Monday, August 27, 2007

Last Friday, we went to Lowhu, which is in another part of Shenzhen. Near the train station there is a 5- story mall filled with, basically, junk: cheap jewelry, tchotchkies (did I spell that right??), knockoff designer clothing, knockoff handbags and counterfeit ones, and counterfeit watches. It is filled with hawkers who will grab onto you as you walk by or approach you asking if you want to see DVDs or designer handbags in a backroom somewhere. It's kinda creepy. It's also a great place to get a good bargain. I did some serious bargaining and got a painted bottle (it's a thick-glass little bottle with hand painting inside, which we watched the artist creating) for fairly cheap, though I didn't really like bargaining for "real" art. I got a pair of shoes for about US$30 and a nice white blouse for about the same price. No "designer" stuff, I don't like that whole scene. But I also bargained for Jo, my stepmom, and got her sweet deals on a pashmina, a silk shawl and a cool red handbag (not designer). We had a good time, but it was tiring, 5 floors of people desperately trying to get us into their stores. ICK. My dad was able to add to his collection of the little painted bottles for a decent price, too. He is in the process of collecting the entire Chinese zodiac in little painted bottles.

This weekend we went to Macau, which used to be a Portuguese colony but is now part of China. Like Hong Kong, it is under the "one country, two systems" rule so they enjoy a great amount of freedom compared to most Chinese. It is a beautiful city and what I imagine Europe to look like (never having been there...). The food is fantastic, with a heavy western flavor to it, the people there are so polite, and the city is much cleaner...all moreso than even Hong Kong. I think it's mainly because they rely so much on tourism for their booming economy, but also I was told it's because they enjoy more freedom to travel than Hong Kongese, as citizens are also Portuguese passport holders. Gambling was legalized there in 2003 so casinos abound, but there are many, many things for families with children to do, too: beaches, resorts with nice pools, shopping, and many historical sites to see. There are ancient Buddhist temples and modern Catholic churches. There is a huge fortress that was built in the 1500's; it's where the picture below was taken. There is a cathedral that has burned down three times, but the facade remains at the top of a huge flight of stone steps. It's very beautiful. There are all these cool little, skinny streets with nice shops in them and antiques and more Chinese souvenirs. They make these awesome butter cookies with big chunks of almonds in them and hand them out on the street - they're SO GOOD. You can get a great sandwich there, something that you can't get in China and is quite difficult to get in Hong Kong. I love Macau! It is just an hour's ferry ride from Shenzhen, and a lovely place to visit.

Today, (as though we haven't done ENOUGH stuff lately) we went to Bujie, which is the art district of Shenzhen. There you can purchase oil painting copies of just about any famous painting you've ever seen, and then some. You can purchase a painting and incorporate your childrens' faces into the picture. You can custom-order just about any painting, including your own portrait, and there is also some beautiful original art there. My dad went hoping to find some more of those little painted bottles he has started collecting, but we could not find any of those there. It was strictly painting - mostly oils but also other mediums. We purchased a beautiful original watercolor from an artist who has won various awards for his work. My dad and Jo were a bit disappointed not to find the bottles, and we were surprised about that, too. But, it was a nice afternoon and we saw more of Shenzhen, which is part of why we're here.

Here is the icky culture shock part: I saw about four kids total going potty in the streets and on the sidewalks in Bujie today. One girl looked to be about 8, just dropped her drawers and went in the sewer cover. The rest were babies, but their mums just held them out over the sidewalk and let it fly. It's very disconcerting and really, really icky to witness. And stinky.

Tonight, for some strange reason, I'm BEAT. Maybe it's all the touristy stuff I've been doing, plus keeping our regular "we live here" routine with the kids. I hope all is well in your world - I have been thinking about many of you, my friends, lately, and I miss you all quite a bit.

Here's the whole gang in Macau

Apparently, Ella is not quite as concerned we might fall over the side of the wall...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pang Yu Zoo

Today we went to Pang Yu, which is in Guanzhou, a larger city north of Shenzhen (20 million people). Pang Yu is an animal park and safari. We originally wanted to go to the resort there but after our experience at the "very nice" resort in Singapore, I wasn't ready for the gamble involved. So, we went for a day trip.

Our driver (uh, yeah, did I mention we have a driver? "Home, James." Actually, it's "Qing, hue jia, Mr. Lei" but it's still fun to say....sorry, I digress) is from that area and so knew sort of where the animal park is. It's sort of hidden amongst a bunch of shops and apartments, much like anything else in China. The drive should have been about 1-1/2 hours, but traffic in China is worth another blog post entirely. I am not exaggerating when I say that nobody follows the rules, the biggest guy gets to go wherever he wants to, even if the exit is four lanes over, and the entire driving experience here is one great big game of "Chicken". Traffic is unreliable to say the least, and our trip to the park took 3 hours instead of 1 1/2. We were all incredibly hungry and nature was calling loudly when we finally got into the park so we took care of all that first.

Then we walked around this huge animal park. It's really pretty nice - not as nice as the Singapore Zoo, but really, really nice, and amazingly clean considering it's in China and all. There were signs all over the place saying "Let's keep our park clean...please throw rubbish in the trash" and people were actually doing that. Normally people throw their rubbish wherever it happens to fall. You should see a streetside on a Saturday night at about 2 a.m. (I haven't but I've heard...) after everone's done eating. It's all chicken bones and leftover food and wrappers and all just strewn about. Labor is very affordable here so someone will come and sweep it all away to start all over again the next day. Aw, man, here I am, digressing again. Sorry. Back to Pang Yu. Very nice and very big. At the giraffe part you could buy a branch and the giraffe would actually bend down and you can feed it. Andrew got such a kick out of this! At various animal stations you could buy food and feed it to whichever animals were specified. It's a neat idea because kids love it and it raises revenue for the zoo.

There were so many tigers and giraffes, and there are also animal shows throughout the day. We just missed getting into the elephant show and there is a tiger show, as well. Not sure how I would have felt about animals "performing" - I'm not much of a circus fan, either. So, I wasn't especially disappointed about missing that. We saw so many different kinds of animals and cool birds - it's all set up by continent. The coolest thing? WE SAW GIANT PANDAS! I've been waiting for an opportunity to see some - boy are they amazing-looking! One was sitting there, eating bamboo and ignoring us. Most were sleeping. They're so cute! And we saw koala bears and kangaroos (never seen one before!), wallabys and exotic birds, rhinos, orangutangs, baby tigers (awwww...), red pandas, monkeys and baby monkeys, seals and sea turtles. Actually, the seals and sea turtles were in what looked to be a big green-water-filled fishbowl, no land or anything, just a big tank. I felt sorry for them because their space wasn't very big and it wasn't at all exciting or stimulating for them. I also felt bad for the polar bears because they looked way too hot and just had vegetation to hang around in, no frozen area or ice or anything polar bears seem to enjoy.

After we walked through the zoo in incredibly hot, sunny weather and were ready to drop, we found out we could also drive our air-conditioned van through the "safari on wheels." We thought we had to ride the little trolleys which are open-air and probably very hot, listening to a narration in Chinese.

So we went back to the car and drove through that part - there were so many of each animal! We saw a bunch of exotic deer and elk, impalas, black bears, brown bears, a whole herd of giraffes, a bunch of zebras, these African deer-type things with huge, straight horns on top. We stopped for my dad to get a picture of these and he rolled down his window to photograph this one who was right next to the car. It made me a little nervous, because of his big horns and all, and I said "dad, roll up your window." Just then the open-air trolley rolled by so we figured it was safe to open a window. Then we saw that the big-horn deer thingies were in the process of breaking through their fence and getting out of their secured area and into the great, wide open by the vehicles and more docile animals. Yikes. I was worried the tigers would do the same thing and eat the zebras in front of some kids! Didn't happen, as far as I know, but it sure kept me on my toes!

The really, really cool thing about the driving safari was that there were so many of each kind of species, and they really had a lot of space to roam. An ostrich, which I am pretty sure escaped its area as well, walked right up to the car to glare at us. They are so cool looking! So are the emus, which we saw in the Australian section. But, as I was saying about how nice the driving safari is, many of the animals had babies with them, too! So cute, the baby zebras, baby hippo, baby giraffes and baby wildebeests! The baby monkeys were cute, too, in the walking part. One baby monkey's mama was trying to teach it to climb but it kept jumping onto her for a ride instead...another one was trying to learn to climb but a slightly older one kept pushing it off the tree, poor thing.

We drove home this evening - it only took 1 1/2 hours! - and were very happy to get home. On the way home, I got a text message all in Chinese, and Mr. Lei explained that it's a warning there is a typhoon on the way, but he said it's gone already. We thought "gee, thanks for that" but as we drove home, the lightning started and when we got into our neighborhood the wind started blowing fiercely. We had all just gotten into the house and Mr. Lei back into the car when it started to POUR. Very windy, very rain, very lightning-y, very thunder...very typhoon-y. Hmmm.....

Everyone is tucked in for the night, the storm seems to have subsided, and I'm ready for some rest! Thanks for checking out Pang Yu with me!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ketchup (catch-up)

So, what's happened since July 22, my last post??

We went to Singapore, which I was really excited about because it's supposed to be incredibly clean and English-speaking, which are two things China is not. Sadly, however, our hotel (which was supposed to be really super-duper nice) was sorta run-down, dirty and ant-ridden. And our first-floor glass door to the pool area DIDN'T LOCK! Yikes...we had to booby trap that area every night in order for me to be able to sleep. That was disapointing, to say the least. But Singapore is a pretty cool place, from what I can tell. There are many rules but they do make sense. It's extremely diverse, religiously and culturally. If one particular ethnic group inhabits a certain area, anybody selling property in that area has to sell to someone who is NOT of the predominate group. That way you don't get little pockets of ethnicities and people are forced to get to know people outside of their own group. It seems to me to be a good way of preserving peace and understanding and goodwill between different peoples.

We went to the awesome zoo in Singapore, and returned for a Night Safari at the same zoo. I didn't know that like 90% of tropical animals are nocturnal, including elephants and tigers and bears (oh, my!). It was really cool - you ride around in a tram and it's quiet and dark and the animals are right there in front of you, moving around and doing animal-y type stuff. I could have reached out and touched several of them but of course we didn't do that. It was so cool! We also had a lot of fun at the resort pool and just hanging out together doing touristy stuff. It was nice.

I took a one-morning Italian cooking class with my friend Libby and sampled some of the best food I've ever eaten. Then I made one of the dishes and before serving it to the family Tim called it "Mario and Luigi Meatballs." Alex has a serious thing for the Marios Bros games and those are the two main guys in it. He now LOVES those meatballs thanks to my Genius Husband. Did I mention that Alex is my pickiest eater, perhaps the pickiest on the planet, or at least in China? Hee hee hee...

I went to Hong Kong a BUNCH of times with Ella for some doctor visits. I'm hoping she's on a good treatment program now and can stop having such a hard time with her tummy.

I applied for and almost got a preschool teaching job here but then decided I didn't want to work full-time, I'd rather stay a full-time mom, yippee!

I got my nails done, which you can do for about U.S.$10 here! Actually, I do that quite often at that price. Nothing new there.

I got a foot massage and thought my toenails were going to boil off of my feet when I stuck them into the scalding hot water they like to use. YIKES!

I read the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series and WHAT A GOOD BOOK! I don't know that I've ever been quite so satisfied with a book or series of books ending, and so on the edge of my seat while reading it. J.K. Rowling deserves every penny she gets from those books! Props to you, girl!

The boys had their last Chinese classes today until after school starts, which is this coming Thursday. I can't believe my little teeny preemie Andrew is a giant kindergartener already, and my peanut Alex is in 3rd grade. Ella will also start preschool and have big, full days. I hope she can handle it. I hope I can handle it!

My dad and his wife are here for a visit - our first company! They arrived a day late due to a flight cancellation. The kids are off their rockers excited about this visit and have been playing with them nonstop. They're sleeping off their jetlag as we speak, so they can be ready for more kid-level energy. They brought me Belgian chocolate from my very favorite chocolate place in the whole world (no, I've never been to Belgium...) in Appleton, Wisconsin...WILMAR'S. If you're ever within 200 miles of Appleton, GO TO WILMAR'S and get some chocolate. It's a little slice of heaven on earth. Dark chocolate caramels, two pounds, YES YES YES!

Sorry. I'm back. I'm really excited about the upcoming school year and seeing how the kids adjust to their new classes. I'm also looking forward to starting up my Chinese class again and learning more of the language.

I hope all is well and peaceful in your lives, lovely readers. School is about to start - I think many of you have little (or big) kids. I hope this is the best school year yet (keep faith, Barb!) and I also hope you decide to drop me a quick e-mail to let me know that there are still people reading this! Thanks for keeping up with us!