Saturday, April 23, 2016

China


Remember when we were little and we thought if we dug down far enough, we'd reach China? I couldn't comprehend the fact that there were actually people on the other side of the world. Well, let me tell you, there are definitely people there. 1.3 billion of them, in fact.

We got home from China on Tuesday morning. I don’t think I ever finished my Vietnam & Cambodia trip summary, so this time I will set myself up for success and make it short and sweet. In fact, if I had to sum up the trip in one word, at the risk of sounding cheesy I would say “thankful.” If you’re hoping I’ll stop at one word, I apologize in advance. Here are a lot more words to expand on my one word. It’s a list of what I’m thankful for.

Safety. Everyone returned to Canada alive and healthy, which has not been the case for all Chamber trips.
 

Beautiful weather. We had rain only one day, and on that day we spent 3 hours on the bus driving to another city so the impact was minimal. The blossoms were beautiful in Beijing and when we went south to Shanghai, it was full-on summer with green grass and trees. It wasn’t hot, but very pleasant for travelling and sightseeing.
 


Interesting sights. We saw and experienced a wide variety of things, from ancient wonders like the Great Wall of China and Forbidden City to the modern-day craziness of skyscrapers and the Maglev train. There is so much to explore in this world and so fascinating to see what life is like in other countries.
 

Smooth travels. All flights arrived on time, no connections were missed, and no luggage was lost (actually there were two items that were missing when we landed in Winnipeg, but I’m assuming they’ve arrived by now). Even though the international flights were loooooong, we all survived. I watched more movies and shows on those flights than I have in the past year.

Wonderful guides. There are a lot of good guides out there, but we got some of the best. Inexplicably, we were assigned some extra guides for one day and our travellers were outraged that our beloved regular guides had been replaced. The new guides were not popular but they disappeared as quickly as they appeared and all was right in the world again.

The group. We had a really great mix of people. Most of them were friendly and positive and fun to hang out with. It was a low-maintenance group – they weren’t snobby or demanding and most of them needed little or no guidance.



Family and friends. My sister and brother-in-law, my brother-in-law’s brother and his wife, our good friends Doug & Lorie and another friend all came on this trip too. It made the trip way more fun and we made so many good memories together.

Support back home. Chloe did an amazing job of keeping things running smoothly at home. Dale’s mom checked in often, the kids went to my parents’ house on the weekend, and friends helped out with carpooling and keeping Neve busy. I was sorry to miss Neve’s last gymnastics meet of the year and Chloe’s last cheer competition ever, but I’m thankful for family and friends who went to watch. My parents and others also supported us with prayers and we felt it.

Canada’s public washrooms. China likes the squatting method. I don’t mind squatting, but it can be tricky to monitor your spray so your pants/feet don’t get wet while holding your purse, holding your nose, and holding the door shut because they didn’t always have locks. Toilet paper wasn’t provided so when you were done, you needed yet another hand to dig through your bag for Kleenex. Also, you’re not supposed to flush paper so there is always a garbage can to dispose of your used toilet paper. I’ll let your imagination run wild (Dan, stop reading!). When squatting, the garbage can was at prime viewing level. I closed my eyes a lot. I tried to limit my public washroom visits but there were others who weren’t able to. The worst washroom someone in the group used was a communal trough like the one picture here, except there were no stall dividers. So everyone could see you squat and do your business and vice versa. Who came up with that terrible idea?! Probably Chairman Mao. That guy was crazy.
 


My job. There were some stressful times, like when one of our travellers went missing (she was found) or the middle-of-the-night call about someone’s family emergency back home. Dale and I were always scanning and counting to make sure we weren’t leaving anyone behind. We had to be friendly and positive all the time, even when people are complaining about silly things. That doesn’t always come naturally for me, so it was exhausting at times. However, the pros FAR outweigh the cons and travelling the world as part of my job is a pretty sweet deal.

Minimal jet lag. It hasn't been too bad for me, especially compared to what it was like after our Vietnam trip. I get tired early and I fall into an deep sleep as soon as my head touches the pillow. I've had crazy dreams usually involving travellers from the group along with occasional appearances by Teresa, co-workers and/or The Amazing Race competitors. I do feel a bit foggy but it's been manageable, which I'm thankful for since it's been a busy week. Spencer and I had MTC tickets on Wednesday and on Thursday I had the info session for our next Chamber trip. Life does not stand still.
 
I’ll stop there for now. It was an awesome trip that far surpassed my expectations. I will try and post a few more pics in the coming days but I’m not promising anything. I’m just enjoying being home and taking it easy until I feel completely back to normal.
 



Shanghai (Nanjing Road)

Canals of Suzhou

Gardens in Wuxi

View of Shanghai from the 88th-floor observation deck of the Jin Mao Tower

 
 
The Maglev (magnetic levitation) train. It took us to the airport from downtown Shanghai in seven minutes.
 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Birthdays and more

There's been so much going on that my head is basically just spinning in circles. We're off to China in a couple of days, so I'm going to post a super quick update and get it out of my head.


First - Chloe's birthday celebrations. On her birthday (a Thursday), we went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner, which was a good time. Later than night, her two older cousins took her to the casino. On your 18th birthday, you gotta do something you couldn't do before! 

Chloe zoning out while Dale gives her a crash course in Blackjack. Clearly she should have paid more attention because she did not return from the casino wealthier.

On Saturday, we had both families over for dinner. Barbecuing would have been the obvious choice if Chloe wasn't a vegetarian (yeah I know you can bbq other things, but we don't know how). Instead we made three big pans of lazy man's perogy casserole. It turned out well but it was a lot of work. There was nothing lazy about that. It was a great time though - lots of people and food and laughter.



To celebrate Spencer's birthday, I drove him around the city to different second-hand record stores on Saturday. We went to a couple he'd never been to before. At one place, the owner found out it was his birthday and gave him a coupon for a free drum lesson and two free Beatles records. We ate lunch at Nuburger and stopped at Fatburger for a milkshake later on. So that was fun.

For dinner, we went to Sherbrook Street Delicatessen. The sandwiches were good, but I wouldn't have to go back. Spencer compares all deli sandwiches to the one he had in Montreal, so this one didn't quite measure up. We picked up some dessert at Stella's Bakery and stuck a candle in Spencer's piece.


His birthday was actually the next day so he opened some presents:


and shared a cake at my parents with Sabrina and Jordan:


One of the most interesting gifts he got was this jar with money frozen in different layers. That was pretty fun.

 

Okay, so the birthdays are now documented.

We celebrated Easter at Dale's mom's on Good Friday. Everyone except the Florida people were there. The kids did an Easter egg hunt and played games, etc. It was a really good day.

Spring break was pretty low-key. I took the week off work but still had lots to do to get ready for the China trip, as well as a couple of fundraisers I'm helping with. The exchange student who lives at my sister's spent a couple of days with us. We went to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding, we went to see the Cannes ads at the WAG, and Neve and I went to a hotel to swim and hang out with friends. There was also gymnastics and a birthday party and dinner at a friend's.

Yesterday we went to my parents', where we had a big all-encompassing celebration of many things. Everyone except Dan & Jenn were there (although Dan did join us via FaceTime for a bit!). Things we were celebrating: my parents just got home from three months in Florida, my niece Bailey just returned from a few months in BC., it was Spencer's birthday, Sabrina's birthday the next day, and Jordan's birthday three days earlier. We threw in an Easter egg hunt … and most exciting of all…. two engagements! My brother Greg and his girlfriend Lori are getting married in a couple of months and my niece Bailey came home from BC engaged to her boyfriend Darrin! We all love Lori and Darrin so it's definitely something to celebrate.



So that's my news in a nutshell. I'm watching giant flakes of snow falling outside and am very much looking forward to the mid-20 degree temperatures in Beijing. I don't know if I'll be posting any pictures on social media; the Chinese government frowns upon it and blocks access to Facebook, Instagram, Blogger, etc. 

That's okay; we'll do it old school and get out the slide projector when we get back. 
 

Sunday, April 03, 2016

15



The birthdays are starting to run together. I still haven’t gotten around to doing a recap of Chloe’s celebrations and now it’s Spencer’s birthday. This past week or so has been a blur … it was spring break and we did a few things but nothing really and I was on holidays but I was still working. It was even more frustrating and annoying than it sounds. It was the first spring break in a few years that we haven’t gone anywhere and I didn’t like it. But we’ll leave all that for another day because my baby boy turns 15 today!

When I look at pictures from a year ago, I can hardly believe he’s the same boy. He has shot up in height and it seems like I’m running out every other day to buy him longer jeans. His hair has grown, his tastes have changed, and his knowledge and experiences have blossomed. Different school, different friends, new independence.

Spencer is hard to explain. I’ll come right out and say it: the phase he’s in right now is not my favourite. He is sullen and difficult to communicate with. He doesn’t want to hang out with anyone, least of all his family. He hides behind his unruly mop of hair and hopes no one will talk to him. He is not physically active or socially engaging.

However, the good far outweighs the bad. He is not skipping school or hanging out at the school’s smoking doors with sketchy characters. He does not stay out til all hours or steal money from my purse or sit glued to his gaming device. He doesn’t hit his sisters or speak disrespectfully.

His teachers tell me he is “brilliant” (there is sometimes a “however…” attached, but that’s okay). He gets good marks, he’s on the Improv team and does well in Reach for the Top (a quiz competition club). He seems to have friends, even though he never makes an effort to see anyone outside of school. He despises cell phones and only uses his iPod for music, so his social interaction is limited (just how he likes it). He has been so diligent about his snow-shovelling job this winter and zips (okay, trudges) out there every single time it snows. I’ve never had to remind him to do his homework. Ever.

His interests are varied. He knows facts and trivia about almost everything. He reads non-stop and is rarely seen without a book. Based on what he reads and hears and researches, he forms strong opinions but doesn’t put down others’ point of view. He loves music and spends hours searching second hand music stores for records of his favourite artists. He taught himself to play piano and drums. He writes songs. Our house would be very, very quiet without his music contributions.

My two favourite things about him are his sense of humour and his soft heart. He loves to laugh. He loves The Office, Jimmy Fallon, The Simpsons, and Brooklyn 99. It’s pretty fun to joke around with him and it reminds me of when he was younger and lighter and didn’t keep his emotions so guarded.

And my very favourite thing is his sensitive heart. He has a tough time with injustice in the world and has a gentle soul underneath his ruffian exterior. He thanks me for things that no one else would think to thank me for. When he sees that I’m busy in the kitchen or cleaning or something, he’ll often ask me, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a big deal that he runs away when I ask him a question.

Or that this is his favourite face to make when I want to take a photo.


I love that kid like crazy and can't wait to see what the next year will bring!