On Thursday, we packed up our bags and got on the bus for a long ride to the Great Wall. The ride was a few hours, but we broke it up with a few stops along the way to see the Badaling Wild Animal Park and Ming Tombs.

The Badaling Wild Animal Park should probably be called the “sort of wild, but not really” animal park. Like most zoos outside of the US that I’ve been to, the conditions aren’t fantastic. The local tourists throw all types of food at the animals (especially the monkeys). With that said, it wasn’t horrible and the kids did enjoy seeing the animals and you do get pretty close – when you drive through on the tour bus, the lions and tigers are walking around right outside.

The kids at the main gate of the Badaling Wild Animal Park

The kids at the main gate of the Badaling Wild Animal Park

Lions right outside our bus...

Lions right outside our bus...

... hold me Maile, I'm scared!

... hold me Maile, I'm scared!

Maile walking a little piglet

Maile walking a little piglet

Despite the lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, etc. – by far the most popular attraction at the Badaling Wild Animal Park were … the two white American kids that spoke Chinese.

After the Badaling park, we drove a bit more and stopped at the Ming Tombs. The tombs are a collection of imperial mausoleums built by the Chinese Ming dynasty emperors. There are a bunch of them and you can actually spend a good amount of time hiking around them and even going in a few. With the kids, we kept it simple and walked a bit down the Sacred Way which leads up to the Tombs and is lined on either side by huge stone statues (many of animals).

Family shot with one of the stone elephants lining the Sacred Way at the Ming Tombs

Family shot with one of the stone elephants lining the Sacred Way at the Ming Tombs

Goofing around on the stone animal statues...

Goofing around on the stone animal statues...

We learned that the red cards in the background are wishes that people brought to the Tombs...

We learned that the red cards in the background are wishes that people brought to the Tombs...

Skipping down the (not) yellow brick road...

Skipping down the (not) yellow brick road...

Maile and Her Amazing Family!

Maile and Her Amazing Family!

After running around the Tombs a bit, we finished our journey and arrived at the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, right near the Great Wall where we would spend our final two days in China. The Schoolhouse is an incredible “eco-retreat” at the base of the Great Wall. It was founded by two ex-pats. The houses we stayed in were amazing – beautiful and large – kind of had a Tahoe house-type feel to them. The complex also has a restaurant and a glass making shop – all staffed by local villagers. Michelle Obama and her daughters recently visited and had lunch there. It was really a great spot – highly recommended if you find yourself traveling to Beijing and want an incredible experience at the Great Wall!

The chalkboard at the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu that tells a bit of the story of the founding...

The chalkboard at the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu that tells a bit of the story of the founding...

The original plan was all three kids were going to sleep on this big couch bed - good plan in theory, but when game time arrived Maile wimped out :)

The original plan was all three kids were going to sleep on this big couch bed - good plan in theory, but when game time arrived Maile wimped out :)

After a long day, we headed to bed to rest up for our final day in China and a hike along the Great Wall…

(Click here for the video.)

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Meanwhile on the homefront…

by Papa K on April 21, 2014

We’ll return to the China adventures tomorrow – still a couple more days to cover – but wanted to check in with our little Lauren holding down the fort in SF with Grandma Gail and Papa Cal. We missed Lauren immensely, but the daily videos and pictures from Grandma and Papa helped. And while we are sure Lauren missed us too, it looks like she had a blast with Grandma and Papa!

(Thank you Grandma and Papa for watching our little girl!)

(Click here for the video.)

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On our last day in Beijing, we headed out to explore the hutongs, a very old residential section of Beijing that they have preserved.

All week we’ve seen huge pollen puffs floating through the air. The kids thought it was snow – it was that heavy at times. They loved playing with it – I watched in absolute horror, of course.

Mommy and Maile at the start of our Hutong tour - this was one of the wider sections...

Mommy and Maile at the start of our Hutong tour - this was one of the wider sections...

We rode rickshaws through the hutongs - it was a really cool way to get around!

We rode rickshaws through the hutongs - it was a really cool way to get around!

The kids outside the Bell Tower...

The kids outside the Bell Tower...

We had to climb ALL these stairs to get to the top - we counted - there were 70 of them.

We had to climb ALL these stairs to get to the top - we counted - there were 70 of them.

At the top we watched a Taiko drumming demonstration

At the top we watched a Taiko drumming demonstration

As part of the tour we visited with a couple families that actually live in the hutongs. The first family showed us their apartment and answered our questions – the kids even practiced their Chinese with the wife a bit. The husband was an artist and we bought one of his paintings – Maile picked it out. At the other stop, we ate a “home”-cooked meal. I put “home” in quotes as its obviously a tourist setup, but still has the feel of the hutong.

We ate lunch inside one of the hutongs where a family lives - it was pretty good!

We ate lunch inside one of the hutongs where a family lives - it was pretty good!

This guy followed us around the hutongs for about a half hour - he started off asking 80 Yuan for his flutes, we finally bought them at 15.

This guy followed us around the hutongs for about a half hour - he started off asking 80 Yuan for his flutes, we finally bought them at 15.

And then Maile and her friends put on a show and took tips to make the money back (just kidding - no tips)

And then Maile and her friends put on a show and took tips to make the money back (just kidding - no tips)

We told our guide that we wanted to get Maile a traditional Chinese outfit for Chinese New Year and other celebrations at PKS – so in the afternoon, he took us to a silk factory.

After the hutongs, we stopped at a silk factory on the way home and learned how silk worms make silk that gets turned into beautiful clothing...

After the hutongs, we stopped at a silk factory on the way home and learned how silk worms make silk that gets turned into beautiful clothing...

This is the machine that extracts the fine silk threads from the cocoons.

This is the machine that extracts the fine silk threads from the cocoons.

And here is some of the silk that eventually becomes the stuffing for a blanket.

And here is some of the silk that eventually becomes the stuffing for a blanket.

For our final evening in Beijing, we stayed up a bit late and headed to a Kung Fu Show. Even with some scary parts, Maile loved it and we made sure to take some pictures with the stars of the show afterwards.

Mommy and Maile outside the Kung Fu show - the building looked like it was on fire!

Mommy and Maile outside the Kung Fu show - the building looked like it was on fire!

Maile with a couple of the stars of the show...

Maile with a couple of the stars of the show...

(Click here for the video.)

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On Tuesday, we headed over to the biggest tourist destinations on our itinerary – Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Our guide, Grant, had warned us that there would be A LOT of walking – and he was right, but he did a great job pacing things and I’m happy to report that Maile walked on her own two feet the whole way!

The kids had a lot of fun running around and exploring – it was like being inside a huge castle. And we took lots and lots of pictures. Oh, and Maile went flying too (see below).

The kids got things started off with this fun picture across the street from Tiananmen Square.

The kids got things started off with this fun picture across the street from Tiananmen Square.

Maile has been using an iPod Touch throughout the trip to snap her own photos as well.

Maile has been using an iPod Touch throughout the trip to snap her own photos as well.

The kids are REALLY popular with the Chinese tourists. They love taking pictures with them, especially Maile and her friend Teo (the two whitest looking of the kids). The kids have been pretty good sports – we break it up if it gets too crazy, but generally speaking the kids like it and the tourists love it. When Maile and Teo then start speaking to them in Chinese … minds blown.

What? You haven't taken a picture yet with the famous Maile Girl? Get in line! 20 Yuan!

What? You haven't taken a picture yet with the famous Maile Girl? Get in line! 20 Yuan!

A rare Mommy and Daddy shot - yep, we're here too!

A rare Mommy and Daddy shot - yep, we're here too!

After roaming around Tiananmen Square for a bit and a well-timed bathroom break, we headed in to the Forbidden City…

Family shot at one of the gates in the Forbidden City

Family shot at one of the gates in the Forbidden City

Maile Girl at the Forbidden City

Maile Girl at the Forbidden City

Maile and Daddy taking it all in!

Maile and Daddy taking it all in!

Mommy and Maile too!

Mommy and Maile too!

Everybody was kung fu fighting...

Everybody was kung fu fighting...

The 'Step on a crack' game is pretty challenging here...

The 'Step on a crack' game is pretty challenging here...

If you look close at this panorama, you can see Maile and Daddy on both sides - we had a lot of fun running back and forth creating this!

If you look close at this panorama, you can see Maile and Daddy on both sides - we had a lot of fun running back and forth creating this!

If you liked the first round of dress up, you’ll love this one. Not only did Maile and Mommy dress up, but I have in my possession a DVD of them flying over the Forbidden City that was made using blue screen. Let the cheese of that drip all over you.

Oh, you didn't think the dress up part would slip by Maile did you?

Oh, you didn't think the dress up part would slip by Maile did you?

And this time Mommy and Maile dressed up AND went flying! Yes, we have a DVD of Maile and Mommy flying over the Forbidden City. Yes, it as cheesy as it sounds - and Maile loved it!

And this time Mommy and Maile dressed up AND went flying! Yes, we have a DVD of Maile and Mommy flying over the Forbidden City. Yes, it as cheesy as it sounds - and Maile loved it!

One more kung fu fighting shot before we go...

One more kung fu fighting shot before we go...

After a good workout roaming all over, we headed to a Mongolian Hot Pot restaurant for lunch.

Mommy enjoying some Mongolian Hot Pot...

Mommy enjoying some Mongolian Hot Pot...

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel for some swimming and then a 30 minute nap that somehow turned into one and a half hours (blame Daddy). We were groggy, but we headed out for some dinner. We went to Made in China – and it was the best meal we’ve had so far. The restaurant was really cool too – an open kitchen with glass dividers so Maile could watch everything being made.

Maile Girl checking out our dumplings being made at Made in China restaurant...

Maile Girl checking out our dumplings being made at Made in China restaurant...

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On Monday, we decided to mix things up a bit. Instead of seeing the typical tourist sites we went to visit a school and then headed over to an area of town where ex-pats hang out.

One of the striking things about WAB was the art work they had hung up all over the buildings - these were done by 3rd or 4th graders and they were absolutely beautiful...

One of the striking things about WAB was the art work they had hung up all over the buildings - these were done by 3rd or 4th graders and they were absolutely beautiful...

The school we visited was Western Academy of Beijing (WAB). My favorite teacher growing up was my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Hite. We actually kept in touch over the years (after I was in her class, she became quite close with my family). After teaching in Swampscott for a number of years she headed abroad and started working at international schools, including in Beijing. She’s not here in Beijing any longer, but when I was planning the trip I reached out to see if she could recommend a school for us to visit and she pointed us to WAB and introduced me to the Head of Early Childhood Education and the Elementary School.

WAB starts in pre-school and goes all the way through high school. The campus is pretty incredible – any type of facility you could want for a school, they had it. The students are mainly ex-pats – you need to have at least one parent with an international visa to be able to attend (Chinese government rules). This makes for a pretty international and interesting student population – also one that has a lot of turnover as typical ex-pat assignments are 2-4 years. In fact, while the school teaches Chinese, it is not immersion – the language pathways would be pretty difficult to manage with such a changing student population.

Like Presidio Knolls, the preschool is Reggio-inspired – in fact, our kids immediately felt right at home in the preschool classrooms and started engaging with the various projects the kids had made and with the teachers.

Maile Girl in her element at the arts and crafts table...

Maile Girl in her element at the arts and crafts table...

The PKS kids checking out the marble mazes made by the preschool WAB students...

The PKS kids checking out the marble mazes made by the preschool WAB students...

One thing that was immediately clear while at the school was how much the smog and air quality was a part of every day life. Even the youngest kids knew the pollution levels. On the day we visited, the smog level was quite high (over 300 AQI). 300 is basically the worst, most hazardous level. On days like this, all outdoor activities at the school are cancelled. We sat in on a Kindergarten class and the pollution level was one of the things they covered in the morning meeting time.

Stretching out the legs on one of the many outdoor fields...

Stretching out the legs on one of the many outdoor fields...

... that certainly weren't going to be getting much use that day due to the pollution.

... that certainly weren't going to be getting much use that day due to the pollution.

Posing with Teddy Roosevelt statue with Michelle and Olivia

Posing with Teddy Roosevelt statue with Michelle and Olivia

Even though one day in the pollution wasn’t the end of the world, we decided to adjust our plans for the rest of the day and do some indoor activities instead of hitting the park like we intended. Our host at WAB recommended an indoor playground called FunDazzle, so we decided to check that out. It was perfect for the kids – basically a huge indoor play structure with the biggest ball pit we’ve ever seen. The kids had a blast!

The FunDazzle indoor playground - yeah, this will do for an hour of wearing the kids out a bit!

The FunDazzle indoor playground - yeah, this will do for an hour of wearing the kids out a bit!

Biggest. Ball Pit. Ever.

Biggest. Ball Pit. Ever.

After running them ragged, we continued our ex-pat adventure, by heading over to a local italian restaurant (Annie’s) that lets the kids make their own mini pizzas. We had a nice lunch and then headed back to the hotel for our favorite afternoon activity – the pool!

Daddy and Maile after our afternoon swim - we LOVE swimming!

Daddy and Maile after our afternoon swim - we LOVE swimming!

All in all, a fun day. The school was pretty incredible. I was definitely jealous of all the great space they had; but decidedly not jealous of the smog and what an impact it has on day-to-day life here.

(Click here for the video.)

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Maile Girl outside our hotel before we begin our first adventure!

Maile Girl outside our hotel before we begin our first adventure!

On Sunday, we headed out for our first site of the trip, the Temple of Heaven. The temple is where the emperor used to go to pray for a good harvest. Surrounding the Temple is a park where local residents come to exercise, meet and chat. They played all types of interesting games including a version of Tai Chi with a paddle and ball that was incredibly graceful and fun to watch.

The kids watching the Chinese playing a Tai Chi game with a paddle and ball - the partners move the ball from person-to-person without letting it drop. Quite graceful!

The kids watching the Chinese playing a Tai Chi game with a paddle and ball - the partners move the ball from person-to-person without letting it drop. Quite graceful!

After taking in the sites at the surrounding park, we headed up to the main attraction…

Maile and Mommy with the Temple of Heaven in the distance.

Maile and Mommy with the Temple of Heaven in the distance.

Maile and Daddy at the top!

Maile and Daddy at the top!

Maile with Jamie, her classmate that is on the trip with us...

Maile with Jamie, her classmate that is on the trip with us...

Come on Jamie, let's see if we can push this over...

Come on Jamie, let's see if we can push this over...

I love this picture - shows the scale of the Temple...

I love this picture - shows the scale of the Temple...

Awwww :)

Awwww :)

Maile Girl all dressed up in traditional garb...

Maile Girl all dressed up in traditional garb...

Not amused about dressing up by herself...

Not amused about dressing up by herself...

... when your little girl asks if you'll get dressed up with her, you oblige ;)

... when your little girl asks if you'll get dressed up with her, you oblige ;)

Daddy suggested this pose (of course)

Daddy suggested this pose (of course)

After roaming all over the Temple of Heaven, we went for a traditional Chinese lunch. So far the food has been quite good and we’ve managed to find stuff that Maile would eat (tofu, noodles, dumplings). We had one of her teachers write out that she was allergic to nuts and seeds and it’s actually come in helpful a few times.

After lunch we went back to the hotel and hit the pool. The kids LOVE the pool. I’m a little afraid that when asked about China, they might just rave about the pool ;) Every afternoon that we’ve been here, we go for a dip in the afternoon.

After the pool we took a nap and then headed out for dinner at Da Dong Roast Duck – we had a private room for our group and a delicious meal highlighted by Daddy’s favorite Roast/Peking Duck. The kids started dropping one-by-one during the meal due to jet lag, so afterwards we headed home for a good night’s sleep. Maile has done better sleeping each night we’ve been here – still waking in the middle of the night, but going back down after about 30-45 minutes.

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On Friday, we jumped in a car and headed to the airport to begin our trip to China! For the next 8 days we’ll be in Beijing and the Great Wall. We have a great itinerary planned and look forward to sharing the highlights (and perhaps some lowlights ;) of Maile’s first trip to China!

We tried to explain how long the flight was to Maile, but she doesn’t quite grasp the concept of time yet. Even saying “24 episodes of the Fresh Beat Band” or “8 viewings of Frozen” didn’t really register, although she did agree to do her best to prove whether we were right or not.

All packed up and ready to rock - Maile Girl before the flight...

All packed up and ready to rock - Maile Girl before the flight...

My favorite part of the flight was definitely when Maile stood on her seat and shouted for the whole cabin, “We’re almost in China!” … a good effort to generate some excitement for our impending arrival, but, unfortunately, we had 7 hours still to go. Maile did great on the flight though – she watched Frozen, did some origami with Mommy, colored a bunch, visited with her friends and even got about 3 hours of sleep.

... and Maile's first picture in China at the Beijing airport. A little travel weary for sure and not quite sure and still shaking off some sleep from the flight...

... and Maile's first picture in China at the Beijing airport. A little travel weary for sure and not quite sure and still shaking off some sleep from the flight...

Everything went smooth with our arrival. We are traveling with 3 other families and there are 5 kids total – all rising Kindergarteners or 1st graders at Presidio Knolls. They get along fantastic so far and they worked out some second and third wind energy at the airport running around all over while the adults got things organized.

We were met at the airport by a woman from the tour agency we hired. Her name was Alice and Maile and she became fast friends. She quizzed the kids a bit in Mandarin and while they started out shy, after a few minutes they were responding and chatting a bit.

Maile and Alice, who works with the tour company we are using. Not a huge surprise, but Maile made fast friends with her - quite the charmer our little girl!

Maile and Alice, who works with the tour company we are using. Not a huge surprise, but Maile made fast friends with her - quite the charmer our little girl!

We got our first taste of Beijing traffic on the way to the hotel, took about an hour and saw many random accidents along the way. Our hotel is fantastic, the Marriott Imperial Mansion. It’s centrally located and the rooms are really nice. After unpacking a bit, we decided to push Maile a bit to try to get on local time as much as possible and headed out to explore a bit and find some dinner. Our hotel is just off Wangfujing (the “Walking Street”) Street. It’s kind of like multiple huge malls crossed with Times Square. You walk down the middle of the main street drag (all pedestrian walking, no cars) and lined on each side our huge stores and malls – all the famous brand names you would expect plus a number of Chinese ones you’ve never heard of. Not sure it was the best spot to go in search of food, but eventually we realized that like all malls, there were food courts/restaurants on one of the floors. They had all types of restaurants, we ended up at an Udon place – seemed like it would be a little easier to order and a way to ease into things. So yes, our first meal in China was … Udon.

Mommy and Maile exploring Wangfujing in search of dinner...

Mommy and Maile exploring Wangfujing in search of dinner...

Our first meal in China - Udon - easing in to things ;)

Our first meal in China - Udon - easing in to things ;)

After the meal, Maile began crashing hard, so Daddy and Mommy took turns carrying her back to the hotel. We were all pretty exhausted from the day, so everyone (even Daddy) went to bed by 8:30 PM local time. We slept great … until 2 AM – at which point Maile Girl was up and at ‘em and ready to begin her day. Daddy was pretty jetlagged too, so we got up and worked on our journal for about an hour.

Writing about our trip to China in our journal ... at 2 AM

Writing about our trip to China in our journal ... at 2 AM

Hard at work on our journal...

Hard at work on our journal...

After that Mommy woke up for a bit and read some books with Maile and then we somehow convinced her to try to go back to sleep. So at 4 AM, she closed her eyes again and managed to sleep for another couple of hours. Not bad actually – think we did an okay job navigating the crazy jetlag.

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Off to China!

by Papa K on April 11, 2014

We’re off to China! Going to be quite the adventure. Not sure if we’ll be writing as we go – we’ll need to play it by ear. But will be sure to share all the fun details when we can!

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Lauren’s 15 Month Check-up

by Papa K on April 9, 2014

Mommy took Lauren to the doctor today for her 15 month check-up. She’s doing great – 19 lbs and 29 inches – a very proportional 35% for both.

Our very happy and healthy 15 month old!

Our very happy and healthy 15 month old!

Christine also captured this video which made me realize how people likely get sick. If you watch close, you’ll see the drool at the end too which is pretty much the icing on the cake.

Moral of the story: beware of the tissues at the doctor’s office!

(Click here for the video.)

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(* I had to look it up, but figured Auntie Elyssa would appreciate the reference…)

Maile has invented a new type of ice cream cone made entirely of a strawberry and a rasberry. It’s delicious, but goes pretty quick – two bites. Luckily, those strawberries and rasberries usually come along with friends ;)

(Click here for the video.)

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