Just arrived

And look who I brought back with me!

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Meet my youngest sister, known around here as the “Fashionista” or “the redhead” and our close friend/adopted sister, the “Carolina China Doll”.

I’m SO excited to have someone else to share this awesome experience with and I can’t wait to show them around China and to be reminded myself of how eye opening this place is.

The last few months were great as we were home for the holidays. (A firm commitment for our family no matter where in the world we are.) We had an awesome holiday season with our friends and family.

And check out what Santa brought me…

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I think it was a big ploy by LB to give me a reason to want to come back home to the US. Our contract is almost up and it will be moving time soon. I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about this adventure coming to an end, but now I have at least one little adorable furry reason to look forward to back in South Carolina.

I realize things have been quiet around here lately but that’s about to change. Since we don’t have much longer left in China I figure I have procrastinated long enough and now it’s crunch time to finish the book.

Not to mention I’m home schooling two high school students so I don’t have an excuse for not getting this thing finished!

There will be lots of chatter to come as I post excerpts from the book as well as daily posts from my two favorite teenagers in China (under the category “The Teenage Invasion”). And from the hilarity of the first few days, it should be plenty entertaining!

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catching up

It’s been a little while and I thought I’d do a catch-all list to give an update on the amazing things we’ve had going on.

Number 1 most amazing thing was our 3-week vacation to AUSTRALIA.
Seriously, the trip of a lifetime. Will definitely have to share more of this soon but as a quick run through, we went

horse-back riding in the Daintree Rainforest
to a crocodile farm in Cairns
jet-skiing and wild-life watching near Whitsunday Islands
sailing and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef


touring in downtown Sydney
petting koalas and kangaroos in north-west Sydney
visiting with cousins in south-west Sydney
repelling and canyoning in the Blue Mountains


climbing to the top of the highest mountain in Australia (Mt. Kosciuszko!)
driving through the heart of Australian wine country
exploring in downtown Melbourne
riding along the Great Ocean Road

So yeah. It was pretty stinkin’ amazing! I think I’m still a little hung-over from the awesomeness of everything we experienced.

Now, it’s back to real-life in China which honestly still doesn’t feel like real life most of the time.

The yarn section of Wuai is back open and I’ve got lots of projects going on for the upcoming holidays.

I’m currently illustrating a children’s book, which is a new thing for me but I’m totally enjoying it.

The new designs for China Christmas ornaments are posted (Year of the Snake!) and ready for order.

I have a sale going on until Nov 18th… So pop over and check it out!

Trying to get shopping and traveling and writing and drawing finished before I head back to the US for the holidays (didn’t I just get back to China? The last half of this year has just flown by!)

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Hiatus

I finally got back from my summer hiatus to the land of fried chicken, garden fresh tomatoes, s’mores, and four-wheelers. It was a fantastic trip where I got to see all of my family, including all of LB’s family who are scattered all over the world!

This is home. The farm where I grew up and the first place I head when I get back to the US.

Family farm

It was 6 weeks of non-stop packed-in travel and busyness.

We went camping in the mountains of Tennessee and rafting down the Ocoee River. Twice. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Being outdoors is one of those things I miss most when I’m surrounded by the concrete jungle of Shenyang. I still spend some time outside here but it just isn’t the same when you aren’t surrounded by green.

I also got new eyes!

This is from one of the pre-op dilations for measurements.

Ok, not really new eyes but laser-enhanced eyes that feel like new eyes. I have to admit, I was scared to death to have this done. If it wasn’t for LB pushing it so hard (he had it done several years ago) I would have just lived with glasses forever and never taken the chance. I’m an artist, you know, my eyes are a big part of my livelihood. But, I sucked it up and went for it anyway. And it’s awesome. Very uncomfortable for a day or two but totally worth it!

Although, I still think to myself at least once every night, “I need to take my contacts out.” I wonder how long that lasts. But I guess 16 years of that nightly ritual takes a while to forget.

We also spent a week at Garden City Beach (just south of Myrtle Beach) for our annual family beach trip with my family.

The cornhole tournaments can get serious!

I love hanging out with my crazy family.

And LB’s family joined the fun back at the farm with an Olympic Tournament of crazy games like cornhole, ladderball, and frisbee golf.

and of course it wouldn’t be a trip to South Carolina without some guns…

So far since I’ve been back and made my rounds to see my friends at the massage place and ayi has come to help with the laundry, they’ve all had something to say about how I look now. You’d think I’d been gone a year and not just 6 weeks. My massage friend mentioned that now my butt was a little more fat than before and my ayi wanted to know why my skin was black now.

So yeah, I missed China a lot.

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Flying with the Gibbons

Another excursion we did on our trip to Thailand was the Flight of the Gibbons! It’s a ziplining tour of the jungle an hour and a half outside Bangkok. And it was a blast!

They have 2 meeting points in Bangkok. It’s a good idea to book in advance, quite easy through their website. You don’t need to pay in advance. Actually, they don’t take credit or debit cards so you should plan to have cash enough to pay for your tour (and a tip if you’re inclined). It costs 3299 baht per person (approx $100US). That includes the transport to Chonburi, several hours of ziplining through the jungle, lunch (which was pretty good), and time to tour the zoo and feed some animals at the base of the jungle.

This was our group. Us, a couple from Australia (yes, that guy is as huge in person as he looks in the photo.) and several Russian girls. We also had two guides to clip us in and shout instructions. (“Feet up!”) The other is taking the photo. They spoke enough English to get by and also a little Russian. I was impressed.

See that girl in the purple?

The poor thing was petrified of heights. She spent the whole 3 hours physically shaking. And glued to the side of the tree.

And she screamed. A lot.

I felt kind of bad for her, but I’m not going to lie, it was entertaining. I’m not sure what convinced her to pay to go on a tour where you fly several hundred feet above the ground hanging from a little pulley if she was that afraid of heights, but she must have really liked her friends. Or been very susceptible to peer pressure.

Normally, when doing this sort of thing in Asia I’d be a little leery about safety (Especially if it were in China) but I have to say, this place was top notch. The guides were very conscious of the guidelines and EVERYONE had a safety line at all times, even the guides themselves. And I was thankful. We were VERY high. (They did make a joke at one point about the pulleys being made in China. I thought the poor girl was going to cry. literally. It was only a joke though, they’re really made in France.)

My only disappointment was that I kind of expected to see some gibbons or monkeys during the ziplining. You know, since it’s called flying “with” the gibbons. Turns out that’s not really the case. You do see gibbons and monkeys (in the zoo) and you do go flying through the jungle. Just not at the same time.

Although now that I think about it, is probably a good thing. I hear gibbons are mean.

By the way, have you ever seen a gibbon? Looks like a monkey. BUT Monkey – tail. Gibbon – no tail. I’m sure there are other differences, but that’s the easiest way to tell them apart.

These are gibbons.

After ziplining, you head back down the mountain to have lunch, and to check out the zoo!

That’s our driver feeding a monkey part of his slushy.

Guess he missed the memo. Or maybe that one isn’t classified as a “wild” monkey.

Just don’t miss this memo. You will fall in. And that rhino looks angry.

And yes, that’s a baby. feeding an elephant. Can you get any cuter?

Here’s a little clip from the last repel down from the treetops.

Yes, I did admit to bumping into that tree. No, it’s not the same as a moped. Thank you very much.


Our guide took this with our camera and a leaf! He pinched a little heart in it and then shot through the hole. So cool!

Check out Flight of the Gibbons if you make it to Thailand. Definitely a cool experience you won’t forget!

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A Bangkok Sighting

You don’t have to click around for very long on this little old website to start seeing tiger paws popping up all over the place. If you know us, or if you’ve read through the about page, you’ll see that we’re pretty big Clemson fans. And by pretty big, I mean insanely obsessed. (It’s why you always see us holding a Clemson bandanna, known as a tiger rag, in our photos. It’s an alumni tradition.)

It’s where we went to school. It’s where we met. It’s in our blood.

And when we see that big orange paw, we get excited!

Even on the other side of the world.

Especially, on the other side of the world.

Spotted in Bangkok, Thailand.

We don’t know them, but we know they’re a friend!
Go Tigers!

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Thai Boxing

One of the last stops on our bike tour in Bangkok was to a local open-air Muay Thai school. Also known as kick boxing!

Even though we were all pretty exhausted after 3.5 hours of biking at this point. LB decided he probably wouldn’t get another chance in this lifetime to train with a real Thai boxing master.

This guy has trained several city champions. The walls were covered in photos of his winners. And Thai boxing in Bangkok… ain’t no joke.

So he put on the silky little shorts (who knows whose they were, or how many other people had worn them, but we’ll try not to think about that) strapped on the boxing gloves and went to work.

This little half hour session cost us 100 THB. About $3.50. (The guide suggested 50 baht, but we were feeling generous.)

Ready?

“Kick!”

“Elbow!”

“Uh… Choo!”

(At least that’s what it sounded like to me. I think it was supposed to be “Punch!”

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Colors of Bangkok Bike Tour

When we decided to take our next vacation to Thailand, we started by asking for advice from friends who’d been there already. Thailand is a very popular vacation spot for Asian tourists and nearly all expats who are on this side of the world make a point to visit at some point. I totally understand why.

The people smile a lot. And the place is just so green. And lush. And BEAUTIFUL! From the beaches to the mountains.

Most of the advice we got said that Bangkok was a place you should visit, but no one was overly excited about it. It’s big. And busy. And crowded. (Unless you’re coming from big city China like us. After that, no where else in the world seems crowded.) Since we’ve done the big city thing in several countries already (after a while, they all seem to look alike to me) we decided to just skim Bangkok thinking we wouldn’t like it that much.

But since we had to fly through there to get to Phuket anyway, we decided to spend a day and a half and try out the bike tour recommended by Officially Foreign. Just enough to catch a glimpse and then head on to our beachy paradise.

As it turned out, Colours of Bangkok Bike Tour was the perfect way to see lots of Bangkok in a short amount of time and was honestly one of my favorite city tours we’ve been on so far. Continue reading

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Why CFER’s real name is not Grace

So we are having an awesome time in Thailand. We’ve seen amazing sights, met cool people, and had unique experiences to write home about. Part of my wife’s goal with this trip was to make memories… apparently in any way possible.

During the bike tour of Bangkok she clearly decided that pretending we were playing bumper bikes was a good idea. With everything. She was running into walls, into benches, and nearly over cats and dogs at an astounding rate. Seriously. (CFER here… Unfortunately, I can’t deny any of those. It all happened. I’m just glad he forgot about the fence.) One of the German guys on the tour actually wished me luck after one particular goofy run-in with a bench. Which as you can guess was stationary – as benches normally are.

In her defense, some of the areas we rode through were incredibly narrow (literally 2.5 feet wide) so it wasn’t all her fault. However, the most memorable and painful part of the ride was not running into the metal wall in the narrow alleyway. Nope. It was when she wrecked. On the highway. A 6 lane highway. With no cars in sight in either direction. Into a parked moped.

The details went something like this…

She was riding in front of me at the time (which we had incorrectly decided was a safer formation) and I was the last in our group of 7. We were turning right through an intersection. Nobody around except our group. And she says that she heard something behind her (she claims it was me but I’m pretty sure I’d have remembered something like that). We’re not sure what it was but she decided that she should turn around and stare at me and ask if I’m all right. I answer yes but what I’m really thinking about is how she keeps drifting left toward the moped sitting on the side of the road.

It takes her about two seconds to look at me and then turn back around and by the time she does I’m already slamming on my brakes as I was only about 7 feet behind her. She’s about a foot away from the moped by the time she sees it and doesn’t even bother with the brakes. She just cuts out toward the middle of the road to try to avoid it. Unfortunately, not only did she not avoid it, she plows straight into it and bounces off.

As I mentioned, I already had my brakes fully locked and am about at a 45 degree angle with the pavement looming over my wife who is completely sprawled out on the highway. I barely get my momentum stopped and wound up planting myself onto the handlebars and (very unfortunately as I’m a guy) the top tube.

I first thought we were going to die by getting run over by some car turning onto the road behind us. Then I started wishing I was dead as all the pain hit me. Then I checked on CFER only to find out that she only wound up with a small scratch on her leg from her tire. That’s it. She was wearing her knee brace which actually took most of the fall. So I’m really the only one in pain. Oh, and the guy whose moped it was standing on the side of the road with his arms crossed, shaking his head. I think he was probably cursing the stupid foreigners and wondering what he did to deserve his luck.

Leave it to CFER to wait until the safest 5 seconds of the entire trip to completely wipe out both of us. Thanks goodness we have a good health insurance plan. We’ve got 7 more days here!

For photos and more info on the Bike Tour, check out: Colors of Bangkok Bike Tour

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Headed to Thailand!

Even though we’re having a bit of a warm front in Shenyang as the temps are supposed to *almost* reach freezing most days this week (just avoid looking at the lows, makes us feel a little better)…

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That’s still a 50-60 degree difference to what we’re going to experience in Thailand this next week.

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I can’t even imagine what that’s going to feel like…

But I’m pretty excited about it!

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More advice for the Harbin Ice Festival

Recently had a reader email about our trip to Harbin last year. I thought I’d share our correspondence in case it may help someone else as well.

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Hi Guys – Question for you….we’re expats here in Nanjing (from Michigan). We’ve been here for about 6 months and follow your blog quite often. We really enjoy it. Thanks for taking the time to keep it updated!

We were wondering if you guys could shed any more light on the Harbin Ice Festival. We know you’ve blogged on the festival. It sounds like a blast. We’re always looking for an adventure and were wondering if you guys had any good thoughts/recommendations for the event. From what we understand the festival goes on from Jan 5 – Feb 5, but that is just from a quick google search. In your mind is there a best time to visit?

We’re thinking about a weekend trip with an extra couple of days off on either side. If you have any insight you can pass along, we’d greatly appreciate it. Hotels, bars, places to not miss, etc…. We have a 1.5 year old son, but we’ll be leaving him at home for this trip! Continue reading

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