The History and Deer of Nara, Japan

After enjoying the vibrant, electronic and wild Tokyo vibe, we took our first Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) to Nara, via Kyoto. The Japanese bullet trains are one of the most comfortable methods of travel that I can imagine. The Japan Rail employees were all extremely helpful, even with limited English. We stocked up on Lawson sandwiches (a true Japanese delight, purchased from the equivalent of a gas station), and enjoyed the scenic ride through the Japan countryside.

We arrive in Nara and found our quaint hotel called Guesthouse Iki. This was a very small guesthouse ran entirely by the owner. We slept on the floor, on tatami mats, but did have our own bathroom. A private bathroom was a luxury that we would not have for much of our trip, but more on that later. Using the ever helpful TripAdvisor, Angela located a nearby sake brewery once we had settled into our guesthouse. We wandered through the rustic lanes of Nara to find the Harushika sake brewery. For 500 yen, which is about $5 USD, we were given six shots of sake and a souvenir sake glass. I thought this was a steal, and the sake was very good. We had a dry sake, strawberry sake (little weird), unfiltered sake, a cloudy and fizzy sake, and lastly sparkling sake. We had yet to find dinner, and Angela is not much of a sake fan, so I ended up with far more than 6 helpings and was feeling desperately ready for some food.

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Sampling sake at the Harushika Brewery.

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Tokyo in Christmastime

The first thing that we did upon finishing our last day of school before our Christmas vacation was to throw our Christmas tree out onto the curb. It was a strange thing to do, especially since it was December 18th. We were about to leave on a three week trip to Japan, and so we bought our tree three weeks earlier than most so that we could enjoy it as long as possible. After that, and a good night’s rest, we took off for our three week trip to Japan.

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Our sad and dead Christmas tree, abandoned in the dead of night to avoid being seen.

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How to buy a Christmas tree in Shanghai

Yes I know, it’s only November 15 but we couldn’t resist getting a Christmas tree this weekend.  To be honest we tried to get one last weekend but they weren’t out yet.  Our reasoning for getting a tree so early is the fact that we will be gone for 3 weeks between Christmas and New Years so we wanted to enjoy the tree for at least 4 weeks!

Now there are a variety of places to get a Christmas tree in Shanghai but we have always gone to the Hongqiao Flower Market located in the Minhang district on Shanghai.  The easiest way to get there is to take Line 10 to Longbai Xincun stop and then walk to the market, which is about 10 min.   Once there, it’s up to you to choose which shop you’ll select your tree.  I mostly try to buy from nice looking little old ladies!  English is limited at most shops but as always be ready to bargain!  The bigger the tree the bigger the price!  Most of the trees aren’t like your western pines but they get the job done!  Besides the trees there are a variety of shops with decorations, reindeer, poinsettia and fake trees.   It’s also need to see the shops during this time of year transform to wreath making machines!

Holiday Wreaths

There are other flower markets in the city; however, we always rely on this one!    Happy Holidays!

Four Iowans Abroad

Angela and I recently hosted two very special guests. Angela’s mother Cindy and her grandmother Marjorie visited us for two weeks. It was awesome! They are both very laid back people, and were a pleasure to have around. It also gave Angela and I a chance to do a few things that we had not yet accomplished in and around Shanghai.
Arriving at the Airport!

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August/September 2015: Back in Shanghai

Angela and I are back in Shanghai and getting adjusted to being on a normal working person schedule. Although it would be great to be on vacation all of the time (and some of our relatives think that we indeed are), it is nice to be back into a routine. Angela has all new administrators, and is adjusting to a newly implemented schedule. I no longer teach any guitar classes, and get to teach just band without having to share the band room anymore. It is a tremendous relief for me to stay in the same room all day, every day, and get to teach band for every class. I am finding myself much more comfortable at the start of this year than in previous years. Angela is the lower school specials leader this year, and I am the 6th grade team leader. That means we are both extremely important people. Overall, it has been great getting back to our apartment and our life, and seeing all of our wonderful friends.

We recently did something that I have wanted to do for a very long time. It was our friend Juliet’s birthday, and for her birthday she wanted to go to a classy afternoon tea. Being an American, I have never been to afternoon tea as a meal or activity, so I was excited to try it. I was also excited that afternoon tea was going to take place at the Fairmont Peace Hotel. This is a really old, classy hotel on the Bund, and also home to the ‘Old Jazz Band’, which is Shanghai’s oldest jazz band. All of the members were in their 80’s, and had been playing together for many years. I have wanted to hear them play since we arrived in Shanghai.

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Angela and I enjoying our very first afternoon tea.

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The Summer of 2015: Back in Iowa

After spending a week exploring Chengdu and Shanghai with Angela’s brother and sister-in-law, we flew back to where our hearts are:

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Iowa, USA! It is always such a pleasant feeling to exchange big city life with rural Iowa for a month. My dad met us at O’Hare, and took us home from there. It worked well, and probably saved us some time rather than trying to fly to Iowa from Chicago (although it cost my father some extra time…). We spent the first few days enjoying some of the things that we miss most about our home state. We will often talk with our friends about the meals that we have to eat while we are home. Below is Angela’s staple must-have, purchased from That Place near Marshalltown, Iowa.

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Visitors in Shanghai!

At the end of June, Jason and I had the pleasure of hosting my brother Jon and sister in-law Rachel in Shanghai. After spending a week in Beijing, Jon and Rachel flew in to Shanghai the day after our school let out. Before heading to Chengdu we fit as much in as we could as the weather was pleasant and the air quality was good.

On the day that they arrived, we took Jon and Rachel to our go-to tailor Tony and Helen at the local fake market that we frequent as they were interested in making some cheap tailored clothes.  On our way home, we stopped for lunch at a delicious Muslim pulled noodles restaurant near our metro stop (S. Shaanxi) on line 10. For less than 40RMB we ate some tasty hand pulled noodles.

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Sweet and Spicy Chengdu

Chendgu and Sichuan province are highly recommend in all of the China travel books, and with my family visiting we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit!   After a rare on time departure from Pudong we arrived in Chengdu late afternoon on Sunday.  Whenever arriving to a new place, I always try to arrange an airport pick up from the hotel.  Is this more expensive?  Yes!  Is it worth it?  Yes!  As a nervous traveler it’s less stressful to know that you’ll have a ride when you arrive!
We stayed at Mrs. Panda Hostel which was located right near the Li River and semi central Chengdu.  The price was decent and the rooms were more like hotel rooms than hostel!  The common area was very spacious and served beer and food!
Since we had all afternoon we decided to take the bus to the Wuhou Temple and Jinli Pedestrain Street. After exploring the temple and gardens we stopped for some snacks and overpriced beers before heading back to the hostel.  We had the option to get our ears cleaned by the locals but decided to pass.
 Temple
Mystery Foods
Since our hotel was near a university, the staff recommended a near by street with a variety of resturants.  We decided on one that had a picture menu so that we didn’t end up with something strange!  We ended up with standard Sichuan foods such as Mapo Tofu, green beans, egg plant, ribs, and some random cold meat dish.  All in all it was delicious!

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Shanghai Weekend!

Wow what a crazy week of highs and lows!   First off, we have to give a huge THANK YOU to the Shanghai Bloggers and all the companies for the amazing goodie bag!  Fields (an online grocery store) was very creative and gave us product that related to our blog!  Can you guess what it was?   Corn!    So if you’re looking for a way to keep up with all the Shanghai bloggers, download the app! 11412154_10101096512362613_5782021768617926288_n (1)Besides the amazing party, I had my week of concerts.  It was stressful and exhausting but well worth it!  This year Sean and I did 2 mini-musicals for grade 4/5 and 2/3.  Both concerts went extremely well and the kids had  a blast!   The past 2 years have flown by, but I have to say Sean and I have done a pretty good job! Continue reading

Daily Life in Shanghai: The Not-So-Mundane

Angela recently agreed to share our blog on a website called Shanghai Bloggers. I was initially excited about the prospect of sharing our blog with a larger community, but then I felt a little bad about being a ‘seasonal blogger’. By this I mean we typically only post after we’ve taken an exotic vacation somewhere, and we have a lot of pictures that we need an excuse to share. This led me to the decision to write a post about our normal lives, which for the past few weeks have seen some interesting activities.

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