Monday, March 17, 2008

The beginning....

This is the start of a really great adventure!!

As empty nesters, we are starting to take advantage of the opportunities to go and see the world. Our first out of the country ASIA!! Can you believe it?! We are so excited!!

We will be posting our pictures and journaling our activities here, so you can keep up with us. We hope that you enjoy the ride, right alongside us, and expand your horizons too!!

grace and peace,

PS- In order to allow this to be in proper order (not "newest post first" like a blog would normally be) I have manipulated the dates for them to read in proper order. Forgive me please. I think that we were tired of having to read them backward!! This should be MUCH better!! :) Marina

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Our first challenge....

After chatting with our daughter last night, and another email from her this morning, we are challenged to reduce our luggage by one checked bag (we have 3) and one carry on (also 3 right now). It seems that although we were way below the US standards of 2 checked bags of up to 70 pounds EACH, the requirements there are much stricter, and they only allow for one checked bag each, and only one carry on each, and not to exceed about 40 lbs.

So, again, we will unpack, repack, and see what we can come up with.

Mark thinks that he'd rather just pay for the additional weight/bags, but the kids seem unsure if they would even allow for this will take some discernment on our part!

OH, and we woke up to about 3 inches of snow on the ground here....SURPRISE!! It wasn't even in the forecast!! OH's one way to make sure that I stay inside today to get this stuff packed up! sigh....

Saturday, March 15, 2008

trip journal #1

Trip journal 1 2/20/2008

I was tempted to write this out on paper, but as we don’t have a chance to use the internet on the laptop anyways, thought I’d blow the battery on the plane and type it out….so much easier to cut and paste it into the blog later!

The morning started off interesting, to say the least….I woke up after 3 hours of sleep or so, and went ahead and got ready to go…Mark was up shortly after me (I have this habit of waking him up…heehee) so we went ahead and got ready to go, even though we were an hour early. I did a quick check of emails before heading out, and had a nice little note in our inbox from the airline that things were all scheduled on time for the journey.

We had a non-eventful trip to the airport….I was grateful that we flew out of XNA, only an hour away (or so) in NorthWest Arkansas. It was warmer than I thought (we’re due another set of ice storm days on Thursday and Friday…safely after we are gone.). The airport was hustling with people and we were happy to get the trip really going.

When it was our turn to check in at the counter, the attendant suggested that Mark go ahead and scan his passport at the kiosk (right in front of her desk at the counter). I guess they think that it will genuinely go faster for us that way….but SURPRISE!! What WE got was an immediate notice that one of our flights was CANCELLED. Really. It was the flight from Tokyo to G, it suddenly went from a FULL flight to not having a crew to fly the plane….and in a totally foreign land to us…and we didn’t even plan by bringing along an English/Japanese dictionary!

Of course she hmmmm’d and haaaa’d, looked at her screen, talked to one of the other attendants, tried to come up with a plan. She mentioned us not flying out till later in the afternoon on American, or another airline, that would take us through California, and I secretly wondered “hmmmm, could it lay over there….or in Hawaii??” Then she used her better judgment and made a call to their call center, where someone found that the leg of the flight we needed to take was almost identical to one being flown by All Nippon Airline (now, have YOU heard of that….because we sure haven’t!). Of course, we graciously took the ticket vouchers (without a seat assignment) and headed down through security, realizing our day was starting off in the right direction, although just a little more adventure on the calendar. 

We were able to call J and let her have a head’s up that there was change in the air, even if we don’t know if it’s a bad one or not. We’ll ultimately have the last night to catch up if there is a delay, as our last flight in the country will not leave until Friday morning….giving us plenty of time to get there….we think. ;)

We had an uneventful, but cramped flight to Minneapolis/St Paul, and had a couple hours there to eat, try to get on line, then call our other daughter Melissa and have her do the leg work for us. The airline is a partner with one of the larger carriers….United….and she was able to get some information from their web site. We think it will be a larger plane, since it takes off 20 minutes sooner, and arrives earlier still than our original itinerary. If luggage can make the change, we should be able to also. Only time will tell.

The flight now is going fine…smooth…pretty full for a 747….and people are upbeat at this point, which is nice. We’ve had our “dinner”….both had chicken that was described in the menu as “roasted chicken breast with asiago and parmesan crust, carrot and rice mix, green beans…” but in actuality was chicken, green beans, carrots and mashed potatoes…..and it all tasted the same, and shared the same texture! I’m amazed at how they can do that! Mark was lucky to get my shrimp also, and we did get some nice fresh fruit…cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and a large, sweet, fresh, strawberry. YUM. The roll and butter were not bad either. 

Now it’s time to gel….we’ve played Five Crowns (Mark was winning so much that I forfeited the last hand for dinner), and watched a few “shorts” on the video system. I’m listening to the on board jazz station and Mark’s got his cd player going….I think he’s trying to sleep. We’re grateful that the plane is much larger than the first one, and we have an extra seat that’s empty in our center row, so he’s taking a little extra space to spread out. I’ve got my shoes off, backpack as a foot stool, jacket rolled up behind my back…..only 8 hours or so to go on THIS flight….it will be just fine!!

I guess I’ll save some battery power for the mystery flight….I’m curious what it will really be like. I continue to look at this as a great adventure and not have any expectations….and so far it’s been fun and exciting….and not really stressful in a bad way, just changes and unknowns. Mark handles it much better than I do, but I haven’t had a meltdown or anything….heehee….

Grace and peace…

Friday, March 14, 2008

trip journal #2

Trip Journal #2
Local time 11:05 pm

We are here. We made it by the most amazing of ways.

As I wrote earlier, our first clue that it would be an exciting day was the fact that we found out our last leg of travel with NWA was cancelled due to a lack of crew. They put us on a flight with All Nippon Airways – ANA- which one of the attendants with NWA had let me know that they were a top notch flight. No problem. Except that then we realized that the tickets they gave us had no seat assignments on them. OK…and although they initially said the winds were favorable and we would get in early, we came in JUST on time, which meant that we would have to have a small miracle to get to the gate in the 20 minutes allotted….in a strange airport, no less.

And we doubted, SERIOUSLY doubted, that our 2 checked bags would make it at all….oh well. It’s all a part of the great adventure, and not a relaxing walk in the park!

We hit the ground at Tokyo and exited the plane to hear our name being called out – really- and the smallest of professional NWA reps seeking 3 of us from the flight…all re-routed to the ANA flight to G. Se told us to “hurry, no time to make flight” and sent Mark and I ahead while she found that 3rd passenger (a young Thai MBA student who had just finished her degree at Northwestern in Chicago, and was headed to G for a year of language). Well, that NWA rep hustled us through at least a mile of walkways, glancing back on occasion to make sure we were following her…you can bet we were staying close on her heels! She stayed on the “walking” side of the moving walkways (on the right there!) and not only put us in the VIP area for our security check (they did it between each terminal there) but then cut us in line too! I couldn’t tell you how many people looked at us oddly as she pushed the barrier aside, muttered words to the security screener (the youngest one I’d ever seen, in full uniform, including hat) and got us through the screening process. All along her little voice chattering “so sorry…” or something else apologetically….to us, as well as to those she had us moving through so quickly.

That in itself was amazing too…EVERYONE was so nice…kind…no angry glares or upset people.

We made it (in a full sweat) to the terminal and were issued our seat assignments and had our passports cleared again. They had not started boarding, and the plane actually ended up being only ½ full! Surprising!

Our rushing travel partner let us know that there were several other passengers that were to be on the bumped flight, but only the 3 of us were assigned to this one, as the others (6 or so?) were put on the next day’s flight with NWA. Apparently, at $895.90 U.S.D. per ticket, NWA wasn’t willing to let all of us fly ANA. That ticket alone, from Tokyo to G, was more expensive than our original ticket round trip from the US to G.

ANA IS a top notch airline. Although not the 747 of the longer flight, it was a 767 with all the bells and whistles, including seat back screens with movies on demand and video games, and a camera mounted on the bottom of the plane that showed on screens in our aisles what was going on down below. One of the most amazing (and fun) things, was that as we were on the plane backing our of the terminal, a row of ground crew lined up and waved to us! Then they did a traditional low bow – very classy. It set the stage for the last of our 19 hours in the air today, this last 5 hour flight….the most relaxing and spacious. The most fun, too. Most restful, and since the plane was so empty, Mark was able to find a 3 seat center row to stretch out on, which made it nice for both of us.

We got to G without at hitch, watching the fireworks being shot from the ground into the air, still far below us. It was the last night of their 15 day celebration for New Year’s, and there was still plenty of celebrating going on.

Once on the ground, we pulled smoothly into the gate. As people on board started rushing to their feet to get their carry on bags, an attendant told them to stay seated…that we all had to keep the aisles clear and remain in our seats until we were approved to leave the plane. For the time being we were being quarantined on the plane, as a young passenger had been ill on board and had a fever, and the medical authorities had to come on board to clear us to be allowed off the plane.

Once the medics (or doctors?) came on board and checked her out, took her temperature, and gave the ok, we were all able to leave the plane. We were a bit surprised to find an empty airport…only the employees to staff the customs gates, a few police or security staff, and it was up to us to find out way out to the baggage claim area (where BOTH our bags made it!!) and then out to the main check in area again to prepare for tomorrow’s flight into Guiyang.

We got to the check in area for our airline, but no one was there. We had passed a McDonalds on our way in, so I waited with the luggage and Mark headed off to find a ATM or place to convert some money so we could get at least a bottle of water to put us over through the night. Sadly, the 2 he found first were broken (or out of money) and although McDonalds was closed by then, he found a little shop that had bottles of water. They wouldn’t take any of his money, or allow us to use our debit or credit card, so we weren’t going to have anything to drink over the night in the terminal. That’s ok.

He also found a pay phone, and was able to call J to let them know we had, at least, arrived that far. We had our snacks packed up (way too much…but we were glad we had it along for times like this), and waited till morning.

Well….we thought we were waiting till morning. We fell asleep in the terminal, looped our bags together near us, and passed out cold. Sleep at last. Sort of. Shortly after falling asleep, I awoke to find a guard/policeman standing over me, speaking to me in a language I didn’t understand. I was stunned….a little scared (I was SO disoriented)…and Mark woke up which helped. He pointed to another area for us to go to, apparently just wanting all of us over-nighter’s to sleep in one area. We found our way, bags in tow, and settled in again. With more people, there was more noise, but we both managed to get a few hours of sleep before morning.

Mark was then able to explore more, finding a working ATM and getting some cash for us to use.

The woman at our airline ticket counter was helpful, without speaking a word to us, and although we expected to have to pay for over weight on our bags, she wasn’t up to trying to explain to us why or how much….so she ushered us on. Then we went to McDonalds for breakfast…pancakes and sausage…and we got water bottles too. Life is good.

We made our way to the gate after breakfast, went back through security AGAIN, and waited for the flight to our final destination. Finally we were going to get to see J and J!!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

trip journal #3

It's Saturday here, and although the plan was not to have a plan, we've been running most of the day. :)

One thing I did, because I didn't get to journal yesterday after we arrived, was to make a list of things that we have done...I may go into details later...or if anyone has questions....ask them of me and I'll try to answer them....


J/J met us at the airport, they had hired a driver (taxi van) and he had waited with them for our flight to come in....which was late (of course!).

Our bags arrived with us.

I got to use a "squatty potty" at this airport (the other one had both SQ's and "western style" toilets....for which I was grateful....but no toilet paper....but J said that they don't use it here, so that was common).

If the Mississippi River is "ole muddy" then this is the city of mud. It was foggy/smoggy and there is mud everywhere. Not like thick mud, but similar to how it is after a snow...just sort of covered in yuck. There's a lot of pollution in the air on the roadways...and so much traffic.

Our driver is incredible...maneuvering in and out of traffic like a pro (well, he IS a pro!). I can't get over how it moves so quickly, yet so slowly, and how bumper to bumper it is.

Our van is really small...probably not much larger than our Focus at home! The seats have no padding, and you feel every bump or dip in the road. I'm both too tired and exhilarated to care. :)

I'm amazed at how there are gardens of vegetables growing on the sides of the road, as if they tiered the land up to the homes/apartments and just leveled it off and started planting. With all the ice and snow they had, I'm amazed to see anything growing at all.

We got to their home without incident. :)

After getting things up, unpacked a bit, and us oriented, we decided to go for a walk to get lunch. We went to the local noodle place they like to go to for "Muslim Noodles"....actually just Lan Zhou style noodles, which is a province with a high Muslim population, so that's how they've nicknamed them. Tasty noodles, handmade right there, with roast beef shaved off into them, served with beef broth, and cilantro (Chinese Parsley) and maybe green onion too. Mark and J2 also mix red pepper paste into theirs...I'll play it safe.

I'm amazed at how hilly the area is...they say that's why there are not many people on bicycles here.

There's more mud everywhere...not always thick, or deep, but covering everything. The fact that there is constant construction doesn't help.

We walk to the actual campus where they attend school, although it is closed for break still.

We also walk by one of the local parks, and to a friend's apartment to feed their cats.

On one of the streets by their house there is a street market (the morning market) where you can buy fruits and vegetables nearby. There's also people selling seeds (sunflower, etc) to snack on, and other wares.

Where we ate at is in a row of shops near where they live, not far past where the market street is. There is a real mod podge of sites, smells, and WE seem to be the oddest thing around!

We went to a little eating place on campus for dinner, they call it Gong Yu, sort of like a restaurant for the students. The building it's in used to house the foreign students, but then they built a different housing place for them. We ate some of their favorite dishes like miziqiezi: egg plant prepared with ground pork and chopped peppers and pepper sauce; ying jiang rousi: Peking duck style pork (little pieces) served with slivers of green onion; tang cu liji: sweet and sour pork; and tu dou ni: mashed potatoes prepared with onions, bell peppers and bacon. This was all served "family style" with white rice.

Yes, we've been using chop sticks to eat with!! Even the noodle dishes!! :)

TODAY - Saturday

Our "plan to have no plans" day consisted of going to lunch, and then going to market, and then coming home. For lunch we went to the city market and getting "jaozi", or dumplings, and we chose to go for fried ones rather than steamed ones. J1 is not a big dumpling fan, so we also went around the corner and got some fried chicken (REALLY!) on a stick!! J2 says that they can pretty much put anything on a stick here...and they do...and sell it on the street. It was funny at the dumpling place they give you a little plate with chopped green onion in it, and you can mix your own sauce to dip them in (think PF Chang's) with soy sauce (in a tea pot to serve), rice vinegar, sesame oil, and on a table across the way other seasonings that you can add to it (red pepper flakes). They were incredibly good....really yummy. The chicken was good too!

Going to market is crazy!! The large city market is full of people, in every imaginable kind of clothes. Women wear high heeled boots with everything. really. everything. People are in the street with every type of clothing, Sunday best, pj's, ethnic clothing. Lots of people smoke, and because it's so busy today there are a lot of cars on the road too...which means lots of pollution. There are many cars, large and small buses, carts, and motor bikes on the road. It's really busy, and even more so since the sun has come out. It got into the 50's, really nice for being outside, but since it was cool when we left the house, I've got my down coat on and long johns too!

J1 bought chicken and vegetables at the market, and then we looked in some other stores too, including a supermarket (not walmart), and an ethnic store that was really neat. We'll go back there (or to another ethnic store) to do some shopping before coming home.

Once we got home, we put up the groceries, and Mark and J2 worked on getting our laptop on line (it's not, so I have to borrow theirs), then Mark and J1 went to feed the cats and buy some milk (the only thing they didn't get earlier). I guess they got some fruit too, but I haven't seen it yet.

Now J1 is getting dinner ready (broccoli, chicken, rice in a skillet type meal), and Mark is grinding coffee for tomorrow morning (by hand).

Looking back at today, I'm amazed at what we have seen, and how empty the faces are around us have looked. People stare, and I can't blame them, but when I smile at them, rarely do they smile back. Even children seem like they are empty inside...there is no joy, or little joy, in their eyes.

Tomorrow we'll meet up with friends, and it seems that it will be another long exciting and new!!

Until later....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sunday, 2/24/2008

I thought it would be better to go by date, rather than just entry, since they will post according to date anyways.

It's been a really long day, and it's hard for me to imagine that all has taken place in JUST a day! Mark and I have been crashing, dead tired, by 9 pm, but then waking up around 3 am, seemingly wide awake....but able to stay in bed and fall back asleep...then waking up several times between then and morning...between 7 and 9. Last night was no different, and we knew we'd have to get up on the earlier side for all of us to be ready to go to a meeting in the larger neighboring town (G2). We were able to get back to sleep, but woke up early...and got going to meet someone at the bus station here, who knew where the meeting was at. We all took the bus together, about a 30 minute ride, and walked from the bus stop point to the home where the meeting was being held.

It was funny, as we approached their home (an apartment, like most here have) several kids were coming by on skates saying hello to our "guide". I didn't realize that there would be so many kids there....or so many people...from all over the world. It was quite nice, a few hours long, and then we all went to lunch together (not everyone came to lunch, but there were 16 of us!) We had great food, and conversation, and it was fun to be challenged in new ways (like J2 getting 3 roasted peanuts, which have the shells on and are a bit slippery) on his chop sticks...and actually to his mouth!!

After lunch, one of the newer young couples joined J/J, Mark and I and we took other buses to another section of town, to the Bird and Flower Market. This was a much larger marketplace, and in addition to the food vendors we had seen closer to their home, this market had animal vendors (cats, dogs, birds and well as rats, mice, snakes, turtles...and a few we're not sure of!!), lots of floral vendors, plants, medicinal people who sold herbs (and mixed them according to your ailment), teas and other dried foods (mushrooms, herbs, etc), tofu (LOTS of tofu!), nuts, seeds, and other hand crafted items too...baskets, wind chimes, jewelry...and of course other manufactured things like tools and stuff.

The market was really large, and it was quite a site to see. We'll likely try to get back there one day later this week.

From there, we took other buses and went to one of the Walmart stores to get some items for around the house. Then we came back home (around 5:30??) on a CRAZY bus ride (Mark filmed parts of it, and will post it later this week). After putting groceries away at the apartment, we went over to a larger Muslim restaurant that is near the bus terminal, and we had a great meal of lamb on skewers and cooked over a fire (some of it quite spicy), seasoned bread, and a spicy noodle and vegetable dish. Sorry, I haven't gotten the names of those dishes yet. :)

J/J said that these people are from a different area than the others are, and they seemed more of a Mid Eastern group...their music, and even facial features were less Oriental than the other group. The food was really tasty, and it was good to sit down and eat after such a long day.

I'm working on posting the photos that we've taken so far, but I won't have much time to do editing bear with me on that. I'll get it sorted over the next few days, and if not then, once I get home. photos are at:

The weather has been really mild, and surprisingly warm (I figure if I continue to wear long underwear and my down coat it will stay warm the whole trip) :) Much of the mud has turned to dust and dirt, and especially in the city, where you feel it grip your lungs. Between the dust, car exhaust, and the coal smoke, I'm a mess at the end of the day and oh so grateful for my allergy meds.

That's it for now...I have no idea what tomorrow holds....guess we'll all have to wait and see...


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

corrrections and forgotten thoughts....

Ok, these will be misplaced in timing, but they were too important to not mention at all....

1. The restaurant we went to on campus is not really for the students here (too expensive for every day) but more for the people who live on campus, or in the area of it...including the administrators, employees, professors, and the foreign students (generally of better means than the locals). It was yummy, and inexpensive in comparison to a dinner out in the U.S.

2. Signs of the times.... :) In the airport at G there is a sign in the Mc D's that shows the international symbols for "no photos", next to "no pets" and then "no smoking". But it was the LAST one that caught our attention.....a piece of cake in the circle with a line through it...."NO CAKE???" After sharing it with J2 he figured out it likely meant no outside food...but the way they showed it was so funny :)

OH, AFTER we took the photos in the airport in G, we saw "no photos" signs although it is one of the most AMAZING structures that I've ever seen, they don't want us to take pictures of it. You may want to google it to get a real gander of the terminal building (and they are expanding!)

You'll often see a sign around here that shows the circle/slash with a trumpet in the center of it....can you take a guess?? "no horns" is it's for no car horns in that area (which are used as common as the brakes around here!).

J and J have gotten to work with a team of people in the area to better translate the signs around the town. Some of the ones that they had seen said things like "slip carefully". It will be fun to see if they've been updated yet....

3. Lucy....a brave girl of maybe 12 or 13 (maybe younger? it's hard to tell) who started a small conversation with me on the bus yesterday. When she boarded, she stood next to me (I was sitting) and I could catch her stealing glances at me...not staring as most people do...but really trying to just get some sort of eye contact to see if I was friendly or not. After several minutes, she asked in fairly good English, "where do you come from?" and I replied "the United States, and the state of's like a province." She smiled and took a deep breath, as though this English she learned in school would really work....and also that maybe I gave her too much to chew on her first try! She asked me SEVERAL minutes later..."do you like it here?" and I said enthusiastically, "YES!!" I then asked her if she learned English in school, and she said "yes" and I complimented her on how well she spoke, and added that my daughter (pointing to J1) went to school here to learn their language....that made her smile. Actually, at the end of every little ditty of conversation she would take a deep breath (as if this was REALLY hard for her to do) and smile. As we moved towards the back of the bus, she followed, and I thought that she might be getting off at the same stop....but she wasn't. She just wanted to come back and say "it was very nice to meet you" and I figured that it might be polite to ask her her name....which she told me "Lucy" (many students, when studying English, will choose an English name) and I gave her which she repeated several times, as if to etch it in her mind. I could tell that she was going to have quite the story to tell at dinner that evening, or at school the next day, when she told her teachers that she got to use her English speaking to "real Americans." I'll think often of Lucy and her brave spirit, to step out of the comfort zone of the culture and seek out new things.

I really can't get over the number of people that daily (hourly?) come by outside on the street, calling out their services....I have no idea what it is they are selling...but sometimes their calling reminds me of an ice cream truck of childhood days, except instead of the music echoing down the road, it's the person's voice calling their own little "signature" of a song....
J1's making pancakes for breakfast, and bacon!, much to the pleasure of her husband and Mark. :) It rained a little last night, and the roads look a bit cleaner :) but it's cooler and cloudy out now. We're not sure what direction we'll go in you'll have to check back later!
OH, Mark got up early this morning and wrote his own I'll post that for him too!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Thoughts from Mark

I know that Marina has been updating all on our daily adventures of our trip, so I will not be repetitive, yet just inject some of my thoughts and observations.

I guess my biggest joy, which will be hard to top on this trip, has been seeing the kids waiting outside the security barriers when we got off the plane at the G2 airport. My primary goal of the trip has been, and continues to be, excellent fellowship with J1 and J2. Seeing them at the airport made all the other frustrations, stresses, and anxieties of planning and making the trip up to this point so well worth it. It was great to see their smiling faces and exchange hugs, something that I miss the most while they have been gone. Which brings up what I know will be the hardest part of the trip, which will be to do that for the last time, in the same airport, when we have to leave to come home. Our time of fellowship has been excellent, and it is especially fulfilling as we get to share it with them it in their home and what is now their neighborhood and city of residence. It is extremely peaceful for a parent to see first hand that their children really are safe and healthy. I know that J and J have done a fantastic job at detailing the fact that their needs are being met, but it really has warmed my heart to see it myself.

Other observations…

I have enjoyed listening to J and J converse in their new language with the shop owners and restaurant personnel when we get things to eat. I know that they still have a long way to go to master this extremely difficult language, but it is fun to watch them and listen to them communicate to the best of their ability. I also enjoy seeing the how they have developed relationships with many of the locals they have to do business with.

Yesterday we went to a meeting with others who have similar interests here in this country. It was interesting to see other people from the states as well as from Holland and England. It was a good time, and although this is not the normal group they get together with it was neat to be with others who have the same passions for the locals.

I have noticed that there is not a lot of obesity in the area. I am unsure if it is due to the diet, due to the fact that you have to walk a lot to get around the city, or just due to the financial status of the people. I am not saying that you don’t see some chunky people, but in comparison to what we see in the states, there are not a lot of fat people. This is probably a good thing though, as the local city buses are already packed like sardines, so more chunky people would bring the need for more buses.

J and J’s apartment is nice and comfortable, but the engineer in me has me analyzing a lot of the construction and utilities. Cosmetics are not much of an issue when laying out the power and gas lines. Their gas meter is in their kitchen, as they have one gas line that goes from the first floor through to the 8th floor…and it goes straight up through everyone’s kitchens. The power is run from transformers mounted on a pedestal in back of the building…and once it is close to the building is run through raceways in the stairways leading up the building. Some of the individual breaker boxes are even located in the stairwell, not even in the apartment it serves. J/J's breaker box is located directly above the door that enters their apartment. There is some detailing done to dress up the all concrete walls, but there is little done though, about sealing and weather-stripping walls, windows and doors. It would be extremely expensive to heat the whole apartment due to some of these issues, so there is not even an effort. More effort is spent just trying to be comfortable in the room you are occupying at the moment. J/J have provided us with a portable heater to heat our bedroom, and an electric blanket…but believe it or not we have found these to be too hot when we sleep and have matched J and J’s way of preparing for bed. We turn the heater on to warm up the room before we get in bed…then turn everything off once we are in bed. This means that the room gets down to about 45 or 50 degrees over night, but it really is comfortable under the warm blankets J1 has provided.

So far I have not had to pay any taxes on any meals or goods purchased. The price posted is what you pay…what a concept. It is also strange paying about $10.00 U.S. total for a pretty good meal for the four of us.....and no tipping! So far the only store we have been to that you can buy everything you might need to survive is Walmart. Otherwise your needs are met by shopping at local markets and shops that are scattered throughout the communities. Most shops specialize in just one thing…so if they specialize in cosmetics…then that’s all they sell, if they specialize in plumbing parts then that all sell. So shopping for your needs is a longer process as you go from shop to shop to get what you need.

I especially enjoy the outdoor markets…even got a special presentation from one of the little booth guys….let me explain. As I work in the poultry industry I have made an effort to go down and observe how chickens are being sold. Some marketers present you with whole or parts of chickens already slaughtered and processed…while others provide you with ones that are still live and clucking. While filming some of the live chickens in their cages, I was walking past one booth where the gentleman just finished selling one to a local patron. He saw me filming so gave me a mini show as he exposed the chickens neck, then with a big old smile on his face pulled out this crude and rusty knife and slit the chickens throat and bled it our over a blood collection box…pretty cool huh? They also have fresh fish for sale…can’t get any fresher than picking them out of a pool still alive in the market.

I look forward to what the next week will offer us to continue to add to our experiences of a foreign land and culture….but can sum things up like this….

The trip over was an adventure, the first three days have been eventful, and time spent with the kids….PRICELESS.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Monday, 2/25/2008

I'm actually writing this on Tues 2/26, but only because I was too tired to write last night after a really busy day!

Although the weather was cooler, we opted to go out to one of the scenic spots on "the list" that J1 had compiled of places to go (and what to eat, where). T H T is an area of beautiful waterfalls and great caves. We thought that the waterfalls would be larger, since there had just been rain, but they were actually significantly smaller....which allowed us to see how the falls (and later we saw the cave formations) were "enhanced" by people there (walls built up to extend the area of the falls, water control, glitter on the formations in the caves, and possible even formations made!). No less, it was amazing, and a beautiful site to see.

One of the highlights (for me) was the freezing cold boat rides we took up the river, which went by one of the minority villages on the river. I took lots of photos, but I'm sure it does not give credence to the sites we saw there....old houses, ladies washing clothes along the river, water buffalo on every turn, school children pointing at us and yelling "lao wai" (foreigner), while others waved or hid from us!

The young woman who gave the cave tour to us did a great job of communicating to J1, and then she would turn and give us a brief synopsis of what the guide said. Between the tour facts, J1 learned a bit about her (and she, of J1), and by the end of the tour they were exchanging cell numbers. J1 said that occasionally they will meet locals that want to have their numbers and "be their friend", although they don't always give it out unless there is a sincerity on the part of the people. Sometimes they are not sure of the motives of the people, and sometimes it's just plain a man on the bus who stalked them by phone for a while. The guide, going by the name Seven, seemed to genuinely hit it off with J1, and goes to college to study nursing a bit away from there. Keep her in mind.

I thought that Mark would likely say that his favorite part was the LONG zip line that he had J2 took at the end of the day....but he didn't....he said he couldn't choose a favorite part. I'm sure he's saving it for later....


Today it's extremely cold again, and although I slept in and missed it, the others said that there had already been snow showers and sleet coming down. When I look out the window all seems well, it's still cloudy (always cloudy?) and muddy down the streets, although the parts that are pavement look like they had been wet earlier. The clearest sign that it's so much colder outside is that there is so much condensation on the windows inside.

We'll run out for a quick, light lunch ("G burritos" a common local food, that just happens to look like a burrito) and meet up with friends later for a big dinner, and then games tonight back at the house.

Updating check there too!


Friday, March 7, 2008

Tuesday 2/26/2008

Although it was REALLY cold today, it was really relaxing! I woke up late (around 10:30!) after a disrupted night's problems, just didn't sleep well....well, I was coughing (lungs irritated about something) and just didn't rest well. I was grateful when I did get to sleep, and was clueless that everyone else was up and about....Mark even said he had gone in and out of the room and I didn't budge. :) That was a good thing.

We showered and got cleaned up, but didn't have anything on the schedule, knowing that the weather was going to be colder. Mark and J2 ran out for these special "burritos" that are made by one of the vendors down the road (look for a video post soon) and they brought them back here for us to eat for lunch. After getting that cleaned up, we all ventured out to go to the local police station to "register". It's supposed to be done upon arrival in the area, but we had heard that we may be able to do it in the school foreign affairs office, and had some difficulty hooking up with them, and then when we did he said that we should just go to the police dept. since he was so busy. So we did. It just took a few minutes to walk to the office, and then about 10 minutes worth of us filling out the form and the officer doing her part to certify us. No biggie. It was a really cold walk though!

Once home, J1 resumed cleaning the house, and made a batch of brownies for our company later on. We met up with their friends, G and A1, and A2 and J3, for dinner at the little restaurant on campus. We had a huge assortment of dishes, some repeated from the few nights before, and some new, but all of it was really good. We were grateful to have one of their "private rooms" to dine in, and the heater was so nice....I even took off my coat! :) Usually the restaurants are so cold (or outdoor) that you end up eating with your coat on the whole time you are there.

After dinner, all of us came back to the apartment to have brownies and hot beverages (cider, tea or cocoa) and to visit. It was so fun to talk with these other young couples, and for them to all get to know each other better, as well as for us to get to know them too! It was so good to know that there are always new people moving into the area to learn the language and have similar goals for their future, as well as the same heart for today. I know that as time goes on, they will continue to bond, through good times and bad, and be their "family" when we are not there. That brings peace to my heart. :)

So, now it's late, and I'm relaxed and ready to hit the hay. The weather is still supposed to be cold, so I'm not sure if we'll make any plans or not. There are still a number of things we had hoped to accomplish this week, and we may just have to get out in the cold to do them...only time will tell!


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mark's zipline adventure at the falls...

sorry...I'll get this fixed soon so you can view the video....or you can go to the picasa site for the pictures/video of Mark and J2 as they zipline....

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A quick update.....

It's Thursday morning, and although it's a quiet morning, it's been a busy week! When we have been home, J2 has been busy updating and backing up his computer in preparation for us to take it with us back to the US for repair, so our time on it has been limited (well, non existent!) which is fine. Mark "found" this signal, and I thought I'd just drop a quick note to let you know that once the main computer is free I'll post more exciting stories :) and photos of our travels.
J1 came down with allergies/cold yesterday, and I've got the sinus/sore throat thing going today, although it's hard to tell if it's virus stuff from the crowds or we may take it easy today....well, easier.

- marina

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Saturday, March 1, 2008

It is a beautiful, sunny day out, and we spent the better part of it outside.

Mark, J1 and I went to the "morning market" to buy vegetables for stew, then came back to the apt. and put it together in the crock pot so it would be ready when we got back home (it smells terrif!)

Then all 4 of us went out to an area south of town that is an old walled city, now filled with vendors, traditional (like calligraphers and wood burners) and new (like food vendors and minority group people representing their groups wares). It was really beautiful to see the mix of old and new...young children with their parents....old men playing ancient instruments for a funeral....and it was especially nice to go south for a change (away from some of the pollution, although it was still really dusty!).

Now, at home, we have no water, but we'll get through it. There seems to be so much construction going on EVERYWHERE that it's hard to tell if it's a problem or just a temporary planned thing.

Tomorrow we'll get together with some others that have just returned to the area, then go out to lunch (likely the place on campus, that's just around the corner....I told J1 I'm looking forward to the chance of having Peking style pork again....YUM....and THIS time I'll remember to take pics of all the different foods. :)

Hard to believe that tomorrow is our last full day here in HX....we'll head back to the big city on Monday, and leave the country on Tuesday....bittersweet thoughts....

Oh, and J is still sick...head/chest cold coughing a bit too. She doesn't want to get her pic taken (can't blame her) but I'm hoping to get a few family shots tomorrow for sure.


Monday, March 3, 2008

friday, 2/29/2008

Yesterday ended up being a pretty laid back day...Mark and J2 went into the city (G2) to get some computer supplies, and J1 and I hung out around the apt., with her not feeling very well (and me trying hard not to catch it!).

This morning we all felt well enough to go back into town to go to the "monkey park", a place that J/J had not ever been to, but had heard about for a while now. It was a beautiful day, much warmer than it's been since we got here, and the sky was clear and blue. The bus ride to the city was uneventful, and not too crowded (unusual).

After a few transfers (or maybe it was just one...) and a short walk, we made it to the park. There were crowds of people everywhere. I'll always be surprised how busy this city is, no matter what time of the day, or what day, you think it's always rush hour! Crazy!

It was obvious that there were landscaping points we were missing, since it was the middle of winter and not spring or lilies in the ponds, or flowers in the trees. However, the park was busy, with others taking advantage of the warm, sunny day. We were not too sure where we were supposed to go, but someone told J/J to go to the top to see the most we thought we were starting in the right direction to do that, but ended up going through a LONG tunnel towards the lake (not where you want to a tunnel...on the first sunny day you've seen in a while!)

Once we got to the end of the tunnel, the lake was before us, but not the enterance to the gondola, which we had hoped to take to the top of the mountain. We ended up taking hundreds of stairs to the top, a physically difficult thing to do, but done none the less. Oh, I should say that it was only hard on Mark and I....the kids did great. I should also mention that I lost track of how many people snuck photos of us "lao wai", and how many kids said "hello" or asked us a question in English (trying out theirs, and checking to see if we were English speaking...). It's funny, but odd sometimes to be such a celebrity...haha....

At the top of the mountain ther was a Buddhist temple, and several other areas that you could offer incense to their gods, should you choose to. J1 and I camped out on the rock wall outside this area, and Mark and J2 went on up higher to the area they thought that the monkeys would be most likely to hang out. They were not disappointed....but neither were we! :) You'll have to check out the photos, and later video, of the experience.

J2 almost lost his camera to one.

Then the long walk down all the stairs on the other side of the mountain, a walk by the gondola (which had no one riding on we didn't take that chance...) and back to the bus stop, where we took the bus ride over to the area we were in a few days ago (near the Walmart store/park that was by the coffee house, and also the Sheraton Hotel where we had planned to have dinner). It's a 5 star hotel, and fairly new to the Sheraton line, and creme de la creme....and the restaurant was on the 38th floor! We got some great sunset views, excellent dinner, and a relaxing atmosphere for our worn out bodies.

We opted for the taxi on the way home, and were so glad as we drove by the buses loaded with people, and the bus stops full of waiting folks to shove on to the buses that stopped.

J1's feeling crummy, but is in good spirits, and we're relaxing now with J2 working on his computer and me trying to get this all updated....and photos uploaded too.

Saturday (tomorrow) we may venture to an old walled city (if we all feel up to it), and if not we'll hang around HX and hit the markets again. :)

More later!!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

wednesday, 2/27/2008

Oops...I had lost a day!
I know that this day we went into G2, to Pizza Fun, to the American Coffee House, and to the underground Walmart.....If I come up with other memorable things from this excursion I'll make note of it here....

there are photos too...I'll need to locate them and post them....


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sunday, 3/2/2008

This is going to be my last post from J's house. We are starting to pack up and get things ready to go, as we'll leave from here tomorrow early the same taxi bus to the airport, and then fly back to G....try to find a hotel, and then leave for Japan in the morning on Tuesday for the LONG flight back home.

Today we had a great meeting and lunch with a group of friends of theirs, a blend of students and teachers. They are a really neat group of people, from many different places, and have been here for different lengths of time, so it was fun to meet them all and hear their stories.

After lunch we went to go to the minority store in HX, but it was closed, so we walked back to the campus and then took some photos in the park on campus, then went and got ice cream bars (yum) and headed back to the apt. It's been SO warm, in the 60's each day, so none of us wanted to stay indoors (where it's colder!) and we wanted to enjoy the sunshine. :)

J1 is feeling a bit better, and I'm feeling a bit worse. sigh. I'll sneak some of her meds for the trip home. Nothing worse than flying with a head cold....ugh.

Mark and J1 are spending the afternoon figuring out sudoku puzzles :) together, and J2 is working on the details of sending his computer in for service work (which we'll handle for him in the states). We're all winding down, and I'm not sure what dinner will be tonight...where we'll walk to for our last dinner in town.

The kids have a meeting in the morning on campus for the start of their classes, and Mark and I will finalize the packing up then. After a quick bite of lunch, we'll pile back into the taxi van and head seems like yesterday that we were piling into it for the first time to come to their's gone by so fast.

All in all, it's been amazing. I'll work on a few posts, top 10's and final thoughts while we are flying home....and will post them once we are home again.

Thanks for coming on this journey with us!!


Monday, February 4, 2008

Home again, home again....

We're home now. :)

As much as I miss J and J ALREADY, I do not miss:
1. the smog; it makes a smog alert in L.A. look like blue sky : p
2. traffic; amazing what it's like when there is not bumper to bumper traffic (with everyone using their horns)
3. the noise from all the horns :)
4. msg (I can't wait to see how much body weight I'll lose from getting it out of my system! my legs are so swollen now they look disfigured, despite my getting up and walking often while on the planes)
5. dust; see #1, as I don't know if the black stuff that would come out of my nose was from the smog or the dust (or the smoke...we saw several fires burning in the hills as we were flying out)
6. getting stared at ALL the time
7. having to use the bottled water to brush my teeth (but don't get me wrong...I'm so grateful that there WAS bottled water to brush my teeth!!)

Things I learned....about me, and their life there:
1. I'm in horrible shape!
2. I don't mind being stared at if the person staring smiles and says "hello" (no matter how badly it comes out!)
3. J/J have grown a lot, and I'm really happy for them and the life they have there.
4. I like their friends, and wish we had more time to hang out.
5. I hate stairs (see #1) Going up OR down!!
6. Toilet paper is optional. You might get it in a public bathroom, but probably not. You might get it on a cafe table, instead of napkins, to use on your hands. You'll likely get it in a private bathroom, but no matter where you get it, it does NOT get flushed in the toilet!!
7. Horns are not used there in anger to say "get out of my way", and we didn't see any road rage for as crowded as the roads were. Horns are used to say "I'm here, so don't hit me".
8. The lines on the roads are optional. ALL of them. Even the ones to determine what direction you are traveling in.
9. Traffic signals are optional too....which makes it interesting.
10. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way there....which makes #8 and #9 quite interesting.
11. Food sold on the side of the road/sidewalk is usually tasty. I don't know how they keep the grit of the road dust off of it, but it's good.
12. I love the people there...not just my kids, but the ones that only know that as home. Despite the icky things, I think I'd go back sometime...even if my kids weren't there....which surprises me....

The N Hotel at G Airport was incredible....we got a king, business class room, with a tub and a shower, for about $100 US. It seemed very luxurious in comparison to all we had seen all week long, but we were thankful to sleep in a bed (and not the airport, like on the way in). Sadly, this cold had my taste buds out of whack so I couldn't really take advantage of the buffet we ate at there, but it looked really good, and what I did eat tasted great. Someone needs to teach the C how to do desserts though....nothing is sweet enough! LOL

The plane rides were all pretty uneventful in good ways....well, we left G late (sat on the plane at the gate for an hour), and sat at XNA for 20 minutes before coming in too. We went through security points at EVERY airport (which seemed weird), and each one had their own standards (i.e.; take off shoes/leave them on, ok to bring water/ or not, etc). Thankfully, all our luggage arrived with us. That's always a good thing.

There was snow on the ground at home, but most of it had melted off, so the roads were fine (although there was still an abundance in the fields). Flying over the remnants of the storms made for a bumpy last leg of flying from Detroit to XNA....but I still slept!

I'm so tired. I took cold meds the entire time in the plane (dayquil, then nyquil) and I slept most of the fly time, but I'm still tired. This cold has me wiped out, so I'm really hoping to rebound quickly now that we're home. We'll see...

It's good to be home. There's a lot to do, but it feels good to be here. I'll always miss ALL my kids company, but there is some level of contentment to be home....wherever it happens to be.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

trip photo link updated

I'm sorry, I haven't had time to get more things posted or worked on here, or the Picasa site, but there are photos there, and I've just figured out that the link was not working on one of the earlier posts.
This is the corrected link to the photo gallery:
Continue to check back there, as I'll be working on it over the next few days. I know that some of you were wanting to see the zipline video's working there (even though the link isn't working from this site yet).

Thanks for being so patient!! 8 }


Saturday, February 2, 2008


All the photos are posted on the picasa site, and video clips too!

I'm going to try to change the way this site lists the posts now, so those that have not been here before will get to start at the beginning of the journey and work though it with us, rather than find themselves at the end and have to go backwards....I don't even really know if I can do it that way, but I'll try!

It's good to be home, but still find myself in moments of our journey....the cold wind yesterday here at home was the same we felt at the falls...the smell of the food still lingers in my taste buds are still "MSG burned" and nothing tastes as good...sigh...and the hunt for the red pepper oil/sauce is still on. The vegetables are not as bright as there, and I miss so much from there (except the pollution...I'm still hacking and expect to cough up coal dust by the time this is all over!). sigh.

We get to give a presentation of our trip next Sunday, and that's exciting. Email me if you are in the area and would like to attend. We'll talk about it all....past, trip, future....going again some time I'm sure!! :) Even if the kids were back here, I think I left some of my heart there....sigh...

I wonder how many OTHER amazing places I can leave bits of my heart at?? I'm sure there are too many to count...and perhaps we WILL get to go...and I'll blog about them here as well...


Friday, February 1, 2008


I keep thinking of things that I don't want to forget, but I remember them in the oddest times; driving down the road; awaking in the middle of the night; in the shower. I fear I'll just have to carry pencil and paper with me until my memory goes for good....this trip is etched on my heart.

Thanks again to those of you who have "traveled with us" on this journey! :) Your resources and support kept us safe, I'm sure.

m n m