I put off writing this blog for too long. I’m not really sure why but I think it was because I didn’t really want to admit that it was time to say goodbye. China has been our home away from home for the past two in a half years. It’s always different, always strange, always foreign, but was home for us nonetheless.
Sometimes it feels like it was all a dream. I’m pretty sure there is no other place on this Earth quite like China. The experiences we had together as a family are ones we will never forget and the people we met along our journey are ones we will always remember. Our neighbors became a part of our family…
The school wasn’t just a place the kids went to learn something but was a big part of our life outside of school. I enjoyed teaching PE classes everyday and even found myself running the Parent Support Group because I wanted to give back to the school that has been so good to my family.
As anxious as we are to drive again we will miss our driver Yuan who drove us everywhere we wanted to go for over 2 years. He became a part of our family and we will miss him.
There are so many other people I could write about, so many stories, and photos that did not make it here when they happened. Everything happened so fast and now it’s time to start a new chapter in our life. Spending the summer in America was refreshing but hard at the same time. Though we were all excited to drink water out of the tap, eat our junk food again, and enjoy the beautiful skies…
It’s also overwhelming to see the size of everyone’s homes and the giant cars everyone drives around with only one person in the car. We are used to seeing sometimes four men on a single motorcycle commuting, or entire families riding in a pedicab. Commuting on a pig might be unlikely but I wasn’t surprised to see it all the same.
It was also nice to see the selections in the Grocery stores again and being able to find everything we’ve been missing but been able to live without either way in just one store. I now I realize that even though I’ve been gone a long time nothing really has changed. Nothing changed but me.
The kids have always wanted to take a trip in a RV. What better country to tour around in a RV than Australia, right? Merry Christmas Australia! Here come the Christensen’s…
We have a couple days to spend in Sydney before we pick up the campervan in Brisbane. Sydney is a really cool city if you can just get past the cost of everything. Bottled water costs $3 and my jaw dropped when I saw that diet coke cost over $4 each.
We found one free thing in Sydney and that turned out to be the most helpful if it’s your first time in Sydney like us. A free walking tour of downtown Sydney starting at the Town Hall and ending at the Sydney Harbour. We learned a lot about the history of this country on the tour and found it was easier to decide where we wanted to go next as well.
We took the ferry to Manly Beach, walked across the bridge, watched street performers for a bit too, but nothing was as entertaining as our next tour guide by the name of Ethan. He had many of his own stories to share with us and even offered to take a picture of our family. Too bad we couldn’t get his boss to take the picture so he could step in it with us.
Nothing prepared us for the next adventure of picking up our Campervan that we planned to drive, eat, and sleep in for the next two weeks. Here we are trying to eat our first lunch after picking up the van.
As you can see it’s a little cramped for the five of us. Not knowing where we will sleep come nightfall and what choices we will have for meals is a little nerve-racking then add the fact that Greg’s driving this on what we call “the wrong side of the road” with me navigating. It’s day one on the road and I’m not sure we will survive the day let alone the week or next. Another factor we didn’t take into account was that it takes twice as long to travel as we planned so the farthest we drove today was to Noosa beach on the Sunshine coast.
Noosa has a really nice beach with warm water, warm sand, and warm people. There is also a nice National park we enjoyed our walkabout in and the kids had fun playing in the water.
It was also the hardest night on our trip with us adjusting to sleeping in a campervan while it’s thundering and raining outside, everyone wanting to sleep in the same bed together, and a knock on the door early in the morning to tell us we parked the van in the wrong area so we quickly drove away.
Mon Repos was our next stop where you can watch loggerhead turtles nest on the beach. There was a nice trail from the campervan park to the turtle park where we saw our first kangaroos in the wild. We didn’t get a chance to see the turtles though because another thunderstorm moved in and we ended up calling a cab to take us back to the campervan where we realized we had left the windows open and our bedding got wet. This was the night we second-guessed our decision to rent a campervan.
Snorkling on the Great Barrier Reef is next on our bucket list. Here in this town of 1770 we can take a cruise out to the reef to snorkle, sit in a semi-submarine to view the reef, and ride in a glass bottom boat to tour the island of Lady Musgrave.
This was my favorite part of the trip to Australia. Maybe it was because the snorkling was so good, maybe it was because I knew I didn’t have to sleep in the campervan for a few days, or maybe it was because I finally got in a date night with Greg while the kids chilled in the cabin. Either way it was the highlight for me. This is the fun little cabin we stayed in.
On our way to the Crocodile Hunter’s Australia Zoo we stopped at the Glass House Mountains. We saw some fresh macadamia nuts off the side of the road and had to stop. I still think it’s awesome everywhere we stop the locals will ask the kids “How many more sleeps til Christmas Mate?” It’s still hard to believe it’s Christmas time when it’s the middle of summer here. Other things I notice that are different is that everything closes early except the drive thru liquor stores and the sun comes up way too early around 4:30am.
I don’t know if it’s the sun we never see in China, the feeling of summer in the air, or just the fact that we are on vacation that we feel the need to act like kids again but here we all are trying out the zipline at the visitors center in Glass House Mountains.
The Australia Zoo like everything else is overpriced but we did enjoy the time we spent there and I can’t think of a better way to see the wildlife Australia has to offer if you can’t see them in their natural environment. This is where we got to feed the kangaroos and pet a koala plus see the famous Crocodile show.
We booked a Holiday Park for Christmas near the theme parks on the Gold Coast but it wasn’t exactly what we had in mind. These parks have everything: pools with waterslides, a mini-golf course, theatre room, laundry facilities, cafe bar & restaurant, even a jumping pillow, but they also have a LOT of people. Everyone in Australia booked this park for Christmas I think. We tried to make the best of it by purchasing some camp stools to sit on outside the RV and we even thought if we put up the tent that came with the RV we might have more room. Don’t laugh but this is our broken tent and us sitting around in this park wondering what we are going to do here on Christmas day. Afterall we have this spot booked for 3 days.
We decided to cut our loss and take the chance that there is something better for us down the road. It’s a little scary not knowing where we will sleep on Christmas and what we will eat with everything closing early on Christmas Eve but I’m not sorry we kept going. The drive was absolutely gorgeous.
We drove as far as Ballina Bay where we found another cabin to sleep in for Christmas. Ballina is a small, quiet town, with a nice beach and even some familiar stores like Target and Kmart. Believe it or not Santa even found us here in this small town.
We skyped our family back in the States and spent the day on the beach for Christmas. We loved watching the dolphins come into the bay at night too.
We got another chance to see more dolphins the next day when we stopped at Port Stevens/Nelson Bay area. We found a great camping spot right next to the sand dunes in the Myall National Park.
This area is where we spotted some dingo tracks and actually saw dingos in the wild. This picture is a picture of a dingo we saw at the zoo but the dingo we saw from the vehicle had something that looked like a platypus in it’s mouth and we saw another crossing the road too.
This is the last night we will sleep in the campervan so we are pretty happy.
We returned the campervan in Sydney and picked up a rental car for the weekend. We are happy to be back at the Marriott with clean beds, a hot shower, and WIFI. The buffet breakfast was great and then we were off to see the Blue Mountains. Is there anywhere more beautiful than this place?
Our last day in Sydney we spent at Darling Harbour and Maroubra beach. Mckaela took some great pictures at the Aquarium. My favorite is the shark one. Check out those teeth.
I don’t think we will ever forget this trip to Australia. It will always be a Christmas to remember. We decided in the end that we were glad we booked the campervan. The kids would forget some of our adventures in a rental car but something tells me they won’t forget the experience of the campervan. My favorite quotes of the vacation were when Olivia said “Ethan, we eat turkeys turkeys don’t eat us.” and when Greg said “We should be hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve not laundry.”
Ethan has been nicknamed “The Photo-bomber” at our house because he likes to photo-bomb any picture we take.
It sure was nice to spend the week on this beautiful beach in Nusa Dua.
The water was so clear and warm we all enjoyed playing in the ocean here.
Olivia loved the snorkling here…
Ethan wanted to stay on the glass bottom boat where he could drink his Dad’s cold coke before he noticed.
I really liked making jewelry with my girls. I will never forget this time spent with them.
I’m not sure we will ever forget this coffee plantation either. This is where they make coffee beans from an animal’s poop and sell it for a ton of money.
The animal eats some berries and poops them out. Someone collect the berry poop and sun-dries them until they are ready for roasting. This is the most expensive coffee bean in the world ($100/lb.) and you couldn’t even pay me to try it either.
We also visited some temples and statues but I gotta say I find myself looking more at the beautiful views than the actual temples and landmarks.
We had a 24 hour lay-over in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia on our way home so we took advantage of that time riding a bus from the airport into the city where we saw the famous Patronis Towers, toured what we could of the city, and enjoyed a dinner at Chili’s. Thought we had died and gone to Heaven with the Bottomless chips & salsa and fountain drinks we greatly miss by living in China.
I don’t remember much about the fieldtrip I went on with Mckaela when she was 5 years old but somehow I think I will never forget this fieldtrip I went on with her at the age of 13.
With 35 students, 5 teachers, 2 parents, and 2 tour guides we take a short 1 1/2 hour flight to the Henan Province where the Shaolin Temple, Forest of Pagodas, and Mount Songshan are located. Here the students will spend 5 days studying basic Kong Fu skills, hike across the mountain of Songshan, and visit the Longmen Grottoes before returning back to Chengdu via hard sleeper overnight train.
We learned that there are over 30,000 teenagers that live at the Shaolin Temple Martial Arts Training Center where students practice the ancient Kung Fu skills that monks have been practicing for over 1,500 years.
It is said that a group of monks lived in this secluded area in 540AD when an Indian Buddhist priest named Tamo traveled to the temple and joined the monks living there. Tamo saw that the monks were not in good physical condition. Most of them spent hours each day hunched over tables where they copied handwritten texts so they lacked the stamina needed to perform most of the basic Buddhist meditation practices. Tamo taught them movement exercises designed to both enhance chi flow and build strength. These exercises were based on the movements of the main animals in Indo-Chinese iconography (e.g., tiger, deer, leopard, cobra, snake, dragon, etc) This is now known as the birthplace of Shaolin Kung Fu.
I think the kids had more fun playing at the monks playground but at least it’s still exercise, right?
The Forest of Pagodas is a graveyard for Buddhist dignitaries. The layer and shape depend on the Buddhist status and prestige during his lifetime. There are over 200 pagodas here and the tallest one has seven layers. If I don’t make it off this mountain I would rather have a 7 tier pagoda than be cremated which is what they would do with me in Chengdu…just saying~
Mount Song is one of the five Sacred Mountains of Taoism in China. It’s summit is 4923 ft. above sea level and the views are spectacular. It’s just a couple thousand steep steps to the top and not one tree was cut down to make the path so you either go around or duck under…
The trees are pretty cool though. Some even have an eye like they are watching you.
Just a few more steps to the top…
then you can finally smell the blossoms.
The coolest part of the whole mountain is the backside. If you have Acrophobia you may want to skip this part.
On the bus again we are on our way to Luoyang where the Ancient Longmen Grottoes are located. The Longmen Grottoes is one of the oldest and finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art housing tens of thousands of statues in little caves but let me tell you this place is CROWDED.
One of the unique things about this trip is the students got to interact with other students their age at a local Chinese school.
Playing basketball is always a good ice-breaker.
I can’t believe this is the only picture I got of the food we ate this week but it’s the same thing every meal. There’s always rice, a few plates of vegetables fried in a lot of oil, meat is questionable, and there was a bottle of coke and sprite at each table that the teenagers guzzled down quickly usually. This picture was taken at a restaurant called The Roasted Duck.
This is the group of girls I’m assigned to. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to travel with.
What it looks like in our boxcar…
A lot of students said the train ride home was their favorite part of the trip. Mine was being in the mountains at Shaolin Temple and hanging out with Mckaela all week long. I felt more like an overgrown teenager than a chaparone on this trip. I’ve never seen more dedicated teachers in my life and the students are all so fun!
Those of you who really know me know that my favorite candy is licorice. My favorite is Twizzlers chocolate flavored but I’ll take any flavor really except for black licorice. Black licorice is my mom’s favorite so I’ll usually pass that flavor on to her.
Licorice is hard to come by in China but you can usually find a small bag in the imported section for about $3.50 (not chocolate flavored though). Not to worry though we stocked up on this in the States this Christmas so if it’s a very special occasion we will raid the licorice stash.
You can imagine my surprise when I spotted this package of licorice in the imported section of Carrefore that read “buy 1 get 1 free” but what was even more surprising is the package right next to it that read “buy 1 get 2 free”.
Now here I am holding the package so my friend can take a picture for me when this employee says in perfect English “I’m sorry but taking pictures is forbidden in the store” and we told him we just thought the freebie on the licorice was funny and he responds “well I had only 5 bags left to shelf. What was I to do?”
Now we are left to fight over who gets the extra free bag and I don’t even like black licorice. I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned living in China though….black licorice actually does taste good when it’s that or what I know Greg’s options are at work today…
I love that you can get a custom made goose feather down jacket made by a tailor in Chengdu and it is actually cheaper than buying one on ladies street.
The first thing we did was make a trip to the fabric market to see the many colors available for a jacket. I have to be honest this process is very overwelming because the market is just too big and cumbersome.
Now I’m really glad I came with a friend that speaks Chinese because the tailor asked me a lot of questions like what style I preferred, if I wanted my jacket blinged out or not, length of coat, hood or collar, and then he took my measurements and drew it all out on this paper.
Just one week later I pick up 4 coats I had made for 1000rmb ($158) using my own fabric I got at the fabric market but if I did it again I would just use the tailor’s fabric and pay a little more because I thought he had a pretty good selection and some fabrics were the same anyhow.
The purple one is Mckaela’s, blue one is Olivia’s, and the leather down is all mine! The 4th coat is hanging in the closet in the United States just waiting for me to return to wear it. Something to look forward to anyway.
On that note; Greg was on a bike ride the other day when he saw what he thought looked like a human head floating in the river so he did a double take and saw that it was in deed a human head floating in the water with hair and he could tell it was caucasian so he got a little closer to investigate and that is when he saw it was a head alright but just a mannequin head. Wheew that was a close one. Now I can’t look at a mannequin anymore without being reminded of Greg’s bike ride.