September 5, 2013

"Yes, Yes, I Taxi, I Drive You."

We arrived in Beijing (Oct 2011) and Chad and Varian arranged transport for us. This is something that I would really struggle doing on my own, and frankly we all were a bit skeptical that it would work out. But Chad was confident we could find someone to drive us around for the day and get to where we wanted to go. And this is who we found.

He did not speak English other than a few random words. We did struggle trying to communicate with him the places and order of things we wanted to see, but in the end we did get to all the places we wanted to go and we had a great day.

Driving around was crazy! There didn't seem to be many rules or he didn't seem to follow any (speed limits, which lane to stay in...minor details). He drove around so fast and crazy. He said he was a taxi driver but we questioned this and he kept saying that he had a license. When we asked to see it this is what he showed us.

Chad told him how this hardly counted as a license, that it was just a bunch of scribbles. But he just nodded his head and said something like, "yes, yes, license." We had a good laugh. We were just grateful in the end he didn't pull into some back alleyway and have his friends jump out and rob us blind or sell us to some slave trade! :} So in faith we smashed ourselves on in his car and off we went for our day's adventure.

It was very alarming to me not to have car seats for our boys during the whole trip (we did whenever we could) as that is something I would absolutely never allow driving at home. I kept being assured by others this is "what you do" when you're in foreign countries, but it seems like it's even worse to do it in countries that drive like maniacs! I prayed and prayed for our boys on the times where our car seats were in flight (this was just a layover) or unavailable. And I'm so grateful that Heavenly Father always protected us while we were driving around. And after a crazy day of Chinese driving we needed it!

We had him drive us to the Great Wall, Tienanmen Square, and some markets. I was going to combine this post with the Wall pictures but I have a ton of those and so will probably leave it at that. We liked our friendly "taxi" driver in the end and were grateful that he took us around for the day, and in the end he even found us better markets than we were expecting. I can't count how many times I winced at the traffic or driving conditions and closed my eyes hoping we'd make it past some obstacle or oncoming vehicle, but in the end we survived and loved our day in China!

ps: I debated on the title for this post and want to make sure it in NO way comes across as derogatory or mocking the Asian culture/accent. It more is a fond memory of trying to communicate with him that day and his obvious lack of taxi-driver qualifications. :)

September 3, 2013

The Captain Has Turned on the Seatbelt Light...

Now let us begin. In October/November of 2011 we had the amazing opportunity of traveling to the Middle-East on an Aston Family Adventure. My father-in-law, Warren Aston, has conducted tours to Oman for years. I feel like I should give some more background on this to make sense of why we were so motivated to go. Both he and my mother-in-law, Michaela, spent years researching possible sites for "Bountiful" a location in the Book of Mormon* where Lehi's family traveled to after leaving Jerusalem and where Nephi built the boat to sail to the America's. After much research and traveling and searching they've found a site that they and many scholars believe to be the most likely candidate. They've taken scientists and tourists there for years exploring the area and looking for more evidence to help support the geographical references in the Book of Mormon. They have printed many articles on this and wrote the book In the Steps of Lehi.
(*The Book of Mormon link above is:
It says it is working but for some reason I can't get it to come up in the preview page of this post so I'm including it here just in case it doesn't work once I publish it.)

My brother-in-law, Chad, got funding to make a documentary of this site and asked Varian to help with composing music for it, and the family thought of this as the big last tour they were taking to that area, before Warren's research focus changed more to the Americas. And then nearly all of the siblings and spouses decided to join in on this huge adventure. And an adventure it was.


We visited 6 different countries in 3 weeks and went on 17 (16?) different flights. Phew! Jaren was 21 months old and Reid was 5 months old and we felt like they were too young to be left behind (plus all Varian's family was coming and all of my family is in the states) and so we strapped them to our backs (literally) and carried them around the Middle-East. It was exhausting at times but mostly just amazing and exhilarating. They did so well, and can I say, so did we. We were the only ones who brought kids and we bent over backwards to not hold people back or slow things down. It was an intense 2 weeks all together, and then when everyone else went home we took an extra week to explore Egypt, after all, we were in the neighborhood. :)


That last week we slowed things down a little, or could go at our own pace which ended up being nice. Particularly because we got food poisoning and Varian shook his after a day or so with antibiotics, but I couldn't take anything as I was still breastfeeding Reid. More on those stories later, we still packed a ton in but could pace ourselves more.


This trip alone will probably take up quite a lot of posts, but I'm excited to have all the stories and photos on record, it's so hard to do it on the trip itself. We got to be so practiced and loading kids in and out of airports, but the very first flight from Brisbane to Sydney was by far the worst. And here we were still in a modern Westernized country. Ridiculous! I find on every trip I take with the kids, the first flight is the hardest because they and we are just not in the mind-set yet or practice.


We sat down at one point to fill out the traveler's cards and I went to get our passports and found that Varian's back pack with all our passports was missing from our giant trolley of luggage. You can imagine our panic. Varian ran to back-track our steps and luckily found that it had just fallen off and was sitting unattended in the middle of the airport. :} He picked it up right as the police were on their way to investigate and confiscate the possible bomb threat. Phew! What a blessing that we got it back safe and sound and in time for our flight. During all of this and filling out the cards, Jaren starts to run off towards an oversize luggage belt and we had to run after him to keep him from climbing on top. It was crazy. I immediately unpacked our baby-leashes and strapped those boys in!

But our mishaps were not at an end. We got to the security check-in and they wouldn't allow our babies to go through the metal detectors in their strollers. Varian and Jaren were in front of me and I was trying to fold up the airport's strollers and load the luggage and hold Reid when I heard them stopping Varian. Had he forgotten to take off his belt? I can't remember now why he set off the alarms but Jaren had gone through first and they wouldn't let Varian follow or walk forward to get him. However they had no problem allowing Jaren through on his own and they didn't attempt to stop him and have him wait for us. So I looked up and couldn't see Jaren at all and they're wanding Varian down and I started to panic and insist that they let me through to go get my 2 year old. I passed Reid onto Varian and ran through (as much as they'll let you run through a security check point that is) and started frantically looking for Jaren.

He had run past all the check points and down the corridor and then had realized that we weren't there and had stopped and started to cry. A few people close by were hovering wondering how to help as I came running on the scene. It was actually pretty upsetting. It felt so frantic and so unsafe. Again here we were the first of 17 flights to come in a 1st world country and our 2 year old is getting lost at an airport. What was going to happen when we were in some dodgy Middle-Eastern Airport?!?!

(Can I interject here to say the idea of traveling to the Middle-East was a bit terrifying to me? It wasn't really on my top list of places to travel and when I picture it I think of dry deserts and abusive men who oppress women and...terrorists. That's a sad stereotype I know, and yet Hollywood and 9-11 and other events do kind of build those fears. I was so happy to see such a more loving, generous, wonderful side to the people and places we visited. I was continually amazed and overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of the Muslim people and others that we met. I came home with my perspectives and attitudes very broadened!)


So back to the story, I think the newness of the airport for them and us in knowing how to maneuver it all was just too fresh. We were like Nazi Helicopter parents the rest of the trip when it came to airport safety, as well we should be. But I also thought the airport staff handled things pretty poorly under the circumstances. But in the end all was fine. Airports are so exhausting with little kids, and believe me between this trip and our trips home to America I have had my fair share of traveling with children. And we are an international couple who love to travel so inevitably more is yet to come. :)


It was a bit of a pain to have to fly to Sydney and have a layover there before beginning our giant travels. We were off to Beijing for a day's layover (so cool!) and then on to Oman. But luckily we met up with Chad and Felicity who lived in Sydney at the time and spent that next flight and our Chinese adventure with them. We were also lucky to have it not be a very full flight to Beijing. I was assigned to sit on the other side of the plane, but some lovely people changed seats so I could have the whole middle row and baby bassinet across the aisle from Varian. Those plane bassinets are life savers!


I'll end this post here and next time tell you about our crazy driving experiences in China and the amazing things we saw there. Really I can't even begin to express how amazing the whole trip was and what a chance-of-a-lifetime experience to be able to travel there and spend so much time with family. I will always be so grateful that we went!

*A special thanks to Felicity for some of the photos you'll see in the next few posts. She is such an amazing photographer as you can see!