October Review!

October was a whirlwind month for Jason and I. Thankfully we came back from October break rested and ready for the busy month ahead.  For me, October was the month I started my masters program.  The program is offered though SUNY (Southern University of New York). The classes are on campus at SCIS and online. The on campus classes are given over 2 weekends, which means 15 straight days at school. Thankfully, my first class was low stress and and quick to get through!

For Jason, October was the month of the SCIS Music Festival. Jason had been working very hard to prepare for this event.  The festival showcases all of the middle school muisc ensembles: guitar, percussion, choir, band, and orchestra.  For band, Jason invited retired Iowa band directors Jim Fritz and Leon Kuehner to guest direct the bands.  Jim, Leon and Leon’s wife Linda arrived to Shanghai the weekend before the festival.  On Saturday we went out to eat at Di Shui Dong for some good “Chinese” food!  Afterwords, they wanted to see the city so we took them to Captain’s Bar on the Bund.  10675734_10100832654011863_4776144092395674824_n

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The Return To Thailand: Koh Lanta

On September 26, 2014 Angela and I embarked on what I believe was one of the best vacations ever had by any human being ever. We spent the day filling young children’s’ minds with useful facts about music and life, and once the clock struck quitting time we immediately changed into our beach outfits and sprinted from the confines of our place of work. We cleverly had a driver waiting for us outside in a mini-van, ready to take us to the Pudong International Airport. Angela and I were to travel to Koh Lanta, an island off of the west coast of Thailand.

We were traveling with the lower school dance instructor, a Spanish woman named Laura. She was traveling to Bangkok to meet her boyfriend, and we had to travel through Bangkok to get to Krabi, which was the nearest airport to Koh Lanta. Our flight path stopped first in Hong Kong, and then in Bangkok. We were delayed terribly in Shanghai, and we fairly certain that we would miss our connecting flight. Luckily, there were so many of us on that flight that Hong Kong delayed the flight to Bangkok. We were personally escorted through the airport and a slightly faster than comfortable speed, and immediately boarded our next flight at approximately 10:00 PM. The rest of the passengers who were already onboard and waiting seemed really glad that the plane was held for us. We arrived in Bangkok around midnight. Angela had booked a hotel at the Amari Aiport Hotel (which is a fantastic place to stay) which is near the other airport, about an hours drive from our port of entry. We had planned to take the free shuttle, but we had arrived too late. Angela loves the unrestricted internet of Thailand so much that I had to wait for her to purchase a sim card and data plan for her phone in the Bangkok airport, before I was allowed to go to bed. We took a cab to our hotel.

Early the next morning, we woke up and walked across the skybridge to the Don Mueang International Airport. We had a great flight to the Krabi airport, where a van was waiting to transport us to our hotel on Koh Lanta. The route to Koh Lanta takes about three hours by van, and includes two ferry rides. We had to wait a long time for the second ferry. I slept most of the way, because I was still tired by our late arrival and early departure.

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Summer in Iowa!

We have started our summer break back in the USA!   Our flight from Shanghai was a little rough and we ended departing 1.5 hours late and then at a standstill in Chicago.  After some running in the airport we made our flight to Minneapolis and ended up getting in around 11:00…we were supposed to land at 8!   A few of my cousins who were staying near by even stayed and waited with my parents!   We had a 2hr drive to get to Lake Osakis and didn’t get to bed until 3 am…so needless to say it was a long day!

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Yangshuo, China

There are many benefits of teaching internationally at our school. One of them is without a doubt our annual China trips. Every grade level (except for senior IB students, whom everyone seems to want to make as miserable as possible) takes a trip in May to some part of China. I had the fortune of chaperoning the 7th grade trip to Yangshuo, China. I was supposed to go with the 8th graders to the tropical location of Hainan, but after learning that Yangshuo was the ‘outdoorsy’ trip, I realized that this was my place. We flew out of Shanghai at 7:00 AM on Monday, May 5. The plane was being flown by the father of one of our students. We took over the entire plane. I was surprised at how rowdy the students were during the flight. Flying was so common for them that they could not have been less concerned. I, on the other hand, was concerned enough for everyone. We arrived in Yangshuo and were met by our guides from Insight Adventures. Insight is a company that runs trips like this for schools all over China. Our guide’s name was Kevin, and he was awesome. Kevin was born in Southwestern China, but moved to Yangshuo for this job. After dropping our luggage off at our hotel, we immediately set off to the park for some group building games with Kevin. As you can see, Yangshuo is a beautiful place. 10155162_835426102823_7255289784085972443_n10364154_837978961873_560489963021357307_n Continue reading

Shanghai Birthday!

This past weekend I celebrated my 28th birthday here in Shanghai.   The week before, Jason was gone on a school trip which left me home alone!   It was fun to get a little shopping in and treat myself to some new birthday clothes.

By Friday, I was excited for Jason to be back and to celebrate my birthday!   Jason had planned a surprise dinner on Friday night!  This was a treat because he was exhausted from his trip and we weren’t planning on going out!  We took the metro to the French Concession and had a few cocktails at La Cocina before dinner!  We had plenty of time to spare so we casually walked to dinner.  I had no idea where we were going but it was recommended by our friend as a reasonably priced dinner!    After a nice walk we arrived at a cute little restaurant.  It was a little chilly so we opted to sit inside even though the outdoor patio was very nice!   Our dinner was perfect and the wait staff was extra friendly.  We shared a bottle of wine and each got steak!  My steak came with scallops and Foie gras!  We enjoyed the Foie Gras so much that we ordered more after our main course!   For dessert we shared the 10 minute cholocate cake!   I am not a huge chocolate cake fan but this cake was amazing.  It was sweet and melted in your mouth!    I only have a picture of our wine classes because I am trying to disconnect from my phone more and be more present with people!   The dinner was perfect!

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Spring Break 2014: Bangkok and Cambodia

For our last break of the year, we traveled to Bangkok and Cambodia.  It was our 2nd time in Bangkok but our first actually spending time in the city.   The main reason we were in Bangkok was for a work-related conference.  The conference was nice and it was fun to travel with our friends/co-workers.  The conference was held at the Shangri-La hotel and was conveniently a short walk from our hotel.  After a late arrival (4 am) we attended the one and only music related event of the conference!  Our first night in Bangkok we had a conference sponsored cocktail hour by the pool!   Free wine and beer and delicious food made for a great start to vacation!  Later, we ventured to a roof top bar (made famous from Hangover 2) for views of the city.  The drinks were pricey but the views and company were nice.

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A Weekend In The Frozen Tundra…Harbin, China.

 

 

Alright, tundra might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but Harbin was still pretty cold. Two of our good friends, Bell and Matt, decided that they were going on a weekend getaway to Harbin, China a few weeks ago. I could not have told you very much about Harbin when I agreed to go along, except that I knew that this city was the host of the annual Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Well, I can’t tell you all that much more about Harbin after having traveled there, but the trip was still great. On Friday night, we boarded a plane after having sat in the Pudong International Airport for many hours. We had a direct flight to Harbin, which is significantly closer to Russia than Shanghai. I was invigorated by the cold once we stepped off of the plane. Although I frequently find myself complaining about the cold, damp weather in Shanghai, this was a dry, more ‘real’ kind of cold. It made me think of winter in the midwest, and that filled me with glee. We had arranged a cab, and arrived at our hotel with no problems. The hotel had overbooked, so we had to share our room with some of our good friends who were homeless for one night.

We realized on our way to the hotel that the St. Sophia Cathedral was right down the road. On Saturday morning, we decided that this would be a great place to start our tour of Harbin, so we walked there. In the morning sun, it was actually quite pleasant outside.

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Vacation 2.0: The Philippines.

After we had spent a week on the exotic, tropical islands off the Gulf of Thailand, it was time to meet a group of teachers from our school in the Philippines. Our friend Ross from Wales had found a place on the island of Palawan called ‘The Amazing Villa‘, and rounded up a group of 10 teachers to rent the place for a week. Angela, Kat and I departed Koh Samui on Saturday, January 4th the same way we had arrived. We took a ferry from Koh Samui to the Don Sak International Pier, where we caught a bus to the airport. The ferry/bus/flight combination offered by Air Asia was very convenient. We flew to Bangkok, where we met another friend traveling to the Philippines. We flew in to a different airport than we were to fly out of, so we took a bus across Bangkok and arrived at the other airport. Our flight left at 11:00 PM, so we had a few hours to kill in the airport. We flew out from Bangkok and arrived in Manila early in the morning. Our next flight departed at 6:00 AM, so we had a little breakfast and I feebly tried to nap on the chairs in our terminal. We met the rest of our group, who all took the same flight that we did to Palawan. By this point, we were all so tired that nobody was really excited to do anything. We arrived around 10:00 AM on Sunday in Puerto Princesa. The airport was very small, and so it was easy to find our hosts who picked us up .

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Giles and his wife, Theresa, owned the villa on the Western part of Palawan Island. He is from Belgium, and she is a native of Palawan. After we had a quick lunch, we proceeded to drive for two hours to get to the villa.

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In the city of Puerto Princesa, there were many of these covered motorcycle cabs, pictured above. They could seat 2-3 additional passengers in the box that surrounded the motorcycle.

The really unique appeal of the villa we stayed at was how non-touristy it was. We drove through countryside, small native villages and even a prison without any walls.

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Below is the country bus that would transport passengers along the only road that went to the Western coast. The road is entirely rock and dirt, and the bumpiest ride I have ever experienced. The government is building the road to eventually turn the empty Western coast of the island into the next Macau. That thought made me sad, but also glad that I spent time here before it happened.

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Finally, after riding through the beautiful countryside, we arrived at the villa. Below is the group of people that we spent the week with.

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The area was breathtaking. The villa was also an organic farm, and fed by a natural spring from the mountain. The food was all freshly prepared by Theresa, who was a gourmet chef and prepared some of the best meals I have ever had, and Giles had a full bar and liked to make drinks. We were surrounded by the jungle, and had a perfect view of the ocean. The walk to the beach was only about 200 meters.

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Pictured above is the patio where we ate most of our meals, and where the bar was.

Below is a shot of us inside the patio.

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Giles’s favorite drink to make was a rum and coke. He liked them so much that if you ordered one, he would give you one for free. He claimed this was because it was ‘too hard to stop at one’.

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Above is the kitchen and the back side of the villa. Teresa and her crew cooked everything on an open fire!  It was pretty amazing what she could do!   We stayed in the basement of the building below. There were three different rooms, each with a bathroom and shower.

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Below is a shot of our view from the balcony on the building above.

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Above is a nice shot of the surrounding jungle.

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The beach was really fantastic. We could walk out about 200 meters into the ocean, and the water would only be up to our chest. We would walk out past the breaking of the waves and float in the ocean. I am not sure I have ever been able to stand so far out in the ocean before. It was amazing.

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We did not have to share this beach with anybody. There were a few residents along the beach, but it was so long that we felt completely secluded.

The entire week in Palawan was spent floating in the ocean, eating delicious meals, reading our books and drinking local rum while playing games. It was a marvelous week, but you would be really bored reading a play by play about how we read for a few hours, ate some food and then sat on the beach. So I’ve decided to write about some of the more noteworthy things that we did.

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One day, our hosts agreed to cook us lunch on the beach, since walking all the way back to the villa would clearly have been too much work. Pictured above is the head gardener cooking us delicious chicken that I am sure was slaughtered earlier the same day. That’s ok, because they woke me up too early every morning.

Every meal way huge.  Besides the freshly grilled chicken we also had sweet potatoes and the best ceviche!  It included a local fish with coconut milk, chili, and fresh herbs.  We all raved about it so much that she made it for us again later in the week!

Here is a nice shot of our beach picnic. I felt pretty spoiled that these guys carried everything all the way down to the beach.

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After we had our picnic (and maybe some drinks), we found a little red boat/canoe. Ross assured me that this boat was owned by Giles, and that he had told us we could use it. I was curious where the paddles were, but we soon decided that this must be one of those boats that you paddle with your hands. Later, when retelling the following story to Giles, he thought that we were joking when we told him we took it out with the oars. We weren’t joking.

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Our boat trip started off as any boat trip usually does; afloat.

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Here we are, filled with confidence at how awesome we are at paddling this boat on the ocean.

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Then the unthinkable happened. We floated too close to shore, and the waves starting breaking on the boat. Below is a montage depicting what happened next.

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It took an unbelievably long time to scoop all of that water out.

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I needed to do some laundry, so one of the Philippine workers named Julie showed me the basics of washing clothes by hand, shown above. What the picture does not show is later, when she decided I was too slow, she sat down and washed most of them for me while I was finishing one shirt.

One day, we were scheduled to go for a hike in the jungle down by a nearby river. That morning, when we wandered up to look for our breakfast, we found little arrows that led us up past their large garden where we found a table set up overlooking the villa and the ocean.

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After breakfast, we traveled to a nearby village where we met our tour guide, Rocky. Rocky was wearing a sweet Halloween shirt, and had a huge machete strapped around his waist. You can see for yourself below.

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Rocky let us along the river for about 20 minutes, where we were going to swim in the river.

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Once we got to the river, we realized it was too shallow to play in, so we walked back before too long. Our host met us on the river, near where we were dropped off and cooked us a lunch of grilled pork and chicken as well as stir fry noodles. We sat in the river there and ate, while some of us took advantage of the natural occurring fish pedicure.  They even drove to town to get us some more beer!

That night, our hosts had a bonfire for us.

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All in all, the week in the Philippines was one of the highlights of our vacation. I appreciated the fact that the area was so untouched by tourism; it felt more real than some of the other tropical places that we visited. I could not imagine a more beautiful and peaceful place.

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All for now.

Chiang Mai part 1

We have been in Chiang Mai since December 21 and have one full day left until heading south to the beach. I will keep this brief as I know Jason will blog in more detail later! Sunday and Monday were spent exploring the city, markets, and temples! We threw in a few massages and even splurged for a fish pedicure! On Tuesday we took a cooking class which took us out of the city! Christmas Eve was spent listening to live music and chatting with a 64 year old Brit spending his holiday in the city! Today (Christmas) we went on a horrendous hike and mountain bike trip in Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthrep national park! We’ve had a fun and relaxing time so far and head to Bangkok on Friday! Wishing Everyone a safe and Merry Christmas!

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