Saturday, June 28, 2014

Our First Houseguests!

It is much too quiet in our little Beijing condo since my mom and baby brother left after a whirlwind-y and super fun two-week visit. I LOVE that they came with Costco-sized packages of everything from my favorite granola bars to brownie brittle and macadamia nuts. If a zombie apocalypse ever happens, now would be a good time because we are STOCKED with snacks!

Anyway, it would be an understatement to say that an amazing time was had by all in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai. We walked until our feet hurt, ate until our bellies bulged, and got lots of practice bargaining for souvenirs. I was also reminded daily of how totally hilarious my brother is, and how nice it is to have my sweet mom around who always carries snacks and hand sanitizer, and makes the most perfect cheese omelets for breakfast.

Lots and lots of great memories were made... here are a few of my favorite ones...

Climbing The Great Wall
We spent a glorious day eating salami and cheese sandwiches, hiking, and trying not to trip on the rebuilt Mutianyu section of That One Famous Wall. Mom was extremely hesitant and moderately terrified about tobogganing down when it was time to go... but she did it!!!
Yay, mom! 

Dining at Made in China for Beijing duck
Our perfectly cooked duck was carved table-side. Its skin was crisp and not at all greasy, while the meat was tender and flavorful. We wrapped pieces of it in a thin pancake with scallions, cucumber, and plum sauce. Best Chinese burrito ever. We also enjoyed their snowflake dumplings, named for the delicate pattern of fried crispiness they were served with.

ALL the touristy spots (It's so much more fun to go with family!)
No group selfie was left untaken during our visits to every tourist attraction from The Forbidden City to the Terra-cotta Warriors to Nanjing Road. It came in handy that Jon and I both have freakishly long arms. 

Happy hours!
To help him cope with long hours of shopping with his mom and big sis, Jon often suggested we take afternoon breaks for a foot massage or a cold, refreshing glass of alcohol.
He is full of excellent ideas, that one. 

Riding the levitating train
A new thing I learned is that there are trains that magnetically magically levitate. One such train, The Maglev, is the world's fastest commercial train, and will get you from Shanghai's Pudong airport to the city center in 8 minutes. (It would take a taxi about an hour.) Bonus: You can get green tea soft serve at the McDonald's just outside of where it drops you off. Mmm.

Enjoying the Shanghai skyline
We took a nighttime cruise down the Huangpu river for spectacular views of the Shanghai skyline. The most amazing thing of all? Every last one of those brightly lit skyscrapers was built within the past 30 years. 

The world's most delectable dumplings
Yang's Dumplings serves up a fried version of Shanghai's famous soup dumplings (xiao long bao), and they are mouth-wateringly scrumptious. I really cannot overstate how delicious these little suckers are. They're filled with pork, broth, topped with sesame seeds and scallions, and delivered piping hot and crisp on the bottom. They are what all other dumplings only wish they could be. 

Man oh man, there were so many other great moments on this trip (like the awesomely awkward time my brother laughed hysterically for the better part of an hour-long massage because he's so ticklish, and then said to his masseuse,"Do you know kung fu? Because your hands are really strong. It's kind of scary."). However, I realize this post is already waaay too long, so I'll just end it by saying, "Come back soon, mom and Jon! We loved having you here!" (Plus, we're already starting to run a little low on brownie brittle.)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Adventures in Jinan

This past week, Curtis and I were invited by our friends, Jerrod and Rachael, to join them for a day trip to Jinan. We had never heard of Jinan, but we happily agreed to go... because everyone knows that if you say "no" to a day trip, there's a good chance that all you'll end up doing instead is watch an entire season of Cake Boss on Netflix.

So I've heard.

Turns out that Jinan is the capital of Shandong province, and is located about 250 miles south of Beijing. Apparently it is known throughout China as the "City of Springs." It has several beautiful parks filled with weeping willows that are built around lakes fed by natural spring water.
Lots of prettiness.

While we did spend the majority of our day wandering through these lovely parks and basking in all that nature-y goodness that we don't get a whole lot of in Beijing, there are other things that I will remember much more clearly from this day of adventure.

Here they are for your perusal:

1) Jerrod ordered this plate of silkworms for lunch.
Silkworms are the pupae of moths and not actually worms. Knowing this does not make it any less horrifying.

2) Curiosity trumped disgust, and I ate half of a silkworm. (Handy tip: If you ever decide to eat only half a silkworm, never ever look inside to see what's in the other half.)
Here is Curtis looking on lovingly as I eat my first silkworm. This is pretty much one of my favorite photos of all time.

4) An hour after eating the silkworms, Jerrod grew red welts all over his face and neck.
This is not Jerrod. This is Will Smith in the movie Hitch. But this maybe COULD HAVE been Jerrod if we didn't run into a pharmacy so he could get some Chinese meds to get his face under control.

5) This building:
Located in the city center, we couldn't help but notice that whoever built this enormous structure was clearly making up for something.

6) What would Sylvester Stallone look like as a giant Buddha?
Obviously, that's what the makers of this Buddha wanted to know. At one time, Jinan was the historical center of Buddhist culture for the whole province, so there are lots of Buddhas everywhere. This here is the only one we saw that resembled Sly.

7) Riding home in style after our eventful day.
They ran out of the cheap seats on the train home, so we ended up doing the 2-hour ride in first class, which was AMAZING. If you're ever wondering if you are in first class, just ask yourself these questions: 1) Am I wearing brand new house slippers that were just now given to me? 2) Could I comfortably get into a fetal position if I wanted to? 3) Are there free snacks? If you answered "YES!" to these questions, then CONGRATULATIONS! You are officially livin' it up, China-style.