Archive for » August, 2010 «

I hosted a playdate for my children and their two friends from 3PM to 10PM last Saturday. But don’t feel bad for me. It wasn’t so terrible. I found that as the kids are getting a little older, they no longer require my services in helping them play. In fact, the 4 children played all day, and didn’t bother me at all.

Just as I was lamenting that my babies are starting to turn into big kids, a little game called Simon Says assured me that they are still just little kids.

After dinner, we were driving home from Sweet Tomatoes. The kids started to play Simon Says in the back seat of my car. I wasn’t paying attention to them, until one child said, “Simon says: tickle your booger.”

I quickly noted from my rear view mirror that the little fingers found their way into their noses.

My laughter joined the little giggles coming from the back seat.

“You all lost!” the one child declared loudly.

“What?”, “Why!”, “We did it right.” came the protest noises.

“Simon said to tickle your booger–you all picked your noses!”

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“My Water Buffalo is missing!”, our taxi driver shouted, as he hung up his cell phone.

We had just hopped on this cab from Jiuzhaigou airport for 200 Yuan for the expected an hour and an half ride to our hotel.

“What?!” I turned and said to our driver, still groggy from our early morning flight.

“My Water Buffalo is missing! I need to go find it!” our driver shouted at me again. I think he is part deaf. He spoke in screams.

By then, I had a good look at the guy. He sported a ridiculously outdated old gray suit that every man in China had to wear during the Cultural Revolution era; he even wore a matching old gray cap on his head. He appeared to be only in his 40’s or 50’s, but his face was full of long and deep lines. And his long thin face was very dark, typical of a Chinese farmer who spent too much time on the field under the sun. His eyes were blood shot, but the most striking feature of his face was the teeth. They were remarkably long and thin, and very yellow. The nose was forgettable.

I quickly concluded that he looked like a guy who can greatly benefit from a Water Buffalo.

“So…What do we do?” I asked him.

“You guys have to move to that car, same price! 200 Yuan!” He shouted and pointed to a white taxi cab stopped along side the road, with its driver poking his head out of the driver side window looking at us.

So, the four of us and our luggage quickly settled into the new taxi, and continued on to our hotel.

The new driver was a much younger guy, and reasonably dressed. The air was cool and fresh that morning, and the roadside scenery was gorgeous. I was in a great mood. The new driver and I carried on an easy and comfortable conversation.

Then he asked, “How did he get you to agree to move to my car?”

“His Water Buffalo went missing, he needed to go home and help his wife find their cow.” I explained like how it was.

The grin on his face gave it away. I was fed a lie.

Their local taxi law forbids a taxi from picking up customers outside of their home territory. So, when our young driver dropped off customers at airport this morning, he was not allowed to pick up new customers at the airport to take back to Jiuzhaigou, so instead of driving an empty cab back the 90 minutes, he called the green taxis to see if anyone had customers for sale. So, within a few minutes of leaving the airport, we were sold.

A runaway Water Buffalo… Creative! I laughed.

I asked our young driver to not sell us again, because my hubby and two kids fell asleep in the back seat. The young driver said okay. I then agreed to let him take us the next day to Huanglong Park for a day trip for 500 Yuan.

Once, we arrived at Jiuzhaigou, I quickly learned that the going rate for a day trip to Huanglong was 400 Yuan. But I decided to honor my reservation with our driver anyway, after all, we were his–he bought us.

On the agreed upon date, our driver came to pick up at our hotel on time, at 8AM. It was a three hour long drive each way to Huanglong. Once again, I enjoyed the roadside scenery, as we passed by mountainous region, open plains, local farmland, and various Tibetan villages, while chatting with my driver friend here and there.

“Huanglong Park is on very high altitude, do you want to buy cans of oxygen? I can stop at a store on the way there.” Our driver asked me about 2 hours into the drive.

I was aware that Huanglong Park is on high altitude. But my husband is originally from Denver, and we have been to the mile-high city without suffering altitude sickness. So, I told our driver to just keep going, and added that if we needed it, I would buy oxygen in the park.

Huanglong Park

“Are you sure? There is no oxygen for sale once you are inside the park. You have little kids,” said our driver.

At the mentioning of kids, my maternal instinct kicked in, and I told him to stop for oxygen.

We stopped at a small store front in the middle of nowhere, and there were already a couple of other taxis there.

We stopped at this Black store on the way to Huanglong

The store keeper told me to buy 4 cans of oxygen. He said there isn’t very much oxygen inside each can, so we each needed one. The cans were bulky, bigger and much taller than a regular bottle of water, yet surprisingly light to validate the small amount of oxygen he promised. They were 50 Yuan per can. Against the store keeper’s wishes, I bought just two cans for 100 Yuan.

“Why is this so light? These cans feel empty.” I complained out loud, as I shook the cans.

“You bought air!” the store keeper shoot back at me.

Our big can of Oxygen

We finally arrived at the park. And we found oxygen for sale EVERWHERE! Any kiosks that sold water and snacks had the exact same can for sale for 15 yuan. Also, we didn’t even need the extra air. We opened one can, only because the kids had to try it.

This time, it got to me. I was pissed!

Luckily, Jiuzhaigou is a touristy town, and they care about their tourists. I knew this because they posted phone numbers prominently for tourist to call with complaints. The number 96927 was painted in bold large black color on every white taxi cab in town.

I dialed 96927 a number of times over the next day and a half. All I heard was: ring…ring…ring a number of times, and then it went to a busy signal. This number was supposed to be 24 by 7. I grumbled to my husband that no wonder the driver can practice deception so openly, there is no one to listen to the complaints.

“Or,” my husband had a different opinion on this, “all the tourists are calling, so the line is ALWAYS busy.”

“Hmm…quite possible!” And we laughed.

Here is my original post about Huanglong.

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The most memorable part of my visit to China was an over night trip to Pinhu. I went there to see an abandon old farmhouse.

Pinhu is a suburb of Shanghai. It used to be all farmland. It is now part city and part farm country. My father was born and raised there until he was a teen. He spoke of Pinhu often with great fondness, and this prompted me to make a pilgrimage to my ancestral home.

Back of the home facing the street side.

My cousin from Hangzhou offered to drive us to Pinhu. He has been to Pinhu many times, and does not quite understand why I would leave his beautiful hometown of Hangzhou to visit a little farm house.

My dear cousin told me many times during the drive to expect nothing more than a forgotten old ruin. He said that part of the property is now a pig pen, and the house might be used as storage for junk. In fact, he humorously suggested that we leave my husband and two children at the hotel to go see the house by ourselves. He harbors a concern that if I allow my American family to witness my shabby origins, I risk embarrassing myself. I assured him that I have thick skin.

After we dropped off our overnight bags at the hotel, we headed for the farmhouse. My cousin had no trouble finding the place–as we traveled on a dusty two-lane road lined by farmland, he suddenly pulled into someone’s farmhouse. I was surprised by the sight of a farmhouse that looked very much lived in. My cousin said that is not the house, he just needed to park the car in front of that house, as there are no other place to park. Some farmers came to look at us, my cousin simply lead us away.

An old grayish farmhouse came into view. It was half engulfed in over-grown green vegetation. The house was set far away from the road, but apparently the side of the house facing the road is the backside of the house. It took us a while before finding a reasonable path that lead to the front of the home.

As the front of the old farmhouse came into view, I was immediately taken by its surroundings. The front of the house faced a wide river, and overlooks the more newly built farm houses and well laid out farmlands on the other side of the bank. Although most of the house is circled by tall green plants, one side of the house is shaded by a small forest of tall bamboo trees. And not far down the path, there is a lovely arch-shaped pedestrian bridge for crossing to the other side of the river.

Front of the home facing a river

Despite the obvious that the house had broken windows, a large crack on one of its walls, and a partly collapsed roof, it preserved strong evidence that it was once a handsome home, still nested in a charming setting.

A bridge nearby for walking across

The other side of the river bank facing the home.

The door and windows were locked, and I declined my cousin’s offer to break it open. I felt a special warmth towards the house, and admired it from the outside for long while.

When we got back into our car, my cousin said that he would take us somewhere nearby to visit some relatives. Relatives I never met before or didn’t know existed. Most of them are still farmers in Pinhu.

My cousin stopped at one farmhouse, and told me that my father’s older cousin lives there. No one was home. They weren’t expecting us. A neighbor ran to the farm to find my relative, and it didn’t take long for an old farmer to appear. He was probably in his eighties, and still working the farm. I couldn’t understand his local dialect, but he understood that I am my father’s daughter. Soon, lots more people showed up for us to meet and greet: sons, daughters, in-laws, grandchildren, even a great grandchild, and some neighbors.

The old gentleman sitting on the chair is my Dad's cousin.

Soon, we turned the afternoon into a party. Our hosts received us warmly, brought in fruits that grew from their own farm, and other local snacks for everyone to eat. They gave us a tour of their home, took many pictures with us, shared livery conversations, and much laughter. The children, including my two kids all played outside. They got busy pumping water out of a well, and then carried and sprayed the water to help farm the land.

That night, we had a big dinner party, and the next day, we had a big lunch party. We enjoyed meeting our new relatives very much.

On the drive back to Hangzhou, my cousin was satisfied that Pinhu wasn’t a waste of time after all, and I left feeling proud of my humble and charming origins.

Pinhu Countryside

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We arrived home last night at around midnight. It was so good sleeping in my own bed last night after 3 weeks of traveling all over Taiwan and China. I actually slept really well.

First thing this morning, I drove totally out of the way to go get Peet’s Coffee. I LOVE Peet’s Coffee. Then I unpacked, did 3 loads of laundry, went through 3 weeks worth of mail, and paid all the bills (only one will be late by about a day). I feel great.

Here is a picture of me, your blogger, with my good friend’s Mom in a Hello Kitty themed restaurant in Taipei.

Me, your blogger, in the red tank top.

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This is our 3rd day in Beijing.

View from Summer Palace Hilltop

The city has an interesting mixture of new and old.

Here is a picture from our hotel room main window. You can’t quite see it, but down below is a Starbucks, and a western styled mall featuring expensive restaurants, name-brand stores such as Gucci store, and VERY expensive European sports car dealerships.

View from our Hotel room main window

Here is a picture from our hotel room side window. An old neighborhood along side a Hutong. I can walk to this Hutong side, and pick up 10 steamed dumplings for 3 Chinese yuan (less than 50 cents at current exchange rates) then stop by Starbucks to get my caffine fix for 28 Chinese yuan. Oh, and also a couple of donuts for my kids for 12 Chinese yuan each.

View of Old Beijing from our Hotel room side window

I am exhausted from combating the massive crowds everywhere in Beijing since we arrived. We are going to the Great Wall tomorrow. I am scared just thinking about all the people we are going to bump into there…

Lots of people everywhere in Beijing

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We arrived at the ancient capitol city of Xian yesterday. We spent most of today admiring Qin Shihuang’s Terra-Cotta soliders.

Terra-Cotta Warriors

Terra-Cotta Horses

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I am beginning to feel like a Jiuzhaigou promoter, as I need to rave about this unique natural wonderland some more.

Jiuzhai Valley Lake

We went back to Jiuzhaigou for a second day to explore the other side of the park. We took the park bus all the way to the top of the mountain again, and hiked most of the way down. The newly and well-constructed hiking trail is blessed with ever changing scenery, and almost always partnered with cascading rushing water, amidst green mountains, crystal clear blue lakes, and so many gorgeous waterfalls.

Jiuzhaigou hiking path

Jiuzhaigou means the valley of nine villages, nine Tibetan villages actually. Inside the park, only three of the Tibetan villages can be visited, the other 6 villages are still deep in the mountains, and there are not currently any roads that lead to them. Besides hiking all day, it was a nice treat to stop at one of the villages, where we got to visit some of the tibetan homes, and buy some local arts and crafts and some refreshements and sweets as well. The local Tibetan villagers were friendly.

Tibetan Village in Jiuzhaigou

I took hundreds of pictures again. It is just so beautiful here. Every scene that came into my vision was worthy to be remembered forever.

Here are just a few of the pictures I took.

Jiuzhaigou Bamboo Waterfalls

Panda Lake Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou's Pearl River Falls

Mirror Lake

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We spent our second day in Jiuzhaigou County visiting Huanglong.

Huanglong Colorful Pond

Huanglong is translated as Yellow Dragon in English. It is a three hour drive from Jiuzhaigou, where we were staying. We booked a private car for this visit. Upon arriving Huanglong entrance, we took the cable car all way up, and hiked the entire way down as we marveled its grand beauty, and stopped countless times to take photos. It took us about 4 hours to explore the Yellow Dragon.

Huanglong Waterfall

Huanglong was definitly worth the day trip. It is simply a fairyland. The colors of the lakes and ponds are impossible to describe with words. And even if you were right in front of it, you still might not believe it is real. My 9 year old kept insisting that someone had put food colors into the ponds.

Huanglong Ponds

We left our hotel in Jiuzhaigou at 8AM, and got back at around 6PM. It was another amazing day.

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We are in Jiuzhaigou (Aba Perfecture Sichuan), China.

Lake at Jiuzhaigou

The beauty of the nature reserve here is stunning. I found myself taking a picture every 10 steps or so. I took way too many pictures! Just can’t help myself. If I were to stay here many more days, I felt sure that my index finger will grow bulging muscles of its own.

A very wide waterfall at Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou's clear lake

Jiuzhaigou's plain with a lake in the distance

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