Ming Village Tour with CLO and Teen outing

We are very fortunate at the Embassy to have CLO (the Community Liaison Office).  CLO arranges  trips to various places throughout the year, and we intend to take advantage of those tours.  It’s a great way to meet other folks from the Embassy, as well as see important sites around China.

On August 6th, we joined CLO for a trip to Cuandixia. According to the CLO, Cuandixia, the Ming Village has a rich history — it was established more than 500 hundred years ago at the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) – and there are still many traditional Quadrangles existing in the village.

The village stands along a vital communication line, with convenient transportation to Hebei province and Inner-Mongolia, so the incessant stream of horses and carriages made it a busy place during the Ming and Qing dynasties. With the Economic Opening Reform in 1978, the village opened up to the world with the development of the railway, express way, and advanced mountainous road, and the village has lost its strategic significance and is not as busy as it once was. The young villagers have flooded into the city and moved out of the village. But the village was maintained very well and frozen in its history. It has become a “living museum” in Beijing, considered as a great treasure in terms of historical antique, architecture, art and social study.

Originally all four of us were planning to go on the Ming Tour, but we got information that CLO was putting on a trip for Teens. The group of teens visited 798, the arts district, had lunch and went to an Escape room.  Poor Linnea was too young to participate, so Aidan went on the Teen tour while Linnea came with us.  Aidan had a blast.

It was a three hour bus ride from the Embassy to the village, and  during most of it, I was sleeping. Two days before we went on the tour, I was horribly sick.  I have to say not feeling well made it difficult to get the most out of the trip.

About thirty of us exited the bus to explore this little village.

This is along the main road of the village.  I think this is where they can make fresh bread.


Not sure if this is the pop up travel office or just a picture they wanted to display.


Winding our way up the hill.  The public bathroom is not far from where I took this photo.  When I went to use the toilet, they had three doors to choose from. When I chose the door on the left, I opened it to find a squat toilet (no surprise),another squat toilet, and a Western toilet.  All three doors opened to the same space, and there were no dividers between the toilet facilities.


We were a big crowd from the Embassy.


The doors shown here are up several steps, indicating the wealth of those who lived there.


Family photos of the owners.


Making our way to the viewpoint.



A good pic of the village and its roofs.


roof bw

View from the top


view from the top

It was an extremely hot day.  Our cool towels definitely came in handy, but Linnea and I were suffering from heat exhaustion.






Tanzhe Temple

About  one and one half hours outside of Beijing, up a mountainous area you will find Tanzhe Temple, a Buddhist temple.

We decided to venture out there with our friends Baron, Irene and James.  I went to college with Irene’s brother in law Orestes, and we stayed with Kate and Orestes when we visited Thailand.  It is such small world.  So when we got Beijing, I IM’d Baron right away to tell him the good news.

I hired a driver who picked us up in River Garden and then headed downtown to get the Lobstein family.  It was a pleasant drive and just outside the city you can feel the clean air wanting to seep through the pollution.

Right away Linnea saw *something* she wanted to buy.  Oh these tweens really run hot and cold.  If you tell them you *might* buy something depending on the attitude, then they try to act excited about the activity but the *something* they want is only for the moment and not a forever *something* until the next *something* comes along.  Then if you decide the *something* is crap and don’t want to buy it, everything is thrown out the window, attitude and all.

Well on to the temple…

It was quite beautiful with a lot of details at which to admire.

animals on building

They had a huge prayer wheel.  According to Wikipedia a  prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel (Tibetan: འཁོར་Wylie: ‘khor) on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Sanskrit on the outside of the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. At the core of the cylinder is a “Life Tree” often made of wood or metal with certain mantras written on or wrapped around it. Many thousands (or in the case of larger prayer wheels, millions) of mantras are then wrapped around this life tree. The Mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is most commonly used, but other mantras may be used as well. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.

James in front of the prayer wheel.

james in bw at gold spinner

Aidan and I tried to be thoughtful as we walked around the prayer wheel.

leslie and aidan at spinner

People were lighting their incense.


I loved the attention to detail and the various textures you would see.




When we got to the top, we were able to take a group shot.

group shot2

James was a big hit, even among the little ones.




It wasn’t a ton of walking, but someone needed a short break.


What do you think they were trying to say with this sign?


I liked taking pictures of the Lobstein family.

lobstein family 3

irene taking pic of james

lobstein family walking

We didn’t stop off at the Tea House, but it looked nice.


tea house

Near the prayer wheel, we discovered this buddha.  It had a swastika on its chest so Baron  decided to look up the definition of a swastika.

It was time for lunch.  There was one restaurant after another.  People were motioning for you to enter their restaurant, and why we picked the one we did, I don’t know.  Apparently this restaurant was known for fish.  It was an ok meal.

We did NOT choose to go to this restaurant.


After eating, I wanted to see the little town.  Okay, it wasn’t much of a town.  There wasn’t a center area; it was street after street.

charlie walking



It was a nice trip that wasn’t too far outside the city.

Always up for some adventure.



Wet market, Dry market, Mop market, call it what you want, it’s got everything you need.

I’ve got a new friend! Okay, maybe if you know me well, you aren’t so surprised, but I’m beyond excited. Sometimes you meet someone, and it just clicks. Erin is that friend. Check out her blog here.


Erin and I met while she was filling out paperwork at the med unit. She overheard me talking to Hiromi who worked there, and who was thanking me for taking care of her son Miles (I didn’t do anything but suggest to Miles, when checking out their tuk tuk to buy, that he and Aidan might like to hang out).  I mentioned that we were thrilled they became such good friends.  They moved back to the States on Friday, but not before Miles and Aidan had one last day hanging out, going to the pool, and playing video games. As Miles was leaving, we overheard Aidan say, “Turn around and give me a hug.” Miles lifted Aidan up in the air and left singing, “We’ll meet again someday.” It was both sweet and sad.


Slight digression.

Erin mentioned that she has four boys and would be living in the same neighborhood.  Last week, another neighbor, Stacy, and I decided to just knock on her door and formally introduce ourselves. I suggested to Erin that we go shopping together (on another day) so I could show her new stores that weren’t around when she was last living here seven years ago.

So Erin told me she needed to buy a mop.  I thought we would just venture out to Bravo, a nicer, less expensive grocery store, but when she said mop, I said, “I know just the place!”

Several weeks ago, my family and I dined at The Garage, a nice restaurant/bar with an expat flair.  There we met the manager who told us about all the different places to explore in the Shunyi neighborhood.  He mentioned the wet market as a place to get mops, but it was only in passing.

Last week I asked about where to get a clock radio (you wouldn’t think it would be so difficult to find one in Beijing, but I’ve been hunting for one for a while.) A nice man at Wumart, a grocery/Fred Meyer like store, suggested I look at the wet market.  So after shopping, I drove there in the tuk tuk.  I had no luck finding the clock radio, but I could see what the market had to offer.

When Erin mentioned the mop, we headed straight away to the wet market.  Funny thing about the market.  There must be over ten stores with the exact same stuff (kitchen supplies, cleaning supplies, rice cookers, etc.).  How do they thrive?  The very first store solved all her cleaning supply needs.  I bought a rag for my mop (turned out to be the wrong thing) and an over-the-door hook apparatus. We decided to continue to explore the market, mop in hand.  Poor Erin.  It was a lot to schlep around.

We discovered shops with clothing,  fabric for pillows and duvet covers,  computer accessories, pet supplies, drinks and finally a fruit market.

I bought a huge bag of dried fruit (kiwis and dates), peaches, mangoes and apples.


While asking about the apples, a Chinese man, whose name we later found out to be Eric asked if we needed help. We chatted with him for a while when he suggested that he could show us around the market and help translate if needed.

Eric is around 35, unmarried, and works for Pearson Books.  He sells books to many of the international schools in the area, so his English is VERY good. He is super friendly and full of enthusiasm and information.  The three of us checked out the meat market as well as the vegetable and spice area.


Along the way you could get pants hemmed.


We were so excited about meeting him and appreciative of the time he spent with us, that we invited him to lunch at a local place.  We ate noodles (I ate rice because of being gluten free) and veggies and two of us had drinks for a whopping 23 RMB ($3.5).  We sat for an hour or so just chatting about living in China and his life as a single man here.

You can definitely live in a bubble here in China, opting only to socialize with other expats/ Americans. Or you can branch out and meet the local population, making every day a day of adventure.  Meeting Eric reminds me that those are the days that I love the most.  I come home with yet another story to tell at dinner.

I’m excited to connect with Eric again. Who knows maybe I can act as a yenta and find him a nice girl!



Dead Ayi road to the Flower Market, Temple of Heaven, Beijing Bikinis and Halal food

Saturday, July 23, 2016

How would you feel taking a road that has been “affectionately” named “Dead Ayi Road”? It is a road that has no lights and is pretty narrow, and unfortunately it is the cause of deaths for the local Ayi population.  Not sure if our Ayi takes the road or not, but the other day while riding the shuttle to downtown I did see a dead dog on the side of the road.

Until we receive our car, we have been borrowing the neighbor’s tuk tuk (and getting our own on Thursday).  I’m always looking for something new to do, so we decided to venture out on Dead Ayi Road to go to the Flower Market. Don’t let the name fool you.  There’s more than flowers at the market.

Upon entering the market, we saw right before our eyes our grill.  Now, if you’ve been to our house in Beaverton, you no doubt saw or tasted something from our grill, the Kamado. Well, here at the market, they are selling a small, more compact version for about $500.  We were tempted for sure since our Kamado is in storage, but we ended up being the recipients of the neighbor’s grill when they left.  No need to buy yet another one.

And then Linnea spied something she wanted, hanging leaves.  She wanted to decorate her room and make it special, but the woman was asking a lot of money and didn’t seem interested in bargaining. I told Linnea to wait to see what else we could find.

You could buy tea sets, furniture, terracotta warriors, outdoor furniture,  or even carpets. Check out this hard working employee…20160723_142936-01

We meandered around the area looking for all that could be bought and saw koi fish, massive fish tanks, plants and flowers.  You could even buy single crickets. Or massive wood furniture…


We left the building in search of food. We were the only non-Chinese people at the dive where we shared two meals for the four of us which included three plates of rice for 70 RMB.

After lunch, I discovered an impressionistic painter, He was working on a landscape painting of the Summer Palace from a photograph.  I loved the texture of his paintings and the way he used color. I asked if he could take one of our photographs and make it into a painting.  He is going to paint the picture of the rickshaws from my blog’s banner but adding lots of color (which I took out when playing with the photo).  It’ll be ready this weekend to pick up.


So we did go back and negotiated with fake hanging leaves seller and bought some for Linnea. She ended up getting lights from the Pearl Market (on Sunday) and voila…

Linnea's room

The lights can change color too.

Linnea decided to take pics of herself with the camera.

linnea photographing


Sunday, July 24, 2016

On Sunday, we decided to venture out to the Temple of Heaven.  Linnea wanted to go to the Pearl market, but I told her we would have to do something touristy first.  Aidan didn’t sleep well the night before so we decided to allow all complaining to stay at home.

While waiting in line for tickets, a man approached us asking if we wanted a guide.  He said he would charge us 70 RMB (about $10) for two hours.  I had heard that The Temple of Heaven is quite large, so we decided to hire the guide.  His English was fantastic and in a former life he was an Engineer.  I found him to be charming and informative, and truthfully with as much ground there was to cover, it was nice to have someone take us right where we needed to go to see things.

If we had arrived early in the morning, we would have seen people doing Tai Chi or exercising in the park  There were lots of people just enjoying the park setting, either playing games with friends or eating food.  All the tourists (Chinese and otherwise) were looking at all the buildings.


I love the colors of all the buildings.


They were doing a photo shoot, and it was amazing to see no sweat showing on the models. Poor Charlie was drenched.


Love the old doorways etc.




In China, this place is considered to be the center of the Universe.


Our guide Attilla took us out of the heat to see a gallery with paintings from an art school. I know that’s often what guides do, but we did find we liked some of the art and ended up buying some things.


Linnea wanted the one on the left for her room (which is why we purchased it), but we found it looked better downstairs.  It is good feng shui to have the one on the right facing a door or window so the evil spirits can leave. We also bought a long one with a fall scene but haven’t hung it up yet.

We would definitely use Attilla again if we have guests who wants a tour, so I got his contact info.

After the Temple of Heaven, we made our way over to the Pearl Market, of course stopping by Brown Door for a bite to eat.

Linnea scored a pair of converse sneakers that she’s excited about. Her shirt says: Love me, love my cat.



So what is a Beijing bikini?

When we arrived in Beijing, Zoe (our neighbor) told us about the Beijing bikini.  Men don’t necessarily take off their shirts, they just lift them up and walk around.  It is quite funny to see.



Don’t be surprised if you see this when coming to Beijing in the summer.

A few weeks ago…

Harvey suggested we go out for dinner. I asked if he could find the Middle Eastern restaurant (Chinese Muslims) that we were told about that morning.  I knew the general direction, so Harvey agreed to try something new.  We learned that restaurants that have a green awning have Arabic writing and therefore serve halal meat. We ended up having a super cheap, delicious meal.


After dinner we saw this woman biking this old man around. Love the scene…



Getting a driver’s license in China

When I was 20 and living in Vienna, I was able to get a driver’s licence with no effort.  I still have the license (though my pic shows my younger self) because it is good for life. Yep for life, at least that it my recollection.  Perhaps the rules have changed.

Today, Charlie and I ventured out to get our Chinese driver’s licenses.  From what we hear, the test is unbelievably difficult for those who speak Chinese. We’ve heard of expats needing a translator to help them with every question so that they can pass the test.

Luckily, things for us are easy.

Charlie, Aidan and I (he was with me for the day) were picked up at the Embassy.  We had to provide three pictures, our red card (Chinese ID card), our Oregon driver’s license, and 20 RMB ($3). We drove 30 minutes to a Beijing hospital.

The hospital was not one you would want to be admitted to on a bad day.  On the stairs going to the basement, the plaster had been peeled from the wall, exposing the red brick. The linoleum was dirty and peeling .

The testing area was located across from the ultrasound room and the person working there was called to perform our eye test. Charlie was shown a card and had to state what he saw on the card.  It was a test to see if you were color blind (Jason and Rob you have been forewarned).  Charlie could see the “6” so the man moved on.

The next test was the eye test.  Charlie sat in a chair and had to sit all the way back.  His back was facing a chart with “E’s” on it.  Some were facing up, some down, some right and some left.  He put a spoon over his eye and stared into a mirror at which time the tester indicated which “E” he had to gesture with his fingers. They asked him to only look at 6 “E’s” and then he was done.  They guestimated his height by evaluating his height against our driver’s height.

It was then my turn.  Rinse and repeat.

We were told we’d be getting our driver’s licenses on Thursday.  Our car is in town, but it hasn’t been released to us.  Plus, we need to get Chinese car insurance.

Always an adventure in China.






Ugg, Lululmeon, Frye, Mulberry, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Ice watches…you want it, they’ve got it at the Pearl Market.

We thought we’d be spending the day with our Chinese boys yesterday, but they wanted to check out the University (so mature of them) and knew my kids wouldn’t be interested.  So Friday night we tried contacting Charlie’s co-worker who offered to take us to the Pearl Market, a place to find jewelry, purses, clothes, makeup, shoes etc.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get a hold of them.

In the morning, Charlie and I decided to walk over to the co-worker’s house to see if they hadn’t left. By the time we arrived at their house, I got a text back saying that they were running errands and might be going to the Pearl Market later. So we started to head home thinking if we find a way there, we could meet up with them if they do go.

On the same street, I see a guy washing his car with Embassy plates, so I struck up a conversation.  Mike  is a super nice guy who works for DEA, and he said that he wife Joann might be going to the Pearl Market with her friend Brandy. He invited us in the house where we met Joann and their  6 year old daughter MacKenzie, and we waited for her friend to arrive.  It turns out that I had met the Brandy’s husband while heading to the Embassy one day on the shuttle.

We all piled into the Suburban and headed to the Pearl Market.  I loved hanging with JoAnn and Brandy.  They’ve got great energy and really fun.  They have their favorite vendors and know how much we should pay for things.

It was a crazy place.  You are walking down a hallway and see a door covered with a curtain on the inside.  It looks like it isn’t a real store.  You open the door and see merchandise from Lululemon, Under Armour, and North Face. What size do you need? I’ve got it in the packaging.  Want to try on? Put it on over your clothes.  Good luck. Oh , but I do have a mirror.  How much for those  pants? 100 RMB ($15) – I’ll take a pair.

So we went crazy.

One green Mulberry purse, three Michael Kors purses, ear phones, speakers, Clarisonic replacement heads, Lululemon pants, Kate Spade purse, lipstick, Ice watch for Linnea, three pairs of sunglasses including Ray Bans and John Lennon glasses for Aidan, Tom’s shoes and much more.


Our Chengdu boys

Three years ago we hosted two Chinese boys (Barry (named for The Flash)  12 and Makxim  13) for three weeks.  They were such great guests, and we would occasionally hear from them over the years.

When we heard we would be moving to Beijing, I contacted them right away. Makxim asked, “Why would you want to move to China?”  Really?  Why? They talked about coming up to see us.  Truthfully, I wasn’t sure if it were all talk, or if they would actually make the trip up to Beijing.  It is a 3 hour plan flight which could cost anywhere from $200 – $500 RT.

Last Thursday, the boys, now 15 and 16, flew from Chengdu to Beijing with their cousins (it is illegal for kids under the age of 18 to book a hotel room in China so that’s why the cousins came) and Barry’s mother, who had plans to meet with the CEO at BMW and would be staying in a different hotel from the boys. We went out to Dayali for Roasted duck, a typical Chinese meal.

dayali restaurant

2016-07-14 20.10.04

The following day we decided to head to the Beijing zoo with Barry and Makxsim.  The morning was spent eating pancakes and eggs and figuring out whether we should take a taxi to the subway, walk the 25 minutes, or find a ride somehow.  Luckily we saw the neighbor’s Ayi who drove us in the tuk tuk.


2016-07-15 09.56.47


After a long subway ride (1 hour), we made it to the Beijing zoo stop, with everyone and their brother. There was a woman trying to sell puppies for 150 RMB.  They were cute, but someone took me aside (a native English speaker) and said that we shouldn’t hold them because of parasites. Linnea was super paranoid after having stroked them, so she was anxious to find a bathroom.

2016-07-15 11.11.03

The zoo was crowded, but thankfully the weather was cooler with a bit of sprinkles.We Oregonians loved the weather but our Chinese boys were afraid to get too wet.  The cost to enter the zoo was about 50 RMB ($7.5) for adults and 25 RMB ($3.8) for children.  You have to pay and extra 5/2.5 RMB to see the pandas.

Are we glad we went? The Beijing zoo pales in comparison to the National zoo or even the Oregon zoo.  There wasn’t a ton of animals to see, and each exhibit was a far walk.

The pandas were sleeping


lazy panda

Yep that’s what they all looked like. So instead you can check out all the panda merchandise available to buy for a pretty penny.

Everything panda

pandas galore

While heading to the panda exhibit, I saw a typical Chinese toddler.

bottomoless boy

There were some areas that were really beautiful.

around the zoo


There were also areas that inspired love between siblings (or a reason to measure height).

whos bigger

The lemurs were fun to watch.

lemur staring

We turned a corner and saw a place for little kids to drive tanks.  Not sure we would have these in the US anymore.  Linnea really wanted to join and for some reason they let her. The little ones weren’t exactly trying to attack her, but it was a hoot to watch her ride around.

preparing to attack

tank wars

After a while of trying to find another animal to gawk at, we decided to head to the hutongs in an Uber. Barry had never been to Beijing before, so I thought the hutong area would be fun to explore. It is a lot more interesting if you get off the main drag.

hutong door with boys


red door

inside the hutong

Last time we visited the hutong, Linnea loved watching the man blow up caramel into different shapes. This time she got one for herself.

blown pig

There’s lots of crap you can buy at the hutongs.

another junk store

After visiting the hutong, we decided to head home.  Since we were five people, we didn’t think a taxi would pick us up so we ended up calling two ubers. Charlie got home at the same time on the US Embassy shuttle, and dinner was ready for us courtesy of my Ayi.  I love my Ayi Lilly.






798 -Arts District

Yesterday, we ventured out to the 798 Arts District with the Sernovitz’s.

Before I show pics of the area, I have to post a pic of their cute dog, Izzy that they got for free here in Beijing.  So many dogs are available for adoption and not enough families.  I’m resisting…so far.


798 isn’t that far from where we live (20 minutes without traffic), but with traffic, it could take a while.  Gabe fell asleep. So sweet.


After parking, we ventured into a store selling jewelry, leather purses and belts, glasses and other stuff.


Every time you turn around, there’s something to see.


Or feel (putting green material)


There may be dinosaurs hanging around.


We stopped off for a bite to eat. Venus de Milo was just hanging around ourside.


Some people are fascinated by the simplest things.


Linnea can resist an unsolicited kiss.


We stopped by a 3D exhibit.




We stumbled upon a cow exhibit…


and profound sayings.


We only scratched the surface since there’s so much to see.  There are art galleries, performance art, restaurants, shops etc. Looking forward to going back with my mom and Mike at the end of August when they visit.

Mutianyu – Journey to see The Great Wall of China

What better way to spend the 4th of July than seeing The Great Wall of China. Yes, everyone has seen the pictures, but to be there and see it in person is awe inspiring.

We hired a driver who met us at the house at 8 a.m. sharp.  The round-trip cost would be  500 RMB (about $75).  He spoke no English but pointed to the kids asking if they were twins. It was exactly an hour long ride to Mutianyu, a pretty touristy part of the wall, so he offered the only CD he had (The Beatles through the years) for our repeated enjoyment. The later years is definitely more appealing.

We bought our tickets for the bus ride to the entrance, chair lift to the top and toboggan ride down (680 RMB = $100). Before you could get on the bus, you had to pass a bunch of shops, each one selling almost the exact same thing as the next one. I got to try out my mad negotiating skills when we bought three hats.

siblings at the wall July 4th


There is a gondola option, but our tickets covered the chair lift.


ski lift up to the wall July 2016

When you arrive at the top, the view is spectacular.  (Yes, we are spectacular too, but I’m talking about the view behind us. 🙂 )

family pic at the wall

So before arriving, I had grandiose ideas about walking up to the wall.  Everyone said, “Don’t worry, you’ll do plenty of walking once you get up to the wall.”  I didn’t get it, I admit. Now I do.

kids at the wall July 2016

It keeps going, and going, up hill, down hill, up hill, up hill and then more up hill. Yes, we walked up to that square building at the top of the photo.

linnea at the wall July 2016

Did I mention how hot is was outside? These people were trying to fix the steps.

repairing the wall

We definitely needed to find time to rest.

linnea listening to music

Or do some Adapt Training moves (air bench)

leslie and aidan at wall

The toboggan ride was super fun going down unless you let Aidan lead the pack.  Linnea and I kept screaming at him to go faster and faster, but for some reason, he was a bit cautious. At one point, I pulled the lever the wrong way and ran into Linnea (not my finest moment). She survived, but boy did I get an earful from the Chinese toboggan worker.  He reamed me.

After the ride, we were bombarded by people selling more merchandise.  Charlie overpaid for a Oba Mao t-shirt. (I need to teach him the art of negotiations for sure.) Linnea saw a picture of China woven out of string that she wanted.  They offered it at 800 RMB ($120 crazy!).  We kept saying no, and they followed us down the hill asking how much we would pay for it.  Finally, I relented and paid 50 RMB ($7.5) and we still paid too much since people down the hill were offering it for 20 RMB ($3). I felt like a sucker.  I’ll learn.

So while Charlie and I were eating at a cafe, Linnea decided to shop.  She found a beautiful red and black silk dress that wanted.  She would negotiate with the shop owner and then come to the cafe to ask if it were a good price. After ten times of going back and forth, she got the dress for 50 RMB ($7.5).