Always busy at Christmas!

December 22, 2017 at 3:17 pm (China) (, , , )

Thorsten and Doris had had a similar rainy experience at the Yellow Mountains as mum and I, so we decided we should try again but this time base our trip around the weather report.  I am so glad that we did!  Doris reckons she saw more just taking the cable car up than we the the whole last trip!  I think the photos speak for themselves!

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This weekend was ultra special because Doris and Thorsten have now left Suzhou.  They are moving to Shanghai, but won’t be back in China until April.   I am already missing their friendship and am very thankful for modern technology which allows us to stay in touch.

65B91EE8-A28D-47C0-8C4E-F74BE12F7BAF-659-00000108212ADB7A_tmpAfter living in Suzhou for sixteen months, I finally managed to spend a day in Shanghai!  It was more of a shopping trip than a sightseeing trip but at least I’ve now seen the Bund from a taxi window.  🙂  Alyssa and I head in to check out the fake markets and to visit the German Christkindmarkt.  Martha was our fake markets guide and she sure knows her stuff.  We were greeted with hugs and kisses at the stores and she helped us find quality and bargains.  We both spent a small fortune but were also happy with our purchases.  The Weihnachtsmarkt was lovely, even if it was too warm for Glühwein.  The stores were set up beautifully and you truly did feel that you were back in Germany.  It was lovely to have a little piece of Heimat right here in China.

Christmas themed activities always manage to take up time in December no matter where you live in the world.  I co-hared the first Suzhou Santa hash which was a smashing success.  We dressed as elves and led the group to Suzhou’s replica London Bridge while taking in other bridges and lovely lit up buildings along the way.  The next night I attended the Gaelic Football Christmas party where I won the Christian Stein Award for the most German-esque member of the club.  Big surprise there…

I had a bit of a Staff Christmas Party fiasco.  I arrived at the event only to realise that a bag had fallen off my e-bike.  At the time I was only concerned about my Secret Santa present, which was in the bag!  I headed in, dropped the bag I had off and headed back to school.  I thought the bag might have fallen off the bike as I put it on and was hoping it was lying disowned in school’s e-bike parking lot.  Alas it was not.

So before heading back to the party and checking the road, I double checked with the guard in the guard house.  This involved me doing a pantomime of losing my bag.  The guard had seen it and even had pictures on his phone of my wallet (with all the money).  I managed to explain to him that is was my bag to which he replied in Chinese and then kept talking to me even though it was clear I had no idea what was going on.

I finally thought to get me agent on the phone as a translator.  Unfortunately the bag was with the police!  Apparently the guard and a passerby had seen me lose the bag as I drove out the gate and because the passerby had picked it up and handed it in, the police had to be called.  Great!  After about 30 minutes of this and that, lots of translation and waiting around,  I was on my way to the Chinese police station for the first time.

IMG_6335With my bag finally back with me, I headed back to the Christmas party only to get half way before my bike decided to die on me.  Luckily, one of my friends lives in the area so I parked the bike in her garage, plugged it in and caught a didi (Chinese uber) to the party.  I managed to squeeze in one hour of food and fun, as well as deliver my Secret Santa present, which of course, is better than nothing!

Those of you who have taught with me at SISS and ISS, will remember the famous Christmas tree headband and outfits which just keep evolving.  This year I had a whole week of fun Christmas themed dress ups to celebrate.  It’s been a long start to the year and I am more than ready for some time in the sun at home for Christmas.

xoxo

P.s  More Photos?

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Chugging Along…

December 13, 2017 at 5:43 pm (China) (, , , )

IMG_5746Erica and I were truly blessed with gorgeous weather over the October break.  The sunshine followed us from Beijing to Suzhou so we made the most of it on my last day of holidays by joining Thorsten, Doris and Toby for a trip to the ancient water town Zhouzhuang.  I hadn’t been there before and Family Eiche were happy to enjoy the sunshine and a stroll.

Zhouzhuang is one of the most famous water towns in China and is admired for its beautiful views and well preserved houses.  There are many stone bridges that connect the narrow pathways, which are full of tourist shops and restaurants.  We enjoyed meandering though the alley ways and a short boat ride through the canals.  China can be postcard perfect when it wishes to be but Thorsten was much upset to find a McDonalds!

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Note the McDonalds lanterns.  We figure they must have bought them cheap when Maccas didn’t want them anymore.

Erica spent a few days exploring Suzhou before heading out to Shanghai.  It really was brilliant having her to stay and am glad she has gotten to see where I live and work.

Of course, I continue to be hashing.  This time I ventured out with the group to Hangzhou and enjoyed a beautiful trail through the tea leaves.  Thorsten ensures me I made the right decision taking the shorter route as the longer went up and up and up.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Thorsten and Olli’s last hash as Suzhou hares.  As per usual, they found a phenomenal trail, which included two HUGE mountains.  We lost the trail at one point and literally had to bushwack our way down to the calls of other runners.  🙂

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IMG_5857I’ve been out and about with other adventures as per usual too.  I enjoyed celebrating Dwali with friends from school, visited Pet Street with Debby and dressed up as a doughnut for Book Week.Pet Street was certainly an experience.  There were dogs, cats, bunnies, hamsters… you name it.  All stuck in small cages desperately hoping for a loving owner.  We also saw pet cicadas, fish and lizards!

With the Christmas holidays getting closer and closer, the weather and pollution has started to set in.  All the more reason to stay as busy as ever!  xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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The Suzhou Amazing Race

November 23, 2017 at 4:54 pm (China) (, )

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Die fantastischen Vier

There was NO way I was going to miss out on competing in the Suzhou Amazing Race this year.  It was an absolute highlight of my first year in Suzhou, and after last year’s performance the only way was up.  My team consisted of Olli, Thorsten and Yiling and we set ourselves the goal to be the first hash team at the finishing line.  This year was the largest ever race with twenty teams participating.  It took us all over Suzhou and had us completing fun and silly tasks along the way.

As always, the race begun at school.  Our first task was to make a pattern using Perler beads.  It had to be a certain size and follow any pattern we liked.  I hadn’t done one of these in ages and it certainly brought back memories from childhood.  For this task we worked well as a team and we we’re in first place leaving school for our next destination.

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IMG_5958We caught the metro to Secret Recipe at Times Square and arrive narrowly behind a much fitter team.  Unfortunately, the team at Secret Recipe were not ready for us.  We were split into two mini teams to complete the tasks.  Yiling and I went outside and performed a mini flight attendant routine.  The boys were given a cappuccino design that they had to recreate. We finished quickly but the boys had to wait AGES for their cups to complete the task which was frustrating.

Even more frustrating, we got roadblocked and had to complete another activity before moving on.  We were given four small pieces of cake and we had to correctly identify them.  We used sight rather than taste and before we knew it we were on our way.

The ride to the park for our next destination included both a metro and tram ride.  Much to our relief, when we arrived at the tram stop, we were with all the front running teams.  Our Roadblock hadn’t put as that far behind after all and the playing field was level again.  Well not for everyone, we saw one team arriving at the metro for Secret Recipe as we were leaving.  We didn’t see them again until the finishing line!

At the park we received a K Pop video and the instructions to create a unique one minute K Pop video based on the music we had been given.  This task was in my opinion, our biggest downfall but also one of the ones I enjoyed the most.  We argued, had trouble keeping in time and flat out misunderstood the task and what the volunteer was looking for.  We should have been able to complete the task in about ten minutes but I reckon it took us over an hour.

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Luckily, watching other groups perform and not being accepted made us realise that our interpretation of the task was incorrect.  We thought we had to make a dance that looked K Popish but in reality, the volunteer wanted to be able to recognise five different moves from the video in our dance.  We realised this after we saw one group do an absolutely amazing routine but got a big fat NO.  We got our next clue on our first try!  I’m sure other groups were wondering how we got away with it.  🙂

IMG_5971We decided to not take the risk with the fast forward and headed up the mountain ‘hash’ style to the temple.  This meant we took an extremely steep route straight up the mountain instead of looping our way around it.  We had two activities on the mountain.  At the temple we had to use water and a mop to write our Chinese characters and translate them into English.  Further on, we completed some exercises at the exercise park.  We knew there were at three teams ahead of us who had also not used the fast forward.

IMG_5978We ran all the way to the metro and headed to Kool Fly.  I’d heard about this place from heaps of my students but never been there myself.  It’s a play area with trampolines, foam pits, climbing etc.  We were given four tasks, each one had to be completed once but by a different team member.  Only one person could go at a time but we completed it pretty fast.  I had to do the ninja course which was just balancing across a foam pit and back.  Yiling did some climbing and had to push her way through a foam pit on her stomach.  Thorsten mastered the warped wall and Olli shot some hoops.  Considering how tall he is AND h had the trampoline as well, he definitely had the easiest task!

Before we knew it, we were off again to People’s Bridge.  Or at least, we went to where we though the People’s Bridge was.  We were wrong.  Lots of teams made the same mistake which cost us at least 30 minutes travel time and an extra 15 minutes added to our finishing time because we had to ask for a hint.  Thorsten was furious about the wording and it being wrong, we kept reminding him that it was a game and ambiguous clues was all part of the fun.

E1DFF3FE-7E55-4905-83B9-4CE68BAD2D00-4229-000005E0CB61770A_tmpWhen we arrived at the correct location, we were once again split in two.  Olli and Yiling made a print and Thorsten and I headed to the framers.  We knew exactly where to go because it’s the framer we go to!  (We had actually received the framers contact from one of the race’s organisers months ago.)  This included crossing a very busy road with a fence in the middle.  Not wanting to lose time, Thorsten jumped the fence and I rolled under.  We got lots of beeps!

At the framers we had to find the picture we were given a photo of.  We both had a go looking properly, but on Thorsten’s second go, he just asked the owner.  He speaks Chinese and Thorsten had been there the week before getting quite a lot of things framed.

We raced back, met up with our team and then very stupidly wasted time trying to decide the best way to our next destination.  We probably lost 15 minutes in arguing time!  Eventually, we found the restaurant and wolfed down the meal.  No idea what we were eating… we just knew we had to eat as quickly as possible.

After lunch we headed to the scholar museum, where we made our next mistake.  The task was for one member to dress up as a scholar and the rest of the team had to memorise a poem.  We then had to recite it together to the volunteer who would give us the next clue if we passed.  The poem was a WHOLE page long and we freaked out, decided it would take us too long and took the 30 minute penalty.

As we watched the other groups complete the task, we were very annoyed at ourselves.  The task wasn’t as hard as we thought as the volunteer was being pretty lenient and helpful.  Teams were getting through quickly, definitely in less time than the 30 minute penalty.  Later, in the pit stop, Karen told me how her group had recorded it, played it and then just repeated what they heard.  Such an awesome idea.  I don’t think it would have made a difference to our overall finishing position but at the time we were frustrated… especially my competitive men.

We did make up some time with the quiz we needed to fill out in the museum.  We worked well as a team here, asking people, using google and filling in what we knew.  We managed to overtake at least one team.

Next stop was Element Fresh.  Slowly but surely, we were getting closer to the Pit Stop!  At Element Fresh we needed to make rice paper rolls.  These had to be inspected by a member of staff before we could eat them as a team and move on to our next location.  I was officially the worst at this.  The rest of my team had rolled and were ready to go… the staff member was looking at mine skeptically.  I was smiling sweetly with a pleading look, my team smiling with the thumbs up sign.  She must have felt sorry for us because it wasn’t really passable!

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We got our last clue and were on our way to the finishing line.  The race was on because as we were leaving we saw another hash team arrive.  We still had a 15 minute penalty to wait out at the finishing line.  Somehow, we managed to find the craziest taxi driver, who, without even being asked, drove like a maniac.

We waited out the fifteen minutes with a beer in hand and celebrated with lots of smiles and hugs when no teams came in.  We were FOURTH!

I can’t even begin to imagine to organisation and time that must go into planning an event like this.  It really was spectacular.  We journeyed to places in Suzhou I had never been before and we had to work as a team to complete tasks.  It was fun sharing this day with some of my favourite Suzhou people.

If I am around next year, I have learnt some valuable lessons:

  1. You must run.  Walking is NOT an option.
  2. Find competitive friends who won’t give up and have a sense of adventure.
  3. Don’t read the tasks too literally, try and find a clever way around them.
  4. Team work is key.

We didn’t come first but we were the first hash team.  We even got a prize for coming fourth and I am very proud of my compass.  Oliver, Thorsten and Yiling… thank you for coming on this crazy adventure with me.  I loved every crazy moment.

xoxo

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Camping on the Great Wall of China

November 7, 2017 at 4:50 pm (China) (, , , )

IMG_4004One of the draw cards for coming to China was being able to visit the Great Wall. The country was never high on my travelling priority list. In fact, I often pinch myself that I actually live here because, even after fourteen months, it still feels so surreal. I’ve been looking forward to finally seeing the Wall and ticking it off my China bucket list.

Over a random lunch date with Tim at school, we got talking about our plans and I was stoked to hear that he and his family would be interested in joining us in braving the crowds of the Middle Kingdom’s populous capital city. He had been to the Wall but his family had not and we thought it would be fun to go together. I’m not great with big crowds, but I figured I would just have to grin and bare it over the Chinese Golden Week. How wrong I was.

Not long after our initial conversation, I received an email from Tim asking whether Erica and I would be interested in camping on the Wall! YES! I didn’t even think twice initially. What an experience! To walk on the Wall and camp over night in a watchtower?!? Seriously, how cool is that?!? He had always wanted to do it and it sounded like the perfect opportunity.

When we thought about it in more detail, we started doubting whether this was a rational idea. How cold would it be? Would we find the trail? Is it even legal? What would we eat? Tim was the worry wart; I was the laid back encourager. Once again over lunch at school, we made a final decision to just do it! The opportunity for such an amazing experience doesn’t come along that often, and sometimes you just have to take travelling risks.

Inspired by the posts Great Wall Campout and Camp on the Great Wall’s Gubeikou Section, Tim planned the whole adventure.  We borrowed tents from school and lugged them and our sleeping bags to Beijing.  Before we knew it, we were on our way for the camping adventure of a lifetime.

Inspired by the posts Great Wall Campout and Camp on the Great Wall’s Gubeikou Section, Tim planned the whole adventure.  We borrowed tents from school and lugged them, our sleeping bags and other camping paraphernalia to Beijing.  Before we knew it, we were on our way for the camping adventure of a lifetime.

The Great Wall is perhaps one of the most well known man-made structures in the world. It curves and curls while hugging the natural landscape, truly meandering for as far as the eye can see. If you stretched the Wall out straight it would be over 21, 196.18km (13, 170.7mi)! That’s more than half the Earth’s surface. Its building began during the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207BC) but interestingly, the First Emperor of Qin was not the first to build the Great Wall. Instead, it was originally formed by linking the walls of the states he conquered.

Our adventure took place on the Gubeikou section, starting from the village itself, which formerly protected an important pass to Beijing from northern Mongol areas. Over 130 battles happened in this area and most of this part of the Wall dates to the Ming Dynasty. Unlike other parts, the Gubeikou section remains wild and unrestored. It is known as the Coiled Dragon as it runs along the ridge that cuts the village in two, eventually finishing at Jinshanling Great Wall.

We took the train from Beijing to Miyun and from there a car and driver to the starting location for the hike in the village of Gubeikou. We stopped along the way for a hearty home cooked lunch. Everybody, including our driver and our hosts for lunch, kept telling us that we couldn’t do what we had planned. Even the locals at the beginning of the hike were telling us this! We were determined though and stuck to our guns. We hadn’t come this far just to give up.

 

IMG_3983We had a little trouble finding the start of our trail as the first part of the wall was made of clay and not very well maintained at all.  We fought through thorns and stinging nettles before pulling each other up onto the actual wall.  From here, it was a clear trail along the top.

We had a little trouble finding the start of our nondescript trail as the first part of the Wall was made of clay and not very well maintained at all. We fought through thorns and stinging nettles before pulling each other up onto the actual Wall. From that point, it was a clear trail along the top where we had the Wall to ourselves, taking plenty of time to marvel at its beauty and smile at each other that our dream was becoming reality. The views were spectacular, as was the magnificent sun setting behind us. As it fell below the horizon, we found ourselves racing the fading daylight to the first habitable watchtower.

Upon our arrival, we were treated to the breathtaking spectacle of the harvest moon rising over the Wall on distant mountains. We sat at the top of our tower speechless. It was one of the most beautiful and amazing things I have ever seen in my lifetime, perhaps enhanced by our adventure or the unexpectedness of the event. Nevertheless, it truly was a sight to behold. We indulged on chips, biscuits and the two bottles of wine we had lugged up with us.

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The one thing we hadn’t been able to identify before embarking on our journey was whether or not it was actually legal to camp on the Wall.  The locals didn’t seem sure about this either.  As we sat and ate, we observed lights in the distance.  We discussed what they could be and whether security might come up and send us down the mountain.  We were pretty sure that they wouldn’t send us down in the dark but we did freak out when the lights seemed to be moving closer in our direction.  So we headed to bed a little apprehensive and minimizing our use of torches.

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In the morning, we were woken to the sounds of bewildered Chinese voices of people pushing past our tent.  Erica and I had placed ours directly in the pathway to go up to the top of the tower.  We could hear them, but not understand them!  Erica and I just looked at each other and giggled.  We had NO idea what was going on!  It turns out they were a photography group who had hiked up early for the sunrise and, apparently, our tower was the best place for morning photos.  🙂

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We packed up and joined them for an incredible sunrise.  Words simple cannot describe this experience.

We packed up and joined them for an incredible sunrise.  Words simply cannot describe the sight which lazily unfolded in front of us – it was a glorious sunrise!

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We continued on wards with the plan of walking to the Jinshanling section and heading back to Beijing from there; however, along the way we bumped into some other isolated campers and swapped stories. It turns out they had been freaking out about the lights too! They had walked to Jinshanling the day before and recommended not bothering going any further, so we took their advice, hiked only a little further to the next couple of towers, then headed back down to the village.

Getting back to Beijing was easy-peasy. We caught bus 密25 to Miyun and then bus 980 to Dongzhimen Station in Beijing. We could even use our Beijing metro cards all the way!

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A HUGE thank you to Tim for being the mastermind behind this wonderful adventure.  I loved every moment and I am so thankful for the joy that you have brought and continue to bring to my life here in China.

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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Braving the Golden Week Crowds in Beijing

October 8, 2017 at 1:17 pm (China, Travel, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

IMG_5602Every time I got asked what I was doing for October break, people would look at me as if I was crazy.  They didn’t mean to but it is a well known fact that Golden Week is a ridiculous time to be travelling within China.  Basically everyone gets time off so the big tourist destinations are SWAMPED.  Check out some photos here.

It wasn’t an ideal choice, but it made the most sense with my old school friend Erica visiting China.  Luckily for me, my good friends Tim, Lukman and their son Banyu decided to join our Beijing adventure.  They were lured to Beijing with the idea of camping on the Great Wall.  Tim needed my encouragement, support and crazy positiveness… I needed his organisation, booking and Chinese language skills.  It was a match made in heaven and resulted in a memorable trip.

35D6C3F7-5246-4CB4-8B74-C348ADF3CAFF-535-0000004BD62C6FEB_tmpWe caught the overnight train from Suzhou to Beijing and then met up with Erica.  Most of our first day was spent organising accommodation after our Airbnb fell through but in the afternoon he headed to the Hutongs for a casual stroll around the area.  There was a lovely community atmosphere and we loved peeking behind the distinctive red doors into the hidden courtyards.  I wish we had had more light to explore as it’s definitely somewhere I would like to wander through again!

I really enjoyed meeting Tim’s friend Amelie.  They met while teaching French in Beijing many years ago.  She fell in love, married and is now running a beautiful children’s clothing line Tang’ Roulou here in China.  Her clothes are a lovely mix of western and Asian styles and I can’t wait to see how cute my niece looks in the summer dresses I bought her.  Nearly everything she had for little girls I would wear myself, such a pity she doesn’t make adult sizes!  It was interesting hearing her talk about her business and the market here in China and internationally.

IMG_5617Since we were in Beijing, I was determined to have Peking duck so we had it for the first nights dinner.  Under Amelie’s recommendation, we went to a very local restaurant where we were the only foreigners.  We over ordered but had a wonderful meal and I was able to tick it off my bucket list.

My beautiful friend Judy had helped me organise last minute tickets to the Forbidden City for the next day.  As of October 1st (i.e. last Sunday) all tickets had to be purchased online.  This is clearly explained on their website in English but low and behold, when you click to order tickets EVERYTHING is in Chinese.  I know it’s called the Forbidden City because it was off limits for 500 years, punishable by death… but why are they making it so difficult for non Chinese speakers to visit?  The site is limited to 80, 000 people a day.  Can you imagine?  But with Golden Week we didn’t want to miss out so we were really lucky Judy was able to help and that there were even tickets left.

IMG_5635We were prepared for the crowds so off we trotted with Banyu in tow.  He had decided he wanted to join us and as he’s just under 1.2m he gets free entrance.  The crowds were nowhere near as bad as we had anticipated.  Granted, getting out of the subway was crazy and there was no way we were going to brave the crowds at Tiananmen Square but once we actually got into the Forbidden City it was fine.  It’s the biggest palace complex in the world so we never really felt like we were in a throng of people.

The enormity of the complex was really something.  It just kept going on and on.  The initial courtyard alone can hold over 100,000 people.  As we walked around, we had to keep explaining to Banyu why there was a throne in every room!  We particularly enjoyed the Hall of Literary Glory as we were able to actually enter the hall and see the amazing painting on the wooden ceiling and the beautiful ceramic floor tiles.  It houses an impressive ceramic collection which was also interesting.  We also liked the Clock Exhibition Hall located in the Hall for Ancestral Worship, where we even found clocks made in Suzhou!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for anything else in Beijing because of our camping plans.  Its a big city with a rich history… I will just have to come back!

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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