Spam holds a place dear in the hearts of many Pacific islanders, a legacy of the canned food rations brought to this part of the world by American soldiers during World War II. In Honolulu, the love stays alive through the annual Spam Jam on Waikiki Beach, where local restaurants come up with recipes for using the canned meat -- with varying success.
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Every event has its draw of mascots, as does Spam Jam.
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Catch the wave...of Spam.
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Spam sushi
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What can improve the common hamburger? Why Spam, of course!
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You know Spam is going upscale when Gordon Biersch brewery wants in on the action.
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An enthusiastic display of Spam cupcakes from the Hard Rock Cafe.
 
 
This past weekend I had the chance to visit a couple of the more notable sites in Anhui Province: the ancient village of Sanhe and one of the four sacred Chinese Buddhist mountains, Mount Jiuhua. Sanhe, as it stands, is about 1,000 years old, but it was a village going waaaaay back. Mount Jiuhua is about a three-hour drive south of Hefei and is the site of 99 temples, from the mountain's foot to its peaks. (Seemed like a lot more than 99, though, as I walked miles of paths and steps.) The smoke from the incense rivals the smog of Beijing. Below are some pics. Click on Read More to see more photos.
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Not much of China looks like Sanhe anymore. Most of the old parts have either been torn down and replaced with dull new buildings or are so dilapidated that they looks like a ghettos.
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One of the three rivers that meet in Sanhe. ('San' means three in Mandarin.)
 
 
My Hefei friend Betsy took me to the Hefei Museum on Sunday, which is a combination historical/natural science museum -- although it did happen to have an exhibit of the  paintings of Pan Yuliang, a Chinese artist who spent most of her career in France in the early 20th century. The highlight of the museum was the collection of dinosaur bones, which are plentiful in the outcroppings of the nearby Yangtze River. And the lowlight was the cheesy diorama room. The ever game Betsy was willing, however, to rescue a wee 'saur from the jaws of a T-rex. (see below)

Later we joined her husband/almost husband/it's complicated and two of his friends for a hotpot meal of spicy shrimp. The meal was better than thumbs up. It was a mealtime victory!
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I worked as an editor in Shenzhen, China, for more than a year. It's located right across the border from Hong Kong. I took the picture below when I visted there recently. Question: What is the purpose of the subject in the photo?

Click on Read More for the answer.
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As promisted earlier, here are photos from a long weekend trip to Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province with my girlfriend. Named for the color of the granite that makes up most of the range, Yellow Mountain is one of the most famous scenic spots in China. If you're Chinese, you expect to go there at least once in your life. It's known for its strange rock formations, sea of clouds, pine trees and Tibetan macaque monkeys. (We didn't see any monkeys but plenty of the other sights.) We took a cable car up and down in order to see as much as possible on top. Otherwise, the walk up is about four hours. At which time exhaustion will drive you to throw yourself off a cliff.

This was probably the most exhausting sightseeing I've done in China, and I've been to a lot of places. Many miles of paths have been bolted to the side of the mountain peaks. Some are virtual ladders (the longest and steepest is called Heaven's Ladder). For more photos, click on Read More.
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A view down from the cable car.
 
 
Coming soon in this space: highlights from a tour atop Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province. Nature has erected the most exotic rock formations in this mountain range, everything from gorges to engorgement. Blood rushes to your head in the cloudy heights, climaxing in dream-soaked sunsets. 
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Welcoming Rock at Yellow Mountain (seriously!!)
 
 
Sorry about the dearth in postings, faithful crane watchers. I've been a little indisposed, Internet access-wise. But here, as a quick and special treat, is a photo of  the "Nepalese Jazz Bar If" in Suzhou. Which immediately raises the questions: What does Nepalese jazz sound like? Why would this strange and perhaps unholy duo of nationality and musical genre coalesce in mainland China? And why so iffy?

Well, the answer to the last question is that the "IF" actually is an abbreviation for First Floor. Points to anyone to whom that seemed obvious. I actually thought it was "IF."
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ZhouZhuang, the rivertown, also has its own speciality alcohol: yellow wine. It tastes a lot like other versions of alcohol made in China, a bit cloying and tasting somewhat like ouzo. Not my bag, but I appreciate the effort. One family devotes itself to making and bottling yellow wine in an old ZhouZhuang residence, and we stopped in to watch.
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Bottling it the home-brewing style.
Click Read More to follow the process.
 
 
I've been in the city of  Suzhou these past days. It's just north of Shanghai, and unlike many Chinese cities, its older core has not been demolished for a crush of bland skyscrapers. It has some real personality. USTC has a satellite campus in the city's "education district," as do most of the other top ones in China, such as Beijing University and Renmin University. (There's even a campus that's a collaboration between a Chinese university and Liverpool University. "Imagine there's a joint campus. It isn't hard to do...")

My hosts here took me to a nearby "rivertown" called ZhouZhuang. And, if you're at all a faithful reader of the Crane among Chickens blog, you know that photos and zany good times are ahead in this posting. As you head east from Suzhou toward the ocean, the land becomes a mixture of swamp, lakes and streams. Much of the area's freshwater fish are raised in this area, and also shrimp, crawfish, and oysters. ZhouZhuang is a very old village that was built on an island. Most of the original buildings are still standing. The residents used to make a living fishing. Now they sell tourists souvenir knicknacks and overpriced food. Well, it beats gutting fish, I guess.

First, I'd like to share the most sublime image of ZhouZhuang:
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Click on Read More  for a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous.
 
 
On Sunday I was driven about 17 kilometers from the university to a place called Science Island. It is indeed an island, right in the middle of a vast reservoir, which supplies the city with its (undrinkable) tap water. The island is the bucolic campus of institutes run by the Chinese Academy of Scientists. USTC offers joint classes with the institutes. Not that any of this really explains why I was there.

I was asked to give a talk about the transportation and logistics system in the United States. I am, of course, a logical choice for this because 1) I'm an American and 2) I drive.

After the talk we drove around the island for a while. I noticed a very old building that was abandoned and somewhat grown over. I asked about it and learned that it had been built in the 1950s when it was learned that Mao Zedong would attend a conference in Hefei. Mao never showed up, but just the POSSIBILITY that he was coming has remained legendary to this day. In historical accounts I've read of Mao, many, many places constructed edifices upon learning the Chairman planned to visit, but in many cases, he never showed.
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Mao would have loved the view! But he was a no-show.
Click on Read More for more photos.