Getting Ready to Leave

We have an early morning flight, with a couple layovers,  and everything is ready to go…. I think! =)

We had a flash snowstorm last so I’m looking forward to finding sun and warmth in Ho Chi Minh tomorrow!  Even though I’ve been to China, Korea and Japan, part of me still doesn’t know exactly what to expect. I feel like I have an idea about what some things will be like, but I also know that I’ll be surprised by many things once we arrive in Vietnam.

I’m lucky that my teaching partner was selected to come on this trip as well and am looking forward to the team-building that our adventures will undoubtedly bring. Michele has never been to Asia before, so I’m also excited to watch her experience “firsts” and see the trip through her eyes.

Ho Chi Minh rounds out the top 30 most populated cities in the world, with 7.7 million people!  I love the energy and life in New York, Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul, so I’m eager to see how this compares and differs!

But for now, I must get to bed… one more sleep until this adventure begins! xo

 Ho-Chi-Minh-skyline-Vietnam-1

Censorship in China

I am now back home. I’m happy and proud to be back on Canadian soil. I sent the post below home, the first day we spent in China. However, we thought it would be best to wait until I was home to post it….  

So, I have to thank my Dad because he has taken over my blog. Since arriving in China, I’ve been unable to access my page to upload anything since we got here. China has definitely has some internet filters that are blocking it. The majority of internet pages, that contain any kind of info about China, are blocked unless it’s a travel website or official website.  

It’s been a challenge to find pictures to attach to my blog because the majority of them can’t be viewed here. I was reading the Calgary Herald online this morning and there was an article about the Tibet protests. I clicked on it so I could read it, but the page said “error displaying page.” Another traveler in our group said she was watching CNN last night and a story about Tibet came on and the TV blacked out…. CRAZY! 

Between this and everything we learned during our trip to the DMZ about North Korea, we are so incredibly lucky to be living in a free and democratic society. I now have a greater appreciation for why Canada is so revered by the rest of the world, and the desired choice for people who want to move to a Western, First World country. 

Last day in China…

So our trip is nearly over. This morning we had our last fabulous buffet breakfast and then headed out to have our hair washed. I know this sounds very simple, but I have to say it’s the greatest thing in the world. The best part of going for a haircut is having them wash your hair first. We went in to the salon and they were so happy to see us!  They got us tea and started lathering up our hair. Hair washing stations have full length beds that you lie on while they rinse and massage your head. I could have fallen asleep!

Next, we went back to the salon chair and they messaged our neck and back. This truly hurt at first, given the cupping I had done on my back yesterday, however it loosened it up and felt better by the end. Then, another first for me, they cleaned my ears. Using a Q-tip and some serious precision he maneuvered the Q-tip around to get every soap bubble out of my ear. It tickled… LOL!

Next, my stylist came and blow dried my hair. He played with my hair for a good 30 minutes, drying it so that every strand was perfect. I think he was a little more particular because they don’t see the blonde hair very often, and our hair has a different texture than Asian hair.

At any rate, it was a fabulous way to spend our last morning. I wish I’d done it every day we were there! Not only was it incredibly relaxing, but it only cost me $3.50 Canadian… crazy!

Our entire trip has been indescribably amazing… definitely the trip of a lifetime. Everyone has treated us with such hospitality and warmth… we’ve been looked after so well!

Now, for the 14 hour plane ride home….

The Bund, Pizza Hut and “Massage”

We had a short nap to prepare for our big evening ahead and then headed back down to the riverfront, known as The Bund, to see the towers, boats and buildings all lit up. It was gorgeous and fun to hang around down there. Everyone was so excited… it seemed like it’s probably a “cool” place to be (like Kensington or 17th Ave is for us). Great fun! 

A group of us needed to eat dinner, by then it was 8pm. As amazing as all the food has been, we’ve eaten rice everyday, sometimes twice a day, for two weeks now so we were craving a bit of “Western” food. There’s a Pizza Hut just down the street from our hotel so we shared some fabulous pizza… stuffed crust and everything! We were all scratching our heads a bit though… all the servers were dressed in Arabian clothing… they must have some special on right now or something. It truly looked like we were in Dubai and not Shanghai. 

For the entire trip, everyone else in the group has been raving around the foot and back massages they’ve gotten. The told us they’re so long (more than an hour), relaxing and cheap. Since it’s our last night, we decided to join the group and check it out so we could add it to the list of things we did on our trip.   

Before I go any further, I should set the background and say again, that I’m not a pampered girl. I’ve never received a back massage at a spa, and I have the most insanely ticklish feet. The massage building was beautiful. Soft music in the background. Lights dimed. The smell of something flowery in the air. Water fountains and floating lilies. Candles… ohh, perhaps that what smelled… and not something flowery. Anyway, it looked fabulous and I was so excited. 

The ladies started by massaging our temples and scalp. It was so relaxing and if they’d only done that, I’d have been a very happy camper. They then massaged our arms and legs… it occurred to me then, that I was not getting a back massage but instead, was going to end up having a full body massage. We rolled over onto our front and they massaged and worked pressure points on our back. There were times when it was relaxing, and other times when it seriously hurt. However, I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case if I had it done regularly. 

As she was doing her massage, I realized that my ticklishness isn’t limited to just my feet. As she was doing my legs, I had to bite my lip to stop myself from laughing outloud. I opened my eyes and the masseuse beside me was laughing… so I guess I didn’t hide it very well. They served us green tea and by the end I was feeling really good. I think it would be better next time since I’d know what to expect. 

Feeling brave and knowing that it was our last night in China, we decided to go full out and do as the Chinese do. We decided to have our backs cupped. Having done some reading about this at home, it said that the process helps to draw toxins and stress out of the body. A man brought a basket of glass cups into our room and then lit a stick on fire… it looked like a flaming marshmallow. He then put the fire wand inside a glass, removed it and quickly stuck the glass cup to my back. It didn’t hurt, but was tight and felt like someone was pinching my skin and pulling on it.  

When he was done I thought he’d pop them off, however, that would reduce the humor of my story. Instead, he covered me with a blanket and left the room. I sat there with them on my back for 10 minutes! Seriously.  

He came back and I was happy that he was going to remove them so I was no longer “Bubble Girl.”  However, apparently that was just a tease. He inspected the glasses, said something to me in Mandarin, and then left again. The next time he returned, he started to remove them by releasing air into the glasses. They de-suctioned themselves and he popped them off.  My back now looks like a dart board and should look really fabulous in the morning.  It’s hard to tell if I feel toxin or stress free, but I do have welts on my back and another interesting story to tell! We had planned on going to the Karaoke Bar across the street, however we couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to join… so I guess singing karaoke in Asia will have to wait until the next adventure!

Shopping, Again!

This morning we got up to finish the last of our shopping. We hit another big market of stores and found a few good deals… it wasn’t nearly as big as the one in Beijing though, so there were a few things I was hoping to find but couldn’t. However, overall it was a good trip and we met some very nice vendors. They’re so interested in who we are, what country we’re from etc… They also enjoy practicing their English and telling us about themselves.

Even though I’ve already come to realize on this trip that the culture over here truly values teachers, today in the market it was reaffirmed. When bargaining we told them (in Mandarin) that we’re teachers and don’t have a lot of money. Instantly, they dropped their prices in half and were being even more kind to us. Apparently, our Chinese is getting good, because one lady thought we were teachers living here… she started asking us all kinds of questions in Mandarin, that went completely over our head… LOL!

After we bought out the market, we hit a book superstore here. Words can’t even describe this place… it was so fabulous!  It was a 7-floor huge store full of books… on every subject you could ever want to read about in life!  We finally found the children’s book section and ended up picking up at least 10 books to bring back for our classroom. It was so much fun, and indescribably cheap. I think I need to move to China.

More Thoughts about Shanghai….

(3) The street lights here have a digital number above them that counts down to tell drivers how much longer the light will be green (or red). This is good in theory, however, it still doesn’t seem to prevent 8 drivers from running the yellow and red light. The pedestrian crossings also have a countdown clock. Again, good in theory and it might work in other cities. However, during our walk yesterday, we saw a lady step out to cross the street as the timer went from “1” to “0”… she then proceeded to run across an eight lane street (four lanes each way) 

(4) Our hotel room has a doorbell. I never would have never thought that such a novelty was necessary, however I think it’s fabulous and have come to enjoy ringing our doorbell. Housekeeping and our water supplier also rings our doorbell. It’s like we have a little penthouse. 

(5) Hotels here don’t have light switches. You put your key card into a slot inside the door and turns all the lights on with its magical powers. When you leave, you take the card out, and it turns the lights out for you. You can imagine how long it took us to figure this out when we arrived in Seoul 2 weeks ago!

Our trip to Suzhou

Today we went on a road trip and drove 2 hours outside Beijing to a “small” city of Suzhou (population 4 million). It’s a beautiful city with an even more temperate climate. The weather today was amazing and perfect for our activities for the day.

We first went to a silk factory… the Number 1 Silk Factory in Suzhou, to be exact! We toured the silk factory and learned all about the process of making silk. I’m not a high maintenance person so I had no idea about what was involved in making the process. They grow the silk works and let them feed on mulberry bush… apparently this is the best worm food. Once the worms have reached the perfect size, they transplant them onto beds of straw. They metamorphize into pupa and eventually spin a cocoon. From there, they put the cocoons into a boiling water mixture to kill the pupa and carefully extract the ball of silk. Very interesting.

Afterwards, we had time to tour the silk market… which was bad news because it was all beautiful. Some people in our group dropped some serious coin here, however, I resisted and was pretty good… only buying some bed linens. We had another great lunch (a combined Chinese and Western buffet) and I’m getting very used to having 15 different meal options in one sitting… LOL!

To start our afternoon we toured a beautiful garden. This garden isn’t what we would think of in North America with lots of trees and flowers. Instead it was a serious of ancient Asian buildings created with stunning architecture, all connected with little corridors. There was a pond in the middle of all the buildings, surrounded by rocks, moss, a Chinese style gazebo and gorgeous pink and white trees, which I’ve never seen before (and thus don’t know the name of). There was an artist sitting on a rock beside the pond (see below). His picture was gorgeous and a perfect snapshot of where we were. I wanted to buy it from him however, he had an expensive price tag. I still wish I could have gotten him to lower his price.  With the sound of water and birds chirping, it was so tranquil that you sort of just drifted into a world of your own. I completely forgot I was in a city of 4 million people… amazing!!

We finished our afternoon by taking the most fabulous little boat (maybe a 12-seater) down the Grand Canal. This area of Suzhou is known as the Venice of Asia. There are endless pedestrian bridges that cross over the river. There water bank is lined with aged apartment buildings that have steps leading down to the river’s edge. Floating by, you could see streets with cute little restaurants, vendors, street performers and people just hanging out. There were lots of locals who were walking along the street or looking out windows who eagerly waved to us. Our boat had a ‘pilot’ who stood on the boat’s platform and used a stick to help guide us through all the narrow passage ways. It was a magical and cozy little place. Again, I sort of forgot I was in the middle of metropolitan China. I would have loved to spend a few hours wandering around the streets on land and exploring the area… however, as has been the story of this trip, we didn’t have time.

After making the trip back to Shanghai, we had our last formal dinner together as a group. Another fabulous Chinese meal with Pork, Chicken, Fish, Fried Rice, Stuffed Mushrooms, a Chinese Version of poutine, vegetables and even more. Tomorrow is a free day for us to do as we please. I wonder what adventures we will have…?