Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trip to Chicago: Part I, pre-wedding fun

I'm pleased to say that Jocey is finally getting better after coming down with her nasty cold.  She ran a fever last night but slept well and went to nursery without incident today.  Although she was quite upset when I dropped her off, she was fine after I left the room and played happily during the day.

Both girls are fast asleep at the moment so for the first time in ages I have the chance to write about the trip to Chicago.

We flew out on Saturday morning and landed Saturday afternoon (evening really) in Chicago.  Both girls were very well behaved and did sleep a little on the plane.  When they were awake they did not really fuss at all.  I was really surprised considering it was the longest flight either of them had been on (and the first flight Jocey has ever been on).  We were all tired when we arrived and just wanted to get to the hotel; unfortunately, it took about an hour to get through immigration.  When we did eventually get to the desk, a grim looking man with no sense of humour looked at our passport, took our photos and got our fingerprints.

It does make you feel like a bit of a sneaky criminal!  However, I was mindful of all the people who have been arrested and thrown into jail for "joking" with US immigration (for example, the man with the violin case who when asked what was in it thought it would be funny to say that it was a machine gun.  He didn't laugh when they then arrested him and threw him into jail.  Like I said, no sense of humour.)

After this, it took a considerable amount of time (about another hour) before we got our hire car because of paperwork and other nonsense.  They actually gave us the wrong car at first; I realised it couldn't be the correct one as it was a 5 seater and not a 7 seater.  This meant that by the time we finally did reach the hotel, we were pretty exhausted.

However, luckily for us the hotel we'd booked had a mall nearby with a big supermarket called Target (which strangely enough turned out to be a Tesco as it had all the Cherokee clothing) and lots of little restaurants.  Adjacent to the hotel itself was a little steak place called Longhorn Steakhouse.

Now I know the Longhorn is a chain but I must admit that I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the steak was actually really good.  The food was not fancy but what it did it did well.  It was child friendly as well so a clear winner for the first night.  To be honest, we hadn't had any high expectations for food on the holiday as we had been disappointed on previous trips to the US (more on the food later).

It was fabulous to see Hubert and Bonnie.  It's been little over a year since we saw them last (in Barcelona).  They were obviously tired and a bit stressed in the run up to the wedding as there was still quite a lot to sort out.  However, we all had a good time catching up and spending time with them.

They had fun showing us around their neighbourhood.  Their house had required a lot of work but is now lovely - really cosy and homely.

There are pictures of their house here.

The house is situated in a lovely suburb full of wide, leafy streets and nice houses.  On one of the first few days, they took us to the local park at the end of their street.  Here's Hube and Mum chatting.

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Lauren and Jocey loved the park and spent a long time playing on the swings and climbing frames.  Here Lauren was playing on a climbing frame which was in the shape of a boat and she is at the helm.

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Jocey loved the swings.  She laughed and laughed whilst on them.  She especially liked the swing below because I think she felt secure in the deep seats.

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Here is Jocey on another swing with Hube.

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And here is one of Hube, Dad, Mum and the girls enjoying the park.

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The park was in immaculate condition; really clean, lots of good, fun equipment in it and no signs of any vandalism at all.  So different from London.  We went to our local park this weekend to find that one of the climbing frames had been roped off as it has a broken section.  I have no idea when it will be fixed.  I was quite surprised to hear from Bonnie that their local council change all the playground equipment every few years and replace it with all new stuff.  Now why can't we get that here?  It really put our playgrounds to shame.

Adjacent to the children's playground is a little wilderness with a small wildlife centre in it.  Unfortunately, we didn't have the opportunity to visit whilst we were there but saw a lot of the wildlife in the local area (squirrels, rabbits, birds, chipmunks and woodpeckers!).  Jocey was enchanted by it all and spent a lot of time excitedly pointing and grunting at all the animals she saw.  Lauren loved watching the squirrels chasing each other and got very excited when she saw all the rabbits.

Midweek, my family started to arrive from all over.  We met up with my mum's two sisters and my cousin Margaret, whom I've not seen in 11 years.  It was lovely to see her and do some catching up (sadly, we didn't have enough time as I would have liked, especially as I had to look after the girls a lot of the time).  Here we are all agonising over the menu at a fish restaurant on the first evening together.

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Both my aunts are over 70 but are still very young and in good health.  Aunt Pei, the eldest of my mum's sisters is 74 and still plays tennis several times a week.  She is absolutely incredible.

Here is a picture of three generations of Sun family women.  I think my grandparents would be very proud had they still been alive to see it.

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On the Thursday we went to see my Great Uncle Larry, which was really a fantastic experience.  I'd only met him once before, very briefly when he was travelling around the world and had visited us in Edinburgh, about 10 years ago.  He was my maternal grandmother's sister's husband; my Great Aunt died a few years ago.

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As well as being a professor of architecture who has written books on the subject, he personally experienced the horrors of China's Cultural Revolution.  He has written a book on his experiences and I was lucky enough to get a copy from him.  It is a part of my family's history that I don't know much about but am keen to find out about.

He's absolutely amazing for a man in his 90s.  Here he is with my mum, his niece.

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It was the first time I had met any of my mum's cousins.  It was also the first time she had met some of them too, as our family have been so scattered.  Strange to think that there was such a large part of the family that we'd never met before.  I was so glad to have had the opportunity to do so however.  We went out to lunch with Great Uncle Larry and Aunty Si, one of his daughters.Chicago 048

Here is Great Uncle Larry with his daughter and his nieces.

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He is the only surviving member of my mum's family from that generation.  How wonderful to have met him and had the chance to spend some time talking with him.  I'm hoping to have the opportunity to sit and read his book sometime soon, so that I can share in that part of my family's history.  I think he was also happy to have had so many members of his family around him; he absolutely adored Lauren and Jocey and they clearly were in awe of him.

The pictures of our trip taken pre-wedding can be found here.

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