Archive for the ‘China Trip 2008’ Category

Going home

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Leaving China was busy, and stressful, and a little sad.  We love our home in Utah.  It’s comfortable and we enjoy being with our American friends and family.  We like knowing how to do everyday things, and being able to speak with people easily.  But we also miss a few things about China.

Here are some of the things we miss most:

  • Great public transportation
  • The world’s best food
  • Seeing new and different things
  • Being surrounded by ancient things
  • Our Chinese friends

The night before we left, Beijing had a huge rainstorm.  Carol, Anne, Andrew, and Nick got totally soaked.  I took Ryan and Jacob in a separate taxi, and we were almost as wet.  Each time our taxi drove through a puddle, huge sheets of water splashed up on both sides.  The wet weather seemed appropriate for our leaving.

In the morning, we just had to pack a few last-minute things and check out of our apartment.  Gina helped resolve some headaches with our landlady (Thank you!) and we were on our way.

In the airport security lines,  Jacob got separated from all of us.  The people who checked his passport just sent him to a different line.  We felt a little worried about it, knowing that he would be facing the Chinese airport screeners all by himself.  But Jacob wasn’t worried.  He just smiled at everyone and did everything he had done at the other airport screenings.  No problem.  The screeners smiled back at him and helped him through the screening process.  He seemed a little puzzled about why we were all anxiously searching for him.

We had a long wait for the airplane, so we had arranged to meet our Chinese tutor, Nicole.  Nicole was a volunteer for the Olympics, so she was at the airport already.  She even had a security pass so she could come right to our terminal.  We were so happy that she came to visit with us!  She was very busy, but she made a special trip to the other side of the airport to see us, and we got a good picture with her.  Carol and the boys really learned a lot from her, especially some fun colloquial phrases and some writing.  I didn’t get to meet with her often because I was usually at work, but I tried me best to learn those things from the rest of the family.

After flying across the Pacific, we had a 6 hour layover in San Fransisco!  It was a long layover, but we had no choice.  We had purchased tickets from SFO to SLC at a more reasonable time, but then the price of oil caused a lot of routes to be cancelled.  Ours was one that got cancelled, and we had to scramble to find a way home.  While we waited, there was only one obvious thing to do…

And now we’re home.  It’s nice to be home, but we’ll always remember our trip to China as a very special, important experience that our family had together.

Visit to Shanghai

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

We couldn’t catch a plane in Xitang… but it’s very close to Shanghai, so when we woke up in the morning, we caught a bus to Shanghai.  Actually it was a little more complicated than that, because there were no taxis to take us from Xitang to the bus station in Jieshan.  After some wrangling, we ended up in two small vans.  One took the direct route, but the one I was riding in took a circuitous route through farmers’ fields, around apartment buildings, and even over a small one-way bridge.  Maybe the route was shorter, but it was definitely slower.  We were all a little stressed about the time it took.  By that time I was accustomed to taxi drivers wanting exact change, so I didn’t want to pay the driver with a big bill.  I thought I should use exact change, which meant using a lot of small bills.  That was the wrong choice this time!  The van driver laughed about all the small bills, but he couldn’t turn down the money.

We found Shanghai to be very modern, and very foriegn-friendly.  We thought the center of Beijing was very up-to-date and modern, but Shanghai was a whole different kind of place.  We saw shop signs and billboards in English, had young people yell English at us, and even saw a group of teenagers riding skateboards through the halls of the subway station at 11:30 PM.  Maybe Shanghai isn’t as strict as Beijing!  Andrew especially loved Shanghai, and would enjoy some excuse to spend real time there someday.

To get a view of the city, we took the subway to a tall building called the “Oriental Pearl.”  It’s a very impressive building containing viewing platforms, a space museum, a glass elevator, and even a roller coaster!  Ok, it’s a small roller coaster, but it was pretty surprising to find one of those so far above the ground.

But the real reason we wanted to spend an evening in Shanghai was to meet Anne’s cousin, Lily, and her husband.  We felt like we knew Lily a little bit from her friendly, encouraging blog posts.  And we were sure that we would enjoy anyone from Anne’s family.  We weren’t prepared for a dramatic hot pot dinner at a modern restaurant in a glittering shopping mall.  That mall was enormous!  Many times bigger than anything I had ever seen before.  And the hot pot was unbelievable.  This restaurant let us create our own sauces by combining the ingredients ourselves.  Ryan and I made a serious effort to injure ourselves by building the spiciest possible sauce, but we didn’t succeed.  In fact, we loved the food and the company.

We had to decide what to do in Shanghai that evening – see the town, or visit with Lily and her husband.  The answer was clear for us.  We wanted to get to know Lily and her husband.  So they found a small, quiet place where we could all talk comfortably, and we settled down for a fun discussion.  What an exciting time getting to know friends in a faraway place!   I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember that we started the discussion as friends, not as strangers meeting for the first time.  I hope they felt the same way.

That evening we had to say goodbye to Shirley.  She wrote us a beautiful goodbye note that we have saved as one of the treasures from our visit to China.  She returned to Xuzhou the next morning.  We enjoyed a park near our hotel for a couple of hours, then took the plane to Beijing.

That was the end of our trip outside Beijing.  The experience was wonderful in every way.  We have a very difficult time describing what we saw and felt during this trip, because we don’t have similar experiences in America to use as a comparison.  We’re so grateful that we had a chance to do this!  And we’re so grateful for the kind, friendly people we met.  While the locations we visited were interesting and even exciting, it’s our friends who made the time so special.

Xitang in the early morning

Monday, September 1st, 2008

When we got up in the morning, we discovered that Anne had gone out early to take pictures.  These are a few of the beautiful pictures she took.  On a previous trip Carol and I noticed that Anne’s father has a gift for taking particularly beautiful pictures, and now we know that he passed that gift on to his daughter.  We’re so glad she shared these pictures with us!

This picture seemed particularly fitting as a goodbye to a beautiful place.  Compared to our home, Xitang was probably the one place we visited that felt most unique.  While we were there, it seemed like the world just closed in around us, and everything was contained in that one little village.  People were friendly, even if they felt that we were a little amusing at times, and there was always something we could do.  Many of the contrasts we experience in daily life were here – we had hot weather and rain, daytime and nighttime, the cool water and the hard, hot stone. We did a lot of walking and a lot of sitting, a little hurrying and a little waiting.  We shopped, ate, watched artists work, watched people catch a fish in a net, rode in a boat, slept in ancient beds, fought off the spiders, and captured a gecko.  We celebrated an American holiday with Chinese fireworks.  What a lot of memories for one day!

The Canal at Night

Monday, September 1st, 2008

At night, the canal looks very different.  We bought tickets for a boat ride on the canal, and we loved it.

But we had some time to kill before our boat ride, so we went to a cafe to have a snack.  We weren’t very hungry, but we needed to find someplace with air conditioning.  And this cafe was really cool.  Besides air conditioning, it had an indoor goldfish pond, and getting to our table required each person to cross the pond on stepping stones.  As we waited for the darkness to fall, we ate a dessert that seems really simple – kind of a snow cone on a plate.  The dessert was made of shaved ice mixed with condensed milk, topped with jam.  We tried strawberry, apple, watermelon, and one other flavor that I can’t remember.  Maybe blueberry?  Anyway, it was a perfect dessert for the occasion, and since then we’ve heard about a restaurant in Provo that serves something similar.

After dark, we headed over to the boat dock.  We rode quietly for a couple of minutes, then Anne told us that “We have an activity.”  She had purchased some little folded paper boats with candles, one for each person to light and float down the canal.  Between the candles and the red lanterns, the canal was exceptionally beautiful that night.  The little candles were supposed to represent each person’s hopes and dreams.   It seemed like a perfect time to light a candle and watch it bob along in the canal, thinking about our hopes and dreams, until Nick lit Anne’s boat on fire.  While we were busy teasing Nick about the accident, a big boat full of passengers ran over his candle.  Before long, the “hopes and dreams” for all of us men and boys were extinguished.  But Carol’s boat floated to the foundation of a bridge and stayed burning there for a long time.  And when we went back to the dock, we found Anne’s candle still burning, still floating in the water even though the paper was burned away.

After the boat ride we did fireworks, but that’s another story.  And after the fireworks, we got some cold pop and snacks, then played charades on a covered bridge near the boat dock.  We don’t have any pictures of the charades – thank goodness – but we’ll always remember that quiet evening, the sound of the boat oars, the red lanterns, and laughing together while trying to guess which animal each person was pretending to be.  I later learned that this was a cultural experience for our Chinese friends, because apparently Chinese parents would be more serious than Carol and I were that night.  We had a good time being a little silly together.

A Bridge in Xitang

Monday, September 1st, 2008

I don’t know the name of this bridge in Xitang, but it’s very graceful.  We saw a whole class of art students sitting in the shade, painting the bridge.  We tried not to bother them too much, but we certainly were impressed with their patience and concentration.  We hope their pictures came out looking good!

After dinner, Carol got some fireworks.  It was the 24th of July, so in Utah this was a holiday when fireworks are legal.  In Xitang, apparently you can do fireworks on any day.  Since it was night, the art students were gone and the area around the bridge was pretty clear.  We lit 50 sparklers and 3 roman candles with 40 shots each.  Those were so much fun that we went back and got 8 more roman candles.  We set those fireworks on the top of the bridge and tried to light them all at the same time.  Unfortunately that meant that all of us were lighting fireworks, so nobody was free to take a picture.  So we don’t have much proof, but our 24th of July fireworks more than made up for our feeble 4th of July celebration.

While we cleaned up after our fireworks, we noticed a lot of geckos lurking on the walls of the nearby buildings.  Geckos are really quick, so we wondered if we could catch one.  It turns out that I was able to catch one on my very first grab, but that wasn’t quite as cool an accomplishment as I had thought it might be.  Apparently Chinese people don’t think reptiles are particularly cool.  Anne and Shirley didn’t want anything to do with it, although they might have bravely touched it for a second, and the people who passed by – even the young men – were afraid of it.  Our boys boys touched it, and just to show that it wasn’t dangerous, I let it bite me.  But that didn’t convince anyone else.  In the end I started to put the gecko down on the ground that that prompted a very quick suggestion to put it on the wall instead!  Maybe people were afraid it would run up someone’s leg.  So I put the gecko back on the wall and it ran away.  But I learned the Chinese word for “gecko” – it literally means “wall tiger.”  Good name for those feisty little guys.