Tuesday, September 30, 2014

About our new city

Suzhou, China was founded in 514BC. The city is located approximately an hour and half (50 miles) west of Shanghai. As of 2010 there were 10 million people who called Suzhou home. 

A (not so great) map of where we are
Our new home town is often called the 'Venice of the east' for the many canals that are found throughout the city. In addition to the canals Suzhou has many gardens, about 150, which bring many tourists to the area. Tourism is not Suzhou's only industry, there is also a lot of silk production and in the 1980's many factories were built to produce machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and processed foods. 

So far we have seen: the Humble Administrators Garden, part of Old Town, Tiger Hill and the North Temple Pagoda. There is so much more of Suzhou for us to explore!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the Move

Well it only took me two weeks (and many failed attempts) but I finally got a good video of Baby O crawling!
Here he is pulling himself up on the couch.
The first day he crawled (Sept. 16th) it was a short distance, this lasted for a few days. Now, he is on the move! Crawling everywhere, on everything and even pulling himself up on the couch, coffee table, my legs, what ever he can get to. It is fun to watch him explore!

Here he is, crawling: (If you have any trouble viewing the video let me know and I will try fixing it.)
Crawling from Erin on Vimeo.

Now, I'm off to baby proof this apartment!  :)

Friday, September 19, 2014

30 Day Check-in

Before leaving Seattle J and I were in a PEPS group. Each week at our meetings we would say our highs and lows for the week. Since today marks the 30th day in China for Baby O and me,  I thought that I would do the same for our time in China.  I'll start with my lows and end on a high note.

The Lows

1. Missing family & friends - This comes as no surprise. I knew this was going to be the hardest part for me. My first week was particularly hard and lonely (Baby O isn't much of a conversationalist and J is gone from 7AM to 7PM). Just before leaving Seattle I had been on my maternity leave and I had something planned almost every day. There were baby groups, paly dates, dog park outings, lunches/dinners/happy hour with friends, breakfast out with my parents and walks around Greenlake. I am slowly finding more to keep me busy, and my mind off what I am missing back in the USA. I've go coffee meet ups, a baby group, Skyping with family and I am taking Mandarin lessons twice a week.

2. Language barrier - Simple tasks like ordering lunch or dinner are no longer simple. A lot of restaurants have pictures menus or English menus which helps, but they aren't perfect you, could end up mistakenly ordering cows stomach! Grocery shopping is now a daunting task, not only do I not know what ingredients I can get, I have no idea where to find them or how to ask a store clerk for help. As I said above I just started taking Mandarin lessons twice a week which is hard, but will definitely be helpful in the long run.

3. And a couple other things that come to mind: the heat/humidity, not being able to find a decent glass of wine, the ease of having a car and the food.

The Highs

1. My time with Baby O - I feel very blessed to be able to have this time with Baby O. If we were still in Seattle I would have been back at work (which I do actually miss) for about two months now. I can't imagine being away from him all day. I got to see him sit up on his own and crawl for the first time (I'll post a video of this, as soon as I can actually get him to crawl when I have the camera). There are many more milestones that I probably would have missed if I weren't here right now. I am incredibly happy to have this special time with Baby O when he is growing and learning and changing so quickly.

2. Meeting new people - It took me a couple of weeks, but I started meeting some other expats. The people I have met are a very welcoming group of people from all over the world: Germany, USA, Brazil, Belgium, Australia, Japan, Scotland, England. Everyone I have met has offered to show me around Suzhou and given me their phone number in case I need anything. Some have even offered to watch Baby O.

3. And a coupe other highs: big city living, the food (I know this is in the lows too, some food is great, so I wouldn't make for myself) and the smiles of the Chinese people when they see Baby O.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Leaning Pagoda of Suzhou

Last weekend we saw some of the sites of Suzhou. First we headed to Tiger Hill.  According to legend this is the burial site of King He Lu of the Wu Kingdom. King He Lu is regarded as the founder of Suzhou.  At the top Tiger Hill is the Yunyansi Temple, built in 961 A.D.  This temple is made entirely of brick and it is leaning about 3 degrees because two of its support columns are cracked. This temple is often called the leaning tower of China.

Here are a few pictures from our time at Tiger Hill.

The grounds of Tiger Hill were very pretty. There was a bonsai garden and a bamboo forest as well as some other out buildings before getting up to the temple.  There was also an option to ride a horse drawn carriage or a large golf cart up the hill for an extra fee.
Chinese people get rather excited when they see Baby O. It is not uncommon to be stared at or stopped so people can take pictures of him.  Our time at Tiger Hill was no different.  We saw this couple on the other side of the temple just before J took the picture of Baby O and I with the temple above.  They decided to follow us a little bit and then gestured that they wanted to take a picture with Baby O and I. What you can't see in this picture is that the Chinese baby doesn't have any pants on (this is a normal thing here). 

After Tiger Hill we headed to North Temple Pagoda (Beisi Pagoda).  This is a nine story pagoda that you are able to go in. There is a pretty good view, it would have been better if it had been a clearer day. The current pagoda was build during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it is on a historical site dating back 1,700 years. The pagoda was originally eleven stories tall, but had to be shortened because of damage to the top floors.

Here are a few pictures from our time at North Temple Pagoda.

(Our place is near the building above that looks like a pair of pants.)

(The leaning pagoda of Suzhou is in the center of this picture.)

Baby O, Six Months Old

Six months old. Half a year! Baby O is officially six months old today.  I just don't know how this is possible. How have six months past already?!!?!? Everyone told me that it would go by quickly, and it really is!
(Baby O day one)
Baby O is already an active little guy. He can roll over. His newest thing is to sit up on his own. He is pretty good, but still falls over from time to time. He gets up on all fours all the time, but there isn't any forward movement just yet. I know that he will be crawling soon so I am enjoying the last few moments of non-mobility.
(Baby O week one) 
Baby O has been eating some solid foods and he is loving every minute of it. He has tried avocado, peas, carrots, oatmeal cereal and sweet potato. I have some broccoli in the freezer waiting for him and I plan on starting some fruits for him soon too. There are no teeth in site, so all his food is still puréed.
(Baby O six months)

He still smiles all the time, holds his hands together like he is praying, and sucks on his two fingers when he is sleepy. Speaking of sleeping, Baby O has started sleeping from 7pm-ish to 6:30am-ish. Hooray! There is an occasional wake up in the night, but even then he goes back to sleep pretty easily.
Happy six months Baby O! We love you!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Today, the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, is Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. The Mid-Autumn Festival dates back over 3,000 years to the Shang Dynasty. At that time Chinese emperors worshiped the full moon, they believed this would bring them a good harvest in the following year. It is the second most important Chinese holiday, with Chinese New Year being the first. It is now a holiday to spend outdoors with family and friends admiring the full moon and eating moon cakes. 
(Our real estate agent S gave us this box of moon cakes.)
Moon cakes are a traditional Chinese pastry.  The dessert is round (like the full moon) with a pastry skin surrounding a sweet dense filling. There are five different traditional moon cake fillings: lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, five kernel, egg yolk and jujube paste. 
(This is the inside of the box, each of the moon cakes were individually wrapped.)
We received a box of moon cakes from our real estate agent. Each of the eight moon cakes were a different flavor.  The first one I tried is pictured below, it was kind of purple in color and I am not sure what the flavor was. Honestly, I am not sure what any of the flavors have been so far. A couple of them were similar to fig newtons, mostly in texture, but the flavor was more like tobacco with some nuts.  There was another one that tasted kind of fishy to me, but J disagreed. The best moon cake that I have eaten was a coconut flavored one I bought on an impulse the other day. 
(This is the outside of the moon cake. This one has an 85 stamped on the top for the café were they were made.)
For mid-autumn festival banks, schools and many other offices have a three day weekend, J's company included. It was nice to have him around for an extra day. We saw some of the Suzhou sites, checked out a new to us grocery store (it has a decent amount of international items and good wine prices) and tried out the subway.
(The inside of a moon cake.)


Saturday, September 6, 2014

It's good for the skin

Well, last night I ate stomach and it wasn't horrible. J and I headed down the street for dinner to what we thought was a hot pot restaurant, it turned out to be Korean BBQ.  It was a happy accident to try out a new food.
 (The charcoal grill in the center of our table.)

There was an English speaking gentleman (I think he was a manager) helping us figure out the menu. There were pictures in the menu which was helpful. There were two items on the first page that were on special, he said they were a little spicy and best if you have them both together. We thought, sure we like spicy, we will take one of each and also another item that look like thick bacon.

I didn't take a good look at the menu, but I thought the two items that were on special looked like little sausages and beef.  I was right about one of the items.

(The two special items cooking.)

I should have taken a closer look (or just asked what we were ordering) at the picture in the menu because what we got was in fact stomach. The manager (who helped us order) said that eating the stomach meat is good for the skin. I tried a couple of bites of the stomach. It was a little bit chewy, and not horrible if you put some sauce on it, but I wouldn't make it for myself.

(The thick bacon cooking.)

Each of the tables had a vacuum above it to suck away all the smoke. The vacuums are the copper thing above the cooking meat in the two above pictures. I have only been to Korean BBQ one other time, while I was in Japan, and they did not have these contraptions at the table and we all left the restaurant smelling like BBQ.

In addition to the meat there were many other small plates of food.  There were two salads, kimchi, and spicy green beans to name a few.  The salad above had sprinkles on it. Neither of us tried the salad because there were plenty of other things to try, so I don't know if the sprinkles were a good addition.  J and I both enjoyed the restaurant and said we would go again. Although I will question the server a little more before we place our order next time :)