Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On to Hong Kong and then home!

The next leg of our journey required considerable travel again, but this time, we switched from one mode to another. We flew from Nanchang, Jiangxi to Guangzhou. Thankfully, there was a guide and driver wanting for us there, because what is considered by some to be quite simple, seemed like a rather difficult maneuver, going from the airport to the train station.  Once there, the guide stayed with us to ensure we knew exactly where to go, what time to be there, and in the meantime, where to get something to eat. Then she left after telling us what so many others had told us, Hong Kong is easy to get around because almost everyone speaks English.

Evidently, everyone in Hong Kong, except those people we met, can speak English. Or is it just that I speak way too Texan to be easily understood. The worst part was they would look at my girls and speak Chinese to them, but my girls speak Mandarin and they were speaking Cantonese, so neither could understand.

My daughters got to experience several firsts on this leg of the trip.

The first was a taxi driver who did not mind putting all our suitcases in the trunk and then holding it shut with a bungee cord. They were convinced that we would lose something along the way. They also did not know I knew how to call a taxi and could not believe that when I would step out on the curb, whistle, and hold up one hand, expecting one to appear, and they did.

This was our very first stay in Hong Kong and I was completely unprepared, for the vast difference in the “customs” of the hotel. We stayed on top of a mountain in China, a remote area, and had free internet. In Hong Kong you had to pay for it in your room, otherwise there was 30 minutes free in the lobby every 12 hours. Electricity in Hong Kong is a different current and there was no free adapter like all the hotels in China had provided when needed, but they would provide one for a charge. The mouthwash in the room even came with a price tag on it. And this was a nice hotel, not some two bit hotel. I was sitting in the lobby, trying desperately to send a message to my dad for father’s day, in my brief 30 minute window, when I was told that it was  required to buy a minimum of one beverage to sit there! UGH!

I had read on line that the subway system, the Metro was easy to use, yet the concierge urged us to take taxis instead to reach our destinations.

Our first stop was somewhere to eat, only the driver let us 2 or 3 blocks away with a vague wave of the hand of the location we needed to go. When we finally found the place, a reservation was required unless we could guarantee to be out of there within an hour. Fine by us, we normally eat faster than that and had a list of things to do. The thing I did not factor in was the terrible service and when our food still had not arrived about the time our hour was up, we left. Not a popular decision among my group I must say.

Before we had left for China, we had a long list of things the girls wanted to buy. With the speed of our trip, we had rarely found time to shop, so our next stop was the Ladies’ Market, an area of small booths all owned and operated by women. Thankfully, this taxi driver took us right to the beginning of the market so we weren’t at the mercy of me trying to read a map to find our way.

Here was a 2nd thing my girls learned about me – I know how to bargain in these markets. I was amazed at how it shocked them at my ability to get items for the price I wanted to pay. One of the first things we found was a phone case for Annabel’s phone. The price the woman quoted was retail and we were certainly not in a retail environment, so since I was holding the money, I offered a more appropriate price. After hearing how I was killing her, she of course, agreed. The girls were so impressed that we continued down through the stalls quickly picking out some of the top things on our long list that we still wanted to buy.

Since it was now closer to 9:00 and we still had not eaten, I asked the last woman we had done business with for a good place to eat, which was pretty funny, because she could suddenly no longer understand English and so I had to act it out, which provided plenty of amusement.

We were trying to find a Chinese restaurant and were surprised at how difficult that was, but we finally ended up somewhere that would take a credit card, since all our cash was spent at the market, and our waiter quickly gave us an orientation to the Hong Kong way of eating out. The dirty dish on the table, Hong Kong way, 4 pots of tea for 2 tea drinkers, Hong Kong way, and evidently chasing the mom down whose trying to find the bathroom to sell one more dish is also Hong Kong way.  Having your waiter continue to add soup to your bowl, much like our waiters add tea or water to your glass, must also be the Hong Kong way. The food was very good, but by then it was really late, so it was back to trying to find a taxi to take us back to the hotel, since we were completely lost by then.

Again, the girls were amazed when I insisted that we had to get to a busy enough street to find a cab and then having one actually stop.

Our goal for our one full day in Hong Kong was Hong Kong Disney. I had been joined a yahoo group of parents looking for help in planning these types of trips and when someone mentioned ending their journey with a trip to Disney, it sounded like a brilliant way to end ours. I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen when seeing the foster families and the emotional toll it would take on all, and I felt like we really had to have a break from that intense time, before coming home, kind of a decompression chamber.

This time we tackled the Metro, the subway system.

The girls were surprised that I could even find the entrance, much less know how to read the subway map, buy tickets, and then get us on the correct platform. They have a very nice subway system, and it is remarkably clean, and very easy to use.

When we made our last transfer, there was no doubt we were on our way to Disney, as the rings to hold onto were mouse ears, and displays of Disney princesses in bronze were on display.

The price on the tickets was higher than expected, but still a lot less than the cost of the US Disneys, but it is also a lot smaller. Being smaller was not a problem, as we were able to see and do almost all we wanted to, before we lost all our energy, and tackled the subway system back to the hotel.

When we got out of the subway, I could smell noodles cooking, but we did not see anything but nicer restaurants on the street level. The area is surrounded by skyscrapers and office buildings, so we went inside one that mentioned it had a shopping mall. The guard, with my acting ability to portray eating noodles, sent us upstairs to a very cramped and crowded restaurant, where they were able to understand we wanted to “take away”. While sitting on a tiny stool outside this busy restaurant, waiting for our food, I realized it was one of those jewels you just happen to stumble upon, as the windows were covered with awards they had won, letters received from several satisfied customers from companies such as CNN. Love these kinds of “accidents” that turn out great.

Back to the hotel in hopes of making the connection with a friend of their girls’ school, who is spending a lot of the summer with family in Hong Kong. Of course, it was back to the lobby to handle communication and our brief 30 minute window of checking email, trying to connect home, as well as their friend. Thankfully I found a “free” place to sit, rather than do like the others who seemed like zombies wandering through the lobby staring at some device in their hand to avoid the extra charge of the internet.

After a lot of packing and repacking, we had all our treasures packed and ready for our trip today. I let the girls sleep as long as we could while I went in search of inexpensive breakfast. Within a block of the hotel, I lost count of the number of Chinese medicine stores, that all open early, and office buildings, where workers were rushing to get inside. Again, one of the buildings mentioned a shopping area so I went inside and up the escalator and found about 5 noodle shops, serving big steaming bowls of noodles, among other things I did not recognize. I wasn’t sure I could act out “take away” again, but I finally found a place that was only “to go”. Since the entire menu was in Chinese with no pictures, I wasn’t sure I could guess well enough to order something. I tried asking everyone in line, but none spoke English. When I got to the front of the line, the man and woman running the place spoke perfect English and fixed me up with some spicy noodles with fish balls, and an egg on top, one of their favorites. I finally found a “McCafe” a new part of McDonalds, where I was able to get a ham and cheese croissant without the need to act it out, as there was a picture to point to!

After buying breakfast I realized I no longer had enough money to pay the cab fare to the airport and knew I did not want to exchange $100 into Hong Kong money as we were leaving. The girls scourged through their purses and wallets and came up with $10, which when added to how much I had, was exactly $300 HK and the amount I was told to expect to pay. Thankfully our driver was Mario Andretti in another life, and we made it to the airport, with the extra cost of the toll and the cost of our bags, and the price was $290 HK! I was terrified that I would have to run into the airport and exchange money to pay him off but we ended up with $10 to spare!

We are now 12 hours into our 15 hour flight and I am missing the luxury of the Business Class seats that we were fortunate to get on our way to China. My body and brain are still very confused as to what time it is, much less what day, Since we have now spent 24 hours as Tuesday and when we get home, will still have 8 more to go!

I’ll go back and fill in the parts that I missed of the trip later when I can actually access Google again! I wish Google and China had not been fighting, it would have really helped

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy father's day

I think this is the very first time I've ever missed father's day and it is really hard to do especially if you have a father like mine, who deserves more than just one day to celebrate!

I have the kind of father that everyone is jealous of. My dad is kind and generous and fair to everyone. He has never met a stranger and everyone he greets gets his full attention and a sincere question of how they are doing.

He can work circles around me and others 1/4 his age.

He can get a bargain better than anyone.

He is a strong Christian who cares for his whole flock.

He rarely gets angry and you know you really messed up if he is.

He loves and treasures my mother more than anything except God, and right behind that is family.

Thank you father dear, for your patience, your kindness, and love. I'm so sorry to miss being with you today.

Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thank you to all who sent prayers

Thank you to all who sent prayers on our behalf yesterday. The day proved far more eventful than anticipated.

Our guide and driver deftly maneuvered major highways and then a number of back streets, none with markers as far as I could tell, and we arrived safely at Grace's foster family's home. The foster mother set off a HUGE package of firecrackers to celebrate our arrival. There was no doubt to anyone within a mile that she had something to celebrate.

This was our second time to see her since I adopted Grace, as she met us when we adopted Annabel. In spite of the language differences, you knew how much she loved and cared for Grace. Both my daughters are very fortunate that the majority of their lives pre-adoption were spent in foster care, rather than at the orphanage.

The foster mother, foster sister, her husband, and baby greeted us with a banquet of fresh fruits and drinks. She then started presenting gifts for both Grace and I. I received a beautiful porcelain plate, something the region is known for, along with a beautiful embroidered bag, and a pair of shoes. Grace received a beautiful bag, new outfit, and a pair of shoes. We waited for the foster father to come home, than all went together to a very nice restaurant. Our guide did an outstanding job of trying to keep the communication going between all of us. Grace had many memories that she wanted confirmed and each time the family loved that she could remember so many details. 

After a wonderful meal, it was very difficult to say good bye, but we had to go.

If you are not familiar with Chinese adoption, you might know understand the next part without a brief history. The Chinese government, in an effort to control the population after Chairman Mao's reign, where large families were encouraged, implemented a one child policy, making it illegal to have more than one child per family. Some exceptions were made if you are a minority or live in a rural area and need the family to help on a farm.

On top of that, sons are preferred over daughters, and millions of baby daughters were abandoned as a result, hoping someone would find and care for them. I cannot imagine the anguish a mother felt in making this decision and sure many still live with the scars of having to choose.

As a result, children adopted from China have an abandonment certificate, proclaiming that the local government did all they could to find the parents of a child who was found. It usually lists the address where the child was located and by whom.

Somehow I traveled without ours, even though I thought both girls might be interested in seeing if we could find that place. A quick message home and my poor parents tried to go through the mounds of adoption paperwork to find just the right document, make copies and then email halfway around the world.

They got to us just in time and our guide took us to the place where Grace was found.

I think I am still too overwhelmed by the whole idea to fully realize what that meant and the people who rent the place now were not there in 1998 and referred us to local police station.

The woman at the police station was colleagues with the man who found Grace, called him, and he came to that office.

Sometimes this whole process can take months, even years, yet it all happened within hours for us.

When the officer arrived, I truly wanted him to recall something about that day, but he insisted that he found so many babies during that time, he did not remember anything specific.

In the meantime, the original woman at the police station called the local news, who showed up and interviewed all of us! It was supposed to be on the news last night at 8:00 pm, but we missed it.

Our guide told us of another family who had been able to reach out to the media and within a week, had been contacted by the birth family.

Overwhelming is an understatement. I'm not sure what will happen next.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A very brief note and a request

We have finally made it to our destination, Nanchang. For the next 2 days we will be visiting my daughters' foster families. This will be a bittersweet time for all involved, to see someone you loved and cared for for so many years and then to be separated from them again.

Your prayers and warm thougts are appreciated for all involved. Thank you.

Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

A very short post and a request

We finally made it to our destination, Nanchang. This is the city that both daughters are from.

Today and tomorrow we visit with their foster families. The time will be bittersweet for all, as it will be a wonderful time for all to be together, but very difficult to leave. Both daughters spent many years in these families and I am grateful for the wonderful job they did in providing a loving environment. 

Prayers and kind thoughts for all involved are appreciated. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trip of a lifetime!

This has truly been a trip of a lifetime. Today is Tuesday and we are at a Mountain Retreat outside Shangshuo and I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen a more beautiful place. The bamboo trees frame the river with mountains sticking up all around us. On the river are rafts, originally made with bamboo, now with PVC for their durability, transporting those who make their living by working the river. On one side you can see people working in a field, possibly a rice field, clear, fresh air, small waterfall, mountains, incredible!

We got here after a river cruise on the Li River The pictures all look hazy but there was a fog/haze over the river and up into the mountains throughout the 4 hour cruise. There were many sights and rock shaped creatures, none of which I could really see, but the fact they remain untouched for 1000's of years just increases their beauty to me. We also had a delicious meal on the cruise, which was nice.

Yesterday, Monday, seemed to be mostly travel as we left the hotel early in Chengdu. It took over an hour to drive to the airport, but the airport was clean and modern and the plane was in great shape. They served a hot meal on a 1.5 hour flight. Quite a bit different than a US trip of the same length and there was no extra charge! 

We arrived in Guilin and met a new guide whose love of the area was contagious. After quickly checking in she wanted us to see the park the city is most known for Elephant Hill. The only problem, while the thermostat might have said 80-90 degrees, the humidity was over 1000! and I'm not exaggerating. The mosquitoes tried to carry some of the smaller children off, so the beauty of the area was somewhat lost.

After a great meal, we took a quick tour of the night market and enjoyed seeing the sights and sounds of the nightlife.

The evening before we had a hot pot meal in Chengdu. We had watched an episode of Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Food where he had a hot pot dinner at Chengdu. It was on Annabel's most wanted to do list and we did it. They serve it red, white, or a combination of red and white oils, either diffused with peppers or plain. My girls chose the red and all manner of goodies was fried in the hot oil and 4 bottles of water were quickly consumed.

Time for dinner and a show tonight. More later. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

[Flickr] jalocke2 shared their Flickr photos with you.


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topiaries gigantic spider outside toilet moss to show Van
black swans SAM_1613
SAM_1612 beautiful archway
Hidden in bamboo Good lesson
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What a day!

I'm kind of confused as to what day it is because I've never been able to change the date and time on my phone or laptop and I purposely kept my watch on Dallas time so I could remember what time it was there, so we are always ahead by almost exactly half a day. Right now it is 11:16 pm on Sunday night and I need to get to bed as tomorrow is another day spent in travel.

Yesterday we left Xi'an and arrived via Hainan Airlines to Chengdu. We met us with the rest of our group again and went to dinner together.

This morning we had to be ready to go by 8:00 am to go see the pandas and they are most active in the morning after receiving their bamboo. 

We arrived ahead of most of the crowd and within a short amount of time came across 2 different areas that had huge pandas sitting in there munching on their bamboo.

I don't even have words to describe it. It was incredible to see these giants that you have seen on TV, in pictures, everywhere but in real life!

From there, we saw what I described as a pit of pandas, all about teenage years (meaning a little less than 2 years old), sometimes fighting over the same piece of bamboo, some just laying around on their backs eating, everything like you would imagine with a group of teenagers.

Next we saw a momma and her baby. They were they most entertaining and the most active. That baby would not let the momma but a few inches from him and then go running to catch up. Since google is blocked, then my blog is also blocked so I don't know if adding an attachment from an email will work, but I'll try.

The pandas were great and the park was beautiful, so many gorgeous flowers, bamboo lined paths, beautiful lake with black swans, just a fantastic day.

I'm running out of energy and tomorrow we travel by plane to Guilin where we will spend only one night before taking a river cruise to a mountain retreat. Lots of one day stops for the next 3 or 4 days, so I will close for now. If I can figure out how I will post the link to my flickr account and you should be able to see all my pictures.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Terra cotta warriors

The story of the terra cotta warriors is pretty amazing. A farmer was drilling for a well and he was down in the hole sending out loads of dirt and did not realize that he had tossed the head of an ancient warrior made of terra cotta into the pile of dirt. When it arrived at the surface the other workers were so terrified they ran to the village for help from the authorities, leaving the farmer in the hole. The area he was digging is marked in the pit and just a slight adjustment 3 different ways and he would have missed them. There have now been 4 pits discovered, the first being the largest and the 4th being completely empty, as there was no time to produce any more warriors until the people who had been enslaved by the emperor rebelled and brought the end to that dynasty.

The pits are huge. I wish I could convert meters to yards quickly enough to remember just how vast they were. I just know it was a lot of football fields worth. Most of the warriors were destroyed by later uprisings and evidence of huge fires to destroy them is seen in blackened areas surrounding the warriors. No two warriors are alike and there are warriors who represent the generals, the charioteers, infantryman, archers, and horses. Looking down into the pit it's difficult to see the differences but some are presented on a higher level and you can see that even the size of the feet and the diameter of the ankles varies greatly, along with their hair which signifies their rank.

We also had lunch at one of the farmer's relatives homes, where he cooked the meal himself. It was very traditional and very delicious.

The craziest part of the day was at the end, after the tour, and our guide was so impressed with how spicy they liked their food, he wanted to take them to his favorite duck take away place. It was kind of like a deli counter on a busy street. The only things I recognized in the case were some feet of various birds. Our guide had them give the girls samples and then they started ordering, putting the stuff in bags, until I finally insisted we had enough and we carried off bags of very spicy duck necks, duck tongues, duck intestines, duck feet, octopus, and lotus root. There was no McDonald's, kfc, or pizza place in sight, so we headed back to the hotel to find the man who said he could order a pizza for me.

I knew they had one on their restaurant menu as I'd had a slice the day before, so we headed to the restaurant and the man in charge recognized us from the breakfast buffet. Annabel, whose just like her grandfather, asked if we could borrow some paper plates. First the man offered to send them to our room but once he recognized the bag, insisted we all eat in the restaurant so they could enjoy it easier.

It was a very kind thing to do and not something that happens often, I'm sure, allowing street food in a nice restaurant while your mother orders the cheapest thing on the menu. He reminded me that our room would have had a very bad odor this morning. Annabel insisted on bringing the leftovers to the room and hopes to eat them on the plane today.


Sent from Jerri's Yahoo Mail on Android

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hello from Xi'an

Have you ever seen the movie, "If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium"? That's how I am feeling and this is only our second stop.

Yesterday, Wednesday, we saw the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Feng shui was very important in the planning and structure of buildings in the early days in China, which explains the duplication and balance of structures in the pursuit of harmony. This is great until you try to see the entire layout in a very short amount of time and after passing through the 3rd of so gate, you are pretty sure you will never get to the other side. I had to continually remind myself of the age of the structure, 500+ years and the ability of it to withstand time, war, and many other disasters.

After seeing the Temple of Heaven we enjoyed another fantastic Chinese meal before racing to the train station.

The train station was a whole new experience and the best way to describe it was, that everyone trying to catch a train has a type A personality and they were all fearful they might not succeed, so they pushed and ran and squeezed into the tiniest of places to get through faster than we could.

The bullet train was also very interesting but to be able to cover close to 700 miles in under 4 hours was great.

Our guide met us and managed to get us out of the train station unscathed and whisked away to our hotel, where we were fortunate to receive an upgrade. It is very strange to see such an American name as Sheraton in the heart of a Chinese city.

After getting our bearings, we made it down to a market, which was actually a 3 story grocery store, but more like a Wal-Mart. We were on a quest for snacks, bottled water, and me some nail clippers. As usual we stopped traffic but this time I think more people were surprised when Annabel would open her mouth and English, with a definite East Texas accent came out!

We finally found someone to help us find nail clippers after Annabel translated, "where is" then turned to me to pantomime nail clippers. It worked, but was pretty hysterical in the punchy, exhausted state we were in.

This morning's breakfast was the largest buffet I think I have ever seen and you can even have ice cream at the end. There was a station to boil noodles with your selected ingredients, 4 types of congee, a whole section for Korean food, and another for Japanese, then a huge area for breads.

Our guide took us to the city wall and we rented bikes to ride around the top. We enjoyed breezing along and stopping to see the sights along the way, until we realized that we either had to turn around or keep going and both ways seemed like a lot of the 8.4 miles distance was still left. We persevered and made it the entire way around the wall.

From there we visited the Muslim market, which from outward appearances seemed like all other Chinese markets. Then onto lunch at a famous dumpling restaurant where we had dumplings with every ingredient known to man, along with wheat tea.

After lunch, we visited a local elementary school. It was amazing. We sat in on a class learning English of 12 year olds. The lesson today was on giraffes. I wished I had a picture of the giraffe in front of the Dallas Zoo to show. After we participated, then we got to ask them questions.

I asked if any planned to come to the United States, the answer was a resounding no, which surprised me. The teacher asked me what other foreign countries I had visited and she was amazed and my list is relatively short.

Then it was time for recess and both girls got in some ping pong, as well as badminton and basketball.

Tonight is the Tong Dynasty Show but in the meantime, naptime seems more appropriate. Tomorrow is the Terra Cotta Warriors.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Another incredible day

When you actually see something that you have learned about, read about, and seen in so many medias all your life, and it is even more grand than you imagined, you wish you could find a way to capture it so others can have a more accurate impression of it.

That is how I feel after seeing the Great Wall of China. 

To describe it as great is like calling the Grand Canyon, grand. Maybe because we overuse these descriptors for much more menial items our perception of what truly is great and what is grand are deflated.

We had another incredible day on Tuesday. Up early (since we our bodies are still confused on the time) and down for the breakfast buffet. The girls are loving having a nice warm filling bowl of congee, which is similar to our oatmeal, only with rice, along with dumplings, buns, and plenty of fruit, like lychees and watermelon. I love getting to have a croissant and a very strong cup of coffee. On our other trips, I was pretty sure that pot of coffee they started the first day was the same pot they served our last, as I had never had such strong, thick coffee.

On our way to the Great Wall, we stopped at a jade factory. I've seen jade all my life and admired it but never knew much about it until hearing their educational program. It's impossible not to buy something after learning about it.

Then onward and upward to the Great Wall.

Our guide chose a section that would be less crowded but a considerable distance from our hotel. It took about 2 hours to get there by bus, a trip I was very glad I was not driving, and we made it to the Mutianyu section, an area that is restricted from the Chinese tour buses to allow foreign visitors easier access.

After steadily climbing into the mountains, we finally reached the entrance, only to be faced with a straight uphill climb that felt like it was a million miles. It was a quick wake up call to how much more conditioning I wish I had done before we left!

From there we took a cable car straight up, which still put us at the bottom of more flights of stairs and a steady climb to finally reach the wall. All along the way are vendors selling fruit, vegetables, tshirts, and other souvenirs. After considering seriously several times that I had reached my limit, I was really glad that I had persevered and made it to the top. Once you are there, you are still going up and down stairs. Someone in our group suggested it be called the Great Stairway of China.

After that we had lunch, which my girls loved, and the last stop of the day was an acrobatic show, where tricks were performed that left you breathless.

We are on our way to visit the Temple of Heaven, then to catch a bullet train to Xi'an.

More later!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Good morning from Beijing

If you are younger, your body seems to adapt more quickly to the huge time change from Dallas to Beijing, or at least if you base it on whose still asleep at 5:00 am and whose not.

Thankfully we made it to Beijing without incident. We had wonderful help at American Airlines checking our bags all the way through to Beijing, rather than us claim and re-check. The man who helped us with our bags has 2 nieces from China, one name Gracie and the other Annie, so he went out of his way to ensure we were taken care of when he learned our bags consisted of items for the orphanages.

We were extremely fortunate that Mom and Dad paid to upgrade us to business class, with seats that completely stretched out. We aren't used to that kind of luxury but it made a huge difference.

We arrived in Beijing about 9:00 pm on Sunday, after leaving Chicago at 7:30 pm on Saturday. If that is confusing, you can see why my body is so confused.

After checking in, we walked to 7 11, which we had been told was somewhere between 1 and 2 minutes. It was very close and I was insistent on having some ramen noodles on hand in the event someone woke up in the middle of the night hungry. Annabel has never flown this leg of the trip and Grace was only 11 last time, but I vividly remembered waking up with my stomach on my "normal" schedule.

Since no one slept much, we were at the breakfast buffet by 6:00 am. If you have never traveled to China and had a breakfast buffet, you are missing out. This one seems even more extensive than any others I have seen, but still had the traditional items. There were dumplings, eggs served in a variety of measures, pastries, fruits, and a few odd things, like baked beans, which they always seem to have and I never see served anywhere else.

We were to meet our guide at 9:00 am but in the meantime, thankfully my girls figured out the free wireless access and were able to communicate back home for us.

Our first stop of the day was to the Hutongs, a preserved area tucked away from the hustle and bustle that a city of 23 million presents. Because the streets are so narrow, we left our bus and hopped on a rickshaw! I felt like I was giving these men a good work out! I bet they flip a coin to see who loses and has to carry the Americans!

All the buildings are gray, so as not to compete with the beauty of the emperor's residence. There are only communal bathrooms and little to no electricity, yet each property is valued in the millions because of their location. We met a very nice man who let us look at their home which consisted of 4 buildings facing a courtyard. OK buildings is somewhat of a misnomer and it is more like 4 rooms facing a courtyard. The way facing the north is higher than the other 3 and reserved for the most senior family members as it has the best access to heating and cooling from the weather. The courtyard included an area filled with bird and grasshopper cages suspended from a pagoda.

From there we went to the silk factory, run by the government. Learning about the silk worms and processing their cocoons was very interesting. They were selling silk quilts that were amazing, but I could not see spending our entire souvenir budget on me a quilt. I did get the girls each a beautiful silk dress, so we are ready for parties.

After that we had lunch. The other family is adventurous in their eating so our guide was pleased to oblige by ordering fish heads, spicy long beans, ma po tofu, shaved pork, and one beef dish, that was not nearly as spicy, since I admitted I was not quite as adventurous.

With our stomachs full, we headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. She warned us that we would walk non stop for about 2.5 hours and she was right. The lines to pass security were longer than any US citizen would stand, just to see a national treasure like the square. Thankfully our guide flashed her pass and knew some people in charge, and we were on the square within minutes. I was immediately overwhelmed by the enormity of the square and the vast number of significant historical events that had happened there. The area is huge and yet you could feel the presence of those who had tried to stand their ground there, outside the many government buildings. There is also Chairman Mao's tomb, which is open to the public each morning for a few hours, but your Chinese ID is required and enduring a line that was longer than the square itself.

You eventually make your way across the square to enter the gate that we are familiar with, where the giant picture of Chairman Mao is suspended. This is the first of many gates necessary to go through to get to the Forbidden City. So I was expected lush gardens and beautiful scenery inside, but instead, most of it was a series of huge pagodas, some recently restored, but all at the top of a long series of stairs. It's amazing to think that this was created in the 1400's and survives intact today. The final stop was the lush garden you think of, but I hate to admit, that between the crowds, the heat, and my back, I mainly just wanted to get back to the bus. I'll also blame it on jetlag.

There are plenty of pictures coming, I've just got to figure out how to upload them. I'm not used to being blocked from websites like google and Facebook so I'm having to find new routes to accomplish it.

We ended the day with dinner with the second family in our tour group, who had just arrived. Again, our guide did a great job of finding so many foods that my girls absolutely loved. I'm doing my best to try more than I ever have and admit the flavors have been so much better than anything we can get in Dallas.

Part of my reason for not being able to sleep is we are having trouble getting our donations to the orphanage shipped and the donation to the local orphanage picked up. Hopefully it will all be resolved today and I am especially appreciative to our church paying for the costs of shipping, since they expect it to be over $100 US.

Speaking of US dollars and the Chinese RMB, for some reason I can't do the math. I thought some ice cream last night was over $10, when it was only $1 and then I thought a phone case was $10 and it was over $30. Very glad I have 2 extremely bright children who access their calculators quickly to keep me from making too many blunders.

Today we are headed to the Great Wall, a portion that is considerably less crowded but takes a couple of hours to get there.

More later!