Monday, July 28, 2008

I'm baaack: Work, Hollywood Bowl, and St. Louis.

Wow, it has been a long time since I have blogged. When we got back from China, things got very, very busy. Work has really picked up lately and has been taking up a lot of time. July has seen my largest billable day so far ... and then the billable day to beat that billable day! Phew. (Also, I haven't touched my Google Reader in three weeks. I will definitely read each and every post of my pals, but I apologize for the lack of comments from me. I am back on the bandwagon, though, so you should be hearing from me regularly again!)

Despite work, there have been a lot of fun things happening over here. Last weekend, Josh and I took Bug and Ajax to the Hollywood Bowl to see Julie Andrews. Julie Andrews was Bug's childhood hero, and we watched Sound of Music countless times as little girls.

We packed a picnic in our new picnic basket.

Sandwiches from Gelson's.

Josh, excited about the pasta salad. (He is such a ham.)

Josh, Bug, and Ajax.

The picnic basket made an excellent table!

Bug + Ajax.

Some blurry pics of the Bowl.

Some big, tall dude sat directly in front of me, so this was my view.

(Luckily, I leaned on Josh most of the night.)

The concert opened with the opening scene from the movie, with a young Julie Andrews singing "Sound of Music." The real, live, senior Julie Andrews came onstage at the end and picked up, and Bug and I both got a little teary.

We saw The Dark Knight the next day with Jackie and PJ at the IMAX. It was awesome. After, we had dinner at Salsa and Beer, which was actually really good, and spent the evening hanging out at our place and talking about our trip (still no decision on where we're going, but stay tuned).

The week was long. Friday morning, I left for St. Louis to attend the Volunteer Training Conference for my sorority. I have been involved with my sorority since graduating, and after this weekend, I remember why. My new position can be summed up as risk management for the "western territory" (about 23 chapters).

The weekend was jam-packed (8:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. each day). I roomed with Schwee, and it was so great to spend time with her and with H and meet a ton of new sisters. Sadly, I didn't have time to see my friend, Peter, who is sort of local, but my Uncle Paul did pick me up from the hotel and drove Schwee and me to the airport (after a brief detour for lunch). I have cousins and other relatives in St. Louis I would have loved to see, but the weekend was a complete whirlwind!

Now, it's back to the grindstone. Josh and I leave for Alaska Saturday, so it will probably be a hectic few days. I'm sure there will be some Alaska posts soon, though ...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Days 8 and 9: Shanghai

This post will be short and sweet, and surprisingly (and even sadly) devoid of pictures.

Friday was our last full day in China and the only day we did not have a single thing planned! After running all day and night each day we've been here, Josh and I took our last and only free day as a luxury to be savored. We slept in, ate breakfast, poked around shops, ate lunch, and soaked in the overall ambiance of the city. Sadly, I forgot to charge my camera, but I have taken over 1,000 pictures in a little more than a week, so that should last me. :)

This morning, we were up early to catch our flight back home to the United States. I am writing this on my Blackberry while we wait for our flight. I cannot believe we have only been gone a week. It seems as though we have seen several weeks' worth of amazing sights! Although, China is such a huge, tremendously diverse country, and so I'm sure we've only had a small taste of all that is here to experience.

That said, although I am sad to leave and go back to the grindstone, I am looking forward to seeing my dogs, house, and eating some In 'N' Out stateside. Of course, I'm sure my normal activities will not make nearly as interesting posts. Good thing we are already brainstorming for the next trip!

A few random reflections on the trip as it comes to a close:

  • Although I have wanted to go to China for a long time, I must say it surpassed my expectations. The people were so friendly and the history and sights went far beyond my expectations. Sadly, I'm sure my camera captured only a fraction of the beauty of the gardens, water villages, and cityscapes we saw. Suffice to say that, if you are considering a trip to China, go and see all this in person!

  • Many people looked at me like we were crazy when I said we weren't going to travel with a group, but it was the best decision, in my opinion. We got to see what we wanted to see at our own pace, avoid many crowds, and have a truly custom and intimate travel experience. A private guide is the way to go. The Chinese government licenses guides after they have passed several tests (including national history, foreign language, and foreign cultures/cultural sensitivity), so the guides we encountered were knowledgeable and professional. Also, they are relatively inexpensive if you book them directly (as opposed to through an American travel company). We paid approximately $45 per day for our guides. If you are going to Beijing, we highly recommend Mary. She was, by far, our favorite guide.

  • Even when we weren't with a guide, it was relatively easy to get around. I printed out the names and addresses of our hotels in Chinese and carried them with us. Most taxis were able to get us back to our hotel after we handed them this paper. If we wanted to go somewhere, we just had the bell hop at the hotel tell the driver the name and address of our destination.

  • Despite the friendliness, we did get a lot of local people staring at us like we were aliens. Mary told us that many of these people were domestic tourists and had likely never seen a foreigner. It was pretty wild being the only westerners in a large crowd and having multiple sets of eyes taking you in. At times, it was a bit unnerving, to be honest.

  • Chinese people are teeny tiny compared to us, so I felt like a giant whale next to many of the 80-pound women! Definitely good motivation to work out when we get home.

  • I loved blogging about the trip as it happened. Before we left, I wondered if blogging would become a hassle or a burden on the trip, but it did not. Rather, I looked forward to organizing our pictures from the day and putting together a recap instead of writing in a travel journal, which is what I usually do. The blog was great because it became an interactive travel journal of sorts, and I loved sharing our experiences with our family and friends as they happened! Technology is so amazing!

Alright, off to wait for the plane. Get this: our flight leaves from Shanghai at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and we arrive in Los Angeles at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday . . . gotta love the time change! Next time you hear from me, we'll be back in the good 'ole U.S. of A.

再見中國 (Goodbye China)!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 7: Shanghai (Day trip to Tongli and Zhouzhuang)

The wake-up call Thursday morning came about three hours too early, in my opinion! Josh had to wake me up and shake me a bunch of times before I was finally semi-conscious. A little tea did the trick to perk me up, and we were downstairs to meet Neil at a little after 8:00 a.m.

We hired a car today to take us on a day trip to the "water villages."

Our first stop was Tongli.

On the way, we stopped to have some dumplings for breakfast!

(The pictures are a little hazy because of the grease cloud around the stand.)


The drive was about two hours long, and the scenery was incredible: acres of green farmland and local farmers. Just gorgeous!

We arrived in Tongli and the first thing we saw was this gentleman playing some traditional music in the park.

I love him!

The main street into the city.

There are little waterways all through the city and many locals use boats as a way to get around.


It was hotter than hell (and maybe even more humid). I stripped down to a tank top (and I never roll around in a tank top) and I was still completely drenched. Josh's entire back was soaked. I almost took a picture to prove the point, but I thought that would be gross.

So, when I saw this guy, I wanted to grab his watermelon and run for it!

These birds are trained to catch fish and drop them back in the boat! Pretty good trick!

More pics of Tongli.

So incredibly serene and beautiful!

We said goodbye to Tongli and piled back in the car to drive to another water village called Zhouzhuang, a city known as "Venice of the East."

To get in, you walk over a long bridge to the city, located on a little island.

Flowers at the end of the bridge.

Our first stop was Quanfu Temple. Quanfu Temple is a Taoist temple, built in the eleventh century, that is completely surrounded by water (Nanhu Lake).

It may be my favorite temple on our trip so far. The water surrounding the temple makes for a tremendously serene and spiritual scene.

Prayer tree.

There were turtles all around the temple. Some of the temples we visited had turtles you can buy to set free!

Turtle porn!

Incense burner.

Just spectacular! After leaving the temple, we started in toward the main part of the city. In both Tongli and Zhouzhuang, there were a ton of shops and stands selling a very famous delicacy in the water villages: pig hoof/leg! Apparently, it was a favorite snack of several emperors.

Zhouzhuang is so picturesque.

Zhouzhuang is famous for its bridges. This one was built so that the reflection in the water is always a straight line. Pretty clever!

After we left Zhouzhuang, we piled back in the car and headed back to Shanghai. We were so exhausted. I must have sweat a gallon of water (we joked that we were our own water villages) and we were both sunburned and dehydrated (although happy to have spent the day in such gorgeous towns). We got to the hotel a little after 7:00 and immediately took long, cold showers.

Since this is technically a vacation, we decided to take the night off. I headed to the spa for an incredible Chinese-style massage. It was the best massage I have ever had! (At least, the first 45 minutes were. After that, I fell asleep!)

It was an early night for us. Friday is our last full day in China, and it is the first day we have no set plans. I think we will probably just poke around, shop, and maybe try out the night life! More soon . . .