Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

Archive for the ‘Mom’ 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.

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

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

We’re Off to Australia

I suppose it seems like our posts are “feast or famine”.  My apologies for the irregularity.  Life here is no less hectic or crazy than it is in the U.S., just in different ways.  Hope you enjoy the posts we’ve added this week.  Feel free to comment or ask questions.

We leave for Australia tomorrow, Friday April 13th.  I suppose if you are superstitious, that wouldn’t be the best day to leave.  We will be gone about 2 1/2 weeks traveling to Cairns, Sydney and Tasmania.  It will be a busy, exciting, hectic and amazing adventure and we are very excited to go.

Our goal is to add short blogs while are traveling so you can “travel” with us.  Keep your eye out for the Great Barrier Reef, rainforest in Queensland, horseback riding on the beach, the Sydney Opera House, Blue Mountains, lighthouses and more.

We appreciate your prayers for safe, enjoyable travels as we see more of the amazing world God created.

G’d-day mate!

South Bund Fabric Market

Sign at the fabric market. The official name is pretty lengthy!

It wasn’t long after we settled in Shanghai that we heard about a place called the South Bund Fabric Market.  The Bund is an area of Shanghai, near the river on the Puxi side.  The name implied that it was a “fabric market” with tons of fabric, which sounded like fun for me since I enjoy sewing so much.  Then we heard that it was a good place to find a tailor and have something made for you.  That sounded pretty interesting as well.  We really were not sure what to expect and were pleasantly surprised by what we found and our experiences there.

The fabric market is located in a large, brick, 3-story building in old Shanghai.   The streets are narrow and it’s pretty crowded.  On our first visit, we arrived mid-afternoon and the sidewalk sellers were out selling everything you can imagine from food to clothes to CDs/DVDs and jewelry.  Walking into the market we are almost immediately set-upon by a saleslady pushing ties, scarves, belts and silk pajamas.  Booths like hers are scattered throughout the market.  One booth in the market has children’s clothes and as soon as they see Jenna, we are immediately bombarded with “Need children’s clothes?”  “We have children’s clothes!”  “Cheap prices for children’s clothes.”  The personalities of the sales people are as varied as the booths themselves.  Some are laid back, but most are pushy to varying degrees.  One lady near the middle of the market will literally drape the scarf on you, trying to convince you to purchase it.  I’ve watched customers push it off and leave it draped on a sign just to get away.

Laura and Jenna in sundresses from the fabric market.

As you walk through the market, you find that it’s a smorgasbord of small shops with different specialties.  Some focus on tailoring men’s and women’s suits and shirts.  Some are cotton fabrics with casual designs.  Others have silky fabrics with the traditional Chinese neckline.  We also saw shops specializing in outerwear.  Home dec tailoring exists, but those are very limited.

On our first visit, the girls and I browsed through all three floors before stopping to see what anyone had.  In the first shop we looked at, we found fabric Jenna liked, but as with many shops, you can often bargain your way to a better price.  I’m not the best at haggling, but I usually try.  This particular seller seemed to want me to agree to his price rather than he agree to mine.  When he countered my offer barely above what I offered, I decided I’d rather not haggle with him anymore.  After more browsing, we stopped at a shop filled with silky, oriental fabrics.  They had a beautiful sample dress with a traditional neckline and pleated detail on the skirt.  Jenna loved the style and quickly found a pink fabric she liked.  So, we began our first purchase.  We agreed on a price, they measured her and we paid the deposit.

Our last two stops of the day were booths that specialized in winter coats.  Laura probably won’t be growing too much more, so it seemed a good time to invest in a nice, dressy winter coat.  The first shop had one she liked a lot, but was a little more than I wanted to pay.  The second shop had one she liked and the saleslady met my price, so again we paid a deposit and had Laura measured.

On both our sales, the items were to be ready in one week.  One week here is anywhere from 5 to 8 days, approximately.  We went back in 8 days, first thing that morning.  Jenna’s dress was still at the tailor who was bringing it over.  We assume Laura’s coat was as well since it wasn’t ready when we arrived.  We had expected to pick our items up pretty quickly, perhaps order another item or two and be ready to leave in an hour or so.  But, no.  Chinese time works about like days.  If they say 10 minutes, it will probably be 20.  Five minutes means soon.  We were browsing the fabric market for at least half an hour before everything arrived.

Jenna's "Chinese dress" has a traditional neckline with a more modern skirt. It's her new favorite dress as you can see from her big smile.

As with most places in China, English is spoken in a wide range of levels from not at all to almost fluent.  In the shop where we bought Jenna’s dress, the owner was not fluent, but he understood me well and was able to communicate with me so I understood.  The shop we bough Laura’s coat in had one lady who could communicate very well, but the owner did not speak much at all.

We also learned a new phrase, “morning price.”  The Chinese like to start their days with good sales.  They feel it brings them good luck for the afternoon.  So, to get customers to buy in the morning, they have “morning price” and they literally say, “I give you morning price.”  Visiting in the morning works just fine if you aren’t picking up the same day your items are supposed to be ready.

On our second visit, I ordered a Chinese dress, traditional neckline with an A-line skirt in the same shop Jenna got hers.  The workmanship on her dress was very good and it fit her well with a little room for growing, just as I had asked.  My policy in the fabric market is to order just one item the first time.  Everything we have read about the fabric market says there are very good tailors with good prices, some poor tailors with cheap prices and some that are simply not honest.  I’d rather try one item and see how well they do and then order more if I’m pleased.  Both our dresses turned out beautifully.  Now, if I can only convince Laura to get one!

We tried another shop that specialized in cotton fabrics for a summer dress for Laura.  It’s a sundress with pleated skirt.  The benefit of shopping at the fabric market for Laura is that we can find a style she likes with a long enough skirt.  That’s not an easy thing to do in department stores anywhere, including home.  We also tried another shop that specializes in knit fabrics.  I enjoy sewing, but knit fabrics have never been my favorite to sew with.  They have both cotton and silk knits.  I found a dress and fabric I liked.  Their sample had longer sleeves, but I preferred shorter ones, which they were happy to do.

Laura models her new denim shorts and linen shirt.

Since our first two visits, we have returned several times.  We found a very nice linen shop where we have had shirts made.  The zipper in the side seam is done so well, Laura didn’t even see it and thought the shirt was too tight because she had trouble getting it on.  I liked that style, but preferred it with sleeves.  Not a problem!

We asked about “capris” at one shop.  One saleslady was very confused about what I was asking for.  When I demonstrated the length, the second saleslady understood and then said “middle length”.  Yes, I replied “middle length.”

All three of us have had shorts duplicated from a pair we owned and liked.  One particular tailor was able to take our example and make a duplicate pair matching the style in the fabric we chose.  We have been very pleased with the items we’ve bought there.  The quality is good and they fit very well.  Not always an easy thing with pants and shorts.

We’ve found the prices to be comparable to ready-made in the U.S.  Jenna’s, surprisingly, run a little more than I would generally pay there, but most of the time, I am shopping end-of-season clearance sales for her.  A long, full linen skirt for me was about $40.  My Chinese-style dress was $70.  Laura’s denim shorts were $30 and her green linen top was $15.  For the quality, the linen shop has the best deals we have found.  I did purchase a gorgeous Christmas tree skirt for $60.  It’s more than I would pay for one in the U.S., but the size and quality are much, much better.

Posing in a "ballet position", Jenna models her dress.

The benefits of visiting the tailor are many.  We can get Laura’s dresses or skirts with a little more length.  If you don’t like the sleeve style, they are happy to change it.  The fabrics are many, in all different patterns and colors and content.  The finished item should fit you very well.  Our experience with fit has been pretty good.  Only one item so far have we asked them to adjust and they did so happily.

There are risks.  The tailor may not sew well.  They may not meet the promised deadline.  You might not communicate well and wind up with something that wasn’t exactly what you wanted.   That happened with a dress for Jenna.  We didn’t communicate which style, apparently.  But, Jenna liked it anyway and was happy.

Ready-made Christmas Tree Skirt from the fabric market.

As much as I enjoy sewing, my work schedule and the girls’ schedules keep me busy both here and in Noblesville.  It has been fun, enjoyable and beneficial to have things made at the fabric market.  We are here longer than we had anticipated and needed warm weather clothes and the Chinese are not proportioned like we are, so store-bought clothes don’t always work.  The fabric market is one thing we will definitely miss when we return.

Churches in China

A pair of ducks by the pond in our apartment complex. They are fun to watch.

We’ve been asked about churches here in China and what ours is like.  China is not known for being open to religion, although things are changing.  Shortly after we moved here, a speaker at our church talked about going to purchase a new Bible when he was on leave in the U.S.  When he opened the Bible, he saw it had been “made in China”.  Although churches are allowed in China and they manufacture Bibles here, there is still a lot of government control on religion in China.  I can’t say that we are experts on the topic, but here are a few things we do know.

The Chinese government allows churches in China, ones Chinese nationals may attend and others that foreign passport holders may attend.  Ours is an International Christian Church and there are Catholic churches and other denominations in China that foreign nationals may attend.  There are also informal, “home” churches with lay ministers that meet in apartment buildings or homes.  We know that Christianity is spreading in China since our mandarin teacher is a Christian.

Jenna, Laura and David in the maze at our apartment complex.

In the U.S., Sundays are not just another day of the week.  Although not everyone attends church regularly, culturally, Sundays are different.  However, in China, Sundays are just another day of the week.  Laura’s orthodontist has appointments just like it was any other day.  The two construction sites we can see from our apartment continue every Sunday.  The workers who sweep the sidewalks and keep trash off the streets, are out there every Sunday morning as are the families we buy fruit from.

The lake in Century Park. Century Park is Shanghai's newest and largest park. It has winding paths, lots of green space and even grass you can walk, sit and play on. There are bikes and boats to rent. We enjoyed a warm afternoon there recently and are looking forward to going back.

In the U.S., when a holiday, falls on a Wednesday, the day-off for the holiday will often be moved to Monday or Friday so employees can enjoy a three-day weekend.  In China, since Sunday is just another day, they move the weekend.  Employees will work Saturday and Sunday on the preceding weekend and have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off.

The church we attend is called Grace Extended or Abundant Grace, depending on which service you attend.  We take a taxi to and from church, which sometimes requires additional prayers to make sure we get there safely.  We usually attend the Saturday evening service and a pastor and lay ministers share the sermon responsibilities.  The music is much like our church in Noblesville, contemporary, upbeat music with a variety of musical instruments.  Communion is served once a month rather than weekly.  We have “alter calls” to commit your life to Christ, although one associate minister has talked about baptizing on mission trips he has been on.  One associate minister is from South Africa and came here several years ago to serve at this church.  The elders of the church come from a variety of backgrounds and countries.  It really is amazing to see the strength and stability of a church that is always changing.  Our Noblesville church often talks about being the “hands and feet of Jesus”.  Here, in China, those hands and feet change often, and God uses whoever is here at any one time.

Since churches are divided into those for Chinese Nationals and those for foreign nationals, for a month or two after we found a church, I carried our passports with us to each service.  Announcements about the Christmas service always stated open to “foreign passport holders only”.  However, no one has ever checked to make sure we have a foreign passport and I’ve never seen anyone else checked either.  It’s probably another Chinese law that is loosely and inconsistently enforced.

Riding a 4-wheel bike in Century Park. We tried a 3-person tandem bike first, but we had a little trouble going straight and not running into pedestrians in the park. Since we were not sure what "Watch Out" translated to in Mandarin, we traded it in for this 4-wheeled bike.

Our church is very mission-minded sponsoring mission trips to various places in China and around Asia.  Many mission efforts in China are support the poverty-stricken areas here.  Around Christmas, they collected towels for women who had just recently gotten access to clean water for regular bathing.  They support churches in poor villages by providing care packages and Bibles.  One village they support has mostly old people caring for children because young adults have left the village to find work in the bigger cities.  In these areas, people may live in caves or homes without running water and electricity.

Shaped shrub statuary in Century Park.

We have not gotten as involved here as we are with our church in Noblesville because of our short time here.  Committing to a committee or other group was difficult knowing we’d barely get settled and involved before we left.  But it has been a great experience being here with this group of believers who share the same faith we do, half a world away.

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