Monday, May 31, 2010

Madison in Shanghai

We saw this restaurant while out to brunch yesterday. I'm not sure if it specializes in anything beer, cheese, or cherry-related, but it was a nice touch of home anyway.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

World Expo

After much anticipation, we finally made it to the World Expo yesterday. A modern day World's Fair, it is being held in Shanghai for six months, from May - October. The theme is "Better City, Better Life" and the focus is on sustainable urban living. More than 190 countries are represented - many in individual pavilions and some in shared buildings (i.e., the Africa Pavilion, the Caribbean Pavilion, and the Central and South America Pavilion.) Over 70 million visitors are expected during the Expo's run and the entire city has had a major overhaul to accommodate them.
We weren't sure what exactly to expect, given all of the hype we've been hearing since getting here last summer. However, it easily lived up to all of it and made for an incredible day. We walked through all of the country sections (grouped loosely by continent) and along the Huangpu River, where they've turned old industrial buildings into arts and exhibition centers and the banks of the river into beautiful gardens (see the middle picture above.)

The crown jewel of the Expo is the China Pavilion (the red structure behind Jeff in the top picture), but many other buildings wowed us as well. In the picture with Jeff, you can also see the Israel Pavilion, which is meant to represent waves crashing against sand. The bottom picture is Russia's pavilion. Other amazing buildings included the UK's, which looks like it was modeled after a porcupine; Spain's, which is made of giant baskets; the Netherlands, a Seuss-like maze of houses called "Happy Street", Denmark's, which had a spiraling bike track; and, South Korea's, which was a giant geometric configuration of cut-out shapes. Most of the bigger buildings had wait times of several hours just to get inside, so we were only able to get into Lithuania, Canada (styled by Cirque de Soleil), and Columbia, as well as the Africa and Caribbean buildings. We're planning on going back, though, before we leave, so will try to get inside some of the others (including Japan's, which is supposed to have the world's fanciest toilet.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mastering Gatsby

Today was the last day of our second-to-last unit. For this unit, I had my ninth grade class dive into The Great Gatsby. It was one of the most challenging things that we've read all year, especially so given so much of the cultural context that needs to be understood for it. They went from telling me that "it's too hard" to writing incredibly thoughtful, eloquent essays on who was ultimately responsible for Gatsby's death. I'm so proud that I wanted to share a couple samples from their work. The first is a sample of my student Aruha's depiction of the story as a graphic novel. The second is my student Ye Chan's attempt at diagramming the convoluted relationships between the characters. Not bad!
Monday, we'll start our eighth, and last, unit of the year!

Monday, May 24, 2010

EA Diamond League Meet

Thanks to some tickets from our boss, Jeff and I were able to attend a world-class track and field meet last night. It was the East Asia (EA) Diamond League Meet, featuring a wide variety of events. We were seated in the 3rd row, with a perfect view of the steeplechase, the pole vault (where Australian Steven Hooker, the 2009 World Champion, was competing) and near the start of the 200m, where we got to see Usain Bolt blow away his competition. Other highlights included seeing Americans Jeremy Warner win the 400m, Carmelita Jeter win the women's 100m, and  David Oliver beat Chinese favorite Liu Xiang in the 110m hurdles. All in all, it was pretty amazing. Our seats were so good that every time an athlete came around for a victory lap, we were able to yell their name and get a wave. Oliver was especially friendly.

The pictures are of the two of us at the stadium, Usain Bolt after winning the 200m, and one of many sets of "Bolt Arms" in our section. More pictures here:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Glasses Market

Yesterday, we went with a few friends to Shanghai's glasses market, a multi-story maze of glasses vendors. There are literally hundreds of stores and as we walked by each, salespeople would call out to us asking us to take a look at their store. Bargaining is expected and it's possible to get a new pair of glasses (frames and lenses) for as little as $20. Despite it being a little overwhelming, we had a very successful trip. Jeff got this pair of prescription sunglasses and a new pair of "regular" glasses. They were able to copy his prescription perfectly from his current pair. More proof that anything is possible in China...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Noodle Bowls

This dish takes comfort food to a whole new level. Brothy noodle soups are easily found in local restaurants and are a daily option in our cafeteria. They usually consist of noodles served with hot broth and a variety of topics (meats, veggies, bean curd) topped with vinegar and spices for flavor. This particular bowl was one I ordered at a Japanese noodle chain that we frequent. It comes with carrots, mushrooms, scallions, corn, and cabbage. It's meant to be eaten with chopsticks and this giant spoon for catching broth.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Expo Fireworks

A couple of weeks ago, I was out to dinner in a restaurant with a great view and was able to capture these pictures of some of the fireworks that we being shot off over the Expo grounds (which spans both sides of the river.) The Expo has now been open for a little over two weeks. We've yet to go, but it's been fun to see how nice the city looks lately!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Congrats, Cait!

One of my good friends here is getting married in July so a group of us organized some bachelorette festivities to help her celebrate. These included some spa time, mimosa's, a pot-luck, games, gifts, and a marathon pub crawl with a list of things for her to accomplish. This picture is from the first bar we visited. Meanwhile, Jeff was out with her fiance and some other guys doing, among other things, some karaoke. We all met up eventually and made it home just as the sun was starting to come up. (The first time we've managed that here - I'd thought we were getting too old for so much fun!)

Jeff and I have both been able to make some great friends here - one more thing we'll cherish about this year. It'll be fun to keep up with them once we head to different corners of the world.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hangzhou Tea Fields

On one of Beth's last days in China, we took a day trip to Hangzhou. This was our fourth time there, so Jeff and I were able to show her around some of our favorite areas. Those, of course, include West Lake, but also the National Tea Musuem. The above are a couple of pictures that we took while roaming through the tea fields. The area is famous for green tea and, beyond being beautiful, it smelled wonderful to walk among the plants.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beijing Photos: Part III

Our last day in Beijing was another full one. We started with our (by then routine) street food breakfast. The top picture above shows some of the treats available. More pictures of the neighborhood are in the photo album.

After loading up, we headed to the Summer Palace, where emperors went to relax. The Palace is famous for having been enlarged in the late 1800's by the Empress Dowager Cixi. Reportedly, she diverted money from the struggling navy for this project, which resulted in China loosing ground to Japan. Evidence of her extravagance is best found in the marble "boat" that sits on the shores of the lake (pictures of this in the album, too.) The Palace is beautiful - ornately built and huge, spreading over lake shores and lush gardens. However, the day that we visited also happened to be a national holiday and it felt like all of China came to join us. For fun, we took a rickshaw ride the few hundred meters from the subway to the Palace and then spent a few hours shuffling along with the crowds to see the sites. (Can you spot Jeff among the crowd in the second picture above?)

From there, we went to the Temple of Heaven, on the other side of the city, where we found a lot more open space and relaxation. The Temple is surrounded by beautiful gardens and park space, which was full of people singing, dancing, and enjoying the beautiful weather. The Temple was also built for the emperors and has a very similar style to the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. The flowers were in full bloom while we were there - see the last picture above.

We finished the day with some fake market shopping and then a picnic in our hostel courtyard. More pictures here:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Homeward Bound

I'm going to interrupt my string of Beijing posts to share that we finally made our plans to come home! We'll leave Shanghai (with mixed feelings, I'm sure) on July 4, head first to India for some sightseeing, then to London for a couple of days of sightseeing and catching up with good friends, and then finally will land in Chicago on July 13. Let the countdown begin!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Beijing Photos: Part II - The Great Wall

On our second full day in Beijing, we headed out to spend some time on the Great Wall. When Jeff and I were there in November, we went to one of the closer sections of the Wall, so wanted to try something new this time. Our hostel offered driving services out to the HuangHua section of the Wall, a couple hours out of the city. After another great breakfast of neighborhood street food, the three of us piled into what felt like a very luxurious, air-conditioned car with our driver, the owner of the hostel. Once we got past the city traffic, the drive itself was beautiful. And, once we pulled up to the base of the Wall, we could tell immediately that the day was going to be a great one.

The HuangHua section of the Wall isn't one of the sections run by the government, but instead sits along private property and a village reservoir. We were given instructions for how to get onto the Wall, which entailed following a trail part way up the mountain, stopping first at the base and again half way up to pay local villagers 2 RMB (about 30 cents) a piece for the privilege of passing through their land. Before embarking on that journey, we enjoyed a lunch at a very local restaurant with an amazing view and then began to make our way up. Once on the Wall, we encountered an unexpected obstacle - a guard was there, telling us that we couldn't go up, as it was too dangerous. He did say, though, that we could come down, once we made our way around to another area to get onto the Wall. This was all a little confusing, given language barriers and the contradicting instructions we'd been given. Nevertheless, we headed part way down the mountain, where we reached the second person we'd paid to get to the Wall. She was an older woman with an imposing presence (helped by the large ax in her hand.) From what we could tell, she lived in a tent and made a living by collecting the 2 RMB from passersby. Anyway, after a series of gestures, we got the okay from her to go up the other side of the mountain, following a rough trail over a series of switchbacks.

All fine and good, but we had no real plan for how to get on the Wall once we reached it. Jeff forged ahead and found a spot where the Wall was "only" 8-10 feet high and there were a pile of large rocks that could be used as a booster. After only a little finagling, Jeff was able to get himself up on top of the Wall. He was then able to help Beth shimmey up. I, though, feeling as ungraceful and risk-adverse as always, took my time figuring it out. Once the two of them finally hoisted me up (see the photo above - I swear it was scarier - and higher - than it looks!), I took it all in from a reclining position for a while. Relief and relaxation achieved, we hiked on and were able to see some pretty incredible views. We hiked for a couple of hours before heading back for celebratory beers.

The construction of the HuangHua section of the Wall was overseen by General Cai during the Ming Dynasty. Legend has it that he was so particular about quality that each worker built only one inch a day. For this extravagance, he was beheaded, but was later posthumously recognized for excellent work. It shows, too, as the Wall, even where it was crumbling into the mountainside, was definitely impressive.

We ended our day back in the city, at the shores of the Hou Hai Lake, which is lined with restaurants and bars. More pictures of it all here:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Beijing Photos: Part I

We've been back from Beijing for almost a week, so this recap is a little late coming, but here's the first part anyway:

Our first day in Beijing was a full one! We started the day at our hostel, which was in an old hutong dwelling (the traditional style of house in that area of China.) For breakfast, we sampled some of the great street food outside of our door. Then, we set out to see the city. We started in Tienanmen Square and then ventured into the Forbidden City. Though Jeff and I had been to both back in November, it was fun to see them again - this time without snow and with a lot more people!

Next, we headed up to Olympic Park, where we took in the sites of the Bird Cage and Water Cube, along with the impressive number of kite fliers and vendors. It's fun to see that even two years after the Olympics, this area is still a popular place to visit and relax. Headed into the evening, we went to the Wangfujing Pedestrian street, where we had an amazing dinner in a mall food court (food courts are so good here - fresh, delicious food and a lot of variety) before checking out the street food and souvenir options outside. We passed back through Tienanmen Square at night before catching the subway home. What a day!

More pictures here:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Relaxing Send-Off

Beth left this morning, which meant that last night, we needed to give her a good send-off. Following a dinner at the "English Menu Place" (the nickname for a local restaurant that has translated part of their menu into English), we went to a nearby massage parlor for hour-long foot massages. Ahhh...
It was great to have Beth here, both to share with her what we've been up to and to see things from a new perspective.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Back from Beijing

We got back from an amazing long weekend in Beijing yesterday (it was Labor Day weekend here.) We saw many of the same sights we saw last November, with a few new ones sprinkled in. The highlight was probably the remote section of the Great Wall that we visited. As you can tell from the picture above, we had large sections of it to ourselves. But, even the more crowded (sometimes, MUCH more) parts of our trip were great. In the next few days, I'll post pictures and more details.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Smashing Success!!!

In the hopes of making my cousin David proud, I joined our school's teacher volleyball team.  (He is a member of the US National VBall team, an all-around great guy, and someone who I really look up to.)
We started the year with a lot of practices and small tournaments.  This picture was taken from our latest tournament.  All the major high schools in Shanghai came, and in the end, we got 2nd place!  The school was very excited and the Director told us this was the best finish the school has had in a long time.
I had a great time and feel that I could now at least fetch balls for David....if he'd let me!