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To be continued…

January 31, 2012

Well life has been busy.

New city, new job, new school, new house, new puppy, and so on.  And, as you have probably guessed, we are not still in Nepal but are actually in Nashville! Hopefully we will update the blog some time soon with our last few countries from the trip (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Japan).

Until then, we leave you with two pictures of the newest member of the family, Taft:

The day we brought him home.

 

Playing in his new backyard.

 

 

 

Sunrise and Sunset in Nepal

June 11, 2011

Our first night in the small town of Pokhara, Nepal Jen and I had a nice little dinner by the lake with a lemon meringue pie to top it off.  We wanted to see a little more of the new town, so we started exploring and quickly noticed the gorgeous sunset that was beginning to take place.  So, we quickly hurried off the main drag and towards the lake where we figured we could get the best view.  We certainly were not disappointed by the sight of the sun dipping below the horizon beyond Nepal’s second largest lake and amongst the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range.  It was one of the best sunsets we have seen during our travels.  As usual, the pictures just do not do it justice.

The next day we were up early, excruciatingly early in fact, 4:00 AM.  We were picked up by a driver that we had arranged the previous day and taken to the bottom of Sarangkot, a local 1,600m foothill known for its’ amazing views.  We slowly began our trek up to the top, our bodies waking up more and more with each step that were illuminated by our head lamps.  After a good while of climbing, we finally reached the summit where an Army base had been built.  The door to the lookout tower was locked but a Chinese man came up ten minutes after us and began banging on it.  Eventually a soldier came to the door and let us early morning trekkers inside.  Upon entering the fort, we climbed to the top of a tower and were able to witness the sun rise over the Himalayan mountain range.

It was a cloudy morning, so it didn’t provide the best views and most importantly the tall peaks were hidden a lot of the time.  However, it was still a great experience to watch the new day begin (and already have done soo much exercise).  Plus, once we hiked all the way down and got back to our hotel, I just happened to turn on the TV to the Mavericks game.  We then spent the next couple of hours watching the Mavs beat the crap out of the Heat!  It was a great day so far and only 9:00 in the morning, so of course we proceeded to take a long nap.

Hope you enjoy the photos,
Steven




A Monkey’s Tale

June 10, 2011

This is a monkey…

This is a monkey’s tail…

This is inspiration…

This is a canvas…

This is an inspired monkey tail…

This is the death of it all…

Country #17: Hong Kong

June 6, 2011

First of all, I can’t believe we are in Asia.  That means we are in the last continent and coming up on the end of our trip!  Second of all, I am loving introducing Steven to Asia.  As most of you know, I have always had a thing for this region of the world, so it is very fun to be with Steven as he experiences it for the first time. 

Hong Kong Skyline seen from the top

We did not have too long to explore Hong Kong, just a mere four days and three nights, so we had to squeeze in as much as we could.  The only problem was that this was also the first time we have been jet lagged on our trip.  Every night in Hong Kong, we could not go to sleep until 5 or 6 am so then we would sleep until about 11 or 12 which really did not help our limited time frame!  Luckily, everyone in Hong Kong seemed to stay out pretty late so that made it much easier to see more.  We would do touristy things until midnight and not even realize it was that late.

After our first morning of sleeping in, we decided we should head over to the Peak Tram to take it to the top of Hong Kong Island to see the views.  What we did not expect was a huge line to get to the top.  And it was extremely hot and humid out!  So we waited in line for about an hour and a half, dripping sweat, and finally got on the tram for the ride to the top.  The tram was built over a hundred years ago by the British and is obviously used very frequently by locals and tourists.  At the top of the mountain we were finally rewarded for our wait with great views of Hong Kong’s amazing skyline.

Unfortunately, like most of the time we were in HK, the sky was pretty smoggy, and we were really hoping for a clear day but never got one while we were there.  We stayed at the top to watch the sunset and see all of the buildings light up.  While up there enjoying our time and the night, it kept getting more and more crowded.  We couldn’t figure out what was going on and then we realized that it was a Friday night and apparently it is pretty happening up there on the weekend.  After waiting in a huge line to get back to the bottom, we took the Star Ferry back from Hong Kong Island to the Kowloon side where we were staying.

View from the Star Ferry

The Star Ferry is an awesome mode of transportation.  It is really cheap and fast and you get to ride a boat while checking out the impressive skyline!  We took the ferry back and forth several times from the Kowloon side (the mainland) to Hong Kong Island and enjoyed the views every time.

The next day we decided to wander around the Kowloon side of Hong Kong.  Our first stop was the Avenue of the Stars.  Yes, you read that right, it is just like ours in Hollywood but with a bunch of Chinese actors and actresses.  We walked all the way through and I think we knew only two of the names – Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.  But it was interesting to see and I particularly enjoyed the ones that had “Chinese name, American name” such as “Ti Lung, Tommy” and the ones like “Sir Run Run Shaw” that just sounded special.  I searched everywhere for a Jennifer but never found one… I was pretty disappointed.

At that point we were pretty hot so we decided to check out the Hong Kong Museum of Art which was nice, air conditioned, and just around the corner.  There were a variety of exhibits from old Chinese blue and white pottery to very modern short films.  It was very interesting and we were glad we went for a couple of hours.

That night was our last night in Hong Kong and we got to see the demonstration in Victoria Park for Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989.  You can read more about that from Steven here.

We stayed in two nice little hostels while in Hong Kong.  This is because we had to change rooms for our last night since the city was so crowded for the demonstration.  Both places were in the Chung King Mansion and had tiny little rooms, but the location was good so we didn’t mind too much.  By the way, when I say little, I mean the room was about 6’ x 6’ and the bathroom combined toilet, sink, and shower in a 2’ x 3’ space.  Chung King Mansion is this huge building with a market on the first floor and has a bunch of hostels and restaurants above it.  The building is separated into 8 different sections with their own set of elevators.  One elevator is for even floors and one is for odd floors.  It was a crazy system and the elevators were so slow and small, that huge lines would form for each lift throughout the building.    

We had some amazing food while we were in Hong Kong.  Our first meal we chose by getting off of the main road and finding a restaurant that was crowded with locals, and it turned out to be a respectable place that served these great noodle bowls.  So good in fact, that we had to go back there for another meal before the demonstrations.  Another place we ate was a recommendation from the nice little man at our second hostel and it was just down the street but we never would have found it without him.  It was a great restaurant and very local (we were the only tourists there and the place was packed).  We had some great dim sum which was a first for Steven. 

But Steven’s favorite treat while we were in Hong Kong were the Slurpees.  Hong Kong has 7-11s everywhere and therefor Steven was able to have numerous coke Slurpees during our stay.  For those of you that don’t know this about Steven, he has somewhat of an obsession with coke Slurpees.  So much so that he often drove around to different 7-11s in Dallas if the coke Slurpee was not working or the right consistency.  I think the record number of different 7-11s we ventured to was five (thank you Randy and Morgan for joining us on that little adventure)!

Overall, Hong Kong was fun and a great little intro to Asia.  The only weird thing was that last time I was there I shopped a ton and this time we didn’t shop at all due to a lack of room in our bags!  Luckily, Josh is meeting us in Thailand so maybe I can shop there and send stuff home with him!

Jen

P.S.  I know we cannot technically call Hong Kong a country (such as we do in the title) but we did it anyway…


June 4, 1989

June 5, 2011

Twenty-two years ago something big was culminating in China.  For weeks, all across the nation, students had gathered in protest against the government and for economic reform.  They were eventually joined by citizens from all walks of life.  From blue collar workers and farmers to doctors and lawyers who were fed up with their elitist and communistic leaders, they gathered by the millions to hold peaceful demonstrations.  Then, the order came from above that the rallies would end and the protestors would be dispersed.

Tank Man

After an initial failed attempt to take control of the city, resulting in an embarrassing setback, nothing would stop the government.  The military, armed with tanks, automatic weapons, and field ammunition began to push their way through the streets of Beijing until they eventually converged on Tiananmen Square.  All the way, they left a bloody trail of innocent civilians who had tried earnestly to keep the militia out of their city and continue their rally for reform.  Upon arrival to the square, the primary, iron-clad order to the soldiers was to have it cleared by morning – they did just that.  Forcibly removing and gunning down more civilians along with rolling over many of them with tanks in the dark of night.

By the time the morning mist began to clear, all that was left were remnants of destruction from a night of terror accompanied by columns of tanks and throngs of soldiers positioned in the square.  That next day evolved into even more bloody massacres of innocent civilians including aid workers, doctors, and parents trying to help those injured.  Although I was just five at the time and too young to know what was happening, one notable figure from my school books will be seared in my memory forever.  He is now simply known as “tank man” and was an individual that stood in front of an advancing column of metal giants.  He was most likely a common man moving about his day that was just sick and tired of all that he had seen.  Tank man would speak for the thousands that had been silenced the previous day, inspire millions across his country, and have a significant impact, not only on Chinese citizens, but on individuals fighting against communism throughout Eastern Europe at the time.

Hong Kong Protests Article

Now, over two decades after the massacre, Jen and I found ourselves in a small hostel in the middle of Hong Kong engaging in a broken conversation with two students from Beijing.  They had arrived shortly before us and were filled with excitement and anticipation.  They had spent the day traveling from the Chinese capital to Hong Kong, to participate in a ceremony that would commemorate what happened so long ago in their country – when they were just three and four years old.  Jen and I had no clue it was the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown but were immediately intrigued and knew we wanted to participate.

The crowds in the street

We checked into our room and began running Google searches that would give us more information on the demonstration (Google in China is a whole different conversation to be had).  We quickly found an AP article about the event including the time, location, and that over 100,000 people were expected to attend.  This further solidified the fact that we had to attend.  Hong Kong, being a part of China yet under different rule, would still allow such an event to take place on its’ soil, hence why so many traveled to the island to commemorate the day.  On the mainland there is absolutely no way such a happening would be permitted, let alone in Tiananmen Square where it is now immensely difficult to even take a video camera.

So, we eventually made our way out of where we were staying, grabbed a great local meal, and took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island.  Once across, we began the walk to get to the park where the vigil was to take place.  Along the way, we started to question the news reports and whether or not so many people would actually show up.  We did not see really anybody on the ferry or in the streets.  In fact, as we walked further we began to question if it was happening at all or perhaps we got something wrong, there simply were not many people around.  Then, slowly we began to hear it.  Chinese being chanted over loudspeakers.  Small groups singing to the side.  Individuals asking for donations to the cause.  Before we knew it, we were walking down the middle of the street completely immersed in a sea of thousands out to commemorate what happened so long ago.

Following the flow of traffic we eventually made it to the park and were given a couple of candles to light in remembrance of the victims.  We joined thousands sitting on the lawn of this park, with the tall buildings of the Hong Kong skyline surrounding us, and listened to the speakers invigorate the crowd, the singers evoke emotions, and the leaders begin thunderous chants.  Of course it was all in Chinese, so unfortunately mostly lost on Jen and me, except for the emotion that came forth in everyone’s voices was ever present.  It was a beautiful thing to see the sea of candles out to do something that we often take for granted in America.

The program for the night

Upon the conclusion of the ceremony, the crowds orderly dispersed into the streets and back to their homes, hotels, and wherever the night took them.  Jen and I made our way back to the port, took the ferry back across the water, and settled in for the night recanting all that we had seen in the past few hours.  At one time we were very unhappy to have to be changing hotels and moving all of our stuff but it allowed us to find out about something that we would have never known.  Instead of reading about it in the papers the next day, we were able to attend a moving demonstration for reform and peace first-hand and witness these Chinese pioneers.

No wonder we had such a hard time finding a place to stay in Hong Kong.  So many people wanted to travel from afar to this small island city to join in with thousands to commemorate the atrocities that happened twenty-two years ago.  As we all know now, urban China is now prospering economically by leaps and bounds.  The leadership made significant reforms to economic policies by doing such things as establishing special economic zones and allowing foreign investment after 1989.  While many people are still suffering, there is now a burgeoning middle class and striking economic growth, yet still no political reform and rampant issues with human rights.  Hopefully one day Chinese citizens will be able to enjoy such things as an independent press, open internet, and free speech.  As President Bush would say, they will get a taste of freedom and want more of it.

Now, I will leave you with this year’s statement from the U.S. Department of State:

Message on the Twenty-Second Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

Friday will mark twenty-two years since the violent suppression of protests in and around Tiananmen Square on June 3-4, 1989. The United States joins others in the international community in urging China to release all those still serving sentences for participating in the peaceful protests. We ask the Chinese government to provide the fullest possible public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, and to cease the ongoing harassment of those who participated in the demonstrations and the families of the victims.

We encourage China to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens, including those who peacefully express political views. We also renew our call for the release of all those detained, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest in recent months as China has taken actions that are inconsistent with universally recognized rights. As Secretary Clinton has said, “when China lives up to [its] obligations of respecting and protecting universal human rights, it will not only benefit more than one billion people, it will also benefit the long-term peace, stability, and prosperity of China.”

Let Freedom Ring,
Steven

The future of freedom

 




Country #16: South Africa

June 2, 2011

As you can tell from our previous posts, we got to do a lot of really cool things in South Africa, ranging from an awesome safari to climbing Table Mountain to wine tastings.  Plus, Mike and Brad were with us, so we got to enjoy everything with them.  Let me fill you in on what we did the rest of the time.

Sunset at the game reserve

After we finished our safari, we drove back to Johannesburg to catch a flight down to Cape Town.  Our first day in the new city was spent exploring and spending time on their pier which reminded us a lot of San Francisco.  Everything was so nice and it didn’t feel like the Africa that we had seen in Tanzania. 

A lot of that day was spent at the Two Oceans Aquarium.  We arrived just in time to watch the predator feeding which was fun to witness.  They dropped food from the top of the aquarium and all of the fish would race around to try and get their portion.  The tank also had sharks and large turtles in it, but they get fed differently and on select days, so unfortunately we missed that.  We spent the rest of the time wandering around the entire aquarium where they had everything from penguins and frogs to seahorses and stingrays.

Steven also got a chance to shoot this pretty neat, short clip of one of the aquariums.  It was mesmerizing with all of the movement:

One afternoon, we drove around the coast a little ways to see the pretty views and check out some of the beaches.  They were very nice-looking beaches and we stopped to do a little shopping and eat a good meal just across the road from the sand.

The next morning we were headed out to Arabella to spend our last few days in South Africa there.  We took the scenic route to get there and although it took longer, we got to see even more of the coastline – it was a beautiful drive.  We also stopped at Simon’s Town where a colony of penguins lives.  Apparently, they are normally in the water and you can swim with them but the water was too cold for even the penguins!  We watched them edge out onto the rocks but they would never get in.  Mike and Brad saw them get too close and get knocked into the water by a big wave – Steven and I were behind them and missed it!  It was fun to see them all walking and hoping around and then covering the new born babies.

Another sight on our way out to Arabella were the Cape Flats.  This is an area that, in the 1950’s, became home to individuals the apartheid government deemed non-white.  Race based legislation forced these non-white people out of the city into government built townships.  Today, the area is still very poverty sticken, with high unemployment, high crime, and so on.  A crazy sight to see intertwined within the beautiful city of Cape Town.

Something that Steven and Brad always had their hearts set on was shark cage diving.  Basically, you go out in a boat and they throw some chum (blood and ground up fish guts) in the water to attract the sharks and then everyone on the boat takes turns getting into a cage that is attached to the side of the boat.  Then the crew puts a large fish on a line and gets the sharks to come in close so that you can “swim” with the sharks.  Sadly, they were not able to go because there were 8 meter swells the whole time we were there.

So instead, the guys all played a round of golf at Arabella.  The golf looked questionable due to the rain (which seems to be following us everywhere) but it held off long enough for them to play for a while.  It was a beautiful course and they all really enjoyed getting out and hitting a few balls.

We ate some great food while we were in South Africa.  My favorite was probably at Makweti, but we had tons of good food in Cape Town and Hermanus too.  One restaurant we ate at in Cape Town was called 95 Karoom.  It was recommended by our hotel and turned out to be excellent.  We stopped at a place on a drive outside of Cape Town and got big seafood platters that had many things for us to try – all of it was good.  One morning we wandered into a restaurant on Long Street – I can’t remember the name of it – and had brunch.  The sandwich I ordered was great and Steven is still talking about the drink that he got which was frozen lemonade with blended in mint.  In Hermanus, several people recommended we go to the new pier for dinner at Harbour Rock.  It had great views of the waves crashing in and really good food (fresh sushi!) plus a great fireplace that we sat next to.

We loved South Africa and I think it may now be one of our favorite countries – up there with Jordan.  Steven still wants to go shark cage diving so I’m sure we will be back there one day, plus, there is still a lot that I want to see!

Jen

Wineries of South Africa

June 1, 2011

Checking out the wine at Bouchard Finlayson

After spending several days in Cape Town, we headed out to the wine country of South Africa and stayed at a beautiful place called Arabella.  It was an awesome hotel on a gorgeous golf course with amazing views.  The resort is located near a town called Hermanus which is famous for whale watching – unfortunately we were a little bit too early in the season for whales. 

Arabella was also very close to a wine area called the Hemel and Arde Valley.  It is not the most famous wine area in South Africa, but since it was so close we decided we should visit some of its’ wineries.  We originally planned to do a kayak and wine tour but rain and high winds kept us from doing that so we ended up driving to visit three vineyards.

Inside Creation Winery

The first one was called Creation and it had a great atmosphere!  We tried quite a few of their wines while sitting next to the fire place and watching the rain come down outside.  The woman who worked there was extremely nice and gave us a ton of information about the vineyard and about South African wines in general.  After spending quite a bit of our afternoon there, we decided we should move on before everything closed.

Our next vineyard for the day was Newton Johnson which was just down the street.  We were the only ones there and it was a pretty quick tasting.  We liked their wines but all agreed that Creation was better.  Actually, we had initially tried to go to the place across the street, which we heard was fantastic, but it was already closed for the day.

Lastly, our final vineyard for the day was Bouchard Finlayson, whose wines were great.  The vineyard was beautiful, with much more of a country setting, and we got to meet the owner and his funny puppy which was a plus.  The dog was beyond energetic and kept trying to jump and bite the lights on the ceiling.  No lie, the owner was essentially Sean Connery, accent and all.  We bought an extra bottle of wine from this place and took it to dinner with us that night at a fantastic seafood restaurant right on the water.

Overall, we really enjoyed the Hemel and Arde Valley and it was perfect for the leisurely day of wine tasting, constrained by rain, that we were looking for.  However, we were still hoping to make it to Stellenbosch, the most famous wine region in South Africa, before we departed the country.   

Raining but still great views

The next morning was still a bit rainy but it let up enough for the boys to play a round of golf.  After showers, purchasing a set of Kudu horns, and getting checked out of our hotel, we headed to Stellenbosch.  We knew we didn’t have a ton of time before we needed to get to the airport for our flights, so we figured we would have lunch at one vineyard and then would maybe make it to one more if we had time.

The first destination and lunch was at a vineyard called Guardian Peak.  It was a little different experience than a typical tasting – you would order a meal and they would pair a glass of wine with the food.  So there was no actual tasting, just one glass of wine.  The food was great and we all enjoyed the wine.  Plus, we each ordered something different so we still got a good sampling of a few of their wines.

Ernie Els Winery

Luckily we finished at Guardian Peak with enough time to stop by another spot.  This time we chose Ernie Ells Winery which was nearby, and yes, it is the famous golfer’s personal winery.  They displayed numerous photographs of “The Big Easy” playing various courses, along with quite a few of the trophies he has won over the years.  It was the nicest of all the vineyards we went to and very beautiful inside and out with a peaceful atmosphere.  They only produced red wines which was perfect for me since I am allergic to white!  We had a tasting of several of their wines and they were all delicious – definitely one to look for in the States.    

The wine country was yet another highlight of our trip and I don’t think any of us would mind going back!  Actually, I really hope we get to one day because there are still so many more to visit.

C’est la guerre (as Grama always used to say),
Jen