Shanghai

Took me a while to get all these uploaded, but here’s some photos from our trip to Shanghai last weekend. We flew down after work Friday and got really lucky with seats in the back of the plane. We had an empty seat between us so we put the tray down in the middle seat and played cards for a while. It’s a short flight, maybe two hours, so we arrived in Shanghai after 11:30pm. The line for taxis was at least a quarter mile long-not even exaggerating. From my experience with airport taxis in Beijing I thought we would be waiting for a couple hours. But the Hongqiao Airport was pretty impressive. They had hundreds of taxis waiting, were super organized, and we were out of there in 20 minutes. We had rented an Airbnb place but didn’t realize how far apart things were. The host had messaged us and told us it would take almost two hours to get to the house from the airport and we’d have to take a cab since there was no public transportation that late. So instead she offered to let us stay with her and her husband at their apartment in the center of the city, only about 20 minutes from the airport. They met us downstairs and got us settled in, giving us some ideas for things to do and how to get around. I haven’t had a bad experience with Airbnb yet, but this one really stands out. Mickey and Jackie were super welcoming and even walked us to the bus stop the next morning so we could find this cool bookstore we had heard about.

We spent the morning exploring around the city center, then went to wharf to catch a sightseeing boat up and down the HuangPo river. The view from the center of the river was great; lots of cool buildings to see. We passed the historic Bund area too.

After the boat, we got a late lunch and wandered around a bit more, then found the theater where we were going to see Wicked.

After the show we got a cab to the Airbnb place we originally booked; a small traditional hutong house on the outskirts of the city-near the old town. We crashed immediately, then got up early to explore the old city before catching our flight. The area was absolutely perfect for a relaxing morning stroll, very charming and historic.

And on a completely unrelated note, made this cool poster with my kids this week (we started a unit on tolerance):

Also survived this crazy sandstorm!

 

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Spain, Day-Something-or-other, pretty sure I’m in Madrid

Yeah I’ve lost track of time completely, and I’ve been moving all over the place. In some ways it feels like I’ve been here forever, and I definitely don’t want to leave. I tried to pack as much as I could in today since I didn’t have much time in Madrid. But I got to see all the things I really wanted to though: Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor, el Prado.

First stop was Palacio Real, which is actually the largest royal palace in all Europe. It’s the official residence of the royal family of Spain, although they actually live in the outskirts of Madrid and the Palacio Real is only used for official ceremonies. The interior rooms were stunning. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. Not that I could have gotten many good shots because the place was absolutely mobbed with tour groups. It was beautiful but I could only stand to be there for about an hour; it was just crazy.

After I left I went and had lunch at Plaza Mayor and did some shopping, then headed over to Museo Nacional del Prado, the main Spanish art museum with one of the greatest collections of European art in the world. Again, no photos and mobs of tourists 😦  But I got to see so many famous pieces I’ve studied, works by Velazquez, Rubens, Bosch, Titian, and many from Francisco de Goya.

And, of course, the food pics:

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Barcelona again for two days, then home to Beijing early Thursday.

Sababa

It’s all good. Cool. Alright. No worries.

This is Sababa

Sort of Hebrew slang. It is Hebrew slang, actually. At least, this is what I have been told by a number of locals and people that are currently learning Hebrew.

This word – Sababa – has become one of my new favorite words. Why? There are some words that are simple to spell out, and then there are words that take a lot of sounding out and effort. If you’re catchin’ on to what I’m sayin’.

“SABABA”

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This trip has taught me much about patience, about playing it cool. I thought I was a patient person. I thought I had thick skin. I thought I was equipped and prepared to take on the world. I thought I was a well ‘experienced’ traveler. I know nothing. I cried a little. I was shaken and flipped upside down like an hourglass. It is not easy to travel. I am too young to say it was easier before, but I did grow up moving from here to there and all over the place because I was a military brat. I’d say, it certainly takes more out of a person to try and get around these days. Thanks to terrorism, getting through some airports is like a mouse trying to squeeze through a fingernail-sized crack to get to his cheese. It is quite awful, at times.

You know what? I wasn’t going to elaborate, but I think I will. Why? Because I think it is necessary for multiple reasons. I don’t have to explain myself, I don’t have to justify my transparency. It is in part why I travel. To learn about the good, the bad, the easy, and the challenges. To embrace it all. To understand that worthy experiences, stories worth telling, come from a mix of things. It is worth it. I cannot emphasize that enough.

And before I go on, I must lay something down on the table. Some airports are stricter than others. And they have reason to be. You don’t have to understand. We don’t. Especially if we are merely tourists passing through to learn a few things and snap some photos. However, I think it is crucial to understand that the world is suffering. It has been let down. We can point fingers all we want, saying this country is worse than that one. That we are the best. We are all to blame. We either accept that or we don’t. Some people will get pissed off reading that. Quite frankly, I don’t care. I am not here to argue, I am here to tell you about my experiences about the experiences of those around me.

Before I go on, I want to share some photos. Some photos that remind me of all the beauty, the creativity and imagination, the history and the visions, and simply the authenticity of the people and places and things in this world. You can be negative. As you wish. I will choose to be positive. I will choose to be hopeful. I will choose to be angry, to be upset, but to be realistic. Realistic enough to understand we don’t live in a perfect world. We don’t. We never have. We never will. Before this trip, I had this weird idea that things are only getting worse. That things weren’t so crazy before. I am leaving with an understanding that I have grown older, I have traveled more, and I have learned more.

We cannot live with the convincing idea that we, as a world, were once okay and now things are just mad in a way that they weren’t before. Actually, we have progressed. We might have taken a couple of steps back, but we have moved forward.

This world is learning a new line dance every day, and we just can’t keep up with the steps.

There are times in which I have walked smoothly through security and passport check points. Without question. Without so much as a stare down.

I had to pull my pants down for the first time. No, not in front of everybody. I was taken into a small cubicle, with two ladies, and a curtain was then closed. At the beginning, they only scanned me like they would outside of the cubicle. Then, I was told that I needed to slide my pants down to my knees. Awkward, right?! I had everything searched. My bags were tagged with orange security sticker and taken through a separate machine than what most bags are sent through. I was chosen, and I was escorted from here to there before I was finally given the go to head to my gate. I walked through the airport with these orange security stickers all over me. I was questioned by multiple people. I was going in and coming out of a country that has been to hell and back. I didn’t understand it. Then, I had the opportunity to speak with a few locals and I was humbled. My pride was ripped apart. It was so good.

The questioning. The thorough bag, clothes, and body checks were necessary. It is necessary. Where do we draw the line? Who can say, really? I can’t. I only know that I felt uncomfortable. I felt targeted. I felt as though nobody trusted me, and that I was in some weird way a victim. I was not the victim. I am not the victim. I am also not the villain. Do you get what I am saying? If not, I implore you. Travel. Take your chances. Carry your fear and your vulnerability with you. Be prepared. Oh, right, we have already come to an agreement that we can’t be prepared. We just can’t be. No matter our level of travel experience, everything is changing at a pace we can’t keep up with. By the time we leave one airport, new rules will have been implemented before we arrive at the next one.

It is uncomfortable. Maybe some airports go overboard. Terrorism is more uncomfortable.

Being searched and questioned and searched and questioned some more is like wearing new leather shoes that you eventually break in after a few wears and steps. There is room for flexibility and growth and comfort. Terrorism is like forcing our feet into a shoe that is 4 sizes too small. It breaks us. 

You know what helps? Cappuccino. Cappuccino and some kind of sweet. Oh, and beer and pizza. All of those things really do just make things easier. The moment I can inhale a cappuccino and stuff my face with delicious noms, I am all good again. Everything is Sababa. The coffee in Israel – all kinds – has to be my favorite coffee. I did not see a single Starbucks. I didn’t think I could be so happy and overcome by joy by seeing so many local coffee shops and not a single Starbucks. In Beijing, we have at least one every 100 yards. Most of the time, there are 2 or 3 within 100 yards. It saddens me. I am a coffee connoisseur. It’s true. I admit.

You know what my favorite Israeli food is? Not shawarma. Not falafel. My favorite food is *hands down* Sabich. It is stuffed with a hard boiled egg and lettuce and tomatoes and hummus and tahini sauce and amba sauce (a Middle Eastern mango sauce), topped with fried eggplant, and a few other delicious things. All stuffed into a a soft, sometimes baked pita pocket. And then you get a bowl and you can put a number of things to eat in it, for on the side. I really like the Mediterranean Pickles. I am going to miss the food and the coffee.

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All over the cities, there are cats. Everywhere. They love to come into the bars and just chill with you. They own the place, really. The sunsets are beautiful. The buildings and streets are a mix of the old and the now. Most of the people are incredibly friendly. I ended my trip in Israel by playing card games with a group of people that consisted of Australians, an Austrian  dude, a guy from Boston, and a girl from England. Then, I got food with a guy from Canada. And I may or may not have gotten my nose pierced with one of the volunteer staff members at the hostel.

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That last photo, is a story for another time. I ran from a bull. From a bull that cared very much for the cows and calves that surrounded him. Come on, dude. I was just hiking the Jesus Trail. I’m not about to steal your grass or your babies. I might be down to carry a kitten with me as I trek through the woods and roads and over hills, but a cow? Let’s talk about this.

“SABABA”

Do not let fear, a lack of experience, or the unknown keep you from seeing the world. From eating the food and drinking the coffees and teas and beers of the world. From meeting people and playing card games and hiking and shopping and talking and partying and all that good stuff.

I now have friends on every continent, from a long list of countries. Every country I have been to, and the ones I am planning on traveling to, have people  that want to learn from you and to teach you. People want to trust you. People want to change the world. People want to gain perspective. People want to understand you and for you to understand them.

Travel.

Be searched. Search.

Be questioned. Question.

When the hourglass is reaching it’s last few grains, flip it.

November 27,2016

Just some pictures to share. The Atelier, a big art school, was hosting a class on making advent calendars for the holidays. They were full last weekend but the lady offered to host another class this weekend, even though Jess and I were the only ones there. They were all really nice and we had a blast cutting and painting and hot-glueing. Our calendars turned out cute too!

When we got home I made a batch of homemade hot cocoa to drink while binge watching the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix. There better be a 5th episode forthcoming is all I can say. I had a bad reaction to the ending. There was some screaming. Think I scared Jess at first and she came running out of her room. Then she started laughing at me. It was an emotional evening.

Otherwise I had an extremely lazy Sunday. I did make a batch of apple butter though. Jess made some apple cider to take to a get-together and there were four quarts of mushy cooked apples left after she strained out the juice. So I decided to experiment with them. I always heard apple butter is a pain to make but now I think what people meant is that is extremely simple, but painful. Because basically all you do is let the apple boil for hours on end. The problem came when I tried to stir all the stuff sticking to the bottom of the pot and got splattered repeatedly with thousand-degree fruit pulp. I have a blister on my right hand that Jess compared to a small planet. (This in addition to my stab wound from slicing apples for pie on Thursday and the glue gun burns from yesterday. Not to mention the lingering cough from this week’s smog attack. I’m kind of a mess right now.) On the upside we now have four pints of delicious homemade apple butter and I have to say…it was worth the third degree burns, if I do say so myself. Especially since it’s one of the few things I have not been able to find anywhere in Beijing. Then Jess got the idea to start selling cider and apple butter on WeChat and put out an ad, so we’ll see how that goes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone is having a great holiday.  I had to work all day but it was pretty relaxing. I don’t often let my kids just watch movies but this morning we finished watching the Thanksgiving cartoon from yesterday while they colored turkeys. Then we squeezed in some reading/sight word practice before baking a big apple pie, which was a really big, fun mess. I let them mix up the pie crust and roll it out, then they helped to peel the apples. It was a good thing I bought too many apples because these guys were swiping and eating apple slices as fast as I could chop them. Then we had lunch and some free quiet time, a little bit of math, and made thank you cards with the recycled paper we made yesterday. Then they got to eat their pie for snack time. That pie got demolished. We had leftover pie crust and apples so we had made half a dozen apple turnovers as well-all gone. That’s Zach with his head in the pie tin trying to scrape all the caramelized pie crust off the bottom. I think it’s safe to say apple pie-or pínguo pài– is a big hit.

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After snack we played outside for a while and then watched a Berenstein Bears Thanksgiving cartoon. (I introduced them to the Berenstein Bears a while ago and they love the books and TV shows. I’m excited because they were some of my favorite books as a kid.)

After work I met Jess at this upscale hotel-EAST-for dinner. One of their restaurants had a huge Thanksgiving buffet. And when I say huge I mean a counter about half the length of a football field filled with food. Tons of appetizers and salads, a bar full of different cheeses, pumpkin soup and seafood chowder, turkey, duck, ham, prime rib, tons of vegetables and sides, and drinks. Oh and desserts. It was delicious.

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So, in spite of not being home with my family, it was an awesome holiday!

Greetings all,

It’s been a fun crazy hectic couple of weeks. My body is getting a serious workout trying to adjust to rapidly changing temperatures and smog levels. Last week the air was disgusting and I came down with some sort of miserable respiratory illness. But then Saturday was sunny, sixty and perfectly clean so I pushed through it and Jess and I stayed outside as much as possible. We got haircuts early in the morning, then went to check out the Wangjing SoHo and ended up taking a four hour walk around the city-lots of cool new sites.

Then we went out to the suburbs where the British International School was hosting this winter fair. There are lots of these types of events coming up but theirs was the first. It was fun. The weather was perfect to be outside, just a little chilly, but hot mulled wine took care of that. They had roasted a whole pig and were selling gingerbread cookies. There was a Christmas tree lighting and all the kids were outside singing carols. I know it’s  a bit early for holiday festivities but I still enjoyed it. Mostly because Christmas is not so over-the-top and obnoxious here. You can still find activities if you know where to look but they’re not so in your face. And they don’t start in August. I’m finding I actually prefer to be out of the American madness, although I’ll still be glad to go home and visit.

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Monday was the first snowfall of the year, with just a light dusting that blew away before noon, but still pretty. And the air was pristine for three whole days, big plus, although it was freaking cold, under 20 degrees and felt colder. I still took my class outside though. Between the cold and the smog they don’t get outside as much in the winter so I’m taking advantage of any opportunity to get them out the door because they are insane when they are cooped up inside.

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Last week, their character trait was Patience (which they all desperately needed a lesson on). Each trait is linked to an animal that represents it; for patience the animal is a butterfly. We made butterflies with toilet paper rolls and then I tied them up in a cocoon and made them be quiet for one full minute. It was quite a challenge.

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This week their trait is gratefulness, and we’re learning about the U.S. and Canada in their international cultures class, so I’ve tied everything together and we’re celebrating Thanksgiving. I played them a really old animated cartoon I found on YouTube about how Thanksgiving started and they were totally fascinated by the idea. We made a gratitude tree, writing all the things we were grateful for on the leaves. This is why I love teaching kids:

Rarity put birthday cake, flowers, dogs and cats

Zach said “iPad, mom, dad”-in that order too. We need to get his priorities straight.

Qing: family, shoes, candy  (Hey, those are my top three, also!)

Ryan: Bapi (Daddy)

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We’ve also been covering the environment in science so today we took all our scrap paper and made recycled paper. To be honest, I did not think it would work. I didn’t have any of the equipment listed in most of the instructions I read. But we threw paper and water in the blender, poured it through a screen improvised from a coat hanger and some old nylon stockings, and voila! Paper. Kids had a blast. Tomorrow when the paper is dry we’re going to use it to make thank you cards for Thanksgiving. Also, apple pie.

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I sat down and booked accommodation for my Spain trip-super exciting. I’m splitting my time in Barcelona, a few days near Sagrada Familia and then some time at this converted artist studio in the gothic quarter. Then 5 days in Granada, all Airbnb finds. I kind of want to do a couple days in Madrid too but it depends on transportation. It appears it would be much cheaper to rent a car for two weeks than to buy train tickets all over the place, and I would kind of like to drive. However, my U.S. license expired over a year ago… and since it’s been so long I think I’ll have to retake the driving test…so yeah. I need to call and check on that and see if I can renew it while I’m home before I finalize the rest of my plans.

And finally, I’ve had some technological breakthroughs lately. I finally got my online banking straightened out and also set up a Taobao account. Taobao is like the Chinese version of Amazon.com, but cheaper. I went on a bit of a shopping spree-pretty much everything I’ve been deprived of for the past year is on this site. There are plenty of import stores in Beijing but they don’t have everything. I found the exact jeans that I pay $60 for at Macy’s but on Taobao they’re only 60RMB, or about $8. And some cozy fur-lined boots for $10-just in time for the snow. I also got the DiDi app-like Uber but in Chinese. You can get a cab anywhere, it’s cheaper, you can even do ride shares. Only drawback? All these apps are in Chinese. And the Didi drivers always call to confirm and make sure you are where the GPS says you are. This had made for some awkward conversations this week. So I’ve been buckling down and trying to study. I’ve drafted my friend Cami to help. Every week I come up with a new topic and write down the phrases I want to know. And I learn stuff from my kids too. Fred especially always wants to tell me the Chinese phrases for something I tell him in English. Then they all laugh at my pronunciation. I have picked up the names of lots of countries in Chinese from our international cultures class, which resulted in an incident this evening:

One of the best things about our neighborhood is Jinganshichang, this huge year-round indoor farmers’ market. They have tons of fresh produce, meats, and eggs, even live seafood flown in daily and swimming around in tanks. It’s a great landmark for taxi drivers as well-almost everyone knows this market. And it’s super cheap- I can get a week’s worth of groceries for about $25. I always go to the same vendors and they know me now. The produce lady is really sweet. I think I threw her for a loop this evening though when I went in looking for pumpkins for Thanksgiving decorations. “You fànguō ma?” I asked. She looked confused. “Faguó?” Now the lady next to me looked concerned and looked at the saleslady like “I don’t know what the heck she’s talking about either.” I finally pulled out my translation app. “Oh, nánguā!” Relieved, the vendor pulled out a couple of pumpkins. Only after I got home and was telling Jess about this did I realize that I had asked her first for a rice cooker and then the country of France. We laughed till we cried. One of the many joys of expat life.