Last week was an exciting and fun-filled time here at our home. My childhood friend Heidi, who is my earliest memory and who grew up right next door to me for 16 years, came to our country to visit! She spent time in some of the major tourist cities and stopped at our house for a few days along the way. This was her first time to this country and she was soaking up all of the adventures!
And what a week we had. Heidi arrived on Sunday and had expressed interest in trying some local "family-style" food; the stuff the we typically eat on a daily basis because my helper, Lou, cooks for us. Lou and I had such fun planning the meals that Heidi would be there to try and give Heidi a balanced taste of all things local. I especially loved sharing my favorites with Heidi, as well as seeing her eager enthusiasm and excitement to try new things. Lou cooked up a storm and suffice to say, no one went away hungry!
What was on the menu? Here's a sampling: Chicken wings and potatoes braised in a soy sauce and pepsi mixture . . . spicy tofu with deep-fried hot peppers and ground beef . . . celery stir fried with cashews . . . egg stirfried with tomatoes . . . baby bok choy stir fried with fresh mushrooms . . . minced garlic shoots with ground pork wrapped up in tofu "peel" . . . deep fried chicken strips served with a spicy sauce made from sesame paste, hot bean paste, and soy sauce . . . glass noodles with shredded pork and cucumber . . . the list goes on! (We didn't eat all of this at one meal!)
So the food was a fun highlight--Heidi took pictures of everything and even bought some local ingredients to take back with her to the States, so she can try cooking it some of the dishes at home. She lives in a very diverse area of New York City and so thought she could find some things in small grocery stores there.
Heidi decided to lengthen her visit in our city by one day because last Wednesday the Olympic Torch came through our city!!!! I am so glad she was here for it, because honestly, if it hadn't been for her I probably would not have tried to go and see it. You know, large crowds, difficulty finding taxis, probably having to walk a long ways, as well as conflicting information about WHAT was actually going to happen, WHERE it was going to happen, and WHEN it would begin. I must have asked about 25 taxi drivers what they knew about the Torch's appearance, and finally a day or two beforehand everyone seemed to agree. The torch would be run down a major street in the south of the city, starting at the Sports Stadium at 8am.
So Heidi and I got up early, (Christin got a very early feeding), got out to the street and managed to flag a taxi fairly easily. I told the driver to take us as close as he could to the starting point. He did so and the air was crackling with festivity. People were everywhere, waving flags, selling Olympic memorabilia; everyone moving with one goal: to get as close to the main street as possible. Barricades were up in various areas and there was a strong police presence. At one point I felt a little afraid because the crowd was so large, and so excited, that if suddenly someone had discovered a way to get past the barricade there could have been a stampede.
By this point Heidi was somewhat resigned that we would not actually be able to see the torch. I was still holding out hope, though! We kept walking and finally found a place where we could get through to the road. We made our way to a small grassy knoll and thought we had a pretty good vantage point, so stayed there. It was right at 8am.
The next thing I knew, a man who had climbed a tree next to me (and therefore could see better than the rest of us!) started yelling that it was starting. We craned our necks. . . and yes! There it was! First came a group of runners, then we saw the runner with the Torch, and then he stopped and passed it on to the next runner! We saw the passing of the Torch!!!! We were yelling and waving our flags and jumping up and down just like everybody else!
(Later we discovered that they passed the torch every 200 yards or so, so it wasn't as unique as we thought. In fact there were more than 200 runners just in our city!)
Heidi and I were ecstatic. We could not believe that we actually saw it with our own eyes! And just like that . . . it was gone. A large choir was singing and a group was playing traditional drums as everyone cheered and chanted, and then gradually the groups broke up, people started moving, and the police slowly opened up the street for foot traffic. Everyone was still milling around and enjoying the atmosphere, so we joined in on the fun.
Eventually it was time to head home so we started walking and made our way through a typical alleyway where many, many vendors were selling their goods. Everything from fresh seafood and fish, to handmade noodles, steamed buns, flatbread, fruits and vegetables was being sold there. To me it is a common sight, but Heidi thought it was all fascinating and took lots of pictures as we progressed down the alley. Finally we arrived at the end and after waiting only about 10 minutes for a taxi, we were on our way home. What a morning!
We had such a great visit with Heidi. She and I reminisced over old times, had fun talking about this country's language, culture, people, and food, and talked about the future. It was such a treat to have her here! We were doubly thankful for our new place where we could accomodate her so comfortably and give her a bedroom and bathroom to herself. (John and I slept on our comfy couches!)
And now, we're off again! John has been working on our visa status for quite some time now, and it turned out that we do need to leave the country when our visas expire, which is on the 31st. So we will be traveling to Hong Kong on July 30th and staying for about 3 weeks or however long it takes to process our business visa. He's been getting our paperwork in order and it looks like things should work out. We shall see!
So there's been no shortage of excitement around here! In fact, Clara Anne and Chloe were so excited today that nobody took a nap! (Well, maybe that wasn't the reason . . . ) They do love to travel, though, and are looking forward to our trip. I am mostly looking forward to it but do hope we don't get stuck there for too long. It's always more comfortable to be at home (especially when I have Lou around to help keep things clean and food on the table!) but we will make the best of our time. We're planning to take some of our waiting days to do fun family things, maybe even Disneyland! I'll try to update occasionally from our travels. Stay tuned!