ni hao!

It’s been since May that I’ve written a family update, and my heart is broken because I know there are so many things I won’t remember. But I’ll have to catch up with everyday life another time because this post is all about our week long trip to China! Derek’s former UAB co-worker, Jian, is originally from China and serves as the U.S. liason for a hospital in Shanghai that has a medical conference every September. Every year they invite U.S. doctors and medical researchers to come present research to help the Chinese doctors learn about western medical advances. So when they offered to pay for all travel expenses for both Derek and me to visit Shanghai we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Derek’s parents and sister, Jeannie, graciously agreed to hold down the fort for us while we were gone. (THANK YOU!!!)

We flew to Shanghai via Tokyo on Wednesday, and arrived about 20 hours later Thursday night, exhausted. Derek’s former UAB co-worker and our host, Qi, picked us up from the airport and we went straight to our hotel to bed. Friday we slept in (took some photos out of our hotel room window) and then had lunch in our hotel with some of the visiting doctors. Then Derek headed off (with the doctors) to the conference for a few hours to present his research while I napped in our room. Friday night we ate dinner with our host, Qi, and then took a taxi (with the help of Qi who wrote our destination and hotel name in Chinese) to the famous Nanjing Lu (Chinese equivilent of Rodeo Drive) for some shopping and a late night stroll. We were amazed at the sheer number of people out and shops still open so late, but the street was beautiful, lively, and decoratively lit. This was also our first experience with the chaos of cars, trucks, mopeds, bikes, and pedestrians that all share the road with suprisingly few traffic rules and accidents. Saturday our host was busy attending the conference so he wrote some more destinations in Chinese for us so we could travel via taxi (drivers only speak Chinese) to visit a nearby “old China” district with a beautifully preserved 16th century garden surrounded by a shopping bazaar filled with vendors of traditional Chinese wares. We enjoyed the beautiful (though crowded) garden full of rock sculptures, beautiful plants, and traditional pagodas and courtyards.We were able to find some fun gifts for grandparents, Aunt Jeannie, and the kids at the bazaar as we tried our hands at bartering (sometimes not so successfully).We took a taxi back to the hotel, ate lunch with our host, and then traveled to the caldron-shaped Shanghai museum, again by taxi (the most inexpensive and reliable travel method). We were amazed to find relics dating back 10,000 years, and realized how young our country is compared to other cultures in the world. Their carved jade, porcelain, ancient calligraphy, and bronze collections were stunning. Sunday morning our host brought a hired driver and met us at our hotel. Our first stop was a small LDS branch for foreigners where we attended sacrament meeting (in English). Sadly, our host was not able to enter with us as the Chinese government forbids Chinese nationals and foreigners from worshipping together. He and the driver graciously waited for us, and then we went to the Shanghai World Financial Center for lunch and to visit the 100 story tower overlooking the Huangpu River that winds through Shanghai. (Above photo not taken by me as it was too cloudy that day.)
We took the elevator all the way to the 100th floor, but were disappointed to be surrounded by clouds. Ocassionally the clouds parted allowing a few breathtaking peaks of the river, the Jin Mao tower (formerly the tallest building in Shanghai), the famous Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and the endless high rise buildings and apartments far below.That evening we walked around Xintiandi, a quaint outdoor shopping center which also houses the location of the first communist congress in China, and enjoyed some Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Then we went to dinner and a Chinese circus, which was by far our favorite experience from China. The acts were incredible, impossible, and death-defying. They ranged from the traditional acrobats twirling several bowls on sticks, to a couple gracefully performing amazing and extremely dangerous acrobatics while tangled up in 2 lengths of sheer fabric dangling and swinging from the ceiling, to the unbelievable finale with 8 motorcycles riding and criss-crossing around each other with perfect timing in a 30 foot diameter spherical metal cage. We realized most of the acts we saw could never happen in the U.S. due to OSHA safety regulations. So worth our time to see!!

Monday we met our host and driver again for a day trip to nearby Suzhou city (about an hour west of Shanghai). As we drove, we saw literally hundreds of high rise apartment buildings under construction with cranes (as seen in the photo below) between Shanghai and Suzhou. Our host assured us that there were plenty of people to fill these hundreds of buildings upon their completion. (I guess in a city of 20 million people you would!) In Suzhou city we met up with a local tour guide who took us to the 15th century Lion Garden (apparently named so because the emporer said he could see several lion heads in the garden’s rock formations). We strolled around the rock maze and enjoyed the beautiful architecture and giant lily pads growing in the pond.We were then treated to a boat ride through an old water village and a tour of the village leader’s old home and garden. This is also where we encountered our first “squatty potty” outside of well-developed Shanghai–we coined the phrase because that’s how the glorified holes-in-the-floor work. We also learned that these squatty potties are B.Y.O.T.P.–Bring Your Own Toilet Paper. Good times!!After a brief stop for lunch we hit our final destination, a buddhist temple, where we admired the stunning tower, abundant prayer ribbons hanging in the trees, and beautiful stonework on the courtyard floor.We returned from our day trip mid-afternoon, just in time for me to climb into bed with a low fever, chills, and an unhappy stomach. I don’t blame it for getting upset about digesting eel, squid, duck tongue, bull frog, and jellyfish. Though I must say I really enjoyed most of the food we ate–plenty of veggies, seafood, and so healthy for you.

For dinner that night we ordered room service (good ‘ol American style) and relaxed while we watched movies. The next day we visited the 2010 World Expo. We weren’t able to visit most of the big pavillions due to long lines, but we were able to see the shared pavillions from several countries in Africa and South America. Derek especially enjoyed the Uruguay pavillion. We did take some photos of several of the more impressive pavillions and ate at the US diner (though we didn’t wait the hour to go inside the US pavillion). Just a fun side note–we missed seeing California Governer Arnold Schwartzenegger at the expo by 2 days. Apparently he’s putting in an application for Cali to host the 2020 World Expo.Wednesday we left early for the airport facing a 24 hour travel time. We enjoyed bumping into Derek’s sister, Cynthia, who works for Delta, as we entered through US customs in Minneapolis. We were so grateful for a wonderful experience but were ready to see our precious children again and relieve some very kind, generous, and no doubt tired grandparents and aunt. We were grateful to have regular communication with the kids and grandparents via skype, though we were 12 hours off and had to work out timing. Everyone seemed to survive, though I think Faith gave Grandma a run for her money. =)

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