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October Updates

October 31, 2016
October seemed to whizz on by, and it's hard to believe that I've been back at work for two months already. Here is recap of what's been happening with me.

Work: At work, I've been swamped. Truth be told, I've been a bit frustrated because last year when I taught first grade, it was so easy. I had a lot of extra time to plan and had plenty of time to socialize with my students. I only ever felt stressed during the busiest times, but that was just once or twice a semester. What I liked the most about my job was that usually I left work at work, which is pretty rare for a teacher. This year in second grade, it's a bit different. I'm finding that I'm rarely caught up on work and have to bring it home at least two nights a week. I don't like the feeling of always feeling "behind," but what I'm experiencing this year is typical for most teachers. I guess I should just feel lucky that last year I had a very easy time, and the amount of work I have to do at home now is still a fraction of the amount I brought home when I was teaching full-time in the States.

At work, we also had a lot of events to prepare for. We had parent-teacher conferences, Sports Week, our annual Read-a-Thon, two days of Halloween related activities, and a Family Tree project. Whew! Even though I've been busy, I still do love my class and know that teaching them a second year in row was the right decision.

Health: Up until about a week and a half ago, I was extremely exhausted all the time. I could go home from work, fall asleep at 5 pm at least three nights a week, and wouldn't wake up until the next morning for work. I know that this is directly related to the major surgery I had in May, and it was just my body adjusting from complete bed rest to working full time. Thankfully, I've been able to stay up longer lately, and now that I don't need to sleep so much, I'm finding I have a bit of extra time. What I need to do with this time is to start exercising. By exercising, all I'm capable of doing is swimming and walking, so it looks like that's what I'm going to be doing. It's really important that I start moving around more now, especially because I put on weight after my surgery since I was on bed rest for so long.

In the end, I'm just relieved that I was able to work full-time. At first I had my doubts, it was very hard on me, and I thought I was going to have to quit or get moved to the writing center.

Travel: I still haven't been able to go anywhere, but I'd like to book Sanya for Christmas this week! This trip won't cost too much, and will be a way for me for me to break back into traveling. Also, I talked to Rachael and she's interested in going to Morocco with me over our Chinese New Year break instead of Hawaii like we had planned. I put a large deposit on that Morocco trip, and then couldn't go, but the guide told me that I could put it towards a future trip, so that is one reason why I'd like to go there first. Also, Hawaii is a lot of hiking and I don't think I'm up for it yet. The only thing I might not be able to do in Morocco is ride a camel...I guess I could ask my doctor about that.

Another concern of mine is air travel with my bad back. I'm only supposed to be sitting for twenty minutes at a time. I can sit up on short flights, but will just have to march in place by my seat or walk back to the bathroom. When a flight is longer than three hours, there's just no way I can currently tolerate sitting up that whole time. Does that mean I need to pay for first class tickets each time so that I can have a flat bed? If so, I'm going to have to alter the way that I travel from now on because the price of first/business class is so much more than seats in economy.

Social life: Since I was sleeping so much, I didn't have much of a social life! I did try to plan at least one fun thing a week, though. I've mostly been going out to eat with my friends. Last week, I met Rachael, Tara, and Chris for a tasty Mexican brunch complete with sangria at a place called Maya. I really enjoyed myself, and Rachael said that is our new squad for outings. We've already talked about doing some craft courses together and taking some cooking classes! Yay!

I was also able to get out and go to a more happening part of Shanghai and go on a little shopping spree with my friend Lauren. That's the first time I had really shopped since my surgery! I didn't break the bank, but got two cute shirts from Marks & Spencer as well as a shirt for my Halloween costume, and some makeup that I bought on a whim. Then we went to a place called Tap House for a few drinks and a snack. They had lambic, which I was pretty excited about. Really, I am just relieved and SO happy every time I can get back to some kind of normalcy in life.

During the week, I'll usually go to local places to have dinner with Lauren 2-3 nights a week. Sometimes we run errands together, and this week we even made it into dreaded Wal-Mart. As Lauren so accurately put it, "Every time I go in there I think to myself about how I never want to go back again."

On Friday night of this week, I went to a friend's house, we ordered in food, and just had a relaxing night. Mostly, we talked about how scarily accurate this personality test is! I tested as a INFJ-T, the advocate, which is the rarest personality type. The three other gals I had dinner with also tested as other diplomats. Then we watched some videos of Lauren's favorite Korean singers like CL.

Yesterday I went out for one of my first real outings alone. I got a taxi to Jing'an and was able to try Lanna Coffee which is said to have some of the best coffee in Shanghai. The coffee beans are from Yunnan Province, rather than imported. I was a little dismayed that they didn't do any latte foam art on the top of my drink because I saw some pretty cool designs on their Instagram page, but my vanilla latte was still top notch. Then, I went to Cinna-Swirl, which only sells cinnamon rolls and vanilla and cinnamon roll flavored ice cream. I picked up some cinnamon rolls to go, and they were divine. You can even choose how much icing you want to have on top. Afterwards, I stopped at Old Navy and bought a sweater and a clutch, which my British friend described as "lush." Truthfully, I wanted to walk around more, but my bags were getting heavy, my back was starting to hurt a bit, and I started getting nervous out there on my own. When my friends are with me they protect me from people that get too close and could potentially shove me, but on my own, I felt vulnerable to be in such a crowded area without my usual "body guards." At least I know that I AM able to finally go out for a few hours on my own, though. I may still have to stare at the ground in fear of tripping and I keep my distance from others, but I'm getting there!

As you can see, I can't really go out and do as much as I did last year. I'm really thankful that last year I was able to see so much of Shanghai.

Oh, and we had our dress up day for Halloween at school. Here are some of us in costume. Lauren and I went as mimes! My principal asked me if I was a cat and some of my students thought I was a clown, so I had to show them a video of a mime to ensure they got it!

The Future: Soon, I'll need to decide if I want to stay in Shanghai for a third year. Financially, it would be a smart decision to stay because we get a large bonus if we work at our school for three years in a row. Then again, I don't know what I'd do in the States. I don't think I'd be able to be a full-time teacher there yet because of my back problems, but maybe I could by next year. I just don't know that I'd really want to do that, though. I guess I still have some more time, so I'll be weighing my options. Next year, if I do stay, I need to decide where I might want to live. I think I'm eligible to apply for off-campus housing, which I would probably go ahead and do. I don't really want to commute, but I also am tired of living where I work. My apartments now are basically set up like college dorm rooms, and I'm over that!

Those where my major updates? What are some of yours?

October 2016 Favorites

October 26, 2016
It's been a hot minute since I've done a favorites post, so here I am with one to share today!

1) Bao Pals- This is basically the best thing since sliced bread. Y'all know I live in China, right? Well, China has a site called Tao Bao and you can get practically anything you want mailed to you within a few days for a decent price. The problem for me is that I cannot read Chinese characters and therefore couldn't order anything without the help of a Chinese speaker. Well, they now have a site in English for us expats to use!! It's so convenient, everything I've ordered so far comes within 1-2 business days, and I can get items that are harder to find like shoes in my size. So far, I've ordered a DVD player, a throw cushion, protective stickers for my laptop, a mug, hot chocolate, and items for my Halloween costume. The other teachers at my school and I have all been going crazy with ordering stuff, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. I mean, it's so much better than having to go into Wal-Mart and then not even be able to find what I was looking for in the first place.

2) Etude House- This South Korean beauty store has various locations in Shanghai. Let me just say that their branding is on point. Seriously. Every time I walk in there I feel like I'm a Disney princess or that I'm in some kind of dollhouse. Their products, as well as the packaging, the uniforms the workers have to wear, and the bags they send you out with all have some girly pink design. My friend Lauren and I went shopping there on Friday night. I didn't even need anything, but I left with a tube of Dear My Wish Lips-Talk, some pore cleaner, an eyeliner, and cotton puffs. Also, can I just mention that I looooove freebies? They put extra items in my bag every time. Recently, I got a hair brush with a mirror on the back, some moisturizer, and two mini tubes of serum.

3) Lady Gaga's new release- I'm a Lady Gaga fan, but I will say I was a bit disappointed with Artpop and didn't like it nearly as much as her first two albums. I was wondering whether or not I'd like Joanne because parts of it are a little "country" compared to her other albums, but this album has some great songs like "Million Reasons" and "Sinner's Prayer." It seems to be more personal than her other albums.

From when I saw Lady Gaga perform years back
4) Matte nails- I got my first matte manicure last week, and I like the look of it! My black and white mani is holding up well, and I'll surely be getting another matte manicure in the future.

5) New blue vase- I bought this when I went to Caojiadu Flower Market a few weeks ago, and I'm still admiring it. I do get flowers fairly frequently here, so I'm glad I don't have to use my water pitcher as a vase anymore. Gosh, this vase might even be something I (foolishly) attempt to take back to America with me when I eventually leave China.

6) Kona Coffee- My co-teacher brought me back some Kona coffee from her trip to Hawaii this summer. I'd been waiting to try it because I already had a bag open of another kind of coffee, so I finally tried some of this recently. It was worth the wait!

Have you tried any new products that you'd recommend?

6 More Restaurants to Try in Shanghai

October 24, 2016
When I first got to Shanghai last year, one of my favorite things to do was to go out and explore the restaurant scene. I wrote a post titled 10 Restaurants to Try in Shanghai, and now that I've been in Shanghai for a bit longer, I wanted to go ahead and expand the list with five new places that I recommend. When I go out to eat at a nice restaurant in Shanghai, typically I do not go for Chinese food. Let me explain why... For lunch, I eat food prepared at the school cafeteria which is almost always Chinese food. Also, where I live isn't in the center of Shanghai--it is a 15 minute cab ride to parts of the French Concession, a much more happening area. I usually don't venture out there on a school night, and instead prefer to eat somewhere near where I live and work. Almost all the restaurants around us serve up local dishes of Chinese food. You might think, "Well of course all of the restaurants serve Chinese food. You're in China!" Actually, Shanghai has so many international food options! By the time the weekend rolls around, I'm usually craving something different, so only one restaurant on this list actually serves Chinese food.

1) Uo Kura- There are several locations of this upscale Japanese restaurant in Shanghai, but I have only tried (and highly recommend) the Sinan location. Afterwards, you can work off some of the meal you've had by going on a short walk and admiring the mansions! The restaurant itself has private rooms, which might be fun for a larger group or even for a date. The decorations inside were simple, as the idea is to focus more on the taste of the food. It serves up sushi rolls, oysters, sashimi, roasted steak with sesame sauce, miso soup, and steamed eggs with fish, just to name a few ideas of what to order. They usually have scallops as well, but the day I went they were out. There is a large selection of sake to choose from; over 200 different kinds are available! Apparently there are some decent set menus, too.

2) Chicken and Egg- As the name suggests, this restaurant's menu focuses on dishes made with chicken or eggs. There are several roast chicken options that come with two sides. Their side menu includes not only includes salads like orzo and spinach or spicy Asian coleslaw, but also has hot options like honey glazed carrots and mashed potatoes. Besides the side options, what I really love about this restaurant is their selection of sauces for the chicken! For example, they have roast garlic ranch, bourbon barbecue, honey mustard, cheese sauce, and ginger sweet chili. There are also chicken wraps and different options for sandwiches. Steven swears by the curry aioli and egg sandwich. The desserts have been decadent and similar to what I might get back in the States. However, the desserts on the menu are often not all available. I was pretty bummed that I couldn't get a slice of carrot cake, but then got over it as soon as I took a bite of the peanut butter cheesecake. There is both indoor and outdoor seating available, and many of my friends and acquaintances of mine do like to frequent this restaurant. In fact, Rachael even opted to have her birthday party here!

3) Fat Cow- My pal Scott says this is one of his favorite places to go to in Shanghai, mainly because he is obsessed with the lemongrass chicken and the sauce that comes with it. There are all sorts of gourmet burgers with a range of different toppings to choose from, which is what I usually go for. The burgers are SO good that a meal from Fat Cow was my first request from my friends when I got flown back to the hospital in Shanghai! When we go, we go to the Hongmei Lu location. Most of the staff knows a limited amount of English, so that's always a plus. The ice cream is just plain wonderful, too. There are all kinds of sundaes and milkshakes to choose from like chocolate mint and Ferrero Rocher. It's definitely a great place to go when I'm missing American food!

4) La Crêperie- If you're looking for authentic French crêpes in Shanghai, look no further. La Crêperie specializes in crêpes and galettes from Brittany. I tried out the Jing'an location last year with Scott and was quite pleased with the selection of both savory and sweet crêpes. There were also several kinds of cider available--it just pairs so well with crêpes! I ended up having my birthday dinner there last year, and every person that I invited remarked on the food and how much they enjoyed it. Rachael and I went to a different location in the French Concession last week, and had the pleasure of trying out a dessert crepe called Le Défi, which was voted one of the 10 best desserts in Shanghai. It's made with bananas, butter caramel sauce, and is topped with some caramel ice cream. Go hungry because if you like desserts, you aren't going to be able to resist. 

5) CH2 Whisk- This is a great restaurant to indulge at...Hello cheese and chocolate! Other common items on the menu are nachos, burgers, grilled cheese, and pasta, but their speciality is still definitely their chocolate desserts like their upside-down chocolate cake. I've been there twice and would not mind returning soon. I have heard positive feedback about their brunch, too.

6) Sichuan Citizen- Like I said, I'm not always in the mood for Chinese food when I go out on the weekend, but I would make an exception for Sichuan Citizen. As is customary in China, the set up is family style dining there, which is nice if you go with a large group because then you are able to sample so many different types of dishes. Apparently the basil cocktail is quite popular here. This restaurant was voted the best Sichuan restaurant in Shanghai in 2011 and 2012 by That's Shanghai, and it looked clean. If someone came and visited me from the States, this would be a restaurant I would definitely take visitors to, especially if I knew they liked spicy food.

Which restaurants do you like most in your city?

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?