Friday, December 26, 2008

The Rooftop of the World

Well, we made it safely to the rooftop of the world. After experiencing crushing fatigue and shortness of breath- I am starting to feel better. We arrived this afternoon and have been taking it easy. After a wonderful dinner (I had Indian/Nepalese and Phil had a traditional Tibetan yak potato stew- which was YUMMY)-we all came back to the hotel to rest. So far, it seems like a beautiful place. The people are friendly and smiling; the food is great,and the scenery is beautiful.

We'll post pictures as soon as we can.

-Phil and Jen

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baby It's Cold Outside

The temperature has dropped 20 degrees in the last 12 hours. Phil called me this morning to tell me that it was snowing in his area of the city. Did I mention it doesn't snow in this city?

In the meantime, I will remain tucked away in my apartment baking and preparing for Christmas parties all week. Christmas certainly isn't the same here in Shanghai though. As much as I try to decorate, bake, listen to Christmas music, and make our favorite foods- Christmas just won't be the same without our family.

We are grateful, however, because we have been incredibly blessed with good friends here in Shanghai who we will celebrate this season with.

Phil and I hope the same for you, and want to wish all of you a happy, healthy and blessed Christmas and New Year!

Phil and Jen

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shanghai Blizzards

The weather has been unusually beautiful all week. Sunshine, blue skies and 50 degree temperatures have been gracing Shanghai with their presence. Today is a very different day however. Alas, I fear the winter fog is upon us.

Saturday has ushered in a fog so thick it seems to have swallowed the city. As I look out the window of my apartment into the void of white- I feel strangely cut off and isolated from the bustling world that lay beneath.

Days like today are like snowstorms back in Michigan. Shanghai doesn't really experience snow, and on the rare occasion that it does- the snow fades away in hours. So I will call this fog a blizzard. After all, like a snowstorm, these fog blizzards makes you feel sleepy and lethargic; wanting nothing more than to curl up on the couch and watch a good movie.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The couch and I have been spending some quality time together over the last two days. I have succumbed to the head cold everyone else in this city seems to have. As long as I am done with this whole thing by next Friday when Phil and I leave for Tibet, I will be happy. In the meantime, I am catching up on some much needed useless television watching, laying around, and over-eating.

Once I get past this- I have much preparing to do. As I mentioned above, Phil and I have decided to go on holiday in Tibet. We will leave the day after Christmas, but before we go-there are much Christmas shenanigans to be had. In the spirit of celebrating, we have been planning and attending a few Christmas parties this month and still have a few more to go.

Last week I hosted a Christmas cookie exchange at my house and it inspired me to eat (actually, I meant to say bake; eat was so much more accurate though ;)). I have been inspired to bake an array of family favorites for our Christmas celebration with friends next week.

Maybe after all this eating, a hike in Tibet is just what I need.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Just a little something in the meantime...

I am long overdue for a blog update. It has been a busy couple of weeks since we got back from Paris. In the spirit of the holidays, Phil and I decided it was important to celebrate this year. You may be thinking "duh, no-brainer here", but things in this city are far more complicated than I can even communicate to you. A decision to go out in search of a Christmas tree, it's trimmings, and all that entails- is something many who live here would prefer only to having their teeth pulled out without drugs.

You think I am being dramatic, I know. I wish I were. I can tell you that the result of my two weeks of searching and scouring the city for decent decorations, has led to a fairly acceptable jewel toned tree and wreath (I know you're thinking- "Phil and Jen, yeah I can see them going for the jewel tones?!"), as well as a holiday luncheon and cookie exchange party. On the other end of those grand accomplishments- me with a cold and a desire to hole up in my apartment for the next month. I am a bit "done" with China for the next few days. I am ready for a break, and the ensuing cold tells me that my body is as well.

Happy Holidays! :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December is here, and I can't believe how quickly the latter half of this year has flown by. We have been back from Paris for a few days now and I think I am finally getting over it. Granted- things still don't taste right, but my taste buds should start compromising soon enough.

I finished our photo album from our trip- so check out the album titled Amsterdam- Paris...

The holidays are approaching, and I have to say that Christmas in Shanghai is so far from normal, it's hard to even call it Christmas. Last year, I made the mistake of not putting a lot of energy into celebrating the holidays, and I really regret it. This is a new year though and I have learned from previous mistakes... so holiday merrymaking- here we come!

Christmas can't possibly be the same as it is when we are home with family, friends, familiar foods and decorations, but I have to work with what I have. So my $10 seriously fake tree that's missing a leg (gotta love China)- is waiting in the living room for a creative fix and some new ornaments. Phil and I will have our annual fondue and decorating party this Friday, so I need to get to IKEA (the one easy and decent place for Christmas decorations) to purchase all of my lights and ornaments by Friday.

I have also decided to give my annual cookie exchange party a try here in Shanghai. Due to the hurting economy, many of our friends are staying here for the holidays- so when I put the idea for the cookie exchange out there, I had a surprising amount of interest.

I am even thinking of hosting a holiday pot luck or dinner of some sort. A friend of mine let me borrow her holiday edition of Good Housekeeping that someone brought back from the States, and I am inspired! I can't tell you how comforting it is to thumb through pages of cookies, holiday recipes, and gift ideas. I don't even mind Paula Deen's somewhat sacrilegious approach to food- afterall, she is wearing a most festive red sequin top and Santa hat. I mean who could hold her reference to dark chocolate and red wine as being "nasty" against such a cutely clad little lady? Ahh, holiday cheer...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nothing Tastes as it Should

It's Tuesday morning here in Shanghai and nothing tastes right! I can't seem to make a drinkable cup of coffee, and it's driving me crazy.

We've been back from Paris for 2 days now. Shanghai has been kind upon our return. The weather has been beautiful- with blue skies and 60 degree days since our return. But everything tastes awful! For any of you who have eaten your way through France like Phil and I just attempted to do- you might be able to appreciate my sentiments. For those of you who have lived in China and have been forced to dumb down your taste and food expectations in order to "enjoy" western food here- you can also appreciate where I am coming from. For the rest of you- you are wondering what the heck I am rambling on about...perhaps even thinking I am crazy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving in Paris

It's Thanksgiving and Phil and I are in Paris. I have to say that the next best thing to being home with our family enjoying pumpkin pie and turkey, is being here in Paris enjoying the amazing food, rich history, and romantic streets.

This morning I traveled to the other side of Paris for a morning market tour/ cooking class. We have spent the last four days ravenously exploring the city sites. We have climbed the Eiffel Tower, toured the city by bike at night, visited the Notre Dam, seen the Sacre Coeur, wandered the streets of the Latin Quarter, cruised along the Seine at night, visited the Palace of Versailles, and the list goes on. I have to say that of all of the sites we visited and all of the things we have done- the cooking class was my absolute favorite thing on this trip.

Food is the heartbeat of culture; particularly French culture. I feel like more than any other time in this trip, I was able to truly experiene the essence and heartbeat of French culture.

Off to the next adventure!

Phil and Jen

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Phil and I arrived in Amsterdam yesterday afternoon. As we walked through the airport I was amazed to see all of the Christmas decorations. Living in a land that only celebrates the holidays as a commercial enterprise (and not even that well), it was really refreshing to see proof of holiday celebration all around me.

After dropping off our luggage and meeting up with some friends, we were off to find some food. Having settled on simple pub grub at an Irish pub, we cozied into a corner booth and placed our orders. I looked around the dimly lit pub and marveled at how festive it was. Christmas trees, garland, and wreaths covered the place from floor to ceiling. It was the perfect atmosphere. As temperatures dropped and snow fell outside, we were warming up under the dim glow of the Christmas lights; Belgian ales in hand, and a little Johnny Cash on the radio... all was well in my world.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008


It's a sunny and beautiful Wednesday afternoon here in Shanghai. I made it through the last week and now I can start packing for our trip to Paris! After finishing an article over a week past its deadline, speaking in front of more that 500 people (just an announcement in front of church), celebrating my 6 year wedding anniversary, playing catch up on a weeks worth of reading, and finally taking my final test for Mandarin class; I can focus on the important task ahead- my trip to Paris.

So here I am, sitting at my dining table looking out onto the sun kissed city, listening to a little Billie Holiday- dreaming of the crepes, macaroons, and brie that will soon pass my lips. If food were a love language, I think it would be mine. Perhaps this is the real reason Paris is referred to as a city of love. It's not the beautiful architecture, or the magical way the city lights up at night. It's not the Eiffel Tower or even the magnificent Palace of Versailles- it's the pain au chocolat made every morning before dawn, the baskets brimming with crusty baguettes, the crepes of any imaginable filling, and oh...the macaroons ;) I can almost smell it all now.

Right- so by now you've gathered that I really like food and I am also really excited about our trip to France. Both observations are correct. Phil and I will be meeting with our friends Will and Jen in Amsterdam- where we will have just enough time to stroll the canals, eat some pommes frites with mayonnaise, and find our favorite schwarma vendor. After a day or so in Amsterdam, we will drive through Belgium and stay overnight in Brugge. In Belgium, we will visit the Chimay brewery restaurant to taste some of our favorite beer. What better way to enjoy your favorite beer, than to go right to the source! From Belgium, we will drive to Paris and spend the rest of our time there.

I say let the gastronomique journey begin!


-Phil and Jen

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Review Is In! Mom Shares her "View from Here"

My trip to Shanghai has come to a close and I have had time to reflect upon my adventure. To begin, I arrived in Shanghai with very few expectations. I was most struck by its’ cosmopolitan air. I recall the same physical sense when in New York City but with many more people. If you have ever stood in Time’s Square on Saturday night in Manhattan, imagine adding ten times the number of people; not just in one spot, but everywhere. Traffic in Shanghai is a sight to behold. Vehicles can pretty much park anywhere. If you can’t find a spot, just park on the sidewalk. Any cabbie from Shanghai would find driving in NYC boring and not the least bit challenging. The streets are filled with people walking, riding bicycles, and riding, sometimes 3-4, on one moped-like vehicle, as well as buses of all kinds, shapes and sizes. At first the chaos made my head swim and resulted in a few actual nightmares. After a few days though, I realized that despite no traffic rules and an inherent insanity, an “organized chaos” existed and I could learn to just go with the flow. Jen coined the term “organized chaos” and it brought me a reconciled comfort.

I returned from Shanghai with many gifts, literally and figuratively. I love to shop and I love a bargain. The many marketplaces Jen and I and sometimes Philip visited were incredible and indescribable. You haven’t lived until you have seen Jen “bargain”. She has become a pro and her command of Mandarin is awesome. Her energy kept me going when I was on “overload”. My favorite shopping experience was the fabric market where I had a few things made to order; and very inexpensively thanks again to the queen of bargaining.

The exploration of tea and tea-drinking was another true gift. Jen and Philip shared their “tea lady” and her shop with me and we sipped tea, learned about tea pots and had an awesome time. I also attended a “tea-party” hosted by Jen and attended by her friends, myself and the “tea guru”. We drank teas and learned about tea types and their health benefits, regions growing tea and tea politics. It was an inspiring afternoon. I am grateful to have come home with the gift of incorporating tea into my daily life.

Another treasured gift of my stay was an increased knowledge of Shanghai and Chinese Culture and history. We went on two tours, one with a famous photographer/historian named Gang Feng Wang. He toured us through an area of disappearing Shukimen-housing where he grew up. The other tour was through the old Jewish ghettos with a photo journalist named Dvir Bar-Gal. These were walking tours and both placed indelible marks in my memory. For example, I had no idea of the role Shanghai played during WW 2. Shanghai was one of only 2 open-ports in the world to harbor refugees. I never learned that in history class. That was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of what I learned. For me the most profound overall cultural/historical view was the juxtaposition of old and new Shanghai, with emphasis on a disappearing old. There is little respect for the past and its history and although a few are fighting to preserve some structures, old Shanghai is being torn down 24 hours a day seven days a week. The sad part is the Shanghainese do not know much about their own rich history. I am so grateful to have seen it before it is gone. Hint, Hint.

The greatest gift of all was the time spent with Jen and Phil. Unfortunately Philip had to work. Did I mention how hard he works? He works from early morning to evening and then conference calls in the late evening because of the 12 hour time difference. Weekends are also filled with potential calls etc. What a guy!!!! Jen and I realized that we had not been together for a long time period since she was a little girl. I truly enjoyed my daughter and the kind woman she has become. I had fun with her. Did I mention she can really cook? The kids fed me, cared for me and treated me with such kindness. Did I mention the accommodations? The apartment they live in is just beautiful. I had my own room with private shower/bath. I was a queen! They live on the 55th floor overlooking the Bund. The view is wonderful. You could spend the day/night watching boats, ships, lights etc.

I am so thankful to Jen and Phil and their graciousness. This was an opportunity NOT to be missed.

WANTED: Family and friends to visit Shanghai. Stay in luxury accommodations overlooking the Bund. Tour with young, knowledgeable couple possessing very good Mandarin skills excited by the community and culture. Explore local history. Major opportunity for phenomenal photos. Extraordinary shopping, great food. Guarantee: You will never be the same. Make reservations before your opportunity slips away.
Could you pass up an ad like this?

Obviously, I had an awesome trip. I would go back in a heartbeat. I am already saving my vacation time at work……just in case there is a vacancy.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some new photo's from our latest adventures...

Phil and I just got back from a trip to Guizhou. We spent 4 days in the province visiting the Miao ethnic minority people and some of their villages. This was my second visit to the region, but only the first for Phil. I traveled there for the Sister's Festival in May and this time we returned to attend the Lusheng Festival. Lusheng is the name of the long reed pipe, a traditional instrument of the Miao, and you can see it in some of the photo's in our new album titled "Guizhou Lusheng Festival".

Hope you enjoy!

-Phil and Jen

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I know I promised the next blog entry would be from my mom, but alas- she needs more time. She claims she doesn't have the "gift" I do. What she means by "gift", is actually the ability to use a computer to type out her thoughts. Sorry mom... I had to tell. And perhaps through this little jab, the arrival of promised "review of Shanghai" has been ensured.

I dropped my mother off at the airport yesterday morning and returned home to my couch. I am fighting off the same cold half of Shanghai has right now.

On a more interesting note, Phil and I leave tomorrow for a weekend trip to Guizhou. Some of you may remember reading about my trip to this region in May of this year. I went as part of a tour group to see the Miao ethnic minority Sister's Festival. I was so struck by the beauty of it all and I really wanted Phil to have the same experience, so now we will return to see another famous festival of the same minority group.

I hope to have a lot of pictures from this trip and will post them when we return.

Have a great weekend!
-Phil and Jen

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Tourist in My Own City

What a week it has been! My mother arrived in Shanghai on Friday the 10th of October, and we haven't stopped going since! We have been adventuring about Shanghai for the last week, and it has been great. I have seen parts of the city that I had never seen before, explored neighborhoods and areas completely new to me, and learned a great deal more about how amazing this city really is.

Phil and I have been living here for over a year and a half, and we have been waiting to do a lot of things until we had guests. The thought of doing the same tour 5 times wasn't all that appealing, so I had been making a list of all the things to do- and waiting until we actually had someone come visit... enter my mother.

As soon as she arrived, we began making plans and focusing on the things she really wanted to see. We had an educational afternoon of Chinese tea tasting. We had a tour of Shanghai's disappearing Shikumen housing with the famous Shanghainese photographer, Gang Feng Wang. We have sipped beer while getting Chinese foot massages. We have shopped and visited the historical Yu Gardens and sipped tea in it's old tea house. We have stuffed ourselves on Indian buffet. Yesterday we went on an amazing historical tour of the Jewish Ghetto's with the Israeli journalist, Dvir Bar-Gal. Today we will go for Chinese foot and body massages, wander around the French Concession, and go to a favorite Irish pub for Guinness and fish-n-chips. All in all- it's been great.

I am going to have my mom blog later tonight. We will post some photos and get her "visitors perspective". Should be interesting to see how Shanghai rates in her book. More to come...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

If I don't take this moment to blog- I may never get around to it. Phil and I got back from a beautiful trip to the Maldives late last week. The Maldives, a little known place among Americans, is a group of over 1192 islets spread across the Indian Ocean. One fine day, we happened to find ourselves on one of the only 250 inhabited islands, in our very own private ocean villa. It was breathtaking and wonderful! When we weren't eating, we were snorkeling. When we weren't snorkeling, we were eating. Food and snorkeling. Rough life I know.

Now we are back in Shanghai and preparing for a visitor- my mother. It will be the first of our family to come and visit us, and we are looking forward to showing her around this crazy city. Before she comes though, I have a lot to do. It's funny how house guests will motivate you to unpack those last few boxes you have been meaning to unpack for months.

Phil and I are also in the last stages of gathering documents for our dossier. For those of you who don't know, Phil and I have decided to pursue adoption here in China. We are very excited, but the journey has just begun. Once we get all of the paperwork done and off to necessary government entities- we will start a special adoption related blog. Until then, we have approximately 3 months of waiting ahead of us. Then we will find out if we get approved for the adoption. Needless to say, it has been very busy and stressful around here!

We hope you all are doing well. Feel free to email Phil or myself and we'll be more than happy to get back to you more specifically.

-Phil and Jen

Thursday, September 18, 2008

OK- so my shins were sweating the other day...

With temperatures well into the 80's and humidity so high your shins sweat- I am seriously looking forward to the autumn weather here in Shanghai. So back to the part about shins sweating- I'm not kidding. Phil and I were out and about in the city the other day and I couldn't stand it anymore. Every part of my body felt smothered in heat. I realized that my shins were sweating and wasn't sure if I ever really felt that before. I decided to add that to the list of "you know it's hot when...".

That aside, hints of autumn are in the air. Skies are a little more bluish, the air is a little less stifling, and people are out and about in greater numbers. This is the time of year when you remember there really are 22 million people in this city.

Phil and I find ourselves at the 18 month mark in this adventure and I'm not sure how I feel about it. The time has really flown by. Here we are realizing that we're halfway through our assignment, and there is still so much we want to see and do. We have many travel hopes and plans as well as some personal goals we would like to see realized before we move on from Shanghai.

We are getting ready to take a much needed vacation- our first of this year in fact. I have been able to travel a bit on my own, but between our home leaves and his new job- we haven't had any time to travel together on our own. I can't wait!

I really hope to be able to blog more often and post more photos- it's just so busy here and when I sit down to write, I realize it's been a month since I last wrote (one of those personal goals I previously mentioned).

Well- off to do some work. More later...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's peach season here in Shanghai, and compliments of my friend Anne- I just finished eating one of these famous peaches. I have to say, it was the closest thing to chocolate I could eat and enjoy on such a level without actually eating chocolate. Thanks Anne! Now let's see if I can avoid the bag of peanut M&Ms shoved up in the spare bedroom closet... I think I hear them calling to me now.

Why the craving you wonder? Well, thanks to our newly Olympic-inspired fitness kick, Phil and I have started playing squash. (If Phil had his way, it would be synchronized swimming- but that's another story altogether.) We are in the midst of week two of our exercise-followed-by-a- game-of-squash routine, and the old metabolism has kicked into high gear; thus, making me want to eat everything in sight. Recognizing that I am no Michael Phelps (I heard that the man eats 12,000 calories a day!)- I am trying to resist such cravings.

Perhaps you have noticed my unusual number of references to the Olympics by now? It is my small way of acknowledging that the OLYMPICS ARE FINALLY OVER AND THE KINNEY HOUSEHOLD CAN RETURN TO NORMAL! I swear- if I hear another commentator, splash of a diver, whistle, jia you (Chinese "go-go), or anything else remotely related to the Olympics here- I will scream! OK- I feel better now.

Seriously though, I did enjoy the Olympics for the first week (admittedly, I loved the men's basketball the entire time). But after the first 7-10 days, I grew weary. I had what is commonly know as "Olympic Fatigue". One true sign of this "fatigue" is: twitching at the sound of water splashing or whistles blowing. Jokes aside- deep breath; it's all over.

I wonder what China will be like now that the Olympics are done in Beijing? I have often thought of this whole process leading up to the Olympic games like a bride who has focused so much on preparing for her wedding- that she never thinks of what will happen after the big day. Coming down from all the preparation, she finds herself depressed, unprepared, and feeling lost. Could this nation face a similar crash after the high?

I certainly hope not.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A sure sign that it's hot in the city...

I've been back for 2 weeks now. It's particularly strange to me how time has passed in the last two weeks. You know how people talk about time flying by while standing still? There have been points in my life where I felt this way, but I can say that I really truly feel this way right now. It almost feels like I have been stuck in an episode from the twilight zone. On one hand, it's like I just got back; on another, it's like I've been back for months.

My first week back was spent on the couch (thanks to the flu). My second week was spent making up for the month I was gone (and the week I was on the couch). I have successfully shoved a months worth of activities into one week. Needless to say, it's been tiring. Good, but tiring.

Being gone for the month of July was a nice break from Shanghai's summer heat. Until yesterday, I actually thought I might have avoided most of the suffocating heat. But alas, it has weighed it's ugly mass over the city. Just when you think it can't get hotter or more miserable- it does. One sure sign of this heat: men in nothing but their whitey tighties hanging it all out there for passersby to marvel at. And who can blame them really? 100 + degrees with equalling humidity, no air conditioning in their cramped little homes... I just might be coming out to the street in my undies looking for a little relief as well. OK, maybe not. Just trying to relate here.

Either way- it makes for interesting sightseeing and photos.

As soon as the heat lifts, I look forward to getting out and taking photos. I finally got a small camera to carry around at all times. I realize how many pictures I have missed because I didn't want to lug around the behemoth (which I love and appreciate greatly by the way). So as soon as I get the little camera back from a friend who has borrowed it, I will get back to taking pictures.

Until then...

Sunday, August 3, 2008


The last few days have been a haze- in both the city and my brain. The rain came yesterday and washed a bit of that haze away. This morning gives way to some sunshine, and with the help of coffee, some clarity.

I took it relatively easy over the weekend- working through jet-lag and getting my body re-adjusted. Today is Monday though, and it's time to get back into the swing of life in Shanghai; cleaning, unpacking, and tying up loose ends. In China- loose ends can become complicated unraveling threads if you're not careful. So, I will attempt in this one week, to get caught up on all things that have patiently waited for me during my absence- taking care not to turn any of the loose ends into massive unraveling threads.

Wish me well...

Friday, August 1, 2008

It's 5:40 am and I am not going back to sleep. The question is- do I want to commit to being awake for 15-16 hours today, and will my body allow for that? I guess I will eventually find out. Strategic coffee drinking combined with sufficient sun exposure (no napping!)- always helps on the first day in a new time zone. Coffee- here I come.

I am excited to be back in Shanghai. I enjoyed my time back in the US, but being away from my home space, husband, and routine- was taking its toll. I was definitely ready to settle back in.

I have learned that these trips home to the US should not be viewed as any kind of vacation. It never feels much like one anyway. There is always so much to do, so many people to see, and only enough time in the day to accomplish things.

For those of you who did not know we were coming home over the summer- our apologies. We actually weren't coming home for social visits on this trip. We had a family wedding and Phil had work in Tennessee. I stuck around for an extra 10 days to stock up on much needed items for Shanghai- and some good quality family time. Our goal is to go back to the US in December so we can spend more time with family and friends then.

Looking forward to getting into the city next week...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Packed and Leaving...

Packed and waiting, my body is certainly feeling the effects of its 4am wake up. It is only 9:45 and I have already had breakfast, cold pizza (we'll call it the 8am lunch), and packed 3 large pieces of luggage. I am feeling a bit surreal at this point.

If you're wondering why I woke up at 4am (perhaps you're thinking I am a grand procrastinator)... it is to insure exhaustion to a point that I will sleep a solid 8 hours on my flight back to Shanghai. It seems a bit cruel and unusual, but the benefit of getting back onto the 12 hour time difference is well worth it.

So here I sit at the dining table in my parent's kitchen- looking out at things I won't see for a while- blue sky, green trees, deer, wild turkey's, a variety of different birds... really anything that has to do with nature. While I will miss it, I am looking forward to returning home to my husband (who has reminded me every day for the last 10 days I have been gone- that I should never leave him again for that long :)

Monday, June 16, 2008

I think I used the word phenomenon too many times...

Lovable little lappy is still not working properly. One issue after another seems to bombard my laptop. Anything remotely related to technology can be a challenge to work with here. If the laptop is working- Google is being blocked by certain unknown forces here in the mainland. Phil and I, as well as other expatriates living in this country, lovingly refer to this phenomenon as the "Great FireWall". I cannot, however, blame said phenomenon for the woes of my laptop. That- I will blame Toshiba for...

The last few weeks have been fairly uneventful. I feel like I went on action overload and hit a wall. Just as I found time to take a breath and relax- I caught a cold. I have to say that a cold in 80 degree weather is a very strange thing. When you are sick in the midst of such nice weather- you become more acutely aware of the fact that your body is not working as it should. There are no good excuses this time of year. There are no sub zero temperatures to blame your cold on; no damp rain turned snow...nothing. It's just you and the lovely 80 degree summer. As I lay on the couch day after day, I swore to myself that I would make a new commitment toward health and wellness. We'll see how long it lasts.

Aside from my two week party on the couch- Phil and I are preparing to return to the US for a period of time. We have a family wedding to celebrate, and Phil has some job training in Tennessee. I have to say that we are both really looking forward to the trip back. Due to the unique and insanely stressful trip we had back in February- it's all a blur to me. I am looking forward to visiting my home country, friends, and family- with more mental clarity and presence of mind this time.

Shanghai is still a great place to live. I have not lost sight of this fact. Remarkably- I have maintained a sense of awe and awareness in how fortunate we are to have this experience. I am however, ready to take a break and come home for a while. Ready to breathe in the air, drink form the tap water... and maybe even eat an apple I didn't wash!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Preparing for the Olympics

I just thought I would share this interesting little article with you. A friend of mine had it posted on her gmail chat. It gave me a good chuckle- perhaps it will give you one too.

As for the Silk Road and postings to come- I have sadly been without lovable little lappy (more appropriately-Satan's Laptop) for the better part of two weeks. But alas, there is hope on the horizon- and with a new hardrive being installed next week- I should have it back in working order soon. So stay tuned....

Monday, May 19, 2008

Three Minutes

2:28 pm. Marking the exact time of the earthquake that rocked this country one week ago- I along with the rest of China- stood in silence for three minutes to remember those who have been lost in this devastating tragedy. In a symbolic gesture of wailing and mourning, all cars, trains and boats blew their horns for the entire three minutes.

I stood in the comfort of my home watching the CNN coverage of this event. As they flashed from scene to scene- different areas throughout the country standing in silent solidarity- the overwhelming sound of horns grew and wailed. Horns were coming from the TV, the boats and barges along the river outside my building, and from the cars, taxis and bus' stopped along the roads of the city. I just stood there, and as the crushing noise surrounded me- I thought of all of the people in their last moments; the parents, the children, grandchildren, grandparents, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives- and I felt an overwhelming sense of grief and loss.

This whole tragedy is hard to take in. While Shanghai was untouched by this earthquake- you can't help but feel like you are in the midst of the devastation, and it is overwhelming. As I was watching the news coverage, my ayi (auntie/ cleaning lady) looked at the TV and told me that she just found out that her mother, sister, and aunt died in the earthquake.

I wondered what she was doing here- but I realize she can't go home right now. Things are too unstable with all of the aftershocks. So many buildings are gone. She cannot afford to take the trip home. Hopefully she will allow Phil and I to help her and her family- because we will certainly try.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Miao Sister's Festival

A simple lack of anything creative compels me to be honest here- I just don't know where to start or what to write this evening. I have a lot to share and talk about; I simply lack motivation and inspiration. As fog engulfs the city and a steady flow of rain pelts against the window, my desire to curl up under a blanket and watch a movie grows stronger with each drop. But alas, the sense that I need to write compels a bit more. So while this lasts- I should get to the point.

The point is- I have been on two amazing trips and travelled to a number of beautiful places throughout China in the last month. I have encountered people and seen places very different from my experience in Shanghai. I have had my fair share of adventure, taken a vast number of photos, and now it's time to share some of my experience with you.

Though my most recent journey along the Silk Road is more prominent in my mind, I must honor chronological order and start with the trip I took to Kaili and Shidong. Only one month ago, I along with 18 other people, embarked on a trip to Shidong in Southern China. The primary purpose of our travel was to experience the local Miao minority people and observe one of their yearly festivals known as the Sister Festival.

We flew into Guiyang and transferred to our hotel in Kaili. Though Kaili is a two hour drive from Shidong, it was the closest place to stay with a modern, moderately decent hotel. So each day we boarded our bus and started our two hour drive through the mountains into the town of Shidong. As daunting as a daily two hour bus ride may sound, the scenery was absolutely beautiful.

As the bus wound its way along the mountain road, each bend gave way to one beautiful vista after another. Villages peered mysteriously through the rice terrace stacked hills as farmers and their water buffalo worked knee deep in rice fields. This was the China I had been looking for; the China I had seen in pictures, imagined in my mind, and longed to experience.

The first day we were in Shidong we ate at a local family farmhouse (the only restaurant in the town), visited and watched a silversmith, and went to the local market. For me, wandering around the village and going to the local market was great. For such a small town, the market was an impressive size. People from all over- travel to this market to buy and sell anything from food and livestock, to their famed Miao embroidery, silver, and clothing.

On our drive back to Kaili we stopped at a local school. As a group we donated money to buy needed supplies for local school children. We were going to the school to deliver the supplies and meet some of the children face to face. I can say in all honesty that this was the absolute highlight of the entire trip for me. What we encountered when we arrived at the school was overwhelming and humbling. Over 300 children from the school were there to greet us. They lined the walkway clapping their hands and playing drums. After ushering us in, they proceeded to gift us with traditional necklaces, a dance, and a song. We spent about two hours- walking through the village, interacting with the children as well as some curious villagers, and giving some of the supplies we purchased.

The following day we went to a local Miao village close to Shidong where the festival was being held. The Sister Festival is a traditional festival for young people to find their love. There is a lot of dancing, singing, and eating. Each Miao woman wears her traditional, often richly embroidered costume, along with their famed silver jewelry, accents and/or headdress'. Girls sing and dance by the river and boys show off their horse riding skills. In the evening the boys sing to the object of their affection. If the girl feels the same way- she will give the boy a traditional ball of multi- colored sticky rice with a trinket inside. Each gift represents something different. One thing can mean "I am breaking up with you", while another means "I love you", and yet another meaning "I like you as a friend". Unlike the common Starbucks break-up here in Shanghai, the youth of the Miao minority have found a more creative and gentle way- a ball of rice with a trinket in it.

My travels through this area have given me a greater appreciation for China and its people. The beauty of the region was breathtaking and the richness of the culture- deep. I have chosen a portion of my photographs from this journey to share with you. While they cannot fully capture the beauty of this region and its people- I hope it gives you a glimpse. Simply go to the photo album link to the right and find the one creatively titled "Miao Sister's Festival".

Enjoy! -Jen

Pictures and Stories on the Way...

Creative title- I know. I just want you all to know that I am currently uploading and working on photos from my recent travels. I will be posting very soon- so stay tuned!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Back to Blogging

I'm back to blogging once again. It's not that I ever left, I just haven't been entirely present for...oh say 3 months now. So much has gone on in our lives over the last 3 months, I've barely had the time or space to wrap my brain around it all. But here we are on what I like to think of as the other side of that journey. We are now in our new home and expect to be completely unpacked and settled within the next month. At this point we are waiting for funds to be transferred (also known as our landlord getting paid); then we can expect the delivery of much needed office furniture, a dryer, a gym membership, and a few other little comforts. After months of existing in a static state of "transition", it feels really good to be settling in. I have checked a great deal of "to do's" off my list and am now able to get back into daily life.

Now for those of you who have read my previous entries- you may be wondering if we have fallen back into that all too easy place I have written about- complacency and taking life here for granted. I am pleased to announce that we have not allowed that to happen. Still immensely aware of the gift that this time is, I am attempting in as human and flawed a way as I am capable, to enjoy every moment of it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

All Is Well On the 55th Floor...

Just a quick note here to let you know that Phil and I are safe and well. If you have been watching the news at all- you have probably heard about the devastating earthquake that hit Chengdu China yesterday afternoon. You may have also read that this earthquake was felt as far as Thailand, Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai. This is no exaggeration-Phil's office building, along with any other high rise building in the city, was evacuated.

Fortunately I was not at home in our 55Th floor apartment at the time. Another resident of this building who lives on the 52ND floor said she felt the building start to sway, followed by the curtains and hanging lamps, and then... she was out of there. Pretty scary.

As this tragedy continues to unfold in the regions close to the epicenter, we just ask that you keep the people here in your thoughts and prayers- many lives have been lost and changed forever.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I just got back to Shanghai this afternoon. My travels along the Silk Road were nothing short of amazing. It was 9 days full of adventure (oh do I have some stories), challenge, and great fun. Traveling through an area so rich in culture, history and tradition- has been such a great experience. It will take me a while to process through everything, but I look forward to posting stories and pictures as I am able.

At this point- I desperately need a shower and days sleep.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I just got back from a tour of Guizhou, a province in Southern China. It was a 4 day trip designed around seeing a minority people called the Miao, as well as observing a festival they hold each year called the Sisters Festival. It was a great trip and I hope to go back with Phil later this year. I managed to get some good pictures and will post them in the next few days if I can.

I am now preparing for a 9 day journey along the Silk Road in Western China. I leave on Sunday, so my time is short. This will be a bit more challenging than Guizhou, but I look forward to it. I will definitely write and post on both trips when I am back from the Silk Road travels.

Sorry for the short post, but I did want to give a quick update.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

So It Seems

It seems as though we will be moving into our new apartment on Tuesday morning. My apprehension comes only as a result of all of the crazy things we have encountered with housing in the last few weeks. The other side has officially signed the lease, the movers are scheduled, and well- all seems on track.

Everything has worked out brilliantly and better than we had hoped for in the long run. We got a great new realtor; found an apartment in a building with a great view on the 55th floor, and have a landlord that seems quite rational and easy to work with. We even got the serviced company we were using before to work with this landlord and provide the shuttle service we so appreciated having. Aside from turning out very well, we have learned a great deal about patience and perseverance.

Stayed tuned for more... Jen

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Phil has this habit of pausing after getting my attention. "Hey Jen"... 3 seconds pass, sometimes 5, and occasionally 10 whole seconds will go by before he follows up with any information. Those 3 second intervals are more often excruciating than not these days. I brace myself each time; wondering what news might follow that dreaded pause. I finally shared with him the other day that it would help me a lot if he would quickly follow his initial request for my attention with some bit of information. With all of the drama and change that we have had thrown our way recently, I just can't take anything for granted. This is China after all...

I will say that Phil did a good job yesterday when he called to tell me that our apartment fell through. Two seconds passed between me saying, "this doesn't sound like good news" and him saying, "nope- it's not good news". I won't fault him for the 5-7 second pause between that and delivering the part where he told me, "so the landlord didn't sign the contract, etc." His brain, much like mine, has had about all the bending it can take.

So if you are wondering if I mean we now have no foreseeable place to live after our stint here in the hotel, you are correct. Tomorrow morning we will hit the streets with our realtor in search of another place- again.

-Phil and Jen

Monday, March 31, 2008

Never A Dull Moment... Part IV

Well a lot has happened since I last wrote. The short version: This Is China. The slightly more detailed version includes us finding out last Wednesday that we had to move out of our apartment by the following Monday. Oh... and we had to find a new apartment, furnish the entire place, pack and move it all in that time frame! It turns out the landlord wasn't an entirely reasonable man. He decided that he would no longer continue our lease if we weren't going to sign on for another year- so we had to go.

The last few weeks have been insane to say the least. Considering the fact that it takes 10 people to fix a small problem here (1 to fix it and 9 to stand around to watch you and tell you how you should really fix it)- the large task of finding an apartment, working through the negotiations, finding a moving company, packing, moving, etc, was nothing short of a massive headache and a miracle.

I will say that Phil and I are relieved to be on the other side of this phase of the move. We had an excellent moving company come to pack and move us on Monday, and we are now living in a hotel while we wait for our apartment to be ready. We look forward to our new apartment and will post pictures once we get all settled and moved in.

We will keep you posted.

-Phil and Jen

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Never A Dull Moment

Sunday is here, and with it- a haze that engulfs the city and my brain. The past 2 weeks have been full of activity. Saturday night Phil and I, along with our friends Anne and Bill, went to dinner at a Shanghainese restaurant, then moved onto a jazz club. New to jazz clubs in Shanghai, we weren't sure what to expect. I have to say we were pleasantly surprised when we walked into the club. Dimly lit, plush and intimate, it was the perfect setting for the evening to come.

The main act came on stage around 11pm, and the stage that previously looked tight for the 4 person opening act looked even tighter for the 20 person big band with conducter and all! Granted four or five of the band members along with the conducter had to stand on the floor in front of the stage... but it was amazing. Apparently "big band night" is once a month, and we happened to make it on that night. We will certainly be back (with earplugs next time).

Aside from Phil learning his new job, traveling for work, and us being incredibly busy with friends and activities here- we just found out last week that we are going to have to move. The landlord of our apartment wants to raise the rent over $700/ month! Needless to say, we don't feel like that is a legitimate price hike, so we are going to move. We've gone out several times now with a realtor, and are getting ready to work out an offer on an apartment we found.

It's certainly never a dull moment for us. We do look forward to getting to the other side of this and settling into our new home- wherever it is. We will keep you posted.

-Phil and Jen

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wait No Longer

Well, the long wait is over. Phil and I will be staying in Shanghai. A job offer just came through the other day and... we couldn't be more thrilled. Even Phil is thrilled. I only say this for those of you who got to speak with us while we were in the U.S. The popular thought for a while was that Phil wanted to stay in the U.S and I wanted to go back to Shanghai. It was true to some degree, but grossly exaggerated due to stress and the fact that I verbally process way more :)

Yesterday, Phil happily moved from the 35th floor back down to the 2nd floor. He was pleased to report that not only is there toilet paper in the 2nd floor restrooms- he actually gets an office with a door (more amazing is the toilet paper however).

We are excited about what the future holds. Phil's new position is one he is really looking forward to. We have an entirely different appreciation for our adventure here in Shanghai, and a renewed sense of purpose in our lives. This whole experience has really motivated and focused us, and we are grateful.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Phil and I continue to wait patiently for word on a position here in Shanghai. Fairly certain it will come through, but taking nothing for granted, we wait. Aware that each day that passes while we are here could be some of the last spent in Shanghai, we are taking advantage of all that we can. We are spending time with the people we enjoy, doing the things we love to do, and eating the foods we love to eat (OK Phil is, but I fully intend to get to some dumplings and greens very soon!).

As for Shanghai- spring is in the air. Sun peeks through the clouds and teases the city with its distant warmth and the hope of spring to come. Streets that were emptied by the cold grey winter, have come to life in the mild warmth that now greets Shanghai. Trees give way to buds, and the city gives way to this season of growth.

Uncertain what our future holds, or where we will be in the next few weeks- I stand in appreciation of this time... the city waking from a deep and wintry slumber, life unfolding in every corner, the hustle and bustle, the liveliness and excitement... all that is Shanghai- I stand, and take it all in.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

We're Back

Just a quick update here. Phil and I arrived safely- though one day later than expected. We had to make an emergency stop in Japan because we were worried that Phil had a blood clot in his leg. After about 5 hours of numbness in his left quad- we spoke with a flight attendant and they arranged for medical attention upon landing in Japan. All is well now. The Dr. thinks he had a small blood clot that passed without issue. We will of course follow up here in Shanghai.

It is early morning here. I am surrounded by suitcases, but looking forward to getting back into life here. We still don't know where we will be in 30 days, but I keep telling myself that every day that passes is a day closer to knowing. Seriously though, we do need to have a decision at the weeks end- so only a few more days here.

We will keep you all posted on what is next for us. I am looking forward to getting back to blogging- I have a ton of new pictures to put up.

Phil and Jen

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Snow gently blankets the branches and trees outside my family home. As I sit here looking out the window, it occurs to me just how different the view is from here... from Shanghai to Michigan. Tall skyscrapers with no end in sight, to an endless array of snow covered trees and branches. I am sitting on the couch in my parent's living room, looking outside as a winter snow falls. Everyone is still asleep, and I have a moment for the first time since we arrived to sit and think.

A great deal has been going on with Phil and I since we arrived home. While on our home leave here in the U.S., we found out that Phil's Shanghai assignment has been cut short. We have gone through a myriad of emotions- disappointment, fear, excitement, hope, restlessness... the list goes on.

As things stand, we have a job offer and are waiting on the details of another possibility in Shanghai. We have one more week here in the U.S. and I suddenly feel like we have no time left to do all that we hoped to do. As much as we have tried not to let this whole situation affect us and our time here, the reality is that it has.

My challenge in all of this, the thing I am most aware of at this juncture, is how important it is to be present in all that I do. If I have one week left in the U.S. and we don't move back from Shanghai, the challenge is to use this time well. If we do go back to Shanghai to pack up- I have 30 days to make the most of my time there. In this time of pause and reflection, I am truly aware of how much opportunity we waste, how much time we spend in "daily living" (convincing ourselves that it is necessary and we will eventually get to all of those things we hope to get to). And a year, or two, or ten years later, we still haven't seized on our opportunities or done the things we have set as goals and dreams in our lives.

This has been my wake up call. As difficult a time as it has been- I am grateful and blessed, and humbled by my laziness and complacency. All of the things that I have set as goals in my life- working in Africa, working with the poor, loving people more, living life with more abandon, sharing hope with those who have none- all of those things become my focus now.

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