Friday, April 25, 2008

Ghenghis Khan Country!

This picture was taken in January while in Mongolia of last year. I was expecting huge piles of snow and freezing temperatures. The freezing temperatures we got...however, as it was too cold to snow, there was only about 4 inches of snow on the ground! Can you imagine a place where it is too cold to snow? Apparently we were lucky to be there during this particular January, as it was only 22 degrees F below zero--making it a mild winter! The previous January temperatures had been considerably lower--about 50 degrees F below zero. But it still doesn't explain why my face ached when being outside for longer than two minutes during these "mild" temperatures!

When I was in the 10th grade, my girlfriend, Gail Perry did a history paper on Ghenghis Khan. I remember thinking to myself, who on earth is that and how did she know this guy existed? I wish I could ask her--I would be interested in her answer after having experienced Mongolia for myself. She would be amazed to find out I have been to Mongolia! So, thanks to Gail, I knew that Ghenghis Khan was a famous Mongolian! The longer we were in Ulan Bataar it was very evident that he is a historical figure of great significance. There are references to him everywhere--from an incredibly tall sculpture in iron and steel, to a life size replica in ice!

What I was surprised to learn was that Russia had occupied this country for over 50 years. However, after seeing the architecture in Ulan Bataar and Darhan the influence is obvious. Nothing too inspiring--just myriads of block type buildings without design details. In fact, if you are like me and unfamiliar with this aspect of Mongolia's history, you would guess it when viewing the city. This photograph shows you what I am talking about.

As we were driving in from the airport there seemed to be a heavy fog hanging in the air. Not only that, but there was a strong smell of campfire. I asked about this and was told that it was not fog, just heavy smoke from the Mongolians burning coal and wood in their gers! I wish you could have seen and smelt the air! Amazing.
What is a ger you ask? They are tent like houses that can be set up and taken down in record time--as little as 1/2 hour. These tents give the people the ability to move to a new location when needed. They are round and quite large, housing a family comfortably. Inside you will find regular household furnishings--tables, chairs, beds, drawers, etc. The stove is located in the center of the ger with a pipe going up thru the middle of the roof. The Mongolians have been living in gers for hundreds of years and almost three quarters of the Mongolian population live in them.

Driving to Darhan, (about a 3-4 hour car ride from Ulan Bataar) we entered a snowy, frost laden wilderness. Miles and miles of rolling hills and a few animals seen in the distance. There are few glimpses of human habitation. As we were riding along, an amazing thing happened. We would encounter one or two Mongolians all bundled up walking along the side of the road. I couldn't believe it. I would look north, south, east and west and see nothing except snow and hills! Where on earth had this individual come from? More importantly, where he was going? Growing up in Canada, I had experienced snow, cold temperatures and nasty wind chills first hand. Living here, I could only imagine how hardy one would have to be to brave those freezing temperatures with no shelter in sight! We were told that eventually a car would come along and pick up this person (for a fee) and take him as far as they were traveling. An innovative touch to hitchhiking!
We saw this cattle herder while traveling to Darhan. I asked if we could stop for a minute and take a picture. The cute thing was that after taking his picture with the herd of cattle, he came over to the side of the road for his closeup! Turns out he was just a young boy with a sweet smile!

What is most impressive about this country? The opportunity to meet the people. They are warm hearted and courageous. They live in a climate that is mostly unforgiving for much of the year, yet they are cheerful and hardworking. There are many challenges to be faced, and they do it with courage and strength. They made me feel at home with their beautiful smiles and faces. I loved Mongolia!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I hope you find this interesting...

This post is all about setting a table...I can remember seeing my first special table setting at Grandma Hallstroms. I was completely amazed that someone would go to all that effort to make a table look so inviting. I loved the anticipation of wondering what she would do for our special meals during holiday times, and I was never disappointed. Do you remember all the fun ornaments that you received through the years at Christmas time because Grandma added that fun touch? Not only did it make the table look festive, but it was a fun favor for you children to take home and hang on the tree! Eventually, I began setting a few holiday tables with a little extra effort. However, when we moved to Japan, (and now in Hong Kong) I discovered how much fun it was to set a table that would make the guests feel special. So here are a few of my efforts since being in Hong Kong...some more inspiring than others!
I bought this table topper in Thailand...the plate chargers from Williams and Sonoma, the red goblets from our very own local "Junk Store" here in Hong Kong. The mums were from my local street vendor...oh, and I made the place cards.

This was our Christmas table for this year. Same red goblets...but used red plate chargers. However, the Christmas plates are Irene's. I love the plates! She got them from a Noritake outlet store in Sri Lanka...who knew?

This is a close up of the individual place settings....can you see the fun plaid on the plates? By the way, do you notice the goose on the place card? Talk about matching the plates...

I love this tablecloth! We bought it in Indonesia. However, I, totally miscalculated the table cloth length--so it is incredibly large. When we come home, this tablecloth will have to be used for 12 or more people. See how fun the woven chargers look? The 3 votive pillars in the center of the table were also bought in Indonesia--they are made out of Cinnabar wood. The green glass votives are from the Junk Store!

Notice the place cards. I got the image off the Internet and changed the coloring just a little bit. It matches perfectly with the tablecloth! So much fun! Instead of flowers, I used greenery...and they ended up looking like little trees...a nice change from flowers!

The wooden elephants are Irene's (speaking of which, I think I need some wooden elephants, don't you?)...the green taper candles I got from the Junk Store...very fun!

This table was so fun to do. I found wonderful eggs at the Junk Store. I had the idea to put the eggs on the candlestick holders instead of candles--it was different, but effective. The flowered cloth is from is a hand dyed cotton yukata--of course, it came from the Salvation Army store which means cheap! The blue and white candle holders are from the Junk Store, as are the purple glass votives. My newest acquisition from the Junk Store this year are the blue and white covered bunny dishes--they were perfect for the Easter table setting. (You do realize that when I say Junk Store, that is code for ridiculously cheap and wonderful stuff?)

Here is a closer look. The flowers came from the local street market vendor. Oh, I have to say that the flowers you can get here are marvelous...and for just a few dollars! As you can see, I tried to match my flower arrangements to coordinate with the yukata cloth. I think it was successful!

Do you see the random green glass egg holder on the table? I completely forgot I had left it there. Irene caught it when she came up before the dinner started and was taking pictures! Thank goodness for Irene! All in all, it was a wonderful, springy, Eastery theme. Everybody smiled and enjoyed a great dinner.

Now what shall I do for the next table setting?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Who needs Europe?

I can't believe that I have not posted for several weeks...All of my former murmurings about daughters not blogging on a weekly basis has now ceased and been repented of! Erin's "Blanks" have rubbed off on me...and it is a challenge to snap out of it!
On Thursday of last week, I went to Shenzen with Irene and her two houseguests that were visiting from the US. We went to two cultural sites...One was called "Windows of the World" and the other one, "Splendid China." It took about 90 minutes by train to get there from Hong Kong. Irene is absolutely amazing as a tour guide. She can out walk and out last any person her age or younger! I think she has been to these two attractions at least 6-7 times and each time she goes, she has the enthusiasm of first timer! The day was hot and humid...and a little stifling at times!

This is the opening scene to Windows of the World! Who needs Paris or Rome? It is all right here in Shenzen!
Splendid China was mentored by The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. Loosely based on what they do in Hawaii, the China version is a little over the top! We saw three shows...The Mongolian Horseback Riders, Oriental Dress show, and a chinese themed Dragon and Phoenix show. Windows of the World is a themed park displaying natural and man made wonders of the world. A wee bit cheesey...but I guess if you can't go and see the real thing, come to China and witness it in minature! We left at 8 in the morning, and didn't get home until 10:30 that night. I was almost too tired to sleep!

Dad and I didn't need to go to Japan to see Mt.'s here--in all it's glory!

Irene and I at the Taj Mahal...I know, I just can't stop talking about it--but at least I am not wearing the green shirt!

I know what you are it really possible to see the Effiel Tower and Mount Rushmore from the nation's capital? The answer is obvious..."Seeing is believing!"

Kara, can your Tower of London compare with this?