September 20, 2016

Let’s see, where did I leave off? Ah yes, bike is now fixed, debit card once again retrieved, new phone purchased. Still loving my new job. They may drive me crazy sometimes but I do love these guys. Last week I was in horrible mood when I got to work for some reason, but then April arrived and threw herself at me, demanding "hug me, hug me, hug me!"How can you stay grumpy around that all day?

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Not to mention Beijing has been spectacularly beautiful the past few weeks. Sunny and blue skies, starting to cool off slightly for fall.

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I’ve been getting out of Beijing into the suburbs a bit more: Shunyi, Maquanying, Chongping, lots of new areas for me, much quieter than the center of Beijing. Last weekend Jess got a job photographing a golf tournament for the British Chamber and I got to tag along. The course was at Chateau Lafitte, which was gorgeous, more like a European estate than anything you’d expect to see in China. We had one of the guys on staff chauffeuring us around in a golf cart all day while we took photos. Fun day-

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Then this past weekend was a four-day holiday for the Mid-Autumn Festival so we headed to Hong Kong. I’ve been there several times now but usually just for a day or so on visa runs, enough time to get there and then turn around. This time we got out to explore the city and surrounding areas. We actually stayed out on one of the islands-Cheung Chau-about a 45 minute ferry ride from Hong Kong island.

Cheung Chau is a really small island, we walked most of it trying to find our Airbnb place, but with a population of 50,000 or so. It still had a small-town feel though. As we were wandering around looking lost we were stopped by a woman, Michelle, who attempted to help us find the apartment but ended up having to call her husband, Michael, a local postmaster, who actually came to meet us. The place was a little confusing and at one point we had about 10 people gathered around us discussing loudly in Cantonese whether we were in the right place! But we got there eventually, waaay up in the hills. The view was worth it though:

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The next morning we got up early and got the ferry to Hong Kong. We checked out the Stanley Market area, where I found a beautiful jade ring and got a spectacular sunburn on the beach. It’s bad. Last time I got burned Jess informed me that I looked like a strawberry donut. After the beach? “You look like a f$%#@* tomato tree…vine…something.” You can always count on your best friend to be honest. The beach was beautiful though, not too horribly crowded. Then we walked around Hong Kong Park, which was gorgeous, and free, a key consideration for us on our travels. There’s a huge aviary and a conservatory inside as well that we visited.

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I loved this fountain and even liked the picture of me Jess managed to snap-

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All this to kill time until the night markets opened. And then, oh, the shopping! There’s so many different markets, with things everywhere. I couldn’t resist some more jewelry and presents. Then we caught the ferry back to Cheung Chau.

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wp-image-1038936548jpg.jpgWe had some vague plans to go back and explore more on Saturday but were too exhausted, so we spent the day touring our little island, which had more than its share of shops and street vendors, tiny private beaches, and narrow twisty alleys to explore.

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Totally common sight to see people hanging their fish out to dry on their balcony alongside the laundry.

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wp-image-1913210770jpg.jpgIt was so nice to have a new place to explore. There’s such an interesting feel to Hong Kong, different from places I’ve been in mainland China. More international, more accepting, people from all over the world. There are so many languages being spoken everywhere, but primarily English-nearly every person we spoke to knew at least a little. And Cheung Chau feels more like a Caribbean Island than anything else.

Also, I’m super excited because I finally booked my trip to Thailand during National Holiday-only 12 days left! And, thanks to my parents, I have a plane ticket booked to come home for two weeks around Christmas, too. Hoping to get Shanghai checked off my list before then as well. My goal is to travel as much as possible this year and book a  trip for every Chinese holiday. I have vague plans for India and Vietnam during the two-week New Year’s break in February so we’ll see how that shapes up.

August 13, 2016

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that once again things did not go as planned. Instead of a trip to the mountains, I spent two weeks sick with this cold/flu/smog allergy something or other. On the plus side, our landlords did buy us a new fridge. I also finished up my summer camp classes with these goofballs:

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Whose idea was it to let 9 5-year-olds build volcanoes? ….Oh wait, that would be me.

IMG_3955Also explored some new areas around Beijing:

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Yes, those are fish in a phone booth…

I went to Qianmen with some friends, Cami and Wendy, to see the new Madame Tussaud’s wax museum that just opened. Fortunately, Cami has a friend working there that got us free tickets too, because it’s a little pricey:

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Also, Jessica’s brother Trevor is visiting for a couple weeks so I’ve been tagging along with them and seeing all the touristy sights: Wangfujing Street, Chaoyang Park, The Place, the Friends cafe:

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Tuesday we went out for Beijing roast duck, always delicious, and a lot of fun:

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We checked out TianYi Market which is bizarre on the outside and huge on the inside. You can find anything and everything here, and most things at wholesale prices. Pretty awesome for broke teachers…

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Fang Cao Di mall has some of the most bizarre sculptures in the city. And across the street is Shi Mao Tian Jie, or The Place, which has the biggest overhead LCD screen. It stretches across a full city block.

And last, we went to Shuangjing/Baiziwan art street which I hadn’t seen at all. Lots of cool pieces here, plus a bar with an archery range. Because mixing booze and sharp objects is always a good idea-

IMG_3958I’ve had the last month off from the Art Institute but this week it’s back to the grind: Nutrition (because apparently I’m short a science credit, and Theory and Practice of Interactive System Design, which is every bit as much fun as it sounds. And my new preschool class starts Monday. So instead of doing homework or planning lessons, I decided to hole up in my favorite coffee shop and put this post together. You’re welcome 😀

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Let me tell you, Lemony Snickett has nothing on me and Jess. We were both itching to get out of town for the weekend since after Wednesday’s flood the temperatures skyrocketed and things got very smoggy. We wanted to go to the Kangxi grasslands but figured they would still be soggy, so we hit the internet.

Nicole: “Hey, there’s a fast train to Shanghai we could take! And it’s cheap.”

Jess: “Yay! Let’s go to Disneyland!”

Nicole: “Oh, nope, wait, that’s the one-way price…never mind…”

So, then I started searching train tickets to random cities.

“Hey let’s go to Wuhu! Just because it sounds funny!”

“Ok!”

“Oh, no, wait, that’s like a 36 hour trip…”

After a few more misattempts, Jess suggested a day trip to Cuandixia Village in the mountains outside of Beijing, then spending the weekend in a hotel in a different part of the city for a change. Also partly because our shower was flooded and we didn’t feel like dealing with it. And because the hotel had a bathtub and I haven’t gotten to soak in a bathtub since I left the States. So we booked a hotel on line, threw some things in a bag and took off.

Of course when we arrived at the hotel, near Wangfujing, they did not have our reservation on the books. We got a different room and went straight to sleep so we could get up at 5am Saturday morning. From there it was a 40 minute subway ride to Pinguoyuan, where supposedly bus 929 would take us to Cuandixia. However, bus 929 was nowhere to be found. After wandering around for a while a security guard pointed us in the right direction. We found the right bus stop, where we were informed by the driver that the bus no longer goes to Cuandixia and we needed bus 892.

We finally got on the bus and were headed out of town when it hit me that I did not take my debit card out of the ATM when I had taken out cash that morning. At this point we were well outside of Beijing, somewhere in Mentougou County, but we got off the bus and took a very expensive cab ride back to Beijing. Did I mention that in all this time we hadn’t found any breakfast? No, well, we hadn’t. So we stopped at the McDonald’s near the hotel where a raving homeless guy was yelling at passersby and throwing things. Naturally he followed us inside to sit next to us and stare.

So after we ate we headed straight to the ATM where I knew I’d left my card. I called the number on the machine where the ABC Bank lady informed me that they do not manage that machine and I should call another agency. Which I did. And the lady there informed me that she would have someone check the machine on Monday and call me. At this point we had very little money (Jess was down to the equivalent of $15  US until payday before we even started, and I only had the cash I had taken out in the morning, much of which was spent on the aforementioned taxi.)

But we decided to just go have fun anyway and set out for Beihai Park, one of the oldest parks (construction began in 938 A.D!). The park was very close. However, it was walled off and the only entrance was a very long walk away. (By the way, the temperature hit 108 degrees Saturday…)

The park however, was beautiful. The lotus blossoms were opening all over the place. In some places there were so many and so close together that you can’t even see the opposite bank of the river. There were boats out everywhere. We got to climb up to the top of the temples and view was amazing.

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Lotus flowers in bloom

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People write prayers on these wooden plaques and hang them in front of the Buddhist temples. There were prayers in several languages-German, Chinese, English, Spanish…

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It was nice to be surrounded by nature for once; you can almost forget you’re in Beijing at all.

Of course, by the time were done we were both sunburnt. Or, as Jess put it, “You look like a strawberry donut.” But I had fortunately remembered that I had a backup credit card. At home. In the apartment. So we took a cab back and as we pulled up to the gate…

Jess: “Oh.”

Nicole: “Oh, what?”

Silence.

Nicole: “You left the apartment keys at the hotel, didn’t you?”

Jess: “Yup.”

Fortunately the security guards know us very well by now. As does the locksmith, seeing as this is the fourth time Jess has locked herself out since she moved in, and the second time within two weeks. He didn’t even ask questions, just went straight to our apartment, where we grabbed the money and went straight back to the hotel. Where we were locked out of our room.

Apparently our reservation had eventually shown up in the hotel’s system so they switched us to the room we had originally requested. So we packed again and dragged our stuff down the hall.

Then finally, relaxation. We took our baths, blasted the air conditioner, ordered pizza, and watch a movie till we fell asleep. For about 10 hours. From there on out the weekend was smooth sailing. Except for Jess leaving her computer behind (it was recovered), and a minor bike collision (everybody’s fine). But stay tuned for more amusing disasters when we head out to the mountains again next weekend!

 

Update 7/26/16:

  1. Managed to retrieve my debit card successfully from ATM. I have to say the ABC Bank folks were extremely helpful. And when they opened up the machine there were several cards besides mine that had been captured so I don’t feel quite so stupid.
  2. Discovered source of shower drain clog: coins. Yes, coins. In China, the washing machine is pretty much always in the bathroom and shares one single drain with the shower and the sink. So apparently all the change we forget to empty out of our pockets came out in the rinse water and stopped up the drain. Chalk it up to another #chinaproblem.
  3. Thought my luck was turning today. Things were going really well, I even found out I get an unexpected 5 day break before my next teaching job starts. Then I came home to no electricity. I checked the electricity box and we still have money on our card. (Here electricity is purchased with a prepaid card, so it’s not unusual for us to forget to refill the card and run out.) Jess checked with a neighbor and found they still have electricity. Then she approached the maintenance people, who basically laugh whenever they see her coming now. The same guy who fixed our shower came upstairs and starts flipping switches and rearranging wires. Essentially what we found out is that the fridge is broken. We can plug anything else into the outlet, but as soon as we plug in the fridge it’s lights out everywhere. So once again it’s two steps forward and one step back…

Happy Children’s Day!

Yes, it’s a real thing. Apparently it’s one of the few holidays not celebrated in America but it’s a big deal in many other countries. Many schools had celebration, including one I teach at. It was a lot of fun actually. They rented a bounce house and a wading pool with boats and had all kinds of games. There are only 5 kids in the preschool class, but the school is located in a big gated apartment community where everyone knows each other, so families were stopping by all afternoon:

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Who knows this game? Cookie-in the orange shirt-was getting the hang of it after a while.

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Some good old-fashioned jump roping-I’m surprised but I actually remembered how!
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Elsa’s face is priceless here!
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Sometimes the simplest things are the most fun-turn kids loose with cardboard boxes and paint and see what happens-
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The grounds of the school’s community are really beautiful-I took a little walk around this afternoon.

And I finally booked my next visa run-I’ve been debating where to go for a month but I decided last minute to go to Busan (formerly Pusan). I leave at 2:50am on a Thursday-joy 😦  But I’ll have two full days there before coming back on a Saturday. I’m so excited to be going anywhere besides Hong Kong for once!

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“All of us, every single year, we’re a different person. I don’t think we’re the same person all our lives.” ~Steven Spielberg

So things have been hectic as usual, but I do finally get a break this week for Chinese New Year. It’s been nice actually; most Chinese people go back to their hometowns for the holiday, or out of town. Beijing is much less crowded than normal. I finished up my classes Friday, the winter camp I was teaching for some kids, and an adult class. I had fun with them all! The kids had lessons on teamwork and we did a bunch of science experiments and games.

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After my last class Friday I met Jess and went to Wangfujing Street, where she attempted to eat bugs, just because. It was highly entertaining; if you haven’t yet, go check out the YouTube video I made:

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Finally got to put my skills from my video editing class to good use. There’s a huge mall (actually, more than one) in Wangfujing and we walked around. Everything was decked out for Chinese New Year; it’s the Year of the Monkey, if you couldn’t tell:

IMG_0712Firecrackers and monkeys are everywhere, and oranges are traditional gifts for the holiday.

Saturday was about 20 straight hours of homework but I wanted to get everything out of the way so I could have fun Sunday, for New Year’s Eve, which I did. I got up early and Skyped family, ran to the grocery store, and then cleaned, cleaned, cleaned because my apartment was a mess and I didn’t want to clean it today because it’s very unlucky. (If you take out the trash, sweep the floors, or even wash your hair on New Year’s Day Chinese superstition says you’re sweeping away good fortune for the year. So I went along with it because I need all the luck I can get!) Then I decorated my apartment. LiLin brought me a bunch of New Year’s decorations and told me how to hang them up right. There’s a poem on three pieces that goes around the door, and a sign for fu that has to be hung upside down on New Year’s eve.

IMG_0717Last night I met up with Jess near Shichahai. People were setting off chains of firecrackers on the sidewalk as we went by and I stopped for this video. I also temporarily lost my hearing…turn the volume down if you watch it! I love fireworks in China. People buy them by the case and set them off wherever and whenever they feel like it. No rules, no regulations, no timed 20-minute events, and no warning whatsoever. Crowded street? Who cares? They just light the fuse and run. Hopefully bystanders notice and get out of the way before the mayhem starts.

We got dinner at a new place we stumbled across and now it’s one of my favorites. Delicious food!

IMG_0715Then we wandered around being our silly selves. We found a giant ball of cotton candy for dessert, which we subsequently turned into Olaf from Frozen, and a wig for Jess. Also found a giant fish, which is very lucky here.

IMG_0716At eight, we met up with some more friends at a quiet bar on Houhai lake and played dice games. They had live music and big windows upstairs so we could see the fireworks going off all night. Later we went to Temple Bar to hear the Beijing Beetles, who were actually pretty good, then to the lake to see the fireworks at midnight. Well, the big display was at midnight but really they were going off as soon as it was dark. They were going nonstop all night, even when I got back to my apartment. And I could still hear firecrackers when I got up this morning (very late) and all day long. This is the biggest holiday in China and they know how to celebrate!

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Enough already, Beijing

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Freezing. I want to hide in my apartment until May please. I’ll just teach via Skype. Any objections? No? Okay then.

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But after trudging home in more snow flurries (which were not in the forecast!) I made some excellent (if I do say so myself) chicken and vegetable soup. And I got some fresh bread and my favorite wine and curled up with a blanket on the couch. So all in all, not too bad.

 

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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