Beautiful Guilin – Riverboat tour to Yangshuo

Up early as today was river cruise day!!  I think that everyone else staying in our hotel were also doing the river cruise as we had to wait for a breakfast table at 7.45 on a Sunday morning!!  Lily met us at 8.30 and we then did the 20 minute ride to join the 100’s of other people boarding the river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo on the River Li.  Our boat held about 130 people but did not feel crowded.  All the boats were like this and they were leaving every 10-15 minutes.  It was a 4 hour leisurely ride to Yangshuo, but it went fast and was a lovely time through spectacular scenery – this really is the most beautiful place in China.

The River Cruise Route.  A 4-5 hour ride through spectacular scenery.

The River Cruise Route. A 4-5 hour ride through spectacular scenery.

The Government pay the fishermen to take trash out of the river so it is very clean as a result.  :-)

Follow the boats to Yangshuo......  Down the Yantze river.

Follow the boats to Yangshuo from Guilin…… Down the Li river.

All of the boats are very similar.  We spent quite a bit of time on the upper deck taking photos!  We saw some of the local tradespeople sailing up to the big boats selling fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.  Some of our lunch was sourced this way!

A local vendor selling his wares - boatside!

A local vendor selling his wares – boatside!

It all looks good!

It all looks good!

Despite the colour of the water, the Li River is one of the cleanest in China.  After stormy weather, the River turns this muddy colour.

Despite the colour of the water, the Li River is one of the cleanest in China. After stormy weather, the River turns this muddy colour.

The cruise of this section of the River Li is 83km long and is split into 3 rough sections.  The various attractions (villages, peaks, hills, rock formations) have interesting descriptive names, which calls for much of your imagination to see if the descriptions match the view!  The tour guide on each boat (as well as Lily) explain many of the legendary stories about these attractions  – most are mystical fairy and love stories.

In the second section, which is from Ox Gorge (near the Bamboo River Dock and the Millstone Dock) to Water-Dropping Village, we witnessed the most charming scenery of the cruise: Wangfu Rock (Yearning-for-Husband’s-Return Rock); Crown Cave – A crown-like crag earns the hill this name. What makes the hill a worthy stop for both river cruise tourists and those who arrive from Guilin City by bus tour, is its twelve kilometer long water-eroded cave. It is a wonderland of various stalactite, stone pillars and rock formations in the cave. Since it is open to tourists in 1995, illuminating lights, sound control tour guide system and escalators are equipped in the scenic area and sightseeing cars and boats enable visitors to tour inside the cave. The government plan to build this site as an all-round tourist area including cave visiting, country sightseeing and ethnic minority exploration. It is estimated to become an important excursion site along the the river.   Not very far from the Crown Cave on the western bank, a huge rock descends into the river and cuts off a footpath by the water edge. Villagers have to take a ferry to reach the other side and continue the way. So, this spot gets its name Half-Side Ferry (for usually ferry means to transport people by boat across a body of water and reach the opposite bank).

Down stream from Yangdi to Xingping, the river passes an endless procession of distinct peaks and bamboo groves and stunning landscape.  This part was the highlight of the cruise.  Pinnacled peaks pop up and surprise visitors at each bend of the river.  Water buffalos patrol on the fields; ducks paddle in the waters; peasants reap paddies in front of village houses; fishermen use the cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat and kids go home singing songs.  An idyllic and beautiful scene of life on the river, far removed from concrete cities.

Nine Horse Mural Hill (jiuma hua shan) is a 100-meter-high cliff face,  61km from Guilin and 4km from Xinping.  It has been weathered and is a stratified rock surface in various shades of colors.  The legend is that the colors represent nine horses that assume a variety of poses: some seem to be running, some just lying there and others playing.   It is said that a herdsman (Monkey King) from the heaven brought his horses to Li River and while there, an artist saw those horses and wanted to draw them.  Unfortunately, the horses were so scared of him that they ran into the cliff and never came out again.

Legend says that if a person can point out all the nine horses on the precipice, she or he would be the winner of the next “Imperial Examination”.  It is reported that Premier Zhou Enlai and President Bill Clinton were able to recognize and identify all of the nine horses.  Legendary stories are given to hill rocks and peaks and it is a delightful experience to appreciate the stunning landscape while listening to tour guide’s interpretation of the stories behind it.

Can you see the Nine Horses?

Can you see the Nine Horses?

Sailing on downstream, south from the Mural Hill about 500 meters, peaks become steep and the river becomes wide and quiet. A huge yellow flagstone lying under the waters can easily be seen. It is like a cloth piece and people called it Yellow Cloth Shoal. There are seven green peaks standing nearby. A legend goes that the seven peaks are fairy girls from the heaven who took baths in the river.  Enthralled by the charming scene, they stayed here and become into the peaks.  The green peaks under the blue sky reflected on the quiet waters create a spectacular scene.

The scenery is spectacular.

The scenery is spectacular.

One of the Riverboat views.

One of the Riverboat views.

Another view!

Another view!

A waterfall captured from the Boat.

A waterfall captured from the Boat.

Another View!

Another View!

A Panoramic view

A Panoramic view

One of the caves that we saw along the way.

One of the caves that we saw along the way.

It was a little breezy on the top of the boat!

It was a little breezy on the top of the boat!

Oliver and Isabelle practising Kung Fu on the top of the boat.

Oliver and Isabelle practising Kung Fu on the top of the boat.

Cormorants are good sized birds who enjoy diving underwater in search of fish. The local fishermen use the cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat.  They drive the birds into the water where they dive below the surface in search of fish.  When the birds catch a fish they return to the boat and the fisherman removes the fish from their throat and places it in the basket.  The secret is that the fisherman places a cord around the bird’s neck to keep the bird from swallowing the fish.  I am not sure if I like this approach, but it was certainly a good show.

Cormorant Fishing

Cormorant Fishing

The river takes a big turn at Xingping and this was the most beautiful scenery.  For anyone who has visited China you will be familiar with this scene as it is reproduced on the back of the 20 RMB note.

Owen holding the 20 RMB note at the spot on the cruise where it is reproduced from.

Owen holding the 20 RMB note at the spot on the cruise where it is reproduced from.

My turn!  Had to be quick taking these photos as the boat moves quite rapidly.

My turn! Had to be quick taking these photos as the boat moves quite rapidly.

The kids enjoyed the upper deck.  It was empty for most of the trip.

The kids enjoyed the upper deck. It was empty for most of the trip.

A kiss for my honey!

A kiss for my honey!

Part of the Village.

Part of the Village.

An old castle complex can be seen from the boat that is over 500 years old.  Some of the courtyard buildings have weathered through ages; the simple but elegant flying-eaves, roofs with colorful paintings, lattice windows and unique timber structures present the folk residence from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  Local Chinese call it the ‘village’ because that nowadays it is inhabited by villagers.   Many of the villagers have the same surname of Zhao, so it is rumored that they are descendents of the imperial family in the Song Dynasty.

It was a fun and relaxing way to spend half a day!

It was a fun and relaxing way to spend half a day!

The very last section of the river cruise took us from Water-Dropping Village to Yangshuo.  Along this section we passed Snail Hill, Green Lotus (Bilian) Peak and Schoolboy (Shutong) Hill.

One of Yangshuo’s renowned photo-ready hills, Snail Hill is about 1 km (0.6 mile) south of Xingping Town, and is 64 km (40 miles) from Guilin. The veins that twist up from the bottom to the hill make it look like a big snail. That’s how it got its name!  Underneath is Snail Cave, full of Stalactites, in the shapes of birds, beasts, fruits and flowers.  There are three snail stones which are hanging upside down- 0ne is as white as snow, one is as dark as midnight and the other is as green as emerald.  Legend says that they are the babies of the big Snail (the hill!)

The nearby hut, named Tengjiao Nunnery, was originally built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It consists of two sections: Sanbao (three treasures) Hall and Kuixing (God that governs literature and writing) Pavilion.  Every year, on 3rd of the 3rd lunar month, 6th of the 6th lunar month and 9th of the 9th lunar month, people around will take their children here to pray for good marks in their education!

Schoolboy Hill rises up on the right bank of the Li River. It is the smallest peak along the bank of the river.  According to legend, a long time ago, there was an evil dragon in the Li River which often hovered on the river and endangered the local people.  One day, a schoolboy received a sealed book from his teacher. The book taught him how to conquer this vicious creature and when the dragon saw this book, it fell down to the river.  For fear that the dragon might play a trick of opossum, the schoolboy, holding the book, stood by the riverside and changed into a hill (Schoolboy Hill) to protect the local people.

Yangshuo is a very small town on the Li River that has been made famous by the River Cruise business.  It is 90km south of Guilin.  When our boat docked we walked along West Street which is lined with cafes, restaurants, market stalls and hotels.   We stopped to get some Haagen Daas icecream and were outraged to be charged almost $50 for 2 little pots.  We returned the cups and said that we didn’t want it.  Our guide was horrified at the whole affair.  Instead, we headed to a delicious Mango shop and had Luscious Lemon juice and Magnificent Mango smoothies at Mango.  This place is covered with signed cup holders so we left our notes too (evidence up on the wall).

Signing our names and adding to the wall in the Mango shop

Signing our names and adding to the wall in the Mango shop

After this, we walked back to meet our driver who took us to another part of the River for Bamboo river ride.  This was a huge highlight for the whole family! They are floating bamboo rafts that hold 2 people.  Owen and Isabelle were in 1 and Oliver and I in another.  We bought some water pistols and had LOADS of fun drenching everybody. We also got soaked as a result of the payback.  Both of our guides stopped to get us beers – which were being kept cool in the river!!

The start of the Bamboo River Raft ride

The start of the Bamboo River Raft ride

Owen and Isabelle's raft

Owen and Isabelle’s raft

Squirt and splash time

Squirt and splash time

Oliver getting brave!  The river is only a few feet deep!!

Oliver getting brave! The river is only a few feet deep!!

Enjoying my beer that was chilled from the River

Enjoying my beer that was chilled from the River

Owen had 1 too!

Owen had 1 too!

Spectacular

Spectacular

This was a brilliant way to spend a few hours.

This was a brilliant way to spend a few hours.

Ready, aim, fire and soak!!

Ready, aim, fire and soak!!

The water pistols were remarkably powerful and we could get quite the distance on the squirt!

The water pistols were remarkably powerful and we could get quite the distance on the squirt!

Our driver was waiting for us at the end of the ride, so we quickly dried off and then had a 90 minute drive back to hotel in Guilin.  All exhausted after a very active day so it was dinner in the Italian restaurant in the hotel.
Monday morning we flew back to Shanghai.

Can highly recommend this as a long weekend visit in China.  The scenery is spectacular and there is so much to do to accommodate all ages.

Oliver’s Year at BISS

The last homework that Oliver had to complete was to create something that summarized his year of learning.  He has just completed Year 1 at BISS.  He received a fabulous end of year report (so did Isabelle!) and they have both really accomplished so much in the year.  We are so proud of them.  They scored top marks for effort in every subject which means they are trying their very best at everything – can’t ask for more!!

Oliver did a great job on his final project:

Oliver's year 1 at BISS!

Oliver’s year 1 at BISS!

 

Bugsy Malone – BISS Junior School production

We have just watched an amazing performance from the Junior School at BISS.  When I say, Junior School, I mean ALL of the Junior School!  Over 200 childrend, (every single student in Year 4 and Year 5) had a part to play.  All 200+ children were on the stage, (and in front of the stage!) for the final song.  The professionalism from 8 ,9, 10 year olds completely astounded me.  The vast majority of the performance was done without microphones, yet every child who had a speaking or singing part was clear, loud and articulate.  Their confidence was brilliant to watch.

Bugsy Malone Program

Bugsy Malone Program

Isabelle's name in print!

Isabelle’s name in print!

This was a massive co-ordination effort and has taken months of planning.  The play was directed by Steve King (Head of Junior School) and you could see the pride and joy written all over him at the end of the show.  He gave thanks to all the children and the teachers who had worked so hard to deliver such a flawless performance.  In fact, the show was originally only planned for 2 nights, but the demand for tickets was so high, that the school had to offer a Matinee performance in addition!!

Isabelle and her teacher, Mrs Suzanne Sinclair.  This was drop off time prior to curtain up!

Isabelle and her teacher, Mrs Suzanne Sinclair. This was drop off time prior to curtain up!

All made up and ready for the stage.  :-)

All made up and ready for the stage.🙂

Isabelle was part of Fat Sam’s Dancing Girls.  She came out with a huge smile on her face and it didn’t leave her face.  She sang beautifully and all the girls did a very professional dance routine.

Beautiful singing and dancing

Beautiful singing and dancing

Huge smiles from all the girls.

Huge smiles from all the girls.

In synch and in step.

In synch and in step.

BISS is a very diverse school with students from all over the world.  This was, of course, represented in the cast.  In addition, 2 very talented pianists from year 5 played all the music for the show.

Bugsy Malone and Blousey Brown - both perfectly cast!

Bugsy Malone and Blousey Brown – both perfectly cast!

Starting to bring all cast members out for the finale.  Isabelle is still smiling.

Starting to bring all cast members out for the finale. Isabelle is still smiling.

Finale

Finale

It was the first time I had been to a school production where the audience gave a very extended standing ovation.  Every child had poured their heart and soul into their performance.  It was wonderful and very moving.

Beautiful Guilin – Fubo Hill, Reed Flute Cave & Elephant Trunk Hill

Another long weekend, this time due to Dragon Boat Festival and we had booked a long weekend to Guilin.  On Friday afternoon we picked the kids up a little early from school and then set off for the airport.   In true China fashion, we had a delay, but it was only 30 minutes.  We landed in Guilin at 7.15 and a driver from the hotel we had booked (the Sheraton) met us ready to take us to hotel.  We had a late dinner in the cafe and then settled in for the night.

The Sheraton is a nice hotel on the river and there is spectacular scenery all around this beautiful city.  On Saturday morning our guide, Lily met us to start our days adventures.  Just like our guides in Beijing and Xi’an, Lily was knowledgeable, flexible and attentive.  She had arranged a nice minivan for our transportation and we had a good driver to go with that!  We started the morning by visiting Fubo Hill which is a large local park set around a large rock hill.

Fubo Hill Park - a peacock!

Fubo Hill Park – a peacock!

Isabelle and Oliver trying to pull the sword out!

Isabelle and Oliver trying to pull the sword out!

Oliver (and Army General) by the entrance to Fubo Hill Park.

Oliver (and Army General) by the entrance to Fubo Hill Park.

Oliver & Isabelle by the "Huge Bell"

Oliver & Isabelle by the “Huge Bell”

The "Huge Bell" information

The “Huge Bell” information

Owen, Kids and our guide, Lily by the Thousand Men Pot

Owen, Kids and our guide, Lily by the Thousand Men Pot

The Thousand Men Pot

The Thousand Men Pot

Inside of the huge stone hill are caves, with stone carvings, statues and walkways.

Inside of the huge stone hill are caves, with stone carvings, statues and walkways.

Some of the ancient stone carvings

Some of the ancient stone carvings

Information about the stone carvings

Information about the stone carvings

Oliver by a Buddha

Oliver by a Buddha

The back of Fubo Hill Park opens onto water.  There are caves everywhere!

The back of Fubo Hill Park opens onto water. There are caves everywhere!

The Sword Testing Stone

The Sword Testing Stone

Details about the Sword Testing Stone and the Thousand Buddha Rock

Details about the Sword Testing Stone and the Thousand Buddha Rock

All of us by the lovely gardens at the public park - Fubo Hill

All of us by the lovely gardens at the public park – Fubo Hill

After spending a few hours at Fubo Hill Park, we then set off for Reed Flute Cave, which is absolutely stunning.

The cave received its name in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) for the numerous reeds growing outside the cave.  Back then, the local children liked to carve the reeds into flutes and even today, children can be seen around the cave’s entrance offering to sell the reed flutes that they make to visitors.  What makes Reed Flute Cave so marvelous are the stalactites, stalagmites, and columns that can be found inside the cave and the very creative and effective lighting for tourists.  The formations were created over thousands of years by dripping water.  A very small amount of calcium carbonate located in the water adheres to the stone with each drop.  When the drop hits the floor of the cave it also leaves a small calcium carbonate deposit that will eventually become a stalagmite.  These formations sometimes meet and become a column.  They grow on average of one millimeter per year.  The formations can be quite astounding and the ones found in Reed Flute Cave are particularly beautiful.

Reed Flute Cave

Reed Flute Cave

The beautiful lighting against the fabulous stalagmites and stalactites.

The beautiful lighting against the fabulous stalagmites and stalactites.

While walking through the cave, you can use your imagination to feel like you are being transported to different environments.  Some sections seem like a forest of crystal trees, while others seem like underground mountain ranges and even cities.  The strange formations can sometimes seem unworldly.  Many of the formations have taken on recognizable shapes of mythological creatures, or natural images.  There is one formation that even looks like Santa Claus with his sack on his back.  Due to the darkness of the cave, it is quite difficult to get a photograph that can express the same feeling as actually being there.

This one looks like mosquito nets hanging down!

This one looks like mosquito nets hanging down!

 

The kids loved the cave - it is huge and quite breathtaking.

The kids loved the cave – it is huge and quite breathtaking.

We spent ages looking at the different formations - everyone's imagination interprets them in different ways.

We spent ages looking at the different formations – everyone’s imagination interprets them in different ways.

A giant ice cream sundae!

A giant ice cream sundae!

The lighting really makes an impact when you are walking around.

The lighting really makes an impact when you are walking around.

More formations

More formations

The cave is over 240 meters in length and it takes visitors approximately one hour to walk through the entire cave. The cave’s route is U-shaped and the exit and entrance are very near each other. There are over 70 ancient stone inscriptions that can be found in the cave. They are travelogues and poems writing by Tang Dynasty literati who visited the cave and found it so beautiful that they wanted to leave their thoughts behind for future generations of visitors.  It is a magical place with so much to see.  Every 20 minutes there is a video projection in the main great cavern space.  It fast forwards through millions of years of history around the Cave and finishes with a ballet projection.  It is all beautifully done.

The ballet show.

The ballet show.

Stunning lights.

Stunning lights.

Simply Beautiful

Simply Beautiful

Outside the Reed Flute Cave, walking through the grounds by the river and lakes.

Outside the Reed Flute Cave, walking through the grounds by the river and lakes.

The view from the other side (outside Reed Flute Cave).

The view from the other side (outside Reed Flute Cave).

After the Reed Flute Cave we went on to Elephant Trunk Hill.  On the top of Elephant Trunk Hill sits a pagoda named Puxian Pagoda.  It is 14-meter-high, and was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  The pagoda looks like the hilt of a sword sticking out of the back of the elephant.  There is a ancient legend that in times long ago, the Emperor of Heaven set out to conquer Earth commanding his troops from the back of the elephant.  The elephant worked so hard to provide transportation for the Emperor of Heaven, that it became seriously ill.  The local farmers nursed it back to health.  The elephant being extremely grateful, decided to desert the emperor and stay on earth to help the farmers plow their fields during a time of famine.  The Emperor of Heaven was so angry, that he thrust his sword into the elephant’s back and turned the elephant into the rocky hill.  The pagoda erected on top of the hill stands for the hilt of the sword.  Now this kindly elephant can forever stay with the friendly people of Guilin, guarding the city and welcoming guests from all over the world to this beautiful city.

Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill

Kids by Elephant Trunk Hill

Kids by Elephant Trunk Hill

Hugging the elephants

Hugging the elephants

Lots of elephants by Elephant Trunk Hill!

Lots of elephants by Elephant Trunk Hill!

The cormorants who put on quite the fishing show!

The cormorants who put on quite the fishing show!

Back to the hotel pool for swimming in the afternoon. It is the rainy season so we had to sit out for 20 mins but the kids were laughing about it.  We did dinner in the hotel (club lounge) as we were in a bit of a hurry to do the night river boat tour.  It was a beautiful evening to walk from our hotel to the local wharf where there were at least 8 boats waiting to take people out for an hour.  Lily had met us at the hotel to walk with us.  There was a motorbike show outside the front of our hotel with some Evil Knieval type stunts going on!!!

This boat trip was quite the treat as all along the way there were entertainers for us: musicians, dancers, actors and actresses.  All the trees were beautifully lit along the whole journey which took about 1 hour.

The late afternoon view of the sun and moon pagodas.  The Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas is situated in Shanhu (Shan Lake).  The word sun and moon in Chinese character written together mean brightness.  Some say it symbolises the future of Guilin is bright.  The Sun Pagoda is constructed with copper, it has 9 floors and reaches a height of 41 metres. The Moon Pagoda's is made of marble; it has 7 floors and measures 35 meters high. The two pagodas are connected via a tunnel at the bottom of the lake.

The late afternoon view of the sun and moon pagodas. The Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas is situated in Shanhu (Shan Lake). The word sun and moon in Chinese character written together mean brightness. Some say it symbolises the future of Guilin is bright.
The Sun Pagoda is constructed with copper, it has 9 floors and reaches a height of 41 metres. The Moon Pagoda’s is made of marble; it has 7 floors and measures 35 meters high. The two pagodas are connected via a tunnel at the bottom of the lake.

The Sun and Moon Pagoda's just lit at the start of sunset.  Our boat was just about to set off.

The Sun and Moon Pagoda’s just lit at the start of sunset. Our boat was just about to set off.

Beautiful scenery all around

Beautiful scenery all around

Another view from the boat.

Another view from the boat.

Entertainment along the river banks during our night boat ride.

Entertainment along the river banks during our night boat ride.

More entertainment

More entertainment

We passed under many bridges.  Many are modeled after famous bridges around the world!

We passed under many bridges. Many are modeled after famous bridges around the world!

I really liked the detail of the Chinese scripture on this bridge.  Look closely under the arch and you can see how much detail is there.

I really liked the detail of the Chinese scripture on this bridge. Look closely under the arch and you can see how much detail is there.

Beautifully lit trees along the embankment

Beautifully lit trees along the embankment

One of the attractions here is the cormorant fishing show.  The birds dive down and catch the fish and then the fishermen massage the birds necks to get the fish out.  Isabelle and Oliver did not like this as they thought the birds were getting strangled!!

A cormorant about to dive down for a fish.

A cormorant about to dive down for a fish.

The fisherman massaging the neck to get the fish out.

The fisherman massaging the neck to get the fish out.

Artefacts along the river banks.

Artefacts along the river banks.

Wonderful night lights.

Wonderful night lights.

Managed to capture the moon in this one too!!

Managed to capture the moon in this one too!!

Detail of the pagoda

Detail of the pagoda

After the boat ride, it was a short walk back to the hotel but via the Waterfall hotel because at every day at 8.30pm for 10 minutes the hotel has a waterfall of water from their roof plus synchronised fountain display to music.  We stayed to watch and then headed back for a good night sleep after such a busy day!

The waterfall at the Waterfall Hotel.

The waterfall at the Waterfall Hotel.

 

Sports Days!

Isabelle and Oliver both had their Sports Days at BISS this week.  They are in the Li House (used to be called Dragons) and the sports are organized by house.  Each student is competing for house points and there are no individual winners for first place in the activities.  I do like this approach at the younger age.

Oliver’s Sports Day was Tuesday May 20th and Isabelle’s was Thursday May 22nd.  We have had quite a bit of rain this Spring/Summer, so I think that everyone was relieved that we had dry days for the competitions!

The competitive areas were set up in the center of the field, with each station taking 2 or 3 minutes to compete.  The emphasis is on the team to score as many points as possible so everyone is cheering each other on.  The parents can walk around the outside to watch their children as they move from station to station.

 

Getting ready for sack race.

Getting ready for sack race.

Jumping as high as he possibly can while getting encouraged by the coach!

Jumping as high as he possibly can while getting encouraged by the coach!

Oliver was pretty good at hurdles!

Oliver was pretty good at hurdles!

Made it to number 5!

Made it to number 5!

Half time snacks for the Infants.  It is a wonder they could compete after all this good (sugar loaded!!) food.

Half time snacks for the Infants. It is a wonder they could compete after all this good (sugar loaded!!) food.

For the Junior’s, they also add some individual competitions, but again, you are winning points for your house and not for a first place prize.  So, long jump, shot put, 100m race were all additional activities for Isabelle!

Isabelle was good at hurdles too!

Isabelle was good at hurdles too!

They achieved a record for the relay station!

They achieved a record for the relay station!

There was a rest station after every 4 or 5 activities.  When you reached the coaches rest station, they picked 1 person to ring the bell to start and stop the 3 minute timer.  Here is Isabelle ringing the bell!

There was a rest station after every 4 or 5 activities. When you reached the coaches rest station, they picked 1 person to ring the bell to start and stop the 3 minute timer. Here is Isabelle ringing the bell!

Running her very best in the 100m

Running her very best in the 100m

Much to Oliver’s delight, Li House won in the Infants Sports Day (Year 1 and 2).  Li House came 2nd (out of 4) for Junior’s – Year’s 3, 4 and 5.

As many hands as possible trying to raise the cup for winning the Sports Day cup for their house.  Li House won the day for Infants!

As many hands as possible trying to raise the cup for winning the Sports Day cup for their house. Li House won the day for Infants!

All the kids got a chance to pose for photos with the cup.  Here is Oliver - so proud that his house won!

All the kids got a chance to pose for photos with the cup. Here is Oliver – so proud that his house won! 

I was very proud that both of my children were obviously trying their very best at each activity.  We emphasis effort, willingness and spirit.  No-one can be the best at everything, but everyone can try their very best.  That is what we expect from Isabelle and Oliver.  And, on both of these Sports Days that is exactly what they did!!

Long Weekend in Tokyo, Japan

Thursday was a terrible travel day.  We had got up early to get our 9.15am flight. When we got to the departure gate we saw that the flight was delayed, with no reason or estimated departure time.  After waiting for 90 minutes at this gate, a gate change was announced (the opposite end of the airport!) so we hurried over with the assumption that we would be boarding.  However, it was another case of “hurry up and wait” with no announcements and no information.  It was incredibly frustrating to not know if we were going to be delayed another 30 minutes or 6 hours!  I knew we were in for a longer wait when they started serving lunch at the boarding area…..
We eventually made it on to the plane at 1.30 and even this was drama driven.  As we had had an equipment change, they were assigning new seats and hand writing on the new seat numbers.  I could not read the numbers on our boarding cards, and was getting pushed from behind to move onto the bus.  The gate agent shouted 32A to me and so I assumed that we would all be sitting in the same row. However, when we actually got on the plane, I discovered that Oliver’s seat assignment was 71H and Isabelle’s was 34C!  I sat us all down together and then refused to move.  It worked because they then had to move everyone else around us!!  We then sat on the tarmac for another 90 minutes before finally taking off.
We landed in Tokyo at 6.30pm (a whole day wasted!) and I was immediately struck by the air – I could actually see clear blue sky.  We found the Narita Express train station easily and then boarded very clean and comfortable train for the hour ride to Tokyo down town.  When we arrived at Tokyo Station, it was a little confusing as the station is HUGE and there are many different lines and many different exits.  I had stopped to check my phone for the details on which exit to head for when a local asked if I needed help.  When I told her which exit I was looking for, she said, “follow me and I will take you there”.  I was amazed – this was so helpful and not what I was used after 2 years in China!  Our friends Earoel and Graham met us at the exit to walk us to the hotel we were all staying at (they had already been in Tokyo for 4 days).  The Marriott Courtyard at Tokyo Station is in a great central location and proved to be a great base for the 4 days that we spent in Tokyo.

We quickly checked in, dumped our bags and then immediately headed out for dinner.  We walked a couple of blocks to a restaurant called Charcoal which was a Japanese BBQ.  The tables had small grills in them where you cook your own food.  We ordered a selection of meats and seafood and then had fun cooking it all.  The kids enjoyed this and managed to act as Chef’s for us all!  We were joined by a couple of colleagues from the Japanese office of my company which proved a good chance to learn a little more about Japanese customs as well as learn the words for; please, thank you and hello.  It is always good to know those words in any language!!

After this lovely dinner, we walked back to the hotel, it was a lovely evening and I hoped that the weather would be as nice for the entire weekend (it was!)  After settling the kids into bed – out like lights, we then planned the following day.  We had decided to brave the queues/lines and visit Disney!  We figured that it was a school day and not a holiday in Japan so it should be less busy (ha, ha, ha, ha!!)
We rushed through breakfast so we could get on the train to Disney (15 minutes away from Tokyo Station).  We arrived about an hour after opening time and it was already packed!!  The day had dawned with clear blue skies and the sun was already beating down.  Although I had thought to bring sunscreen and had covered us all, the kids did not have sunglasses so our first stop was to the Disney store to buy sunglasses for Isabelle and a baseball cap for Oliver.  These were obviously hits with the kids as they then wore them for the entire trip!  We then saw our first show – the Disney orchestra playing some well known songs from the movies.

Woo hoo - Disney, here we come!

Woo hoo – Disney, here we come!

Japanese Orchestra playing well known Disney tunes by the entrance.

Japanese Orchestra playing well known Disney tunes by the entrance.

"What shall we do first, Mum?"

“What shall we do first, Mum?”

The Disney Magic Castle

The Disney Magic Castle

Earoel and kids by the Castle

Earoel and kids by the Castle

Steamboat ride around the Peter Pan lake

Steamboat ride around the Peter Pan lake

We met Winnie the Pooh and Tigger

We met Winnie the Pooh and Tigger

Splash Mountain is behind the kids.

Splash Mountain is behind the kids.

The Indians from Peter Pan

The Indians from Peter Pan

Lovely scenery!

Lovely scenery!

More scenes from the Steam Boat

More scenes from the Steam Boat

Getting a hug from Smee!

Getting a hug from Smee!

Making a wish!

Making a wish!

Graham had not been to Disney before and wanted to “experience the experience”.  Isabelle and Oliver had been to Disney in Florida (September 2011) and their memories were of 10 minutes of queuing (timed it perfectly for FL!!) even for the very popular rides back then.  We could not believe our luck at how many rides we got to go on.  Tokyo was another story – the wait times were already at 120+ minutes and once we had done a fast pass for Thunder Mountain we were then told that we could not apply for another fast pass until 1.30pm. Both kids wanted to go on Splash Mountain, so we headed over there to find that the wait time was 140 minutes – cue Mummy as Fast Pass!  Earoel and Graham were happy to take the kids on some other rides while I waited in line at Splash Mountain.  This was an incredibly boring 90 minutes for me!!!  However, knowing that they kids got to go on the Cars ride and the Carousel so it kept them happy, made me happy.  Splash Mountain did not disappoint and we all got wet!

Our Splash Mountain photo!

Our Splash Mountain photo!

Getting a hug from a character from Pinnochio

Getting a hug from a character from Pinnochio

After this it was time for lunch.  Kids had picked a burger place in Toon Town and so we walked over to that area of the park only to be told that it was shut!  So, back to Tomorrowland for Burgers there!  While we were eating, we noticed that the queue time for the Rocket Ship ride was only 25 minutes, so we jumped in line for that.

Kids trying "old fashioned" telephones!

Kids trying “old fashioned” telephones!

Jumping in for a ride!

Jumping in for a ride!

Fun Fountains

Fun Fountains

The Disney Easter Parade

The Disney Easter Parade

More Easter Carnival floats

More Easter Carnival floats

The whole park was themed for Easter

The whole park was themed for Easter

Even the entrance!

Even the entrance!

I was a little bit disappointed to see that all the Disney Princess characters were Westerners, but when I did a little research after, I learned that the Asian culture actually want to have photos taken with the Disney characters as they look in the movies and not the Asian version.
We went back to Toontown for a couple more rides and then, as it was now getting later in the day, decided to head back to the hotel before dinner.

It was a quick change time at the hotel before going to Andy’s Seafood restaurant for dinner.  An old colleague from my days working in America is COO of the Japanese office and he had arranged this dinner at his favourite place in Tokyo.  It did not disappoint!  It was a large, lively table.  We started the meal with crab and we were served the biggest legs and claws I had ever seen – yummy delicious. The ladies at the table were making local cocktails (???) with freshly squeezed grapefruit (aka – do it yourself at the table!).  Isabelle had an alcohol free version and loved it.  Oliver made fast friends with another colleague over his camera and was busy taking lots of photos of us all.

I love taking my kids out and getting compliments on them.  We had practised the correct way to introduce themselves (handshake, eye contact, clear articulation!) and I was thrilled when EVERYBODY at the table commented on the confidence and firm handshake of both Isabelle and Oliver! (Proud Mum moment!)
Andy’s was a fabulous meal – great company, great food and great drinks.  It was lovely to catch up with Tim (from my Atlanta days).  Wish I had more time to discover Japan through his eyes!!  This was a late night for the kids as we didn’t leave the restaurant until 9.30 (tried to make myself feel better by telling myself that it was only 8.30pm Shanghai time!!)  However, they had been so well behaved and so engaged that it did not seem to matter!  We all crashed fairly quickly after getting back to the hotel room!  It is definitely a fact that a whole day at Disney followed by a dinner out is guaranteed for immediate sleep…..
We did not set the alarm for Saturday morning as we had a fluid agenda.  Just as well, as no-one woke up until 9.00!!  We headed down for breakfast and decided on our itinerary for the day – off to Tokyo Tower, followed by Hibiya Park.
Tokyo Tower used to be the tallest tower in Tokyo (until the completion of the Skytower in 2013).

About to experience Tokyo Tower

About to experience Tokyo Tower

At the bottom of the Tokyo Tower. with some friends!

At the bottom of the Tokyo Tower. with some friends!

Some beautiful displays around the Tower

Some beautiful displays around the Tower

Inside and waiting to ride up to the top!

Inside and waiting to ride up to the top!

A view from the Top.

A view from the Top.

Quite close to Mount Fiji.  The kids wanted to climb this in the afternoon!! We will have to save that for another visit :-)

Quite close to Mount Fuji. The kids wanted to climb this in the afternoon!! We will have to save that for another visit🙂

While we were waiting for the upper level elevators, we saw this board where people could post good luck messages.

Good luck wishes "Ema"

Good luck wishes “Ema”

The explanation!

The explanation!

More views across the City.

More views across the City.

Kids at the top!

Kids at the top!

There were glass floors at certain areas.  Bit scary to stand on and look down!

There were glass floors at certain areas. Bit scary to stand on and look down!

A view through the glass to the ground!

A view through the glass to the ground!

The afternoon was a lovely walk around Hibiya Park.  I was amazed that in a city of 34 million people, we bumped into the only people that I know in Tokyo – sometimes it is a small world!!

We went to a Tempura restaurant in the evening and had a fantastic meal.  We had walked down the busy main street (equivalent to Times Square) and saw the bright lights that light up the City at night.

Japanese Tempura!

Japanese Tempura!

Great meal, great company!

Great meal, great company!

The bright night lights of Tokyo city

The bright night lights of Tokyo city

On Sunday we decided to do a Red Bus City Tour in the morning, prior to our trip back to the airport in the afternoon.  The weather was clear blue skies and very sunny, but it was a bit breezy on the open top and we were all a little chilly when the bus picked up speed.  This was great way to see much of Tokyo and listen to the commentator tell us about the history, culture and interesting facts.

On top of the bus.

On top of the bus.

Ready to go……..

Ready to go……..

This was the original Japanese Opera Theatre.

This was the original Japanese Opera Theatre.

I also got a great view of the Tokyo Tower where we had been the day before!

I also got a great view of the Tokyo Tower where we had been the day before!

After the city tour, we enjoyed a lazy lunch and then headed back to the Metro to get the train back to the airport.  Again, I must comment on the kindness of Japanese strangers.  I was completely lost once we had our tickets (the Tokyo Station is HUGE!), but not only did someone stop to see if we were ok, but they also walked us to our platform (which was out of their way as they were on their way out!!)  No delays for the return journey.  We flew Japan Airlines for the first time.  This was a good experience – excellent plane food and the kids got to watch the new Lego Movie!

Visitors (at long last!!) and a sad Farewell….

Our children were so excited about their Auntie Kim and cousins, Harley and Ashley, arriving for a visit with us in Shanghai.  We had planned a whirlwind weekend site seeing in Beijing and Xi’an, plus lots of activities in Shanghai.  Ashley and Harley were mostly interested in shopping at all the fake markets!  They arrived on Saturday April 5th and after a brief nap at home, we were straight into Shanghai life.  Isabelle and Oliver were eager to play with Harley and Ashley!

Sunday April 6th was Jo, Scott, Georgia and Saskia’s last day in Shanghai and we had booked brunch at the Shangri-La to say goodbye.

Scott, Jo Sara and Owen - sad to say goodbye to good friends…...

Scott, Jo Sara and Owen – sad to say goodbye to good friends……

This was a great opportunity to introduce our family to the Ex-pat Sunday Brunch experience and the Shangri-La is a fantastic experience for this! Kim, Ashley and Harley really enjoyed the lazy lunch, endless food and booze!  The kids had loads of fun playing with their fiends for the last time in Shanghai….

On the stairs at the Shangri-La

On the stairs at the Shangri-La

By the beautiful water feature at the Shangri-La

By the beautiful water feature at the Shangri-La

All of us by the Seafood station.

All of us by the Seafood station.

Jo and I.  I am going to miss this lady :-(

Jo and I. I am going to miss this lady😦

Saskia with Mum and Isabelle with Mum.

Saskia with Mum and Isabelle with Mum.

Scott, Jo, Sara & Owen - we had a lot of fun together in Shanghai.

Scott, Jo, Sara & Owen – we had a lot of fun together in Shanghai.

Owen and Jo posing on the displays at the Shangri-La

Owen and Jo posing on the displays at the Shangri-La

Cousins!  Harley and Isabelle, Oliver and Ashley.

Cousins! Harley and Isabelle, Oliver and Ashley.

After several hours of eating and socializing we decided to carry on the party at the Camel pub.  This has been a regular Tuesday night venue as they have a Quiz Night there every week and we have often met up to test our general knowledge and have some fun during the week!

The kids at the Camel pub - they all played pool here!

The kids at the Camel pub – they all played pool here!

A final farewell - I expect there were some sore heads the next day!!

A final farewell – I expect there were some sore heads the next day!!

The next day, Monday, was a holiday for me (Tomb Sweeping Festival) even though the kids were back to school.  So, after taking the kids to the bus in the morning, the rest of us set out to visit some Fake Markets and shop, shop, shop!

Our first stop was to Tai Kang Lu, a lovely shopping area that has little back alleys full of art galleries, shops and cafes.  We stopped at Kommune for delicious coffee:

Biggest latte I have ever had.  The mugs are very cool and you can buy them (so Kim and Harley did!!)

Biggest latte I have ever had. The mugs are very cool and you can buy them (so Kim and Harley did!!)

Chopsticks on display at Tai Kang Lu

Chopsticks on display at Tai Kang Lu

Entrance to Tai Kang Lu

Entrance to Tai Kang Lu

After coffee and shopping it was off to find Minging Mary’s.  This place is a legend in Shanghai.  It is a fake outlet in the basement of an apartment building.  You have to know where it is and be taken by someone who is known (the first time).  I had heard about this fantastic place (extremely high quality fake’s) but never visited before.  Luckily for us, Owen had been before and knew where to take us!  I did not know what to expect when we walked down some dingy stairs into a dark corridor in the basement.  But, moments later, a man appeared and unlocked 2 doors into huge rooms of merchandise.  Ashley and Harley thought they were in Heaven!!  I must admit, I could not believe what I was seeing.

After a little bit of bargaining, we left (full bags!) and went on the Fake Market at the Science and Tech Museum (the AP Plaza).  Kim, Ashley and Harley decided to skip lunch so they could maximize shopping time!  Good job we had eaten some snacks at Kommune to keep us going.  Once at the Fake Market – Owen showed Ashley and Harley how the bargaining was done and worked hard to get some good deals for both of them.  Ashley restocked his wardrobe in 1 day!!

Ashley showing off his many purchases from the Fake Markets

Ashley showing off his many purchases from the Fake Markets

I had a few days of work to do before we were heading off to Beijing and Xi’an at the weekend (separate posts).  But, on Thursday before our train, we went to Kerry Parkside for a few hours of pampering at Dragonfly.  We had a leisurely adult lunch at The Brew and then all had massages, manicures and pedicures.  Aaah – relaxation!

Ashley's lunch at The Brew

Ashley’s lunch at The Brew