Hi, guys.

So, yesterday we went to the Summer Palace. I don’t know a lot about Chinese history and our host’s wife isn’t fluent enough in English to describe too much of what we saw. For instance, I had a whole story in my head about the Dowager Empress kidnapping a little boy and holding him under house arrest so he could be Emperor, but a check on Google when we got back to the apartment showed me that while what she said was accurate, it wasn’t exactly what she meant. I do intend to watch The Last Emperor to find out more about the story.

Anyway, the Summer Palace is so huge with so many buildings to see and such gorgeous artwork. I will load pictures to Facebook when I can although there probably are some on my page because I can use Instagram and that goes directly to Facebook and Twitter even if I can’t get on those sites.

Something very interesting happened yesterday and while it started out amusing, after a bit it became annoying and even disturbing.

Steve is here to work with Tsinghua University on a Supercomputing collaboration, and another LSU CCT guy came with his wife and daughter (about 3 or 4). They are German and Greta, the daughter, is adorable with blonde curly hair and of course, blue eyes. She is endlessly fascinating to the Chinese who literally will stop what they are doing to take her picture.

While we were at the Summer Palace, in a courtyard where a traditional Chinese dance/story performance was going on, Katja had Greta on her back in a backpack like deal. Chinese people literally surrounded them snapping pictures and chattering while the dancers where on stage!!! Then, they rushed over, like a flock of birds to take pictures of Noah. One man picked up his son, set him on the ledge next to Noah and made his son put his arm around Noah to take a picture. It was clear to me that the kid wasn’t thrilled about this.

Later, at another part of the grounds, three women pushing strollers lined their babies up and had Greta and Noah stand with them.

I think things got super weird when a man knelt down in front of Greta (who was walking here), said something to her and put his arm around her and LED HER TO WHERE HIS FRIENDS WERE! We were right there and all, but it was so disturbing that some people had no problem with touching a stranger’s child and leading her away from her mother!

A few times people would ask, and Katja would say no. Her husband laughed at dinner and said, “So the nice people who asked were denied pictures but the rude ones got them?”

I don’t know how many steps we climbed to the top (Katja said it wasn’t the top) but it was A LOT and by the end of the morning my knees and my hip were hurting, but I made it. Juliette and Katja took more pictures than I did and Katja had a better camera so I’ll share some of her pictures when I get them.

The grounds were lovely, and I did buy a pretty pen that looks like a traditional Chinese dancer.

I intend to find out more about the history of the place. My writer brain was spinning with ideas.

Notes on “living” here. It’s odd because we’re not “living” here like we did in Germany, nor is it strictly a vacation because Steve and Frank go to work every day. Today will be a day of rest and recovery as my knees still here this morning and it’s supposed to rain anyway.

We eat at the University Dining Hall, or one of them anyway, but unlike any dining hall I’ve ever known, the food is the same every day. Much of the time we aren’t sure what we’re eating until we taste it. Frank brought a plate of what looked like chicken to the table one night but it turned out to be egg!

We’ve been here less than a week and last night, Juliette said, “I could really go for a steak!”

The toilets are everything we dreaded. Public ones are just holes in the floor, at least the one at the dining hall and the public one at the Summer Palace. Also, we were told by our host that you don’t put toilet paper in the toilet! You have a special waste can where you put it!!! And the drain in our bathroom, under the sick, is just open. The shower and the washing machine hose goes onto the bathroom floor and down that drain. As you can imagine, it isn’t a sweet smelling area of the apartment so we keep the door closed with a window open. Won’t miss this when we leave!

We’ve found several English speaking TV stations – one all news, but also Discovery, National Geographic, a sports station and one that plays terrible American movies. We watched Conan the Destroyer (or parts of it) last night!

I’m beginning to feel more comfortable here. I still don’t like climbing 80 stairs several times a day to get to the apartment but I will have great thighs and glutes when I get home (or I’ll be DEAD!!!). I really miss “hanging” out with everyone on Facebook, so please email me and catch me up on what you all are doing!

Love to everyone!