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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beijing: Day Three

We had the morning of our third day free for exploring before heading to the airport. We started with our hotel's breakfast buffet (the first time since being in China that I've had cereal and milk - simple pleasures.) The photo album shows pictures from the buffet, where we were surrounded by European tourists, and other shots from our hotel. From there, we bundled up again and headed to the Temple of Heaven, a short walk from our hotel. The Temple sits in a beautiful park, with an area of just over one square mile. Beyond seeing the main pagoda, we enjoyed people watching, as every activity imaginable was going on there - from dancing to fencing to singing (video of a choir here: to card playing and on and on... It was fun to see the park still so full of life even on a chilly Monday morning!
From the Temple, we headed to the Pearl Market, one of Beijing's most famous markets for selling pearls and all sorts of knock-off goods. Then, reluctantly, we packed up to head to the airport, with a stop for a lunch-time feast of peanuts, corn, sesame bread, rice, and chicken kabobs on the way. I also had a little too much fun documenting Jeff's hair, finally freed after three days of being trapped under a hat.

Enjoy the pictures here:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beijing: Day Two

We woke up early on our second day in Beijing, bundling up to head out to the Great Wall (where it was a chilly 20-something degrees.) There are several stretches of the Wall outside of Beijing to choose from. We decided to go to one of the closest, Badaling, which is the most photographed section, and usually the most crowded. However, going in cold weather meant that fewer people were out. We took a public bus to get there, which took a little over an hour. Once there, we spent as much time as we could bear on the Wall, rushing to a noodle shop to warm up after hiking around for a while. It was incredible to see the Wall covered in snow (and ice!) and bathed in blue sky and sunlight. The Wall itself is steep and at some points, it was easier to slide down than to walk (look for pictures of Jeff doing that in the album.) It would have made for great sledding!
After heading back to our hotel to warm up, we headed out for a dinner of Peking Duck, Beijing's most famous dish, at the Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, one of the most famous places to eat it. When ordering, you're given a choice between a whole or half duck - we opted for the half. The duck is then wheeled out to you and carved on the spot. The skin, which is crispy and sweet, is served first with sugar to dip it into. The meat is then served with "pancakes" (similar to warm spring roll wrappers), slices of cucumber and scallion, sugar, minced garlic, and a sweet sauce. To eat it, you roll the meat and goodies up in the pancake. Delicious!

From there, we headed to Wangfujing Snack Street, famous for its various street foods on a stick (including locust, starfish, scorpions, silk worms, etc.) Feeling full and not super adventurous, we stuck with banana-filled deep-fried beignets. To finish the night, we walked back through Tiananmen Square to see it all lit up. Another successful day!

Pictures here:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beijing: Day One

Because we had such a great weekend, and I like dragging things out, I'm going to post about Beijing in three installments. Here's the first: We flew into Beijing Saturday morning, headed right to our hotel to check in, and then walked up to Tienanmen Square. It was incredible to walk through such a large area (the largest public square in the world) with such intense history. Mao's portrait looks down from the northern end, while his body is held in a refrigerated chamber in a mausoleum in the center of the Square. Twice daily, it is raised for public viewing (not something we took advantage of.)

From there, we walked through the Gate of Heavenly Peace (right under Mao's portrait) into the Forbidden City, which got its name because it was off-limits to the public for over 500 years. It is an enormous compound of buildings that once housed two dynasties of emperors - Ming and Qing. It includes a courtyard that was large enough to hold audiences of up to 100,000 people and the classically-Chinese Imperial Garden.
Next, we headed to the Olympic Park, where we braved the chilly evening to see the Bird Cage and Water Cube up close. Exciting, given how closely we both watched the 2008 Olympics. To top off the night, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and a Beijing Opera show in the hotel's Liyuan Theater. Beijing Opera is a mixture of theatrics, acrobatics, singing, and instrumental performances, complete with elaborate costumes and makeup. We uploaded a short video of part of the show here:
All in all, a great day. Cold, but sunny with beautiful blue skies. definitely slept well that night! Pictures here: (cut and paste into your browser.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Back from Beijing

We had a great weekend in Beijing, squeezing as much as we could into our short time there (Tienanmen Square, Forbidden City, Olympic Park, Beijing Opera, the Great Wall, Peking Duck, Temple of Heaven, whew!) The weather was gorgeous, though cold, and I don't think either of us will ever forget hiking a snow-and-ice-covered Great Wall!

Pictures and details to come. In the meantime, getting ready for another busy work week.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Off to Beijing!

After several days of wading through midterms (how many 10th-grade essays on The Little Prince can one person take?), we're off to Beijing in the morning! The forecast calls for chilly weather (30's and 40's), but "abundant sunshine," which should make for great sight-seeing. This picture is from the Liyuan Theater, which is on the first floor of our hotel. Tickets to a Beijing Opera show are included in our stay!
Look forward to a slew of pictures when we return.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

This year, we're trading in white snow for white sand. We went to the Cebu Pacific Airlines ticket office tonight to buy our tickets to Cebu, an island in the Philippines. We fly out Dec. 23 and back on Dec. 26. While we'll certainly be missing family and friends (and Midwestern winter), this is a tolerable second best...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Midterm Madness

We've reached the half-way point in the semester, which means one thing here: exams. Midterm exams are given a lot of weight, equaling more than a quarter of a students' final grade (homework, on the other hand, is worth less than five percent total.) We were required to create and hand in our exams to the administration offices last week and, for the next three days, regular classes are canceled while students take them. The foreign teachers are all required to proctor three of four of these (usually not in subjects that we teach - I'm proctoring Chemistry and Physics) along with at least one Chinese teacher. Beyond that, though, these days will be good for catching up and planning ahead!

Meanwhile, our thoughts are with Dawn and Drew on the birth of their baby girl, Noelle Judith, born at 1:30 this morning (Minnesota time!) One of many times this year when I know that we'll wish we could be in two places at once. Congratulations! We are so incredibly happy for you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


As wise and worldy as Jeff may have sounded in his birthday post, he did want me to share what he found in the freezer section of the store today.

2009 Shanghai Cuisine Festival

Today, we went with several friends to the 2009 Shanghai Cuisine Festival, where local restaurants and vendors were able to strut their stuff. We went in with empty stomachs, scouring for samples, so were in dangerous territory when the majority of those turned out to be wine, beer, and coffee (no complaints, though!) We did eventually manage to eat some delicious food, though, and Jeff and our friends Ron and Cain were able to take this awesome picture with Haibao, the World Expo mascot. So, all in all, a good day.  

Day trip to Hangzhou

Yesterday, we spent the day in Hangzhou, about an hour and a half from Shanghai by high-speed train. Hangzhou is the capitol of Zhejiang province and was once described by Marco Polo as paradise on earth, saying that the city was, "beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world." Today, Hangzhou is home to over 6 million people (a small city by Chinese standards) and is a hugely popular tourist site.
The focal point of the city is West Lake, which has several small islands and causeways running through it. We started our day with a tour of the lake and some of its islands on a replica dragon boat. From there, we enjoyed walking around the city, exploring "silk town," where silk is made and sold, munching on street food (eggplant, potato, and mushroom kabobs!), and checking out the night market. We ate dinner in a pretty standard Chinese restaurant, but were lucky (?) enough to sit by the tanks of fish and other sea creatures, getting a good view everytime one was scooped up to be someone's dinner. While in Hangzhou, we ran into a phenomenon which we don't experience much in Shanghai - people asking to take their picture with us (you'll see a couple of these awkward moments in our album.) Being American (and white) seems to afford us some level of celebrity (for better or worse), especially in smaller towns.

Enjoy the pictures here:

Friday, November 6, 2009

They say it's your birthday...

Normally I don't make a big deal about my birthday. I often don't tell people when it is my birthday, I usually don't like doing anything special on my birthday, and I once forgot it was my birthday.  But, for some reason, this year was different.  Maybe it's China, maybe it's because I was turning 29, or maybe I finally stopped being such a dork.  Whatever the reason, this year turned out to be one of the best birthdays I've had in a long time.  My birthday was a day full of presents. I received over 30 gifts from the middle school kids who apparently think I'm awesome and super fun even though I try to be mean and super tough.  I had a present that flew with me from California to China.  I got two packages in the mail, one before and one on the day of my birthday.  I received a few email gifts and cards, several on-line well-wishes, and, as always, I had fun opening presents from Carrie all day…she always knows the silly things I like.  Of course, the best present I got was getting to spend my birthday with Carrie.  Once again she put together an unforgettable night full of great food (Mexican!), amazing sights (drinks at Cloud 9 - on the 87th floor of the Jin Mao Tower, the sixth tallest building in the world), wonderful moments, and a piggyback ride to finish the night.  I am lucky to have such a great partner.  I love each of you very much and I am so happy you love me.  Thanks for the birthday memories. Pictures here:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Beijing or Bust!

We have a long weekend coming up (November 14 - 16) and have decided to spend it in Beijing. We bought plane tickets yesterday and are busy making plans for what to do while we're there. It's a long list - expect a lot of pictures!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Duolun Lu and Lu Xun Park

We spent Halloween day exploring Duolun Lu Cultural Street and Lu Xun Park (named for the famous Chinese author.) Duolun Lu is a small L-shaped cobblestone-lined pedestrian street full of shops and cafes. It's famous for its Shikumen houses, the first floors of most of which are turned into shops, and its bronze statues, paying homage to liberal and Communist writers who met there in the 1930's (Lu Xun being the best known of those.)

Lu Xun Park was a huge feast for the senses. It it is a sprawling maze of gardens, lakes, bridges, and people. It is also, apparently, where Shanghainese like to come to show off their musical stylings, from opera karaoke to marching bands to choral music. We took a couple of videos to give some sense of that, though it was hard to fully capture. Still, feel free to check them out here: Other sights included fierce badminton and card-playing competitions, Hongkou Stadium, and Lu Xun's tomb. Pictures here:
We came back in time for a progressive Halloween party with the other teachers in our apartment building, where we moved from one floor to the next. We were the proud hosts for the fifth floor.