Changes on the way…

Well I had a somewhat topsy-turvy weekend but overall it was good. I haven’t written much about work stuff lately and I try not to get into the gory details here but it’s been awful. My kids are a lot of fun and I like teaching more than I thought I would, but Best Learning in general, and my center in particular, is a mess. So I’ve been doing a lot of research and lined up a couple of job interviews. Then to be safe I signed up for a tutoring company and some more voice work. And two days later I got a job offer from another training school and four tutoring clients, and my recruiting agency has two other offers to set up interviews for me. So now I have so many options my brain hurts. I wasn’t even 100% sure I wanted to leave my current job since my contract is ending in March and I’ll be foregoing my end of the year bonuses. But then I think I would really love to free up more time for my schoolwork and stuff I’m actually interested in. Decisions, decisions! I honestly don’t know what I want to do now.

In the meantime I had fun, as always, with Jess. We met at Solana after my interview yesterday and enjoyed all the decorations and lights; it’s the first place in Beijing that really looks like Christmas. It’s a little over the top but felt festive and pretty:

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Today I had another interview, then went to Liangmaqiao to check out Baker and Spice, this bakery/coffee shop in the diplomatic office building. It’s a really upscale area, beautiful building. It has a really comfortable atmosphere and super delicious food and pastries. I tried their chicken bacon pasta, actually the first pasta I think I’ve had since I moved here, and it was awesome. Then Jess and I went to see The Martian, and I have to say, I was impressed. It was actually the best movie I think I’ve seen in a long time, surprisingly funny too.

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In other news, the airpocalypse continues. We had a lovely three day break last week, with sunny blue skies and virtually no pollution, but then the AQI levels started rising again this weekend. There’s been a lot in the news about Beijing’s first ever red alert. Just to set the record straight, this is not the worst pollution there’s ever been. Not by a long shot. Last week the levels were almost twice as high as they are right now and last winter they were even worse. It’s just that Beijing is actually choosing to use their warning system now because so much international attention has been focused here lately. It really is all about appearances. But it’s still beneficial since the officials are actually actively trying to reduce the levels and have taken some cars off the road and enforced factory and school closings. My classes for the next two days have been cancelled. I still have to go in but my kids don’t.

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…

September 19-20th

So…Golfito. Simply put, this place is the definition of insanity.

Definitely “an experience”, but probably not one I’d care to repeat. We woke up crazy early Friday morning: Mary, Carlitos, Cecelia, and me. Our bus left San Jose at 6:30 on a seven hour drive, stopping a few times at sodas for snacks and bathroom breaks where you have to pay for entry-for ¢100 (about $0.20)-which seems insane to me but apparently is not uncommon in countries outside the US. The trip down goes along the Pacific coast and so I could see the ocean at some points. Otherwise I just read; I got through three books I had saved up on my Kindle, including The Fault in Our Stars, which I had downloaded because of all the hype but didn’t expect much of. It was surprisingly good though.

Costa Rica is approximately the size of West Virginia so I never cease to be amazed at how long it takes to get from one point to another. The mountains are one of the big hindrances, along with a lack of roads. The main roads are nice enough but there are few of them so there seems to be a lot of winding around and backtracking. It’s “a small country of long drives” as Carlitos put it.

Untitled-2Our route

We got to Golfito at 1:30pm and joined a small crowd at the gates to get our cards. Here’s the thing about Golfito: the town used to be home to the banana plantations of the United Fruit Company, which has a fairly interesting history itself, but I’ll try not to bore y’all too much. So the United Fruit Company was this huge conglomerate that had a monopoly on a lot of goods in Central America, in particular bananas (90% of the banana market at one point, in fact), and had a great deal of influence on the economy and politics (which were already fairly corrupt), which is how the phrase “banana republic” was coined. When the business shut down the people in Golfito and surrounding areas were left without jobs. So the Costa Rican government decided to create a duty free shopping area there to boost the economy, drive tourism, and provide employment. Which backfired slightly because now hardly anyone buys their appliances and expensive items anywhere else. Why pay taxes if you don’t have to?

IMG_2828IMG_2826Golfito shopping center

There are, however, certain conditions: for starters, you can’t actually purchase anything the day you arrive. So you apply for a free TAC (tarjeta de autorizacion de compras) card that allows you to purchase up to ¢500,000 (about $1000) worth of goods.

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But the card isn’t valid until the next day, which forces most people to stay overnight, a good deal for the hotels and restaurants, naturally. You can only spend $1000 per semester, so $2000/year. And you’re limited on what you can buy as well; only one air conditioner per every 5 years, 1 fridge every two years, $40 worth of chocolate per semester, etc. Naturally people have found a way around the rules. Since Mary and Carlos had to furnish two of their rental apartments this year they put one fridge in her name and one in his, using up both of their limits. So the fridge Mary bought for the house in Puntarenas is now in my name. There were also people coming up to us offering to sell the unused portion of their spending limits-which we didn’t need since I shared my ¢1,000,000 limit (it was doubled since I didn’t spend any money the first semester of this year)-and lottery tickets (they sell these everywhere here, people just wander around with dozens of ticket strips trailing from their arms. Mary was especially excited about the extra spending limit-that woman is professional shopper I swear. There are about 40 shops, mainly household goods/appliances, but some cosmetics, liquor, clothes, toy stores thrown in. We spent a few hours after we got there Friday going from shop to shop, comparing prices, Mary bargaining with the shop clerks. Then we got dinner at another soda, found a hostel for the night, and went to bed early.

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Saturday morning we got up and had an early desayuno (breakfast) and were back at the market when it opened at 8am. It was packed, much busier than Friday, and I was told that was because of the overnight excusions coming from San Jose. Large groups of tourists (and some locals) will take private buses leaving around 10 or 11pm and arrive in Golfito early to get a jump on shopping. I don’t really know what the advantage is since they can’t buy anything yet, and I wouldn’t want to be driving those roads overnight (more on this later). Anyway, we finished making all our purchases (well, actually, I got bored halfway through the morning and read my book at a picnic table in the shade, while the others would periodically come back and drop off purchases for me to keep an eye on while they shopped) and then the fun really began.

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Somehow we got all of our purchases to the gate (including, but not limited to, the aforesaid fridge, a stove/oven, a washing machine, a fan, a 42” TV, speakers, toaster oven, a couple of bedding sets, a vacuum cleaner, coffee maker, water cooler, microwave, air conditioner unit, and various other small paraphernalia) where each item then had to be loaded onto giant conveyer belts and passed through inspection. The agents checked every single receipt and checked them against our TACs to make sure we were with our limits. The larger items had to go through a separate gate and since they were in my name my passport had to be checked repeatedly. Once we got through to the other side it was another set of chaos: agents from a dozen different delivery services running around with dollies. I had already been warned about these guys; “Just say no to anyone who comes up to you”. Apparently some people hang around either to take your money, without transporting purchases, or else load your purchases onto a cart and simply take of with the goods. Mary had already made arrangements with one the reputable delivery companies so we waited for them, walked all our goods over to a warehouse, to be delivered Monday, and then went to catch our 1:30 bus back to San Jose-just barely in time too.

The route back to San Jose winds through the mountains, instead of the coast, and takes an hour longer. Why they couldn’t just take the same route back I really couldn’t say, but it was pleasant enough for the first four hours or so, reading, or watching the pineapple and banana plantations zoom by. The sun sets around 5:30 here and after that it was too dark to read. We got stuck for a half hour or so at a police checkpoint. Golfito is half an hour away from the Panama border and apparently people have been known to smuggle goods in from there, where the prices are even cheaper. Some enterprising citizens ran along beside the stalled traffic selling mamons and bags of fried plantain chips through car and bus windows.

IMG_2849A mamon stand

They told everyone to have passports ready but the officer who boarded the bus hardly even glanced at me. Mary says they look mostly for Nicaraguan or Colombian immigrants and couldn’t care less about Americans. She said I didn’t need a passport since I had blue eyes (which I get so many comments on here). Apparently there are a lot of Americans who do actually overstay their visas, sometimes by years, but the government leaves them alone since they have boosted the economy here.

We stopped for dinner in Buenos Aires and then headed into the mountains, where we embarked on Mr. Toad’s Wild ride. There were just enormous walls of green forest stretching straight up on either side of the road, which wound around crazily, uphill, downhill, with sharp turns and two narrow lanes. It was pitch black by now, pouring rain, fog rising out of the valleys, with no streetlights anywhere, and rare even to see guardrails. Golfito was considerably warmer than San Jose, nearly 100F, and the mountains were freezing by comparison. Actually they were just freezing, period.   We made a final stop at a little grocery store/restaurant about 40km outside of San Jose, where Carlitos advised me that we were actually in what the locals call Las Colinas de Muerte, literally “hills of death”. Good to know. On the upside, I found strawberries for ¢1500/qt. Berries are harder to get here and not nearly as good as at home. In the grocery stores they’re about ¢3800/qt. so I was pretty happy with my bargain. Even though we could see the lights of San Jose from above, it took another hour to wind down the mountains and we finally reached the bus station around nine. The moral of the story: Just pay your taxes people, it’s not worth it.

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Six hours!

Whoo! Can’t believe it’s almost time to leave. Have to be up at 3am so I can get ready and get to the airport in time for 6am flight.  Debating whether I should bother to sleep at all at this point.  I just ran out of hours.  I spent all day packing and repacking, downloading software for my classes, getting paperwork together, etc.  I thought I had it all but apparently not.  I’m going to have to apply for my Belizean visa and for teaching jobs while I’m in Costa Rica so I’ve spent the last couple hours scanning copies of my passport, diploma, transcripts, insurance, etc into the computer as a backup.  And now I still have to find somewhere to cram all those little last minute items.  Afraid my backpack might explode; really hope the TSA doesn’t decide to open it because I’m not sure I can ever get everything back in!

I had a busy but fun last weekend at home.  Friday night went shopping for a few things I needed for my trip, then to dinner with my friend Cass and her daughter Kayla.  Went to the Sporting KC soccer game with friends on Saturday.  It was my first pro soccer game and it was awesome; those fans are crazy!  Sunday I got to hang out in the pool with more friends and family.  Then last night was dinner at my grandparents’, always great.  My grandma is a great cook: roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, corn, fried apples, salad, homemade cake with buttermilk icing and homemade malted chocolate ice cream.  I’m really going to miss everyone.  Can’t wait to get to Costa Rica though.  And I’m actually looking forward to my classes starting Thursday.  All right, more (and more interesting) stuff later-

A daring adventure begins…

I’ve been reading travel blogs for years and I am so excited to be able to start my own!  I’ll be posting all kinds of things but primarily this blog is to keep a record of my life as I set off to see the world.  I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and back in January I finally started making some concrete plans.  I  completed a TEFL certification course this spring (that’s Teach English as a Foreign Language for those not in the know) and decided to go teach in China.  My plans have evolved somewhat since:  I will be leaving at the end of August for Central America and will travel a few months before coming home for the holidays.  Then I plan to line up a job and head to China to teach after the new year starts.

This summer has just been busy, busy, busy so far trying to make plans and spend as much time as possible with friends and family before I go.  And August is sure to be even more hectic.  My mom and I ended July with an awesome trip to Vegas, hope to get some pictures up from that soon.  When I got back I started the countdown to my last day at work, which happens to be tomorrow.  Despite the little annoyances that accompany pretty much every job in the world I have enjoyed my job, like the company I work for, and love the people I work with.  So I’m super excited and really sad at the same time.

I’ve got a crazy weekend ahead too: dinner with some friends tomorrow, movies on Saturday, and the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure 5K bright and early Sunday morning.   But I don’t mind because I get to sleep in next week!  Well maybe one day.  Then I’ve got to start tackling the world’s longest to-do list.  Turns out, not working is a lot of work.  Especially when you’re planning an international trip.  I need to get new glasses, contacts, and travel vaccines before my health insurance runs out.  I need to get new travel/medical insurance.  I need an international driver’s license, visas, to file a will and an advance directive (creepy but you never know), withdraw money from my 401K and book a flight and all kinds of other arrangements.  Can’t wait to get started!