Best Photos of 2014

Here it is. My favorite photos from 2014! (And last year: Best Photos of 2013)

Here are 30 of my favorite photos that I took all around the world. They include some of my favorite locations in Ireland, London, China, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, France and Florida! A lot are from Ireland, my favorite of all the places visited this year!

Precariously balanced on the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Precariously balanced on the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Night falls at Blue Duck Lodge in New Zealand

Night falls at Blue Duck Lodge in New Zealand

London Bridge, London

London Bridge, London

Moonrise over the mountain, New Zealand

Moonrise over the mountain, New Zealand

Looking up at the Financial District, Shanghai

Looking up at the Financial District, Shanghai

London Artwalk in Shoreditch

London Artwalk in Shoreditch

Horseback riding at Blue Duck Lodge in New Zealand

Horseback riding at Blue Duck Lodge in New Zealand

Kayakers in Breton, France

Kayakers in Breton, France

Peace Hotel, Shanghai

Peace Hotel, Shanghai

Rocky beach in Zhoushang, China

Rocky beach in Zhoushang, China

Overlook at Raglan beach, New Zealand

Overlook at Raglan beach, New Zealand

Shanghai skyline

Shanghai skyline

 

Wooden birdhouse in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Wooden birdhouse in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Field of cotton in Breton, France

Field of cotton in Breton, France

Volcanic view in Jeju, South Korea

Volcanic view in Jeju, South Korea

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Foggy day at Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Foggy day at Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Cliffs of Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Cliffs of Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Brilliant sunset in St. Petersburg, Florida

Brilliant sunset in St. Petersburg, Florida

Rocks in Breton, France

Rocks in Breton, France

Bright and blue in Raglan, New Zealand

Bright and blue in Raglan, New Zealand

Farmhouse on Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Farmhouse on Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Bamboo Forest in Shanghai

Bamboo Forest in Shanghai

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Field of flowers at the Red Granite Coast in France

Field of flowers at the Red Granite Coast in France

Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka, Japan

Dark Hedges in Ireland

Dark Hedges in Ireland

Borough Market, London

Borough Market, London

Beautiful spring blooms in St. Petersburg, Florida

Beautiful spring blooms in St. Petersburg, Florida

At the top of the world, Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

At the top of the world, Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Read more about 2014 in My Year in Review

Apartment Hunting in Shanghai… we moved!

Surprise! I am back in the states after spending the last 2 weeks in Shanghai. Of course our internet was shit and our VPN stopped working so that meant absolutely no access to blogging or my emails! Lovely! I did however do some writing and photo editing so let’s catch up shall we?

I arrived in Shanghai at the end of January to some surprisingly freezing temperatures. It was 35 degrees and overcast (aka POLLUTED) with the occasional rain shower. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? The problem with China is that there is no central air-conditioning and wall units are pretty ineffective at cooling or heating large spaces. More often than not I found myself camped out in the living room under a blanket and close to the heater wearing socks and multiple sweaters while chugging hot water.

Jiuting waterway

Jiuting waterway

Good news, we moved into a new apartment!

After 3 days, 2 real estate agents, 20 potential apartments, 12 hours of walking in the cold rain and a couple botched contracts later, we actually moved in to our new place! Hooray!

I had no idea the nature of the beast that is Shanghai real estate until now and let me tell you, it was quite the learning experience. First of all, expect to look at a shit ton of apartments, most of them either nasty or grossly decorated. Second of all, bring along a Chinese-speaking friend who can help you communicate with the agents and landlords and who can help you negotiate price. And thirdly, if you are working with a local Chinese real estate agent, be prepared to walk. A LOT. It was quite exhausting.

Look at this hideous decorating. No this is not our new place!

Look at this hideous decorating. No this is not our new place!

MOST IMPORTANTLY, when you are apartment hunting you must be decisive and go with your instincts. Do not settle for a place that is less than perfect because there are thousands of places that become available every day. IT’S CRAZY. And when you decide on a place, MOVE FAST. Put in an offer THE SAME DAY or else it will most likely be gone the following day. This happened to us with the first place we wanted and we did not make that mistake again.

For us, it came down to location vs. comfort and this time we went with location! Last year we lived in a very comfortable and large apartment in a nice quiet complex in Jiuting. However, we were in a very Chinese neighborhood at least 45 minutes away from foreigner friendly places including grocery stores, restaurants and expat associations. Most of the time I took cabs into the city which gets expensive and exhausting. I would often get anxiety and stress out if I had to go anywhere, mostly because it took so much time, energy and preparation. I had to meticulously figure out where I was going and how long it would take and then download the Chinese address on my phone to show to the cabbies and remember how to say “left” “right” “straight on” and “stop” in Chinese. Somedays I wouldn’t leave the house because I was too anxious to deal with the stares or the inability to communicate. I felt very alone, which makes me so sad to think about!

Our new apartment is definitely not as nice or as big but is located in Changning which is much closer to the city center. We are a 5 minute walk to the Zhongshang Park metro stop (line 2 and 4!) and a huge shopping area with Carrefour, Starbucks, Will’s Gym and even a local vegetable market. We are also close to Jing’an and Hongqiao which are big expat areas and where Peter works.

Busy Changning District of Shanghai

Busy Changning District of Shanghai

I look forward to having easy access to the metro, the grocery store and to major expat areas so I can actually get involved with some of the great events going on in Shanghai. I am also job hunting which is intimidating but exciting!

We moved most of our stuff this past Saturday, the day before I flew back to Florida. Thankfully we don’t have much stuff at all, just some books and clothes. It is sad how little we have accumulated over the 4 years Peter has lived here. It is weird to think of Shanghai as our “home” but here we are. After our wedding in April, we will be more or less settled in Shanghai for another year or two.

Before that though there are wedding festivities to attend to! This weekend, my bridesmaids and I are traveling to Key West for my bachelorette party weekend!! I can’t believe it’s here and holy crap I am excited to spend time with my girls in the sunshine. The next week, Peter flies home so we can finish some wedding related tasks and a couple’s shower. March will be a flurry of two more showers and final wedding preparations. Then on April 18th… BOOM WE GET MARRIED.

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My plan is to smuggle as many wedding presents as I can back to China. I need all those cute kitchen gadgets in my sad China kitchen.

Anything to make this place feel more like home.

2014: My Year in Review

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9 countries. 19 cities. 1 year.

2014 was seriously the year of travel.

I know I said that 2013 was the year of travel, but I lied. This year was bigger. It was actually full of so much traveling that I honestly FORGOT a few trips while making this list. I was lucky enough to visit and explore China, Thailand, Ireland, the UK, France, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. And don’t forget all those lovely cities in the United States including Portland ME, NYC, Philadelphia, Lancaster, Park City and Orlando. Looking back on it all, this year has been full of surprises and so much growth. It was the year of wedding planning joy in the midst of sorrow when both of my grandfather’s passed away within a month’s time. My two big trips to Europe and New Zealand were a blessing disguised as challenging backpacker bus tours that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I fell face-first into amazing experiences and friendships that I will never forgot. 2014 was the year of taking chances and trying new things while figuring out expat life in China (again) and planning one of the biggest events of my life. I cannot wait to get married to the most amazing man and continue our adventures together in Shanghai and around the world.

Let’s recap 2014!

January

I rang in the new year on St. Pete Beach with my two favorite people in the world, Peter and my bestie Carina. We watched fireworks explode entirely too close to our heads and spent the first day of 2014 nursing wicked hangovers and watching movies all day. Not my best moment but certainly memorable.

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Peter went back to China while I started wedding planning and spending a lot of time on the water in Florida. This was when I said yes to the dress and visited Carina in Orlando for her 26th birthday! The crowning point of this month was when I planned a successful Charity Auction that raised thousands of dollars for charity (which I am planning right now, help me).

February

Thankfully Peter came back to Florida for Chinese New Year and stayed for the entire month! This month was pretty hectic work-wise and wedding planning took things to a whole new level. We took our engagement photos and met with the deacon of our church. I was sad when Peter went back to China but I knew I had to stay for another huge event I had been working on since the beginning of the year.

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March

On March 10th we had a successful Charity Golf Invitational and I finally saw months of my hard work realized. It was career highlight for me and I felt immensely proud of what I had accomplished. We raised thousands of dollars for local charity and it felt absolutely amazing! The rest of March was full of relaxation (finally), hockey games, the Grand Prix, lots of yoga, and planning my return to Asia.

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April

On April 4th, I flew to Shanghai to reunite with my love in the middle of a beautiful China spring. Just a few days later after attending a hilarious Lionel Richie concert, we flew to Chiang Mai, my most favorite city in Thailand EVER, for the epic Songkran Festival. I guess I never blogged about this festival but OH MY GOD. THIS WAS THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING EVER. It was basically a 3-day all-out water fight in the streets. One day we were on the ground, running around with water guns spraying everybody in sight and holing up in a street-side bar absolutely blasting everybody who passed by. The next day we were in a truck bed sitting around in traffic with thousands of people in cars, just having a massive water fight. All day. When we ran out of water we paid people on the streets to fill our trashcan with moat water and a block of ice. We were absolutely drenched from sun-up till sun-down and laughed like crazy people while having random battles with other groups of people. We had some nice locals nicely pour water over our heads for good luck and then we had the crazy backpackers who would shoot you in the face. That is why I got a nasty stye in my eye when some jerk blasted me in the face. Ew. Despite the nasty moat water and the utter exhaustion at the end of this trip, we had a blast with our friends and still got to explore a bit of the city I love. It was an insane festival, one I will NEVER forget.

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However as soon as we got back to Shanghai I found out that my grandpa passed away on our future wedding anniversary. It was a huge shock to my family so I flew home on Easter Sunday to attend the funeral. It was a very bizarre time but I was grateful to be with my family. It was also around this time that I fell deeply into the 1D fandom. Their music helped lift my spirits, the way that music does and I am grateful.

grandpasMay

This month was just a blur. Peter came back to Florida too so we did a bunch of wedding things and made sure to visit my other grandparents. On my 26th birthday I flew to Portland, Maine for a roommate reunion! Carina, Tana and I stayed at The Camp on a beautiful misty lake and basically lazed around all weekend cooking, kayaking and dancing around in our PJs to 1D. It was a wonderful getaway with my favorite girls. Sadly the next weekend my other grandpa passed away after I held his hand in hospice the night before. It was a really hard time. The day after he passed, Peter was in our friend’s wedding and I sang the first dance song with my friend. It was a beautiful wedding but I was just so sad :-(. Immediately after the wedding, Peter flew back to China and I stayed home in preparation for my big trip of the summer, Eurotrip 2014 with Carina! I was so nervous and reluctant to go but knew I had to just do it.

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June

On July 9th, Carina and I flew into Dublin and it was love at first sight!! I stayed in my first hostel, EVER, and surprisingly survived. We then spent 5 amazing days driving from Dublin to Galway and up to Belfast in a big backpacker tour bus with Shamrocker Irish Adventures. Although we were so nervous to be traveling with a big group of people we had the most amazing experience ever. EVER EVER EVER. Seriously. These 5 days in Ireland were life-changing. Go read my blog posts if you have the chance. The day we biked around the Aran Islands was my favorite. And it is true, travel heals all wounds.

Ireland

After Ireland we flew to London and lived the posh life in our friend’s Shoreditch apartment. We rested, saw all the touristy spots and partied hard. It was fun but I was glad to move on. France was a challenging part of our trip but absolutely stunning. I will always be grateful for my girls Carina and Tasha and the experiences we shared driving through the countryside. France was unexpectedly beautiful and I was sad to leave. But after 3 and half weeks in Europe, it was time to go home.

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July 

Almost immediately upon returning to the States, I flew out to Park City, Utah to be with my family for the 4th of July. I was jet lagged but had so much fun in the mountains celebrating America. It was a short but sweet trip out west and I am so happy that I decided to go.

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On July 22nd I FINALLY flew out to China to be reunited with my love. We immediately drove south to Zhoushang, China on a team building excursion in the deadly heat of summer. It was yet another bizarre China vacation complete with weird beaches, bumpy bus rides and freakishly hot mountain climbs for no apparent reason. China you keep me on my toes!

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August

This month was blazing hot and I really struggled to stay cool in the city. I was literally sweating EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME. Yikes. We threw a little party at our apartment and it was really nice! Our nice Chinese neighbors loved my egg salad haha. We also spent one day out and about the Bund showing around some visitors from the States. It was a very hot and very long day but I enjoyed seeing the financial district since we don’t visit it very often (we live about 45 minutes away, Shanghai is big!).

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You can’t beat that skyline…

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This month I was also busy planning my next big trip to New Zealand! Peter was already going with his guy friends so I ended up planning a trip with his mother! On August 27th we flew to Auckland and spent one night together as a group before splitting off on our own respective trips. Linda and I stayed in Auckland for 3 days which was wet and miserable! We did go visit some wineries on Waiheke which was nice but other than that I was ready to GO and EXPLORE THE NORTH ISLAND.

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September

On September 2nd I began another big backpacker bus tour, this time with Peter’s mother! What was I thinking! Actually we ended having the most incredible trip EVER, almost rivaling Ireland. Linda and I made some incredible friends on the Stray Bus with these young European backpackers and did some amazing things in the North Island. We drove to Raglan, Mourea, Lake Aniwhenua, Taupo, Whakahoro, National Park and ended up in Wellington. It was a trip of epic proportions and full of epic scenery that you think only exists in your dreams. I was in awe.

raglan

After 7 days of traveling around on a bus and staying in various levels of hostels, we reached the pinnacle of our trip and completed the Tongariro Crossing, a 8-hour trek past Mount Doom. With the aid of helmets and ice picks, we summited that mountain and trudged through endless snow fields to reach the end of the trail. It was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done but so incredibly worth it. We felt so accomplished and that beer at the end of the trail was delicious!

mount-doomSeptember

At the end of the bus tour, our group threw me a Bachelorette (Hen) party in Wellington! It was so sweet and it made me so sad to leave all my new friends. I left Linda in Auckland and flew back to China with some serious travel blues. I tried to cure my sadness by joining a ladies choir and taking up boxing lessons! We celebrated our friend’s birthday with a crazy karaoke night, my favorite! On September 27th we left from the port of Shanghai for a 4 day cruise to Japan and South Korea!

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We hung out on the boat eating, drinking and watching all the Chinese people gamble. We stopped in Fukuoka, Japan and Jeju, South Korea! I always love traveling to Japan and it was nice to finally visit South Korea. We didn’t get to see much but we did climb a mountain. It was cool.

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October 

Back in Shanghai we celebrated Golden Week by doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING and I got super depressed over missing the One Direction concert in Tampa. Sad face. But I resumed boxing lessons and became a dedicated student at my local Will’s gym. You can read the whole update here. I loved my trainer Ares, who spoke no English, and we had fun teaching each other different words while I jumped around and sweated like crazy. Peter and I discovered the bamboo forest and spent a couple of weekends exploring this gorgeous wooded area by our apartment. Then we were robbed and then we both got really bad food poisoning. It was bad. Then we celebrated Halloween at a weird club with our Scottish friends. It was a pretty standard month for us in China. Yup, the crazy life of expats!

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November

We flew home on November 13th and I was so grateful to be home, you have no idea. We did our Pre-Cana weekend and celebrated Peter’s birthday. On November 20th we flew to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for Drew and Julia’s wedding. Their wedding was gorgeous and so much fun, we had an amazing time with our family and friends in one of my favorite cities in the States.

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We took the train to Philadelphia and hung out at my sister’s place before Peter and I took the train to New York City. We visited both of our besties and basically ate at a lot of cool restaurants and saw a cool concert in Brooklyn. Our friends are so cool and trendy!

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Back in St. Pete we celebrated Thanksgiving, attended football parties, and put up the Christmas tree at our house before Peter flew back to China :-(. I always hate it when he leaves.

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December

December was an absolutely crazy month full of so many parties and family gatherings that left me exhausted! It was honestly a blur and I can’t remember everything that happened. All I know is that there was a selfie stick and animal onesies involved at some point. Peter came home right before Christmas and we had our normal Christmas Eve and Day craziness with my family which is always my favorite part of the holidays.

family

In December we also solidified a lot of wedding plans which was GREAT but STRESSFUL. By New Years Eve I was so exhausted and just stressed out! We came full circle to ring in the new year back at St. Pete Beach, in almost the same exact spot! It was symbolic in a way to finish 2014 just the way we began. And 2014 was exactly that, a year of endings and year of new beginnings. Despite being a crazy year of work, wedding and travel planning, there are so many things that I did and accomplished. It is good to be reminded of all the good things and people in my life. It is also good to know that Oh yeah! I visited 9 countries this year and did some pretty amazing things! 2014 I pushed myself to grow and be open to new experiences despite any challenges I might face and I think I did just that. 2014, you were pretty great. 

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As for 2015, it will be the year of the wedding and the year of focusing on our life in China. It will also be the year of making new travel plans… I’m already thinking South Island of New Zealand, Ocktoberfest in Germany, and maybe a honeymoon in Norway. We shall see! 

Bamboo Forest, Karaoke and Halloween in Shanghai

Greetings from Florida! Yes, it is winter I swear…

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Well it has certainly been awhile since I last blogged! And wow, I have missed writing so much. But more than anything I have missed taking and editing photos! This last month and a half I have felt… incomplete. It is interesting to go without something you take for granted in order to rediscover what exactly makes it so important and how it fits in your life. That is basically what living in China does. You go without so many things that you become immensely grateful for the littlest things.

Having my laptop stolen was a wakeup call in so many ways. First of all, it was a reminder to LOCK YOUR DOORS. HIDE YOUR KIDS HIDE YOUR WIFE. But mostly it was a reminder that material possessions are replaceable. At the end of the day what matters most is the fact that you are safe, healthy and surrounded by the people you love the most.

For the last couple of weeks I have been back in the States attending weddings, stuffing myself with pie on Thanksgiving and visiting friends and family. Peter has already returned to Shanghai to work until Christmas while I am still in Florida, working in the office and setting up meetings for wedding planning stuff. So far so good! I miss Peter so much but it is nice to be home.

Let’s catch up with photos from my last few months in China shall we? I think last time I posted about our cruise to Japan and Korea in late September. God and don’t even get me started on France and New Zealand. Those photos are burning a hole in my brain and I am just happy to work on them again in Photoshop. So expect a travel photo dump soon. NOT ENOUGH TIME, TOO MANY PHOTOS. SORRY I’M NOT SORRY. And sorry for these all caps sentences. I’m just super enthused about photos YAY. Ok back to China!!

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In Shanghai we live in Jiuting which is a bit far away from the center of the city. However our neighborhood is still developed, crowded and very Chinese. One weekend Peter’s friend from work invited us to visit a church in the Songjiang District. Turns out we live just one subway stop away from Sheshan National Forest Park, a beautiful forested area with several churches, temples and trails! Like what??? We were SHOCKED. A mountain in Shanghai? Let’s go!

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For two weekends in a row we met up with friends on the mountain to just walk around and enjoy the scenery. However, this is still Shanghai so we had to look our very best among the crowds of people walking about in their designer jeans and high heels. You can never really avoid people in China, you learn this quickly. Peter wore his very “urban Chinese” best (which I love).

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We climbed to top of the mountain to Sheshan Basilica where we witnessed a massive group wedding. I mean like we actually sat down in the pews and watched 6 couples get married at the same time. It was bizarre! The ladies all wore these elaborate gowns with enormous tulle skirts and sequined bodices. It was fabulous. And weird. Definitely not like my wedding will be.

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Our favorite area on the mountain is a hidden gem, the Bamboo Forest. Below the Basilica and off the main path is an unusually quiet section of the forest filled with enormous bamboos (that sounds so silly). The trees are huge and you can actually hear the quiet enveloping you. It is a magical sensation in one of the loudest cities in the world. We love it! The bamboo is also fun to climb. Although I wouldn’t recommend it. I ruined my shirt when I ascended bamboo marked up with ink. Sweet.

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Let’s see what else? Oh we had an awesome karaoke night for our friend’s birthday. We started with a huge Japanese hibachi dinner and followed with hours of fun in a private karaoke room. My friend Lisa and I killed it on countless songs by Adele and One Direction while the boys tried to keep up. It was a blast as always! I love our American and Scottish friends.

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For Halloween we dressed up and went to a club hosting a weird Circus-themed Halloween party. I went as Rosie the Riveter and Peter as Jackie Chan which was all in vain since nobody in China dresses up. There were some people in costume at the club but other than that… nope. I was stuck in the rain trying to catch a cab for half and hour and people were staring at me like I was some weirdo. I mean doesn’t everybody wear jean on jean? The club was actually really fun and they played some great music from the 80s! The only good picture is this half-assed selfie from earlier in the day. YOU CAN DO IT.

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And finally, if you recall I was taking boxing lessons at my local gym. In the middle of my sessions I switched trainers and was coached by Ares, a sweet 19 year-old kid who laughed at me more times than not. He made me run laps and sprint and kick him for hours on end. It was so much fun! I learned so much and laughed a lot. I taught Ares some English words (including most curse words lol) and he taught me how to count in Chinese! This is just proof that language doesn’t have to be a barrier to friendship. I really am going to miss boxing and all my trainer friends at the gym…

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And that’s all folks! Soon there will be an update on our time here in Florida. But for now I will be outside enjoying the sunshine!

3 Months in China: An Update (or expect the unexpected like food poisoning and getting robbed)

Well. The last 3 months in China have been an absolute roller coaster. (He’s a nice photo of Shanghai from 3 years ago just because).

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The thing with living in China is that you must expect the unexpected. And I do. I really do. However, it is still shocking when the nature of the unexpected is revealed. I am never prepared. But I am always ready to laugh it off and hopefully learn from whatever bizarre experience is thrown my way.

So let’s see. We went to New Zealand at the end of August till the beginning of September and I had one of the best travel experiences of my life. I am still hording all the amazing photos but they will have to wait till I am back in the states… You will understand why in a bit.

After New Zealand I was just really sad. Post- travel depression is real and it sucks. So I threw myself into new activities, joined two expat choirs, took up boxing lessons, and started hanging out with some friends who finally were back in town. And it was good. Then we went on the cruise to Korea and Japan which was fantastic and a lot of fun. After Japan, Peter had a few days off of work so we hung out at home for a few days, readjusting to the craziness of Shanghai. Well I didn’t adjust as well as I had hoped and had a ugly tear-soaked breakdown on my way to choir rehearsal. It was not pretty. It was the typical “I can’t handle all these people”, “I am so overwhelmed”, “can I just live my life and not be ogled like a freak and not worry constantly about how to call a taxi or buy groceries because I can’t communicate with anybody”. A normal China freak out. I am surprised it took this long…

Breakdowns are good because once you release those emotions you can finally MOVE ON. So started taking regular boxing lessons, learning how to punch and kick like a bad-ass with my trainer Hope. He only speaks Chinese and I only speak English so we communicate with elaborate gestures and Google Translate. It is frustrating and hard and I look like a heaving red-faced mess but OMG it is FUN. The Chinese staff love me and mostly I make them laugh while jumping around and acting like a lunatic. I think they appreciate my tendency to bust out random dance moves and curse words when I spectacularly mess up combinations or accidentally hit Hope in the face. I enjoy the challenge and my right hook is showing a lot of improvement!

Besides boxing some other some fun things went on like a cool concert with my friend Lisa, an amazing karaoke birthday night with our friends and finally going to see Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters. Life was good.

Until last Monday.

Peter woke up for work at 6:30am and asked me if I knew where his work laptop was. It had been sitting in his backpack next to the front door since the night before. Well his backpack was there but his laptop was not. As we started searching our apartment with mounting anxiety, I suddenly realized that my own laptop which I had left on the coffee table after a late night of online reading was also gone. WE WERE ROBBED.

I am not even kidding.

Sometime between 1-6am, somebody walked into our apartment, WHILE WE WERE SLEEPING, grabbed our laptops and left. Our door lock had actually jammed a couple days before and could only be locked from the inside with a key. Well that was the ONE NIGHT we forgot to lock our door. Of course we felt like total and complete idiots. But seriously, WTF. Thankfully I had most of my files backed up and had actually planned on getting a new laptop in a few months anyway. It was however a big scramble to change all my passwords to make sure nobody could access my bank accounts or work email. After filing a report with the police we learned that several other apartments in our complex were robbed of their electronics as well. Hopefully they were stolen just for parts and not for actual personal data. OH and they also stole Peter’s sunglasses and 120rmb in cash from my wallet but left about 700rmb in cash sitting on the table where my laptop was. Um. I don’t get it?

So now I am doing all my work on Peter’s enormous gamer laptop but I no longer have Photoshop for my blog :-(. The only files I didn’t back up were all my edited photos from France and New Zealand, literally hours and hours of work which sucks. I will not be able to blog about those trips until after Thanksgiving once I get a new laptop. So while this situation absolutely sucks, I feel so grateful that we are safe and that we are privileged enough to afford new laptops. It honestly could have been much worse.

One more thing.

After this whole ordeal we went back to our normal lives, this time with locked doors. This Saturday a friend took us to a church on a mountain near our apartment and we had a lovely time walking through the forest and watching random couples get married. That night we ate a northern Chinese restaurant which was delicious but made my stomach a little queasy. NBD. Sunday we spent the day relaxing and picked up some KFC for dinner.

Well turns out I got a nasty case of food poisoning and spend all night hunched over the toilet puking my guts out. Oh my god it was absolutely terrible. I was finally able to fall asleep at 1oam and basically slept all day Monday, feeling like absolute crap. It is now Wednesday and I am finally starting to feel human again with some semblance of an appetite. Meh. Not really.

Damn you KFC. I will never eat your chicken crunch wraps again. NEVER. Ugh I feel nauseous just thinking about it. UGHHHH.

And that just about sums up the last few months in China. Unexpected and never boring with a small bout of food poisoning. Haha.

But in 3 weeks I’M GOING HOME!!! Then it will be an action-packed couple of weeks of wedding stuff, a One Direction concert (OMG YES), our friend’s wedding in Pennsylvania, Thanksgiving and possibly a best friend trip to NYC. IT’S GOING TO BE GREAT. Till then I will be training like Rocky and taking long strolls in the cool and hazy autumn air of Shanghai.

Just another day in the life of an expat.

A random weekend in Zhoushang… Welcome back to China

I arrived in Shanghai a week and a half ago. And it is hot. Like really hot. Shanghai has been miserable this week with temperatures in the 90s and such high humidity that it actually feels like 100+ degrees. This afternoon it is 97 degrees outside, but feels like 112 degrees. What is this madness!! 

Good news is that there has been a nice steady breeze that sweeps out the pollution meaning hello blue(ish) skies! Also, I found a way to stay cool(ish) and blend in around our very Chinese neighborhood! I have begun carrying around an umbrella like most women do here in the summer! It shields me from the unforgiving sun and unwelcome stares. Some people notice me anyways since I am ungodly tall for a woman, but mostly I am overlooked. It is brilliant.

Today I thought I’d share our trip to Zhoushang last weekend. This seems to be a thing that only days after my arrival in Shanghai, I am on a bus bound to random cities in China with Peter’s coworkers. Remember Suzhou three years ago? Yup I had just arrived in Shanghai for my first visit EVER and the very next day I was on a bus for a weekend trip to a Chinese water park. Here I am with Wade’s wife, who was also on the trip this year! Wow we were babies (and now she has a baby of her own! crazy!).

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I knew that this team building trip to Zhoushang would be equally random, so I came prepared for anything and everything. And let me tell you, my expectations completely missed the mark… again. And it was awesome.

Friday at noon, I met Peter at his company and boarded a bus with the rest of his team and their families. Of course, Peter and I were the only non-Chinese people and I was the only person who can’t speak Chinese. Naturally. At 1 o’clock we began the 4 hour drive south. As we left the city, I leaned back in my seat, excited to relax for the next several hours. Except as time passed the road became bumpier and bumpier, even after crossing the longest bridge in the history of the world. Seriously, we were on this bridge for at least half an hour. It was amazing! By the time we approached Zhoushang, Peter and I were giggling hysterically as we were thrown around like rag dolls, while I was flung up and down with each drop because of course my seat lacked the ability to lock.

It was the longest 4 hours of my life.

By the time we arrived in Zhaoushang, I was relieved and yet bewildered when we checked into our weirdly sparse hotel that looked like it had been constructed the night before. Our receptionist was a plump teenager playing League of Legends on a desktop still wrapped in plastic and the air-conditioning unit in our small room seemed to pump out only warm air. Did I mention it was about 97 degrees and humid as heck outside? I was in hysterics over the lack of cold air until we figured out how set the unit to COLD air. Thank the lord… I cried happy tears at this discovery.

Soon we left for dinner and enjoyed a table full of seafood dishes that we shared family style, using chopsticks to grab bites from each plate on the turntable and quickly stuff them into our mouths or into our bowls of rice. I have to say, I am a fan of the Chinese style of eating which is all about speed and quantity. It is quite fun.

After dinner we boarded the bus to attend a show by one of the most famous directors in China. Whatever that means.

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We walked through the gates and down a long pathway to an open amphitheater. Taking our seats, we waited for the show to begin in the sticky heat. Soon, the lights dimmed and actors began to walk towards the audience. Suddenly the stage was being enclosed by big walls projected by lights depicting a silk screen. The show began. All in Chinese of course. I gathered that the actors were praying to god, which would be the theme for the rest of the show.

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And suddenly, we began to move. By which I mean that the entire audience and stage began to rotate as if we were on one big turntable. Once we stopped, the walls opened again and there was a collective gasp from the audience. The mountainside was lit up in a spectacular scene with an image of Buddha projected on a rock wall and dancers with spotlights moving up and down a staircase towards a temple. What happened over the next hour was nothing short of a miracle, with the stage rotating and opening to various scenes displayed across the mountain and illuminated in a spectacular light show.

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At one point dancers dressed in orange monk robes alternated jumping on individual rocks to the beat of the music. Only when the dancers were airborne were they illuminated in a flash of light, their flailing orange robes resembling a jumping flame. I wish I could better explain this spectacular imagery, because it was breathtaking. Over the next hour we were spellbound by the story of a man who becomes monk as dancers moved their way through the shadows, manipulating light and our imagination with their bodies. Although I didn’t understand the words of the show, I was deeply moved and definitely shed a few tears over the beauty of it all. It was magical.

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I realized that this must be a production by Zhang Yimou, the director of the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. He is truly the best. If you are ever in China, make sure you check out his performances which take place in different cities around the country. GO PLEASE.

We slept hard in our ice cold room and were up by 7:30am for an early breakfast of rice porridge, rolls, eggs and other random items at the same restaurant as the night before. By 8:30am we were hiking up stone steps behind a jabbering tour-guide up some mountain. I honestly have no idea what this mountain is called or why it is important. All I know is that it had a lot of small rock crevices we had to crawl through and some great views from the top. It was terribly hot and humid, even in the early morning, but we enjoyed the scenery anyways.

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Yeah, we fit through that. I really don’t know how.

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We climbed a lot of steep ass stairs while being jostled by impatient tourists from all directions. This is China.

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But check out the view! The breeze was really nice too.

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Smiling and sweaty.

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After a solid hour and a half exploring the mountain, we walked back down to the bus where a random goat was waiting. I don’t know.

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We then drove to a pebble beach and took a free boat tour around the harbor for about 1 second. It was totally unnecessary. But the big stones were cool. I mean hot.

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With time to kill, we found the place where people were selling everything from ice cream to grilled seafood, fresh from the sea. I devoured an ice cream and hesitantly accepted a grilled squid from our friend Wade. I usually hate squid but OMG THIS WAS DELICIOUS. The squid was grilled in some spicy and savory sauce and cooked to perfection. Add that to my list of weird things consumed in China (horse ankle from Xiamen still ranks at #1).

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YUMMY.

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We then walked down to a water pit by the beach to watch our friends attempt to complete various obstacle courses. Most people fell in the water quite spectacularly and we had quite the laugh watching.

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After the pebble beach area we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a new place. The seafood was amazing and I was so happy to learn that we would be returning there for dinner that evening. Score.

We had 2 hours of relaxation at the hotel (thank god), before we left for yet ANOTHER beach, this time in an area right next to our hotel. However, these beaches are not just open access to the public. You must pay a ticket and walk down an absurdly long entrance walkway through various stalls and buildings before actually arriving at the beach. This makes sense in China because it filters the massive amount of people visiting and spreads them out to reduce a cluster-you-know-what.

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Our group set up a few pop-up tents (which is an awesome idea by the way) and split up into various groups. Most of the ladies kept their clothes on and hid under tents and umbrellas to protect their skin from the sun while some of the men stripped down to their tight swimming trunks for a game of football. Peter and I immediately stripped down to our bathing suits and slathered on sunscreen before walking to the water with a few other people. And yes, I was the only woman in a bikini. THE ONLY ONE. Cue staring.

Swimming was allowed in a small roped off section that was absolutely packed with people and lifeguards. There were four lifeguards on each chair and they would blow their whistles at random intervals for unknown reasons. The current was crazy strong and there were huge waves rolling in from the sea. It was a little scary but the water was deliciously cold. MHMMMMMM. Peter and I swum out  a little bit to tread water which removed us from most people who were stuck standing and rolling around in the surf. Haha.

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We alternated swimming in the cold water and lounging on the beach eating endless amounts of sliced watermelon. After a couple of hours we were all totally exhausted by the sun and ready to leave.

But the day was far from over.

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After the speediest shower in the history of the world (my second shower that day), we returned to the same restaurant for dinner and had a feast. We enjoyed steaming plates of clams, crab, lobster, noodles, cabbage and countless other dishes. Oh, and don’t forget the beer and rice wine which was consumed in exuberance as various people came over to cheers and drink shots with us. Oh dear.

After dinner I was so ready for bed…. except we were whisked away for yet another activity. Gahhhhh.

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We arrived at what looked like a giant beach party with groups of people crowded around tents and personal grills, enjoying enormous picnics in the dark. Weird. Our group clustered around a pile of wood which a man soon lit up with a propane tank and hose. Standard procedure of course. With the bonfire blazing, we began an epic karaoke session with our very own microphones and lyric screen set up on the beach. Different people stood up to sing Chinese songs and even Peter sang a song which was… terrible. Haha sorry babe.

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After a few horrible renditions of different songs, our friend Kevin led everybody in a funny game that had people clambering to form groups with certain number of people or else be eliminated. I just sat and watched, mostly because I was exhausted and also because I couldn’t understand what numbers he was saying in Chinese! Fail.

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After a very long couple of hours sweating in front of the fire and laughing at people tackling each other in massive hugs, our group set off a pack of fireworks and released lanterns into the night sky. It took at least 30 minutes for people to get the lanterns up and going and it was terribly annoying to watch (mostly because I had to go to the bathroom so bad!). Let’s just say I was so glad for this night to be over. I was exhausted and needed yet another shower before bed.

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Thankfully we were allowed to sleep in till 8:30am and were off again for more breakfast and another morning tour. To be honest I was ready to go home! It was hot and I didn’t think I could handle another Chinese tour I couldn’t understand. We drove around the coast and boarded another tour bus that I guess explained the island. Or something. The view was stunning nevertheless.

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Then we had an hour to kill at another beach so we just hid in the shade and enjoyed ice cream and cold sodas. It was a marvelous choice. I was so over the beach. And really, it was like 100 degrees.

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FINALLY, we boarded the bus and stopped for a quick lunch before heading back to Shanghai. It was another bumpy 4 hour drive home but I was not bothered in the slightest. Just let me get home and take another shower!!! (my 10th shower of the weekend just about).

Of course Shanghai was hit with a massive thunderstorm as soon as we arrived with epic black clouds spewing rain and lightning over the city. I have never seen that before here! And of course it started to POUR as soon as we stepped outside to get to the subway station. But whatever, even though we were wet and sweaty (per usual), we were back!

Zongshang.. you were interesting. There is nothing like a good old fashioned Chinese bus tour to welcome me back to China. 

Shanghai Spring [it’s a beautiful thing]

As you have probably heard, Shanghai is a very large and very polluted city. Each time I have lived in China, the weather has been either crazy hot or very cold and damp. There is also a constant haze that blots out the sun and burns your eyes. This is the China I know.

Well, this fascinating city never ceases to surprise me. When I arrived this weekend, I was astounded to see blue skies and feel a cool and pleasant breeze through my light jacket. The weather was absolutely perfect. We are lucky now to live in a quiet neighborhood of apartment buildings surrounded by small paths winding through grass, trees and small ponds teeming with tadpoles. So far I have spent a lot of time strolling across the grounds, marveling at the incredible flowers in bloom. Shanghai is truly magical in the springtime. Take a look. 

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Do you see what I see? Our neighborhood is full of stray cats that patrol the grounds and feast on bowls of food left outside by friendly neighbors. The cat below has stunning green eyes and is quite friendly with the black cat that hangs out by our building.

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Amazing right? Although the haze has settled back in this week, the flowers are still in full bloom and the air is perfectly warm during the day and cool at night. I am going to soak in this weather as long as I can before the heat of summer takes over. March-April is truly the best time of year to be in Shanghai.

When I am not strolling around and smelling the roses, I am eating! Peter and I found this great dumpling place down the street and already have plans to return asap. On Sunday we feasted on steaming bowls of noodles and bean curd in beef broth and a dozen soup-filled dumpling, a Shanghai delicacy called xiaolongbao. Learn more about xiaolongbao here.

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Last night we met our friends at the Shanghai Mercedez-Benz Arena for the Lionel Richie concert! The stadium looks like a spaceship and is located next to the expo. I didn’t know much about Lionel Richie music going in but soon realized that I know and love most of his songs! He played all his greatest hits including Brick House and had everybody dancing in their seats (and on the ceiling)! We had a lot of fun, except for the fact that I sat next to this Chinese guy who RECORDED THE ENTIRE CONCERT ON HIS IPAD. His flippin’ Ipad! It was so hilarious and yet so terribly obnoxious. It didn’t take away from the show but it was ridiculous!

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The subway ride to and from the concert was really long but we kept ourselves entertained. Overall we had a great time at the Lionel Richie concert. We’re big fans.

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That’s all there is to say in this little Shanghai update. Things are good. Next up, Thailand!