Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy Holidays and 新年快乐!

I don’t know how it happened, but the holidays are almost over and I still haven’t sent a Christmas card.  (Truth be told, after 2.5 years in Shanghai I haven’t mailed anything internationally.)  So before the clock strikes 12:00, I thought I would share some of the highlights of our holiday season.

We started off our holiday season with new and old friends at Lao Beijing for "Ducksgiving".
Chris and I returned to Lao Beijing on Thanksgiving day.  I was lucky enough to have duck twice in one week!

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we tested the capacity of our apartment at our Friendsgiving.  Our night of incredible food and Cards Against Humanity was a blast!
After Thanksgiving, we got in the holiday spirit by visiting a few Christmas markets.  Paulaner Fenyang Lu was PACKED!
I also had a great time participating in a 25 Days of Christmas photo challenge. A few of my kiddos helped me out by dressing up as elves. 

We enjoyed some Feuerzangenbowle with some German friends,

and had some white elephant fun with work friends!  I also fell in love with the selfie stick.

The four course French dinner was a HUGE improvement over last year's company party. 
I visited my Christmas past and shared the fabulous popsicle stick ornament tradition with my kids.
Chris reprised his role as Santa's special helper.   
The first and second grade students were so excited to get candy from Santa.  They swarmed him and knocked him on his back!  Fortunately, no kiddos were hurt and there were no wardrobe malfunctions.

After our Christmas excitement, we settled down and planned for 2015. 

It has been a fun, crazy, and exciting year and I anticipate many more adventures in 2015.  On behalf of Chris, Leia, Ditka, and this American Girl in Shanghai, happy holidays and best wishes for a 2015 filled with health, happiness, and adventure!

We miss all of our family and friends overseas.  新年快乐!  Happy New Year!  Stay tuned for more adventures in 2015!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Getting Away to Guilin

Someone I know and love dearly turned 40 this October, so we decided to celebrate by taking a weekend getaway to Guilin.

Happy Birthday Chris!  We're heading to Guilin!
Guilin is a great destination for nature lovers.  While there, we spent 48 hours floating and hiking through picturesque landscapes.   

After a two-hour flight from Shanghai, we got a good night’s rest at the Shangri-La and started our day with a cruise down the Li River.

We were so excited to get Shangri-la-ed in Guilin! 
We started our day with a cruise down the Li River. 
Men on bamboo rafts sold tourists fruit.  
We enjoyed the scenery!  Many times I felt like we were floating through a silk painting.
Small boat villages lined the banks of the Li river.

Many of the mountains we saw have many stories behind them.  This is the mountain of the nine horses.  Can you spot all nine horses? 
The Li River is featured on the back of the 20RMB note.
At the end of our four hour boat ride, we got tourist trapped on West Street in downtown Yangshuo.
Shop owners sold all sorts of goodies to the tourists. 

They sold everything from coconut heads,

to stone etchings of the Rock. 
After hanging out on West Street, we took another tour to a small town outside Yangshuo.  On this tour, we took a bamboo raft ride down a small stream. 
During this tour, a local fisherman demonstrated how to use cormorants to catch fish.    
The stream is a popular location for wedding pictures.  During our tour, we saw about a dozen brides.
At the end of the tour, we got to feed a pregnant water buffalo some corn. 
After a quick dinner at McDonalds, we saw the Impression: Sanjie Liu show.   
Impressions is directed by the art director for the 2008 Beijing Opening ceremonies.  I was impressed that over 600 locals could put on this show using rafts on a lake as a stage.  I was also surprised that my seat mates talked during the entire performance.  I would have enjoyed the performance more if I knew the legend before I saw the show. 
By the end of the day, we were exhausted.  I ordered a bowl of mushroom soup to warm up from the cold and got a good night’s sleep.

The next day, we set out to explore Guilin city.  We had a great time visiting Jingjiang Prince’s City and Zhenyang Pedestrian Street.

Jingjiang Prince's city was the palace of the great nephew of the first Ming Dynasty emperor.  Now it houses part of Guanxi Normal University.  We purchased tour tickets at the gate, and were shown around by an English speaking tour guide. 
We had a nice time exploring the palace buildings.  We especially enjoyed studying a study cave and peace grotto.  No photography was allowed inside. 
At the end of the tour, Chris climbed Solitary Beauty Peak to see a panoramic view of Guilin.
After Jingjiang Prince's City, we enjoyed a lunch of meat and rice noodles on Zhenyang Pedestrian Street.  Rice noodles are a Guilin specialty.  

I booked our hotel, flight and tour on Ctrip.  Unfortunately, they are no longer offering tours on their international website.  Nonetheless, It’s quite easy to book cruises and tours at the Guilin hotels and hostels.  If I were to revisit Guilin, I would extend the trip to three days so our Saturday activities could be extended over two days instead of one.  Happy exploring!

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!