Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Mom and Dad arrived safely last night, after over 14 hours in a plane from Chicago (with, I'm told, great views of Siberia along the way!) They're recovering quickly from jet lag and have already been on a school and neighborhood tour. This afternoon, we took the bus into the city to see the Jing'an Temple (a Buddhist Temple dating back to 247 A.D. - though it's been through several renovations since then.) It's situated right in the middle of skyscrapers and shopping malls, making for interesting juxtapositions. On the schedule tomorrow... Old Town Shanghai and a New Year's Eve dinner!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Philippines Recap

We're back from our whirlwind four-day, three-night trip to the Philippines, feeling rested and so glad that we went. We started the trip on Mactan Island, near the city of Lapu Lapu (named for the Filipino warrior who killed Magellan on that very island.) There, we stayed at a nice hotel, with a room overlooking the ocean. We soaked up the fancy-ness of it all, enjoying meals and drinks at the resort and taking time to walk to a neighborhood "restaurant" for lunch (really just one woman, cooking out of her home. We had a choice of whatever she'd chosen to cook that day. It was delicious!)

The next day, we headed into the city of Cebu, where we explored Fort San Pedro, a 500-year old Spanish fort, and a basilica, busy with people celebrating Christmas, before boarding a bus to the town of Moalboal, 90 kilometers and about 2 1/2 hours away. The bus ride was an adventure. The scenery was incredible - sea views and mountain landscapes - but the company was equally interesting. We were squished in with dozens of other sweaty bodies (it was in the 90's that day), many of whom had hopped on to sell snacks and other goodies, and at least one excited rooster. (Beyond roosters being common in rural areas anywhere, cockfighting is very popular in Cebu, so we got used to seeing men walking with their roosters to the local arenas.)

Once we arrived in Moalboal, we hired a tricycle (a moped with a sidecar) to take us to the little resort that would be our home for the next two days. The resort only had eight rooms and was right on the coast, so was absolutely idyllic. The highlight there was definitely the snorkeling (I know that we already posted about this, but it was so great that we'll both be talking about it for years. I only wish we'd had an underwater camera! It was like "Finding Nemo" in real life!) But, we also took plenty of time to enjoy the food, beer, people, and sunshine.

Our last night there, we walked into the village of Moalboal to check out the public market and wharf. And, on our last morning, we went to an orchid farm to see a huge variety of flowers (and, for whatever reason, caged monkeys and exotic birds.)

All in all, an amazing trip - what a luxury to have this experience! I've included a few pictures in this post, but if you have time and interest, there are plenty more on our photo site. Look here: for the photos (three albums) and here: for a few videos from our trip (one from the Noche Buena celebration, one from snorkeling, and one from our tricycle ride to the orchid farm.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An Underwater Christmas

Merry Christmas, all! We spent ours snorkeling around the incredible coral reef that lies just off the coast of our hotel. There was live coral as far as the eye could see (the reef actually runs for 5-6 kilometers) and tropical creatures everywhere we looked. Definitely a memorable, if not a typical, Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Noche Buena!

Merry Christmas Eve from the Philippines! We made it here safely
yesterday morning, after flying all night, and have been taking it all
in since then.

Yesterday, we stayed in a hotel on Mactan Island, near the city of
Lapu Lapu. (The first picture is the view from our 18th-floor sea-view
room!) Today, we took a shuttle bus into the city of Cebu, did a bit
of sightseeing with our luggage in tow, and then hopped on a bus to
the town of Moalboal. (A 2-3 hour ride across the island of Cebu,
including incredible sea views and a trip up and down the island's
small mountains.) We arrived at the very small resort (only 8 rooms)
where we're staying for the next two nights and, tonight, we were
treated to the traditional Filipino Christmas Eve "Noche Buena"
celebration. This included lots of food (including the unlucky pig in
the second picture) a sangria-like drink, and observing some
traditional singing and party games.

Other reminders of Christmas have included decorations and groups of
Filipino carolers (all with a guitar for accompaniment.) Without
those, it would be even more difficult for this Midwestern girl to
feel like it's really Christmas in 80 degree weather!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve Eve Eve

In a few hours, we're off to the airport, headed for the island of Cebu in the central Philippines (and a safe distance from the Mayon Volcano.) In the meantime, we're busy finishing up a day of work and packing to go. Here's a picture of Jeff showing off the gifts that his students had given him today - they really love him!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Painter Street

After visiting the hospital for Jeff's ear vacuuming on Saturday, we strolled through the neighborhood to seek out a Christmas market that we'd read about. While the market turned out to be unremarkable, we were excited to stumble across this little "Painter Street" alley along the way. As its name implies, it's lined with painters, hard at work and selling their wares. Though we didn't leave with any treasures, it seemed like it'd be easy to find some!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jeff's Medical Adventures...

There are two things that I (Jeff) have become an undesired expert on – infections and antibiotics.  The latest installment of "What's wrong with Jeff?" deals with the wonderfully complicated and ever so necessary ear.  Here's the recap of what has been an interesting two weeks.  It started with an ear ache that slowly turned into my gradual loss of hearing in my right ear.  I took ear drops from my school's clinic, attempted an assortment of home remedy solutions, had my ears professionally cleaned (which was both awesome and gross), and gradually came to the awareness that I had a serious problem.  I went to a hospital near the school, and even though there was a wonderful international wing where everyone spoke English, I decided to head upstairs and chat with a Chinese doctor in the ENT room.  After looking in my ear he prescribed my three days of IV-antibiotic injections.  He said it was bad.  After my three hospital visits, my ear felt better, but my hearing felt worse. We decided to stop by after my third IV and see the doctor.  Good news for those who love this stuff.  He proceeded to use a mini vacuum to suck out of my ear the nastiest things I have ever seen.  On his final vacuum, he went in deep; got something and pulled it out…I could hear again! 

Memories to last a lifetime.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Work Holiday Party

The school threw a holiday party for all of the foreign teachers last night at a steak house, where there was an all-you-can-eat buffet (mostly meat and comfort food - mac n cheese, baked potatoes, butternut squash soup) AND a mechanical bull. The latter was fun until someone lost a fingernail while falling off - it was one tricky bull! There was also a raffle - the prizes were "cheese," "better cheese," and a bottle of Courvoisier. Neither of us won big, though we did go home with consolation prizes of chocolate and candies. The pictures show a few of the teachers during the raffle and the two of us on the bus to the restaurant.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dinner With Friends

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that our friend Matt, from college, and his wife, Jenny, would be in town for a few days, as a part of a business school class that Matt's taking. We were able to meet them for dinner tonight and enjoyed catching up on all we've been up to since our CMC days. This picture is from the lobby of the People's Square Radisson, where they were staying.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Island of Misfit Toys

Little mechanical animals seem to be really popular here - the kind that can be found outside of drug stores and can be ridden for a quarter. They're all over here, and I often see dazed-looking kids riding them, with some spotting from a parent or grandparent. However, this sad group of creatures has seen better days. I spotted these huddled up in a driveway in our neighborhood while out for a walk this past weekend. Let's hope that they can find someone to appreciate them, quirks and all!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Keep off the grass!

There is a large grassy area between the 9th and 10th grade building (pictured) and the cafeteria. The quickest way to get between the two is to go across the grass, but the maintenance staff has been trying to rehab it, as it had gotten really muddy and worn down. This has meant requiring students to walk on the paved path around the grass. Sounds simple, but has been challenging in practice. First, there were signs up warning to keep off the grass. These were mostly ignored. Then, there was string strung up between trees. This was mostly torn down. Then, this more elaborate fencing was put up, with sticks running diagonally. However, this didn't run the whole length of the grass, so it was mostly walked around. Most recently, the director of the 9th and 10th grade building required students that he caught walking across the grass to write 1,000 times (in Chinese characters), "I will not walk on the grass." One day last week, sheets of paper with these sentences on them were hung from the front door, so that all of the students would see them when they came in - as a warning to keep off the grass themselves. This last tactic seems to have worked and has been a popular topic of conversation among my students. Meanwhile, the grass is looking healthy and well. For now...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Urban Planning Exhibition Hall

Yesterday, we headed to the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, Shanghai's urban planning museum. It was a dreary day outside, so a perfect day to be inside a museum. Highlights from the five-story museum included an exhibit on the upcoming World Expo (Shanghai is hosting it starting in May), including a model of the site - the red building pictured above will be China's expo hall; a huge model of the city, as it's projected to look in 2020, which took up most of the third floor; and a fifth-floor view of surrounding Renmin Park and city skyscrapers. More pictures here:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Winter Wonderland

We've been having fun transforming our little apartment into a land of Christmas cheer. (Thanks to Jeff's creative decorating, my remembering how to make paper snowflakes, and cards, gifts, and goodies from home!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Case of the Monthlies

Approximately every four weeks, the whole school (elementary through high school) goes into exam mode. The semesters here are structured around four exams: the first monthly, the midterm, the second monthly (technically given during the third or fourth month of the semester), and the final. This week, we're in second monthly mode. For students, this means a week of stress and pressure (as they have exams in all of their subjects) and for teachers, this means writing, copying, proctoring, and grading exams until our minds are a little bit numb.
Students' grades (again, from elementary through high school) are entirely dependent on how they do on these four exams. As teachers, we're required to assign - and grade - homework daily, but can only count those scores toward 20 percent of the two monthly exams (which, combined, account for 30 percent of the total term score - the rest is made up of the midterm and final exam scores.) This can lead to some frustration, as some of the most diligent students aren't great test takers, and visa versa. Still, these test scores are hugely stressed and students are well aware of how they rank against their classmates. Teachers are encouraged (and evaluated on their ability) to design and grade tests in such a way that the average falls within a certain range. For 9th and 10th grade, that range is high 70's to low 80's (as students get younger, the allowed range gets higher.) The idea behind that is to curb grade inflation and to foster a rigorous academic environment.
All a little bit different than my memories of high school!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chestnuts roasting on an open... street.

To celebrate having a week off from the after-school SAT prep class that I teach on Tuesdays (it's exam week here instead), I treated myself to a bag of warm roasted chestnuts. I picked these up for 3 kuai (about 40 cents) on the way home from a post office errand - a five-minute walk from our apartment building.
Chestnut vendors are a common sight - and scent - here. The nuts themselves are fairly soft and sweet. And, they are the only nut containing Vitamin C. Trivia for the day!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Culture Clash

There are decorations for Christmas popping up all over Shanghai. Predictably, they mostly seem to be around shopping centers and Western hotels and restaurants. This flashy blue one caught my eye the other day, both for its blueness and for its proximity to the Jing'an Buddhist Temple (the lions and building behind it.) Between the temple, tree, huge office and apartment buildings behind them, and large shopping center just out of the picture, this little corner illustrates some of what is so fascinating about this city.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter Coats, The Sequel

People seemed so impressed with Jeff's stylish coat that I thought I'd share a picture of the one I had made, too. It's a wool/cashmere blend with purple lining and can button all the way up to my chin, if I'm feeling exciting. Perfect for China and Minnesota, I think!
(Picture taken outside of a coffee shop in the Taikang Lu Arts District, where Jeff and I enjoyed delicious Yunnan-province coffee and warm Belgian chocolate cake while writing Christmas cards this afternoon. Life is good.)

Tuna Salad Donut?

Apparently, yes. We popped into "Mister Donut" yesterday for a cup of coffee while out and about and this little goodie caught my eye. It was right next to the "Curry Donut," though the rest of the donut selection seemed to be your pretty typical sweet varieties. Notice the corn - corn is huge here. It's sold on the street (on the cob), is put on (and in) everything you can imagine (pizza, donuts...), and corn-flavored foods are everywhere (drinks, yogurt, milk, etc.) I guess the U.S. isn't the only country boosting the corn-growing industry!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Baise Lu in the Morning

The north gate of our school sits at the intersection of Baise Lu and Longchuan Lu - we've had to perfect the tones of those in order to direct taxi drivers to the right place. (There's another Baise Lu in the city, but with different tones.) Baise is always hopping, but especially so in the morning. These are a few pictures we took last week, as we ventured out for street food breakfast. Among other things, you can see our jianbing being made - it's a flat, crepe-like pancake, filled with egg, scallions, and crunchy dough. Delicious! I love being able to step out our gate and right into a neighborhood hub of activity. A few more pictures here:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Onion Prevention?

As concerns about H1N1 brew around here, the talk has turned to... onions. Many of the Chinese teachers at school have been bringing in onions, cutting them in half, and leaving them out in offices and classrooms. (This has been happening most in the primary school, so neither of us have dealt as closely with this.) After some confusion and cultural misunderstanding on the part of the expat teachers here, it was cleared up that Chinese tradition has it that onions can help to ward off the flu. This was clarified by an email sent out by the administration to all of the teachers today, advising us to put onions out for this purpose and explaining that this tradition started long ago when an onion farmer was able to keep his village safe from sickness. Apparently, the belief extends to garlic, too. (In fact, there are reports of some towns in China running low on garlic supplies as people are buying them up.) Could be a fragrant few months!
To be on the safe side, though, most of the students have also been immunized and daily temperature checks are made as they walk into the school.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Kite Man

Kites seem to be big here. Wherever we've traveled, we've seen people flying (and selling) them. Some of my favorites were in Xi'an, where paper kites were popular. Less delicate, but at least as impressive, was this man's kite. He was flying it in Shanghai's Remin (People's) Square this past Saturday. Though he looks pretty relaxed in this picture, this seemed to be a pretty elaborate ordeal. The large wheel strapped to his chest (held on by a large strap around his back) held the kite string, which was more like fishing line in this case. The kite itself took a while to spot, as it was up at least as high as a helicopter might be. Wow!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wild Insect Kingdom

On one of our first days in Shanghai, a sign for the "Natural Wild Insect Kingdom" caught my eye. Today, we finally got around to checking it out. Turns out, though it did have insects and other creepy-crawlers, it had much more, including: a "petting zoo" (consisting of goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and an owl), turtles, monkeys, fish (and pond for catching fish), and reptiles. We enjoyed feeding the fish and checking out the remarkable variety of creatures. But, some of the warnings we'd heard about Chinese zoos proved true - namely, small cages. However, the emphasis did seem to be on educational and preservation. Definitely an interesting experience! Pictures here: - if you dare...

Winter Coats and Christmas Shopping

Yesterday, we went to the fabric market to pick up our new winter coats (both wool/cashmere blends and made to order.) Jeff's is a Korean style, with a stand-up collar, and fits like a glove. This is a picture of him modeling it in People's Square. Sadly, mine had the wrong lining, so I'll be making a trip back on Thursday to pick up the corrected version.

From there, we decided to satisfy some of our post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas urges to shop, doing so by heading down Nanjing Road (pictured), one of China's biggest shopping streets. We topped the day off with a visit to Shanghai's Pearl Market and all-you-can-eat Indian food. All in all, a good day!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Deck the Halls

We'd been holding off until after Thanksgiving to start the Christmas season here, so were excited to do so yesterday. Jeff started the day with Christmas music and proudly sported his Santa tie to work. After work, we started decorating our apartment - thanks to a box of goodies Jeff's mom sent from his family. We now have a little tree with some pretty presents under it (thanks BWMK!) and our stockings have been hung with care (thanks J&A!) It's fun to have some homey holiday spirit here!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

We went with a group of 20 other teaches to a Thanksgiving buffet at the Crowne Plaza Hotel last night. It was fancy and fun, but doesn't come close to matching our memories of meals with family and friends at home. Thinking of you all and here's to next year!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hot Pot

We went out for hot pot tonight with a friend - our first time trying it, though we'd been hearing about it since we arrived. Hot pot is popular throughout China, especially during colder winter months. It's similar to fondue, in that you dip various meats and veggies into a pot of boiling liquid. In this case, the liquid is soup, with the bowl divided into spicy and mild. We ordered a variety of things to dip, including potatoes, tomatoes, tofu, spinach, lettuce, and a smattering of meats. The pot is placed on a burner on the table, so stays hot throughout the meal. Despite burning my mouth (inevitable, as I'm not patient around food), it was a great experience and one I'm sure we'll repeat.

This picture was found online - next time, we'll bring our own camera.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Few people here have clothes dryers, which makes laundry a pretty public affair. Most apartment buildings (with the exception of those in the most affluent areas of the city) have long poles sticking out from each window, for hanging clothes out to dry. It's also common to see clothesline hung up between buildings, trees, or anything else you can affix it to. Shops often have the owners' laundry hanging on the street outside. And, once you've seen someone's underwear, it definitely makes the shopping experience feel more personal.

Here are a few shots of laundry - the first is from an apartment building that we pass on the way to the metro (about a 10 minute walk from our place.) The second is from our trip to Suzhou. And, the third is our own washing set-up: the washing machine and drying rack are in the corner of our bathroom.
Given the environmental impact of dryers and China's population of over a billion, this is probably a good thing. And, given how simple it is to hang things, I hope to be better about doing so even after we have access to a dryer again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Yes, Jeff, you am!

"Chinglish" is a common site in China - English signs with less-than-perfect translations. Though they provide a lot of unintended entertainment, Shanghai is working on fixing them before the World Expo starts (in May.)  (More on that here: Not sure how far they'll get with that - we see examples of this on a daily basis, especially as the desire to attract English speakers grows. But, this is one of my favorite examples, found  on an advertisement in the Hongqiao airport over October break.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Out with the old...

This is not an uncommon site in Shanghai - older houses being torn down to make way for sky-scraping apartment and office buildings. The rate of change feels frantic and the modernizing city leaves a lot of dust, debris, and displaced people it its wake.
I took this just outside of the fabric market, where Jeff and I went today to have winter coats made.