Weekend Adventures in China March and April 2017

Having not blogged since Christmas, and having updated the blog from our American holiday completed in February 2017, I have decided to combine a couple of adventures while making an agreement with myself to get back on the blog more often! I have had more than one comment asking about the blog, so I apologise to my readers!

After Chinese New Year, Martin, Eleanor and I escorted 14 or so students to Beijing to ISCMS X (International Schools Choral Music Society) http://www.iscms.net/ 

Hosted by Dulwich College Beijing for the 10th Anniversary, our students either sang in the choir, played in the Big Band or played in the orchestra. Martin’s viola came along and as well as being treasurer, he also played in the orchestra. I sang in the choir, though as Eleanor was ill on the day of the performance I missed out on the opportunity to sing at the Forbidden City Concert Hall.  The Choir and Orchestra performed separately and together, and while performing traditional pieces, such as Rutter’s Gloria, we also performed “A Bird Came Down the Walk” poetry by Emily Dickinson, set to music by contemporary composer Christopher Tin commissioned especially for the 10th anniversary. _E5A9141.JPG
While we all rehearsed, Eleanor for the Thursday and Friday was temporarily enrolled in Year 3 in Dulwich College Beijing.
ISCMS next year will be hosted by the Dulwich International High School and Dulwich College Suzhou with the gala concert being held on 3rd February at the Suzhou Cultural and Arts Centre. I may not get to sing next year (or play) but I will be in the audience!
Shortly after returning from ISCMS we entered into plum blossom season. Adamant to see some, I arranged a driver to take us to a place that had advertised. Our driver, James who we use regularly to take us to airports, suggested we go to Linwu Cave as well. Located on Suzhou’s Xishan Island in the middle of Taihu Lake, it is known as “the ninth cave under the heaven”. This cave had been a very important place for the ceremony of the Taoism since Han Dynasty. Outside the cave I would see the blossom.
We had packed sandwiches, as we weren’t sure if there would be anything to eat (glad we had the foresight to do this).

The caves were interesting, geological mini karst formations and were definitely colourful, thanks to the lights that had been installed caves will now never be quite the same. Whether these caves are still seen as important for Taoism is doubtful given their psychedelic look. Outside it was raining. And the blossom was lacking. We had come too early in the season. But I did get a few pictures and I also got the umbrella that I have been coveting for sometime.

On our journey onto the island we had passed a lot of pick your own farms. February onwards is the season for strawberries and so we stopped on the way back to Suzhou and picked about 5kg of strawberries.

In the summer the farms turn into PYO for watermelon – which doesn’t quite have the same appeal. The strawberries ranged from being quite small, to massive. But they were juicy and while we kept some for ourselves, a lot where given away to colleagues and friends. I have been used to picking strawberries in the summer time at Anstey, 6 miles east of Shaftesbury, Dorset but picking in winter with the rain coming down outside the poly tunnel was definitely an experience to be repeated next year!.

A couple of weekends later we went to Shangfangshan, Suzhou’s national forest park. I am a member of the Suzhou Photographers group on Facebook, and a few people had posted pictures of blossom and tulips. It looked inviting, but no one could tell me how to get there by public transport as they had driven/been driven there. So we plugged our destination into maps on the iPhone, and followed the instructions. We got the metro to Binhe Lu (line 1), exit 4 and then bus 415. Over an hour later we arrived. This time we were greeted with a Dutch windmill surrounded by Tulips in front of a lot of cherry blossom. Some of the tulips, despite being behind a little picket fence, were trampled on by people who wanted to get the “perfect”picture. We also came across an enclosure of peacocks – maybe they were fenced off too – for their own protection.

These pictures were taken on the same day – it was getting warmer!

We kept on walking and by pure accident we ended up at the back entrance of Suzhou Zoo. Having had a bad experience at Shenzhen Zoo, we didn’t know quite what to expect. I knew that it was fairly new, and hoped that the enclosures and animal welfare would reflect that. The jury is out. It wasn’t as upsetting as Shenzhen were they had kids holding meat on a fishing line dangling down the wolves and making them jump for it, the enclosures were large but there was no water in the pools in the enclosures. However, they are at the forefront of the South China Tiger breeding programmes and the numerous large enclosures reflected the money that has clearly been spent.

We saw a lot of different birds that day and a few big cats. The zoo was empty of people and not many of the enclosures had animals in them. But it was an unexpected day out considering we had gone to see the tulip and cherry blossom.

Our weekends have also been taken up with sport. Eleanor has continued with swimming and was rewarded with a ribbon for winning her heat at a Shanghai meet for Girls 8 and Under 25m Freestyle. From the start of the year to the meet in April she has knocked more than 10 seconds off her time.

Eleanor has also lobbied for girls to take up rugby. In PE, the winter programme was netball for girls and rugby for boys. Eleanor successfully got the right to play rugby in PE lessons (and tag rugby during Sports Day) and also to play for the U9s team which is mixed. They have no positions and are learning not to clump around the ball. Eleanor understands this, but it has been a slow process for the team to learn.  There are two girls on the team with Eleanor being the first! There have only been a few matches at Dulwich in Suzhou and therefore to support the team in Shanghai has been a labour of love leaving Suzhou at 6am in the morning. Just like the swim meets, the parents are great and vocal (!) Though the kids don’t listen to the 14 or so parents shouting “advice” from the sidelines. IMG_7343