Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

Archive for the ‘Jenna’ Category

The Best of China: Top 10 and more

Top 10+ Positive Things about living in China

Now that we have returned from China and are settling back into a routine again, this will probably be our final China blog post, unless Dave experiences something notable to share as he continues his periodic travels to China.  Our time in China (and beyond) was filled with amazing experiences, many undoubtedly will be once in a lifetime events.  This is a family list, but David created it so the order is his.  Each of us would certainly have put different things at the top.

16.  Being able to look people in the eye without straining my neck (David’s).  With the average Chinese man standing just 5’5″ (5 inches shorter than the average American man), it was unusual to have to look up at someone.

15.  Australia and New Zealand.  Being closer made the trip possible.  The experiences of koalas, kangaroos, kookaburras, Tasmanian Devils, the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests, fjords, Sydney, Tasmania, historical sites, and endless breathtaking scenery, nature, and clean air made for 2½ of the most amazing weeks of our lives.  If this were a list of favorite destinations, it could easily be #1.

Holding a koala- what an experience!

Dave’s favorite- Milford Sound in New Zealand

14.  Relaxed mornings.  In the US, I (Dave) nearly always leave home with my family still sleeping.  In China, at 830am I am often the first person in the office.  My workday in China usually starts at home around 5am with overnight email from the US, but the later office start time allows for a cup of coffee and seeing my girls before heading to the office.  Although the days are longer, with the last email or conference call not ending until 10pm or later, my daily China schedule is a far more relaxed way to start the day.

13.  River views.  Although we thought about renting an old lane house in Shanghai, we decided that a more unique (for us) experience would be a high-rise apartment building.  We are glad we did, with views of the Huangpu River and the Shanghai skyline, it is likely the only time in our lives that we will live in such a place.

Our living room view in Shanghai

12.  Personal service.  Low labor costs help, from a personal driver to maid service to living in an apartment that would sell for over $1 million, living in China may be challenging at times, but the reality is that as expats we have lived a much higher lifestyle in Shanghai than we are accustomed to.

11.  Deliveries to your door.  Our favorite service is Sherpa’s- less than $3 to bring a hot takeout meal from the restaurant of your choice in under an hour.  Train tickets, bottled water, and anything else you might need are easily arranged.  Couriers and delivery drivers might be the most common occupation in Shanghai with thousands upon thousands of them, all driving little scooters.

10.  Affordable tailored clothes.  Something that we once viewed as high-end and as likely for us to own as a Ferrari, but now we all have at least a couple of tailored items.  Dave started with tailored shirts in Hong Kong.  The price (about the same as what we pay for good quality off-the-rack in the US) was well worth it for higher quality fabric and a perfect fit that both looks and feels great.

9.  Innumerable historic sites.

Yuyuan Pagoda- 1000 years old but little known outside China

The Yuyuan Pagoda (leaning pagoda) at Tiger Hill in Suzhou; a thousand year old structure that should be as famous as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and perhaps will be one day, as China’s tourist sites become more developed.  Buddhist Temple Architecture, beautiful, ornate places with quiet gardens.  Old city neighborhoods with residents living much the same as they have for 100 years.  There are many, many similar examples throughout the country.

The amazing Terra Cotta Army (Emperor Qin’s tomb), one of Jenna’s favorite places in China

the water village of Xitang- one of many around Shanghai

8.  Separated bicycle lanes.  In Chinese cities, like many countries, there are often barriers and even landscaping to protect bicyclists from cars.  The US could learn a lesson: busy streets for cars, separated paved lanes for bikes, and sidewalks for- you guessed it- walking.

7.  Trains.  We’ve ridden the world’s 2 fastest trains: the Maglev in Shanghai (268mph!) and the high speed line between Shanghai and Beijing.  190mph for 5 hours with just 2 stops was a fantastic and scenic journey.  Just as in Europe and Japan, the speed, comfort, and convenience of traveling by train is definitely something that we wish we could do more of in the U.S.

6.  Walking to the neighborhood grocery store and fruit vendors.  While we can walk to many places such as the coffee shop and hardware store in Noblesville, we wish we had a small grocery store on the square.

5.  Walls.

We saved one of the best for last- the incredible Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is the country’s top tourist destination and for good reason.  It is an astounding engineering achievement and was one of our favorite trips.  But in Xi’an, after visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors that were every bit as impressive as expected, we were surprised by the city wall.  The Xi’an city wall is vastly larger and more impressive than the more famous walled cities of Europe.

The massive city wall in Xi’An- visible in satellite images

4.  History.  It is not uncommon to visit somewhere in China and find buildings and historical references dating back 2 or 3 thousand years.  Even Europe cannot compare where history is usually measured in hundreds of years, not thousands, and the historic sites in the US would be considered practically new.  The girls have visited 18 different UNESCO World Heritage Sites- a third of them during their time in China, all historical.

3.  Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Island and the iconic Star Ferry (taken from another Star Ferry)

Dave has traveled around the world and considers Hong Kong among his favorite cities.  We liked it so much that despite our limited time, we managed a second visit, the only place we visited more than once.  Its legacy as a British colony makes it both more Western and more developed, and the skyline and Victoria Harbour are amazing sights, both day and night.  Views from The Peak are arguably the best city views in the world, making for some of the most expensive real estate on earth.

Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong, from The Peak- is there a better city view anywhere on earth?

2.  Pandas.  Gentle, lovable, and highly endangered creatures that live in just 2 provinces in western China.  The efforts of the Giant Panda Research Center are helping to save this species.  The day that we spent there will provide lifelong memories for all of us.

We could almost reach out and touch this lovable giant at the Giant Panda Research Center in Chengdu, Sichuan

1.  Cultural immersion.  While vacations and business trips provide great ways to see the world, there is no better way to truly understand a culture than to live in it, which is the main reason we (well- mostly Dave) sought this experience.  Apartment hunting, grocery shopping, interacting with a wide variety of average citizens, finding leisure activities, living everyday life, and the time to casually explore Shanghai has given us- especially the girls- a depth of experience not otherwise possible.  There are many other countries and cities that we would have preferred to live as expats, but we will all benefit from our time in this country that is becoming such a huge influence on the world in the 21st century.


Top 12 Things We Will Not Miss About China

As our time in China ends, we naturally have thought about our time here, what we have liked and what we haven’t.  So we started to list some.  We’ll start with the experiences and challenges that we are looking forward to being done with.  In a few days, we’ll end on a positive note, with a post of what we have been fortunate to experience.

10 wasn’t enough so here are:

The Top 12 Things We Will Not Miss About China

12.  Squat toilets.  And having to bring our own tp to public restrooms.

11.  No air-conditioning.  Although most public buildings are heated and cooled, the systems are unreliable and thermostats are set well beyond what we consider comfortable.  The office that Dave works in is often over 80F in the summer, and public places like trains stations can be miserable with so many people compounding the problem.  Getting accustomed to being sticky and hot is part of working in China.  Winter is better but similarly out of our normal comfort zone.  Indoor temperatures in the low 60s are not unusual.

10.  Unreliable and censored Internet service.  It’s not just Facebook and Youtube that are blocked in China.  We had to purchase a private vpn service to allow Carol Ann to reach some of the sites she uses for her job, even the WordPress blog site that you are reading this on is blocked, and Google maps is often inaccessible.  The Chinese government’s internet censorship is a complex and huge bureaucracy, employing thousands of people.  Sharing a one-line vpn was a hassle.

9.  Lack of manners.  It seems contradictory, but rudeness does not exist in China.  Pushing, shoving, shouting, cutting in front on the sidewalk, in line, or the highway- all are not considered rude here.  They are just how people move about and get what they need to.

8.  Language.  We are very conscious that we are visitors here, but the tonal language is extremely difficult to learn and our vocabulary is minimal, even after several months of Mandarin lessons.  The huge variety of complex written characters adds to the difficulty.  Everyday things like telling the hair stylist how long to cut our hair or asking our driver to make a quick stop at Starbucks or the grocery store are excruciatingly difficult.  Some of Shanghai is bilingual- such as road signs- but that disappears quickly in areas less frequented by Westerners.

7.  Noise.  We obviously can’t have the same expectations in a city of 23 million that we do in our home town of 50,000, but there is never a moment of peace.  From jackhammers and quite literally 24/7 construction sounds to fireworks and firecrackers at any hour of day or night to constantly honking horns, we long for a quiet day.  Not even the parks are quiet places of refuge.

6.  Not seeing stars at night.  The combination of city lights, smog, and hazy skies that are common in most Chinese cities prevents seeing stars at night.  We relished the views during our trip to Australia where the lack of population and clean air provided incredible views of thousands of stars.

5.  Chaotic and dangerous roads.  Cars weave and wind on the road, with lane markers being irrelevant and the daily deadly dance with taxis- they actually do seem to speed up and aim for pedestrians- is an experience we will definitely not miss.  The girls and I often played a “game” where we would guess how many points a driver would get if they hit westerners, American, blonde American, or multiples at the same time.

4.  Smoking.  As Carol Ann likes to say, Americans may be killing ourselves with heart disease and diabetes through our poor diets and lack of exercise, but the Chinese are going to collectively die from lung cancer.  There is a pending health epidemic of massive proportions with the hundreds of millions of smokers.  It is everywhere, and no smoking signs are routinely ignored.  When the country’s largest tobacco company is state-owned, making billions of dollars a year in profits, it’s hard to see the situation changing anytime soon.

3.  Food.  Most Chinese food is different but not unappealing- though there are exceptions (chicken feet is the classic example).  With less meat and more vegetables, it is much healthier than western diets.  But the ability to recognize and know what we are eating is something we will relish back in the US.  We also must constantly be careful to avoid any food that may have been washed with contaminated water.  Especially with Jenna’s nut allergy, traveling is a struggle.  When we do find something familiar, it is usually unhealthy fast food.  We yearn for our first backyard cookout of burgers and hot dogs on the grill with a fresh salad and yummy watermelon.

2.  Pollution and sanitation.  From garbage and sewage in the streets to open air meat markets without refrigeration to luxurious 5-star hotels without clean drinking water to some of the worst air pollution in the world to other less mentionables (trust us when we say you don’t want to know), the sights, smells- and the risk of illness- can be overwhelming.

1.  Freedom.  The Chinese people go about their daily lives on the surface and appear to be like any other country.   Yet, the internet is censored.  They do not control their destiny in careers or family-planning.  They do not vote for their leaders.  And, most importantly they have no freedom to worship God in the way that they choose.  There is nothing more precious than freedom.  China is far more open than in the past, but the single party government still has total control of power.  Even with all of our imperfections, we are incredibly blessed to have the fundamental freedoms bestowed upon us as Americans.

Our Australia Trip – Jenna

I liked feeding kangaroos especially when they would hold on to our hand.

I have five favorite things and one least favorite thing to tell you about our Australia trip.  It really was hard to pick just five things.  We did so much and I enjoyed the whole trip.

This little joey was eating from my hand and holding my hand like it was his plate.

My 5 favorite things:

Feeding  kangaroos: Feeding kangaroos is may be something you can only do in Australia.  The kangaroos would just nibble right out of your hand. They were not afraid or anything.  We saw one kangaroo that would not come near anyone. He was very shy.  I almost got him to eat out of my hand though.  It was fun because I had never had one eat out of my hand before.  Sometimes they would even hold onto our hand and nibble.  Later on someone told us that was their way of saying “this is mine.

The shy kangaroo we could not get to eat from our hand.

Holding Tam was so exciting! She was heavier than I thought she would be.

A koala watching the people watching him.

It’s probably the same with koalas, something you probably can only do in Australia.  I like koalas a lot because they are soft and cuddly. Mom, Laura and I held koalas at Kuranda.   I held a soft koala named Tam.  Mom and Laura held a koala named Tilly who did not think I was a big enough “tree”.  We also petted a koala at Symbio.

Symbio: Symbio was a wildlife park near Sydney that we visited.  We got to feed kangaroos, emus, and ponies there.  We also saw koalas that were very active and normally we just see them sleeping.  They also had tigers, emus, kookaburras, meerkats and dingoes. (Mom did a blog on Symbio and TAS conservation park if you would like to know more.)

A little devil with some straw on his nose. He didn’t seem to notice.

TAS Devil Conservation Park: We visited the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park in Tasmania too.  We saw a bird show and fed kangaroos but we mostly saw the devils.  We saw the devils eating, sleeping and fighting.  They are carnivores and they literally eat everything.  I was happy to see the devils because I had researched them and I wanted to see real devils.

The almost vertical railway coming into the station in the valley.

Scenic World: In Scenic world we saw the Three Sisters which is a rock formation.  Four stumps nearby suggest that there once may have been Seven Sisters.  To go down in the valley, we rode a cableway.  To get back up, we rode a train that we were almost vertical.   The rides were a lot of fun!

Coral and fish at the Great Barrier Reef

Least favorite thing:

The Reef: My least favorite thing was the trip to the Great Barrier Reef.  It was a rainy and windy day.  When I tried to snorkel the seawater would get in my mouth.  Laura and Dad were better because they had snorkeled in Florida. I eventually gave up.  Even though it was my least favorite thing about our trip, I would have liked it better if the weather was nicer so I could snorkel easier.

The Three Sisters rock formation.

If someone I knew was going to Australia or if I were going back, I would recommend these things:

  1. The Great Barrier Reef because I really want to try and do it again!  It is a beautiful place and I think most anyone would enjoy seeing the reef and the fish.
  2. The Blue Mountains because it was really pretty and because I could see lots of stars at night.
  3. The Outback because most of Australia to me is The Outback and because we did not have time to go there.

I will probably go back to Australia someday because 1. I want to do more things and 2. I want to do some things again.

Here are a few more of some of my favorite pictures.

An emu munching from my hand.

A Tasmanian Devil having a rather large yawn

Banjo eating eucalyptus.

A kangaroo eating out of my hand.

Petting Banjo while he sat on the tree limb. I think Banjo enjoyed the attention.

Horseback Riding at Wonga Beach

Jenna, Laura and Mom horseback riding on Wonga Beach, Queensland

The sun was setting as we drove back to Cairns at the end of the day. We captured this photo at a lookout along the drive back.

Last Wednesday, we got up lazily and meandered toward Wonga Beach, about 1 ½ hours north of Cairns.  We had signed up for a horseback ride along the beach and through the rainforest.  Laura, Jenna and I all enjoy horsebacking riding, Jenna more than anyone.  We don’t indulge very often because it is an expensive hobby.  But a ride along the beach and through the rainforest was hard to resist. After lunch in Port Douglas, an oceanside town about an hour from Cairns, we headed north to ride horses!  It was a warm afternoon, but with a constant breeze, even dressed in jeans and boots, we were not overly hot. The guides matched us to horses based on our abilities.  Laura rode Sunny, Jenna rode Rej and I rode Duke.  There were nine riders with three guides.  The guides were very patient and helpful.  Most everyone had limited experience riding horses. Duke was a tall horse.  I didn’t realize how tall until I was mounted and looked down at most everyone else.  He was pretty easy to handle, but he loved to munch on most anything green he found and thought he could get to before I pulled his head back up.  He also preferred to follow, not lead.  He would trot if a nearby horse started trotting and would follow whatever path the horse in front of him took.

Jenna and Rej

Jenna rode Rej who took great care of her.  The guides could tell as soon as they got her on that Jenna had ridden before.  When we got to the beach and the guide asked who wanted to trot, hers was the first hand up.  She smiled and giggled the entire way, loving every minute of the ride.  “The horseback ride through the rainforest and along the beach was fun.  When we got to the beach, the guides asked who wanted to trot and I raised my hand very quickly!  We got to trot three different times on the beach.  Then we stopped and the guides took our pictures.  Rej didn’t try to eat anything until we were riding back toward the stables.  After we got back to the stables, one of the owners asked me if I wanted to feed the foal.  I said yes with a big smile and she gave me some bread.  We went over to the paddock and Emma came over.  Her Mom followed Emma.  I held out my hand and she ate some bread.  Her Mom munched some from Laura and I too.  Emma felt very soft.  I would love to go back!”

Laura and Sunny

Laura was on Sunny.  He also enjoyed nibbling along the ride whenever he got the chance.  “Horseback riding was so much fun!  I rode a brown horse named Sunny.  The ride on the beach was beautiful, getting to stare out at the ocean.  I was a little nervous about trotting, but didn’t do too badly at it.  Sunny liked to do whatever the other horses were doing, and when the one in front of her would trot, she would trot also.  And as we rode back through the rainforest, she always seemed to go under the lowest branches, making me duck down.  It was so much fun being able to ride her despite it being a little bumpy.  It was definitely one of my favorites on this trip.”

Emma munches bread from Jenna

The ride itself was great.  We took a short path through the rainforest to get to the beach.  One minute we were in the rainforest and the next we emerged on a wide span of beach and oceanfront.  It was beautiful!  We could walk, trot or canter, whatever we felt up to.  Riding along the beach with the rainforest on the left and ocean on the right was quite memorable.  On the way back, we meandered through the rainforest and across several small streams.

Emma gets a little more attention from Jenna

At the end of our ride, the owner gave Laura and Jenna bread to feed their 5-month old foal.  Emma, as they called her, was a beautiful horse and loved both the bread and the attention.  Her mama, Scooter, was very protective, always by her side, and reaching in for a nibble and some attention herself. We all really enjoyed the afternoon and were very glad we went horseback riding at Wonga Beach!

At sunset, on a beach between Wonga Beach and Port Douglas

My Favorite Things and Challenges – Jenna

Jenna in a futuristic car at the Shanghai Urban Planning museum

We have visited some pretty neat places and enjoyed some very cool experiences in China.  Some you could do on a vacation, but not all.  Living here is not always easy, but I have some great memories.  Some of my favorite things in China include: visiting Xi’an, the pandas in Chengdu, Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, homeschooling, and walking to the grocery stores.  The challenges are: being a pedestrian, moving from a small town to a big city, and speaking a completely different language.

Jenna is amazed at the number of soldiers.

I liked visiting Xi’an.  The Terra Cotta warriors were interesting to see because they had been buried and forgotten for so many years.   They were exciting to see because of how many there were, and how many had been pieced back together.  I’m very glad we got to see them.  My second favorite part about visiting Xi’an was the wall.  It was fun to walk along such a huge wall built a long time ago.

I enjoyed visiting the pandas in Chengdu because they were very cute.  It was so cool to get to see them up close.  We all loved the roly poly babies.  There were babies, teenage ones, and adults.  We saw them eat, sleep, play, and wrestle.   How often can you see so many pandas doing different things, all in one day?  I could definitely go back again.

They were just so cute to watch!

I like how close two of our grocery stores are because it is fun to walk instead of drive there.  The closest one is called “Times Grocery.”  It has a lot of western things and we can get stuff like milk, chips, bread and some of Mom’s baking stuff there.  They are nice to have near because if we forget something at the last minute we can easily go back.  There is another one that’s a little farther to walk to.  It’s bigger and has more stuff.  It’s convenient when we have a longer list, but haven’t gotten our driver for that day.

Chinese New Year in Hong Kong was fun because we got to see a cool lion dance and parade.  Everybody was so excited.  I also liked it because we saw some really big fireworks on Victoria Harbor.  The colors were beautiful.  It felt very exciting to be there.

Laura and Jenna at the Chinese New Year parade in Hong Kong.

Homeschooling is good and bad at the same time.  I like to go to school in my pajamas, we do more field trips, and I don’t have to run a mile.  But I miss my friends.  Sometimes my Mom makes me and my sister work together on a project.  We don’t always agree on stuff.

The challenge of being a pedestrian is something you have to come here to understand it.  It’s difficult because the Chinese drivers are very, very different from American drivers.  They don’t slow down at stop signs, and don’t look out for pedestrians.  You have to keep eyes open at all times when crossing the road.  The drivers don’t seem to follow rules, they just try to not run into each other.  You have to watch out for them because they do not watch out for you.

The hardest challenge is the language barrier.  There are very few similarities between Mandarin and English.  Communicating with Chinese people is hard because they don’t understand much if any English.  We took mandarin lessons.  It’s a really hard language to learn.  We can say a few simple things and know our numbers, but not much else.  We sometimes use hand motions to try to get our point across when we can’t say what we want to.

Jenna at school. I can work in my pajamas with my stuffed friends around.

Moving from a small town to a big city is a bit of change.  It can be difficult since there’s a lot more people, and it’s busier.  But it has good things too. We walk a lot more because places are closer.   Living in an apartment can be interesting and annoying.   You hear just about everything from other apartments around you.  The clubhouse is nice with the pool and it’s fun to be up high.  The city is really beautiful at night with all the lights on.

Living in Shanghai is challenging, yet fun at the same time.  Some things I like and some things I don’t.  I’ll miss some things, but I will LOVE being home.

The 600-Year-Old Wall

Looking along one side of the wall on the top. That's Laura and Mom bicycling away!

The outline of the wall in Xi'an is clearly visible in this satellite image on Google Earth.

Last weekend, our family went to Xi’an.  It is a city southwest of Beijing.  Our flight took about 2 hours from Shanghai.  The taxi driver drove through a large city wall to take us to our hotel, which was in the old part of the city.  The wall was built around the city about 600 years ago.  It still goes the whole way around the old city, but Xi’an is much bigger now.  There is also part of a wall in Xi’an that was for the emperor’s palace, because it was the capital city of China during more dynasties than any other city.  Only part of the wall is left though.  Xi’an is a city of 8 and half million people, so the old brick walls are only around the old city.

One of many sets of steps from the ground to the top of the wall. Laura and Jenna are at the top to the right of the steps.

We went to Xi’an mostly to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.  I wanted to go because I had read about them in my National Geographic Kids almanac.  We also went to a pagoda in a Buddhist temple.  We climbed up, and by the 7th floor my legs were tired!

A guardhouse in the southwest corner of the wall.

The wall around the city is 40 feet tall, 40-46 feet wide at the top, and over 8 miles long.  There were 98 guard houses, 120 meters apart.  They were all very detailed, with curved up sides and columns painted red.  The wall had signs that told you about the bell tower and the drum tower, 2 places we also visited while we were in Xi’an.

We learned that people used to take bricks from the walls to fix their homes.  The government has fixed the wall so people can enjoy it now.

One of 18 gates in the wall, but not all are open for tourists to go onto the wall. This one is on the south side.

There were gates on every side of the wall.  Each gate has several big arches that cars can drive through.  We went up onto the wall by the south gate.  A courtyard had 2 sets of stairs on either side of the tunnel.   When you got out, you could get up to the top of the wall.  Guards dressed like they would have a long time ago were in the tunnel that led to the courtyard.  We found bikes, but they were too big for me.  Mom and Laura got one for each of them.  They rode one way, and Dad and I walked the other way.  There were lots of people walking and biking on the wall.  They even had little electric cars that you could ride around the wall on.

Looking down the side of the wall from the top.

While we were walking on the wall, we saw a huge cloud of smoke.  Dad and I went towards it, because we wondered if the one of the guard houses was on fire.  But it was a building that was on fire, not part of the wall, and we were not in danger.   We got close enough to see the damage, water spraying it, and hear the sirens.  There was a lot of smoke but it blew away.

This was so much fun!!! Dad ran along beside me in case I started to fall.

Mom was sneaky and took Laura's picture biking on the wall. Laura doesn't enjoy having her picture taken.

We went back to the bicycle booth to rest while we waited for Mom and Laura.  We moved a little farther later.  Soon, Mom and Laura came along.  Mom made her seat go all the way down so I could ride.  I had not ridden a bike in a while, so it was really fun.  I rode for about 15 minutes, then let Laura bike back to the booth while I ran along beside her.

When we walked back down the stairs we could see people getting their pictures taken with the guards. Mom took mine with them and then we walked to dinner.

Laura and Jenna in one of the pedestrian gates in the wall.

I had a great time, and would be glad to go back to the wall in Xi’an.

Jenna with two guards dressed in period uniforms. Their demeanor seemed to be in period costume as well because they didn't smile at anyone.

Nature, Technology and History – All in one day

Mom, Laura and I went to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum (SSTM) last week for a few hours.  We started out in an area with animals from all over the world.  We saw displays with pretend animals in their habitat.  There were elephants, giraffes, platypuses, whales, seals moose, polar bears and penguins.  We even saw one animal that had caught its dinner.  Oooh, gross!  The area we were most interested in was the Australia area because we are going there in April!

Laura and Jenna in the "rainforest" at the SSTM

After we saw the animal exhibit, we went to a rainforest.  There were bridges, lots of trees and even a bat cave.  I liked the bat cave, but Mom and Laura did not.  The bats were not real, but Mom and Laura thought they looked creepy.  We saw a room that had a lot of bugs.  Some were giant bugs up high on the wall.  And they moved!  I was happy they were not real bugs.  One room had aquariums on the wall.  On the floor of this room was a stream with lots of small fish eating algae and swimming.  We could walk on it because it was covered with glass.  I enjoyed seeing the fish because it reminded me of the fish we used to have.

I kept my eyes closed the whole time we were in the spider exhibit because I do NOT like spiders.  Spiders are creepy, hairy and weird.

A piano-playing robot. You could sing with him, but none of us wanted to!

We went to a robot exhibit where Laura and I got our pictures drawn by a robot.  The museum person took a digital picture of you and fixed the size in the computer.  Then they would send it to a robot and he drew it with a marker.  It even picked up the crossing in my braids!  It also picked up the nosepiece in Laura’s glasses and it wrote SSTM at the bottom.  Laura says that it gave her a pug nose.  I disagree.  There was also a robot that played the piano when you sang.  I think the coolest one was a robot that, when you mixed up a rubik’s cube, it would pass it back and forth between its hands and look at it.  Then, it would fix it so all the colors were matching again.  It was pretty cool.

All three of us had a blast in the mirror room! Lots of times we could see each other, but could figure out how to get together.

We went into a room of mirrors that was SO fun.  It was like a maze with walls made of mirrors.  The mirrors were sometimes straight and sometimes angled.  You could see yourself from lots of different places.  You would think that a person is up ahead and they are really off to your left.  We were laughing and calling for each other.  We used floaties to see if a “doorway” was a mirror or a doorway.  If you didn’t you might walk right into a mirror and bump your nose.

Laura demonstrates her great strength.

Look at me!

Another area had all sorts of mechanical things in it.  There were some weights, a fifty pound one, a 100 pound one and a 200 pound one.  I tried to lift a fifty pound weight which is what I weigh.  So, I was basically lifting me.  As you can guess I was not able to lift it.  But Laura was able to.  Mom did not try to lift any of them.  I saw one activity where you had to pull yourself up in a chair with a pulley system.  I decided to try it.  I got buckled into a seat and started pulling on a rope.  I pulled and pulled and pulled until I got to the top.  I was several feet off the floor and then slowly started letting myself down.

Laura and Jenna in the Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai

We called our driver and when he came, we got into the mini van and he drove us to the Jade Buddha Temple.  The temple is in Puxi and our driver used one the tunnels to get from Pudong across the river.  The temple is in the old part of Shanghai and there were a lot of old buildings and people.  Mom had trouble finding the ticket office.  While we were looking, we had to weave and wind through the people asking for money.  Usually they would hold out a bowl or a cup and speak in mandarin, but we didn’t understand them.

A courtyard within the temple's walls. The layout with buildings, gardens and courtyards is typical for the Buddhist Temples we have seen.

After Mom got our tickets, we went through a gate with a turnstile.  There was a courtyard and people were burning incense.  We walked through the corridors and looked in the shops and in rooms with kneeling pillows and large Buddha statues.  The statues were different sizes, colors and positions.  The biggest one we saw was a white Jade Buddha carved from one solid piece of Jade.  It was over six feet tall and came from Burma a long time ago.  Mom wanted to take a picture, but you could not take any pictures of it or anything in that room.

One of the buildings within the temple's walls. You can see small bonsai trees in front.

While we were there, we learned that sometimes the Buddha statues are tall and thin and sometimes they are chubby.  The chubby ones are Chinese and the tall thin ones are Indian.  The whole temple has several buildings, a pagoda and several courtyards and long corridors to walk between buildings.  We only saw one monk but a group of monks live there.

Laura and Jenna loved feeding the koi in the pond.

We found a pond with lots and lots of huge koi.  Most were at least one foot long.  The fish were orange, white, black and multi-colored.  We watched them swim around and then Mom spotted a small booth selling fish food.  She bought a bag for each of us.  The ladies there took plastic bags and laid them on the ground so we could kneel beside the pond and sprinkle the fish food.  But the ladies stopped us and showed us how to dip our hands in the water with the food so the fish could nibble out of our hands.  It felt like there were suction cups on our hands.  We loved it!!

This was amazing to see in person, with all the tiny details that were carved into the wood.

The last room we went to at the temple had a huge piece of wood that was carved with a Chinese mountain village.  It was very detailed and took six years to carve.  We bought a picture that was made by a Chinese person that used just their palm, fingers and fingernails to paint it.

Even though the two places we visited were completely different, I enjoyed both.  I learned that Chinese can paint differently than I’m used to.  I also learned about Chinese history and the architecture of the Buddhist temple.

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