Thursday, January 28, 2010

One small thing about our return.

Moving back from China the majority of our belongings were packed up several weeks before we left and shipped on a slow boat. We still had far too much luggage at the airport as we mentioned, but overall we thought that we did a fairly good job of packing. All of our summer clothes are packed in a container, and since we were doing our last minute purchasing of almost an entire wardrobe of tailor made clothing most of my regular work clothes were also packed up and shipped. We were just informed that our shipment has cleared US customs and is now in transit to Chicago, but since we are still just in temporary housing until we can move back into our condo in April all of our stuff is going to go into short term storage.

One thing that we hadn't really thought about turns out to be one of the things that we complained about while living in China - doing laundry. Tina was glad to have a washer and dryer in the apartment, mostly to have the dryer so that we wouldn't have to hang up all of our clothes up and wait for them to dry. The downside to this is that our nice new tailor made clothes had never been in a dryer before...

So my six pairs of new pants all came back from the cleaners just a little bit smaller, having shrunk after being introduced to the dryer. It looked like I had suddenly grown 3" since moving back, and that forced me into having to head out and buy all new pants. Between the tailor and now I've purchased more pants in the last three months then I probably have in the last four years.

Tina with the tailors that made a lot of the clothes we brought back.

Tina's also seen some shrinkage in the pants, but most of hers were made long so she could wear heels and thus it's not as noticeable, and the majority of her tailor made clothes still packed in our main shipment. She sees it more in her shirts, now being a little smaller, but luckily the shirts that I had made didn't seem to shrink too much and they are still perfectly wearable.

We should have seen this coming, we had mentioned it before and even talked about taking material to a hotel so that it could be washed and dried before taking it to the tailor, but in those last few hectic weeks preshrinking material somehow slipped our mind. Something to think about if you are trying to save money by having clothes made while in a country that's mainly without dryers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

General thoughts on our return...

So we've been back in the "real world" for just over three weeks now, and feel that it's time to try and get a quick update as to how we've adapted. It's been tough to get our thoughts together, and we have actually been quite busy since we've been back.

In the 25 days that we've been back Tina has spent 5 days in Canada and 1 day in Philadelphia, and I while I joined her for 2 days in Canada I also spent 4 days out in southern California. Tina has been lucky in that she's found work in what we were told is an environment where many are hard pressed to find employment, so we really haven't had any relaxing downtime yet.

The first weekend back we were both up in Canada to spend time with Tina's family, she was feeling guilty since this was her first ever Christmas away from her family, and surprisingly everyone was glad to see us and put on their second holiday in a short time. If Tina gets time before it fades too far into the past she may write up a quick post talking about our time up there.

From Canada we were only back for a day before we both traveled to opposite sides of the country, when we were back together on Friday we were far from having a relaxing weekend. At that time my folks were in town, and we booked time with them to make up for the fact that this year we didn't make a stop back home. It was nice to catch up, and since it was also my mom's birthday we treated them to a nice dinner at a nice steak restaurant.

A full week of work for both of us, especially tiring for Tina who had enjoyed a 2.5 year hiatus, left us coming into last weekend just a little tired. A relaxing Friday night got us ready for a welcome back party that we through for some of our friends at our temporary residence. Saturday we entertained about 16 people which was a really great time for us to catch up, but we probably went a little overboard since our last guests didn't leave until after 02:00... and then had we not just opened a new bottle of wine we would have been able to head off to bed. But, a bottle of wine later and the place was cleaned and we didn't have to worry about waking up to a messy place.

Next weekend we will finally have a weekend to relax, but that doesn't mean that that we don't have a full weekend planned. It's amazing how many little things need to be done when one tries to get settled into a somewhat normal routine back in city the that we lived in only 2-1/2 years ago.

There you go - a fairly full post just explaining why we haven't been posting those final posts we promised. Tina's got a few things that she can post about her first observations in the difference between live in China and life in Chicago, she's hoping to get that entered in soon. I've also got a few items that we've discussed that need to be posted, so those are still coming...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Returning to Chicago.

After celebrating the New Year in Hanoi we were up bright and early on the first for a flight to Hong Kong. We had one night to spend in Hong Kong, so we slowly meandered around the city, stopping at little markets and the like, but with nothing planned or that we felt we needed to see. For dinner we wandered over to the Soho area and were actually a little surprised by how many bars and restaurants were over there - for some reason this isn't somewhere we had made it to on our other trips here... January second was another early flight, this time first to Tokyo and then finally to Chicago. We had a nice view of Mount Fuji as we flew into Japan, and once there Skip and Holly drove out to the airport to visit with us during our 5 hour layover.

Mount Fuji from our Hong Kong - Tokyo flight
Skylar, Holly, Blayden, and Skip
The cold of Chicago
And that's it, we've been back for two weeks now and we seem to be adjusting fine. We've got a few items left that we know we want to post about, but I can't promise that we will be quick about getting to them...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ending 2009 in Hanoi.

The final two days of 2009 we spent in Hanoi, having returned via the overnight train from Sapa. We arrived early in the morning to deserted streets and a slight drizzle. We made our way to the hotel and dropped off our bags, they told us that they could probably have a room ready for us around 08:00 - so we could take a much needed shower and change. We took a short stroll and loitered at a few different coffee shops before heading back to the hotel and finding out that maybe they could get us into a room by 10:00. Initially we had figured that we wouldn't get into a room before 14:00, but they teased us with the initial 08:00 time, and then the 10:00, so we never really wandered too far away. At ten they told us maybe by noon and we gave up on the idea of having an early shower before wandering and so we just went off to explore the city... Somewhere after 15:00 we returned to the hotel and check in, a nice long shower later we were much refreshed and off to wander some more before heading over to La for a nice dinner. The next day we managed to get over to the war museum, and stroll some other areas that we hadn't been through yet. Overall it was just a nice relaxing day despite the weather being somewhat gray and always threatening with a light drizzle. For our New Year's Eve dinner we wandered over to the street vendors that we had enjoyed when we first came to Vietnam over two years ago. This time we were prepared for the mess of the spattering oil when cooking and went out dressed in clothing we knew we were going to leave here in Hanoi. After dinner we made our way to the street corner where small chairs are set out and people drink local beers for about 3 US cents a glass. The kegs didn't seem this fresh this time so we upgraded to the 0.50 USD bottles of Tiger beer. There were a few people out partying, and since we all had different times on our watches we ended up counting down to midnight at least 3 times over a 10 minute period. Shortly after we celebrated the last of our multiple entries into 2010 the store we were at closed - for everyone there it wasn't a big holiday, just another Thursday night and they just wanted to go home and to bed...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Still talking about Sapa.

I think we are finally getting settled into Chicago enough so that we can finish up writing about our trip to Vietnam - it's talking far longer to get this posted then we expected.

After our nice three hour walk through the haze the day before we were pleasantly surprised by nice blue skies on our final day in Sapa. With the weather the way it was we went down and booked a trip to see to waterfalls that were just a short ride out of town.
The first one was just off the side of the road and did have a walkway that allowed one to get up closer to it. A quick 20 minutes of climbing stairs and taking photos and we were driving off again to a nice lookout point to get some views of the valley.
From there we drove to another spot where we were able to walk about 40 minutes to the second waterfall.
The weather was perfect, and we were the only people around so it was a nice relaxing afternoon. After the hiking we went back to town and enjoyed a nice meal, leaving Sapa in the evening for a ride back to the train station. Another overnight train ride and by 05:00 the next morning we were back in Hanoi for our final two days in Vietnam.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sapa Trek

We've been a little crazy since arriving back to the U.S, so our blogging has been intermittent at best, so we do apologize.

Zoom, our guide picked us up at 9:30 for a three hour trek through a couple villages in Sapa. We started walking to one village, Can Cat which was primarily a tourist trap, that sold trinkets, but once past that, you walk down to see a pretty waterfall. Here we had about 30 minutes to take pictures, wander around, and have a tea break if we so desired. We opted for taking pictures.

After the falls, we climbed back up, to begin our 2 1/2 hour walk where we would end our trek at Y Linh Ho Village. It had rained the evening prior, so the trails were a bit muddy and tricky at points, but the view was beautiful.

Some parts of the trail were quite narrow with a huge drop down to the river and here like many parts of Asia, there are no railings to protect you, meanwhile other parts of the trail were rocky, and muddy. The local women carrying their children on their backs, thought nothing of it.

Our trail

We passed a second village, and here I thought we were done, but apparently we had a mountain to climb before we were finished. Here the paths widened, though quite steep but we finally made it. The village, well, it was a bit of a disappointment, though the walk itself was quite picturesque. It was definitely worth it, even if the villages weren't that appealing.

After our healthy walk, we had a nice Indian lunch, and wandered around Sapa realizing we had seen everything we managed to find a nice British pub where we had a couple of games of Scrabble.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

On to Sapa...

Waking up nice and early after staying at the home stay up in the small town in Lao Cai we enjoyed a great breakfast and then wandered back down to stroll through the small market that we had walked through the evening before. That next morning was completely different, with an incredible crowd gathered selling anything at all you could want.
After finishing up snapping tons of photos we returned to the van for another long trip through the hills to the town of Sapa. A small town where lots of different tours of the surrounding countryside all start from - we were staying there for two nights and had a 3 hour hillside walking tour planned.

We got in and took a quick stroll around the town, it's cute but very touristy and with of shops selling cheap versions of Columbia and Northface jackets.
It looked great, and we were excited about getting up bright and early the next day so that we could head out for our good three hour walk.

Tomorrow evening I fly up to Toronto to meet up with Tina for the weekend. Tina headed up to Canada on Wednesday to spend time with friends and family, so until we are back on Monday there will be another quick break in the telling of our Vietnam trip - sorry about that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Trip into Lao Cai, Vietnam

After we spent Christmas day wandering around Hanoi we made our way later that evening to the luxury overnight train up to Lao Cai- the province in the northern corner of Vietnam. It was a great little room that we had to ourselves, with some extra snacks for us to enjoy on the trip.
The only problem with the overnight train ride is that we pull into the station just after 05:00 and are then off for a quick day of touring. First stop, after a few hours of driving through the hills, is a giant market in Lao Cai that is mostly Flower Hmong minorities.

We spent a few hours wandering around the market before we finally left and we then headed up to the border crossing with China.
There was a lot of movement of goods back and forth across the bridge, a quick box lunch at a small restaurant, and then back into the car for a few more hours of driving through the beautiful scenery to another small town where we were doing our home stay.

The house where we were staying was fairly simple, but the hotel that it was paired up with pretty much brings and sets up an entire hotel room for you to enjoy.

Streets of the small town, where the morning market is.
From there we went up into the hills to visit a small town of 200 or so of the Black Hmong minorities. We stopped on the way up to buy some candies to hand out to the kids that were running around the village.
It was a fully day, we got to see a great sunset as we were driving back to the home stay, stopping at a small restaurant for dinner and then heading to bed fairly early after a few quick games of Scrabble.