Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A decade old

He chose remote control tanks that fight eachother
on Saturday. His ripstik is still being shipped from US
 Today my youngest turned TEN! 
Yikes! That means:

He is a decade old!
He's heading into the "gawky" stage.
I no longer have "little" kids.
Only 9 years until his mission!
My baby weight is also a decade old! Holy crud!

I still remember my 10th birthday. My parents threw me a surprise party after Pop Warner cheerleading practice. I remember I got two t-shirts with rhinestones on them. They were SO cool!

We knew that this birthday would be different since he is just making friends in a new place. I hope he will remember his 10th birthday too!

a rickshaw ride to the restaurant on Monday night
 After shopping for his gift of choice on Saturday, we knew we needed to "celebrate" Monday night instead of his real birthday since Dad would be on a business trip to Shanghai for the day. We had heard, from many people, of a pizza place called Kro's Nest. They recently changed their name to Tube Station Pizza. We went to the one in Sanlitun, inside Worker's Stadium North Gate. The outdoor seating was among tall trees and very nice landscape. You would have no idea you were in the middle of a city. I LOVED that they passed out bug spray to every table. The mosquitoes here are heavy duty and adore me!
this place is known for enormous pizzas
We sent in brownies for his class for his birthday. 
D with classmates on his birthday with brownies
 I made a sign for him while he was at school. He got so many shout-outs on Facebook so I included all of them on the sign. He felt very loved!
thanks to everyone who showed their love
On Tuesday night , when Dad was gone, we went to our favorite place (Peter's Tex Mex) and finally tried their chocolate cake. It was really good!
He is definitely a 10 year old boy!
Happy Birthday D! We are so blessed to have you in our lives!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Temple of Heaven

the grounds are enormous (270 acres) with pathways and trees
 I have to remind myself that I am SO lucky to be able to do nothing except for explore a historic city whenever I want to.
 As a matter of fact when I was home in CA, wondering what I would do all day, I pictured myself with my guidebook, alone, roaming the city and taking in the sights. And that is exactly what I did for the first time on Tuesday! Oh, don't get me wrong, I have been doing my fair share of exploring...but it is usually for things like "where to buy this" and "where to find that".
The sun was shining and I decided to head out to The Temple of Heaven. Some people like to travel alone. I think it is much for fun with others, but I didn't mind the peace and serenity I was able to have on the grounds.

 I entered through the East Gate which is steps from the subway line 5, Tiantan Dongmen stop, exit A. I purchased an all inclusive ticket for 35 yuan for both the park and The Temple of Heaven. I heard that entering from the South Gate was how the emperors approached the temple so I turned left at the East Gate. This is the bridge that the emperors took.

Just like The Forbidden City the walls of the buildings here are red. Instead of yellow glazed tiles, there are beautiful blue tiles. The architecture of the surrounding buildings are similar to those of The Forbidden City, completed the same year (1420).
the famous doors with golden knobs in which people would rub for luck

I had pictured it less colorful but that is because I always saw it photographed in black and white

Can't wait to come back with the family! I will then look for the platform that used to house the throne, now an empty marble platform and the whispering wall. I guess I was just too excited to shop at the Pearl Market which is right across the street! 
Please don't judge me for being shallow

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Imperial Palace~aka The Forbidden City~ aka The Palace Museum

If you are starting to notice our clothes looking familiar, keep in mind we have not yet received our shipment.
It was sort of a bummer that a few days after this the skies returned to their normal hazy gray state.

To get to the Forbidden City take line 1 and exit Tian'anmen East, exit A will lead to a walkway under the street. You can either turn left to go to Tian'anmen Square or right to go to the Forbidden City. 
When you see the portrait of Mao you may enter the outer courtyards for free. There are many vendors and crowds there. Walk farther and purchase your tickets to enter the palace grounds.

E was serving as photographer for the day
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace for the Ming and Qing Dynasty. It was built in 1406 and has 980 buildings. 

yellow glazed roof tiles were only allowed on imperial palaces, temples and tombs

this is how the Bottoms roll

ancient carvings

one of two lions, this one symbolizes female

on the left is the throne

on the exterior courtyards a child chooses a head dress

Imperial gardens- oh the things that happened here

one of many pictures D was asked to pose in. Could this have been his arranged marriage?

Exiting at the back, after the garden, are spectacular views. Just be cautious to walk along the water instead of on  the sidewalk. There are beggers that are maimed and disfigured and it is quite disturbing.

If you go to The Forbidden City expecting to see more than buildings that look like these, you may be disappointed. But thinking of the history and events that took place here is what makes it amazing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

To Market We Go ~ Silk, Ladies Street, Laitai, Pearl, Toys

 It is a way of life to shop at markets here in Beijing! Check out here for The Golden Five Star Market. Here are my impressions about a few of the markets I have been able to check out.

Silk Street Market~  Take Subway line 1 and exit at Yong'anli. I am lucky enough to live a 10 minute walk away. This market gets a bad rap, in my opinion. I hear it slammed on blogs and first hand but I really, really like it. As a matter of fact I have come to call it "my Target". When I came on our "fact finding trip" back in February I found this market and went back a few times. There is something about it that makes me feel very comfortable and at home here. 

Yes, the vendors are aggressive! Yes, the vendors are grabby! Yes, the vendors like to touch my son's spiky, gelled hair! Yes, the vendors begin at very, very high prices (much higher than the Pearl Market because this is the most touristy market). But first off, they call me "pretty lady" and I LOVE it! Second, I play their game. I don't go when I am grumpy and I joke and full around with them, they love it and I love it!
D buying magic "tops". He's quite the haggler!

You can find EVERYTHING here from underwear, clothes, shoes, bags, toys, jewelry, watches,  accessories, coats, home decor, souvenirs, DVDs, electronics, and more! Remember, you get what you pay for!
Tips: do not approach an item unless you for sure want it, they will give you a price on a calculator and you give them a price significantly lower (I usually do not pay over 200 yuan for ANYTHING), take out the cash you want to pay (once they see $ they usually cave), the more you buy, the better deal you get, walk away (don't be afraid, they will chase or call after you). Have a smile and a friendly demeanor and they will LOVE to practically give their stuff away!
Gourmet Alley at entrance of Ladies Street Market

Ladies Street Market~ This market is next door to the impressive United States Embassy. I found a few boutique-type shops right across the street that sold French and European style home decor. Gourmet Alley (pictured left) is a great way to enter the market. Yummy fried rice and noodle shops to give you sustenance for shopping!
This market carries much of what you can find at other markets, but catering to female needs and taste. The vendors are not aggressive at all and prices are not overly inflated. Be sure to check out the chinaware section, which you can enter from the street just past gourmet alley entrance.

view from outside the entrance of Laitai flower market
Laitai Flower Market~  Merely steps away from the Ladies Street Market is this flower market. It has an assortment of silk flower arrangements, outdoor furniture and garden ornaments, indoor trees, cut flowers, candles, and outdoor fish ponds.

I am told that they will even deliver your purchases (including indoor trees) to anywhere in Beijing for a nominal fee. I have seen scooters carrying indoor trees!
I went on a Friday and saw wedding preparations

Pearl Market~   A pleasant surprise to find this market at the same subway stop as The Temple of Heaven. Line 5, Tiantan Dongmen Station, exit A. 

Very similar to the Silk Street Market, but brighter lights. I had heard so much about this market being a much friendlier market, although I thought the vendors were similar to those at Silk. The merchandise is similar as well, but I did notice the vendors did start their prices significantly lower than at Silk.

Just next door to Pearl Market are two other markets, one is a shoe market and the other is Toy City. We will definitely be going back to Toy City as it had the best selection of Beyblades and Legos we've seen yet.
Toy City next to Pearl Market

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Great Wall of China ~ Mutianyu

This weekend Hubby and D were able to travel to The Great Wall for the first time. There are a few sections of the wall in close proximity to Beijing. They were traveling with D's cub scout pack and Mutianyu was the section that was chosen. This is known for the area being surrounded with beautiful greenery.

~In this location of the wall there is a moderate hike to get to the wall~

~This was the cub scout pack meeting. The cubs are all in yellow shirts~

~Dayton's first time at The Wall~

~Many sections of the wall are very, very steep~

~ A great memory for the boys~

~More stairs~

~A section that the boys liked to climb on the outside~

We can't wait to travel to The Great Wall together as a family!
Come visit us and we will be your our guides!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blessings of living in China

I realize that I am not always the most positive and grateful person there is...so I feel it is important to count my blessings as much as I can. Here are some blessings that have only come because we are living here.

An awesome education! 
I cannot say enough how amazing my kids' international school is! The entire philosophy embraces that life experiences create knowledge. Each and every single day they are experiencing things at school that enhance their learning. Just this week, D began building robots from scratch and E spent two days and one night in the mountains of China!

Learning more about myself
Almost all I thought I knew about myself has had a perspective change. For example, I always felt I was a control freak and that I would control whatever situation I was in. I've learned that there are some situations that I cannot control. Really, I never experienced that before coming here.

Increased faith
It may be getting old to some of you, my constant weaving of my spirituality into each post. I cannot apologize for that because I have had to rely on my faith every minute of every day here so far. When you cannot rely on yourself or the people around you, you must rely on the Lord. I think it is mostly the isolation, caused by proximity and the language barrier, that makes me draw inward and seek Him in all that I do.

Strengthening of family
When it is all said and done, we are still the same people...just in a different setting. Of course moving here does not  take away our less-than-desirable personality traits. There is still bickering and hurt feelings, but we have had to turn inward and rely on each other. Without hubby's horrendous commute, we are able to eat dinner more often together. We are also all present at scripture time. Each week we have a family excursion that builds memories and togetherness. I know that when we are done living here we will look back at how close we've become.

More time and more $
Aren't these the two things that everyone wants more of? Well, my life is not as busy as it used to be (for now). I am not able to volunteer at the kids' school due to the distance it is from our house. I am not working part time. My calling at church does not require many hours of preparation. I do not have to clean since we live in a serviced apartment. There is not any t.v. that appeals to me. I find myself having time to do the things that are most important for my family and myself. Some things I do are reading, writing, studying, exercising (so much walking), praying, a little bit of shopping and A LOT of thinking.

Because the cost of living can be cheaper here, I find my budget stretches farther. Of course, there is much opportunity for that not to be the case since I am within walking distance to Tiffany & Co, Gucci and Dolci & Gabbana. Because of our small apartment and knowing that we will have to transport things back to the states when we move back, I am less tempted to buy unnecessary items.

There IS beauty all around
It might take a little bit of searching but beauty is here. Each morning, when I am at Ritan Park my breath is literally taken away by the beauty that surrounds me. I can't remember that happening often in the city I yearn for back home. Also, I can never ever get tired of looking at the view out our windows. By day, the bushy green trees lead right up to interesting buildings. At night, those buildings light up, flicker, chase, blink and twinkle across the sky. Having this view is the epitome of living in a city.

Enhanced relationships abroad
There is something about leaving that makes people express themselves more openly. Also, most of my communication back home is written and people tend to"open up" more while writing. Each contact from back home is special to me. It is sad, but true, that we value things more once they are gone.

Experiencing new things each day
This is the one that can be a blessing, but also brings about a lot of anxiety too. Adventure is fun and exciting for a while, but as humans we crave familiarity and normalcy. Until China is familiar and normal to me I will continue to look at everything through new eyes and be bewildered, intrigued, and sometimes grossed out. The people here are kind, funny and hard workers. The city is populated, loud and busy. The food is flavorful, interesting and abundant. There are different smells with every step you take, some are good while most are not. Hopefully I will learn a new language soon. And how lucky to have historical, iconic, read- about places within our city boundaries and some within walking distance!  When all is said and done, it is a huge blessing to say that I see something different, and out of my ordinary, every single day.

I know the blessings are pouring in! I know I can add to this list every day. I am grateful that my family is watched over and protected in this interesting new place we call home.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Being Mormon in China

There were many things we had heard about practicing religion in the People's Republic of China. 
Some of them were truth and some of them were myths. 
Nevertheless, being a faithful Saint here has provided spiritual growth for us as a family so far!

Regulations~  Before we arrived we were sent a well-worded PDF file from the clerk of our new district. It gave specific guidelines about what we can and cannot do here in China. Printed in each bulletin, and read at the beginning of every sacrament meeting, is the following statement:
It is important for foreign members of the Church of Jesus 
Christ of Latter-day Saints living in or visiting China to be 
aware of the unique restrictions on religious activities here. 
While China permits freedom of religious belief, it requires all 
religious activities in China comply with relevant laws and 
We would like to remind you of the following: 
a) no active or passive proselyting is permitted among local 
nationals in China, 
b) only individuals who hold foreign passports, and their 
spouses, may attend meetings or other activities of this 
c) no foreign nationals are permitted to participate in 
activities of any kind with Chinese nationals who are 
members of our church, and 
d) religious materials may not be disseminated to Chinese 
nationals in China. 
Your strict observance of these rules enables us to build a 
foundation of trust with government authorities and enables us to 
continue to meet together as the government permits us to do so.
What does this mean? It means that we cannot speak, answer questions, or share anything about Jesus Christ, our church, His gospel, or God with anyone who does not hold a foreign passport. I do not come in contact with many  Chinese Nationals yet, just taxi drivers and those that work at our apartment complex.  Others have friends, ayis, drivers, business associates, etc. that they cannot talk to about our beliefs or where they go on Sundays. What this also means is that we can talk about it with anyone holding a foreign passport...that means possible neighbors, teachers and employees at the kids' school, classmates (since the International School only accepts foreign passport holders), etc. So far, this is not a problem for me since I do not talk to anyone:)

We were told not to bring anything religious with us, except for our scriptures. This was told to me by our shipping company. I think they were worried that other items would hold up customs.(Myth) I did not ship any religious books or artwork, which I regret. As long as it is only used for our own purposes we could have brought them. I will miss having a painting of the Savior on our wall, especially knowing that we could. I am grateful that I did send our painting of the Oakland Temple and I look forward to seeing it when our shipment arrives.

Organizations~ You always hear stories of churches and members being in remote areas of the world, meeting in homes or basements. I have to admit in my ignorance I thought we would be in a similar situation. Duh! Beijing has 18 million people, with thousands of foreign visitors weekly. Needless to say, we do not meet in a home. As a matter of fact we have heard that acquiring the office space, on the entire fourth floor of a building, was miraculous and inspiring. We have heard that in earlier days government officials would stand at the entrance of the meeting space and tell the handful of Saints that they could not meet. Sometimes these valiant Saints would go to two or three places before sacrament meeting could start. 

The church is established for foreigners very well here! We are members of the Beijing China International District. Our district spans the entire face of China, all the way to Shanghai. Shanghai has a much smaller district. Our district has five branches, many of them do meet in less modern facilities such as homes or one room establishments. One of our branches is a "virtual" branch. This past weekend was our district conference. The Beijing first branch and third branch met together, while the other branches dialed in from teleconference devises. They listened to us and we listened to them (their talks and prayers) over speakers. It was said that over 770 people, most via teleconference, were able to participate in our district conference. What a testimony that the Lord knows us here in China and makes it possible for us to grow!

We have over 300 active members in our branch, much bigger than most of the wards we have been in. Our branch is English speaking, but encompasses foreign Saints from all over the world. That is because we live in downtown Beijing, so any LDS person in the city or visiting the city comes to our branch meetings. It makes for wonderful diversity and visitors each and every week. Some foreigners stay for three months, while studying a semester at the University, others stay for two years or longer. There is great pride (the good pride) in this branch. Many of the past branch presidents are now general authorities. Elder Anthony D. Perkins, of the first quorum of the seventy, is our Asia Area Authority and just came to our district conference. Hubby was able to spend lots of quality time with him and we all felt greatly of his love and Spirit. He was one of the past Branch Presidents.

The other auxiliaries are flourishing, as well. I am a primary teacher for twelve 4-7 year olds. Each primary class has two teachers, although classes cannot be split due to there not being enough rooms. E was just called as the class president for her girls youth group (Beehives). She currently has ten active girls in her class. Seminary is done via teleconference because the youth go to so many different international schools.

In Beijing there are two other branches. The other foreign branch is the Beijing third branch that encompasses the people that live on the outskirts of the city, Shunyi. This is where my kids school is and where there are housing compounds much like America. Our two branches meet overlapping on Sunday mornings. This is due to the fact that there is a Bejing second branch that has Chinese Nationals in it. We are not able to associate with these Saints at all. Hubby was actually in a meeting that had to end early because all foreigners have to be out of the facility before their church starts. You may ask how there are Chinese National Saints under the strict regulations of the government? These are Chinese people who have converted in other countries and have returned to China. Honestly, we do not know much about them at all and when a question was asked to Elder Perkins about these Saints he politely declined. Nevertheless, it strengthens my testimony that ALL people are Heavenly Father's children and He loves us all.

Opportunities~ Before moving to China we dwelt on the things that we were not going to be able to do as Latter-Day Saints. Now that we are here it is confirmed that there is plenty for us to do. Although we cannot speak about it as freely as we would like (come on, how many of you are afraid of sharing the gospel?) we still have much opportunity to spread the gospel in this land. At our recent conference a story was told about an LDS family taking a boat ride down the Yangtze River. The young woman working on the boat noticed something different about this family (besides them being non-Asian). She asked the man what was the secret behind their happiness. He knew he could not tell her. He gave her his business card and told her that if she is ever out of China to email him. She did. She immediately sought out the missionaries and joined the church in a different country.

When the question was asked to our district president, "How do we share the gospel to the wonderful people of China?" He responded, "Just live the gospel". That is what we plan on doing. We know that hubby's work was only part of the reason we were brought to China. Since we have been here we have heard time and time again, "Everyone who comes to live in Beijing, comes for a reason. Heavenly Father has a plan here for each of us." We are so grateful that the government allows us to worship and we look forward to finding out what the Lord's plan for us is here!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The "almost" Forbidden City

 Notice this blue sky! It is incredibly rare
The kids were out of school for a staff development day so we decided to head to The Forbidden City and Tienenman Square.

We made it inside the main gate but decided not to go into the Forbidden City after all. We thought it would be best if we waited for Dad. 

We think we have finally gotten all the uniformed men correctly identified now. These are police, marching in formation. 

Across the street from Tienanmen Square. 

We decided to have lunch at a very Chinese food stand. It was not the greatest. We ate what we needed to sustain us and left the rest. A drunk young man sat down at our spot and proceeded to finish our leftovers. We were a little creeped out, but glad it did not go to waste.
 Tienanmen there are GIANT screens. Behind is the biggest monument in China.
 Another funny moment of the day was when my children created a crowd to take pictures with them. This group, all one at a time, posed with E and D. The ladies were giggling, as well as the men.