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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day Nine - Summer Palace & Pearls...

It seems that I just don't have my head around the scale of things (or we just do things a little differently in North America...) What would you consider a summer retreat? Go buy/build a nice house/cabin on a lake somewhere where you can spend lazy days and cool nights? Yeah... That is what I was thinking too... How about 2.9 million square meters (nope... no typo) of summer retreat?? No lake to suite your needs? Make one... right in the middle,,, The Emperor's Summer Palace - and all it has to offer... Stunning if I had to drop one word. Big lake shaped like a peach (hey.. if you are making it - shape it like something meaningful - longevity I think) and build whatever else you need around the place - Water tower, temple, residence, boardwalk, bridges... You know, the basics... :)

We toured around the Summer Palace grounds (a big park would be probably more accurate) and took in the sights... I apparently have to start thinking bigger in some of my projects and see where that goes... :) Nothing quite on this scale I think though... Don't have the real estate... At any rate - we made our way around a section of the lake and back - The Long Painted Walkway is quite a work of art... Think the Sistine Chapel (you know - painted roof) and make it like a kilometre long... Good gig if you were getting paid by the hour - not so good if you were getting paid by the metre... :) After we finished up at the Palace, we headed to a Pearl Factory.

Pearls are quite the deal here, with MANY sizes, colours, shapes and grades to choose from. Got the obligatory lesson in pearls and what to look for, and Joyanne got to pick an oyster to open (well, have THEM open) to see what the deal was. Pretty interesting stuff... And then right on to the tour shop - I knew there was a catch... :) After Pearl Factory we stopped for a nice Chinese lunch and headed out for the Birds Nest and the Water Cube. These were some of the facilities that were constructed for the 2008 Olympic Games and are very popular attractions. The Birds Nest is the stadium that all of the ceremonies and events were held in - and the Water Cube is well, you guessed it - a big blue cube that had all of the swimming/diving events (which they were not all that pleased about Michael Phelps schooling them by the way...) Both were impressive to see, but just probably not as exciting as it was in 2008... Any of the footage I have seen around is quite spectacular when these buildings were lit up.

The later the day went on, the hotter it was getting, so we opted to head back to the hotel to enjoy some A/C... Now Joyanne had mentioned to Jennifer that she was interested in the Louis Vuitton bags and where we might be able to "find some good ones..." (wink wink)... So we thought we might get some direction as to which markets to hit for those and some good good Folexes... (Me and my watches...) "You like LV bags?..." "Yup..." "Let me call a businessman and he will meet us at your hotel..." Huh...?? Oh yes, THAT easy... :) Sorry Dale - I'm still heading into the streets to "Wanna buy a watch?" but this was pretty funny... Buddy showed up with a big suitcase full of LV and Coach bags and some darn nice knock-offs of Tags, Rolexs, Bulgaris... You name it :)

Sylvie (no we haven't forgotten about her) faired pretty well considering how hot it was getting outside over the course of the day. She loves rolling around in the stroller (probably because it is cooler than the Ergo) but LOVES getting set free to walk around after a while. We did a couple of laps with here in the restaurant at lunch and she quite enjoyed herself. She was done (as was MaMa) by the time we finished on the Olympic grounds (as the pictures show)... She has also taken to walking US around the hotel room... She will grab a finger and lead you into walking (or running... Well, mostly running...) while holding her hands and she just giggles and giggles... The faster you go, the more she laughs... It is infectious... :) I put a lot of miles on with her going end to end in the room and she couldn't get enough. She didn't get much of a nap today, so early to bed she went - Big day tomorrow - The International Clinic and the Embassy... :) I have heard that dealing with the Embassy can be quite the tedious process, so we may be in for a long day... Got all of our paperwork we need done and have all of the Official documents in hand, so tune in tomorrow and we will let you know how it goes...

Until then...

C & J & S

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day Eight - A Giant Stair-Master....

Alright... Everyone should put this on their list of "Things to Experience"... (Aside from never needing to do any sort of leg workout again) This Wonder of the World is awe inspiring... I cannot compare it to anything that I have ever seen... The sheer size and construction of the structures is a tribute to its function (keeping bad people out...)

We started our day downstairs for a quick breakfast in the hotel... Our guide was picking us up at 8:30 and on the list for the day was a Jade Factory and the Great Wall... The wall is about an hour or so from here, so we rented a car (no no no... I was not going to try and negotiate this craziness... the car comes WITH a driver... Very nice... ) :) Mr. Ling picked us up out front and we started our tour. First stop was the Jade Factory where they showed us all of the processes and what types of Jade you will see. (Also got some handy tips on what NOT to buy from the street merchants - No really, those air bubbles in that bracelet are SUPPOSED to be there.....) NOT Jade... :) We picked up a Jade Rat necklace for Sylvie (She is a Rat in case you are wondering... As am I - I think Joy is a snake... Not sure if there is some hidden meaning there... Hmmmm...) :)

We packed back up and were off again - Next stop was the Great Wall... Try to imagine a parking lot filled with cars, buses and tourists in the middle of two mountain ridges with a freeway blazing through underneath... An interesting engineering feat by itself let me tell you... And that is that - Through the ticket booth and up some steps and you are on the Great Wall... Well, not EXACTLY, I probably left out that there are steps to go up, to go down, to go across, to get in, to get out... (You get the picture...) LOTS of steps... Needless to say the stroller stayed in the trunk and we opted for the Ergo for this journey. :) I don't think any of the pictures do the size justice, because this is one big wall. (Probably why you can see it from space...) :) This is just the part of the wall that is by Beijing by the way - There was NO way I was going to be walking more of this thing... Big Big Big...

We safely ascended (and descended) the Great Wall and then we headed for lunch. We ate at a restaurant that was upstairs from a cloisonné making factory and shop... Before you ask, the cloisonnés are a fired enamelware that are crafted here (and have been for MANY years... Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368) ...Like THAT many... :) There are things like the little boxes, vases, art, even chopsticks... And some HUGE things like the big vats and vases you can find (some might call them a cauldron I guess...) Found a few things that we liked - Got a wall hanging with Sylvie's Chinese name written on it... Neat stuff... Cauldron would not fit in my luggage, so aside from renting a container (I have given it some thought) I think they will remain here.

Finished up there and we were spent... Got back to the hotel and we got the wee one in for a nap (nap actually started IN the car about 10 minutes from the hotel)... Quick transfer to the crib and got Joy in for a nap as well. Gives me some quite time to catch everyone up on our day(s)... I can hear someone smacking their lips behind me in the crib, so I think I will be getting someone up soon... Not much else on the plate for today - maybe a walk to the market and get some dinner...

Cory & The Sleeping Princess(es)


Day Seven - Let's go touring!!

How can you describe something of the stature of the Forbidden City??... Very large... Jennifer (I told you she was full of information...) told us on our tour that Tiananman Square was 450,000 square meters and the Forbidden City is 750,000 square meters... We walked a whole lotta meters today... I did not find my Chairman Mao wristwatch yet, but I am still looking - Going to head to one of the markets and practice my haggling... But I digress... :)

Standing in Tiananmen Square is something akin to standing on the front lawn of the White House... Everywhere you turn there are more official residences, offices, government facilities... You name it... Basically Grand Central for some of the big decisions in China. The architecture is amazing and just the sheer number of people who come here to visit is quite astounding. We arrived on a "slower" day but there were still scads of bodies as far as the eye could see... Took some of the obligatory pics (some of which we will share of course) and then we proceeded to the Forbidden City...

Conveniently... Tiananmen Square is in front of the entrance (well, one of the entrances) to the Forbidden City (didn't mean the meter count went down... Just that these two enormous things are side by side...) So in we went. Got a fantastic history about the city and the dynasties and the emperors and such (I will not try and type that all on this tiny keyboard FYI, but suffice to say that our history lesson was far and wide during our tour...) We managed to get Sylvia around fairly well with the stroller (only a few steps and obstacles overall...) so she was pretty content for the day there... Trying to tour with a little one is tricky, but she was trooper - Got a nap in the morning before we left so I think that helped... Forbidden City ended through another gate (North I think)... Where we were unleashed to merchants who proceeded to try and sell us things... (China Flags, Pins, Dragons...) Had one lady just about follow us off the grounds trying to sell the foreigners a dragon... I have some fantastic haggling tips from our first guide David (Have we mentioned how great he was?? :) ) that I got to practice on this (we will call her "persistent") lady...

Tip number 1 - Rule of thumb is 10%... They say 100 - You say 10... Sounds a little lowball-ish but I tell ya it works like a charm! :) If you "insult" them (It is quite the act by the way) you simply say no thank you and walk away... If they want to sell it - the numbers start coming down... :) Or they move along to another sucker... er... customer. :)

The end of the day we thought we might be able to enjoy a Chinese Acrobatic performance, but a little way through our munchkin decided that enough was enough, so we made our way back to the hotel and got her settled in. (And by settled in I mean fought to get her to sleep because she was obviously over-tired...) All ended well, so we had some quiet room service and hit the sack to prepare for an early morning start to the Great Wall.... I am looking forward to seeing this Wonder of the World... More to come...

C & J & S

Friday, May 29, 2009

Day Six - Domestic Travel... Wheeeeeee....

Hmmmm... Flying with a little one... Actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but let's say the creature comforts we all enjoy on airplanes (oh say... air conditioning) are a little wanting on domestic flights here... I don't think it is that complicated but I get that you can't just crack a window at 20000 feet (or thereabouts)... At any rate, we made it! :) Let me tell you if you are looking for a little attention on the plane, you should start heading down the isle with a cute little girl (to go change her, but that really didn't matter)... I felt like a rock star I had so many pictures taken... Swarmed by women (Well OK...older women who love babies and want to practice their English but whatever...) They were all touchin and talkin and pinchin (mostly to Sylvie, but I had the odd broken conversation)... Everyone had a blast. Sylvie faired pretty well, but was not all that enthused about being cooped up so long. Three and a bit hours later we were free!

Our new guide Jennifer met us at the airport and we gathered all of our bags (everything showed up... also a bonus) and our driver proceeded to take us to our hotel (The Grand Mercure - Xidan Beijing - Used to be called the Marco Polo... I have not found the pool to test that theory... You know.... "Marco".... "Polo".... Too Much?? Bah! :) ) Tried to get everyone settled, which took some doing, but managed to get the lights out before midnight so I guess that's a plus.

What a lot of history there is here... Our guide is literally that - a guide... Had a WEALTH of information about every little thing we passed and how the city it structured ("rings" if you are interested... That will take a bit so I won't bore you with it...) Trying to fathom something that has been around for 600 or more years is something to get your head around... So is 18.1 million people (and change) here in the capital city... Isn't that like half the population of Canada (Damn social studies has failed me... Mind you it HAS been a while... :) )

That is the nutshell version of Day Six... We are off tomorrow to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (spooky huh kids?) to see what the hubub is about... (I want to see if I can find a cool Chariman Mao watch, but hey, we will see what shakes out)... More to follow... Stay tuned...


C & J & S

(...say it Frenchie....) :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day Five - Nanning

When I think 90% humidity - you could be certain it would be raining... That just isn't the case here... To describe it is as "sticky" doesn't do it justice... Try to imagine walking around in a steam room all day long... On the plus side, our skin is really soft... :)

Things we know about Sylvie so far:

- She loves having a bath and playing in the tub... The stacking cups were a big hit, but really she was content to splash around... No complaints here...
- She can hold a bottle to help feed herself - We weren't sure if she was able to do this, but today she showed us she could.
- She can walk REALLY well... She has put on quite a few miles... She is still uncertain about her new squeaky shoes, but I am sure she will come around.
- She LOVES looking at herself in the mirror (like that was a stretch...) - It is one of the almost SURE ways to get a smile out of her.
- She likes to be swayed to sleep in Joyanne's arms - That's been a good thing... :)

We are working on bonding together... Sylvie accepts our love and comfort but still isn't seeking it when she is upset. Today was a bit of a breakthrough with feeding... Joy was sitting on the floor feeding her rice cereal and Sylvie would actually walk over to keep coming for bites. This is important because she was recognizing that WE were providing the food. Also during playtime today at times it felt there was interaction between Sylvie and us instead of parallel (side by side) play - We will continue to build on this.

The next leg of our journey is tomorrow afternoon which will have us departing on another jet plane - destined for Beijing this time. We check out of the hotel around 3:00pm and David and our driver will get us to the airport. Our flight leaves at 5:45 or so... Three and half hours later, we arrive in Beijing and are met by our new guide Jennifer. David has made this portion of our journey so fantastic we cannot thank him enough. He will be on the Christmas card list for sure... :) He is actually showing up here this evening to hand deliver Sylvie's passport that just got created today... Saves a lot of wait and worry on whether or not it would have to be couriered up to Beijing on the weekend... Just can't say enough about that man - a real lifesaver... :)

That is what we can tell you in a nutshell about today... Have to send Soooo many thanks to our "blog fillers" back home... If you are keeping tabs, some of the entries magically get pictures updated throughout the day - Without them we would not have quite the same experience to share with you... Thanks again so much! (You know who you are Kim - and expect the favour returned when the time comes...) Even found a bit of time to fill in some missing entries (or travel back in time - I am not sure which)... be sure to look for additions in the story in other places than the last post! We will call it a "puzzle-piece" blog of sorts...

Well, I am off to meet David and collect the last of her official documents, so we will sign off with that. More to follow for sure...

Cory & Joyanne & Sylvie

...and Doc Brown in a DeLorean trying to hit 88mph... :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day Four - What exactly is a "free day"...

All I can say is if she sleeps like this all the time we are thanking our lucky stars... After the whirlwind that was yesterday we got her to sleep around 9:00pm without so much as a peep... A quiet little wimper indicated she thought she didn't want to go, but the heavy eyelids won that fight... I was laying in bed listening for her to wake up and all I could hear were the girls trying to out-snore each other... Good sleeps for everyone... :)

So, today was a free day... which compared to the flurry of activity that was yesterday, we had nothing officially scheduled... We originally had some photographs and documentation to do today, but we got those fast-tracked yesterday in the hustle... Kudos to David for getting that all lined up... So, we got to sleep in (some of us...) until around 7:30 - not too bad for night number one. Got showered and such - some of us played with our toys and had a feed and the others got packed for a day of "light touring"...

On the journey today was the People's Minority Park, which is one of (or at least a replica of) the Original Family dwellings/townships that has been surrounded by the city growth for the last 50 years or so. Some interesting history smack dab in the middle of one of the business districts... From wooden bridges to drum towers and fishermen in between... Most of the rest of the day was out in the park and back in the hotel for a nap... Pretty basic stuff (considering...) :) Did get out to one of the local "malls" to hunt around for squeaky shoes and little sunglasses... Some other odds and sods that we thought we might need.

Night ended off with a nice Thai meal out and then some hotel room exploring. Our little one has opened up a little more and wanted to show off her wobble walk a bit... She put on a few miles going between to large sets of mirrors on each end of the hall to touch her reflection... Women and mirrors... I am so done for... :) Took a little bit more time to tucker her out - The 2 and a half our nap this afternoon probably set that schedule back I'm guessing... But a nice bath and some cuddle time and she is asleep behind me in her crib as I type this with a headlamp on... I think I am going to take a cue from the girls and head thataway myself... My mind is still trying to do the time conversion... 10:00pm here means that some of you are getting ready for work on Tuesday... (7:00am)

Tune in tomorrow when you hear Dr. Bob say... (If you are old enough to remember that, you get the joke... :) )

C & J & S

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day Three - Where to begin??

Today was "Family Day"... What does that mean?... The Cole's Notes version is we as a couple became a family of three with the addition of Sylvie... YAY!! We woke up this morning quite early - Let's just say that jet lag is still working wonders on our sleep patterns. Tried to push through some more sleep but no go... So, we practised our Chinese (Mandarin) phrases to help Sylvie (and us) through the transition.

After breakfast, out FANTASTIC guide David took us to WalMart to buy some supplies and snacks. Shortly after that, we went to a different hotel to meet Sylvie and her caregivers. There were a few minutes of nervous anticipation while waiting for them to bring her into the room to meet us, however the transition went VERY well.

We spent the rest of the day getting acquainted with each other and completing different paperwork steps that required us to travel to several government offices. We are now back in out hotel room after a nice meal downstairs in the Chinese restaurant... To compare it (the meal) to anything in Canada would not do it justice... We will be going back.

Things we've learned today about Sylvie... She LOVES making noise with her toys - banging them together or against other objects. She loves texture and has to run her nails over everything to get a feel for it... (Sheets, Pillowcases, plastic name it) Wish we had brought some of the tag books with us, but have some at home for her to enjoy. She is very quiet so far (unlike her mother) and when she is upset or wants to be changed she wimpers very quietly. She likes being sung to and makes noises along with us when we are singing. The best part of the afternoon was when she was comfortable enough to fall asleep in Joyanne's arms... A good sign for sure.

That's a brief recount of what the day was... We know there are many parts to fill in, but it is time to put the wee one to sleep. We will try and post again tomorrow, as well as try to figure out how to get some pictures for you all to see. Needless to say, the Internet is not as "unfettered" over here as it is in other countries... A lot of sites and services are blocked, including blogspot... (which I have managed to circumvent enough to allow us to post). If anyone has any suggestions I welcome them.

Until next time...

Cory (& Joyanne, & Sylvie) :)

Day Two - Shanghai/Nanning

Day two... We woke up at 3 am (Shanghai time)... Despite our best efforts we fell asleep at 8:00 last night. No complaints about the hotel room at all... Pretty deluxe considering some of the stories we heard... Didn't get to revel in it much, but did enjoy the king size bed for the somewhat short night... Luckily it was evening in Canada and we got a little bit of time to Skype and MSN some of the friends and family. We went for breakfast in the hotel at 6:30... just a bit of time to kill from 3:00... After our spectacular buffet breakfast we decided to go for a walk and explore the area.

We walked through a local park and tracked through some local streets and explored the street merchants... The locals were as fascinated with us as we were with them... :) On the tour we went around a corner and low and behold... One of Joyanne's dreams came true... Stahhhhbucks... Got a couple of obligatory pics in front (when we thought it was closed) and with the $38Y (about $6 CDN) Dark Berry Mocha Frappachino... :) Not quite the same bevey that we get in the homeland let me tell you, but good all the same... Don't recall the frap having quite as many crunchy chocolate cookie bits in it but hey... When in Rome... :) After we got back from our walk we took a little nap and caught a taxi to the airport for our flight to Nanning.

What else can we tell you about Shanghai... When they tell you the air is thick they aren't kidding... Quite a bit of smog here and you can certainly feel it in the eyeballs after a while... First experience with the local driving customs caught Joyanne a little off guard. To say that it was a white-knuckle ride from the airport to the hotel doesn't do it justice... Get in and hang on... :) We have been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to communicate here... The hotel (and Starbucks) staff speak English very well. Have to brush up on my WWE events to make more small talk... It is apparently VERY popular here with the younger adult male staff.

We arrived in Nanning at 10:30pm and made it to our hotel by 11:30. Our guide David met us at the airport and filled us in on the next day's events. Also took the time to brush up our basic Mandarin phrases during the drive. We had heard many wonderful things about David from others and are pleased to report that they were all true. He is very personable and caring... "We are going to meet OUR little girl"... Our hotel room here is also very nice. We are staying at the Wharton International Hotel, but the beds are as hard as everyone had told us... I don't mind them at all, but Joyanne is trying to get used to them... Everything else is fantastic though. We unpacked and ordered some room service... The Won Ton soup is awesome... BLT had some nice flair to it as well... With pickle and fried egg onboard as well as B, L, and T... :) We finally made it to bed a little after 1:00am to try and get some sleep for the big day ahead.