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Showing posts from May, 2012

IKEA = Happiness

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I love IKEA like some ladies love Nordstrom. I love the smell (which I've just been told is formaldehyde), the displays, the whimsical names of the products, the Swedish meatballs, cheap candles, and the semi-disposableness of it all.

My cousin Dar introduced me to it in college, when she realized I couldn't cook and was going to starve to death if something didn't change. She taught me to cook, but she also taught me to love 99-cent Swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice.

The biggest appeal to me is how they display all their products in those little exhibition-type rooms, laid out like a real house. I'm a very visual person, beautiful things make my heart swell and frequently (sometimes to Michael's dismay) cause my eyes to well up with tears. I'm not a "spacial" person, I'll throw three things in a box when we move and call it full. Michael and my Mom come along after me and shift it around and add twenty-seven more items before taping it cl…

In the land of knock-offs...

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...we're finding lots and lots of this:

Relocation Observations

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It's Monday, and Michael's first day of work in Shanghai. Though it's just a very short day, as he's only in to sign paperwork and get a tour of his office and computer. This afternoon we'll begin the process of looking in earnest for long term housing and waiting anxiously for our dog, Lucy, to arrive on a flight from Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.

I have lots of thoughts swirling in my brain and I know I better get them down now because in about a week all the things that are strange will start to seem normal. So here's a peek inside my head. It's word-heavy and picture-light. Sorry.

Shanghai is so green. On our honeymoon, Michael and I drove from Orlando, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana. The highways were wide, with large center dividers filled with grass, reeds, plants, streams, and/or bushes. Shanghai looks identical. It's only the occasional road sign in Chinese or the sound of the wicked-fast Maglev train flying by that clues …

Luxury Tax

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In Macau we saw Ferrari and Lamborghini cars every single day, along with other high-end, rare, expensive vehicles. Of course, living right next to an exotic vehicle dealership ensured that we never went long between sightings.

Since we arrived in Shanghai, we've been playing a game called Three Things. Everyone has to point out three things they've seen that stood out. One of my three things wasn't something that I actually saw, it was the absence of something I was used to seeing: high-end vehicles.

Volkswagen cars are plentiful (more about that later), but I haven't seen anything with a horse on the back. Until today. Parked on the sidewalk no less! I had to stop and take a photo of the Ferrari that blocked our path, and then of course I had to write about it because I just read the reason for the lack of Lamborghini's populating the roads here. The taxes in China for imported luxury vehicles runs between 145 and 300%! Ouch! Which means the guy (or gal) who pa…

Skip to the Loo...

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Clever (and non-Chinese speaking/reading friendly) way to differentiate the ladies from the gents when it comes time to use the restroom!

Waiting

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Our first full day in Shanghai was packed. We were met by the relocation representative and a driver, who took us to open a bank account, visit a dozen grocery stores, drive by possible housing, check out the local medical centre and meet a doctor or two, get a sim card and phone plan for my iPhone, get a second sim card at another location for Michael, sit through an orientation on adjusting to life in Shanghai, lunch, a scenic drive around the French Concession and the Bund, and then a drive back across the river to our house. Whew!

Through it all, the boys were champs. They asked intelligent questions about why the government does certain things, ate every bite of lunch, seemed interested and in awe of their surroundings, and didn't complain once about how long things were taking. I think they were a little happy with all the stops, as it meant they could pull out their iTouches and build tiny towers or whatever kids are doing these days. I wish they were like this everyday, b…

Temporary digs

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We get to spend our first month in Shanghai in temporary housing while we look for a more permanent home. Permanent is a ridiculous word to use to describe any place we live! The company has put us up in a three bedroom, three bathroom, multi-story townhouse. It feels amazing to have a front door and a back door which both open to a yard and green space rather than stairs and an elevator!

One photo shows us checking in with half the luggage we brought, the other is the boys playing in the communal backyard as seen from our bedroom window.

You know what's nice? Kids coming inside with mud on their legs, dirt under their fingernails, and scrapes from tree branches on their arms. Every place for kids to play in Macau is cemented over and carefully planned. The boys never got dirty. Sweaty, yes. Now they are changing clothes twice a day because they are caked with dirt. Isn't that what childhood is supposed to be like? Though I won't be thinking it's nice for long, now th…

Fin.

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TTFN

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Here we go again! All loaded up and ready to head north. Or east, as our stuff will actually head to Hong Kong first, and then get loaded up on a ship which will sail north to Shanghai. Our belongings spend more time on boats than we do, and we spend a lot of time on boats! So ta-ta-for-now, stuff. See you on the other side!

Turning off the computer and disconnecting the internet now. Our brand-spanking-new China visas are attached in our passports, our bags are packed, our flights are confirmed. All we have to do now is wait about 24 hours to board our plane for Shanghai. Hoping for a decent night's sleep tonight... we're all pretty beat!

Hot for Summer: Corrugated

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Brown paper packages tied up with packing tape is a strong decorating trend this summer, as these images would imply. Or maybe it's just another one of our quirky traditions in the Chase household: moving on an annual basis.

In fashion news, yes your eyes aren't fooling you. Our dog is wearing a pink tee in one of these photos. I am not one for putting clothes on animals (though my childhood kitty, Fluffy, might tell you otherwise), but we took Lucy in to the groomers and asked for a short summer cut since its so hot and humid and uncomfortable for dogs with long curly hair. There's a joke in Macau that if you ask for shoulder-length hair, you get ear-length (I'm a perfect example of that), and I guess in Macau if you ask for your dog to have a short summer cut it's code for "shave to the skin." So now our dog who was just panting in the heat is now shaking and shivering in the air con which is running overtime in our house to keep down the body odor of …

Me Tarzan

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Wow. After a couple of weeks where we tried to force ourselves into a more normal sleep schedule of going to bed at 10 or 11 and getting up by 7, we just went and messed it all up. We stayed up until nearly 2:00 a.m. this morning, disconnecting things and scanning documents before we go a month without a printer or scanner, and then we got up at 6:00 a.m. to get ready to head over to the China Foreign Services office. I'm exhausted. So exhausted that I was snoozing, curled up in the middle of our stripped mattress while the house is full of workers ripping packing tape and dragging things here and there while they all converse in noisy Cantonese. I don't ever really rely on caffeine, in fact I've gone over two years without a daily dose, but today I'm dragging like a muffler that's come loose, so my husband made me a deal: I put up a blog post and he will make a run to Starbucks AND send me for a final two hour deep tissue massage this afternoon. Who wins in this d…

Cancelled

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We're back home in Macau. Though the number of days we can call Macau home are dwindling rapidly. I have much more to post on Thailand (Elephants! Zip-lining!), but it will have to wait a week as we do the last minute disconnecting of computers and canceling of Internet service and just all the many little details that must be taken care of in the days leading up to a move.

In the morning we head to the China Foreign Affairs office and turn in a ream of paperwork to get our resident visas to enter and live in China. Also in the morning, the movers arrive and pack up our belongings. In the afternoon we pick up the paperwork that will allow us to bring our dog out of Macau and into China. Wednesday the movers return to collect everything they've packed, and then mid-day Thursday we're on a plane to our new home in Shanghai. I'm so grateful for the Thailand holiday which kept us busy and occupied, not allowing us to dwell too much on the immediate future.

I have honestl…

Adventure Footwear

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I'm a girl who lives in flip-flops or bare feet. In Southern California it's not a big deal to wear sandals year-round, as it never gets all that cold. Macau was a different story, and I had to adjust to wearing actual shoes and socks. The horror! True story: when I went back to the States briefly for my Uncle's funeral in February, a friend of mine who met me and gave me a ride informed me that I'd changed. Preparing for a compliment along the lines of you've lost weight, I was surprised to hear her say, "Look at your feet... you're not in sandals!"

I knew we were going to be doing crazy things in Thailand like zip-lining and wading in rivers with elephants, so I wanted all of us to have footwear a little more substantial than flip-flops. I also know it's a bad idea to get new shoes right before a trip without wearing them in first, but we were against a wall of time and did it anyway.

I love Merrell brand shoes for my kids. It is the only bran…

Dining with Wildlife

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Chiang Mai, Thailand is home to the most incredible place, the Night Safari. It's similar to the San Diego Wild Animal Park in California but with more direct access to the wild animals. The tram you ride in has completely open sides. And they sell you baskets of carrots and bananas which you can feed the animals which follow along, poking their noses into your laps. Most of the animals roam free, separated by cattle guards (pipes set in the ground which discourage them from moving to the next area).

We fed so many animals, but the highlight for me was a particularly hungry zebra who wanted what was in my basket... The more I tried to move it out of his range, the more he went after it. His head was across my legs, and realizing he was going to end up in my lap, I grabbed a carrot to toss behind him. His tongue swept across my leg, and he grabbed the carrot from my open palm before I could toss it. I took advantage of the proximity and dared to give him a quick pat. Pretty amazin…

Sign Language

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I've become accustomed to the beautiful blue and white Portuguese tiles that mark each street in Macau. They make the street signs in America feel cold and utilitarian, which I suppose is what they're aiming for.

The street signs here in Chiang Mai (when you can find them) are gorgeous little works of art. I stopped to take a photo of this one and marked myself as a tourist, attracting half a dozen touts trying to get us to take a tour of the city in their taxi or tuk tuk. Not this time, boys.

Going my way?

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So we still haven't taken a Tuk Tuk for a spin, but we did get to experience another common mode of Thai transportation, the songtaew. The word means "two rows" and it's basically a pick-up truck with a high shell covering the back, which is lined with bench seats on the sides. It very much reminded me of the jeepney trucks in the Philippines, but unlike the garish and crazy colors of its Filipino cousin, the songtaew comes in two colors, red for in town and yellow for destinations beyond.

We'd been told that Chiang Mai is home to some great Mexican restaurants, so with the guidance of our concierge we set off on foot for the one with the best reputation (Miguel's). It was a longer walk than expected (and living in Macau we are used to long walks), but the food did not disappoint, our taste buds and tummies were satisfied. But toward the end of our meal, our kids began to wilt like plucked dandelions after a day riding elephants, so our plans to stroll back …

Homeless

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"Where do you live?" is the common but difficult question we are getting this week. The answer is long: we live in Macau, we are from the United States, we are moving to Shanghai next week, we are spending the time in the middle touring around Thailand.

One of the nice things about traveling is finding kindred spirits whose answer to "Where do you live?" is just as freakishly long and complicated. This is comforting, running into someone completely different yet exactly like you, thousands of miles away from our respective homelands. It's a beautiful thing, being both homeless yet perfectly at home all at once.

Our view from breakfast:

Magic Kingdom

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We've arrived in Chiang Mai and checked into our huge suite. Because we had to book the suite (the only room which could accommodate a family of four, though honestly we could fit two more families in here if we tried), we got "Club Level" service. Whisked away to a private lounge for check in, we were treated to mint juleps, juices, coffees, cakes (yummy cakes!), and had the devoted service of four attendants, who checked us in and then booked all of our activities for the week along with transportation. Seriously friends, this is pretty much the least expensive vacation destination, even with all the little extras we are getting!

Thailand isn't a country, it's a kingdom. The current king is the longest ruling monarch in Thailand's history. His portrait is everywhere. Frankly, I feel like a princess based on all the amazing service we're getting! The boys love this place for a completely different reason: The Disney Channel! We've been without it for…

Donut Whole

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It's funny how when something is readily available, you don't feel the need to consume it regularly. But take it away and suddenly you crave it (isn't that why most diets fail?). I remember halfway through our year in Japan making a long trip to the American Market in the center of Tokyo just to see what they had, since my grocery store had almost no western products to speak of. It's better now, but a decade ago there were less expats, less demand, less supply. The American Market stocked marshmallows and the sight of them made me drool. Which was funny considering I'd never in my life just opened a sack of marshmallows and popped them in my mouth like snack food. Before that day anyway!

I've written previously about our cravings for In-N-Out Burger, and how we about died of sugar bliss when we visited the Philippines and came across Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Asian sweets are much less sweet than American. Or Filipino sweets. If I order cake in Macau, it's …

Tuk Tuk

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We have a restaurant in Macau called Tuk Tuk Thai. It's tasty and cheap Thai food.

Today we saw many Thai Tuk Tuks, three wheeled open-air passenger vehicles you can use like a taxi. We made sure to take a photo, but we passed on the ride and just hired a private car and driver to take us all over Bangkok. The cost? About $30 USD to have someone drive us everywhere we wanted to go (and recommend places we might like), and then wait around while we explored and took our time. Not bad considering he was with us for nearly eight hours and gave us lots of insight into Thai culture and history. It sure helped us make the most of our limited time in this city.

We all nearly nodded off in the car- Macau is so tiny that all car trips are generally ten minutes or less. Tonight the ride back to our hotel was nearly an hour and we were fighting the urge to snooze as the tires on the highway hummed us a lullaby! I don't think sleeping on a Tuk Tuk is possible... You might fall out, and …

We have arrived!

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I love the blogging app on my phone! And more than the app, I love my phone! It's amazing how small the world becomes with an iPhone.

Late last night my ear started hurting and now it's throbbing with a rhythm like a high school marching band. Not good! But I travel with antibiotics and I'm hoping to kick this quickly because we've got a lot to do this week!

We're spending just one night in Bangkok. We booked in a hotel which gave us an enormous suite. We could find no hotel with two queen beds or two double beds, which is suitable for a family of four. It's either one king bed or two twins. So for both our hotel tonight and the room for the rest of the week in Chiang Mai, we booked huge suites that could accommodate us. Quite the luxurious life, yes? But the nice thing is that Thailand is such an incredibly inexpensive travel destination that a huge suite is still a third of the price of a normal hotel room in Hong Kong.

Stepping off the plane allowed the kid…

Our Chariot Awaits

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I love Macau International Airport. It's so tiny with amazing views. Can't tell you how much we really, really need this vacation!

Michael managed to catch us walking up to the plane... Sitting on it now! Let's get off the ground!

Happy Mother's Day

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To my Mom... you ROCK! Seriously, I wouldn't be who I am today without all you have done and continue to do for me. I love you!

To my Mother-in-law (pretty in pink)... thank you for raising the best possible son, and for loving my sons!

To my boys... I wouldn't even be a mom if it wasn't for you. You are amazing. Especially considering our crazy life. You make it all worth it. And you could you please pretty please stop growing?
(They are standing on something so this isn't their height relative to mine, but the photo above is them almost a year ago... why must they get bigger at all?)
And to everyone else, Happy Mother's Day!
We're off to Thailand in the morning, so don't fret if you don't hear anything from us for a bit! So excited to be taking a proper holiday with my family. Little Miss Lucy will get a holiday of her own with friends who are dying for a pup of their own. As soon as we return, we'll be in a whirlwind of craziness, filing for our Chi…

Beauty is my love language

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The last few days have been so stunning that I cannot tear my eyes from the view. The blue skies, the visibility for miles, the brown water finally appearing a bit blue... So beautiful.

After months of mist and high fog blocking it, we can see Hong Kong once again from our flat. The hilly island there in the distance is Lantau (home of Hong Kong Disneyland and our home away from home).

I'm both grateful and sad for the sudden postcard views... It's going to make leaving that much more difficult!