The Start Of A New Adventure

Hello everyone, I’m back! This time I am living in Italy, (my second home) in a town near Naples called Pomigliano D’Arco.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a month since I arrived in Italy. This past month has flown by. I am once again working as an English teacher, this time in a private company. So far it has all been going well. I am teaching beginners to a bit more advanced classes (A1 and A2 levels), and my students range in age from about 7 – 15 years old.

It is a bit of an unusual situation, the reason I got this job was because they had 2 teachers leave unexpectedly and needed to fill their positions ASAP. So I was offered the job, accepted and arrived here 2 weeks later, starting work immediately. There are 6 English teachers that work for the company, including myself and I am living in an apartment with 2 of them, fortunately we get along well. Everyone has been great, and really welcoming, so it was easy to become friends with everyone.

This past month’s schedule has been a bit different, because the week I arrived they were having mock exams, so I didn’t meet my students and start teaching until the week after. I taught for a week and half, and then we had a week for Easter Holidays. Now we’ve been back for a week and a half so things should be fairly normal for the next while.

For Easter I flew north to visit my Nonno (grandfather), Adriana (my step-grandmother) and other family who live about an hour north east of Venice in a small town called Zoppola. It had been close to 2 years since I’d been to visit and flying into Venice I felt like I was arriving home. I love Venice, flying in, looking down on the islands and the lagoon, it is my second favourite place to fly into, only surpassed by flying into Toronto at night with the CN Tower lit up. Anyways, I spent the week with Nonno and Adriana relaxing and visiting with friends and family. I had a great time but it was time to come back down south, to get back to work.

Now I will stay here until the end of June, then we will see what adventure I embark on next. I will try to update once of month, but we’ll see how it goes and what I have to talk about. And as always if you have comments or questions I’d love to hear from you!

How can it already be June?

Hard to believe we are already in the second week of June! I only have 3 weeks left in Shanghai. Time has been passing at a break neck speed it seems. This is my second last week of teaching; I finish work on the 19th. Then I fly to Sydney on the 30th to meet up with my friend Angela for our Great Australian Adventure! So we have been planning that the past few months and almost everything is set.

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while but May and June have just flown by. This semester I have been tutoring quite a bit, which is taking up more of my free time. The other thing that happened this past month was that I was chosen by the Pudong Government School Board to give two Open/ Exhibition Lessons for local Chinese-English teachers to observe and learn from. With this I had a bit more work because I had to prepare my lessons well in advance and work with the local teachers to make sure they were okay, then I had an evaluator from Pacican come to watch my lessons and give comments as well. All of this was a bit of extra stress for me but it was also a good thing because I was the one chosen so it meant that they were impressed with my work and wanted to use me as an example which is flattering.

Last weekend my friends; Katharina, Mark, Shanden and I visited a water town. These are old, traditional style towns on the outskirts of Shanghai that have canals running through them. They are also very touristy. We took a bus from downtown, which took about 2 hours. Once there we wandered around for a bit walking down the narrow streets lined with touristy shops selling foods, souvenirs, silk scarves and robes, fans and chopsticks etc. It is, in a way, aptly nicknamed the Venice of China, as it resembles that city in more than one way. We stopped for lunch at a little place and sat at a window over looking a canal, which was beautiful. After lunch we wandered some more then took a boat ride. The boat took us down some canals we hadn’t yet visited; once it dropped us off we wandered some more. It was nice just to take it all in. We decided to get ice cream so we retraced our steps to find a place we had seen in the morning. After that we sat by the river for a bit before deciding it was time to head back. As much as the town was full of tourists it was a peaceful day and it was great to see something new.

May has been a month of storms here in Shanghai and it has caused me some grief. I suffer from migraine headaches, which can be triggered by changes in air pressure, the kind that accompany a storm. In the month of May I had at least 5-8 debilitating headaches, whereas at home I might get that many in a year. This caused me to miss a couple days of work and cancel some tutoring because when they get that bad the only thing that helps is sleep. So I am hoping that we have moved past that weather and will have nice sunny days from here out.

That is all the news I have for now. Mostly I still cannot believe it is June already.

Huangshan Mountain (Yellow Mountain)

Katharina and I wanted to do one more trip before we left China. Since I finish working a week later then her and she leaves a week before me we only had weekends left, so it had to be some place close to Shanghai. Some friends had gone to Huangshan Mountain (Yellow Mountain) in the fall and said it was really nice, plus we could take a bus there and it was only a few hours away. So Katharina and I looked in to it and decided it looked good. Our friend Jen wanted to come as well, so the three of us booked a bus and a hostel at the top of the mountain (the idea is you hike up, sleep there, get up to watch the sunrise then hike back down).

I got up at 4:30 am Saturday morning to get ready to go, since I needed to leave the house by 5:30 am to meet the girls for 6:00 am and our bus left at 6:30 am. I had packed my bag the day before, so I only had a few last minute things to throw in, nevertheless I was slow moving and left the house just after 5:30. However, I realized once I got out to the street that I had forgotten my passport, so I had to go back and get it, making me late. I got a taxi, hoping it would be faster, then walking and taking the metro. There were a surprising number of cars on the road for before 6 am on a Saturday, but we made okay time. I finally got to Peoples Square (where I was meeting the girls and where our bus was leaving from) around 6:10 and found where our bus was. Katharina and Jen arrived not long after and our bus left. However we still had a few stops to make picking up people from other locations in the city and we didn’t get out of Shanghai until over and hour later. Our bus ride was 6 hours long. We stopped a number of times along the way at the kind of highway rest stops you find everywhere. In Canada they typically have a Tim Hortons and some other fast food chain; in Italy they usually have a coffee bar and a shop with all sorts of snacks, books and even CD’s; and in China they mostly have a place you can get hot water, a store with lots of different snacks and drinks, and a place selling hot foods like: chicken, steamed buns, etc.

Most of the people on our bus were part of a tour group, and the tour guide spoke no English so we had a hard time communicating with him. Lucky for us Jen can speak and understand some Chinese so we were able to get a little information. We finally arrived in the town of Huangshan around 1:30, and we stopped for lunch. The group finished lunch and started to leave without telling us even though the guide knew where we were sitting and had told us he would show us where to go. So we quickly paid and caught up to the group. From the restaurant we went to a bus terminal, where we figured out we needed to take a different bus part way up the mountain. After showing us where to buy tickets the guide leaves us again and we had to buy our tickets and catch the group once more. The bus ride was my least favourite kind of driving; in the mountains. The road was full of twists and turns and the bus driver was taking the corners much too fast for my liking. The bus dropped us off at the start of the cable car and the hiking path.

At this point we split with the tour group (most likely much to the tour guides relief since he’d seemingly been trying to shake us for a while), as they were getting the cable car up and we were going to do the hike. In our research and talking to people who had done it no one mentioned that the hike up is entirely stairs! Growing up in Canada when I think of hiking I picture a dirt trail in the woods, not stone paths (closer to sidewalks) and thousands of steep stairs. So needless to say we were a bit unprepared for what we found when we arrived, but we started our climb up. The hike up this trail was 7.5 km and basically all of it was stairs. It was a struggle. We figured out early on that there were more people coming down then going up, mostly because it wasn’t the easiest climb and the Chinese tourist’s probably knew this. I will be the first to admit I am not exactly in peak physical form, but unless you love the stair master and have excellent endurance I think anyone (even someone in good shape) would find this hike to be a bit challenging at times. Anyways WE DID IT!! I’ll spare you the long boring details of our trek up, but basically we took many breaks, enjoyed the nature around us, kept a positive attitude and encouraged each other to keep going, but the words fuck and oh god were uttered a good number of times. We made it to the top, and we were overjoyed, then who should we find, but the tour group and that tour guide from before, they just happened to be at that particular lookout as we finished our hike, it was too funny and coincidental we had to laugh. At this point we were all pretty tired and hungry, we just wanted to get to our hostel, and eat dinner. We found a sign pointing the way for our hostel and guess what, more stairs. But we figured it was ok because our hostel is just at the top of the hill, so just a few more stairs then a hot meal, a shower and bed. So we did it, another 0.5 km or so and we arrived at the hostel, our timing was perfect because it was just getting dark too. However, once inside we learned this is not in fact our hostel, our hostel is another 1.2 km away. So we set off (in the dark, but there were lights along the path and we had flashlights) at this point we are all basically running on autopilot, we climbed up more stairs then went down some stairs and finally reached our hostel. As we were checking in they gave us a hard time because Jen only had her ID not her passport, so she called her boyfriend to get her passport number, which they said they’d accept. While we waited for him to call back we went to get dinner. By the time we finished eating her boyfriend had sent her passport number, so we finished checking in and they tell us our room is in another building that is about a 4 minute walk away down some stairs (yes down is easier but at this point we just hated stairs). We arrived in our room, (which was a dorm room shared with 3 Chinese girls), to find that there are no towels but we were too tired to walk back up to the main building to ask for some so we made due without. We went to bed basically right away and set our alarms for 4:30 am to get up for the sunrise, which was supposed to be at 5 am. 4:30 came much too soon but we dragged ourselves out of bed and got dressed surprisingly fast. But then we had to face the stairs, we now had to go up all those stairs we’d gone down the night before to make it high enough to see the sunrise. It was hard and I’m not sure how Jen and I got up those stairs as fast as we did (Katharina was too tired and turned back). Once at a high enough spot we didn’t know which direction was east, so we just followed some people, luckily we went the right way. We got to a spot where we could see a bit of the sunrise but there were many people and trees blocking our view. In the end it didn’t matter because the clouds were too thick with the storm coming in and all we got was a crack of red and some glowing clouds, so it was a bit of a let down. We headed back to the hostel, found Katharina and went back to bed for a bit. At 7:00 am we got up, got dressed and packed our bags. We checked out of the hostel and got some tea eggs and apples for breakfast, and then we started our hike. We decided to take the cable car down so our hike was only 4 km to the cable cars. We were in good spirits and our legs felt better then we had predicted but we still didn’t want to hike the whole way down. The first part of our hike was mostly down hill, which although easier was killer on the knees. The second part of our hike was up to the cable cars and we made good time, by 10 am we were riding a cable car down the mountain.

Side tangent for a moment: Many Chinese people love to take pictures of visibly foreign people. I found this a couple times in Shanghai, but not as much because there are a fair number of foreigners in the city. However for people from other areas we are a novelty so they like to take our photo and take photos with us. At one point during our hike Katharina and I were literally grabbed by a lady for a photo (not asked), then we had a whole tour group take turns getting photos with us and later I had a lady stick out her arm to stop me so she could get a photo with me. I’m sort of used to it by now but it would still be nice if people asked instead of just assuming its okay or forcing us into a picture. So anyways, riding the cable car down we were with 5 Chinese people and one man asked us where we were from and took our photo, again without asking just telling us to smile.

Both Jen and Katharina are afraid of heights, so they were both a bit nervous about the cable car but they were both okay, and it helped that it was very foggy so you couldn’t really see much. While riding the cable car down it started to rain, but luckily we didn’t have too far to walk to the buses and we had raincoats and an umbrella so we were fine. It was about noon when we got back to the town of Huangshan (where our bus to Shanghai was leaving from) and our bus wasn’t departing until 3, so got some lunch. It was still raining, so we sat in the restaurant trying to decide what to do, Jen had the idea that we should see if we could get foot massages (its pretty common in China). So we asked the lady at the restaurant and she was nice enough to walk us to a place. Our massages were wonderful. We each got a foot bath/ foot and leg massage/ pedicure minus painting our toenails. It was the perfect way to loosen up our muscles and probably the reason I feel fine today (Monday), when I thought I’d be stiff and in some pain. We spent a lovely hour getting pampered, and our legs and feet felt so good when we were done. After our massages we walked around a bit looking in stores then decided to sit in a hotel lobby to wait. One good thing about being a visible foreigner in China is that they don’t always expect the same from you as Chinese people they just figure you don’t understand and it would be too much work to explain it to you. So we were able to sit in the hotel lobby undisturbed while if we had been 3 random Chinese girls we might have been kicked out. While sitting there we met some fellow Canadian English teachers, who had been hiking too. An awesome thing about Canadians traveling is that they can be easy to find because many have a flag or patch on their bags identifying them, we are proud to be Canadian and we show it off. Also whenever I meet Canadians abroad they are generally very friendly and happy to speak with fellow Canadians.

At 3:00pm our bus departed and we started our long trip home, which I slept for a lot of. The bus did the same as it had on the way there stopping every few hours and we eventually made it to Shanghai. We were about 2 metro stops from my apartment when the bus suddenly stopped in the middle of the highway (I think it might have stalled). So we sat there for 15 – 20 minutes then it somehow restarted and we slowly made our way off the highway. Once off we pulled over and stopped at which point everyone got off and started hailing taxies. I got a taxi fairly quickly, said goodbye to Katharina and Jen and was home by 10 pm. Overall it was a good trip and a once in a lifetime experience, (because I am not in any hurry to repeat it!).

A Funny Day

Hard to believe it’s May!! I only have 2 more months here and 3 months until I’m back at home which is CRAZY! I’ve been pretty busy lately with work, tutoring etc. But I thought I’d write a quick post about a funny day I had at work last week, so here it is.
I had a rather strange day at school last week. When I got there in the morning I was informed that I wouldn’t have any classes that morning but instead I would be filmed doing various things around the school. It was for part of an English festival that the school was having that week, where students from every grade submitted different projects in English and the best were awarded prizes. Since I am the foreign English teacher they were doing a part about me and they will use it to show the Pudong Government School Board when they come to watch my lesson later this month. So over the course of the morning I was filmed entering the school and walking up the front steps. I was filmed talking to students, and playing a game with one of my classes. They filmed me singing a song with one of my classes and listening to students recite poems and things they had written about me, which was very sweet. I was interviewed about my background, my time at the school and how I like teaching there. I was even filmed sitting at my desk, walking down the hall and eating lunch in the cafeteria. After lunch we watched the grade 1 students perform songs in English that they had been learning and they had me go up and sing one with them, they filmed all of it. Then after lunch I had my classes as normal but the first class of the afternoon was also filmed and after class he interviewed some of the students about how they like my class etc. It was all a very strange experience!

Travel Diary of a Spoiled English Teacher Part 2 – Beijing and Xi’an

The day after I got back to Shanghai my parents arrived. They decided to come visit me while I had such a long break and take the opportunity to visit Asia for the first time. It was really great that they could come because by this point I was a bit homesick, but I was missing family and friends more then anything else. That afternoon I went to meet them at the airport, and from there we got a taxi to their hotel, which was right across the road from my apartment complex. We had a small hiccup at the hotel when we discovered that their reservation had been cancelled without my parent’s knowledge. But we eventually got it all worked out with a bit of help from my roommate Becky acting as translator over the phone for us. My Mom and Dad dealt with the time change much better then I had back in September and we were able to go out for dinner the first night at a Chinese restaurant near by. After that we went back to the hotel so we could talk and they could unpack a bit, relax and go to bed. We spent the next few days touring around Shanghai. We did most of the tourist attractions, including things I hadn’t done yet and they got to see my apartment and neighbourhood etc. It was great to show them the city I’ve come to love and where I will have spent a year of my life.

From Shanghai we took a high – speed train to Beijing. We met Katharina at the train station as she was travelling with us for our time in Beijing before she headed to Korea and we went to Xian. We arrived at our hotel in the early evening so we went out for dinner at a place near by and relaxed that night. In the morning we went to the Forbidden City, which was a few blocks away. Once going through security checkpoints we got into the museum and decided on audio guides. Which ended up being a great decision, even though we had a few technical glitches at one point. The Forbidden City is huge, and had very little in the way of signage in English to inform us what we were looking at, so the audio guides were very helpful. During our visit I had the thought (not for the first time since coming and certainly not the last) I need to learn more about Chinese history. After spending a few hours walking around and looking at the building complexes and some of the gardens we decided to go get lunch. So we started in the direction of our hotel and stopped at a place along the way. After lunch we decided to go back to the hotel for a bit to rest before going back to see Tiananmen Square. But we ended up napping for longer then planned and it wasn’t until after 6 that we woke up, by which point we weren’t feeling like going anywhere and we weren’t really hungry since we’d had a late lunch so we just decided to stay in and relax. Katharina and I ended up watching movies on HBO.
The next morning we had to be up early as we were going to the Great Wall and our tour guide was picking us up at 9am. Our tour guide’s name was Nancy, she was great, a real character. We visited the Mutianyu section of the Wall as advised by the tour company because it is less touristy but still a good section to walk and not overly difficult. It took over an hour to drive there and I fell asleep for most of the ride (which won’t surprise those of you who have ever been in a car with me for a trip longer then 30 minutes) but Mom and Dad said Nancy was very informative. Once we arrived at the Wall we got our tickets and had to get a shuttle bus up to a point then a chairlift up to the Wall. We were very lucky with the weather that day, it was the warmest of our days in Beijing and we had clear blue skies, which was great. The Mutianyu section of the Wall has been completely restored and open to the public since the 90’s so it was in great shape. But it is still the original design and very steep in some places, so we stuck to the easier portion due to mom’s knee problems and our general lack of fitness at the moment (my dad excluded). We walked a few portions of the wall and went up a few watchtowers. The views were amazing! It was a great experience. Leaving the Wall we took a toboggan down. It was like a dry, metal bobsled track, we rode on these these little sleds that looked a lot like bobsleds except they had a hand brake between your legs. Dad and I went first (because we like speed more then mom and Katharina and we wanted to go fast) I had some troubles gaining speed at the start but I eventually got going and it was great! We all had fun, even mom and Katharina ended up really enjoying it. We got the shuttle bus back down to where the van was waiting for us and we went to a restaurant near by for lunch. Lunch was good, we had a variety of dishes that we all shared. After lunch we drove to the Summer Palace, I again (predictably) fell asleep. The Summer Palace was beautiful, it wasn’t as busy as the Forbidden City had been but it looked similar as it served the same purpose, (as the home of the court and the Emperor during the summer months when it got hot in the city). It was a bit chillier at the Summer Palace then it had been at the wall because it is next to a lake. While there we learned lots about a particular empress nicknamed the ‘Dragon Lady” who was a very interesting person. We walked a bit through a garden, then we went to the Marble Boat instead of up the hill to the temple as we were all a bit tired. Overall it was beautiful and I’m sure it would be stunning in the spring with all the flowers in bloom. From there we drove back to the hotel (I didn’t fall asleep this time), but we got stuck in rush hour traffic and it was a bit slower getting back. However Nancy kept us entertained telling us stories about herself, Beijing and China in general. That night we tried a few different street foods for dinner from a market street near by. Then we went back to the hotel and had another night relaxing and watching TV. (TV in English was a luxury because I hadn’t just watched TV since leaving Canada)
The next was our final day in Beijing. Katharina wasn’t feeling great so she slept in and it was just Mom, Dad and I that morning. We started off the day by doing some research on Xian, as that’s where we were headed the next day. Then we went to Tiananmen Square and the mausoleum of Chairman Mao. We had to go through 2 security checks with metal detectors and bag x-rays to get in to the square and then an ID check, another metal detector to get into the building. We weren’t allowed to bring our bags inside so mom and I went in first while dad waited outside. Once we were in the building there was a large lobby with a statue of Mao with flowers all around. Then the next room is where Chairman Mao is lying in state and we were rushed through, we were out of the building in less time then it took to get through security before hand. From there we met back up with dad, he decided he didn’t want to go in so we took some pictures around the square then went to the metro. Next we went to the Temple of Heaven, it is in a large park with a few other buildings but the main one is the famous round temple on the hill. It was beautiful but we couldn’t go inside and it was very cold with the wind that day so we didn’t spend too long walking around. Afterwards we were hungry and went in search of food before getting to the subway back to the hotel. While walking towards a mall where we could see signs for fast food Mom tripped on a step and fell hard going over on her ankle and falling on her bad knee. So I grabbed some food while dad hailed a taxi so we could get back to the hotel. Mom stayed at the hotel icing her ankle and knee that evening while Katharina, Dad and I went out for Hot Pot for dinner. It was my first time going to Hot Pot but thankfully Katharina had gone before and knew what to do which was good since our waitress didn’t speak English. The food was good and it was a fun experience, but it was too bad mom missed it. After dinner we walked back down the same market street we’d eaten at the night before to get mom something for dinner and some dessert for us. Back at the hotel we packed up since we were leaving in the morning and we relaxed and watched more TV.

The next morning Dad, Mom and I checked out of the hotel at 8:30 and got a taxi to the train station (Katharina stayed later and slept in as her flight to Korea wasn’t until the evening so she wasn’t in a rush). Our train for Xian left Beijing at 10:30, so once we got through security we had some time so we got coffee and sandwiches for the train ride. We had very nice first class seats for the trip to Xian, which meant spacious seats, free water and snack boxes which was great. We arrived in Xian at 3:30 and got a taxi to our hotel. We had dinner at a place near our hotel that night as we were getting up early the next day for our tour.
We had booked a tour guide and car for the day through a recommendation Nancy (our tour guide in Beijing) had given us. Since we only had one day in Xian we needed to get it all done and hiring a car for the day was our best way to do it. We met Tracy, our tour guide, at 8:30 in the hotel lobby in the morning. We first drove to the Terracotta Warriors Museum since it was an hour from the city centre. The Terracotta Warriors were amazing! It was incredible walking into the first building called Pit 1 (It is the most famous of the 3 Pit’s) I was overwhelmed. We learned lots, about how they were all in pieces when they were discovered and archeologists put them back together. In some areas they left the pieces exposed to show what it looked like when they were first uncovered. We learned about how the warrior’s ranks are distinguishable based on their hairstyles, and how each warrior has distinct facial features with no two exactly the same. It was amazing and it is crazy to think that there is no way of knowing if there are more pits that have not yet been found. I could go on and on but I think you get it; the history nerd in me was in heaven. After spending a few hours looking at it all we left to get lunch. We ate at a teashop near by and tried a few types of tea along with our lunch. After that we headed back into the city centre, and I (unsurprisingly) fell asleep in the car. The next place we went was the Wild Goose Pagoda. We walked around the temples and grounds for a bit but we didn’t go up the Pagoda, it was nice but similar to other temples I have visited. Our next stop was the Old City Wall, we were told it is one of the most intact city walls left in China. The wall itself was cool but it was also beautifully decorated for the upcoming lantern festival with colourful animals and scenes. We didn’t get to ride bikes on the wall (something I had wanted to do) because the rentals were closed by the time we arrived. Instead we walked a section of the wall, which still gave us some nice views of the city. Our last stop of the day was the Muslim Quarter, and the Great Mosque. There were many different street foods I hadn’t seen before as well as people selling souvenirs and trinkets, if you didn’t know where you were going it would be easy to get lost in all the stalls. The Mosque was done in the Chinese style from the Tung dynasty and is very old, but not as well kept as other buildings we had seen from the same period. After that we walked along the main street and tried a few different street foods. Then we went for dinner at a local place suggested by Tracy. She took us to this restaurant with a Xian specialty soup, we were given a dense bread/ pancake to rip up into tiny pieces then after we’d finished they took our bowls and poured in the soup so the bread absorbed some of the liquid. It was good and very filling. We had a funny experience while there with this older Chinese gentleman who was watching us for a long while before he decided to come talk to us, but since we can’t speak mandarin he was using gestures to tell dad that he was doing a good job ripping up his bread and me that mine was too big. After dinner we said goodbye to Tracy and headed back to the hotel. We relaxed and bit and packed our bags as we were flying to Manila, Philippines the next day.

Surprises and Goodbyes

A few weeks ago I got a text from an unknown number that read “Hey Emily, what are your plans for the weekend?” so knowing that it had to be someone I knew (because a] it was in English and b] they knew it was my number) I replied asking who it was. At which point I was told that it was a surprise and I would find out if I went to Perry’s our regular bar at 10pm that night. Now as children we are taught never to agree to this kind of thing but again I knew it had to be one of my friends so I agreed. Additionally the second text had provided me with 2 clues as to the persons identity however the answer they were leading me to seemed impossible since that person was not longer living in Shanghai. I spent the next few hours flip flopping from trusting my instincts to doubting them, and trying not to get my hopes up too high in case I was wrong. In the end the beans were spilled before we reached the bar that night. I went to a friend’s house party with Katharina first and there we met up with our friend Heather who didn’t realize that we were still unaware of the mystery texter’s identity and she told us that our friend Anna was back in Shanghai. Which is who I had suspected it to be proving that I am a regular Sherlock Holmes, or she just gave me lots of easy clues. Anyways we left the party and went to another friends place where we were reunited with Anna and it was lovely! She came for 2 weeks for a holiday. Luckily my job doesn’t have the same hours as most and I was able to spend lots of time with her in the evenings and on weekends. But all too soon her time in Shanghai was up and most unfortunately it coincided with the departure of another good friend. My friend Glen was offered a great job opportunity in Singapore so he took it and moved there last week. So needless to say it was sad to say goodbye to two friends in the same week but I’m very happy for the time we spent together and I know I’ll see them both at some point in the future.

With all that going on plus work, March has just flown by! Spring is here in Shanghai, the weather is warming up and the rain is plentiful. We are back in the swing of things at work and it’s hard to believe there are only 3 months left of school. I am still enjoying teaching and the kids are great. I’ve had some very good feedback from my teachers and my Pacican evaluations, as well as seen a marked improvement in many of the kids which makes me feel good about what I’ve done here.

Katharina and Jacob and I are headed to Suzhou for the day on Sunday. It’s a city about a 30-minute train ride from Shanghai. And it is supposed to be very nice, so it should be fun.

I’ll post stories for the rest of my New Year’s adventures soon!

Travel Diary of a Spoiled English Teacher – Hong Kong

Sorry I am so late in posting this. Things got quite busy when I started work again after my vacation and these are taking me longer to write then I had anticipated. So I will update about my holidays in chronological installments.

I had a wonderful holiday! Six weeks is a LONG time to be off! As you know from my last post I started my holidays on a bit of a low note with my terrible cold but things were looking up by the 25th as Katharina and I flew to Hong Kong that night starting off my adventures.

Let me start of by saying that I absolutely loved Hong Kong! It was a great few days and by the end I was wishing I could live there instead of Shanghai (but I still also like Shanghai!) however let’s go back to the beginning. We had a late flight which arrived around 11 pm. Nearly right away we noticed a difference in Hong Kong from Shanghai, not anything enormously, in your face different, but little things that all added up over time. One of the first things we noticed and appreciated was the amount of English, more signs with English, more people spoke and understood English, which was all very helpful when we were trying to figure out where the buses were, and which one we wanted to take. We got to our hostel with only one small hiccup, which was us getting off the bus one stop too early. It meant a little more walking and a few minutes of us just hoping we had gone in the right direction (which we had thanks to my fairly good sense of direction and a logical guess) in the end we found our hostel fairly easily. We were even treated to a nice surprise upon our arrival. While checking in we were informed that we had been upgraded, free of charge, to a private room with our own washroom, so needless to say we were pretty happy about that and it was a good way to start our trip. We had a general plan for our days based on where we wanted to go and their general geographic proximity but a very loose schedule.
Our first day we had a bit of a late start since we hadn’t gotten to our room until after 1am the night before. Our plan for the day was to go to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha. We took the metro out to where you could get a cable car up to the Buddha. The line was enormous and we waited probably close to 2 hours but it was worth it. The cable car ride was very fun with great views of the bay and the hills. It was lovely to be surrounded by nature, something we’d been missing living in the city. In our cable car were 3 other foreigners, a girl from Toronto in Hong Kong for university and a married couple from Bristol who were both professors in Hong Kong for a university fair. Once we arrived at the top we were greeted by an onslaught of touristy shops and restaurants all set in these made to look old buildings. I had read about getting vegetarian food at the monastery so we decided to climb to the top of the Buddha then get food and check out the Po Lin monastery. It was a bit of a climb to the top of the Buddha but the view was amazing and we were lucky to have a warm, sunny day. Down at the monastery we had our “vegetarian snack” of noodles and spring rolls, and walked around a bit. It was a beautiful monastery, one of my favourites of those I’ve visited so far. There were so many bright colours it was just beautiful. From the Buddha we took a crazy bus ride to a fishing village called Tai O. I had read about it online in my research and thought it’d be cool to check out. It is a small place largely untouched it seemed, despite the tourist trade going on. We took a boat tour through the village then out into the bay. The area is known for it’s pink river dolphins but we didn’t see any. We walked around the village for a bit, got a snack and some souvenirs before getting a bus back to the subway station. While walking through the square on the way into the subway we had a funny incident. We happened to run into 2 fellow Pacican teachers and friends from Shanghai, Tom and Joseph. They had just arrived in Hong Kong and were on their way from the airport. So we made plans to meet later in the week.

That night on our way back to the hostel Katharina and I stopped at the supermarket to get some snacks and food for breakfast. It’s going to sound silly but we spent 45 minutes to an hour in that supermarket because it was amazing. It wasn’t a special supermarket, probably not much different then a Metro or No Frills at home, but that is precisely the reason why we loved it. Walking around that supermarket felt like home, there were so many familiar brands and foods, things that we hadn’t seen or were harder to find in Shanghai. We spent so much time just looking at things before we went back and actually got what we had come in for, and we went back, everyday after that (for food! Not just to look around). You might think we are crazy but we loved that supermarket and it is one of my fondest memories from Hong Kong. After that we headed to the hostel to relax, eat junk food and watch TV (in English!), it was a great end to an awesome day.

Next morning we took the Turbo Jet from Hong Kong to Macau. We had a late start as tickets were sold out and we had to wait for the 12:15 ferry. Once in Macau we grabbed a map from tourist services and hopped on a bus to the historic downtown. We didn’t have much of a plan for the day other then seeing the ruins of St. Paul’s and walking around the old town, so we got off the bus once we thought we were close and started walking. Wandering is something Katharina and I are both good at and enjoy, it’s a great way to see a city, just picking a new direction each time you come to a crossroads. Macau was under Portuguese control until 1999 and the influence from the Portuguese culture is still strong today, as seen in the city’s architecture, which is a strange but neat mix of Asian and European, as well as the food and overall feel of the city. A great example of this is the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which fascinated me to no end. All that’s left of the church is the façade as the rest was destroyed in a fire, but the carvings on the façade are a mix of symbols from both Catholicism and Asian culture. There are dragons and lotus flowers alongside Saints and Jesus, even the Corinthian capitals of the columns had a slightly Asian twist to them, it was fascinating.
After wandering for a bit we got lunch at a little Portuguese restaurant, it was great food and we had this interesting sparkling juice that was passion fruit flavour and really good. After lunch we walked some more finding the Ruins of St. Paul’s and subsequently a lot of tourists. From there we went up to the old fortress and walked around taking in the views of the city. Then we headed down in search of Senado Square. The square was all decorated for the Chinese New Year and it was beautiful with the contrasting cobble stone street, Chinese lanterns over head and European style buildings lining the square. We decided to get ice cream and sit in the square for a bit since it was such a nice day. After that we wandered some more buying some egg tarts and almond cookies, both of which Macau is famous for. Around 6:30 we decided to head back to the ferry, so we got on the same bus we had taken downtown assuming it would loop back to the ferry dock, but we assumed wrong. Instead we got a nice little tour of Macau and ended up at the bus station from there we transferred buses, had a similar tour of Macau and eventually arrived at the ferry dock. We got back to our hostel around 10:30 at which point we planned what we wanted to do the next day and how we would meet up with Tom and Joseph to go to the museum in the morning.

In the morning we met the guys outside the main entrance of the Hong Kong Museum of History. The museum has free entry on Wednesdays, which is why we planned to go on that day. The museum is set up as one large exhibit telling the history of Hong Kong from prehistoric times to reunification with China/ present day. It was very interesting to learn more about both the history and culture of the area. My favourite parts were learning about the opium wars and the Japanese take over during WW2. The museum did have some cool artifacts but many were recreations as the main point was to tell the story of the development of the area and how it became the city that it is today. After being briefly separated from Katharina we found each other at the exit and we all headed to get Dim Sum for lunch. We went to a place I had found online that was supposed to be both good and relatively inexpensive, and it did not disappoint! We had a variety of dishes to share and everything was delicious, plus split between the 4 of us it ended up being very cheap. After lunch we parted ways with the guys who were headed to the Peak while we were going to the Mong Kok neighborhood and the markets. We started with a coffee at the Flower market street, from there we made our way toward the goldfish market and then the ladies market. At 7pm we took the MTR (subway) to the Star Ferry Pier to see the light show at 8pm. It was cold by the water which hindered my enjoyment of the show because I wasn’t dressed for it but it was still very cool to see. After the light show we went to the Temple Street Night market, when we arrived we got food at a little place on the street, then we browsed the market. We got some little things and headed back to the hostel around 10:30.

The next day was our last in Hong Kong. We started the morning late again (surprise, surprise! If you know Katharina and I you understand). We packed our bags and checked out of the hostel by 11 am. From the hostel we went back to the Mong Kok area to get a purse Katharina had had her eye on the night before. I had a headache that morning and was not on my A game, so I accidentally led us in the wrong direction but we eventually found our way back to the shop and she got her purse. From there we took the MTR back to Causeway Bay to get lunch. We went for Dim Sum again to the same restaurant as the day before (it’s a chain in Hong Kong and I highly recommend it! Called Dim Dim Sum Dim Sum, I know weird name). The restaurant was overflowing with people but they found a small table for 2 upstairs so we didn’t need to wait. Because we had eaten there before we already knew some things we wanted again and we tried a few new dishes as well, it was just as good as the day before and we ate till we were stuffed. From there we made our way back to the hostel, stopping to look in a few stores along the way. Once at the hostel to pick up our bags we asked about a post office to mail post cards, and were told that they could do it for us so we gave them our letters and left. We took the subway to the airport instead of the bus this time, it was more expensive but much faster. Once at the airport we had a few minor hiccups, like going to the wrong terminal, then our flight being delayed. So we grabbed coffee and dessert and waited. Once our gate was finally posted we had an adventure getting there which included a bus and another delay upon our arrival. We didn’t get back to Shanghai until close to midnight, at which point there is only one option for public transit into the city. So we took a bus to Jing An temple then we each got a cab to our respective apartments getting home around 1:30-2am.

Overall it was a great trip! We had a blast and I would go back to Hong Kong in a heartbeat. However this was just the start of my New Years Adventures.

Start of My Vacation

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year!

I have finished my first semester teaching here and am now on holidays! The kids had exam preparation and exams this week and next week so I started my holidays two weeks before they do.

The last few weeks haven’t been too exciting; I didn’t do much out of the ordinary. Except for a few weeks ago, on a Sunday morning my friend Jacob and I went to check out this area called the Moganshan Art District. I had read about it in my guidebook and thought it sounded interesting. The description in my book led me to believe it would be similar to the Distillery District in Toronto. However it was a bit different. The Moganshan Art District is set up in former industrial buildings but from the outside they do not look like much and if you were just walking by on the street you might not even know what was inside. Once you enter the area there are many buildings to explore with many studios and galleries to look at. There was a large variety of art by many different artists on display. We wandered around checking it all out for a few hours and it was a cool way to spend the morning.

I had had grand plans for this first week of my vacation. Since I would be staying in Shanghai I was planning to finish some lesson plans and organize stuff around my apartment, as well as go do some things in Shanghai I haven’t gotten around to yet. However instead this cold I have had for a couple weeks has worsened and I’ve spent a good portion of each day in bed.

One thing I have done though was go to an event at the Shanghai Grand Theater called the “2015 Shanghai New Year Concert in Honor of High-Level Talents and Foreign Experts” (the latter is the category I fall into, at least according to my visa). How did I end up attending such an event? Well heres what happened. I was contacted by one of the coordinators from Pacican the week before and asked if I would like to attend a “Gala Concert” on Tuesday night at the Shanghai Grand Theater, the dress code would be formal attire. I readily accepted not knowing what to expect. However, what I didn’t realize was that not everyone from Pacican had been invited, so later that night I was talking to my friend Heather and mentioned it, but she had no idea what I was talking about and was upset she had not been invited too. It later came out that supposedly only 15 teachers were invited, so I was then wondering why I had gotten an invitation. On Tuesday before the show I went over to Katharina’s so we could get ready together, as she had also been invited. When we arrived we met up with some other teachers that we knew, then together we located the larger group of Pacican people. It turned out that almost everyone in attendance were upper level Pacican employees except for 7 or 8 of us (most of whom are my friends), so we are still a bit unsure as to how we were chosen to get invitations. Nevertheless it was a great experience, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We had amazing seats in the 6th row. The symphony played a mix of songs most of which were recognizably famous classical pieces, and the others were Chinese songs, which I think were also famous but I didn’t know.  It was a lovely night and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend, as it was not the kind of kind of thing I would normally do.

The rest of my week was mostly uneventful. Last night (Saturday night) a group of my friends went out for dinner together as it was our last night all together before we start our holidays and some of us leave for trips. It was a nice treat as it’s not something we can do often as a group.

Today (Sunday) Katharina and I are flying to Hong Kong for 4 days. I have heard many good things about Hong Kong even if I don’t know that much about the city. We are also going to take the ferry to Macau for one day while we are there as it is not too far away and it is also supposed to be a cool city with a big Portuguese influence.

The day after we get back to Shanghai my parents will arrive.  With them I will be in Shanghai until the 4th then we will travel to Beijing.  From Beijing we will go to Xi’an, then to the Philippines and Osaka before returning to Shanghai on the 17th and they will fly home on the 20th.

After my parents leave I still have one week of holidays before I go back to work. Which will be spent resting and preparing to start work again.
So those are my plans for my crazy long break for the Chinese New Year. I am looking forward to seeing some new places, seeing my parents and relaxing a bit, hopefully.
I will post all about my travels when I return. I hope you all have a great February.

Christmas in Shanghai

Hello Everyone, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Shanghai!

Before I even came to China the fact that I would not be home for Christmas was upsetting for me. I had never missed Christmas with my family before and I didn’t like the prospect of it. In the fall months, December and Christmas loomed as an experience I was dreading. I assumed once Christmas was near I would be homesick, I would be depressed and most of all I would want to run home. However as the season drew nearer and decorations appeared in stores I felt none of what I had expected. I was nostalgic yes, and sad to be missing Christmas with my family but honestly it just didn’t feel like Christmas to me. The weather was more like fall in Canada with highs of 15 – 17 degrees some days, and without the Christmas music playing everywhere, the rush to get shopping done and holiday parties to go to I simply didn’t feel any Christmas spirit.

Christmas isn’t an important holiday in China, it is celebrated only in the most commercial sense with decorations in stores but little else. China is not a Christian country, so the birth of Jesus means nothing for them. The big Chinese holiday is in February with the Chinese New Year during which time they will have big family dinners and celebrations more reminiscent of our Christmas (or so I am told, as I have yet to experience this for myself). So for many of them Christmas is just like any other day, which also meant that I had to work that day because its not a holiday here.

I decided to teach Christmas lessons for two weeks, so I taught the kids some Christmas words, songs and stories. We made Christmas cards in class, and we just had fun with it. The teachers and students at my schools proved once again that they are amazing and I am a very lucky girl! On Christmas Eve some teachers from my first school gave me gifts of a scarf, some chocolate and an ornament. The kids were all excited about Christmas and I could tell that the other teachers had really helped to spread the Christmas spirit. On Christmas day I was at my second school. I had a tough morning with overexcited children who were loud and misbehaving but at lunchtime the other English teachers had a Christmas cake for us, and a card for me that they had all signed. After that my afternoon classes were much better, and the students in my last class made my day. Let me start off by saying that this class of grade 3’s are one of my favourite classes, they can always brighten my day with their positive energy and excitement, but for Christmas they had all made me cards, and they learned the song frosty the snowman and sang it for me! It was a great way to end my day, and I was feeling very loved.

Our company Pacican also tried to help us with the Christmas spirit by hosting a Christmas dinner for us on Saturday December 20th. It was a nice sit down dinner at a French restaurant with many Pacican employees there celebrating together. It was my first work Christmas party, and I think it was pretty typical, they had some speeches and awards as well as door prizes. It was a fun time and since basically all my friends work for Pacican as well, we were all together which was great.

My family and friends in Canada also helped me to feel not so far away. I received cards in the mail from family and friends and my parents and aunt both sent me packages for Christmas. Plus with skype I was able to talk to my family a lot. I was able to call and talk with all my aunts and uncles and cousins both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The other main reason that I survived, and enjoyed Christmas this year was my friends here. As I said in a previous post I came to Shanghai with one of my oldest and best friends Katharina. It was wonderful to have her here with me for Christmas because we are more like family then just friends. We know each others holiday traditions and we tried our best to make it like Christmas at home. We exchanged gifts and we had dinner together on Christmas Eve trying to recreate her Oma’s cooking, (we did alright but Oma’s is better of course!).

We have also made some great new friends here in Shanghai and on Christmas Day we celebrated with them. Some friends hosted a potluck dinner and Christmas party, there were around 20 people there and we all brought different foods. We even some traditional Christmas dishes like chicken (instead of turkey) and potatoes and stuffing, plus many others. It was a great time, everyone was happy and being all together in a small space with loud conversations made it really feel like Christmas for me. A smaller group of my friends decided to do a Secret Santa gift exchange, so Friday night we exchanged gifts while hanging out for a low key night after a busy week.

Overall I had a good Christmas, it wasn’t the same as home but it was fun nonetheless. I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas as well!! And next time I write it will be 2015 so Happy New Year!!