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!