Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas in China.

Merry Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas. Seasons Greetings. Happy Holidays. Shèng Dàn Kuài Lè. 

No matter how many ways you say it, no matter how many times, it feels a little less so this year. I don't want to make this post sappy and depressing, because I don't feel that way ALL of the time lately. Just when I'm alone and able to reflect on my own thoughts - isn't that always the way. 

I went back and read some of my old Christmas posts from the last two years of blogging. This time last year I was back home for the holidays from Calgary. I was writing a post from the airport crossing my fingers my flights wouldn't be cancelled because of the snow. A year before that I was finishing up my first internship and heading to Saint John to celebrate Christmas. This year though will be very different. This year I'll be spending my first Christmas away from home. Away from my family. I wrote a post two years ago about traditions and how important they are to the meaning of Christmas to me. Many of those traditions are dependent mainly on family. And this Christmas my family is all the way on the other side of the world. Back home. In Canada. 

I have one day off for Christmas on Christmas Day. Which happens to be in the middle of the week. I guess a blessing in disguise is that I'm surrounded by fellow Canadians who are also away from their families this Christmas. Together, we will create new traditions, do things that will make the day feel as much like Christmas as possible, and I'm sure we will share stories of Christmas' past and reminisce on what we would be doing if we were home. I'm sure there will be tears and heartache, but then I have to remind myself how blessed I am to be on this adventure. To be seeing and doing these things that I have only imagined and dreamed of up until this point. That in itself is a gift in so many ways. The cultures I get to experience, the growing up I get to do, the amazing people I get to meet, the inspiring students I get to teach, and the finding of myself that occurs. These are things some people never get the chance to do, and I'm doing it all before I turn 25...just barely :) 

There is so much more I want to say, and so much more I want to reflect on, but I don't know how to start and I don't know how to convey how I am truly feeling. I think my friend Erin said it best this evening in that she just feels "numb." I have really loved teaching my students about how important Christmas is to me and the rest of the Canadians. In fact, yesterday one of my students out of no where wished me a Merry Christmas. I almost leaped out of my chair and gave him the biggest hug (I chose not to in fear that I would startle him too much. He's the jumpy kind). However, I think the smile on my face and my genuine thank you did the trick. That moment of kindness and warmth made all of my homesickness go away. For just a little while. 

Being an ESL teacher in China has actually put a wonderful new spin and touch on the Christmas spirit this year. Teaching these students about Christmas, the symbols and traditions surrounding it, the history, and what Christmas spirit is all about has been the starting of a new tradition I'm really looking forward to in the coming years. A highlight was when I delivered Christmas cards and candy canes to each of my students yesterday. They cheered and said thank you and Merry Christmas again and again. As I sat down and looked at them in their holiday excitement, I remembered how much I love this season of giving. I love that I got to share with these amazing students the wonderment that is Christmas. I don't know if it impacted them the same way that it impacted me, but it is a memory I will always cherish. 

So, looking ahead: Christmas away from home is difficult. It can be lonely at times. And the homesickness is always within reach. But thanks to my students, my friends, the internet, and Skype, I'm making this first Christmas a special one. One to always remember. 

Another China frist. 

Merry Christmas, everyone! Love you, always and forever. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My China Firsts.

Sorry. It's been a while since I last wrote a post. Typical me. Get in to a groove of things then leave it all behind. But I'm back. 

Beijing has been my new home for three months now. I've made some amazing friends, some amazing memories, and done some amazing (and crazy!) things. I've experienced many "firsts" in China. Sometimes I find myself chuckling at the fact that I had to travel to the other side of the world to experience some of these things that I probably could have done back home in Canada. But in all honesty, I'm glad that I've had these firsts in China. It makes them even more special and memorable. 

I went zip lining for the first time ever in China. Whilst mountain climbing at Shengquan, we stumbled upon the opportunity to zip line from one mountain crest to another. I didn't hesitate in the slightest to take part in this thrill. Of course I winced and "cried" prior to being released down the zip line, and I screamed at the top of my lungs while zipping down the chord, but I loved every minute of it and would do it again in a second. The most hilarious part was at the end of the ride wherein you had to stop yourself by sticking out your legs and gliding full force into a hug gymnastics mat leaning against a fence. Good thing I have decent knee strength.

I've eaten some pretty interesting and unusual things for the first time ever in China. Things like scorpions, sheep stomach, and duck neck. Now, I can't say I particularly enjoyed any of them, but if I had to choose one to eat again above the others which one do you think I'd pick? Definitely not scorpion - that was the hardest thing for me to eat. They tasted similar to french fries until you crunched in to their body and their insides (stop reading now if you are squeamish) exploded out everywhere in my mouth. Not a good taste nor a good texture. I remember screaming A LOT while trying to eat them. Eventually, I got it down with a chug of water.  Duck neck wasn't terrible, but crunching in to the bones unexpectedly was a BIG turn off. Surprisingly, sheep stomach I could do again. It was served as a soup, and if I had eaten it without being told it was sheep stomach I would have just thought it was chewy noodles with a spicy broth on it.

I think I've written before here on my blog how interesting, complicated, and complex the driving here is in China. Truly it is an art and I don't think I could ever perfect it. Ever. Nor do I think I ever want to attempt it. I've also seen traffic jams that trump any other traffic jam I have ever witnessed in my entire life. I remember one time traveling with my family in Boston (maybe? Correct me if I'm wrong Dad...) and we got stuck in an insane traffic jam. It was absolutely locked. No one moving. A car even overheated beside us and was billowing smoke everywhere. The traffic never locks here in that way, but there are cars everywhere and horns are always honking. But the best way to beat the traffic in the city is to take a tuk tuk. They can squeeze between cars and take small side roads that cars don't travel on (or aren't supposed to anyways - they always do and it makes me so angry!). I've taken my first tuk tuk ride in China (thanks for sharing the moment with me, Amanda). I've even tuk tuked in a formal dress heading to ball. Fairytale-esque? I always feel like such a kid while taking them. They start, and my giggling begins. For no reason. Just "I'm having so much fun" giggling. Just like a kid.

China has been good to me. I've been enjoying my life here, my job, and all of the experiences I'm getting to have. One first that I'm going to have soon that I can't say I'm looking forward to is my first Christmas away from home. It's been on the back of my mind a lot lately as the date gets closer and closer. Because I am working at a Chinese school, I don't get a Christmas vacation like I would in Canada. I do have Christmas day off from work, but that's it. It's probably a good thing I'll be working leading up to Christmas and directly after as it'll hopefully keep me busy and occupied enough that my homesickness won't be as extreme as I am anticipating it to be. Also living with a bunch of crazy Canadians will help as we'll all be together and celebrating Christmas in our own China way. But it'll be hard, different, and a little less like Christmas.

Enough about that though. No need to get emotional yet. China has been an amazing adventure and I can't wait to see what is around the corner next! 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Birthday, Amanda!

I just went back and looked at past blog posts - Amanda, this is the third birthday blog post I've written to you (2011 & 2012). That means I have kept up this blog for two years, going on three! ME! Who was doubtful and said to you on that night when I opened the blog that it probably won't last more than a month. Look at me now! Thank you.

Today is my friend Amanda's 24th birthday! While looking back and re-reading the past blog posts I've written to her on her birthday I felt mixtures of nostalgia, joy, and thankfulness: Nostalgia for the moments we have shared together, joy for the memories we have created, and thankfulness for the friendship we have created. Amanda has taught me a lot over time. She has helped me to grow and taught me what a solid and honest friendship should be. She has also inspired me to be a bigger person and to do great things.

This past year was the first time in our friendship where we lived apart from each other. And not just in different cities. We lived on different sides of the world: me in Calgary, Alberta and her in Beijing, China. I've seen many friendships diminish with distance. But when you put two people together who cherish a friend, a relationship that means you have someone to lean on and confide in, someone that listens to you in times of happiness, sadness, and darkness, a person who picks you up when you are down - that's a friendship that lasts through thick and thin, near and far. 

Amanda, as you begin your 24th year, I want to reflect on what this past year has meant to me and our frienship.

Firstly, you inspired me this past year. I remember upon arriving back in Calgary from my Christmas vacation at home, I FaceTimed with you at an ungodly hour in the morning and talked through with you where my head was at with my career and the future. I saw how successful and happy you were with your adventure in China and I wanted that for myself. You inspired me to capture the moment, to take it all in while I have the time, and to just jump!

You should also know that you taught me honesty this past year. To be honest with myself and to be honest with others. Though we didn't get to FaceTime or Skype as often as we both would have liked while you lived in Beijing and I in Calgary, when we did I often left our conversations feeling motivated and rejuvenated. You listened to my woes and you reminded me to just be true. With friends, with romantic relationships, and with family. You got me through some hard times, and for that I am thankful. 

Distance doesn't have to change everything. I am so happy that we had this past year to grow our friendship. If nothing else, this past year has taught me that we will be friends forever (as cliche as it sounds). You play an important part in my life, and though I may not always show my appreciation as clearly as I would want, you should always know that I love you and who you are. You don't ever need to change. Just keep on being you! I only hope that I have impacted you in a small way the same way as you have impacted me in such a big way. Honestly. 

Happy Birthday, Amanda! 

Love, always and forever.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Paddy Murphy, Mustang Sally, and a Wagon Wheel.

Sometimes you just need a little taste of good ol', hometown, country fun! However, that is hard to come by when you are living in Beijing, China. I mean, not many local people here can tell me what a "hick" is or what a "barn dance" is. I usually get a good head tilt to the side and a "Shénme? (What?)". I'm not gonna lie - I miss those times where I say something and someone replies "Oh, you are most definitely from Carleton County." It's always going to be a part of me. Home. 

This past Friday (October 18th) my friend Craig, who is an intern at BCCSC, was singing with a band at a bar called the "Hot Cat Club" in the Fangjia Hutongs. When he explained what kind of a set list they would be playing, I was easily convinced that this was the place I needed to be on that Friday. So off Erin, Brittany, and I went on a search for this little "hole in the wall" I guess you could call it. It's not the fanciest bar, and it is definitely worn out in some areas (like the squatters...I leave that to your own imagination). However, the atmosphere was perfect. Absolutely perfect! 

How can you go wrong when you mix a small bar filled with Canadians, an ice cold beer, plaid shirts, a few french men, an acoustic guitar, a fiddle, and amazing live music featuring tunes like "Wonderwall" "Wagon Wheel" "Chicken Fried" and "Paddy Murphy." Mind you, I was slightly disappointed that the three of us girls seemed to be the only Canadians who knew the song "Paddy Murphy." Guess it's just an East Coast thing maybe? 

I danced, I laughed, I sang at the top of my lungs. And I smiled like a little goof ball the whole way home. My heart swelled. For just a couple of hours I forgot where I was and genuinely felt like I was home again. It's always good to be home.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Are You Thankful For?

Yes, I realize this is a day late. I'll just go ahead and point that out now and get it over with. So, today I taught my students about Canadian Thanksgiving. On Monday, I told them about how I got up early to Skype with my family back home while they enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner. Today, I taught them some new vocabulary surrounding the holiday and we talked a lot about what it means to be thankful. I told them that I am thankful for four things this year. This is what I said to them: 

"I am thankful for four things this year. I am thankful for my family back home in Canada because they always love me. I am thankful for my friends because they always make me laugh. I am thankful for the opportunity to come to China because I have always wanted to see another part of the world. And I am thankful for my amazing students because they make me love my job as a teacher!" They clapped and said that what I said made them very happy! I smiled.

Afterwords, I had them write in their journals answering the question "What are you thankful for?" You know what touched me most about their answers - that every single one of them, all 23 students in that class today, wrote that they were thankful for their parents and families!

"I am thankful for my parents...They gave me a chance to live in this world and I love them very much." - N

"I am thankful for my family because they give me warm and love." - A 

"I am thankful for that I can go to BCCSC, because it makes me confident and happy." - T

"I am thankful to be living in this magnificent world because there are many great things in the world that are waiting for me to discover." - J

"I am thankful for Melissa because she inspires* my passion for English (and I love games!)" - K

I love my job! 

*A little background story: In my fourth year at STU I purchased my T-Ring and had the word "inspire" engraved on the inside of it. I wear this ring every day. As a teacher, I hope that I can inspire even just one student to strive to do better, to follow their dreams, and to be the best them they can possible be. There is one teacher in my public school days that did just that for me. Mrs. Kelley - thank you!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My First "Staycation" in China.

Last week was National Holiday here in China. This is a week long holiday in China where everyone and their sister are on vacation and are doing the "tourist thing." Hundreds (and I'm sure that is an understatement) of people swarmed to hot spots like Beijing to take in the sights and get away for a week. Check THIS out. After weighing out different options, many of us teachers here decided to stay in Beijing and make it a "staycation" vacation. I have been living in Beijing for 6 weeks now and prior to the National Holiday it had been a solid month. I was itching to finally see the city I was living in and will be living in for the next 10 months or more. There is so much history packed in to this enormous city and many scenic areas to take in. My agenda for the week didn't take long to fill up. On the menu: Tiananmen Square, National Museum, Nanluoguxiang Hutongs, Houhai Lake, Wangfujing Street, Forbidden City, Beihai Park, Summer Palace, Beijing Zoo, and Olympic Park where the Bird's Nest and Water Cube are from the 2008 Olympic Games. How does that saying go? "Places to go, people to see, things to do!" 

Soooo, maybe I over thought the amount of time I had during the week long break. And maybe I didn't take in to consideration that others would be on vacation too and that the population of Beijing would grow exponentially for one week. Oopsie! Yeah, so, I didn't get to do everything on my list for the week but I was reminded that I am living here for a year or more and have LOTS of time to see things. Lots of time! 

The Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square.

Proof that I stood in Tiananmen Square.

But what I did see was magnificent! Just amazing. Guys, I was at Tiananmen Square! The history, the stories, the things that took place. And I was there! My friend Amanda can vouch for me on this one: I remember having a conversation with her sometime in the spring after she went to visit Tiananmen Square herself. I said very strongly to her (ALERT: family & friends - sorry for the bad language) "DUDE! You were at fucking Tiananmen Square. That's a big deal!" Yup, that's pretty much how I felt as I stood in the square looking around at the Great Hall of the People, Chariman Mao's tomb, and the Chinese flag waving in the wind high above the activity. 

Similar feelings were present when I went to visit Summer Palace and Forbidden City. The architecture at these places is just phenomenal, and the colours are gorgeous. The numerous amounts of people I could have easily done without, but I tried my hardest not to let them drive me too crazy. Shoulder to shoulder people trekking on walkways around a lake that isn't more than 2-3 feet wide saw my anxiety levels rise. Nevertheless, I took it all in (or as much of it as I could or had time for!) 

Standing in front of the Imperial Ancestral Temple at Forbidden City.

A beautiful view of "The Temple of the Fragrant Buddha."
I had my name painted by a Chinese artist at Summer Palace where each letter of my name is a drawing representing different Chinese fortunes. I took a boat ride around Kunming Lake at Summer Palace where I saw a huge inflatable rubber duck and got a beautiful view of "The Temple of the Fragrant Buddha."

I saw pieces of art at Forbidden City in one of the buildings that had been changed in to an art gallery. I saw three different couples getting their wedding pictures taken around the outside of the "Imperial Ancestral Temple" at Forbidden City. I climbed up the side of a mountain at Summer Palace in my Toms. It was all amazing! And I still pinch myself today in disbelief that I'm really here. That I am finally traveling and doing the things I've always imagined I could do.  

We even spent a day at the Beijing Zoo. My friends who know me the best know that I LOVE a good zoo. And this zoo made me extra excited because it has pandas at it. Before going to the Beijing Zoo I had never seen a panda in real life. I know that it's in an enclosure and that they aren't wild or anything, but what are the chances I'd EVER see a panda out in the wild here in Asia. Pretty slim if you ask me! And they were adorable! The first enclosure we went to the panda wasn't home. Which made Brittany, Erin, and I quite upset (see below). 

But as we moved on we saw a crowd gathering in front of another enclosure, and there he was. The most adorable, regal, and calm panda bear sauntering around his enclosure. He was beautiful, and I fell in love instantly. The Beijing Zoo is an enormous place! We didn't get to see it in it's entirety, but we did see all of our favourite animals. Tigers (my personal favourite), elephants, dolphins, polar bears, lemurs, lions, and so many more. The zoo is well kept and is very green! I'll be making another visit sometime during my stay in Beijing. 

Remember watching the Olympics in the summer of 2008? I do! They were in Beijing and as I feel about all Olympic games, they were epic! So, when Brittany expressed in extreme interest in going to see the Olympic park where the Bird's Nest and Water Cube are, I was totally on board! One common theme I am running in to here in Beijing is the gorgeous and unique architecture. And that's just how I'll describe these buildings where the Olympics took place. The Bird's Nest building where the track and field is, and where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies took place is unlike any other building I have ever seen. Clearly they named it the Bird's Nest for a reason - because it looks just like that. It looks like sticks and twigs (or in this case, pieces of metal) woven together like a nest. It is a very open concept, and you can see through the intersections of the metal. And the Water Cube is just as interesting! The outside of the building has a very liquified and bubbly look about it. I know that this building in particular has a whole new look about it at night as it lights up several shades of blue. This is something I will also be returning to see during my stay in Beijing!

Standing outside the Bird's Nest at Olympic Park.

Looking through the Bird's Nest to the Water Cube (and smog!).
So, I didn't get to Beihai Park or to the National Museum. I didn't get to eat something funky on a stick at Wangfujing Street. BUT! I did get to see everything else on my list during my "staycation." And, I'm living here for a year or more. There is lots of time. By Thursday afternoon, we all agreed that we needed to slow down and do some relaxing. And we did just that! I feel like I'm just rambling in this post and that my thoughts are spewed all over the page! Maybe I should have blogged each night to keep my thoughts organized and concise. Oh well! I know I'm forgetting some things, and there are specific moments during my vacation that I'll remember forever. But I have the pictures, I have the memories, and I have this blog! There is no way I'm going to forget my first "staycation" vacation in Beijing! 

The group before climbing up to the "Temple of the Fragrant Buddha"

Taking a boat ride on Houhai Lake at night.

Outside Forbidden City.

The Temple of the Fragrant Buddha at Summer Palace.

The view of Beijing and Kunming Lake from the Temple at Summer Palace.

Monday, September 23, 2013

One Month.

I can't comprehend how I've been living in Beijing for one month today! I know it is so cliché to say, but time sure does flies by when you are having fun. It's certainly been an experience and a learning curve at times, but all in all it has been fun and an adventure since day one. 

I already knew this before arriving, but living in China is quite different in some ways from living in Canada. I have had to change how I do some of my day to day tasks, and I have also learned to let things go a little bit easier - like when the internet stops working. Sometimes you just can't fix it no matter how determined you might be. So, as I look back and remember the feeling I had when getting off the plane in China after 13 hours in flight only one short month ago, I will share with you five things that I have learned or changed about myself since moving to Beijing, China. 

1. I will NEVER, EVER complain about traffic and driving in Canada ever again. Okay, maybe I'm over-exaggerating slightly. But I do know that if I ever do begin to complain again about traffic back ups, crazy drivers, or the lack of signalling in Canada I'll be brought back to my time to Beijing and will remember how insane and intricate the traffic moves here. Sometimes it seems like an art how closely the cars graze each other as the weave in and out of lanes. And the horn honking! I know that here in Beijing the incessant horn honking is not out of angry and road rage (most of the time), it's a warning to pedestrians and other cars letting them know where you are. But sometimes it's hard to hear yourself think, let alone talk, with the horns wailing in the background. It's certainly a lot different then the cruising we do in New Brunswick. China has taught me patience.

2. "Tuan Li rich, Beijing poor." This is so true! I live in a small village in Beijing called Tuan Li which is surrounded by the Tongzhou District. The cost of living out here is very cheap. So cheap that when we wander into the city centre of Beijing we find things to be overpriced and very expensive when in retrospect, it's still a lot cheaper than living in Canada. I mean, HELLO! going to the grocery store in Tuan Li and buying two huge chicken breasts (one does three meals) for about $7 is mind blowing. I think I'm going to find it difficult to pay full price for things back in Canada when I come home in the summer. China has taught me to spend money wisely.

3. It's China. Sometimes you just have to let things go. Life here is very different from life in Canada. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that they play by different rules and you have to accustom yourself to living in a new culture and a new way of living. I am not afraid to admit that I have a bit of a control freak streak implanted within me. It's who I am, it's why I like to lead. So it can be hard for me sometimes to let things go. But I'm getting better at it. Brad, you would be so proud - I'm becoming slightly more "laid back." China has taught me to take a step back and let go.

4. I love teaching here. Every day I become a better teacher because of my students. They have already helped me to grow immensely as an educator. This is my first full time teaching job, and I am loving every minute of it. I had a conversation with my dad and grammy a couple of weeks ago and I remember saying to them that there have been several moments during teaching time where I've paused and thought to myself "This is job is definitely what I am meant to do." I am so thankful that I took the educational path that I did because I love my job. China has taught me that teaching is truly the profession for me.

5. This last point isn't sometime I learned nor something that has changed. It is something I have gained. Friends. I have met and made friends with some amazing fellow teachers. By moving out here we already shared something in common - the urge to travel and see a new part of the world. From there things could only grow more. I can't imagine a better group of people to live with, work with, and see this part of the world with. I am a pretty lucky lady! 

If the last month speaks anything of the experience I am going to have in Beijing and China as a whole, I think this is going to be the experience of a lifetime. Something I have been waiting and yearning for for a while.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Same Moon.

The harvest moon was out in full force tonight in Tuanli. It was beautiful, full, round, and the most gorgeous hue of orange. And for a moment while walking home from supper tonight I got home sick. I missed my family, I missed their hugs, I miss my friends, I missed their company and laughter, I missed home. I won't lie to you, I got emotional and had a good cry. I took some time alone when I got back to my apartment and talked to Mom and Dad. I sent a message to my best friend Sara. I slowly began to feel better. I looked out my window again and up at the moon and remembered that no matter how far away I am or where my life takes me, family and friends are always near. Because we all look at the same moon. We are together, always and forever.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Happy Birthday, Brad!

Today is my "little" brother's 21st birthday. HIS 21ST BIRTHDAY! I remember very clearly writing a blog post for him one year ago in disbelief that he was turning 20. We were finally back in the same decade again. Then BOOM! Another year come and gone. And now, as I sit in my room in Beijing ending the day in which he is just beginning, I'm feeling nostalgic. I'm feeling proud. I'm full of love. 

Now, last year I wrote a list of things that I loved so much about you and our relationship. And I know how much you love me being all sentimental (sarcasm...), but I just want you to know how much I love you. I've learned a lot about you and our relationship over the last year of being away. And I am continued to be amazed at how much you've grown, how I've grown, and how we have grown as a family. Brad, you are a remarkable human being. Your "laid-back-ness" can drive me INSANE, and your ability to get under my skin is irritating in itself. All that aside though, I know you would bend over backwards for your family, friends, and loved ones in an instant. You put others before yourself time and time again (though you can be very sarcastic about it!). And you find the humour in small things. You know how to lighten the mood and let go of the little things. You have taught me a lot (though I don't think I have ever told you that until now, nor would you even understand it fully). You bring out the best in people and your determination is admirable. I think what I am trying to say, and what I want you to always remember is that I am so proud of you and to be able to call you my brother. I love you, always and forever. 

Have an amazing birthday, brother bear. Wishing you all the best and sending you much love from China! xoxo 

PS - Though it may be an unattractive picture, it's my favourite :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Adventure Begins.

I can't believe I've been living in China for eleven days! It's certainly been a busy week filled with it's fair share of frustrations, happiness, learning curves, laughter, and moments to remember. As I sit here in my apartment reflecting on the last week and a half I remember many moments when I had honestly forgotten that I was living in China. I'm in a new country. I'm on the other side of the world from my home. And I'm doing okay. 

I am living in Tuan Li (pronounced Tu-ar Lee). Tuar Li is a village in eastern Beijing. It is small, but has the staples one needs to get by day to day. It reminds me of living in small town rural New Brunswick. Small, quaint, friendly. Tuar Li is about an hour from downtown Beijing. Talk about big! Much bigger than any city I've ever been to. I'm really enjoying living outside the city. It's very cheap to live in Tuan Li and it is definitely quieter than the city hub in Beijing.

So far, life in China has been very good to me. I'm meeting lots of wonderful people and making some great friends. I've been telling the people I'm living with here that I feel comfortable already. I'm so amazed at how quickly I'm adjusting to living in a new country, a new city, a new culture. Especially in Tuar Li - life here isn't as "westernized" as it is in the city centre of Beijing. You are thrown into the language, the lifestyle, and the culture from the get-go. I've learned how to say my numbers, order food, and other singular words or commands in mandarin.

Today (Monday) was my first day of teaching. My first day as a real life teacher, guys! My own students, my own lesson plans, my own style! The way the school works is that the students stay stationary in the same classroom all day and the teachers rotate throughout. I am teaching grade 10 AP1 and AP2  English Language, Literature, and Listening & Speaking. Today I taught my AP1 classes. They are great students. Being AP (advanced placement) students, they have a fairly good basis of knowledge for the english language. I can talk to the whole class and the majority understand what I am saying. They will ask what words mean and are curious about everything. I already feel connected with them, and I am so excited to see where the school year takes us. I can tell already that I've made the right decision for me at this point in my life and career.

On the weekends, I've been spending my time in Sanlitun (pronounced San-le-tur). I've heard it referred to as the "expat" area. It's quite westernized and has A LOT of shopping opportunities...much more than little ol' Tuar Li. The thing with going in to the city though is us "small town" folks get sticker shock. Everything is so cheap out in Sanlitun (like dinner tonight: food for 14 people plus beverages for under $5 a person. Yup. Cheap.) So, when you go out for supper at a western restaurant in Sanlitun and spend 80-120¥ on a meal, it's a bit of a blow to the wallet. Sometimes, though, you just need a big ol' burger and some french fries! 

I've really enjoyed checking out Yashow Market. It's floors and floors of shopping. Clothes, electronics, jewelry, purses, souvenirs, gadgets, gadgets, and more gadgets! This is the area where you start to learn how to barter. My first weekend here I bought a new Gucci watch, a hair dryer, a paper fan, chopsticks, and some DVD's for next to nothing. The weekend after I even got a manicure! Me. The girl who has been biting her nails my whole life - 24 years! It's been 9 days and I am nail biting free! I'm coming home to Canada a changed woman! 

So, life is good! I'm going to try and update more often - especially when I see and do some new and amazing things. In the near future I plan to check out Tienanmen Square, the Great Wall, and maybe a little vacation in the works. Stay tuned! 

PS - Thank you to EVERYONE (family, friends, loved ones, neighbours, etc.) who have been sending their love and support through cards, emails, Facebook messages, texts, etc. You have no idea how much it means and I have never in my life ever felt so loved and cared about! It is a testament to how lucky and blessed I am to know such amazing and wonderful people. Thank you!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Looking Back and Moving Forward.

*This post was actually written on Wednesday, August 21st while I flew from Fredericton to Toronto but with failing Internet at the Toronto airport and only getting Internet connection tonight in China I'm only getting to post it now. Enjoy! 

Here we go! 

7 weeks have come and gone in a flash. As cliché as it may sound, time flies when you're having fun! I got off the plane from Calgary on July 1st and remember thinking over and over again how awesome it was that I got to spend 7 weeks back home in the Maritimes. It seemed like so much time! And I certainly had a lot of stuff to cover on my to-do list before departing for China. So, naturally, the summer flew by! I often wondered if I made the right decision coming home early from Calgary before leaving for my new adventure in China. I loved living in Calgary and can't WAIT to go back and visit my new home. But I couldn't leave for China without spending time with my family and closest of friends first. So that's exactly what I did.

I covered a lot of ground in 7 weeks. First, I spent a few days exploring PEI with Amanda. I probably haven't been to PEI prior to this spontaneous adventure for probably 10ish years. I had forgotten how beautiful of a place the island was. Beaches, water, country roads, red dirt, seafood, seafood, seafood, and the sun! The scenery is just breathtaking, and I felt so relaxed every minute that we were there. Two days wasn't quite enough time to fully take in the beauty of the island, but it was fun nonetheless! 

I took in two concerts while I was home too! What were the chances that two of my favourite bands would be playing shows in NB while I was home? I saw Hey Rosetta! (for the sixth time) in SJ with Kathryn and Katelin and then Tegan and Sara in Moncton (for the third time) with my bestie Sara, Amanda, and Lauren. The shows were nothing less than perfection, both bands played all of my favourite songs, and I got to see them with the people I love the most! I've written before on my blog how much I love going to see live music, and these two bands know how to put on a show! Think they'll be in Beijing anytime soon? 

It just so happens that this year was the year of our family reunion as well. Every three years, the Howatt family gather for a weekend to catch up, see how we've all grown, and reunite for laughter, fun, and good times. This year the reunion happend to be in Ottawa at my Aunt Sally & Uncle Ed's house on the Mississippi River (yes folks, Canada has a Mississippi River too - I'm not making this 
up. Google it!) It was a lot of fun! You (or maybe it's just me) sometimes forget that while I'm growing up, so is everyone else. So all of my cousins who I had an image of in my head had also grown and changed over the last three years. We tended to have a lot more in common and honestly, I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. It will be a wonder to see how we've all grown again in another three years!

On our journey back home to NB from Ottawa, my Grandmom, my Great Uncle David, and I took the long way home through the Gaspé Peninsula. Holy beautiful! For the greater part of the two day drive, you are literally driving on the coast. Like the water is RIGHT THERE. You could almost reach out and touch the mighty St. Lawrence. I highly recommend that everyone take this beautiful drive. It just empasizes what a uniquely beautiful and vast country we live in here in Canada. 

But honestly folks, I think my favourite part of the whole summer wasn't the sights I saw, the concerts I took in, the mini vacations that happened, or the relaxation that occurred. It was being in the 
presence and creating new memories with the people who know me best. My family and my friends. From the friends I've had for years, to the ones who helped shape who I am today. The people I associate with my time in Fredericton, to the people who make home home. Laughter, reminiscing, sharing stories, catching up, seeing how we've all grown. Like my friend Craig so poetical said only a week ago at "Corked" - to the things that change and the things that stay the same. 

And now, here I am on this long and grueling flight to Beijing thinking back to these 7 weeks. These 7 weeks that allowed me to grow comfortable with the decision I had made to move to the other side of the world. These 7 weeks that made me appreciate where I come from. 

To my friends: Thank you for always being there, through thick and thin. I'm so lucky to have you all 

Lin my life!

To my family: Thank you. It's really hard to express and convey how much your support, encouragement, and love have truly motivated me to try these new things and feel comfortable embarking on these new adventures. You support my need to see the world and my desire to try new things. Even though I often find doubt in myself, you remind me that I can do this. You don't let me give up and you push me forward. I'm forever thankful for that and remind myself frequently how blessed and fortunate I am to have you all as my family, always and forever. 

Here we go!