Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Normalcy... Maybe

(New to this website? Read the introduction.)

It's been almost three weeks since I got back to the U.S., and I am finally feeling "normal" again. I am no longer in a daze and am able to concentrate. That only took oh... forever.

I still think about the events in Pingdu and Qingdao a LOT. Not a day goes by that I don't, and I can't stop talking about it with everyone I meet! I think my friends think that I've lost my mind. Me too!

But come on. That Mom was born in China, grew up in Taiwan, moved to the U.S. in her 20's in hopes of a better life... and that I was born and raised in the U.S., moved to Taiwan also in my 20's in pursuit of an international career, and then went to China to visit my grandparents' villages - talking about coming full circle on so many levels.

But to see the actual house where my ancestors lived and where Mom was born, and to find relatives when we least expected it... those were some extraordinary moments.

It forever changed the way I think about my own life, the way I think about history and about China, Taiwan, and U.S. relations, and what it means to be Chinese American.

For my own sanity, top 10 reasons why I can't get it out of my head:
  1. There's the whole family connection
  2. Incredibly fond memories
  3. Unanswered questions about Wypoh and Wygoon's lives there
  4. Wanting to know more about our relatives - like who in the family escaped the war, who stayed, what happened to them, where are they now, i.e. what are their stories
  5. Wanting to spend time with 老老爺 and Gupoh, although probably not at the same time. He thinks she talks too much, but she is a self-proclaimed chatterbox so it's okay!
  6. The interest in immersing myself with the locals
  7. All the years of wondering what it would be like to live in Qingdao has a lot to do with it, I'm sure. Now it's even more compelling.
  8. Qingdao is a great city, as in, who wouldn't want to live there?
  9. It's a short flight from Taiwan and Hong Kong. That opens up a lot of possibilities vs. being out yonder.
  10. The Shandongnese dialect... ah yes... the dialect!
When I visit other places in China, I can feel the distance when I listen to people speaking their local dialects. But when I hear Shandongnese, the feeling is completely different.

Mom speaks it all the time with her siblings and parents, but I never gave it much thought - not until we landed in Qingdao where I was totally thrown off guard. I was like,


I do believe that what I am describing is a second generation, Chinese American interpretation of "近鄉情怯".

If my aunts and uncles read this I'm sure they will have a good laugh! "What does this ABC girl know anyway? Her Chinese is terrible!" Four were born in Taiwan, but their mother tongue is Shandongnese with a Pingdu farmland twist. Uncle Rex has been to 馬丘村, but should the rest ever visit, they too will know this feeling.

HEY... I think I know what's going on!

As I am writing this, I think I have finally put my FINGER on it.

What it *IS* is that when I hear people speaking Shandongnese, it reminds me of THEM! My grandparents, my uncles, and my aunts! And of course Mom who speaks with them often.

Everyday in China as we interacted with the cab drivers, hotel staff, shopkeepers - everybody - I kept feeling a sense of familiarity as if I somehow knew these people already, as if any of them could be my elders, as if they were my PEEPS.

Well they ARE my peeps! And what an amazing revelation... !


As the fog starts to clear, my desire to stay connected to Qingdao and Pingdu grows stronger by the day. It's the same feeling that I got back in the 90's when I felt so drawn to Taiwan after spending two summers there that I packed up my bags and moved to Taipei where I lived and worked and really thrived for the next eight years.

Actually, my draw towards Qingdao is even more compelling.

My mind is adrift with the many ways that I could incorporate Qingdao into the life that I have right now (still thinking... tap tap tap...).

In the meantime, I've been finding all sorts of websites about other Chinese Americans who have visited their ancestral homes in China and share a similar experience.

Something tells me that a new chapter is about to be written.

We'll see what happens...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pingdu Peanuts

I took Mom to the airport this morning and accompanied her to security check before taking off. She kept telling me how unnecessary it was to park the car and go with her into the airport and that I should just drop her off at the curb. Somehow, that just doesn't feel right.

On the way home, I stopped by the post office, went to Starbucks, and was weirded out by the activities around 4th Avenue. I wouldn't call it reverse culture shock, but my mind isn't quite ready to be back in the States. I can't explain it.

Dad called in the afternoon asking if Mom had any problems getting on her flight. I asked him how he was doing and how he was adjusting to his new set of teeth.

He said, "They're okay. The only thing I can't eat is peanuts."


Mom boiled some of the peanuts that 表舅媽 gave us before we left Pingdu and packed the rest to take to her home. She made so much that I had asked her to take some of those, too.

Later I wished I hadn't.

They were downright YUMMY. Plus they are special.

Speaking of which, Mom emailed this photo of Big Ocean (second from the left) that she took when they met in Harbin in 1982. Cute!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Life Goes On

I got up at 3am, wrote a journal entry, and went back to bed at 7am.

Both Mom and TJ were trying to get me up because the original idea was to go to church this morning. But I was completely out of it while having foggy conversations about whether to attend the English or Chinese services. All I remember is telling TJ that we may do half and half, and him looking at me like I was crazy.

Somehow we made it to church, and afterwards I dropped Mom off at the Zhongs, old friends of Wypoh and Wygoon who are related to our clan in Pingdu. Everyone is freakin' related!

I stopped by Starbucks on my way home (yay!) and spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking, paying bills, responding to Gmail emails that were blocked in China, and getting myself organized. I also processed our HOA bills since I am the board treasurer... yawn....

Admittedly, I was feeling better than yesterday even though my mind was still very much back in Asia. Getting behind the wheel, running errands, and focusing on what comes next was helpful.

We had Japanese food for dinner and beignets for dessert. I uploaded 127 videos to YouTube that Mom and I took on our trip, which took forever! For some reason I couldn't upload them from my laptop, but I could using hers.

I helped her fix her email profile photo and listed out the things we need to send to relatives. We also ate the peanuts that they gave us when we left Pingdu.

It was so cute.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back in the U.S.

Two hours prior to landing, breakfast was served. Mom's congee had big chunks of FISH. Eva Air rocks! We landed around 4pm, and TJ picked us up. HI HONEY!

When we got home, I was so disoriented. I couldn't remember how to use certain features on my Android, or which light switch affected what. Mom wanted to go for a walk, and I was like, "Seriously?? Aren't you tired... ?" I really needed to sleep, but off we went.

The walk to the park was so routine that I thought I was going to go NUTS. Every day in Asia was a different adventure, with new people to meet and different things to do. It reminded me of my many years in Taipei where the sense of potential and opportunities abound. I felt perpetually inspired and free, free to be and do anything I wanted. Anything was possible.

Here, everything is exactly the same and feels so stagnant, and normal, and predictable, that even Mom made a comment. I've always known this. I've experienced it before. I knew why I moved to Taipei in 1995 and I knew what to expect when I moved back to the U.S. in 2003.

But still... it was depressing, my first day back.


I'm sure I will adjust at some point. I am reminded of something that Jim once said about how different our lives can be - that sometimes we crave the excitement that is Greater China, and sometimes, we crave the routine.

When we have too much of one, we want the other.

Such is life.

We had salad and trout for dinner. Then I went straight to bed.

Some Thoughts

I had originally set aside this journal entry to summarize my thoughts about the trip, but I find myself unable to do so at this juncture. My head is still spinning from all of it! I need more time to let it all sink in and 'process' what happened.

Some thoughts about the videos I took as we discovered relatives in China:

Greetings & Relationships

The initial greetings almost always lead to a discussion about how to address each other, depending on how we are related - which side of the family, gender, relative age (younger or older), and generation. It was especially challenging for me because I first needed to figure it out in English before I could think about it in Chinese.

Multiple Hats

On the one hand, I wanted to make sure to capture those important moments for Mom. At the same time, I too wanted to talk to the people we met. So there were times in which I was attempting to film a conversation that she was having, while trying myself to talk with someone else.

That's just crazy talk... !

Multiple Conversations

Because multiple conversations were going on at once, I kept swinging the camera from one conversation to the next. It's also why you hear one person explaining a relationship, another person asking the same question ten minutes later, and me asking what happened!

Filial Piety

I was the youngest of four generations present, so technically I should let Mom do the talking. For the most part I did okay, but I couldn't help myself when 表舅 drove up! This is why I often asked Mom to ask the relatives about this and that, when I could have asked them myself. On camera, it seemed liked I was telling her what to say, when actually I was trying not to overstep my boundaries.

My Chinese side and my American side were at odds with each other!

This also happened each time we stepped into someone's house. I should let other people enter first, but Gupoh would still be outside talking with people. Meanwhile I needed to get inside asap and keep the camera on Mom just in case. The end result was that I rushed Gupoh - twice. Both times were caught on camera, and both times I was the one filming! How rude, how embarrassing, and how silly!

Hopefully she didn't notice... OOPS!

Disbelief & Adrenaline

It was hard to comprehend that within minutes of entering Wypoh's village, we were meeting relatives that we didn't expect to find. It was also hard to understand how first cousins who only lived a few hours apart had never met until now. So even when something had already been explained, either it didn't register the first time around and had to be repeated, or it DID register but I had a hard time believing it and would repeat the question again (and again).

Language Barriers

My Chinese is both good and bad. Sometimes I understood everything. Other times it went over my head. WHOOSH! Meanwhile, Mom wasn't sure how much I understood, so sometimes she would translate from Shandongnese to Mandarin, and other times she broke straight into English. Problem was that I understood more than she realized, so while I was being polite by not say anything while she translated, my ears were already tuned in elsewhere and my mind got all mixed up!

Basically what I'm trying to say is that -

If I sounded bewildered in all the videos that I've posted, it's because I was! Very much so!

To say that I was multitasking would be an understatement...

Last Day in Taipei

Mom and I got up around 7:30am, packed what we could, and headed over to Uncle Michael’s. She went first while I walked to 85 Degrees for a latte since Starbucks isn't nearby. I also looked up and down for the cold noodles stand that I found last year, but no luck.

Ah the memories... !

Breakfast sandwiches were already on the table by the time I got in. It was good! Aunt Alicia found another map of Qingdao online and was talking with Wygoon about the location of his old place. The family had moved from Pingdu to Qingdao when Mom was an infant. That house is long gone, but he remembers the general area.

Every day after breakfast, he goes downstairs to the game room for several hours to get some exercise. Guess what he plays? Eight ball! So this morning I went with him and got to shoot pool with my 90-year-old grandfather. It is such a funny thing, my family and pool.

We went back up around noontime and had dumplings for lunch. Well dumplings, veggies, tofu, and fish. Healthy!

Afterwards Wygoon retreated into his bedroom to rest, and Mom sat next to him and talked for awhile before we had to go. It was a familiar scene from many years ago, so seeing them spend those last hours together was endearing.

Back at the apartment, we gathered our things, met Aunt Alicia and Uncle Michael in the garage to load up the car, and went to the Far Eastern to wait for the DaYou bus. Just hanging out in the car together in the middle of typhoon rains was touching. I swear this trip to China has changed me and in no small way. I’ve become such a sentimental WUSS. I do not know what is wrong with me, seriously.

Mom was so funny on the bus ride to the airport. She kept commenting on how new and clean it was. We ran late, rushed to check in, and ran back up to the food court to meet Uncle James, and May and Jason. Uncle James came to see Mom, and May and Jason came to see me. I haven’t seen them in so long and it was good to catch up but WOW did the logistics of this day get ever so complicated!

I had hoped to see Mary, too, who was back in town for the long holiday, but our plans kept changing and changing.

Anyway, just before we boarded our flight, I thought I lost my cell phone in the women’s bathroom. Losing that would have been a HORRIBLE way to end this trip because those text messages from Gupoh are chock full of memories! I did find it, eventually, but for a moment there I really... could not... breathe...

Other than that, the flight back to San Francisco was uneventful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Back to Taipei for 24 Hours

Wake-up call was at 6:15am, but I was up much earlier. I sent out the newsletters for ORIENTED while I packed, not a fun experience. This root searching trip, how it relates to O, and what I had always intended for it to be, has left me feeling unsettled. Too much to explain here.

Anyway. I kind of goofed, forgetting how long checkout can take. TJ always takes care of it... OOPS. Concierge was super busy but we had pre-arranged for a taxi, so that helped. Surprisingly, we didn’t hit any traffic going to the airport.

The airline counter wasn’t yet open – we were that early – but people started lining up and so did we. This one man at the front of the line was REALLY mad because someone tried to cut in front of him. Mom and I didn’t have any popcorn on hand, but we did have our yummy Carrefour bread so we munched away as we watched him flip out.

He had that Shandong look – stocky build, square jaw, flat-top crew cut, slight beer gut, and an in-your-face demeanor. If I were to write a movie script, he would be one of the characters.

At the gate, I watched another man get up from his seat and cross the room to help this woman. She was struggling with her elderly father who was in a wheelchair. People can be so different, eh?

Later at the CKS baggage claim, I saw that HE wasn’t sure where to go, so I went over and pointed the way. I couldn't help but think about those Liberty Mutual commercials. What is wrong with me?

On the plane were empty rows so Mom and I split up. Our luggage came out really fast at CKS, and we made our way to the food court to have lunch, given the time. We had a blast sitting in the back section of Barista Coffee, going through all the videos that we took in China and selecting the ones to show our relatives.

Beef noodle soup and cold noodles. It was good!

Eventually we took the 2:30pm DaYou bus to the Far Eastern in the rainy typhoon weather. Aunt Alicia met us there and took us to their rental property where we told her all about our trip.

This stopover in Taiwan was not planned. Rather, it was the way our tickets were issued. We originally booked a hotel in Taoyuan since we’re leaving for the States the very next day. But their tenant had just moved out, and our staying in Taipei meant that we could see relatives one more time before we took off.

Everything worked out really well, and everything happened for a reason.

A family of doves flew in patterns outside the living room window. It was cool to see, typhoon weather and all, and it reminded me of how much Aunt Alicia enjoys looking out her own living room window that also faces the mountains.

We went back to her place around 5pm to find everyone there, including Uncle James’ entire family! How nice!

I showed Wygoon the satellite map of his and Wypoh’s villages. He stared at it for awhile and recognized many of the surrounding villages as well. If I myself reacted like this when I first saw it, I can only imagine what was going through his mind in seeing it for the first time.

Here he is explaining the original layout of the 老家 in Pingdu:

Uncle James’ family had to leave after dinner, but the rest of us viewed pictures and videos of our trip. By 10pm, it was just me, Mom, Aunt Alicia, and Heather. Mom was very tired and wanted to head back, but I really wanted to help Heather with her website while I could. She and Aunt Alicia do so much for our family every time we're back in town - we're a handful! It was the least I could do.

Meanwhile, Aunt Alicia showed me the family tree that Wygoon made years ago. When she pointed out Gupoh’s name and 李學圣, I was like – geez! If only we had that document in hand when we went to Wypoh’s village! Then again, we couldn’t have known that we would find any of HIS relatives living in her village.

Traditionally, the term 老家 refers to the paternal side of one's lineage. But in Mom's case, we have traced her roots to Wypoh's 老家, as well.

It's an incredible story.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Qingdao - Day 7 - 晚上

After the bike ride, we were exhausted. It's been a long day, and we walked a LOT. That was a little crazy!

Since we had such a big lunch, neither of us were hungry enough to want to have dinner at a restaurant. Instead, we went to Carrefour and picked up a few things, but of course! Staying at a hotel right next to Carrefour made things very convenient but it got to be ridiculous. I could write a sitcom from the events of this trip!

I took this video inside Carrefour:

The very last "place to visit" on the agenda was the May Fourth Square. The original plan was to check it out on our first day in Qingdao which obviously didn't happen, but things worked out perfectly in the end.

My legs were hurting big time by now and I REALLY wanted to just take a cab, but concierge insisted that it was close and that we should walk there. So we did.

It's a nice place, front and center at the promenade. Many people were out, probably since it was a holiday, but it wasn't so crowded that we couldn't walk around and enjoy ourselves. The weather was just right, and we took lots of pictures before heading back to the hotel.

The May Fourth Movement takes on a whole new meaning. Had I been around in 1919, I might have protested too.

We walked past the Starbucks just before closing time, 9pm. I couldn't resist getting one last latte and taking one last photo inside the store before we left Qingdao. Ah the memories!

I will miss this Starbucks very much!

But I will be back.

Back at the hotel, we called Gupoh one last time to say goodbye and to bid her a fond farewell. (Need I be so dramatic? Sheesh...)

During the entire conversation, Mom could NOT get a word in edgewise and it was FUNNY to watch her try! By the time I turned on the video, this had already been going on for awhile. Meanwhile I could barely contain my laughter! I have watched these videos many times, yet I STILL laugh my head off each time I do.

Gupoh explains what really happened during this episode.

I am so glad I got to meet my Gupoh.

She is one special lady, with or without her brakes.

And I will miss her too.

In Qingdao - Day 7 - 下午

We took our time getting to Taidong Street. For once, by design, and on our last day in China, we are in no rush.

We browsed a few stores, chatted with a friendly store owner, and told her how we found our relatives. She got goose bumps and started rubbing her arms, prompting Mom to do the same. It WAS an amazing story! I still can't believe it myself.

She also gave us the scoop on real estate in Qingdao. Homes in the commercial district start at 10000 RMB per ping; 40000 RMB per ping in the area where we are staying. Both she and Johnny used 100 pings as a benchmark for the average home size, good to know.

We finally got to the Taidong shopping district and thought... WOW. It's much like Ximending in Taipei but bigger and nicer in every way.

We made our way to 三合園 for the much anticipated dumplings. We had to wait for a table even though it was well after 1pm! But it did not disappoint. The dumplings... were... delicious!

I was grateful to the old men from earlier this morning who pointed us here. Lots of nice people in Qingdao.

This cold noodle dish was really good too.

Several patrons were eating it so I asked a young couple what it was on the menu. It's very similar to the liang mian in Taipei. Here though it's made with rice noodles and is much thicker.

After lunch we were so tempted to stick around and SHOP. We had yet to do any shopping! But if we wanted to see the Beer Museum, we had to get going.

Beer Street is lined with outdoor beer gardens for half a mile! Can you imagine what that place must be like at night?!

The Beer Museum was cool to see, and our private tour guide was very sweet. (There I go rhyming again... ) She made us wear headsets in case we got separated since there were other large tour groups speaking different languages.

Here is Mom pretending to be drunk:

Our tour guide tried not to laugh, but I could hear her loud and clear through my headset. Mom left quite an impression with all of our tour guides!

Afterwards, I said, "Mom, you've never been drunk before, have you." It was more of a statement than a question.

At the end of the tour, we got to sample two glasses of beer - one unfiltered and the other filtered. It's a fun tour although WATCH OUT for those crazy Chinese tourists! We almost got run over!

Wait... what am I saying?

Next on our agenda was to visit Ba Da Guan, but alas - no cabs! While we asked one of the security guards which bus to take, a young man happened to walk by, heard the conversation, and offered to walk us to the bus stop.

What a super nice guy! He reminded us both of Iwen.

We learned that he was from Harbin and that he moved here for a girl who was with her family today. That explains why he was by himself on Mid-Autumn Festival. In hindsight, we should have invited him to go with us to Ba Da Guan!

Anyway, Mom and I then saw a cab whiz by (HEY!), decided to take our chances and wait for another, and thanked the fellow. He went on his way while we waited. And waited. And waited. Ten minutes later, someone tapped me on the shoulder and kindly said, "姊... ?"

It was him! Iwen's twin from Harbin came back to check on us and offered again to take us to the bus stop.

How very sweet of him... ! WOW.

Eventually we got to Ba Da Guan, rented a tandem bike - they are everywhere! - and wobbled up and down the streets for an hour because our bike was in bad shape. We probably should have gone back and gotten a better one, but whatever.

It was still fun! I'm just glad that we made it back in one piece!

The story continues...

In Qingdao - Day 7 - 上午

It's our last full day in Qingdao, and it is also Mid-Autumn Festival.

So what did we do?

We went to Starbucks early in the morning to organize all the numbers and addresses of the relatives we met in Pingdu and to document exactly how we were related.

I was behind the camera the whole time, many people were talking at once, and Mom scribbled her notes on the outside of an envelope. The information we had gathered was haphazard at best, and I just knew that we would forget a lot of details if we didn't sit down and do this. So between her notes, our photos and videos, and the details we had from our Taipei relatives, we slowly put the pieces together.

Even so, we had unanswered questions and wrote down all the things we needed to ask Gupoh and Wygoon later on.

We were done around 10am, walked by a restaurant on the way back to the hotel, and took this video of a guy preparing to make noodles. Mom does this at home too but on a much smaller scale.

It's... the BLOB.

Just outside were two elderly men sitting around doing nothing, so I asked them for recommendations on a really good dumpling place because WE sure as heck couldn’t find any... ! Mom and I looked high and low but only saw them at Carrefour, of all places.

All my life I thought baos and dumplings were staple items of Shandongnese cuisine because Wypoh made them all the time! (Mom is good at it too, and in fact she just made some for us back in the U.S.) But I was so wrong. Seafood and noodle dishes are the hit items, which we can get anywhere. I had a hard time wrapping my head around it and still can't seem to make the mental shift.

Both of them said there were none in this area - how bizarre - and that we had to go to either Pizza Yuan or to a restaurant called 三合園 at Taidong Street. We went to Pizza Yuan on Sunday where I did get my dumpling fix. Taidong Street was near the Qingdao Beer Museum which was the game plan today, so we hopped in a cab and headed that way.

By this time, I had a better sense of the layout of the city and pretty much knew how to get around. The bus system is easy to use, too, and the buses were clean and new, as Mom kept pointing out.

The story continues...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Qingdao - Day 6 - 下午

The plan was to check out the TV Tower and have a nice dinner at the revolving restaurant. I figured we could stroll down Hong Kong Road and catch a cab at Yan An Road. Boy was I mistaken. There are truly no cabs to be found in certain places at certain hours of the day!

We finally hopped on a bus and got ourselves to the Zhong Shan Park stop, with the help of some friendly people next to us. When I saw a cab unexpectedly come our way, I was like MOM... RUN... !

Now this cab driver had a FOUL mouth! He kept screaming at other drivers, Mom refused to translate, the odor in his car was just awful, and he was driving like a maniac. I started to wonder if we were going to make it out of this alive!

But when we got towards the entrance, the cab driver did two things that really surprised us. First, he offered to wait for us to tour the tower and drive us back down the mountain. Second, he was adamant that we not purchase dinner tickets and even walked up to the ticket counter to make sure that we didn't. He insisted that the food was terrible and that if we really wanted good food, he could take us to other places that were much better and less pricy than here.

We were too stunned to know otherwise - plus why is he so BENT on helping us? But we reluctantly agreed and went up.

The tower was well... run down. The glass around the lookout really needed to be cleaned. The revolving restaurant had been closed for years. All that remained was a small coffee/gift shop. And the 'bonus' section at the very top of the tower was a haunted house.

Earlier Mom and I had both agreed that Qingdao has a ways to go before it can be considered a first-tier city in China. I would still move here in a heartbeat for this very reason! But the TV Tower needs some work if it is to be touted as a must-see tourist attraction. We didn't stay very long and thanked the cab driver profusely for his help.

We also did in fact ask him to take us to what he considers one of the best local restaurants in town. He dropped us off on a street with several local restaurants right along the water, and we quite enjoyed ourselves for the rest of the evening.

Afterwards we walked up the street to the promenade that lines the beach for a very long stretch.

I regret not taking a picture of the actual sidewalk but you can kind of see it in this picture. It just goes on and on for miles. The ocean is on the right, just beyond the trees, and residents were out and about on their evening walks. We took our time getting back to the hotel and walked along the beach as well.

Now THIS is what Qingdao should be promoting.

It was stunning.

Actually the Qingdao Tourism Bureau should HIRE me to promote this city! On the other hand, I don't necessarily want a ton of tourists to flood this place.

There is something very special about Qingdao, just the way it is.

In Qingdao - Day 6 -上午

And now... it's time to play! WOO HOO!

On my way to Starbucks, I had a moment to reflect on the last five days. There is so much I could do to help elevate Qingdao to international standards. Not to become a Westernized city, but to be a Chinese city of international excellence.

There is a difference.

I would move here tomorrow if I could. Qingdao is a great city.

Beach house, anyone?

Johnny came by at 9:30am and off we went to Laoshan.

Actually I had to first get out and direct traffic!

Tons of cars were trying to enter the Carrefour parking lot, blocking us from turning onto the main strip. I couldn't take it any more, got out of the car, held up my hands, and made all the incoming cars STOP so we could maneuver around them. I even walked up to this one car, made the driver roll down his window, and told him to please just WAIT.

I am so not normal...

At the entrance of Laoshan where the tour buses line up, I filmed the women’s restrooms. Having to use public restrooms in China is one of my greatest fears in life.

We had fun checking out Laoshan and acted like your typical nutty tourists from America.

Mom was especially entertaining, or should I say, she was being her usual self. Here she is doing her "Obama thing", imitating the way the United States President exits Air Force One:

I was skeptical that the bubbles in this water well were really coming from the mountain springs. Meanwhile, Mom is heard telling the tour guide to find a net and scoop out all the money.

She then proceeds to bless our tour guide, our driver, and me:

Our tour guide was very cute. I bestowed upon her the English name, Susan.

I had this strange need to assign an English name to everyone we met. Not just ANY name, mind you. A good name. One that suited their personalities and that sounded as much like their Chinese names as possible. Mom found this extremely annoying.

Anyway, I thought I'd humor her a bit:

By the time we left Laoshan, stopped by Gupoh's neighborhood to take a quick picture, and got back to city centre, it was too late for Johnny to drive us to our next destination. Traffic was so bad that we had to drive along the coastline, although that didn't help much either.

OH WELL. That Johnny was able to take time out from work to drive us to Pingdu not once but twice was appreciated! Plus, he was unbelievably patient with us as we planned on the fly and didn't know exactly where we were going or what we were doing. He helped to make our journey all the more memorable. Nice guy!

The story continues...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Pingdu - Day 5 - 煞車壞了!

Before we left for Qingdao, we stopped by Pingdu Hospital, named after 宗仁卿 who donated the money to build it.

宗仁卿 is my great grand uncle, Wygoon's mother's brother, the man who helped Mom and the family flee to Taiwan in 1948. His company went on to do very well there. After the war, 宗仁卿 returned to Pingdu and wanted to help the people of his homeland. He was a very religious person, a Christian, which explains a lot about our family history.

The entire story is amazing.

Mom said she used to be afraid of him when she was a kid because he would often hit her whenever she misbehaved.

Mom misbehaved? Impossible... !

We finally hit the road around 4pm I think.

Mom and I were totally exhausted. Johnny MUST have been tired too but he of course was driving. Gupoh, on the other hand, was WIDE AWAKE and talked non-stop for the next two hours! It was unreal how much energy she had, especially since she's been up since 4am.

There really must be something in that Laoshan water... !

She not only talked a lot. She talked about everything under the SUN. And yet she is well aware of her 'problem' and poked fun of herself the entire time. She would talk and talk and talk - stop to conclude that she was talking too much - continue talking - and then conclude once again that she talked too much!

At one point I heard her exclaim, "我煞車壞了!"

I thought I misunderstood and turned to Mom in English, "Did she just say that her BRAKES failed... ?!" She replied "Yes!", and all three of us busted out laughing!

Gupoh... is... FUNNY.

Here she demonstrates how her daughter wants to stick a rock between her teeth to make her stop talking:

This experience to China would not be nearly as memorable without Gupoh. She made us laugh so much! And she always laughed WITH us, which made it all the more funny. Her friends would often tell her that she should move to America because she is way too direct, but I don't think America can handle her either!

Humor aside, she is also a very wise woman. Yes she talks a lot, but she's also been through a lot, including the Cultural Revolution. She's seen it all, she said, and she can see right through people.

What I appreciated most about Gupoh is that she clearly understood the situation with our family. Every family has its share of problems, but unlike most people who don't want to get involved, she boldly stepped into the middle of the ring and encouraged Mom to look at things from a different perspective. This car ride back to Qingdao was the last time we would be together, and she wanted to make sure that Mom 1) fully understood her point, 2) will go back and tell my aunts and uncles, and 3) will do what needs to be done.

Gupoh even said it as such - point #1, point #2, and point #3.

I was SO surprised at what she said and even more surprised that I understood her every word. I also wasn't used to seeing Mom in this role - getting lectured by a 長輩 - because she is the oldest of all her siblings and acts accordingly.

At one point in the conversation, Mom exclaimed, "I can't say THAT to him!" Gupoh was quick to say, "Of course you can't. None of you can because you are his children. But *I* can. I have. And I will. You just tell him what I said, and tell him that I said it." Mom didn't say much, but I could tell that she was listening.

I truly believe that our meeting Gupoh at this very point in our lives - amidst seeing Wygoon last week in Taipei, to this root-searching trip to Pingdu, to our upcoming 24-hour layover in Taipei where we will see him one more time before we return to the U.S. - was meant to be.

Some may say that Gupoh is meddling in other people's affairs, but I choose to believe that she cared enough to use her position as an elder in the family to try and heal old wounds.

I am really glad she did.

In Pingdu - Day 5 - 花生!

We were having such a good time at lunch that by the end of it, Big Ocean wanted us to stay with them overnight and have Johnny drive Gupoh back to Qingdao. He wasn't being polite either. He meant it!

A million thoughts raced through my head because, well how cool would THAT have been?

But it would have been most inappropriate to send Gupoh (and Johnny) off like that, not to mention the logistics involved in getting back to Qingdao. I don't know... I still have mixed feelings about it.

Big Ocean is quite the stud, is he not? "A man's kind of man who farms his own land." I love it when I rhyme like that!

The time had come to say goodbye. Johnny drove 老老爺 back to his village - I mean, OUR village! - while the rest of us returned to Big Ocean's house to gather our things.

The village is so cool... and PEACEFUL. Mom and I both got the feeling that 表舅 and 表舅媽 lead happy lives.

Wygoon and Wypoh's old house in Taiwan looks very similar to houses here - an open structure with a courtyard in the middle and separate rooms for different purposes. Did they essentially recreate their lives as they knew it back in China? I wondered.

Back in the courtyard, 表舅媽 insisted on giving us a big 'ole bag of peanuts to take back to the U.S. How awesome is that?!

It was an endearing moment when 表舅 and 表舅媽 walked us to the car, for they both leaned into the passenger side and waved goodbye with big warm smiles.

It was really cute.

They are a happy couple.

And once again, I regret not taking a picture!

Coming to 李家樓 not knowing a soul and discovering both Wypoh AND Wygoon's relatives was really incredible! Just think... we are related to everyone in this photo.

I will remember this trip for the rest of my life. Or as Mom explained in an email that she sent to me after we got back:

不 means no.

虛 means in vain.

此 means this.

行 means walk, trip, etc.

不虛此行 means this trip is not in vain. Or this trip is well worth going.

In Pingdu - Day 5 - 驢肉包!

By this time, Big Ocean suggested that we go and have lunch at a nearby restaurant.

I didn't notice any restaurants along the way, but off we went. We walked through the village streets (well, dirt roads), hopped into multiple vehicles, drove to the restaurant, and parked. As we crossed the street, the restaurant owner's daughter - our soon-to-be waitress - was crossing with us, apparently. Rather odd. ;)

I couldn't help but wonder if she was related to us too...

We were shown the VIP room - a private room with a separate seating area AND air conditioning! Call me a naive ABC but this surprised me.

I was also taken aback when I went with Big Ocean and the Chinese doctor to order the food. I wanted to make sure to get the bill before they did but gave them the excuse that I was curious about the process - which I was!

First was the menu...

All the meats and seafood were displayed on this metal shelf for customers to pick and choose what they wanted:

... which was to be cooked in this kitchen.

I'm not sure if it was the food being displayed uncovered on a very rusty shelving unit, or the sketchy conditions in the kitchen, or the 7-foot GIANT who was cooking, that freaked me out. Either way, I thought for sure that we would get food poisoning today.

Help... !

For a split second I THOUGHT about running back to the room to tell Mom not to eat anything. But I refrained. We were going to eat this food no matter what as we cannot insult our hosts, right?

As it were, the food was AMAZING. It ended up being the best meal we had during our entire stay in China!

Go figure... !

Big Ocean had ordered a special treat for us as the last dish to come out - 驢肉包 - donkey meat bao!

It was so good that even Gupoh had not one... not two... but THREE baos! This is the same person who told us earlier that she refuses to eat out and will only eat the food she makes herself because it's much cleaner, healthier, and therefore better.

As she reached for yet another bao, she grinned from ear to ear and proudly called herself a hypocrite. FUNNY. I too wanted a third one, but I was stuffed.

I so regret not taking one for the road!

The restaurant owner kills one donkey a day. Once it's gone, that's it. I'm still drooling over it as I type this entry. It was the very best bao I have ever had in my entire life. What an experience!

As the day progressed, I became very amused with 老老爺.

He is a very good communicator - especially when he was helping us connect the dots for possible relatives in the village. He looks you in the eye when he speaks to you, and he touches you on the shoulder just enough to engage you and make you feel important.

老老爺 is quite the character, a SUPER animated fellow! It was fun to watch him interact with others:

Mom later explained that 老老爺 was a village leader in the Communist Party, as was his father. He must have tons of stories to tell. I'm sure everyone we met today has their own stories.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, 老老爺 knows more about our family history than anyone else alive today, sans Wygoon. We owe him many thanks for coming with us to 李家樓 and being part of our journey.

The story continues...

In Pingdu - Day 5 - 親戚

After what just happened, we were already jumping with excitement. Yet the story just gets better and better.

We all walked over to Big Ocean's house only to discover PADLOCKS on the front door. Darn it... ! Someone suggested that perhaps he went to Qingdao which would SUCK, since we were right here in front of his house! BUT - we can go back to Qingdao and meet him there.

Whatever it takes.

As fate would have it, a curious neighbor came along to find out what all the fuss was about. She confirmed that he was in fact around, that he was just out in the peanut fields, and that she had his mobile number. I couldn't help but laugh!

The Chinese doctor called him to tell him to hurry home. Here we are, waiting with much anticipation:

I was so glad that I could be here to help capture these moments. If Mom were by herself, it would be too difficult for her to meet people while trying to take photos and videos all at the same time.

In the video below, Gupoh explains how she and the Chinese doctor are related to each other. You can hear the utter disbelief in my voice as I kept asking over and over again how this could be possible.

How could you be first cousins, live only a few hours away from each other, but never met before? How could it be that the very first person we meet in the village is a relative of ours? I mean come on! These are legitimate questions, aren't they? I'm not crazy, am I... ?!

Notice him writing and writing...

At around 3:25 in this video below, Big Ocean pulled up in his truck.


I get such a KICK every time I watch this video clip as he drives up to this motley crew of people, standing in front of his house. I can only imagine what was going through his head.

"My cousin (WHO?) has come all the way from America (WHERE?) to see me today (SAY WHAT!)? Should I be SCARED... ?!"

I took a number of videos as the events unfolded, too many to post here. Big Ocean (表舅) had called his wife to come home too - whom I call 表舅媽 - along with her older sister. We congregated in their bedroom and talked and laughed and shared stories.

Everyone was so excited and happy to have made the connection. It was SUCH a joyful moment. I will never forget it!

表舅 and 表舅媽 are really nice people - warm, friendly, and sincere. The minute Mom and 表舅媽 exchanged greetings, they were holding hands like old friends. In fact, they held hands a lot today!

Since it would be too weird for Mom to try and hold Big Ocean's hand - then he might REALLY freak out - she kept SLAPPING him instead. She slapped him in the above video, and she slapped him in the one below.

Way to go Mom... !

A particularly stunning moment was when 表舅媽 showed us a photo of our entire family in Taipei, including Mom and me! It was taken over 20 years ago at Wypoh's 70th birthday celebration. Unbelievable!

In fact, she had photos from MOM's camera that were taken when Mom went to Harbin in 1982!

Left to right - Mom's aunt, grandmother, mother, and uncle:

For almost 30 years after the Communists took over, Wypoh had zero contact with her parents. It was not allowed.

Only after China opened its doors did Mom and Wygoon start to write letters to the only address they had - "李家樓" - with the dim hope that someone might know what happened to her parents.

Shockingly, after several attempts, someone did eventually write back to say that Wypoh's mom was still alive and living in Harbin. Thus the journey in 1982 when Mom took Wypoh to Harbin to be reunited with Wypoh's mother, sister, and brother after all those years.

That was when Mom first met Big Ocean. He was only 12 years old at the time.

I could have been the STAR of the Joy Luck Club, I tell you!

To think that we almost did not come to 李家樓... and that the whole time I was staring at this satellite map, there were members of our family down there who had known about us all along...

Just recounting this story gives me the GOOSE BUMPS.

I think Mom owes me another latte - a venti latte, no less!

The story continues...

In Pingdu - Day 5 - 李家樓*

Here we are picking up 老老爺 once again.

I was so glad that we made the last minute decision to come back to Pingdu to see Wypoh's village.

老老爺 sat in the front seat and took us back out to the main road and onto a dirt road about fifteen minutes out. We were surrounded by corn fields and could SEE the village from afar. But we couldn't GET to it without driving down even more narrow paths - in between corn stalks! - which Johnny did not want to do.

This was a company car, after all, and I was thinking the same thing he was... not a good idea!

So 老老爺 got out of the car to talk to a farmer walking in front of us with a herd of LAMB in tow. It was a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie! He told us to go back out to the main strip and drive further down to get to the entrance. Just turning the car around was difficult, as we could have easily fallen into the ditch!

The above video was taken on the road leading into Wypoh's village. Once we arrived, Johnny found a spot and pulled over while 老老爺 got out to speak with another farmer. He too was standing in the middle of the road. Such is life in the hinterlands of China, I guess!

They talked for quite awhile, prompting the rest of us to get out and join them while Johnny stayed with the car.

老老爺 must have discovered something.

The guy in the blue shirt - we'll call him the Chinese doctor for now - didn't know Wypoh or her father. But he did know someone else who may be able to help us, an 89-year-old man named 李學圣.

When Gupoh heard that name, she gasped, "He is my cousin!"

I'm like... HUH?!

李學圣 is her first cousin on her mother's side, so he is Wygoon's first cousin too! He and Gupoh never met before, which confused me. Plus aren't we here to find Mom's relatives on her mother's side?

The plot thickens...

In the above video, the Chinese doctor takes us to meet 李學圣.

After the initial greetings, 李學圣 tells us that a) Wypoh's BROTHER used to live here before he died, and b) one of his sons is still here! That makes him Mom's first cousin, her 表弟, and thus my 表舅.

His nickname is "Big Ocean", and Mom had met him once before in Harbin in 1982. But she had no idea that anyone had moved back to the 老家 in Pingdu, so she was absolutely floored!

Now this is where things get really crazy -

As seen in the videos above and below, Gupoh had asked the Chinese doctor to write down both 李學圣's contact details as well as his own. But when she saw what HIS name was, she exclaimed,

"What... ?! You and I are cousins, too!"

The Chinese doctor is her first cousin on her father's side!

Let me see if I got this straight:

We are at my grandmother's village. Mom just learned that her first cousin - whom she met once before in Harbin 32 years ago - now lives here, and Gupoh found TWO first cousins on my grandfather's side whom she's never met, even though she only lives two hours away!

How could this be possible... ?!

When they said that everyone in 李家樓 had the same surname and was related to each other, they weren't kidding!

We learned later that it wasn't uncommon for people from the two villages to marry each other. Gupoh's mom was from 李家樓 and her dad was from 馬丘村, which is why she has cousins here from both sides of her family. The mother of the 89-year-old was also from 馬丘村. In fact, it was SHE who introduced Wygoon and Wypoh!

In hindsight it makes perfect sense.

But at the time, holy smokes was it surreal and confusing!

The story continues...

Footnote: Gupoh insisted to know everyone's names, Chinese characters, phone numbers, addresses, and whatever else she could get out of them. But because of Parkinson's Disease, she had the Chinese doctor write everything down in her little notebook for her. I couldn't help but notice that he kept writing, and writing, and writing! He tried several times to hand the notebook back to her, but she was like, "No no, you need to keep writing." It was hilarious!

In Qingdao - Day 5 - 上午

At 7 o'clock in the morning, I got a text message from Gupoh.

She was already at the hotel where we told her to meet us at 8am - not 7am! Apparently she didn't want to risk being late, but to get there an entire HOUR early... ?! Meanwhile, Mr. Jia was running late - talking about a stressful morning! - so I walked over to the high-end coffee shop adjacent to the hotel to get a latte.

Now THAT was a bizarre incident.

The guy took my money, turned around and ran away! He was gone for so long that I stepped into the back office to look for him. Empty. He finally came back with a latte in his hand and explained that their main machine wasn't ready yet and that he used another one in the 'back'.

That seemed odd, but whatever.

As we're standing in front of the hotel, waiting for Mr. Jia, I began to drink this latte when I realized what had happened. I turned to Mom and exclaimed,

"I think that guy ran to the 7-11 and bought the coffee!"

So I went back to confront him. Now how am I going to call him out without embarrassing him? What he did was super SLEEZY, but I am Chinese and so is he. I have to save his face even though I'd rather not! Ultimately my end goal was to get the latte that I paid for.

In Chinese I said, "You got this from another store, didn't you." (A statement, not a question.) "Yes," he admitted. Before he could say more, I handed my coffee back to him and said, "I'd like a latte from here. Can you make one for me?" (A command couched as a question.) How could he say "no", especially since he just took mine back?

What I REALLY wanted to say shall remain in my little head.

Zip it, Christine!

Photo from the night before:

On the way to pick up Gupoh, I decided to give Mr. Jia an English name. It was too formal at this point to keep calling him "贾先生", and since his full name is 贾宁, I bestowed upon him the name "Johnny" and made him promise to never change it.

Johnny Jia.

It fit his personality well - a friendly, helpful, and jolly fellow.

Anyway, by the time we picked up Gupoh, she had been waiting for 1.5 hours. I felt so BAD! But she was cool about the whole thing - a very nice and cheerful person. She got up around 3-4am (normal for her) to boil Laoshan water and put them in bottles for all of us to drink. She also made some 包子 for us to eat on the way.

Gupoh was probably thinking the same thing we did - that we STARVED the last time we went to Pingdu! I'm surprised Johnny didn't bring some stuff, too. ;)

She also asked Johnny if this was a different car, noting that the license plate number was not the same as the car that he drove on Saturday. DANG that woman is sharp! Mom and I didn't even notice!

By now it was 9am, and we were finally on our way to pick up 老老爺 since he knows the roads to 李家樓. This time we had no trouble getting there because good 'ole Johnny remembered the way.

What followed next was unbelievable...

The story continues...

Monday, September 16, 2013

In Qingdao - Day 4 - 下午

On the way back to the hotel, we went to Carrefour (again... ?!) to get lunch, their yummy bread, bottles of water, and fruit for tomorrow’s second road trip to Pingdu. Carrefour has an impressive array of fresh breads, Chinese buns, steamed dumplings, and more!

We putzed around until 4pm when we finally got ourselves out the door to check out the Qingdao Beer Museum. Get this. Concierge was unable to get us a cab! Apparently drivers change shifts every day between 4pm-6pm and are basically n/a.

Are you for REAL... ?!

We could have taken the bus, but we would be hitting rush hour traffic. And traffic in Qingdao SUCKS at this time. So what did we do instead? We went BACK to Carrefour! This time to buy a nice gift for our driver for all his troubles. Lord have mercy on my poor soul... !

Mr. Guo called us in the afternoon to see if we needed anything and to also invite us to dinner. How nice of him! He and Mr. Jia came to pick us up and took us to the China Community Art and Culture Hotel on Minjiang Road, also a lovely road. Prior to the trip, I had looked into that hotel as well and almost booked it.

They had live performances – Chinese opera, a changing faces dance, a musician who played seven different instruments, and more - and it was nice to have a local perspective. Like, I had to ask if drunk driving is a problem, given this city's signature beer-making history. Apparently it's a non-issue. The laws are very strict and enforcement tight. If you get caught driving drunk, yer going to jail!

Dinner included clams, shrimp, pig’s feet, intestine lettuce wrap with garlic, and rice noodles with onion strips. It was lovely!

We got back to the hotel around 9:30pm and went BACK out to get more bottles of water! Are we totally disorganized today or what? At least Carrefour was closed by then, thank God!

We went down the underpass which Mom didn't care for and opted for the 7-11 instead of Ke Hao, the local competition. Brand recognition... what can I say? I tried to pay 15 yuan at the counter using 15 jiao and even waited for my change of 1 yuan. Mom and I laughed so hard!

I seem to keep doing this a LOT. No wonder people keep looking at me funny! It's not just because I'm funny lookin'... !

Earlier at Starbucks, I tried to pay with this. In disbelief, the cashier showed it to her colleague because apparently it is no longer in circulation. I probably got it in the 90's on my first trip to China. They insisted that it had no value, but I took it back anyway.

In Qingdao - Day 4 - 後悔!

At my insistence, we went to Starbucks this morning.

I needed to rework our entire itinerary for the rest of our stay in China because last night - once I finally had a chance to catch my breath and clear my head - I was overcome with regret!

Regret that while we were at my grandfather's village on Saturday, we did NOT also visit my grandmother's village, especially since 老老爺 had offered to take us! Granted we had our reasons. But Mom herself keeps saying that this may be her only trip to Qingdao, given her age and the 30-hour flight from her home.

Since we still had four more days in China, I insisted that we go back to Pingdu and visit Wypoh's village even though we didn't know anyone there. The tourist attractions are negligible compared to this.

Last night, I went online to try and find anything I could about it. This link was helpful, but finding it on was better.

Actually it was ASTOUNDING to see a satellite view of the actual village! I stared at it for a long time in disbelief. Wypoh first told me and Mom about 李家樓 years ago and how everyone is surnamed Li (which still blows me away) but satellite maps weren't available back then, and it never occurred to me to try to find it online until now. If only she could see this today. I was also surprised at MYSELF for finding out as much as I did, given my limited Chinese. You go girl... !

Back to this morning at Starbucks:

First, I asked Mom to Skype Aunt Alicia back in Taipei to ask Wygoon for whatever information he had. Meanwhile, I emailed Uncle Rex to see what he knows since he's been to Pingdu before, though not 李家樓.

Next I reworked our itinerary for the rest of the week while I had Mom call Mr. Jia to HUMBLY explain why we wanted to go BACK to Pingdu... poor guy! I also had her call Gupoh to see if she could accompany us again, and for HER to contact 老老爺 to see if he too was available.

They know our family history and they know the area.

Even if they can't go with us, Mom and I can go on our own and ask around. If everyone there is related to each other - as I've been told - someone should know SOMETHING about Wypoh's family. Worst case scenario is to visit the local municipal office. The government keeps track of everyone, yes? Surely they can help us.

One of the logistical challenges was that Gupoh lives out of the way. It would take an extra hour to pick her up before we even left Qingdao proper. So once again I'm studying the map to find a convenient spot for her and that was on our way. Out of respect for elders we SHOULD pick her up. I felt bad, but she totally didn't mind.

Three hours later - JUST as I was about to wrap things up - Mom got a headache from the flurry of activity and said, "This is too much trouble. Plus we don't even know anyone there! Let's not go."

Oh... my... word...

I was sooooooo not happy...

I tried my best to convince her otherwise. But at the end of the day, if my 71-year-old mother really doesn't want to go, what could I do... ? There was the REAL possibility that we would get all the way there and trouble all these people along the way, only to find nothing.

Deflated, I finally gave in and said, "Fine Mom, if you really don't want to go, we won't go." Then SHE felt bad after seeing how disappointed I was (because I was! Very!) and said, "Ok ok, let's go."

It was 1pm by the time we left Starbucks.

So much for writing in our journals!

The story continues...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In Qingdao - Day 3 - 下午

Earlier at the hotel, concierge mentioned that the church was on the same side of town as "劈柴院" which got Mom ALL excited. Apparently in Taipei last week, Dad's brother-in-law had highly recommended it.

As we got closer, Mom couldn't stop talking about it.

I had no idea what 劈柴院 was but it sure as heck sounded like "pizza" to me. So I was like, "Okay Mom! Pizza Yuan! Got it... got it!" The more I said it, the more I could envision us having pizza for lunch.

Once we got there, it took us awhile to decide on what to eat.

Lots to choose from! Though no pizza.

We ended up at a dumpling house where we ordered two types of 小籠包 and a bowl of wonton soup. It was GOOD.

By chance, we also stumbled upon the traditional-style hotel that we saw online and ALMOST booked. We were glad that we didn't. In unfamiliar territory, staying at an international hotel felt more secure.

I hate to say that because I want to support my PEEPS!

But you know what I mean.

As we were exiting the alley, we saw a street vendor who was selling all kinds of knick knacks, including mini abacuses.

Mom picked one up and tried to teach me how to use it. And people wonder why I am the way I am...

We could have taken a cab back, but I always prefer to hop on a bus and check out the sights and sounds as the locals do. Plus there is something very liberating about blending in so easily with them.

Concierge told us which stop was near the hotel, people on the streets were very helpful (except this one mean old lady), and in no time we were on our way.

Qingdao is not a very big city after all.

But it is the most beautiful city in China that I have ever seen.

On the walk back to the hotel, I forced Mom to treat me to a tall latte for ruining my morning plans and making me 'work' that day - her own private, on-the-fly, Qingdao tour guide. She said, "Just get it yourself" and I'm like, no. You have to go the counter and order it for me.

We putzed around the hotel before going back out to Carrefour to grab a bite to eat since neither of us were hungry. We ended up with a TON of food, all for under US$5. Sheesh... !

The last item on today's agenda was to call TJ back in the U.S. before our time, midnight.

When we left the hotel this morning for Starbucks, I had JUST texted him to let him know that we'll be back soon and that I will Skype him then. I.e. he had been waiting for me all night long... ! I tried MANY times throughout the day to find free wi-fi so I could let him know that Mom we changed plans at the last minute, to no avail. Nor could I call because my SIM card limits international dialing.

I apologized profusely, and he was very understanding.

But you can see why I insisted that Mom treat me to a latte.