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The French Countryside

After a pretty decent sleep at a hotel in St Malo, we were up and ready for brekkie early. We had breakfast at the hotel and I had a really strong coffee….had to add both sugar and honey in order to drink it!  Although we are still waking up at 3:30 am(hungry, hahha), we managed to get enough sleep for the drive today. We started out on the main highway, and I’m getting used to the speed everyone travels at, finally. At one point we had to slow down to 90 km/hr and it felt like we were crawling, haha! We were going to be driving through Rennes, Le Mans and finally ending up in Tours, where we will spend 3 days exploring the castles. What happened was that we got sidetracked, thinking we could pull off to one of the smaller cities and see some smaller castles on the way. Little did we know that most of them were at least 100km away from our route, so we nixed that idea pretty quickly! Back we go to get on the highway again….and then ended up on a different highway(probably the older one) that took us the long way around.(we also missed a bunch of tolls, yay!).  However, the French countryside is absolutely beautiful, and it was a much more relaxing day of driving after all, even though we had periods of crazy rain. We stopped in the little town of Chateau du Loire and had a lunch in a town square type of place, and ate outside in the sun, which felt so good!   Bruce is doing an awesome job of driving, and my French  just may be improving a teeny tiny bit, lol!

When we arrived in Tours, we had a bit of a rude awakening. Tours is a big city…with tons of one way streets and lots of shopping! We had thought that we would arrive fairly early to our hotel and drop off our bags and then head right out to see a castle. Well, after driving in circles for at least an hour, we still couldn’t find the place I had booked us. It was a rare sight to see a street name, and there was no way we could pull over and read the map or ask for directions. Even so, we ended up asking 3 different people for help and that just made things worse, hahaha! Finally, after driving in circles forever, we found the place…..and it had the tiniest sign for a hotel you have ever seen. We were so close to it twice, and drove all around it! Needless to say, we gave up on the idea of seeing a castle and had a nap instead. We were exhausted, lol! We have a teeny kitchen, so we went shopping and filled up with some goodies and just had a salad for dinner. Tomorrow, we storm the castles!! We will post some pictures when we return!

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The Start of our Adventure

After a nine hour long flight in a very stuffy airplane, we landed safely in Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris, France. It was 10:00 in the morning here in Paris, but only 1:00am in the morning Vancouver time. So while all of you were in bed asleep, we were just starting our day. It’s been over thirty years since my last visit to this country, so I am curious to see how things have changed. Here’s what I remember from last visit:

-The waiters in Paris were rude.
-Everyone smoked all of the time.
-The drivers all drive fast and were crazy.
-No body jogs.
-The wine was as cheap as bottled water.
-The coffee and baguettes were delicious.

I will check in in a later blog and review our findings.

After wandering through the airport for an hour and waiting an unbelievable 2 hours to rent a car, we were on our way on route A1 to Dunkerque. We took about 3 and a half hours to get there, found a hotel and slept for two hours and woke up at 7:00pm for dinner. We had some delicious salads, roti du dindon with potatoes and veggies and some vin rouge. We were asleep by nine and up at six for a quick breakfast buffet. We drove thru the town and it was both quaint and huge at the same time. The beach was huge. The movie really does a good job of capturing the feeling of the town. Then we headed south. We stopped at Mt. St. Michel which is the abbey built out on island in the ocean. It was late and we were tired from driving for six hours, to say nothing of trying to adjust to the jet lag. In any case we chose not to do the tour and satisfied ourselves some pics. Our final stop

Sheep in front of the abbey.

for the day was Hotel Ibis in St. Malo! We are looking forward to our next three days visiting the castles of the Loire Valley.

The beach looking south.

We stopped for lunch at a boulangerie and bought a baguette a pretzel and some water. All very yummy!

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The Next Adventure

So to clarify, we are NOT going back to China, but we are poised for another travel adventure and will blog our travels again. Rather than open up a new blog, we decided to just continue our old blog from our days living in Shanghai!  Here is our rough itinerary:

Land in Paris

Dunkirk

Mt. Ste Micheal and St Malo

The Loire Valley (The home of many castles!)

Back to Paris and fly to Lisbon.

Lisbon during a festival then drive to Lagos, Portugal with our friends Ronda and Michael for 4 days.

An apartment right on the beach in Punta Umbria, Spain for two weeks of sun!

Flight to Florence, Italy.

Another villa right on the beach 11-12 days on the island of Paros, Greece

Ferry to Athens, Greece then flight to Paris for a few days of sight seeing.

Paris, Toronto and back to Vancouver. We are back early November.  Special thanks to our friend who is house sitting for us!

Stay tuned for the newest adventure.

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Thanks for the Memories, Shanghai!

I actually wrote this while on the plane home; we are now back in Vancouver and enjoying catching up with friends and family and drinking tons of water!

Here we are, at the end of our adventure. It’s hard to believe it has gone by already. As I sit on the plane heading for my Canadian home, I think back on all of experiences and feel bittersweet. We are happy to be heading back to see our family and friends, but feel that we are leaving a family behind. How do you explain all of the things that we have been through, happy or sad? We had a rough start to our journey, but in the end, I am glad we stayed. We have both grown, I think, in our own ways through this whole thing, and that is what I will be taking away from it. I conquered crossing the street – probably the scariest thing I have ever done…….it may even beat the 6 day hospital stay due to an annoying appendix problem! We both became more adventurous in what we ate, or tried to eat, hahahaha! Bruce learned so much Chinese that I really didn’t need to, since we spent 24/7 together! We became each other’s best friend, no matter what came our way. When you are in a foreign country, you don’t speak the language, and you don’t know your way around, you have to rely on each other, or everything falls apart. Ultimately, that defeats the purpose of going on adventure together.
We have definitely learned that as Canadians, we take so much for granted. Just the simple act of the freedom of communication with family and friends, or watching your favourite television show becomes all the more important when you can no longer do it because of government restrictions. China is waging a war with google, which hampered our attempts at using the Internet more times than I can remember. Having clean drinking water, and breathing clean air are things that are so natural for us in Canada but in China, it’s not much of a concern. In the past year, we had smog levels reach record highs ( we had a couple of days where we were not able to go outside), 16,000 dead, diseased pigs dumped into the water supply, 20,000 chickens culled because of the Avian flu, restaurant owners and street vendors passing cat and rat meat off as lamb, and finding out that the bottled water we were drinking was actually coming from a drainage ditch! Did the Chinese people cry and complain? Not much that we heard about; they seemed to laugh it off and just keep going. That is another thing I will take from China: perseverance. Nothing seems to phase them, they pick themselves up and keep going. Never has the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” meant more to me than now. We took it all in stride, and had some great laughs over these experiences. Laughing kept us going when we got homesick, when we got frustrated and when we just couldn’t do anything else but laugh. The Chinese have far more patience with government red tape than is humanly possible. There is a chain of command for information, and most times we were at the end of that chain, getting tidbits here and there of what we needed. It’s an amazingly frustrating sequence of events which were filled with the 3 favourite answers of our liaison when we asked for details on things we needed: someday, maybe and not exactly.
Now don’t think we are taking away only the negative sides of dealing with a foreign government. We became quite close with our Chinese staff, having them over for a dinner party a couple of times. We collaborated on many things at school, and they included us in some of the things they were doing. We also got to know our students so well that I have every single email address for them all! We will miss them terribly and it saddens me that we won’t see them grow further with their English and their other achievements. Their personalities really came through and we had a lot of fun with them. I hope to see some of them going to university here in Vancouver when the time is right.

Shanghai is an amazing, vibrant city, and very international! We met people from Germany, Poland, Australia, France, and Denmark, just to name a few! My favourite place to go walking was along an area called “the Bund”, a huge boardwalk of sorts along the river. It is a great  place to people watch, and there are also people from all over China there too, all wanting their picture taken with us…..real Canadians!  We made friends almost everywhere we went, even, or should I say especially, when we were the only Caucasian people around! One of the things we liked most was that it didn’t matter what time of the night it was, the whole city felt safe. We walked some nights at 10pm or later, and never felt like we shouldn’t have been out and about. They have the most amazing subway system I have ever seen, and taxis are plentiful and very cheap! Surprisingly, I truly haven’t missed driving a car for the past year. It will be strange to get behind the wheel again!
We also got the chance to travel to Thailand……I almost didn’t come back. Although we didn’t really enjoy Bangkok – the smog, the traffic…..- we LOVED Koh Samui. It was as if someone flipped the switch, and we went from hustle and bustle to laid back, relaxed and learning to enjoy the small things while the rest of the world kept spinning. The people of Thailand have to be the most welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Even though they may not have much in the way of material things that we consider essential, they smile all the time. As we say in Chinese, ” Mei wenti” which means, ” no problem”.
All in all, I am so grateful we had the opportunity to do this. Yes, at times it was scary, but the good times far outweighed the scary ones, and we come away richer for it. I could go on for days about all of our experiences, but hopefully our blog has given a sense of what life has been like for us the past little while. It also serves as a great reminder of those things for us, since some of them became common place for us and run the risk of being forgotten. For all of our friends staying longer in our “second  home” city, we don’t say,”Goodbye”, we say “See you Soon!”

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An Evening in Pudong and on the Bund!

With just a week left Kim and I decided to head to the World Financial Centre and the Bund to take some night pictures. The smog was down to 53 ppm –  almost half of what it has been the last month. There was no rain so it looked like a plan.  I was feeling a little crappy from some sort of stomach flu but decoded to brave it because this is our last week to get out and see this.  It seems so strange to be leaving China.  It is weird that most of the Chinese folks we have met never do the Chinese tourist thing.  Even the majority of our students who are quite affluent, have never been to the Great Wall.  I guess this is like living in Vancouver and never seeing the Capilano Suspension Bridge or the top of Grouse Mountain. You just assume you will see it one day, but not this weekend.  

Anyways, we took the subway and rode the express elevator to the top of the SWFC (Shanghai World Financial Centre)  The elevator went 8 metres a second and we were up to the 97th floor in under a minute.  They had a very cool light show happening in the elevator to give you the impression you were really moving.  With our ears a popping it was a very cool effect!  Here are some photos.Image

You can see how smoggy Shanghai is. (Cough cough)  The tower with the ball is the Pearl Radio Tower.  I was up that one on my last visit to China but the SWFC has a much better view and a lot better AC in the building.  This is important if you visit in the summer!

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The SWFC is also called the Bottle Opener building because of it’s shape. It is also the building Tom Cruise’s stunt double jumped from (with a parachute) in Mission Impossible 2.   Kim and I took the elevator down.

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Here we are on the observation deck 100 floors above Pudong.  Sorry in my previous blog I reported it was 140 stories high, I stand corrected it’s only 100.  The new building going up is about that height; it opens sometime in 2014.  

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The green and blue buildings in the background have interactive light shows that happen from 7:00pm until about 10pm at night. They are very cool.

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Here we are looking at the Bund on the other side of the river. Our next stop. 

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Here is the SWFC from outside.  Kim and I left the SWFC, got good and lost and by chance walked by a ferry terminal that could take us to the Bund for only 2RMB (about 30 cents).  Of course we went and crossed over to our side of the Huang Pu River.   

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Here we are crossing the Huang Pu River.  All of these buildings are are just dancing with light displays and advertisements.  It’s like Christmas in Times Square.  

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You gotta love Shanghai.  It’s is just spectacular at night and very safe to walk down the darkest of side streets.

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Once we docked  we saw all of the Bund buildings lit up. They were gorgeous structures built sometime in the 1920-1930’s when England had a big influence on Shanghai.  

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This is a very crowded place, even at night.  Night time is a very social time especially for the younger people.  First, they all work until 7:00 pm it seems and second, the temperature drops a little so it is much cooler.  Nothing worse than trying to impress a girl when your shirt is soaking wet with sweat.  

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As you can see there is lots of traffic as well, although most of the people at the Bund come down by subway (The nearest stop is about 5 blocks away)  or by taxi which is very cheap.

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All of these building have very high end restaurants and stores here.  We looked at a couple of these places to eat online and while they report good atmosphere they often pan both the food and the service.  We know where to eat and the Bund is not the place.

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It was pushing close to 10:00 and we still hadn’t eaten dinner, so Kim and I hailed a taxi and paid our 3 bucks to get home to our apartment.  All in all a very successful trip. Shame about that smog.   Thanks to Kim for supplying all these fab pics with her new NIKON!

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Two Weeks Left!!!

Here we are down to two weeks left before our flight home.  I must say we are both starting to get a wee bit excited to go home and see friends and family.  Kim and I have both been feeling a little achy and sore recently and can’t figure out what is wrong with our bodies.  Was it too many massages?  Not enough?  Is the food finally catching up with us?  It turns out that living in an environment with constant air conditioning and high humidity can cause cramping and muscle aches as it is difficulty to remain properly hydrated.  We are drinking lots of water but it just seems to go right thru us.  We sweat like crazy here.   The bad news is, it is getting worse over the next two weeks.  We have been having temperatures of 28-30 degrees with very high humidity. The temperatures are moving to 38-40 degrees in the next couple of weeks.  We really want to get out and do some last minute sight seeing but it’s tough to get the energy.  We also hate walking around drenched in sweat.  We will see what it turns out like.

 

June is the rainy month and we have been trying to make it over to Pudong to go up the bottle opener building.  Every weekend has been either raining or so smoggy the view has been awful.  It looks like it may clear today so we are going to give it a try.  The view is spectacular so we really want to get a chance to post some pictures from this 140 story building in the hart of the financial district in Shanghai.

 

School classes are over and this upcoming week we have our school exams. The Provincial government has not allowed us to write the provincial exams because they said it would take far to long to get PEN numbers and install the software we need to write exams.  PEN numbers took 45 minutes and software install 2 and a half hours.  We had 4 months to prepare for this.  How unfair to our students.  They must now write in October.  The toughest exam they will write is English 10 of course. They will have 2 months off from school with no English before they write.  How unfair is that?

 

Kim and I listen to our students complain about the school food being a little mundane and on some days down right nasty.  She decided to treat all of the students in the school by making them lunch at our place and bringing it in for them.  She allowed them to choose an individual pizza or pasta dish and then prepared and cooked it at home, then brought all the food to school and micro-waved it to warm-up the lunches.  We have 34 students and 8 teachers that she cooked for.  Although she did this over two days, remember that we only have 2 burners an a toaster oven in our home to prepare this food.  The food was delicious and the kids and teachers raved about the flavour!  Jamie Oliver move over. 

 So it is time again for some random Shanghai stories and glib comments enjoy!

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This sign is on the window of my hair salon.  I love the “Hair texture reminiscent of the Romantic Era.”  Not sure what that is…

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This is the main sign on a little drink stand.  They sold frozen juice smoothies and other cold drinks.  Not sure if they added tar to their drinks.Image

Most of the Chinese Police don’t speak English.  Certainly not any of the ones on foot patrol in Tianxiafang.   Maybe this is how the store let the tourists know they sold knock-off hand bags and watches.  Faye Kerry = Fakery.

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We saw this guy outside of a small shop.  Not sure what his purpose was.  We could not find a shop anywhere near this guy that was “Children oriented.”  This includes ice cream, kid’s clothing or a toy store.  Go wonder?

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We are not too sure if these guys lost a bet, were following thru on a dare, or on their way to the high school prom.  (Which they don’t have in China)  They were delighted to pose for a picture.  All of their friends were laughing and taking pictures of the three of us.  A good time was had by all.  I told them both I thought they looked very beautiful.  They smiled and thanked me genuinely.  

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Kim ands I love going to Tianxiafang to sit down and enjoy a drink and watch the world go by.  I think Dr. Seuss may have been sitting here when he wrote the classic “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”   Our theory is if you wait long enough, you can be pretty certain no matter what it is, sooner or later it will go down the allies in Tianxiafung.  Now before we show you what happened….Image

Notice how crowded it is on these streets and also notice that it is not very wide.  So we are sitting down enjoying a cold beer and a clubhouse sandwich when…

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This guy on a motor scooter comes rocketing down the street, horn blazing.  The street is a pedestrian mall and all vehicles including bikes are prohibited.

 

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Speaking of horns blazing, we had two days off last week because the students were writing their Gao Kao (grade 12 university entrance exams.)  This is a very serious exam as it decides if you get into university or not.  To help the students do better on the exams, the police posted these signs on the street the block before the school to prohibit the honking of horns during exam time.  Then they stationed 6-8 police officers in front of the school to supervise the motorists.  If drivers honked, the police would shout at the cars.  Sometimes the drivers would stop and shout back at the policemen.  All in all it was a pretty effective strategy.

 

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This lovely Swiss Miss is giving away free warm imitation milk in a box.  I tried a sample and was very impressed with how tasteless and chalky they could make a product like this.     I think serving it luke warm guaranteed no one would buy it.  There are cows crying all over Switzerland today.  Oh BTW.  That plastic thing over her mouth is so that we don’t get any germs from her.  Note as well, the fashionable plastic gloves on her hand.  Also for that germ free experience.

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These guys are gambling on the street.  They bring out a table and set up chairs and play some sort of card game (Not poker) for money≥  The police often come by and everyone will get up take a chair and walk away.  No one ever seems to get busted.  They are back within 3-4 minutes after the police leave.

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Finally, this last photo to show you some more delicious food.  Kim made this amazing roasted chicken salad with mangoes, dragon fruit, fresh peppers, tomatoes and lettuce topped with some almonds. Amazing! 

 

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The Joys of Shopping in a Foreign Land

Well, we have been shopping in Shanghai for quite some time now, but nothing prepared us for our adventure yesterday! We headed out to a mall called “Metro City”, one that we have been to before, but never really done any shopping in it. We usually use it as a meeting place, since it is easy to get to and generally in a central location. However, across the street from it is the “Oriental Pearl” shopping mall, so we thought we would take a look around. We quickly found out that this mall was way beyond our pocketbook and our interests, so we attempted to use the underground walkway to get to what we thought was Metro City. We actually ended up in a different mall (we got turned around in the tunnel), and after a couple of stops, nearly ran out of there! First, we went up the escalator looking at all of the high end clothing shops with no one in them, except yawning or texting sales people. Lo and behold, we found a men’s clothing store that had a sale going on! A big sign was on three different racks of beautiful men’s shirts – both polo style for the casual look and the long sleeved dress shirt for the more formal days at work. All three of the signs had a very large number five on them, with Chinese writing below. We asked a sales lady if that meant the shirts were on sale for 5 Chinese dollars. She answered “Yes!” Bruce went in and tried one on, and it fit and looked great. While he was changing, I found 2 more that felt so soft and light, and took them to Bruce. He said, “Great! Let’s get all of them!” He decided to wear the one he had tried on, so he got the sales lady to cut the tags off of it. Now keep in mind that although we had rain again yesterday, the humidity was incredibly high so it was still very warm. Needless to say, Bruce wanted to have on the new shirt as it was fresh and dry! We had no less than three sales ladies help us get the correct forms filled out to take to the cash register. Imagine our surprise when the fourth lady told us the amount of our purchase……..4,732 Chinese dollars!!! We looked confused, as did the other sale sladies who came with us to the cash desk. Apparently, they made a mistake and the shirts were, in fact, on sale! Our newfound relief was short lived, however, when we found out that they were on sale for 1,750 Chinese dollars! Three shirts for just under $300 Cdn! The big number five on the sign? That wasn’t how much the shirts were, that was how much they were discounted for! Some kind of weird .5 or something or other. Bruce quickly took off the new shirt he was wearing and gave it back to the sale slady who took it quite gingerly,  as Bruce had already gotten, ahem, a little warm in it!! I do believe we were the talk of the day there, maybe even the week, since we got out of there as fast as we could! The sales ladies must have thought they had hit the jackpot to see two foreigners come in and buy three of their most expensive shirts!! 

We decided to look around elsewhere and came upon a beautiful looking chocolate shop. We really should have taken something out of the shirt fiasco, but always the optimists, we continued on. Inside, the Belgian chocolates were all lined up in the display case, calling us. They looked incredible, and the sales girl offered us a free sample – a whole chocolate, not just a cracked piece of one – and it was delicious! We thought, “hey, throw caution to the wind and let’s treat ourselves”, since we generally don’t even go into a chocolate shop! “Hey,” we thought, “let’s splurge and buy 2 chocolates each!” The sales girl lovingly put them into their own little tiny box, complete with a ribbon expertly tied  – we had to have been there for over 20 minutes – and placed into a beautiful bag. That should have been a warning sign! Then we had to pay – 110 Chinese dollars for 4 chocolates! We were shocked, to say the least……that’s over $18 Cdn for FOUR LITTLE CHOCOLATES! We looked at each other dumbfounded, but took the purchase anyway. I’m not sure we had the ability to do anything else, we were so speechless. Needless to say, we left that mall immediately, and sat down outside on some steps to eat our chocolates and laugh at our stupidity. Pretty sure we won’t be doing that again! Somehow we were transported back in time to our first days here in Shanghai where we knew nothing! We won’t forget this little adventure for awhile!

One last thing… I had forgotten to mention something about our wonderful dinner we went to last week. There are quite a few of us leaving at the end of the school year, so we had one last dinner for all of us to say goodbye at our favourite restaurant, Lost Heaven. It was great to see everyone, and our friends from Jiaxing even came down for the celebration. Geoff got us a great keepsake of our stay here, giving everyone a specially made coffee mug with all of our names written on them, as well as things unique to us during our stay in Shanghai. The Tower of Terror gets a mention – it’s still giving us the creeps! – as does our other favourite restaurant, Simply Thai, along with all of our school names! It is such a thoughtful gift, and I will think of Geoff and Terry when I have my Shanghai tea at home in Canada! Geoff and Terry will be doing a second year here, so we will be missing them when we are back home! Thanks, Geoff!!

3 weeks and counting until we return!