Will’s birthday in China…

Will turned 12 yesterday. On April 20, 2000 I became a mom for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday and I cannot believe it has already been 12 years. I am so proud of Will and who he is becoming. He is handsome, smart, loving, thoughtful, responsible and he likes to be “on time” like his mom. He has had his ups and downs with this China adventure, but I couldn’t be more impressed at how he has handled it all. I was worried about his birthday and thinking it could have its ups and downs too. He is not at home with his friends, but I lost count of the emails that came in wishing him well.

Chip and I stayed up late Thursday night and after we thought Will was asleep we decorated the hotel room (of course he opened the room door and said “I can’t fall asleep…ugh!!!!). We put out Chinese lanterns, statues of dragons, tassel decorations with dragons on them, window decals and more. Not only did Will turn 12, but he is a Dragon turning 12. The Dragon is the most loved animal on the Chinese Zodiac calendar and Will just went through the first round of the 12 animals of the calendar so it is a more special birthday. Millions of married women in China are hoping to get pregnant and deliver a dragon this year. I was even told that thousands of women will have a doctor perform a c-section in December to guarantee their baby is born a Dragon even if they are not due until the new year. I am hoping of course this is not done if the baby isn’t ready!

Will was thrilled when he woke up. Ella was dying to give him her gift and he loved everything. We went to breakfast and Tiffany and the kids gave him a present. Tiffany’s husband (Chip’s boss) came to breakfast so he could wish Will happy birthday before we left for school and we headed out to our favorite bakery to get cookies for Will to share in class. Chip’s associate let me know half way through the day yesterday that she had bought him a Haagen Daz birthday cake. This may not impress you, but Haggen Daz here is like an ice cream God. Before we left for Sanya we had to make a stop and we decided to get quick ice creams. Will and Chip got two scoops and Ella and I got one. The grand total $30, we almost had a heart attack! So the ice cream cake was very thoughtful and probably cost over $5o! We decided that when Will and Ella came home from school we would surprise Will and take him to the 32nd floor and have the ice cream cake. Well little did we know that Will was on the agenda for the Hilton managers’ staff meeting yesterday morning. We arrived at the 32nd floor to find another cake, two gifts and a card written out to Will as well as all of the Hilton managers who we have gotten to know during our stay. They all stayed, had cake and made Will’s birthday one he will never forget!

Will had requested that we take another walk through the shops at Hongyadong and have dinner at the Marriott. My friend from school, Rose, had a chocolate cake waiting for Will after we finished our meal. Will has never had three cakes for any birthday! So, although Will wasn’t at home celebrating with his friends and family, our new friends made sure Will’s birthday was extra special! I am a little worried as I watched Ella calculate the plans for her China birthday in December…we could be in trouble!!!

Last Check…still in China

Everyone once in a while there is a physical feeling that comes over you that actually stops you in your tracks. The first thought is “Where am I” and the second thought is “Oh my gosh, I am in China.” This thought happens at the most mundane times, times when I am doing things that I could be doing in Londonderry. Last week this feeling occurred when I was walking from the elevator to my room,  and today I was just walking though the livingroom of our hotel room. After the head to toe feeling I actually had to go to the window and look down at my reality.  After 10 weeks there is still a shocking feeling that I am living on the other side of the world. At times this doesn’t matter and I go about life just as busy here as I was at home. At other times I worry about the people back home and that I am so far away. As I have mentioned many times we are thankful for the Internet. It makes it feel like all of the people we love and care about are not so far away.

We are saying goodbye today to a family of three that are moving on from Chongqing and at the end of the school year we know we will be saying goodbye to another family. It is a strange thing this “expat” life. I certainly do not “click” with everyone I meet, but even in 10 short weeks there are several people who I really like and it is a strange thing to already be saying goodbye to them. It is a different “goodbye” from when we left our friends at home. The departure at home wasn’t goodbye, it was see you when we get back and we will keep in touch while we are gone. The expat goodbye is a genuine wish for good things to come with the knowing you may not chat with or see these people again. When I think of the two women I will be saying goodbye to I wonder what they have both taught me.

Anna, the Russian wife of the Hilton head chef is a very tough often negative woman. She knows this about herself and told me point-blank this is how she can be. I like her and look past it, but it makes me so happy this is not my personality. Will and Ella overheard conversations I have had with Anna and I had to chat with them about who she is and how she sees the world. Believe me, she isn’t shy about her opinion of Chongqing. She hasn’t been happy here since day one and I can’t blame her. She has been living in a hotel with a 14 month old, now two-year old little boy. Her husband worked 7 days a week for the first 7 months and she didn’t have a way to make connections with other people and her self admitting personality didn’t help. She is happy to move on, but she has now had a wonderful week here saying goodbye to people and enjoying the city. I often wonder how she could have changed the last 12 months to make it better for herself and wonder if they would have stayed longer had her outlook been tweaked before her last week.

Ivy on the other hand is a woman who has lived here for 6 years. She has one daughter a year ahead of Ella and has the complete opposite view of the world and this expat experience. Every time I talk to her (almost everyday) she shares something new she has learned about the city, where she has eaten, what she has done. She invites me to try new and different things with her.  She is appreciative of all of the people she meets and knows this experience needs to be taken advantage of, you only live once. She just returned from Beijing, their next expat location and of course she is thrilled about the home she picked out and the school she has chosen for her daughter. We will hike together on Wednesday and I am sure she will share even more details with me about her next adventure. That is how she views life, like an adventure.

So I guess Anna and Ivy have taught me sort of  the same things. Anna has taught me that you need to get out and experience life when the opportunity is there, if not it is too late and it will have slipped away. Ivy has taught me to happily take advantage of what life has to offer because opportunities like this don’t come along everyday.

You do only live once and living each day deliberately taking advantage of what life is offering is tough, life becomes the schedule, the baseball games, the bills, work, laundry etc. I think I need to start a new journal, a gratitude journal. There is good in everyday! Last week we had a few bad days, but even as I write this, the days were not ALL bad. Writing down even just one thing that I am thankful for each day can’t be too overwhelming to do…can it? I watched people on Facebook last November write something they were thankful for every day that month. What a wonderful treasure a book like that would be to reread later in life. It would be a reminder of all of the good in your life. Often I find the stronger memories can be unpleasant things that have happened in life and that bothers me. Hmmm, I have a lot of people I want to bring gifts home for…maybe pretty new journals from China will fill my suitcase home. Anyone want to start a new habit with me?

Bucket List…


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 At the end of the month the kids have two days off for the Labor Day Holiday. Chip’s office will be closed and
we have been invited to join 4 other families on the following trip.  We will be sleeping in a train overnight, visiting a completely different part of China and checking off a huge “Bucket List” item for my husband.  We will visit Shaolin Temple, where my husband’s martial arts lineage began! I decided to just cut and paste the itinerary from the tour guide, because this kind of itinerary is not like a typical US tour! This will be yet another new kind of adventure!

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Place & Transport: Chongqing to Luoyang, Train No. K820 (Chongqing North Railway Station Railway Station – Luoyang Railway Station Railway Station) Dep 20:32 – Arr 11:50 (Your arrangements)
Accommodation: Huayang Plaza Hotel ***** (Standard Room)
Today’s Activities: Train station to Hotel Transfer (Luoyang), Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang Old Town District, Luoyang Wangcheng Park, Luoyang night tour
Meals: Chinese Lunch at Baxiangong Restaurant- the Eight Immortals Palace Restaurant allowance incl CNY 30 per person. Most clients find this allowance more than adequate.

Longmen Grottoes (2.5 hours) : 13 kilometers to the west of Luoyang, Longmen Grottoes is one of the four largest grottoes in China. Live cultural relics lie amid green mountains and serpentine rivers. As early as 1961, Longmen Grottoes had been authorized by the central government of PRC as a key national cultural relic protection unit. It was authorized in 1982 by central government as one of the 44 National Parks of China. In 2000, it was enlisted into the List of World Heritage.

Luoyang Old Town District (1.5 hours) : The Luoyang Old Town District measures a few square miles as the main center, but it probably extends out over twenty square miles. It is the best place to find remaining ancient architecture. The area also features a museum for folk art that contains local art such as paper cuttings art, local clothing, and other local artwork. Some of the streets are shopping streets that sell a certain kind of good or article. Others are residential streets with small shops and old apartments lining both sides.

Luoyang Wangcheng Park [If there is enough time] : Luoyang Wangcheng Park was initially built in 1955. It is located on the northern side of Zhongzhou Road in the heart of Luoyang City. It covers an area of 39.77 hectares (99 acres), and it is the biggest city park in Luoyang in Henan Province. On the northern and eastern areas of this park, there are many peony gardens with more than 840 kinds of peonies. The park also features the Wangcheng Zoo and an amusement area that has a number of recreational facilities.

Luoyang night tour : You can fully explore the ancient city’s beautiful sceneries at night, have an opportunity to visit the prosperous night market. There are many stalls selling all kinds of traditional Chinese articles, also stalls selling delicious local foods. There are some tea house near the old market of the citycenter,with a relatively low price, you can sit there and enjoy the Chinese opera performing there.

Baxiangong Restaurant- the Eight Immortals Palace Restaurant : Located close to the Longmen Grottoes and Guanlin Temple, the Baxiangong Restaurant has a capacity of 350 people and mainly serves Sichuang cuisine.

Huayang Plaza Hotel :
Tel: 0379-65588123
Fax: 0379-64884777
Address: 8, Kaixun Xi Road, JianxiArea


One of the seven ancient cities in China and serving as capital for 10 ancient dynasties, Luoyang is blessed with a large number of historical, heritage, and cultural relics. The annual Peony Festival held here adds even more fame to the city.

Day 2 Sun 29-Apr-12
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Place & Transport: Luoyang to Dengfeng
Accommodation: Shaolin Int’l Hotel *** (Standard Room), *** (Standard Room)
Today’s Activities: The National Peony Garden, Our guide and driver will escort you from Luoyang to Dengfeng, Shaolin Temple and Pagoda Forest (including Shaolin Kungfu Show)
Meals: Breakfast, Chinese Lunch at Yongtaisi shaolin Vegetarian allowance incl CNY 80 per person. Most clients find this allowance more than adequate.

Shaolin Temple and Pagoda Forest (including Shaolin Kungfu Show) (3 hours) : This temple is shrouded in legend and mystery. The origin of martial arts and kung fu is part of the mystique of Shaolin Temple and the Shaolin monks. This is probably the most famous temple in China, not only because of its long history and its role in Chinese Buddhism, but also because of its martial arts or Wushu. There is a theatre here which presents the famous Kungfu Show at 0930, 1030, 1130, 1400, 1500, and1600. It’s best to get there early, as it is only a small theatre with about 200 seats.

The National Peony Garden : It lies in the west of the Zhonggou of the Mang Mountain, Luoyang. The National Peony Garden of Luoyang is the only garden of flowers named after the name of our country

Yongtaisi shaolin Vegetarian : Located close to the Shaoling Temple, the Yongtai Nunnery serves Vegetarian food.

Shaolin Int’l Hotel :
Tel: 0371-62856618
Fax: 0371-62861448


Visit the Shaolin Temple and learn about Chinese Kungfu with China Highlights’ Dengfeng tours.

Dengfeng is an ancient city located on the southern side of Mt. Songshan. Many ancient religious relics are located in Dengfeng because of the strong Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist history of the city. It is considered the birthplace of both Shaolin Kungfu and Henan Opera. Alternatively, ask us to design a Dengfeng tour for you. China Highlights has specialized in customizing China tours for over 10 years.
Meals in Dengfeng are comparatively basic and simple. We will try our utmost to provide the best available. Please be aware of this in advance.

Day 3 Mon 30-Apr-12

Place & Transport: Dengfeng to Zhengzhou at Kaifeng
Accommodation: New Century Grand Hotel Kaifeng **** (Standard Room)
Today’s Activities: Our guide and driver will escort you from Dengfeng to Zhengzhou, Our guide and driver will escort you from Zhengzhou to Kaifeng, Millennium City Park, Grand Xiangguo Monastery, The Yang Clan Mansion, Hanyuan Stele Forest
Meals: Breakfast, Chinese Lunch allowance incl CNY 30 per person. Most clients find this allowance more than adequate.

Millennium City Park (2 hours) : Located on western shore of Longting Lake in Kaifeng, it is a large historical cultural theme park with an area of almost 400,000 Sqm. It was founded as a tribute to the painting The MILLENNIUM CITY PARK painted by Zhang Zeduan, a famous artist from the Northern Song Dynasty (960AD-1127AD) and opened to the public in October 28th 1998. The Theme park illustrates the social life and architecture of the people of Northern Song Dynasty. The park also contains a museum to the history of people of Jewish descent that lived in Kaifeng.

Grand Xiangguo Monastery (40 minutes) : Daxianggguo Temple is a famous Buddhist temple in China. For hundreds of years there have been so many related legends, dramas, and fictions that Daxiangguo Temple has become well-known both at home and abroad. The stories of Xiang Couple, Mother Buddha, and Lu Zhishen pulling out a tree add to its legendary color.

The Yang Clan Mansion : Its architecture is comprised of an eastern yard, a western yard, and a middle yard and built by the standards of 1st-rank military officials in accordance with the rank of Yang Ye. Location: On the northern bank of the Lake of Yang Family, Northeast of Kaifeng City, 2.6 hectares

Hanyuan Stele Forest : Location:West of Longting Park

New Century Grand Hotel Kaifeng :
Tel: 0378-3399999 0378-3399999
Fax: 0378-3389999 0378-3389999 0378-3389999 0378-
Address: Da Liang Road, Kaifeng Economy and Technology Development Zone

Day 4 Tue 01-May-12

Place & Transport: Kaifeng to Zhengzhou at Chongqing, China Southern Airlines CZ3479 Dep 15:20 – Arr 16:50 Distance: 980KM (609miles) (Your arrangements)
Today’s Activities: Our guide and driver will escort you from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou, , Henan National Museum, Airport Transfer (Zhengzhou)
Meals: Breakfast, Chinese Lunch allowance incl CNY 30 per person. Most clients find this allowance more than adequate.

Henan National Museum (2 hours) : The Henan Museum is one of China’s oldest museums. It is a ‘key’ museum, Henan Museum now exhibits 130,000 precious cultural relics carefully selected from 1.3 million pieces stored in the museums of the whole province. All such treasures are displayed in the 8 halls respectfully for the brilliant ancient culture in Henan, ancient stone carvings, ancient jade carvings, fine crafts of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, ancient architecture in Henan, bronze ware art of Kingdom Chu, the world of dinosaurs, etc.

Shaolin Temple and Pagoda Forest (including Shaolin Kungfu Show) (3 hours) : This temple is shrouded in legend and mystery. The origin of martial arts and kung fu is part of the mystique of Shaolin Temple and the Shaolin monks. This is probably the most famous temple in China, not only because of its long history and its role in Chinese Buddhism, but also because of its martial arts or Wushu. There is a theatre here which presents the famous Kungfu Show at 0930, 1030, 1130, 1400, 1500, and1600. It’s best to get there early, as it is only a small theatre with about 200 seats.

Lovely Sanya…

So we just left the Sanya Airport and ten minutes into the flight I am less than thrilled. For those of you who do not know it, I am terrified of flying. Of course I have to act like I am not for my kids and I have to just bear through it for myself. As I know more than ever before, you have to step outside your comfort zone for things to happen in life. So, I have decided to write my next blog post as my in-flight entertainment! We had a beautiful week. Before we left, the weather on Chip’s iPhone showed rain everyday in Sanya. I was quite worried that we were going to fly all of the way to Sanya to have Chongqing weather. Thankfully, this did not happen. We had perfect weather everyday, beautiful blue sky and temps in the 80’s. We actually woke up to rain this morning and it seemed soothing as we had our last breakfast on the patio. Sanya isn’t a big vacation area, just a resort area to visit the beautiful South China Sea.  Sadly, our only disappointment for the week was the South China Sea. For some reason, the sea was full of garbage and other unpleasant things. For most of the week the red flag was up on the beach and that meant no swimming. We had heard that there was a big storm in Vietnam the Saturday before we left so we didn’t know if that stirred up the ocean and carried debris across to us. If you haven’t looked up Sanya, China on the map it is interesting to see where it is and what it is near. The kids had fun gathering jellyfish off the beach; they were clear and harmless. The hotel pools were amazing (there were seven of them). Some were connected by a tunnel or a small staircase and they provided many, many hours of entertainment this week. One pool had a volleyball net in it.  It is very hard to play a good game of volleyball in a pool, but it is fun! One pool had a basketball net, which was also very fun.  One had a swim up bar, and one had a very cool waterfall that you could pass through to a couch type seat.  Last night we experienced swimming in the dark which the kids loved. We did get out to investigate some of the area around our hotel, but when we returned it was nice to retreat back into paradise. When booking the trip I had been referred to one hotel, but because it had recently been bought by the Holiday Inn I had some trouble booking it online. We ended up booking at the Marriott and I have to say I am thrilled we did. We checked out where other hotels were and some were in very busy, kind of crazy area. The one we had been referred to was near a public beach which had a boat launch for a glass bottom boat ride. The area was very busy and surrounded by the island type chatchky (not sure how to spell that word) shops and kiosk type stands selling a little of everything. We walked around in this area and everyone was staring at Ella and trying to sell us things. It was ok to check out, but it made me realize it was worth the extra dollars to stay where we stayed. There were actually several other Westerners at the Marriott. We met a family with two little girls from the US living in Shanghai.  That gentleman worked for Cummins Engine.  We also met a couple with four kids from GM and they were also living in Shanghai. They moved here 16 months ago with a freshman in college (who transferred to Shanghai University), a tenth grader, a seventh grader and a third grader. Their kids were fabulous and really well-adjusted. They went home this summer and then returned in August like all of the international school kids. The mom chatted with me for a bit about what was difficult at first, but they are all really enjoying Shanghai and the experience. We also planned the trip with another family from the kid’s school. They have three kids and Todd (their dad) works for Ford. It was nice to have other kids around for our kids to play with. When we were at one of the hotel activities we actually saw another Asian family from our school to say hello to, but we don’t know them very well. I have to say once again, both of our kids made additional friends at the pools and would hang out with them the days they met them. Ella met Maggie and they spent a fun day together.  Will met Helmut, a boy from Chile living in Shanghai and a boy named Dominique a boy from Singapore living in Shanghai. This is either telling us we should move to Shanghai or that both of our kids are becoming very comfortable with meeting new people!

One of the interesting things about Sanya is that it is the “go to” place for Russians. Most of the restaurants and hotels have their signs and menus in three languages…Chinese, English and Russian. I do not know a lot of Russian people, but upon initial observations the men are hairy and the woman are all comfortable in bikinis! They also continue to talk to you even if you cannot speak Russian! I was in the elevator on the way back from my pedicure and three quite hairy gentlemen kept talking with me non-stop. I was speaking English and trying to tell them I didn’t understand, but they definitely were trying to tell me something…maybe they were looking for the spa I had just returned from to book some hair removal treatments 🙂

When I first moved to China, I asked about tipping. It actually felt weird not to tip especially because we have received some great service. I actually said to Chip once “Too bad they add in the 15% because we always tip more than that.” Well in China you do not tip at all here because 15% is already added to everything as a service charge. When you stay at a resort and you are constantly buying snacks, drinks, lunch etc you realize that we actually tip more in China than at home! They add the 15% to EVERYTHING. At home I do not tip for take out, or if I rent a scooter or for a coffee. I did find it amusing at the Marriott that on their bills, they do have a line for leaving a tip, right below the sentence “a 15% service charge has been added to your total” If you ever travel to China, don’t worry about tipping they’ve got you covered!

When we arrived in Sanya we quickly realized that they have their own dialect. So all of our progress with Mandarin didn’t matter this week. They had different words for “hello” and “thank you” and most other words.  We were quite pleased that the Marriott does a great job of hiring English-speaking Chinese people and it was easier to speak English here than it is in  Chongqing. We took our first cab in Sanya and the cab driver took the scenic route to get us to the hotel and it was quite interesting to look around at night. Although my kids have never been to Mexico, the colorful lights and sort of run down street we passed through did have a Tijuana feel to it and they both commented that it felt like were in Mexico. On the way back to the airport this morning the taxi driver took a highway route and we passed through some areas where locals were planting rice in the fields, and men were plowing with oxen.  The homes were ones you would only see in the warm climate area of an island, but homes I wouldn’t let me dog live in. It amazes me what people in other parts of the world call home. It made me think about the times when we have told the kids to eat their dinner and then of course followed up with “do you know there are kids all over the world that were starving? I think I even once told them once that there are kids in the world that eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I saw these kids today and I have to say it is heartbreaking.

So, we are less than an hour until we land and I can’t wait, the turbulence has been awful. Chip has already told me that the next couple of months are going to be crazy busy for him. He has a week-long trip to Vietnam and another possible trip to Beijing planned. We may try to get to Hong Kong as a family and maybe Chengdu to see the pandas. We will give up Chip’s passport on Monday to the moving company to get our shipment through customs and we will hopefully leave the Hilton in the next two weeks. I need to make a list of all of the items we need for the house…1. Coffee maker, 2. thick mattress pads, 3….. We also need to get the house cleaned and test all of the systems. If Chongqing is going get hot soon, I want to make sure the AC is working. When we get our shipment in the next two weeks it will be all about the unpacking and settling in! Everyone tells us it is like Christmas when we get the shipment, so here’s to Christmas in April!  And then in 11 weeks we will be home for the summer. I am sure it will be here before we know it!

I found I was missing my friends this week. I kept thinking about how much fun it would have been to be vacationing with several of them in Sanya. I will be thinking of all of our friends and family and sending love tomorrow, which is Easter. Wishing all of our favorite PEEPS a lovely Easter with many friends and family members! xoxo Liz