Sunday, 31 January 2010

She really can speak Chinese!

Guest writer:  Stephanie's mom

Stephanie thought it would be cool to have me (her mom) post to her blog about my trip to China with my friend Bethany.  So here goes, but I probably won't be nearly as funny or entertaining as she is.  And please excuse any errors, it is currently about 9PM Sunday night in Shanghai, we just landed about 3PM and I'm functioning on about 1 hours sleep in the last 60 hours.  

The trip was not bad at all.  Despite it being a 14 hour and 45 minute plane ride on a Continental 777, it went by quite reasonably fast.  Continental now has movies, games, music and tv shows on demand for each seat, and they start even before you take off and stay on after you land.  And I don't know about you, but time flies when I'm watching movies (at least 4 in fact, "Cloudy with a chance of meatballs", "Jennifer's Body", "Love Actually" and "Michael Jackson's This Is It") and playing video games.     

So before we left CT, we communicated with Stephanie and she suggested that after we arrived, we bring our stuff to her apartment, hit an ATM for some Chinese cash, get massages and then have a Shanghai style dinner.  Boy, just thinking about those massages kept our attitude up the entire plane ride.  Bethany took a couple very quick cat naps and I didn't sleep a wink and our butts were sore after sitting so long.  When we arrived, there were HUNDREDS of people (99% Chinese) waiting at the gate to meet incoming passengers, many with signs.  But we were able to find Stephanie fairly quickly and after some long hugs, she boarded us on the Maglev train, which goes 431 kilometers per hour, and the total distance from the airport to her 'area' is 30 kilometers and the entire commute took about 7 minutes.  We sat down, it sped up, it went REALLY fast, it slowed down and we got off, that fast.

Her apartment is really cute and very clean (I don't know why she was so worried I'd be critical, I'm a saint).  After a little settling in, we headed back out fairly quickly before Bethany could fall asleep (and she was pretty close to it!!).  A quick stop for some cash, some coffee, a new umbrella (it is supposed to rain every day for  the next 10 days here in Shanghai, good thing we won't be here for the next 7 days) and then we went for 1 hour full-body Chinese (translation: really intense) massages.  Uuuuuu baby!  So good!  They start at the top of the head, work down to the feet, flip you over and do your head and face, sit you up and do your shoulders.  We were all practically purring and were so light headed once it was done.  Of course, they work you so hard, that some 'things' (such as noises or gasses) are in danger of 'escaping' without your control, but damn it felt good!  The best thing was the massage cost us each about $10!!  We are definitely doing that again.

Once we were done, we were getting re-dressed (we wore special massage outfits) and one of my socks was dripping wet.  It took us a few moments until we realized that when I undressed, I accidentally put my sock in the little incense or essential oil container that was on the floor in the corner.  Even after squeezing it out, there was no way I could wear it and Stephanie just happened to have a spare pair with her.  But the sock sure smells great!

After the massages, it was time for dinner.  A short walk and we were at a great Shanghai style restaurant that Stephanie likes.  She ordered us Shanghai noodles (with a little spiciness), Shanghai style eel (Bethany also requested this), a potato and green bean dish (sliced into long thin slices with a sweet sauce) and big pork dumplings.  Everything was very good!  But they played ONE song over and over and over again the entire time we were there, the theme song from the Titanic movie.  We were ready to RUN out of there when we finally could.  It also was a little intimidating to have so many waiters/waitresses hanging around.  We had one guy pouring our tea and water, and another couple getting our food, writing our bill, the hostess checking on us, etc.  It wasn't busy but I had a feeling you get that kind of service all the time.  And Bethany is making progress learning how to use chopsticks, but I think she struggled a little due to the fact that she was overtired.

By the way, Stephanie really can speak Chinese!  She actually carries on conversations with the locals.  In fact, she hardly shut up during the entire massage.  But I didn't mind too much, especially since the masseuses thought I was her sister.  Tee hee!  I'm definitely going back there soon!  And she ordered at the restaurant, spoke to the taxi driver, ordered a taxi for tomorrow morning through the guard at the school and more, all in Chinese (or at least in some language that others could understand, she could be tricking me into believing it is Chinese but I think I'll believe her).

We are turning in early tonight because we are catching an early flight to Beijing in the morning.  We will be spending 3 days and 3 nights there and then head to Xi'an (think: terracotta soldiers) for 2 days, 1 night.  Stephanie is not bringing her laptop so there may not be an update until Friday night.  We will have a great time and tell you all about it!

Countdown to Mom

My mother and Bethany should be arriving in Pudong airport in about 3 hours. My apartment is mostly clean, I packed a bit for Beijing and I have a notebook filled with useful information about our trip. Soon I shall go pick them up and our fun shall begin.

I have to admit I feel a bit nervous because I will be a tour guide for China. I have been a tour guide for friends and such in Shanghai but that's a little easier. I've lived here for a while now. I know where I'm going. I haven't been in Beijing since 2006, Xi'an since 2005. I think the nervousness entered my subconscious. I had a very strange dream last night that it was my first day as a real estate agent and I had to show this posh old woman a pub she was considering buying. We were going to go in my car (which was the Sable that I usually drive when I'm home) with her riding in the passenger seat. I backed out of the parking space and everything went wrong. The brakes weren't working and I couldn't switch out of reverse. So I'm panicking and we are driving BACKWARDS around the parking lot and I can barely control the car and all I could think about was how disappointed my boss was going to be and that this old woman was never going to buy the pub now all the while trying not to hit people or cars. In the end I backed the car into a small brick wall just to get it to stop. Then I had the brilliant idea of taking the keys out. Then my dad showed up out of no where and said that someone had drained my transmission fluid and cut my brakes. I woke up still feeling nervous. Ack.

Anyway, on a completely different note I think I am going to try and bully my mother and Bethany into guest writing in my blog about their trip. I think it would be a nice change of pace and the people who read my blog would get a chance to see China through the eyes of a person who hasn't ever been before (Bethany) and someone who hasn't been in 6 years (my mom). Plus that means the pressure is off me to write for a while. Whaddya think?

Just a warning since we will be very busy traveling around a such, there might not be a post for a while. Our itinerary is three days in Beijing, two in Xi'an, a weekend in Hangzhou and then their last week in Shanghai. That's all for now.

Much love,

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Birthday in Shanghai

I meant to post about my birthday on my actual birthday but things have been strange recently. I haven't been particularly busy but somehow my days keeps flying by and I can't seem to get everything done I want to.

So this year was my first ever birthday outside of America. I decided I wanted to do something fun. Since my birthday was on Wednesday (the 27th) and I knew a lot of people were leaving around then, I decided to have the celebration the Saturday before. Teppanyaki is a popular choice for celebrations around here (all you can eat and all you can drink Japanese Food), so I was boring a decided to go for that. I tried to get a head count before the night of and I got a lot of maybes so I decided to just wing it with 15. Turns out that was EXACTLY how many people showed up. How good am I?

In this picture you can see everyone but John, who leaned out of the picture. From left to right there is Kelly, Kate, Lotus, Lucy, Me, Curt, Elizabeth, the cook, Ibrihim, Fleur, Michelle, Bronwen, Stephanie, Sarah and Ned. Most are from work but there are also some Improv folks, some people I met at Century Park (and then went to Huangshan with, remember?), and of course Lucy my pen pal! Dinner was delicious and lasted for over two hours. I was worried the whole time about being having fun and getting along (I worry too much, don't I?) but people seemed to be in a good mood and I was sure to flit around and hang out with everyone for a while.

I got a few nice gifts from that night and also later including a necklace, a pretty mirror, a stone jar, a book about Zac Efron (which was a JOKE I SWEAR), some candy and a little purse. Two of the best have to be the ones from Lucy and Michelle. Lucy got me a mug that was personalized with some of the pictures of us over the last year and half of hanging out together. Michelle got me a SUPER USEFUL travel notebook for Beijing that includes three different maps. I have now filled it up with (hopefully) everything I will need to be a good tour guide in Beijing.

On my actual birthday DAY I cleaned my apartment a bit. Then I went and had a Shaanxi style lunch with Stephanie and Michelle. Afterwards we went to get foot massages and pedicures. For a while I had one foot being massages and one being pedicured...I felt so pampered. I bought some more yarn and needles (making a hat for Lucy's dad). Then I went to Improv. Altogether a good birthday.

I am 24 now. Shouldn't I feel more responsible and adult like? By my age my parents were married with two children and owned a house....

Anyway. I am nervous and excited about my mother and Bethany coming to visit. I am going to go scrub my bathroom floor.


Friday, 29 January 2010

I Made Quiche

I bought a little casserole dish (only 15 kuai!). I celebrated by making the best quiche ever.

Caramelized onions, garlic, mushrooms, spinach and feta cheese mixed up together in the bottom of a tasty crust, topped with eggs beaten with milk and a little shredded cheddar. Yum. What did I do before I got my toaster oven?

I know I haven't been posting much. The freedom of not working (which seems to have left me with the energy of a coma patient), mixed with my attempt at a social life and my rush to clean and prepare everything for my mother's arrival in Shanghai has left me feeling rather spun about.

In other news, I tried out for Hamlet with the parent theater group that my improv group is a part of. I got the part of the first gravedigger which is oddly enough the exact role I wanted (I never asked for it or mentioned that fact to anyone). Now I just need to consider if I have the time and energy to actually do it...

That is all for now.


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

I Haz A Hat

Consistent readers of my blog might remember that around this time last year I got a wonderful package from the wonderful Elysse currently being awesome in Scotland. In this wonderful package she sent me lovely handspun wool. For a while now it has been sitting in my craft drawer deciding what it wanted to be when it grew up. This weekend it told me it wanted to be a big chunky comfy hat. I was happy to help.

A couple days later and I have a nice warm chunky hat. I finished it last night and even though it is warmer today then it has been since before Christmas, I have been wearing it in the office (why yes....I am a show-off). I like the fact that it is big enough to cover my ears.

Problem: Having a Big Head. Solution: Being Able to Knit.

I really need to soak it since the yarn obviously still has some of the natural lanolin and such from the sheep. I might even do a gentle felting.

And now, do you like my hat?
(Proper response: I do! What a hat! I like it! I like that party hat!)

Much Love,

Monday, 18 January 2010

Snow and Tea

This is a weird time to post this picture since today is actually the warmest it's been in a while. However, I haven't posted in a while and I like this picture.

This picture is from the day after I came back from Sanya. I thought it was funny that the day after I got back from lying on the beach and swimming in the ocean, I would see snow in Shanghai for the first time. "Snow" is a rather grandiose term in my born-and-bred New Englander opinion. "Flurries" or maybe "sky dandruff" would be more fitting. Still, it was nice to see. This picture was taken from my balcony.

In other news, today is an awful day to be a beverage near me. Or my keyboard...especially my backspace key. The first thing I did when I got to work this morning was make my usual cup of instant coffee. The second thing I did was spill my coffee all over my desk. I had to use up the rest of my paper towels to clean it up but I was extremely lucky not to get more than a drop or two on my laptop.

After lunch the first thing I did was make myself a nice cup of can guess what happened next. UNluckily, this time I got more than a fair amount on my keyboard. I immediately shut down and began the drying process (and found a surprising amount of dog hair trapped under the keyboard...). I had removed and dried under about 10 keys when the backspace snapped. ERG. I am lucky that was the only casualty, but I am very quickly and painfully realizing how much I normally use the backspace key. And my natural reaction is to use my pinkie to hit it, which is now impossible. I think I am going to try to superglue it to fix it. Or...ya know...learn to type better. Ugh.

Things are rather busy but boring here (hence the lack of update). School is finishing up. My last day of work before break (providing I get all my paperwork done) should be Friday. Chinese lessons are going well, although the last lesson I learned (about business dealings) was so complex my brain exploded a bit. There is another improv show this Friday that I am looking forward to. Saturday I am planning to get some people together for a birthday dinner for me. :-)

Now I just need to get through this pile of finals, finish my CAS paperwork, fill in my test reviews and evals, book hotels and shows for when my mom comes to visit, and you know...continue life. Phew.

Much love!

P.S. For the people who have been asking....No...I'm not coming back to the US this holiday. The earliest I'll be back home is very late June or early July.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

1 Hot Plate, 1 Toaster Oven, 3 Courses

This weekend I had Lucy and Audrey over for dinner. Feeling ambitions, I decided to cook a fantastic dinner including appetizer and dessert. Keep in mind my "kitchen" consists of a hot plate and a toaster oven.

For an appetizer I made a simple salad with mixed greens and tomatoes. I also baked some buttermilk biscuits.

For dinner I made baked stuffed chicken. I flattened the chicken breast, made a filling of spinach, ricotta cheese, feta and some seasonings and wrapped it all up in prosciutto.

I made some brown rice as a side, with a garlic mushroom sauce to go on top (mushrooms and garlic in some butter and lemon, thickened it with some flour, then white wine and chicken stock...yum).

Dessert was chocolate-chocolate chip muffins. Yum! We also watched Grease which I loved in middle school and I don't think I have seen since then. I still remembered all the words. *DORK*

I really should invite people over for dinner more often. I LOVE cooking, I just don't feel like going through the effort for just myself.

I am thinking of making some nice hearty soups since it's winter, I have a giant pot and it would be easy to make a big batch in one sitting and reheat for meals later. Any recipe suggestions out there??

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Christmas in Sanya: Part Two

On Christmas we had a very full day of sightseeing. We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then met up with Harvey and our taxi for the day.

Our first stop was an “ethnic village”. I put that in quotes because it was basically a theme park. When I heard ethnic village I assumed we would be going to a real working village. NO NO NO. This place was never a real village. It was obviously built as a tourist destination. The only thing about this place that made it worth going to was there were a lot of shows to see there that apparently showed off “ethnic culture”. There was singing, dancing, a stunt show and a fire show (my favorite).

One of the houses...

Trying on some traditional headgear:

This was part of the stunt show. If it doesn't seem that dangerous to you, I should tell you that the rungs of the ladder are actually made of blades. OW.

Next we were going to a “rain forest”. Now rain forest here is also in quotes because it also wasn’t a real rainforest. It was a glorified park. Kelly pointed out it was more like a Disney safari. We took a bus to the “rain forest”, there were PAVED paths, we had electronic headsets as a tour guide, and the people working there wore brightly colored hats and constantly greeted us with a peace-sign/wave while shouting “YANODA!” (which they said meant Hello in the local dialect). That really does sound like Disney to me. It was still pretty, but again…nothing like I expected or hoped.

The last stop for the day was Monkey Island and after two kind of disappointing stops we were a little worried. How badly can one mess up Monkey Island? We considered that we would be greeted by animatronic monkeys or that instead of an island it was a parking lot. Luckily we didn’t need to worry. Monkey Island was all it was promised to be….an Island with monkeys on it.

We took a cable car over to the island which was a fun time in and of itself. I was surprised that it wasn't completely enclosed. In this picture you can see the tiny shadow at the bottom left. That's from the cable car we are sitting in.

Immediately after arriving on the island we saw monkeys. And, just as I had been told ahead of time, these monkeys are free to wander around the island.

We had been there for about 5 minutes when a monkey came up and viciously GRABBED my right leg in what I assume was an attempt at dominance. Scared the crap out of me. She/he grabbed me hard enough to leave a bruise on my thigh.

Luckily, the rest of our visit to Monkey Island was assault free.

I think one of the things I liked best about our tour day was actually the long drives between locations. I loved looking out the window and seeing people living their normal lives. There were dogs everywhere and every once in a while the taxi had to slow down or stop since there were water buffalo in the street.

When we got home we got cleaned up and had a really nice dinner at the hotel. Kelly got Hainan style chicken. I got another big seafood dinner that included mackerel, salmon, squid, prawns and scallops. It was delicious. After dinner we walked up and down the beach in the moonlight, shoes in hand, feet in the surf, just talking about life. It was a truly wonderful way to end the day.

We also laid out and looked up at the stars and listened to the waves. Once it got pretty late we went back to the apartment, watched a little TV and then fell asleep.

Saturday was sadly our last day in Sanya. We decided to finally get the breakfast buffet which we had seen everyday but had yet to order. It was fantastic. Probably not worth the huge price tag, but delicious just the same. Especially the coconut jam. YUM.

After that we went back out on the beach. Check out was at 1 so we stayed as long as we could before we would need to get back to shower and pack. I spent more time in the water than I did the first day. I chatted in Chinese with a police officer, floated on my back and found some huge chunks of coral.

After showering, packing and checking out, we went back to the market we found on the first day to do a little shopping. I got some keychains and jewelry as presents for my coworkers. Kelly got some beach dresses. After that we went back to the beach for a little longer. We couldn’t get enough of the warm sunshine! While there a couple of Chinese guys asked to take a picture with Kelly. One asked if she would put her arm around him because he said "If you touch me, I will be so happy!" I stole a picture of them together.

On the way back to the hotel I stepped on a still lit cigarette hidden in the sand and burnt my foot, OW. When it finally got to be time, we changed into our cold weather gear and took a taxi back to the airport. We spent the whole ride eating “coconut curd” candy (it’s yummy). I think Kelly might be addicted to it now.

The airport was awful with some really long lines and confusing directions. I nearly panicked thinking we were going to be late, but we go on the airplane just fine. The flight back was uneventful. Kelly was so excited to find that we were getting off the airplane on one of those moveable stairway things that we waited to be the last two to get off the plane just so she could have a little Nixon moment.

That was the end of our lovely trip to Sanya. Monday I wore short sleeves at work just so I could show off my tan (nearly froze to death, but I think it was worth it). I really want to go back. I miss the warmth!

I hope everyone who reads my blog had a lovely holiday as well.

Much love,


Friday, 1 January 2010

Christmas in Sanya: Part One

Wednesday, December the 23rd, as soon as my last class of the day ended, I rushed backed to my apartment, grabbed my pre-packed suitcase and scooted off campus with Kelly. We took the maglev to the airport and after check-in, quick dinner and a little waiting we flew off to Hainan island.

Getting off the plane was SO NICE. Shanghai doesn’t get as cold as my home outside, but indoor heating isn’t so good and the humid cold goes right to your bones. We walked off the plane and suddenly it felt like a balmy summer night.

I had checked ahead of time and one website said that from Sanya airport to Yalong Bay (where our hotel was) should be a quick ride and about 30kuai. LIES. I bargained around with a bunch of drivers (some guy with an unmarked car tried to get us to go with him. but the cheapest I could get was 100kuai. Then found out that Yalong bay is about 40 minutes away. Ahh.

We ended up staying at a 5 star Holiday Inn right on the beach. It was the most expensive hotel in China I have ever stayed in, but it was totally worth it. The first night there after checking in we decided to just get to sleep. It was almost midnight and we wanted to have an early day.

Christmas Eve we woke up and decided to take a walk around the area and see what we were working with.

We had a quick breakfast at the hotel (banana pancakes and an omelet split between us), found a little market down the street and then walked along the beach back to our hotel room to change into our suits. We got out to the beach around 10am and didn’t leave until around 4pm. Our plan was to spend the first day at the beach and we stuck to it.

The hotel had roped off a part of the beach that only the guest could use. If you stepped beyond that it was likely you would be bombarded by people offering everything from boat rides and scuba lessons to pearl necklaces. In all our time on the beach I think I saw only about 5 other foreigners, so we did draw a bit of attention. Especially Kelly in her bikini. People didn’t even try to hide that they were taking pictures.

That first day I mostly swam, laid out in the sun, collected shells and bits of coral, read or walked up and down the beach taking pictures. Kelly and I also each ordered a Pina Colada around noon. Writing this blog entry in my FREEZING apartment while trying to remember the heat of the Sanya sun on my skin makes for a jarring juxtaposition.

The beach was lovely. The water seemed pretty clear and warm. The sand was soft and white. The sky was a lovely and clear blue and the air seemed fresh. So different from the hazy sky and smoggy air of Shanghai.

After spending all day in the sun, we were both a bit wiped and a little sun burned. We cleaned up and after resting for a bit, we decided to go to Sanya city for some seafood. A guy working at the hotel (whose English name was Harvey and for some reason we found that hilarious) got us a taxi and after talking to him a bit he said he would help us to get a driver to hit all the main tourist spots for the next day.

After getting to Sanya city, we wandered around for a bit until we found a place that looked fancy enough to eat. I had heard horror stories about people getting sick from the seafood in Sanya so we wanted to be safe. We ate at a hotel and the restaurant was literally empty, which gave me pause at first, but the food was REALLY good. We ordered some coconut shrimp (my favorite by far), some roasted beef, Hainan style veggies, crab soup and coconut rice. We ate and ate and ate until we were in pain since it was so delicious.

We wandered around a bit more, ended up buying a whole bunch of Hainan style fruit candies (for ourselves and our coworkers) and then grabbed a taxi to get back to the hotel. When we got back, we each found a Christmas stocking on our pillow, which was a really nice surprise.

It had cookies, candies and nuts. I thought it was really sweet of the hotel to do that. We watched a little Indiana Jones on TV and then went to sleep so we would be rested for our full day on Christmas!

More soon!

Much love,