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Posted by on Oct 17, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Travel, Vietnam | 2 comments

Where in the heck is Victor, ID???

Every time I drive over the pass into Victor I have this sense of coming home. Not just because my son and his family live there; although that certainly helps, but the beauty of the community, the warm and friendly people who live there and the outdoor lifestyle makes me want to keep on returning.

I probably would of never been to Victor if my son hadn’t fallen in love with a beautiful young lady and her daughter from Victor. Once he was hooked, he made the valley his home. I can’t say I blame him, my daughter-in-law and her daughter also charmed me right from the start, and now we have Teagan, our first granddaughter and the wonderful bonus of her big sister Addi.

I can hardly explain the beauty of the area, but I will try.  Victor is home to just over 1200 people. The stunning valley sits at 6207 feet above sea level and averages 216 days of sunshine each year. When you are up high in the surrounding mountains as I was on this last visit you can see just how vast and flat this valley is. A perfect place to play for those of us who enjoy outdoor sports. Plenty of trails for hiking and biking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

On this trip I was invited by my daughter-in-law’s family to go 4 wheeling up in the mountains.  We left from their home and drove the 4 wheelers the 2 miles to the trail head and then we were off.  Up and up we went and the views of the valley and the Tetons got better and better. We went up for well over and hour and the only other 4 wheeler we saw was parked, probably left by some hunters who had hiked in farther from the trail.

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Getting ready to hit the road, and then the trail.

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Looking out over the valley

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We found a temporary shelter built in the woods – can you see it?

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Enjoying the view from up top

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Trying to keep up with the more experienced drivers.

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Yes – you had better clear the road, this grandma is coming through.

Once we got to the top, besides the incredible views I got to learn something new.  Did you know that spiders “fly” their webs to look for greener pastures?  We saw hundreds of flying webs. The spiders floated with their webs through the air looking for a new tree to alight on. It’s called ballooning, or kiting. The spider will climb as high as it can, stand up on raised legs and release several silk threads into the air. They automatically form a triangular shaped parachute which carries the spider away on the winds.

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flying spider web – this photo is from the University of Milwaukee – https://www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/spider_flight.cfm

My son and his family live slightly out of town surrounded by open space. When walking with my granddaughters we saw a moose on his way to the river. That evening I slept with the window open (love the cool air after months of A/C in Vietnam) and I could hear the coyotes yapping. It is such a spooky sound. Not long after I heard a cow mooing and tried not to think about what might be happening out there.

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Another wild animal out on the range.

The moose were really active on this visit.  We saw several, even one eating the red twig dogwood in a parking lot. I always see at least one, but ending up seeing 4 or 5 on this visit, as well as a herd of elk and some deer. I haven’t seen a bear there yet, although my daughter in law saw one outside their home.  I think any time of year is a good time to visit Victor – in the summer they have a Saturday Farmers Market, and Music on Main on Thursday evening.  In the winter they take advantage of the cold weather to have an ice sculpture exhibit and contest. With the ski resorts nearby, hiking, fishing, golfing and many wonderful restaurants in town, we are never lacking for something to do.

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There are many cabins to rent through AirBNB and Homeaway and is a much more affordable option than Jackson. Driggs is only 8 miles away and a slightly bigger with a large grocery store, although the Victor Market has almost everything you could want, and many more options you don’t need but they look so darn good. Victor is also under 30 miles from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and closer to Targhe Ski Resort.  Yellowstone is a day trip, a week is never long enough to do everything I want to do.

To get to Victor from Seattle there are several options.  Drive – depending on your stops you can do this in one long day, driving on I-90 or heading to Walla Walla and onto Boise.  For those of us who don’t want to drive that far there is also the option to fly into Jackson and drive the 30 miles west over the pass; fly into Idaho Falls and drive one hour east; but the way that I have found the cheapest and best use of my time is the direct flight from Seattle to Boise and renting a car for the 5 hour drive northeast.

This Expat has made good use of her time back in the USA. We are now counting down the days until we head back to Vietnam. Trying hard not to think of leaving our family and friends once again, but looking forward to getting back to work.

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Posted by on Sep 7, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Travel, Vietnam | 0 comments

Back in the USA – Family, Friends and Fresh Starts


It is so, so good to be back home for a visit. My first week was a whirl of parties and reunions but now I am up in Port Townsend for a visit with my parents at their timeshare.

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Sammamish Nights

I love Puget Sound. Every summer growing up we would climb aboard my grandfather’s boat, a remodeled Navy Gig. During WW2 boats like the one my grandfather ended up were used to ferry naval officers from the shore to the boats. My grandfather was one of those guys that could fix anything. He replaced the engine with a diesel engine, made the interior into a narrow but working galley complete with a wood stove, added two bedrooms, one of which doubled for a bathroom. We would spend a week or so digging clams, picking oysters up off the beach and slowly chugging our way from Hoods Head to Mats Mats Bay. We had our favorite swimming holes where the incoming tide would race over the warm sand pushing up the water temperatures enough to make it bearable. If we were really lucky we would be with him at the end of their trip and come back through the locks, heading through Lake Union and then onto Lake Washington.

It is sooo quiet where we are staying.  At night I can sleep with the window open and all I hear is the rain falling and/or the wind blowing. Much different than the roosters, barking dogs and honking horns that I am used to now.

Being in the Northwest means lots of hikes and walks and I am certainly getting all my steps in. My Aunt, my Mom and me, walked down to the beach and back up the steep grade to the condo. The next day we walked to Port Townsend – a five mile hike through Old Fort Townsend State Park and along the Larry Scott Trail into town. My 81 year old mom kicked my butt on the walk, although she occasionally got a little confused on which way to go.

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Trying to remember where the trail is.

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My appreciation for the beauty of the Northwest continues to grow when I am away.  I am working my way through all of the parks in Sammamish and spending much quality time with my family and friends.

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My sister and I visiting her son at his work.

Fresh starts mean that we get to celebrate the soon-to-be newest member of our family. Grandson #1 is on his way.

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Celebrating our soon to be grandson.

I got a good laugh with one of my nephews told his dad, “it isn’t illegal to wear socks with sandals. I did and I didn’t get arrested.” I have learned to ignore my adult children when they make fun of my sock clad feet. I feel perfectly happy and my toes are warm.

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#sockswithsandals

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Posted by on Apr 3, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Travel, Vietnam | 2 comments

Why You Should Visit Vietnam Now

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One of my favorite photo’s from 2006.

 

When I first traveled to Vietnam in 2006, I was overwhelmed by the differences between my life and life for the people who live here. There were so many vast differences in every part of our lives. Fast forward 9 years and so much has changed.  Vietnam is still beautiful, the people who live here are still wonderful to meet and talk to, but every day change is happening.

Just on our street in the 8 months we have lived here, 2 new houses have been built and 2 restaurants have opened. There is construction all over town, and bicycles and motor bikes are quickly being replaced by cars.

When we first traveled from Hanoi to Hai Phong it was a slow moving 2 lane road; now it is a faster (although still slow) moving 4 lane road, with a new super highway soon to open.  Hanoi is becoming more cosmopolitan, although it still hasn’t caught up with Saigon.  You have to go farther and farther from the main stream areas to find the rural lifestyle.

There are many good things that have happened because of Vietnam’s growth.  Kids stay longer in school, and more go to college. The number of students enrolled in college has risen from 10% in 2000, to 25% in 2014.  As I wrote in an early post – many Vietnamese students study both high school and college in the USA. Communication is much better – everyone has a cell phone, and most are on Facebook. Some of those who reach out to me have 1000’s of FB BFF’s.

I see fewer women wearing the national dress Ao Dai.  And even fewer beautiful old ladies sitting and watching life move by. I will never forget leaving the Harbour View Hotel on morning in Hai Phong and seeing the group of ladies in their black tunic and pants, which happened to match their black teeth. Black teeth in Vietnam used to signify wealth and sexual maturity.  I don’t see that anymore.

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I wish I can share our experiences with everyone, I try to share with family and friends through my writing, but I can’t share the experience. Unless it just happens to be the right time for you to travel here and learn about this culture and beautiful place with us.

There are two options; travel with my dear friend Mr. Son Michael Pham and Kids Without Borders in October/November, or travel with me and other wonderful ladies in January/February of 2016.  I have already heard of one man that wants to crash that trip – it could turn into a couples trip – it just depends on who is interested and has the time.  Or I could do both.  I take every opportunity I can to explore.

More details on both trips are on our travel page. If you are at all interested, even if it is only a dream right now – let me know and I will keep you in the loop.

Come see Vietnam while it still has the mystery and beauty of a developing country. Reimagine your life :). It would be my honor to guide you through Vietnam.

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A couple kids from an orphanage visit.

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A beautiful young lady from Sapa

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Buying quilts at the market

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Our good friend with his ever busy children.

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handing out candy in 2006.

 

Young Monks visiting one of the temples in Angkor Thom

Young Monks visiting one of the temples in Angkor Thom

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Posted by on Mar 6, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Travel, Vietnam | 0 comments

Cat Ba Island

Some days everything turns out better than expected. When one of those rare days happens it seems like all is right in the world and it makes me extremely thankful for the opportunity we have to experience life in Vietnam.

Ever since moving to Hai Phong we have talked about visiting Cat Ba Island.  The reviews I have heard were mixed, not much to do, not much to see, lovely place, so much fun.  We really weren’t sure what to expect, so we went without expectations and decided to enjoy and explore no matter what. It helped that we had some wonderful friends to accompany us.

Cat Ba Island is off the coast of Hai Phong.  We decided to take the Hydro-foil from Ben Binh ferry station at 4 Le Thanh Thong. The boat goes down the river to the coast of the South China Sea. The water was quite rough for about 15 minutes once we were out into the open water.

We had help from a friend who we met doing what she does – helping tourists.  She bought our tickets and at our request hooked us up with a guide and motor bike rentals on Cat Ba.  We opted to do this ahead of time knowing we would pay more, but also knowing we would get a good guide and reliable bikes.  You can rent bikes on the island from $5 and up.  We paid $15 each for two bikes and didn’t have to pay for gas.  Our guide asked for $20 for the day and we didn’t even try to bargain with him.   If money is tight I am sure you can get a much better deal but for us that seemed well worth our time.  The hydrofoil each way was 150,000 VND per person, each way.  Our friend probably got a kick back so you could get it cheaper, or it could cost more.  Several people rushed out to offer us tickets as we got out of the taxi so I am sure the price fluctuates.

The windows on the hydrofoil were very dirty so there wasn’t a view on the 45 minute ride.  We got off the boat to see a young lady standing there with our name on a piece of paper and were escorted to our bikes and guide.  With a few minutes of instructions we put on our helmets and off we went.

On the hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island

On the hydrofoil

Our rental bikes - super easy to ride - we didn't even have to worry about shifting gears.

Our rental bikes – super easy to ride – we didn’t even have to worry about shifting gears.

From the moment we arrived we were taken with Cat Ba.  We were there in the off season so there were no crowds. The Tet New Year was over but not everyone was back at work so several shops and hotels were still closed.  Our first stop was Beach 1 (Cat Co 1)- probably the largest of the beaches, from there we went to Beach 2 (yes that is the names).  Beach 2 was a part of the Cat Ba Sunrise Resort,. Even with the cool weather (low 70’s) there were people out sunbathing.  The resort is built into the rock walls that come almost right down to the water.  There is a nice size beach where we hammed it up a little.

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Beach 2 (Cat Co 2) at Cat Ba Sunrise Resort

Things kept getting better.  Our guide San, took us to all the touristy spots and we loved them.  Often we were the only ones there.  Our next stop was the Cannon Fort.  We drove back through town and up wound our way up and up to one of the highest points of the island.  The fort was built for the war with the French and consisted of many tunnels, cannons and a museum.  We paid 70,000 VND (about $3.25 US) each to enter the park. The views were spectacular and it was an easy walk through a jungle like trail to go from spot to spot.

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Our guide San, pointing out one of the plants in the park

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Looking into one of the man made bunkers

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one shot of the incredible view

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one of the cannons at Cannon Fort

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some of the incredible flora from the park

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the trail

 

We also visited the floating village, the hospital cave and several spots in Cat Ba city. We had the best seafood hot pot I have ever had at a place that was trashed by tripadvisor reviews. We visited our guides uncle’s hotel which is right across from the pier – great view, but a bit noisy.  We laughed, took about 1000 photographs and had the best day ever.   At the end of the day we spent a total of $3,040,000 or about $75 per couple.  This included food, boat, bikes and entry fees.  On top of that we gave our guide a $10 tip.

Next time we go to Cat Ba (and there will soon be a next time) we will spend time at the national forest on the island and tour the entire island on motorbikes.  We will take a trip to Monkey Island and kayak through caves.

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Floating Village

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baby goats

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photo from inside the hospital cave

It was a perfect day.

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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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