We’re off to Sanya..

So we are headed to the city of Sanya on Hainan Island, China tomorrow. Here is a picture I just found from the Marriott website. The good news is that we are excited to travel in China and get out of the city for a bit…the bad news is the forecast for the week is not looking good 😦 Either way we know we will be warm and at the beach!   The End of the Earth ( Tian Ya Hai Jiao ) Tianya Haijiao, also interpreted as The Edge of the Sky and The End of the Sea, means the remotest corner of the earth, is undoubtedly Sanya’s most famous scenic spot and the highlight for almost every visitors. Not only for the spectacular beaches and expansive ocean view, but also for its rich history.The End of the Earth

This week is known as Qingming Festival in China. Also referred to as the Tomb Sweeping holiday. “Tomb sweeping is regarded as the most important custom in the Qingming Festival from which the name of Tomb-sweeping day is taken. Cleaning the tomb and paying respect to the dead person with offerings are the two important parts of remembering past relatives. Weeds around the tomb are cleared away and fresh soil is added to show care for the dead. The dead person’s favorite food and wine are taken to sacrifice to them, along with paper resembling money. This is all burned in the hope that the deceased are not lacking food and money.”

Not only is it a day for commemorating the dead, is it also a festival for people to enjoy themselves. During March, everything in nature takes on a new look, as trees turn green, flowers blossom, and the sun shines brightly. It is a fine time to go out and to appreciate the beautiful scenes of nature during the festival. This custom can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) and followed by each dynasty later until today. So visitors can be seen everywhere during the month of the festival.

Spring outings not only add joy to life but also promote a healthy body and mind. Flying kites is an activity favored by many people during the Qingming Festival. Kites are not only flown during the day time but also in the evening. Little lanterns are tied to the kite or to the string that holds the kite. And when the kite is flying in the sky, the lanterns look like twinkling stars that add unique scenery to the sky during the night. What makes flying kites during this festival special is that people cut the string while the kite is in the sky to let it fly free. It is said this brings good luck and that diseases can be eliminated by doing this. All in all, the Qingming Festival is an occasion of unique characteristics, integrating sorrowful tears to the dead with the continuous laughter from the spring outing. http://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/qingming.htm

The kids have the week off from school and most, if not all of the families from the school are traveling. We have friends going to Singapore, Taiwan, Phuket Thailand, Vietnam and to Sanya as well. It seems all of the Westerners at the school will take advantage of traveling around Asia during every vacation. Chip is actually working today because his office will be closed for three days this week. Everyone goes into the office on Saturday and Sunday and then gets the three days off. So, really they only get one day off, Wednesday, the actual holiday. Interesting how they work the holidays here with businesses.

So I am almost done packing and excited to smell sun screen for the week. I am praying there will be blue sky and not as much rain as the weather channels are predicting. We are springing out of Chongqing and hoping the weather will add a little joy to life!


When in Rome…

Ok, let’s start with important unrelated info…the kids and I are officially residents of China! Our visas are finally back and in the hotel safe, tucked away as a new page in our passports! You do not know the relief this is! We do not need to deal with this issue again until next year…plenty early enough so they will be all set again before March 20th!

Now let’s get to today. I accepted an invitation to accompany 8 other Asian women to go to a temple and to eat lamb. If you know me, I always prefer vegetables.  I eat seafood (which I would never give up…except for the salmon at the Hilton) and I do eat meat, but it is rare.  I barely cook it and never eat it in a  restaurant. But I was invited and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to experience more of China. Tiffany and I were meeting the other women @10 and then we would travel just less than an hour to the temple. We took two cars and another woman joined in our car. This woman actually lives in Blue Lake (where we will live) and has two children. A daughter who is one year older than Ella and a son in Ella’s class. She is very nice and added to the interesting conversation during our drive.

We exited the highway and started our way up into the mountains. All of the back roads that go up the mountains are quite winding and tight. At times it is not possible to have two cars pass each other that are going in opposite directions. We arrived at the temple first. It is not much to see from the road, but we all went in together.  You get an immediate feel for its age. It was quite traditional and quite fascinating. I am not a Buddhist, but I respect people of all religions and beliefs, as I hope they respect mine. The temple was beautiful, not a modern creation by any means. One thing that is fantastic about this group of women is that they seem to like having me with them. They translate if they speak English and they also want me to try things, because they know I’m the newbie. We first walked around and then found our way to the small shop.  At the shop the woman behind the counter sold us three packs of very large incense, two candles, money to give to the Gods and some paper to burn. I never caught the significance of the paper. This cost 39 yuan (less than $7). We then went back outside and lit our candles and placed them to burn out in a place where what seems millions of others have done the same. We then used the candles we just lit to light our incense. We placed the incense in a large ash-tray of sorts, a very cool sculpture where they would remain until they burned out. We then went to bow in front of several different Gods. These were large statues of the specific Gods. I bowed down on a pillow in front of the God of Mercy. I kneeled down and bowed three times, stood and then repeated the behavior three more times. I was then taken to another God where I knelt on the pillow and was told to pick up a container of wooden sticks. I was told to ask a question to the God and to shake the sticks. I did what the women before me did and after the shaking of the sticks, one stuck out farther than all of the rest. Interestingly, I had several containers of sticks to choose from and each container held many sticks. When I took out a stick with my right hand as I was told to do, the Chinese characters represented the number 8. When I told my kids the story I asked them “and what number do you think was on Mommy’s stick?” They screamed “8!” (they know it has always been my favorite number). Once, when I was a kid my Mom’s friend Fran, who many of you may remember, he took us to a horse race. When we arrived, there were three races left. He told me to pick a number for each race and handed me the program so I could look at all of the horses. I handed it back to him unopened and said “8”.  He was surprised, and of course tried to talk me into picking favored horses. Turns out I won all three races. Eight and I go way back!

After I pulled the wooden stick with “Ba” on it, I went over to another area and a man gave me the fortune that went with my “8.” All of the women with me said “Oh this so good, it is so lucky.” One woman who also shook the sticks said “Oh yours is better than mine.” In China they love the number 8.  They actually pay loads of money to have 8s in their phone numbers or on their licence plates. The number 8 represents wealth or brings you good luck with money. My question was my families time here in China.  If the number 8 can help with that, I am thrilled! Next, we lit our “money” and paper on fire and sent it to the Gods. This was done in the back of the temple in a large cool urn looking fire pit. After that we entered yet another room. This temple had a huge poster/sign on the wall that showed the year of your birth and the God who  oversees that year. In the next room we could choose three different pieces of ribbon and pray for either safety, happiness, wealth or one other thing. Some of the women used all three. There was a man who sat at a table and he would put your name, date and time of birth down the side of the ribbon material and then you would take the ribbon and put it on a nail in front of the God of your year. I decided that I would have him use the safety and happiness ribbons and I had all of our info put on the side of the ribbon. Then, I placed one in front of the God that represents Chip’s, Will’s, Ella’s and my God. We seemed to be the only people visiting the temple at the time, but of course there were a few people around (maybe they worked there) and one older man using swords to do Tai Chi.  He looked very much at peace. Maybe there is something to this Tai Chi.

Then we ventured further up the mountain to the restaurant. It was actually part of a resort where a lot of businesses have meetings. The grounds were beautiful. I will be posting tons of pictures on Facebook as my blog only let me insert three pictures. I need to backtrack for a minute. On the way to the temple we had a conversation about the “lamb.”  The other women who joined our car is from Mongolia. She talked about how in Mongolia the sheep are much bigger and different. They have huge fields that they graze in and it makes them very different. Somehow by the end of this conversation I discovered we were going to eat GOAT! Oddly, all day everyone just kept saying lamb.  I have pictures we were eating GOAT.  Fresh goat, but none the less, goat! I explain to them that we eat goat’s milk and cheese, but we do not eat goat. Chip just told me that many people all over the world eat goat. Of course, at this point I am in the car, so why not eat goat!?

I digress…we were headed through hallways on the way to get to the dining area and I come up behind two men.  They were dressed as chefs and carrying our goat on a spit. They entered the dining room and hung the goat on a barbecue of sorts that we all sat around. We were all given plastic gloves that we wore on one hand to pull meat off the goat. The goat was heavily spiced with a spice rub and it was smoked. I have to admit it was delicious! I will also admit it was much like a pig roast. Not only am I often grossed out by an American pig roast, buy I also don’t think it tastes very good. I wasn’t interested in picking it down to the bones like the other women, but let me tell you, it was clean when we finished. We were also drinking beer.  No one was drinking a lot, but it fit well and was quite good. It could be the only thing today that I forgot to take a picture of!

So once the goat was picked clean we moved to a table right behind our barbecue. This table had bowls of chives and cilantro and the oily spice that the locals use in tons of noodle dishes. There was a huge boiling soup in the middle of the table that included the rest of the goat. The soup had the brain, blood, tongue (stop gagging Lorna) and all of the other innards of the goat. Ok, I will admit here…I was quite surprised. I didn’t know this was coming next. The women devoured it and again..I have to admit, it was quite good. I love soup and there wasn’t anything that specifically had a lot of flavor. I added the cilantro (my favorite) and the chives and spice to my bowl, so maybe I created my own flavor. I did try the blood and the brain (like tofu), but very small bites of both. The women did say that I am not like most Americans.

After lunch we walked the grounds of the resort. All in all, I had a fascinating day. If you are shocked that I ate goat, don’t be. They said the goat was very fresh, the vegetables were organic and the company was fun! We ended the day back at the cafe across from our soon-to-be house. I am intrigued by these women of the world and this adventure is all about new experiences. I got sick last week from the salmon at the Hilton, buy not even for a second did I feel sick today. This won’t be something we do everyday, but be forewarned…if you plan to visit us, we will plan to spend a day like this.  Why?  Because I can’t imagine doing anything like this when I return home!  As they say, when in Rome!

And life goes on!

Ok, so I need to catch you up on everything we have been doing! Last week was a very bad week from being sick to troubles with our visas and instead of blogging about it, I am just going to let it be last week!

We have done a ton this week so that is what I will write about! We finally tried traditional Hot Pot last Friday night. I have to say it was fun and delicious! I also have to say my kids are really amazing me.  They have been trying everything. How cool is it to have a boiling pot of liquid in front of you and cook the shrimp on a stick that are still moving?! The kids actually ate more than I thought they would; meat, shrimp, white fish, veggies and even tofu! Maybe when I get back I will open a Hot Pot restaurant.  The style of eating is so fun,  Americans would love it! Chip and I did not order the spiciest, “make your mouth numb” pot, but we both had it quite spicey by most standards!

After dinner we went over to the big Theater/Opera House and admired the views and the lights of the city. The Theater is the most unique building I have seen here and there is one wall of it that is famous. Many people will go to the wall to ask their girlfriend to marry them or to celebrate other special occasions. The wall is larger than life, so to speak, and it changes pictures, colors and themes every few seconds. As you can see from the picture of the kids, they are quite tiny in comparison! I wasn’t even able to get the entire wall into my camera view top to bottom.

On Saturday, St. Patrick’s day, we decided to find the one Irish Pub in town. We had heard it was here and so we decided we would head out around 3:30 and make our way there for an early dinner. The area of the city is called Hongya Dong and the collection of shops and restaurants are built-in the side of a rock cliff. In the back of the pub there is actually a massive glass window and you look out the window to the rock cliff. The bar owner immediately introduced himself, an Irish guy from Chicago. He not only owns the Pub, but also the Mexican restaurant on the next wall. He is an Architect by day in Chongqing and he seems to be enjoying all aspects of his Chongqing life! When you order, you choose from items off both the pub and Mexican food menu, I know it was St. Patty’s day, but I was so happy to have some salsa! Actually everything we ate had a Mexican flare to it, but Chip did have an Irish beer! The owner stamped Chip’s hand for the two beers he drank saying there was a contest that night and prizes would be given out! Ha! We both laughed and were happy the prizes would go to the more deserving late night crowd! We did hear the next day that many of the parents from the kid’s school started showing up about 15 minutes after we left. I am sure some of them will be sporting their Pub T-shirts at a future gathering!

I attended the International Women’s Lunch this week as well. It wasn’t exactly as I expected.  It was more of an excuse to gather women in the same place to get to know each other. Each table gathered women from the same country.  There was a Chinese table (women from other areas of China living here) there was a Japanese table, a group of women from Australia and one guy sat with them. He is the stay-at-home Dad and his wife is here working. There are actually a few men who are taking care of their kids and their wives work. I sat with Asian women, from China, Malaysia, and Taiwan. There were only a couple of American women and one of them is on the board so she sat with other board members. After the luncheon, my friend Tiffany and I ran out to another foot massage. Another $12 well spent!

The highlight of the week was yesterday. The kids have been working on different track and field events in gym class and yesterday was Sports Day. It was a full-blown track meet complete with awards and a PTA lunch. On Thursday afternoon I went with several other moms to form 350 hamburgers and prep for the barbecue. Yesterday went to the school at 8:00 and I stayed at the event the whole day. Chip came and stayed until 12:30 and he got to meet a lot of the husbands and help with the grilling. The kids participated in running events, javelin, shotput, high jump, long jump, an obstacle course and more. Will and Ella were phenomenal! Will won 6 first place ribbons and at the end of the day was given a medal for first place overall for his age group and Ella won a first place, two second place and two third place ribbons and also won first overall for her age group!!!! It was so fun to watch the kids interact all day with their classmates and I was so proud of them both for giving it their all! We were all exhausted at the end of the day and even through the clouds Ella got a tiny sun burn on her face.

Today we have already been out to footbal (soccer), Ella is on her first playdate, Chip and I took Will out to lunch and then we did some shopping.  Later we will try dinner in yet another new area with several parents and the Principal’s family. I guess we are officially settling in!

3,000, thank you for taking this adventure with us!

3,000 views all-time, this is what I just saw when I opened my blog today! I started this Blog on December 21st and in not even three full months there have been 3000 visits to it!

Thank you, thank you, WOW! I intended for this blog to be a way to communicate with our friends and family all at once. We have a lot of people near and dear to us and writing individual emails to everyone consistently would be difficult. So, I decided to start the blog. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought in less than three months it would have 3000 views. What is also shocking is that my blog has been viewed in 6 different countries: USA, France, Canada, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom! When I sign into my WordPress account they always have about 2 dozen blogs I can click on to view what other people are writing about, so I am guessing that is how I have received some of my views around the world. Either way, I am feeling quite blessed by the support.

I was just Skyping with my friend in WV and she was saying that I write the way I talk and that she feels like she is listening to me tell about my experiences. I have never liked people reading my writing and every time I hit the publish button I am not confident about what I have written. So, thank you for overlooking the typos I fail to find, and for ignoring when I do not follow all of the rules of the English language!  My goal is to show you what life is like here and to teach you what I am learning.

I was telling my friend that everyday I am still shocked by what I see here, so I hope I do not run out of experiences to share with you….something tells me I will not!

For instance, today I was waiting to be picked up (after I went shopping for green shirts for the kids for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration tomorrow at school) and there was a gentleman with a pole over his shoulder selling strings of cooked small birds hanging off each end. He was staring at me non stop and walking in circles.  Each circle brought him closer to me,  but I am guessing he didn’t see me as a potential customer.

Or the other day when we saw the two people on a motorcycle with an umbrella over their heads. I guess that goes to show you that traffic is not traveling at high rates of speed, try holding an umbrella over your head on 93 South on the way to Boston!

Or the fact that so many meals here are served with a sunny side up egg on the top of whatever it is you ordered. I love eggs, but I have never been a fan of sunny side up style or to have them randomly show up on top of a meal when I wasn’t expecting them.

All of the streets here have several lanes of traffic, even on the one-way streets in the city there could be six lanes across. The other day there was a man pulling a cart across the street and he stopped right in the middle of the street to send or receive a text. I am thinking the text should have said “I could be killed any minute, I will text you later.”

Every so often we will be in our room (floor 20) and we will hear what seems to be a marching band. We have come to find out that this is a small marching band with signs walking down the street advertising a restaurant. This is what we think of course, it could also be a small, non violent protest of some sort!

Or how about this…I ordered room service about a half hour ago, steamed broccoli with garlic, hot and sour soup (the best I have ever had) and coffee.  Just a side note, if you are starving, but it is only shortly after you have been sick, toast would have been a better option! The door bell just rang and it was a waiter we have not seen before. He became giddy at the sight of me. He asked where I was from and I said, “Boston, USA” (few people know NH) he got even happier “Oh, USA that is a great country, I am so happy you are here”.  He brought in the room service cart, (which we usually just ask them to leave, we sign and they go) he set up the table, reorganized everything on it in the direction of where I was going to sit. He asked me if I used chop sticks and was so proud that I did, I said thank you in Chinese, he nearly fell over with excitement. Then he asked to pour my coffee, he asked me to sit and enjoy and then as he was walking out the door he hurried back and put my napkin on my lap. Now, that is service!

It is always interesting to be an American and be on the outside looking in. I am fascinated by what people think of us. There is one Asian mom at the kid’s school who is always talking about good places to eat. I asked her the other day how she eats out so much and keeps her small figure. I told her I was trying to be so careful eating every meal in a restaurant and she laughed and said “You OK, you OK, you are not like most Americans” She was saying that most Americans are fat!

I have also been watching a lot of news here. I am actually learning a ton about the Asian countries and I have to say it is fascinating. Did you know that Singapore has the lowest birth rate in the world and the government is offering incentives for people to get married and have babies? Or that public education is only paid for by the Chinese government through middle school and then you have to pay to go to high school. It is also facinating to learn more about all of the countries in China, who was owned by who, who is part of China now, or who doesn’t think they are part of China. Who likes who and so on…. Anyway, I also watch CNBC and CNN and I have to say it killed me the other day when Rush Limbaugh the shock jock said those horrible stupid things about the Harvard student (regarding healthcare) to of course up his ratings and that made world news. Really, how can we have what he said spread around the world and people still think we have a wonderful country?? Painful!

Will is getting his fill of really bad old movies. The Chinese love them! Old movies, 007 movies, really bad sci fi and cheesey effects kind of movies. The other day Ella was watching something with Will and I said “Ella I don’t want you to have nightmares, this isn’t a movie for you.” She said “Mom, look at this movie, it is SOOO fake.” The movie was horrible, we actually ended up laughing hysterically at the way it was filmed somewhere around 1950!

I also laughed that the other night Chip and I watched “The Social Network”.  We came all the way to China to watch a movie about Facebook, although they do not allow Facebook here.  Go figure!

Ella and I were in a bathroom the other day at the Intercontinental. I was waiting for her to come out and wash her hands. There was a washroom attendant also there. I thought she was waiting for us to finish and leave. Ella came out washed her hands and as she went to grab a paper towel the lady grabbed her hand, turned the water back on and started to scrub the maker still left over from art class the day before. I quickly said “Oh that’s ok, that’s ok,” and she finally gave up on the fact she could get Ella’s hands completely clean! 
As we left the bathroom I quickly told Ella that I thought she was the grandmotherly type and she really wanted to help get the marks off her hands! Ella handled this in stride, but I could see in Ella’s body language that could have gone either way! Phew!

We are experiencing the good, the bad (which was today and another post) and the ugly here. I am still quite fascinated and intrigued and at times completely overwhelmed by this city, but as I look out the window right now it is beautiful all lit up at night. No matter what each day brings, (today brought a great deal of stress, thank you Katie and Shannon for our brief FB chats tonight, they really helped me off the ledge!) I will report back, the good, the bad and the ugly!

Another new experience…

At the beginning of this week my, friend Tiffany told me she was going to take me for a massage. She actually invited me and another American woman named Laurie who lives in the same community that we will live in. As you all know, I was grumpy at the beginning of the week so I told her I would go and didn’t think much more about it. I did need to reschedule my Chinese lesson, but luckily Nick agreed to meet me Friday afternoon at the cafe across from our house. Our plan was to meet in the Hilton lobby at 12:30 on Thursday. Laurie would be coming from the university as she decided in early fall that she would take a Mandarin class instead of just the two lessons a  week with Nick. I think the Americans coming over here are keeping Nick busy! Anyway, Tiffany’s plan was for us to go for “fish hotpot” and then to the massage. I have yet to eat traditional mouth numbing hotpot, and we were not headed out for traditional hotpot. Chongqing prides itself on hotpot. There are over 10,000 hotpot restaurants in the city. Each and every one of them have their own recipes, so they are all slightly different. Hotpot is a style of eating as well as a specific meal. The hotpot concoction sits in the middle of the table sunk into the table on a burner. It is a liquid, oil mixture of spices and peppers that you actually cook your food in. You are also served vegetables, meats, chicken or fish to cook in the liquid and then consume. It is typically red in color from the spices and EVERYONE here eats it, often once a week if you are a local. Hotpot has changed over the years in two ways.  Often restaurants will now serve you your own hotpot instead of everyone communily using the middle pot.  Most restaurants will now serve different levels of spicy. I am not sure I am interested in trying the mouth numbing one! People also talk about “hotpot revenge”. This comes a day or two later and it is mostly how your body reacts to the intense spice. I am also not interested in hotpot revenge, but I am wondering if this is Chongqing’s own type of cleanse and that is why most people here are so skinny!

We go over the bridge and enter the Jiangbei District.  Chongqing is a city with over 1000 bridges, and the major bridges are used constantly to go over the two rivers.  We wind our way through the streets and end up on a side street where the driver pulls over. We get out of the car and there are two restaurants side by side; one double the size of the other and packed  with people. I immediately say, “Well, we all know restaurants here are all judged by how busy they are” however we proceed to walk into the smaller restaurant that is empty. I ask Tiffany what the restaurant is next door and she said she doesn’t know and she has never been there. You need to know right now that I completely trust Tiffany when it comes to any place in the city she takes me. She is hardcore about everything being clean…and I like that about her! She would never return anywhere if the establishment wasn’t clean.

When we enter the restaurant there are 4 waitresses, all of them looked shocked that two American woman just walked into their establishment. Tiffany proceeds to the back of the room and we of course follow. She turns around and says “Oh, did you want to help me pick out the fish?” like we knew what she was doing! We follow her up a couple of steps and we can now see the kitchen. A man walks out of the kitchen and over to a big box in front of us and pulls off the top. I now realize the box in front of us is a small pool for fish.  Tiffany points, the man puts a huge fish in a net, weighs it and Tiffany says “Ok.” We go to sit down and Tiffany explains that this is not local hotpot recipe. This is fish hotpot and it will not be red, oily or as spicy, I believe she said it was a Taiwanese style hotpot. Sounds good to me! We are served tea by our very attentive wait staff and also two additional small plates. One has beans on it, these were not appetizing looking beans, but we tried them and the other plate has shredded vegetable of some kind. This had a pickled spicy flavor and it was quite good. The large fish hotpot is brought to the table and put on the burner to continue to cook.

I wish I had scooped up some fish for the picture because the way the fish was cut made it look very cool. The fish was delicious and of course very fresh! I also wished I had gotten a better picture of our attentive waitresses, as you can only see half of them in the background! The waitresses come and scoop you more fish as soon as you finish your bowl. They want to make sure that all of the fish has been eaten and then they come drop fresh wide noodles in your soup to cook and serve you the noodles. I was too full to even think about eating the noodles, but I had a bite. As we were finishing up some more local customers were entering the shop and preparing to play Mahjong. This is a game you see being played everywhere, in alleys, restaurants, on the sidewalk and many American moms are learning to play it. I believe it is a Chinese Solitaire type game. You use tiles instead of cards. I do plan to learn how to play it, but I will skip playing with the locals because money is often involved.

We got back in the car and were headed for our massages. What I failed to understand when Tiffany invited me was that we were going for a traditional “Foot” massage. “Ok, that’s fine, probably easier!” We arrive at the massage shop and after entering we are helped to remove our shoes and taken upstairs. The decor was traditional Chinese decorations and it was lovely. We are ushered into a private room with 4 beds and told it would be a little while. We are served tea and we sat on our own little bed and chatte. After a little bit a woman  and two men enter and start to prepare the tubs to soak our feet. They actually remove half or our bed and reveal a tub, much like a tub we would use at home for a pedicure. They start by putting a little water into tub and then shut the water off and cover the tub with a bag. This is used for hygienic reasons and I was good with that. My feet basically soaked in a tub where no one elses feet had been…great! After they have the water ready they tell me to put my feet in and then sit behind me on the bed. They start with my head, then my neck, and back. They give me an incredible massage, at times a little strong, but I needed it! They then scrub my feet with a salt type scrub and dry them, they remove the tub and place my bed back together. The traditional food massage is about pressure points…and a lot of pressure! They apply pressure in one place and it is good for the spine, the next spot is good for the liver etc. It felt great! After they finished that they wrap your feet in hot towels and go back to your full body massage. The massage was quite different from any massage I have had in the US, there is clearly different training for Chinese foot massages. This all lasted for 70 minutes! In the end we put our plastic shoes back on and walked downstairs to pay. They actually put my socks and boots back on for me! The total cost for this perfect experience was 69 yuan. This experience at home would be between $65 and $85 dollars depending on where you were. Here in Chongqing, China 12 American dollars!!!!! I felt guilty, 70 minutes and they only wanted $12! I think it goes without say I have found a new hobby!

I hit my wall…

Ok. as you read this just know I am already in a better place! I wrote this blog the other night and couldn’t decide if I wanted to post it! My next blog will be about my fabulous Thursday!

Before arriving in Chongqing, Chip and I received two days of cultural training. These two days were fascinating and we learned a lot. The two trainers, Richard and Marshall, have not only lived all over the world, but they have had amazing life experiences as well.  They have worked in extremely unique cultures and were able to prepare Chip for the “work culture” of China (that is a whole blog on it’s own). Part of the training was about “Culture Shock”. There is a lot of research about Culture Shock and there is a very specific way people process through it. Once you arrive in your new country you are typically in vacation mode.  To quote our manual “you have a high (unrealistic) expectation of the new culture, you are charmed by the newness and you are like a tourist.” This phase lasts for the first few weeks. Everything is new, exciting and different. After vacation mode ends you begin the “adaptation” phase.  This is when life becomes routine in a enviroment that is still unfamiliar. I think I have been in this phase. Part of the adaptation phase is when you hit your wall.  The “get me the heck our of here” phase. These are my words, not our fabulous cultural trainers. They said that everyone goes through this phase and it will hit everyone at different times. They also said that it usually only lasts a week and the spouse usually goes through it first. In this phase you can be extremely homesick.  You are dealing with personal or family stress and you are comparing “home with here” and the feeling of rejection for your on-site culture occurs.

So, I believe I have been in the “I can’t stand China” phase this week. I have been grumpy for three days.  Chip was sick on Sunday.  Then he left on business trip and I have been trying to get a few things done that have required addtional help which hasn’t been helpful. The kids have the first week of April off so we are trying to book our first adventure out of the city. If this was something I wanted to book at home, it would be a piece of cake, right? You go to Kayak.com put in your itinerary, get several sites to compare pricing, decide on what looks good and you’re done! I spent hours trying to do this in China. I was referred to a specific hotel in Sanya, China. I was also referred to go to Ctrip.com and it would be easy. So, I go to Ctrip, I look at the packages for flight and hotels and it all looks good, the prices aren’t horrible so I start to book the trip. The site has you take care of your flights first and when traveling internationlly everything involves your passport. I enter all of our information, proceed to the hotel, and the hotel refused to let me book one room with four people traveling. They require you to book two rooms and will not confirm if they can be adjoining. Of the hundreds of hotels on the website, none of them lets you enter four people flying without booking two rooms. There goes the good package prices. Chip suggests we have someone at his work help. Without going into details, after two days, that didn’t help. So, I decided if I want something done right I have to do it myself…right!?

Now I have to book the flights on Ctrip and book the hotel through the hotel’s website, because even booking the hotel separate on Ctrip, not so easy! I go back to Ctrip, go through all of the boxed fields entering my information, proceed to pay for the airline tickets after being tossed off of the website and having to re-enter infornmation who knows how many times.  I enter our CC# and click “Process”. The site tells me it is too busy or there is a problem, but it looks like they have charged us but not issued the tickets. You have got to be kidding me!!!!! Of course I repeatedly go back into the website to see if I can get this taken care of and give up at @11 last night. This morning I try to calmly call the Ctrip phone number and the woman cannot seem to find me in the system, but would kindly help me book my flights. Today those flights were now several hundred more, but I did get an email saying they were booked. For some reason I get three emails, one saying Chip and I had reservations, one that said the kids have them and then of course another one saying Chip and I had them. After a quick check in with our CC, it doesn’t look like they did charge me last night, although the web site says I have a year to use last night’s reservation?? Of course the hotel we wanted to stay in has recently changed it’s name and is basically impossible to book. Chip’s work associate called them directly and they said the only way to confirm reservation is to bank wire them money….really? So as of right now we have flights and no hotel, but I am hoping to confirm that tomorrow. I am typically an easy going person, but as I mentioned before I do not take hours to complete any task and this task has only been one of the reasons I am thinking of booking a one way ticket to good old U. S of A! Of course I am not going to and Lord knows it is probably impossible!

On the same day this week we got a new driver who really doesn’t speak any English.  He was already late picking me up and he is not as good as Mr. Wong.  Everything here for expats is RIDICULOUSLY expensive, people are gross, I am gaining weight from eating every meal in a restaurant, no one speaks English, Chinese is so hard to learn and I don’t have the energy or time to study as much as I should, the weather is awful, it is getting warmer and we don’t have any clothes, there are too many people, (I am starting to feel better) there aren’t any websites that will play American TV in China, there isn’t anything to watch on Chinese TV, I feel like we have gone back to dial up at times with the internet, they do not sell loaves of bread here and Ella doens’t like any of the loaves we are having sliced at the bakery, Ella is cranky every morning because she is getting up so early. I want to move to the house and of course I am scared to more to the house and find out what makes it hard to live there!

It is not in my nature to complain. The reason I wrote this blog today is because I have a friend who said before I left “make sure you share the good and the bad in your blog.” You are not expected to leave comments telling me things will get better, hang in there. The support I have received from friends and family has already helped me get to this point and I know this too shall pass.There have been several things that have put me over the edge these last few days and of course as my blood pressure rises I keep hearing Richard and Marshall tell me that this phase although difficult, usually lasts only a week. Tomorrow is Wedneday and I am hoping if I am in another bad mood tomorow that I am offcially in day 4 of my week from hell!

Oh, by the way, the next phase of Culture Shock is “Acceptance (of the good and the bad) of the new culture as your present “home” and you will stop comparing” This phase usually doesn’t occur until the 5-6th month, so I will still be getting used to this place for a while. I wrote my “I am thankful list” the other day and I know that, even with this week of difficulties, I have so much to be thankful for.  This is just my current reality!

Chip in Hong Kong

OK, so Liz asked me to write the next blog. So I’ll take this opportunity to write about my business trip to Hong Kong.  The reason I had to go to Hong Kong was because when you are applying for a work permit and residency permit in China, you actually have to “leave China” so you can apply for a Z Visa, which allows you to come back into China to apply for the work permit.  Once you have the work permit you can apply for the residency permit.  “Easy as pie” you might be thinking.  Well, my contact at the law firm I’m working with says I have to meet her in the lobby of a specified hotel between 8:30 and 9:00 am on Monday morning.  I must bring all my documents with me.  When we meet in said lobby, I will pass them over to her for inspection and then she will deliver them to the immigration office in Hong Kong.  If nothing goes wrong, I can expect to have my documents and approved Z Visa back by 6:00 pm on Tuesday where we will meet again in the same hotel lobby for the transaction.  It sounds so clandestine! 

I traveled to Hong Kong with no issues and arrived at my hotel on Sunday evening.  It occurred to me that I didn’t know what the woman from the law firm looked like.  I was thinking maybe I should walk around with a sandwich board over my shoulders with my full name written on the front and back.  I decided against that when I couldn’t find any plywood or black magic markers in my hotel room.    So after I had breakfast I went to the lobby to meet the woman from the law firm.  I looked around and didn’t see anyone who fit my mental description.  Surely this person would be wearing dark sunglasses.  I thought they might even enter the lobby hurtling down from the ceiling on a zip line with “Mission Impossible” music playing in the background.  Hell, maybe she would have a hand gun and demand my documents!  That would be cool.  Much to my dismay, a short, diminutive Asian woman walked up to me and quietly asked “Mr. Houghton?”  I looked around.  No zip lines.  No hand guns.  Not even any music!  I sighed.  “Yes, that’s me.”  I gave her a few more seconds to see if she might try to wrestle the documents away but she did not.  We reviewed everything and off she went. 

Since I was going to be in Hong Kong for a few days, I had arranged to visit our Hong Kong office and meet with our Company President and his senior team.  We have about 90 people in that office, which was very sleek and nice. There was lots of cool glass with windows looking out toward the harbor.  The people I met were all great and we went to lunch both days I was there.  There were some good lunch spots within walking distance.    

On Tuesday night, I planned to meet up with a colleague from Boston, Jeff, who is based in Bangkok for 6 months and who happened to be in Hong Kong that week as well.  We agreed to meet for dinner at a restaurant called “Under the Bridge” in the Causeway Bay section of Hong Kong.  Causeway Bay has many, many shops and restaurants.  There is a huge 7-story mall there called Times Square which seemed to be quite a hot-spot for shopping.  Some of Jeff’s friends referred him to “Under the Bridge” because the crab was so good.  We met up on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, which looked like a busy little place.  They are known, as you might imagine, for their spicy crab.  When we decided to order the crab, the woman asked us if we wanted one or two of the popular dish.  We looked at the picture and couldn’t tell if one would be enough.  The waitress said “you not sure, then come with me”.  Jeff and I looked at each other blankly.  “Where are we going?” we asked her.  “Just come” she said.  So, we got up and followed her out the front door, down the sidewalk, down another side street to a small little market where there were large crates of crab.  The waitress was saying a lot of things in Cantonese that we certainly didn’t understand.  She opened one of the crates and pointed “you want that one, you each want one this size?”  We agreed.  “Sure, two of those, please”.  When we got back to the restaurant she asked if wanted “no spicy, medium spicy or very spicy”.  Jeff went with “medium” and I had “very spicy”.  The waitress looked at my incredulously.  “You can accept this spice?”  I assured her I really did want to try the “very”.  She asked me a few more times to make sure.  When the crab finally came they were huge and LOADED with spicy stuff on top.  It took us 45 minutes to pick through the crab and the spice and my Lord, they were delicious.  They were just amazing. 

After a good visit in Hong Kong (I could write so much more), it was time to catch my flight home on Wednesday.  At the ticket counter, I showed my passport to the Agent.  She stared at it for a long time.  She pointed to my new Z Visa and asked about it.  I tried to explain that this is a pre-employment Visa that allows me to enter China, blah, blah, blah.  She asked me for my “other documents”.  I showed her a few other supporting documents I had and handed them to her.  I wondered if I should give her my coffee card from the Liberty Mutual cafeteria.  She looked confused and said she needed to go get her Supervisor. I looked down the counter and saw 2 or 3 people looking over all of my paperwork.  They were talking to each other for a long time.  Finally, the Supervisor approaches me and says “Mr. Houghton, this Visa does not let you travel back into China.  It only allows you to travel within China.”  I try to explain to her that the purpose of this particular Visa is to specifically allow me to enter China.  She disagrees.  I try to explain again.  She disagrees again.  Finally, she says “Mr. Houghton, you must go away for 30 minutes.  I will take your papers and contact someone in Chongqing.”  “Where should I go?  I need to catch my flight soon” I said.  Apparently she just wants me to move somewhere away from the Dragon Airlines area.  So I walk away wondering if I am going to be refused entry back to China.  I have an idea.  I send a quick e-mail to my contact at the law firm letting her know I am having trouble at the airport and can she help me.  She quickly responds to my note, “Mr. Houghton, the Z Visa is intended to allow you to enter China.  You should not have any trouble at the airport.  Please let me know if you have any other questions.”  You’ve got to be kidding me.  No help there.  I’m not a political dissident or arms trafficker.  I’m an HR guy traveling from Hong Kong to Chongqing.  I can’t imagine that’s very exciting for the Chinese authorities.  I’m wondering if the Immigration officials are going to come barreling around the corner “Put your hands up!  Are those PowerPoint slides about Human Resources things in your briefcase? You can’t enter China with those!”  But nobody is barreling anywhere except me back to the ticket counter.  Finally the Supervisor gives me clearance after explaining to me very nicely that the Z Visa is a pre-employment Visa that allows entry into China.  You don’t say! 

I was able to board the plane and travel back to Chongqing with no other issues.  A lot happens in a few days when you travel around China.

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