Mui Ne & Phan Thiet, Vietnam

We kicked off 2015 with a ride up the coast of Vietnam to the gorgeous resorts of Mui Ne & Phan Thiet. We stayed in a lovely beach resort in Phan Thiet just a short trip to the busier streets and beaches of Mui Ne. It was a perfectly warm way to relax and recover following a busy series of travels through Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and HCMC. We were able to eat more delicious food and enjoy extremely affordable massages. It was a great way to end a long trip.

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B and A at the beach in Phan Thiet.

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Beautiful view from the resort in Phan Thiet.

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Temple in Mui Ne

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White sand dunes in Mui Ne.

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Waves of Vietnam.

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The coast of Vietnam as seen from Phan Thiet.

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K and A enjoying delicious Bah Mi (delicious street food/sandwich) on the beach.

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A and K biking on the streets of Pham Thiet. Worth noting the alternating Vietnam and Communist street flags.

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Vietnam and Communist flags flying high all over Vietnam. Just in case you forget where you are or who is in charge.

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Phan Thiet street art.

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Beautiful fishing village in Mui Ne.

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K, B and A taking a break from biking at a local cafe.

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Beautiful sky, ocean and dunes from the red sand area of Mui Ne.

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A sledding on the red dunes in Mui Ne.

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K sledding on the red sand dunes.

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B sledding on the red sand dunes in Mui Ne.

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A coming down the hill.

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K and A at the bottom of the dunes.

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Shot of Mui Ne from the top of a hill and nearby temple.

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White sand dunes in Mui Ne.

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A and K hanging out on the white sand dunes of Mui Ne.

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A and B throwing deuces out on the windy hills of the white sand dunes.

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B riding the atv on the white sand dunes.

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K and A riding in the back of the ATV as B drives across the white sand dunes.

 

And on the 5th Day…

…recreational fireworks began at midnight and continued until 2am. A few hours later they started up and continued on and off for the rest of the day. So, with sleep in our eyes, we began the first day back at school and quickly learned about the fifth day of Chinese New Year.

The day is commonly known as the Festival of Po Wu. There are many stories about the origin of this festival, but the most popular one is that it is the birthday of the god of fortune. Therefore, people shoot off fireworks in order to gain favor with this god and good fortune for the entire new year.

The fireworks in China are intense, and by intense I mean the shows at night (they are often set off during the day) are often as good or at times even better than what we see on the 4th of July. What makes this so surprising is that the people setting them off are just like you and me. Hopefully one day we will get to see fireworks set off by the government. They are probably outstanding. To get a small taste visit B’s facebook post to view a video our friend took right after midnight. It is long, so be sure to watch from 1:30-2:30 for the best portion.

PS – As I am posting this fireworks are going off and we expect that they will continue until midnight. In fact, we may visit our firework guy after dinner and set some off ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

As seems to be the norm when given the chance to leave Shanghai, we travel south. For New Years with family still in town, we headed to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Having previously enjoyed a trip to Hanoi we were excited to return to a country we had thoroughly enjoyed in the past. We boarded a late evening flight and arrived in HCMC in the wee hours of the morning. We spent a couple of days in the city prior to heading to the beach in Mui Ne (pictures to follow in the next post). Below you will find snapshots highlighting the final days of 2014 in HCMC.

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Good Morning Vietnam! Yes, that’s unoriginal but yet fitting for the first moments of our trip to HCMC. We woke up to this gorgeous view of the city.

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A and K crossing the busy streets of HCMC. They were beautifully decorated for the New Year. The Vietnamese were prepared to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their victory and being one nation.

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K, A and B taking a break for walking at a rooftop restaurant (thanks selfie stick for the pic).

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K demonstrating her strength and exploring alternative employment opportunities.

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Much like our pengyou in China, Vietnam has conveniently located exercise equipment throughout the city. B and A working out the legs on the stationary bikes.

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Locating the famous Notre Dame church in HCMC.

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A and K in front of a USA tank from the Vietnam War (or American War as the Vietnamese refer to it) located at the War Remnants Museum.

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Aerial view of HCMC city center.

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View of HCMC from the Bitexco Financial Tower.

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The opposite direction.

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Night view of HCMC from the top of our hotel.

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The opposite look.

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Early morning street view of the streets of HCMC. Note the electric wires above the street and the Bitexco Financial Tower centered on the horizon.

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Some early morning markets.

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Beautifully decorated streets of HCMC.

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Anticipation and traffic build while waiting for New Years.

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More of the well lit streets of HCMC in the final hours of 2014.

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B and A Cheers! New Years Eve dinner with some oysters.

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Just a little post New Years Eve dinner selfie pic. Note the crowds in the street. Many traveling via motorbike, two to four per bike. B was so jealous. Everyone, us included, is headed to a vantage point for viewing the midnight fireworks.

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New Years photo!

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A and B welcoming 2015!

 

Xi’an, China

So we should start by being honest, we’ve been terrible at posting. Trying not to share too many photos at once has turned into not sharing at all. Since we returned after Christmas vacation we’ve been quite busy. Oddly, we didn’t post everything from our holiday adventures prior to departing for a Chinese New Year vacation in Cambodia (those photos to come). Therefore, the next three post will summarize the amazing times we had over the winter holiday and then we will be much more prompt to share pictures from Cambodia. This post focuses on our visit to Xi’an, China. Xi’an is located east of Chengdu and was a 4 hour speed train ride from Beijing. The city is the former capital of China and has a population of more than 8 million people (just smaller than New York City). It’s home to a great city wall, a growing city center and of course the world famous Terracotta Army. Below are some pictures from our visit to Xi’an and Terracotta Army.

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A look at some of the Terracotta Army located in Xi’an, China.

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Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an.

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You can’t capture the entire army at once but this picture give you an idea of their size.

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K and B throwing deuces before the Terracotta Warriors, A was too cold to remove her hands.

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These warriors were repainted to replicate the colors that are originally seen when each is discovered. However, the paint is from natural ingredients and exposure to air removes all color. Allegedly the Chinese are working on a modern technology that will provide a solution to this problem within 100 years.

 

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Some of the well preserved warriors that you can get up close to.

 

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K trying out some new armor.

 

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Family photo on the Xi’an city wall.

 

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Xi’an city wall.

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Xi’an city wall lit up at night in all its glory.

 

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Walking the city wall.

Christmas Vacation: Part II (The Great Wall)

We spent Christmas Eve out in Mutianyu, China. A small village about 90 minutes outside of Beijing. We were able to stay in a nicely restored cottage at the foot of the Great Wall. The temperature was great (considering it was winter) and the air was amazing. We were able to see countless stars on Christmas Eve after enjoying a wonderful dinner together with other guests staying at the resort. We woke up early on Christmas Day, enjoyed some breakfast in the kitchen while sitting by the fire and then embarked on a day of hiking along the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

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The exterior of our cottage at the Brickyard in Mutianyu.

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A and B, Christmas at the Great Wall.

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A manning the gate.

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B snapping a shot on the wall.

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B and K present, tower 11 at Mutianyu.

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Family Christmas photo, thanks selfie stick (note the shadow).

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While hiking on the wall B got word that his sister back home got engaged (yeah technology). Everyone stopped to take a congratulatory photo of approval.

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Sun in the photo, no problem. A sunny Christmas on the Great Wall.

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Family photo with a selfie stick (best purchase we made in Beijing, thanks K!)

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A and K take the morning shift from above the tower.

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A and K on the Great Wall. China pose.

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Sibs just hanging out on the wall.

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K posing on the wall.

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An empty and gorgeous Great Wall.

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Signing the board along the Great Wall (We shall see if we’re still there in April).

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Endless stairs, up, down and back.

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Gorgeous Christmas Day at the Great Wall (Mutianyu).

Christmas Vacation: Part I (Shanghai & Beijing)

In the first blog post summarizing our Christmas vacation we share photos from both Shanghai and Beijing.

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We started the the trip off with a chilly (and smoggy) visit to the Bund.

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Family photo with the entire skyline of Lujiazui (LJZ) in the background

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Shanghai skyline from the Garden Bridge.

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Hot pot lunch in Kangqiao.

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High tea (literally, 91 stories high) and coffee inside the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC).

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The empty barrel from the inside of the Jin Mao Tower.

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Shengdan Kuaile (Merry Christmas) from LJZ.

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Noodles in Puxi.

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Shopping in the antique market.

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Brunch at the Westin.

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A and K in Forbidden City.

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Temple of Heaven.

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C, A, K and R at the Temple of Heaven.

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A, B and K selfie at the Temple of Heaven.

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A and B knockin’ on Heavens door.

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K just chillin’ at the Temple of Heaven.

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Silhouette at the Temple of Heaven.

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A and K invite you to, walk this way. At the Temple of Heaven.

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A and B standing in a tree. At the Forbidden City.

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Tiananmen Square.

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Tiananmen Square, on guard.

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Tiananmen Square and the Zhong Guo national flag blowing in the wind.

Our Christmas Letter

Dear Family & Friends,

First, we deeply apologize for failing to send out a hard copy Christmas card this year. We could make excuses – we have to plan to send it so much earlier to get there on time, the end of the semester was very busy, sending hundreds of cards from China is expensive, we were preparing for family to visit. But frankly, it just fell through the cracks. Life is always busy and there are always excuses. But, it is never too late to write that Christmas/New Years/Valentine’s Day/Easter (you get the point) letter.

We have had a remarkable year. So remarkable in fact, that when we think back it is hard to believe how many new and interesting experiences we have had. We began 2014 by sitting on a plane, flying to Bali, Indonesia where we relaxed, surfed, played with monkeys and had our first (and only so far) bout with travel tummy.

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Thanks to an early Chinese New Year, a short three weeks after we got back to Shanghai we boarded another flight, this time to Vietnam. We arrived in Hanoi just in time for the Tet (lunar new year) fireworks. We followed that up with a trip to the beautiful and breathtaking Halong Bay. Then found ourselves hiking in the gorgeous Sapa region, where we were invited to eat with members of the local family.

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We were lucky enough to meet B’s mom and her husband (we will call them M & J) in Bangkok, where we quickly got on a plane and headed to the Thai island Koh Samui. A wonderful week of beautiful weather, exploring on a motorbike, soccer golf and fantastic company – it went by much too quickly. M & J came to Shanghai where we had the opportunity to show them around our new city and home.

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In May we took advantage of a three day weekend to visit our favorite city (after NYC of course), Hong Kong. Where we visited friends, watched horses race and enjoyed the city.

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Right before and after this weekend we were lucky enough to be visited by our cousins. We are not only lucky for all the opportunities that Shanghai affords, but we are so thankful for the visits from our family and friends. Every time someone visits a little bit of home comes to us. However, it is not always easy to be away from home. During this time we lost a very special uncle, who will forever live in our hearts. It was heartbreaking not to be with family at that time. While we couldn’t be at the funeral, we think and talk lovingly about him often.

As the summer began we went to India, to visit a good friend, explore Delhi and see the Taj Mahal. The pictures cannot match the beauty of seeing this building in person (it was just as beautiful and awe-inspiring the second time around for A).

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B headed back to the U.S. where he was able to visit with family and friends (and climb Mount Washington).

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A enjoyed her first year teaching and decided to pursue her certification in elementary education. She found a program geared towards international teaching, which took her to Mallorca, Spain to begin her coursework. She was lucky enough to have both her parents and her sister visit.

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This fall we made the decision to stay in Shanghai one more year, signing a third year contract. We have come to love this city and in order to explore it more we will be moving further from work and into the center of the city.

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We also decided to tackle the wild wall – the overgrown, not redone part of the Great Wall of China. We climbed through parts of the wall that were barely there and camped in a tower, waking up to a completely empty and peaceful wall.

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We were lucky enough to figure out a way to make it home to see M & B get married. A very quick trip that was worth every minute of jet lag and more.

Our year ended with a visit from A’s parents (C & R) and her sister (K). Once again we got to show off our great city. Together we traveled to Beijing where we explored the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven Park (post and pictures to come). A memorable Christmas Day was spent on the great wall.

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From there we went to Xi’an to see the famous Terracotta Soldiers. Our year wrapped up in Ho Chi Minh City (otherwise known as Saigon), Vietnam watching the New Year’s firework show with family.

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We are incredibly grateful for the opportunities that living and working in Shanghai have given us. We have gotten to know more about Chinese culture, enjoyed a vibrant and multi-faceted city, and traveled and explored parts of Asia. We do not know what 2015 has in store, but we are looking forward to all the new opportunities and adventures that are to come.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year, from our family to yours.

Love,
A & B

Victims of a Crime

Shanghai is very safe, especially for foreigners. However, that doesn’t mean that crime doesn’t exist. Like in all big cities you have to watch out for pickpockets. There are also touts (common in touristy areas). The most common one in Shanghai is the tea house scam. Someone comes up to you and asks if they can practice their English while guiding you around. They offer to take you for tea at a local tea house and do just that. When you get up to leave you’re presented with an outrageously overpriced bill. The tea house doesn’t allow you to leave until you pay in full (or negotiate). Thankfully we have not experienced this and we can honestly say that we have never felt unsafe in Shanghai.

Crime impacting foreigners in Shanghai typically involves stolen bicycles and scooters. As both modes of transportation are in demand and left at metro stops and locations all over the city. Sadly, we were recently the victims of theft. Our awesome electric scooter was stolen outside a metro stop. It was less than a year old and ran well. B was left surprised upon his return from Puxi. As he exited the metro and came above ground he realized the bike was stolen. There was no sign of the bike or the lock. They got everything, including our helmets (which was most sad, we bought them in Vietnam) which were locked in the seat.

Sadly we don’t have many good pictures of our stolen scooter: 

IMG_3780B with his Vietnamese helmet and clear (nonprescription) glasses to block the wind and keep dirt out of his eyes.

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We loved our scooter, it zipped along the streets of Shanghai with its quiet hum. The bright blue color was cool and differentiated it from all the other ones our friends had bought. It was a sweet looking scooter. Though maybe a little too flashy. Once we purchased our scooter we used it all the time, so we decided to purchase another one. This time though, we were getting two locks and one without so much glitz.

We knew we wanted the same style scooter, but aimed to purchase a black one. The majority of the scooters in the city seem to be black, so we figured this would help ours blend in. However, the scooter shop did have quite what we were looking for. We checked thoroughly and considered a lot of options as we followed a guy into a garage full of scooters. The garage went down a ramp and ran the length of an apartment building. It was full of all sorts of scooters with different styles and colors.

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It is hard to see, but it went down and then ran forever. There was seemingly an endless line of scooters. 

Unfortunately the black one model they had was not to our liking. Thus we decided to go with white (the second most popular color in the city) instead. We waited while the salesmen assembled our scooter. Foreigners purchasing at this stop always draw attention from passers by and the neighbors.

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A even got herself a new helmet. It is not as cool as her last one, but it does the job.

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Overall we are happy to have a scooter again and hopefully this one will last longer before getting stolen!

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B parking our new white scooter before lunch in the city. 

That Week B Had Hepatitis B

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Last week we went to the doctor for a general check up and got our annual physical. We went to a reputable western facility where everyone goes. All the doctors are westerners and speak English, they typically work six months at the facility and then rotate.

Two days later the doctor called to update B about the status of his blood test. He informed B that he had Hepatitis B and that there was a problem with his liver.

Shocked we began to do some research on both conditions and B agreed to return to the doctors office to give a second sample in order to determine if he had previously had Hep B (it permanently remains in your blood system) or if he was a carrier (making him more likely to be contagious). The confusing part was trying to determine how he would contracted Hep B and how it would have gone unnoticed for so long.

B returned to the doctor and gave another sample. While there he met with another doctor who elaborated that Hep B is not an airborne disease, that it is contracted through exchanging needles, exchanging bodily fluids, blood transfusions etc. Then he added that it could also just be a mix up in the lab. When asked what was the likelihood of a lab mistake the doctor replied, “less than 1%, I’ve never seen or heard of that happening, but this is China.”

Two more days passed, while we began researching how to deal with having Hep B and causes of low liver function. Finally the doctors office called again and this time the news was better, B did not have Hep B. They had mixed up the samples in the lab the first time. However, to be sure all the other vials did not get mixed up B was asked to return one more time and give a third sample. Thus B returned to the doctors office to give blood for the third time in a week. Again the results showed no signs of Hep B, no problems with the function of his liver and all the other tests showed normal healthy results.

We were both very thankful to have that cleared up. It’s true that this could happen to anyone anywhere in the world, but just funny that it happened to us here in Shanghai. In the end we’re thankful to have health care and doctors who followed up to make sure the results were accurate.