China Assignment (Suzhou) bio picture
  • Welcome to my Suzhou blog!

    For the next two years (starting on Feb 14, 2011) I will use this blog to chronicle our travels while on assignment in Suzhou, China. My wife and I (OK, mostly me) consider this a great opportunity to get to know one of the oldest and richest cultures in the world. We are excited about the opportunity and hope you will join us as we explore this amazing land and it's surroundings. We encourage you to add comments as you see best.
    Thanks for visiting!
    My assignment ended on March 8, 2013. If you like to follow our next adventure click HERE
    Carlos & Bethe

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Yongdusan Park – South Korea

We are still in China, the next couple of posts will cover areas we visited while in Korea this past October. I decided to post all B&W pictures in this post; I am starting to re-like B&W a lot. I started many years ago just doing B&W (developing and printing them), I think B&W have a special feel so here we go.

Yongdusan Park is in the middle of Busan. Busan is the second largest city in S. Korea; Seoul being the first. With a population of 3.5 million people, Busan is the largest port city in S. Korea and the world’s fifth sea port by cargo and tonnage. Recent major events held in this city are the 2002 Asian Games and the 2002 FIFA World Cup (Soccer).

We arrived at this park around 4:00 PM and the sun was starting to fade. The park was built by the government as a tourist attraction, but is seems dated and in need of renovation. The main attraction is the Busan Tower which is 118 meters high (387 feet). It’s located in Yongdusan Park and was told that the views of the city and surrounding area are great on a sunny day. On a clear day, you can even see Japan (Tsushima Island). Was not terribly impressed by the park itself, but what really caught my eye was the large number of mature men that were all around. It seems to be a very popular area for them just to hang around, chat and play a variety of board games. For more on this see below.

Wide view of the main square, the action is on the perimeter. The park overlooks the bay and most of the city below.


Around most of the perimeter you saw this same view. A large number of men just hanging, watching or playing board games. Looks like a retiree hangout.


This gentlemen does not look too convinced he will win. "Oh dear"


...I think I am looking good...if I only had a match to light up my cigarette...


The guy on the right is either in trouble or just plain bored by the slow play of his opponent.


No reason why one cannot dress up for this occasion.


As you can see from these pictures, spectators are all around the sidelines. Who needs TV?


Running out of beads...


Got you!


The park offers many options to spectators, galleries is one of them.


Not sure if this group is just taking a break from watching a game, but they seem to be staring into nothingness.


This guys had enough. Goodnight!

Thanks for visiting!

Nicholas (part 2 of 2)

We are grateful that Nicholas adoptive mother is keeping us up to date with Nicholas progress. We are happy to hear that he is adapting as we knew he would. You see, Nicholas is quite a bright little guy. He is intense, smart, sweet, happy, adaptable and above all–as most little ones are–very curious of everything around him.

We plan on keeping in touch and visiting him once we return to the US. Having had Nicholas with us even for such a short amount of time has created a bond that will never go away. We will pray for him and his new family as one of our own. It is our wish and prayer Nicholas, that our Lord will watch after you and keep you safe. May you walk with Him throughout your life and with His help may you grow to your full potential. Will see you in fourteen months or so.

Last set of pictures we will be sharing of Nicholas. These show the many sides of the Nicholas great personality.

Nicholas loved the girls and had much fun with them. He is quite the ladies man. Of course my girls fell in love with him right away.

The girls fell in love with Nicholas right away, he has a way of turning on the charm that is just too hard to resist. Jocelyn with Nicholas at Humble Administrators Garden posing for a picture. Top right- Nicholas with his impersonation of Kim Jong Il. I remember when he saw his first American football, he focused on trying to spin it for quite a while. Sarah took care of Nicholas quite a bit, she is a natural and he knew it. You see her and Nicholas taking a nap in the van.

The girls with Nicholas - he is not interested in smiling right then...he is looking at the cool door.

Nicholas with my wife in Tiger Hill. Nicholas had just started to walk and was not too happy having to stay in the stroller.

Nicholas loves Christmas presents; primarily the boxes. Quite normal kid!

I have posted this before, but we think is one of the best pictures from Nicholas. It really shows him as we see him all the time; happy, playful and loving.

One of my top five of me and Nicholas. We had such a good time playing in front of the mirror. Do you think he was enjoying it?

We have many more pictures, but will resist the temptation of posting more in here. So here we are, with Nicholas in one of the last pictures we took of the three of us. Love you Nicholas! See you soon.

Alison NoyceFebruary 26, 2012 - 10:37 PM

Glad your story with Nicholas doesn't end with his meeting his mom. This post, the beautiful photos, and the love you and Bethe share with Nicholas warms my heart.

Nicholas (Part 1 of 2)

Often you go into situations not really knowing how they will impact you or what lessons you will learn from them. This is our brief story of Nicholas and how he changed our world. It has taken me over a month to be able to post on this subject without tearing up, thinking about how Nicholas is doing and the just plain beautiful moments we had together. Well, so much for that, I can barely see through my silent tears right now (I know, what a sap), but must share our story. Lesson #1a child does not have to be genetically yours for you to love him/her as your own. Taking care of a little one who is completely dependent on you and looks at you as if you are the best thing since sliced bread has a strange way of blurring the genetic code and burning one just as strong on your heart.

Nicholas was a sweet little 14 month old Chinese boy when we decided to foster him while his adoptive mother was completing the necessary documents to pick him up. As a result of being in the orphanage for all of his short life he was quiet and somewhat withdrawn, but that did not last long at all. Lesson #2Nurturing has a magical positive effect on the soul of a human being and Nicholas reminded us of that very quickly. Within a couple of days with us Nicholas was full of energy, was alert and curious as any other healthy and normal child of his age would be, if not more. Remember coming home from work on the third day and seeing my wife on the sofa saying to me…”wow do I feel old, Nicholas is wearing me out. I am beat!”

Funny how much you remember and forget from when you reared your own children. Nicholas brought back so many fond memories from the days our two girls were his age, we had so much fun doing with Nicholas many of the same fun things we did with them. Nicholas developed quite an appetite, and he loved just about anything that we would give him; except ice cream. Remember the first time he tried it, his face contorted and spat it out immediately, his face told us he really did not enjoy the cold sensation at all.

Apologies for the number of pictures, but had a real hard time selecting just a few from what we have.

Nicholas loves taking a bath. He had a blast until we had to rinse the shampoo; it went downhill from there, but he seemed to forget about it quickly.

Nicholas with his orphanage hair cut and right out of the tub. Looking good Nick!

About a week after we brought Nicholas home we took him to the park across our apartment. We had a great time playing on the grounds. He adjusted so quickly to his new surroundings, we were very happy about that

My wife just eating up every second with Nicholas. I was right there with her.

This picture has several of Nicholas moods. Love the one at the center; Nicholas looking at my wife Bethe with such "wow" eyes. How can you not love this kid!

We have so many pictures of Nicholas it may be embarrassing. As mentioned before, he loves food. We gave them just about everything we ate. Of course we would cut it all up so that he would digest properly. In this case though we just gave him a corn on the cob and he just went to town using the few teeth he had at the time.

Nicholas has an eye for the ladies. Wherever we went, if he spotted a girl he would turn the charm several notches and he would get their attention. This waitress played a miniature harmonica for him and the brought him an origami bird we still have.


Our very good friends, Ali and Nastaran, also spent lots of time with Nicholas. They became very attached and loved to play with him. Below I am adding some of those times with Ali and Nastaran.

Nicholas playing peek-a-boo with Ali. Start at bottom right and go counterclockwise. My wife taught Nicholas this and he just loved it. I taught him to high-five, he was very quick at doing it. In this picture you can see that he really enjoyed Ali. That smile and laughter is priceless.


Close examination of Ali's teeth. Nicholas seem to have this curiosity about teeth. Maybe he will be a dentist? Ali just letting Nicholas do whatever on his face. They were a great fun team together.

One of the most favorite pictures from Nicholas. The smiles on both say it all. We were having lunch at our favorite Indian place near by our place and Ali saw a hat he place on Nicholas for fun. Nicholas thought it was the funniest thing as you can see.

Getting ready to meet Ali and Nastaran for a walk in a cold, but sunny day. Nicholas has a great sense of style as you can see.

Three cool dudes ready for a fun day.

I look way cooler than you do...check out my hat/shades see?

Ali and Nastaran playing with Nicholas just before we put him in bed. He knew bedtime was coming so he was not too happy to say goodbye.

Nicholas and Bethe inside the Panmen Gate tower, a very historic spot in Suzhou.

Nicholas having fun with Bethe...were are your eyes mama?

Nicholas and I watching TV; his monkey friend close by.

As you can see from the pictures we all enjoyed having Nicholas with us. It was a huge blessing seeing him flourish in such a short amount of time. Below is a brief video of Bethe and Nicholas chasing each other. We love this kid. Next post will have part two; Nicholas with our girls and the dreaded goodbye.



Julie PogueDecember 27, 2012 - 10:32 PM

Oh, Carlos! He's beautiful! As an adoptive mother, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for parenting this precious soul as he awaited his "forever family". God bless you and your wife!

AlisonFebruary 13, 2012 - 2:18 AM

The lessons you learned are SO true and you worded them in such a powerful and meaningful way. The pictures are beautiful and truly capture the love you all shared. You changed Nicholas's life forever, just as he changed yours. Thank you for sharing this wonderful heartfelt post.

Chinese New Year

The most important holiday in the Chinese calendar is the Spring Festival, also know as the Chinese New Year. During this holiday the majority of ExPats leave China and either return to their home country or take the opportunity to visit other countries around Asia and beyond. While most of our expat friends told us to make sure we leave and go some place outside of China, we decided to stay  in Suzhou to experience this major Chinese holiday for the first time.

So what do the Chinese do during this holiday? In many ways it is similar to the US Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays combined. The Chinese spend a great deal of money buying presents, decorations, fireworks and material goods, get together with family for a great meal together and exchange gifts and good luck artifacts. They also use this time to clean house so that they sweep away any bad luck and make room for good fortune to come in during the new year. The train stations and airports are a true nightmare. Millions of migrant workers travel back home to celebrate this holiday with their seldom-seen families. It is considered to be the largest human migration that brings to a sudden halt all production and commerce in this huge economy. During this time, many migrant workers decide to stay home without any notice to their employers; mostly because they just miss their families, have saved enough to live comfortably in their small towns for a few years or open a small business of their own.

Here is an excerpt of a very good article covering this huge holiday migration written by Megan K. Stack and Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times…”These precious days are the most eagerly awaited of the year: a rare chance for rest, and the coming together of families painfully split apart by economic necessity. Self-conscious spouses are reunited. Children peer shyly at parents they haven’t seen in a year. Men who are mocked and exploited in the slick cities puff out their chests and strut, get drunk on rice wine and lavish their hard-won cash on their families”.  For the whole article click HERE

So what was it like in Suzhou? On Monday at zero hours (midnight) the fireworks started. Wow was it noisy and different from what the US sees in our major holidays. We could see big fireworks every where not just in one or two places. It seemed that every house and building complex had their own major display going and it went for hours (see video below). I am blessed with a deep and sound sleep, so it was not difficult for me to just shut down and go to sleep. Unfortunately for my wife, she had a hard time blocking the loud ruckus and she did not have a good night sleep at all. When we woke up on Monday morning we could still hear a few fireworks going here and there, but the most noticeable difference was the lack of cars on the road; almost none.

The streets were really empty and all of the businesses closed. Good thing we did all of our food shopping a few days before or we would have been going hungry for a few days. We just took a nice walk around the neighborhood and relaxed inside the whole day. We were thrilled to hear that one of our very best friends also stayed in Suzhou for the holidays so we did a few things together – visited TongLi, toured Suzhou old district, visited Shanghai and had dinner at each other homes. All in all a very relaxing week. Today, Saturday, most of the business’s will start to open and things will get back to normal by Monday. However, the fireworks are not done yet. This is because, while people go back to work on Monday, the Spring Festival does not end until the 30th (the spring festival starts on the first day of the traditional Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th day). At this time we are told there will be more fireworks all around us. Well, the Chinese did invent them!

To see the fireworks video we took from our apartment balcony (we felt we were under attack) click HERE. Sorry, file was too big to post in this blog.

As we approach TongLi water town in a cold winter day, breakfast is still going on with some steamed dim sums. Yum, Yum.


Everyone is in the party mood!


No different that any other festival in other parts of the world, vendor food a sure favorite.


It is tradition during the New Year to salt meets and hang them outside to dry.


My lovely wife (right) with our good friends Ali and Nastaran; they are a lot of fun to be with and as nice as friends come. Ali bought a Russian looking hat a few minutes before we took this picture. This is his comrade look.


Ali and I played a couple of the many carnival type games they had. Here we see Ali throwing his last ball in the bucket. He won a small toy he quickly gave a little toddler in a stroller.


There is no age limit for having fun in China. This young at heart is having a blast blowing bubbles!


Ali posing with his new hat. He loved it praising how warm it kept him even though it only cost him 40 RMB ($6.50). Such a deal!


There are many snacks Westerners will consider bizarre. This may be one, deep-fried crab, you eat it all..just like chips I guess. Saw many of happy customers so I had to ask this young man to pose for me.


Now this treat we just could not understand. This is a bucket of baby bats. Yes, baby bats. Not sure how they cook them or eat them, but they were on sale in several places. Told they are a tradition during New Year celebrations. Not judging, but huh? CORRECTION - THESE ARE NOT BATS AT ALL. THEY ARE A TYPE OF WATER CHESTNUTS. WAS TOLD THIS BY A SUZHOU NATIVE AFTER SHE SAW MY ORIGINAL POST. Boy, they still look like baby bats.


Show Time! Throughout the day they had several performances of traditional significance. We had no clue what they were depicting, but all seemed to enjoy it. Wish we had a guide with us to explain all of these shows. Will have to ask my Chinese co-workers about it.


Performers, not as old as they look from afar.


Large crowds assembled at the front having a great time with the performances. TongLi is one of my most favorite water towns because you see more locals in it that any other we have been to.


A different section having fun with the performance.


A proud grandfather posing his beautiful granddaughter!


All around TongLi's main square they had carnival type games; some as simple as this one. A big draw for kids, Ali and I.


As we passed an alley, we saw a line of ceramic containers that look like a good spot to take a picture. As Ali was posing, a guy told us to come into his store to have a better look at more of these containers. He took us to the back and what he showed us was the area were he ferments his rice wine. Seems like he has been doing this for several decades.


The owner showing us a fermenting vat and sharing some for us to try. We all did try it. It was very mild tasting so we think it was not ready yet, but real tasty. We were expecting a huge kick, glad it was as nice as it was. This gentleman was extremely proud of his manufacturing area and was very friendly with us.


A wide view of his operation.


Ok, if you like to buy a Mr. P brand backpack let me know.


A young couple dressed up for the holidays and posing at my request for a picture. Check his boots. They were very happy I asked them for a picture.


Find Chinese lanterns just beautiful. During this holidays they are everywhere.


After several hours having fun in TongLi we left happy and with several purchases the ladies were very happy with. Happy DRAGON Year!!!

F o l l o w   u s