In a week from today, we will begin our trip back to Canada for the summer! First, we’ll be stopping by Las Vegas to see some friends get married (more on that next week!) and we also have plans to drive around the area a bit to see The Grand Canyon in all its glory. We were originally planning to take a 10 day road trip back to Manitoba, but those plans fell through when we learned that the car rental alone would cost us $1500. So, instead, we’re going to take a camping trip at our favourite park (Rushing River in Ontario) while we’re back.
Fantastic Sunsets over the Canadian Shield
The View from our Favourite Campsite
I am excited to cook over the fire, and wake up to the sound of loons, but mostly I look forward to the smell of fresh air and being surrounded by trees. I miss the smell of trees a lot. I actually played a gig a few weeks back at a large park just outside of Shanghai. It was the most grass I’d seen in about a year. Since then, I’ve been dying to get back into the Canadian wilderness.
The gig was outside at a community BBQ of sorts.
My band performed a few sets..and I’ve gotta say, we killed it!
I know so many awesome people…
That’s not to say I don’t love Suzhou though! Lately, it’s been quite rainy, but for about a month before the rain hit, we had gorgeous clear skies and (mostly) clean air. I took advantage of that time to snap some shots of the city we currently call home. I thought people might like to see Suzhou the way I see it.
Suzhou has plenty of beautiful parks and gardens. I know I’ve posted some of these pictures of them before, but they’re just so pretty, I have to show you again!
Central Park is about a 10 minute walk from our Apartment
Speaking of our apartment, this picture is from our ‘back yard’. Our apartment complex (which probably has about 20 buildings in it) has a park, tennis court and a playground in it
Various parks around the city
Suzhou also has some interesting architecture outside of their gardens. For some reason I don’t understand, China is obsessed with creating replicas of famous buildings from around the world. Beijing has a replica of Sydney Opera House, and Shanghai has its very own copy of the Eiffel Tower, and Suzhou apparently, didn’t want to feel left out. So they made a replica of London Bridge (sort of).
There are definitely some inaccuracies, but over all, it looks pretty cool. The bridge is mostly used for wedding pictures, and the surrounding area has plenty of places for photo-ops.
This red bridge was lovely
One of many happy couples
They even have a Cinderella horse and carriage!
Although Suzhou is pretty during the day, I find this water-town most beautiful at night. Dave and I have spent many evenings walking around, taking pictures of the high-rises that are popping up all around SIP (we live in Suzhou Industrial Park). I love the way the buildings here are all lit up.
The building in front will be done in the next few months. I think it’ll look really nice when it’s complete
A replica of the Wall Street bull
The view near our apartment
Xinghai Square, where I catch the metro every day
The canals are also gorgeous at night. The reflections from the buildings give them a dream-like feel.
Of course, Xinghai Square is such a buzz of lights and traffic, it makes for some very interesting night photos as well.
The city recently replaced the lights along the street outside of our apartment complex, which was a nice change. The old ones, though pretty, were getting pretty rusty, but the new ones are nice and bright white.
A street lamp right outside our building
The street that runs alongside our apartment
The guard house outside our building. These guys are so friendly and nice! I don’t think they’ve ever not welcomed us back when we return home from going…anywhere!
We live on the 12th floor of this building in the back left corner.
Central park is also very pretty at night. We often walk through there on our way to (or from) one of our favourite restaurants: Lu Yu. They specialize in a type of roast fish that’s unlike any fish you’ve ever eaten in your life.
Kao Yu has actually become a bit of a weekly tradition we have with some friends. We walk down there (it’s about a half hour walk each way), and meet up to discuss our weeks and enjoy some good food and draft beer. The walk there takes us through Suzhou’s Central Park, and I’ve brought my camera along a few times now.
I love this fountain. Last week there were 50 or 60 people around it, all dancing
Xinghai Square is about a 10 minute walk from this area
The canal we walk along on our way there
Dancing is a common pass-time here
Tai Chi is also commonly practiced at the entrance of the park
But as much as we like Kao Yu, there is one restaurant in Suzhou we love even more. A few months back, we told our bilingual friend, Kevin, that if he could find us a restaurant that makes Guizhou food (the province where we lived prior to moving to Suzhou), that we would take him there for dinner. We’ve gone there pretty much every week since he found it. We’ve brought countless friends and even people visiting from America and Argentina…every person we’ve brought has been floored by how good the food is!
At Zou Guizhou with Kim, CJ and Kim’s parents. The Chinese lady in the middle is the owner. She’s simply one of the sweetest people I’ve met in my life
A group of us enjoying some hot pot
A different group of us enjoying hot pot
The owner has a little girl who loves us. She was all dressed up for Children’s Day, so I asked her if I could take a picture with her and this is what she did. I love that kid so much!!!
In addition to the food and the company being so great at 去贵州, the view is also pretty spectacular. We usually sit outside, across from the little island near Suzhou University.
I feel like the pictures speak for themselves
Of course, I’m not the only one that’s caught on that Suzhou is an incredibly photographic city. My friend, Kevin, also enjoys taking photos of this gorgeous place we all call home. I asked him if I could include some of his shots, and he kindly said I could. Here they are:
I have a hard time choosing a favourite picture, but I think this one is it. It’s taken about a 5 minute walk from my apartment, and love the colour in it.
This, of course, is Kevin. He incapable of taking a picture without making a silly face :p
That’s all for this post! I’ll be back soon with an update on life here. We’ve been so incredibly busy lately! There are plenty of stories to come!
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!!
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
The Ladies of our team
Lizz and I, designing our team flag
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.
Mia, killing it at Beer Pong (just kidding…our team only managed to get 1 in, the whole game!!!)
Our team mate, Miguel, playing the 1 game I sat out. I can sip beer…I am not a chugger. I cheered from the sidelines!!
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!
One of my new Grade 7 writing classes
So that’s been our last 3 and a half weeks! Pretty wild! Now I need to catch up on some sleep…
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.
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.
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.
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:
New Businesses Opening
Just because they like to make noise…
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…
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.
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?
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…
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…
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.
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….
Crowds….crowds like you have never experienced…
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…
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.
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!
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!!!).
My 7th grade all-girls class. They have improved so much in the kitchen, learning how to clean properly and how to make safe food
One of the girls was looking for extra point on their final exam at the end of last term. It says ‘Love Marie’ in Honey Dill sauce!!
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.
Hugo, cuddled up and purring like a mad-man
You better not be thinking about leaving me!!!!
I have such a derpy cat!!! lol!!! If this isn’t total relaxation…what is!?!?!?
Hey Guys…where are we going!?!?!?
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.
Suzhou’s most iconic building: The Pants
Goodness, I missed Chinese food!!!
I hope you enjoy reading about these adventures as much as I’ve enjoyed documenting them through both writing and photography.
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 biggest Christmas tree we’ve seen in China. This is right near Xinghai Square; the metro stop we live near
Some polar bear Christmas decorations outside of a restaurant. They made me feel a little closer to Manitoba
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.
I was asked to present the IG1 and Elite Girls 1 with their awards at the spelling bee. I’m lucky enough to teach in both departments, so it was great being there cheering on these awesome kids I get to teach!!!
The Christmas dinner was both delicious and delightful 🙂 I had a bit of a rough time at the dinner because Poe was in surgury that evening, but it was good to have good friends there to distract me.
My boss, one of the greatet people I’ve met in China, singing his speach. Although he is incredibly humble and wouldn’t brag about it, he does a tonne of charity work here in Suzhou and recently won an award given by the city of Suzhou, for being the city’s most important philanthropist. This is the guy I get to work for. It’s so great having a boss I have so much respect for!
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 🙂
3 of my best IG1 students. I teach these girls English Writing and they always blow me away with their effort and their participation in class. I couldn’t ask for a better group of 13 year olds!!!
The IG2 (grade 8) clas singing a Taylor Swift Song
Some students did a special dance for ‘Ms. Fang’, the middle school’s main administrator. She’s an incredible teacher and person and the students and teachers all love her to bits. The kids decided to put on a special dance for her (they’re all wearing masks with her face on them) and then they presented her with flowers. It was probably my favorite part of the night
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!
The roses I received when our performance was done 🙂
One of my students, Ken, took some shots of Nathan and I with his Iphone and edited them. I think he did a pretty nice job!
The school hired a photographer for the event, and she caught this picture of me as I walked in. The reason I look so happy is because when I walked through the door all the IG1 kids got all excited and started shouting “Ms Marie’s here!!!!!” They know how to make me feel loved!!!
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!
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 🙂
Isaac and Adam making friends at Bei Jiang; one of our favorite restaurants in Suzhou
Our new friend Amanda ADORED Hugo. He was pretty happy to curl up with her all evening!
Dave and I, while being told to stop being mushy in front of the others at dinner lol
Our Christmas Eve dinner party 🙂
IG Life 🙂
Me with Ivy and Sherry! I work with these lovely ladies. They are both fantastic teachers and some of my closest Chinese friends.
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.
Presley, Sarah, Zoe and I 🙂
The Kempinski. It was great, but we definitely missed the one in Guiyang.
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!
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.
We bought PM2.5 masks on Tao bao , as well as an air purifier for the apartment. Of course, neither arrived until the smog cloud had passed, but atleast we’re prepared for the next attack on oxygen!!
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.
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.
They had her on an IV drip. She spent her first day there hiding in the litter box.
She become much more alert when she saw us there
She was so swollen! The stitches look much better now
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.
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.
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.
Hugo, unimpressed that the ‘black one’ has returned
Poe, unimpressed that she has been ‘coned’
Poe, trying to block out all the ‘human’ around her.
So I guess our Christmas story had a happy ending. 🙂
I’ll be back soon with some stories about Hong Kong!
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!!!