Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Ok, we finally were able to get to a location where we can get a web connection - however we don't have a lot of time to spend writing about what we are doing as soon we are off to our New Years' dinner.

So far we've had a great trip, seen friends in Toronto and then spent a few days for Christmas with Tina's family. From there to Lenox and spending time with my family and now to Chicago for getting together with friends, getting work done and running just some general errands. Once we get a little more settled, maybe next week but most likely not until we are back in China around January 15th, we will post some stories about all we've done this trip.

For now, we just want to wish everyone happiness going into 2009.... Enjoy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Coming up for air..

As fun and chaotic as the past few weeks have been, what, with Emily returning for an encore, Hong moving back to Malaysia, and Mark travelling for business, it's been nice to have a couple of days to regroup. I'm such a list queen, as soon as Mark left the apartment to go to the airport, out came my pad and pencil to start making lists of what needed to be done before heading back home for the holidays. Then I discovered that My Yahoo has a task bar, well, I was in heaven.

After much cleaning, laundry, packing, getting last minute gifts, and sending emails, I think I have pretty much covered my "task" list.

So, tomorrow I will be heading to Shanghai to meet Mark and spend the weekend there before heading back home for the holidays. It's hard to believe that it's been a year since we've been in Canada/America. Ah, but the fun we have had!

We will try and post over the weekend before we leave, but if we don't, if will be after Christmas before we post again.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas full of good food, good wine and good cheer!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Last night in Xiamen

Our last night with Ms. Hong and children was Monday night. We decided that we would try the new Vietnamese restaurant down the street from us.

Travelling with children is quite stressful, so what better way to end her time here in Xiamen, than a nice relaxing massage. I have to say it was the best massage I’ve had since we've moved to China.

The children including their Ayi, along with some of the staff from Temptations, joined us for dinner. We tried various rolls, vegetables, pork, and pho. The food was okay, but it tasted more like Thai than Vietnamese.

After dinner, Siew stopped by our place where we opened a bottle of Champagne, to toast a new chapter in her life and to the fun we had in Xiamen. It’s crazy to think that Siew and the children are no longer living here in China.

We will miss her and the children immensely. They are special people and wish them the very best.

Now, who’s going to provide us with material for our blog? Oh, Yih…

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More on Siew's final days in Xiamen

Since this last weekend was Siew's final one in Xiamen, she needed to make sure that she fully used up all of the value she had on her discount cards. So that meant that Tina and Siew went to the nail salon for the full treatment - hands and feet.

Of course that mean that I was stuck with watching over Ben and Daniel. This was a nice and easy one - we met Siew over at a coffee bar and when Tina and Siew went off I took the kids for a nice long walk. The weather was surprisingly warm, so we took a nice leisurely stroll around the lake and then headed back to our place to watch some of the BBC Wild China DVDs that we had recently bought.

After a quick 4 hours I took the kids over to Temptations so that Daniel could say goodbye to his teacher. Then Tina and Siew returned and we went with sister Siew Yih to a nice seafood goodbye meal....

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yih's Arabian Birthday

Ah, hard to believe that it has been a full year since we went to Yih's polka dot & seventies party. The time went so quickly, but its been a full year and now we needed to drink to celebrate the fact that Yih managed to stay alive for another full 12 months.

This year, the theme was an Arabian night. Siew Hong did a great job, as she always does, with the cakes, food, and with the decorations. We did our part and went online and downloaded 3 CD's (just under 3 hours) of Arabian music to play. Check out the very Arabian feel with the sheer fabric and fancy carpets....
Of course with these theme parties, everyone needs to be dressed for the event.Siew Hong and Yih both were dressed for it, and Tina fully got into the look. Even a lot of Siew Yih's friends came in fully belly dance styles...
Yih had a great group of friends that came over, and there was much happiness.We commandeered a corner table and had a lot of fun at the party. Tina made sangria's from one of our Spanish friends recipes, and Siew Hong made margarita's, pina colada's, and long island iced teas.
Also, because Siew Hong is leaving us heading back home to Malaysia - a lot of her friends stopped by during the course of the evening to say goodbye to her. It made for an excellent night of good friends, good food, and great drink...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fun with Ben and Daniel

Saturday afternoon we once again were helping our friend Siew Hong out by watching her kids Ben and Daniel. Siew needed to spend the day at the shop getting ready for Siew Yih's Arabian themed birthday party.

Another fun day as Tina and I took them back through the market so that they could have fun taking photos...
We also had fun on some small little kiddie rides in the local park. By we I mean Daniel, Ben, and myself - Tina's only fun was taking photos...
Tomorrow we'll share all the fun that we had at Siew Yih's birthday party.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Monkey business

The other day when I went shopping for fruits with Ben, he noticed a man and his best friend. The man was begging for money with a one footed monkey.

Below is the conversation that took place with my husband.

"Hey, guess what I saw today?"

"What? A monkey?"

"Yea, how did you know?"

"I didn't but that's funny."

Now, if he could only pick winning lottery numbers......

Friday, December 12, 2008

General Construction update...

Its been a while since we've talked about the construction that going on in the lot outside our apartment, and since we've been relaxing since Emily left on Saturday we don't really have too much else to write about....

All that we can really say is that we really appreciate the quiet. But it doesn't seem like they are really getting a lot accomplished. They've managed to dig down the whole area, but they haven't started to do any real construction as of yet.The U shaped area in the center of the lot is brand new - maybe they are making a moat...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The return of Big Red.

Well, we did manage to enjoy a few days a peace and quiet. Starting from Saturday we also made a good dent in watching the movies that we had laying around, and amazingly this last bunch that we went through all worked without any major problems. It's always a bit of a disappointment when we start watching something only to find out that it's all in Chinese or some other foreign language and only include Chinese and Thai subtitles...

But that peace all ended today. Siew Hong came back from Hong Kong yesterday and apparently she missed us a little. We had her computer so that we could download all of the photos we've taken of her and the kids so Tina did need to return that to her now that she was back.

When I left for work the plan was that Tina was going to cook up a nice Chinese style dinner when I got home, and that she would meet up with Siew Hong for coffee sometime in the day to return the computer. Just before I left work I received the following text - "With sis, just meet us at Temptations."

Huh, who'd have thought that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

They're back...

We had complained earlier that all of the shoe polishers had disappeared, and that Siew Yih had told us not to worry and that they would return in a few months.

That was back in August, and for a few months we were worried that Yih was wrong and that for some reason unbeknown to us they wouldn't be returning. By the time Tina's family came to visit some of them had started to return and we were able to get our shoes polished, but there still weren't as many of them and the timing of when you'd find them and their location was still hard to figure out.

But this Sunday when we went to the market, back in their usual location we were greeted with a nice row of at least 8 people waiting to polish our shoes.
So Tina and I walked past them all smiles to know that they had indeed returned, and when the ladies that usually polished our shoes saw us we joked "好久不见", bartered a little and then sat down to get our shoes polished up all nice and clean.
It was good to see them again.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Settling in for a few weeks of quiet.

Ah, as we mentioned earlier our last guest of 2008 departed for home on Saturday morning. She's arrived home safely as she left us a comment once again telling us how great we are at hosting guests here in Xiamen. I think it's that extra step we go to also try and show the guest another place in addition to Xiamen, this is always someplace that we want to go but either haven't have a chance to get to yet or haven't been in long enough to make us want to go again.

That method of piggybacking our trip desires with visitors has worked well for us, we've managed to see the big city sights of Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, and now Taipei, along with the smaller towns and villages of Hangzhou, Wuyishan, and Guilin. Good times - and it keeps Tina busy when she's trying to figure out what she wants to see and if it'll fit into what our guest will like to do when they come over to visit.

As fun as all of that is, and we do enjoy having guests come and visit, it is also nice to be able to relax once they are on the plane heading home....

Saturday we were exhausted, we just sat around the couch all day catching up on that big stack of DVD movies and television series that we keep saying that we will work through. Actually that's all we did all weekend, just let the television do our thinking for us. We only left the apartment twice, Saturday night for dinner since we were too lazy to cook, and Sunday to go to the market so that we could cook a dinner.

This week will be a nice quiet week for us, as Siew Hong is also out of town - she took her kids to Hong Kong for the week - so Tina doesn't even have any cooking classes this week. So, right now we are just going to try and relax and be unsocial for a week or two, as in just two short weeks we are hopping on a plane heading back to Canada and then the States. Then it'll be our turn to be running around trying to pack all of our friends and family visiting into much too short of a time frame....

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Notary Public in China

Last week I got to experience the fun of going to a Notary Public here in China to get some documents notarized. Something that in the States would be relatively simple to get done always takes on an extra bit of complication over here, or at least it seems that way to me.

Actually, for me this process was fairly painless - I found out where I needed to go and printed out the address and then only had to show it two two taxi drivers before I found one that knew where I was trying to go. Once inside it was slightly confusing, but no more so then going to get your license renewed at the DMV. I walked past all the people sitting at counters that had nobody at the other side and up to what I presumed was the main window. At said main window nobody spoke any English and they just smiled and I showed them paperwork and mimed signing and them stamping. They called for someone to come up, first by yelling and then by phone, and finally a man behind the two girls at the counter walk out and said "Let me see what you have. Ah okay, I will help you come with me." He walked me over to the seats at the long counter and told me to sit and wait.

About five minutes later he came back and looked at the paperwork and took everything along with my passport to go and make copies. This should be simple then, he speaks enough English and I'm not really looking for anything too complicated.

The guy sitting next to me had waited for a while and now there was a girl sitting across from him and gave him some paperwork to fill out. He had four or five ID cards in front of him and was listing them all on the sheet, when he finally completed it he handed it to the girl, she look at the top line and pointed out a mistake. He took a new form and filled it out again and handed it to her. This time she made it down to the third section and pointed out a mistake and he started over on a new paper. Third times a charm right? Not in China, she then informed him that he had been incorrectly filling in the information from the ID cards and he started again. All of this information had been incorrect the first time he filled the form out, had she simply looked at the whole thing first he wouldn't be filling out his fourth form.

That kind of service always amazes me and it is pretty standard over here, but the old man didn't complain he just took another form and filled it out. Somewhere in there I probably would have snapped - actually I would have when she pointed out the error on the second sheet, but what happened next shocked me. He handed in his fourth attempt and she told him that the pen he used was incorrect and that he had to use the pen that was attached to the counter.

I had leaned that earlier when the guy helping me came back to have me sign everything, but he stopped me from using my pen before I had actually filled anything in. She finally accepted the paperwork the old man was filling out on his fifth attempt.

Meanwhile I had signed everything that I needed and after about 20 minutes of the guy I was working with helping another group of people he came back and said "Ok, we should have everything ready next week. You can come back then." "What? I just need a stamp saying you've witnessed me signing. I'd like to have this today, I need to fax this back to the states soon."

Apparently they need to do a bunch of translations for their paperwork, but after first stating "Today? No, can't be done." and then saying something to the girl working next to me they both laughed a bit and he said "Wait, let me see what I can do. Maybe not today but we will work quick."

Twenty minutes later he calls me up to the window and hands me a completed packet and the bill. Much better then a one week wait, and compared to what I saw with the man next to me I was lucky to have been able to get someone who spoke English who could help to get me out of there so easily...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Another guest done...

Wow - it seemed quicker then our usual guest visits, but Emily left us this morning for that nice long flight back to the States. This trip seemed much more intense, and Tina and Emily were always busy. I'm mainly talking about the fact that we didn't get nearly as many guest posts out of Emily as we did last time - we were a little disappointed.

Emily is quick to point out that last year when she visited Tina would go off to school in the mornings or the afternoon and leave her alone for several hours where she could easily write without any interruptions. This trip Tina was always rushing her out to the market or the tailor or some other place that they needed to see. I suppose that's a valid argument, but we still would have enjoyed it slightly more if she had had time to write one of two more so that we could enjoy our time off of posting for just another day or two.

Not that I'm saying we don't love writing the blog, because I know you mainly read to know what we are thinking and doing over here....

Friday Tina took Emily for a foot massage and a return trip to the tailor so that Emily could pick up the goods that she ordered, and then I guess a lot of other things that managed to keep them busy.

Emily's final foot massage - notice that nice new purse of hers....

From there we all went over to, you should all know this by now, Temptations for dinner and some wine.
Tina, Siew Hong, Emily, Siew Yih, and Mark

They had a barbecue with meat, vegetable, and seafood kabobs, an excellent salad and then a nice lemon tart. All was happiness, and a was just a simple nice relaxing final dinner for Emily's trip to China.
Tina and I with Siew Yih.

We came back early so that we could download photos and I could work to transfer all of ours to a memory stick for Emily to take back with her. We are getting better prepared and now are able to have our guest leave with a complete set of photos to remember the great time that they had with us. It only took us seven guests to figure this out - but those comment cards we make you fill out at the Wichmann B&B do actually serve a purpose...

Wichmann B&B overall rating is now a pretty good 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wo bu zhi dao!

Tina and I spent most of Thursday lolling around since it was raining outside. The day was a nice break from the tight agenda Tina usually has planned ;) We ran some errands and went to Temptations to have coffee with Siew - we arrived just as she was pulling Christmas cookies out of the oven! Nothing like a fresh latte and warm cookies...

In the afternoon Siew, Tina and I went for essential oil massages and I tried "cupping." I was pretty sure I never wanted to try cupping after seeing Tina and Mark's post that showed pictures of the bruises on their backs. Tina made me try it, and it actually wasn't bad. It's a massage/detoxifying technique in which heated glass cups are placed on your back and somehow suction is created. The masseuse or "cupper" moves the cups around for a while and then leaves the cups suctioned on your back for about ten minutes. The result: it feels like a deep tissue massage and leaves you with the biggest hickeys on your back that you can imagine.

My back

I can't wait to go to the gym back home and terrify everyone in the locker room with the bruises on my back!

After cupping, it's advised that you wait 24-hours before drinking alchohol in order to take full advantage of ridding your body of toxins. We met up with Mark after our massages and promptly went to The House for margaritas, then onto Temptations for red wine, and ended our night at the Bashi night market where we had beers with our grilled vegetable, meat and tofu skewers. I think it's safe to say that I now have more toxins in my body than I did yesterday!
Drinking Margaritas at The House
Bashi Night Market
Night Market cont.

Today's my last day with the Wichmann's. It's a good thing I'm a little hung over because I can't focus on being sad. I can't believe how quickly it went! We've had so much fun... It's consoling that both Tina and Mark will be in Chicago in under a month -- I wish they could bring all of Xiamen with them!

P.S. "Wo bu zhi dao" is my newest phrase. It means "I don't know!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fishing for dinner...

Wednesday was another pristine day here in Xiamen. Tina and I slept in a little, then ran errands. We went to Trustmart, a big department store where you can buy anything you can think of: groceries, jewelry, china, silk flowers, and over-the-counter drugs which I think might not be "over-the-counter" back home.

Lunch was one of the best meals yet. Tina and I ate at a little Chinese restaurant around the corner and shared a spicy pork dish with noodles and dumplings. It's funny that the Chinese are so thin because I feel like I've been "carb loading" the last couple of days. Tina and I think it's the portion size; meals seem to be served family-style with a large platter for the table to share and the tiny plates or bowls to eat out of. Even if you have beer, you get a little shot-sized glass to drink it out of. It's a nice way to eat, and although you get full after a meal here, it's never the painful unbutton-you-pants-full you feel back home.


After lunch, Tina and I met up with Siew and her two boys and took the ferry to Gu Lang Yu, a little island off of Xiamen. It's an amazing place with victorian-style architecture and large broken down estates from the 1800s. Many of the consulate generals lived on the island with their families, so it has a European feel. Motorized cars are also forbidden - it's quite and peaceful once you get out of the tourist market zone. We shopped for a while and paid a visit to Tina's pearl dealer, Lina, at Pearl World. Siew, Tina and I spent a lot of time trying on jewelry until the boys were ready to move on. Siew then left with the kids, and Tina and I went tea-tasting. That was one of the highlights of the afternoon since we got to sit down and try all the different teas. Oolong tea was the best.
Pearl World

The rest of the afternoon we spent walking the island. We stopped to watch the sunset and share a tsing-tao.

After returning from Gu Lang Yu, we met up with Mark and took Siew's two boys, Ben and Daniel, to a shrimping restaurant. The place had large pools in the center of the restaurant where you fish for your shrimp, then the kitchen cooks up the shrimp any way you want it: garlic, lemon, fried, BBQ'd... I think there are about 13 different options. It was fun although none of us could catch anything except Siew's 7 year old son, Ben. He was much more patient than the rest of us and caught 4! Luckily the restaurant took pity on us and threw in a few extra shrimp so we wouldn't go hungry. Dinner was a blast because Ben and Daniel are so cute and fun to be around. They acted as our translators with the waitstaff since both boys speak perfect English and Chinese.
Fishing for dinner...
Ben and Daniel with Ben's catch

Tina, Mark and I ended the night at My Way, a little Chinese-owned pub that's got an Irish feel. I loved this place so much last year that I made the Wichmann's take me back. Good times...
My Way

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tuesday in Xiamen

Tina and I woke up slowly this morning while Mark headed off to work. We've been bustling around all weekend so it was nice to sleep in and not have a tight sightseeing agenda for the day. Waking up slowly here is a bit different from the experience at home: there's the street cleaning truck that plays an ice-cream-truck version of "happy birthday", and the local kindergarten children get together in the courtyard of Tina and Mark's building to sing. This morning the song of the day seemed to be the hokey-pokey!

I got up around 9am and went for a jog around poo-poo lake (it's actually quite a beautiful back bay area in the "Marco Polo" district of the city -- some of the expats named it poo-poo lake and that name has unfortunately stuck...) The run took longer than I anticipated because certain parts of the path were closed off and I had to take detours, but I got to see a lot of the city and lots of fisherman and locals out enjoying the perfect weather.

Tina spent the morning doing Tai-chi, catching up on her Chinese online learning sessions, doing laundry and dropping off the dry cleaning. She runs a tight ship here and the Wichmann B&B!

The best part of the day was wandering through the markets and back alleys of Xiamen. We took lots of pictures and picked up some DVDs that I wanted for my fam back in Chicago. On our way home we bought some baozi and chili/scallion pancakes. I can't get enough of the baozi! Tina ordered it yesterday for lunch and I had to have more today... It's a steamed bread dumpling that's stuffed with pork, scallions and a delicious sauce. We rested our feet for a half hour at home, ate the boazi and pancakes and drank tea.

We then headed to "Me and You 2" to watch the sunset over the water and meet up with Mark. After a few beers, we headed to a restaurant and had a fresh seafood dinner (we knew it was fresh because we picked out our food from fishtanks!). I think I could get used to this lifestyle...

Sunset at Me & You 2

Monday, December 1, 2008

Taipei, Taiwan

Wow... Where to begin on Taipei! The city was unbelievable: warm people, great food, pretty, clean, efficient... an Asian stew with the best of Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese cultures. And yes, there was even a bit of American culture there if you're craving a little Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, or just a simple breakfast with eggs and bacon (that can be hard to come by in Asia).

Tina and I traveled to Taiwan from Xiamen via ferry. I was exhausted and jet lagged, so I missed some of the boat ride, but what I saw was enjoyable and Tina liked seeing Xiamen from the water... We sat on the top outside deck of the ferry in two seats that looked like they were ripped out of the first class cabin of a 70s Pan Am carrier.

We docked in Jinmen (or Kinmen -- the name varies based on who you ask or what guide book you're refering to) a small Taiwanese island. We took a short bus ride to the Jinmin airport and then flew directly to Taipei. It took Tina and me a while to get out of the airport due to cash problems -- the Taiwanese ATMs are complicated! We luckily managed to get some cash and took a taxi to the Imperial Hotel in Taipei.

Tina and I spent Friday exploring the university section of the city. I read somewhere that students make up the most leisurely class in the world. I can believe that after seeing the university section of Taipei. Lots of well manicured, sprawling campuses... cool shops with students lolling around, drinking coffee or tea, riding bikes or mopeds. Tough life!

We met up with Mark Friday night. Our first stop of the night was Dan Ryan's (a Chicago bar. We were hoping to run into some expats who would divulge all the hot spots and city secrets). We didn't meet anyone, but found a nice part of the city. After Dan Ryan's, we found an underground wine bar, then a Japanese-style "shabu-shabu" - a barbecue place... Delicious!

The rest of the weekend is a happy blur. We did so much! We went to Taipei 101 (it is or was the tallest building in the world). Longshan Temple. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial (most of the buildings were under restoration but still one of the best, most beautiful places). We walked around the city exploring side streets, the night markets, trying little restaurants. We also went to the National Palace Museum which holds the best collection of Chinese art since Chaing Kai-Shek took it all with him to Taiwan when he retreated from mainland China. I tried to get Mark and Tina interested in Ceramics -- I think I was able to reach them with some of the clay wine vessels ;)

Overall, our favorite things were the relaxed, elegant pace of the city. We LOVED the MRT (the subway which was incredibly fast, easy and CLEAN... I was chewing gum while walking through the subway station and a guard asked me to spit it out!). The weather was sunny, breezy and warm. The people in Taiwan clearly care a great deal about nature based on all the number of trees and elaborate parks in the city -- I also noticed rooftop gardens everywhere, even in the densest parts of the city. It's obviously an international city -- I think no matter who you are, you will feel a sense of kinship with Taipei since it encompasses so many cultures and the people are friendly. We also loved that there were no "shady" parts... there wasn't the population of homeless people that you tend to see in big cities. I would highly recommend Taipei and I definitely want to go back.

What a great weekend! And nothing like coming back to Xiamen and having a foot massage to work out the soreness of a weekend on our feet..

Ferry Ride
Shabu BBQ
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
Taipei 101
Longshan Temple
Local Pub
MRT Subway
Palace Museum
Foot Massage