Poor Damn Monkey-Chinatown was just not giving any love at all to the symbol of this New Year!  When we were in China and it was Year of the Horse, there were ponies and stallions everywhere…big, small, red, gold, etc. decorating all the shops and homes.  Horsey party to the extreme and very festive.   So, we were missing the real Chinese New Year celebrations and decided to check out Seattle’s version this year.  What a disappointment!

Dragons and firecrackers welcome the Year of the Monkey!


Now, true the egg tarts always delight from the Chinese bakery there, but the first weekend we went, right before the official 2/8 holiday, there was nothing going on at all.  Boring.  We went back this weekend and finally, there were some dancing dragons and firecrackers going off to a small degree to welcome the New Year and the gods of wealth.

But really the crowd was there to feast on the $3 bargain food offer where you could stand in line to get select bites at the various food places.  Not really our cup of tea and not a cultural event but it seemed popular with the gorging masses.  Meh.

Still, I was really seeking out even a few crazy looking monkey decorative items in the shops.  Can an expat get a little selection of monkey-themed decals or anything really to celebrate???  After shopping at the local grocery, Uwajimaya, for some salmon for our Valentine’s dinner, we grabbed our egg tarts and headed home, monkey-less.

Now, in Shanghai, I hear that having monkeys as your in-home pet is all the rage.  Illegal, of course, but it’s probably not enforced and I’ve seen articles where folks are putting leashes on their monkeys and taking to the streets for a stroll.  We saw a few monkey pets on the streets while they were there and they did turn heads.  I’m sure in this Year of the Monkey, it’s very high status to actually own one.  I am the Year of the Rat-wonder if the Chinese locals will leash up their rats and parade them around too?  We didn’t really see rats over there too much-any small creature like that is considered food and served up as a lunch protein selection.  Yum!

Got my egg tarts!
Got my egg tarts!


Bring on the dragons and vinyl-an urban weekend in Seattle!

Chinese New Year and TET Celebrations in Seattle collided this weekend with far less pollution and far fewer people than last year’s adventure in Shanghai and Hanoi.  While it was awesome to be in a crowd again while visiting the International District, I missed the craziness of the scooters in Hanoi during TET.   I did find my favorite Taiwanese crackers at the Uwajimaya Supermarket and sampled some egg tarts-always tasty but the crust seemed so heavy after the light airy layers of pastry goodness found at the KFC’s in China.  Warm buttery heaven egg custard deliciousness in my hand…ahhhh…I miss it so.

We celebrated CNY and TET with dragons and performances and food
We celebrated CNY and TET with dragons and performances and food

To get everywhere we needed to go, we took advantage of multiple transportation options since we don’t have a car here in Seattle (Enjoy our Kia, little Mia!).  For lunch on Friday with David Axelrod giving a talk at my work, we booked a Zipcar and enjoyed hearing all about David’s journey working with Obama.  His book looks like a winner and I can’t wait to read it.  Thom, hurry up and read, read, read or I’m stealing it.  SERIOUSLY.

I got to ask David the inevitable question–How does HIllary win in 2016?  He felt she got beat by Obama because she was too confident going into the Primaries thinking she was destined to win without too much effort and also she wasn’t as authentic as Obama when campaigning.  This time around, hopefully she will be herself and make history as the first woman President.  I’m here to help her in any way I can.  Go Hillary!

David Axelrod signing his book for me,  Very smart and funny guy.
David Axelrod signing his book for me, Very smart and funny guy.

On Saturday, Thom and I jumped on the Metro Bus first, walked ALOT to get to the International District and then found another bus to go to the SoDo district to explore highly rated Silver Platters for our first vinyl purchases (at least in the last 20 years).  What goes around, comes around and the cool hipster thing to do now is to use the cloud for your music on the go but go retro and use vinyl records at home for a leisurely music experience.  Well, this year Thom got spoiled rotten with a turntable and speaker for his birthday.

New hobby!  After wandering the streets by the stadiums to find a Car2Go, we finally found one after exploring some cool home stores (handmade desks for only $1800.00-what a steal) and finding the main Macrina bakery–it was a high carb day for sure!  Can you say half price day old potato rolls???  We really just went in to use their bathroom after being locked out of the Starbucks facilities in the International District.  Upon asking for the key to the Starbucks ladies room, I was informed that the store had “closed the bathroom for the day”… at 2 p.m.  WTF!!!  Even paying customers were s%#t out of luck, literally.  I get that on a busy day with the CNY festivities that they might not want to clean up hourly but that’s just basic customer service 101.  Shame on them.  Luckily for us, Macrina was awesome–bathrooms AND bakery products.  Win-Win.

Thom's new obsession-Vinyl!  He got the complete package for his birthday.
Thom’s new obsession-Vinyl! He got the complete package for his birthday.

Sunny beautiful skies welcomed us outside to walk the dogs around Seattle Center.  Back home, we found a table at CostPlus World Market that would hold our new turntable and Bose speakers, so we hopped into the closest Prius Zipcar and off we went.  You have to rent it for at least a hour so we grabbed the table and raced to catch the sunset from Kinnear Park that overlooks the city.  Scores of tourists from France and a wedding party were also enjoying the city lights.  Gorgeous!  A must see for tourists and city residents alike.

Sunday dawned a new day and I had to get a start on the week with LOTS of work to do starting at 6 a.m. and continuing pretty much all day.  Why must I be one of “those people” who feel a need to work hard to be the best.  Shame on me. But I’m lucky to have a great career that allows me to take care of my family so work I will.  On Friday, I leave for a journey to the Midwest where I hope to combine work with a visit to see Mom and Becky, snowy roads not withstanding, next weekend.  If thwarted by crappy weather, at least I will get to see my best friend and sister from another mother,  Patti, in Indy and will wind up somehow in Detroit on Monday to work for a week.   Oh boy–Detroit in the middle of winter–what fun.  NOT.  At least my busy weekend was capped off with another incredible sunset-it never gets old and I will be dreaming of returning to it (and Thom and the puppies) as I toil away in Motown.

Another outstanding sunset caps off a busy weekend
Another outstanding sunset caps off a busy weekend

Fashion Challenge Ends So Let The Shopping Begin!

Polka dots galore!
Polka dots galore!

If that Banana Republic package filled with 50% off bargains doesn’t show up until next week, then I will have done a decent job not buying any more clothes in January for my challenge.  Damn those seductive emails tempting me with great deals!

Go Seahawks!
Go Seahawks!

How can one resist??  Having gone through 30 days and not worn all the clothes in my closet is a wake up call.  First, I have too many clothes.  Not too many shoes, of course, because there is no limit to how many shoes a person should have in my world at least.  Second, my daughter needs to come and visit me soon to edit my wardrobe and take some outfits home to Boise with her so I can shop again.  It’s all about sustainability and recycling–I’m so “green” I could be Kermit.  Come see me Hannah and, oh, bring along Mia too!!!  Nai Nai needs some Mia time.

This week was all about Super Bowl prep and so I broke my fashion rule not to wear football jerseys to work.   Yes, I caved to peer pressure.  Sue me!   Friday was the company tailgate party complete with Seahawk face painting, fried chicken/potato salad and 12th man dress up contests so, in order to retain my employment, I bit the bullet and wore my China version of Wilson’s jersey to fit in.  I even decorated my boss’s office with Seahawks themed party goods–it looked like a green and blue acid trip.  She loved it!  Score points for me!

Travelling woman-all you need is a scarf and necklace and pretty overnight bag!
Travelling woman-all you need is a scarf and necklace and pretty overnight bag!



I also got to travel to Dallas and enjoy 80 degree sunny weather (for the few minutes I wasn’t working inside a stuffy conference room).  Not that I would ever live in Texas but, hey, at least it’s not cold and rainy.  Not that I don’t love you Seattle but the winter here is gloomy.  Working fourteen hour days and travelling calls for my comfy Toms wedges and size 2 black pants-yep, I’m not delusional and totally realize they must have been labeled wrong but it still feels good.  Still, somehow I’ve lost a little weight not living on carbs like I did in China (didn’t have to worry if it was rat or cat if it was a bakery product there–or at least you hoped)– lots of fruits and veggies here in the good old USofA.    I am loving the huge salad bar at work when I actually take a lunch break.  Chopping up all those veggies is too much work at home so I appreciate it being done for me to enjoy.

This weekend it’s all about the Seahawks hopefully showing that the team that has good karma wins because they don’t cheat.  Yes, I’m calling out the Patriots for their lying, cheating and other bad karma-deserving behaviors.  Seattle will pull together as a team, never stop trying and believing in each other and rally around Russell Wilson.  I BELIEVE!  Go Hawks!

CNY has arrived with a BIG BANG!

Holy.  Crap.  Midnight arrived with a BIG ASS BANG a few minutes ago.  Waves of toxic fumes are rolling down the streets and the noise is deafening as everyone with a lighter is setting off firecrackers.  I even saw eruptions of fire being thrown out of high rise windows.  Here is what it is like to experience CNY in Shanghai and I am told it lasts all night long: 

On a quieter note, it has been interesting learning the traditions and superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year or CNY as we “locals” call it.  CNY has been celebrated for more than 4,000 years so there are ALOT of them.  2014 is the year of the horse so everywhere you look, there are horses for sale.  Mine had to be sparkly and cute of course.  To bring good luck and immediate money, you put money on the horse’s back.  Done and done.

My good luck pony!
My good luck pony!

It is also necessary to wear red to counter bad luck, and many find it necessary to wear red underwear and a red string around the waist or wrist  plus wearing a gold necklace is said to have spiritual power to conquer evil spirits.   Done and done.  Red also plays a role in the legends that monsters feared the color red so all CNY decorations are red to ward off monsters.  GOOD TO GO!   Other dos, don’ts and symbols include:

*Chinese New Year’s Eve.  You should only speak positive and lucky words.  Firecrackers are supposed to be set off at midnight.  I  heard an incoming whistle followed by a huge bang at 8 p.m. so somebody didn’t get the message.  The monsters in Chinese legends fled when lighted bamboo made loud cracking noises so thus the custom of firecrackers going off.  I also heard that the sound attracts the god of money to your house on the fourth day when more fireworks go off.   Lots of money and no monsters result in an AQI of 500+ from the toxic fumes let off by the firecrackers.  Everything in life is a trade off.  I’m buying a new designer air mask with all the money I will receive from my good fortune lucky pony.

*Chinese New Year’s Day.  People get up early today and set off MORE FREAKING FIREWORKS!  Because the AQI of 500+ hasn’t dissipated yet so WTF.  There are also many taboos like you can’t sweep because good luck can be swept away for the new year—no problem, our ayi has the day off.  Pink got her “red envelope” which is a bonus you give those who work for you and hopefully she is enjoying some time off with her family.  She keeps our house clean and we miss her.   You are also not allowed to use sharp tools, take out garbage, wash anything or take a bath—all actions that could negatively affect your luck in the new year.  I plan to stay in my PJ’s all day and have a movie marathon while waiting out the air quality to improve.

*Every day following CNY  has significance and many, many, many rules.  Many shops and restaurants are closed for at least five days to observe the holiday, though many workers have to go home for several weeks to visit relatives.  The seventh day after CNY is the day of the Ren Ri or Human Day.  Legend has it that the goddess Nu Wa created creatures in 2 days- chickens first, followed by dogs, pigs, sheep, cattle, horses and humans.  I’m thinking cats should be in there too since they act so superior???  Supposedly if you eat qi bao geng which is a congee made of 7 vegetables or fruits on this day you will rid your body of pathogenic energies.  Hopefully this dinner will cleanse me of all the toxins caused by the fricking firecracker pollution.  Of course, I will be in Vietnam on this day enjoying our vacation with warm weather and hopefully cleaner air.

CNY has arrived with a BANG!

*CCTV (China government TV) runs a huge TV special all night with TV stars and singers on Chinese New Year’s Eve.  It is a huge tradition like the ball dropping in Times Square minus Ryan Seacrest.  Unfortunately, our on again/off again TV service has decided to be “off” tonite so we won’t get to watch it.  So sad—I guess we will just have to continue our VEEP marathon instead.  Selina Meyers, you make me laugh so hard I’m crying or is that the pollution making my eyes tear up…..next year, I’ll plan on being out of the country for the whole holiday but, for now, we are going to sit back, insert the ear plugs and pray for a cease fire soon.

China Cross Country Commuting-Not for the faint of heart

Let me paint you a picture of a Chinese airport—it is one big ass smoking lounge because there are no rules against it, really just suggestions.  Watch where you walk too because, especially in the winter with everyone in China choking on the air,  the phlegm is flying everywhere.  Need a Peking duck or hairy crabs (in season only) to take home to Momma—no problem, whether fish or fowl, it can be purchased for gift giving at the airport.  The planes at least looked like familiar to their U.S. counterparts but that unnatural shaking that broke loose when we landed on the tarmac in Beijing made me wonder if these suckers were made of wood because it sounded like the nails were popping loose—get some super glue or wrap this baby in duct tape before I fly again please.  The bullet train is looking better all the time, though I was told that it flipped a few years ago killing many.  Choices, choices!

Making friends at 1 a.m. on bus to terminal

Finally landing in Beijing at 1 a.m. after the usual delays (I guess 80% or so of all flights are delayed due to unnaturally thick air or whatever) and expecting to walk into a terminal, I knew I was in trouble when the cold air hit me smelling like diesel fuel  and I realized the journey was far from over.

We were herded onto a packed bus to get to the terminal.  Joy!  This after my initiation into in-country air etiquette in China that dictates that you jump up instantly and jam the aisles with elbows out to gain position to push your way out.  It’s a game really and commuting on the subway every day makes me a player for this clusterf*&# of epic proportions.  A jab here and elbow there  plus the correct blocking style with my luggage and no one is getting around this little woman.

My oasis

Shanghai to Nanjing to Beijing and back.  For now, this will be a frequent circuit for me.  Of course this is China so commuting is an adventure every time with surprises along the way that make you say ahhhhhh.  Getting to the Grand Hyatt in Beijing, I staggered to the room and tried to calm down and get some sleep.  A beautiful hotel located near the Forbidden City, the pool is RIDICULOUS and like a tropical heaven.   Not that I thought of packing a swim suit or had time to relax but who knew that an oasis liked this could exist in cold, grey Beijing! I  can’t wait to go back in February and bring Thom along so he can walk to all his favorite hutongs and take photos of life in China.  That is, if I can get his ass off the pool lounger where I predict he will be residing especially once he learns that room service delivers poolside and the wifi is free.

Off with his head!

I also got to experience eating Peking Duck for the first time.  Lucky me got a prime seat across from the open air kitchen at Made In China, the really gorgeous hotel restaurant that is famous for this dish.  The whole process from oven to table is very ceremonial.  The browned duck is swung out of the wood stocked fire pit by the chef and, in front of the viewing window with great fanfare, he deftly sliced off the duck’s head and instantly the dam broke loose and tons of fluid gushed out of the bird.  Yum!  Drained dry, the waiter then brings the carcass to the table and slices it up for you to eat with little pancakes and various accoutrements like plum sauce/ginger/cucumber/sugar/mustard.  Avian Flu be damned—I ate me some crispy duck and I liked it.  I am trying to be more  adventurous in my food choices as I haven’t projectile vomited for awhile so I think it’s overdue.  Who knows—maybe I’ll try the scorpions next!  I am sure in Vietnam, where we are going next week, there will be an opportunity to try out crazy stuff.  Stay tuned!

Hopefully, we will survive the firecrackers tonight on Chinese New Year and the ensuing pollution.  So far a few have gone off sounding like rapid gun fire and the pollution is so bad I can’t see across the river.  Multiply that by a thousand and I hear that is what we will be experiencing.  Thom vows to run out and take photos of the chaos but I am staying inside and will emerge only if my wine runs out.  Cheers!

Chinese New Year-Yu Yuan Explosion of Lights as Holiday Nears


Pony DisplayThere was a towering gold horse, of course, with smoke streaming out his huge bedazzled nostrils (what the Hell, might as well add to the hazy polluted skies) as well as Snow White & the Dwarfs, Mary & Joseph, the Easter Bunny and many other sequined and totally unconnected characters all featured at Yu Yuan Gardens in an over-the-top Chinese New Year Celebration for the Year of the Horse.  It didn’t make any sense whatsoever but it was quite the show that you just have to experience to believe so I shot some video for you:

Crazy, right?  This is THE place to see Chinese New Year decorations in Shanghai, similar to perhaps Rockefeller Center in NYC but much more colorful and crazy.   I’m just glad that I’m not here for the Year of the Rat–can’t even imagine an enormous rat taking center stage for all this hoopla!  Yu Yuan also has gardens, closed when we visited, plus a huge array of shops that attracts LOTS of tourists as well as locals looking for Chinese New Year decorations.

After my office got all dolled up for the holiday, I just had to dress up our house as well.  I got all the essentials–red hanging lanterns with lots of gold accents, a red metallic stuffed pony, red velvet knotted hanging thing with sequined gold pony and fish, etc.  When in Rome!  I bargained hard but the vendors were tough to negotiate down in price this time.  All in all, I got all my tacky colorful decorations for under $40.

I finally found a nice stall with a pleasant young man to carry around my stuff as I picked it all out.  Thom, of course, wanted nothing to do with the process and waited outside as I haggled like the stubborn mule I have been accused of being and probably am.  WP_20140117_040Now, Thom gets to hang the shit all over the apartment as we start to stock up on groceries and DVD’s.  You see, we have been warned by Fiona that you’ll get a firecracker up your ass if you step outside during Chinese New Year and we trust Fiona.  We plan on hunkering down for the first few days of the holiday, that really goes on for about 40 days as everyone travels back to their families to celebrate.  Midway during the holiday period, if we survive the toxic fumes from all the fireworks going off to ensure wealth and happiness (but obviously not good health) in the New Year, we are going to go to Vietnam where we will no doubt have more crazy adventures.  Stay tuned!

Yu Yuan

Chinese New Year–Have eel, will travel!

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Chickens and eel and pig, oh my!

Walking by the hanging meat, fish and “who the hell knows what it is” on the sidewalk, Thom and I wondered why there seemed to be an increase in the endless bonanza of carcasses on parade.

CHINESE NEW YEAR-duh!  Coming up in a few weeks starting on 1/30, the entire country goes on holiday for at least a week and preparations have begun for some serious partying.  Let the fireworks begin!

We saw some displays of fireworks in Shanghai on New Year’s Eve but besides the large display by the Pearl Tower, not really as major as I would have expected.  The reason I found out from Fiona, my language teacher, is that they save up their firepower all year to let loose during Chinese New Year because if they shoot off fireworks at their home, it will draw good luck to them for the new year—I hear that more is better.  Also, on the last day of the holiday, I’ve been told that all the firework vendors let loose with their remaining stock and the streets are on fire all day/night with indiscriminate and very dangerous displays.  Locals have cautioned us to stock up on food/water in the apartment and stay inside and off the streets, lest we get a rocket in the ass.  Crazy times ahead in Shanghai!

Chinese New Year is the one major holiday that lasts long enough for citizens to return to their home villages and visit relatives.  Virtually everyone has the holidays off from work and, if you do have to work, usually there is added pay to make it worth your while.  Thus, the buses and trains are mob scenes pretty much for days on end and to be avoided at all costs if at all possible.  We couldn’t even get a ticket out of town on Vietnam Airlines until mid-holiday.  More to come on our upcoming Hanoi/Ha Long Bay adventure!

So all these people going home want to bring gifts, of course.  This is the major gift giving holiday, not Christmas.  I see lots more people actually shopping  vs. the usual browsing and food gifts, especially chocolate, seem to be very popular.  Now, I can get behind some Godiva going home to Momma but eel???  We walked down this street by my office and while some of the fish and meat products hanging everywhere resembled something familiar, the really large fish carcass was unknown to me…turns out it is eel.  Those are big ass 4-5 feet eels!  I definitely do NOT want to be near any bodies of water where these suckers are swimming.  Fiona told Thom that people pick out the best eel weeks ahead of the holiday and the shop filets it and hangs it out to dry (in the lovely smog so it has that “smoked” taste)  and then it goes home on the train…imagine what the public transportation smells like with millions of people with their eels and chickens and pigs, oh my!

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Big. Ass. eel.
Sidewalk alive with carcasses!
No need to “smoke” it–the smog takes care of that!

Oranges are also very popular in China as Chinese New Year gifts (and smell much better than eel!) I hear that “orange” sounds like “lucky” in Chinese so gifting oranges, which are sold on every corner, are given especially this time of year.

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Our local vendor where we buy our definitely non-organic fruit.

Many more stories and pictures to come as we experience Chinese New Year for the first time in Shanghai and take off to Vietnam to explore!