Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Guilin Day 3

Between school, mandarin lessons, guitar lesson and trying to squeeze in a social life,  I've been a busy beaver, but better late than never! Here's what we did on day three:

We woke up fairly early to head out to see the Silver Caves.  That was alright, and kind of cool, but it turns out I'm not really all that inspired by caves.  It's what came next that rocked my boat - a trip down a small river on a bamboo raft.  I felt connected with the river, the mountains, and multitude of dragonflies and butterflies that would occasionally grace our boat with their presence. Consequently, I fell in love with China all over again.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this is it. 

A little visitor                                            
We were seated two per boat, and I was fortunate enough to have my friend Hillary as my partner if only because of the hilarity that ensued.  The river was quite leisurely, but every once in a while we would come upon a little dam that we would have to pass through.  The first time was fairly entertaining, the second time again, but then came the third. Oh the third was the clincher- we got completely and utterly soaked!

The only thing we were missing was the beer.  And, sure as any place in Asia, we soon pulled up alongside a small river fishing raft with plenty of beer for sale.  After a bit of bargaining, a beer for our raft guide, there was, if possible, an even happier group of Canadians floating down the quiet yulong river on a bamboo raft.
A raft on the river like the one we stopped at for beer.

Now for a little Eye Spy: can you spot the little shelter in the distance?

It's where we were stopped to have pictures printed:

For 20 Kuai I chose a priceless picture of Hilary and I as our raft embarked down one of the little dams. She looked more like someone on a loop-the-loop roller-coaster than a tiny waterfall on a lazy river.  If only I had a scanner, I would share it here for all to see.  Since I don't - you will have to use your imagination.

What a life I've led since I last left home!

Up next: Day 4 and 5 at the Longji Rice Fields

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Guilin Day 1 & 2

During the Chinese National holiday I spent five glorious days escaping the hustle and bustle of city life in Beijing.  Along with five other teachers, I traveled to one of China's southern treasures: Guilin.  We spend one night in Guilin City, two nights in the touristy town of Yangshuo, and one night in a tiny farming village called Longji. Mountains, rivers, and rice fields as far as the eye can see.  It was a perfect vacation in Southern China.

Guilin city was more of a pit stop on our way than anything to write home about.  We arrived, were met by by our private tour guide with our private bus (yes- this is why I love traveling in asia), went up Yao mountain on a chairlift to see the view, did a bit of shopping, and went to bed.  The Yao mountain chairlift was a bit of an adventure, if only because I'm a bit afraid of heights.  The view was well worth the death grip I had on the chairlift bar.  Another noteworthy moment from Guilin was watching Tim, the only male companion in our party, bargain with an 8 year old while shopping.

Yao Mountain 

Tim pulling out his top bargaining skills 

The following morning we woke up early to catch the boat for our Li River Cruise.  The Li River is China's fourth largest river. The scenery is famous for a reason- it's breathtaking. The photos I took don't even begin to capture the magic of it.  The river winds through limestone mountains, past fisherman and their cormorants,  and past the water buffalo enjoying lazy afternoons.

The Li river is famous for the Cormorants trained for fishing. 

Illegal vendors on small bamboo rafts would pull up alongside our much larger boat, and try to sell their wares.  Our tour guide cautioned us that this is dangerous for the vendors, and he has seen many fall into the river with their rafts still attached to our boat while trying to make a sale.  They can swim- but certainly not fast enough to catch up with the boat and therefore lose their raft and goods.  

The cruise took us all the way to the town call Yangshuo, where we spent the next two nights.  To end the day we walked around Yangshuo's very touristy West Street, and took it easy.  Stay tuned- more to come!

Walking down a very busy West Steet alongside a man selling fruit

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dear Neglected Blog

I am back in Beijing after a wonderful summer at home.  I had plenty of time to spend with family and friends, and do some of my favourite summer time things. Of course, I made sure to spend plenty of time at the beach!                                

Unfortunately, I've been very busy since my return and have completely neglected doing any writing, but I'm making myself get back on the blogging bandwagonI write for myself- but I hope that anyone who comes across my little corner of the web enjoys what they find!  I'd love to hear your comments :) 

P.S. I don't know what is wrong with the formatting of this post.  It looks normal in the draft, but is posting all wrong.  Anyone know how to fix that?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Just a short note to say: home soon!

My first year in China is coming to an end in a few days and I am ecstatic to get home! The last day of school was on Friday, followed by a staff party.  Monday and Tuesday will be PD days; Wednesday I plan on packing and relaxing; Thursday I fly home! Yippee!!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tigers and dragons and rats - oh my!

Post #2 of my especially fantastic week: Dinner with Sarah Brennan

A month or so ago our school had a book fair.  Students, parents and teachers could go down to the school's gallery and choose from an assortment of English titles ranging from pictures books to novels.  It was at this book fair that I first fell in love with Sarah Brennan's Chinese Calendar tales.  I  was teeming with anticipation as I rushed over to the ATM machine so I could add books starring Temujin (teh-ma-gin) the tiger, Run Run Rat, and Chester Choi (the dragon) to my collection of children's books.  I was irrationally worried (as I am wont to be when I am excited about something) that they would be sold out by the time I was back. I couldn't wait to share them with my students.  Not once did it cross my realm of possibility that I'd soon be having dinner with the author of these unique and clever children's books.  

The day I heard Sarah Brennan was coming to our school I was flabbergasted.  I knew this would be a wonderful experience for my students (and for me as well).  While we waited I made sure to read The Tale of Chester Choi (my personal favourite) and Run Run Rat (a close second).  I never got around to reading The Tale of Temujin for them, which worked out to be the best because that is the very story that Sarah Brennan was going to read for us. 

Brennan spent two days at our school reading to the grades 1 to 5 classes.  My grade four class and I had 40 minutes all to ourselves and we enjoyed a very animated reading of The Tale of Temujin. Don't tell my students, but we also learned a lot of history about Genghis Khan for whom Temujin's character is based on.  During the reading my students listened attentively and laughed aloud with glowing faces.  I love my school, I love my students and I love teaching, but to do what Sarah Brennan does is  a job straight from my dreams.  

Then, near the end of the first day, I checked my email to find an invitation from the principal to have dinner with Brennan and a few other teachers.  I was on top of the world to be invited and replied that I would love to go.  

Dinner was at the nearby Kempinski hotel and on the school.  It was early (4:30) so the place was empty, but the food was delicious.  Even better was the company.  Sarah was down to earth, hilarious and full of stories to tell.   I ate up every word! I'd love to do what she does.  Maybe someday :) 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sunsets, Stars and the Great Wall of China

I'm so elated about the past few days that I don't even know where to begin. My thoughts are racing faster than my fingers can keep up, and I can barely focus long enough to put this into type. I guess, for the sake of my sanity and for anyone trying to follow my train of thought,  I will start from the beginning and write it in two separate posts.

Post #1:

My heart is now and forever ingrained with Jinshanling and Simatai.  It began on the weekend with an unforgettable, once in a lifetime (although I'm greedily hoping it will be twice in my lifetime) camping trip to the Great Wall of China.  We left Beijing around 2:00 pm for a scenic 2 hour drive through the mountains that lay just beyond Beijing, and arrived around 4 pm as the vendors were closing down for the night and the last of the day travelers were heading home for their supper.  Before heading out to the wall, our guide brought us to his home/shop for our first break and a light snack and beer.

After the snack and beer we set off to find a bathroom.  Living in China, I have learned to expect the unexpected, but this time I was caught off guard.  Much to our surprise (and also to our dismay) this is what we found:  (Picture to come)

Then we left our bags behind, grabbed a beer for the road, and headed off for a 40 minute hike to catch the sunset. Now, the sunset wasn't particularly spectacular in itself, but to finally be sitting on the Great Wall of China made it one of the best of my lifetime.

Picture courtesy of another teacher's much better camera, and borrowed from her facebook (thanks Laura!)

After the sunset, we headed back down to our guide's home for a delectable Chinese style meal.  As with Chinese custom, they served us many dishes including dumplings, garlic shoots, and tofu.  There was foodpijiu (beer), and bijiu (not recommended) galore! We ate until we thought we couldn't eat anymore and there was still food coming.  
Don't you love chewing pictures? 

With full bellies and even fuller backpacks, we once again headed off to the wall to find our camping site.  This time the trek was short, but we were still relieved to set down our heavy packs (maybe we shouldn't have been so eager when loading up with more beer) and set up camp.  Our home for the night is called the dark tower, our beds were mats and sleeping bags, and above our heads was nothing but the moon, the stars, and an occasional bat. On my mind the whole way up to the tower was the inevitable question: where does one use the bathroom while camping on the great wall? I quickly found out that bathroom on the Great Wall means a bucket tucked into a far corner of the tower.  Certainly not ideal, but after living in China we've all seen worse and made do for the night.  By bedtime I was thankful for the hard Beijing mattress in my apartment because, despite the fact that we were camped on a brick wall, once I settled into my sleeping bag I slept like a log.  

The next thing I knew the early morning light was upon us and I was wide awake.  I didn't dare check my watch while I waited for the others to stir and for our breakfast to arrive.  In the meantime I used the bucket and listened as a tourist or two wandered onto our campsite watchtower.  After what seemed like an eternity (the kind of eternity that only happens when laying in bed waiting for it to be time to get up), the tour guide appeared and suddenly everyone was back to life, rolling up sleeping bags and mats, eating breakfast and drinking tea or coffee.
Early morning at the Great Wall

Once we took in the view and were set to go our sly guide offered to take our bags to Simatai (our destination) for and extra 10 Kuai each.  Being the clever travelers that we are, we immediately took up his offer and ditched our heavy packs and opted for a much lighter trek up and down the sometimes treacherous ruins of Ancient China.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and while these pictures don't do the wall justice, I will let them tell the rest of the story:

Off we go! 

Entering the unrestored part - most of the hike was like this.

This was by far the scariest part of the climb.

View from the top- I can't believe I did it! 

Going down was much easier,  but we had to watch our step.

Crossing this bridge was terrifying - the boards didn't feel sturdy.  Luckily there was a beam down the middle so I stuck to that and held the rail for dear life. 

After the bridge crossing there were two more towers then we were home free! We enjoyed a cold beer while waiting for some of the others to catch up before zip-lining it down to the "pleasure boat" which took us to the town where our van was waiting.  
Yup- That's me!
I didn't make it up- they actually call it the pleasure boat. 
The pleasure boat (you never know what to expect with a title like that)

Visiting one of the seven wonders of the world was humbling and awe-inspiring.  I also managed to learn a little bit more about myself on this trip. As it turns out I'm not as afraid of heights as I thought (just steep upward climbs and suspension bridges).  I was still nervous, but looking back, not near as much as I thought I was going to be.  Next stop- Everest! Just kidding. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New posts soon to come!

So, call me a liar if you will, but I never got around to posting those posts I said that I would post about the happenings in Beijing. However! I have two new posts coming up very soon that I am working on.  They will be brilliant (or at least my mom and sister will think so). Stay tuned for my adventure to the Great Wall, and supper with Sarah Brennan children author extraordinaire .

Friday, March 26, 2010

Update from Beijing

Well, it is apparent I have not kept up my blog as much as I would have liked. Since my last post I have walked through the rainforest in Kuala Lumpur,  snorkeled in the brilliant waters of Ko Phi Phi island,  rode an elephant in Phuket, and partied on Ko San road. I have also stood on Tiananmen Square, drank tea in a traditional Hutong, and got up at 4 am to watch the Canada take gold in men's hockey.  I also started going to the gym.  I still haven't gone to the Great Wall.

I have also decided that I am not through with China just yet, and signed on for another year.  I will post a longer entry soon to regale a tale or two of the past few months living in Beijing.