Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

Archive for the ‘Laura’ 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.

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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.

Suzhou, China

Officially, the Yunyan Pagoda, but also called “China’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

Last weekend, we took an overnight trip to Suzhouz, a city north of Shanghai.  The city is known for silk and its gardens.  The gardens of Suzhou are a Unesco World Heritage Site.  After seeing them, we understand why.  Suzhou was about a 30-minute train ride from Shanghai, and once we arrived, we dropped off our bags at the hotel, and set off to see the sights.  Our first stop was the Tiger Hill where the leaning pagoda was.  Known as Yunyan Pagoda, it’s basically China’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.   Tiger Hill has a large garden around the pagoda with rock formations, elaborate gardens, bonsai, gazebos and pavillions.  You aren’t allowed to go up in the pagoda since they don’t think it’s safe enough.

Beautiful brickwork and ornate details 1,000 years later!

Mom:  The pagoda was built about 1,000 years ago on ground that was a mix of rock and sand.  Within a few years, the pagoda began to lean.  In the 1950s, the Chinese pumped concrete under the base to stabilize the pagoda, but are leaving the lean.  It’s actually a very beautiful pagoda with ornate brick and stone designs.  For me, it was interesting to see the deterioration of a building 1,000 years old rather than 100 or 200, which is what I’m used to working with in the U.S.

The canal encircles the garden with old apartment buildings in poor condition.

A canal encircles the garden at Tiger Hill and we took about a 30 min boat ride in a wooden boat made to look like historic pleasure boats in China.  It was a nice way to relax for a few minutes, and see more of Tiger Hill.  Just before we left, we had one of the more intrusive, aggressive people wanting pictures (plural!) with Jenna.  She practically grabbed Jenna and pulled her over to pose for picture after picture.  I asked Jenna before she got started if it was okay and Jenna, as always, said yes.  The lady was quite friendly, outgoing, but borderline rude since she didn’t really give Jenna a chance to refuse!

Twin Pagodas in the background with the building ruins in the foreground.

Jenna was particularly fond of this stone statue, a horse, complete with mounting blocks.

Next, we took a taxi to the Twin Pagodas.  The taxi driver dropped us off and directed us straight and then left.  Unfortunately, her directions were off.  It was straight, but on the other side of the canal and a right turn!  After a bit of walking and finally asking someone, we were able to find it.  It wasn’t as big or significant as we had thought it might be.  It was just two simple pagodas that were built and painted the same way.  The gardens were fairly simple.  What had been an elaborate building in the courtyard adjacent to the pagodas was now in ruins with pieces just lying around.  We don’t know exactly what caused the building’s destruction.  However, we often hear about restoration and reconstruction of China’s cultural relics after they were damaged or destroyed during the “Cultural Revolution.”

The Master of the Nets Garden

David and Jenna pose on a rock formation at the Master of the Nets Garden

Mom:  Our last stop of the day was at the Master of the Nets Garden.  This garden is one of the smallest in Suzhou, but its size does not diminish the beauty there.  Just the names of the different buildings were colorful:  “The Sedan Chair Hall” (yes, there is a sedan chair on display there); “The Beauty Within Reach Tower”;  “The Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio”;  The Moon Comes with Breeze Pavilion” (probably a nice spot for an evening breeze) and, my personal favorite, “The Washing my Ribbon Pavilion over the Water”.  Although we did not find that pavilion, I can imagine that someone once washed ribbons there.  The names are quite descriptive. 

The “Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio”. There are paintings in the studio and pines outside. Some paintings in the studio are of pines.

Meandering through The Masters of the Nets Garden

Most gardens in China, we have found to be quite peaceful, beautiful places, reasonably well maintained and with elaborate landscaping, rock formations and always water.  Tiger Hill was really too crowded to fully enjoy, but Master of the Nets was better.  In any of the gardens we have visited, you are free to take a seat almost anywhere and relax for a few minutes or a few hours.  Gardens here are a peaceful oasis in the chaos of the big cities of China. 

It had been a busy morning, so we decided to head back to the hotel, and relax for a couple hours before dinner.  The rooms were pretty nice.  Jenna and I had a king size bed, so there was no issues about kicking each other!

We had dinner at a restaurant in the hotel.  We thought we’d be doing the Mexican buffet, since an advertisement in the elevator and a menu outside the restaurant door talked about the Mexican Fiesta through May 31st and we were there on May 27th.  But, this is China and advertisements often don’t mean what they say.  What day did it end?  Several days before.  Honestly, that’s rather typical here.  So we had the regular dinner, and though it wasn’t the greatest, it wasn’t too bad.

Land gate and guard house at Pan Men Scenic Area

Jenna and a cannon at the Pan Men gate

We got up leisurely the next morning, packed our stuff, and had breakfast at the hotel.  It was a buffet, and everyone was able to find something tasty.  The day was sunny, and nice, so it was a good day for sightseeing.  The first stop was Pan Men Scenic Area, which used to be an entrance to the city.   Like most Chinese cities, Suzhou was surrounded by a massive wall at one time.  Most of the wall is gone, but a small section remains here.  There was both a land gate and a river gate in the same area.  A river or canal went under it, and you could see an old gate that would drop down if people needed to be kept out.  After we finished up there, we took a taxi to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

Humble Administrator’s Garden

Jenna’s reaction to seeing the incredibly large koi in the pond below.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden is anything but humble.  It is the largest in Suzhou, was built hundreds of years ago, and about half is water, ponds, streams, etc.   Originally this was someone’s home.  There were old buildings, bridges, gazebos and lots of garden scenery.  The place was huge, especially considering the fact that it used to be someone’s home.   There were many rock features that you could climb on, and lots of stone pathways.  The ponds had koi fish, turtles, ducks and lily pads.

The garden is so large it could be hard to find your way back out because you can wander and meander all different ways, up, down, through buildings and around the ponds.  It took us a little while to find the exit, there were so many small paths you could go down, and not all of them were on the map.  But we finally made it out, and back to the pedestrian road.

Bonsai at the Humble Administrator’s Garden. It was interesting to see the wide variety of trees used for bonsai.

Silk Worms at the Suzhou Silk Museum

We tried to walk to the Silk Museum, but couldn’t find it and took a taxi, only to realize we had been going the wrong direction.  The museum was pretty neat, with silk and other artifacts dating back hundreds of years ago.  They even had live silk worms, and if you leaned in close enough, you could hear them crunching on the leaves.   The museum seemed like it was built to be something pretty significant that a lot of people would go to, but because the location isn’t very good, it didn’t look like it had been doing as well as people had hoped.  There was hardly anyone else there.

North Temple Pagoda

We made an unplanned stop at the North Temple Pagoda.  It wasn’t far, and we still had plenty of time left, so we decided to go up in it.  It was a bit of climb to the top, but well worth the view.  You could see all across Suzhouz, and we could even see the Leaning Pagoda sitting on top of Tiger Hill.  At a distance, the lean was pretty obvious.  We took lots of pictures, and then climbed back down.

The last stop of the day was the Arts and Crafts Museum.  It took a few minutes to find, but we finally saw it tucked back on a small street.  We’re finding as we tour in China, that signage is not really that important, unless it’s reminding you to stay off the grass.  Only the biggest, most significant sights have directional signs for you to find places.  The museum had several rooms filled with old paintings, pottery, and sculptures.   We were able to watch a lady carving a sandalwood fan.  She used a thin wire and carved the designs by moving it up and down in the wood.

Laura climbs the pagoda at Pan Men Scenic Area

Laura and Jenna at the Arts and Crafts Museum

After wandering through the museum, we decided to call it a day.  At an unplanned stop in a fan store, Jenna got one of her favorite keepsakes, a flower fan with wavy ribs.  Then, we grabbed a taxi, picked up our luggage from the hotel, and headed to the train station.  It hadn’t been a long trip, but it had been enough to see a bit of what Suzhouz had to offer.  Everyone was tired, and after buying tickets, we hopped on the train, and headed back to Shanghai.  This was mine, Jenna’s and Mom’s first experience with trains in China and overall, it was a pretty good one.  It’s not always easy to find the ticket desk to buy the tickets, but the trains were quite nice.  They had big comfy seats, foot rests and were pretty smooth rides.  We would definitely travel by train again!

Climbing down the pagoda at Pan Men Scenic Area

Favorite Things to do in Australia

The Australia trip was so much fun, and (with some difficulty) I chose my top 5 favorites, as well as my least favorite, and what I’d recommend or like to do if I went back.

Favorites:

Me riding Sunny!

Horseback riding was amazing.  It was so much fun getting to ride along the beach, and through the rainforest. It was such a scenic ride; the day was beautiful, and not too hot.  Sunny was a great horse, and wasn’t hard to ride.

Some of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef

Though the weather the day we went to the reef wasn’t very good, I was still able to enjoy it.  Being in the water, and getting to see all the fish

Me snorkeling around in the water!

and coral was amazing.  You can’t see any sign of land in any direction, and you’re just right out there, in the middle of the ocean.  Despite the conditions, it was still one of my favorite things we did.

The cute little kookaburras!

I loved Symbio.  The animals were adorable, so cute, and so much fun to watch.  I fell in love with kookaburras, and could have stood there for hours.  The koalas were so active, moving around quite a bit, and I think we could have watched them all day.  Getting right up close with the kangaroos was like nothing else, watching them feed out of your hand.  It’s one of the coolest animal parks I’ve been to, and if I’m ever there again, definitely worth going back to.

They look adorable, but they bite!

The Tasmanian Devil park was well worth the stop.   The tasmanian devils are only found in Tasmania, though you can find them in zoos in other places, as they died out in mainland Australia, and were definitely one of the things we wanted to see.  They were adorable, and so much fun to see, though you wouldn’t want to get too close to one!  And we got to hand-feed kangaroos again, which just by itself, would have been worth the stop.

The Skyrail car was huge!

And last of all, Scenic World.  It’s in the middle of the rainforest, and you get to ride right down into the valley.  Going down was fun, because we rode in a cable-car, one of the biggest ones in the world.  And getting to wander around on the trails was nice too.  But my absolute favorite part was the Scenic Railway, the steepest train in the world.   We were lying almost flat, and it’s so steep, you sometimes feel like you’re going to topple forward.  It was awesome!

The train car was like a netted box, so exhilarating to go up!

Least Favorite

I have to say my least favorite was Port Arthur.  It used to be a small settlement, where everyone from citizens, to convicts lived along the shore.  A lot of the buildings were in ruins, though many were still standing. Partly why it wasn’t my favorite was simply because it was history.  I don’t mind history, and it can be interesting at times, it’s just not my favorite.  And the weather contributed quite a bit too.  It was rainy that day, and though we had umbrellas and jackets, we still got a bit wet, as well as cold.  Had it been a sunny day, it would have been much more enjoyable.

Recommend

Horseback-riding is most definitely one of things I recommend.  It’s a great way to see a little bit of the beach, and rainforest while getting to have fun riding too.  It’s great for anyone who has never been on a horse or for the most experienced rider.  On the beach, you just walk your horse, though you’re free to trot and canter too.  The horses are amazing, and it’s well worth the stop.

Yard at the female convict site

The Female Convict site.  Though it wasn’t one of my favorites, I still recommend it.  It’s a great way to learn a little bit about the history of Australia, and see what the convict’s lives were like.  You get a tour of the buildings, and get to see where the female convicts lived and worked.  There’s also a “play”, where you’re involved, and get to see what the life of a convict was.

Koalas were so active that day! A real treat to watch them scamper around!

The animal parks.  I can’t just choose one, because all the ones we went to were amazing.  You get right up close to animals like the koalas, and kangaroos, and get to see all the native ones of Australia.  If you’re into animals, the parks we went to were worth spending a few hours to go to.  They’re so cute, and so much fun to watch in their enclosures.

Feeding the kangaroos! So cool feeling their tongue on my hand!

Australia was amazing, and though I didn’t love every single thing we did, everyone got to do several things they really enjoyed.  Though it can be hard to get to due to the long plane ride, it’s worth spending a couple weeks there with all the different things Australia has to do.

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

Laura’s Ups and Downs of Living in China

These two vans are parked at this corner every day selling fruit. No veggies, just a wide variety of fresh fruit. We buy almost all of our fruit from them. They don't speak English, but seem to understand at least some of the English names for fruit.

Living in China has been an amazing experience, and though there have been challenges, there have been many things I’ve enjoyed.  It’s a little hard to narrow it down to a few, but there’s definitely some that stand out.

The fruit people.  About a block from where we live, there are a few Chinese people that stand on the corner with their vans full of fruit.  It’s incredibly convenient just to run down and grab some fruit, rather than having to run to the grocery story.  They have a ton of fruits to choose from, and always have what we’re looking for.  Lots of the fruit we recognize.  But, there are some things we don’t.  They have some of the largest strawberries we have ever seen and several types of apples including Granny Smith and Red Delicious.  The people are always friendly and even if we aren’t stopping to buy fruit, they smile and say “Nin-Hao”.

The Shanghai World Financial Center is the tallest building in China, at least for now. This view is looking up from its base.

The towers.  The Oriental Pearl and The World Financial Center were incredibly fun to go up in.  The World Financial Center is this huge building that looks like a bottle opener with the opening at the top.  And it has the highest observation deck in the world.  The Oriental Pearl was my favorite though, mainly because of the skywalk that goes all the way around it.  The World Financial Center had one too, but I think the Pearl Tower’s was cooler because it has a glass floor.  When you’re standing on it, you can look straight down to the ground below.  In some places, you can take a picture, and it looks like you’re floating in the air since the supports are spread far enough apart that you don’t see them.  And the overall structure is just amazing, with all the pearls.

Panda Conservatory.  The Chengdu trip was definitely one of my favorite trips because we spent a whole day at the Panda Conservatory, and the pandas were just so cute.  Sometimes they were as close as maybe 8 feet.  Chengdu wasn’t the most fun city to visit, but the pandas were 100% worth it.  Even after spending seven hours there, I wasn’t bored.  My feet were exhausted, but the pandas were still fun to watch.

We never got tired of watching the pandas, even after 7 hours. But our feet were very tired!

The city lifestyle.  A lifestyle in a town of 50,000 people is dramatically different from a lifestyle in a city of 23 million.  Noblesville is small, quiet, and you drive quite a bit.  Since we live downtown, we can walk to several places, but we still drive to most of the places we need to go to.  Not so in Shanghai, or really, any big city.  You walk a lot more instead of using the car to get everywhere.  There are 2 grocery stores, the post office, shopping centers, and restaurants all within walking distance.  Since we moved in a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Funky Chicken restaurant both opened inWe use our car and driver a bit, but not nearly as much as we do in Noblesville.  It’s been kind of fun living the city lifestyle, in a high-rise apartment.  You do realize, however, how noisy people can be in the apartments around you!

From the World Financial Center in the early evening. Jinmao Tower is lit up in the foreground. Oriental Pearl is on the right, lit up. The day was pretty clear, but up this high, the smog obscures the view.

Meeting people from all over the world.  It’s been neat to meet people of many different nationalities.  In church, we could be sitting next to someone from just about anywhere, and we’ve talked to different people that are from all over.  In Girl Scouts, my troop is a mixture of a few nationalities.  Getting to know someone from a half a world away is pretty cool.  And the accents are so varied.

But in just about everything you do, there are always the challenges.  There’s a couple that stand out.

The language barrier.  I have to say this is one of the toughest parts of living here.  It’s so hard to communicate, and can be a bit frustrating.  Mom doesn’t even want to try to take a taxi without Dad because she’s worried about communicating with the taxi driver.  And people don’t always try to understand.  It’s as though they look at you, see you’re probably not going to speak their language, and don’t even bother listening.  Even when we try to speak mandarin, they don’t really try to understand us.  Other times, we meet people who will do their best to get what you’re trying to say.  We often wind up laughing with them because we have no idea what they’re saying, and they have no idea what we are saying.

In some of the busiest areas, Shanghai has elevated pedestrian walkways, like this one. Otherwise, you are looking all around because you never know when, or where, you might meet a motorized vehicle.

Crossing the street.  It doesn’t really seem like it should be a challenge, but here it is.  In China, traffic laws don’t exist or are routinely ignored, and practically everyone is in driver’s ed because so few people had cars 25 years ago.  Drivers never stop or slow down for a pedestrian.  Never.  Basically, the bigger object has the right away.  Cars get out of the way of buses, and pedestrians get out of the way of cars.  The longer you live here, the braver you get, and the more you’ll stand up, and pointedly refuse to wait for them to pass.  What are they going to do, run you over?  They usually just glare at you or look at you as if to say “what’s the problem?  And when you’re crossing the road here, you sometimes wish you had another set of eyes, the way you’re having to look every which way for cars turning from behind, from in front, or at times, the wrong way on a one-way street.

So living here as its challenges, but there’s definitely some upsides, and many things we’ve enjoyed.

A model of the city in the World Financial Center showing a concentrated business area with the towers. The tallest building is the World Financial Center. It's often called the bottle opener building. Jinmao is on its right. The Oriental Pearl is near the river.

The Ancient Warriors

Rows of life-size terra cotta soldiers stretched uninterrupted front to back in this pit. The horizontal divisions were not original and archaeologists have left those as boundaries for their excavations.

Toward the front of the tomb. The timbers enclosed the opening which had a ramp to bring in the soldiers into the tomb. The opening was sealed with the timbers and dirt when the tomb was completed.

Last weekend we went to Xi’an, and it was an absolutely amazing trip.  It’s in northern China, and was about a 2 hour plane ride to get there.   Compared to other cities, it’s not very big, but compared to cities like Indianapolis, it’s huge.  There are about 8 million people there, and it’s where the famous terra cotta warriors are, that were discovered by a group of farmers in the 1970’s.

Horses with charioteers behind them with their arms outstretched. The wood chariots and reigns have rotted away.

There are other emperors’ tombs in Xi’an, the other one we saw being only one of 2 that have been excavated.   It’s not quite as famous as the first, and there are several differences between the two.  We visited the more famous one first.  In the 1970’s, a group of farmers were digging a well, and fell into the tomb.  They looked around, and were stunned to find themselves surrounded by the remains of the terra cotta soldiers.  Archaeologists flocked to the scene, and worked hard to get the tombs open to the public.  Work still continues, though much slower.  The soldiers we saw ranged from being whole, to still being in pieces.

A terra cotta archer, kneeling. The kneeling archers were found almost entirely uncrushed and intact. Since they were lower, the collapsed roof structure did not crush them.

It was amazing to stand in a place where people had stood hundreds of years ago.   Emperor Qin Shihuangdi believed in afterlife, and created huge life-size soldiers, horses, archers, chariots, and anything else he thought he’d need.  It took about 11 years to create the whole thing beginning about 221 B.C., and it’s pretty incredible seeing how much was created.  But the soldiers weren’t found all in one piece.  Shortly after the emperor died, a peasant rebellion started during his son’s reign.  The rebels partly destroyed the tomb by burning the wood supports above.  The warriors, horses, and chariots beneath were crushed when the wood supports and clay roof fell in, but with careful excavation, archaeologists were able to piece some of them back together.

All of them are life-size, and each one different.  No two soldiers have the same face, and were modeled after whomever sculpted them.  Their shoes, hairstyles, and clothing depicted what rank they were, and they were arranged just like they would be in real life.

Reconstructed soldiers not yet back in place in the tomb. The white labels specify their location. Note the different hair styles which relate their rank in the army. Also, the height of the toes of their shoes vary with their rank.

The biggest tomb holds more than 6,000 terra cotta figures, many of which are still buried.  The main reason for that is because oxygen makes the bright colors on them fade away.  The archaeologists are trying to find a way to save the colors before continuing to unearth them.  Even though the emperor in charge of it created such a masterpiece, he was known as a cruel leader.  He unified China, but was cruel to the people.  And many believe the workers who constructed the tombs and terra cotta figures were buried alive, so no one would know the tomb’s location.  They have also found several empty pits that they believe were never filled because the emperor died suddenly, and no one wanted to do the work.

A partially excavated area of the tomb. The timbers for the roof structure rested on the dirt walls (foreground and background). The blackened dirt is from the burning of the roof structure during the peasant uprising. The square tiles on the floor of the tomb are original.

Several of the main tombs have been excavated, but the emperor’s tomb hasn’t been started on, and there are no plans to.  They believe he constructed a river of mercury around it, and that it isn’t safe to excavate.  The most amazing part about his tomb is that it’s a huge hill, all man made.  When you see it, you can begin to understand why thousands of people worked on it and the rest of the tomb.  The astonishing thing is how such a work of art could be lost in time.  No one knew the soldiers existed until about 40 years ago.  For hundreds of years, they remained buried underground, undiscovered.

The soldiers were placed in the same formation they would have been in in life, including an outward facing row on each side.

The round opening in the center is a grave years after the tomb was demolished in the peasant uprising. In front are reconstructed soldiers. In back are the crushed soldiers caused by the collapse of the roof structure when it burned.

At the second tomb we visited. You can see terra cotta animals in the foreground and the terra cotta people in the background. They believe the arms were wood and they wore actual clothing, both of which rotted away over time. The photo is a very small snapshot of the huge number of terra cotta people and animals that were found in the tomb.

The other tomb, called the Hanyang Tomb, was by a less famous emperor Liu Qi of the Han Dynasty.  He became emperor in 156 B.C. The figures in his tombs were much smaller, about 1/10 the size of a person, and because their wood arms and cloth clothes had rotted away, they’re now armless and naked.  The fact that they’re smaller than the others signifies that the emperor was compassionate, not wanting to spend a lot on himself.  Soldiers, animals, and chariots were all discovered, and many are still buried.  They’re protected behind sheets of glass so the humidity can be controlled, and keep the figures from crumbling.  There were fewer figures in than in the other tomb, and the emperor was more practical by taking more animals for food.  The empress also had a tomb, though hers was much smaller because the emperor had a higher position.

We did a tour through a company called Tours by Locals that works with locals to lead tourists around certain cities and areas.  Our guide was incredibly nice, and she spoke Mandarin, and English fluently,so she could translate.  And she was able to tell us more details about both tombs, more than what was on the signs.  It was an amazing day, and definitely worth the trip to Xi’an.

An re-created scene of a pit with the terra cotta soldiers you can have your photo take with to make it look like you're actually in the pit with the soldiers.

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