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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Halloween in September

Our campground in Plymouth, Massachusetts is having Halloween Weekend both this weekend and next.  Everyone decorates their sites, trick-or-treaters collect candy, jack o'lanterns get carved, and there is a rollicking Halloween party with dancing and all.

Here is a photo of the scariest campsite:

...and here are all the campers dancing up a storm:

Kathy and I participated eagerly.  Here's Kathy in her "Patriotic Pirate" costume --

-- and me in my Italian Scaramouche costume --

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Help! It's Halloween Already!

Our whole lives we thought Halloween was October 31st.  We thought that was the case for the whole country - not so in Plymouth, Mass.  Apparently, they celebrate Halloween on September 29th and again on October 6th.  Lucky kids - two chances to trick-or-treat.  Someone told us when we checked into the campground to expect trick-or-treaters on Saturday!  So, we'll need to get some decorations and candy.  It's off to the grocery store tomorrow!

I don't think we'll go all out like our next door neighbor. We were thinking we might just do a jack-o-lanter. After all, we already have two black cats.  What more do you need. We'll post some more pictures as the festivities get underway.

 Stay tuned as George and Eddie are excited to be waking up in a new campground.

Arrived Pinewood Lodge Campground, plymouth, MA @ 2:00 pm

Sent from my iPhone

Departed Departed Wild Duck Campground 10:15 am

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Autumn in Maine

Our time at Wild Duck Campground is almost over.  We're glad that we had this week back in Maine after our trip to China.  The leaves are just starting to turn colors; the air is getting crisp and clear; the days are shortening.

We took a walk around the campground this morning, and we could see the first touches of red and yellow on the trees by the duck pond:

This afternoon, we took a bike ride of about 17 miles out to Black Point, north of Old Orchard Beach.  We followed the Eastern Trail north to a main road, and then out to Black Point.  Here's a photo of the point from a spot near Black Point Inn.  This area was quite beautiful, with large houses and private roads leading to various summer places.

From the point, we could look back toward the mainland and across to Old Orchard Beach:

We decided to explore Scarborough State Park.  The beach is approximately 2 miles long and is private in the sense that a fee is charged for admittance.  When we were there, not more than another 8 people or so could be seen the whole length of the beach.  The air was crisp and a strong breeze was blowing, so we couldn't sit still too long.  Here's a photo of Kathy at one of the rustic windbreaks that have been constructed at various points on the beach.  People are permitted to purchase "24-hour" passes, which we assume permit camping overnight on the beach.  We suspect these windbreaks are really useful for the overnight campers.

On the way back, we passed an open field with a view over to a copse of trees which were beginning to show the fall colors:

On Thursday, we'll be moving down the coast to Plymouth, Massachusetts and saying goodbye to Maine.  We are sad, because Maine has been a real favorite for us.  We hope to return and enjoy more of this state in a variety of seasons.

Monday, September 24, 2012

China Trip - Shanghai

As our time in China was winding down, we began thinking of our return trip.  Did we really want a two to three hour drive to the airport and then a 13 hours flight? We decided to leave Nantong a few days early to spend a little time in Shanghai. This opened up the opportunity for Weina to do a little shopping and then ship stuff home. We also thought it would be fun if Haini and Rei Rei came with us. So, we used Haini's computer to book hotel rooms for two nights.

Our hotel was right in the middle of the biggest shopping district in the world.  In fact, our hotel was actually in a shopping mall, complete with Starbucks. Every building within a three block radius was a different shopping mall. Having all this retail around us, did NOT help Weina find the perfect tea set she was looking for.  However, we did find a small park not far from our hotel.

The park had a great kid play area. There was a slide, jungle gym and teeter totter.  Rei Rei was thinking about going down the slide, but decided it was too scary.  Hao Hao went down three times before we got too tired helping him up the stairs and down the slide.

Haini and Rei Rei went home a day early. This was Rei Rei's first overnight away and he cried all night keeping Hao Hao and Weina up all night.  Since we had a 13 hour flight ahead of us, it was decided that Haini and Rei Rei would head home late that day rather than stay over one more night.

Having extra time in Shanghai, also gave us a chance to catch up with some of Matt's peers. Here we are having dinner with Jeffrey and Cynthia. Jeffrey had lived in China for a number of years as a tour guide before joining the Foreign Service.  For Cynthia, this was her first trip to China. We really enjoyed getting to know them and sharing our experiences with them. Jeffrey took us to this tiny little restaurant (actually someone's home) where we had the best meatballs ever!

Before heading to the airport, we spent one last morning at the park, exchanged our currency and had one last authentic Chinese lunch. Check-in went smoothly, but we learned our flight was to be delayed at least an hour. This gave Weina time to shop and she found not one, but two tea sets she really liked.  After a little back and forth with the salesperson, Weina finally had her tea set.

By the time we landed in Toronto, we knew we missed our connecting flight to JFK. Once we gathered our bags, we went to the Air Canada desk. They had already had us booked in a hotel with flights the next morning. The only problem, the flight they put us on would arrive AFTER our flight back to Portland, Maine. The woman said, not a problem, we can put you on a direct flight to Portland. Only, it leaves in 10 minutes so you will have to run. We said a quick goodbye to Weina and William and ran to the gate.

We arrived in Portland by 10:30 p.m., got a hotel room at the airport and had a good sleep-in.  We picked up our RV Thursday morning and went grocery shopping that afternoon.  Six loads of laundry later, everything was put away.  The cats arrived back home Friday morning.

And, so ended our adventures in China.

China Trip - Nantong Again

On September 7, we drove to Yantai and caught a plane to Shanghai, then drove to the City of Nantong where we took up residence again as guests in the apartment of Weina's sister Hai Ni and her husband Fan.  We stayed in Nantong for 10 days, which gave us time to get to know the city a little better than when we had stayed briefly previously in our trip.

One thing we decided to do was to walk around the immediate neighborhood - known as the Shuguang district.  It is bordered on one side by a stream or canal, on two other sides by immense highway and apartment construction projects, and on the third side by a river.  The district includes over 50 high-rise apartment buildings, known only by their building numbers.  Our apartment was in Building 28.  This type of apartment community is of a scale most Americans find hard to grasp, but it is ubiquitous in China.  As we drove around the area, we saw, under construction, much larger communities with many more, and larger buildings, than the community in which we were staying.

However, aside from the heavy population density, life in this community wasn't far different from that in many communities around the world.  In the mornings, we would wake up, and, looking out across to the nearby apartment building, we could see people opening their little shops on the ground floor (bakeries, convenience stores, hair stylists, and the like), while, in the stories above, people had hung laundry outside their bedroom or kitchen windows.  Folks were puttering on their balconies with potted plants.  Many were getting dressed and ready to head off on scooters for their office jobs elsewhere in Nantong.

After school, the young children gathered in the playground adjoining our building.  While we were waiting for dinner one afternoon and after Hao Hao's nap, we took him out to watch the children.  As soon as we arrived, a bunch of children mobbed us, curious about him and us, where we were from and whether we could speak Chinese.  They tried out their English on us, and corrected our Chinese, eagerly and excitedly.

Unexpectedly after diner that night, the doorbell rang.  When we answered, in tumbled three of the young girls that had mobbed us down on the playground!  They wanted to know if Hao Hao could play (and, probably, were also curious about how we "foreigners" were living).  They stayed with us perhaps an hour or so, helping Hao Hao play with his toys, and trying to communicate with us in Chinese or English.  Here's a photo of the girls with David and Hao Hao:

As we had during our first stay in Nantong, we took a day to travel to Fan's village to spend part of the day, and lunch, with his family.  They live in the village of Wu Jie (literally, "Five Street" or perhaps more loosely, "Fifth Street"), about a half hour drive from Nantong.  Their house was more modern and elaborate that that of Weina's father, having two stories and being more elaborately decorated.  The visit gave Hao Hao a chance to play with his cousin Rei Rei.  They took to each other pretty quickly, even exchanging kisses with each other.  Rei Rei also tried to feed Hao Hao a few times.  Here's a photo of Rei Rei (standing) introducing Hao Hao (sitting) to Rei Rei's toy car:

Weina's sister Hai Ni has a scooter with a baby seat for Rei Rei.  Weina spotted the scooter and thought it would be great fun to take Hao Hao for a ride on the scooter.  Here's a photo of Weina and Hao Hao mounting up for their scooter ride:

On another day of our stay in Nantong, Weina, Hai Ni and we decided to take Rei Rei and Hao Hao to a beautiful park in central Nantong.  The park is laid out around a beautiful lake, with various amusement rides sprinkled along walkways around the lake.  Weina and Hai Ni thought it would be fun to introduce the boys to a carousel, so they jumped on.  Weina first tried to jump on a horse with Hao Hao, but that seemed too insecure for the little guy, so they moved to a larger sleigh with seats that accommdated all four of them:

The time in Nantong passed very quickly.  Since we were there in September on this second visit, the weather was much cooler, clearer and more autumnal than it had been in mid-August when we first visited.  Since the weather was more pleasant, it was much more enjoyable to get out and about without enduring the heat of the sun or the heavy smog or haze that settles along the streets when there is no breeze.

China Trip - Wei Hai

One of the largest cities near Weina's village is the City of Wei Hai. It is right on the northeast coast and boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in northern China. Wei Hai is a big vacation spot for both Chinese and Russian tourists. Since it was only a two hour drive, we thought it would be a nice break from village life. Without internet, we relied on Hai Ni to find and book our hotel.  She did a great job! Our hotel was right on the beach. Here is the view from the beach looking back at our hotel.

We also brought Weina's dad with us for our two day mini beach vacation. Here we are trying to convince Hao Hao that sand is fun and that playing in the ocean is cool.  We failed miserably. Sir William is not a beach person - yet. We are still holding out hope. He's still young. Matt didn't much like the beach when he was a little guy.

This is the view from our hotel window. The sunset was amazing. What you can't see is all the trash that washed up on the beach - water bottles, dead fish, plastic bags. We were a little bit disappointed by the trash and, other than putting our feet in the water, none of us actually went for a swim.

While in Wai Hai, we also had dinner with Weina's cousins and their kids. We had a great time. The kids spoke some English. Hao Hao had so much fun with the kids that he ended up staying up two hours past his bedtime!

The next day, Weina's cousin picked us up and drove us back to the village. On the way, we stopped at another tourist destination - Liugongdao - an island just off shore from Wai Hai. The island is home to several museums, including one on the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, where Japan and China were fighting over Korea. I don't think we ever learned about this in our World Cultures Class.  Weina didn't want to go into the Museum because she had been drilled on the subject all through grade school. All the exhibits were in multiple languages, so we had no problem viewing the exhibits.  In addition to the history museums, there was also a small zoo on the island.  Weina and William finally got their chance to see some pandas up close.

After a quick lunch at Weina's cousin's favorite restaurant (he's a truck driver by trade - interesting place - great dumplings), we drove back to the village.

China Trip - Village of Dao Ji

One of the highlights of our China trip was our visit to the village of Dao Ji, where Weina's father lives, and where Weina grew up.  It was very important for Weina's father to get to know his grandson, and we had 13 days to spend together.  By the time our visit was done, Weina's father (the mother's father is known as "Lao Ye" in Chinese) and little Hao Hao had become best buddies!

Some of the funniest and tenderest moments we saw between them were at meal times.  Our typical daily meal routine was pretty much the same our entire stay.  Hao Hao (otherwise known as the "Little Rooster") would wake up between 5:00 and 5:30 am.  In turn, of course, his babbling would wake the rest of the house.  Lao Ye normally wakes up early, and he usually would already be up and about, putting the soy beans in the soy milk maker, emptying trash, and tidying up.

Kathy's and David's first order of business after dressing was very non-Chinese:  we had bought some instant coffee and creamer, and we ran out to the kitchen to boil some water and make ourselves our morning coffees.  One little ritual we kept from State-side.

As soon as Weina had struggled awake and changed Hao Hao's diaper, Lao Ye would grab him and they would take off for a stroller walk around the village.  Dao Ji has a population of about 2,000, all living in about a square mile, with their gardens and fields surrounding the village itself.  Weina's father has his own little garden, but since he's retired, his larger orchards and so on have been passed on to others.

The stroller walks usually took the boys into the center of the village, and then around the edges by the fields.  Here and there, acquaintances of Lao Ye would shout out greetings as they passed on bicycles or leaned over their own gardens.  By 6:00 am, people are out and about, heading to work, starting their latest little construction project, or whatever.  A  lady sells pork from a whole hog draped across a card table sitting at the corner of the main intersection of the village.  She always has some friends gathered about, and every morning, they have to admire the little boy.

Interestingly, Chinese people look at Hao Hao and see him as a "foreigner" - not Chinese at all.  On the other hand, most Americans we've met see his Asian heritage immediately.  Thus, as a foreign baby, he would always attract profound interest - from men as well as women.  The occasion was all the more remarkable because Lao Ye, a local villager, was pushing him in the stroller.  If Kathy or I accompanied them on their walks, the attention would be almost unbearable because the villagers almost never see foreigners.  But the Chinese, while intensely curious, are almost always very friendly. There are occasional looks that suggest one or two might not like Americans.  In one instance, a local woman asked if we were Canadian (because a significant number of Canadians apparently visit China, and because many Chinese have emigrated to Canada).  When I said, no, we are "mei guo ren" (American), a dark shadow passed over her eyes and that was the end of the conversation.  But this was really the exception.  The villagers loved when Kathy or I would attempt to speak our pidgin Chinese, and they always asked the same questions about the baby's father.

While Lao Ye and Hao Hao took their morning walk, Weina would start fixing breakfast, ably assisted by Kathy.  David would do whatever remained to be done - often straightening up the courtyard from Hao Hao's adventures from the day before, or disposing of trash, or setting the table.  Lao Ye and Hao Hao would return just about the time breakfast was ready, and one of Lao Ye's main responsibilities was to feed little Hao Hao:

They developed their own little signs and language, and when Lao Ye's eyes would twinkle in a smile, little Hao Hao would smile and giggle.

Once breakfast was done, Kathy and David would usually take care of washing dishes and cleaning up, and Weina would take a shower and otherwise get organized, while Lao Ye tended to Hao Hao in the courtyard.  This varied, however, and Kathy and David took their turns keeping Hao Hao entertained as mama tried to get some time to herself.  Here's a photo of Kathy and Hao Hao in the courtyard.

David took the photo from the roof of an outbuilding in the little complex, to which concrete steps rose.  The roof is useful for watching sunrises and sunsets, looking out over the village, and for supporting the solar water heater Weina's dad has installed.  Such solar water heaters are almost universal in China, from the smallest house in the smallest village, to the largest high-rises in the cities.  While some apartments have "hot water on demand" equipment, those seem to be the minority still.

Soon after we cleaned up from breakfast, a trip to the market was in order and then it was time to fix lunch.  Hao Hao usually took two naps a day - one for an hour-and-a-half or so in the morning starting around 9:00, and another in the afternoon starting at 2:30 or 3:00.  Weina's father had his own errands and chores, such as tending his garden.  So Weina and Kathy might head to the market to get vegetables and seafood or pork for the day's meals while Hao Hao napped.  In these cases, David was the babysitter.  Hao Hao is a very active sleeper, and needs someone to guard against him falling off the kang or bed onto the concrete floor.  Here's a photo of David doing babysitting/guard duty during one of Hao Hao's naps:

A word about kangs.  In many Chinese villages, the houses follow a common pattern, which was the pattern of Weina's father's house.  There would be a main residence with two or three or four rooms, an adjoining courtyard surrounded by high stone or brick walls with a wooden front gate that could be closed and locked.  Around the courtyard might be two or three structures in addition to the residence - such as a storage shed, a workshop, and a outhouse (no such thing as indoor plumbing in a Chinese village).  Within the residence, two or three rooms might do double duty as bedrooms and other rooms. Most of this type of room would be taken up with a concrete and/or wood platform known as a "kang," which serves as the bed.  In many cases, more than one person would sleep on a kang, and, presumably, in some cases the entire family.  The kang is designed with a little coal stove underneath to heat it in the winter.  The hard wood or concrete surface is usually (these days) covered with a vinyl flooring type of material.  Since, as you can imagine, it would be very uncomfortable to sleep on this surface, kangs also have very large comforter-like blankets that can be rolled out and serve as mattresses.  In Weina's father's house, he slept on a kang in one room; Weina and Hao Hao took the center room on a kang; and Kathy and David slept on wooden beds in the third room.  These beds had been the childhood beds of Weina and her sister Hai Ni.

Lunch would repeat the breakfast scenario, with Weina (as chef) and Kathy (as sous-chef) doing the preparation, then everyone assembling to eat, and David and Kathy doing dishes and cleaning up.  Our typical meal consisted of four or five dishes, plus loaves of bread.  In this area of China, it isn't as typical for a family to eat rice with their meal, as to eat small loaves of bread, or baozi (buns), or jiaozi (dumplings) as the grain.  The main dishes would usually include one or two vegetable dishes, perhaps a tofu dish, and certainly one or two dishes with seafood such as clams, fish or crabs (common because Dao Ji is near the seashore on China's East coast).  Often a pork dish would also be included.  Stir-frying with lots of oil, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and/or vinegar was the most common style of preparation.

After lunch we would find some sort of activity to keep Hao Hao busy until his afternoon nap.  One weekend, Weina's former student, Amy (the English name she chose in the English class she took from Weina) visited.  Amy is a good-time-Charlie, and she jumped right in to devise games and ways to entertain Hao Hao.

One favorite Hao Hao pastime was to play with empty water bottles.  Because tap water in China is not potable, we bought many cases of bottled water, and so we had piles of empty water bottles floating around the courtyard, waiting to be recycled.  Some families have water coolers, but Weina's father did not, so bottles it was.  In the middle of the courtyard is a concrete basin with an old, rusted pump that had originally been the source of water for the home.  The pump no longer functions, so it has become basically ornamental.  We decided to use the concrete basin as the storage bin for all the empty water bottles, and Hao Hao loved crawling over to it and pulling all the water bottles out of the basin and throw them on the concrete floor of the courtyard.

When Amy visited, Kathy thought of using Hao Hao's ball and some empty water bottles to play bowling.  We taught Amy how to bowl, and then all of us helped Hao Hao try to knock over the plastic bottle "pins."  In his case, while he does like to play "catch" with the ball and can throw it, his accuracy can best be described as random.  So we showed him how to knock down the pins with his hands - which he found very entertaining.

Here's a photo of Amy, Hao Hao, Weina and Lao Ye in the courtyard:

By the time of Hao Hao's afternoon nap, it would be time to start preparing dinner, so Weina and Kathy would again take up their chef-ly duties and David would watch Hao Hao, clean up, set the table, etc.  David discovered that there were lots of spaces of time where there wasn't much to do, so he brought out his trusty Kindle (see the photo above with Hao Hao sleeping on the kang) and occupied himself that way.

Occasionally, walks around the village were a great pastime, and indeed sometimes this was necessary because Hao Hao often would not go down for his afternoon nap without a great deal of "assistance."  One of our ultimate weapons was the dreaded "stroller walk."  If Weina wasn't able to get him to fall asleep on the kang, we would strap him into the stroller and someone (usually David) would take him out on a walk until the motion of the stroller overcame his active (and sometimes very vocal) resistance, and he would fall, finally, into the arms of Morpheus.

Once dinner was finished, it would be almost 7:00 pm.  Hao Hao always got a bath and then Weina would put him to sleep.  David and Kathy would retire to their bedroom (often after a shower) and read.  Lao Ye would hang out outside, go for a walk, or visit with friends.  All would be asleep by about 9:00 pm.

Nearly every day in the village also involved a visit to or from one relative or another.  Weina's father has three brothers and one sister.  His brothers all live in the village and his sister lives in the adjoining town of Ze Tou, which is where Amy happens to be from as well.  We were constantly receiving invitations to lunch or to visit, and we had fun introducing Hao Hao to the aunts, uncles and their grandchildren (in China, the grandparents are often the childcare providers since their adult children have to work).  Hao Hao took particularly to one of Lao Ye's brothers, and to the husband of Lao Ye's sister.

For us, these visits were mixed blessings.  They were always very friendly and enjoyable, with lots of good food served and jovial play with Hao Hao.  However, our Chinese isn't good enough to be able to understand or speak it fully.  So usually we would sit and smile while everyone else spoke about things we knew not.  Usually, we could make ourselves known in various situations with a combination of our limited Chinese and hand signals or with Weina's translation skills if she were present; but, much of the time, it was like living in a foreign film without subtitles.

We decided, as an interlude during the village stay, to have a driver take us to Wei Hai, a coastal resort town not too far from the village, where we stayed overnight.  The next blog post will tell about that.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

China Trip - Chengdu

Having successfully achieved our goals in Chongqing, it was off to Chengdu - home of the world famous panda preserve. It is also home to Weina's girl friend, Yang Fan, and her new baby. We had to cut our trip short by one day because of a change in flight schedule, so Kathy and Dave ended up going to the panda preserve, while Weina and William spent the day visiting with Yang Fan.

This was our first train trip in China. We bought the tickets through the travel agency in the hotel. I didn't realize until we were boarding the train that they sold us First Class tickets. They just assumed that because we were foreigners, we would want First Class. I'm not complaining, just something to keep in mind next time.  Once we left the city of Chongqing, we traveled through very mountainous countryside. The farms stretch right up the sides of the mountains with terraced slopes. We must have traveled through 100 tunnels before arriving in Chengdu.  Like most of China, Chengdu is also constantly under construction - new highways, new office complexes, new shopping malls, new apartment buildings.

Our hotel was in the center of the city right near a big shopping district.  It was Valentines Day in China the day we arrived. The streets were packed with young couples shopping and going to dinner. Everywhere you looked there were people selling roses, balloons and teddy bears.  The Chinese love holidays and they like to go all out. There were even fireworks over the city that night.

The next day we took a taxi to the panda preserve. It was really hot that day. The preserve is located in a large wooded park. Being that this is a Chinese park, all of the paths were paved.  There were signs on the grass warning us that the grass was afraid of our trample. In China, you visit a park just to look at trees and grass. No frisbee playing here.  There was a large pond in the park where you could buy little packs of fish food and feed the fish. I have never seen anything like this before. The fish were so competitive for the food that they were swimming on top of each other, some were completely out of the water!  The black swans were also tame, as they would just eat out of your hand.

Now for the stars of the show - Mr. and Mrs. Panda!

I have to admit we were a little disappointed to learn that we missed seeing the youngest pandas. They only show the babies twice a day at 9:00 and 3:00.  We arrived at 10:00 and would probably have to leave before 3:00 to get back into the city before rush hour. So, no baby pandas for us. There were three other viewing areas - kids, young adults and adults. So, we got to see a number of pandas.  It was so hot and humid outside that they brought all the pandas inside to hang out in air conditioned pens which looked a lot like the cages at the zoo.  Their normal outside enclosures are large, naturally landscaped with lots of structures to climb on and play in. We felt sorry that they were cooped up in cages, but at least it was cool inside. They didn't seem to mind as they were just sitting around eating bamboo. We also had lunch at the preserve - bamboo shoots in garlic sauce, pork and bamboo and bamboo mushrooms - a fungus that only grows on bamboo (delicious).

Since Weina and William were having dinner with Yang Fan, we decided to treat ourselves to some sushi. It was a nice change from all the Chinese food we've been eating. Next it was off to Yan Tai and Dao Ji.

Friday, September 21, 2012

China Trip - Chongqing

On Tuesday, August 21, we drove to Shanghai and flew to Chongqing.  It was exciting to visit Chongqing again!  We had visited twice before:  first in 2007 when Matt was in the Peace Corps and he and Weina were first going together; then again in 2008 for their marriage.  By this trip, we had seen enough other Chinese cities to know that Chongqing is actually quite beautiful, with its distinctive hills and trees.

We enjoyed the opportunity to stay at the Chongqing Intercontinental Hotel again.  This was the site of Matt and Weina's wedding celebration.  The hotel is luxurious, but inexpensive by western standards - about $125 per night!

We devoted the first part of Wednesday, August 22, to business - a trip to the housing office for Weina to obtain the distribution of her unused housing allowance.  None of us knew, for sure, how long it would take for Weina to obtain the money once she appeared in person as required.  We worried that it might take days or weeks - which could have dramatically altered our itinerary.  But - amazingly enough - she received the money in about 10 minutes in the form of a voucher, which Weina took around the corner to a bank to cash.  Once cashed, the money was a substantial number of bills that, for safety, Weina split among herself, Kathy and me to carry.  Weina was going to have to carry all of it around China until it reached the various uses to which it would be put.

That afternoon, Weina's friend, Chen Bo, the head of the English Department at Chongqing Jiaotong University where Weina and Matt taught English, met us at the hotel and drove us to Ci Qi Kou, an historic district with quaint streets lined with ancient buildings and shops.  We headed straight to our favorite tea house, nestled in a bamboo grove overlooking the Yangtze River, where we sipped tea and chatted with Chen Bo.  Hao Hao and Chen Bo hit it off right away, and we quickly decided he should be known as "Uncle Bo."  We laughed when Weina informed us that "uncle" in Chinese is "Bo Bo," so we replied that then he must be Bo Bo Bo. Here's a photo of Chen holding Hao Hao:

That evening, Chen Bo and some of the other faculty and friends of Weina took us out to dinner at a very nice restaurant near the hotel.  We really enjoyed seeing them again, having originally met them in 2007 and then having seen them again at the wedding in 2008.  We really wished the visit wouldn't end, and were sad to take our leave of these wonderful people.

China Trip - Nantong

Nantong is a small (by Chinese standards) industrial city of about 2 million people located about two hours northwest of Shanghai. It is where Weina's sister, Hai Ni, and her husband, Fan, have an apartment. Hai Ni and Fan graciously agreed that we could stay in their apartment during our visit.  Fan and Hai Ni are living at Fan's parents home in the village of Wu Jie, so that Fan's mom can watch their son, Rei Rei (pronounced "Ray Ray") until he is old enough for pre-school (he's only 17 months). The village is about 40 minutes outside the city.

The neighborhood where we stayed is full of apartment buildings (6 to 10 floors each) with a kindergarten and grade school. Main Street was under construction as they created an elevated highway overtop of the existing street. Many business were forced to close. This was a real working class neighborhood. No tourists every come here. There was a produce market, fruit market, pool hall, moon cake bakery, drug store and a couple of noodle shops. Every morning our little rooster (Hao Hao) woke up about 5:30. We'd get dressed and head out for breakfast at 7:00.  Here are Kathy, Weina and Hao Hao having baozi and hard boiled eggs for breakfast.

On Sunday, we were all invited to Fan's parents house for a big lunch with all the relatives. First we took a motorcycle jitney cart from the neighborhood, through the construction zone, to the nearest big street. Then we took a taxi cab out to the village. From left to right, Fan's mom, Fan's dad holding Rei Rei, Hai Ni holding Hao Hao on her lap, Weina in the foreground with Fan's cousin behind, Fan's sister and her husband, Kathy in the foreground with Fan behind her.

Next it was off to Chongqing for Weina to pick up her her housing allowance disbursement and visit with her colleagues from the University.

China Trip - Overview

On August 16, we left on a big adventure in China with our daughter-in-law Weina and our grandson William Haoren ("Hao Hao").  Weina wanted to take little William back to China to meet her family and friends, and Matt couldn't get leave from his new position, so we volunteered to travel with Weina and William as sherpas.

To get ready for the trip, we put the RV and truck in storage locally here near Portland, Maine, and put the three cats into the tender care of a local pet sitter, then flew from Portland to JFK airport in New York City, where we met Weina for a flight connection through Toronto to Shanghai.

The trip would last 5 weeks, with us arriving back in Portland on September 20, and Weina and William arriving home in Guyaquil on September 21.  Most of the trip went according to schedule except our final flights home, when our plane from Shanghai arrived in Toronto two hours late.  This forced us to change our flights and leave Weina and William in Toronto.  However, all got home safe and on schedule.

When the trip started, William was just 10 months old.  When we returned, he was 11 months.  Here's a short video of him, taken in the home of William's grandfather (or Lao Ye), Weina's father, Xing Yu Lian.

Mr. Xing lives in the village of Dao Ji, located in the town of Ze Tou in Wen Deng County, Shandong Province.  Dao Ji is located on a large peninsula on the East Coast of Shanghai, Southeast of Beijing and across the East China Sea not far from the border between North Korea and South Korea:

Our itinerary called for us to:

1. Arrive in Shanghai and drive to Nantong, which is Northwest of Shanghai, to stay in an apartment of Weina's sister, Hai Ni, and Hai Ni's husband Fan, for a few days.

2. We were then to fly on to Chongqing, in South Central China, where Weina and Matt met when they were teaching at Chongqing Jiaotong University.

3. After that, we took the train to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, located West of Chongqing, where Weina wanted to visit a friend who also has a baby.

4. A few days later, we flew from Chengdu to Yan Tai and drove to Weina's family's village, Dao Ji, where we stayed 12 days.

5. During our stay at the village, we took a 2 day trip up to Wei Hai to stay at a beautiful resort hotel on the beach.

6. After the village, we flew from Yan Tai back to Shanghai and spent another 12 days in Nantong, visiting again with Fan's family.

7. Finally, we drove back to Shanghai and spend two days there before flying home.