Life in Texas: November 27 to December 23, 2011 — Amazon Cruise

Immediately after Thanksgiving, Deb, her mom – Velna, and Finnie flew from Texas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to begin a cruise from there, through the Caribbean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean to the Amazon River in Brazil and up river approximately 1000 nautical miles to the City of Manaus and back.  The cruise included 24 nights aboard ship and many stops along the way!  This blog entry is a pictorial summary of the cruise highlights.

We boarded the ship, The Sevens Sea Navigator, on the afternoon of November 28, and enjoyed relaxing by the ship’s pool until the ship sailed at dusk.

Figure 1.  view from the ship in Fort Lauderdale

Figure 2.  Deb and Finnie preparing for lunch by the pool

Figure 3. Vel relaxing after lunch

We spent several days at sea relaxing and enjoying the amenities of the ship.  The ship has shops, several restaurants, a variety of recreational and fitness facilities, lounges, a large theater, a casino, and organized competitive games, so there were many ways to enjoy days and nights at sea.

Figure 4.  View from our Suite window.

Figure 5.  Finnie checking email on the balcony

Figure 6.  Vel relaxing on the balcony of our suite


 Figure 7.  Vel enjoying a canapé before dinner on our balcony

Figure 8.  Vel writing a letter to friends back home in our suite

Figure 9.  Finnie and Vel in our suite after morning coffee

Figure 10.  Deb and Vel enjoying dinner in Prime 7, the smallest and most intimate restaurant

Figure 11.  Deb, Vel, and our new friend, Ida, dining in the main restaurant, Compass Rose, with Ferdinand, our waiter

Figure 12.  Vel and Finnie participating in the daily game of trivia in the Galileo Lounge

Figure 13. Playing duplicate Bridge on days at sea.

Views from the voyage and off-ship adventures.

First stop: St. Barts.  St. Barthélemy is a Department of France.  It is a volcanic island and a part of the Leeward Islands.   Though there were several different off-ship excursions and activities, Deb, Vel, and I chose to go snorkeling and to tour the island.

Figure 14.  A tender from our ship approaching Gustavia, capitol of St. Barts.

Figure 15.  Going out on a large catamaran to snorkel

Figure 16.  The Seven Seas Navigator at anchor off St. Barts

Second Stop.  St. Lucia.  St. Lucia is one of the Lesser Antilles, and it lies at the boundary between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  Deb and I took a tour of the island and Vel decided to rest aboard ship.

Figure 17.  The dock at Castries, capitol of St. Lucia.  Can you pick out our ship in this photo?

Figure 18.  View of Castries from an old fort.  Can you see our ship in this one?

Figure 19.  Some tie-dyed fabrics at the Caribelle batik shop, near Castries.

Figure 20.  Fishing boats at Anse la Raye on St . Lucia

Third Stop:  Tobago.  Tobago is the smaller of the two islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  We stopped at the capitol city, Scarborough, and Deb and I took a tour of the island, which included several old forts and a plantation house.  One especially interesting site was a grave with a gravestone bearing this mysterious quote: “She was a mother without knowing it, and a wife without letting her husband know it, except by her kind indulgence to him.”  The grave contained a young woman (23 years old) and her baby.

Figure 21.  Fort King George on Tobago.

Figure 22.  Bucco Beach on Tobago.

After  our visit to Tobago, we sailed a couple of days to the mouth of the Amazon River, and began a long voyage up the river.  We stopped briefly ay a place called Macapa to have our visas checked and to pick up Brazilian officials, including (we hoped) a river pilot.  There did not appear to be much of a town there and we waited a good while until several boats came over to discharge the various people who needed to come aboard.  After about an hour, we continued upstream.  We knew that we would stop for a visit at the city of Santarem, about 2/3 of the way to our destination on the Amazon of Manaus.

As we approached the mouth of the Amazon, we sailed into muddy water that was being discharged into the ocean by the river.  On board we were told that 1/5 of all river water flowing into the world’s oceans and seas comes from the Amazon.  I had never even considered that scale of water flow before.  We began to see the “muddy” Amazonian water what we think was about 6 hours before we actually entered into the river proper.  Deb and I have seen several of the world’s largest rivers (e.g., the Nile, the Yellow, the Yangtse, the Rhine, the Mississippi, the Zambezi) before this trip, but nothing had come close to preparing us for the size and impact of the Amazon!  It is impossible to actually capture the size and water volume flowing the Amazon!  Even photos don’t do justice to the river.  It is so incredible that one of the passengers thought (after we left the Amazon to sail up it largest tributary, the Rio Negro, to go about 20 miles to the city of Manaus), that we had finally left the sea and were now on the Amazon.  The Rio Negro is a very large river, I think larger that the Mississippi near its delta, so it finally seemed as though we were in a river — so it must be the Amazon! 🙂

Here are some photos taken on approaching and sailing on the Amazon.

Figure 23.  Each state room had it’s own TV set with constant information on our location, icluding maps at several levels of detail.

Figure 24 Approaching one of the channels into the river– the mouth seems to have a lots of islands in it and the river flows around them.

Figure 25.  In the Amazon, near the mouth.

Figure 26.  That island is a long way away with very tall trees.

Figure 27.   Our position on December 6

Figure 28.  In mid river on December 6.

Just after reaching Macapa, we crossed the equator, and this necessitated a major ceremony to initiate those who had note crossed it before.  King Neptune, his queen court, and a lot of the ship’s entertainers went all out to do the job right!

Figure 29.  King Neptune and court arriving!  That probably wasn’t really a script he was holding; I imagine it was a list of the condemned!  And Deb was on that list!

Figure 30.  The Captain tells the judge to hold the court.  This is very serious stuff!   Pooooor Deb!

Figure 31.  One poor pollywog being dealt with!  If he survives, he’ll be a shellback!  How lucky can you get?  Many of the pollywogs just had to kiss a piranha — I told you this is serious stuff!

Fortunately, Deb made it through and is now a shellback!

Fourth Stop: Santarem is an interesting city of several hundred thousand people.  Our guide on a wonderful tour of the city and surrounding areas said that there is only one road into/out of Santarem, and it isn’t “pave-ed.”  She said it is a very rough trip lasting about 4 or 5days to the nearest city from Santarem on the road!  Once we docked, Deb and I took the tour, which included a visit to the cathedral, a outdoor market, the city museum, and a visit to a rubber and manioc farm operated by an extended family.    Here are some photos!

Figure 32.  The city of Santarem.

Figure 33.  Santarem cathedral

Figure 34.  City council meeting room.

Figure 35.  A selection of hammocks at an open-air market.

Apparently, hammocks are widely used as beds in this area, and we were told that since the only way to travel out of Santarem is by boat, airplane, or the non-paved road, most people prefer to take the passenger boats — but you have to take your own hammock.   Only hooks to swing the hammocks are available on the boats, and they are mounted densely on the decks of the boats!

Figure 36.  Passenger boat — bring your own hammock,  the stacks of dark wood are mahogany and other hardwoods from the area ready for export

Figure 37.  More hammocks

Figure 38.  Animals grazing on pasture land of an island just across from the Santarem docks.  It will be flooded soon , as the wet season is just starting.

Figure 39.  Visiting the rubber and manioc farm

Figure 40.  Harvesting rubber from a rubber tree

Figure 41.  Rubber tree seeds.  When they dry, they explode, sending the seeds 10-15 meters away.

Figure 42.  A manioc processing and detoxifying shed

Figure 43.  Manioc roots.

Figure 44.  Peeling a manioc roots for shredding

Figure 45.  Home-made manioc shredder

Figure 46.  Shredded manioc

Figure 47.  Squeezing the juices out.  The juice is used for sauces and to ferment

Figure 48.  very slow roasting the shredded and de-juiced manioc to detoxify it for human consumption.

Figure 49.  The family also grows a variety of fruits, which they displayed for us.

Figure 50.  Sister or cousin caring for a baby!

Fifth and Sixth stops: After saying farewell to Santarem, we sailed over night to Boca da Valeria, a small village, and some travelers visited for a few hours.  Deb, Vel, and I, however, remained onboard and slept in late!.  By 1:00 PM, we sailed on to Manaus, arriving the following morning.  As mentioned earlier, Manaus is not on the Amazon.  It is on Rio Negro, about 20 miles from the point at which it flows into the Amazon. We remained in Manaus two full days, so we had the opportunity to a good deal of exploring.  Manaus, a city of over 2 million inhabitants, was founded as a fort in 1669.  During it rubber boom, 1879 to 1912, its “rubber barons” were fabulously wealthy, and the city was considered one of the most gaudy in the world.  However, when rubber plantations were established in other parts of the world, the bottom fell out and the rubber boom was over for Manaus after only 33 years.  However, during that time some amazing things were done there, including building a beautiful opera house.

Rio Negro is — as its name suggests — is a black river — that is, the water is darkly stained by tannins in the leaves that fall into its waters and those of its tributaries.  Also, it flows from Colombia and Venezuela at a slow rate.  On the other hand, the Amazon flows 3-4 times faster and its not stained.  It is “muddy” looking due to erosion of the Andes mountains, which it originates.  Consequently, the water for the two rivers does not quickly mix.

This was a very interesting place, and here are some photos.

Figure 51.  Ship’s location at Manaus

Figure 52.  Wider view of our location

Figure 53.  Approaching Manaus on the Rio Negro

Figure 54.  A street market in Manaus

Figure 55.  There was a lot of traffic in Manaus!

Figure 56.  Manaus.  May I borrow your electricity, please?

Figure 57.  Manaus Opera House –Teatro Amazonas

Figure 58.  Manaus Opera House –Teatro Amazonas, main doors

Figure 59.  Ceiling of the Opera House

Figure 60.  Box seats in the opera house

Figure 61.  Opera House stage — the original curtain is still in use after 118 years

Figure 62.  Opera house Governor’s Reception Room

Figure 63.  Opera House, Governor’s Reception Room floor

Figure 64.  City park next to the Opera House

We also visited the zoo, which is estalished and operated by the Brazilian Army.  There many typical primates, mammals, and reptiles on exhibit, but two animals were of particular interest to me:

Figure 65.  An anaconda resting in a tree.

Figure 66.  An boa constrictor sunning

On the second day in Manaus, Deb, Vel and I took a boat tour to see Lake January water lillies, which have pads that are up to six feet across, and the meeting of the Rio Negro and Amazon waters.  Here are some photos on this adventure.

Figure 67.  Lake January, which was dry until recently

Figure 68.  Houses, stores, and churches are all floating structures.  The water can rise up to forty feet higher when the rivers are at peak volume.

Figure 69.  We saw lots of birds of various species in the grasses in shallow water

Figure 70.  The large water lillies

Figure 71. More floating structures

Figure 72.  Two dwellings

Figure 73.  Kids during a Christmas holiday relaxing and playing over the water

Figure 74.  Meetings of the waters of the Rio Negro and Amazon

Figure 75.  Meetings of the waters – another view

Figure 76.  Pitchers of water from the Rio Negro in front and Amazon in back.  You can easily feel the difference in warmth between the two samples.

After our visit to Manaus, we sailed several days and night back down the Amazon, stopping only at the town of Parentins for an Amazonian culture show for about 3 hours.  We don’t have any photos of the colorful show and nothing particularly different of the Amazon.  We did see many pink dolphins in the river between Santarem and Manaus, but I never was able to get a good picture — by the time I saw one surface and tried to find it with my camera, it had disappeared, so all I ever got were evidence of splashes.  Other people have been more successful fortunately, for example,

http://www.amersol.edu.pe/ms/7th/7block/jungle_research/new_cards/14/report14hm.html

We also saw, or more specifically, ate the Amazon’s largest fish, the arapaima, aka, pirarucu.  This is a photo from the web.

Our eighth stop was in the Atlantic, just off French Guiana, the infamous Devil’s Island.  Actually, we visited Royal Island, where the administration of the prisons, along with hospital, church, prisons, and graveyards (not for prisoners, they were buried at sea) were located.  We could see Devil’s Island across a shark-infested channel with dangerous currents.  Apparently only one prisoner ever escaped from Devil’s Island — Clément Duval, made famous by the book, Papillon.  The prisons operated from 1852 to 1946.  Here are some of our photos:

Figure 77.  Our ship position at Devil’s Island

Figure 78.  Devil’s Island Director’s house  on Royal Island

Figure 79.  Guards’ houses

Figure 80.  The Church

Figure 81.  Church interior

Figure 82.  Deb resting on one of the many sets of steps on Royal Island.  Temperature = 39C, humidity = 100%!

Figure 83.  A reservoir reputed to have been dug by prisoners using only spoons.

Figure 84.  Entry to the Children’s cemetery–  i.e. children of the officials.

Figure 85.  Children’s graves

Figure 86.  A typical gravestone inscription

Figure 87.  Devil’s Island Hospital

Figure 88.  Devil’s Island from Royal Island.

Figure 89.  Today, there is a great deal of beauty on the islands, so it is hard to truly imagine the brutality of the place when it was a working prison.

Stop nine:  Barbados. Only an overnight cruise from Devil’s Island, we docked at Barbados — our favorite stop on the cruise!  Deb, Vel, and I selected a land tour of the island, and we were delighted by the island and its people!  First we visited Sunbury, a sugar plantation house that operates today as a historical site that includes the plantation house, built in 1660, and garden and a fun sampling of local cuisine.  This was followed by a visit to Orchid World, which was awesome, and finally an old fort on Gun Hill.  The country side between the sites we visited was picturesque — hilly with sugar cane plantations and farms and broad vistas.  We all agreed this is a “must return to” island!  Ok, there are about a thousand pictures, so get ready!   Just kidding!  There were hundreds of pictures taken, but we’ll only show a few.

Sunbury House:

Figure 90.  Front view

Figure 91.  Front Room

Figure 92.  Front Room

Figure 93.   Cool chair

Figure 94.  Dining Room  — can cater private dinners and parties

Figure 95.  Planter’s office or den

Figure 96.  Cool fly trap!

Orchid World had more than 20,000 orchids:

Figure 97.  Vel and Finnie took the short tour!

Figure 98.  Ok, I don’t know all 20,000 orchids — or even two, so enjoy looking!

Figure 99.  Another one!

Figure 100.  Another

Figure 101. Yet another

Figure 102.  Another.  Look Mom, no soil — just air!

Figure 103.  Another one I liked

Figure 104.  How about this one?

Figure 105.  Beautiful, but I could kill this one in about a week if I tried to grow it!

Figure 106.  A closer view!

Figure 107.  I liked this one too.

Figure 108.  The last one I’ll show.  I like the color!  I think this one is a vanda.  Is it?

Stop Ten Dominica. Dominica is an island in the Lesser Antilles an overnight cruise from Barbados.  Deb and I tour a tour of the island.  We docked off the capital, Roseau. One of the attractions on this mountainous island  is Morne Trois Pitons National Park at a triple peaked mountain from which the park gets its name and from which one can see twin high waterfalls (Middleham Falls, aka, Padre and Trafalgar Falls, aka, Madre)  and the “emerald” pool nearby.

Figure 109.  Our ship at Roseau

Figure 110.  Deb and Ida in front of Madre falls

Figure 111.  Padre and Madre Falls

Figure 112.  The Emerald pool

Figure 113.  A friendly (?) bull finch

Figure 114.  I think this is a Bananaquit.

Stop Eleven. Tortola, an overnight sail fromDominica, is one of the British Virgin Islands.   Deb and Vel took a land tour and I stayed onboard to rest from all my relaxation of recent days!

Figure 115.  Tortola’s capitol, Road Town from the ship

Figure 116.  Vel in the excursion truck

Figure 117. A scene on the drive through Road Town

Figure 118.  A nice vista

Figure 119.  Beautiful Beach!

Figure 120.  Deb was especially impressed by the long series of murals along one shore.

Figure 121.  An example of a painting on the wall of murals

Stop Twelve.  Dominican Republic,  Cayo Levantado, was another overnight cruise away.  The ship moored off Cayo Levantado for several different excursions.   Deb and I chose to snorkel off the island.

Figure 122.  Cayo Levantado

Figure 123.  View of our ship at Cayo Levantado from the catamaran taking us to snorkel

Figure 124.  Our snorkel site

After a few hours snorkeling, we had a barbeque lunch of burgers on Cayo Levantado and relaxed on the beach before returning to the ship.  The ship then sailed to Grand Turk.

Stop Thirteen.  Grand Turk.  We had a quick few hours here to shop and look around.  The island is very small and seems to have very little elevation above the sea.

Figure 125.  Beginning our tour of the port

Figure 126.  Deb and Vel next to a replica of Friendship 7, John Glenn’s capsule, which splashed down nearby.

Figure 127.  Deb and Vel looking at some beautiful blossoms near the Friendship 7 replica.  Note the beautiful sea in the background

Figure 128.  Returning to the ship.  Seven Seas Navigator, the smaller, white ship, looks small compared with the much larger ship docked next to it!

Just as we were leaving Grand Turk, several large whales were swimming very near the ship.  Naturally, I only captured  splashes in the water with my camera.  In the evening after we got underway, we were treated to a song and dance presentation by members of the multinational personnel of the ship.  We were continuously amazed by the tireless hard work and good nature of all the personnel, and we felt very close to several of them!  So, it was great fun to see several of them in the show!  We were particularly excited to see our head waiter, Ferdinand, singing and dancing in four or five numbers!

Figure 129.  We are seated in the Star Lounge for the show

Figure 130.  Ferdinand (in the bath robe) and friends singing and dancing Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash”

Figure 131.  Ferdinand playing a cruise ship waiter (go figure!) in another number

Figure 132.  And finally Ferdinand is playing a ship’s officer in yet another song.

Figure 133.  Sailing for Fort Lauderdale.

We arrived back in Fort Lauderdale after another 36 hours at sea and returned to our home in Texas with delightful memories of a fantastic adventure!  We were tired — it’s hard to relax so long and hard, I guess!  But we will never forget this experience!

Sorry, but I can’t resist the temptation to pass along some cruising jokes (or very possibly, just true legends)!

Guest: “Say, Officer, how do you get electricity on the ship at sea? — by satellite or just an extension cord?”

Guest:  “Say, Officer, what do you do with all those ice sculptures after the ice melts?”

Guest: “Say, Officer, since you say that you use ocean water in the ship’s pool, where are all the waves?”

OK.  Have a nice day!

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Life in Texas. October and November 2011.

Life in Texas.  October and November 2011.

Most of October and November were devoted to work at Kathy and Micheal’s house.  They had a small room that had once been a back porch, and some decades ago it had been converted to a sun room with a set of bay windows at the west end.  The door to this room opened onto the driveway, not into the backyard, and they felt it would be more useful and handy if the room were changed so that there was a door into the back yard, rather than the bay windows.  So, after considerable thought and planning,  we began the project.   First we had to removed the bay windows and frames and then install the new door, replace siding, seal and paint.  Second, we needed to removed some of the foundation that had supported the bay windows and build a deck foundation and deck.

Figure 1.  Purchasing a French door

Step 1.  Removing bay windows and frames:

Figure 2.  Micheal and Finnie taking window frames off

Figure 3.  There she goes!

Figure 4.  Taking the frame out

Figure 5. Deb Buying Door and Materials for Framing

Step 2.  Installing the new door.

Figure 6.  Preparation to frame for new door

Figure 7.  New door placed into frame

Figure 8.  Installing Door lights

Figure 9.  Door and Siding Installed

Step 3. Building New Deck

Figure 10. Putting in New Foundation for Deck

Figure 11. Putting on the decking

Figure 12. Installing the decking

Figure 13. Decking Finished and Handrails partially installed

Figure 14. Finishing the handrail.  The last Spindle

Figure 15.  Deck and steps finished

Visit to Murray State University and the University of Nebraska at Kearney

We drove over to Murray, Kentucky on October 27 to visit our friends at Murray State University.  We arrived in Murray around 9:00 PM, and the next day, we visited VP Jim Carter, then had lunch at the Happiness Restaurant with Jamie Haynes and Tina Bernot from the Murray Development Office.  After lunch we visited with Luis Canales and Tina Coffelt about Tina’s summer program she plans to offer for student stud in China.   In the evening, we were joined by many faculty and staff members who have been to Weihai to renew acquaintances!

Figure 16.  Friends enjoying Barbeque

On Saturday morning, we took Zhang Jiahao (Isaac) to Cracker Barrel for breakfast.  It was fun introducing him to a country breakfast, which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy!

Figure 17.  Isaac enjoying the Sampler breakfast plus extra pancakes from Deb

Figure 18.  Isaac did not take long to get down to Business with his breakfast.  He said he enjoyed the country ham best!

After breakfast, even though I was too full to walk, we took Isaac for a cultural experience — Lowe’s Home Improvement Store!  It was fun to explore all the departments of the store with him and to look at the power tools —  that is never dull for a second!

In the afternoon we met at the President’s box at the stadium to watch the football game.  We had fun, except unfortunately, Murray lost the game.sad

Figure 19.  With President Dunn in the President’s box.  Audrey Wang — from Yantai — joined us for the game.

Figure 20.  Kick off

Figure 21.  Racer One after a score!

After the game, Isaac, Audrey, and another friend Lynn Jang  joined us for a family-style Chinese dinner at Happiness Restaurant.

Figure 22.  Dinner at the Happiness Restaurant — Jynn Jang, Isaac, Audrey Wang, Deb and Finnie

Dinner was good and we enjoyed the conversation.  On Sunday morning the five of us went back to Cracker Barrel, so that we could introduce Audrey and Lynn to a delicious American country breakfast.  By all accounts we all enjoyed it very much!

Figure 23.  Sunday Breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

Figure 24.  Isaac trying on Halloween clothes in Cracker Barrel.

Later in the day, we headed toward Kearney, Nebraska.  We drove part way on Sunday and arrived in Kearney in the late afternoon on Monday.  After checking into our hotel, we went to Zoe’s house for dinner.  Zoe and her former student and friend, Zhang Ming greeted us and we shared a delicious meal of Chinese dumplings and noodles with them!

Figure 25.  Zoe making Dinner and Ming

Figure 26.  Tea after dinner!

The next day, Tuesday, we met a lot of friends for a reunion lunch at El Potero Restuarant.  It was very nice to see and chat with so many good friends!  I fact, we were so excited that we forgot to take any photos.  It truly was wonderful to see and catch up with everyone we could at that lunch!  In the evening, joined Ken and Diane Nikels for dinner at Bill Jurma and Kenya Taylor’s house!  That was fun, as always!   How many evening have we shared conversation and Fellowship with them!  Definitely one of our fondest memories of our time in Kearney.

Figure 27.  After dinner at Bill and Kenya’s.   Their grandchild’s room with Ken and Diane

The following day, we had an opportunity to visit more friends and colleagues at UNK, and we had lunch with my former administrative assistants:  Tami Plugge, Kristi Milks, and Fauneil Meier.  We met at Alley Rose Restaurant for a wonderful lunch, catching up after two years!

Thanksgiving at home in Texas.

At the end of November, we had a Thanksgiving celebration at our home.  Deb and I were joined by her mom, Velna, our daughter and son-in-law, Kathy and Micheal Preble, and his father, John.  We enjoyed the meal together and a day of visiting.  It was nice to relax and just enjoy family.

Figure 28.  Thanksgiving dinner in Euless, Texas!

After Thanksgiving, we finished the deck at Kathy and Micheal’s house and the on the 28th, we departed for a 24-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Brazil, 1000 miles up the Amazon and back to Fort Lauderdale.  That was a great adventure, but fodder for the next blog!

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Life in Texas, July 21 to September 30, 2011.

Life in Texas, July 21 to September 30, 2011.

We managed to quickly get through the jet lag period after our return.  Staying up late and sleeping as late as possible in the morning, coupled with melatonin at bedtime, seemed to be a good strategy this time.  After a week we were back on Texas time.  Renewing family ties was first on our wish list! Also, during this time we started working on several projects –  buying a used pickup truck, repairing hail damage to the house roof and car, making major updates to the house, and helping prepare Tata’s  (our unborn grandchild) room.

Renewing family ties

Re-establishing a family tradition started before we left for China the last time, we try to have a family Sunday Brunch together every week.  It helps re-connect the local family and we have an enjoyable time together.

Other family meals at each other’s homes have continued to offer times for us to be together.  Foods enjoyed at our family gatherings have included one of the following main entrees: grilled  hamburgers,  homemade chicken pot pie, or  boiled lobster tails.

Figure 1.  Family Gathering in Kathy and Micheal’s back yard

Figure 2.  Checking out Kathy and Micheal’s Garden

Figure 3. Some of  Kathy and Micheal’s garden produce.

Figure 4.  Having a picnic at the DFW airport picnic plaza

Buying truck 

Finnie bought himself a used pick-up truck.  It is a dark blue 2007 Toyota Tacoma.  It is fun to drive and it has come in very handy during the last 2 months since we have been back to take things to the recycle bin, the Goodwill store, and to haul furniture from one location to another. We will probably be hauling wood for Finnie’s woodworking projects and, as time goes on, other large bulky items from one location to another as the family needs help.  Another reason for purchasing a second vehicle is that especially here in a large metroplex area with limited, and expensive, public transportation, a second vehicle is essential for safety and transportation.

We actually bought this vehicle the first weekend we were back in Texas.  Finnie had shopped on line while we were still in Weihai for the type of truck to buy that had the best recommendations from Consumer Reports (and the price that we should expect to pay for such a vehicle) and had narrowed down his choice of truck to a 2007 Toyota Tacoma.  So when we returned to the states all we had to do was check out a few car dealerships to find the best truck for the best price.  Over the last 20 years or so, we have found that buying well cared for used cars and trucks is a more  economical way to purchase vehicles.

Figure 5.  Finnie’s new truck

Repair Hail Damage

As everyone knows, 2011 has been an impressively active year weather-wise.  With large typhoons and hurricanes causing excessive damage, hundreds of tornadoes devastating large areas of the U.S. midwest, horrible droughts in Asia and the U.S., massive floods in other areas of the world, earthquakes and tsunamis like the ones in Japan in March 2011, record-breaking excessive heat and cold in every region of the world, it was inevitable that our house in Texas would suffer some damage at some point while we were gone.  On May 25, 2011 a massive hail storm associated with several small tornadoes swept through the Fort Worth area and most houses in the metroplex were damaged from the fist-sized hail stones.  Our house roof was hit with many such hailstones, which damaged the whole roof including smashing the outer shell of the skylight in our living room.  Our car which was parked in the middle of Fort Worth at the time was extensively dented as well.  We called the house and car insurance company and started the process of getting both the house roof and the car repaired.  Since so many people in the area had similar problems, we had to wait our turn.  Fortunately the excessive heat and drought meant that we did not have to worry about rain damage due to the damaged roof and skylight!  Anyway, as of last week, we have a new roof and skylight, and the car has been beautifully repaired.

Figure 6.  New roof and skylight on our house.  (OK, the old roof looked just like this one before it was damaged.)

House Updates

While we were preparing for our departure from Weihai, we were also planning for our return to the United States and to our house in Fort Worth.  We purchased our house just before we started living in Weihai and knew at the time we purchased it that we would be remodeling it when we had a chance.  The house was built about 15 years ago and we knew at the time of purchase that several things needed to be replaced, repaired, or upgraded.   Our decision to do all the remodeling at once was precipitated by the fact that we will be traveling in the late Fall and our newest grandchild will be born in mid-February.  We worked together on most of the projects: Finnie is an excellent handyman and loves to complete electrical, plumbing, and woodworking projects; I am pretty good at painting, dry wall repair, and organizing our stuff more efficiently. Below is the list of projects and pictures showing the results after the remodeling job was complete.

Rearranging placement of furniture and replacing worn-out furniture.  We rearranged the living room by moving some furniture to other rooms, donating the old furniture to Goodwill, and buying new (more comfortable) furniture to replace the worn-out furniture.

Figure 7.  New Sofa in remodeled living room.

Cleaning fireplace insert, repainting mantel, installing TV cabling to new location of television:  The cement around the fireplace insert fell out of the fireplace before we left in January, so we replaced the insulation, cleaned up the bricks around the fireplace, cleaned and painted the mantle, and installed our flat screen TV over the fireplace.  Finnie spent several hours in our hot attic installing new cabling for the TV

Figure 8. Fireplace in remodeled living room (Don’t ask what was on TV… we don’t know!)

 Replacing kitchen countertop:  The original kitchen countertop was beginning to show its age.  It was a traditional tile countertop that was hard to keep clean and stain free.  Water leaked through the porous grout and caused the plywood under the tiles to swell.  Using Angie’s List, a referral service for goods and services, we found a granite countertop company that would make a countertop to fit our kitchen.  We were happy to find that the company was able to complete the job from our first phone call to end of installation within 3 weeks.  It was an interesting process: first we had to choose the piece of Brazilian granite we wanted, then a group of craftsmen cut the granite to the exact measurements and installed it, and second group of craftsmen skilled in putting up tile installed the backsplash.  Finnie and I went to an enormous warehouse where we were able to choose the slab of granite we wanted from thousands of slabs of granite ( each measuring 8 feet by 15 feet and weighing several thousand pounds).  We finally found the right one – a light tan colored piece with a pleasing speckled pattern of other natural colors.  It was interesting to watch the craftsmen do their job and especially fun to see the transformation of the kitchen from a white tile kitchen to a more modern kitchen.  Finnie fixed several electrical issues in the kitchen – upgrading several electrical switches and installing two new under-the-cabinet lights.  He also installed a small water heater under the kitchen sink that gives us instant hot water at the kitchen sink, rather than having to wait for the hot water to get to the faucet from the big water heater in the attic (which, by the way, had been replaced while we were gone because it was leaking).  A water shortage in our region makes us very conscious of creating ways to conserve water in any way possible and this little water heater saves gallons of water.

Figure 9.  Kitchen before new counter top

Figure 10.  installers starting counter top replacement

Figure 11.  Finnie installing under cabinet lights and extra electrical outlets during counter top installation

Figure 12.  Kitchen after new counter tops

New floors:  When the house was built, a white carpet was installed – badly.  The carpet was wrinkled, stained, and for whatever reason was never clean – no matter how much we vacuum-cleaned and shampooed it.  Since we can come up with great ways of helping us depart from large sums of money, I suggested that we consider replacing the carpet with a wood floor.  We discovered that while new carpet would be less expensive, a wood floor would be easier to clean and increase the overall value of the house.  So again through Angie’s list we found a flooring contractor who efficiently and professionally helped us through the process of selecting the flooring product to use and then installed the floor.  We chose the floor we wanted (which looks better than we had imagined!) and it was installed within two weeks of our first call to the company.  Six young, agile men were able to install the floor in 8 hours and that included moving the furniture out of the way and then back in the original locations, as well as reinstalling base boards.  We were really impressed with the quality of the workmanship and the quality of the floor.

Finnie was able to replace the in-floor electrical outlet so that it meets the electrical housing codes.  We found that former owners had just poured cement into the electrical outlet box and had not cut the electrical current to the box – it was a fire hazard waiting to happen.  This job took several hours of chiseling out concrete to accommodate the outlet box and making sure there was enough electrical wire to complete the connection properly.

Figure 13.  Installing the new wood floor

Figure 14.  Deb in Living Room after flooring installation

Getting Ready for Tata

Who is TaTa?  In Chinese, Ta is the Pinyin word for “he”, “she” and “it”.  Since we don’t know the sex of Kathy and Micheal’s unborn baby, we refer to the baby as “TaTa”.  Both sides of the family are very excited about TaTa.  In anticipation, we are working on projects that will help Kathy and Micheal prepare for Tata’s needs after birth like painting the nursery, woodworking projects, and shopping for baby equipment.

At 22 weeks, Tata is growing well and, most importantly, is a healthy baby according to all the blood tests and the 20-week sonogram.  Kathy and Micheal decided not to learn of the baby’s gender at this sonogram.  This picture is a snapshot from the 20 week sonogram  of Tata, the newest family member…..

Figure 15.  Sonogram of Tata (taken on October 7)

Painting the room   On a date when many family members were available, we met at Kathy and Micheal’s house to paint the room that will be TaTa’s room.  Kathy chose to paint the room an avocado green color, with white underneath a chair-rail.  The painting process took longer than we anticipated, but the final result is wonderful!  It will be a brightly colored room and full of interesting things for TaTa to look at and play with.

Building a changing table top
Finnie built a changing table top designed similarly to the one he built for us to use for Kathy.  It is a wooden box that sits securely on top of a dresser.  The one he built for TaTa is very fancy with places to hold diapers, cleaning wipes, and other associated diaper changing needs.  The changing table top fits very tightly on top of the dresser and is a beautifully constructed piece of furniture.  Here are a few pictures of Finnie constructing the box as well as the final result.

Figure 16.  Deb and Finnie starting assembly of the changing table.

Figure 17. Changing bed assembled

Figure 18.  Changing bed painting.   It was hot!

Figure 19.  Tata’s changing table in Ta’s room!

Shopping for baby equipment – Last Saturday, Kathy and I went to a HUGE exchange sale of baby stuff.  We were lucky to have found a bed for TaTa’s first few months that will allow her/him to safely sleep next to Kathy and Micheal.  We also found a few clothes, blankets, nursing pillows, and other items.  It was a lot of fun to shop together for these items and we were able to purchase gently used items for a reasonable amount.

Helen’s Visit.

In mid-September, Finnie’s sister, Helen, traveled from North Carolina to visit us for 2 weeks.  We  enjoyed several family get-togethers during her visit .  The highlight of her trip was a week long driving trip through the Hill country of Texas and a quick visit to the Riverwalk area of San Antonio.  It is always wonderful when Helen visits us!!

We started our trip by driving west to Abilene, then turned south through ranch country, heading for the historic town of Fredericksburg in the beautiful hill country of Texas.

Figure 20,  We saw lots of cattle!

Fredericksburg was settled by German immigrants, and so the town and region offer a distinctive flavor:  German food, wineries, and a historical museum about World War II naval activities in the Pacific.  Fredericksburg is the hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, and there is an impressive museum in the old hotel that Nimitz’s father owned and operated.

Figure 21.  The Nimitz’ hotel building and currently a major portion of the  World War II museum.


Figure 22.  Entrance to the Nimitz Museum

Figure 23.  Helen and Deb at the Nimitz museum

Figure 24.  Helen and Deb in the Japanese Garden at the Nimitz museum

Figure 25.  Helen and Finnie in the Japanese Garden at the Nimitz Museum

Figure 26.  Finnie in the Nimitz Museum Japanese Garden.

Figure 27.  Helen and Deb in the outside portion of the Nimitz museum.

Fredericksburg area is also famous for the scenery, especially in early spring when wild flowers are blooming.   We were definitely not there in spring!  However, one of the places where wildflowers are very abundant in spring is a beautiful round boulder called Enchanted Rock. Enchanted Rock is huge pink granite boulder that covers 1 square mile in area in has 425 feet in height projecting above the ground.   It is beautiful any time of year.

Figure 28. Approaching Enchanted Rock.

Figure 29.  Enchanted Rock.  Can you see the large group of climbers about half way up?

There are many wineries near Fredericksburg, and we visited one of the best — Becker’s!

Figure 30.  Becker’s tasting room.

Also near Fredericksburg is the huge city of Luckenbach,  population 3.  Luckenbach, Texas was made famous by a song, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).”   We enjoyed seeing the sort of ghost town!

Figure 31.  Combination General Store, saloon, and at one time, Post Office in Luckenbach.

Figure 32.  Outdoor saloon in Luckenbach

After our visit to Fredericksburg and area, we drove over to San Antonio, a beautiful city in southern Texas.  San Antonio is known as the site of the Alamo a Spanish mission at which a small group of people fought to the death against a much larger Mexican Army in 1836.  Although the defenders lost the battle, it was a significant event in the struggle of Texans to gain independence from Mexico.

Figure 33.  Deb and Helen in front of the Alamo.

Another aspect of San Antonio that attracts visitors is the Riverwalk.  Riverwalk is a beautiful section of the city in which streams that run through shops and restaurants.  It is always delightful to spend time at the Riverwalk.

Figure 34.  Section of Riverwalk

Figure 35.  The Marriage Island on the Riverwalk.

Figure 36.  Helen and Deb at Dinner on the Riverwalk.

San Antonio has another landmark of interest.   Tower of the Americas is now a rotating restaurant, but it was built for the 1968 World’s Fair — Hemisfair.

Figure 37.  Tower of the Americas.

We had a load of fun on this trip, and it was so much fun to have Helen with us!

Posted in Life in America | 4 Comments

Life in Weihai: Our Last Month in Weihai, June 13 to July 20, 2011

Life in Weihai:  Last Month in Weihai, June 13 to July 20, 2011

Early in the Spring semester we made a difficult decision to leave Weihai and return to Fort Worth.  We did not make the decision to leave our friends and way of life in Weihai quickly.  But for a number of personal reasons, this seemed the best decision for us.  During our last 6 weeks in Weihai we entered into a very busy time of completing our commitments at Shandong University, packing our belongings that we wanted to take home with us and deciding how to best divest ourselves of our collected belongings that we were not transporting back to Fort Worth, and saying goodbye to our many friends.

In addition, we enjoyed visiting with old friends from America who were visiting Weihai and meeting students and faculty from various foreign universities.  A large number of international students come to Weihai to study and tour during the summer.

UNK visit – Late in June, UNK Chancellor Doug Kristenson; his daughter, Morgan; UNK’s 1+2+1 coordinator, Zhang GuiJie; and Dallas Kenny,  the Director of International Education, visited several university partners in China – one being Shandong University at Weihai.  One major purpose of the visit was to renew partnership agreements, but we enjoyed visiting with everyone and catching up with things happening in Kearney, Nebraska.

Figure 1. Front of Foreign Experts Building for UNK visit

Figure 2. Presidential chat before document signing

Figure 3. President Han and Chancellor Kristensen Signing documents

Figure 4. Chancellor Kristensen's presentation to SDUW students

Meznarich visit –  Early in July, Richard Meznarich, a retired professor from UNK and a close friend with several Shandong faculty, came to visit Shandong University and his friends.  We enjoyed being included in several of the lunches and dinners arranged while Richard was visiting Weihai.  Richard was a delegation member of a group of UNK faculty who spent 2 weeks in Weihai 3 years ago.  Richard said he felt like he had returned home!

Figure 7. Richard Meznarick's visit to Weihaia, dinner group

Figure 5. Richard Meznarick’s visit to Weihaia, lunch group

Figure 6. Richard Meznarick's visit to Weihaia, one of the dishes

Deb’s Last Lecture in China – Deb’s summer teaching responsibilities were to prepare a set of 2 hour lectures on our life in Weihai and the value of living , studying, and teaching abroad.  The audience consisted of 200 English major sophomores; so, trying to include pictures and information that would be of value to these students proved to be a challenge.  Deb asked Finnie to be an integral part of the lectures to answer questions.  We enjoyed this exercise and it actually helped us further reflect on our own experience living abroad.  Finnie snapped the pictures below of this lecture.

Figure 8. Deb's lecture on Life and Study in US.

Figure 9. Deb's lecture on Life and Study in US.

An edited version of these lectures can be viewed by clicking on this link: International Travel and Study – for blog (1)

Eye Glasses –   We learned through our teacher Sue that the on-campus optometrist provided students and faculty with very good but inexpensive prescription glasses.  Sue went with us to translate our wishes to the optometrist.  Finnie ordered 2 pairs of progressive lens glasses and I ordered a pair of prescription reading glasses.  We got them just before we left Weihai, and are very pleased with the glasses.  They are much better than ones we were using for the last 2 years and certainly were far less expensive than if they were purchased in the US, so now we have reading glasses for another several years and maybe we can get some replacements the next time we visit Weihai.

Liu’s new daughter:  On June 6, Liu Liang, one of the International  Education staff and who proudly bears the nickname EyeCandy, and his wife, Li, became the parents of their new baby girl, Liu Zishang.  She is a beautiful little girl and Liu proudly showed us many pictures of her.

Figure 10. Liu Zishang one day old!

Figure 11. Liu Zishang 1 day old with mom

Packing to Return to America

China –  Much to Finnie’s angst Deb wanted to take home a complete 8 place setting of bone china the we had purchased in Weihai.  This meant that we had to be very careful what else we packed and how we packed everything.  We ran the risk of ending up with several pounds of bone china sand when we got back to Texas.  After lots of discussion and packing and repacking, we figured out how to get the important stuff packed along with safely packed china.  Our bags all weighed precisely the correct amount and we took advantage of all available carry on space – there was not one pound more we could have added.  The china arrived home safely except for one broken tea cup handle.  It has been meaningful and delightful to use the china since we have been home.

Giving away lots of stuff – our “in house” garage sale –   In order to get ourselves home with the bone china and the other things we needed to bring home, we had to leave behind lots of things we had collected to make our lives comfortable while in China.  So we gave our bikes, printers, furniture, books, and kitchen things to our friends who wanted them.  We even had an in-house “garage sale” in which we encouraged all our friends to look at what was available and take anything they would have use for.  Our friends seemed a little uncomfortable with this idea at first, but when they realized that we could only take a few things with us, they came to our rescue and gave good homes to most of our used stuff.  It is nice to know that in a way we still have a presence in Weihai.

Goodbyes

English Corner –   Finnie and I decided to continue meeting with the English Corner students during the summer session.  We met a few times before we left Weihai during which new students started meeting with us, while some of the students who had been “regulars” during the spring had departed for summer jobs.  We loved these meetings with students because the topics varied from telling jokes to discussing serious social concerns to comparing norms between China and the U.S.  The students are loving, engaging, and extremely intellectually curious.  It was, to say the least, difficult to say goodbye to these students.

Figure 12. English Corner group Canteen 4

Figure 13. On Canteen 4 steps after English Corner

Hotpot with English Corner students –  One evening the English Corner students invited us out to our favorite hotpot restaurant and we happily consumed lots of meat, tofu, and vegetables.  The meal was so much fun.  Afterwards, we invited the students back to our house for dessert and to see if anything in our “garage sale” was of interest to them.  Some students found some useful things – even one of our foam bed cushions!  The pictures below show how special this dinner was to us.  The students prepared a special book for us in which each student took a page and wrote whatever was in their heart.  They gave to us at the dinner, and it will be a treasure to us as long as we live!  We will never forget this special evening!

Figure 14. Silk covered book, a gift from our student friends!

Figure 15. Silk covered book -- inside cover

Figure 16. Silk covered book It always brings a smile to our faces and a tear to our eye!

Figure 17. English Corner boys with Deb after Hotpot dinner at our house

Figure 18. English Corner girls with Deb after Hotpot dinner at our house

Figure 19. Students enjoying peanut pie dessert after hotpot dinner

English faculty lunch –  We enjoyed the farewell lunch with the English faculty so much!  Each one of the faculty became friends with whom we have special memories; for instance, a delicious Mongolian Christmas dinner, shopping trips, a trip to the “end of the earth”, inclusion in family dinners, invitations to concerts, all afternoon tea tastings, and other special times.    Having lunch with all the faculty together was a very special treat and we could enjoy each person and remember our special times together.  Of course, the Moutai drinking contest during the lunch just added another special memory.  This time honored tradition of drinking Moutai and endless rounds of toasts made us feel like part of the group.

Lunch with Zhou and Gu – Ms. Zhou, who had stayed with us in our home in Kearney on her visit to  UNK in 2007 invited us to have lunch with her, Ms. Gu, who spent a semester at UNK, Ms. Zhou’s daughter, Helen, and Yin Chuanbo.  While enjoying a great Korean lunch, we reminisced about UNK and Kearney.

Figure 20.  Yin Chuanbo, Helen, Deb, Zhou, Gu at Korean Restaurant

Lunch with Fan and  Amy Zhou at southern food restaurant – Amy Zhou and Frank invited us to join them at a new restaurant downtown serving Southern (China) Food.  It was fabulous!!!  It is food prepared like in Amy Zhou’s hometown and she was so happy to be introducing us to foods she grew up with.

Figure 21. Frank and Deb at the Southern Cooking Restauraant in Weihai

Figure 22. Amy Zhou, Finnie, Deb, and Frank at Southern Cooking Restauraant in Weihai

Hotpot with Bin, Jenny, TongTong, and NaiNai –  We had not seen Tong Tong since her first birthday, so when her parents and grandmother took us to dinner, we were able to give her our birthday present. Below are pictures of TongTong and her family.

Figure 23. Zhu Tong Tong, Lin Suyan at Hotpot Restaurant

Figure 24. Finnie, Deb, Tongtong, Jenny and Bin at hotpot Restaurant

Dinner with Zoe and relatives –  Zoe and her family invited us to a special dinner at Hai Yue.  The restaurant was close to where we lived so we were able to ride our bikes there.  The dinner was elegant but felt very much like a family gathering – we continued to feel honored that we were included in another Zhang family gathering.  Mr. Zhang showed us several pictures of the new home that he and Lin are building.  They invited us to visit their new home still under construction on the following Saturday.  What a treat!  We would get to see a home under construction and how houses are constructed in China.

Figure 25. Farewell dinner by Zhangs and Lius

Tour of  Zhang’s new home   The next Saturday arrived.  In our past we have had a house built for us to live in and we have renovated too many of the houses we have lived in, so this was going to be an interesting visit.  We could observe how utility lines are installed, how the heating and cooling of houses is accomplished, and how neighborhoods are developed from farm land.  We were impressed with the setting of his house overlooking one of the beautiful fishing bays of Weihai.  The cool breeze coming off the bay onto the third floor patio was soothing as we sat on the patio discussing the building project and enjoying each other’s company.  The house has 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, living room, kitchen and dining area, as well as a large yard, and a basement for storage.  The house will use city utilities (water, sewer, electricity, central heating), but will also take advantage of a neighborhood owned wind turbine electricity generator.  The house features many amenities that will make it a beautiful, comfortable house in which to live and to entertain guests.  Thank you to the Zhang’s for inviting us to tour their new home.

Figure 26. Zhang's New house 2

Figure 27. Zhang's New house 4

Figure 28. Zhang's New house -- Deb and Zoe in the master bedroom

Figure 29, Zhang's New house -- Living room

Figure 30. Jason Zhang, Deb, Finnie, and Mr. Zhang 0n the roof patio

Figure 31. Zhang's New house on patio outside the master bedroom window

Noodles with Sue –  Sue (Zheng Shuhong) had finished her class projects and we had finished our Chinese lessons with her in June.  So she decided to apply for English teaching jobs in Beijing in order to be able to live nearer her boyfriend, and to earn money to prepare for a semester abroad next academic year.  Within a week after applying for jobs, she had several interviews lined up!  A quick trip to Beijing ended in a job offer, and she packed her belongings and moved to Beijing about 2 weeks before we left Weihai.  On her final evening in Weihai, we all decided to have noodles at the noodle shop just before she left.  We met her at the front gate, tied her tightly packed suitcase to the back of Finnie’s bike, while Sue and I followed on the electric bike.  We enjoyed our noodles and talked about everything – our lives together and how much we would miss each other.  Soon it was time for Sue to catch a taxi to go to the train station.  We quickly found a taxi.  We gave each other a final big hug and watched with teary eyes as she left our lives.  This evening was far too emotional to remember to take any pictures.  Sue has a deep place in our hearts and we wish her a happy and meaningful life.  We look forward to seeing Sue again when she travels to the U.S. to study.

Exchanging money at bank with Isaac’s help – We were fortunate enough to have been able to save a few yuan.  In order to convert the yuan to dollars we asked Lulu for her advice.  She suggested that we exchange the yuan at a bank with the assistance of Isaac.  So Isaac (Zhang Jiahao) and Deb agreed on an afternoon when they were both available.  We met at the south gate and biked to the bank.  As Isaac and Deb were waiting for the next available bank teller, he reminded Deb that this was an afternoon that was meant to be.  The first time Isaac and Deb met was to go to a bank so that he could help her with a bank transaction; and they were ending our time in Weihai together again conducting business at a bank together.

Last Lanzhou noodle meal with Lulu and Isaac – Nearing the end of our living in Weihai, we went with Lulu and Isaac to enjoy one last Lanzhou noodle lunch in Canteen 5.  Finnie was able to take several pictures of the cooks preparing the noodles.  The cooks loved the opportunity to show off their expertise in making pulled noodles, which I have learned is a technique only learned with much practice.

Figure 32, Making Lanzhou Noodles. starting with a roll of dough made from a big handfull.

Figure 33. Lanzhou Noodles. beginning the stretching of the dough

Figure 34. Lanzhou Noodles. doubling the stretched dough for the next stretch

Figure 35. Lanzhou Noodles. contimuing the stretching

Figure 36. Lanzhou Noodles. two handfuls of long noodles

Figure 37. Lanzhou Noodles. A finished batch of fresh Lanzhou noodles

Home cooked meals by Li Hongzhen and Lu Xiaomin – Two students that we met in the English Corner sessions were Lu Xiaomin and Li Hongzhen.  Xiaomin asked if she and Hongzhen could come to our house and prepare a dinner for us.  We said sure!  The girls ultimately prepared two dinners for us – an amazing dinner of several delicious dishes including a very tasty eggplant dish, and a dinner that would be characterized as more homey “comfort food” dishes, including noodles made from scratch topped with a tomato sauce.   As we were eating, we thought that the spaghetti and meat sauce dishes Americans love probably had their roots in the something like noodle and tomato sauce dish that Hongzhen prepared for us.  The pictures below are from both dinners showing the cooks at work and the final delicious meals they prepared.  Since we have been back in Texas, Deb has prepared the

Figure 38. Li Hongzhen making sausage stuffed eggplant

Figure 39. Lu Xiaomin making sushi

Figure 40. What a delicious dinner! Hongzhen and Xiaomin are invited to come over and cook anytime!

The second dinner was actually a very special dinner since Hongzhen prepared the meal as a birthday celebration for Xiaomin, complete with a birthday cake she had had especially baked and decorated for Xiaomin.

Figure 42. Hongzhen making wide noodles

Figure 43. Hongzhen, Deb, and Xiaomin before dinner. It was just as delicious as the one they made the week before!

Figure 44 Xiaomin's Birthday cake. Happy Birthday Xiaomin!

Lulu and Qun’s visit –  The night before we left Weihai, Lulu and Zheng Qun, Lulu’s fiancée, came to our house for dessert and visiting.  We shared a wonderful watermelon and cake and most importantly shared an evening together!  We took lots of great pictures and we really, really look forward to their visit to our home in Texas next winter.

We’d like to take time here to express our deep gratitude to Lulu for her love, friendship, concern, and commitment to us as we lived in Weihai for the last two years.  We know that our lives were enriched beyond anything we ever imagined because of Lulu’s and Wang Yue’s (Yvonne) extraordinary efforts in our behalf.

Figure 45. Last Night in our house in Weihai with Lulu and Zheng Qun

Figure 46. Last Night in our house in Weihai with Lulu and Zheng Qun 2

Farewell the morning we left –   Touching, emotional, tearful, loving, and deeply moving are all apt descriptions of our early morning farewell by our Weihai friends.  We were overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and best wishes from everyone.  We just could not take pictures – pictures would have intruded on this deeply private farewell by our close Weihai family.

However, Lulu gave us a slide show as a going away gift.  It illustrates the deep and lasting friendships we made in Weihai.  We would like to share the show with you here to say thank you to everyone in China who made our experience in there so extraordinary,  We miss you every day. Gift to Finnie and Deb

Posted in Life in Weihai | 2 Comments

June 1 to June 12, 2011. Life in Weihai

End of the semester activities:  The end of the semester at Shandong University is not any different from end of the semester activities at universities in the U.S.  There are lots of social events, final exams, and last meeting times for extra-curricular activities.  Here is a sampling of some of the activities that we were involved with the past two weeks.

May 30 and June 1:  Our birthdays came and went.  We celebrated quietly and enjoyed each other’s company.  At this stage of life, we are happy that we are healthy, happy, and  active.  We look forward to many more birthdays together.

But to celebrate Finnie’s birthday I went on a “secret” mission with Sue to locate the perfect Chinese poem books.  Sue had given Finnie several poems to translate during this semester and he thoroughly enjoyed translating the Chinese characters to English and then understanding the poem’s meaning.  Sue is a book lover and had already seen some books at Hai Yue that were not too difficult, but not too childish, that she thought Finnie would enjoy.  Sue and I met at Hai Yue  and shopped for the perfect books.  Then we bought gift paper and bags, went back to our house and gave Finnie his presents.  We enjoyed the rest of the  afternoon together, ending our time together with a simple birthday dinner at our new-found neighborhood Chinese restaurant.

Figure 1:  Finnie opening one of his birthday presents from Deb and Sue.

The poetry books are really nice collections of Tang Dynasty poems.  Tang Dynasty poems are usually 4 lines of 5 or more characters, with every other line rhyming.  These poems are loved by Chinese people and most people that we know are very familiar with many of the poems.

June 3:  My class ended today, and this week was my final exam week and each group within each class section had been given an assignment of presenting information comparing some aspect of Asian culture with some aspect of Western culture – in English.  As the semester progressed it was fun to watch the student’s improve their speaking abilities while speaking about new topics.  I thoroughly enjoyed teaching this class!  I am always impressed with the diligence, intelligence, and dedication that students at SDUW exhibit!

June 4: Bruce (Zhu Yutang) invited us for lunch.  He took us to a great Korean restaurant near the Big Fish restaurant.  We had barbequed eel, beef, and pork with lots of great vegetables.  While we ate, we were able to catch up with Bruce’s life.  He has just finished his thesis toward completing his M.A. degree.  In fact, his thesis was chosen as one of a few to send to a national review board!

Figure 2: Bruce serving Korean salad

Figure 3: Korean barbeque grill in middle of table

Figure 4: Korean barbeque grilling pork

After a rest we took the English conversation students to the nearby hot pot restaurant.  As always it was delicious.  The students really enjoyed ordering food items and trying to keep the price low for us!  They did a great job — we had a wonderful meal featuring mild and spicy versions of the broth and individual choices of sauces and condiments for the cooked food — and the price was very low, so don’t worry, Xiaomin!

Figure 5: English Corner Students after a delicious hot pot dinner

Figure 6:  After hot pot dinner with English Corner Students

After dinner everyone came back to our house and enjoyed dessert and Part I of “Wild China”.  During the afternoon I had made two apple pies and a peanut pie.  They were all good, but the peanut pie was surprisingly tasty.  The recipe for the peanut pie called for corn syrup, but it is not something I can find in the grocery store here.  So I made simple syrup using water, sugar and brown sugar, boiled to the soft ball stage – not only did that work, but it tasted great in the pie.  In fact, eating the pie was like eating a PayDay candy bar!  Even though we were out of cheddar cheese, which Finnie had introduced to the students as a tasty complement to apple pie, it did not take long before all three pies were consumed!

Figure 7: English Corner students enjoying dessert and each other’s company at our house after hot pot dinner

June 5:      Today was the last English Conversation Corner for the semester.  So, we took a few group pictures in Canteen 4, where we meet.

Figure 8: Last English Corner of Spring Semester

Everyone decided that we would celebrate and extend the session longer by visiting the Senior Art exhibit in the main lobby of the Marine Biology building.  This is a group picture of all of us who visited the exhibit:

Figure 9: Walking over to Art exhibit after our last English Corner meeting

Figure 10: Group picture at the beginning of the tour of the Art Exhibit

The exhibit was a series of cubicles set up by each student to demonstrate their particular expertise. Exhibits ranged from graphic art to sculpture to modern art to traditional art.  It was impressive!  Here are some pictures of some of the exhibits:

Figure 11: One of the exhibits of the art exhibit – hand painted plates

Figure 12: One of the exhibits of the art exhibit – hand painted book covers and cards

Figure 13: One of the exhibits of the art exhibit – hand painted eggs depicted Chinese Opera masks

Dragon Boat Festival, June 6: Today was one of the three most important Chinese
holidays.  This festival is called the Dragon Boat festival.  Wikipedia explains the holiday as a festival which “occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar on which the Chinese calendar is based. This is the source of the alternative name of Double Fifth. … The focus of the celebration includes eating the rice dumpling zongzi, drinking realgar wine xionghuangjiu, and racing dragon boats.”

Zoe invited us to her house to enjoy another fantastic meal prepared by her husband and learn how to make zongzi’s.  Zongzi’s are the traditional food of dragon boat festival and are made by filling a bamboo leaf cone with sticky rice soaked in soy sauce. “The shape of zongzi is a tetrahedral. Wrapping a zongzi neatly is a skill which is passed down through families, as are the recipes. Like tamale-making in Mexico and Pamonha-making in Brazil, making zongzi was a family event with everyone helping out (Wikipedia).”  A section of date, or piece of meat,  are added before closing the leaf envelop and tying it with string.  The fist sized rice concoction is then cooked by boiling. They are tasty treats, and we thoroughly enjoyed them!

Zoe’s niece, MoMo (Sun MoYiNi), a university student in Yantai, was with us, too.  She is often at Zoe’s for holidays because her home north of Dalian is too far away for a quick trip home.  She had made “5 colored woven cords” for bracelets for our wrists.  It is supposed to cause rain.  It apparently did because we had rain that night!

And as always Liu is a fabulous cook!  He had prepared fish, three kinds of dumplings, vegetables, and, of course, the zongzi’s.  He gave us lots of dumplings and zongzis to take with us for our late supper with Kathy and Micheal later that evening.

Figure 14: Sun Mo YiNi, Zoe, Deb and Liu getting ready to dig into the Dragon Boat Festival  dinner

Figure 15: Liu’s freshly made dumplings

Figure 16: Zoe’s freshly made zongzi’s

Kathy and Micheal’s Visit to China:  Zoe had graciously offered to help in transportation when Kathy and Micheal arrived in Weihai.  She and her cousin, Lin, coordinated the transportation to and from the airport and a fantastic tour of Weihai.  Finnie and I are deeply thankful to Zoe and all of her extended family for everything they did to help us during last week.

June 6:  So after we finished our dragon boat dinner with Zoe and Liu, Lin picked all of us up and we drove to the airport.  We did not realize until Lin picked us up that she had arranged for extra transportation using a van to get everyone back to Weihai. Kathy and Micheal arrived at Weihai and we all got  in the van and began chattering all the way back to our house.

Figure 17: Lin, Lin’s driver’s son, and Zoe waiting with us to greet Kathy and Micheal at the Weihai airport

Kathy and Micheal had just finished hiking around the rice paddies near Guilin and around Snow Jade mountain near Shanglila.  Their stories were amazing and we enjoyed every one of them.

Following are a few of the hundreds of pictures that Kathy and Micheal took to record their 8 days of hiking adventures around Guilin in Guangxi Province and around Shangrila in Yunnan Province.  We are including just a few pictures to illustrate the incredibly beautiful places they visited, but we will let them tell their own story of their adventures in the many places they visited.  The last 6 days of their visit to China was with us in Weihai and Beijing and we are including a description of their visit with us.

Figure 18: Kathy and Micheal cruising on the Li River.

Figure 19: The Longji  terrace, one of the Longsheng rice terraces near Guilin, China.  Kathy and Micheal hiked through the rice terraces and spent the night on top of one of mountains.

Figure 20: Kathy and Micheal at the TeaHorse Guest House on the Leaping Tiger Gorge trail near Shangri-La, Yunnan Province, China.  This is the eastern part of the Himalaya Mountains.  That’s Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background – it is 18,000 ft.

Figure 21: Kathy and Micheal hiking in a meadow around Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Arriving home we had a light dinner – I had prepared Eight Treasure Congee and we ate the dumplings and zongzi’s that Liu and Zoe had given us.

June 7:  The next day after washing clothes, eating a big western style breakfast, and more exchanging of stories and information, we went over to the International Education office and borrowed two bicycles, so that we all had transportation.  We biked around the
campus and ended up at Canteen No 5  for Lanzhou noodles for lunch.

Figure 22: Enjoying Lanzhou noodles in Canteen No 5

After a rest at home we toured the beach area near the campus.

Figure 23: “Swimming” at the International Beach in Weihai.  Brrrr- water was really cold!!!

And after another rest we met everyone from the International Education office at the
neighborhood Chinese restaurant for dinner. This was the first of several formal dinners that we enjoyed last week.  Our International Education friends and Bin, Jenny, and TongTong, had a great time getting to know Micheal and Kathy.  Here are some pictures from that dinner.

Figure 24: Dinner with our International Education friends

Figure 25: Dinner with our International Education  friends – including TongTong!

June 8: We decided to go shopping at the small commodities market.  Kathy and Micheal found a few things to buy for presents.  We knew that we were going to go the Silk and Pearl market in Beijing and so Kathy and Micheal were trying to hold off on their buying spree.  We took a taxi to a Shengui Pie shop near our house for lunch, then another taxi to our house to get ready for our afternoon tour of Weihai with Zoe and Lin.

The afternoon tour that Zoe and Lin had prepared was incredible!  We were driven all around the Weihai peninsula viewing the calm ocean from the tall seaside cliffs.

Figure 26: Stop along the Weihai seacoast road

Figure 27: Lighthouse museum in the Weihai harbor park

We drove through town to the Harbor park and admired the many sculptures in the park.

Figure 28: Group picture at one of the famous sculptures in the Weihai harbor park. Left to Right:  Lucy, Finnie, Zoe, Deb, Kathy, Micheal, Lin

We drove out of town to see the many wind turbines along the coast.  Then we drove back through town to meet many more of our friends at the hot pot restaurant for dinner.  This evening was so much fun!  And it was enhanced when Mr. Zhang brought out some excellent BaiJiu (Chinese white wine, i.e., liquor)!  Pretty soon, Mr. Zhang and Micheal were into drinking games – and everyone was having a fabulous time!

Figure 29: Hot Pot dinner with our English Department friends.  Left to  right: Lin’s driver, Lin, Zoe, Micheal, Bruce, Deb, Mr. Zhang (Lin’s husband),  Liu, Lucy, Kathy, Ping

Figure 30: Micheal and Mr. Zhang enjoying a drinking game – with Bruce acting as translator!

June 9: We had been invited by Xu Xifeng to a lunch hosted by Vice President Han.  We went to the Big Fish restaurant and enjoyed a great lunch with V.P. Han, Xu Xifeng, Huang, Zhou, Lulu, and Chuanbo.  We felt very honored that the Vice President wanted to host a lunch to welcome Kathy and Micheal.

Figure 31: Vice President Han hosted a  wonderful lunch at the Big Fish Restaurant. Left to right: Huang, Xu Xifeng, Kathy, Micheal, Zhou, Vice President  Han, Lulu, Finnie, Deb, ChuanBo

After lunch Kathy and I went to Hai Yue and had a manicure  while Finnie and Micheal hung out at home!

After a rest, we packed up our belongings and prepared to go  to the airport to fly to Beijing for our 2 days there before Kathy and Micheal flew home.  Zoe and Lin picked us up and  we got to the airport in plenty of time to catch the plane to Beijing.  Finally, arriving at our hotel, we collapsed  for a good night’s sleep.

June 10:  We decided  to shop first and then go to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.  We walked to the Silk and Pearl Market and within 2 hours had found everything that we all were looking for!  It is a lot of fun going to the Market –  bargaining is an art form and Kathy and Micheal did a great job getting good prices!

After a short rest – in hindsight, the rest time was not  long enough – we started our tour of the Imperial City and Tiananmen  Square.  The Imperial Cityis huge and  until one actually walks through it, one does not realize exactly how huge it is.  This was the first time Finnie and I  had seen the Imperial City after its refurbishing just before the Olympics,  and it is stunning in every detail and huge scale.

Figure 32: Imperial City, Beijing,  China.  In front of the main meeting hall of the Palace.

Figure 33: This picture shows the exquisite detailed painting of the supporting arches and ceilings of the Imperial City.  It is breathtaking!

Figure 34: At end of Imperial City tour – Family photo in front of the rock mountain in the Imperial City garden.

We hired a guide to take us through the Imperial City to explain  the various buildings to us.  Mary, our  guide, was knowledgeable and we enjoyed her assistance in showing us a new  courtyard we had not seen before (this one is occupied by the nephew of the  last emperor, and he does calligraphy for sale to support the maintenance of  the Imperial City) and especially in getting a taxi after our tour.  Getting a taxi at the end of the tour proved
especially difficult, even for an experienced guide. The taxi driver drove us  through Tiananmen Square, since we were all exhausted, so we could see its  enormous scale, but not have to get out and walk around.  Returning to our hotel, we collapsed for a couple of hours before going out for a Peking Duck dinner.

Figure 35: Preparing to eat Peking Duck.

Figure 36: A lesson in how to prepare Peking Duck rolls.

June 11:  This morning we were picked up by a guide and driver to take us to the Great Wall at  Mutianyu and the Ming tombs.  Mutianyu is  a location on the wall a little farther from the center of Beijing but not nearly as crowded as Badaling, where we have been several times. The location is gorgeous, but very steep.  Cable cars  take visitors up to one of the wall towers. Kathy and Micheal walked to another tower and sat and admired the
scenery.  To be honest, they were exhausted and not wanting to hike anymore!

Figure 37: On top of the Great Wall at Mutianyu.

Figure 38: The enormity of the Great Wall is mind-stretching!  To imagine the  thousands of people who gave their lives while building this wall in this very steep terrain is overwhelming!

Figure 39: Kathy and Micheal enjoying the view from one of the look out towers along the Great Wall.

Figure 40: Happy Kathy on the Great  Wall at Mutianyu

We enjoyed a great Chinese lunch and then visited the Ming  Tombs in the afternoon.

Figure 41: Entering the Ming Tombs Park

Figure 42: Overlooking the Golden Mountain at the entrance to the tomb of the 13th Ming Emperor.

Driving back to the hotel, we stopped by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Village and viewed the water cube and bird’s nest.

Figure 43: The iconic structures  of  2008 Beijing Olympic Games – the  Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube

Finally arriving back at the hotel, we rested before a late pizza supper at Pizza Hut and then loaded bags into a taxi and went to the  airport so Kathy and Micheal could catch their flight home.  Finnie and I went back to the hotel to sleep.  We had originally planned to tour the National Museum, but it was closed to visitors due to a Film Festival.  In addition, I had failed to reserve the room for an extra night and so we were fortunate enough to change our plane tickets back to Weihai for Sunday instead of Monday. It is a good thing that this occurred since we were both completely worn out.  Micheal and Kathy and their luggage  arrived home safely and on time Sunday afternoon.

We are so glad that Kathy and Micheal were able to travel to China to let us share our lives with them!  It means so much to Finnie and me that they made time available to come visit this incredible country!  As time moves on, we look forward to the conversations together of reflection and analysis of all our experiences.

Posted in Life in Weihai | 10 Comments

Life in Weihai. May 10 – May 31, 2011

Life in  Weihai.  May 10 to May 31, 2011

May 12.  Dinner with Zheng Qun, Lulu, Bin, Jenny,
Tongtong, and Nainai. 
Deb and I invited Zheng Qun and Lulu to go to dinner with us to celebrate their house purchase.  We decided to go to the restaurant in our neighborhood that Jenny and Bin had introduced us to, so as we were strolling along from work to meet Deb at our gate, just at our gate we bumped into Jenny and Bin, returning from their work.  We introduced the two couples, and they found they had a lot in common — including the towns in which they grew up.

Figure 1. A chance meeting between Bin, Jenny, Zheng Qun, and Lulu

Figure 2. New Friends!

So, before long, we all agreed to dine together!. Qun had been fishing earlier that afternoon, and he had a  bag of fish to offer for the dinner, and Bin and Jenny had just purchased a big bag of fresh scallops which they had intended for their dinner, so we started out with fish and scallops and then added lots of good things at  the restaurant.  Tongtong and Nainai joined us, too, so everyone had a chance to hold and talk with Tongtong before the meal began!

Figure 3. Jenny and Tongtong deciding on a few dishes

Figure 4. Deb and Tongtong

Figure 5. Qun and Lulu

Figure 6. Nainai, Qun, Tongtong, and Lulu

It was an unexpected pleasure to have the opportunity to introduce Lulu and Qun to Bin and Jenny’s family, and to share the meal with everyone!  Good food, good friends, good times.  It sounds just like Weihai, doesn’t it?  Hey — it is Weihai!

May 12-15.  Lanzhou.  One of the places I had visited and made good friends in the past is Lanzhou, capitol of Gansu Province, and both Deb and I wanted to return to visit the city and our friends.  So, with the university here having two days free from classes for intramural competition among students and among faculty and staff  (I described this event last spring), we scheduled a quick trip to Lanzhou for May 12 – 15!  Lanzhou is a long way from Weihai in distance and in geography and climate!  The fact that our best travel arrangements involved a 6 hour wait in Beijing made it seem especially long!

Lanzhou, like every other Chinese city is experiencing a huge building program, included street improvements on main thoroughfares, so when we finally got to the city proper, we had two more hours of stalled traffic before we finally got to our hotel.  We slept late and then had a good breakfast before heading out to visit the provincial museum.  It is large, with three floors of exhibits ranging from art and calligraphy to archeology to paleontology to history and so on.  We spent 4 or  5 hours there and enjoyed a light lunch in the snack room while we were there. Pictures below illustrate some of the holdings we enjoyed.

Figure 7. Yangshao Culture pot about 6000 years old.

Figure 8. Painted pot 3700 years old

Figure 9. Bronze pot about 2600 years old

Figure 10. Jade war axe about 4000 years old

Figure 11. Calligraphy

Figure 12. Fossils of several species of animals and plants in one place

Figure 13. Dinosaur skeleton

After we had toured the museum, we explored the city a while before dinner.

Figure 14. Part of Lanzhou near the Museum

Figure 15. Deb standing by the Huang He (Yellow River) with the German Iron Bridge
in the background — The first iron bridge to span the Yellow River. Construction was started in 1907.

We met our friends Wang Fang (Amanda) and Tian Li (Cindy) at a Hotpot restaurant and had a wonderful dinner along with catching up with each other.  Another good friend in Lanzhou is Professor Qiu Huizhen, but we didn’t get to see her because she was ill.  Cindy and Amanda are so much fun; it is always delightful to be with them!

Figure 15a. Wang Fang (Amanda, on left) and Tian Li (Cindy) at dinner

Figure 16. Delicious Hotpot!  However, that big piece of toufu was determined to get onto my shirt!

We talked and ate for a long time, and finally left to go shopping in what at first seemed like a small fruit and nut shop, but instead, we found it to be two stores:  the small shop fed into a huge grocery store where we purchased snacks and drinks for our trip the next day to Bingling Temple. Wikipedia describes it:

“The Bingling Temple (simplified Chinese: 炳灵寺; traditional Chinese: 炳靈寺; pinyin:
Bǐnglíng Sì) is a series of grottoes filled with Buddhist sculpture carved into natural
caves and caverns in a canyon along the Yellow River. It lies just north of where the
Yellow River empties into the Liujiaxia Reservoir. Administratively, the site is in Yongjing
County
of Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province, some 100 km southeast of Lanzhou

The caves were a work in progress for more than a millennium. The first grotto was begun around 420 CE at the end of the Western Jin Dynasty. Work continued and more grottoes were added during the Wei, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. The style of each grottoe can easily be connected to the typical artwork from its corresponding dynasty. The Bingling Temple is both stylistically and geographically a midpoint between the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan and the Buddhist Grottoes of central China, Yungang Grottoes near Datong and Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang.

Over the centuries, earthquakes, erosion, and looters have damaged or destroyed many of the caves and the artistic treasures within. Altogether there are 183 caves, 694 stone statues, and 82 clay sculptures that remain. The relief sculpture and caves filled with buddhas and frescoes line the northern side of the canyon for about 200 meters. Each cave is like a miniature temple  filled with Buddhist imagery. These caves culminate at a large natural cavern where wooden walkways precariously wind up the rock face to hidden cliff-side caves and the giant Maitreya Buddha that stands more than 27 meters, or almost 100 feet, tall.

The sculptures, carvings, and frescoes that remain are outstanding examples of Buddhist artwork and draw visitors from around the world. The site is extremely remote and can only be reached during summer and fall by boat via the Liujiaxia Reservoir. Boats leave from near the Liujiaxia Dam in Liujiaxia City (Yongjing County’s county seat), and sometimes also from other docks on the reservoir. The rest of the year, the site is inaccessible, as there are no roads in the area.”

May 14.  Bingling Temple. In the morning we set out with a car and driver who negotiated the traffic and road construction as we went by Amanda’s house for her and then on to Gansu Agricultural University to pick up Cindy.  We also had to refuel and since the Chevy was powered by natural gas, that was a new experience for us in itself.  It may be that “gassing up with natural” is inherently dangerous or our driver was extremely cautious, but he asked us to stand out by the street while the refilling was done!

Figure 17. The Black Chevrolet in the foreground is the car in which we rode.  Here,
however, it is being refilled with natural gas via a fill port under the hood.

The road out of Lanzhou was the same road we had traveled to get into Lanzhou late at night, and although there were fewer delays on this Saturday morning than we had experienced at night, it took some time to get out of the city.  When we did we turned west (I think) and traveled through hilly country that looked appropriate for mountain sheep and goats — complete with their trails up down and around — but not much else.  In the valleys, though, a variety of crops were being produced — from corn to green leafy veggies to fruits.  It was hard to get a photo in the short distances between our road and the next slope, so I just have a couple of photos of the hills like this one.

Figure 18. Terrain outside Lanzhou.

We drove for a couple of hours to reach Liujiaxia Dam, where we boarded a fast boat, completely enclosed with seating for about 8 people and headed up the reservoir at a pretty fast pace for about 50 minutes. It was a very beautiful lake with clear water and steep shorelines.

Figure 19. All aboard!   let’s start eating!

Figure 20. Amanda in the back seat!

Figure 21. I think Deb enjoyed the outing!

Figure 22. Typical shoreline.  Not much else
out here!

Except a lot of other boats exactly like ours.  I wondered why when I drive a boat Deb shrieks when we hit the wake of another boat, but here she was completely content! Go figure!

Figure 23. Another boat trying to beat us to the dock!

Figure 24. First view of Bingling.

Figure 25. Explorers on the Bingling dock

Figure 26. A nice view from the entrance of Bingling across the lake

Once we got organized for our hike we set out to explore the Bingling Temple grottos.  As the Wikipedia article states, there are many large and small caves with art work inside —
though most was removed by foreigners years ago, and the relics scattered around the world.

Figure 27. The first cave — Laojun, just inside and above the entry gate.

Figure 28. Taking pictures of the objects in the grottos was not encouraged, so I
just have a few that I took early in our hike before I knew about the
restriction

Figure 29. The canyon continues beyond this bridge, and if you wish, guides will
take you further in.  We were on a tight time frame that our captain laid down, so we declined offers to explore more deeply.

Figure 30. I think this statue of the Maitreya Buddha (AKA The Smiling Buddha or the
Happy Buddha)  obviously under restoration, is the most famous single structure in Bingling — refer to the Wikipedia article above.

Figure 31. A small carving not far into the site.

Figure 32. and the trail goes on!

Figure 33. Deb resting with the Happy Buddha in view.

Figure 34. Some of us had difficulty staying on the trail!

The opportunity of visit Bingling Temple is a rare one and something Deb and I were
so glad to have taken.  We so much enjoyed sharing the experience with Amanda and Cindy!  But all good things must come to an end, so when we returned to Lanzhou, we bid our friends — our Lanzhou family — farewell and early, early Sunday morning began our travel back to Weihai.

May 17 to 31, 2011.  Murray State Delegations visit Shandong University in Weihai.  Last May, we had the opportunity to meet and become friends with a group of faculty and staff members from Murray State University, and another group came this year!  Five faculty and staff members (Dana Howard, Chad Lampe, Kit Wesler, Renae Duncan, and Tina Coffelt) came to stay at the university for two weeks, and a second, led by Vice President Jim Carter and including Jennifer Dickey, Melanie McCallon, and Sarah Clark, arrived for a shorter stay.  It was busy time, especially for the MSU visitors, Lulu, Isaac, and Sue —- full of tours, classes on Chinese culture, Chinese language, calligraphy, paper cutting art, Taoism, and so forth.  In addition they began each day with shadow boxing exercise before breakfast! Deb and I joined them for some of the sessions (not the shadow boxing, of course), and we participated with them in a number of activities that were fun!

Lulu held the welcoming dinner for the group at the hotpot restaurant in our neighborhood.  It was so good, we are going back with our English Conversation Corner group of students tomorrow!

Figure 35. Hotpot!  Hotpot!  Who doesn’t love hotpot!

After dinner, we retired to our house for more snacks and conversation.  We were so glad they could come over!

Figure 36. Murray Staters at the Murray’s house after dinner!  Kit Wesler was there, too, but hidden from view, except for his foot in the brown shoe in front of Renae’s knee.  The pillow in the chair in the front center of the picture represents me, and it is one of the best pictures I have of myself!

One morning, Sue gave the MSU folks and us a lesson on the Chinese tea culture, and
as the previous year, she invited Mr. Yue from the BaMa Tea Company to come and
prepare the teas we tried.

Figure 37. Sue setting the stage for Mr. Yue.

Figure 38. Mr. Yue gives everyone a sample of each tea.

We tried green tea, oolong (Tie Guan Yin), white tea, black tea, and red tea.  Interestingly, different people likes different teas!  Who would have thought that? 🙂

For their part MSU group gave a variety of presentations about Murray State to
enthusiastic students and some faculty.

Figure 39. Dr. Wesler describing undergraduate research opportunities at Murray
State University

Figure 40. Jim Carter and Sarah Clark describing student life at Murray State
University

Figure 41. Melanie McCallon describing the application and admission process at
Murray State University

The group seemed to enjoy the atmosphere on campus and gladly participated in
activities such as student concerts, art exhibits, strolling through campus,
visiting the beaches, etc.

Figure 42. SICA Year-end Concert

Figure 43. Tina Coffelt, MSU Group Leader greets the audience

Figure 44. One of my favorite acts — Cross talk. I  never understand a word they
say, but it is so impressive to see and hear their long exchanges and the timing of the responses.  They are always a favorite with audiences who can understand the rapid-fire Chinese, too!

Figure 45. The final number in which all performers participate.

Figure 46. Tina, Kit, and Renae strolling across campus — in this case back from
an art exhibit

Deb and I were invited to go along on a trip to the Zoo in the village of XiXiaKou, in
Weihai Prefecture, about 40 km south of Weihai. Deb and I had been to the village, a
coastal fishing village at the mouth of XiXia earlier in March when we visited the sea cucumber farm and the “end of the world” – ChengShanTou – the most easterly point on China’s coast, but had never visited the zoo.  In fact, we really didn’t know where the zoo was, but we often had heard references to the “Weihai Zoo,” so we were glad to go to the zoo, and surprised to find it at Xixiakou!

By the way, Xixiakou is a former fishing village not far from Chenshantou, that has over the past 20 or 30 years transformed itself into a small shipping terminal.  There is more evidence of shipping than there is of fishing or mariculture.  So the village is clearly quite well-off.  In March (April 15 blog entry), Deb and I were amazed that such a small village could be building such a large water park (now it is finished with water and landscaping), but now the picture begins to come into focus:  Xixiakou is not just  fishing village, not just a shipping terminal, but a real tourist attraction due to the impressively large zoo (covering a good portion of the side of a coastal mountain (or big hill)).  There is a quite modern hotel there and villagers have large houses and take in overnight guests, and now
there is a water park!  Being close to Chengshantou is a wonderful advantage as well!
Finally, we learned that families in the village also operate a custom food service, and groups of people can schedule a meal in one of the homes — something that we did on this adventure!

The zoo is large and though the trails are paved and relatively easy to walk, there are
lots of climbs and descents along the way. Those of our group who were wearing pedometers reported that the whole hike was three miles.  Deb and I, because of our connections to powerful people (Lulu and Isaac), were permitted to miss the last mile and catch our motor coach and ride to a point where we waited for the others to eventually arrive!

Figure 47. Our group at the entry to the zoo.

The zoo had an impressive collection of large cats, monkeys and apes, birds, reptiles,
amphibians, and a marine mammal section. Besides the group above, here are a few examples of fauna in the zoo:

Figure 48. One of substantial population of Bengal tigers.  This one was looking for a four-leaf clover that he or she had never seen before! I think.

Figure 49. A kitten up a tree (Black Leopard)

Figure 50. Deb gaily running up the steps, with a view of a portion of the harbor in the background

After the zoo visit, we went to a private home in Xixiakou for a wonderful (and huge)
lunch.  It was delicious, everyone agreed!

Figure 51. Lunch in XiXiaKou

After lunch, we went to Chengshantou.  Deb and I wrote about our previous experience here in March.  The MSU group enjoyed the view, the beautiful, rocky coast, and the experience of reaching the “end of the world, and they still had energy to hike the seaside path back to a little park where they could get back the bus.

Figure 52. Chad rubbing the Happy Buddha rock

Figure 53. The Murray State Delegation around Happy Buddha

Figure 54. One of many photos made at Good Luck Point.  This is Dana and Jim.

We returned to Weihai in time for a brief rest before the evening’s activities.  We went to the KTV (Mei-le di) nearest our house — the same place that Deb and I had a surprise birthday party last year, and, of course, a good time was had by all!

Figure 55.  KTV night 1

Figure 56.  Chad at KTV

Figure 57.  Dana and Isaac Duet?

Figure 58.  Let’s All Sing this one!

Thank you, Murray State folks, for letting Deb and me share in some of your fun!

May 20, 2011. Senior Concert. In case you think all we do is have fun, well, OK, you’re right but our  fun is serious business. For example, we were invited to attend the Senior
Music Majors Senior Recital.  It was awesome!  It was all classical music by Chinese and western composers.  It was one of those concerts in which you wish wouldn’t stop!  Our pictures really can be worth a thousand words, but not words to music, so what we can offer you here is woefully inadequate.  Sorry.

Figure 59.  The beautiful Soprano

Figure 60.  The Beautiful Mezzo-soprano

Figure 61. The Tenor, who sang beautifully

Figure 62. Piano Concerto.  From the Yellow River Concerto — beautiful , and obviously very challenging to play — but these
two pianists played flawlessly.

Figure 63.  A Chamber Quartet

Figure 64. The Beautiful Flutist

Figure 65.  An incredible Trumpeter.

Figure 66.A beautiful Chorus

It was, in every way, a beautiful evening of Music!

By the way, we are now officially enjoying spring in our neighborhood!  Spring is beautiful.  We have been enjoying early blooming trees for over a month, then about three weeks ago, the wisteria that grows over the car parking spaces has been blooming, and finally the roses!

Figure 67.  Neighborhood rose

Figure 68.  Tongtong is loving it, too!

Now, we anxiously await the arrival in about 72 hours of our daughter, Kathy and son-in-law, Micheal, here in Weihai.  This week, they have been in Guilin, Shangelila, and Lijiang, trekking and seeing the incredible beauty there.  It will be wonderful to welcome them to our home here in Weihai!

Posted in Life in Weihai | 4 Comments

Life in Weihai. April 16 – May 5 2011.

April 17.  English Conversation and Rice Noodles. We have mentioned that we meet with any students who want to practice English speaking and listening skills on
Wednesday evenings and mid-day on Sundays.

Figure 1.
Waiting for students to arrive

 Figure 2.
The Early arrivals

Figure 3.
A session in progress

 Since one of the topics that seems to arise often (could it be due to supper time and lunch time??) is food.  So, after a discussion of various kinds of noodles and our different favorites — though almost everyone loves Lanzhou noodles — we decided to try  rice
noodles at a shop near Beifangziaoziwang, the dumpling restaurant that everyone loves.  So, we met at East gate on a cold and damp Sunday evening to go to the noodle restaurant, whose name translates into “makes the whole street smell good.”  And it did! We have tried rice noodles before, but they are slippery and long, and I (Finnie) got more on my shirt than into my mouth — much to the hilarity of the shop owner.  (I like to bring joy and happiness everywhere I go!)  Perhaps, it was the stress of looking more and more like Jabba the Hutt progressively being covered with spaghetti over the course of the trial that made me less enthusiastic about rice noodles that I probably should have been.  Anyway, on April 17, I had ramped up my courage and resigned myself to another display of
food art on clothing!  However, I discovered that the noodles were not as difficult to handle (with chop sticks) as I had remembered, and they were wonderful — especially when the spicy variety was supplemented with several scoops of my beloved hot pepper
sauce.  We had about 12 girls from the conversation groups with us and sort of overwhelmed the dining space of the small shop — but we all enjoyed it very much, as you can see from the photos:

Figure 4.
Some of the girls.

Figure 5.
Some more of the girls  spread over two more tables

Figure 6.
Notice how few noodles have been deposited on my shirt

April 23-24.  Qingdao.
Deb and  had never been to Qingdao (often spelled Tsingtao, in the western world), so when our manager, Yin Chuanbo, mentioned the possibility of a weekend trip  there, we gave an enthusiastic, “yes!  Count us in!”  We have always  heard that Qingdao is a beautiful city with a lot of interesting features.  It is many times larger than Weihai, but it  isn’t very far away to the southwest on the southern side of the Shandong  peninsula.  Like Weihai, it is a  beautiful port city but with somewhat milder weather.  Unlike Weihai it is quite old.  In fact, people have been living there in  villages and towns for at least 6,000 years.  It was a German city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so not  surprisingly, its most famous product is Tsingtao beer.  In the early years of the 20th century, it  was home to one of the architects of the Chinese revolution, Sun Yatsen.  In recent decades, two of China’s big  manufacturing companies, Haier (home appliances) and Hisense (electronics) were  founded there.  So, we were very happy to  have a chance to visit.   We boarded our  little bus at 8:00 AM on Saturday and headed out on a four-hour drive.

Figure 7.
Our driver and tour guide

After a  very nice lunch at our hotel, we drove to the water front to see the beautiful park that forms the central part of the vast bay that makes Qingdao’s harbor very secure.

Figure 8.
Deb in front of the Qingdao pier

Figure 9.
On the Qingdao Pier

Figure 10.
Southern rim of the city shore line

Figure 11.
A fisherman on the Qingdao Pier

Figure 12.
City Skyline

Figure 13. Resting at the shore

Figure 14.
Relaxing at the shore

Qingdao was the venue for the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition.  We drove over to that area and enjoyed the beauty and recreational activities there.

Figure 15.
A bicycle built for 3 to 5!

Figure 16.
Electric cars for kids to drive — and for everyone else to dodge!

Figure 17.
Yacht marina at the sailing venue

Figure 18.
The marina

In the  evening, it was rainy and we had a very nice dinner at the hotel.  Deb and I retired early while the younger  people went out on the town to the “food street.”  The next day, we departed after breakfast to  the Qingdao Zhong Shan Gong Yuan — a big public park that is a combination of  children’s carnival rides and games and gardens, lakes, arboretums, and  pavilions for groups to perform various forms of music.  Deb and I really enjoyed the leisure and  beauty of the park.

Figure 19.
Our Troup at the entry of Qingdao Zhong Shan Gong Yuan

Figure 20.
Deb at the small pavilion near one of the lakes

Figure 21.
A big group playing Taiji to music

Figure 22.
Note the sign under the rod this man is casting.  Apparently “No Fishing” — like “Please remain seated with your seat belts securely fastened until the Captain has switched off the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign” upon landing is merely a  suggestion!

Figure 23.
The Green Bottle Road.  Way Cool
in Qingdao to use Qingdao bottles to make a nice path.

Figure 24.
The Qingdao tower, viewed from the park

Figure 25.
Little girl riding the “Wall Street Bull.”

When we  left the park it was really lunchtime so we drove to a nice restaurant to eat.  When we arrived the entry was blocked by a  wedding party.  The Bride and groom  arrived in wedding attire and were greeting by a battery of cannon that fired  colorful confetti, drummers, and dragons.  Much activity occurred while they waiting at the street before advancing  through the gauntlet to the restaurant.  Then, when they reached the steps, they stopped and faced the crowd  while the dragons circled and hovered over their heads — presumably for photo  opportunities.

Figure 26.
Wedding greeters

Figure 27.
One of the dragons doing its thing

Figure 28.
The Couple following the dragons to the steps

Figure 29. At the Steps, the couple turns
to face the crowd while the two dragons hover over them.

Figure 30. And on the street another just
married couple goes by in their little Bimmer.

Eventually,  we were able to go into our room in the restaurant and eat a delicious lunch. After that we boarded our bus for the drive  back to Weihai.

We  really enjoyed the brief visit to Qingdao, and If we ever get rich (right!!!! rolling on the floor) , we’d like  to go back and stay longer!

The ride  back to Weihai was uneventful, but, because I always enjoy seeing farming activity, it was beautiful and pleasant to see the farms and scenery we were passing. Weihai Prefecture extends 40 – 50 km in the direction toward Qingdao,  and while it contains several towns, there is a good deal of agricultural  production there, too.  We have  previously described the mariculture of the region.

Figure 31.
The scenery where we  entered Weihai prefecture on our return trip.

Figure 32.
People doing various kinds of farming.

April 26.  Learning Chinese and Poetry.  Sue,  Zheng Shuhong, our teacher has started giving me reading assignments in  Chinese.  (I imagine that she must spend an enormous amount of time, trying to find something that is interesting but also containing mainly words I should know. (Don’t tell her, but I don’t remember all the words I have learned.   Just kidding, I’m pretty sure that she knows  this!)  Anyway, some of these are funny stories, but the shortest one is this one — a poem written by Wang  Wei (王维) who was a famous poet in the Tang Dynasty, and he lived between 699 and 761.  He was a painter and wrote many quatrains.

远看山有色,

近听水无声。

春去花还在,

人来鸟不惊。

The translation is:

Painting

See the colorful mountain in the distance,

Listen to the silent water nearby.

Spring has gone but flowers still remain,

People come, but do not disturb the birds.

I enjoy these challenges very much, and I really enjoyed this poem because I can easily see the painting he  describes in my mind’s eye.

April 29.  Lunch at Amy and Frank’s House.  May 1 is Memorial Day here, so there was a long weekend.  Amy invited us to her house for lunch.  We always love to go  their house because the food is good and we  have so much fun!  This time was not different in that regard.  Amy’s mother  Pan Luolan yisheng (Dr. Luolan Pan) has moved to Weihai and lives with Amy and Frank now.  She was an obstetrician, but  she is an outstanding cook, too!  She  prepared a wonderful meal for us (about half Chinese dishes and half western  dishes) and we ate and ate!  One special  treat for us was to hear she and Amy sing together!  They obviously have enjoyed singing together over the years and they sing western songs as well as Chinese.  Here are some photos of our meal and Luolan and Frank preparing things.  Frank and Amy made the jiaozi and we helped make a few, too.  Mine were readily identifiable by their rather deformed appearance, but they tasted just as good!

Figure 33.
Deb arriving

Figure 34.
Pan Luolan yisheng frying chicken

Figure 35.
Frank happily making jiaozi

Figure 36.
Luolan working in the kitchen. (completely remodeled since we were here last.)

Figure  37.  Lunch is served.  Fried chicken,  Russian soup, potato salad, cabbage salad with yoghurt, jiaozi, steamed Rice  cake, cucumbers, snow peas — are what I can remember.

Figure 38. Closer view of the dishes

Figure 39. Amy and Luolan singing

We enjoyed visiting during and after the meal! So, after we finished stuffing ourselves, we gathered in the living to visit before I had to go to my 2:00 P.M class.

Figure 40.
After dinner chat

Figure 41.
Frank and Finnie

Figure 42.
A picture in the living room

One interesting thing we learned is that Amy and Frank grow silk worms in their
living room as a project for fun.  This year’s crop are just starting out, and they are very small, but they eat constantly and in a few weeks will have grown to a huge size and spun a
cocoon  of silk.  Amy and Frank have harvested the silk in the  past and are saving up the small amounts they produce each year.  How fun! The silk worms only eat mulberry leaves. But they eat all the time and  they grow fast!

Figure 43. The silk worm farm.  Frank and Amy had just picked a bag full of
mulberry leaves to feed the worms, which are little black specks in this photo

Figure 44.
A close-up of the previous picture showing the little worms better.

Figure 45.
Silk harvested last year.

April 29. P.M.  Singing in English Competition.  We had been asked a couple of days earlier to help judge a contest of students singing songs in English.  We agreed to
do so.  Well, the weather was very mild when we agreed, but by that Friday, it was very windy and threatening to rain, and much colder.  The competition was held outside on a little square (where the cobbler who made Deb a shoe insert in March works.)  We arrived about 15 minutes before the competition started and immediately realized that this might
be a challenge for  the judges, but especially for the competitors.  The wind was gale strength — seemed like almost hurricane strength — and it was blowing lights over, screens apart, and bringing distinct chilliness to the air. Sand and other debris was pelting everyone.  It was not what the students ordered for this occasion.  However, the show must go on and it did — for three hours.  These students continue to amaze us.  We were sitting there with four or five other judges wearing coats, gloves,  and hats. Many of the contestants who had to dress for the part were wearing  sometimes just a T-shirt and pants.  The  wind created havoc for the sound system, too.  Anyway, in two phases, the top singer from a group 12 was finally  selected.  She was awesome!

Figure 46.
The winning Singer

April 30.  DaRunFa, Pizza, and a movie.  We have been thinking we need to make a trip to Darunfa, aka RT Mart, for the past two months but there is always something that happens causing us to postpone.  However, this, being a holiday weekend, somehow left us with time to go. We asked Sue if she would like to go, to have pizza, and then to come back home for another episode of Wild China.  She did and she said she would bring her friend, Zhou Jiahui.  So, we agreed to meet at South Gate, where we  would  take a taxi.  RT Mart is a very large department store that  has a  larger selection of grocery items  than most other department stores, and moreover, a pretty good selection of  western foods  — like spaghetti sauce,  cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, etc. It is all the way downtown, so we don’t go  very often.  While we waited for Sue and  Jiahui, Deb took pictures of the activities there.  We have included some typical scenes of our  neighborhood across from the south gate, as well, below.

Figure 47.
The tax district building dominates our neighborhood, which was built by
the tax district as housing for its employees.
At night it has neon light outlining it that change from color to color.

Figure 48.
The bus stop across from Haiyue where we buy most of our food and other needs.

Figure 49.  The downtown pizza buffet

Figure 50. Back at home.  Deb, Sue, and Jiahui

May 1.  Visit Bin and Jenny.  Our new neighbors are a very nice young couple who moved here from Beijing a couple of weeks before we got back to Weihai, and we mentioned having dinner with them at Beifanziaoziwang last time.  Zhu Xinbin (Bin) manages a new office of Shinetech here in Weihai and Zhou Xingcui (Jenny) is the Assistant Manager.  Bin and Jenny graduated from SDUW, then started work in Chongqing before moving to Beijing to work for Shinetech.  After their daughter, Tongtong, was born, they decided to move back to Weihai.  They are living in our building until they find the right house to buy.  His mother, Tongtong’s Nainai, lives with them and cares for Tongtong.  So, we had been trying to find a time to get together again, but we have all been 很忙 — very busy.  As I mentioned, May 1 is a holiday, and so we were all available.  Deb and I visited in their home and enjoyed playing with Tongtong and meeting Nainai.  Tongtong is now over ten months old and can say a few words — like mama, baba and she can wave “byebye” and express “thank you” and blow a kiss! She is standing and crawling really well.  So, she will very soon be walking and talking a lot.  It was so much fun to see her in her play room, with her books, stuffed toys, and talking doll!  After a little while, she decided we were OK, so she let us hold her and interacted with us nicely.

At dinner time, we all (except Tongtong, who was carried, of course) walked to a restaurant a couple of blocks away from our neighborhood.  It may have been there a long time — they had not noticed it before, but it was very nice and the food was very good, basically like home cooking, so we stuffed ourselves once again.  It was a great find for us!  We enjoy finding new restaurants that serve delicious food!

Figure 51 Jenny, Nainai, and Tongtong greet us

Figure 52.
Playing with Tongtong in her room

Figure 53.
Playing with Tongtong in her room

Figure 54.
Playing with Tongtong in her room — her talking doll

Figure 55. Playing with Tongtong in her room

Figure 56.
At the restaurant

Figure 57.
At the restaurant