Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter!

Look who is now a pro at using chopsticks!

Griffin with one of his new little sisters, May.

Can you believe this produce is at the airport?  It was so beautiful and looked so good.  It was killing us to not be able to have some.

Waiting for work to begin on Sunday morning.

Now you know why we don't mind that everything is cooked to death.  
You want all of your meat WELL

After saying good-bye to all of our new friends that were heading on to orphanage visits, we caught our plane to Beijing.  We settled quickly and headed for the pearl market.  This is either a dream or a nightmare, depending on your perspective.  There is stall after stall of shoes, clothes, jewelry, electronics, and on and on.  No price is set, so every single purchase is a process of bargaining.  They tell you they will make no money, and you tell them it is too expensive.  They pass a calculator with a number on it, then you change the number and pass it back.  After so many times, they finally look beaten and say, "OK, just for you."   At that point, I always assume I have paid too much.  Chris has a much more patient, better technique.  You know he gets a better deal because they say to him, "You tell no one!"

Jesse wants you to know that she has taken photos with over 70 Chinese people.  Kinsey responded with, "After all, it's always about you in the end."  Pretty perceptive for 7, wouldn't you say?

We are heading for the airport, and hope to be in Nashville at 10:15 tonight.  Jeff, thanks for picking us up.  We'll call from Newark if we can.  

Thanks to all of you who took time to read our blog, and thanks especially to those of you who commented.  It made it much easier to make the effort to upload photos and write at night when I was exhausted.  For the first time ever, we will have a record of a trip.  Can't wait to see you all back on American soil!

Friday, April 10, 2009


The weather was wet and dreary this morning, which worked out just great.  It seems to have kept most panda visitors away, but was very comfortable for the pandas to come out and play.  But, first things first.  Chris and another man from our group, David, got up early today and went walking.  They got to see part of the city wake up. The baker was making dough for dumplings and noodles, vegetables were being sold to restaurants, and pigs were being carved and hung in the storefront.  Friendly gestures were made, and the workers let the silly caucasians take pictures.

After an accident and puke free morning, we headed out to the panda breeding facility.  Last year's earthquake damaged the Woolong Panda Reserve and roads leading to it, so this is where visitors now go to see the pandas.  Last year was a great year, with 14 babies born!  Now 8-9 months old, the babies are filling the kindergarten.  As cute and charming as the pandas look as stuffed toys and in videos, they are even more so up close.  Unbelievably special!  The babies were playing, the young adults were stuffing themselves, and the granny's were passed out cold.  I have forced myself to only post these few photos of the pandas.  Anyone who can stand it for an hour or so, I have a lot more!  The kids loved getting to pose with the panda.  The keepers gave him a special treat, so he just sat on a bench, eating contentedly, while the kids took turns petting him and posing.  Definitely one of the biggest highlights of the trip.

On the way out of the park, we stopped by a pond where people were feeding some carp.  Leslie, this shot is for you.  The fish were flopping on top of each other, onto the bank, making popping noises as they opened up to get food.  One fellow traveler said they get so thick that the ducks can walk across them.  So funny to watch.

The girls all received silk purses today since we visited a brocade factory, so the boys got Mao hats.  Later that day, they were playing a paddle ball game in Tien Fu park, which has a giant statue of Mao in it.  The police came and yelled at them in Chinese, gesturing that it was disrespectful to the statue.  Who knew statues were so sensitive?

Our last treat for the night was getting to see our sister-in-law's parents.  Gretchen's folks were returning to their home in Chengdu from a trip South, so we were able to see them for a bit here at the hotel.  It was great to hear some of their stories about actually living here as ex-pats.  Time was short, but we were so glad we got to see them.

As much fun as this trip has been, it's time it comes to an end.  The compounding lack of sleep is getting to everyone, as is the lack of privacy, cow's milk, and Mexican food.  We leave for Beijing early tomorrow (Saturday), and spend the night there.  Sunday around lunch we will head to the airport.  After a long flight and a plane change in Newark, we are scheduled to arrive in Nashville at 10:17 p.m.  I don't know who I feel sorriest for on Monday:  the kids, their teachers,  Chris, or Chris's patients.  I you need me, I'll be at home, asleep.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Today got off to yet another traumatic start.  Kinsey woke up feeling much better, and we all got ready for breakfast.  However, while tying her shoe, she managed to do a backflip off the bed, whacking her nose on a table on the way down.  We managed to get everything to the airport on time, despite not scheduling "clean up blood" time.  She took it like a trooper, and got a new panda bear shirt out of the deal, since the shirt she was wearing is pretty much ruined. 

Our first day in Chengdu has been spent mostly eating.  This is the Sichuan province, so spicy is the way to go.  We had a special table tonight for the challengers, and we all survived what they called 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.  Everyone compared what part of their mouths were burning and/or numb.  Good stuff.

A little later we went to the People's Park and had tea, then spent some time walking around.  Seeing people in their regular life is everyone's favorite.  Retire people tend to 
gather in parks in the early morning and evenings to exercise and socialize.  We saw people ballroom dancing, doing tai chi, singing karaoke, playing chess, and lots of other things.  Most of the grandparents were sweet and let us take pictures of their beautiful grandchildren.

After supper, 11 of us got foot massages at the School for Chinese Medicine, while the others went shopping.  It was pretty good, but hurt a little, too.  One person commented and was told, "Sometimes hurt, but help." Yikes!  We'll count bruises tomorrow.

Tomorrow is what all of the kids have been waiting for - The Pandas!  We have to leave early, so I'm gonna check out.

A few notes:
Jeff, I found sweet tea.  Yes!
Jay, I don't even know if I can tell you about some of the bathrooms I've seen.
Jill and Laura, will K still be clumsy in her 40s?
Jamie, happy birthday (for real) today!!!
As always, thanks for the comments.  We miss you guys!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cutie Pie from the Great Wall                           
Griffin and a Jade Terra Cotta Warrior
Today didn't get off to a very good start.  We were doing fine, when Kinsey suddenly started feeling bad.  A few minutes before we arrived at the jade factory, she threw up all over her pants.  Kinsey cried, Chris cleaned, I went in search of some place to buy new pants, and the woman one seat over tried to get off the bus before she puked.  Kinsey felt great a few minutes later, but it did come back a couple more times during the day.  She hasn't thrown up for about 9 hours, and she had some supper, so we are hoping the bug has been given the heave ho (yes, pun intended).  

We did manage to see some of the beautiful jade, and the boys managed to not break any of it while visiting unsupervised.  After that, they took us to a noodle lunch.  They grow a lot of wheat here, so the diet is more wheat based than rice based.  It was very good, and they even made egg drop soup for Kinsey's tummy.  

Next we drove into the country about 1 hour to visit the terra cotta warriors.  I had seen photos in National Geographic, but I didn't know the story.  The first emperor to unite numerous tribes into the Middle Kingdom, now China, had his tomb built while still alive.  He wanted to maintain control in the next world, so he had about 8,000 warriors and horses made to go with him.  Soon after his death, there was a peasant uprising.  They broke into the tombs to steal the weapons, which were real, and burned the mausoleum.  In the 1970's, a farmer digging a well came up with part of a warrior, and archeologists went to work.  There are only about 2,000 soldiers uncovered now.  They are waiting on more techniques to be developed before bringing out the rest.  I had just assumed it was the same few casts over and over, but each was modeled after real people, so the detail is incredible.  You can even tell the age of the horses by how many teeth they had.  Seeing them in the ground where the remains were found was pretty amazing.

We frantically packed again, before and after, seeing a dinner show.  Everything going in the belly of the plane had to be out by 11:00 p.m., which included my card reader, so I'll send more photos tomorrow night from Chengdu.  

I'm losing track of days, so Jamie, if it's today, Happy Birthday!!  If I'm off, please still have a great day!!!  Sarah, so glad the surgery went well.  I can't wait to see the results!  Thanks everyone who is sending comments.  It helps us feel a little less like we are on the other side of the planet. : )

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Well, here's the deal.  I like using the photos, but we can't figure out how to make them move around in relation to the text.  Click and drag ain't cuttin' it, and the help button isn't helping.  Any of you who know blogspot, please advise.  In the mean time, please try to follow along.

Amy, I was feeling bad about not sending you any photos of food.  I'll have a lot more to show you later, but this is at least a start.  This lunch was the best food we have had so far.  You can't see all of it, but it was delicious, despite the fact that most of the older kids and teens are sticking to their Sprite and white rice diet.

As to the cuties in pink and green, those are two of the kids we met at the CHI orphanage.  We visited there Monday morning and got a tour.  We all played with the kids, then helped some volunteers clean.  I think the workers are doing a good job, but it still makes you wish you could scoop them up and bring them home to families that could love them forever.   

From there we met up with the rest of the group that was at a rug making factory.  All of the girls got a chance to tie a few knots, and the parents got the chance to buy a rug.  It certainly made me appreciate the time and talent that goes into a hand knotted, silk rug.    



After lunch at a fantastic restaurant, Chris ran over to KFC with Jesse so she could have fries on her birthday.

Next we headed for pedicab rides through a Hutong.  I thought a pedicab was where they paint your toenails while you ride, but it turns out it's a little seat pulled by a guy on a bicycle.  We're still not sure about the exact definition of a hutong, but we rode down tiny alleys and a few small streets, filled with homes, businesses, people, and quite a variety of smells.  It was a holiday yesterday, so the center of the hutong was full of people and had a kind of carnival atmosphere.

We ended our Beijing tourist stuff with Tienamin Square.  We got a bit of history and looked around for a few minutes, but mostly we were there so the kids could fly kites.  They had us fly them down by Mao's mausoleum, where Mao's preserved body lies in a see through coffin.  Thousands visit him 5 days per week.  Eww.

A very tired, pathetic group of people was later seen boarding an overnight sleeper train.  Although I could have held hands with the woman sleeping across from me, it wasn't too bad.  We did all arrive in Xian sort of feeling like we needed one of those showers they give you after you have been exposed to nuclear material, but it was an experience.

I am realizing how long this post is getting, so I'll speed up.  Xian is the only city in china that still has it's city wall intact.  They have marathons up on top, where it has a nine mile perimeter.  We went to a mosque, a buddhist temple, and had a meal with about 19 different kids of dumplings.  Don't worry, Amy, I took pictures.  The kids got to learn a little calligraphy, and Chris took them all to KFC tonight for supper.

We have mastered the squatty potties, adjusted to drinks without ice, managed to cross the roads without injury (so far), and learned how to bargain in another language.  On to the next challenge!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Beijing Day 2

Super big day.  Lots of walking and climbing.  So tired.  Short versions.

Went by Olympic Venues.  Know you saw bird's nest and bubble building, but did you see Flame Hotel?  Rated 7 stars.  Seven?!?!

Climbed Great Wall at Badaling.  Can't begin to convey how steep some parts are.  Boys and Chris went up highest.  So steep on way down, slid on the hand rails.  Dirty, but efficient.

On to Summer Palace.  Name gives impression it is a big building, but it is really a huge complex with multiple buildings, open areas, and a man made lake.  Beautiful, but super busy.  Did we mention there are a lot of people in China?

After dinner - again, saucer size plate, juice glass, and lazy susan full of various dishes- we went to see acrobats.  CRAZY!!  The things these performers can do is amazing.  Dad, you would have loved it.  Not because of acrobats, but because they had popcorn for sale.  Kids were so happy to have salt instead of soy sauce.

Tomorrow night we will be traveling on a sleeper train to Xian, so no computer.  Will let you know about last day in Beijing and first day in Xian on Tuesday.  

Tomorrow is Jesse's 16th birthday.  Sarah, I hope your surgery goes very well tomorrow, too.  David, happy birthday!  How would you feel about something with Chairman Mao on it?  I get you "best quality, best price."  Karen, happy 50!  I hope your family treated you and Daniel to a great party!  Love to all.