So Different, So Far, So Good ….


Beijing is proving to be a great city, each day is an adventure.

Katsoolis' at Tian'anmen Square, Beijing on August 14, 2011. We are in front of enormous LED screen which was installed for the 2008 Olympics .

When we arrived it was hot and humid.  Now, it is Autumn so it is breezy and comfortable temperatures.  On Monday, September 12th we celebrated the Mid-Autumn break by eating moon cakes as part of the celebration of Mid Autumn Festival and the full moon. They have red bean paste, Durian fruit(very pungent) or egg duck filling wrapped in a pastry.  The Chinese traditionally celebrate by giving elaborate moon cakes as gifts to family and friends.

Mooncake at Rest (Approx. 6cm Dia.)

For the holiday, we also enjoyed visiting the Dongyue Temple which is 400 years old.  It is a sanctuary in amongst the high rise buildings of this huge city.  We did not realize it was there until a week ago and it is 4 blocks from our apartment.

Dongyue Temple, No. 141 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Beijing, Mid Autumn Festival

We moved into our small apartment on the 18th floor.

View from our apartment. We can see mountains on most days.

It is near the Embassy District and in the middle of the Russian District.  Help!  I think we might need to speak Russian!!  We are only 10 blocks from the CBD-Central Business District.  In fact, when Vice President Joe Biden was in town our whole neighborhood had security guards on every corner and we watched the 15 vehicle motorcade escort him to the hotel where he and other diplomats were staying.  Also, the kid’s school is four blocks away.

Kid's School - Still under construction. The three gray buildings are their school. Conveniently, there is a underground parking garage for staff. This rubble will soon be the playground area.

Currently, they are building a new school and it will be complete in 2 months.  So the kids take a luxury coach bus to and from school each day which is different.  One of the main reasons we selected this apartment is the beautiful Historic park across the street from our apartment called Ritan Park, Temple of the Sun Park.

Ritan Park Lotus Pond with willow trees and Pagoda.

 It has traditional architectural temples and landscaping with ponds and water sculptures.  There is Tai chi each day at the park, table tennis, exercise area, badminton and a little pond for recreation coy fishing which anyone can conveniently borrow to test your patience at fishing.

Max on a rock bridge in another section of Ritan Park.

Sepia was lucky to have a kind local give her some fishing tips.  And caught 6 fish, which she was lots of fun.

Sepia and Max at the fishing pond at Ritan Park.


798 District is totally cool.

Katsolis' at 798 Art District, Beijing

We had a great time walking around the 798 area and checking out great art one Saturday in August.  With every corner we turned there was something else cool to check out.

Here's some fun art which we enjoyed at 798 District in Beijing. Everyone needs a pair of 20 ft high underwear! And Max is showing how art can be heavy. Oh! and Shane caught a Rabbit.

Kid’s school

Yes, we made it into a local Chinese School, called Fang Cao Di  International School.

Fang Cao Di International school - Temporary School

It has over 700 students with 20% foreign students from all over the world, which is great. This school focuses on Math and English as a second language.

Kid's school - 1st Day Ceremony at temporary school.

All their lessons are in Chinese which is a big challenge, but with the help from the homeroom teacher and with a tutor after school 3-4 days a week, we can help them succeed.  Max has already made a great friend who is in his homeroom class who is Australian and his name is Max, too.  Sepia is making friends and has found some fun kids in her class and lucky for her almost all her classmates speak English.  They have marching drills each day which is very different, lunch in their classroom, table tennis as and elective class, calligraphy lessons, and even eye exercises along with Science, History, Music, PE, and Art.  They start school at 7:40am and ends at 3:15pm.


Max and Sepia have taken up table tennis as new sport.  In the parks, there are 2-3 tables set up so we have been having fun.  Max has been mastering his skills and the locals all want to play with him.

Max playing table tennis with the locals.

Even some boys have taken him on and taught him some new skills.  Max is by far the favorite with the locals. Sepia enjoys doing this fun exercise swing at the park where they have some basic manual fitness machines which the locals (age 3 to 83) enjoy getting fit even some women exercise in their high heels.

Sepia on exercise swing.

Sepia is convinced this swing would be a huge hit on the playgrounds in Seattle.  They also have a massive climbing wall at the park which the locals enjoy, too. Football (soccer) the kids will be playing games each Saturday with a British coach.


We walk everywhere.  On weekends, 4-5 miles when we are shopping and checking out the city.  The subway system is excellent.  Shane takes it to and from work.  But be ready to cram in like a sardine.  There are bicycle rickshaws -drivers with a traditional 2 seater decorative carriage on every corner of our neighborhood constantly offering their services but for a big price as they are after the naive tourists.

Rickshaw carts ready for passengers at our building complex.

Taxis can be good, but there are times it can be hit or miss for grabbing them in a heart beat.  Like the other day, I needed to go out of town a ways, and after 4 taxi drivers, finally, I got a driver who knew how to get there.   Thanks to Google translate on our phones- It has saved us so many times!

Shane all serious on our new Electric Bike, but really it is lots of fun.

We bought a new electric bike!  Shane can now get to work easily, and we can explore more of the city at our own rate.  We are trying to get another bike as well.


We have enjoyed lots of:  zhengjiao (steamed dumplings),

Yummy big steamed buns!

mifan (steamed rice), niuro mian (beef noodles), jiachang bing lazi jiding tudou  (home style pan baked bread with quick-fried spicy chicken & potato), lizhi  (lychee which is a delicious tropical fruit) and lots of other very spicy dishes (forget about STARS for how spicy it will be- just know it will be 5 STARS.

Max eating Bullfrog!

Roasted bullfrog (no it does not taste like chicken-it tastes more like seafood because of it’s amphibious nature). These are close to the correct phonetics of how to pronounce these foods, but it is not 100% accurate due to my font capabilities with Google.  Eating out proves to be very inexpensive if we eat Chinese like only 80RMB for the four of us($12 USD).  If we eat western food it can be expensive compared to Chinese food, $10 for a small box of western cereal and did I mention maple syrup for $12 a bottle.  So Chinese food we are enjoying in it’s many variations, but there are days when we just have to have something else, so we go to the International grocery store, 3 blocks away called “Jenny Lou’s” and get some of our favorites like olives, feta, pasta, and Italian bread.


So far we have been enjoying many movies from local video stores for our fix of Western films.  As well as 13 TV channels with Chinese news, Traditional Opera, China’s Got Talent and other Samurai warrior TV shows… One channel is actually in English which is a Chinese International News program.

Well, if you are in the neighborhood and would like to drop by for game of table tennis, glass of wine or bowl of hand pulled noodles…….

Lama Temple

On April 4th, 2012, during the Qiming festival, we had a great time exploring the Lama Temple. The Qingming Festival (also known as Pure Brightness Festival or Tomb-sweeping Day), which falls on either April 4th or 5th of the gregorian calendar, it is also a day of paying respect to the dead, a spring outing, and other activities.  The Yonghe Temple, also known as the “Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple”.  It is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. The building and the artworks of the temple are a combination of Han Chinese and Tibetan styles.

Shane and Max ringing the huge sacred bell.

Making a wish with coins.

Kids at Temple spinner.

Happiness….Max making the coin onto the lucky ledge.

Click here for video 1.    Click here for video 2.

There are five main halls which are separated by courtyards: the Hall of the Heavenly Kings (Tian Wang Dian or Devaraja Hall), the Hall of Harmony and Peace (Yonghegong), the Hall of

Hundreds of visitors burning incense.

Everlasting Protection (Yongyoudian), the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Falundian), and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses(Wanfuge).

The Hall of the Heavenly Kings is the southernmost of the main halls, it served originally as the main entrance to the monastery. In the center of the hall stands a statue of the Maitreya Buddha, along the walls statues of the four Heavenly Kings are arranged.

Buddha of the ages.

Blessing the incense.

The Hall of Harmony and Peace is the main building of the temple. It houses three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages,  (Buddha of the Present) is in the center,(Buddha of the Past, right) and the  (Buddha of the Future, left).

The Hall of Everlasting Protection was Emperor Yongzheng’s living quarters as a prince and the place where his coffin was placed after his death. Today, a statue of the Bhaisajya-guru (healing Buddha) stands in this hall.

The Hall of the Wheel of the Law functions as a place for reading scriptures and conducting religious ceremonies.  The hall also contains the Five-Hundred-Arhat-Hill, a carving made of red sandalwood with statues of the arhats made from five different metals (gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin).

The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses contains an 26m tall (18m above the ground and 8m underneath) statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood. The statue is one of three artworks in the Temple which were included in the Guinness Book of Records in 1993.

Buddhas of the ages.

Shane & Sandra.

Beautiful Buddha.

Amazing Buddha made of sandelwood.

The temple is said to have survived the Cultural Revolution due to the intervention of Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. It was reopened to the public in 1981.

The Water Cube

On Saturday, April 14th, 2012, we went to The Cube, The National Aquatic Center in Beijing, where the 2008 Olympics were held.  They changed the facility by adding this cool water slide park.  As a family, we had a blast playing and going on lots of slides together.

Happy Magic Water Slide Park



Sliding on the blue slide.

This was an insane slide! SCREAMING ALL the WAY DOWN!

15 Meter drop slide

They lock you in this capsule, then the platform drops out from under you and you drop 15 METERS then continue sliding 75 meters!

The Cube at night….

Changsha Business Trip

Sandra took her first business trip on February 29- March 1st.  She went with Kevin Tsang (Zen Yua), who is the President of Clarion International Hotels China, and who was awarded the 2010: the title of China Hotel “International Hotel Person of the Year”; and China Vogue “Mr.Fashion of 2011” Award.
She went as the token “Western” (meaning American not meaning cowboy) Designer for the meetings.  Sandra, Zen Yua, two associates and the President’s secretary, Kristina, who was Sandra’s translator (she speaks Mandarin, German, and English).
The meetings were with a new client in Chang sha, in Hunan Providence,   The city is recognized as a famous area where many government official are from including Chairman Mao.  For this occasion, the client invited, so they paid for the hotel, luncheons and coordinated transportation to and from all the meetings.

Wyndham Grand lobby.

They stayed at the Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale downtown which was so luxurious.

Group photo of everyone at the meeting. Sandra is between the Zen, and his secretarty, Kristina.

Sandra thoroughly enjoyed the meetings and learned a bit of how Chinese executives do business.  Her favorite part was the elaborate and exotic luncheon which included turtle, smoked fish, fried scorpion and 15 other modern Chinese entrees.  


Fried Scorpions - taste like crispy onion rings.

 On the image of the scorpions you can see “me”.  The chef wrote “Welcome” with hoisin sauce which is behind the sculptural noodle bowl on the platter ( but can not the full word).

 The food was wonderful, and she tried it all.  The client wanted to impress us.  Sandra even tried Baijiu (Chinese: 白酒;  is a Chinese distilled alcoholic beverage. The name baijiu literally means “white liquor”.  Many toasts were made which was a positive sign for Zen, the boss.

The client even took us on some tours around the area.  We saw beautiful architecture.

Mao monument and women.

They took us to the Chairman Mao Monument on Orange Island( or Long Island) which is in the heart of the Changsha along the Xiangjiang River.

Mao monument and gardens.

We also went and toured the campus of Yuelu Academy, which wa named one of the four famous academies in China.

Famous scholars and officials who attended the academy.

Yuelu is well-known not only for its long history and many famous scholars, but also for it’s spectacular architecture.

Academy building.

Academy tour.

Kristina & Crystal.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, in the northwest part of Hunan Province is listed in the World Heritage List. Zhangjiajie is where they filmed the mountain scenes in the movie Avatar.

But they did not have time to go there. We were picked up, dropped off and generally driven all around by a driver with our hosts which was really nice.

Here are other interesting foods which were served on the trip.

Lotus seed and white fungus flower dessert.

Pigs Blood. Basically like spicy liver and blood sauce.