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Posted by on Feb 28, 2015 in Guest Blogger, Travel | 0 comments

Guest Blog from Sue – Confucius never says…

…to order beer catfish stew without asking that the head be removed first. Wayne discretely kept moving it to the side of the pot so that I couldn’t see it until the stew was mostly gone. Hmm. Not sure if he was being sweet & kind or just downright sneaky.

We just closed up our third splendid week in China! What a vast land this is, even within the cities where you move from the most amazing modern buildings (massive metal art protruding from giant glass windows) to the very lived in streets, alleys and tiny apartments where the working people dwell.

Wayne and I were eager to get a taste of the countryside and it’s local people so we headed out this past week to Yangshuo, China which is about 600 kilometers from Shenzhen, the city that John and his family live in. We flew out with only one hitch in our travel. After we checked our bags, we went to go thru security but they wouldn’t let us through. They said that we had some issues with the contents of our luggage so we had to go back to luggage check. Scary. Not a good way to start our first trip plus we didn’t want to miss our flight. Once there, they pulled out Wayne’s Kindle and asked what it was. We tried to explain that we read books on it but after several pantomimes they still didn’t understand but asked us to carry it on. Next was the portable power source and again they didn’t understand what it was but also asked us to carry it on. The third item was my hairspray and after some (what I would consider to be) eloquent pantomime, they seemed to understand what it was.  It was to stay in the suitcase. Here’s my concern. They asked us to carry onboard the first two items that they were unsure about and probably thought were (potentially) dangerous but didn’t want it to be transported in the cargo compartment? No comprende.

I’m happy to report that rest of our trip to Yangshuo went great! The hotel had a driver waiting for us at the Guilin airport who drove us another 70 kilometers to the Tea Cozy Inn hotel. I can’t begin to describe how inordinately special this 12 room boutique hotel was. It sat in the countryside with two small villages nearby. It had a breathtaking view of the Karst mountains that jet up all around the hotel and of the small farms in the valley. I especially loved sitting on our balcony & looking down at the villagers as they went about their day. From walking their cattle to washing clothes in the river to carrying wooden water buckets across their shoulders, it was more like I was watching a movie than actually witnessing this old world way of life. Like our children, their kids were laughing & playing outdoors and like our children, they were mischievous (they broke a section of the hotel bamboo fence while running thru the fish pond). Now I know what a Chinese scolding looks likes!

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The hotel was built & decorated in the most amazing traditional style with all of their wood doors, bathroom vanity, banisters, dining tables, etc. hand crafted by local carpenters. Chinese antiques and artwork filled each room along with sweet little Chinese accessories like teapots (fresh tea served in your room every morning), tiny soap dishes, beautiful sconces, lamps, pottery and much more. Every time I turned around I noticed something new and it would fill me with its’ uniqueness and beauty. What I didn’t know after seeing the lobby and our room was that the best was yet to come. This tiny country hotel had the most precious little dining room with a smoky fireplace and a kitten (yes, a kitten that sat on my lap while I ate my meals there). Six tables, an immense menu (how in the world could they cook all of these dishes), outstanding food and a local staff that loved to sit and chat with us every chance they got. How could life be any sweeter.

They had a rack of many bikes, mostly old. We rode for awhile on our first bike selection but got a flat tire. Back to the hotel for another bike, double checking that the tires were good. Off we went into the countryside, past other villages and many cyclists. The mountains shot up out of the ground all around us. The days were ever so slightly misty which made the mountains fade away like there was no end to them. We loved greeting the people as we rode our bike and most seemed to like greeting us back (saying hello to a person is considered to be good manners in China). The women that I thought were closer to my age would only nod and sometimes give me a small smile. We had all raised our children and had experienced much in life. It seemed to me that their nods were confirming our alikeness in this regard.

While on the tandem bike, Wayne steered, we both pedaled and I took pictures and videos of the beautiful countryside, villages and people. Look Ma…no hands (I almost fell off of the bike a few times). It was such fun and a perfect way to commune with everything around us. We biked for about 1 1/2 days and then hired a driver for our final day there to take us to sights that were to far to bike to. He took us to a farmers market that was beyond words. It was massive and had everything from raw cotton to loose tea & tobacco and of course varied produce, dumplings and treats. The most amazing sight was this large dark covered area that was their version of a fast food court. Hundreds of boiling & steaming pots and woks everywhere cooking noodles, soups, stews, stir fry, dumplings, buns, bread and desserts. Multiple smells filled the air, luring you in. The vendors worked very hard to entice the local people to buy their food but not the westerns as they probably recognized that confused expressions of not knowing what you are looking at. The Karst country is known for a wood pressed thick green cookie; you can’t find it anyplace else in China. Our driver in his very broken English tried to tell us this but we didn’t understand him. Drat, we didn’t try one which we greatly regret!!!

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After the market we went to a small section in the village which had some Chinese collectibles (maybe some antiques…we weren’t sure). We wanted to buy a few accessories for John’s apartment as its pretty bare (none of their cargo has landed yet) so we picked up a few pieces that we thought were very special.

From there we went to a tea plantation that was so like nothing we have ever seen before! The tea trees look like medium size plants that were pruned into a hedge shape. The Tea hedges were terraced on the mountains which made them look like an outdoor amphitheater as they spiraled down into a bowl. They overlooked the kumquat orchards that were ALL covered in plastic to protect the fruit from the rain (holy smokes, they seriously use a lot of plastic!). We went thru a traditional tea ceremony and learned that both black and green tea come from the same plant. Black tea is fermented, green tea is not. Next we stopped at or hiked to high scenic areas which overlooked two of the cleanest rivers in China with mountain peaks surrounding them. The end of the day brought us to the Li river where we went down the river on a bamboo raft with a guide using a bamboo pole to push us along. Two adorable teenagers on another raft yelled out “Welcome To China” and asked to take our picture. One picture turned into several taken by the other rafters. I guess the paparazzi travels by bamboo raft as well

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Posted by on Feb 22, 2015 in Guest Blogger, Travel | 0 comments

Guest Blog from Sue – Confucius says . . . .

 

…Where so ever you go, go with all your heart.

So very true. Greetings from beautiful Shekou in Shenzhen, China at the close of our 2nd adventurous week here! Everywhere we turn there is a new & unique experience with lasting memories.

Where to begin? A little about Shenzhen. Shenzhen is a very BIG city of 12 million people.

High rise apartment complexes everywhere, housing thousands of people in each complex (no suburbs here). They work in high rise buildings everywhere (including the second tallest building in the world) along with many factories and shops. Even though there are many shops and stores, each are packed with many people. Imagine our busiest shopping holidays x 4. Always.

During the Chinese New Year holiday which lasts three weeks (beginning next week), all of the workers will head home to their cities/villages where their families are living. Our understanding is that during this time, this city will go from 12 million people to 2 million. Work is plentiful here and their paychecks are sorely needed at home (the average worker here makes $4.00 a day).

This past week we visited Walmart, IKEA & Sam’s Club in search of more household items and groceries as the local stores have limited availability. My goodness, what a exercise of patience and energy this was. Unlike in the US, they have so many people trying to service/sell us in these stores plus most of the product is labeled in Chinese. It’s really tricky figuring out what you are buying, even with an app translator.  Example: a bag of sugar looks like a bag of salt. Outcome: a really bad cup of coffee (I bear witness to this :).

Everywhere we go, the people around us want to get close to Sam, Sofi and Sawyer. They treasure their children here as most families only have one child so our children are treasured right along with theirs. In Sams Club, John stepped away from his shopping cart for just a second and returned to see a swarm of people around Sawyer who was in the cart. They were touching him and asking to hold him. Sam and Sofi were with me in another part of the store where I stopped to look at a table of some traditional Chinese children’s clothing. Before I could say “whoa Nellie ” they both had been dressed in the outfits and pictures taken by the employees that were servicing the table. Sam stood there, hat and all, looking completely defeated & shaking his head from side to side. Sofi is use to all of the attention so she was smiling & posing for her picture. Good grief, what is a grandmother to do in such a situation other than laugh her rear end off and then get Sam out of this pickle as quickly as possible. With that said, I did buy some Chinese outfits so I’m hoping Sam will have a brief change of heart so that I can get a quick picture of all of the kids decked out in their Chinese New Year duds. Side note: we heard that some of the pictures that are taken of our children are used in store ads. Who knows, maybe the next time we look up, we will see them on a billboard (funny thought).

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Shenzhen is in the sub tropics with vegetation and climate (maybe?) similar to Florida. With the sub tropics come bugs and critters. To date, that means two cockroaches and one lizard have come to greet us in the apartment. We remain hopeful that the lizard is out to do his job so he gets to stay :). Sawyer is doing his best to give them an on the floor food fest after each meal. The kids will have to pack bug repellant in their school back packs starting in April as the bug population increases as they head into Summer.

John has a driver for the month of February which is a part of his relocation package so at every opportunity we all try to take advantage of it. John takes the Metro (subway) in the morning to work and the driver back home at night so that we can use the driver during the day. The other night when John got home from work he said in his usual quiet manner that his subway ride that morning was a little daunting as the people riding it were inching closer and closer to him (not as a result of the subway getting more crowded). He wasn’t sure why but thought they just wanted to study him close up. How very humbling this experience has been as we now realize what it feels like to be a minority. The ethnic sections in the grocery stores here consist of Jiffy peanut butter, Nutella, Heinz catsup and Campbell’s soup in oxtail, borscht and cream of chicken (eat your hearts out, Dawn and John:). Everything is so different and foreign to us and we are now the ones being observed by all. They love to catch a smile from us so we hand them out often

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Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 in Guest Blogger | 0 comments

Guest Blog from Sue Engle – Ni Hao, Hello from China

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I love the way my friend Sue writes – here is her story as she and her husband Wayne move their son John, along with his wife and three kids to Shenzhen, China.

 

Sorry for my long delay in getting this email out! It has been a wild & crazy week since we departed Seattle!

Our flight with the kids went better than expected (thank goodness!). Sam & Sofi traveled between their mom & dad’s seats to ours, thinking that they were very cool :). We watched videos, played games, listened to music and colored/ate/drank a whole lot. Sawyer was a crazy man as usual but as long as we entertained him he was good. No one sat in front of me on the flight so no concerns that he was kicking someone’s seat:). We left Seattle at 3:00 pm on Saturday and landed in Hong Kong at 9:00 pm on Sunday. With 16 bags, three children, 4 adults and 1 dog (just kidding) we finally made it thru customs to our airport hotel around 11:00 pm. Wayne and I slept thru the night as we barely slept on the plane ride. John & Christina weren’t so fortunate as the kids woke up around 3:00 am. We ate at the airport McDonalds’s the next morning (yup, McDonald’s) which made the kids very happy. The menu was mostly the same but also included rice & noodles.

John has done an amazing job embracing the details of this new move. Two vans were waiting for us at the hotel on Monday morning at 10:00 am to transport us from Hong Kong to Shenzhen which is a large city on the southern tip of mainland China. The drive was beautiful with many bays, mountains and city skylines. We saw several half circular/multi layered concrete open structures along the way on the hillsides. Mye, were they possibly shrines or small water reservoirs (or something else?). The smog was pretty heavy that day and some of the hills and tall buildings were barely visible. The smog is far less in the south of China than the north so we feel very fortunate.The border patrol was a three part experience but it didn’t take too long. They were very serious with no smiles which made us very aware that we were entering a policed country.

We arrived at John & Christina’s apartment around noon. It is in a small three story apartment complex directly across the street from Sam & Sofi’s international school. Their apartment is in an ex patriot community called Shekou which caters to people from all around the world that have come to Shenzhen to work primarily in sourcing & manufacturing. Their apartment is three bedrooms, two baths and has an open, spacious feel. It has a washer, dryer and a (very coveted) dishwasher which is currently zapping us every time we use it (not grounded yet?). Their apartment is in a very beautiful area with many large trees (I think they might be Banyon trees?) and flowering vines. We hear birds singing and doves cooing much of the day. The current winter weather is very mild; probably around 67-70 degrees during the day/58 degrees at night. Their apartment doesn’t have heat, only air conditioning as our current temps are probably the coolest of the year. We have had sunny skies every day with no rain. Eat your hearts out, Seattlelites! The community is so clean with people sweeping several times a day/street sweepers following to pick up leaves & debris. Sam and Sofi’s school surrounds the apartment so we always hear children out playing & laughing during recess. Their school has a beautiful pool, tennis courts, track & soccer field. The pool is also a part of a club that you can join to use during the summer months. There is also a grocery store, several restaurants and a shopping mall just steps away so everything that they might need is very close (imagine a very small city within a very large city…that’s their community).

The time change (14 hours) has been kind of rough for the kids. Sawyer has been getting up around 3:30 am every morning with Sam & Sofi following between 4:00-5:00. Today (Friday) was our best day yet with all of the kids waking up at 6:00 am (woohoo…we are starting to finally feel a little more rested!).

John & Christina have been out and about each day with their “move coordinator”. They are the first family from Amazon to move to Shenzhen so there are many details/first time challenges to address. We didn’t realize that when we arrived here we were suppose to register with the police so once we found out Wayne & John headed to the DT Police station (about an hour away) which ended up being the wrong station. Very few people here speak English outside of our community so there is a lot of confusion everywhere you go. They finally figured out which Police Station they needed to go to. Once they arrived there they were told that they didn’t have time to process them plus they needed pictures of each of us. We found a Kodak store that took each of our pictures. We picked them up the next day only to find out that most travelers don’t bother with this Police Station requirement. We followed thru none the less to play it safe.

John & Christina’s apartment is furnished with furniture only; no household items. The beds were frames & box springs only (our first night sleep was pretty uncomfortable). There is an Ikea, Walmart & Sam’s Club in Shenzhen so John and Christina have made several trips to buy food & household things (included much needed memory foam mattress pads) as their personal/household items which were shipped both by air & ground have to be processed at the port which takes up to 6 weeks (yikes!). We are learning to live with less although we did get wine glasses/bottles of wine & beer as there are some things we cannot live without :). They have really great electric “water pots” here that heat up in about a minute so we are thrilled to finally have tea and instant coffee in the morning. For the most part, there are no American products here so even in American owned stores, most of the food items are Chinese. Overall, most household and food items are more expensive than the states with just a few exceptions. John has a phone app that scans/converts Chinese characters to English so that he can see what he’s buying as it is not always apparent.

We haven’t cooked in the kitchen yet as our implements/cooking devices are few and far between so we have been eating out most of our meals except breakfast as Sam’s Club had Frosted Flakes for the kids. So far we have had Mexican, Thai & Italian food (it all tastes very different here) but no Chinese food as we haven’t found a Chinese restaurant in our community yet. Crazy…we need to start venturing out more!. One of the restaurants that sent us a mailer was called the “Good Bathroom Restaurant”…we will more than likely try that restaurant :). Sam told us the other day that he just loves living in China. We asked him why and he said he loves all of the soda that he gets to drink at the restaurants. Most people don’t drink tap water here; John & Christina just got their water dispenser as bottled water is expensive. Sawyer has had a hay day with the water dispenser…we are either going to have to move it up higher or live with a large puddle of water on the floor.

Yesterday we had to take Sawyer to the doctor as over the last few days he just wasn’t feeling well and his eyes were starting to weep. Scary thought in such a big city that we don’t know anything about. John and Christina were gone for most of the day touring the city, banks & medical clinics with their move coordinator so I took Sawyer to the school nurse that John had told me about. Unfortunately there wasn’t much that she could do as she didn’t have any sophisticated equipment to check his ears and eyes. She told me about an International SOS clinic that was 15 minutes away so the moment John & Christina returned we headed out. They had actually visited this same clinic earlier in the day on their tour. It was really hard finding it on foot as most of the signs are in Chinese (every once in a while you will see a sign in English). John was getting phone directions from his moving coordinator while trying to remember the general area that it was in. After many wrong turns, speeding mopeds & big, dusty buses we finally found it. The clinic was very new and clean (John said that it is one of the more expensive clinics in the area…they range in price based on the number of Drs and facility equipment.). Our doctor was French so we had a little trouble understanding him. He kept asking if Sawyer had been around any diseased children . Scary again. Christina and I finally figured out what he was asking about. Sawyer’s eyes were weepy so he thought he had conjunctiveitis and was asking if he had been around other children with it? After examining him, he determined that he had a severe double ear infection and that they were causing his weepy eyes (not conjunctiveitis). Whew…we didn’t want to be known as the people who brought this contagious disease to our community/kids school.

Sam and Sofi just started school today (Friday). The school is international so we hear many languages spoken although it is an English submersion school. We have briefly met people from England, Germany, France, Sweden & New Zealand. The largest school population is Chinese and Korean. Their school is ranked one of the best in the area and already that is evident in what we see & hear about them. Sofi just got home from school as she has full days Monday-Thursday, half days on Friday (they are very serious about pre-school education). I asked her if she had made any new friends and she said that she was “planning” it, whatever that might mean.

Since we are 14 hours later than Seattle, the Superbowl game won’t be broadcasted here until Monday morning at 7:30 am. Wayne has already scoped out a place to watch it at as we don’t have a TV connection yet in the apartment. He found an Irish sports bar that will be playing it that morning. Gotta get the kids off to school fast so we can head to the bar in the morning with Sawyer & Christina to watch it (something sounds wrong here:). Go Wayne! Go Hawks!

Hope all is well with each of you! We think about everyone often and feel very, very far from home. I will email again next week…hopefully by that time we will have ventured a little further out to see the culture & sights that surrounds us and to (finally) eat some Chinese food!

Much love,
Sue

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