Monday, August 24, 2009

Hard Good-byes

It has been a couple of months since we arrived in Utah. We have now bought a house, and will be here to stay. We are so excited to be here with family, and we miss China terribly. It's definitely bitter-sweet. Before we left, I asked each of the family to write down what they would miss about China. I thought it would be interesting to see the different points of view we each had. Here is what they wrote...

Eli: I will miss the McDonald's across from the school. I will miss my friends. I will miss Dong Jiao (our housing compound), and the playground at school. I will miss the bamboo forest behind my house. I liked going to Beijing, the Xi'an warriors, and Yellow Mountain with my family. My favorite was the Great Wall of China. I will miss Nanjing International School. I will miss Jiang, our driver.

Jay: I will miss the language and being pretty much the biggest family in Nanjing. I will miss the International School. I will miss my friends at school. I will also miss the forest behind my house. I will miss Chinese food, and writing Chinese characters.

Caitlin: The things I will miss most about China are:

*My life style. The way people treat me. How they ask if they can take pictures, and how they tell my Mom how pretty her kids are.

*My school-Nanjing International School. I am going to miss the way my school is the size of 460 people from pre-school to grade 12. I'm also gonna miss the people in my school. The people in my school are great, how they are from so many different countries how they have so many different life styles different from me. And how close we are to pretty much everyone at my school.

* I am going to miss my home~ how I live in a compound and feel pretty safe with all of the security cameras and all of the army men marching and shouting at 6:00am every morning. I am gonna miss how the cleaners come and change our towels and sheets every other day.

* I am gonna miss Ayi Wan and Jiang, too. Because they really brought a different experience to our China experience and how we could get around places as fast as a crazy roller coaster. And having all our laundry clean and dry and folded before I get home from school.

* Last of all I will miss the people of China. Even though they push, spit, and burp unexpectedly, they are great people. I love how they walk around in their pj's, how they always smile at you when you walk past. They are great and I love them with all of my heart!

I will miss China, and miss my life. I think I might call this my real home. I love China always and forever!!! :-)


Dear China

I love everything from your exotic landscapes and lands
to the Chinese locals building with their hands.

Your loving people who are strong-willed and loving,
though sometimes in lines and small places there is much pushing and shoving.

From your ancient history to your city lights,
to the pirated dvd's which is wrong but feels so right.

To the busy ally streets with the little old ladies,
and the bargaining that turns no into maybes.

I will always love your adventures you've brought,
and the things I have learned, that will help me a lot.

Four years already. Wow. There is so much to say. It has been an adventure from the moment I stepped foot in China. I looked out the window of our car and the first thing I saw was a truck-load of pigs. China has been an exciting experience, and I'll miss everything from the people, to the city, to my friends, to the adventurous vacations we took, and even the smells (well, some of them). To say the least, China has helped me develop into what I am today. It helped me have a more international outlook on things, and now I have a home outside of home. I love China and I feel extremely blessed to have grown in so many ways here. Four years have really flown by, and I will remember and cherish these years forever. I will miss Sneaky Sneaky (Jiang, our driver), my friends, the city, Ayi Wan, vacations in tropical places, the Chinese language, and all the love the Chinese people have shown us. I know it is time for us to end this little adventure, but have no fear. I am coming back to visit my China soon enough, of that I am sure.

Love, Coli


China! I am so glad I was able to live there. When I found out I was moving there, I thought for sure it would be just like the movie Mulan. When I got there, I was surprised that it wasn't, it was much different. But over the course of four years living there, I learned to love the country. I love the people, I love the food, I love the language, the culture. I learned to love our school and everyone involved, being part of an international community has opened up a love of traveling, and I wonder if I will ever be the same. I loved the experience of getting to know the country and opening my mind to the world around me. If I could take anything away from what I learned while in China the would be:
-The church is true everywhere. The spirit is the same in a little branch with 30 people as it is in a ward with over 200.
-The language. I will always try to keep my knowledge of it, and practice it, its such a unique, amazing thing to have in my life.
- The love for the country. The people, and the culture have become a huge part of my life, and i will never forget it.
-The closeness I gained with my family. We got to know each other really well being isolated like that and we were always there for each other and made China our home.
I would go back any day if i could and am so happy I was given the opportunity. As we move away, it is really sad and will take some getting used to, but I will always remember my experience as a good one and I will never forget it!

Mike: Things I won't miss:

*A good weather day defined by being able to see one's shadow.
*Hacking, spitting, chewing, etc. in all places, and all times.
*Being wary of anyone carrying a little child with a split pair of pants- in sidewalks, subways, grocery stores, shopping malls, etc. (watch out, you may get hit!)
*The chaos of the streets.
*Being stared at wherever I go.

Things I will miss:

*The natural beauty of the land, and the ability of the Chinese to flow their gardens into it.
*The sincere kindness and care shown by the same people who hack, spit, etc.
*Watching the attentiveness and pure joy on the faces of parents and grandparents when they are with those dangerous, but cute little children who wear split pants.
*The chaos of the streets.
*Feeling likes, even as I'm being stared at, that this is right here, right now, my home and that I belong here. I will miss that most of all.

Since it's always hard to find individual photos of Mike and I, I put one of us together.


One evening a couple of weeks ago, while Mike was still in Michigan working, I was feeling so homesick for China. It hurt so bad. I sat down at a computer and sent him an email with all of my feelings... It was very therapeutic. Here is what I wrote.

OK, I'm getting ready for bed now, but I was just looking at the address to send the money to, and I saw Han Kou Lu, and I just started to cry. I miss China. What if we can never go back? And it won't be our home. It's such a part of me, but it will just go away. I loved the streets and the people and the villages, and my mountain, and speaking and listening, and the parks and the old men and the old ladies,and my heart babies. And Wan and Jiang, and our little branch and our adventures and my lake. I miss the crazy signs and the people swimming in the winter and running in dress shoes and playing their instruments and singing at the top of their lungs. I miss our hikes and our bike rides. I miss Zen and even bad chinese food, and the trains and the stinky taxis. I miss the funny ways they fix things, the women hiking around purple mountain in high heals and riding their bikes in dresses and high heels sometimes even in formal wear. I miss the curious people amazed by our five children, sometimes sneaking photos but mostly not sneaking. I miss how everything took longer, and never worked out the simple way. I miss bamboo trees and Chinese gardens. I miss Chinese doors. I miss motor scooters carrying families and tvs and furniture. I miss bicycles carrying families and TV's and furniture. I miss streets where you can buy pet chipmunks, and grocery stores where you can eat pets. I miss how everyone is involved in every one's business. I miss massages!!! I miss bottled water and hard beds and my wok. I miss decent rice (imported from Thailand,of course). I miss good Indian, Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese food,and French food all for cheap. I miss exploring Asia. I miss going to 4 different banks to pay the bills. I miss my children feeling comfortable going ANYWHERE in China. Really, anywhere in Asia. I miss the children getting to know other cultures and embracing the world, loving people because of their differences. I miss my children seeing what poverty really is. I miss my girls having opportunities to really serve there sisters and brothers at orphanages. I miss having to stand alone in our beliefs. I miss our together time. I miss those beautiful brown faces, and big smiles. I miss their ingenuity, their hope, their "cleverness". I miss them always thinking they knew what it was we wanted. I miss them talking so loud you always think they are angry. I miss them arguing,and then smiling and laughing the next minute. I miss tailors. I miss the children being huge fish in the small NIS pond. I miss them playing every sport and being involved in Student Council, and being leads in the school plays. I miss driving on sidewalks and on the off-ramp, and off the on-ramp and around everyone. I miss honking at police cars, buses, cars, pedestrians, cyclists,and everyone else. I miss how excited and proud everyone was for the Olympics. How excited and proud they were to beat the US. I miss the breathtaking scenery and incredible man-made heritage things. I miss the "hua to fa" (flower hair- the name Jiang and I came up with for the fancy male hair-cuts). I miss Chinese New Year, and the Moon Festival, and Sweeping Day. I miss the Dragon Boat festival. I miss that beautiful hazy Nanjing Blue sky. I love China.

So, I guess it's impossible to put everything into words. China changed me. I'm scared to lose the things that are so special to me. I don't want it to be just a distant memory. I pray that the things I learned in China will stay with me.

China has been a huge growing experience for our family. We will miss our little branch and the friends we made there so much. We will also miss all of the other friends we made both Chinese and from all over the world. We are so grateful for the growth we have had, and pray that we will use the lessons we have learned to live better lives.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Misha's visit and our trip to Lijiang and Shaxi

It was sad to have Mom and Dad leave. Luckily, a couple of days later, Misha came to visit! It was so much fun to have her here. My children love her, and of course, it's great fun for me. She had such a long trip over... I think we decided it was a total of 36 hours with the lay overs etc. She must have been exhausted. We enjoyed Saturday with the family, and then Misha and I left for Lijiang and Shaxi. Wow, what a trip! I will try to share some of our experiences. Lijiang's old town is on the World Culture Heritage list. It is the largest city left that is all in the ancient Chinese style, from what I understand. The town is lovely, and very touristy, full of little hostels and hotels. Mostly set up for Chinese tourists, though there were some foreign tourists as well. The weather was very pleasant, as it is in Yunnan, very close to Tibet. The sky was amazingly blue. The area is full of minority tribes, the prominent ones being Naxi and Bai in that area.

There were signs like this all over the "ancient civilization town". They were all very funny, and I won't put all of them in my blog, but Misha and I found them very entertaining!

These are the roof tops of Lijiang, the ancient city.

On our bike ride, we saw people harvesting their wheat. They would put it in the middle of the road for cars and trucks to drive over, and then use fans to blow the chaff away. Very ingenious.

We spent the first couple of days in Lijiang. We walked all around the town, and one day we rented bikes and went for a ride, where we met some new Chinese friends and British friends. Many people were dressed in their native dress, and it was really fun. We had some interesting food. On Tuesday afternoon, we drove the three hours to Shaxi, where we stayed with Yunxin and his wife Jingpian in their village community center. What an amazing drive. We saw so many people out planting their rice fields. Misha and I took a million blurry photos as we rushed by these amazing farms. That evening, Jingpian made us a really nice meal.

This is me, Yunxin, and a guy that was staying with him to arrange for some students to come for a stay in the summer. Yunxin shared very interesting information.

Here are some of the beautiful scenes we saw. The rice fields were beautiful. Many people were dressed in their native costumes, just as part of their normal every day lives.

The next morning we woke up and had a big breakfast, and then started on our 4 1/2 hour hike. It was really steep and a lot of work! But so beautiful. We loved every minute of it. We were hiking to a small village on the top of the mountain. This little village was started 400 years ago by two families. There was a salt mine on the other side of the mountain, that merchants would travel to, to get salt to sell to the valley below. The local government wanted to collect a toll for going through the pass, and asked these two families to go and start a village. There is still no way in or out of the village other than by foot or horse. Now there are about 36 families. Only a couple of them have electricity from a generator. When we arrived, I believe we were greeted with about 1.6 billion flies. I have never seen so many in my life. We were to stay with the chief and his wife in their home. They were very welcoming, and she had noodles waiting for us when we got there.

It was an amazing experience. I don't feel like I can give it justice on my blog, it would be WAY too long of a blog! There were no bathrooms. They did have a tap in the kitchen for water. The kitchen was indoor and outdoor. The stools we sat on were shorter than 1 foot. There was a cute little grandma there who chain-smoked. After lunch several neighbors came over to talk, smoke (and I'm sure check out the strange foreigners). They were polite, though, and offered Misha and I a cigarette... We had hot water instead, which was really strange for them, considering they always drink tea. I think the tea would have covered up the charcoal tasting water a little, though. These were definately people of the earth. They farm on the steep mountain-side. They raise goats. They just work continually trying to scrape by. They were very generous with us. Da jie (meaning big sister, which wwas what we were told to call the chief's wife) worked very hard on her wood-burning wok to make meals for us. She even gave us the first mushrooms of the season, a very special and rare treat. The chief came home at dark with all of his goats, very tired from a long day at work. They made a little fire in the middle of the big cement room that was their kitchen/family room and we sat on little benches. Their two grandsons came for a visit. What darling little boys! They were very cute with Misha and I. They even brought us flowers and sang a song for us when we asked.

Neighbors out front for a smoke.

Sweet little boys!

Misha and I had a little trouble falling asleep that night. We were afraid we might get fleas or lice from the blankets they gave us. Also, we were just sure there would be critters after we turned out the lights. It took me a while to blow out the candle.

The next morning, we went to the little one-room school. It was actually a holiday, but all of the children came anyway. We taught them 4 english words. Mountain, sun, moon and cat. Mountian was near impossible. They were eager students, and afterward Misha passed out the books, pencils and coloring crayons to them. You would have thought it was Christmas. They were so excited and loved their new treasures.

Afterward, we were invited to the community center/theater/temple where there were ladies preparing an offering to their gods. That holiday was for good health. They believed if they found herbs that day, the herbs would be much more strong than normal and work much better. These ladies were so sweet and fun. It reminded Misha and I of enrichment. Some were praying, some were making a meal to share, and some were making paper flowers and clothing to offer to their gods. Misha said," They are doing what ladies do all over the world... Make food and make things beautiful." I agree!

After our visit with the ladies, it was time to start our trek back to Shaxi. We hiked down the other side of the mountain for 4 1/2 more hours and into the valley of Misha. Of course we had to go to Misha! It was beautiful. There was a car there to pick us up and we drove back. I have to say that was the best shower I've had in a long time!!!

We had such an amazing time. I will never forget the time we spent with the Bai people. It truly changed my view on life. We flew back the next day, and met the family at a Chinese Wedding for one of Mike's buyer's, Jessie. That was quite the experience as well. There was some interesting food there! Our family were the only foreigners. The food was extremely chinese, with bird-heads, fish-heads and all. There was also something that reminded me of what might be a beef flan. We don't really want to know what it was. Jay and Rachel went up and sang twinkle twinkle little star. We all toasted our orange-juice and pop with the bride and groom. They were very proud that they had a bilingual marraige, as they did it in Chinese, and had an English translation.

Just a few more glimpses of the wonderful people we saw...

What a great time we all had with Misha. Thanks for everything, Meesh.

Great Visit From Mom and Dad Russon

Wow, it's been so long since I have written. I have wanted to write for such a long time,but the government has put a block on blogs. I had to wait until I could get a connection through Mike's line. This is the first time they have put a block on writing on blogs. Usually they just block being able to read them.

So many things have been happening in our lives. We are now on our way back home. We actually leave this Thursday. I can't believe that our four years is coming to an end. What a truly fantastic four years it has been for us. It is hard to leave China. We have learned so many things, and shared so many wonderful experiences. What a huge blessing for us. Well, I will go back and report some things that have been going on this last month and a 1/2.

Mom and Dad came on May 4th. We were all so excited! We all had such a great time together. The children didn't have a school break, so they had to just see Grandma and Grandpa when they got home from school. But on Friday, I let them out of school so that we could have fun together. We went to Qixia mountain, to the monastery. It was really beautiful. We of course took them to Zen, our favorite Chinese restaurant here in town. It's Cantonese food, a chain from Hong Kong, and it has the best dim sum in the world. We once asked our friend from Hong Kong where we could find the best dim sum while we were there, and she said, "Zen". Well, I guess we are lucky to have a chain here in Nanjing. YUMMY! I think Mom and Dad enjoyed it, too.

For Mother's Day, Mom and I went to a spa and had a facial. It was SO nice. And fun, too. The big event for the weekend, was when the girls, and Mom and I went to the hot springs resort. The girls had been planning this surprise for Mom. What she didn't know was that in amongst the hot springs, there was a special pool...the exfoliation pool. This pool was full of hundreds of little fish that eat dead skin. A great way to get smooth feet... Grandma didn't love that and gave the awaited for face-scrunch and little screams. Nicole and Caitlin weren't keen on going in either. But Rachel and I had a nice time and had very soft feet when we got out :-)

Mom and Dad and Mike and I went on a Yangtze River Cruise. We had a great time!!! On Tuesday Chong Qing where we went to the Anna Victoria Cruise Ship. I hate to say it, but I think Mom and Dad were a little nervous as we balanced along the pontoon plank way to the ship that was at least two football fields away. They are used to the fancy cruise entrances. Well, they were very good sports! Luckily, the boat itself was very nice, and our rooms were nice, as well. We had a fabulous time!!! We relaxed, and were able to see some really amazing scenery. The first day we went to see a special Ghost Town... There is a temple there, where the god of the underground lives. He's the one who judges you after you die, to decide if you go to heaven, or if you spend the rest of your days being tortured. And believe me,some of those tortures aren't very nice!

On the second day, we went up a small tributary river in a smaller boat. We then got in an even smaller boat. The dam is huge, and luckily, we could see it quite well because the clouds cleared up for us.

We had a really great time with Mom and Dad. The trip was wonderful, but it was especially nice having one on one time with the two of them and Michael. The children were very happy to have their grandparents back, and we all treasured the last couple of days with Mom and Dad before they had to go home. It means so much to us that they were able to come and see the places we love right before we are leaving. We celebrated Dad's birthday the night before they left.

Here we are at the Monastery on Qixia mountain. Unfortunately Mike had to work...

Julie went for a walk with us one day. We went to a very strange little museum that told us more about the dimensions of the buildings than what they were for. But, it was interesting... Here is a strange sign we found in the stairwell.

They wouldn't let us take our camera in to the hot springs to get a photo of the dead skin-eating fish, but we did get this lovely photo in our matching "lounge outfits" afterward.

Mike and I in the main lobby of our river-cruise.

Mom and Dad going up the chairlift to the temple.

The temple in the Ghost-town was different than I've ever seen before. The colors were blue and white. Here is a dragon guarding the entrance to the god of the underworld.

The god of the underworld who judges if you will have torture or not...

The beautiful river...

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Happy Birthday Nicole!

Nicole's birthday was this week. She was very excited. On her birthday, several friends made cakes and gave her gifts. Also, Caitlin and some of their friends threw a surprise birthday party for her. She was very excited. It isn't Nicole's turn to have a party this year (my children get a party every other year), but the party was somehow at our house and we bought the pizza... I shouldn't be confused, should I? We will have her family birthday tomorrow. She wants pavlova and chicken pockets for her special dinner. Nicole is a great fifteen year old, and we love her so much. Happy Birthday Nicole!

Here is the group right after they surprised her. The surprise was funny. Her friend Simone told her that Simone's mother wanted Nicole to come and get all of Nicole's clothes that were at Simone's house that Simone had borrowed. The day before, she came over to get more of Nicole's clothes. When Nicole was over getting the clothes from Simone, she was extremely confused because she had seen those clothes in her own room just the day before! Very tricky, huh? Simone, Rachel and Caitlin didn't make it into this photo.

NIcole's friend Levi made this cake for her.

My calling is in nursery right now. I LOVE it! We have had three little children, two little girls, and a little boy. Clara went back to the US a couple of weeks ago, so I wanted to take some photos (with their parents permission to be on my blog, of course!). Isaiah was out of town, so I didn't get any of him yet. I'll have to add that later.



Too cute!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hong Kong 2009

We recently had spring break. We decided to go to Hong Kong, for a nice break from everything. Trying something new, we flew from Nanjing to Guanzhou, where we heard you could catch a train to Hong Kong, about a 2 hour ride. I had seen some really good prices for the flights to Guanzhou, so we jumped on them. It all turned out great. The train ended up one subway stop from our hotel in Hong Kong, so it was perfect! Hong Kong has a fantastic transportation system. You can easily ride the subways and busses, and ferries, anywhere in the city. We stay on the Kalwoon side at the YMCA. It has a great location, and a harber-view. Plus, they have a family room for the boys and Mike and I, and the girls share a room. We are one block from the ferry, and close to the subway and lots of great food and shopping.

The first thing everyone wanted to do was eat. The one thing that didn't turn out too well going to Guanzhou and taking the train was the eating. We ordered some noodles, that had some weird stuff in them, and I had to have dumplings because there wasn't enough noodles. Mike could hardly stand to be near me for 24 hours because the garlic was SO strong! Anyway, one thing the children love about Hong Kong, is they have lots of "American" restaurants. We immediately went to California Pizza Kitchen. Yummy!!! And then, we went to Escape to Witch Mountain at the movie theater. The children were so thrilled to be able to go to a movie theater!

On Wednesday, we went to Lantao Island. There is a HUGE Budda there. You can ride a cable-car up to the top and see it, and then we chose to walk down the 2 and 1/2 hour trail. I should say, Mike and I decided we would. The girls were not happy about that. But it was beautiful, very "rain-forest" type terrain. We finally made our way down to the village and found the subway. It was great. I took the girls to the Ladies Night Market that night. One thing I have learned is that hills are really hard on my hip. Going down-hill really works the stabilizing - muscles. I was very achy after that day.

Thursday we rode the crazy double decker bus to Stanley Market. We did some shopping, and eating (of course) and enjoyed the ocean. Later, we rode the out-door escalator up the mountain on Hong Kong island. It is very long, and then we walked over and through the zoological gardens. I think the children were about to kill us after all of that walking, but were pleasantly surprised to see all of the monkeys and other animals they had there. It was in such a beautiful park. That evening, Mike and I went back to Soho to an Italian restaraunt we found a different time we came. It was really good, and nice to have one evening out together.

Friday, was temple day. It was so great to go to the temple. It's amazing how much you miss going when it isn't possible. It really feels like coming home. That afternoon, we went to Hong Kong Island and rode the OLD cable cars across the island. It was so interesting to see the older parts of Hong Kong. They set up their streets (at least in the old part) the same way they do here in China, with whole streets of the same things. For example, the electronic street, or the car part street. There was one whole block that sold dried fish, and it smelled so strongly of fish everywhere. I didn't think it would be so nice to live in one of the thousands of aparments that were living above the dried fish street. That evening we went to the movie Monsters verses Aliens. The children had a blast. I think that was one of the highlights of their trip! It was fun for them to see it in 3-D as well.

We had a really wonderful trip together. Life is back to it's busy self. The girls are ready for the big school soccer tournament this week. Nicole turns 15 next week, a fact that she will not let us forget. She has a menu plan that will keep me cooking and baking all day :-) Next weekend Rachel and Nicole will travel to Shanghai for a short youth conference, which will be fun. My Mom and Dad come on the 5th! We are so excited to see them. Our driver, Jiang is coming back to work tomorrow. We have missed him dreadfully, not knowing how much we should have appreciated him all along. We've had some difficult experiences with some of the substitute drivers we have had. The one that is driving for us now is good in every way, except he is as slow as a turtle. For those who have visited us, they know that we are used to Jiang, who thinks the Transit is a sports-car! He is returning to work after almost 5 months after breaking his leg. This last weekend the girls and I instituted a weekly "girls night out". We are pretty excited about this, and the girls have lots of ideas on how to spend these weekend evenings, most of which include some sort of massage or manicure :-)

Here are some photos from the day we went to Lantau:

The girls weren't too thrilled we walked down, but it was beautiful! And, they won't admit it, but we had a great time...

We took the special "Crystal" cable-car, so we could see out the bottom!

Here is the big budda

Fun at Stanley Beach. It wasn't quite warm enough for swimming, but we enjoyed the rocks and the view.

Here are some of the girls' favorite shots:

Here we are at TGIF...yummy!