Friday, May 31, 2013

The holiday is well and truly over...

Apart from random happenings on a Monday, I feel like we've been home from our big adventure for ages now.

You'll be eager to know (or maybe you don't care, in which case, skip this paragraph) that my cold that I suffered for nearly two weeks of the trip flared up with a vengeance on our arrival home - I think I probably got another version of it on the plane trip home. How dare people travel when ill? Just ignore the mountain of tissues that Panda Girl and I had on our laps...Anyway, after a couple of weeks more of sneezing, nose blowing and coughing, we were finally back to our "normal" selves.

Alas, the trip, plus sickness, plus a general slackness, has meant that my excellent steps in improving my health and weight and fitness before the trip have faded into a distant memory. I've been for one run and that's about it. I'm too scared to get back on the scales now...

We started back up on our homeschooling despite the term only having one week left in it, and bravely marched on through the whole of the first week, before getting derailed with that dreaded "socialising". We have got back into a routine of sorts and I actually have some interesting homeschool posts planned (well, they are interesting to us, so by default, to you as well I hope).

We have just done our tax for the previous financial year (July 2011 to June 2012). It's just as well we took that big holiday before we did the tax, because it turns out we are actually one of those "struggling families" that Julia Gillard bangs on about. Since I quit teaching full-time and with retail business not going great guns, we really should be watching our pennies a lot more than we have been. Stay tuned for posts about budget meals and asking for suggestions for budget homeschooling and frugal living. To be honest, it's a pretty freaking depressing monetary position to be in after working hard all these years. Especially now I have to drink cask wine instead of bottled.

Maybe if we are starving, I might look like this...

And so, alas, back to the "real" world. So much for it not existing when you're homeschooling! Mmm, where were those tissues?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Random Monday

OK folks, the holiday is over! Time to resume normality, as soon as we can be sure what is normal anyway.

Which reminds me - yesterday was Towel Day - a day to commemorate the amazing Douglas Adams, who gave us Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Vale Douglas Adams - a hoopy frood who really knew where his towel was.

What is the go with kale? Never heard of it up until about a year ago and now the stuff is everywhere! I mean we can even buy it in our crappy supermarkets here, so it's really made the big time. I cannot yet picture how it might taste nice though. Any suggestions to improve on this?

Stolen straight from Wikipedia - I would at least have meat with mine...

This modern-day need to be multi-tasking All. The. Time. has taken a turn for the worse. I mean really?

Digital 2-in-1 iPotty with "Activity Seat" for iPad

I suggest you instead let the kids have a trip down (your) memory lane, with this!

Red hand puppet from Fraggle Rock - go on. You remember!
And I strongly recommend inculculating their brains with the theme song:

Dance your cares away, 

Worry's for another day. 
Let the music play, 
Down at Fraggle Rock. 

Work you cares away, 
Dancing's for another day. 
Let the Fraggles play, 
We're Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, Red. 

Dance your cares away, 
Worry's for another day. 
Let the music play, 
Down at Fraggle Rock. 
Down at Fraggle Rock. 
Down at Fraggle Rock.

And then make them watch this (part of any kids education):

Have your read any Douglas Adams?
What was the most useless baby toy you bought?
How much do you love Fraggle Rock?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Slow boat to China - long plane trip home!

We woke early to finish our packing. We also had plans to quickly head into the Forbidden City to see what we could see in about an hour, but first, I checked our flights. Flight from Beijing to Shanghai at 2pm? Check. Flight from Shanghai to Sydney? Ummmmm.....

It wasn't there! Cue panic.

I went downstairs and called China Eastern Air (they had a "speak to someone who speaks English option) - our 8pm flight had been cancelled and they had very kindly put us on the 23:55pm flight. That's right - 5 minutes to midnight, also commonly called the "red eye". At least we weren't stranded in Shanghai - we just had to spend quite a few hours exploring Pudong International Airport!

This sorting out of flights took a while and so we just ditched the Forbidden City idea and got in our pre-booked  Honda Odyssey with all our luggage at 11am, to sit in some nasty Beijing traffic for the hour it took to travel 17km to the airport.

We figured out where to check in after a couple of false attempts. It was with some concern that we waved goodbye to our luggage that was supposedly checked all the way through to Sydney! 

When we went through security did the full-body pat-down (all four of us). The lady who did mine was confused by the bullet-shaped item in my pants pocket. I tried to explain it was for "lady things" when finally the penny dropped and recognition lit up her face. They generally don't use such things in China. It was kind of funny!

And so to find something to eat - the only restaurant in the airport had some interesting choices - I only managed one photo before someone starting shouting at me (which meant "no photos!"). 

I'm pretty sure I managed to find some chicken instead.

The hour-long flight from Beijing to Shanghai wasn't too bad - we didn't get anything to eat, but I didn't mind too much.

Have I mentioned that they love their rules in China? You had better make sure there's no "dabbling" going on:

So of course, the thing to do is "dabble"!!!

Pudong International Airport at Shanghai is huge!

By now, it was nearly 6pm, so we decided to have our last meal in Asia. Video Boy must have been feeling homesick, because he ordered spaghetti bolognaise, which he proclaimed as being "the best."

Nice soup.

We had a heap of time to kill before our flight, so we decided that because we missed the bullet train in Beijing, we'd have a go on the Maglev Train in Shanghai. It takes you from the airport into Shanghai (30km) in 7 minutes and 20 seconds and reaches speeds in excess of up to 431km/hr (268mph!!).

Trying to buy tickets

Our trip only went up to 300 km/hr - but that was plenty fast enough for me!!

We had intended just to ride the train into Shanghai, stay on board and then come back. But no. In non-existent English, the guard insisted we had to get off. This is despite all the people queued up to get on board - just right there. No. We had to get off, go down the escalators, out the turnstiles, back in the turnstiles, up the escalators and then wait for the next train because the one we were on had left already. Chinese bureaucracy.

You don't want to get in the way of a train travelling at 300 km/hr. Just sayin'.

Back at Shanghai Airport, we settled in for a long wait for our flight home. Luckily, there were excellent shops, where we shopped much more successfully for souvenirs than we did in Beijing. There were also great charging stations, which was handy before the flight. The time went relatively quickly, although we didn't board until after midnight.

This was easily the longest flight I've ever been on. Being squished in cattle-class for a 10 hour flight whilst being sick is not my idea of a fun time. The babies on board were none-too-thrilled either, judging by their crying. Thank goodness for eye-masks and ear-plugs, which I had packed four weeks ago in anticipation of this moment. A weird "dinner" at 2am (5am Sydney time) and then attempt at sleep. Video Boy managed the best of all of us. Teenage boys, huh?

And so, after 4 weeks, 6 countries, and a 26 hour trip home, we arrived at Sydney Airport! And more importantly, our luggage was there, which is more than I can say for Panda Girl who wandered off to go to the toilet. There we were, tired, cranky and looking for a lost daughter in Sydney Airport. She eventually turned up....grrrr.

My sister-in-law very kindly waited for us to get through customs in a final big queue (it was amazing the stuff people tried to get in without declaring) and took us back to her place where she had kindly minded our car. After a cup of tea, it was in the car for the 3 hour drive home.

It was amazing to smell the eucalyptus in the park on the pit-stop on the way home! It was stunning to smell the ocean when we got home! It was great to see all the trees! The dog was so excited to see us (he was minded by a lovely friend who also house-sitted). The house seemed super-tidy and soooo big! And we had Aloe Vera tissues!!! Bliss! And no queues.

It was a great trip and I'm so glad I could share it with you and hope you enjoyed it too. I think, looking back, that it was a great experience that we all can look back on with fond memories. It has certainly whetted our appetite for further travels (budget permitting!). But travel also makes you appreciate what you have at home - fresh air, open space, all your "stuff", the internet!

Give us a bit of time to recover, but I'm sure we'll find another good deal to go somewhere else exciting and I'm hoping I'm still blogging and will able to share it with you :-)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bustling Beijing - shopping and food!

 It's our last full day in Beijing! We could have spent the day rushing around, trying to fit in more sightseeing, but we had had enough. So we let the kids have a sleep-in and went for a little walk to Wangfujing St - the main shopping district of central Beijing. It was kind of empty at 9am! Nothing much opened until 10am, so we had plenty of time for a coffee, where we met another lovely Australian couple who had also been on the Diamond Princess! We also sussed out where all the "good" shops were:

Yet another Apple store!

Pedestrian mall
We brought the kids back MacDonalds for breakfast - it was fun trying to decipher the Chinese menu into something familiar. The kids were pretty grateful! We then too them out for a stroll around the local streets and shops.

We found a great archaeological site just one block from the hotel! We also found a street vendor selling sugar-coated fruit on a stick - you can see Wombat Girl enjoying that:

This is the original road

We headed down to "snack street", which is located in the "hutongs" or back alleys to the west of the main pedestrian mall. There were also lots of souvenirs shops which we spent a bit of time in, picking up a chess set and the iconic waving cat:

Hubby is the King of Haggling! He gets haggled every day in our shop, so he has no compunction in returning the skill. It is expected in China, but I'm hopeless at it and Video Boy feels decidedly uncomfortable with the whole process:

Then it was lunchtime! One of my big wish list items was Peking Duck in Beijing. We took forever to find it, but finally made our way up to Quanjude - one of Beijing's oldest Peking Duck restaurants (opened in 1864!). It was later in the afternoon (around 2pm), so we had no trouble getting a table. They wanted us to buy the set menu, but Peking Duck was what we wanted! Before long, out came a beautifully roasted whole duck, and the very skilled guy to carve it up:

The skin was DIVINE!

Soy bean paste and shallots to go in the...

...beautifully thin pancakes/crepes

The kids got pretty skilled at using chopsticks this trip!

And yep, they give you everthing

The kids were still pretty tired after our Big Day yesterday, so we dumped them in the room with their electronic entertainment for a bit of chill out time, with strict instructions to NOT answer the door to anyone!
View from the room - you could see more in real life as you moved around

We went back into shopping fray - and came back with very little! I got a beautiful green silk top, but we struggled to find the dressing gown and watch we wanted for my mother-in-law. We wandered around looking at suitcases, jewellery, and chatted to an employee at the Apple store who was a qualified journalist in his home city, but moved to Beijing to work as a shop assistant, because he sees that as a better career move. He asked us "what city" we lived in back in Australia - I don't think they can comprehend anything else except high rise city living in China!

Later that afternoon/night, we checked out the Donghuamen Night Markets - on our street, just a block down was the BEST street food you could possibly imagine! I actually didn't bring my camera with us when we went back with the kids to eat (can you believe it??), but luckily we snapped a couple of shots before then:

Every food you could possibly imagine - most of it on a stick!

Eel on a stick? Maybe with a little starfish or sea urchin appetiser?

Every kind of dim sim you can think of - we ate one of everything!

Perhaps you would prefer bull testicles?

Kids enjoyed these - what a shock.

Mud crabs. We didn't get a photo (kicking myself),
but the best thing I ate there was spicy soft-shell crab
on a stick. I'm still drooling...
So after absolutely stuffing our faces with as much food as we could eat with whatever Yuan we had left, it was time to go back to the hotel to pack. It was a fitting last night meal!!! Stay tuned for one last holiday blog post before I resume normal programming :-)

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