Will cook for train fare…

Last Friday night Jess’s school hosted a night fair; parents and staff could set up booths in the classrooms and parents and kids came to buy their homemade foods and crafts. Jess signed us up for an apple-themed booth and she made a bunch of applesauce and I made some individual apple pies and cheddar-apple muffins, and we went into business! We didn’t make a lot of money but we covered our costs and used the rest to book round-trip train tickets to Tianjin and hotel costs. We’re thinking about taking the show on the road and opening up a street-food cart to fund our travels (joking, joking). So keep an eye out for trip photos in a couple weeks!

Also just a few photos from our nursery rhyme lesson this week. We’re learning Humpty Dumpty so I decorated an egg-which I was quite proud of-then we incorporated some science and wrapped him up in tissues and marshmallows and balloons and threw him off the third floor balcony to see if he would break. In a surprising twist to the original story, he survived!



Trip Announcement!

I’m excited to announce my Winter 2017/2018 Trip Itineraries! I just booked my last tickets this afternoon: October 27-29-Busan, South Korea; December 16-23- Zurich, Switzerland; December 26-29-Xi’an, China; and finally, February 10-22-Delhi and Agra, India. So stayed tuned for some stories!

Otherwise, it’s been an uneventful week. For science class, we’ve been learning about the 5 senses so I did a taste test experiment Thursday and let kids try different tastes: lemons for sour, coffee and super dark chocolate for bitter, cookies and sugar cubes for sweet, salt water (salty), and spicy beef jerky (spicy).

I also thought I’d share these paintings. The kids were supposed to be drawing elephants from this story their art teacher read them. These were the results; I’m a little concerned about the last one.

Friday night Jess and I held our Second Annual Halloween Movie Binge. Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas, black bean and bacon chili, corn bread, and apple crisp. We even did some pumpkin carving.

October 6, 2017

Sadly, I lost the rest of my footage of the Great Crab Takedown of 2017 but it was hilarious. And yes, they did end up as dinner! (They were delicious.)

I also have some craziness from my kids last week. I have found the perfect Chinese phrase to describe them: Ta men chaochaonaonao bu xiaoting (吵吵闹闹不消停。) Roughly it means they are super hyper and kicking up a ruckus and won’t stop. I just like the way it sounds. I’ve put it all into video form to practice my editing skills, which are rough, and I give you fair warning: don’t watch it more than once or you’ll never get the songs out of your head.

I did some exploring this week with my time off. I finally got to go to Grand Canal Forest Park, which is out in the Tongzhou area south of Beijing. It’s not a long trip but it was nice to be outside of the city and it’s beautiful. I read about the canal last year and it’s an interesting history; I’d been wanting to see it for a while. The canal stretches 1,100 miles from Hangzhou to Tongzhou and is the longest man-made waterway in the world. It was begun in 456 B.C. and took 1,100 years to complete, mainly by slave labor. Now, the Tongzhou section is a huge park, with an amusement park, trails, fishing, boating, picnic areas, crazy flower sculptures, and all kinds of fun. But it’s also really peaceful.

I also explored my neighborhood a bit more and found another little park I hadn’t seen before. Someone in the community had a litter of these little dogs and they were all down there playing-so cute!

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

This upcoming week is the Mid-Autumn Festival/National Holiday, so we have a week off. It’s the only reason I’ve survived so long. No travel plans unfortunately. For the holiday I least. Jess and I just booked a weekend trip to Busan at the end of October though. Other than that we’re just saving money for our New Year’s trip to India. But there’s a lot of places in and around Beijing I still haven’t seen so I’ll do some exploring here.

Kiki went to her hometown for the holiday and sent everyone who works for her a Tianjin specialty-hairy crabs. Live crabs. 15 of them. Seafood is always super fresh here-literally still swimming. Instead of bags of frozen fish and shrimp, the supermarkets have aquariums with every possible variety of seafood splashing around. The market near my house is one of the best in the city and I always tell myself I’m going to learn how to cook live seafood but I haven’t brought myself to do it quite yet. But now I have these crabs and either they’re going to be dinner or I’m going to have to put a plastic wading pool in the middle of the living room and give them all names. I’ll let you know when I decide.

Also, they didn’t get delivered until after 10 tonight and Jess and I were both ready for bed so we look a little crazy, and Jess’s camera work goes a bit spazy at the end, but it’s still funny:

November 12, 2016

*Note: I’m taking an extended hiatus from Facebook. My blog post are automatically published there from WordPress, however, I won’t see any comments. So if you have any comments you want me to see post them here on my blog page directly.

For the record, I’m still unbelievably mad and sad and sick and worried. This whole week has sucked actually. But I can’t discuss it anymore so I’m just focusing on today for now. Today was a good day (in spite of the smog). It was warm, mid fifties, I managed to get up early, make pancakes, tackle some errands (even got through the bank in record time with minimal hassle-no small feat here), and go wander around the Chaowai district, exploring and window-shopping.

Last week, when the temperature dropped, the powers that be decided to switch on the government-controlled heating early, on Nov. 12. That sounded like a great idea at the time but now it’s warmer outside and the additional heat from the radiator is making our apartment feel like some tropical getaway. We had to dig out summer clothes to sleep in and pull out the fans we just put away. It doesn’t really feel like mid-November but I’m sure that will change in a week or so.

Tonight Jess and I set out to find this pizza place that was supposed to be good. It took us about an hour of walking around, trying to match barely marked alleys with Google Map’s version of things. It was in a quiet hutong neighborhood we hadn’t been down before and we stumbled on some interesting places before finally finding the bar-Mao Mao Chang’s in Ban Chang hutong if anyone out there is interested. The drinks were great though and the pizza more than lived up to its reputation so it was definitely worth the trip. We ordered their dessert pizza on a whim. I’m not usually a big fan of dessert pizzas but this was amazing-just thin crust covered in dark chocolate and orange slices, served with homemade rum raisin ice cream.

I wanted to share the two encounters that stand out most in my head right now though, both with cab drivers I had today. Beijing taxi drivers aren’t known as particularly friendly, even with locals, but occasionally you get a really nice one. First, the cab driver I had on the way home from shopping today. He was fidgeting with the meter for most of the ride but it would not work at all. When we got home I tried to ask how much (usually if there’s a problem they’ll kind of ballpark it) but he kept waving me off, telling me don’t worry about it, it’s broken. I thought that was really sweet, but finally did get him to accept 20 kuai, which was still less than I normally pay from that area in Saturday afternoon traffic.

Then on the way home from dinner the driver Jess and I had was pretty young and really friendly. We sat in traffic for a while and he kept attempting conversation, asking where we were from and pointing out the license plate ahead of us that in a funny coincidence was “Yo, yo, yo, yo” (One, one, one, one). Another car was “Liu, liu, liu, liu”, or six, six, six, six. Then he got super excited about a noise behind us and started talking about a beautiful car. Turns out there was a Lamborghini behind us. Our driver actually pulled out of the way at the light to let the car pass and pulled out his phone to take a video of the car revving its engine and speeding past us. He was practically cheering it on with the only English he knew, “Okay, okay, okay!” It was hilarious, he was just so excited and enthusiastic over this sports car, posting his video and rematching it.  It’s nice to see someone who genuinely enjoys their profession sometimes.

I’m excited for all the upcoming holiday events. Last year I my job had me working nights and weekends and I missed almost everything, so this year I sat down and started planning way ahead of time. There are lots of plays, ballets, and pop-up holiday bazaars and markets in Beijing during November and December, the tree-lighting ceremony, and many of the big hotels do Thanksgiving dinners for expats. I’m sure I won’t do half the things in my calendar but I like having things to look forward to.

Odds and Ends

I don’t have any major updates, just some everyday life stuff. Firstly, let’s talk about the government mandated heating. The heat in Beijing does not get turned on until November 15th. Individual homes and businesses can not turn on heat-in order to conserve resources, the heat gets turned on for the whole building at the same time-Nov. 15-Mar. 15 every year.  Unfortunately, while the Chinese government controls many (many, many, many) things around here, they do not yet control the weather. I’m sure they’re working on it, but until they do… Beijing temps have dropped like 20 degrees over this past week. Had to dig out my tiny space heater for the living room but my toes are still numb. On the plus side, the icy cold rain yesterday chased the smog away.

Next, teaching. I never in my life wanted to be a teacher; never thought I would. TEFL was just supposed to be a way for me to travel and make some money. But I love my job now. This is the first time I’ve gotten a classroom totally to myself with the same kids all day everyday and it’s amazing to see how much they change. It doesn’t seem like it day to day but when I look at where they started two months ago I’m amazed. Ryan wouldn’t/couldn’t say two words to me when class started but now sometimes he won’t stop talking. His grammar and vocabulary is still pretty limited but he uses his “caveman” speak and gestures to get his point across pretty well. And Zach and April started reading short books all by themselves. But QingQing, who’s the youngest-just turned 5 two weeks ago-surprised me most this afternoon-I was planning lessons after school and she came into the office and grabbed my pencils, decided they weren’t sharp enough, and sat down to sharpen them for me. Then she just started talking-mostly questions. What was I doing? Why didn’t I draw? I should draw a wainbowl (rainbow). Where did I live? Where was that? Was I married? Why not? What did I like to do? Then she decided to start teaching me the Chinese words for things. Sometimes I’m just blown away by the things these kids do and say!

We had a field trip to the National Zoo Museum on Wednesday, since we’ve been learning animals in science (plant/meat eaters, bird/mammal/reptile, etc). It’s basically three floors of stuffed animals from all over China. The kids thought it was cool, particularly the insect section. Half the third floor was a collection of butterflies-thousands of species from all over the world. It actually was fascinating. And of course, they had a thousand questions for me and Carol, their Chinese teacher. I love how they think teachers are completely omniscient. Since the exhibit cards were written in Chinese Carol could answer some, but not all, and I couldn’t read any information, so I was just falling back on my general knowledge. I need to buckle down and seriously study Chinese. I’m understanding more and more of what I hear but can’t read at all.

Ryan, Fred, and Zachary
Ryan, Fred, and Zachary-my little goofballs! These boys are crazy active-and they all loved the tigers.
Rarity and April
Rarity and April loved the peacocks.
QingQing and Zachary
QingQing and Zachary checking out the light-up map of all the continents.

I’m super excited to be going home in 56 days. (That’s right, I counted them out.) Two weeks at home with my family for our winter break, then two weeks back in Beijing teaching, then two weeks in Spain for our Chinese New Year holiday. Jess and I had planned on spending the New Years break in India but then found out we have different breaks; they overlap for a week or so, but when you add in flying time we just didn’t think it was enough time to do India justice. And neither of us wanted to go to India alone, mostly for safety reasons. So I’m going to Spain and she’s going to Jerusalem. I’ve been wanting to go to Spain for years and years and this is my first (of many, I hope) European trip, so I can’t wait. We’re talking about some joint blog posts to share stories and pictures from both of our trips.

Otherwise I have been staying busy with my new AI (Art Institute) class-this quarter, Animation. I’ve taken some animation classes before but this is much more advanced. I love the results when they turn out right, but the process is endlessly frustrating. I have a lot more respect for the folks at Pixar and Disney, that’s for sure. And this is all digital stuff-I can’t imaging hand drawing every scene. Anyway, if my final project turns out like I want it to I’ll post it here.

Lastly, my new obsession is bullet journaling. If you’re at all crafty or just obsessively organized-or a little of both like me-you should definitely Google it or look at Pinterest. I think I may be a little addicted-I’m currently working on three different notebooks-one for current plans, one for future plans, and one for lesson plans. I actually have a list of all the lists I need to make. I might have a problem.


Walking with Elephants-Check!

What an amazing week! After years of wanting to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand, I finally got to cross it off my list. First I have to say I loved the place I stayed-Enchanted Garden Bungalows. I found it on Airbnb.com and they were awesome. I had a little bamboo cabin all to myself, surrounded by the gardens. I got to do my homework on the wraparound porch outside and listen to the waterfall. And swim in the heated saltwater pool every day!


cm3This place was set outside of Chiang Mai a bit so it was nice and quiet, and I enjoyed walking around the small village. Nearly all the houses I passed had small shrines set up, there were tiny open-air restaurants and markets, even cows wandering around.

Love the bright colors of this school!
Enjoyed this beautiful little coffee shop as well-

The number one thing on my list was to go see elephants so I did that first thing Tuesday. I went with a tour about 1.5 hours outside the city to a small elephant farm. I got a recommendation from the resort’s activities director, Janie, as to a good one, as many are too touristy or abusive. There was no riding elephants and they seem to only follow voice commands (or food bribes)-no hitting.


The scenery up in the hills was beautiful!

cm2We got to prepare food-sugarcane, bananas, and pumpkins-to feed the animals and walked around visiting them for a while. It was a small farm-3 adults and 2 calves, Mina (3 years) and Milo (only 1 year). They eat so much! The adults can pick up half a pumpkin, rind and all, and toss it in their mouths.

Milo was too cute! He had fun splashing in the water and chasing people. (He has to wear a bell around his neck so people hear him coming.) He ran up to headbutt me when we walked in to the yard. The caretakers cautioned us not to push back and just sort of sidestep him so he doesn’t get to forceful. He was so playful and fun to watch though.

After we fed them we ate lunch, then walked the elephants down a steep path to the river for their bath. That was fun. Unfortunately I have no pictures since I was up to my neck in cold, muddy river water! I loved watching them though. We could barely stand up in the strong current but the babies were just rolling around splashing. It was such an amazing experience! (Yeah, you’re gonna get a lot of exclamation points this time. Too bad.

Next stop-The Little Kitchen Thai Cooking School. This was an awesome place. There were a lot of other cooking schools in Chiang Mai but I would absolutely recommend this one-and it was only a 2 minute walk from the resort. Each student gets to pick 5 dishes to make from their menu and they have most of the ingredients all prepped-I felt like I was on a cooking show! Delicious food, too.

My favorite dish-pineapple fried rice!

I spent one day just walking around the downtown area and going through all the temples and shops. It was a beautiful day for it, too. The clouds almost look fake, but no editing, I swear! I walked all over the place, bought many, many (too many) things, then got a 60 minute foot massage for 200 baht (about $5.67!)




Monks painting in front of one of the temples
The iced coffee is some of the best I’ve had, and pad thai (noodles)=yum!

It was seriously hard to make myself come back to Beijing Friday but I managed. Sometimes I’m surprised at how far I’ve come. I had an overnight layover in Kunming, southern China, on the way back. I booked the cheapest hotel I could find close to the airport. I took the free shuttle, which was really a small van with a dozen people and suitcases piled on top of us. The hotel was in an area that might have horrified me a year ago but after all the traveling I’ve done I wasn’t even phased (and it was super comfortable, especially for US$45/night). I just threw my bags in the room and went out for a late 8 kuai dinner from a street vendor.

I can’t believe it’s almost mid-October now. Beijing got a bit chilly while I was gone; my toes have been freezing all day! But I love the crisp fall weather. And in just over 2 months I’ll be home for Christmas. This year is going even faster than the last one. I might have to stay a third…