Noilly Prattle

Friday, March 11, 2022


театральная (Theatral’naya bus stop)

Mariinsky Theater Bus Stop


I was a bit shocked though not particularly surprised to see open hostility on social media today with this headline: 

“Facebook, Instagram to allow calls for violence against Russians”. Subhead, read: “Meta’s social media platforms have eased their hate-speech policies to permit calls for the death of some Russians.”

In other words, it’s OK to kill Russians.

At the risk of getting bashed myself, I will tell you a little story about an experience we had in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

A few years ago, we stayed in a rental apartment in St. Pete for a month while attending various opera and ballet shows at the Mariinski and other theaters in that beautiful city that has suffered so much in its history. After a visit to the Winter Palace, we were waiting for a bus on невский проспект [Nevsky Prospect] to return to театральная [Theatral’naya] the Mariinsky Theater bus stop which was near our apartment. We boarded a bus that said театральная, but we weren’t sure it was going in the correct direction and began discussing it together. I was sitting next a young man with long hair and pleasant features, my wife across the aisle.

All of a sudden, the young fellow spoke in excellent English and said that we were on the wrong bus. I replied that the sign on the bus said театральная. He said that yes, it was going there, but the long way around; it would take over an hour to get there. He said you should take the bus going in the opposite direction on Nevsky Prospect. That would take only 10 minutes. He offered to get off the bus with us and show us where to take the right bus. I protested that we couldn’t possibly inconvenience him on his way home. He said: "It’s no problem, my stop isn’t far and I can walk home." I knew he wasn’t being entirely truthful, but we let ourselves be taken by the hand. He even spoke to the bus ticket taker and asked her to return our bus fare, which she did.

He was a very engaging and friendly young man and we enjoyed chatting with him while waiting for the correct bus. When it arrived we thanked him for his kindness and boarded the bus while he disappeared into the night.

We got to театральная in 10 minutes, just as he predicted.

Monday, February 4, 2019

the Sacred and the Profane

     The Chuan Du Spring Resort in Beitou Hot Spring in Taiwan doesn't look like much from the outside. But every room is equipped with a stone hot spring bath. The hotel is a bit dated but convenient to the Metro—a two- or three-minute walk—which is very good for getting around Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. The flight is about two and a half hours from Okayama Airport in Japan.

       This is our second getaway to Taiwan from the chilly January winter in Japan. The weather was a balmy 20 C. when we arrived at the Chuan Du the evening of the January 7, 2019 at around 8pm. It was rather late so we just had a bite at the Burger King next door to the hotel and soaked and relaxed in the hot tub.

       We hopped on the Metro to go into Taipei to pick up some tickets for the high-speed train to Tainan City next week and do some sightseeing and lunch in Taipei. The LongShan 龙山 [Dragon Mountain] Temple is one of the oldest temples in Taiwan. Built in the 18th Century it is also one of the largest ones. Unfortunately, urban development has surrounded the temple and spoiled the view from outside. But what you can see of it is spectacular. It has one of the most ornate roofs I have seen thus far in “China”.
front main gate of LongShan Temple in Taipei City
       (I don't want to get too political but I should mention that the Taiwanese do not consider themselves a part of Mainland China. This has to do with their history of the Civil War between Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Tse Tung in the 1940s after Japan was defeated and driven out of China and Taiwan. The Mainland Government, however, considers Taiwan a part of China. As a result, of course, this causes political tension in the region.)


midrange detail of the fantastically
carved roof ornamentation
dragons, dragons everywhere
       So, back to the LongShan Temple. The details in the carvings (lots of dragons as the name implies) can't be described in words. It must be seen to be appreciated in full although photos can give you a good idea. Inside, the temple precinct is very spacious and it was crowded with people, even on a week day. Unlike austere churches the temple is a lively and upbeat place. Worshipers burn incense sticks and bow and make wishes for good luck and prosperity. There is no atonement for “sins” here, just hopefulness for a better life in this world. People also bring gifts and offerings to the temple—beautiful flowers abound as well as more humble gifts [the Taiwanese equivalent of a bag of Doritos isn't out of place]. We saw a young couple offering a large freshly picked (or bought) white radish. We committed a faux pas by sitting on a stone railing (apparently it's disrespectful) and an angry guard came and shooed us away from the railing. Embarrassing!

roof ornamentation is especially effective
against the open sky
this is where I got shooed
and embarrassed

inside the temple precinct
after the shooing

gifts and offerings from worshipers 

young couple offering a "daikon" a large white radish


       From the LongShan we walked a couple of kilometers to a shopping district where we had lunch at what has to be the most unusual restaurant in the history of eating out. I had read about it some time back on the web and there was a full page ad for it in the aircraft travel magazine. The name of the restaurant is the Modern Toilet and its theme is scatological [toilet] humor. I had the Vomit Spaghetti and Turd ice cream. One sits on toilet seats and the food is served in various toilet themed plates and cups, etc. A.'s sweet and sour fish came in a toilet bowl shaped dish. It's all great fun and the food is neither “crappy” nor the service “shitty” as a sign says—quite tasty in fact.

turd ice cream

Vomit Spaghetti

Sweet and Sour Fish
"I wondered what that smell was."

the band played The Diarrhea Blues and the toilets flushed on . . . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

China - Spring 2018, Zhujiajiao, a charming old water town

man powered rickshaws
Sing Dynasty post office
     Took the 12:26 high speed train to Hongqiao Airport and transferred to the Metro to Zhujiajiao, an ancient water town between Shanghai and Suzhou in the lakes and canals region. It was a little confusing after leaving Zhujiajiao Metro station, but we soon got oriented and started walking to the old town but decided to take a rickshaw peddled by a man. It was quite a bit farther than we had thought so were glad we had taken the rickshaw even though we were not dropped off at our hotel. The driver merely pointed us in a vague direction. We soon found a tourist information center and got directions to the hotel—the My Way Inn. Easy enough to find because it's next door to a famous post office built in the 19th Century during the Sing Dynasty, the last Imperial dynasty in China. It is famous because it's the only Sing Dynasty Post Office still standing.

My Way Inn and Renaissance Woman
canal view from our veranda
       The My Way Inn is quite a contrast from the more modern hotels we stayed at in Suzhou and Hangzhou. The hotel is an old canal house that has probably been around for several hundred years and looks it. Very quaint and charmingly appointed with odd bits of this and that from all over the place. The owner has traveled abroad and speaks excellent English. She is also reputed to be an accomplished musician as well. Also teaches yoga and tai chi in her spare time—a Renaissance woman!

tea on the veranda
our go to noodle shop
       After resting a while and having some tea  on our canal-side veranda we went out and wandered about the town a bit to get acquainted and get something to eat as well. It was getting late in the afternoon and the sun was pretty far in the west when we found a noodle shop and went in for a couple bowls. There was a large party of very exuberant women and I caught a few photos of a young woman in a traditional red costume posing for a photo op through a window behind the ladies.

landmark stone arch bridge - Zhujiajiao icon
old houses line the canal
       Zhujiajiao old town is all about narrow streets and olive green canals lined with old houses. It is old stone bridges and boats, boats, boats. In fact, the town is reminiscent of Venice with its narrow lanes, canals and gondoliers. Zhujiajiao has its own version of gondoliers who steer the tour boats with one oar at the rear. Many wear conical hats, but they don't seem to sing.

the only wooden bridge in Zhujiajiao

not all boats are for tourists 

 picturesque confluence of two canals

our street
lovely old houses on the canal at sunset
      The old town with its little narrow streets and alleys is particularly lovely in the evenings as the sun is throwing some beautiful mellow evening light on the canals and old buildings giving the scene a warm glow.

Zhujiajiao's iconic stone arch bridge at sunset

sunset glow on the berthed tour boats

breakfast on the veranda
canal side kebabs
     One thing stands out and it's about the innkeeper. The lady is quite an accomplished artiste of many talents—she's a published writer, musician of traditional instruments and poetic songs, a practitioner and teacher of yoga and tai-chi, a dancer and an innkeeper—she speaks English very well and teaches an English class. The My Way Hotel is her brainchild I think. For a reasonable charge she offered to bring breakfast to our room in the mornings. After returning from exploring the old town and eating simple (and very reasonable) noodle shop and and fast food kebab shop fare one day, the innkeeper was having an English conversation class and invited us to sit in and participate. On another evening she was having a show of yoga and traditional song and dance performances that we enjoyed tremendously.

Traditional Chinese Song Performance

yoga performance 
our hostess performing
a traditional song

the English Class and guests

       The contrast of the simple fare and accommodation and the accomplishments of the innkeeper provided a wonderful contrast to the hustle and bustle of Suzhou and Hangzhou. You just never know what you will run across on the open road.

Old Stone Bridge at night 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

China - Spring 2018, Hangzhou – 4 - 龙井村 Dragon Well (Tea) Village

March 24, Saturday

gateway to Longjing Village
(sign reads backwards)  
main road through the village
     After a wild goose chase to the wrong bus stop, we got on a #27 bus to Longjing Village at a bus stop surprisingly close to our hotel. It was around 10:00 in the morning and traffic was already horrendous, it being the start of a weekend when the tourists come out in hordes. It almost seemed like all of China's 1.3 billion people came to Hangzhou for the weekend. We had to stand on the overcrowded bus as it jerked along in the bumper to bumper traffic practically all the way to our destination, Longjing Village, a town famous for its tea. Longjing means Dragon Well in Chinese. At length we finally arrived at Longjing Village and explored around the area on foot.

 terraced tea bushes
fruit vendor

temple garden 

spring water well where the village gets its name

latticed window and very large teapot

Longjing Village (Chinese character for tea on the red lanterns)

       March is the best time, according to the travel brochure, to visit [龙井村] Longjing Village. Farmers are busy picking the tender new leaves. The tea is the finest at this time because few bugs are out to eat the new tea leaves and the nutrients in the soil are at their most potent. The tea from leaves collected at this time are the most prized crop of the entire year.

tea pickers returning from the plantation

pit stop for tea . . . 
. . . and nuts and sunflower seeds 
       It is a lovely rural village in the mountains to the west of Hangzhou. The area is famous in China for its tea. It is a very rough cut green tea. The freshly cut tea leaves are put loosely into a glass and hot water is pored over it. The loose tea floats at first and slowly sinks to the bottom of the glass. Nevertheless, you have to filter the leaves through your teeth. Either that or eat some of the leaves, which aren't bad, not bitter at all since only fresh young tea leaves are chosen. We stopped at a tea house to rest and refresh before heading back, by the #27 bus again, to Hangzhou.

rough cut loose tea leaves right in the glass

traffic congested main road
through Longjing Village
on the #27 bus to Hangzhou
        By the time we were ready to leave the traffic in the little town had become bumper to bumper, making a mockery of the idea of a peaceful country retreat from the busy urban scene. It wasn't much different really. We walked to the bus stop which was already crowded with waiting passengers. When the bus arrived it was a rush, pushing and shoving, to get through the door and onto the bus. You have to wait for the next bus if it fills up before you get on—so all the pushing and shoving. You can't afford to be polite, you have to push and shove and elbow your way onto the bus with the best (or worst) of them, or else. It was standing room only all the way into Hangzhou, so we decided to get off the bus at the Broken Bridge stop and walk the rest of the way. The foot traffic on Broken Bridge was completely congested. Unbelievable!

Lingering Crowds on the Broken Bridge

the Little Emperor
"I dreamed I was the Empress of China"
       We decided to go out for a little fresh air and walking exercise and look for a noodle shop on Longyou Road, not too far from the hotel. We walked along the east shore of West Lake which was very crowded with Sunday holiday makers--a good-natured happy crowd. Some ladies (and men, too) were into dressing up in traditional clothes for photo ops as we had seen in other areas of China—a very popular activity for Chinese tourists in their own country. We soon found a little noodle shop that we had heard good things about. It turned out to be practically around the corner from our hotel. The beef and shrimp noodle dishes we ordered were excellent. As so often happens, we found the best restaurant at the very end of our stay in Hangzhou. We returned to the hotel to prepare and pack for our departure to Zhoujiajiao, an old river town not far from Shanghai.

shrimp noodles
beef noodles

exquisitely executed Chinese characters in water