Thank you…

So as you are reading this post please think of it as a big “Thank You” note.  I feel like this blog is different from other blogs. Other blogs are about cooking, exercise, favorite books, travel, or photo blogs. This blog for me is actually a support system. I started this blog for close friends and family. My husband and I had made a very big decision after lots of discussion to move our family to China for his job. When we shared our decision with people, the reactions were mixed. Some people thought we were crazy, some people thought we shouldn’t do it, and most people were supportive, excited or jealous! We are different from many Expats here.  We know we will return to our own home and our former life. So I knew when I left that I wanted to keep in touch with everyone, but there was no way I could individually keep in touch with as many people as I wanted to. So I decided to write the blog about our adventures to keep in touch with everyone at once. I never could have fathomed that in five months the blog would receive over 5000 hits! I know my Mom, my Dad and my Sister read the blog regularly. When we Skype they always ask about things I have written about. I know most of my Londonderry girls are reading it and my longtime friends are reading and certainly lots of my Facebook friends read it as well. People from our church are reading, some of Chip’s friends, several of my mom’s sisters are reading and often send along supportive thoughts. People at my husband’s work are reading it and one of his coworkers (Claire) I have actually gotten to know better since I moved to China! When I am writing I am often thinking of someone in particular that I know I would chat with if I could about the certain activity. On a daily basis something happens that makes me think of a specific person. My long time friend Jen reminds me of my new American neighbor Laurie. My friend Jannette will love learning to play Mahjong, my friend Lorna would never eat again if she moved here, my friend Hilary would love the landscaping in Blue Lake, my friend Annie would pass out from all of the wonderful shopping opportunities…and so would her husband Joe because everything is so expensive 🙂  My friend Erin would have been in tears if she had seen the way the horses were treated at the theme park, my Dad wouldn’t last a day going to public bathrooms here, my friends Tiffany and Myndi would have blisters from hitting the shutters of their cameras.  Pastor Wes would have loved the Peanuts book all written in Chinese, my friend Todd would die if he saw the poor finish work on all building projects, I think of Tara when I am wondering about all of the ingredients in each meal,  my brother-in-law Andy would have fun eating all of the spicy foods, my mother in law and my friend Lori would go nuts if they saw all of the dogs running around.  I would like to challenge my friend Kerri to identify all of the fruit and veggies here, my friends Susan and Alice would love the markets, my friend Silvia would love all of the tea, and my friend Shannon would have a lot to say about everything! I think of Macky every time I see a waving cat, our friend Ava and the rest of Ella’s friends would not be happy with all of the aquariums and pet areas in the grocery stores (dinner), I wish Kate could teach at the international school, I think of Rose and Lisa when I hear about the local hospitals, I think of Mike when I learn about the history of China, I think of Leo every time I see a Lexus (there are a lot in our neighborhood),  I often just wish my mom was here, and the list goes on and on. I think of so many of our friends and family everyday for different reasons. If you were not mentioned above, don’t worry, I promise I am thinking of you too! I also always smile when my kids mention one person or another when something has reminded them of someone at home.

And then there are the people from Canada, Mexico, and everywhere else that I do not know. I am new at blogging so I do not know how people start following blogs. I know my friend Wayne mentioned he had passed my blog around at work, and my mother in-law’s Greyhound Placement friends are reading, my mom has some friends I do not know that are reading…but this accounts for more American strangers. No matter where you are from or how you started reading my blog THANK YOU. Some days are hard here, some days make you question your choices and some days are really quite lovely. Either way, whenever I publish and see the amount of readers I am always touched. We are told that it is hard to go home. Chip and I always question this, we feel we have very tight bonds with our friends and family and we can’t imagine going home being hard. I am hoping in a way this blog will help that going home transition. With so many of our friends and family taking this journey with us, how could going home be hard? In six weeks we will return for the summer. My fears are already in place for how hard it is going to be at the end of our time at home to put my kids on the plane and come back. So please keep reading.  I am thinking come August I am going to need all of the support I can get!

And again, THANK YOU!

Weekend Roundup…

Yesterday I got the sweetest email from my Aunt Patty.  I feel like I have my own little cheerleader in Augusta, Maine!  She shared with me that she loves reading my blog and she would love it if I published a post everyday. I can’t imagine having time to publish a post everyday, or that you would all like to read one, but this one is for her!

I never finished telling you about our weekend away. I ended with our day in Shaolin. My favorite part of the trip was that evening, but let me back up. That morning we were on the bus for about two hours and during that time our tour guide Elissa asked if we would be interested in seeing a night show that was not included in our tour and would cost us more money. She had a lovely full color brochure on the show called Shaolin Zen Music Ritual. She told us we had three choices for tickets: VIP, First Class and General Admission. Of the 19 of us, 16 decided to go and we decided we would go with the General Admission as the tickets were quite expensive. Elissa made a phone call and said we were all set. Someone on the bus questioned how she was able to reserve our seats without paying for them or even leaving a credit card to hold them. She told us and I quote “Oh no problem, you can trust it.” I think every one of us questioned this response, but we had the whole day ahead of us and we didn’t ponder it for long.

After our full day in Shaolin, we headed back to the hotel, cleaned up, had dinner and got back on the bus. The show was a 20 minute drive into the mountains and we were quite tight on time. Elissa gets a phone call, confirms we are on the way, chats for a minute and hangs up. Then she tells us that our first class seats are all set! WHAT????? We are now on the way and we are told we are paying First Class?! We were also told that Ella would not get a child priced seat.  We would be paying First Class prices for all of us! Needless to the say the bus was not quiet and Elissa got an earful as she was the one that told us to trust her. Somehow there was some miscommunication and the now grumpy group decided we would continue onto the show. When our bus gets to the drop off spot we are now a little late and we did a mad dash to our seats. We didn’t want to miss a minute of this now expensive evening. 

When we entered the theater it was pitch black. We got our seats and when all was calm and our eyes had adjusted to the dark, we scanned our surroundings and were amazed. The entire theater was outside.  It was enormous and located at the base of four mountains. The theater and stage actually took up the entire valley. The moon was bright and the light from it etched the top of the mountains. I have never been to a show with this kind of outdoor theater. It was very cool. When the show started, we were all mesmerized. There was so much going on that we were all pointing to different areas to make sure no one was missing anything. The show was a musical and they were historically playing out earth, wind, fire and water with interpretive dance, singing and vignettes. There must have been over 200 people in the show and at times the mountains were actually part of the show.  A huge moon rose up from within the trees half way up the mountains, men in lit up costumes flew through the air on a wire from one mountain to the other, and the trees were illuminated and changed color.  There were kung fu style dances, live animals, and so much more. It was a Cirque De Soleil of Shaolin. At the end of the show one of the mountains was completely lit up with a huge (from top to bottom of the mountain) image projected of a Buddha. It was unexpected and impressive. The whole show was fabulous and it made for a perfect ending to our great day. I guess in the end the experience FAR outweighed the expense of the tickets. It was just another example of expectations in China…you shouldn’t have them!

Shaolin was our favorite day from beginning to end. The rest of the weekend was less eventful with cities that at times were less than desirable. We enjoyed the entire weekend because of the company we were with. The other day I was talking with a teacher from the kid’s school who has an amazing life story. His wife has been a mid- wife all over the world.  They have a children’s charity for less fortunate kids.  They have taken in foster kids and he is also a teacher and administrator. He is working at the kid’s school for only 4 months as a favor to our Principal, his long time friend. Anyway, during our conversation he said he and his wife do not fill their lives with possessions, but instead with people who fill them up. That’s what we did over this weekend away, spent time with people who we hope to be friends with long after we leave China.

Chinese women….

Chinese women (the majority of them) are amazingly thin and quite beautiful. I am pretty sure size zero is alive and well in this country! I have learned that all Chinese people not just women are also very blunt. There isn’t any social faux pas here when it comes to asking someone how old they are, when they will have a baby or why they are not married. The other thing that is becoming quite amusing to me is weight and body structure. Chinese women do not seem to really watch what they eat (as far as I have observed) and they do not necessarily exercise. I have heard women say “I ate a light breakfast because I knew I would have this big lunch” or they will not have noodles with lunch if they had them for breakfast, but I haven’t heard a soul talk about eating organic and never vegetarian! So, my thought is the majority of the women have very good genetics. Or they are all keeping an eye on each other’s weight. I have been told more than once that I look good for being an American and several times since I have been here I have been asked if I am losing weight. Yes, I have lost some weight (who wouldn’t!) and clearly there are people keeping an eye on it! I was out one day with five other Asian women and they were all discussing their “belly bubbles.” I call it my wine belt. You might call the mid section around your belly whatever you want. They were tapping each other, giving reasons for why they did or didn’t have one. No one touched me, but they were all talking Chinese so who knows what was said! We recently hired an Aye to help clean the house (we decided to take advantage of a really good referral). She does not speak a word of English and during her first ten minutes here when we were actually negotiating her work (that was interesting!) she tapped her stomach, pointed to mine, smiled and said “Hen hao” repeatedly. She was telling me my stomach was good and was comparing it to hers. Let’s just say in America this conversation does not take place in the first ten minutes of meeting someone. I was talking to another American yesterday and she was telling me that she joined a gym and when she was brought to meet her trainer the first question the trainer asked her was “How long have you been fat?” Wow! I certainly hope Chinese men know better than to use that as a pick up line!!

On Friday after an event at school there were two hours from when the event ended until we had to pick up the kids so I invited three other Asian women to my house (who I like a lot). They hadn’t been here yet so I showed them around. On our mantel I have several framed pictures that we had at home. One of the pictures was taken at a lake in NH when Ella was two. I have always liked the picture. I am extremely picky about pictures of myself so it is rare that I frame a picture with me in it. Anyway, the women had gathered around the mantel commenting on one with Will in glasses, commenting on one of our wedding and when they got to the lake one, one woman said “Oh you were heavy then.” I was shocked, I had never looked at that picture and thought that. She must have noticed my shock because she quickly said “oh, well you just had a baby.” Ella was two in the picture! When Chip got home last night I told him this story and he said ” That is exactly what Marina said when she saw that picture.” Marina, as you may have already guessed is another Chinese woman who has visited the house! So, is this why most Asian woman are skinny? They are helping to look after one another!

For follow-up purposes…I will say that Chinese people do care about being outside and fresh air. They love to stroll in the evening or at the beautiful parks and recreations areas I have visited. A lot of woman actually stroll in their VERY high heels which I have to say is quite impressive! After staying at the Hilton for 11 weeks and going to the gym quite consistently I only saw one Chinese man lift weights and one woman. Most of the people (if there were any there are all) in the gym were walking on the treadmill. The people here are not afraid of hard work and are quite strong from the job they do. I have also been told that physical fitness is not as important in school. The school we went to for the sports day I was told was unique to give importance to exercise. The Chinese school beside my kid’s school takes the kids out once a week (at most) and they march around the track, no true cardio with their hearts pumping. These are my observations. With a population as big as this one of course I see people exercising, but the percentage I belive is quite small.


Day 2 Shaolin…

So here it is, the day my husband can check off a bucket list item and I am stressed! This is a really big deal to him and now I am hoping that going with a huge group won’t rush or ruin his experience! How often are you checking off bucket list items, on that note, have you made a bucket list? I have some thoughts on things in my life I want to do and see, but now that I think about it, I should maybe write a list! We all need to have goals! So after our very Chinese breakfast (thank goodness I travel with peanut butter!)we are back on the bus. Elisa our tour guide says that we will travel to a very famous Peony Park before leaving this city. Hmm, a Peony Park, flowers could be in the same category as the stone carvings for the kids. She also tells us that there was just a big wind and rain storm and most of the flowers were ruined so there will be less to see. Of course most of us are thinking that we should skip the park, but Elisa insists on the fact that it is very famous in this province. So, we arrive at the Peony park and it is packed. This weekend is the Chinese Labor Day weekend and there are thousands of people everywhere. There are always lovely places for picture opportunities, the Chinese love to have huge rocks, statues, towers, entrances etc at their tourist sites so we decide to have all of the kids pose for a picture. I am not sure if I mentioned it in the last blog, but from Friday PM until Tuesday PM I only saw three Western people, not American, but Western. We are deep in China and most of the people have not seen western people either, so our group of 19 became a tourist attraction as well. We took this nice picture of the kids, and just beside me there is a crowd of people also taking a picture of the kids!  I can not even guess the number of pictures of our group that are on cameras across China. At one point at the Peony Park Will yelled “Mom!” and I turned to see someone pulling on Ella’s arm to put her in a picture! Needless to say I said “Bu shi” and took her the opposite direction. I would never think of any of us as “stars,” but it seems we are to people here and I have to say it is not one of my favorite aspects. I put up with it at times and at other times I am sure they think I am rude. I cannot imagine actually being a “star” in Hollywood because many people are getting paid for the pictures they can snap of Brad Pitt or Jennifer Anistan and I am sure they are even more aggressive in taking them. The Chinese people are not aggressive, but we have had our dinner interrupted to be asked if they can have pictures taken with us or the kids. Last fall we were in Portland, Maine at a lovely restaurant and George and Barbara Bush were brought in by the secret service to have dinner a table over from ours. I was amazed by how many people interrupted their dinner to ask to take a picture. I was also amazed that George and Barbara were so gracious and willing. We are certainly not George and Barbara Bush, but after only a few days of this I get very tired of the asking and cannot imagine a lifetime of it.

So the big hit at the Peony Park was the bumper car rides. Out of nowhere, a tent appeared and under it, of course, were bumper cars! When our large group approached the (almost asleep) worker she looked thrilled! She looked like she hadn’t had a customer in weeks! The kids were excited and thoroughly enjoyed acting like kids! The worker was very nice and gave the kids a second round, probably because when the cars stopped the first time there was a big “Awww!”from all of the kids and secondly because we were gathering such a crowd she was trying to draw more customers. After we told Elisa we had seen enough of the flowers we piled back onto the bus! We now had a two hour drive to the Shaolin temple. The bus provided painless travel conditions. The kids could move around, ask for food, change seats to be with other kids and play on iPads, not a bad way to travel. I chose to watch China out the window. This trip took us out of the city and past farmland and mountains. It was a nice ride and the two hours went by quite quickly. The plan was to stop for a vegetarian lunch on after we arrived in the city. We were going to a temple and we didn’t want to offend the monks. We ate at a very local restaurant. A lot of the more local restaurants are broken up by one main area with many, many rooms off the main area. The kids all got to eat in one room and the adults in another. The lunch was interesting, but good. I am always happy to be eating vegetables and it is always fun to add a guessing game to the meals!

What was interesting about this city was that they are clearly planning a city improvement plan. I am sure they realize it is a touristy area and they would like to improve the city. The idea is OK, but the problem is that from the time we got off the highway until we arrived at the mountain we looked like we were in a war zone. Instead of demolishing one building at a time and rebuilding, they demolished every single building lining the streets. It was like building after building blew up and all of the ruble landed in a perfect “king of the mountain” pile. I never plan to return to this city, but maybe one day there will be pictures online of the town rebuilt, because there improvement plan is in need of improvement. The only buildings that were standing were the 82 Kung Fu schools that currently house over 100,000 Kung Fu students. People all over China send their sons (and a few daughters) to one of these Kung Fu school in hopes that the training will set them up for life or that maybe they will become the next Jackie Chan or Jet Li. When your child arrives they will stay for three years and you can send them at the AGE OF 4! We actually pulled the bus over to get out and watch a school that had their students training outside. It was heart wrenching and I had to wipe away my tears. There were groups of boys everywhere training with a certain weapons and doing flips off a mat. Each group had a teacher in the front who was holding a whip and when you looked at these boys faces it was torture. The group we watched the most were all about Will’s age or younger and more than half of them had black eyes. Some were severe. We of course have no idea how they got them. Was it an accident while training, was it fighting with other boys, was it punishment? We will never know. But I cannot imagine their lives. I approached a fence with another forty boys waiting for their teacher and I pointed and asked a boy if I could take his picture. He was so cute. He pointed to himself as if to say “me, you want a picture of me?” and when I shook my head yes he proudly stood up tall. I hope their lives are better than the life I have created in my head, but I fear it is not. These schools were awful looking. No heat or AC that we know of, and we are sure they don’t eat well. They do go to regular schooling, but we were told the academic part of these schools are terrible as well. Some people say that these kids are so poor that this is a better life than what they would have known. It wouldn’t be my choice, but for $1000 a year, your kids to can go away to China for three years and learn Kung Fu. We did actually ask that question, “Do Westerners ever come to the schools?” and we were quite surprised to hear that some kids will come summer after summer taking programs offered during summer break.

We finally made it to Shaolin and the first stop after getting our tickets and walking quite a distance in on the property was the Kung Fu show. It was a 30 minute showed where over 50 students performed. It was very exciting and without question the students that were in the show had years of training. There were kids who broke rods over their heads and there was a boy who could throw his leg behind his head from a standing position. There were kids using weapons so fast you knew if anything went wrong they would severely injure themselves. There was one boy who threw needles through glass and popped a balloon on the other side. He was not successful until the 6th time he threw the needle. Of course this was impressive, but all I could think about was if he was going to get in trouble because he didn’t do it on the first try. There was a woman’s voice narrating the show, but nothing was translated so we didn’t learn anything about the boys and their routines, but it was quite exciting to watch. After the show we walked even further into the property to the temple. Because the show draws a huge group when it gets out the entire group walks the path to the temple together.

It was close to 90 degrees, so by the time we sat through the show and walked to the temple Ella wasn’t interested in joining the mob headed through the temple entrance so I stayed back with her and Chip and Will joined some of our group for the tour. The temple is where thousands of monks and students have trained over the years. There was a tree there that was filled with perfect finger holes from the years of students hitting the tree with straight fingers to build up the strength in their fingers. There was a cememt floor that had been hit by so many feet in a certain way for over 800 years that the entire floor was formed into a series of rolling bumps. Chip and Will returned fascinated by what they saw. There were many things for Chip that were just amazing. One of the famous monks who lived at the temple was someone named Bodhidharma. He was one of the people who started Kung-Fu (and Zen Buddhism) in China in the 5th or 6th century. Chip has a martial arts family tree that his Sensei made more than 25 years ago. At the top of the page, it says “Shaolin Kenpo Karate Family Tree”and Bodhidharma is the first name at the top. So from Bodhidharma, over 1,500 years ago, to NH today, he is connected to this place through his karate instructor who taught him for all those years. He found that to be an amazing, almost spiritual, experience.

After we visited the temple, we continued on to see a huge cementary for the monks. It was called the pagoda forest and there were pagoda type statues that represented where monks were burried. At this point there were other things to still see, but we chose to once again grab a bus back to where we started. The ride provided one interesting visual. There was a field being plowed beside the bus, the plow was being pulled by an older woman (yes, she was strapped to the front of an old fashion plow) with who we assumed was her husband at the back hands gently controlling the direction of the plow. OIC…Only in China.

Our weekend adventure..Day 1

One of the main reasons we went away last weekend was to go to the Shaolin Temple. My husband studied martial arts for years and the origin of his particular study is Shaolin. He talked about going by himself this summer, but when we were invited to join a group headed out on a tour that included this stop, I thought we should join the adventure. Let’s just say of course, the entire weekend was an adventure! We left Friday night on a sleeper train headed to Luoyang, China. We were traveling with three other wonderful families and the weekend wouldn’t have been fun without them.

I have realized the most important thing to do here is to keep my expectations very low and this has worked. Often I am pleasantly surprised that the situation isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. This worked for the train! When Chip told people at work that he was going to these four cities in four days and leaving on the train, they were actually concerned. Many of the local people I know thought I was nuts and told me things about the people of Henan province that were less than flattering. Before we left I actually thought many times “What are we getting ourselves into?” So when we finally were settled on the train and everyone was happy, my nerves started to calm. The men were having beers in the room that became the “man cave”. The women were chatting in a different room and they taught me how to play Mahjong. The boys were watching a movie and the girls were running from room to room. We had three moms who have been here longer and their Chinese is quite good. They were able to beg the other passengers to switch rooms so that we could be 5 rooms in a row. I think in the end this benefited the other people as I am sure we were not the quietest passengers. The fun ended around midnight for all of us, many hours past the kids usual bedtime. I was happy when both kids were peacefully sleeping, but with the jerking of the train and the noise, I did not sleep a wink. I take that back, I think I slept for an hour from 6-7am. Exhaustion had finally taken over.

Much of the train ride is at night and I can’t see anything out the windows. We roll past the countryside. When the sun comes up, we open the curtains and for about an hour the four of us in our bunks talk about what we see.  We see many small farms, shanties and even a cave in the side of a mountain. The cave had clothes in it and other belongings. There is a little area for cooking too. Someone lives there, in that cave. We roll by some more towns and the conditions are very poor. It’s dry out here. People dot the landscape, working in fields or in the driveway of their dilapidated “house”. These places in the countryside don’t have running water or even electricity in many cases. How do they live this way? It seems so primitive. I am aghast. How do these people make it out of these conditions? Do their living conditions bother them? To me it seems like a nightmare. I love Ella and her optimistic innocence. She was definitely looking out the window with the glass half full.  We went past a prison, and some sort of mining type town and many mountains. At one point Ella said, “Oh look at the rock face of that mountain, it looks like a heart,” or I wonder what it is like to go to school out here,(after she saw what looked like a grandmother walking a boy to school)” or “wow look at that cool looking tower.” I, on the other hand was having a pingpong match in my brain. I was seeing the thick layer of pollution that hovered above the prison or the filth and poverty that was everywhere. We were picked up at the train station by a very nice bus that we were in all weekend and I felt like I was constantly looking out a window at the shocking sites going by.

So at 11:50 we arrived in Luoyang. We were picked up by our tour guide Elisa and our bus driver. They both stayed with us for the entire four days and at the end actually checked us in at the airport. We also thought the extra help at the airport may have been to confirm we got on the plane and actually left the province. I am thinking at times we were not an easy tour group to deal with.

Our first stop was the hotel to drop off our things and check in. Now I do need to explain that we are traveling with a family of four from Holland, a family of four from New York and a family of four from Michigan. This family however also brought two British boys with them whose parents were in Beijing for the weekend. The father of the two boys works for the British consulate here in China so the boys are Diplomats and have Diplomatic immunity and they do not need to have a Chinese Visa. The boys have traveled all over the world, their passports look like coloring books! We arrive at the hotel and the tour guide takes everyone’s passports to check us in. She returns with our room keys and tells us we need to be back in the lobby in thirty minutes to go to lunch and our first tour. We all go to our rooms freshen up and return to the lobby where Elisa (the tour guide) says there is a problem. The manager at the front desk says the boys passports are no good and they cannot stay at the hotel. WHAT??? We very quickly discovered that he has not dealt with Diplomats before and hadn’t yet seen this kind of passport. Of course there isn’t a problem and maybe these boys should even be treated with a little extra care. Well, that was not going to happen here! In China they worry about “saving face”. The manager said that they did not have the right passports and they needed to be checked out and he was not under any circumstances going to change his stance. Of course our friend talked til she was blue in the face, this was ridiculous, this is unacceptable, it didn’t matter. Because the manager had taken his stance in front of his employees, If he admitted he was wrong now he would lose “face”. So this started no less than 40 phone calls for the next 8 hours. There were calls to the hotel from the boys parents, the British embassy, the Chinese international relations office in Beijing, and more! This matter went on for hours. In the end, one of the afore-mentioned called the local police and the local police had to go to the hotel and make it clear the boys were all set and staying at the hotel for the night. ONE NIGHT! It was like we were smuggling in criminals, these boys are 13 and 15! And of course the next two nights we did smuggle them in to the hotel. We could not go through that every time we checked into a hotel. There were 19 of us in the crowd and we overwhelmed the front desk at the next few hotels, so they didn’t even notice we were two more people than we gave them passports for!

Ok, so let’s get to our first tourist destination, the Longman Grottos. The area was beautiful and the mountain walls were all continuous hand carved caves with thousands of Buddha statues carved right into the hillside with one Buddha statue that measured over 70 meters. It was fascinating and historical. The Yi River runs between the two cliffs with all of the carving and as we walked there were many large stair cases that we would climb to see all there was to see. Let’s quickly recap though…everyone went to bed around midnight, our first stop involved a couple of hours of walking and although all of the adults were fascinated by the “world cultural relic” a little carvings went along way with the kiddos! They were all very good, but by the time we crossed the river and just ahead saw the cool little bus like cars that could take us back to the beginning quite quickly, we were all pulling out our 10 yuan per person. Of course, the kids loved the ride back and mentioned that as a highlight of this stop. We were now back on the bus and headed to the Old Town area. We of course pulled up to where we needed to get of the bus, but our friend was still involved in the list of phone calls mentioned above so we ended up on the bus for about a half hour. At this point with the kids we could have gone downhill, but there were two VERY drunk Chinese men beside the bus providing quite a show for our children to watch. I mention this because it was like they were planted their to entertain us. I am happy to report that these two men are still alive, but I was quite worried we were going to see two men killed by traffic as they stumbled in and out of it. At one point a cab finally picked them up drove 10 feet and immediately kicked them back out onto the sidewalk. The men went from hugging to punching each other and near death experiences, and of course we used this as a lesson of why you should not drink too much! The Old Town area was one main street with many alleys off of it. The shops were filled with everything you could EVER imagine and the street food the same. When we had, had enough and were headed back to the bus we passed by a handicapped man in a wheel chair singing for money. We all happily deposited yuan in his box and his happiness flooded out of him. He was so proud and happy we were willing to share with him. When we got back to the bus the older kids were already there. One of the girls said to their parents “Did you give money to the man singing? We did, he was so, so happy so we gave him more. It does feel better to give than to receive.” The four older, worldly kids were by themselves when they chose to share their money with the poor man, these are the learning experiences this is all about! Day 2 Shaolin to follow…

All settled in…

I am very behind in my blogging (I have about 5 to write!) as we have been crazy busy for the last week. First of all, our shipment arrived. We were finally moving out of the hotel and into our home!!! We would no longer be commuting to school each day, or fighting over who would push the buttons in the elevator or who would open the hotel room door! We were finally moving out of the Hilton! Our things were set to arrive Tuesday, April 24th at noon! I had already been bringing packed luggage out of the hotel each day so that when the shipment arrived we could leave the hotel the same day. Chip, his assistant and I got the house and the trucks were stuck in traffic so we had time to grab a quick lunch at the Alpha Cafe across the street. When we returned the trucks were parked outside of our complex awaiting for permission to go in. Chip and I exchanged looks, we could not believe what our crate came in. Let’s just say the two trucks would never pass an inspection in the states, nor would they drive anywhere but on a family farm. We never got confirmation if these were the actually trucks that brought our things from customs, over 800 miles away, but maybe we should have actually been impressed that these trucks made it anywhere. They were both open in the back (not closed with a latch like a US delivery truck)and one truck was only on three wheels and had a tarp like cover.  The good news is that everything was there, all of our boxes checked in and nothing was broken. The strange thing was that we unpacked two teacups that I have never seen before,  anyone missing two small, shot sized teacups?Maybe the packers always put something in the shipment to mess with people because these cups are certainly not ours.  After the men unloaded the shipment we went straight to work. Chip, his assistant and our driver stayed to help for a bit and we got a lot done quickly! I was determined to at least get all of the beds made so we could sleep at the house Tuesday night. My kids would have been devastated if we didn’t. Chip’s assistant kept taking pictures as we unpacked, she couldn’t believe all that we brought. She kept picking up kitchen gadgets and asking what they were. She wanted to go out and buy her own coffee machine and toast cooker. She had me show her how to use the coffee machine and was giddy to think she could make it at home herself. When we unpacked our free weights I put them in the corner of the living room and our driver and Chip’s assistant were fascinated by them. They asked Chip to demonstrate how we use them. It was like they had never seen them before, or at least they had never held one. I had first thought I wanted the shipment delivered and then for everyone to leave so I could get to work. Our driver was willing and ready to help! He stayed with me and used his keys to open all of the boxes and then he would unwrap and hand me things. When we emptied a box he would break down the box and put it in the garage and come back to work on another. We had almost all of the boxes empty and in the garage by the time the kids got out at 3:30! At about five that night I needed to run to the grocery store. I literally walked across the street with a skip in my step. I felt liberated. I am not complaining that living at the Hilton was awful all of the time, but I do now know I am not a city girl! Our complex is beautiful, the landscaping is amazing and the birds were singing. Being able to just walk out of the house (no elevator) and scoot to the grocery store with wide open space was wonderful. It felt great not to be twenty stories up and enclosed by glass and the noise of the city had ceased. The minute I picked the kids up from school they both looked at me with pleading expressions “Are we going to our house?? Do we get to sleep there??” It was so nice to not disappoint on these questions! I continued to unpack and put everything in its place. I was determined to settle quickly and in about 48 hours I am happy to report I was done. Or at least 99% done. I cooked the first night and although I didn’t have all of the ingredients to make a fabulous meal, it was still my cooking in our house. We all know that this house is a temporary house, but we need to be comfortable and make this house for however long our home! On Wednesday night after dinner we went for a walk through the neighborhood. The grounds go on forever and some of the homes border a lake. We laughed as we walked because they have speakers hidden in the landscape every few houses that discretely play music. The song was an American jazz song and my children danced happily down the street. On Wednesday we discovered our AC wasn’t working. We learned from another American family that we have become friends with that when a problem arrises you send a text to a man that reads English and he sends the repair men to your house. The men come within 20 minutes and after they fix your problem you sign a slip and they leave, great system! On Thursday morning my fire alarm went off. I continued what I was doing because I had been warned that from time to time this may happen. There was soon a knock at the door. A happy man spoke to me in Chinese, tapped away at the electric pad by the front door, I said zai jian (goodbye) and off he went! The complex has many ayes, these are cleaning ladies that walk the complex constantly sweeping and cleaning. I really wanted all of the boxes and packing paper removed from my garage so I texted the man. Minutes later about 8 ayes arrived in front of my garage and dragged everything out into the driveway they waved and smile for me to shut the garage door. This is great!! (Ayes also work at the kids school. At home we would call them the custodian, but many woman work hard to keep the school clean, help in the lunch room and cook the lunches. Men are employed for the maintenance of the school and to fix what is broken.) Something else I discovered is that when you take your trash out you set it by the end of your driveway and when you look out minutes later it is gone. It is like a fairy comes and takes it away. All of the Americans here hire Ayes. I haven’t planned to hire one and people think I am crazy. Many people have live ins or the Aye comes everyday. Ayes clean, at times take care of the kids, cook meals, watch dogs and also I have learned some steal from you or up and quick when you leased expect it. I do not need anyone taking care of the kids and I have always cleaned for the family so I am going to hold off. The biggest issue I see is that with all of the hardwood floors is keeping them clean. There is more dust here, but I have already had Will mop the stairs and I think that will be one of his new chores! Both kids are really happy with the house. They love their rooms and I have already hung Will’s new sword collection up for him as well as a few things in Ella’s room. The neighborhood gets lively at dusk with families out walking, but at night you can hear a pin drop. We have been woken up each morning by very loud birds and a rooster, but nothing is sending us back to the Hilton, we are happy in the burbs! One of the other motivations to getting the house settled was the fact that we were leaving Friday night on our next trip. And that is what my next blog will be about! Sorry no pictures, the blog is being difficult today 😦