Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Time has reached Shanghai!

“Christmas time is here…happiness and cheer…

It’s that time of year yet again…Christmas time! I will be celebrating Christmas abroad for the third time (This will also be my third different country).  Just like Halloween (you can read about that here), Shanghai has surprised me yet again with the amount of holiday cheer typically reserved for this time of year (hey, I had to rhyme).  With only ten days to go, many stores both local and multinational have some type of Christmas decorations on their windows or door fronts, and I’m hearing all types of Christmas music throughout the shopping mall that I work in and in various stores around Shanghai.  I was pleased to learn about two different Euro-style Christmas markets that have recently opened in Shanghai ( I will be visiting one next week during my off day) which sell a variety of gifts and food goods from their stalls.  Not to mention, all the trees, lights and ornaments that I see all around the city.  The other day on the metro, I noticed not one, but two different Chinese people lugging plastic Christmas trees and decorations (one of them even had several rolls of wrapping paper).  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera, but I'm hoping there's more to see in the upcoming days.

When I saw this my heart skipped a beat!

One of the Christmas Markets

 I started to notice Christmas themed things in mid-November when my local Ikea had some Christmas food items prominently displayed in their food section (They were selling a festive punch, gingerbread cookies and mulled wine).  Several days later, I saw a Christmas shop open its doors not too far from my apartment. Unfortunately, it’s nothing to write home about since the only Christmas type things I saw for sale were ornaments and stockings. The rest were just tacky Knickknacks in gaudy metallic colors. I also noticed that the store had many Eiffel Towers for sale (beats me what they have to do with Christmas).

Seen outside an expat grocery store. This house is real Gingerbread!

Earlier in December, I attended a Caribbean-Expat Christmas party that was located way outside central Shanghai. Despite the trek, the party was definitely a good time! There was a delicious buffet filled with Caribbean foods with a Chinese twist (jerk tofu or fried plantain tarts anyone?), followed by rum punch and loads of dancing. The DJ played all the old-school dance hall jams I grew up and I sang and danced the night away (I abstained from the dutty whine contest).  

"Caribbean Claus"
People from not just the Caribbean, but around the world!

After the first week of December, my school was fully decked out in holiday decorations including two different Christmas trees. Advertisements were placed in each and every classroom for a Christmas party that promises many games, gifts and a visit from Santa.  Outside the shopping mall that I work in, I saw some men hard at work putting up the sign below, as well as, making sure the reindeer were in the correct spots and well lit for all to see.  

One of two trees in my teaching center

Outside my workplace, trust me it's huge!
Prizes to be won at the X-Mas Party!

So, how will I be spending the holiday? As of right now, I will be celebrating with friends British style (as well as American and French) by cooking a meal and partaking in a “Secret Santa.” Perhaps we will venture out since many of the bars will remain open (after all, it’s a non-Chinese holiday).  Regardless of what my plans are, I will eat, drink and be merry (with a Skype call or two in-between).

Thanks again for reading and I hope you have a safe and happy holidays!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Giving Thanks...Thanksgiving Time in Shanghai

Thanksgiving Feast

Hello All! Thanks again for stopping by, and just what the title says,  I will be discussing  how I spent my Thanksgiving in Shanghai. I know that Thanksgiving was two and a half weeks ago (time flies), but I've been a bit busy with work and some side projects (I know excuses, excuses), but I will try to update this blog at least once a week starting now!

So, keep reading to find out how I spent my Thanksgiving in Shanghai...

Early November...

A few weeks before the holiday, I was approached by one of my American coworkers about getting together at his place for Thanksgiving. He also mentioned that he was going to invite several of our Chinese colleagues in order to expose them to some American customs and traditions. I was pretty much on board with the idea and I even offered to do some of the cooking (I'm a pretty good cook).  I was really excited since I didn't have to run around and plan anything, not to mention, I would be able to enjoy the holiday with other people instead of being alone. A week after making the plans, I was notified that I would have to attend  a city-wide training event for my job.  Due to this unexpected event, I would be arriving a bit later than expected to the dinner ('tis the nature of the business).  Luckily, my coworker was not upset or bothered, and I still offered to cook something the day of which he eagerly accepted.

Before Thanksgiving, we encountered the problem of where would one find a turkey in Shanghai.  I had seen a live turkey at a market near my house, but my coworker had no interest in that. We also spotted several turkeys in some of the international food shops but the prices were exorbitant (like $80 for a 12 pound bird). I don't know how it happened, but my coworker managed to find a turkey at the 11th hour at a store near my workplace at a very reasonable prices (which is ironic considering that there are very few foreigners in that area of the city).  So, Thanksgiving was saved and everything was set,  all I had to do was wait for Turkey Day!

Thanksgiving Morning...

On Thanksgiving day, I woke up and got dressed up to the max since I had a city wide training event followed by Thanksgiving preparation and mealtime afterwards. I arrived at the designated place on time and I reconnected with some other people who were in my training class. After everyone had arrived, we were treated to lunch at a restaurant close by which was busy and packed full of people both local and international (always a good sign).  Lunch was very delicious and I dug into a variety of meat and veggie dishes topped off with a thick, refreshing plum juice drink.  After lunch, it was time for the training to begin which was pretty painless and a bit of fun.  We ended up being dismissed early and I headed straight to my coworkers' place for Thanksgiving festivities.

I arrived just fine to my coworkers' place (despite a downpour and fried chicken stop in between) and shortly after I arrived, I got down to business and I started preparing the side dishes.  We decided to make home made mashed potatoes and green beans with bacon and a bit of cheese. My coworker had already managed to make yams, apple cider, stuffed cabbage, two pies (apple and pumpkin) and a large turkey all before my arrival (I should also note that ovens are not common in China, so all of the baking was done in a large toaster oven).  As we prepared and cooked the food, we chatted a bit about our lives, travel and our employment futures. Finally, the guest started to arrive and once the last guests had arrived, we made our way to the table for our Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey Time...

Once all the places were set and the food was ready, I decided that we should all say what we were thankful for over the year.  I personally was thankful for living my dream of traveling and seeing the world, being able to learn another language and celebrating a holiday with new found friends.  Everyone else followed with their comments and once I said grace, than we dug into the food.

Side Choices: Green Beans, Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, Yams

American, Aussie and Chinese people together

The turkey looked a bit undercooked to me, so I avoided that for the most part and stuck to the side dishes and dessert.  My potatoes lacked salt and they could of been mashed a bit more, but otherwise they were edible.  I dug into several helpings of the apple pie which was delicious and a chocolate tart for my dessert.  I washed it down with horrible tasting Chinese wine which me and my Australian coworker laughed about, but finished anyway.

The end of dinner...

Dessert and a Dog...the perfect end to a Thanksgiving meal...
Dinner was followed by more conversation and my coworkers dog who provided a bit of entertainment.  Everyone left around 9:30 pm. and we all trekked in the rain to the nearest metro.  I was invited to another party closer to my apartment and I got there an hour later. There was a great display of food and goodies and several types of beer. All in all it was a great conclusion to a great night and I made it home sometime after midnight and I crashed right into bed.

Thanks again for reading and keep following me!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

France Revisited...

Almost two years to the date, I returned to the U.S.A. after spending close to one year in France (I left two weeks shy of one year). I'm still in disbelief that time has gone by so quickly, but I tend to think about France just about every single day.
Quite simply, France changed my life, and I would say it was a change for the better.  During my time there, I experienced a real transformation from young adult to older, responsible adult and this change was no easy feat.  There were many times (especially during the culture shock phase) when all I wanted to do was curse someone out, pack up my bags, and get on the first plane home, but I remained strong and somewhat positive during those trying times.
 I can say without a doubt, that my year in France gave me loads of preparation for my current life in China.  A lot of people are shocked and even appalled when I mention this, but it is the truth plain and simple.  Besides the massive amount of things I packed, I also brought with me some of my coping mechanisms from living in France such as a lot of patience (whether it's at  the store, my commute, or at a restaurant), my love and fascination about learning a language (I try to learn three to five new words each day), and the most important attitude (I will not allow someone to cut me in line, push me, or stare at me without a bit of resistance on my end).  

Eiffel Tower in the daytime...

Eiffel Tower in the Nightime...

Along with the aforementioned  above, I’ve also brought over the following ideas from my ex-French life, to my new Chinese one…

Get on a train, and get out of the city:
Giverny, France-About 80 minutes away from Paris
A few times during my time in France, I would get on a train (or a very long metro ride) to other towns and villages outside of Paris. I loved the feeling of being away from the city and breathing fresher air, dealing with less crowds, and having a bit of peace and quiet in the middle of the day. Granted, I still ended up in crowded tourist attraction-type places, but I always managed to go someplace off the beaten path (without getting lost) and taking in several moments of tranquility. I’m hoping to continue this trend while here in China…

I still love the night life:
The Eiffel Tower during one of my late nights

The world famous Moulin Rouge!
During my time in France, I definitely made it out at least one night a week (or two if I was feeling frisky!). I had many a nuit-blanche (French for all-nighter) which entailed me being out and dancing until the crack of dawn. I had some great nights out with friends, whether it was going out to a fancy night club or heading out to a trashy dive bar.  Unfortunately, I’m not as young as I used to be; thus, I only do the all-night party thing on rare occasions. Luckily, cabs in Shanghai are quite cheap so I have the luxury of calling it a night and jumping into a cab when I’m ready to go home (something that was unfathomable when I was living in Paris since a cab home could have been one week’s salary).

Even in a big city, you can still find a bit of beauty anywhere:
Even a gargoyle can be romantic...only in Paris...
 In terms of big city beauty, I’ll be the first to admit that none of them have anything on Paris. I hated to admit it while I was there, but Paris has some truly stunning architecture that really adds a bit of romance to the city. Who knew that a city hall can be quite so beautiful, or a simple metro sign can make your heart melt.  Even though I’ve been in Shanghai for almost three months, I’m still finding and uncovering the beauty of this city each mall and skyscraper at a time…

Hotel de Ville-The City Hall of the 1st Arrondisement

Speaking of beauty, Whiter is still better apparently:
This is not a joke
  I was warned before I arrived in China about the ubiquity of skin-lightening beauty products and people were not lying!  In almost any beauty aisle, I see tons of products promoting the idea that light and white skin is the pinnacle of beauty. I came across this product advertisement in an area of Paris that’s full of African and Caribbean expats and I witnessed many women of African descent wearing very light/crazy looking makeup (since it was about five shades off). I understand that this idea was promoted by colonizers many years ago and every colored group on the planet deals with this; but guess what, by continuing this idea, we have become our own oppressors. Now before I get a bunch of angry emails crowding up my inbox, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with white beauty, my concern is over the fact that white beauty becomes the only standard of beauty.  It’s high time we stopped perpetuating this idea and it’s time to recognize that there’s beauty in every skin shade on the planet.
(Stepping off my soapbox…)

Keeping the Faith: 
'The Last Supper' made of Sand in Giverny, France
I honestly believe everything happens for a reason in life and there is a lesson to be learned each time I’m abroad.  I know the man upstairs has bestowed upon me some great opportunities that were beyond my wildest dreams and whenever I’m feeling down, I think about how I’m living my childhood dream of traveling the world (living in France was my ultimate teenage dream). I also remain positive and gracious by thinking of something each day that I’m thankful for (which was a practice I started while in France) on my best and worst days.

Well that's all for now. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Adventures in China: Nanjing (Part 2)

***This is a two part post. Please click here for Part One***

Hello all, and welcome to my adventures in Nanjing part two. In part one, I blogged about transportation via train, sightseeing, and the nightlife I encountered.  I will now discuss how I spent my second day in the historical city of Nanjing....

Nanjing: Day Two

Even though I had went to bed early the previous night, I ended up sleeping in later than I had expected since I woke up in the middle of the night with a stomach ache (luckily I had brought some medication which me). Before going back to sleep, I changed my alarm clock and altered my schedule for all the sightseeing I had planned the next day. By the time my alarm went off the next morning, I quickly jumped out of bed and ran to my first stop, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall...

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall
A woman holding her dying child

Series of statues before entering
To the 300,000 victims
The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (the full name is: Memorial for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression) is a memorial site commemorating the lives that were lost during the Nanjing Massacre of 1937.  Upon entering the memorial site, there were a series of statutes depicting various atrocities committed by the Japanese. The captions on the statue were very straightforward (for example one caption read: “Grandfather holding his teenage son who was just shot in the head”) and as I made my way to the entrance, somber music was playing from a loudspeaker.  Once I entered the site, there was a giant wall that stood before me stating the number of people who were murdered (300,000) in seven different languages.  After passing the memorial wall with all of the names of the people who had perished, I entered pit where the first bodies were discovered several decades ago. There was another larger pit that had bodies and artifacts of those that had perished very close to the first one as well as a beautiful quilt which was made to “never forget.” I entered a memorial hall with candles everywhere for visitors to pay their respects and then, I got to the exit which had large peace statue overlooking the entire site.  

Besides the memorial site, there was an incredible museum attached to it full of artifacts, documentaries and various exhibits chronicling the Nanjing massacre and the aftermath.  Since I was on a time crunch, I was unable to see as much as the museum as I would have liked, but overall, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Site is a must-see for any tourist visiting the city of Nanjing. 

Zhongshan Men Wall

After visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Site, I made my way to the second activity of the day which was Zhongshan Men (pronounced: jung shan men).  Zhonghan Men was part of a series of defense walls that were erected during the Ming dynasty many centuries ago.  A few parts of the wall are still up around Nanjing with Zhonghan Men, being one of the best preserved and one of the only two you can climb.  Once I arrived, I carefully made my way up via the small stone steps and what lied before me at the top was a breathtaking view of the city of Nanjing.  I paced up and down the wall for some time taking in the view of the city as well as, the view of the lake not too far from it.  After taking a few pictures and a few extra breaths, I made my descent back to street level since it was on to my third and fourth activities….

Zhongshan Men Wall

A view from the top

The Purple Mountains (Dr. Sun Yatsen Mausoleum and the Ming Tombs)
Dr. Sun Yatsen's Mausoleum

I heard from several people before my departure that the purple mountains and the sites there were one of the must do things while in Nanjing. Due to my time constraints, I was unsure if I was going to be able to fit them in, but I decided to try (Hey, you only live once).  The downside to this idea is that the purple mountains lie a bit beyond the city center and even though my guidebook said I could reach there by bus, I was unsure (okay scarred) to navigate the bus system so I decided my best bet was to get there by taxi.

Unfortunately, I could not get a cab to save my life. They were either full, or I was standing on the wrong side of the road. After walking up and down the street and crossing the road several times, I almost gave up, but then I saw an available cab and I jumped for joy when he stopped to let me in. I told him where I needed to go and we were off to the first site, Dr. Sun Yatsen’s mausoleum.
The mausoleum is located on a hill, with a series of steps to get to the stop (one of my coworkers said one must ‘climb to heaven’ to reach him). I walked up the steps as fast as I could and despite the number of steps, I made it to the top quite quickly.  I paid my respects and took in the moment (and I few breaths since I was winded) before making my way back down. 

Looking Down

After getting to the bottom, I continued onward to the Ming tombs, the burial place of the founder of the Ming dynasty. I only stayed for a short time since it was getting dark and I had no idea where the exit was.  After some more observations and walking, I found the exit, but once again, I had to wait some time for a cab.  I was getting scarred since time was of the essence and I still needed to get back to the city center, get my bags from the hotel, and make my way to the train station. I started to panic a bit about the possibility of missing my train, but I wouldn't have to worry too long since a taxi arrived to answer my prayers and we made the trek back to the city center.  I managed to get back to the hotel somewhat on schedule and thankfully, I made it to the train station with no problem. As soon as my train was called and I located my seat, I immediately passed out after an exhausting day of sightseeing.

Ming Tombs

All in all, my visit to Nanjing was great and it’s a city I would recommend to anyone spending some time in China! Thanks again for reading!