Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bookish

On the flight home from Los Angeles to Shanghai, the talkative man sitting next to me gave me the used paperbacks he'd finished on the flight. This is perhaps the best gift I've received from a random stranger (and no, not the only one, people seem to like giving me stuff).

I keep thinking that this should be a thing... Keeping all those books which would otherwise grow dusty on shelves circulating throughout the world by handing them off to random strangers.

I pass most of mine along, as English-language books are available at a high premium in the Asian countries I've lived in. Sharing my bounty means more books make their way into my hands. I love my Kindle, and read 43 books on it in 2012. I'm grateful to have a way to get cheap books to fill my insatiable appetite for the written word. But despite that love and gratitude, the weight and feel and scent of a book made of paper brings me pleasure in a way an electronic device can not.

So thank you, kind book-loving stranger for this unexpected extra joy, which I'll relish and then pass along to an unsuspecting stranger myself. If it's not already a thing, then I'm game to make it one.

Firecracker Boom!

I didn't have to look far to find a great example of "Chinglish" which I mentioned a couple of days ago. This one came from my friend Leslie's gym at her apartment complex just down the street from mine. I'm pretty sure if my virtual friend Gerb reads it, her eyes will be twitching uncontrollably!

I have to mention that my apartment complex doesn't have enough English-speaking foreigners residing in it to warrant even a bad translation of the many, many notices on the board in the lobby, so I will never know if I was wished having a harvest 2013 or not. Lucky Leslie!


The text:
When the firecracker boom out the night , we were having a hopeful 2013. On this festival occasion we who are all the Mason Fitness Club staff thank you customers. We wish you will sucess in work , having a happy f-amily ! In the past year , we are experienced every things whatever those were go-od or not. Cause your sopport and trust , we get this result now. In this coming 2013 , we are look-ing forward to further cooperation with you ! Wish you having a harvest 2013 !

The unintended consequence of all this "Chinglish" is my ability to speak (and sometimes write) coherent English is slowly eroding. Sentences along the lines of, "Where did you put they?" have been slipping out of my mouth more often than I'd like to admit. Mandarin lessons are great, but I'll be needing English lessons before too long!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Man from Tallahassee

I'm a huge fan of the television show LOST. I wrote a piece nearly three years ago about the things I would miss most about the show here (Go ahead and read it. My final point ended up being very, very true).

In Macau, we started watching the series again with a whole new group of friends. I make a terrible person to watch it with, as I would always jump or suck in my breath or scream or cover my eyes or do something to spoil it for the friends of mine who'd never seen it before (sorry Liam). I was so sad to move away before we completed the whole series a second time.

One of the best episodes in the television show came about halfway through season three, called The Man from Tallahassee. I don't want to spoil it (don't click that link unless you've already seen it or never plan to as it spoils a lot), but it marks a huge turning point as the audience gets to see something quite mind-bending about the Island where the characters' plane crashed. Okay, yes, much of the show is mind-bending, but this is the first time I remember screaming, "WHAT?!?" along with the other people in the room watching it with me. Both times.

Part of our recent trip to America included a drive from my parents' new home in the Gulf Coast to the city of Orlando, Florida. When I checked our route on a map, I saw that we'd be driving through Tallahassee. This made me ridiculously, and yes, somewhat stupidly, giddy. When we left my Mom and Dad's house, I insisted on sitting up front (I love road trips and haven't had one for nearly two years! No spending the ten hour drive reading for me!). Every time a sign came up that listed the number of miles until Tallahassee, I would cheer and yell and take a photo. Over and over again.


Woot! Only 175 miles to go!

This grew old for everyone else very quickly. But not me! My enthusiasm only grew by the mile! My Dad asked me to please explain, which I tried to do (no, he's never seen the show and is not likely to). He wondered if there would be some monument to the television show or something else that I was especially excited to see. Nope, just wanted a photo of the sign that said 'Welcome to Tallahassee' and the warm feeling of knowing I'd been there. Some girls get worked up over seeing their favorite band or movie star. Not me, it's all about the location!

As we grew closer, we made a quick stop for fuel and sandwiches and a change of driver. My Mom was at the wheel now, and she was just as confused by my enthusiasm over Tallahassee as my Dad had been. Traffic began to pick up, and we found ourselves surrounded by long haul truckers with lots of cargo. Right as we pulled across the city line on the highway, I saw the 'Welcome to Tallahassee' sign... at the end of the first off ramp! I burst out laughing at having missed the sign, and my parents asked if I wanted to turn around and get a second look. No thanks, we were making good time. I was sure there would be something else with the name of the city on it by the side of the road.

And indeed there was! We saw a large water tower by the side of the road with a big 'Welcome to Tallahassee' emblazoned on the side. I would get my photo yet! And just as I had a clear shot, a large truck pulled into it. My Mom sped up, and I hoped I could just get a shot from right beneath it. Which I did.



Stupid trees.

The good thing in all this? I love to laugh. I live for laughter. I try to find the humorous in everything, especially in my own silliness. I don't want to take everything so seriously that I can't laugh. And you guys? After missing the city limit sign and taking that tree-filled photo, I burst into laughter so long and loud that tears were streaming down my cheeks and I could hardly breathe. My boys in the far back of the van pulled their earphones out of the ears long enough to tell me to simmer down, and my Mom again asked if we needed to pull off and go back. And miss out on having this story of completely missing the sign that was only important to me? No way. The laughter (both then and now) was so much better than having a 'Welcome to Tallahassee' photo in my collection. Way better.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Three foot winds?

I'm used to seeing crazy English here in Asia (known often as "Chinglish") but I expect more from publications printed by American companies who (hopefully) employ native English speakers.

Here's the headline from a newspaper we saw in Mississippi on our recent trip to America.


Those are some small but mighty winds! They might blow up your skirt, but at least your hair will still look nice. Provided you are over three feet tall, that is.

Monday, February 25, 2013

American Adventure: The Oscars

My Dad worked in the film industry while I was growing up, so I have memories of watching the Academy Awards each year as a young girl. Like many young people with stars in their eyes, I had a speech prepared for the inevitable day when I would win my own Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and it generally included thanking the exceptionally mean people in my 7th grade English class for being so mean and spurring me on to success to get revenge for their cruel treatment of my tender yet talented writer's heart (yes, I've always had a rich fantasy life).

In high school and college I attended or hosted many Oscar viewing parties, where guests were encouraged to dress up in horrid thrifted prom and formal gowns to get in the spirit of the sometimes ridiculous red carpet fashion displays.

Once married, my husband (a huge movie buff who also works in entertainment) and I never missed the opportunity to see all the nominated films and make our own predictions for who would win the coveted gold statuette. It was easy to do in Los Angeles, where most theaters will screen all the nominated films once again in the weeks leading up to the Oscars, with signs saying Academy Members can get in for free.

In Macau and Hong Kong (and even to some degree, Japan), new films were released at the same time or ahead of the American release date, so it was easy to stay on top of all the latest releases and be ready for the award season.

In China, we are hopelessly behind schedule, and many of the nominated films for today's Academy Awards will never make it here. Except of course in the pirated DVD version in the backs of white vans parked on most street corners.

I'm not lamenting this change, I'm just observing and acknowledging it for what it is, a big difference from years and years of tradition for my family and I.

One week ago we were in Hollywood, driving in front of the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak) and I noticed massive amounts of bleachers being set up and I briefly pondered what they were for. It wasn't until hours later when we drove the opposite direction down Hollywood Blvd and could really see the front of the theatre when we saw what all the preparation was for. And we simply shrugged and nodded. Living abroad is frequently an exercise in letting go.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

American Adventure: Food

Over the last couple of years there have been many hours spent day dreaming about certain foods available in America that we have missed terribly. I'm not the only one living abroad and dreaming about certain things to eat in America, my entry about the pop-up In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Hong Kong is far and away my most popular post!

For two weeks, we absolutely stuffed ourselves with every good thing we've been deprived of while living in Asia. Seriously, there were days when my stomach and my jeans told me to stop, but my hands could not stop putting more and more in my mouth.

The evening we arrived back in Shanghai I stepped on the scale and was not at all surprised to find my weight was eight pounds higher than it was when we left (fortunately, some of that was thanks to swollen ankles and now, four days later, my weight is much closer to what it was at the beginning of February).

So what did we gorge ourselves on? Considering we spent five days at theme parks, there were a lot of burgers and fries. There was also a considerable amount of Southern California-style Mexican food, and loads and loads of beef.

Our first evening, we hit In-N-Out of course. Or more accurately, my Father-in-Law hit the drive thru so we could stay stationery on the couch instead of doing any more traveling after the long flight.

 
We also made sure to visit King's Hawaiian Restaurant twice for breakfast during our two weeks in America. Have you ever had those sweet King's Hawaiian rolls? The restaurant makes French toast out of the bread. And then serves Portuguese sausage that is incredibly tasty, but has a way of staying with you the whole day. A little goes a long way!
 






We had as much guacamole as we could consume from every Mexican place we passed, made from ripe California-grown avocados. Plus lots and lots of homemade, spicy salsa.

 
While visiting my parents in the American South, Mardi Gras was in full swing. I can't say I've ever participated in any celebration of Mardi Gras before, but I know there's one thing that will forever be a part of my late winter baking routine from now on: King Cake. Oh my goodness. My Dad and I picked this one up on a whim when he and I went out for a drive together, and every bite we did not finish after dinner, I ate the following morning for breakfast. This one was stuffed with raspberry filling. My mouth is watering just thinking about this! Even my Dad, who isn't big on sweets like my Mom, commented that he was upset he hadn't tried it the year before during Mardi Gras!  

 
My husband is not just my personal IT guy, he's also my parents' (along with my cousin Josh who shares the duty in our absence). While at their house, Michael set up their wifi, and fixed many other things which haven't been working since they moved out of California right when we moved to Macau. He accepts payment for his services in beef. Specifically, my Dad's smoked Santa Maria-style bar-b-que tri tip. I'll tell you that in the nearly two years we've been out of America, Michael and I have had exactly three steaks, and they were all at a very high premium. When we eat beef here, it is in very small portions that I stretch like crazy in stir fry. The beef is more like a condiment than a centerpiece of the meal. So to have two giant tri tips on a platter before us was an amazing experience, only lacking an angel choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus above the table to make the moment perfect.
 

One of my life-long birthday traditions is my Dad's Birthday Tacos, which he's made for me from scratch every year since I was old enough to pick what I wanted to eat on my Christmas Eve-birthday. The last two birthdays have been lacking in Birthday Tacos! So when we were thinking what we wanted to eat while together with my parents, this was my top request. Dad did not disappoint! We called them Un-Birthday Tacos, since I adore Alice in Wonderland and we were, after all, in Florida to visit the four Disney theme parks there.


And, if you're having Un-Birthday Tacos, then there must be an Un-Birthday Cake! My sister-in-law Heidi, who happens to be an incredible cake decorator, obliged by traveling by car from Virginia to Florida and whipping up a batch of homemade cupcakes in the huge house we rented during our week in Florida. She even let me lick the buttercream frosting off the mixer paddles! A very merry un-birthday was had by all!


My Mom and Dad introduced us to the Waffle House. A staple of the South, they specialize in waffles and other breakfast foods that are simply drowning in butter. I have to say the waffle was exactly how I like it, crispy on the outside and a little bit doughy on the inside. Not being a fan of ladles of butter on my food (like my husband), I skipped sampling the grits. My Dad confessed that for the first time in his life, he actually had to go on a diet, as the Southern way of eating is starting to fill out his frame more than he'd like! Poor Dad, the food is just so good! Glad I was only tempted to gorge myself for two weeks instead of every day.
 
 
And finally, the saddest food-related moment of the whole trip. I L-O-V-E love the Monte Cristo sandwiches served at the Blue Bayou restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland. But I'm afraid I can only go for the $25 price about once every five years. Disneyland does have another option if you crave a Monte Cristo at a slightly lower price (currently $17.99. Still a painful price). The Cafe Orleans is just opposite the Blue Bayou and generally our usual place to dine at Disneyland in California. For months I'd been looking forward to that Monte Cristo. Not just looking forward to it, more like dreaming of it. Sitting on the patio people-watching, dipping small pieces of my sandwich into the blackberry preserves and unabashedly moaning with pleasure. I dragged our merry band of friends who joined us at Disneyland to Cafe Orleans, only to be met with the worst possible disappointment:
 
 

Does the French Market serve Monte Cristo sandwiches? No. No it does not. And considering we were a group of sixteen at that moment, many of whom are college students, newlyweds, or starving artists, I couldn't and wouldn't even suggest we take our group to the $25+ a plate Blue Bayou to indulge my two year long craving. Big, huge, sorrowful sigh. The recipe for Disney's most famous sandwich is online here. I may get desperate enough to make it myself before too long. However, with the price of some of those ingredients here in Shanghai, even that $25 option at the Blue Bayou starts looking like a reasonable price!

More on our American Adventure coming soon!

Truth



Very Unhealthy

I woke this morning feeling like I'd lost the ability to swallow. Though when I tried, it felt a lot like my throat had been lit on fire after being stung by a thousand bees. So that's not good. I already started the antibiotics our wise doctor gave me (she'd asked if I was sick as well while she examined the boys, when I said no, she said to "give it a day or two" and prescribed me a Z-pack anyway).

Nathan and his ears felt somewhat better today, while Ben does not seem improved at all. Keeping an eye on that boy from the comfort of my own sickbed. I think some law has been violated, one that says moms can't get sick while their offspring are under the weather...

In other news, the pollution in Shanghai has been working overtime, and I wonder if that has something to do with the sandpaper currently lining my throat? When the U.S. Consulate says things are very unhealthy, I hope they don't mean us.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

American Adventure: Money

At the Shanghai airport, awaiting our flight to Los Angeles, Michael went to exchange some local currency into U.S. Dollars. It's been a year since I've seen American money and two years since I've used it on a regular basis. Even though my most favorite color is green, I have to say the money of my homeland is quite dull and boring compared to the rainbow of colors and designs featured on the currency of the five Southeast Asian and Asian countries we lived in or visited in the past two years.

Here's an American ten dollar bill with a Chinese ten RMB bill (RMB = Renminbi, which translates to "people's currency" and also commonly called yuan or kwai. Sometimes it is written CNY which stands for Chinese Yuan, but CNY is also a common acronym for Chinese New Year, so I use RMB most). It's my favorite because of the rose of course. The exchange is roughly 6 RMB to one US Dollar, so the 10 RMB bill is about $1.65.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lagging

One of my favorite photos of the kids was taken in 2005, the day after we moved to Hong Kong from Los Angeles. We'd all arisen well before dawn and ventured out into the city for a morning of exploring. We returned home just after noon and, quite stupidly, decided to take an hour's nap. Michael and I dragged ourselves from slumber to go wake up the boys (Ben at 18 months, Nat at age 4) and to our great dismay found they were little lumps of pliable but snoring clay, impossible to wake over the next several hours, no matter what we tried. And then we paid for it that night when there was not a thing we could do to make these children fall asleep late into the night, even though we were on the edge of delirious fatigue and near-rage ourselves.
 
 
After that experience, I realized napping prolongs jet lag and should be avoided at all costs. The best "cure" in my experience has been lots of sunlight and fresh air and plenty of non-caffeinated hydration. With structure-craving kids, jumping immediately into some semblance of your normal schedule makes all the difference, especially when they are too young to fully grasp why their bodies are feeling so tired. 
 
 
Yesterday was our first day back in Shanghai and I was fully prepared to fight jet lag on my children's behalf by keeping them wide awake and away from their screens (television and iTouch) so their little retinas could register plenty of sunlight. We took a long walk mid-day and I force fed them healthy foods and lots and lots of water. There was not one complaint of being tired nor a single grumpy attitude to be found in the Chase household. I was overjoyed.
 
At about 6:00 p.m., I wandered from my office into the living room to find my littlest one completely lost to us here in the land of the wide awake, snuggled up on the couch with his plush puppy. I have no idea how long he was snoozing there, but he missed dinner and I didn't have the heart to wake him while the rest of us sat around the table eating take-out BBQ and staring at him while he slumbered.
 
 
At 7:00 p.m., Lucy Rocket was delivered back into our arms from the kennel. While Michael and I sleepwalked Benjamin into his pajamas and into bed, Nathan took the opportunity to lay on the couch and snuggle with our real life puppy. Then we lost him to dreamland as well.

 
 
This morning they arose quite early (as did I, but they still beat me). I'd booked doctor appointments for both of them today, as Nathan was complaining of ear pain (which he always does when we fly), and Benjamin was having a nasty cough which sounded like something that should come from a lifelong smoker and not a healthy nine year old boy.
 
Off we went, with my expectations that Nat would be told he was perfectly healthy and Ben being prescribed some cough syrup. Expectations rarely line up with reality though, do they?
 
Nathan actually has a raging double ear infection, with one ear filled with blood. Benjamin, my child with the congenital heart defect and kidney issues, actually has pneumonia. I'm positive my reaction was to gulp a few times in shock, because for the last two weeks in America, my loved ones have asked after Ben's health more than anything else. And with a wide smile and full gratitude, I've been able to report our boy has been incredibly healthy for our entire time living abroad, unlike the rest of us for whom simple infections are quickly cleared up with rest, fluids, and perhaps some antibiotics. 
 
Nathan was referred to the ENT, prescribed a decongestant, an ear ointment, and some antibiotics (side note: he's dangerously allergic to penicillin, and when I was demanding to know what they were prescribing him to ensure we would not be putting him at risk, I was told that penicillin-based antibiotics are rarely prescribed in China anymore due to overuse and misuse, resulting in penicillin not being effective to treat bacterial infections here anymore. Good news for Nathan, but bad news for everyone else, as those germs continue to grow stronger necessitating stronger antibiotics!).
 
Benjamin had a huge array of tests done including a painful blood draw (he cried, it was all I could do to not cry myself), and I had a panicky moment as the doctor was discussing treatment options including a possible hospital stay. Remember my own recent hospital stay, and how I finally decided I had to relax and let them take care of me when they wouldn't tell me my test results or what medications they were giving me? NO WAY would I be that calm if it was my youngest child getting the same treatment. China has never seen a mother bear like this one when it comes to Ben and hospital stays or his medical treatment.
 
Fortunately for all of us, the decided upon treatment for now includes strong medication administered at home along with a visit to a specialist and repeating some of the lab tests in a few days along with another chest x-ray. We're coming up on Ben's annual pediatric cardiologist check up, and it was decided to go ahead and push the visit closer to make sure his heart is not affected. Infection is really the biggest threat to his heart health, which is why I've been filled with gratitude over Ben's lack of illness for the last two years. Pneumonia is a frightening threat to his particular heart disease, which involves his pulmonary valve.
 
For now, other than the scheduled doctor visits for both boys, we are totally housebound for the next week or two. Don't be surprised if in addition to the jet-lagging there is also blog-post-lagging. I may need to be working a little overtime on the mom duties (though it may also go the other direction. Who knows). And I'm really glad I didn't force the kids to wake up when they fell asleep early on the couch last evening! Dr. Mom is prescribing lots of rest on the couch with Lucy Rocket today!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

...and we're back

We're back home in Shanghai! As a lifelong insomniac, I actually relish jet lag. It's the only time I can put my head on my pillow and be dreaming just a few minutes (if not seconds) later.

We arrived at the Shanghai Pudong airport at 6:30 p.m. yesterday, got home by 7:30, unpacked just the necessities while the boys climbed into bed fully clothed - snoring immediately, and laid down ourselves by 8:45 p.m. I never saw 9:00 p.m. on the clock. Next thing I knew, it was nine hours later. Nine hours of sleep is something like a miracle to me, plus I got a bonus of watching the sun rise above the buildings to the east from my bedroom window.


My Mom used to have a framed cross-stitch sampler that said If God intended for us to see the sun rise, He would have scheduled it later in the day. Amen to that.

I need to some time to collect photos and get them uploaded, but in the meantime I simply have to share this video of goats yelling like humans which has been making the rounds. The boys and I have watched it half a dozen times, tears of laughter streaking our cheeks each time. Though that just might be the jet lag leaking out. You be the judge.




P.S. Email subscribers, please click through to site to see the video!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wish you were here

We are having a fabulous time on our crazy American adventure! We're all exhausted from being on the go constantly for the last week and a half. We have to wake up in five hours to leave for the airport at 4:00 a.m. so we can fly back to California one last weekend before heading home to Shanghai. As exhausted as I am, I can't fall asleep!

I took this photo of my parents today in Florida which pretty much sums up what this experience has been like. I'll be back with lots more about our trip soon!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Visiting Macau

Our pre-Christmas trip, if you recall, was mainly to be able to visit old friends, including a family we've known since we lived in the San Francisco Bay area who were coming to Asia for a visit. They booked the trip back when we were still living in Macau and they were shocked when we broke the news we were moving away. A flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong or Macau is about two hours, and runs about $200 round trip (around $75 USD if you get in on a great deal from Spring Airlines). We have several friends in Hong Kong who we usually call on to lend us a room, but since this was part of our family Christmas gift, we sprung for the luxury of the Disneyland Hotel. Good call in my opinion!

Our friends were a bit sad to miss out on visiting Macau, which is just an hour ferry ride away, so when I mentioned that we'd be heading over on Saturday, they asked if they could tag along. Um, yes! There's no role I cherish so much as tour guide, especially for a place I grew to love like Macau.

St. Dominic's Church in Senado Square. I love those green doors!

This was our first trip back since we moved away, and it was a bittersweet experience. I felt very frantic and detached from myself, and had to continually force myself to be in the present instead of daydreaming about the past. It was quite obvious that Macau is going to continue to have a special place in my heart for a long, long time.

I planned an itinerary for our party of ten which would include three main areas of Macau: the Ruins of St. Paul and the Monte Fortress on the Macau Peninsula, Fernando's Portuguese Restaurant on Hac Sa Beach on the island of Coloane, and a visit to one of the major casino complexes, the Venetian. Our friends got tickets to see Michael's former show but we opted to sit that out, heading back to Hong Kong early to catch another show, Les Miserables, which opened in theaters in Hong Kong three days before it opened to the rest of the world. Lucky us!

We took the quick and efficient city buses everywhere we went, to accommodate our big group. At one point I was sitting in the front, facing our friends who were all in the back of the bus with a crowd of passengers between us. I kept pointing out things of interest, and all the people sitting in front of them were tilting their heads, wondering what was up with the crazy lady gesturing and talking loudly to them in English. I make a fool of myself in Asia every day, this day was no exception!


On the way up to the Ruins of St. Paul you walk past a street lined with bakeries and shops. My friend's father had requested a certain type of candy, so we stopped in to pick some up. One of the popular things to buy in Macau is sheets of preserved meat called bakkwa. The ladies in the shop stand out in front, cutting off little pieces with scissors for you to sample. This stuff is ridiculously good, and I'm sad that I only got the nerve to sample it halfway through our time living in Macau! We bought some spicy beef to bring home, while our friends got a variety of flavors (which I later found out they had to abandon in US Customs, no meat products allowed to be brought into America!).

 
We continued up the tiled alleyway and arrived at St. Paul's. Here's me and my Chinese sister, Cezanne.


 
 
An entire decade has passed since we last saw each other, but as it goes with old friends, it could have been a week by the way we just picked right back up where we left off! Here's the Ma family and the Chase family, plus an extra friend of theirs (the girl with the blue bag over her shoulder):
 
 
We explored around the Ruins and up along the Monte Fort, with great views across the border into China. There is a terrific museum of Macau inside the Fort, but it's worth spending a few hours which we simply didn't have this trip.
 
Next we caught the bus that goes from one end of Macau to the other, heading to the south end of Coloane Island for lunch at Fernando's. Macau was formerly a Portuguese colony, and Portuguese is still one of the national languages (the other being Cantonese Chinese). There are many places in Macau to get Portuguese food, but none quite the experience as Fernando's. They have no A/C, no heat, no high chairs, no ketchup, and no iced tea (and have signs all around the place telling you of those facts), but that's all part of the charm. I have a friend from England who lives right next to Fernando's and she'd planned to join us for lunch, but the night before she went out dancing and overdid it to such a degree that she ended up with a hugely swollen knee and couldn't even walk. She did send her husband and boys over, which was nice! The boys all ran around playing together, also picking up right where they left off.
 
 
After lunch, we took a bus back up to the Cotai Strip to check out the Venetian, the largest hotel in the world. Our friends walked around marvelling at the canals and gondoliers while our family ran over to see the Human Bodies exhibit.
 
It's filled with preserved human bodies and body parts, and it was an absolutely incredible experience. There was a similar exhibition years ago in America which we missed, so it was nice to be able to see this one and show the boys about the inner workings of their bodies. Their favorite parts were the babies, shown from the tiniest fetus through a full term baby (which I'm not going to post here as it might be disturbing to some people), and the display of a healthy set of lungs along side a set of black, cancerous lungs with a box for people to deposit their cigarettes! The whole thing was slightly gruesome yet beautiful, and truly fascinating and perfect for two boys who live on grossing people out.
 
There is also an exhibition of artifacts from the Titanic in an adjacent hall, and I wish we'd had time to do both! The exhibitions will be there through February 24th for anyone who will be traveling to Macau over Chinese New Year.
 
Our last stop was to deliver our friends at the City of Dreams theatre so they could watch Michael's former show. It was a sad goodbye to the Ma family for me, not knowing if it will be another decade before we meet again! Before catching our ferry back to Hong Kong, we met Michael's old assistant, Jennifer, for coffee right outside the theatre. We reflected on how she was such a huge help to us when we had our hospital visit right after arriving in Macau, and during the entire time we lived there.
 
 
Then we raced over to the ferry terminal and managed to catch an earlier sailing. This was a good thing, as the sea was especially choppy and it took longer than an hour to get us to Hong Kong. Had we gone later, we surely would have missed our showtime for Les Miserables! It was actually the worst ferry trip we've ever taken, and I don't exaggerate when I say we've been on that trip at least 30 times, probably more. The sea was so choppy that the boat was catching air between waves. Everyone around us was violently throwing up, filling barf bags with the contents of their stomachs. We were completely surrounded with vomit. It was so gross. I expressed quite a bit of gratitude that we are not at all prone to motion sickness! Several friends pointed out that riding roller coasters, surfing, and swimming are not common in Chinese culture (in Mainland China), and therefore many Mainlanders are far more likely to experience motion sickness since they don't grow up having experiences that may cause you to be sick. I don't know if that is true or not, but it was certainly an intense ninety minutes! So glad we all had iPods and headphones to drown out the sound of the retching! Ugh!
 
 
As we went back through immigration in Hong Kong, we realized we are down to only four blank pages in our passports, with quite a few more years to go until they expire. Sounds like a field trip to the American Embassy in Shanghai to get more pages will be in our very near future! We've got quite a bit of travel planned for 2013, can't let a silly thing like no room for a visa hold us back!

Sleepy

When we moved to Macau, a friend living in China told us about his trips to IKEA to see every furniture display draped with people napping during the middle of the day. After arriving in Shanghai we've been able to see this phenomenon ourselves. It's not like a husband taking a brief snooze while the wife shops, it's sometimes whole families, making themselves at home in the little mock up bedrooms and living rooms throughout the store.

I've never worked up the nerve to snap a photo until Saturday when Nathan and I made a quick IKEA run to grab some special pottery for Chinese New Year and we came across this guy, snoring loud as a chainsaw right at the store's main entrance. Nathan was the one who stopped dead in his tracks demanding I take a picture of him. Maybe one of these days I'll be bold enough to capture a full family having sweet Swedish dreams in IKEA.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

American Excursion

I calculated this week that it had been nearly 600 days since I'd last seen my parents. That's a mighty long time for me, a girl who left home moments after high school graduation, never to return (to live with them, that is), but always found a way to visit at least once a month despite living a four hour drive away. Since we last left America, they up and moved from their home on California's Central Coast down to the Gulf Coast nearish to New Orleans. We have never seen their new home, but that's about to change!

The last day I saw my Mom and Dad, our farewell to America party!
My Mom is next to me in the maroon jacket and my Dad is in the grey tee with hat.
The rest of the people in the photo are my cousins from my Mom's side of the family.

We depart China on Tuesday evening, and thanks to the International Date Line actually go back in time, arriving in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon. We'll be in America for two weeks and woo boy, this is not a vacation! We are making up for nearly two years' worth of lost time with friends and relatives, and hitting all the American Disney theme parks coast to coast as we go. In fact, we're not wasting any time, we're going to Disneyland the day after we arrive!

We'll be in Los Angeles until Friday, when we fly to my parents' house for the weekend. Then all six of us will load up into a rented van for a road trip to Orlando, FL (Mapquest says it's a ten hour trip. The four of us haven't been in many long car rides since leaving America. This might be very interesting). Michael's youngest sister and her daughters from Virginia will join us and we'll all be sharing a huge rental house and hitting all the Florida parks during that week. Then we'll fly back to Los Angeles where a friend is hosting a big open house the day we arrive, allowing us to see the maximum number of people in the short time we have. Another one of Michael's sisters and her family will be driving down from Utah to spend the holiday weekend together along with Michael's parents, oldest sister, and brother.

I'm already exhausted and we haven't even left yet.

However, since I know a lot of my L.A. friends read this, I wanted to let them know how to spend time with us if they want! First: come to Disneyland on Wednesday February 6th between 10 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. We'll be jet lagged but we'll push through with a little help from our friends. Second: join us at Miss Amy's house in Torrance on Friday February 15 between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. 

If you want to meet up with us on either of those dates (or both!), send me an email and I'll forward you the mobile phone numbers we'll be using in the States along with Miss Amy's address. (By the way, Miss Amy is an amazing friend. She's the same awesome lady who threw us the going away party for ~100 friends and family members when we moved to Macau. When I told her we'd be in town this month, she offered her home right up as a place to have some face time with friends!).

I know it's going to be a crazy whirlwind trip, but I'm pretty excited to see some of my favorite faces in the next two weeks!
That's Miss Amy's pretty face right between Michael and I.