Monday, December 31, 2012

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

December went by so quick, it seemed we had just gotten back from Thailand and then we were celebrating Christmas!  We started December by celebrating the holidays with the other BASF North American expats with a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at our place.  It's always nice to get together with others who have been through the move and can relate to the ups and downs of living in Shanghai.  We also had dinner with our Chinese teacher and his family again.  His mother-in-law wanted to cook for us and we were more than happy to let her!  Eric and his family have been so wonderful and have made us feel like a part of the family.  We look forward to repaying them with an Italian style dinner at our place, his favorite, but something he isn't comfortable cooking on his own.

Although the rest of December flew by it was a pretty quiet month which was a good thing since I spent two weeks dealing with a bad head cold.  I'm still reaching for the tissues everyday, but at least I feel better.
With Shanghai being a "western" city there were lots of Christmas decorations around.  The big difference here is that they don't go up until December and many not until two weeks before Christmas.  Such a nice change from the US, where decorations show up before Halloween!
Lily's school put on a production of The Nutcracker, Lily was an Arabian dancer, she did a fabulous job!  We were a bit worried since every other school production she has shied away and clung to a teacher.  She did her dance perfectly and even helped a classmate who missed her exit stage left cue.
The weekend before Christmas we took the kids to the mall to see Santa.  He only put in an appearance for a few days before Christmas and was not nearly as authentic as the ones we've seen in the US.  Even Lily recognized that he wasn't the real deal.  Luckily she accepted our "Santa's helper" explanation.

Christmas Eve the kids opened their Christmas pajamas and ornaments from Grammy and Papa and then we all watched Kung Fu Panda's Holiday Special.  A new one for us and although cute I don't think it will become a tradition, we preferred Arthur Christmas.  After getting the kids all nestled in their beds for the night, Lucas and I finished wrapping gifts and watched the classic National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  Even though we followed most of our traditions it didn't feel much like Christmas this year, next year we are thinking of going on vacation like most expats.  Somewhere warm sounds good to me...

Christmas morning the kids gave us the gift of sleeping in till 8!  Usually up by 7 it was great to get that extra bit of sleep before tackling the craziness that goes along with Christmas morning.  Since we did most of the shopping for family this year for the kids we were able to limit the number of gifts the kids got.  Considering the size of our apartment that is a very good thing.  Still, they didn't seem to notice any lack of gifts and had a wonderful Christmas.  We spent the day at home relaxing and playing with new toys and ended the day with a turkey dinner that Lucas cooked.

We rang in the New Year with friends and a fabulously American dinner of cheeseburgers, au gratin potatoes, and a champagne toast at midnight!  It has been an amazing year for us filled with many wonderful new experinces and we look forward to 2013 and all of the new adventures we will be going on.  Up first Florida, Disney, & family!

Thursday, December 6, 2012


So, instead of trying to tackle the traditional Thanksgiving dinner in my Playskool oven we decided to visit Thailand and have Pad Thai.  It may be my favorite Thanksgiving ever!  We started our one week tour in Bangkok, which is a relatively short 4 1/2 hour flight from Shanghai.  Our first day we walked through China town (insert irony here), and Little India.  The markets were a lot of fun to walk through and sold food, toys, clothing, and almost anything else you might need.  The temple in China town we stopped at was a simple one by Thai standards, but was still very beautiful and ornate to our very Western eyes.  With President Obama in Bangkok at the same time as us (seriously!) we had to rearrange our plans, so we ended up seeing Loha Prasat, the last known metal castle, which was beautiful to see and is actually a temple and not a castle.  Our second day in Bangkok we saw Wat Pho, Bangkok's oldest temple, where the kids learned how to pray to the Buddha and we all got a traditional Thai foot massage at the massage school on the temple grounds.  By then it was time for our private long tail boat ride on the river.  This was not a quiet leisurely boat ride, this is a busy river with many boats constantly passing by, but it was a great to see another side of the city.  Our last stop in Bangkok was the Grand Palace, the former residence of the royal family.  Although open to the public it still has palace guards and it still used for ceremonies and other important events.  The royal family now live in a modern (aka; air conditioned) home, well palace, since I doubt they have a cozy 4 bedroom, 3 bath house.
After saying good bye to Bangkok we took a one hour flight to Chaing Mai in northern Thailand.  Before we started exploring the city we had a few hours to relax at the hotel pool and have lunch, and aside from Charlie splitting his chin open on the pool ledge it was a great afternoon.  By late afternoon we were ready to start our trek (by van) up the mountain to see Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, where there is a huge gold pagoda that can be seen from the city below.  Inside the temple the kids added their names to a cloth that will be wrapped around the pagoda when it is finished.
Our second day was spent at the Chiang Dao Elephant camp, where we got to feed the elephants a breakfast of bananas, and watch them get a bath in the river.  Then it was off to elephant school where the elephants learn the tasks they need to be a helpful member of the family, but it isn't all work, they do art too!  Once school was out we had a beautiful hour long ride down the river on a bamboo raft, it was hot but so worth it!  River raft ride over we finally got to the highlight of the day, an hour long ride on an elephant through the jungle.  Sitting on a wood seat with a "seat belt" we wound through the gorgeous jungle and then up the river back to camp where we had a very yummy lunch waiting for us.
From the elephant camp we headed to Monkey school instead of visiting with a tribal village.  As much as I would have love to visit with the tribe it would have meant a two hour drive back to the hotel and the kids were already worn out form spending the day outdoors in the heat and humidity.  Our fabulous guide, Yo, recommended that we go to see the monkeys since it was on the way back to the hotel and was much more likely to interest the kids.  We watched the monkeys do all kinds of "tricks" and even got to feed them some snacks.  Charlie liked them as long as they kept their distance from him, but Lily had no problem posing with one for a picture.  Charlie did like the baby monkey and had no problem feeding him, he must have related to the little one!  After that amazing day we grabbed dinner at a local restaurant and then went to the night market.  Thailand comes alive at night!  All down the main street there are stalls one after another filled with all kind of crafts and clothing.  There were also several turn offs from the main street that were a lot like a large courtyards filled with stalls and restaurants.  We had such a good time walking around and picked up several great souvenirs.  Lily and I also visited a fish spa, for about $5 each we got to put our feet in water filled with little fish that eat away your dead skin and help to improve circulation in your feet.  It may sound gross but it was actually a lot of fun and really tickled.  The surprising part is that it was Lily's idea!  Just as we were finishing up at the market we saw some lady boys, something Thailand is famous for.  For a few bucks we had our picture taken with them, Charlie couldn't stop staring at them and Lily didn't seem to understand why boys would dress up that way, but excepted it in the way of a five year old.

Early the next morning we drove to the Sankampaeng hot springs where the water temps are in excess of 100C.  Yo, got us a couple of baskets of eggs to boil in the springs, turns out the kids both preferred the quail eggs.  Breakfast over, we headed to a private bath where we could take advantage of the springs medicinal properties.  With the temps being so high we used the "warm" faucet which was a very comfortable bath temp.  Once we had dried off and changed we continued on to the village where we would be spending the night.  We did make a quick stop at a local market to pick up ingredients for Pad Thai, our Thanksgiving dinner.  Our host was incredibly nice and let me help make dinner, although I think she enjoyed having someone to help with all the chopping!  After an amazing dinner Lucas, Lily and I all had a traditional Thai massage, it was incredibly relaxing, a wonderful treat and the perfect way to end the day.  The next day started at with the crow of a rooster at four am!  The only cool part was that you could hear all the roosters in the village echoing through the mountains.  We had a simple breakfast was fried eggs and toast, although, Charlie did try the meal worms that are part of a traditional Thai breakfast.  The truly amazing part is that he liked them, yuck!  Before we headed back to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok we visited the Mae Kampong waterfall.  While Lucas and I made the trek to the top of the falls Yo kept the kids busy making hats with banana leaves.

Our last stop on our tour was Hua Hin, a city on the Gulf of Thailand, and home of the royal family's summer palace.  We spent a relaxing morning swimming and collecting shells before leaving our slice of heaven in search of lunch.  Since the kids had been so good about eating the local cuisine we decided to treat them to pizza at an incredibly western style mall.  To get back to our hotel we took a local taxi or tuk tuk.  Most tuk tuks are pretty simple, we however ended up with one all tricked out, so instead of a quiet ride we bopped on down the road with the music blaring! The kids loved it.

Back in Bangkok we met up with Pat, a former colleague of Lucas's who now lives in Thailand.  Pat took us out for dinner and to a local market the next morning before we finally headed back, again, to the airport for our flight home.  We had such an amazing time and we are looking forward to our next trip in the spring...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mommy's Birthday

November 4th I officially hit the midway point of my thirties.  Yep, I am now closer to 40 than 30, not that I'm going to dwell on that...  My wonderful family made sure I had a fabulous birthday, which started with breakfast in bed and a gift from each of the kids that they picked out for me by themselves.  I also got two beautiful handmade cards.  We ended the night by celebrating at our favorite Western place, The Blue Frog,  The night before Lucas and I had a quiet dinner at Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain with excellent dim sum and caught the new Bourne movie.
Tuesday Lucas and I visited Dulwich College, an international school, that we are considering for the kids next fall.  While I love the Montessori that Lily is enrolled in, the school only goes to age 6, and we thought it best if she goes to one of the larger international schools next fall.  Dulwich is amazing and I know both kids will be very happy there.  The school covers kids from age 2 up to high school, but toddlers to year 2 (first grade) are in a separate and much smaller building so it is not so intimidating.  These international schools are absolutely amazing and although Lily will be put in year 1 (5-6 year olds) because of her birthday they will teach her at what ever year level she is at so I don't have to worry about here being bored in class.  With these schools, because the education is top notch, kids often end up ahead of their classmates when they move back home.  I only wish we could afford this kind of education when we move back home!  It is easy to see how the wealthy have such a leg up in education.  I guess Lucas is going to have to get another delegation before Lily starts high school...

Friday, Lucas had dinner out with co-workers to celebrate a friends promotion.  Since it was just me and the kids I made homemade macaroni and cheese followed by chocolate cake that the kids helped with.  The kids were great about taking turns pouring in ingredients and stirring so I rewarded them each with a beater to lick clean.  Charlie did manage to get some in him but I think he wore most of it :-)

Saturday night our Chinese teacher and friend Eric, invited us to his home for a traditional Chinese dinner, family style.  His wife's two friends and our driver, Chem, also joined us.  Good food, good wine, and good company, a great way to spend an evening!  I've invited everyone over to our place after our vacation for a big Italian dinner since I know Italian is a favorite of Eric's and according to him difficult to make.  I've tried to tell him it's not but he doesn't believe me, so I look like a wiz in the kitchen to him and I'm okay with that! 

Monday, October 29, 2012


Living in an expat neighborhood has is benefits, especially somewhere so far and so different from home!  Last Saturday, Green City, the area we live, hosted a Haunted Carnival for families.  It was not at all like the carnivals back home, but the kids had a good time all the same.  There was a gauntlet of local vendors set up in booths with candy and pamphlets to hand out as soon as you walked in.  The only one that interested me was a local farm that was selling small pumpkins for the kids to draw a face on.  Lily drew a very nice jack-o-lantern face on hers but since the markers didn't show up well I promised her we would paint the pumpkin later. 
A local hair salon was spraying colored hairspray in the kids hair.  Lily wasn't too sure about it, but after watching Charlie sit and get his done she decided she couldn't let him out do her so they both had green hair for the rest of the day!  The big attraction though was the different bounce houses and slides that were set up.  Lily was only too ready to toss off her shoes and jump in.  Charlie decided that it was too crowded with big kids and opted to hang with mom and dad.  We ran into a few of Lily's classmates at the carnival too.  She's always gets so excited when she sees one of her classmates.  She genuinely likes everyone in her class, I've never heard her say a bad word about anyone.  As a mom this make me incredibly proud, although, I think it is her nature more than my wonderful parenting skills.  
There were several craft table set up for the kids, some were free, while others cost a few RMB.  The kids seemed to like the cup spiders and after picking out pipe cleaners Lily used all of her concentration to make her spider's legs.  Charlie seemed happy to watch daddy make his while he picked out what color maker to use for the face. 
Unlike most carnivals in the US there were no rides and very little in the was of "fair" food.  Instead there were about a half dozen local restaurants that were set up under tents selling a limited version of their menus.  I got a very yummy grilled chicken plate from a Turkish place and Lucas got a burger and fries from Hooters of all things.  The kids didn't seem to be too hungry so they both just picked out our food.  Before leaving we picked up some popcorn and silly string for Lily.  Both were long gone before we got home.  

To complete our Halloween weekend we invited Johnny and Christine, co-workers of Lucas's, over to carve pumpkins with us.  The pumpkins here are a light orange color and have green streaks.  They are also usually squat instead of round but the odd pumpkins were not going to stop Lucas who loves Halloween most of all the holidays.  By the time we picked out our pumpkins from the local grocery store, sigh, and had lunch Charlie was ready for his nap so he missed the carving.  Lily came in at the tail end and helped Johnny with his pumpkin. 
While Lily waited with the patience of a five year old for her brother to wake up, Lucas put on a football game for him and Christine.  Christine is here for six months as part of BASF's Professional Development Program, and is missing football so Lucas told her she was welcome to watch with him since he knows I'm not going to.
Charlie finally woke up and the kids painted their pumpkins using every color paint I have.  It's not like our Halloween's back in the US, but it is close enough so that the kids aren't totally missing out.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Water village & Zoo

For my parents last weekend in Shanghai we took them to Zhujiajiao (jew-ja-jee-ow), an ancient water village an hour outside of Shanghai.  A bit like Venice, these ancient water villages have canals for roadways.  Ironically the canals can become just as cluttered by boats as they highways during rush hour.  You can buy a ride on one of the traditional boats, but the idea of Charlie in one of these low boats made me nervous. 
For me the highlight of the village was the Kehzi Gardens.  Originally part of the private home of the founding family, the gardens were like a beautiful oasis.  There were little Chinese style gazebos and foot bridges that crisscrossed over a small brook that ended in a pond with koi.  In one arched building we came across a woman selling silk needle points, which was a past time for the daughter's of the family.  We got the kids each a small needle point and mom and I both picked out one with a scene of the village.  I will have them framed and will add them to our growing collection of mementos from our little adventures.  After the gardens we explored some more of the village, including two temples, both still in use.  If we ever doubted that our kids were taking in some of the culture we've exposed them to Charlie put that question to rest.  Upon entering the Buddhist temple Charlie went to the prayer bench and with amazing accuracy mimicked worshipers he's seen in the past!
After Charlie finished his prayers we moved on through narrow alleys crowded with vendors selling food and souvenirs.  As with most tourist attractions you can find the same silly souvenirs here as you can at just about any other place in Shanghai.  But, there are some genuine artists and Lucas and I picked up a beautiful wood carving of a dragon and phoenix for our wall.  Dad couldn't seem to get enough of all the different foods available.  I'm sure if language wasn't an issue he would have asked a lot of questions!
On their last full day in Shanghai we took my folks to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park.  Lucas and I have taken the kids before, it's a nice zoo and offers opportunities in interact with the animals that you don't find in zoos in the States.  Lily started her day off with a ride on a zebra, while Charlie and I climbed up on top of an elephant.  He was a bit leery at first but seemed to enjoy it once he got over his initial fear.  Can't blame him, it is a huge animal, and you can only hope that he is in a good mood!
We invited our driver, Chem, to spend the day with us.  The zoo is pretty isolated and it didn't seem fair to leave him sitting in a parking lot while we had a fun day.  The kids loved having Chem with us and kept arguing over who got his attention. 

We got to see the zoo's nursery which we missed last time and the kids seemed to really enjoy seeing the baby animals.  Also in the nursery area was an enclosed aviary, but instead of birds it was filled with ring tailed lemurs.  They mostly just sat and sunned themselves but we all found them to be incredibly entertaining.  Lily managed to get in two more rides, one with me on a camel, and one with Lucas on an elephant.  Charlie got to sit on a miniature horse which he seemed to think was awesome and both kids got to feed the giraffes and kangaroos.  As always the time went by too fast, but, having my folks here for two weeks was wonderful and we had a great time showing them around Shanghai. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The sights of Shanghai

For my folks first week in Shanghai we saw much of the city.  We took a hop on hop off bus tour of Puxi and saw the Jing'an Temple which was moved to its current location in the 13th century but burned to ruins in 1972 and was reconstructed in the 80's.  We also saw the Jade Buddha Temple which has a sitting and reclining Buddha made entirely of white jade.  Both temples were beautiful and made sitting in traffic on a bus worthwhile. 

One of the other places that my Dad was excited to see was the Yu Garden and Bazaar.  I've never been to either so I was happy to go, I had no idea it was so big!  The bazaar is a huge maze of shops and restaurants in traditional Chinese style buildings.  Attached to the bazaar is a beautiful garden, which we actually didn't have the time to see since it was getting dark.  We did manage to find the Nanjing Steamed Buns, which my Dad had seen on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.  They have two levels, the ground level sells the steamed dumplings out a window and upstairs is a nice sit down restaurant.  They are famous for their large soup filled dumplings that are served with a straw for drinking the soup. Dad was thrilled to get his steamed bun and said it was excellent. 

The bus tour included a cruise along the Hangpu river, so after picking Lily up from school we headed across the river once again to Puxi.  The one hour cruise took us along the Bund and downtown Pudong, and because it was a 5:00 cruise the city lights all came on as we headed back to the dock.  It was a great way to see both sides of the river.  I think Lucas and I may try one of the dinner cruises that they advertised. 

Friday we took the train to Hangzhou for a couple of days and to avoid dealing with taxi drivers we hired a car and driver for our time there.   Our first stop was the Leifeng Pagoda which was recently rebuilt and someone had the brilliant idea to put in an escalator and elevator that takes you to the top of the pagoda and gives you an amazing view of West Lake.  After the pagoda we headed to King Qian's Memorial but instead of seeing the memorial which was closed we took a boat to one of the islands on the lake.  The island has a scenic walk and several shops where you could by the typical Chinese souvenir's.  Mom and Lily got matching bamboo umbrellas and Charlie and I had our picture taken with a cockatoo.  On Saturday we went to the Lingyin Temple which is one of the largest and wealthiest in China and has numerous pagodas and temples.  After taking in the beauty of the Buddha we headed to Qinghefeng pedestrian street for some shopping.  Lucas and I got a Chinese paper cuttings of a famous Hangzhou attraction and a lace umbrella.  After our retail therapy we decided to get in some more culture and went to the Tea Museum.  We learned a bit about the history of tea and got to try four different teas, Oolong, Jasmin, Black, and a local blend.  We also were given directions on how each type of tea should be brewed.  By the time we left we were pretty much done in and we decided to head to the train station a bit early.  With limited food options at the train station we decided to play it safe and had an early dinner at the Burger King, and yes, it tastes exactly the same as it does in the US.  It was a wonderful weekend and I'm so glad that we were able to spend some time in Hangzhou!

Monday, September 24, 2012

They're here!

After many months of waiting my folks, and our first visitors, are finally here!  We are all super excited to show them around our adopted home over the next two weeks and can only hope that we don't leave them too exhausted by the time they head home.  We're starting with easy excursions to some of the cities highlights, with the Jin Mao Tower being our first stop.  At 88 floors high I don't think there is a better way to see the city!  It gives you an amazing 360 view of downtown Shanghai, including one of the cities most recognizable landmark, the Oriental Pearl Tower.  Mom took the unique opportunity to mail some post cards from the world's highest post office and picked up a Jin Mao magnet to add to her vast collection.  Off to lunch next at South Beauty, a Szechuan place, where Dad got to try authentic Chinese dumplings and according to him the best he's ever had.  That night we took him to a local place for dumplings.  We had Chem, our driver order for us since the menu is all in Chinese and the staff speaks no English.  This is how you know you are in a "real" Chinese restaurant, dinner for the seven of us cost about $15.

Today Lucas had work and Lily school so it was just the four of us.  Charlie has yet another cold with a bad cough so we made a detour to the doctors.  Nothing major, but the doctor did give me some cough medicine for him and an antihistamine to help with the mosquito bites.  With his sensitive skin the bites get swollen and take forever to heal.  Doctor visit done we headed to the AP Plaza market, which is where you can find all kinds of souvenirs, silk robes, purses, watches, jade, and a thousand and one other things you don't need.  Using the Century Square entrance we wandered around for about an hour picking up a bunch of souvenirs, a "Michael Kors" purse for mom, and a new suitcase for dad since the handle on his broke on the trip over.  We headed home for lunch since Ayi was cooking chicken noodle soup.  The Chinese use long spaghetti style noodles and cook a whole chicken in it and use very little seasoning.  It is very simple and very good, perfect since I am still trying to shake off a cold.  Tonight we went to Simply Thai for dinner to celebrate Lucas's promotion which was officially announced today at work.  Lucas is now the Regional New Business Development Manager, bit of a mouthful, but we are all very proud of him!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lily's Birthday

Saturday we celebrated Liliane's fifth birthday.  It is hard to believe that she is already five and as cliche as it sounds I can't stop myself from asking, where did the time go?  To celebrate I took the kids to the aquarium, which is a favorite of both.  We spent a good hour looking at all the different fish and other animals they have.  Liliane as always kept me on my toes with questions about everything and her own opinions on various topics related to fish.  We had a quick lunch at the aquarium and ice cream too before playing a few games.  Then it was time to call it quits and head home for a nap.

After naps it was time for the birthday girl to open her presents.  Charlie decided to get in on the actions too and after an initial squawk from big sister and a reminder from mom of how much she helped him with his birthday presents the presents were quickly unwrapped.  Lily sends a big thank you to everyone for her presents, which includes a scooter from her Aunties and Granny in Florida.  Not to worry, we bought the safety gear too!  We had dinner at the Blue Frog as per Lily's request, where she ordered a steak for dinner.  I guess she takes after her Papa.  Birthday cake and wishes before it was back home for bed time.

Today we took the kids to the Shanghai Zoo.  This is not the one we went to in the spring and although I'd heard bad things about animals in small cages it wasn't as bad as I'd feared.  It does need improving and the Chinese are terrible about respecting the animals and their habitats but as Lucas pointed out, they have little respect for people too.  The kids had a great time though and loved seeing all the animals.  We grabbed a traditional Chinese lunch... meat on a stick!  We got hotdogs for the kids, and Lucas and I tried pork, chicken, and beef.  We both agreed the pork was the best of the three. 

As with all attractions in Shanghai the zoo has many carnival rides including a huge ferris wheel.  With last nights heavy rains the day was humid and any opportunity to catch a breeze was not going to be missed!  Plus we got some wonderful views of the zoo.  We spent the whole morning and part of the afternoon at the park before Lucas and I agreed it was time to head home, rain was coming.  Not even a minute after getting settled in the car the heavens opened up!  One minute longer and we would have been soaked!  It was a wonderful weekend for sure.  Tomorrow Lucas heads to Hong Kong for two days.  Jealous!

Sunday, September 2, 2012


So, I should begin this with an explanation... our family laptop is in the States with my folks.  We bought it just before our move here and we were starting to have some problems with it.  Naturally we wanted it looked at before we passed the 1 year warranty so we brought it in to Best Buy to be looked at.  Unfortunately, they wouldn't look at it since it is under warranty and told me that they would ship it back to the manufacturer and that it would take 2-4 weeks.  Since my folks are visiting us at the end of Sept we decided it was worth being without our laptop for 6 weeks.  I can check email and surf the net with my iPad, even Skype, Facebook, and blog.  However, it is not exactly easy or convenient to blog and upload pictures to FB or my blog.  So, for this reason my blog will be without pictures for the next few weeks unless I find an easier way to upload them. 

We had a very nice weekend, meeting most of the other North American ex-pats at BASF at a brunch at Baker & Spice.  I met two other moms that are house wives like myself, one has been here for two months, the other for less than 24 hours.  Since both have little girls close in age to Lily I invited them to her birthday party next Friday. 

That night we had hoped to try a Shanghainese restaurant but the address that was listed wasn't right.  I don't know if it has moved locations or if the address was never right but we were left scrambling to find another place to eat that would have something the kids would like.  We finally ended up at a Japanese place and although we ordered chicken wings and french fries for the kids they both preferred my beef with vegetables and rice.  Since both ate a good dinner we treated them to an ice cream from Dairy Queen. 

Today we had brunch with a family we met this summer at the Flying Fox, a popular Western restaurant.  We invited them to Julie's, which is one of our favorite places to get an American style breakfast and a place we don't get to too often.  It was nice to spend a quiet weekend together relaxing with friends. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Last weekend we spent a few days in Xian, which is a two hour plane ride north of Shanghai.  This was our first big China trip and we were all very excited to see one of the cities that had once been China's capital.  Through my Shanghai Mama's web forum I'd found a local, english speaking tour guide, Raphael.  Raphael met us at the airport and checked us in at our hotel.  His friend is a manager at the hotel so he not only upgraded our room but gave us it a half the normal rate.  The Bell Tower Hotel, is situated in the city center making it very convient for us to walk around and see some of the cities famous attractions.  Since we flew in on a Friday night and the kids were worn out so we just grabed dinner at the hotel and went to bed early.  Saturday morning we went to the Bell Tower, which is directly across from our hotel, hence it's name.  Because Xian is a huge city and has a lot of traffic there are underground passages to get to the Bell Tower and several other parts of the city center.  The Bell Tower was built in 1384 AD and was used to tell the citizens the time.  We got there in time to watch a musical performance that was played on bells.   

Unfortunately it started to rain by the time we left the tower and although I had brought two umbreallas they were not enough and it wasn't long before we were all wet.  From the Bell Tower we walked to the city wall, which now surrounds the city center.  The wall which was fortified in the 14th century is about 11 meters high and between 13-14 meters wide at the top.  The bricks which are all sigined by the person who made them and are made up or a mixture of sticky rice and clay.  I'm not surprised that sticky rice was used, the stuff clings to clothes like nothing else and is a pain to clean up.  You can rent bikes on the wall or walk like we did.  Since the rain didn't seem to be letting up we bought ponchos. 

As someone who loves history seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors was such a thrill for me.  The museum which is an hours drive from the city houses the three pits where the wariors were found, all of which was farm land in the 1970's.  In 1974 it was a farmer who found the warriors.  Digging for a new well he came across a warrior's head.  The governement gave him 30RMB for the land and he now sells books at the museum and signs them for all the tourists.  The warriors which were placed as guards for the first emperor's tomb are all incredibly detailed and each has a different face.  This is a complete army with low ranking soldiers, guards, archers, calvery, and 7 generals.  After seeing all three pits we watched a short movie that explained some of the history around the time that the warriors were created.  Lily seemed enthralled with the story and asked a million questions about the bad guys and good guys and where they were now.  By now the rain had started up again so we headed to the car.  Luckily by the time we got back to the city the rain had let up and we got to see the Small Wild Goose Pagoda and temple, which also has a small museum. 

Monday Raphael took us to see real Xian, his familie's home in the hills.  For generations his family has lived in a cave cut into the mountain and although he lives in the city with his family he still has a lot of family that live in the caves.  The home is very simple, two large rooms, one for sleeping the other a comon living area.  Outside in seperate rooms are the kitchen and bathroom, and yes they have indoor plumbing and electricity.  It was a wonderful way to end our trip to Xian.  I would strongly encourage anyone making the trip to China to put Xian on their must see list.  It's an amazing city!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Home Visit

The kids and I are finally home from our visit to New Hampshire with my family.  It took an entire weekend for us to actually get home, thank you Boston. I always wanted to see Chicago, just not while I'm trying to get home to my husband and have no luggage and two cranky kids. It was an adventure and the kids did really well, I have such little troopers!  I apologize for the lack of picturers, we had to leave our laptop in the States to get fixed, I'm so getting a MacBook next time!  Anyway, without the laptop, which my folks will be bringing in September, I'm having trouble getting pictures to the blog. I may be able to add them at a later date using Lucas's work laptop.

We had a wonderful time visiting family and friends, and I apologize for not being able to fit everyone in, but we had such a busy three weeks. Our first week was pretty subdued since we all had some serious jet lag to get over. Charlie had the hardest time of it, getting up twice a night for the first week. By Thursday I was feeling pretty good and looking forward to surprising my cousins in New Jersey for our annual family reunion. However, I was in for a surprise myself!  Lucas found some extra vacation time and flew in for a week without telling anyone. 

Friday we all headed to NJ for the reunion that was being hosted by my cousin John and his wife Danielle. We had a wonderful time visiting, catching up, and eating really good food!  Lucas and I stayed an extra day so he could drop in on his Florham Park co-workers. It was nice to have a night away, thank you to my cousins Gail and Richie for letting us spend the night.

Back in NH we spent the week shopping and visiting with friends.  Lily and Charlie had a play date with Audrey and Clara at the splash pad in Derry, which was a fun as it sounds.  Lucas and I managed to fit in a couple of movies too.  But, the best part of the week was my sister flying in to surprise me!  Holly and her friend Haley visited for a week which was so wonderful. I had been so dissapointed that I wasn't going to see her. 

My in-laws visited for the weekend, they were thrilled to see Lucas. They hadn't know he would be there either, the man can keep a secret!  We spent a wonderful weekend taking the kids to see Touch a Truck and swimming. Sunday was a bit more laid back with some time spent at Benson's park and then a cookout at my folks. It was nice to see everyone, especially my adorable niece and nephew who I've missed terribly.

Our last week home saw Lucas heading to Germany for business. It was wonderful to have him with us and I wished he could have stayed. Mom and I took the kids to North Conway to Storyland, a theme park for kids all based on nursery ryhmes. It was unseasonably hot and although it we had fun we left early since the kids were practically melting in the heat. I look forward to going back. I can remember visiting the park as a kid and it was a lot of fun to see my kids there on some of the same rides I went on as a kid.

It was all over too soon and very early Saturday morning the kids and left for Shanghai, it ended up taking us 48 hours to get home thanks to Boston's lousy ground crew but we did make it. It was a quiet four days while we spent trying to get over our jet lag. A three day trip to Xian is next...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A quiet Sunday

We had planned on spending the weekend in Suzhou, unfortunately Lucas was sick Friday night and all day Saturday so we were forced to postpone the trip.  It rained all day Saturday and with Lucas staying in bed we just lounged around the house and ordered take out for dinner.  Today Lucas was feeling better and the rain actually chased away much of the humidity so we decided to take advantage of that and spend some time outside walking the Bund.  We've been to the Bund before but there is so much to see and do there. 
We walked along most of what is considered the Bund and enjoyed the many different architecture styles that the Bund is known for.  One of the many attractions along the Bund is a 5 meter high statue of Shanghai's first mayor Chen Yi.  Of course another is the cityscape of downtown Pudong and it's many famous, and internationally known buildings.  From the Bund we walked down Nanjing road, famous for its shops, both high end and bargain basement, and of course the pedestrian mall. Along the way you can find street vendors selling all kinds of on the go snacks on sticks like hot dogs, chicken, and octopus.  We decided the kids would enjoy some watermelon on a stick and passed on the octopus. 

I finally bought us a nice set of chopsticks at a well known shop that sells cheap ones from just a few bucks to ones that cost over a hundred dollars.  I settled for a nice set of sandalwood chopsticks with rests for about $30.  I will probably go back for a second set since it was only a set of five and hardly enough to host a proper Chinese dinner party.  They also had some nice wood rice bowls that I wouldn't mind adding to my kitchen.  

Today I also celebrated my twelve wedding anniversary!  We had a family style celebratory dinner at the Blue Frog, a favorite of ours.  Lily had to get the pasta off the adult menu same as Daddy, but I'm not complaining because she ate the green beans that came with it.  After that it was over to the bakery for some very yummy deserts!

To my wonderful husband; we've had our ups and downs, luckily more ups than downs, you enrich my life, and keep things from ever getting boring.  You keep me on my toes and challenge me to be a better person.  You are my best friend, and the father of my two wonderful children, I couldn't ask for a better partner in life.  The last twelve years have been one hell of a ride, I'm looking forward to many, many, more!  I love you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Some indoor fun!

With summer in full swing and no sign of the heat and humidity letting up I'm stuck trying to find indoor entertainment for the munchkins.  Today we went to the Science and Tech Museum, there is still a lot we haven't seen including the Rainbow Children's Playroom.  This area is designed to be kid friendly and hands on so the kids could run around and burn off some energy.  They had a blast playing on the slide and jumping on virtual bubbles til they popped.  I even got them to sit still long enough to get a picture, Charlie even cooperated! 

I finally convinced them to move on to another area, but we didn't get far. Lily spotted the world's largest Light Bright and had to play.  Charlie loved it too but quickly got frustrated when he had some trouble get the rods into the holes. 

The kids didn't want to leave before seeing the animal display so we made a short detour before heading to my true destination, the fake market.  We wandered the market for a bit and ended up getting a cool bottle opener that is designed to look like a Chinese mask.  After that it was time for lunch and nap.  Since Charlie has a minor ear infection that hasn't allowed him much sleep in the last few days he was exhausted and took a three hour nap.  Lily even slept for over an hour which is rare these days.
We ended the day with dinner at Big Bamboo and an impromptu driving lesson for Charlie.  I think I will let Lucas handle the driving lessons when the time comes...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mother, Daughter Day

Lily and I had a girls day.  We left Charlie behind with Ayi and headed to the mall with plans to have lunch, shop, and see a movie.  We grabbed lunch first, no point in shopping on an empty stomach, right?  We had stir fried noddles with beef, BBQ pork buns, dumplings, and rice.  Lily was thrilled to have her own soda like a big kid, most restaurants have some juice, but tea, water, and soda were our only choices here so I gave in a got her a Sprite. 

After lunch we walked around a bit checking out the fish tanks the restaurants have on display and finally made our way to the book store which has a small selection of English books.  We both ended up walking away with a book, Lily got The Little Mermaid, and I got a book on understanding the Chinese culture.  I'm looking forward to learning more about this amazing country and its culture along with seeing as much of it as possible in out time here.

We made our way to Tom's World, a huge arcade with a few small rides.  Lily did the flying airplanes and played a few games which earned her some tickets that she traded in for a small pack of tissues.  An odd prize, but she was happy with it.  We finally made it to the theater, Lily must have asked at least a 20 times if it was time to see the movie in the few hours we were at the mall.  We got a bucket of popcorn, which is sweet, not salty or buttery, much like kettle corn, and two drinks.  We found our seats and put on our 3D glasses and waited for the movie to start.  Unlike in the US there are no commercials or movie previews, if the movie is scheduled to start at 2:15, it actually starts at 2:15. What a concept huh?  Unfortunately the movie was dubbed over in Chinese.  Our friend who bought the tickets checked the website and verified that it was advertised as being in English, and he did call and complain, but there wasn't anything we could do at that point.  Lily didn't seem to care though, she has gotten used to watching cartoons in Chinese and I don't think she pays too much attention to what is said.  After, on the ride home I asked her if she had a good time and she said she did.  That is all that matters to me. 

Monday, July 9, 2012


This past weekend we spent in Chongming on a BASF sponsored trip.  Chongming is one of three islands in Shanghai and has many beautiful parks.  Lily quickly made a new friend, the girls spent the rest of the weekend together. We started our trip at the Chonging Yingzhou Park which is right on the water.  There was a nice breeze and locals walked around with crabs to sell.  The kids were fascinated by the crabs and were sorry to leave them behind.  Charlie had a fabulous time running around but that came to an end when he fell into a very muddy puddle.  Good thing I brought him an extra outfit.  After the park it was lunch.  The food was not a highlight of the weekend.  It was all very traditional Chinese and there were few dishes that I found I liked.  To be fair I did try many new dishes, but most were just too strange to my pallet. 
After lunch we went to the Xisha Wetland which is the only one in Shanghai with a natural tide and woodland beach.  All along the walkways are little holes that are home to the crabs.  We were given a bamboo pole with a metal ring on the end and were told to try out luck at catching crabs.  The kids thought this was tons of fun and we all had a go at it with varying success, I seemed to have the best.  It all came to and end though when Charlie got a bit too enthusiastic and broke our pole.  We continued on the walkways and watched others catch crabs and enjoyed the beautiful park.  The crabs are a part of the local cuisine as are the small snails that cover the beaches.  Even if I liked crab and snail, it seemed like way too much work for way too little reward.  It was very hot and humid at the park, no more breeze from the water unfortunately.  I got the kids an ice cream, I think Charlie ended up wearing most of his.
Sunday we went to the Dongping National Forest Park.  This is definitely worth a second trip.  The park was beautiful and had lots of things to do, unfortunately with the rain we ended up taking a short train ride and walking a bit before we decided to sit it out till lunch.  We did all try a local type of bamboo that you chew but don't eat.  It is a little sweet and reminded me a little of corn on the cob.  Charlie didn't like it but Lily did and she had fun chewing away.  Despite the heat, humidity, and rain we still had a good time.  I think we will have to go back in the spring or fall and spend more time at the parks. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

It is easy to forget certain holidays here in China. With Lucas working for a German company in China he was not given the Fourth off.   Not a big deal since we had a big barbeque last weekend and it was going to be just us anyway.  I didn't even really think about the up coming holiday until yesterday, without all those loud obnoxious store decorations we all complain about and make fun of it really is easy to forget the holidays.  To make it feel a bit more like home I took the kids to the pool for some fun.  They had a blast swimming around in the kiddie pool for a good hour or more before I called it quits and headed home to dewrinkle. 
Since I am officially sick of burgers I decided to try a different American classic for dinner, fried chicken!  I've never actually made fried chicken and I was disappointed that I couldn't find buttermilk which most fired chicken recipes call for.  Betty Crocker, who never lets me down, had a simple buttermilk free recipe though.  So with the kids watching on from the edge of the kitchen, no one is allowed in the kitchen while I cook, I took on my first go at fried chicken.  But, where would fried chicken be without mashed potatoes and corn on the cob? 
Feeling a bit heavy on the starches and fats I included a leafy salad with my Fourth of July dinner.  The chicken was good, but I can't help but think it would have been better with buttermilk.  The only think our Fourth is missing is a firework celebration.  But, we will only be in China for a short time, so, for now I will be happy with our unconventional celebration.  I've always been proud to be American, but being an expat I feel even more pride in my country and heritage.  China is a great country, but I can't imagine living under a government that does not allow me the freedoms I've always taken for granted.  God Bless America!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

East meets West BBQ

Ever wonder what would happens if you invited your Chinese co-workers to a barbeque?  Well,  you end up with an odd mix of Western and Eastern foods, and probably the most unconventional barbeque ever.  It was certainly the first BBQ I've been to that had chopsticks at it.  Lucas and I provided burgers, sausages (haven't found hot dogs), and BBQ chicken.  Each guest brought a dish of something that could be shared.  We had dumplings, sushi, square ham, salad, bananas, watermelon, cake, and ice cream.  There were several other traditional Chinese dishes but I can't name them.
The food was excellent and the guest were a lot of fun.  I've heard all about Lucas' co-workers for months now and it was nice to have faces to put with the names.  The entire group has been very welcoming of Lucas and has helped us out with so many little things, like buying movie tickets and ordering a grill to name just a few.  There were six kids including our two at the party, they all seemed happy to play in Lily's room and with Ayi there to keep an eye on things the parents got to relax some. 
Of course the kids managed to find prime spots at the table when the cake and ice cream came out though.  The little girl next to Charlie was in absolute tears when it was time to leave.  Martin, her Dad later told Lucas she cried all the way to the Metro stop.  Everyone left by 7:30 and with Ayi's help, by 8 the place looked like we had never had 30 adults and 6 kids running around for most of the day. 

Next weekend we head to Chongming, one of the islands of Shanghai.  It is a weekend trip organized by BASF and two of the co-workers I met last weekend will be traveling with us.  I'm looking forward to a couple of days outside of the city.  I just hope it isn't too hot to enjoy it, this is definitely an outdoor weekend!