To all my family, friends and fellow Canadians,
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Friday we decided that we would stay in or so we thought, since it has been a long and busy week for the both of us.
Now, if anyone knows Mark, his favorite dessert of all time, is the carrot cake. Siew happened to mention that she has just made carrot cake, and if we would like to come over and try it? Oh, she's good. Mark would not turn down such an invitation, so we wandered over to Temptations after dinner. Siew thought we should try the new sparkling wine, figuring it would compliment the carrot cake.
And well, after sampling the sparkling wine, one glass was enough, we figured we would have a bottle of red to share with the two sisters, since Siew will be heading back home to Malaysia. Like many expat wives, quite similar to the wildebeest migration in Africa, it's that time of year when when they make their annual pilgrimage. Some go for a month while others for the entire summer, (many don't like the heat here in Xiamen). Then there are a few, like this author, will stay on and keep their husbands entertained.
So, naturally our dear friend, Siew was quite excited. Oh, she's been giddy for the past week. She's like a seven year old waiting for Santa to bring her presents. She's happy, dancing, singing, and talking up a storm, (now I know where Daniel gets it from) while sister Siewyih gives her the, well, let's just say there was a bit of sibling envy going on here.
Mark tried to capture her little dance, but she wouldn't do a repeat performance, but Siewyih manage to do a great impersonation of her.
We will miss Siew, (though Mark and I will see her this weekend) while she is enjoying her time with her family in Ipoh.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Finally, a relaxing weekend where we were able to do lots of nothing. This weekend is sandwiched between two trips out of the country, and there aren't any birthdays of going away parties that we needed to attend. The rains of the last week, and the last remnants of typhoon, then tropical storm, Fengshen have finally seemed to have passed. It's still cloudy out, and we did have a couple of quick downpours yesterday, but this has also helped to bring the overall temperature down (now only 31C and 62% humidity) which makes it actually bearable to sit outside.
So sit outside we did, and we took to enjoying our balcony. We dragged our Bose Sounddock outside and on both Friday and Saturday nights we relaxed to some nice jazz and blues and talked a lot of mindless nothing.
We also managed to get a little organized with some of our photos and files. We finally loaded the photos from when we went to Wuyishan back in April with Ann over to Flickr, and Tina has added a new blog link onto her favourites. The new link is Thompson Stories, Tina's friends that are becoming foster parents and have decided to blog about all of their experiences, the blog is off to a strong start, we suggest that you check it out.
Ah, gambling in Macau - so after all our fun with Sic Bo and Roulette, we headed over to our old standby favorite of Blackjack.
As I said yesterday, Blackjack should be easy for us to play even in Macau, the rules are simple and well documented and everyone follows the same guidelines, right?
Biggest difference is the way the dealer operates, it seems standard in that all the player get their first card, dealer gets a face up card, players all get a second card, and then the play begins. That's right, the dealer doesn't take a second card so how people play effects the second card the dealer gets. We still stuck with the mindset of "Presume it'll be 10", but that concept was foreign to the locals here. Dealer showing a 8,9, or even a face card and they stand on a 12. What?
So lets say that the dealer has an 8 showing, I'm at the end of the table and take a hit to my 15. I get a 5 to give me twenty, great right? No, because the Dealer now takes a 10 and has 18 beating most of the table, whereas if I had stood on the 15 the dealer would've busted by going 8, 13, and finishing with 23. So, everyone with 12 and 14 lost because I presumed that the dealer had what the dealer ended up getting. I still win in this example, which is nice.
This method of playing is maddeningly frustrating as people refuse to build good hands that will help them, and us, win. We found our selves more often then we'd like saying "If only she had hit that 14 against the dealers Jack, you wouldn't have busted and I would've taken the Ace the dealer got..."
So, in this way of playing, if the dealer is showing an Ace you get asked if you want insurance, but you don't get to find out if you lose until after everyone has played and used up more cards - usually your best hands of the night.
But, now for the real differences, they have a 'Doubles" bar in front of where you place your bets. You can bet this and if you end up with doubles the casino pays you out at 30:1. That's not a bad bet except that the few times we tried we lost, and then usually received doubles right afterward.
The other twist is what I kind of call proxy betting, where you'll be playing with 10 HKD on the table and someone will lean over you and put some money down behind yours, usually 30-50, but sometimes hundreds of dollars, and they win or lose based solely on how you play. I can tell you that it is a little more stressful to hit the 13 against the dealers 7 when three people before you have 13, 18, and 15, and there's a Asian man standing right behind you with his 50 in your hands... Tina had this happen to her more then I did. But people will come right up to the table, lean over you and bet that you will get doubles, or just bet along with you, so the tables get big crowds around them where everyone is involved.
The final difference that we noticed gambling in Macau is that they don't really drink while gambling. Well, they drink, but they drink milk or tea or some strange pinapple-guava juice mixture, but not the acholic drinks that we are used to people drinking when gambling. I've heard, read actually, that it's because they feel they shouldn't be drinking when gambling because it interferes with their luck or something, maybe their concentration. But most of the games they play are luck games and not skill games, except for the Blackjack, which they've managed to take the skill out of. We managed to get some drinks and at our table, despite our alcoholic intake, we managed just about the same as everyoen else at the table.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Earlier we mentioned that Macau is marketing itself as the "Las Vegas of Asia", and as you wander out of the old downtown section you quickly move from the feeling of walking in Portugal to walking in Las Vegas. The somewhat recent additions of big name American casinos such as MGM Grand, Wynn, The Venetian, and Sands definitely add to that overall feeling.
But yet something is very different starting, as we mentioned, with the fact that the gambling floors are not the prominent item in the hotel and with the fact that when you find them they are fairly quiet. Having to go through a metal detector and have your bags checked or at least searched was another item that is in marked contrast to how things operate in Las Vegas, or even Atlantic City.
Another difference is the games themselves, the majority of the tables are Baccarat, Roulette, and Sic Bo. Thrown in around the Baccarat tables are some Blackjack, Caribbean Stud, and other card games, but there's not a lot of them. In all the casinos that we went to we only saw one craps table.
The new one, at least to Tina and myself, were the Sic Bo tables. The setup reminded me of the old board game "Trouble" where you'd push down a bubble to flip the game die, this was like that on steroids. Inside a glass dome are three dice, a bottom plate starts flipping the dice and then they cover the dome with a brass cover. The dice settle and everyone bets on the outcome of those three dice on a board similar to the following one.
Seem simple, you just add the totals, bet odd or even, big or small, or pick what any two of the three dice will be. It turned out to be just a simple way for the casino to take my money. I'm sure had I spent more time there we could have won a hand or two, same as you do with roulette, but we didn't bother to chase our money and find out.
As for the Roulette tables, something that I love in Vegas, we headed over to a simple 25 HKD table, handed in 100 HKD and asked for chips. We received 4 back, ah, no we would like them in 5HKD increments please. Similar to playing a $5 table at home where you can place 5 $1 chips on separate numbers. Nope, here you have to play with the minimum for the chip, feel free to spend more at once. We both lost with our 25 dollar chip so we cashed back in and walked away. Granted, even if we had both played 5 numbers we still would have lost, but we would have played again. It's just that even when we know we are going to eventually lose our money, we'd like to do it slowly...
From there to the Blackjack, something we know, where the rules are simple and well documented. Or so we thought...
Thursday, June 26, 2008
This may be illegal back home, but there is a new employee at Temptations. He's quite efficient, and a very quick learner. He's approximately 3 feet in height and about 7 years of age, and the son of Siew and Mark, who owns Temptations.
Ben started this week and was quite excited about working at Temptations, especially when he found out how much he was going to make for the week. The staff taught him about making coffee and when Siewyih ordered hers, he came prepared with the tray and placed the coffee in front of her, like he had been doing this for years. Later the sparkling wine came out while the owners sat back and relaxed after a hard day of work.
Now I know why people have children!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
A few weeks ago, we figured that we were in the rainy season, since it was pretty much nonstop for about 3 weeks. Some days the rain lasted all day, other days it was off and on. Since it was tough to get laundry done, as we don't have a dryer, I decided to take the towels and such to the dry cleaners. They too, don't have dryers but they have room to hang their laundry.
We had a week or so reprieve and now it appears we are in the tropical storm season. Fengshen hit the Philippines, sinking a ferry that carried about 900 people, most missing and presumed dead. It's now been demoted to a tropical storm heading towards Taiwan.
We are expecting thunderstorms starting this evening until next Tuesday, according to some weather forecasts.
I guess I'm sending laundry out!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
So, while we were in Macau we did partake in a little of that gambling that they are known to have there. This link on Macau is probably what we should have included when we first posted, but eh, those of you with the initiative would have looked it up anyway.
But, although we spent most of our time in Macau hiking up to lighthouses and convincing Tina to take shortcuts through junkyards (here I would have liked to have spent some time just perusing), we also decided that we should maybe at least wander into one of the casinos. It would be like a trip to Vegas where you walk the strip and take a tour of Hoover dam, but never set foot inside the Tropicana...
The first casino we walked into was an old Macau casino/hotel, and although we knew that it was going to be different then Las Vegas we wern't quite prepared for how different. You walk into an entrance that is like the entrance of a hotel in Des Moines, Iowa. Quiet, clean, maybe a little more elaborate then Iowa but not a casino. There's a little sign pointing to an escalator that simply reads "Casino -->". Two flights up and your at an entrance to a casino, we can see gambling tables inside, but you need to walk through a metal detector first. The guard stops us and asks to see our membership cards - huh? He points to a simple desk and tells us you just need to hand in your passports to become a member. Maybe it's us, but we don't carry our passports around, so we ask if all the casinos are like this - "Yes, every one. You need to be a member for all the casinos on the island."
Wow, that seems crazy, no way we people are going to carry around 5-6, maybe 12, different membership cards. We walked out in disbelief and decided to try the Wynn Casino. An American casino would do things like they do in America, right? Right?
Well, sort of. The casino is still hidden away in the back of the hotel, you need to check your bags in, or at least Tina did, I was OK to bring my camera bag in - so long as the camera stay inside of it, and the water bottle on the outside, no that had to be placed inside the bag. No drinking outside water. After that it's just a casino, except for the silence... anyone that has ever been to Vegas knows the noise associated with the slot machines, which are very few in Macau, are delegated to the back of the casino and without all the bells and whistles.
Then, for more fun, you walk up to a table and plop down a nice thick stack of Macau Patacas (approximately 7.8 MOP to 1 USD) and they tell you "Sorry, we don't accept the local currency. we only play with Hong Kong Dollars." This would be like Las Vegas only accepting Mexican Pesos. But, the change counters will change any currency for you (free of commission) and then you are finally free to be parted from your money in the same manner as you would gambling in the states...
Monday, June 23, 2008
Last week, my dear friend Siew treated me to a pedicure and manicure one afternoon and as one good deed deserves another, I told her that I would take her for her first foot massage. Yes, Siew, who has been living in Xiamen for the past two years has never had a foot massage. One of the best things here in China, and the women has never experienced such pleasure, though if you ask my husband he will give you a totally different opinion.
Part of the issue was due to Mark, recounting his story of his painful experience of getting a foot massage. After I explained, that it wasn't as bad as Mark made it out to be, she agreed.
We had lunch and then headed to one of my favorite places. Here, they place a bucket of hot herbal water in front of you, where you place your feet and sit on an ottoman. They first massage your back, arms, and head. After 30 minutes of the upper body, you sit back in the big reclining chairs, remove your feet from the bucket, where they will begin the foot massage. They massage every part of your foot, from your toes, to your heel, inside as well as outside of your foot. The massage also extends to your legs as well. After 30 or 40 minutes, they bring hot stones wrapped in a towel and massage your calves and feet. It's quite lovely, and Siew enjoyed it very much and for the price of 50 RMB or about 7USD, it's one of the best deals in China.
In fact, Siew loved it so much, when she returns from Malaysia in August, we vowed that this will become a biweekly treat.
Now, if I can only get Mark to enjoy it as much!
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Saturday morning we woke up early to continue our tour of Macau. Another lovely day. Only 39 degrees Celsius and crystal blue skies. Something not often seen here in Xiamen.
We headed north to the Catholic cemetery, took a few pictures, and then moved on to Lou Lim Park. This was more of a Chinese style park, with Lotus ponds, small temples and a few stone lions standing guard. It was quite tranquil and also gave us a break from the sun. After snapping a few pictures here and listening to some Chinese play music on traditional instruments, we continued on to Flora Park.
Now, according to the book we brought with us, at Flora Park there is a cable car going to the top. Here, you get a very pretty view of Macau. The lighthouse was also located at the top. Of course when we arrived, the cable car wasn't working. We climbed to the top of the hill, sweating in the sun, knowing that once we arrived to the top it would be worth the climb. Not so much for the view, but for the snack bar that was waiting for us. A nice cold beverage in the shade was just what we needed after walking about 3 hours through Macau.
We arrived at the top of the hill, to find out the lighthouse had just closed for lunch. Nonetheless, pictures were taken and we enjoyed a beautiful view of Macau.
We continued our journey to the next stop. The wine museum. If for nothing else to get out of the sun. To get there my beloved decided that we should take a short cut and save about 20 minutes. Great, I know where this is going, I lament. Mark sees this trail leading down to, well, actually he wasn't sure, but figured it's at trail to someplace. We start going down this narrow path, and head right into a construction site and a junk yard. He then announces that we may have to crawl under a fence to get out as it appears to be locked. I give him my wifely stare, which basically says, are you kidding me? He then spots a door in the fence that's open and we take that exit.
We finally arrive at the wine museum, which tracked the history of wines back to early Phoenicians. After the meandering through the museum, we were greeted with a wine tasting. How could we refuse? It was a nice break.
It's about 2:30pm and we figure we should grab something to eat. We head over to the casinos, and see a Lebanese restaurant. It's been a long time since we have had good hummus so we ordered a few appetizers and then headed off to the MGM, to check out our luck at the tables. It started off very well, in fact we came out ahead. Now we figure we should have dinner as it's about 8pm. After dinner, we go back to the tables. Alas, our luck had turned and not for the better. That being said, we still had a good time, and met some fun people.
Friday, June 20, 2008
We have been very lucky, as the weather here is perfect. We were talking to one of the locals and they told us that it had been raining for the last two weeks and that this was the first nice day that they've had.
We had a full day of wandering some of the old Portuguese buildings, and a little wandering of the casinos. The architecture is amazing, it really is beautiful. Last night we also had a wonderful sunset, which we couldn't quite capture with our cameras, a nice full Macau-Portuguese dinner, and then we wandered along by the casinos and enjoyed a comfortable evening with the full moon.
It's that time again, time for us to leave the country on a quick visa run. We've actually been in China now for just under the full 3 months that our visa will allow us to stay, with the last time we left being the trip with Matt to Japan to watch the Red Sox opening series.
That all seems so long ago, doesn't it?
So here were are in the Las Vegas of Asia, a quick flight away and a just a quick weekend of touring the old Portuguese city and the old and new casinos. It should be a good time....
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
We just realized that last month, while my parents were visiting, we managed to miss posting on of their guest blogs. This is a terrible thing for us to have missed, and I'm thinking now that is was just something that we overlooked when they flew up to Beijing and Tina and I flew up to Shanghai for the weekend.
But I have now posted this missing blog, and since I am slightly anal about these things, I have backdated in using Blogger's fancy Post Date feature. This is so that long after we've stopped blogging, if somebody stumbles upon this site and decided it is worth reading - all will appear to have been posted in the correct order. Well all except for this post explaining, but we'll worry about that far into said blogging future...
So, the lost post can be found by clicking on this link, or by just selecting the May archives and scrolling down to May 22. I recommend checking it out, it's one of their better written ones, and now, as a bonus of being posted late, there are pictures included.
This inserting also means that our much talked about 300th post will now actually have been our 301st post, but again, I'm willing to let that slide.
Posted by Mark at 03:24
Monday, June 16, 2008
Saturday evening, after we dropped Ben and Daniel back off with Siew we went out to enjoy grown up stuff.
Our friend Ed, of the Ed and Christine that lived here for six months and have now moved back to Vermont, is back in Xiamen for the week to check up on all the work they had been doing. So, to welcome him back to China, what better then a nice quick dinner and then some drinks?
We went to dinner at a great little Japanese place that they had introduced us to, for 100元 a person you can order as much sushi, tempura, or grilled steak as you would like, and you get two little bottles of sake to drink. That's about $14 a person, we made sure we were stuffed full of food...
From there, since the weather seemed to be cooperating, we headed over to You & Me 2 for some drinks.
We grabbed a table away from the band so we could talk, and just spent the time catching up and laughing about how China and the States are different and how they are similar. We also saw some other people that we knew, and before long we had a group of six others around the table with us.
It was a fun night, we placed a call in to Vermont and told Christine that we are looking forward to the next time that she visits. Ed was smart and left somewhere, we are thinking, close to midnight. We made some more calls, since it was now only 11:00 in Chicago, but our international minutes were quickly used up. This, we are thinking, was a good thing as it got us to go back to the table and talk some more with the group that was there.
Next thing we know, the bar was closing and the owner's wife said "Stay as long as you'd like to chat, but we're all going home..." Yeah, it was just about 05:00 - a little later then we planned on staying out.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Saturday morning we were up bright and early, fully rested after a relaxing Friday night of doing pretty much nothing, so we were fully ready for a full day of running around with Siew's kids Ben and Daniel.
We were worried that it was going to rain all day and that we would have to find ways to entertain them at home, but luckily it looked like the rain was going to hold off for a while. This was nice, and it gave us a chance to let them run around and get good and tired. We had purchased some tennis racquets and a little ball on a return bungee cord that we thought would be easy to play and would keep them occupied for a while.
It didn't. Ben played with it for about 5 minutes, and both Tina and I also tried and had problems in getting this system to work properly, so we packed that up and Ben and I moved on to playing frisbee while Tina took Daniel over to play on the slides.
After a little more than an hour of running around Daniel decided that he needed a nap so we packed up and went inside. Ben and I pulled out a backgammon set to play, but we decided that it would take too much work to play properly, and for me to really remember the rules, so we put that away and just played a game of Rummicube.
Apparently the three of us were making too much noise for Daniel to sleep, so he came out and convinced us to switch to playing Scrabble. After a quick game we put in Shrek for them to watch, everything was good.
The only problem would be the fact that Daniel didn't get a chance to nap - we really learnt how bad that was when we finished watching Shrek and told them that, since is was after 17:00, it was time to head back over to meet up with their mom. Daniel decided that he wanted to watch Lilo & Stich next, and since he wasn't going to it was time for him to move into full temper-tantrum mode. This child is going to make a great actor at some point, for when he wants to scream, cry, pout and stomp around he makes sure that everyone knows exactly how unhappy he is...
This made for some fun, but within 20 minutes he had quickly fallen asleep and we simply packed up all of their belongings and carried him back over to Siew's. Once we got in he quickly woke up and remembered that he was upset, and especially since he had a new audience, the screaming and crying started up all over again... We aren't quite sure how long he managed to keep this second tantrum going, as Siew handed him over to their ayi and she took him home to put him to bed.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
A few weeks ago, we were at Gulang Yu while wandering around with Mark’s parents when a young woman approached us and started asking questions. Do you speak English? Where are you from? And so on. As we continued to speak to this young Chinese lady the conversation is starting to sound oh, so familiar.
Chinese gal: “I live here in Gulang Yu and you have to help me.”
Tina: “Why? What’s wrong?”
Chinese gal: “People are trying to hurt me?”
Tina: “Really”, thinking here we go again, except she doesn’t recognize me from her last plea back at the university a few months ago.
Chinese gal: “Yes”
Tina:”Why don’t you go to the police? I’m sure they can help you.” Here’s where she tells me again, that they won’t listen, and they will hurt her.
Now at this point I’m walking towards my husband, who is explaining that I’m becoming more Chinese as I’m walking directly in front of her and he thought she wanted to go passed me, until I explained it’s the con artist I spoke with months ago at the university.
Now, Mark starts talking to her and I leave her with him, as Mark can be just as pesky.
Ah, once Tina made the switch there was no looking back, Tina speed off with my parents and as I tried to catch up our new friend started talking and talking. It seems like she is the cook for her neighbors on Gulang Yu island, and they’ve taken to hating her and plotting to have her killed. Being that I read Tina’s last post on this girl, I knew her story and told her that we had already heard about the danger that she was living in, and that we were glad she was still alive as we were sure she would have been dead months ago…
She would just look at me and say “No, really. I am in danger, I need your help.” When I explained that she had already told us this, and that her story had changed she would get confused and say something like “I told you this? Then you understand that I need help. What? Different story? Maybe you were talking to somebody else who needs help, there are a lot of evil people on this island…”
This back and forth conversation when on for about 10 minutes, shortly after I explained to her that we live in Xiamen and she needs to get better at telling westerners apart so that she doesn’t keep approaching the same people, something clicked in her head and she said “Maybe I will not walk with you anymore, you have a good day, it was nice talking to you…” and she stopped and watched us walk away.
I took a picture of our little actress. You never know when someone may run into her here in Xiamen.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
This recent weekend was a full one, a busy weekend that consisted of a birthday party, witnessing an offering to Buddha, wandering the markets, and then marching across the island in an attempt to find deodorant.
Yes, a search for deodorant that took us from the local supermarket, Rainbow, to Watson's, a UK chain that resembles a Walgreen's back in the States (Shopper's Drugmart to our Canadian followers), to the French Carrefour - think Walmart, and then finally to actually stop at Walmart. Yes, the Walmart stores that we had vowed never to go into again after our first, and second, foray into them with Rocky when we first moved here. Guess what? They're still super crowded, and as an added bonus - they too do not have deodorant.
Now I guess that's not entirely true, we have been able to find small bottles of Adidas antiperspirant, or bottles of Nivia antiperspirant, but I'm looking for deodorant and not antiperspirant and these are both in ladies scents. Ah the fun....
That's ok, as I slowly approach the end of my current supply I use it a little more sparingly; they don't notice at work, and I try to avoid any activity that would make me sweat. Not easy in a country where the believe there is something wrong with cooling a building below 28C (82F). We leave the country in two weeks for visa reasons, right now our only hope is that the civilized world that we land in has some supply of the ever-elusive deodorant....
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
First I was shocked to see the snake and then I remembered where I was living, and seeing snakes at the market and at restaurants. Ignorance is bliss I guess.
Monday, June 9, 2008
First you have to cook, cook and cook some more. Okay, so far thinking this is too much work already, but hey, not my religion. The had fish, chicken, rice, noodles, vegetables, and fruits as their offering. Once everything was cooked, they placed the fruit on the top shelf, and the food below, then Siew had three incense sticks for lack of a better word, and prayed. Generally you pray for health, happiness and prosperity but you can ask for just about anything. Siew was quick, so I guess she stuck with the basics. Once that was done, typically you have to leave so that the "gods" have time to eat and absorb the offering. Afterwards, they burned the paper money so that the business will be prosperous. At some point, two coins are placed near the Buddha, and then tossed on the floor. Depending on how the coins face, depends on if you can eat the food that you placed as an offering. One coin has to come up "heads" and one "tails", if not you have to place them again near the Buddha and try again. Once you have the coins in the correct position, you can eat the food that was offered.
Buddha waiting for his food
The offering of money
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Yesterday was the day for Edlin's full afternoon birthday party over at the Mexicans. This time we had also invited Siew, Siewyih, and Siew's kids to come along with us as well, just to add to the group and to let the kids have fun playing on the big inflatable slide thing that the Mexican has for all of his kids to play on.
Unfortunately the weather didn't feel like playing along at all, and when we got up in the morning it was a dreary gray with a light mist. It looked like there were some spots that were clearing up but overall it didn't look like we would be having a fun barbecue. We stopped over to Temptations and pickup up a lemon tart, along with Siew and the kids before heading out.
When we were heading over it really started to rain, not good at all, as it just wouldn't be as fun for everyone to be crammed into the house. When we arrived we found that the Mexican had realized the same thing and had gone out earlier in the day and made some quick purchases so that everyone could enjoy an outdoor barbecue.
Yep, a giant tarp to cover the lawn so that we could all still sit outside. Rene Jr. was put in charge of coming out every 20 minutes or so and running all the water off from where it was pooling up in the tarp. There were a few leaks, and it was smoky underneath from the grilling, but it really was a perfect solution.
It was a fun afternoon/evening with lots of great burgers and chicken, a nice cake, lemon tart, some margaritas, wine, and daiquiris. The bottle with the snake was out on the table but only one of the guests tried any this time.