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13 August 2015 -
Well, here's one thing for sure - getting woken up by your husband telling you that he can't go to work that day because there was an EXPLOSION overnight at the port near his work is an interesting and bizarre way to start your day. It's one that I hope will never, ever be repeated.
I thought he was joking when he told me that work had been canceled! I mean, really...explosions? Explosions big enough to damage the nearly new Deere facility???
Those must have been some mighty powerful explosions! The explosions- which for the record - happened in TEDA (Tianjin Economic Development Area) NOT in Tianjin. The second after Mark burst in our bedroom and quickly rehashing everything he'd heard up to that point we realized that the media was stating the catastrophe happened in Tianjin. Naturally we jumped online and via Facebook and email we assured our family and friends overseas that we were just fine. Our American family members knew about the event before we did!!!! Naturally they were quite worried about us. However, TEDA is over 50km away from us. We were not in any real danger.
We've heard that they still don't know what caused the explosions (or so they say...I'm guessing someone DOES know). However, it does look like it was very likely started with the local firefighters trying to put out a small fire at a warehouse close at the port. Apparently they sprayed water on something that doesn't like water....and the place went BOOM ...and then again with an even BIGGER BOOM! The largest explosion was equivalent to 21 tons of TNT. The events were big enough that they registered as earthquakes in Beijing (although I did not feel the earth quaking which is odd as this Alaskan girl has never once slept through an earthquake.). I've heard that the event was also captured on a satellite in space. WOW!
Mark spoke with one of his American co-workers that lives in TEDA- he said his wife was on the phone talking with people in the USA when the explosions rocked their apartment. Apparently some of the windows of their high rise apartment were blown in. I cannot even imagine how terrified she must have felt! Thank goodness she and her family are okay. The companies quickly evacuated all expats living in TEDA and temporarily moved them to Beijing. Some companies whose employees live and and work in Tianjin took extra precautions and moved their expat employees also to Beijing. We opted to stay in Tianjin as we honestly felt we were at a safe(-ish) location.
Mark was able to locate all but one of his team members that lives in TEDA. Turns out one of his employees lives (or lived???) in one of the complexes very close to the blast sight. Other employees tried for several hours to locate her - let me tell you - those were a rocky few hours - but they finally found her. She had bolted from her apartment after the first explosion and left behind everything - including her mobile phone. Did you just hear that HUGE sigh of relief? Wow, those were some tense, dark-thought-provoking few hours. Let's not repeat that, okay????
They're still trying to piece things together but it looks like many things were stacked against them...and the worst part of all is that many firefighters lost their lives trying to do the right thing.
Other things that came to light as the dust settled and the fires were put out by a team of hazardous chemical remediation experts from the Chinese military: tons of hazardous chemicals were illegally kept at the warehouse...including 700 tons of sodium cyanide (!!!), potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, and calcium carbide. The chemicals were not properly labeled so the firefighters didn't even have a chance to know how to fight a chemical fire. The hazardous chemical storage facility was also within 600m of a residential area. The minimum legal distance is 1km. (Personally, I don't think 1km is far enough away!!!) It seems like lots of laws were either broken or disregarded and now the people in TEDA are unjustly paying the price for those actions.
Timing was interesting for us - as we had already been planning on driving to Beijing on Thursday night and going to the USA Embassy on Friday morning since the girls need new passports within this coming year. And then after finishing up at the embassy we were going to meet up with a big group of our Chinese friends traveling north to the grasslands in Hebei Province for the weekend. Timing was perfect for them - many of our friends live in TEDA and really wanted to get out until they felt it was safe to return (especially since so many of them have young children). We had a fun weekend (more on that in another post!) while Mark was getting updates on the current status of the Deere facility. It was on Sunday they learned that the while the building would be closed until Thursday, the employees were expected to either work from home or take vacation days.
Well, if you're going to work from home you'll need your laptops, right?
While the facility was closed on Monday for repairs - Mark needed to go pick up laptops for employees living in Tianjin who had left them behind locked in their desks at work. I tagged along as I was quite curious to see what TEDA looked like first hand.
Most of the campus escaped serious damage...except for one building. One building, unfortunately, did not escape damage. Many of its windows and doors were blown out. When we drove up to this building we saw gaping holes in the side of the building where the windows had been knocked out. There was shattered glass on the ground below. I didn't get to see the worst as we only went up to the second floor of that building (floors above the second floor sustained more damage) and many repairs had already been accomplished over the weekend (they quickly replaced damaged ceiling tiles). You could tell that they trying to do the repairs fast as rain was scheduled in the forecast for the following day. Luckily, Mark's building and the factory itself sustained very little damage (thank goodness!). While I'm no structural engineering expert it is my opinion that the facility did not suffer any structural damage. I did not feel unsafe being inside the building. [I did take photos of a little bit of the damage but I need to get permission to post them.]
As we were driving back to Tianjin we noticed other buildings that had their windows blown out - but interesting enough, it did not appear to be uniform. I would love to see a CG representation of the shock wave that knocked out those windows (and knocked people down!). It must have been one hell of an explosion! I should also tell you that we did NOT drive through the exclusion zone (the blast location). I think we were approximately 4km away from ground zero. I'm sure if we had driven into the exclusion zone we might have also witnessed the countless numbers of brand-new cars waiting for shipment that were turned to ashes and dust or seen the large shipping containers tossed around like a bunch of scattered Lego blocks. Yikes!
We've since read that some of the sodium cyanide leaked out - causing a wee bit of panic for the folks living in TEDA. More testing ...both the Chinese government and private companies...and the results make it sound that TEDA is safe. They even had caged bunnies and chickens at the blast location that survived being there. That's one way to test to see if the land is habitable. ??? (or at least not deadly poisonous!) With the media going completely bonkers on this event and blowing things waaaaaay out or proportion it is difficult to divine fact from fiction. Am I the only one who is deeply disturbed by the media outlets whose goal in life is to sell fear and sensationalism??? Yes, it was a terrible event but that doesn't give you the right to turn this into some freak show where you can spout out fear. Just the facts, please!!!
While I know this is a tragic event for many families living in TEDA, I am grateful that the event happened late at night. I don't even want to think about how the numbers of casualties and seriously injured could have been several orders of magnitude higher if the events had happened during normal working hours. Our family's story might have turned out quite different. (and not for the better!) The Chinese government has stated that it will help the citizens that were affected by the blast- those that lost their homes and those that lost loved ones. It'll be interesting to see what will happen as a result.
To find out more information, please Google the "12 August 2015 Tianjin port explosions". Also check out YouTube for videos from the event.
Again with "timing"...factories have been asked to reduce their production by a third or do any activities that would cause air pollution (which means that Mark can't do the dirt-moving tests on his machines) for an upcoming BRAND-NEW Chinese holiday which has been titled something like this: "Celebrating the Chinese defeat of Japan. Oh wait, why are we celebrating this???"...so what is this holiday really about??? Beijing is nearly shut down to get ready for some massive parade coming up at the beginning of September. I just want to be sure I'm far, far away all of that!!!!
We had a most awesome and excellent summer holiday in the USA. As you might have noticed, I also took a break from posting on the blog. Our days were filled to the brim with activities....from gardening to taking trips to Washington state and Dubuque, Iowa to playing and working on the family farm in Michigan. We had a fantastic summer!
Since we knew that we'd be back in China on the actual day of Annika's birthday we got her birthday celebration off to an early start while we were still in Michigan.
I should probably also tell you that Annika has fallen in love with - AGAIN - the "Harry Potter" series. She's been creating mippets (little polymer clay figurines) of all the Harry Potter characters. She's re-read the series. She built herself a broomstick (I think it might be the Firebolt) out of branches and twigs she collected in the woods. And she really wanted all things Harry Potter - including a birthday cake in the shape of a Snitch. (Unfamiliar with these terms? Read or watch the movie series! They're fun! However, the series does get progressively darker.)
Remember I mentioned that Annika wanted a Snitch shaped birthday??? Check out the cake that Aunt Beth created for her!
It's perfect! It looks just like a Snitch!!!!
Have you ever been to a Shrimp Boil? No? Well, this was our first summer trying it....and boy, let me tell you - it's deeeeelicious (even if you don't like shrimp!). Our shrimp boil consisted of potatoes and corn - both grown right here on the property - cut up sausages, and shrimp. My mouth is watering just thinking about that meal. The corn and potatoes were absolutely BEAUTIFUL. Before the potatoes were cooked they looked like brightly painted Easter eggs - they were solid colors of pink, purple or white. And they tasted even better than they looked!
It's a grab-what-you-want kind of meal. It's lots of fun and very easy to put together. And - oh-soooo-delicious!
Grandpa lighting *gulp* TWELVE candles on Buggy's cake:
Boy, we enjoyed that cake! :-)
Fast-forward with me ....to Monday (August 10). We arrived in China the previous day and as there is a twelve-hour time difference...this was Annika's birthday dinner "celebration" at our local hot pot restaurant:
As you can see the girls were really "enjoying" the meal. (It was also delicious, trust me.)
One thing has remained constant over the past few years - every year for Annika's birthday I make a lemon meringue pie in her honor. This year's pie was a day late but that's okay! It's better to stretch out the birthday celebration anyway. Right??? RIGHT!
3 June 2015 -
Ava jumping as far as she can....
and trying (with her other classmates) to keep this obnoxiously gigantic rainbow ball from hitting the floor:All in the name of Sports Day for the Elementary kids at IST. Normally the event would have been held outside but as it was a rainy, damp day they held the event inside the gym. A weeeeeee bit tight on space but the teachers made it work.
The secondary kids had their own Sports Day this past Wednesday...a nice, bright sunny day. Annika placed second in her age group in the 100m sprint and her team got first place in their age group in the relay race.
Here she's getting ready to take the baton:
Annika got two awards at the Sports Awards Ceremony after sports day....
First one? MVP (Most Valuable Player) in girl's volleyball in her age group:
And Best Team Player in girl's soccer for her age group:And here's a tiny photo (IST photo) of all the secondary kid medalists (grades 6-11...don't think there were any 12th graders) and their coaches:
May 2015 -
Direct flight from Tianjin to Singapore.....here we come!
Here are just a few photos (okay, maybe more than a few!) from our recent quick adventure to Singapore.
We'd heard lots of great things about this city/country before checking it out for ourselves. We also had heard that Singapore is *very* expensive. Boy, they weren't kidding! But MAN oh MAN was it WORTH IT!!!
I think this bridge is called the Helix Bridge...it's right next to our hotel:
See that thing that looks like a ship on giant stilts? That's our HOTEL. Yes, it's a hotel. And on the top floor? That where the pool is located. Pretty awesome, right? Our room is on the 19th floor overlooking the harbor. Nice!!!
What we DID check out were the GARDENS! Right next to the hotel was the stunning Gardens by the Bay. Now, I've seen photos of these "trees" before but it's something else getting to see them up close. They're giant metal structures with plants "growing" up them (more likely carefully placed and maintained). Lots of bromeliads and "air" plants (like the Staghorn fern).
I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this giant conservatory! It was a giant man-made hill with a waterfall and walkways. The entire hill was covered with plants- begonias, orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and lots more plants...just gorgeous!
So...you might have seen this pool in photos on the Internet or in magazines. As you can see, the view is amazing! Two things -first, being on the 57th floor it's quite cool (and not quite warm for swimming). Second, what is up with everyone in the world taking selfies???? Ack! I've never in my life seen so many narcissistic people!
We spent hours and hours walking around the multiple gardens - my favorite were the orchid garden and the ginger garden. We ate lunch at fantastic little restaurant which featured all things made of ginger in the gardens.
The zoo was unique in that part of it was open...the orangutans could swing around on the tree tops overhead.
One last look around...this is from the tippy top of the hotel looking out over the Gardens by the Bay. See those domes? Those are the cloud forest and flower domes we visited on the first day.
Last dinner of pizza, nachos, and chocolate lava cakes with this lovely raspberry concoction.
There were so many things about Singapore that we found just a treat: it was CLEAN - and I mean very clean. People were out enjoying the public spaces but not abusing them. We saw lots of people exercising and jogging. The air was clean. The taxi drivers were friendly and helpful. It was easy to get around using English ...BUT we heard lots of Chinese spoken. And the Chinese they did speak was honestly easy to understand. (none of that northern, Beijing accent that is so difficult to understand). All of the food was yummy and tasty (but staggeringly expensive). And the service? WOW! Nothing compares to the service we experienced in the hotel and the restaurants.
What to do on a Sunday when Dad is away on a business trip?
Bake cookies? Check.
Watch a movie? Check.
How about....create a miniature fairy garden terrarium???
I found all the materials I needed at our local plant market: the glass jar containers, the colorful activated charcoal (or at least, I *think* that's what it is!), bag of nice looking potting soil, and tiny, miniature-size plants. To be honest, I have absolutely NO idea if the plants I selected will stay small or grow into huge monster plants. My Chinese language skills don't include asking questions about plants and growing conditions. ;-)
Easter 2015 -
When somebody says "Easter Sunday" what images do you conjure up? Sitting in a church listening to a sermon? Coloring Easter eggs? Searching for chocolate bunnies and colorful Easter baskets that darn clever Easter Bunny has hidden? Or maybe getting together with family for a fine feast of cold cut ham, hard boiled eggs, and freshly grated horseradish on thick slices of gorgeous, fluffy challah bread. Mmmmmm....
That's not the way we spent our Easter this year!
Instead we spent our Easter Sunday waiting in frustratingly loooooooooooong lines trying to get to the top of Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie...trying not to pull our hair out.
And actually, frustrating as that might seem, I appreciate the time we got to spend together as a family. Even if it seemed like we were all going to melt down and start either crying or laughing in hysteria at our amusing situation. (It's bad enough to wait in a slow-moving line for 2 hours but it's another thing to feel like you're part of the amusement...I know that many of you can't/don't understand this but we are really sick and tired of having people take photos of us as if we're some kind of freak show. We're just normal people...our hair, skin and eye colors may be different but we're really the same. And we'd really appreciate being treated as humans. Okay, rant over and out.)
getting back to Easter!
The Easter Bunny was quite clever and left small little gifts on the girls' beds. The girls discovered them shortly after we arrived home in the weeeeeee hours of Monday morning. Sadly, I missed my opportunity to take a photo of them giggling with glee at the gifts. The Easter Bunny left them Nerf dart guns!!!!
Mark teaches an informal English class at his work that is open to all employees. Sometimes we try to help him do something fun for our special holidays so this year the girls and I helped him set up an Easter egg coloring event the week BEFORE our Zhangjiajie trip. I hard-boiled about 60 eggs, baked a batch of iced sugar cookies in bunny shapes, and gathered together various art supplies, food dye, vinegar, cups, markers, and anything else I could think of for this party. (oh, PAPER TOWELS!)
I had so much fun watching all of Mark's coworkers really get into coloring the eggs! I wish, wish, wish I had photos of all of their eggs - they really got quite creative! Annika, Ava, and I also tried our hand at coloring a few eggs. I tried a new method of coloring the eggs with Sharpie markers and then dropping rubbing alcohol on the eggs to create a watercolor effect. Didn't exactly work the way I thought it should. Annika had fun with the Sharpie markers as well.
My "watercolor" egg attempt:
I tried using my tiny bit of Chinese to explain about the food dye and why we use white vinegar and boiling water to color the eggs. I think I actually succeeded too! (wow!)
Thank you to Mark's English class to allow us to come in and share this fun experience! We really enjoyed it!!!!
The trees and shrubs our blooming!!!!
Our family's Easter eggs. This year I used the German powdered egg dye along with the liquid food dye (that's what we used in the English class). I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the German dyes! That blue is really TRUE blue.
This year we had a series of fortunate and happy (for us!) coincidences that really made this Easter extra special for us. My friend Rachel, who used to live in China but has since returned back to Dubuque, creates and sells beautiful candy bouquets. MY good fortune (sadly, not hers as I'm sure you'll understand) is that her husband was traveling to China over Easter and had room in his suitcase to haul these two lovely baskets filled with goodies for the girls. All I had to do was assemble them:
Thank you Rachel for all your help! We all really, really appreciated your efforts!
More spring time blossoms! The city looks like there have been explosions of pink and white...the trees are absolutely COVERED with these beauties!
5 April 2015 -
It's been raining allllllll night long. I mean, I do love listening to the rain and thunder BUT in this one instance I'd appreciate if it would STOP! Today is our last day in ZJJ and then it's back to the Big City for us.
Looks like we're going to attempt seeing Tianmen Mountain today. I've seen photos of it.
Before we check out this hotel I'd like to show you this amusing window in our room. This window is closed....but do you see the gaps of light coming in on the side? I know it might be difficult to see in the photo but the window panel is considerably smaller than the actual opening. It's so much smaller that it creates quite a draft. Other than that it's a very nice room. ;-)
Chris said that the line to get on the cable car (to head up to Tianmen Mountain) would be a 30 minute wait....or wait, maybe a 1-hour wait....or ...maybe a nearly TWO HOUR wait. Egads. I think all four of us nearly lost it while waiting for that cable car ride. And to make matters worse...people kept trying to take photos of us and touch Ava. AAAARRRRGH!!!! She IS NOT A DOLL!
This mountain is set up in a weird way - there is a half-way point on the cable-car ride where you can get off, get on a bus, ride on this winding road (the understatement of the year!!!!), get a little sea-sick along the way, and head to the giant hole in the rock that they call Tianmen Mountain. *I really, really hope to see this giant hole in the rock!*
We skipped the half-way point and we got off at the top.
There's this walkway made of glass that you can pay a few RMB, put on special booties, and WAIT IN ANOTHER FREAKING LINE to walk on this walkway. Ummm...we are so NOT INTERESTED in waiting in another stinking line. Plus, you can't see anything anyway because of the deep fog. So we kept walking. Then we bumped into this short walkway that looks like a finger sticking out from the cliff. No waiting. And it's made of glass too. How cool is that?!?
Truer words have never been uttered: "Never pick up wild fruits to avoid poisoning". Uh...yeah, right. I think perhaps it would have made a little more sense to mention NOT eating those "wild fruits". Generally speaking you don't get poisoning from PICKING them. ;-)
We're waiting in line....again.
We scurried along the rest of the trail and completed the loop as quickly as we could. I was really glad we brought our hats with us. I even brought my gloves with me. It was cold enough on the mountain top to warrant wearing them!
We're trying to decide if we should stop half-way at attempt seeing the hole in the rock or head back down the mountain.
While we're waiting check out this sign, "He who fails to climb on Huangshizai need not have come to Zhangjiajie." Uh, whaaaat???? That's not exactly a heartwarming, endearing advertisement. I can't even guess what they're trying to say. Thanks....but I think it's time to get out here and leave!
We decided that we'd had enough of waiting in lines. Chris said we'd have to wait in line waiting for the bus, and more waiting for the cable car to head back down the mountain. Mind you, I was looking forward to walking up the 999 steps to get up to the hole. (didn't I mention that? oops.) Or, you probably can stand in another long line and take the escalator up to the top to see the hole in the rock. Yes, I said ESCALATOR. Can you believe that??? What has this world come to that they have escalators on mountains????? They're even working on building another escalator that will connect the top of the mountain (where we were) directly to the hole on the rock!!!! TWO ESCALATORS. Somehow that just seems like a sin against nature. I know, I know, I know...it does allow people who would perhaps otherwise not be able to due to health reasons to enjoy these views but aren't people just getting too darn lazy?????
We spent the remaining hours while waiting for our 9:50pm flight comfortably (and warmly, I might add) in a nearby hotel. Not as much fun as hiking but we're okay with our decision.
Check out this funky, weird, bizarre twist of the Apple logo on the bus transporting us from the airport terminal to our airplane:
Guess what? I'm sure you won't be surprised but our flight was delayed. And delayed. That's okay. However, it doesn't look like the girls will be going to school on Monday.
On the flight to Beijing I got to sit next to a very interesting and energetic young lady who teaches English at a university in Dalian (she's American). She and her friend also were on Tianmen mountain and they heard from a friend that there was ZERO visibility at the hole on the rock. I'm glad we didn't bother heading there!
April 4, 2015 -
Good morning! Mark and I just had our cup of Starbucks coffee. Like I've said before, thank goodness for those VIA packets! They're really life savers!
Before we head to breakfast and figure out where and what we'll be doing today I wanted to show you something in our room:
That glass room is our bathroom...the toilet and shower. Soooo....can you guess what it sounds like if someone has an upset tummy in the middle of the night? Yikes. Sound proof walls are an excellent thing. ;-)
Today we're first going to start with what Chris called the "10-Mile Natural Gallery". And we'll see where we go from there. Chris and I are checking out a map of the park:
Annika is taking photos with her iPod so that she draw/sketch/paint these beautiful landscapes:
"Please PLUSH the toilet with your hand". I dare you to "plush" the toilet. HA! (this was in the men's restroom):We decided to take the silly train back to the starting point (since we'd have to walk back the same route we'd already walked)
There was a stall making lattes. Yay! We decided to take the funny, short train ride back to the start.
Chris suggested another hike for us to go on (since that the clouds weren't letting up any time soon). The hike would start at the end of our previous day's hike (the same location where we caught the bus to take us to Bailong Elevator). We'll walk back part of the Golden Whip Stream walk (from yesterday) and then head off to the right on a different hike....one that is away from everyone.
On the walk up the mountain, we walked past many stone playing cards...one a few meters after another. Mark, Ava, and Annika tried to guess what the next card would be. It was an amusing game, some times they got it right...most times, no.
At the top of the mountain, Chris had explained that there used to be a "village" at the top but because this trail doesn't receive a lot of traffic (mostly Europeans that use it, which means very few people actually use it). This means that there isn't a shop up here selling food or everyone a toilet! There is an abandoned wood shed that looks...or SMELLS...that it's been used as a toilet. Yuck!
Annika is writing in her journal:
Mark learned that coworkers from his office would be in ZJJ we asked them if they could meet us for dinner. We met at a "famous" restaurant close to their hotel (they were staying at the Pullman Hotel). We got to the restaurant before they did and fortunately there were a bunch of fun-loving, interesting, and interested local kids for us to play with.
So...the meal in the restaurant was oh-kay but nothing special. And it was expensive! We got two things that I *really* loved...one was a tofu dish and another was a glutinous rice patty filled with herbs...that's the best description I can give you. I ate way too much of the tofu and the patties. I think those patties might have been called "baba" (or something like that).
The girls decided they were too tired to go out so Mark and I decided to "go out on the town"...which meant going for a short walk in the tourist area around our hotel. This shop had all kind of dried goods...our best guess - for medicinal purposes:
Mark and I found a bar to get a drink in. Mark asked for a gin and tonic at the bar (which was decorated with photos of famous American musicians and actresses). Do you think they understood what a gin and tonic drink was? Or a jinnantonic? LOL...according to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" every culture has a version of gin and tonic drink. Mark went to the bar and showed them how to make it but sadly they didn't have tonic water so the drink was made with Sprite and gin (well, maybe it had gin...but it didn't taste like there was a drop of gin in the drinks). For only 100RMB (about $15) for only TWO drinks. Yikes. After we finished our drinks there was a bon fire lit outside with loud music playing:
There was a small show with music, dance and costumes next to the bonfire. I especially loved listening to the drums!
After watching the small show at the square, Mark and I continued to walk around and check out all the shops. Most of the items for sale were items that we've seen for sale in Lijiang or Tianjin but it was still fun to check them all out. There were, however, some new-to-us, unique alcohol shops. One shop that looked like it was actively distilling outside its shop, Mark went into and sampled several different distilled alcohols. He was expecting baijiu (which he really doesn't like) but instead he found something more-than-drinkable. After several,different samplings he selected a glutinous rice drink to bring home:
*One thing I'd like to mention is something we've witnessed here and other places in China....and that is how Chinese people seem to enjoy the "wilds" of China. Many of the tourists we've seen are wearing the most inappropriate clothing- high heel shoes, business suits, and other completely inappropriate clothing. I guess on the one hand I applaud them for enjoying the Great Outdoors even though they don't have the appropriate clothing (and hopefully they don't break an ankle or an arm while walking with their ridiculous clothing!). However, in a completely first-world, sort-of-way I'm surprised that people don't own a pair of walking shoes. Why? *
April 3, 2015 -
Time for breakfast (they don't start serving breakfast at the hotel until 8am...doesn't that seem late to you? It seems late to me.)
Chris is coming at 8:30am to pick us up....
Our room is on the third floor. This hotel reminds me of the one we stayed at in Chengdu.
Chinese breakfast which consists of hard-boiled eggs, a mildly spicy cabbage dish, a mildly spicy cauliflower dish, fried rice, several kinds of tasty baozi (steamed dumplings), sweet cakes, oranges, and fresh hot soy milk (with a little sugar...so yummy!). Ah, and since we're waiguoren (foreigners) they brought us four glasses of sweet instant coffee (which tastes more like hot chocolate than coffee...but I'm happy to have it!) By the way, we've learned to bring the Starbucks VIA coffee packets wherever we travel. In most places in China the hotel rooms are equipped with electric tea kettles and mugs/cups. I really needed that cup of coffee! (Mark and I enjoyed our cups of "real" instant coffee in our room before heading down to breakfast.)
Hey, if you haven't already figured out...this post is loaded to the brim with photos. I hope you are able to easily load this page and view it (if not, can you please let me know? Thanks in advance!)