Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two years ago - now, with added family members!

Continuing on where I left off, here are some pictures we took in 2009 of our apartment in the first hour after we brought up our luggage, followed by the 2011 versions, taken sometime last month.

Living room, 2011

Living room, 2011

Kids' bedroom, 2009

Kids' bedroom, 2011

Home is where 2/3 of your kids are...

...and, since Xander and I won't be there for a while, I thought I'd fire up the blog by posting some pictures of the kids that we took before we left for the States. Missing you guys!

Riding Xanderback

Kids and cake. Ummm, make that kids and frosting..

Incidentally, Xander is doing fine after surgery, and is now recovering nicely. I probably won't be covering too much of our current activities in the U.S. on this blog, but we are emailing periodic updates to friends and family, as well as posting on Facebook, etc. Want to know more? Leave a comment, or drop us a line - we'd love to hear from you!

Friday, July 29, 2011

For the first time in TWO WHOLE YEARS!!

I had a couple of robo-posts on the blog last week while I was in Chicago, but this is the first time that I've posted on this blog from the United States in two years. Correction - this is the first time I've posted from the States in TWO WHOLE YEARS!! (That extra exclamation point at the end makes all the difference, don't you think?)

To start out, then, a partial list of things that I've done in the last week or so, for the first time in TWO WHOLE YEARS!!

- driven a car (several, in fact, thanks to the generosity of friends)
- eaten homemade cherry pie ala mode, salad with Ranch dressing, and Costa Rican veggie burrito with awesome grilled mushrooms
- gotten onto Facebook without having to connect to a VPN
- paid more for a bagel sandwich than it usually costs to take our whole family out to dinner back in China
- and, most importantly, been able to reconnect with many friends that I haven't seen in (all together, now!) TWO WHOLE YEARS!!

As I think I mentioned, we're here for my son's surgery, (now underway!), and one of the reasons I can write this while waiting instead of pacing up and down the waiting room like a caged ferret is the support that we've been getting from everyone. Thanks, all! Great to be back.

mt. rainier from the plane
The first time I've seen Mt. Ranier from an airplane window in TWO WHOLE YEARS!! (okay, the first time ever, but that doesn't sound as good)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Meanwhile, back in Shanghai...

...they have charging stations for mobile phones that are quite handy. Do they have these in the States yet?


The best part? There's even an ultraviolet telephone sanitizer at the bottom, just so you don't get a virulent disease from your Nokia.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Time warp

Pictures again of the area in and around the coal mining town of Bagou, this time with a bit more focus on landscape.





Taking the pigs off the train


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

People in the neighborhood

More pictures taken around the mining town of Bagou and environs, featuring the residents of the area. I forget the exact statistics, but the town currently has only around 10% of its original peak population still living there.









Monday, July 18, 2011

On the road

Outside the High Speed Train Station, Hongguang

By the time this posts, I'll be somewhere over the Pacific on the way back to Chicago, courtesy of Hainan Airlines. I'm setting up a few robo-posts for the next week, and then after that, well, stay tuned for further developments...

Sunday, July 17, 2011



One of the frustrations of blogging, and journaling in general, come to think of it, is the near impossibility of describing everything you want to describe. I've written about this before - how, if you start to retell an event, often, the retelling can seem like it takes more time than the event itself. Hence my respect for good biographers, travel writers, and anybody who can figure out ways to make nonfiction interesting in general...

This also explains why I post a lot about short day trips and one time events - it's not that we don't do anything else, it's just that these little bits are much easier to describe in the time from when I get up at six to when the kids are up and about demanding breakfast at 6:45. So there are always bits that I really want to write about, but stay in the back of my mind because I can't quite get a handle on how to start writing about them.

One such bit is a small steam train located in Jiayang, about a five hour trip on successive buses to the south and east of Chengdu. As the sign promises, it is the world's only out-of-print small steam train still in operation.


The train takes you up an isolated valley to the small mining town of Bagou. It's really an exercise in time travel, as most of the town hasn't changed much since the sixties. The train gets a few tourists, but the town, like most small villages in the Chinese countryside, has lost a great deal of its residents to jobs in the cities. What remains is a bit of a ghost town, and an interesting window into a Mao-era industrial collective.

The view from our guest house.

Another shot of the engine that got us there.

We went with our friends Lei King, a former student, and Jim, who was visiting the campus with a group of students from New York. Here they are at breakfast with a slightly blurry Xander.

The town square and the Chairman Mao Memorial Pavilion. More photos coming in the next post or three.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two Years Ago - settling in

Some of the first shots of our university that Jane took out of the car window as we first came on to campus to drop off our stuff before heading off to language training, followed by what they look like now:

Cafeteria, 2009

Cafeteria, 2011

Side Gate, 2009

Side Gate, 2011

Here, the change in the photos aren't terribly big, but the changes in our minds are huge. The first picture from 2009 is of a random building. The first picture from 2011 is the 西华大学第三食堂.(Xihua Daxue di san shitang - Xihua University cafeteria #3, which, according to students, is the cafeteria with the best food, though it's a bit more expensive.)

The next picture from 2009 is a fence with some bikes in the foreground and some buildings behind it. The corresponding image from 2011, on the other hand, is nothing other than the University's side gate, which is:
  • where we pick up our organic vegetables twice weekly,
  • where we're 95% likely to run into a friend or a student if we stand there for more than five minutes,
  • our passage to cheap restaurants if we're too lazy to cook,
  • the way to the market, the stationary store, the hair salon and the bus,
  • and, in the words of a previous foreign teacher who blogged before we got here, "the place where the University ends and the Real China begins".
What a difference two years makes, huh?