Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Things I saw this week in Shanghai

     In the last year or so, there have been attacks by separatist Uygurs aimed at the Chinese government.  The Uygurs are natives in the Xinjiang region of China, the furthest Northwest of the country.  They are bordered by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.  Many of the Uygurs do not consider themselves to be part of China, and have maintained their own language and culture.  China considers Xinjiang to be part of China, and have enforced Mandarin as the official language, and Chinese government rule.  The Uygur fighters have a history of being great horsemen and great swordsmen.  Sort of like in the old Sinbad or Aladdin movies.  So when the Uygurs launch a terrorist attack, often it is with knives.  There was an attack on a busy rail station last year, and many people were killed in random knifings.  Really terrible.  So now, there are restrictions on knife purchases at the large grocery / department stores.  But if you go to a high-end expat market, you can buy knives without any problem.  I guess the government doesn't feel the foreigners are a risk

There are two kinds of toilets in many Chinese restrooms.  

Street maintenance workers make their own brooms.

These celebrities are huge in China.
Avril Lavigne

Family Reunion in Florida & returning to Shanghai

     We took our yearly home leave in December 2014.  We flew to Florida to visit Chris' parents Gloria & Reg, and had a full Lamb family reunion.  Chris' sister Robin and her family joined us and it was  the first time we have all been together since our wedding.
     Spending time with Chris' niece and nephew was such a treat - they are both such nice young people, not kids anymore.  Emily and Katie loved being around them both.  Although we live in Shanghai and haven't seen everyone in such a long time, it's nice feeling the welcome only family can bring.  It made us both realize how much we miss everyone, and also how much we actually like being around our families.

Emily & Nana
 Nana & Papa drove the girls around their compound one afternoon.  They saw this alligator in the pond.  Not something we see in Shanghai!

Florida gator
And of course, there was a trip to Universal Studios and  Disney World.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was really impressive, the best things at Universal by far.  We met up Chris' sister Robin and her family there as well.

The Wizarding World
Jelly beans 
Calling the Ministry of Magic

We were also able to spend a short two days in California, before finally heading back to Shanghai.  We toured schools (4 in one morning!), and had dinner with the Hayashi side of the family.  The highlight was seeing our neighborhood friends the final night we were in the US.  Everyone made us feel so warm and welcomed.

Peter looks good with a beard!

Me & Maria!

The next morning, we were on a long flight back to Shanghai.
   I have been warned by people who have returned home after long stays overseas that the transition back to the US is harder than expected.  Some families return feeling like they don't belong in their old place anymore, and they don't fit in.   But I feel really good about it.  I can't wait to be back in Pasadena and get re-acquainted with the city and get involved in the community.  We are only in Shanghai for seven months more, and after May it will all be about getting ready to come home.   Although being here has been great in so, so many ways, after this last trip back I am feeling homesick.  We are starting our countdown!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Visiting Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea

     I have been told that the Tokyo Disney parks were hands-down the most impressive, and I gotta say I know why.  Tokyo Disneyland is over 30 years old and looks like it opened yesterday.  Tokyo DisneySea is the most expensive theme park ever built anywhere and it shows.  If you have unending resources to make everything as perfect as possible, then you get Tokyo Disney Sea.  We came mid-October, and the park was decorated for Halloween.  Lots and lots of guests come in costume (which they do all year round), they coordinate their outfits, and really put time into matching looks, hair, accessories, etc.   I understand that it's an even bigger costume party on Halloween itself.  Chris said some guests' costumes outdo the Disney characters themselves.  In Japan, going to the Disney parks is serious business.  
     Tokyo Disney sea has different "lands": Mysterious Island, American Waterfront, Arabian Coast, Mermaid Lagoon, Lost River & Port Discovery.  

Disney Sea fountain
Halloween decor lamps

At the entrance a coffin & ghost carriage
hand-holds on the shuttle

Arabian coast & Mysterious Island
our singing gondolier was quite good

The Winnie-the-Pooh ride was really impressive.  I thought it was going to be too "baby" for the girls, but I was wrong.  The queue line is takes guests through the pages of the book, and the ride itself was really charming and whimsical.  Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull and Voyage to the Center of the Earth are the two big e-ticket rides here.  Everything was so well done, and completely detailed.  

Inside Ariel's grotto
Katie watch out!

Duffy the Disney Bear is a thing here.  The story goes that Mickey Mouse was going on an ocean voyage, and Minnie gave him a stuffed bear named Duffy to keep him company.  Somehow (Disney?) Duffy came to life, and now has his own adventures.  Duffy has a stage show here that explains who he is and also introduces his friend Gelatoni who is a painter and a cat.  This all seemed like marketing to me, ways to get people to buy more merchandise, etc.  But both Duffy and Gelatoni are so big here they have their own stores, including lots of different costumes to dress them in.  All the children and young women we saw had Duffy or Gelatoni doll with them.  Really.  They did.  Since I only can handle Katie buying a few outfits (!) for her Duffy and Gelatoni, she made their Halloween costumes on her own.  

Duffys, Duffys, Duffys

Window outside the shop

And of course we had lots of fun eats.  Toy-story themed mochi filled with chocolate and vanilla cream are very popular.  People here have no problem waiting in-line for different flavors of popcorn and dumplings, as well as hot dogs and ice cream.  We snacked a lot, but had a nice sit-down dinner at the Blue Bayou.

Toy Story mochi

Roast Chicken
Kids' Burger
 Who knows if we will ever have a chance to come back to Tokyo, but it was such a memorable experience.  I think this trip will be a highlight of all the time we spend in Asia.  Maybe out next relocation for Disney will be in Japan?!  Fingers crossed…

October Trip to Tokyo

      I took a long break from blogging recently.  I was feeling down on China, and not wanting to write.  But things have been getting better and the Lamb family is now in the best part of our journey here.  The first year here was rough, always feeling out of sorts.  Always feeling unsure and exhausted.  The second year was better,  more relaxed.  And now, into the third year here, I feel like I can manage Shanghai.  I know where to buy things, I know enough Mandarin to ask questions.  The daily life we live now is completely different than the first 6 months.  But I really am speaking just of myself.
     I have to say that Emily and Katie have always adapted better than I have, and are both thriving.  They make friends and live in the moment.  They both take advantage of opportunities at school that they would not have available back home.  Emily loves her mod tech class, and Katie made great pottery gifts for us all at Christmas.
     Chris has been so busy at work, constantly putting out fires, adjusting to developments in real time.  The Shanghai Disneyland project has been more challenging than anyone initially thought.  Everyone here is working harder than they imagined, and all are working longer hours than they would back in Glendale.  I think he is doing his best & hardest job right now.  

     I have said this before, but this is why it is so important for us to take vacations when we can.  It's nice to be out of the noise and pollution of Shanghai even for a short time, and to realize the greatest benefit of being in Asia is the opportunity to travel.   We have taken a few trips recently - in October to Tokyo and December to Florida and California.  While in Tokyo we visited sites in the city the first few days.  We went to Asakusa Shrine and Tokyo Sky Tree.  And of course because we were in Japan, we ate really, really good food.
     The first morning we went to Slappy Cakes where you can make your own pancakes.  Really fun and tasty - we all loved it.

 Asakusa Temple was really beautiful and there was a marketplace full of food stalls and small gift shops behind.  There was a man roasting rice crackers,  and a shop making Imagawa Yaki shaped like fish, filled with sweet beans.

Meiji Shrine
Asakusa Temple
Katie incense offering
Toasting rice crackers

Tokyo Sky Tree is the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest building after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  There is a point where you call look down through the glass floor and it's really dizzying.  The day was clear and we could see Disneyland from way up high.  The people who worked there were so organized.  An exact number of people were lined up each time for the elevators, and escorted to the observation area.  Like clockwork.  

Don't look down!
Standing at the highest point of the Tower
  My parents were even able to join us for a few days, they were in Japan visiting friends and relatives.  They even took the girls out for a day, and spent way too much money on arcade games.  But it was nice to see them and special for them to be with us in Japan.

     One day we went to Akihabara which is the area of Tokyo known for electronics, everything anime and cosplay.  We went into McDonalds for lunch and it was so strange.  The dining area was full of single men, looking at phones, sleeping or staring into space,..and it was completely silent.  No one talking, no kids, no piped in music, nothing.  I've been in libraries that were louder.  I've been told that sometimes in Japan people lose their jobs, and cannot face their families.  So they pretend to go to work everyday and sit in places like this for hours.  We were uncomfortable talking to each other, we just quietly ate and got the heck outta there.
     We walked in-and-out of lots of shops in Akihabara.  Some cater people that liked to dress in costume, also video & model making stores.  Things that I could imagine seeing at ComicCon.  Chris and Katie wanted to check-out a "maid cafe".  Emily and I thought it sounded strange, so we went to Tokyo Hands.  Tokyo Hands is the largest office supply and craft store chain in Japan, and we went to the flagship store in Shunjuku.  It's six floors and really fantastic.  So Japanese - everything lined up perfectly and organized, all the specific types of pens, markets, model kits, etc.  We wanted to check-out the Halloween section and were not disappointed.  China does not celebrate Halloween so much, but Japan is really into it.  We were able to find everything we needed for Emily's costume in one place.  I think Emily and I made the better choice coming to Tokyo Hands.  Chris and Katie said the maid cafe was a little weird and awkward.  Girls dressed as maids serve you, but they are like "Anime" maids, lots of make-up, chunky shoes, hair attachments, short petticoat skirts.  I know in Japan it's a thing, but still cringe-y.

Outside a maid cafe
Super large fries!! 
Halloween specials
black buns & sauce made with squid ink?
Musubi hat at Tokyo Hands
So much to see in Tokyo, but the next day we were off to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.  Here are photos of few things I saw that I had to include.

Sha- kee-zu
still must have fake food display!

Umbrellas with Samurai sword handles
Chris on the Ginza