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15 September 2014-
This is what you get when your child goes to secondary school here: they go on a week-long trip with their class...away from family. They call it Week Without Walls.
Annika is off to Beijing to a place called "Survival Island".
This trip is supposed engage the students and encourage them to learn through team work and community building (their words, not mine) the learner profile attributes the school upholds: risk-takers, caring, communicators, thinkers and principled (again, not my words).
Hmmm....m'kay. Sounds...well..... interesting AND educational - and dare I say it? FUN!
Perhaps you can tell from my whining and crying - I'm sad that my oldest is gone for the week. It's oddly quiet here. Ava misses her, Mark misses her and I really miss her too.
However, I KNOW she's going to have a GREAT time! There are several wonderful teachers and assistants going with the students. AND...Annika has some awesome and responsible friends right beside her. She was so excited about this trip that she had her bags all packed and ready to go on Friday night (today is Monday). Yeah...she had NO PROBLEM leaving us for the week.
Buggy, have fun!!!
I wasn't there to watch the bus leave the school (I had Chinese language lessons during that time) but my sweet friend, Severine, emailed me the following two photos of Annika:
9 July 2014 -
Time for the night safari in Kruger National Park! Our safari truck is here. Load 'em up!
Thank goodness Debbie had the foresight to ask us to bring cold weather gear - hats, mittens, and warm jackets. And blankets!
Views from the road:
We're not the only guests on this tour. There are several other safari trucks (all from the same company- I think) with lots of guests from all around the world. Here is a Chinese couple taking a photo of a glass of wine (?):
Well, we HEARD a hippo bumping into a lake but sadly we didn't see it. Oh well....that's okay! It was fun to go bumping around on the safari truck and just breath in the beauty of Kruger.
The grown-ups stayed warm - drinking wine. :-)
Sadly, by the end of this day Croydon realized his wallet was missing. :-( We searched everywhere for it but we learned the following day that he had been pick pocketed while he was shopping. Grrr...Not cool!
It's sleepy time for all of us (back at our A-frame rental house). Tomorrow we're going for a drive into Kruger. I wonder how many animals we'll check off our hope-to-see list! You'll just have to wait and see!!!
9 July 2014 -
Wakey wakey! Time to get up. It's a gorgeous day today!
Better eat up breakfast and then it's time to venture out to the Elephant Sanctuary just outside Hazyview.
We're on a guided tour with an elephant ride at the end of the tour. :-) Sounds like fun!
Our mini lesson on African elephants continues with real, live elephants! Our guides are also telling us about some of the differences between Asian and African elephants. The ears are one thing...anyone remember what the other differences are????
Now we each get to go up and examine the elephants in pairs. Ava and Mark are getting their turn now. The elephant trainer is showing them different parts of the elephant:
Examining the trunk.
Marko and Croydon are getting their turn now:
Ever wonder what it's like to walk an elephant? Say what??? You mean like walking a dog? Yep! That's exactly what I mean....
And that's exactly what we're doing! Here Ava and Mark are walking their elephant by holding two fingers inside their trunk and leading the way. Sometimes they get stubborn and stop but their trainers help moving them along.
Annika and Ava are first up for the elephant ride:
Well, that was loads of fun AND educational!
So... we have a few hours to kill before the night safari starts tonight. The guys mentioned that there's a reptile zoo close to the shopping area we're at right now. How about we go take a look?
Thanks for joining us this morning and afternoon! Now it's time to chill out and then we're off on the NIGHT SAFARI!!!
8 July 2014-
Just an FYI - the trip to Johannesburg was quite possibly the longest one I've been on yet! Each leg of the trip (okay, there were only two legs) was between 7 and 8 hours long...and combine that with a stop-over....yikes. Talk about feeling a little out of sorts!
I can also tell you- seeing Debbie and the boys at the Johannesburg airport was one of the sweetest sights I've seen. <3
After our arrival, Debbie took us into one of the local mobile phone carriers to pick up SIM cards for our phones. Hey, Americans! Did you know that in most countries around the world you can get cheap, pay-as-you-go SIM cards for your iPhone or any other smartphone you may be carrying? No need for those crazy expensive, year-long contracts. Seriously USA, join the rest of the world already!!!
Next stop - Debbie and Croydon's home near Johannesburg. Debbie had prepared a yummy meal and - woo hoo! - we got to meet Debbie's friend, Fransie. I've heard so many wonderful things about Fransie that I was excited to finally meet her. Fransie also told my girls that when they go visit Kruger National Park they should keep a sharp look-out for giraffes...they should photograph any giraffes they saw on their trip in SA (South Africa) as giraffes are Fransie's favorite. :-) They took her message quite to heart.
Whew! It's been a long day ....and I seriously cannot believe that I didn't take photos of our arrival. Must have been jet-lagged or something. ;-)
Since we're in the SOUTHERN hemisphere it's WINTER here. It's brisk outside but not too cold (no snow or ice) BUT here's an interesting thing we learned very quickly: there is no central heating system in the houses here! They've got small space heaters for the rooms and the rest of the house is just cool. We weren't quite prepared for that so I was extra grateful to that little space heater in our bedroom.
Nighty night! Tomorrow we're heading to Hazyview....where??? You'll just have to wait and find out!
7 July 2014 -
What can I say?
I know most of you think we're completely bonkers with all the traveling we've done. I wouldn't disagree with you! Two of the incredible blessings of being an expat are 1) meeting people from around the globe and 2) getting to travel to places you've only dreamed of or read about in "National Geographic" magazines.
And...yes, there are places in this world I still want to explore and experience.
SOUTH AFRICA is one of those places!
And guess where we're traveling to next?????
We're going to visit Debbie, Croydon, Marko and Juandre in South Africa!!!!!!
South Africa! Seriously? Did I say we're going to South A-F-R-I-C-A??????
All four of us are flying from Beijing to Johannesburg with a stop-over in Abu Dhabi on Etihad. Not only is this our first visit to the African continent it's also our first time in the Middle East. (okay..not sure if being in the airport counts)
See you in South Africa!!! Hope you'll join us for this amazing two-week journey.
10 June 2014 -
Even though it's a school day the girls are coming with us to the Tianjin section of the Great Wall. The Stader Family created a bucket list of "must-see" places in China for their visit and (naturally) the Great Wall was on that list. :-)
See? There's the entrance!
Yay! We're on the Great Wall! Isn't it stupendous???
Here's my version:
We picked a rather moist day for our hike on the wall. We ended up making several dashes for the guard towers when it started to rain. (oops, we forgot our rain gear!) I also learned that Noah is a FANTASTIC and amazingly ACCURATE weather man! He very accurately predicted how long each passing rain would last. We ended up eating part of our lunch in one of the guard towers while waiting out one of the rain storms. There were a few times on our hike when we just decided it was okay to get wet and keep marching in the rain. It was a very damp day!
Apparently it was also a very damp day in Tianjin as well! As we were driving to Din Tai Fung for our celebratory dinner of Chinese dumplings we noticed how deep the water was on some of the streets in the city. Twice we spotted a car that appeared to have lost a wheel (the water was so deep - we think that the drivers of those cars accidentally drove into an open manhole...whoops!).
Mark and I are celebrating NINETEEN years of marriage today!!! (seriously, 19 years??? WOW!)
While I knew about the room reservation the flowers were a beautiful and wonderful surprise! <3 I later learned that several friends were all involved in ordering and delivering those flowers to our dinner that night. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You know who you are and I love all of you!
Funny thing, the Staders had NO clue that it was a special day for us. It was fun getting to celebrate and share our special day with friends! Plus, I don't think I could ever turn down a reason to eat dumplings at Din Tai Fung! One of my favorite restaurants.... (my mouth is starting to water just thinking about them).
Me with my sweetie...I can't believe he's put up with me for nineteen years and counting! Check out how HUGE that gorgeous flower bouquet is!
Mark - LOVE YOU!!!! Can't wait to see what crazy things we'll be up to on our 20th anniversary!
This is part of the out-of-order blog posts from the Stader's visit this past June.
13 June 2014 -
It's FRIDAY!!! Woo hoooooo!!! It's also, technically, the last day of school....however the girls will be missing school today because we're heading to LIJIANG with the Stader family.
Lijiang is located in southern China and it has an Old Town that is absolutely charming and quaint. In fact, the Old Town of Lijiang is listed as a World Heritage Center with UNESCO.
We chose to visit Lijiang with our friends for several reasons: 1) we wanted to show them both northern AND southern China in a short amount of time and 2) we've had several friends rave about their trips to the area. It was a natural choice for us!
Out of all the crazy things we've experience here....this is a new one for us: our flights were ON TIME....and even (gulp!) a little bit early in some cases. Just when you think you know a place it changes on you! LOL! I don't mind that kind of change though.
The ride from the airport to our hotel...three cheerful travelers!:
And...just FYI- Mark will be joining us for the Lijiang leg of this trip. He'll fly back to Tianjin on Sunday while the rest of us fly onwards to Xi'an.
14 June 2014 -
Here I am - reeeeeaching waaaaaaaaaaay back to June for the next several blog posts and photos. And even after all this time I STILL haven't managed to get my photos all in order. However, in the interest of ATTEMPTING to get everyone caught up on our magical summer vacation I'll go ahead and post the photos in whatever order I can conjure up! LOL!
So... let's step back to June 14th, ok? The lovely Stader family was here visiting us and we'd flown to Lijiang for the weekend on Friday. Lijiang being a beautiful city in southern China with an exceptionally charming old town. (The old town looks exactly as how I'd envisioned China looking like before we actually moved to China).
We took a chance and booked a guided hiking three-hour with a Chinese guide for Saturday....here's hoping the rain holds out for us just a little bit longer!
The lady at the hotel took us to the meeting up point for the tour - it looks like it could rain on us today. It's drizzling as we walk to the pick-up spot.
Oh boy. When the lady booked our tour she wasn't kidding when she said this tour was going to be in Chinese. It's a several hour drive out to the gorge and the tour guide is on a bizarre reverberating speaker which loudly broadcasts his droning words all over the tiny tour bus. Really??? It that really necessary??? Can't we just sit in peace and quiet and watch the world go by without all the noise?
Check us out...we took over the back of the bus!:
While I'm quite behind on blog posts - having taken a nice two (and change) month holiday from writing blog posts - I just couldn't wait to write a blog post about Annika's birthday!
10 August 2014 -
It's Sunday ...and it's Annika's eleventh birthday!!! (Annika was born on a Sunday.)
We're back in Grand Haven, Michigan visiting family on The Farm. It's been a whirlwind summer with many adventures (which I have yet to share with you!) and sadly it's about to come to an end.
But not yet...
Today we're sending Annika and her fellow Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits ..and I suppose a few humans ...on a Lord of the Rings Quest!!!!
A little background info: Mark and Annika have been discussing her birthday wishes for months now and the only real request she had was that she wanted to organize a quest - or treasure hunt- Lord of the Rings style. Fast forward to Friday night before her birthday: Mark, with the help of Beth, came up six clues for the Fellowship of Friends to find. Mark made sure to scatter those clues far and wide on Grandpa's farm. After all, you don't want to make it too easy for the eleven-year old!!! ;-)
The Fellowship of Friends had to find the clues and solve the riddles to find the next clue. The Fellowship consisted of Annika, Ava, Lily, Gregory, Henry, Bobby, Kendall, and Caroline.
While the Fellowship of Friends got dressed up as characters from the LOTR series (some kids got into their roles more than others) Mark placed Clue #1 and all the adults raced into position. We adults kept in contact with each other via text messages (just to make sure the kids didn't accidentally get lost on the big piece of property that is The Farm). Aunt Beth made it clear to the kids that they had to stick together; they would ONLY receive the next clue IF and ONLY IF they were all together. The kids also got a packet of neatly wrapped "Lembas Bread" (store-bought cornbread crackers that Beth and I bagged in plastic baggies and then wrapped with grape leaves and cotton twine).
16 & 17 June 2014 -
Welcome to Xi'an!
Our flight was - gulp! - ON TIME. No seriously. I know you're shaking your head and tell me that's IMPOSSIBLE but I tell - it was. Really!
However, it's late. Our driver (whom I arranged via our guide we'll meet tomorrow) just dropped us off at the Bell Tower Hotel in Xi'an (this was after a nearly one hour drive from the airport). We're tired. It's close to midnight and these kids...and the adults!...need to get some sleep. Sadly, I didn't look at the check-in clerk's name tag when we first arrived. Otherwise I would have noticed that it said "Trainee" on it and I would have realized that check-in would take longer than expected. As it was I did NOT notice her name tag and I was got a wee bit frustrated just how long it took her to photocopy all of our passports...and then proceed to write down all of our China visa information on those photocopies. Except she got us all wrong (Lilly for Ava, etc). Argh! Why oh why can't you just make photocopies of our visas too? That way you'd get done with our check-in so much quicker! And this needing to copy down our visa information - that's new, isn't it??? I don't recall that being a requirement at any of the other numerous hotels we've stayed at in our travels around China. Always gotta change things up!