Saturday, December 31, 2005
Angus and Gemma with their Great Papa George in June 2005
In about an hour it will be the new year here in China. We are currently visiting Kunming, in the Yunnan province and have finally found the sun after 4 months of overcast in Chengdu. Sadly though, we had bad news this afternoon. After a battle with multiple myeloma my Grandpa George Amano passed away peacefully at his home in Torrance, California. If you had the opportunity to meet this wonderful man who was the most caring, generous, loving, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather you were very fortunate. Gemma and I will be leaving on Tuesday to come back to the US for his funeral and to spend time with our family.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Our 2005 Holiday Card pictures.
I have been wanting to post more and thought I would get the chance because I thought I had left the holiday hussle and bussle back in the states, but I was wrong. It has actually been more hectic than normal. My small little kitchen has no counter space for Gemma and I to create our cookies and candy. Plus I can't get all of the ingredients to make some of my holiday favorites. I would do anything for a bottle of peppermint extract right now to make my Bavarian mints!!! Luckily a fabulous friend from home, Elaine sent me two big bags of pecans for one of my cookies and sweet potato casserole. I ended up making a huge mess of our house as our cooking making was done on the dining room table and ran around Chengdu searching for ingredients for the cookies.
Another thing that made us so busy over the holidays was the lack of good shopping for the holidays. Oh how I wish I could be at home and just sit down in front of the computer and shop to my hearts content. Unfortunately, we were running to one of the 8,000 department stores in Chengdu looking for kids toys, clothes and little things for my husband. There were slim pickins for the kids, but luckily we all seem to have a DVD fetish right now, so they came in quite handy as gifts. (Speaking of which, I just got the second season of Lost on DVD! I was tickled! Now if they would just get Brokeback Mountain on DVD soon...)
And lastly there were so many holiday parties, birthdays celebrations, etc going on here it has been crazy! I feel like I could call the Shamrock my home away from home! I even have been known to help out behind the bar from time to time. I am really looking forward to a rest this week before we head out to Kunming for the week-end.
We celebrated Christmas Day at home. We opened gifts with the kiddos and talked to some friends and family back in the US and UK. It was great talking to everyone and helped us make it though the holiday. We had a big turkey dinner in the afternoon and had a few other expats over for dinner. I want to thank everyone who kept us on their Christmas card list! I really love getting mail and it was so nice to get a few cards in the mail from our family and friends.
We wish everyone the happiest of holidays and I look forward to seeing everyone in the new year!
Saturday, December 17, 2005
I am the big "1" today!!!
Angus turned one last Sunday. In my wildest dreams I didn't think my son would be spending his 1st birthday in China! We had a little party at our favorite Western restaurant, Peter's and pretty mellow celebration.
Here is the cake that the owner, Peter had made especially for Angus. The restaurant is Tex-Mex, so they have Angus Beef on the menu. When we first moved to Chengdu and met Peter, he was surprised that we named our son Angus. He designed the cake like a sticker you might find on beef.
The proud Papa and his rock-n-roll son. Notice the AC/DC shirt? Na, na, na, na, na, na, na ANGUS!
Angus with Asma. I think Asma has baby fever, she is always trying to steal Angus from us!
Gemma eye-balling the cake that I made. It is suppose to be a rugby ball, but didn't quite turn out that way.
Like his father, he likes older women. Here is his older girlfriend Maddie.
Angus loved the whole singing and candle thing!
And the cake was a hit with him!
We had a great day and it was a great year! Angus also gave me a little present right before the birthday. Just 3 days before his party he started to sleep through the night!!! Whoopee!!!
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Oh how I love to decorate cookies!!!
Last Saturday afternoon we attended the expat Holiday Party for families put on by Jonny's company. The company also had the brilliant idea to have the employee party the night before in which I didn't see Jonny roll in the door until 5 a.m. I feel like I have a teenager in the house! It was a great party and my friends Angie, Reed, and Sadie did a fabulous job decorating and planning the festivities. Here are a few snapshots from the day!
Speaking of having a thing for someone...here is our future son-in-law, Xavier with his betrothed! We have already worked out with Xavier's parents that the kids will marry when they are in their mid to late 20's. When in China, arrange marriages!
There was a fabulous band that played for the last hour of the party. They were a cover bands from the Philippines and I tell you those girls can move! The kids loved it although I am not sure how appropriate the music and dancing was since the second song of the night was Sex Bomb by Tom Jones! Here is a photo of guest singer Sadie with her favorite band in Chengdu.
And Miss Gemma cutting a rug!
Monday, December 12, 2005
when there is pork hanging from the ceilings and balconies.
Yes, indeed that is meat hanging. It will hang there until the end of January when the Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year. I walk through our housing compound and you can always tell when your neighbors are Chinese when you see link after link of sausage hanging off their balconies. I have heard from others that they will even hang dead cats from their balconies preparing them for their new year's feast. Luckily we will be somewhere on vacation, so we won't be dining on any of these delicacies.
Last week my friends Asma and Sophie attended a cooking class to learn how to cook Sichuan- style Chinese dishes. We learned how to cook sweet and sour pork, ma po dofu, kung pao chicken, fish-flavored eggplant, and crispy rice with vegetable sauce. It was a great class and we had fun along with great food. I have to say my favorite was the ma po dofu. The teacher, who spoke zero English thought I was crazy. I wasn't following instructions and she would curse me everytime I didn't use 1 cup of oil in my dishes. I was explained that in Sichuan cooking it was very, very important to use a lot of oil. I just ignored it and just used a tablespoon of oil in my dishes. They were also using recycled oil. When we finally realized that the oil we were using wasn't fresh we asked for fresh oil. I have never seen such dirty looks in my life!
Sophie, teacher, and Asma chopping and stirring. Check out our cleavers!
Asma stir-frying her little heart out!
Here is the crispy rice with vegetable sauce.
Sophie tasting her delicious cooking.
I am not sure if you noticed from the photos that we were still wearing our coats. It was freezing in the kitchen. There was no heat and the 2 burners we were using didn't really keep us very warm. I am still trying to get used to most places not having central heating.
I am really looking forward to coming home this summer and cooking a feast for my friends! I promise not to use any Chinese bacon!
Monday, December 05, 2005
Angie, Reed, Sadie, Amy (our gracious hostess!), and Me
Brad and Angie
Bruce and Reed
Our hostess and host, Amy and Jeff!
Rock and Jonny
I have to say the holiday season has been different around here. There is definitely less hustle and bustle and also less pressure to buy the perfect gifts. I haven't even began to shop for Jonny and the kids. I think we will probably have a minimalist Christmas, which is what I always strive for but never achieve. I have to admit I am very jealous that the Pontius' are going back to the U.S. for Christmas. As much as I have been saying I don't care much about where we celebrate the holidays, since we are always away from our family anyway, I sure wish we were with family for this holiday season.
On Sunday we had been invited to lunch at the Hardgrove's house for lunch, which was being made by their ayi, which happens to be our ayi's sister. We were getting ready to go and my ayi with her son and husband showed up at our house. I thought this was a bit strange that the Hardgrove's ayi would invite her sister's family to the Hardgrove's house. I asked our driver what was going on and he said we weren't going to the Hardgrove's for lunch we were going to a countryside village to Da Yang's house for lunch.
We drove about 40 minutes outside of town to Da Yang's house. We thought the gesture to invite us to their house was really nice. We really wanted to see how the locals live in the villages and we definitely got a taste.
When we arrived Da Yang's family greeted us. They lived in a one level house that had cement walls and floors. It had no central heating and the house looked like it needed to be finished. I have never appreciated central heating as I did yesterday.
Our hostess and chef, Da Yang!
After lunch we loaded up the van and Da Yang took us to a Buddhist temple by her village.
Here we are with both our ayi's families and our drivers.
We had a nice afternoon and we appreciated the taste of Chinese culture. I was amazed that they lived without central heat, especially in this cold climate. It has been in the mid 40's F, so it isn't just mildly cold, we are close to freezing. I am almost positive that the majority of China DOES NOT use heat in the winter. Our driver who considers himself middle-class, has central heat, but does not use it. He told me "he is not scared of the cold". Unfortunately being in Arizona for the past 10 years has made me afraid of the cold. I am just thankful that we have central heating in our house.
One thing that my wise husband pointed out today was that even though Da Yang and her family live in less than modest conditions, she is the happiest and generous people we have met while in China. It has really given me something to think about.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Jonny spoke to his boss and he told him that Joseph drove the van without permission and had his parent's in the van. His father had to go to the hospital with a broken shoulder and put 30,000 RMB (almost $4,000) worth of damage to the van. So that is the real story. We were a little taken a back that Joseph failed to give us all the details. So since finding out the real truth of the situation we have had 5 different vans, the last one smells of cigarette smoke and someone used the cup holders as ashtrays, his dad has had 2 surgeries on his shoulder and we still don't have our van back. Joseph has also lost all confidence in his driving and some of his habits are starting to get to us. Like for instance, he doesn't have good oral hygiene. I don't think the man has ever used a toothbrush and the smell of his breath is unbearable. Jonny has said he was going to talk to him about it, but how do you tell someone that their breath is horrible? We are considering finding a new driver, but we are really torn. He really knows the city, not geographically necessarily, but if you need something he knows the best place to find it. I think we will give it another week and if things don't improve we will start to look for another driver. Oh how I wish I had my Honda Odyssey here with me, sigh!!!
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Well, to say the least we have been busy lately. I feel refreshed and I would now like to share with everyone our lives the past week and a half.
We had a fabulous time in Shanghai and did tons of Christmas shopping. It was great to get the shopping out of the way. I now have to figure out how to post things back to the U.S. and U.K. I think everyone will enjoy the goodies we got them; I am just hoping we don't have any problems with the mail.
Once again I would like to thank everyone for the well wish I received on my birthday. I had lovely star-gazer lilies delivered from my husband and gorgeous sunflowers from my friends back in Chengdu. Thank you to my parents, in-laws, and dear friend Jill who sent me cards and for Pam for her rendition of "Happy Birthday" on my voice mail.
While we were in Shanghai I was able to purchase my birthday goodies from Jonny. This year I asked him to wait until we went to Shanghai to buy me a gift, so he so graciously left the gift shopping up to me. One of my gifts was a picture of a woman in a yarn shop by a very famous Chinese photographer named Wang Gangfeng. (All my knitting friends would love this picture!) The photos are amazing and they give you a peak into the real China. One of the cool things about his photos is that he puts the name of the province on the photo. I am going to ask for the above photo of 2 little Sichaunese children for Christmas. Check out both his color and black and white portfolio, I think that anyone would see the beauty in his photos. I also picked out a gorgeous amber ring from Amy's Pearls & Jewelry. The jewelry here is also another big thing to buy while you are in China especially the pearls.
After returning to Chengdu I was busy preparing for several Thanksgiving celebrations. I was asked by Gemma's teacher to prepare Thanksgiving food for Gemma's class on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I organized the parents of the American students and had everyone bring something. I decided not to have turkey since the 20 pound bird I was preparing for our own Thanksgiving was a cool $75 U.S. dollars! I made 2 chickens, stuffed them and called it good. The celebration at the school was really nice. The kids made pilgrim and Native American head pieces and wore them while we ate. Before we ate the teacher asked the class "What do Americans eat for Thanksgiving?", a question I thought was quite answerable, a little Chinese boy shouted out "Turtle!". Now, I would have thought he made a mistake, but since they eat turtle left and right here I think he was dead serious!
Thanksgiving in China was a little different. Especially for us since we treat Thanksgiving as a bigger holiday than Christmas. We are used to having an after-Thanksgiving evening party with Jonny's turkey curry, croquet and the consumption of lots of alcohol. This year Jonny had to work the entire day, so we ended up attending Thanksgiving evening dinner at the house of 2 Americans that are working for the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. We had a nice dinner with all the fixings and there were 3 other families in attendance.
I had decided before we went to our friend’s house for dinner that I would prepare Thanksgiving on Friday and have our traditional Thanksgiving party like at home. Saturday I was really busy cooking most of the day and had tons of help from Jonny. He did lots of peeling and chopping for me. We are so lucky to have an ayi to help clean and take care of the house, but apparently she decided she needed to bring in the 'big guns' and called her sister over (who is my friend Sadie's ayi) to help for the day. It made for a stress-free day and the food turned out really lovely. We had over 20 people for Thanksgiving dinner. I was able to find almost all of my normal Thanksgiving ingredients with the exception of pecans. I would have to say my favorite dish was the Eggless Sweet Potato Casserole that I made. I highly recommend it!!! The only actual problem with the meal was that my small oven took 10 hours to cook the turkey! It was probably the best turkey I have ever made, so I think it might have had something to do with the slow-cooking the turkey.
Unfortunately right before the party Gemma started coming down with something. She spent most of Thanksgiving up in her room sleeping. We had the doctor come to the house and he said she had an upper respiratory infection, so he started her on antibiotics. We headed to the doctor on Monday for a follow-up, but I thought she was getting better. By Tuesday Gemma appear to be sicker and Angus was now starting to get sick too. I took them to the doctor again and he gave her more drugs and by this morning they both seemed better. Personally I think it is Chengduitis, which is a disease I have made-up, but it is a disease caused by the pollution in Chengdu.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
After our shopping Jonny had made a reservation for me to have an afternoon of pampering from the very famous Dragonfly spa. I ordered the Emperor's Delight and oh my was it a delight! I had an hour head to toe massage which consisted of a woman massaging my tootsies and my upper body at the same time! Talk about feeling like an Emperor! After that massage I had a Japanese Shiatsu massage, which they described to be more like the deep tissue massage at home. They took me in to a Japanese-styled room and had me lay face down on a mat on the floor. It was divine! They did quite a bit of work with my spine and it did remind me of the massages I have had back in the U.S.
I went back to the hotel and met Jonny and the kids. We decided to take Jonny to the DVD shop to pick up some more DVD's. When we arrived there were tons of people there from every Western destination you could think of. They had a great selection and they even had old television series like Dallas, X-Files, etc.
We decided to take Jonny to the 1221, the Shanghanese restaurant for dinner. We had sweet and sour shrimp (not battered and deep fat fried like at home) over crispy rice, lemon chicken, chili beef, and garliky green beans which was the best Chinese food I have ever had in my life! Jonny was very impressed with our choice and we left fat and happy. I think Gemma single handedly ate the entire plate of lemon chicken.
My Shanghai of the day was Dragonfly!!!
My Shanglow was not having a big enough stomach to eat more food at 1221!
Friday, November 18, 2005
In the afternoon we headed to the Shanghai Aquarium in Pudong. It was amazing! They had fish I had never seen before. They had all these cool tunnel-type aquariums where you walk through the tunnel and there are fish to each side and above you. The had a tunnel-o-fish going down an escalator too! The kids absolute loved it! Angus just kept staring and laughing at all the fish and Gemma kept looking for Nemo! Strange, we never did find him.
When we were finished we went out to get a taxi. It had cooled down significantly and it was rush house. Since moving to China I realized the the Chinese do NOT have a concept of the queue. They just push and shove in front of you and don't really care who they offend in the process. It took about 15 minutes of walking up and down the street to find an open taxi and I shoved my way in front of two young guys who were very friendly and said in their best English "ladies first". I thought, this is a bit strange that they didn't run me over, but after I got in the taxi I realized why, my billfold was missing. I retraced my steps in my mind and thought that I had been pick pocketed. I couldn't believe it! They totally took advantage of me because I had two kids, a stroller, and a diaper bag to contend with. I have traveled quite a bit in my life and never has this happened to me.
We finally made it to Jonny's work function and I was a bit shaken up. I thought about it and decided I could either let it spoil my whole vacation or just blow it off and keep enjoying myself. At least my kids were warm and safe that is all that mattered. I can always get new credit card and a billfold.
The work function we went to was put on by an expat family from Malaysia living in Shanghai. They had a family party at their house, so we were able to see how the expats live in Shanghai. I couldn't believe how fabulous their house was! It looked like something out of Arizona. A big, 2 story house on a lake with normal tile floors and carpet! The whole neighborhood looked like something out of one of the lake communities in Chandler, Arizona. They told us the material from all of the houses were imported from Ottawa, Canada. Now how can Jonny get an expat assignment in Shanghai!
My Shanghai was running into familiar faces in Shanghai.
My Shanglow was getting pick pocketed.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Yesterday we started off breakfast at the hotel and decided to hit the ground running with 2 kiddos in tow. Who cares if this is 9th largest city in the world! We grabbed a taxi and headed to The Portman, which is a fancy schmanzy Ritz-Carlton, where they have tons of Western restaurants like Starbuck's, California Pizza Kitchen, and Tony Roma's. We did have a coffee at Starbucks, went to the western grocery store and hit Lilli's a jewelry store recommended by some friends from Chengdu who used to live in Shanghai. After our Western experience we headed over to the knock-off market to do some Christmas shopping. We got out of our taxi and I could have sworn I had a hundred Chinese people coming over to me offering to 'hold my bag'. I kindly said 'bu yao' and went to find the market. As I got closer to the market I realized that they people were not offering to hold my bag, but to sell me a bag! I wanted in the market and was amazed by all the things there were to buy! I bought some lovely bags, keychains, and Ralph Lauren long-sleeve polo shirts for Christmas presents. I am going to head back again, so once again if you think you might be on my list, please let me know what you want. After our market experience I decided it was time for my birthday lunch. We went to a Shanghainese restaurant recommended by my friends called 1221. It was amazing food and so different than what we have become accustom to in Sichuan. The flavor was more sweet and sour than the hot, hot chili taste of Sichuan. I also treated myself to a lovely glass of wine!
We went back to the hotel room to lay down and wait for Jonny to return from work. Unfortunately for him it took 2 hours for him to get back. We then went out for birthday dinner at Simply Thai, a gorgeous Thai restaurant not to far from our hotel. It was a perfect birthday! I highly, highly recommend Shanghai to any adventurous traveler who love to shop, eat, and enjoys the big city!
My Shanghai of the day was spending my birthday in such a fabulous city.
My Shanglow was having to wait 2 hours for Jonny to get back from work.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
We arrived safely in Shanghai this evening. It was dark when we arrived, but it looks fantastic! It reminds me of London very much, but with Chinese people on bicycles everywhere.
We are in Shanghai until Sunday. Jonny has a business meeting for the next couple days and I think he felt horribly guilty because it happened to land on my birthday (which is the 16th), so he thought he would take us all with him and stay the week-end and celebrate.
My main object of this trip: SHOPPING! I plan on doing all of my Christmas shopping, so if you think you might be on my list let me know what you have been wishing for from China.
My Shanghai of the day is that our taxi driver knew how to drive and where he was going.
My Shanglow would be that our hotel room has two twin beds! Guess what I'm NOT getting for my birthday ;)
Monday, November 14, 2005
Saturday evening we attended the 1st Annual U.S. Marine Ball of Chengdu at the Crowne Plaza. The Marine Ball is a birthday celebration for the U.S. Marine Corps that is celebrated every year around the world. This year marks the Corps 230th year.
I was really excited for the evening. I went to the tailor and had a dress made for myself. I picked the most gorgeous green color in raw silk and found picture of a dress on the internet that the tailor could copy. The dress turned out great and there is nothing like having clothes tailor made to your body. Here is a picture of Jonny and I on the front steps of our house.
Amy, Angie, Me, and Sadie
Here is a picture of the Marines that are stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. There are 7 here right now, but 2 are going to be leaving soon. Here is a picture of a few wives + one employee from Jonny's company.
Here is the whole gang with the Marines.
There was a 8 course meal and dancing afterwards. Here is a picture of Rock Hardgrove, one of Jonny's colleagues, shaking his money maker.
We had a nice evening, but I have to say the most exciting part for me was having the dress made. I wonder what else I should have made?
Friday, November 11, 2005
Angus and Gemma modeling their pumpkin au naturale!
Jonny carving our family pumpkin.
I didn't tell Jonny there was a contest for the best carved pumpkin until after he carved our pumpkin. He was a little upset and said he would have done a better job if he had known. I purposely didn't tell him because he is such a perfectionist it would have taken a week to carve the the thing.
Gemma wanted to be a princess for Halloween and she wanted to wear pink. I told her she could be Sleeping Beauty and she eagerly agreed. Our driver took us to his wife's tailor and she make this beautiful raw silk gown for Gemma. It was extremely reasonable and turned out gorgeous. (I also had a coat and ball gown made for myself that I will post pictures of soon. It is just fabulous to have clothes tailor made to your body and so reasonably priced!)
Gemma and her classmate Sally. Sally is from Korea and was also Sleeping Beauty.
They did a great job decorating the school and had an area for family pictures.
Sleeping Beauty showing off her shoes.
Princess Angus! As you can see Jonny had to restrain his arms to take this picture. Doesn't he look cute in the crown? This photo is bribery material for when he gets older!
Gemma decorating cookies. Actually it looks like she is decorating her face!
It was a great night out for the family and the school did a great job. I was in charge of the food and I would have to say it was the highlight of the evening. There were tons of tasty dishes! There were these curry and shiitake puffs that were incredible, a scrummy curry, and many other tantalizing tidbits. I made my pumpkin bars and also the pumpkin soup my friend Jill in AZ makes. They both turned out great and were a hit.
Good News, we received our furniture tonight! We now have a couch to sit, a table to eat, and a proper bed to sleep! I will take photo once we decide how to arrange it in our house.