Tag Archives: Kids

The Great Wall at Mutianyu, 长城/万里长城

After a good night sleep in the hotel, we were up early to to do the hour’s ride to the Great Wall (ChongQing in Chinese).  It was a fairly easy drive, and only the last 20 minutes were busy.  Lots of mini-buses, coaches and vans taking crowds of tourists to this popular part of the Wall.  We were lucky with the weather as the smog levels were relatively low and it was not raining!  Jeff went off to buy our tickets for the ride up/ride down part of the day.  He told us that Michelle Obama and her 2 children had been there within the previous 2 weeks which now made this part of the Great Wall even more popular.  The American public will be pleased to know that their taxes paid for this busy attraction to be completely closed for their visit!  There were street vendors all over the place selling souvenirs, fruit and vegetables.

The busy street vendors.  We bought some dried pineapple here - best ever!

The busy street vendors. We bought some dried pineapple here – best ever!

The plan was to take a chair lift up to the Great Wall and then do the toboggan ride back down after.

Isabelle & Oliver by the entrance to the Chair Lift ride.

Isabelle & Oliver by the entrance to the Chair Lift ride.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu

The Great Wall at Mutianyu

Ashley & Oliver riding up on the Chair Lift.

Ashley & Oliver riding up on the Chair Lift.

Ashley, Harley, Kim. Owen. Isabelle, Sara & Oliver on the Great Wall.

Ashley, Harley, Kim. Owen. Isabelle, Sara & Oliver on the Great Wall.

Another one checked off my Bucket List!  Oliver took this photo of me on the wonky steps on the Great Wall.

Another one checked off my Bucket List! Oliver took this photo of me on the wonky steps on the Great Wall.

And, here is how the wonky steps look from the bottom.....

And, here is how the wonky steps look from the bottom…..

This was an amazing experience.  I did not imagine that I would make it to the Great Wall.  It just shows that if you put items on your Bucket List to achieve (even if you think they are wild and out there, hopes and dreams) you can complete them.  Now, if I can just find a way to complete 77 – take off and land on an aircraft carrier in the ocean…….

We spent several hours walking parts of the wall and listening to Jeff give us some history and facts.  The architecture is quite spectacular.  All the more because it has survived for thousands of years, is so extensive and has some quite brilliant engineering.  For example, archeological surveys have determined that the Wall is over 8,850km (5,500 miles) long; it was started 800BC but was mostly built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644); there are approximately 25,000 watch towers; it has been estimated that up to a million people died building the Wall over the period of time of construction.

Fire was used to signal to other watch towers, so when the guards/soldiers wanted to eat or stay warm, they had to light fires in chimneys like this one.  It would have been incredibly smokey in here!

Fire was used to signal to other watch towers, so when the guards/soldiers wanted to eat or stay warm, they had to light fires in chimneys like this one. It would have been incredibly smokey in here as there is no outlet for the smoke!

The Great Wall has holes like this to line up bow and arrows to fire at approaching enemies.

The Great Wall has holes like this to line up bow and arrows to fire at approaching enemies.

There are cannons at intervals - pointing at the North (Mongolia) ready to fire!

There are cannons at intervals – pointing at the North (Mongolia) ready to fire!  Oliver is in the line of fire here!!

We were lucky with the weather.  It was actually a warm sunny day.  Smog was relatively low - even so, you can see the haze.

We were lucky with the weather. It was actually a warm sunny day. Smog was relatively low – even so, you can see the haze.

Absolutely amazing.

Absolutely amazing.

All of us with another view…..

All of us with another view…..

Oliver & Isabelle by one of the windows in a watch tower.

Oliver & Isabelle by one of the windows in a watch tower.

Jeff took a photo of all of us at the top of a Watch Tower.

Jeff took a photo of all of us at the top of a Watch Tower.

I was quite surprised at how many steps there were.  When I thought of the Great Wall, I had imagined it quite smooth on the top.  It is definitely a work out to see this marvelous piece of engineering and building.  After all the exercise walking along, we were ready for a thrill ride back down to the village.

We had to wait in line for about 45 minutes as this is a popular way to return to base!  But, it was definitely worth the wait…….

Kim and Sara ready in our toboggans.

Kim and Sara ready in our toboggans.

Oliver rode with Ashley.

Oliver rode with Ashley.

Harley and Isabelle riding down.

Harley and Isabelle riding down.

Once we were all safely at the bottom, it was time for a very late lunch.  Jeff took us to another great local restaurant and we stuffed our faces with more delicious local food.  Our original plan had been to see the Summer Palace after this, but we had spent so much time on the Great Wall, that we ran out of time.  So, Jeff took us to the train station so that we could continue on with the next leg of our journey.  On to the sleeper train for 1 more night, this time traveling to Xi’an.

 

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Beijing – Ti’an’anmen Square, Forbidden City & Rickshaws

Our Beijing adventure started on Thursday April 10th. We had booked an action packed weekend through Catherine Lu Tours (highly recommended). The kids came home from school, we rushed through dinner and packing and then set off for the train station to catch the sleeper train from Shanghai to Beijing. It had all started well, the traffic was not so bad and we made it to the Hongqiao Travel Hub with plenty of time to spare. However, when we asked where our train was, the reply was “at Shanghai Station”!!  Owen made a couple of frantic calls to Catherine, I made a couple of calls to my lovely assistant and we immediately called Fu to return back to pick us up and take us to the right station!
This was a stressful journey as the time was ticking down and we were not sure if we would make the train or not.  I did not know that Shanghai actually has several (ie, more than 5) major train stations!  It was obviously not clear on our tickets either as it was all in Mandarin which none of us can read.
We did make the train – 4 minutes before departure time we were sitting in our cabin and catching our breath.  We had run all the way through the station and down the platform and were all panting.  Once on the train, we saw that the cabin’s were set up with 4 beds (fluffy duvet and narrow pillows on each bed) bunkbed style. The kids were on top, Owen and I had a bottom bunk each. In the cabin next door were Kim, Ashley and Harley.  We had paid for the extra bed so that they would not have a stranger sharing the last bunk!  There was room underneath the beds to stow our luggage and a small table inbetween. We quickly organized the kids into their pj’s, cleaned their teeth and settled them into their beds. The kids thought it was all cool!  The toilet’s (one of my favourite subjects!) were not as bad as I was expecting and there was a choice between western and squat so all of us were especially happy about that.
The kids soon fell asleep lulled by the gentle motion of the train.  It had the same effect on me and so I organized my duvet, got in my pj’s and prepared for sleep. It was quite a hard mattress and the pillow was not very soft.  I had seen some of the locals carrying their own pillows and I now discovered why.  I did sleep, but not particularly well.  However, the kids had a blissful full nights sleep!
We woke up in the morning with about 1 hour to go until arrival in Beijing, so got ourselves ready and packed everything away.
When we got off the train, our guide Jeff was waiting for us and eager to get going. We had to delay him for a few moments as we had seen a MacDonalds and all of us were hungry and adults needed coffee!  I think that Jeff might have been a bit depressed at this point, thinking “these westerners only eating western food!!”  We all felt perked up and raring to go after food and cafeine.  Jeff asked about lunch and we all said, “local, of course” and I am sure he felt much better about being our guide for the day!

Owen, Oliver, Isabelle, Sara, Harley, Kim & Ashley at Ti'ananmen Square outside the Forbidden City.

Owen, Oliver, Isabelle, Sara, Harley, Kim & Ashley at Ti’ananmen Square outside the Forbidden City.

We had a lovely van to transport us around – spacious and comfortable for all 7 of us.  Jeff took us straight to the hotel (Marriott Apartments at Imperial Palace) so that we could check in and leave our luggage.  Immediately after we were on our way to Ti’an’anmen Square and the Forbidden City as our first stop.
Jeff was entertaining, knowledgeable and full of energy. He really made a difference to our time in Beijing as he was flexible with our schedule (tight to start with) and conscious of all our needs (including ensuring that Oliver’s nut allergy was covered).  Jeff also knew all the good photo stops so throughout our visit he was stopping us to take pictures of all of us.
Tianamen Square was quite the sight to see. The 25th Anniversary of the protests are this year and Jeff was pointing out where the tanks and Chinese Army had been.  I had expected some reluctance to discuss this episode in Chinese history, but Jeff was very matter of fact about it and did not try to gloss over or distort the events.  Security was tight around the Square and into the Forbidden City – we all had to pass bags through X-Ray and walk through metal detectors, but the line moved quickly and we were in the Forbidden Palace grounds within 10 -15 minutes.  We entered through the Meridian Gate (午门; Wǔ Mén).  In ancient times, this gate was reserved for the Emporer.  The Emporer’s Army would enter through the West Gate, while mere mortals had to use the East Gate.  Once through Meridian Gate, we immediately enter an enormous courtyard.  The Golden Stream (金水; Jīn Shuǐ – shaped to resemble a Tartar bow and spanned by five marble bridges) runs through this area.  The other side of the courtyard is the Gate of  Supreme Harmony (太和门; Tàihé Mén). This courtyard could hold an imperial audience of 100,000 people.

One of the lions guarding the Forbidden City

One of the lions guarding the Forbidden City

The detail on the buildings is beautiful

The detail on the buildings is beautiful

Standing by 1 of the main entrances into the Forbidden City.  The red doors are huge and very thick.

Standing by 1 of the main entrances into the Forbidden City. The red doors are huge and very thick.

A Red Door

A Red Door

Isabelle and Oliver on the bridge in front of the Supreme Harmony Hall.

Isabelle and Oliver on the bridge over the Golden Stream in front of the Supreme Harmony Hall

All of us by one of the many stone Lions guarding the Palace.

All of us by one of the many stone Lions guarding the Palace.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony

The Hall of Supreme Harmony

The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420 by over 1 million workers.  There are 980 buildings over 180 acres.  It was the home of the Imperial Palace for the Ming and Qing Dynastys.  After being the home of 24 emperors – 14 of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty – the Forbidden City ceased being the political centre of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. In 1933 the Japanese invasion of China meant that many of the precious relics were evacuated to Taiwan.  They can be seen today in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.  However, there were still many beautiful and ancient artifacts to see in the many buildings within the Forbidden City Walls.

The building names within the Forbidden City, are interesting!  Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony, Hall of Preserving Harmony, Hall for Ancestral Worship, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union, Palace of Earthly Tranquility, Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity, Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies, Hall of Mental Cultivation, and the Palace of Gathered Elegance.  Each of these buildings have many symbols to identify the significance and importance:

  • Yellow is the color of the Emperor.  Therefore, almost all of the roofs in the Forbidden City have yellow glazed tiles. There are 2 exceptions to this – the library at the Pavilion of Literary Profundity had black tiles because black was associated with water (fire-prevention) and the Crown Prince’s residences have green tiles because green was associated with wood (growth).
  • The main halls of the Outer and Inner courts are all arranged in groups of three – the shape of the Qian triagram which represents Heaven.  The residences of the Inner Court are arranged in groups of 6 (Kun triagram) which represent the Earth.
  • The sloping ridges of building roofs are decorated with a line of statutuettes, starting with a man riding a phoenix, followed by an imperial dragon.  The number of statuettes represents the status of the building – a minor building might have 3 or 5.  The Hall of Supreme Harmony has 10, the only building in China to be permitted this in Imperial times. As a result, its 10th statuette, called a “Hangshi“, or “ranked tenth” is also unique in the Forbidden City.
The 10 Statuettes on the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The 10 Statuettes on the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City.

Harley, Isabelle, Oliver and Ashley.

Harley, Isabelle, Oliver and Ashley.

The detail on the buildings is exquisite

The detail on the buildings is exquisite

All of us with the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the background.

All of us with the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the background.

Inside the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Dragon Throne.  This is where the Emporer would sit before his trembling, nervous court!  The entire court would have to touch their heads to the floor 9 times in his presence.  This is called kowtowing!

The history of the urns.

The history of the urns.

Huge copper and iron urns - for both water storage and fire.

Huge copper and iron urns – for both water storage and fire.

I was grateful for these reminders of the artifacts we were looking at!

I was grateful for these reminders of the artifacts we were looking at!

Inspiration from Native Indians??

Inspiration from Native Indians??

Owen wanted one of these!

Owen wanted one of these!

Back scratchers!  Owen wanted one of these too!

Back scratchers! Owen wanted one of these too!

The Clock Exhibition Hall is in the Hall for Ancestral Worship and is filled with amazing elaborate timepieces.  Many of the examples were gifts to Emperors from Kings and rulers around the world.

The Clock Exhibition Hall is in the Hall for Ancestral Worship and is filled with amazing elaborate timepieces. Many of the examples were gifts to Emperors from Kings and rulers around the world.

So many beautiful works of art.

So many beautiful works of art.

The Face of the last Emperor - Puyi.

The Face of the last Emperor – Puyi.

A centurys old teapot.

A centurys old teapot.

Owen and I loved the carving on this.

Owen and I loved the carving on this.

So much detail everywhere.  This is the domed ceiling in one of the halls.

So much detail everywhere. This is the domed ceiling in one of the halls.

Harley, Oliver and Ashley.

Harley, Oliver and Ashley.

The Imperial Garden

The Imperial Garden

After this history filled morning, it was time for lunch.  Jeff took us to a great local restaurant.  He ordered a great selection of food for us to eat.  We all enjoyed everything.

Our lunch restaurant

Our lunch restaurant

Best Tofu I have ever eaten!

Best Tofu I have ever eaten!

After lunch it was time to go visit the Hutongs via a Rickshaw ride.

In the past, Beijing was composed of hundreds of courtyards around the Forbidden City and these lanes stretched out in all directions, inter-connecting with one another across the city. Hutong is a Mongolian word meaning water well.  They were originally formed in the Yuan Dynasty and grew rapidly during the Ming and Qing dynasties.  In the Yuan Dynasty, Mongolians attached great importance to water, so almost every community in the city was designed around a well, which provided the daily water for the locals. Until now, one can still find dry wells in Hutongs.   In the Yuan Dynasty, there were about 29 Hutongs, while in the Ming Dynasty (1368 –1644), this number increased to 1,070.  In the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), it grew to 2,076.  It is said that by 1949 there were as many as 3,250.  Unfortunately, during the Cultural Revolution, much of this was demolished for “new development” – housing and buildings and in 2003, only 1,500 were left, and now no more than 1,000 remain.  Today, protecting what is left is now a priority.

The lanes have their own layout and structure, and when viewed from the air the combination of the lanes and courtyards resemble a chessboard with delicate gardens, fine rockeries and ancient ruins this makes them a wonder in the world. Because of the cross interlacement of the lanes every house connects to the other, making it easy for local people to keep in touch with their neighbors. Therefore, once one enters any of the lanes, one can feel the deep and warm relationships among people, which is rarely found in this modern world.

Jeff & Kim ready for our Rickshaw tour around the Hutongs.

Jeff & Kim ready for our Rickshaw tour around the Hutongs.

Isabelle & Harley sharing a Rickshaw

Isabelle & Harley sharing a Rickshaw

Owen & Ashley

Owen & Ashley

Me and Oliver ready to go!

Me and Oliver ready to go!

A great view of the Drum and Bell Towers that are the outer edges of the Forbidden City.

A great view of the Drum and Bell Towers that are the outer edges of the Forbidden City.

A rickshaw!

A rickshaw!

So many symbols in China.  The four blue posts signify the level of the family living here.  The color is also significant and indicates different professions (military, government, retail, etc)

So many symbols in China. The four blue posts signify the level of the family living here. The color is also significant and indicates different professions (military, government, retail, etc)

We stopped at some of the stores in the Hutongs and saw this display of food - these are 1000 year old eggs!!

We stopped at some of the stores in the Hutongs and saw this display of food – these are 100 year old eggs!!

Fantastic selection of spices

Fantastic selection of spices

Lots of souvenirs to buy in the little shops

Lots of souvenirs to buy in the little shops

Ashley & Oliver by a Hutong that is designated for demolition.

Ashley & Oliver by a Hutong that is designated for demolition.

When we had checked into the hotel at the beginning of the day, the kids had seen the swimming pool on the 8th floor.  I am glad that they knew it was there as the promise of swimming later in the day kept them going through all the site-seeing! Ashley and Harley were keen to go with Isabelle and Oliver and it was a race to see who would be ready to go first!  Kim and Owen took this opportunity to nap while I “supervised” from the side of the pool!  An hour of so of swimming recharged the batteries ready for dinner…..

Isabelle taking a flying leap into the pool.

Isabelle taking a flying leap into the pool.

Ashley throwing Oliver!

Ashley throwing Oliver!

A large leap from all 4 - huge splash!

A large leap from all 4 – huge splash!

I had asked a few local colleagues that live in Beiing for recommendations on a good Peking Duck restaurant and the reply was unanimous – “Da Dong Duck”.  So, the 7 of us were excited to eat Peking Duck in Peking at Da Dong Duck!!  Jeff had recommended that we order 2 ducks and then a selection of vegetable side dishes so that is exactly what we did.  What a delicious meal!  The Duck was beautifully carved and there was plenty of perfect crispy skin for everyone. The traditional accompaniments is spring onion (scallion), finely chopped garlic, plus sugar! Sugar and crispy duck skin is a wonderful taste explosion!
We all had multiple duck pancakes. All of the vegetable dishes were yummy too – we had each picked 1 that we liked the look of in the menu (thank goodness for pictures!)  By desert time, the kids wanted a Chocolate Bomb.  This arrived at the table with what looked like a big sparkler sticking out.  The server lit this and when it had burned down, the chocolate “bomb” had opened to reveal lots of packets of chocolate sweets inside.

Da Dong Duck Restaurant

Da Dong Duck Restaurant

The Duck getting expertly carved.

The Duck getting expertly carved.

The arrival of the Chocolate Bomb dessert.

The arrival of the Chocolate Bomb dessert.

After the "bomb" had exploded!!

After the “bomb” had exploded!!

A very busy day, with another one ahead of us.  It was an early night for all of us!

Pirates – Long Blue Pete, Friends and Treasure Islands

Oliver’s topic at school for the last few weeks has been on Pirates.  He has really enjoyed this and was excited that his class assembly was going to be all about Pirates.  He came home with the script and we practiced his lines – first he would stand by the front door and recite them, and then he would race upstairs to his bedroom and recite them.  He was very loud and very clear!  He told us that he would be holding a microphone too.  The morning of the assembly dawned and we all went in to school together.  We dropped Oliver off at his classroom and saw all the cool costumes laid out ready for them to change into.  Owen and I went to the Theatre to wait for the production to begin!

The welcome screen on the stage.

The welcome screen on the stage.

The class made the Jolly Roger boat.

The class made the Jolly Roger boat.

Ready for showtime!

Ready for showtime!

We had asked permission for Isabelle to come and watch and so she joined us in the Theatre just as Assembly was getting started.  (Assembly is for Infants so it was all the classes in Year 1 and 2.)  After some announcements and recognition for “Stars of the Week” it was on to the main event.

The class started by introducing themselves – with their Pirate names.  Oliver’s was Long Blue Pete.

"My Pirate Name is Long Blue Pete"

“My Pirate Name is Long Blue Pete”  His teacher, Mrs Finan, is at the front.

As the show went on, Owen and I were amazed to see Oliver performing more than we had practiced.  All of a sudden he was also the Pirate King!

Long Blue Pete is on the right delivering a birthday present to the Pirate Queen.

The Pirate King, AKA Long Blue Pete, is on the right delivering a birthday present to the Pirate Queen.

It was a wonderful performance by a lovely group of 5 and 6 year olds.  They all sang beautifully, remembered their lines and obviously enjoyed being on stage.  Oliver closed it out at the end with his 2 lines that we had rehearsed.  Mrs Finan told us right after that the original Pirate King was sick and she needed somebody to stand in.  As Oliver had done such a good job learning the script (plenty of help from Isabelle too) she had asked him to “save the day”.  He did brilliantly and we were so proud of him.  You would never have known that he jumped in at the last minute.

"Thank you for watching and hope you enjoyed it!"

“Thank you for watching and hope you enjoyed it!”

All the parents took lots of photos at the end:

Chloe (Oliver's special friend!), Oliver and Lucy.

Chloe (Oliver’s special friend!), Oliver and Lucy.

What is really under a Pirate's eye patch?  Oh - it is an eye!!

What is really under a Pirate’s eye patch? Oh – it is an eye!!

Arrrr, shiver me timbers, are you ready to walk the plank?

Arrrr, shiver me timbers, are you ready to walk the plank?

Happy that it is over and happy that we were there :-)

Happy that it is over and happy that we were there 🙂

As well as practicing for the Assembly, Oliver also had a homework project to create his own Treasure Island.  We had fun finding things at home to make this – he had toilet roll and tissue paper palm trees, a jewelry box as a treasure chest, painted little pebbles for gold, brown sugar for sand, a volcano, pirate ship and pirate.  The finishing touch was a selection of Oliver’s shells that he has collected from our various trips abroad.  He worked so hard on this and the end result looked fantastic.

Oliver's Treasure Island homework project.

Oliver’s Treasure Island homework project.

World Book Day – Rolly & Cat in the Hat

BISS has been celebrating books all week.  One of the highlights of the week has been DEAR – Drop Everything And Read.  A teacher will pop their head into a classroom and shout DEAR.  Whatever class is going on, it stops and they all start reading.

They also had a book fair and all the kids had plenty of opportunity to spend their money on a wide selection of books.  Both Isabelle and Oliver found a couple of books that they liked!

Friday was Book Character dress up day.  Isabelle decided to go as Rolly (one of the 99 puppies in 101 Dalmations) and Oliver was Cat in the Hat for the day.

Isabelle’s costume was so easy as she borrowed some pj’s from a friend and I just painted some spots on her face.  Oliver’s was a little trickier.  I had originally decided to make a pop-up Dr Seuss hat, but after 2 attempts of following the instructions, it ended up as a normal hat.  Even so, it was well after midnight on Thursday before I had finished!!  I made him a bow tie, had some furry fur sewed onto a black hoodie and white gloves finished the look.  He was so reluctant to have anything (make-up/face paint) on his face, but I persuaded him that the look would not be complete without a black nose and whiskers!

The Infants (Year 1 and 2) had a costume parade and Oliver was thrilled to win the Boys prize for best costume!  Guess the late night was worth it!

Cat in the Hat and Rolly AKA Oliver & Isabelle

Cat in the Hat and Rolly AKA Oliver & Isabelle

Oliver was a little grumpy because he didn't want the "make up"on!!!!

Oliver was a little grumpy because he didn’t want the “make up”on!!!!

Oliver - winner of the Boys Best Costume posing with his girlie counterpart!  Glad to see he is smiling this time.  Photo is courtesy of BISS.

Oliver – winner of the Boys Best Costume posing with his girlie counterpart! Glad to see he is smiling this time. Photo is courtesy of BISS.

 

Daddy Daughter Masquerade Ball 2014

Saturday March 1st was THE social event of the year at BISS (at least, for the girls!)

The invitation

The invitation

Daddy Daughter Ball 2014 and it was a masquerade event this year.  This was Isabelle and Owen’s 2nd ball and the excitement level was high (at least, for Isabelle!)  As like last year, the girls have all been talking about, anticipating, discussing dresses, hair styles, nail color and shoes for weeks.  Also like last year, Isabelle designed her dress and right before Chinese New Year we again went to the Fabric Market to have it made.  She envisioned a purple creation of wonderfulness and was thrilled with the results.  We had spent hours looking at all sorts of dresses on the Internet to give her extra ideas, but her original description of what she wanted was pretty much what she ended up with.  (She does say that being a Dress Designer is one of her future career options!!)

In the afternoon we went to Maddie’s house and waited for Phoebe to arrive to paint her nails.  Purple, of course!  Then, we rushed around the corner to our local hairdresser’s to have her hair done.  Last year she had french braids and curls, and this year she chose to have 2 french braids joining at the back and then very straight hair.   Home to get dressed and put a little bit of make up on!  I did some glitter eye shadow for her and pink lip gloss.

Nail Painting with Maddie

Nail Painting with Maddie

Her beautiful french braid (wish she would sit still long enough for me to practice on her - then I wouldn't have to pay $3 to have it done by a professional!)

Her beautiful french braid (wish she would sit still long enough for me to practice on her – then I wouldn’t have to pay $3 to have it done by a professional!)

Owen was also getting ready, super-stud-Bond-like in his tux and matching bow tie.  My hubby and daughter looked amazing.  At 5:45 they left to enjoy the fun of the evening.

My handsome hubby and gorgeous girl.

My handsome hubby and gorgeous girl.

Isabelle was very specific about the detail on her dress!

Isabelle was very specific about the detail on her dress!

Oliver was testing the various masks we have at home and couldn’t resist getting in a few photos!

With masks on!  Isabelle is ready to go with her lovely furry cape.

With masks on! Isabelle is ready to go with her lovely furry cape.

Even Tetley got in on the action.

Even Tetley got in on the action.

This was the plan for the night:

The evening plans

The evening agenda

I think Owen was a little bit relieved to also see this sign:

YEAH!

YEAH!

The Dance Floor

The Dance Floor

Once Daddy and Daughter had left the house, Oliver and I got ready to go to Katrina’s house.  10 lovely lonely ladies (plus 6 sons!) met to share some nibbles and cocktails while the D&D’s were dancing!  Oliver had fun with some friends while the Mums were enjoying adult girlie time.  At 9:30 the party goers returned and we continued it for another couple of hours.  Initially there was lots of action from all the kids, but this is what it looked like after about 30 minutes:

Movie and chillax time!

Movie and chillax time!

Thailand Part 3 – Koh Samui

Chinese New Year holidays were upon us and we were off to Koh Samui, Thailand to escape the fireworks, cold weather and air pollution.

In true fashion, I had left it quite late to book this trip at one of the busiest travel times in China.  So, we ended up returning to Thailand – Koh Samui this time, and taking the kids out of school 2.5 days early.   So on Monday January 27th we set off for Shanghai airport to enjoy 12 days in the warmth, sunshine and clean air of Thailand.  We flew into Bangkok to connect with our flight to Koh Samui island and were totally amazed to bump into Sheila O’Neill who was checking in for a girlie getaway!  We only know 9 people in Bangkok, so to see one of them at that particular time was funny!  We had a quick catch up before we left for our different flights.

We were picked up at the airport by a lovely man driving a very luxurious, spacious van.  A good omen for a great holiday!  A short 15 minute drive from the airport and we arrived at our Villa at Kanda Residences at the north end of Chaweng Beach.  Owen had researched many places for us to stay and had picked a fantastic villa for us.  A 3 bedroom place with a private pool very close to the beach, in a facility that had a good restaurant and a couple more communal pools, plus a private beach.

We quickly unpacked and then all collapsed into our beds.  The last 3 or 4 months have been incredibly busy, stressful and tiring for me.  The last quarter of our year is always busy with major sales cycles coming to a close, a major customer event, plus planning for 2014.  I felt like I had not had a chance to take a breath and enjoy life or my family.  The year had also started in a crazy fashion with our sales kick off, year end reviews, bonus calculations and settling down organization changes.  I was exhausted!  I spent the first couple of days frantically closing HR and bonus issues before I finally was able to relax and completely switch off.  This is a rare time of year where China shuts down and I knew that I could decompress because everyone else would be off too.  So, for the first time in a year, I did not feel under pressure to check email or follow up on anything – it was bliss.

Oliver relaxing in the pool at our villa.  "This is the life, Mum!"

Oliver relaxing in the pool at our villa. “This is the life, Mum!”

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I slept late, worked a little and chilled by the pool.  The kids loved our pool and were perfectly happy to be entertaining themselves with endless hours of swimming and games.  Owen was exhausted from his trip to the UK and slept and read alot too.  We found a Tesco and stocked up on supplies so that we could enjoy our paradise cocoon.  I did not realize how stressed I had been as I could actually feel it lifting as the days went by.  I was sleeping better and enjoying the simple pleasure of being with my family with no itinerary and no agenda.

We booked the resort Spa experts to come to our villa and pamper us all.  The kids experienced their first massage (a “baby” massage – but didn’t tell them that is what it was called!)  We all had our treatments in the Sala by the pool.  They both loved their experience!  Owen had a lovely foot massage while I had a relaxing body massage.  How wonderful to experience that while chilling in the warm weather.

Isabelle and Oliver getting totally spoiled with massages in our villa!

Isabelle and Oliver getting totally spoiled with massages in our villa!

We went into Chaweng Beach a couple of times.  We spent a couple of hours wandering around the market stalls.  We bought a couple of bedside lights for the kids – made out of coconut and shaped into animals.  Isabelle’s is like an elephant and Oliver’s is shaped like a buffalo.  Oliver also got a lovely pair of Foakley sunglasses (that is Fake Oakley!)  We explored the wonderful beach by the villa.  It is very private (there was no-one else there when we were there) and a mix of interesting rock pools and small pebbles.  It is not a beach for swimming because of all the rocks.  But, it is a children’s paradise for finding things!

Rockpool exploration at Kanda residences

Rockpool exploration at Kanda residences

By the steps on the way down to the beach.  The kids are holding onto the shower (made out of bamboo!)

By the steps on the way down to the beach. The kids are holding onto the shower (made out of bamboo!)

Oliver found a coconut and Isabelle found a sand dollar.

Oliver found a coconut and Isabelle found a sand dollar.

It was so disappointing to see so much rubbish washed up on the beach.  This sandal had obviously been in the water for a while, judging by the shellfish that had attached itself.  This was one example of nature merging with man made mess.

It was so disappointing to see so much rubbish washed up on the beach. This sandal had obviously been in the water for a while, judging by the shellfish that had attached itself. This was one example of nature merging with man made mess.

The deserted beach.  This is the Kanda Residence Villas nestled into the hills.  A beautiful place to recharge!

The deserted beach. This is the Kanda Residence Villas nestled into the hills. A beautiful place to recharge!

Daddy with his little explorers.  The buckets came back full of shells, rocks and other interesting "stuff"

Daddy with his little explorers. The buckets came back full of shells, rocks and other interesting “stuff”

Isabelle as Queen of the Castle on the rocks.

Isabelle as Queen of the Castle on the rocks.

Oliver as King of the Castle on the rocks

Oliver as King of the Castle on the rocks

Owen pretending to eat a dead crab that he found in the rock pools.

Owen pretending to eat a dead crab that he found in the rock pools.

We poured over the island information brochures and told Isabelle and Oliver that they could pick 1 thing each that they wanted to do.  Isabelle chose Quad Biking (separate post) and Oliver chose Coco Splash – a water park (separate post), Owen and I chose a private boat charter (separate post).  We booked the boat charter for Saturday February 1st, the water park for Monday 3rd and Quad biking on Wednesday 5th.  This was a perfect combination of planned activities and then days with nothing to do except relax, swim, eat, drink, read and play.

Family in the infinity edge pool at Kanda Residences.

Family in the lower children’s pool at Kanda Residences.

The infinity edge pool at Kanda residences is wonderful.  The views from here are lovely.

The infinity edge pool at Kanda residences is wonderful. The views from here are lovely.

"Hey Guys"

“Hey Guys”

Owen horsing around with the kids!

Owen horsing around with the kids!

Our first meal out was to the Spirit House Restaurant.  We had asked our resort concierge for some recommendations for some good Thai food.  Owen and I both love this cuisine and were eager to eat authentically.  We had a lovely meal in a lovely location (but not sure how authentic it was, especially after our Quad Biking day!!).

Isabelle and Oliver at the Spirit House Restaurant.

Isabelle and Oliver at the Spirit House Restaurant.

Cuddle time between courses!

Cuddle time between courses!

One of the offerings at the Spirit House restaurant.

One of the offerings at the Spirit House restaurant.

Oliver & Isabelle by a wall sculpture in the Spirit House Restaurant

Oliver & Isabelle by a wall sculpture in the Spirit House Restaurant

Offerings to the Gods all over the place!

Offerings to the Gods all over the place!

We bought some Chinese lanterns from a beach vendor and let them off by our pool.

Isabelle and Oliver watching Daddy make sure that the Chinese Lantern is full before letting go.

Isabelle and Oliver watching Daddy make sure that the Chinese Lantern is full before letting go.

Up, up and away.  The white light to the right is the Moon.  This is very soon after the "New Year".

Up, up and away. The white light to the right is the Moon. This is very soon after the “New Year”.

A lovely meal out was at Tree Tops in the Anantara Lawana resort.  The tables are set on raised stages in the trees.  It is a molecular cuisine which particularly pleased Owen as this is what he is studying at the moment!  I had ordered a lychee martini cocktail that was made at the table and then served over dry ice – the kids thought this was really cool as my drink was surrounded in smoke!!  Owen’s cocktail was also made at the table but was not as visually stunning as mine.  A unique feature of our meal here was a Salt Guru/Sommelier.  She brought over a selection of different salts and then gave Owen and I a couple to try with our main meal.  It was a very nice meal.

A "smoking" Lychee Martini!

A “smoking” Lychee Martini!

Our Tree Tops "welcome" drink

Our Tree Tops “welcome” drink

Non-alcoholic version for the kids!

Non-alcoholic version for the kids!

We ate at Eat Sense after our day at Coco Splash.  This was a lovely beach side restaurant with some wonderful Thai food.  It was very busy the night we were there and I was glad that we had placed our order before a massive group of Chinese people arrived.  I had to laugh at the table next to us – it was a table of 12 and ALL of them were on their smart phones.  One of their group was obviously upset by this and made them all hand them over to him.  He wrapped them all up in a napkin and put it under the table!  Then, all of a sudden, the conversation started to flow, laughing and animated for the rest of their meal.  I guess some things are universal and you don’t need to speak Mandarin to understand that whole interaction!  I was pleased to see this – we have a “no technology” rule when we are eating too!

The Wet Bar at Akaryn Samui Resort and Spa was upscale Pizza night for us all.  82 different pizza’s on the menu and we were spoilt for choice.  This was another fantastic beach side table in another lovely resort.  Our table was right by the ocean waves crashing on the sand – so soothing and relaxing to eat with the music of Mother Nature playing behind us.

Pizza by the beach

Pizza by the beach

After one particular hard afternoon of shopping, we realized that it was getting late.  As we walked down the main strip, we were debating about getting a taxi, when Owen saw Red Snapper restaurant across the road.  We did a quick Trip Advisor look up and saw that it was rated high so headed in for our dinner!  Owen and I both had yummy flank steak followed by limoncello spheres for dessert.  This restaurant had some very colorful lights behind the bar.

Our Red Snapper dinner

Our Red Snapper dinner

Lemoncello Spheres that burst in your mouth!  Owen is going to attempt to recreate these at home.

Limoncello Spheres that burst in your mouth! Owen is going to attempt to recreate these at home.

The lit up bottles at the bar in Red Snapper restaurant.

The lit up bottles at the bar in Red Snapper restaurant.

Our last night in Koh Samui and we ate at Coco Rock.  This restaurant is located in the Coral Bay resort very close to Kanda.  It was a beautiful location and the evening light was fantastic for some good photos.  The menu had a combination of Thai cuisine and International favorites.  Owen and I both chose Thai options – Phad Thai for Owen and Massan Chicken curry for me – yummy!  Owen finished off with Tiramisu, Isabelle had ice cream.  Oliver and I were too stuffed for dessert!

On the beach by Coco Rock restaurant.

On the beach by Coco Rock restaurant.

Beautiful light for photos.

Beautiful light for photos.

Me and my girl in our matching vacation dresses bought the day before in a local Koh Samui shop.

Me and my girl in our matching vacation dresses bought the day before in a local Koh Samui shop.

After our wonderful day on the boat, we decided to eat at the restaurant in Kanda (Rockpool Restaurant).  They had some interesting evening entertainment serenading us to help celebrate the Lunar New Year.  Owen and I were not sure how many of the group were ladies or if they were all part of the famous Thailand lady boys that often entertain tourists.  Either way, it was a pretty average performance!!

Entertain at Rockpool Restaurant.

Entertain at Rockpool Restaurant.

Isabelle and Oliver liked sitting up at the big bar table overlooking the ocean at Rockpool restaurant.  Owen took this cool shot of the wind capturing her hair!

I like this photo of the wind in Isabelle's hair.

I like this photo of the wind in Isabelle’s hair.

Even though we were in a private villa, we still had some of the amenities of a hotel/resort.  When we returned from dinner on Lunar/Chinese New Year, we each had a fortune cookie and a delightful little colorful purse with a shiny new coin in it.  A very nice touch from the resort!

New Year gifts

New Year gifts

Thailand is a beautiful Country.  The food is delicious, the people are welcoming and friendly, the air and the ocean are clean (relatively!!) and the pace of life is relaxed.  We all enjoyed a very relaxing holiday here and will definitely try to return to visit another area of this wonderful part of the world.

Quad Bike Fun

Our day started out with a pickup truck to collect us from the villa.  The front cab was already full so we (me – reluctantly) got up into the open back.  The kids thought this was sooooo cool.  We obviously had a couple more stops to pick up other riders at their hotels/villa’s so we got a good tour of Koh Samui island!

A "selfie" of us in the back of our ride to the Quad Bike facility!  A cool way to see the Island.

A “selfie” of us in the back of our ride to the Quad Bike facility! A cool way to see the Island.

We even got pulled over by the police.  I am not sure what our driver was doing to get pulled over, but we were stopped for nearly an hour while he went to pay a fine.  Meanwhile, we were all watching the police pull over anyone not wearing a helmet on the many bikes/scooters that you see on the roads here.  It was comical seeing some of the riders trying to get out of the fine by turning around before the road block.  However, there was a policeman stationed further up the road turning them back around!!  Contrary to popular belief, there is a helmet law in Thailand and you must wear one.  Owen and I joked that the police were hustling for money – we must have watched at least 100 get stopped!

Once we were back on the road, we had a hair raising journey up twisty turny roads towards the top of one of the mountains on Koh Samui.  Breathtaking views across the island and could clearly see Fisherman’s village in Bophut as well as to Chaweng on the other side of the island.  The lush green vegetation on the mountain sides is thick and dense.

The view from the top of the mountain to the coat (Fishermans Village in Bophut in the background).

The view from the top of the mountain to the coat (Fishermans Village in Bophut in the background).

We pulled into the Quad Bike facility and were greeted by smiling, friendly and apologetic staff.  Because of our unscheduled stop, we were late starting…..  However, this did not stop a fast start to the day.

In total, we were a group of 10 – the 4 of us, 2 Aussies, 2 Russians and 2 Chinese.  There was a choice of several different types of Quad Bike and the girls were recommended the lighter, smaller bikes, while the boys had the heavier, more rugged and powerful bikes.   We all got helmets and then listened to the safety and operational briefing.  Owen and I had both been quad biking before.  Our friend Paul who lives on a wonderful piece of land in Indiana, USA had hosted us several times where we had experienced the joy of quading!  I am very glad that I had done this before and knew how the bikes handled, otherwise I would not have been comfortable taking Oliver on mine.

Oliver and I ready to go!

Oliver and I ready to go!

Oliver and Isabelle on the "man bike".

Oliver and Isabelle on the “man bike”.

Raring to go…..

Raring to go…..

I was on one of the “girlie” bikes with Oliver sitting in front and Owen was on the “man” bike with Isabelle in front of him.  We were excited to start!  The group set off with Owen and I taking the rear of the convoy.  We were out for about 90 minutes on the first trail around the mountains.  We stopped for a drink at a place that was building a sleeping Budha.  Again, more spectacular views across the mountains to the ocean either side.  This trail was a little tame for Owen and I, although it was a great introduction for beginners.  It was funny watching the novices tackle the bumps and holes and hills!  Oliver loved it from the beginning and was laughing for most of our trip.  Isabelle said it was a little scary to start, but she thought it was “fun and wonderful” once she relaxed into the experience.

Relaxing at our first stop.

Relaxing at our first stop.

This is how Pineapple's grow!  There was a whole plantation down this particular slope.

This is how Pineapple’s grow! There was a whole plantation down this particular slope.

The "sleeping Budha" being built.

The “sleeping Budha” being built.

Oliver wanted to ride by himself after the morning session!

Oliver wanted to ride by himself after the morning session!

 

We headed back to the facility for lunch and it was superb.  Some of the best Thai food that I have ever eaten.  It was cooked by locals and we had 3 different Thai curry’s and the yummiest fried vegetable fritters, plus rice.  I had 3 plate fulls before I realized that I had definitely eaten too much!!  The sweet watermelon and pineapple were a perfect ending to a delicious meal.  This was a completely unexpected bonus to this great day out.  The only downside was the toilet (yes, I am back on THAT subject!)  Isabelle and I both needed to use “the facility” after lunch and were dismayed to see that it was a squat!!  Needless to say, Isabelle decided to wait…….  I am getting quite used to these now so it was all ok for me!!!

Isabelle and the view from our lunch table.

Isabelle and the view from our lunch table.

After lunch, we were back on the bikes for part 2.  Oh my goodness, what fun we had.  The afternoon trails were spectacular.  We went through lots of water, which Oliver and Isabelle both loved, and the trails were much more challenging.  Lots of hills, tight turns, rugged terrain and large bumps and holes to navigate over.  I let Oliver control the speed of our quad bike and it turns out that he is quite the natural – he knew to keep a safe distance from the bike in front, but was a speed demon through the water so we got soaked multiple times!  I only had to take over on a couple of the more challenging, steeper hills.  He LOVED it.  It turns out that Owen was also letting Isabelle control their bike with similar results.

So. Much. FUN.

So. Much. FUN.

We stopped at a beautiful waterfall where we all had a swim/wade, took pictures at the top of the waterfall and generally enjoyed the wonderful scenery, ice cold water and relaxing environment.

The afternoon break by the waterfall.  This was the top river section that we all had fun swimming/wading in.

The afternoon break by the waterfall. This was the top river section that we all had fun swimming/wading in.

Oliver braving a little rapid.  He enjoyed this "water slide"!

Oliver braving a little rapid. He enjoyed this “water slide”!

At the top of the waterfall.  It was about a 60' drop down, which does not show up well in these photos.

At the top of the waterfall. It was about a 60′ drop down, which does not show up well in these photos.

It was great to have so many people willing to take family shots.

It was great to have so many people willing to take family shots.

I love this family shot as the water appears to be caught in motion behind us.

I love this family shot as the water appears to be caught in motion behind us.

The only thing that we wished for was more photos of us on the bikes!  We were so busy enjoying the action that it was difficult to remember to take some action shots.  What a fantastic, fun day out.  And, the best Thai meal of our vacation!!