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!!

20160828_105922
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.

img_20160824_191616_1
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.

img_20160824_191335
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…

mmexport1472360017984
Oh yeah, and that talent show will be televised and recorded in front of a huge audience.  And it’s in 4 days…
mmexport1472043068813
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!

download-1

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.

mmexport1472962335036
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…

So, You’re Moving to China…(Part 2)

As promised, I am back with part 2 of my post!

5.  Kiss Comfort Goodbye

Whether you’re in your apartment or at a restaurant, the standards of comfort in China are very different from out west.  Beds are often rock hard, couches are frequently nothing more than a wooden bench, and restaurants (in certain areas of the country) forgo purchasing conventional tables and chairs, and have everyone sitting at child-sized tables, with plastic stools.

IMAG0641
Our couch in Guiyang.  My butt would go numb within about 10 minutes.
IMAG1188
One of our favourite hot pot places….not exactly the most comfortable restaurant…

And it’s not only your butt that will miss the comfort.  People here have a different idea of what ‘public space’ means.  I frequently see people watching movies on their tablets in public spaces (in the metro…at Starbucks…in restaurants…), without using ear buds.  When you have several people doing this in the same space, the room becomes so cluttered with noise that it’s difficult to think.

IMG_20160326_153520
After taking this picture, and posting it online, I saw someone post an article about how it’s wrong to take photos of strangers.  I agree…except for in cases when those individuals have forsaken their rights to privacy by taking away my right to focusing on my blog…

Smoking is also common place here, and you will see it everywhere you go.  Restaurants, shopping malls and even some schools all allow smoking and although Beijing and several other cities are beginning to make smoking illegal in public spaces, China still has a long way to go before you can enjoy a meal without choking on someone else’s cigarettes.

IMG_20151002_233739
Without reinforcement, signs like this don’t actually do very much.  There are ‘no smoking ‘ signs in most elevators, after all…it doesn’t stop people from lighting up in them…

And even in private spaces, China finds it’s way in.  People in our apartment building frequently leave their front doors open to air out their personal spaces….this often results in my own apartment smelling like cigarettes.  Our neighbours across the hall have apparently run out of room in their apartment, so they’ve begun storing personal items outside of their door, in the hallway…They are currently keeping their baby stroller and several other objects (including open umbrellas…) right outside of our door.

And Fireworks….The Chinese use them to ward of evil spirits and the following events all merit their use:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Birthdays
  • New Businesses Opening
  • Festivals
  • Holidays
  • Just because they like to make noise…
IMAG1561
Fireworks are a constant here.  When you live on one of the higher floors of a building, you’ll wake up to the sound of these things going off right outside your windows.  One day, when we were living in Guiyang, our apartment got smoked out when a new business had opened up downstairs.  We’d had our windows open…

Even babies don’t get any break from the discomfort of living in China.  I can’t help but wonder what this sort of thing means for this poor kid’s neck muscles…

IMAG0705

6. Traffic Laws are Non-Existent…and Mayhem most Definitely Ensues…

It’s rare that you will see a police officer pulling people over for bad driving.  It’s so rare, in fact, that the only time I can remember it happening was in Guiyang, when police officers caught on that they could get bribe money from e-bike drivers who aren’t wearing helmets.

IMG_2886
Take Note: There are no drivers in many of these cars.  In Suzhou, people frequently park in the areas meant for uturns….because… why not?  Sidewalks are another very popular place to park and double parking is common.  There’s no end in sight for this behaviour, because nobody gets ticketed for these types of things.  It’s beyond me…

The results of this lack of enforcement are terrifying.  In Suzhou, the driving isn’t TOO bad.  There are e-bike lanes and for the most part, people pay attention to stop lights and stay in 1 lane at a time…Well, ok, that might be a little generous…

I don’t have many pictures of this stuff, because, I’m usually trying to jump out of the way of drivers who are busy taking selfies instead of watching the road, but this video that I took in Guiyang should give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like driving, or ever walking, in China…

 

7.  You’ll Begin to Appreciate the Most Surprising things…

The most mundane things in Canada become the most appreciated in China.  Something as simple as Shake n’ Bake chicken is the cure to culture shock and bad days.  Although I was never really big on Deviled Eggs back home, I’ve grown to love them in China, because they remind me of Christmas and Thanksgiving.

One of the best things is getting care packages from home.  Getting Coffee Crisps, clothes that fit and western spices is such a great event!  It’s like the best Christmas gift you can imagine!!  I especially love getting letters from my nieces and nephews, though it’s common that China Post loses those.  I’ve had countless letters mailed to me over the past 2 years, but I’ve only every actually received 2.  Most of our family and friends have given up sending things, and I can’t say I blame them.  Canada Post charges an exorbitant fee to send packages overseas, and when they likely won’t even make it to us…what’s the point?

IMAG1618
China Post workers going through their mail deliveries…this could be why so many packages go missing….

On the subject of ‘stuff from home’, I realized something amazing about myself while I was finding pictures to use for these posts.  I apparently have a need to photograph any western-brand sign I see.  It must be the excitement of seeing something from Canada or America IN China…

8.  Signs:  The Good, The Bad and The Incomprehensible

This category doesn’t need much explaining….Let’s start with the good…

The Bad…

And, of course, the ones we can barely understand…

9.  Things are Just Done Differently Here… (Part 2)

Of course, there are a few things I forgot to write in this section of my last post, so here they are…

  • Public space is used differently here…Below is a photo of a man shaving.  In the metro.  On his way to work…

IMG_20151123_075944

  • Advertisements are weird.  These women are serving pie…in a glass cage..to promote a new restaurant.  They’re white…and it was weird…so people stopped.

IMG_7163

  • Products are also weird.  The grossest one I’ve seen are the facial creams that are supposedly made of human placenta.  They have a rejuvenating quality to them….yeah….no thanks….IMG_20160319_224523
  • Crowds….crowds like you have never experienced…

IMG_7142

  • Chinese medicine can be questionable.  I have tried acupuncture here and it did not go well.  I wound up passing out and I think the guy did more damage than good.  I’m a pretty firm believer in scientifically backed treatments, but if you want to try eastern remedies, I do urge you to seek out professionals.  Cupping is one of the most popular thing for westerners to try out.  It’s pretty harmless, and it leaves some pretty wicked (temporary) scars that you can show off.  Every Chinese person I’ve asked swears that it does wonders…
IMG_3064
A friend of mine, after a Cupping session.  The welts go away after about a month…

Some Final Tips for your Time in China

  • Buy clothing and shoes before coming to the country.  Even petite girls can have a difficult time finding clothing here, because generally there is NO ROOM for curves in Chinese clothing.  If you’re busty…shop at home accordingly, because you will not find anything above a B cup here.  Similarly, it’s difficult to find shoes bigger than a lady’s size 6 or 7 (36 or 37 in European sizes).
  • While the Chinese are perfectly ok wearing mini skirts where you can actually see their bums when they bend over, cleavage is a nay nay…Be prepared to have pretty high cropped shirts here, ladies.  It’s inappropriate to show off your goods (on the upper part of your body anyway…)
  • Learn how to use Tao Bao!  It is truly a life saver.  You can use Bing Translate or google translate if you have a VPN.  ***Tip:  Translate whatever it is you want to buy into Chinese (Google Translate works very well).  The prices are much lower if you search in Mandarin.
  • Buy bedding foam.  There’s very little worse than having a bad sleep.  The first time I lived in China, I was able to get used to the hard beds, but now…I find it unbearable.  There are all sorts of foam mattresses you can buy (Tao Bao is your best bet!) to soften up your bed.  They are invaluable and I HIGHLY recommend buying one!
  • Find a local store that carries western goods.  Metro, Carrefour, Walmart, Decathelon and Euromart are some of the best.  Tao Bao also carries a wide range of western brands, so that’s always an option as well.  It’s amazing how comforting it can be to find taco seasoning or salty popcorn when you have had a bad week.
  • Get a VPN (preferably before you enter the country)!  I couldn’t blog or keep in touch with anyone on Facebook if it weren’t for my VPN.  For $100 a year you can get set up with Astrill or Express, and both are reliable and fast.  The government does sometimes crack down on that stuff, so expect the occasional glitch in service, but for the most part, I feel that they do pretty well.

My last piece of advice before ending this post:  surround yourself with positive people.  There’s nothing worse than spending time with people who do nothing but complain about the culture and the country.  Of course, it’s inevitable that you will need to rant now and then, and that’s totally okay.  But I’ve met so many foreigners who spend their time abroad angry that the people here won’t conform to what THEY think it normal.  Those types of Lao Wai kinda suck…so don’t be like them.  Remember that there are good things and bad things in EVERY culture, and you don’t come from a perfect country any more than the Chinese do.  Be tolerant, and when it gets REALLY bad…grab some western bevies  (because Chinese beer is pretty terrible) and chill out with people who are going through the same things you are.

IMG_2753
Having a positive group of friends is key to surviving overseas.  I can’t claim that we’re all positive all the time, but we all count ourselves lucky to be having this incredible experience, and when all else fails, beers at Euromart, or a night out at KTV can go a long, long way for the spirit!!

That’s it for today!  My next post will be an update on life in Suzhou!  I’ll have pictures from my first gigs (I’m singing in a band :)), the Drama Festival at my school and all the stuff that’s been keeping me busy and away from my blog!

 

 

 

Back in Suzhou

Unlike at the end of many holidays, where I’ve been a little depressed to return to ‘real life’, I am totally thrilled to be back in Suzhou.  I’m only one week into the new semester and I’m already finding work challenging, rewarding and fun.  The number of students who greeted me by jumping out of their seat and cheering blew me away.  How did I end up working for a school with students this cool?  I don’t remember ever loving teachers enough to cheer for them!?  These kids are just so great…and it helps that I love teaching Drama and writing…and even Food and Nutrition (when I’m in the classroom!!!).

Anyway…after 30 days away from home, Poe and Hugo are very pleased to have us back!  Poor Poe was very anxious from us being away, I think, and our first few nights back were sleepless.  She needs constant reassurance and is always worried that we’ve left.  She wakes us up in the middle of the night…seemingly just to see if we’re there.  I  wonder what she went through at that shelter to have so much to worry about!  Hugo, on the other hand, could not be more relaxed.  Although he’s the one missing a leg, you’d never guess that he’s seen a moment of trauma in his life.  Nothing phases him…I guess cats are like people in that way…some handle stress better than others.

The following few posts I’ll be putting up will be about some of the most incredible parts of our trip.  It felt as though writing about these things from my tablet wouldn’t do them justice…not only because the internet was constantly a struggle and my photo editing tools are all on my laptop (which we didn’t bring along), but I wanted to be able to write about these things with some distance from India.  Our trip had a lot of ups and even more downs, but I know that with some distance, things won’t seem as though they were so bad.  The following two posts will be about our time in Agra and our time in the Thar desert…and they are both stories that deserve to be to told without residual frustrations tainting otherwise beautiful experiences.

I hope you enjoy reading about these adventures as much as I’ve enjoyed documenting them through both writing and photography.

圣诞快乐和新年快乐!(Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!)

Although my next post was going to be about our trip to Hong Kong, I thought that writing about the Holidays might be a little more relevant.  The holiday season can be awful or amazing when you are a foreigner in another country.  It’s easy to feel homesick and marginalized when you live in a country where Christmas is important on a superficial level alone, but it helps a lot when you work with awesome people and have good friends to celebrate with.   Dave and I were fortunate enough to be part of several events with the great friends we’ve made over the last 4 months.  And although our Christmas definitely had some ‘downs’, it was, for the most part, an excellent holiday!

The school held several events around the holidays that definitely helped encourage the Christmas Spirit.  In addition to the Lao Wai Holiday supper, there was also a spelling bee the week before Christmas and then on Thursday we had the IGCSE New Year’s Gala.  All 3 events were great fun and big successes.

IMG_20151223_203258
One of the dearest friends I’ve made in Suzhou:  Alecia.  She teaches Spanish at the school (she’s from Spain).

My favorite of the holiday parties though, was the IGCSE New Year’s Eve gala.  IGCSE is the department of the school where I work.  Suzhou Foreign Language school is huge and there are actually 3 middle schools within the one larger school.  IGCSE is the ‘English’ department because when the students graduate middle school, they receive a bilingual diploma from the University of Cambridge.  We have some of the brightest students I’ve met in China in this program and I’m proud to be their teacher 🙂

I also got to perform at the gala.  My boss, Nathan, plays the Ukulele, so he and I chose a couple of songs and performed them for the kids and parents.  It went over really well, and when it was done, one of the IG2 students presented me with a bouquet of roses.  It was so sweet!

mmexport1451536242847
We look far more professional than we actually were!

The gala finished with Abba’s ‘Happy New Year’, which I may now never get out of my head!  They asked Nathan and I at the last minute if we would sing the first 8 lines of the song solo, so I had to learn it over night.  I was so stressed about the whole thing (Abba is WAY out of my range) that I lost my voice!  Luckily, I found it the next morning, but it was still a bit of a scare!

mmexport1451554750580~3
Nathan and I with all of the IGCSE students!  It’s unfortunate that none of the other IG teachers could make it to the event (they all work in multiple departments and couldn’t get their classes changed).  I’m glad I was able to attend, though!

But the school was not the only place where I was able to celebrate the holidays (don’t worry, Dave and I DID see each other!!).  We were invited to, and organized, several events with friends.  Just like we would back home, we ate FAR too much and spent great time with great people 🙂

Christmas Day was a lot of fun as well.  Dave and I got dressed up and had dinner at the Kempinski Hotel in Suzhou.  We ate far too much (again) and then head out to The Camel (a bar in SIP) to meet some friends that I met in Shanghai.

New Year’s Eve was also a nice evening out, though I didn’t take any pictures.  We hung out with my favorite Suzhou-Canadian: Jeff.  Whenever I miss home, I hang out with Jeff…he is basically every Canadian stereotype personified!

48b6c401a85592fa25b86ed42e986327
This is basically Jeff

Of course, I can’t exactly say that our holiday season was everything I had hoped it would be.  The pollution from Beijing made its way down to Suzhou and Dave and I both got pretty sick from it.  My skin was very irritated by the smog and dust and both of our lungs suffered.  We really do love our life in Suzhou, but when we decide to move home, it will probably be because of the smog.  Coming from small town Canada has left me with high standards as far as air is concerned, and Suzhou doesn’t cut it.

suzhou pollution
The first of these pictures was taken over the summer, when the pollution was very low.  The second was taken when it was at it’s worst.  We base the air quality each day on whether or not we can see the ‘Pants Building from our apartment.

 

But the smog was the least of our holiday worries.  We had Poe scheduled to be spayed on December 23rd, and although she was in heat at the time, we needed to get the surgery done so that she’d be healed in time for our departure for India.   We read about it online and everything seemed like it would be fine.  The surgery is a little more complicated when a cat is in heat, but vets do the surgery out west all the time.  So we went ahead with the surgery.

IMG_20151226_151641
Our Sweet Poe

A few hours after her surgery was over, we got a call from the vet telling us that she had to go back under because she had internal bleeding.  2 hours later, we found out that the vet had accidentally damaged her spleen during the original surgery (he has apologized profusely for his mistake and has admitted that it was due to his inexperience…inexperience we weren’t actually aware of…).  As a result, Poe lost her spleen and we came pretty close to losing her.

Now, anyone who is not an animal lover may not understand where I’m coming from here, but Dave and I have really fallen in love with that cat over the last month and a half.  She’s such a little ray of sunshine…very affectionate and always purring.  She became part of our little family so quickly and we were so terribly worried we’d lose her.

mmexport1450931986662
She really is my little sunshine!

The veterinarian did come through for us though, and he saved our little Poe.  She spent 3 nights at the hospital and we visited her between our holiday parties whenever we had the chance.  The nurse there commented on how much higher her spirits were when we were there, which made us feel like there was SOMETHING we could actually do for her.

IMG_20151225_151113
Visiting her at the vet

Poe came home on Boxing Day and is still recovering.  We try to keep her out of the cone as much as possible so she can get some good rest and feel comfortable, but she’s a cat…so bathing is inevitable.  Her spirit is slowly returning and she’s becoming playful again, which is wonderful to see.  Hugo rather enjoyed being an ‘only cat’ for the 4 days she was gone, but he’s adjusting to her return.  And as much as he tries to pretend he hates that little black ball of fur, he was worried and searching for her the entire time she was gone.

 

So I guess our Christmas story had a happy ending.  🙂

IMG_20151225_160538
The best present I got this Christmas was to have Poe back home safe and sound, but I did score some other shwag as well!  The beautiful wallet and book were from Dave (he also got wii controls so we can play on his computer) and the painting is an original from my boss, Nathan, who is quite a talented artist!  I also received a lot of chocolate and other goodies from my students.  The cat key chain was given to me by Ken…one of the coolest 13 year olds I’ve ever met.  My whole class was worried sick about Poe.  It was very sweet that they cared so much!

I’ll be back soon with some stories about Hong Kong!

 

 

Beginning our new life in Suzhou

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!

IMG_20151006_144117
This fine gentleman took a 3 hour nap (I kid you not!) while Dave and I worked today….yes…this is at Starbucks. And no, he did not order anything from Starbucks…

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!)

Spoiler Alert! The Great Wall is bloody incredible!!!!
Spoiler Alert! The Great Wall is bloody incredible!!!!

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.

IMG_20150915_143335
My boss used the projector to paint a map on the staff room wall….with the flag of each country in that country’s space…he did all of this in a single afternoon….
IMG_20150916_081134
I work for a school where the teachers care so much about the way that our staff room is perceived, that they spend the day making something as awesome as this map. He’s still not quite done…because he’s like the busiest guy in the universe…but I’m still blown away by the effort he and the Chinese staff put into this project

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!!

IMG_20150829_131133
Another fun fact about the school where I work….they teach several languages at the school, including French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese. Their aim is to teach all of the languages of the UN.

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!!!

IMG_20150916_085459
My Elite Boys 1 class practicing the first bit of the play. These guys are AWESOME!!! They get SO into the roles!!! They have me in stitches every class!
IMG_20150916_083003
One of my students, Colt, wrote this on the Smart Board before I got to class. Needless to say, it made my day! (and yes…I have Smart Boards in my classrooms!!!)

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 🙂

IMG_20150928_161510
This is my middle school class. It’s a mix of boys and girls, which is nice, because most of the classes I teach are gender specific.
IMG_20150924_113653
These are my Grade 7 Elite Girls. The girl who is second from the left is named Hani….she is SUCH a character. I also teach her Drama and when I told her off last week for talking while I was trying to explain something, she went into a big soliloquy about how I am the most beautiful and kind of all the drama teachers in the land. Once more……So. Much. Fun!!!
mmexport1443442225783
One of the groups’ dip when they were done. My budget didn’t allow for cheese or meat on all of them, so I had to pick and choose which students got what. Not bad for a first try!!!

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!!!

IMG_20150910_071839
I’d already received this and I took the picture at 8:30am…..by the end of the day, I had to leave some of it at the school because I just couldn’t bring it all home!!  ***Note that the flag in this picture is not on my desk.  It is on my neighbor’s.  I’ve already received some flack for not representing Canada in the office from some family members…but trust me….I represent in my own way!  I get razzed for every ‘eh’, ‘aboot’ and ‘toque’ that I say….

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!!!….

IMG_6482
This is just one of Suzhou’s many gardens. A friend of mine referred to Suzhou as ‘the secret garden’ when I showed her pictures of the city a few years ago (we had been interested in living here for a while). I think she gave it the perfect nickname.

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).

IMG_6543
The circular doorways add such a beautiful touch to the already beautiful greenery
IMG_6490
The pathways are bordered by benches, where you often see the elderly enjoying some time in the relaxing atmosphere
IMG_6475
I love how the doorways open up to whole new areas of the garden…
IMG_6497
The girl in the blue dress (on the right side of the picture) crossed over that stone bridge. I waited there for ages to get a picture but when she’d finally finished crossing, she just stood there for a while afterwards, looking at her phone…. So, here she is in my picture; a testament to my inability to wait.

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.

IMG_6578

IMG_6584
I love this picture. We both look so happy 🙂
IMG_20150925_194830
There is a ceiling above the boardwalk at Times Square that lights up at night with a show. When we walked by a few weeks ago, it had aliens staring down at us!!
IMG_6588
Times Square also has a tonne of western brand stores. Papa John’s Pizza, Toys R Us and a Crocs store are just a few!

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 🙂

IMG_6626
The crowds can be a little overwhelming, but this was nothing compared to the Shanghai metro experiences we had….but I’ll have more on that in future posts!
IMG_6631
I love, love, LOVE the canals in Suzhou!
IMG_20150903_211032
We bought this print on ShanTang street for only around $15 Canadian. I feel like it was worth more than that (just the frame would cost that much in Canada!). It was the first thing we really bought for the apartment (aside from toilet paper! haha!) and we hung it proudly on the wall by our water cooler as soon as we got home from our shopping adventure

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.

IMG_20150927_182528
A Roots store in Times Square
IMG_20150926_205139
Cooking a spectacular dinner in our clean and usable kitchen…..what more could I possibly need?

Catching up… August

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!!

Saying Goodbye

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.

Huang and I at the goodbye dinner the school held for us
Huang and I at the goodbye dinner the school held for us. She and I came a long way…
11796320_10153413631501488_5798372667283637748_n
Second last day with my babies. I miss this guys so much! I still get voice notes from many of them on WeChat…China’s bbm. It makes me smile every time I hear their little voices telling me how much they love me and miss me.

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.

11825622_10153413633066488_1431522012377511156_n
This is Jason. He started off in my kindergarten class and eventually graduated into the level 1 primary school level. His dad had tried to get him to switch teachers at the beginning of last term, because the other teacher’s time table suited him better. Jason tried it out and then begged his dad to come back to me. This little boy…for whatever reason…thought I was the cat’s meow. I guess his dad started paying attention more after that, because on my last day, Jason’s parents came in, with a speech they’d written me (in English!) to thank me for all the hard work I’d done and how I’d helped Jason so much with his confidence. They said that I was a big part of why he’d won a speaking contest at his school recently and they showed me his performance. Talk about a rewarding job!!! I miss Jason a lot.
11033079_10153413630471488_7169025975489059233_n
This is me with Martha’s grandmother. Martha has always been special to me…she started off so sweet and shy…afraid to say a word in English class. But after some time, she blossomed into this funny, quirky, confident kid. Her grandmother feels like it was me who brought her out of her shell, and she broke down and cried a few minutes after this picture was taken. She was more upset that I was leaving that even Martha was….and Martha didn’t take it all that well either…
11846634_10153413630561488_5844622275595012270_n
She didn’t cry. She just wrapped her little arms around me and wouldn’t let go until she had to. She sends me messages through her grandmother’s WeChat account every week and I love getting them and responding. She’s such a great kid. I’m so happy she’s in my friend Chris’ class now… Chris is an awesome teacher and I know he’ll keep her out of her shell and keep her confidence 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!!)

IMG_20150809_225338~2
I was so happy to see my grandparents, who drove out from Quebec to visit with the family while we were home! I love those two so much and it was so great to spend that time with them!..
IMG_20150808_005656~2
Our fantastically wonderful friends Nathan and Dianne. We had such great Friday nights with these two…cooking and playing Charades. I miss them both so much already!
IMG_20150808_142145~2
The only picture I got of Kathleen, and it doesn’t even have her fabulous hubby, Cory in it! They put in such a huge effort to spend time with us while we were home and it was so great going for Dim Sum with them and seeing them at our bbq
IMG_20150816_171629~2
My beautiful siblings and I. Ellie decided to photobomb us!  It was my sisters and my brother Josh planned our whole BBQ along with my BFF, Jamie. Although Dave and I showed up 2 hours late (the cost of keeping it a surprise!!! haha!!), we had a wonderful time that afternoon!!!
IMG_20150818_205016~2
I honestly don’t know if I could have gotten through last year without this girl in my life. My best friend in the world, Jamie, and our boys. Life is good when you have a friend who is always able to help you see the positives…but who knows when to let you rant!! LOVE YOU TO BITS!!!
IMG_20150808_234956~2
Another dear friend, Veronique. I don’t see her nearly often enough, but when I do, it’s as though we were never apart.
IMG_20150815_234829~2
Jamie and I with our friend Tiffany, who is about as good of people as you can find! These gals are too fabulous for words!
IMG_20150825_173017~2
A beautiful shot of my beautiful girls, Ellie and Addyson 🙂
IMG_20150813_122630~2
I missed this kid more than anyone else over the last year. My gorgeous niece, Ellie
IMG_20150809_153741~2
Being an Auntie is one of the best parts of my life. I love these kids to bits and I can’t wait to see them all again next year!!!
My mum and I at Pepere's birthday party. I'd love to have a picture of my dad too, but he's so 'anti-camera' that I learned years ago that it's best not to try...unless he's not looking. Then all bets are off!!
My mum and I at Pepere’s birthday party. I’d love to have a picture of my dad too, but he’s so ‘anti-camera’ that I learned years ago that it’s best not to try…unless he’s not looking. Then all bets are off!!

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.

IMG_20150816_201720~2
Nothing quite like a sunset over St. Malo lake. Better yet…there was a family of geese hanging out in the water. I walked along the shore with them for a while. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so calm and relaxed.
IMG_20150816_184603~2
When you grow up with this as your surroundings…it’s hard to get used to life in a city as loud and dirty as Guiyang. The fresh air here did me so much good.

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.

IMG_20150808_210334~2
There’s nothing quite like a Manitoba sunset!
Loved seeing so many sunflowers and adored seeing the fields back home!
Loved seeing so many sunflowers and adored seeing the fields back home!

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.

IMG_20150827_200800
Our favorite “Nai Cha” joint from Guiyang is everywhere in Suzhou!
IMG_20150828_091419
We craved these the entire time we were in Canada
IMG_20150827_200559
I forgot to take a picture of the BBQ place but I did get one of the walk there.

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!).

The first thing you see when you walk into our apartment. Yes...we have 2 floors :)
The first thing you see when you walk into our apartment. Yes…we have 2 floors 🙂
IMG_20150828_171005
This is the upstairs bathroom. Do you notice that there’s no telephone line running through it???
IMG_20150828_171152
We have two bathrooms. The downstairs one has a western style washing machine. Quite the upgrade from our laundry facilities in Guiyang, which basically required us to hand wash all our clothes!!!
IMG_20150828_171209
Our gorgeous, clean and USABLE kitchen!!!  We even have hot water in the sink!!
Our bedroom. The bed is super comfortable and King Sized :)
Our bedroom. The bed is super comfortable and King Sized 🙂
IMG_20150829_223909
One of my favorite features of the apartment. This is the desk in our bedroom…
IMG_20150829_223923
It opens up!!!
IMG_20150912_182701
Our dining room tables folds out into double this size. And that big thing beside it is a heater/AC. We have 4 of them in our apartment….fantastic! Also…I love the bay windows we have!!!
IMG_20150912_182723
My office/ Yoga Room. It leads out to the balcony, which is nice 🙂
IMG_20150828_171315
My office is also the extra bedroom, so if anyone’s planning on visiting us…………..this whole space can be yours!!!!
IMG_20150828_171259
The daytime view from our balcony. You can see the lake and even one of Suzhou’s many canals from there 🙂
IMG_20150828_171349
Dave discussing the details of our apartment with Jean. Notice the couch? IT’S NOT A WOODEN BENCH!!!!!!!
IMG_20150831_204913
Our gigantic TV 🙂 It’s actually a flat screen! First time in my life I’ve had one!! We have used it a whopping 1 time in the last month lol!!
IMG_20150912_194228
Our upstairs ‘den’ that we turned into an office for Dave. The landlord bought us this desk when Dave wasn’t happy with the size of the one that was originally up there. He also bought a brand new Air conditioner/heater for the room so that Dave would be comfortable working there.

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.

IMG_20150831_205033
The view from our balcony at night

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!!!