Summer Holidays Lead up

June 16, 2017 at 11:14 am (China) (, )

My long weekend wasn’t over by the time I got back to Suzhou.  A couple of hours after arriving back, I set out to have a look at MORE flats.  Unfortunately, my landlord didn’t want to renew for another year so I was back on the search.  I’m pretty picky with what I like, and I don’t compromise well.  That means I have seen way more flats in the past couple of weeks than I would care to admit!

Finally, after some negotiation, I signed on a new flat with a view of the lake and pants building.  That and the fingerprint access (can’t lock myself out) sold it for me, plus the fact that I was heartily sick of looking and the flat is situated in the compound I had originally aimed for.  I’m now halfway between school and the action, about an 8km bike ride.

Of course in true Chinese style, the flat wasn’t cleaned properly before moving in, there is useless furniture and the last tenant/owner has left a whole lot of stuff in the place… but I worked hard to get everything at least livable before mum’s arrival.  I still need to get some furniture and bits and pieces but that will have to wait until after the holidays now.

IMG_4504I celebrated my find with a trip to the movies with Ollie.  We literally decided we would go after dinner, looked up the closest cinema on our phones and bought tickets to the next available film!  Pirates of the Caribbean.  Totally unexpected but so much fun, and the film was way better than expected.  Bonus!

The next day I was taken sailing on Jinje Lake by Allan.  He is a member of the local sailing club and can always take a guest for free.  We watched the dragon boat races from the IMG_4510water and just enjoyed being out in the clean (for once) air with the sun shining.  I had forgotten how relaxing sailing can be.  It was good to be out and about without a stress in the world.  (Reports written, packing of flat not yet begun)

Seeing my life packed up in boxes again was hard.  I really wasn’t ready for another move and as a result it upset me more than I expected.  A good friend did help to put it into perspective.  She said that I should think about it as always being ready and able to take on new adventures.

IMG_4531Life at school has been busy!  Schools always are.  The end of the year means graduation, music concerts, packing up classrooms, winding up activities to name a few.  The Parents School Partnership did a wonderful job of recognising the job we have done this year by hosting a lovely morning tea.  We were all given feather boas and crazy glasses and then we sauntered down the red carpet to adoring Elementary students.  Perhaps a little bit over the top, but also heaps of fun.

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I hope this picture gives you some indication of the size of the event!

Grade 5 Graduation was definitely more suave than any of my prior experiences.  We had a HUGE ball like function at the Renaissance Hotel.  All the students got dressed up and we had a sit down meal before the kids entertained us with music and dancing.  A highlight for me was watching one particular student get up on stage and dance with the other boys from his own free will.   He has come such a long way this year and I am extremely proud of him.

It was an extremely big weekend for me.  After the Grade 5 Graduation Party, the teachers were bussed to the Leaver’s Party.  This was a fun event even though it is always sad to see people leave.  That’s the way international teaching goes though.  It will definitely be a different workplace for me next year with some really important faces in my Chinese life leaving.  After the party I was out dancing with some of my hashing friends.  It really was an awesome night!

The next day was moving day, and I was not feeling as great as I would have liked.  Luckily, Mark had helped me organise a man and a van AND Ollie and Thorsten were absolute angels helping me.  We managed to get everything to the new flat in one trip and it took heaps less time than originally anticipated.  I do have WAY TOO much stuff though.  Hoarder by nature, even if I can pack my whole life in boxes.

IMG_4565So after a rather big night out, moving and sleeping my first night in a new scary apartment… doing your first triathlon makes total sense, right?  SSIS runs a yearly triathlon and ninja course to raise money for Heart to Heart Shanghai.  Of course I was totally going to give it ago and I figured, that if I was going to try doing a triathlon I should do the whole thing.  It was all in or nothing!

800m swim in the school pool

15km bike ride around the school car park

5.2km run around the school athletics track

It went much better than I anticipated but I don’t have an official time unfortunately.  I forgot to ask my counter to time me as well.  We think it took me approximately 1hr and 30 minutes… but the time didn’t really matter because it was all about the experience.  I really felt it during the first two laps of the track.  It was hot and my legs were wobbly but this stubborn old mule wasn’t giving up and I even managed to catch somebody on the run leg!

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Still smiling and alive! Thank you to my lap counter Jen!

I came in sixth from twelve competitors and was the first female (there were only two of us) across the line!  I wore my gold medal very proudly all day Sunday and at school the next day.  I’m definitely going to sign up again next year and see if I can beat more men AND defend my title.

I think I was the only teacher who did the whole thing!  It was great seeing so many students and teachers involved in the day as you could compete individually or as segment teams.

Then it wasn’t long before mum arrived!  In true Kate style, I decided to go hashing so mum was actually greeted by my friend Tim and spent the first night at his place.  The hash ended up being quite busy because Allan manged to fall down some stairs and we ended up in hospital.  That was quite the experience I can assure you!

IMG_4632Finally reunited with my mother, we went on an adventure to Tiger Hill with Banyu.  Tiger Hill is nicknamed the leaning tower of China because it leans at a 3 degree angle.  It is situated in a beautiful cultivated park which we enjoyed walking around.  Banyu led the way avoiding steps as much as possible after the crazy amount we had down on the hash together the day before.  He enjoyed hearing about the tale of 3,000 swords being buried below sword lake and also the stone cutting rock which he actually pointed out to us after hearing the story.

Afterwards we wandered around wedding dress street before taking a taxi to Ping Jian Lieu.  We ended up doing a lot of walking but mum managed to see a lot.  🙂  We finished with celebratory we survived our first year at SSIS drinks with fellow first year teachers and then had a lovely Chinese meal to finish it off.

Mum has been quite adventurous in Suzhou.  Here is a list of some of her shannigan

  • went to the water town Tongli all by herself
  • visited the Suzhou Museum, got herself registered at the police station
  • organised my washing
  • walked around the lake
  • rode my bicycle in the heat
  • came to school and was a kindergarten assistant
  • visited Shanghai
  • saw the Humble Administrators Garden
  • helped me transport my new dryer via a trolley
  • traditional tea ceremony.
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We picked up the dryer from a friend on the other side of my compound. After carrying it half way, we decided a trolley was a MUCH better option!

I must admit that she’s seen more of Suzhou than I have!  All my friends are mightily impressed with her adventures and are starting to realise where I get my crazy travelling streak from!

Today is my last day at school.  I can’t believe I made it.  It’s been a rough transition and I have had my fair amount of highs and lows.  I’ve learnt heaps and I know I am improving my practice.  There are so many amazing memories and I’ve had ridiculous experiences that I am very thankful for.  As always at an international school, it is time to say goodbye to new friends.  It’s a time for reflection, new beginnings and most importantly… summer holidays!

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Sending the students off Chinese style!

xoxo

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A Warrior Weekend

June 9, 2017 at 1:50 pm (China, Travel) (, )

IMG_4477Thanks to the Dragon Boat Festival we had a four-day weekend at the end of May.  My friend Allan and I decided to take this opportunity to go and see Xī’ān where the terracotta warriors are.  These life sized figures were one of my must sees in China and one of the major draw cards for coming to China.

We took the overnight train Friday night, checked into our hostel and were on the old city walls by 11.  There aren’t many old city walls in China still standing and this exemplar was even more impressive than the ones I saw in Nanjing.  The Xī’ān wall was built in 1370 by the Ming dynasty and is 12m high.  Old city walls in China were wide, wide enough for a horse and carriage to travel on them. Wide enough for us to hire bikes and pedal the 14km rectangular perimeter in the sweltering heat.

IMG_4478Unlike in most tourist places in China, the wall was basically empty!  Not many people seemed to be around and those that were only looked at a section rather than any big walking or riding.  We loved it!  We pedalled sections without seeing anybody and enjoyed a cheeky beer in the shade.

After lunch, we ventured out to the Shaanxi History museum.  This was obviously where all the tourists had flocked to as it was uncomfortably packed!  The museum walked us through the history of the Shaanxi province and different artefacts.  We were particularly taken by some meercat looking figures representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac as well as a cartoon like sculpture.  We also saw four original terracotta warriors that wet our appetite for the real thing.  We finished up our day at the Big Goose Pagoda, apparently one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

IMG_5648Dinner was spent strolling through the Muslim quarter.  This lively maze of narrow streets filled with street food and people offered some of the best grub that either of us have had here in China.  We were trying things left right and center, but in typical male fashion, Allan was most happy with his meat on a stick.

The night finished with us magically finding the drum tower all lit up like a Christmas tree.  Xī’ān has both a bell and a drum tower.  The bell tower originally rung to mark dawn, and the drum tower nightfall.  We’d seen the bell tower as it is located on its own traffic island on the road that connects the south gate of the wall to the north, but we didn’t really have the drum tower on our radar.

We were up nice and early for breakfast and our pick up to see the terracotta warriors.  We had decided to hire a driver on the recommendation of a colleague.  This meant we weren’t stuck with some stupid tour group and could also get out to the warriors as early as possible to avoid the crowd.  We also wanted to visit the Tomb of Emperor Jingidi which is the complete opposite direction to the warriors.  In order to do both in the same day we really didn’t have any other option.

IMG_4492The warriors need no introduction.  Unearthed by a farmer looking for water in 1974, these warriors guarded the Emperor Qin Shi Huang for thousands of years. Qin Shi Huang was the founder of the Qing dynasty and the first emperor to unify China.  He ruled for only ten years between 220 – 210 BC.

The exact number of warriors is unknown and archaeological work is still under way but it is estimated that over 6000 of them are in the main pit alone.  Each figure is life sized and each face truly different.  They stand guard in battle formation with bemused looks on their faces.  It is of little wonder that this is one of the most amazing archaeological finds in history.

All I can say, is that you ever get the chance to see them… do it.  The truly are phenomenal.  If you are lucky, you might even get the chance to meet the farmer who found them.  We did, which made the experience all that little bit more special.

IMG_4494By the time we left, the site was teaming with tourists and we were glad for the early morning and the time and space we had to admire and ponder the warriors in all their glory.  We had a nap in the car and arrived at the Tomb of Jingidi pleasantly surprised at the lack of tourists.  The Hanyangling Museum, otherwise known as the underground museum, was just as interesting as the warriors but didn’t quite have the same mind blowing effect.  Perhaps that had to do with the smaller size of the figures but I think it is also because the warriors are known world-wide.

Emperor Jingdi ruled from 188 – 141 BC.  There are believed to be 81 burial pits but to date only 21 have been excavated.  These form the ‘underground museum’ and then there is a museum with artifacts as well.  The 21 pits showcase more about daily life than the terracotta warriors with different pits representing different parts of life at the time.  What was really cool was the fact that some of the pits had been glassed over and you were literally walking over the top of the burial pit peering in.  The museum afterwards allowed us to look at the figures in more detail and the animals in particular were very life-like.  It is believed that over 50,000 figures were buried in the emperor’s tomb.

With our minds blown and the afternoon heat blazing, we decided to spend the afternoon napping on the hostel couch before hitting the Muslim quarter again for dinner.  Then it was back to train station and on the overnight train back to Suzhou.

Xī’ān really was is of those special travel destinations.  The kind that reminds you why you have chosen to be a traveller and experience the world.  It was an incredible experience made even better for the company and the laughs I had with my travel buddy.

xoxo

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Sunshine in Suzhou

June 2, 2017 at 12:38 pm (China) (, , , , )

Life in China continues to be busy and full of surprises.  At this point I have three and a half weeks left of school before Summer holidays.  After the rough start I had to my new country, I can hardly believe that I am still standing and smiling.  I have a lot of adventures and friendships to be thankful for and I seem to be as busy as ever.

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The weekend after I got back from Borneo I joined the Shanghai hockey players for a sixers competition in Hong Kong.  Those of you who know me well can easily imagine how much I was itching for some hockey and I don’t think you could wipe the smile off my face ALL weekend.  We drank, we played, I scored goals and met some wonderful people.  My roomie Jen and I had a blast being silly, dancing and having a competition to see who could score the most goals.  (She won!)

My trip to the airport in Shanghai was memorable though.  I arrived at the Suzhou railway station only to find out that my train ticket had been booked under the wrong passport and I could not pick it up!  That’s when the stress began.  I had no choice but to buy a new ticket on the next available train.  I finally arrive at the airport train station, already glimpsing at my watch and worried about check in time.

Many of my friends had flown from Hongqiao airport and had told me it was easy as to get there from the train station.  “The terminal is right there Kate.  No stress.”  They must have all flown from Terminal 2… So I am running through the train station trying to work out how to get to the terminal.  I’m stressing out, no Chinese and everybody is pointing me in the direction of the metro.  I get to the metro and suddenly realise that I had changed to my travel wallet.  I had absolutely no money on me.  I’m standing at the ticket machine, sweating, stressing and coinless.  In all my time as a traveller I have never had to ask somebody to help me out with a few coins to get on a train or a bus, but I was desperate and my options were running out.  I had to check in luggage and Jen was waiting at the check in counter with her stick to go in my stick bag!

Luckily a young couple helped me out and bought me a ticket.  I must have looked like a right mess and totally believable.  Mind you, I am not sure why a western person would be asking for cash unless they were desperate in China.  I was desperate.  I caught the metro, ran my little butt off with a huge stick bag and huffing and puffing checked in my bag with only minutes to spare.  Total Kate style!

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First Suzhou Hockey Club Training

My hockey trip inspired me to organise getting a small expat group together to hit some balls around.  I am the founding member and chairwoman of the Suzhou Hockey Club!  We’re a small group (currently 12 members) who meet once or twice a month to have a hit.  So far we’ve had two trainings and each time we’ve had six players each time.  Check out our website!  It’s so good being able to have a regular hit and we aim to play against Shanghai after the summer holidays, and hopefully play in Hong Kong next Easter.

IMG_4404Of course, I have also been busy hashing.  It really is the best way to get out and about exploring Suzhou.  Highlights included a hash weekend where I got my hash name QueeNO F*** Everything and an amazing Suzhou city hash through narrow alleyways and the old town.  It’s not quite hockey, but the hash is definitely helping to fill the hole in my life.  I’m excited to try out some hashes when I am home in Melbourne over my summer holidays.

School has also been crazy busy.  My first Suzhou Exhibition is behind me and I definitely learnt a lot through the process.  Here the students do a group project unlike in Stuttgart so this was a big adjustment for me.  I also had the opportunity to work with students across the grade level and not just from my own class.  Our Exhibition presentations centred around making experiences for the audience which was highly successful.  I’m excited to build on what I learnt this year and adapt my teaching for an even more successful Exhibition and classroom practice in the future.

IMG_4454Other random adventures include our school’s International Family Day, Suzhou on the Beat music festival and my first ever adventure obstacle course.  I managed to con Olli and Thorsten into becoming a team with me and in true German style they were very negative about our ability to complete the course.  Olli had even done his research about the different obstacles… I had no idea.  I was just looking forward to the challenge, especially the mud!  It was great fun and I am so glad we did it together.  Doris and Toby were also with us cheering us on and we finished the day all together with a burger and big smiles all round.

Life in Suzhou is busy, always busy.  It’s amazing what you can find to do if you look around for adventures.

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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A Charity Run Experience

April 28, 2017 at 1:29 pm (China) (, , )

After returning from Borneo, I decided that a good way to get myself out of the house and stretching my legs was to sign up for a 5km Charity Run.  One of the girls connected to one of the running groups I am in, posted about the event “Run for Love.”  The race was to celebrate “love” would be 5km and included a bus to and from Stone Lake.

IMG_4215Never having been to Stone Lake and quite taken by the name, I thought this sounded like a good idea.  Plus it was free even with the bus.  SCORE!  It didn’t sound like it was a big event or anything, in fact I just thought it was a group of us going for a casual run.

My legs were not exactly pleased with me but I managed to pull them out of bed to go to the run.  When we arrived, we were quite amazed at the hoohah for a 5km run.  There were free t-shirts, a painting stand, a place to stick our wishes for love as well as a huge stage.  We were even treated to cheerleading?

A big group of foreigners at an event like this is always exciting for the Chinese.  Everybody always wants to take our photo or be in photos with us.  Sometimes this can be amusing, most of the time just annoying.

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After some speeches (no idea what they said) we headed off for the run.  5km?  I think not!  My friend’s Garmin clocked us in at 3.7km… NOT EVEN 4km!  We all found this very amusing, even more so when we watched the prize giving.  First place each won a REFRIGERATOR!  I kid you not.  Second place an exercise bike, third place a bench press.  Two of the girls with us came in 8th and 10th respectively and won an exercise watch.  That’s not forgetting the ridiculous amount of spot prizes they also gave out.

Let me get this straight… this was a 5km charity race.  I ran 3.7km, paid nothing, but went home with a t-shirt, a backpack and a water bottle.

How does that work?

Welcome to China!

xoxo

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Conquering the Mountain

April 19, 2017 at 5:05 pm (Travel) (, , )

IMG_4152You may remember that I backpacked around Borneo during Summer 2015.  It was an awesome trip, but due to an earthquake I was unable to climb Mt Kinabalu like I had originally planned.  I vowed I would be back to climb the mountain and this Spring break, that’s exactly what I did.

As soon as I arrived I headed up to Kudat to the Tip of Borneo where I spent four relaxing nights.  The beach there is just as majestic as I remembered.  It’s been almost two years since I was there and the area is still as undeveloped, the water just as clear and the beach deserted.

Howard’s place still had its rustic charm but seemed more run down and not as polished as last time.  It seems to me that he has too many projects on the go and things are not quite as finished or organised as they could be.  You can’t fault him for his enthusiasm and love for the area though.

Unfortunately I was not blessed with the best weather, but there is something special about tropical storms, especially when all you really want to do is relax.  I read heaps, lay in the sun, got stung by jelly fish and had time to reflect and enjoy.  Exactly what the doctor ordered.

IMG_4194After one night in Kota Kinabalu, I headed out to the national park for the challenge of Mt Kinabalu.  In true Kate style… I had NO idea what I was getting myself into.  It’s a mountain, how hard could it be?

Elevation:  4, 095m

Let’s put this into perspective.  Mt Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia is 2, 228m and die Zugpspitze in Germany 2, 962m.  The last mountain I remember climbing was Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka at 2, 243m.

I had no idea Mt Kinabalu was quite that high and of course hadn’t done my research.  In fact, it’s basically 8km of UP.  Non-relentless UP, UP that burns and makes you dizzy.  UP that includes scrambling over rock face.  UP, UP, UP!

I climbed the mountain through the company River Junkie.  The only permit I could get was one that included via feretta ‘Walk the Torque’ but I wasn’t missing another opportunity to conquer the mountain.  There were two other Canadian girls that started the walk with me, but they were not doing the via feretta.  That meant that they had their own guide and I also had my own personal one.  At first I thought that was pretty ridiculous, but boy was I glad for Tino when the going got tough.

IMG_4176Day 1:

After an early morning transfer we began the walk at Timpohon Gate (1,829m).  We walked at a steady pace and arrived at Pendant Hut (3,289m) just before 4pm.  Once again, I was not blessed by the weather Gods.  I ascended the mountain surrounded by mist and the occasional rain shower.  This mountain, however, is just as much about the challenge as it is the view!

The Canadian girls seemed very concerned about elevation and altitude sickness.  I hadn’t even thought about this!  I figured I would be fine and tried not to think about it as I walked.  You could definitely feel the air thinning though and one of the girls really struggled the last part up to the hut.

We had a safety briefing about the via feretta, a surprisingly decent meal and then headed to bed for an early morning start up the mountain.

Day 2:

When I said early, I meant EARLY.  Tino was there at 2am to pick me up with a big smile and a positive attitude.  He was determined to get me to the top!  We set off and much to my excitement, we could actually see both the stars and the lights below us.

The first part of the walk was lovely, but of course my favourite weather Gods were not shining down on me.  Not sure what I did wrong, but the clouds misted over and the heavens opened.  I trooped on, soaking wet and cold to the bone.  I don’t think I have ever been so cold in my ENTIRE life!

Up and up we went, rock climbing over boulders and using ropes to pull ourselves up.  When the going got tough, I reminded myself that people climb this mountain successfully every day… that my mum had done so ten years earlier.  And then there was Tino, his big smile and absolute confidence that he was getting me to the top.  I must admit that I considered stopping and turning back, quite surprising considering how stubborn most of you know I am.

IMG_4181Getting to the top was both a relief and an achievement.  I could see nothing, but at that point it really didn’t matter.  I had broken through personal barriers and hauled my legs to the top of the highest mountain in my life.  It was a pretty incredible feeling (although I have no high aspirations to bag any more mountains any time soon!)

The way back to Pendant Hut was tedious and long.  Everything was wet and the water gushed down the rock face making the path slippery and dangerous.  My running shoes got one hell of a work out as I carefully made my way down.  With two ankles prone to rolling after stepping on too many hockey balls and knees that are known to make trouble, I was taking absolutely no risks and moved literally at a snail’s pace.

By 9:30 in the morning I arrived back at the hut with over 21,000 steps on my trusty Fitbit.  By the time I went to bed in the evening nearly 47,00!  Luckily, the rain stopped and I was able to descend the mountain a little faster.  Unfortunately, the via feretta was cancelled, but in all honesty I don’t think I would have been in any state to complete it.

Climbing down, I was most interested watching the porters carry provisions up and down the mountain.  Everything gets carried, from paint, to food to building supplies.  Some men were carrying over 30km on the back UP the mountain.  Others had 4 or 5 backpacks they were carrying for tourists.  Really quite amazing and it reminded me of the soldiers climbing Adam’s Peak with bags of bricks in Sir Lanka.

IMG_4205I’m glad of a few things.  Firstly, I booked a nice hotel bed for my last night in KK.  The view from the rooftop pool was absolutely amazing.

Secondly, that I wasn’t able to climb the mountain last time I was in Borneo.  I seriously don’t think I would have managed it.  It was much more challenging than I expected and I definitely did not have the right bag or shoes (OK shoes either time) for the climb.  I don’t think I was as fit than either, not that I was training for the climb or anything (this would have been sensible) but my level of fitness at the moment is actually not that bad.

Most importantly, that I challenged myself, without even realising I was challenging myself.  I stuck to my word and actually conquered the mountain!

xoxo

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