10,000…

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When I started this blog my goal was to write about our experience living abroad. It was meant to be a link for family and friends to stay up to date with what we were doing and stay connected to our lives. What happened next was completely unexpected. My posts were getting hundreds of hits, from over 50 countries! I would never have been bold enough to think people in Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Hungary or Peru would ever be interested in something I had to write about. I know people in Guatamala, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Denmark and France so these countries were less of a surprise and thank you for reading! The top three countries were the United States with thousands of hits, Mexico and Canada. I know some of my following started in Mexico by the woman who actually became my son’s English teacher at the private school he attended in CQ. Our initial journey started eight months before she arrived in CQ and when she searched for more information about the city and international school my blog came up. Later I learned that another teacher who joined the school was also reading before she came. It was nice to hear that my blog was actually helping people before they travelled the long trek across the world! I will never know how people in the Republic of Korea, Serbia, Lebanon, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Germany, Barbados, Macoa, American Somoa, and the Russian Federation stumbled upon my blog, but I’m happy they did! It is mind blowing to me that the journal I decided to write has had 10,000 hits! Of course some of those hits are from wonderful family and friends who were dedicated to staying connected and truly interested in what our family was doing including the good, the bad and yes, some ugly! It’s funny because just as you tend to forget the pain of childbirth, it is hard for me to recall the difficulties we had living abroad. We miss it everyday and we have thousands of wonderful memories! Please know that each and every blog reader is part of this experience. The more you read, the more I was motivated to write!

THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART! Your support was felt from thousands of miles away!

More blogs to come… We left two years ago on February 8th! It’s time for a recap!!

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Versailles and the Louvre…

When in Rome…right??! So we had to go to Versailles and the Louvre! At least that’s what we told the kids! We decided we would take the train to Versailles on Tuesday morning and we were told to plan a whole day for the trip. The weather was fantastic. Thank you Paris for providing wonderful weather the entire time we were visiting your beautiful city! After breakfast on the sidewalk at a brasserie we headed into the Metro. We were quickly becoming pros; maneuvering the Metro is so easy. We were getting off at the Eiffel Tower stop and switching to the train to Versailles. We had done well getting up and out. The jet lag was working in our favor in the morning. The train was a double decker train that would take less than an hour with only one line change. Once we got to the cute little town, we had a short walk to the castle. When we arrived at the gate, we quickly understood the stories about Paris lines that everyone talked about. The cue was a zigzag that would keep us standing in the sun for three hours. With each passing hour it became incredibly difficult to explain to your children why this this castle is worth standing this long in line! We did get to practice our Chinese though. Behind us there was a large tour standing with us from Beijing and of course they loved talking to the westerners in Mandarin! image

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After three hours in the sun we were inside! We paid for the walking tour with headset so we could go room to room and hear the history. Chip and I found this interesting, but with the mobs of people and room after room of paintings and artifacts the kids had no schema to relate to, we quickly picked up our pace. It was amazing to see, the Hall of Mirrors, Marie Antoinette’s bed and the door she escaped out of the night they were trying to behead her, the Catholic Church inside the castle! All of this was very cool, but we were all getting a little hungry and tired and luckily we found a cafe and relaxed with water, cappuccinos and sandwiches…stragegically placed…strategically priced!

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

Marie Antoinette's jewelry cabinet and door where she fled the castle.

Marie Antoinette’s jewelry cabinet and door where she fled the castle.


Just one of the meticulous gardens and the side of the castle.

Just one of the meticulous gardens and the side of the castle.


The back of the castle.

The back of the castle.


After we finished our tour we headed back for the train. Of course that lovely walk included a stop at another outdoor cafe for a glass of wine and ice cream for the kids!
Next on the list of course was the Louvre. What trip to Paris would be complete without a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. We explained to the kids why they must set eyes on it. But it was tricky. Especially when that involved another line with hundreds of our closest friends! So here it is….the Mona Lisa!
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This is the hallway to get to it!

This is the hallway to get to it!


So if I was giving advice to anyone traveling to Paris with children, decide how important these two activities are to you. We did not do justice to either of the entrance fees, but we saw these two famous and amazing sites. Our kids were troopers and we certainly know when they have hit their limit of paintings and statues. Would we visit these sites again with our kids, no, but we are happy we did it once. We would love to visit Paris again as there were plenty of places we didn’t have time to see, but overall we all enjoyed this amazing city and we are excited to visit again some day!

Ah….Paris!

Paris was everything we had hoped for and more!!! In early April Chip and I started talking about where we wanted to vacation when we traveled home. Where would we take our last trip as part of this adventure? We talked about Japan, Cambodia, Dubai and Paris. Sometime near the end of April I was having a grumpy day I decided I just wanted to get out of Asia! Chip can speak French, and the kids both wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower, so it was decided!
Getting out of China wasn’t as easy as we had hoped! We were flying from Chongqing to Beijing on Friday evening at 7:00pm. When we arrived at our gate around 4:30 we were informed that the flight was delayed, but without any specifics. Somewhere around eleven when we knew we had missed our 1:00am connection out of Beijing, Chip called the help-desk through his work and got us on the 9:00am Beijing flight to Paris (We were finally thankful for the 12 hour time difference!!). Now we just hoped we could actually get to Beijing and make it on the 9:00am flight! It wasn’t until 2:30 in the morning after a Chinese voice came over the intercom and everyone jumped up running to the gate that we began boarding the plane. imageElla had been able to sleep a little in the airport, but Chip, Will and I could not and we all only got about an hour of sleep in the 2.5 hour flight to Beijing. The delays were caused by major storms passing through Beijing, so when we arrived there they were playing catch up and so of course our next flight was delayed as well. Our 9:00am flight became a 2:00pm flight, China didn’t want to let go of us! So after finally arriving in Paris, we had lost our first day of vacation. But on a positive note, we were well on our way of getting over jet lag! We fell in love with Paris on the ride from the airport! We were driving in a cab with a cab driver who was originally from Singapore and talked with Chip in both Mandarin and French during the hour drive! When we got to the downtown area Will said “this is the quaintest place I have ever been!” Paris really was exactly what I expected and better! Yes it was a big city, but so extremely different from the cities we have been in it was a breath of fresh air. There is only one high rise building in the whole city and that building is quite controversial! Needless to say they never built any others! Paris at first glance is very outdoor friendly, kids friendly, scooter friendly, dog friendly (they were all on leashes!) and smoker friendly. Once again an early observation is that lots of people smoke. Interestingly, it seemed more people smoked than in China because women openly smoke in the street where in China it was mostly men. After checking into our hotel we decided to head to the rooftop bar and have drinks and a view of the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful night with a glorious blue sky! Chip and I ordered a Margarita and the kids ordered a mango juice. While we sipped our drinks and admired the view, we also did a little math. Our four drinks were sixty American dollars! Oops, I guess there is a price built in to admire the view! Needless to say after that I had a strong grasp of the Euro to American dollar exchange rate! image
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On Sunday the plan was to meet up with an old friend I grew up with and her family. This was a great way to start a vacation in a city we have never been in. We got to know the metro, we got to talk to people who live and work here everyday. We got tips on what to do and we got to enjoy great company, great food and great wine! Thank you Karen, Jean, Mallory, Olivia and Mona!
On Monday we decided to go straight to the Eiffel Tower! It was so cool to see it from afar, but we wanted to get up close! The structure itself is amazing! I couldn’t get it out of my mind that I was really here, ascending the Eiffel Tower! It was larger than life and a tick off a bucket list item. Anywhere you went in the city, the tower can be seen and it was a pleasant reminder that we were in Paris!
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We took the elevator up, but we decided to walk down!

We took the elevator up, but we decided to walk down!

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Standing on the look out platform at the top of the tower gave you a feeling of awe. I definitely paused to take it all in and appreciate my life. I still cannot believe all that we have done in 18 months and knowing that this was our last big trip for a while I wanted to savor the moment. After we left the Eiffel Tower we got on a double decker tour bus for the rest of the day! We bought the combo pass so we could ride the boat on the Seine. Day two in Paris was amazing! We literally walked around all day in fabulous moods enjoying every minute! Come back to read about day three….Versailles!

Doing it in reverse…

I decided to help the packers by moving everything into the living room. We have three stories straight up and not only did it save them from endless stairs, it helped me see that everything was out of the rooms that was headed back to America in the shipment. We are stopping in Paris for five days so not only am I trying to get everything sent home, I’m trying to pack for vacation and the delay until we get the shipment stateside.
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The packers were here bright and early this morning. It was very strange sitting watching them pack up the life we have known for the last year and a half.

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They were much pickier about what was allowed to go in the shipment. Sadly some local spices in oil were kicked out as well as all of my spices from home. No liquids, no alcohol, no powders, no batteries, no computers and no local DVDs.

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This is the lovely truck that will be taking our things to the first stopping point. Umm, it is a little like a UHaul…I guess. I’m hoping the door doesn’t fall off with all of our stuff inside!
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Everyone loves bubble wrap!
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And it's off. First stop Chongqing, then Tianjin and then USA!

And it’s off. First stop Chongqing, then Tianjin and then USA!

We had 45 boxes today and 38 when we arrived. We only had an air shipment where most families have an air and sea. We did not move furniture, so we declined the sea shipment. So we struggled over making sure we kept our shipment within the allotted weight limit. We did however buy the piece of furniture that got loaded last. I love it and really hope it is in one piece when it arrives!
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Back to how it was when we moved in…cheers, I’m having a glass of wine tonight and calmly sitting and reflecting! What a long, wonderful, strange trip this has been.

Xi’an our last China city…

Of course we have not been able to do everything we wanted to do in 18 months, but we certainly tried! We knew we wanted to take one last trip in China so we needed to deicde where that would be. We considered Guilin, which we were told was absolutely beautiful and totally worth the trip. Guilin is known for the scenery and outdoor activities. Everyone books a tour where they paddle boats down a river and ride bikes through the countryside. After doing a little research it seemed to me you would want more than three days in Guilin and everyone we talked to spent four or five days there. So we decided we would go to another historical city called Xi’an. My tutor knows how much I enjoy the history of the country and he said it was a must before we left Cina.
The city of Xi’an is almost three thousand years old and home to the Terra Cotta Warriors. It served as the capital for 1000 years during 13 dynasties and a total of 73 emporors ruled here. The most famous dynasties were the Zhou, Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties.
We arranged to travel with two other families for two of the days we were there. We prearranged a tour and bus traveling in a group is always more fun! We actually were with a family that we took our first vacation with and now our last! The major difference I noticed right away about Xi’an is that it is a tourist city. There were a lot of Waiguo ren (foreigners)and the city seemed to cater to all of their out of town guests.
We flew from Chongqing to Xi’an first thing on Saturday morning and after the hour and five minute flight we headed straight to the Terra Cotta Warrior museum.
“Upon ascending the throne at the age of 13 (in 246 BC), Qin Shi Huang, later the first Emperor of all China, had begun the work for his mausoleum. It took 11 years to finish. It is speculated that many buried treasures and sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his after life. A group of peasants uncovered some pottery while digging for a well nearby the royal tomb in 1974. It caught the attention of archeologists immediately. They came to Xi’an in droves to study and to extend the digs. They had established beyond doubt that these artifacts were associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC).” chinatravelguide.com
So that is the brief history of how this now historical (now considered 8th wonder of the world) site was discovered. A farmer who was digging a well brought up a significant piece of a Tera cotta warrior in his bucket! They later realized that many farmers had brought up pieces of terra cotta before, but they threw them aside like trash as they were broken pieces that didn’t resemble anything. When you walk into the first pit, you are in awe. Each solider stands actual size, with individual hair styles and finger prints. To think of a leader today creating an under ground city for his after life with his own army to protect him would be absurd!image

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This is the Kneeling Archer. The only warrior to be unearthed completely intact of the over 8000 warriors.

This is the Kneeling Archer. The only warrior to be unearthed completely intact of the over 8000 warriors.


The tour included three of the unearthed pits and a museum of other pieces that were recovered. Archeologists know of over 100 pits that are part of the underground city. There are many reasons why other pits have not be excavated, but work still continues on the ones that have been.
Our evening plans were to attend a famous dumpling restaurant and dinner theater. We would sample 15 different dumpling types prior to watching a Tan Dynasty style performance. image

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We awoke to pouring rain on Sunday morning. What does one do in China in the pouring rain? You pull the loaded tour bus into the parking lot of your first attraction, wait two minutes for a local to show up selling umbrellas and barter until you have the best price for 14 umbrellas. We got them for 10 yuan each, $1.60.

Our first stop the White Goose Pagoda.

Our first stop the White Goose Pagoda.


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After the pagoda and temple we had lunch at a restaurant in the Muslim Quarter. Xi’an is the start of the Silk Road in China. Not only did the silk trade open up China it also brought people here. Thousands of people traveled the Silk Road from China to Europe in search of riches. The Silk Road became a major trade route thousands of years ago. The Muslim quarter in Xi’an was established because people came into China, liked living here and married local women. Today this quarter is very rich in traditional Muslim culture. I guess not much different than the North End in Boston, just a little older ;). After lunch we spent several hours in the Muslim markets. I think they were the best of all of the markets I’ve been to in China! We had so much fun! image

This was street food, I love the cat coming out below!

This was street food, I love the cat coming out below!

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On Monday we were on our own and we decided we would rent bikes and ride along the top of the old city wall! Xi’an is the only city that still has a full wall around it. It is a 22km perimeter trip around this ancient city and it became a highlight of the weekend!

We stopped a few times to take in the fact that we were riding bikes on the only completely intact ancient city wall in China!

We stopped a few times to take in the fact that we were riding bikes on the only completely intact ancient city wall in China!


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Mei you….

Mei you is pronounced “may yo” and in Chinese it means “do not have any.” This was one of the first terms we learned because at every meal the waitress tells you “Mei you” for at least one item you have ordered. I love a vegetable that I ate when I first got here at a restaurant I have frequented the most. After a couple of months whenever I order the vegetable they would tell me “Mei you.” Well, this past February the vegetable was back so of course I realize now it is a seasonal vegetable. Great, I love to eat veggies in season, but then take it off your menu or put a little sticker over it! I have eaten at this restaurant at least every six weeks if not more and just for fun I order it everytime! Of course yesterday the waitress said “Mei you!”

I was thinking of this word “Mei you” and thought of all of the things that New Hampshire…”does not have.” I could never do justice to this topic because the list is too long, so here are just a few things that New Hampshire doesn’t have!

In New Hampshire we do not have split pants. I may have mentioned these pants before. They are worn on almost all babies and toddlers who are not yet potty trained. They are pants with a slit from the front to the back so when the child needs “to go” they just sit down where they are standing and “go.” If they are still just a baby then they are held every so often in the squatting position. This can be done in a mall, on a plane, on the sidewalk, in a restaurant, you name it we have seen it everywhere!
In New Hampshire we use diapers, spilt pants “Mei you.”

In New Hampshire it is illegal to have three or four people on a motorcycle. In China not so much! On a daily basis I am counting the people on motorcycles. I am always blown away when a man is driving with a helmet on and the woman is in the back with helpmet on and a child is squished in between, no helmet!
Multiple people on motorcycle in NH “Mei you.” The other thing that I may at this point consider an art is “side saddle.” I am not a fan of motorcycles because they do not provide enough protection between me and the pavement they ride on, but hundreds of women are clearly quite ok with them. They ride side saddle everyday on the way to and from work. They are dressed in their office girl clothes, nylons and heals sitting side saddle on the cell phone not even hanging onto the driver. I’m not sure if this is an amazing talent or a form of live art, but they certainly have it down to a science 😉

Grocery stores underground. We have been in grocery stores all over this country and I would say 90% of them are underground. You take a slanted moving flat escalator like the moving walkways in airports, but they are slanted so you go underground. I still haven’t heard the exact reason, but I am thinking cheaper rent and less cost for AC. The temps are in the high nineties for the next week so my guess is it can’t hurt to have these stores underground.

Cbest one of our grocery store.

Cbest one of our grocery store.

Hawking, spitting and blowing your nose onto the ground in all public areas…”Mei you in NH.”

Constructions cranes numbering into the hundreds from any given turn of your head…Mei you.

New Hampsire doesnt have brain, frog, gizzard, blood, tripe, dog, kangaroo, turtle, chicken feet, pig noses, chicken comb and the list goes on and on the menu, all of these items “Mei you.”

Street food…now take the above mentioned foods and put them into a make shift moving kitchen and park them anywhere on a street. Put the above mentioned on a stick and you have street food! Unless it is a country fair or a lobster festival, street food in NH “Mei you.”

Stray dogs, or family dogs just running around stray. Something that has become part of the scenery here is the amount of stray dogs. They are everywhere, everyday, crossing catwalks, riding escalators, crossing streets, mating in the streets, relaxing in the parks, dogs are almost as numerous as the the people.
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Pollution….Nuff said…we miss the NH blue sky!

Markets…I like TJ Maxx as much as the next person, but that doesn’t come close to the fun of the markets here. Depending on the city some are better than others, but bartering your way through a unique tunnel of one “business” after another with the most unique treasures is a lot of fun. My new favorite markets are in Xi’an. You start in one alley of unique and strange street food only to turn a corner into a skinny hallway with one shop after another numbering into the hundreds. Each one packed with more product than the last. The colors, sounds and smells fill you with sensory overload, but with each stall it is ever more the challenge to get what you want for the price you want. In Xi’an you could start as low as a third and hope you end up at at least 50% below the asking price. You decide on your bottom line and then stick to it! In your best Chinese you tell them you are Chongqing Ren (Chongqing people) and let them know you get their game, you are not a rich foreigner only here for two weeks. I love when I am totally fine to walk away and they chase me down the street not daring to let the business slip away or even better when they seem totally ticked off, but give in. Bartering is a part of life here. Both Will and Ella have gotten confident and really good at it.

One of the shops in the Muslim Markets in Xi'an.

One of the shops in the Muslim Markets in Xi’an.

Porsche, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Maserati, Ferrari, and every other high end car you can imagine. New Hampshire has them, but they are not parked one after the other in my neighborhood. Luckily NH doesn’t have the attitudes of the people driving these cars either!
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The driving behaviors of this country are insane and luckily NH doesn’t have any of these behaviors either. If we approach a stop sign and one car is already at the stop, my driver will drive right around them and keep going. If we are entering the school gate and there is a car in front of us turning into the school as well, my driver will go around them. If we are on a four lane road my driver will make a 5th. If someone from this country came to NH and drove as they drive here they wouldn’t last three miles without getting pulled over. Someone told me once that they are following road rules, but the only one that is consistent is that they stop at a red light. There isn’t any maneuver that is off limits! Police do not pull cars over to issue any traffic violations so maybe that is why they have created their own way to drive. Luckily I guess they use their horns defensively, so they are always honking and warning hello that they are cutting each other off! It is truly hard to describe what it is like in traffic here because in all of the places we have travelled, this country is unique all unto itself!

Right now, the Houghton Family is “Mei You” in NH, but as of June 28 we will be “Mei You” in China! Thanks for all of the experiences CQ, you really are no like city in the world!

Another day out with Nick….

I have always had my Chinese lessons every Tuesday with Nick. At some point we switched from time in the text books to more field trips. We still try to speak Chinese, but we also use a lot of English. Chip and I have decided that we will both take the national Chinese test on June 16. There are several levels of the test you can take, but I plan to take level one and Chip will take level two. It would be nice to prove to ourselves what we have learned over the last 17 months and who knows, maybe we will receive a nice certificate! Something else for the scrapbooks!
Anyway this past Tuesday I asked Nick to take me to Artist Street and to the Chongqing Institute of the Arts. There is now another campus for the art institute, but this is the original one and it is still being used.
The art institute is in a different part of the city, an area I hadn’t been to before and neither had my driver Xie Bo. When we got close to the area we wanted to be in we missed a turn. Nick realized we missed it, but just to be sure Xie Bo pulled over immediately and decided to ask a passerby if we were supposed to take the right. The gentleman answered Xie Bo and then decided to jump in the front seat. He said he was headed in the same direction and he would take a ride. Now it was 94 degrees out and Chongqing is a hilly city and we were headed up the hill, but this would NEVER happen in America! The person would have been forced out, 911 would have been called and the I’m sure there would be some yelling! The sweaty man didn’t think a thing of it. I think Xie Bo was waiting to see if I wanted to kick the guy out and Nick was trying to figure out how the door was unlocked and the man was able to open it! We backed up turned right and at the light at the top of the hill the guy got out and went on his way, not even a thank you! Our extra passenger image
After we all got over being stunned and had a good laugh we arrived at the institutes campus. Sadly the museum was closed as everyone on campus was busy getting ready for a new gallery opening this Saturday. In America when you show up at a place that is closed, you leave. Not here. You basically can wander anywhere you ever want to go, no questions asked…so we did. We toured around campus in and out of buildings that were used as classrooms and artist studios. There were several building being prepared for the art show, but they still had four days to set up and there wasn’t much to see yet.

Student or professor dorms.

Student or professor dorms.


Not your average gym pants!

Not your average gym pants!


Bang bang men have been working hard here for years.

Bang bang men have been working hard here for years.


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I rubbed the nose for good luck....like so many before me!

I rubbed the nose for good luck….like so many before me!

Like so many things here...

Like so many things here…

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We walked through one area of the campus that was filled with artists’ studios. Each building had one long hallway and door after door led to small studios. The rooms were interesting. Some were sculpture artists, different kinds of painters, photography, etc. Most were messy, some had the artist in them working, some were locked and one was even being cleaned by an Ayi trying to scrape clay off the floor.

These were the artist's studios. There were actually Chinese characters on the buildings telling people how to act that were now faded memories of when Mao was leader.

These were the artist’s studios. There were actually Chinese characters on the buildings telling people how to act that were now faded memories of when Mao was leader.


Not a great picture, but a peek at one of the studios.

Not a great picture, but a peek at one of the studios.


The bang bang men bringing in desks for the students to set up some of their art on.

The bang bang men bringing in desks for the students to set up some of their art on.


After wandering around campus we headed out to Artist Street. This is a small stretch of a street with many shops. The buildings, small for CQ, are only ten to 12 stories high, but all of them are artistically painted. The entire street looked like a gang of graffiti painters had the best night of their life! imageimageimage
I had hopes of wandering in and out of student galleries and maybe buying a piece of artwork, but things were quiet and not everything was opened. We did walk through one building that looked ready to be condemned that advertised an art show was taking place, but the glass doors to the artwork were locked with what looked like a chain link bike lock.
This was the electrical box in the building, outside one of the galleries. Hopefully their work gets out before the fire!

This was the electrical box in the building, outside one of the galleries. Hopefully their work gets out before the fire!


Nick asked if I wanted to eat some local food, but after I looked around I decided to maybe venture somewhere safer for lunch. We were a little disappointed that everything was closed so we headed to Jiangbei to one of my favorite restaurants. Here is my truck picture I took on the way back!!! image