One of the few challenges that we encounter living in the mega-convenient city of Shanghai is where to go for a nice bicycle ride. Over the past three years, my standards for great bike rides have dropped dramatically. I used to consider a great bike ride to involve open country and absolutely zero cars. Now, if I have a protected bike lane that I am sharing with a thousand scooters, next to a road with heavy traffic, I call it a good day. However, I can still appreciate a great ride when I find one, and I have found a few in the past couple of months.
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.
We have arrived to our last month of our first year abroad! We have been keeping busy with work and the city! Two weeks ago I danced in the school dance production and it was amazing! The performance was about the environment and the students and teachers did a great job. It was so fun to dance with my fellow teachers and our dance was a hit!
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. Continue reading
*Warning: This post is about my bicycle, and some viewers may find it incredibly boring.*
Many months ago, while sitting at the Shanghai Brewery, Angela and I were discussing our life goals. I decided that one of mine, as silly as it sounds, was to build a bicycle from scratch. So I started. Now, many months later, I have actually made some progress.
I had purchased several parts, but I did not realize that building a bicycle would require so many unique tools that most people did not own. I bought a few that I knew I would use later in life, but I needed to do several things to prepare my fork and was not willing to purchase the right tools. So I decided to find a bike shop. I found Factory Five. Factory Five specializes in fixed gear bicycles, but it was soon apparent that these guys were experts for all things bicycle. I brought in my fork and had the crown race installed, the steerer tube cut down to size and the expansion nut installed. I also bought two tires and two inner tubes. All of that cost me 190 RMB, or around $30. I could not believe it. What a steal!
Angela and I had a wild, but incredible trip to Vietnam over our Chinese New Year holiday. We did not have school on Thursday or Friday, but we decided to not fly out until Friday. That allowed us to have one day off, and to bring in the year of the Horse with a celebratory drinking outing on Thursday night. We had a buffet of Indian food, and some beers at the local Shanghai Brewery. On Friday, we were to depart for Vietnam. Friday morning, I threw up the entirety of the Indian buffet that I had eaten the previous night. At first I was concerned that maybe I had one too many beers in honor of the new year, but soon realized that I had some sort of 24-hour flu. I am also a little skeptical that maybe the Indian buffet was partly to blame. Either way, I did not have a pleasant trip to Vietnam. I spent the morning throwing up in various bathrooms in the Pudong International Airport, while Angela took care of checking our baggage and leading me to where we needed to be. I did manage to stop being nauseous right before we actually boarded our plane, which was a relief. I had the chills and aches, but we made it to Hanoi, Vietnam without incident. We were to stay in Hanoi for the weekend before departing for our Spice Roads bicycle trip on Monday.
On Saturday, I was feeling much better. Angela and I decided to wander around the Oldtown quarter of Hanoi. The traffic was not as bad as it normally was, because the Vietnamese people were in the midst of celebrating Tet. The first thing that we did in Hanoi was to get scammed into paying for the photo I took below of Angela.
I thought I would take a moment to update all of you bicycle enthusiasts on how my project was going. I was ready to install my bottom bracket along with my crankset, but I discovered that I did not have any grease. I looked around many local shops, including Trek and Cannondale and realized that grease is not something you can buy just anywhere. I went to a local sporting goods store with lots of bike parts, and tried to explain to them that I needed some thicker grease than the liquid chain grease they gave me. The man there assured me that I could use WD-40 instead of grease. I told him politely that I already had that, and left. Finally on a whim, I checked the Giant store. They did not have any, but the repair guys speak a little bit of English. He ended up putting a little dollop of grease into a little baggy for me for free. I sure appreciated that! Once I had the grease and some wonderful instructions from my Uncle Dave, installing the bottom bracket was no problem. For those interested, I managed to install the circlips without sending them flying or poking my own eye out.
In case any of my mechanically inclined relatives are concerned, I did realize that the brackets probably needed to be pressed in a tiny bit further in order to properly install the crankset, so I did that after these pictures were taken.
I installed the crankset without incident, but discovered that I need a larger allen wrench than I own to tighten the non-drive side pedal. I did manage to get the pedal arm started by using some techniques that I’d rather not admit, but will have to find a larger allen wrench before I can finish installing the crankset. I was a little bummed, but happy that I at least have something to show for myself, minimal as it may be.
On a side note, Angela and I ran to the local grocery store recently and had to pass on the fresh chicken.
All for now.
Angela and I recently embarked on a three week exotic holiday vacation with our good Canadian friend named Kat. I think it is safe to say we are a little spoiled. I had my week full of concerts right before Christmas vacation, and then was rewarded with three weeks off. On Saturday morning, December 21st, we woke up at 5 in the morning so that we might catch our 9:00 AM flight to Chiangmai, Thailand. We arrived at the Pudong airport with plenty of time to get through security. I was a little surprised at how much easier it was to get through the security in Shanghai than in Chicago when we left for China. I started to take off my shoes and belt when the security guard laughed and said “ok, ok”. We all made it on to our flight with no problems. I found it a little depressing how sunny it was outside once we rose above the cloud of pollution that rests over Shanghai. Below is a graphic picture of the wall where it abruptly ends.
This past weekend was a wonderful weekend. Angela mentioned that we had a great Thanksgiving dinner with our friends John and Catherine on Thursday. Friday we had a day of professional development that was quite enjoyable. We began the day with some interesting presentations from teachers who work at the Pudong campus (the other side of the river). I have befriended the music staff already from the Pudong campus as they play in a community jazz band with me. They were also in attendance, so I had the opportunity to talk with them. I attended a great session on the effects of moving to a new country, the depression that can follow a few months abroad, and some good techniques to deal with it. This session was intended to help students, but our friend Catherine (the guidance counselor) also aimed it towards new teachers. I went totally for my own benefit, and it was a nice session. I will add that Angela gave a session on technology that received raving reviews from her lower school faculty. At the end of our day, we had a happy hour on the field of the school. That’s right folks, beers wine and games. It was awesome.
Later that night I traveled to a town called Moganshan. Moganshan is a town in the mountains, about 3-3.5 hours away from Shanghai. Angela had plans to attend a Thanksgiving party, as did I, but she encouraged me to take the trip. Our friend Catherine organized it, and her husband John went, along with five other teachers. I was tired on Friday night, and not sure I would be up for the weekend away, but it was well worth it. We arrived around 11pm in the town of Moganshan, which is still a little rustic for being a semi-affluent seeming place. There was not a soul in sight. Luckily Catherine knew right where to go, and we soon found our accommodations for the night. We stayed in a hostel-like dormitory with communal bathrooms. A very rustic place, but very cozy as well. I read my book for a while before falling asleep. The next morning I awoke to this:
The past month has been a very hectic month for the two Iowans abroad. Our school hosted a huge music festival called Dynamix. This was a strange event to me, and stressful. I won’t go into too much detail, but basically the festival only involves our own students, but guest conductors and workshop directors came in to work with the students. In previous years, the past band director was in charge, but now the company has broken off and ran the event privately. Since all of our students are involved, I felt personally responsible for preparing every single student on the music. I was a little frustrated by how our music program was hijacked for the first term, but I am relieved that we are now free to plan our own program.
Angela and I decided to go on a fancy date this week. I decided to surprise her by picking a fancy restaurant. A few other teachers recommended a place called Hai by Goga at our last teacher meeting. I did a little research and found that it was located in the French Concession. The restaurant is located on the 7th floor of a hotel tucked away behind a block of restaurants in the heart of the expat French Concession. We found our way up, and discovered a pleasant little restaurant with windows on all sides and a great view of the city. Continue reading