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:
My big project as of late: Getting portraits of every student in our department
I’m actually very proud of the results. I did my best to try and capture each student’s personality on camera
Some students, like Samuel, are so expressive that it was easy to get a good shot
Other students, I caught off guard.,.
Then there are students, like Roy, who planned out their pose ahead of time. Such a funny kid!!
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.
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.
The sun was shining, there was a light breeze! Just a perfect day!!
Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada
Dave and I checking out the Totems
Even in Canada we can’t escape the Chinese and their need for ‘perfect’ pictures….You should have seen her climbing up there!!!
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.
Wild raspberries growing in Stanley Park
There were plenty of people out but it never felt crowded.
For a very reasonable fee, we were able to hop on and off of the tram that drives all around the park.
Lion’s Gate Bridge
When I die, I do NOT want a tomb stone…I want a bench. Where people can sit and enjoy a nice, shaded view of a lake or the ocean.
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.
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.
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??
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.
Captivated by the wild orcas
Dave and I chilling out in the back of the boat with the sea-sick people. We started off back there because we’d made the mistake of sitting up front in Thailand. We knew better for this trip…
Our naturalist. I can’t for the life of me remember his name, but he knew his stuff and he was so passionate about the orcas. He was even able to tell us the names and histories of the ones we were seeing. It was so cool!
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!!)
It’s hard to believe how quickly 6 weeks can fly by! After 5 weeks in Manitoba and then 1 week in Vancouver, it’s an understatement to say that I was happy to sleep in my own bed again! Our cats were well cared for over the holiday and are happy as clams to have us home, back in our little routine. Poe continues to act as my alarm clock and Hugo seems to be even more cuddly than ever! Life is good here back in Suzhou!
Manitoba was a grand time. We were able to catch up with friends, spend time with family and I even got to meet my nephew, Zachary, for the first time. It’s funny because adults change so little from year to year, but the kids….WOW do they grow! I’m convinced that at least 1 of my nephews is going to be taller than me next year! My niece, Ellie, learned how to read over the past year and her little sister began talking…things change so much in their little lives while we’re away!
Addyson is growing up into such a goofy kid!! And Ellie continues to be all sweetness and intellect
My nephew Dmitri! He didn’t know I was taking a picture haha! We spent an evening help him build a wooden model we brought him home from China
Getting to know my little Zachary
Our 5 weeks in Winnipeg were spent well. We were able to see a Fringe Show, visit the Forks and even visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights! Last year had been too rushed to stop by this architectural marvel, but I really enjoyed our afternoon there, learning new things and being reminded of things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
I really love this building
We visited the museum with one my favourite people in the world: Dianne!
Beautiful ramps going up the museum
Why is Fair Trade helpful? Because it allows people….
My views on reconcilliation
Loved in interior architecture!
I organized a Paint Night with some of my favourite gals and that turned out to be a tonne of fun! I’d recommend it as a fun night out to anyone who wishes they can paint or actually can paint! I have artistic skills in that way and mine still turned out pretty well! See!!!
A good portion of my summer was spent outside. I was able to play at the pool with my nieces and nephew, sit around bonfires and spend LOTS of time outside! The air is so fresh and clean in Canada and the temperature is perfect for being outside. Currently, it’s sitting at about 40 degrees Celsius in Suzhou, so I definitely miss the Prairie temperatures already!
Sitting out on the deck with our dear neighbor Yvonne and her fabulous puppy, Brodey!
Playing with the girls at the park
Geese at the Forks
Oddly enough, it was a game that took up most of our time in Manitoba! Pokemon Go was all the rage back home and Dave and I spent countless hours walking around Steinbach and The Winnipeg Forks trying to catch a Pikachu or hatch a Snorlax. I was never lucky on either of those counts, but my sister managed to catch 3 of the little yellow Pokemon! I will forever be jealous, because Pokeman Go is banned in China. It runs through Google Maps, which is blocked by the Great Fire Wall, so there is no Pokeman here for us to play.
Finding Weedles at Tim Hortons! Such a Canadian Picture!
My gorgeous sisters 🙂
We often paired up our Pokeman hunting with Geo caching! We were able to find a few in Steinbach!
We also had our yearly BBQ at St. Malo Provincial Park! It was such a blast last year that we planned it out again this year. We had loads of people come down and spent the day out in the sun with ys, playing in the water and enjoying WAYY Y too much food!
The yearly update picture. None of us felt like taking it seriously this year!
My dad takes any opportunity he can to spoil the grandkids!
My sister, keeping a sleeping Zach company (hahaha! Such a sport for coming out, even though she was ‘under the weather’!!!
My sister knits the cutest hats!!!!
I mentioned the food…
My oldest friend, Veronique, make her way down to the beach even though she only had 30 minutes to spare! My summer would not have been complete without her!!
It’s hard to point to a ‘favourite’ memory of our 2016 trip home, but the most inspiring event was definitely Steinbach’s 1st Pride Parade. Dave and I attended, expecting there to be a small crowd of maybe 100 or 200 people…little did we know that over 3500 people came in from all over the province for the event! There were actually people who flew in all the way from Orlando for Steinbach’s first pride. It was a pretty huge deal!
The number of attendees was inspiring in of itself, but Steinbach’s reaction to the event was also good. The Automobile City has caught a lot of flack over the last few years for their stance on LGBT rights and a variety of other subjects. There have been issues within the school division over these matters and protests regarding bullying bills aimed at protecting LGBT students. But instead of holding a protest or causing a fuss over the parade, Steinbach let it happen.
Some Mennonite Humour!!!
By standers brought signs too!
Although some companies in Steinbach refused to support the event, far more came with signs and showed their belief in equality! It was fantastic!
There were plenty of spectators there who were watching the parade and there was a tonne of support. Many people in Steinbach have softened their views on homosexuality as they’ve grown to know people in the LGBT community or have learned that people in their own families are gay. I saw many signs that said things like ‘proud parent’ or ‘supportive parent’. It was really beautiful to see such acceptance in a city that has previously been branded intolerant. It was a huge step for Steinbach and although I know not everyone in the city agreed with the event…that’s not the point! It’s ok not to agree with it…I’m just happy no one showed up with eggs or protest signs. That’s what tolerance is, after all…accepting that people might thing differently than you. You don’t have to agree with them, but you should give them the freedom to have their own beliefs.
It isn’t pride without some crazy costumes! These guys were my favourite!
Even the animals showed up!!!
People came from all around the province!
3500 people showed up!
Dave and I…happy to see so much acceptance in our city!
So that is a very brief summary of our stay in Manitoba! Our final week in Canada was spent in Vancouver, which I will be writing about soon! I have 1 or 2 posts planned before I can get to our time on the West Coast, but I’m still off work until September 1st, so I should be able to get a fair amount of blogging in between now and then!
So, stay tuned for entertaining posts such as:
Beginning a new Semester in China…things teachers should know
Tips for new Expats living in Suzhou
Vivacious Vancouver: From Kits Beach to Stanley Park
Another Starbucks, another city. We are spending the last day of our holiday in Beijing working, as is often the case with Dave and I. It helps that we both love our jobs and don’t usually see these kinds of things as really being ‘work’. Now that I’ve finished my Power Point presentation on writing summaries (riveting stuff…), I can spare some time to blog!
It’s now been 41 day since we left Canada and head back to Eastern home. Suzhou has been welcoming and beautiful and there is so much to tell you all about this new city. So, even though I am itching to write about our trip to the Great Wall, I want to finish writing our time adjusting to life in Suzhou first. Plus, putting off writing about the Great Wall means I have awesome material to look forward to (and hopefully that will entice me to writing again soon!)
After moving into our apartment, the next step to getting settled into Suzhou was to start work. For those of you who are new to my blog, or are foggy on the details, here’s a recap regarding the school….
I originally took the position expecting to teach Drama and English, but that quickly changed (things change a lot in China…you come to expect it). The IGCSE program that is taught at Suzhou Foreign Language School is a pretty big deal. It basically means that students who graduate from our school, graduate with a bilingual diploma, which is a huge help when it comes to applying to western Universities (IGCSE is an ESL program through Cambridge University). So, because this program is so important to the school, they didn’t want a brand new teacher teaching too many of those courses. Some people would have been hurt by the insinuation that they are not ‘good’ enough to teach English, but I saw it as a plus. Any school that wants to put the RIGHT teachers in place for the important classes is alright with me! It showed that they are concerned with the quality of education their students receive, and that is exactly the type of school I want to work for.
I was able to keep my Drama classes, which I was very happy about, but my English classes were replaced with Food and Nutrition classes; basically I’m teaching Home Economics. The beautiful thing about both these programs is that I can custom make all of my classes. There is a basic syllabus that I need to follow, but really…at the end of the day…it’s up to me to decide what I teach and how I teach it. Once more…some teachers may not be thrilled with this sort of set up, but for me…this is heaven!!
My creative side kicked into full gear and I began brainstorming ideas for both my courses while I was still in Guiyang. For Drama, we are starting with a play called “Meet the Ancient Greeks”. It’s set on Mount Olympus and all the Greek gods are fighting over who was the worst of them. While I teach the students about acting (something I’m actually pretty good at myself…who knew???), I also teach them about pronunciation, confidence, voice projection, body language and emphasis. They learn a tonne and it doesn’t even feel like learning to them! Plus, because of my background as an ESL teacher, I use the plays to teach the students lots of new words. And because of my background in Classical history (my minor in University), I’m also teaching them about ancient Greek culture while I’m at it.
So. Much. Fun!!!
I decided to take a fresh approach with the Food and Nutrition classes, and have turned it into a bit of a ‘culture course’. I’ve been teaching the students about different countries and then I teach them how to make food from those countries. So far we’ve only been to the kitchen once, but the students were all very pleased with their Mexican taco dip 🙂
The teachers and students are all fantastic at SFLS, and although I’ve had a few small issues with the payroll office (that were promptly sorted out), the administration has also been a dream. Last year, I was walking on eggshells at about this time, scared to say anything to anyone for fear of being taken aside for a ‘talk’. This year, I was greeted at the gate by the principal of the school on Teacher’s day, with a box of mango milk and a flower. I also received a small crate of Chinese dates (which are delish!) and countless other flowers and chocolates from my students…who I’d only been teaching for 2 weeks at that point!!!
The school is not the only thing that has been great since we got here either! Suzhou, as a whole, is a fantastic city! Unlike Guiyang, where I really disliked the spitting, the littering and the smoking…Suzhou is spotless! Very few people spit, smoking is prohibited in many public areas and people actually put their trash in the trash can! Although the air is a little more polluted that Guiyang (because Suzhou is so close to Shanghai), it’s so much more comfortable of a place to be!
And the gardens!!!….
Dave and I arrived back in China just in time for a holiday! This year marked 70 years since the Chinese victory over Japan in the Second World War. It was celebrated across the country and everyone was given a long weekend. Dave and I spent those days familiarizing ourselves with Suzhou. We visited one of the lesser known gardens here (one we’d happened to stumble upon when we were still staying in a hotel).
The city outside of these gardens is also very nice. We’ve spent countless hours walking around the different areas of the city, enjoying the scenery along the canals and trying new restaurants. Times Square is one of my favorite places to take a stroll. I love walking near water and there are a lot of really great restaurants in the area.
I think my favorite part of the city (so far) has been ShanTang street. There are countless shops that sell all sorts of souvenirs and traditional Suzhou items. It’s along the canal, and you can even take boat rides around to see the old architecture, which is especially beautiful at night. We never had a chance to go the last time we were there, but this is where I’m planning on doing a lot of my Christmas shopping, so I know there will be other opportunities 🙂
I don’t consider myself a superstitious person and I believe that we are responsible for making our own fate, but still, I can’t help but feel like I’m exactly where I’m suppose to be right now. Suzhou fits like a glove and it became home to us more quickly than I really imagined possible. Maybe I’m still a little shell shocked from everything I went through last year, but I am honestly still overjoyed at how smoothly everything has been going over the last 41 days. Life…in short…is good.
It has been far too long since my last post, and I apologize to all my readers! But, if it’s any consolation…the reason I haven’t been writing is a happy one! I have been far too busy enjoying life to have the time to sit down and write about it! But I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, so I better get to it!!
We left Guiyang on August 3rd and I finished my class at 8pm on August 2nd. I knew it was going to be hard; I’d grown quite attached to my monkeys…but I didn’t realize just HOW hard. It took everything for me not to cry and in the end, it was the apology and the hug from my boss, Huang, that did me in. She thanked me for all my hard work and told me that she had been very wrong about me when she thought I was a bad teacher. That meant more than I can really explain.
My final day at Interlingua was the hardest, because I taught most of my favorite classes on Sundays. My Reading and Writing class was particularly difficult because I loved teaching them so much. The mood in the class was blue, and I ended up bringing in Sylvester…the school’s kitten…to cheer them up. It worked for a little bit, but eventually the bell rang and we had to say goodbye.
The most surprising thing for me was the parents…I expected to feel sad about saying goodbye to my students. They are who I was closest to. But Some of the parents are the ones that made me truly well up.
After saying goodbye to my wonderful K2 class, Dave and I head down to Trip Smith’s for a few final beers with the staff from the school. Before we knew it, it was 2pm the next day and we were boarding our plane to Hong Kong. From there….we were on our way home…
Our Trip Home to Canada
Goodness it was good to be home! We only had 3 weeks, but WOW did we make the most of it!! We were able to meet up with everyone who put in an effort to meet up with us and got to spend lots of great time with our wonderful families and friends. The only downside to our trip home was the food poisoning I had for the last 5 days of our trip. Other than that, we had a magnificent time and can’t wait to return again next year!!! (For a longer stay!!)
It would be impossible to choose just 1 highlight from our trip back home, but if I absolutely had to choose, it might be the day we spent in St. Malo park with our families and a few friends. Even though we were late for our surprise party, it was such a blast and when I think back to our time in Canada, that’s always the memory that sticks out. I grew up in St. Malo and it was so wonderful being back there, at the provincial park, walking the same stone paths that I walked with my dog, Trace, as a teenager. I love my country and when I think of Canada, this is what I think of. This is home to me.
The rest of the scenery we saw in Canada was fantastic as well. I missed the big skies and the open fields that make Manitoba the beautiful province that it is.
Our trip home was finished far too soon and before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye again. Next year we plan to be home for closer to 6 weeks (twice as long) so perhaps we’ll be able to find time for a camping trip at Rushing River. I’m so grateful that so many people took the time to spend their time with us while we were home and I really can’t wait to for July of next year when we can do it all again 🙂
The Trip to our New Home
We arrived in Suzhou on August 27th after a long trip back to China. We got to know the LeQiao area of Suzhou, which is actually a lot like the nicer parts of Guiyang. We quickly found the essentials…a BBQ place, a noodle place and a milk tea place.
We spent our first day in Suzhou apartment hunting. Eight apartments and three real estate agents later, we found our new home. We are SO thrilled with it!!! The building is gorgeous and secure and the area is quiet and very modern. Just outside our apartment building is a EuroMart, which sells everything from blue cheese to port wine to taco seasoning (all things we’d never seen in China before!).
I should also note that both our landlords and our real estate agent are amazing. It was Jean (the agent) that suggested the air conditioner in the upstairs den and the landlady had 2 women come in and clean the place til it was spotless before we moved in. And we moved in the day after we saw the place, so she did that with very little notice.
The whole process of moving out here has been so easy. Last year, we arrived to find a run down apartment with mold and bug issues and when I asked for some help getting it set up I was called negative and told that I shouldn’t complain so much. This year, I’ve been welcomed to Suzhou with a clean apartment, kind coworkers and wonderful students.
But I’ll have more on that in my next post! And I promise it won’t take me 2 months to write it next time!!!