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Map our trip…
Oct 11th, 2009 by Kate

A bunch of people have suggested that we post a map on our blog tracking where we’ve been.  We are trying, but in the mean time, for anyone who cares – and  for Troop 190 who I know is out there following us -  here’s where (and how) we’ve traveled so far…

From:

Phoenix, AZ USA                                            by plane to

Dallas, TX USA                                               by plane to

Fort Lauderdale, FL USA                                by car to

Stuart, FL USA                                                by boat to

West End, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas       by car to

Freeport, Bahamas                                           by boat and plane to

Fort Lauderdale, FL USA                                by plane to

Phoenix, AZ USA                                            by plane to

Calgary, Alberta, Canada                                 by car to

Canmore, Alberta, Canada                               by car to

Bamff, Alberta, Canada                                    by car to                                              

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada                          by car to

Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada   by car to

Kamloops, BC, Canada                                   by car to

Jasper, Alberta, Canada                                   by car to

Calgary, Alberta, Canada                                 by plane to

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada   by boat to

Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada           by car to

Sooke, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada by car to

Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island, BC, Can        by car to

Duncan, Vancouver Island, BC Canada            by car to

Parksville, Vancouver Island, BC Canada         by car to

Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC Canada            by boat to

Seattle, WA, USA                                            by plane to

Los Angeles, CA, USA                                    by plane to

Narita, Japan                                                    by train to

Nagoya, Japan                                                 by train to

Takayama, Japan                                              by train and bus to

Lake Kawaguchico, Japan                                by train to

Yokohama, Japan                                             by train to

Tokyo, Japan                                                   by train to

Hiroshima, Japan                                              by train and boat to

Miyajima, Island                                               by train to

Kyoto, Japan                                                    by train to

Osaka, Japan                                                   by boat to

Shanghai, China                                                by train to

Suzhou, China                                                  by train to

Beijing, China   …

 Tonight (October 11th), we leave for Xi’an, China on the overnight train, so you can add that too!

my version of the ricshaw adventure
Oct 9th, 2009 by Tessa

My mom managed to write down her side before me, but here is my view of the story:

The streets were swarmed with people, most of who would stop and stare at us. Rickshaws followed us down the side walk on the bike lane

“Hello!? Miss-a Lady!? Won’t-ya ride-a rickshaw?” I’ve made the observation that instead of actually using articles they add a quick “a” to the back of words to make it seem like they are saying the articles.

“No-a ride-a me rickshaw, I-a pay-a less!”

“No, no, no! I pay-a good-a price!”

Dad repeatedly looked at his watch. Announcing the time after a minute had past. “Oh now we only have 37 minutes,” He said. Phoebe danced on the small strip of cement between the road and the bike lane- trying her best to flag down the full taxis that hurried past. We were starting to become desperate. If we didn’t catch this last train, there weren’t any more trains for 3 days.

“If we find a four person rickshaw- we’ll take it!” Mom finally declared as her power walked down the dirty side walk. Right on cue, a 4 person rickshaw glided up to us. Dad showed him where we wanted to go on the map.

“60,” He said

“15”

“I only-a take-a for 60,” He hesitated, “but-a for you-a I give-a for 40.”

“15,” I repeated, as I walked on. He slowly pedaled after us. He could see that mom was interested.

“30!”

“15!”

“25,” He snorted, “Last offer.”

“20 and you’ve got yourself a deal.” My mom cut in.

“Okay!”

I got in and sat down on the bigger seat facing forward. Mom objected. “Dad and I get the bigger seats because we’re bigger.”

“But you freak out when the driver takes a sharp turn!” I objected. We had been in a rickshaw before…. She sat down on the seat- wasn’t like I didn’t warn her.

He swerved left where we were supposed to go strait. We were now on the wrong side of the large swamp like field that the freeway ran over. Going down the abandoned road full of potholes, we could see the station on the other side of the marshy area. It smelled horrible and continued to get worse as we went. We passed decaying buildings on either side. The station was soon obscured by the mass of windowless apartments. Soon after the road had turned into a dirt road, the guy pulled over. A man with frizzy, grease covered hair and missing teeth was standing in the alley next to us. We were close enough to see his missing teeth and the bandages wrapped around his hands. The rickshaw driver hollered to the man and mom grabbed my arm and continued to squeeze it like she did when a car came to close to us on the street. The man walked closer to us and pointed the way we’d been going.

The man continued on the bumpy road until we started to doubt the route again. Dad was now checking his watch at least 6 times ever minute and announcing the glum results to us every half a minute now. We came upon 2 people this time. Our driver was obviously lost. The monotonous clucking (for it was more like a clucking then a ticking) abruptly halted for the moment as we slid to a stop. The man once again, shouted something at the 2 workers standing in front of a dirt road leading across the swamp. The man pointed across the dirt road. Mom brought her hand to her forehead and whispered “Oh god…” as she shook here head. So of course the man jerks the dilapidated cart onto this dirt road in the middle of who knows where, and we cross the smelly swamp. Litter gathers in clumps in the damp grass like flies in a swarm. The man lights a cigarette and I am so close to phoebe that I can feel her gagging. We cross the swamp to find ourselves next to the freeway. Dad looked at his watch and mumbled something.

For the third time, the man pulls over onto the side of the road and asks for directions, this time from a family of 3. Just like every other child that we’ve seen at the age of 7-ish the little girl leaned out towards us and slowly said, “hello, welcome to Beijing.” I smiled and said “thank you” back. The girl instantly realized what she’d done and ran behind her mother. The man pointed to the freeway and my mom mumbled something along the lines of Oh god again.

So the rickshaw man grunted and then turned the rickshaw on. He went onto the freeway. The rickshaw was going at a good 40 mph and mom had put her leg up between me and the gaping area where there was no door. Everyone’s hair was whipping around and mom started screaming. We were bouncing up and down when suddenly a siren came from behind us. The man cursed and increased speed to the fastest the little rickshaw had probably ever gone in its life. We were avoiding cars left and right. And at this precise moment dad decided to check his watch again. The rickshaw man took a quick leap and bounded over the foot high sidewalk separating the pedestrian/bike lane from the regular lane. The rickshaw driver continued cursing as the police car went to the “official” entrance to the pedestrian lane. We swerved though stalls, dodged a truck unloading fruit, and almost ran over quite a few people while going about 60 mph. Mom started screaming “LET US OUT LET US OUT!” and then we zoomed right past the station and onto the pedestrian over pass.

Phoebe screamed over the wind, “SHOULD WE JUMP!?”
“NO WE’LL KILL OURSELVES!”

“BUT TESSA HAS NINJA POWERS!”

“TESSA JUST BELIEVES SHE HAS NINJA POWERS- THEY AREN’T REAL!” I couldn’t tell who was shouting it but it sure made Phoebe shut up. I am still very annoyed with whoever said that though- for I have repeatedly tried to convince myself that I could become a ninja and we all know that full support from parents is the best assistance in a child’s choice of career.

Dad yanked the money out of his pocket and shoved it in the drivers face. Mom continued to repeat, “someone’s gonna get hurt! Hold on as tight as possible! We’re gonna die! Someone’s gonna get hurt!”

The driver looked behind him to see that the car was a decent distance away. I checked that I had everything in one quick glance and jumped out of the cart laughing as the driver quickly took the money from us and drove off… for some reason there were more people staring at us then usual.

Moon Festival
Oct 7th, 2009 by Kate

We have SUCH awesome holiday luck – this past week the Chinese celebrated (and I mean CELEBRATED) two  major holiday – the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and the Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival. 

60th Anniversary Celebration of the People's Republic

60th Anniversary Celebration of the People's Republic

The 60th Anniversary was very interesting – we were in Shanghai so we were treated to lots of fireworks, and lots and lots of Chinese flag banners that went up literally overnight.  It seemed in Shanghai to be like a souped-up 4th of July in the States – just with red starred flgs instead of the old stars-and-stripes.  But in Beijing – well that was another story.  With successful Olympic extravaganzas under their belt, they pulled out all the stops!  We considered trying to get up to Beijing for the parade, but there was just no way.  They had a six hour long parade with 60 floats and over 100,000 performers.  We only caught it on TV, but it was like the opening ceremonies with a bunch of major military equipment thrown in for good measure.  Boy can they march in unison! 

But the highlight of our holiday week here was Saturday night, which was the celebration of the Moon Festival!  It was AWESOME! 

We almost missed it.  We had been in Suzhou all day (and as you may have read in prior posts – we had quite a day!) and got back into Shanghai late.  From our taxi on the way to dinner we saw these strange floating, glowing balloons from off in the distance but we figured, hey, its China, there’s always something odd going on…  We were finishing up  dinner when the fireworks started.   They were still going off as we made our way back to our aparment which was about 20 minutes later.  Phoebe was about to come unglued – she wanted to go find the source of the fireworks SO bad.   We told our taxi driver to head towards the fireworks using a combination of exploding hand motions and explosion sounds and a few minutes later we were standing in the middle of the “People’s Park” with (I am not exaggerating) about 100,000 people! 

It was a very festive atmosphere- tons and tons of people, delicious smelling mystery food being cooked on the backs of bicycle-food-carts, Chinese military music in the background, massive fireworks going off non-stop (to Phoebe’s delight), kites with lights being flown all over, and these beautiful red lanterns floating off into the full moon-lit night sky! 

The lanterns were SO beautiful!  They were about three feet tall and about 2 feet in diameter.  They came flat, like a chinese lantern from the store, and you twisted it a bit and it became 3-dimensional.  It was made of really thin red paper (eventally, as the evening went on and the lantern vendors ran out of red, the other colors came out – but none were as pretty as the red) and had a very fine wooden structure.  It came with a little square of wax that contained something that, once lit, made it burn for about 15 minutes.  We watched group after group of people lit their lanterns and release them into the sky.  Some people wrote on their lanterns first.  They took about 4-5 people to launch, so often you’d see a small family (dad, mom, and their one child) stuggling with their lantern and then some total strangers coming to their aid.  It was really nice.  Even though there were lanterns going up all around, every time another would take flight, a cheer would go up in the crowd as it was released.

We bought three, one to release, and two to send home.  We had no lighter, but the first family we saw was happy to share their’s with us.  I was snapping photos and Jeff was lighting the wax so the girls needed help holding the lantern.  It was no problem finding help as we had attracted quite a crowd at this point.  Many many hands held our lantern steady as it filled up with hot air.  Of couse no one spoke English so it was hard for us to communicate when it was actually time for us to let it go – but with a few starts and stops, we finally gave flight to our pretty lantern!  A big cheer went up and the girls smiles were from ear to ear. 

I have to say, I had one of my “moments” right then and there.  This has happened a few times since we’ve been on the trip – I feel so overwhelmed with happiness that we are having these amazing experiences that I feel like I might just explode.

Sending up our lantern

Sending up our lantern

Our Moon Festival lantern (top center) floating into the sky with a bit of the Shanghai skyline in the background

Our Moon Festival lantern (top center) floating into the sky with a bit of the Shanghai skyline in the background

As a side note, Jeff and I decided that it would be a very bad idea to release these beautiul lantens in Arizona when we saw a few of them catch fire at about 500 feet in the air and come plummeting back to earth.  So we used the two other that we bought and then bought about three more since it was so much fun.  We wrote messages of peace to our Chinese friends on our lanterns and sent them off into the universe!

Our paparazzi!
Oct 7th, 2009 by Phoebe
This little girl's parents stopped the us at least 3 times to take our picture

This little girl's parents stopped the us at least 3 times to take our picture

The little girl was so cute that we took her picture too!  A lot of the parents of kids this old want us to be in a picture with their little little kids, but they are usually terrified of us and cry.  This little girl loved us and even knew how to do "peace"

The little girl was so cute that we took her picture too! A lot of the parents of kids this old want us to be in a picture with their little little kids, but they are usually terrified of us and cry. This little girl loved us and even knew how to do "peace"

You know how in the States we’re just regular kids?  Well here it like we’re super movie stars or something! 

We were just in Tian’anmen Sqauare the other day (with about 300,000 of our closet Chinese friends – my mom and dad said there were at least that many people) and in that whole we only saw about 10 people who weren’t Chinese – including US!  None of them were kids either!

Whenever we stop for my mom to take a picture of us, other people jump in front of her to take our picture, and then they line up to get in the picture with us!  Yesterday we stopped on a bridge to take a picture and I am not kidding, 10 people were in line to take pictures with us.  LOL!  I bet since we got to China about 500 people have taken our pictures!  It happened in Japan too but not as much. 

EVERYONE looks at us and points at us!  Its like we are exotic animals and like if you saw a double headed albino yak walking up the street and you wanted to take its picture. 

Another thing that is funny is that people want to say whatever English words they know, even if it doesn’t make sense.  One boy said “Hello, Hot Choc-o-late”.  Other people say “Hello, Happy Birthday” and “Hello, what is your favorite color?”   The other funny thing is that you can tell that all kids my age were taught for the olymics “Hello, and welcome to Beijing” because THEY ALL SAY IT! 

I’d write more, but I have to leave now for my next photo shoot!  LOL!!!!

My mom wanted us to stand in front of this float cause it had a Phoenix bird on it (for Phoenix!) but we ended up having to stand her for like 10 minutes because all these people lined up for pictures with us!

My mom wanted us to stand in front of this float cause it had a Phoenix bird on it (for Phoenix!) but we ended up having to stand her for like 10 minutes because all these people lined up for pictures with us!

Beer continued…
Oct 7th, 2009 by Jeff

So far China has greatly underwhelmed me on the beer front.  Not that the beer has been bad, just nothing to write home (or on a blog) about.  Often it has been served somewhat warm and I have yet to find anything remarkable.  Most of the Chinese brews are of the “Budwiser” variety.  One beer did bring me back to the Bahamas, the Tsingtao Crystal - it tasted remarkably like a Kalik (Kate even agreed with me on that).  Derek – you’d feel right at home (accept you’d probably be the only caucasion guy with a Bahamian accent in the country).

But I haven’t given up on China yet.  I’m going to keep trying new Chinese beer at every opportunity – probably with some delicious and greatly underpriced food (our typical entrees are running a whopping $4- 5 US for a healthy portion).

Cheers,

Jeff

Shanghai’d in Suzhou!
Oct 6th, 2009 by Kate
Suzhou tuktuk (this is not the kidnapper, this is the nice tuktuk driver who lulled us into thinking that taking tuktuks was just fine!)

Suzhou tuktuk (this is not the kidnapper, this is the nice tuktuk driver who lulled us into thinking that taking tuktuks was just fine!)

Against my better “mom judgment” all four of climbed into the back of the tuktuk. 

For those of you that haven’t traveled much in third world countries, tuktuks are some sort of motorized vehicle (usually powered by a polluting 2-stroke motor) that has a few wheels and some kind of passenger cab attached to a bike-like structure, usually driven by a smoking man.  So in a nutshell, the most unsafe vehicle ever put on the face of the earth.

The streets of Suzhou were crowded with tourists out-and-about for the long (and I mean long – 12 days off for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China) vacation week.  The taxis all had fares, and we had to be at the train station to catch the last train back to Shanghai for the night.  There were lots of peddle cab touts trying their best to lure us onto their bike carts, but we are a party of four, and were unwilling to split up.  Then along comes the tuktuk, PLENTY (ha!) of room for four – and after a bit of haggling we settle on a price of 20RMB (about 32 bucks)… and head off towards the train station.

The girls leisuring enjoying ice cream in the tuktuk (before they had to put the ice cream cups down to hold on for their lives!)

The girls leisuring enjoying ice cream in the tuktuk (before they had to put the ice cream cups down to hold on for their lives!)

We get lost.  We can see the station but can’t get to it.  He circles around and asks for directions.  We are loosing valuable time.  We head down a pedestrian ramp, but the people on scooters are on it too so no big deal, right?  We ask for more directions.  We head up the wrong way on a road which, to all four of us silly Americans, looks very much like a freeway exit.  We cut across all the lanes of the freeway – the kids think it is the most fun they’ve had all day, Jeff and I are thinking “we’re all going to die”.  Off to our left Jeff sees a beat up Toyota 4-runner speeding towards us with blinking police lights.  They are on a bullhorn and are screaming something at someone.  Oh – it’s us they are screaming at.  We can tell this because all of the scooter riders are looking at us like “oh you are in TROUBLE” and our tuktuk driver keeps looking back at the Toyota with an increasing look of panic in his eyes. 

As I was taking this picture of 3 adults on one little scooter, the police started chasing us and screaming on the bullhorn - notice the looks on these people's faces!

As I was taking this picture of 3 adults on one little scooter, the police started chasing us and screaming on the bullhorn - notice the looks on these people's faces!

Mind you, this in NOT an official police car – they have stick-on dashboard lights and a funky bad paint job (they call them the “other police” here).  The Toyota is up right (and I mean RIGHT) along side us and the man on the bullhorn is so close Phoebe is laughing and singing “reach out and touch face”.  It sort of seems to Jeff and I that they are trying to run us off the road to make us stop.  Oh but our tuktuk driver was NOT going to stop for anything!  He drives the tuktuk up onto the sidewalk (have I mentioned how many people there are on the sidewalks of China – that will perhaps be my next post) and precedes to drive up a pedestrian overpass… Toyota still in pursuit but there are all these people jumping out of our way and into their way and they seemed more concerned about killing people than our tuktuk driver did.  Mind you, at this point we’ve driven RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE TRAIN STATION and then passed it at breakneck speed.  He will not stop.  He will not let us out.  The Toyota is underneath us stuck in traffic so tuktuk driver slows a tiny bit.  I tell the girls to get ready to jump.  Tessa comments that it’s like we are in a movie.  I agree. Depeche Mode is the soundtrack playing in the background of our movie – oh, no that’s just Phoebe still singing. Jeff is waiving money in front of the tuktuk driver’s face (who we now refer to as “the kidnapper”), he slows as he comes to a corner and the four of us bail out.  FREE AT LAST!  We were Shanghai’d and lived to tell the tale!

As we ran back towards the station (we made the train!) the kids decided our tuktuk ride was the most fun ever, and Jeff and I agreed that because no one got hurt it is a funny story – but was by far the most perilous position we’ve been in and one not worth repeating except in story form…

Suzhou – The City of Gardens
Oct 4th, 2009 by Kate
Bridge over one of the ancient canals in Suzhou

Bridge over one of the ancient canals in Suzhou

Suzhou is one of the most famous tourist destinations in China for the Chinese – and for good reason… there are beautiful canals with picturesque stone bridges, stately Temples, and historic white-washed homes with black tile roofs along tree-lined streets.  But what Suzhou is really famous for are the 60 gardens that are located within the old part of the city.  I had great plans to hit four of the gardens, the Suzhou Silk Museum, and then do a bit of shopping for some silk (it is the capital of the silk trade in China). 

Well, the best laid plans… right…?

Garden of the Master of Nets - Pond and Precious Floating Cloud building

Garden of the Master of Nets - Pond and Precious Floating Cloud building

We did make it to two stunning gardens, the Garden of the Master of the Nets, and the Humble Administrator’s Garden. The Garden of the Master of the Nets is one of the smallest gardens in city, and also considered one of the best.  It is sort of off the beaten path from the other larger gardens, so not only was it beautiful, but we had it mostly to ourselves to enjoy.  The work that went into these gardens was no short of amazing – and to think that they are 400 – 800 years old!  What impresses me most about these garden spaces, and the Zen gardens we saw in Japan, is the thoughtfulness that goes into the design of these spaces.  Every single angle, whether you are looking out a window, or the space between two buildings, is completely thought through to be serene and beautiful.  No plant or stone or pond is placed until every angle – all 360 degrees – is examined.  I took a ton of pictures, but none of them really do the gardens justice.  The girls were awed by the spaces, we planned on spending about an hour in the Master of the Nets, but the kids seemed like they really wanted to linger, so we let them just hang out.  Phoebe was curious and explored the nooks and crannies of the different buildings and small gardens, while Tess was content to sit by the main pond and just “be”.  My thought on this is that if a place is designed well enough to occupy children for hours on end – it must be good.

Humble Administrator's Garden

Humble Administrator's Garden

The Humble Administrator’s Garden is anything but humble.  It is gigantic – more like a large city park than a garden.  Again, every detail was thought of, from the placement of the bridge and how the boat is tied to it, to what ponds have what kind of duck swimming in it, to every manicured tree’s shape and the shadow that it casts- beautiful.  Unfortunately we had to share this garden with about 10,000 other garden enthusiasts (oddly enough though – most wanted to take pictures of Phoebe and Tessa rather than take shots of the garden).  There was no lingering here today anyway – we had to catch the train back to Shanghai.  Suzhou is definitely a city that I would like to come back to and explore more deeply.

Candied crab apples from a street vendor in Suzhou

Candied crab apples from a street vendor in Suzhou

Shanghai
Oct 4th, 2009 by Kate
Shanghai Skyline (Pudong District) from our ferry boat

Shanghai Skyline (Pudong District) from our ferry boat

There is something about arriving in Shanghai by boat that brings the city into focus in a way that no other way could.  Our ferry from Japan shared the Huangpu River with tiny old- fashioned fishing boats and massive international freighters – to our east lining the riverbank was “The Bund”, with its historic international concessions and renowned French and Art Deco architecture, and to our north – Pudong with its massive new sky-scrapers glittering like gems in the smoggy skyline as far as the eye could see.  Little did we know that our first glimpses of Shanghai perfectly defined the city as we see it – ancient and new, tiny and massive, dark and light, slow and very fast… it is a place of extremes like no where I have ever been or could imagine!

Once again we are blessed to have a friend that is a “local” and it has made our transition to China smooth and WAY more fun!  Miss Lisa’s (Tessa’s assistant teacher) dad Tom has been living and working in Shanghai for four years, has a fabulous apartment in Pudong, and knows the city inside and out!  He has a friend here, Yani, who is a travel guide and speaks all the languages here that we need to know – so between the two of them we have learned to grocery shop, buy train tickets, communicate (sort of) with the taxi drivers – and most importantly BARGIN with the locals!

Have no illusions – we do ALL of the above badly – but we try hard, are flexible about getting lost (we call getting lost “part of the adventure”), and there is nothing we want to buy so badly that we’ve gotten taken while trying to haggle.

On our first full day in Shanghai – Tom took us on what we affectionately refer to as the “Callarman Death March”.  Our day consisted of an eight hour “walk” through, oh, about half of Shanghai!  It was awesome (and finding a Hagan Daz ice cream shop at a critical “kid meltdown” moment was KEY!).  We traveled through the lovely French Concession with tree-lined streets and beautiful old French and Art Deco architecture.  There are many parks and green spaces in this section of Shanghai, and every building is dripping with great old wrought iron. 

Then turn a corner and you are smack dab in the middle of “old Shanghai” – row after row after row of old shanty two-story “Shanghai-style row houses” with giant stone entries, brimming with people and laundry and the smells of exotic food and every so often the stench of sewage.  This is the China that was in my “minds-eye” and it is really very interesting to see.  It is very apparent while walking these streets that these old neighborhoods are rapidly disappearing, giving way to the progress of modern capitalism and all the glitz and glam that that the “new” China strives for.  Around the time of the Beijing Olympics I heard news reports that the historic neighborhoods of Beijing were being bulldozed in the name of progress too – now we have certainly seen this firsthand.  Being the “historic preservation” nut that I am, I have really mixed feelings about huge tracks of history being wiped clean – but at the same time, I don’t think that anyone should live in the squalid conditions that existed in some of those neighborhoods.  So what do you do?

Shanghai row houses slated for demolition

Shanghai row houses slated for demolition

A demo'ed rowhouse with the only graffiti I've seen in all of Shanghai, the bulldozers were poised to knock down the houses on either side

A demo'ed rowhouse with the only graffiti I've seen in all of Shanghai, the bulldozers were poised to knock down the houses on either side

Shanghai old and new - the view from the "graffiti building's" window - the empty space newly created by the bulldozers, this neighborhood will soon be filled with highrises like in the distance

Shanghai old and new - the view from the "graffiti building's" window - the empty space newly created by the bulldozers, this neighborhood will soon be filled with highrises like in the distance

Historic carved stone doorways that epitomize the Shanghai rowhouses - the back half of this building was being torn down as I took the picture.  I KNOW someone is going to wish they'd saved these beautiful doorways someday!

Historic carved stone doorways that epitomize the Shanghai rowhouses - the back half of this building was being torn down as I took the picture. I KNOW someone is going to wish they'd saved these beautiful doorways someday!

I asked Tom about these bulldozed neighborhoods and of the people that are displaced… he said that the government offers the residents much larger apartments in new cities that they are being built on the edges of the city and cash… so in the end the people (for the most part) are happy with the new arrangements.  Hum… forced to the suburbs…

No matter what happens, I’m really glad that I saw this for myself before it is all gone – and I’m glad that the girls got to experience it too.  I am sure that someday when they are adults and travel here with their families, they will say “I remember the old Shanghai neighborhoods from when I was a kid…” 

Okay, I will get off my soapbox now…

This historic doorway is located in a neighborhood close to an exclusive shopping district.  A few streets of rowhouses have been renovated and are now the home of very upscale shops and cafes.  The area is gorgeous and the rowhouse are amazing.  I'm sure they weren't this nice when they were new!

This historic doorway is located in a neighborhood close to an exclusive shopping district. A few streets of rowhouses have been renovated and are now the home of very upscale shops and cafes. The area is gorgeous and the rowhouse are amazing. I'm sure they weren't this nice when they were new!

Vietnam Visas and Getting the Real Answer
Oct 1st, 2009 by Jeff

One of the visas that we didn’t get in the U.S. that we were going to need before we arrived in country was the Vietnamese visa.  If you fly into Vietnam you can get it done on the internet and pick it up in the airport as you arrive; but since we plan on taking the train into Vietnam from China this doesn’t apply.  Therefore, I planned to get the visas in China while we were there.  Since Vietnam has a consulate in Shanghai and it just happens to be right down the street from our host’s apartment, I planned on venturing out one morning to drop of the paperwork and then going back in two to three days to pick it up.  Once again our best laid plans get derailed by a national holiday.  With the celebration of 60 years of communism to commence on the 1st of October, the Vietnam consulate has decided to take off the 1st through the 11th to celebrate with their consulate host and neighbor.  We were planning on leaving Shanghai on the 5th and not coming back to this area, especially not wanting to leave our passports behind.

 This new visa scheduling predicament led to one of my first lessons in Chinese culture.  Often times you only get the answer to the exact question you ask, so be sure to phrase the questions properly (and if you don’t get the answer you want, ask the question again in a little different manner).  An abbreviated version of my conversation with the Vietnamese consulate is below:

Q: How long will it take to get a Visa?
A: It will take three days.
Q: So if I bring it in today, Sept 28th, I can have it the Oct 2nd (since the 1st is a holiday)?
A: No
Q: What date will it be ready?
A: October 12th.
Q: Can I get it sooner?
A: No, we will be closed?
Q: Do you have an expedite service?
A: Yes.
Q: If I pay expedite, how soon can I have it?
A: With expedite the passport will be ready tomorrow.

Tom Callarman, our host – and a professor at an international business university here -tells me this communication issue is a challenge he often faces in the business world here and it is definitely a frustration for those of us used to a customer service attitude of “we’ll find a way to help you – and will try to anticipate your every need”. (Also, please don’t take this that all the Chinese are not willing to help – many people have been delightful and have gone out of their way to help, but typically in a non-business setting).

Once I found out that I could get the visas overnight, I went forward with my original plan to get visas for Vietnam in Shanghai.  The only new wrinkle was the timing of Vietnamese embassy office hours.  While on the phone I had asked if I could bring in the passports immediately to get the visas and if they would they be open.  I was told that yes they were open.  When I got there at 12:15 they were closed (for a 2 ½ hour lunch 11:30 – 2:00).  I should have asked for their exact hours (see lessons supposed learned above).  In the end however, all went well.  We have visas in hand and are ready to at least get into the next country!

Cheers,

Jeff

Slow Boat to China
Sep 29th, 2009 by Kate

We’re on it – the slow boat to China.  No, really – 48 hours from Osaka to Shanghai.

 Thank GOD it is way nicer than I thought it would be.  When I told my family we were taking the boat they all laughed and made jokes about my sea sickness issues.  I was far less worried about being sea sick than I was about the boat being growdy. 

But it’s great!  We have a nice cabin that sleeps four (with decent sheets!) and even has a Japanese-style sitting room and a big window.  The food is really good, the seas have been calm-ish, there are few kids on board to pal around with, and there is ping-pong!  Phoebe has become quite the little ping pong player in the last 36 hours and tonight the ship’s crew was lined up to play her.  She is quite the little celebrity on board.

I am writing this late in the evening and we are in the middle of the Sea of Japan, literally in the middle of it. There is a string of lights out my cabin window in the distance.  Fishing boats feeding Japan’s appetite insatiable appetite.  They look like the pretty hanging lanterns I saw the other night at the shrine in Kyoto.  I’ll watch them as I drift off to sleep…

 (Note: I wrote this while we were on the boat, but didn’t have internet access so I couldn’t post it.  When we arrived in China the girls got to the computer and posted about the Chinese traffic before I posted my “boat” post – hence the reason they are out of order!)

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