Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Happy Places

For me, winter in Shanghai usually involves a roller coaster of emotions.   Holiday celebrations with students, colleagues, and friends are incredibly fun.  However, for every good time, there are lonely, gray days over my month and a half long Chinese New Year break that make me homesick.  When I start to feel melancholy, I simply tell myself that I need to go to one of my happy places.  After a visit to one of these spots, life gets better.

The Park
Many Chinese parks are magical places.  You never know what you will see until you get there, and after you visit you want to return for more.  I love cutting through parks on my commute to work.  Dancing grannies, old men duking it out over games of cards, and well maintained landscapes lift my spirits. 
I love People's Square in the Fall.

Many card games can become quite heated.  It is hilarious.
Some dancing grannies perform with pink ribbons and orange loofahs. 
Rumor has it there have been some dancing granny turf wars. I would not want to cross these ladies.
I enjoyed watching a little weekend Tai Chi.
Many folks find parks extremely peaceful.

The MOCA and other Art Galleries
In a city of over 24 million people, sometimes it’s nice to escape to a quiet place where one can ponder the meaning of life while looking at inkblots. 
The MOCA in People's Square is extremely peaceful on weekday afternoons.

If you aren't looking for a crowd, you may want to avoid the museums on the weekend. 
M&M Land
For people who enjoy coco-therapy or just want to have a fun time while shopping on Nanjing Dong Lu, M&M world is the place for you! 

I don't feel really blue around the M&M's.

M&M World has done a great job marrying their candies and Chinese culture in a cheeky way.
If you are questioning your mood, an analyzer will tell you your color mood.  I hope this analysis is spot on!
I love the terra cotta chocolate warriors! 
I was surprised to see the store only carried peanut, almond, and plain M&M's.  
The lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel
Shanghai has many new, interesting smells.  Sometimes the scent of wet markets, vehicle exhaust, and pm 2.5 can make your nose feel abused.  The antidote to these foul odors is the lobby of the Shangri-La.  The piped in air freshener and tea service makes me happy in less than an hour.

A hostess at the Guilin Shangri-La greets us at the door. Every Shangri-La Hotel has a beautiful floral citrus scent. 
The Bund at Night

If you can tolerate large crowds and the weather isn’t horrible, a nighttime stroll down the Bund may be what the doctor ordered.  The magical lights usually put me in a better mood.

If you are looking for a crowd, take a walk down the Puxi side of the Bund.
The Bund is also a great place to relax during the day.
If you are looking for a quieter bund experience, the Pudong side may be the place for you.
Finding your own happy spot is essential to surviving Shanghai.  Happy hunting!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shanghai Halloween 3: My Zombie Apocalypse

During the last week of October, Halloween fever swept through Shanghai.   Kids of all ages had a great time dressing up and loading up on candy.

Halloween came with a gusto this year!!  The teachers decorated the school the Friday before Thanksgiving.

Don't have a pumpkin?  Carve a pomelo! 
The kids weren't distracted by the decorations at all. 
This bat in my 2nd grade classroom lit up and wiggled every time I clapped my hands to get my kids' attention.  Guess who took a battery out of that toy.

By the end of the week, we were ALL ready to trick or treat!

On Halloween day, I had a great time dressed as Pete the Cat with my kids.

My first graders were very ready to collect candy!

My fourth graders kept asking me for candy.  I think a few of them tried to get at least 5 rounds of candy.
While these kiddos were asking for candy,
this little guy tapped me on the shoulder and startled me.
After Meridia shot a few suction cup arrows at me, the bow and arrow set disappeared.

It somehow reappeared at the end of the day.

Since I didn’t have to teach the day after Halloween, I decided to participate in a Zombie Crawl on Halloween night.   Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of the crawl itself.  (I had to stay in character.)  However I did have a great time with some international zombies.

After three or four layers of makeup, I was ready to participate in the zombie apocalypse.

About forty zombies met up in Xintiandi for a stroll. 
Michael Jackson did a great job coordinating the effort.

This zombie snagged his Chinese police costume off Taobao.  The real Chinese police had a fun time messing with him during the stroll.
Chris wasn't feeling much like a zombie, so he enjoyed the spectacle as a civilian.
Harry Potter ran up to me and cast a spell on me because Harry Potter can kill zombies.  When he was unsuccessful , he offered me 1 RMB to scare his Mom.

After the crawl, we had a great time catching up at Xuan.

Overall, it was a spooky kooky Halloween in Shanghai!

I'm already looking forward to next Halloween.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What To and Not To Do When Traveling to Phuket

During the first week of October, China grants its citizens a seven days of paid vacation to celebrate national day.  Many people (including ourselves) decided to take advantage of this break by taking a much-needed vacation.  Our trip was to Phuket, Thailand.  

Thailand is a beautiful, amusing country.  I found the food, the beaches, and the people to be extraordinary.   There are some things you need to know before booking your trip to Thailand.  So my dear readers, I give you my do’s and don’t s of traveling to Thailand.

DO visit Phuket.  There is so much to do in the city, and the beaches are beautiful.

DON’T pronounce the Ph like an F.  It sounds vulgar and is incorrect.  The name of the town is pronounced POO-ket.

DO visit Phuket during the dry season.  We made the mistake of visiting Thailand during the rainy season.  I kid you not; it rained EVERY DAY we were there.  We weren’t able to swim in the sea because the current was too strong.  In spite of the weather we did have fun.  We did pack ponchos and umbrellas so we were able to participate in many other activities.

Most guests were rocking the ponchos for the majority of their vacation.
Fortunately, our hotel had these lovely hammock beds that allowed us to enjoy mother nature while staying dry.  I could've read on these beds for hours.  
DON’T be afraid to take Malaysian Airlines to Phuket.  Much to my Mother’s chagrin, we took Malaysian Airlines and arrived safely.  However, make sure you arrive EARLY to check in.  We got bumped from two planes even though we had seat assignments and arrived at the airport two and a half hours before our flight.  After our delays, everything about Malaysian Airlines was great.

During every bi-weekly phone call for a month my mother asked me if we were traveling Malaysian Airlines.  They are safe.

We weren't happy to spend another 5 hours in the Kuala Lumpur airport, but at least Malaysian Airlines let us relax in their first class lounge.
DO eat the local food.  Thai food is amazing!  I had no idea spicy food could ever taste so delicious. 

Tom Yum Gung is an AMAZING spicy and sour seafood soup.  I HIGHLY recommend trying it.

My waitress made sure I had some watermelon on the side to cool the burn.

I never thought I would enjoy Khao Niaw Mamuang, a desert made of mango, sticky rice, and coconut cream.   Now it is one of my favorite deserts. 
DON’T expect to be the only creature that enjoys the food.   Little birds joined us for breakfast every day. 

These little birdies enjoyed my omelet while I was reading. 

DO something stupid, like get a henna tattoo just to say you got a tattoo in Thailand.  As soon as I saw the henna tattoo hut, I knew I needed to try on a tattoo for fun. 

I decided I needed a little ankle ink during our trip.  

I can see how people get addicted to tattoos.  I felt a little rebellious for two weeks.

DON’T do something stupid, like get a henna tattoo on your face a la Mike Tyson or get a real tattoo just to say you got a tattoo in Thailand.  The henna took a good two weeks to wash off, and real tattoos are permanent.

DO ride an elephant.  We had a great time on our Siam Safari.  I highly recommend it for anyone who is an elephant fan.

We had a slow but scenic trek through the Thai jungle. 
DON’T get in a fight with a local.  Didn’t happen to us, but you never know.

DO see a local Muay Thai fight.  No trip to Phucket is complete without seeing Muay Thai fighting.  Before this trip I had always wanted to see a live boxing match.  Bangala Boxing Stadium did not disappoint !

I have to admit I was a little creeped out to see six year old kids boxing.

Girls can fight too!

As the night progressed, the caliber of fighters increased.  We had a great time watching fighters duke it out on the mats.  
DON’T pass up a chance to see fire dancers.

Thai fire dancers put on a show a few times per week at our hotel.

The dancer greeted us at the end of the show. 
DO visit a ladyboy cabaret.  The Simon Cabaret was one of the best shows I have ever seen.  Their lip-syncing, sequined costumed production elicited a level of glee I had not felt since watching The Love Boat as a child.  The dancing was cheesy, and the seats were extraordinarily comfortable.  They even provided a complimentary bottle of water for each guest.

DON’T take pictures inside the Ladyboy Cabaret, or expect to take a picture with a ladyboy without paying.
I was so excited to finally be able to take a picture of the performers!  They were so eager to have guests pose with them after the show.
I didn't realize they wanted to get paid for the picture...oh well.
DO visit a night market to witness the spectacle.  We didn’t buy anything at the market because we can buy locally in Shanghai, however the colors were magnificent.

Night markets are great places to pick up faux souvenirs.

DON’T forget to take time to take it all in.  Phuket is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.   Even though there is so much to explore on the island, make sure to plan a lazy day to take in the beauty of Thailand.

So when can we go back?