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.
After spending a few days in the old capital of Nara, we took a 15 minute train ride into the mountains. Angela had booked us a temple stay at Senju-In, which was a really neat experience. We did have to take a cab to the temple after arriving on the train; cab rides in Japan are expensive and should be avoided at all costs. It was very cold when we arrived, and we discovered that we were the only guests. I guess winter is not a popular time for people to visit this temple.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
We’ve done it! We’ve survived our 1st semester of international teaching! *Side-note: Jason still has 2 concerts this week* Otherwise we’re done! I had my concerts last week on Tuesday and Thursday and they were a huge hit! Parents, teachers, and administrators loved them! Besides the fact that we’re awesome, my co-worker and I think that our concerts went so well because we both come from being band directors and know how to run things! The kids were also really cute! It did make for a long week. Monday and Tuesday were spent rehearsing 2nd and 3rd graders with a full dress rehearsal and concert on Tuesday night. Wednesday and Thursday we did the same thing all over again with 4th and 5th grade. I also received 2 huge flower arrangements. The packaging is a little crazy!
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: