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–
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.
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?”
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!