Day 338: The Joys of International Traveling

My last China post! Wow. I can’t believe that 2 months have already passed! I realize that in no time I will be on a plane (well 4 planes to be exact) to Malaysia! This time I am less nervous about moving across the world (weird) and know I can do it.

I am eager to really focus on my health coaching/personal training business before I leave. It takes a lot of time in addition to my day job and health coaching classes but I am determined to get organized. Wish me luck… and visit www.kirstenchmielewski.com for my professional website!! Huzzah. I am still working on the content so please be patient.

Tuesday, December 4th 

After a little more than 2 months, it was already time to leave Shanghai!

Peter and I had a great dinner the previous night at one of our favorite local restaurants which serves traditional Chinese food from the northern provinces. The food is spicy and absolutely incredible.

My plane departed at 5pm so we kept it simple for lunch at Organic Cafe, our favorite restaurant by Peter’s work. Our friend Barri joined us and I had my usual smoked salmon wrap (with their delicious sauce), pumpkin soup, and green juice. YUM. I am really going to miss the availability of fresh juice in China.

After lunch it was time to hit the road… err… metro! Peter and I grabbed my 3 suitcases, carry on, and purse and began lugging it down to the metro. I wore my new bracelet for luck.

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Love it!

Since taking a cab out to Pudong is very far and expensive, we usually try to take the metro to the airport. Unfortunately, this trip is difficult and physically exhausting. We end up carrying almost 200 pounds of luggage up and down the stairs because many metro stops in Shanghai do not have escalators. The metro is almost always packed so there is never a place to sit. The Chinese are so fast and sneaky when they board the metro and slip quickly into the available seats. It is a NIGHTMARE. But cheap :-).

Overall, the trip took an hour with several line transfers along the way. It was a relief to check my bags and sit on a plane for hours and hours. I was pooped! Oh and I definitely watched 6 movies on the flight home. YEAH. That was awesome.

Let’s not even talk about how I had to pick up my 4 suitcases in JFK and awkwardly load them on a cart to be rechecked. After this magical balancing act, all 4 suitcases promptly tumbled off while coming down a steep walkway, blocking the way for everybody. Awkward. Can I get a hand? Or ten?

Rechecking the bags was a relief until I got lost in the international terminal. In JFK you have to leave the international building and walk outside to the building next door for domestic flights. I was so confused.

But I made it.

I landed in Tampa around midnight and was picked up by my dad and sister. My hair was greasy, my clothes were crumbled and dirty, and my skin was parched but I was so happy to be home! Oh the joys of international flying.

Till next time…

MALAYSIA HERE I COME.

Day 337: Accidental Shopping Success at Pearl City

Monday, December 3rd

On my last day in China, I woke up sore beyond belief. Ouch. Since Peter had to work all day, I spent the morning packing all our belongings. We would both be moving out of our tiny shoebox apartment so everything had to go. Good thing the apartment was so small that everything was easy to put away.

In the afternoon I decided to make one final pitstop at Peal City Market for some last minute Christmas shopping. This is what I encountered when I stepped outside the apartment:

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A restaurant opened next door to us in a matter of days. Store openings are a big deal in China and they really go all out for it. We witnessed the late night celebratory firework display outside our window the night of the opening. The restaurant set off lines of fireworks on the street, stopping traffic for a solid 5 minutes while the street exploded in light. In addition, they lined the entranceway with dozens of decorative palm fronds covered with flowers and red ribbons. This would be up for days.

I like the decorations except it makes the impossibly narrow sidewalk by our place even more narrow! Did I mention we live next to a Michelin garage on the corner of the street? This means I am constantly maneuvering cars, soapy puddles, and metal welding on the sidewalk in addition to the stares of the Chinese guys who work there. It’s fun.

Now back to the Pearl City Market… 

Just a 20 minute bus ride later and I arrived at Hong Mei Lu, prepared for a quick shopping trip. Despite being scared of shopping by myself, I easily procured a tea set for Peter’s mom, beautiful postcards, and some embroideries for my grandmothers. I wanted to find something unique for my parents so I headed to the 3rd floor. While browsing a small store for some journals and chatting up the owner, he randomly asked if I wanted to look at purses.

I shocked myself by saying yes! He whisked me away into a secret room full of Chanel purses. I was hesitant. I had already bought three purses and two wallets. Then I surprised myself even more by bargaining hardcore for a purse, 2 wallets, and 3 scarves. Dear lord, I was becoming a bargaining queen! At that point I knew I had to get out of there!

But the damage was done. I was on a buying rampage! I bought the perfect gifts for my parents then somehow bought myself 2 scarves in the process. I thought I was safe when I exited the building until I saw street vendors laying out beautiful jewelry. UHOH.

I had always wanted to buy cheap jewelry in China but always talked myself out of it. This time I was determined. I worked with this sweet lady speaking a different dialect on 3 long necklaces which she made longer for me buy cutting and adding extra chain length. I also picked up this unique beaded leather bracelet. When she grabbed her calculator to ring up the price I realized I was way short on cash! After bargaining a bit I worked it down to just the 3 necklaces. However, she took the leather bracelet and handed it to me, gesturing for me to take it. So kind!

I walked away happy, wearing my new leather bracelet and dragging even more trash bags of presents. Shopping success!

Now I just needed to fit all this stuff in my suitcases….

Day 336: My Experience with Traditional Chinese Massage a.k.a. Full Body Smack-down

Omg!

I just bought my ticket to Malaysia!!! I leave on March 5th and arrive in Penang on March 7th after stops in New York, Frankfurt, and Singapore. YIKES. But I get frequent flier miles and hopefully some upgrades on the flight. I am officially insane… but happy!

I’M GOING TO MALAYSIA!

Whew. Now, let’s get back to the 365 project which is almost complete!

Sunday, December 2nd

After a long night out at the Bund, we slept through most of the morning. Peter had some work to do so I decided to do a quick workout! I love taking a break from exercise because it feels so good getting back into it.

Finally we were ready for a late lunch at our favorite local spot, ET Cafe. I come here to work all the time and love the ambience. It is also only a 5 minute walk from the apartment so it is very convenient.

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We enjoyed our usual sandwiches with a soda for him and Americano for me. The sandwiches here are so so so good. We probably get brunch here about once a week. It is that good.

Still exhausted, we watched I Love You Man (hilarious!) before scheduling a late night Traditional Chinese Massage!! Sounds sketchy right??

We met our Malaysian friend PK at his favorite local massage place just two metro stops over from us at Xujiahui. I had been wanting to get a massage since I arrived in China and am glad we made it happen before I left! The other only time I got a massage was during my first trip to China in 2011. It was just as awesome as I remembered.

When Peter, PK, and I arrived, I made sure to request a strong masseuse. As the three of us sat down in individual armchairs in our private room, a small and compact woman made her way over to me carrying a basin of hot water. While soaking my feet, she started to massage the crap out of my shoulders and neck. This lady was small but strong! Although I am used to trigger point massage, this lady put a beat down on all muscles, not caring about that trigger nonsense. This type of massage is known as “tui na” in Traditional Chinese Medicine and uses rolling, kneading, and pushing techniques to open the energy pathways of the body. Well, my energy was flowing! 

With my shoulders beat to a pulp, she put away the basin and started working on my feet. Holy moly it hurt so good. With all my foot injuries, foot massage is my favorite way to break down scar tissue and bring blood flow to injured areas. I just prepare to be sore for days!

After an hour in the armchairs sipping tea and grimacing with sweet pain, our masseuses lead us into another room with 3 tables. We changed into robes and laid down in preparation of a full body smack down. An hour of back, arms, legs, butt, and stomach massage later, our masseuses left us in a puddle of extreme relaxation. Wow, I was going to be sore tomorrow. Who knows what sort of toxins were just released in my body!

It was a delightfully painful experience but very cheap for a full 2 hour massage! If you are ever in Shanghai, make sure to visit a reputable establishment (preferably without scantily clad women lounging in the entryway) and do not be afraid to ask for different levels of pressure.

You do not have to be a massage sadist like me ;-)

 

Day 335: Back on the Bund

Saturday, December 1st 

Sadly, my last weekend in Shanghai had arrived. Although we had already succeeded in purchasing fake goods at Pearl City last weekend, I realized we needed to buy a few more things. I was also desperate to visit the Bund and my favorite restaurant one last time. So we made a day out of it!

First Barri and I tackled Yatai Xinyang Fashion and Gift Market at the Science & Technology Museum metro stop. It was overwhelming and a little stressful but we walked out with two trash bags full of Chanel purses and wallets for my mom and sisters. Success!!

We grabbed a cab to meet the boys at Lost Heaven on the Bund, my favorite restaurant in Shanghai. Peter brought me there during my first visit to China.

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Honestly the food and atmosphere were not as amazing as I remembered but I enjoyed being with our friends. We were also seated next to door that refused to stay shut and keep the cold air out. However, I had several glasses of wine so I didn’t mind the cold air at all!

After stuffing ourselves with plenty of good food, we walked across the street to stroll the Bund one last time.

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The Bund was surprisingly empty. We had the place all to ourselves! The view was surreal as always and I have to remind myself that this was actually my home for a short period of time. Crazy!

Suddenly, it started to rain. Peter and I clutched our trash bags full of purses hoping to keep them safe and dry. By that time, it was pouring. Of course we only had two umbrellas to share between the four of us. Yeah, we had to get out of there. Of course the only time the Bund is actually empty of people, China weather kicks us out. I guess we are doomed to endless crowds and traffic in this magnificent city of lights.

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Running away from the Bund in a flurry of trash bags, umbrellas, and wet coats, we tried calling a cab to no avail. Unfortunately, it is impossible to find a cab in a major tourist area while it is raining cats and dogs. Thank you China! Mad and wet, we knew we were stuck until it stopped raining and we could call a cab home.

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So we did what any cold and wet tourist on the Bund would do and decided to start drinking. We walked back to Lost Heaven and grabbed a table at their top floor bar. We were going to be here for awhile! At least we would be happy and warm.

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This actually proved to be a blessing in disguise. Although we were cold and tired, we were able to relax and hang out a little bit longer. Plus I enjoyed the most amazing cocktail.. EVER. Ginger is my favorite mixer ever so when I saw a ginger cocktail on the menu I jumped at the chance. Served in these adorable metal cups, this cocktail was DELICIOUS.

I was a happy camper and probably had a few ginger cocktails too many. But that was ok, it was my last big night out in Shanghai! Go big if you are going home right?

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Ridiculous.

Several hours later, the rain stopped and we found a cab to take us home at a very late hour with our enormous trash bags in tow. I am so happy that I managed to see the Bund one last time before leaving. After calling Shanghai my home for 2 months, I had already forgotten that it really is an enormous and splendid city, a place that I called my home!

Honestly, I expected to live in Shanghai for at least a year. My trip was cut incredibly short with Peter’s relocation to Malaysia and I wish I had explored more of Shanghai and China. I thought I had more time. But everything happens for a reason. I did what I was supposed to do in China and now fate is bringing me to Malaysia.

This time I will take full advantage of this never-ending life abroad.

Ganbei! 

Day 333 and 334: Changing Seasons and Getting Sick in China

Are you getting confused yet about my erratic posting? I hope not. It has been fun jumping between Italy and China because they are SO DIFFERENT. Reviewing these pictures just makes me remember how 2012 was an incredible year of travel and adventure.

Thanks for reading! I promise the 365 project will end… soon!

Thursday, November 29th 

December is quickly approaching and the weather in Shanghai is becoming more cool and crisp. There is no chance of snow but a cold rain continues to come down on the city while the humid air chills to the bone. However, I am happy with the change of scenery and the ever changing leaves.

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It reminds me of my beautiful Maine minus the forest, wilderness, trees, clean air, people…. you get the picture.

I bundle up in sweaters and rain jackets and enjoy the cold air while I can. This might be the last time I walk around one of the biggest cities in the world… and not sweat. Balmy Florida and Malaysia will keep me in a constant state of sweatiness but at least will have some sun!

I know I will miss Shanghai, just a little bit.

Friday, November 30th 

For one of our last lunches in China, Peter takes me and our friend Jorge back to Wonton, one of the coolest and most delicious restaurants by his work.

Remember this meal?

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I certainly do.

Plump wontons and meatballs float in a warm broth with egg, a ribbon of seaweed, and chunk of corn on the cob. The soup is warm and comforting on this chilly day. On the side are soy sauce for dipping, red beans, and a boba dessert. Don’t forget the fresh juice!

See, food in China can be healthy and delicious. Despite 2 months of drastically changing seasons, I have yet to catch the flu or a cold. I swear it is the traditional Chinese food and copious amounts of tea that keep me healthy even if the hygiene of the food sometimes causes intestinal distress.

While I have yet to get the sniffles, I have been plagued by violent stomach reactions to poorly prepared food 4 times in China. It is not fun people. Especially when most bathrooms in China are holes in the ground and do not have toilet paper or soap.

My advice? Come prepared. Bring Immodium (tmi?).

And drink lots of tea!

Day 331 and 332: Navigating the Streets of Shanghai and My Last Netball Practice

Tuesday, November 27th

Another hazy day in Shanghai. As much as I enjoy living in a big city, I hate the environment. The air is always polluted and the sun is perpetually shrouded in a blanket of filmy haze.

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There is always a layer of smog that separates me from some good Vitamin D and fills my lungs with icky congestion which you see splattered on the streets. The locals are used to this and are definitely not shy to hock loogies on the street and clear their throats with a sound that could stop time.

The streets of Shanghai are like an obstacle course of spit, motorbikes, and an endless stream of people who never bother to make space for an oncoming passerby. Sometimes I get lucky if the short wall of dark hair looks up in time to notice the blonde haired giant approaching with long limbs and a grim expression. With startled looks and open-mouthed stares they quickly create a small lane of space.

It is impossible to blend into this city. However, perpetually standing out is a blessing in disguise for this self-condoned wallflower.

You are allowed to bloom

I had an article published in Spirit Magazine about this topic regarding the benefits of standing out in China. I hope to share it on the blog soon.

But let me continue with this day’s events which included my last netball practice! I was so excited to join the team at Regis International School and meet some really great ladies. Due to scheduling conflicts we were not able to play a game in the first semester which is a bummer since I found out I am moving to Malaysia. Although I may never play in an actual netball game, I learned so much about the sport and about myself.

In fact, I am not too bad at netball! Like in most team sports, I am very fast but have pretty terrible hand/eye/feet coordination. I can run around like a crazy person and create space on the field but fumble when I actually get the ball. I mean over the course of netball practices, I was hit in the face with the ball about 5 times and tripped over my feet countless times. Totally embarrassing. But sometimes I could shoot really well!

Team sports are a humbling experience. I learned that I can’t always be the best on the field but can work with my team to bring out our individual strengths. It is a beautiful thing to experience. I will miss netball but hope to find another team in Malaysia!

After netball I was still pretty energetic and loose so I decided to bust out the Turkey Burn Workout from Fit2Flex.It had been a week since my last workout so I was ready to feel the burn. I finished this awesome at-home-workout in 37 minutes. Holy triceps. They were smoked.

Great workout!

Wednesday, November 28th

I woke up extremely sore and very chilled. It was finally cold outside! So I bundled up in a sweater and scarf and made my way to my favorite Starbucks to bust out some work.

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There is nothing like a hot cup of coffee and sweater weather to make me a productive human being.

It also helps when you are too sore to stand up. Thank you netball and jumping squats!

 

Day 329 and 330: Made in China

A cold front is finally making its way through St. Petersburg! I can breathe a sigh of foggy relief. See I love the sun and warm weather but I love the cold even more. Probably because I could live in sweat pants and sweaters for the rest of my life. Plus you appreciate the sun and the warmth so much more when you get it back after weeks of cold, dark, and depressing days (thank you Maine).

Knowing that I am moving to the tropical jungle very soon makes me crave cold weather like it is nobody’s business. Gimme those sweaters.

Sunday, November 25th 

After months of my family begging me to get cheap knock-off designer goods, I finally bit the bullet and made a day out of it at Peal City. I had never been to Pearl City before and was pleasantly surprised. It was just a big mall on Hong Mei Lu stuffed with hundreds of stores with small but fierce Chinese ladies taunting you with “Lady want purse? Lady want bag? Lady want shirt? Me give good price.”

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Just breathing in their direction would result in loud and incessant commands for me to buy, buy, buy.

It was terrifying.

I resorted to smiling and keeping my gaze directed at the items instead of the bossy women. Boy, they are persistent. Armed with my bargaining team of Peter and Berri we found our way into one of many purse stores. A quick word between Berri and the shop guy and he whisked us down the hall and into another shop. Before we knew it, they opened the back wall and ushered us into a secret room. Then they opened another back wall into another secret room full of fake goods. Using Peter and Berri as my tough negotiators, I scored a Louis Vutton purse, Tori Burch purse, two Chanel wallets, and 3 watches all for under $200! We were psyched.

After almost 2 exhausting hours of shopping for family and friends, we decided to grab some dinner at the Hong Mei Lu Pedestrian street. Peter used to live down in this area and I really appreciate the accessibility of Western food, shopping, and people! Often I try to avoid the pedestrian street because it can be very expensive and full of obnoxious white people getting wasted on a weeknight. However, it is a nice place to go to on occasion if you are feeling homesick.

We had a wonderful soup and salad buffet at Bastiaan’s where I have had many coffee dates with fellow American ladies before. The food was delicious! I highly recommend it.

Monday, November 26th 

After such an exhausting weekend I was ready to get to my Starbucks and do some work. I was also craving a big hot latte on this cold day.

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That night I forced Peter to watch Merlin which I found at our neighborhood DVD store. Merlin is one of my favorite childhood movies which is weird since the movie is a little bit risque (and extremely weird).

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We used to watch this movie all the time at our North Carolina cabin. We kids were a little obsessed with magic at the time so it makes sense. The movie was just as weird as I remembered but I loved it. Peter fell asleep.

Oh well. At least one of us is still trying to keep the magic alive.