Friday, July 27, 2012

Two Month Roundup

As you can guess, it's been a busy two months for Kevsther. When i last posted, we were just wrapping up the wedding festivities in Xiaoshan. We returned to Beijing and spent the months of May and June relaxing. No major trips. No agenda. We woke up late, cooked food for ourselves, strolled our new hutong surroundings, enjoyed the mild weather of early summer, played frisbee. There wasn't much to blog about, honestly. We took a few day trips around Beijing.... 798 Art District, Chaoyang Park many times, and spent a lot of time at Great Leap Brewing.

Ok, that place is worth a quick digression. It became my favorite hangout, by far. A mere 5 minute walk from our apartment in Nanlouguxiang, Great Leap Brewing is settled in a lovely hutong courtyard and boasts roughly a dozen of their really fantastic microbrews at any given time. The owner, Carl from Cleveland, and I became quick friends when he needed a fourth for spades one night. After that, we ended up playing 1-2 times a week. For two months, it was my home away from home.

Thus was our life for a while. In June, we headed down south for the Shanghai tournament. Big Brother did very well overall, but we lost in the finals 15-13 in a tough game against Singapore. Esther and i retired to Xiaoshan for a week to lick our wounds. Then, my brother Ray and his daughters Nicole (16) and Katie (14) came out for a ten-day visit. Note: All pictures in this post are taken from their camera.

First off, I LOVE that my nieces were excited to come visit, and not just for shopping at Yashow. I believe travel is so important, especially for Americans. We don't have the luxury of easily crossing a border and experiencing a new culture, language, and people. And i don't think Mexico counts, unless you get out of the tourist cities.

Our itinerary was simple: two nights in Shanghai, three nights in Hangzhou, and four nights in Beijing. Shanghai turned out to be a little underwhelming... big buildings, long distances, inflated prices. To me, Shanghai doesn't really feel like China, but it would be a shame not to spend at least a little time there. the highlights were the French Concession, and a trip to the top 101st floor observation deck of the shanghai world financial center, one of the tallest building in the world.

By contrast, Hangzhou offered the best weather of the three cities and probably the most pleasant sightseeing. The minute they got out of the cab near Hefang Jie, they already liked it more than Shanghai. From a tourist perspective, it's just a more manageable and beautiful city. We partook in all the normal activities Hangzhouvians enjoy, including but not limited to hiking, walking around west lake, taking a boat across west lake, and playing badminton with 85 year old dude.

No joke, after playing volleyball with Nicole and Katie, and beating me at badminton, this guy approached Ray holding some boxing gloves, pantomiming something like, "Don't worry, no hitting the face, just the stomach."

Either you get your ass beat by an 85 year old, or you're picking on an old guy... there's no good ending to that story. Ray politely declined.

On our last day, we went to Esther's parents for lunch. Expecting to be served fish heads, pig knuckles and bugs, they were a little apprehensive. However, i have trained her parents well, and they now know the things a foreigner will and won't eat. Amazing delicious pork stewed for hours in soy sauce? Yes please! Stir-fried cauliflower and bacon? Om nom nom. Boiled soft-shelled turtle that i was just playing with outside? I may have lost my appetite.

That night we took an overnight train to Beijing, and played Rummy pretty much the whole way.

In Beijing, weather was mostly accommodating. We rented bikes and rode around hou hai and through the hutongs. We hiked Jingshan Park and ate at some of our favorite restaurants.

We hiked my favorite section of the wild wall and would have camped, but that was the one day it decided to rain. We ended up getting soaked and muddy, but we still had a cool adventure playing in the clouds.

Ray is an engineer with Life Fitness. He makes exercise equipment. He was pretty amused by the zero-resistance public equipment China puts everywhere.

I also timed their visit to coincide with my wedding reception in Beijing, hosted at Great Leap and catered by Home Plate BBQ. About 50 of our friends showed up looking sharp to wish Esther and I well, as well as enjoy Beijing's best microbrew and pulled pork. My awesome friend Barbara baked us two beautiful wedding cakes.

Nicole later said to me "Kevin, you have the nicest friends." And it's true, my Beijing people's are really special. I think it's something about taking that life-changing plunge into another culture that makes people so interesting and welcoming of others. That, and frisbee players are awesome.

After the Reitz's left, Esther and I made our final preparations to move to Hangzhou. We found a nice family for Maze in Beijing and shipped Muse via Air-mail to Hangzhou. We packed up all our stuff (4 boxes and a bag of baby stuff... gonna have to rewrite that 5-year plan soon) and shipped it as well. We're now living at her parents house but have found a few really nice apartments in Hangzhou. We're pretty close to really getting settled here, so i'll be updating on that shortly.

All in all... life is good.


No comments: