Skipping Over to Seoul

After my last post, I’m sure many of you are wondering why Dave and I choose to stay in such a polluted country (we both ended up with chest colds after that sandstorm, by the way…).  Well, there are plenty of reasons.

  1. The cost of living is low and salaries are high
  2. Suzhou is a gorgeous city where there is lots to see and do
  3. Living in China provides challenges that make life a lot more interesting
  4. Working in China as a teacher, I’m able to make a huge impact.  It’s a great feeling
  5. The holidays……3.5 months per year, to be exact….
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China loves its parties!!

In addition to summer holidays, I also get 5 weeks for Spring Festival, a week for National Day and several small holidays throughout the year as well.  Tomb Sweeping is a yearly cultural holiday that takes place in March/April.  I had 3 days off, so Dave and I decided to hop on over to Seoul.

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Seoul was just of of many options we had for this short little holiday.  We also considered Japan and Taiwan, but it came down to flight costs.  Even during the  holiday, tickets were very reasonable!

It only takes about an hour and a half to fly to Seoul, but when you add in train-rides to Shanghai, plus the drive from Seoul’s airport to downtown, we really didn’t have a whole lot of time to see the sights.  Still, we made the most of the 36 hours we had!!!

 

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Much to Dave’s chagrin, we weren’t able to visit the neutral zone between North and South Korea.  Personally, I’d be happy to go my whole life without seeing North Korea…

As always, we found a hotel close to the metro line, and found our way around the city that way.  Metros are great because you can get from one end of the city to another in so much less time than it takes to drive.  Unfortunately, Metros are also terrible in Asia, because their maps sometimes look like this:

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If I’d been alone, I would have spent about 20 of my 36 hours in Seoul just trying to find my stop.  Luckily, Dave is weirdly good at this stuff!

Many people go to Seoul for the shopping or the vibrant night life, but Dave and I aren’t big into either of those things.  Instead, we head for Namsan Park and Mountain, where we were able to see Seoul Tower and a beautiful panorama of the city.

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Our view from the cable car

A ‘bonus’ sight Dave and I saw while on Namsan mountain were Seoul’s Love Locks.  The idea is simple:  if you love someone, get a padlock, engrave your names onto it, lock it to a bridge and throw away the key.  This action is suppose to signify that you are bound to a person forever.  Of course, 1 or 2 of these locks wouldn’t really be noteworthy, but all around the world, couples are creating mass displays with their ‘love locks’.

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Sweet, right?

Sure, it’s a romantic idea…but it’s also become a bit of a problem in some parts of the world!  Paris once had the world’s most famous collection of love locks, but officials had to remove the locks off of Pont de Arts bridge because the weight of them was going to cause the bridge to collapse!   The problem was so extreme that the additional weight on the bridge was the equivalent of 20 elephants!

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If you ever see a sign like this, you’ll now understand why

Love Locks have been around for ages, all over the world.  They were made most famous in Paris, but their origins trace back to China and Siberia as well.  Seoul has quite an impressive display, and officials there were prepared there.  They created places for the locks to be placed that were actually designed to hold the weight.  The displays were lovely.

I spent quite a bit of time looking at those locks….they were really quite impressive.  They seem colourful from afar, but up close, you can see that there are actually quite a few old and rusted locks among the shiny new ones.  I guess displays like this don’t happen over night!

When we were done at Namsan, we decided to visit one of Seoul’s many parks.  We chose 1 park specifically because of its many Geo Caches.  Dave and I each found a couple, and we enjoyed a lovely walk among the budding trees.

There were some interesting sculptures in the park as well.

We spent both our evenings in Seoul enjoying fantastic Korean food!  I wouldn’t say South Korea is the best place to visit for vegetarians, but if you like meat, this is the place for you!  Meat is grilled fresh right in front of you, and when it’s done, you wrap it in a piece of leaf lettuce, along with Kim Chi and whatever other little dishes they give you.  It’s some of the freshest, healthiest tasting food I’ve ever had!

I’m a little sad we didn’t have more time to see some of the rest of South Korea, but I can say without a doubt that Dave and I will be heading back that way again some time soon. Korea is absolutely lovely.  The people are friendly and helpful, the service industry is WAY more customer service based than China’s and the city, in general, is very organized!

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Unfortunately, I didn’t take this picture, but I wanted you to see Seoul at its most beautiful and my camera just can’t capture a photo like this!

In fact, I saw something on our last night there that even puts Canada to shame!  I noticed a stack of free post cards at our hostel and picked one up.  It turns out that the South Korean government provides postage-paid postcards so that visitors can alert officials of any problems they had in the city!  A program like that would be INVALUABLE in cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where your first experience is often being ripped off by a taxi driver!

Stay tuned!  I’ve got plenty more planned for my next few posts!

 

 

Smog and Sandstorms

Dave and I had plans today to explore the city.  Suzhou recently opened its 3rd metro line, and it has made all sorts of local attractions easier to get to.  We thought exploring the city and getting some more photos would be a grand way to spend the day…but then the smog came…

I realized while talking to my family this morning that many of the people back home can’t even begin to understand what pollution is all about and the many ways it impacts our lives here, so I thought it might make for an interesting article.

**Note** Very few pictures in this article will be my own…they’ve mostly been borrowed from the internet.  If I did take the picture, I’ll indicate it in the caption

Our Global Pollution Problem

Pollution is a problem all over the world.  In India, I saw unbelievable amounts of garbage on the road, and I brushed my teeth with bottled water to avoid getting sick from the tap water.

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The firework displays during Diwali this year set off the AQI scale to more than 1000 and put the country in a state of emergency.   For comparison, Toronto’s current AQI is 17

Although much better than India and China, Vietnam also has some pretty terrible pollution problems.  The number of motorcyles on the road leave your lungs pretty sore by the end of a day sight-seeing in HoChiMin City.  Phu Quoc is also a giant dumping ground for garbage.

Even in the beautiful Caribbean, you can find all sorts of pollution issues.  Water there is generally unsafe to drink, and although resorts do a good job of keeping their shores clean, the same can’t be said in other areas of the country.

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This was taken in Haina, Dominican Republic

Pollution is a problem globally, there’s no doubt.   I look forward to my time in Canada every year.  The fresh air smells so fantastic, and even in the heart of Winnipeg, I’ve never smelt the tinny scent of PM2.5.  Yet…where do you think this picture was taken?

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This is in Sarnia, Ontario, where First Nations residents in a nearby town are suffering from the effects of this pollution.

What I’m trying to say here is that pollution is an issue everywhere.  If you’re lucky enough to never have seen anything like this with your own eyes, you are a minority on this planet and this is a case where being a minority is a good thing…

The Lingo

In Guizhou (the Chinese province where we lived prior to moving to Suzhou), the pollution isn’t so bad.  That’s not to say the air was perfect there (because it’s such a poor province, many of the vehicles on the road are old and blow large amounts of black exhaust), but we never needed masks or felt like our health was at risk.

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Guiyang is in the green zone in central China (the one surrounded by beige zones).  Shanghai and Suzhou is in an orange zone.

In Suzhou, things are different.  We are only about 100km west of Shanghai, so we get a lot of our pollution from the factories out that way.  On a bad day, our AQI level will go up to 200 or occasionally 300.  During the current sandstorm, we are sitting somewhere between 450 and 600 on the AQI scale.  What exactly does that mean, you might ask?

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This was today’s reading in Suzhou.  596 is the highest I’ve ever seen it here

AQI is the global term that indicates how clean the air is in any particular place.  Air Quality Index becomes a very important part of your life when you live in a city with a pollution problem.  Most people have apps on their phones that tell them whether they should wear a mask outside.  I don’t use an app because I have an easier way to tell. Suzhou’s iconic Pants Building is within eyesight of my apartment.  I make a point of looking out the window every day, and I can usually tell how bad the pollution is by how clearly I can see the pants building.

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Dave took these pictures last year.  Today looks a lot like the picture on the right

Something else people are aware of here in Suzhou are the different KINDS of pollution. I’ll begin explaining this with a story…

Last year, one of my jobs as a teacher was to help students prepare for their IGCSE spoken exams.  To do that, I met with students individually, gave them a topic and had them tell me what they could about that topic.  The topic I chose one day was ‘The Environment’.  One girl really impressed me, as she started rattling off different types of air pollution (PM2.5, PM10 etc.).  I was FLOORED that she knew those terms.  I had only lived in Suzhou for a few months at that point.

Now, these terms are part of my regular vocabulary.   I frequently say things like ‘PM2.5 levels are brutal this week’, or ‘well this stand storm is mostly bringing in PM10 particles, which aren’t QUITE so bad’.   All this ‘PM’ talk refers to the size of the particles.  PM10 particles are slightly bigger, but equally as harmful as PM2.5.  Both get trapped in your lungs and build up over time and both are linked to lung cancer, lung disease and even brain issues.   Of course, living in China for a short-term period doesn’t mean that I’ll come home with lung cancer, but the elderly in China really do suffer.

 

The Effects

Pollution is more than just something you see on the news.  It’s something that is real and it affects a large portion of the world on a day to day basis.  Here are some of the ways it effects me:

  1. I sometimes need to wear a mask to go outside
  2. I constantly worry about the quality of air in my home and at work
  3. I spend hundreds of dollars every year on filters and machines designed to clean my air
  4. I have had a lung infection so bad that I needed to be on 4 different medications to get better.  I was using an asthma puffer for 3 months after that infection.
  5. Colds last longer and are much more severe than they are elsewhere I’ve lived
  6. If I don’t ride my e-bike for a few days, I will get dust on my pants when I sit down.
  7. I dry my clothes in my bathroom because if I dry them outside, they’ll be dirty by the time I wear them again (most people in China don’t have clothes dryers)
  8. Hanging onto a railing as I climb up or down outdoor stairs will leave me with dirty hands.
  9. I go into coughing fits when I go to a country with clean air.  My lungs literally try and eject the garbage that has built up over the months.
  10. After a particularly dusty day, I’ll wake up with build up in my eyes and a bit of a sore throat.
  11. When the PM2.5 is especially bad (usually in January or February), you can actually taste metal in the air.
  12. I often worry about the long-term health hazards of pollution.  The obvious ones don’t worry me as much (lung cancer, emphysema etc.) but after recently discovering that PM2.5 is connected to alzymers disease, I’ve been in a constant state of worrying about the health of my brain.
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You can always tell if a car in a parking lot hasn’t been driven in a while….the dust builds up over time.  Similarly, it’s important to keep your apartment well maintained, because dust collects inside too

Pollution levels are a constant presence in my life.  I need to know when they’re high so I can turn on my air purifier.  I also need to know about the air quality so that I know when it’s appropriate for me to partake in one of my favourite pastimes: walking.

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Since I was just a little girl, I’ve always loved walked.  It started with walks around the block with my Pepere, and it evolved into walking my dog in the forest trails of St. Malo Provincial Park.  When I moved to Guiyang, walking was one of the ways I dealt with the stress of living in such a difficult city.  In Suzhou…taking a walk is off the table some days.

How We Get Through It

On days like today, we mostly stay indoors.  At home, we have 2 air purifiers, so we definitely have those running while we’re in the apartment.  My classrooms also have air purifiers, but unfortunately, my school doesn’t see an advantage to making sure our offices also have clean air.  Air purifiers can be a bit pricey and they seem to become obsolete frequently, making it impossible to find a new filter for a device you purchased only 6 months before.  Our solution has been SmartAir Purifiers…they’re a small company that make purifiers that work well, for only 600rmb (most other purifiers that do a decent job cost up to 5000rmb…).  If you’re living in mainland China, check out their website.  They’re well worth the money.

How This Effects YOU

If you’re reading this from Canada, you might be thinking that I’m crazy for choosing to live here.  I know the risks, but I still take them.  There are risks living in Manitoba as well.  Hitting the ditch in a snow storm, or sliding into oncoming traffic during winter/spring is every bit as much of a risk as living somewhere where pollution is a problem.  I check the PM2.5 levels the same as you check the temperature to know how many sweaters you should wear under your parka.

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Seeing smashed up cars in Manitoba is normal.  I was involved in 2 ice-related accidents in 2012 alone.  I hate driving in Winter far more than I hate PM2.5

You may also be thinking that countries like China and India are poorly managed and that if they ‘got their acts together’, this wouldn’t be an issue.  But let me ask you this….

Where are the majority of your ‘things’ made?  The truth of the matter is that we export our pollution to China to cut costs.  One of the reasons things are cheaper coming from China is because health and safety standards aren’t as big of a deal here….it’s something to think about before you shop at places like Walmart, Superstore or other ‘low cost’ chains.  You’re paying 50 cents less, but the global environment is suffering.

Furthermore…we live in a very wasteful world.  I recently got into a heated debate about the use of paper cups in the office.  I think they should be banned, whereas other people really like their convenience.  What’s important to remember is that by using disposable items (on a regular basis), you’re contributing to our landfill problems, as well as creating a need for more factories in the world.  For more information on that, I found this nifty article written by Time Magazine called ‘Throwaway Living’.  Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in the topic.

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If hearing about this very sad state of affairs has depressed you, here is a picture of Poe to help you feel happy again. 

PS..I know it’s been a while, but I have 3 posts in the works:

  • Our weekend in Seoul
  • Catching up on Life in Suzhou
  • Beautiful Suzhou (I’ve been on a picture taking mission lately)

Initial Impressions

Day one of our 33 day holiday is coming to an end, and it’s time to recap and reflect.

Hanoi City – Organized Chaos

We have begun our trip in Hanoi: a bustling and historic Vietnamese city.  We’re staying in the Old Quarter of Vietnam’s capital, where coffee shops are on every street corner and motorbikes are the primary means of transportation.  There’s an organized chaos here, in every sense of the word.

There are thousands of shops piled atop one another, and everywhere you look, there are people eating bowls of Pho on the sides of the street, and sipping coffee at tiny tables, sitting on tiny plastic stools.  What’s interesting, though, is that all those tiny little shops are organized and neatly merchandised.  My (extremely neat) sister would be impressed by the level of organization these shop owners manage to have in their little side-of-the-road shops.

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A small and popular restaurant in the Old Quarter

A good friend of ours lived in Vietnam for 4 years and she gave us valuable advice before we left for Hanoi.  She told us that the roads here are like a river; vehicles weave in and around one another and never really stop moving.  She told us to walk boldly but slowly and that vehicles would mostly just part around us.  It was terrifying at first, but she was right.  There are no crosswalks in the North American sense, but somehow, we got around just fine.  In a lot of ways it was less scary than India.  Ok…in every way.

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French colonialism is easily identifiable all over the city.  The streets, buildings and even French language are visible everywhere you go.  Cambodia was also colonized by the French, but the impact there wasn’t as obvious as it is in Hanoi.

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So different from China’s Skyscrapers

Hoàn Kiếm Lake – Passive and Pleasant

After a long day of travel yesterday and a long semester of 60-hour weeks, I wasn’t up for much today, so we mostly spent our time down by  Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which was a lovely experience.  The lake is a beautiful spot for wedding photos, so we saw several happy couples being chased by photographers.

There was a small temple by the lake as well.  We paid 30,000 dong each to enter (less than $2 Canadian) and enjoyed the quietness of the place.

There’s plenty to see walking along the lake.  The Old Quarter is a lovely place to spend the afternoon!

Different from Delhi / A Change from China

One of my favourite parts of travel is walking around at night, when the shops are lit up and the weather has cooled.  Vietnam is so different from India.  While there are shops everywhere, just as there is in New Delhi, nobody grabs you by the arms and nobody is too terribly pushy.  South East Asia, though hectic and tourist oriented, seems to have more of a dignity about it.  People bargain, but don’t try and rip you off.  People try and sell their goods, but if you say no, they move on with their days, un-offended and un-worried.

Tonight we walked around for a little while and found a restaurant where we enjoyed the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had.  Although I love Chinese food, the oil has started to gross me out a bit.  Vietnamese food is fresher and crispier…with more raw vegetables and coconut sauces.  Dinner was delicious…and the coffee I just finished was an excellent way to end the night!

Tomorrow we set off for HaLong Bay…another UNESCO World Heritage Site to add to our list.   We’ll be spending 2 nights and 3 days enjoying one of Vietnam’s greatest treasures.

 

The Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta warriors are easily one of China’s most famous and fascinating pieces of history.  This clay army was created more than 2200 years ago for China’s famed emperor,  Qin Shi Huang.   I mentioned in my Great Wall post that China was originally several small settlements that all had separate walls, but later in history, an emperor united all the territories into 1 country.  This emperor, Qin, was the same guy who commissioned the Terracotta Army, so that he’d have ample protection in the afterlife.

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It took 700,000 workers roughly 40 years to build this magnificent army.  Each soldier (and there – are over 8000 of them) is unique.  Torsos, legs and arms were mass-produced with a single mold.  The bodies for different types of warriors differed, of course (archers had different bodies than generals, of course), but other than that, the torsos were made in a pretty uniform way.  The faces, however, are all different, and it is thought that each one is based on one of the 700,000 workers who built this fascinating army.

As I mentioned, there are several different types of soldiers found in the 3 excavation pits.  Foot soldiers, archers, generals and cavalry are all present in the pits and you can learn about each of them by reading the many signs put up around the exhibits.

Terracotta is a type of clay, so sadly, many of these soldiers have been damaged by collapsing roofs and enemy armies.  Many of the soldiers are missing their heads or other body parts, mostly due to military attacks.

Archaeologists have been working on restoring some of the damaged soldiers for years, and have discovered some interesting things throughout the process.  For example, the warriors were originally painted and very colourlful.  Also, there is a whole section of warriors that are based on Chinese minorities and different ethnic groups throughout the country.  This was a diverse army!

 

One of my favourite parts of the visit was seeing the area where warriors are being put back together, piece by piece.   When I wasn’t taking Literature or Writing classes in University, I was taking every Classical History class I could.    What always amazed me about this field of study, is how much archaeologists are able to learn from a site like the Terracotta Warriors.  Just by studying these old pieces of clay, we can learn about ancient military customs, tools, building materials and countless other details.  It’s even widely believed that the Terracotta Warriors have Hellenistic roots.  Their shape and the way they were created is very similar to Greek artwork.

This army was our main reason for wanting to see Xi’an during the holiday.  I must say, the Terracotta Warriors are well-worth seeing, but I wouldn’t recommend seeing them during the October Holiday.  The crowds were positively dangerous and more than once, Dave had to grab my hand to get me through the swarms of people.  If I hadn’t had photography to keep my mind off the crowds, I would have been in a straight up panic attack.

The worst of the crowds were in Pit #1.  This is the most famous pit, where you can see 6000+ soldiers and 50 Chariots.

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The Crowd outside of Pit #1.  There were easily this many people behind us in line as well…

I assumed the guards were going to let a certain number of people in at a time, but instead they let everyone in at once…

Unfortunately, the crowds were so intense that I never actually got to see the warriors from the front.  I waited for ages, but when people started to panic and push their way through to the front, Dave grabbed me and pulled me out. Neither of us are sure how that railing holds out…

 

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This is the shot I COULD have gotten, if it hadn’t been for the crowds.  Instead I found it in Google Images so that you can at least see what everyone was rushing to try and see.  

Once we got around the corner, the crowd seemed to thin out.  There was an emergency exit that a lot of people took just to get away from the swarms of people.  I didn’t want to give up entirely, so we kept on, along with thousands of other people, including little old ladies and small children.  One particularly brutish guy (who was twice the size of most of the people around him) ended up getting my elbow to his chest and my finger in his face as I told him to knock it off!   He did calm down, so I’m glad I did it…but all I could keep thinking in this crowd was how easy a stampede could happen.

Here are some pictures that I DID manage to get of the warriors.

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This was right at the end of the exhibit, near the exit.  We figured we should try and get at least 1 picture of us there!

After pit 1, we headed to a nearby restaurant for lunch and some tea to calm us down.  We were also shown Emperor Qin’s tomb sight (a mountain), but we weren’t allowed in, because of the high mercury levels there.  Emperor Qin actually believed that Mercury was the key to longevity, so he ate it as much as he could.  It’s probably what killed him.   At least he left behind quite the legacy!!!

Next week we leave for Vietnam and Laos!  It should be a memorable trip!!!

I’m planning on blogging throughout the trip, much like I did in India last year, so prepare for lots of posts about all sorts of cool stuff!  33 days in South East Asia is bound to be one heck of an inspiration writing-wise!!

 

 

Golden Week Holiday – Xi’an

 

With Christmas coming up, and New Year’s day after that, I’m hoping to have a bit of time to catch up on my blog in the coming weeks.  For now, I’ll begin with a post about our Golden Week holiday in Xian.

The Decision

Every year Dave and I struggle with a difficult choice.  One one hand, travelling during golden week is a nightmare of crowds and scams, and neither of us can be bothered to deal with any of it.  On the other hand, it’s a chance to travel…our love of travelling always wins out, and this year, we decided to embark on an adventure to see China’s renown Terracotta Warriors, in Xi’an.

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Although Dave and I have always taken trips on our own, we decided to switch things up for this holiday and we went to Xi’an with our friend, Kevin.  We’ve met so many new people this year, and it’s been great expanding our group of friends.  When you only live in a city for a year, it’d difficult to make quality friendships, because you’re mostly limited to only people you work with.  In year two, you’ve had a chance to meet people outside of your school as well.  It’s so great having a good base of friends to hang out with, who share our values, our interests and our love for KTV!!  (except Kevin…he hates KTV :P.  This is further proof to my suspicion that he’s not really Chinese at all!)

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A night market in the streets of Xi’an

Because China’s train system is both more convenient and more cost effective than flying, we took the high speed train to Xian.  The trip takes 6.5 hours from Suzhou, but with electric plugs and good company, the time flew by.  Before we knew it, we were in China’s Shaanxi Province, and the former capital of the nation:  Xian.

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In the train!

Around Xi’An

Although we mostly traveled to Xian for the Warriors, there was plenty else to see while we were there.  Our hostel was located near two of the most famous buildings in the city:  The drum tower and The Bell Tower.  Both are beautiful during the day, but even more spectacular at night.

We were also close to another of Xi’an’s main attractions:  The Muslim Quarter.  Chinese Muslim food is some of the best food in the country, and you can find it in abundance in Xi’an.  From street carts, to shops to restaurants, if you enjoy mutton and spicy, high flavoured food, Xi’an will be a treat for your taste buds!

The nightlife in Xi’an was most enjoyable for me.  I found it to be quite hot there, but at night the temperature would drop a bit, and it became easier to wander around the city and see the sights that many tourists don’t usually see.  We ended up in one area where there were dozens of tiny traditional Chinese restaurants.  In that same area, we saw a ‘tea cup breaking’ ceremony that’s suppose to give you luck, and, of course, I made a sport of bargaining for gifts in Xi’an’s markets.  After 4 years in China, I’ve become pretty good at getting good deals in these funny little places!

Xi’an has a lot to offer for tourism, which is why 8 million people came to visit the city during Golden week in 2015.  2016 didn’t seem to be much different, because everywhere we went, we were fighting the crowds.  If we were less positive of people, I would say that the crowds ruined our holiday, but we did our best to stay positive.

All in all, I’ll remember Xi’an for the fantastic meals we ate, and the terracotta warriors. They deserve a post of their own, so I’ll be writing about them next time!!

Stay tuned for a history lesson on China’s Qin Dynasty, as well as some fabulous anecdotes and photos from our trip to see one of China’s National Treasures!

Vancouver: My Favourite Place in Canada (Part 2)

With 60+ hour work weeks keeping me busy, it’s been rough keeping up a decent sleep pattern, but recently I’ve had some time free up, so here I am once more…back to the blog!   Now that I finally have a spare moment, I thought it’s time that I finish blogging about our summer Holiday in Vancouver.  I’ve saved my favourite 2 parts of our stay in BC for last.

But first, take a look at my latest work project:

Stanley Park

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Two of Stanley Park’s Famous Totem Poles

Canada in summer is a beautiful thing.  People always ask me if it ever gets warm where I live, and I always have to laugh.  It amazes me how many people abroad think that Canada is a bleak winter wonderland year-round.   They don’t realize that we have 4 distinct seasons (some longer than others, I will admit) and that summer is actually quite lovely.

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A gorgeous day in Stanley Park

What I love about Canadian summers though, is that it’s just  the right amount of heat. Summer in Suzhou (even in May and June) are oppressive, but Canada (especially Vancouver) has the perfect climate.  We were lucky during our visit to the West Coast because it hardly rained.  We had sunny skies and perfect weather most of the trip.  I don’t feel like the weather was any more perfect than when we were at Stanley Park, though.

Everyone talks about how Stanley Park is a top destination in Vancouver, but I feel like it’s so much more than that.  For me, Stanley Park was a refreshing step into nature and beauty and purity.  We walked around the perimeter of the park, took detours down trails, hopped on the tram and sat by the sea side.  It was such a gorgeous way to spend the day and I felt sort of like I did at Elephant Nature Park, where when it came time to go, I felt emotional about having to leave that amazing place.

Maybe it’s been my time in one of the world’s most polluted countries, but my love for trees has deepened over the past few years.  I’ve always loved a forest trail, but now,  I feel like I could just get lost in them and stay there happily forever.  To be honest, that’s how I felt about Vancouver in general, but Stanley Park definitely was a high point in an already awesome week.

Whale Watching

The other highlight of our week in Vancouver was our trip to see wild orcas off the west coast of British Columbia.  As someone who is morally opposed to companies like SeaWorld (see Blackfish or The Cove if you’re interested in knowing why), I was thrilled at the opportunity to see orcas in the wild, in their element, doing what orcas do.

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When we saw these massive animals come out of the water, we were totally floored!

There really aren’t any words that can describe how cool it was to watch the big male hunting for salmon right under our boat, or the juvenile spy-hopping with his aunt right near our boat.  I couldn’t help but feel like these killer whales were putting on a show for us.  At one point, after a successful hunt, they all started slapping their back fins on the water.  Our ‘naturalist’ said that they don’t really know why whales do that, but they think it’s usually to do with celebration.  How cool is that??

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My only regret is how choppy the water was when we were out on our tour.  We were all getting soaked in the boat, so it was impossible for me to get my good camera out and get any closeup shots.  Luckily, we also own a waterproof camera, so we had that one out the whole time, but of course, choppy waters = a splashed lens, so the shots weren’t always as clear as I’d have liked.

I promise though, that the memories we made that day will be imprinted in my memory forever…and those memories are sans salt water smudges 😉

Here’s a video….I tried to keep it short so that you don’t feel sea sick watching it! (I definitely felt nauseous a few times when editing it down haha!!)

An Eventful End to Summer

It’s hard to believe that Dave and I have nearly been back in China for a month already!  The past 3+ weeks have flown by possibly even faster than our time in Canada did!  I sat down today with the intention of writing about Vancouver and realized that until I updated all the things that have been going on out here, I couldn’t focus on another topic.  So here we go!!

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Here’s a picture of Suzhou’s iconic ‘Pants Building’ being cleaned.  Just because…

I’ve  Been Performing as a Lead Vocalist!

Until recently, I was working back up or in duets with The Chairmen.  It’s been great fun playing with those guys, but when Kit (our fearless leader) approached me and asked if I’d do a duet show with our guitarist, Mark, I jumped on the opportunity.  We’ve only done one show so far, but it was pretty cool singing all 3 sets by myself.  Best of all, Mark is super flexible about what play, so I’ve been able to do a bunch of new stuff.  It was a nice switch up after all the Adele and Stevie Nicks I’ve been doing since May!!

I’m Competing in the Suzhou Expat Talent Show!

This one came about in a bit of a crazy way…Back in July, one of the HR staff at my school contacted me about representing the school at some kind of school district party.  I agreed because I knew I’d already be back in Suzhou by that point and all was good.  They knew I cover Adele, so they recommended I do “Rolling in the Deep”.  I was cool with it.

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We ran into our friend, Nick, at the show.  He was there on behalf of  his new school, Eaton House.  (Also, my face looks like that because he was photobombing us)

Fast forward to the day of the ‘government party’…it turns out that this was less of a school district party and more of a ‘government beer party’.  There was a full band there waiting for me along with about 100 government officials and 200 teachers (etc) from schools in the area.

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I had a tough act to follow…this (rather tone-deaf) district big wig sang some traditional Chinese songs before my performance

The real kicker was when HR Frank told me…about an hour before I went on…that if it went well, I would be representing Suzhou Foreign Language School in this year’s Expat Talent Show.  Notice that he didn’t ask…

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Oh yeah, and that talent show will be televised and recorded in front of a huge audience.  And it’s in 4 days…
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This band didn’t like me very much…They wouldn’t believe me when I said I did the song in A Minor (I don’t have a terribly high voice) and they refused to play it in my key.  I had to sing it high, and I wasn’t as strong as I could have been, but it was alright…I guess…

It went well.  Fast forward to 4 DAYS LATER (!!!!) and it was talent show time!  There was a mix up with the band (mainly, there wasn’t one) but I lucked out when I learned that The Chairmen (my band) were also going to be performing (the rest of them all work for the same school).  They ended up backing me for my song too, and the performance went pretty well!  Here, you can see it yourself!!!

To my credit, I don’t feel like I looked as unprepared as I felt!  I was very relieved to have Kit and Mark there!  I also had a student come to see me perform, which was pretty awesome.  I have awesome students.  Have I mentioned that?

I have no idea what the results were for this show.  From what I understand, they are going to be watching video auditions for the next month, and choosing people to go onto the second round from there.  I just hope I find out with more than 4 days to prepare this time!!!

I Am Writing for a News APP and a Newspaper!!

The night of the talent show, I received a text message from an editor at Nihao Suzhou, an APP designed to help foreigners in China (it’s actually a branch of Nihao China…every city has their own, I believe).  They had been for writers earlier in the week, and I’d inquired along with a link to my blog.  The editor liked my work and asked me to write an 800 word piece about anything I wanted.  A week later, I was published!

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The article was pretty successful and received over 2000 views in the first day.  Carrie, my editor, told me to go ahead and write another article if I wanted, and I submitted that one today!  Also, she was so happy with the article that she recommended it for publication in the Suzhou Daily Newspaper!  So there’s that, too!

 

I Lost the Olympics

Dave and I decided that we wanted to be more social this year, so we’ve been busy trying ot get involved in the expat community.  Dave’s joined a gaelic football team, I’ve been doing gigs (and everything else above)…and we subscribed to this really cool website called InterNations.

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The Olympic Athletes

InterNations plans all sorts of events across the city.  The one we attended last weekend was held at the Kempinski Hotel, where there is a Paulaner Brewery.  We got to learn about the ancient German art of beer making and we spent the afternoon playing games with a few friends we’d dragged along, and a LOT of new friends that we met at the event.

I did not win.  Not by a long shot.  But it WAS a blast!  And I feel like we met some really cool people.  It was definitely a good time and we’ll be attending another InterNations event next Friday.

School Started

September 1st was our first day of classes.  I am transitioned into a full-time English teacher (no more cooking classes) and am getting to know my 2 new grade 7 classes!  So far, my new coworkers are upbeat and awesome, and I’m having a great time!

So that’s been our last 3 and a half weeks!  Pretty wild!  Now I need to catch up on some sleep…