Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Pre-Japan Checklist!

-Find suitcase that is about 2" bigger on all dimensions from my smallest suitcase so that I can do the amazing one suitcase going there, two suitcases come back trick.....CHECK
-Pack probably too much since I will only be there a week....CHECK
-Pack book (Dark Tower), notebook and sudoku for the flight....CHECK
-Buy new umbrella and disposable ponchos since the weather says it will rain all this week (bummer)....CHECK
-Exchange Chinese yuan for Japanese yen (and consequently get free gift of plug!)....CHECK
-Wash dishes/empty trash/sweep floor/do laundry, so as to not have a gross apartment when I get back....CHECK
-Buy snacks for the plane ride (a plane ride that is LESS than 12 hours? what is this nonsense)....CHECK
-Have confusing chat with gate guard about getting a taxi to the airport....CHECK

-Panic about flight, passport, tickets, weather, clothes, taxis, delays, traffic, my apartment, customs, how expensive Japan is, looking like an idiot, not being able to speak Japanese, getting lost, having a good time, being a good guest, bringing too much/not enough money, bringing too much/not enough stuff, buying too much/not enough souvenirs.....CHECK

Looks like I'm ready to go!

I'm going to take a shower, have some lunch and then watch Friends until it's time to go. I will also try to calm down, but I can't promise anything.

Much love!


Tuesday, 29 September 2009


So last night I went with Lotus to a free salsa dance lesson. It was a lot of fun.

Lucy keeps trying to get me to go salsa dancing with her, but I didn't want to go without at least one lesson under my belt. When Lotus also expressed interest and mentioned a place where we could do a free trial lesson, I was game. The place was called Tango Bang, and it was actually a restaurant/bar/dance studio...which is a very weird and very cool mix. There were 5 students there, including me and Lotus. It was an hour long and we learned a bunch of the basics. I like that the instructor didn't go too slowly.

All I can think is that my friend Carolyn would laugh at me telling about the class because I picked it up rather quickly. I can't help it. After 9 years of dance classes and a semester of ballroom dance lessons, picking up a simple 8 step routine is pretty easy. When I got partnered up with the instructor, I think she realized I had done ballroom dancing before and started to lead me through the dance steps, signaling me with her hands instead of saying the next step. Now that I understand the basics I'd love to go out with Lucy and her friends sometime.

Lotus seems interested in taking some classes there. I'd love to as well, but my priority right now is to start my Chinese lessons. After taking my Chinese classes for a while, I'll see if I can squeeze some dance lessons in too. Could be fun!

Tonight I am getting some last minute things for my trip to JAPAN! I leave tomorrow and I am excited and nervous and in disbelief. There was almost a bit of a disaster. I was chatting with D'Arcy about details yesterday and she happened to say "See you Thursday!" at the end of the conversation. I said "Wait...WHAT!? My flight is Wednesday!". Oh dear oh dear. Good thing we noticed before I ended up at the airport lost and confused.

Wish me happy travels and I will hopefully have lots of fun Japan stories next time I post!

Much love,

Friday, 25 September 2009

Blanket Pictures...For Real

Looks like inserting the pictures into the body of the e-mail doesn't work. BLECH. I wish I could sign into my blog so I could edit or delete the test posts.

Anyway, this should work. Blanket picture with names written in and one without.

(Mostly) Finished Blanket Pictures!

So I think I figured out how to edit my text around my pictures. If so, I've found a surefire way to post in my blog, with pictures, once again. Fingers crossed!

Finally I am ready to reveal my Lizard Ridge blanket.

I have been saying for a bit I was going to put op my blanket pictures. you go! I say mostly finished because I still plan on crocheting a nice border around the edges. But all the squares are blocked and sewn together. I love the invisible seam sewing technique I learned so that if you look at the verticle seams you cannot see a single stitch. And I sewed this baby up with black yarn! The finished blanket is a pretty nice size. About 6 feet by 5, if I remember correctly. Of course this is just guessing.

And for added fun I finally took a picture and inserted the names on the square everyone gave me. If you click on it, the picture should get bigger so you can see it better. If you are wondering about the 9 squares without names, I can explain. I wanted to make a blanket with one square from each person who gave me yarn, but the dimensions didn't work out quite right. I was aiming for a 5x7 square blanket, so I needed two more. When I made two more I realized that a 5x7 blanket looked really stupid. Too thin for how wide it was, so I knitted up 7 more squares. The yarn is all from the names on the blanket, but I thought it would be unfair to keep track of who got more than one square on the blanket. I honestly don't remember who the yarn for those extra 9 squares is from.

Anyway, hope it was worth the wait. I love how it came out. I finished it in August and I was still wearing it around the house...sweating. It's super comfy and so beautiful and full of happy thoughts.

Thanks again to everyone who gave me yarn. I love my blanket and every time I use it I will think of all of you!

Much love,

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Yellow Mountain Pictures

I can't figure out how to format my blog posts in e-mail yet. Like...put the pictures in between the text. I promise I will try to figure that out later. For now though, here are just some of my favorite pictures from Yellow Mountain.

Test Two

Yellow Mountain

So I was looking at my blog through a mirror proxy trying to figure out how to change the settings and password so I could have my mom update for me...when I discovered that I could post directly to my blog by making an e-mail address for it. HOW FREAKIN' COOL IS THAT? I can even attach pictures (which is something I couldn't do before using the proxy). I'll have to mess around with this for a bit and see what I can do with it.

Anyway, I wrote this huge long entry about my weekend in a word document on like...Monday. So I am just going to post it here now....

So this weekend I went to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain). My decision to go wasn't particularly well thought out. I had heard of Yellow Mountain before and when some people I knew were going and invited me, I jumped on the chance to travel with people. If you remember in my blog entries about Harbin I mentioned that it kind of sucked traveling alone.

I was a little nervous about the trip for a few reasons. First of all, I only knew some of the people going on the trip and those that I did know I had only met twice before. They were the folks I met in Century Park before I left for home. Lucy continued to hang out with them over the summer and supported me going on the trip.

My second worry was more physical. I did a little research on Huangshan and found out that it can be a pretty tough hike. One of my students wrote in his summer journal about visiting the mountain and said he couldn't walk the next day. I'm not in the best shape and with my bad ankles, I was really worried about the climb. I didn't want to slow down the group. I was afraid I was going to be the slowest one and the others would be annoyed.

Turns out I didn't have to worry too much about either. First of all, the group I went with was a lot of fun. I was the only America in the group. Selda and Ibrihim (the couple that organized the whole trip) are from Turkey, Roberto and Alicia are from Mexico, Elena is from Russia, Marcus is from Sweden, Fleur is from France, Lars is from Norway and Rafael is from Spain. I had met Selda, Ibrihim, Elena and Fleur before. The others I met for the first time.

Ibrihim and Selda worked out all the details for the trip. The booked a hotel for Friday night at the foot of the mountain and a hostel for Saturday night at the top. They also rented a small bus and hired their driver for the weekend. All I had to do was show up!

Friday night we had kind of a rocky start. The driver was a little late showing up and there was traffic getting out of Shanghai. The ride ended up taking over 6 hours. We had originally planned to arrive at midnight and instead arrived at 3AM. Aiya! The ride was still fun, though. We sang songs and chatted. I tried to sleep a little.

Once we arrived we of course went right to bed. I shared a room with Fleur. The room was fine; a normal Chinese hotel. In the morning we took quick showers, had breakfast at the hotel, left anything we didn't feel like carrying up the mountain in the bus and started our hike.

OH. MY. GOD. The hike WAS intense. Maybe it was just me not being terribly experienced with hiking/mountain climbing…but holy crap. It was just…stairs. Steep stairs. Uneven stairs. Stairs with no railings. STRAIGHT UP. For about 5 hours! And keep in mind I was carrying my overnight bag complete with food and water in it on my back. I never stopped for more than 10 minutes at a time because, like I said, I was worried about being the last one up. I was still slower than most of the group, though, and ended up being the 8th person to arrive at the hostel. Elena and Rafael were taking a lot of pictures and ended up arriving an hour after me.

On the way up I chatted with the porters carrying water, food and other supplies up the mountain. I also chatted with a few groups of Chinese tourists. The tourists coming DOWN the mountain offered lots of support. They said I was "很厉害!"(very strong/talented) or told me how much further the top was. I was glad I bought a collapsible hiking stick (20kuai/about 3 dollars…what a bargain) at the bottom. The view on the way up was pretty beautiful, although the fog obscured what I'm sure what would have been an even more breath taking glimpse at the height we were at.

Once I reached the top I was proud, disgustingly sweaty and exhausted. We checked into the hostel (girls in one room, boys in the other) and took some showers and relaxed. Then we had a super fun picnic dinner. We had heard that food at the top was super expensive (it actually wasn't too bad) so most of us packed a bunch of food. We carried everything outside and laid it out and shared. It was really nice. I munched on fruit and chips and a yummy sandwich made for me by Fleur (who seemed intent on getting me to eat all weekend). After dinner we went on another hike to a place called "Purple Clouds". It ended up being one of the best places we hiked to since the fog had cleared up a bit by then and we got quite a nice view. We delayed a bit getting back though and had to walk down those ridiculous uneven steps in the dark. Scary.

That night we broke out the drinks and games. I had carried a bottle of vodka all the way up to the top to share and it was quickly drunk. Roberto had brought tequila from his work and passed that around. We played a few games of Killer (or as I learned the game, Mafia) and then some "Never Have I Ever" (a favorite of mine). We also chatted and snacked on some more chips and candies.

I know some others stayed up later, but Selda and I at least went to bed around 10pm (If I remember correctly…). Hey…after 4 hours of sleep the night before and then a DAY of hiking…I was pretty tired.

The next morning we got up, packed up our bags and had a group breakfast. Again, picnic style. I had packed a small jar of peanut butter and some bananas. Fleur had brought some bread. So I made a few peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Yum. After that we debated about what to do that day. Walk down the way we came? Too boring. Walk to the nearest cable car and go straight down? Too short. Hike another 7 kilometers to another cable car? Apparently that was the best decision. I was still exhausted and sore and worried again about slowing everybody down. I went with the group decision though.

I did better than I thought I would. The hike on Sunday was about 40% uphill again and about 60% downhill. It was the downhill that saved me. I knew that if I stopped for too long my ankles would probably seize up so I only stopped for lunch when the rest of the group stopped. Believe it or not, Lars and I were the first to arrive at the cable car. Not last…but actually first! I was pretty proud of myself. I made sure to get a medal with my Chinese name carved in it when we reached the summit.

We took the cable car down, which was pretty fast, then took a bus down to the parking lot. There, Selda and Ibrihim's driver met up with us. I was so excited to change into a clean, dry shirt. We stopped super quick at KFC on the way and had two bathroom breaks, but still made excellent time. We got back to Shanghai around 10pm. I was back in my apartment and in bed around 11pm.

Days later and I still feel exhausted. And sore. I kept meaning to go to get a massage but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Maybe this weekend.

I'll put pictures up in a separate post because I'm not 100% sure how to format them through e-mail yet...

Much love!



I am attempting something.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Two Week Back Review: Social Life

First of all, I bought tickets last week. I AM GOING TO JAPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! I am beyond excited about this. I finally am going to visit a country other than America or China. D'Arcy is being our host and our friend Tom is coming too. We already have crazy plans to get geisha makeovers and visit a ninja temple. I leave September 30th and I'll be there for a week. EEEEEE!

In other news, I was really really excited to find that there are a bunch of new foreign teachers in the high school department. And they are all girls! Yay!

In my office the two new girls are Eula and Lotus. Eula is from the Philippines. I haven't really hung out or talked with her much but she seems nice.

Lotus was born in China but has spent the last 5 years or so in Canada, so she is considered a foreign teacher. She and I actually went out to get sushi last night. She's very nice and told me all about her travels. She lives near the school, which makes hanging out easier. We chatted about other kinds of food we like and other restaurants we should hit, so I imagine we will be getting dinner together again soon.

Karen teaches in the international department. She and I went out for pizza on Tuesday. On the way I pointed out useful places. The convenience store I go to, where I get cheap plane tickets, places that have wifi, my DVD lady, my massage parlor. We enjoyed a tasty dinner and chatted the whole way there and back. I offered to help her go grocery shopping since she seemed a bit confused on what to buy.

Kelly and Sarah are also at the high school with me. Kelly teachers geography and world history and Sarah teaches Art (cool!). The three of us went out to dinner Thursday night, which was a lot of fun. The best part is that all three of them live on campus in the teacher's apartment. I hope we all hit it off and can hang out again in the future, cuz having people close by would be amazing.

I got in touch with the knitting group I started last year. We've had a couple false starts but it looks like we are going to be having our first get together next wednesday. I look forward to knitting with a group again.

I contacted the Shanghai LGBT but it seems like a lot of the stuff has been waning. Maybe they are just recovering from the HUGE event of Pride. It looks like the monthly wine tastings have stopped. That depressed me a lot. :-(

The group of people that Lucy and I made friends with at Century Park last spring invited me to go with them to Yellow Mountain next weekend. 10 people total are going. I'm excited for the trip. I know I've only been back for about two weeks but I'm already anxious to get out of the city and go somewhere. We will be renting cars and driving, staying one night in a hotel on the top of the mountain and then staying the other night at the bottom of the mountain. Sounds like a cool trip.

I haven't seen Lucy since I've been back, but I am getting together with her and Audrey and some other people tonight. I can't wait to see Lucy and hear about her trip to Europe this summer. It will be strange to hang out with Lucy without Isabel, I got so used to us being a threesome. Ah well!

All in all, I am trying to keep my social life busy. I don't want to sit around missing home and being lonely. I want to enjoy my life here as much as possible.

I suppose that's all my updates for now. I guess I'll go back to updating when I actually have news. Sorry there are no pictures in this post. The proxy I am using has done something weird to the layout. I don't even see adding pictures as an option. I hope that can be resolved soon. I don't want to just have word posts from now on.

Anyways, sorry for the delay in getting back to updating.

Much love!

Two Week Back Review: Work

On the first day back to work I brought my box of desk stuff to the office. Before I did ANYTHING else, I unpacked my stuff. I hung up my pictures, arranged my few nick-knacks, strategically placed my army men...

After that I started asking about what the heck I was teaching this year. That's right folks, I didn't know for sure who or what I would be teaching until the day before classes began. I think what I ended up getting was the best I could get. I have my students from last year (now 11th graders) and I am teaching the 12th grade too. The 11th graders are still split up into four classes of about 15 students each (Which I am super excited about. I hated teaching the big classes) and the 12th graders are split into two classes of 21/24 students each. Last year I taught every class 3 times a week, so I had 12 classes. This year I teach every class 2 times a week, so again I have 12 classes. Perfect!

I am a little worried about the 12th graders because they don't know the stuff I was planning on teaching the 11th graders this year (writing outlines, thesis statements, etc). So I wrote up my lesson plan for the fall semester for the 11th graders that started from pre-writing and first drafts all the way to making a final draft with lots of stuff in between like writing proper instructions. Then I shrunk it down and took out the "extra" stuff and squeezed it all in before midterms for the 12th graders. Hopefully it will work. It does make my job strangely harder and easier at the same time. It means I have to work really fast with the 12th graders, but since I am doing the same stuff with the 11th graders, it makes individual lesson plans a little easier.

I was excited because when I finally finished my semester lesson plan and sent it off to the head of my department, she said it was wonderfully detailed and that she was going to send it to the other writing teachers for use as a guide. EEEEE! I guess I don't suck at this whole teaching thing.

I decided to do the same thing with my 12th graders that I did last year with 10th grade. I asked them all to write me a letter introducing themselves and then wrote a letter back to each of them. It was time consuming but worth it. I've already gotten a few responses back. I want them to know I truly care about them and want them to do well.

There have already been a few frustrating moments of students not doing their homework or not speaking up when I know they have questions, but for the most part classes have been going really smoothly. I am much better now at planning a lesson that will take up the whole class period. I've been using power points and handouts and it seems to be a good combination. I am glad I am flexible enough to realize when a lesson plan isn't working. In one class I could see that they couldn't really understand the exercise I was trying to do with them on writing proper topic sentences. I ditched the power point and instead started talking to them about stuff I knew they like (specific sports teams/bands/etc). Once I had their attention I showed them specific examples of topic sentences using their interests.

I am a little worried that I am in over my head a bit this year. Not only am I teaching two graders, but I will also be teaching a few Theory of Knowledge (think basic philosophy) classes. I also have at least one, maybe two, students that I am advising for their Extended Essay (a huge essay they have to write on any topic. very important for getting their diploma). I also am going to be a CAS adviser this year for 5 students. That means a lot of interviews and paperwork I need to fill out. On top of everything else, a few students asked if I would be willing to be a supervisor for their club. Ai-ya! I guess it's keeping in character though. Everyone has been telling me for years that I always sign on for too much. In high school it was IB, dance, taekwon-do and a part time job. In college it was 5 classes a semester and running two clubs. Now it's this.

Let's see if I can stay afloat...shall we?

Two Week Back Review: The Trip Back

I've been back for two weeks now. Let's has it been?

Things have felt really strange lately. I will honestly say I was feeling really down this time about leaving home and coming back here. I had had such a great summer with my family and friends that I didn't want to go. I hated having to say goodbye all over again, knowing I likely wouldn't see everyone for another full year.

The plane ride back was ok. From NYC to Beijing felt like a night you have trouble sleeping. I read, then slept. I ate, then slept. I watched part of a movie, then slept. I never slept for long but still the ride seemed to go a lot smoother and faster than usual for me. I didn't have my usual "Get me off this goddamn plane" panic attack that I usually have around the 7-8th hour. I rushed around the Beijing airport since my plane was delayed and I had to recheck my baggage...only to find out my next flight was delayed as well. Lovely. When I finally landed in Shanghai there was one small lovely gift the universe gave me. My luggage came out first. Glory hallelujah. I got myself a taxi and the memories came rushing back.

That's when the first feeling of "I never left..." washed over me. Watching the familiar billboards fly by, the familiar skyline, even the familiar smell. I love that I recognized where I was every minute of the ride. I love that I had to give my cab driver directions. I love that when we got to the school gate (at around 1am, just like I predicted), the guard smiled when he recognized me and let the taxi drive all the way to my apartment building.

It was really strange unlocking my apartment door and walking in. I had been gone for over two months and here everything was, the way I left it. I had been looking at coming back as though it was a new trip and yet my apartment was already unpacked and stocked and...lived in. I tried to get my internet to work right away but since my laptop was re-imaged it was a no-go. I made my bed with the sheets past-me was nice enough to clean for future-me and went right to sleep.

I felt really disoriented the first morning. I assumed we would have work on Sunday to prepare for classes on Monday. I showered, ate some of the crackers I had leftover from the plane, packed up my work bag and walked to the high school. Locked. I decided to take my bike and ride over to the Coffee Beanery so I could get a real breakfast and some Wi-Fi. I got an e-mail saying that Sunday was a day off for teachers, but apparently I was to have been at work on Saturday. Oops. Well, I didn't get in trouble for that, thankfully. I sent off a few e-mails to let my coworkers and family know where I was, and then was disappointed to discover that my blog and youtube were still blocked. Also facebook is now blocked. UGH UGH.

After that I rode over to Carrefour and got some basic groceries. I honestly can't remember what I did for the rest of the day. I think I unpacked and just hung out.

I think I am going to split this up into at least two entries since it's getting really long.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Proxy Test

Hey...everything is blocked again and the VPN I used last time doesn't work no more.

I am testing out a proxy now.

I've been back in Shanghai for about a week and half now. Things are going mostly well. If this works, expect a better post soon.