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Tying the Knot in the PRC

17 May

Celebrating the Chinese Nuptials with Champagne at Aria in the China World Hotel

We got hitched!  And, we did it Chinese style.  Honestly, it was a wonderful, hilarious, and completely crazy experience. While we absolutely feel like husband and wife – I must admit that at this point we sometimes refer to it as a hybrid.  I think you will see why after I explain the way I stopped being a “kept woman” (my sweet grandmother’s words…not mine) and we became legally bound here in the PRC.

It all started with an affidavit. Very Romantic.  We made an appointment at the US Embassy and before we knew it we were raising our right hands and swearing our eligibility for marriage under oath.  Surprisingly, US Citizens can not actually get married at the US Embassy – so we were off to an official, Chinese government approved translating office to translate the affidavit in order for the Chinese Marriage Office to recognize it.  Clearly, it would have been much too easy for the US Embassy to provide the four sentence document in a bilingual format, right?  Sarcasm intended.

FASHION: Red Silk Birdie Bass Bustier with a High Waisted Fuchsia D&G Skirt

Unfortunately, we realized upon arrival at the translation office, that the process takes a few days…so even though I had dressed for the occasion in a very special red ensemble (the Chinese color for a happy marriage) it was not going to be our Chinese Wedding Day just yet….

While waiting for the document, we did our research and gathered all other necessary documents for our meeting with the Chinese Marriage Office.  Passports…visas…birth certificates…Brett’s work visa…a copy of our lease…my temporary registration with the police…and 3 photos.  I bundled everything together in a cute pink folder, and we (Brett, his assistant Fancy Nancy – our wonderful witness, and I) retrieved the translated affidavit and went directly to get ourselves hitched!

Our super cute Chinese Marriage Certificates that I annoyingly showed every stranger at the restaurant!

Lucky for us (well maybe…keep your fingers crossed) the Chinese believe it is lucky to get married at the beginning of the week…not the end like we were doing.  But since we are not Chinese, and we don’t believe this, we were absolutely thrilled to walk in and be helped right away.  I don’t think we have ever been anywhere in this country without 50 people waiting in some semblance of a line.  (The straight line has not really caught on here just yet.)

Other than Hello! – no one spoke a lick of English at the Marriage Office. Fortunately, Nancy could translate whatever was above a second grader’s vocabulary to us (that is as far as I have made it so far).  They asked for each document one at a time and eventually requested the 3 photos. Silly me assumed that this was to prove our true love and commitment to one another and avoid questions of a permanent resident visa scam – so I didn’t just bring 3, I brought 7.  Some from our travels, some hugging, and others which might show the length of our time together.  The representative gladly took them from me, and began to thoroughly review them – even showing them to her colleagues.  After about 5 minutes of flipping through the photos, she handed them back to us, giggled, and told us that the 3 photos required should be official marriage portraits taken at a studio with a red background – measuring exactly 4cmX6cm.  Clearly, she could tell instantly that our photos were not correct, but I just love that she thumbed through them for her own enjoyment – secretly laughing at the stupid Blonde in Beijing.

As it was getting a bit late in the afternoon, we rushed to a portrait studio to take our “official” photos.  I was wearing a red silk bustier (for good luck) which basically made me look like a floating head against the backdrop – so we thought it was best for me to wear my jacket (which by the way is the same jacket I was wearing the night that Brett and I shared our first kiss on the streets of New York!)  The nice photographer quickly photoshopped out the shiny sweat on our foreheads (due to our quick jog to the studio) and we made it back to the Marriage Office before closing.

This is where is gets particularly funny…I assumed that we were in for a treat with a Chinese ceremony or some form of oath in the native tongue – but no.  It was nothing like that.  After we turned in the correct photos – the clerk typed our information into the computer and ask us to pay the 9 RMB fee for our certificates (that is the equivalent of $1.50…Dad, I will send you the bill shortly).  Money exchanged hands, and we were given 2 red folders (like little red passports) – one with Brett’s name stating his marriage to me, and the other with my name stating my marriage to him.  And just like that…I became Mrs. Brett Hutchinson! (Of course, there were many other hoops to jump through to make my name change official – but on March 25, 2011 – Brett Hutchinson and I were married in the People’s Republic of China.  For all of those who didn’t think Brett would ever even get married…I imagine that you never thought that if he did – it would be in China of all places!

Receipt for our 9RMB ($1.50) Wedding

I hope that you can see why we are referring to it as a bit of a hybrid – we still haven’t actually said our vows.  Those will take place in September in South Africa (just the two of us).  But before that – we will have a Stateside celebration in August with our beloved friends and family, and a party with our friends here in Beijing.

We would like to send a special thank you to our friends in Dalian who surprised us with a traditional style celebration.  See the pictures of us below in full Chinese Marriage Garb.  BTW – Brett might be the only bearded man to have ever worn this.

On stage in Dalian in traditional Chinese wedding attire. That headpiece weighed about 20 lbs! Also, check out the big screen behind us!

A look of doubt?? Of course not!!

With our gift of 99 red roses for a happy life!

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Valentine’s Day in Beijing

21 Feb

Referred to as “Ai Ren Tian” – which literally translates to Lover’s Day, the Valentine’s Day celebration in China is a fast growing trend. In fact, they have already learned to jack up the price of roses by 100% or more at every flower market in town.   Heart shape chocolates line the shelves of most markets (not just the western ones) and restaurants advertise Valentine’s Day specials. Though unlike New York – you don’t have to make a reservation 2-months in advance! Unfortunately though, my personal favorite – the classic pink velvet heart shape box of chocolates by Russell Stover (found at any local Duane Reade in NYC) is a NO show in the Old Peking. Although on a positive note: Dove, Toblerone, and many fine European chocolates make a strong showing.

Valentine’s Day happened to fall on the day after we arrived home from our trip to the states. Needless to say – jet lag played a big roll in our decision to avoid the crowds and have a nice night at home.  I surprised Brett by dressing myself and our dining room chairs up as Cupid.  I think it is a pretty clever use of red feathered wings…

 

Valentine’s Day Table Decor

I also decided to get a little more creative with my centerpieces in order to avoid the crazy mark up on roses. I used bundles and bundles of baby’s breath (a filler that I don’t typically like) to create the look of a giant fluffy snowball.  It was really cute…and really cheap!  Not to mention the fact that Valentine’s Day was over a week ago, and the arrangements still look just as fresh as the day I created them.

 

Fluffy Baby’s Breath Arrangement

I also surprised Brett with one of his favorite meals: creamed spinach and a Wagu beef filet prepared rare.  He surprised me with 66 beautiful red roses!

 

A Treat from My Valentine!

I give our Valentine’s Day in Beijing 5 Blondes out of 5!  Of course if you happened to spend it with someone who you don’t particularly like…the score could be much lower.

3 Weeks…7 Company Parties

31 Jan

Well – one thing is clear – the Chinese certainly finish out the year (the lunar calendar year) with an endless series of parties.  Here are a few pictures from our Nianhui (annual party) Marathon!

Xi'an BMW Showroom Grand Opening. FASHION: Ivory Silk Dolce and Gabanna Jacket with a Black Wool Pencil Skirt

We kicked off the celebrations with the Grand Opening of a new BMW Showroom on Xi’an’s newest and most prominent International Shopping Street.

With Chris – The Most Darling Girl from Xi’an!

Chris is the assistant to Harris, the General Manager of the Xi’an stores.  She is such a doll.  Not only does she help us plan our trips and arrange our entertainment during our stays – she also talks Gossip Girl with me!  (And let’s be honest – with Brett too. He is a shameless fan!)

Brett, Morgan, Oscar, Brandi, Fancy Nancy, and Terry. FASHION: Taupe and Black Lace Dress from Forever XXI with Leopard Print Stockings

Dinner with some of Brett’s Team – from accounting to IT.  Lucky for me – we didn’t have to discuss numbers or motherboards! And, I was able to speak Mandarin almost the entire meal.  Ok -it might have been 2nd grade Mandarin…but you have to start somewhere!

Nancy, Morgan, Brett

Fancy Nancy (as I call her – due to her love of bedazzling every office accessory on her desk with pink crystals) is Brett’s amazing assistant.  Her english is outstanding (after studying in New Zealand) and she is just a ball of fun!

Me and My Xi'an Boyfriend Edward. FASHION: Black and Royal Blue Polkadot Strapless Dress from Tootsies circa 1986

At the Xi’an Nianhui with Edward (Marketing Director of Xi’an stores and MC of the annual party) who introduced me as a Hollywood Movie Star to the crowd of 500 guests.  Who knew all I had to do was move to a country of brunettes to be considered a star?  Hair dye…worth it’s weight in gold!

Morgan and Brett Xi'an Nianhui

Seating assignments are taken very seriously in China.  In fact – there is a well known science to it.  Most (if not all) of the tables are round and seat up to 12 guests.  The guest of honor is seated in the center seat facing the stage – to the right and left are the next round of important guests (or me if I am with Brett!) and so on and so on.  The special seat is marked with a napkin folded to look like a dragon.   In a private room or residence, this seat would be placed furthest from the door, and it would be assumed that the person sitting in the special seat would pick up the check!

Urumqi Nianhui. FASHION: Lavender Silk BCBG Runway Cocktail Dress with Traditional Urumqi Headgear

Urumqi – a city in the most western province of China that borders Kazakhstan and has a population of over 2.5 million – was absolutely freezing!  I wore open toed shoes of course and lost feeling in my toes after hoofing through the snow.  But I mean – boots just don’t work with a cocktail dress.

Urumqi Nianhui Mask Game

In all fairness, Brett was blind folded when he drew this.  But should I be concerned if this is how he pictures me when his eyes are closed?  I sort of look like Sloth from The Goonies.

Filling the Ice Sculpture with Champagne at the Beijing Nianhui

This was actually pretty cool.  It originally looked like a big plain block of ice – but as it filled with the Champagne  – all of the NCGA brand logos (BMW, Porsche, Jaguar, Volvo, and Mini) magically appeared!

Beijing Nianhui

This picture was taken seconds before Brett climbed into a black magic box to “appear” out of nowhere in front of the 1000+ guests.  After mysteriously emerging from the box – I was asked to verify his identity – which I did entirely in Chinese!  Maybe even 3rd grade Chinese!

Group Pic at Beijing Nianhui
Beijing Jaguar Showroom Grand Opening

This showroom (the largest in all of China) is absolutely stunning.  Hats off to the designer!  Also – a live band performed and at one point, Brett and I thought they were actually playing an Alicia Keys CD.  The singer was phenomenal!

Jaguar Showroom Opening

Brett and I with Fiona (left) one of the in-house attorneys and Sherry (right) the VP of HR.

Driver Dinner

Brett and I with our dear driver Allen whom we also consider to be our 21 year old son!  We (along with others and their drivers) treated him to Peking Duck and presented him with his Hong Bao (a red envelope filled with his year-end bonus).  It was his first time to try Maltai (a Chinese Wine that literally burns your throat and makes your face turn bright red!)  Needless to say – we provided him with a driver to get him home.  No drunk driving aloud!

Solena, Morgan, Allen, and Brett at Driver Dinner

Solena (our Chinese teacher AND friend) joined us for the dinner.

Allen and Brett

This season of company parties, while a bit exhausting, was also so much fun.  I love to experience new ways of celebrating!

Xi’an, China

18 Dec

Dont' be fooled - these are not the "real" terra-cotta warriors. Although they may have worn oversized sunglasses.

I think it is fair to say that all of us hope to leave our mark on this earth.  Many do this by raising a family and carrying on their family name.  Artists and authors become immortal through their works.  Some offer endowments to their alma mater in order for a building that bears their name to be built.  Recently, I discovered one person in particular who left 2 incredible legacies behind: one above ground – The Great Wall – and one underground (and therefore less well-known) –  The Terra-cotta Soldiers of Xi’an. Known as the First Emperor in Chinese History  (or to me as one of the most arrogant men to ever walk the earth) Emperor QinShihuang decided to have his “people” craft an estimated 8,000 life-size warriors and horses to be buried along the perimeter wall of his tomb in order to protect his corpse in the afterlife.  A reasonable request, don’t you think?

Because Emperor Qin believed that life under the ground after death was a continuation of life on earth, he constructed (or rather had his people construct – over a 40 year period) a huge mausoleum for himself including 3 palaces and a resting hall with all the necessities of daily life, as if the emperor were still alive.  And although a grass-covered mound stands 76 meters high today (originally 115 meters high during its completion in 221 BC) and about 35 kilometers from the city of Xi’an, it wasn’t until 1974 that local farmers discovered large pottery fragments while digging for wells in search of water.  This discovery led to the revelation of 3 pits housing the emperor’s underground army spanning over 22,000 square meters.  It should be said that the farmer who discovered this amazing national treasure (often referred to as The 8th Wonder of the World) became the first Chinese millionaire!

The Warrior "Hospital" - Where restorations continue daily

After 5 years of government approved excavation, Emperor Qin’s Terra-cotta Museum opened to the public on October 1, 1979.  In the last 20 years, the terra-cotta museum has become the largest on-site museum in China, and it receives over 2 million tourists each year.  Upon entering the first pit of the museum, all of us (my mom included who was visiting us for the first time) became speechless.  Something very difficult for both Brett and Mom to do I might add!  The sheer magnitude of the soldiers is bewildering – but upon closer look, we realized that each soldier carries a different facial expression, its own unique hairstyle and stance.  These outstanding figures were not replicated in bulk, but created with time, care, and unprecedented precision.  Even more remarkable – each figure would have been 3 times its current size before cooking it in the kiln to achieve the finished product.

Restored Warriors in Pit 1

Honestly, I can’t even wrap my mind around it – but I suppose there was a bit more free time before television and Facebook.  It is estimated that over 2 million craftsmen worked to build the emperor’s tomb and the terra-cotta warriors. Sadly,  thousands of them were buried alive at the death of the emperor to keep the tomb a secret.

It is truly something one must see to believe.  I had seen a documentary on them before moving to China – but nothing but your own eyes can truly do them justice.

Small Terra-cotta Figures from Emperor Jingdi's Tomb

Xi’an was actually the original capital of China, and because of this it has a plethora of other historical treasures.  In fact, just a one hour drive from Emperor Qin’s tomb is the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi which houses over 50,000 doll-sized terra-cotta figures in a new “under-ground” museum which opened in 2006.  Known as the Hanyangling museum, this modern space creates a unique perspective with glass floors that allow you to literally walk over the remains.  While the life-size warriors of Emperor Qin’s tomb are mind-boggling because they represent his complete domination over the people, the figures of Jingdi’s tomb embody his way of thinking as an emperor of the people.  The 2 emperors had quite different regimes to say the least.

Laughing at the Large Wild Goose Pagoda

We also visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 652 AD during the Teng Dynasty to hold Buddhist materials collected from India. Although, my mom opted out, Brett and I climbed to the top to check out the views of Xi’an.  Unfortunately for us, the visibility that day pretty much sucked.  If only we had thought it through before climbing the 7 stories of rickety and extremely uneven stairs…

Xi’an is a true treasure of China, and the residents take great pride in their city. I thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and I highly recommend it as a stop during any visit to China.   I am also incredibly thankful that we got to share the experience with my mom.  I mean look how cute she is dressed as a terra-cotta soldier!

Warrior? Or Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland?

Destination: Dalian, China

20 Jul

Before moving to China I had never heard of Dalian – a city due east of Beijing on a peninsula.  I assume that most Americans are not familiar with Dalian either, which is funny because it has over 6 million people (over 2 times the size of Chicago – the 3rd largest city in the US).  Brett and I have been spending quite a lot of time in Dalian due to his work, and I imagine there will be many more trips in the future.  So – I think the best way to document the city is through photos and captions.  This way I will be able to update the stories and experiences of this city by the sea often and easily.

The beaches in Dalian are actually quite bare. While there is definitely no shortage of humans, luxury resorts have no presence at all. In my opinion, someone is missing out on a great opportunity here. Will someone please get on this? I would love to have a cheap beach option that is only a 1 hour flight away from Beijing!

Of course most places by the sea offer tasty and fresh seafood but Dalian takes this to a new level. Almost all of the restaurants allow you to visit tanks within the dining space to select your main course while it is still living. Sometimes your dish is still living when it is served! This is Brett kissing our sashimi. The fun part....it kissed him back!

Hand picked lobster. I waited to eat him until after he was properly prepared!

Back wall of restaurant - lined entirely with tanks, buckets, and baskets with everything from sea sausage (don't ask and don't eat) to king crab.

We typically stay at the Kempinski Hotel during our trips to Dalian, which is right across from Labor Park. The park is sort of a hybrid between an amusement park and a pedestrian area. There are beautiful gardens with areas to relax mixed in with a handful of rollercoasters and games. We took the gondola ride to get a better view of the city. Unfortunately it started to rain shortly after our trip began....but on a positive note - we did get a lovely view of the inside of a cloud!

The Gondola at Labor Park

This little girl is literally fishing for gold fish. I think this explains why they are so thin. Clearly...this is going to be my new diet plan.

Enjoying local ale at the Paulaner Brauhaus & Restaurant. This place has a great live band every night. And...like everywhere else in the world - they are googoo for GAGA!

Thank Goodness for My L Visa

19 Jul

Photo booths are all the rage in Seoul. We couldn't resist!

The beauty of living in Beijing on an L visa (a type of visa to visit friends and family) is that I am forced to exit every 60 days.  It might sound like a frustration but the truth is…it creates an amazing guilt free excuse to travel and experience all that Asia has to offer.  Our most recent get away was a long weekend to Seoul, Korea.  What a fantastic and modern city!

Lucky for us a recently opened Banyan Tree Resort was running an extremely discounted introductory rate.  The room itself was enough to make for a great escape, and the Banyan Tree never disappoints with their cabana clad pools.  And while it was hard to pull away from the sunshine, the city of Seoul has so much more to offer.

First – let’s talk fashion.  (I will get to the more intellectual details later!)  I loved it.  It is fresh, inventive, over the top, and saturated with accessories – just my cup of tea!  The innovation is not limited to the clothes; the retail displays and marketing methods in Myeongong (a great shopping street) create fabulous eye candy as well.  In fact, we were so inspired (okay – maybe that “we” should be an “I”) that Sex and the City 2 seemed like the only fitting follow-up.  So…off to the movies we went.  It was cute to see that Korean girls dress to impress for SATC just like American girls.  It was also cute to see Brett dish about which outfits he liked best.

Second – let’s talk food.  Gorilla in the Kitchen, a restaurant owned by a Korean celebrity, was our favorite meal. We selected the seven-course tasting menu, which offered a variety of traditional Korean dishes with a modern twist.  Every bite was better than the one before.

Please don't ask me to pronounce the name of this!

Third – let’s talk our favorite local attraction.  The Cheonggyecheon Stream, recently uncovered in 2003 after being buried under a highway for 30 years, is part of a vast urban renewal project in Seoul.  We strolled the banks for hours listening to local musicians and watching various street performers.  The greatest entertainment; however, was the light show.

Every few hours, a giant fountain emerges on one end of the stream and a light show projector beams through the spray creating a 3D show of crazy colors and holograms.  The finale…a hot pink Rockette-esque kick line.  Remarkable!

In front of the waterfall on one end of the stream

Finally – let’s talk hostess bar.  What we thought to be a cute underground hotspot turned out to be a true gentlemen’s club.  I confirmed this fact when I visited the lady’s room.  The men’s room, which I passed on my way, appeared to be a luxurious lounge. Honestly, I got excited.  I have a secret love for cool bathrooms with attendants.  Well…to say that my experience was different is an understatement.  First – I had to climb 3 flights of stairs in a dark and dingy stairwell.  Then – I traveled down a never-ending hallway, and when I finally made my way to the toilets, after stumbling through the janitor’s closet, I found a group of young girls in shirts posing as dresses counting their earnings from the night.  Despite feeling a bit out-of-place (mainly because my dress actually covered my bum) we enjoyed our drinks and had a great time people watching!

Example of one of the photo booths. They were everywhere!

We had a blast in Seoul.  I highly recommend it, and I hope that we return in the near future!



Monkey Says “NO” to Wasabi Peas

11 May

Our Monkey with His Snack of Choice

Almost the entire country of China shut down for 2 weeks in February to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. So with the doors of NCGA (Brett’s work) closed for business, we had no other choice than to hop a flight to Bali.  (I hope the sarcasm in that sentence is as obvious as intended.)

Before I can go into any details of the trip, I must first tell you that Brett and I are both geographically challenged when it comes to the size of Asia.  We mistakenly assumed that our flight time from Beijing would be 4-5 hours, when in reality, it was 9 hours of air time plus an overnight stay in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Needless to say that when we finally arrived, we wanted nothing more than a cold beverage (avec bourbon) by the pool!

Our hotel, The Ayana Resort, is comprised of 78 freestanding, cliff-top villas.  Each villa has its own infinity edge pool overlooking the Indian Ocean.  Honestly, it is pretty ridiculous.  I should now take the time to selfishly thank all those involved in causing the  financial crisis, which allowed us to afford a vacation at this small piece of heaven on earth.  Best to look at the bright side of things, right?

Our villa was so secluded that at times we felt completely removed from all civilization.  Although I suppose the blaring Bose speakers, the Michelin Star quality room service, and the personal butler were pretty clear reminders. Sarcasm intended.   Those modern luxuries aside, the remoteness of our accommodations contributed greatly to our most favorite Balinese experience (or Balanean experience in Brett speak).

It was our very first day.  We were playing in the pool and my back was to the ocean.  With a very odd look on his face, Brett announced that a rather decent size monkey was rapidly approaching us.  As a monkey lover and one born in the year of the monkey, I was immediately filled with excitement.  Could it be?  Another monkey for my monkey pack?  (The Hangover movie reference) .  The truth is, the monkey was not trying to join my monkey pack.  In fact, he just wanted our food.  He initially went for a full bag of wasabi peas.  We assumed, after he spit them out faster than a Nolan Ryan fastball in his prime, he was not a fan.  Luckily for him (it was definitely a him) there was also a delicious bag of salt and vinegar potato chips nearby.  With a human like grip, he carried the bag to our cabana, reclined on the plush cushions, and proceeded to eat the entire bag…one chimp…I mean one chip at a time.

Visiting a Rice Paddy in Bali

While the wild monkey visit was a highlight for me, Bali had so much more to offer.  We visited amazing rice paddies, beautiful coffee plantations, and an entire wild monkey forest.

There are so many extraordinary resorts on the island of Bali; however, I strongly recommend Ayana.  The Spa on the Rocks is to die for, and the location on the island receives the most sunshine of any other spot.  Life is short.  Go to Bali.

www.ayanaresort.com

BTW:  The monkey did visit us again.  On the 2nd visit, he realized that we did not have any accessible food. So…he peed all over Brett’s flip-flops, and left.  Good times.

Tasting Kopi Lawak Balinese Coffee

Feeding a Monkey in the Wild Monkey Forest

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