Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hong Kong Part 4 (finally!)

I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for the last installment in the Hong Kong series.  I have had a busy weekend but finally got it done!  Hope you enjoy it!

Our last day in Hong Kong Joel actually had to work in the morning, yes it was a work trip.  He had an early morning meeting, so I slept in and he was home in time to pack up our bags, check out of room and head to lunch together.  Our flight wasn't until 7pm so we had all day to wander the city and hang out.  We started our day (well I guess I should say I started my day since Joel had been up for a long time) by going to get some Mexican food for lunch.  We figured since Hong Kong is more western it might be decent.  It was.  We went to a place called Tequilas and shared stacked enchiladas.  It wasn't the same as home but it definitely hit the spot.

After lunch we decided to walk off our huge meal and hit the Western Market for some shopping.  We were very disappointed.  The markets in Shanghai are huge and you can buy anything you can imagine for cheap.  In this market there were like three stores and then an entire floor of only fabric.  Which would have been good if we were looking for fabric, but we weren't.  So we only spent about 10 minutes there before deciding it wasn't for us and headed out.

Joel had read about the Botanical Gardens in Hong Kong and really wanted to visit, the weather was finally clear although hot and muggy but still a good day to spend time outside.  The nice thing about the gardens was that it was free to get in and walk around.  They had a huge section of primates and we really enjoyed spending time watching all the monkeys play around.  They also had all sorts of crazy giant birds and turtles.  I think we took  about 100 photos of all the animals but don't worry, I narrowed it down so you don't have to scroll through all of them.

Sadly after the gardens it was time to say goodbye to Hong Kong and head back to Shanghai.  We took a shuttle to the train, the train to the airport and then home to the Hai.  This definitely won't be our last trip to Hong Kong.  Maybe eventually this blog will be - Wishing on a Passport.  An American girl in Hong Kong. ; )

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hong Kong Part 3

The third day of our trip we woke up to pouring rain.  We had planned to get back on the big bus so we could tour the other side of HK Island and do the boat ride along the beach but with the rain we didn't think it was worth it.  So instead we caught a cab to the history museum.

The museum is definitely worth a trip if you ever go to HK.  It was a history of the island going back 400,000 years until the present.  I thought it was really well laid out with tons of different exhibits and movies.  I had just read Tai-Pan before coming to HK and the museum was a great way to expand my learning associated with the book.  The book is fiction but it hints at a lot of history of the area and has a few characters based on real people.  If you haven't read it seriously do.  We ended up spending several hours here and saw everything they had.  After, we walked across the street to the science museum.  I didn't really enjoy it but Joel did.  A lot of the things were broken and it seemed really run down.  They did have a hall of mirrors though which was a lot of fun to play in.  If you had kids with you it may be worth the trip, if not then just skip it.

After the museum we walked back to the hotel and had some fun in the rain along the way.  We had to check out of the Intercontinental and into the Chinese hotel that Joel's office had booked for us.  We had enough time for tea though, since they had given us a late check-out and then headed to our new hotel on Hong Kong Island, in the central district.

Our new hotel was very cool, totally different from our first one but was really clean and nice and we had a great view.  Joel and I both agreed our room felt like it was in a tree house because of how high up we were and the huge windows.  After we got settled in we walked to the restaurant district and had a snack and a beer at a restaurant Stormies.  The rain had stopped by now so we were able to sit at the bar that was outside, which had a great view of the street and the people passing by.  We sat for a while and people watched until we had to go.  We had reservations to ride a junk boat for the nightly light show that goes on in HK so we had to hurry to the pier to meet it.  A junk boat is what a chinese version of a pirate ship is called and they usually have red sails (always?  not sure) but ours had red sails.  It was for sure the highlight of our trip.  Included in the price of our ticket was a drink, so we had a drink and sailed around and watched the light show.  It was awesome.

Very soon after disembarking the boat it started raining again.  Joel and I took the escalators up the hill to another restaurant spot and found a cozy English pub to grab some dinner and watch the rain.  We thought we should have some fish and chips since HK had been British for so long and we were right, they were seriously delish.  Perfect ending to our amazing night.

Click here for part one
Click here for part two

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hong Kong Part 2

Our second day in Hong Kong we decided to get up early and work out (ambitious I know), then we had a wonderful breakfast at the Intercontinental club lounge.  They have a whole buffet of food and you can also order an omelet, fresh waffles or french toast.  After breakfast we went down to the trip planning desk in the lobby (yes our hotel was awesome) where we purchased big bus tickets to tour all of Hong Kong.  I know what you are thinking if you read my Shanghai Big Bus post you know how I thought it was terrible, but in general I really love big bus.  I think it is a great way to see the city and get a feel for the layout and spots you want to visit.  Included in our big bus ticket was a ticket on the tram to the peak overlooking the city as well as a boat ride, which unfortunately it started POURING rain so we skipped.

We caught the ferry to the Hong Kong side so we could take the red bus line, which was a tour of all of the major Hong Kong Island spots, including the tram and shopping destinations.  We got on the bus and met a really nice family from Wisconsin who had just been in Guangzhou adopting a little chinese girl.  They had their son with them as well and had decided to pick her up and then tour China for two weeks.  They were such a sweet family.  The little girl they adopted had a cleft pallet so they explained to us how it was difficult to learn how to feed her but that she was at the age where she could show them how (she was probably almost a year old).  They had a series of surgeries planned as soon as they got home so that they could get it over with fast and she could live a normal happy life.  Joel and I were both very touched by them, it was the kind of encounter that makes you want to be a better person, and definitely contemplate adopting later in life.

After we took the bus for quite some time we got off to take the tram up to the top of the peak.  The tram was a little scary, straight up the mountain on a wire but was totally worth it.  The view going up was very cool, the buildings you pass almost look like they are angled because you are leaning so far back from the gravity of going straight up the mountain.  When we got to the top, you enter into a mall with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants.  If you take like 5 or 6 escalators you can get to the roof top to see The View.  When we were up there the view was clear and you could see both sides of Hong Kong but by the time we were done and had taken the tram back down the clouds were coming in and it started raining.  My dad had warned us that when it rains in Hong Kong it really rains.  He wasn't kidding.  I thought we were going to be washed away!  Our next stop on the bus tour was going to be walking around shopping but because of the rain we decided to head back to the hotel.  At this point it was already 5pm so we thought by the time we would get back to the hotel we could eat an early dinner and wait out the rain.

We sat in the lounge and had food and my nightly champagne and watched the rain through the window.  We sat there for so long, until about 9pm when, fortified by our drinks, we decided we would put on our rain gear, brave the rain and take a walk.  We thought we could walk to the men's market again and wander around.  We walked for about an hour and a half, got totally lost and never found it again.  Lol, oh well.  We finally gave up, called it a night and caught a cab back to the room to go to bed.

 Click here if you missed part 1

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hong Kong Part 1

Oh my, I have so much to write about our recent trip to Hong Kong that I have decided to divide it into a few different posts.  We spent four days, three nights there and managed to take 57 videos and 657 photos.  Phew, I have a lot to go through so I can share it all with you guys but I will try my best not to be overwhelming.  Stayed tune for more but here is the beginning...

The trip to Hong Kong was last minute for me because I decided to tag along on a business trip that Joel was taking.  He was just going to go for one night for an early Monday morning meeting, but my dad was nice enough to offer us some of his hotel points to stay for two extra nights and make a long weekend out of it.  This was definitely one of those trips that make you rethink where you currently are living, and even though we are on this huge adventure in a very exciting city, I found myself jealous of the permanent Hong Kongers.  Not that I don't like Shanghai, but I think it slipped down a number on my top ten cities list this past weekend.  That list is constantly evolving however, depending on how long it has been since I visited a certain place so I'm sure it will change again soon.

The flight to Hong Kong from Shanghai was so easy, two hours and we were there.  The Shanghai and the Hong Kong airports are very efficient and we have never had too long of a wait going through customs or security which makes traveling very nice.  Joel and I are, as of a few weeks ago, official residents of China so it is easy for us to come and go and not have to worry about new visas.  After our flight we took the express train to Kowloon, where our hotel was for the first two nights.  For those of you who haven't been to Hong Kong, the main city is on Hong Kong Island as well as on Kowloon Peninsula with a ferry and tunnels connecting them.

We stayed at the Intercontinental which was really nice (thanks dad!).  We were able to pay to use the Club Lounge that offers breakfast, tea time and nightly snacks and drinks.  We spent a lot of time there the first few days,  didn't even step foot in a restaurant (except for one snack for Joel) because the food was so good and there was so much of it that we didn't need to.  It was also unlimited drinks of pretty much anything you wanted, so I of course had champagne every night.  

Our first night we were in Hong Kong we spent a few hours in the lounge eating and drinking and planning our next few days.  The lounge had such a great view of Hong Kong Island that it was hard to leave.   We wanted to just relax and take it easy that night so we decided that we would take a swim before the hotel pool closed.  The pool at the hotel was on the roof, overlooking the city lights and it was totally empty.  Normally I am not big on swimming but it was such a nice night and the pool was so cool that I decided to jump in.  The pool closed at nine, so after we got cleaned up we caught a cab and headed to the night market.

There are two night markets on Kowloon that open in the afternoon but get busy after dark.  The first market we went to was the ladies market, where there were tons of stalls full of clothes, shoes, purses, artwork and anything else you could want.  I of course bought some art, which I don't have a pic of but will post as soon as I get them framed.  The market was really crowded even late at night, tons of tourists out seeing the sights and trying to find the perfect souvenir.  After we had made a few purchases and had our fill of the stalls we decided to walk back to our hotel because it wasn't too far away.  We happened upon another night market that we later found out was known as the men's market.  There weren't as many stalls selling goods but they had a whole street of outdoor restaurants and street food, with tons of people eating even at midnight.  Joel decided he needed a snack and found a restaurant serving doner, which was his favorite food when he lived in Spain.  We wandered the streets for a while and finally caught a cab back to the hotel because, although the city was still bustling, we are getting old and 1am is past our bedtime.  Plus we had a big day ahead of us.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Flower Market

A few days ago I went with my friend Emily to the flower market.  She was running errands and I decided to tag along because I had never been.  She was there picking out arrangements for a church luncheon that we went to this week.  The market was amazing.  You walked in and the smell was overwhelming.  No bad Shanghai smells, wonderful flower smells!  There were hundreds of stalls where you could buy any flower.  They had pre-made arrangements or you could pick out your own.  It was amazing!  I didn't buy any because we still had places to go and was worried the flowers would wilt but I will definitely be going back!
I took a few photos so you can drool over the beautiful flowers....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thames Town

Last Sunday Joel and I decided to do some exploring of the greater Shanghai area.  We took the number nine subway to the end of the line, walked for about 15 minutes and ended up in Thames Town.  Thames town is one of many towns built by the Chinese to represent another country, I guess they also have German Town and American Town but if they are anything like Thames Town I am sure they are a disappointment.  Thames Town was very sad, it could have been great but like a lot of good ideas it just didn't work out.  It was supposed to look and feel like a small english town, with great shops and pubs.  Joel was really looking forward to fish and chips.  Unfortunately it looks like no one ever moved in here.  Every store front was either abandoned or no one had ever been there.  It has turned into a place where newly wed couples go to have wedding portraits made.  It definitely was a great picture destination, cobblestone streets and a fake cathedral make a great backdrop to any photo shoot.  It would also be a great place to film a horror movie (any takers...Colin?).  The redeeming thing about our trip however was the beautiful park and lake that was not chalk full of city dwellers trying to spend time in nature.  It was quiet and clean and had very few people.  Joel and I decided it would be well worth the trip back to take a few friends and a picnic and spend the day relaxing in the sun.  It wasn't as polluted as the city and had lots of blue sky and greenery to make one forget we were only an hour away from Shanghai.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Szechwan Dinner

Joel and I have been on a quest for spicy food since we got to shanghai.  Shanghianese food is slightly sweet and even when it says spicy on the menu is in fact not.  Joel somehow got into a discussion about this with a colleague and he told Joel that he knew of a great place where they served Szechwan food.  We had heard of Szechwan and knew it was supposed to be spicy but hadn't tried it yet.
The restaurant that Raymond took us to was called 131 and he promised us it would be very spicy.  Raymond brought his friend Jessica who also loves things spicy and who, as he says, "knows good food".   They (and the restaurant) did not disappoint. By the end of the dinner we were all red faced and sweating from the heat of the food.
We tried the shrimp, noodles, fish and green beans.  All living up to their spicy legacy.  The fish was probably my favorite and came on a platter with coals cooking it underneath.  It was covered in a spicy sauce with cucumbers and onions and lots of peppers.  So good.  Raymond also talked us into getting the frog.  Joel and I had never tried it so we agreed and let him order it.  I will be honest.  It was't bad.  It was like chicken in the fact that it doesn't have a really distinct taste.  It was a slightly different consistency but if I hadn't known, I would never have guessed what it was.  After dinner we went "behind the scenes"  and met what we had just ate.  Well, at least we knew it was fresh!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pink Pig Painting...

One of the things that I have loved about Shanghai so far is the shopping, and I am not just talking about clothes and scarves (although those are wonderful).  I have always loved to buy art from the places I travel but sometimes the pieces are just too expensive.  In Shanghai they do have fine art, but you can also buy a beautiful giant painting for like $100.  The painting I bought is big, 2 feet by 2 feet, and I only paid about the equivalent of 50 American dollars.  There is a street here called Painters Street where there are dozens of artists showing their work.  Some of them are copies but there are also some original works of art and you can have anything commissioned.  There are also lots of naked lady pictures if you are into that kind of thing.
I first saw the painting I ended up buying on a trip there with Emily.  I had looked at it twice on that trip and asked the price but walked away without buying it.  I was a little worried that Joel would hate it because it is sort of strange.  But I couldn't stop thinking about it, so last weekend after Joel was done with frisbee we wandered over to Painters Street and bought it.  He does think it is strange but likes it!  I love it, so maybe that makes me strange.  Although, as Roy Liechtenstein said "I like to pretend that my art has nothing to do with me".   That could pertain to art you fall in love with as well as create.
Right?  Anybody?

Joel and I have had several discussions on what we think the painting is about.  I would love to hear comments on what you think the artist was trying to say.

*So after writing this post I went exploring on the internet and found out that the style of my painting is called "cynical realism" and it a Chinese art movement that started in the 1990's.  I couldn't
find who was the original artist behind my painting but it has become a very popular movement and there are several artists who paint in this style whose works of art sell at auctions for millions of dollars.  Cool huh?  Google it if you are an art nerd like me and want to know more and to see some great works of art.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May makes seven...

This month marks 7 years that Joel and I have been together.  Although the exact date is up for discussion, it was one fateful night when I was too scared to stay in my parents house by myself that brought us together. And the rest, as they say, is history.  Or in our case, it is history in the making.  I thought I would share a little of that history with you, with a few pics of the journeys around the world and through life that Joel and I have taken together over the past seven years.
Hope you enjoy!

"Life is a journey and it is love that makes the journey worthwhile"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Easter in China

We went to an Easter brunch that a Christian church here in Shanghai hosted called Grace Abundant with our new friends Emily and Jason.  It was a great mix of western style food with a few Chinese options.  It was our first experience at trying western breakfast foods in China and it was really good.  I wish I would have taken more pics (you live and learn right?) but I snapped a few I thought I would share from my phone.
There were lots of fun things to do at the brunch although most of them were for the kids, or like Joel, the grown-ups who are still kids at heart.  While I had to talk Joel out of the jumping castle for fear of the children's safety we did partake in the mini petting zoo set up that was filled with baby chicks and bunnies.  There were little cages so the kids could take home some new pets.  I wanted to take some home!  They were all so cute!
Baby Chicks!

Joel made a new friend!
We did think a few of the bunnies were on their death bed from being man-handled by the children but it turns out they were faking and were easily revived with some watermelon and carrots.  Although I hope for their sake they all went to good homes and the boy who picked the bunnies up by the ears parent's didn't let him keep one...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tacos and Beer Pong

This post is a little late, but I still think it is worth sharing because it was such a fun night.  Several weeks ago we invited Joel's team from work and a few other friends over for dinner and  to hangout.  No one from Joel's office had tried Mexican food before so I undertook the job of making Mexican dip (7 layer) and tacos.  At home this is our go to meal for casual get togethers.  It is easy and inexpensive.  Here, neither one of those words apply.  It took me several days and cleaned out my wallet to find all the ingredients we needed.  Luckily the western store that is close to us here is very good and has a ton of stuff from home, as someone told me our first week can get anything for a price.  So, I was able to get most things and while the taco shells were stale and we had to use minced chicken instead of the usual turkey at home I would say that the dinner turned out really well.  Everyone really seemed to enjoy the food, we barely had any leftovers.  Joel had to walk everyone through the ingredients (with Adam interpreting) and all the different items you can make out of the fillings plus the shells, tortillas and tortilla chips.  Lots of yummy combinations.
Video of Joel explaining Mexican food
He then demonstrated by making the first taco and then set everyone free to make their own combos with the things they liked.  I think the refried bean and the tortilla chips were the biggest hit.  I was asked several times where to buy the chips.
Joel making a taco
Joel is a little embarrassed by this video but I think it is hilarious.  The whole time we have been here all our Chinese friends have been helping us to try new things and explaining food and cultural things to us and it was our turn to teach them something new.
After everyone had their fill of tacos and burritos and nachos we taught everyone how to play beer pong.  The Chinese love ping pong here.  It is always on TV and there are big tournaments and special paddles and balls to buy.  So when we told them about beer pong they were very excited.  Summer, the only girl who was there from Joel's office beat everyone.  I think this is a game we will be playing with everyone again.
Beer pong video

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day from Shanghai!

I wanted to wish everyone a very happy mother's day and I hope you all realize how amazing you are!

Just wanted to give a shout out to my amazing mom-
I love and miss you!  I am sad we can't celebrate together today but I cannot wait for you to visit!

Three generations.

And to my mother-in-law-
Thanks for raising such an amazing son, and welcoming me into your family!
I had to add this one from my wedding shower, lol.

And since I am a fur-baby mom I thought I would add some pics of my girls from when they were babies...
At 6 months old Elle was all fur!
Now at 6 years she hasn't changed.

I taught Penelope bad habits,
 she still likes to sit on my lap as a full grown lab!

"When I was a child, my mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general. If you become a monk you'll end up as the pope.' Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."

- Pablo Picasso

Thanks to all the moms out there who believe in their children and make us who we are!

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's not goodbye, it's until we meet again...

My first memory of arriving in Shanghai was stepping off the plane, gathering our luggage, going through customs and then being greeted by Adam.  The only other non-Chinese person who worked at Joel's office.  I remember a feeling of relief, to see his smiling face after 24 hours of travel.  He picked us up with a van, helped us load our luggage and got us to our house.  He even had our address (we didn't know it at the time) and our house keys.  We had to do nothing but follow which was so amazing.  It was so nice to not have to figure things out for ourselves for the first few days of living here.  Over the next few days he helped us set up our cell phones, showed us where to get really good american hamburgers and helped us learn our way around.  He speaks fluent mandarin, so I even had to call him when someone showed up at my door and we couldn't understand each other.

We found out a few short weeks later that he was leaving Shanghai for an amazing opportunity working and learning back in the states.  It was a little sad but we were very excited for him.  He is now closer to his family and plus, we will still keep in touch.  We also got to travel to NYC with him for a business trip and had a blast.  Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of our trip.  But believe me, it was great.

His last few nights in Shanghai we went out to dinner every night.  He had a friend in town, who he calls Ayi.  It means Auntie and it is something that you call an older woman who you are very close to.  She didn't speak any English but Adam interpreted for us and we all became fast friends.  She even invited us over to dinner when we are in Beijing next month for home-made dumplings.  Yum.  I am looking forward to it.  Anyway, we did get to take some awesome pics from a dinner we had at the Hyatt Regency, it's the building next to the one that Joel and I had been to for my birthday.  The food was terrible, and my martini wasn't very good (still looking) but the company and views totally made up for it.

I added a few pics from another dinner that we had with Adam and Ayi that was seriously amazing.  Lots of food pics if you are interested!
Video on how to eat Peking Duck

We hope Adam will keep in touch, and stay away from glass doors that are really clean!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A day in Shanghai...

There are countless things to do in Shanghai.  I am pretty sure that everyday you could do and see something new here.  New market, new restaurants, museums, shows etc.  It is hard to ever say you are bored.  One Saturday, when the weather was really nice, we set out to explore with our friends Adam and his Ayi.  Ayi is something that you can call an older woman who is very motherly and you are close to.  I think it translates to Auntie.  Adam met Ayi when he was living in Beijing a few years ago and they have remained close.  She had never been outside of Beijing so she came to visit and see Shanghai and we were able to spend some time with her.  She didn't speak any English but Adam was nice enough to translate so we were able to communicate.

Joel and I met up with Adam and Ayi in Xintandi, where they were getting ice cream from Cold Stone.  Funny story, we were told that someone paid the franchise fee to bring Cold Stone here and it was so popular that they opened more without telling Cold Stone.  So they just order extra to the original store and distribute it to the others.  So most of the stores are knock-offs.  Anyway, we took a walk through the park next to Xintandi and ended up in the antique market Dongtai Lu.  Most of the stuff you find here is not really antique, but it is still fun to browse through the junk and take home a few mementos.  I bought a few fun things and was lucky to have Ayi bargaining for me.  She was very tough.  The bargaining here is really an art.  If you don't speak Chinese and they don't speak English it is sometimes done on a calculator, typing in numbers until you can agree.  The Chinese have learned a few expressions to say during bargaining... "I am making no profit!" (ya right.), "Now I will not be able to feed my family tonight!" and so on.  Know this, they are always making a profit or they would not be selling it to you.  Ayi was good, because she would tell them she knew what it should cost and say she knew they were making a profit.  She worked out some good deals for me.

After the market, Adam and Ayi had another engagement so our friend Schneider came and picked us up and we went to another market to do some more shopping.  Joel wanted prescription sunglasses and I found some cute sandals.  It was getting late by then so we headed to a place Schneider thought we would like called Tianzifang.  It is an area with small pedestrian streets with a lot of art and interesting little boutiques and restaurants.  We wondered around and had a beer at an outside bar then went to a Thai restaurant called Teddy Thai.  They had thousands of teddy bears everywhere, which was weird, but the food was amazing!  And the atmosphere was great, we will definitely be going back.  It was so fun getting to discover and explore a new place in Shanghai!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years...

27.  That is how old I turned on April 27th.  My golden birthday as they say.  The year that the day and your age line up.  Normally I wouldn't admit to this.  I have many good friends who every year for the past 6 years have wished me a happy 21st birthday.  (You really are great friends!)  But this year, I have accepted my age with dignity... I wasn't even grumpy this year like normal, even though this year was my first birthday ever not to spend with all my family and friends.  Luckily I was blessed with an amazing husband who more than made up for it just being the two of us.

I have made a few friends since I have been here, who I have really enjoyed getting to know.  I was able to spend the day of my birthday with a friend I have made, Emily.  We had a really fun time, great lunch at an Italian restaurant in Xintandi and then shopping in the art market.  The art market is really fun, lots of original works of art as well as prints and even fun framed scarves.  I found one I liked, I didn't end up buying it but if I go back and get it I will post a pic.

After my fun day shopping I came home to meet Joel when he got off work.  I knew we were doing something but he wanted to keep it all a surprise.  He had such a great night planned.  It started with a ton of fun presents.  Even though our trip to Putuoshan was my big present he still had some funny things to give.  He bought me an owl that I had seen at the antique market and a few other fun silly things.  Even a stuffed dog because I had told him I wanted a puppy for my birthday (don't worry mom, I'm not getting one!)

After a pre-dinner drink and present opening we took a taxi to the Bund and had a seriously amazing dinner at a restaurant call New Heights.  The view was amazing.   The wine was amazing.  Even more amazing was my goat cheese salad.  A lot of places here don't know what real cheese is.  I tried to share it with Joel but I couldn't do it.  It was that good.  After dinner we headed back to our side of the river to the Grand Hyatt for dessert.  We each had a martini and ordered the chocolate fondue, it was such a great presentation!  And also very yummy.  It was a great night!

I wanted to say thanks to all my wonderful friends and family who sent emails, ecards, and facebook posts to make me feel loved on my bday!  Love you all!

Monday, May 2, 2011


This past weekend, to celebrate my birthday, Joel and I took a trip south to the Island of Putuoshan.  He had a three day weekend because of a Chinese holiday so we thought we would take advantage of it.  Putuoshan, or Mount Putuo, is the location of one of the 4 sacred mountains in Buddhism and has several beaches and lots of monuments and amazing scenery.  We were wanting to get out of the city for a few days and spend some time in nature.

With the help of one of Joel's coworkers we booked the fast boat to Putuoshan.  It included an hour bus ride to the port and then a three hour boat ride to the island.  So we woke up early and headed to the bus terminal around 7:30 to catch our 8:15 bus.  On the ride over Joel received a phone call from his coworker telling us that our boat was cancelled.  Ok, it is China.  We have to be ready for these kinds of things.  He said we could exchange our tickets for a bus ride to the closest big city by the Island (about a four hour ride) and then a short ferry over to Putuoshan.  When we got to the bus terminal, the guy who sold Joel the tickets originally recognized Joel (we stand out quite a bit) and helped us to exchange our tickets.  The bus ride was interesting...  actually not too bad.  It ended up taking about 5 and half hours because of the traffic leaving Shanghai.  The bus stopped once for everyone to get a snack and to use the restroom.  Not too eventful of a ride.  When we got to the dock to take the ferry over to the island we did run into some trouble though.  Our original tickets included the bus and the boat... so we assumed that our new tickets included the same.  They didn't.  Lost in translation- when we tried to ask where we got on the ferry the ticket lady said we need to buy tickets (this was after 20 minutes of trying to understand each other) and sold us bus tickets back to Shanghai.  Lol, it's funny now.  We were so confused though when nicely she sold us the tickets and then walked us over to where we needed to wait in line, and a bus pulled up.  After 5 hours on the bus there was no way we were getting back on!  Joel finally called his coworker to translate for us and we got our new tickets and got on the ferry.

We arrived on the island and showed our hotel name to someone who was waiting and our hotel bus picked us up and took us to the hotel.  The front desk girls were very nice and helpful but didn't speak english so it took us a while to get checked in.  What we didn't know was that we had to pay cash up front for both nights that we were staying there.  We learned our lesson here because while we had enough cash to pay for it, that was all we had.  We figured we would just pay for it and then head to an ATM to get more for the rest of the weekend.  Wrong.  There were two ATMs on the entire island and it took us until 8pm that first night to find one.  And guess was closed for the night.  Yep.  So, with the $100 RMB we had left over from the hotel room (about $15) we paid for entrance to one of the monuments and had dinner.  Luckily the street food is cheap, so we had a few stuffed buns from the street vendor and then ate instant noodle soup in our room later.

Other than the money thing our first day on the island was pleasant.  The weather was a little cool but we spent the day walking around, getting to know our way around and seeing the beautiful beaches and scenery.  We were exhausted from traveling so we were ok with not going out to dinner and just enjoyed walking around and eating our street food.  Our hotel room wasn't the best but it was clean and we had a nice view of one of the beaches.

The next day our first goal was to go back to the ATM to get some money and then start touring the island.  We got back to the ATM and guess still was closed.  Not just closed... out of money.  Now we started to get a little worried.  With only about 50 rmb left in cash we didn't think we would get very far.  We used part of it to get into a monument and the rest for a light lunch, which was really good.  It was this flat bread cooked with egg and chives on it, for about $1 a piece.  Finally around 1pm we found the other ATM and got money!  We were so excited!  The rest of the day we spent walking the island.  The main attractions were super crowded because of the holiday weekend but once we hiked up the stone trails a bit the crowds thinned and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  The scenery was so beautiful.  We went to several temples and just wondered around.  We also took a tram up to the top of Mount Putuo, which was totally not worth it.  We should have just hiked.  We had to wait in line for an hour, with a really obnoxious family behind us.  Then we had to ride in the tram with them.  Instead of using our tickets to take the tram back down we walked.  It wasn't too bad of a walk, about 45 minutes and a thousand stone steps.  We opted out of a restaurant for dinner again since the weather was so nice and instead bought a few more stuffed buns and a few beers and sat on the beach listening to the waves, and the karaoke going on next to us.

The next day, we slept in and managed to make it to see some of the sights we had missed.  Like a cave of tidal sounds...not as cool as it sounds.  It was actually really funny that it was an attraction, it just was waves crashing into rocks, which you could see anywhere on the island.  We had the flat bread again for lunch because we loved it so much and then headed to the boat dock to start our journey back to Shanghai.  I have to admit something, at this point I was getting really sick of the Chinese tourists.  Joel handled it better than I did but I was really annoyed.  Everywhere we had been where there was a crowd they would push and shove each other out of the way, the would spit and yell, even inside, and they littered everywhere.  Here we are on this beautiful island and there was trash everywhere. I would see them just discard full bags of trash on the side of the trail.  There were trash cans everywhere.  It really isn't that hard to get your trash into the can.  They would even throw the trash next to the trashcan.  Really?!?  Come on.  Oh man.  Plus I got really sick of the staring, even though I do try to be understanding with that.  I realize some of them just honestly have never seen blonde haired people.  I had to take a thousand pictures with people also.  The young boys would stop me everywhere we went and ask if the could take their pic with me.  It got a little annoying when I was just trying to enjoy myself... but I was nice about it.  I could never be a celebrity.

So anyway, our trip home was pretty easy.  Luckily the fast boat ride wasn't cancelled this time because it was actually very pleasant.  Big comfy seats and a quick 2 1/2 hour ride then an hour bus ride from the port into the city and we were home.  First thing we did when when got back?  Went to eat American hamburgers.  Lol.  We had a good trip, learned some lessons about traveling in China and took some amazing pictures.  Hopefully next trip we will be a little more prepared...