One of the best things about living in China is the high speed train. Dave and I have no interest in buying a car in China, so the high speed train is how we get from city to city, when we need a break from Suzhou.
This year, we’ve taken a record number of weekend trips that I thought might be worth writing about.
Cirque du Soleil
My hatred of Shanghai city has never been a secret, but I’ve recently grown to appreciate this metropolis, regardless of its overpopulation and pollution…
The event that began this new understanding of Shanghai was none other than a Cirque Du Soleil show. Dave and I have seen 6 shows total now, so when we found out that Kooza would be playing in old Pudong…we booked tickets with our friends Kim and CJ.
Shanghai doesn’t get as many big shows as I wish it did (mainly because a lot of bands and musicians are banned in China), but now and then, they get a good one. Linkin Park played Shanghai a few years ago, before Chester Bennington’s death. Unfortunately, the concert took place while I was visiting family in Canada, which meant I missed my last opportunity to see one of my favourite bands perform.
Couldn’t pay me to see….
Don’t really care to see…
Christmas with Friends
We’ve taken a couple of trips to Hangzhou this year as well. Located about 2 hours away by high speed train, Hangzhou is a beautiful city. It was recently the location of a G20 Summit, and is home to West Lake, which is both scenic and huge. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhezhang province, Jiangsu’s neighbour to the south.
Christmas with Friends
A beautiful place to take a walk
More importantly, Hangzhou is home to two of my favourite people in the world! So, Dave and I, along with our friend Kevin, made our way down to Hangzhou for Christmas this year. We enjoyed some excellent meals, a nice walk around West Lake, and time with good friends. It was well worth the weekend trip!
Feeling ‘Christmasy’ at Eudora…a lovely restaurant in Hangzhou
On the train
A purple wreath
We had dinner at a very interesting place. The menu had some translation problems…
Weddings in Hangzhou
A few months later, we found ourselves back in Hangzhou for Deb and Dedrick’s wedding! We had another lovely trip in, and this time, we got to spend the weekend with our good friends Mark and Deb. Mark and I play in The Sundaze together, and it was good to get out and cut loose in a new city with them. And of course, my dear Kevin was there as well!
Back at Eudora
The adorable Deb and I
Mark, being himself
Midnight snack stop on our way home from drinks at Eudora
The longer you stay in China, the more people you meet. Deb and Dedrick’s wedding was a really cool experience because there were people from everywhere there. It was a beautiful mixture of North American and Argentinian culture, with guests from all over the world.
Dressed up for the wedding
A beautiful vegetarian wedding dinner
These were so darn good!
A beautiful dress designed by the bride
Friends travelled from France and Mexico to be there for the wedding
Moroccan food in Tianzefang
Finally, Shanghai itself can be an awesome little getaway. When Dave and I went to Taiwan in April, we opted to spend the night in Shanghai before flying out the next morning to Taipei (Suzhou doesn’t have an airport). We asked around for food recommendation, and my friend Andy told me of a good Moroccan place in an area of Shanghai called Tianzefang.
Such a great restaurant! Can’t wait to go back!!!
Pear and chicken breast….
figs and lamb shank
Morrocan friend rice
Tianzifang is lovely! It’s a vibrant and interesting area that doesn’t feel at all like the Pudong I grew to hate. It’s full of bars, unique shops and great international food options.
Dave and I, enjoying a walk home
Some strange signs
This cat doesn’t move….these two pictures were taken a month apart lol
A month or so later, Dave and I actually made a special trip to Shanghai just to have another meal at Andelus, the Moroccan restaurant Andy recommended. The following morning, we visited the very famous ” Lao Wai Park“.
Shanghai’s Lao Wai (foreigner) Park, is an are of restaurants and bars that are very popular among expats. The comedy group Mamahuhu did a series of videos there. Dave and I had an amazing lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant. I can’t wait til we can visit again!
We also wandered around Shanghai for a bit during our last trip in. We saw the largest Starbucks in the world while we were there. There was a massive lineup, so we didn’t go in, but I did take some pictures.
In it’s first 8 weeks, this 30,000 square foot Starbucks roastery made more than $60,000 every DAY
The lineups were ridiculous and we didn’t want to wait in the heat, so we didn’t go inside
But I DID sneak some pictures from the outside!
There are so many more nearby places we want to visit before we leave China. We have friends in Nanjing that we really want to go visit. We also want to see Yellow Mountain, and of course we’d love to see more of Shanghai and Hangzhou. The high speed train gives us so many opportunities for travel. Now, to make the time!
I’ll be writing lots over the next week, trying to catch up on all my Indonesia posts before we head to The Philippines!
Being an English teacher has its challenges, but one of the biggest perks I have as a language teacher is that I can teach my lessons through a variety of lenses. If I’m teaching about conditional voice, for example, I can have the students talk about which super powers they wish they had, or about regrets they have from the past.
This year, I chose to teach my grade 9 students English through a lens I think everyone should consider: “Critical Thinking in Social Media”. I introduced them to Snopes, discussed the power (and danger) of memes and we talked about subjects ranging from gun control in the United States to South Korean fan superstitions. My hope was that I’d teach them how to be considerate and intelligent Netizens, but I probably learned nearly as much as they did.
Our class discussions about the dangers of Social Media really got me thinking. We discussed the idea that people rarely write about bad things that are happening in their lives, but instead tend to focus on the positive, making their lives look more glamorous and perfect that they really are. In of itself, this isn’t a problem, but when others see those happy posts, they start to compare their own lives with the (perfect) lives that others present to the cyber world.
Elephants in Thailand
Ziplining in Laos
Cruising down the Mekong River looking for Irawaddy Dolphins
Sunsets on the Great Wall
Sunsets in Phu Quoc….if all you see are these…it seems like my life is a breeze!
I try not to do this, but, of course, it can be difficult. I haven’t been feeling particularly positive lately, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the negative aspects of living as an expat. *Spoiler…it’s awesome…but like everything, it has its downsides*
June is a hard month for a lot of reasons. It’s the end of the school year, which is stressful for all teachers. Between grading, report cards and final tests, teachers across the planet are barely holding it together every June. When you’re an expat teacher, you have to also consider the stress of booking flights home, finding cat sitters, and spending 6 weeks living out of suitcases. It’s stressful.
Not to mention the nightmare of travelling…
And the fact that I have to go to an airport that has SIM card vending machines every few meters, but bottled water is hidden away
And then there’s the train station…. Have I mentioned we do all this with luggage???
That’s not to say that I’d give up my trip home to avoid these stresses…but it is something a lot of people don’t think about when they think of what it’s like teaching abroad. Other things include…
Saying Goodbye to Students
One event was particularly emotional for me this month. My grade 9 students have been with me since my very first day at SFLS, and in September, they will be moving onto high school. Many of them will be moving abroad as well, so it’s not as though I’ll be seeing many of them again. Their graduation was last Friday and although I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry (I even refused to bring tissue in an attempt to not even give myself the option), I ended up red in the face and tearier than I would like to admit. When you love teaching…it’s easy to become attached to the kids you see every day for 3 years.
Victor and I with Wendy. I was happy I could put my hands in front of my face because I’d started crying a few moments before and simply couldn’t stop
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
This is Angel. She’s the reason I was crying. She came up and gave me a hug and whipered ‘thank you’ in my ear and I just couldn’t stop. As a teacher, you pour yourself into your students. You spend all your free time grading their work and helping them on Wechat. You spend you life getting them ready for exams and making sure that they’re getting the best education you can provide. Unfortunately, teaching teenagers can be pretty thankless. They often forget about their foreign teachers because we aren’t as important at the school as the Chinese staff. It’s amazing what one quiet “Thank You” can make you feel. Also…I know teachers aren’t suppose to have favourites…but Angel is one of my favourite students ever. She’s kind and intelligent as she is beautiful.
Michael and I at the Drama Festival. I’m still waiting for him to send me the photos of us at grad, although he made me cry too. He has popped up in many of my blog posts and will always have a special place in my heart.
Ken, back when he was in 7th grade
He’s taller than me now…but still one of the coolest kids I’ve ever known. He’ll be moving to Hawaii over the summer. He was accepted in the a school there. I’m insanely jealous.
Still, I wish them all the best, and although it sucks to see them go, I have new students coming in next September, and they will provide new challenges and rewards for me and all their other teachers.
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
Kate looked beautiful in her graduation dress. She reminds me so much of what I was like at that age…kind of sarcastic…very dramatic…but as passionate as they come.
With the students at this year’s spelling bee
Final class photos
The friendships you form while living abroad are also a very important part of the expat life. I’ve made friends from all over the world, and although we’re all very different people with very different backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we don’t really belong anywhere.
When you’re away from home, having a good group of friends becomes increasingly important. They’re who you spend Christmas with and they’re who help you through troubled times. Most importantly, they’re the ones who understand you, because as much as people back home can try and empathize, they only really see the really good and really bad parts of being an expat…none of the ‘in-between-everday-stuff’.
When a student of mine committed suicide in January, it was Kim and CJ who helped me through. Kim has been a teacher for years, and she understands the pressure Chinese students deal with. It’s pressure different from anything western students experience
These people have helped us both through a whole lot of crappy days, crappy months and crappy moments.
Mike also helped me through Pony’s death. He and I spend quite a lot of time brainstorming ways to make sure our students know we are there for them. Pony was his student as well, and I think that if I hadn’t had someone to talk to about how we could prevent this from happening again…it would have been even harder to get through it.
Dave and I are far more outgoing and far more adventurous abroad than we ever were back home, and our social life is pretty awesome. We spend lots of time going out for dinner, going to KTV, going to Salsa parties, and of course, I have my band. All these things are done with friends…and 99% of my friends are currently expats, or people who were previously expats, but have moved back home to China.
Cheetar (USA_, Myself and Tythus (Malaysia). They both work in the highschool. Cheetar and I have been working together for 3 years. He is leaving to move to a different part of China this summer. I’m going to miss seeing him around the school.
Dedrick, Mark and I….We are the Sundaze! Dedrick moved to Hangzhou last summer…it’s only an hour away, and I still get to see him often, but it’s sucked not having him around. Luckily, he’s moving back to Suzhou in September!! Mark and I are planning to leave Suzhou at the same time. I’m working on convincing him and his wife to join us in Vietnam. Fingers crossed!
Katie, Kevin, Dave and I last year at Dave’s Birthday. I just learned that Katie is moving back to Suzhou after finishing her Master’s degree in England. It’ll be great to have her back!
Jeff…the very first friend i made in Suzhou. When he found out a new Canadian was going to be working at SFLS, he emailed me to welcome me to the team. I felt more welcomed in Suzhou before I even moved there, than I did my whole time in Guiyang
Liz. One of my longest friendships in Suzhou
Adam is also one of my oldest Suzhou friends. We only worked together for a year before he moved to a different school, but we’ve stayed friends even though he’s across the city. His girlfriend, Tracy, lives in our building, so we get to see her often
Kevin is one of my best friends in the world. He moved away last week. I miss him more than I really want to think about
You make friends at school too, of course. Sam is the giant on the far left. He teaches economics with me in IGCSE. Crystal is the Chinese teacher and she is also my cleaning buddy in the office! And Victor is one of my bffs. We’ve worked together for 2 years at SFLS. He’s from Nigeria and he’s a fantastic human being
Linda and Paul are Taiwanese. We became friends over the past 3 years because Linda’s parents own a restaurant we like
Miya. One of the most beautiful people on the planet. She moved away for a year to live in New Zealand. It sucked.
Michael and Dave. Michael is a Kiwi who lived in Suzhou for our first 2 years. I still find myself missing him although he moved back to New Zealand more than a year ago now.
We are losing Shane on Saturday. He’s moving back to Australia. He’ll be missed a lot. Other than Dave, he’s our best groupie!
Of course…when you are a nomad and surround yourself with other nomads…people enter and leave your life regularly. It’s difficult because I understand it…but I hate it. I also hate that soon I’ll be the one leaving people behind. Already, I find myself wondering if I’ll ever find friends as good as the ones I have in Suzhou…
Occasionally, you get to see your expat friends again….
We were lucky to have 2 friends visit us this year. Joan and Lexie both visited us in the fall
And sometimes, people even move back…like Miya. this was us the day she came back to Suzhou. I look only about half as excited as I actually was!!
The ‘Home Dilemma’
Home becomes a really weird concept when you live abroad. I like to say that ‘Home is where my cats are’, but in reality, I spend 3 months away from them every year. I’d like to say that ‘Home is where you grew up’, but nobody in my family even lives in that tiny Manitoba town, so how can that really be home? Steinbach never really felt like home for me, because I was too different from the local people. Oddly enough, in some ways, Suzhou has been feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been. I’ve become a part of the community, through music, foodie groups and through school.
My band has turned me into a more social and charismatic person. Playing with these guys is easily one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life
Whether we’re playing in dingy bars
Or at music festivals
We always have a blast!
I think that living abroad changes you in that way. Home isn’t as easily defined when you don’t ever quite fit in. In China, I’m a minority. I’m only one of a few thousand expats in a city of 8 million people. Back home, it’s the same. I’ve had such a different 4 years than most of my friends and family. It’s difficult to explain your feelings about things when the people in your life see the world differently than you do. It’s especially noticeable when talking about world politics or world events with people back in Canada. It’s easy to talk about India’s poverty or an earthquake in Indonesia when you see it as some far off place, separate from you. But when you can picture the smells and sounds of a place….when you’ve been there and it’s personal…you see those events very differently.
What makes it especially hard is that we’ve never had any family or friends visit us here in China. I know that it isn’t in everyone’s budget, and there are a thousand reasons why people can’t just hop on a plane and visit, but regardless of those reasons…it makes ‘home’ a difficult subject. At the end of the day, China is currently our home, but the people we know and love back in Canada have no idea what our life is like in the place we call home.
And that’s why I hound my family save up and come visit us…it’s not because I want to show them the sites or because I think China is the most beautiful place on earth….it’s because I want them to understand me. I people back home to understand what life is like in the city I currently call home.
Always Missing Somewhere or Someone
And of course there’s the obvious reason it’s hard being an expat is all the stuff you leave behind at the end of the summer. It’s great having stories to tell your family and friends…but I really do wish I had the power of teleportation. Then, I wouldn’t need to miss everyone so much.
I always laugh because when I’m in China, I call Canada Home…and when I’m in Canada, I call China home
There’s so much I miss about Winnipeg. Going to concerts is definitely one
I miss lakes and trees….and quiet.
I miss these wonderful people most of all!
It isn’t All Bad
Of course, it isn’t nearly all bad. June is probably my least favourite month of the year. It’s difficult saying goodbye to students. It’s difficult saying goodbye to friends. Add that to the fact that it’s exam season and end of term…and I can’t believe it’s taken me 4 years to write this post.
Still, there are a thousand things that being an expat allows us to do. It sucks saying goodbye to friends…but it’s great meeting so many new people all the time. It sucks only seeing our family and Canadian friends once a year, but we always have so many stories to tell them! And being an Expat gives us so many opportunities that we’d never have back in Canada. My band wouldn’t get nearly as many gigs if we weren’t ‘interesting foreigners’. Of course, we could never afford to travel this much if we didn’t live in China. And with Dave working from home, we were able to foster little Oscar. Here are some pictures of Oscar to remind you of all the reasons I love being an expat!
Stay tuned! I’ve got half a dozen more posts coming in the next month or so!!
He was found in the bushes right outside my school
He was mostly blind when we found him. Within our first week with him he started following movements
He was such a princely little cat!
What a flirt!
If Dave didn’t work at home, we never would have been able to give him the care he needed
These are the lovely women who adopted our little foster kitty
Suzhou doesn’t get a lot of snow. In fact, it only snows here every 5 years or so; and it rarely sticks around.
Fortunately for me, this year was one of those ‘off’ years, where Mother Nature bestowed some of the white stuff upon this beautiful city.
When people aren’t used to snow, it can be quite an ordeal! We saw one accident on our 5 minute walk home, and I can’t imagine how many delivery men wiped out on their e-bikes today! Imagine a late spring storm…with people who have never driven on ice before!
A chilly walk home!
The two cars in the intersection collided as we were waiting for the light to change. An hour later, they’re still out there, probably squabbling over who is at fault
Many of these notices were left around the city. Schools were PREEMPTIVELY shut down for 2 days because they knew the snow was coming. Unfortunately for my students…school had already ended so they didn’t get any bonus time off.
Kevin….pretending not to be thrilled about the snow. He was skipping through it a moment earlier…I swear!
Dave made a snow angel, to my disgust (Chinese sidewalks should never be laid on…)
I’ve lived in Suzhou now for nearly 3 years, and although I’ve had my challenges here, I really do love this city. Many of the gardens here are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are considered to be some of the most beautiful gardens in China. We often spend afternoons walking through them because even the smaller ones are a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Suzhou. I’m always amazed at how quiet the gardens here are…especially when I consider the 8 million + people that live here!
Various parks around the city
Unfortunately for me, I never had a chance to bring my camera to any of Suzhou’s gardens today. Plenty of others did though, so I’ve collected some of my favourite photos from the day and compiled them so you can see what a lovely city we chose to call home. I can’t actually credit anyone specifically…China isn’t big on copyrighting things, so I’ll just say now that none of these pictures are mine….
Behold, China’s greatest secret: How to fit far too many cars into virtually no space at all.
I took this at the end of our walk last night, and my biggest regret was that I hadn’t captured the much worse version of this parking job that we’d seen the night before. You see, there isn’t nearly enough parking available in China, so people just sort of park wherever they can. Some of the most impressive parking jobs I’ve seen:
Parking in front of other cars (as seen above)
Parking on the side walk (sidewalks are difficult to walk on because of all the cars…)
Parking in the middle of an intersection (so that your car becomes an extension of the median)
Parking on the ramp of a parkade
I don’t know if we’ve ever eaten a meal at the restaurant behind our building without the waiting staff coming in at LEAST once to ask if we had driven there, because somebody was boxed in, and they needed a car moved.
This is reason #211 why I have no desire to drive in China.
This is the little side street that runs behind our building. There are plenty of little restaurants down this road, as well as a couple of hotels and Euromart. It’s a popular area for people to eat, and get a few drinks.
This also happens to be the little road that Dave and I were driving past when we were hit by an e-bike.
Our bike was ok, and Dave was uninjured, but the guy drove directly into my shin. I suppose I was lucky that my leg didn’t break, but that’s not to say the injury wasn’t severe. Even now, a year and a half later, I have bruising, and I’m a bit afraid that the nerve damage will never fully go away.
I call this intersection “Shattered Shin Pass”. My shin may not have actually shattered, but my love for late-night e-bike rides surely did.
If Poe is Pretty & Poised, Hugo is Dashing & Derpy. With a missing leg, a slightly cleft pallet and stinkier-than-death breath, this boy stole my heart within 3 seconds of me walking into the SSAPA shelter. We walked in and he marched (limped) over to me for pets. He chose me.
I have never met a more pathetically needy cat in my life. If he could spend every second of the day in my lap, he would.
But he gives as much as he takes. If either Dave or I are feeling stressed or sick, Hugo is right there, cuddling, purring and head bumping us until we smile.
I work at a huge foreign language school in Suzhou. We have 3 separate middle schools alone (I work in 2 of them). In reality, we’re sort of a dozen or so schools all kind of crammed into one campus.
Each department runs a bit differently. Classes begin at 7:40am school-wide, but each department ends at a slightly different time. In kindergarten, they are finished at 4:30, but my students don’t finish their school day until around 7:30pm. (Yeah… Let that sink in).
This means more than 3000 thousand students are leaving the school daily, in shifts, beginning at 4:30 and going all the way up to around 8pm. This is fantastic for street vendors, looking to hock their goods.
There is almost always a guy selling flowers outside the school gates. Not sure why, but he must sell enough of them because he’s always there.
There are also the kind of vendors you’d expect outside of a school: guys selling candied fruit and other snacks. The kids see it and beg their parents for a treat. It makes for easy sales.
Occasionally, I see pet vendors there. They sell rabbits, birds and other small animals. That really bothers me. Luckily, I’ve never actually seen them make a sale, and they don’t come around often, so I don’t think they’re very successful.
Today, I noticed a new vendor. He was selling candied dates on skewers. It’s a popular snack and we see people selling them off the back of ebikes all the time. But this guy was doing it in style…
My camera didn’t quite pick up the colour properly, but his goods were all lit up with colourful and flashing lights. It was definitely eye-catching. I thought it was a pretty brilliant way to attract customers and to hopefully get an extra sale or two.