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My Golden Week in Shanghai

October 17, 2016
Sadly, I couldn't schedule any trips for our week off from work during China's Golden Week, which took place the first week of October. I'm just not well enough yet due to my back surgery. On the bright side, I think this is going to be the last time I have to sit back and miss out on traveling during my time off of work.

The first order of business was to move back into my original apartment. My bosses let me borrow one of the apartments on the downstairs floor while I was in the earlier stages of my recovery. Boy, did I need to have that apartment. I live on the top floor, and there's no elevator in my building, so I'm really glad I didn't have to struggle with the steps all summer. Rachael, Steven, and my pal Lauren all offered to help me pack up and move. Such great friends, right? I physically could not have lifted my belongings without them. On the way, Rachael ran into another one of our friends and he offered to help, too. It didn't even take as long as we had anticipated, and it's beyond wonderful to be back in my own apartment! It's quieter, there aren't any insects (first floor apartment problems), I have access to all my stuff, and it just feels like I'm finally home. It's crazy to think that what I thought would be a weekend trip away from my apartment turned into being me gone from my own place for five months!

I spent about a full day unpacking and organizing and getting rid of stuff. My apartment is looking better than it did last year, too. Scott left me some stuff, and a guy I used to work with left me his couch, so it feels cozier for sure. 

One day during the break, I met Steven and the two of us went to a pop-up restaurant in Shanghai called Yogalicious. I guess the restaurant is only going to be open until the end of October (??). I'd never been to a pop-up restaurant before, but it makes me feel cool and trendy, ha ha. This rooftop restaurant serves all kinds of healthy acai bowls. Steven opted for one called Sunrise, which was a blend of tropical fruits mixed with cashew milk, but it had an icy consistency. I chose one called Unplugged, which was made with acai, dates, cacao powder, and banana. I was a little worried because Steven seemed apprehensive about Yogalicious at first, but in the end we both raved about our bowls, and hope to make it out there sometime before it closes its doors. It's a nice place to sit and chill if the weather's nice, and we liked the view, too. Afterwards, we decided to get foot massages at one of our favorite nail salons, Flower Fingers.

On a different day, my co-teacher took me out for lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Uo Kura. She had actually planned on taking me there for my birthday in April, but we had to postpone it because of my operation. The restaurant served up some delicious food. We had slices of beef that were cooked right in front of us, oysters, sushi rolls, soup, and fish. We went for lunch, but it looked pretty upscale. As with many restaurants in Japan, we were able to get a private area to sit in, and when my back hurt, I could simply lie down on the long bench. The branch of Uo Kura we went to was located by the Sinan Mansions, a bunch of gorgeously renovated colonial mansions, most of which now house various restaurants and businesses. It's not a large area to explore, but we spent about 20 minutes slowly walking around and looking at the different buildings. I was just glad to have been to an area of Shanghai I'd never been to before.

My friend Lauren and I met up another day and had coffee in Jing'an. The coffee shop we wanted to go to was closed for the holiday, so we ended up just having coffee in this place that was basically a hair salon, but that also served coffee up front. Afterwards, we went to a shopping mall, had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen, and then headed to Caojiadu Flower Market. We had been wanting to go since last year, and finally had the time to do so. I picked up a bouquet of fresh flowers and a snazzy royal blue vase as well as two mini potted plants for my apartment. We had fun shopping for plants, taking selfies, and browsing the large selection of flowers from various vendors. Orchids were quite popular there, but my students' parents actually got me a gorgeous potted orchid as a Mid-Autumn Festival gift, so I wasn't really looking for any. Finally, Lauren and I found an area of Shanghai where a lot of Koreans live and were able to eat some Korean food. I picked dol sot bip bim bap, one of my favorite dishes. There was a food shop where we could stock up on our Korean staples to take with us, and we both left with some kimchi jigae and kimbap. Like myself, Lauren taught in Korea for three years, so we are going to head back to that restaurant/shop once we start craving more Korean food, which, let's face it...We're always wanting to have more Korean food!

For the rest of the break, I just rested a lot. When I wasn't resting, unfortunately I did have to do a lot of work for school. I was a little bitter about that, honestly. At least it's done now, and I won't have to re-write lessons for everyone until next semester. I also went out to eat twice more with different groups of friends. Besides the working part, I was quite satisfied with my break. Last year for this break, Scott and I went to Guilin, got food poisoning, had gross accommodation, and got stuck in a typhoon. We still made the most of it, but overall I was happy to have stayed in Shanghai. I didn't compromise my health and I saved money!

What would you right now if you had a staycation?

What I Miss About my Life in the States

September 28, 2016
While being in China is the right decision for me now, I can't help but miss a few things about my life back in the States. It seems like I've adjusted or have found a way around most of these, which is great. There are always plusses and drawbacks to living anywhere, and I'm certainly not trying to say that life in the States is perfect, but practically every expat out there surely must miss a some things about their home country, am I right? I'm sure that once I leave China, I'll have a list of what I miss about living here, too!

*Clean air- Overall, the air in the USA is much better than here in China. Lately, here in Shanghai the AQI (air quality index) has been pretty low, which we have all been loving! I know that the factories were shut down for the G20 Conference in nearby Hangzhou, so that helped a lot. The conference was over in early September, but the air still been pretty good for Shanghai. Right now it's at 87, for example. The skies have been blue, we can go outside, and I'm not coughing and wheezing or getting out of breath like I do when the AQI goes over 200. Others have told me that the opening of Shanghai Disney has also affected the air quality, in that some factories are still shut down to keep the air from getting too polluted. I'm really hoping that this trend continues because last winter there were some days that were so bad that I had to just stay inside.

*Drinkable tap water- The tap water in Shanghai isn't potable, so we all have large water jugs with a dispenser in our rooms. It's better than when I lived in Seoul and had to buy my own bottles of water every day, but it's slightly annoying that I have to pay for water. However, the main issue why this isn't the best for me is because with my back problems there's no way I can lift the water jug up on my own, so I'm dependent on others if I run out of water. If I'm running really low, I usually store some in a pitcher in my refrigerator so I always have at least some cold water. The good news is that the school gave me a Brita as a gift, and I've been able to use that! I just don't fill it up all the way each time so that I can still carry it. 

*A large selection of reading material available in English- Of course there are some bookstores here in Shanghai with English sections, but the stores I've been to do not usually have the books I'm looking to buy. Luckily, I bought a Kindle, and that has solved most of this problem. I do love to read magazines, though and haven't yet found a way around that. There are copies of Glamour and Marie Claire available in the airport, but they're gosh...about $8 for one.

*Fast internet- The internet here in China is touch and go. It's rare that a whole day passes and I don't encounter any problems. For personal use, I'll just try again later, but it really bothers me when I have issues during my lessons! There are so many times that an educational video won't load or a site won't work when it's supposed to. I do have backup plans, but it can be really frustrating for me and for the students. It's also kind of a pain when I need to do work/look up resources and have no access. to the internet.

*Regional American food- Yes, there are restaurants in China that serve Western food, but some specialities are hard to find. I really miss Southern food! (I do have to say that I'm pretty happy with the food selection in Shanghai, though. There are so, so many wonderful restaurants to choose from).

*Not having an oven or dryer- Even in the States I hang up some of my clothes on a drying rack to dry, but I do miss having soft, fluffy right-out-of-the-dryer towels. My towels here get so stiff when they air-dry. On the plus side, at least not using a dryer is better for the environment, right? As for an oven, our apartments come with a hot plate, but no oven. Last year, I didn't use one at all because a close friend and I went out for dinner at the cheap, local restaurants nearby. One of the teachers at my school last year left and gave me her oven for free (so sweet!), so at least now I have a small one. I find myself using it almost every day, and wonder how I even made it through last year without one. It's great for making toast or heating up quiches or for cooking meat.

*Western style toilets- Some places in China do have them, but definitely not all places. I've seen more Western ones in Shanghai than anywhere else I've been in China. I really can't stand the squatter style toilets, especially because I can't even really use them now because of my back problems. Some might argue that it's more hygienic, but 99% of the ones I've used have been in a filthy, sorry state with plenty of bodily fluids (and errr...solids) surrounding the toilet in the ground.

*Having access to my favorite products- I make do and buy what's on shelves here, but many of the brands I want are not available here. Luckily, when my friends go back to the States, they usually offer to pick up a few must-have items and bring them to Shanghai for me.

*Finding clothes and shoes in my size- I can find shirts and some dresses here, but shoes, shorts, and pants? Yeah, right!! Unless I get them tailor-made. Some of my shoes I brought from the States are looking pretty worn out, but I just keep wearing them since I can't get replacements.

*The whole fall pumpkin craze- Shanghai doesn't really have a good fall--it goes from hot to cold and last year Scott and I were waiting in vain to see the fall foliage. I do have to give props to Ohio because autumn there is so beautiful. On the other hand, I love Shanghai's mild winter!

*Common courtesy/better manners- Shanghai is just has a high population and getting shoved around a bit is a way of life. I guess you could say I miss having more personal space. I also miss how fewer people spit in public than in the States. The spitting is quite common here among men (and a few women). No one really holds the door for you, either. And people not respecting lines is also normal, but it's just something you learn to deal with.

*Driving- The way I get around Shanghai is by either walking or taking a taxi. I used to take the subway, but it's too dangerous for me now because I'm still recovering and cannot be bumped into (a certainty on the subway). Last year, I thought about buying a bike, but again, I can't do that yet and probably not for awhile because of my back. Anyway, I miss driving because it's so nice to just get in your car and not have to worry about no taxis being available. Also, a big issue for me this year is that I can't go to grocery stores and carry the bags back to my apartment because of my surgery. If I had a car, I could just load a few items at a time and transport them back to my place. Furthermore, I miss the independence and freedom of hopping into a car and going anywhere I want.

*People not calling me fat- In the States, I just don't get called fat. At least not to my face, but here in China I hear it rather frequently and usually accompanied with laughter, and who wants to hear that? I try to ignore the negative comments, but it isn't always easy.

While I do miss some of these comforts from home, I am glad that I decided to stay in Shanghai for another year, even though I was having my doubts about it at one of the lowest points in my life this past summer.

If you've ever been an expat, what do you miss about your home country?

Why I'm Okay with Being a Hobby Blogger

September 26, 2016
When you're a blogger, you have to do what's right for you. Whether that means you blog full or part-time or whether or not you do it for a living, you need to choose what meets your needs. Right now I am a part-time hobby blogger, meaning, I post a few times a month and do not get paid on a regular basis. To be honest, I only ever earn a few cents when I use some affiliate links, which is peanuts, but I'm totally fine with that. I know I could try harder to put in more affiliate links, but right now that is not super important to me. Maybe one day this will change, and I'm certainly not bashing those who do, but my blog is an outlet for me to share my life, thoughts, experiences, and travels. Most importantly, it is fun for me...hence using the word "hobby." Below I'll be sharing why being a hobby blogger is the right choice for me.

Styled Photography by: Ashley
* I don't post consistently, and I don't feel guilty about it. Would I like to find more time to blog? Of course, but I have other priorities. My main one right now is my health, and I have to rest A LOT these days, so I just don't get upset thinking, "Oh my gosh, I only posted 4 times this month."

* Like I said, blogging is not a large source of income for me in the slightest bit, so I don't rely heavily (or really AT ALL) on any money I earn from it. I know bloggers who apply for all of those campaigns must work really hard, and right now that would just be more stress in my life. 

* Blogging doesn't feel like work. I don't have a blogging schedule or any real obligations to fulfill, and I love having that freedom!

* I don't think I have what it takes blog full-time as a main source of income. There are a lot of full-time bloggers out there that continually post at least three times a week and are always coming up with stellar content.  They have a strong presence on several forms of social media, too. While I enjoy sending out a few tweets here and there, and posting on Instagram, I am not that savvy when it comes to social media. Also, the big bloggers have to deal with such scrutiny. I don't think I want to be under the microscope like that--from grammatical errors to photography, those bigger bloggers can be judged harshly. 

* I like my full-time job right now, so I wouldn't want to give that up to blog full-time. There are some bloggers out there that do both, and more power to them, but I couldn't/wouldn't give up the large amount of time I devote to rest and relaxation and travel in order to work and blog full-time. 

* I have full control of the content I publish on my blog. I've turned down a couple of offers to write sponsored posts for products I don't truly believe in, and I don't even think twice about the money. Wait, that just made me sound like I'm rolling in money...read this post and you'll find that is far from the truth. 

* Tying this in with my last point, there is less pressure in general. Not all of my posts are helpful ones, which many big bloggers say is key for growing your audience. Some are (hopefully!) but there are a bunch of posts on here that are just me telling a story or sharing snippets from my life, and I don't really intend on stopping those types of posts. 

What kind of blogger are you?

Fall 2016 Goals

September 17, 2016
I wasn't going to blog today, and then I saw Steph's link up, and thought, "Why not?" I haven't done a goals post in awhile and sharing goals with others helps me stay on track.

Life According to Steph

*Plan Christmas vacation to Sanya. I'm super nervous about this trip because the last time I traveled, I  ended up in the hospital for 55 days and had to get flown back to Shanghai on a stretcher and have back surgery. BUT, I'm also excited to finally be able to be somewhat normal and go on a short trip. My doctors told me that a three hour flight is okay for me, but that I should wear my back brace and try to get up as much as possible on the plane. I was planning on doing a girls' trip and we were going to stay at a resort for three days, so if it turns out I'm feeling too tired to go out and do activities, my plan is to just lounge at the resort and enjoy the tropical weather. This will be a good test run for Hawaii, and once I'm able to go on one trip and come out fine, I'm sure my confidence will be boosted for future trips.

*Finish reading The Mountain Shadow, the sequel to Shantaram. I have this on my Kindle and keep forgetting about it. To be honest, Shantaram is one of my favorite books of all time, but The Mountain Shadow just isn't holding my attention in some parts. 

*Go to a Friends' Thanksgiving. Last year instead of having a get together at someone's house and eating American food, we went to teppanyaki (a Japanese steakhouse). The food made me violently ill afterwards. I lost like 4 pounds in two days from food poisoning, ha ha. Let's just say that this year, I hope for a better Thanksgiving, and I'm pretty sure I'll have be able to have a good one. 

*Blog one time a week. Such a lofty goal, I know. No, but in all seriousness, it is hard for me to find energy to blog after work. After working a full day, my feet are usually so swollen, my back is sore, and I really need to lie flat and rest. I still would like to check in every now and again, and if I can post more, that's great. 

*Find fall food in Shanghai. I already ordered some pumpkin bread, and I'm kind of dying for a slice. This year, I want to be sure to have at least one piece of pumpkin pie, and if I could find some apple cider, that would be fantastic!

*Wire my dad $2,000. I already talked about my financial goals in another post, but my first paycheck since April will be coming at the end of September, and I need to pay my dad back for my surgery. It will be my first payment to him, and I'll be so relieved once I give him back even just a small portion of what I owe him. 

*Start hosting the Weekly Wrap Up again. Rachael and I hosted this link up a few years ago and then brought it back...We had just started, but then I was hospitalized for so long and had no or just plain spotty internet, not to mention I had some major health problems to worry about. We'd like to start it back up sometime soon.

*Hang out with my co-teacher. We will have a week off during October for the Chinese National Holiday, so we hope to do something fun together then. 

*Move back to my apartment. After my surgery, my friend Scott moved some of my personal belongings down to a 1st floor apartment in another building since I live on the top floor of an apartment building with no elevator. I was too unsteady to go up and down all those steps, so that's why I moved. I am getting antsy to go back to my own place, though. When I move back it will truly feel like I'm moving on from what happened to me last May. I very much look forward to taking that step.

What do you hope to accomplish this fall?

Visiting Unawatuna and Galle in Sri Lanka

September 16, 2016
Unawatuna- Rachael, Scott, and I arrived in Unawatuna after having spent five days in paradise at the Sun Island Resort in the Maldives. Since everything on the resort was so expensive--almost $5 USD for a liter of water and cocktails that were about $15 each, we were so excited to be in a cheaper place. Also, in the Maldives, we just had to eat at the same place for most of our meals. Don't get me wrong, the food was good, but one of my favorite things about traveling is discovering new restaurants, which Unawatuna was perfect for! In fact, on our first full day, the very first thing we did was go shopping and then we stopped at a fruit juice stand. Fresh fruit was abundant in Sri Lanka! Usually I struggle and fail to eat the recommended daily serving of fruit, but not so in Sri Lanka. Scott and I said we felt so healthy there because we were eating so well, getting enough sleep, and didn't really have any responsibilities (so the ideal vacation). 

As far as the shopping was concerned, besides clothes and trinkets, there were so many jewelry shops selling pieces made of moonstone, rose quartz, topaz, and rubies. The list goes on. We all bought jewelry at some point, as we found some nice items to give as gifts to our friends and relatives.

For the clothes, I couldn't really find anything that fit me. Almost everything seemed like it was for someone tiny, or at least someone tinier than me (99% of all women), so I bought my petite friend some printed pants. One of the shop owners said she could tailor a dress for me, but when I tried it on, it looked so terrible. It seriously looked like I was wearing a sack, and I left it behind in the guest house because it wasn't even worth taking it with me. At least it only cost me $7 and we all got a good laugh out of it.

Rachael and I wanted to try an Ayurvedic massage, so we stopped by Kahuna Club. We both have to say that our massage experience was unlike any other. One portion of the massage was called Shirodhara, which our masseurs kept referring to as the third eye oil massage. Basically there is a funnel like contraption placed over your head while you're lying down. Oil drips from this onto your forehead and then it seeps down to your scalp. The speed at which the oil drips can be controlled, at least mine was! I have to say that it was pretty relaxing, and the oil is supposed to be good for your scalp and hair. For the last part of my massage, I went into what Rachael and I describe as a "hot coffin." Your head does stick out the top part of it, and then the "door" is closed over the rest of your body. It gets so hot and you are supposed to sweat out all of your toxins that way, similar to what happens in a sauna.

Of course we also had to have a beach day since that is the main thing to do in Unawatuna. There are a bunch of beach chairs owned by different restaurants. If you order food and drinks, then the owner will let you sit in the chairs "for free." (Even though it's not really free). It was fine though because we enjoy a good cocktail now and then. The beach was nice, but a bit crowded, or at least we thought so. However, we had just come from the Maldives where there were just a few/no other people on the beaches we went to. Anyway, we liked it there, but just go in knowing that there will be many other tourists and the locals will come around and try to sell you stuff.

Another attraction to go take a look at are the fisherman who sit on stilts to fish. This way of fishing is dying out, and nowadays the fishermen make you pay money if you take a picture of them fishing, but it's still worth a look, in my opinion.

For Food in Unawatuna

Roti Shop: We stopped here for a snack to take with us on our way to the beach, although there is seating inside. You just select your filling, and they're fried up right in front of you. Both sweet and savory options are available. Some of the choices I remember were: honey, banana, chocolate, mushroom, tomato, cheese, etc. Of course you could get combinations of those, too. Highly recommended for an inexpensive meal or snack.

Shifting Sands Cafe: The vibe of this restaurant is what got me. It's so relaxing in there, which is good because like most places in Sri Lanka, there will be a long wait to get your food. We got used to that, and just enjoyed each other's company and conversation while waiting. I got the prawn sandwich, and all three of us were very happy with our food. The food was reasonably priced and freshly made.

Pink Elephant: This was a place that the expat owners of our guesthouse recommended to us. We figured we could trust their judgement since they lived there for so many years, and they were right. I had a very delicious spicy prawn cream curry with banana fritters for dessert. Actually, I think this was my favorite meal in Sri Lanka.

Koha Surf Cafe and Lounge: We had dinner here one night after browsing the menu and liking the selection of food that was offered. I got a vegetarian chickpea burger that was tasty. We sat near the front of the restaurant, so it was a good spot to people watch as others passed by on the street. It's just a nice place to chill and have a decent meal.

Galle- We visited Galle (pronounced "Gawl") on a day trip from Unawatuna. I recommend either doing this or else staying in Galle and going on a day trip to Unawatuna, depending on your preferences. The two towns are only about 6 kilometers apart, and we didn't want to bother with changing accommodation, so that was part of the reason why we just took a day trip. It was very easy to get from one place to the other, and we went by tuk tuk. We didn't book it in advance, although you can. It was easy enough to just hail a tuk tuk and then ask the driver to take us.  We didn't have any problems on the way up or back, and it was 400 rupees each way.

The city used to be controlled by the Portuguese, and then the Dutch took over. The architecture of the city reflects this, and the city itself is surrounded by a fort. We strolled along the fort and took in the views first. Then, we stopped for a bite to eat at The Hammock Cafe. The cafe lives up to its name and is full of hammocks to sit on while you have your meal! I had a Hawaiian salad served inside of a hollowed out pineapple.

We walked up and down streets to check out the sights and do some shopping in some of the boutiques.  Again, there were a lot of gem and jewelry shops. We also all purchased items at a shop that sold handmade goods completely made by women, and some of the profits went back to them. All three of us also bought different types of Sri Lankan tea in a tea shop.

We walked around town a bit more, stopped for some gelato, and then headed down to take a look at the lighthouse.

Where We Stayed

Palm Grove- Scott picked this guesthouse for us based on Trip Advisor reviews. The owners were nice and the staff was attentive and professional. We really liked the rooftop area, as it was a relaxing place to chill out. Scott spent a few hours up there just reading. To be honest, my favorite thing about staying there was the breakfast! A lot of places didn't have stellar coffee, but Palm Grove's coffee hit the spot. We were brought several different types of fruit, coffee or tea, freshly baked bread with butter, and one day I added on pancakes. The rooms were clean, but our room was so hot and stuffy, even though we had A/C and a fan going. You might think, "Well, it's Sri Lanka, so it's going to be like that everywhere," but other places we stayed in got quite cool with the A/C. It wasn't that big of a  deal once we got used to it, but on the first night, I had trouble sleeping. The location was also good, as there were tons of restaurants and shops nearby and the beach was within walking distance, too.

Does going to Sri Lanka interest you?