Saturday, November 28, 2009

Can't Pass These Up

I'm not a shopper. And, I hate crowds. So, there is no way on earth that I would venture out into the Black Friday madness. I don't care how much money I could save. It could be hundreds and hundreds of dollars. And, I'm baking cookies and gearing up for Christmas. At home. With my kids.

But, it's not to say that I didn't shop on Black Friday. I've done a good portion of my shopping this year from my home office (read: the corner of my bedroom). I've found some great deals, and while my new site (Get Real Family) is not yet operational, I feel kind of bad to not pass along a few of the key ones.

Here are my two favorite deals right now:

6 pm: a discount site on shoes and such. My favorite shoe deals for this weekend: Nine West shoes ($9.95) and Polliwalks (for the kids) for $6.95. Shipping is a flat $6.95, so it makes sense to add a few pairs to your bag. Just search for nine west or polliwalks in the search bar. You might also search for other brands. I know Clarks and Bass Shoes were also on sale... as might be some others. These are just the two I liked.

Veggie Tales Christmas Bundle
Three dvds and two cds for 11 bucks (plus I'll give you a code for free shipping if you spend 30 bucks). You do have to send in the rebate (comes in your order... not at check out), but these are great gifts (Rachel, I already ordered this for Drew Michael, so don't bother). Check it out here. Enter code: SHIP220 if you spend over 30 big ones.

Just passing along some fun deals. The best part: you don't even have to leave home. Now, off to decorate that tree!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

We're thankful for so many things this year: bringing home Wei Wei, a loving son who just continues to get funnier and funnier, a marriage that's solidly moving in to year 8, family and friends the world over, and a God who loves us and forgives us.

Here are our Thanksgiving pictures... our little pilgrim and our little Indian.




Monday, November 23, 2009

New Site

I'm starting a new blog. Oh, we're going to keep this one going (it's the only "baby book" I've got at this point), but I'm going to be launching some new fun on January 1 (can you say "New Year's Resolution" with me), and I think you might be interested.

I've told you many a time that I am "in deep" into the world of coupons and deals, and I'm not going to lie, if I don't come clean and get help, I might not be able to recover. So, in my attempt to at least make good on my new obsession, I'm starting a blog to sift through all the deals I read about every single day and condense them down to one deal every day.

Yep, that's 365 deals--one for each day of the year. The blog will officially launch January 1, but there will be some "homework" you might consider before our January 1 launch.

Check us out at: Get Real Family

I don't think you'll be sorry. I mean: who doesn't like to save a wad of cash?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Daddy's Home... YEAH!

Bret made it back without incident, and we're very thankful. Grant is especially thankful that Bret made it back with a whole suitcase of toy work trucks. Grace also received a gift from Bret: a cartoon character Chinese girl doing ninja moves with the words (written only in Chinese) "don't make me angry" emblazoned on the front. Daddy knows his kids well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dragon's Back


Why oh why would I think going on a hike along something called "The Dragon's Back" would be something I should attempt? What part of "chubby 34 year old with a bad back" says "Go climb a mountain!" But alas, that is what I did this morning.

In 2004, Time Asia ranked the Dragon's Back as the best urban hike in all of Asia. With that kind of recommendation, I had to try it. For as many times as I've been to Hong Kong, I've not really ventured out into any of the vast parks, choosing instead to stay in the urban centers right along the coastline. But I decided that since I had a whole day to kill, I might as well get some fresh air.

So after doing some research and figuring out how to get there, I boarded the subway, followed by a bus, and headed to Shek O Country Park. Basically the Dragon's Back runs along a ridge. To the west, you have Stanley Peninsula and to the east, you have Clear Water Bay Peninsula.

I tried to use Google Earth to get a map to give a better idea of where this thing lies. If you click on the map, you can see Hong Kong island and the ridge where I hiked.



I tried to take some pictures with my cell phone, but they didn't really turn out. Here is one with a good view of the trail along the ridge. Sorry it's so blurry!



After the hike, which in reality only took around three hours, I hopped in a cab and went over to the famed Stanley Market, also shown in the map. This is considered a "must do" for Hong Kong tourists, and it's something I had never ventured out to, so it was worth a go.

It was, indeed, chock full of tourists. It was also, apparently, where all of the European visitors and Caucasian Hong Kong residents chill out. It was easily the most Caucasian place I've been to in China. The market itself was full of the usual stuff you see in all of the Hong Kong markets, but the string of restaurants along the bay made for a wonderful place to have lunch.

After lunch, I made my way via bus back to Causeway Bay, the Hong Kong neighborhood where my hotel is located. For those who might be interested (and I'm guessing that's very few), I did a little more playing with Google Earth and created the following map. If you click on it, it shows Hong Kong island in relation to where I work in mainland China. (Hong Kong island is circled in red.)

(There is one weird strip of bad satellite imagery just to the east of the Hong Kong airport. Couldn't get that to go away...)



Obviously despite my joking about issues at the border and the occasional disturbed taxi driver, I enjoy traveling in China. I'm very blessed to have a job which has given me the opportunity to see this part of the world.

But I miss me kids. And me wife. I'm glad I'm headed home tomorrow...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Trouble Connecting

We've had to delete some family and friends from our sidebar because our blog isn't picking up those feeds any longer. I've tried to fix it myself, but to no avail, so it'll have to wait until Bret returns from Hong Kong (countdown: less than two days... yeah!). I just didn't want people out there thinking we didn't like them or something.

Border Crossings

On my way into mainland China earlier this week, I tried a different approach to crossing the border out of Hong Kong. I usually go by ferry or via the Hong Kong subway system, but since I chose to stay at the airport the first night due to my late arrival, I decided to try a cross-border car service this time around.

The company I chose has a very China sounding name -- the Eternal East Bus Company. They have a little booth at the airport, and as it turned out, this was an excellent way to go into the mainland from the Hong Kong airport. I didn't even have to get out of the minivan at the border...it was delightful.

Since this worked so well on the inbound trip, I consulted with my hotel in China about using the same service to go back to Hong Kong. The only difference was that I needed to go into the city, rather than the airport. (I'm staying in Hong Kong a couple of nights due to all of the flights back the U.S. for Friday and Saturday being full...argh).

So this afternoon, I hopped into a similar looking minivan and headed for the same border crossing. Except when we arrived this time, the driver told me to get out of the van. He didn't tell any of the Chinese dudes riding with me to get out. Just me. He informed me that I'd have to walk through customs, and then find the same bus company on the other side of the border. What a pain.

I hopped out of the van and began my trek through customs. I presented my passport to the border agent on the mainland, and he began the usual process of scanning it and punching away on his computer. But then things went haywire.

He called a supervisor over, and the two of them played around for a couple of minutes on the computer. He then let me go on through the gate, but he told me to wait on the other side. He turned my passport over to yet another gentlemen who wandered off with it. I was not pleased. He told me to wait a moment.

About 6 or 7 minutes later, I see the guy still talking to a large group of coworkers with my passport in his hand. I then see a group of 5 or 6 policemen wearing white rubber gloves march past me and enter the fray. At this point, I was a bit unnerved. I was having bad thoughts about where those rubber gloves were headed.

I always get a little sweaty when doing all the border crossings. I don't have anything to worry about that I know of, but I figure all it takes is a computer spitting out a screen that says "Bag him" for me to be sipping goat's head broth soup on the concrete floor of a leaky cell, straining to see the light of day three levels above me.

Finally the guy with my passport plus the original crossing agent came over and presented me with my passport. The original guy was grinning from ear to ear and apologizing. I asked him if anything was wrong, and he just kept saying "Sorry sir. So sorry."

I smiled and told him it was no problem, and I'm sure he was able to quickly find a mop to correct the situation that had presented itself in the spot where I stood for close to 10 minutes.

After the border, I rode a bus through the hills of Hong Kong for an hour before being dumped at a subway station in Mong Kok. I hopped on the train and rode for another half hour before getting out and traversing through the massive Times Square shopping area to get out to my hotel. All in all, the return trip to Hong Kong was a nightmare compared to the outbound trip.

Next trip, I think I'll stick to the trains...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Daddy, Mommy Hasn't Done...

laundry in awhile. Please come home soon. Look at what I'm reduced to wearing. Don't forget my present.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paging Mr. Yue Wee

While riding to work this morning with an unusually agitated Chinese cab driver, my travel companion related an experience he had last week with a cab. On his way to work, the cab he was riding in managed to go several miles without stopping at a stop light. As the cab approached each red light, the driver would make a right turn, followed by an immediate U-turn in oncoming traffic. He would then dive across traffic into the right hand lane and make a right turn, effectively circumventing the stop light.

He said it was a terrifying cab ride, but he did appreciate not having to stop at any of the 5+ minute stop lights on the way to work. For my money, I'd always rather make it to work late but with clean pants, rather than early...

Ni Hao to All MY Peeps

Daddy,

Please say hello to all my friends back in China. Please say a special Ni Hao to my birth family and my foster parents. Also, a big shout out to my friend, the orphanage director.

Here are some pics of me to show them. I do miss them tons, but I'm happy here too. Tell them that I make progress every day, in my skills and in my attachment; they'll know what that means.

Most of all, say hi to China for me. It's where I was born and where I lived for my first year of life. I carry its soil in my heart. Mommy made me say that last part.





Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Moo

Thus far in my trip, it has been unseasonably cold here in Shenzhen. Last night after work, it dropped quickly into the lower 50's, making it a far cry from the sweatbox I usually encounter on my visits to Guangdong province. Unfortunately I only packed short sleeves and a light jacket, so last night when there was a stiff wind, I had little interest in trudging back out into the cold for dinner.

The Holiday Inn Donghua where we usually stay, opened a new steakhouse last year on the 2nd floor. During previous trips, I always had to step around someone pushing the dinner menu for Oscar's Steakhouse into my face as I tried to board the elevator. When I arrived this time around, I noticed that Oscar's was now Oscar's Sports Bar, and their once grand, overpriced menu of Australian beef steaks and giant prawns had been reduced to mostly double cheeseburgers and fish stick appetizers.

Since it was already late, we decided to give Oscar's a try. They still featured a handful of their steaks (which were still in the $30 US price range...crazy expensive for China), so I thought I'd give their filet a try. Having ordered steaks in China previously, I knew that ordering meat "medium" here means "hack off the limbs and don't bother with a grill" while "rare" means "don't bother killing it...I'll do it myself." My colleague gasped when I ordered my steak "medium well" but that gasp was only outdone when my steak arrived dazed and bleeding.

In addition to our steaks, we were offered "all you can eat" access to the salad bar, which consisted of a couple of card tables with small bowls of iceberg lettuce, a handful of olives, and "french dressing" which in reality was an oily variant of "thousand island." The salad bar is a concept that hasn't exactly taken off here in China. I think the sneezeguards and "please use a new plate for each trip" signs are tripping them up.

All in all, it was a passable meal at a ridiculous price. They charged me $5 US for a Tsingtao beer which is the same price I can get a 12 pack for at the local grocery store (probably more like a 24 pack, actually), but I did get to hear the hits of Steely Dan and Juice Newton belted out by a raspy throated Filipino lounge singer, so it was all worthwhile. Perhaps tonight we'll venture out for Chinese cuisine or more "fur tea."

Tea of Death

My colleagues here in our China office have found it extremely amusing that I do not have a voice at the moment. Every time I try to speak, it starts off in a raspy gasp, and eventually what little voice I have kicks in and finishes the task.

In an effort to heal my voice and show off her Chinese remedies, my friend Ellen purchased me a special Chinese tea on our way back from lunch today. We stopped in at a little shop where a young lady poured a black substance into a previously used plastic tea bottle (I'm sure it had been thoroughly washed). After she poured the black substance in, she went back and got another pot and poured some more junk into the bottle. After shaking it, she handed it to me.

Ellen explained that this tea is only available in the Guangdong province, and that it is very special and contains many herbs which will heal me right up. I took a swig. It was awful. Not just awful. Vile. I mean VILE. It tasted like bad tea that had been strained through somebody's underpants. It tasted like it had probably already been spit out by at least one other person before reaching my lips. It was bad.

As I lurched after the first gulp, the entire group began laughing at me. She asked, "Is it bitter?"

"Hell yes, it's bitter." And if "bitter" means "crappy" in Chinese, then yes, it's very bitter. I asked her what was in it, and her first response was "fur." No lie. I told her that I thought she probably meant something else, but I could believe that it contained ground up fur. I wouldn't be surprised if it also contained "eye of newt" and some bat wings.

Out of politeness, I drank half the bottle, but I couldn't bear to finish it. Interestingly, my voice is doing somewhat better this afternoon, but I think that's probably just time and has nothing to do with the nasty tea. I figure if the tea doesn't do anything for my voice, I'm sure it'll do SOMETHING to my digestive system in the next 24 hours...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Piano Bar

So that last flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong really sucked. REALLY sucked.

After getting my bags in Hong Kong, I made my way to the airport hotel. Tired, dirty, in pain. After checking in, I decided to head to the piano bar for a quick bite to eat. As I walked in, I heard the girl at the piano playing such classics as "Creep" by Radiohead, done in lounge style, and later "With Or Without You" by U2. Classic.

As I sat down, I turned my head to see the familiar white jerseys of our beloved Indianapolis Colts. Thanks to the Internet in Tokyo, I had already seen the final score, but as luck would have it, I would get to watch the 2nd half on tape delay. Beautiful.

I won't say what I'm sure has already been said, but it almost brought a tear to my eye. It could be that I'm exhausted and perhaps a little drugged, but that game could have only been better if they'd actually caught Brady crying at the end. Unbelievable.

Now I'm off to bed...I need the rest. As I left the piano bar, the girl played "God Only Knows." I think someone was looking out for me...

In Tokyo

Thanks to the graciousness of the guy who endured sitting next to me on the flight from Detroit to Tokyo, I'm sitting here in the Delta Sky Club in Tokyo waiting for my flight to Hong Kong. I've got a cold beer in hand, a comfy chair beneath me, and a lovely buffet from which to eat. Life could be worse.

And actually, it was earlier today. Erin's right...my back is killing me. I took some hefty drugs before boarding the flight to Detroit, but half way through the 30 minute flight, my back was on fire. This left me very scared about the 13 hour flight to Tokyo.

So once I got to Detroit, I decided that I needed to stretch out to try and get things realigned. I found a little nook in the airport, laid down on the floor, and began stretching as discreetly as possible. About 2 stretches in, an excitable Japanese guy came running over, smiling uncontrollably, saying "Exercises! Exercises!" Before I could stuff a rag in his mouth or otherwise stun him, he began doing jumping jacks next to me, blowing my inconspicuousness and thoroughly killing my mojo. I finished the stretches and hobbled to the gate.

Once on the flight, things weren't as bad as expected. I managed to fly all the way to Japan without touching the back of my seat, forced to sit bolt upright with about 4 pillows bolstering my back. As long as I got up every 30 or 40 minutes, stretched, and popped another Vicodin, things were fine. Now I've only got 5 more hours to Hong Kong, and I'm home free. While stretching on the plane, I discovered a little trick that seems to loosen my back up very quickly, so that has helped. Perhaps this is the trip where I try a full body massage. After nearly having my feet seared during the foot massage last trip, I'm still not sure I'm up for it.

I'll post more once I get going in China. I still have no voice, post-H1N1, so communicating with my Chinese colleagues should be a trip. I'll have to make exclusive use of my vocabulary of rude gestures instead.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Off to China

Yep, Bret is off to China again. He left this morning, and his back is KILLING him (two herniated discs have a way of doing that), so please say a little prayer for Bret during his travel. Grant asked Bret the other night, "Daddy, who are you going to pick up this time in China?" Bret told him that no little sisters were planned (for now), but Bret thought he could manage to bring back a toy for Grant. The toy has Grant just as excited (if not more) than another little sister.

While you're saying a little prayer for Bret's back, you better say a little prayer for my sanity. Grant finally did not need my help or attention last night, so I actually got some sleep (the night before he was up 17 times). I've yet to be by myself for a week with two of them, and I'm not doubting my ability to survive the week, but a little prayer for my sanity might be necessary.

And, a few weekend pictures:



Friday, November 13, 2009

HELP!!

Grant is having a terrible time getting to bed and a terrible time with night wakings because he's having some kind of over-active-imagination-nightmare-keep-Mommy-up-all-night-sometimes-on-the-floor-of-his-room type of thingy.

Does anyone have any suggestions or tips you've heard on how to solve the "something is eating at my skin" or "the crab keeps trying to get in my ear" kind of sleep issue?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Brain Damage

I am becoming increasingly convinced that perhaps our children have brain damage. I think Bill Cosby came to this same conclusion about his own kids years ago, and now that I'm a parent, I understand his logic.

Grace has been with us a fairly short amount of time, so we haven't gotten to see the full extent of her issues. One of her favorite things to do is sit on the floor in front of my recliner, screaming her cute little head off while flailing her arms upward in my general direction.

In an effort to appease her, I will reach down, pick her up, and place her in my lap. There is a five second moment of peace, after which she always begins screaming her head off again for me to put her back on the floor. This process will repeat itself until my mind (and ears) have taken leave.

Since Grant is now approaching three years old, I have a fuller picture of his brain damage. We see it every day. Yesterday, shortly after I scolded him for not being nice to his sister, I heard the words, "You're not gonna like this" come from the other room, uttered by his very lips. This was followed by a scream.

Grant is also incapable of hiding anything from us at this stage of life, something I know we'll miss once he gets it figured out. The problem is that now it seems he thinks he's always supposed to confess, even if the issue at hand is not his fault.

Last night we worked the toddler room at our church (or "new member payback" as I call it), and Grant got into a tussle with another boy over ownership of a highly valuable and collectible sticker. The other little boy was holding the sticker, and Grant was stating that he wanted the sticker. I asked Grant if the sticker had originally belonged to the other boy, and he replied "Yes." I then explained in long, drawn out parental detail that he couldn't simply take stickers from the other kids.

After Grant had proffered his apology and been adequately shamed, Erin walked over and informed me that the sticker had originally been Grant's, and she didn't understand why he had stated otherwise. I issued an order for Grant to march over and strike the other child with enough force to ensure that he could retrieve his sticker, and we all went on our way. But I have no clue as to why Grant didn't stand up for himself.

And finally, this weekend we had the ultimate indication of Grant's brain damage. A few hours after he went to bed, we heard Grant crying for us to come into his room. Erin headed in there and quickly called me from my post (i.e. sleep). Grant was sitting in the middle of his bed with his sleeper unzipped and gathered at his ankles, right alongside his underpants.

In front of him was a large wet spot on the bed, and a small, almost imperceptible piece of poo. Grant pointed at the poo and informed us that it needed to be removed. Erin began this process and noted that his sleeper was completely dry, thus indicating that the boy had stripped down to his socks, and then peed and dropped a nugget on his sheets.

Why would a child do this? We asked him, and he had no answer other than to restate that it needed cleaning up. He hadn't wet the bed ever before, and he obviously was in no dire straits since he was able to disrobe prior to creating the mess. It defies explanation.

In the end after further questioning, Grant stated simply that "he just wanted us to come to his room."

In the future, can't you just scream like your sister does?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Return from the Dead


Yes, the swine flu was that bad. Bret, Grant and I did not appreciate the word "mild" being tossed around by pundits, as nothing about our experience was mild. The kids missed Halloween (don't mention it to Grant; he doesn't realized he missed it), and Bret and I have been recovering for about a week. It was no fun. Seriously, no fun. We're especially thankful to my Mom who took the kids on several occasions (she swooped in to save the day just as Grace was sticking her hand in the toilet for the eighth time that day) and made/brought us lots of dinners. We're so thankful to have family so close.

To play catch up, here are some photos and a video. Fortunately, we did make it out to the Indianapolis Zoo's Zoo Boo this year, so the kids did get to wear their costumes. And fortunately, Grant's was "homemade," and Grace's was a garage sale find my mom picked up years ago. So, at least we didn't break the bank on a holiday we didn't get to enjoy.

Here are some pics of Grant dressed up as a construction worker (or Bob the Builder if you ask him, but I didn't want to spoil his fun by letting him know that Bob the Builder has a fat, round head and is an ugly white dude), and Grace is a ladybug (the symbol of Chinese adoption). The one with both their hands out is when they were waiting for Mommy to give them some candy (and the wrapper--I'm sure--was quickly discarded in the zebra area).





Before getting the sickness, we also headed to the Children's Museum. Indianapolis has one of the best in the country, and Grant loved, loved, loved it. Good thing we bought a year pass!


Here's a video of Grace walking (and Mommy sounding so silly). Grace walks a lot now, and it's just starting to become the preferred mode of transportation.
video

More to come now that we know we're not dying.