Sunday, April 29, 2012


We are in Hangzhou for the weekend!  The weather has been unbearably hot and humid and with the holiday it has also been super crowded.  Throw in a 2&4 year old and you've got yourself a recipe for a disaster.  We took one of high speed trains China is known for and after waiting about 30 minutes for a taxi at the train station we finally got checked in at our hotel by noon.  Since we couldn't find a taxi when leaving the hotel we made the ultimately poor decision to walk.  After a very long, and very hot walk we finally made it to the Lingyin Temple which is known for its carvings and grottoes. 
The Lingyin Temple is one of the richest in China and is still home to Buddhist monks.  Photos are not allowed inside the temple which is understandable, but disappointing since it was amazing to see.  From what I've been able to find out the huge figure taking up most of the hall, at least 50 feet high, was Guanyin a bodhisattva, or enlightened one.  The Buddhist version of a saint I figure.  Guanyin represents the compassion of all Buddhists and plays a part in helping the dead find their way to the Buddhist heaven.  You could buy sticks of incense to pray with at the temple and the air was thick with it.  It was a challenge to avoid all the people bowing and walking around with the smoking sticks.  Lily had about a million questions which I did my best to answer.  After the temple we ended up taking a bus back to our hotel because again it was impossible to find a taxi.  I now know how sardines feel, I was literally sandwiched between people on all sides.  It was an experience I'd rather not repeat. 
We all collapsed back in our room and cooled off for a bit before we decided to venture back out.  We walked about 10 minutes down the street to the Walmart and picked up diapers and a few snacks for the kids.  We grabbed dinner at McDonald's, my first since moving here, before finally calling it a night. 
Today we got a taxi from the hotel and went to the Leifeng Pagoda which is right by West Lake.  The pagoda is five stories tall and was originally built in 975AD before being rebuilt in 2002 after being destroyed in the 12th century.   Luckily for us when they rebuilt if they put in an elevator, which could definitely account for part of its popularity.  They also had an escalator to take you up the 138 stairs leading to the pagoda.  There were beautiful views from the top of the lake and surrounding city and mountains.  Once we got back down we stopped for a drink and snack.  It had rained during the night and although it was not as hot as yesterday it was much more humid.  The kids munched on ears of corn and got a bubble gun.  I got a medallion with a dragon (to represent this year) on one side and the pagoda on the other.  They also etched our name and today's date on it.  We walked a bit around the lake and looked into taking a boat but decided to pass since we had a lot of trouble communicating with the "captains". 
We got lucky and found a taxi, the only way to get one is to catch it as it's dropping off a fare.  We headed south away from the lake to Liuhe Pagoda, which translates to Six Harmony Pagoda which represents the six Buddhist ordinances.  Originally built in 970AD, destroyed in 1121, and rebuilt in 1165 it is one of the oldest brick and wood pagodas in China.  We only went up one of the 13 levels since the stairs were very narrow and very steep.  The area around the pagoda was beautifully done with lots of garden areas and temples.  By this time it was one and we were all hot and tired so we headed back to the hotel and showered to wash off the days sweat before taking a nap.  By the time we woke up it had started to rain.  With the crowd and rain it would be impossible to get a taxi anywhere so we decided to stay in and have dinner at the hotel.  It is not exactly the weekend I had hoped for but I'm finding that traveling in China has its own learning curve.  We may also try and avoid travel in China on the holidays as it seems to be more trouble than it's worth.  We head back home tomorrow first thing in the morning and start moving our stuff over to our apartment.  Tuesday is the official move in day, can't wait!

Friday, April 27, 2012


Sorry for the quiet week, out internet was down all day yesterday and we only got it back tonight.  I've had a busy if uneventful week, a good part of which I spent a good doing laundry and packing up our things in preparation for our move next Tuesday.  After being in temporary housing for 3 months we are finally going to have a home again!  I'm not looking forward to all the unpacking but since it has been three months since I've seen any of our things it will be a little like Christmas I think.  I also finally hired a full time Ayi, or maid this week.  Ayi (Auntie in Mandarin) will start working for us part time two days a week starting next Thursday and then full time in June.  She is currently working for two American families who are both moving back home at the end of May.  Lucas' Mandarin teacher, Eric, came with me to translate during the interview and he told me he thought she would be a good Ayi.  Both families are very fond of her and said she has been great.  I think she is excited that I have two small children and is looking forward to playing with Charlie especially. 

I also make a quick trip to Carrefour this week.  Since I go after I drop Lily off at school I usually treat Charlie to breakfast out, it helps keep him happy while I shop which is a bonus.  This time I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts and while checking out what they had to offer I noticed the dry pork and seaweed donuts.  No, I did not try one, but I have told my Dad that I will share one with him when he visits this fall.  I'm always telling Lily to try things before she says she doesn't like them.  Guess I'm gonna have to listen to my own advice!  I am willing to try most things here with the exception of anything involving organs and of course sea food, which I don't eat period. 
Charlie decided to help with the laundry, as you can see we had a nice breeze today which made drying the clothes that much easier.  I managed to get all the laundry done except for one small load.  It feels like such an accomplishment, silly I know, but still, I'm proud!

We leave tomorrow morning for Hangzhou for the next two days.  We will be taking one of the high speed trains China is known for and instead of spending two hours in a car it will only take 45min by train.  The weather isn't looking the best, but as longs as it doesn't rain all weekend I'll be happy.  With Tuesday a national holiday we have a nice long weekend to enjoy seeing some sights before we have to start unpacking our home.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Bund

We went to The Bund today, which literally means embankment.  It is an area along the river known for its eclectic architecture and sight seeing tunnel.  We only did a small portion of the Bund, it was very sunny and warm today so I was a bit worried about not having sunscreen.  We had lunch at Subway, Lily ate an entire 6 inch sub with chips and a cookie!  After we walked along a promenade with great views of the river.  Lily had lots of fun taking pictures and actually got some really good ones.  Maybe we have a future photographer...
The Bund is also known for its sight seeing tunnel, and unmanned shuttle that takes you under the river while enjoying a light show.  Charlie was a bit scared at first, but got into all this lights.  At the end of the shuttle there is a small market with souvenirs and trinkets.  Most of it is junk and can be found at a thousand other places in China.  I did get the kids names written in Chinese and English though.  This is something that will be a cool memento of their time here. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pizza, Popcorn, & Pj's!

Lily has been learning about the letter P at school.  What better way to ensure the attention of 18 kiddies than with pizza, pj's and popcorn!  Yesterday the class all made personal pizzas that they got to bring home and today they dressed in pj's and had popcorn while reading bedtime stories and singing lullabies.  Is it just me or is school much more interesting these days?  I remember having a book and a teacher that gave a lecture and then homework.  I know I would have remembered pizza or popcorn! 

As if that isn't enough, they celebrated two birthdays this week. After coming home from the first party with just one balloon that Charlie wanted to play with Lily made sure she came home with two this time.  She's no dummy! She can also be very sweet and thoughtful.

Tomorrow we are having lunch with a co-worker/friend who is here on business.  Leo and his family will be moving to Shanghai this summer and although they are Chinese, they have lived in America longer than China.  Ironically, we are answering questions for him about the up coming move.  I find this ironic because we aren't even moved into our permanent apartment, don't know the language or customs, and have had and endless stream of "challenges".  But, we have recently been in his shoes and as they are more American than Chinese, they are desperate for any information we can give them.   We are happy to help, especially if it means they can avoid some of the pit falls we didn't.  It will also be nice to have friends who speak perfect English and Mandarin, yep, I'm no dummy either!  In truth, I've met Leo and he is very nice.  I look forward to meeting the rest of his family this summer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

AP Pearl Market

Today Charlie and I met up with Vicki and her daughter Joy, (3 years) to shop the fake market.  I found a cute polo shirt and Spidey pj's for Charlie, he was my focus since finding clothes for Lily is never a challenge.  There was an inspection today; officials walked into stores to look for knock offs, and yes, that is the whole point of the market but there are laws that ban it even if everyone turns a blind eye.  I don't know if they look for the high end designers like Louis Vuitton, Channel, and Rolex, to name a few, but it is hard not to trip over the knock offs at this market. 

Although I've been to the fake market many times I had never walked through the Pearl Market, a cluster of shops separate from the others that sell only jewelry.  Even here you can find knock offs, most notably Pandora bracelets and charms.  This I can see becoming a favorite place of mine to shop.  There is shop after shop with every kind, color, and size of jewelry imaginable.  Some are made of plastic or glass, and cost anywhere from 5-20RMB and others are made of semi-precious stones which cost more depending on size and quality.  I bought a sliver and pearl, fake mind you, bracelet for myself for 10RMB and a cute beaded one for Lily for just 5RMB.  If you don't see what you want you can have one made custom from any of the beads you see hanging in the shop.  It would be impossible to not find something here to match anything and everything in your closet. 

I had planned to actually cook dinner tonight, nothing fancy just tuna casserole, I was really looking forward to it.  It was not to be though.  I didn't realize until too late that I didn't have any pasta, and while tuna, mayo and cheese is tasty it doesn't exactly make a complete meal.  We ended up eating at BBQ Chicken around the corner, very tasty and no dishes or kitchen for me to clean up after!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Scholastic book club

Not much to chat about, my life is settling into a sort of routine and while I'm sure I will have many more interesting things to share, for now I think I'm all talked out on the subject of Carrefour.  Most days go something like this; Lily gets dropped at school by 9am and then Charlie and I go and run any errands we have for the day.  Usually we get home in time for lunch and a nap for him, laundry for me.  No, it never ends... anyway, we pick Lily up at 3pm and head home to either watch cartoons or as the case most days to play at one of the apartment playgrounds until Lucas gets home just after 6pm.   Yep, I lead an exciting life!

Lily did come home the week before spring break with a scholastic book order form, I was thrilled to learn that the school participates in it.  The prices are a bit higher but with the cost of shipping and taxes I'm not surprised.  I do plan on making an appointment next week to go book shopping at an apartment another mom told me about.  No one lives there, it's just used as a shop, weird I know, but this is China and weird for us is normal for them. 

The only other news I have to share is our upcoming trip to Hangzhou.  It will be our first train ride and our first over night trip since our move here.  I'm already planning other trips for the summer and fall.  With the summer and warm weather around the corner I'm thinking Tokyo and Xian for summer trips as they are North and shouldn't be as hot.  In the fall I'm hoping to spend several days in the Bangkok area.  Bali, Singapore, and Beijing are all also on my must see list.  Whether we fit them all in this year I can't say, but I will try...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Date Night!

We've had a wonderfully quiet weekend.  All week I've been tired, probably because I was trying to keep the kids too busy to notice the lack of stuff to do around the apartment. 

The weather this weekend was supposed to be overcast and rainy so I didn't feel too bad about not planning any trips.  Turns out you can't trust your weatherman.  Both days have been sunny! 

Lucas was great though, he took charge of the kids for the majority of the weekend letting me sleep in and rest.  It was a much needed break and it gave Lucas time to spend with the kids by himself, which I think despite the challenge the two of them present, he did enjoy. 

Saturday night, Elizabeth, a coworker's daughter babysat the kids for us so we could have a night out, our first since our move here.  We had planned to to see Titanic in 3D, not much else was playing with the anniversary of Titanic this month.  The movie theater is in the IFC Mall, which I've mentioned before.  It is all high end designers and strictly a window shopping mall for me, but it also has several nice restaurants.  Elizabeth and her mom Marie both recommended Simply Thai as a great place to try.  Unfortunately Thai food tends to be spicy and have a lot of sea food in it, two things that do not agree with me.  We did have beef and chicken satay for an appetizer, which was supper yummy, and we both had Pad Thai for dinner, also yummy.  I didn't think about asking for a mild version of the spicy dishes until later.  Many sounded good but had two peppers next to them.  Way out of my league! 

We had bought our tickets in advance with a little help form a coworker.  Luckily for us, Lucas' coworkers are very willing to help us learn our way around life here.  They are very understanding of the challenges the language provides and seem to always be happy to help us out. 

Here in China the movie seats are assigned, so we already had our seats picked out.  Kinda nice, no worrying about getting there late and not getting a good seat.  They sell popcorn, sweet or salty and drinks, but no candy.  I think Lucas was a bit disappointed about that.  The theater was very nice, with plush seats in a stadium style arrangement.  Another great thing, was once the movie was scheduled to start it actually started.  No previews or commercials.  They did play commercials before the movie started while people came in and found there seats but the movie wasn't delayed 10-15 minutes for commercials or previews.  My only complaint about the movie experience was the Chinese do not turn off their cell phones, they also talk during the movie.  Aside from those two things it was a great night.  Elizabeth said the kids were good for her and Lily seems to have enjoyed having someone new to play with. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Century Park and Fake Market

The kids and I walked to Century Park this morning, which is only 10 minutes from the apartment.  We timed it just right, to see the fountain was putting on a show. The water was set to shoot off in time with music that was played.  It went on for about 10 minutes with the kids mesmerized the whole time.

This park is huge and even has a small amusement park with several kid friendly rides.  For about $3 Lily got to go on two rides.  I think the price is pretty comparable to small parks back home and probably much cheaper than some.  Poor Charlie had to look on from the stroller since I didn't want to leave the stroller unattended while taking him on a ride. 
While Lily made do with the kiddy rides, she also made it clear that she really wanted to go on the big kid rides.  After taking her on Splash Mountain at Disney there is no doubt in my mind that this girl loves a good thrill!

We only stayed an hour before heading back home for lunch.  I think next time I may bring a picnic lunch for us so we can enjoy the park some more. 

After a nice long nap, I took the kids to the convenience store and let them each pick out a candy.  Charlie got M&M's and Lily a lollypop, which they both shared.  It was off to the indoor playground after that where we spent an hour playing before Lucas and Chem picked us up.
Tonight we went back to the fake market to pick up Lucas' second custom made dress shirt and to grab a quick dinner.  We walked around for a bit and ended up picking up a cute bowl for keys and loose change, a pair of comfy moccasins, and his and her's Rolex watches.  I'm not sure how much I will actually wear the watch since I have sensitive skin and I'm certain this watch band is not made out of the stainless steel it says it is, but for $12 you can't go wrong!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Neon Kids Plaza

Went shopping today at the Neon Kids Plaza.  This plaza like AP Plaza is a fake market, this one is just dedicated to kids.  Stall after stall has clothing, toys, and shoes, all for kids.  It is a bit overwhelming and shopping with a stroller in these stalls is not easy.  Most are crammed with as much merchandise as possible.  Some of the larger ones were easier to navigate, but all were eager to help me find what I wanted.  Most of the shops have one of each item on display, when you find something you like you ask for the size you want.  This is a bit tricky.  In the States most kids clothes are all pretty much the same size, meaning a 2T should fit Charlie whether it is Carter's or Oshkosh.   Because these are all knock offs and mostly brands I'm unfamiliar with I had to "measure" them against the kids.  With Lily this wasn't much of a problem, Charlie on the other hand was not in the mood to be fitted so I had to guess. 
Some of the shops had prices listed, which I had been told meant that negotiating wasn't usually done.  Others were happy to haggle over a price.  I was just so happy to find clothes for a decent price that I didn't really haggle too much.  Plus, shopping with two kids is always a challenge and by the time I picked out pieces I liked both kids were ready to move on so I tried to conduct business as quickly as possible. 

Once we got home Lily and Charlie both tired on clothes for me, only Lily was willing to pose for me though.  I'm happy to say that I did a good job of picking out sizes and that everything seems to fit.  For about $120 I got Lily 4 shirts, a skirt, a dress, and 2 pairs of pajamas, and Charlie 3 t-shirts, a pair of shorts, capris, and pajamas. 

After naps we went to the indoor play ground. There is no staying in the apartment with two kids and few toys.  We stayed for almost two hours and we met a very nice German woman and her little boy Leopold who's birthday is just two days after Charlie's.  Turns out they've been here since February.  We swapped stories for a bit and talked about when we were going back home and when family plans to visit.  The complex isn't large so I'm sure we'll see them again soon.

Tonight dinner was Greek a la Sherpa service.  Although I love to cook the kitchen here has the bare minimum for cooking.  Two frying pans, a pot, a knife, and can opener do not a kitchen make.  Plus the oven doesn't have a temperature gauge and I haven't been able to find an oven thermometer.  So until we move I think we will continue to eat out and use Sherpa with the occasional simple meal thrown in.  Cooking in this kitchen is more aggravating then anything else.  Man do I miss my kitchen toys!  Thank you again Dad for getting us that transformer so I could bring my toys.  I have a feeling that once I have my kitchen set up I'm going to go on a cooking spree!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ocean Aquarium Members

Today the kids and I went back to the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, this time we got a family membership.  Lucky for us Charlie still gets in for free because the family membership covers two adults and one child under the age of 16, the typical Chinese family.  It was in the low 70's today and with last nights rain very muggy.  The aquarium hasn't yet turned on the AC so it was very warm inside.  That and the crowds made it a bit claustrophobic, but the kids didn't seem to notice.  All Charlie cared about was his "freedom" from the stroller.
This is one of the many escalators at the aquarium, this one happens to run alongside a very large alligator.  I don't think it moves much as it was in the exact same spot when we visited before. 

As always people wanted to take pictures with the kids, but today they were not in the mood so I just said no and walked away.  They seemed to understand and just followed a bit and watched the kids before moving on.
For some reason jelly fish fascinate Lily.  I think she could have spent a good part of the day watching them if I let her.  The kids had a good time and I know we will be back often now that we are members. 

Shopping tomorrow, there is a huge fake market that specializes in kids that I was told I should go to.  Since both kids are in desperate need of warm weather clothes I figure it is a good way to spend Lucas' money.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Okay, I'm gonna be honest here.  Easter this year sucked big time.  Although I had the foresight to buy an egg decorating kit I forgot to boil the eggs so the Easter bunny had to hide plastic eggs.  Including one too high for the munchkin to reach.  The worst part though, was Lucas being sick all day from something he ate the day before.  So instead of spending the day out in Shanghai as a family we stayed home and watched cartoons and played with the toys the Easter bunny brought.
Luckily the kids are young enough not to know that this years Easter was lame.  Give them some new toys and and Tom & Jerry and they are happier than a pig in shit.  As I'm sure other moms can relate, I feel bad that it wasn't up to par.  On the plus side, I do have an egg decoration kit for next years Easter...
Lily is on spring break this week so I don't think we will be spending much time home.  Bad things tend to happen when we spend too much time at home.  Today was shopping at Carrefour and a good hour in the indoor playground.  I may take the kids back to the aquarium tomorrow since the weather isn't supposed to be nice. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Super Brand Mall & Century Park

Friday while Lily was in school, Charlie and I went to the Super Brand Mall.  Holy crap, this place is huge!  Thirteen floors, with over 100 stores, 70 restaurants, and an IMAX theater.  We spent most of our time just walking all thirteen floors and checking everything out.  I think once we have a babysitter Lucas and I will be checking out the IMAX.  There were lots of great stores including a Croc's store.  The kids Croc's were between $50-60.  I didn't price the adults, but I think I will wait till I'm back in the US to pick up a new pair.

Lily had a half day Friday which ended with an Easter egg hunt in the playground.  The kids had a blast running around finding candy and eggs which the teachers divided up after so everyone got a fair share.  Lily ended up coming home with a basket she made in class, three eggs, candy, and a stuffed bunny.  What a difference a private school makes!
So far we have been very busy every weekend since moving here, we decided to slow it down a bit this weekend.  We started out going to B&Q, China's version of Home Depot and picked out the paint for our apartment.  After that we met a co-worker of Lucas' at Century Park.  This park is the largest in Shanghai, 140 hectares, it has both boats and bikes for rent and amusement park style rides.  Plus several different style gardens.  It is a beautiful retreat from the city and for the next month it is walking distance from home. 
After a nap we headed over to Kerry Parkside mall where Lily hunted for Easter eggs in a ball pit and Lucas and I bought ourselves a 2000 piece puzzle.  No clue where we are going to put it... anyway, it was dinner at Johnny Moo's after that and both kids came home with a stuffed bunny for just 5RMB(less than $1). 

Tomorrow we head to The Bund, a famous river area where you can walk around or take a boat ride.  Then a quiet dinner to celebrate Easter.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Qingming Festival

Today is Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day, a day that the Chinese honor their ancestors, since it is a national holiday so Lucas got the day off.  Lily however goes to an international school and they don't seem to acknowledge the more minor Chinese holidays so she had school.  After dropping her at school Lucas, Charlie and I went to the eye glasses market in Puxi.  I went back in January when we were here on our housing trip, but Lucas was working that day.  We got Lucas a pair of glasses and a pair of prescription sun glasses for about $80.  Can't beat that with a stick!  After the glasses market we headed to the fake market and got Lucas some new ties ($30) to match his new dress shirts and a Beritling watch ($20).  Got to love the Chinese and their knock offs.
After picking Lily up from school Lucas took her walking around the apartment complex.  There are a lot of walkways and small ponds, all of which are currently filled with tadpoles.  That should thrill the little boys in a few more weeks...
Dinner tonight was the Blue Frog at Kerry Park Side, they have great burgers and other western favorites.  Both kids ate very well and got a piece of Easter candy for dessert, thank you Grammy for the care package!

Lily has been doing very well at school.  I was worried about lunch since they have two Chinese and three Western  meals each week but according to her teacher she is eating very well and said that she is very outgoing and friendly. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

No More Taxis!

We finally got our car and driver today, a Buick GL8, a mini van that can seat seven.  I cannot begin to express how nice it was to have the car waiting for us when we came down this morning.  Plus, the kids are finally back in their car seats!  Our driver Chem, seems nice enough and much to my delight isn't an aggressive driver.  He will be taking us to Lily's school every morning and picking her up every afternoon.  Aside from that he will be at my disposal during the day if I want or need to go somewhere.  He works 11 hours a day Monday - Friday and up to 14 hours total per month on the weekends.  I have no idea what his does on his down time or where he goes.  Although we now have Chem to call on there are still times that we may still need to take public transportation like the Metro or taxis. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wild Animal Park

This Saturday we took the kids to the Wild Animal Park in Shanghai.  It was a 45 minute taxi ride, but so worth the it.  There is another zoo much closer to the apartment but we've been told we wouldn't like it since the animals are kept in cages.  At the Park the animals all had outdoor enclosures and indoor ones.  There were also large garden areas to sit and relax or have a picnic lunch and although the Chinese don't seem to have much respect for the animals, we saw trash in many enclosures, the park was very clean. The weather was perfect and the park was not very crowded.  This Wednesday is a holiday and we were told many people work Saturday and Sunday so they can have Monday and Tuesday off so it worked to our advantage. 
One of the big differences here is the close interaction you are allowed with the animals.  For about $10 Lily and I got to ride a camel.  It was so cool sitting up so high, Lily didn't seem as excited but she did say she liked it.


Another one of the very cool experiences with feeding the giraffe.  Lily got a bit nervous when a second giraffe came over for snack so I ended up helping out.  Despite the fact that she didn't like their black tongues she said it was her favorite part of the day. 
Lily has long been fascinated with elephants so when I saw the opportunity to sit on one I jumped at it.  Although a bit hesitant at first she really liked it and even gave her a pat on the head.   I should mention you can also be held in the elephants trunk if you are interested, using the handle on her forehead for balance.

The second half of the park was seen by bus.  This part of the park was open areas for the animals to roam about, the different species were kept separate though.  Can't have the lions munching on the zebra.  Although, they did feed both the lions and the tigers each a live chicken.  This is a shot of the lioness making a grab for her snack in the shoot that I was standing next too.  Charlie didn't like having the cat jump up so close to him though.  And no, we did not see any bloodshed since the victor took off with their snack.

Our last stop was the sea lion show.  Lily insisted that we sit in the very front row, luckily we did not get wet.  At the end of the show Lily got to get a kiss from the sea lion.  After which  she told me that she didn't like his beard. 

We had an awesome day with so many great experiences and considering that we paid less than $200 for the taxi, tickets, food, all the extras with the animals, and souvenirs, it was also a hell of a bargain.  I think this has been my favorite outing so far!

Today we spent close to home having brunch at Julie's, a new favorite of ours, where we can get a good American breakfast and then to Carrefour for some shopping.  After naps Lucas and Charlie headed to AP Plaza where he ordered himself two new custom made dress shirts for $30.  There are some definite pluses to living here.