Monday, January 28, 2008

Snow snarls transport, strands thousands in China

Sat Jan 26, 5:05 AM ET

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Heavy snow and rain closed airports, highways and train lines across central and eastern China on Saturday, stranding tens of thousands of travelers and threatening to block food supplies.

Snowfall since mid-January has been "the heaviest in a decade," affecting about 32.9 million people and causing an estimated 6.23 billion yuan ($865 million) of damage, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The snow has collapsed homes, caused power blackouts and destroyed crops, causing the deaths of dozens of people in weather-related accidents.

By disrupting food supplies, the weather could also fuel inflation, which hit an 11-year high of 4.8 percent last year, becoming a major economic and social problem for the government.

"Transportation of fresh farm products - including vegetables, fruits, livestock and poultry - faces an extraordinarily grave situation," the State Council, China's cabinet, said in a statement late on Friday.

It ordered authorities around the country to clear snow and ice from roads, exempt vehicles carrying farm produce from all traffic tolls, and ensure that gas stations gave "unlimited supplies" of petrol to those vehicles without raising prices.

Pricing, finance, commerce and quality authorities across China were instructed to exempt wholesale suppliers of fresh farm products from "as many charges as possible."

About 40,000 passengers, many of them traveling home for the Lunar New Year Festival in early February, were stranded at stations along the railway line from Beijing to the southern city of Guangzhou on Saturday, Xinhua reported.

A total of 136 electric passenger trains were stalled in central China's Hunan Province after snow damaged power lines. Diesel locomotives were being used to haul the electric trains out of the area as over 10,000 workers repaired the power lines.

At least five major airports, including those in Hunan's capital of Changsha and one in Nanjing, capital of the eastern province of Jiangsu, were closed, state television said.

Highways around Nanjing were closed, as were 28 major roads in the southwestern province of Guizhou, where 27,000 travelers were stranded in bus stations, Xinhua reported.

In the eastern province of Anhui, 12,000 people were evacuated from dangerous locations because of the snow, it added.

The snowfall extended as far as China's commercial centre of Shanghai, which saw its heaviest snow this decade on Saturday, causing city authorities to promise to intervene in food markets to keep stable the prices of goods such as grains and milk, the official Liberation Daily said.

The National Meteorological Centre said some areas of central and eastern China could see at least three more days of snow.

($1=7.21 Yuan)

(Reporting by Andrew Torchia and George Chen; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

My two cents: Emphasis added. It is snowing right now, has been since about 10am. I am not excited. I am not intrigued. In fact, I am thinking, why is China experiencing one of the worst winters in 50 years (according to the news) now? Couldn't this have happened two or three years ago, before I arrived. Oh how self-centered am I.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


On Saturday it snowed. On Sunday it snowed and rained. And today we have sleet. Which means that the sidewalks are a nasty, icy, slippery, slushy mess. Ah, great fun. I saw a few people today with plastic bags over their shoes...perhaps they fancied a bit of ice skating.
With that said, I am earnestly awaiting the arrival of summer. Last year, it did not snow in Shanghai. Actually, it does not snow most winters here. And considering that the government has decided that we are in the "warm" part of China where indoor heat is not required, it is a good thing that it is usually not cold enough to snow. Of course, the snow is caused by a warm front meeting a cold front, but that cold front is serious. It
is COLD.I think the warm front is so high up, we can't feel the difference.
My heaters are simply not powerful enough to keep the rooms warm. My kitchen is so cold that things in the cupboard are freezing. I went to put some honey in my tea, and the honey was frozen solid. I can see my breath when I am cooking, and have taken to cooking the fastest meals possible. Lots of stir-fry noodles for me in the past two weeks. The living room/dining room is too open for the heater to work well, I have it on 30 (degrees Celsius) and the room hovers at around 16. And so, my bedroom has become my refuge. I come home, go in there and turn on the heaters (the wall unit and a space heater). Then I take off my coat and boots and head to the kitchen to whip up a fast dinner. Then back to the room. Being cold indoors really irritates me, and is the only thing about Shanghai that I seriously detest. Honestly. This weather alone makes me seriously consider if I can take another winter in Shanghai.
I will be glad when summer comes. Quickly I hope. Quickly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bare Bottoms

A few observations from daily life...

It is winter here. As such, people are wrapped up - gloves, winter coats, boats, and other cold weather attire. Babies in snowsuits that weigh as much as they do. With there bare bottoms, not always, but often enough, visible through the slit bottom pants (all three pants, and the snowsuit). I honestly do not comprehend how if it is cold enough to bundle up your child so that s/he looks like the Abominable Snowman, it is not cold enough to put on a diaper (cloth or disposable) or maybe snap pants and no diaper, just something that will protect their nether regions. Maybe I just have a pampered Western tush, but the though of it hanging out, uncovered, subject to wind and freezing temperatures...

Chinese New Year is fast approaching. As many of my colleagues are braving the crowds and holiday prices and traveling around Asia during this time, I am still trying to figure out what to do. I do not like crowds, or overpriced tickets, hotels, etc, and therefore try to avoid travel during peak season. However, I have been here for over a year, and not visited anywhere else in southeast Asia. And so as I watch the line for the train tickets grow insanely long, I wonder if there is anywhere that perhaps wont be too full, or too expensive, (or too COLD) that I can go and visit for the week. So far, I've come up empty handed.

The semester is drawing to a close. That means that this school year is almost half finished, and I need to start making some concrete plans about next year. Should I stay or should I go?

I had something else to write about, but now I cant remember. Oh well, next post...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I's married now. I said, I's married now...

To quote Shug Avery from The Color Purple, "I's married now!".

Yes, I took my happy self, as my people say, and went to Cameroon and got married. It was an interesting, exciting, unique, challenging, exhilarating and amazing experience. I am not even sure where to begin or what to say. I was "stingy with the details" leading up the wedding, and so most of you had an idea that I was getting married, but little else. So, here are the details.

On December 31, 2007 in Kumba, Cameroon, I became Mrs. B. We made our vows, in the sight of God and man, exchanged rings and sealed it with a kiss (or two). The entire town was there to celebrate, and sing, and my mum provided support and love for the blushing bride. It was wonderful! I will send out pictures via e-mail to all of you in a few weeks, so make sure that I have your e-mail address.

So, to answer the frequently asked questions...

1) Why the secrecy/rush?

There wasn't a rush, we've been planning this for months. The secrecy was because a) I didn't want people to feel bad about not being able to come, b) although we were planning for months, because of timing and visas and money, things didn't come together until the very end, and I didn't want to have to keep changing information or giving updates and, c) I am my mothers child (if you know my mum, you know what that means, if you don't, then don't worry about it).

2) Why did you get married in AFRICA?
Wanderlust baby! That and getting a fiance visa to the US quite complicated. Not a process I wanted to go through. Trust me, trying to co-ordinate a wedding when you live in China, your parents are in America, his parents are in Cameroon and you both have close family members in Europe is not easy. It would have taken years, and most of you know that I was NEVER a fan of long engagements. We considered all of the other possible options, destination weddings, waiting a year or two, etc. and this was the decision we made.

3) What is Cameroon like?
National Geographic. Beautiful. Seriously. You will have to see the pictures.

4) What was the wedding like? Did you have a traditional ceremony, a church wedding, what?
We had a civil ceremony at the council house. We wore traditional attire for the ceremony, and western attire for the reception. Although the ceremony was a civil ceremony, we said the traditional church vows (love, cherish, have, hold, rich, poor, sick, health till death us do part) and there was a scripture reading at the end. But there was no wedding march, altar, or anything like that. We signed the marriage certificate, and we were officially husband and wife.
Afterwards, there was lots of singing and jubilant calls from the women, which was great. Getting married is truly a community event, and a time for everyone to celebrate.

5) May I send a gift?
Thanks! Please be mindful that at some point, I will have to pack everything I own into two suitcases. I will be visiting the States this summer, and it might be easier for you to hold on to the gift(s) until then, or mail them to me at my mums address in FL (if you have it). It will also be easier, cheaper, and I won't have to worry about paying duty or potential customs issues. If you would still like to send a gift, e-mail me and I will send you my address.

6) Wait, weddings, gifts...I am WAY behind. How did he propose?
There wasn't a conventional "proposal", very indicative of his personality (and mine) and our relationship. This is what happened. He said to me one day, in a very serious voice. "L, I spoke to my father today". "Ok" I responded, expecting something grave. "I informed him of my intention to marry you. He agrees and thinks it is the right decision. So, I would like to get married in the next few months." There it was. I'm not a big one for surprises, so I am glad he didn't try. At the time, I just thought it was so funny, esp. because he was so serious that I thought he was going to tell me that someone was in the hospital and he had to go home! (I'm glad that the news wasn't grave.) I was laughing really hard though, and it took about 5 minutes for me to compose myself. He, however, was not laughing, and could not understand what I thought was so funny. So then I had to calm down and ask him if was asking me to marry him. He said, very nervously "What, you don't want to marry me?" At which point I decided to relieve him of his angst, and told him that I would love to marry him.

Although I would have loved for most of you to be there to celebrate with me, at the end of the day it is the marriage, and not the wedding, that is most important. I will be sure to send pictures, and diligently answer all of your questions. I know a few of you are a little upset with me, but that is ok, love heals all wounds. It was no easier for me than it was was you. Trust me. I would like to thank all of you that prayed for me, and celebrated with me across oceans and continents and multiple time zones. I would like to thank my siblings especially, my favorite uncle, my grandmothers, and closest friends, for their strength and perseverance, and for their presence in spirit. I would be lost without you.

And yes, we're gonna have a party when I come home, so get ready! Oh, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!