Hong Kong, 2nd Attempt

Well, after an overall awful week (more later) and many, many hours on the phone with Expedia, Jess and I managed to refund/rebook our Hong Kong trip for this weekend. The trip there went more or less smoothly. We had just enough time to make our flight after we got bounced from one check in desk to another. If you book with Air China (one word, DON’T) they can either put you on an actual Air China flight or one of their sister airlines; Dragonair or Cathay Pacific. We ended up on Dragonair for the flight out. Then I almost got held at immigration. My visa is for 90 day stays at a time. Sunday was exactly 90 days; however, apparently they calculate to the freaking minute!!! So since it was about 6pm I had overstayed by like four and a half hours or something stupid. After a warning the supervisor let us go through security. Then we had to get a train to a different terminal and got to the gate with ten minutes to spare.

But the flight was nice; I would fly Dragonair again. Decent dinner (including Hagen Daas for dessert), free beer and wine, and I finally got to watch the new Minion movie!!! I don’t know what to tell you, the minions just make me happy. It was great. We got into Hong Kong on time and took the subway most of the way to the hotel. It was a little way out from the nearest station though so we took a cab from there. I then realized it was the first time I’d ever driven on the wrong side of the road…it’s a little disorienting! I hadn’t really gotten away from the airport area the last couple trips to HK so it was nice to see more of the city.

The hotel, the Royal View, was really nice, especially since it was only about $50 US/night, and all set up for Christmas:

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The view was beautiful too, although a little smudgy through the window and the smog (HK AQI was around 140, which is bad, but after the past few weeks in Beijing, where the air is so much worse, we actually celebrated it):

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The next morning we headed to Disneyland. And it was well worth the wait! It’s been years and years since I went and we had so much fun. We had perfect weather for it too. Plus, everything was all decked out for Christmas, which was nice because you don’t see as much of that in China as in the U.S., and they were playing a mix of Christmas carols and Disney songs, which was fun. There were no crowds, no major lines, I don’t think we waited more than 10 minutes for any ride all day. It was a Monday so that probably helped, too. There’s a special subway line that goes back and forth from the Sunny Bay station to the main gates of Disney and it’s all decorated with Mickey Mouse windows and hand grips, with cushy blue seats and little statues of Disney characters in glass cases inside. All subways should be like this!

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I loved to see the Main St, USA section and all the old-fashioned shops and the enormous Christmas tree. We had to get coffee at this adorable bakery too (which was maybe not the wisest choice given our decision to get on Space Mountain immediately afterward):

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That was a blast!

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I got to visit some of my all-time favorites: teacups, It’s a Small World, and, of course, a merry-go-round. Also, ice cream, just because.

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One of the coolest areas was the Toy Story land; all the toys in the movie are giant so you feel toy-sized walking around:

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And if you follow this link to the Beijing Brouhahas YouTube channel you can see video footage of the day, for instance, that time Jess actually halted a roller coaster in the middle. That was fun. (Actually, it kind of was…) Also, the crazy teacups.

All in all, we had a blast. Then we went back the hotel to enjoy the hot tub. We had great timing because the pool was closing for maintenance today for three months so we just made the cutoff. We had it all to ourselves too. Of course, after I jumped in I realized that was probably because it was ice water…Oh well! Then we watched a movie and snacked on real chips. Because they have real chips in Hong Kong, as opposed to the candied ones that are so popular on the mainland. It was actually the most perfect day I’ve had in a long time.

The only thing that sucked was landing in Beijing tonight, where it’s freezing and the AQI is close to 600. For those that have trouble picturing that, I will draw you a metaphor. Lock yourself in a small room, say 4’x4′. Fill it with blocks of ice. Sit there and smoke 3 or 4 packs of cigarettes. When you start to feel like you swallowed a flaming sword, you’re approaching our atmosphere. It hurts to swallow, it hurts to breathe, it hurts to talk; I think my vocal cords are really messed up by now. Ground visibility: 0. Seriously, even the smog app is telling me to go home, why don’t I listen? I am now home, blasting my space heater and air purifier simultaneously.

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November 23, 2015

Sorry about the slow updates, I’m having trouble accessing my blog website lately. Also I’m just swamped with work so I have no time to post or really do anything worth writing about. It’s been a domestic couple of weeks. I explored the area around my apartment some more and found some nice little shops and restaurants. I finally broke down and bought an air purifier for my apartment-expensive, but still the best purchase ever.

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The air has been absolutely awful lately; in fact, we had the worst week of pollution ever recorded in China. Everyone’s been sick, me included. Fortunately, or rather, unfortunately, we got some snow this weekend. Fortunately because it cleared the air a bit and prettied everything up:

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Unfortunately, Jess and I were supposed to head to Hong Kong last night for a visa run/Disneyland trip. We didn’t expect any problems since there was barely a dusting of snow. But apparently that’s all that was needed to cause a panic attack at the airport. Remember the great “snowpocalypse” of Atlanta? This was more drama over fewer flurries. Our original flight for 7:30 pm Sunday was cancelled when we got to the airport but they rebooked us on a flight for 7am this morning. We decided it wasn’t worth the bother of going home and then having to get up at 4am and come back (since immigration lines would be crazy because they were trying to push everyone out in the morning), so we planned to just spend the night at the airport. We hung out, ate junk food, people watched, window shopped, planned our New Year’s trip (well, we’ve narrowed our choices down to the Philippines, Poland/Czech Republic, or Vietnam/Cambodia) and still had some fun.

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Then around 9 I got a text saying our flight was pushed back to 2 pm Monday. By the time we got to the information desk it was 3pm, and eventually 7pm, almost 24 hours later! We wouldn’t have arrived in Hong Kong till almost midnight, then would’ve had to turn right around and come back the next morning. So we just cancelled, went home, and decided to try again next Sunday. Bummer. 😦  When we left, every single flight on the departure board was cancelled. We’re still trying to get things rebooked since the airline couldn’t make changes for us because I booked stuff through Expedia. And Expedia wasn’t getting any updates from the Beijing airport because when we called they showed that our plane had already landed in Hong Kong! Fun.

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Still, had a good day running some errands downtown, around Yonghegong (Lama Temple). Beautiful area, especially with the snow. Stay tuned, hopefully I’ll have an update next week from Hong Kong!

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November 10, 2015

Teeny tiny post-let with belated Halloween photos-

I just wanted to post a few pictures of Halloween since it’s now halfway into November. Time is flying by this year. I had taken a few weeks off from my studies but now I’m back to going to school full time, working at school full time, and working the studio part time. So spare time? Not so much. I planned to do some stuff this week but it just didn’t happen. Friday was the first snowfall here in Beijing and it was a beautiful walk to school with big fat flakes fluttering around. Of course they were completely gone by noon but it was nice while it lasted. Sadly, however, the rapid changes in smog levels and temperatures this week has left me sick, yet again, and I have barely any voice. It’s now 12:23 am and I’ve been up doing homework and planning lessons for the weeks so I’m going to keep this short and sweet so I can take some NyQuil and crash before all the crazy starts up again tomorrow-

Just goofing around with PK1 kids on break time. These guys are crazy (and a big part of the reason I am losing my voice)! Left: William, August, Sky. Right: Freddy and DuoDuo.IMG_9327

Pipe cleaner “goggles” and straw “snorkels” for my PK2-we went “under the sea” to learn about sea creatures this week. 🙂 Clockwise: Charlie and Stella, Rachel, Kitty, Harry.IMG_9328

Left: me with Cyrene, Charlie, and Stella. Right: Mike as a magician and Rachel as a fairy princess. Hands down my favorite kids are in this class.IMG_9331

Halloween with my other PK1 kids, clockwise: Tony as a wizard, Tracy, Jason as Spiderman, and Yancy.IMG_9329 T

Tiffany and I on her last day. I’m going to miss her. We had fun teaching together; she’s such a goofball!

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First snowfall! And the last of the roses. It was a beautiful morning-

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October 13, 2015

This is going to be a very long, catch-up post, just warning you all in advance. I simply have not felt like writing lately and my internet is terrible so I have a lot of photos stockpiled here.
For starters, Beijing and I are getting along a little better this week. We still have our problems,the internet is driving me up the wall, but look at that pretty blue sky! (On the right-I don’t know what the hell was going on on the left. It was unpleasant, let’s leave it at that.)

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Last week vs this week

A couple days makes a big difference. I doubt it will last long but the last couple days have been beautiful, breezy, sunny fall days. I got some nice bike rides in too.
I started a new class-first grade level. I love all my preschool kids but I can only teach face/colors/letters/animals so many times before my brain starts to atrophy. It’s a nice break. We have longer classes and get to do math and science classes in addition to language. A couple weeks ago we learned about different tastes in science and I brought in a bunch of stuff for them to do taste test experiments.

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G1 taste tests…Bourne did not like cranberries!

Anyway, it’s cool to actually teach for a change. My other classes are more like babysitting half the time. We usually have fun but it’s exhausting.

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I did get a nice long break though. Mid-Autumn festival fell on the Sunday before National Day here. It’s a sort of harvest festival celebration, held the 15th day of the eighth lunar month every year, at the full moon. I was drowning in moon cakes, which is the traditional food for Mid-Autumn festival-little round pastries filled with all kinds of fillings: red bean, date, green tea, lotus seed, sweet potato, berries. Each province has different styles. There’s an interesting article about them here.

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Several of my kids brought me some, some very elaborately packaged and wrapped.
National Day was the same week, on October 1. This is the anniversary of the founding of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) in 1949. The whole week afterward is one of the Golden Weeks. The other one is in January/February for Chinese New Year’s. Everyone gets the week off and most people travel. I stayed in Beijing since, A) ticket prices were double what they normally are, and B) everything was absurdly overcrowded. Millions of people hit the road during this week. Beijing was not nearly as bad as Hong Kong or Shanghai-there was a 50 lane traffic jam on the expressway between Hong Kong and Beijing when everyone was trying to return from holiday-it was insane! So, anyway, I stayed put and did some sightseeing around the city. Still busy but not too horrible. I finally got to see the Summer Palace:

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Inside the Summer Palace temple. Not the best shots but I was trying to be discreet with my phone as photos are not technically allowed in there. What can I say? I’m a rebel.

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DSC_0043Suzhou Street at the Summer Palace. It’s a narrow ledge walkway around the water, with lots of little shops, people dressed in traditional clothes, and crafts and jewelry.DSC_0019DSC_0029DSC_0034

The Marble Boat on Kunming Lake

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Apparently several thousand other people had the same idea as I did. Fortunately the crowds thinned out a little past the entrance area.

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I went to shop around Solana, a really upscale shopping area. So window shopping only.

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I also got to check out the 798 arts district, a whole neighborhood filled with galleries, artesian craft stores, coffee shops, and bars. Very cool area:

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Above clockwise: traveling with dogs in China, craft stalls, roasted sweet potatoes from a street vendor, and a demonstration by shoemakers. Below: 798 sightseeing.

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IMG_8775When Jess got back from her visit to the States we did some exploring around Nanlouguxiang and Andingmen and fell in love with this little shop. The owners take photos around China and other parts of Asia, then turn them into postcards and sell them. They sell stamps and have a small coffee bar so you can just sit in there and write. They sell all kinds of handmade goods too. It just feels really homey; their cat just roams around the place and dozes where he feels like it.

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My favorite is the lower right; it just is a perfect representation of something you see all over Beijing. Chinese people nap anywhere-park benches, Starbucks, it’s not unusual to see cab drivers snoozing in their cars with their feet dangling out an open window.

I sent out my first batch of postcards and have another stack I need to write. Lick on stamps haven’t arrived in China apparently, let alone self-stick, so we sat down with a bottle of glue.I’m hoping they arrive safely as the mail service in China seems a little dicey, as evidenced by the impromptu mail-sorting facilities I’ve stumbled across on sidewalks and in parking lots:

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Had a relaxing weekend, with Jess, of course, starting with drinks at a little courtyard patio bar Sunday afternoon, then a play at Chaoyang 9 Theater. Well the drinks were not so relaxing as they turned out to be fake alcohol. This is common in China (partly because it’s cheaper, but also because many Asian people can’t handle Western alcohol) but it was the first time I’d come across it. I only had two drinks and half an hour later had a massive headache. But I got off light-some people have worse reactions. The play was great though-The Taming of the Shrew, performed by TNT Theatre Britain. It was pretty funny.

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Then yesterday we did some more exploring, lunch (with some…interesting/disturbing menu options…), where we decided to be adventurous and got a spicy hot pot with quail eggs and bullfrog. It was surprisingly delicious. I’d never tried frog before but it was really tender, with the texture somewhere between chicken and fish. Then spent a few hours working on stuff at my favorite coffee shop.

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Lemon Chrysanthemum tea? Yum. Eel? Beef heart tube? Octopus balls? No thank you!

Slept in today, then cleaned and organized everything around me. Even set up an envelope system and budgeted money so I can save up for my next trip.

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Hong Kong in November for sure, and the Philippines for Chinese New Year. I’d also like to squeeze in a trip to Xi’an if I can. And Chengdu. And Thailand. And I’ve decided I’m definitely going to Spain after China, though I’m not sure when that will be. So I need to get to practicing my Spanish again. So much to do, so little time…