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.

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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!).