Pictures…Shaolin…

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

Luoyang

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
Address: NO.20 SHAOLIN ROAD DENGFENG HENAN CHINA,PRC.452470

Dengfeng

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.
Tips:
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
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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

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!

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