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!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Harbin Ice Festival!

It was absolutely amazing! But soo ridiculously cold. How cold you ask? -29 degrees Fahrenheit cold. Which is like frozen tundra cold. Frostbite cold. Your handwarmers freeze kind of cold. Ice on your eyelashes kind of cold (seriously). But it was worth it! All the ice is taken from the local river, which is amazing when you look at how huge these ice sculptures are.








This is Harbin's most famous piece of architecture... St. Sophia's church. Love the Russian influence.



Beautiful European style streets. I really liked the feel of Harbin, felt very different than other Chinese cities.


And I took a picture of this girl because I could not get over the fact that it was -29F and she was walking around in a skirt with just fishnet stockings (which I guess you can't really see with the picture! But I was wearing the equivalent of a sleeping bag and was uncomfortably cold!)


Chinese New Year starts soon and it's the year of the Rabbit! Snow sculptures







"Please don't make me go over that bridge. It's slippery and I am freezing and I hope my nose and toes aren't frostbitten."


We went to a Siberian tiger park. They were very well fed tigers. We could have bought a live chicken to feed to the tiger, but no one in our tour group sprung for the $4.50 it would have cost.


And this is a little coffee shop igloo where we huddled for warmth and a hot cup of tea while we let our fingers and toes defrost a bit.


As you can see, it was cold, but awesome.... if you ever happen to find yourself in China between January and February, definitely take the 2 hour flight from Beijing to Harbin to see one of the biggest and best ice festivals there is!

Tomorrow is the first day of the Chinese New Year (which goes by the lunar calendar). It is beautiful around here with red lanterns hung everywhere.... and I have heard it will be fireworks galore.

...more on Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, tomorrow!

Steph