Day 7

Guest blogger – Kathleen

Plane, buses and automobiles…oh my! We got up early to catch our flight to Nanning so we could meet our guide to drive to Guiping. The whole family was dressed, packed and ready to go by 6 am but our driver to the airport never showed up. We were told twice that he was near the hotel and would be there shortly but still he did not show. We finally, with less than one hour to check in at the airport, jumped in two cabs and away we went. Upon arriving at the airport one of our luggage carts toppled as we were runninginto the airport. We were then accidentally sent to the check- in for the International Flights instead of the domestic flights, one of the perils of not speaking/reading the language. We realized our mistake after a few minutes and had to run through the terminal to try and reach the domestic flight counters in time. We got in line at 7:20am for our 7:50am flight, and after waiting behind 2 people in line we were told that our flight was closed and we could no longer check in. I begged with the attendant, even playing the “we’re taking our daughter back to see where she was born” card to then be sent to the management counter. Another 10 minutes later the best a very curt man told me was to go back out to the ticket windows to talk with the agents there to see if we could get booked on the next available flight. Fifteen minutes at that window resulted in being told that they could not help us, that we had to work with the original source of the ticket booking, which was Orbitz.  I swear we had every phone number, confirmation number, and document imaginable that we thought we would need while here, except for an international number for Orbitz. About another long hour later, after not being able to actually make a call go through to Orbitz, we realized we would have to purchase additional tickets and just get to Nanning. A wonderfully helpful woman at China Eastern Airlines helped us get rebooked on an 11:40 am flight to Nanning. She even was able to sell Tim and I the last two discounted tickets on the flight, which somewhat softened the blow that we were purchasing our second set of tickets for this flight.  A 10-minute bus ride to another terminal to catch our new flight helped to round out the saga.

It was certainly not the way we wanted today to go but we did finally board the plane and made it safely to Nanning.

Tim here…Once we landed in Nanning and met our guide named David, we hopped in a van and headed for two withdrawls – cash from a bank and McDonalds for the kids (and me).  It had been a tough day and I was ready for something that wouldn’t be challenging. Even though we’ve had good fortune with our Chinese meals, it is so comforting to find something that reminds you of home and the McDonalds here have actually gotten surprising close to tasting the same at home (wasn’t the case last time we were in China).  Dave (our friend in Hong Kong) even said the ice is safe to use at McDonalds in China, but we haven’t been brave enough to test that one.

Once our pockets and tummies were full, we left for Guiping.  The van driver was the opposite of the one we had in Beijing.  He was sloooooow.  I’m guessing his van was quite a bit older than the one we rode in in Beijing so I’m not sure if the driver was slow, or if it was just the van that was slow.  Anyway, he was one of those annoying drivers who would stay in the left lane even though he was going slower than you and many, many times another car (or large truck or ginormous passenger van) would pass us and purposefully pull directly in front of us.  I was way in the back of the van and still got the message – “You should NOT be in the fast lane!!”

We made one stop along the way at a convenience store to grab a drink and use the restroom.  Mind you, this is in the middle of pretty much nowhere and it was the only building within miles.  The store was very clean and had an interesting selection of goods.  I passed on the chicken’s feet in a bag, or the misc. chicken parts in a bag.  I did buy some green tea Oreos and regular Oreos.  I saw some Skittles, but figured we had enough candy in our bag already.  Finding these items so far from home (or ANYWHERE) was good proof of how far companies are extending for profits.  Sadly, there were no Hallmark Cards there.  Actually, the Chinese culture does not send greeting cards much and we didn’t see any in Beijing, either, in the stores we were in.  The good news was that none of our competitors cards were there either!!

When we were back on the road we were treated to some impressive views.  The countryside had numerous large peaks that just pop up out of the ground – not so much like a mountain that start low and build higher, but a HUGE rock that just comes straight out.  It was actually quite similar to the images we’ve seen of Guilin that I mentioned in an earlier blog.  They were beautiful.  At one point we left the 4-lane highway and were then on a two-lane.  The kids were pretty focused on either a computer (Anna and Kayla kept typing funny letters to me and then eventually started a movie) and Mia was playing games on my phone.  Megan was asleep.  I wanted to tell them that the most exciting thing was watching the traffic on the road.  It was crazy how cars and trucks would pass on this road.  It was not uncommon to have two vehicles side by side and then a third car passing in the other direction (so three cars wide) on a two-lane road.  As it started getting darker, I was surprised to see how cars seemed hesitant to turn on their headlights, our driver included until our guide told him to.  I have been meaning to ask why they hesitate.  That made the whole thing a little bit scarier!  Then, when it got even darker, most lights were on, but drivers would put on their brights and not turn them on when faced with oncoming traffic.  Some of the large trucks had so many lights turn on on the front of the truck that it made it very difficult to see anything at all.  And mind you, all the while there are intermittent motorcycles and mopeds on our right hand side (some we were passing and some were passing us). It was crazy.  If you were at peace with the possible ending of your life, it was actually entertaining in an odd way. 

Along this two-lane road, another very interesting thing to see were small groupings of homes not far from the road.  Most appeared to be concrete and had what looked like a one-car garage, but it wasn’t a garage.  It was actually a room.  In most of these you’d see a table and maybe a few chairs or a couch and then other items strewn about the ground.  There seemed to be no delineation between inside and outside – it was like one large living area.  It was dark enough that they needed some illumination.  Most of these homes had two lights on – one large light (in most cases a single uncovered fluorescent bulb) and then the second light was a TV.  There were box TVs and flat screens (but none too large).  In most instances there were only a few people to be seen and occasionally you’d see a child or two playing.

I leaned forward and told Kathleen that the line between uninhabitable and habitated (made that word up, I think) was being crossed quite a bit.  One home appeared to be more of a lean-to.  There was a sturdy wall on one side, a less rigid wall on the back, a roof of sorts propped up on poles and then a van was parked on the opposite side to form a cubby.  In more than one building the light was dim enough for me to believe it might be candlelight.  Actually, it might have been the hue of the light, too.  Most of the lights gave off a bit of a white/blue hue that makes me think of sketchy, underlit laundromats where you’d be nervous to hang out for too long.  These other ones were more of a warm color.

These pockets of homes kept popping up.  Our guide said we were on the outskirts of Guiping.  He later said it was the suburbs of Guiping.

Sidenote – this guide did the exact opposite of our previous guides the last time we were in Nanning.  Those guides told us the drive was about 3 hours but said the weather was not good to go to Guiping.  So the next day we asked again and they said it was about 4 hours but it might be good to wait.  The next time we asked they said 5 hours, so we got the feeling they did not want us to go to Guiping for some reason.  This time, once we had our food and money we were told it would be 2.5 hours.  It ended up being closer to 3.5 hours.

I knew we were getting very close to the “city” when, amidst these not too impressive homes/buildings (they were getting a bit nicer andreliable), I saw a Honda dealer.  It was in a very similar building, but just a bit larger and had a glass window.  Then we started seeing more and more groceries and marts that were still open and quite bustling.  Finally, there was a long line of unusual street lights that said, “You’ve arrived in Guiping.”  The city was very alive.  It is hard to describe.  There were few buildings taller than five stories and at busy intersections there were many stores still open and quite active.  It was probably around 8:30 pm.  The closest comparison I can make about the structures of the buildings were brownstones in NYC.  I hesitate to use that, though, because that will paint a pretty picture in your mind.  These were fairly plain in appearance.  It looked as if there was narrow building after narrow building squished together to form one long 4-story building.  Each individual building had what looked like a garage opening in the front (pretty much the full width of the building) and then there were a few floors above the garage.  I’m unsure if I was seeing residences or businesses or perhaps both.

We stopped several times asking for directions (always gives you a secure feeling) and finally landed at our hotel which was not far from the city square that was very full of people, including children.  The hotel was fairly nice, probably not as nice as the hotel we stayed at in Nanning so long ago, but nice.  The beds were very firm.  Even still, we were all so tired that we went to sleep shortly after crashing into our two rooms – Anna and Kayla with me and Megan and Mia next door with Kathleen. It was the best night of sleep I think I’ve had so far!

Kayla wanted to give a “shout out” to Erica.  Hey Erica!

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Day 6

Guest blogger – Kathleen!

Great Wall here we come. Dave and Molly, the friends that we are traveling with, are both also KSU alumni. Before we left, Molly had theidea of all of us wearing K-State gear when we visit the Great Wall  and pose for pictures to try and get into the K-State Alumni Magazine. So off we went in purple and white. There are multiple sections of the wall that you can visit and we traveled to one that was notopen the last time Tim and I were here – Mutianyu. We took a chairlift up the mountain to reach the section of the wall that we would walk and climb. One of the best parts of the day was the fact that it was a perfectly blue sky that allowed us to see for miles into the distance. That may not seem so incredible but a typical day in Beijing involves a heavy wall of haze due to the pollution. We spoke with a woman who said she had lived in Beijing for 2 years and each time she had come to the wall she was barely able to see to the next mountain and all her photos look like they have a grey filter on them. We were lucky enough to be able to not only enjoy the wonder of walking the wall, an incredible manmade structure, but also being able to enjoy some fabulous scenery. There were two ways to get back down the mountain, walking and riding a sled-likecoaster.  Needless to say we took the coaster, which we all thought was a lot of fun.

Interjection from Tim – One thing I wanted to capture was toward the end of our visit on the wall, David, Molly, Kayla and I decided to head in the opposite direction we had come in because David knew a spot that he had been to before and wanted to share it with us.  It was the point where the reconstruction of the wall had ended and we were able to continue (past the “Don’t go past this point” sign).  We went on for a bit and were rewarded with a wonderful view that not many people get to see.  It took a LOT of climbing, though, and some of the steps were between 18-24 inches tall.  If you plan a trip to the Great Wall, I recommend it heartily!  Now back to Kathleen…

After that we went for a short visit to see the Olympic National Park and get some photos of the Birds Nest Stadium and the Water Cube. It was a mammoth area and easy to imagine the wall to wall people that musthave filled the square we were standing in. The Birds Nest is now used for some sporting events but primarily private concerts that come to Beijing. We learned that the first concert was actually Jackie Chan! The water cube has been opened, in part, as a water park. We would have loved to have toured and seen more, but there is just so much to do here.

Our last big venue in Bejing was to tour the Summer Palace. While the area does involve a palace, the entire area is actually seven times the size of the Forbidden City. It includes a park and temples and a large lake.  There was also the longest corridor in the world. Built alongside the lake, it was put in place for the royalty so they could stay out of the rain and the sun. The Chinese call it the longest art gallery in the wall because the entire structure is covered in paintings on the underside. It was at this point where we realized Tim could not find his credit cards and money clip. We’ve been very careful to keep our money in a pouch around our neck, but Tim has for some reason carried his credit cards in a money clip in a side pocket that has a closure and is very safe. For somereason he had shifted it to his front pocket and now couldn’t find it. For several very nervous reasons we waited until it was confirmed by our driverthat it had fallen out in the van and all was well. Whew!

The most interesting aspect of the entire Summer Palace visit was all the stories about the mother of the Emperor, Ci Xi, who was known as the “power behind the curtain”.  Her son became emperor when he was very young and then died before he had an heir. When he died, she found a very young nephew who she adopted and made king so she could continue to control the throne. She was ruthless in every way and it is believed she actually had her nephew killed the day before she herself died when she was in her 70s. We are already planning on finding a biography about her for when we return home (yes…we will have to return at some point!).

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Day 5

NOTE…sorry for three things – the inconsistency of updates, the lack of photos and the length of this update.  This is NOT going as planned.   Well, I should say the blog part is not going as planned.  The trip is quite wonderful and I think it’s everything we were hoping for.  Thanks for being along for the ride and don’t feel obligated to read all of this one (at least in one sitting!).  Love to all.

 

Day 5

 

Things are starting to feel more normal.  Each day we start with a very hearty breakfast.  Then it’s off to something else we’ve never seen.

Today we did what most would call the most obvious day in Beijing.  We started in Tiananmen Square where we had a chance to stand where so many millions have stood before.  They say it’s the largest square like it in the world – able to hold up to a million people for special events.  New for us since the last time were some very large flatscreen TVs.  They wereridiculously large – each was maybe 12 feet tall and at least 90 feetlong.  Vivie, our guide, said they were used at the Olympics for the opening ceremonies and then were placed in Tiananmen Square after the Olympics.

We proceeded through the side gate (it was an extra 2 RMB each, but it was very quiet and peaceful which was nice since the rest of the day was a bit less that way).  Once we entered the real fray we began to draw some attention.  Young girls were drawn to get their picture taken with Kayla.  This happened last night, too with Megan and Kayla.  The funniest part was when people would act as if they were taking pictures of a family member that they has strategically put in front of us.  When we were able we would join around the person and take a picture with them.

We followed a pretty standard path going from gate to gate to gate leading from the square to the Imperial City to the Forbidden City and eventually even to the emperors bedroom!  We didn’t see that last time.  Vivie taught us a LOT along the way.   She had lots of little tidbits that I found very interesting.  Being with her was a bit like reading USA Today – lots of interesting little bits of information. 

After the Forbidden City we travelled not far to Beihai Park.  We were the only foreigners in the park and was nice to be in a place where it felt a bit more “local” and less superficial.

We then dropped off some laundry which was probably the most embarrassing so far for me, since I was the one dropping off the laundry.  As I stood there with our guide and the two women behind the counter, they emptied our large bag of laundry onto the counter and proceeded to sort all of our t-shirts, short, socks, and yes, underwear right there in front of us.  Very nice!

We then had lunch across the street at one of Vivie’s favorite locales.  It was very yummy.  We were surprised at how much it tasted like Chinese food at home (a very pleasant surprise).  We took some pictures of some very funny menu descriptions like “Beijing Meat with Special Flavor”.

After lunch we went for a pedicab ride in the Hutong area.  Remarkably, it started to sprinkle just a bit and was actually kind of COLD.  That was very hard to believe remembering how hot it was the last time we were in Beijing.  After our ride, Vivie walked us through the Hutongs a bit and gave us some history and insights.  She then took us to “Smoke Pipe Alley” where they had a lot of interesting shops.  Kayla tried some blown candy.  The candy maker blew it into an ox form since Kayla was born in the year of the ox.  It was 20 RMB ($3).  It was more of a work of art than a piece of candy.  It tasted okay, but Kayla quickly yielded it to anyone who wanted it.

That walk led us to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower.  We voted to go up the Bell Tower and see the largest bell in the world.  There were 75 very, very steep steps but it was fun.

The walking was a good training for tomorrow’s trip to the Great Wall.

The group returned to the hotel for some downtime at the pool and some hors dorves and Tsingtao for the dads at the executive center(yes, we were executives when we were in Beijing!).  We all then went to an acrobats show that was not far from the hotel.  It was really good.  There was interesting variety – juggling, tumbling, spinning umbrellas, contortionists, chines yoyos, and crazy “let’s get a hundred people on one bike” type of craziness.  Megan and Mia had a tough time keeping their eyes open, and I admit there were moments when the music softened that my eyelids got droopy.

Then we headed back to the hotel to rest up for another big day.

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Update on our travels!

Hi everyone, Kathleen here.

 

We are still having problems with the internet so we’ll add posts about the last two days once we get to Hong Kong. Having to type this on Tims phone so won’t be too long. Orphanage visit today, could only speak to directors at the gate, couldn’t go inside. Nobody still works there that would have known Mia so that was a little disappointing but we talked with them for about 40 min and gave them our donation gifts. One of the best parts was meeting MANY people in the neighborhood, they were so excited to meet westerners and genuinely greatful that we had brought Mia back to visit. Cannot tell you how many times we were stopped to take photos with locals, especially Kayla. Although I also had several people hand me their babies to hold and take pictures. Toured much of the city and were even invited into several people’s homes, an amazing opportunity I would never have thought we would have. Don’t really know how Mia is feeling about everything, she has not said much when I ask her. I suspect it will take her a while to process everything. We actually stopped touring a bit early because she was asking to go back to the hotel, maybe a bit overwhelming. Guiping is very poor and most of the living conditions we saw today are hard to describe. Certainly makes you feel all the more blessed for what we do have and wonder why we have so much and others so little. Headed to Nanning in the morning, the capital city in this province then on to Hong Kong on Monday.

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Day 4

Day 4

 

Wow…everyone slept even better last night (nearing normal!).  A good way to start the day.

 

Today we headed to northern Beijing for a more unusualtourist experience.  We drove for about two hours (a big hit with the kids!) to the Longquin Gorge.  Along the way we caught our first glimpse of the Olympic buildings the Birds Nest and the Water Cube.  That was pretty awesome.

 

Longquin Gorge includes the largest dam in Northern China and a narrow body of water at the base of large cliffs.  The boat ride was a bit like riding down a large non-moving river that snaked in and out of impressive rock formationscovered in brush.  The Saunders told us that the area was very reminiscent of the famous Guilin area in Mia’s home province of Guangxi.  We’ve not travelled there and won’t be able to get there this time either.  It is one of the most visited sites in China.  They said this was very similar, so it was neat to get an idea of what we’ve missed in Guangxi.

 

Once off the boat we climbed to a Buddhist temple and lookout area.  We passed on the opportunity to bungee jump – my heart wanted to but my trust level was not high enough to make the leap.  Kayla wanted to even more than me!

 

After making our way back down, Kayla and Mia joined Dave Saunders and his daughter Lydia on a small boat.  They were out for about an hour.  We relaxed in the shade in a picturesque spot and met two women from Chicago who each had an adult daughter.  It was the first time I remember hearing anyCaucasian speaking English, so we jumped into a conversation with them.  They were bigger adventure seekers than us.  One daughter had taken on the bungee jump and all four had climbed to the highest point lookout (about an hour’s climb).

 

After returning to our starting point by boat, we came back down from the top of a dam on a toboggan.  It was pretty much the same as the sleds we road on Breckenridge last summer.  A very fun way to get from point A to point B.

 

Once down, we headed to a local restaurant where we enjoyed our first authentic meal.  I must say that the heat has been keeping us from being very hungry – that and the large breakfast we enjoy each day.  Still, the food was very good and surprisingly non-threatening. We were told had we ordered a fish or a rabbit we would have likely seen a “head” on our plate, but the dish’s we ordered were quite similar to what we might have expected at a good Chineserestaurant at home.  Our guide Vivie ordered for us from the Chinese menu. She said they scam tourists by having them order from a “visitor’s” menu that has higher prices.  Ah, the joys of travelling with a guide.

 

We made our way back toward Beijing, but made a stop at the famous Ming Tombs.  On this site there are mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  Vivie suggested not going to the tombs, but instead walking the “Sacred Way”, which was the entrance to the area of the tombs.  The Sacred Way is pretty much one really long walk down a path that leads to the Tomb of the first emperor buried in this location.  He is the same one who built the Forbidden City and is highly revered.  The path is quite peaceful with trees lining on both sides for most of the way.  There are also a number of very large animals on both sides of the path.  Every so often you come across a matching pair on each side.  There are some known animals like elephants, camels and horses, and a number of fictional ones like several of the dragon’s sons (beast made up of different combinations of real animals).  There are two pair of each animal.  The first set we would come across was kneeling and the second set was standing.  Supposedly, the animals are there to guard the tombs and to give them a chance to rest, one pair guards during the day and then at midnight the standing ones kneel and the kneeling ones stand.  Unfortunately we couldn’t wait until midnight to see if this was true!

 

Once back in the van we decided to have Dave and I, along with Megan and Kayla, head to Wangfujian Street, also known as “Snack Street” where vendors sell an interesting array of thing we weren’t going to eat.  There were live scorpions on skewers (they would roast them before you ate them), squid, fermented tofu that smelled so bad they almost put Kayla over the edge, beetles, various larva, centipedes, and a variety of reproductive parts from sheep and other animals (a.k.a. Rocky Mountain Oysters where I come from). 

 

There was also a small version of NYC’s Times Square where the street was blocked off and there were a huge shopping district with bright lights and a lot of energy.  Then we found a small alley of eccentric booths filled with all kinds of things we didn’t need but wanted to stop and look at.

 

Once finished with this experience we headed to the one thing we wanted to eat – Haagen Daz!

 

We caught a cab back to the hotel (Vivie’s advice saved us again as she encouraged us to avoid picking up a cab too close to the shopping area as we would get raked over the coals by the driver’s who prey on visitors there).

 

While we were gone, Kathleen and Molly took advantage of a quick bite at the happy hour and then took the little girls to the swimmingpool.

 
 
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Day 3

So, about 4 am Anna and Mia rolled out of bed (literally since they were both sleeping on the floor).  We had prepared for that likelihood preparing them with a DVD player and a laptop so they could watch a movie while others continued to rest.  Perhaps it was that they knew there was a movie waiting for them that was enough to rouse them.  Anyway, I was not sleeping well either so I got them set up.  Then I was really awake.  After getting ready I went ahead and wrote the first blog and by then Anna and Megan were ready for the day,too.  Mia had gone back to sleep.  So Megan, Anna and I went down for breakfast.  We were surprised to find our friends from Hong Kong, the Saunders, entering the hall at the very same moment.  Kathleen, Kayla and Mia came down right as we were finishing.

We met our guide Vivie around 10 am and headed out for the day.  Traffic is worse than it was the first time we were in Beijing.  I’ve heard that they are adding thousands of new drivers a day in China and it’s showing up on the roads.  We learned yesterday that every driver has to take one day off from driving each weekday.  I wondered how they police that, but it turns out they go by your license tag numbers.  If your tag numbers end in 0 or 5, you can’t be on the roads on Mondays.  1 and 6 are off the roads on Tuesdays, and so on. Vivie said the worst day to be on the roads during the work week is Fridays because the numbers are 4 and 9 and, surprisingly, you get to choose what your last number is and 4 is considered an unlucky number, so fewer people choose to have that as the last number on their tags.  Ironically, 9 is a very lucky number (ying and yang?), so that is the number Vivie wanted.  Regardless, there are fewer drivers having to take off from driving on Fridays, so the roads are a bit more congested.  On the weekend, everyone can drive and it’s a bit of a madhouse.

We marvel at how the driving mimics waterflow.  Cars, motorcycles, bikers, and people walking about all flow around each other almost effortlessly.  Where in the U.S. we might get miffed if someone pulls in front of us or walks in front of us, here they simply swerve around the offender thus setting off a ripple in the traffic that everyone just adjusts to as needed.  Even so, there is a lot of horn honking.  I wonder why they honk.  Perhaps down deep they are upset and it doesn’t show up in their language (“Riffing rackin’ ruffer rapper!” ).  In many cases I think it’s just an “I’m here” call out to help minimize accidents.

So we headed to our first stop of the day – the Temple of Heaven.  Interestingly, that was also the first place we went when we came to Beijing the first time.  This time it cost 300 RMB or Yuan to get in for all 9 of us (Staleys and Saunders).  That’s about $60.

The area is broken into several sections.  We started in a park area where they had small groups gathered around some singers, large groups of people dancing, different people performing Tai Chi, and a lot of people playing a Chinese version of hackeysack.  Their version has the equivalent of flat metal coins around a small post with feathers sticking out the top.  At the bottom of the post is a flat rubber stopper that you can kick to keep the “shuttlecock-like” thing in the air.  Unbeknownst to us, we were drawn into joining a small group only to have them try and sell us one of them.  We bought one for about 90 cents.

Moving along, we came across a woman who had two paddles and a weighted “birdie/shuttlecock”.  Anna really enjoyed that and so we soon owned a set.

Further along we were bombarded with sales pitches for hats, bags, and Rolex watches.  Fortunately none of my children took a liking to any of them and so we won’t be bringing any of them home.

We did learn that it appears I’m the sucker in the family.  They all approach me and will not stop asking.  Maybe I’m not rude enough.  They walk alongside me and keep dropping the price.  They must sense my keen desire to get a good deal.  The Rolex guy almost got me when he dropped the cost per watch from 150 RMB to about 20 RMB (just over $3).  That almost got me.  But the fear that I might get metal poisoning from a cheap, defective watch with hands that fall off before we get home got the best of me.

We continued on and actually did get to see the main attraction, which was the Temple of Heaven.  It was a large beautiful building made entirely of wood that has stood for a very, very long time.  You can’t go in, but you can go up to it and look in.  There were a number of additional buildings housing similar ancient furniture to see.

Moving along, we decided to take a break and play some“hackey-bird” on our own.  We found a quiet place in the grass.  Lydia lives in Hong Kong and doesn’t get to play in the grass much and jumped at the opportunity.  It was fun because we were approached by two Chinese adults with children who wanted to join our game.

Once we moved further into the park, we kept coming across opportunities to stop and “play” and in the end we felt those were the parts that the children (and adults) would remember best.

After leaving the park, we jumped back in the van and went to the Panjiayuan Market.  It is a market with a large number of shops that are open all week, but where on the weekends an even larger number of sellers gather to sell what they claim to be “antiques”.  We were told that maybe 2% of what we would see would be real antiques and that we should expect to pay around 20% of the asking price.  It was a great opportunity for Lydia, whose Girl Scout troop is currently working on price negotiation.  I don’t think they actually get a “haggling” badge.

I ended up picking up a couple of very interesting items.  One is a set of metal weights that you could use to hold down the ends of a scroll of paper while you write calligraphy.  They claimed that they were brass, but I doubt that.  Decoratively engraved into them are the Chinese characters for a phrase that speaks to the importance of diligence when it comes to education.  I really liked that thought.  I haggled aggressively and walked away only to be chased down many booths later where the price came down to my liking.

The second item I purchased was a Chinese padlock in the form of a fish.  It came with two very ornate keys and an interesting mechanism.  To open the lock, first you have to move a side fin to reveal the hidden hole for the key.  Then when you place the key in the hole and turn, you have to press the fish’s eye on the back side to make the turning work.  It is very heavy and covered in a really nice patina.  They started at 450 RMB ($70).  I bargained hard and walked away.  About a block later the woman had chased me down and dropped the price to a point where it was more reasonable to bargain more.  I kept pushing and ended up getting it for 100 RMB ($15).  Our guide was impressed and then asked if I understood the actions the vendor was making as we were talking.  She was slashing her throat and I thought it meant she was at rock bottom on price. Vivie said she was saying, “If I have to go any lower, I will kill myself.”  I guess that was the point where I made her go lower, but the good news is she did not proceed with her threat.

We bought a number of other smaller items and headed back to the hotel where we enjoyed a wonderful happy hour with tasty hors dhorves and free Tsingtao beer for the dads and pop for the kids.

Then we hit the other highlight of the day for the kids – the pool!  After the pool we took a stroll in the neighborhood, bought a Subway sandwich for a couple of us whowere hungry and then toured a local grocery store – probably one of the most interesting spots for me when I’ve traveled to Asia.  The store didn’t disappoint offering a number of unusual items including some bread under the “Bimbo” brand.

We grabbed a large amount of bottled water and headed home for the night.

All in all, the first real day was a big success.

And now, a word from Anna:

The first day we flew all day, and Kayla realized that we flew 24 hours. It was the longest time ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The best thing I did was sleep and kick my mom in the head. Also I liked NOT BEING ON A PLANE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The two airlines that we flew on were Frontier and Hanien. I liked Hanien best, because they had options on there TV’s. The second day we went to The Temple of Heven. It was very interesting to learndifferent things. We also got to learn about different games. One of the games was hakky sack, and I liked that best. Another game we learned about was a game where you hit something back and forth.

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Days 1 and 2

Hello, from China!

Day 1 (and 2)

As you can see, things were bustling around our home at 3:30 am!  After loading everything and everyone into the shuttle, our adventure had begun in earnest.

After arriving at the airport we had our first of several good surprises.  The first person we saw when we walked into the terminal at 4:50 am was Andrew – Megan’s prom date from last year.  Remarkably,  he and his family were on our same flight to Seattle.  They were going on an Alaskan Cruise.

The first flight to Denver went without a hitch.  Well, except for the point when 40 minutes in Mia said she didn’t want to take any more flights that day.  After grabbing a quick bite in Denver, wewere off again for the three-hour flight to Seattle.  Flying in roughly the same Frontier airplane that featured a TV screen in each seatback, we were about 10 minutes in when I decided the $6 fee for access to “24 wonderful channels of entertainment” sounded like a wise investment.  After 15 minutes, Mia turned to me and asked if she could borrow my phone to play a game.  At least Anna and Megan enjoyed several shows, including a Price is Right moment when the big winner won a trip to China (how coincidental!).

Once on the ground in Seattle we had some pizza and Diet Coke with real ice for the last time.  It was very good.  Adventuring further into the airport we found a very large food court/gathering area with a giganticwall of windows (4 stories tall) looking out across a mountain range in thedistance.  It was breathtaking (at least as breathtaking as an airport terminal can be).  We also found some rocking chairs up near the windows and at one point I rocked Mia to sleep (she would NOT go to sleep on the earlier flights).  That was a nice moment.

Boarding our Hainan Airline flight, we realized from this point forward we would be the minority.  I would say there were about 5% Caucasians and 95% Asian.  Actually getting on the plane, Kayla’s eyes about popped out of her head when she saw the business class seating area.  We had to quickly reel in her expectations and tell her that was NOT our seats!  But, I think all of the girls (and Kathleen and I) were pretty happy to see a nice TV screen (and remote!) on each seat with options for lots of movies, TV shows, games and more.  Before we had even begun backing away, I’m pretty sure all four girls had begun a movie.

The next 11 hours was a mixture of movies, walking around the plane, picking through mostly Chinese food options, searching for a comfortable position, getting kicked by 7 and 9 year-old sleepers.

Landing and making it through their security checkpoints (Kayla did an excellent job all day of not saying anything inappropriate tosecurity folks!), we were in China!  Just like every other detail of the day, our shuttle was patiently waiting for us to take us to the hotel. I’m guessing our hotel is about 10 miles from the airport, but very heavy traffic turned thedrive into a stop and good hour-long, stir up your stomach and sap your energy kind of thing.  Most of the girls fell asleep and Megan probably took it the worst.  By the time we got to the hotel, she said she felt really sick.

The hotel, on the other hand was the good kind of “sick” (you know, the kid language kind, a.k.a. “off the hook”).  We were ushered to an executive check-in area near the top floor and quickly made our way to our adjoining rooms.  By the way, if you come here, call them“connecting” because no one quickly understands “adjoining”.

With Megan laying down, the rest of us cleaned up a bit and then went to the lobby to meet Dennis, our favorite tour guide when we adopted Mia.  He looked remarkably similar (I’m sure he thought the same of me) and was quite excited to see us.  He is quite possibly the sweetest person I’ve ever met.  We did not expect to be able to cross paths with him, but just happened to be starting a 20+ day China Tour with a group of Australians today in Beijing of all places.  It was our lucky day!

We talked in the lobby for about 30 minutes and tried to catch him up on the “Guiping Girls” (he even calls them that!) and to learn what he has been up to, too.  He stopped working for Children’s Hope International (the agency we used for Mia’s adoption) in 2009.  He now works for a tour guide group that caters to mostly Australian customers.  (I successfully resisted the urge to say, “G’day, mate!”, by the way.)  He mentioned that he was hoping to organize a group that might come to the United States, maybe as early as next year.  It would be a group of students touring the U.S.  We confirmed that if he were to make it to our part of the world we could organize homes for the students to stay with for the short time that they’d be in the Midwest.  That would be sooooo cool!

After than, Anna and I found the 7-11 not far from our hotel and picked up some extra bottled water, Dove chocolate (I figured we could all use some for medicinal reasons) and some Ritz crackers to go with the peanut butter we had brought along.  The store was tiny and only had a few things that I would recognize.  We did note, though, that China is apparently celebrating “Children’s Day” on June 1 (a holiday NOT invented by Hallmark, I must say – it seems that I hear that many holidays are invented by Hallmark).

Then it was back to the hotel for a quick swim before getting ready for bed.  I don’t remember ever feeling that tired before.

Thankfully, everyone slept for at least 6 hours.  Anna and Mia each got up at 4 am and watched a movie.  I rolled around in bed for too long and decided to start my day with a blog (I finally had the energy!).

We did get a note from our friends who arrived too late for us to meet them.  They slipped it under our door letting us know what room they were in.  Lydia, their daughter, wrote, “Dear Mia, and the Staleys, I am excited.  Love, Lydia.”

So are we!

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Update on the Staley family in China!

Greetings all!  Before you get too excited, I should let you know that this is neither Tim nor Kathleen nor any Guest Post you might be hoping it would be.  Nope, this is John, Kathleen’s brother, writing to let you know that I heard from the Staley’s today and they are having difficulty connecting to this blog site from China, and thus the lack of postings.

Tim is working on getting connected again and hopes to update their journey soon on this site.

They do want to pass on that they ‘are having a blast’ and ‘everything is going very well’!

 

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T-minus 7 hours…

I am sooooo sleepy!

In about 7 hours a large van will show up on our driveway and all of the planning and preparing and packing will be replaced with all that we’ve been waiting for.  We still CAN’T WAIT.  Sleep will be a bit tricky tonight.

Above is a photo of Mia at the computer.  She wanted to add a few quick thoughts…

“I’m excited.  It’s gonna be fun. I’m gonna to be tired in the morning!”

I think she speaks for all of us.

如坐针毡  (Rúzuòzhēnzhān)

“pins and needles”  (at least according to Mr. Google!)

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A little help from my friends…

A special thank you to the many folks who are helping make this opportunity possible.  Pictured above is Doris Fung.  She’s my next-door-neighbor at Hallmark and Doris’ sister is translating into Chinese some of the information we’ll be leaving behind at Mia’s orphanage.  We’ve prepared a letter that will be placed in Mia’s file at the orphanage as well as a couple of booklets giving the nannies at the orphanage an update on what the “Guiping Girls” have been up to for the past seven years.  The “Guiping Girls” are Mia and the other seven girls who were all adopted on the same day from the orphanage in Guiping.  We’ve had reunions near the anniversary of our “Gotcha Day” each year and it has proven to be a highlight of our summers.

Others have volunteered to help in a variety of ways — Hallmarkers have offered to pick up my slack while away from the office, a neighbor who is going to mow our lawn, an assistant coach who is taking over my 3rd grade girls softball team, and my mom who is babysitting our cat, are among them.  There are still others whose offers have been both big and small and this trip wouldn’t be possible without these kind gestures.

Thanks to everyone!  Even though you won’t be with us, you’ll be in our hearts and thoughts!

谢谢  (Xièxiè)

“thank you!”

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