Hoi An

I was up bright and early Sunday to go explore Hoi An. Hoi An was once a busy trading port on the Thu Bon River and the river is still a big draw, with various tour boats and fishing boats everywhere. Tons of shops line both sides of the walk along the river and the whole place has such a cute, small-town feel; it was easy to walk everywhere. One of the things the city is known for is the tailor shops. There are more than 400 and they can make practically a whole new wardrobe overnight. One of my first stops Sunday morning was to Bebe’s, one of the best-known tailor shops. It was even more fun than shopping. You can look at pictures from their catalog or anywhere you find them, like Pinterest, and they’ll sketch out the items you like and make any changes you want, then you can pick from hundreds of fabrics. It’s relatively inexpensive but I never have money when I travel, so I only got one dress, but it was custom-made from Hoi An silk and still less than I would have spent walking into a shop at home and buying something similar. They had it finished 24 hours later so I could come back and try it on and the seamstress could make any adjustments. She finished the hem and it was ready to pick up Tuesday morning. I wish I could do all my shopping there! Afterwards, I just spent some time walking around the old town.

Monday morning I booked a tour/cooking class where we visited a local market, then took a boat downriver to Cam Thanh water coconut village. It’s a small fishing village at the edge of Hoi An. During wartime, soldiers and locals would hide here, but now they hive a thriving eco-tour business. From the large riverboat, we transferred to traditional woven basket boats, which were fun to float around in. Each boat had a local guide to row us around and show us how to weave grass, catch crabs and fish. I was in a boat boat with a girl named Haley from the U.K., and our guide was a sweet lady who must have been about 80. She spoke only a few words of English but would talk to us in Vietnamese and gestures, smiling the whole way. Her husband was in the boat rowing a couple ahead of us, and their son had his own boat as well.

After floating around for an hour or so, we were rowed over to a big open-air kitchen to prepare lunch. I liked the cooking class a lot. Sometimes, they are too touristy, more like demonstrations, but this one was really hands-on and the instructors knew a lot about the ingredient and could explain the technique. Hoi An is also known for its cuisine so it seemed like every restaurant in town offers cooking classes, but I would definitely recommend this one, especially since it includes the coconut boat tour.

When I got back, I rested up at my Airbnb and did some homework, then went out to see Hoi An at night, which was both wonderful and frustrating. The city was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999 to try to protect its culture, but it appears to have done the opposite. The streets are busy enough during the day, and just about everything in the old town area is now a shop or restaurant, which is bad enough, but at night the area is just flooded with tourists. It’s sad to see. I still enjoyed seeing all the lanterns and the small boats going out on the river, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more 10 years ago.

That said, the view on the river is amazing. I tried to narrow down my photos but it was hard! I got there just before sunset and stood on the bridge (with about 400 other people) to watch it go down.

Evidence of environmentalism was everywhere. Recycling bins, recycled planters, like the ones below, were really common, restaurants and vendors are cutting back on disposable items. The place where I got a breakfast smoothie one day had hollow wooden straws instead of plastic. All the fishermen and tour guides had nets in their boats to nab any bits of floating trash they came across in the river or sea.

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One question I’ve gotten more than once is how people act toward Americans, or were there still any signs of war. It seems that’s all Americans really know about Vietnam. It’s impossible to answer definitively; I only visited four cities and I certainly didn’t talk to every person in the country. I can only tell you what I saw and heard from others. I’m sure there are still people who hate us; I would, frankly. But I didn’t feel that at all. What I’ve read, what I had been told by other people I know who have been to Vietnam, is that Vietnamese people love Americans. I don’t know if I’d go so far, but I certainly found them all friendly and welcoming. (Of course, Vietnam now has a thriving tourism industry with Americans pouring money into it.) This article has a much more detailed perspective if anyone is interested. In general, they view us as just one more invader they conquered, the way they did China, Japan, France, and others. Others appreciate that we tried to help. There are likely as many opinions as there are Vietnamese people. Another factor is that many revere Ho Chi Minh, and took his words to heart when he told them to blame governments, not people, for their trouble. (Something we could all learn from right now.)

My hotel posted this list of facts about Vietnam I found interesting.

You don’t have to look far, though, to see that America has had a big impact on this small country. What we call the Vietnam War, they call the American War. On a tour of Hanoi, driving down the shaded road between Trúc Bạch Lake and the West Lake, the guide was sure to detail the account of John McCain crashing down in Trúc Bạch Lake and point out the small memorial of the event there. We went by Hoa Lo prison where the POWs were held. In souvenir shops there are t-shirts like this:

I found a vintage poster shop with replicas of propaganda ads from different eras. I just bought a few, but there were dozens and dozens featuring America, American soldiers, American presidents.

Everywhere I went, people would quote prices to me in USD. I find this completely useless since I now think in RMB, and I don’t even really do that when I travel. I exchange my cash, since my Chinese debit card doesn’t work outside China. I take the amount I have, divide it by how many days I’m staying in any given country, and that’s my daily allowance. I had roughly 1 million VND per day (about USD $44-a lot, compared to my usual budget; I probably could have gotten by with half) to spend. So shopkeepers waving me over to buy things, “Very cheap, only 5 US dollars”, meant nothing to me. I had to keep asking people to tell me the price in VND, which confused them. They assume all Americans must have money and simply didn’t believe me when I told them I couldn’t afford things. “Beautiful necklace, 20 dollars”. To most tourists, that’s nothing. To many Asians, and me, $20 is a lot of money. It doesn’t sound like it, but when I convert it to VND or RMB, my first thought was usually, “Are you crazy? I’m not paying that!” Most of my hotel rooms didn’t even cost $20 a night, and they were nice rooms! I suppose this pricing is helpful to most American tourists, but I didn’t encounter many of those; most were from Europe, China, New Zealand, or Australia. Still, it shows how pervasive our currency is, and our language. Nearly every person I encountered spoke English.

Street food is super cheap. Madam Khanh’s is one of the most popular Banh Mi vendors in Hoi An-every time I went by there was a line of people starting two doors down. I had to try it at least once. An eight-inch baguette stuffed with pate, grilled meat, and vegetables-extremely filling-set me back roughly eighty-five cents. It doesn’t get any better.

After 3 days in Hoi An, I left to spend a night in DaNang. Hoi An is so small it has no airport or train station, so you have to fly in to nearby DaNang, the 3rd largest city in Vietnam, and from there it’s nearly an hour’s drive to Hoi An. (However, even in a private car, the trip was only about $11.) I had a 6 am flight back to Hanoi Wednesday morning, so I thought it would be more relaxing to go back to DaNang around noon on Tuesday and spend the night there, instead of trying to get back from Hoi An so early Wednesday morning. It worked out well. My hotel was only a ten-minute drive from the DaNang airport and I was surprised to find it was only a five-minute walk to the beach. I got some lunch at a seafood restaurant (incidentally, this is the only time in my life I’ve ever gotten sick of seafood-I think I ate it for every meal in some form) and then spent a couple hours walking up and down. I covered every inch of me I could reach in sunscreen, rubbing it in to my skin, then added another layer on top so I looked like a mime. I added a hat, some sunglasses, and still got burned. Not as bad as I usually do though. The sand was actually sparkling with some sort of gold mineral mixed with black, and there were tide pools everywhere, some up to my knees, and light was reflecting everywhere. It was a beautiful day, and the beach was relatively quiet. I’m sure it’s more crowded on the weekend, and in a few more years it will be unbearable touristy, as seems to be the trend in Asia currently. For now though, it’s perfect.

I had one more night in Hanoi before flying back to Beijing Thursday. I spent most of the afternoon wandering around the streets of the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake again, enjoying the sights. I found a rooftop cafe overlooking the lake and the busy central square and was kind of mesmerized by the flow of traffic. Everybody just keeps moving at their same pace, dancing around each other. There are so many motorbikes! The government taxes cars between 100% and 200% person, so most people use bikes. I have seen a mom and grandma with four kids on a bike, two guys carrying a 6’x4′ framed mirror on a bike while going down the highway around 55mph, fruit vendors with baskets and bundles piled up on the seat behind them. I’m constantly amazed by the innovations people come up with.

 

India (3 of 3): Udaipur

Last stop! I really enjoyed Jodhpur and wouldn’t have minded a few more days there, but Udaipur was beautiful as well. I’d heard it was a nice drive between the two cities so we booked a private car tour that stopped at the Ranakpur temples about halfway in between. Jess and I were too broke to actually pay the entrance fee (more on this later; we had some funny stories) but we walked around them to stretch our legs before getting back in the car. I don’t have any photos because in many places cameras weren’t allowed, and in others there’s a fee to bring a camera into the site that I was tired of paying. But we got a lot of photos of other places we stopped. It was a fun road trip. Just beware, “private tour” means “let me stop at all my friends’ places so they can talk you into buying things you don’t need and can’t afford”. Spoiler: I bought a lot of things I didn’t need and couldn’t afford. Oh, well, how many times do you get to go to India?

Our Airbnb was about 10-15 km outside the city, a bit farther than expected, but Udaipur was a bit cheaper than Jodhpur. Our hosts called Uber for us and it only cost about 160 rupees to get into the center of town (about $2.50). We spent our first day mostly walking around the city:

We hear about water shortages and problems with clean drinking water around the world but still, until you’re faced with the reality of it it’s hard to connect. It’s easy to take things for granted when you’ve always been able to shower or run the sink water to wash dishes or get a drink. Even in Beijing I don’t think about it too much. You can’t drink the tap water there but it’s easy to have bottled water delivered and we use the water for everything else. But many places in India still rely on wells and old-fashioned water pumps. Several times I would see people on a street corner using the communal water pump to fill buckets and carry them home for daily use. In Udaipur, people would swim, bathe, and wash their clothes in the lake. It’s a sobering sight.

The next morning I slept in and was awakened to this wedding procession. We had a small balcony we could watch from and it was really cool to see. My favorite part though, was this random camel that was walking around. We saw he had a pen across the street from our apartment but the gate was open and he just seemed to roam around the neighborhood. He gets his own slideshow:

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Afterwards, we got a cab to see Fateh Sagar lake nearby, then went into Udaipur and found Gulab Bagh park.  I had just noticed there was a park on Google maps and we had time to kill so we thought we’d check it out, but weren’t sure what to expect. It was huge, with a gorgeous rose garden-there were dozens of different varieties, along with other flowers.

My favorite encounter of the day, however, was with this cow. She was enormous! We were pretty used to cows at this point and didn’t pay much attention to her as we passed. A little ways down the street we stopped to window shop at this jewelry store. I noticed they did ear piercing and was debating whether to try it when Jess jumped up on the doorstep and told me to look out. I turned around and found myself face to face with this:

I wasn’t too concerned as the cows all seemed pretty harmless. I just jumped up on the doorstep to get out of the way, thinking she’d pass us and mosey on down the road. Instead she swung her head around and headbutted me on the hip. We ran into the jewelry shop and I tried to close the door as she seemed to be following us in. The shopkeeper was sitting just inside and got up, laughing at us, to get a jar from the corner. Apparently his wife makes homemade treats for the cows on the street. This girl was just stopping by for her afternoon snack when we got in her way! The shopkeeper was friendly though so we ended up looking around and I got my ear pierced after all, figuring that clearly the cow was a sign from some Hindu deity that I was supposed to.

That evening we found this quiet rooftop bar with a great view of the lake to watch the sunset.

We decided to check out Bagore Ki Haveli the next day, a former palace turned into a museum. It was a bit run-down and mostly deserted, which was nice as we got to explore and take photos on our own without a lot of crowds. I liked the second floor women’s quarters, with all the hangings, stained glass windows, mosaics, jewelry boxes and artifacts. They also have a collection of different styles of turbans, including one that weighed more than 30 kilos!

The elephant was clearly not an ordinary sight, even for locals. They seemed as excited as me and Jess. A crowd was all around her taking pictures, a lady next to me offered her a handful of hay, the coconut water vendor was feeding her coconuts, one guy pumped some water from a pump near the street so she could drink and splash and spray water around. It was so fun to see!

Our last day in Udaipur we got up early and took the boat tour of Lake Pichola, which stops at the island palace of Jag Mandir. There are actually two islands with palaces in the middle of the lake, but the Lake Palace has been converted to a hotel and is open only to guests, so Jag Mandir is the only one open to the public. It was a lovely and peaceful way to spend a morning. A bit of trivia-Jag Mandir and other parts of Udaipur were the setting for the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy. The whole town is plastered in original movie posters advertising nightly viewings of the movie at seemingly every bar and restaurant. We thought we’d try to see it while we were there, but after checking at a few different places, finally realized they quit showing the movie a while ago and kept the posters up for bragging rights.

That afternoon we got on our train back to Delhi around 5pm, which meant arriving around 5am, which is basically the middle of the night. We quickly determined that middle of the night in Delhi is not where we wanted to be. Nothing would be open for hours and even if there had been somewhere to go we had no money, so we decided our best bet would be to take our last 1000 rupees and take the airport express subway to Indira Ghandi International to wait for our flight. At 12:05 am the next day. That’s eighteen hours in the airport if you’re counting.

We got off the subway (the subway station is connected to the airport and has its own shops and food places), got some coffee, and then just found a spot on the floor to sit and read and nap for a few hours. Around noon we tried to go into the airport but they wouldn’t let us in until 6 hours before our flight. The guard directed us to a passenger lounge to wait but when we went in we saw a sign behind the desk that looked like it said 100 rupees per person for three hours. We had a lot of hours left and barely enough money to cover snacks and drinks for the day, so we went and sat outside for a while, then went back to nap in the subway. Note: it was actually a very nice subway station, and we were not the only ones doing this. Although we were definitely the only foreign women which certainly got us some stares. At one point this well-dressed older man stopped near us. Jess was asleep under a scarf and I was reading my book. He looked down at us all concerned and asked “Is there a problem?”. No, no problem, we said, just waiting till our flight later. “Why don’t you go to a hotel?” In truth, we couldn’t afford it but we just told him we had just arrived in Delhi that morning. “Okay, but you know, it looks a bit…odd.” Yes, yes, we do, thanks.

I’m sure he was being helpful and we mostly just found it funny at that point. I hadn’t gotten paid yet before we left Beijing so I had roughly USD $200 in cash when we arrived in India, and that only because of a payday loan courtesy of my parents-by the way, thanks again Mom and Dad 🙂  My school is fairly…flexible with payments. My contract states I get paid on the 15th of each month but in reality I’ve gotten paid anywhere between the 6th and the 22nd before. Normally we get paid before holidays though, which is what I had been counting on. I got paid after we arrived in India but it was pointless because my Chinese debit card only works in China so I couldn’t access it. I thought I could outsmart the system and transferred money from my Chinese bank to Paypal, so I could then withdraw it to my US debit card and use that to get cash. Paypal however, decided to hold my money hostage for the better part of two weeks because they suck, so the transfer didn’t go through until the day I arrived back in Beijing. Jess was not much better off than me, so by the end of our trip we could not stop laughing at ourselves and how broke we were. Jess actually turned down coffee (which as anyone who knows her could tell you, she desperately needs) because it was too expensive. The coffee in question was 100 rupees, or about 10RMB. Coffee in Beijing is between 25-40RMB so that was actually extremely cheap, we just couldn’t afford it. (I convert everything to RMB since that’s how I get paid so I no longer think in dollars, but the coffee would have been about USD $1.50.) Most of the really expensive souvenirs we wanted were in actuality $4-$30. The Ranakpur temples we couldn’t afford to enter cost about $3 per person. We sat on a bench outside them and laughed at ourselves for about 20 minutes when we realized that.

The kicker was when, after an afternoon of pacing from place to place, we finally decided to “splurge” on the passenger lounge (which was also about USD $1.50) and just eat chips till we got on the plane. After some back and forth with the woman at the desk, we realized that the 100 rupees per 3 hours sign we had seen earlier actually applied to parking; the lounge was in fact, free. Yep, we spent 12 hours on the floor of the subway station before we figured that out, people. In our defense, we were already sleep-deprived. Anyway, we managed to survive until our midnight flight back to Guangzhou, where we had a 5 hour layover but were fortunately able to access our Chinese money at last.

I tell this story for all the people wondering how I have money to travel. Guys, I don’t have money; I have priorities. Somehow it just works out.

India (2 of 3): The Blue City of Jodhpur

Jodhpur was beautiful and fascinating-hands down my favorite city we visited! I did my very best to narrow down my photographs but I still wound up with 150, so, yeah, good luck.

We left Delhi around 9pm Monday night, after our Taj Mahal trip, and that in itself was an experience. I booked tickets online but the only thing I had was a text message confirming them. We assumed we would go to the train station and pick up our actual tickets, like we do at the airport or Chinese train stations. We went through insane traffic and arrived at total chaos. There was basically no…anything. We tried approaching the only thing that looked like an office and the guy glanced at my text message and just sort of gestured us into the station. There were no lines, no security checks, just people everywhere, standing around, sitting on the platforms, laying on blankets, eating dinner, waiting for trains. We tried asking a few more people who looked like employees but all they really did was shrug and confirm that we left from platform 3. So we went to platform 3 about 10 minutes before the train was scheduled to leave, and just…walked on. No one checked anything. We found our sleeper bunks and got settled-they were actually pretty comfortable. The train set off and we played gin rummy for a while. Eventually a conductor came around and checked Jess’s passport against his list, ignored mine, and continued on his way. It was a definite change from what I’m used to!

We arrived in Jodhpur around 8am the next morning. I didn’t think we’d be able to check in to our Airbnb that early but we went over to see if we could just leave our backpacks. The host, Sanjay, was really accommodating though, showed us to our rooms to get cleaned up, and got us some tea and coffee while we planned out our day. We wandered around the alleys for a while taking in the sights, then in the afternoon, Sanjay arranged a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the Mandore Gardens.

The Mandore Gardens were beautiful but it was also a hard place to visit because it was packed with so many beggars, many of them children, injured or disabled. Some of them were very insistent. It’s difficult to walk by but we’ve read over and over that giving money just exacerbates the problem in the end. There’s no way of knowing where the money goes in the end, if they’re allowed to keep it; even if so, if kids make enough money on the streets there’s no incentive to go to school. So we ignored it as best we could. Our driver walked around with us pointing out some of the sights, and was a bit of a deterrent as well.

It was also hard to see so many stray dogs. There are dogs absolutely everywhere, just roaming the streets, and some of them are clearly ill or injured. Others are seemingly well-taken care of though, just allowed to roam. None of them seemed mean or anything, they were just hanging out in the streets. People seemed to look out for them as much as possible though; we’d see women leaving leftovers out by their front doors in the morning, or men whistling them over to share some extra chips or street food snacks. We also saw so many other animals-goats, pigs, lots and lots of cows…

I had read that Jodhpur had a medieval step well but had no idea where it was, so were excited to stumble onto it just down the street from our Airbnb! The structure is so intricate. It’s not as old as some, only about 300 years, but still impressive. There’s a more detailed history and some really cool pictures here: https://kevinstandagephotography.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/toorji-ka-jhalra-jodhpur-step-well/

Wednesday, Sanjay arranged for the same driver to take us sightseeing. We started at Mehrangarh Fort, which was really fascinating

Afterwards we drove a little ways down the road to the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Garden, which was beautiful and peaceful. We spent about an hour hiking and only saw one other guy on the trail the whole time we were there.

Our next stop was Jaswant Thada temple, which was lovely:

We stopped by the royal palace on our way back to the guesthouse but were pretty exhausted by that point and on a strict budget so we didn’t pay to go in, just enjoyed the grounds and relaxed in the shade with some ice cream.

Our last day we mostly spent exploring the city on foot and taking pictures. We went up to the top of the hill behind the fort where the old city is, the original blue city, and walked around for a couple hours just enjoying all the color. Blue was an indicator of the Brahmin class of priests in the Indian caste system, but now the color has spread to many buildings in Jodhpur. Most of them are concentrated in this older area though, and it’s gorgeous.

We later walked around the central town square with its famous clock tower and enjoyed the night market. There is a fantastic spice store here, actually there are several, but the best is Mohanlal Verhomal : http://mvspices.com/. I had heard about it a while ago and been looking forward to it. It’s a chef’s dream come true. The proprietress was great, very helpful, let us smell and taste and look around for a while. Everything was very good quality and price-I definitely splurged here. They also ship all over the world, so check out the link!

We spent our last night taking in the sunset from the rooftop patio of our guesthouse, Mehran View, and trying to capture an evening shot of Mehrangarh Fort behind it. I had trouble getting my camera settings to work in the dark, but our host was also a photographer so he helped me get some nice photos.

It was so hard to leave this place. I know I forgot to add a lot of things but I’m going to have to edit this later because it’s almost midnight and sadly, oh, so sadly (I could cry), I have to go back to work tomorrow morning…

June 3, 2017

Crazy fun couple of weeks here! Officially my kids graduate next Friday so we’re just having fun right now. Some of them will leave after next week, but the rest will still stay through the end of June. The smog went a little crazy last week so I had to keep the kids inside for recess, but then had the idea to make a tent/cave out of tables, chairs, and tablecloths. It reminded me of being a kid and my grandma let us take pillows and blankets and hide under the furniture. Creativity is seriously lacking here-they don’t know anything about pillow forts. It was sad. But I taught them everything I know so my work here is done.

We’ve been learning about Africa lately, and last week we focused on Egypt so I let them build sugar cube pyramids and we made the Nile out of tin foil and little clay camels and boats. They loved the idea of mummies too so we made some out of pipe cleaners.

Last weekend Jess and I wanted to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie (Loved it, btw). Jess found a new website to book tickets in English and we randomly picked a theater which turned out to be a 40 minute drive outside the city. But it was fun to explore a new area. The Shine Hills mall in Shunyi is this huge outdoor shopping center with tons of stores and restaurants with all kinds of cuisines. It’s full of these fun sculptures and play areas too-we took pictures with some of them. We even found an amazing Italian restaurant and a small petting zoo! So random 🙂

And since Tuesday was Dragon Boat Festival, we had a four-day weekend to enjoy, which, even better,  meant a three-day workweek this week. So after a much-needed break, I came back this week, taught Wednesday, then we had a big blowout party for Children’s Day on Thursday. It’s a big thing here-my school set up a wading pool and rented a big bounce house/slide. The kids all brought water guns and we filled up water balloons. I unfortunately did not think to buy a water gun, but found a watering can and threw buckets of water at the kids when they attacked me, because you can do that here without getting sued by hyperactive parents. In fact some of the parents came and ran around shooting the kids with water guns. Everybody was soaked by the end of the day. The kids even talked me into going down the slide with them. It was all fun and games till the upstairs neighbors came home and called in a noise complaint. Super fun day though!

Clockwise: Me, April, Rarity, Jason, Ella, and somebody’s legs going down the slide, Jason, Ryan, and I’m not quite sure what’s going on in the last picture-they all just kind of piled on top of me!
Clockwise: me and Jason refilling at the pool, George seriously eyeing his next target, and Qing shooting me…with a wicker basket on her head…cause she thought it would protect her from my watering can…even though she was already soaked. Kids!
Qing was super serious-she had Cookie on the ground surrendering! Then there’s Zach, April, and Lucy tickling George.

Friday morning the kids had class with their Chinese teacher, then in the afternoon, since we’ve been learning about dinosaurs in science, I set up a dinosaur dig. I took a Lego dinosaur kit and buried all the pieces, plus small plastic dinosaurs and eggs, in two big containers of dirt and rocks. Then I split them in teams and had them put on gloves, and, because I’m diabolical like that (and had time to kill) told them they weren’t allowed to use their hands. They had to dig everything out with coffee stirrers, chopsticks, tweezers, dust them off with paintbrushes and q-tips, and then piece the dinosaur together as a team. It was awesome. Then I let the watch the (original) Land Before Time movie. I don’t think I’d seen it in 20 years and we were all tearing up and laughing in the same places. They loved it.

I got some great news this week too. I thought I’d only have a two week break this summer but our summer camp was canceled so I actually get a full month off. I’d been planning to travel around Vietnam and Cambodia but since I get more time I decided I’d rather go home for a while, since I haven’t been home in the summer time in about three years! I can’t believe it’s been that long. I’ll definitely do southeast Asia sometime this year hopefully, but for right now I’m just excited to go home, see my family, walk around barefoot, swim in the pool, and play with my dogs. Only 6 weeks to go!

Spain, Day 13-Barcelona

Actually I’m posting this from the airport in Rome, where I have a 5 hour layover, but all the pictures are from yesterday, my last day in Spain (for now). I will definitely come back someday though. I think Barcelona is my favorite of the three cities I’ve been so far. I wish I’d been more organized; I was trying to find something to do Tuesday night when I got back there but all the things I wanted had to be booked in advance, like the monasteries, winery tours, Dali’s house. So Wednesday I decided to go see Park Guell:

After that I went back and wandered around La Ramba area for a while. This area is so much bigger than I thought, especially once you get off the main road. I found La Boqueria market, a gourmet paradise. I probably could have filled another suitcase with cooking supplies. They had stalls with spice, all kinds of flavored salts and olive oils, fresh fruit, dried fruits and nuts, candies, marzipan, vegetables, dates, honey, seafood, meats, even whole rabbits and pheasants and quail still covered in fur and feathers (I’ll spare you a photo of those). Basically, everything.

For now I’m actually looking forward to getting back to a normal routine for a while. The last couple months have been crazy!

December 22, 2016

I’m not entirely sure what happened to December. It seems to have evaporated. Yesterday was Thanksgiving right? Anyway, I don’t care because I will be home in KC in less than 36 hours! It’s going to be a long 36 hours though, since I have to work Friday and I’m going straight to the airport after our Christmas party. I’ve been dying to see my family and friends and dogs, but I must say at this point I’m kind of more excited about being able to breathe some fresh air. Beijing has gotten disgusting this week.

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img_20161208_164641img_20161208_164657The last few weeks have been insanely busy with homework and projects, present shopping, lesson planning, party planning, and general festivities. I’ve had so much fun with my kids. We took a field trip to this huge indoor flower market and picked out a live tree for our classroom. We decorated the school together, made calendars and coffee mugs to give as presents, read some Christmas stories. It was awesome to get to do all my favorite things with them. Today we made cookies to share at our party tomorrow and watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They loved it!

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dsc02491 dsc02497Sunday I had tickets to see the Russian Royal Ballet performing Swan Lake, which I have always wanted to see, and it was incredible! The Beijing Exhibition Theater is beautiful too, I hadn’t been in that area before.

img_20161218_201527That’s all I have time for at the moment. I still have to finish some homework, clean the house, pack my bags and get ready for our party tomorrow so it’s about to be a long night. Hopefully I’ll see some of you soon! (And if you could cross your fingers that my flight doesn’t get grounded due to smog, that would be great…)

 

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.