Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Great FireWall of China

My apologies - I know many of you visited our blog to stay abreast of our travels only to find no new postings. Some of you were concerned, but all is well - we had to deal with a blocked site (as do Blogger and Youtube) which preventing our continued postings.

We are hopeful this workaround (bypassing this Great FireWall) will allow us to consistently post and update our blog. In the meanwhile, let me share some initial impressions of Xiamen, China.

We are currently housed in a faculty apartment. It is a 2 bedroom apartment with a living room, dining room, small kitchen and bathroom. We have the 3C's - comfortable, cozy and clean(sorta) and therefore we are grateful. David is sleeping on the couch - we are trying to locate another bed for him - but so far, he is fine with it.

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Virtual tour of the apartment


Kitchens are typically small in China unlike those back home. We use gas for cooking - fairly affordable portable blue canisters delivered on mopeds. One lasts us about 3 months and costs 180 RMB (about US$60). To be on the safe side, we boil faucet water for drinking.


For now, David is sleeping on the 3-seater couch - the living room has air-conditioning...


My work desk - where I prepare my lessons for class, check emails and update the blog.


A mosquito net is certainly needed for a 'bite-free' night......


The washing machine worked well. Dryers are uncommon since clothes are hung up to dry and depending on the temps, they do dry quickly. In fact, Gerda was pleasantly surprised when clothes she hung up earlier were completely dry by the next wash cycle ended (about 30 minutes).

We enjoy eating supper at one of the university's several dining halls - the food is convenient, surprisingly affordable (the student union sets the food prices) and tasty. The campus is beautiful and the folks here are really nice.


Hey, what is there not to like, we eat out everyday, no prep work, cooking or clean up! Also, we have gotten to know the servers quite well... so well that they quiz us as to our whereabouts if we miss a meal!


These gentlemen make really tasty meat and vegetable steamed buns (pow - made of rice flour). Occassionally they slip us an extra roll when we buy extras to take home. So sweet!


We have no doubt God sent an 'angel' to help us in our transition - Terry, an alumini of Xiamen University 'happened' to visit the campus on his day off, helped us with directions to Walmart, applying for a campus card and setting up a bank account - between my half-baked Mandarin and his limited English, we were able to get things accomplished.


Sharing a meal with Terry - he helped us tremendously, smoothing the way with setting up accounts for banking, utilities, and transportation.

This morning, Sunday, we attended Xiamen International Christian Fellowship at a local hotel in Xiamen - we had to show our American passports since this church is open only to foreigners. We met several folks who went out of their way to help us and answered our numerous questions over a nice buffet lunch at the hotel where the services were held. Both Hannah and David found new friends as well. It was quite amazing to sing and hear Holy Holy Holy sung first in English followed by Mandarin; what a blessing! God's people are certainly everywhere.

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What a Friend we have in Jesus sung in Chinese!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Saigon, Vietnam

My brother Victor manages a small manufacturing company in Ho Chi Minh City. He began in 2004 and, much to his credit, now speaks fluent Vietnamese. Saigon, the capital city of the French Colony from 1862 to 1948 and renamed Ho Chi Minh in 1976, boasts 9 million inhabitants. This is a bustling city. Ho Chi Minh City is the most important economic center in Vietnam. It was hot and humid (90 degrees F) when we arrived.....

Victor, far right with his office staff - Vietnamese is mostly spoken here with some English.


Gasoline-powered mopeds are everywhere - they rule the roads - it is overwhelmingly chaotic but soon one gets used to it.


Surprisingly, there are few accidents - motorists and passengers seem to pretty much self negotiate and navigate the wild streets of Ho Chi Minh City.


Gerda and Hannah reading World Magazine on the busy street of Ho Chi Minh - notice the Vietnamese characters on the poster - don't ask me what they were saying - it is 'Greek' to me.....


War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. While it was educational, it was hard for Gerda to witness history documented in pictures and artifacts, and stories told only from the Vietnamese side. War is a terrible thing...so many lives lost.

Photo of Senator John Kerry (one-time US Presidential candidate) meeting with Vietnamese officials.

A poignant display...in light of two concurrent US-led wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.


I wonder what the Iraqi and Afghan people are thinking the same as the poster. May God grant our leaders wisdom and integrity as they deal with difficult world situations.


Weapons of war......


A grounded F-5 Northrup Tiger - as a result, a US fighter pilot was probably either captured or killed.


More captured weapons of war....

Reunification Palace - this was the residence of the President of South Vietnam before it fell to the communist regime. It was quite opulent in a 1960s sort of way - equipped with a heli pad, a dance hall with a wooden floor, a movie theater, and a basement chuck full of military- grade equipment serving as a command post to conduct the war....

Manicured lawn with working fountain.


One of many rooms to receive guests and dignitaries - red symbolizes prosperity and good luck for the Chinese/Asians.


High ceilings and wide hallways.....


I don't think you can get this carpet at your local Walmart - again red is the 'in' color with the twin dragons symbolizing power and longevity. The diameter is probably about 20 feet....


If walls could talk... I have no doubt important issues were discussed in this huge meeting room. The color - green in this case - has a soothing/calming effect. No doubt tempers flared during negotiations and discussions between the North and South Vietnamese.


The President's private family dining room


The President's private movie theater - bring your own pop-corn and favorite beverage


Netflix anyone?


The President's private helicopter - not exactly Marine One!
(This part of the roof was bombed and later on restored)

This was housed in the basement.


Can I Wi-Fi from the basement?


From long before Gerda had her Kitchen-Aid mixer. She said she has seen one of these on board the USS Yorktown (see earlier post).


Stir-fry anyone?


The President's most prized possession - I mean the Mercedes!


Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. While the majority of people (80%) in Ho Chi Minh City practice eastern religions (Buddhism/Taoism - there are numerous temples), a small percentage (Roman Catholic - 11%, Protestant - 2%) worship in churches - most notable is the somewhat smaller, twin version of the original Notre-Dame in Paris.

Statue of Mary outside Notre-Dame.


While it was not as grand as the one I visited in Paris back in 2000, it was still a beautiful church - certainly a sanctuary amid a hustling city.


The church was completed on Easter Day, April 11 1880.


Beautifully maintained stained windows.


Downtown Post Office. We visited this famous landmark where one can actually still send snail mail.

While the Post Office wasn't air-conditioned, there were several phone booths that were - a welcome respite from the sweltering heat.


These high arched ceilings allow hot air to rise, bringing some relief to both workers and customers.


Looking for Christmas stuffing stockers?


Vietnamese Pho
. One must savor this local favorite delight - rice noodles served in rich beef stock with beef, plenty of greens, touch of lime and chili peppers!!!




7up is bottled here - no cans. Seeing this brought back many childhood memories. In those days, our family drank soft drinks only once a year, during Chinese New Year, and we had to split one bottle between two -three siblings with LOTS of ice. How things have changed!


Dam Sen Water Park. Like fish to water, we needed relief from the sweltering heat. Both Hannah and David relaxing and enjoying the tidal pool



As you can tell from the background, many locals had the same idea. The water park was lined with coconut trees which provided much shade and relief as well.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Arrived in Singapore

Singapore was familiar territory for Gerda, Hannah and David - their last trip was in 2006, arriving at Terminal 1 at Changi Airport. One of these days we will arrive at Terminal 3 - we understand that United Airlines and certainly Singapore Airlines operate out of this fabulous terminal.

So how can I describe Singapore? For me it is the 3Fs - Family, Friends and Food (not necessarily in this order - just kidding).

Here's a picture of David with his "Kong Kong" - as he is affectionately called - my Dad of course!


Together again. The last time they met was in 2006, but then in the older apartment on Havelock Road ; this time in Jalan Membina.


My second sister, Cindy, was so kind and gracious to put us up at her place. She and her husband Tim, together with their family, reside in a nice house near Changi - away from the hustle and bussel of Singapore.

Picture of David at Cindy's house with her granddaughter Claire - Hannah and David playing and goofing around with their niece......that makes me a granduncle!


The To Clan - from left to right -Jeff, John, Tim, Cindy with little Claire, David, Janet (Tim's sister at her house), Hannah and Gerda.


Janet treated us to a scrumptious seafood dinner at Jumbo's - one of the most established and famous seafood restaurants in Singapore. Enjoy the pictures......


The Emperor's Delight. We were greeted with this awesome appetizer dish - boy, when was the last time you had appetizers like this - notice the statue carved out of a papaya, symbolizing a dragon. Notice the 'fencing' made out of cucumber and tomato painstakingly arranged and so well presented. We were floored!


Close up of the craved Dragon.


Singapore National Dish - Chili Crab.


Monster Claw - prized Sri Lankan Crab.


It was good to meet up with my siblings and their families again. Here's a picture near Changi Beach with my brother, Yong Soon, and sister-in-law Shirley.
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Shirley, Yong Soon, David, Gerda and Hannah at Changi Beach.


Shirley with Gerda.

At one of my favorite restaurants - Pow Sing (Chomp Chomp) at Serangoon Garden It was my sister Elaine's treat - with my Mom and Dad. The restaurant serves the ever delicious Hainanese Chicken Rice and Nonya Dishes - Gerda's all-time favorite.

With Elaine and Mom and Dad at Pow Sing.


Hannah and David with Elaine's girls - Jasmine and Jamie at the Pow Sing Restaurant.



Nonya Fish Head Curry at Pow Sing.


Hainanese Chicken Rice at Pow Sing.


Extended Mother's Day Celebration - we celebrated Mother's day with Esther's (my sister, seated in blue) family.

Her husband Lee, far left with their children, Leon, Stacey and Shawn.


Lee's Mom (far left) and his brother, Ang Kee and his wife Suzanne with their children.


Suzanne with Gerda.


At home with Alice, my sister in law, and her son. Her husband, my eldest brother, Victor, is away working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We plan to visit him the following week.


Ashley, my niece, Chloe, my grandniece, Rose, my eldest sister, and Caleb my grandnephew.