice way to end our trip.  And, true to their personalities, the girls partied all the way back to the hotel, which was an hour drive and several hours past their bed time, while others slept around them!

The dinner was held outside, but we were surrounded
by some really beautiful buildings built in the
traditional Korean style.
30 years ago that little girl would have been me
tugging on that Papa Joes's arm, now it's my daughter's turn!
We enjoyed listening to the women perform using
traditional Korean instruments and wearing their traditional
hanboks.  But, I am very certain that their song selection
was not traditional Korean music...the Beatles and music
from Disney's The Little Mermaid!
EBean could not get enough of the Korean barbeque.
The server at our table (you can see her preparing the meat)
caught on quickly as to how much EBean liked the meat.
She kept passing more meat to her.
Getting ready to dive into some noodles and...more meat.
I think this 30 pound little girl ate more Korean barbeque than
any of the grown men at our table.
Opening up the favors from the Korean fans.
Love this photo...I think Elanco's
new slogan should be..."Elanco, bringing
generations together."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bulgogi, Ponies and Waterfalls: Jeju Island, Korea (Part 1)

In June the girls and I were very fortunate to visit Jeju Island, Korea with my parents while Jamie remained in China to work (somebody has to!).  Every two years there is an international meeting for pig veterinarians (nope, not making that up!) and the location changes for every meeting. I attended my first IPVS meeting when I was 14 in Italy.  It certainly was a full-circle moment attending another meeting, this time almost 20 years later with my daughters.  We had three generations traveling together to Korea.

1.  The Food
Because we were in Korea, I wanted to eat as much Bulgogi as possible.  A friend of ours from the US kindly introduced us to this bit of heaven a few years ago. Bulgogi, simply, is barbecued beef.    We ate at the Japanese/Korean restaurant in our hotel the first night and enjoyed Bulgogi casserole and Japanese shabu shabu.  The casserole was meat and vegetables in a broth.  LBean was a tad bit disappointed that it was not a casserole like we would make in the US.  She kept asking for “the bread part” of the casserole.  The next night we ordered room service and had, you guessed it, more Bulgogi!

Japanese shabu-shabu.

The bulgogi "casserole" and LBean's
expression sums up her feelings about it.

However, EBean loved her meat!

Garlic is very common in Asian dishes and we saw many fields of garlic and even more of it drying on the sidewalks as we drove through the island.

Everything on those tarps is garlic drying in the sun.
Bags of garlic.
Sorting and separating.
This doesn't appear to be garlic, but it is some other ingredient.

2.  The Scenery
Several places on Jeju Island are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Over two days we were able to drive around the island and enjoy the fresh air and low humidity.  We walked to a waterfall, or as EBean called it a “waterfault”, and really took in the natural beauty.
As we drove through the center of the island we stopped to take pictures of the Jeju Island ponies.  The ponies on the island are a unique breed only found on Jeju.  They were used for farming instead of horses or oxen and now I think they are used in racing.  Koreans considered them to be a national treasure. 

Beautiful scenery!

In front of a "Stone Grandfather", similar to
the Easter Island statues.

Description of the Stone Grandfathers, which are
made of black lava rock.

Crossing some steps to get to the waterfall.

A picture of LBean in mid-air, she was so excited
to catch her first glimpse of the waterfall.

In front of one of the island's
many waterfalls.

Grandma Callie

Taking a break to enjoy the view of the waterfall.  

Coolest water fountain ever.

So pretty.

My girls were unwilling to take any more photos by this point.

Although it was not a natural wonder scenic stop, we did tour the Teddy Bear museum.  It was a cute stop and perfect for kids my girls’ ages.  One floor recreated famous paintings with bears and another floor recreated a timeline of major world events.

LBean in front of some teddy bears
recreating a Korean wedding.

These bears are made to look like
the terracotta warriors in Xi'an, China.

“We all live in a yellow submarine...” well, not really, but we did take a ride into one. Seriously! Someone in our group was a bit skeptical of the safety of the submarine (mom), but we managed to have a good time.  It included a short boat ride out to a small island and then an hour dive in the submarine. Thankfully the large windows in the submarine kept us from feeling claustrophobic. 

Waiting to take our boat ride to the submarine.

The island near the submarine.

The brave first volunteers.

Waiting to see some fish.

Saying hello to the scuba diver.

Pretty cool!

One of the girls spotted this starfish.
Can you see it in the middle of the picture?

3.  The Korean Market
LBean has many classmates from Korea and as we discussed what kind of souvenir she might want, she was most excited about getting a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress, like she had seen some of her friends wear.  The concierge desk suggested a department store a few blocks away.  I returned back to the desk when it struck me that I wouldn’t be able to ask about prices...I know a little Chinese, but that wasn’t going to help me here and neither was my Spanish!  This time there was a woman at the desk (jackpot!) who suggested we go to the local Korean Market instead.  

I was much more excited about this and was really interested in comparing Korea’s markets to our own in China.  After a short taxi ride, we made it to the market where we wondered around looking at all of the sea life, fresh meat, vegetables and local Jeju Island products such as honey, chocolates and tangerines. 


Cactus, tangerine and other varieties of chocolate.

I love pork, but I think I'll pass on this delicacy.

LBean getting fitted for her Hanbok.
Thank goodness for LBean’s eagle eyes because as we were walking through the housewares section of the market, through a small doorway, she spotted a hanbok!  LBean had stumbled across the fabric market.  That’s my girl!  We had a lot of fun picking out hanboks for both girls and they are beautiful.  I enjoyed walking through the fabric market and watching the women work.  Their sewing machines almost appeared to be setting on the ground (and I could not figure out how they worked the presser foot), but as I looked closer, I saw that the sewing machine was actually suspended over an opening in the floor.  The women sat on mats on the floor and their legs dangled over the edge of the opening and allowed them to run the machines.  LBean says this was her favorite part of the trip. 

EBean's turn.

LBean was pleased she found a similar looking hanbok
to her bear's.

The sewing machine with the opening
in the floor for the presser foot.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our Korean adventure!