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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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 It is quite the quiet Christmas here on the other side of the world (not to be confused with actual silence, as that is impossible to find in China) as we have come upon our first holiday season devoid of family, Christmas spirit, or really any understanding of what Christmas even is.  They do take advantage of the decorating and musical aspect of the holiday however, as the high end malls and super markets have strings of Christmas lights and play Christmas music on repeat all day long.  I do appreciate their effort though, as it makes this tropical land seem a little more like the holiday season (although I have heard it is warmer at home in the U.S. than it is here! – so not fair!).  To keep the Christmas spirit alive we have put up our Christmas decorations, yes we did ship them to China, and bought a cute little plastic Christmas tree on Taobao, the Chinese version of Ebay, to put our ornaments and lights on.  We even hung icicle lights on our balconies and decked out our Chinese circle shelf with colored lights, more than we ever did in the U.S. might I add.  I think being on our own this year has definitely brought out our holiday spirit as with no family around we are left to initiate our own holiday cheer.

 This included hosting our very first Thanksgiving with friends where we cooked a goose with all the traditional sides.  It was super fun and rewarding to be able to host a holiday meal for ourselves and provide friends with a home-cooked American style Thanksgiving, despite being halfway around the world from our families.  We even had the “crazy uncles” show up after dessert in the form of 3 of Justin’s drunk co-workers paying an unexpected visit.  It was quite the unique Thanksgiving, but fun all the same.

As this year comes to a close we are also coming up on the closing of our first year abroad in China, and I have to say, despite many times thinking how long 4 years is going to seem, I can’t believe we are almost 1 year down already!  Leaving all of our family and friends (and animals) behind has been incredibly hard on us, but the hole that left in our lives has only opened the door for many new friendships and memories to be made.  We have met and befriended so many new people from all walks of life and many different countries and cultures.  It’s really amazing to have friends from so many different parts of the world, and I know we will only make more as the years go on.

 Cultivating our lives in China has given us some amazing opportunities thus far.  I have learned how to speak, read, and write Mandarin Chinese and have already achieved my HSK 3 language proficiency certificate, out of 6 levels.  We have also learned not only how to cook Chinese food, but how to create many of our favorite western dishes completely from scratch, as it is hard to find a lot of western ingredients pre-made in China.  I can now make ricotta cheese, fresh ravioli, homemade marinara sauce from fresh tomatoes, flour tortillas, etc., the list goes on and on, and the process has really been a lot of fun.  Justin has found a cycling group here in Zhuhai to ride with and they have even formed their own team and started going to local races.  The race scene here is not quite what he is used to in the U.S. and his riding has gotten bogged down by work for most of the year, but it is still great to get the opportunity to go to races and have friends to ride with at home, something that was a rarity in Covington, VA.

 Aside from our adventures at home in Zhuhai, expating in China has given us the amazing chance to travel the world.  Despite Justin working crazy hours that included many 12 hour days, night, and evening shifts, we still managed to sneak away for a few long trips.  The first of which took us to Guilin, China where we got to experience the rice terraces of Longsheng, and the finger mountains of Xingping, all while eating new foods, experiencing new Chinese culture, and riding our tandem from place to place.

 Our next trip was our first time out of the country since we moved, and we choose to explore the fabulous country of Greece during the Chinese National Day holiday.  Our trip was 2 weeks in total and was nothing short of amazing.  We explored Athens and the Acropolis, snorkeled, sailed, and horseback rode on Naxos, hiked the Samaria Gorge, summited Mount Olympus, and explored Dion archaeological site.  All of this mind you, in between stuffing ourselves on gelato, souvlaki, greek salad, and moussaka, and throughly enjoying every second of eating something that was not Chinese food.  The atmosphere, people, scenery, and food, were absolutely stunning, and after 2 weeks of bliss, neither of us wanted to return to China.  In the end we did ultimately have to come back (life, work, you know) but a month later we hopped on a plane again, this time to see more of China.

 Our final big trip of the year was to Yunnan province, our new, fancy, titanium tandem in tow, to participate in the Colorful Yunnan Gran Fondo, a five stage bike race across beautiful Yunnan province.  Unfortunately, we could only participate in 3 race stages, as Justin could not get any more time off of work, but it was still a fabulous time.  We raced in the towns of Chuxiong, Dali, and Lijiang, all of which are home to rare Chinese minority groups, and the towns themselves have a ton of history and culture.  The area is surrounded by mountains, and absolutely stunning countryside and was a great contrast to the city we live in.  It was super fun to be able to race on the tandem, and we definitely surprised everyone by being able to hold our own and stay with the group.  We certainly became the local celebrities for not only being the only tandem in the gran fondo, but for being a fast tandem at that.  We were in tons of pictures and videos as well as getting interviewed for CCTV, the main Chinese news channel, and getting asked by the Chinese if we would sign their shirts… like I said, celebrity status.  There were a surprising number of foreigners at the race, some of whom made the trip to China specifically for this gran fondo.  It was nice to have some native English speakers to talk to and share meals and experiences with.

Our next big adventure we are planning will be to the Philippines for a week in the beginning of February over Chinese New Year, so stay tuned for some more travel adventures!

 As much fun as to be had living half way across the world, we want you all to know that we are always thinking about our family and friends, and we miss you all so much!  For those who may not be aware, we are planning a visit home next summer, and I will keep you all apprised as to exactly when.  On the flip side, we hope that at least some of you are thinking about making the trip to China during our stay, as we would be delighted to have you, and would love to share with you this once in a lifetime experience.  We wish all of our family in the U.S. and friends all over the world a very merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a wonderful new year full of your own fabulous new adventures.


Cara and Justin


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