Monthly Archives: November 2012

Be Thankful

I came across this poem (by an Anonymous author) and thought that it echoed the sentiments of this season perfectly:

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire.
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something.
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations.
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge.
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes.
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary.
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings.

Thanksgiving – British (American) Chinese style

Thursday November 22nd 2012 is Thanksgiving (the 4th Thursday in November) – a traditional American holiday but one that we have celebrated since 1995 when we first moved from the UK to America.  The first few years, Owen and I were always invited to the homes of our friends in Atlanta.  Then we started hosting at our house – opening our home to people who could not make it home to be with their families, or those who just wanted to be somewhere different.  It is one of our favourite holidays because it is all about sharing quality time with people who are special to you, good food (Turkey with all the trimmings, apple pie, pumpkin pie) and giving thanks.  I am thankful for a wonderful family, brilliant friends, my health and a job that I love and that has offered such a fabulous opportunity to live and work in China.

This year, the kids were in school and it was a work day for me!  But, we had decided to invite some friends from the Emerald to share our Thanksgiving meal in the evening.  Owen had found a western shop that would deliver a Turkey to – deep fried ready to eat – at a cost of £100/$150!!!!  We made green bean casserole, traditional stuffing, roast potatoes, broccoli, carrots, mange tout and sweet corn.  I made pumpkin roll (very yummy) and we also had the store deliver apple pie and a chocolate mousse cake.

A delicious meal shared with friends – all that Thanksgiving is about!  Lots of laughter and a new experience for our British friends.  It is good for Isabelle and Oliver to be reminded of American traditions, as they are both citizens of the USA having been born there.

Our Thanksgiving gathering. 11 people suitably stuffed!

Chengdu – weekend of site seeing

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China and is home to 14 million people.  It is a 3 hour flight from Shanghai and this is where we set off to on Saturday morning.  Chengdu is also known as the Country of Heaven!  It has a deep history which can be traced back over 2300 years.

We arrived at lunchtime and went straight to our hotel – the Sheraton Chengdu Lido in the heart of downtown.  We dumped our bags in our room and then solicited the help of the Concierge to organize a couple of things for us.  Within minutes, Jack (a super helpful, very nice man) had arranged a car and driver for us; provided us with a map of the City, highlighted areas that we should visit and gave us his cell phone number in case we got into any difficulties!

We ate lunch (buffet style) in the hotel and by the time we had finished, our driver and car were waiting to whisk us away for an afternoon of site seeing.  We started at the Wuhou Memorial Temple.  Our driver took a photo of us outside the doors and told us where he would be waiting for us when we ready for the next stop.

First Stop – Wuhou Memorial Temple.
This memorial celebrates the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history. During that period, Sichuan belonged to the Kingdom of Shu, which was at almost constant battle with two other kingdoms for more than 100 years.  Wuhou Memorial is dedicated to the heroes of those battles.  Zhuge Liang, the military advisor of the King of Shu, even 1800 years after his death, is still regarded as one of the most gifted and brilliant strategists China ever had.

This temple has some larger than life statues, mainly dating back to the 17th century but some from the 14th century.  There is also the most magnificent bonsai tree garden hidden away in the middle – a lovely surprise!

Ming Tablet

History of The Three Kingdoms and individuals.

A very large bell!

One of the many statues on display

Beautifully carved wood – unusual doorways all over.

Me and Isabelle. We were trying to get photos of the ladies dressed in old tradition costumes behind us. They wanted to charge for photos! (Perhaps we should try that tactic when people want to take photos of our kids!)

Sara – year of the Monkey

Owen and Isabelle – year of the Rooster

Oliver – year of the Pig/Boar

Very cool architecture outside too! This passage led into the Bonsai tree garden that was not sign posted and so a delightful surprise to stumble upon.

A typical Chinese gazebo

Pointing at the Bonsai Trees. This was a lovely garden with many varieties.

What you don’t see is that there at least 8 people behind me also taking photos of our children!

Enjoying the sunshine in the Bonsai garden with my 2 lovely children

Owen with Oliver and Isabelle sitting by the Koi Carp pond. Once you leave the Bonsai garden, you are in more gardens with a lovely pond filled with lots of fish.

Burning incense sticks

There are stone carvings of the key individuals during The Three Kingdoms period. Again, many people behind us taking photos of the children!

Another stone carving

After a leisurely couple of hours walking around the lovely grounds of the Wuhou Memorial Temple, we walked into Jinli Street.  This is a big tourist area filled with many shops, cafes, street food vendors and souvenirs.  We passed a stall with a man painting on the inside of glass bottles.  The pictures were so detailed and beautifully done.  Both Isabelle and Oliver came away with mini bottles with their names painted.  We watched while he did it and was amazed at the skill to be able to do this!

Painting Oliver’s name inside a tiny glass bottle

Leaving the Temple to walk into Jinli Street

Ear candling or ear cleaning. Not for the faint hearted!! Although, they do train for over 2 years to do this. People were lining up to have their ears cleaned……

I bought a lovely pair of silver earrings in this shop. The lady was dressed in an old Chinese Princess Warrior costume and agreed to pose with the children!  Her head gear looks really heavy!

A lovely couple of hours spent shopping and site-seeing here.  We headed back to the hotel after this as James (the fantastic concierge) had managed to get us front section tickets for the Chinese Opera.  As we needed to be at the Theatre for 7:30pm we decided to eat at hotel again.  Another buffet for the kids, who have completely won over the staff.  We, rather they, get so much attention – the Chinese want to know their names and ages.  They were escorted around the food stations and assisted both of them with filling their plates!  Owen and I sat back and watched!!!

Chinese Opera Theatre

We were so excited to be going to the Chinese Opera as we had heard great things about this.  There were 7 different acts in the 90 minute show, with the finale being the “Face Changing” display.

First on was a dance depicting a love story where 3 heros fight against lvbu.  Then the story continued with Lv Bu and Diao Chan.  There was a stick puppet show, some acrobatics, a hand shadow show, Sichuan Opera song (not our favorite!) a man playing the Erhu and then the finale which was the face changing.

Chinese Opera – dance display

Beautiful dancers

The face changing was the most intriguing display as you could not see how it was done at all.  It is a closely guarded secret and it is not known how they do it.  The performers even came into the audience – 1 was 3 feet away from us and did 3 face changes.  It was impossible to see how they did it – the effect is stunning.  They also threw some masks into the audience.  A gentleman behind us caught one and then gave it to Isabelle, who was thrilled!  Oliver, meanwhile, was fast asleep.  We could not keep him awake and he fell asleep half way through the performance.  It had been such a busy day!

On Sunday morning, we got up early to go to the Panda Research Base.  I have written a separate post on this trip.  It was amazing!

When we got back we went to the Wenshu Monastery.  This buddhist monastery is one of the oldest and best preserved temples in Chengdu.  Worshippers light candles and incense, constantly filling the temple with a thick, perfumed smoke.

The monastery, formerly known as Xinxiang Temple, is situated north of the central square on Renmin Zhong Lu.  During the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, a monk named Cidu arrived, built a small hut to live in and carried out a practice of complete self-denial.  Legend holds that when Cidu was cremated, a statue of Wensu (Bodhisattva Manjusri in Sanskrit) appeared in the flames and stared at the onlookers.  After this people began regarding Cidu as the reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Manjusri.  Thereafter the Xinxiang Temple was rechristened as Wenshu Temple.

Outside the Wenshu Monastery

Beautiful detail on the roof

One of the many containers for burning incense. The perfume smoke filled the monastery.

One of the many Buddha’s. There are over 300 Buddha’s on display. I took this photo before noticing that photography was not allowed. It is still an active Monastery and we saw many monks walking around.

Cultural relics are the highlights of Wenshu Monastery.  Since the Tang and Song dynasties, over 500 pieces of painting and calligraphy by celebrities have been stored here.  In the Sutra-Preservation Pavilion, many famous handwriting exhibits, paintings, and artwork are restored.  These precious works of art were created by renowned Chinese painters and calligraphers, including Zhang Daqian, Zheng Banqiao, and Feng Zikai.  Of all the precious relics, a piece of the broken skull of Xuan Zhang, a renowned monk of the Tang Dynasty, is the rarest. Another treasure is a delicate jade Buddha statue brought from Burma to China in 1922 by Xing Lin, a Buddhist monk who walked the whole distance.  In addition, the monastery houses some 300 Buddha statues of various materials including iron, bronze, stone, wood, and jade, some gloriously painted.

Recreating a Buddha face!

The Chinese dragons are spectacular

Carved from a single tree trunk

We saw many people praying and bringing offerings to the different Buddha’s.

One of the garden areas in the Monastery

If you look closely, you can see the chains that are tying the animals down!

Very peaceful here…..

The detail of the architecture is amazing. I love the curved roofs that you see in the older Chinese buildings.

Some statues outside the walls of the Monastery

Another stop on our site-seeing tour today, was to the Ancient Town.  This is a walled area that has many alleys and narrow roads filled with shops, food, and souvenirs.   We had just walked in when we saw this couple have wedding photos taken.  Red is an extremely lucky colour in China, so brides are always married wearing a red dress!

A Chinese wedding

Starbucks is everywhere! We stopped here for coffee, hot chocolate and cake!

And we also stopped for ice cream!

Fabulous photos that come to life……

Owen: “your move”

Sugar on a stick. There is a wheel that you spin and when the pointer lands on an image, the man will make the caramel (sugar thing) in front of your eyes in seconds.  Of course, the kids loved this…….

The Rong Club – just liked the sign!!

Rabbits head – a delicacy. (Top right)  We did not try these.

Back in our hotel room and the kids with their Face Changing Masks.

Our Sunday night dinner was a recommendation from Jack (lovely concierge!)  We walked a couple of blocks to a Sichuan restaurant.  The cuisine in this area of China is spicy and Owen and I wanted to try some authentic food from here.  Nobody spoke English in the restaurant, so between our iPhone apps and the pictures on the menu, we ordered several dishes to share.  I made sure that we ordered plenty of Mifan (rice – one of the few words I know!!) so that Isabelle and Oliver would have something that was not spicy.  As it turned out, a couple of the dishes were not too bad and they tried almost everything.  It was very funny watching them with the chopsticks – they have been practicing at home, but they are difficult to use in little hands!  It was a delicious meal.  A table full of food, beer for Owen and I, and we had change out of £30.

Spicy Sichuan dinner!

Another early start on Monday morning as we were back to the Panda Research Facility to cuddle with a Panda Bear.  After we had experienced this fantastic interaction, we walked around the sanctuary again.  We spotted this Peacock on a roof.

Peacock on the roof at the Panda Research Base

Big fish pond and loads of fish!

These fish thought they would be getting fed!

Brother/sister hugs! Notice the panda bears in the trees behind them.

My lovely children

Hugs for Daddy too.

Beautiful flowers

After the Panda Experience, we went to another restaurant recommendation for Hot Pot – another speciality of the Sichuan region.  The Pots on the table had a spicy chilli oil side and a chicken broth side.  This was ideal for us as Owen and I cooked all our food in the spicy side, while Isabelle and Oliver could enjoy the same meat and vegetables without the zing!  This was another delicious meal.

Sichuan Hot Pot for Lunch

Finished lunch, off to the airport and home we went!  A fantastic weekend with so many memories to last a lifetime.  I will never forget the Panda that we cuddled with.  The whole weekend was non-stop enjoyment.

Stone sculptures in the street outside the restaurant.

Chengdu is a fabulous City to visit.

The Life of the Celebrity

Having spent the weekend being followed, photographed and touched, I now have some sympathy for those who live life in the tabloid magazines.  The celebrities who court fame, fortune and continual hounding are at least compensated with free designer gowns, fancy jewels and endorsements.  In return they must put up with the constant presence of paparazzi taking their picture.  All we are doing is living in China!!  Our children are a magnet wherever we go.

It is not so bad in Shanghai as it is the most westernized of China cities.  However, a 3 hour flight in land, to Chengdu, and it is much more noticeable.  Even though Chengdu is a popular destination for tourists (to visit the Panda Bears), it seems that Western children are still a novelty.

I especially noticed it this weekend as we were out and about so much.  I do not mind quite as much when people keep their distance, but it becomes intrusive when they get too close and then want to touch them both.  I lost count of the number of photographs that were taken of our 2 lovely children.  Many people asked to have their photo taken with them too.  Isabelle and Oliver now ignore the attention as they are getting used to the stares, pointing and smiles, and will generally ignore it all.  At least our 2 children bring smiles to everyone around us!

Chengdu Panda’s – Bamboo, Apples and Cuddles

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding facility is a fantastic place that has great success in breeding pandas – 7 have been born in the last 3 months alone.  They also loan Giant Pandas to facilities around the world to help with the re-population of this magnificent animal, including a male/female pair to Zoo Atlanta (that has resulted in 3 successful births).  The park is set in over 1000 hectares with plenty of room to replicate the natural habitat.  As someone who is generally against animals in captivity, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this environment is built and maintained.  There are huge areas for each Panda and Panda family and we arrived early enough in the morning to see plenty of activity – they feed and actively play in the mornings when it is cooler.  After doing some research, this is also the best time of year visit.

Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding

The main driveway up to the Panda area

So excited for the day – lots and lots of Panda Bears to see!

Pandas playing in the trees

The Research Facility is huge and there are electric “trains” that take you to different areas of the park. It is a very natural looking environment to help with the re-introduction into the wild.

One of the pandas- Mei Lan, had special significance for us as we had seen her as a baby panda in Zoo Atlanta when she was the result of a successful breeding in 2006.  There are fewer than 1000 Panda’s in the world, so the breeding successes in Chengdu are critical to the Panda’s survival.  They simulate as natural environment as possible as the goal is to release them back into the wild.

We walked around some of the areas and took some fabulous photos – they are such lovable animals.  As well as giant pandas, this facility is also home to the Red Panda which actually looks more like a raccoon.

By the Red Panda area

Red Pandas!

Our first visit was on Sunday morning and we strolled around the different areas, took many photos and oohed and ahhed at the babies in the nursery!

Very cute baby Panda Bears in the nursery. These 2 were born in September. (Another 3 were born in August – we saw these in a separate nursery).

Unfortunately, the “Panda Experience” was not open so we made the decision to return the following day.  As well as Giant Panda’s we also saw many Red Pandas playing – all of the animals were very active!

Peek a boo!

So playful, wonderful gentle giants.

A lot of information about the Panda is given. It is so nice to read their story, learn where they get their names from and get a better understanding about these fantastic animals.

On Monday morning we went back to the Chengdu Panda Base for the “Panda experience”.  We arrived at the Sunshine nursery at 9:30 to be told to come back at 10:00 with a donation of 1300RMB per person to have an interaction experience – truly a once in a lifetime event.

After we had paid, we watched a video of the Panda life cycle from birth to fully grown, saw pictures of Pandas from birth to adulthood and got an education on their diet (no meat for these bears) and then we were escorted into a back room. We were given blue surgical coveralls to put on, plastic covers for our shoes and plastic gloves.  We gave our camera to the lady in charge and then they brought out the most gorgeous panda. Her name was Zhen Zhen,  and she is 1 year old, weighing 100lbs.  They had attched an apple to the end of a bamboo stick and she happily followed along to the bench.  She was helped up and then was fed some apple slices and given some bamboo sticks dipped in honey.  It is true that bears like honey – Winnie the Pooh shared that secret many years ago!!

Zhen Zhen just arrived at our Interaction area. 1 year old and already 100lbs.

Yummy bamboo dipped in honey!

Owen was the first one to sit next to her. He could not keep the smile off his face – and the same was true for all of us who followed!  Oliver was a little apprehensive and did not want to sit as close as Owen had done, but quite happily stroked her and smiled for photos.  Isabelle was next and she loved her, scooching up close for a cuddle with feet curled up on the bench.  It was not long enough for Isabelle who had to move to make way for me.  I could not believe that I was sitting next to this marvellous gentle creature whose fur was so soft.  Throughout all this interaction, Zhen Zhen was happily munching her way through sticks of bamboo and oblivious to all the attention.  We finished off by having some family photos taken as a fabulous reminder of a truly wonderful experience and well worth the money, in my opinion.

Owen was first.

Kissy, kissy! And a scratch behind the ears……

Oliver was not too sure to start with.

But he had cuddles too!

Isabelle absolutely loved her cuddle “She is so soft, Mummy!”

Truly wonderful

I don’t think she could get any closer!

My turn at last!

I am speechless. I cannot believe that I am actually cuddling a Panda Bear.

We will never forget this experience

The rumours are that they will be stopping this after next year so we are grateful to have had the opportunity to get so close to one of natures most beloved animals and such a recognisable mascot for China.

I love this sign!

China’s City Tier System

This weekend we are going to Chengdu in Sichuan province in Southwest China.  It is the capital City of Sichuan and is home to approximately 14 million people.  It is designated as a Tier 2 City.  This got me thinking….. what is a Tier 1 City, how many tiers are there and what does it mean.  Surprisingly, I could not find an official definition anywhere.  I did, however, find lots of websites that have opinions so I thought I would summarize my findings.
In the past two decades, numerous cities in China have experienced unprecedented economic growth and this economic phenomenon triggered the rise of a classification system based on “tiers”.  This aims to rank cities throughout China in terms of their population size, development of services, infrastructure and cosmopolitan nature.  Although the tier system is often criticized for being inexact and lacking standardized criteria, it can serve as a useful reference for companies that are trying to structure their China strategy.

Beginning in the 1980’s, the Chinese government began investing large amounts of capital in major Chinese cities in order to stimulate economic growth in different regions of the country.  Because every city experienced growth at its own pace, it became relevant for the economic and business communities to become familiar with this tier- based classification method.

TIER 1 CITIES
Tier 1 cities were the first to be opened to competitive economic development by the Chinese government.  These cities are recognized for being densely populated as well as culturally and economically influential.  Tier 1 Cities attract the attention of foreign enterprises given their large middle class representation and income levels well above the national average.  Cities that fall within this category represent China’s most developed markets in terms of consumer behavior.  First tier cities register total retail sales of around 30 billion RMB ($4.75 billion USD), and an annual per capita income of around 11,000 RMB (1,774 USD).

Tier 1 Cities are:  Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.   These cities are known for being important political, cultural, industrial and financial centers in China as well as key hubs for the greater East-Asia region.

TIER 2 CITIES
The rapid economic growth and rising incomes in 2nd tier cities has caught the attention of foreign investors over the past several years.  The markets in Tier 2 cities are a lot less competitive and the labor costs are substantially cheaper compared to Tier 1 cities.  A rapid increase in consumer spending in second tier cities is creating more demand for foreign brands.  However, the income of consumers in second, third, and fourth tier cities has been reported to be less than half compared to those in first tier cities.  At the end of 2011 around 60 cities in China qualified as second tier cities (China Sourcing).

Some sources point to a more complex method of classification within second and third tier cities (rightsite.asia).  This method of classification divides cities into three subcategories within their tier: high, medium, and low.  Tianjin and Chengdu are examples of cities that fall within the second tier high category. These two cities are considered rapidly developing economic centers.  Within the second tier medium subcategory we see places like Nanjing and Xi’an where economic development shows relatively stable progress.  Second tier lower cities are generally characterized for being the capitals of some provinces as well as cities that show increasing economic development. Second tier lower cities include Wuhan and Hefei.

TIER 3 CITIES
There are approximately 200 county-level cities in China that fall within the category of a 3rd tier city (China Sourcing).  Within third tier cities there is also a categorical subdivision like I mentioned above. Third tier high cities include Zhongshan and Shantou.  Third tier medium cities include cities like Xining and Baoding.

I also wondered why the Chinese government created a system like this.  Again, I could not find any direction or explanation.  It seems that it is a useful reference for foreign investors who wish to establish a presence in China.  China has more than 120 cities that have a population of 1 million people or more.  In fact, it is mind boggling to imagine 1.4 BILLION people in this Country.  And, that 800 million of them live in remote, rural areas in relative poverty – that is more than double the population of USA to put it in context.  Many of these people have never seen a 100RMB note (approx £10/$15).

China Provinces and major Cities

NOTE: This is not an official list!!

First tier

  • Beijing
  • Guangzhou
  • Shanghai
  • Shenzhen

Second tier

  • Changchun 
  • Chengdu
  • Chongqing 
  • Dalian 
  • Guiyang 
  • Haikou
  • Hangzhou 
  • Harbin
  • Hefei 
  • Kunming
  • Lanzhou 
  • Nanjing
  • Ningbo 
  • Qingdao 
  • Sanya
  • Shantou 
  • Shaoxing 
  • Shenyang 
  • Shenzhen 
  • Suzhou 
  • Taiyuan 
  • Tianjin 
  • Urumqi 
  • Wenzhou 
  • Wuhan 
  • Xiamen 
  • Xian 
  • Zhuhai 

Third tier

I could not find a single listing for Tier 3 cities so by process of elimination, if you are in a Chinese city that is not listed as Tier 1 or 2, then you must be in a third tier city!

International Food Fair at BISS

Last week was International Week at BISS.  There are 47 different Countries represented at BISS (2000 students) and each year they spend a week specifically focused on these Countries.  The children are invited to share traditions, culture, clothing (national dress), customs and food.

Friday was the International Food Fair.  Owen had been part of the UK committee planning the British representation.  They decided on an 80’s music theme with retro party food.  The team of 8 spent the last 6 weeks planning everything down to the last detail and then making the “set”, organizing the dress code, selecting and cooking for the big day.

The British International Food Fair Committee

As you can see, the team looked FABULOUS!  They went off to various markets (there are markets for EVERYTHING in China) and found the material for the dresses, shirts and waistcoats.  They were all made within a week!  Off to another market (hotel market) to buy dishes for pennies!  Yet another market for the flags – yes, there is a flag market. The commodities market supplied headbands, (Oliver’s party bags) and other bits and bobs and also the stationary market for paper and cardboard.

Owen and John spent many hours creating the big records and building the shelving.  The couple of days before the big event was a flurry of cooking to get everything ready.  Marks and Spencer and Tesco both sponsored the event by providing food and drink – incredibly generous of them!  They were recognized with their logos on records!

Table 1 – “United”

Table 2 – “Kingdom”

The menu included: cheese and pineapple, iced gems, sausage rolls, yorkshire pudding with roast beef, scones with jam and cream, jam tarts, sausages, cheese and onion puffs and crisps.  Food colouring provided the red, white and blue lemonade!

“British” lemonade – the kids loved this!

John & Owen

Each class in each year came through and visited all the tables.  They were all dressed in clothes representing their Country and Isabelle and Oliver were so excited about this!  They both thought that the British stand was the best by far (they had to say that, of course!!)  but they also enjoyed Peru and New Zealand (they just served ice cream!).  Owen thought India was the 2nd best – after UK!

Isabelle visiting Daddy at the British stand

Oliver visiting Daddy at the British Stand

The Headmaster was most impressed when he came round.  Apparently, the British display was not very good last year with several other Countries putting on a far better show.  Not the case this year!

Great food from India!

Sweden

Ice Cream from New Zealand

Indonesia

Malaysia

Japan

Hong Kong

Italy

Korea

The Danish team (there are only 2 Danish families at BISS, so this was a 100% effort!)

Taiwan

South America – Colombia, Peru, Chile

Mexico

Stetsons and denim from America

Africa

Singapore

Isabelle and Oliver thought it was a brilliant day – non stop food!  Owen served nearly 2000 kids and was exhausted at the end of the day, but said it was a great day and a really well organized event all round.

Showing off the Tesco record for the Tesco Executive who came to check it out!

Happy 5th Birthday, Oliver

Oliver seems to have been celebrating his birthday for many days!  His actual birthday was a low key affair.  He took some sweeties in to school for all of his friends to share.  At home, he opened presents from family (Owen’s last trip to the UK was good timing for picking up gifts from family in the UK and so he had quite a few to open).  Isabelle was so excited about her gift, that she wanted Oliver to open it first.  She loves wrapping things up so Oliver had 4 presents from Isabelle.  He ended up loving the things she had given him which was just as well as she had wrapped cars and stickers that he already owned!!  When he got to the big one, he was beside himself with excitement as he pealed back the paper.  He has seen lots of advertisements on TV for Hot Wheels and has been asking for a set.  Well, it was his lucky day as that is exactly what Isabelle gave him!

Oh my goodness, is that what i think it is?!?!?

Oh my goodness, is that what I think it is?!?!?

It is, it is, it is!

It is, it is, it is!  I love my sister xxxxxx

I want to set it up right now….. I am so lucky

He was so excited about this present, that it was several minutes before his attention came back to the pile still waiting to be opened.

Train and Magnetic Book from Grandma and Grandad

Oliver loves anything with wheels and often gets his Thomas the Tank train set out.  Percy was a hit as it is another battery powered one, which he loves because he can then set up “accidents and crashes” on the track while the train is going around!

Ben 10 gear from Auntie Kim

Oliver loves the Ben 10 cartoon’s and now he has his own Omnitrix!

Creepy crawlies from Grandpa Howard and Grannie-Annie

Uncle Lolly gave Oliver a squeezy creature that shows his blood and brains!

And a really cool whistle!

Uncle Peter, Auntie Emma, Maeve and Oscar gave a paper airplane book. The coolest paper airplanes ever from these designs! Now, I am finding them all over the house!

A Leap-pad from Mum and Dad

This is a really cool gadget.  He loves the letter app on this and we love the fact that he is learning how to trace his letters and recognize them while playing (and he doesn’t even know that he is learning!!) 1 week on and we have already had to replace the batteries!  I think we need to get the charger pack…….

Birthday “cake”

He had already had his birthday cake at his party a few days earlier, so on his actual birthday we just put candles in his ice cream dessert!

He was so grateful for his presents and acknowledged that he had been a very lucky boy.  A wonderful birthday celebration for a wonderful little boy.

BISS Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes Night)

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I see of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
‘Twas his intent.
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below.
Poor old England to overthrow.”

So the saying goes.  To celebrate this tradition, bonfires are burned with effigy’s of Guy Fawkes on top and fireworks are let off.  Last year, we went to fabulous display in Chalfont St Giles, England.  We were all bundled up in coats, scarves, gloves and hats.  This year we needed long sleeves, but it was still a mild evening!

BISS has a tradition of celebrating this very British event and so on Saturday night we were off to the school.  There were lots of local restaurants selling food, the PFA were selling sparklers, glow sticks and wine and beer!  They had challenged the students to create a “Guy” to burn on top of the bonfire and there were 7 Guys in the competition.

Oliver and Isabelle by the bonfire

Oliver and Isabelle by the bonfire

Oliver & Isabelle showing off their glow sticks and glow earrings

Oliver & Isabelle showing off their glow sticks and glow earrings

I love this photo as it looks like Owen's hair is on fire!

I love this photo as it looks like Owen’s hair is on fire!

A mild evening and roaring bonfire!

A mild evening and roaring bonfire!

Enjoying a beer and glass of wine before the fireworks start

Enjoying a beer and glass of wine before the fireworks start

I took over 20 photos of the fireworks and this is the best of the lot!  I really admire the professional photographers who manage to get spectacular shots of the fabulous displays……

The best photo of the fireworks!

The best photo of the fireworks!

After the fireworks, Emma, Matthew, Ava and Ethan came back to our house to continue the fun.  The boys disappeared upstairs to play.  It was awfully quiet and when we went up to check on them, we could see why!  Oliver had found the face paint from Halloween and painted Ethan:

Oliver's artwork on Ethan's face

Oliver’s artwork on Ethan’s face. And, doesn’t he look smug!

Meanwhile the girls had changed into party dresses and had been practicing dance moves to Psi’s “Gangnam Style”.  (30 second video clip below!)  I love when an impromptu evening is so much fun!  

Oliver’s 5th Birthday Party – AdventureZone

Oliver’s 5th birthday party was at AdventureZone at Kerry Parkside.  This is a great location for kids to have fun with slides, climbing frames and jumping areas.  We had booked the Circus Circus room with a Clown for Oliver’s birthday celebration.  He had invited all his class to his celebration and he had so much fun.  Owen and I especially liked that the kids could make as much mess as they wanted and we could just walk away at the end of the party!  No clean up responsibility!!

Circus Circus Room at AdventureZone, Kerry Parkside

Circus Circus Room at AdventureZone, Kerry Parkside

Up the stairs to Circus Circus Room!

Up the stairs to Circus Circus Room!

Oliver’s birthday “cake” was a a selection of vanilla and chocolate cupcakes grouped together and made to look like a race track.

Oliver's Cupcake Birthday Cake

Oliver’s Cupcake Birthday Cake

Such a good idea to have a cake built in this way, because it makes it so easy to give a cupcake away!  We even got the individual boxes to give each cupcake away as part of the goody bag!  We had also booked a clown through Kerry Parkside to help with the party.  He made balloon animals, guns, water pistols, flowers as well as provide a magic show with Oliver as special guest.

Oliver as special assistant helping in the magic show

Oliver as special assistant helping in the magic show

Pulling all the tissue out of the Clown's mouth.......

Pulling all the tissue out of the Clown’s mouth…….

Pulling and......

Pulling and……

Pulling and.......

Pulling and…….

Pulling and done!

Pulling and done! Wow! What a lot came out……… Where did it come from?

Oliver loved being special assistant in this magic act.  He was laughing so much when he removed all the tissue out of his mouth and then seeing how much “ribbon” came out of the Clown’s mouth.  He was pulling for ages……

Blowing out his "5" candle

Blowing out his “5” candle

"I did a great job as assistant"!

“I did a great job as assistant”!

Oliver with all his friends at his party.

Oliver with all his friends at his party.  LiYang, Syrah, Duncan, Emma, Benjamin, Isabelle, Ava, Ethan, Alexander, Griff, Daniel, Orville, Seren, Charlie, Natalie, Erin and Charles

Sara, Oliver and Owen

Sara, Oliver and Owen. Our littlest chick’s 5th birthday party! Where does the time go……

Oliver had a fabulous time at his party.  As this was his first “real”party, he was so excited about the whole experience.  He could not wait to open all his presents at home and was so thankful for everything he got.  He spent the rest of the afternoon playing with transformers and lego.

Oliver had a great time, but it was an expensive outlay.  Booking AdventureZone is not cheap, but we are so grateful that he had such a great experience.