Look Out Texas, Here We Come! 12/20/13

We’re homeward bound today.  But first, I have to teach my classes.  I’ve found 7 different versions of “Carol of the Bells” on YouTube, so we’re going to watch and discuss the different arrangements, as well as talk about some more Christmas traditions.

I get home at 1:30, and Judy almost has everything else completed.  We finish up, close up the apartment, and move all our stuff down to the taxis.  Our stuff won’t fit into one taxi, so we split into two taxis and take off.  We arrive at the airport, load our stuff onto two big luggage carts and move to check-in.  The line is pretty long, but moves quickly.  Because I’m cheap and trying to save money on our luggage, I’ve decided to carry the box (it weighs 31 lbs. and doesn’t have wheels, I’m an idiot), and my briefcase as my carry-on and personal item.  Judy has her purse and a large bag for extra stuff.  We check four large suitcases. 

After checking in, we start the long walk to the gate.  The International terminal is new since our flight to Korea in September.  It’s easy to figure out where to go, but a really long walk to get there.  After a long hike, a train ride, and another long hike, we arrive at the security area.  They are really thorough, as usual.  We are pulling all kinds of cords and stuff out of our bags for examination.  There is another serious hike to the gate.  We’re able to sit for a few minutes, but they were already loading the plane when we arrived, so it doesn’t last long.  I’m not sure if this is normal, but there is another security check after we start down the loading ramp.  Each of our bags were emptied and a guard carefully looked at everything.

We finally get to board the plane and find our seats.  The flight from Beijing to Chicago is 13 hours.   We get a full meal early in the flight.  3 hours later, they came through the cabin with a sandwich snack.  Two hours before we land, they serve us breakfast.  Each seat has it’s own screen and access to lots of recent movies.  We’ve been out of touch on movies since July, so we catch up on our movie-watching.  Neither of us gets too much sleep.

We’re on time when we arrive in Chicago.  I’ve been worried about this leg of the flight because of the chance for weather issues in the windy city.  We first have to go through customs.  The lines are really long, but we enrolled in “Global Entry”, and the work finally pays off.  There is a really short line for us, and several self-serve kiosks.  We are thru the area and out to baggage claim in 5 minutes.  Now we have to get our bags, and re-check them.  They are slow to come out, but eventually arrive.  When we arrive at the check-in desk, there is luggage scattered everywhere.  Someone official scans our bags and tells us to leave them where they are.  There must be over two hundred bags stacked up and jumbled around.  We’re nervous to leave them, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an option, and our layover is long.

Our next gate is in a different terminal, so it’s out to a train and over to our new terminal.  More time is spent working our way through a really long security line.  We were expecting crowds since it was Friday night on the weekend before Christmas.  We weren’t disappointed.  News crews were everywhere discussing the congestion and delays.  When we finally arrive at the gate, we have two hours to sit.  The length of the trip is beginning to wear on both of us, but sleep isn’t coming easily.

The flight out of Chicago departs 45 minutes late.  We deplane at DFW at midnight.  Our luggage finally shows up around 11:40.  Courtney is waiting for us.  I’ve been worried our stuff wouldn’t fit into the Honda, but it does, and there is even room for us to ride along.  We arrive at “The Magnolia Hotel” in downtown Dallas.  Courtney’s apartment complex has a special arrangement with the hotel for visitors.  We end up with a large comfortable room on the 21st floor with a wonderful view of downtown Dallas.  It’s $75 a night, with a big buffet breakfast included.  There are also cookies and milk from 8-10 each evening.  We arrive at our room at 1:30 am Saturday morning.  It’s been 25 hours since we walked out of our Beijing apartment.  We’re tired but excited for the opportunity to be home for two weeks.   We finally finish unpacking and settling in at 4:30 am.

I’m going out of the blog writing business until Thursday, Jan. 2, when we fly back to Beijing.  I hope everyone has a great Christmas season.  I know we’re going to.

Wednesday & Thursday, 12/18-19/2013

WEDNESDAY, 12/18/13

Goodbye Sanya!  We’re flying back to Beijing today.  It’s been a relaxing four days.  We’re not looking forward to the 4-hour flight, but we’re using it as a warm-up for the US flight on Friday.

The airport taxi trip is problem-free, and the same for our gate check-in.  The flight is on time and smooth.  The Beijing airport is kinda crazy.  It’s a different terminal than we’ve flown into before, so finding the taxi stand took some time.  There are lots of people in line, but it moves quickly.  The taxi driver was confused about our destination, so the route wasn’t the most direct, but we eventually arrived at UHN, walking into our room at 6:30 pm.  We start the unpacking task and making checklists for our re-pack.

THURSDAY, 12/19/13

This is a weird day.  I’m going to school, and Judy’s staying home.  She’s got lots of chores, and my classes await.  Since it’s Christmas in the US, I have a little fun in class singing through holiday music with the kids (Jingle Bells, etc.)  Judy put together some great power-point presentations so they could read the lyrics.  Some vocabulary lessons are required for “bells on bob-tails ring”, and a few of the other phrases.  We watched some You-Tube videos of “Extreme Home Christmas Lights” with coordinated music tracks.  It’s my attempt at some cultural familiarization.  In two years, these students will be in the US, attending a university somewhere.

BHSFIC is having a talent show while I’m in the US, so today is the last chance to work with my clubs and put some finishing touches on their programs.  The Guitar Club is performing a Green Day song, and rep it several times.  The singer (he auditioned for Oberlin last month) is really adding some energy today that I hadn’t seen before.  At the end of our session, they give me a gift with a note.  The memento is nice, but the note is really genuine and heartfelt, and such a surprise.  I was at a loss for words.

The Orchestra Club is performing an arrangement of “Londonderry Air”.  I came to rehearsal ready to tell them they just weren’t ready yet.  What a surprise to find out they rehearsed twice on their own since our last meeting, and sound pretty good.  I had assigned one of the piano players (the Beijing champ) to conduct the group to hold them together.  He showed up with a baton, having listened to several different arrangements to prepare himself.  They’re going to do fine at the talent show.  I leave school feeling like I’ve accomplished something this semester.  I wasn’t really sure until today.

At home, Judy is beginning to fold clothes for the suitcases.  We’ve packed our two largest suitcases full of fun stuff for our families.  We have two more suitcases with clothes, and everything else we’ll need to live.  Two weeks in the US are going to require so much.  We also have another box we’re bringing home full of items.  Tomorrow should be interesting trying to get out of here.  We have so much stuff!  We’re checking and re-checking our lists.  It would be irritating to get home without something we really needed. 

Tuesday, 12/17/13

We woke up to a light drizzle and cooler weather.  Apparently it’s snowing over in the mountains of North Vietnam, just a little northwest of here.  It’s an unusual weather scene.  Our plan for the day is to find a comfortable spot to sit, enjoy the view, and work on our computer projects.


Looking out from our balcony

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Later in the afternoon, I get bored and go looking for some sights in the central town area of Yalong Bay.  There’s a small food/shopping area with a Pizza Hut, a Starbucks, and about 30 other eateries offering regional cuisines.  It’s always fun to watch the people circulate through the area, so I get a coffee, and find a place with a view.  I’m not disappointed.  There are some crazy characters here, just like everywhere else.


This beehive is out at breakfast. It drains into a bowl with a spoon. I guess this qualifies as “fresh local honey.”

I go back to the hotel and get Judy.  She’s beginning to get a little “cabin fever”.  We wander the area, checking out the unusual mix of Chinese, Russian, and English on the signs.  Back at the hotel, I ask for an update of our charges, and the desk clerk asks about my accent.  He asks if I’m from South Carolina, recognizing my “southern” twang.  He looks Chinese, but was born and raised in Canada, and speaks very good English.  It’s such a surprise to speak to someone so fluent after spending much of our time using a very limited vocabulary, both Mandarin and English.

Sanya Golf Monday, 12/16/13

We’re facing another day of working hard at this tropical vacation.  I think we’re up to the task.  Judy has decided she’s going to begin to organize our photos and videos into something that’s manageable, and won’t wear out our family and friends.  I wasn’t sure early in the day what I would be doing, but have noticed a ton of golf bags coming in and out of our hotel.  After a little checking, I realize there is a really good course across the road, designed by Robert Trent Jones, a renowned course designer.  Guess I’ll have to walk over and check it out.

I guess I knew what I was about to do, because I threw some socks in my backpack, just in case I decided to play.  I decided to play.  It was beautiful.  I had to rent clubs and shoes (left my tennis shoes in Beijing), and buy some golf balls.  This course has carts, unlike the two courses I played in Beijing.  I also had a caddie.  There was plenty of sand and water to create problems, but I was able to steer away from most of it.  I only lost two golf balls.  I ended up shooting a “91”, 19 strokes over par.  Considering I was playing with rented clubs, hadn’t played since October, and didn’t warm-up, I considered that a pretty good score.  I’ve shot a lot worse in much better circumstances.


Plenty of trouble out there!


A 221 yard pard 3? I actually ended up on the front edge, 5 feet off the green with my drive. After a terrible chip and a bad putt, I finished with a bogey.


The caddies are checking whether the group in front has cleared. Should there be stuff so high you can’t see the fairway?

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My partner for the day. He was also from Beijing.


My caddie for the round. Sure am glad I brought my socks. They kept me from looking stupid?


When I got back to the hotel, we had moved to another room.  Our first room was at the end of the hotel building, since we arrived so late the first night.  Many of the weekend guests had checked out, and we requested a room more centrally located, and higher (better view).  It was definitely an improved view.  Judy spent the rest of her time sitting around the pool area, working in our iPhoto and iMovie stuff.

Sanya Sunday, 12/15/13

I’m so busy being lazy today, it’s hard to write.  We woke up late, of course, and eventually made our way down to breakfast.  I’ve made a friend of the assistant manager in the cafe.  He speaks English fairly well, and formerly worked at the Grand Hyatt in Beijing.  He is from, Kyrgyzstan, a former Russian republic, but now there is a US air force base there.  He talked about trying to qualify for the crowd to see Hillary Clinton when she visited two years ago.  He said he passed the initial interviews, but didn’t make it past round two.  He looks Chinese, but Russian is his native tongue.  That’s why he’s in Sanya.  This area is a big vacation spot for Russians.  Most of the signs are Mandarin or Russian, and occasionally English.  We’ve been handed Russian menus several times.  We’ve seen several Russians in our resort and out on the beach.  There are Russian items on the buffets, and menus.


Can’t have a “tree lighting” without a lighted tree. I forgot to put this one in yesterday.

I spent some time in the Jacuzzi complex (8 of them linked together by small lagoons).  Judy headed out to the beach for some relaxation.  It was overcast when she went out, but the sun came out while she was napping, and now she has mild sunburn on her legs.  The temp today got up to 75°.  It’s a welcome change from Beijing.


Working hard on the beach


Watch out for the Jelly FLSH?


How about a shell?


I think I forgot to mention Judy’s massage yesterday.  She had been craving one for months, but had no time in Beijing.  She enjoyed a 90-minute Chinese massage with all the amenities expected at a Marriott.  85 minutes of it was luxurious, and 5 minutes of it were spent solving what the masseuse thought was a tightness in her shoulders.  She’s going to be sore for several days.  Thankfully we packed plenty of ibuprofen.  Sunburn and massage soreness, are just a few of the hardships we’re faced with, along with eating too much at the buffets.  Man, this vacation thing is hard work! 


Looking back at the hotel from the beach.

Sanya, Day 1! 12/14/13

Day one in Sanya begins.  We sleep really late, then move out to the balcony and enjoy the view of Yalong Bay and the South China Sea.  Breakfast is next.  I’ve been planning for months to really go to work on the breakfast buffet, and it doesn’t disappoint.  There are so many fresh fruits and juices available in Sanya, why do I spend so much time going after the bacon, sausage, eggs, and pastries.

Sanya 1

After our late breakfast we scout out the property.  It’s gorgeous!  So many tropical plants and trees throughout, and the landscaping is immaculate.  The beach is really nice, and we relax a little, enjoying the view.  After our naps on the beach we head back inside, and kill some time before the tree lighting ceremony.

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There is a big Christmas tree in the lobby and the official “lighting” ceremony is tonight.  There is food, warm drinks (not as necessary in the tropics as it might be in a more northern locale), and a choir made up of hotel employees.  They make a valid attempt at some Xmas carols.  We try to enjoy the food, but they way people were swarming it, you would have thought it was the last food on earth.

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I thought I might have trouble sleeping tonight, after all the relaxing and napping.  I was wrong!  We zonk out early.  We’re still programmed from Beijing.

Sanya, here we come! 12/13/13

Judy has two assembly performances today.  Every grade level performs at the elementary assembly, and the choir performs at the secondary assembly.  It’s a full morning.  They are great (of course).




Hard at work!


Gotta concentrate on those tone chimes!


Ringing in the holidays!


Reindeer Dancing


It’s a half-day, so as soon as the kids are gone, she hurriedly cleans up her room, and get’s things in place for her January return.  We both arrive back at the apartment at the same time, around 1:30.  We finish up the final packing and grab a taxi to the airport around 3:00.  It’s a cold day.  It was 18°F when I walked to the train this morning.  It didn’t seem that cold because the wind wasn’t blowing.

We arrived at the airport around 3:45.  I had forgotten how big this terminal is.  It’s a new terminal, and less than one year old.  We find the Air China check-in counter, and start to get in line.  A uniformed-looking guy with a nametag seems to be facilitating the crowd.  He looked and acted like he worked for Air China.  He takes our flight info, pushes up to an open counter, and starts getting us checked in.  Then he helps get our bags checked, hands me back our passports, and walks us to the security entrance.  I don’t know why we’re getting the VIP treatment?  Just before we arrive at the entrance, he turns, and in broken English, asks for 100rmb for all his help (he’s still holding our boarding passes).  He’s running some kind of a scam.  I hand him 20rmb and grab our boarding passes.  I would have written down the name on the nametag, but I couldn’t read the Chinese characters.  It probably said “Welcome to China, sucker”.

We get to the gate with 2 hours to spare, so the long wait begins.  When we finally start the loading process, we’re led to a bus, and then driven out to the plane on the tarmac.  Since we’ve been in China, we’ve loaded and unloaded planes 12 times, but only twice through an elevated ramp.  All the other times, we’ve been bussed and then climbed up and down stairs to board or deplane.  That’s more times than all the rest of the flights in my entire life.  I guess it’s just the luck of the draw.  What would someone in a wheelchair do?  Forklift?

The flight is smooth, but it’s a long 4 hours.  It’s just warming us up for the 14 hours we’ll spend on a plane next week coming back to the US.  It’s 73°F when we arrive.  The humidity definitely feels like the tropics.  If you haven’t looked at a map, Sanya is at the southern tip of Hainan Island, about halfway between Hong Kong and Vietnam.  It’s the southernmost point in China.  We’re staying at the Sanya Marriott Yalong Bay Hotel and Resort.

As we walk out of the terminal, we are swarmed by guys who offer transportation.  They want to barter the price.  The line to get a regular taxi is really long.  I had read what to expect to pay to get to our hotel, so I barter with them a little, but finally decide we don’t want to take a chance on an independent driver, so we get in line for the regular taxis.  As soon as we get a block away, the driver pulls over, switches off his meter, and hands me a calculator, asking me what I’ll pay.  I punch in my price, he nods agreement and we start driving again.  That wasn’t in the info I read.

It’s about a 40-minute taxi ride.  We arrive safe and sound.  The hotel looks beautiful.  It’s midnight, and we’re ready for bed.  We’ll scout out the layout tomorrow. 

Holiday Around the Corner! 12/12/13

Our apartment has been really hot lately.  We tried sleeping with a window open last night, and it seemed to help.  We both slept much better.  The outside temp got down to 27F, but it worked pretty well.  The only problem for me was the street noise, 24 floors below.

Judy has a full day of practices for her performances on Friday.  After school, “Annie” rehearses the last time before the holiday break.  Then she tried to make all the final notes and checklists, to avoid any surprises at the assemblies.

My classes go well, and I turn in my acceptance letter for my job offer for next year.  Success!  I’ll have this job for at least one more year.  It seems to be just enough to keep me busy, mentally on my toes, and provide a little income.  Otherwise, I’d probably be searching out all the Mexican food, pizza, and burgers in Beijing.

After school, the orchestra actually has a rehearsal that makes progress.  Almost everyone is attending.  There is a talent show in two weeks (while I’m in the US), and they want to play.  I’m a little nervous about whether or not it will work if I’m not in front of them.  We’ll make the final decision at next week’s rehearsal.  The guitar club is sounding pretty good.  They’ll also be performing.  We finally had everyone here (there’s nothing like a performance to promote attendance).  One of the students has been in the US for two weeks, visiting Harvard and Yale, and New York City.  That’s sure a lot of class time to miss.

It’s late when we both get home.  We are scurrying, making sure we’re ready for the Sanya trip tomorrow.  When we get back from Sanya, there isn’t much time before we fly back to the US, so we’re really planning for two departures.

Final Xmas Details, 12/11/13

Today is my last day to tie up loose ends on our Christmas shopping.  Judy’s teaching, and gets off this morning without any problems, although she has a slight case of the sniffles.  After I finally get going, I head over to the train and travel to Sanlitun.  I’ve been planning to eat at Cantina Agave, a Mexican food restaurant for several weeks, so I stoke up on chips, salsa, and a big burrito.

After lunch I walk next door to the Yashow Market for a swap attempt.  I’ve got some shirts that are too small.  I find the shop where I purchased them, and talk to the proprietor.  It’s not the same person that sold me the stuff on Sunday.  I make sure he has the size I need before I discuss swap.  He seemed confused, but I sorta bulled ahead, pushing the shirt I don’t need into his hands and stuffing the one I do need into my bag.  It still had the tags, but I certainly didn’t have a receipt.  There’s no such thing in this building.

I move out as quickly as I can, before he can change his mind.  I walk back over to Sanlitun, and pick up a large clothes steamer.  We’ve been in need of something to take care of the wrinkles coming out of our crowded closets.  I am pretty proud of myself as I taxi home, Mexican food, a swap-out in Yashow, and a steamer at a reasonable price.  Back home I celebrate with a nap before I put the steamer together.

Judy gets home around 7:00, and we start packing and putting things together for Sanya, and the US.  The next two days are going to be really full, and we need to be ready to walk out the door to airport right after we get home on Friday.

Tuesday, 12/10/13

Judy gets up feeling pretty good after a decent night’s sleep.  Our room is really hot at night.  We had to leave a window open last night in an attempt to balance the heat (coming from the floors below us).  She was almost out the door before I woke up.  Most mornings I get up when she does, and stretch and eat.  Don’t know what happened this morning.

I’ve been stalling writing the blog entries for the last few days, hoping there would be some pictures.  I finally got some pictures of the party, and Judy’s performance last Friday, so no more writing excuses.

The radiators in our bathrooms will not turn off.  The knobs are non-functional and we can’t turn off the heat in those rooms.  I contact Lisa, our leasing agent.  She calls UHN, and they send a technician.  I don’t think he understood the instructions.  He probably couldn’t understand I wanted the heat off on one of the coldest days so far this winter.  He fiddled with some pipes in an outside closet, said the Chinese word for “good”, and left.  The radiators are still going strong.  I guess I’ll try again. 

I’m also working on changing our travel arrangements for late January, the Chinese New Year Holiday/Break.  Judy’s school is out for 10 days (my school is out for a month.  We had planned a trip to Phuket, Thailand, with the last few days in Bangkok.  I don’t know how much of the political turmoil in Bangkok is in the news in the US?  CNN here is full of stories on the protests, and the tense situation, etc.  The prime minister at the center of the controversy dissolved the congress yesterday, and announced elections will be held while we were scheduled to be in Bangkok.  It would be a truly wonderful historical experience, and all, but we’ve decided to stay on the beach in Phuket, and not dodge Molotov cocktails in the capital city.

Judy ate with the girls tonight.  They went to Pete’s Tex Mex.  She gets home full of stories about everyone’s upcoming Christmas travel.  We’re working on ideas for Judy’s Spring Break in April.  We’ll have 5 days.  So many countries and so few holidays.