Friday, March 8, 2013

Chinese New Year - Part II

I am very sorry for the long break I've taken from this blog. Life has caught up with me and I have been distracted with many other tasks. I feel very guilty for not posting these last few weeks. This post is continued from my pervious post about our stay in downtown Chongqing for Chinese New Year. 

To finish off our already exciting weekend we spent a beautiful afternoon at Nanshun Park. The park, located on top of a mountain, was in eye-sight from the Sheraton and it didn't seem far way. Looks can be very deceiving. All four families loaded up into four taxi's (chuzeche). The path up a mountain is not a straight road, instead it's many curvy and windy roads. The taxi's raced up together weaving and passing each other like we were in an Indy race. Thirty-five minutes later they dropped us off in a crowded and busy courtyard. It took us about five minutes to regroup all four families and count heads. We've learned to stick together when out on new adventures. 

Nanshun Park has spectacular grounds with walking paths that go on forever and it also has a botanical garden area. For this visit we only had time to walk the grounds. We let the kids lead us through the park. Since it was still the winter season in Chongqing much of the landscape was not in full bloom but it didn't matter, it all still looked amazing. We could see the potential of what it would be like in April and May and we'll return again.


After a few hours of exploring we decided it was time to get back to the hotel. It was easy to wave down a taxi at the beginning of the adventure because we were in city limit. Now that we are on top of a mountain flagging a taxi was much more difficult and we needed 4 of them. After 10-15 passed by many of us in the group were considering getting on a pubilc bus and see how far it takes us and figure it out as we go. I wasn't ready for that adventure (just yet). Luckily one of us waved down a taxi van able to take us to the Sheraton. Except it could not fit ALL of us. It was most important to get the kids back safely so we crammed 4 adults and 7 kids in a 7 passenger van. At home we would never do this, but when in China, you do what you gotta do. There wasn't any room for Chris and I so we sent Jake and Casey off in good hands with the other moms (and a Dad). Chris and I stayed back with Mark and Paul. After 10 minutes of waiting for a yellow cab we decided desperate times all for desperate measures, we crammed into a three-wheeler cab. During the ride down the mountain our taxi driver tried explaining in Chinese that he couldn't take us all the way to the Sheraton (that was out of his territory). When we got 1/2 way down the mountain and he dropped of us. Yet again we found ourselves trying to flag down a taxi. This process took another 15-20 minutes when we finally flagged down a taxi van. It was a feeling of relief when we turned the corner and saw the golden towers of the Sheraton just ahead of us. The adventure of getting to a new location is just as exciting as the adventure getting back home.

For the rest of our time off the week of Chinese New Year we visited some new places. On Monday we went to a Hot Springs Resort. This was one of the many activities on My List that I wanted to do when we arrived in China. Our tutor, Takila, joined for a day of relaxing and soaking in the tubs. It was located just 5 minutes from the Sheraton so it was very easy to get to after we checked out. It was located in the city (there are other natural hot springs outside of the city as well). At the resort there were many warm pool. Some big some small. Some specifically for soaking and relaxing. Others for swimming and playing. The temperatures varied between them. The coolest was similar to a luke warm bath. The hottest was similar to sitting in a "hot tub" back in the States. It was not crowded and we almost had the place to ourselves. We had fun bouncing in and out of pools trying out as many as we could. It was a very relaxing and peaceful location. Everything I envisioned it would be. We ended the day with a light snack at the resort. I don't have any photos to share cameras were not allowed in the hot springs. We came home feeling calm and rejuvenated.

On Wednesday we headed out of city and drove for 1.5 hours to a Wild Safari Park. You can drive your vehicle through the park (I had visions of Jurrasic Park) to get a close-up look of the animals in their habitats. The Wild Safari Park was a popular place (being the week of Chinese New Year) and we waited 45 minutes for our turn to enter the park. When we got in we were grouped with 10 other cars and given walk-talkies to listen to a park guide as she explained about the animals at each exhibit (it was all in Chinese). Mr. Xiang helped us and would give us the Chinese names for all the animals  as we passed them (tiger - laohu, wolf - lang, camel - luotuo, lion - shizi, brown bear - ma xiong). At one point while in the giraffe exhibit we were allowed outside of our vehicles and had a chance for an up close encounter with the giraffes. We purchased leafy branches to feed the giraffes. Casey was especially excited about this.

After the Wild Safari, while on our way home, we made an impromtu stop at a park in the same city as the Wild Safari. From the side of the road we could tell it was a place we must stop at. We walked around the beautiful grounds and took in all the Chinese architecture. The kids enjoyed climbing the many stairs up to pagoda (baota).

We ended our Chinese New Year week with a Poker Run. Chris and I coordinated it and 4 other families who recently arrived in China just like us. The idea was that we stopped at each house for only 1 hour for a chance to tour their homes, enjoy a drink/snack and before leaving we each received a poker card. After each stop we all loaded into our vehicles and drove to the next location. Five hours later we ended at the Ly's house for evening of hanging out and getting to know each other better. At the Ly's house we each had five poker cards and could trade in 1 card of our choice for a new card before we played our hands. The winner of the Poker hand was: ME. I won with three Ace's. Nick (Ly's son) came in a close second with three 2's. It was an very eventful evening with good friends and good food and a great way to end our Chinese New Year week.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chinese New Year 2013

Chinese New Year (Xin Nian Kuai Le), the most important traditional Chinese holiday, is celebrated on the first day, of the first month, of the Chinese calendar (based off the lunar calendar). It is also called Spring Festival and lasts for 15 days. It is custom for family members to travel to their home towns and spend time with each other. Many businesses are shutdown for an entire week to recognize the holiday. Windows and doors are decorated with red paper banners, red lanterns are hung all around, and at night the area shines with colorful lights (similar to Christmas lights). On Chinese New Year Eve it's custom to light fireworks starting as early as 7am and continuing all through the night and for the next 15 days. The biggest fireworks happening on the Eve and actual New Year's Day. 

This year Chinese New Year was on Sunday, February 10, 2013. It's the year of the Snake (Chinese Zodiac). I was born during the year of the Snake, will this be a lucky year for me? To celebrate the holiday we spent the weekend at the Sheraton Hotel, on Nanbin Road, across the river from downtown Chongqing. Nanbin area is a hot spot (popular and spicy food) with many restaurants, night clubs and walking paths along the riverfront.  Three other Ford families (the Ly's, Hayley's and Woytowich's) joined us for a weekend of activities including a cable car ride across the Yangtze River, games in the hotel, a traditional dinner on New Year's Eve, a lighted water show, fireworks extravaganza, and a trip to Nanshun Park (which I'll go into further detail on a separate post). Our rooms were all on the 22nd floor of the Sheraton and this kids thought this was awesome as they could freely travel to each of our rooms and visit their buddies. 

A view of the Sheraton hotel.

Inside the lobby of the hotel was a traditional Chinese New Year decoration. A tree with Chinese red envelopes hung from it. Red envelopes with money inside are given out as gifts during this holiday.

Playing Junior Monopoly and Twister. 

Out for a walk along the riverfront with the skyline of downtown behind.

We took a ride on the Yangtze River Cableway and saw the city from a different perspective.

Looking at the Sheraton Hotel from the cable car. 

More views from the cable car.

On New Year's Eve we reserved a private room at a local restaurant along Nanbin Road called Wei Dao Chongqing. Chinese dinners is served family style and dishes are brought out to the middle of the table and set on a spinning wheel. Because it was a holiday and we had a large group of 15, the restaurant asked us to pre-order our meal. Two days ahead of time, Alison and I select our food for the evening. This was a challenge. The menu was all in Chinese but luckily there were photos of every dish and we could pick some familiar items but we also took a chance on a few others. A pork and mushroom dish, noodle soup, and tofu were some of the favorites from our group. 

Most of the kids dressed up in Chinese outfits. Front row (left to right): Casey, Nathan, Jack, Jake, Claire. Back row: Jacqueline and Nick

Later in the evening we walked along the river to a water show. It was a spectacular display with water, lights and music all synchronized together. 

The girls: Alison, Jessica, Nikki, Chanley   |    The guys: Mark, Chris, Mike, Paul

After the water show we walked down closer to the river where there was a designated area to light up fireworks. To my surprise a show was not provided by the city (that was a disappointment). Instead locals purchase their own fireworks and are allowed to light as many as they want all through the evening. They do a very good job. Along with fireworks many locals were carefully lighting lanterns and sending them in the air. A sense of calmness came over me as I watched the lanterns float gently into the sky. They do this to send off their good wishes for the New Year. Our group purchased a lantern but unfortunately it was confiscated before we could get it into the air. The police patrolled the riverfront and we learned the hard way that it was illegal to send up the lanterns. We were not sure why, but only assumed it had to do with air traffic control. 

After the water show and fireworks our group moved up to the hotel lounge. We had a view of the river and the action below us. We brought a large array of snacks and had our own private room for the kids to run around and play. At 11pm the lounged closed so we moved back down to the 22nd floor and rang in the new year together in one room, while the kids watched a movie in another room. At midnight the city rumbled with an abundance of fireworks to celebrate the New Year. It was incredible!

We all slept in very late the next morning and enjoyed a later breakfast buffet in the lounge. Our plan for the second day was to drive up the mountain to Nanshun Park to see views of the city and walk the landscaped grounds. To be continued.......