Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Angel-a

God has the best timing.

Once upon a time, I went to Awana camp. I was grade-school to middle-school-aged, and I went several years and made several friends. There were certain things you had to do to qualify for Awana camp (things I can't remember now), but basically it was the semi-"hard core" Awana kids that got to go to this camp. Sadly, I just found out tonight that they no longer have Awana camp because the insurance got to be too high, but it was a great place for growing, memorizing scripture, and just having fun being a kid and doing summer camp stuff.

The last few years I was there, I met a beautiful, wonderful girl named Angela Wass. Angela lives up to her name - she's an angel. I don't think she's ever spoken (or thought!) an unkind word about anyone, and she has the most visible faith I've ever seen, despite some hard stuff she's had to go through in her lifetime. I remember listening to her tell me about sickness in her family and other things she was going through; we were probably about 12 years old or so at camp. She would just smile and tell me that God had a purpose for all of it, even if she couldn't see it right then.

Thanks to the wonderful technology we all know and love, Facebook, Angela and I have found each other and are talking again. Last night I stayed up until about 3 a.m. chatting back and forth with her on our Facebook "walls," despite the fact that I had a very important final I should have been studying for and a 9 a.m. podcast recording with my boss this morning. It was hard to get up this morning, but it was SO worth it (plus, the recording went well and I'm pretty sure I passed the final too; no harm done).

There are not many people you can just connect with, especially after a long time being apart, but Angela and I have always had that relationship. She's the kind of woman that puts a smile on your face and makes you want to be a better person; the kind of person you want to be around all the time.

Although I wanted to jump up and drive the 2 hours to go see Angela right then, I decided that I'd better stick around to take my final today instead, which was probably wise. Fortunately, I got to chat with her on Windows Messenger (makes more sense then Facebook walls, doesn't it?) again tonight. I was very excited to talk to her again, but very sad to find out that she is in quite a bit of pain from a LOT of gallbladder stones ("My gallbladder has too many stones to count and is threatening to rupture," she told me tonight, then worried that she was "whining.") She will be having surgery on Monday morning to get that all taken care of and I would appreciate you keeping her in your prayers.

As all the plans Jack and I have been making for the last 4.5 years fall right into place, I get the feeling that I'm in control. It's true; life is going well right now. I just finished my last final EVER (WHOOP!) and I'll be graduating on Saturday. Then I'm moving back and I have a few interviews lined up. Then Christmas in Wyoming. Then the wedding. Then the honeymoon...

I love planning - you all know I do (me? control freak? maybe.) I love counting down to things and making sure the timing is right for everything. But it's people like Angela that remind me to leave room in all my plans for God to include His plans.

Thanks, God, for including this in your datebook. It's my turn to include You in mine.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I’m moving out soon… YEEESSSSSSS!!

This is the worst place I’ve ever lived. The apartment itself doesn’t suck (and I like my roommate), but I’m so sick of dealing with the management and the crappy facilities they psudo-provide.

Let me paint you a little picture of my day -

2:38 a.m. – I get out of the shower only to discover a big puddle of urine in the middle of my bed. Infuriated, I snatch up the dog and rub her nose in it while simultaneously yelling “bad dog!” (which no doubt wakes up my roommate) and slapping her behind. Stupid dog.

2:41 a.m. –The comforter and sheets are off the bed and in the tub. I rinse them all out and add some detergent, mixing it around, rinsing again and then draining the tub. Suddenly, I realize that I have a very wet, heavy blanket and set of sheets. I’m not really sure what to do with them at this point (hadn’t quite thought that one through), so I empty the dirty laundry from my laundry basket and put them in there with towels under the basket and go to sleep on my bare mattress.

6:45 p.m. – I’m finally home from school and work and I’ve finished my dinner. I’m ready for laundry, I guess. I scrounge for 4 quarters, change into sweats, and throw the jeans I was wearing into the laundry basket with the wet blankets I need to re-wash and dry.

6:46 p.m. – Laundry is much heavier when it’s sopping wet.

6:47 p.m. – I’m almost in my car when I see Maggie coming down the stairs after me. “That’s odd,” I think, “the last time I checked, my dog can’t open the door on her own…” I quickly realize that it’s the poor weather stripping around the door that makes my door never actually shut unless I lock it. Thanks again, Redstone Apartments.

7 p.m. – I enter the laundry room. The floor is completely covered in leaves and dirt. It’s disgusting.

7:06 p.m. - My laundry is happily swooshing around in the questionable washing machine. Most is right with the world.

7:28 p.m. – Anticipating the need for to actually dry the blankets and jeans, I’m looking in every corner of my apartment for one more quarter (I already found three in my car’s ashtray). I look in my wallet. No luck. In the drawer that holds my makeup in the bathroom. Nope. Dirty jeans pockets. Nothing. Pencil cup on my desk… I find a nickel, some dimes, a couple of pennies… and… what is that? Success! I do a little happy dance as I pull the last remaining quarter in my universe out of the pencil cup and put it in my wallet for later.

8:16 p.m. – Time to switch the blankets and jeans from the washer to the dryer. Maggie follows me down to the car (I figure she’s just going to figure out how to unlock the door next so I let her come with me). She hops in and I crank it up (I’m lazy and I don’t care about the environment) and we drive the 500 feet to the laundry room.

8:18 p.m. – My bedding and jeans are in the dryer and I put my last four quarters in the little slots. I push the quarters in, excited about the drying goodness that is about to ensue. The slot doesn’t come back out. I’ve seen this before, so I jiggle it a couple of times. The slot is still stuck.

8:21 p.m. – I’m still jiggling on the slot, determined to utilize the last remaining quarters in the world, as far as I’m concerned. I begin banging on the side of the machine, hoping this will do something.

8:25 p.m. – I’m pounding on the slot. Still no luck.

8:28 p.m. – I stick my keys in any hole I can find. Nothing helps.

8:31 p.m. – I am literally kicking the machine and rocking it back and forth in hopes of making the quarters fall where they should so the slot will come back out. Nothing.

8:33 p.m. – Furious, I storm back to my car to a confused Maggie. I drive over to Kroger and get change for two dollars (I’m still in my sweats and quite pissed off at this point)

8:42 p.m. – I move all the clothes down to the lower dryer and put another four quarters into the machine, praying that this one won’t stick too. Fortunately it doesn’t, and the blankets get mostly dry over the hour I leave them in. Unfortunately, the drying power isn’t great in that particular machine, so this dollar wasn’t really used well either. There goes two meals worth of money. Thanks a lot, Redstone Apartments.

Ps – The dog got into my roommate’s room today and peed on her bed as well… and then the exact same thing happened to her with the exact same dryer. I think Maggie and the management are working together to take all our food money.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Surprise!

My friend Garrett and I watched "Love Actually" the other night, and I wanted to share how much I loved the scene where Keira Knightley gets married - if you haven't seen it, you can watch it here on youtube.com.

That's a good kind of wedding surprise. And I'm not going to lie, if any of you want to arrange such a thing, I definitely wouldn't mind (heck, enough of you know how to play instruments).

To me, the wedding is paradoxical. I want everyone I know to be there, but I want it to be intimate. I want my dress to be simple but spectacular. I want everything to be cheap without looking cheap. I want to help set everything up myself but also spend the day getting ready. I want to take all my pictures before the ceremony, but I don't want Jack to see me before the wedding. And in this case, I want to be surprised, but I also want to avoid a lot of surprises.

For example, I want to be surprised by Jack having a heartfelt note delivered to me while we're getting ready separately before the wedding. I do not want to be surprised by Jack not showing up for the wedding.

I want to be surprised by a beautiful picture my photographer takes when we're not paying attention; I do not want to be surprised by the photographer accidentally formatting the memory card after the wedding.

I want to be surprised by an awesome arrangement the florist came up with; I do not want to be surprised by the florist deciding that the wedding color is black instead of purple and the boutonnieres should be replaced with black ribbons (This was a dream I had recently...anyone know what that one means? I was also getting married at Six Flags and forgot all my jewelry, if that helps the interpretation process).

As much as I love controlling things, I'd hate to have Jane Austen's attitude, when she said:

"Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable."

Looking back, some of my favorite memories have been moments of surprise and of inconvenience. Just think about the chicken and the hotel scavenger hunt. That's one of the things my dad taught me - life is a collection of experiences, good and bad, and the bad is just as valuable in the collection as the good. Most of the things Jack and I laugh about involve something that was definitely bad at the time, like me dropping his just-finished monthly report in a gutter-river in the pouring rain one day. These are moments I won't soon forget.

I guess that means I'm ready to be inconvenienced, wedding or not. Bring on the surprises.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My favorite yellow line

Last week, I got an e-mail from the TAMU Telcommunication Media Association saying that Sportvision and ESPN needed a student to work with a technician to help build and calibrate the cameras that paint the digital first down marker that shows up on live broadcasts of football games for Saturday's game against Kansas. The job included a day of set-up on Friday as well, and since I'm not a huge fan of actually going to class anyway, I called and applied for the position and was hired. When my brother found out what I would be doing, he insisted that I take some pictures and write something about how they do it, because it's a very cool process. Hopefully I don't screw this explanation up too badly.

They start with a laser. This part was done before I got there. In fact, it was done several years ago, and now they keep the data from each stadium to use the next time they come. The laser is placed in the center of the field and collects data on elevation points. This information is used to draw a map of the contours of the field on the computer.

The next step in hardware set-up is the sticks, or the tripod the camera sits on. This tripod has to be completely level for the process to work, and can't be moved after everything is set up and calibrated. Incidentally, Adam (my boss and the rock star behind this game's yellow line) said the cameras get moved almost every week after they have been calibrated. This week was no exception: one of the first things they did Saturday morning was move one of the cameras, which was quite frustrating for Adam, who had spent the entire day before setting them up. After the camera is set up and level, it is chained down so it won't move during the game.

Next, we have the pan/tilt head, which sits on top of the sticks. This particular head has been modified to hold a box on the front that sends information to the 1st and Ten computers downstairs about that camera's view of the field so they can add the yellow line to the live broadcast when that camera is in use. This particular broadcast had three such cameras with 1st and Ten capabilities. Usually, there are four, but Adam was more than ecstatic that Camera 4 would not be a 1st and Ten camera for the rest of the season (Camera 4 is an end-zone camera, for this game placed on top of the 12th Man TV. Apparently it's difficult to set-up and even more difficult to make the yellow line look good from that perspective because the technology was originally designed for sideline shots.)

On top of the head we have the actual camera (with a $100,000 lens, by the way). This is where I actually got to play with the technology (aside from helping build the cameras...oh, who are we kidding; I watched Adam do most of that too). Before the game my job was to listen to Adam, who was in the ESPN trailer at the 1st and Ten computer, over the headset and do what he told me to with the cameras (zoom in on a yard line, pan, tilt, etc.) so that he could collect the necessary data about the field so the virtual line would stay in perspective as the cameras pan, tilt and zoom during the game. Adam now has a really precise map of the field on his computer, and the system now knows where in each frame of the video the line should appear.

Next, Adam creates a blue screen (yellow, rather) of the parts of the field he wants to draw on by selecting the colors of those parts. He selects the different shades of green on the field and then determines how strong that color should be replaced: a higher percentage means a brighter yellow line over that color. During day games, the shadows change, so Adam has to monitor his blue screen to make sure the appropriate colors are still being replaced as the game goes on. He also has to make sure that he's not drawing on skin, logos, or uniforms so that it appears that the line is actually painted on the grass.

Now that the computers know where the field is and which colors to replace, Adam can select the yard line he wants to put the line of scrimmage and the yellow down line on during the game (far left screen). He watches the three cameras to make sure the line is showing up properly on all three cameras (center screens) and the action on the field to find out where to put the line next.

I came away very impressed with the technology, process, and end result of this little feature. No wonder Sportvision has won multiple Emmys for this advancement.

Here are a few other things I observed during the experience:

Their cables are really freaking long. (These go from their cameras under the press box to the trailers)


These are the graphics guys. They create the lower third graphics that go on the screen when they show a player on TV and other stats graphics. They get really mad when a graphic doesn't get up on time or if there's a mistake in the text of a graphic.


It's fun to have one of these. This is the first of what I hope will be many TV Crew credentials.


The view of the Aggie Band is even better from here.

Special thanks to Adam for letting me follow him around all weekend, and the whole crew for letting me take their money in the pool (I put in $10 and won $80 back because I drew "0" and therefore won 3 quarters). An Aggie loss is a Mandy win, apparently.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My REAL boy-toy

Tonight Jack called me, extremely amused, to tell me a story about one of his Tiny Tigers (4-6 year old taekwondo students). Apparently, the little boy’s mom told Jack that her son had asked for a “Mr. Hornbuckle” toy for Christmas.

“A ‘Mr. Hornbuckle’ toy?’” the mother asked. “What’s a Mr. Hornbuckle toy?”

“You know,” the little boy explained, “A toy that looks just like Mr. Hornbuckle and talks.”

Jack told the mom to go ahead and get two if she found them, because he’s going to want one too.

Although I’m pretty sure this is the first request for a Jack Hornbuckle action figure, this isn’t the first time “Mr. Hornbuckle” came up in toy-land. A few weeks ago, Kai, another of Jack’s Tigers, built a bear (actually, built a dog), and when it was time to name it, he called it “Mr. Hornbuckle.” The next day, Kai was also calling it “Nurdle,” so I guess it was “Nurdle Hornbuckle.” Jack’s best man, Dave, was wildly amused and tried to convince us to name our first child that.

But I digress.

I got to thinking about this talking “Mr. Hornbuckle” doll, and what it would say when you pulled the string. Here’s what I came up with:

“Stop taking my food! I don’t share food!”

“CLEEEEEEEEEEETUUUUUUUS!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Cheriup Kinyay” (No, I don’t know how to spell that)

“Does that make sense?” (That one’s for you, Kristen and Matthew)

“I just want it done a certain way!”

“I’m hungry… and you make sandwiches SO much better than I do…”

“MUCHOOOOO!”

“I’m tired.”

“I signed somebody else up today!”

“One time, when we were in the corps…”

“Many much mostester!”


Yep, I’m pretty sure it would be a popular toy, at least for the kids at the taekwondo school. I’m thinking about getting them made and selling them at the school. I think I could do pretty well.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lucky girl

I know I'm lucky to have Jack for a best friend and soon-to-be husband. He calls me funny names. He wakes me up in the morning with phone calls. He brings me flowers when I'm not expecting it. He takes me out to dinner. He surprises me with Starbucks. He saves his money and thinks about our future. I don't say it enough - he's good to me.

Sometimes it takes a week like this one for me to remember to brag about him, though.

Being the creative yet insane lady I am, I've decided to make my own invitations for the wedding. And to further convince you of the "insane" part, I've decided to tie pretty little ribbons around each and every invite. Yep, that's 200 invitations with 11 inches of ribbon around each one. This means that I need more than 60 yards of the ribbon I've picked out for just the invites. And oh, by the way, I think I'm using them for the programs too, so I'll need more than that.

This isn't such a big deal if you can find the ribbon you've fallen in love with at a place like Hobby Lobby, where you can order and pre-pay for as much as you need, as you should be able to. Unfortunately, this ribbon is only sold at Wal-Mart, the incompetant employee capital of the universe. But the ribbon is pretty and the price is right, so I've been going back every couple of weeks in hopes of finding more.

Anyway, the last time we were at Wal-Mart buying everything they had, I asked them when the next time would be that they got more of the coveted ribbon in, and they told me it would be October 11. This was dissapointing for Mandy, because Mandy lives in College Station during the fall semester. Jack, however, lives in Dallas all the time. Being the smart guy he is, when he heard the delivery date, he programmed an alarm on that date into his phone, and when his little alarm went off yesterday, he went and picked up 30 YARDS of it for me (two entire rolls)! This made me incredibly happy.

But wait, there's more.

Because he knew this made me happy and that I still needed at least 15 more yards, he used part of his day off to travel to Frisco, which is a half an hour each way, just to see if they had more at that Wal-Mart. They didn't, but the gesture was definately appreciated.

This probably doesn't sound like a lot to those of you who aren't trying to simultaneously plan a wedding, be a rock star at work, pass all your classes, graduate, and oh, yeah, find a big-girl job; but to me, not having to go find ribbon in the little free time I have left is priceless.

Thanks, Jack, for the little things.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A hike, a bale of hay, and a porta-potty

Today, Jack and I had our engagement session with Rachel and Matt of Rachel Brooke Photography (http://www.rachelbrookephotography.com/). We had so much fun and were incredibly impressed with both of them. We’re not great at the whole “just do something cute, and we’ll take a picture of it,” and Rachel and Matt always told us how we should pose, a must for non-creatively-posing people like us (most of the pictures I have of Jack and me include the two of us from the shoulders up, sticking our tongues out at a camera that I’m holding with one outstretched arm). They spent a lot more time than we deserved to do everything we wanted at two different locations. I can safely say that they provided a lot more I would have expected from a simple engagement portrait session.

In the meantime, here are a few things I learned while taking pictures with Jack today:


  • Jack, despite 4 and a half years of training himself to do so, does not stick his tongue out when professional photographers are taking his picture.


  • I, however, do.


  • If you are standing on a bale of hay with Jack, he does not like it if you rock back and forth to make the bale roll under you.

  • The only thing better than posing out the door of a porta-potty is posing out the door of a porta-potty holding a big frame with the number “2” in it. (Now you’re curious, aren’t you?)


  • You can get rid of chiggers by bathing in bleach-water. You can get rid of a bull nettle by peeing on it. I still do not know what chiggers or bull nettles actually are.


  • Jack has peed on his cousin before – multiple times.


  • Jack can waltz.

  • Although Jack isn’t particularly bothered by litter anywhere else, he is quite offended by its presence on the A&M campus and will make a point to pick up any trash he sees there and throw it away.


  • September 30 in College Station is hotter than it should be.


  • If I jump onto Jack’s shoulders from a tree, he does not like it.


  • If Jack lays down in the grass and gets his white shirt a little muddy, he will decide that throwing it away after use is a better option than trying to wash it.


  • Flip-flops aren’t the best choice of footwear for hiking through a big field of mud, bugs, and knee-high grass.


  • When Rachel tells you to arch your back and lay your head up against a bale of hay while outstretching your left arm, the picture won’t look as weird as you think it will.


  • Dumpsters make the best backdrops.

See my facebook album of our engagement photos here.
See my favorite "numbers" picture - #15

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bad Dog!

Today Jack called me around 1 p.m., like he usually does on Mondays, to tell me he was on his way home. By now I know that this phone call is code for “I’m hungry, please feed me,” so we discussed lunch and he told me he would like some sandwiches.

He was in luck, because I had just bought him some thinly-sliced deli ham (the smoked kind, not honey ham, because according to Jack, ham should be salty, not sweet) and some kick-butt bread – the big, soft kind you make a delicious subway sandwich out of. He tells me not to buy them because they’re expensive, but they’re so tasty that sometimes I do it anyway so he’ll have a nice fancy sandwich. And today was a fancy sandwich day.

I had just a little bit of mayonnaise left in the jar, and Jack likes lots of mayonnaise on his sandwiches (something, I think, that will have to stop soon because I’m probably killing him by drowning his arteries in that tasty disgusting stuff, putting as much as he wants on them). I had just enough for the amount he likes. Fantastic.

Then comes the cheese. Another splurge. Jack likes nothing other than Kraft sharp cheddar. We don’t store-brand this one. We go with the good stuff. I put that on the sandwich.

Next we have the meat. Oh, the meat. This is the reason I’m always stuck making the sandwiches around here. I have a talent for perfectly folding the ham so that it’s thickly placed on the sandwich without losing its thin taste. The Subway Restaurant workers could learn a thing or two about putting meat on sandwiches from me. I’m good at it. And on top of that, I put a lot of it on. More clogged arteries, more happy fiancée.

After I finished making the sandwiches, I put them on the table right next to the door, so Jack would have them as soon as he walked in. I knew he was in a hurry (this is his long day without very much of a lunch break), so I didn’t want him to have to have the burden of walking all the way to the kitchen to get his food. Not my fiancée – he gets his lunch the moment he steps through the doorway.

And there they sat, in all their glory. The long, soft wheat hoagies. The layers and layers of cold, thinly-sliced ham, folded perfectly on top of one another. The sharp cheddar cheese. The cold, creamy mayonnaise. I took another glance at them as I walked away, smiling at my culinary achievement.

As I was putting on my makeup about 10 minutes later, I stopped mid-mascara brush. For some reason, I thought I had better check on the sandwiches. I’m not sure what made me do it, but I’m pretty sure it’s what they mean when they say that the holy spirit makes you do stuff.

I walked out to the foyer, and a chill ran up my spine as I stared in disbelief at an empty plate.

I looked around. Nothing. Jack’s not here to have eaten them. Neither are mom or any neighbors. I was alone. And yet the sandwiches were gone.

Then I saw them. Two pieces of upturned bread, mayonnaise, cheese, and a single piece of ham staring back at me. I definitely put more ham on that sandwich. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave it open on the floor like that. And wasn’t there another sandwich around here somewhere?

“MAGGIE!!!!!” I sceam.

I took off in a sprint toward the dog’s room. Maggie stops mid-dog-door-bound-trot and looks back at me sheepishly. There is white mayonnaise all over the black fur around her mouth.

I snatch the dog up so fast she lets out a surprised “HUNAAHH” of air. I carry her over to what’s left of the second sandwich and put her down by it firmly. She cowers.

“BLAH BLAH BLAH BAD MAGGIE! BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD DOG! BLAH BLAH BLAH BAD! BAD BLAH BLAH BLAH BAD!!!!!” she hears, as I smack her behind a few times.

I carry her to the dog door and shove her through it. I get the plastic piece that closes the dog door and slide it in. She’s not coming back in for a while.

I spot the other dumb, old, deaf dog outside and contemplate whether she is in on it. If she is, she’s pretty good at it, because she is now laying nonchalantly in the grass beside the house. I decide she’s way too stupid to have been a part of this conspiracy, so a moment later when I bring Maggie enough water to keep an elephant alive in the desert for days, I bring Tia inside with me (and feed her the remaining piece of ham off the ruined sandwich – if she was a part of the plan, she’s an evil genious).

Needless to say, Maggie spent the day outside today. And I’m not putting any more sandwiches on that table.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Heidelberg

Going to Heidelberg was great for five reasons. One, we had a nice room, as always, at the Heidelberg Marriott. Two, the weather improved dramatically. Three, after a month of eating not a lot of meat with our Chinese food, there was sausage to be found and eaten. Four, Germans are nice. Hairy, but nice. And five, and most importantly, I’m pretty sure you can turn any English word into a German word by adding “stein,” “enberg,” or “ogen.” This meant that speaking the language would be much easier than it was in China.

Schloss

Our first stop on the Heidelberg tour was the Castle Schloss. This is a famous ruin on a big hill in Heidelberg. There’s a super-big keg inside (the second largest beer keg in the world) and it has amazing views. I bought Jack a postcard and drank the coldest apple juice I’ve ever had at the restaurant there while I wrote him a note on it. Then later, to prove it was authentic, Dad took my picture, while I held the postcard in front of where they took the postcard picture. Impressive stuff.

We had taken the tram up, but decided to walk down, which turned out to be a great idea because we ran into some sheep (Dad whistled at them and they came running, which amused us to no end), I ate a wild blackberry off a bush (and it didn’t kill me), and we found a fan-freaking-tastic sidewalk café, where we enjoyed iced coffee and watched a wedding recessional in the sunshine. We did have a little bit of trouble finding our way back to the main train station after wandering around for a long time, so we rode the bus for about an hour or so, but we did eventually end up where we wanted to next:

The Heidelberg Zoo

This zoo was quite a bit different in Heidelberg than the Wuhan zoo. The first indication of this little fact was that there were animals at this zoo. Living animals. Not only were there living animals, but there was more than one species of animal at this zoo. Amazing, right?

The monkeys my dad had superglued together the last time he was here were still here, and they were mating. The hairy ass was still itchy. (And when I said it was a smelly ass and that “most asses are smelly,” the woman standing next to me surprised me by telling her four-month old “Don’t listen to her, she says bad words” in perfect American English. FYI, lady, your kid isn’t old enough to hold its head up yet. It didn’t understand what I just said. Also, I used it in a non-bad word context, so it doesn’t count as a bad word. Plus I should be able to say anything I want if it’s not in the country’s language, because by law nobody should be able to understand me). There was also an itsy-bitsy baby gorilla that I really liked and a trained seal that amused me as well.

The only part I didn’t care for about the Heidelberg Zoo was the part where I lost my brand new extra camera battery and camera case. We retraced all of our steps, but alas, we never found it. You’re welcome, teenage kid who found it and sold it on eBay.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hotel Scavenger Hunt

Note: This blog post is also here with pictures

[Somewhere between Amsterdam and Heidelberg on a really fast train]

Editor’s note: I don’t care enough to write an entire blog entry about the trip from Shanghai to Amsterdam on Sunday, so here’s a short recap:

Shanghai to London: Business Class still kicks butt, especially after having to ride coach on all of our side-trips in China.
London airport: Four hour layover plus being up 24 hours sucks, even in the first class lounge.
Trip from Amsterdam airport to hotel: We learned that it’s stupid to take a taxi 2 miles, because it costs $40.

Temperature Transformation

A few years ago, I went to Chicago during spring break with my family and then-future sister-in-law. I don’t know if you know that, but spring break falls about mid-March, where in Texas, the temperature will range from about 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It was with this attitude that I packed short sleeved shirts, jeans, and flip flops for the trip. I threw in a sweatshirt just in case it got down to 65 in the evening, but I figured I wouldn’t need it much. Long story short, that was an unpleasant trip without a coat, especially on Navy Pier.

Fast forward to spring break of this year. This time I was off to St. Louis to help throw my best friend, Emily, a bridal shower. I packed short sleeved shirts, jeans, and flip flops for the trip. I threw in a few sweaters just in case it got chilly at night. Again, no jacket. Another unpleasant trip, and my packing self-esteem was getting pretty low.

The good news is that I went back to both cities during the summer and didn’t have a packing problem. Likewise, I didn’t have a packing problem going to Wuhan, China, where the temperature would range from 90 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Tank tops, shorts, capris, and flip-flops didn’t let me down for two and a half weeks.

And then we got to Europe.

My mistaken assumption was that Europe, namely, the Netherlands and Belgium, would be warm in July. This is not the case. As the Renaissance front desk lady in Amsterdam put it, “it’s always autumn here.” Anyone that knows me knows that autumn is not my favorite time of year, falling just below winter on the “seasons that piss me off most” list. Autumn is when you kiss sunshine and warmth goodbye and start needing more layers of clothing (and for me, a LOT more layers of clothing) to remain mildly comfortable.

The good news is that my packing stupidity did break just long enough for me to pack a pair of jeans (in case it cooled down at night in Wuhan – ha!), and a sweatshirt to sleep in when Dad and Darlana kept it FREEZING in the room at night (although I have noticed that I seem to be the only one in the world who doesn’t mind sleeping in an 85-degree bedroom, double-covers pulled up to the neck).

This is all just a long, drawn out way to say that I was ill-equipped for the weather change from 100-degree Wuhan to 60-degree and rainy Amsterdam.

Oh yeah, and did I mention it was pouring rain and really windy?

In my defense, however, I was the smarter-packed member of this traveling pair: Dad’s suitcase is full of only shorts and t-shirts.

“I speak English, and I’m here to help:” the tables have turned

In case you’re just too lazy to read the blog entry describing “I speak English, and I’m here to help,” the game we invented and envisioned playing in China, here’s how it goes: we wear name tags that say “I speak English, and I’m here to help.” When tourists ask us for help, we help as best we can, but the fact that we have absolutely no idea about anything either. Sometimes we embellish, sometimes we’re just plain wrong. The fatal flaw with this game is that we were absolutely the only tourists in Wuhan. Nobody except us needed help.

It occurred to us later, during our hotel scavenger hunt (below) that the tables may have turned on our little game. And seeing as how we got four different directions from four different people in four different places, we’re thinking other people might have caught on to the game.

Hotel Scavenger Hunt

The first thing we needed to do on Monday when we got to Europe was drop off my two ginormous suitcases at our final European destination, Brussels. I had only brought one suitcase with me to China, and then dad bought another one on Silk Street in Beijing which I proceeded to fill completely with pearls, fake designer purses, and silk stuff to bring back home. We figured that the two rolling monstrosities would be a liability as we tried to climb the Eiffel Tower, and therefore decided to make the trip out to Brussels (our final European destination) to drop off the big ones, leaving us with only our backpacks filled with weather-inappropriate clothes.

Here’s how the trip was supposed to go:

Take the train from Amsterdam to Brussels Schumann in the morning. From there, you’re pretty close to the Brussels Renaissance. We drop off our luggage, get on the train back to Amsterdam, and enjoy an afternoon visit to Maduradam followed by an evening of shocked confusion passing window after window of lingerie-clad hookers in the red-light district of Amsterdam on the way to restaurants near the hotel (see “Window shopping for whores,” below) by about 6:30 p.m.

Unfortunately, Dad left all of his meticulously-planned train schedules in his checked baggage at the Renaissance Hotel in Wuhan, China, where he will be returning after the week in Europe.

Therefore, here’s how the trip actually went:

We excitedly hop on a train from Amsterdam to Brussels North. We take our seats near the back after putting our 15 suitcases in the overhead bins. As we excitedly look out the windows at the passing scenery of fields of cows and little cottages with neat gardens, a train worker comes by.

“Tickets please,” he requests.

We proudly hand him our 5-day Eurail pass and our passports, confident that we have all the necessary documentation. He studies it.

“This pass isn’t validated.” He says, and gives it back. We stare at him like a dog stares at a ceiling fan.

“Vali…what?” we ask, confused.

“Read the conditions,” he says, simply, and walks away.

We open the ticket-pamphlet and see something that looks like this:

Conditions of Use:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 1. Blah blah blah blah blah. 2. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 3. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 4. Blah blah blah blah blah. 5. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 6. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah. Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Since dad can’t see anything without his glasses (and probably couldn’t see this with his glasses), he takes one look at the paper and hands it over to me, expecting me to read and interpret it. Granted, this time the “blah blah blah” was in English, but that didn’t mean it really made any sense to me.

I try my best to figure out where we went wrong, but the guy came back before my “aha” moment actually happened.

“Did you figure it out?” he asks.

“Um… I don’t understand,” I say, handing him the ticket and giving him my best “I’m a stupid American tourist girl, please don’t punish me for it” look.

He takes it with a sigh and begins to read it. Even for him, it took a few minutes of study before he finds it. He reads aloud:

“Before travel begins, within 6 months of the issuing date, the first and last day of validity of the pass and your passport number must be filled in; before departure by your travel agent or once in Europe by a European rail official, and NOT by yourself.”

Again, we stare at him. The train is moving. We are on board. Our pass is not validated.

“So… are you a European rail official?” my dad asks, slowly.

“Yes, I am, in fact a European rail official,” the rail official says, proudly.

“So… can you validate it now?” my dad asks.

“Well, I charge 50 Euros to validate it on board,” he says, and my Dad and I both look at each other, grimacing, then back at the rail official with puppy-dog eyes.

“But, I could go ahead and not charge that,” he says.

“That’s a great idea! Let’s do that one!” I say.

He begins to write on the ticket.

“I’m only doing this for one reason,” he says, as he takes our passports and begins transferring the numbers on to the rail pass. “I would charge a big fee if you had been traveling around for a month without it validated, but obviously, this is your first trip.”

Dad and I look at each other. Yes, it was our first trip, but how could he be so sure? Was it the “dog staring at a ceiling fan look” we gave him when he used the word “validated?” Could he just tell that we were good Christians who wouldn’t lie?

“You see,” he continues, “this is a first-class ticket. Nobody would have used a first-class ticket to sit in second-class on a 3-hour trip if they actually knew what they were doing.” He stamps the pass and hands it back, warning us to make sure to write in the dates when we travel again or we really will have to pay a big fine.

As I write this the train is running down the track at around 160 kpm (100 miles an hour). Dad looks out the window, raises one eyebrow and says: “I wonder what it would feel like if we hit a cow at this speed?”

Later in the trip to Brussels North, we ask the same rail official, who we have now befriended as our rescuer, how we can get to “that one Brussels rail station that starts with a ‘sch.’”

“Brussels Schumann?” he asks, and we grin like idiots.

“Yeah! Yeah! Brussels Schumann!! How do we get to Brussels Schumann?” we reply.

He progresses to give us detailed instructions for getting to the Brussels Schumann station, which include taking the Louvain La Neuve at 11:30, which Dad writes down “Luvan Nauvern.”

We hop out of the train at Brussels North at 11:11, look at the schedule and find something that looks like “Luvan Nauvern,” which is departing at 11:32 from platform 6. We hurry over to platform 6, and a few minutes later, hop on the train, utterly impressed with our seasoned-traveling selves.

The next stop is Schreevex, or something like it. It definitely started with an “sch.” We proudly declare “this is it!” and hop off.

As we unload our 38 bags from the train, a lone tumbleweed rolls by as we hear our steps echo off the empty platform. We glance around, wondering if we just made a big mistake, seeing as how we can see for miles and there’s no Marriott, or building for that matter, in sight.

Fortunately, the train hadn’t left yet, and the conductor was outside the train, looking at us quizzically and wondering why in the world anyone would get off here.

We show her the address of the hotel and ask her if this is where we need to be. She looks at it and suppresses a laugh.

“My goodness, no. You need to take the train back to Brussels North and catch the train to either Luxemburg or Louvain La Neuve. She writes the names in my dad’s book, then looks at the train schedule.

“It looks like there’s a train going to Brussels North at 11:42 from platform 9,” she tells us, then gets back into her train and takes off again, leaving us to chat on our isolated platform.

After complaining all morning about not having eaten breakfast (“Dad! I’m hungry! I’m hungry Dad! Daddy! Feed me!! I’m hungry!”), Dad finally decides to try shutting me up by going down into the tunnel between platforms to see if there’s a snack somewhere. There isn’t. In fact, the tunnel is just as deserted as the rest of the “station” is. Accepting our failure, we head back up to the platform.

Unfortunately, walking around in the tunnel for a while will disorient you to which direction the train came from, and therefore, which direction you’re supposed to go to get back to where you came from.

In addition, 11:42 has come and gone without a trace of a train going either direction. Ut oh. We're sure that this is where the “I speak English, and I’m here to help” joke has targeted us.

We stand there for another 15 minutes and see a train coming on another platform.

“Is that train going back to Brussels North?” Dad asks.

“DUhhhhhhhhhh…” I answer.

We watch it leave. Another 10 minutes pass. Another train, another platform. Then 5 minutes. Then another. Then nothing.

As Dad and I stare at each other, cross-eyed and drooling, a man walks up and sits on a bench, followed by a train (which does not actually sit on the bench, or walk for that matter, in case you were wondering). As he is about to board, we ask him “Are you going to Brussels North?” He says yes, and we excitedly grab our 62 bags and get ready to board the train.

Unfortunately, the door doesn’t open all the way, and neither he nor I can fully open it. He gets through, and I hand one of my suitcases through to him, my super-mondo backpack hanging off my shoulders. I try to squeeze through, but I’m just too wide, either from the backpack or the Chinese-food-relief Pizza Hut meals from previous weeks.

Now he has my suitcase, I can’t get through, and I have no idea when the train is going to take off with my bag. At least it’s the one with all my clothes and not the one with the Coach purses, I think.

Fortunately, the conductor comes over to survey the problem, therefore eliminating the threat of the bag taking off to Brussels North without me.

She can’t get the door open either, and asks Dad to kick it closed to see if she can re-open it. Dad happily obliges with a #3 side kick (and gee, he was proud to get to use that again sans attacker), and she tries to re-open it with her fancy little button, getting it stuck halfway again.

We take the hint and move to the next car, whose door actually opens. As we load our 81 bags into the car, the conductor approaches us once again and asks Dad to re-kick the door closed. He obliges once again, and soon the train is moving back to Brussels North, and we’re feeling confident once again in our traveling abilities.

Note to self: invest in Dramamine. Traveling at 150 mph in a window seat and trying to type/read will make me sick. You, the readers, are lucky I’m so committed/stupid to finish this story even though I’m on the verge of throwing up.

So we’re back at Brussels North, getting quite familiar with the scenery here. What have been catching my eye are the seemingly endless food-stands, restaurants, and vending machines.

“I’m hungry Dad! Dad! I’m hungry!! Daddy! I’m hungry! Feed me Dad! I’m hungry!” I whine.

He tells me that we’ll go check with the information desk about the right train to get on this time, then we’ll grab something to eat before we go. This sounds good to me, so we head to the Information kiosk.

It’s empty. We try looking at the map and figuring it out. We’re too dumb for that.

As we look at each other, cross-eyed and drooling, wondering what to do next, a Brussels angel comes out of nowhere and asks “do you need help?”

We pointed at the address of the hotel once again and asked her if she knew what train we needed to get on. She looks at her watch.

“I’m not sure,” she says, “but I have 5 minutes until my train leaves so let’s go to the information desk in the metro station and see if they know.”

She walks with us to the metro information desk and says lots of words in something that sounds like French and German mixed together. (When you’re in China, you can’t figure out what anybody’s saying but you know they’re speaking Chinese. When you’re in Europe, you can’t figure out what language anyone’s speaking.)

She writes down detailed directions, step by step, for us to get to the hotel.

We take the written instructions and thank her as she hurries off to her probably-long-gone train. Now that we have written directions, we decide that eating is in order. I have earned it with my incessant whining. We settle down after ordering delightful club sandwiches on baguettes.

After we’re finished eating, we ask the metro information desk guy to point us in the direction of the metro. He tells us to go downstairs and get on any tram, which will take us to the metro we need.

We do as we are told, and make it to the right metro on a tram so full of people I could barely fit myself and my 108 bags. Next, we take the metro to Luxemburg Street, where we are supposed to “walk to the train station.”

This is where it goes wrong for us. You see, Luxemburg Street goes two directions, as most streets do. Dad and I decide to just pick a direction and hope it works out for us. At the same time, Dad and I point in different directions and say “let’s go that way then.” I had opted for the direction that is toward the really big building that looks like a train station, and my direction won out. We start walking.

Let’s not forget that weather discussion we had earlier here. Did I mention it was raining, and we were hauling 173 bags?

At some point, we ask some business people who look like they might speak English if they knew the Rue de Parblahblah, and they all point in a direction diagonally from where they were standing on Luxemburg St. And so we walk.

At some point, Dad decides to see what’s behind the buildings we’re walking toward before wasting any more time, and says “you stay here” and walks away. I awkwardly try to gather up the 214 bags a little closer as I watch another tumbleweed blow by.

Dad doesn’t come back.

Oh man, wouldn’t that be horrible? Mom would have killed him.

Okay, he does come back, but it takes a long time. When he finally comes back, he doesn’t know much more than I do, but we decide that we’re probably close.

“If we see a taxi, let’s take it,” I say, and Dad agrees.

You know how in the pilot episode of “Friends,” Ross says “I just want to be married again!” And Rachel walks through the door in her wedding dress? Then Chandler says “And I just want a million dollars!” (Yeah, I probably watch too much “Friends” but don’t lie, you totally know what I’m talking about.)

As soon as we said it, we looked up the street and a taxi turned the corner. I flagged him down like a good city-girl and he rolled down the window.

“Can you take us to the Renaissance hotel?” we ask.

He laughs. “Um… walk a half a block and turn left,” he says.

Number 2 nice person in Belgium. As Dad said, “he could have taken us to the airport and back – we would have never known.”

It’s really really light outside for 9:45 p.m. It looks like dusk. That’s weird.

Those raindrops must look HUGE to them!

Our next stop on the way back to Amsterdam was in The Hague at Maduradam, which is a huge model city they built to amuse themselves. It had a tiny soccer stadium, a tiny Amsterdam, a tiny wedding chapel with little wedding people, a tiny working train, tiny boats, tiny airport with tiny airplanes…you name it, it was tiny. Cassandra, my sister-in-law with an appreciation of all things tiny (being tiny herself), would have loved it.

Aside from the fact that it was still raining, Dad and I were optimistic about our visit to Maduradam. We hopped off the train and went to buy tram tickets.

“Hello,” Dad said to the ticket salesman. “We need to buy two tickets to Maduradam and two tickets back.”

“Here in The Hague, we call that ‘round-trip,’” the salesman teases, and gives us our tickets and change. My dad makes sure he remembers correctly that we need to take tram 9, and upon confirmation, we’re off to tiny-ville.

Or so we think.

Just like streets, trams tend to go two ways, mostly because they run on streets. Otherwise they really couldn’t re-use the tram. It would just make one trip one-way and that would be it. They might as well throw it away. It’s genius really; once the tram goes one way to the end of the line, it then goes the other way.

We didn’t exactly consider this when we hopped on tram 9, and it wasn’t until about 20 stops later that we thought “that’s weird; we don’t seem to be getting to Maduradam and it’s not listed on the screen as one of our upcoming stops.” We ask the people in front of us if we’re going the right direction to get to Maduradam, and get a resounding “you need to go the opposite direction, duh” from them. We get back off the train, just happy we’re not hauling 349 bags anymore, and wait for the tram going the other direction.

Darlana, you’ll be happy to know that the weather isn’t working out for us here in Europe either. A 3-hour trip for Dad last time around Maduradam in the sun was a 1-hour trip for us in the rain. Rain is wet. Air is cold. Mandy is grumpy.

Window-shopping for whores

Getting to the Amsterdam Renaissance was much easier than getting to Brussels Renaissance, mostly because Dad had been there before. The only problem was that instead of the light rain we had in Brussels, it was pouring rain here, and still really cold outside. Because we only had the one tiny umbrella and Dad was the one in shorts and a t-shirt, I opted to just get wet. We showed up at the hotel soaking wet, but glad to have actually found the hotel in less than 4 hours.

As Dad and I walked around trying to find a place to get a dinner snack at 10 p.m., I walked by a few shops. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement and looked over.

I was astonished to be face-to-face with a lingerie clad woman, who was standing in the window. I looked down the street. There were more of them. Standing in windows, mostly naked, soliciting their services. That’s new…

That wouldn’t be the first abnormal scene I would see in Amsterdam, however. Among the others were a drug café, where patrons were inside smoking (what I assume was) dope, sex shops, gay sex shops, and my personal favorite, the drunk biking bar. This bar was placed on wheels, and the barstools had pedals. As the men on the stools got drunker and drunker, they pedaled down the street and made a lot of noise. It was quite a sight.

I think I’m ready for Germany now…

“Ooh look,” Mandy says, and points out the window at a big river with pretty bridges.

“Is that the Rhine?” Dad asks, assuming that Mandy’s $30,000 education has taught her something.

“You’re funny,” Mandy says.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Shanghai

Our last side-trip in China before Europe would be Shanghai. This time we would go with Jerry, an EDS employee who lives in Shanghai, and Dad and I would only have Saturday to play around there.

The day did not start out well.

After breakfast, we caught a cab at the hotel to The Pearl Tower, a big TV station and tourist attraction where you can go up to the top and see Shanghai from above. It was about an hour cab ride, but it seemed more like 8.

The first thing the driver did weirdly was the way he pushed his foot on and off the gas the entire time he was on the highway. You know how in middle school band they make you tap your toe while you’re playing? This guy must have practiced it a lot, because that’s what he was doing the whole time. And no, there was no traffic he needed to slow down and speed up for.

But that was tolerable compared to the other thing.

I don’t know what disease or illness he had, but he was definitely not well. Every two or three seconds, he would cough and couple times and then clear his throat like gross boys do when they’re halking a loogie. There’s just no way to convey how disgusting this is until you listen to/watch an hour of it.

Oh, and it didn’t stop there. At one point he got out of the cab at a stop-light and did I don’t know or want to know what outside the cab.

At another stop light, he used the rear view mirror to watch himself pull out his nose hairs, then his mustache hairs.

By the time we got out of the cab, we didn’t care where we were, just that we had hand sanitizer and a lot of it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Goodbye, China

Here's what I'm thinking about at the moment:

- I love China. I didn't expect to love China this much. It isn't like I expected it - you know, communist China must be oppressive and flooded with police, right? Or crime? Or something bad? Wrong. China is relatively "normal" - more normal than India or Brazil. I am a freak show (everybody stares at the only white Americans they've ever seen) but even that's become a game and I don't really mind it. The people are servant-hearted and sweet, and I am so enjoying getting to visit with my new friends here. I'm a little sad to be leaving Wuhan tommorow, but I'm looking forward to the weekend in Shanghai and then the week in Europe (in case you didn't know, I'm going to the Netherlands, Germany, and France; namely, PARIS!!)

-I get to see Amy Aniobe next week in Paris!!

-Being away from someone you love sucks, but it's not the end of the world. (Even after all this time with Jack, most of it being long-distance time, I still advise against long-distance relationships, unless it's absolutely necessary, because it sucks a lot, even when you know he's the person God picked for you to marry). I know this because I'm always away from Jack, and it's becoming less and less of a big deal, especially as graduation and the wedding (http://wedding.jackandmandy.com) get closer and closer.

However, usually when I'm away from him I can still talk to him on the phone, so it's really different here, where I can't. This is a round-about way of telling you that I hadn't had any contact with Jack for 2 weeks except about 3 e-mails from him, when I finally got skype so I could pay only 2 cents a minute to talk to him live, which I just did. Oh man, that was great.

-Did you know that Air China has had the most crashes in history?

-I can't wear my engagement ring out shopping a lot of times because 1) thieves will see that and know you're wealthy so they'll target you, and 2) if you're bargaining they'll jack up the price because they know you're wealthy (little do they know that I'm a college student with NO money, especially after this trip). Last night I put my ring back on to go to bed, then took it off when I got up in the morning to go out, which was a little backwards, I guess. It's amazing how good that feels on my finger when I don't see it or him for a while. I know I'm not supposed to be materialistic, but I REALLY love that ring. He couldn't possibly have picked anything better for me.

-I'm not going to want to eat Chinese food for a while. I've had my limit, and I want some fajitas now.

-I'm going to miss living in a hotel. Sure, I'm going to be happy to see Jack and my dog Maggie and my full closet again, but I'm getting a little worried - Who will make my bed every morning? Who will have breakfast ready for me upstairs? Who will offer me a drink when I go to use the computer? Who will clean my bathroom and put clean towels on the towel rack every morning? Who will call me to tell me my driver has arrived to take me shopping? Who will be my driver!?

-I bought a LOT of purses and pearls here. I have all my wedding jewelry now though, and that's really exciting.

-I will not miss not being able to edit the website from here (http://www.jackandmandy.com). For some reason I can't do it from China, and the fact that the same trivia and contest questions and picture of the day have been there for several weeks really bothers me. At least Dad can update the travel blog from work.

-I do not look forward to having to move back to College Station 2 weeks after I get back, but I do look forward to graduating in December.

-I'm getting tired, so I'm going to go to bed. That one shouldn't really have been a point.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beijing!!

Note: This blog post with pictures is here

I am not writing this from Beijing. I’m actually on a train on my way to Paris, but Darlana gave me a lot of trouble about finishing up my China blog before I forget everything. Funny, because she hasn’t written a darn thing yet.

We took a guided bus tour to the famous stuff in Beijing. It was the three of us, another lady, the guide, and a driver, who didn’t say much of anything.

Our first stop was Tiananmen Square, where that famous protest or something or other happened. Apparently the square can fit about a million people at once. It’s a big square. A tourist spot, here you’ll find lots of annoying salespeople poking you in the back and going “Here! Buy this crap! Here! Buy this!” We’re the biggest freak show yet on the square, mostly because the people here are other tourists from more rural areas in China. We see a lot of people lining up their friends sort of in front of us so they can “nonchalantly” take a picture “of their friend” but really of us. The brave ones would ask us to pose with them, as always.

Next stop was the Forbidden City, which is across the street from Tiananmen square. As we enter, we notice that all the people are touching the knobies on the big doors as they walk by. We decide that the door-breasts were made to distract the enemy as they tried to attack.

The Great Bears

The first thing we saw at the great wall were black bears, who had apparently trained themselves to catch pieces of cucumber tourists bought to throw at them. (There’s a business idea for you – “Pay us to feed our bears for us” – but I did pay, and I’d do it again).

Boring roller coaster ride

To get up to the entrance of the Great Wall, you had to take this little tram thing that was really a roller coaster that went really slow. When we saw it, we thought it would be much more fun, but unfortunately, they never finished that big drop of the other side we were hoping for.

As we were making the .0005 mph trip up the little roller coaster, I lifted my little safety harness a little bit so I could turn around to take a picture of Darlana, who was in the car behind me. This did not bode well for the spy-worker, who turned around in his car in front of me and yelled “Bdsaiog dabiho iadsgofd gaiox djio!!!” at me. When I turned back around and put my harness back, proceeded to stay turned in his chair, never taking his eyes off me for the remainder of the “ride.”

“I pooped on the Great Wall of China”

No, I didn’t poop on the Great Wall of China. I’ll get to that later.

We were pretty disappointed with the visibility that day, as there was none. Where we were hoping to see the wall stretching and winding along the mountain on the horizon, we saw a thick blanket of white fog. Darlana was particularly peeved about this little fact as we made our ascent up the steep, uneven bricks of the wall surrounded by a thick mass of gawking tourists. As she whined about it, I turned to her and said “yeah, but we’re on the Great Wall of China!”

She stopped mid-complaint, and a flash of recognition lit up her eyes.

“We are!” She exclaimed. “We’re on the f***ing Great Wall of China!!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Or wouldn’t. Either way.

When you climb the wall, you have to pass through these little shelter spots, where I guess they must have taken shelter in the rain or when being attacked or something, to continue your walk up the wall. Aside from the heavy crowd and the fact that the ceilings only rose to about Dad’s chest level, they were tolerable. And then we came to that one.

When Darlana and Dad read this, they know exactly the one I’m talking about. Let me preface this by saying that neither Dad nor I have very strong senses of smell. I can’t complain about this, because usually I can’t smell bad stuff, which suits me just fine, unless it’s me that stinks.

This I could smell.

Someone (and then someone else, and then someone else, apparently) had decided that this little pass-through was an excellent make-shift bathroom, and had therefore relieved themselves along the sides. Unfortunately, this spot had absolutely no air moving through it (but lots of people) so it was quite unpleasant. I thought Darlana, who actually can smell things, was going to be sick.

Shortly after that fiasco, we reached the end of the Great Wall (we figure since the wall is 3,000 km and we went to the end and back, we must have walked 6,000 km). Darlana got there before I did. When I turned the corner, my face must have conveyed how shocked I was, because Darlana burst out laughing when she saw me.

There, in the middle of the Great Wall, a little kid, pants at his ankles, was taking a poop. And I had walked in from behind.

He probably wasn’t more than 2 or 3 years old, and in his defense his mother had put a plastic bag underneath him. But you’re never expecting to see that.

In China, most of the little kids don’t wear diapers. They simply have a slit in the back of their pants, so when they have to go, they can. I had never actually seen any evidence of this system, so I figured it was pretty well-regulated and cleaned up by the parents, and it is, for the most part.

After he was done, the mom gathered up the bag, tied it up, and threw it over the edge. I guess that’s one way to do it…

After posing for several pictures by ourselves and with others at the end (one guy asked to take a picture with me, and when his friend tried to get into the picture too he said something firmly in Chinese and pushed his friend away so it was just us), we headed back toward the bears and the entrance of the wall.

Ki-hap! GET BACK!

On Sunday, we visited what can only be described as the king of all knock-off warehouses. It’s called Silk Street, and ladies, if you have any interest in inexpensive fake designer bags and clothes, electronics, real pearls, sunglasses, jewelry, accessories… you name it, bring your money.

The only downside with getting everything for insanely cheap is that 1) you’ll have to bargain for it, which really becomes a game more than anything, and 2) they are crazy aggressive when they’re trying to get your business, because there’s a lot of competition in a small area. This competition forces prices way down, and therefore I considered it a small price to pay to have to push a few of them down to get by them.

Actually, I didn’t push anybody down (Dad did once, but I didn’t). I did, however, have to use several of the self-defense techniques I learned in taekwondo to get away from them, because they do actually grab you. I think it would have made my mom and my Grandma Barbara nervous.

I bought 11 purses, for gifts and otherwise, pearls for my wedding, [censored - gift spoilers], and my favorite, a new Olympus 7.1 mega pixel digital camera to put in my new purse.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

You mean there's life outside the hotel on a weekday!?

Note: This blog entry has been posted with pictures here.

Getting laundry done at the hotel is really expensive. I'm not kidding. It's insane. Here's an idea of how much it costs in US dollars:

Shirt/Blouse: $5 each
Pair of Pants: $6 each
Pair of socks: $2 each

Consider the fact that Darlana, Dad and I had 60 items between the three of us in the last 2 weeks (I had about 20 of those items), and you have yourself a buttload of money that you have to spend on laundry. EDS may pay for Dad and Darlana's laundry, but they don't pay for mine. Heck if I'm going to spend US$100 of my hard-earned "could-be-spending-this-on-pearls-or-shoes-or-cheap-Gucci-purses" money on laundry.

As a result, we found a laundry place near the hotel (much like a dry cleaner; laundromats don't exist here, mostly because washing machines are cheap enough here [everything is made here] that everyone has one in their home, apparently) that only charges about $1 per item (a little more or less depending on what it is, but that was the average).

It was decided that I would be the clothes-taker, and because of this, I got to go for a ride in the car this morning with Darlana and Dad to EDS so that I could ride back to the laundry place to drop the clothes off. But before that, since I had the driver, they said he would take me to shopping too. I was more excited than Tia on her way to Sonic to get a corn dog.

When we got to EDS, I moved to the front seat a lot like Maggie does when she knows she's going for a long exciting ride to College Station, while Dad, Darlana, and our driver got out of the car and went inside. I wasn't really sure what the driver was doing, so I just stayed in the van, pressing my nose up against the window and wagging my tail.

After several minutes, the driver came back out with a young woman. She got in the van and introduced herself in English as Emily, an EDSer who was willing to blow off work today to go shopping with me and translate. Woohoo! I had a dog-walker.

Will you need a forklift, Madam?

He took us to a shopping mall that Emily called "the fashionable place to shop," and after about 45 minutes of walking around the mall and window shopping (we hadn't bought anything because we didn't need anything), Emily's cell phone rang.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and hung up the phone.

"That was the driver," she told me, laughing. "He was calling to ask if we needed help with all of our bags, because he figured we would have bought too much to carry by now."

Later, when we got in the car after having shopped for about 3 hours and showed him the only thing I bought - some jeweled hair pins for me to wear at my wedding - he laughed and laughed and laughed and couldn't believe that we had spent the entire morning shopping and that was all we bought.

Ice cream amateur

As we were walking between stores outside the shopping mall, we saw a walk-up version of a drive-through McDonald's, and I noticed some pictures of the flavored ice cream cones that we used to have in the U.S., but don't anymore. Anybody remember those? There was chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, lemon...etc, that were on the edges of the ice cream swirls.

Anyway, I got all excited and pointed at the picture and told Emily that we used to have those in the U.S., but they went away and I hadn't seen them in a long time. She asked me if I'd like to stop and get one, and, deciding that 9 in the morning was a fantastic time for ice cream, I said yes.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and the McDonald's lady handed us two ice cream cones.

In case you were wondering, yes, raspberry-flavored vanilla soft-serve is as good in China as it used to be in America.

"I've never had this kind of ice cream before," she tells me, and I try to decide if she means she hasn't had McDonald's soft-serve before or McDonald's soft-serve flavored with chocolate syrup before. Later, I decide it's probably the former.

As we walk around outside in the cool 90F heat (yes, that's quite cool here - it was a relief to have this kind of a cold front come through), happily enjoying the sweet creamy goodness that is McDonald's ice cream, I notice that mine is beginning to melt, and, like a good Texan with lots of experience with soft-serve ice cream cones in the summer heat, I lick from the sides rather than the top.

As we continue to walk, I glance over at Emily, whose hand is covered in a chocolatey vanilla mess. She has a panicked look on her face as she watches some chocolate drip in slow-motion from her cone down onto her crisp, white skirt.

We both stop as she digs in her purse with a magic third hand for her tissues and then wipes at the chocolate stain fruitlessly. She finishes her ice cream awkwardly and I realize what the problem is: she is eating the ice cream top to bottom, without licking from the sides. Rookie mistake.

After the ice cream fiasco, we found a bathroom in the mall and "washed our hands of the whole thing."

You stay here by yourself? Hell, no!

When we decided to go back to the van (Emily was wearing ridiculously cute shoes, which meant that they were excruciatingly painful to walk in, as all ridiculously cute shoes are), we sat down at a KFC (the have KFCs everywhere here!) and called the driver.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and hung up the phone.

"He'll call us in 10 minutes when he's outside this part of the mall," she tells me.

Then she explains that her phone battery is dead as brings out another one to replace it with. She turns the phone back on. Low battery.

"Did I switch them out or just put the same one back in the phone?" she asks, hoping she just put the wrong battery back in. I tell her she put the new one in. Both batteries are dead.

We decide that we had better go outside to see if we can find the driver, who cannot contact us after all. After walking around outside for a while where he said he would be and not finding him, Emily gets worried.

"Maybe I could find a Nokia store and they could let me turn my phone on long enough to get his phone number out of my phone," she says. "I think there was a mobile phone store near here."

"That's a good idea," I observe. "Why don't you go do that, and I'll stay here in case he comes back."

She looks at me like I had just told her I wanted to buy a camel to feed to my pet turtle.

"You cannot stay here by yourself," she insists, matter-of-factly.

Fortunately, we see the very worried driver driving up the road towards us as we start walking around the building shortly after.

Later, she tells the driver that I had wanted to stand outside the mall and wait for him by myself. He raises his eyebrows, points at me, laughs, and says "Blah blah blah blah blah blah! Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah!!!" which apparently translates "You don't know a word of Chinese, and you really stand out here. You couldn't possibly have stayed there by yourself."

When I told them I'm a black belt (and bigger than everyone else here), they weren't really all that impressed.

Not a freak show after all? Naaah.

While we were standing around scratching our heads when we couldn't find our driver, I had that now-familiar sense that everyone was looking at me (which is becoming quite a fun game, especially when you can surprise someone by meeting their eyes, which they avert quickly.)

I point out this observation (that everyone stares at me because I'm a freak show) to Emily, and she says "they're not staring because you're different, they're staring because you're so beautiful."

I laugh. "Well, thank you," I say.

"No, I mean it!" she insists.

Awww. I'm not buying it, but that's nice.

Second time's a charm

When Emily told me that the driver wanted pizza for lunch, I was quite surprised. You see, last time, he didn't like it at all. He made a face and everything. (See "Pizza Hut is gross" in the previous entry)

So I'm not sure if he requested it because we had taken him to dinner the night before at a traditional Chinese restaurant (which totally kicked, by the way, except that I looked like a monkey trying to use the chopsticks), and he knew I liked the western food, so he wanted to make sure I got to go somewhere I liked, or if he actually wanted pizza. Either way, I wasn't going to turn him down. Plus, it was near our hotel, the laundry place, Wal-Mart, and another mall.

When we got to Pizza Hut this time, he was a little more at ease but still tried to get me to order what I wanted without offering any input. For this reason, I left the decision up to Emily, who would no doubt choose something that was closer to something he would like.

We went with a seafood supreme pan pizza this time, and he was much happier with it.

A side note about another thing I learned - in the corner of each receipt, there is a little "scratch off" bar. If you scratch it off, it says something like "Blah blah blah blah blah blah" in Chinese characters. We had wondered what the heck that was for every time we got a receipt.

Today I learned that the government has a little scratch off lottery going on these receipts, and people can actually win money by scratching them off. Emily told me that the government does this so that people will ask for receipts, and the restaurants will then have to pay taxes. Pretty smart.

Tide that you can put in your soap dish

Emily and I went to Wal-Mart after lunch to get some laundry detergent so that I could wash my socks and underwear in the tub (I didn't particularly want to drop off my underwear at the cleaner's - who knows who will put something on their head and dance around).

When we walked down the aisle that said "laundry soap," I noticed a bunch of little packages of Tide, and I picked one up.

"Is this bar soap for laundry?" I asked Emily.

"Yes, you clean your clothes with this," she answered, confused as to why this confused me.

After I laughed and laughed and told her the packaging looked like it was cheese (which she then laughed at), I decided this was probably a pretty good idea. This way, you can actually scrub your clothes with something other than your hand and liquid detergent, plus Darlana and I wouldn't have to pass a bottle of detergent around since their were 4 bars in the package.

Stupid question of the day from Mandy: "Can you use this in your washing machine?" -The answer is no. You use liquid detergent in your washing machine. This is for hand-washing only.

Laundry VIP

After Wal-Mart, we were on to the laundry place. When we brought Darlana's suitcase and our two laundry bags inside, they cleared a counter. They dumped my clothes out. That's a lot of clothes. Then we got Dad's clothes out. There's quite a pile there. Then, I open Darlana's suitcase and start dumping her clothes.

Here's what I learned about Darlana today: she has a freaking LOT of clothes. I start piling them on the counter and all 4 of the other people's eyes get huge. I keep piling them, and they begin to overflow, like lava from a volcano. A few more, and they're flowing out the door, then surging down the street in front of the building, women grabbing their children and running for cover, screaming. A business man can't quite run fast enough and gets swept under a torrent of slacks.

Anyway, after we got all the wreckage cleaned up, we had 60 pieces of clothing between us. Keep in mind that Darlana has been here only two weeks and Dad and I have been here for one and a half.

After they saw how many clothes we had to launder, they told us they're going to give us a "Laundry VIP" card. I'm not sure if we'll be able to fight crime or just get a discount, but that's pretty exciting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eeewwwwwwwww!!!!!

There are some meals you don’t forget.

My first date with Jack was to III Forks, where I ordered the III Forks salad, the appetizer medley (with the best crab cake ever and prawns bigger than my fist), then the grilled salmon with III Forks creamed corn and snap peas. I’ve been to III Forks every year since with Jack, but that was still the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

I remember one time when I was 5 years old, my parents had made a disgusting ham and beans stew that consisted of a ham bone flavoring a white lima bean mush. It was so gross that I sat there, refusing to eat it the entire meal. When they left me there alone to stare at it after dinner was over, convinced at they could not let me win this battle of wills or I would become a spoiled picky eater whom they would never be able to tame again, I poured it down the sink drain. Being 5 years old and not as clever as I thought I was, I didn’t rinse out the sink, so I was busted by the sink-coating evidence. I still remember gladly accepting my punishment, because at that point anything was better than eating the goo. I’d probably do it again, though, if they tried to make me eat ham and beans now (they can’t though, which is one of the best things about being old). I’m not a picky eater but this one pushes my grossness limit.

On July 11, 2007, I was wishing I had a big bowl of ham and beans.

Let me set the scene for you: we’re in the mall, and Darlana and Dad are hungry and tired, so we’re looking for a sit-down type restaurant where we can relax and have a nice meal. There are four options: one of them looks much too fancy for our shorts and tank-tops. Another has no air conditioning, and the third smells like poo. That leaves us with air-conditioner place, which we decide can’t be so bad.

It was.

The problem with going to China is that everybody speaks Chinese. When you don’t speak Chinese, this poses a problem for, say, ordering off an all-Chinese menu. There are five pictures on the menu. One is of a beer. We point to that (there’s no bacteria in alcohol, and at least you know what the heck it is despite how gross it tastes). Next we look at the server, who knows 3 English words: “hello,” “chicken,” and “NBA,” and point to something and say “chicken?” She nods her head heartily. “Duay! Duay! Chick-en!” We point to a few more pictures and anxiously await the arrival of our meal.

At this point, all of the servers have gathered across the room, looking at us, giggling, pointing, whispering and playing rock-paper-scissors to decide who has to come talk to us next. One woman finally comes over to our table, pen and paper in hand.

She sets the paper down beside me and begins scribbling in Chinese characters. When she’s done, she points at the text with her pen. “Blah blah,” she says. I stare at her, for a second, and then say something like “Duuuuuhhhhhh…” Agitated, she starts writing again, the same 12 Chinese characters underneath her original 12, this time bigger. She points at it again, this time a little harder. “Blah blah blah!!” She says, louder, still pointing at the paper.

At this point I’m not really sure how to convey to the woman that I’m neither Deaf nor am I simply pretending not to understand what she’s trying to tell me. “I’m sorry,” I tell her.

She picks up the paper and shows it to Darlana, who doesn’t look any more Chinese than I do, with the exception perhaps, of her height.

Darlana stares at the paper blankly then looks up at her. “Duay-bo-chee,” she says, meaning “I’m sorry.”

The woman rolls her eyes and stomps away. Little did I know that she was simply trying to warn us not to eat anything here – to go home now and never come back.

After the beer arrived, we watched nervously as dishes were delivered to the tables around us. At one point, a woman was carrying a big bowl of mush, which didn’t look unlike ham and beans, and we looked at each other, hoping it wasn’t for us.

“Please don’t be for us, please don’t be for us…” we chanted…

She walked by. Yeessssss! We were feeling pretty good.

A few minutes later, another sever who had lost rock-paper-scissors came by our table with a plate. We saw what was on it and were instantly horrified.

“PLEASE don’t be for us; PLEASE PLEASE don’t be for us!!”

Alas, we had used our “don’t be for us” pass already. This one was ours.

On the plate sat an entire chicken, head and all, uncooked.

We rubbed our eyes for a moment, then opened them again. This couldn’t be real.

Nope, there it was. Looking up at us with its little glazed eye.

Darlana touched it. It was definitely cold. The servers stood in the corner, watching us expectantly, which made me think this must have been some kind of practical joke, until I saw somebody actually eating one of the chicken’s buddies on my way out of the restaurant later.

For lack of a better thing to do, we took a picture of it and then Dad played with its head a little bit, activating Darlana’s gag-reflex until she made him stop. They both put on hand sanitizer. I hadn’t been stupid enough to touch the chicken, but I took some anyway.

The rest of the meal wasn’t quite as scary as the chicken, but was still pretty unpleasant. There was the pork with peppers, which was eatable, crazy stew crap that we were afraid of, and dumpling with surprises inside – and not the good kind of surprise, like a party. The kind of surprise where you’re hit in the side of the head with a foul ball when you’re not paying attention during a baseball game.

After the “meal,” we paid and got the heck out of there. We were still hungry (albeit a little nauseated) so we decided to find a fast food place to pick up a burger. Kentucky Fried Chicken was out of the question. In fact, I don’t think we’ll be eating chicken for a while.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A busy weekend

Note: This blog entry is posted here with pictures

This weekend, we discovered a fatal flaw with "I speak English, and I'm here to help."

Nobody else does.

Plus, we're pretty much the only ones who need help.

This weekend, we got to be freak shows a little bit more as we visited some of the tourist spots in Wuhan. Here are the highlights.

Saturday - Stop #1: Hubei Provincial Museum

The Hubei Provincial Museum is one of the most important research and collection institutions in the province. More than 140,000 collections, mainly from a big tomb excavated in 1978, are well preserved here, including 645 pieces of first class cultural relics and 16 pieces of national treasures.

Fortunately, most of the signs in the museum were also in English, so we got to read about the exhibits and actually understand what we were reading, a privilege we had almost forgotten about in Wuhan, where there is very little written or spoken English.

"Touhu Game"

"This is both a ritual and a drinking game played during banquets to entertain guests. Participants aim to toss arrows into the mouth of a wine jar. The person with he most arrows inside the vessel wins while the loser must drink as a penalty."

...basically an ancient game of quarters.


The air conditioner exhibit

Ahh, the air conditioner exhibit. This was always our favorite exhibit. When it's 45 degrees Celsius outside (about 115 F) and there aren't very many indoor places with air conditioning, the "air conditioner exhibit" becomes your favorite. Even in the museum, where there was air conditioning, it comes only in these singular tall air conditioning units that don't cool entire rooms. Standing in front of them is certainly nice, though.

Darlana's Instruments

Darlana spent a lot of time showing Dad and I how you would play various ancient instruments around the museum.

The book

I looked around for a long time unsuccessfully for a English to Chinese dictionary. I never found one in the U.S. that didn't have those funny characters in it. Darlana found one in Canada, however, and it's a darn good thing she did.

Because our driver doesn't speak any English whatsoever, this book was the only thing that mildly got us around Wuhan or helped us communicate with him at all.

However, because Chinese is a conceptual language, much like sign language, it was difficult to put words together and form sentences. For example, we asked our driver if he had children. He said yes. (This phrase was in the book as a whole). Then we asked him son or daughter. He said daughter. We wanted to know how old she was, so we looked up "age," and he laughed and said "no, no, no" then finally "47," indicating his own age. It took us pretty much all day to finally figure out that his daughter was 23 years old.

The next day, he came back with his own cheat sheet of Chinese characters scribbled on a folded sheet of paper, and first thing in the morning, told us slowly:

"Myyyy.... dog-a-tor... is twenty...three." Then he repeated it a few times a laughed. He's a nice man.

Evidently he goes home and studies English just as we go back to the hotel and study our book. Darlana said that the second day she was here she came down to the lobby to go to work she said "Good morning" in Chinese and he said "Good morning" in English. At least we're all trying!

Pizza Hut is gross

And on that note about our driver, that same Saturday, we decided to go to Wal-Mart to pick a few things up and to Pizza Hut for lunch. When our driver parked the car, we motioned for him to come with us to lunch. He turned us down several times, which evidently is a cultural thing they do that shows humility, and finally when we went back to ask again, he said yes and followed us to Pizza Hut.

We ordered a stuffed crust meat lovers pizza, and when we had the waitress ask him if that would be okay, she told us that he said "I would love that."

The pizza arrived, and it was a steaming tray of cheesy, meaty goodness. We all took a piece and started eating it with our forks and knives, because it was quite hot. He seemed to handle the fork and knife somewhat awkwardly, and made a face when he started eating the pizza. We weren't sure if the face was because of the taste of the pizza or the fact that he was probably not used to using forks and knives over chop sticks, but we found out later through a helpful translating doorman at the hotel that he didn't really like the pizza. Too bad. We're going to give it another shot and take him to a more traditional Chinese restaurant next time.

But I digress.

Saturday - Stop #2 - Guiyan Zenist Temple

There aren't very many things stranger than going to a temple to look at a bunch of false gods. When we first got there, we (at least I) didn't realize this was a working temple. Like at the museum, I thought we'd be looking at some ancient temple with little informational signs where tourists like me (strike that...none of the tourists are like me. I'm a freak show here) look at how they used to do things. Nope. I paid 10 Yuan to enter a place of worship of some religion that has more false gods than I could count.

The first thing they do when you walk in is hand you a few sticks of incense, which break as soon as you try to grab them. I reach down to pick mine up, holding up the line behind me. Finally the lady hands me three more, which also break. Apparently incense is thin and breakable. I don't have a lot of experience with incense because my brother was allergic to it growing up and I never got into the habit of using it after he moved out.

I take my handful of tiny bits of incense through the doorway and there are stands with ash, burning incense and flames, where people are lighting the incense and sticking them into the ash and leaving them there. I don't really know the purpose of this, but Dad and I assumed it was some kind of worship practice, so I threw mine in the ash without burning it and dad threw his little bits into a big decorative pot. Going to hell for idol worship? No, thank you.

The first thing we saw was a REALLY tall statue of a lady with her head on fire. We called her "hothead."

"Cool," I think. "That's a really tall statue..."

This was the point when we realized that people were actually there worshiping, and we thought it was pretty weird. People would come up, put their money in the little box, kneel down and pray to hothead, and put their foreheads on the ground.

So we chose to mock the false gods instead.

Inside the temple

What I didn't know when I took these pictures was that you weren't supposed to take pictures inside the temple. We had entered through the back instead of the front of the temple, and therefore didn't see the signs that had a picture of a little camera being crossed out. I found out about this the hard way though, because when I tried to take a picture of "false god with tiny dentists working on his teeth" next to "giant false god with lots of arms" the lady who was there guarding "giant false god with lots of arms" said "AIGO ADFHGODF BCLGWRIO CD DIOGDFHX IOHDFO VIXO CIOVE FGKLJ FDIO DFGIOSDF VID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" so I got the idea the I wasn't supposed to do that anymore. However, I did get a few pictures of some of my favorite false gods, and I have them here for your pleasure.

  • "Just killed a mosquito" false god
  • "Raise the roof" false god
  • "T-sip" false god
  • "Touchdown" false god
  • "Two false gods playing poker"

The Turtles

Okay, I don't know the purpose of the turtles, but there were a lot of them, and I took a bunch of pictures of them. Because I like turtles.

Saturday - Stop #3 - East Lake

East lake is one of the biggest lakes in something or other places and blah blah blah about location. It's also one of the things that makes Wuhan so beautiful. It had bridges, trees, boats, and other pretty stuff.

But more importantly, it had people who wanted to take their pictures with us. No joke. At one point, Darlana and I were standing around and a girl came up to us and said:

"Excuse me, can we take a picture with you?"

Apparently when you're in a city that doesn't have a lot of white people in it - okay, no white people in it - white people are so much of a novelty that you will ask to take their picture if you are brave enough.

While we were getting our pictures taken, she said "you are so beautiful!" to Darlana and I. So perhaps I had it all wrong. Maybe people weren't staring because we're such a freak show - maybe they're staring because we're just so crazy beautiful...

...nahh, that can't be it. We're usually with Dad.

The squatty potty

We had heard about the squatty potty from Sarah Campbell and others who had visited or lived in China. But the stories I heard about the squatty potty were mostly from my dad, who had visited India, where the squatty potty was similar to a trench, or at best, a simple hole in the ground. (However, it's hard to know what's true and what isn't from reading his blogs.)

Like pretty much everything about China, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. While I still haven't had to use one, it has the drain of an actual toilet, but it is in the ground rather than a toilet, which probably wouldn't change the way my mom uses public restrooms at all.

At one point, I was looking through my pictures with Betty, who works in the Club Lounge at the hotel, and she said "is that a toilet?" I guess it is strange to have a picture of a toilet in my tourism pictures.

Sunday - Stop #1: Yellow Crane Tower

The 5-story Yellow Crane Tower is a really well-known tower in China and the symbol of Wuhan.

The Yellow Crane Tower has a very long and complicated history. It was first built in 223, during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 - 280). Due to the ideal location, it was built by Sun Quan (182 - 252, King of Wu) as a watchtower for his army. After hundreds of years, its military function was gradually forgotten and the tower was enjoyed mainly as a picturesque location.

I think it's important to point out that the day before we went, Dad had woken up at 3 a.m. and, bored, he decided to do a little bit of exercise (a little bit being walking down 19 flights of stairs, then back up 5 flights of stairs). As a result, he was quite sore on Sunday.

The fun part about that was listening to him whine about the million bazillion quadtrillion stairs we had to climb to get to the top of the tower.

I was surprised to see what looks like a Christian church in the middle of Wuhan. I talked to Betty, who works in the Club Lounge here at the hotel, and she said it's probably not a real working church. A bell and stuff

I am so happy!

This is the second picture during the weekend in which random people came up to ask us if they could get a picture with us. The little one in red asked me if it was she could take a picture with me, and then asked Darlana to get in the picture too.

As we were taking the picture, my dad, who had been in the gift shop, came and got behind us and did what he's doing in this picture. When she saw him, she said "I am so happy!"

It's hot. Let's go shopping.

So it was hot. We decided that we'd rather be shopping in a semi-air conditioned environment for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, we had already told the driver that we wanted to go to a big famous hill in Wuhan after the Yellow Crane tower.

When we told him to go to the shopping mall, he likely thought we wanted to go shopping after the hill, so we ended up at the hill.

We looked at the sign at the bottom of the hill when he pulled up. 3 km to the top. That's almost 2 miles. And we were tired. We did our best to tell him through gestures that we didn't want to do the hill after all, and since we were very close to the Wuhan Botanical Gardens, we pointed to that on the list as an alternative activity before we headed back to the mall.

I'm not sure what we did to tick him off, other than the confusing directions to go different places, but he got back at us. We ended up at...

The Wuhan Zoo

Doesn't sound so bad, does it?

It was. This zoo makes the Little Rock Zoo look like San Diego. And trust me, the Little Rock Zoo was lame.

We figured we'd walk around for a while because we didn't want to turn the driver down again when he took us to the wrong place again, but oh man, this zoo was ridiculously awful.

Aside from the fact that it was 350 degrees Fahrenheit outside, there were no animals.

Okay, there were some animals. There were pigeons, and a few geese, and 4 lions that may or may not have been alive. Oh yeah, and these goldfish, that kids were actually fishing for with tiny little hooks.

And there's always the smelly algae we found in the pond. Fortunately we couldn't capture that smell on film, so you'll have to take our word for it. But it was icky. I'll just leave it at that.