Saturday, April 18, 2015

Weekend Getaway: Hangzhou

The first time I saw West Lake, I promised myself I would drag Chris there one day.   Almost three years later, I was able to make good on that promise.  We were a little late to plan our Qingming vacation, so we decided hop on the bullet train to spend Easter by West Lake and check out some of the Hangzhou sights mentioned in my Shanghai Day by Day book.

Many of my Chinese friends told me West Lake would be packed during Qingming.  They were correct. 

I think everyone in Hangzhou decided to visit West Lake Saturday afternoon.  Traffic around the lake was extremely congested.  The masses didn't stop us from having a good time!
Many ladies were wearing floral wreaths on their heads to celebrate the start of Spring.
For 150 RMB, visitors took an hour long cruise on the lake.
We took a ride in a larger boat to the island in the middle of the lake. 
We had a great time checking out the pagodas and ponds.
The island was much more peaceful than the perimeter of the lake.
Right before I took this picture, Kenny G started blaring over the loudspeaker.  (When it’s time to head home from a heavily populated event or a Metro car needs to be cleared out, Chinese folks play “Going Home” by Kenny G.) Chris and I started to hustle across the island to prevent getting stranded, but I needed to take one more picture.

Those rocks were beautiful but slippery.
Right after I took this picture, I raced across the rocks and face planted in West Lake. Unfortunately, I twisted my ankle and gave my camera battery a new home in the bottom of the lake. Fortunately, I was able to get up without damaging my camera and breaking any bones.  I also packed two spare camera batteries so I could continue taking pictures.  Needless to say, my wet clothes and Chinese folks snickering put me in a pretty bad mood.  Looking back I'm sure my fall was a funny sight, but my pride was bruised at the time.  After the drama, we decided to settle in for a quiet night at the hotel.

After my spill into West Lake my ankle was still throbbing.  On Sunday, all I wanted to do was go to mass and have a casual day of easy sightseeing.    Despite the dreary weather, we had a nice day!

There is only one Catholic Church in Hangzhou, and it was packed for Easter mass.
This little guy was spreading the Easter spirit in the middle of the aisle. 
After mass, we headed to Laowailou restaurant for Easter lunch. 
Their house specialty, Claypot Chicken, was very yummy!  The chefs wrapped the chicken in leaves, and packed it in clay.   After being cooked in the ground, the clay is chipped off the chicken.  
After lunch, we headed to a calligraphy compound next to the restaurant. 
That evening, we headed to West Lake for a rainy production of Impression West Lake.  Fortunately our seats were inside a boat on the side of the lake so we stayed nice and dry.
The show was performed on boats and runways in West Lake.  I was quite impressed with the acting, dancing and special effects. 
My ankle was feeling better, so we had a leisurely breakfast then headed to the last place on my Hangzhou checklist, the Lingying Temple.

Rock carved statues lined the walkway to the temple.
I especially liked this carving. 
Many visitors made offerings to their ancestors.
I was impressed by the golden statues inside the temple. 
After the temple, we headed to Xihutiandi to get some lunch. These fried Cantonese noodles hit the spot.

The dumpling soup at West Lake Garden restaurant was tasty.

After a couple days of touring Hangzhou, we were ready to train home.

I love traveling via bullet train.

The seats are large, cheap, and comfy!
For more suggestions on where to visit in Hangzhou, I highly recommend Frommer's Shanghai Day by Day. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What’s Up?

So Chris and I played a dirty, yet oddly effective AprilFool’s day joke on y’all.  We told everyone we were heading to Sweden so Chris could be a Swedish Fish farmer.  Eight days later, we were still getting messages of support and love so we decided to come clean by letting everyone know our future plans.

So…where are we headed after Shanghai?

I don’t know.

What I do know is last December, Chris’ company extended his assignment for another year, so we have every intention of staying in Shanghai until the summer of 2016.  (I was THRILLED with this news!  There are so many things I want to see and do before relocating.)

Our final year in China will more than likely be a transition and travel year. With his boss’ blessing, Chris will keep his eye on other assignments within the company and I will more than likely keep teaching at my current school.  (I will negotiate my contract this Thursday.)

I have so many things I want to teach these kids before I leave. The thought of saying goodbye breaks my heart.
This also means I will have an encore year for An American Girl in Shanghai! 

I thank everyone so much for your encouragement, and can’t wait to share our stories while we transition to the next chapter of our lives.   Stay tuned for more adventures!
I am so happy to keep calling Shanghai my eastern home for one more year.  There is more fun to come!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Next Chapter

As much as we love Shanghai, we knew that Chris’ position would only be a three-year gig. We are nearing the end of our time here, and many people are asking,

            “So what are you going to do after Shanghai?  Where will you live?”

After lots of long conversations with Chris and weighing all our options, we finally have an answer. 

Chris and I aren’t quite ready to return to the US, so we’ve decided to continue our adventure in Europe.  We’re picking up our bags and are heading to Stockholm, Sweden.

Chris has always been a fishing enthusiast, so he has accepted a position at a Swedish Fish Farm.  That’s right, my lovely husband is following his dreams of being an angler in Stockholm.

Here's a peek at our future.
When he first shared his idea of leaving the engineering profession, I said,

            “Holy Mackerel!  I had no idea you were so passionate about fishing!”  

He replied,

            “I want to do this just for the Halibut.”

What will I do?  I’m not sure.  Either I’ll keep teaching English, or I’ll join an Abba tribute band.  How long will we live there?  We anticipate staying there for three years.

I don’t know much, but I do know I’ll keep posting our adventures online at An American Girl in Sweden!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Exploring The City With Parents: The Return of Pat and Rich

Approximately two days after I returned to Shanghai from my home trip last summer, I got some exciting news from my mom.

“One year is way too long to not see you.  How would you feel about us visiting Shanghai over Chinese New Year again?”

“That sounds great Mom! Would you like to see some other cities in China?  Maybe take a hop over to Japan?” I asked.

“I think we would like to stay in Shanghai this time.  There’s a lot to see in the city, right?” she asked.

“Sure Mom!”  I immediately started to panic.  How was I going to keep my parents entertained for ten days in Shanghai?  Many places were going to be closed for Spring Festival.

I am happy to report seven months later, Mom, Dad, Chris and I had a great time visiting some old favorite sites and some new places I had been meaning to visit.  Here are some of the highlights of the trip.

It was great to see my parents.  We had not visited in person since last July.

A Ride on the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
In my opinion, all visitors to Shanghai need to experience the tackiness of the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. 

Eerie music, lasers, and flowery narration make the Bund Sightseeing tunnel a delightful way to cross the Huangpu river.
A Trip to the Pearl Tower
Even though it was relatively cloudy, we had a great time catching a panoramic view of Shanghai.

I no longer fear hanging out on the plexiglass floor. 
Shanghai Municipal History Museum
If you want a quick history of Shanghai, the Municipal History Museum is a great place to explore. 

The museum is located in the basement of the Pearl Tower.  This museum had been on my list for some time. 
Mom and Dad had a great time checking out the artifacts.
Hongqiao Pearl Market/ Science and Technology Metro Stop
Mom was in hot pursuit of some gold pearls, so we headed to the Hongqiao Pearl Market and the Science and Technology Metro Market. 

Mission accomplished!

M&M World
We had a great time taking the Nanjing Dong Lu shuttle to M&M world for a sweet treat.

It was fun to hang out with Ms. Green!

Chinese New Year at Yuyuan Gardens
As per our family tradition, we headed to Yu Gardens to check out the crowds on Chinese New Year Day.  Even though there wasn’t a big lantern display this year, we had a great time ducking into shops.

After the tragedy at the Bund, the Lantern Festival activities were greatly scaled back at Yu Gardens.

Fortunately, there were a few lanterns on display.

Shanghai Urban Planning Museum
The Urban Planning Museum is a great place to see how Shanghai has evolved over the years.  We had a great time walking among the dioramas and checking out old photos of Shanghai.

If you are interested in maps, and dioramas the Urban Planning Museum is a great place to visit.
We had a great time finding our apartment in the third floor diorama.

Jing An Temple
My parents aren’t big temple people, but they enjoyed visiting the Jing An Temple.  The gold lions and other statues made beautiful pictures.

We had a nice time wandering through the Buddhist temple.
JingAn was decked out for New Year.
ERA Intersection of Time at Circus World
Since it was a wee bit cold and rainy, we decided to check out the acrobats at Circus World. 
I couldn't take pictures for copyright purposes, so I stole a couple of shots from their website. 

I am always amazed at the acrobats' flexibility.

My favorite part of the show was watching seven motorcycles in a steel cage.
Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party/ Shikumen
My Dad is a history buff, so we figured my parents would enjoy a visit to the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party.

The display of the first congress was creepily fascinating. 
It was nice to see the inside of a Shikumen. (A Chinese Lane home)
Whenever I’m around my parents, I tend to eat a LOT more food than usual.  This holiday was no exception.  While my Mom and Dad aren’t huge Chinese food fans, I was able to get them to try a couple new places.

We ate a yummy western Chinese New Year's Eve meal of spoedinis, salad, potatoes, oranges and macaroons. 
Xiaolongbao Lunch
Every person on this earth should try Xiaolongbao, so we had an amazing lunch at Din Tai Fung.
My Dad was a HUGE fan of xiaolongbao. He audibly approved.  
Mom thought the dumplings were tasty too!
High Tea at the Fairmont Peace Hotel
When Chris was at work, Mom and I had a tea party at the Fairmont Peace Hotel.  Dad tagged along for the yummy tea and sandwiches.

The pastries and sandwiches were delicious.  Dad had a great time at the tea party!
The lobby was beautiful!

Hot Pot at Haidilao
My parents are not exactly adventurous foodies, so I figured a non-spicy hot pot dinner would be fun. 

Dad enjoyed the hot pot.
Mom wasn't a fan.

While they have Haagen-Dazs in the States, Chinese Haagen-Dazs has pretty deserts so we made a couple of ice-cream runs.

The berry Valentine's Day special was yummy! 
The ice cream made up for the hot pot.
There were many other places I would have loved to show my parents, but we ran out of time.  Some other places we missed or previously visited are:

The Shanghai Museum
A Huangpu River Cruise
A Big Red Bus Tour
The MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art)

It was wonderful to give my parents a peek at our Shanghai life.  I miss them already!