Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas in Lenox.

After spending those short few days with Tina's family, we headed down to the states to spend the immediate post-Christmas time with family in Lenox.

Thursday night we had the family over for a nice Christmas dinner, and from what I can tell everyone enjoyed it....

Sitting down for dinner

It was good, as much as Tina was the main one itching to get back home and see everyone, it really is nice to get together with the whole family and talk to everyone again and catch up. Again, my mom attributes this all to Tina, as in the past there were long stretches where several years would go by without me getting home.

More stories about China and what the culture is really like were told, as much as I normally repeat stories even these stories did seem a bit repetitive to me, as now it's been the third time we are telling the same thing, albeit to a new group. At least we only have to tell them once or twice more in Chicago, but it is nice to know that everyone is that interested and enjoys listening to them...

After dinner Tina jump up and, fresh from her family, proceeded to organize everyone around so that she could get all of the required holiday family photos.

The Wichmann men

Unfortunately, the room was dark and without the flash most of the photos that Tina took came out either too dark or blurry. Hopefully everyone else managed to get good pictures and we can get copies of those files the next time that we come home.
Excellent food, and good conversation with family, although short it was a great time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Eve/Day

Sorry for the delay in keeping up with the blog, but it's been a little hectic since we arrived home for the holidays.

Since it will be a months or longer before we see each other, it was nice that we were able to spend some time together.

We had the traditional Schmidt family, where a great Christmas Eve dinner was held followed by singing, picture taking, and gift exchanges. Christel worked hard over the past days putting the dinner together, to have it all digested in about 45 minutes. As for our singing, well let's just say that the Von Trapp family we aren't.

Christmas day,my brother and his wife, put on a very tasty meal and by request made my favorite food, kazespaetzel. It' s a southern German dish my mother used to make and I put my request in about 2 months ago. Of course he had little elves to help him. Thanks, Brenda, Willy, Karen and Jennifer and yes, the rest of it, followed me from Brantford, to Boston, to Chicago and hoping it will survive the China flight.

As always when visiting family and friends it goes by quickly, but the great memories will keep me going until we see each other again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

So far our Chinese gifts have gone over well....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fun at Schmidt's

Ah, Christmas. It's good to be home for the holidays to visit with family. We arrived on late on Saturday and had a nice family dinner where Christel prepared some good German food that we haven't had in a long time.

Yesterday, Brenda and Willy hosted dinner at their place and fondue was on the menu. Since some of the family members will not be visiting us in China it was nice to spend some time together with everyone and catch up with some of their stories.

We will be having our traditional Christmas dinner and enjoying our time with family.

Mark and I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Barb's Christmas Party.

Ah, so finally it is beginning to feel like the holidays.

Last night Barb had her yearly holiday party, and nothing quite makes you feel like it's close to Christmas like hanging out at Barb's place with all of their friends. This marks my third year in coming up to this party, and finally they realized that maybe, just maybe, it was time to open up the invitee list. Barb's party, so far as I can tell, has pretty much always been a girls night out type of pre-holiday get together, and for the last two years I was the odd man at the party, and thus treated like that odd sideshow circus attraction that people look at but don't really want to get to close to...

Last night, finally, there was some relief in that I wasn't the lone man at the party. Since I had broken the all women barrier a few years ago, Bridget was allowed to bring her husband Mario to the party. It's nice to see these things opening up to all, and it was a great night of fun which centered mainly on Tina telling China stories and showing off her new language knowledge.

And, as another note, our luggage decided to show up too. I waited all day, mostly watching Discovery and the History channel which I didn't realize I missed that much, and around 15:00 I received a call asking for confirmation on the address to deliver our bags to. Only problem was they only had one bag to deliver. "Where's the other bag" I asked only to hear "We just deliver, we're not the airline, I can't answer your questions..." Yep, that's fun.

So, wait I did and around 18:00 another call came in, this time to tell us that our bag would be delivered before 23:00. Great, so the window of noon to six had now moved to six to eleven, and they still only had one bag. Tina made a few calls to the airlines and somehow our second bag was found. Our bags were delivered mid-party at 20:00 and 21:30.

All is well in our world again.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Arrival in Toronto

Ah, after a grand total of 27 hours of traveling we finally made to Barb's house in Toronto. And, as always this trip had its extra bit of enjoyment.

Our flight out a Chicago was delayed a bit, so we ended up with with some extra time which we used to enjoy a fine McDonald's meal...

We arrived in Toronto just after 23:30, and waited at the baggage claim for another 20 minutes before any of the bags started being delivered, they must have hand carried the bags from the plane. After the third set of luggage finished and most everyone had picked up their bags and moved on through customs we we quite certain that our bags hadn't made the final leg of the journey with us...

We had seen our bags in Chicago, where we needed to pick them up and bring them through customs, and we then checked them back in with AA for the trip to Toronto. There were bags everywhere at the check-in, and everything did seem a little disorganized. The agents in Toronto were nice about it and informed us that they should fly up today and that we could expect our bags to be delivered to us around 13:00....

So, today while Tina runs off to her dentist and does standard Canadian things, I'll wait here at the house for our bags.

But, even if they can't find the bags, you needn't worry, it's only our clothes, Tina packed all of the gifts she brought for people into her carry on bag.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A moment of reflection.

How things have changed.

This morning we departed Xiamen to head home and spend the holidays with family and friends. As I left Xiamen, I was reflecting how life has changed for us.

About 4 months ago, we left Chicago to live in China for a new adventure. Mark is now experiencing the cultural differences in his professional life and I, as the Hong Kong representative so eloquently put it, “you’re either a housewife or student, you can’t be both. I explained that I was a student and a housewife, but she wasn’t buying it, and put me down as only a “housewife”. Mark still laughs.

It’s amazing to me, how life changes. Both Mark and I were raised in small towns/villages and here we are years later, living across the world. Mark attempting to understand how the Chinese work, sometimes a bit confused, and I’m going back to school to learn Chinese and taking Tai Chi, while being a housewife.

So now we are sitting at the airport in Shangai, having spent the last three hours transferring from the Shanghai domestic airport to their international airport, and getting through customs and inspection. We will be flying soon to see our families again, and would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Ah, life is fun!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Final details in Xiamen....

Today was the last day of school until next year, and there were things that still needed to be completed before leaving tomorrow.

I had promised a classmate that I would take him to the tailor that I know, since the tailor that he went to had done a very poor job on his suit. He wanted a tuxedo made before he went back to Sweden. Apparently they have lots of black tie events.

Edlin and I took Sigge to our tailor, since there is no way he would find his place. This is the power of the expat community here in Xiamen. We found this place via two Spanish expats who have been living here for the past couple of years. According to a friend of ours from Hong Kong, originally from Shanghai, the best tailors are from Shanghai. In fact, the people from Hong Kong will inquire as to where the tailor is from, hoping that they are from Shanghai. Call it dumb luck, but this guy is from Shanghai, and his work is very good. I just had pants made from a pair that I bought from North Face, and the cost was 40 RMB, about 6.00 USD, that does not include the material. The material was the same price as the tailor, for a total of 12 USD. In fact, I think most of our clothes over the next year will be tailor made, I just have to get Mark in to get measured.

After 90 minutes of helping Sigge with his choice of material and style for his tuxedo, Edlin and I tried a new place for our foot massage. Again, recommended from more expats. This place is huge and a little more clinical than our place at the Crown Plaza we normally go to. We get a VIP room, which includes your own bathroom, tub and shower, two seats for you foot massage, and two tables for a body massage. Figuring that Mark and I will be travelling for over 26 hours tomorrow, Edlin and I decide that we will go for the foot massage and the full body massage. The foot massage was 70 minutes and the body massage was 6o minutes. The body massage was the most painful massage I have ever experienced but was definitely worth it. At one point he was massaging my head and I felt like it was in a vice grip. I thought Edlin was asleep so I didn't want to scream in pain. Afterwards Edlin thought I was asleep and didn't want to make any noise as she too thought that being in labour was easier than this. She used her breathing from Lamaze class to help her through the pain. The total cost was 120RMB which equals to less than USD 20.

It was a great send off before leaving for Xiamen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

We have greatness amongst the students

Today at class we learned that our teacher, Chen Laoshi will be flying to Shanghai on Thursday regarding her book that she wrote. She had written a book in Chinese explaining the history of their written language and helps us understand the meaning of the characters. She is flying up to do the last minute revisions before the book is published.

We are all very excited for her, and hope that her book will be published before we leave China so that we will be able to purchase the book, even though it will be written in Chinese.

If I'm lucky I may be able to make out a paragraph or two. It's great to know that if I am going to learn the language, I will have been taught by someone who is a subject matter expert.

Between that and my Tai Chi Master, I feel like I'm getting an authentic Chinese experience.


Monday, December 17, 2007

A moment to catch our breath

Every once in awhile, we have to stop and let the world pass us by. Well at least for a weekend. We can't explain why, but our social life here in China almost rivals what we had back home and we know less people. We decided that this past weekend we would take it easy, relax and get a few necessary items checked off on our "to do list", okay my "to do list". The only scheduled event we had was Sue's party on Saturday. Knowing some things needed to be accomplished before we headed home, this was the only weekend.

Mark works great under pressure and most of our items were checked off by Sunday night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Polka Dot Party.

Last week when we went over to our favorite shop in Xiamen, Temptations wine & coffee, Siew's sister came running up to Tina all excited and made sure to invite us to a party that she was throwing at Temptations on the next weekend, which was last night. But, and here was the catch, it's a polka dot party so you need to wear something with polka dots. Actually it was a 70's/polka dot party, so we could choose which we wanted to wear. That was nice of her to give us that option, as we had both brought all of our seventies outfits with us when we moved over here.
Well, we had a week to find something to wear, so we did our best. Turns out that the reason for the party was that it was Siew's sisters birthday, and she had quite a turnout of friends. The above photo is Siew, her sister (also named Siew or close and I'm not sure how to spell it), one of their workers, and Allen, the sister's husband.

This is my seventies shirt, we put our collars up but I felt that to really complete the outfit I needed to have a few gold chains on. What did help is that Ben and George had less of an outfit then me....
Tina went all out for her outfit and used a polka dot strip to tie her hair up. It had more of a fifties look, but she fit the party criteria more than I did.
It was a good night to sit outside and enjoy the winter weather, and the food that they had cooked up was excellent. There was a mini scavenger hunt, and Tina and Ben (one of Siews kids) teamed up and won a box of cookies.

Oh, and the new raised road that their building, it goes right past Temptations, so while we sat on the patio we could watch the ongoing construction. Below you can see them pouring the concrete for the pillar on the left, and getting ready to put the roadway up on the right. They stopped working last night shortly after 21:00, but Siew told us that most nights they seem to work straight through and that it's been a rough month because of the constant noise.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Building Across...

Yesterday while describing how buildings are built here in China, I also mentioned that Xiamen is doing a lot of work on their infrastructure.

The island is currently connected to the mainland via two bridges, and since the local government kicked all manufacturing off of the island over to the mainland a few years ago, the morning commute has become quite congested. To alleviate these traffic issues they are building two new bridges and a tunnel to connect them to the mainland.
About a month ago they started construction on the main road that bisects the island. The road (下禾路) runs from the coast a block away from us up and past the train station to the large mall and the connects to the road connection to the mainland. What they are doing is building a raised section in the middle of the street. I've heard that it is for a train, or for the buses, or just additional traffic lanes, but whatever it is it'll definitely help to alleviate some of the congestion.

This pictures shows the construction equipment that they use to dig the holes for the supports. There must be a hundred of these all along the road, and all of the workers sleep in small lean-to's that are set up right next to the machines they work at. Every morning on the shuttle I can see people getting up, brushing their teeth, getting dressed, eating, all your standard morning activities save for the shower.

Within the first month they already have at least 6 of the concrete supports completely poured, the speed that this this is done is amazing to me. I don't really know how long this should take, but compared to the absolute snails pace that everything else works at, I'm shocked to see how fast this is done.

The changes undergoing this city are amazing, and although in some ways we think it sad to watch the old narrow streets and houses torn down to build wide streets, hi-rise condos, and shopping malls, we realize that it is just the growing pains that a booming economy goes through, and we compare it to all the beauty that was demolished in the states in the name of progress.....

Friday, December 14, 2007

Building down...

When we first moved here, lo those many months ago, one of the things that we were amazed at was the amount of construction that is going on everywhere in China. There are giant condos going up everywhere across this island, along with lots of work on the city's infrastructure.

One of the first things that you notice when watching them build here is that they don't build upwards the way we would, they start and the top and build down. Yep, it does seem strange.

You watch these buildings go up, first just as a shell of concrete, and then you'll see the walls being bricked in at the top of the building. From there they surround the walls with scaffolding and work on finishing the outside facade of the building. But they work on maybe 5 floors at a time, from the top floor down.

It's interesting as you'll watch the walls below the scaffolding being bricked in, and then one day you pass by and the scaffolding has all been moved down to the next section.

This is just one of those little things that struck us as odd when we first got here, and now you don't notice or even think about. I probably would now be surprised now to see a building being built up, such is the quantity of buildings being built here that you now just take it for granted that this is what everyone does....

The picture of the condos above was taken a few weeks after we moved into our apartment. They have finished building down to the ground now, but the outer construction walls are still up. We figure that they will be open for people to begin moving in this spring, and then if our place is any sort of indicator, it will not reach above 20% occupancy for the first two, maybe three, years.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Another Christmas dinner.

So last night it was the Mexicans turn to host a dinner party, this should be our final one before everyone starts heading home for the holidays.
They have a nice place with a small yard, so we were able to sit outside while Rene grilled up hamburgers for everyone. You forget how good a simple hamburger can be.

Oh, and happy birthday and everything else to Heather....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas came early!

Today our Foundation class teacher announced no classes on Friday. That's great we said, except we don't have Foundation class, we have our Listening class on Fridays. Chen Laoshi explains that all classes are cancelled due to the sport meeting which will be held on Friday. If we want to go to the sport meeting we should meet up at 7:30am and go together, she announces.

Foot massage here I come!

Monday, December 10, 2007

It's nice to see respect isn't outdated...

I had to write about this because when I was back in Chicago commuting on the brown line or travelling on the Clark bus, rarely did you see this happen. I can recall one time on the brown line, due to some stations being closed, the "El" was slower than molasses, and the trains were packed like sardines, so it was quite common to wait for the next train hoping that the cars had more space. There was a young woman who was pregnant and looked like she was going to have the baby at any moment. I was sitting by the window at the back watching the scene unfold or should I say not unfold. I kept looking at the young people sitting down and for three stops no one bothered to offer this gal a seat. The occupants who by the way were all young women and men chose to ignore her. I finally got her attention and nodded to her to come over and sit. As I stood up, a guy about 30 wanted the seat before I told him that the seat was for the gal who was pregnant.

What did that story have to do with today's blog?

This morning while on the bus going to university, I noticed a very strange phenomenon, not seen back home on a frequent basis. This happens most of the time here and thought I would share this with you. Each time an elderly person would board, the younger person relinquish their seats for them. This didn't just happen once or twice, each time someone older would board the person who was younger would give their seat to that person. In fact at one point, there were three people trying to give up their seats to the elderly and you couldn't tell which one was the older person.

How refreshing!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

It's about time...

We've been in Xiamen for almost 5 months now, and we've adjusted a lot and grown more and more accustomed to doing things the Chinese way, but there are still some things that we haven't gotten around to. Some of those are things that you should never put off for too long.

Case in point, putting off getting a haircut. I had my haircut in Chicago the last weekend that we were there, and hadn't gotten back around to getting it cut again. I knew that it needed it, Tina also made a point of letting me know that it was getting long. There's been several time that I was going to get it cut, but somehow it would always take back burner to other activities, such a shopping for cheese...

Finally I decided, or I guess we decided, that enough was enough. If I didn't bother to put any gel into my hair to try and hold it in place, it exploded into a big old afro...
So today our main goal was to get me a haircut. There are tons of salons all over the place, but we have read stories and talked to people here and those haircuts run more than one hour, usually at least an hour and a half. You go in, get your hair washed, scalp massaged, hair cut, washed again, and then finally styled. We didn't want to do that, especially since I'm used to the $15 hair cuts in Chicago where they try to get you seated, cut, and out the door in 15 minutes.

We have also seen really small, one chair in a 4'x6' room small, barbers while wandering the back alleys, that is what we went looking for today.
We found the perfect place, three chairs and a good size, with a few people in there getting haircuts. We went in, I pointed to the mop on my head, everybody laughed and I sat down. Twenty minutes later I'm paying 8 for my haircut, that's $1.08.

Yep according to Tina, I'm all sexy again.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dinner at the Wichmann's

So last night we hosted a dinner party, and surprisingly it went rather well. Tina spent all day cleaning the place so that it was presentable, and then once everyone showed up I ducked into the kitchen and cooked up nachos and then chicken marsala.

I don't know if we've complained about it before, but our kitchen is incredibly small which makes it tough even when we are only cooking for ourselves, much less trying to prepare food for nine people. With only two burners we had to stagger the food, and we ate in two seatings but we managed and everyone told us that they enjoyed the food.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What, you haven't been to Chilii's yet?

We received the same response that Mark would get when he mentioned that he hadn't been to Gu Lang Yu whenever we mentioned that we hadn't been to Litte Chilii's yet. Apparently this is one of the hot restaurants to eat at for both Westerners and Chinese. Everyone keeps raving about this place and it's a short walk from where we live, so we figure that will be our restaurant of choice this evening.

The restaurant is by no means fancy, in fact quite basic and not that big. It was filled with tourists, Westerners, and Chinese. We sit down and we see the chef smoking in the kitchen. It has to be good right? Actually it was, we had fish fillet in a sweet and sour sauce, noodles with pork, rice and two beers. The portions are large and we couldn't finish them, so we asked for a doggie bag.

We forget how inexpensive it is to eat here. Our bill was a total of 40RMB, which is equivalent to $5.50. We may have to eat out more often.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dining out

So after almost two months with all of our belongings we've finally cooked and eaten enough western foods that we are going to go out for local food again.

After eating out every night for our first three months here, we more more than happy to finally be able to cook at home. For the last two months our nights have been that nice boring type of life, come home, cook dinner, eat and go to bed...

When we would travel out of the country we would eat all the things we can't get locally, so although we were going out, a) we were traveling, and b) it wasn't Chinese food. Which, strangely enough, you start to crave a little...

Yep, tonight we're acting all crazy and going out to dinner on a school night.

Also, it'll be a break from our tiny kitchen which we will be spending too much time in tomorrow night when we throw our dinner party.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Who says you need Starbucks?

Mark and I are having a dinner party on Friday, our very first since arriving in China. When speaking with our Spanish friends, this Friday was the only date that everyone could get together before leaving for the holidays. Edlin and Jose will be travelling back to the U.S for two months,and the Mexican with his family will be going back to the U.S in the middle of December while we will be leaving in approximately 3 weeks. Edlin and Jose are anxiously waiting to hear from his company whether they will be returning to China or staying in the U.S. hence the reason for the party.

Last night, Mark and I ventured out to Metro (China's equivalent of Costco) to purchase some of the necessary items when hosting a dinner party. Plates were the first thing that we needed, along with serving dishes. We managed to get the necessary items and then Mark found what he was looking for; a French press that will make 4 cups of coffee. Since we moved into our place we have been drinking instant coffee. Yes, that's right, since moving into our place we have only been drinking instant coffee. If anyone knows Mark, they know how he enjoys a good cup of coffee, so he is quite specific on what makes a good cup of coffee. We still have our Julius Meinl coffee that we purchased before leaving Chicago and the first thing Mark did when we returned from shopping was make us a great cup of coffee.

Coffee never tasted so good.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Fresh off a trip from the heat of Malaysia, we landed in what almost felt like winter here in Xiamen.

Sunday night we got in around 23:30 and there was a chill in the air and a fog that had enveloped Xiamen. We've never seen a fog like this here, but we just chalked it up to the fact that we are never up this late...

The other day when I left for work it was chilly enough to make me think about bringing a jacket the next day. Yeah, it has dropped down to around 17C in the early mornings and evenings. It must be something about the temperature here as this time I'm noticing the cold, back home we would still be in shortsleeves at that temperature, and the time that I spent out in California I didn't really get cold in the winter and found it funny to see all the locals bundled up in their big winter jackets.

One thing that is different here is that that Chinese pretty much always live in the outside temperature, at work the windows are always open even though the workers are all bundled up in their jackets, and as we were told most apartments don't have heat. We even learnt that in the summer most places still leave the windows open, I especially had a hard time getting used to working at my computer in 30C+ with the high humidity. Even way back when we were looking at apartments we were told that the Chinese seldom use the air-conditioning and that it was only something that the westerners used...

I don't know where I'm going with all this other than I'm suddenly worried that I, and by that I mean we, may actually be cold when we return to the northern latitudes of North America, so go easy on us if we complain.

But we are looking forward to seeing some snow and actually getting a feel for the holidays. This cold makes you think fall, not Christmas.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Last Day in K.L

Our last day in Kuala Lumpur. What to do was the big question? Not because of boredom, just that time was limited. We needed to decide whether we wanted to go to the Pewter factory as recommended by a few friends, or pick up much needed supplies. Guess which won?

Off we tracked, to the Petronas Towers. They have 5 floors of shopping. You name it, the store was there. Gucci, Tods, Banana Republic, Chanel, and what we needed most; supermarkets and book stores. Yup, people travel to shop for clothing, souvenirs, shoes, we go for food, wine and books. We find the first supermarket and purchased most of our supplies. We could not however, find the cilantro nor black beans. Mark, the eagle eye spots the wine store where he discovers a plethora of Argentinean wines. The second supermarket didn't have anything we needed, black beans nor cilantro so we called it a day for food. Now we had to look for books and a cable for the Ipod. We couldn't find the cable at a reasonable price, but we did manage to find books and magazines that have been requested by our friends. Finding English literature is not easy here in China. We get to the hotel only to discover that they locked us out. Mark went downstairs to talk to the front desk. They reprogrammed the key, and we quickly packed our belongings before heading to the airport.

The next time we're on a plane will be for our annual trip back home for the holidays. Less than three weeks before we see everyone again.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Walking Kuala Lumpur..

Walking is what we did yesterday, we figure probably about 12 miles. And it was hot out, around 32, with no breeze and not a lot of shade, but we suffered through it....

First we walked up through the Indian street markets and over to the National Monument, which was designed by the same guy that did the Marine Corps War Memorial , the Iwo Jima monument, in the US.Malaysian National Monument

From there we wandered through one of their large parks, down through the Chinatown market and their rows and rows of knock off purses and watches. Where we finally decided that we had walked too much and just needed to take a taxi back to the hotel...

The taxis here are funny, as they all refuse to use their meter and instead charge a flat rate. I get stubborn and we climbed out of a few cabs this weekend after arguing with them over the fare and their insistence that either a) the meter is broken, or b) nobody uses the meter, you'll pay this much with any taxi. It's an odd thing to be bartering for a taxi ride.

From there we went to a nice rooftop bar to watch the sunset.

Sunset behind the Menara Tower

Sun setting on the Petronas Towers in the background

After the sunset we then out for a delicious Indian dinner, truly a great meal for our last night in KL. Then up to one of the bar streets for a drink before heading back to the hotel for an early night.

The Towers of KL

Kuala Lumpur is home to the Petronas Twin Towers and the Menara communications tower. We took a trip up to the top of the Menara tower which provides some excellent views of the city, and looks across to the Petronas towers.

Menara communications tower

Petronas Towers as viewed from the Menara tower

We were lucky in that it was a beautifully clear day and we were able to get some great pictures of the city.

Last night we wandered over to the Petronas towers, now only the third tallest in the world, and ate at a nice Malaysain restaurant in the tower. These towers are really something to behold and when lit up against the night sky are just amazing...
Petronas Twin Towers
Tina and the Towers

Towers against the night sky