Happy Campers

August26

We did a quick overnight at a provincial campsite just 25 kms north of Revelstoke. We got a primo spot right next to the lake and settled in for the night. Madeline serenaded Simon while he built a campfire:
Serenade
Heating up the coals for marshmallows of course!
Campfire
Snuggly girls:
Happy campers

Happy Canada Day!

July1

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians! We watched the Revelstoke parade, with free cake afterwards!
canada day
It made us reminisce about last Canada Day, in China:
canada day in china 2010

Answering the big question…Was it worth it???

December1

Our stay in China has come to an end after 5 months. It has been an interesting and valuable experience. Medically speaking, I feel that the treatments have had some benefits. I did not get the miracle cure that I once may have hoped for, but I found other things. I found out how to better manage my condition; what makes it better and what makes it worse. I found out that I get results when I stick to my regular strengthening exercises, and that when I slack off it shows. I have learned that daily meditation is my greatest ally and that my brain needs to be ‘turned off’ for a while every day. Most importantly, though, is something that I already knew was confirmed; a positive mindset goes a long way to healing and feeling better. When doubt or anger or impatience clouded my mind, I did not show any progressive results. When my thoughts were positive I did. So I am happy to be at more or less a similar state as I was 5 months ago, which in my opinion is a positive when all I have been promised in the West is a steady decline of health. I am continuing my daily herbal tea (or capsules) and hope to continue on this path of positive progression.
Also, it is always worth it. The things that my family and I have experienced, seen, tasted, touched and lived were like no other in our lives. As always, life is an adventure…!
There is beauty in life

Farewell to China

November30

Some of the final images of our lives in China before we set upon our next set of adventures.
Tai chi in the main entrance of the hospital
Tai chi
Our girls love a party!
Party girls
Such great artists!
Artists
Emily and Madeline having their daily ‘tea party’ with Lutz and Martina from Berlin. We look forward to visiting them in January.
Tea party
Simon watched interestedly as this person’s house got closer and closer to being buried by roadside construction…was it saved or not? We may never know.
Encroachment
A garden at a lovely dim sum restaurant in Guangzhou, our last stop in China.
Dim sum
Guangzhou night scenes:
Tree lanterns
Guangzhou night
Good bye China from the Guangzhou airport with the mascots of the Asian games 2010 which were happening while we were there.
Airport goodbye
Next stop, tropical paradise…?
Island paradise

It’s all about the food

September23

Our friend Dana and I had a chance to have an afternoon and evening to ourselves. Now that we have a cell phone the hospital staff feel a bit better about letting us wander freely in the city without them. I’m not sure if this is about our safety or if they think we are defenceless due to our lack of Chinese language skills. Regardless, I’m sure the proverbial S&*$ would hit the fan if anything ever happened to us.
We began the day with a new hair colour for me (back to my regular colour), which was done very professionally at a new salon. We then both got a great foot massage which included some arm and head massage too.
Afterwards we wandered around the markets looking for fun souvenirs for Dana to take home to Germany. We were getting a bit peckish so some chicken fit the bill.
Hot oil chicken
Here are a few of the sights along the streets:
Food
Veggies
Tired of walking, we took a ride on the wild side, on a motorcycle taxi! It was a short ride and lots of fun.
We arrived at the central ‘night market’, which is where many people gather to eat and do a little shopping after nightfall. The culinary options are great, you can have squid…
Squid
or meat, fish or veggies on a stick…
Skewers
but we decided on this delicious chicken, mmmm mmm!
Eating at the night market
We are getting pretty good at our bargaining skills with taxi drivers for our trip back home, it is a comparatively long fare, some do not even really know where they are going, but we manage to whittle them down to 40 yuan ($5) for this 20 minute drive and no more!

A Happy Anniversary!

September22

Seven years ago Simon and I tied the knot. It has been bliss ever since… (choke, choke, gag, sputter, cough, cough) OK, bliss is not a word that should be used to describe daily life, but we are a fantastic duo and our lives are richer for having met.
Our wedding day
We started our afternoon off with a trip to a REAL coffee shop, and had a coffee, tea and lemonade for the girls.
Cappuccino
After lunch with the girls, we left them in the capable hands of one of our translators, Candy. They were happy to go back to our room at the hospital and watch movies galore! Simon organized the rest of the day, keeping it a secret until this point. Up to now, we have been with the girls 24-7, this was our first time alone. So we giddily skipped down the street to the hair salon, Simon got a haircut and after we both had full massages together. The Chinese use the ‘tui-na’ style of massage, which is kind of different. You are clothed, for one, and there is more manipulation of the joints and pressure on Chinese acu-points, as well as some slapping movements. At one point I was on my back, feet and legs pulled up above my ears and my coccyx was being slapped. An interesting position! In the end, it feels pretty good. Gotta love the wallpaper in our massage room:
Apres massage
Our next stop, hours later; was dinner at a fancy place called Vivian’s. They serve both Chinese and Western fare at this restaurant. We were very cozy as our table was in a little room surrounded by curtains and we sat on comfy couches.
After waiting for a while for a menu and a server, we tried pressing the button on the little table display. Lo and behold we got service! We were in business!
Some of the fare on the menu was less than appetizing…
Interesting fare
Originally we had cashew and bacon salad, lobster and a New Zealand rib-eye steak in mind. The bartender had stepped in to help our shell-shocked server, and he relayed our requests directly to the kitchen by walkie talkie. We were denied all of these wonderful things, not available. Vaguely in my memory came up something someone at our hospital had related similarly in the past, so we did not make a fuss. We both settled on the only available Western dish, a peppercorn t-bone. For the bottle of wine, Simon had to follow the bartender to the storage area and was told to pick it out from the boxes. Of course they were all written in Chinese so he told them that he had to actually SEE the bottles to be able to choose from them. We ended up with a half decent Chinese Cabernet. Haven’t seen an imported wine on our travels yet.
Everytime we needed the help of our server, we pressed the button on the table display. Coincidentally, we both had been hitting the same button in the middle, and I finally realised that meant we wanted more water! So we had a bit of a water stockpile…
Water button
So, being a bit devilish, and a bit tipsy, we thought it would be rather funny to hit ALL the buttons at once and see what happened.
Press them all!
Ok, we didn’t actually do it, but it would have been funny.
Our steaks were very good. Cooked a nice medium-rare, and the peppercorn sauce which they poured on the steaks was very tasty. You should have seen the look of horror on our servers face as Simon motioned for her to put some of the sauce on the ‘mashed potatoes’ on the side plate. I now understand why she gave her friend the look, it was, in fact, a sweet coconut bun!
Steak dinner
We ended up a lovely meal with a mango sorbet, which looked an awful lot like a mango milkshake but at that point, we thought, who cares?
Mango sorbet
We had to have our photo taken under the funky lights as we left.
Nice restaurant
Another funny experience in China, but as we said in our vows,”‘Every day is an adventure!”

Zhangjiajie Forest Park – Day 1

September17

Last weekend we went on a 3 day holiday with our good friend, Dana, who is a TCM student at the hospital here. We took a 3 hour train ride to Zhangjiajie. This park is a UNESCO geopark, noted for it’s peculiar limestone spires amidst sub-tropical forest home to 1000’s of rare species of flora. It is these spires that inspired James Cameron’s vision of hanging mountains on the moon Pandora in his movie, Avatar.
On the trip there, we were able to buy tickets in the deluxe cabins of the train, pretty comfy.
(Maddie likes to make crazy faces in photos these days)
Nice train cabin
We arrived at the train station refreshed and ready to barter. We talked the taxi drivers down from 110 Y to 60 Y. It is a winding road up into the mountains and the taxi drivers do it as fast as possible so that they can return quickly to get more fares. There are incredibly long tunnels through the mountains, several of them just over 2kms long. Contrary to the posted signage, this is long enough for cars, taxis and buses to start passing each other in the tunnel, not for the faint of heart!
We arrived at our destination safely and checked into our hotel. We found a great little street BBQ to have some dinner and went to sleep in anticipation for what our views would be like the next day.
After a delicious Chinese/Western breakfast (with…butter!!) we headed off to the park at the crack of 10:30. Quickly bypassing both the giant LCD screen showing bits of the movie Avatar and the persistent locals who would like to be your guides lurking at the park gate, we began our day. Our first views of the towering peaks above us were awe-inspiring.
First views of the park
We took the ‘Golden Whip Stream’ trail, which is the most popular in the park, somewhat busy but not overly so. It is a leisurely 7km walk along a paved pathway beside the Golden Whip Stream.
Strange stepping stones
There were many scenic spots along the way…
Surrounding peaks
Bridge crossing
Simon, Dana, and Maddie in the backpack decided to go up another trail for a quick look around. Anticipating lots of stairs, Emily and I continued ahead along the easy trail for a while. When they returned to us they were very excited and bursting with adrenaline. It seems they had encountered a group of monkeys, who quietly watched them and checked them out from afar.
Monkeys
A large male came to the forefront for a better look. Eventually the monkeys realised that they were not going to be fed, or they were simply on display to these strange humans. Here is the photo Dana took a moment before all of the monkeys turned to chase them and Simon began to take flight…
Let's get out of here!
Meanwhile, Emily and I enjoyed a quiet moment in the park just off the main trail.
Mountain stream
The hike took a little longer than expected so we opted to go up the ‘Bailong Elevator’ instead of trying to make it across the park to one of the gondolas (there are 2). The Chinese have constructed this elevator both inside and outside one of the spires. It is the world’s tallest glass outdoor elevator at 1070 ft.
elevator
The view at the top was fabulous, albeit a little scary for me. We totally lucked out in that the clouds swept in only moments after this photo was taken. That was the end of the view for that afternoon.
Group on top
We did not know at the time that this elevator is actually rather controversial, and the Chinese went ahead and installed it without the OK from UNESCO and the necessary environmental studies done beforehand. We are not surprised. The future of this elevator is still uncertain.
After our long and fulfilling day at the park we took one of the park buses back to the entrance, only it was the east entrance in a town called Wulingyuan and not the south, where we began. I still cannot understand how there is not a bus back to our entrance after most people just walked the 7km trail that we did. How do they all get back? Maybe we were too late. Two city buses later, with the aid of some kind Chinese people who spoke a tiny bit of English and we arrived back in Zhangjiajie village. We have been fortunate; whenever we have been really stuck we seem to find one person who can help us out with the language.
We met a nice German couple on one of these buses and Dana was very glad to be able to speak in her mother tongue for a few hours as we all had dinner together.
Day 2…

Zhangjiajie Forest Park – Day 2

September16

The next day dawned wet. Very wet. In fact it was pouring rain. Not ones to be scared away by a little wetness, we unpacked our raincoats and headed out. We decided to take the bus back to the east entrance, possibly buying a little time so that the rain would let up. It did not.
After much map consulation, we decided to take the Monkey’s garden trail, sounds innoucuous enough. The trail was depicted as a yellow line, same as the one we took the day before, so we figured it would be a similar walk low in the valley. An attendant at the park gate confirmed this for us.
In contrast to the day before, we were the only ones on this trail. The rain was somewhat abating and the air was warm, so we were content. The scenery was lush and green with beautiful bridges here and there.
Monkey's garden bridge
This happens to be a pivotal photo of our day. The steps on the right are the first set of stairs that we had encountered. They continued on the left of the bridge, and then continued again. At every bend of the trail was a new set of stairs. We reasoned that perhaps we were just climbing alongside this small stream and that it would even out eventually. No, this was not the case. In this situation, at some point one must come to a decision; go up further, or down? Since we had a good 8 hours of rain previous to that moment, the unbeaten path of the stairs was quite mossy and slippery. We thought it best to keep going up. After all, this was supposed to be an ‘easy’ trail wasn’t it?
The rain did stop and we got to a few viewpoints along the way. We were, indeed, climbing way up. Some of the viewpoints were more dangerous than others, we gave this one a wide berth.
Watch your step
We came to a beautiful archway on our hike, and the first people we had seen all morning. This must mean we are near the top, we thought excitedly!
First entrance gate
Then we climbed some more, and hit the cloud level.
up up up in the clouds
The trail got busier with tour groups coming down to the nearby viewpoints, and finally we made it to the top! We had climbed 3,878 stairs to the top of Mt. Tianzi at 1262.5 metres. The total climb was about 750 metres or 2300 feet. This was Emily’s first peak on her own, we are so proud of her; she had a great time and did not complain once. I must say it was supremely tough for me, as my legs are not what they used to be, but I persevered. Madeline did the climb most of the way in the backpack (way to go Simon) but climbed many of the stairs near the top. The Chinese people were amazed to see two young girls tromping up the long staircases.
Peaks
We did know, however, that there was a gondola waiting for us at the end; and we hoped that the map was wrong once again and would be taking us down instead of up some more as it had indicated. The gondola (with 26 more freakin’ steps to get to it, bringing the afternoon’s total to 3904!!!) ride was amazing. It was like we were flying on one of the prehistoric birds from the movie Avatar.
Gondola ride
Gondola view
If this wasn’t exciting enough, we then had only 45 minutes to make it to our train. We ended up in Wulingyuan again, so had to find a taxi to take us to Zhangjiajie village, grab our backpacks from the hotel lobby, and drive down to Zhangjiajie city to get the train.
Wulingyuan
Remember the aforementioned tunnels? It was crazy.
Mountain roadsOn the way home
Train companions
sillygirls
We were warmly greeted at the Huaihua train station by one of the hospital’s drivers and welcomed back with open arms by the staff who were still at work. It was very touching and we feel that we are a part of the family of this hospital. What an adventure this has been!

Funny park signs

September14

As some of you may know, we visited a beautiful forest park, Zhangjiajie, last weekend. It was an awesome place. We are just sorting out the photos but I have a few ready now. There were many signs posted along the trails, and most of them had a funny English translation. Here are the gems…
Our silly girls at the park entrance:
Park entrance
At the start of the trail, “Welcome to the Golden Whip Brook Fit Tourism Line. Breathing the oxygen purifies the lung. Rubbing feet makes you fit. The bridge offers greatest delight. Walking on the stone stakes improves health. Deep valley provides peculiarities.
Exercise is good
The Chinese signs often remind us to mind our manners:
Good manners
A basic fire warning:
No fires
Not really too sure of the message of this one:
No exploitation
Watch for lightning!
Lightning
On a small beach of the stream grow densely precious phoebes. Walking in the woods makes the tourists drunk with coolness and fragrance.
Phoebe Woods
We soon learned what this meant…
Monkey caution
Again, a bit of an unknown to me:
Love nature
Ooooh, shaky rocks!
Shaky rocks
As we climbed a little higher, we found this sign that reads, “Friend, this is a natural oxygen bar with a rich content of negative ions”
Oxygen bar
We took an elevator, yes, an elevator, through and up the mountain side, these were the instructions posted at the door while we were waiting, I particularly enjoy the last rule:
Elevator rules
And finally, just some basic mis-translation, I think they meant exit tunnel, but instead, instilled a feeling of something sinister lurking?
Escape tunnel

Girl Power!

September1

This past weekend was the annual ‘girlie hike’, that I am usually a participant in. It all started 7 summers ago, just before I got married; when several of my closest friends decided to publicly humiliate me in a National Park (otherwise known as a stagette) and venture up to a remote cabin for some good food, good wine and good times! (it’s too bad I don’t have a photo with me of the bowling ball on a chain that I had to drag up the mountain attached to my leg!!)
Asulkan ascent
Asulkan cabin
This event was so popular that we all decided to continue to do this each August or September, sometimes with an unlucky bride-to-be, and sometimes without; but always sans men and children. We are not man and children haters, it is just nice to have a weekend with so much girlie energy! Every year has been an amazing time for all and it is a much-anticipated event. Here are a few highlights from past years.
Balu Pass, Glacier National Park:
Balu pass
Glacier Crest Trail, Glacier National Park:
Glacier crest
Hiking into Elizabeth Parker Hut:
liz parker hut
Lake Oesa, Yoho National Park:
Lake O'Hara
Another bride to be, dressed up for hiking (also a ball and chain and fashion victim):
bride2b
Amiskwi Lodge:
Amiskwi hike
This past weekend, the gang went up to Kokanee Glacier cabin and had a really great time. I was thinking of them and it was really touching to see that they were thinking of me as well:
girl power
I am truly blessed to have such great friends, the ones pictured here and all the others. I salute you all!
I look forward to many more girlie hikes in the future!!

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