Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Extra, Extra, Starting A New Blog!

I realize I haven't updated in months (the main reason being that this was a blog about my time and China and I'm not in China anymore...), but I have a bit of news I wanted to pass along to anyone interested.

I got some positive feedback about keeping up with the blogging, so I am starting a new blog. It's also on blogspot and through the same profile. I've called it "Hooked on Hobbies" (it was the best I could come up with at 2 in the morning...) and I plan on writing about my life and the various things I do to pass the time.

Anyway, I guess I am officially calling this blog closed for the time being. If I ever go back to Shanghai though, you know where to look for updates!

So, thanks for reading and here's to another adventure...

-S

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

HOME

I think everyone who reads this blog knows that I am home safe now.

My brain feels a little foggy. I am sleep deprived. My flight/shuttle home was uneventful and the last few days I have been seeing people, unpacking, enjoying time at home and playing with my dogs.

I have more stuff to write about. My last few days and so on. So tune in soon-ish to read the last of my China stuff.

I am also debating keeping this blog up. It wouldn't really be Stephanie in Shanghai anymore, but I could keep it as a general blog. Maybe document my job-finding process or post the stuff I cook or make. Feedback is appreciated.

That's all for now, though. I is tired.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Give It All Away

Last night was my "Come Buy/Steal My Stuff" party. Most of my foreign coworkers, some of my Chinese co-workers, my Chinese teacher and Lucy were the ones who made it. A bunch of people canceled last minute, so I was left with a LOT of leftover food and drinks. Sarah and I pooled our stuff together (with a couple of additions from Kelly). My apartment looked pretty weird last night. One room was filled with too much food and the other looked like a tag sale. Which...I suppose...it was.

I think Rao Laoshi (my Chinese teacher) takes the prize for taking the most stuff. She was the one who bought my toaster oven, as well as my big fleecy sheet, my huge winter comforter, and one of Kelly's dresses and a bunch of kitchen stuff. Lucy also took a bunch of stuff. Mostly kitchen stuff. We might be able to see each other again on Thursday before I leave but with her schedule the way it is it's not a sure thing. It was sad saying goodbye to her, but if we could be penpals for ten years I am sure she and I will be able to stay in touch living in separate countries again.

 I was a little worried when the party was done how much stuff was leftover. I brought a bunch of stuff to the office today so the people who didn't make it over to my apartment last night could pick through it. Suddenly I had a very captive audience. Almost everything I brought to the office has been claimed and I led a trek back to my apartment and even more stuff went.

I just have bits and pieces now. Some books I will donate to a local coffee house. Some clothes that I will give to that Sorting Party charity I volunteered for a few times. Anything that's really worth anything has gone to others. It was really depressing to watch the pieces of my life here go away, but I'm happy that they went to people that want them and will use them.

After the party last night, Sarah helped me clean and sort what was left. Then we went to her place for hot chocolate. I kept her company for some last minute packing. Saying goodbye to her was really hard. We've hung out on a nearly daily basis this year. It is going to be so weird to not have her down the hall anymore.

I finished all my work. Grading, finals...everything. My desk is clean and empty now. Taking a look at what I still have in my apartment and considering sending those packages earlier were not as expensive as I was worried it might be, I think I might send another package home. I can't believe I leave in two days. I think the mixture of sheer manic busy-ness and sleep deprivation is keeping me from having some sort of emotional breakdown.

School closing ceremony this afternoon and then a dinner to say goodbye to the teachers who are leaving this year (including me). Then my last Improv show with the PRComedy group. I am so tired and out of it, I'm a little worried I will suck, but who cares? It's a chance to do something I love and see people I will miss.

Tomorrow I will probably do all my last packing, close my bank account, maybe hit the post office. I also have to check out of my apartment so I can get my last paycheck. Thursday night I plan on getting one last massage from my favorite parlor. Soon I will be flying back to the world of expensive massages.

I think I am rambling now so I am going to wrap this up. I'll probably post another update on how everything is going before I leave.

See you soon, America.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Last Day of Classes

On my last day of classes we did my one tradition and we played bingo.  And just like I did last year, I took some pictures of/with my students on the last day of classes. We took some nice pictures and some silly pictures. I think I like the silly pictures best, so those are the ones I am putting here. I will probably put them all up on Facebook when I have unblocked internet again.

These are the first students I have ever taught. In the two years I was their teacher they have been challenging, fun, creative, intelligent, frustrating, surprising, confusing and always amazing. While my bad days of teaching them could easily get me angry or depressed, my good days of teaching them have been some of the best days of my life. I got to know them through their writing. I will miss them as individuals and I will miss them as a class. I hope their futures will all be amazing and that we will meet again someday.

To the Pinghe IB Class of 2011.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Keeping Memories On Hand

A about a week ago, I had dinner with some coworkers. Zeno (remember Zeno? She taught me to make dumplings!) was back in Shanghai to visit the Expo, so we all got together. We went to an awesome restaurant and ate far too much food. This place was famous for soup so we had three different kinds of soup on top of the already exorbitant amount of (delicious) food. Including sparrow, crab noodles, shrimp, chicken, dim sum and tons of stuff I am forgetting. It was nice to see Zeno again. She tested me to see how my Chinese was going. We talked about the Expo and how her job in Tianjin is.

Towards the end of the dinner, my office mates sprung it on me that they also considered the dinner to be a kind of goodbye dinner for me. They presented me with a really pretty ring they had all chipped in for. About a week or so before the dinner we had been talking in the office about rings. June wanted to look at my class rings and try them on. I thought nothing of it at the time, a lot of people here are curious about my class rings since China doesn't have that tradition. In retrospect the whole thing makes me laugh. A few years ago my friend Jesse wanted to buy a ring for his girlfriend Rose who was my friend and roommate at the time. I played sneaky spy and found out by striking up a casual conversation about rings. My coworkers did the same thing to me and I didn't even notice!

The ring fits perfectly. I love the style of it. I think it has a slightly medieval feel to it (which someone else also said, so it's not just me!). It's nice to have something small that I can wear and remember my coworkers with. It means a lot to me.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

On Being Sentimental

I am an overly sentimental person.

I have known this about myself for years. I attach meaning to the most ridiculous things. Moving from one country to another is incredibly difficult for me. Putting aside the fact that I am going to be leaving a job I love with coworkers I love in a city I have come to love that are all part of a life that I love, just PACKING is killing me

I am trying to be brutal about making decisions. I only have two suitcases and my carry-on that I have to bring with me. I know I can ship stuff home but its very expensive and I don't want to break the bank. I have TWO YEARS worth of memories, gifts, and LIFE that I need to go through and decide what to do with.

There are a few givens, thankfully. Everything on my "wall of love" is coming home. Nearly everything that was given to me as a gift is coming home. All of my one of kind things (my hand carved buddha from Wuzhen, my mask from Suzhou, my calligraphy from Harbin, etc) is coming home. Then comes stuff like...clothes. And books. And notebooks. And magazines. And just STUFF. Sarah helped me out today. I had three boxes packed to mail home and I realized it was just too much. Sarah was over and we went through all three boxes and she made me argue/explain why everything in the three boxes needed to be sent home. When we were done I had a box and half of stuff left. It was rough.

I want to bring home a sweater because of the way it makes me feel when I wear it. I want to bring home a hat because I bought it from an event run by my students. I want to bring home my favorite baking dish because of the happy memories I have cooking for my friends with it. Plus I am also a worry wart. What happens if I get home and decide I really needed that item of clothing/book/doodad that I left behind?

I guess I wouldn't feel so bad about leaving stuff behind if I knew it was going to good use. I hope when my friends come over for my "Open House/Steal My Stuff" party they will take my things and use them.

I will feel better when this is all over and I don't have to make these decisions anymore.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

PACKINGPACKINGPACKING

I have five days off for Dragon Boat Festival and I am using them to get ready to head home. Well, Monday I went to Century Park with Sarah and some friends of hers for a picnic and crazy four-person-bike races around the park. But other than that....packing.

I have two wardrobes in my bedroom so what I am doing is taking everything I want to take home and putting it in/on one wardrobe and taking everything I need to throw out/sell/give away in the other wardrobe. It helps with the organizing and since I can just close the doors and hide the mess, my apartment still looks clean. It's a really depressing process going through my stuff and deciding what is worth keeping. I have tried to keep the reminiscing to a minimum since I have a lot of stuff to go through.

Most of my big items have already been claimed. Stephanie wants my toaster oven, blender, comforter, and a bunch of my small kitchen items. Becky and Chris want my big pot and my DVD player. I've promised to give Kelly my guitar as long as she practices with it (Yinglong needs love!). I organized a sort of open house party during my last few days here which serves a dual purpose of saying goodbye to people and I've encouraged people to just take my stuff away while they are here. Anything that doesn't belong to the school or I'm taking home must go!

As for the excess, I've already packed one decent sized box to mail home. It's stuff I want to keep but not essential, so I am risking it to the Chinese post office. Two month ground shipping. I am going to do a test pack of my stuff and see if I can get everything I want to take home in my two allowed suitcases. If not, I am going to have to start making another package to send home.

Moving from one country to another is troublesome.

Today marks NINE days until I leave.

Friday, 11 June 2010

CAUTION: Watching me do improv makes you drink.

I was searching the web for some ideas of what to do with a class today and I clicked a link that led to blogspot. Surprisingly, it went through! I am guessing that it's not blocked now...for some reason? Youtube and facebook are still gone but I guess being able to post in my blog normally is nice. Even though I will only be here for two more weeks.

Yep, we are officially at the two week point. June 25th I will be homehomehome.

School is reaching that point where my work I need to do outside of class far exceeds the stuff I need to do for and in class. I've got correcting up the wazoo. Tests to prepare. All that jazz. I know I haven't been posting much and I apologize. I have a bunch of stuff I plan on writing about and I will do my best to catch up.

The title of this post refers to what happened this Wednesday at rehearsal for Zmack's June 12th show (my last show with them). I know, I know, I've talked a lot about improv lately. Well, I love it and this is the last time I have to perform with these groups. Anyway, we were rehearsing at the bar (which was empty except for the workers, us and people who knew us) when a group of four men walked in. I saw them walk in and seem a bit confused about what was going on, but then I had to perform so I didn't see what they did next. After I did my scene (the dating game, where I played a very perky girl named Mary Joe seeking love), I jumped off stage and was called over to their table. They then proceeded to tell me (in Chinese) that they were planning on leaving until they saw me perform. They thought I was so great they decided to stay. And drink! One of the guys held up his beer and said "This is because of you!".

I thought it was funny and a somewhat odd compliment. Since they spoke to me in Chinese I assumed they couldn't speak English, but the rehearsal was in English. So that means they must have just liked my voice or body language or something. Ahh China. You are so silly sometimes. It also made me happy that I had no trouble understanding them. Boo-yah Chinese classes.

Hopefully more later!

Much love!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Improv Awaaaaaaay

It really sucks that I am leaving as soon as I started making some good contacts here. According to Lucy I have got myself an adoring public and now I am abandoning them. She was talking about improv.

Matthew, someone I met through Zmack, started his own improv group, the People's Republic of Comedy (shown above). I performed with them for the first time a few weeks ago. I thought I did horribly, to tell the truth. I was performing with people I had never met before and I was exhausted. Apparently I did ok, though, and he asked me to perform with them again this past week. That show went REALLY well, in my opinion. That's what the picture is from. All the advertisements for the show are done in old propaganda style posters, hence our far off gazes. I hope to perform with them at least once more before I leave.

In the Zmack front, I led the weekly lab the last two weeks and I think it went ok. I am running it again this and next week and then I believe it will be time for someone else to step up. I have a love/hate relationship with running improv stuff. It's kind of cool to decide the theme and pass on some improv tips, but it means I spend less time playing the games myself. And it makes me feel really self conscious. Here I am, the youngest person in the room telling everyone what to do. Ahh well. There is one more show with Zmack that I'll be doing in June.

In non-improv news, I am apparently teaching a new class for the rest of the semester. Whaaa? It's an intensive English class for the incoming class. I was hoping to use the extra time (now that my 12th graders graduated) for my job hunt, but I guess not.

In non-anything news, why doesn't my mind work anymore? I can't think straight at all. I can't sleep at night. I can't focus in Chinese class or at work. Bah. I need to whip my mental self into shape so that I can get all this stuff done!

In let's-focus-on-happy-stuff news, it's finally yangmei/waxberry/bayberry/whatever-you-want-to-call-it season again. I have a big basket on my desk that I've been munching on all morning.



Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Cooking With RaoLaoshi

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but "laoshi" is Chinese for teacher. So "RaoLaoshi" means "Teacher Rao".

Teacher Rao is my Chinese teacher. She came to an improv lab a couple weeks ago and on the subway ride back we talked about cooking. I said I really wanted to learn to cook more Chinese food, so we made a deal. She would teach me to cook some Chinese food and I would teach her to bake some cookies.

We finally ended up getting together this weekend. We cooked and ate lunch together. We ended up making three dishes.

Cola Chicken Wings: The first and most interesting (and in my opinion tastiest) thing we cooked was "cola chicken". Apparently this isn't as novel an idea as I thought it was since when I told a co-worker about it she shared her recipe for "Coke Roast". The way we made it was to boil some chicken wings in water. Then we put some small slices in both sides of the wings (according to Teacher Rao it makes it taste better). Then we fried up some garlic, ginger, scallions, and mildly spicy green peppers in some oil with the wings. After browning the chicken a little on both sides, she poured in about half a can of Pepsi. She brought it to a boil and then reduced it to a simmer until the sauce got thick. Spicy, sweet and delicious!

Pork and Beans: This dish was an interesting mix of savory and fresh. The beans that we used are apparently called "four season beans" in Chinese since they are in season all year round. To me they just looked like giant green beans. I chopped the beans into slices while Teacher Rao mixed some ground pork with flour and egg whites. Then it was all fried up together. Teacher Rao commented on how most Chinese dishes mix together meat and a vegetable while most American dishes have the two separate. I had to agree with her, since I've noticed the same thing since the first time I came to China.

I Have No Idea But It Was Purple and That's Cool: I can't remember at all what the last vegetable was called in Chinese and Teacher Rao didn't know the English name. It looked a little like lettuce to me, but that's about as helpful as I can be. She cooked it up in a little oil, water and salt. Eating it was fun since it turned our plates purple. There is an old Chinese belief that eating uncooked vegetables is always unhealthy and I think it's still affecting the food culture. I'm not sure what the vegetable was we were eating but my guess is if it was used in the US it would probably be eaten raw or steamed, not fried up.

All together it was a lot of fun. We spoke about half and half Chinese and English, which was cool. I was a little worried that since we weren't officially in class she would just switch 100% to English. After we made and ate lunch, I taught her to make cookies. We made oatmeal butterscotch cookies, using the butterscotch chips my mom sent me about a million years ago. They were quite yummy. I have done a lot of baking since I got my toaster oven, but these were the first cookies I made from scratch instead of cutting corners with a mix. It was a lot of hard work without a mixer! But I have to use up my baking supplies before I leave so I forsee more on the horizon!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Shanghai 80's Roller Disco....Seriously!

I went to college from 2004 to 2008....so why is it that every 80's song I hear reminds me of Drew U?

Lucy invited me to a roller disco this weekend. I had to read the e-mail a couple of times before I actually believed there was going to an 80's roller disco in China. But that's Shanghai for you. Turns out they have these a lot at the place we went to.

I invited Sarah along (we've been hanging out so much we are starting to act like a married couple) and we got our 80's outfits planned. I destroyed a cheap t-shirt and then wore about every brightly colored item I owned (which was a surprisingly small amount). Sarah wore some nice big bangles and pulled out all the stops with some leg warmers.

I was a little worried about roller skating since I haven't done it at the very least since high school. I have a vague memory of driving myself to good ole' Ron-A-Roll way back when so I guess I was at least 16 but that could be my mind making stuff up again. I was also worried about being run over by drunk people on skates.

In the end I only fell once (because some jerk crashed into me), knocked down Sarah once (because another jerk crashed into me, which pushed me into her) and had a few spectacular close calls. I'll tell you, spilled beer (despite the clearly posted signs that no drinks should be brought on the skate floor) certainly makes skating a bit more a challenge. And it was CROWDED. I was never so scared for my feet than when I was walking around in socks after turning in my sneakers but before putting on my skates. My poor toeses got rolled over a bit. I'd like to go back when it wasn't so packed.

Sarah and I got there a lot earlier than Lucy and Andreas so we only ended up hanging out all together for a short while. I hope to see the two of them later this week though.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Scary Clown

Just a bit of weirdness to break up our regular scheduled programing.

Earlier this week the art teacher, Sarah, asked me to come in and discuss my first hand experience with the IB art exam with her students (who are also my English students). After I told them all about it and answered some questions, they went back to work on their projects.

I was getting ready to go back to my office when Sarah suggested I stay and paint. I suddenly felt the need to create something. I asked the students for ideas and the first thing any of them said was "a scary clown". The picture you see is the result. That face gives me the creeps (the painting...not me).

This weekend I hope to see Lucy, who I feel like I haven't seen in forever, and also have a plan to get together and cook with my Chinese teacher. Should be fun!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Wedding Banquet

About two weeks ago, one of my co-workers, Ned, got married to his lovely partner Zhi Hui. It was apparently in the works for a while but we didn't hear about it until about two weeks before he got hitched. Last night they held a nice big dinner to celebrate his marriage with all the Pinghe folks.

My office mates wanted to go in together on a gift for the happy couple and for a while we couldn't think of what to get. I suggested a gift card for the massage place I like. I figured it would be useful and enjoyable. In the end that's what we got. Also, the office came together in a bit of a group effort to make a card. I made the basic design of the card (white base, blue panel on the front, outlined in gold ribbon with a gold square in each corner) and then Lotus bumped up the design on the front and Lena did the back and the inside. I wish I had a picture of it. It was pretty. Then it was off to dinner.

It was a normal Chinese style dinner with tons of dishes (my favorites were the scallops which were resting on mounds of salt and then LIT ON FIRE) which were all delicious. They had rented three rooms connected by wide open double doors and a big round table in each room. Since Ned's lovely wife is Chinese and the majority of the guests, some of the traditional "dirty tricks" (as June put it) had to be played.

One involved Zhi Hui shimmying a cell phone up one of Ned's pant legs and down the other, but not before a phone call was made *ahem* in a strategic position. A cherry tomato was also strung on a string as a necklace for Zhi Hui to wear and Ned had to find and eat it without using his hands while blindfolded. The last game of the evening had them sitting back to back and writing down answers to questions about their relationship. The inquiries started out pretty tame but got worse as it went on.

The evening was a lot of fun but also made me sad. I can't believe how little time I have left here.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Hanoi Pictures and Impressions

Here are just some pictures from my trip, including water puppets, the cathedral, the grilled fish, and the boat ride to the Perfume Pagoda.

Just some last things I wanted to mention about Hanoi. It was weird because if I had never been to China and Vietnam was the first Asian country I ever went to, it probably would have been a totally new experience, but it was so much like China that it wasn't surprising to me at all.

I am used to sales people shouting at me to buy things, I am used to bargaining, I am used to squat toilets, I am used to making my way across a street with no apparent traffic rules, I am used to people staring at me, I am used to spitting and the differences in hygiene and personal space. Even the stuff vendors were selling in all the touristy places was mostly exactly the same as stuff I see in China all the time. It was actually a challenge finding presents for people that were obviously Vietnamese and not Chinese.

There were some differences though. I can't understand a word of Vietnamese. In Japan I didn't feel quite so out of place since there was often Japanese kanji, which borrows a lot of words from Chinese. But in Vietnam? Nothing. It felt very strange. Also, because of the french influence, the vendors in Hanoi were always yelling "Madam!" at me to get my attention instead of "Lady!", which I thought was fancier. Ha.

I suppose that's all really.

Much love!
Stephanie

Hanoi Day Two

On our second (and thanks to China Southern our LAST) full day in Hanoi, we woke up far too early so that we could do a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda. The hotel said the bus would arrive at 8am so we needed to be ready by then. We got up and dressed and went downstairs to have some breakfast. The guy showed up at 7:45 while we were still eating. Oops. He came back later to get us and we headed off.

The tour guide was kind of...I guess awkward is the best word. He kept saying that the guys on the trip weren't very good looking, and then he said he thought I was going to win the Miss Universe contest. Then he asked if we wanted to hear a story "full of the humor". And then the story was basically him saying "I have no money so no girl will love me...isn't that sad?". Once he stopped talking, though, the bus ride was pleasant. It was cool looking out the windows, especially at all the rice patties we were passing. I loved the different scarecrows in the fields, all wearing one of those pointed hats. The ride was VERY bumpy though, which I think was a combo of bad shocks and some VERY uneven roads. One stretch of road, all I could think was "I would LOVE to take an ATV on this". We stopped oh-so-conveniently at a souvenir shop so we could use the bathroom on the way.

Once we arrived we got into boats for the approximately one hour trip down the river. There were about 12 people in our group and we all piled into a long boat and headed down the river. It was super sunny and warm. I got a bit of a sunburn on my shoulders, but it was nice after how cold it was in Shanghai before we left (although now that we are back, it's pretty hot here too). During the trip, the man paddling behind me accidentally dropped his hat into the river. Instinctively my hand shot over the edge of the boat to grab it...and my camera went with my hand. Thank goodness I had my wrist strap on. I would have been very mad if I lost my brand new birthday camera.

After the boat ride the tour guide tried to get us to take the cable car. And none too subtlety. Elizabeth said the walk up the mountain and the view was nice (having been there before) and I figured some exercise would be good after that awful stagnant day spent in the airport. Sadly, things aren't like they used to be. Where there was once a peaceful walk and a nice view, there is now vendors all the way up, blaring music and shouting at you to come sit and have a drink. I also had some flashbacks to the painful (rewarding....but painful) climb of yellow mountain. If you tell me I need to walk at a steady pace on a flat surface for an entire day I'll be fine. I like walking. But up is just cruel. It kills my poor leggies. Oh well. We got to the top and made it to the temple.

Perfume Pagoda is kind of a misleading name. I was imagining...well...a pagoda. One of those many layered buildings. Instead what we went to was a cave. The inside was filled with alters full of offerings, incense, candles and people praying. I had never seen a temple in a cave before, so that was pretty cool. It just wasn't what I expected. According to Elizabeth, if you go at the right time of year, flowers bloom on the mountain filling the area with a lovely scent. That's where the "perfume" part comes from.

We ended up taking the cable car down since it wasn't really worth the trip down just to be yelled at by vendors again. At the bottom we got lunch with the group. Some fish, some meat, a yummy garlicy river plant, and some tofu that had a sauce Liz loved. After that was the boat ride and bus ride back. Uneventful, but enjoyable. I've got tons of pictures taken during the boat ride.

When we got back we had some quick showers and changed. Then we went back to a show we had been to before to get some more Thai fisherman pants for me. So comfy! We bought some souvenirs (I got something for my parents...don't tell them...shhh). We also stopped for some street food. I picked out some spicy shrimp dish, some very yummy fish and some meat with veggies. What will I do when I move back to America where there aren't people cooking lamb on sticks everywhere? Ah well. We of course also had to get some more ice cream. It's Elizabeth's favorite ice cream in the world. I can see why. Yum.

We stopped for coffee once more and while there I got some to bring home, as well as the super cool drip filters. I think I will write a whole post about it later. I am smitten with Vietnamese coffee now. The last thing we did was stop for some frothy and cooling lemon juices. Then it was back to the hotel to pack and get to bed.

The next morning we got dressed and out the door and in the taxi to the airport. Being out that early gave me a very different view of Hanoi from the previous two days. Every time we had gone out before it was a chaos of motorbikes and people. That last morning was surprisingly quiet and calm. The flight from Hanoi to Guangzhou and then to Beijing was fine. Once we reached our old stomping ground of Beijing international airport, we hit a snag. Although the flight was delayed we miraculously got our luggage first and made it to the check in counter with a few minutes to spare. Then the guy behind the counter says something I didn't want to here:

"There are no seats left on this flight."

ARRRG. I thought we were in for another horrible bout of bad luck, but after an uncomfortably long time of standing around while he called people and shouted at the other workers, he turns and asks us if we will be willing to take the same flight an hour later...in first class. Oh yes please! That was about the best thing that could happen. We didn't have to rush to make the next flight (instead we went and had some Starbucks) annnnd we got first class.

I don't think I have ever sat in first class before. It was fan-freakin-tastic. They served us drinks while the plane was boarding. I had my own pair of slippers and my own personal screen with movies and games (with a remote so I could fast forward and rewind and such!). I could fully recline as well as put my feet up. When they came by with drinks they were served in glass cups and they gave us the entire can of soda (remember way back before flights got so stingy and they would give you the whole can of soda? Better days, man). The meal served had TWO COURSES. And it was served on a TABLECLOTH. It was so fancy pants. Altogether it was a nice way to end the trip after the awful way it started.

Well, I've gone and rambled on too much again. I will post another entry with some pictures and maybe some general impressions of Hanoi. Hope I didn't bore you!


Hanoi Continued

After our little break back at the hotel on our first full day in Hanoi, we headed back out. First we went back so Elizabeth could make her final decision about which shirts to get. I think I may have convinced her to get a peasant sleeved blouse (I have a weak spot for big drapey sleeves) but it's ok since she looked really good in it.

After that we made our way to the "fish street". I don't know if I mentioned this, but the layout of Hanoi is a lot like the layout of Shanghai. In that stores are grouped by what they sell. In Shanghai they have a street called Jingling Rd which pretty much ONLY sells musical instruments. I have also seen streets where almost every store is for pregnant women, or almost all shoes. It makes shopping pretty convenient. When I needed to buy a guitar tuner here in Shanghai, I just popped from store to store on Jingling Rd until found one I liked at a good price. Hanoi is similar. I saw craft streets, shoe streets, silk streets, etc. According to Elizabeth the name of the streets in Vietnamese actually say what the street sells. So...we went to "fish street" for dinner.

This fish ROCKED. One thing I loved was the "menu" here. All it said was "We only have one dish at this restaurant. Grilled Fish" followed by the price. We ordered enough for two. Out came all the prep material. Some cold noodles for each of us, chili sauce, peanuts, a big dish of herbs and most importantly a pan of fish and veggies cooking over a stand filled with hot coals. The smell was intoxicating and the taste was even better. You put everything in your bowl, gave it a mix and ate up. It was savory and refreshing at the same time. I want to know how to make this fish. I found a recipe on line but I haven't tried it yet so I'm not sure how close it is to the real thing.

After that we went for some coffee and a sit down by the lake, then went back to the place Elizabeth likes for some more ice cream. Then we walked around eating and singing. (Yes, singing...how do you pass the time?) During our walk we passed a park full of kids in little electronic cars. It took us a minute to realize that they were like remote control cars, but big enough for children to sit in. So a bunch of parents were walking around "driving" their children. It was funny.

Luckily, we were able to catch the night market. Elizabeth wasn't sure if and when it would be held and we happened to see it being set up as we were walking around. After it was set up, we walked up and down taking a look at everything. I also got some meat on a stick. Not sure what kind of meat it was. Tasty though.

After all the walking, our feet were hurting pretty bad so we decided to get some foot massages. There was a place near our hotel that offered 1 hour foot massages for about $10. Considering that's exactly how much I pay back in Shanghai, I figured it was fair. The massages were advertised as "Chinese" but speaking as people who LIVE in China, Elizabeth and I did not agree. They weren't bad...they just weren't Chinese. Regardless, it was a nice refresher for our sore feet.

Just to break up the days a bit better, I'm going to write about the next day as another entry.

Loves!


Thursday, 6 May 2010

Oops...

I wish I could retract my last e-mail. Since I can't sign on blogspot I can't just delete the entry.

Turns out my documents are all still on my computer. The computer teacher saved them in an obscure place and from first glance it looks like all my documents, music and pictures are still there. It is still a bit troublesome since he downloaded Windows 2003, which means I can't open my docx or pptx files (which almost all of my documents ARE). But I'm sure I can just download a patch or something to get to them.

Things are looking a LOT better than I thought. And now I feel stupid about ranting about a problem I didn't really have.

Expect another Hanoi entry soon (I need something to distract from my stupidity).

-S

Ugggggh.

So today at work my laptop decided to DESTROY MY LIFE.
 
I was going over my PPT for my classes today when it shut down for no reason. This has been happening ever since I got my new battery. Since it doesn't happen that often and there was never a problem before, I haven't been worrying about it. Except today when I tried to turn it back on....it wouldn't. It went through the start up cycle over and over again. I kept getting blue screened and then it would say it couldn't turn on and the process would start all over again. I tried starting it in safe mode, I tried starting it plugged in without the battery, I tried going through the advanced start up....nada.
 
The computer teacher came and took it away after he saw what was happening. I couldn't really worry about it since I had to remember everything in my power point and now go teach some classes without it. He said he would try to get it back to me at the end of the day. Sure enough, it was on my desk at 3:20pm. I started it up happily only to find that he had wiped my hard drive.
 
EVERYTHING IS GONE. I feel so numb. I really wish the computer teacher had TALKED to me before he had done that. Even if there was no other option, I would have liked a little warning before I started up my computer to find everything gone. Things aren't too terrible, I think. Luckily for me I saved my pictures to my big external before I left for Hanoi because I wanted to erase the pictures on my camera and I wanted to make sure they were backed up first. I THINK when I did that I also saved my newest version of my work folder. I THINK. I am scared to go back to my apartment and check.
 
If I didn't, it means that my grades, lesson plans, PPTs....everything I have done this year and had gotten ready for the rest of this semester is gone. I really really really hope I did save that folder.
 
This is so annoying. I have to reset everything on my laptop again and there are some music and documents and such I know I have lost for good.
 
This has put me in a rather grumpy mood. And to top everything off, someone stole my umbrella.
 
Harumph.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Hanoi: Day One

Things have gotten much better since our arrival in Hanoi. It has been raining on and off but not too badly. We woke up this morning and had ourselves some hotel breakfast. Eggs and toast. With Vietnamese coffee. Yum yum yum. They put condensed milk at the bottom which is just delightful.

After that we headed out the door. Elizabeth wanted to get our tickets to go see the water puppets tonight. When we arrived at the theater all of their tickets for the night were sold out. BUT they did have seats left for a show that was going to start in about 5 minutes. Good timing! We bought our tickets and head on in.

The seats in the theater were not built for Western people. The width was fine, but the space from the back of my chair to the chair in front of me was about 3 inches shorter than the length of my thighs. There was no way for me to get comfortable, but after much wiggling and twisting I was able to find a position that didn't make me feel like my kneecaps were breaking.

The show was cool. To anyone who is unfamiliar with what the water puppet show is (like I was 24 hours ago) there is a stage with water and the puppeteers work the puppets out of sight with long poles that go under the water. Liz says that the show originated in the rice patties to amuse the workers. The whole show was about 45 minutes long and was in Vietnamese, but since it was mostly singing and about the visuals it was a lot of fun. I think the mixture of my own delight and the youthful comments of the children in the audience made me feel like a child myself. One part of the show involved two people fishing. The man was splashing his basket all over and at one point trapped his friend. The woman than chased him around with her basket, until she trapped him in a corner and he was shaking with fear. Another highlight of the show was a phoenix dance that ended with a hatching egg and a new phoenix dancing with it's parents. I've got pictures and videos for when I get back.

After that we went to a lake (don't ask me what it was called, I can't speak Vietnamese!) with a bridge to a pagoda in the middle. Apparently there is a legend there, something about a sword and a giant turtle and the sword has been given back to the giant turtle...I'm not sure. But it was pretty and there was a small temple.

After that we got some coffee and popsicles. Very tasty. Then we found a lovely cathedral. Liz thinks we really lucked out and showed up as mass was letting out because we were able to get in and look around. When we were leaving, they were locking up the doors. The cathedral was really nice with stained glass portraits of saints down the walls. I'm not a religious person, but I find going to temples and churches always has a calming effect on me.

The next part may sound a little weird, but we went to an italian place for lunch. Liz's friend Kevin said it was amazing so we decided to try it. It really was delicious. We split three things: pesto linguine, four cheese pizza and something that had spinach, potatoes and anchovies with lots of garlic. Everything was super tasty. When we finished, we realized we needed to get back to the hotel to book our day trip for tomorrow.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a few shops. I bought a pair of thai fishermen pants (which I am wearing right now and they are SUPER COMFY) and Liz got a shirt. We made it back to the hotel and booked a day trip tomorrow for the Perfume Pagoda.

Now we are resting a bit. Liz is having a nap and I took a nice cooling rinse in the shower (it's pretty warm here, but not too bad). We plan no heading out for some special grilled fish for dinner and maybe some more street wandering. My Pinghe coworkers told me I HAVE to try the street food here so I need to keep my eyes open for anything that looks good.

Well, we have been back for our rest for a while and the day is a wasting, so I think I'm gonna try to wake up Liz now. Wish me luck!

Love,
Stephanie

Unlucky

***WARNING: This blog post is very little updating and almost 100% me complaining***

My friend Elizabeth and I have had a very unlucky trip so far.

It started off well enough with us meeting at the airport and checking out bags with no problem. Our flight was delayed for almost an hour which really wasn't good because it means we missed our transfer. Things went from bad to worse to hell almost immediately.

We had purchased the tickets through Expedia as one trip. Shanghai to Beijing, Beijing to Guangzhou, then Guangzhou to Hanoi. Now, anyone who knows anything about China and/or Southeast Asia geography probably just spit their coffee at the computer as they exclaimed "WHAT!? You went NORTH to go SOUTH?". Yes, well, it was our cheapest offer and I am a poor teacher so we went for it.

ANYWAY. When we missed the transfer we thought of course something would be done. Since the whole trip was through China Southern Airlines, we went to them first. They said that because the first flight was a China Eastern Airlines plane, it was their fault. We went to them and they said it was China Southern Airline's fault. Then they tried to blame us because they said that the amount of time booked between flights wasn't enough (although MANY HOURS LATER when we talked to Expedia they said the blame really did lie with China Southern since they booked all three flights as one trip and if the lay over wasn't long enough the trip shouldn't have gone through as a valid option).

It was beyond frustrating. Here we were stuck with a bunch of people pointing fingers at each other and all we wanted was some action to be taken. And no action would be taken because no one wanted to take the blame. We first tried any way possible to get to Hanoi that night. Take another flight with the same airline, take another flight with a different airline. ANYTHING. We even tried to get them to send us back to Shanghai so we could at least go to our apartments and then try again the next day. Nope nope nope. Then we tried to get the earliest flight to Hanoi we could for the NEXT day. The only thing they would let us switch to was the same flight as the one we missed for the next day. So we would have to wait for 24 hours.

Once we realized what the crappy situation was and that we couldn't get out of it, we then asked what the airline was going to do. As in, what hotel would they be putting us up in for the night. And here's the fun part, because no one would accept the blame, they said it was not their responsibility and we were going to have to find our own place to stay.

After arguing, pleading, running around and I will admit a little bit of crying, we walked away from the counter to go find some internet. We thought the best thing to do would be to call Expedia and see if they could do anything to help. Maybe switch us to a different flight or maybe help us get a room or find out who was to blame. When we called (I had to buy a $15 IC card that we used up entirely for the many phone calls) the agent he said that he needed to talk to the airlines directly and their offices wouldn't open for another 4 hours. We sat in the internet cafe for 4 hours. We watched TV, we chatted, I slept a little.

When the four hours were up (keep in mind it was now 11pm), we called. We were put on hold. We used up the IC card. They said they would call my cell phone after they talked to the airlines. We waited for about another half hour. They called. They told us our flights were all set for tomorrow "And you're all set, goodbye!" Wait wait wait. We explained our situation again and the woman told us that it was China Southern's fault but there was nothing she could do to help us at this point.

We were sitting on the floor of the arrivals hall. After midnight. Things were pretty much as shitty as they could get.

We found a "hotel" in the basement of the terminal. It actually turned out to be ok. It was the first bright spot in our trip since things went so terribly wrong. We slept until 10:30 the next day. We had some lunch, we played some cards, we got some ice cream.

When we checked in to our flight we saw the same lady that basically told us we were screwed and she wasn't going to do anything about it. She waved at us happily. I wanted to punch her. We checked into our flight. The woman made fun of us in Chinese. Probably is, we can speak Chinese. Elizabeth called them out. It was more frustrating.

The plane was delayed AGAIN. Again for almost a full hour. Luckily this flight was connected to the one after so we couldn't miss it. Going through customs was fine and the next flight was uneventful. We got our visas for Vietnam on arrival, the driver from the hotel was waiting to pick us up and we are now in our hotel room. There is only one bed in the room but it's big, LizzyB and I have shared a bed before and after the start to this vacation we've had it's really not that big of a deal.

So, 39 hours after leaving my apartment, I arrived at my hotel in Hanoi. Not a very good start to the trip. The thing that is most annoying, in my opinion, is that we already had a short trip. We were only going to have three full days in Hanoi. Now, because of this whole mess we only have two. That REALLY upsets me. And the fact that I don't know if there is anything we can do about it just gets me more angry.

I'm lucky that I am traveling with Elizabeth. If I was going through this alone I think I would have had a mental breakdown. Instead, we can commiserate and cheer each other up. We are determined to have the best two days in Hanoi that we possibly can.

We've got a full plan of things to do for tomorrow so I should get some sleep.

Wish us lucky, we need it.

Love,
Stephanie

Monday, 26 April 2010

Lucky Draw!

This Saturday I was heading to a party at a friend's place. Since he lives about 15 subway stops away (don't worry, I brought a book) I really didn't feel like carrying some snacks and drinks for the party on such a long trip. I asked him if there was a good convenience store near him where I could pick up some stuff. He suggested the 7-11 in the subway stop I would be getting out at. I got there and grabbed a few things and went up to pay. After I paid, they told me to pick 7 of these scratch ticket things. This kind of small lottery is pretty popular in China. Some receipts have a little scratch off area where you can win small amounts of money or prizes. Apparently the government started the program to get people to ask for their receipts more often.

ANYWAY. I was in a little bit of a rush because I thought i was going to be late (I was the first one there...I think I might be obsessed with being on time), so I just went to put the cards in my pocket to look at later. The girl behind the counter looked at in exasperation and told me I needed to scratch the tickets off right then and there. So I moved my stuff to the side and scratched off the cards as fast as I could. Six of them were all the same message and although I didn't understand it, I assumed it was the equivalent of "Thanks for playing, try again". One was different, so I handed it to the cashier. She got REALLY excited.

I won two tickets to the Shanghai Expo. I can't even remember if I have mentioned the Expo in my blog. It's kind of a huge deal and most of the people here (at least the expats I have been talking to) are pretty sick of hearing about it. I personally find Haibao (the Expo mascot that looks like Gumby's shorter, bluer and more annoying cousin) the worst part. He is EVERYWHERE. I will admit thought that the Expo actually does sound pretty cool the more I hear about it and I figured it's kind of essential that I go before I leave China. The cheapest ticket that I have seen is about 160RMB for a one day pass, so even if that's what I won, it's a value of over 300RMB, which is pretty cool. Apparently the 7-11 workers thought it was a big deal. They took a picture of me and took my name down. I'm assuming it's to hang up my picture and say I won there (like they do with the lottery back in the US). EIther that or they thought I was just so darn pretty.

So now I get to go to the Expo. And for free too!



Saturday, 17 April 2010

By The Numbers

This weekend I went on a trip with some coworkers to Wuzhen. Here are some statistics about my trip.

1: The number of new cities I visited this weekend. (Wuzhen)

2: The number of new animals I ate this weekend: turtle (I felt a little guilty about eating one of my favorite animals but it was good) and sparrow (TINY but pretty tasty).

3: The number of boat rides we took on canals through Wuzhen.

4: The number of containers of tea I brought back. One was a free gift. The other three were part of a special deal for babaocha (one of my favorite teas), how could I resist?

5: The number of books in the Chinese comic set I bought about the Monkey King. I figured it would be a fun way to practice Chinese.

6: I can't think of anything for six so I will just use this place to say I bought the area's specialty: rice wine. It came in a bamboo container. I have yet to try it,

7: The floor of the hotel we stayed in. I shared a room with my boss, Luo.

8: The number of chapters I read during the trip in the book I am reading, "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson. I think everyone should read this book. I am enjoying it immensely.

9x10: The amount in RMB I paid for a hand carved driftwood statue with a Buddha face.

11: The approximate amount of weeks I have before I move back to America.  I told Pinghe that I will not be coming back for a third year. I may have cried. They told me I was always welcome here and that they hoped I would come back. I may have cried again. Now I just need to find a job back in America...

Monday, 12 April 2010

An Awesome Weekend

I had a very full weekend, mostly concentrated around Saturday night.

I don't think I mentioned it in my blog but I was asked to perform as an old hollywood actress for the American Chamber of Commerce Hollywood Lights Gala charity event. I decided to be Mae West. I put a lot of effort in preparing for my role. I had a dress made, bought accessories to match (including a wig), memorized some of her famous one-liners, etc. Friday night was some last minute planning for the role. I read up a little more about her life, watched some videos so I could get my voice to sound like hers, put the whole outfit on to check to make sure it was all set, and did my nails.

Saturday I had brunch with Sarah and then we went on a hunt for some lipstick that would be the right color and wouldn't cost me a million dollars. Then Sarah was very patient and super helpful and did my makeup and helped me get on my wig (even with my new short haircut I have a LOT of hair to tuck away). I even wore false eyelashes for the first time. I really liked them. :-) Then I grabbed a cab and headed to the Shangri-la for the event, threw on my dress and made my entrance.

There were two other actors for the night and I was surprised to find I knew them both already. There is a surprisingly small community in Shanghai when it comes to foreign performers. Serious case of 6-degrees of seperation. The other girl was being Marylin Monroe and the guy was playing an old timey director (John Huston?). I was a little disapointed because hardly anyone knew who Mae West was (although the few times I was "recognized" was a LOT of fun) and I was trying to stay true to character so I couldn't really go around all bubbly like Marylin Monroe. I still enjoyed throwing out a few one-liners and throwing smoldering glances at everyone I saw. Although I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I might have been throwing smoldering glances at flower pots, walls, or the backs of people's heads.

After that was done with I had to get out of costume really quick and head to Sound Blue for an improv performance. As soon as I got there I had to de-wig, pull off my fake eyelashes (OW) and wipe off all my makeup. We warmed up and then had our performance. We played a few new games including Questions Only and Props. A few people from work came, and I was also able to see Lucy for the first time since the beginning of February. The show went really well. The place was pretty full and we got tons of laughs. I had a lot of people I didn't know coming up to me after the show to say I was really good. Yay! This time the director also mentioned that we do this for free and put out a tip jar. My cut of the tips was enough to pay for the taxi home, which was nice.

Also on Saturday I got a text comfirmation from Elizabeth that our tickets are booked for our trip to Hanoi. The holiday ended up being for 5 days instead of just a long weekend like I thought it was going to be, so I am very excited for the extra time in Vietnam. Elizabeth has been there before so she already knows a good hotel to stay at and some good places to go. This will be the fifth country I've ever been to (America, Canada, China, Japan....VIETNAM!). I can't wait. We leave on the 30th of April.

The last bit of news really isn't mine to tell. A good friend of mine got engaged and asked me to be a bridesmaid! It's the first time I have ever been asked and both her and her fiance are good friends of mine so I am really excited. I won't put their names here, though, on the off chance that someone who knows them reads my blog before they get a chance to spread the news themselves. EEEE!

I suppose that's all my biggest news for now. Next week is midterms. I can't believe the semester is almost half done already. The seniors are taking their IB exams in three weeks. Wowza.Actually, I have a "mid-term" myself this week. We are at about the middle of my Chinese classes and we are halfway through our new textbook so our teacher is giving us a bit of a midterm this week. I haven't had a midterm in about two years!

Well, gotta prepare for classes. Leave comments to say how good I look as Mae West.

Much love,
Stephanie


Thursday, 8 April 2010

HAIRCUT HAIRCUT

I continue to be horrible at updating. I know. But something happened this weekend where an update seemed kind of necessary. I cut off about 10 inches of hair.

My before picture kind of sucks in that it was taken about 3 months ago. I thought about taking a before picture right before I cut it but I figured I would be able to find at least ONE clear picture of my long hair from recently. Oh well.

I got tired of it being so long and the summer is coming so I figured I might as well chop it all off. When the time came for the cutting I was a bit frazzled so I completely forgot about gathering it up in a ponytail to donate it to Locks of Love. Oh well. Next time! My friend Elizabeth (the one from improv) was the one who did the honors and I think for no real training she gave me a pretty nice 'do. Liz cut my hair out on my balcony. I felt very Chinese getting my haircut outside. At first she was cutting off chunks and throwing it all over the edge of the balcony. After we watched it wildly blowing in the breeze we figured it was best to throw the rest away inside.

The comments on it have been mixed but positive. Walking into class for the first time after having it cut lead to a very fun reaction of "Woooooh!" and applause from the students. Most people say I look a lot younger. I look younger to myself as well since this is what my hair looked like when I was a freshman in college.

One interesting reaction was that a few people asked me if I was in love. I asked a coworker about it and I guess it's a saying or something that if a woman cuts her hair (at least as severe as a haircut as I had) it means there is some big change in her life. For the record, I am not in love. Just wanted a hair cut.

On a related note, as I was walking back to my apartment the day after the haircut and was surprised to find a dead rat by the side of the path on the school's campus. As I got closer, though, I realized it was not a dead rat but my own hair. Nice.

Anyway, what do you think?

Much love,
Stephanie




Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bye Google

Crap crap crap.

Google has been talking for a long time about leaving China. Apparently there were censorship issues and other disagreements with the Chinese government. We all heard about it back in January but nothing had happened since. Until this morning.

Goodbye Google.com.cn. When I try to go to Google.com or use my toolbar google search I get automatically switched to Google Hong Kong. Weird.

Right now I can still get into my Gmail account and I can search in English using Google HK, but I am going to be up a certain creek without my paddle if China decides to block Google entirely. Not only do I use Google at least 10 times a day, that's where my e-mail account is. ARGH.

*grumble grumble*
Stephanie


Monday, 22 March 2010

Pay For The Funny!

I am pretty sure I mentioned before that I've been spending time with Zuloo Smack, an improv group (apparently the ONLY improv group) in Shanghai. I've been going to their weekly labs when I was available and have been in a total of three performances so far. The first two were at Bali Bistro and one, this Saturday, was at Sound Blue.

I did improv all four years in college and I was really excited to find an improv group here. I had done performances at Drew for mixed audiences in terms of size and reception. I still say the best show that I was in was the one we did as an opening act for a Thursday night comedy group in the Space (a hangout on campus). The two Bali Bistro performances had it's ups and downs. Two serious downsides were that the stage was TINY. I mean like the size of a large elevator. Try acting in that kind of space. The other downside was that the people there really didn't come to see improv but to eat, so it kind of felt like we were interrupting.

Saturday's show was the first time that I have performed in an improv show that people paid to see and it felt really good. The American Women's Club was doing a charity and we were the entertainment. The Sound Blue stage is a little bigger so we had more freedom and the people coming CAME to see improv. It was so cool.

I think one of my favorite parts of the night was the game Genres, where we act out a normal scene, then do it 2-3 more times in different movie styles. For example, the scene we did Saturday we did again as a chick flick, a western and a musical. I was in the scene with Matthew and Christoper. I've done scenes before where we have to sing, but this was the first time EVER we had someone actually playing the piano that we had to sing along with (think Whose Line Is It Anyway). I don't know if the fact that there would be a piano player for that scene was mentioned during a rehearsal and I just wasn't paying attention or what, but that was a HUGE surprise for me standing up there on stage when the music started. It went really well though, and someone from the audience later told me I had a lovely singing voice! :-)

It was a lot of fun doing improv for an audience that came specifically to see us. It was really cool to get a lot of compliments from people watching after the show. I love performing in front of people. It's a nice rush.

Afterwards, the actors all went to a bar called Bell and hung out a little while longer. It's a fun group of people. Especially Elizabeth! I'm hoping that she and I will go to Hanoi during a long weekend I have the first weekend in May. We'll see!

Much Love.
Teh Sprof

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Nice Guy Taxis

I've had my bad luck with taxis in China. Especially in Shanghai. I've had taxis that have purposely tried to rip me off. I've had to deal with such things as them messing with the meter, taking the longest way possible to get to my destination, getting "lost" or even saying they had no change when I tried to pay with a larger bill.

I've learned to deal with it. Usually with preventative measures. I always repeat where I want to go at least twice to make sure we are both clear. I bring a map so that I can point out exactly where I want to go. I will say in Chinese which characters the street names are or by which route I want them to take me. I always pay attention when they are driving and if I know they are going the wrong way I make a stink. I've gotten the fare reduced a few times because I know they were doing something wrong. Still, on occasion, I know I've been ripped off and there wasn't really anything I could do about it.

With that mindset, yesterday was a really nice change. TWICE yesterday I was taking a taxi and before we arrived at my destination they lifted up the meter so that I got a reduced price. The only time a driver has EVER done that for me before was because I demanded they did since they had taken the long way around. Both times yesterday when I asked why they did it the drivers said they did it because they had gotten a little lost. I had been paying attention and both drivers went maybe the TINIEST BIT out of the way. Nothing I would bother complaining about usually. Instead they both realized what had happened and just made sure I got the real price. I was shocked the first time it happened and beside myself when it happened the very next time I took a taxi.

It's a nice change to have taken a ride with an honest and kind taxi driver.

-Stephanie


Monday, 15 March 2010

The Contents of a Woman's Purse...

Things at work continue to be crazy busy. I thought I would post something but since I don't have too much time to really get up to date I thought I would be silly and post something as a kind of window to my life. Last night I cleaned out 3 purses and 2 backpacks I had been using on and off because I was getting tired of not being able to find what I needed everyday. They say the content of a woman's purse will tell you a lot about them. Here is a list of everything I found:

2 Cameras
3 Greeting Cards
5 Packages of Wet Wipes
7 Packages of tissues
1 Pair of sunglasses
3 Chapsticks (all Burt's Bees)
3 Necklaces
2 Hairclips
1 Novel
2 Chinese dictionaries
3 Notebooks
1 Sudoku book
1 Chinese textbook
2 Maps of Shanghai
5 Containers of Doublemint mints (2 of which were empty)
11 Pieces of gum not in their packages
3 Partial packages of gum
2 Mirrors
1 Pack of Beijing Opera playing cards
81RMB in assorted bills and coins (and one British penny)
1 Container of floss
1 Pair of folding scissors
1 Wallet
1 Change purse
and
1 single journey subway ticket.

This subway ticket really bothers me for two reasons. One: I ALWAYS use my transit card. ALWAYS. and Two: You need to put the subway ticket back in the machine to get out. Did someone slip this thing in my purse thereby trapping themselves in the subway? I am really confused.

Also not mentioned was a PILE of receipts and empty gum wrappers which I tossed and a PILE of entrance tickets I was still carrying around from my trip with Mom and Bethany.

So what do you get from the list? The only pattern I see is that I live in Shanghai, am studying Chinese and care about dental hygiene.

Later taters!
Stephanie

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Why Haven't I Posted?

"Why hasn't Stephanie posted?", you may ask yourself. The answer is simple. I am awash in responsibilities.

Apparently this semester is front loaded with craziness. I have been back at work for less than two weeks but have already had 4 meetings. The Extended Essays are due the end of this week and since I have two EE students I have to read draft after draft and give advice about them, as well as filling out supervisor forms and conducting interviews. Me, the worrier, is paranoid I am going to miss something important that will make them lose points so I have been reading all the IBO documentation about EEs that I can find.

CAS (creativity, action and service) is also winding down for the seniors. I have to have final interviews with each of my 5 CAS students by Wednesday next week, as well as reviewing their handbooks, filling in progress reports and giving final comments. I found out there was going to be another River of Hearts volunteer event this Saturday so I took the initiative to try and get some Pinghe students to go. I put up a sign up sheet, organized a meeting point and sent announcement reminders to the classroom teachers. This is the first time I am doing something like this by myself so I hope it goes well. I've got 20 students signed up already.

In the world of classes, right now I have my normal class schedule of 12 classes a week with grade 11 and 12. In about two weeks I am going to have an open class where my co-workers will observe me teaching (I get so nervous for those). After that I have about 6 weeks of TOK (basic philosophy) classes that I will be teaching on top of my normal workload. I am teaching my TOK class about Art I put together last semester for the grade 10 class 3, and doing a new section on The Power of Names for the other two grade 10 classes.

I also have a GIANT STACK of winter homework that I am trying to get through ASAP so it doesn't just sit on my desk and take up room. At least it makes for interesting reading since I tried to give them creative writing prompts that they could have fun with.

I hope all this doesn't come across as complaining. I would rather be awash in responsibilities than feel useless. I feel a lot more involved with my students and my school this year and it's nice to feel like what I am doing matters. And this craziness shouldn't last long. This is a relatively short semester (19 weeks), and once May rolls around my responsibilities with the 12th graders are pretty much over. They start their exams then and as soon as the exams are done they graduate.

In my life outside of Pinghe, I am still going to improv lab. We have a meeting on Monday to discuss some upcoming shows. I'm happy to be performing again. My Chinese classes will be starting up again next Tuesday at the same school but with a new teacher and a classmate! I hope the classmate and I get along and that the teacher is good.

I've been having fun hanging out with various people, but nothing really blog worthy. I went to a birthday dinner for a friend at a Turkish resaturant, met up with someone I haven't seen since high school who happened to be in Shanghai, as well as various dinners and nights out with coworkers. I have kept up my Sunday night baking tradition and brought some brownies in on Monday. I think next I shall make sugar cookies using a lovely heart shaped cooking cutter my friend Rose sent me.

Anyway, I am sorry for the delay and hopefully I will have something more interesting to post soon.

Much love!
Stephanie


Saturday, 27 February 2010

GEISHA PICTURES

D'Arcy sent me my pictures and the CD with all the files from our geisha makeovers. SO EXCITING.

I plan on posting a real entry soon, but I just couldn't wait to share these pictures!

Loves,
Stephanie

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Day Nine Onwards – Shanghai

Guest Writer: Stephanie's Mom and Bethany

On Monday, we didn't set an alarm.  We slept late and S even served us hot drinks in bed (mocha for B, tea for me).  Then we went to the local huge shopping center (Carrefour) down the street.  The bottom floor has multiple cafeterias and we picked and chose several different foods to share.  Then we picked up a hair dryer and a few other things.  It was crazy busy due to the upcoming New Years.

More than once, while standing in line, someone cut in front of me or tried to cut in front of me.  S had to warn me more than once because I just wasn't paying attention and let a small gap in front of me.  It is just like driving, if there is a gap, someone will go into it.

We were thinking of going for another massage, but we were so tired, we decided we needed to rest more first.  As we walked back to S's apartment, we saw workers (in cook's outfits and such) playing cards in groups on the sidewalk, sitting on the ground or squatting.  When we got back, we popped in a DVD and chilled.

That night, Stephanie had scheduled a wine tasting with her favorite wine tasting bartender, Pierre, for us and a few friends.  Pierre emailed pretty late and said he was laid up in the hospital.  Stephanie tried to work something else out but we ended up just having several bottles of wine and some really interesting food with Stephanie's friends Stephanie and Fleur joining us.  Stephanie is a teacher at PingHe just like Stephanie and Fleur is a website designer for an Australian company.

After dinner, Fleur headed home and the four of us headed to one of S's favorite bars, Windows Underground, in the basement of a building.  They play American pop music and their drinks are cheap.  Being a Monday night, we were able to grab a table right away.  S showed us a dice game we can play without being able to hear each other talk (you use hand signals for the game) and it was a lot of fun.  A guy from Zambia named Sam, bought us all a round of drinks, then joined our dice game and then tried to convince me to stay in Shanghai, he would even pay me.  Okay, time to leave.

We grabbed a taxi to the apartment and got home about 2AM.

On Tuesday, we slept very late.  Then we headed to the Yu Garden and Old Shanghai.  It is a large collection of shops and restaurants, from very cheap to very expensive.  The entire area was very elaborately decorated for New Year's and was beautiful.  We went to a popular restaurant for Shanghai style dumplings.  We then crossed the bridge that is supposed to give us long lives.

Then we walked along the Bund, a row of beautiful European style buildings along the river's edge.  They are doing all sorts of improvements in preparation for the 2010 Expo, so there was a wall between the road and the river and the sidewalk was being improved.  We saw the famous Shanghai skyline all lit up across the river.

We then walked toward Nanjing Road, another row of modern stores and restaurants as we headed toward the subway.  One thing I saw that was interesting was delivery bikes for several restaurants, including KFC and McDonalds.  Why don't they offer that in the US?

On Wednesday, we went for a Chinese all-body massage.  It's amazing how many aches and pains our bodies have from walking ALL day and sleeping on really hard beds.  So really, they are necessary.

We then headed to the Shanghai museum and learned quite a bit of Chinese history.  It was much more fascinating that we thought and ended up running out of time and got kicked out at closing time.  A bell rang, the security guards shooed us out and as we sat on the front steps, planning our next step, we saw the procession of security guards exiting.

We walked down the rest of Nanjing Road that we didn't see last night.  Everywhere we went, we were always approached by street vendors.  The most interesting item they were trying to sell us here was a set of two wheels that you strap to your sneakers. Then you could walk when you wanted to, or roll away when wanted.  If only I was younger…

Stephanie then brought us to another great restaurant.  My favorite dish, which I had requested to have again which I remembered from our last trip, was a caramelized potato dish.  We had it here and it was awesome.  We grabbed a cab home which went right underneath the skyscrapers.  We were able to take some interesting pictures of them with their tops lost in the fog.

On Thursday, I desperately needed to stay off my feet, especially since we were going out Salsa dancing at night.  I suggested B and S feel free to go out without me.  It was a very rainy day which was perfect for me to stay in.

***Bethany Writes About Her Day!***

I still wanted to walk around more to take in more Shanghai.  Stephanie graciously offered to take me to see 2 Buddhists' temples and the Fake Market (another huge market place with designer purses, sunglasses, and all kinds of other items).  We decided to visit the Jade Temple first because Stephanie had not been there…that way if we only made it to one temple, it would be new for Stephanie too.  Off we went. 

It was a cool rainy day, not great for outdoor sightseeing but we pressed on.  We stopped for breakfast at my favorite coffee spot, The Coffee Beanery.  We had a western breakfast.  I had my standard mocha and Stephanie had her caramel macchiato.   After breakfast, we jumped in a cab headed for the subway.  We took the subway to the closest stop to the Jade temple and grabbed another cab from there to the temple. 

The temple was surprisingly busy with worshipers.  Stephanie explained this was most likely due to the impending Chinese New Year's which is a very important time for the Chinese.  As we walked into the courtyard, we saw 3 large vessels with burning fires.  People were crowded around the fire lighting incense.  Around the courtyard and beyond were structures all in the traditional Chinese architecture.  Inside each building were many deities, everywhere you turned, with stools in front of them for the worshipers to kneel and pray.  They also had amazing detailed beautiful alters in front of the larger deities.  The alters were covered with gifts of fruit, food, coins, and other items.  We watched as many people walked through the temples, kneeling to pray to almost every deity.  At the back of the temple area, we heard chanting and peeked inside to briefly see part of a Buddhist service in progress. 

We now headed to the front exit and on the way were greeted by a woman asking if we wanted to try the tea from the temple…a special blend only available at the temple.  After Stephanie confirmed the tasting was free, we followed her upstairs for the tea ceremony.  We tried 4 different teas and then she blended several together for us to taste.  As we sipped our tea, we wondered if Ms. Vickie was awake yet.  Stephanie and I both liked teas #5 and #8 so we both bought a box of each.  As with most things in China, these were not prepackaged so the woman scooped out our tea and put it into our pretty boxes.  Then off we went. 

It took a few minutes to catch a cab back to the subway (I'm getting used to this occasional inconvenience now).  It wouldn't have been quite so bad if it wasn't cold and drizzling.  It was nice to get in the cab and on the subway to warm up some.  Stephanie, having seen both temples now, said that she liked the Longhua Temple better and we should go there.  Whaaaaaaaa!  I'm cold and wet.  I reminded myself that I asked for more sightseeing…besides when would I be back to China????? 

On the map, the Longhua Temple looked closer to the subway stop than the Jade Temple so we thought it might be within walking distance.  Hhmm!!!!!   I think the map lied or maybe I was just being a weenie because I was cold and wet.  Well, we made it.  This temple was similar in layout and architecture with many worshipers.  However, the insides of the buildings and the deities were more impressive.  One building had 3 walls (top to bottom) of small Buddhas, each one slightly different.  Another building had 4 large statues of females with their backs to each other.  Each one had 8 arms, all holding a different object.  We went through several other buildings with large gold deities.  The ceilings inside the buildings were absolutely beautiful with detail carvings and designs.   Stephanie was right.   This temple was more impressive and I was glad we went.

We took a taxi to a different subway line instead of walking more in the rain.  Now to the Fake Market which is inside the subway tunnel at the science museum stop…warm and dry.  This area is an underground mini-mall with small shop after shop all willing to barter for the sale.  I spotted some D&G purses I liked.  Fake, of course, as the market name implies.  We haggled with the woman for a bit getting her down from over 320 RMB per purse to 300 for both.  I wasn't anxious enough so we decided to have lunch at a food spot next door.  We enjoyed lunch and wondered again if Ms. Vickie was awake.  As we walked out of the lunch shop, the purse woman was waiting to pursue the sale.  I offered her 250 for both and ended up settling on 260.  SOLD!  J We browsed through a few more shop and I bought some D&G sunglasses.  Then it was back to the street level to catch our cab to the grocery store near Stephanie's apartment.

Tonight was supposed to be hairy crab night before salsa dancing.  We stopped at the grocery store but it seems that hairy crabs are out of season so we had to come up with plan B.  We made the short walk to Stephanie's place.  And now the answer we had waited for…Vickie was up but snuggling under the covers in bed.  We rested a bit for our big night out.

***Back to Vickie!***

We went to dinner at the nice restaurant near S's apartment in our salsa outfits.  It was a windy, cold night and the walk was very chilly.  We were finally able to get the famous Shanghai hairy crabs that Stephanie told us about earlier in our trip, and tried the spicy bullfrog.  Yum yum.  (Really!)

The salsa dancing was on the 65th floor of a 5-star hotel with beautiful views all around.  Lucy, Fleur and another of S's friends Ibrahim joined us.  After we each did some dancing and had one expensive drink each (78RMB!!  Eep! That's more than the 1 hour massage costs!) we headed to a jazz club.  After 1 more drink each, we headed home.  As we were getting into the cab, we were approached by a little girl begging for money, with her mom standing close by.  It was shameful to see.

On Friday, we had some more baozi for breakfast.  Two of them cost a total of 3.8RMB.  Wish I could have these at home for breakfast too.  Today was our day to actually go to the famous Shanghai skyscrapers and unfortunately, it was an extremely cold and windy day.  First we went to the Pearl Building, the one with the balls and tripod legs.  Stephanie suggested we go up into the higher building, the Financial Center, for the views, and go into the Shanghai History museum in the basement of the Pearl Building.  It was very interesting and informative.

Then we headed to the Shanghai World Trade Center.  It is the building that looks like a giant bottle opener, with a gap at the top.  We first went to the 97th floor (the bottom of the opening) and took tons of pictures and looking up at the 100th floor above us.  Then we went to the 100th floor (the top of the opening) and took tons more pictures.  Some of the floor blocks were glass and we were able to take some pictures looking straight down.  B had some issues with the height and the glass floor but she survived.

We grabbed some dinner and used the heated toilets (mmmm) and headed to the Super Brand Mall.  It is a huge mall with 9 floors.  We each had a Dairy Queen Blizzard.  Of note here is that the options for the blizzards are not the same as home.  No candy options so B had to settle for oreo and nuts.  Then headed out to the edge of the river to see the Bund all lit up for the night.  There were many boats and barges going down the river, it is busy all the time.  Again, more sales people (jasmine for you…you like lazar lady) and a McDonald's kiosk.

We grabbed a taxi back to Stephanie's apartment but first stopped to see S's DVD lady.  Then, on the walk to her apartment, we stopped several times to see fireworks taking place very close to us.  The fireworks caused the car alarms to go off right near us.  According to Stephanie, they will get more and more frequent closer to the New Year.  Tomorrow is New Year's Eve and Sunday will be the New Year.  We will be leaving just before everything closes for the holiday.  As I'm writing this, I hear even more fireworks all around us.

B and I packed because our flight leaves at 5PM tomorrow.  We decided to go for a foot massage in the morning, grab a few supplies at the Carrefour, go for a hot pot luncheon and then head to the Maglev and home.  I probably won't post again until I'm home and Stephanie probably won't post for a while because we completely exhausted her.  But she was an absolutely great hostess and we had a fabulous vacation.  If anyone else has an opportunity to come visit her, you really should.

Bye and B and I will see you back in CT soon.

Day Eight – Hangzhou to Shanghai

Guest Writer: Stephanie's Mom

We were able to sleep in a bit this morning and it was wonderful.  Then we checked out of the hotel and met Lucy's dad's friend (who had the big vehicle) and his son, Eric, who is 21 and going to university and wanted to practice his English.  He was extremely nice, pleasant, friendly and a great guide.  At the end of the day, we exchanged emails because he would love to stay in touch and continue with his English.

Eric's dad drove us to the opposite side of the lake that we were at yesterday.  He drove us around all day which was extremely nice of him.  They brought us to a place where the famous Hangzhou tea is grown, including the Emperor's personal 18 tea trees, to a tea garden, to a cave and to a beautiful park.  Despite the previous projected weather of a rainy weekend, Sunday was an absolutely gorgeous spring-like day, sunny and warm.

After exploring a bit of the tea garden and the dragon's well, we had some tea and sunflower seeds out on the patio.  We decided to stay for lunch there and Eric's dad ordered us a feast, several different dishes and our favorite was a fish dish smothered in a dark ginger sauce.  After we finished, we climbed the hill to see a temple and then went even higher.  We figured at some point it would open up to a beautiful view but wasn't sure how high we had to go.  Lucy asked some people coming down hill and they said it would be another 15 minutes to the summit.   But we had left Eric's dad at the table and decided to go back down.

When we went back to the patio, the lunch dishes had been cleaned up and there was more tea and sunflower seeds (they were slightly flavored with soy sauce, we think, and were awesome, we couldn't stop eating them).  It was a beautiful setting with wonderful weather, so peaceful and quiet, we decided to stay for a while.  Luckily, Stephanie had her playing cards on her (which apparently she always has on her) and we decided to play some poker, Texas Hold 'Em, which Eric knew and we taught Lucy and Eric's dad.  We used the sunflower seeds for betting but were eating them so fast while playing, that Stephanie had to buy us another bag to continue playing.  There was lots of laughing and the last hand, ALL the sunflowers were thrown in (big pot!) and both Eric's dad and I won, so we split the pot.

After the game, we went to a few more spots and then we got dropped off at the train station.  We were a little late getting there because the New Year's traffic was so heavy, so there were quick goodbyes and thank yous, we practically ran through security (imagine 20 people throwing their stuff in the security machine at once) and pushing and shoving like your life depended on it.  I honestly don't know how they really check everything piled on each other like that.  I think it may just be for show.

As we ran down the corridor toward our train car, the conductors were telling us to just jump on the nearest car, and walk down the aisles on the cars.  Lucy said no, that we still had a few minutes so we walked very fast towards car number three.  I was afraid they were going to close the doors on us and leave so I was ready to jump on the nearest car, but we made it in time.

We have used all sorts of public transportation during this trip; taxis, the Maglev, subways, trains, planes.  The public transportation stations and vehicles are immaculate.  They are so clean and organized and neat and safe.  The subways are HUGE, almost entire cities underground with shopping centers and huge walking areas; I think they could have concerts down there.  One we went to had 20 exits that extended over several blocks.  So you had to make sure you took the right exit, or you would come out in totally the wrong place.  Also, at the busy intersections, they have underground crossings so you don't have to cross in the road.  At a couple of places, we saw huge elevated circular crosswalks to prevent people crossing the roads.

Once we arrived back in Shanghai, we said our goodbyes to Lucy (who had to go in a separate direction) who had to work the next morning and planned on seeing her again on Thursday night.  We grabbed a cab, stopped for a quick late dinner from the local convenience store (baozi – big steamed dumplings with fillings that I'm becoming obsessed over), and went home to bed.

Now we were back in Shanghai, Stephanie's territory.  Now we can slow down and maybe get some more sleep.