Christmas with The Ishidas

I traveled for almost the entire month of November so I felt largely unprepared for Christmas this year. I decided, for my own sanity, to skip the advent calendar that I made last year and we bought our tree from a lot instead of a u-cut farm. I also had trouble sending gifts to Australia in time so my family will have the fun of opening a few late presents. Even our elf was too exhausted to move to different locations in the house every night. I know how he felt.

Still, we managed to squeeze in a few fun Christmas activities and Christmas Day was the relaxing, pajama day that we’ve become used to with just the four of us.

Here’s a look at the lead up to Christmas 2013, Ishida-style. Of course, I never take photos of the day itself. Even my camera needed to take a break over the holiday.

Thomas made this elf hat by himself.

Someone made sure the downtown sculptures were dressed for the weather.

Christmas Eve – Samurais at the Portland Art Museum. Off theme just a little, but a fun family activity.

And, finally, a foggy walk through the park before the children were all snuggled up in their beds.

Merry Christmas!

Postcard From Beijing: The Great Wall of China

Here’s what went through my head while walking along the Great Wall of China:

“I can’t believe I’m walking the Great Wall of China”

“It looks just like I’ve seen in photographs, but bigger”

“It’s so beautiful I have to take a picture”

“Oh, look at that view, I have to take another picture”

“And now it’s even more beautiful. I need another picture…”

“Wow, I really AM walking on the Great Wall of China”.

…You get the idea.

So, behold, just a small sampling of the approximately 500 photographs I took of every little nook and cranny of the Mutianyu section of The Great Wall of China, including the souvenir selling mania that followed.

We took a wrong turn and accidentally started walking up the Great Wall instead of meeting our friend at the gondola. After we realized our mistake, we started walking down and saw this sign. I think it means “Come back again”.

No, we did not walk up to the top – don’t judge. Although we did walk down.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I traveled to Beijing with two colleagues – Kara and Allyson. Kara had a connection in Beijing through her parents and so we were incredibly blessed that Lee (pictured with us below) and her friend were available to take us to the Great Wall. Lee and her husband live part of the year in Beijing and part of the year in Washington state. She was so incredibly sweet and so generous with her time. I doubt we would have made it to the Great Wall if Lee had not been there to take us.

After hiking about 1.5 miles along the top of the wall, we walked back down through souvenir central to get some lunch. Now, I am not comfortable with bartering but apparently that’s what you have to do here. I’m even less comfortable bartering in Chinese so, thankfully, I had Lee there to help me out. While I avoided the fake Columbia gloves, I did walk away with a couple of small dragon figurines for the boys and panda stacking dolls which I gave to a friend’s daughter in Tokyo. I feel comfortable that I managed to get a bargain price on all of my items but, honestly, it’s hard for me to calculate Dollars into Yuan so who really knows.

Finally, we stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant at the base of the wall. You know your food is fresh when you see this as you walk in the door.

10 minutes later…

What a wonderful day. We were blessed with blue (pollution-free) skies, great company and the kind of leg pain that reminds you of your experience  through the following day. Truly once in a lifetime.

Postcard From Beijing: Hutong Tour, Dr. Tea and The Silk Museum

Amidst the pre-Christmas insanity and the general craziness of getting back to real life, my trip to Beijing now feels like a lifetime ago. It’s times like this when I find myself feeling incredibly grateful for the fact that I take a lot of photographs – and a little sad about the trips I took before I discovered my passion for photography that are not so well documented.

My work trip to Beijing included a weekend so my colleagues, Kara and Allyson, and I had some time to check out the city. Beijing is a BIG city and, given that none of speak Chinese, we decided the best approach on Saturday morning was to take a guided tour of the historical Hutong neighborhood. The tour included travel by mini bus to Hutong, a rickshaw ride around the neighborhood and a home visit with one of the residents, a tea tasting at a government-owned teahouse and a quick stop at the Silk Museum. We also managed to sneak in a quick view of the Olympic bird nest stadium. (warning: photo overload).

Our tour of Hutong started at the Drum Tower. I would have loved to have seen more of the Drum Tower and it’s Bell Tower cousin but the down side of the tour is that you find yourself at the mercy of the tour guide schedule.

Still, the ride around Hutong was fascinating.

Our Rickshaw driver.

Hutong is an historical part of the city where families live in houses (a increasingly rare occurrence in Beijing). These houses are most typically made up of a series of rooms that surround a courtyard which means that the residents walk outside from their living room to their kitchen and then to their bedroom. I imagine it can get pretty chilly in winter.  Many of the houses also don’t have their own bathrooms so we saw signs for shared facilities around every other corner.

The tour gave us an opportunity to visit with one of the Hutong residents inside her house. We visited with a young mother who lives in one of these houses with her husband and small child. (Unfortunately I didn’t write down her name). Her parents lived with them until recently, when they decided that they would be more comfortable living in an apartment.

The family has a tradition of creating cut paper art and we were treated to a demonstration during our visit. Her work was amazing and I purchased a couple to take home.

After the paper cutting demonstration, we were invited to take a look around.

We soon left Hutong and rode in the mini bus to “Dr. Tea”, a government-owned tea house located near the Olympic stadium. Here, we were treated to a tea demonstration and sampling (which was lovely and relaxing) followed by a very strong sales pitch. I escaped by the skin of my teeth with just a tea cup and a box of Jasmine tea.

Pee pee boy made quite an impression. Thankfully they gave us one as a souvenir.

The poster advertisements outside the building were quite beautiful.

Our final stop on the tour was the Silk Museum where, I am pleased to say, I learned a thing or two.

This was first time I ever really contemplated where silk comes from. I knew it came from worms but had no idea that they collected the silk from the cocoons and that the poor little creatures sacrificed their lives  as part of the process.


Finally, we did a quick drive by of the Olympic stadium. And when I say “drive by” I mean we stopped at a viewpoint about a mile away just so I could take this photo. Still, I can say I’ve been there, right?

The Hutong part of the tour was a great way to see a part of the city that is not readily available to tourists (unless you take the tour, of course). While the rest of the tour was also interesting, there was a feeling that we were being given the hard sell at every stop. I gather the city makes a lot of money from tour groups who are willing to spend money on everything from Jasmine tea to (fake) silk purses. Our small group of three limited our spending but I wonder how many silk duvets went home with the large Russian group who toured the silk museum at the same time.

Overall though, I would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting the city with just a day or two to see the sights. Just keep a close eye on how you spend your Yuan.

Signs You Might Be in China

You wonder why you wake up in the morning with legs so sore that you can barely walk and then realize that, oh yes, it’s because you hiked  part of THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA.

You risk your life every time you catch a cab… and cross the street. You may even get kicked out of a cab because the driver doesn’t want to take you to your destination and then find yourself doing the foreigner walk of shame down a busy street in search of a much more friendly driver (and yes, we did eventually find one).

You both appreciate, and question, the local architecture.

You’re tempted to eat PROBABLY the best steak in town but decide to look for something more definite.

The restaurant menu is bigger than your head.

Peking duck!

You resist buying a few questionable souvenirs

But you make sure you haggle for the ones you do buy (and then discover later that you were negotiating for ten minutes over a 10c difference).

You unexpectedly discover what a pre-dried date looks – and tastes – like.

Surprisingly tasty – especially when they come dipped in sugar.

You happen upon some interesting building art (no further comment).

You find yourself hoping FedEx takes a little more care with your packages.

You see splashes of red around almost every corner.

Beijing! What an incredible experience.

Back soon to share about a thousand photos of the Great Wall of China and more.

Post-Travel Fog

Two weeks ago…

Last week…


  • Back at work and existing on three hours of sleep thanks to some lingering Jet Lag.
  • In denial that Xmas is three weeks away (and Kei’s birthday is next week)!
  • Proud of myself for remembering to put out Happi the elf (being unable to get back to sleep at 2:30am has some advantages)
  • Coming down from the lingering high that follows three weeks of travel to two amazing countries and the wonderful experiences that are too numerous to count.

Back soon with more stories and photos.