Thursday, March 31, 2011

Photos from our Excursion

Beach walk
Frozen Dinner
Sunrise silliness
Train ride with Brangelina
Qingdao waterfront
On top of Mt. Tai Shan
Our water supply for the hotel

Our trip down to Taishan Mountain and Qingdao is over. We came back by train tonight. Our last full day is tomorrow, a day to pack up and get a few more things. We are feeling a bit on the edge of getting sick, but so far we are fine. The last couple of hours on the train were hard, we had some stinky fellow passengers. It was great to get a lung full of that great Beijing smog as we got off!
So much to process, this has been an amazing adventure. Great to meet new friends and catch up with old friends in this larger than life place. Myra told me I would want to move here after visiting. I don't, but I do know why others do. There is much to do here and brave souls are needed. There are pluses to living here that cannot be seen from afar, and I am so glad that I now "get China."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sunrise on Tai Shan Mountain

We are currently in Qingdao, a perfectly lovely city on the coast. We are staying in the apartment of a California couple. This apartment is huge, bigger than our whole house back home at less than 2/3 the price. They have a waterfront view, and we see the sunrise in the morning.
We toured the Tsingtao beer factory yesterday, which was Ernst Heaven. This city is gorgeous, clean, sophisticated and has clean air! If you know anyone who is thinking of moving to China, but they don't think they could handle it. they should move here. It is just wonderful. A huge city with millions of people, but a much slower vibe than Beijing.
Three days ago we left Beijing and headed for Tai Shan. We climbed the mountain, a four and half hour really difficult climb. I ended up taking the gondola halfway up, I applied the live dog vs dead lion principle. Ernst and the others climbed the whole way.
We stayed in a hotel with no running water! The pipes were all frozen. They gave us two buckets of cold water, and a huge thermos of hot. The water was to flush the squatter toilet, but if we had to do something serious, we had to go downstairs. And I even used the bucket to flush that squatter. I am not a princess, I am not a princess. I kept saying that to Ernst because I was so proud of myself. Sort of like experiencing potty training as an adult, such pride of accomplishment! Sorry, TMI, but just had to share.
The hotel knocks on the door at 5 am for the wake up call. We walked up to the summit in the freezing cold and saw the sunrise. Just incredible.
We are having a slow day, Brad got a stomach issue. So far for us, no sickness. I have even had street food.
Since we are using a friend's computer, I'll post photos when we get back to Beijing tonight. We have a six hour train ride ahead, which will mean a sore neck for me. I just can't stop looking out the window. The sights are amazing, but lots of rubble, trash and falling down hutongs. There is much modernization here, but so much yuck factor too. I am used to seeing the organized beauty of Europe, this is not organized and beauty was not in the master plan. There has been a massive tree planting project here, really incredible, now they need to work on the rubble and garbage. But here in Qingdao, they are definitely on the right track, it is unbelievably gorgeous!!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kids in the Park

Kids in the Park

Last quick post before we go where there is no Internet. Some mountain with 6600 steps to the hostel on top, no showers. We need to pack light, we carry up our stuff.
Here are some pictures from the park this morning. Just lovely, the kids get to practice their characters by writing with water on the ground. I wrote Ernst and Jessica were here. A little girl added, Thank You in Chinese below. We attracted a little crowd!
Today was spent geocaching in a rich area and then we went to the outskirts of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. We walked miles and miles. Then we had dinner with Garrett! He looks healthy and happy.
One more post when we get back from our trip to the countryside. Enjoy these pictures of the adorable kids. These are just a few of the many I took.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Incredibly Stressful Place for Gifts

We have experienced the full range of the Chinese shopping experience. From the little neighborhood shops to the New York fancy stores and everything in between, including fish markets, tea shops, Tesco, fruit stands, nut stands and food vendors. Yesterday we went to the Incredibly Stressful Place for Gifts.

There were about 5 stories of wares, all in small little booths run by incredibly pushy merchants. You walk down the aisles, and they come at you with their stuff.
Lady don't you want this wallet?
Lady, pretty scarves.
Lady, you need a silk robe?
Lady, real jade/leather/silver/silk.
Lady, lady lady....

They grab your arm, tell you some crazy over inflated price, balk when you counter offer, and follow you stating their final offer which is about 20% of the original offer. So I handled this all with a smile that could freeze soy sauce and a different reply to each shop. It was like a game, trying to find a different way to say no to each person.

Oh, thank you but no.
Thank you, they are pretty, but no.
No, I don't need one.
No, I already have one.
Thanks, but no.
Those are lovely, but no.
Those are really not my style.
Those would look really bad in my home.
I don't need one, but thank you.
I actually don't think those are pretty.
No, no, really no.

Thank goodness for Angelina, she got us some great deals! I love it here, there are beautiful moments of calm that balance the stress. Little scenes from the bus that melt my heart. The adorable children. The dignity of an old person. A bike piled so high with stuff that it makes me laugh. The beauty alongside the ugly of it all that is China.

I am posting a mix of photos, no theme.

Green Tea Oreos on the Great Wall

Green Tea Oreos on the Great Wall

Yesterday we went to the Great Wall with an impromptu international group: a young woman named Noel from South Africa, Georg and Sven from Sweden, Brangelina and us. We all shared a van up to the Great Wall near Huang Hua Cheng. Our driver, Mr. Pei, managed to negotiate a smooth mountain road that would routinely be clogged up by motorized trikes and markets squeezing two-lanes into one. There's nothing to compare with watching open-air dentistry competing with butcher sales on a flatbed while two gigantic trucks come from opposite directions negotiating the narrow gap left between.

This is the same part of the wall that Myra wrote about in her blog. It was spectacular. The weather was perfect, blue skies and just a slight chill in the air. We saw no other people the whole trip, which lasted 3 and half hours. It was so steep at times, I was crawling on all fours. So steep, if I were on skis I would have been snowplowing. Unlike Myra's adventure, there was no lady with an axe at the ladder. The ladder was scary enough as it was.

At the top, which felt like the top of the world, we shared a lunch break of apples, crackers, green tea Oreos and beer. I don't think we'll be seeing green tea Oreos at a US Walmart, but you can get them here at the Chinese Walmart. Interesting and very green.
Climbing down was one of those moments I kept thinking, "If my mom could see what I am doing right now…" Don't worry Mom, I was really careful. Ernst and I did great, always bringing up the rear, but we did the whole part we planned.

When we got to the end, we had to cross into the Gates of Dog Hell. This man has all these chained and crazed dogs strategically placed to scare people and then he makes you pay to pass through the gates. Our Chinese speakers negotiated, but I didn't really care how much we paid, I would have given him a wad of cash just to put those pathetic dogs out of their misery. Our price to get out was 10 kuai, about $1.60 each.  It would have been so totally satisfying to say "Forget it Dog Man, we are walking back to Axe Lady and we won't pay your exit fee."

After we returned from our adventure, I got my hair cut. The guy kept asking me how I wanted it, and I just kept saying Da, dar putin, (yes, but not too much) my Romanian kept jumping in. It turned out really cute, but the way he fixed it was funny, my bangs looked just like his. The cut cost $2. What a deal. I got another massage tonight, the same guy as last time. He asked Angelina why my shoulders are so tight. I don't have a Chinese feel to my muscles. He said I felt 40 years old (he is blind). I bet he says that to all the women who feel close to 50!

So much more to write, but that is all for now.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Pictures...

In China, it is not an easy thing to (B plus log) since it they are (B plus locked)! Anyway, I am doing my blogging through my friend Myra, who is being very kind to help me out. This is my attempt to post photos through emailing my blog. We will see how it works.

Here are a few photos of our travels so far. There is much to photograph here, but sometimes hard to know when I am being intrusive. Some of the merchants at the fish market didn’t want their products on camera. Do I seriously look like I am from the Ministry of Health?

We went to an overwhelming market today. Picture a football field, underground, broken up into stalls, full of clothes, shoes and masses of people attempting to get a bargain. Then picture Ernst trying to land a pair of rip-off Vans or Converse in a country of little feet. They want you to try on before they tell you the price, and they act like they will magically produce the size you need, but then seem so surprised you don’t want to buy the pair that would require a removal of your toes. We walked out with our toes, but no shoes.
A literal fight broke out at this market between two shops, arguing over a customer. We walked to another area of the football field/store. Not the kind of place you want to be in when a stampede breaks out.
I much more enjoyed the little neighborhood market near here, really fun to explore in there. And Ernst was glad I was happy with my purchase of some cute chip clips shaped like fruit. I am a cheap date.
The only weird thing was something Angelina called the numbing pepper. A cross between a caper, a clove, a chili pepper and novacaine! Whoever first tasted that and decided it was food was nuts. Probably could kill fleas, should not be in food. Brad loves them. Blecch! There are some things that were just not meant to be consumed. Numbing peppers is now on my Top Ten List of foods I don't like. Brad loves them. We ate a really large amount of dumplings for lunch. So far, I just love the food, or have I said that already?

Our hosts have an appointment tonight, so we are chilling out and doing laundry. We go to the Great Wall tomorrow with some friends of friends of friends from South Africa. Hope this beautiful weather holds, we had blue skies today, and not so cold. Except for the boots I lugged here, my clothes have been a good choice. Mr Last Minute Packer could have done a little better, and now he has purchased a crazy Soviet style hat with ear flaps. Like Elmer Fudd only more Fuddy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Scorpions on a Stick

Some sights from our second day here:

Scorpions, sea horses and caterpillars on a stick. Really yucky street food just for the wow factor. The sea horses have been decimated here, and now they are coming from South America. I should feel concerned about the scorpions being destroyed, but I can't muster up the pity.

We saw the Summer Palace. I'm sure some really cool movies have been filmed there, that long covered gazebo thing is incredible. We are still seeing very few non Chinese, even in the touristy areas.

I have crammed myself onto some really crowded buses and subways, getting better at getting my subway legs. Jessica C. is right, one can be totally surrounded by humanity, and still feel safe. The public toilets are OK, I just don't breathe through my nose, hike up my pant hems and get out as fast as possible.

The food is so incredibly good. I think the Chinese eateries in US need to revamp, this real stuff would be a hit! The translations on the menus are great, there was one dish that promised to give cancer!

So many sights and impressions. There are city sights that dazzle, quaint areas that are endearing, and some sights that you don't know if they are being destroyed or being built. This is like I pictured and nothing like I pictured. I need to upload some pictures, I'll try tonight. We are walking tons, eating lots and having such a great time with B and A. Their apartment is a haven to come to at night after sensory overload.

Great weather, yesterday was freezing. An older man stripped down to his speedos and swam in the near freezing water. He looked old, had a great body, so maybe he discovered the fountain of youth? Ernst says he is the Chinese Jack LaLanne. Then again, maybe he is 25 and it is aging his face!

Off to do some shopping, So glad Brangelina are here to haggle for us, they are saving us lots of money.

My new favorite food: hawthorn berries on a stick, covered in a light caramel. Yu-Um  Bye for now.

PS. We are referring to our hosts as Brad and Angelina, Brangelina or just B and A so they can preserve their privacy. The only Pitts I know do have tons of kids, but they are on the West Coast.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Day of Differences

What a day of contrasts. We started with breakfast with B & A, then the guys went off to register us for our stay here. Angelina and I met them at a mall like place, lots of little stores that didn't attract me with their wares. Then we hit the food court. We ate for 4 dollars for all of us, yummy healthy veggies and rice. I never had lotus root before, looked weird but tasted fabulous.

Then we hit the outdoor markets. So fun to wander through, everything needed to set up a house, but all in different stores. We even found this ceramic filter we have been looking for that completes a coffee making device we have. No one else has ever carried it, and here it was in this dimly lit crowded little coffee store. The meat/fish/vegetable market was an assault to the eyes, nose and vegan sensibilities, but I was fascinated and took pictures of the fish heads, chicken feet and meat chunks on hooks. Maybe a better way to buy meat, it is what it is, dead animals, instead of all separated and wrapped in plastic. I loved that place, but was worried about my pant hems getting wet with who knows what.

We had a tea tasting experience that was sublime. Calm, serene and quiet, we tasted how tea should be served. Must have had dozens of little cups of the stuff, and picked up some to bring home. That meant a visit to a public toilet, which I survived. You just don't breathe, do your thing and get out.

After that we went to an upscale mall that is as nice as any Sacramento has. The contrast was strange, and this was just about a 15 minute walk away from the bizarre bazaar. Then we visited a food store that was like a mini Whole Foods, really nicely decorated and fancy. This is a country of great contrasts. We saw upscale boutiques and a man selling something from a donkey a stone's throw from each other. Neither seemed out of place.

We rode a bus, got pushed on and pushed out. I was holding on for dear life, with my other hand holding all the tea purchases. We got back to the apartment and went straight for a massage. They have massage places that have blind therapists. You keep your clothes on, and they cover you with a blanket, plus they can't see you because they are blind. Talk about respecting your privacy. Ernst wanted to take his shirt off, but they said the "evil wind" would not be good for him. This guy was hitting pressure points from my fibromyalgia that were almost scream inducing. I forgot how to say Ouch in Chinese, so I just practiced taking it for if I am ever tortured. I feel so great and relaxed, it was only $10 for a whole hour.

The neighborhood we are in has nice apartments on one side of the street, then little crumbling complexes on the other with alley like entrances. I so want to go explore those alleys. It is true, I don't feel afraid here at all. I want to explore everything. So happy this trip is 2 weeks, we don't feel rushed. It was fun to just wander today and get our bearings. Tomorrow our hosts have something planned, but I forgot. I'm sure it will involve amazing sites, yummy cheap food and smashing of stereotypes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chasing The Sun

We left on Sunday, followed the sun until Monday evening,then went to sleep. I think it is Tuesday and I know we are in China! All our chocolate and cookies were a hit, and now our luggage has room for gifts.

The flight was amazing, I got the window seat and stared out for hours. Alaska, ice flows, tundra, snow and ice, Siberia I think. (I may have even seen Sarah Palin's house, but maybe it was just Russia). Just beautiful and I couldn't stop staring. My neck is sore but I am filled with awe.

Flying over China was incredible. Farmland for hours and hours, just like in the US, but it looked different. A linear pattern to the crops, and I couldn't tell what it was. Tea? Wheat? All the roofs are simple, long buildings with really simple roof lines. And until we were closert to the airport, not many cars on the roads.

Beautiful modern airport, light and amazing. Not scary at all. It was a really easy process. I will call our hosts Brad and Angelina, Brad picked us up and we took a taxi to the apartment. Crazy traffic, but not as crazy as Rome or Paris. The apartment is great, like a European apartment, just half the size. The kitchen is small enough to clean without moving your feet. Not as cold as I expected, the air is so dry it feels warmer. We are going to go do some tooling around today, nothing serious, still just enjoying being here with Brangelina.

The morning we left, Ernst lost his cell phone at Rite Aid. So we didn't have the address of where we were staying to fill out the card on the plane. We started looking through the flight magazine for a hotel address to write down. Then we heard some tour guide telling his people to write Jade Palace Hotel. So we wrote Jade Palace Hotel and hoped no one cared.

Good to finally be here, and excited to just let the trip unfold with no plans. What a relaxing feeling. Take Care.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What a night

We went to dinner at our friend's last night, lots of fun and good food. I spent time with their 5 year old, coloring Hello Kitty. She is the cutest little thing, she speaks 3 languages - Romanian, Russian and English. She spent about half an hour trying to help me roll my Rs. I can only do it if the word starts with a T, otherwise spit is involved and it is more trouble than it is worth. I think the train left the station for my tongue to make that sound.

We got to sleep around 1am, not too bad. It was raining so hard it was like a hose was pointed at the window, and the wind was howling like mad. Just got to sleep, and the car alarm was triggered by the wind! So not much sleep for ol' insomniac Jessie.

I am so excited to get on that plane and rest. No itinerary, no plans, no expectations. This is embarrassing to admit, but I don't think I could point to where Beijing is on a map of China. Not a very prepared traveler, I must say. If knowledge is power, than I will be very weak. Two weeks to get educated about the country that makes 90% of the products in our home. And two weeks to catch up with some great friends. Finally, here we go.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Down to the wire

Ernst still hasn't packed, he is running a 5k today and has a talk this afternoon. He always manages to pull off what needs to be done, and I should be used to it already, but it still amazes me. Our first trip to Europe had Ernst and JoLee McCurdy running through Brooklyn Heights to mail off the last of the homework he had to grade before he left. He had stayed up 48 hours to get it graded, and somehow managed to finish just in time, run to mail it and run back to the lobby for our ride to JFK. His internal clock has yet to fail him, but one of these days I have a HUGE "I told you so" planned.

One good thing about the talk today, we got invited to Moldovan food after. That means lots of veggies and healthy choices. Right now our fridge is really bare, just some goodies for our dog sitters. A whole mess of our last tasks are on the table, we may be up a while tonight. But good to be tired for that long plane ride. I don't sleep well on planes, or in beds for that matter!

 La revedere! I don't know how to spell good-bye in Chinese.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ready or not...

...we are leaving in 36 hours. I walked our house sitter through today, trying to think of all the quirks that you learn about a place: turn this this way or this happens, this sticks so give it a good shove, if this goes off it means this. So much to do just to get away for 2 short weeks.

It is finally sinking in that we will be on Vacation for 2 weeks. When people ask what our itinerary is, we honestly don't know! Whatever our hosts have planned. This is so unlike any other trip we have taken. Our first trip to Asia, our first trip where Ernst can't use his German, our first oversees trip in winter. As usual, I'm packed and ready to roll, Ernst is "mentally packing."

Super news though this week, Ernst did not get a pink slip. The day he would have got it, I sent an "orange slip" in his lunch. It said, Orange you glad I'm your wife? Orange you glad you have good health? Orange you glad we're going to China? Orange you glad we have a dog who likes to pee on pink slips? It helped him get through the day waiting for the pink slip that didn't come. We have a bit of survivor's guilt, but both of us unemployed would have been so very pathetic.

I hope to post photos and thoughts of our adventure, we'll see how often it will happen. I'm getting worse with jet lag the older I get, so it may be a few days before I get "orient"ed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Alphabet Quilt

My first commissioned quilt! A friend asked me at Irina's wedding if I could do a quilt for an upcoming baby shower. Plenty of time. Except it's the day we get back from China. I first said no, I didn't have the time, but then decided to go for it.

It was a perfect day to sew. It was raining like nuts. Plus our phone and Internet were out, some squirrels had chewed the cable. I just love the way it turned out, cute happy colors with the ABC fabric pulling it all together. What are the chances the recipient is reading this... really slim...practically here are the pictures!

Not quite this vivid, needed a flash because of the gloomy day

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Moldovan Wedding

 Modovans know how to have a party, and their weddings are certainly fun occasions. Last night we attended the wedding of Irina and Sasha and had a blast. We left at 1 a.m. and there was no indication that things were slowing down. We heard the dancing went on until 3 a.m. The bridesmaids and the bride had not slept at all the night before, I honestly don't know how they manage it. My Western European/Scandinavian genes just aren't made for it.

The food is served family style
Not exactly fit for vegetarians, but we managed
Quail performing the Chicken Dance

Irina and Aleksander
She wore them almost the whole day
There are these huge venues in Sacramento that cater to different cultures. This wedding reception was held at one that is for Russian weddings. Last year we attended a wedding at a place for Eritrean and Ethiopians, and there are huge facilities for Vietnamese receptions as well. You could drive right by them and never know they were there. This one was like a village plaza, complete with lamp posts and sky.

While the food is abundant and yummy, the dancing really takes center stage. The program includes games and contests, definitely not a stuffy evening. The ceremony was at the hall at noon, and then we went home and changed into evening clothes for the 6 pm reception. Ernst went to another party they are having tonight, and they'll get together again tomorrow. These people continue to amaze me. I keep waiting for their stamina to rub off, but for now I need a whole day just to recover from last night.

Here is a video from my dinky camera of some of the games and dances.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Violeta Quilt

Not sure if Violeta is a Romanian name, but it works great with this quilt. I stayed home yesterday and made this, really dumb because I need to be getting ready for our trip. My list of things to do goes out the door, which is what I need to do. Go out the door and get stuff done!

Tomorrow I need to clone myself. I need to go on field trip to San Fransisco with Ernst and pick up our visas somehow on the same trip. But we have a wedding in our hall, and I have become the defacto wedding ceremony go-to person. The Moldovans are used to the European way of doing weddings. All the legal stuff is done at the courthouse, so they are not big on the actual wedding ceremony there. They pummel us with questions, but I think how would I feel if I were getting married in Moldova and I had no idea what is required? Usually by the end of the night I want to change my name! Tomorrow I'll only answer to Violeta.