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2017 Top Nine

December 30, 2017
Like the year 2016, 2017 had some of the highest highs and lowest lows. That sounds dramatic, but it's true. At least I'm ending the year in a pretty good place. I wish there would have been some way to let myself know at the beginning of the year how much better things would be by the end of the year.

I'll be summing up my year in three ways: by my top nine events, by top nine blog posts, and by my Instagram Top Nine.

As I look ahead to 2018, I'd like to believe that my major health problems are behind me. I am looking forward to getting to enjoy more of what makes me happy and think that I will be able to.

Top 9 Events

1. Being able to go home to Ohio after two years and multiple traumatic occurrences was by far the best thing that could have happened to me. I knew I had to get a second surgery in Shanghai and didn't think my surgeon would clear me to fly home, but he did. Within hours of him giving me the go ahead, I purchased a flight back home. I didn't even realize how BADLY I needed to go home until I went. Going home was just what I needed--can't stress that enough. I was able to recover in a better place and spent a lot quality time with family and friends. My trip home to the States was a turning point for me mentally, and I really had the best time.

2. Getting over PTSD. This kind of goes along with my first best moment, but the beginning of 2017 was very stressful for me. I literally thought about my back at least 100 times a day. Incessantly. Almost every decision I made was based on my back. I cried a lot and still was in pain. Now, at the end of 2017, full days go by where I don't even give my back a second thought. If that's not progress, I don't know what is. I will still have bad days and flashbacks, but my back problems are not constantly nagging me. 

3. Going to Morocco and Spain with Rachael. No matter where we go together, we always have a blast. I'm so grateful to have found such a fantastic travel buddy. We went all over Morocco to places like Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes, Chefchaouen, Essaouira, and Volubilis. One of the most memorable moments was spending time in Merzouga, going into the Sahara Desert on a camel, and watching a stunning sunset. It was secluded and peaceful there, and the sky was more beautiful than I could have possibly imagined. In Spain, we stayed in Sevilla and shopped, had wine and tapas, went to the city center, went inside the cathedral, and spent time at Plaza de Espana. I'm already looking forward to traveling with Rachael again this summer. It's going to be epic.

4. The result of moving apartments. Although I don't enjoy my current commute to work, I do like my new apartment so much more than the dorms on campus. I have more space, and in many ways living where I do now is a lot more convenient. Basically, my living quarters have been upgraded from last year. I love being at home now.

5. Spending time with my old class. I guess this isn't just one moment in particular, but rather a set of collective moments. In my teaching career so far, I think my old class was the perfect match for me, so to have been able to teach them for two years was beyond amazing. It made our bond stronger, and I truly got to know them so well. Despite everything else going on with my health, I knew I had the support of the students and parents. That support was the motivation I needed to be there for my students, and that got me through the worst of times. A few of my former students' parents told me, "We were very lucky that the kids got to have you for two years in a row." That was very nice of them, but really I feel like I was the lucky one.

6. My birthday at Shanghai Disney. I'll go into more detail about this below since one of the pictures from that day made it into my Instagram Top 9, but for now I'll just say that I had a magnificent day at the park.

7. Making more friends. For awhile there, I felt really upset because I felt really secluded. My friends were all making friends with the new teachers, but I just wasn't up to going out or really doing much of anything. I couldn't sit for more than 20 minutes without being in terrible pain. As the year progressed and I was able to do more, I got to know some of the new teachers better and consider a few of them my friends. 

8. Taking fall trips. This fall, I started to travel again more regularly and visited Myanmar, Nanjing, and Hangzhou. It felt great to get back into the swing of how I usually live my life. Every trip was special in its own way.

9. Traveling within the States to see relatives and friends. I made it to North Carolina to see my sister, her husband, and my niece. Maybe my niece actually knows my name now. I went to Savannah to see my best friend Everett, to Michigan to see my sister Melissa and brother-in-law Anthony, and to Pennsylvania to visit my good friend Nanci.

Top 9 Blog Posts

I didn't blog as much as I wanted to this year, but I still consider blogging one of my hobbies and hope to put more time into my blog in 2018. These posts were picked based on the number of page views.

Instagram Top 9

Picture 1: The Canals of Suzhou, China The backstory: We had a short holiday, so my co-teacher and I decided to take a day trip to Suzhou to explore. In all honesty, I was not feeling the best and it was over 100 degrees out. Mostly what I remember from this day is my co-teacher and I just laughing at our experience and about what a bad idea it was to go to Suzhou during a Chinese national holiday. We found it funny because she ordered a bunch of eel which was the most expensive thing on the menu, and I wouldn't eat a lot of it because I'm super picky when it comes to meat and seafood. For some reason, she thought I would like it and she just kept trying to force me to eat more. As I tell this, it doesn't actually sound that amusing, but sometimes when things keep on going wrong, all you can do is laugh. We dissolved into laughter again when we realized we couldn't do any of the things we set out to do because of the long lines. Our day didn't go as planned and was kind of a disaster, but I guess it was a bonding experience for us. 

Picture 2: Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain The backstory: Rachael and I traveled to Sevilla for the end of our winter holiday. We did some sightseeing and stopped at Plaza de Espana. Truthfully, I wasn't expecting it to be so grand! We loved the atmosphere and architecture and of course, the people watching was fun, too.

Picture 3: Shanghai Disney, Shanghai, China The backstory: Shanghai Disney opened while I was in the hospital. For a long time, I was not able to go because I was still recovering from my spinal fusion. I went to Disney Town to go to The Cheesecake Factory, but I couldn't go inside the actual park because my body couldn't handle it.  It was not the best feeling hearing about everyone else going multiple times. I kept telling myself to be patient, but it was hard. Finally, eleven months after my surgery, I decided that I was well enough to go. My friends Tara and Chris joined me on my birthday and we spent the day there. It was a ton of fun, worth the wait, and I had a wonderful time. After our trip there, I felt even more confident about how my recovery was going because I was able to do everything except ride one ride.

Picture 4: Shanghai Sculpture Park, Shanghai, China The backstory: The sculpture park is where our school had us go with our classes for the spring field trip. At first, I thought it was going to be an exhausting day, and I was a bit panicked about going because I didn't even know if I could keep up with the class or work the full day. The good news was that because of my back injury, the school assigned the floating teacher to help me out, and that person was Tara. The field trip ended up being a bunch of activities the kids could do on their own AND I had someone to talk to, so it all worked out.

Picture 5: Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Nanjing, China The backstory: My friend Georgina invited me on a last minute trip to Nanjing and I thought, "Why not?" I didn't have any plans for that weekend and I do like to travel within China. As Georgina said during our trip, "This is kind of a random group to go with, but it worked out so well!" For the whole trip, I kept asking the people I was with how I was doing and if traveling with me was like traveling with a normal person that didn't undergo a major surgery. When I went to Macau, I asked my friend Chris if he thought I was 90% back to normal, and he told me he would say even higher like 95%. I wanted to see what the others thought, I (annoyingly) kept asking them what percent. When I saw that there were a lot of steps leading up to the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, I almost told everyone to just wait for me at the bottom. One of my friends pointed out that I could earn more % if I climbed to the top, so I did. Truthfully, it wasn't even that hard for me, but I did need the extra encouragement. That Instagram picture is from the top, just outside of the mausoleum. P.S. Sun Yat-sen is one of China's founding fathers. I didn't know that before the trip!

Picture 6: Sun Island Resort, Maldives The backstory: I actually went to the Maldives in 2016, but posted a picture from my trip after I had a myomectomy. The first week after my surgery, I could barely move and had no current pictures of anything interesting, so I posted that one. It was crucial for me to remember some high points in my life during that rough time, and my trip to the Maldives truly was one of the best times. The beaches on the island we stayed at all pretty much looked like that. Gorgeous and practically private with only a few other people on them! 

Picture 7: Marrakech, Morocco The backstory: Rachael and I were checking into our first riad. While the workers were registering us, we were served some hot (and very sweet) mint tea that is well-known throughout all of Morocco. I started to look forward to the check-in process in Morocco because every time we went to a new riad, we were given more of this delicious tea. 

Picture 8: Suzhou, China The backstory: I think it's funny that another Suzhou picture made it into my top 9. Suzhou has many beautiful gardens, but we couldn't go to any of the main ones because they were all so crowded. There were long lines just to get an entrance ticket. I snapped this picture on the way to the restaurant we were having lunch at. We were too hungry to stop longer. I know I look like a liar for going on about how crowded Suzhou was since my Instagram pictures don't have any people them, but trust me--it was insane the day we went.

Picture 9: Shanghai, China The backstory: Tara, Rachael, and I had just gone to a birthday brunch and were on our way to get manicures and pedicures. On our walk over there, we saw this flower vendor. I had seen this type of thing before and never stopped to take a picture of it but decided to in that moment. 

I guess my mantra for this year was, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." I didn't have the perfect year, but amidst my struggles, I still able to laugh and celebrate life. I have a feeling that 2018 has better things in store. 

I hope all of you have lovely New Years and that 2018 brings you what your heart desires. What was one of your best moments in 2017?

Shanghai in 48 Hours

December 27, 2017
At the end of November, I received my first visitor in Shanghai! My friend Amy had four days off of work for Thanksgiving and on a whim bought a flight over to China. After the travel time, she pretty much just had about 48 hours to explore the city. I tried to think of all of the best places to take her, so I'm going to highlight where the two of us went in this post.

Amy arrived on Friday night, and I took the Maglev for the first time to visit her. In case you don't know, the Maglev is a high-speed train that takes you from Shanghai's city center to Pudong Airport in roughly eight minutes. It comes every 15-20 minutes during operating hours. To get a ticket, I just took the subway to Longyuan Road and then spent 50 RMB on a one-way ticket. A taxi costs me a little over 200 RMB, so it was nice to save a little money, too. For more information about riding the Maglev, visit this site. I had never ridden the Maglev before because I've either been tight on time and had to take a taxi right from my school's campus or else I had too many heavy suitcases to handle. Now that I see how easy it is, I'd take it again if I'm traveling lightly.

Our timing for meeting up was nearly perfect, and we took a taxi into the city. Amy booked a room at The Bund Riverside Hotel, which we both didn't think was anything special, but the location was very convenient for a lot of the attractions. For the record, I did offer to let Amy stay with me, but she didn't have a lot of time, and my neighborhood is not really near the sights. Also, it's Chinese law for her to register with the local police station within 24 hours, and I don't think she wanted to deal with that. (A hotel will take care of that for you.) She said she would stay with me next time, which also works. 

Here is what we did:

Nanjing Road: This is one of the most famous roads in all of Shanghai, so it was a must-see for Amy. It was our first stop since it was a short walk from the hotel. We walked up and down the crowded road--it's a good place for seeing the hustle and bustle that is Shanghai. You can do all kinds of shopping on this street, but we mostly went for the experience. Tip: Make sure you stop by the Peace Hotel. If you have extra time, go to the bar and watch the jazz band.

Local restaurant for xiaolongbao- We were starting to get hungry, so we just walked around until we found a local restaurant that served xiaolongbao which translates to soup dumplings. Soup dumplings are what Shanghai is known for. Along with the xiaolongbao, we also got some thinly sliced beef with vegetables and broccoli with garlic. It was an affordable and delicious meal.

Sunny Massage- After our dinner, it was getting pretty late so when I spotted this massage place right off of Nanjing Road, I asked Amy if she would like to get a traditional Chinese foot massage and reap the benefits of reflexology. It didn't take much to convince Amy, as she was sore from her long flight. She loved the fact that the massage started out with a short shoulder and back rub. The massage ended with us getting hit by wooden hammer with a rubber head. I've only gotten the "hammer" at the end a few times, so I was glad that Amy got to experience it! Tip: Read this article from Culture Trip about the best places to get massages in Shanghai. 

Walked along the Bund- We had to do this twice because the first time we walked along the Bund, the lights were all shut off. Walking along the Bund at night is always an exciting experience. On the Bund, you feel like you're in Europe walking by the grand colonial buildings, but then you look across the Huangpu River and get to see all of the massive skyscrapers. Even though I have done this a lot now, I'll never get sick of hanging out in this waterfront area. Tip: Keep in mind that the lights turn off at 10 or 11 pm, so make sure you plan around that if you go.

Yu Garden- Yu Garden is one of the most touristy places in Shanghai. It is beautiful, but be prepared for it to be packed. I've gone on the weekend every time, and often it is so crowded that I can barely walk. It's also difficult to take pictures because most photos are just full of people. Still, these ancient gardens built in the Ming Dynasty are a worth a visit. Around the garden there are good shopping opportunities even if it can be a bit chaotic. Amy picked up a gorgeous silk scarf for her grandma. When I've gone to the area around the garden before, I had tea and small snacks at a tea house and also tried the famous dumpling restaurant. Tip: If you can, maybe try going during the week instead of on the weekend since it tends to get quite busy. 

Tianzifang- When my friend's mom came to visit her from the UK, I asked my friend what her mom liked the most about Shanghai, and she told me that one of her top picks was Tianzifang. When she told me that, I knew I had to take Amy. As expected, Amy did enjoy the area a lot. The area can best be described as cute, and it has plenty of unique shops full of souvenirs and specialty items. There is a lot of street food to try, and cafes and little bars dot the area. We both made purchases here and then had lunch. We stopped at a postcard shop to write postcards to our friends and family. I love these shops because you can just buy the stamp and they mail them for you--super convenient! Tip: Bring lots of cash with you for shopping and street food, as very few places accept foreign credit cards.

Xintiandi- We strolled along this pedestrian street and went in some shops. It is a bit high-end, but the atmosphere is always great. There are so many cafes and restaurants, and we stopped in an ice cream parlor called Pree. I had been wanting to try it for awhile because they serve fruit popsicles inside a glass of wine! We also admired the shikumen-style buildings in the area which are quite special to Shanghai.

Jing'an- As an expat, I find myself in Jing'an quite often. There's the Kerry Center, lots of nice restaurants, and good shopping. My favorite nail place and coffeeshop are also both in Jing'an! I just showed Amy some of the area, we walked around, and we stopped for a coffee and tea. Of course, Jing'an Temple also looms over the area, but it was closed by the time we got there.  

Shanghai Tower- Amy said she wanted to go up the Oriental Pearl Tower, and I told her I had done that before and was willing to do it again if she wanted to, but suggested Shanghai Tower instead. Not  only is Shanghai Tower the tallest building in Shanghai and one of the tallest in the world, but it offers an excellent view of the iconic Pearl Tower. We both loved being up in Shanghai Tower and marveled at seeing this enormous city from above.

Jade Buddha Temple- As you can probably tell from the name of this temple, the main attraction here is a light green Buddha made out of jade. This temple still functions and monks can be seen here. It isn't typically as crowded as Yu Garden or the other attractions. There were tourists, but there were also worshippers. The temple also has a restaurant and plenty of shops selling statues of Buddha, jewelry, and tea.

The Bull & Claw for brunch- As any expat living in Shanghai will probably tell you, brunch in Shanghai is definitely "a thing." My friends Lauren and Becca wanted to meet Amy for brunch and experience the deliciousness of The Bull and Claw again, so we met there. While it's not Chinese food, part of the Shanghai experience is trying food from international places as well. All of us agreed that the waffles with honeycomb on top were pretty scrumptious. Tip: Make reservations for this place ahead of time. It is quite popular (for good reason) and can book up fast.

Extra Time? 

*I suggest visiting Longhua Temple and the Shanghai Botanical Gardens (not centrally located which is why we didn't go). These two places are closer to each other than many of the other places I've mentioned so it might be a good idea to do both of them together.

* Some good places to have Chinese food in Shanghai are: Sichuan Citizen, Lost Heaven, and Din Tai Fung. Although all of these places aren't Shanghainese, they still serve up delicious food and many of my friends bring their guests here.

* Splurge on a fancy tea at the Peninsula or at the Waldorf Astoria.

* If you're into the bar scene, Found 158 is always busy on the weekends. It has many bars to choose from, so that's always a plus.

* Try jianbing if you can. It's a kind of street food, but it's probably one of the best things I've eaten in all of China. It's a thin pancake made with eggs and is usually cooked right in front of you. A spicy sauce and chives are then added on. I also add cheese to mine, but a lot of people don't. It should be under 10 kuai for one, so it's cheap, too!

* If you love Disney, there's always Shanghai Disney to try to visit as well. You could easily spend all day here as is the case with most Disney theme parks.

* If you're going to be in Shanghai for more than a few days or are coming back, I recommend the South Bund Fabric Market where you can get tailor-made clothes. This wasn't ideal for Amy since her time was limited. You can bring pictures of what you want to be made, and the seamstresses will try their best to recreate them.

Would you like to visit or revisit Shanghai?

Weekend Recaps and Other Updates

December 11, 2017
I wanted to do a weekend recap post since I haven't done one in awhile. While I'm at it, I'll include some other updates.

*Our due date to say whether or not we would resign our contracts for next year was at the end of November. It's crazy that we have to decide so early. I mean, I get it because the school needs to find replacements for us if we are not staying.  Recruiting new teachers and sorting their visas takes time. I wasn't completely torn about my decision this time, so I told them yes. I am comfortable here with the job and most of the other teachers in first grade are staying so we have a strong team. While some of my close friends will be leaving (always the hardest part about staying behind), a few of my good friends have chosen to resign their contracts when the time comes. I also think it is a smart financial decision to stay here. I plan on staying in China until I am completely debt-free. Last year and this year, I was able to pay off $14,000 worth of surgery debt to my dad.

* I found out that I have a nephew on the way! My sister Melissa is expecting a baby boy in April. It's cool because now I'll have a niece AND a nephew.

* My boss asked me if I could help her interview someone for the school. The teacher is interested in working in first grade next year, so he'd be working with me if he gets hired. We had to do a Skype interview since he's not currently in China. I know this might be weird, but I've only ever Skyped once before and that was for my interview to get my current job! The room we had to give the interview in wasn't private and another teacher walked in as I was asking questions. I don't know that teacher at all, so that made me extremely nervous to have him listen. Luckily, he left after just a few minutes! Despite that distraction, my boss said that I did a very good job preparing questions, that she had fun interviewing with me, and wants me to come back and interview more teachers with her.

* Last weekend I hung out with Tara. We met for dinner at Palmetto and then we went to see West Side Story together. I was wondering whether it would be with Chinese actors and whether we would have to read subtitles, but luckily for us the play was all in English with touring actors and actresses. I really enjoyed the play and now I'm wanting to see more plays soon. Legally Blonde is the next one that will be performed at that venue, and I'd LOVE to see that.

*I went to the Paulaner Brauhaus Christmas market in Shanghai with three friends. We enjoyed some mulled wine, shopping, and just catching up. One of my friends is fostering a dog named Arlo, and I finally got to meet him after hearing about him for weeks--he's the sweetest. Most people here have cats as pets because we aren't allowed to have dogs, and since I'm much more of a dog person than a cat person, it was a nice change. There was some slight drama when Arlo's foster mom went inside to go to the bathroom though. Another friend and I were put in charge of watching him. Not even a minute passed and he got out of his leash and escaped for a bit! Luckily, it was so crowded that a group of people started "oohing" and "ahhing" him. Since they were petting him, he didn't get too far, and we held him until his foster mom came back. We laugh about it now, but for a few minutes we were freaking out that we lost our friend's dog!

At the Christmas market, I picked up an Amber Cedarwood candle made by a company called 6pm candles that I am obsessed with. It just smells SO good. The Christmas markets in Shanghai are really a great way to discover some local businesses and support them.

*This past weekend started with a trip to a mall because I needed to go to Zara to return some online purchases. I found out that Zara has my size AND my shoe size if I order online. I can get free same day delivery, too! That is very dangerous. Luckily (and not so luckily at the same time), the dress I ordered looked terrible on me and the shoes were too tight which was disappointing but good for my wallet. I did end up keeping a pair of lacy sneakers, so it's not like I was left empty-handed. At the mall, I stopped at Starbucks and got a free drink with a coupon that my school gave me as a gift and then got a Miso-Yogurt Chicken & Feta salad from Element Fresh. Rachael got me addicted to those salads and it did not disappoint. I went home and watched some episodes of Grace and Frankie. When I visited my friend Nanci last summer, she recommended the show to me. I wasn't sure if I would like it at first, but it's actually pretty hilarious. We are both low key obsessed with Frankie's jewelry. Then, I read a few chapters of Emma in the Night. I'm about half-way through and have to say that the book sucked me in so far. It's about two sisters, Emma and Cass, who disappear for years. Cass makes it back and tells the story her disappearance piece by piece.  Emma is still missing and so it's very suspenseful right now because I want to find out Emma's fate. 
*On Saturday, I met up with a group of friends so that we could have a Christmas dinner. We couldn't really find a place that was having an official Christmas dinner, so we booked a table at a bar/restaurant called Boxing Cat and at least were able to order some comfort food. A bunch of us tried the mac and cheese, and it was delicious! I think it was the best mac and cheese I've been able to find in Shanghai. Afterwards, we found a really cute coffeeshop by day/bar by night kind of place called Antique Garden Shanghai. The inside was decorated really nicely for Christmas. The drinks were a bit pricey, but they were all special cocktails made with different kinds of alcohol. The garden area was seriously nice, and I'd love to go back during the day for some coffee. There were lots of great photo ops and the whole inside has a nice "Old Shanghai" vibe. The one picture I took in there doesn't do it justice.

* I couldn't decide where to go for the Chinese New Year break for the longest time. A group of my friends are going to Melbourne and Brisbane, but it is more just to hang out and not really to travel. Tara will be going home, so we also couldn't travel together. Since I want to see the sights, but don't really want to travel "alone," I decided to book a group tour through Intrepid Travel. This will be my first group tour trip that is longer than just a few days. It actually sounds pretty good--all the tour really covers is accommodation and transportation. For the tour part, we are only given a few city overviews when we first arrive, and then we are free to decide what we want to do. That is pretty great because I won't be stuck in a big group all day, but I also don't have to be concerned about safety since someone will be checking in on me every night. I looked at all of the tours, and the one that really appealed to me a lot was a trip to Mexico. I know it seems funny that I'm going to Mexico from Shanghai and not the States, but the flight was only about $850 round trip. Our break is long enough that you really can go anywhere in the world! I didn't know whether or not I should book my own accommodation or chance it with a roommate. Obviously splitting the cost with a random roommate is cheaper, but I was willing to pay the extra money. I ended up putting down that I would have a roommate just because Tara told me that when she went on a tour through Europe, that her and her roommate were really compatible and went on a lot of optional day trips together. I felt like if I didn't have a roommate that it would be harder to meet others since I'm not that outgoing. I don't know. Maybe I'm overthinking it, but I guess I'm slightly nervous about this tour as well as excited! 

**Linking up with B Loved Boston.

What I Wonder About

December 4, 2017
I have a notebook that I use to write down blog ideas as they pop into my head. This one has been in there for a while, and since I had a rather exhausting work week, I wanted today's post to be easy to write and to keep it (mostly) lighthearted with what I wonder about.

*Why do I have a ghost double chin? In real life I examine my chin from every angle and do not see a double chin, yet in photos it appears. Where did it come from?? See proof in the picture below. It could have been the cutest photo of three of my good friends and me, but instead, the double chin came out. Since the photo was a re-do of our very first banquet photo, I still like it for the sentimental value.

*Why do I manage to spend more money on weekends in than weekends out? I'm going to go ahead and answer this in part by saying I spend SO much money on food here. I didn't use to do that. When I stay in, I usually order food from Sherpa's, a food delivery service in Shanghai. I never ordered from there once until I moved to my new apartment, but now I have to say that I'm addicted. It's so easy and for a delivery fee, you can pretty much order from tons of great restaurants all over Shanghai. 

*Does cupping really work? Cupping is commonly done here as a way of drawing out toxins. My Chinese friend recently got it. It's been popular in recent years with a bunch of celebrities. I'm curious to try it if it does help with blood flow and whatnot, but at the same time, I don't want to pay money for someone to basically bruise me. 

*Why don't more products have names that flatter you? Why yes I'll apply more Exotic Goddess Ageless Serum. 

*Why is Titus on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so hilarious? I just can't get over, "Gum is a lie your mouth tells your stomach."

*Why did my own cousin defriend me on Facebook? I didn't grow up near my cousins so I can't say I know them very well, but one of them friend requested me a few years ago. I thought that was nice of her to try to make an effort to get to know me and it meant a lot. I happened to notice that she defriended me because she shows up in tagged photos on my aunts' feeds. To top it all off, she is still friends with my sister! I know it was a crappy move on her part, but I can't help but feel extremely insulted. I try to brush it off because she is quite a bit younger than me and I can't say I'm a fan of Facebook, but I am very sensitive about that sort of thing. 

*Will I ever stop missing my former student enough to quit drinking out of a mug with his face on it every day? The mug is plain black until you pour hot water in. Then a picture of the two of us together will appear. It really does make me smile almost every morning!

*Who is going to stay and who is going to leave at my job? I wonder this every year. I think our school retains a high percentage of teachers considering we are all expats, but who leaves and who stays really affects who is left behind and the jobs we are required to do. 

*Will Scott come back to Shanghai? He told me that he would 80% come back for five years at the beginning of the year. Ha ha.. I asked him what % for just one year, but weeks passed before he saw my message, so by the time he answered, it had gone down to 70%. What caused this change? One of our mutual friends told me, "Lisa, I can already tell you that he's 0% coming back next year." I'm trying very hard not to get my hopes up, but life is always better with one of your best friends in it! 

*Have my friends "Pavlov dogged" me into gagging every time I hear the song "Little Donkey"? My British friend started to sing it when something gross was going on during our morning ride to school. Now every time something disgusting happens, we sing it. Snot rocket sighting? "Little Donkey." Our driver coughing up phlegm and spitting it out the window? "Little Donkey." Now when they start to sing it, I instantly start to feel sick.

*Will our friend Steven travel with Rachael and me this summer? He mentioned that he would, but nothing has been confirmed yet. I really hope he does at least for part of the trip! It would be so great to see him again. 

*Why do I get all of these fake accounts following me every time I check in on Instagram anywhere in Shanghai? It's super annoying and seems to not happen when I check in at other places. 

As I wrap up this post, I'm wondering what you are all wondering about. So, what's on your mind these days? 

What's Up Wednesday: November '17

November 22, 2017

What I'm Eating This Week: Okay, so I mentioned before that I signed up for a meal plan called Better Bentos, which specializes in healthy meals. Some of the meals I have had this week include: spicy Thai curry with chicken, stir-fried prawns with peanut sauce, chili con carne, couscous with roasted vegetables, pumpkin soup with a side of quinoa, kale, sweet potatoes, and walnuts combined into a salad, and roasted chickpea salad. I actually love this meal plan! I would never have enough time to eat this well and prepare all of these meals on my own. For snacks, I have been having trail mix and healthy smoothies. The bad news is that Better Bentos is shutting down in a few weeks to redo their business, so we just have maybe three weeks left to get the meals sent to us. They will reopen, but they don't have a set date for that yet. On the weekends, I just have whatever. Last weekend that included McDonald's and lasagna with a glass of red wine.

What I'm Reminiscing About: My former first grade students are now third graders, and we are doing reading buddies this week at school. It just so happens that my new first grade students will be paired with my old students. It's crazy that now my old students will be the ones helping out and I'm so glad I'll get to see them in action helping younger students! I've been reminiscing about them being in first grade and thinking about what a wonderful class they were. 

What I'm Loving: I'm loving hopping on the train and getting out of Shanghai for a change! I went on weekend trips for the past two weekends; first to Nanjing and then to Hangzhou. I never knew how to book train tickets and thought it was a daunting process, but a friend told me how she did it and it's the easiest thing! With how well my last trips have gone, I'm inspired to do a lot more traveling over the weekends. 

What I've Been Up To: Well, I just did a recap post, and earlier this fall I did go on a trip to Myanmar

What I'm Dreading: Both of these things are a long way away, but I'm dreading having to take an online class next year to keep my teaching license. I'm a little bitter about it, honestly. Can I just please pay off my other student loans before I have to shell out thousands on another course? The other thing I'm dreading for the time being is life after China. There is no way I'm going to stay in China forever. I am worried about my finances after leaving here because teaching in the States is not as lucrative as it is here. I am also concerned about other teaching jobs. Will I be able to do them with my back injury? I think I can at this point, but I also don't want to injure my back further by overworking myself.

What I'm Working On: This is all work-related stuff. For example, I do need to decorate my classroom doors for Christmas soon! Any ideas? 

What I'm Excited About: For the first time in a long time, I don't have a travel buddy to go places with during Chinese New Year. All of my former travel buddies are back in the States now, and Tara will be going back to the States during that time. Other friends have asked me to go to Melbourne with them, but I've already traveled throughout Australia and would like to go somewhere new. Since I'm way too paranoid to travel alone after what happened to me two years ago while traveling, I think I'm going to take a look at Intrepid Tours. The thought of that is really exciting to me because I might be able to meet cool, new people and I haven't yet picked a destination. The feeling of not knowing where I'm going yet is kind of exhilarating when I think of the possibilities. 

What I'm Watching/Reading: I'm starting to watch New Girl again. I watched the first three seasons and then just kind of just got busy with life and forgot about the show, but the episodes are so entertaining and they're short as well, so I'm sure I'll be doing some binge watching to catch up. I'm also watching This is Us with two other teachers from my school. We get together every week and watch it together. I just got done watching Kevin's episode (Number 1) and had to fight back the tears. In between those, I'm watching Spartacus Season 2. A friend gave me them to watch when I was in the hospital, and I just never got around to it. 

For books, I mentioned in my last post that my friends and I are doing a small book club, starting with the book China Rich Girlfriend. I haven't had much time to read this week, but maybe tomorrow I'll try to catch up to my friends.

What I'm Listening To: Can I change this to what I'm about to listen to? A coworker lent me the latest Lana Del Ray CD, so I'm about to see how I like it!

What I'm Wearing: Everyone always says that when winter comes in Shanghai that it comes suddenly, and this year was no exception. It's full on winter weather here, so this week I took out my winter coat and blanket scarf. In my apartment, I'm always bundled up in a fleece and have broken out my Snoozies

What I'm Doing This Weekend: My friend is coming to Shanghai, so we have a full weekend planned. She wants to see the major sights and do all things touristy like go to the Bund at night, go up Pearl Tower, visit Yu Gardens, see the Jade Buddha Temple, and go to a tea house. Mostly, I'm looking forward to catching up with my friend, but I wonder if she will be shocked when she sees me because she hasn't seen me since before my injury. 

What I'm Looking Forward to Next Month: I'm excited to spend Christmas Day in Shanghai with friends this year. For my first two years in China, I traveled both times, so it will be nice to stay put this year. My friend is hosting a Christmas breakfast and lunch at her place and she's an excellent cook. She already described some of the menu and I can't even believe she knows how to cook all of that! 

That about sums up everything! I'd like to do a post soon with more details about my trip to Myanmar, so hopefully I can find the time. 

Life Lately: Fall 2017

It seems like it's about that time where I recap my life and what I've been doing lately, so here goes nothing.

* My friend Georgina and I went to a beauty event called Glamour Lab where we had a certain number of hours to rotate stations. Each station had a different beauty treatment to try. I ended up getting a facial, an IPL treatment, my hair styled, a hand massage, and fake eyelashes. This was all for about $60 total, which was the price of the ticket to get in. The event was located in the Wanda Reign Hotel, which was beyond nice. Cocktails and some snacks were also included. As Georgina pointed out, we were much too busy going from station to station to be bothered with the cocktails. We left with a gift bag, and on top of that, I ended up winning a $90 bottle of perfume. 

Afterwards, we decided to walk along the Bund. Living in Shanghai that sounds like no big deal, but I hadn't walked along the Bund since before my surgery in May 2016! My last trip there was a field trip to the aquarium with my old class. Last year I didn't get out much and then when I did go out, I just never ventured out that far. It was a good feeling to see the Shanghai skyline in person even though it was a rather dreary day weather-wise. We left before it was all lit up, so that just means I'll need to go back again soon. Since we don't usually hang out in that area, we weren't too sure where to go, so we hopped in a Didi and went to Kartel, a wine bar with a great rooftop area. We enjoyed some sangria and talked about our life plans for next year.

* I got back in touch with my old friend Hannah. She sent me a hand-written card, which was so thoughtful. We never meant to fall out of touch, but we just don't live near each other and hadn't seen each other in person since about 2004. Hannah used to be a big part of my life because we lived in Korea together my first year and she was one of my best travel buddies. She did mention possibly flying out to visit me in Shanghai sometime, which of course she'd be more than welcome.

* Speaking of visitors, I will get my very first visitor in about two weeks! I am beyond excited to see my close friend Amy who is flying out from Los Angeles to see me for the weekend. She said she didn't realize flights were so cheap from L.A. and said whatever we didn't get to do this time could be done on her next trip to Shanghai. She is already planning a next time!! It will be so wonderful to see her again--we've been friends for almost 20 years, but we haven't been able to see each other for the past few years.

* In other news, a few weeks ago Georgina had a Halloween party in our building. For some reason, I was really nervous about going. Probably because a lot of people were going that I didn't know very well and I'm bad at small talk. It ended up being really fun and of course we went out afterwards, too. I was just happy because two of my own friends jumped when they saw me and didn't recognize me in my costume. They thought I was my friend's friend. I think that was the first time I ever really scared anyone on Halloween, so I deem it a success. For our school Halloween dress up day, Lauren and I were matching superheroes. Some of my students got a kick out of my costume. Sometimes you have to love how easily amused first graders are.

* Tara, Kelcey, and I decided to start a book club. The first book is China Rich Girlfriend which we all wanted to read since we're living in China and all. The three of us have a We Chat group to talk about the book and will meet at the end to discuss it. I have never been part of a book club, but this one is just small and no pressure.

* I tried out three new restaurants in Shanghai recently: The Rooster, Palmetto, and The Shed. When my friends heard I had never been to The Rooster, they laughed at me because apparently they go all the time for the brunch deals. While I was there, I had my first Bloody Mary in life. The group I was with didn't understand why I hadn't tried one before and said something along the lines of, "You've lived three lives and you never had a Bloody Mary!? We can't believe it!" It was a nice break from the sickeningly sweet cocktails I usually have.

Palmetto was great because it's one of the few places in Shanghai that serves Southern food. I have to say that I didn't like the picture of the alligator staring at me while I ate because it brought back bad memories of South Carolina, but the food was worth the trip: hush puppies, boiled peanuts, and fried chicken. Yes, please. I already have plans to go back with one of my Southern friends. Another group of friends has a Wednesday wings tradition at The Shed. Since one of the locations is quite close to where I live, I decided to check it out. That group pretty much goes every week, so I know I'll be back sooner or later. It's a great treat to help break up the middle of the week.

* Tara and I also went to a chili cookoff at Cages that some teachers at our school were participating in. I guess they won the competition last year or the year before. Since Tara had to tutor, we decided to go right when it opened, which ended up working to our advantage because later on in the day many of the groups ran out of chili. We sampled probably ten different kinds of chili and never knew there could be that many different twists on the dish. My favorite one was a sweeter kind with cornbread on the top, but of course, we voted for our friends.

* A friend of mine suggested that Lauren and I should try a meal delivery service called Better Bentos. Better Bentos has extremely healthy meals and for about $90 a week, I can get 5 lunches, 5 snacks, and 5 dinners delivered. After trying it out for a full week, Lauren and I were quite pleased with the quality of the food and decided to sign up again this week. It has been so nice not having to do dishes and think about what to do for my meals all week. On the weekends, I just eat like I normally would. I'm just doing it to be healthier because I don't think I'm getting the proper nutrients with how I've been eating. The first few days I had the Better Bentos meals I instantly felt like I had more energy.

That's my life in a nutshell. I'm learning to enjoy Shanghai again and am making progress on paying off more of my surgery debts and student loans while I'm here.

Would you ever try a meal delivery service?

Tips for Traveling in Myanmar

November 20, 2017
In October, Tara and I traveled in Myanmar for seven days. We wished we had more time, but tried our best to make our trip worthwhile. Below, I'll be sharing where we stayed, some information on overnight buses, and some general tips. I hope you find this useful if you plan on visiting Myanmar some day.


**I'll list the prices we paid, but please note that the prices will vary depending on whether you travel during the low/high season.

I would stay at all three of these places again and do recommend them. 

Yangon- Chan Myae Guesthouse $34/night

Thoughts: Chan Myae is located close to Sule Pagoda and the city center. The rooms are simple and very basic but clean. I do have to say that the staff is friendly. We were given some juice as soon as we checked in and the workers helped us carry our bags to our rooms, which was much appreciated since we had to go up about 6 flights of stairs. There is no elevator, but the staff members will help you with your luggage if you right the bell at the bottom of the steps. We were also able to arrange transportation to the airport through the guesthouse. Oh, and there's free breakfast.

Bagan- Royal Bagan Hotel $55/2 nights 

Thoughts: Tara found a deal on this, so I don't think the rooms are usually this cheap. The hotel seemed fully booked and was very busy so we couldn't check in early.  However, were allowed to leave our bags in the lobby. The staff was helpful and booked a temple tour for us as well as a taxi to the bus station. The rooms were nice with a large shower. The hotel also has a swimming pool, but we didn't try it out since we didn't have bathing suits with us. Free breakfast is offered and it's buffet style. There is someone in the back cooking eggs that will be brought to you as well. We were quite pleased with our room and thought it was a great value for the money.

Inle Lake- Hotel Brilliant $54/night

Thoughts: While this hotel was about twice as much as the Bagan Royal Hotel, we were blown away by the service. The staff went out of their way to help us enjoy our stay there. We arrived very early in the morning, tired from a long journey on an overnight bus. They let us check in right away and even upgraded us to a nicer room at no extra cost. They drove us to the bus station and wouldn't accept our money when we offered to pay. They let us shower after we were out on the lake all day and after we had checked out. On top of that, we were given tea and snacks for free before we left to go to the bus station. The location is not right in the center of town, but that was a blessing in disguise as the city center is loud and chaotic. If you want a peaceful stay, Hotel Brilliant is where it's at.

Recommended Bus Companies

Famous Traveler Express

JJ Express-Below are some pictures of what to expect on a JJ Express overnight bus. I searched the internet and couldn't find much about the seats. Because of my back problems, I wanted to know whether or not the seats reclined all the way, but they do not. I was able to get some sleep on the bus anyway.  

We booked all of our bus tickets before we traveled to Myanmar using the site Myanmar Bus Ticket, operated by Green Travel. 

With both JJ Express and Famous Traveler Express, the buses left on time and we felt safe for the entire journey. The buses from both companies had air conditioning and we were provided with blankets, a pillow, a bottle of water, and some snacks. I will say that the seats on the Famous Traveler Express bus reclined more, so that was a major plus for me because I was able to sleep better. The JJ Express overnight buses all had TVs on the back of the seats though, so it was nice to watch a movie before I tried to sleep. 

Tip: Go to the bathroom at every stop. On one JJ Express overnight trip, there was only one stop early on and then no stops for over five hours (until I asked).  

Tip: Bring headphones in order to enjoy the entertainment offered. JJ Express did provide me with some headphones once I asked, but I could hardly hear anything out of them. Tara brought her own earbuds and didn't have this issue.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Yangon. Overnight bus from Yangon-Bagan.
Day 2: Bagan
Day 3: Bagan
Day 4: Morning bus from Bagan-Mandalay. Day tour of Mandalay. Overnight bus from Mandalay-Inle Lake.
Day 4: Inle Lake
Day 5: Inle Lake. Overnight bus to Yangon.
Day 6: Yangon
Day 7: Depart Yangon in AM. 


*Check and make sure your vaccinations are up to date. This seems like a no-brainer, but when Tara mentioned this to me, I realized that I wasn't protected against typhoid! At one point in my adult life, I got the booster for this but the oral vaccine is only good for 5 years. I can't believe I dropped the ball on this when I'm usually pretty responsible about this sort of thing. 

* Bring a rain poncho. We both brought one instead of umbrellas. I found it much more convenient for staying dry.

* Put some cash aside for the visitors passes you are required to buy in Inle Lake, Bagan, and Mandalay.

* Make sure your USD is in good condition. They are very picky about which bills they accept. I saw the man working in the currency exchange eye one of my $20 bills suspiciously because the corner was slightly bent. 

* Book your overnight bus tickets ahead of time. Every overnight bus we took was full and we didn't even travel during the peak tourist season. Booking an overnight bus ticket can also save you money on accommodation!

* Reapply bug spray often. We didn't want to take malaria pills, so we just tried as best as we could to prevent getting bitten. 

* Bring an extra layer of clothes, especially for the overnight buses because they blast the A/C.

* Do you have any makeup that you don't use? Or some you've tried but it just doesn't look right on you? Consider bringing some on your trip. Yes, I realize that seems weird, but hear me out. I got stopped by Burmese women around five times, and they commented on my lipstick asking me if they could have it. "You make me gift of that lipstick," is what they would say. They knew it was used because I was wearing it, but they still seemed to really want it. I wish I would have known this since I have so much lightly used makeup just sitting here in Shanghai. This was the first place I'd been to where the women asked me for my makeup so often. If you want to make friends with the locals or just make someone's day, bring some makeup with you. 

* Book well in advance for Balloons Over Bagan. When we looked into taking a hot air balloon over Bagan, every time slot was booked for the entire week we were in Myanmar. We were okay with that because it was pricier than we thought. The cost currently ranges from $340-$450 (that's USD) for a 45 minute flight. I would have considered paying it, but the decision was made for us since there were no openings. 

* Apply for an e-Visa and make sure you print off confirmation of this so you can move swiftly through immigration.

* Dress modestly and bring pants that go past your knees, especially on days when you plan on doing some temple hopping. I also suggest wearing shoes or sandals that just slide on. In Bagan, you will likely visit temple after temple all day long, so it's just easier to not have to bother with tying your shoes.

* If you're short on time, try to squeeze Mandalay in on a day trip like we did. Seriously, one of the best experiences on the whole trip was watching the sunset from U Bein Bridge!

Although we had a hectic schedule some days, I feel that we maximized our time in Myanmar and saw as much as we could in the time that we had. How do you feel about overnight travel? Do you have any of your own tips to add?