Shanghai Bachelor/Bachelorette Party!

As of today we have 8 days of school left.  8 days!   Now before you continue reading, this post is written by me: Angela.  I’m not as poetic as Jason and  I tend to use a lot of exclamation points!  Read at your own risk.

In April and May our wonderful friends threw us Bachelor and Bachelorette parties.  We are so lucky to have amazing friends here in Shanghai!  Jason’s party was at the end of April and was pretty low key.  Our friend Ross designed awesome shirts for everyone to wear that included all the things Jason loved: Luther, Camp Shalom, Beer and Iowa.  They turned out great!

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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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Christmas in Mui Ne

After a fun night in Saigon, we headed to Mui Ne with our friends John and Catherine (aka the GKs)We had arranged a car through our resort to take us on the 4hr trip! The price wasn’t bad since we split it 2 ways but if you are looking for a cheap option, the bus is always better!

For the 1st three nights we decided to stay at a fancy resort! The resort was on the edge of town and far from the main strip. It did have a nice pool and beach front. However the drinks were overpriced and service medium. I guess we can’t handle fancy things! On Wednesday, we rented a scooter and explored the area! We stopped for coffee and later met up with the GKs for lunch. Since it was Christmas Eve, we planned to have dinner together at our resort later that night. After lunch we rent to the Forester Spa for massages. This place is great! It’s right on the beach and you can hear the waves as you get a massage. Jason and I both got relaxation massages. This was Jason’s first full body massage…lets just say he didn’t like it! After the massages I was feeling good so we decided to meet the GKs for drinks at Pogo. Pogo was also right on the beach and had big beds to lounge in by the water. We had some drinks and watched the sunset before headed to our place for Xmas eve dinner.

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Thanksgiving year 2

I can’t believe that tomorrow is the 1st day of December!  Holy cow, this year has gone fast!   Thanksgiving in Shanghai is always a fun time.  There is never a shortage of things to do.   This year we had 3, yes 3, Thanksgivings to attend!    Thanksgiving 1, was actually on Thursday,  at a restaurant called Captain Rooster.  Boramy, Austin (friend from UNI) and the GKs all joined for an all you can eat and drink extravaganza.  We love Captain Rooster, because they have amazing fried chicken and mac&cheese!  There turkey wasn’t bad either!   The place is pretty small and it was very busy.  Since it was still in the 60s we opted to sit outside!  However, by sitting outside, we got a little shorted on all the food!   They menu included: Turkey, green bean casserole, turkey pot pie, sweet potato casserole, mashed potato, stuffing mac and cheese, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and egg nog.  It was a lot of food and all tasted great!

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Cooking in Shanghai

Cooking in Shanghai can be difficult.  You are surrounded by restaurants, dinner dates, and then there is Sherpas, the website the delivers food right to you door!  But why is cooking in Shanghai difficult?  I mean even the groceries get delivered to your door.

The past few weeks I was selected to participate in a trial group for the app Sidechef.   Sidechef is a step by step cooking app with loads of recipes and drinks.  The app is great and easy to use, even my boyfriend was able to create some salmon burgers with it!  I loved the app because it got me out of my cooking rut and gave me new recipes to pick from!  So what did I make?  I started with yellow curry!  First of all, why have I never made curry before?  This curry was so easy to make and tasted amazing!   I used a pre-made curry paste to save on time and ingredients, the rest was chop and simmer!  The big mistake I made was using purple potatoes!  Note:  Purple and Yellow do not mix well together, add shrimp and you get all kinds of strange colors!  Thankfully it tasted good!  I then tried and failed to make a “healthy” broccoli salad.   I finely chopped broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower.  Added mushrooms and almonds.   My mistake was not measuring or following directions on the dressing.  I added the juice of 1 lemon, random assortments of spices (mostly garlic pepper) And then thought it would be a good idea to add greek yogurt!

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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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Last Week in Iowa!

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!

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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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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.

Another Week In Thailand: Koh Phangan and Koh Samui

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.

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Above is the bungalow we stayed in. The bungalow was about 20 feet from the ocean.

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Here is a photo from our front porch.

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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.

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This is another photo from our front porch.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I had the red snapper.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.