27 January 2007

Belated Christmas Pics

Currently listening to: Sean Watkins, Blinders On

Currently reading: U2 by U2, Sliding Down the Surface of Things 1990-1993

So I finally made some time to write an update about my Christmas vacation to northern China. My journey began by taking a taxi to the bus station, then I took a shuttle van to the Shanghai airport, then I took an Air China flight, and once I arrived, I got in another taxi. I am astonished that a.) I didn't have to drive AT ALL and b.) I did this all by myself c.) using my very limited Chinese.

It was wonderful to see Dan and Sara and the kids, and Sara and I got down to business the next day by painting Mia's room purple for her 4th birthday. We had a wonderful Mia's bday/Christmas Eve celebration by going to a Korean restaurant and then doing the traditional opening of one present early. Two teachers from the school joined us for Christmas morning. It was really fun to be with kids for Christmas--it totally kicks the celebration into high gear. After opening presents, we went out to hot pot (yummy, yummy) for the "traditional" (maybe our new tradition in China?!?) Christmas lunch with some local friends. Then Sara, Wendy-a local friend, and I went to Beijing by train. Funny train moments included literally running through the station to catch the train and then having it be standing room only for the trip.

Once we arrived, got oriented and settled into our hotel, we ventured out for some Mexican food. The happiness of any sort of Mexican food in China is truly immeasurable, and needless to say, Sara and I were quite happy to introduce Wendy to 'real' (well, as real as it can get) Tex-Mex. Talk about a wonderful Christmas present!

The next day we went to the Temple of Heaven (a better translation, as I'm learning from a new book, is the Altar of Heaven). It is a beautiful structure and it was built for the Emperor to offer a border sacrifice to Gd on the winter solstice. The history around this complex is amazing! Later that afternoon, we picked up our friends from Grand Rapids, Jen and Melva, at the airport. As jet lagged as they were, we were able to convince them to venture out for their first Chinese meal. I met up with one of my fellow Wuxi teachers, Megan, and her mom and brother, who were visiting from Washington State. It was fun to get to meet them and hang out for a bit.

The 27th was a very full day as we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I had seen both sites back in August in just a skirt and tank top--to be contrasted with this visit's two pairs of socks, long underwear, shirt, hoodie, scarf, hat and pea coat. But as always, the Chinese architecture was compelling--it was worth freezing my extremities to see again. This time we hit up the unadvertised Starbucks in the City complex. Ah, the paradoxes of modern China--a relatively new Seattle coffee megacompany in the thousands year old palace dedicated for the Chinese Emperor.

Once we got back to Tianjin, we hung out a lot, played multiple games of the Cities and Knights of Catan, and got caught up on life back in MI. On New Year's Day, some local friends took us to the Ancient Culture Street and gave us a tour of the temple. That Friday, we got a tour of the local Catholic building, followed by a wonderful dessert at the local DQ--more happiness in the form of food (perhaps a common theme for the vacation...) While I'm on the topic of good food, some dinners at the Kennedy household included Make-Your-Own-Soft-Taco night, baked cheese noodles, wonderful Chinese food, another Christmas dinner (with the same amazing ribs from our Thanksgiving meal) and a night of Sharing with local friends.

But my personal favorite was our night of teaching some friends how to play the Settlers of Catan. I had told some of them about the rice pizza we make because of the gluten allergy in my family, so I made 4 pizzas and then 2 batches of coconut macaroons (I even brought some back to Wuxi!). Then we proceeded to have a fully translated game of Catan--it was amazing.

It was a wonderful, relaxing time of building new friendships, continuing old ones, and being loved on by my family in China!

As always, pictures below: (Don't forget to click on the picture to enlarge it)

Part I: The Altar of Heaven

There are different admission prices to the Altar complex, people like this just pay to get into the park, where they come to exercise...

...or just hang out.

Me all bundled up in front of the Hall for Good Harvest.

Wendy and I braving the cold together!

An up-close picture of the Hall.

Looking over at the Hall from another area.

An attempt at an artsy picture--this kind of ornate artwork is all over the ancient structures in Beijing.

Looking over towards the Dan Bi Bridge that connects the north and south parts together.

The Altar Mound--if you stand on the top stone of the mound, your voice sounds usually clear.

The park on the very south part of the complex.

Melva, Jen and Sara at the beginning of our visitors' Chinese adventure.

Part II: Tiananmen and the Forbidden City

Makes me wonder what is permissible...

The Chinese flag flying in the uncommonly blue Beijing sky.

Looking across the city to Chairman Mao and the beginning of the Forbidden City.

They are currently refurbishing everything before the Summer Olympics next year and even the ceilings are beautifully finished.

The old tiles laying around near the scaffolding.

"Mind Your Step/Made Possible By the Pride Group" Hmm, this brings to mind a few questions...Who is the Pride Group? Do they want me to have enough pride to mind my steps? Why do they care? ;)

Another artsy-fartsy pic, this one inside the City complex.

I somehow forgot to mention that my Christmas wish for snow did get fulfilled, just a few days after Christmas. Even though it was just a dusting--what mattered to me was that I got to see snow this winter. I didn't realize how much I missed it; it was so much fun to play in!

Some of the ex-pat kids enjoying the snow.

The bikes with their dusting of snow in front of the Kennedy's gate.

Mia getting ready to whack me with a snowball.

Part IV: Ancient Culture Street and temple

Dan and a local friend enjoying their first cup of Starbucks in the New Year.

A fashion show for everyone to enjoy--All I can say is that I think those girls must have been freezing, because again, I was cold and I had multiple layers on.

Dan's friend gave us a tour of the local Buddhist/Taoist temple that sits right off the Culture Street. This is the entrance where people go to first burn incense.

The lion still had some snow from the previous day.

Traditional dolls for sale.

A food artist who made these beautiful designs--this one is a rooster--from a honey-like substance.

A nice view of the Ancient Culture Street.

A sign in German?!? Happy Day! German is on the top, English is on the bottom--my favorite part of the whole thing is that someone took a permanent marker and corrected the English version.

Could the Kennedy kiddos be any cuter?!?

Part V: Various Tours

The MBA building of a local university. Some of the students were kind enough to give us a tour of their campus.

One of Wendy's friends goes to this church and offered to show us around.

The outside altar still decorated from the Feast of Epiphany.

Me, Wendy, the local priest, our friend Abbe and Wendy's friend in front of the altar.

Looking down the shopping street to the Building.

Abbe and I at coffee.

Wendy's friend, Melva, Wendy, me and Abbe together for our last day.

Part VI: Misc. Pics from Wuxi

How to move a mattress: Chinese style--Tie it on a rope, then hoist it up the gate...

...then carry it up another 5 flights of stairs.

My new "Blue's Clues" slippers that Sara got me for Christmas to match my awful orange couch. Note: There is nothing on them that even resemble the Blue's Clues characters we know in the States--remember that copyrights are often forgotten about here.

My new tissue box tells me that "The air is full of breath of the autumn wind/take a deep breath of this sense/softly and gently we dance."

That's all for now


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