What a wonderful busy busy year its been for everyone. This news letter recaps the family happenings, mostly written by Mark in the 3rd person.
This year began with us celebrating the New Year in Utah with the Zollingers. After the long drive back to Issaquah we frantically began cleaning out the house and getting ready to move to Beijing. As if that wasn’t enough Mark got sick for 17 days when a bad cold filled his ears up with fluid and he could barely hear. Sofi had her first and last(?) cheer competition where they took first place. Recovering just in time Mark’s team did an honorary Dawn Patrol to Rattlesnake Ledge and Mark did one last run on Cougar Mountain with Hope. Mark’s work gave him wonderful send off and the next day during lunch they celebrated with 2nd Annual Polar run and plunge in the icy waters of Lake Union. Nearing the end of the month we packed and packed and packed filling 8 duffel bags for our carry on luggage to China. Mark had the opportunity to fly over the Cascades the day before they left and then the family loaded up and flew to Los Angeles for a few days R&R at Disneyland before Beijing.
We drove from LA to the Bay Area for our flight to Beijing. (There are no good flights or times from LAX to PEK). Mark took a reminiscent Dawn Patrol in Briones Park and got together with workmates from WebLogic/BEA days. We arrived in Beijing after our 12 hour flight, half of us sick : Miles threw up on Mark during the flight and Stac had bronchitis. Thus began jet-lag addled days of recovery and attempting the 100s of logistical details to settle in. We arrived in the middle of Chinese New Year and the fireworks each night were deafening, unbelievable that anyone can buy that much explosives and light them off anywhere. Mark spent hours visiting Ikea buying furniture and fixings and stuff; he almost went insane from that. Finally at the end of February we moved from temporary housing to our apartment and we started to settle in.
March we started to settle into the routine of our lives in Beijing. The kids both settled into their new school BCIS, Mark had a chance to participate in some activities at school and really liked the faculty and their passion. Miles in an accident on the playground ran his tooth into another kids head and we thought he might loose his big front tooth, but a trip to the dentist and a small brace saved it. Our shipments finally arrived from Beijing and we finalized the last of our relocation. Our apartment felt like home as we hung our artwork and pictures on the walls. We met some wonderful people from Uganda and they introduced us to some ladies that braided Sofi’s hair and Miles got a super duper short hair cut. Sofi got a pet hamster (after much crying, whining and begging) and she met a great group of friends at school. Mark had a couple of co-workers visit from Seattle and on the weekend they hiked the Great Wall at GuBeiKou. Mark bought a bike and started riding to work, pretty crazy with the Beijing traffic. Stac started learning Chinese with a tutor named Seven and we ended with the kids teacher conferences at school.
The first of April is national holiday in China : QingMingJie or Tomb Cleaning Festival. We took a holiday to Guilin and Yangshuo, this was our first domestic flight in China and it started out on the wrong foot as we missed our flight. The scenery was beautiful with all the amazing karsts, things were going great when Stac slipped and dislocated her elbow. This resulted in a trip to a Chinese hospital where 4 doctors yanked her elbow back into place without any anesthesia. This put a big huge damper on her vacation experience; while Stac convalesced in the hotel the kids and Mark got out on the Li River, rode scooters around Yangshuo. Stac felt good enough the last few days that we went and saw the Impressions show on the Li River, which was fantastic. Back in Beijing Mark had another visitor from Seattle and on the weekend we climbed another section of the Great Wall outside of BaDaLing. Mark began the process of getting his Chinese Driver’s license and failed the written test twice. (1000 questions with a 100 randomly selected). Kiah arrived in Beijing to spend the summer with us after finishing her second semester at BYU-I and we belated celebrated her 19th birthday. The elementary school celebrated spring with a concert with all the kids dressing in costumes and singing. Stac, Kiah and Pooja visited the Llama Temple in Beijing. On the last day of April Mark and Miles took a trip to the Great Wall where they camped for the night. Miles loved that a village dog followed us and slept out of our tent all night.
The first of the month Miles class had Experience China Week where each day they toured different sites in Beijing. They learned things about Chinese culture, ate yummy food and even went on a rickshaw ride. BCIS threw another party : Spring in the City to raise money for the library. Mark finally passed his drivers license test on the third try after buying an iPhone app to help him study. The family all drove out to HuBei province (just outside of Beijing) where Mark and a bunch of his workmates ran the 1/2 Marathon at the Great Wall Marathon. Sofi got her hair rebraided again by Maria. We celebrated spring with a BBQ with the Beijing First Branch and afterwards Mark took a solo trip out to the Great Wall at JianKou.
The beginning of June was another Chinese holiday : Dragon Boat Festival. We took off in our van with Zhang Chao, a friend of Mark’s from work and the Morris’s on an adventure to drive to Mongolia. We stopped in ChengDe and then drove into inner Mongolia where we camped on a small farm next to a beautiful lake. The stars were bright and beautiful, the lamb was tasty and the horses were everywhere. On the drive back we stopped in ChengDe again for a night to see the Great Red Pavilion. June brought Mark and Stac’s 22nd wedding anniversary as well as Stac’s birthday and they celebrated with a long weekend in Hong Kong while Kiah stayed with the kids, we had a lovely time even though it was dripping hot! Mark and the kids took Kiah to the Great Wall at MuTianYu, they loved riding down the alpine slide. The family was all addicted to Plants Vs. Zombies, but Miles was pretty obsessed and ended up buying lots of the little stuffed animal figurines from the game. Stac paused to reflect on six months in China and how she felt she was turning a corner.
Rain brought some of the clearest skies to Beijing we had ever seen. Mark had another visitor from Seattle and this time the entire family drove out to Jiankou to spend the night in a farmer hotel while Mark and his coworkers climbed the Great Wall. The family took their annual leave for the States, accompanying Kiah back home to school. We all enjoyed spending time in Utah, Mark got out for several hikes up to the Wellsvilles and some old friends : Tom and Curg. Miles and Mark went on a 10 mile backpacking trip up to High Creek Lake. Miles carried his mask and snorkle the entire trip but chickened out swimming cause the water was too cold. Mark and Miles hiked up to Tony Grove where they met Stac, her parents and her brother Craig and Kathy for a picnic lunch with Kiah and her boyfriend Ramon. On the drive back down to Logan Ramon asked for Kiah’s hand in marriage and Mark gulped and said yes. While in Utah Sofi consumed at least a dozen snow cones from the Sno-Shack. As the month closed Mark wrote up his thoughts on spending half a year living in China.
The first of August the family flew to Seattle where Mark worked for three weeks. This meant it was time for run and plunge’s during lunch. Mark continued his water jumping antics with a jump in the very cold Puget Sound. Mark took a celebratory hike to Alta Mountain on the weekend and jumped in Rachel Lake on the way back. While Stac and the kids ran around Seattle Mark took a long weekend and flew to Bozeman where he and Seth drove to Wyoming and climbed the Grand Teton. This time they summited and celebrated by jumping into Phelps Lake and with steak in Yellowstone on the ride home. Another week of work and the family minus Kiah, flew back to Beijing. We arrived in home just in time to celebrate Sofi’s 12th birthday with her friends at DinTaiFung.
The month began with Miles and Mark hiking a very long and scratchy way to the 9 Eye Tower at the Great Wall. Another Chinese national holiday Mid Autumn Festival gave us a long weekend and we took the fast train (185 mph) to Nanjing to visit Julie Lefgren. Mark met an old workmate, Smitty, from WebLogic days for breakfast in Beijing. Sofi played in her schools soccer team and had an all day tournament where Mark watched her play for 8 hours! Mark took some family photos for Robert Zhou and his family in Beijing; Robert leases our car and has been a God-send to us in China.
The first week of October is Golden Week in China, when they celebrate the founding of their country : China’s 4th of July. We planned as a family to visit Vietnam. However several weeks prior Stac got word that her Father’s health was failing so we cancelled her ticket and she flew to Utah to spend time with him while Mark, Miles and Sofi flew to Vietnam. (Since then Stac’s parents have entered a nursing home and her Dad’s health has improved dramatically). Mark and the kids visited Stan and Nga in Hanoi. They were amazed by all the scooters in Vietnam. Then they flew to HoiAn in central Vietnam where they stayed on the beach playing in the pool and the ocean for stretches of 8 hours at a time. Mark and the kids took an amazing motorcycle ride with a Kari and Steve (who work with Mark at Amazon in Beijing) through the countryside of Vietnam to see the ruins of My Son. One final day playing in the surf and they returned to Beijing be rejoined with Stac. More visitors from Seattle at Mark’s work and another weekend trip to the Great Wall at JianKou. Mark spent 20 hours in Harbin on a recruiting trip with work, way north of Beijing near Russia the town has lots of old church’s and great sausage; in the winter they have the ice festival there. Our church had their annual trip to the Great Wall where we hiked and slept on the Wall and had church there as well. Sofi had another all day soccer tournament for the championship, her team lost by 1 point in sudden death. Halloween came to Beijing with a party at the church and we even managed to carve pumpkins as a family right before the last day of the month. We had lots of trick-or-treaters come to our apartment.
November is Movember, the month of the mustache where Mark grows his stache of awesome. Miles turned 8 and we celebrated in ChaoYang Park on the ropes course. One of Mark’s co-workers got married and invited Mark to the wedding. It was an interesting experience to observe the different traditions. Stac and the young women went Ice Skating at Solana for an activity. Miles got baptized at the pool on the floor above our church, the water was extra cold because the heat hadn’t been turned on yet. Mark turned 44 and celebrated by taking the day off from work and camping out at the Great Wall on a very cold night. Thanksgiving was celebrated on Saturday since Thursday was just another working day in China. We had a football turkey bowl in the morning against the Beijing 2nd Branch. Julie came up from Nanjing to visit us for Thanksgiving dinner and we also shared the meal with the Sheppards, the Putnams, the Floyds as well as George from Uganda. Despite the turkey arriving cold the meal was a smashing success and every bit of food tasted a little bit like home. November ended how it began with a celebration of the mustache.
Knowing that we’d be gone from our Beijing home for Christmas we got a tree early in the month, an artificial one purchased down by the US Embassy. The kids banned us from helping and set up the tree and trimmed it by themselves. Mark had a visitor from Seattle, Tom, his former boss and now his bosses, bosses boss and he took him to farmer’s hotel at JianKou where they slept on the traditional heated beds known as kangs. We celebrated Christmas with our church party and Santa visited the party as well. Before we left for the US we had a lovely dinner with Stac’s tutor Seven and her family and Mark had a holiday dinner with his group at work in a Mongolian Yurt in the middle of Beijing. Then we departed for the US : a journey that involved 6 separate flights, 10 different residences in 9 different cities; 3 receptions, two major holidays and a National Park. We were busy! We flew into San Francisco where Mark got messed up with international datelines and our flight to Salt Lake wasn’t until the next day so we spent the night at Union Square. Saturday we spent the evening at our Uncle Doug’s house in Bountiful. Then we drove up to Logan for Kiah and Ramon’s wedding on the 20th. The ceremony was beautiful, simple and powerful; the binding of two as one. The reception that night was a festive occasion and we enjoyed reconnecting and chatting with family and friends. After the wedding we set into kamikaze Christmas mode trying to get ready for the 25th. We drove down to Salt Lake to see the lights and shop for Santa. Christmas Eve we brought Stac’s parents from their nursing home to their house to spend the night with us and the next Christmas morning. Santa found the kids even in Logan and we had a lovely Christmas together. Christmas evening we spent with the Zollingers enjoying turkey dinner with all the fixings. A day of rest was followed by a flight to Las Vegas where we attended an Open House at Ramon’s house. The next day we drove up to spend the night in Springdale outside Zion National Park. Mark hiked to Angel’s Landing as well got out for a Dawn Patrol. Driving back to Las Vegas we flew to Seattle where we had an Open House in Issaquah and had a great time reconnecting with our old ward members. On Saturday the last day of the year Mark went on his first snowshoe of the year up at Snoqualmie Pass with Shon. Quietness, whiteness and snow were a great way to end the year.
I had a lot of changes this year leaving my beloved mountains in Washington for the urban countryside of Beijing. I transitioned to being a software development manager over a couple of teams in Beijing at Amazon.cn. I’ve enjoyed the challenges at work and I’ve loved as a family the opportunity we’ve had to be able to experience China and travel the surrounding areas. Having a church family to ease the transition made everything so much easier and after six months we started meshing with those figures in the ward who weren’t transient. I love driving in China, its a new challenge that provides some unique driving experiences and I treasure my visits to the Great Wall. I don’t get out as often but getting out at the Great Wall isn’t a bad trade off. My outdoor highlight was climbing the Grand Teton with Seth, he led; I followed. My family highlights was our camping trip to Mongolia and Kiah’s beautiful wedding. Looking forward to the new year and new challenges.
This is Stacey writing now, just an FYI. It’s been a roller coaster of a ride this past year and I’m not a fan of roller coaster rides, but I survived. I held on tight with the move, held even tighter during some bumpy parts of 2011 and so far the ride has not come to a stop. China has come with some good and bad days but overall we are having a great time. The kids transitioned quite easily, which was a blessing. I think it took me over 6 months to feel like I was settling in and not just in China for a short time. I had to look at it as our home not just a long vacation. I’ve made some great friends, seen some very cool sites, eaten some yummy food and some interesting food and I’m learning to be patient (though it might kill me to learn that virtue). Now that Kiah’s wedding is over and we are on our way back to China, maybe we can rest for a bit. Oh yeah, I forgot, in two weeks we are going to Myanmar for 10 days(to get out of China during Chinese New Year). Looks like the roller coaster ride will start up again.
Kiah had a huge year. She completed her first year of college at BYU-I and got married in December. She came and stayed with the family in Beijing for 3.5 months, taught English and loved all the delicious Chinese food. She hiked the Great Wall, camped in Mongolia and went crazy shopping with Stac and Sofi. Kiah’s wedding was definitely a huge challenge as she planned pretty much every last detail as her family was in Beijing. She did an amazing job balancing school (She got almost straight A’s) and running all the wedding details. She looked gorgeous at her wedding and she married a great young man in Ramon.
Sofi had a great year. She turned 12 and has a great group of friends she’s made at school. She does well in her studies, manages her own time and schedule. We just wish we could get her to faithfully carry a cell phone. (Go figure). A common Saturday activity is to take a taxi to SanLiTun with her girl friends, go eat Pizza at The Tree, get her nails done at YaShaw and then eat crepes. She’s a great shopper who can bargain with the best in Beijing and get good prices. She continues her love of cooking, making bread and she can now make a mean batch of chocolate chip cookies from scratch.
Miles made great strides at school over this past year. His reading and writing have really taken off, though he’s got a bit further to go with his spelling. He learned to swim like a fish at school during swim time and his after school activities have been kung fu, paper airplane making and more swimming. He loves riding his bike or scooter around the apartment complex where we live and has many good friends that he plays with. His love for Star Wars, Legos and Transformers continues, especially Star Wars the Clone Wars cartoon series. Miles turned 8 this year, and he made a big step with his baptism; He thought it was pretty cool (and cold) to have it happen in a swimming pool. Miles enjoys hiking and camping with his Dad and has his hand-me-down iPad with him everywhere.