Saturday, January 7, 2012

Back in the Jing

290 million

The approximate number of airline trips taken in China in 2011, up eight percent from last year.
China Daily

Happy New Year everyone! Well this blog has really just morphed into my Christmas and New Years' annual letter I guess. Oh well. I keep thinking, "It's a good thing. It means I'm acclimated to this place! It means I'm used to life here and all is well with the world!!!

From the alarming statistic above you can see that the Chinese are becoming more westernized every day. In the two and a half years we've been here you would not believe the changes I've witnessed in Beijing! The compound where we live is getting fuller. We were some of the very first people to live here and there were absolutely no westerners around. Now I see about 15 a day inside the compound and 5 or so a day right in our city block. Mind you I still see thousands of Chinese people, but still. I'm starting to feel like not such a novelty any more. It's kind of bittersweet.

But I realize that I am still seeing and experiencing different and unusual things worth reporting every single day and it's probably worth reporting them to you and yours. I've just grown accustomed to never knowing what to expect on a daily basis so that's my new reality.

This post will not be about Beijing for a change - it's about our recent 20 day trip to Australia~!

It's summer in Australia. Need I say more? I felt very depressed coming back to China, I'm not going to lie. Australia is one of the most beautiful, wonderful places I have ever seen and I've been in 19 countries. See for yourself...

Rainforest in Queensland........................................One of a million beaches

Sydney Harbor ...........................................Melbourne City and Yarro River

We had chilly weather at the beginning (about 70 degrees) and by the end it was sweltering and 95. We flew into Sydney via Hong Kong and stayed one night with our good friends Simone and Ian Alexandre and their two sons Graeson and Shamus. (Thank you, Shamus, for giving up your bed for us!) Their family recently left Beijing for Sydney and we miss them so much we had to go see them.

Ian, Simone, Graeson, and (in front), Shamus Alexandre

We left them after one night and flew to Cairns in Queensland. Spent a few days in that area driving around the Atherton Tablelands, sliding down waterfalls, and hiking through rain forests.

Greta and Ivy at Josephine Falls.........................Farmland on Atherton Tableland

Walking among the treetops at Mali Mali........................................Our hostel in Cairns

Next we drove north to Port Douglas in the far north of Queensland where two world heritage areas meet: the Daintree Tropical Rain Forest and the Great Barrier Reef. We took a Quicksilver boat out to snorkle on the reef.

1.5 hour ride to the Reef on this boat............Quicksilver owns a pontoon we snorkled off of - quite an operation!

We had three hours on the reef. Greta and I snorkled for about one hour and Ivy and Eric snorkled for 2 hours and 58 minutes! We saw hundreds of corals and thousands of fish. One fish Eric and Ivy saw was a maori wrasse over two meters long. There were giant clams 2.5 feet in diameter which Eric would dive down and poke so they would close up. We saw brilliant purple and green fish in schools of hundreds swimming in formation. The water was warm and beautiful and it was really spectacular.

All suited up and striking some poses...............Ivy outside the underwater observation ................................................................................................area
..................................All tuckered out on the ride back to shore

Here are some animals we saw on the trip:

The koala pooped on the lady before Greta and some remnants landed on Greta's shirt. Glad to report koala poo doesn't stain. Greta and Ivy said koalas are really smelly - at least the males with an extra smelly patch on their chests.

In the north of Queensland at this time of year all the beaches are closed for swimming due to the box jellyfish so we had to look at the gorgeous water and beaches and wait until we got a long way south before we could swim. We flew down to Brisbane and began a 6 day drive to Sydney, stopping at many many beaches along the way. We bought some boogie boards and sunscreen and did little else but seek out amazing beaches and sometimes rock ocean pools if the waves were too fierce for a normal beach.

World Class Waves

Byron Bay - probably the most picturesque place we visited.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day caught us by surprise somewhat. In many ways Australia is like the USA 50 years ago. EVERYTHING shuts down on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (the day after Christmas and also Ivy's birthday). We spent Christmas Eve in Iluka, Australia: the largest fishing port on the east coast. You may have a certain picture in mind when I say that but I can tell you that Iluka is literally a tiny town of two streets and everything was shut when we rolled into town at 7:30pm.

We stayed at a cute little motel run by the sweetest retired couple Les and Margaret. There were about 10 rooms and it was not luxury but clean and very well kept up. Les informed us that the only place we could eat was the local "bowls" club which is lawn bowling. We hurried over there - a 4 minute walk - before they closed. The food was completely inedible but the beer was good. Greta and Ivy were the only ones who suffered too badly since we still won't let them drink beer...

We also pre-ordered a breakfast from Les which he brought on a tray Christmas morning. The muesli was great but the lamb chop Eric ordered was very smelly and strong.

Christmas day we drove to Yamba, another town about 35K away and swam in an ocean pool. Everything was closed all day and we drove around looking for dinner with no luck. Our Christmas dinner ended up coming from a gas station: Meat pies in cellophane, one bag of chips each, and a tub of chocolate mint ice cream. I saved the receipt to frame it.

We relaxed for a few hours in the room. Check out Greta's vs. Ivy's book. Classic!!!!!!!!!!

Ivy asked to go fishing for her birthday so she and Eric hired a guide for 3 hours.

Ivy caught 5 fish and Eric caught two and she will never let him forget it! She caught a stingray, whiting, flathead and two brim. They returned happy and a little sunburned.

Greta and I did some shopping in the few stores that were open in the small town of Yamba while the fishing was on. We found this adorable bathing suit for Greta (Ivy's is cute too but not new) and some good summer dresses. It was easy to forget we'd be coming back to -11 degrees in Beijing!

Such great girls. They were excellent travelers on the whole trip. Up for anything and never a complaint.

Eventually we wound our way down the coast back to Sydney where we imposed on our good friends the Alexandres yet again for one night. Next day we flew to Melbourne to visit our other good friend, Prue Morris. We only had a few days with her and she made the most of our visit. We had a great Vietnamese dinner the first night.

............Park, Prue, Ivy, Greta........................On the tram to Chapel Street for shopping

We walked and shopped all morning, though I must say Australia is not the best place for the US dollar right now. Combine that with the fact that things are VERY expensive (like $80 for breakfast) and we were crazy to shop. But it's so nice to see different things than what we can get in Beijing that it was tempting and FUN!

We had lunch at one of the oldest meat pie places in Melbourne - maybe the oldest. I didn't get a photo but the pies were delicious. Then we took the train downtown and went up the tallest building in Melbourne to something called The Edge. This provided fantastic 360 degree views of the city and out to the ocean.

The station we got out at downtown...................The building we went up for the view

The views~~~~~~!~!

Prue showed us some of Melbourne's famous shopping arcades and alleys.

The next day Prue drove us out to Healesville Sanctuary so we could see a wombat, a tasmanian devil, dingos, and a platypus (and a bunch of other amazing animals and birds but those two were high on the list since we hadn't seen any yet!)

The wombat did not want to come out of it's tree trunk hole because it was 95 degrees. Who can blame her? But we got a peek at her backside. Tasmanian devils also were elusive. There was a great bird show - raptors mostly.

New Years Eve we were invited by Prue and her friends to a wonderful dinner and celebration. We opted out of the crowds of Melbourne to stay in a more intimate setting and we met some nice people and the girls got to swim in their pool. Ivy and one of the twin daughters made fast friends.

New Years Day we flew back to Sydney to finally have the final 4 days of quality time with our friends the Alexandres in their new home town. There was trampoline jumping and gin and tonics on the patio, a surfing lesson, a walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge including climbing one of the towers for splendid views, a ferry ride in to Manly for a delicious meal alongside the beach, and a bittersweet goodbye.

Graeson, Ivy, Shamus, and Greta on the train

..........................................Greta on the bridge

Graeson is a widely regarded expert on the bridge having done a paper on it for school. He's generally quite an authority on all things Sydney and was a great tour guide.

We opted to climb up one of the four bridge towers for our view instead of harnessing up (for $250) and climbing across one of the upper arches. We all felt our $11 entry fee was much better value for the money as the views were the same and we didn't have to put on funny blue suits or stand in long lines.

A view from the tower

At Manly Wharf - Manly has produced many Olympic medalists - the strong surf makes the residence great athletes!

Surfing class

This picture is for my friend Carrie -(you know who you are!) I saw this dog and thought it would be a great look for <-------Trixie!

At the restaurant along the beach in Manly - our final dinner... sob sob!

On the ferry back to Sydney Harbor. Ivy was a bit underdressed for the night air!

The view from my kitchen window the day after we returned from Christmas holidays..............what a contrast from our sunny holiday in Australia.

Today the air quality index is pegged at 500 (the bad scale doesn't go higher than this). Ah well, the winds will come eventually and blow this out. Or the Chinese government will make it happen before the fireworks for Chinese New Year less than two weeks away.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2012. We hope to see many of you in the summer in Seattle!

Missing you,
Park Eric Greta and Ivy