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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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.

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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