This morning saw us saying “Until we meet again to Xixi.” She has really gone out of her way to help the girls have an glimpse into everyday life in China. In the process, she has provided them, and us, with a wealth of opportunities…like visiting snack street last night (just wait until you see the photos in a future post. I can tell you it was delicious!). We can’t thank her enough.
Then we made one final stop before boarding the train to Guilin at Katrine’s orphanage. Again we were surprised by the rate of development in the surrounding area. They greeted Katrine with open arms and smiles as one is wont to greet a long missed family member and poured over the photo album we had brought. They wanted to know all about her life as well as asking after her China sisters. Of course there was also some snacks (fresh bananas this time) and copious amounts of photos as well as a substantial lunch with the staff. It was a wonderful visit.
Now we are in Guilin ready to begin the final portion of our trip. We have two and a half days here before taking the overnight train to Beijing. Girls have both crashed and we are not far behind as tomorrow brings a trip to Elephant Trunk park and the Reed Flute Caves. Time to soak in some natural beauty. Here is the night view outside our room window.
Sorry for missing some updates but we took a train from Shangrao to Nanchang spent one night there and took a 8 hour train ride from Nanchang to Nanning for the Katrine portion of the trip. Also the internet in our hotel is a little slow so I will probably not have any photos to post tonight.
The rate of change in Shangrao and Nanchang is amazing to see, but Nanning is almost a different city. ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and the proximity to the Vietnamese border is a mix that is driving a rate of change that is in many ways mind-numbing. We went to Wuxu, Katine’s home town this morning and what was basically 2 dirt roads 12 years ago, and 2 so-so roads 5 years ago is now a 8-lane road and a 4-lane road, all built in the last 2 years. All the old shops on the corner that we were in 5 years ago are scheduled to be demolished shortly and most of the others in the area will be over then next few years. The locals told us that soon there will be no Wuxu town, just Wuxu street on the outskirts of Nanning. We are all glad we’ve come when we did. It is also bittersweet. Loosing those spots that hold memories and the changes to your hometown are not easy, but there are so many more opportunities for the people living in Wuxu and their standard of living is increasing rapidly.
After returning to our hotel, the girls and I took a quick break in the pool on the roof of the hotel. This was quite refreshing and a good mental break for everyone. Then we went to the Nanning Peoples Park (人民公园), which also is known and White Dragon Park (白龙公园), where some of our earliest pictures of us with Katrine were taken. The girls fed the fish, ate popsicles (naturally) and wandered around the park for a bit. Afterwards we grabbed a quick bit to eat, steamed buns for Elspeth, noodles fro Heather, Katrine, and I. We then took a bus ride (just for fun) to Nanhu Lake park where we heard there might be a fountain show. It was not to be however, as it only runs Fridays and we were a day late. Still another walk though the park on a beautiful evening is something to be cherished. Katrine and I did make a date to go to the night “snack” market behind our hotel at 8:30p but once we got downstairs we realized that the rumbling we heard was not construction but our first run in with tropical rain. Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow morning, so we have some indoor activities planned. Perhaps though it will clear for another try for snacks.
The last couple of days have been busy, emotional and fun. Luckily they’ve been heavy on the fun, and I think that Elspeth will have really good memories of her visit to her hometown.
After the visit to the orphanage yesterday morning we went to the suburb of Shangrao where Elspeth is from called YanShan. This is a place that you can really see the old China and the new China merging. We started by having an amazing lunch in a very small local restaurant, then fortified with food, and me with not a small amount of water, set off to see the sights. First a small village on the edge of town is really rustic with the government trying to promote it, unsuccessfully so far, The girls bought some fans made by a grandma out of old rice bags and bamboo, and we looked at the old style houses and architecture. At the edge of the village was an amazing little gift shop run by a wonderful woman with a great sense of design. There were too many things that the girls liked and too little space to pack them all. As well this shop has a heritage designation for selling a special kind of local hand made paper only available in this location. Artists from around China purchase this paper for calligraphy and traditional painting. We of course had to buy some for Elspeth, as well as a small amount of the local red tea. Then a ride through the old town on rick-shaws was called for, something that is fast disappearing from Chinese cities. Finally popsicles were on the menu for some much needed cooling before heading back to the hotel for some much needed downtime.
This morning we were up and ready to go for a drive out to GuiFeng, a world natural heritage site. It was a beautiful clear day but the heat was back so we didn’t see as much of the park as we would have wanted to. Still the blue skies, green trees and red rock formations that we saw were simply amazing. We took a boat tour for some different views, but at the end we only saw 1/4 of the park if that. It will definitely be on the list of things to do when we return. We then went to a local “farm” restaurant where we attempted to play mahajong (very badly) and ate another wonderful meal. Besides the excellent food, I must mention the rice that was grown, harvested and processed locally. This white rice was anything but bland and had a subtle sweet and nutty flavour that was wonderful. Then back to the hotel for a little lie down and some pre-packing.
This evening we were invited by our driver to join him and his family at their house for a meal. His wife is a teacher, and his mother used to be a foster mother at an orphanage. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me as sitting down to dinner with people in their house really gives you the feeling of the place you are in. The food again was amazing, but not spicy enough for our hosts, or Heather and I, but was a hit with the girls, with Elspeth eating more in one sitting than I’ve seen her do in some time. The drivers wife was late to her dance practice but invited us to watch. Of course she was joined on her scooter by Katrine and Elspeth on a ride I’m sure they will not soon forget. It was quite interesting watching the dance troop, who are currently ranked #4 in this city as they prepare for an upcomming competition, but it was soon time to head back for packing and bed.
Tomorrow morning we have a short train ride to Nanchang for a 1 day visit before heading off to Nanning to begin the 2nd half of our trip.
Today was our day to travel to Shangrao but as our train was not leaving until 3:30pm and we already had our tickets, we were not scheduled to leave the hotel until 1:45pm. With a plan in hand and a couple of options, we left our hotel for some morning activities, leaving behind one crucial thing which I will discuss later.
First off was the Jade Buddha Temple (玉佛禅寺), a short 15 minute walk from our hotel. It is a small island of calm in the middle of downtown Shanghai… unfortunately it was under construction so our tour was not as long as planned and by 9:20am we were ready to head onwards. Quickly grabbing a cab with a little help from google translate and we were off…
To the Shanghai Museum (上海博物馆) which was a bit more for Heather and I but the girls enjoyed it. Wrapping up at 11:40am to leave plenty of time to get back to the hotel we realized our mistake from earlier. Anyone who has traveled to China knows that you grab a business card from the hotel so you can always jump in a cab and get back… we left them in the hotel room. This time google translate and google maps were not our friend and we could not get a cab to get us back to the hotel. We went back inside the museum and had some help writing down the Jade Buddha Temple in Chinese thinking that we would go back there and walk the rest. However getting a cab to stop for us this time was not working at all. We walked around the museum looking for a taxi loading area and found the Shanghai Metro (上海轨道交通). We went down to the ticket sales area and a very nice young lady helped direct us to the stop near our hotel. Two trains later and a 8 minute walk and we were back at our hotel. Unfortunately we had less than 30 minutes to finish packing get our bags and get our drive to the train station.
The train station is enormous and busy but our guide Laura got us to the right gate and gave us the lowdown on the process. The high-speed train network in growing rapidly in China and taking business from the planes and airports and its not hard to see why. It’s almost as easy to get on board as the GO train, but travels at 300km/h. Also the leg room in our first class seats (equivalent to coach on a plane) was much appreciated by me. Of course there was still stress in that this was our first time on the trains, and it’s a 3 minute whistle stop in Shangrao that you better be ready for. Still the train was punctual to the minute both leaving Shanghai and arriving in Shangrao and we exited without incident.
Leaving the station we met up with our friend Xixi who will be traveling with us for a large portion of the rest of our trip. She got us to our hotel, sorted out the room arrangements, and joined us for a late dinner. It’s almost 11pm here and tomorrow will be a big day. Photo uploading is being a pain right now so I leave you with qa shot from outside our hotel. Depending on how the day goes tomorrow I may miss posting an update, we go to Elspeth’s orphanage in what is sure to be an emotional day.
The day started with us going down for breakfast at the same time as a tour group so things were crazy from the get go. However a quick taxi ride later we were at the Yu Gardens (豫园) to begin day 2 in Shanghai. The last time Heather and I were at the Yu Gardens was some 12 years ago and that was in February where as today was quite a bit different, and more crowded, with the early morning temperature already well into the 30’s. A short jaunt across the zig-zag bridge to the Mid-lake Pavilion Tea-House for some cool tea (jasmine for the girls, green for Heather and I) and we were into the gardens.
After the gardens, and a bit of shopping for the girls, we walked over to the Bund via the Guchen Park. The park was a hit with it’s shaded walkways and popsicles. The Bund however was a different story. There was not a pick of shade, and being close to mid-day at that point the heat was close to unbearable for a quartet of Canadians. So a taxi was quickly procured to ferry us to the Shanghai Natural History Museum (上海自然博物馆).
We then spent 3 interesting, although very crowded, hours looking over the exhibits. Elspeth was especially happy to see a number of butterflies and of course the arctic penguin display was a hit. We thought to eat at the cafeteria but with the number of people at the museum with us that was not to be, so a quick sit down for drinks and pastries pilfered from the breakfast buffet was all we were able to achieve. Once we were all done a taxi ride back was called for, luckily it was just over $5CAD, rather that the original plan of exploring the subway.
This evening our guide stopped by with our next 3 sets of train tickets, we are set through to Nanning.
This morning started out with a typical, for Shanghai it seems, 1 hour drive to ZhuJiaJiao (朱家角), a water town on the outskirts of the city. There we are number of interesting sights including a Qing dynasty official’s “house” and gardens, and an old post-office. The day was hot but the rain held off… although by 1:30pm with the weather feeling “like 40” if not more it might have been nice. The hour long drive back in an air-conditioned van did help quite a bit, followed off by a long cool down in the room.
One of the things that we wanted to try in Shanghai was soup dumplings (xiaolongbao – 小笼包) and a quick search show up a restaurant 2.5km away from the hotel. We decided to walk there and grab a cab back from to the hotel. We got some rice for Heather, spring rolls and soup dumplings for the girls and me, and a surprise order of filled won-tons in soup, I mean we didn’t think that we had ordered it but it showed up at our table anyway. One of the hazards ordering food in a non-tourist area I guess.
Elspeth and I really enjoyed the dumplings where as Katrine liked everything about the dumplings except the meat, perhaps next time a different variety would work. Katrine also liked the soup for the won-tons, but did not appreciate the dark green vegetables inside which I loved.
Yesterday we were thrilled to spend Canada Day with my parents and a friend who we haven’t seen in a while. This year, Elspeth did not play at the Canada Day celebrations but Katrine skated. And what a skating show that was. Throw in some crafts, playtime, fireworks, good food and good company and it was a wonderful Canada Day.
Okay, I am totally behind in my posts because June has been…..well, let’s just go with busy. We ended May with Elspeth’s first band parade of the year. It was cooler than last year which made it more comfortable for wearing wool kilts.
The next weekend saw her off to her very first Brownies Camping adventure. She LOVED it and is already looking forward to next year. That same weekend was Katrine’s Youth Group musical at church. It was amazing and obvious how much work they had all put into it. Very proud of her. We also had the chance to celebrate Grandpum’s birthday with the very traditional birthday danish!
Then we had Elspeth’s school fun fair. As you can see, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. The next week it was the After School Care BBQ. We dragged Katrine there just long enough to get her arm painted and have some food before she was off to the Youth Group party. This past week Elspeth and I briefly went to our Ward councillor’s BBQ because there was free cotton candy where we discovered that cotton candy does not hold up well to humidity. Katrine was still skating while we were getting the treat and by the time she was off the ice it had shrunk to 3/4 the size! (And not because I had eaten any).
There was also the end of the Brownie year which means even more sewing for mom. Plus, Elspeth and a fellow Brownie held a lemonade stand in the park to raise money for Sick Kids. They had a blast and raised $75.00. Definetely a proud mommy moment.
Throw in Father’s Day, a penguing with a broken flipper, sleepover, report cards and Visa stress and you have our June. Bring on the summer!
Let me begin by explaining why this post is so Elspeth heavy. All of the photos with Katrine also have her cousins in them so ….. this weekend we went to visit my brother and his family. The girls were really excited because he showed them how to light a fire outside, keep it going and then they used it too cook hotdogs and marshmallows for us all for lunch. Everyone else? Helped to put up Scott’s new shed.