24 December 2007

Past Posts

I updated posts from July and August to add favorite photos and movies from China, Australia, and New Zealand. The full collection of photos are still in the Gallery. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas!

We're having a really nice season in Ohio. Yesterday was an extended family gathering, and today we had Christmas with my brother and his family. It's been more than a year since we've seen my family (other than my mom and David), so it's really nice to visit with everyone! The kids have especially grown up a lot this year. Laila's now 5 years old. She loves arts and crafts, princesses, and saying "sweet." Beathan is already 14, in high school, and too cool for most things. Time flies!

These are some photos from this morning's nature walk. David has created and maintained a nice trail through the property. The boys [George, Justin (my brother), and Beathan (my nephew)] spent most of the time stomping through every frozen puddle and stream along the way.

15 December 2007

Holiday Party Time

Last night was George's company's holiday party. In true "G" style, they threw quite the bash...Mardi Gras-style! We were greeted at the door with beads and a ticket to redeem for casino chips. They had a full spread (fresh beef, made-to-order pasta, ravioli, fresh veggies, salad, and chocolate fountain and dippers) for dinner and, of course, a full bar open all evening. They had a good selection of entertainment...a jazz band, a magician, photos (like prom, only printed immediately and free), tables for making masks, and lots of faux casino tables. George and I certainly enjoyed a nice evening with our friends! Here are a few pics...

26 November 2007

Creme Brulee

I can't resist sharing photos of George's first experiment with creme brulee. What a nice surprise after 12 hours of studying!

Thankgsiving Weekend

George and I had a nice Thanksgiving feast at Sam and Brian's new house. Everyone contributed something yummy, and no one went home hungry. Thanks for hosting, Sam and Brian!





















On Friday, we drove up to Anacortes to see Mike and Erin. They were in town visiting relatives, so we took advantage of the opportunity to see some hometown friends. We took a walk in the crisp, sunny weather before having lunch. Great to see you, Erin and Mike!

19 November 2007

San Francisco Treat

This weekend, we met up with Tim and Kirsten in San Francisco. George was finishing up two weeks of work in Mountain View and Tim and Kirsten were over from London. It was a fantastic weekend of great friends, awesome food, and some pretty marvelous fog. Here are a few photos. More are posted in the Gallery.











05 November 2007

Farewell, locks.

This weekend, my hair reached the end of its road with me. I cut off 8 inches of hair for Pantene Beautiful Lengths. I'm enjoying the lighter load, and I know a woman with cancer will enjoy my thick hair. It's a win-win situation!























01 November 2007

Halloween

Oh, Halloween.

Last weekend, Bryan and Kyle hosted a Halloween party. I made my very own prison jumpsuit and individually-wrapped brownies for my Martha Stewart costume. I haven't been dressed up since I was a ballerina at age 5, so what better time to return to childhood than in law school? (Unfortunately, George was returning from Mountain View and couldn't join me in this fine American tradition.)

Here are some (slightly embarrassing) photos:

Naomi (card shark), Amanda (Martha Stewart), Jenni (Hester Prynne), Kiki (1983 Prom Queen), Josh (1983 Prom King)


Bryan (Abe Lincoln) and Amanda (Martha Stewart)

02 September 2007

Pictures are posted!

I've just finished posting all of my photos from China, Australia, and New Zealand onto the gallery. You can access our photos from the homepage of Without A Doubt. You can click through each folder and each photo, or just go to a folder for a specific country and run the slideshow to see each photo for a specific country. George will hopefully post his photos shortly.

Enjoy!!

(Oh, and the first week of law school wasn't so bad. :-) )

24 August 2007

Returning

We've been back for about three days now, and I'm already missing New Zealand. I find myself getting headaches from not drinking coffee, walking on the left side of the sidewalk, and using words like rubbish bin, queue, and mate.

Unfortunately, there is no rest or return trip in my immediate future. Law school orientation started yesterday. Thankfully, my books all arrived while we were gone, so I'm at least prepared in the way of materials. All of my professors have given significant advance assignments that will probably occupy most of my time this weekend. Ugh.

I'll do my best to post photos from the trip during study breaks over the next several weeks. In all reality, though, all bets are off between now and December 21.

Perhaps George will keep you company while I'm at the library...

Final Days...

George and I convoyed with Pierre and Anna from Wanganui to Auckland on Monday.

Our first stop was a small town about an hour and a half north on SH-1. Just like every other crossroad in New Zealand, there was a fabulous cafe serving amazing coffee and pastries. From there, we drove the Dessert Road (think a remote, curvy, mountainous version of I-5 going through Camp Pendleton in San Diego) until we reached Taupo. Lake Taupo is a giant volcanic crater that's now center to a handful of resorts, several adventure sports operations, and a whole lot of other tourist activity. We only had time for lunch at a cafe (surprise, surprise), but I'd like to go back and explore on the next trip. Maybe a bungee jump will be in my future...?

Just past Taupo, we stopped at Huka Falls for a look at 250,000 cubic meters of water falling every second. Perhaps more spectacular than the falls is the rushing gauntlet of water leading to them. This immense white water is caused by the 100m wide river narrowing to 20m.
video

Just past Huka Falls, we stopped at Craters of the Moon. It's a geothermal park where you can walk along a path and check out the steam and plopping mud all around. It's really bizarre. A sulfuric smell lingers in the air while steam seems to pipe from ordinary-looking ground. While we were there, a light shower came in and provided a beautiful rainbow. video

From there, Pierre and Anna continued to Auckland while George and I detoured for a stop in Morrinsville to visit the last of the Sadlier clan. We weren't able to see everyone, but we did get a couple hours to visit with another aunt and uncle and three more cousins before heading for Auckland ourselves. Back in Auckland, Pierre and Anna treated us to the best lemon chicken. Yum!

On Tuesday morning, George and I spent the morning unpacking and repacking until everything fit safely into our bags. We boarded the plane during winter in Auckland at 7:30pm only to arrive in summer in San Francisco at 12noon on the same day. By evening, we were back in Kirkland. It was a fantastic trip and one I wasn't anxious to leave behind. I'll be eagerly awaiting the next time!

Pat's Birthday Celebration

We left Wellington on Saturday morning and headed back to Wanganui with Heath. George's mum, Pat, was celebrating her birthday with a weekend open house, and we were due there for lunch.

Pat's party was a big success! Everything flowed smoothly thanks to the care and thought she put into planning the event. She had a nice turnout of friends from far and wide who made the trip to help celebrate. The crowd included Pat's sister and nephew from the northern part of the North Island, a friend living in Australia, local friends, friends and Heath from Wellington, Pierre and Anna from Auckland, and, of course, George and I. She is obviously a very important part of many people's lives!

Wellington, New Zealand

We arrived in Wellington on my birthday. The evening we arrived, the famous Wellington winds were gusting to 120 kph and the windows of Paul and Robyn’s apartment were getting a good workout. By Sunday, the winds had calmed and given way to a beautiful, sunny day. In total, we had two days of rain and three of sun in Wellington…some of the best weather of the trip.


Wellington is George’s hometown and the city where he attended university. He had warned me about the “Wellington Principle.” It goes something like this: once one has lived in Wellington for any significant period of time, one cannot walk the streets of Wellington again without coming upon friends and acquaintances. George hasn’t lived in Wellington for nearly 10 years, but - nonetheless - we ran into people he knew every single day we were in town. For a city with more than 11% of the NZ population, that’s pretty impressive.


Speaking of impressive, we drank quite a lot of coffee in Wellington. The capital city was the original home of great coffee in New Zealand, and the phenomena has now spread across the country. Though we had superb coffee at nearly every stop in New Zealand, Wellington's was particularly tasty.


When we weren’t meeting up with George’s friends for coffee, lunch, or dinner (or sharing similar indulgences with his dad, stepmother, and brother), we were acquainting ourselves with the city’s treasures.


The museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, is located on the waterfront in Wellington. We spent one morning exploring the first two floors together, and I finished the top floor on a rainy afternoon later in the week. The exhibits range from an earthquake simulator to stuffed (dead) animals native to New Zealand to information about invasive introduced species to immigration trends to Maori traditional art and architecture. It’s a fascinating museum with a lot of interactive opportunities for all ages.


Probably my favorite discovery in Wellington was the accessibility of Parliament. We walked around and right up to the building on a few different occasions. We took advantage of the free public tour one day during the noon hour. One metal detector later, we were standing on the ground floor of the Beehive learning about the location of the cabinet’s offices and Helen Clark’s office. Because the session didn’t start until 2:00pm, we were even able to stand on the floor of Parliament. As if this wasn't enough, we returned the next day to sit in the gallery and watch a live debate at Parliament. No reservations. No invitation. We simply walked in, went through the metal detector, and asked to visit the gallery. We stayed for over an hour while I was mesmerized by the debate and opportunity to see it. The particular day we visited was the same morning the Air New Zealand controversy hit the headlines of the newspaper. Unfortunately, Helen Clark wasn't there for question time, but her ministers and the opposition were all on form. The Speaker even had to expel a member of the National Party. It was GREAT! I am still (more than a week later) in awe of the opportunity to march right into the very place where government is operating and see it first hand.


Much of our time in Wellington was spent simply wandering the city. The waterfront is gorgeous, especially on a brisk winter day where the sun reflects so brightly off the water that you can't help but squint. We cut through plazas, down pedestrian streets, and across busy streets. George showed me the building where he did his one year of law school (which, before the university bought it, housed Parliament and then a government ministry where his mother worked for a time) and the campus where he did his other two degrees. He pointed out the fountain on Cuba street that has never worked properly, but the people still love...and the lead cast members of Lord of the Rings used as a urinal. George and his brother, Heath, took me to Hell pizza to prove that Kiwis really do make a better pizza than Americans. Pandemonium with tamarillo and plum sauce - yum! George's father, Paul, took us to the lookout over the city and harbor for a truly spectacular view and showed us where he and Pat lived when George was born. It was really special seeing the city that has been such a large part of George's life.


To wrap things up, we celebrated Paul's birthday on Friday. Paul bbq'd and Robyn made the fixings and cake. Heath joined us for dinner. It was a very nice evening, and we look forward to celebrating Paul's milestone birthday next year (in Seattle?).

12 August 2007

Teaser Photos

Here are a few photos of the trip thus far...

The Great Wall more than midway from Jinshaling to Simatai shows the majestic and fragile sides of the steep wall.









This is a glimpse at one of the pits of Terra Cotta Warriors located in Xian, China. These warriors have been repaired and placed into formation as they would have originally been set in the tomb.





PANDAS!!!











Tracy and I were asked to take photos with many families. This one is on the south end of Tienanmen Square near Mao's tomb.














This is a shot of the beautiful Sydney Opera House on a sunny "winter" day. What a fabulous time I had in Sydney!



Here we are enjoying a nice hot drink after our first dive in the Poor Knight Islands.





This photo was taken from Mount Eden and shows a bit of the crater along with Auckland's skyline and harbor.



It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday in Wellington. Paul and Robyn snapped this photo of George and I enjoying our walk.

11 August 2007

A New Zealand Birthday

Yesterday, I celebrated my birthday...for the first time in winter.

The day started in Wanganui at Pat's house. We packed the car and went for a nice breakfast at the cafe around the corner. I found my mushroom, garlic, and feta dish to be even better than its description on the menu - yum!

Our first stop along coastal State Highway 1 was Otaki for the Icebreaker outlet. Before venturing into the outlet, we popped into the hot bread shop (bakery) so that I could try my first NZ doughnut. Yum! It was basically soft layers of pastry dough made into a taco-like pocket. The middle was filled with a light, non-chemical cream flavored with chunks of apple and a hint of cinnamon. The whole thing was sprinkled with just the right amount of powdered sugar. Have I mentioned the food in New Zealand? It's GREAT! So Icebreaker...If you don't yet own Icebreaker and live somewhere experiencing temperatures below 70-degrees (21C), you really should consider making an investment in an Icebreaker. George has been wearing it for years, but I just got my first jersey in Auckland. I was the warmest I've been in New Zealand on the day I wore it...and I'm now a believer! We're glad Pat put us onto this outlet given the high price and limited availability of Icebreaker in the States. We did a bit of shopping, and I'm now confident that I'll stay warm this winter.

A few kilometers down SH1, and we'd arrived at our next stop: Paraparaumu. Without much trouble, we located George's grandmother's assisted living village. We enjoyed tea and an hour and a half visit with Nana in her sunny apartment.

SH1 hugs the Tasman coast and then cuts through a beautiful, windy gorge before making its way into Wellington. Approaching the city, you can see the harbor and downtown buildings at a distance before actually arriving. It's a stunning city!

Nearly an hour ahead of schedule, we arrived at the home of George's father and stepmother, Paul and Robyn. They have a nice apartment in a modern downtown building not far from shops and Wellington's harbor. George's brother, Heath, joined us shortly after that. We shared some champagne before enjoying a nice evening at a local restaurant. Once we got back, they surprised me with a round of Happy Birthday and chocolate cake. Meanwhile, the three Sadlier men shared a bottle of scotch that had been waiting for the three of them to drink together. The evening ended with a call to my mother.

It was a very special birthday indeed.

Wanganui, New Zealand

After leaving Waitomo, we headed south to Wanganui.

Some interesting road conditions and a few hours later, we arrived at George's Mum's house. Pat has a gorgeous 100-year old house located not far from the river and downtown area. She has planted a beautiful garden complete with fruit trees, vegetable garden, several varieties of NZ flax, and carefully selected flowering plants. I'm shocked to learn how easily the arum lily grows in NZ! Pat has done a great job with her garden, and I intend to take some notes when we're back there next weekend.

During our visit, we went to Bushy Park so that I could see some native plants and animals. This is a lowland rainforest that is surrounded by a fence designed to keep all non-native plants and animals out of the area. We took a few walks around the property. Along the way, we managed to see a north island robin, several fantails, a flock of wood pigeons, the largest known northern rata tree in NZ, and many varieties of fern. It was a great day!

On our last full day, she drove us part way up the Whanganui River for a look up river toward Taumarunui. The scenery in this country never ceases to amaze me! After that, we went to the war memorial overlooking Wanganui for a look over the city. To wrap up the afternoon, we did some shopping in town. I particularly enjoyed being able to pick out pieces (paua, pearls, etc.) at the local bead/jewelry store and make my own creations.

We enjoyed our time with Pat and will return to Wanganui next Saturday to celebrate her birthday.

Waitomo, New Zealand

Last Tuesday morning, we left Auckland at sparrow's fart (early) to head for Wanganui via Waitomo. Although this trip is about visiting friends and family, there are a few touristy things I want to do. Black water rafting is one of them, and Waitomo is the only place to do it.

George drove while I drifted in and out of sleep in the passenger's seat. By 10:00am we'd arrived in Waitomo. We checked in, George drank some V (NZ/Australian energy drink), and our adventure began. To start, everyone gears up in damp wetsuits, hideous shorts, dollar store rubber boots, and a helmet rigged with a headlamp. Thankfully, we don't have any photos. From there, we load into a van, drive down to the site, jump into a freezing river, get out of the river, hike to the cave (through beautiful vegetation, I must say), and enter the underground cave.

Parts of the tour include walking and wading through the river, jumping off waterfalls, and floating on the tube. The water moves at varying speeds, but remember that this is an underground cave formed by the underground river still flowing. The water is only relatively still within eddies. The size of the cave varied throughout the tour. There is one particularly claustrophobic piece where the river is about a meter wide and the cave is just high enough to pass through. This would be the place where the girl behind me broke into hysterics.

We had our lights on most of the time, though you could actually see more when our headlamps were off and eyes adjusted to the darkness. We stopped at one point in the tour to look at glow worms (and enjoy a chocolate fish). To the naked eye, this looks like a series of tiny, glowing specks on the ceiling. The glowing bits are actually maggot feces that are used as bait to attract insects to the clear, hanging mucous that acts as a net. The mucous lines are actually quite beautiful. Better than seeing them in person is the footage captured by BBC's Plant Earth. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

The wrapped up the adventure with a hot shower and my favorite pie so far (steak, chili, and cheese).

I'd heard so much about black water rafting that I was a little disappointed by the experience. It was definitely cool, but it didn't create the adrenaline rush that I'd expected. That being said, it was worth our time and is probably worth the time of doing the 5-hour trip that includes repelling into the caves.

Auckland, New Zealand

We enjoyed a quiet few days in Auckland with Pierre and Anna. More than anything, it was nice to have some time to relax, enjoy good company, and take in plenty of coffee without a schedule.

George and I took in a few Auckland tourist activities. We drove up Mount Eden to get a view of the city. It's basically a volcanic crater that overlooks downtown and the harbor. We also drove up One Tree Hill...better known as None Tree Hill. The tree that used to dominate the hill was cut down in 2001 after its fair share of controversy.

The Food Show was in town while we visited, so we took advantage of this opportunity to eat a little bit of a lot of Kiwi foods. YUM! I sampled more chocolate than I remember, two delicious ice creams, several varieties of avocado oil and spreads, and the best cheesy sausage this side of anywhere. There were probably 50 wine vendors, but we opted not to taste those given the long queues. We did try a nice dark microbrew that was matched with dark chocolate to bring out the cocoa in the brew - yum!

We visited the Auckland branch of the Sadlier clan while we were in town. George's aunt and uncle (Julie and Andrew) hosted us for Sunday lunch two other aunts (Louise and Jan) and three cousins (Emily, Dan, and Tom). It was great to meet them! Julie and Andrew prepared the best gumbo and corn bread!

We shared several memorable moments with Pierre and Anna during our visit. When Pierre's parents came to town, we celebrated Pierre's belated birthday with wine, cheese, and fantastic Italian food. We shared several laughs (and a few shouts of frustration) the night that Pierre's Weber grill failed to cook the beloved chicken. They showed me the Southern Cross on one of our walks home from the pub, convinced George and I that we can't live without a bread machine, and made George realize that maybe Auckland isn't so bad after all. After hearing so much about Pierre and Anna, I'm really glad for the time we spent together.

Despite what George might say, Auckland has its redeeming features. There are fabulous cafes on every corner, a pretty good night life, and great people.

02 August 2007

Northland, New Zealand

We arrived in Auckland at midday (noon) on Monday. After renting a mobile and very basic car, we met up with George's best mate, Pierre, for a coffee and bit of lunch. Soon after, we headed north to Whangarei.

We spent nearly three days in and around Whangarei. We were booked in to dive the Poor Knight Islands on Tuesday, but an unexpected swell postponed the dive trip to Wednesday. So, we spent the morning and early afternoon checking out the sparkling bays and phenomenal seaside views around Tutukaka and the Whangarei Falls. The best way I can describe the scenery is a combination of the best parts of many places I've visited: green pastures of Ireland, sheer cliffs of central California, sparkling water of the Caribbean, glowing sun of coastal Spain, and ever changing weather of Costa Rica and tropical Ecuador. You get the picture - it's gorgeous! In the afternoon and evening, we had coffee with a dive friend from the UK and dinner with George's best mate's in-laws, Jenni and Rick.

On Wednesday, our diving came through. We went out on a charter for two dives. Since it's winter here, there were only six divers, one non-diver, and two crew. The visibility was somewhere around 12 meters, and the water felt warmer than the air. The first dive was mainly a wall with reefy areas on either end. We saw so many eels that we lost count. While these eels were much smaller than the wolfies we see in the Puget Sound, they're certainly less shy. A favorite moment was when George signaled to look at the two eels. I signaled back asking where the second eel was hiding. When George nudged the one I saw, it disturbed the second, and a bit of an eel fight ensued. I laughed, and of course my mask flooded.

The second dive was Blue Mao Mao Arch, supposedly rated one of the top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau. We let the surge carry us through the arch and into a sparkling underwater extravaganza. Ok, maybe that's a bit much, but we did see schools of blue mao mao fish, various types of colorful perch, a carpet shark, colorful nudibranchs, a bunch more eels, and a whole lot more. We were able to go through the arch, circle around the outside of the island, go back through the arch, turn around and go back through the arch in the reverse direction, and look around the channel before surfacing. This may well be my favorite dive to date.

Yesterday morning, we caught up on well-deserved sleep and enjoyed breakfast with Jenni before heading into Whangarei for some shopping. Even in the relatively small town of Whangarei, the shopping overwhelmed me. It's so hard to choose between the beautiful paua shell, NZ jade, bone carvings, kauri wood, and wool products that are available just about everywhere. I made some selections, George had a short black (espresso), and we headed for Auckland via
Matakohe.

In Matakohe, we stopped at the Kauri Museum on recommendation from Rick and Jenni. Unfortunately, we only had an hour before closing to check out the museum. Fortunately, though, we managed to skim nearly the entire thing. Kauri is a huge, native tree that has been growing in New Zealand for the last 190-135 million years. The wood is strikingly beautiful, and gum from the tree is a resin similar to amber used for jewelry, varnish, and other practical means. These days, only 4% of the kauri population remains, so very few kauri trees are allowed to be cut. Because the wood is so hard, kauri trees that were cut many years ago have survived in swamps and are now being recovered for use as furniture and the like. The museum and shop were well worth our small detour.

We finally returned to Auckland last night in time for dinner with Pierre and Anna. They're graciously hosting us for the next few nights. I'm enjoying getting to know Pierre and Anna after hearing so much about them over the past year and a half. I think George and Pierre are pretty happy to be reunited as well.

Thus far, I am thoroughly enjoying New Zealand. The people are unforgettable, food superb, and scenery gorgeous. Oh, and the coffee isn't bad either. I'll have a flat white, please!

01 August 2007

Canberra, Australia

Last weekend, we drove out to Canberra to see Paul...one of George's childhood friends. George is a champ at driving on the wrong (left) side of the road.

Paul showed us a nice time in Canberra. Being the Australian capital, we checked out the "Australian national federal" area from a nice lake park. Just like DC, there are libraries, zoos, museums, and other such attractions that are called the National (Federal, etc.) ______ simply because they are located in the capital. Paul was also kind enough to point out the eagle on a pole that the US government gave to Australia. Couldn't we have done better than that?!

On Sunday, we went to a local nature preserve so that I could see some funny Australian wildlife (aside from the dead wombat I saw along the road driving to Canberra). We managed to find two sleeping koalas, a rock wallaby, an emu, and many kangaroos. For those of you unfamiliar with the strange animals in Australia, a wombat is similar to a groundhog/woodchuck. A wallaby, from a distance, resembles a prairie dog. An emu is a giant bird, something similar to an ostrich. Clicking on the links will give you the info provided by Wikipedia. Kangaroos are...well...cool! We saw bunches of them and managed to get relatively close to two of them. They're not terribly exciting to watch until they start hopping...that makes me giggle every time! video

We got back to Sydney just in time to pack, sleep for a few hours, and head to the airport for a 7:00am flight.

27 July 2007

I love Sydney!

Yesterday morning, I arrived in Sydney. George greeted me and got me set up with a map of the city before he dashed off to work.

I had a glorious day exploring the city! The day was sunny with temperatures in the upper 60s and made for walking. I wandered around the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House for most of the day. The adjacent botanical gardens are also quite beautiful. I'm amazed at how Sydney pulls off clean, hip, professional, and fun vibes all at once! This is a walkable, well-planned city. George and I went out for dinner on Darling Harbor last night, and we had an overwhelming amount of choices. The only draw back I've found so far is the outrageous cost of pretty much everything.

This morning we went out on a dive charter for two morning dives. Amazing. Really. The visibility on both dives was 50+ feet. At the shallow site, I could see where we were diving to before even breaking the surface. This is the best visibility I've ever experienced, and it makes me gitty! I could get used to safety stops mid-blue water. We wore wetsuits with no gloves or booties, and stayed plenty warm below water...and it's winter here. Again, truly incredible.

As for the critters we saw, they included three varieties of sharks (grey nurse, Australian ugly, and Port Jackson), two cuttle fish, two huge bull rays, trigger fish, and an eel. There were schools of tropical fish all around. Being that we're in Sydney, I felt like I was suddenly part of Finding Nemo.

George is finishing his last moments of work before vacation as I type. We're looking forward to a weekend outside Sydney with Paul and then three weeks in New Zealand. Cheers!

Oh, China

Being in China was frustrating and more difficult than I anticipated. I experienced more culture shock than I expected, yet I also became "comfortable" more quickly than I expected. On so many levels, it was a wonderful experience.

It was the first time I visited a country where neither of my two languages is spoken. It's scary to rely entirely on hand gestures or something that a stranger wrote for you. I now have a far greater appreciation for folks coming to the US without speaking or understanding English.

It was also interesting to be in an Olympic city the year before the Olympics. The people of Beijing have a lot of work to do in the next year to be ready for world's stage. With the large amount of manpower and excellent examples of other cities in their country, they certainly have the capacity to pull it off. You better believe that I'll be tuned in next summer.

Chinese Traffic and Food

Traffic in China is something else. Besides the immense number of people in the streets in cars, on bicycles, on scooters, in rickshaws, or on foot, the way they interact is positively fascinating.

Pedestrians hold much of the power...when they're in a group. It doesn't matter if the red stop symbol is illuminated or if the crossing guard is squealing his/her whistle louder than a semi truck. If a group of pedestrians wants to cross the street, good luck stopping them. Drivers are reckless, but they aren't going to run over an entire crowd of people. I took advantage of being outside the jurisdiction of the Seattle Police and joined the jay-walking crowd as often as safely possible.

Then there are bicycles, scooters, and rickshaws. As a lone pedestrian, you have to watch out for traffic in the bike lane just like you would cars because they will not stop for one or two people. They will obey the traffic lights only when convenient and do as they please the rest of the time. Doing as they please may also include driving against traffic. When we took a tour of the hutongs (small neighborhoods) of Beijing, our rickshaw driver did this, and I thought my life was going to be abruptly ended. Scooters are particularly dangerous because they're not always in the bike lane...or even on the road. The sidewalk seemed to be perfectly acceptable if the road and bike lane were too busy. Incredible.

Vehicular travel is probably the most dangerous, however. Seat belts are rarely worn, and I don't recall seeing a single child or infant car seat. Just as with pushing and shoving on the sidewalk, there is no common courtesy or right of way on the roadway. I saw at least three accidents where one car went into another lane and right into the side of an unyielding vehicle. It was not uncommon to see five vehicles (cars, trucks, vans, buses, etc.) attempting to fit across three lanes of road. Though terrifying, I grew accustomed to riding amongst the craziness.

I wish I had good news to report in the food department. The food I had in Beijing was dire - really, truly terrible. One night, we tried hot pot (a pot of boiling broth/oil that is used to cook the raw food you order with it). It was okay, but not enough to make up for the rest of Beijing's disappointment. In Chengdu, I had kung pao chicken at every opportunity.

The experience of eating in a Chinese restaurant as a foreigner was interesting. We'd walk in and ask if there was a menu in English. If not, that was the end. If so, we'd sit down. There would be one page of English menu to replace the 20-page Chinese menu. The menu items would be very simple descriptions like "chicken with cashews." (It's not kung pao chicken outside Sichuan...don't be fooled like I was several times.) There is one menu issued per table, regardless of the number of people sitting at the table. All the while, the wait staff is standing over your shoulder waiting for your order. Once you give them your order, you will only see them again when your food comes out and when you flag them down and beg for the check. When you request the check, the wait staff tells you the total and waits there until receiving the money. The itemized bill may or may not be given to you after your change is returned.

26 July 2007

Shopping? I'm there!

Visiting the market was a highlight of my time in Beijing. Anyone who knows my family's legacy of shopaholics should not be surprised!

As soon as Tracy told me that tailored suits could be made a reasonable prices, I had to have one! My beloved suit took us to the market three times (pick out material, first fitting, final fitting). The final product is pretty amazing, and...well...looks made just for me. It ended up just being an excuse to come to this fascinating place.

The market we frequented was an indoor market with 5 floors of vendors. Each floor has a general theme (bags and shoes, women's clothes, men's clothes, jewelry and salons). With few exceptions, any given item can be found at 5 or more stores. Supply is definitely in the buyer's favor. The people working at the stalls sometimes rotated between stores and always remembered us. With 7.5RMB to 1USD, we could have a good time finding fun stuff for a pretty reasonable price.

Some of the vendors were particularly aggressive while others waited until you entered the stall. I can't tell you how many times I heard "Hello. Lady, you need ______. Which one do you want? I give you good price, Lady." Taking more than a .25 second glance at something was interpreted by the vendors as wanting something. Touch something, and you should be prepared to negotiate for it or have a good excuse for not wanting it.

Negotiating price was generally fun, and almost always followed the same pattern. At some point, the vendor would tell me to stop joking and offer a real price. And at least once, I would start to walk away. The less you want something, the more likely you'll get it. Tracy was particularly skilled at getting her desired price. We were both told at least once that we were tough bargainers. I'll take that as a compliment, thank you very much.

I'd love to tell you about the fun stuff that I got at the market, but many of you will see these things when Santa comes next December. Rest assured that I had a fun time picking them out!

Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square

Back in Beijing, Tracy and I decided it was time to start seeing the sites! We'd done our best to plan around the weekend, when tourist sites can be particularly busy, but we couldn't wait any longer to go into the Forbidden City.

On Saturday morning, we joined some serious crowds in the area around the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. While the early morning crowd was still in the Forbidden City, we went to an adjacent park, Jingshan Park, and climbed to the rock garden on top for a great view of Beijing. To the immediate south, we saw the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. To the west, we saw nearby Bei Hai Park. To the north was the area of the bell and drum towers, and the central business district could be seen to the east.


Against our better judgment, we braved the crowded and unrelenting afternoon sun to visit the Forbidden City. It's a beautiful maze of detailed buildings set on nearly 180 acres. We spent about four hours, and I don't think we covered even a fraction of it. The largest building, which most people recognize as the symbol of the Forbidden City, was under construction and completely closed. You can't go to Beijing without visiting the Forbidden City, but I really felt it was over-rated.

On several occasions, we wandered through the neighboring Tienanmen Square. Despite its tragic history, I thought it was really cool. There were always a lot of people using the large, open space. In the evening, families were out sharing time together and flying kites. Unfortunately, there was always a significant military presence in the Square as well. We even watched through a fence to see some sort of military training. It brought back not-so-fond Marine Corps memories.