Fresh Air: The New Thing to Write Home About

It’s slightly unnerving when a walk in the park leads to the documenting of clear skies simply because you don’t know when you may see them again. A cold front recently swept into the city, sweeping out the pollution and rain that had descended on us for two weeks straight. It was so nice to spend a couple of hours in the pollution-less outdoors, without having to travel outside the city (or outside the country!) to do so. Alas, by the next day the pollution was back again, but for this afternoon I relished the short time spent soaking up the fresh air.

The IFC Building (foreground) and Canton Tower
The IFC Building (foreground) and Canton Tower
IFC Building against a backdrop of blue skies
IFC Building against a backdrop of blue skies
Feeding the fish...these guys were actually chewing up the food and then spitting it into the pond for the fish. Boys will be boys???
Feeding the fish…these guys were actually chewing up the food and then spitting it into the pond for the fish. Yeah, I don’t know either.
Hang onto your hats, gents...you can actually see the top of the Tower!
Hang onto your hats, gents…you can actually see the top of the Tower!
It really is quite a nice city when the air isn't filthy
It really is quite a nice city when the air isn’t filthy
Fresh air brings out the best in all of us, no?
Fresh air brings out the best in all of us, no?




Mountain Climbing and Strawberry Mishaps

Have you ever had a day that went from really great to really bad in the blink of an eye? Well that was the story of my life a couple of weeks ago when a large group of us foreigners trekked out to Maofeng Mountain on the outskirts of Guangzhou for some fresh air before hitting a local strawberry patch for a super-fresh seasonal treat.

The hike around Maofeng Mountain was somewhat difficult (for a 5 month pregnant gal that is) but incredibly invigorating, especially given the crisp, clean air that met us just outside the city. We hiked for a couple of hours before finally reaching the top, catching an expansive, if somewhat overcast view of life outside the concrete jungle.

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I should mention the term “hiking” is used somewhat loosely here. When you and I think of hiking, images of dirt trails, hiking boots and backpacks likely come to mind. But in China, it seems that in an effort to accommodate the high heels, Chuck Taylors and other odd, inappropriate-for-walking-hours-outdoors attire, they pave, tile and step every possible trail in a park, no matter how steep the climb. This leads to torturously long stairmaster workouts like the one below…

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So long I wondered if we had stumbled upon the Stairway to Heaven

After the hike and a well-deserved lunch, we traipsed over to a local strawberry patch where I felt like I picked my weight in strawberries (perhaps this was the ever-powerful pregnancy food eye getting the best of me). Unfortunately the food eye does not distinguish between safe-to-eat food and the puke-your-brains-out-to-the-point-of-going-to-the-hospital-for-an-IV-drip kind of delicacies, because that’s exactly what I had coming for me after consuming a few of these unassuming red devils. No one else seemed to have contracted a severe case of food poisoning, so I chalk it up to a weird pregnancy interaction with whatever was used to grow them (I cringe at the thought of just what that could be). But no worries, I recovered in a couple of days, and the babe took it like a champ and didn’t even realize anything was wrong.

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My spoils, literally and figuratively
My spoils, literally and figuratively

A little bit of this and that…

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of “what’ve you been up to lately?,” to which I reply “oh, you know, a little bit of this and that.” To be honest, while big things have been going on the past few months, my creative juices have met the grey behemoth that is Guangzhou’s winter. This dreary, polluted time of year saps the creativity right out of me (seriously USA, never take your clean air for granted!). But luckily the weather has been on an upturn the past few days, compelling me to get my right-side of the brain going again. And thus we have a photo barrage from the past four months…

In November we took Ben’s parents to Beijing. We saw the Forbidden City, took a rickshaw ride around the old part of Beijing and saw the Bird’s Nest and Aquatic Cube at the Olympic park. But the best part was by far hiking the Great Wall. We avoided the touristy, reconstructed parts of the Wall, and instead took a weekend trek along less-inhabited portions with William Lindesay, a British man who has studied and hiked the Wall for decades. The hikes were tough at times, but the views were breathtaking and it was so nice to be out in the middle of nature, without thousands of your closest friends vying for a good photo-op. If you enjoy hiking and the outdoors, I highly recommend doing a trek instead of going to the tourist hotspots on the Wall.

Some parts of the Wall are incredibly steep!
Some parts of the Wall are incredibly steep!
Sunrise at the Wall
Sunrise at the Wall
The front gate to the Forbidden City
The front gate to the Forbidden City
I really hope this shop has a theme song set to the tune of the British anthem
I really hope this shop has a theme song set to the tune of the British anthem
Gettin' kinky at the Bird's Nest in the Love Elevator!
Gettin’ kinky at the Bird’s Nest in the Love Elevator!

After coming back to GZ from Beijing, we threw a Thanksgiving feast for the ages. The menu included not one but TWO turkeys, homemade dressing (Aunt Minnie, you’d be proud…your recipe was a hit!), mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and other classic goodies. I think we came about as close as possible to simulating a true American Thanksgiving. The only thing missing was a football game!

Thanksgiving feast

After the American holidays, we then enjoyed a few days of relaxation for Chinese New Year. Last year we went to the Philippines, but this year, given the extensive traveling we had done the previous few months, we decided to take it easy and enjoy an empty and less-polluted Guangzhou. During CNY millions of people travel back to their hometowns to celebrate the holiday. Since a large number of migrants live in Guangzhou to work at the factories, I think it’s safe to say that way more people left the city than came in to visit family. We thoroughly enjoyed the empty sidewalks, 15 minute commutes, clear(er) skies and other small perks a city void of millions has to offer. We also crossed something off the “we’re in China so we should see it before we leave” list and visited the top of the Canton Tower, the tallest structure in China. Given the sunny weather we were having closer to the ground, we thought this would be a great day to go to the top and catch the sunset. But alas, despite the closed factories and millions out of town on holiday, a nice layer of smog still managed to blanket the city.

The closest we've gotten to an actual sunset in quite awhile.
The closest we’ve gotten to an actual sunset in quite awhile

But perhaps the biggest event that’s been going on here is the bump that’s slowly taking shape around my waistline. Yep, we’re adding a new addition to the family! And we recently received our first baby outfit, courtesy of my mom and sister, embroidered with the cutest name ever bestowed on anything having to do with the government…

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I can’t get over how tiny this onesie is!