This past weekend, despite multiple almost-changes to travel plans and the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named, I got to join the husband and a friend for a weekend in gorgeous Costa Rica.
I have majorly fond feelings toward Costa Rica, since the surf trip I took there in 2014 with my brother Hunter and our dad remains one of my all-time-favorite vacations. And I’ve seen quite a few cool spots during my years as a Foreign Service spouse.
Sadly, there wasn’t time to sprint off to the beach this trip. But an afternoon foray to Doka Estate–a coffee plantation–offered a fun substitute.
I’m not sure what I expected a coffee plantation to look like. But I certainly didn’t anticipate the mini-Eden we discovered after a 45-minute (and unsettlingly twisty) drive into the hills. As a gal from South Texas, I have a sharp awareness of landscapes that get plenty of water (having grown up in a place that didn’t). Evidence of tJuhat rain-fed lushness was EVERYWHERE, from hydrangea blossoms the size of basketballs to the flowering vines climbing over everything.
And the serenity of the estate, tucked into the mountain-scape…. It provided a vivid, lovely contrast to the close-quarter hustle of San Jose’s downtown. With glittering sunshine, cool breezes, and clear, flower-scented air, the landscape practically begged me to curl up in the grass with a book for long, lazy hours.
As I mentioned in my post on romance in fiction, I’ve been on a bit of a love kick lately. So it seems appropriate that the stars would align to allow me to attend a wedding this weekend.
As you may guess, I didn’t spontaneously make the 13-hour-by-plane commute back to the States to attend nuptials. (Though I would happily kiss the feet of anyone who invented a working Harry-Potter-esque Portkey, thus preventing us from ever missing another wedding, graduation, etc., due to long distance.) Instead, this was the wedding (hūn lǐ) of one of my Chinese co-workers. His is actually the second Chinese wedding I’ve attended in our 1.5 years of living in China. In both cases, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to attend. It’s poignant thing, witnessing that incredible moment in someone’s life. And a Chinese wedding provides the added allure of a glimpse inside the culture.
In addition to introducing the upcoming year, Chinese New Year also marks the official start of spring according to China’s lunar calendar.
This year, I owe the lunar calendar a big commendation, as it pegged spring’s arrival perfectly. Just two weeks ago, temperatures here were in the 40s and 50s. Following on the heels of February 8th’s New Year celebration, the cherry blossoms are blooming and I’m shedding my jacket, happily welcoming 75°F days.
But the sunny days have made me nostalgic, bringing to a close our last winter to be spent in China. With the days counting down to the end of our assignment, I’m fondly remembering adventures we’ve taken, even as I wonder how well we’ve availed ourselves of our time here.
Over the long, luxurious holiday that was Chinese New Year (Happy Year of the Monkey, y’all!), my husband and I had a few visitors: Tien, a Foreign Service Officer from another post, and her one year old daughter, Violet.
I’m still on the fence about whether I should be proud or embarrassed that I had a DVD of Disney’s The Little Mermaid on hand for Violet’s entertainment (I have no little kids of my own on whom to blame this). Regardless, the film quickly lulled her off to dreamland, leaving her mommy and I to chat about childhood memories of our favorite red-headed mermaid.
Having lived in China for over a year now, I’ve nabbed a few opportunities to venture out exploring from my home base of Chengdu. I have under my belt multiple visits to the glittering capital of Beijing; I’ve stopped in Guangzhou, an important southern port city. My husband and I visited Jiuzhaiguo and its breathtaking nature park; we made our way up to Harbin, a Chinese city located near the Russian and North Korean borders (a phenomenal trip that included visiting the world’s largest ice festival, as well as snow fox and baby tiger-snuggling moments).
According to China’s late Chairman Mao, “Bù dào cháng chéng fēi hǎo hàn.”
Or, in our own tongue:
“He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man.”
This sentiment is one of a few about which Mr. Mao and I disagree. But I will give the man this: The Great Wall (aka: cháng chéng) truly is one of China’s must-see sites.
Believe it or not, this was actually a point of debate a few months back. As I worked with my parents to plan their 10-day trip to visit my husband and me in China, it became quickly apparent that we wouldn’t be able to pay homage to all China’s premier tourist locales. Since both my dad and I are surfers, we seriously considered jettisoning Beijing in favor of Hainan Island, the Hawaii of China:
An Advisory: To my male readers, I hereby issue fair warning: the following is an unequivocally girly blog post. Read at your own risk.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the important stuff: pearls.
This past week, I was fortunate enough to take a short business trip to Beijing. (I know; boo hoo for me, right?) It really was a work trip, so I didn’t have much time to explore Beijing’s touristy side. But there was one spot I knew I had to make it to, even if it meant facing off with Beijing’s infamous rush hour traffic to get there: Hongqiao Market (a.k.a: the Pearl Market).
As a pearl enthusiast, I’ve been hankering to pay Hongqiao a visit since my move to China. Having now made the trip, I can officially endorse it; if you share my fashion icons–women like Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, and the incomparable Audrey Hepburn–you’ll want to make a stop there, too. Continue reading “Livin’ in Pearl-adise”→