A Travellerspoint blog

6 months and counting...

overcast 15 °C

Well, we have been in China now for about 6 months now. Wow, can you believe it has been that long? Some days it seems like we've been here forever, other days, it seems like we just arrived. Overall, we have been really happy with our experience. It has been a growing experience for each of us, individually and as a couple. For me, I have really learned patience in the last few months, I don' think I would have survived over here if I hadn't learned to just chill out! Everything here takes time! It takes time to get a cab, to take the subway, to find a restaurant, to get to the front of the "line", the list goes on and on. At first, this was a huge hassle, I couldn't get used to the fact that it takes 2 hours to go out to eat, I was so used to hopping in my car and getting anywhere I wanted in 10 minutes or less. Over time, I have learned to enjoy the traveling I do in Shanghai, it gives me time to read, listen to music, or just think; all things I didn't do frequently enough back in the states. My lesson on patience isn't just limited to my time though, I have also gained patience in my interactions with others. When I first got here, I was tense, the combination of the big city and an unfamiliar culture was too much for me to handle. I got frustrated when people walked into me in the streets, when they cut in front of me in line, when they got on the elevator before I got a chance to get off. I constantly felt like I was under attack, like I needed to look out all the time for the next person who was going to intentionally plow me over with their bike! On top of all that, everyday was filled with the frustration of a language barrier, not only were people bumping into me, but I couldn't even yell at them for it! I'm not sure exactly what caused my attitude to change or when it happened but I have slowing become more and more at peace with my environment. The circumstances haven't changed, people still push me and I still have to dodge bikes on the sidewalk, but instead of it annoying me, I have just learned to accept it as a part of the culture. Yes, it can be an annoying part of the culture but I have learned that people aren't doing it to be rude, its just a huge frickin city! There are 15 million people living here and you can't always watch out for everyone else. If the bus is crowded, sometimes you have to push your way off. The streets are crowded and sometimes you just get in peoples way, its not rude, its just the way it is. The language is still a barrier but I have begun to look at it as more of an adventure than a problem, sometimes I get lost, sometimes I give the wrong change, lots of times I just have to stand there and look stupid. But, all these things are okay! You just have to adapt to your environment, mostly I have learned that life is what you make it. My experiences are shaped by my attitude, if my attitude is good, life is good.

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As a couple, I would have to say that Nate & I have never been closer. Truthfully, we were both a little nervous when we thought about how much time we would be spending together, in the states we had a fair amount of independence from each other. Some nights we would head our separate ways, and we have always appreciated that about our relationship. Since coming to China, we spend almost all of our time together, basically we are together 24 hours a day, except when we are at work. Being in a different country, we have really had to rely on each other and this has brought us closer together. We really feel like a team here. We have quite a bit of time to just enjoy each other's company and get to know each other in new ways. Our strengths and weaknesses seem to compliment each other well and we have really been able to help each other out on difficult days. We have had lots of time to talk about our relationship, life, and our goals for the future. All in all, this adventure has really developed our relationship in a way that we did not expect, it has been wonderful!

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And now, it is the Holiday season! China does not really celebrate Christmas, the malls get all decked out, just like in the states, but it seems kind of artificial. Also, the weather here is still a lot warmer than in Michigan, 40s & 50s everyday, so it has been difficult to get into the holiday spirit. It has also been a little difficult to go through this season without friends and family close by, we really miss the family time that the holidays tend to bring. Luckily we have been able to talk with our parents regularly on Skype and we really look forward to "seeing" everyone on Christmas Day. For the holidays, Nate & I have decided to go on vacation. On Sunday, we will be traveling to Hainan, which is a resort island in the South China Sea. We plan to enjoy the warm weather and go swimming in the ocean. We really hope that it will be a relaxing time for us. We are staying in a really nice, 5 star hotel (stuff is alot cheaper here!) which overlooks the ocean, the hotel also has a big Christmas feast on Christmas night which is an added bonus.

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So, thats pretty much sums up our first six months here. Although we miss everyone a ton, we have really had a great experience and we really are looking forward to see what the next 10(?) months have in store for us.
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Love, Nate & Heidi

Posted by heidigras 03:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

Fall in Shanghai and other Random Things

sunny 16 °C

Well, it has been way too long since we updated you all on how things are going over here. Things have been really good although we have not been doing much of anything as of late, which is why there has been a delay in blog postings. It is really starting to feel like fall around here, we have been wearing jackets at night now for a couple weeks, although it still only gets into the 50s. When we were watching the weather in Shanghai from Holland, the temperature was consistently 10-20 degree warmer than at home. I think that it gave a skewed sense of what we were in for! As we look through our clothes we realize that we did not bring enough warm clothes to last us through the next couple months. I imagine that if it we were in Holland right now and it was 50, we would be wearing t-shirts but I am constantly freezing cold over here, maybe it is because we were getting used to the blazin hot temperatures over the summer. Either way, we will be making a few stops at H&M in the next few weeks to invest in some more weather appropriate clothing!
The city is really beautiful this time of year, the leaves are just starting to fall off the trees. As the humidity left so did most of our smoggy days, most days now feature a beautiful blue sky and a great view from our apartment. It also seems that a lot of the less than pleasant city smells have disappeared. The cool weather also brought a lot of older people out of their homes and most parks these days are filled with elderly people just relaxing, playing some mahjong or doing their exercises. The street food vendors are out in full force and I feel a bit more comfortable eating their food now that it's not sitting in the 90 degree sun all day. Actually we have been going out to the street vendors a couple times a week to drink a few beers and try their specialty dishes. The neighborhood people really seem to enjoy having us around and we often end up with quite a crowd around us. It has been great practice for Nate since none of these people speak any English, free tutors!
For fun most recently we went out to a really nice dinner for our Chinese friend Xiang Zhenyu's birthday. He and his wife Yao Yao are really nice people and it was fun to eat some dinner and cake with a bunch of friends. Also, the cake here is amazing, light, fluffy and just the right amount of sweet!

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Work has been going well, we are slowly picking up more classes although we still only teach 1 or 2 days a week. Most of the time we really enjoy our jobs, being a new company and all there are the inevitable bumps in the road but the kids are all great, super cute and impossible not to fall in love with. It can be kind of interesting to watch some of the younger kids interact with each other and their parents. Almost all our students are only children so the younger ones don't have much practice playing with others. It is obvious that all the parents give their kids a lot of love and attention. Extended families are also quite involved, grandparents and aunts and uncles will often come to the center just to check it out and brag about the kids intelligence. It's really neat to observe.
In fact, since being in China it has become apparent to me what a different role kids play in this society, everybody loves kids! If there is a kid on the subway or bus, they are often the center of attention, with other passengers just looking at them with smiles on their faces. If a kid starts screaming or spilling food all over the place, nobody gets mad, people just smile and offer help. I was on the subway one day and a mom was holding her baby over her shoulder, the baby was drooling all over a business man who was sitting next to them, the baby was grabbing at his glasses and messing up his hair. The business man just smiled at the baby and patted her head, I was amazed. I can imagine a similar situation in the states ending much differently, most likely with the business man pretty pissed off.

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At our school it is often difficult to tell which kids goes with which parent, all the parents interact with each other's kids, encouraging them and helping them get their shoes on. Kids just seem to be a precious commodity here, they are rarely seen as annoying or a bother, everyone just seems to celebrate their children. Grandparents show off their grandkids in the states as well, but I don't often see the same genuine joy on the faces of their friends that I do here. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that so many people have only one kid, there just aren't that many around. As the laws are changing, there are a lot more families with a couple kids, those families are seen as so lucky. There is just an overwhelming sense of joy and appreciation for all the kids here, whether the kids are your own or somebody else's. Such a great sense of communal responsibility for this next generation.

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I will leave you all with some random fall pictures around our apartment and neighborhood. Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, we miss you all and will especially be thinking of you over the holiday season. We do have some plans to get some turkey on Thursday, an American restaurant is having a Thanksgiving buffet that we are going to check out with about 8-10 of our friends. It should be pretty fun, although I doubt the food will be quite as good and I am almost certain they won't have cheesy hashbrowns!

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Love,
Nate & Heidi

Posted by heidigras 04:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

Happy Halloween!

22 °C

Hi everyone and Happy Halloween! I know its not actually the holiday yet but we celebrated last weekend at our schools so, for us it kind of seems like it done. Halloween is not an international holiday so it is not really celebrated here except by expats and English schools, so there were a few costume parties around town, but for the most part Chinese people have no idea what Halloween is. Which brings us to a great question, what is Halloween? I had to "teach" Halloween to my 6-8 year olds on Saturday and I am not sure I did that good of a job. Basically, I showed them "Halloween" things like bats, cats, witches, ghosts, and jack-o-lanterns. I even found a couple small pumpkins and carved them for props but, when I put a candle in them and turned out the lights, the kids were terrified. For a game we did a "mummy wrap", the kids raced to wrapped each other in toilet paper. I had them all yell trick or treat and gave them some candy. Overall, I am sure that they (and their parents) got a really weird impression of the holiday, especially since I couldn't really come up with much meaning behind our customs. I don't know, but the kiddies looked really cute all wrapped in TP (see the picture below).

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Other than Halloween, work has been going pretty well, Nate taught his first class last weekend, 3-4 year olds and it went pretty well. He starts another class this weekend for older kids. His coworkers are great, they all went out for milkshakes after class to celebrate its success.

My center has been a bit more stressful than that, my Chinese director doesn't do much which makes my job a bit difficult. My class on Saturday was a bit chaotic because they put 5 kids in my class who are too young, so they didn't understand what was going on and I ended up just herding them around the room. I keep telling my director that it isn't really working but she suddenly doesn't know English whenever I want talk to her about something. My boss told me today that I have to give them a list of the kids who are too young and on Saturday their parents will sit in on my class. I think that will be good, because then the parents can see that the class is too advanced and that their kids aren't learning anything.

Outside of work, we have just been hanging out. We haven't gone on any big trips lately (waiting for payday!), but have had quite a few opportunities to hang to with friends. Last weekend we went out for hot pot with the girls that Nate tutors as well as a few friends. We went to a really trashy bar for cheap drinks with a friend who was in town visiting. We also went to JZ Club, a jazz bar here in Shanghai. We normally don't get that into jazz, and you probably don't think of jazz when you think about China, but we had a really great time and the band was really talented. We will definitely go back!

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Nate has been studying his Chinese really hard lately, several hours everyday. His tutor comes a couple times a week which has really motivated him to take his studying seriously. I have also started learning a few things, not quite as intensely as Nate but I am making some progress.

The weather here has been really great lately, about 70 during the day and 60s at night, perfect for sleeping and walking around the city. Although I hear it wasn't that great this year, we really miss seeing the seasons change in fall, the leaves here are still mostly green although quite a few have turned brown and fallen off the trees. We are interested to see what, if any, kind of change we see as the weather continues to get cooler, this Saturday it is only supposed to get up to 59 F!

That about sums up life for the week, I would like to leave you with a picture I took the other day. It may not seem like much but if you look closely, you will notice the women in the center is wearing her pajamas. I took this picture on the subway on Friday night on my way home from work. This is something that is really common here in Shanghai, not so much downtown but in more "Chinese" neighborhoods. On weekends it, apparently, is not weird to just stay in your pjs and continue your normal weekend chores. I think its pretty weird but I know a few of you (Kelli) would really like it if this practice caught on in the states!

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Have a good week and if you have the time, feel free to drop us an email. We would love to hear about whats going on in your lives too!

Love,
nate & heidi

Posted by heidigras 04:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Just a regular week, finally!

semi-overcast 23 °C

Well, not alot has happened in the last week or so. Our job started requiring us to go to work for a couple hours a couple nights a week so that has been a bit of a change, a boring change. We still don't have many classes so when we go to work there is nothing to do. Nate's center is really cool, all of the people are really friendly and out going. His Chinese director is a tall fat Chinese guy named Daniel, he has a great sense of humor and really enjoys chatting with Nate. My center is quite different, my Chinese director, Melody, doesn't speak very good English and often just goes into her office and closes the door. So at the end of the night, Nate always comes home in good spirits with fun stories to tell, I come home bored out of my mind. But, I started a new book and I can use the internet at work, so its not terrible.
Actually I had to teach my first class on Saturday. The class had 8 adorable 5-8 year-olds. All of them are really energetic and super cute. I was pretty nervous about the first class, you all know how much I hate public speaking. To add more pressure, my boss dropped by my center to observe me for awhile. Also, the first week, we only do introductions, no book & no lesson, which was a bit intimidating while trying to plan a 90 minute lesson. Luckily I discovered that my fears were unwarranted. I had each of the kids draw pictures of their families and taught them family related vocabulary like mother, father & child (I didn't teach brother or sister yet, none of the kids have any of course). I also taught them adjectives like fat, thin, short, and tall. All the kids thought is was hilarious to describe their fathers as fat. I also taught them days of the week and a days of the week song, which they really enjoyed (and I was really glad they enjoyed, teaching a song is a huge time killer). We ended the class with a get to know each other game we used to play in youth group, you say "Heidi calls Nate!" and then there is a person in the middle trying to wack Nate with a newspaper before he can call someone else's name. We played this for the last 10-15 minutes which got the kids all riled up just in time to send them home (I'm sure their parents love me!).
Nate's weekend wasn't quite as busy, but it looks like next week he might have to teach 2 or 3 classes. He also tutors 4 girls in their early 20s for a couple hours every Sunday night, so he has been staying kinda busy (although this hardly counts as work, he is tutoring right now and they are watching "Tommy Boy" to practice their listening skills). More good news, Nate finally found a Chinese tutor, she will start coming to our house on Monday & Tuesday nights for 2 hours each time. He is pretty excited about that, it is after all one of the main reasons we came here.
For fun we have been hanging out with friends. We found a bar, Zapatas, that has free margaritas for ladies on Mondays and free beer for men for one hour. We have really enjoyed those cheap nights, especially since we don't have to work the next day! Right now we have a friend from GR staying with us, he recently moved to Hangzhou and is just visiting Shanghai for a few days. Otherwise, we have been doing regular life type things cleaning the house, doing laundry, grocery shopping. Although on a side note, grocery shopping has been a bit of an adventure, we shop at Carrefour (China's Wal-mart) which is just down the road from our house. Weird things about it: its 2 story so you have take your cart on an escalator, you can sample beer like you do nacho dip at Sam's club, and the milk is not refrigerated. Most of these things where not hard to get used to, the warm milk definitely was although it seems to taste fine and we haven't gotten sick yet.
Well, that about sums things up here, we are doing good and having a great time although we miss all you terribly. Sorry there were not pics this time, we will try to take some "everyday life" pics this week. Love you guys!!

Posted by heidigras 02:15 Archived in China Comments (0)

Mid-Autumn Festival

overcast 20 °C

Hello! Greetings from Shanghai and Happy Mid-Autumn! On September 30, a national holiday called Mid-Autumn Festival began. This festival basically celebrates mid autumn and falls around the full moon each year. Most businesses that are not service related shut down for the entire week and everyone (it seems) goes on vacation. This is famously a very crazy time of year for traveling, with train and plane tickets being completely sold out and subways and buses jam-packed. Going to "tourist" areas is ussually a disaster since there are so many people there, you end up getting pushed along with the sea of Chinese tourists. For the most part, we decided to avoid this per the recommendation of every Chinese person we know.
We started our break by going to the Women 's World Cup soccer finals, Germany vs. Brazil. We had been hoping to see the USA but they ended up coming in 3rd. The game was really exciting, we were cheering for opposite teams (Nate for Brazil and me for Germany) which added some fun. There are alot of German companies in Shanghai so there was a sizable German crowd singing and yelling throughout the entire game. Germany won 2-0. Afterwards, they had the medal ceremony which was quite spectacular with confetti and fireworks (see picture below).

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Some friends who live in Nanjing came to visit for a couple days early in the week. Mainly we just went out for dinner and drinks. We found a bar that had good beer (nearly impossible to find in China). It is a German micro-brewery and they serve all you can drink beer for about $14 and it was well worth it. Although we wanted to avoid the crowds, our curiosity won us over. One night we decided to go to the Bund, we were hoping to get some pictures of the crowd and just a small sample of what traveling during Chinese Holidays is like. It was about as bad as we expected and after we spent about an hour making our way 2 blocks down the street, we decided to leave. The next day we packed our things and headed to Nanjing with our friends who live there. We didn't leave for Nanjing until Friday, so the crowds were not too bad, as the holiday was wrapping up.
Nanjing is located about 2 hours away from Shanghai by bullet train. It is a city with lots of history as it has been the capital of China off and on throughout history. Much of the early historical buildings have been destroyed through war, but some ancient ruins and a number of more recent monuments remain. Nanjing is also the location of a very brutal massacre in 1937 called The Rape of Nanjing. In that year, the Japanese captured the city and raped more than 20,000 women in less than 4 weeks, 300,000-400,000 Chinese people were killed during the 6 week occupation. Check out Wikipedia for more info if your interested.

Our first day in Nanjing, we dove right into the culture by eating lunch at McDonals and spending 1 hour in the nearby arcade (nothin more Chinese than that!). Afterwards, we went to Xuanwu Lake Park, a large lake just outside Nanjing's ancient city wall. The park was beautiful and almost smelled like the beach, probably a Lake Mac beach more than Lake Michigan but it was still refreshing. We spent a long time just wandering around the park, enjoying the lake breeze and the mountains in the distance.(see below).

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After the lake we went to the Nanjing City Wall, which was built between 1366-1386. The wall in no longer completely conected but there are still some large and restored sections that you can walk on. We spend awhile walking along the wall, enjoying the trees, mountains, lakes, and skyline. We really enjoyed the nature in Nanjing, the weather was cool but pleasant, there were trees everywhere, lakes dot the city and the sky was blue. It was almost like a taste of West Michigan.

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We continued our nature tour the next day although it was quite chilly outside, about 70. This temperature seems freezing to us after the super hot summer we have been experiencing and unfortunately we forgot warm clothes. We made a short trip the the city wall gate which has been restored, some of it has been restored quite cheaply, for example, the buildings behind me in the picture below are replicas, but they are made out of Styrofoam instead of real bricks. We attempted to visit the Paleontology Museum but unfortunately it is closed on weekends (what kind of museum isn't open on the weekend??) Next, we stopped by a Buddhist Temple and discovered that a service was just beginning! It was so interesting to see all the robed monks stand around the Buddha statue and chant with drums and bells. Surprisingly many of the monks were women although it was difficult to tell since they all had their heads shaved. We really wanted to get some pictures or video of the ceremony but felt it would be inappropriate, we didn't want to offend anyone.

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Sunday was another chilly day with a bit of rain. Nate and I ventured out on our own to visit the Nanjing Massacre Museum. After walking and getting lost for about 1 hour, we finally found it and discovered it was closed due to road construction. We were quite disappointed since the museum sounded really interesting and had gotten good reviews, but we will just have to go back to visit again sometime. Instead we visited an old palace, which is now a museum and antiques shop and then went to another lake called Mochou Lake. Again, it was so great to just sit by the water and listen to the waves!

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Our final full day in Nanjing, we spent on Purple Mountain. It was a beautiful day, much more pleasant than the ones before with the sun shining and a gentle breeze. When started our "hike" in mid morning up a paved road on the mountain. It was a leisurely hike and after about 30 minutes we came to an old observatory (see below) built by Jesuit missionaries, it is no longer used but has been well preserved and was pretty interesting.

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From the observatory, we discovered that we still had quite a ways to hike so decided to hop on the cable car to save time. There was a beautiful view of the city from the top of the mountain (see below) but frustratingly, there were no clear signs that gave directions about how to get to other sites on the mountain so we started walking down.

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When we got to the bottom of the mountain there were several clear signs directing us to the sights we wanted to see, unfortunately many of these were back up the mountain a bit (grrrr) so we started hiking again in search of the Ming Tombs. Luckily when we got there, we discovered it was worth all the hiking. The park was humongous with lots of different areas. We visited the tomb of the only Ming emperor not buried in Beijing and a plum garden that inspired a festival in Nanjing every spring. We also visited some ponds and a stone pathway lined with large stone animal statues (which I got to ride and may have been the highlight of my day, see below). We made it back down the mountain just as the sun was setting and discovered we were starving so we got some KFC and then also went to eat dinner with our friends. We stayed out late our last night just enjoying our conversations and then got up early to hop on a train back to Shanghai.

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Since we have gotten home, we have been kinda busy with work, we had a meeting and then worked Friday-Sunday. We are pretty much on our own now so we both taught some demos and did some testing. I made one little girl cry after asking her a question that was too difficult, I felt so terrible. Nate did a demo that had kids literally falling off their chairs in laughter! So it was a pretty good weekend. It sounds like we will both have at least on class starting this week, little tiny kiddies ages 3-4 so that should be interesting and we are both pretty excited.
Sorry for the length of this entry, we don't have any vacations planned now for a couple months so it should be easier for us to stay up to date (I know, we always say that!). We miss you all and hope things are going well for you. We'd love to hear about whats new over in Michigan! Don't forget that you can find more pictures at our WebAlbum cite, if you forgot, the address is :
http://picasaweb.google.com/heidigras.

Nate & Heidi

Posted by heidigras 02:31 Archived in China Comments (0)

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