Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'm still blonde.....

but I am no longer in Beijing!

Sorry for the lack of updates... I know I have been really terrible about it recently and especially in the last month or two. We are officially back in the States... What happened to our AMAZING summer trip that was all booked and almost completely paid for, you wonder? Well - the military happened. My husband was required to report back to his new unit much earlier than planned, and we had to cancel our trip. In fact, I am supposed to be on a plane back to LAX right now after a week in the Cook Islands, a week in New Zealand and almost 2 weeks in Australia. Instead I am staying with a friend in CA while we wait to move in to our house next Friday, and my husband is flying back from Afghanistan.

Oh well! Next summer, maybe. Or maybe we'll do the South Africa trip we had to cancel due to the military... ha ha! Theme, anyone?

So, what is going to happen to this blog - I really don't know. But I do know that I have a TON of pictures and trips that we took in China that have not been posted at all... I promise I will make an effort to post those periodically.

In the mean time, if anyone ever has any questions about Beijing or China in general, please let me know and I will do my best to answer them. Between my husband and I, I think we are pretty much China travel pros, and I'd love to help others with the knowledge we have learned.

On another note, I was paid to write my first travel article! Here is a link.... keep an eye out for my husband's next article on Xizang - Tibet, and Mt. Everest Base Camp (which I did not go on).

http://www.onleavemagazine.com/mongolia-off-the-yak-beaten-trail/

Additionally, if you are in China and looking for a great Chinese teacher/tutor/class, my tutor is in the process of starting her own school and has the website up. The website is still under construction, but check it out - I am on there as a testimonial to how great her teaching method is!

http://keyimandarin.com/

Hope you guys are doing well! Now it's just job searching for me... this market is rough but I have an interview Wednesday.

Steph

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Up close & personal with the Terracotta warriors, and Hong Kong!

Family from the States was in town visiting, and although we originally planned to take them to OUR favorite place in China (Guangxi province), we decided that due to it being the rainy season in that region, we'd take them somewhere else. We ended up spending time in Beijing, then headed to Xi'an for a VIP tour of the Terracotta Warriors, and finally, we ended up in Hong Kong.


Dinner at the Noodle Loft in Beijing - good Shaanxi noodles and fun to watch the noodle makers throwing the noodles around in front of you

My husband and our guests headed to Xi'an on an overnight train, and I flew with a friend and met them there the next day. I had a really cool cab driver drive me from the airport to my hotel. He was super chatty the entire way and loved that I could speak Chinese. When he realized I could read Chinese, too, that really sent him over the edge - he'd excitedly point out billboards on the roadsides as we passed and say "And that one?" "and THAT one?!!!" "and that one!!" as he had me read the billboards aloud to him. I'll tell ya - me and cab drivers in China - we have come a long way. I have learned that a friendly smile, a big "NI HAO!" (hello!), and a good attitude works wonders! I think it's pretty cool that since my last trip to Xi'an, I've pretty much come full circle - from 万事开头难 (everything has a difficult beginning) to what I think is now the opposite - everything has a difficult end! I leave China late next month. The adventure is almost over.

Because my friend's husband is the President of the Asian branch of a huge company - and the company contributes a huge amount of money to Shaanxi province's tax base - we were able to get the real VIP tour at the Terracotta Warriors site! This is the same tour that is extended to U.S. Presidents and other heads of state.

The average person only gets this close:


We got THISclose:



We were very careful not to even sneeze. Can you imagine stumbling into a cultural relic dating back to 210 B.C.?!!! These statues guard the tomb of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.

After our time in Xi'an, we headed to Hong Kong. Actually, we landed in Shenzhen, which is still in mainland China just across the way from Hong Kong. Because Hong Kong is considered an international flight, prices flying in are often much more expensive than flying into Shenzhen, which is considered a domestic flight. The process of landing in Shenzhen, taking a bus to the Hong Kong border, going through customs, and being dropped off in Causeway Bay took about 3 hours. Luckily, we flew out of Hong Kong International Airport - but if the price difference is huge, it may be worth it to fly into Shenzhen.

Bamboo scaffolding! I've only seen that in movies. Rush Hour, anyone?!


The famous Hong Kong trolley system, and double decker buses! (British influence, anyone?!)



Pretty views taken from a junket ride in Victoria Harbour



This is the site where in 1997 Hong Kong was officially handed back to China after more than 150 years of British rule


Night scenes, hard to get a good pic without a tripod




Me staring longingly into one of Hong Kong's many beautiful boutiques


View from The Peak


A reason I loved Hong Kong: a city built amid palm trees


Not the only car of this caliber seen on the streets of Hong Kong!


The Big Buddha at Lantau Island



I also ate at California Pizza Kitchen, which rocked my world, and the hubby and I also went to see an American movie in the super nice mall across the street from our hotel (we sort of have a tradition of seeing a movie in foreign cities we've been to - we've seen movies in Brugges, Victoria, Hong Kong, and Vienna).

And that's it. Hong Kong was truly one of the coolest cities I've ever been to. I love the tropical clime, the palm trees, the city built around it, the proximity to the ocean, and all the amazing shopping and restaurants. It's also definitely one of the most crowded (the most?) city I've ever been to - streets are very narrow, surrounded by high rises - it makes the streets of Beijing look extremely wide and spread out!

Steph

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Now you can have your very own PET!!! Wait... in a *key chain*?

China.

China China China China.

Why?

This is one of the times my brain screams out "PETA!!!! PETA where ARE you?!!!" China desperately needs PETA.

Thanks to my friend Christa for finding this little guy and FREEING him - I can share with you the trend in China - or Beijing at least - to have a pet. IN a key chain. Turtles, fish, and even newts.


My friend Katharine asks a good question. How do you feed it?

Apparently you don't? You just let them slowly suffocate and die?

Gross. This is gross on so many levels.

**Please no political comments! (don't want me to get in trouble right?!)

Anyway - I just returned from a trip to Xi'an (again).... this time we had the super special VIP tour that is only given to special people, such as heads of state and CEOs of major companies. My friend's husband is one of these special people and we were able to stand right next to the Terracotta warriors. Very very cool. Then we went onto Hong Kong - just a few words: COOLEST CITY EVER. Like, in the world.

I love Hong Kong.

Pictures to come.

Sincerely,

The very bad absent blogger

Friday, March 18, 2011

**(Mini) Blog sale!** Cleaning out my closet!

Do you ever have a few items that you hold onto and hold onto, because they are really cute and you don't want to let them go? but then time passes, and for whatever reason, you rarely end up wearing them, if at all?

I feel this way about a few items in my closet for sure! As I was looking through my closet to take an inventory of what I will need for spring and summer, my eyes kept falling on a few things that I like, but for whatever reason just don't work for me or haven't been worn. (Okay, and I also decided that if I sold a few things, maybe some of the guilt I have over splurging at Piperlime's "Give & Get" will go away...;))

How this will work

1. If you are interested in an item, e-mail me at Misshark122 at aol dot com - use the item description as the subject line. Items are reserved first come first serve.

2. I will accept payment only through paypal: use the same e-mail address as shown above.

3. Shipping - I will ship USPS priority mail, which you will receive within 2 weeks. Shipping will vary depending on the item weight, but I will always ship the cheapest possible way. For the dresses and top, I anticipate shipping to be approximately $6, for the shoes, a little more because of weight. I will scan the receipt for you so you see exactly what I paid.

OK, here we go... not too many things at this point.

Item #1. Banana Republic Navy & White Striped Dress - on trend with Spring & Summer's nautical theme!

Size: XS
Fabric: 95% Rayon, 5% Spandex
Made in Vietnam, Hand wash or machine wash cold, gentle cycle
Worn once, item is in "like new" condition, no snags, no holes, absolutely no imperfections.
ASKING PRICE: $20



Item #2. Banana Republic Blue Dress - very pretty bright blue, great for spring and summer!

Size: XS
Fabric: 93% Rayon, 5% Spandex
Made in Vietnam, hand wash or machine wash cold, gentle cycle
Never worn (aside from trying it on and off), like-new condition, no snags, no imperfections
ASKING PRICE: $20




Item #3. Express Floral Dress
Size: 4
Fabric: 100% Silk shell, 100% polyester lining
Dry clean only
Worn once for a wedding, like-new condition, no defects or imperfections
ASKING PRICE: $15




Item #4. Anthropologie Navy Ric Rac Brand Sweetheart Ruffle Shirt

Size: S
100% Cotton, machine wash cold
Worn once or twice, in like-new condition, no defects or imperfections
ASKING PRICE: $15




Item #5. Banana Republic Brown Leather Espradille Wedges - on trend for spring and summer!

Size: 8 1/2
Brown leather upper with Espradille "straw style" wedge
Lightweight and solid, comfortable, good quality
Worn probably once for a few hours!
ASKING PRICE: $40





Item #6. Ann Taylor Deep V-neck Crimson Top
Size: S
Fabric: 96% Viscose, 4% Elastene
Machine wash
Worn once or twice, like new condition, no issues or imperfections - this fabric is very nice and soft, comfy
ASKING PRICE: $10




That's all for now. I have a few other things I KNOW I should part with, but I just can't bring myself to yet.

If you are interested in any of the above, be sure to e-mail me to reserve.

Thanks!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), Anhui Province, China


The Walkway


This is how they carry up supplies to the hotel at the top. It is back breaking work and they do it for 15 USD a day.


And a last glimpse


There is a saying that once you see Huangshan, you don't need to see the 5 most famous mountains in China.

Donate directly to the Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami Relief Efforts

Many thoughts and prayers to everyone in Japan affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami. If you want to donate directly to the relief efforts in Japan, you can do so with the Red Cross.

CLICK HERE to donate specifically to the Red Cross relief efforts in Japan.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Adventures in custom tailoring

A couple friends and I set out early Saturday morning to Beijing's largest fabric market. This fabric market is located in Beijing's Fengtai district, near the Muxiyuan long distance bus station. It is called Muxiyuan fabric market, 木樨园纺织品市场 in Chinese.
It is filled with stall after stall of fabric - every type imaginable. Not many foreigners venture out this way, so the prices are low.

I didn't go with anything in particular in mind, but I stumbled across a print that reminded me of exotic, far away places and beach destinations. I'm always drawn to exotic looking prints like ikat or batik.


I decided I didn't have anything to lose, as I paid less than 10 dollars for enough meters of fabric to make myself a beach tunic/swimsuit cover up. The colors are more vibrant in real life and sort of fade into each other. The fabric is a light linen-y type fabric, very lightweight and slightly sheer with one layer.

Now I just have to find a picture of what I want and bring it to the tailor... who is currently making me a shift dress and a pencil skirt out of some super 120s wool fabric I bought a couple months ago - for $39 USD total. Basically, for $55 USD (fabric plus tailoring) I will have a pencil skirt and a shift dress completely tailored to my body, in the fabric and design of my choosing. Pretty awesome, huh?

Anyway, back to the issue at hand - which tunic style should I have them re-create?

Should I have some unique edging added to the neckline, bottom of the sleeves, and hem of the tunic, like this Milly Cabana Tunic?


Or just have them create a simple, casual design like the one below?


Or this shape?


Any thoughts?

I'll post pictures of my tailor-made shift, pencil skirt, and tunic when I receive the finished products!

ETA: Another picture of the fabric so you can see that it is actually pretty sheer.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hong Kong help!

HI everyone - currently planning a trip to Hong Kong and hoping for some help from my readers! If you've been, what area is the best place to stay in? Hong Kong seems huge and I'm having a hard time figuring out where to stay.

Thanks for the help!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Busy planning our summer trip!

We've officially received military orders.... you know what that means, right? ... Summer trip planning has officially commenced!

I am so excited about the places we are going! We are spending a few days in Malaysia - just around Kuala Lumpur, so if you have any recommendations or thoughts on possible day trips, let me know! ...followed by a flight to Brisbane.

The Australia portion of the trip, believe it or not, is the difficult one to plan. The country is just so darn big.... and expensive! Everything worthwhile costs a pretty penny. We are going to spend some time with our friends around Brisbane, but we still have time to see something else. I was of the belief "you can't go to Australia and not see the Great Barrier Reef" ... but as it turns out, trips to see the reef are crazy expensive! And to stay on one of the lovely islands around the reef, it is really, really expensive - what I like to call "French Polynesia overwater bungalow expensive!" And when you are taking a month long trip and what feels like a million flights, you have to save where you can, right?

I haven't given up on seeing the Great Barrier Reef yet, but our alternate plan is to head to Melbourne, drive along the Great Ocean Road and maybe stop in one of the little towns for a night, and finally go to Phillips Island animal parks where you can watch wild penguins come out of the water and up onto the beach to their nests. Aww.

After Australia, we are heading to New Zealand's South Island for some winter fun! The South Island is a ski destination for many, so hopefully we will get some winter sports in, too.


Followed by a wonderful, relaxing week on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Skiing in New Zealand one week, laying on the beach in the Cooks the next - awesome! After our trip to French Polynesia, I have been desperately waiting to head back to a tropical South Pacific island. We have rented a 1 bedroom 1 bath "villa" less than a 30 second walk to our own semi-private (no big resorts with screaming children near by!) beach. Don't get me wrong - I love kids. Just not while I'm laying on the beach in the Cook Islands. ;)

This is the beach I will be resting my pretty little head on come June! (the black stuff underwater? It's coral... teeming with life and pretty fishes!)


Almost all of our tickets and hotels/B&Bs (we are big B&B fans) are booked - just waiting to explore our options in Australia some more before booking our flight to New Zealand. I had to assure my credit card that this was indeed not fraud as I booked tickets all over the world yesterday.

If anyone has any input on any of these places, including must see places and must do activities, please don't hesitate to comment below. Help with the Australia portion is especially appreciated!!

Steph

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another reason I love China...

the flower market rocks my world.

I paid less than $9 USD for about 40 gerber daisies in vibrant red, orange, and pink. And I was so shocked at how cheap it was, I didn't even try to bargain, so I probably could have paid less.


Flowers make me happy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

An interesting proposition (and other language fumbles)

A couple weeks ago I was getting off the subway at my stop and a local girl came over and was told me she is a photographer, and works at the local art village over here, and needs a foreign girl for one of her projects. I was holding onto my purse and looking around because who knows if it was a diversion to pickpocket me or what, so I gave her my email address and told her to email me info about it.

So, she emailed me and her english was pretty bad, I couldn't really understand what she was asking, so I said, look I speak and understand Chinese, can you tell me what you want me to do?

And so, she writes me this thing about how she is doing an art project on the understanding of different religions with people from different backgrounds. She wants me to be in photos and video doing some Buddhism actions and words. OK so I get to this point and I don't exactly know what this one Chinese word means, but she is talking about taking photos in her art studio, so I skip over it. (Then she says of course if I worry about safety I can bring friends with me, etc). I skipped over the word because when you are learning Chinese, you sometimes have to ignore a word you don't know, because often, you can get the meaning without knowing the word.

OK so I finished reading and something kept tugging at me.... I was like, hmmm, I think I should go back to that one word I don't know (sometimes when reading Chinese it is impossible to know every word, but you might know the characters the word is composed of which allows you to figure out the meaning). I go back and I am like, hm, TUO means to take off or get rid of (like tuo yifu de tuo 脱衣服, or the verb used in "to take of your clothes"), and GUANG can mean light but it can also mean to use up... at this point an image of a bald head flashes into my mind, because I realized that this same guang is also used in guangtou 光头,which means bald... and finally, realization dawns on me... but I looked it up in the dictionary to be sure and sure enough, the word I was looking for, "tuoguang" 脱光, means TO STRIP NAKED! LOL!

OK that was a long story, but I thought it was hilarious that if I had skipped that ONE crucial word, you never know what would have happened, hahaha. In learning Chinese, there are times you HAVE to skip the word you don't know and move on, and more often than not you still understand the meaning... but sometimes (like this!), the word you don't know is apparently crucial to the situation, and it is better to do some more digging. ;)

Steph

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快乐!

OK, so Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday in China. It is a pretty amazing time and lasts from February 2nd to February 15th. On the 2nd, the amount of fireworks going on was absolutely insane. I am talking about Disney World style fireworks being let off literally all night long, RIGHT outside my window - and all across the city. It was amazing. The fireworks have abated, but they are still going on. For a few days, Beijing sounded like a warzone - and I didn't sleep so well. The fireworks would stop at about 2am and start up again by 8am.

Spring Festival (AKA Chinese New Year) is the largest human migration on earth. A large majority of city populations leave the city to head home and spend the festival with loved ones. An estimated 230 million people this year are using China's railways to head home for the holiday. You can imagine traveling at this time of year is absolutely crazy.

The sheer amount of people who left Beijing to head home for the holiday is obvious. Beijing is noticeably empty (for the most part). The streets, which are always clogged with cars no matter what day it is or what time of day it is, are virtually empty. (The NY Times recently reported that Beijing and Mexico City are tied for the #1 worst traffic in the world... so for the streets to be empty, it is pretty amazing.)

One place that is NOT empty.... all the temple fairs (also known as Miaohui - 庙会) scattered around the city.

Today some friends and I went to the temple fair at Ditan Park... here are a few I-phone quality pics ... and some video!!! to share.






At the end of this video, my friend is like "Are you hiding behind me so you won't be on video?" and I'm like "yup!"

video

And this one is a little something we like to call 人山人海 in Chinese - renshanrenhai - which means a mountain and ocean of people... which means, a helluvalot of people! It wouldn't be China if it were any other way, eh?

video

I hope this gives you a little taste of Chinese New Year here in Beijing!