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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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Personally, I think we saved the best for last. On our second to last day in Hong Kong we took a Ferry to Lamma Island, which is known for its seafood restaurants, fishing villages and beautiful scenery. Upon arriving on the island we visited a typical Buddhist temple with tons of overpowering incense hanging in spirals from the ceiling, took pictures of funny tourist stickers, and I bought some tea at a small tea shop. Soon after we took a pretty nature hike around the island, and got to put our feet in the water.The dichotomy of beautiful Lamma island with huge smoke stacks in the background represents much of the feeling of China that I have experienced thus far. We also took photos of these great houses that were completely surrounded by lush vegetation, and look like little tropical hideaways. On our way around the island we ran into Angel and Javi, two very entertaining and vibrant Spaniards, who wanted our help taking a picture. We ended up speaking Spanish with these two for a good part of the afternoon, and their antics and strong northern accents had me laughing the entire time. We found out that Javi had taken a last-minute leave from the army to visit Angel, his long-time friend who was “working” as a corporate lawyer in Hong Kong for a week or so. Javi didn’t speak Chinese or English, so he was very happy to have people to communicate with for a while. Angel told us about his life learning French, traveling, and living currently in Los Angeles. We had an incredible seafood lunch together, complete with the best mini-lobster I have ever tried! Sadly, we had to catch a ferry back before they were ready to leave, so we quickly exchanged emails…but I haven’t heard from them. The experience definitely made me want to visit Spain again!

We took a nice, sunny, ferry ride back to HK island and caught the 6 Bus (with a bunch of hyper French teenagers) to Stanley. Stanley is a upper-class beach neighborhood outside of downtown Hong Kong that seems like an ideal place to live. In Stanley we met back up with the Kliglers, who had graciously offered to host us for the night! We got to meet Sean and Jill, the Kilgler kids, as well as the newest addition to the family…Jet, the Hong Kong dog. It was really nice to have a relaxing evening full of great home-cooked food and conversation with the Kliglers. I regret to inform you that we didn’t get pictures of the kids, the dog, or the apartment, which was decorated with incredible art from all over Asia. However, both the home and family gave me inspiration for the future. And of course…we toasted the end of the night with some good old fashioned Baijiu.

The next day was our last in Hong Kong, and we spent it leisurely in the town of Stanley. I bought a few souvenirs in Stanley Market, and we ate some pizza in one of the water-front restaurants. O yea, and I took a quick nap under the sun! After that, we caught the bus back to the metro, took the long metro ride to the HK/Shenzhen Boarder, passed through customs, spent the night in Shenzhen (where we managed to eaten some “Mexican” food), took a complicated bus from Shenzhen downtown to the airport, flew to Beijing, took a bus from Beijing to Tangshan…and taxied back to our apartment. Simple, right? Only for David the transportation wizard!

So we are currently in Shenzhen, because tomorrow we fly back to Beijing (boooooo). We had a great time in Hong Kong, and I am so glad that I got to see such a cool town. Anywho, on Wednesday we went to see the Noonday Gun, a big gun that they shoot everyday at noon, carrying on a tradition of the old British Navy. It was MUCH louder than expected and everyone was rubbing their ears in pain after it went off. After that we just headed downtown and did some generic touring of the big buildings, which was cool. We then took the Star Ferry, a very efficient and cheap mode of transportation that connects Hong Kong Island to the mainland and various other islands nearby. Everything we read said this was the #1 thing you have to do if you go to Hong Kong, but it was just a ferry. I don’t really understand what was the big deal. It would be like saying if you do one thing in New York City, you have to take the Staten Island Ferry. We just took it across to the mainland because the museums are free on Wednesdays, looked around the science and art museums quickly, and Her Worship (Erin) was tired so we went back so she could take a nap before the true excitement of the evening.

Every Wednesday night, the only legalized form of gambling occurs at the two racetracks in Hong Kong. The Happy Valley Racecourse is a beautiful horse racing arena in the middle of the city, and every Wednesday the place gets packed for a hot and humid night of gambling. Unlike the ferry, this was an actually noteworthy event, and we were very glad we went. The British loved their horseracing, so when they occupied Hong Kong, they built two racetracks. When the British left, the racetracks stayed, because the Chinese love gambling more than anyone loves anything. In one Wednesday at Happy Valley, more money is bet than in an entire week of horseracing in the UK. The Chinese are OBSESSED with it. Everyone in attendance was frantically reading some sort of horse gambling newspaper that had all sorts of information in it, placing wagers, and then watching the races. The place really exploded when the horses came down the stretch, even in the first few races which are the weaker/slower horses. It was a pretty electrifying experience, and the arena itself is gorgeous. There are skyscrapers surrounding the track, and the stands and track was very nice looking also. One of, if not the coolest sporting venue I have ever been to. It was an interesting mix of Chinese and British people too, yet another example of how gambling really brings the world together. We placed a few bets on the horses that I researched, narrowly missing out on a huge haul in a photo finish where I picked the 1st and 2nd place finishers, but not in the right order. We left down about $4, but it was a very cool night. We wandered a bit, found a great international grocery store, bought a bunch of stuff to bring back, and then took the trolley (just like in San Fran) back to our hostel.

On Thursday we arranged to meet up with Richard Kligler aka St. Baldrick aka the organizer of the St. Baldricks event where I (David) was shorn. We met him at Times Square, a trendy shopping area near where we were staying, then walked through some food markets. Hong Kong (and most of Asia) really likes Durian, a stinky, milky fruit that kind tastes like damp armpit, and dried seafood of all kinds. Needless to say these markets don’t smell too good, especially when it gets warm and sunny outside. We went to Central again and saw the world’s biggest bank vault at the HSBC tower. It was so big it literally had an escalator inside of it! Richard knew a lot about the various buildings so it was nice to hear about the buildings instead of just saying,”Oh look, another huge financial building.” We hiked up past St. John’s Cathedral towards the Victoria Peak Cable Car station. We took the cable car to the top of the 2nd tallest mountain in Hong Kong, which offers extraordinary views of the city. Unfortunately it started to pour once we got to the top, so we only got some hazy pictures of the skyline (we went back though and got some great ones). Richard took us to a great restaurant though, and we had our best meal of the trip (best mushrooms I have ever tasted). We waited for the rain to subside, then headed back down on the cable car.

As soon as we got off the cable car, the rain started again. We quickly walked through a public park/aviary downtown, which was really cool, and then stopped in a tea shop to get out of the rain. This was our first true tea shop experience, and we learned a lot about tea and tea etiquette from Richard. I have never met anyone that knows more about and likes tea than Richard, and we tried 3 different kinds: a pu’er tea, which is a black tea that is put into bricks and gets better (and costs more) with age, a green tea called long jin, and another fruity black tea. It was interesting to learn that the first brew of tea is not drank but instead poured onto the cups and pot to help bring out the flavors. Their is a huge tea subculture that I never knew existed. The rain started to let up, so we left, after Richard showed us one of his favorite restaurants, Red Pepper, which Erin and I ate at later. It was another great meal, making that day the best food day we have had since being in China (in my opinion).

More updates to come….

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