Category Archives: Gratuitous Photo Post

Panda Time!

This past weekend Naomi and I flew with a friend to Chengdu, in Sichuan Province.  I’ve been saying that we should really see more of China while we’re here (we tend to leave China when it’s vacation time), but really, this trip was all about the pandas.

Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.  So following our 11pm arrival at our hotel we woke up early Saturday morning to drive to the base to see the pandas.  The base itself was beautiful.  It was forested and it smelled like nature – something none of us had experienced in quite a while!

We hightailed it to the panda nursery where it’s possible – for a generous donation  - to hold a panda cub.  Unfortunately when we got there we were told that all of the “Panda Keeper Experience” slots were sold out for the day, and we would have to return in the morning.  They were, however, shockingly helpful, even writing us a letter that would allow us free admission to the Base the following day.  We didn’t even have to ask or complain, like we usually do here.  We were disappointed that we wouldn’t see the pandas that day, but decided to see as much as we could of the base that morning, so we could just stick with the panda holding the following day.

So we wandered around and saw these guys:

Hey there, hungry fella!

Pssssst. You look ridiculous up there.

He’s right behind me, isn’t he?

Giant Panda Kindergarten! OMG.

The two on the left are RUNNING. I didn’t know they could even do that.

Before we got to the Base I commented that I would be OK skipping the red pandas if we ran short on time, because they’re not even pandas and who cares?  But we managed to see them and I had to apologize individually to each and every one because they were so stinking cute!

Look! I have two logs!

Well, about half an hour after we were turned away for the panda holding my friend got a call that they had an opening and we could see the pandas in half an hour!  So we raced to the nursery where we attended a short class about pandas.  We learned that:

- 8 million years ago they were carnivores, but when there was no meat during the Ice Ages they adapted to become primarily vegetarians.  But . . .

-  . . . they apparently stopped evolving at that point because they are only able to digest 20% of the bamboo they eat . . . AND . . .

- the Panda Keepers have to teach the males how to stand on their hind legs SO THEY CAN LEARN HOW TO MATE.  These are not bright creatures, apparently , and the fact that they’ve survived this long – even with massive human intervention – is mind-boggling.

But I digress.   Because they have to eat 70kg of bamboo a day, and because they only like it when it’s wet, the Panda Keepers have to water it down.

Interwebs, meet Naomi the Panda Keeper:

Is it wet enough yet?

Naomi the Panda Keeper to the rescue!

Don’t be fooled.  the best part of being a Panda Keeper isn’t watering the bamboo, or teaching the males how to mate.  It is, hands down, PETTING THE PANDAS!

Wook at you wittle bay bee. . . .

You are just the cutest wittle thing in the whole wide world!!

So yeah, the panda visit was pretty much the coolest thing ever.

In the afternoon we wandered around Chengdu’s Wuhou Temple, which was peaceful and lovely:

And now my Internet is about to crap out, so I need to post this!  There are a ton of pictures on my Facebook page and at https://quartcourt.shutterfly.com/pictures/728!

 

Weddings, Weddings, EVERYWHERE!

A few weeks ago Will started playing soccer in a large park near our house, and while that will surely provide blog fodder in the future, I have something I just have to share with you.

BRIDES!  Chinese brides.  ALL OVER the park.  Apparently Chinese couples typically have their “wedding photos” taken a month before (or after?  I am not clear on this) their actual wedding.  And the brides do not wear their actual wedding dresses, but dresses provided by the wedding photographer. And the photographers don’t only provide traditional white dresses, but multiple dresses and tuxedos of many colors and materials!

These photo shoots tend to take place on Saturdays, apparently throughout the park (which is Beijing’s largest).  This is hard to believe, because in the 5 minute walk from the parking lot to the soccer fields we – no kidding – pass at least 100 couples every Saturday.

Wedding sweatpants!

Wearing hubby’s officers’ uniform

And, of course, there’s this classic from last week of Naomi posing with a bride and holding her bouquet.

I may start renting her out during soccer practice.

Happy 6th Birthday, Naomi!

Today we celebrated Naomi’s 6th birthday at KTV (aka karaoke) here in Beijing.

"It's all about me!"
“It’s all about me!”

It was pretty much what you would imagine:  a bunch of 6 year old girls fighting over the two microphones, Will complaining that there weren’t enough “boy” or “country” songs, and a slew of adults – both parents of the kids and the troupers who came to celebrate with Naomi – politely singing along (and chugging Yanjing beer).

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Naomi had a GREAT time.  She and her friends got to sing “Let it Go” countless times (did I mention the troupers who came to celebrate with her?), we had a ton of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, and we even squeezed in a few grown up pleasers like “Living on a Prayer” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  (Two things that I believe are sadly missing from most 6 year old birthday parties).

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Naomi closed things out with a moving rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly,” which should play if you click the link below, but is also on my Facebook page.

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Happy birthday, big girl!

Mongolia – The Details

I thought that if I gave myself a week to let our trip to Mongolia sink in in my head I would have an easier time deciding what to say about it, but that hasn’t happened, so I hope you’re comfortable – this could take a while.

The flight to Ulaan Baatar only took 2 hours (which made it the shortest flight we’ve taken since we moved here), and we were blown away by the blue skies immediately.

The California license plate also blew us away!

If only we’d known what would await us!  Turns out Ulaan Baatar is a pretty nasty, gritty place.

This is probably the prettiest picture ever taken of Ulaan Baatar.

The drive was spotted with villages like this one.

Thankfully the countryside more than made up for it!

Chinggis!

Our camp was 17 km off the main highway, which was a paved road with massive potholes every few yards, which essentially made it a one lane road for much of the  - sometimes harrowing – drive.  It took us about 3 1/2 hours to arrive at the camp, but it was totally worth it.  It was amazing.

Our ger.

We spent the first afternoon down by the river.

The kids enjoyed throwing rocks into the river, which astonishingly only resulted in one head injury (Naomi’s head, which we had to treat with a semi-cold can of tuna due to the lack of ice at the camp).

On day two we hiked around the countryside and watched the horses play by the river.

These two weren’t messing around.

Naomi befriended everyone she met, including the janitor and the camp’s cat Ginjee . . .

After all of this activity the kids slept great – and didn’t wake up when the sun started to shine into our ger at 3:30am!

Naomi Sleeps in Mongolia

To be honest, we all slept well after a long night of Uno and Mongolian vodka in the dining room!

Chinggis!

The cozy fireplace also helped.

On Sunday Will and I scheduled a horseback ride with a local herder.  Our friends had gone out the day before and galloped around with the herder and his friend, helping move their cattle from one spot to another.  Unfortunately that same herder was somehow injured on Sunday and could not come to take us out.  The camp director called another herder, who arrived a short time later with two horses and one saddle.

He explained to the camp director that we would have to walk 2km to pick up a second saddle, which was still going to leave us with two horses and three riders, so Will ended up being led around by the herder while I walked beside them and took pictures.  On the bright side, Will didn’t realize his friend had had a more exciting ride the day before!

And on the even brighter side, Naomi was able to ride this horse too.

And pet it!

Afterwards both kids agreed that this was the best day ever.

The trip ended up being everything we hoped it would be and more.  We had a great time with our friends, the kids worked off months worth of excess energy – hell, we ALL did – and it was just such a nice break from the stresses and pollution of Beijing.  The *only* disappointment was that the moon was so full and so bright we weren’t able to see as many stars as we wanted to, but no worries. I am already thinking about planning next year’s trip during a new moon!

Spring has Sprung!

As you have heard me complain about – a lot – this past winter was a loooong one. It started in October and ended about a week ago, when suddenly the leaves sprouted in the trees again and the temperatures jumped from the 40s to the 70s.  Needless to say, everyone’s in a good mood.  In fact, the weather is so nice that Travis and I rode in a rickshaw to dinner last weekend – something I swore I would never do.

I bet they wish they’d used a rickshaw.

Something else I swore I would never do here was ride a bike.  But here we are (and I LOVE IT!).

But I digress.  Today was a particularly lovely spring day because it is international Labour Day and we all had the day off.  We started out at a loss for what to do with ourselves, but thankfully our good friends suggested that we meet at one of our favorite parks – Ritan Park – to explore.  It was lovely.

We explored the “tunnels.”

Enjoyed lakeside snacks:

And took in the scenery . . .

(note the Chinese and Cyrillic on the building)

. . . athletic competitions . . .

(in this case badminton)

. . . music . . .

(in this case a trumpet)

. . . and the bouncy castle!

Sadly, we forgot to bring our fish!

Now, as we sit here enjoying our gin and tonics and open windows, we need you to keep your fingers crossed that the weather AND air quality stay as perfect as they’ve been – at least for a few more weeks!!  Thank you!

Out and About

Our clean air days have become fewer and father between, but over the past month or so we’ve managed to get out and do some exploring around town. We spent some time in the hutongs, where we were perplexed by the number of abandoned bicycles.

I have 6 more photos like this.

We even made it to our favorite hutong hangout – Great Leap Brewery!

No one was more excited about this than Naomi.

On President’s Day the kids had school so Travis and I went to Tiananmen Square and a touristy neighborhood called Qingmen to explore.

Starbucks. Obviously.

Wetvac-ing the sidewalk. Again, obviously.

We’ve spent time visiting a few parks around town.

Most of the parks have rides!

Making friends wherever she goes.

We even made it up to the Great Wall!  But this is the only picture I got.

Pretty cool, though.

Of course, seeing this burning truck is all Naomi remembers about the visit.

All of this walking around gave us an opportunity to witness China’s excellent security standards:

Sidewalks look like this in America, right?

Yes, he is standing on the very rock he is jackhammering.

So, despite my lack of posts recently, you can see the adventure continues!

Swim Lessons!

The kids started private swim lessons on Saturday.  Their instructor is a very nice Chinese man who has been teaching expat kids for ten years. His English is good, and the kids think he’s tons of fun.  Which is good, because they spend a lot of their lesson out of the water – stretching.  Apparently American aren’t as limber as we should be . . .

 

They got to go in the water too!

Naomi worked it, as usual:

Obviously.

Hong Kong Weekend

We were fortunate to have an opportunity to spend last weekend in Hong Kong. Travis had to go there for work, and Santa Claus gave us tickets to Hong Kong Disneyland for Christmas so we decided to combine the two!  The weather and air had been pretty abysmal here for the past few weeks, so it was a welcome escape!

We started Sunday morning exploring Hong Kong Park, which was beautiful and provided a welcome chance for the kids to run around outside!

Look ma! No puffy coats!

Travis, Will and Naomi are back there!

We came across an amazing aviary that had lots of beautiful birds, and it was feeding time so we got to see them up close and personal!

After Hong Kong Park we went up to Victoria Peak on the tram.

The view from the top was a little hazy (thanks, mainland!), but still beautiful.

After brunch with our friends at Cafe Deco we drove to Stanley Market, where the kids got to play on a pirate ship and we did some shopping.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, we rode the famous White Star Ferry to Kowloon for dinner!

The views from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island were spectacular!  Especially as the air started to clear up.

(and especially at night!)

On Monday we spent the day at Hong Kong Disney. We arrived just as it opened and we had the place to ourselves for a while!

We walked right onto Space Mountain, which Naomi turned out NOT to be a fan of.  Will even managed to ride the biggest roller coaster – Grizzly Gulch – 4 times without waiting in line!  (Travis and I each got to ride twice, and it was awesome).

They turned out to not like the Jungle Cruise as much.  It had a massive fireball that even set the water on fire and they were pretty scared.

No one more than Naomi, though.

After 5 hours the place really filled up and the temperature climbed into the mid-70s, so we decided to go back to our friends house, where the kids played together and the adults went out to dinner.  It was the perfect ending to the weekend!

I guess it’s a little early to start planning our next trip, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself again we will be there!

Also, I posted a bunch more pictures on Flickr!

Cambodia Highlights

We just returned from an amazing trip to Cambodia, and I have so much to say about it, but it’s getting late, we flew home overnight, and I was browbeaten into making Will’s Dinosaur School of Natural History website this afternoon, so I will provide a few highlights while I gather my thoughts.

Cambodia was incredible.  Seriously, probably my favorite place I have ever visited. I mean,

The temples!

Angkor Wat at sunset

Bayon in Angkor Thom

Ta Prohm (famous from Tomb Raider, I’m told)

The detail!

This is A THOUSAND YEARS OLD.

So is this!

The wildlife!

The adorable children!

The scenery!

The elephants!

The restaurants!

The transportation!

The photo opportunities!

I posted a ton of pictures on Flickr for now, but have so much more to say soon!!

Merry Christmas!!

Our first Christmas in Beijing was a roaring success – and I am not just referring to the wind chills, which, along with the 5 or so degree temperatures  (that’s Fahrenheit) were no joke!  Christmas cookie baking proved difficult, which I blame on  the scarcity of things like “cream of tartar” and my poor math skills and inability to convert butter measurements from grams to cups, but we did get a decent batch eventually, which the kids had fun with:

Santa enjoyed them with his whiskey as well!

The kids each got to open a present on Christmas Eve once our dinner for 12 (eight friends plus us!) had quieted down.

Thankfully, Santa texted the kids at about 8pm to let them know that he was delayed in Russia and wouldn’t make it to Beijing until morning, so they had to promise to stay in bed until 6am, which they miraculously did!

They were the recipients of lots of very thoughtful presents from our family and friends, and were super excited about everything.

Even Quigley got in on the action.

Our resident paleontologist spent the rest of the day digging for dinosaurs . . .

. . . While our resident princess spent some quality time snuggling with her baby princess Cinderella.

After Monday’s giant Christmas Eve dinner we had a bunch of friends over for Christmas brunch Tuesday morning, which was a lot of fun, though except for dinner at Home Plate BBQ Christmas night we haven’t eaten since!

Many thanks to you all for the wonderful Christmas cards and gifts you’ve sent.  they’ve made being away for Christmas so much easier for us. Merry Christmas and lots of love to all of you!