24 Hours in Xi’an

Well, I’m way behind in my writing, but I’ve had a lot going on. I’m going to try to catch up with two posts this weekend, so this first one is just my trip to Xi’an last month. It was short-Jess and I took the fast train out Saturday morning and back Sunday night (about 6 hours each way). But I got to see a lot of the things I’d been wanting to. I tried a well-known noodle dish from Xian, biang biang mian, and it was delicious. The noodles are made fresh at the restaurant and huge-like eating lasagna noodles!


Jess showed me all her favorite places around Muslim street-it’s actually a maze of streets with hundreds of little shops and street vendors. Some amazing and unique foods! We sampled way too much…


Sunday morning I got up early to catch the bus to the Terracotta Warrior site before Jess and I caught the train back to Beijing. I’ve been wanting to see these for years and it was well worth waiting for. It was still early when I got there and there weren’t many people around. It was eerie though; thick fog everywhere. I was wandering down all these paths through the park and could hardly see in front of my face! I wasn’t expecting such a huge complex. Each different excavation pit has a building built over it, with a new mausoleum/museum, and gift shops in between. Pit #1 has the most figures excavated and it was pretty incredible to see:


That’s all for now. I have some more news to post tomorrow though!

Happy Birthday China!

October 1st is China’s National Holiday; this year marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. Every year, the entire country gets a week off to celebrate. Which sounds nice, right? But it’s the entire country. At the same time. And for many people it’s the only vacation time they have, so the result is millions of people trying to hit the same hundred or so tourist spots at the same time. It’s insanely crowded and horrifying. Beijing was fairly quiet for the first half of the week because most people leave the city to travel elsewhere. But then they come back…

Anyway, Jess and I stayed home, partly because we wanted to avoid the madness, mostly because we had no money to go anywhere. We managed to explore a bunch of new places though. And the weather was spectacularly clear and blue, just cool enough to be considered fall.

Otherwise, we were pretty much our tea-drinking, scrabble-playing, movie-binging, junk food-eating selves all week. It was kind of fun just being lazy.

Scrabble board
We don’t exactly follow the traditional rules, but we did manage to use all the tiles!

Beware the Eyes

Tianjin and Binhai

I’ve got a lot of things left to cross off my Beijing bucket list before I leave China. I know I’ll be back to travel more at some point but I don’t know when. So I’ve just been trying to do as many new things as possible before I go.

Recently Jess and I tried this new whisky bar near our house. I’ve never actually tried drinking whisky or really straight alcohol at all but it wasn’t bad. Mostly we just enjoyed the atmosphere-it’s super quiet and relaxing. The bartender let us smell a bunch of different bottles and made recommendations for us to try.

Last week, my friend Carol got tickets to an NHL game. I’ve never watched hockey in my life so when she asked me to go I was all “Sure, why not?”. Carol’s Chinese but her new husband is Canadian and now she’s on a mission to learn how to be Canadian 🙂 Neither one of us knew anything about the game but since it was Calgary vs. Boston we decided she’d cheer for Canada and I would cheer for USA (who won, btw!). Mostly we just had fun people watching. The goal of playing in China was to get Chinese audiences interested in the game before the next Olympics come to Beijing, so the organizers made a point of explaining the rules first since a lot of the viewers were new to the game. Every time there was a goal or a penalty they would post an explanation of what was going on up on the screen, which was really helpful to us. All sporting events should do this-I might be able to follow them!

Then this weekend Jess and I took our apple booth money and went to Tianjin. Tianjin is not far from Beijing-only about half and hour by high-speed train. Actually it took longer to get to and from the train stations than to take the actual train. Tianjin is a major city in its own right though; established in the 15th century, it’s the fourth-largest city in China with 13 million people. It just sort of sprawls along the Hai River to the coast, running into the newer city of Binhai. The library we wanted to see is actually in Binhai but we enjoyed exploring both cities. We found this cute park close to our hotel. There’s actually a lake in the middle but you can’t see any water because it’s completely covered with lotuses-thick enough to walk on.

The cities seem distinctly different despite being so close together. A lot of the buildings in Tianjin and Binhai are more European than the traditional Chinese style of Beijing. In some ways they feel more modern. The people, not so much. We get stared at all the time in Beijing and have more or less become accustomed to it, annoying as it is. Beijing has thousands of foreigners though so we’re not really such a strange sight. Tianjin, though, was awful. People would stop and gawk at us constantly, old people, children, one girl, about seven, walked up to our table in the coffee shop and stood about six inches away, just staring. I wanted to leave my backpack in a locker instead of carrying it around the library. The lockers were automated; you scan a code with your WeChat (WeChat is basically the only app in China), pay with your phone, and the locker opens. The app was entirely in Chinese but not that difficult to figure out, just took a few minutes. The whole time we’re standing there trying to use the app, this family gathers around us and starts staring. When the locker finally popped open they all gasp and start oohing and aahing like they were watching some kind of performance. It’s enough to make me want to scream sometimes.

The library was spectacular though. It’s known for the giant atrium with a sculpted sphere in the center, surrounded by stairs lined with books. Well, pictures of books-the atrium wasn’t approved by officials to house actual books. But surrounding the atrium is a five story library that houses 1.2 million books and people can bring them down to read on the steps. There are also several quiet study rooms.


The Tianjin-Binhai Library is well worth the trip just to ogle at the architecture and people-watch.


This Binhai skyscraper in progress looks like a rocket!

The ancient Culture Street in the center of Tianjin was an enjoyable way to spend a couple hours. To be honest, the street food may have been the biggest draw. Tianjin is home to my favorite street food-jingbing, an eggy crepe folded around a crispy wonton with spices and sauce.


After strolling around the culture street, we found the Tianjin Eye, a giant ferris wheel built atop one of the many bridges crisscrossing the river. It towers above everything around it and takes about half an hour to make a rotation. We were up higher than the apartment buildings surrounding us!


After dinner, we came back to take in the sunset views and see the riverfront all lit up at night.

Jess had read up on the nightlife and found that the Astor Hotel had a speakeasy type bar, called O’Hara’s, with drinks and jazz. It’s really tucked away so you have to ask away and the front desk clerk led us to a back hallway and showed us in. Their drinks were great and the atmosphere is cozy. We were too exhausted to stay and wait for the music to start but I want to go back, hopefully next month.

All in all, I’m mad I haven’t made time to go to Tianjin before now! It’s so close and such a nice change to be out of Beijing.

That time we got eaten by a dragon…

So Jess and I combined our birthday celebrations into one really fun weekend (our birthdays are two weeks apart). We kicked it off Friday night with some drinks on the outside patio at Blue Frog, one of our favorite restaurants, got massages, dinner at a tiny Japanese place where they wrap up your vegetables in bacon (really the only way veggies should be eaten) and booked a day trip to LongQingXia.

LongQingXia, or LongQing Gorge, is a couple hours’ bus ride out of the city center. It’s a man-made lake in the valley of the surrounding mountains. Beijing has been really hot, but the mountains were nice and cool; it actually felt like fall. The entrance opens into a little park where we wondered around and took pictures:

The path led us to a waterfall created by the dam above us. To the right, a massive dragon clung to the mountainside. It’s one of the things Longqing is known for-the dragon’s body conceals a series of escalators going up to the lake. It’s a pretty cool sight. To get up to the top of the dam we literally walked into the dragon’s mouth:

From the dock at the top of the stairs we took a boat further down the lake to a large park and wandered around for a while

Jess handed me her camera to get a picture, then happened to look up and notice the spiders above her:

After lunch, the ferry took us back to the main dock, where you can take a cable car up to the top of the mountain.

Once the cable cars brought us back to the top of the dam, we went down the slideway. They had toboggans that go down this zig-zag path to the park entrance area. We rode the flying swings amusement park ride, snacked, took the bus back to Beijing, then decided we’d done enough walking to justify dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. All in all, it was a great birthday weekend!

Holiday Fun!

It has been a hectic, and festive, couple of weeks. I’m just going to tell it in pictures:

Tonight Jess and I went to see On Pointe’s original production of Mary Poppins at the International School of Beijing. It was so much fun. They turned Mary Poppins into a ballet but also had jazz and tap dancing. They used the original movie soundtrack with the leads lip syncing along in place. ISB has students from elementary through high school in one huge campus so there were all different ages. Some of the older students were really great. And all the little ones were adorable. Several kept missing cues and they’d just keep going, twirling and trying to keep up with the others.

Today’s performance of Mary Poppins

My plans with my kids for next week involve making Christmas cards, making Christmas presents, making Christmas cookies, watching Christmas movies, and then having a Christmas party on Friday before taking off on Saturday for Switzerland. Sometimes I do love this job!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just thought I’d share a brief history of Thanksgiving with all my friends and family across the world on this occasion. Disclaimer: I threw this together in 20 minutes before my kids arrived this morning, it was done entirely from memory, any resemblance to people, places, or things, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, yada yada yada, yes there are stereotypes, I have the illustration skills of a second grader, and it was intended for 5 year ESL kids who have the attention spans of a fruit fly with ADHD, so yeah, let’s not take it too seriously. But I was trying to explain briefly what Thanksgiving was and keep their attention:

TheFirstThanksgiving

Then we all made Thanksgiving lunch. Turkey isn’t really available but we roasted chicken and the kids mashed potatoes and made instant stuffing and pumpkin pie. I made some green beans and we ordered some canned cranberries online. The kids had never had them but they loved everything!

After lunch-which the kids inhaled-they were a little dopey. Which worked in my favor actually. We watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and I took them outside to enjoy some crisp fall air. It’s been beautiful the last few days.

My little drama queen, Raina!

Alisha is a ham, always performing, loves the camera

Super active boys-George in the background, and Bentley in the blue jacket. Bentley is such a sweetheart. He knew maybe five words of English when he started this year and he’s younger than the other kids so I wasn’t sure he’d keep up. But he learns amazingly fast, knows all his letters and numbers and asks me questions in English now. He’s so polite too!

Beautiful, but icy cold. Winter is either mild and smoggy, or freezing and clear. The same arctic winds that come down to clear away the smog also cause a major temperature drop. It’s also unbelievably dry. I took my sweater off earlier and it nearly electrocuted me. At night, my sheets actually throws of sparks in the dark room anytime I move. Crazy!

Tonight Jess and I went to a Thanksgiving buffet at EAST hotel. Their food is always amazing: ham, lamb, turkey, all kinds of side dishes, salads, and seafood, fruit, wine, beer, soda included. It’s a popular holiday spot for expats. Two Thanksgiving dinners in one day though-bad idea. I think I’ll go into hibernation now. Work tomorrow sounds awful.

chocolate bread pudding, apple & raisin pie, red velvet cake

cake, walnut pie (like pecans, but pecans aren’t common here), and black forest cake 

Yesterday we talked about gratitude and made a Gratitude Tree. The kids wrote all the things they’re grateful for on leaves-mom, dad, flowers, butterflies, cake, eggs, friends, eyes… Then they glued them to the tree trunk:

I’m way behind on this blog! Later this weekend I’ll catch up and post about our trip to South Korea. For now, here’s a few pictures from our field trip to the aquarium last week:

Then we read the Rainbow Fish and made our own rainbow fish to go with the story, since we’re learning about caring as our character trait, and different habitats in science. They turned out really cute!

Trip Announcement!

I’m excited to announce my Winter 2017/2018 Trip Itineraries! I just booked my last tickets this afternoon: October 27-29-Busan, South Korea; December 16-23- Zurich, Switzerland; December 26-29-Xi’an, China; and finally, February 10-22-Delhi and Agra, India. So stayed tuned for some stories!

Otherwise, it’s been an uneventful week. For science class, we’ve been learning about the 5 senses so I did a taste test experiment Thursday and let kids try different tastes: lemons for sour, coffee and super dark chocolate for bitter, cookies and sugar cubes for sweet, salt water (salty), and spicy beef jerky (spicy).

I also thought I’d share these paintings. The kids were supposed to be drawing elephants from this story their art teacher read them. These were the results; I’m a little concerned about the last one.

Friday night Jess and I held our Second Annual Halloween Movie Binge. Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas, black bean and bacon chili, corn bread, and apple crisp. We even did some pumpkin carving.