1.8 Million square kilometers:
Land area blasted by the March, 2010 sandstorm in northern China.
I've been super busy because we had a month of visitors in town. First was Eric's brother Chris and his three kids: Aaron (19), Bryce (16), and Megan (14).
They arrived March 18 and departed on the 31st. We had a great time with them. They did a few things on their own too - no easy feat here. I think their favorite thing wa bargaining in the markets. They got a bunch of great electronics, remote control helicopters, and gifts for their friends. They weren't as interested in some of the local culture I find fascinating (i.e. food markets full of nothing you could recognize / want to eat) but that's to be expected at their age I guess. Good prep for when Greta and Ivy are a few years older...
Did you see the Alarming Statistic above?
I want to tell you what it's like to wake up in the morning and have the entire sky look orangeish-brown. Maybe you read about the tremendous sand storm that hit China on that Friday night and half of Saturday. Here are some pictures -
I know it doesn't look like a lot of sand, but believe me when the tiny particles are flying around in the wind they go in your eyes, up your nose, in your ears, and they are too fine and it's too windy for them to pile up much.
That Saturday morning we were scheduled to meet a Chinese friend of my brother-in-law's (Nora) who lives in Shanghai but was in Beijing for a few days. She wanted to take us to a cool area called Hou Hai. She called the night before to say they were forecasting "big winds" and did we want to cancel? What? The Lagerbergs? No Way! We're tough, we said. So at 9:00am we went out and saw this color of sky - for real.
This photo is of a hutong being torn down in the Hou Hai area.
I was really worried because Greta's 13th birthday party was scheduled for 2:00 that afternoon in an outdoor park! Her party had already been rescheduled once due to a basketball tournament, so we really didn't want to reschedule again. But I wondered if it bordered on child abuse to take kids out to a park with a high number of particulates floating into their lungs and eyes. Fortunately, by 2:00 it was far better. Even so, one of the girls' parents wouldn't let her come for the daytime stuff but she did join us for dinner (Pizza!) But I digress... back to the morning...
We wandered through the shopping street and covered our faces as best possible until we found a place to buy some masks.
Here are Ivy, Megan (cousin) and Greta in a taxi. Nora took us to a place to get very special Famous Beijing food - a type of yogurt with small sweet red beans on top. 3/4 of us loved it. That's about 1/2 of Nora's face on the far right. Also (right to left) Eric, Bryce, Chris, Greta, Aaron, and Megan. (and 1/16th of Ivy in a green coat).
After shopping for an hour or so, we went to a Hot Pot restaurant with Nora. It was a very local one, according to her. We didn't see any other westerners there! Nora ordered for us. Here is the whole clan.
Hot Pot is famous in Beijing too, along with Peking Roast Duck. I'm not sure if they have hot pot in other parts of China. They put a big pot of water on the table heated by a chunk of charcoal. They usually put flavorings in the water. You can choose spicy, mushroom, mild, etc. They then bring obscene amounts of lamb, beef, pork, vegetables, noodles, whatever you would like to throw in there. The other crucial piece is the little bowl of sauce. You dip your boiled foods in there and it's really delicious.
I enjoyed some rest time by working on my blog after hiking on the Great Wall with our visitors. We had a connection to a driver and he arrived right on time at 7:00am on the morning of March 27th. When we walked out to his van we jut couldn't stop laughing when we saw that he had put two CHAIRS in the back of the van to accommodate all of us. Check it out. Everyone looks kind of dismal in this photo, but it's the only one that shows the chairs in the back.
This time we decided to go to Mutianyu Great Wall location just to see what it was like. It's a bit closer in to Beijing and it has a gondola to take you up very close to the wall and a toboggan ride down.
We walked through eight stations between where the gondola dropped us off and the toboggan. Eric, Chris, Aaron, and Bryce walked farther - up the steepest part and I sacrificed and waited with the girls (wink wink).
The temperature was perfect for climbing - cool but nice. The sky was a bit hazy and wasn't bright blue, but it was nice.
Near the beginning of the trail to the gondola we saw all these cats gathered in this one area.
You know it's hard to keep teenage boys from climbing - especially if they are afraid of heights and trying to overcome their fears!
Here, in red, is Aaron who just couldn't resist the challenge. Keep in mind that there is an extreme drop off on the left side of this tower. Luckily he survived.
Here is an example of some of the local Chinese we encountered on the wall. I didn't manage to capture the many 4 inch stiletto heels some of the girls were wearing, but these boots are a great example of a more moderate, but highly rhineston-y footwear perfectly appropriate for climbing 50 degree slopes, don't you think? I considered wearing my leopard print top and no pants, but I can't quite pull that off at 48!
On the wall, you see some local vendors with snacks and souvenirs for sale. Here's how they get their wares up to the wall.
Along the way, Chris and kids encountered this gentleman who was enthusiastically selling Mao hats. Of course modeling was insisted upon, and then what could they do but purchase something from the man?
<--Bryce and Mao guy
.........................................................Megan and Mao guy
Aaron and Mao guy
...Chris and Mao guy-->
Some cutie pies on the wall!
After a long climb, on this section of the wall you have a choice of climbing back down or taking a toboggan ride.
It's a five minute ride down and you can control the speed (thank goodness) so of course we opted for that. Unfortunately for the kids, there were guards posted every so often to keep us from going too fast. This is Chris heading down. They didn't let us take pictures on the way down, darn!
Such a blast! The kids wanted to just climb right back up and do it again and again! (But we didn't). After several hours on the wall, everyone bought some souvenirs and demonstrated their hard bargaining skills.
Fortunately, Chris and the kids got to accompany us in some of our daily life activities - to see how a true Beijinger lives! Ivy had her first swim meet and the whole crew was there to cheer her on (except Eric who had to be out of town but was there in spirit). Chris even got into the action by being a timer - thanks Chris!
We're so proud of Ivy!
She has really become an adventurous kid who is willing to try any sport and have fun at it. She loved swimming this season.
Below - Ivy's favorite - backstroke.
Anyone who knows Aaron, Bryce and Megan knows that they were practically born in a pool. Luckily they got a few chances to swim in the school pool during their visit.
I think they really enjoyed playing in the gym during breaks in the swim meet and in Greta's basketball game. Here's Meg the jumping bean:
And it doesn't take long for Megan to make friends wherever she goes. Here she is with some of Greta's good friends Rowan and Coralie.
After the swim meet we got the chance to watch BCIS (the girls' school - Beijing City International School) Idol competition. It was so much fun and a completely sold out performance.
Eric was racing back from a business trip to try and make it in time to watch Greta and her group sing "We Are The World". There was some serious nail biting and lots of texting as we tried to keep him informed of her position in the line-up and WHERE WAS HE???!!!
And, in typical Eric fashion, he appeared just as Greta, Devon, and Angela walked on stage and was able to hear each and every word of the song.
We are so proud of Greta! It takes real courage to stand up in front of a packed house and sing. The first few minutes were a little tense, but then the audience started clapping along and the girls really relaxed and had fun with it. Greta's voice is amazing - great tone and clear as a bell. She has serious talent and it's great to see her opening up, growing up, and gaining confidence. Who knew moving to China could help with that?!
Oh, and now for the best part... drumroll please... Greta's group won "Fan Favorite" for the evening! There were around 50 acts so that is really something. Go Greta!
Okay, well that's at least a little bit of recent history. Next installment I'll tell you about our visit with Eric's sister, Beth and her husband Steven (the soon to be famous artist who has a gallery opening Thursday, May 6th from 6:00-8:00pm at Zeitgeist (171 South Jackson Street in Seattle).
Oh, and before I forget, we are going to be GREAT AUNT AND UNCLE to Beth and Steven's daughter Lindsey's BABY TO BE! Congratulations Lindsey and Jansen!
Bye for now!