Sunday, May 29, 2011

Our Trip to China!

On May 11 Lani and I embarked on a great adventure! We traveled from Salt Lake City to Beijing, where we had planned an 8 day trip with my brother Cameron. In this post, I'll tell a little bit about our trip and include a few pictures. But the best pictures were taken by Cameron here. Seriously -- go check them out.

When we arrived in China we met up with Cameron easily, and got our luggage. we did have a snag when trying to get a taxi. even though taxis were plentiful, nobody had heard of our hotel or the address, and all refused to take us. Finally one guy said yes, but he then he didn't want to take us because of all of our luggage. But Cameron had met a girl earlier at the airport and she came out and chewed out the driver, so we got in the taxi. The driver had to call the hotel to figure out the address, and threatened to just drop us off in the middle of the street, because it had been such a hassle for him but Cam held firm and it all worked out.

On our first day we went to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen sqaure and the park where David O. McKay dedicated China for the preaching of the gospel. For lunch we found the perfect hole-in-the-wall place that served amazing dumplings. (We didn't spill all the stuff on the ground, that's just how they roll in this restaurant.

We ate pigs feet for dinner. (Well, that was one of many things served, and in truth I only had a very small bite). Okay, so really it briefly touched my lips for a photo-op and then I set it down.

One experience we had worked hard to set up was the chance to serve at an orphanage. That was a great experience. There were lots of Chinese volunteers there and it was really cool to see them serving. They were the happiest people we have seen, and you could tell that they were very special. All of the children at the orphanage had a serious birth defect and are under 2-3 years of age. They try to place them in foster care and adoption at the orphanage. I sang to some of the kids, and wished that my kids were there, because they would have done a great job serving there. Here is one of the cute kids we served, and then us with a group of volunteers.

We had a lot of fun exploring the area around the orphanage. It was a really poor area and kind of felt like Tijuana. People were selling rabbits and turtles on the street, as well as lots of other things. However, Beijing as a whole is nothing like Tijuana. It is an incredibly modern city and we felt safer there than in any big city in the U.S.

We went out to eat with Shari and had Peking Duck - which is a very delicious and famous Beijing dish. We had way more food than we could eat and it was very, very delicious! And so much food!!

Shari was the most gracious host of all time! She took us to where the Olympics were held and we had a great experience. We were so grateful to Shari ... she helped us have an experience that we had really hoped to have. She is amazing!

We went to Prince Gong's mansion and Cameron and his friend Samily (Samily is awesome, she helped us a lot on this trip). They went one way, while Lani and I went the other. I was really hungry and tried to buy lunch on my own. I was successful ... sort of. We got something like tacos, but I was disturbed when i bit into it that the meat was not hot. It was room temperature, or maybe slightly chilled. It made me nervous and i started inquiring about what it was. I clearly understood from them that it wasn't pork or cow, but i didn't understand the word they were saying. So i didn't eat it, and later found out it was donkey meat. Yikes! we also saw a menu with frog and turtle, but didn't eat those things.

Church was great. The branch is really strong. There were 225 people there today, about 75 were visitors. We met two guys that are traveling Asia and they gave us some tips for traveling the Great Wall.

We had originally planned to hire a private taxi driver to take us to a broken down part of the great was going to be expensive, but instead we did their plan and it worked perfectly!

We were out of the hotel by 5:55 and took the subway to the Dongzhimen station where we got a bus to Huairo. I sat next to a young lady who was going there to work. we had a great conversation (in Chinese) for about an hour and it was really fun. I showed her videos of Annemarie and Maria speaking in Chinese and she loved it.

When we got to Hauiro, we bought some food for the trip (we had bought a ton of water the night before), and found our driver. It was a 50 minute drive and it was beautiful. within 10 minutes we were in a rural setting of mountains, hills and we could see the great wall. We each paid a 20 RMB "admission" (more like the villagers had created a little gate to keep people from just coming in and were charging you for it), and the driver pointed out the trail to us.

It was BEAUTIFUL. We passed a farmer (and an old man who was demanding that the driver give him some money for dropping us off in his "parking lot" (dirt field), but after that we didn't see anyone for 3 hours. We hiked up about 30 minutes and got to the wall. It was broken down a little in some places, but still very, very majestic. Here are some views:

We hiked on the great wall for a few hours, stopping to take pictures and enjoy the views. There were little gecko lizards that Levi would have loved. You could hike on the wall for the most part, in a couple of areas it was so steep and broken down that went on a side trail. we had lunch in one of the fortresses, and it was very nice. Starting around noon we saw a couple of other people (about 10 in total over the next few hours).

About 1:00 PM we got to a point where we could head to a village or continue on the wall. There were two high towers ahead of us that looked really inviting. so we went up the first and it was pretty tricky. in some parts almost like those rock climbing walls, where you have to grab on with your hands and scale up.

Well we got to the top of the first one and it was great. then we noticed that it was a long ways down, and then a longer ways back up to get to the next tower, so we said, well, let's just call it good. i was kind of nervous though about going back down the steep wall that we had just come up, and we had found what appeared to be a little trail off the the side, that we thought would connect with the main trail. Lani did not want to take the trail, but i thought it would it would be better. (When I read that last sentence to her, she said, "don't call it a trail, call it a rock slide"!!) Here she is, in action:

So we started down the "trail" and at first, it seemed okay. there was some trash there, so we knew others had gone that route, and occasional yellow flags that were tied around trees. After 20 minutes, it was getting pretty intense, and Lani wanted to turn back. but we thought, "We've already come this far, it will be a waste to go back." This was now, a harder hike then the great wall. We were grabbing onto trees to keep us from sliding down the mountain. After 50 minutes, it appeared that we were no closer to our goal. We prayed and Cameron and Lani both felt we should go back, although we were sad that it would be such a waste of time. I thought we should press forward, so we agreed to go forward for 10 more minutes.

After two minutes, it appeared to me that we were on a fool's errand. the mountain side was VERY steep, and there was no sign of a trail now. we tried to walk through trees and bushes for 5 minutes in the direction of the trail, but only earned scratches in our arms. So we humbly went back up the trail. Well, i was humbly ashamed, and lani was happy to be heading back. cameron, was just making it step by step. he had been the strongest on the wall, but was now starting to feel it.

Here's a picture of what we had been hiking down (and then hiked back up).

So going back up was possibly the toughest part. I don't think i want to do any more rock climbing walls, because I've done it for real, and without the harness. it didn't take as long as we thought though, and after 30 minutes we were to the top. Once we had gotten back to the place I didn't want to hike down, we could see that there was no way that the what i thought was a trail would have ever merged. in fact we could see that the whole thing had been a folly. we had literally been hiking down a very steep mountain side with lots of cliffs and drop offs. we are very lucky to be alive.

By this time though we knew we would miss the bus that left the little village. We carefully made our way down the steep wall, and got on the trail that led to the village. When we arrived some farmers were cultivating their fields and we asked about water and taxi driver home. One of them had a friend who was a taxi driver and gave him a call.

He charged us 150 RMB to go back (it was 100 RMB to get there) but Cameron felt very weak and didn't even care to negotiate. We bused back to Bejing took the subway and made it safely home. By the way, we took the subway and lot and it was crazy crowded!!!

It was a great adventure, there were a few moments along the way where I thought we might be in very serious trouble. Happily we made it. Cam wanted to shower right away and Lani and I wanted to eat, so we parted ways. Lani and I went to a small restaurant where we were the center of attention. We had rice, some tortilla like things, and some delicious "man tou" super yummy. The owner and cook kept hanging out with us so we showed them pictures and videos of our kids and they loved it.

The next day, after our exciting adventure on the Great Wall we decided it was a day of relaxation. We slept in a little, and got rolling about 9 AM. We decided it was time to do some shopping!

We went to a place called Panjiyuan, which is kind of like a flea market. They have a bunch of "authentic" Chinese treasures you can buy. We bought some fun things, and enjoyed negotiating prices. One lady started at 360 RMB (a ridiculous price) and eventually came down to 80 (we bought the item from someone else for 50). Lots of great practice speaking in Chinese, and people enjoyed seeing pictures of our family and watching videos of the girls speak Chinese.

We had lots of good food to eat, including baozi. On the way we saw this awesome street magician. He did some cool card tricks and my favorite was when he would flick a card in the air out about 6 feet (up and out from him) and it would return like a boomerang and he would catch it. Super cool!

We met up with Samily to continue to day of relaxation at a spa. Lani absolutely loved the 60 minute massage. My masseusse started talking to me, and at first I didn't like it, but then realized, I had a great opportunity to practice Chinese...we had a great conversation, and that was one of the best parts. She spoke no English, so it was all Chinese.

Then we were off to the Temple of Heaven. It was just as advertised. An amazing oasis of green, right in the city. we had a wonderful time just breathing the fresh air and watching a couple of performers.

Next, was an adventure!

We were supposed to go to a Chinese acrobat show at Tianqao theater. Tickets are expensive, but Cameron found a "contact" who could get them for cheap. We arrived to find a woman holding a sign with Cameron's name, but she had bad news. There was no show that night ... BUT she could get us VIP tickets to another show for the same price. it definitely sounded fishy, but we did want to go to a show.

So we took a 5 minute taxi ride to a place that looked legit, got our "VIP" tickets for a great price, and watched an awesome show. Several of the acts I had seen (jumping through rings, juggling, contoritionists, etc.) but i never get tired of those. one act i had never seen was this crazy motorcylce thing. There was a ball (think Liahona shaped) about 15 feet wide and maybe 25 feet tall (perhaps a little bigger). A guy came in and started riding a motorcycle around it and doing loop de loops. and you thought that was amazing. till a second guy came in and they were criss crossing each other. And that was indrecible...then a 3rd, 4th and 5th person all were driving int he ball at the same time. this is a very small space for those motorcycles. It was amazing. See it here.

We grabbed a taxi and headed home. Along the way, Cameron dropped the bomb that he didn't want to go to the Lani and I would be on our own for this trip. Here's what happened.

We got up about 5:45 and got ready to go. Took the subway/bus to Huairo like we did before. Bought some supplies in Huairo and went around looking for bikes we could rent. it was a lot of fun explaining what we were doing to people, and I felt good I was able to make myself clear, even with a kind of complicated situation. Along the way, we found some men playing xianqi (Chinese Chess). They got chairs for us, and after the game was finished they invited me to play. I of course got beaten soundly, but it was a lot of fun. Here's an action photo:

Our backup plan if the bikes didn't work was to grab a breadbox taxi halfway to the resorts by the Great Wall where there were some resorts. The idea was to rent bikes there and travel around the countryside. We negotiated a good price for the taxi and Lani slept in the back seat while I had a nice conversation for the 30 minute drive with the driver. She was the 3rd or 4th woman we have talked with here that expressed regret that she could not have more than 1 child. We got dropped off at the resort and immediately were accosted by people wanting to rent us 4 wheelers, motor bikes, and most intriguingly, a 1 hour horseback ride to the Great Wall (50 RMB).

I've learned from Cameron though, not to do business with the people who accost you. So we walked around the resort and enjoyed the scenes. A family came by and I talked with them and took their picture. A group of ladies (they said they were dancers) came and I took their picture, and also they wanted a picture with Lani and me. We were heading out of the resort trying to decide what to do when the family I had taken a picture of earlier invited us to join them for lunch. We refused, saying we had already eaten. They then suggested we could have a beer with them (this was all in Chinese). We again refused. They then asked again if we would join them for lunch and then go for a drive to a place in the countryside. This was in fact exactly what we wanted to do, so we thought, "Why not give it a try?"

Lunch was amazing. They ordered lots of delicious dishes. My favorite was the fish and meat stick. We then drove with them to Shen Tang Yu, which was a really beautiful place. We could see a little bit of the wall, but it was mostly a hike in the mountains. The weather was perfect, there were lots of trees, very, very beautiful. We spent several hours with them altogether, both lunch, hiking, and then they offered us a ride back to Beijing.

It was really fun practicing Chinese with them. We talked about the US debt, Hillary Clinton, Libya, marriage, etc. Of course, I still have a lot of Chinese to learn. Early on, I asked the husband/wife, "So who fell in love with who first?" They started laughing and explained that they had worked together and been friends.

Well several hours later I asked the woman how long she had been married, and she explained that in fact they were currently just friends. I had misunderstood earlier, which explained why they had laughed about it. It didn't fully explain who they were (and the girl who could have been/was their daughter was) but that mystery will have to wait until my Chinese improves. We just had a great time with them. They were wonderful people. they said their hobby was singing, and while we were hiking I sang a couple Chinese songs i know. they then sang a couple of English songs they knew (both from the sound of music). it was great. We were in a very beautiful place.

We got dropped off by a Subway station and were hungry, so we hit up KFC. Normally it is against my policy to go to American restaurants while abroad, but KFC is such the rage here, that we wanted to see what it was all about. Basically it was a slightly overpriced Wendys, but still cool. A girl behind me in line tried to help me, when I asked how to say "Ketchup" in Chinese. I was holding the ketchup packet and she said, "That is tomato juice." She then told me she was studying English and I realized that she might have a ways to go, but of course I encouraged her in her language acquisition skills.

On the way home we got another delicious dish of man tou and met up with Cameron to plan another great day.

The next day we started out by going to the park that is right by our house. It was so cool! It has pagodas, a giant lake, wide open space, and best of all tons of old people doing awesome stuff. one guy was writing Chinese characters, tons of people were doing a hackeysack with a giant birdie (like in Badminton) ... and these people were good! We're talking 70 year old ladies bouncing it off their knees and doing back kicks, etc.

There were also dancers there, tai chi, and people doing that crazy thing where you bounce a stick between two sticks. When we watched that guy, he invited me to join him. He taught me a little and I could make it work for about 5 seconds is all, but it was still fun.

Next we were off to the Summer Palace. It was very nice, although honestly, compared to the park we were just at, it felt a little touristy. I am still very glad that we went though.

Next up was the Chinese National Museum of Film, which covers 100 years of Chinese movies. Before we found the musuem we hunted down lunch in a hutong. It was an interesting street, where some of the lowest income dwellers live.

Anyways the film museum was cool. It was really interesting to see the propaganda and how the certain events were framed (and what events/movies were missing from the list).

We headed off to Wanfujing which is a very touristy, upscale place. The reason we went is they have a "xiao chir" (little eat) street where you can buy crazy snake meat, spiders, etc. One of the wierdest ones was they had live scorpions skewered on a stick, and if you bought one, they would fry them and you would eat them. i offered to pay for scorpions if Lani or Cameron would eat them, but both refused my generous offer. there were lots of other wierd things you could buy to eat, like turtles, squid and even stomach (that looked gross).

We wound up not buying any of those things, but it was fun. we started to head back to the subway and were going to part ways, Cameron had some evening plans. We came across a movie theater and i was tempted to see Thor 3D (in Chinese). I succumbed to the temptation and Lani suffered through it with me. I don't really recommend the movie, but I really, really enjoyed it, mostly because I felt so good that I could understand Chinese well enough that I got the whole movie, and even laughed at appropriate times. So that was good.

We got some roasted veggies on our way home, and realized that the next day would be our last day in China!

Our last day in China was good. We went back to the park. It was so windy that they wouldn’t let us rent a boat, but that was okay. We had a lot of fun just walking around seeing the beautiful pagodas and watching people do fun stuff. Then we went and got a foot massage. It was Lani’s idea because she had enjoyed our other massage so much. We went to downtown Beijing and rented bikes and biked around. It was really fun. My favorite part was biking around the Back Lakes.

The flight back was fine, and it was super, super fun to see the kids again.

We loved our trip to China and hope to return again some day.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

April Update

It's been a great month! One of the highlights was General Conference. Annemarie and Levi got to go to the Conference Center with Lani and had a great experience. I was in the JSMB with the three younger kids. That was an adventure. Here's a picture of us afterward!

We got an apple tree and started to plant our garden. The garden has been pretty unsuccessful so we might replant in a couple of weeks.

It has been a super busy travel month. Lani and I went to SLC for EFY Session Director Training, Maria and I went to Seattle for a special trip to see Grandma and Grandpa (and also go to a Best of EFY), and then the past couple weekends I have been at Timeout for Women (in San Antonio and Calgary).

The best thing that we did this month was get a month long pass to the Orem Rec Center. We've gone at least once a week and sometimes more often! Everyone has really improved in their swimming skills. It's a pretty cool place.

We are looking forward to some exciting things in the coming month. Stay tuned!