Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sarah and Bailey Visit

Recently my cousin Sarah and a friend of hers from college came to visit us.  It was great to get to hang out and explore China with two people who hadn't been here yet.  We decided that instead of spending their whole trip in Shanghai that they should see more of China, smaller towns and a little more culture.  They arrived in Shanghai late evening and we went for dinner at an American style bar (where the 20 year old girls were very excited that they could order a beer!) and then got up very early the next morning, 4am (good thing the girls were jet lagged and up all ready!) and headed to a smaller town called Guilin.  Smaller in China means only 1.4 million people as opposed to the 24 million in Shanghai.
Drinking a beer legally!
When we landed at the Guilin airport we stopped at the tourist info desk to plan our day.  It was the off season for tourists so they gave us a deal on a day long tour.  It was a private van with a driver and a private tour guide who accompanied us everywhere all for the grand total of 100 rmb which is roughly $15.  We went and checked into our hotel and they picked us up a bit later and we headed out for our day of touring.  Our first stop was a traditional Chinese lunch.  It was so good, Joel and I were a little worried about my cousin Sarah who is a picky eater but she loved it so we were relieved.  We had the traditional fish of the city which is beer fish.  You get to go outside to the tanks and pick a fish.  It was the only dish all the girls didn't really like but Joel enjoyed it.
Joel picking our fish!
After lunch we went to take the gondola up to the highest peak in Guilin to get a bird's eye view of the mountain range.  On the drive up to the gondola we passed the cemetery.  It was on both sides of the road that we were driving on.  The graves stones were round mounds that almost looked like wells but were filled with dirt.  They were even built all the way up the mountain.  It was very cool to see, I haven't learned much about the Chinese funeral customs since we have been here, and I haven't ever seen a graveyard quite like this one.
It was hard to get a good pic from the car but you get the idea.  These are all graves.
On arriving to the bottom of the gondola it was a little cold and rainy but we decided to brave it, I mean it wasn't really that cold.  There was a Chinese woman at the bottom who was renting huge down coats to wear up the mountain.  We couldn't understand who would rent them, we were wearing coats and it wasn't that cold!  Well, we didn't take into account that not only was it raining a bit but we were heading straight up a mountain on an open chair lift (not a gondola like we were told).  By the time we arrived at the top the rain had turned to sleet and froze the instant it hit anything.  We were frozen little popsicles ourselves.  It was miserable.  To make matters worse, it was so foggy that we couldn't even see the view.  But, as was our mantra the whole trip, it is all part of the China experience.  Anytime something funny would happen (or not so funny depending on how you view things)  Joel would say to us girls, 'It is all part of the experience!'.  
Our way up into the fog.
Frozen Chinese Lantern.
When we finally got to the top our guide wanted to head straight back down but we were too cold, we went into the only thing open at the top which was a store selling souvenirs and of course fake Louis Vuitton (just in case I guess).  We were the only people in the store other than the owners who were all huddled around a little coal burning stove in the back of the store.  They invited us to sit and warm up with them and we drank some hot chocolate.  
The girls huddled around the stove.
Joel's glasses fogged up when he tried to drink his hot chocolate.
We warmed up as much as we could and braced ourselves for the ride back down the mountain.  It wasn't nearly as bad going back down because it slowly got warmer and warmer.  It also wasn't raining anymore but we were still ready to move on with our days and head somewhere to really warm up. 
The girls heading down the mountain.

We jumped back in the van upon arrival at the bottom and went to tour the famous Reed Flute caves, we didn't really know what to expect but they were one of our favorite things that we saw on the trip.  Imagine a great cathedral where you look up at the ceiling in awe of the height and beauty of it.  Now imagine that it was created under the earth over millions of years by nature.  The ceilings of the caves seemed miles high and were lit up with multi colored lights so you could see all the different formations of the rocks.  Some of them had signs of what they were thought to look like, like a lion and a fruit basket.  I would have spent all day there, it was nice and warm which was a wonderful escape from the cold rainy weather outside, but the acid or something in the air can cause arthritis in people who spend too much time in the caves.  I guess my dream of opening a cave cafe isn't going to come to fruition. ; )
The four of us in front of part of the cave.
After the caves we drove to the river to hop on a small boat to see a few sights along the river including Elephant rock and the swimmers.  We had some nappers on the way (two jet-lagged girls and a sleepy husband).  I tried to take a pic of Bailey also but she caught me ; ).  It really was nice having our own van.
Joel sleeping.

Sarah sleeping.
We got to the boat dock and saw the cold weather swimmers (I guess you can't call them ice swimmers but they were the closest thing to it!).  We couldn't believe it, they must be crazy because we were cold in our many layers.  Not standing on the edge of the river wet, wearing only swim suits!
Crazy swimmers!
The boat ride was not very exciting.  And we were freezing, I don't think any of us really enjoyed it, The big thing to see is Elephant rock and it doesn't really look like an elephant  It was so cold on the boat that we were more than ready to disembark and get some dinner and a beer.
The hotel we stayed in was really nice but the heat only stayed on if your door card was in a little slot that controlled all the power in the room.  So needless to say we were freezing in our rooms (all part of the China experience right?).  After stopping by the hotel rooms and realizing we weren't going to warm up there we headed out to find a spot for dinner.  Our hotel was in a great location, really close to a walking street with bars and restaurants.  We had pizza for dinner (no worries, we had to mix it up after Chinese for lunch right?).
The next day we took a 5 hour boat cruise from Guilin to Yangshou on the Li River.  It was such beautiful scenery, the Guilin mountains are nicknamed the Gumdrop Mountains because of their rounded shape.  Between the numerous peaks and the light fog, it felt like we were floating back in time, through a mysterious land.  There were several farms and a few houses dotting the landscape but other than that it was untouched, which is hard to find in China.  They served lunch on board the boat but it was not very good, so we each grabbed a beer and settled in to watch the scenery float by.
This mountain looks like a German Shepard ready to pounce.

J & J on the boat.

This view is the scene on the back of the 20 rmb note.
When we got off the boat we decided to join another tour for that afternoon where we were able to visit an ancient Chinese town, ride bamboo rafts and feed the water buffalo.  The bamboo rafts were not a scary as they look and were really relaxing.  One of the boatmen sang a traditional song for us and it was very enchanting.  We rode out to a field and were able to pet and feed water buffalo and a few babies. 
View before we got on the bamboo rafts.

Sarah and I with a young water buffalo.

The big one was hungry!

The famous bridge, it was in several Chinese movies.

Sarah and Bailey on their bamboo raft.
At the end of our boat ride we stopped to watch the ancient art of fishing from the small village that we were in.  The river is very rocky and a traditional fishing line can't get between the rocks to reach the fish, so they use birds to do the fishing for them.  They tie a loose string around their throats so they can still breathe but not swallow.  The birds dive into the river and catch the fish and try to swallow them.  The fish can't go all the way down the bird's throat so the fisherman are able to pull it out.

In this picture the fisherman is getting the fish out of the birds mouth.
That night we went out on the town in Yangshou.  I guess it is known as a party town and has a walking street area that is filled with bars and clubs.  We did not know this but witnessed a bit of it, there were lots of very drunk Chinese men by the time we were done with dinner at 8pm.  We had Chinese food for dinner and then went to a German bar for beers and to hang out.  It had a big fireplace and Joel was able to build it up to a nice roaring fire and we had a great time avoiding the cold and drinking Chinese beer.
At the restaurant section of the walking street.

Our dinner spot.

Cozy by the fire.
Our last day of our trip was split between Yangshou and Guilin.  The morning in Yangshou was hiking and pizza for lunch and then we hired a car to drive us the hour back to Guilin where we had one more night of shopping and walking around the city.  We even stopped for a McDonald's ice cream cone!
Joel contemplating life a the top of our hike.

The girls resting after climbing 3,000 stairs!

Nothing like ice cream on a cold winter's night.
The next day, after fried rice for breakfast at the airport we headed back to shanghai so the girls could finish their China adventure!

After this crazy long post I will finish up the adventure in the next one! 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How Joel and I spent Chinese New Year...

Joel had an entire week off for the Chinese New Year recently and it was a very nice and quiet week.
Yes we did get out of the house.  
Yes we spent a lot of time with friends.  
Yes we partied our butts off like true Chinese.  
But when we weren't doing those things we were doing this...

Yes, we made a bed on our living room floor to watch movies : )

More pics to come of the amazing fire works we saw that week!!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Jenny and Joel figurine....

I have had a lot of feed back from the figurine Joel had made for me for Christmas.  I know it is silly but I totally love it.  I think they totally nailed Joel's hair! (you can click on the pics to make them bigger)
Picture of us in London...


Friday, February 3, 2012

Christmas in Santa Fe

You all know from my post here that we were able to pull off a great surprise for my mom and brother and some family friends over Christmas this year.  Joel and I felt so blessed that we were able to go on this whirl wind trip home to spend Christmas with family.  Sometimes Joel and I feel like we are living in a movie, like do these things happen in real life??  As you have learned from over a year of posts on this blog that every day is an adventure for us and we are trying to soak up every moment.
While headed back to the states may not have been the craziest thing we have done this year, the way it happened makes it a worthy contender.  Joel and I have nightly Skype chats with my dad (he gets up early!) so the night in question nothing was different.  Until my dad mentioned something he said he had been thinking about for a while.  He told us that for my mom's Christmas present he wanted to surprise her and bring us home.  (Really dad, you couldn't have mentioned this a few days and not 7 hours before our flight left?)  Well, as you know it was a success!    We were able to pack, get about 3 hours of sleep and make it to the airport in time.
This was everyone in my family's first Christmas in Santa Fe and we loved the feeling you get there.  Everywhere you go is decorated with luminaries (paper bags lit with candles), great big fireplaces filled with piƱon and of course the food to us is the best we have ever had.  My mom also did a great job decorating their new house for Christmas, it felt really warm and cozy.  Every night there we lit a giant fire inside and out (even though it was freezing!) and enjoyed time drinking wine and catching up by the fire.
Christmas eve we went to an Episcopal Church in Santa Fe that my parents go to with their neighbor Frosty.  It was a great service and some friends joined us.  After church we walked Canyon Rd which is the famous art street in Santa Fe.  On Christmas eve they close the road to cars and light bon-fires all along it so people gather to walk and socialize.  There were bands playing and people singing Christmas carols and drinking hot cocoa.  Unfortunately it was very cold so we didn't last too long until we decided to turn in for the night.
Christmas morning was spent opening presents, or rather watching my brother open presents (he really raked in this year!)  and then brunch with a bunch of friends at the famous Elk Lodge.  Another amazing surprise for Joel and I, and everyone with us for that matter, was that the singer who sang at our wedding ceremony and cocktail reception happened to be playing at the brunch.  Like I said, do these things happen in really life?  As soon as he saw us sit down he waved and then played the song that I walked down the aisle to.  It was really touching and Joel and I had the chance later to catch up with him a bit.
One day after Christmas, Joel and I were just sitting on the couch lounging and my brother was in the office playing on the computer when my mom decided that we should have some champagne.  Well, that seemed easy enough so my dad went in the kitchen with her so he could open a bottle for her.  Next thing we know, there is an exploding sound and screaming!  Joel and I ran in the kitchen to see both my parents soaking wet head to toe in Champagne.  There was champagne covering the cabinets and ceiling also.  When my dad had opened the bottle, it must have been very shaken up because it was like a fountain.  There was only about an inch left in the bottle and the rest was covering everything!  It was hilarious.  Of course I ran to get the camera, so check out the pics.  They are really funny.
A few days after Christmas my brother's girlfriend Lizzy was able to join us for a few days and we had a blast with her there.  Mostly we shopped and ate because that is what you do in Santa Fe.  We also took a few drives to see the beautiful scenery and soak in the clean air before going back to our polluted city.
Lizzy and Colin had to get back to Los Angeles, driving because Colin brought his new puppy Brix with him, but Joel and I were able to stay for New Years Eve with my parents.  It was not a crazy night, Joel and I had a 5:45 flight out of Albuquerque the next day, but we were able to have a really nice dinner with my parents.
Our 10 days in Santa Fe went so quickly that we were never even able to get over our jet lag, but we had so much fun and were so happy to be able to see everyone for Christmas that it was more than worth it. Maybe next year if we go home we will plan a little more in advance. ; )

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Christmas Partay!

Before everyone headed home for the holidays Joel and I hosted a Christmas cocktail party at our apartment.   We thought it would be a great way to spend time with friends and get into the holiday spirit!

Before everyone came over Joel and I tried our hardest to take a nice photo of us but neither of us noticed the duck tape sitting on the table until later.  Lol, oh well, we probably won't be framing this pic!  Everyone was supposed to either wear red and green or something fun and festive so Joel and I bought matching scarves in different colors that have silly reindeers on them.  Gotta love the things you can buy in China!

At one point during the party we realized that the groups had separated into the people wearing red, and those who weren't.  It was actually really funny, because we didn't notice for a long time!

The girls!

Gary and Tim!

Joel and Josh.  Doesn't Joel look cute in his scarf?

Trying to organize a group pic!

Silly faces!

Can you tell we got a little festive before everyone headed home?

After some people left we had a "late crowd" that stayed to play games.

And to hang out!

And maybe have a few more snacks!

My favorite picture is the whole group being silly, that pretty much sums up how much fun we have with our friends here in Shanghai!  Hope you enjoyed the pics.  Next post will be us in Santa Fe, get excited (cue finger snaps!).