Winter Wonderland

Switzerland was definitely a good choice of pre-Christmas getaway! Zürich was charming, with lots of old cobblestone streets and medieval history, but also very modern. The scenery is stunning, surrounded by Lake Zürich and the mountains. Everything was all decked out for Christmas and there was just the right amount of snow. Not to mention heaps of chocolate and cheese. What else do you really need?

I booked a private room in this Airbnb apartment which was really comfortable. The hosts were nice and it was easy to walk to the tram-stops and get around. It was in a quiet residential area but easy to get downtown. I thought I might have a bit of trouble with language but nearly everyone I encountered  switched to English when they realized I didn’t speak German. I also heard so many conversations in French, Italian, Spanish, and more. I’m so impressed with the way people from other countries grow up speaking multiple languages. I wish schools in the States emphasized this, and from a younger age.

One thing I really loved about the city, once I figured out the transportation system, was the trams. There are regular trains/subway lines that run in and out of the city, I took one to the central train station from the airport, but within the city there are above-ground trams that run along the streets. I saw virtually no traffic while I was there. It seemed like most people take the trams. There’s only a few minutes between them, and to get from the outskirts of the city where I stayed to the central area only took about 20 minutes.

I enjoyed exploring the Old Town of Zürich so much, along the waterfront and down all the winding cobblestone alleyways. It’s like a maze in some places. The weather was cold but not horribly so. It snowed for hours one day but it was really nice to be out walking in the fresh air.

I found the Fraumünster Church really interesting. It’s built on the site of an abbey started in 853. The king at the time granted the abbess power to hold markets, mint coins, and appoint the mayor; effectively she ruled the city. I don’t have pictures of them, but the choir windows were designed by Marc Chagall.

One day I booked a tour to Mt. Rigi, which was amazing. From the center of Zürich, we took a bus to the town of Weggis, a little over an hour away. From there, a cable car took us most of the way up the mountain, then we switched to the cogwheel train-the first mountain railway in Europe-for the rest of the way to the summit of Rigi Kulm. It was a cloudy, foggy day, impossible to see up or down from the top, but still a lot of fun. I climbed a little way up from the train station. People were running around, having snowball fights and sledding.

The views on the way up and down the mountain were breathtaking:

From the summit, the train runs back down the mountain to the town of Vitznau, where we took a boat across Lake Lucerne to the town of Lucerne. I was excited to finally see the Chapel Bridge:

I returned to Beijing on the 23rd and lost my battle with jet lag. It was exceptionally brutal this time. I can’t stop napping. But Jess and I had a nice Christmas here:

We went to see Loving Vincent after dinner, which was a truly incredible film. I loved the artwork, but the storyline was great as well. Otherwise, I got to spend some time video chatting with my family and relaxing around the house. So it’s been a nice holiday overall.

Last but not least, check out mine and Jess’s new blog: http://travelswithpepperandpreston.com/ . You’ll find an explanation of the ducks, more of my travels, and also Jess’s trip to Japan!

Greetings all,

It’s been a fun crazy hectic couple of weeks. My body is getting a serious workout trying to adjust to rapidly changing temperatures and smog levels. Last week the air was disgusting and I came down with some sort of miserable respiratory illness. But then Saturday was sunny, sixty and perfectly clean so I pushed through it and Jess and I stayed outside as much as possible. We got haircuts early in the morning, then went to check out the Wangjing SoHo and ended up taking a four hour walk around the city-lots of cool new sites.

Then we went out to the suburbs where the British International School was hosting this winter fair. There are lots of these types of events coming up but theirs was the first. It was fun. The weather was perfect to be outside, just a little chilly, but hot mulled wine took care of that. They had roasted a whole pig and were selling gingerbread cookies. There was a Christmas tree lighting and all the kids were outside singing carols. I know it’s  a bit early for holiday festivities but I still enjoyed it. Mostly because Christmas is not so over-the-top and obnoxious here. You can still find activities if you know where to look but they’re not so in your face. And they don’t start in August. I’m finding I actually prefer to be out of the American madness, although I’ll still be glad to go home and visit.

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Monday was the first snowfall of the year, with just a light dusting that blew away before noon, but still pretty. And the air was pristine for three whole days, big plus, although it was freaking cold, under 20 degrees and felt colder. I still took my class outside though. Between the cold and the smog they don’t get outside as much in the winter so I’m taking advantage of any opportunity to get them out the door because they are insane when they are cooped up inside.

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Last week, their character trait was Patience (which they all desperately needed a lesson on). Each trait is linked to an animal that represents it; for patience the animal is a butterfly. We made butterflies with toilet paper rolls and then I tied them up in a cocoon and made them be quiet for one full minute. It was quite a challenge.

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This week their trait is gratefulness, and we’re learning about the U.S. and Canada in their international cultures class, so I’ve tied everything together and we’re celebrating Thanksgiving. I played them a really old animated cartoon I found on YouTube about how Thanksgiving started and they were totally fascinated by the idea. We made a gratitude tree, writing all the things we were grateful for on the leaves. This is why I love teaching kids:

Rarity put birthday cake, flowers, dogs and cats

Zach said “iPad, mom, dad”-in that order too. We need to get his priorities straight.

Qing: family, shoes, candy  (Hey, those are my top three, also!)

Ryan: Bapi (Daddy)

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We’ve also been covering the environment in science so today we took all our scrap paper and made recycled paper. To be honest, I did not think it would work. I didn’t have any of the equipment listed in most of the instructions I read. But we threw paper and water in the blender, poured it through a screen improvised from a coat hanger and some old nylon stockings, and voila! Paper. Kids had a blast. Tomorrow when the paper is dry we’re going to use it to make thank you cards for Thanksgiving. Also, apple pie.

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I sat down and booked accommodation for my Spain trip-super exciting. I’m splitting my time in Barcelona, a few days near Sagrada Familia and then some time at this converted artist studio in the gothic quarter. Then 5 days in Granada, all Airbnb finds. I kind of want to do a couple days in Madrid too but it depends on transportation. It appears it would be much cheaper to rent a car for two weeks than to buy train tickets all over the place, and I would kind of like to drive. However, my U.S. license expired over a year ago… and since it’s been so long I think I’ll have to retake the driving test…so yeah. I need to call and check on that and see if I can renew it while I’m home before I finalize the rest of my plans.

And finally, I’ve had some technological breakthroughs lately. I finally got my online banking straightened out and also set up a Taobao account. Taobao is like the Chinese version of Amazon.com, but cheaper. I went on a bit of a shopping spree-pretty much everything I’ve been deprived of for the past year is on this site. There are plenty of import stores in Beijing but they don’t have everything. I found the exact jeans that I pay $60 for at Macy’s but on Taobao they’re only 60RMB, or about $8. And some cozy fur-lined boots for $10-just in time for the snow. I also got the DiDi app-like Uber but in Chinese. You can get a cab anywhere, it’s cheaper, you can even do ride shares. Only drawback? All these apps are in Chinese. And the Didi drivers always call to confirm and make sure you are where the GPS says you are. This had made for some awkward conversations this week. So I’ve been buckling down and trying to study. I’ve drafted my friend Cami to help. Every week I come up with a new topic and write down the phrases I want to know. And I learn stuff from my kids too. Fred especially always wants to tell me the Chinese phrases for something I tell him in English. Then they all laugh at my pronunciation. I have picked up the names of lots of countries in Chinese from our international cultures class, which resulted in an incident this evening:

One of the best things about our neighborhood is Jinganshichang, this huge year-round indoor farmers’ market. They have tons of fresh produce, meats, and eggs, even live seafood flown in daily and swimming around in tanks. It’s a great landmark for taxi drivers as well-almost everyone knows this market. And it’s super cheap- I can get a week’s worth of groceries for about $25. I always go to the same vendors and they know me now. The produce lady is really sweet. I think I threw her for a loop this evening though when I went in looking for pumpkins for Thanksgiving decorations. “You fànguō ma?” I asked. She looked confused. “Faguó?” Now the lady next to me looked concerned and looked at the saleslady like “I don’t know what the heck she’s talking about either.” I finally pulled out my translation app. “Oh, nánguā!” Relieved, the vendor pulled out a couple of pumpkins. Only after I got home and was telling Jess about this did I realize that I had asked her first for a rice cooker and then the country of France. We laughed till we cried. One of the many joys of expat life.

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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November 10, 2015

Teeny tiny post-let with belated Halloween photos-

I just wanted to post a few pictures of Halloween since it’s now halfway into November. Time is flying by this year. I had taken a few weeks off from my studies but now I’m back to going to school full time, working at school full time, and working the studio part time. So spare time? Not so much. I planned to do some stuff this week but it just didn’t happen. Friday was the first snowfall here in Beijing and it was a beautiful walk to school with big fat flakes fluttering around. Of course they were completely gone by noon but it was nice while it lasted. Sadly, however, the rapid changes in smog levels and temperatures this week has left me sick, yet again, and I have barely any voice. It’s now 12:23 am and I’ve been up doing homework and planning lessons for the weeks so I’m going to keep this short and sweet so I can take some NyQuil and crash before all the crazy starts up again tomorrow-

Just goofing around with PK1 kids on break time. These guys are crazy (and a big part of the reason I am losing my voice)! Left: William, August, Sky. Right: Freddy and DuoDuo.IMG_9327

Pipe cleaner “goggles” and straw “snorkels” for my PK2-we went “under the sea” to learn about sea creatures this week. 🙂 Clockwise: Charlie and Stella, Rachel, Kitty, Harry.IMG_9328

Left: me with Cyrene, Charlie, and Stella. Right: Mike as a magician and Rachel as a fairy princess. Hands down my favorite kids are in this class.IMG_9331

Halloween with my other PK1 kids, clockwise: Tony as a wizard, Tracy, Jason as Spiderman, and Yancy.IMG_9329 T

Tiffany and I on her last day. I’m going to miss her. We had fun teaching together; she’s such a goofball!

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First snowfall! And the last of the roses. It was a beautiful morning-

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