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Cheeky Little Trip to Xi'an

December 22, 2015
A "cheeky little trip to Xi'an" is how my British friend referred to our very quick weekend getaway to the city. I went with Lauren, Scott, and another really cool guy that works at our school. It was a whirlwind trip, but so worth it. Of course visiting the Terracotta Warriors interested me, but I wondered if that's all there was to do in Xi'an. Did people just go, glance at the warriors for a few minutes, take some pictures and leave? If so, did I really want to go out of my way for just that? Rachael told me that she felt the same way last year and had her doubts about it, but urged me to go because she was sold once she went. Since the round trip flight to Xi'an from Shanghai AND our accommodation was less than $200 USD, I figured I would do it. I mean, I think I spend more money than that sometimes on just a regular weekend out here in Shanghai.

We booked a flight out at around 8:30, but our flight got delayed by 2 hours. We made the best of it, chatted and joked around at the airport, I pigged out on White Rabbits (a local Shanghainese candy), and took some lovely selfies with my friend Lauren's selfie stick. We passed the time and it was even kind of fun! Because of the delay, we didn't get to Hang Tang Hostel until well after 1 AM. We had some issues getting the private room that we paid for and ended up having to wait for what felt like an hour to get it sorted out. We had to get up bright and early to be ready in time for our Terracotta Warrior tour, so needless to say, we were all a little groggy the next morning. Luckily, our tour guide, "Lady Jia Jia" didn't talk for too long so that we could rest on the bus. We opted for a 1/2 day no shopping tour, and I was just glad that there was such a thing! I was not there to shop at all. 

Once we arrived, we visited Pit 2, Pit 3, and then Pit 1. Before looking into this trip to Xi'an, I didn't even know there were different pits! Jia Jia warned us to not be disappointed by Pit 2 or Pit 3 because she was saving the best pit for last. Pit 2 and Pit 3 did have many soldiers that were in pieces. There were also a lot of soldiers with bodies and no heads. Interestingly, the original army was armed with actual weapons such as swords, spears, and crossbows. Han soldiers came in, stole the weapons, and smashed some of the soldiers, which explains the current state that they're in. Also, the roof fell down as a result of an earthquake, so many warriors were completely shattered and have to be reassembled. There is also a Pit 4 that is empty, leading us to believe that perhaps the massive project of making the terracotta army was never entirely finished.

We stopped to get our photo taken with copies of the warriors set up for tourists. It wasn't that much if you give the workers their your own camera to use. You can also buy the (overpriced) printed out picture of yourselves if you want.

On our tour we learned that there were over 7,000 terracotta warriors built for Emperor Qin Shi Huang's tomb so that they could protect him in the afterlife. Qin Shi Huang is also credited with the Great Wall of China and one theory is that China is even named after him, as Qin is pronounced as "Chin." Although Qin Shi Huang did contribute positively to China's history, he did have the workers who helped create the Terracotta Warriors killed in order to keep the location of the pits a secret. 

One pit was discovered in 1974, which is crazy since the warriors were created during the time of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC.) The warriors were initially quite colorful, but now they are just white due to oxidation. On the Statue of the Kneeling Archer, traces of the original color can still be seen.

Each statue has incredible details and unique facial features. There are four different types of warriors: a general, soldier, archer, and officer. Besides the soldiers and weapons, chariots and horses were also discovered and can be seen today as well.

As promised, Pit One was the most incredible. The best part was at the very end by the exit when we were able to stand facing the warriors head on instead of just viewing the sides of them.

At the end, we visited the gift shop and I bought miniature replicas of some of the warriors and horses. So much for not wanting to shop, huh? Jia Jia took us to a place with "very good food" for lunch and after roughly 90 minutes on the bus, we arrived back in Xi'an. Jia Jia arranged it so that we could be dropped directly off at the wall that goes around Xi'an. We paid the entrance fee and walked around on top of it for a bit. All of us were starting to get super tired and cranky so we stopped at a nearby cafe. We pushed ourselves to go out to the Muslim Quarter, but once we got there we got a second wind! The Muslim Quarter is so lively and dynamic that it distracted us from our sleepiness. We walked around for at least an hour, sightseeing and sampling snacks and street food along the way.

The next day, we had to wake up at the crack of dawn again in order to catch our flight back to Shanghai, but we didn't mind because of what we just got to experience! Like I said, I was hesitant about going to Xi'an, but overall it was a great trip, and it was truly awe-inspiring to see about 2,000 warriors in Pit One! 

Is seeing the Terracotta Warriors something that's on your bucket list?

Potential Traveling Plans for 2016

December 21, 2015
As I look ahead to 2016, I can't help but think that it will be a great year for travel. For Chinese New Year's, the foreign teachers get an entire month off (paid!). A month is a pretty good chunk of time to go on a decent trip! Most of that trip is actually booked and planned out already. In addition to the month we get off for the Chinese New Year, I'll also get two months off in the summer to visit other destinations.

Thanks to The Rachael Way for letting me edit her pic taken in Ko Tao
1) Maldives- I've pretty much wanted to go to the Maldives ever since I found out about this beautiful island country. I brought up wanting to go there to Scott, but thought he might want to use China as his base to explore other countries instead. Happily, he was all about accompanying me in the Maldives. Rachael will be joining the two of us, and I know that we are in for an AMAZING trip. We will be staying for 5 nights in a bungalow right over the water. How nice will it be to just be able to jump right in the ocean from our place?! Or, we can sit out on the deck above the ocean and just hang out, read, sun bathe, etc. Scott and I have already bought snorkeling masks, and we were talking about getting our diving certification while we're over there. I'm a little hesitant, but Scott is trying to convince me. I guess it depends on the price. We are also considering dining at an underwater restaurant.

2) Sri Lanka- We will be flying straight from the Maldives and into Sri Lanka for 9 days. I have to confess that I usually go on trips with a plan, but for this one, I sat back and let Scott figure out what we would do. He wanted to and said he enjoys it, so Rachael and I are kind of going with the flow for this one! Everything he put on our itinerary sounds right up my alley. We will be going to Galle and will be exploring the town, beaches, and turtle hatchery first. Our next stop will be Sinharaja to go to the rain forest reserve and then to Udawalawe Elephant Park. Finally, we'll be visiting Yala National Park because of the animal sanctuaries.

3) Ko Tao, Thailand- Scott really wanted to go to Thailand since he had never been before. I went three other times, but not for very long. This time, I knew I wanted to just stay on one island and chill out. It was between Ko Lanta and Ko Tao, but Rachael raved about Ko Tao to me and I trust her, so that's where Scott and I will be going. We preferred a place that was less touristy than Phuket and Ko Phi Phi, but we didn't want to be somewhere completely deserted. I think Ko Tao sounds just right for us. As far as accommodation is concerned, after looking at probably fifty places, we decided to stay at the highly reviewed Chintakiri Resort. We had a lot of trouble because it was harder to find places that have two twin beds instead of one king. Scott and I love each other but not that much. :)

4) Jiuzhai Valley National Park- The last time I was in Chengdu, I didn't have enough time to make it to Jiuzhai Valley National Park. This famous tourist attraction has gorgeous vistas, alpine lakes, and waterfalls. Ideally, I'd like to go hiking (nothing too intense) and then do a home stay at a local Tibetan village. The problem with going here is that it's too much to try to do on just a weekend trip. I've read it's an 8 or 9 hour drive from Chengdu and we'd already be flying in from Shanghai. Of course, I do get breaks and there are some three day weekends, but much like Yangshuo, Jiuzhai Valley National Park gets overly crowded on Chinese National Holidays and I don't want to go to a place like this to be shoved around and surrounded by so many others. This really is a dilemma...Scott and I are going to have to talk this one through and figure out a plan.

5) Morocco- In the summer, Scott and I were thinking of taking a two week trip to Morocco. How spoiled am I to get to go on all of these trips with one of my best friends?! I'm not trying to brag, but am just grateful for the chance! Anyway, we have some ideas of what we want to do, but need to plan and research it more once we get back to China in February. Like many tourists, we would start in Marrakech and go to the souks. The former Portuguese Colony of Essaouira is also on our list. So is a desert stay in the Sahara, seeing the King Hassan Mosque in Casablanca, visiting the "blue city" of Chefchaouen, and going to bath houses in Fes.

6) Turkey- This was originally on our list, but we'll see how things go. As of now, we both still want to visit but will just avoid the areas around the Syrian border. For this trip, we wanted to hit Istanbul, Cappadocia (hot air balloon rides, valleys, pottery classes), Canakkale (to visit Troy), Olympos, Kekova (a village on the coast), Dalyan (ancient city), and Pamukkale (white cliffs), just to name a few places. We were thinking of doing a tour for this trip, which makes me a little nervous just because I've been on some absolutely fabulous tours but also have been on a couple that I wish I hadn't taken!

Where do you plan to go this year?


December 14, 2015
This isn't exactly a Bucket List, and this isn't exactly a list of goals, although some of what I write on this list could be categorized under each topic. I was just telling Rachael how there is so much to do here and that I have a growing list of what I would like to check out or accomplish during my free time.

1) Visit Hangzhou West Lake. This is a freshwater lake surrounded by gardens and pagodas, and it can be an ideal spot for a day trip from Shanghai. Scott was just telling me how he was reading an article about how this destination is underrated and often skipped over. We just found out that we won't have to work on New Year's Day, so we were thinking about spending New Year's Eve at a nice guesthouse by this lake.

2) Get teeth whitening. My sister got her teeth professionally whitened by her dentist and highly recommends it. I don't feel that my teeth are majorly yellow, but I do feel like they have gotten slightly stained from coffee and tea. Rachael has already looked into finding a place for us, so now we just have to find the time to actually go and do it!

3) Have high tea at the Waldorf Astoria on the Bund. I was reading reviews of this, and the tiered trays full of sweet and savory snacks look amazing! I also heard positive feedback regarding the service and presentation.

4) Go to Shanghai Disney Resort. Shanghai Disney will be opening this year while I am here!! Of course I'll probably wait a bit since I anticipate that it will be overly crowded at first.

5) Take a trip to Harbin for the Snow and Ice Festival. Rachael blogged about going there last year, and I've been wanting to go ever since reading her post. Scott and I have already booked our trip and will be spending Christmas there!

6) Do a Christmas craft. I'm pre-writing this post, but by the time this gets published, Rachael and I will have already made our craft! We will be making rubber stamps so that we can make homemade Christmas cards. If my stamp looks good, I'll probably make a card for each one of my students.

7) Make some wall art. I did go to IKEA for my first time ever last week and got some items to make my apartment more cozy and more like home. However, my walls are still bare and boring. I did buy an adult coloring book a few weeks back, so I'm going to work on coloring a few pages to hang and display in my bedroom.

8) Taste tea all day at Tianshan Tea City. A few of my friends went one day, but I had other plans and have been wanting to go. They told me it is a great place to try and purchase tea from!

9) Swim in the infinity pool at the Four Seasons in Pudong. As soon as I came across this pin, Scott and I discussed getting a room there for our birthday weekend (yes, we have almost the same birthday) in order to enjoy this luxurious pool with sweeping views of Shanghai.

Image via: Four Seasons
10) Try acupuncture. I want to go to a legitimate place for this that specializes in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but I also want the doctor to be able to speak English so there aren't any issues in communication. I found a place that I think I'd like to try called Shanghui Health, but after you get analyzed, the doctor comes up with a treatment plan that may require several additional sessions. Knowing that this is rather time consuming is why I haven't tried acupuncture yet. When I go, I want to be able to have the time to commit.

11) Be a tourist in Qibao. Qibao is only a little over 10 miles away from Shanghai's city center, but I heard that it is a traditional, ancient area famous for shadow plays and cricket fighting.

12) Head out for some cocktails at Shaker Xperience. Here you can make three of your own drinks behind the bar. The bartenders are there to help and answer any questions about the cocktails you want to make. It sounds like a fun way to spend an evening with friends!

What do you have on your must-do list?

Why I Almost Didn't Go to China

December 10, 2015

It's hard to believe that soon I'll have been living in China for four full months. Time is flying by so fast and every week it seems like I'm either traveling, exploring Shanghai, or attending an event. Trust me, that is not a complaint! I couldn't be happier with my choice to move to China, but last year I started having health problems and doubts about whether or not moving to China was the right decision for me. At one point, I even told the program I went through that I would not be able to work in China at all this year. Let me explain...

Last year both socially and professionally, I had a rough time so I began to consider working overseas again pretty early on, which was my initial reason for even getting a Masters in Education and a teaching license to begin with. Although my previous experiences working abroad had been positive, I was still a little hesitant to be 100% committed to the idea of living abroad again. While I wanted to leave the high-stress working environment I was in behind, I worried about whether or not my future school might have a whole new set of problems that could potentially come with it. I decided that I would feel more comfortable working at a school if I could talk to someone that I trusted who was already working there. Since my friend Rachael was employed at a school in Shanghai, I started messaging her and asked her all about the school, curriculum, the city, and the housing. I liked what I heard, so I decided to apply as soon as I possibly could even though I did have a few reservations which I'll list below.

Worry #1: "Am I too old for this?" When I worked as an ESL teacher in Korea, I was 22 years old, fresh out of college, and had no teaching experience. The majority of expat teachers in my school were in their early 20's like me or else in their late 20's. I couldn't help but worry and wonder if I would be the odd one out as someone in my 30's.

What persuaded me: Rachael reassured me and told me that she was the youngest teacher and that most teachers were in their late 20's and early 30's. She mentioned that there were a bunch of young teachers, but there were also teachers that were a lot older. She convinced me that I was being silly and to go for it!

Another factor that influenced my decision was that at the public school I was working for in the States, I was one of the youngest teachers. Many of the teachers at my previous place of employment were much older than me and still were struggling to make ends meet on their salaries. I had been told several times that they lived paycheck to paycheck, couldn't afford to pay their bills, and had very little savings. I heard the same thing from several of the cooperating teachers I'd worked with in Ohio. That was a bit concerning, especially since those teachers had been working for the school district for many years and were obviously making more than what I was making. If I stayed at the school or district I had been working for, yes, I would be more established, but it was not ideal financially.

How it panned out: Like Rachael said, yes, there are young people fresh out of college, but there are also people my age and older. Plus, it's not like everyone knows how old I am, so it's not as big of a deal as I made it out to be! In fact, the co-teacher I'm paired with is two years older than me.

Worry #2: "What if I can't tolerate the pollution and get really sick?" This one really scared me because at the end of my third year in Seoul, I had chronic laryngitis. While part of it was from teaching, I don't think the pollution helped any. It got to the point where it affected my life. I wouldn't go out on weekends because I felt like I had to rest my voice. I stopped hanging out with my friends because I felt like I was forced to stay in. My throat hurt almost every day and losing my voice all the time started to affect my teaching. I saw an ear, nose, and throat doctor who told me that I had vocal nodules and that the only way to cure them was to talk less. As a teacher, I told him that was practically impossible. He advised me to just tough it out for my last few months in Korea and that when I returned to the States that I should get a vocal coach to teach me how to speak properly. He said I needed to retrain myself on how to speak or else get surgery, but that the nodules would just come back if I abused my voice again. In the States, I was able to rest my voice because I was a full-time student for a year. My chronic laryngitis went away, and I was more conscious to not talk loudly/scream when I didn't have to. Needless to say, I was concerned the air quality in Shanghai combined with teaching would cause me to have vocal problems again.

What persuaded me: I hadn't had vocal problems for years and since I'm aware of steps to take to avoid getting them back, I decided to take a chance. I couldn't not take this opportunity based on a fear I had.

How it panned out: On days when the air quality is unhealthy, I try to stay inside as much as possible. I drink a lot of tea and warm drinks, and if I start to lose my voice I immediately rest it so that it doesn't get out of control again. A big difference between my job now and from when I worked in Korea is that I teach less since I work with a co-teacher. I'm not talking for 11 classes straight like I was in Korea. My co-teacher and I will alternate and the students also go to specials, so I'm not constantly talking for eight hours straight. Also, when I was teaching in Korea, I had never been to teaching college or had any training on classroom management. When the kids got loud, I would just try to talk over them. Now that I know better strategies to help control the class, I rarely find myself shouting...not my style!

Worry #3: "I'm not building towards something career-wise." I worried that going to China to teach wouldn't help my career since most districts in the States do not recognize years spent teaching abroad as part of your overall teaching experience. If I ever went back to teach in the States, this means that on the sliding pay scales, I would be paid the same as a 2nd year teacher, even though I've been teaching for many more years than that.

What persuaded me: At this point, I don't really want to go back to the States to teach. I really enjoy teaching in other countries and like that there's less bureaucracy for me to deal with in addition to better pay. If my years teaching in Korea and China don't count in the States, then so what? Those years will matter to future international schools that I apply to.

How it panned out: I'm so much happier this year than I was last year. Being able to teach abroad at legitimate schools was the main reason that I got licensed in the first place. I'm relieved that I didn't stay and teach another year where I was just so I could have another year of teaching under my belt in the States.

Worry #4: "My family wants me to stay State-side." My dad flat out told me that he wished I would settle down in the States, and I know that my sister also wanted me to stay. My grandparents won't be around forever, my niece is a baby, and it would be nice to be able to see my family members more often than if I were to move to another country.

What persuaded me: When I was tossing around the idea of staying in the States, even my sister who desperately wanted me to stay told me that I should just go to China because she knew I would regret it. She said she would miss me, but that she understood why I wanted to go and encouraged me to do so. (What a great sister, right?)

How it panned out: Although my family members prefer that I stay in the States, they have come to terms with my decision, have accepted it, and support me. My sister even downloaded We Chat, so we are able to message each other throughout the week.

Worry #5: "Will I lose my state teaching license if I don't teach in the state I'm certified in?" Last year, I was the holder of both an Ohio and South Carolina teaching license. In South Carolina, first year teachers have to complete an induction year, which means that we got observed many times and got assigned a mentor teacher. After the induction year is completed, first year teachers have to go through something called formal evaluation and then they can get their professional licensure if they pass. I was warned by some teachers in South Carolina to stay another year just to get my professional license and that otherwise all of the work I did for my induction year would be for nothing. Since I haven't been teaching in Ohio at all, I wondered if that meant I would not be eligible for renewal.

What persuaded me: While it would have been nice to have a professional teaching license in any state instead of just the initial one, I didn't want to stay in South Carolina for another year at the school I was working for. The district I was at wouldn't let teachers transfer to another school within the district until after teachers earned their professional license, so I would have been stuck there for another year. I also called a representative the Ohio Department of Education and found out that I can apply to renew my Ohio teaching license.

How it panned out: I'm going to let my South Carolina license expire and have no regrets about that. In order to keep my Ohio teaching license, I am going to have to take a distance learning course from China. It also seems like I might have to go back to Ohio to get my background check as well, but I'm not 100% sure about that yet. 

Worry #6: "The dating scene for me was terrible in Seoul. What if it's the same in Shanghai and there's no possibility of ever meeting someone decent?"

What persuaded me: The benefits of living in China were too great to pass up compared to the situation I was in at the time. I decided that even if I didn't go on one date that my life would still be better than it was before. Also, in South Carolina I didn't have time to date at all because of my workload, so it's not like going to China made me suddenly miss out on tons of great dating opportunities. 

How it panned out: While I think the dating scene for me here will be pretty dismal, it seems to at least be better than it was in Seoul. I'm hearing more success stories from other female teachers, anyway. 

Worry #7: "I'll be leaving Savannah, and I love it there. Should I have tried harder to make it work?"

What persuaded me: I tried to live closer to Savannah and loved it there, but then moved to South Carolina after I got a job there. I technically didn't live IN Savannah and lived in a smaller town in SC that I really didn't care for all that much. If I had actually been in Savannah it would have been a different story, but I had to have a reading endorsement in order to work for Chatham County Schools in Savannah and I don't have one/didn't want to have to spend thousands of money out-of-pocket to get one in order to maybe obtain a job there. Also, it did help that I had been to Shanghai before on a weekend trip and did have a positive first impression of the city.

How it panned out: Yes, I love Savannah. Every minute I spent there was time well spent, and I did enjoy it there A LOT, but sometimes weeks would pass and I wouldn't be able to make it into the city center. Admittedly, I do still miss Savannah sometimes, but I am way happier here and am also finding tons of fun and exciting things to do in Shanghai.

Worry #8: "What if I need to have back surgery?" I've had chronic back pain for years, but last year around this time, the pain started becoming unbearable and by mid-January it started radiating down my right leg. Since I would have had to take a day off to see a specialist due to the clinics not being open on the weekend, I put off seeing anyone for the pain until my spring break. (In retrospect, I cannot believe that I did that! I got 10 sick days per year but felt guilty about using them, but should have put my health first.) It got so bad that I would be limping and even had trouble standing by the end of the day. I couldn't sleep at night because it hurt too much. I ended up going to an orthopedic specialist who recommended that I get an MRI because of the disc damage he saw from my x-rays. I ended up having a herniated disc in two parts and a severe case of spinal stenosis. The doctor told me my back looked like a 60 year old's and that I would eventually be needing surgery later in life--that was a given.  He told me that I should take steroids and get physical therapy to see if that helped the problem and that later we could take more invasive measures if it didn't. He mentioned cortisone shots and a more immediate surgery.  At this point, I had to decide whether or not I'd be going to Shanghai the following year, and I decided to turn down the offer. If I had to have surgery and could barely walk, I didn't want to lose my health insurance and not be able to get around in China.

What persuaded me: I took a round of steroids, went to physical therapy for a month, and then got the cortisone injections. While my back was still bothering me sometimes, I didn't have any pain down my leg and was able to walk around more. I also talked to my doctor about it, and he informed me that if I did have to have surgery that he could do it in a day and to not let it stop me from going to China. I seriously want to thank that doctor a million times over for telling me that--especially because the first doctor I saw wouldn't sign a paper saying I was fit to work! Also, since I initially turned down the offer to work at my school, I thought I had lost my chance for this year. Luckily, because I had applied so early, there were still positions open when my back started improving, and I was able to be hired on.

How it panned out: I don't know what happened or why it happened, but I have had little to no back pain here. My bed is brand new and the mattress is firm, so I think that plays a part, but I went from being in excruciating pain to being almost completely pain-free. I do get regular massages here in China, so maybe that helps, too. I have lost a little bit of weight, so that also takes pressure off of my spine and helps with the pain.

As you can see, although I had some major reservations about working in China, it all ended up being okay. Well, more than just okay...I'm having a phenomenal year and am thinking about staying here for another year! Everything worked out in my favor, and I think I had a lot of signs to leave South Carolina. Thank goodness I went with my gut, took a chance, and am here now having a wonderful time!

What was a time when you were nervous to start something new? Did you ever change your mind at the last minute and make a life-altering decision?

China Quote Book Featuring Scott

December 1, 2015
When I was in college, I kept a quote book and filled it up with hysterical quotations from my friends and family members. If I was having a bad day, I'd pull out this book, look it over and dare myself not to smile. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this strategy worked and my mood was lifted. It's also a great souvenir to have of my college days. When I moved to China, Scott and I decided to start a quote book of funny things we each said to one another this year. Truthfully, we haven't been doing the best job, and I often forget to document the silly sentences that come out of my close friend's mouth. I did manage to jot down a few funny snippets from our conversations, so ideally they'll be as entertaining for you as they are for me.

Scott quote: "This is a really good filter for us!"
Quote 1:

Scott: *Waves down co-worker and goes out of his way to say hi*
Co-worker: "Oh, hi. I'm just headed out to my birthday dinner."
Scott (after the co-worker left): *Sigh* Great. I was going to wear this outfit later this week and now that I've just seen her, I feel like I can't!

Quote 2:

Let me preface this next one by saying that Scott is super smart, but he has this problem where he will use a word that is totally wrong. He'll do it over and over, which makes it even funnier.

Scott: "That turkey really needs to shut up." (He was pointing to a rooster crowing.)

Here's another example of this via text message. He ALWAYS uses dollars and RMB interchangeably even though they are two separate currencies:

Scott: "To get into the beer festival, just buy tickets from the scalpers. They are $30."
Me: "Wait, tickets for this thing are 30 USD? I don't know if I'm willing to pay that much just to get in."
Another mutual friend: "The tickets are 30 RMB." (Equivalent to almost 5 USD.)

Quote 3:

Scott (with his back turned to me after having knocked right into me): "Oh, sorry!"
Me: "It's okay."
Scott (after having turned around): "Oh, it's just you. I'm not sorry at all then!"

Quote 4:

Me: "Okay, we really need to stop talking and get some sleep. GN."
Scott: "What word did you just say in Chinese?"
Me: "I didn't say anything in Chinese."
Scott: "I thought I just heard you say something in Chinese, but okay."
*Then our conversation went elsewhere for 20 more minutes...
Me: "It's so late. We seriously have to go to bed for real this time. GN."
Scott: "You just did it again! You just spoke in Chinese again! Why won't you tell me what it means?"
Me (laughing hysterically): "All I said was GN, as in an abbreviation for good night!"
Scott: "Ooooh, I thought you were saying "xiyen" and that meant something!"

Quote 5:

Scott (after dropping forks on the kitchen floor): "It's ready."
Me: "I know you. You just picked up that fork that fell on the floor and you're going to try to pass it off on me!"
Scott (laughing): "Well, they got mixed up so I don't know which one actually fell on the floor. It could be mine."
Me: "Then I'm not going to use a fork to eat my moon cake!"
Scott (looking distraught): "But you have to! It's dainty!"

Quote 6:

Scott: "I want to take a bath!"
Scott (2 seconds later): "Oh my God!! Why did I just take my pill!? I was supposed to take a bath, not my pill. I wasn't supposed to have my pill until 10 pm!"

Quote 7:

Me: "Which lipstick would look better? This one or this?"
Scott, staring: "Um, I'm color blind."
Me: "Oh yeah."

Quote 8:

Me: "The people in that town we used to live in together are a special breed. I don't miss them at all."
Scott: "Yeah, I was scrolling through my Facebook friend's list today thinking, "I don't miss you or you or you."

Quote 9:

Me: "Great! This cup is deformed and I just spilled pomegranate juice all over my new, white shirt! Hold on and let me use my Tide To Go pen."
Scott: "Hurry up, because I just got a whiff of vomit."
Me: "Um, that would be me because I think it's my Tide To Go pen that smells like that."
Scott: "Omg, it is the pen!!"

Quote 10:

At the Propaganda Museum in the gift shop

Scott: "Which poster do you like the best?"
Me: "The one of the women dancing in ballet slippers with guns."
Scott: "Oh. I really like this one the best. (Points to the one with a Chinese and Russian man who have their arms around each other.) Is it too gay?"
Me: "Who cares? If you like it, just get it."
Scott: "No, because if I hang it up on my wall people might say, "Oh, this is the gay house."

That's all I have for now! Hopefully you find some of the quotes at least semi-amusing and that I don't just have an odd sense of humor.

What are some funny quotes from the people in your life that you have written down?

10 Restaurants to Try in Shanghai, China

November 30, 2015

1) Din Tai Fung- My Chinese co-teacher took me out for dumplings, and she recommended Din Tai Fung. In fact, she said it is one of her favorite restaurants in all of Shanghai. Din Tai Fung is actually a Taiwanese chain with several locations in Shanghai. The pork xiaolong bao (soup dumpling) is delicious, and it's worth going back to this restaurant just for those! The dumplings are freshly made, and you can even see the workers making them through the glass window. I can also recommend the hot and sour soup and tie guan yin tea. Besides the wonderful food, the service was great the restaurant was clean. I took a few of my friends, and they were also impressed. I know I'll be back many times this year.

2) Lost Heaven- The first time I went here was with Rachael for her birthday. Rachael is a self-proclaimed picky eater, so I knew that if she suggested a Chinese place that the food must be to-die-for good. Lost Heaven specializes in food from Yunnan province. I was not disappointed with every single dish I tried there, which included the spicy tofu, garlic broccoli, and Lijiang spicy beef, to name a few. The restaurant itself had a nice atmosphere (albeit dark) and the food was presented well with garnishes. The portions were also decent, and I liked it so much that I chose to dine there with my friend who was visiting from the States for the weekend.

3) CHI Q- Chi Q is a Korean barbecue restaurant located on the Bund. After having Korean barbecue in Seoul weekly for about three years, I'm pretty much always craving Korean bbq. When my friend Scott suggested that we go to Chi Q, I couldn't say no. Upon our arrival, I was a little surprised because I thought it would be more casual, but it's definitely on the fancier side and the prices reflect that. As long as you are aware of this, be prepared for an excellent time a CHI-Q. Scott and I agreed that it was a worthwhile dining experience. The tables are equipped with grills so that you can prepare your own kalbi and grilled vegetables. We got about eight different side dishes as well as the lettuce and ssamjang (a Korean dipping sauce) that typically accompanies galbi. The staff stopped by our table many times and got us everything we needed. In fact, we didn't have a reservation and they managed to squeeze us in right before it got too busy.

4) Shook!- This was one of the first restaurants I ever tried in Shanghai! It's a Malaysian-fusion restaurant on the Bund and it has a great view of the Pudong area, especially from the rooftop bar. It's definitely a classy place. My friend and I both ordered from the set menus, as it was a better value than the a la carte menu. Our food arrived in a timely manner and the staff was efficient. Each course was delicious and well-prepared. I'd go back here any day and order off the set menu, but the regular menu is a bit pricey.

5) Maya- I had mentioned to Rachael that I wanted to go to a brunch where you are able to pay a flat rate and get unlimited alcoholic drinks, so she took me to Maya because of the Bottomless Sangria for 125 RMB. The restaurant is located in the French Concession and authentic Mexican food is served there. It seemed like a pretty popular place for brunch and it had a relaxed atmosphere. Many people raved to me about the churros before I went, and they were just as tasty as they were described and were served with chocolate and strawberry sauce as well as whipped cream. The guacamole we ordered as an appetizer was freshly prepared and all five of us that went devoured and raved about our main courses.

6) La Vite- La Vite is tiny Italian restaurant in the French Concession. The restaurant is small and cozy, so it's probably wise to make a reservation on the weekend. The pizza I had was the best I've had so far here in Shanghai--it tasted just like high-quality brick oven pizza I had in Italy. I recommend the cheese plate since cheese is harder to find here in China. Another plus is that there is a decent wine selection.

7) Yang's- This is another chain in Shanghai that serves fried soup dumplings. It's a very laid back place, and the food is inexpensive. This place is ideal for a quick dinner, but it would also be fine to stop there just to have a snack. When I went, I ordered at the cash register and then in less than 10 minutes, the dumplings were brought out to me. Sometimes it's nice to have some cheap, tasty food at a no-frills restaurant; Yang's fits the bill.

8) Mr. Pancake House- This restaurant is perfect if you're in Shanghai for an extended period of time and you're missing a Western style breakfast. It has both a breakfast and lunch menu, and the breakfast sets are a good value. Every time I've gone, the service has been fast and efficient. If you're a fan of diners and breakfast food like French toast, crepes with fruit and ice cream, and scrambled eggs, then a visit to this restaurant is a must.

9) Sproutworks- Sometimes I feel like I don't eat the healthiest here in China. Chinese food tends to be oily, and I question whether or not I get enough fruits and vegetables. When I feel like this, going to a place like Sproutworks is just what I need because this restaurant has healthy smoothies and side items, many of which are vegetarian. You can even order a bunch of sides as your main meal. I did that with four sides and still had plenty of food leftover to eat the following day. In case ordering a bunch of side dishes doesn't appeal to you, Sproutworks also serves soup, sandwiches, and salads.

10) Kommune- If you're in the French Concession and are looking for a place to have brunch, Kommune is the place to go. A group of us went on a Sunday afternoon and everyone left satisfied with their meals. There was outdoor seating available within a courtyard, which was perfect for us since we went on a sunny day. Kommune has been open for fifteen years and has a reputation for serving up scrumptious food.

I feel really spoiled living in a big city like Shanghai because there is such a great selection of restaurants serving food from all over the world. I'm sure it will be so easy to write a follow up post to this with ten new restaurants to try because it seems like I'm always getting told about another stellar restaurant.

What are some of the best restaurants in your city?

Yangshuo and Guilin Trip Recap

November 17, 2015
Over the Chinese National Holiday in early October, my friend Scott and I booked a trip to Yangshuo and Guilin, China. We were warned several times to not travel at all during any Chinese National Holiday because, "Everything will be crowded and all of the prices will be hiked up." Most places did charge us twice what we would have usually paid, but since we live and work in China we had the options to either brave the crowds and pay a bit more or just not go at all. We didn't like the second choice, so we decided to take our chances. This trip was fun, but we had our fair share of traveling mishaps! Don't get me wrong--we are not bitter and totally laugh over our bad luck. Below, I'll highlight the events of our trip, but won't sugarcoat anything!

It all started when we booked our flight to Guilin from Shanghai. Scott and I sat next to each other while booking our flight, but we needed to book separately. We agreed on a morning flight to maximize our time there, only Scott messed up and booked a flight at night! He tried to blame me because I was talking to him at the time, but later on he admitted, "I was bad at military time when I first got here." He ended up having to call the company he booked through to cancel and had to pay a big fee on top of it. It took awhile for him to sort that out and because we were traveling during a peak tourist season, the flight I was on ended up getting sold out so he ended up having to get a flight that only left slightly earlier than the one he originally had (and then canceled.) When I booked my flight, I thought everything went seamlessly...that is, until I saw that I had been doubly charged! When I called to get it straightened out, the representative acted like she didn't believe me and then made me forward her a copy of my bank statement. They said it would be refunded within ten business days, but it took over a month! At least I got my money, but it was nerve-wracking waiting for it.

On that same day, we called to book our accommodation at The Giggling Tree. Several teachers from our school stayed there before and recommended it. We were worried that nothing would be available for us, but we felt so lucky because when I called they had one double room left on the days we needed it. I kept asking the receptionist to take my credit card information to be sure it was reserved, but she told me that it was all taken care of and to just pay in cash when we got there. Score! Fast forward a few weeks to when Scott and I wanted to book airport pickup (at two separate times, mind you!) through our guesthouse. They e-mailed Scott back and said they had no record of us ever calling and that there were no rooms left for us to stay in. This made us panic because it was the ninth hour and every decent spot was probably already booked. I was fuming, but then the staff at The Giggling Tree tried to make it right, so I calmed down. Mistakes happen, so the important thing is that at least they were trying to fix the problem instead of not helping at all. We were offered a room in their friend's house which was just a few steps away from The Giggling Tree, and we were allowed to use all of The Giggling Tree's facilities and had the option to switch rooms and stay at the guesthouse later on. We decided not to do that because we didn't feel like moving our stuff. All was resolved!

The Giggling Tree
The day we left to fly out, we left at 4:30 AM to go to the airport. We didn't want to each have to pay the cab fare since it takes about an hour from where we live to get to the airport in Pudong, and Scott was going to try to get onto my flight. When we got to the airport, Scott realized that was impossible because there were about 10 people on stand-by in front of him AND he would still have to pay a fee. He had to spend the day in the airport. While we were still both there, we chatted with another group of teachers from our school going to Guilin and found out that one of the guys typed his name wrong by accident when he was booking his ticket. It was only one letter off and it was just a typo, but because his name on his ticket didn't match the name on his passport, he was not permitted to board the plane. I felt so bad for him!

I got to Guilin and checked into our room, which was just part of a Chinese family's house. The lady that dealt with me was all smiles, super friendly, and insisted on carrying my suitcase up the stairs for me. The rooms were clean, but the only thing I didn't really care for was the Chinese toilet. I can deal with squatting from time to time, but would much rather have had a Western style toilet. The bad part was that it smelled strongly of urine.

When Scott arrived, the two of us had a lovely dinner at The Giggling Tree and both of us were in really good moods because we were on vacation and the weather was so nice. In Shanghai for the past few days, there was a terrible monsoon so it was non-stop rain. Just to see the sun again made me instantly happy! We were both tired, but decided to go to the Yangshuo Impression Sanjie Lu Light Show, anyway. When I heard the words "light show," I wasn't that interested at first, but then Scott told me that hundreds of the local townspeople are involved and it's a big deal. Also, the backdrop for this performance is in a beautiful, natural setting. I guess the lights for it were done by a man named Zhang Yimao who did the lights for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. We were in culture shock a little bit when it came to the audience members. Many people were moving from their assigned seats and there was a group of drunk people to the right of us that were kind of loud, but the show itself was spectacular. It was cool to see the women from the Yao minority group let down their long hair. Some women have hair over 5 feet long!

The next day, we wanted to ride bikes around Yangshuo and go on a bamboo raft down the Yulong River. We found out that The Giggling Tree had these books of pictures showing how to get to the 500 year old Dragon Bridge. Those books were brilliant, and without them we would have gotten lost for sure. On the way to Dragon Bridge, we passed through some local villages and took in exquisite views of the countryside--think rice fields, limestone karst, water buffalo, and mountains. We were worried that it was going to be too crowded because of the national holiday, but there was really only one congested area. In that section, there was a traffic jam and it was hard to maneuver around it. At one point a lady selling souvenirs to passengers in cars suddenly stepped out in front of me  and when I swerved to avoid her, I fell off my bike. I was completely off of the road and on the ground in a pile of weeds. My ankle was a little sore, but I was more embarrassed than anything else, and it did not help that about 20 Chinese people were laughing at me, including the lady that I had to swerve for! At least now I can laugh about how they were laughing at me. Besides my fall, the rest of our bike ride was an enjoyable experience.

Once we got to Dragon Bridge, we kept following the directions in our book in order to find just where to go for the bamboo rafting experience. Most rafts have seats for two people and then a man will stand in the back and use a long piece of bamboo to guide you along. We could put our feet down on the raft most of the time, but sometimes part of the raft was submerged, especially when we went over these little drops. For the first drop, we were a smidge nervous, but once we saw how our guide handled the drop, they became fun for us. We just had to hold onto our belongings and be prepared for getting splashed.

Our cruise down the river was really relaxing and there weren't even that many tourists until the end. The staff members at The Giggling Tree told us that most Chinese tourists don't like to do the full tour, but instead will get on the raft for 5 minutes just to get a picture and then hop off. Besides admiring the scenery of the Yulong River, which is depicted on the 20 yuan note, we also saw many brides getting photographed that day.

The next day, we decided to get up super early to get a taxi to the bus station so that we could go to the Longji Rice Terraces. After riding on the bus for hours in the traffic, we stopped at a bus station to transfer to a local bus. It was packed full of Chinese tour groups, and we were stuck there for another hour. We stopped for lunch, and Scott and I tried rice cooked in a bamboo shoot, which is a local speciality. Scott loves meat, so he also tried chicken cooked that way, but I'm squeamish about which parts of the chicken I eat, so I passed and went for a vegetarian option.

After lunch, we had to get on another bus to get to the rice terraces and we dropped off at Ping'an Village. Members of the Zhuhang and Yao minority groups were selling beautiful souvenirs such as embroidered bags. Then we started ascending the rice terrace. I started to get really, really overheated, and that's sad coming from someone who just spent a year living in the deep South. I started shaking and feeling ill from the heat, and could not keep up with Scott, so I told him to go on ahead of me. I sat down for awhile, cooled off, and drank some water and then started to feel a little better. After what an ordeal it was to get there, I didn't want to quit! At a snail's pace, I started going up the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers rice terrace. The view was stunningly beautiful and the rice terraces in this region are said to be some of the best scenery in all of China, so I'm glad I made myself. Scott ended up going to the Seven Stars Around the Moon rice terraces as well, but I was seriously worried about heat stroke, so I didn't want to play with fire.

We took two different buses back to where we had stopped earlier that day and then instead of going back to Yangshuo, we got on the bus to Guilin. We were told it would be an hour's drive back to Guilin, so at that point I chugged over a liter of water because I was worried that I was severely dehydrated. About a half-hour into the trip, I had to go to the bathroom, but then told myself to hold it for the next half-hour. Well, two hours had passed, and I thought my bladder was going to burst. I found someone who spoke English and asked them how much longer, and they told me that because of traffic, it would be at least an hour more. At that point, I asked the man who spoke English to ask the bus driver if we could stop. Maybe that was selfish of me, but I had to at least ask. The reply was, "This is the night bus. On the night bus, there are no stops." At that point, I must confess that I cried for my first and only time so far here in China. I mean, it was physically painful. I considered peeing my pants or hopping off the bus and calling The Giggling Tree to send me a taxi, but somehow I managed to hold it. I bolted off the bus and didn't even mind the appalling condition of the public restroom at the bus station! I learned my lesson on this one!

Guilin wasn't too eventful for us because it poured for three days straight. We tried to go out and explore as much as we could, but the weather put a damper on things for us. We did make it to Elephant Trunk Hill and to see some pagodas, but we ended up spending a lot of time Guilin Central Hostel's restaurant/cafe. The 5 star hotel we were staying at was kind of gross, to tell you the truth. It was supposed to have a hot spring and instead it had a festering pool. The view from our window was piles of trash--kid you not! To top it all off, we paid for a breakfast for each day we would we staying, and both of us got food poisoning from it! We pretty much tried to get out of our hotel as much as possible and made Guilin Central Hostel our sanctuary! We also did a few other things like get a massage from a reflexologist and walk around town, but that's about it.

On our trip, we did some awesome things, but also had some less than stellar moments. By the end of it, we were ready to be back in Shanghai!


* Like everyone told us, you will likely have a more enjoyable time if don't go during a Chinese National Holiday. There will be less traffic and you won't have to deal with inflated prices or as many crowds. Although we are still both glad we went on this trip, it would have been preferable to go at another time.

* Know that Yangshuo is the Chinese countryside and full of picturesque scenery. Guilin has some attractions, but it's a decent size and has about 800,000 inhabitants. Looking back, we wish we would have stayed in Yangshuo longer. We thought that there was more to do in Guilin, but we could have done with another day of bike riding in Yangshuo!

* Limit what you drink before a bus ride, even if it's supposed to just be a short one...you never know!

* Book at a hostel or guesthouse where the staff is willing to book stuff for you/they speak English. We stayed at an "international hotel" in Guilin and really regretted it.

* When you go on tours, take snacks with you from home if you're a picky eater.

* Carry tissue and hand sanitizer with you because most Chinese public restrooms are not going to have soap or toilet paper.

* Bring layers. Although this is a useful tip for almost any trip, there was a dramatic drop in temperature from one day to the next. I would have been shivering without the fleece I brought and almost didn't bring since I just brought a carry on.

* Bring sunscreen! At first, it was so hot and sunny and all I could find for sale were hats and umbrellas--no sunscreen. Again, I naively thought I could pick up a bottle of sunscreen there because my sunscreen is over the limit of 100 mL that's allowed in a carry on bag.

I usually like almost every place I visit, but I was underwhelmed by Guilin. The weather and our accommodation definitely played into this, but I think Guilin is one of the few places I don't have a desire to go back and visit. Yangshuo, on the other hand, is simply delightful!

Where would you like to go in China? Have you ever been disappointed by somewhere you visited? 

A Day in the Life: Weekend Edition

November 11, 2015
I've always wanted to do a "day in the life" post, so I decided to document what would be a typical Sunday for me in Shanghai. 

9:00- My alarm goes off. My friend Scott likes to get an early-ish start on the weekends. I usually am all for this because I like to feel like I made the most of my time on my days off. It normally takes me about an hour to shower, get dressed, and have breakfast. Since I know that Scott and I will be going out for a big breakfast, I just have some coffee.

10:00- Scott comes and knocks on my door and the two of us leave our apartment building to walk to the main gate so that we can get a taxi. Getting a taxi in Shanghai can take two seconds or maybe even take hours! The worst is when we get in and they tell us no and to get out of their taxis. Usually we just have problems when it's raining or on a Friday or Saturday night. Luckily, on this day we get a taxi in about 10 minutes.

10:20ish- We are on our way to the center of Shanghai. How long it takes really depends on the traffic, but it took us about 30 minutes that time.

11:00- By this time, we are out of our taxi and have already walked to Mr. Pancake House, a place that has a large selection of Western-style breakfast dishes according to our friend Lauren. I'm big on breakfast, but there are few Western breakfasts available in restaurants near where we live, so going to Mr. Pancake is a treat for us!

11:15- Our coffees arrive and Scott and I are commenting on how we love diners and cozy places. Both of us are chatting about liking the atmosphere in Mr. Pancake when our main courses arrive. We devour every last bite of our food and talk about the next time we will be back.

12:00ish- We go to the bathroom next door, and of course I manage to lock myself in there by accident. After pounding on the door and screaming Scott's name for a few minutes, he rescues me and we're off. About five minutes later we are waiting at an intersection because we want to cross the street, and all of a sudden a woman falls and bumps into me. The sidewalk is made up of large square shaped slabs and the one she was standing on just broke and made her fall directly into the street. I help her up, but it was quite a scare because I wouldn't have wanted to know what would have happened to her if cars had been coming. It also makes me wary of the sidewalk here! We walk around a bit more trying to find this mall called Plaza 66 that supposedly has an Ugg Store in it. Scott wants to buy real Ugg's instead of the fake ones that are more commonly found in China. We get into the mall, and it's super ritzy and full of high end designer stores. I laugh and tell Scott that the Ugg store is probably hidden in the back somewhere because it's probably not considered classy enough to be on the first floor. After walking around for awhile, we locate the Ugg store a few levels up and start shopping! I find some nice boots for women, but the shop there didn't carry my size at all. (A common occurrence  for me in China!) I look halfheartedly in the men's section and pull out a pair of black boots that I like and ask Scott what he thinks of them. He says he loves them and wants to try them on, but I tell him that I meant for myself, not for him! We both try on the boots and each of us likes them, so we have a dilemma. We end up just laughing about it and both buy the same shoes, which is humorous because we are together almost all the time!!

1:00- We leave Plaza 66 and walk around the Jing'An area, which has a lot of shops. We stop in Sephora and I start to get irritated because it's hard to find black eyeliner that you don't have to sharpen. When I finally find a some, they are sold out. I end up spending more than I want on some waterproof DiorShow liner, but c'est la vie. Scott leaves with a new bottle of cologne. On our way out, we noticed that it has started pouring, so Scott stops and buys a massive umbrella.

2:00- After some more browsing, we leave to go and meet our friend Olivia at a market that sells clothes, accessories, and shoes. I find a purse I like as well as some shoes, but Scott and I want to take a break from shopping, so we stop to sit down for a drink at a cafe. Then, the three of us head down to the Fabric Market so Scott and Olivia can pick up the coats they've just gotten made.

4:30ish- By the time we finish shopping and get a cab back, it's almost dinner time. There is a really cheap soup place that's near where we live, so we decide to have soup for supper. Once we walk in the door, we grab a basket and select all the items we want to have in our soup. There are several different kinds of noodles to choose from, and then there are two large refrigerators full of meat and vegetables. Once we have what we want, we have the cashier weighs our baskets and he passes it along to be cooked up in a spicy broth.

5:15- We arrive back at our apartments, say goodbye to Olivia, and then decide to watch a movie at Scott's place and research for our upcoming trips.

8:00- I get back to my apartment and start to read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I check my e-mail and just relax for a bit before going to bed.

10:00- I lie down to go to sleep. I like to have a full night's rest on school nights because my first graders are full of energy.

That is pretty much a regular old Sunday for me, although perhaps I shop just a little less. I prefer to go out and do things on the weekend, but also need my solo time.

What does a Sunday look like for you?

Splurging, Halloween, and Life at School

November 5, 2015
I feel like I've been so busy (but in a good way) and that I'm booked every weekend through mid-December, so I wanted to pause and take a moment and catch up here while I have a chance. Truthfully, I wasn't going to blog tonight, but my friend We Chatted (is it a verb?) me to let me know that tonight the internet was "the fastest it has ever been" for him so far in China. There have been many times that I've just given up even attempting to blog in the evening because it has just been too slow, so now that it's finally working well, I couldn't pass up the chance! 

Today was the day we gave our students their midterm exams. It's a big deal at our school, and it made me a little nervous because of the procedure and the overall importance of the tests. An hour after the students completed the test, parents were already e-mailing me about their child's score. The testing process is a bit intense for first graders, but at least my students got a half-day so that they could relax (aka study more) for the rest of the day before having to take another test the following day. I'm a little delirious now because I graded for about four hours straight, but I can't really complain because first grade work is nothing like high school work. Those poor high school teachers are going to be swamped for awhile! 

In other news, I'm trying to avoid the "contagious eye infection" that is spreading like wildfire among the students in my class. Four students are currently out with it--eek! We've been telling our students to wash their hands frequently and to not touch their eyes, so hopefully that's the last of it, which may be wishful thinking on my part. Those four students missed their midterms and their parents are worried. I just found out that the make up test for the midterm isn't right away and could possibly be months away, which makes me a little nervous. We've been playing so many review games and now all the material is fresh in their minds, but hopefully they'll be able to remember later on, too...

Also, what do you think about my new blog design? I figured that since I'm in China now, a fresh design was a must! I'm beyond happy with the results and can't wait to start working on my new travel page that has been added at the top. 

Speaking of traveling, I finalized my accommodation for the Maldives with Rachael and Scott and am so, so thrilled to be staying at over-the-water bungalow! The Maldives has been on my travel wishlist for such a long time, so to actually have a date set for our trip makes me extremely happy. How cool will it be to just be able to jump from our place and go directly into the ocean? Even though our water villa is considered to be a "budget" one, it still cost a pretty penny. Travel is one thing I do not mind splurging on once in awhile. The cost does include a flight on a sea plane over to the island where we will be staying. Now to decide if $325 USD is worth it for dinner at an underwater restaurant... Rachael and Scott are my "splurge friends," so I'll probably do it if I'm satisfied with the reviews I see!

Our school had a charity fair a few weeks back, and it was AWESOME! Most of the students' parents were very involved and they sold a ton of items to help raise money for students in need of supplies. All of our students were allowed to spend a certain amount of money that got converted into tokens. Then, they could wander from booth to booth buying items that they liked. Some of the parents sold some stuff that I genuinely wanted like an adult coloring book, a flower crown, baked goods, and pretty notebooks and stationery. I ended up buying from all of my student's parents, though. One of them even asked me, "Are you sure you want to buy this rice?" Ha ha ha! I gave it to my co-teacher. The funniest thing I ended up with was this "lotion." It was labeled as lotion and the mom also told me that it was. Later on, when I looked at it, I saw that there were all of these vegetables on the front of it. The product was from Japan, so I asked my co-teacher to translate and she told me it was some kind of special soap you could use to wash your vegetables. Hilarious!

Halloween was pretty fun--I was glad to celebrate it this year with my students. I was told I wasn't allowed to at the school I worked at last year in the States, but my co-teacher at my current school said that we could even encourage the kids to dress up. Every single one of my students dressed up! My favorite costume was the girl who came as a flight attendant. I also had a really cute Harry Potter. Since I hadn't dressed up for Halloween in about six years or more, I decided to go ahead and spend some extra cash on a costume this year. Scott wanted us to go as Hansel and Gretel, so we found pictures of costumes we liked online and took them to the Fabric Market to see if we could get them made for us. It turned out that there is a store on the third floor that specializes in dirndls, so we tried to get a matching dirndl and lederhosen set. For some reason they wanted to charge us $400 USD for both, and we said no way. I mean, especially not for the lederhosen because they were just made out of regular fabric. Usually you can haggle and get sellers to go down on their prices, but the workers in the shop weren't having it, so we left. Scott later decided to be a unicorn. I wasn't going to be anything, but my students kept telling me things like, "Oh, Ms. K, we know your costume must be really special because you have kept it a surprise from us!" I decided to go back to the Fabric Market again and see about the dirndl. This time around, their initial price was $130, which was way better than $200 already. I bargained and got them down to about $120, but it seemed like they wouldn't go any lower. Even though it's more than I anticipated spending on a Halloween costume, it's tailored to my body and there were three pieces to it. I figure that I'll wear it again for Halloween in the future and possibly to an Oktoberfest if I ever have enough guts! My students LOVED my costume and all cheered, "You're Anna! Anna! We love Frozen!" I just went with it. :) I also wore it out to a party later that evening, but other people changed their costumes like Scott who transformed into a vampire.

Other than that, I've just been going out to eat at some phenomenal restaurants here in Shanghai. Scott found one called Chi-Q on the Bund. It was probably the most I've ever spent on Korean barbecue, but I would go back for a nice dinner out. We almost got turned away because we didn't make any reservations on a Tuesday night, so I assume it's a pretty popular place. It was full when we left, anyway.

What do you like to splurge on? 

Smiling Over Happiness Boutique

October 27, 2015
Packing for a year in China was quite a feat. Even on the morning of my flight, I was still trying to decide what would be worth it to take with me and what I would have to part with. Sadly, with my bags already being 20 pounds overweight, I had to take my jewelry collection out. Only a few pieces made the cut, and I mostly brought only simple, lightweight pieces over to China. I figured that I would only take what I would get the most wear out of, so almost everything I chose had to be versatile. After about two weeks of sifting through my limited jewelry collection here, I already knew that something was missing. I had no dangle earrings or fun statement necklaces to jazz up my outfits. When a representative from Happiness Boutique asked me if I would like to review one of their necklaces, I was pleased because I learned that their shop has quite the selection of statement necklaces to choose from.

I knew I wanted something bold to make my plain teaching outfits a bit more fashionable, and eventually I chose the Sparkling Lotus Petal Necklace in blue. Since I'm living in Asia, the lotus flower just seemed appropriate!  
Image via Happiness Boutique
Truthfully, I thought it might take a few months for my necklace to arrive in China. Goodness knows the package my dad sent me on August 21st did not arrive until after October 21st, so I was expecting a long wait. I was pretty surprised when the security guard working at my school brought a parcel from Happiness Boutique into my classroom for me just a few weeks after I placed my order. What I appreciate about Happiness Boutique is that they will ship to China (or anywhere in the world!) in the first place, as many places do not. The best part about the shipping is that it's free. Now that I know that packages will get to me from this boutique, I would consider ordering some more jewelry or even clothes from the shop. 

Overall, I'm loving my new necklace. I wore it to school today, and even my friend Scott told me he liked it. That means something because Scott will be the first to admit when he doesn't like something about one of my outfits. I received some other positive feedback as well--some girls in my class told me that it was a "princess necklace." My sole critique is that a gem was missing from one of the petals of the lotus flower. It is only noticeable if you look closely, and I highly doubt anyone else would ever point it out.

Happiness Boutique also offers a reward program. After earning 200 points, you can receive a postcard from Berlin, where the company is based! Gotta love the quirky and cute touches this company provides. Of course, more points can earn you free jewelry, which is fine by me.

Have you ever heard of Happiness Boutique? If you've looked at their site, what's your favorite item?

**I received this item for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are still my own.