To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. ~Winston Churchill

Hmm, I must be getting close to perfection then. I’ve changed just about everything in my life in the past month: job, location, my mind (several times), this blog…

Long story short, I quit my job with Best Learning and took a spur-of-the-moment trip home for the holidays. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming so it was fun to surprise everyone. It was a great two weeks!

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I decided to sum it up in pictures. I got to spend quality time with my dogs, (oh, and my family), bake cookies, wrap presents, drive (on comparatively quiet roads), enjoy some clear, clean blue skies. I saw the new Star Wars movie almost a month before it comes out in Beijing. And my aunt got everyone hooked on playing Carcasonne; lots of fun! We got enough snow to make everything pretty, but had the side effect of canceling my return flight, so I ended up staying a couple extra days.

 

 

 

 

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And finally, some Kansas City BBQ my last night in town:

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Now I’m back in Beijing, which also feels like home now. I think I’ve overcome the jet lag, except for waking up at 5:30am the last couple days. Although it’s definitely easier coming back than it was going home. I’ve got things unpacked and my apartment clean and organized. Spent the last couple days settling back in and making plans.

I decided not to take any teaching job offers and just try tutoring and get more hours at the recording studio, so hopefully I’ll have some more time for my own classes now. Because I actually really like the courses I’m taking with the Art Institute but I just haven’t been able to devote as much time as I’d like to them, or look into any freelance work. So today I just signed a contract with a new company, looking for a teacher for adults, but only part time, about 10-15 hours a week. I’m supposed to meet with 2 or 3 others this week too. So there’s no shortage of work and I’ve had time to relax as well, which is nice for a change.

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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