Thursday, August 29, 2013

First Activity Day

We had our first activity day at my house yesterday. There was a great group of about 12 girls. They were so enthusiastic! We're working on two songs for the Fall Festival, Michael Row the Boat Ashore and He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. Almost everyone wanted to sing a solo, so we compromised with duets. There's nothing like a microphone to make a girl feel like a star!

We took a parachute break for a little fun, but then they were eager to get back inside and practice some more. We have some real budding stars in the group!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Erhu Player

On our last day in China we bought an Erhu (pronounced Are-Who). It is a stringed instrument with two strings, an A and a D. You pull the bow towards you to play one, and push it away to play the other. Sounds easy, no? I can't make it sound like this yet, but I'd like to give it a try! This is the instrument I bought an the man we bought it from!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Off to Duluth!

Amanda said goodbye to us today. She starts graduate school Monday at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. She gave us and the dog one last hug, and drove off into the sunrise. She planned to drive as far as Chicago today, and then go the rest of the way tomorrow.
She packed her little Kia Soul to the gills! It holds not only her clothes and household items, but a harp, a full-sized keyboard, and a violin. She left a few winter clothes for us to bring out in October. Hopefully, she won't need them before then! She also left about 8 boxes of books and music for us to ship via media mail. We'll wait till she has an apartment before we send them. She'll spend the first several days with the parents of a missionary companion. We're grateful they're able to help till she finds a place to live!

Goodbye and Hello

We said goodbye to Crystal, Brittany and John on Thursday morning. They left Shanghai from a different airport than we did. They took a cab and we went with our tour guide. We figured if they needed Chinese help they the secret weapon (John) with them!
Amanda, Ed and I started out so hopeful, with nice seats on our flight from Shanghai to Beijing. It was downhill after that. The Air China flight from Beijing to San Francisco was tight and uncomfortable, compounded by the fact that the arm rests in our row were broken (laying down along our hips) and made the seat feel smaller than normal. The seat in front of us in the middle was broken and the woman had it reclined the entire 12 hours. By the time we got home at 2 a.m. Friday morning we were exhausted. Too exhausted to blog! We've been doing basically nothing for 2 days now. And we still feel tired! We need a vacation to rest up from vacation!

On a happier note, we had time to buy and eat a hamburger at the airport in San Fransicso! Boy did that hit the spot! Our tour guide in Shanghai said she has traveled all over the world, but doesn't really enjoy western food too much. We asked her what country she liked the food in best. She said Hong Kong! We thought that didn't count, as A) it is a part of China, and B) it is not a country! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Last day in Shanghai

We started the day today at the Shanghai Museum. It is a beautifully situated building, complete with fountain and a square beside it.
Inside there are four flours of treasures. We were determined to do it all in 1 ½ hours, but we had to hustle a little to do it.
There was a wing for porcelain, and a wing for just calligraphy, and a section of Tibetan masks, as well as painting, costumes, bronzes, seals and furniture. Something for everyone! My favorite was the costumes!
We then went over to the Oriental Pearl Television Tower for a view of the city.
The line to get in didn't seem so long, as there were beautiful lanterns and pictures on the walls. However, we ended up on the slow elevator going up and down, as well, plus an unwanted trip through the arcade on the way down. They funnel you through their entertainment section in hopes that you'll have the desire to spend more time and money there!
It was great seeing all the tall buildings for the top, but amazing to be so high and still have to actually look up to see the tops of the newest structures!
There was one deck with a (plexi-)glass floor. It was a little dizzying walking on it. We tried all jumping at once to see if it would wiggle the tower. Fortunately, it didn't!
We went back the the Yuyuan shopping area and had our driver and guide drop us off for an adventure on our own. We were successful with the shopping. I scored a new musical instrument called an Erhu, which is like a little tiny cello. The owner of the store was a great player, and we got a private lesson before I bought it. I'm hoping to find a way to use it with the Pearl Strings!

In the evening we walked around searching for a place to take the river cruise. When it became apparent that we would never find it we finally gave up and caught a couple of taxis back to our hotel. It was just as well. We needed the time to organize our things and pack our bags for the return trip. Hopefully, our bags will be under the weight limit, as we're coming home a little heavier than we left! (And I'm not just talking about the luggage!)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blue Skies over Shanghai

It's still hot, but the skies have cleared up, and it was blue skies all day! It's not just the architecture, but also the weather that is putting Beijing to shame. Shanghai also manages the traffic better by having double decker freeways! The freeway overpasses gave us some opportunities to take some pictures of the city.
Many of the skyscrapers are new, but whether they house apartments or businesses, they go out of their way to look interesting with different shapes, and building tops.
We started our day at the Jade Buddha Temple. It was similar to the Lama Temple in Beijing, but with less people! We enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere.
Our guide, Jane, is our first female tour guide, which made me happy, because I had a few questions I wanted to ask about the Chinese toilets and arthritic knees. She explained it all nicely, and said the old people (like me, perhaps?) prefer Western toilets. We also enjoyed her commentary as we visited the inside of the temple.
They allow you to take pictures of the reclining Buddha, but not the older Jade Buddha, which was made out of white Jade in Burma and sent to China in the mid-1800s.
We enjoyed tasting some herbal tea at the temple. They have a tea to remedy anything that is wrong with you. Ed and I opted for arthritis and back pain, while the 'kids' opted for immunity and energy.  They had the cutest little tiny tea cups to taste it in! The girl who poured for us even had an American accent, which is surprising, as she learned all her English in the tea shop!
We had lunch at the Bund, and enjoyed walking along the river and enjoying the Shanghai skyline, with the Oriental Pearl Tower, as well as the tallest building in Asia (now under construction on the right).
On the right side of the river bank is the Bund, a series of old colonial buildings built during the time when the British controlled Shanghai.
After lunch we stopped at the Yuyuan Gardens, where we enjoyed wandering through the beautiful trees, buildings, pathways, and ponds. It is a little oasis in the middle of the city.
The gardens were surrounded by great shopping which we also enjoyed. The merchants at the bazaar are accustomed to bargaining, so they start with outrageous prices, which almost make you not even want to dicker. They managed to talk us into a few trinkets, however. We were tempted to bring home a cricket in a cage, but didn't know if it would make it through customs.
In the evening we enjoyed the Acrobatic Show. In this picture, a boy is being flipped into a chair about 30 feet in the air. It was all very death-defying! In the grand finale the 7 motorcyclists in the giant sphere took our breath away! Crystal is anxious to get home and sign up for acrobatic classes. Brittany and John are going to try to get their Vespa up to speed so they can join the show!

Monday, August 19, 2013


After a sleepless night listening to the creaking of the ship in the locks, we got to see the Three Gorges Dam this morning. We passed through 5 locks, starting at 2:50 a.m., and lasting till 6 a.m. The good news was we didn't need an alarm to wake us up!
We were picked up in buses and taken over to a hill called the "Jar" because it looks like an upside down jar. It has a nice lookout towards the dam. It turns out it's not the biggest or widest dam in the world, but has displaced more people than any other! It also provides more electric power than any other dam!
The grounds were beautifully landscaped, and the system for getting us to the dam was very efficient. Since the dam is such a big tourist attraction, it is nice that they've made it attractive to view it from a nearby hill.
We enjoyed looking down on the locks, and realizing it took almost four hours last night to go just a few hundred yards! They're building a new elevator lock that will fill up in 40 minutes and transfer a cruise ship in just one lock!
We walked around at the base of the dam, but didn't get inside to see any of the workings of it.
We were excited to have 20 minutes to shop before getting back on the ship. We've sorely missed out on shopping on this trip! Everyone but Ed managed to get something today!
Well, John also didn't go shopping. He even missed the dam tour. He was the fifth person in our group to fall victim to a cold we've been passing around with our chopsticks. Fortunately, I have escaped the little bug up till now!
We were picked up at the end of the cruise by a local guide, who took us out to a great lunch in the small town (4 million inhabitants) of Yichang. Our guide took us to the airport for our flight to Shanghai. The airport was nice, but small and only has 16 flights a day! Happily, our flight took off right on schedule!
We arrived at the Ramada Gateway Plaza in Shanghai about 7 p.m. It is a very large complex, but quite nice. Shanghai is so modern and beautiful! It really looks like a different country. The architecture is so beautiful. We can't wait to explore it tomorrow! In the meantime we picked up a little snack for dinner at a French bakery!  

Cruising Down the River on a Sunday Afternoon

I've been dying to learn how to play Mah Jong ever since I read The Joy Luck Club 20 years ago. I can now check one more item off my bucket list! They had a special session for those that would like to learn to play the popular Chinese game today. It turned out to be only the foreigners on the ship that needed to learn. It is a lot like tile rummy, and if we can remember the rules long enough we'll try to teach a few friends so we can play it at home!
We had to take a break in Mah Jong to see the Qutang Gorge, one of the three gorges, for which the massive Three Gorges dam was named. (Brittany tried to smile for this photo, despite feeling a little under the weather.)
We successfully played a few rounds of Mah Jong with just the family. Once you get the hang of how to read the tiles, it is really not too complicated. You build a great wall with tiles, then you draw from the wall, the ocean, or "pong" or "chi,", to create runs and sets. The person to have 14 tiles in sets or runs of threes (plus one pair) is the winner. Later, Brittany, John and Amanda were joined by a Chinese national who made a fourth with them. They each were surrounded by friendly native coaches telling them how to play their tiles. They also had their pictures taken a number of times. We are quite the novelty here!
We were unable to attend church on the ship, so we had our own family devotional. Brittany shared a scripture with us from Alma 30:44, "all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth and all things that are upon the face of it…" She mentioned that that while the earth may or may not be beautiful we are blessed with the gift to perceive it as so. We are also fortunate to visit other cultures and try to get a glimpse of the world through their eyes. As we looked at the river bank we could see the high water mark (20 meters above us) and notice the plants growing in the crevices below the water line. Like people they learn to survive and thrive in the environment in which they are placed.
In the afternoon we passed through the Wu Gorge, which we enjoyed sitting on the sun deck. The weather is hot, but thankfully there was a light breeze on the ship.
Our shore excursion today was a ride in a smaller boat along the Shennong Stream. We got some pretty great rowers who passed several boats during the hour long ride. We felt so sorry for them, watching how hard they were working!
Our tour guide had a lovely voice and sang some Tujia traditional songs for us as we boated.
We cleaned up in time for the Captain's dinner which we enjoyed with our new table-mates, Ying and Yu. They are a young couple with a one-year old baby that they left with Grandma for a few days. Yu (the husband) spoke a little English, but really enjoyed visiting with John and finding out what life in America was like. They wanted to know how to eat food at our table, because they wanted to be polite. John pointed out that we were in their country and were there to learn their customs! Ying is a nurse and Yu is an engineer, representing a growing class of young professionals in today's China.