Sunday, May 24, 2015

Day 1. The Great Wall of China!!!!

I have a problem.  I take a lot of pictures.
At some point- a long time ago- I crossed a line.  I moved from vacation picture taker to vacation picture obsessor. And going to China without kiddos made it waaaay too easy to just snap away.  So now- 2000 pictures later- here I am.

 It was so hard to narrow down day ONE into only these 40+ photos.  and it's ONLY day 1!!!

We arrived late in Beijing wednesday evening.   I was so excited all day.  Driving to the airport, getting on the plane, landing.  ALL of it was fun.  I love anticipation and I love adventure.
Here's a cell phone shot of Fuji as we left Japan! 

I made a new friend on the plane named Chen.  He was returning home to China from school in Michigan and told me all about his lost cat named "little pepper".  We are facebook friends now- and I found out that his cat has since been found :)  he also gave me all sorts of great info about China.  It came in handy several times on our trip,
and here's a cell phone shot of us approaching the smog of Beijing :)   The air really is pretty thick and dirty!  descending from blue skies into brown skies was pretty crazy.

when we landed we had a driver and translator waiting for us at the airport!  I'll post more about them later- but may I just say- the way to experience Beijing is with the help of fabulous and generous people!!  I've never had somebody waiting for me with a sign!! it was very exciting.
we dropped our stuff in the hotel and ventured out for dinner! somehow we stumbled upon a deliciously inexpensive restaurant.  I think we tried 12-15 dishes and only paid 10 dollars a piece!!  pumpkin soup, sweet and sour chicken, kung pao, dumplings, salad, zucchini and eggplant pancakes, and the list goes on.  we were all super impressed.  I'd had several people warn me about starving because we wouldn't be able to find any good food.  Our first night proved them wrong.
My favorite part of the evening was me trying to use my Chinese!  I thought I'd learned some great phrases from 'Ni Hao Kailan'- but apparently I wasn't using them correctly.  Plus I was so tired from the day- but still so excited to be in China.  we were all laughing so hard I almost peed my pants.  It's a good thing I don't drink alcohol- because I get tipsy enough on bottled water and no sleep!!!!
We settled into bed late and had to be up before 6 to catch a ride up into the mountains to find the wall!  our hotels and bus rides between cities were all put together by race organizers.  In order to run the Great Wall race- you have to sign up through a travel company that takes care of major logistics.  It made things VERY nice.  They fed us breakfast and then we piled on busses to head out.

The drive up into the mountains was pretty gorgeous.  These are bus window pictures- but still pretty great.

Our first day was spent getting race information and 'surveying' the course!   Driving up to the wall and seeing it for the first time was pretty awesome.  It's an astounding sight.

they wanted us all to sit in the bleachers for an hour- but we rebelled and walked up above the group aways and listened from there!
2600 people ran in the race! and they had to organize us all.  It got a little hectic at times- but overall was an awesome experience.  the set up for them must have been pretty intense.

the big group meeting was at 'yin and yang' square. This is the finish line of our race.  If we look crazy in all the pictures on this day- it's because were so excited to finally BE IN CHINA and about to RUN THE GREAT WALL!  we'd been prepping for months and it was so crazy to finally be there and see it all in real life.

after an hour briefing- they loaded us all back onto bases and drove us up a 3 mile mountain (the first three miles of our race) and dropped us at the base of one of the Great Wall entrances.
we bought silly cheap rice field worker hats for photo ops!  the hats got annoying fast- but they did make for great pictures :)

we spent about 3 hours on the wall this day checking out where we'd be running!  it was an exhausting afternoon.  After our actual race we decided that walking the wall is actually HARDER in many ways than running it.  As 'Great' as the Wall is- stairs are only so entertaining for so long!  we got bored pretty fast.

everything you see in these pictures is part of the race route.   Can I say again how incredible it was to be here? and to know we'd be running a race on these steps in a couple of days!?

the weather in China was pretty perfect while we were there.  Clear with a cool breeze up in the mountains!  and honestly- as worried as people were about running a race in the pollution and smog of China- it wasn't bad at all.  The air was pretty nice and clear up on the wall.

we ran on a section that isn't very touristy.  In fact- we only saw one other group of people on the wall besides the 2600 runners :)

although at a few of the really narrow portions of the wall- we had a few traffic jams! another reason that running the wall was so much better/easier than this day walking it.

there are A TON of stairs on the wall. obviously :)  what I didn't realize is that most of them are NON uniform and many of them are old and crumbling.  different sections are made of different materials, too.  and many of the sections vary in age from the others. Parts of the wall were constructed in the years BC!!  they say the Great Wall is the biggest cemetery in the world.  All the people who died in construction had their bodies thrown under the bricks as they put them down.

Here you can see 2 different portions  made from different materials.  It was also a very steep portion.  The rock parts were pretty slick and a lot harder to maneuver than the brick.

this section had long wide steps.  they were my least favorite!  there was no easy way to climb them!  it was awkward to take them both 1 and 2 at a time.

I can't believe the Chinese people built walls on mountain tops!!  I can't even begin to imagine the difficulty of it all.

Here's my Mendel PTO Panda shot! Zeb and Ike go to Mendel Elementary and their mascot is a Panda.  One of my pals who came- Merri- is on the PTO board with me next year so we had to get some school spirit pictures :)  and I bought this fabulous panda hat.

and- because a piece of my heart resides there- an 'O-H-I-O' picture.  3 of us lived in Ohio- and 1 is moving there next month!

after several hours hiking- we stumbled back into Yin and Yang square for a late lunch. and more pictures.

I knew that obviously the Wall was built in a mountainous region of China but I hadn't fathomed how beautiful it would be!

Parts of China were familiar to me because of the Asian commonalities shared with Japan.  I think that lessened my culture shock quite a bit. A lot of the architecture was similar- and the Buddhist themes throughout. Although- there were some parts of China that were MORE shocking and jarring to me coming from life in Japan than would have been coming straight from America.  Japan and China are complete polar opposites in several aspects!!  Beijing vs. Tokyo in particular were so entirely different.  I'll have more pictures illustrating that later.


as we were finishing up our tour of the wall- we ran into a large group of Chinese military.  Sometimes it was hard for me to remember I was in China- a communist country- and not in Japan- a very friendly American Ally.

this guy is walking towards me telling me: "no pictures! no pictures!"  But if he didn't want his picture taken- he shouldn't have been walking towards the American with a giant camera taking pictures on the Great Wall of China!!  right??

There's a marathon for foreigners in North Korea that I would LOVE to run.  But it makes Kent a little worried.  I don't have much of a 'quiet voice' or a filter let alone a 'North Korea' voice!!!  but really- how awesome would that be to run a race in North Korea??!  It fascinates me,

Just outside the wall- there were all sorts of trinkets and fun knick knacks to buy! this is where we got our panda and rice field hats! I also got the boys wooden slingshots- and metta a bracelet.  China is ALL about haggling prices and getting good deals.  It was so much fun. Although I have to admit that by the time I left- I was exhausted from the bartering!!!

China was FULL of crazy motorcycles and teeny weird wheeled vehicle! I took lots more pictures that I'll post later.  Japan would never allow these types of dangerous and probably unregulated forms of transportation!!  they were so much fun.  we rode in several while we were there!!

this little shrine was directly on the race route! it was pretty nice to have incense burning while we ran.

After our long day of walking and shopping- we were bussed to our new hotel in a smaller nearby town called Jixian.  and oh-my-goodness.  Our hotel was UNBELIEVABLE.   It was quite possibly the nicest hotel I've stayed in. The Jixian Marriott.  I'll post pics on my next blog :) Once I get through the next batch of edits!!!

Sunday, May 10, 2015


I MUST blog about the Taylor Swift concert.  It's just one of those things I HAD to do because I probably won't ever get the chance to do it again! and I'm SO GLAD I went!  A couple of months back- we camped out all night to get tickets and it was worth every minute of the waiting!!! 
Taylor started her 1989 world tour HERE.  this was the first stop along the way.  and it was awesome.

We got our tickets through the base trips and excursions place and got a -relatively- amazing deal. Way cheaper than we'd been able to find independently! plus- they took us to the concert and drove us home. I went with a group of wonderfully fun ladies.  It's astounding that no matter where I live in the world- I find the best and most fun people :)
We spent a half day in tokyo and had a blast.  I think I really needed a 'girls day'. It was so fabulous. 
All of the Japanese Taylor swift fans made the whole experience that much better!  The Japanese really know how to love something and show it!
they LOVE to dress up in matching outfits and carry signs and take pictures.  

I really do fit in here quite nicely. besides my hair color!

the concert was at Tokyo Dome- a giant baseball dome.  Surrounding the dome is 'tokyo dome city',  we spent our afternoon shopping, eating, and playing there!

we got out t-swift shirts for a ridiculous 4000 yen!!  the yen rate is 118 yen to the dollar.  but- the shirt is so worth it. and I'll wear it until it until I can't wear it anymore :)

Also at the Tokyo dome city is a ROLLER COASTER!  the thunder dolphin.  and it was INSANE! overpriced- but amazing.  I'm so glad we rode it.  This is actually us on the roller coaster in the picture!!  Our friends who didn't ride could tell it was us because we were the only roller coaster car screaming like wild animals.  The Japanese are very reserved in their excitement when it comes to showing emotion.  They love to dress up and appear wild- but they act calm and usually keep pretty quiet.  the 8 american girls screaming with their arms in the air were a sight and sound to behold :)  and seriously- the ride was CRAZY!  it was amazing to ride through the skyline of tokyo!!!!

here I am being taylor swift.  we look a lot alike, right?
we ate dinner at 'bubba gump's'.  mostly because it was the only place that had a table big enough for ten people :) and the food really was delicious.
my favorite part of dinner was teaching liz and amy how to take selfies! they'd NEVER taken one!!  we were all laughing pretty hard!  Liz- in this pic- actually was in Dayton with us! her husband is
one of the other pediatricians who works with Kent here and was in his residency program in Ohio!
the concert itself was fabulous.  Taylor loves to 'talk' to her fans- but the problem here was that nobody understood her!!  she'd interject a 'tokyo' or 'japan' sometimes into her long monologues and the fans would go wild!  she even tried her hardest at a few japanese phrases and words!  it was so funny!! 

the dome is SO SO big!!  it was incredible to be there with so many people.
we each got our own super cool LED bracelets that flashed colors to the songs! they were pretty nifty. and then we got to take them home! now they flash when you tap or shake them.  My kiddos love it!!

the bracelets all turned on and changed colors differently depending on where we sat and what music was playing.

the most incredible part of the entire evening was after the concert.  they released the stadium of 55,000 people BY SECTION!!  and everyone sat patiently and waited their turn.  It was NUTS.  at first I could not figure out why we couldn't get out- it was driving me INSANE.  But- everybody walked out calmly and slowly when their section was announced.  It actually made for a pretty smooth and fast exit.  If only the entire world could be as respectful and polite as the Japanese.  It really is a sight to see.
such a fabulously fun day.  I don't know what we are going to do when we move back to America and don't have something fun and exciting to do every week!!  maybe we'll never come back!!!!