A Late Update – Bali Break

Update on my life: I just bought a spiffy new VPN.  So while I wrote this post about a week ago, I’m just getting around to posting it.  Hopefully posts will be a lot easier from here on out!…

A short while ago, in Bali…

Wow.  December 30.  I have never in my life been on a vacation this long.  But, since December 13, I’ve been here on the island of Bali relaxing and enjoying the heat, the sky, and the blessed sun.  I leave here on January 1 and am decidedly not looking forward to the cold, cloudy Chengdu that I’m heading back to.  I can’t wait to see my kiddos again, but a large, pathetic part of me is counting down the days until Chinese New Year, when I can escape again and explore some other eastern port.

Life here in Bali is cheap (by western standards), although it’s a bit of a pill for me to figure out the exchange rate.  I end up turning prices back into Chinese RMB then figuring out American prices from there.  Basically, 100,000 rupiah is about $8.  So pulling $80 bucks from an ATM gives me 1,000,000 rupiah…which is more than enough play money for a day or two.  Most meals end up costing me about $10-$15, which is much more expensive than China, but infinitely cheaper than taking a vacation in the United States.

Accents here are also amazing.  There are so many Australians around, staying here for a cheap holiday, that I can swoon while listening to them for a few moments, at least until they become incredibly obnoxious.  And no, Australians currently splashing and shouting in the hotel pool, I’m not talking about you at all… (Do Aussies get as bad a rap as Americans when traveling?)

Our holiday commenced with four of us–Yang, Jay, Adam, and me–checking into hotels in Seminyak (northern Kuta).  There we stayed about a block from the beach, passing by very small, very touristy shops every morning.  We spent the first week in Bali soaking up the sun.  We explored restaurants, strolled through the hot sand, and went dancing at night in local clubs.  Adam got to surf one day and I learned how to play the game Euchre (and am currently on a major winning streak on my phone app of the game).  The only downside was Jay and I both got sick with various ailments which had us laying low for a bit.

Seminyak

Seminyak

Adam surfs

Adam surfs

Yang makes a friend in Seminyak

Yang makes a friend in Seminyak

After Kuta, we traveled on up to the quieter Ubud.  We randomly bumped into a couple who taught with QSI in Shenzhen our first morning there.  While in Ubud, we took it easy but spent time exploring the monkey forest, rice terraces, a coffee plantation, and attending a local dance.  We ate dinner almost every night at the same restaurant, becoming something like regulars in our very short time there.  Alicia, Kerensa, and Thommy (all from Chengdu) also landed in Ubud during our stay.  We spent one night hanging out with them, exploring the limited Ubud night life.

Jay and Yang in the Monkey Forest

Jay and Yang in the Monkey Forest

Adam makes a friend

Adam makes a friend

Just chilling with the primates

Just chilling with the primates

Jay and Yang at the fire dance

Jay and Yang at the fire dance

Fire dance actor

Fire dance actor

Dancing through embers

Dancing through embers

The view out the front door of my hotel room in Ubud.

The view out the front door of my hotel room in Ubud.

Yang has fish nibble on her feet

Yang has fish nibble on her feet

Fish frenzy!  This tickled so much at first!

Fish frenzy! This tickled so much at first!

Adam and me hanging out at the rice terraces

Adam and me hanging out at the rice terraces

Awesome shot!  Jay and Yang in front of the terraces.

Awesome shot! Jay and Yang in front of the terraces.

Rice terraces

Rice terraces

Rice terraces

Rice terraces

Yang and Adam explore

Yang and Adam explore

Rice!

Rice!

Nuts and spices

Nuts and spices

Asian Palm Civet.

Asian Palm Civet

Coffee/Tea flight.

Coffee/Tea flight.

The Canadians

The Canadians

At the coffee plantation

At the coffee plantation

Meeting up with Kerensa, Thommy, and Alicia for dinner in Ubud

Meeting up with Kerensa, Thommy, and Alicia for dinner in Ubud

On Christmas Eve, Jay and Yang headed for the northern part of Bali while Adam and I headed back down to Kuta.  It was a quite Christmas eve, filled with lots of walking, exploring the local beaches.  On Christmas day, more walking.  We went to a local mall and had sushi as our Christmas meal (which always makes a perfect holiday!).  After a day of hanging out, Adam headed off to the airport and I went to mass.  After church, I walked back to my hotel room (about a 40 minute stroll) and tucked myself in bed exhausted.

The day after Christmas was the only day of this vacation I had to myself (not that that’s a bad thing; I would much rather be around others).  But I decided to take full advantage of it.  I spent hours at a spa (my skin, I tell you, is still softer because of it) coming back only to order room service and fall into the most peaceful, angel-like sleep.

The following day, Saturday, I met back up with Jay and Yang at our new hotel, also in Kuta (central Kuta this time).  I’ve been terribly lazy since meeting up with them.  We spent most of yesterday shopping, but today I have only left the hotel to meander down the street to the nearby convenience store.  Tonight, we are going out to dinner and then I’m meeting up with Kerensa and Alicia (who are down from Ubud) for drinks and dancing.

We did, however, have one eerie moment.  On Saturday night, I was hanging out in the hotel pool with Jay and an Australian.  The wind started to blow and lightening crackled in the distance.  I was contemplating whether or not to get out of the pool when the Aussie pointed out the lightening.  “It never seems to amount to much, though,” Jay said.  I stayed in the pool a while after Jay, getting out only when Yang wanted to go try a restaurant nearby.  After a late dinner, I fell asleep, waking up to a heavy rain crashing down around 7am.  The skies cleared a bit later, but already flight 8501, which took off from nearby Java island, had crashed.  Since then there have been heavy periods of rain that roll through and, as we remember the victims of this accident, it’s also a little chilling to know that in two days, at about the same departure time, we’re flying the same airline back to Chengdu.

离开纬度 – Leaving Latitudes

In Virginia, summer fades to autumn, the suns sinks in the sky earlier and earlier each day, and one morning you feel a slight winter chill telling you to break out your coat within the next few days.  At least that’s the Virginia I remember, before this polar winter weather came into our lives.  Chengdu, at least this year, is different.  The damp heat hung in the air until mid-October.  Comfortable temperatures followed until late November when the thermometer’s mercury plummeted and the pollution levels sky-rocketed.  Only now are some of the trees’ leaves turning vividly yellow.  We’ve had a couple days (like today) where kids were not allowed outside for recess because of the AQI (Air Quality Index).  Between the cold, the damp, and the pollution, I can’t tell what is causing my cough.  But, looking at the bright side of life (oh, so bright right now), it really doesn’t matter.  Because on Friday, after a half day of teaching (actually writing letters to Santa and drinking hot cocoa), I get to flit away to Bali for 3 weeks with my friends Adam, Jay, and Yang.  The sand, the sun, the inexpensive airfare?  It’s all oh so close!

But what’s been going on here?

The last Thursday in November, we celebrated American Thanksgiving.  Not really much to write about; there was good food, great company, and humorous conversation.  There were even fake flames on the television, which brought back memories of a tape my grandparents used to own that showed…well, pretty much the same thing.  But on a large screen TV, it just made the living room (where we ate) look festive and warm.  I guess the Christmas tree did that too…  So we ate, we drank, we were thankful for health, friendships, and family.  Afterwards, I even convinced Adam to sit through Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog which, in my oh-so-humble opinion, is all sorts of awesome and definitely a film I am thankful for!

Thanksgiving 2014

Kerensa and Me, toasting Thanksgiving

Last week was pretty much chock-full of school work, meaning I stayed late way too often.  We had narratives due on Friday.  This means we had to write a paragraph about how each child was doing in each subject we taught.  So I had 81 “blurbs” to write about student strengths and weaknesses in every subject (except, blessedly, science).  I don’t know yet if it’s a good or bad thing that our school never closes.  We have security guards around the clock, but if you wanna come in and lesson plan at 3am, so be it.  For the record, I have yet to be that crazy.

On Wednesday, we had a field trip to the Sichuan Science Museum for Kids.  The 7-year-olds had a lot of fun running around.  Although I was not as impressed as I was by kid museums in the states, we were pretty much the only people there which made the kids a lot easier to watch.  On Friday, we also spent a good part of the day out of school.  We drove over to the Women and Children’s Cultural Center to have a rehearsal for the Primary School Christmas performance that night.  The 7-year-olds sang and played bells and xylophones.  They were also the first group to perform and were amazingly well behaved (not that we have bad kids, but still, this program started at 7pm after a long rehearsal day) for the rest of the performance.  Afterwards, we gathered all the 7s up and tried to take a group shot, but with so many parents snapping away, it was hard to know where to look!

Most of the 7-year-olds after the Concert

Most of the 7-year-olds after the concert

On Saturday night, we had a staff Christmas party at a local restaurant.  The chef at the restaurant has kids who go to our school, so we were treated very kindly.  Below are pictures that my friend Lucy (always the self-designated awesome photographer at QSI events) snapped.  After the party here, we headed to KTV (Karaoke).  It was my first time going, so I was pretty excited, even though the time spent there was short.  Basically, you get a little room with a couch and coffee (tea?) tables.  Wait staff brings in any food you order while you look through a computer for songs.  Push a couple of buttons (always fun for us non-Chinese reading folk…) and hopefully up pops a music video that you recognize on the television in the front of the room.  We had a few wireless mics and shamelessly belted out whatever English songs we could find like…Scrubs by TLC.  I did get people to play Xiao Ping Guo, which is pretty much the only Chinese song I know…
52 3 4

That’s been day to day life.  Beyond that, many coworkers are hopping on the baby bandwagon (happiness) and many coworkers are going to be transferring to other schools next year (sadness).  My buddy Adam’s actually not coming back to Chengdu after Bali, but moving to another city, which sucks and pretty much means my American Horror Story days are over…

Well I just got my first package from Virginia, so I’m going to head home and open it!  Thanks Mom!  Mwah!

成都寒意 – The Chengdu Chill

I long ago decided there is not enough time in the world to catch everyone up on what has been going on in my life over the past few months.  It’s been a series of crazy, awesome events.  I’ve been asked to blog about some, but have failed miserably in my attempt to keep my cyber…well, space… up to speed.  I’ve seen pandas and Hong Kong Disney, gone to a Mariah Carey concert and on a field trip with my kiddos, been hit on by guys both waaaaay too young and waaaaay too old for me, started leading Brownie Girl Scouts with my friend Melissa, and have been busy trying to piece together what life is going to look like for me next year.

But that’s an insane amount of living to condense into one blog entry, so I’ll chop it down to November.  What have I done since the tail end of October?  Well, a lot.  And this activity is typical of life here.  It’s brilliant, it’s fun, it’s exhausting.

Let’s rewind to Halloween.  Our school had a “Fall Festival Committee” (no, I was not on it) dedicated to putting a Fall Festival together.  All teachers and paras were expected to work from 6-8pm on Halloween.  Costumes were allowed, even encouraged, and some kids and teachers wore their outfits all day long.  I did not.  But when night came, I ran back to my apartment to get ready for the Fall Festival.  I donned a brown dress and taped the word “Oh” on it.  Didi, the art teacher, painted my face while Kristen helped me put sticks in my hair.  And — presto chango — I was an “Oh Deer.”  June, my para, dressed up as a “Holy Cow.”  Together, we worked at a game booth called “Glow Ring Toss.”   The festival flew by and, afterwards, I went with a group of friends to The Beer Nest.  We had a cold one, headed to the Shamrock for dancing, and then went searching for more activity on…Ghost Street?  We tired quickly, however, and ended the evening at Shao Kao (Chinese barbecue; which is the greatest food ever to enjoy after a drink or two).

Oh Dear, Holy Cow

The Oh Deer and the Holy Cow

On Saturday, Kristen called me in dire need of a Starbucks run.  We took a bus there, grabbed coffee, and walked back to our apartment complex.  We decided to meet up later for dinner.  I came back to my apartment to take a nap and was rudely interrupted by a man banging on my door.  I opened the door and he, without looking at me, thrust a flier into my hand and walked away.  I took a picture of it and sent it to June asking for a translation.  She said my gas line was going to be fixed sometime the next day.  Not too worried about it, I headed back to bed to try again for that nap.

When I woke up, I got ready to head over to Kristen’s for dinner.  I was reaching for the doorknob when someone new banged on the door, startling me.  I opened the door and this time a woman, clipboard in hand, stood there.  She started rapidly speaking Chinese and waiting for me to respond.  “Tīng bù dǒng,” I said.  “I don’t understand.”  She spoke louder and more aggressively, passing through my apartment, directing me to the balcony, and gesturing wildly.  Once more, all I could say was “Tīng bù dǒng.”  She spoke even louder, finally driving me crazy enough.  I told her sorry (in Chinese: “Duìbùqǐ”) and called June to translate.  She was able to talk to my yelling guest and tell me that I had to be around at 7am the next morning.  Maintenance would then replace my gas line and be done in an hour.  Whatever.  I shrugged, bid my guest “adieu” and went to Kristen’s for dinner.  After dinner, we met up with our friend Adam for dessert.  We headed back to his place, watched The NeverEnding Story and Kristen and I crashed on his couch.  I shot awake when Kristen’s alarm rang at 6:30.  Argh.  I had to get back to my place by 7?  I tore out of there, stopping only to pick up bāozi for breakfast on the way.  When I got back, it was right around 7.  The maintenance workers arrived at 8ish.  So, remembering their promise to be done in an hour, I thought they’d be gone by 9ish.  They finally left after 12:30, leaving behind mud and dirt trekked across my dining room and kitchen floors as well as yellow painted that had dripped from the new pipe down to my counter tops.  So…a good deal of Sunday was spent scrubbing my house as well.  Joyful.

Fortunately that night, I had plans.  I headed with a group of friends to Metro, a large shopping mecca full of imported goods, and then to hot pot for dinner.  It was a pleasant end to a busy weekend.

I took it easy for most of the week, concentrating on getting through math and reading lessons with my kiddos.  I went to a baby shower on Wednesday, had a delicious dinner out with Melissa on Wednesday, and spent Friday unwinding from the week and celebrating a friend’s birthday; another evening that ended with dancing at the Shamrock.  Unlike Halloween, however, I didn’t make it to Shao Kao.  Instead I felt discombobulated and saw the twinkling lights that for me indicate a migraine is imminent.  I left the Shamrock, hailed a cab, and made it back to my apartment in time for the headache to close in on me.  I fumbled for the Excedrin in the medicine drawer, crawled into bed, and lost consciousness as soon as my head touched the pillow.

The next morning Alicia texted me; it was time to be up and at ’em.  The Marine Corps Ball was that night.  We ran to Starbucks (well, taxied; it was too cold and rainy to walk or run), met up with Julie and Natalie, two more coworkers, and got our hair done.  Then we had lunch at…The Beer Nest.  Because it had been so many hours since I had been there!  (Sarcasm, anyone?)  After lunch, we went home to relax and get ready.  When it was nearly time to go, I headed over to Alicia’s to help her finish getting ready.  We had a wine toast and headed to the school to meet more attendees and our driver to the Ritz-Carlton, where the event was being held.  There were cocktails, speeches, delicious entrees and desserts, and dancing, dancing, dancing.  I felt a patriotic surge when the National Anthem was playing; the USA holds even a more dear place in my heart now that I don’t live there.  Most of the evening had me thinking about my dad and what he would say about the shindig if he were present, but, all-in-all, I thought it was a pretty neat experience to attend a Marine Corps Ball outside the USA.

Marine Corps Ball Ready

Alicia and me, at the Marine Corps Ball


Not wanting to be shown up by Saturday too much, Sunday proved to be another unique experience.  Melissa, Alicia, and I went to LouDai, a historic town on the outskirts of Chengdu.  We met up around 9am, stopped at Starbucks yet again (wow, I didn’t realize how often I’ve been going there!), and headed to the bus station where we paid 7RMB (a little more than $1) to hop on a bus bound for LouDai which is about 45 minutes east.  We spent the day meandering around this old Hakka town.  We toured a temple, peered around the Hakka museum, ate noodles and rice, and shopped until we felt it was time to head back into the big city.  Traffic was rough getting back, but we made it home with enough time for me to finish reading I Am David and start John Green’s Paper Towns before crashing.

Heading to LouDai with Melissa and Alicia

Heading to LouDai with Melissa and Alicia

At a LouDai temple

At a LouDai temple

Wandering LouDai

Wandering LouDai

Street Corner Dentist?

Street Corner Dentist?

Tea House Pagoda

Tea House Pagoda

LouDai Blossoms

LouDai Blossoms

Making bread?

Making bread?

Gold Pig Man

Gold Pig Man

The Cleanest Squatty Potty I've even seen

The Cleanest Squatty Potty I’ve even seen

Hakka Museum

Hakka Museum

Street Artist I bought my decorated name from...

Street Artist I bought my decorated name from…

The Mountains beyond LouDai

The Mountains beyond LouDai

Alicia and Melissa in LouDai

Alicia and Melissa in LouDai

This week has also been nonstop.  Yesterday, Jason, Adam, Kristen, and I went out for Korean hot pot which is the only Korean food I’ve really had not counting the kimbop a student brought me for lunch one day.  Delicious food; spicy, but not the same mouth-numbing flavors that are usually in Sichuan food.

Today was “Guānggùn Jié” or “Singles’ Day.”  It’s a celebration of the freedom that single people have and usually results in single people doing one of two things: partying with other single friends or trying to relieve themselves of their single status.  They also do a lot of shopping and Singles’ Day is like the Chinese response to the USA’s Cyber Monday…only 100x crazier.  It’s the largest online shopping day in the world.  While the US citizen in me was thanking our troops and service men and women for their dedication on this Veterans Day, the China dweller in me also took the time to buy things off Taobao (sales!) and attend a Singles Celebration thrown by Alicia.

Phew.  Okay, I think that is pretty much November so far for you.  The kids have no school this Friday because teachers have professional development both Friday and Saturday.  We are also celebrating an early American Thanksgiving on Friday.  The next weekend, I’m attending a murder mystery party.  After that, it’s pretty much December which means a holiday staff party and then I’m taking off to Bali for a few weeks of sun and sand over the Christmas break.