Friday, September 7, 2012

The Giant Buddha

OR, in our experience, the giant pain in my backside.  Not that I'm knocking a UNESCO World Heritage Site or anything.  Sure, we had culture.  But not in the way we expected.

We decided early one Saturday morning to take a 3 hour drive to see the largest Buddha in the world.  The whole thing sounded pretty darn cool.  We hooked up the DVD player in the van, got a ton 'o snacks for the kids, and we were off!  It was an easy, non-eventful trip, and after arriving in Leshan and getting lost a few times due to poor signage, we found the scenic park where the Giant Buddha was located.

Spirits were high.  We were out of Chengdu!  We were exposing our kids to the culture of China!  The park didn't seem that crowded!  The kids didn't complain about all the stairs as we hiked up the hill!

And then, as we reached the top, I had a Ralphie moment from "Christmas Story."  Oh fuuuuudddgge.  Only I just stuck to that.  I didn't say THE word, the big one, the queen mother of dirty words.  Trust me, I'm a good mommy and an upstanding church member.  What inspired such a gut-wrenching reaction, you may ask?  THIS:

The long snaking line queued to the edge of the cliff where we'd all hike down to the Great Buddha's toes.  And not just any line, but a line filled with hundreds, nay, thousands, of Chinese people who all wanted a glimpse of the magical golden-haired children.  "Game on" my foot.  It was more like gird up your loins, don your battle gear, and assume defensive stance for battle.  Don't believe me?  Just click on the picture below.  I dare you.
 There was no turning back once we entered that line.  We had people craning, pushing, reaching, straining  for any sort of contact with our little kids.  We were the entertainment, stuck in this "cultural experience" for better or worse.  Luckily Sadie didn't have to use the bathroom until after we had exited the cattle gate, and right before the crowd pressed us down the steep cliff stairs.  It was the perfect opportunity, and I don't say perfect because there was a bathroom, I say perfect because there was finally a little space off to the side where I could let her relieve herself.  As they say, when in China. . .  . .Yes, Sadie peed on the scenic spot of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Shaun captured the whole sordid thing on camera. 

Sophie and Lucas were so concerned that everyone would take pictures of their sister's naked behind that they formed a human curtain around her.  Aren't they sweet?

3 hours after we got in line, we finally reached the base of the Leshan Giant Buddha.  Sophie's face says it all.

We'll chalk this one up to a "China" experience, although I can't say we're ever, EVER going back.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Home Is Where the Heart Is

The Green Ram Temple is the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon.  The beautiful gardens and traditional Chinese music make me feel as if I'm in a movie.  Unreal.  Mystical.  A world away from what I know.
And then I sit back and watch my children wander through this place like it's no big deal, like it's to be expected, like it's their home.  How did this happen?  In all my youthful daydreams I never imagined this far-away land as the place I'd raise a family.  This is what my children know, where they have grown, where they come from.  It truly is their home.  What a stunning realization.  Lucas tells people he's Chinese--he has a Chinese birth certificate after all.  We tease him but he doesn't understand why we are laughing.  Why wouldn't he be Chinese? 


For all of the differences that I experience, the overwhelming feeling that I am the foreigner, the frustrations of people doing things differently than I would do them, I am grateful that my children have a broader perspective.  That they understand and are not frustrated.   That they feel at home in a place like this.  That they are being led down a path that is unique and exciting and will become a part of their future.  


Lucas is the gourd-playing MASTER!  Go Buddy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Qingcheng Mountain

It's nice, no--necessary, to get out of Chengdu every once in a while.  Qingcheng mountain was our first official outing after getting those diplomatic plates slapped on our car.  It was super COLD, which worked to our advantage as we were some of the only people on the trails.  It was a definite bonus to be the tourists, and not the attraction on this excursion.

The entrance to the mountain:

A few scary stories to be told about this man of the mountain, and you'd better believe Shaun took full advantage of the opportunity:

 After climbing what seemed to be thousands of stony stairs, the kids were begging for a break and a snack.  Good thing we found the snack bar.  Seriously, the Chinese think of everything.  How did they know pig face would be exactly what we'd need?  (And the trotters to go please.)

We reached the end of the trail and decided to take the tram up to a mountain-top temple.  Here we are at the tram station:

It was too foggy to see anything on the way up, but the kids are always game for a ride.

 The final destination:  White cloud temple.  It truly was up in the clouds.  We couldn't see more than a few feet in front of us.

This plaque in the forest was our payment for enduring the cold and endless stony steps with 3 less-than-thrilled children.  Of course this wise Chinese saying is going in my bathroom above the toilet.  How could I ignore such wisdom?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Good Luck Everybody Else!

It is pull-out-your-hair frustrating to navigate a car through Chengdu just to run daily errands.  It boils down to no organization or traffic rules.  Well, that plus stupidity.  Cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians, scooters, hoverounds, tuk-tuks (have I missed anything?) all try to get to where they're going without regard for anyone else.  Basically, it's a big game of chicken.  I've gotten pretty good at playing the game in my big fat minivan.  BRING IT Chengdu-ren!  Shaun and I love this video clip because it is just so dang funny and true at the same time.

We cite it almost daily while driving, for example:  "Phone ringing!  I stop now.  Good luck everybody else!" or "Somebody parked in my lane.  I get over your lane now.  Good luck everybody else!"  It takes the edge off, because if we're not laughing we're cursing.  There are many cars here with the adage "good luck" inscribed on the license plates--oh the irony.

Here's a video clip of the traffic taken during an outing in Chengdu.  Luckily we didn't have the kids with us.

I threw that guy in there at the end just for the sheer enjoyment of it.  And no Mom, that was not me crossing the road in front of cars that had a green light, looking through my camera window as I walked.  I would NEVER!  But if I did, "when in China. . . " right?  I'm afraid that after developing certain driving skilz to survive here, I may unknowingly revert back to my Chinese ways in the states and make people very mad.  Can I claim *DWA?  I go NOW!  Good luck everybody else!

* "driving while Asian"

Monday, June 4, 2012

A.S.I.A. Women's Conference 2012

 When I had to leave my dear friends in Taiwan, I consoled myself with the fact that we would see each other soon in Hong Kong for the ASIA Women's Conference.  The conference is sponsored by my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and has been held annually for the past 7 years or so.  Expat women from all over Asia come to meet together and enjoy spiritually uplifting classes and talks. I looked forward to our reunion for months, until one day I received an email asking me to present a class at the conference.  I basically pooped my pants.  There was NO WAY.  I am not comfortable speaking--in public, or even at all sometimes.  But of course, the spirit worked on me slowly until I felt up to the challenge and accepted the assignment.  I also received much-needed support from family and friends to get me through the FEAR!  It ended up being just what I needed to get out of my downward spiral in the land of Mao.  It was a wonderful, enriching experience for me to prepare my remarks.  Isn't that how it always is?  That, plus mad shopping, eating daily at California Pizza Kitchen, late night giggle fests, and a very spiritual trip to the Hong Kong temple with friends made the weekend unforgettable. 

Here we are along the boardwalk at Stanley Market
And a few hours later with our BOO-TAY!!!

We all went for mango smoothies after my presentation.  All my makeup has smeared off and although you can't smell the picture, I am a sweaty mess and need a shower.  It was intense, and I gave thanks in the bathroom stall afterwards that I got through it!!!

I don't know where the wind-blowing-through-my-hair supermodel picture on the ferry went.  I probably deleted it immediately.  You can imagine it in your head.

Here's a link to my talk.  It's a bit long and as I said, was mostly for my benefit, but you are more than welcome to read through it!  And if that inspires you, just look at the others!  It was amazing!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The dreaded meat bins

Sometimes I wonder, if I ever go back to the states and want to get a job, what would I say?  What are my qualifications?  Right after I graduated, we moved to Asia.  I know I have mad jewelry skilz, I escorted Mrs. Cheney through the pearl market in Beijing.  Hmmm, what else?  I can navigate the most hostile traffic snafus in a minivan.  I've picked up enough Chinese to tell people to leave Boo alone, yell at drivers who want to run me down in the crosswalk, and haggle over prices in the market.  I can look the other way when a child is peeing in the produce section of the grocery store and get on with my business.  And, most importantly, I can provide food for my family under the most extenuating of circumstances.  I can't adequately describe what it is to shop in the grocery stores here in Chengdu, so I put together a little visual for your pleasure.  Without further ado I give you the meat bins.    

Now, because youtube is in a frenzy over Veggie Tales copyright laws, you may not be able to view this in the U.S.  Hence, the back-up dropbox option.

I've determined that to navigate the meat bins takes real skilz, and anyone able to make healthy, non life-threatening meals for their family in Chengdu is worth their weight in gold.  So take that future employers.


Chengdu is famous for it's spicy food.  It's named a
 culinary delight by reviewers world wide.  I was super excited to indulge in the tasty sensations of Chengdu after hearing so many raving reviews.  But then we moved here and I couldn't figure out why in the world people would say such things. Unless they were like this guy--the chunky bald dude from Discovery Channel who will eat anything, including bugs, and say they're good.

 After being here for the first 2 weeks and not eating any Chinese food, I was very anxious to get my peppercorn game on, so I made Shaun go out one night and bring home take-out.  This is what he brought home, my first Sichuan food experience:

 I was not impressed.  It was oily, spicy, and oily.  As I recall, although I wasn't super anxious for it to get in my belly, it urgently got out of my belly.

 Next we tried a restaurant.   The menu options made me wonder if we had chosen wisely:

It was not a memorable meal.  I think we left most of it and took off for massagees.

These are some of the other options close by.  No, I have not frequented their establishments.  Anyone know what tiptoe of beef is?  Anyone?  I haven't been particularly interested in finding out.

Is rabbit head "deliciousness?"  Are you impressed to know that I have tried it?  We ate woast wabbit, we ate woast wabbit. . . . .  And here are it's fangs nibbling on Dooby's ear lobe.

The kids were not as interested in eating the rabbit as they were playing with it's carcass.  As far as the deliciousness factor, when it's deep fried with chilis, all I can say is it's crispy, spicy, and tastes like chicken.

Luckily for me, I've discovered some real faves here.  Mapo dofu is one, but it can't be oily with an insane amount of peppercorns.  I've found a few restaurants that make it to my liking, and have always been too busy eating it to take a picture.  Sorry.  Another favorite is dan dan mian--spicy noodles.  Again, I like it way more at some eating establishments then others.  This handmade noodle place is our favorite.  The broth is a kind of spicy curry peanut, with green onions, bits of minced beef and chopped peanuts, and yes, handmade noodles.  YUM!

I've perfected the Chinese slurping method.  What else is a girl to do when all you have is slippery plastic chopsticks and super long noodles?

Ringing in the Year of the Dragon

What do you get when you combine 10 million + people, easily accessible and highly "illegal" fireworks, a disturbingly lacking part of the Chinese brain that deals with safety and survival, and the stroke of midnight on the Eve of Chinese New Year?  Armageddon.  That's what.  Shaun went out to the street corner to try and capture the moment, but our dinky little digital camera does not do the earth-shattering noise any real justice.

On a personal note:  Dad, you would have been in your element.  My family knows what I mean.

The fireworks started around 10 pm on CNY Eve, and escalated until midnight when all pandemonium let loose.  I have to admit, the atmosphere was exciting, but I grew weary as the fireworks continued into the wee hours of the morning, and every night afterwards for the entire week of Chinese New Year.  Just think of the fun!  When some drunkard lets one off at 6 am and it shakes your bedroom walls and makes your children cry, you may or may not curse in your sleepy, highly irritated state.  We were lucky enough to share these sleepless nights with our friends, the Dubois family from Taiwan.  They brightened our home and were a welcome reprieve from the cold dreary weather outside.  The kids had a blast together, and Sadie continually wonders when they are coming back for a sleepover!  Here's Sadie with her bff Julienne.

The kids at the Bamboo Garden park

And a definite highlight on New Years Day, the Panda Reserve.  If you look closely you may be able to see the dark circles under our eyes after the hours of explosions the night before.   We fit right in with the pandas! 

It was a memorable Chinese New Year with friends--our first, and perhaps last, visitors in Chengdu.  One year left in China before we're stateside!  I'll toast to that.  Happy Year of the Dragon!

Friday, June 1, 2012

I 'heart' Phuket

That's pronounced "poo-ket" in case any of you were a bit unsure...

After a few months of winter in Chengdu we took off for a pre-Christmas vacation to the most perfect place I've ever been to.  Beautiful, sunny, yummy, friendly, relaxing, and I'll say beautiful one more time because it really is.  Our vacation was a complete R&R.  We spent all of our time at the resort just relaxing and soakin' up the sun.

Sophie was in creature paradise with the birds, fuzzy caterpillars, tiny frogs, butterflies, geckos, and Jumbo the baby elephant, who was a hit with all the kids.

Of course there was lots of beach time digging in the sand for crabs, playing in the waves, getting stung by tiny jellyfish, finding seashells and going for walks.

 And when we were super sandy, salty and tired and wanted a break, we'd hit the pool

We left the comfort of our resort just once, to go for an elephant trek in the mountainous jungle region of the island.  It was super bumpy and I held onto the kids for dear life as we rocked side to side down some pretty steep trails.  The kids enjoyed it because they got to see the elephant in front of us have an explosive bathroom experience.
It was a wonderful vacation, a much-needed break from China.  Dooby cried as reality hit, driving home from the Chengdu airport.  Sophie made the sign "I 'heart' Phuket" for her wall the hour we returned home from our vacation in Thailand.  Boo asks me every week when we are going back, and Dooby wants to take up permanent residence there.  Why not?  If only we didn't have to worry about such trivial things as a job, school, and paying out the wazoo to live in a hotel, we would totally do it.  In fact, I'm all for it.  After all, I love Phuket too.  It's the happy place I visit in my head as I look out the window at another grey day, or smell the meat bins at the grocery store, or listen to horns honk and people spit as I walk down the street.

To view more pictures from our vacation, click HERE.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Today was a Fairytale. . . . .

The Fairy Godmother, in the form of a 20-something year old Chinese mover, magically appeared just in time to help Shaun dress for the Ball!  Luckily his tuxedo was unearthed from a box, sent to the cleaners with strict orders for a speedy return, and picked up with just a day to spare. Our big Marine Ball event was held mid-November, hosted by the Marines from our Consulate here in Chengdu and they didn't disappoint!

It's always fun to go to a formal with your husband, because you get to dress up pretty, you're not a nervous, sweaty, awkward teenager anymore, and you pretty much know you will score at the end of the night.

I was lucky to order a dress online and have it fit perfectly!  I just needed to cover my "ample" cleavage the low-cut neckline.  A little tailor shop down the street did a great job adding an insert that went well with the dress--a little sequin action for Shaun and I was good to go!


It was a night to remember.  We both had a great time, made possible by yummy food including a Haagen Dazs ice cream bar, and Shaun's skillz on the dance floor.  He didn't hold nothin' back and he wasn't even drunk!  Good clean fun!  Thanks for the lovely evening my Prince. MWAH!