Monday, November 23, 2009

Our Trip to Xi'an - Happy Thanksgiving!

Hey Everyone! We just got back from Xi'An and we had a great time there! Zoie and I both have seen so many amazing places in China, and the Terracotta Soldiers was another Chinese landmark on the list that we can finally check off. We arrived in Xi'An around lunch time on Friday afternoon (we don't teach on Fridays). After about a 45 minute cab ride to our hotel, Zoie and I began to check out the city while also looking for a place to eat lunch. Backtracking a little, our school driver took us to the Shenzhen airport at about 6:00am, which is a good hour drive. It was extremely nice of him. Along the way, he told us about a soup dish called "Yang Rou Pao Mo." We didn't exactly know what the "Pao Mo" part meant, but from the beginning of the word, we knew it involved lamb (and our driver said it was soup). So anyway, back to the story. We had heard about a famous restaurant in the downtown area of Xi'An that served Yang Rou Pao Mo, and it was only about a 20 or so minute walk from our hotel. After search several streets, we finally stumbled upon the restaurant. We both really enjoyed our meal. Basically, the idea of this Muslim dish is to break up small pieces of bread into a bowl, and then the soup broth, noodles, and lamb are poured on top of the bread. The bread gets soft and the lamb is pulled (and is probably as close our mom's brisket as we will get in China...even though thats not lamb). After our lunch, we headed to a nearby hotel to meet with a local travel agency to figure out our plans/tour for the following day. We spent the next 3 hours or so walking along the Xi'An city wall, which despite being a little chilly outside, turned out to be a really enjoyable walk. There were very few people walking on the part of the wall that we were on, so it was a very quiet and secluded-feeling walk. Towards the end of our walk, the lanterns lighting the wall turned on. As you can see in the pictures (which hopefully will be up by the time you read this), it was very beautiful. Just to be clear, this is not the Great Wall, it is a wall that surrounds the middle of Xi'An, which used to be the capital of China (Chang'An). We headed back to our hotel for the night, and because we were so exhausted from the early drive to the airport and our long walk on the wall, we decided to eat at the dinner buffet at our hotel. Anytime we have a chance to eat an international buffet (especially with American food), it is hard to pass up. Just eating bread and butter is a treat for us.

We woke up the next morning around 8am and headed downstairs around 9am to meet with our tour guide for the day. We had booked a tour through the travel agency at the hotel, and we were excited to see that only 4 other people booked the same tour. One couple was at the hotel across the street, and we met the other couple at our first destination. We were lucky to have had 4 very nice people on our tour. There was a younger couple from Melbourne, Australia, and there was a couple in there 40s-50s from Denver, Colorado. It was quite cold in the morning, so our pictures show us bundled up. Also, all the museums and places we went that day, none of them had heat. So even in the museums, we were very cold! Our first destination was the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. It a is very neat and unique pagoda with an interesting story. Besides the Terracotta Soldiers, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a symbol of Xi'An. Our next stop was a place called the Banpo Museum. The neat thing about this place is that it is an excavation site of a village that was built over 4000 years ago. Although there wasn't much to see, it was pretty amazing seeing something from so long ago! After the Banpo museum, we headed to a factory where they build different size Terracotta Soldiers to sell to all of the tourists. The best part about that was the pictures we took in front of the factory where we got to put our heads on the body of a soldier as if we were actually one of them. After leaving the museum, we headed to lunch, which was another tourist trap. They tried to sell stuff to you the whole time, and the food was nothing spectacular. FINALLY, when lunch was over, we started to head toward the Terracotta Soldiers. This was the one thing that Zoie and I really wanted to see, and had been anticipating seeing for years! After about a 30 minute drive, we finally arrived at the museum. It is a GIANT museum that consists of 4 parts: 1) A movie theater area (the movie didnt really work though). 2)The large pit which consists of thousands? hundreds? of soldiers. This is the largest excavated pit at the museum. 3) A smaller pit that is still being excavated. 4) A pit that is being excavated and consists of many horses and chariots. When you see the pictures, it is extremely difficult to see the vastness of the place as well as all of the details of the soldiers. Each soldier is different which makes them even more amazing. I'm not going to go into the history because Wikipedia can do a much better job, but all in all, seeing this was as amazing as we had expected. We also saw two of the three remaining farmers who originally uncovered the soldiers. One of the farmers was in the movie theater part of the museum, and the other farmer was sitting in a store outside of the museum. The one outside of the museum is the farmer that took the picture with Bill Clinton. All three of the remaining farmers are paid to sit at the museum all day. Pictures are not allowed, and you have to pay to get a signature. Zoie's dad already had an autographed book, so we just looked at him and took a photograph in our heads.

After our trip to the Terracotta Soldiers, we headed back to the city center where Zoie and I decided to try one of Xi'An's most famous dumpling restaurants. The dumplings are made to look like the filling inside of them. For example: the duck dumplings are in the shape of a duck. We tried many different types (not the frog), and we also took pictures. The dumplings were actually very tasty in addition to their artistic beauty. After dinner, we headed to the hotel for the night to get some rest for the next day.

We woke up fairly early the next morning so that Zoie and I could get the breakfast buffet before a long day ahead. After breakfast, we headed toward the Shaanxi History Museum. We were told to get there early because it is free, therefore many people go there daily. We were also told that they only allow 4000 people in per day. So taking the advice from our concierge, we arrived at the museum around 8:45 and waited in line for about 30 minutes. The museum itself was pretty neat, but because Zoie and I have been to SO many history museums throughout China, we have seen almost everything there. This museum also had reproductions of many of the real things we have seen. We left the museum after about an our of touring, and headed back to the city center to check out a few more of the sights. We went atop both the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower before taking a little rest at the downtown Starbucks. After a quick break, we went to lunch at a nearby mall before heading to the Great Mosque in the middle of the city. After various twists and turns down small, loud, and overcrowded side streets, we finally found the Mosque. If you don't know, China has a very big Muslim population. The neat thing about this Mosque was that it was basically an old Chinese garden. It was nestled in the middle of this giant city, but once inside, it was an extremely beautiful and peaceful place. You would never think that it existed where it was.

After visiting the Mosque, we headed back to our hotel and waited there for about an hour until heading back to the airport. Unfortunately, we arrived a little early AND our flight had already been delayed an out. Nonetheless, we arrived into Shenzhen around 9:30pm, only about an hour after we had expected to arrive. Instead of taking a 2 hour bus ride home, I used my bargaining skills to get a 25USD taxi ride from the original 90USD taxi fare. Despite getting into a sketchy car to begin with, and having to stop at a random spot on the highway to transfer into a different car, we managed to get home in a very timely fashion.

Now we are back here in Dameisha and we have several things to look forward to. For 1) Zoie'ss sister and brother-in-law may come in this weekend pending flights and various other things. Hopefully they will make it here so we can see them. Also, even though Zoie and I are disappointed we won't be home for Thanksgiving, we are planning on making as much as we can with our microwave, hotplate and small toaster. There will unfortunately be no turkey at our Thanksgiving
meal, but chicken and beef should be present.

Other than that, life goes on as normal here. I can't believe that December is almost here. Wisconsin will play in a January 1st bowl game again barring some crazy end of the season antics, and luckily for me, college basketball is really starting to get going. Wisconsin's first tournament of the year starts tomorrow in Maui, which means the games will be on at noon my time! This is very exciting for me because I'll be able to watch during my lunch break. That's really all for now. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving. Although being here is great, and life is pretty stress-free, not a day goes by where I really don't feel thankful for everything I have, and Thanksgiving is just another day I can be extra-thankful.

If you made it this far in my blog post, congratulations! I miss and love you all. Comment and update me on your life as well! Talk to you soon!

Love, Daniel

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I guess it really does get cold here.

Would you rather... live in a humid 90 degrees with no air conditioning or a windy 50 degrees with no heat? Those seem to  be the two extremes here in Shenzhen. In our apartment, we have AC but no heat, but at school we have no AC (just fans and windows) AND no heat. Even though 50 degrees doesn't sound very cold (especially after living in Michigan and Wisconsin), it actually feels really cold. Why? Because there are no heated buildings! So it is ALWAYS 50 degrees (or in the 40s at night or outside in the wind).  It's a bit weird to always have to wear a coat (even while teaching or just hanging in the apartment) and never enter a heated room. Still, I'll take bundling up in a sweater, coat and scarf over sweating through a t-shirt and shorts any day. Luckily, Daniel and I went on a small shopping trip on Friday at Wal-mart that turned out to be quite useful given this week's cold weather. In preparation for our upcoming Xian trip (where it is even colder, but I think that they will have heat-- hopefully!), we each bought a winter coat, gloves and something to cover our ears. My coat is like my black long northface puffy coat, except it is red, and only cost $20 (USD). Even though my northface is a children's XL, I think my new coat is smaller than it, and I had to buy a women's L. So yes, clothes really are smaller here! Daniel also got a red coat (they aren't the same kind of red so we will really clash walking around Xian), but his isn't puffy.

We also made another very exciting purchase last week... we got a TOASTER OVEN! It ended up costing about $33 (USD) and it's already come in handy. We went to a nice grocery store on Friday and got some food for the weekend so that we could make bruschetta, garlic bread, sandwiches, salads, GUACAMOLE, and fajitas. All of that food was so delicious. Plus, Daniel's parents sent us puppy chow (chex covered in chocolate and powdered sugar), so we really had a great weekend food-wise.

Now we are just getting exciting for our upcoming Xian trip on Friday! We can't wait to see the soldiers and eat some special dumplings. We also read that our hotel has a really great breakfast buffet :).

We'll update again after our trip with some pictures!

Miss you all!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Hi Everybody!

Happy (belated) Halloween! Sorry it has been forever since we have blogged (and now you are getting an entry from both Zoie and I). We realllly are going to try harder to post more often, even if the posts are short.

This Halloween weekend has definitely had its ups and downs. It all started around Wednesday when Zoie was starting to finally recover from her cough, and I started to get really sick. We were both excited for the upcoming weekend because there was a Halloween party on Saturday night at a pizza place called NYPD where there was an all you can eat/drink get-together. Unfortunately we never made it there due to our sicknesses, but we still managed to have a fun and interesting Halloween.

As many of you know, Zoie and I work on the side at a Kindergarten during the week. Thursday was the first "big day" held by the school because they invited all the parents to see the students interact with their American/English speaking teachers. I woke up that Thursday morning feeling miserable, and knew the school would not be pleased with my text message saying that I would not be able to show up. After the head of the Kindergarten told me several times that she didn't really care and I HAD to go to the school, she finally understood when I told her all about my coughing and vomiting (I know, disgusting). Despite me not being there, Zoie was there and said the kids seemed to enjoy having their parents around for the morning. Hopefully I'll still have my job when I return to the school on Thursday. In addition to missing the Kindergarten class, I also had to cancel my classes at the school I work at. Zoie so kindly took over one of them, and I guess a Chinese teacher took over the rest. Even though I was sick on Thursday, I was hoping so badly that I would feel better so that I could help celebrate Halloween at the school with both Zoie's students and my students. Luckily, I woke up Friday morning feeling a lot better, so both Zoie and I headed to the school for the afternoon Halloween party. When we arrived at the school, our school had 2 costumes prepared for us: Zoie wore a long gold cape complete with white stars and a masquerade-esque mask, while I had the luxury of wearing a long black and gold cape, a mask with eyes popping out (but no holes to really see where I was going, it was a flawed mask), and a witches hat that was cleary designed for a female. Zoie and I prepared a very short speech about Halloween in the US and our experiences celebrating Halloween, and then proceeded to help the kids enjoy the activities set up for them by the school. Activities included: Bobbing for apples, Touch the ghost (a student was blindfolded and had to run around to touch the "ghost", which was actually a teacher wearing another masquerade mask with a really long nose), Face-painting, Musical Chairs, the
3-Legged race (called "Funny Hopping"), and several more. Even though the students celebrated Halloween a little differently than we do in the United States, it was neat to see that the school went out of its way to teach the students about American culture (even if only for 30 minutes). Before we left the school, Zoie and I decided to scare the little primary school students for a good 20 minutes. It was all fun and games until students started ripping at my mask, pulling off my hat, yanking at my cape so that I was almost choking to death, and putting up their fists ready to "fight the monster." All in all it was a pretty fun event, and even though Zoie and I weren't able to make the Halloween party with our friends, we were still excited that we got a little taste of Halloween.

The rest of the weekend, we just relaxed a lot. Zoie had a cough for a while, and I was still trying to recover from what seemed like the flu, but luckily only lasted about 2 days. Even though we didn't get the all you can eat pizza at NYPD, Zoie and I still ordered in pizza from the same place, and enjoyed Halloween from the comforts of our own couch. I particularly enjoyed my night immensely as Wisconsin pummeled Purdue 37-0. We have next week's game and then the Wisconsin v Michigan game on Nov 14. I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to talk to her that week....I'm only kidding!

One thing that Zoie and I are extremely excited about is our plan for the weekend of November 20. We JUST booked our plane tickets to Xian! For those of you who don't know, Xian is the place in China that is most famous for its excavation of the Terracotta Warriors. When the first Emperor of China died, he wanted to be buried with a replica of his entire army....and that's exactly what happened. (Check out the wikipedia page for info). Anyway, we are extremely excited to visit it and can't wait for that weekend.

Besides that, there's not much else goin on here. We have so much to look forward too. I, fortunately, look forward to every weekend because of football Saturdays and VERY soon, college basketball begins, but both Zoie and I have many exciting things ahead. As I said before, we are going to Xian on November 20, Zoie's sister and brother-in-law are coming in on Nov 28, and we are going to Hong Kong Disneyland on the 29th. My parents should be here in late January, and then Zoie and I get about a 4-5 week break sometime in late January or early February, which is when we are planning to go to southeast Asia. I'll try much harder to keep everyone updated on what's going on here.

I guess that's all for now... we're off to cook dinner. We have been cooking pretty much every meal here, and despite the fact that our kitchen is not quite what we are used to in the US, we have made some excellent dishes. So anyway, I hope everyone is doing well. Now that yall have to change the clocks back, Zoie and I may be a little confused on the time, but I think we should eventually figure it out. Miss and love you all and talk to you soon (I promise it will be more timely than last)!


HK and Tokyo!

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the delay in posts but we hope you enjoyed the Japan pictures!

Here's the rundown of our vacation:

It started off with a great weekend in Hong Kong with my parents. First of all, they brought us about 90 pounds of American stuff, including food (my Mom's homemade apple pie mmmmm), toiletries, and magazines. Needless to say, we were very grateful for all of the wonderful goodies that we have been munching on for the last 3 weeks. :)

My parents arrived around 8 pm on Friday night, so Daniel and I met them for a late dinner in HK. We went to Outback for a delicious non-Chinese food meal, complete with bread, butter, chips, spinach artichoke dip, steak, and cheeseburgers-- all of the yummy things that we rarely, if ever, eat on our own in China. In fact, the rest of the time with my parents mainly revolved around hanging out and eating lots and lots of tasty food! On Saturday, we went to dimsum for brunch, then we saw the National Day parade (a lot of school children marching through the streets). For dinner, we went to a nice Chinese restaurant and got some Beijing duck. On Sunday, we got TGIF's for lunch, including chicken nachos with salsa and guacamole... yum yum yum. Then for dinner, we went to the top of Victoria's Peak and had a wonderful dinner at Cafe Deco, including pasta and pizza. Earlier that day, we had ran into our friend Nathan that we were in Shanghai with last summer randomly in the middle of the street. Believe it or not, he ate dinner at the same restaurant as us that night too! Sometimes it really is small world.

The next morning (Monday), my parents and Daniel and I, all had to go to the airport to catch flights at 10:30 AM. They were headed back to NJ while Daniel and I were off to Japan! After 2 great, delicious, relaxing days, it was sad to say goodbye to my parents, but it was such a nice treat to see them even if only for a few days.

The trip to Japan was really fun! It started off on a really smooth and easy, albeit 4 hour long, flight to Narita Airport on Cathay Pacific, which is actually a really nice airline that stil gives meals, drinks and blankets (but you can't control your own air temperature above your seat-- weird.) Once we got to Tokyo, it was drizzling and we had forgotten to bring a map of how to walk to our first hotel, so we ended up taking a taxi. The taxi started it's meter at about $7 USD!! Tokyo was already living up to its reputation as being expensive. The taxi driver also couldn't find our hotel, so we still ended up wandering around a little bit, but eventually we checked into the Hotel Rose Shinjuku. The room was TINY; it kind of reminded me of a cruise ship cabin. Daniel thinks that the whole room was on a tilt, but I guess you get what you pay for! It was in a really good location though, right next to a subway stop, which, after that first expensive (but short) cab ride, was essential since all we took was subways to get around the city.

We had originally planned to leave Tokyo and go to Hakone for a short side trip to see Mt. Fuji and go in some hot springs, but our plans were thwarted by a typhoon (if the typhoon had hit hard like it was predicted to, we could have been stranded in Hakone and been unable to make it back for our flight on Friday). We ended up staying in Tokyo the whole time we were there, which was from Monday to Friday. All in all, it worked out for the best, because we got to see pretty much everything we wanted to in Tokyo without having to rush anything. The days when the typhoon was supposed hit the worst ended up being the nicest days that we had in Japan-- beautiful sunny skies and no rain at all.

Here's a quick overview of our trip, since I don't want to bore you with all of the gory details:

   - Went to the Tsukiji Fish Market but were too late to see the tuna auction.
   - Ate our first sushi meal just outside of the market.
   - Stopped in a McDonald's that was 90% individual cubicles... weird.
   - Visited the Meiji Shrine and gardens
   - Walked around Harajuku and had a delicious and cheap tempura lunch at Tenya
   - Had some sake, yakitori, tuna tartar, gyoza, etc at Hakkaku

   - Realized we couldn't go to Hakone because of the typhoon. Daniel's parents rebooked us at the Hilton in Tokyo instead (which was so nice!!)
   - Had Indian food for lunch, trying a total of 6 different kinds of curries between the two of us. It was DELICIOUS (and cheap!)
   - Went to Gonpachi for dinner, where we sat at the bar, where the chefs were cooking dinner.
   - Walked around Roppongi, and stumbled upon a movie theater where we saw The Ugly Truth (which was actually very funny!!)

   - Had the breakfast buffet at the Hilton (lots and lots of American breakfast items, mmm)
   - Walked around the Imperial Gardens (it ended up being a gorgeous day!)
   - Went to the Sensoji Temple
   - Had a late lunch in Asakusa at a restaurant with a revolving sushi bar
   - Went to Ginza and walked around a bit(which is like 5th Ave in NY)
   - Took a ride on the Yurikamome train, which is a fully automated monorail, that has a 280 degree turn in it so that you can see all of Tokyo
   - Headed back to Asakusa for dinner at Sometaro, which is a place where you sit on the floor and you make (or in our case, the waiters helped us make) Japanese pancakes on the griddle in front of us (okonomiyaki)

   - Woke up at 4:15 AM, and we still managed to miss the first train out to the Tsukiji Fish Market by 1 minute.
   - Made it to the fish market by 5:45 AM, just in time to see some of the action at the giant tuna market and auction.
   - Went to a sushi breakfast at 6:05 AM. The place was called Sushi Dai, and it was definitely worth the 1.5 HOUR wait (the restaurant only holds about 14 people, and it's the most famous sushi restaurant inside the market). It was by far our most expensive meal ($43ish USD per person for a set sushi meal), but it included 10 pieces of the freshest sushi we'll probably ever eat, a roll, and miso soup. We tried 9 different kinds of fish, with fatty tuna being our absolute favorite. Daniel almost threw up the sea urchin (uni), but he managed to keep it down, and I'm very proud of him for trying so many crazy types of fish! We also loved the sea bass, yellowtail, soy marinated tuna, and giant clam. The sushi chef was really nice and told us how to enjoy the sushi (with or without soy). They don't use plates or anything, they just put the sushi right on the sushi bar, course by course. It was AWESOME. We left stuffed!
   - Went to the Edo Tokyo Museum
   - Saw the National Sumo Stadium (Kokugikan)
   - Headed to the airport to go home!

We had a great trip and are already planning our next long vacation to southeast Asia!!

Daniel will fill you in on what's been going on since the trip in the next entry!