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#TopSecret (part 2)

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#TopSecret (part 2)

When last we left our heroes they were in the sunny Maldives, having gotten a job offer for London and apparently deciding (twice!) to get married….

So, how does one end up in Chicago in Winter to get married? Well… We started under the assumption that we would need witnesses and we have some very dear friends in Chicago. Greg was a friend of Paul’s from long ago, and Lisa and Len went to LSU with me. We actually thought we were going to do a courthouse wedding and then a big dinner with a few friends and family. After some research we found out that witnesses were not needed but we liked the idea of Chicago because it was an easy hub of travel for family and for us coming all the way from Singapore. And with that Chicago was set.

Because we were keeping the wedding to a small affair we did not want to do a big announcement until it was all done. At the same time, as you recall, I’m lousy about keeping happy secrets….So #topsecret2 was born. We only told a few friends whom we invited and then our friends in Singapore under orders to keep things off Facebook.

It’s now September and we having a wedding, a job offer, but no start date… The problem is that Paul is too popular🙂 His current boss did not want to let him go until a new hire could be found and trained by Paul. Of course it’s hard to set a date and make reservations until that’s all done. Added to that is that before we go to the London we wanted to get married so that adds time to the planning as well. So we waited. and waited. and waited.

November comes and a replacement was found and the  clock started ticking on our planning. January 18 was set as our departure date to head to Chicago, get married, apply for our visas and then get to London for Feb 11. Easy right?

Luckily as I said, we were doing a very simple ceremony and reception which meant for low drama and stress. Our friend Greg was kind enough to help us get a room at the University Club which was super close to the hotel we were all staying at. We ended up in the bar lounge which was set up with lounge chairs and tables and had a nice relaxed feel to it.

But, lest you think this was stress free, there was one hic-up. It seems the same weekend we decide to get married is the same weekend DC gets a nutso, crazy snowstorm. DC gets some snow, but this was big one and it shut down the airports! Alas, this means that several of our friends who were coming from DC were not  able to get out in time and could not make it to the wedding😦 Now, in the big world of ‘odds’ you would assume that Chicago would have been the one to get a storm, but no, the Universe had other plans this time. This was of course a major downer as we only invited a few people and were sad they could not attend our celebration.

The other irony of that is that had we done the wedding in DC many of our family would not have been able to attend. So, despite some complaints about a Winter wedding in Chicago (ahem, I’m looking at you Mom🙂 ) it turns out it was a good thing we choose Chicago as our family was able to be there to celebrate this happy occasion.

So, wedding done, visa obtained, here we are in London. I wonder if I can change the blog name?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#TopSecret (part 1)

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So, big apologies, I have been completely remiss in my updates. I’ve got some good (and some not so good ) excuses for being away. Lots of changes in our lives the past few months. We’ll have to get back to China adventures with Aunt Mac in a bit.

First off the big, exciting, super awesome, happy fun time news….Paul and I are Married!!!!!!

That’s in part because of our other big news, we have moved to London!!!!

Those two event are intertwined so bear with me for a bit of a story…..

We had been planning on moving in 2016, with the idea we were headed to Seattle. Why Seattle? Why not? We visited a few years ago and liked it (it was the pre Singapore destination in fact) But then, over dinner out with co-workers Paul found out about a job opening in London. Now, in the past when discussing places to move expensive cities were always ruled out, so no to NYC, and no to London. Paul came home and we talked about it, but felt no, London was not the place for us. This went on for a few days until one Wednesday morning, Paul says, are we sure London is a No? Well, over a bowl of Cheerios we decided, what the heck, let’s do it! and Paul put in that morning for the position. Really, it was like that. A week of no, it’s not for us, to OK, let’s do it, just like that. And the saga started.

One of the key factors in our decision was that un-married partners could come on the type of Visa Paul was getting and thus I could work. Great! So the interview process starts. And it continues. And continues. And Continues…….you can go grab a cup of coffee if you like, cause it Continues for quite some time. This was in August.

As some of you may or may not know, I am notorious about having trouble keeping secrets. This is especially true about happy secrets as I love hearing and sharing good news. So, after the second interview, I was BUSTING to tell someone about the news, but Paul was much more reserved about sharing until the ink was dry on the new offer and since that goal was taking FOREVER I was really having trouble keeping this under wraps. So…I had start telling someone so I started telling people, but then told them it was #topsecret and they could not tell anyone. Now the problem with that is that I did not tell just one person. I told a LOT of people, and soon #topsecret was the #worstkeptsecret in town! sigh. A career in the CIA is not in the cards for me.

Time marches on the corporate wheels slowly turn and low and behold Paul gets the job! (well done sweetie). We are now in September. As a side note, what felt like an eternity for us apparently was considered ‘a fast track’ by the corporate team. Is this what Einstein by time being relative?

So, next step, visa applications. We speak with a visa consultant and he says for unmarried partners we need to provide some original documents that show our intertwined lives. Easy enough we think, we own property together, have joint bank accounts, ect. We look into getting past statements from the bank and the consultant drops this bombshell on us. When he said original, he means ORIGINAL. As in the ones that come in the mail. As in W.T.F.?! first off, most of that comes by email in this day in age, and second, who keeps two years of records?! sigh. So, slightly panicked, we ask what happens if we are married? Oh, that’s easy we are told, 10 days application, review, and approval barring any problems. But, he says, no need to panic just yet, let’s see what we can do. So, about this time, we have unexpected holiday in Singapore due to elections (elections are a public holiday there) and Paul was able to get us a room a the Conrad in Maldives. That Friday before we leave, we are having dumplings at Din Tai Fung. Hemming and hawing about what the visa guy had just told us, I finally laid down the law. 1) either we are able to use documents that we can obtain easily to prove our un-married status or 2)

this is when Paul interrupts me and says “or we cancel London and head to Seattle” I kid you not, that was his suggestion. Keep in mind, he’s been offered and accepted the job at this point….

I say, no! 2) we get married and be done with it. Of course we are not going to abandon London. Now eat your dumpling and stop being silly.

Now, I know, that’s is not the most (or even close) romantic thing. Really, I do. It reads worse than it really was, I promise. We had talked about marriage on and off for some time, but since we could not in Singapore, and it only became legal nationwide in the US in 2015, I think we assumed when we headed back to the USA we would tie the knot. This just pushed our plans up some. Keep in mind we have been together for 13 years, so we weren’t going anywhere at point🙂

So, the next day we head off to Maldives. More on that later. Saturday morning we wake up and as we head to breakfast, Paul says to me, he says “come on let’s go to breakfast and we can start planning the wedding”

Wait, what?

What do you mean? Planning the wedding?

He says, yeah, we talked last night, about getting married right?

At this point I’m quite confused. I said yes, that was Plan B. He tells me Oh,I did not think Plan A would work, I figured we would go on to Plan B and get married.

Me at this point: ‘WE’RE GETTING MARRIED?!” I repeat that a few more times before giving him a big kiss.

Seriously, this is how it happened. Over Din Tai Fung soup dumplings and before breakfast at the Conrad Maldives. Sigh.

So, now we are engaged and Paul has as new job. It’s all down hill from here right?

Coming soon…part 2 AKA who in their right mind gets married in Chicago in January and the birth of #topsecret2

Temple of Heaven and Dragon Empress Summer Palace

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Temple of Heaven and Dragon Empress Summer Palace

Our next day with Lucy was one of my faves. We went to the Temple of Heaven first thing in the morning. The temple itself was quite nice, but what was great to see was the big park surrounding it. There were groups of people everywhere doing dancing, Tai Chi, playing cards, dancing with swords, playing some kind of game where you toss a ball back and forth with a flat paddle, all sorts of stuff. It was really great to see so many people out in the park having a nice time and being active.

After that we went to the Summer Palace of the Dragon Empress. It was an amazing location along a lake with nice landscaping and architecture. Not too bad a place to get away from it all I suppose🙂

Forbidden City

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Forbidden City

After the Great Wall, we hit the Forbidden City the next day. It really was a city. The site is HUGE and we spent a 1/2 day just walking the small parts that we saw. For me, it was enough. But You could spend 2 days there easily I think if you were a real history buff.

We started at Tienanmen Square and aside from knowing the history, there’s not much to see there to be honest. It’s a big open paved area with government buildings on each side.

Opposite from that is the Forbidden City, inside are the richly decorated buildings and architecture that you would expect. Gate after Gate, courtyard after courtyard, it just kept going. Everything about it was arranged based on running the country and the government system, so it was interesting to learn about the different functions of the buildings and how far into the center you could reach based on your rank.

We had a nice walk home to the hotel and stopped once again from some great food, including more Delicious Eggplant which Aunt Mac was loving😉

The great wall, and the Dragin’ Ladies

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The great wall, and the Dragin’ Ladies

Next up was the Big Event, The Great Wall.

Luckily our dear friend Charles had put us in contact with a tour guide while we were there. Here name is Lucy and she turned out to be quite fabulous! A young lady, she had a great grasp of English with not only translations, but also the meanings. So she did not just repeat what she knew she was actually quite good at having a conversation. Aunt Mac was smitten I think, and Lucy certainly dotted on Aunt Mac as well. Lucy quickly figured out who was calling the shots in our group…..she affectionately said Aunt Mac was like the Dragon Lady (Empress) of olden times.

We headed to a more remote part of the wall from Beijing (again, GREAT tip from Charles). This area was much less crowded but very easy to get to and very nice. We were one of maybe 30 people on that section of the wall that day. Aside from the remote location and less crowds, one of the reasons we picked this location is that there was a cable car that took you up to the top,easier for Aunty you know? But as fate would have it, we were just starting high season and the car was not running yet. It started next week! Oh dear. So, up the stairs we started.

Along the way we picked up some tag alongs. Just sort of out of no where, these three women were walking with us. They said hello, but aside from that, not much. I assumed they were on their way to the all to set up vending stalls. But as we stopped to  rest, they too would stop to rest. Lucy explained they would make the journey with us and there was not much to be done for that. They never tried to sell us anything. They were not beggars, and were in fact very friendly and nice.

As we made our way up (and up, and up) the slope we got to our first set of stairs. Aunt Mac put on a brave face and started the climb with a bit of a steady hand from me. After a short bit we got to a point and rested. As we went onto the next one, the girls were closer and offered a hand to Aunt Mac. How nice….. but then after then next as I went to help, I was gently nudged out of the way and with a girl on each side, Aunt Mac was escorted up the stairs. It continued that way for the next 2 hrs!!! They insisted on helping Aunt Mac on all the flights and rested when she wanted and started up again when she was ready! Later we said Aunt Mac had met the real Draggin’ Ladies, cause they dragged up and up that wall and all those steps!

It was actually quite touching. Aunt Mac had not thought she could do it, but we gently encouraged her to try and take her time. We had nothing else to do that day but this, so with a little help she made it up and there and got to see the amazing views and the Great Wall.

After that there was a bit more we could climb, but Aunt Mac was done with all those, so our unofficial guides offered to walk her back while Paul, Lucy and I kept on for a bit. Yes that’s right, I sent my Aunt off with some Chinese village people so we could continue sight seeing. It sounds so bad when you put in writing….. We continued on and saw a bit more, before heading back. Sure enough at the base there was Aunt Mac with the girls and now she had a few souvenirs with her…. They waited to the end to sell us a few things from their backpacks. I have say for the price of a few fans and picture book it was well worth it for all the help they gave us and for being nice rather that pushy vendors harassing us the whole time.

All in all it was a great day and a fun outing. We spend the following day with Lucy as well, more on that to come, but if you head that way, I highly recommend the extra time to go to the more remote section of the Great Wall, seeing it without all the crowds was worth it.

If you need a guide, please do look up Lucy, was great. lucy810825@aliyun.com

Panjiayuan Market aka Heaven for Ryan

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Panjiayuan Market aka Heaven for Ryan

Day 2 of our adventures involved a visit to the Panjiayuan Antique/Junk/Wholesale market. I loved it.

It was MASSIVE, crowed and full of stuff. And it kept going, and going, and going. It’s divided by zone for stone, metal wares (statues and such), pottery, stone statues, fabrics, furniture, gems, books, and God knows what else. Bargaining was required and Aunt Mac soon became a pro at it picking up a few treats friends and family back home.

The best was we saw one stall selling very nice and unique tassels. These were about 12″ long and had different types of decorative charms attached to them. She wanted to get 4 or 5 of them and so we talked to the shop girl and thru the calculator on our phone we bargained for a price. But the price the girl was giving was quite high. So in the end, we had to walk away from them.  We continued to shop around the market and found a few things that we wanted. But near the end Aunt Mac was still thinking about those tassels. We said, just do it, we won’t be back this way so go ahead and get them. We went back and there was a guy there this time. We collected the tassels we wanted and asked him the price. His was about 1/2 what the girl had told us! Out the corner of my eye I saw the girl starting to come out and immediately said we’ll take them! Just then she came up and spoke some words in Chinese to the man while gesturing at us… too late, his new deal was done and Aunt Mac had her tassels. ha!

After we walked the market for a very long time, we thought we would take the other exit, well, turns out on the other side is a whole different section! This side was more like a flea market with people selling stuff out laid out on blankets. So of course we had to explore that some more🙂 I ended up finding a great carved head of the Goddess of Mercy that’s about 15″ tall. Of course it’s all cash there and I was out of money. Fear not. Even though the nice lady who sold me the head could not speak English, she knew my problem (I showed her my empty wallet and said ATM?) she grabbed my arm and escorted me to the ATM while I pulled out cash to pay for my new find. She also got to make sure I did not change my mind🙂

Aunt Mac also got here first introduction to Chinese public toilets….

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We visited a huge marked where we got in the spirit of bargaining.  That was totally expected and by the time we were ready to go we had gotten pretty good – except for Ryan – he overspent on 1 item.  LOL

It was there that I was introduced to the public toilets.  WOW  No doors on the stalls which were just over waist high, no toilet paper and no TOILETS – just a hole in the ground and was at least covered with porcelain or stainless steel.  See I told you there were sights to see!

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Well, the good news is there are a lot of public toilets around the city….The bad news as she notes above is that the stalls can be a bit tough at times. Of course for guys it’s a bit easier most of the time, but for the ladies….Well, Aunt Mac is a trooper she handled it like a pro and in fact most likely better that I could have if I had to squat at at stall with no doors!!

But, all in all, a great day at the market looking at all the treats on display and having some fun haggling for souvenirs.

Beijing- Day 1

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Beijing- Day 1

Our first day in Beijing we took it easy as we got to know the city. Nothing big planned just a trip to Wal Mart🙂 Aunt Mac was fascinated to see what Wal Mart looked like in China and got the biggest kick when I told her there was one in Beijing. It came up because she was nervous about what to pack and I told her “Don’t worry, if you forget anything we can get you what you need, they EVEN have Wal Mart in China” Well, that had to be seen🙂

That proved to be a good excuse for us to go out and get to know the subway and just take it easy. So we got our directions and headed that way. Along the way we found a great little bakery and thru pointing and smiling picked out a few pastries to try. They all looked the same on the outside, but inside on was dark red and another was bright purple! all were super tasty and in fact we never found those same pastries again, even though we looked.

The Wal Mart was such a sight to see, and I think my Aunt was amazed at how…Western it was. It’s liked the picked it up from middle America and just filled it with Chinese people. The same signs, same layout, everything about it was very Western.

We walked around the area some and then made our way back to the hotel. After 4 days of Asian food, I decided Aunt Mac might like something more accessible and I found a cute Italian Place in the old Hutong (Chiniese alley neighborhoods) for us to explore. We took the subway and then walked down a main road which was bustling with new shops and restaurants and was very fun looking. Then we turned to head into the Hutong areas and found ourselves walking alone down a narrow road/alley all alone! Oh man, my poor Aunt, who knows what she was thinking. But we kept on walking, take a few turns, passing one or two people and then at last came to a busy corner and there tucked among the homes was this little Italian Restaurant called Mercante! (http://www.timeoutbeijing.com/venue/Food__Drink-European-Italian/15359/Mercante.html)

So we headed in and had ourselves some lovely pasta,wine,and steak. Aunt Mac wanted the Bolognese but they were out that evening so she had steak instead. At the end we had a good laugh about our first meal in China being steak dinner, but it was very tasty and we knew there was plenty of Chinese food in our future.

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