Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas from China

We celebrated Chinese style this year during an 8 day trip to China. This tour was intense-- three major cities (Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi An) and lots of sightseeing in sub-freezing temperatures! The advantage of the time of year, though, was that we didn't compete with throngs of tourists to see places of interest up close. For fun, we took this picture as Emperor and Empress just north of the Forbidden City in Beijing. 

First Day- Shanghai
Our tour started off in Shanghai, where we went to the top of the Oriental Pearl Tower for 360 degree views of the city. Yes, in case you were wondering, it's smog.

"The Bund"- the most well-known street in Asia, home of gorgeous colonial buildings, banks, and hotels.

Jin Mao Tower, the highest building in China. Mission Impossible III was filmed here a few years ago. There is a skywalk observation deck on the 88th floor! 

Another fun excursion this first day was a ride on the Mass levitation train. The "Maglev" reaches a maximum speed of 430 km/hour, faster than the famous bullet train of Japan. At one point, we passed another Maglev train and it happened in the blink of an eye. Awesome.

A wacky site-- Live hairy crabs for sale at the airport. Forget about Pizza Hut express! 

Highlights of Beijing 
One of my favorite places in China was the Temple of Heaven and Earth. We glimpsed so many interesting examples of people living every day life there like playing hacky sack, or strangely enough, bellydancing. Here are some other sights--  

Painting calligraphy on the sidewalk

Group Line dancing

Perhaps the most surreal one was the crowd of people singing "revolutionary" songs. We heard them from far away and when we walked up close, it was freaky!

Ofcourse, Tienanamen Square was awesome. Our tour guide told us that up to half a million people can congregate there, and I kept thinking about the student protests in 1989 and that famous photo of the lone student facing the tank. (
Red flags were in abundance, as were police officers and military on this day. 

We also had a great time touring around the Forbidden City. I loved all the huge ancient doors leading from one sacred area to the next.

The Great Wall
     "You are not a real man if you have not climbed to the top of the wall." -- Chairman Mao

Frozen Lake at Summer Palace

Chinese tradition states that if you walk down this entire promenade with your loved one, you'll be together forever.

Xi An Highlights
By far, our favorite historical place was the Museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors. Amazingly, this ancient place was only discovered in 1974 when a local farmer was digging a well. 8,000 ceramic warriors are on display and each one is individual and unique. They have different facial expressions, hair styles, body builds, and military ranks. The warriors were commissioned by a benevolent chinese emperor, who instead of sacrificing his own military to accompany him into the afterworld, requested the construction of thousands of these ceramic pieces. 

Golden Goose Pagoda

"To understand the prey, one must be like the prey"-- cat in the tree at the buddhist temple. 

Dumpling Banquet

Parting shots of Xmas Eve in Shanghai

1930's Shanghai girls
Modern Shanghai girl

Old buildings and New 

Famous Shanghai soup dumplings

Old Hand Reading Room where we leisurely sipped Irish coffee and read books to get out of the cold for a few hours.

Modern Glass Art Bar where everything from bar stools to countertop is made of stained glass

Who needs apple, when you can have Taro pie?

Finally, from Shanghai we wish you a 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Okinawan Gingerbread Men

Once a week, I teach an English class to Okinawan kids. The experience is so different from college students at SDSU as you can imagine, but it's been so fun and I look forward to meeting them every Weds night. 

Since it's holiday time, I've been trying to incorporate Xmas lessons. Most of these children have only a very general concept of it--some of them might have Xmas trees in their homes and they can recognize Santa, but many other details such as Rudolph, candy canes, and snowmen are completely lost on them. This week,  I decided to introduce them to gingerbread men in the spirit of the holiday.

Overall, the kids had a blast decorating the cookies, and at the end, they were giddy that they could eat them too. 

After the cookie festivities, we colored Xmas trees. I appreciate this ghoulish one with black balls and how the ghosts all hover around the tree. There's even a skeleton ornament hanging there.

Christmas- Okinawan style

Sean and I were inspired to have an "Okinawan" Christmas tree this year. Basically, we bought a collection of cell phone charms to serve as our ornaments. We paid special attention to choosing items that had some local significance. Take a look at some of our faves...

Happy Goya Man- this is the popular vegetable that Okinawans eat in any number of ways. Extremely bitter as you might recall from our "goya smoothie" adventure a few months back. We still haven't quite gotten a taste for it...

Pig taking a bath in a bowl of noodles-- Okinawans are unique from mainland in that one of their food staples is a special kind of pork, rather than fish. They love to slice off thick pieces of it and float it in another local food favorite, soba noodles. Not sure why the pig is wearing sunglasses...

Hello Kitty Traditional Dancer

Monchichi Fish-child Hybrid- remember monchichis from the 1980's in the states? Well, they are still alive and kicking in Japan. We chose this one because it reminded us of the spectacular underwater sea life in Okinawan waters. (Okay, so I don't have my dive certification yet, but it's a new year's resolution)

The grand finale is the ubiquitous Habu Snake in a Jar. What would Xmas be without a poisonous reptile? 


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