We arrived back in Shanghai at the end of July, with my dad and brother following shortly after. They had planned a trip to China for three weeks, one of which we had left for summer vacation. My father Dennis and brother Eric arrived on July 31 and stayed with us until August 17.
Our final week at home is finally here. It’s crazy how fast 1 month goes! Nevertheless, Jason and I have been very busy with our time in the states.
The 4th of July weekend was spent in Northeast Iowa, visiting friends and our old stomping grounds! I do feel that Northeast Iowa may be the most beautiful part of the state! We were all lucky enough to stay at our old roommates house! The house provided us all a place to relax and hang out, which made our short time together more fun! We spent time in Decorah playing disc golf, enjoying the local brew (Toppling Goliath) and food! Even though it was a quick trip it was so great to see our friends!
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
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.
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.
On Friday, December 27th, 2013, Canadian Kat, Angela and I departed Chiang Mai, Thailand on a 12 hour day train to Bangkok. The train was pretty basic, but comfortable enough. I appreciated the fact that we could see the scenery on the train ride as well, but I admittedly was uninterested in the scenery by hour 9. Angela booked a hotel room near the airport for Friday night since we flew out early on Saturday. We discovered that the train stopped right outside the airport, so instead of riding it to the train station, we stopped literally right outside of our hotel. I always appreciate when things work out like that. We spent the evening recovering from our hostel stay by ordering room service and taking hot showers.
On Saturday, we flew to Si Thammarat, Thailand where we caught a bus to the Don Sak International Pier. There we caught a large ferry to the island of Koh Phangan. The boat ride was around 1 and a half hours. We did have one casualty on the ferry ride. My vacation hat blew off into the ocean while I was enjoying the scenery. It was quite a difficult day.
We arrived on Koh Phangan in good time. The beach we decided to stay on was called Haad Khuad, nicknamed ‘Bottle Beach’. It was a beautiful and secluded beach on the north side of the island. This is where we spent the whole week. The wind was strong and so we had fairly large waves the whole time. This put a little bit of a damper on our plans, so the only thing we did was sleep, eat and read our books on the beach.
Above is the bungalow we stayed in. The bungalow was about 20 feet from the ocean.
Here is a photo from our front porch.
This is the West side of the beach. There were three different resorts spread out on the beach. The rocks in the photo is where the sand ended, but there was a path that led into the jungle beyond the beach. I hiked once for about 30 minutes, but did not get anywhere. Apparently it was possible to hike to the neighboring beach, but that would have taken 3 or 4 hours.
This is another photo from our front porch.
Here is our front porch. It is not quite as scenic as the view from the other side. I am halfway through the third Game of Thrones book in this picture.
Above is a picture taken from the West side of the beach, facing East. This is the length of the beach we had at our disposal.
On one evening of our stay at Bottle Beach, our resort had a barbecue. The staff at Bottle Beach was almost as fun as living on the beach is. The head waiter was a man from Myanmar named ‘Yo-Yo’, and he was hilarious. He was also great with kids, and there were a few of them stay at our resort. Pictured below are the dining options we had to choose from, and my selection for the barbecue.
I had the red snapper.
One of the waiters was a pretty accomplished guitar player. He wanted to learn how to play ‘Hotel California’, so I tried to show him.
One day we decided to travel into town, since we were running out of things to do on the beach. We took a “cab” to Thong Sala, which is on the south side of the island. We had already been in Thong Sala earlier, since it hosts the main pier that our ferry arrived at. I had grandiose plans of renting a jeep, and exploring the island while getting a little driving fix. Unfortunately, the vehicles were all booked. I was sad. I bought a new vacation hat, and we decided to eat lunch at a famous restaurant called “Fisherman’s Restaurant”, shown below.
The seafood was so fresh at this restaurant that they didn’t have any. With the rough waves, the boat had not arrived with the catch of the day. Angela and Kat tried to order about 4 different dishes before we all ended up with mackerel. The fish was certainly delicious, and the restaurant had old fishing boats converted into tables, and a great view of the sea.
There is not too much more to tell of our stay on Koh Phangan. We did not do very much, but it was certainly luxurious to be on such a secluded island. On the Southeast part of the island, Koh Phangan hosts the infamous Full Moon Parties, which are wild and crazy. We spoke briefly about attending the New Years Eve Full Moon Party, but we decided to stay on our secret and quiet beach. We had a bonfire on the beach, and one of the waiters (the guitar player) was actually a fairly accomplished fire dancer. We had a few quiet drinks on the ocean and watched him throw flaming sticks around the beach. I was asleep before midnight.
On Thursday, January 2nd we transferred to Koh Samui, which is an island to the South of Koh Phangan. We were only scheduled to be on this island for one full day before we left Thailand. On our way out of Bottle Beach, the hill was so steep that we all had to get out of the truck and walk. Nobody was particularly happy about that. We took the Haad Rin Queen ferry to get to Koh Samui.
Koh Samui was a nice change from Bottle Beach because the ocean was very still. We stayed on Maenam Beach. The girls enjoyed swimming in the ocean, but Koh Samui was so much busier than Bottle Beach that I think we were all a little nostalgic about our stay on Koh Phangan, though the water was more beautiful.
We decided that our stay on Koh Samui would be a culinary vacation. Our first meal was at Angela’s Diner, where they made their own corned beef. I had a reuben. Thursday night we went to a very nice restaurant called ‘The Farmer’. It overlooked a rice field, and the seating was all outside. The view was beautiful. I ate fried duck, and Angela had a lobster. They also had their own rice, which was delicious. We were supposed to go to a different restaurant, a small ‘ma and pa’ place, but I was in charge of the reservation and somehow we ended up being picked up and dropped off at the Farmer. It was a happy mistake.
On Friday, I rented a scooter. It was an automatic and gasoline powered. I was hoping for a motorcycle, but the scooter was fun. Angela and I scooted around the Maenam Beach area, but the traffic was so dense that it was a little stressful.
We ended our stay with dinner at a very fancy resort called Sala. On Saturday, we returned to Bangkok the same way that we had arrived. The beaches were a wonderful way to spend a week, and though we did not dive or fish, we certainly were relaxed. 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:
This past weekend was a very entertaining weekend for us Iowans abroad. On Friday night we met a few teachers for a drink at a nearby pedestrian street called “Golden Street”. For those of you who have frequented the Iowa City ‘Pedestrian Mall’, this is a similar sort of thing. There are a number of these pedestrian streets around Shanghai, but this is the closest to our apartment. We did not stay out too late. Saturday we had to play for the musical at school. Angela is accompanying the musical on piano, which is a very important job. I am playing trombone in the pit, which is not nearly as important of a job, but also means I can screw around more in rehearsals. There are several teachers playing as well, so I have plenty of people to talk to when I should be playing.
On Saturday night we celebrated a coworkers birthday by eating dinner at the Shanghai Brewery followed by a rousing session of karaoke. See below.
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