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.)
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.
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.
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.
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:
The Marble Boat on Kunming Lake
Apparently several thousand other people had the same idea as I did. Fortunately the crowds thinned out a little past the entrance area.
I went to shop around Solana, a really upscale shopping area. So window shopping only.
Above clockwise: traveling with dogs in China, craft stalls, roasted sweet potatoes from a street vendor, and a demonstration by shoemakers. Below: 798 sightseeing.
When 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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…
I really can’t believe it’s already October. My first 2 classes are over with as of yesterday (straight A’s, thank you) and the other 2 start tomorrow. Then I’m off to Belize!
This has been a slow week and I got some sort of bug and did not feel well at all so I haven’t been posting anything. But the last few days have been better. Mostly have been running errands. And the weather here has been strange. Mary and I walked to Guadelupe Thursday so she could pay taxes and it was just gloomy with little rain showers, which is odd in the morning. In Costa Rica, taxes are due the end of September instead of April. It’s also the end of the fiscal year for most businesses so the stores have all kinds of sales, which is awesome. And I took the bus into San Jose on Friday to walk around downtown and got absolutely soaked. The 9am bus never came so there was a huge group standing around by the time the 9:30 bus came and it was packed. It rained all morning again and of course I had no umbrella. I did get some pictures of the street art wall in front of one of the elementary schools though:
Let’s see…I have to say the high point of the week was when I managed to set up a proxy IP address and hoodwink Google Chrome into thinking that I am currently located in London, so that I can watch the current season of Downton Abbey online and not have to wait for the US premiere in Jan 2015. I was pretty proud of that, I must say. It’s the little things. And if you’re laughing at me, well, you’ve clearly never watched the show, because it is awesome.
Yesterday morning was beautiful and I went to the ferria, farmer’s market, with Thais and Carlitos. They have absolutely everything imaginable, and it’s crazy cheap: 4 mangos, a pineapple and half a dozen oranges for about $4. The “orange guy” loves Thais and just beamed when he saw her and enthusiastically greeted us all. I also tried some new dishes. Mary made carne mechada yesterday, which translates as shredded beef. It’s also called ropa viejo, (or old clothes) which I find hilarious, although it does kind of resemble a pot full of dirty laundry. But it tastes delicious. After the beef was simmered in the crockpot overnight and shredded, Mary added a hot (and I mean hot) pepper, onion, carrots, and tomatoes and it made this sort of stew/chili that she served over rice, with chayote. Chayote is a strange green vegetable/fruit that when boiled has the texture of a cooked pear and not much flavor but it tasted good with the stew. Then I tried a recipe for patacones from my new Costa Rican cookbook. Patacones are popular here: basically you take really green, unripe plantains, slice them, boil until they’re soft enough to smash with a glass, then fry them with salt and pepper. I added some queso too and they were pretty good:
The days are flying by here; I can’t believe I’ve already been in Costa Rica for two weeks. But I’ve already seen a lot of San Jose and the country. On Sunday, I went with Carlos and Mary to drop off their friends Roger and Susie at the airport and we took a different way back so I saw some more of the city; we drove by La Sabana, the huge central park, and the National Stadium (which is huge), where there was a rodeo going on, with people in cowboy hats lined up around the block to get in. It’s a really big deal here apparently, with competitors coming from all over Central America, Venezuela, Argentina, even the US.
And we drove by this little settlement:
There are more structures behind these, an enormous hillside covered with little patched together ramshackle homes. Carlos says this section of town is inhabited entirely by Nicaraguans, or “Nicas”. They immigrate to Costa Rica for jobs, for the free public education, and medical care. The structures are made from all sorts of leftover construction scraps: I saw walls made from plastic, cardboard, sheet metal, boards and plywood, and roofing tiles, all covered over with rusted tin roofs. The immigrants build them on government land and so far the government just lets them. Most of the Tico people seem to look at these immigrants disparagingly.
On Tuesday, I got to see a little of Puntarenas. Carlos and Mary just bought a house there for their son Carlito, who goes to the University of Costa Rica in Puntarenas. So I drove there with them and we moved all of his stuff from his apartment to the new house, which was less than two blocks from the beach. I didn’t have any time to really sightsee, but I did get to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time:
I love the ocean, any ocean, but I don’t think I’ve been near one in almost ten years. Puntarenas is a small city but busy, with the university and the port, with cargo ships and cruise ships coming in. After moving everything, we got lunch at one of the many sodas along the main street. Lunch is usually a casado around here: a plate with green salad, rice, black beans, fried plantains, and some type of meat, chicken in this case. And everywhere they serve fresh fruit juice, which is delicious. Carlos is staying there to help get everything settled with the new house, so Mary and I took the bus back the same afternoon. Fare here is really cheap, less than $5 to travel between towns, or about $.65 within San Jose. The bus dropped us off in front of the Multiplex, the biggest mall in the city, and we shopped for a while. They have a lot of the stores we have in the States, but the prices are almost double at some stores.
Yesterday morning was nice, I got up early to take a short walk around the neighborhood. Which turned into a long walk when I tried to retrace my steps and missed a crossroad somewhere. I ended up walking in circles trying to find a landmark I knew. Finally I just started walking uphill since I had gone downhill on my way out, and stumbled into El Colegio de Scion, the big school a couple of blocks from the house. Then I went to run errands with Mary, to EPA, which is like a Lowe’s or Home Depot, the bank, and to lunch at a little Mexican restaurant, with really authentic food. I had some chorizo tacos: corn tortillas with crispy sausage, tomato, avocado, and lime, which was really good, and the house drink which, as far as I could figure out, is milk with cinnamon and sugar.
We got home just in time. I have noticed that on the rare days when it doesn’t rain at all it will rain twice as hard the next day, often with thunder and lightening thrown in, as if the sky is trying to make up the difference. And since it didn’t rain Tuesday, yesterday afternoon was an absolute downpour, well into the night even. But I like the rain here, the sound of it on the tile roofs, how cozy and predictable it is, and how fast it makes everything grow.