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Happy 5K/Turkey/Tofurkey Day to you all! Actually, we finished up Thanksgiving yesterday, but all of you stateside are currently in your turkey-comas watching football. Celebrating Thanksgiving in China was certainly different than in the states, mostly because we had to work. Although Black Friday isn’t a precious few hours away, I did read articles all week about where to get the best Turkey in town and which restaurants were offering the most authentic and elaborate meals. So, just most of our experience in China, the basics exist, just in a different way.

One of the things I am thankful for was The Jacobs trip to China. Not only did it work out incredibly well, but it eased my mind a little for them to better understand why we are so interested in living here. Despite the support we both receive from our families, I often feel a sense of guilt for being the impetus behind our trip to China. David especially forgoes a lot of family time to be here, as we both love and miss his four incredible grandparents AND we recently found out that he will be an Uncle come May! Sometimes China is hard on the heartstrings, I don’t even want to think about the weddings I may miss this Summer, but overall we are SO appreciative of this experience.
On that note, a few other things I am thankful for in China:
1. The internet and gmail
2. Heat after November 15th
3. Foreign import grocery stores
4. Practicing Chinese with friendly natives
5. Cheap massages!
6. Chinese tea
7. Food streets!
8. The expat community
9. Beijing ‘s extensive networking websites
10. Chinese architecture
I have to admit, I was thinking about a lot of things I miss about home while writing this list…but in the spirit of Thanksgiving I will refrain!

The following are the rest of the photos from the Jacobs visit to Beijing. First we snapped some iconic photos at Tiananmen Square, then headed to the Forbidden City with all of the jet-setters, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy who also stopped by for a visit. We ordered traditional hot pot at a local place, which was ideal for the cold day, and then headed to the Temple of Heaven. Although I had visited the Temple before, our guide took us to a great Tea House on the premises. It was government fun and therefore extremely expensive, but our Tea Hostess, “Miss Tea,” did a great presentation that showcased China’s famous teas while incorporating a good bit of humor. Mrs. Jacobs certainly funded the rent for the week, and was even rewarded with a “pee boy,” which is a little terra cotta figurine who pees when warm enough water is poured over his head. A perfect way to test the temperature of your tea!

The next jam-packed day was actually full of firsts for me as well. I had tried to hold back on many of the major sites so I could be as excited as my visitors, which worked out well. We visited a working Cloisonné factory in the morning, one of the tombs at the Ming Tombs, had lunch at a Jade factory and ended up hiking the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Although the factories were touristy, the guides explained a lot of interesting information regarding the detail-oriented process of making cloisonné and the time-intensive process of carving jade that I found very impressive. The time and energy spent to making authentic Chinese handicrafts gave me a new appreciation for the contrast between authentic and mass-produced Chinese goods. Although I’m not sure it’s evident from his blog, Mr. Jacobs could get enough of the stone animal statues at the Ming Tombs , so I made sure to take his picture there. The carvings are quite impressive, as they were formed from one solid piece of stone that was laid along the path to an emperor’s grave.

Lastly, we made it to The Great Wall! We took a cable car up to the Mutianyu section of the wall, and hiked around until Mrs. Jacobs and I were sufficiently tired, although Mr could’ve stayed there until the sun went down I think. We got lucky because we picked one of the clearest days of the year to visit, and our photos turned out really incredibly. When then battled the typical but massive Beijing traffic jams to eat an authentic dinner complete with Beijing duck and finally headed to a Beijing opera performance. While I thought the dinner was one of the best I have had in China, the opera wasn’t overly exciting. Although the make-up of the Opera Stars was great and there were bits of good acrobatics, it seemed overall like a low-budget production with a very weak and corny storyline. I have a feeling that’s pretty representative of all Chinese Opera, so at least we got to see what it’s all about.

In daily news, David and I have been working a lot and still fighting our visa battles…but we are looking forward to visiting home for the holidays. I am amassing quite a list of items I want to bring back, which mostly revolve around my new goal to run the Great Wall Half Marathon in May!

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I thought you may like to know what a typical week in Tangshan is like for David and I.

Monday-Wednesday we don’t have to work. Monday tends to be a catch-up day when we clean the apartment, do laundry, catch up on emails/blog posts, etc. For the next two days we either go to a nearby city, or stay around here and go to the gym, visit local markets, (I) get $3 massages, ride bikes to eat on food streets, and say hello to the teachers at school. Last week was actually Arzola’s birthday, and we had a party complete with home-made dumplings and steamed bread (courtesy of Ada and Liu) and a birthday cake!

Thursday David has a public kindergarden class early in the morning, while I used to have private one-on-one sessions with older students in the evening. However, those sessions have now ended and we will both be handing out fliers to potential clients at schools around the city, to promote our summer session. I also start on my lesson plans for the weekend.

Friday I go to the public elementary school to teach in the morning, bike to the mall for a yoga class, and head back to school for lesson plans. We both teach a free “English Corner” at 6pm, and go to bed early for classes the next morning.

Saturday/Sunday we both work from around 8am-6pm, teaching half-hour classes to the youngest kids (3-5), one-hour classes to the middle ages (5-10) and two hour classes (10+) to the older levels. We have 10 minute breaks in between classes and an hour for lunch. These days are tough and honestly not fun at all. I usually have plenty of energy and excitement to teach the 4 hours before lunch, but afterwards my throat and patience begin to wear out. I don’t enjoy the young classes because they are just about lots of repetition. The little kids are incredibly cute, but it’s very tiring to repeat the same questions hundreds of times. The older kids are more engaging, but I think that 2-hour classes and just entirely too long for all of us. I am, however, learning how to introduce grammar better and better, and have found some games that the kids really seem to like. One of my classes was videotaped as a “demo” for one of our workshops, and I liked my one on one sessions with the older kids…but overall I don’t want a future as a English foreign language teacher.

Last week David and I attended two really fun events with the kids. I found out that the public school was hosting a Children’s Day Festival performance, so Ada, Liu, David and I got up bright and early for the event. I felt a little guilty because we were the only adults let inside except for the staff; parents had to take pictures from outside the schoolyard fences because they are too over-bearing and interfere with the performances! The pictures can describe the event better than I, but it was really well-done…they danced and sang to everything from Chinese Opera to Britney Spears! Also, the kid in the cow costume was hilarious, he sauntered around just like a little cow. Check out Ada and Liu’s matching shirts…a popular trend for younger couples in China. Liu even picked these ones out! Will David be next…?

We also went to the Tangshan International Golf course with our school, which was a special event for students that had received the most “cards” in class. We hand out cards for correct answers and good participation, and about 15 kids and their parents came out to the event. The golf course is actually nationally certified and it was REALLY nice. The grass was perfectly green, the buildings were clean and modern, and the day was warm and sunny. We found out that it costs over $40,000 just to become a member, and you pay more to actually golf. Some of kids were able to hit the balls surprisingly well for their first try, and David and I had fun at the driving range. The nicest houses we have seen here were on the golf course, and belonged to government officials. They looked at lot like modern beach cottage mansions…which was a tough pill to swallow for the Chinese and the foreigners alike.

Overall our schedules are very relaxed and we are really enjoying the warm weather. Seeing people out allows us to practice our basic Chinese more and get more exercise. I have struck up a language-limited friendship with a street vendor who travels around the neighborhood corners selling sweet potatoes and other vegetables, and I always try to make as much small talk as possible, and tell potential clients that she’s a good woman. She also gives me a sweet potato or tomato nearly every time I see her. Contacts like these really make living in China fun. I also included a photo of the fattest pug I have ever seen, especially for Matt Busa and Annie Weathers…die-hard pug lovers.

I’m VERY excited to say that we are headed to Tianjin tomorrow for Ling Ling’s traditional Chinese wedding…yeaaaa!!!

Good morning to all of those in the Western Hemisphere, I assume you are reading this with your Monday morning cup of coffee. Its been a rainy two days here in Tangshan, and our plans to visit the nearby city of Tianjin were foiled by the weather. Tianjin isn’t known as a large tourist attraction, but it’s the sixth largest city in China and is known for good food, large building and a few unique streets. Our friend and Chinese teacher, Candy, has a sister who lives there, so she has offered to show us around at some point! In the meantime, I will probably watch some movies, go to the gym, and stop back at the massage store (I wouldn’t really call it a spa because it looks like a typical storefront with table beds) to get a foot and shoulder massage. Last week I went there and got a 30 min neck and shoulder massage and one-hour foot massage for 70 RMB, which is $10 USD. That was also expensive because I didn’t buy a frequent-customer card, which I will do next week! Although you still have squat toilets at this spa, it’s a pretty clean place. They also practice traditional Chinese Cupping, which I will probably try after reading some more about the methods.

For your daily dose of charity wrap-ups, I have some exciting news! David’s St. Baldrick’s event in Hong Kong ended up raising $37,819 and he personally raised $670. Thanks again to all that donated! There are some great professional pictures of the event posted online. David and I are on the first page, and David alone is on page 6.

Walkers in the May 1st-2nd Washington DC Avon Walk for Breast Cancer raised over $6.5 million this year! I think that’s an amazing feat given all of this craziness in the financial world and am so impressed by these incredible participants.

I am also a strong supporter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and their endurance events. Did you know you can participate in the half-marathon training programs as a walker, run-walker or runner? If you are thinking about making a difference in an incredibly fun way, I would really suggest checking out the LLS Team in Training Programs. The money you raise helps fight cancer, and also provides you with a really great training program, incentive to be healthy, ability meet other like-minded do-gooders and experience the incredible atmosphere of a race-weekend. I have told many people that even if you donate the funds yourself, it’s worth the training and trip that the event entails (seriously.)

And finally, my former co-worker and good friend, Allie Bouton, is competing in her first marathon in October! She got a spot in the Chicago Marathon through agreeing to fundraise a LOT of money for Fred’s Team, which benefits the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Allie is running for many people, but specifically Mrs. Merry, who is battling a brain tumor. If you would be willing to support Allie, Mrs. Merry and Sloan-Kettering, please make a donation here.

And NOW back to Hong Kong! The day after our trip to Macau started with an incredible Japanese-style lunch at Miso, a restaurant tucked away in the IFC building with great sushi that David had read about in the guide book. The prices for the fresh seafood were excellent and so was the ambiance. Pictures provided! The day was really beautiful and sunny, so we decided to hike…and hike we did! On the way we were really confused to find thousands of Filipino women camped out on the streets and in the subways at every turn. We thought maybe there was a protest or that they had all come from the for sales during the holiday-weekend, because we saw lots of huge boxes that were being packed to ship to the Philipines. What made the scene even more confusing was that many had brought food, pedicure and manicure kits and even laptops to this sit-in. Well, upon futher questioning with some of the participants and HK locals, we found out that this is pretty common on many Sundays with nice weather, and that these women were just getting together for some bonding time! I’m still somewhat confused as to why they decided to stay in places like hot subway halls, but it’s very obvious that the have a strong community in HK.

Well, we started from sea-level and hiked the 1,811 feet to the top of Victoria Peak (the second tallest mountain in HK). A significant part of this hike is literally straight-up, and although we saw lots of people coming down the hill, we only saw one or two going up. It was the steepest grade I have ever encountered, but I was feeling good in the new Mizuno running shoes I had bought the day before! ($65 instead of the normal $100 in the States, not a great deal but I was happy!) At the shopping hub of the peak we got a gelato and headed onward to the Victoria Gardens, which is the tallest point of the Peak and offers some good views of the surrounding land and islands. There seemed to be a ton of cute kids playing in the gardens around the million-dollar communities atop of the peak, which was an added benefit! The cars parked at all of the apartments ranged from Mercedes to Ferraris and were all in perfect condition. We read that this was one of the most expensive places to live in the world, based on square footage. It seemed like a really beautiful place to live…but not really ideal if you want to want around, since the community is built on a massive, steep hill.

After the gardens we walked the 2-mile Peak Loop trail around the circumference of the mountain. This was a great walk because it was like hiking through a mini-jungle, and included many spots to view the incredible Hong Kong skyline. Many runners were jogging along this path, and although it gets a little crowded at points, this has to be one of the best running routes I have ever seen! After this walk we went to the Hong Kong Cafe, which specializes in Hong Kong style diner food. This style of restaurant came around during the 1960s when prosperity and contact with the west was really flourishing in Hong Kong, and the natives began offering menus that would appeal to both the Cantonese and foreigners alike. One of the best-sellers was Hong Hong tea, which is 1/2 coffee and 1/2 tea! I also tried HK french toast, which is two pieces of thick bread, held together by peanut butter, fried in eggs and topped with a light-honey syrup. It tasted GREAT after a long day of hiking and I have since made it for the teachers in Tangshan! David also got a curried vegetable dish, which was also very good! After food we paid to visit the top of the Victoria Peak building and viewed the city all lit-up at night. Needless to say, the views were one-of-a-kind and we got some really excellent photos.

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