Sunday, April 28, 2013

Huanglongxi Ancient Town

Located 30 km southeast of Chengdu is the ancient town of Huanglongxi, dating back 1700 years. Running alongside a river, this is considered by the Chinese to be a peaceful setting of natural beauty. Our tour guide David told us that many city dwellers come here on the weekends to shop, eat, drink and relax. Plus it's a living soundstage since over 100 period Chinese movies and TV shows have been filmed here.

When we first arrived, this older woman tried to lure us into buying a floral head wreath. Ignoring her as we strolled after our guide, she continued to follow us for a while until we saw others wearing them and thus relented since they were so cheap... the equivalent of about $1 each.

The woman appears to be making a face at us, but the senior's camera started going crazy taking a bunch of pictures while she struggled to figure out what was happening. The wreath peddler thought it was funny. Come to find out, the senior had inadvertently set the timer for multiple shots.

The 6th grader and I were amused by the fun stepping stones to get across the little waterway that ran through the ancient town.

We chanced upon a guy pulling what appeared to be taffy.

I took these from the teen's pic download - it's not a vacay unless we're on the lookout for dogs and photographing them.

How about a little snack?

Or maybe something a bit fresher. Take your pick.

Below are some interesting things we saw while we were strolling through the ancient town, most of which was initially built during the Ming and Qing dynasties that date back to the 14th century.

On our way back to the van, we ducked into a little convenience type store to get something to drink. The girls were fascinated by the Lay's and Cheetos products. The one below was a favorite. I like their concept of truth in advertising - Numb & Spicy Hot Pot Flavor. Don't even consider suing them if your eyes start to water and you can't feel your lips after consuming these spicy chips.

Friday, April 26, 2013

RIP George "The Possum" Jones

Every year, famous people die. Actors we watched. Singers we heard. First, they were the age of my grandparents. Now many of them are closer to the age of my parents. 

This afternoon I saw on Facebook that country western singer George Jones passed away. And I'm just struck by how sad this makes me feel. He was a Texas boy, born in Saratoga, which is just down the road from the little Texas town where I was raised. A local boy that made it big, a living C&W legend. He drank like a fish for most of his life, but boy could he sing.

"The Corvette Song" is one of my two steppin' favorites - gotta love a song with a twist.

And then there's my favorite ballad, the one that makes you pay close attention to the message. Kinda makes you blue. That's the beauty of country music. Or at least it is with the classics. I grew up with grandparents and parents who listened to country music. Then when I was old enough to make my own music decisions, I often chose country, too. It's a southern thing, kinda like iced tea and cornbread. Everybody gives it a try at some point. 

Don't get me wrong - I loved listening to rock greats like Elton John, but seldom understood half of what he was singing about on the radio. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" is a perfect example. I still have no clue what he's saying to this day. But you'll always understand country music, even when it makes you wanna put on your shitkickers (Texas talk for boots) and hit the local honky tonk. Or maybe cry in your beer. 

Godspeed, Possum. I hope you've found a couple of good ol' country western pickers to make sweet music with on the other side.

The Last Travel Hurrah

Exactly eight weeks from tomorrow, the senior graduates and then it becomes a fast and furious race to get the household goods in a shipping container, cars sold and accounts closed since we're scheduled to move home to Texas on June 21. I honestly thought our last family trip would be China for spring break. However, I couldn't resist squeezing in one final weekend getaway.

Where to go, where to go? We only have a long weekend, so realistically it shouldn't be more than a 2-3 hr plane ride from Heathrow. I pulled up a map of Europe to see what our options were and it became clear that Prague was perfect. We have wanted to tour Prague since we moved to England, but just never made it. I was initially planning to take the girls, but the teen pitched a fit and said she doesn't want to spend her final few free weekends traveling to see boring old historical stuff when she could be spending it with her friends having fun in London.

I was telling my husband about the teen's mulish behaviour and that's when he decided he wanted to see Prague REAL bad. He was already planning to visit us one more time before returning with his parents the week of graduation. So this is nice - we'll take the 12 yr old with us for one final jaunt in a fabulous European capitol.

Today I booked the flights and hotel. I pulled out my handy dandy Rick Steves Eastern Europe book and sent a request form to one of the tour companies he endorses. Private tour guides in Rome... cha-ching. Private tour guides in Prague... what a deal! And it's a good thing because the flights were pricier than I expected. Plus I opted for a hotel in the heart of Old Town, right across from the astronomical clock, and so it was almost as expensive as our Paris hotel. With absolutely no travel currently planned for this summer other than moving the soon-to-be high school grad to college in August, I think it's fine to cross one more location off our bucket list.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Happy Birthdays

Today is April 25, so that means the senior turns 18 and the husband hits 45. Poor guy - he hasn't had a decent celebration since becoming a father... though I did throw a nice 40th surprise party at work that he never saw coming.

A couple days ago, the senior announced she's going to purchase booze, cigarettes and a lottery ticket today after school just because she can. She's now "legal" to buy all of these things on her own in England. She was talking about maybe doing a pub crawl tour or going clubbing in London this weekend with friends since another girl in her social circle turned 18 last week. I realize it's very WASPy, showing my Puritan roots, but I'll be glad to get back to the US in June where she is NOT legal to drink. Not that it stopped any of us from enjoying those tasty Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers back in college before we turned 21.

Despite a bunch of rookie parenting mistakes - letting you hit your noggin a time or two and losing you in clothing racks at the mall more than once - the senior has turned into a pretty young woman with a kind heart. You've come a long way, baby, but you've got miles of fab things like graduation and going off to college on the horizon. We've been blessed to see you flourish despite some serious medical issues and hope you celebrate at least 100 more birthdays. 

We ♥ ya bunches!
Dad, Mom and Callie
(and your furry siblings Tabby and Ollie)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Leshan's Giant Buddha

The last leg of our tour in China was Chengdu in the Sichuan province, about an hour long plane ride from Xian. In 2008, this region of China suffered an earthquake that killed almost 90,000 people. That number is really difficult to comprehend. Therefore a lot of what we were seeing had been rebuilt or refurbished after that temblor. I'm glad the earthquake that struck a week after we left Chengdu wasn't anywhere near as devastating. And equally glad we missed the experience.

We kicked off our first day of touring with a 1.5 hr drive from the city center (picture creepy, crawly congested traffic) to nearby Leshan in order to see the giant buddha. Sightseeing in China is not for the fainthearted or folks in poor physical shape. This more southern part of China is warmer and definitely humid in comparison to arid Beijing in the north. 

It took us 10 minutes to climb up multiple sets of steps just to get to the top of the head of the buddha and here is what we saw along the way.

 Once we reached the buddha's head, we had to jockey for position alongside lots of Chinese folks wanting the buddha as their backdrop. And their hands - they were all holding them out towards the buddha's head in their pics. You can see them doing this in the shots below. Did they want it to look as if they were touching or caressing the big guy? I have no clue, but it was difficult dodging their hands to get them out of the pics I was taking.

Then the fun really started when we set off down this path carved into the face of the cliff adjacent to the buddha. It was the width of 1-2 folks for the entire trip down and had several switchbacks just to keep it interesting. Along the way we saw some carvings in niches, many that have worn away with time since the buddha was carved in the 8th and 9th centuries.

Here are some more buddha pics taken as we were descending and at the base where his feet are located.

Since I'm not buddhist, I have no idea what these followers are doing at the base of statue. It did kinda remind me of the Catholic practice of lighting candles (in this case incense) and kneeling at the altar (in this instance feet of the buddha).

Then we had the chance to really warm up, ie sweat, when we began the hike back up to the top of the buddha's head. The girls were having fun snapping cute pics, all before the climb really got started.

Once we had huffed and puffed and shed light jackets on our way back to the top, we had the opportunity to check out a buddhist temple on the same site.

After lunch in a nearby Leshan restaurant served on this really large and handy glass lazy susan, we went down to the river for a boat ride to see the giant buddha from the water. 

I had read articles on my CNN app about the poor air quality in Beijing, but had seen no evidence of it. However, I seem to have found it in the area around Chengdu. You can see proof of it in several of my pics above and most especially in the ones below... and these are after I've hit the enhance edit button to clean it up before posting it.

 Located near the confluence of three rivers, the best view really is from the water. You'll notice some other figures on either side of the buddha, but they seem to have suffered more severe weathering over the centuries.

One of my favorite pics in Leshan was an old lock I spotted on the trek down to the base of the buddha.