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!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Green Hat Scandal

If you are a man in China, don’t wear a green hat.  You will be mocked, ridiculed, and teased to the point where your man card will be indefinitely suspended.   You will look like a fool and your buddies will laugh behind your back. 

After explaining St. Patrick’s Day traditions to a male colleague, he insisted,
“I WILL NOT WEAR A GREEN HAT!” When asked why, he just wilted away back to his work and mumbled something about wearing green hats. 

I did a little research as to why. 

If you are a man sporting a green hat in China, you are announcing to the world that your woman is cheating on you.  Not only is she cheating on you, you are stupid enough to stay with her while she is having her affair(s).

There are many theories as to the origin of this belief.

One site claims that back in the olden days, a businessman and his tai tai (housewife) lived in China.  The tai tai would have flings with a local tailor when her husband would travel on business for extended times.  The tailor wanted to know when he could hook up with the tai tai, so he made the businessman a green hat.  The day before each business trip, the tai tai would make her husband wear the green hat (because it looked so good on the businessman) and the tailor would know she was available the next night.   Subtle, huh?

Another site claims once there was a bored housewife who would hire men to keep her “entertained” during the day while her husband was at work.  One day the husband came home early, so her entertainer slipped quickly out the back door and forgot his green hat.  The next morning, the husband left the house in a daze and accidentally wore the lover’s green hat to work.  Many of his colleagues figured out the scandal pretty quickly.  Talk about bad luck.

I also read in ancient times, family members of sex workers had to wear green scarves.  

So, if you are male and plan on living in China, don’t wear green hats.  Also don’t give men green hats.  If you do, it may be seen as bad news rather than a kind gesture.

Fortunately the green hat rule doesn't apply to women, so I will continue my St. Patrick's Day tradition of shocking my kids with a green wig.  May the luck of the Irish be with everyone!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cat Poop Coffee

When I started this blog, I thought my post on squattie training would be the most vulgar of my posts.  As soon as I heard about a drink called Kopi Luwak, I knew that this would change.   Before I continue, I would like to apologize to my Mother for the embarrassment that is about to come.  She really did raise me to have manners, I just feel obligated to educate my readers about what has been called the most expensive coffee in the world.

I first learned of Luwak coffee while relaxing with some new Aussie friends in the resort pool.  My new friend asked me,
“So what do you plan ta see while you’re in Bali?”
“I think we are going to take a day to see some temples and maybe some rice paddies.  Is there anything you would suggest that we see?” I replied.
“Are you going ta go see the cat shit coffee?” She asked.
“Excuse me?”
“Yeah, you need ta go see the cat shit coffee.”  She insisted.  “It’s about a four hour ride away but it is worth it."
My inner 10 year old was quite curious as to how this process worked, so I asked Chris if he was interested in seeing the process. 
“Um, no.” he stated emphatically.  We figured we could spend our time doing other fun activities.  I figured he was completely grossed out by the concept so I dropped the subject.

While Chris and I were on the way to lunch in Bali, our driver asked if we were interested in seeing how coffee was made. 
“Is this the cat poop coffee plantation?” I questioned.
“Why yes!” he responded. “It’s very close to the rice paddies.”
“Okay, let’s go…but I’m not drinking the coffee.” Chris replied.

So after our yummy lunch, we visited Bali Pulina Coffee Plantation to see how the world’s most expensive coffee is made. 

The Kopi Luwak, or Luwak Coffee is made from these beautiful coffee berries.  
The Civet cats eat the coffee berries.  The cats look like a cat/ferret hybrid. I expected them to look more like house cats.  If visiting the plantation, don't try to pet the cats.  They are a little feisty.
The civet cat then eats and digests the coffee berries.  According to the plantation workers, the beans are fermented by the cats' digestive juices.  The result is a coffee bean that has a lower caffeine content and distinctive flavor.  
After the civet cat poops the beans, plantation workers clean them.
Then the beans are dried.

After 2 weeks or so, workers peel the beans.
Workers then brown the beans over an open flame,
then grind them the old fashioned way.
The end product is Luwak Coffee!
            After our quick tour of the production line, we were served a complementary coffee/ tea flight. While sampling the goods, Mr. "I'm Not Drinking That" decided to pay the $5.50 to taste the cat poop coffee. 
This was our view from the plantation cafe. 
Chris was underwhelmed by the coffee.  He claimed it wasn't as tasty as Starbucks and there really wasn't a distinct flavor. I'm not a coffee drinker, so I passed on the experience.

He said it was okay to the last drop. 
For the remainder of the vacation, I would look at Chris and giggle,
"Hee hee drank cat poop coffee." 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Exploring Bali

After a couple of days relaxing at the resort, Chris and I decided to hire a driver and explore Bali.  Unlike previous trips, we had no set itinerary for the day so we let our tour guide show us some island highlights.

Stop One: Bali Bird Park

While driving to our first temple, I saw a sign for Bali Bird Park.  Since the park was on the way to the temple, we decided to stop and check out the birds!

The bird park had over 1000 birds! I was glad we made the stop to meet some new feathered friends.
This guy had a great time perched on Chris' head.
This little girl loved to be pet behind her head.  Chris approached her and she assumed the position. 
This bird was walking around with a stone in his mouth.  When I held out my hand to accept his gift, he jumped on my hand.  These birds were extremely friendly! 
After posing with me, this Cockatoo tried to steal Chris' sunglasses. 
The birds didn't fear humans at all.  These peacocks decided to play with us by blocking a bridge. 
If you are a bird lover, I highly recommend visiting this park.
Stop Two: Home Sweet Bali

After an hour with the birds, we were ready to keep exploring.  For our next stop, our driver took us to a traditional Balinese home. 

Each house in Bali has a plaque that states the family name and the number of occupants.  I believe this house had five residents.
This is the kitchen.  The family still uses a wood burning stove to cook. 
This was the bedroom.  All of the family members slept in the same room. 
This was the bed where dead bodies are kept until it is time for them to be buried. 
Many Balinese houses have their own temples.  This Hindu temple was located in the back of the family home.
Cock fighting is extremely popular among Hindus in Bali.  The father of the family was quite proud of his fighters.
The family well is located in the center of the home.  
The family also had three pet porcupines.  Why?  According to our tour guide, they are fun pets.

Here is a picture of the shower and laundry area.  
The grandfather prepares food for lunch.
This little cutie also lived in the home.

Stop Three: Batuan Temple

After our home visit, Chris and I really wanted to see a temple while in Bali, so we headed to the Batuan Temple.

Hindu temples require that all visitors be dressed appropriately, so we had to dress in sarongs before we entered the temple. 
The Hindu temple had all kinds of rules which we obeyed.
Many visitors were encouraged to make offerings to the gods.
I was impressed with the temple carvings.  The original temple was built in 1022, and was restored in 1992.
The temple details were fantastic. 
Stop Four: Lunch in Ubud

All of this exploring was making us hungry, so we took a ride to Ubud, Bali to eat lunch facing the rice paddies.

In Ubud, the streets were lined with all kinds of Balinese crafts.  I picked up a blanket similar to the one in this picture for $20 USD. 
We finally ate lunch at a scenic little cafe.  It felt wonderful to dine on the floor with our shoes off!

For our first course, we ate fried cheese samosas!  Yum! 
Then we ate some chicken fried noodles.  If there is one word to describe Balinese food, it would be salty.  It is important eat salt in the hot climate so people can retain water.
For desert...banana, pineapple, and coconut crepes!  So yummy! 
This was our view from the table.

After lunch, we took a trip to a place I never expected to visit…more to come!