China-versary

Well we made it a year in China. And that year has been pretty fun-filled, stress-filled, adventure-filled and busy. But here we are, into year two. Settled, comfortable, happy and (very) healthy.

The past few months have probably been the busiest for us. It began in May when we went on our first big holiday since moving to Guangzhou. But the holiday had to start with a challenge. The challenge was the Great Wall Marathon (only half for me). We decided back in November that we needed a physically challenging goal to reach in our first 12 months, apparently my fitness transformation wasn’t enough (it was also only my goal, not Joel’s so we needed something together). So we registered for the Great Wall Marathon. I knew I could never complete a full marathon so I opted for the half while Joel set his for the full marathon. Our training regime consisted of finding as many sets of stairs as possible. And run them as many times as possible. We did the run with about 12 other Guangzhou expats. We took the train up with one other family, which was a great an stress-free experience and we will definitely be using train travel again. The run itself was only about 5 km on the wall, however it was a very difficult 5km and contained over 5,000 steps (not just your normal steps either, this was big steps, little steps, long steps, short steps and very very steep steps. And this is also in 35 degree heat. It was brutal but absolutely amazing. The views were stunning and the scenery phenomenal. It wasn’t easy but we both finished. No injuries or illnesses and great recovery. We felt pretty dang good and it was a great way to begin our 3 week holiday.

So the next three weeks included Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Helsinki, Tallinn and a 10 day road trip around Estonia (the towns won’t mean much so I will leave them out, but we pretty much saw the entire country). We ate and drank our way around these cities and countries. We had a wide variety of interesting accommodation through AirBnB and really enjoyed the fresh air and sparse population. The highlights were huge, and can’t really be considered highlights because the entire trip surpassed our expectations. Basically Russia as a whole was amazing. We loved Moscow (in part because we stayed with friends and had their local knowledge, recommendations and mobile phone use). St Petersberg was also amazing. Beautiful city with so much history and culture, however much more geared towards tourists so while it was easier to explore and be tourists we actually liked Moscow more (this is surprised many people). Our next stop was Helsinki. Finland is an expensive country. Very fancy and very expensive. But our highlight of that short portion was the supermarket. Our fist stop in we just walked around with our jaws hanging open, both from salivation at the tasty array of items and also the sheer variety of what was on offer. We made a few meals in Helsinki just for this reason. We then ferried over to Tallinn. Two days in Tallinn in the Old City (which was phenomenal, and super old) and we picked up a rental car and explored the country. Estonia has significance for Joel because his grandfather immigrated from there when he was 5. As hard as we looked (mainly in cemeteries) and asked around, we found no other Kaldasauns. Even the locals we stayed with had never heard of a Kaldasaun. Only on our way home, checking in at the airport, were we asked about the surname. We were told it might be Finnish. Still checking on that one…

So our holiday was amazing. It was just the escape we needed.

Once we returned, life got a bit chaotic. We were only home just over a week and my animal lover/rescuer/passion took over our life. As many know, dog meat is a thing here. It has also been made into a festival held on the summer solstice, June 21. Unfortunately during the weeks leading up to it, many dogs are stolen and trucked up to Yulin. One such truck was intercepted in Guangzhou on June 19. This meant that every dog lover, animal rescuer in the region (and beyond) was called into the city to assist. I jumped in, without even thinking. And I am still in it today. Without giving the upsetting and sad details, I have been incorporated into part of a new rescue group in Guangzhou, Animal Action Guangzhou. We’re only about 10 expats but we are trying to make a difference to about 20 dogs. (This is a small fraction of what was on the truck, but it is what we were able to handle at the time). We have been caring for dogs, organising fundraisers, coordinating with vet clinics, feeding, walking and now fostering, many of these rescued dogs. When all of this happened in June, I was shocked that I was even part of it. But when you see something to tragic happening, you can’t just turn away. So dogs have kept us very, very busy. It is a passion project, but it is also a very meaningful way to spend our time and energy. We have had to fund-raise endlessly throughout this ordeal to pay for medicine, care, boarding, vet bills and food. I absolutely hate asking for money, but if those people out there that have an interest and a love of dogs want to help please follow our fundraising link.

While the dogs will always be taking up time, we still manage to have some free time, that is we did until I decided I needed yet another way to challenge myself physically. I have taken on a whole new way to train my body: boxing. I am entered into a White Collar Fight Night on October 21. We have 10 weeks of training with professional coaches where we learn how to be a real boxer. Our fight is to raise money for GIVES, an international expatriate volunteer organisation which helps social welfare agencies in Guangzhou. While it will be hard work (and long hours, 3 nights a week training), it is a fun way to get in shape and earn money for a charity. On top of this I am still coaching with K2Fit and working on becoming a personal trainer. And here I thought I would move to Guangzhou and be a bored housewife…

And to wrap it all up, our China-versary is also marking our step forward in filling our apartment (no, it’s not more dogs or cats or bunnies). We’re adopting! We have been working on this since last year and we are now closing in to the final stages of adoption. We are adopting two toddlers from China, hopefully by the end of the year. This will definitely change the tone of the blog, as it will be child-centred, stress-filled and probably contain a lot more stories of bodily functions gone wrong (something common in China even without children). I hope to continue to create entertaining blog posts about our life here, and even though I had a long break from before our holiday to now, I am going to keep telling the stories that keep me always entertained here in Guangzhou.

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To Xi’an & beyond…

There is no beyond, we just went to Xi’an and back but it doesn’t have the same ring to it…

Second round of visitors (only 10 days after the first) arrived safely. After a 13 day tour of China, Joel’s parents Richard and Tracey, took a high speed train from Beijing to Guangzhou. They had a surprise greeting by us at the train station and we arranged a van to pick us up, hoping that some extra space would be appreciated for the hour long drive into the city. Unfortunately this was lost in translation (or something like that) and our vehicle was a sedan. Luckily the two suitcases fit in the trunk and three of us squeezed in the back. The in-laws took this in stride and had no complaints about the cramped conditions of this car ride (I had enough for all of us I think). After 2 days of rest at our apartment we headed off to Xi’an for a long weekend. Luckily our van was organised and delivered. No cramped ride to the airport. Smooth travels up (no delays) and easy taxi ride to our accommodation. This is where the fun starts. We decided to get an Airbnb so we had more space to spread out and room to hang out and play cards at night (which we did every night). We also wanted to be in a good location, able to walk around easily and not rely on taxis. The only positives to this stay. The apartment, while spacious, was a bit dingy on the outside, giving our guests some apprehension about where we decided to stay. Once inside we discovered an apartment with two decent sized rooms, a nice sitting area and a bathroom with an opaque window. How lovely for 4 people to share a place with a view into the loo. The beds also were misleading as they weren’t mattresses, they were the hard base of a mattress. While the window to the toilet could be covered with taped up papers, we had to suffer on the beds for 4 nights. Again, our fellow travellers took it in stride and had very few gripes and groans (mine were enough for 4 people). Once I got over the fact that this apartment was not up to our standards, I was able to enjoy the reasons for taking this trip: to be a tourist!

We visited Terracotta Warriors (along with 30,000 other people), the Muslim Quarter, The City Wall, Muslim Quarter, The Bell Tower, The Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter,  a brewery and the Muslim Quarter. A favourite spot was definitely the Muslim Quarter.

On our way to the Terracotta Warriors, we stopped in to a factory where they make the souvenir warriors. Quite impressive with the detail and hand-crafting that goes on with each warrior.

Once at the ‘museum” as our guide called it, we were awed and impressed by the sheer vastness of this army. Of course I don’t remember any of the actual numbers of each or size or importance of this terracotta army, it was still amazing (even if it was my second visit).

Before launching into everything awesome and amazing about the Muslim Quarter and why we visited multiple times, I’ll share the other activities we did while in Xi’an:

We made it 2/3 of the way around the City Wall of Xi’an. A two hour rental is not enough to make it 13km, with a gift shop stop or two, signs to read and people to dodge on the wall. It was enough though as a few of us had not been on a bike in many many years (sore bums were not uncommon after this activity).

The next activity we did was visiting the Bell Tower and Drum Tower. The history of this city amazes me. We live in a relatively “young” or “new” city. Things here just aren’t old. All old things have been destroyed, torn down and built over, then a new version of the old temples, family halls or buildings are reconstructed, usually including neon lights of some sort. Being in a city that has held on to it’s historical sites and attempted to preserve them (with enhancement of neon lighting) makes you appreciate the true and vast history of this country. We are faced with the manufacturing and trading, markets and shopping and plenty of factories here and forget that this country has been through a lot and has a lot to offer. Xi’an opened our eyes up to that and it was a great experience.

 

Another amazing piece of history we heard about, then stumbled upon, was the Great Mosque. Although we were in the middle of a bustling city and market area, once inside the gardens at the mosque, everything was peaceful and quiet. Amazing pieces of architecture covered the grounds and we wandered through the gardens amazed at the age of the entire mosque. While I enjoy a bit of history and stories about the past, my favourite part were the playful kittens, of course.

So we hit the big tourist spots of Xi’an, mostly inside the city wall. Between visiting those places, we either wandered through or stopped to eat in, the Muslim Quarter. Have a look at the link to read about it. The history is very interesting, it is very unique to China and makes for a great place to visit (over and over again). We enjoyed the street food several times, although never daring to eat the meat (which hangs on hooks in the street). There was plenty of places to shop at, with a mix of tourist trinkets and art and traditional Chinese items. Because we were staying just down the street from this area, we were able to visit time and time again, trying a new food each time, or repeating a favourite (potatoes for Joel). During the day the area was relatively calm, however at night the streets literally filled up with people (locals and tourists alike) queuing for a Chinese hamburger or skewers of (what we assumed was) lamb. Amongst the crowds were also motorbikes, zooming through the narrow streets, blaring horns and occasionally yelling at people mesmerised by the energetic food holders calling people in (or maybe only focused on their phones). Either way, it’s chaotic. Bright lights also stuck out from every restaurant front, flashing neon words in Chinese. Overwhelmed was an understatement for me. Let’s just say I stuck to daytime visits. Plenty of stimulation for me there. Minimal photos because we always had food in our hands.

We had a great family trip to Xi’an. We all survived. No one got lost, and most importantly both our flights were on time (this is a very big deal in China).

Did I mention they like their bright lights on the ancient buildings? Not much of a heritage site, but it sure looked pretty!

Don’t say ni hao in Vietnam

We finally got out of China (for more than a weekend). We ventured to Vietnam for a week for a beach holiday, which was much needed. The only downfall to this was I missed Halloween. Six Halloweens in Australia with very little in the way of festivities, and here I am amongst an expat community filled with Americans and others willing to do the trick-or-treating and decorating and dressing up and I get outta here to a resort filled with Russians. So Halloween was a dud, but the Vietnamese holiday was not (even if both of us kept saying hello in Chinese).

To begin with, leaving from China is an even more rigorous endeavour than the US. You begin by getting a bomb testing before you even enter the airport. As a large group you’re swabbed at the door, wait for the all-clear, then proceed inside. Once you check in, you must stand in line for your own personal pat down, no diplomatic immunity here! Luckily there is a female and male line, but if you really don’t care then join the queue and wait your turn. They are quick, but thorough.

And although I have heard horror stories of delayed-extremely delayed-flights, our was one time, exactly. The most efficiency I have seen in China yet. When we arrived, less then 3 hours later, Joel was confused as to how we have travelled to another country in such a short amount of time in the air since he had only finished his second beer. Typical Aussie.

Airport pickup was a private shuttle to transport us 4 hours (or 150km) up the coast of Vietnam. We opted for the private car because we’ve heard the dangers of travelling in a large shuttle bus in Vietnam. We still had about 27 near misses on the roadways and saw the remains of a motorcycle smashed by a bus (the same kind we would have travelled on). Road safety is not a term I think used in this country. I thought GZ was chaotic and dangerous but I have now changed my tune-it is tame and safe, and I appreciate the lack of motorcycles on the roads. Motorised bikes are fine by me, even if they don’t obey any traffic “laws” or “recommendations” or even “suggestions”.

Once safely to our destination, concluded by a situation where we were asked for a tip from the driver, but unsure if it was an actual practice in Vietnam especially when you risked our lives on multiple occasions, we got into our swimmers and pretty much didn’t get out of them until the last day.

While the resort was not noteworthy and the township of Mui Ne (about 5 km from our resort) was a typical foreigner holiday spot, the clientele was what made our trip interesting. Russians. Everywhere. Literally. We were the only non-Russian speakers (including the staff) at our resort. English was very hard to come by and Joel looking like he does, part Estonian, we were thought to be Russian. Correction was easy when we just replied “English”. They caught on very quickly, even more so when we said we were Australian.

The only touristy activity we embarked on was a 4 hour tour of the top spots to see around Mui Ne. Four hours was generous and we only used 3, most of which was driving, either in the jeep or on a sand dune quad, nearly scaring us to death. The tourist stops were as follows: Fairy Stream, Fishing Village, White Sand Dunes and Red Sand Dunes. Nothing spectacular, nothing amazing, but we had to be tourists for just a few hours.

 

 

 

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If nothing else, this holiday gave us an entire week away from China. Not far, but away. Joel had a great time swimming, every day, all day (when possible) and drinking cheap and nasty beer.

And with all that I hear about Vietnamese food, we were only exposed to food that it was lacked flavour, spice and anything interesting…except for the translations and actual food (we blame the Russians for this because they are the main tourists).

My favourite part, however, was Joel’s reaction to our “assistant” on our quad rental, taking over and running through the steep dunes. And again asking for a tip for nearly killing us. I have never seen Joel so scared. It was pure entertainment, this is when a body camera would have been amazing. Screaming the entire time. We probably scared some other patrons from trying the bikes.

The week was mainly spent on the beach. After we caught on that you must go early and reserve your beach chairs under the umbrellas, because the other holiday goers save the chairs then don’t return for hours. Only took us 2 days. We had prime spots every other day. That is until we decided why use beach chairs when we had two of our own chairs on our little deck facing the ocean. Really paid off having this space when the rain started (nearly every day at some point). The rainy afternoons were then spent playing cards and mixing drinks. The rain probably saved us from some nasty sunburns. And so our holiday ended with a rainy day spent on the deck. Perfect, especially when the pool is so close for a quick rain swim.

After our frightful trip back to the airport in Ho Chi Minh, another 3o near misses, we had our on time departure to GZ and a safe car ride back to our apartment where our foster pup was anxiously awaiting our return.

Sunday morning was an early one with a “Charity Helipad Boot Camp”. Yes, on a Helipad at a hotel in GZ, a little over 62 floors above the busy city. Views were terrible, as was the air pollution, but we all survived and made about 15,000 RMB for The Wilbur’s Foundation. Great fundraiser AND exercise!

We are now back into the daily grind, working, dog walking, and exercising. Tough life we lead here. Now I’m just waiting to see who are first visitors will be!