Sunday, January 31, 2010

And we're off!

We're moments from leaving for our 6-country, 2 1/2 week tour of southeast Asia. First stop: Ho Chi Minh City. We'll update the blog as we're able.
(Picture from

End of the Term Banquet

Last night, we were treated to a feast at the end-of-the term banquet for the school. We were also each given a set of sheets as a door prize. Potential visitors, take note: you may now chose between large purple leaves or animal/safari prints to slumber on.
This is a picture of Jeff and our friend Ron with Dan, one of the Foreign Affairs Office staff members/teachers, who has been hugely helpful to us during our time here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ornamental Cabbage

Cabbage and kale are popular as landscaping decor here. I see them planted all over the city. They seem to be making it happily through the winter and bring a little cheerful color to the sidewalks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Teacher Perks

One of Jeff's student's parents recently gave him vouchers for a free "surf and turf" buffet at Zaffraan, a restaurant located on the 49th floor of the Pullman Hotel. We took a friend there last night (fun to be able to treat someone to something so nice!) and were amazed by the view, food, and floor-to-ceiling windows (even in the bathrooms!) The food was a mix of Asian and Western styles and included things as fun as green tea brulee, carrot mouse with smoked ham, Yunnan-style hot pot chicken, mushroom tarts, and chocolate fondue. Our table was right by the window, with a view of the Bund, PuDong, and Xujahui. It was hard to capture it all, so this picture is a little tricky to make out, but if you look closely, you can see the view out the window and the restaurant - and our faces - reflected back. All in all, not a bad teacher appreciation gift!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

River Walking

After the aquarium, we wandered over to the river walk - PuDong's answer to the walking area along the Bund (which has been under construction since we got here.) It was a very hazy day, but midway through our walk, the sun started to peek out and we could see blue sky behind some of the skyscrapers on the PuDong side. Haze aside, it was a great afternoon for people (and boat) watching and taking in the sights of the city. More pictures here:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shanghai Ocean Aquarium

We spent Sunday afternoon at the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, situated near the Pearl Tower in PuDong. The exhibits, which highlighted fish from around the world, were really well done. Highlights included seeing the world's largest crabs, Japanese Giant Spider Crabs, whose leg spans can reach 3.7 meters;  the cartoon-like garden eels, who popped their heads up from the sand; and, walking through the world's longest underwater observation tunnel – 155 meters of viewing excitement, including up close views of sharks, rays, and sea turtles. More pictures here:

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Last night, a group of us went to a go-karting track for a friend's birthday. Typical of what we've seen elsewhere, there seemed to be few rules, especially about safety (though helmets were available, if you wanted to look as cool as I do in this picture.) Ten drivers at a time were let out onto the track for eight-minute sessions. When not driving, there's a large bar/restaurant on the second floor, looking down on the track.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Year's Gala

Last night, we went with a group of teachers to the "2010 Shanghai New Year Gala Performance in Honor of High-level Talents and Foreign Experts" at the Shanghai Grand Theater (pictured.) The school was given a batch of tickets to share with its "foreign expert" teachers and we ended up in great seats - tenth row and right in the middle! The show consisted of fourteen acts, each amazing in its own way. The show began and ended with performances by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Between those were performances by vocalists, dancers, acrobats, a Peking Opera troupe, and a magician (who, honestly, wasn't great, but performed the entire act on her toes in ballet shoes, with seemed like magic enough.) It was one of those nights that reminded me that I really am in China and that that really is pretty cool. It also made me want to get to a Shanghai acrobatics show soon!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Five Months and Finals

Today marks our fifth-month anniversary of arriving in Shanghai. It's amazing to think back over all that we have seen and done in those months and exciting to think what the next five months might hold.
Today was also the last teaching day of the semester. Tomorrow, the students start taking finals (while we proctor) and then begins the fun of a week of grading, planning, and parent teacher conferences.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Trunk Warmers

Starting in the fall, I began noticing the bottoms of tree trunks throughout the city being painted white. Though this might be common at home, too, I don't remember it. Curious about the reason for this, I asked the local high school student whom I tutor about it. She explained that it's to keep the trees warm (maybe because stripping trees of their bark is equally common here?) and was totally baffled that we wouldn't do this in the U.S., asking, "but, Teacher, how do the trees stay warm if you don't paint them?"

Some quick research has shown that there is some validity to painting the bottoms of tree trunks with white latex paint before the temperature drops to help them retain heat and keep from cracking. However, an alternate explanation from staff on campus is that the paint is meant to keep bugs away. I have no idea how effective the paint is at either purpose, but nevertheless take in this scenery  on my walk to the 9th-10th grade building every day.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Art Museum-Going

We spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon in People's Square, at the Shanghai Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA.) Here are a few pictures of the latter, which was hosting a large, international Animamix exhibit, which mixed humor, irony, and social and political commentary in captivating ways:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pajama Party

Wearing pajamas in public is popular among the Shanghainese, to the point that the trend has made its way into guide books and can be seen on a daily basis. This woman is sporting the winter look - heavy, quilted pajamas good for walking the dog outside and for staying warm in drafty buildings inside. This picture was taken through the window of a dumpling shop on Bai Se Lu.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Buckwheat Crepes

Last night, we checked out a creperie that specializes in food from Brittany, France. (One of the incredible things about this city is that we're able to try amazing foods from almost anywhere.) They specialized in buckwheat crepes which were every bit as good as they sound. We tried out the goat cheese (on the left) and roasted leek (on the right) crepes for dinner and mint ice cream/hot fudge crepe for dessert.
That said, this seems like a ridiculously indulgent thing to be posting about when our hearts and minds have been with those in Haiti. I'm hoping for more news about the Chinese search and rescue team (including two dogs) that was sent there.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Break of Day

The days are already noticeably longer - on both ends - here. I woke up in time for the end of the sunrise this morning and snapped this picture from our bedroom window. It was chilly enough for there to be frost on the soccer field, but warm enough for the palm trees to seem content.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bon voyage, Mom and Dad!

Our visit with my parents came to an end far too quickly, though we definitely made the most of it. Before seeing them off today, we had a great lunch of dumplings (pictured) and stir-fry dishes. And, sometime during lunch, it started to snow - huge, flaky clumps! It was only the third time we've seen snow in Shanghai and somehow, it seemed like the right send-off for people headed to Wisconsin in January.

So, now, back to ordinary life. (The picture is from the Maglev platform - it's as opposed to the VIP section.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fun on the Maglev

Mom and Dad got back into town late last night for one more quick visit before heading home. With today being our last full day together, we wanted to make it a great one and had plans to check out the observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center (currently the world's third tallest building.) However, we woke up to a rainy day. We decided to give it a try anyway, but couldn't even see the top of the building from the ground (see the picture above) and were told that there would be zero percent visibility from the top.

So, instead, we decided to try our luck on the Maglev - a magnetically levitating train that runs from the Metro to the airport and back. The 18-mile trip takes 7 minutes each way, as the train reaches speeds of 431 km per hour (268 mph.) It was a thrill to watch the digital speedometer rise and to see the scenery whizzing by!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Watch Out, Southeast Asia...

...we're coming for you.
Jeff and I have been busy planning our February break trip. We get about three weeks off for Chinese New Year and have decided to spend it on a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia. We booked our flights today and are working on filling in all of the other details. What we know so far is that we'll fly into Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), travel from there along the Mekong Delta to Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat (pictured) in Cambodia, and then make our way into Thailand. Next, we'll fly from Bangkok into Singapore, where we'll stay with friends while venturing out for short trips into Indonesia and Malaysia before heading up to Kuala Lumpur to fly back to Shanghai. Whew! It sounds like (and will be) a lot to take in, but I think much of the joy is in the journey itself. And, of course, in the food.
Mom and Dad update: They spent yesterday on the Great Wall and at the Ming Tombs, ending the day with Peking Duck for dinner. Today, they flew into Guilin, where they report that they have a "beautiful" room. I talked to them briefly tonight as they were headed out for an evening river cruise.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

House Hunting

While exploring the French Concession on Sunday, the four of us stopped by the former homes of Sun Yat-sen and Zhou Enlai. Sun Yat-sen's house (pictured) was a beautiful, multi-story estate, where he and his wife lived for many years. He is revered as the "Father of Modern China" by many Chinese, as he was instrumental in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and acted as the first provisional president of the Republic of China in 1912. Just down the street was Zhou Enlai's house, which we toured, but neglected to take pictures of. Enlai was a major player in the Communist Party's rise to power as was sometimes seen as Mao's right-hand man. His house had a very functional feel, as it operated as housing and a base of operations for many Communist organizing activities in Shanghai. Pretty interesting to stand inside of it!

Meanwhile, an update on my parents' trip: they checked in from Beijing tonight, after an incredibly busy day. Today alone, they were able to visit Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Hutongs, and take in an acrobatics performance! On the schedule tomorrow: The Great Wall and Ming Tombs. They sounded very happy and have lucked out with weather so far. Though the ground is covered in snow (and they report having yet to see a single snow plow - all of the clearing is being done by hand), they've had bright blue, sunny skies!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Human hamsters?

While exploring Fuxing Park on Sunday, we came across this funny sight - people in big, inflatable, hamster-wheel-like rafts on a pond. For the most part, they looked pretty happy.

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad made their way to Beijing this morning (and will head to Guilin from there.) I'm looking forward to hearing about their adventures and seeing them once more next weekend before they head home.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hangzhou: Round Two

Yesterday, the four of us took the train out to Hangzhou, home of the beautiful West Lake. It's also where my cousin Mari was adopted from, so holds extra-special meaning in our family and was fun to share with Mom and Dad for that reason. From the train, we headed to the lake, where we took a dragon boat out to the lotus-root-shaped island overlooking the "Three Pools Reflecting the Moon." From there, we had a surprisingly quiet (given how crowded the train had been) walk through a park on our way to the China Tea Museum, which proved to be amazing. It had great exhibits and was surrounded by plantations of green tea. We enjoyed both the scenery and the chance to drink a hot cup of Longjing Green Tea (Hangzhou's specialty.) We finished the day with a visit to the silk market and an impromptu feast of vegetable dishes at a local restaurant. More pictures here:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A good start to the new year...

We spent New Year's Day exploring some of the classic Shanghai sights. We started in People's Square, with brunch at Kathleen's 5, on the rooftop of the art museum (yum!), followed by time at the Shanghai Museum (after about an hour's wait in line - everyone else seemed to have the same idea!) From there, we headed to Nanjing Lu, the biggest shopping street in China, and then to an evening cruise of the Huangpu River, where we could take in the PuDong skyline and Bund, both all lit up. It's definitely been fun to have Mom and Dad here, as it gives us an extra excuse to do all of this! More pictures here:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

We spent the last day of 2009 exploring the Yuyuan Garden, which dates back to the 1500's, and enjoying a delicious meal at a Vietnamese restaurant in Xintiandi. Here are a few pictures: