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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The Return to Paradise: Cebu, Philippines

 Angela and I have been reflecting on the fact that we are awfully spoiled. We were given a week of vacation in celebration of the Chinese New Year. We are in the year of the sheep. A group of 11 teachers and friends from my school, including myself and Angela, decided to take a trip together. We had done a similar trip last year in the Philippines, and had a wonderful time. Angela, being the booking whiz that she is, booked us at a beautiful place called The Granada Beach House, which I could not recommend highly enough.

We left our place of work at 3:30PM sharp, and traveled to the Pudong International Airport with our good UK friend, Jules. Our flight was delayed several hours immediately after we had made it through security. We were supposed to fly to Hong Kong, then to Manila, and then catch a flight to Cebu island. Due to the delay, we missed our flight out of Hong Kong and had to rebook for 7:50AM the next morning. We also knew that this would cause us to miss our flight to Cebu, so we had to totally rebook a different ticket. Angela and I decided that we have had such incredible luck so far in our many travels that we were due for some nonsense. Our track record is still pretty good. We spent a cold and delirious night on the floor of the Hong Kong airport while we waited for our 7:50 AM flight. Manila has a strange airport, with different terminals spread many miles apart from one another, so we were a little concerned about making our new flight, but it turned out we arrived and departed from the same terminal in Manila. That part was a breeze, and we arrived to our gate with time to spare to purchase some necessities not readily available in China, such as A&W root beer and Combos.

We arrived in Cebu City around 5:00PM, and met our friend Brian who had arrived just shortly before us. The four of us had booked a van to shuttle us to The Granada Beach House. The traffic was bad, so it took about four hours to reach the house. We arrived around 9:00PM, exhausted from our trip. It was hard to see much of the place in the night time, and we were ready for bed anyway. The friendly and very helpful owners Jacques and Keira greeted us upon arrival and fed us dinner. We passed out soon after.

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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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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

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.

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.

Holiday Cheer!

It’s hard to believe that it is already December 8th and that we’ve been in China for 5 months!  We only have 2 weeks of school left until a well deserved 3 week break!  As you may have heard in the news, Shanghai has been hitting some crazy high pollution levels.   The beginning of the week, the pollution was over 200.  By Thursday it was pushing 400 and then on Friday Shanghai broke records with air quality above the index 500.  It is hard to explain what it’s like, but I”m really hoping this 500 business is not a reoccurring thing.

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Nanjing Weekend!

It’s amazing what you can do in one weekend!   This weekend Jason and I traveled with some other friends to Nanjing, China!  Our travel group consisted of 8 people:  Kathy, Heather, Boramy, Kat, John, Catherine, Jason, and me!   We took the train from the Hongqiao Railway Station.  This was our first time to this train station and it was very easy to navigate although it looks confusing.   There was a minor security check that everyone was herded through, and then we just had to find our train number and platform.  We were running behind and nearly missed the train.    Our ride to Nanjing was very pleasant and comfortable and was only one hour and 45 minutes.

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Chicago

We made it….well to the airport! After some hard goodbyes, $500 in overweight baggage, and one Bloody Mary we are ready to begin leg one of our adventure!

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