Tag Archives: Family

Chinese Food

Do you know what they call Chinese food in China?  Food.  Yup, that’s right, in some parts of the world it is just food.  Delicious food, by the way.  I was always skeptical about Chinese restaurants and Chinese food in the USA, mostly because any Chinese food I have ever eaten in the States is a far cry from what I grew to love in China.  There is so much variety in Chinese food, so many distinct cuisines under the giant umbrella we just classify as Chinese food.  Most of which American’s have never heard of.  Americanized chow mein, beef and broccoli, and orange chicken were not items I ate in China. Last night, however, I discovered there is good food (of the Chinese variety) in the Portland, OR metropolitan area.

I have about six days left in Oregon before I head out on my new adventure (to Nashville, TN – check out my new blog) and I had been trying to figure out where to stay for my last few nights in town.  My dad mentioned that he had some friends from Southern Oregon who had a condo in Beaverton and they would be willing to let me stay.  Awesome.  Turns out it is an older couple, my dad sings in the Rogue Valley Chorale with the woman who is American and her husband is Chinese.  They were going to be in town over the weekend, as was my dad, so it was arranged that we would all meet up at their place on Sunday and we would all go out to Chinese food!

I have to say, not only am I incredibly thankful for their generosity in letting me use the condo for a week.  But they were also a lot of fun to get to know.  Gene is a 77 year old man from China, who came to the US sometime after college.  Now, for those of you who know ANYTHING about Chinese history, stop and think about what this man lived through growing up in China in the 1930’s-1950’s.  He has some stories to tell, to say the least.  He also is one of the most energetic, talkative and lively 77 year olds I have ever met.  He was quite a riot.  When we first came in and sat down, he tossed me a newspaper in Chinese and said, “Let’s test her Chinese!”

Anyways… this was supposed to be about food.  They took us to this place called Taste of Sichuan (Sichuan is only my favorite of Chinese cuisines). I had never heard of it and when we pulled up I knew it was new because the building housed a Marie Calendars when I moved away in 2011.  We go inside to a crowd of people waiting to be seated, and luckily they tell us it will only be about 15 minutes.  I sit down in front of the board with some of their specials written on it and see 小笼包 xiaolongbao or steamed dumplings. My first thought is “YUMMY!”  My second thought is “$7.95!?!? I would never pay that much for xiaolongbao!”

We are seated, ordered the xiaolongbao right away as a starter and looked at the menu.  Oh there are so many delightful things it is hard to chose!  But no pictures?  In China, your menu is normally a fat book filled with 15-50 pages of pictures of every single dish.  Of course, when you can’t speak Chinese this is helpful to see what looks good.  But also, the Chinglish translations (although entertaining) leave a lot to be desired.  (Like the time I ordered delicious pork spareribs that were described as octopus in English… hmmm.) Fortunately, in the States the English was more accurate.  However, I did have to ask Gene about some of the characters because I knew the Chinese names for dishes and not the English names.

I opted out of the Tsingdao beer when I learned they had good microbrews to offer as well, so I went Oregonian and ordered a Widmer hef.  Funny thing, I was a little put off about it at the time, but after awhile I realized in China it wouldn’t have been a big deal.  You see, in many non-western establishments in China it is a safe bet to ask for a COLD beer, as they often serve it in bottles at room temperature.  This wasn’t really on my mind when the waitress came out handed me a beer and a glass of ice.  She said, “I brought you ice because we ran out of cold bottles of the beer.”  Indeed my bottle of hefeweizen was room temperature.  In my moment of cultural insensitivity, I was obviously not thrilled with the prospect of pouring my beer over ice and she offered me a different one – Ninkasi IPA to go with my Chinese food.

After choosing items from the menu, with lots of discussion and debate.  I think I shocked the waiter when I did all the ordering for the table – in Chinese.  Okay, so it was broken Chinese and Gene had to help me out with a couple of them, but I did it.  茄子,回锅肉,宫保鸡丁(eggplant in hot garlic sauce, twice cooked pork, Kung Pao chicken) and one more.

Four tell-tale signs that we were in America: there were forks on the table and we had to ask for chopsticks.  The rice came out with the dishes (not last).  Most of the dishes came out at the same time.  And we got a fortune cookie at the end of the meal.  Newsflash America: you don’t get fortune cookies in China. My fortune was pretty good though: You will have a fine capacity for the enjoyment of life.  They know me so well.

Oh…it was delicious.  A bit spicy, as good Sichuan food should be.  But they were all the tastes and smells I have been living without for the past two months being back in the States.  For dessert (which none of us really had room for) we had 芝麻汤圆 or sesame sticky rice balls.

Good food, good company and conversations about China with a little Chinese thrown in… it made me want to go back.  But for now, I might just have to make do with leftovers.


Top 11 in 2011

2011 was a crazy and adventurous year for me.  11 days into 2011, I embarked on a journey which not only inspired this blog, but has changed my life.  On January 11, 2011, I said good-bye to family and friends and left for a year (or more) in Shanghai.  As my first year in China and 2011 come to an end, I want to reflect on some of the memories I have from the last year of my life (in China).

Of course, I will include links to my blogs which originally recorded these memories in case you missed them.

1. Hong Kong

Hong Kong

After taking off from the States, before arriving at my destination for the year, I spent five days in beautiful Hong Kong.  Traveling alone is never easy, but I had a couple motives for being there.  First, to get my visa for China.  I left on a plane to Asia before actually having my Chinese visa needed to enter the country.  Secondly,  I managed to time my trip and my move to China to coincide with my friend Irene’s wedding in Hong Kong.

Sightseeing on my own!

When I walked off the plane in Hong Kong, alone, in a city and country I didn’t know, where they spoke a language I didn’t know, with two huge suitcases full of everything I thought I needed for a year abroad, I remember having this thought, “What the expletive did I just get myself into?”

The LONG cable car ride!

2. Chinese New Year (another post) –

Shortly after arriving in China and starting my job teaching at Kid Castle, I had 11 days off of work for the Chinese New Year holiday.  It was a difficult time as the few people I had met in Shanghai had left town, and I was in a strange place by myself with nothing to do.  But it gave me the chance to explore my new home, write lots of blogs and experience what Shanghai had to offer.  And, naturally, gaze in wonder and delight at the millions, or billions of fireworks lit off around Shanghai for the occasion.  The most remarkable fireworks I have ever seen, and they went on for hours and hours, and days and days…

Fireworks below my bedroom window!

3. Day trips & Exploring –

Whether exploring Shanghai on my own, going to Suzhou with friends or Hangzhou with my mom & Matt, I’ve had a lot of fun seeing China through little day trips and outings to explore my city and the surrounding areas.


Sitting on a bus with my friend Roger, counting the minutes until our train leaves, wondering if the bus driver will ever pull into the Suzhou train station he is circling, then running as fast as we can through the station only to miss our train was one of the most hilarious moments I can remember this year.  The hilarity was only magnified  as Roger captured the whole event on video on his iphone.

Finding greenery, nature and the cherry blossoms of spring in a park in Shanghai, outside the hustle and bustle of the center of the city with Adam, Yumi and friends from their school.


Wandering around the beautiful, ancient water town of Zhujiajiao with my mom and Matt, negotiating with a rickshaw driver to get us into the center of town, finding amazing hole in the wall restaurants, taking loads of pictures, buying souvenirs and people watching.

4. Food and Beer

I once heard that there are over 45,000 restaurants in Shanghai.  I believe it.  And there are probably two new ones opening, and one closing down just about every day.  You can get a meal for under a dollar in Shanghai, or you can pay over $100 (USD) per person.  I have eaten street food (which doesn’t even count as a restaurant) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I bought breakfast for three for under $2. I have paid about $8 for a cup of coffee, not espresso, nothing fancy just a boring cup of bad coffee.  I have paid over $12 for a glass of wine and $10 for a beer.


Shanghai has amazing cuisine from all over China.  If, right now, you are sitting in the US thinking to yourself “I don’t like Chinese food”, you have never been to China.  Chinese food could be anything!  There are so many different amazing, delectable, weird and perhaps disgusting foods that originate from all over China.  I love Chinese food, there is so much variety in Chinese food.  The girl who never could tolerate spicy food in the first 28 years of her life picked a Sichuan restaurant for her 29th birthday dinner, and ordered bullfrog!

Pomegranate flowers

Craving something different?  Shanghai is an international city, the choices of cuisine are endless.  I have eaten French, German, Greek, Korean, Jamaican, Mexican, American, Nepali, Italian, Indonesian, Japanese, Thai, Taiwanese and Turkish food in Shanghai.

I love to eat, I love good food and I love good drinks.  So many great memories are formed over delicious food and beverages.


I have my favorites, I have my go-to comfort food locations, I have the locations that are convenient for quick meals while I’m working, but there are so many more places to explore and try!

5. Qingdao

For the Dragon Boat Festival in June, I was able to get out of the big city of Shanghai for a couple days and visit  the little town of Qingdao (population 8.7 million) with a couple of my friends and co-workers.  It was a great time, despite dreary wet weather, to see another part of this huge country, hang out with friends, and enjoy the beer capital of China.

Yes, this is China - Not Europe. Qingdao!

We explored the town of Qingdao, got a ride from a stranger in a downpour and thunderstorm when there were no taxis to be found, ate Shandong cuisine, drank beer from a plastic bag, explored the famous Laoshan (Lao Mountain or 崂山) and did some shopping.

Fun on the beach in Qingdao

6. Familiar Faces –

Moving halfway across the world by yourself is nerve-wracking, even for the bravest and most adventurous souls. While I have met many people in Shanghai and made many friends, it was a great pleasure to have some familiar faces in Shanghai with me for most of my first year in China.

Adam and Yumi Bray were here the longest.  Adam and Yumi both graduated from Portland State’s Master’s of International Management program with me in 2010.   They actually met in the program and afterwards got married and moved to Shanghai to study Chinese.  While we were never close during the MIM program we became great friends while living in Shanghai.  I loved going shopping and getting massages with Yumi, and when Adam was around there was always beer to drink and trouble to cause.  Unfortunately, (for me) Adam and Yumi moved back to the States just before Christmas, but they will always be a part of my 2011 memories.

Salman was also in the MIM program with us.  He came over on the same program as Adam and Yumi to learn Chinese. After about 5 months in Shanghai, Salman moved to Beijing to pursue employment opportunities there.  I miss the laughter that always comes with hanging out with Salman, but I know he isn’t too far away.  I will always remember seeing him walking towards me on Wangfujing in the middle of Beijing and telling my mom, amidst thousands of Asian faces, “He is the one right there, with the dark hair!” when my mom, May and I met up with him in September for some delicious hot pot.

Junyi is originally from Beijing, and moved back to Beijing this past year (also after graduating from the MIM with Adam, Yumi, Salman and me).  Being in a different part of the country didn’t keep him for coming down and visiting us in Shanghai, from calling me at 2am or from being a familiar face for me in China.  He showed us around Beijing, and always provides fun, excitement and laughter.

The 5 MIMers eating Sichuan food and drinking beer for my birthday in Shanghai!

I was so happy to have my early birthday dinner in Shanghai with four of my friends from grad school!

7. My Sister’s Wedding

The biggest event of the year! And it wasn’t in China.  The end of June, I flew back to Portland, Oregon to spend two rushed, busy, crazy weeks with family and friends.  Birthdays, the fourth of July, a bachelorette party and the most amazing wedding I have ever attended.  On July 9th, 2011, my big sister married the man of her dreams.

A happy bride and groom

Gorgeous girls!

Not only was the setting beautiful, the decorations beautiful, the bride beautiful and the wedding party looking pretty hot, but it was an awesome time with spent with family and new extended family, friends and loved ones.

8. Mommy!

Another highlight of my year, was having my mom and her husband Matt come visit me in China for about 12 days.  It was really a dream come true for all of us.  My mom and Matt had both long dreamed of someday visiting China, my mom of course also has always wanted to come visit me in the places I have gone.  It was my dream to have family come see my life here, show them around and introduce them to the things and places which are part of my everyday life that I have grown to love.

Nothing was as exciting as the moment my mom and Matt appeared in the subway station by my house, me waiting anxiously to greet them! (Excuse my blurry cell phone pic)

It was an action-packed vacation!  No rest for the jet-lagged! On their first day of travel they journeyed by private car, plane, high speed train, subway, public bus, taxi and foot.

On their first full day in China, I had them out of bed and on the road before 7am, I don’t think I stopped going until after they were back in the States!  Hangzhou, Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, a bullet train to Beijing and the Great Wall.  Villages, cities, temples, gardens, historical sites, modern China, food, beer, coffee and probably a zillion photographs between the three of us shutterbugs.

My mom and me at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing

Two of my greatest weeks in China were spent with my mom, showing her around and discovering new places with her.  Now, she just needs to come back so we can do it again!

Climbing the Great Wall

9. Taiwan

Another National holiday, another week off work, another chance to see the world!  In October, I escaped the millions of Chinese traveling for National Day and landed in Taiwan.  Whether or not Taiwan is in fact the same country as China, I will let you debate on your own.  But I happen to know they do not celebrate or recognize October 1st, the date of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Therefore, I found it the perfect opportunity to go visit friends and be shown around the beautiful island of Taiwan.

Sun Moon Lake

Five days in not enough to see all Taiwan has to offer, and it certainly isn’t enough to eat all the food they have to offer (although I tried…) Despite being a quick trip, I was able to enjoy a relaxing vacation in Taiwan.  I saw bits of Taipei (even though the weather tried to keep me from it), I had dinner with more MIM alumni living in Taiwan, I visited Taichung (the home town of my friend May who I was traveling with), I explored the village and surrounding area of Houli by bike, I saw my co-worker and friend Osteen’s home town of Caotun, the beautiful Sun Moon Lake and the town of Jiji, famous for being rocked by a horrific earthquake in 1999.

10. New Friends –

I have met so many wonderful people in Shanghai.  Chinese and foreigners like me.  Some grew up here, some came for a short time, some came for a long time, some have come and gone in the year that I have been here.  I have gotten to know amazing co-workers at Kid Castle, like my Chinese colleagues who always make me laugh, and the other foreign teachers who are each on their own adventure in a place so different from their homes.

Some co-workers and me at Qiandao Lake

May and me on the Bund

I have created amazing friendships and a church family through both of the churches I have attended in Shanghai, Shanghai Community Fellowship and Abundant Grace International Fellowship.  They have been my support and my lifeline in 2011 and I know I have found some lifelong friends in them.

I stumbled upon the perfect apartment on smartshanghai.com and in doing so found a great friend and roommate who I have lived with for the past 11 months.

All my new friends in Shanghai have given me wonderful memories of 2011!

11. My Kids

I came to China with a job, a job to teach Chinese kids English.  I had never taught before in my life, I had been around kids, worked with kids, dealt with kids, but never had to control a classroom of 20 children that didn’t understand my language.  My students have been a huge part of my life for the past year.  They have made me smile and laugh, they have made me angry and frustrated, they have made me cry and they have made my day.

How can you not love this face? He is also about the sweetest most loving boy in the world.

There are students who I only taught for a short time, subbing for another teacher, there are students who I have taught all year.  There are students I will greatly miss when I’m not longer teaching them, and students that I honestly probably won’t remember.

Brian, Howard, Gland, James, Jerry, Henry, Judie, Amy, Alina, Maxine and Lisa!

I have students who run across the school screaming my name to give me a hug every time they see me.  They can be delightful, they can be little spoiled brats, they can test my patience like nothing else, they can cause me to lose my voice.  Some of them I don’t think have ever retained or learned a word I told them, others are so smart they blow me away each day.

My year was full of memories at work with all my little Chinese students and my fantastic co-workers who made my job worthwhile.

I hope 2012 brings more memories and fantastic adventures in China and where ever life may take me.  Happy New Year!  I wish the best for you and your families this year as well!

Beijing – A love/hate

Beijing and Shanghai are different worlds.  When I first came to China, just to visit, with the MIM program in 2010, I enjoyed the history, historical sites and tourist attractions in Beijing.  But when we got to Shanghai, I was blown away.  Shanghai is an awesome city.  Even at that time, after spending only about 5 days in each city, I said, “If I were to even live in Beijing or Shanghai, I would live in Shanghai.  Beijing is great to visit, but I would rather live in Shanghai.”

The Temple of Heaven! A rare shot without a million other tourists.

Well, fast forward 18 months, I’m living in Shanghai and when M&M (mom and Matt) are in town, I take my second ever trip to Beijing.  Another 4 days in Beijing and I draw the same conclusion.  I much rather be in Shanghai.

The air was awful in Beijing, not that I can hold that against them – chances are if you pick four random days out of the year to visit Shanghai you won’t be blessed with blue skies either.  Foreigners aren’t as plentiful, which isn’t a bad thing while living in a city – but I think Beijing gets enough foreign visitors who don’t know anything, that everyone assumes you can just screw over and rip off every foreigner you see.  In Shanghai, there is such a large expat community, with people from all over the world that LIVE here.  There are plenty of laowai (foreigners) in Shanghai that have been here for 3, 5, 10 years, who speak Chinese, who know what they are doing.  I don’t think Beijing is as used to that large of a community of foreign residents.  So taking a taxi, for example, becomes a major headache unless you look and speak like them.

I hated taxis in Beijing.  The worst cab riding experiences ever!  And if you think you can top me, just tell me this: Have you ever had a cabbie stop to get gas (when their tank was half full) AND go take a leak while you were on the meter?  Plus, he was coughing like crazy and spitting constantly, he told May he had been sick for the past few days but was back at work because he needed the money.  I love taking cabs in Shanghai.  I hate taking cabs in Beijing.  Even if you can manage to flag one down (empty cabs drive by and just ignore you constantly), it doesn’t mean they will be willing to take you to your destination, or they don’t want to rip you off by bargaining a price and not using their meter.

Do I need to say where this is? It is at 慕田峪 actually.

This being said, everyone – if given the chance – should visit Beijing (and eat the roast duck).  The Forbidden City, Tiananmen, the Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and the access to many locations on the Great Wall are fantastic, beautiful and historic sight seeing opportunities.  Even with hazy skies, you can get stunning pictures.  The culture runs deep and history surrounds you – unlike the westernized, modern, metropolitan Shanghai.

Obligitory Forbidden City photo

My favorite part of Beijing though – was not at the historic wall to keep out the mongols, it was not in the palaces and forbidden gardens of past emperors which survived the many dynasties. My favorite part of Beijing – the part of Beijing that I loved, that I wish Shanghai had – were the huotongs.   Hutong (胡同 – translation alley or lane) are small, old alleys, passageways of historic homes and buildings that make up large areas in Beijing and have been protected by the government so they are not torn down and replaced by skyscrapers and tall apartment complexes. I thought it was just one area of town when I first went to Beijing, but I quickly learned there are hutong all over Beijing – each a huge network of these small alleys, waiting to be explored and full of treasures to discover.

Wandering thru a 胡同

I loved walking around in, getting lost in, finding new places in the hutong.  May and I went to a bar one night to meet a friend of hers from the UK – he gave us instructions on how to get there.  As we turned off the main road into this teeny, dark alleyway, about the width of a car, we wondered if there was actually anything down there.  It was about a ten minute walk down this alleyway to the bar.  At one point we saw some neon lights and signs of restaurants, but the bar (Yes Bar or 好吧) was not there.  A few more minutes of dark houses and no sign of anything that looked like a place of business we found it – a little teeny bar, stuck in the middle of an seemingly abandoned hutong – with a selection of beers from all over the world.  We went back again the next night.  In the two nights we were there, we were the only customers  and we just hung out and talked with the bartender from Xinjiang, China (the far northwest province in China).

Way back tucked away in another hutong – in a nearby part of town – is another killer find for any beer loving American tourist. Thanks to MJ, brewmaster at my all time favorite, Boxing Cat Brewery, I knew of this little treasure in Beijing.  A microbrewery run by a bunch of Americans that has been brewing and selling beer out of a location in a Beijing hutong for less than a year.  Great Leap Brewery was one of the top things on our to do list in Beijing.  It took some time to find – both times we went – but it was well worth it.  With 9 freshly brewed, local mircobrews on tap, a killer garden setting to sit and relax in, and the owners there to chat with you can’t complain!  Oh, yea – and the beers were FANTASTIC too.  If you are ever looking for beer in Beijing, I highly, highly, recommend checking them out!  (see link here – they are also on Facebook.)

We found it! The door to the best beer in Beijing!

The view from the door of Great Leap Brewing - this isn't on some big, busy street!

The menu - 9 delicious beers on tap! (Actually, I think I only tasted 6 of the 9)

BEER! I believe this was the Danshan Wheat, a wheat beer brewed with tea leaves for a very unique but refreshing flavor.

The hutongs are old houses, communities. Not big fancy houses but little small rooms (which now can be extremely expensive to rent or buy) where Chinese families grew up and many still live.  Things are simpler in the hutongs and things like, well, your own bathroom, aren’t necessarily available.  My mom was shocked with the number of public toilets everywhere in China – but especially in the hutong.  After I witnessed an older woman coming and dumping a bucket with her days “waste” in one of the public toilets, we inquired about it.  My friend (and fellow MIM alum) Junyi, who grew up in a hutong near the Yes Bar, confirmed our suspicions.  Most homes within the hutong don’t have their own bathroom.  They use the public toilets and probably bathe in a sponge bath manner.  Some of the nicer residences, with the help of a larger income and lots of official paperwork, may have added bathrooms to their homes.  The majority, however, even the businesses and restaurants, rely on the public toilets.

Life in Beijing takes place in the hutong.  I would go back to Beijing, despite my many frustrations with the city, just to explore hutongs.  And of course, take more pictures.  Below are a bunch of the shots I got of life in a Beijing hutong.


A front door

We wandered into this little area - several families probably live here.

Front gates left open allow you to see into people's lives.

Sitting on the roof, watching the birds

Playing in the street

Selling a variety of eggs

Veggies on the street

Along a touristy/popular hutong

By Matt

I asked my mom and Matt to share about their China experience on my blog.  Here is what Matt had to say and some of his photos.

Matt’s China Blog

We had a fantastic trip to China.  Shanghai was an experience like no other.  We arrived in a half full airplane, proceeded through a jammed airport and customs, a packed 425-kilometer per hour Maglev (high speed shuttle from the airport), to an overstuffed subway, to Julia waiting with an welcoming smile.  Julia showed us a wonderful time in China, both great tourist sites and places a vacationing tourist would never see in a hundred years.  She was amazing with her knowledge of the Chinese language and her ability to figure out from bus stop signs and maps all in Chinese characters how to get there, and how to get back!  Also, her friends May, Colin and Junyi, all fluent in Chinese, contributed to her terrific guide service.

Hazy Shanghai welcomes you! (Excellent picture, Matt!!)

Shanghai was all hustle and bustle, and I mean hustle and bustle like I’ve never seen.  The streets are full of traffic, including the shoulders and breakdown lanes.  The sidewalks are full, too, with pedestrians, bicycles, scooters and motorcycles.  There is a definite pecking order amidst the confusion.  The buses rule; everyone gets the hell out of their way.  Next come the taxis; they may give a cyclist or pedestrian a break, but it’s a chancy risk.  Scooters and motorcycles are down one more notch; most scooters are electric and silent, and they don’t use their lights – even at night.  Lower in the pecking order are cyclists, and they are everywhere.  Old, young, fast, slow, two wheels or three; one, two or three on a bike, maybe carrying 200-pounds of cargo, maybe with a dog or two, anything is possible.  I actually saw three riders (out of probably 5000) with helmets one day.  And pedestrians (that was us), had to watch out for everyone.   We were low man on the totem pole.  There were tons of walkers, scooters and cyclists on the sidewalk going in opposite directions around the hawkers and vendors and sweepers and card-players and cricket fights.  Made one pay attention.

Busy with bicycles

Loaded down bicycles!

Of the many little obstacles to progress along the street, my favorite were the food vendors.  Everything smelled good, except the stinky tofu, and even that was preferable to the cigarette smoke and the men’s toilets.  There was an unbelievable variety of food to be had, from the unrecognizable to the everyday ear of corn.  In front of the fabric market in Shanghai, we bought for a mere 50 cents a round, pancake / crepe / pizza crusty thing that was sweet, kind of tough and chewy, perhaps a little eggy, seasoned with chives and herbs that was so perfect and so delicious.  I could eat two or three for breakfast every day for a long, long time.  Yeah, we ate regular Chinese food in restaurants and western food at a great place called Boxing Cat that Julia has written about that had a delicious life-saving IPA.  But for simplicity, freshness, and cooked right before your eyes on a charcoal fire, nothing beats Shanghai street food.


I had a blast, wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Thanks, Julia!

No problem, Matt!  I was more than happy to have you as guests, especially considering your good taste in food & beer!  (My Boxing Cat blog can be found here.)

M&M Recap

Well, after two weeks of exhaustion and fun with my mom and Matt (M&M),  and a crazy, stressful weekend back at work, I have finally had the chance to sit down, breathe and get myself back together.  In the twelve days my mom and Matt were here, we saw many sights, drank good beer, slept a little, traveled a lot, ate all types of food and took thousands of pictures!  (I took over 700 myself, and I’m sure they took even more.)

There were many times over the couple weeks I thought, I could write a blog about this.  But I didn’t have time. Now, I’m in a relaxation and recovery state and I don’t have the creative/reflective juices flowing and I’m lacking the energy.  I will try to recap you though.

It was a non-stop adventure for all of us and exhausting! I’m sure dealing with jet-lag made it crazy for my guests, but I had to deal with keeping up with my normal life (I only took 4 days off work in the 12 days they were here), entertaining, hosting, sleeping on the couch and on a HARD bed in a hotel, and being on 100% of the time.  My brain, emotions and body were stretched to the limit.

Leifang Pagoda in Hangzhou

The last time I posted was Sunday, September 4th.  I worked all day and M&M arrived in the afternoon. That evening, we went to the train station where I learned we could only buy tickets to Beijing 6 days in advance, took a walk around to see a bit of the city,  went to dinner and got settled in my apartment.  The following morning, we met my friend and co-worker, Colin at 7am.  He had arranged for a driver to take us to the nearby city of Hangzhou for the day.  I have wanted to go to Hangzhou since arriving in China, and with mom here I finally got my chance!  We spent the first full day of M&M’s vacation touring around the famous and beautiful West Lake, eating a traditional Chinese meal at the famous Louwailou restaurant, visiting the Leifang Pagoda, Feilaifeng and a couple temples.  Which was followed by beers and french fries for an early dinner.  After making our way back to Shanghai, we had no energy left for a real meal.

Looking over West Lake with the city of Hangzhou in the background

On Tuesday, we started out by going to the Shanghai train station, again, where this time I learned I had miscounted and Wednesday was the first day to buy tickets for the following Monday, and then to a camera shop where we got mom’s camera fixed.  (Her camera had been pushed off the x-ray machine at the subway station on her way into Shanghai. The filter had completely broken and was crushed onto the lenses making it impossible to take off – luckily she had another lens for the day in Hangzhou, but still needed it fixed!).  We then went to the classic Yuyuan area, walked around classic Chinese building filled with touristy shops and down Fangbang Road.  I led us to Huaihai Road for a coffee break, then to the Bird and Flower Market where the older Chinese residence were busy gambling over cricket fights.  We continued walking through the antique markets near Laoximen but after a long morning, decided we needed a rest.

A cat chilling in front of a fish shop at the Bird and Flower market

I led us to Boxing Cat for a beer, but they weren’t opening until 5pm that day.  Tired and irritable, we managed to stumble upon a neat little place on Sinan Lu where we got some beers and refreshed our spirits.  We had dinner plans at 5:30pm, still had a couple hours to spare and weren’t sure what to do next.  Mom remembered she wanted to visit the ELS office and that it was somewhere in the French Concession.  I found the address by using the internet on my cell phone and with the help of the staff at the coffee shop where we were, I figured out the approximate location.  We decided our feet hadn’t had quite enough that day, and walked another 3 kilometers or so over to the ELS office. (When my mom worked in Ashland, Oregon, she worked for ELS for many years and was the director of their Ashland branch.)  The couple people my mom knew were not in the office, or were no longer working at that location, but we met the new director and he was willing to show the unexpected visitors around their beautiful Shanghai location.

After that, I realized we were right next to the Avocado lady, so we swung by but didn’t get anything from her, as it was about time for us to head towards Zhongshan park to meet a few of my Chinese coworkers for a delicious, spicy, Sichuan dinner.

I don't think Mom approved of me ordering the bullfrog for dinner, Matt ate it though!

When we got home we brought out the map of Shanghai to see just how far we had walked, Mom and Matt were impressed that I had in fact dragged them ALL over Shanghai, on foot.

Wednesday, was a more normal day for me.  But by no means relaxing.  My Chinese classes at Donghua University had started on Monday, and Wednesday, I decided, was the only day in the first 2 weeks of classes I could actually make it.  Mom and Matt got up and traveled over to the University with me, eating delicious street food for breakfast along the way.  While I spent 3 hours in Chinese class, they wandered around the area nearby.  After I was done in class we took the subway to the Shanghai South Railroad Station and finally, on our third try, got our high speed train tickets for Beijing.  We then made our way over to Tianzifang where we had a late lunch.  I left M&M with instructions to get back to my place, and I took off to go to work for the evening while they explored the area.

A painter at work in Tianzifang

Thursday morning, no time for rest!  We got up and went to Jing’an Temple.  Having been outside Jing’an Temple many times, but having never gone inside, I wasn’t sure where the tickets to enter the temple were purchased.  So when I saw swarms of people in lines wrapping halfway around the temple I got a bit nervous.  Why in the world were so many people lined up to get into the temple?  We would never get inside with hundreds of people in lines that seemingly weren’t even moving.  I knew there was a holiday coming up, but it was the following week, why was it so busy?

After a few moments of being puzzled trying to figure out what was going on, I decided to use a life-line and phoned a friend.  May also had no idea why everyone would be wanting to go to the temple that day.  So, as we were both confused, I did what anyone would do.  I walked to the beginning of the line and handed my phone over to a complete stranger – gesturing for her to talk.  May was on the line of course and was able to ask this nice, albeit confused, women what the deal was.  Turns out – none of them wanted to go into the temple!  They were all waiting in line for special mooncakes made at the temple!  Mooncakes are the traditional food eaten for the mid-autumn festival which was the holiday the following week.  All these people wanted the temple’s mooncakes!

One of two lines for Mooncakes! Can you see why I was concerned?

Oh… well, duh, Julia!  So we found the ticket window, with no line, and were able to explore inside Jing’an temple.  Afterwards, I took us on another hike through Shanghai as I figured exploring the city by foot allows you to see more than exploring the city by subway. We walked down West Nanjing, through People’s Square and all the way down East Nanjing until we got to the Bund.  It was a hazy day to walk along the Bund, and I don’t think I even got out my camera.  Haze or no haze, it is a must see for every visitor to Shanghai.  After walking for hours, we took a cab from the South end of the Bund back to my apartment!  A 20 minute catnap and I was off to work!

After what seemed to become a daily trip to Boxing Cat for M&M, Matt relaxed at the apartment that evening. However, once I was done working, my mom and I headed out to meet my friend May for massages!  A nice 100 minute foot and body massage was exactly the type of relaxing I needed!  One of the workers even offered to provide my mom’s treatment for free, in exchange for marrying her daughter.  Ha!  We did not accept the proposal.

M&M’s first four days in China were certainly packed full.  I’m exhausted just writing about it!  More to come…

A mother’s daughter

I often credit my mother for my wandering spirit, my longing to travel, see the world, learn of new places and experience new things.  She moved a lot growing up and she first introduced me to the foreign world and to traveling.  When I was in second and third grade my mom was getting her master’s degree in teaching English as a second language.  With my sister and I, she discussed where we could go as a family for her to teach.  We spoke of the great unknowns places as far apart and distinct as China and Cyprus. We finally landed in Hungary where we spent a year as a family shortly after the fall of the iron curtain.  An experience unlike any other for a nine year old American school girl and only the beginning of my world travels.

I saw Europe with my family at a young age.  I remember meeting my mother’s penpal from (former) East Germany – who she met for the first after over 20 years of snail mail correspondence. I tasted the culture again as an exchange student and tourist between high school and college.  My mom always supported me along the way.  I remember sitting outside Starbucks with her back in 1997 discussing how I wanted to go to Europe as an exchange student.  I remember waiting in the San Fransisco airport for 9 hours after over 30 hours of traveling having not seen my family or friends for an entire year. I called my mother as she was drinking margaritas in Arizona on vacation and told her I was moving from Oregon to Florida on a whim.

I grew up looking up to my mom’s students from all over the world, how they traveled to a foreign land from Asia, the Middle East, South America and Europe to study and learn English in a new culture; yet, provided for us a taste of their own culture.

I remember sitting planning a girls trip with my mom and sister, discussing where to go, where to explore.  I remember zip-lines, rainforests, beaches and white water rafting with my mom and sister through Costa Rico.

I remember the questions, the mothering, the worrying that came when I said I wanted to move to China. But all along, my mom supported me.  I remember her telling me she would come visit me in China, that her and her husband, Matt, were planning on it.  I remember the overwhelmed look of surprise and excitement that came over her face when my sister and I agreed to help fund her trip to China for Christmas this past year.

I went and visited one of my mom’s classes when I was home in July and met some of her Chinese students – now all significantly younger than me  – who all knew because of my mom’s stories that I am her daughter living in China.

My mom supported me along the way and I’m always happy to see her.  When she came to visit me in Corvallis, Oregon for mom’s weekend at OSU, when she would come and see my house in Portland, when I flew home after months or a year of being away, when we took separate flights and met in an airport miles from home to take a trip together, when we explored new countries together, I was always happy to see my mom.  However, never in my life have I been as excited to see my mom as today.

I’ve been talking about it for weeks, months in fact.  I’ve been counting down the days.  I couldn’t sleep last night.  I told my students about it today.  I jumped for joy and spun in circles cheering with excitement in the middle of my office!  I honestly could not contain myself.  Because today, I showed my mom the world.  My mom had been to Corvallis, to Portland, to Beaverton, my mom knows what to expect in the US or in Europe, my mom has traveled and seen the world and our eyes have seen things together for the first time.  But today, my mom came to my world.

My mom and Matt have never been to China, though both have wanted to over the years.  My mom told me the other day, In thinking about all the places in the world I want to go and where I might actually realistically go sometime in my life, China was never on the list.” China was always a dream, but never a reality – because of me, China is a reality.

My mom gets to see where I have been living for the past (almost) 8 months. She gets to walk the streets I walk every day, eat the food I eat, see the faces I see.  She can experience the packed subways, the traffic, the dirty streets, the view from my bedroom, the smells of Shanghai.  She gets to step inside the photographs, the stories, the blogs and take part in my life – a life so different than anything or any place she has known.  She gets to feel, to experience what I feel and experience every day.  What a million words, stories or a thousand pictures could never convey.

My mom is here.  Her and Matt arrived by plane at 2:35pm, I was still at work when they called at 3:05pm to say they made it through security and customs and were off the find the Maglev (the high speed train) to the city.  They had detailed instructions on how to take the train and the subway to get to my subway stations, where I was waiting, hardly containing myself, to greet them – and welcome them to my world.

Welcome home, Mom!  This is my life – this is Shanghai, China.

My Memo

I have always been a dog person.  I absolutely love dogs, especially big dogs.  However, when I was in college at Oregon State, I wanted a pet and my landlord said, “No dogs!”  So I went and found myself a cat, who over the past 9 years I have grown to love dearly.  Jack is part of my family and I was very, very sad to have to leave him behind in the States.  I knew that Shanghai would be no place for my cat who loves going outside and roaming around; so luckily, he has a wonderful new home with my mom and her husband.

My boy, Jack, playing with a plant at his new home in Eugene

I do miss Jack, and most of my life I have had animals around.  When I see the cats on the streets of Shanghai, I want to take them home and love on them – even more so when I see little homeless kittens. So when my roommate asked the other day if I would mind getting a cat, it was hard for me to say no.  I knew no one would ever replace my dear Jack and also that I will eventually have to leave this cat behind when I go back to the States.  Yet, having a cat still seemed like something I could deal with.  Not nearly as much work as a dog, cute, cuddly and sweet.  Jane said she wanted a Persian – I said I wanted to rescue a street kitten.

The very next day, after our cat discussion, my roommate, Jane, called me up and said, “I found kittens! Come help me pick one out!” I thought she was out to dinner with friends, so I was a bit confused.  It turned out she was out to dinner – and outside the restaurant where she was eating someone had dropped off 4 little teeny kittens.  The people running the restaurant were trying to give them away.

Left behind tabby...

Jane refuses to have a black cat, even an adorable black tabby cat, so we were left with the two white cats with black spots to chose from.  We picked one, went inside where Jane still had to eat her dinner and I grabbed a drink and began discussing names.  Jane’s friend and friend’s boyfriend were there and we were throwing out every possible name or word we thought of for a name.  After about an hour of either Jane, me or both of us turning down suggestions, I finally asked, “What is the name of this place anyways?”  Memo.  So it was decided, we named our new dear kitten Memo – after the place where we got her.


Riding home in style

Memo came home in a Jack Daniels box, taking the taxi with Jane and I.  Before coming home we swung by the pet shop that is just next to our apartment complex.  They had closed at 9pm and it was 9:30pm.  Yet, Jane managed to convince them (the door was unlocked still so we walked in) to give our little dirty street kitten named Memo a bath before we took her home.

Not appreciating our first bath - luckily I convinced Jane that cats do not need to be bathed on a regular basis

Equipped with food and litter for the night, from the people at the restaurant, and a clean kitten, we went home to play with Memo until we were all ready to sleep.  The next morning, we were back in the pet shop for more supplies, the cleaning of Memo’s ears (which desperately needed it) and trimming of her nails.

Spoiled already - eating dinner in bed! (actually ON my bed)

Memo is a little teeny thing, only about 45 days old.  She has teeth and can eat dry cat food, she knows how to use the litter box, but can barely jump on my low bed and feels so fragile in my hands!  She is scared to leave my bedroom and burrows under the covers to sleep when no one is around. Her black spots are actually striped and she looks like she is wearing a crown with the spot on her head.

Passed out under my comforter

She is a lucky girl coming home with us, and will most certainly be spoiled.

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