30th Jun 2009

Japan: Day 1 – Introductions, Fish, Sake and Mystery Dinner

We finally stepped off the boat, after having our temperature taken for the third time in as many days, and onto Japanese soil. Well, the glassed in walkway from the boat into Japanese customs. On the way, we caught sight of the family piling out of a taxi. We made our way to immigration where we had a particularly “big brother” moment, where the immigration officer asked me for my brother’s address, which I of course didn’t have. He then asked me for Todd’s birthday, with which he was able to pull up a lovely mug shot of my dear brother and all the information he needed about the Welbes’ in Japan. After all this, we finally made it out and were warmly greeted with cheers of “Auntie!” from my adorable nieces. Of course, this may have actually been cheers of “Tony!” but I choose to hear what I like. They had clearly been well coached.

After all the introductions had been made, we left the ferry terminal and headed to the train. Kirsten told us that one of the best things to do in Osaka is the aquarium, which just happened to be one train stop away from where we were. Luckily, they also had storage lockers big enough to store our big backpacks. We made our way through the impressive aquarium. The girls were delighted. Upon leaving the aquarium, we had our first experience with okinomiyaki (roughly translated: stuff you like fried up all good and tasty). As we were in a food court, it wasn’t the best okinomiyaki of the trip, but still tasty, as the name suggests.

We collected our bags again and went off to brave the Osaka train lines led fearlessly by Todd and Kirsten. After making a brief pitstop at the apartment in Kobe, we headed off, in the rain, to a sake brewery in Kobe for a tasting and dinner. Needless to say, the sake tasting was lots of fun and educational as well. Dinner was an experience as well. We received our menus, which were only in Japanese and basically chose between multi-course meals of either 3000, 5000 or 7000 yen. After that, it was an exciting “what’s behind door number 1” style dinner. I think we all left satisfied. I was stuffed. Dan had eaten more tofu and Tony had more fish in one meal than I think either had ever seen in their lives. And of course, not surprisingly the sake was delicious.

That was Day 1. Tony and I were exhausted, but happy and cozy in the quiet and efficient country of Japan.

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29th Jun 2009

Shipping out of Shanghai

Shanghai was good as usual. We ate more great meals, including the absolutely delicious Shanghai dumplings (mmm), organized our Japan Rail passes and found the ferry terminal, after spending way too much time walking around the Port of Shanghai. Our wandering was caused partially by my inability to listen to anyone when they give me directions (a habit that I really need to break) and the unusual Chinese method of giving buildings street numbers for streets on which they do not have an entrance. That confuses me. Therefore we missed the building we were looking for over and over again. Though, I do have to defend myself a bit and say that plenty of people gave us directions that sent us way past the building we were looking for. Tony may beg to differ.

We left Shanghai on Saturday morning and headed back to the ferry terminal, much more quickly this time. The boat far exceeded both our expectations. We shipped out at noon, after which Tony and I spent about an hour enjoying the views of the Shanghai harbor and congratulating ourselves on our great decision to take the boat. After we’d had enough of the views we headed below deck to take advantage of the well-stocked Kirin vending machines. That’s right folks, beer vending machines. We had been told by the ferry company that they would accept both Japanese and Chinese currency on the boat. We were quite shocked to discover that the vending machines were not so flexible. In fact, we could only use Chinese currency in the restaurant, which at that moment wasn’t set to be open for another five hours. Despite our initial panic, Tony was able to find a very friendly, Chinese businessman who was willing to buy some yuan for some yen. We were ready for our pan-China Sea adventure!

After “several” vending machine beers and some painfully strong Chinese alcohol from our new money-exchanging friend, we had a great first night on the boat. If not the most hydrated night’s sleep. Sunday, our second day on the ship proved to be a bit more low-key as Tony and I avoided the beer machines. This proved to be a very wise move once we discovered all that Kirsten had in store for us on our first day in Japan. We spent most of the day watching over the sides of the ship at the schools of flying fish, luminescent jellyfish and hammerhead sharks. I saw two, Tony saw three. They were very cool and helped to stem the temptation of jumping into the crystal clear water. Sunday afternoon we also made our way into the southern tip of Japan and spent the rest of the afternoon with impressive views of the Japanese coastline.

So, I went to sleep Sunday night like a kid on Christmas Eve, eagerly awaiting what I would find when I woke up in Japan.

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26th Jun 2009

And so it begins . . .

As Typhoon Linfa blew into Xiamen, Tony and I sped out by train. Well, sped out maybe an overstatement. After a lovely last evening in the Sofitel, thanks to the Typhoons Rugby Tournament raffle (go Typhoons!), we spent most of the day avoiding the rain. Since we didn’t have a hotel room or an apartment, that meant spending most of the day sitting in a coffee shop. All in all it was a quiet beginning to the trip, but all in all quite pleasant.

The train to Shanghai was uneventful enough, if not really really long. For the last eight hours or so, Tony and I had our soft sleeper to ourselves, I guess because no one takes the train all the way from Xiamen to Shanghai. Except us. But it was nice.

We arrived in Shanghai late on Monday evening and made our way to the Sleeping Dragon Hostel.

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15th May 2009

I have my blog back!

Well it appears that the powers-that-be have deemed wordpress websites (at least mine and Todd and Kirsten’s) as acceptable again. Which means that I can finally see my own website without having to go through a proxy server. This comes in handy as the end of the school year approaches and I get ready to quit my job, sell my computer and start my travels with Tony. I was hoping to be able to keep anyone interested updated through my blog and now it looks like I might able to again. Even in China! Yay!

So, a lot has happened this semester. Since Chinese New Year, I went to Malaysia for the annual EARCOS teacher’s conference and presented in front of a room full of my peers. It went well, though it was a bit intimidating. The benefit was that I got to spend 4 days hanging out with Elizabeth (who I worked with in Curitiba) and Tami (who I’ve known forever). Plus, the pool bar wasn’t too shabby either.

Emily and Kendell, friends who live just north of here, came down to visit a couple weeks later. We got to do the typical touristy Xiamen activities like having an excuse to head down to the fantastic Riyuegu hot springs, which would have been absolutely perfect if not for the jackhammers working throughout the day. I suppose after a few years in China, you must just learn to ignore the jackhammers and let them fade into the background. I’m not quite there yet.

Since then we’ve been hanging around here and trying to get all the loose ends tied up before we hop on a train and then a boat and then another train to go see Todd, Kirsten and the girls in Japan. Those loose ends include selling off most of our possessions, sending anything else home, finding some sort of health insurance for the next year, getting vaccinated to ward off the massive variety of diseases that may exist in India, buying said train, boat, and train tickets and (oh yeah) doing our jobs for the next five weeks.

Until the next post, here are some photos from the last few months in Xiamen, Malaysia and out on the waters off the coast of China. Enjoy!

Xiamen Spring 09

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10th Feb 2009

Chinese New Year: Xiamen Style

We are back to work after two blissfully peaceful weeks lounging around the apartment and Xiamen. As June approaches, Tony and I are watching our wallets to make sure that we can afford to travel for as long as possible, and not be forced back to work too quickly. That meant forgoing a briefly discussed trip to Laos after we learned that it costs lots and lots of money to fly to Vientiane even though staying there can be quite cheap.

The next few months include a student trip to Beijing and a conference in Malaysia for me. Also, I’m hoping and expecting visits from several friends and family members (hm, hm, Dad). Other than that, I’m planning to do my best to enjoy and get the most out of Xiamen before we leave here. I know I’m going to miss it, it is a pretty cool city.

More to come soon.

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25th Dec 2008

Merry Christmas!

I’m home and so finally able to update my website. Ever since my previous post, I have not been able to get to my own website. Nor have I been able to get to Todd and Kirsten’s. I’ll try to post some updates while I’m home.

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22nd Oct 2008

A milk man in China and homecooking

For the last four weeks, I have been meeting Melissa at horribly early hours of the morning to run. She is preparing to run Xiamen’s half-marathon in January. I will be flying back to China from Houston on the day of the marathon so am just training with her for the “fun” of it. Anyway, when I walked out of the building, I saw a rather shabby looking bike with a styrofoam box tied to the back. The box had pictures of milk bottles on it. Now, I know that in China, you can get pretty much everything delivered to your door. But it was 5:20 in the morning and very few people in China even drink milk. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

Anyway, lo and behold, out of the building walked a young man with an empty glass milk bottle. He wasn’t wearing the traditional white uniform with cap, but he was still clearly, a milk man. However, considering the recent happenings surrounding the milk industry in China, I will not be requiring a milk delivery service.

On the homefront, I’ve been cooking up a storm recently. Quite the little Betty Crocker, I’ve turned into. I’ve been referring to one of my favorite websites, The Homesick Texan . I also have a new found favorite, 101 Cookbooks, which has a veggie burger recipe that could make me give up meat, at least for a day or two. My good old standby paperback copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook has also been allowing Tony and me to enjoy homemade whole wheat bread. Oh and of course the good people at City Shop in Shanghai, which is the closest seller in the country of China that sells whole wheat flour. Ah, civilization.

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08th Oct 2008

Shanghai

Those of you who know me (which I assume is everyone reading this site), know that the two cities I’ve lived in over the last 5 years of my life have been unknown cities in developing countries. Both are countries that I was interested in, but not convinced I wanted to live in. At least I knew that I did not want to live in the major cities; you know, the Shanghais, Beijings, Sao Paulos or Rios of the world. Too much crime, too much traffic, too much pollution. Yet, I find that whenever I visit these cities I love them. Shanghai proved to be no exception.

Tony and I spent the Chinese Golden Week eating our way through the fine western restaurants (and bars) of Shanghai, China. Shanghai, for those of you who are not familiar, was, after Hong Kong, the major foreign port in China. So, now the major areas of town have very un-Chinese names like the Bund and the French Concession. These areas also have very un-Chinese architecture. Shanghai also had lots of museums, theaters, and art galleries. We saw a couple of the museums, but since it was Chinese Golden Week it seemed as though everyone in China was also in Shanghai. Also, since the museums were free (Golden Week again) most of the people in Shanghai were in line for the museums or on Nanjing Dong Lu (#1 Shopping Street in China!).

All in all, Shanghai was very cool. And I’m now thinking that for my next job, I might try to move to one of those cities with traffic and the other problems of the big city, because they’ll also have restaurants and grocery stores that sell cheese and cereal. It’s the little things.

Shanghai

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26th Sep 2008

Archery

The other night we discovered that the local bowling alley has an archery section. Bows and arrows and beer don’t seem like the greatest mixture, but we decided to check it out. It turns out that archery is fun, if not the greatest team sport. Oh, and no worries about the alcohol mixture, all that concentration meant no one ordered any beer. In my first go, I was told that I’m a fast learner.

Tomorrow, Tony and I are off to Shanghai for another week vacation.

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12th Sep 2008

Wyoming

While I was home for a quick two and a half weeks this summer, I got to go to Wyoming. Teton Village to be exact, which is just between Jackson Hole and the south entrance to Grand Teton National Park. I don’t know if it’s because I was such a city girl growing up, but I was never too excited by the idea of a national park. Probably because I hadn’t really ever seen one, except for the Redwoods. The Redwoods were very cool, but I was also 17 so I guess I tried not to be impressed by much.

Wyoming? Gorgeous. The bit of Idaho that I saw? Gorgeous. Grand Teton and Yellowstone? Well, if you haven’t been there, you should go. If you have been there, you understand why I have difficulty explaining how amazing it is. And lastly, the Four Seasons? Spoiled me for life. I’ll never be the same again. I suppose that is unless I’m traveling on my budget and then I’ll be fine with the cheap hotel.

As photos of stunning natural beauty tend, these do not do the place justice, but here they are. Just to prove that I was there.

From Jackson Hole

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12th Sep 2008

Day 18 – Lijiang to Xiamen (July 17)

It is the end of my China adventure, though Tony gets to continue his, and now I’m on my way back home to Houston for a few weeks.

Our last few days in Jinghong were a mixture of activity and laziness. We rented bikes one day and rode out of town and into some of the smaller villages (activity). It was nice to get away from the noise of the city and see some of the local areas. Then we spent a day eating and playing cards at Mei Mei’s (laziness).

After our slightly extended stay in Jinghong, which turned out to be quite nice, we hopped on a flight to Lijiang. Lijiang, it turns out, looks like China. At least it looks like the China that you see in American movies and in photos. This fact is not lost on the Chinese as there were far more Chinese tourists in Lijiang than westerners. While in Lijiang we found some lovely places to relax, sit, eat and read and then quickly left to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Stunning and beautiful don’t really suffice in terms of description of the Gorge. Tony’s quote that I think he took from Russell Brand put it best: “It’s like being hit over the head with a rainbow”.

The trip was lovely and I have the photos to prove it.

From Adventures in Yunnan

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07th Jul 2008

Day 8 – Back in Jinghong

We are back in Jinghong and plan to spend about three more days here. We left for the weekend to head to the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve, which is home to a herd of about 22 asian elephants. Sadly, we saw no elephants. We did see flood waters in the river and heavy rain. In terms of animal wildlife, there were a pair of gibbons that made the area around our treehouses their home. Very fun animals. The waters were too high for the elephants to come around, but in general the stay was peaceful and allowed us to get a couple good nights of sleep. Plus we got to live in the rainforest for a couple nights.

There were some things about the nature reserve that I found a bit odd. Like the park employee that pointed out earthworms crawling across a path and then proceeded to torment one of them by stepping on his tail. Also, the park employees who sold fruit and the ever-present cup of noodles across the river from our treehouse, would at the end of each day dispose of the trash (fruit rinds, plastic bottles and cup of noodle remains) by dumping it into the river . . . that ran through the nature reserve. I found that a bit odd and sad.

Also strange though not bad, just funny, was the Chinese travel agent who arranged our stay in the treehouses. He was particularly concerned that we would not be able to sleep due to all the noise around the treehouses. Our particular treehouse was about 20 feet above a rushing river, that was the noise he was concerned about. Honking horns, buzz saws and hammers in the cities don’t seem to be a problem but that annoying sounds of running water and nature were a big concern.

We have arranged to stay in Jinghong for a few more days and then fly to Lijiang. The next available flight isn’t until the 10th, but when we realized that it would take us two nights to get their by bus (and probably a full 24 hours on a bus) we decided to take the flight. Especially since whether we take a bus or a plane we’d still arrive in Lijiang on the 10th.


View Larger Map

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03rd Jul 2008

Day 5 – Jinghong

I am currently sitting in the cute and homey Mei Mei Cafe, where they have coffee, American breakfast and free internet. Seems funny to travel to the edge of China and order hash browns, but I’m not complaining.

The train trip was painless. Met an interesting Chinese-born American citizen named Tommy who lived in Kansas City for 14 years. Nice guy, who turns out to be moving to Xiamen to study at the University there.

We arrived in Kunming on Wednesday. Tony commented on how strange it was that the river in Kunming seemed to go right up to the buildings. That was seconds before we realized that most of the city was flooded. After a wet walk from the train station to our hotel, we managed to find some food and bus tickets to Jinghong. Actually, Tony found the bus tickets. I took a nap. Sitting on a train for 40 hours seems to tire me out.

Our bus journey from Kunming to Jinghong was hair raising at times, but overall fairly uneventful. Now, the plan is to check out the surrounding areas of Jinghong. Xishuangbanna, the region we are in, is fairly similar in culture to northern Thailand. It’s very lush and green and feels very different from other parts of China. I’m updating the google map that I linked to below. The green lines show where we’ve traveled so far. More soon!

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29th Jun 2008

China Adventure – Day 1

I suppose today counts as the first day of my China adventure, though at the moment I am sitting on my couch waiting for the clothes to dry. It sure doesn’t feel like an adventure day.

Tony and I are leaving on the train today at 4pm. We are headed “straight” to Kunming in Yunnan province. The train trip will take approximately 40 hours. From Kunming, the plan is to head south to Xishuangbanna (say that three times fast) and then probably up north to Lijiang and Dali. If we move fast enough we’ll end in Shanghai. Though we’ll probably spend the whole 2 and a half weeks in Yunnan. After the two weeks are up, I will fly back to Xiamen and then Houston, while Tony continues on the trip. If you’re really curious about the route, you can view a tentative one on my google maps. I will try to keep this updated while we are traveling. Yippee it’s adventure time!

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01st Jun 2008

Long overdue for an update

Since I last wrote, spring came and went; I actually saw a little bit of China; the rainy season arrived; I went to Boracay; we found a quiet spot in Xiamen; I had my first visitor; and I’ve mastered Mandarin. Ok, all are true except for the last one.

First, was the group trip to visit the Hakka Houses in the interior of Fujian province (where I live). It is a fascinating cultural group that builds familial round (and square) houses. Long drive with windy roads up through the mountains gave us a bit more of a thrill than we might have wanted, but it was well worth it. The groups allow tourists to come in, but most of the houses are functional homes and they basically just ignored us and went about their daily business.

A group of nine XIS people took off for the May Day holiday to sunny, sandy, and beautiful Boracay in the Philippines. We had originally planned on going to Beijing, but when one of our friends told us about the great deal her husband found on packages to Boracay, we decided to crash their vacation. It was well worth it and the pictures should back me up. I hope our friends agreed. It was a lovely break from China and a stunning location. I highly recommend it.

A couple weekends ago, Tony and I decided to brave the heat and humidity and explore Xiamen’s botanical gardens. It was well worth the 40 rmb entrance fee, considering it is a lovely and well-designed garden and it’s quiet. I never realized how much I might be willing to pay to avoid the sound of electrical saws, honking horns and hammering through my walls. Photos coming soon.

This weekend we’ve had a brief break from the muggy, hot, Houston-like weather. The unseasonal weather gave me, Tony and my friend Emily (in-town from Hangzhou) a chance to head off to the Riyuegu Hot Springs, which is my favorite place in Xiamen. We had a nice weekend of relaxation (thanks to the hot springs), good food and conversation.

Coming soon: More photos and adventures through China.

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03rd Mar 2008

Spring arrives in Xiamen . . . I hope.

This past weekend started with lovely sunny weather and temperatures in the high 60s. So, rather than sit around and watch downloaded TV shows all day, we decided to make an outing of it.

We were able to visit the Botanical Gardens, take cable cars over the park (only slightly frightening), and hit the beach for a little time in the sun. We also found a restaurant for lunch with the extremely redundant name of “Chinese Restaurant”.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the sun will stay out. I know that that means summer comes sooner, but my apartment has air-conditioning and not heating so bring on summer!

Spring in Xiamen!

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12th Feb 2008

Day Trip to Kyoto

Kyoto

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12th Feb 2008

Snow, Wine and Wii

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05th Feb 2008

Japanese Time Travel

Today, I went to Himeji, a town west of Kobe and the home of the appropriately named, Himeji Castle. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that the town is appropriately named since the castle has been there longer.

On my way to Himeji, on a “Special Rapid” train from Kobe, I experienced a bizarre sensation that I had traveled into the future. Speed trains, futuristic cell phones that I’ve never seen before, tiny little houses, silence, politeness, it’s a little weird. Then when I arrived at Himeji Castle, with crows flying around, very few people and an impressive 14th century Japanese castle, I felt as though I had traveled back in time. That’s about it. Weird day. Here are photos.

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03rd Feb 2008

Happy Year of the Rat!

Chinese New Year in Japan

I managed to escape the Chinese winter but decided to come to a place that is colder, yet better heated and shockingly quieter. I was greeted in the Osaka airport by heaters. Lovely inventions that I had almost forgotten could heat entire buildings. The next pleasant surprise was the well-posted and followed instructions around baggage claim, asking people not to crowd around the belts but rather to make room for people actually picking up their bag. I know it seems silly and trivial, but it’s pretty exciting when pushing to the front of the line is not a common practice. Finally, I was greeted by my rushed brother and my recently nauseous niece Riley, who had had a miserable bus ride to the airport to meet me.

Since then we’ve been doing a bit of shopping (surprise surprise) and eating. The first round of pictures are below. I’ll be posting a bit more regularly since Todd and Kirsten’s internet is so much faster than my own.

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