Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Sun Rose and the Earth Kept Turning

Sunday, August 31 and we have been back one week. School started for me, Craig, and Chris on Monday. Craig was packed up and on the road to Abilene by 9:30 last Sunday. Chris and I were at school on Monday, a bit bleary but there. Gary was also off to work. Everyone else started school as well, except Vince and Catherine. So we were trying to get back to normal - whatever that is.

I am slowly catching up on editing my photos. That got put on hold for the week so I could get rolling with school stuff. The blog seems to take forever for the slideshows to all load, so I will be changing the earlier ones to just links. I got China's game done (7th game) tonight. Lots more still to come. I will do some short posts about the different places we went on the days I have not talked about as I get the pics done - Summer Palace, Yaungmingyaung Gardens, Houhai, and more food! (including Tim's Texas BBQ)

The gold medal game got off to a great start and became hard to watch during the last inning. Although the team was behind, you knew each inning they could still make a great run and come back. By the seventh inning, it was heart breaking to watch the girls struggle to make something happen. But they left it all on the field. No one shirked one bit. It was just Japan's day. When all the marbles are played for in just one game, well...someone has to lose. I had to move spots after the medal ceremony so I did not get photos of the 2016 and the cleats. I borrowed two shots from my sister, and there haved been more good ones in different articles online. I will post pics from the game and the medal ceremony tomorrow I hope.

I also got some nice shots from the plane on the way home. The Ostermans can truly say that they have traveled around the world now. On the way to Beijing we flew east over Greenland and the Asian arctic. Going home we flew east again, over Alaska and the North American arctic. I got some great shots of arctic ice and ocean without bothering passengers too much by opening the shade once every 2 hours or so.

So, although we are still fighting the last vestiges of jet lag, life returns to the normal rhythms of each of our homes. And the sun still rose, and the earth did not stop on its axis, and softball will still be played around the world, even if it will not be in London in 2012. USA will still have a team for other international competitions like the World Championships, World Cup, and Japan Cup, etc. We just will not see Bustos, Jung, Kretschman, Flowers, and Bergie in the red, white, and blue uniforms again. Thanks for the memories ladies! Cookies anytime you are in Houston!

Friday, August 22, 2008

All Good Things (Part 2)

The song is still bouncing around in my head today. We found Tim's Texas BBQ yesterday and came back today with Roy (one of our interpreters) for a western meal. For Beijing it was pretty good. The chips were hot, greasy, and freshly fried, the barbecue sauce and meat was pretty good, and the beer was cold, even if it was not Shiner. The only thing wrong with it was that they did not have any UT jerseys hanging there. We will have to see if we can fix that!

JR got his passport issues resolved (we hope). He still has to get through the airport with the temporary passport and the shortened visa, good only through Sunday. Everyone thought it was pretty amazing that the issue was brought to close within 48 hours of his losing it. Having Roy (our interpreter and life saver) helped tremendously at the police station. After that incident, one common question every time we changed locations for anything was "Does everyone have their passport?"

We had a team/family dinner and party tonight to celebrate all that the girls have accomplished this tour. It may not have had the final outcome they wanted, but they have done much to help move the sport forward. It was sad and bittersweet, but coach told the girls that farther on down the road that medal they earned this year will shine brightly.

We had a better time than expected in most ways. We did not get to see any other Olympic sports. Tickets just were not available and were not easy accessible. But we saw a lot of Beijing and met some great people. And that is what it is all about really.

Tomorrow we are in the air all day. More pics etc when we are back in the USA!

Good night!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

All Good Things...

Cue Jackson Browne please...gotta come to an end.

A short post before I hit my pillow. That song is the only thing I can think of right now.

It sucks. Softball is out of the Olympics for 2012, and USA lost today. Japan played a great game, and Ueno has to take tons of the credit. She pitched 23 innings yesterday and then came out and was still great today. Catherine pitched well today too. The two hits off her were good pitches, rise balls that were up high. They just went after it and got it. USA just could not get bats going when they needed to. Bustos' homer was a thing of beauty as always, but she is not the whole team.

Ah well. Things happen for a reason, even if it is not apparent right now. Pick up the pieces, learn from it and move on.

JR lost his passport yesterday at the Bank of America Center. The employees there were so helpful in looking for it and very concerned that after hours of searching it never turned up. Vince and Liz spent a few hours yesterday going between the Police Station, the BOAC, the American Embassy, and the passport bureau. Today they went back to the bureau, the BOAC to make some copies, and then back to the Bureau. We hope that tomorrow JR's new passport will be ready to pick up with no glitches. Thank the Lord that we have Roy, one of our interpreters with us yesterday. He was instrumental in helping Vince and Liz get through all the red tape at the Police Station. Lesson learned here - Liz was prepared for almost everything - a peanut allergy reaction, kids being kidnapped - but not for the simplest of all things related to children, losing something important. Copy your passport and visas multiple times (not color) and keep them different places. At least Liz had the residence papers separate from the passports, as they had both passport numbers and visa numbers in them. That proved helpful.

At the end of the game tonight, after the medal ceremony, five players (Bustos, Kretschman, Jung, Flowers, and Berg) all left their cleats around home plate. It is a signal that they are retiring from USA softball. After that, the girls from all 3 teams got a bucket full of balls and made the numbers 2016 with softballs in front of home plate. They then all got together, chanting "Save softball" and posed for group pictures. A very sad moment to see.

The blog does not end here - I still have a couple days left here, and pictures to finish editing and posting. So check back again. But I am now off to bed, with this song still in my head:

...Like a river flows
Rolling 'till it ends in the sea
Our pleasure grows
Rolling 'till it ends in you and me
Rolling 'till it ends in you and me
Here where the angels
Have appeared and are gone
Your face like an ember
Glows in the dawn
But I want you to remember
All wild deeds live on
All good times, all good friends
All good things got to come to an end...

Thanks Jackson!
Wan an! (Good night)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On the Road IN Beijing

We have decided that driving in Beijing is a cross between driving with Jason Bourne and the old movies Rollerball and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World. I am now very glad we CAN NOT rent a car to drive around here.

To cut down on pollution here drivers can only drive on even or odd days depending on their license plate numbers. Even with half the cars on the road, streets are still very crowded with cars, and the number of pedestrians and bikers is phenomenal.

On local streets, things like stoplights, turn signals, and other things warning signs we are used to, seem to be mere suggestions. Drivers honk constantly, but mostly as a warning that they are coming through or a quick "Hey watch out!" as opposed to Americans that just lay on their horns. Local streets are usually narrow with little shoulder room. Bikers and pedestrians share the road equally with cars, not just along the sides as we do.

The main streets however are very different. They are very wide, often 4-6 lanes across, plus a bike/car lane on each side. The main part is like a through street, divided from the bike/car lane with a fence. There are spotsabout every half block to scoot over into that lane so you can get to the businesses along the road. Drivers on the main roads usually obey the stop lights, but lane changing and getting through a crowded light has led to a few moments of eye covering by me with a chuckle from our driver. Bike lanes are at least one full lane wide, and on many roads there are two lanes on the side - one for bikes and one for cars plus the main roads. Driving on highways is not any different from the US though and no bikes either! It is where I feel the safest.

As many buildings as there are here, and as much construction as is going on here, I am struck by how much green there is around everywhere. In the US we cut down and tear out trees when we build almost anything. Here they try to preserve it or they will plant more in its place. On the fences that separate the bike/car lane from the main lanes you often see roses or other types of climbing bushes planted. Exit areas on the highways are not just planted with grass, but with sometimes elaborate shrubbery.

I have said a couple of times before as well, that the architecture around here is pretty cool. Building codes are different, so there are some "risks" in building design. The building we call the Squiggly Building is a 5 star hotel with a big screen TV on the outside of the building. Many buildings have rounded lines in their design as well. I guess, also, because Beijing is earthquake prone, the buildings are not as tall as they wide. This makes the buildings look immense.

We have been lucky to have pretty much the same drivers every day, just different cars. Where I had my eyes covered and was exclaiming "Iyeeeee!" many time the first couple of days, I now sit back and enjoy the ride. Well almost. Today, also, our driver helped us walk/navigate our way across an 8 lane road successfully. It was strange standing in the middle of the road with traffic moving along either side of us, waiting for a break in the cars only to move forward 3-5 feet most of the time.

Yet with all the crazy driving, we have seen very few fender benders or auto/bike and auto/pedestrian accidents. In the US it would most definitely double the number of accidents if people tried to actually drive like that.

Craig and Michelle are out tonight with the Bustos bunch at some party. I am a bit unsettled,but Craig is a big boy now, and Michelle will take care of him I know. They are taking taxis tonight, though. So I will either stay up until they come home or lay in bed dozing while I wait to hear the door open and close.

Zai jian! (Good bye)


Monday, August 18, 2008

If It's Monday This Must Be Beijing

But it is Tuesday morning here!

It is kind of funny the conversations that start the morning around here. It seems most of us have trouble remembering what day of the week it is. We know what time the softball game is and just work our schedule around that. I think, with the absence of American television news shows and newspapers, we just lose track of the days. We find ourselves counting back to whatever day we do remember and then go forward from there. Or maybe we are all just losing brain cells at exponential rates!

Sunday USA had a late game, 7:30 PM, so we went to the Summer Palace and then to Yaunmingyuan Gardens. More stairs, more climbing, and my calves, quads, and glutes are just loving me! (not!) The places are very beautiful, however. And the intricate painting on the eaves of the buildings and on the ceiling tiles just makes you stop and wonder about the man hours that it took to paint it all. Not to mention the manpower and hours it took to build it all.

The kids got to climb on the ruins of the old summer palace and walk through the maze that is there. Run off some energy with those kids! Pictures are slowly getting posted. I am taking tons of pics and really enjoying going through them to edit and such. But our days are so full if I don't get something done early in the morning, I find myself falling asleep in the evening on the computer!

Anyway - one slideshow today is some of the food that Jenna (our housekeeper) has made for us a couple of the days. Her food is simple but very good. I think the only dish that did not go over too well was one with something gelatin and vegetable in it. She makes these chicken wings and thighs with a cinnamon sauce that are amazing, and a couple of cold veggie type dishes that everyone loved. She also makes an egg and tomato dish that the kids really like. We are so lucky to have her. We also packed up some of the food yesterday to take to Catherine. Jenna had a puzzled look on her face as we were getting it ready. So we pulled up pictures of us and Catherine vs Taipei here and pantomined and pointed that the food was going to her. She had a big smile on her face and seemed pleased.

Yesterday USA finished pool play with one more win to secure the number 1 seed. Catherine threw 3 innings and then Jennie got some work, when it was apparent that the game would only go 5 innings. (mercy rule is 8 runs after 5 innings.) We then went to the Bank Of America Center to relax and visit with some of the other parents and have some dinner. Catherine was supposed to join us there, but got caught in traffic and got there as we were leaving. That is the way it goes.

Today we are going to Houhai (a lake) and then we are splitting into two groups. We managed to get 5 tickets to Women's basketball, and so some of us will go there and theother 4 of us will go shopping. Tomorrow our game is EARLY!!! The game is at 9:30AM! The good thing there is that it leaves the rest of the day open, but we have to be up and ready to leave by 7:30. Up is not a problem, most of us are still getting up around 6AM. It is the ready and out that will be the challenge. We play Japan for a spot in the gold medal game Thursday night. Australia and Canada will play the other game tomorrow. Many people have asked about the format of the medal round. We are seed 1 and Japan is seed 2, Australia and Canada are 3 and 4. One and 2 play each other, and 3 and 4 play each other. The loser of the 3/4 match is done. The winner of that match plays the loser of the 1/2 match for the bronze. The winner of that game plays the winner of the 1/2 match up for the gold and silver.

So that is all for now. I will get working on loading the slideshows. Think and send positive vibes tomorrow morning/night. It will be good for all of you in the US because the game will then be on at a decent time for you. Until tomorrow, ni hao!


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Catching up!

I have been missing time to post lately, but will take a minute to catch up on some things while my photos are downloading from my disk.

Saturday, USA played against Chinese Taipei and won again. After the game we were supposed to pick Catherine up at a gate to the village so that she could come to the house to visit and have dinner with us. She has heard so much about the dinners our housekeeper has cooked, she wanted to try it first hand. We had a spot to pick her up that she said taxis are always there. But try as they might, our drivers could not get near the gate to the village that we were to pick her up at. We tried to make some other arrangements with Catherine, but they are not allowed to leave the village by themsleves, so we had to abandon that idea and she went back to her apartment in the village.

We ended up walking around A LOT!!! A few of the parents had mentioned that they went to the Olympic Green, on the grounds where Birds Nest Stadium is. We walked around for what seemed like almost 1 1/2 hours and could not get in to the Green either. It just was not to be our lucky day. We did get a few cool pics of the stadium and the torch and found out a bit more info about the building we are all calling the squiggly building. (See picture in the slideshow from Saturday) It is a five star hotel, according to our interpreter Roy. I think I have said it before, but architecture here is very cool.

Today, since the softball game was not until 7:30, we went to the Summer Palace and to Yuanmingyuan Gardens for sightseeing. Both places were again much walking, but very beautiful. I kept thinking, as we walked around the Summer Palace, about all the man hours and labor that went into and still go into building something like that. There is a 5 ton statue of Budda up there, and the intracate painting on the ceilings is unbelievable! At Yuanmingyuan there was a maze for the kids to spend some time to wander through and they could also climb on much of the ancient ruins there. A first for them!

The game was another first, we think. I was waiting for the USA site to provide an update, but we think tonight's game was a perfect game for Monica. And likely the first for USA. She looked strong tonight, and the ball was popping into the glove well. Coach also shook the infield up a bit, putting Crystl in at 3rd tonight, and Lappin in for Tasha,and Vicky in for Lovie, and Bergie over in right field. So I got some photos of them, but missed a great diving catch by Bergie.

Several of you have written asking what I am using for my photos. I have a Canon 20D for most of my photos. (Some of them are from Chris and Craig's camera, but only those from sight seeing) I have a great lens that Gary and Catherine bought me for Mother's Day this year. It is a Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 Macro. I am having so much fun shooting the games with it. Otherwise I switch between my little Canon 35-80 mm and my Tamron 28-75 mm.

Well, I had best end this post tonight and get to bed. It is almost midnight here. I will get more photos uploaded in the morning.

Good night all!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Two Games in One Day!

We played Japan Friday afternoon and then finished the game against Canada that was rain delayed from Thursday. Catherine was supposed to throw in the Japan game, but when they saw the line up and Japan not throwing their ace, Ueno, Candrea decided to use Monica instead.

I got a few pictures of the Japan China game before ours, as well as tons of photos of both games again. The girls played the resumed game on the same field and it was nice because most of the fans left and those of us that were taking photos could be in the front row of seats! Hence the nice pics from the Canada game.

On the trip home today I took random shots in the car so you can see a bit of the streets of Beijing again. Bikes and pedestrians everywhere! Stop lights and turn signals are merely suggestions on the side roads. On main roads the lights are minded more often. Expressways are more American like in driving habits though.

As I said before, aparment buildings are EVERYWHERE! And architecture is very cool. Michelle has a good pic of what we are calling the squiggly building. I think I got a pic of it somewhere as well.

I also took photos of the food our housekeeper made for us last night. Her dinners are great and a lot of fun since we sort of know what is in them but not exactly what they are. We give her money each morning we want her to cook and tell her how many dishes to make, family style. She cooks up a huge pot of sticky rice and then shows us the main indredients she put in each dish before she leaves (if we are home by then). I will get those posted as soon as I can.

Now back to editing photos! I am glad to hear so many are enjoying them. We are having fun!

Xie xie! (thank you!)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Games So Far

I am not going to go into detail with each of the softball games. You can go to USA Softball if you want play by play. But it is still awesome to see that the girls have not let the controversy about dropping softball from the games affect their vision. Their focus is gold, and on that road they are showing the world how the game should be played. They are all there because they have the same drives and ambitions with regards to softball. It is quite simply a joy to watch them.

TheVenezuela game was a great start. Jennie looked good and Monica and Lauren got an inning of work in the battery to get those "First Olympic Game Jitters" out of their system. I know how Gary and I felt in 2004 when we saw Catherine come out for her first inning against Italy. Back then, I also flashed back to the first time she played in an international competition of any kind - Canada Cup with the Phoenix Sunbirds while still in high school. She was like a deer in headlights at first. It felt like the start of a huge roller coaster ride. I am sure the rookie parents were all feeling that Tuesday, especially the Abbotts and Lappins. I always think of the scene in "Hoosiers" where they walked into the gym for the state tournament and measured the basket height etc. Yep - the court or field is the same, the game is the same, the venue is irrelavent. Just go out and do your best. Aand here they are doing just that.

The Australia game may not have started with the most comfortable feelings for Gary and I, but once Catherine settled in, we could breathe a bit easier. I know she has mentioned in her blog that she was not happy with her pitching a bit in the last few weeks of the tour. Most people really don't see much difference, but if you know her, and I am sure any pitcher is like this, you can just see it when they finally get in the groove. It was the same with Catherine on Wednesday. We saw it with Monica yesterday as well. A shaky first inning for her first Olympic start, but then she settled in. Hit cruise control, full steam ahead, Captain - engage!

The rain delays yesterday were disappointing, but actually fun. During the first delay I headed further towards the cover by the seats towards home plate. Several parents were there. The Nuvemans and I got caught up a bit, and then chatted about parenthood, and our respective daughters' plans post-Olympics. I also got to hear more about the summer leg of the tour with the baby entourage that followed the team around. It required some herculean planning to pull it off, but I know the girls felt so blessed to have their babies and families with them all along. And the rest of the girls had fun being "aunties" and also just having another diversion and place to get away for just a bit.

When the second rain delay came, it hit suddenly (sort of). You could see this wall of rain just moving in from one direction, and when it hit, it hit. Fortunately, Michelle lead the charge and we all went to the concourse under where we had been sitting. There we were kept company by some Aussie Olympic junkies and their mascot Craig. What a great group to pass the time with! Catherine also had a visit with her old friend and catcher from the Cruisers, Jessie Allister. She was so happy to see her, even if they only got to visit for a minute.

Today they will play the game against Japan at the regular time, and then they will move to the secondary field to complete yesterdays game. Keep fingers crossed that the rain stays away today.

Also - check out the links for Michelle's blog. She has other pics and a different view of things!

Until later.

Odds and Ends

I always have people asking where we are sitting during games. Here at Fengtai Stadium, the USA parents seem to gravitate to the seats above the first base side. Those are not always our ticketed seats, and that does not necessarily mean that Gary and I are there. The rest of the crew usually is, but Gary and Vince (my brother) have taken to sitting in the outfield bleachers for part of the game, and I try to move around some looking for good spots for pics. When I am not taking pics, I am usually with the other parents though. So if you are looking for us, look where you see a US flag over on the upper first base side, or maybe on the third base side. Yesterday all the USA parents seats were in the midst of the Canadian crew on the third base side - so we migrate elsewhere.

At the games you will often see large groups of children or people all wearing one color or one type of shirt. The children are kids from different schools, coming to the games as sort of a field trip it seems. Anything to get out of a day of classes! The one group of people that seem to catch everyone's eye, though, is the group of fans in bright yellow shirts. I am not quite sure who they are, but they are at many of the games cheering for China or against anyone else.

Dinner at the restaurant the other night was incredible. See pics of the food from that dinner in the Forbidden City/Tianamen Square slideshow. We all left stuffed to the gills and had to walk around for another 20-30 minutes to work some of it off.

I referred to Claire as the "rock star" in the slide show from FC/TS. As we walked around she was asked 4-5 times by parents of young children (about her age 10-13) to take their picture with her. She was a bit taken aback the first time someone asked, but Liz encouraged her to do it, and soon she knew how to handle the situation like a pro! Our interpreter, FanJing, explained that the Chinese appreciate beautiful girls and it is an honor to take your picture with their child.

There are between 15-17 million people here in Beijing. There are so many apartment buildings here it makes New York look like a small town. During the Olympics, people with cars can only drive on an odd or even days depending on your license plate number. And many people are not driving anyway right now, expecting lots of traffic. Traffic has been no worse than traffic at home, but there are also thousands of people walking and biking every day, rain or shine. I can only imagine what traffic would be like if everyone here were as attached to their cars as many of us in the US are. I think I said in one of the other posts, cities in the US would have to have freeways 20 lanes wide!

OK - that covers some little questions that have come up lately. On to the next blog!


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No Time

OK - I am behind on blogging today but the pics are posted from Tianamen Square and the Aussie game. More explanations later!

Cars are here!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Let the Food Fest Begin!

Good Morning! Zao shang hao!

Too tired last night to finish editinig my photos much less make a second post about the adventure after the game today. The "jet lag hour" is getting later and later, and that is good. This morning it was at 5AM, rather than 2 or 3. (the time my body says "Hey - you should be up!")

After the game yesterday we went to the Forbidden City/Tianamen Square area. It was something that has to be seen to be believed. Building is going on everywhere in the city. Apartment buildings are being built at an unbelievable rate. We commented that if there were the same number of apartment buildings along the freeways in Houston or Chicago, the freeways would have to be 20 lanes wide to accommodate all the people. The bicycle lanes are like their own little super highways, a full lane wide rather than the skinny little paths we have along just a few roads. They have bike lanes everywhere.

The buildings here are very different that in the US as well. Where we have tall buildings in large cities, here there are large wide buildings, usually not more than about 20 stories tall. But they are very expansive! And the architectural details are so cool and unusual. Most buildings in the US, even though they might look beautiful to us, they are just kind of functional looking compared to the buildings here. The slideshow for this adventure shows some of the buildings we saw. The National Theater was very cool, looking like a huge silver bean surrounded by water. Water seems to be a very important element in the area surrounding buildings as well.

Tianamen Square is just absolutely huge! There are gardens all around commemorating the Olympics that I suspect are very new. In fact our translator was commenting that many parts were not even there two weeks ago. But in walking around I can not help but remember the picture of the lone student standing up to the tanks in the demonstrations that took place back in 1989. Again, pictures never do a place like this justice in conveying just how huge the square is. Think something along the lines of 10 football fields big!

We also tried to go to the Forbidden City but did not get there in time to go inside. They stop selling tickets at 4 PM and we walked a bit too slow! But we still got to walk around on the grounds a bit and see the older buildings that were built around the imperial palace over 600 years ago. Small details like the number of door nails and characters on the roof indicate the status of the resident. The more characters or door nails, the wealthier or higher in status they are. I think most of us would only have 1 door nail and maybe one roof character!

After all that, we headed onto the subway for a quick trip to the heart of Beijing. The subway was so crowded the only phrase that came to mind was "sardines in a can". We walked around the center a bit then headed to a famous restaurant for the signature dish of the city "Peking Duck". The restaurant requires no reservations, and when we got there it was evident why - it is 5 floors of seating, and the tables are spaced nicely apart, not crammed together like many restaurants here in the states. This was the start of the "Food Fest". Through our translators we ordered a number of appetizer type dishes (I think 10-15 different kinds) and then 2 ducks for the 11 of us - 9 plus translators.

Well - the cars are here so I will finish later.

Game 1 USA vs Venezuela

USA Softball took the field for the first game today, playing Venezuela to an 11-0 score. It was a combined no-hitter with Jennie throwing the first 4 innings and Monica getting the first game jitters out of the way by throwing the final inning. This time the family has some nice seats behind the dugouts and the parents are relegated to the outfield. See if you can find Craig doing his cheesy poses in one of the crowd shots!

Gary and I started out sitting in the outfield. The sun was actually out today for the most part and it was fairly humid today, typical Houston. Most of the parents, then, had already moved to the first and third base sides where there were bits of shade and other family members. After a couple innings in the outfield, it got a little too hot, and lonely. We were out there with the Lappins, and we decided to go sit with the other parents. I got some nice shots with the new lens from both seats. I will post those pics separate from the post game activities. It looks like Catherine will start tomorrow against Australia.

Very tired tonight! Wahn ahn!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Some Belated Introductions

It dawned on me that some of you reading this blog might be wondering who all these other people are that tagged along all the way to China just to watch a bunch of softball games! Let me make some quick introductions before I go to bed tonight!

The Osterman family is comprised of Gary and Laura (me) and children Catherine (the reason we are all here), Craig and Chris.

My brother Vince, his wife Liz, and their two darling children Claire and JR are the next part of the entourage.

My sister Michelle makes up the final part in this familial vacation.

All of us went to Athens together in 2005, also sharing a house. We had so much fun there, they all decided to come along with us again this time. And we are having so much fun doing it again this year that we may decide to make this a quadrenial event, even if softball is not on the menu. London -watch out!

OK - off to bed now!

You Mean There Are MORE Steps?

One more thing I did not know - the whole Great Wall is steps, nothing but steps, up and down, and down and up, and up and down! The only flat parts are the little towers. Definitely not for the out of shape or people adverse to working up a good sweat. I sort of do not fit the first category, and since I live in Houston, the second category is not a problem with me.

If you are in certain cities, there are certain things you MUST see, or so everyone says. When you are in Beijing, the Great Wall is just one of those things. So today we arranged a couple of drivers and vans and headed out to Mutianyu to see the Great Wall. It was a nice drive, and the wall there is not as crowded as Badaling. Also, this part of the wall has a toboggan slide down the mountain! Wheeeee! (more on that later)

We went up on a ski lift and begin our journey up part of the wall. The wall (actually it is a series of walls) was built over a couple of dynasties over 4,000 years ago. Amazing and awesome are still understatements when you see it and start climbing it. First of all, it is built in mountains, hence the up and down and down and up. Second many of the inclines are extremely steep, and there are often no handrails or anything to hold on to except the wall. When you see pictures of it from the air, as in the one on the left here, you can't tell about how steep it is. But there are a couple of shots in the slideshow that sort of show how steep it really was. Then to think, as you do with any of these "Seven Wonders of the Medieval World" (and the Ancient World ones as well) that this was built by thousands of humans at what probably was an exhorbitant cost of life. That just makes it all the more amazing. (I need to find another adject to use.)

After a ski lift ride up part of the mountain, we start climbing and exploring. After a time, the fact that I have neglected to eat lunch catches up with me and I decide to watch the scenery from what was our second to last stop in the climb. Michelle, Craig, Chris, JR, Claire, Vince, and Liz all went up the last part. Fan Jing and Roy (our two interpreters/guides) stayed down with Gary and I also. Fan Jing did not have on good shoes for today's walking, so she was happy to sit as well. After the rest of the group came down from the last part of the climb, we start heading back down to where we will catch the toboggans going down the mountain to the base. Now this is the part of the climb we were all looking forward to. (Again see pics in the slideshow)

There is a large covered area where we all sit for a minute to gather all bodies and such, when what happens - it starts to rain, pouring rain. We wait for about 20-30 minutes for it to stop raining only to find out that they will not resume the toboggan rides for at least one more hour - to make sure there is no more rain. Not wanting to wait that long, we take the ski lift back down. Sigh - it will have to be another trip I guess.

As we get to the cars we decide to go to the grocery store, Carrefour. We discovered in Athens, that going to foreign grocery stores is quite fun. There are food combinations that are interesting and unusual. FanJing and Roy helped us choose a couple of Chinese beers and wines for us to try. We picked up some fruit, water, and orange juice and decided to check out the snack aisle. Seeing Lays Potato Chips with Chinese characters for the writing is amusing. And the flavors are so different than what we find in the US. We got some regular chips, some Texas Grilled BBQ chips. (OK - I know you are thinking that those are not so unusual!) But we also grabbed some mango flavored and some cucumber flavored chips. There were many other flavors as well. I will have to remember to get a photos from the grocery store next time we go.

Last night, this sounds really blasphemous, but we had Dominos Pizza for dinner. (cue the eye roll here!) We were all tired, the housekeeper had Sunday off, and it was the easiest thing to do as suggested by our host family. So Dominos it was. Today was way different! We came home to a great meal cooked by our housekeeper. She made a huge pot of steamed rice, and 5 or 6 different dishes, mainly vegetable dishes and one with chicken. There was an eggplant dish that was great, and one with green beans and a chocolate sauce of some type (unsweetened chocolate), one with sauteed onions that were very sweet, and one with cauliflower. Again - should have take pics, but did not think of it until we were cleaning up dishes. I promise I will do better next time!

All of us managed to stay up until almost 8:00 tonight. Craig and I seem to have the least amount of jet lag, Chris being the first to crash tonight. It is actually about 10:30PM here as I type, and I am just now starting to feel tired. So with that I will sign off. Tomorrow is the first softball game, and we are going to leave the house about 9:30 AM even though the game does not start until noon. Traffic is a big unknown here. There are odd/even restrictions on driving here to cut down on traffic and it seems to be working, but still our interpreters suggest an early start to gauge the travel time. And we can always watch the end of the 9:30 game if we are early. Catherine will not start tomorrow we also found out tonight, so if we do run late it is not as huge of a deal.

Did any of you watch the exciting 400 meter mens freestyle relay today? (It was on here this morning before we left) The USA team was still behind at the last turn on the 4th leg of the race. France had about 1/2 body length on our team. The US pulled the gold medal out by 0.08 seconds to beat France! We were all cheering and yelling and clapping. Our housekeeper must have thought we were all crazy. We also watched Yao and the Chinese play the US for a bit on TV this morning. They all love Yao here - he is a basketball rock star! US won that game, close during the first half, then pulling away for a 101-70 win. Tonight we watched the US women's basketball team take the Chinese women's team down.

Well - good night. More tomorrow. I am not sure what we are doing after softball, but if it is half as fun as today it will be great!

Until then - wahn ahn or late peace or good night!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

12 Hours at 35,000 feet

The flight over from Newark was pretty uneventful. We went west over the northern coast of Greenland and about 60 miles from the North Pole. I took a few pics from the plane, some interesting topography. I missed a nice photo op of the Arctic Ocean though. I dozed off, and when I looked out we were passing some water, and the cloud cover was clearing. By the time I got the camera out the clouds returned. We were on a 777 with little screens on each seat back and access to the whole movie library for "Movies on Demand". It was great! Everyone just passed the 12 hours watching various movies. I watched Harry Potter 2 and 3, the Sound of Music, and parts of a few other movies. The boys also stayed entertained.

Gary and I slept some, Chris and Craig, not at all. The only event on the flight that was even remotely exciting was a lightning strike on the wing on our side as we bagan our descent. There was a loud pop and a flash. The flight attendant standing near us was a bit concerned looking, but there was no announcement of impending doom, so everyone went back business as usual.

The Beijing airport is beautiful, very clean. And the terminal we came into was very quiet, so different than the hustle and bustle and piped in music of our larger airports. All flights came in pretty much on time or even a bit early. Michelle had a few minutes of panic when Jim (our host's husband) and I were not at the airport as she came in. Her flight was supposed to be about 30 -40 min late so we were not in a huge hurry to get to the airport. As we came into the terminal, there she was! Standing all forlorn, Blackberry in hand. Actually, she was only there about 5 minutes. So panic had not quite set in yet.

So we are all here now, we all had a good night's sleep, we are registering our passports at the local police station and then we are going to go to the Great Wall. We just watched the USA 400 Mens relay win by 0.08 second over France. WOW! Great swim! More later! Got to get the pictures posted.


Friday, August 8, 2008

NYC in12 Hours

Have you seen the YouTube video of the lady singing "A Mom's Day in2 Min" to the tune of the William Tell Overture? That is what today was.

Up at 4AM to be out the door by 4:45. Left late - so what else is new? Only 10 minutes though, and it was not me this time!!! Dropped off car, hopped on shuttle bus, check in luggage past the stated "45 minutes before take off" so we hope it makes it on the plane with us. Get to the gate to find they are about 10 min late starting boarding. Whew! Take a deep breath everyone!

Pretty uneventful flight. Land in Newark, luggage sighted as we sit in the plane, (thank you Lord!) get to the hotel by noon, and one of our rooms is ready. Yeah, thank you Hilton! Regroup, change out of early morning clothes, get directions and off we go.

Navigate the trains to get from Newark Airport to Chambers Street, then walk a few blocks to the WTC, St Paul's Church and Ground Zero. Chris was particularly interested in the construction going on there. Walk aimlessly a bit, stop at the information station (Laura's idea, not Gary's!) and next we are off on a walk to the ferry station. Some photos of Lady Liberty and a decision that a ferry trip would take too much time, and we are off again. This time it is on the subway for a short hop to Times Square.

Walk around Times Square looking for the Naked Cowboy, but I think maybe he does not work in the rain. (Did we follow TS Edouard up here?) A mandatory stop at ESPNZone and the Cubbies are tied with the Cards 2-2 in the 9th. Do we stay or do we go??? Ah well, got to go. Did the Cubbies win? We did not really have lunch (unless you count grabbing a 2 cheeseburger meal and extra fries for all 4 of us to share while walking nutrition) so we opt for an early dinner. Serafina on Broadway is the intended destination. Thanks longhrnfan and Mistadobalina for the recs. Dinner was mighty fine! (See pics over to the right) A couple pizzas, a salad, and some yummy desserts.

Back out on the street - next stop is Rockefeller Center. Some more Clark Griswold time up there! We are all suckers for a view from the top. Then on to the Majestic for the finale of the evening - Phantom of the Opera. And for the encore - more train navigation and Mets fans as company on the train back to Newark. I guess the Mets game let out at the same time as the play, and I guess they won. The fans looked happy. I did not ask, I was too tired to move that many muscles.

All in all a successful day. The really nice thing is that we do not have to rise at the BCOD (butt crack of dawn as the offspring call it) tomorrow. Staying 5 minutes from the airport has one advantage!

Good night and good golf! Marvin Zindler - eyyyyyyyyyye witness news!

Oh geesh! Good night all!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

All Our Bags Are Packed...Part 2

Well, almost. There are always the random little things to throw in the carry on, and toiletries that you need at the very end. But all is just about ready.

The dogs were moping around the last day or so, as soon as I dragged out more than one suistcase. (Uh oh, I think they are all leaving. That's not good.) Abbey was especially mopey. But as soon as I grabbed her leash and went to the car, she went bonkers! She was so excited, and when we dropped her off at the Bergmann's she barely noticed that we left. :-( Duke is boarding at the vet's office. With his back, it will be better. They can care for him if it starts to get bad again. He also was pretty happy when we dropped him off, "talking" to the vet tech behind the desk as I filled out the forms.

All the other little stuff is taken care of, I think. I got my classroom pretty much ready for at least the first 2-3 days. I hope the district e-mail is accessible from Beijing. The only thing I could not do yet was to print out my class lists. I will need someone to do that for me as soon as they finish scheduling. There also is an uninvited critter somewhere in my room. I noticed evidence, gnawed on crayons left on a counter a couple weeks ago when I brought stuff up. Further investigation showed that the critter also got into a cabinet behind my desk and gnawed a corner of a ziploc with some chocolate Kisses in it. Someone came today and put a sticky pad down to catch the critter. I hope they remember to come back and check it Monday! =:-O

Well, it is 9:00 and we need to be up for a very early flight! So I had better close this out. Whatever I don't have I can live without I guess. We just have to make sure Gary does not forget his suitcase! I don't think we can find too many clothes to fit him in China!

Next post from NYC tomorrow.

Adios! (I still have to find out how to say good bye in Chinese!)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leavin' On A Jet Plane (part 1)

Cue the Peter, Paul and Mary music!!! All her bags are packed, she's ready to go...well sort of!!!

Left the house at 5:00 AM sharp to get the girl to the airport for a 6:55 AM flight to San Jose. the team will go through processing there and fly direct to Beijing on Monday. Bags are not very full right now. They get all their team gear in SJ, and also wants to leave room for any purchases over in Beijing!

But that means we have tons of stuff to box up and ship to Chicago. So another task I have to get done by Wed/Thurs. She says she needs the stuff right when she gets home, so I will try to send it close to the time we leave. Sigh. More on that later.

Starting to gather stuff that we need to remember - passports, tickets, med letters, pins for the kids to trade, stuff that needs to be signed.

T minus 120 hours and counting!

Friday, August 1, 2008

The New Phone Book Is Here! The New Phone Book Is Here!

Remember Steve Martin in the movie "The Jerk"? Our Olympic tickets were delivered yesterday, yippee! They are only for the softball games, and there are two more sets in China (we hope). But I was never so happy to see the UPS guy as when he delivered these babies, considering we thought we were going to be at the mercy of scalpers at first.

Yes, Liz, we really are going!!! ;-)