September Fun

>> Sunday, September 20, 2009

We had a friend, Sandra, come visit us in Beijing. She was doing research in Inner Mongolia at the same research station as Matt. She was a delight to have and we did some fun things together like visiting Panjiayuan (a.k.a. the Dirt Market), the Summer Palace, eating Peking Duck at Quan Ju De, and getting a massage.

This lady was selling textiles at Panjiayuan. She had rows and rows of hand-sewn baby carriers, booties, pillow covers, etc. They were really works of art, each one of them. I wish I would have taken close-up pictures to show the fine detail. I'm going to buy some of these before I leave Beijing.

Here is Sandra, our friend who was visiting. She was a delight. She's sitting on a boat crossing the lake at the Summer Palace.

A view of a temple at the Summer Palace.

The Great Wall Annual Trip

The Great Wall Weekend is something we look forward to every year. The two branches in Beijing get together and stay at a hotel near the Great Wall. We leave Saturday morning, hike Saturday afternoon, have a party Saturday night, and then have church Sunday morning and go back home to Beijing. It is one of the highlights of our year.

This year, I let Sam and Matt hike the wall while I stayed in the hotel and took a nap. We didn't get a lot of pictures as a family, but we had a lot of fun.

I love how you can see the Great Wall snaking over the tops of these mountains. Matt took this picture while he was hiking with Sam.

Here is a view that shows the grandeur of the mountains.

The most handsome man in the world!

Matt said that Sam did a great job hiking all the way up to the top. The only problem he had was with the spiders. He's not a big fan. Here's one of the spiders they saw.

I think this is one of the funniest pictures we have taken here. We often buy movies here and this one turned out to be a pirated one that was filmed in the theater. (BTW, we turned it off after a few minutes because, fine satire that it is, we just couldn't stomach it.) The subtitles were much more entertaining than the movie. This is when Bart is writing on the chalkboard, "I will not illegally download this movie." The subtitles of the pirated copy we were watching are displayed on the screen: "I ain't illegal to download this movie." We found this funny on so many levels.

That about wraps our our month so far. I guess we've had a few changes that I haven't really posted about. The big one is that I quit my editing job and am now teaching 6 hours a week at Sam's school. Except that I haven't really quit yet because they haven't found anyone to replace me. So, instead of working less, I'm working more. But only until the middle of October and then I'll be done!

The other new thing is that I'm seeing a new Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor. He's really amazing. I feel really blessed to have found him.

Life is good.


25 Random Things about the Simmons Family

We were asked to do a little spotlight for ourselves for our branch newsletter. We decided to do the facebook 25 Random things format. So here are 25 Random Things about the Simmons Family.

1. Matt, Carol, and Sam Simmons came to Beijing two and a half years ago.
2. They thought they would stay in Beijing for 6 months to a year but are still here and have no clear exit strategy.
3. They view this as a good thing. Most of the time.
4. Matt is an ecologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
5. Carol is a mom and does editing and teaching part time.
6. Sam is 8 years old.
7. Carol doesn’t want to tell her age.
8. Sam’s Chinese is pretty good and he sometimes acts as an interpreter for his parents whose Chinese is pretty bad.
9. Sam does a good job at translating except when his teacher at school tells his mom that he needs to do more homework. Then his response is “ting bu dong.”
10. Matt and Carol met at BYU.
11. They have been married for 11 or so years. (Who’s counting?)
12. They recently took a family vacation to Thailand and loved it so much that they want to go back again. Soon.
13. Matt’s calling is in the Elder’s Quorum
14. Carol’s calling is in the Primary.
15. Sam’s calling is to give Sister Ricks hugs.
16. They live in the most beautiful spot in all of Beijing.
17. They can see the Beijing Botanical Garden out of their kitchen window.
18. They often have dinners in the botanical garden or just take walks in the cool evenings.
19. They like to read books out loud together as a family.
20. Carol’s favorite pastime is making pies.
21. Matt’s favorite pastime is fishing.
22. Sam’s favorite pastimes are playing Wii and reading.
23. Their family has a fantasy (American) football league which they won two years ago and took second place last year.
24. They don't watch football.
25. They love the Beijing branch and can't think of more wonderful people to be with.


25 Random Things

You know that facebook note where everyone wrote 25 random things about themselves? I was tagged multiple times, but never posted it. Well, here is my list. Finally.

1. I hate raw meat. I hate it. I love cooked meat. Love it.
2. I secretly believe that I have the best husband in the world and I wish all women could have a man in their life just like him.
3. I have a maid and cook. Some days I give her the day off because I want to be lazy and hang around in my pajamas and eat peanut butter sandwiches.
4. I loved living in China for the first little while, and then I hated it. Now I love it again and don’t want to leave. I get culture shock when I visit the U.S.
5. I love to eat healthy food. Spinach, dry toast, and the like taste good to me.
6. I also love to eat not-so-healthy food. But it has to be really good like a homemade pie or Dove chocolate. I once heard that it is no use wasting good calories on bad food.
7. I used to be surprised when people from countries outside the U.S. said that American food is too sweet. Now I agree and I cut down the sugar in a lot of my recipes.
8. I think I could eat Chinese/Asian food for the rest of my life.
9. I think most things (except Chinese food) taste better with a little cheese or Nutella.
10. There is nothing I love more than being with my family. My husband and I sometimes dream of working together. Too bad our fields of study don’t match!
11. When I married my husband I told him I’d follow him anywhere in the world except Texas. Three years later we moved to Texas. I loved it.
12. Phlegm is NOT my friend. I keep my phlegm to myself and I wish other people would show the same courtesy.
13. One of my favorite dates is listening to NPR online while cuddling and eating popcorn with my husband. Kevin Kling is my favorite storyteller.
14. People are fascinating and wonderful—every last one of them.
15. I have always wanted to travel and live all over the world. Living in the U.S. does not appeal to me right now—even though I love my country.
16. I can see both sides of almost every political issue and most of the time I can’t quite decide who is right or who I agree with. There are only a few issues I am set on and they don’t align with any one single political party in the U.S.
17. I have a master’s degree in U.S. History but I really don’t know anything. I do love the Civil Rights Movement, though, with all its facets.
18. I wish I could take all my undergraduate classes again just so I could remember it all.
19. I am thinking of another Master’s or Ph.D. Heaven help me.
20. I am surprised by how much I love my son’s pet turtle and hamster.
21. I wrote this and then edited it and then let it sit and then edited it again before I finally posted it. I almost never got it posted. This is the story of my life.
22. My parents are wonderful people with hearts of gold. I can only hope to be as good of parents as they are.
23. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to public squatters in China.
24. I start wearing long underwear when the weather dips below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
25. I can eat three pomegranates in one sitting and enjoy every bite.


The Last of Thailand

>> Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Here are the last pictures from Thailand. I haven't put them chronologically, but I hope you'll forgive me. Maybe for the next vacation.

Fire dancers

We watched fire dancers for our first night on the beach. There were mats laid on the sand with music playing. People came and went as they pleased. I love this picture because you can see the soot marks on his shoulders and clothes. These guys were a little crazy with the fire.

In the video, you'll see a dog wandering around. There are dogs like this all over the island. Some are strays and some are pets. It was a little freaky because they were everywhere and we were really afraid of rabies and other pet diseases. There was one that was terrifying that followed us for a while. His fur had all fallen out and his skin was covered with white scabs. He was begging for food. We didn't really want him around! Some of the dogs, like the one in the video, were o.k., though.

We went to a local Thai branch for church on Sunday. People were so welcoming. It was all in Thai, so we didn't understand anything, but one of the missionaries translated for us. You know, it felt just the same as in China or in the U.S. or in Europe. The same people (some humble, some wealthy, some a little crazy, some fun) are all over the world. And most of all, the same spirit is there, no matter what language.

Jim Thompson's houseJim Thompson was an American who came to Thailand as an expat some time after WWII. He saw the beauty of Thai silk and decided to export it. He built a fortune living in Thailand and selling the silk overseas. One day, he went wandering in the jungle and was never heard from again. No body, no stories. Nothing. But his house is still there. And while he was alive, he filled it with one of the best collections of Asian art in the world. He has pieces dating from the 6th century B.C. (As you will soon see). If you visit Bangkok, visit this place.

This is his living room. He took traditional Thai architecture and art and mixed it with European styles.
And this picture, I had Matt take while we were waiting for our tour. When I was in Europe, I took a lot of pictures with statues. It was kind of my fun thing to do. So, when I saw this figure without a head, I had Matt take a picture. Later, in the tour, I found out it was a 6th Century B.C. Buddha. The head had been removed during one of Thailand's wars. I didn't realize I was desecrating religion and history simultaneously! So sorry!

But, just to let you know, I don't think I even touched the statue when I took the picture.

We passed this little rug shop on the way back to the hotel from Jim Thompson's house. It was full of Pakistani rugs. They were so beautiful I just had to go in the shop. I really wanted to buy one, but Matt was the voice of reason. (Where would it fit in our luggage and our budget?!) *sigh* He was right, but sometimes I wish I could go back and get one. Next time.

The Grand Palace is truly amazing. We were dazzled by all of the glitz. I have been to a lot of places in the world, and this is one of the most amazing. The amount of shining glass is not to be believed. It was a clear day with blue sky and the buildings almost matched the brightness of the sun.
We couldn't take pictures inside this part of the palace, so this is the gilded outside of the temple looking into the Emerald Buddha (which is really jade). You can kind of see it at the very top, middle of the picture. The Emperor of Thailand changes the Buddha's clothes to reflect the season. It is one of the most holy (if not the most holy) places in Thailand.

These two pictures (above and below) are of a building that is completely covered in millions of mirrored gold glass pieces. It is amazing. The sunshine reflecting off the surface was blinding. Sam has my sunglasses on. We all needed them!

This building is covered millions of different colored pieces of mirrored glass. I can't imagine how many people it took to do this. The whole building is covered in intricate designs.

And, in the middle of all the gilded glory, there was a pot with a lotus flower covered with bees. I thought of the scripture: "Consider the lilies of the field."

Sam loves this picture of him running away from the figure at the Grand Palace. He came up with the pose himself. The figures really look frightening, but I think they are just supposed to guard the palace from evil, not 8 year old boys.

I call these Dr. Seuss trees.

We were walking to another part of the temple when someone stopped and asked if we wanted to visit a monk. Sure, of course, we said. We were shown in to this room. The monk, to our surprise, began to bless us. They asked Matt and Sam to hold their hands in this prayer position and then the monk said prayers while sprinkling them with water. You can see the look on Matt's face a little. He's expecting another face full of water. We didn't know when we agreed to see the monk that we would have to pay for the blessing. But, alas, we were asked to put money in the monk's basket. I hope we put enough to earn our blessing!

After our blessing, we all got these our our wrists. I think it shows that we are protected by the monk's blessing.

I love how these Buddhas are all in a row. It is so peaceful.

The two pictures above show Wat Pho (a.k.a. the big Buddha) in Bangkok. It's something like 46 meters long and 15 meters high. Cameras really don't capture the size. On the bottom of it's feet were hundreds of mother of pearl inlaid pictures. This is considered a very holy place.

A view from the Chao Praya River. This is the main river that runs through Bangkok. It is really muddy but it is how many people travel through the city. It's quite cheap and fun. These are people's houses.

Riding on the back of the truck on the way back to Bangkok. It was really fun to get around this way. Not safe, but fun.

This is the biggest gecko I have ever seen! He graced our bungalow our first night. And, yes, our bungalow was called the Lucky House. How apropos.

The beautiful beach where we spent most of our time. I could kick myself for not getting pictures of us at the beach, snorkeling. But the camera was in the bungalow and we were having too much fun. So, the memories will just have to be in our hearts. We took this picture in the truck on the way back to the mainland.

Sam on the beach. We ate at this restaurant for every meal. They had amazing food: hand-squeezed orange juice and pineapple for breakfast, hamburgers for lunch, Thai chicken shish-ka-bobs for dinner.

Sam and Matt didn't put enough sun screen on. They both ended up with pretty bad sunburns. I (ironically--because I always get the sunburn with my fair skin) didn't get a sunburn. I am so paranoid of the sun that I put on sun screen and wore cover-ups all the time. Just look at Sam's face that says, "Ouch!"

The ladies at the restaurant loved Sam and were nice enough to give us an aloe clipping so I could put it on his sunburn. Next time I'm going to be just as paranoid for Sam and Matt as I was for myself. No sunburns for any of us!


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