China 2012 – Part 3! (The finale)

So, are you officially sick of hearing about this trip to China?ย  I know that years from now I will want a detailed account of our trip. So, here I am back with the third (and final) installment of our China adventure! Besides, don’t you love living vicariously through me? LOL!

The last half of our trip was spent in and around the Bejing area – and I loved it! We arrived on the train (our second overnight train experience – much better the second time with newer and cleaner rooms and a shorter travel time) and again headed to a hotel for a buffet breakfast. I looked SO forward to these and really got spoiled with them. This time we ate at the “Railway Hotel” in Beijing. The decor was immaculate and the variety of food was glorious. I especially loved all of the fresh fruit juices available, as well as the dumplings. Who knew I would love eating Chinese dumplings for breakfast?

After breakfast, we were back on a new tour bus, complete with a new tour guide, “Jackie” who would be with us for the remainder of our trip. Can I just mention how impressed I was with the amount of English these tour guides had to know? Not only did he (and others we worked with) have to explain, in detail, what we were seeing, and where we were going…but he had to be able to understand our questions and answer them on the fly. I have so much respect for people who learn to speak a second language fluently.ย 

We enjoyed the “scenic route” through Beijing on our way out to Mutianyu (where we would be seeing the Great Wall). We passed by the Olympic buildings (which I really want to see next time) and enjoyed more of the unique architecture of China. I really loved the variety of buildings everywhere we went! The kids entertained themselves with playing, drawing, chatting, and fun. Some adults (who maybe didn’t sleep well on the train) caught a few Zzzz’s as well ๐Ÿ™‚
We arrived shortly at Mutianyu. Our guide (as well as Blaine) explained that there are several points along the Great Wall that tourists (and locals) can visit. Mutianyu is one of the slightly less-touristy sections of the wall – one where many of the local people like to go to visit. It is close to Beijing, very scenic (I mean, VERY scenic) and less crowded – though the term “less crowded” is subjective while anywhere in China ๐Ÿ™‚ We got off the bus and walked up a long (and steep) pathway, lined with booths and people selling their wares, too the base of the mountain, at which point we boarded onto a gondola to travel up to the wall itself. If you are athletic and want to have a more authentic experience – you canย  hike up to the base of the wall. But, with 11 children, we thought we’d save our hiking for the wall itself ๐Ÿ™‚
The ride up is short, and soon were ON the Great wall!! You can see in the small photo, bottom center, that even when you get up to the base of the wall, it is quite a climb to get to the top of the wall. I think I lost 5 pounds just climbing that day!
The wall was unreal. Surreal. It stretched farther than the eye could see and it was so HIGH and THICK. We were told that every foot of the wall cost one human life too build. That is a sobering thought. This section of the Great wall is located in Huairou County 70ย km northeast of Beijing, so it’s nice and close. It is also older than the section of the wall that most people visit (the Badaling section). Being springtime, the blossoms were plenty and it just added to the beauty and magic of the place.
We had to capture this once-in-a-lifetime experience with LOTS of pictures. Here is almost our entire group (only Yuan Li is missing as she was busy preparing for the wedding back in Beijing)
The kids did amazingly well considering all of the climbing we were doing. There were sections of the wall that were down-right steep! I can see how this wall successfully protected the Chinese for years. I highly recommend bringing good walking shoes and water when visiting the wall.
More family pics – we each took our turn to document this. The only thing I didn’t like was, it was a sort of hazy day – in fact, it rained later on. I wish we could have had slightly clearer skies so we could have seen farther into the distance.
And a few more pics!
I could have spent an entire day just exploring the wall. Blaine and Devon made the trek to the really old, crumbly section of the wall – but we just couldn’t manage it with the kids. Maybe next time ๐Ÿ™‚ If you go up the gondola that is closest to the “sled” thing, you will be much closer to the old section and won’t have to walk as far.
Do I look giddy, or what? We were so excited to be there.
After the wall, we made the trek back down the hill where all of the shopping was. Booth after booth of odds and ends, knick knacks…most of the booths were selling exactly the same things so we got some great deals, including some fun sunglasses, and Panda stuff….LOTS of panda stuff for B.

This was just one of many funny “translation errors” that we came across on signage. I wonder how many of our signs in Canada are saying things wrong in Chinese!
After shopping and resting, we headed to a nearby cafe for an amazing lunch. This restaurant “The Schoolhouse” was created out of an old school house, which made it even cooler. The food was mouth watering, and not only because we had just worked up an insane appetite. We enjoy some of the best cream of mushroom soup I have EVER tasted, as well as several traditional Chinese dishes. They are also known for their homemade ice cream which is delish! Oh, and we had cheesecake…music for the tastebuds!

The hotel we would stay at that evening was one of my personal favorites. It is called “The Brickyard” and it is all about being eco-friendly. It is owned and operated by the same people as “The Schoolhouse”. It took some manuevering to get there, though. We even had to have our guide, Jackie, get out and lift up some power lines for the bus to fit underneath. I give major props to the bus drivers in China – they are miracle workers! I still do not understand HOW our driver got back out of the steep and narrow driveway after dropping us off!

Photo Courtesy of Devon G.

The rooms were very interesting – again, no doors on the bathroom, which made showering … fun. There was a rustic elegance about this place, and the BEST part of it all was, laying on your bed in your room, you can look out the wall of windows and see…The Great Wall! Amazing.

We enjoyed a fantastic BBQ supper (complete with steak, which is something we just didn’t see a lot of on this trip), and more cheesecake! I was one happy camper ๐Ÿ™‚

We said our goodbyes to our hosts at “The Brickyard” and loaded back onto our tour bus and back into Beijing. Always so much activity going on, so many interesting things to see in EVERY direction!
We arrived at our final hotel…and this one was maybe the most extravagant of all. It was the “Raffles Beijing” and it is located just a short walk from The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Perfect! I was awestruck when I walked in – it was glorious!
After getting settled into our rooms (I wanted to just pass out right then and there on our king sized bed). We met back down in the lobby and headed onto the bus for another fabulous site… The Temple of Heaven!
This is where the Emperors would go to worship and offer sacrifice. It is an incredible structure that is so ornately decorated. It was gorgeous. The blue tiles were on all of the buildings, representing Heaven. I loved the vibrancy of it. There is actually a smaller replica of this same temple in downtown Calgary, Alberta – so it was like a taste of home. A must see!
BUT, my favorite part of the Temple of Heaven was the people who would gather in the park to play games, play music, craft, or just relax.
I loved just watching the people enjoying each other’s company, playing Chinese chess, and just “being”. There were so many interesting people to see and I started getting bold with photographing them.

It seemed as though all kinds of hobbyists and performers were in every corner. I loved the colors and the culture I was seeing. This is definitely a must-see when visiting Beijing. I can’t wait to go back!

I was starting to feel sick during this visit, however, so I sat down to rest outside of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, and enjoyed some people watching. Just a personal note – I know that the Lord blessed me HUGE on this trip. I have CFS, and I was really worried about how I would do with all of the “go, go, go!” but I only experienced 3 migraines, and 2 of them were relatively short-lived. This was one of those times. BLESSINGS!!!ย 
Lunch was at a “Hot Pot” restaurant. Have you heard of this? Each person gets a personal pot filled with water and some seasoning. Then an oil lamp type thing is lit underneath to heat the water (thus, the “hot pot” name). Then you are given an array of different raw meats, noodles, and veggies that you cook in your own hot pot! It wasn’t just a meal…it was an experience!
I don’t think I did mine correctly, though – mine didn’t have a lot of flavor. And poor Baylie got a little burned when a fleck of hot water splashed onto her arm. The staff were right on it, though, with a cold cloth, some ointment, and lots of love ๐Ÿ™‚ She was fine…not even a tiny mark!ย 
After lunch we drove a little ways to the Hutongs of Beijing. These are little narrow alleyways that connect siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. We were led through the hutongs to a really cool old residence so that we could learn about how these traditional people live.ย ย 
We met this man whose family had lived in this small home for generations. He is a kung fu master, as was his father, as is his son. He played a neat musical instrument (that I can’t remember the name of) which resembled a violin, but only had a couple of strings. He was amazing at it! A very disciplined and down to earth person. He helped us see how much we take for granted and how much joy there can be found in the simple things of life, but a life rich in culture and tradition. I loved his presentation!
After visiting in his home, we headed out the door and were treated to a fun rickshaw ride through the hutongs of Beijing. This is also an experience that I would love to do again when we go back (someday). This was a great way to see regular people living regular lives…doing business, visiting, living life!
I loved witnessing their culture and every day living. I wanted to spend all day here!
This was one of my favorite people that we saw. So much life experience in that face, so much character. I just had to snap a photo of him. I would love to sit down and have a conversation with him!
After our rickshaw ride, we were led to a nearby outdoor shopping center. There were a lot of nice shops here, with nice things to buy. My favorite was the leather shop where I bought a small purse, wallet, and book cover. By far my favorite purchase while in China. The girls also found some treasures here. Another spot I would love to revisit.

We didn’t stay here long, however, because a wonderful treat was waiting for us for dinner~ Beijing Duck! (aka Peking duck)

This was maybe the fanciest place we dined at. I loved the attendants lined up in their traditional dresses and the chef who brought out the duck to carve in front of us. We had a private dining room and the food was amazing. We ate the duck meat rolled in a sort of “soft taco” shell with veggies and sauce. Not how I pictured eating duck! The meat was a little more rich and oily than most poultry that I have eaten – it was good, though. I just couldn’t eat a lot of it. To be honest, I can’t really remember the other dishes at this place besides the duck and this amazing sweet and spicy breaded shrimp – to DIE for!
Then back to our hotel for some amazing sleep. Oh, and here is a little bit of this and that, to share:
ย 1. the older kids loved sporting their ray bands sunglasses – everywhere.ย 
2. Tyler couldn’t get enough of playing with his laser pointer – everywhere.
3. we saw lots of stray dogs in Beijing – everywhere
4. there were colorful things for sale, and fun people selling then – everywhere.
5. kids were nodding off whenever they could – everywhere.
6. we sent out our luandry at the Raffles hotel to be done, and it came back in a gorgeous silk box, folded, labeled, and cleaner than I have ever seen them. Sorry, no “everywhere” in this one ๐Ÿ™‚
Okay, back to our itinerary ๐Ÿ™‚ We woke up on Thursday morning, ready for a busy day. This was wedding day! But first, before the fancy schmancy stuff – we had to visit an iconic part of Beijing, and that was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City!

Tiananmen Square was….enormous. It was a huge square with a few buildings and a LOT of people. It is best known for the 1989 massacres (which, of course, “did not happen” according to all Chinese media outlets). That was really all I knew about this place. There was the mausoleum of Chairman Mau (I believe) as well as the National Museum of Chin, which we didn’t get a chance to visit, but I really want to see it when we go back. There were lots of people, mostly Chinese people. I really enjoyed seeing their patronage and national pride.ย 
We were a bit of a spectacle, as usual…especially mister Ty. He was a hot commodity with the teenage girls ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh, and his mom, too ๐Ÿ™‚
Next, it was on to the Forbidden City. I thought that Tiananmen square was enormous, but I had no clue how huge this city would be. It really is a CITY! We went through one enormous gate after another before actually entering the city. We started through the South gate, where only the emperor was allowed to enter or exit. Only one woman was ever allowed to use that gate, and that was the Empress, when she entered the city for the first time. She never left after that ๐Ÿ™‚
The city was gorgeous – as usual, very ornate and elaborate. Perfect for the Emperor. You can see a lot of the Forbidden City featured in the film “The Last Emperor”. My personal favorite part was the Emperial Garden. I could really relax in a garden like that in my backyard!
There were a LOT of military men everywhere in the Forbidden city, and in Tiananmen square. They were pretty serious, and a lot of them didn’t like having their photos taken. I still managed to snap a few shots. I just found them so interesting! I really understand foreigners who visit Canada and just photograph everyone and everything. I was quickly becoming one of “those” tourists ๐Ÿ™‚ I wanted to capture it ALL!

We had only about 45 minutes after visiting Tiananmen and the Forbidden city before having to be at the church for the wedding. Rush, rush, rush! I had the girls showered and hair done in record time, as well as getting myself ready. Lyndon was an enormous help, and Aunt TT did an amazing job on JJ’s hair. I think we cleaned up pretty nicely!

The church where the wedding was held was only about 6 blocks from the hotel, but it took us almost 45 minutes to drive there with the traffic. It was a gorgeous Catholic cathedral (so unusual to see in China!) and we were ushered through security and lots of paparazzi. They were crazy excited about taking pictures of the gorgeous little girls all dressed in white like little angels.ย 

The inside of the church was decorated beautifully with a lot of candles and chandeliers. It wasn’t huge inside, but elegant. There was a Chinese choir singing catholic hymns with thick accents…but it sounded really nice. All of the kids had their own reserved benches in the front because they were in the wedding party. They sat amazingly well all by themselves up there. The rest of us chose our benches and got comfortable!
When Yuan Li arrived, the wedding began! She looked like an angel. Really. She was radiant. And Blaine looked very handsome in his awesome custom suit (which he designed) and a huge smile on his face. I wanted so badly to get a lot of great shots, but it was difficult with the large numbers of paparazzi trying to get their shots in. But, I did manage a couple ๐Ÿ™‚
It was a traditional wedding ceremony, but with a mandarin speaking chinese priest! I think I mostly understood the idea of what they were saying and promising. After the vows, TJ sang her rendition of “Amazing Grace” and did incredibly well. She even received an ovation! I was so proud of her and her preparation really paid off ๐Ÿ™‚
It was a beautiful ceremony, just the right length of time as well. It was wonderful!

After the ceremony, we headed out of the church into a mess of Paparazzi waiting with their cameras. and this was just the ones who were invited into the courtyard. There were many more waiting outside the gates, trying to force their cameras through any little nook or cranny. Some even climbed the trees outside the courtyard, or taking photos from the apartment windows across the street. Crazy! They sure love Yuan Li over there!

We tried to get some shots of the family with the happy couple. Lyndon took a shot of each of the sibling’s families with them, but we neglected to get one of us. We are hoping that their photographer got one. We’ll see! The afternoon was gorgeous and it was just a happy, happy afternoon!
After photos we had to wait for security to OK us to go through the gates so that the masses wouldn’t try to get in. It was definitely an experience!
The happy couple! They were so lovely and patient with everyone wanting their photograph.
More pics of the happy couple and the family.
After the wedding we half rode/ half walked back to the hotel to quickly get some food into the kids. We were worried that the kids wouldn’t want to eat a lot of the food at the reception because it would be more of the ultra-gourmet Chinese food. The restaurant wasn’t open, but when it was requested – they hopped to it and had chicken fingers and fries ready for the kids in minutes. It was crazy to see and we felt so incredibly grateful that the hotel staff took such great care of us!
We walked over to the restaurant where the reception would be, which was right next to the Forbidden City. I wish I had thought to wear some comfy shoes for the walk because by this point, my feet in my pumps were ready to fall off! But, the walk through the park was gloriously beautiful and I even managed to enjoy it…a little ๐Ÿ™‚
What can I say about the reception? Extravagant. It was amazing. The restaurant was decorated in the traditional colors of red, white, black, and gold. Fancy. That’s all I can say. How many glasses do you need? Plus, there was a 13 course gourmet meal – crazy good stuff! I saved the menu card, just to remember the course after crazy course that we enjoyed. Some of the food included “Braised abalone with cordyceps and Matsutske” and “Braised sea cucumber with scallions”. My personal favorite (so incredibly yummy) was the “Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish.” It’s that picture of the fish with the head and the tail still on….major yum factor!

The program was elaborate with a performance by the Chinese opera, a fun magician, a musician, an entertaining MC and speeches from friends and coworkers of both the bride and the groom.
ย One of Blaine’s co workers is Neil Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, and he was an instant fan of TJ’s singing. Here she is posing for a picture with him. He gushed and gushed about her, and she felt so great about herself afterward. Thanks, Mr. Bush!
ย We headed home after a crazy, busy, wonderful day and got some well-deserved rest ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

The next (and sadly, our last) day in China was more slow-paced. We let the kids go swimming at the indoor pool at the hotel in the morning and they loved every minute of it. They needed some good-old-fashioned kid time!
After that we packed up our stuff, which had grown exponentially since arriving there. Thank heavens Grandma and Grandpa had an extra empty suitcase they were bringing back home with them that we made good use of!
We loaded up our luggage into the tour bus for the last time and said goodbye to the awesome Raffles Beijing Hotel.
On our way to the Beijing airport, we stopped by Yuan Li and Blaine’s home, which isn’t far from the airport. It is a beautiful home in a gated community, with large beautiful trees and nice landscaping. a definite luxury in China, where space comes at a premium! I loved the interior design and the homey feel to their home. It was beautiful!
We rested for a few minutes, and Blaine and Yuan li presented TJ with a gift for singing at their wedding. It was a fun little polaroid camera, complete with packets of film and batteries. She LOVED it! Totally unexpected and greatly appreciated.
What can I say about the trip home? The airport was enormous…truly awe inspiring. We maneuvered through it with Blaine’s help as they were also flying out to Shanghai that afternoon. We grabbed something to eat at Burger King before loading the plane. Goodbye 30+ degree celsius heat! We would miss you! Hello, a long 10+ hour flight back to Vancouver. It went very smoothly and didn’t feel overly long..unlike the flight to Shanghai. Those couple of hours less really made a difference!

We arrived in Vancouver, then made a mad dash through the airport (after grabbing our luggage, going through insane security, and re-checking our luggage to Regina), and boarded our flight first to Calgary, then back to Regina. Our good friends were at the airport to pick us up, and it was home again, home again.

Phew! I’m exhausted just reading about all of this! We suffered some serious jet lag once we were home…it lasted days and days for us. But, it was an experience of a lifetime, and I highly recommend visiting China if you can! The people are friendly and helpful, the sights are beautiful and stunning, and the food is pretty good, too ๐Ÿ™‚ It is a country with a rich history that I can hardly fathom, and a people with traditions and lifestyle that are inspiring. I loved it and I can’t wait to make the trip again, to see even more, and experience China all over again ๐Ÿ™‚


China Trip – Part 2 (Shanghai and Xi’An)

I am finally back with part 2 of our amazing trip to China!The details are almost starting to fade, so I really have to get into gear and record this. For my own sake (and my children as well). As for you kind readers…well, thanks for hanging around to share this journey, too!
So, I last left off when we got to sleep in the amazing Fairmont hotel in Shanghai. Only one night? That is some sad stuff. I wanted to spend my lifetime there. But, alas – we had some serious Shanghai-ing to do!ย 
We were up early and ready to spend a bit of time walking along the Bundt and enjoying the gorgeous buildings and skyline. These buildings used to be Embassies, but have now be turned into hotels, etc. I found the buildings to have a very European feel – not something I expected to find in China! Oh, and it was a great chance to snap some family pics ๐Ÿ™‚

One thing that I quickly noticed in Shanghai (and every place we visited) was that the Chinese take great pride in their architecture and you will find very few buildings that resemble each other. We saw so many unique designs – it was wonderful to see.
We also got to see the beautiful “new” Shanghai skyline across the river. See that really tall building with the square “hole” in the top? Yeah, we were going there next.ย 
BUT, not before posing with the cousins for a few silly shots. I just have to say how impressed I was by how well all of the kids got along the entire trip. Whether they were riding for hours on a bus or train or plane, or walking from this place to that, or eating at restaurants, or just hanging out – they were having way too much fun together. It was so fun to watch and made me miss living closer to them.
So, after a brief morning enjoying the Bundt with the Boyds, we headed back to the Fairmont to meet up with everyone else and load back onto the tour bus for a Shanghai excursion! I knew we were famous, because we had Indiana Jones himself as our tour guide ๐Ÿ™‚ A very tall, very red-headed, chinese speaking Indiana ๐Ÿ™‚
Off to see the Shanghai World Financial Center! This is a super tall skyscraper located in the Pudong district of Shanghai. It also boasts the worlds highest observatory. The elevator to the 100th floor was so fast our ears popped. Crazy how tall this building was.

The entire tour of the building ran like clockwork – only allowing a certain number of people up at a time. The observatory was covered with glass windows that made viewing Shanghai amazing.

JJgot a bit queasy from the height, but she still took a chance to look down. A few of us took pics by the window – which was difficult to see because of the grey smoggy day, but the height was unbelievable. Everything below looked like toy models. I wish I could convey the height in pictures.

B decided that she loves photography (I don’t know where she gets that from) and had a LOT of fun taking shots from up in the Observatory. Not really shots of the city, but shots of a cutie foreigner!

Like I said, the cousins just enjoyed being together – hardly noticing where they were. โ€œOh, are we on the top of one the worldโ€™s highest buildings? Sorry, Owen was telling a great joke…excuse me…โ€ I, for one, enjoyed the fancy toilets, one with a view, heated seats, and a crazy complicated bedee.
ย After the World financial Center adventure, we headed on to a wonderful market. This antique market in Shanghai was called “Tianzifang” and it was amazing to see. Unique arts, crafts, and antique items (as well as new items) for blocks and blocks. I could have spent all day just browsing the booths and visiting with the people. One woman in particular spoke incredibly good english and we had a wonderful conversation. We didn’t have a lot of time here, but I did end up buying a gorgeous tea pot and some T-Shirts for the girls before hopping back on our bus to continue the Shanghai adventure ๐Ÿ™‚ย  This was also our first lesson in bargaining. We learned never to pay asking price for anything. You can always get your item at least 50% less than they are asking. I learned to be a great bargainer by the end !

We popped by Blaine and Yuan Li’s new house that is still being renovated. They bought in a trendy neighborhood with fun cafes and shops right in their back yard! Most people in China do not have the luxury of living in a house, never mind having a little backyard of their own, so this was neat to see. I can’t wait to see what they do with the house inside. Sounds like they have some fun plans, and Blaine is designing most of the decor himself. Awesome!
We were going to eat lunch in one of the cafes near his house, but with 24 of us, it would have been a tight fit. We opted, instead, to enjoy a lunch of Subway and McDonalds in a local park where the elderly go to exercise. Who knew? I guess when everyone lives in apartment buildings, you need to have space set aside just for getting some exercise. It was a beautiful park and the kids loved having a chance to run around a bit.ย 
Then we headed straight to the Shanghai train station to board our first overnight train to Xi’An. It was super packed, but the kids didnโ€™t mind waiting. Luckily Yuan Li hooked us up with the VIP entrance and we boarded right away.
Traveling on an overnight train in China was a first for me (and most of us) and it wasnโ€™t the most luxurious experience. Mostly because of the squatting toilets (people have a hard time aiming in a moving train โ€“ go figure) and the smoking. People in China smoke..everywhere. Even where they “technically” aren’t supposed to.ย  We were lucky enough, though, to travel in the first class cabins with beds,tables, TVs, and (most importantly) doors. Even with all of that, we didnโ€™t sleep great โ€“ except for the kids who zonked right out! I enjoyed our dinner on the dining car, though, and found the experience sort of thrilling. Except for the toilet situation. I could have done without that.

We woke up after a so-so sleep on the train, with a couple of hours until our arrival in Xi’an. The scenery was amazing as we traveled along. I even caught glimpses of the famous rice terraces! We also had some time to just “hang” with each other. Yuan Li looked gorgeous even after a terrible sleep!
ย Getting off the train was an experience, too. It was crazy busy at the station, and we were warned about pick-pockets. Tamber was a victim as her iPod was swiped sometime during our trek from the train to the Hotel where we would have breakfast. It was crazy packed. I think we all held on to our kids a little tighter until we reached the hotel for breakfast. We also took a cousin’s school project “Flat Baylie” along for a few snapshots ๐Ÿ™‚
We had a glorious buffet breakfast at a super swanky hotel. Lots of bacon, veggies, and fruit. My fave was a pastry with chocolate in the middle. Glorious chocolate!
People in China eat like people in much of the world (except North America). They fill up on grilled veggies, breads, meats etc. for breakfast, eat a similar lunch to ours, then eat a lighter supper. I could get used to breakfasts like these!
After breakfast, we hopped on another tour bus to see the Terracotta warriors – maybe 45 minutes outside of Xi’An. So excited! We had a phenomenal tour guide, โ€œMinnieโ€ who spoke excellent English and entertained us during the ride out to the warriors.

Once we arrived at the Terracotta warriors, Blaine and our tour guide, Minnie, were trying to explain about the different buildings we would be going through, but SOME people just can’t help but be silly!

The warriors themselves are something you have to see. Each one (of thousands) is designed after an individual soldier, so each and every one is unique. The Terracotta Warriors represent only a small portion of the eight thousand strong underground army buried in front of the Emperor Qinshihuang’s tomb (r. 221-207 BC) to defend him in the afterlife. Several were smashed by rebels when there was an uprising years later. Some farmers discovered the broken warriors while digging a well years later, and one of them is still alive and signs autographs at the museum.ย  I can’t imagine the work it took to piece the broken figures back together. They are awesome.

I enjoyed the scenery at the Terracotta Warriors exhibit as much as the warriors themselves. I adore the blossoms on the trees and the sort of ethereal look of the grounds. Everywhere we went there was hundreds of years of history…China has a way of soaking into you and leaving a permanent mark on your soul. It was like being in another world.

Back on the bus and into Xi’an for a muslim-style lunch. A big hit with me and Lyndon – not so much for the girls ๐Ÿ™‚ I really loved dipping the dense, unleavened bread into the noodle soup โ€“ it reminded me of Vietnamese Pho Soup. So yummy.
I had no idea that there were so many different Chinese ethnicities, either. The “Hui” people are the predominantly muslim or Islamic ethnicity in China and have been in China for over 1,400 years. They resemble all other Chinese people – the only real difference in looks is their style of dress. Isn’t there an incredible history in China?

Our last stop was the wall of Xi’an city. Most major cities and towns in China have their own city wall (for the ‘old city’ – the new city now extends far beyond the city walls).ย ย 
First we had to pass the “sentinel” guard – oh, and snap a pic or two. The wall was incredibly wide – enough for 3 or 4 chariots to ride side by side along it.

The setting sun was the perfect light to take some photos along the top of the wall. With so much smog in the larger cities, it was a rare treat to see some blue sky and sunshine. It was the perfect evening.

We took a little time to take some fun sunglass pics ๐Ÿ˜‰ How I love these girls!
Lots more photos. I really went overboard here, I know. The light was so beautiful and everyone had had a shower and a delicious meal earlier in the day, so we were all feeling wonderful. I also loved the gorgeous buildings on top of the wall, and the glorious mix of old and new China that we could see from our standpoint above.
A few more shots of our group. I love the one of the two “JJs” They were the best of best buds on the entire trip – not to mention they look like siblings, instead of cousins! And Lily loved to pose like this for photos โ€“ when she wasnโ€™t sick of being asked to be in them.
We were getting used to having people ask to photograph us, or take pictures with us – but this was the first non-chinese request we had. This was a nice couple from Kenya who wanted pics with the cute white girls ๐Ÿ™‚
As I said earlier – the view was amazing, and it was a nice mix of old and new Chinese architecture. So fun to see.
We had just enough time to pose for a nice group shot in the setting sun. I wasn’t in this one, but everyone else was (I was taking the shot). Looking back, I wish I had asked someone to take the photo for me so I could have been in it – we never did get one with absolutely everyone from our group in it.

Back to the train station to board one more overnight train – this time to Beijing! We had a little โ€œletโ€™s see the foreignersโ€ incident at this train station, but (after a drunk guy got rowdy) we got a police escort to the train station, which actually helped us to board the train…just in time! Funny how a bad situation turns into a blessing, isnโ€™t it?
I think we were all grateful that this train was a bit newer, cleaner, nicer than the previous one, and we were all even more grateful it would be our last overnight train on our trip.

Well, that’s the end of “part 2”, are you still with me? ๐Ÿ™‚ย  I’ll be back with one last installment of our time in Beijing (which was where we spent the remainder of our trip). It was a trip for the record books!


Our China Adventure! Part 1

Time to get documenting! Yes, this is going to be a long post, full of photos and text, personal thoughts, quips, and more so avert your eyes if you aren’t looking to spend a while here ๐Ÿ™‚ I promised to include more personal posts, and I also need a spot to write down the details of our trip for the future (have I ever mentioned just how bad my memory is?) so here I am!ย 
We had the experience of a lifetime in one of the places on this earth that I never saw myself visiting…China! My brother-in-law (Blaine) has lived there for over 9 years and recently met (and married) a beautiful Chinese actress named Yuan Li. They were kind enough to fly us (and the rest of the family) out to China to join them in their Chinese wedding ceremony and reception. Of course we were on board…literally! Here is a little of how it went:
Day 1: Since we are the only ones in the family who live in Saskatchewan, we had to get up early, get dressed, grab our backpacks (that were filled with activity books, crayons, earphones, small toys, etc.), grabbed our luggage, and headed out the door. We have amazing friends that arrived at 7am to pick us up and take us to the airport. We love you, Cuellars!
We had to catch our first flight in Regina, which we were all so excited about. I mean, this was the first time travelling by air for me and the girls. I loved going through baggage check. I loved waiting to board. I love walking down the little ramp onto the plane. I loved boarding the teensy tiny plane to Vancouver. I loved take off and I loved landing. I loved every bit of it.
But don’t worry…it would get old, and quick ๐Ÿ™‚
Our flight from Regina was delayed, so we had to make a mad dash across the entire Vancouver airport to make the flight to Shanghai. We were literally running through the airport, trying to make sure not to lose the children in the process. Thank heavens for moving sidewalks! We were relieved to see the rest of our group from Calgary and area waiting for us, ready to board. I was a sweaty mess when I boarded the huge plane, so I was happy to sit…for a while ๐Ÿ™‚

The flight was a long one…13 hours, after we had to fly a loop in the air as we passed over Beijing. 13 hours was about 2 hours too long for me, but the kids were fabulous. It’s a long time to have to sit, but with movies, games, and cousins – it seemed like it was no biggie for them. For me? I had a migraine so it was a little tough. Maybe the altitude change? Who knows.ย 
So, the flight is finally coming to a close and we begin a very bumpy descent. With two expecting mothers in our group we expected some air sickness, but I wasn’t prepared for how sick Brynae got. She was a little trooper, though, and put her sick bag to good use.
Flying into Shanghai
With a few of our group feeling sick, we made a slow entrance into Shanghai, but we did make it. Blaine and Yuan Li were there to greet us…Yuan Li looking fabulous, and Blaine looking like some kind of director with his video camera going strong. We were happy to see them.ย 
First things first…we grabbed our luggage and then grabbed a bite to eat at Burger King. Brynae just couldn’t stomach anything, poor girl, and she even gave us a scare when she disappeared to the bathroom without telling anyone! Near heart attack #1 and we had barely arrived! Burger King (in the airport) was also the first place where we noticed Yuan Li getting recognized. It started with fellow diners discreetly taking pictures of her with their phones, and graduated to people approaching her to say hello. She handles it all really well.
After lunch, we loaded on to a tour bus – something we would be traveling around a LOT in. We had a group large enough (just with family) to nearly fill the bus. It was nice to have a private tour bus with Blaine as our guide ๐Ÿ™‚ We were going for a nice ride through Shanghai and out of town towards Hang Zhou, the city where Yuan Li was born and lived. It was about 3 hours from the airport to the hotel we would be staying in, in Hang Zhou.
The kids (and some of the adults) were completely wiped out after the flight and now the bus ride. As for me, I didn’t sleep a wink from Regina to bedtime in Hang Zhou… over 26 hours awake, all told.ย 
We would be staying just outside of Hang Zhou at an amazing hotel/resort called “Amanfuyan”, and it was HUGE (situated on 14 hectares). The resort is comprised of 47 dwellings surrounded by tea fields, natural forests and lush groves of bamboo. It used to be a Buddhist Monk village, and is now an amazing five star resort. We arrived at night, so it was fairly dark, and we had quite a trek to find our “cabins”. Then, back to the main building where a FEAST was waiting for us!
The food was so different and this was our first official taste of “traditional” (though gourmet) Chinese food. Lots of vegetables prepared many ways, lots of fish, shrimp, chicken, and bamboo dishes. I was surprised that we didn’t see any rice. As delicious as the food looked, most of us were SOOOOO exhausted we just wanted to jump into our gorgeous king-sized beds and take a snooze. I mean, who wouldn’t want to just spend weeks hidden away in a room like this? It was so gorgeous, HUGE inside, and very Chinese in design. I loved it so much. Five star all the way!
Oh, I have to mention that this was our first look at the glass-door bathroom. We discovered that this would be a common thread in many of the places we would stay. I guess when you stay in a nice place, you don’t want to look away for even a minute ๐Ÿ™‚
Surprisingly (or maybe not) we slept the entire night. I think we hit the sack around 10pm (Shanghai time – more like 8am Regina time) and slept until 5am or 6am. Others in the group weren’t as lucky – they suffered from a bit of Jet Lag and woke up in the early morning hours. I’m so grateful that neither Lyndon or I or our children suffered from any Jet Lag. Hooray for that!
I woke up at 5am, got dressed, and headed out the door with my camera to take some pictures of the gorgeous grounds. It seemed like every direction I looked, there was something absolutely stunning to see. I loved the little stone bridges over the waterfalls, the geese, roosters, and other animals, the interesting and unique plant life, and the rising green mountain surrounding us.
This is the pathway from our suite and down to the Fuyan pathway
Just some shots that I captured. There were so many.
We enjoyed a glorious breakfast at the cafe which was bright, open, and beautiful (like everything else here). I enjoyed some scrambled eggs (farm fresh!) with some grilled veggies (I have learned to absolutely adore grilled veggies for breakfast), and of course some FRESH SQUEEZED apple juice. Amazing.
We hung out for a few minutes, just chilling and visiting before heading over to see the Buddhist Temples which are adjoined to the resort.
I loved these funny plants..they looked like dead sticks poking up out of the ground, but they have this gorgeous little pink blossoms that look like they are hot glued on! So different. The bees seemed to like them as much as I did ๐Ÿ™‚
ย We walked down the Fuyan pathway in the resort to a private gate to the Temple park. It was shortly after going through this gate that, once again, Yuan Li was noticed by her adoring fans. It was so fun to watch their expressions change as she walked past, and to see how fast their cameras whipped out of their pockets to start snapping photos of her. Oh, and they were just as taken with the gorgeous little “foreign” children with the blonde locks and blue eyes. Grandpa was his friendly self and offer to take a few photos with some “fans”.
The temples were something incredible to see. I was taken by how HUGE and how ornate they were. Every corner was delicately painted in vibrant colors and gold leafing. Amazing.
There were a lot of people there to worship, pray, throw coins, and burn incense. I found it so interesting that a place of worship was being overrun with tourists and gift shops. It felt so counter intuitive to me. But I guess it is their churches that are set apart for reverence and only certain worshippers (which is more like how our temples are – and our churches are open to anyone who would like to visit). It was a different experience, that’s for sure!
Here we are in front of one of the temples (can’t remember which Buddah this one was for)
There were several of these temples, each for a different Buddah. My favorite Buddah was the Buddah of good luck – he is always smiling and he’s FAT! Nothing like good luck, happiness, and being well fed ๐Ÿ™‚

After the Temples, we headed back to the resort to pack up our luggage and wait, lazily, for a few minutes while the luggage was loaded and the rooms were…ahem…paid for ๐Ÿ™‚ The weather was gloriously warm and we had just walked out butts off (okay, if only I was being literal about that last part), so we were grateful for a chance to just sit a relax before our next adventure.

We didn’t rest long, however, before it was time to hop back on the bus and head back into Han Zhou for a real treat! Most importantly, we would be meeting Yuan Li’s mother, father, brother, and sister-in-law for the first time. I was so excited to meet them. Second, we would be dining on a private restaurant barge…an entire boat just for us! When I heard Blaine say we would be eating on a boat, I pictured something a lot simpler and smaller than what we found when we stepped off the bus!

Yuan Li’s mother greeted us as we stepped off with a smile, a wave, and a hug for Jeff and Judy. The boat was a glorious chinese-style barge with HUGE chandeliers, large round tables set with gold cutlery, paintings, statues…the works. It was unreal. I had no idea just how fancy an affair this would shape up to be.

I had the privilege of sitting at the same table as Yuan Li’s family, and I got to listen to Yuan Li and her brother translate the conversation between her parents and Jeff and Judy. I admire greatly anyone who can successfully be fluent in a second (or third) language. It is something I have always wanted to do.

The food was as gourmet as you get. Even the garnishes were carefully carved vegetables in the shapes of birds and flowers. Crazy beautiful. I politely tried nearly every dish (it would have been nearly impossible to try all of them as they just kept coming, and coming) and can honestly say that I liked less than half of them. My North American palette was just not used to the flavors and textures I was experiencing. I even tasted the shark fin soup, which was good, but once I found out what it was, I just couldn’t eat it because of how upset Tamber became. She is a shark-lover and activist, and I didn’t want her to abstain alone ๐Ÿ™‚

I enjoyed watching at the other boats and barges floating on West Lake. It was a beautiful spot and I would have liked the chance to walk around the edge and take in more of the scenery. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back! It was a gorgeous spot and we were told that Hang Zhou is a tourist town, popular for it’s scenery and it’s tea ๐Ÿ™‚

I don’t really think that the kids filled up on the food – it was just so different from what they were used to, but they seemed happy to eat the buns and drink the soda pop ๐Ÿ™‚

We said our goodbyes, used a nearby bathroom, and boarded the bus for the 2-3 hour drive back into Shanghai.

The kids kept us entertained with songs, terrible jokes, and “scary” stories.They even got bonus points from uncle Blaine for being the scariest. I think the scariest story was about a thief…a bandaid thief. Ooooooh…..I’m shaking! Too bad they couldn’t entertain us with their trumpet playing, though…apparently there are laws against that in Hang Zhou ๐Ÿ™‚
We arrived back in Shanghai in the early evening, and (since it took another hour to drive through the city to our hotel on the Bundt) we got to see the city light up and come alive for the Shanghai night life! The gorgeous historic architecture along the bundt was amazing to see – very old and almost European looking. Then, across the river, modern Shanghai lit up the night with bright neon colors and designs. I loved seeing the mix of old and new.
We checked into our rooms, then walked a few blocks to a cute little cafe to grab some dinner. Thank heavens for the spaghetti marinara that they had – I think almost every one of the kids ordered and devoured it. I ordered a delectable chicken, mango, and avocado salad that tasted as amazing as it looked. Unfortunately, we were so exhausted that we could barely stay awake long enough to finish the meal! In fact, there were one or two of the children who didn’t make it – they zonked right out in the cafe ๐Ÿ™‚ So, we headed back to the hotel to get the kids (and, let’s be honest, ME) to bed. That amazing bed was calling my name!! Lyndon went back out with Blaine to head to a local shop to buy me a hair straightener, and he ended up being “propositioned” for massages. I won’t use the words they used, but they made it very clear what they were offering him. Crazy! I’m so glad I have an honest and virtuous husband ๐Ÿ™‚
The hotel…oh, the hotel. We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel, which is right along the Bundt in Shanghai (a beautiful boardwalk along the river overlooking the modern Shanghai skyline). Before going to China, I did a little looking on the Internet to see what I might like to see while in Shanghai, and The Bundt was on the top of the list. I was thrilled that our hotel was right on it! The Fairmont was extremely high end – I mean, there was a flat screen right next to the bath tub! Everything was posh and gorgeous. I wanted to just melt into that bed and never get up. BUT we had a full day ahead of us, so it was right to bed!

I’ll be back with our China adventure…part 2 soon! I don’t want to forget a single detail (I still can hardly believe I was there, and that my children got to experience it all with us!). Stay tuned!