Monday, August 1, 2016

Lucky me with my tech savvy brother

I'm back!
I've probably lost my 200+ readers after all these years but I've decided to transfer all my data from my blog back to here as there have been some issues with the hosting service for my website. Thanks to my brother for finding the old website! I feel so grateful not to have lost all that data. All my thoughts through 2 years gone. I had fun reliving all of this through all the cutting and pasting and picture saving and re posting!
I look forward to next adventures!

Currently I am on Prince Edward Island, visiting for an entire 3 weeks. I am hoping to go to the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton while Im here. I am almost finished my Masters of Education courses for this summer so after Wednesday I will be truly free of school work for a few weeks.

If there are any readers out there, I appreciate your tenacity!

Tianjin TEDA and administration jobs

I have been thinking about my blog for awhile and feeling very bad for not writing in it anymore. I really should do it more often.
Well, my 5 year old son and I have now been in Tianjin TEDA since August (3 months). I have to say, Tianjin is a way more livable city than Dalian. The food isn’t as good and the pollution is worse but for expats it is easier. You can buy almost anything here and if you cant get it here, you can go to Beijing on the fast train. It takes 45 minutes. I haven’t actually done it yet but keep promising myself I will soon. Today I am going into downtown Tianjin with people who know where they’re going.
I think being a foreigner in a place with lots of expats has good and bad things about it. We kind of miss the China experience here. One of the teachers at my school who also lived in China before calls this place “China lite’ because its more geared towards foreigners here. However, the people here are more educated on average and more accepting of foreigners. Usually. Although every once in awhile you meet someone who absolutely hates us awful, weird foreigner and treats us badly. A cab driver the other day did. Then my son almost got into a fist fight because another little kid told him that he wasn’t welcome here because he is a foreigner. I think everywhere there are lots of immigrants there is prejudice among certain sets of people. I have seen it in other big cities, its just never been directed at me before. (Not that it didn’t bother me, just did have quite the same effect)
The school I’m working in is a bit smaller. This one is only 1100 students as opposed to the one in Dalian,which was almost 3,000 students. There is only one campus so its easier to get around. And my son’s school is right on campus so everything is a lot easier. This year I have a new job though, I was accepted into the administration training program and am in the process of becoming a vice principal. I am starting my Masters degree in January and wanted to make sure that I chose the correct stream. I applied to the Educational Leadership program and before i threw myself into it fully, I wanted to make sure that 1) I liked having a leadership role 2) I would be good at it someday and 3) it suited me. So I am happy to report a yes on all three of those questions. I love admin work! It’s really hard, time consuming and all encompassing but I do love it. Some parts of the job suit me and some don’t, just like teaching. I feel like I’m part of the engine of a school and see things slightly differently now. I feel lucky to have a good principal this year because he’s a good person to learn from while I figure out what it means to be an administrator instead of a classroom teacher. I also have a very patient vice principal who explains things to me when I don’t quite understand why things are done that way.
So the decision is made for my future, I definitely want to become an administrator. However, Im not so sure I want to do it here in China anymore. I don’t think I realized before that women in China, even expat ones, are not treated quite the same as the men. It seems to be a systemic thing, so not something one could effectively fight against. I can’t say much more than that right now, just that it has given me pause to pursue my career down this particular admin path. So right now it’s possible, for this and other reasons, that I may be leaving next year for a classroom teaching job, waiting until the day I get my MEd and qualify for an admin job in Canada on that merit.
SO that’s about all that has happened in the past 6 months. I am going back to Canada in February now instead of Thailand like I originally planned. My son and I miss home and Tianjin was a lot more expensive than Dalian so I dont have enough money to traipse around Southeast Asia on holidays. I am also hoping to be able to work at a temp job when I am back there like i did last year. That could take some of the financial pressure off and also refocus me in where I want to live next year.
Well now you are all caught up! I look forward to comments or questions. I promise I will try to write more often!

Moving to Tianjin! - June 15, 2014

What a month! What a crazy, busy and exciting month. Since I left Thailand so much has changed!
A month ago I wasn’t even sure if I was going to stay in China next year. Before I left for Thailand I was all set to go back to Canada and even had a job lined up. However, once the threat of being dead passed, I felt differently about giving up on living overseas and the challenges it presents. I do not want to go back to Canada and spend the next ten years regretting it because I feel like I wasn’t quite finished with my adventure.
When I got back here I applied for a position at my school as an administrator. I had been working towards that job all year because I knew I was interested’, I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay here. On my way back I had to make a choice: Stay in China and go after a more challenging job or go back to Canada and continue as a teacher. I chose the admin job.
So I applied along with 5 other people. There were 3 jobs available. And guess what? That’s right…I didn’t get it. Well…I talked to some people and it turns out that another Maple Leaf school was also looking for an administrator and I fit what they needed at that school. So in August, I am moving to Tianjin!
Tianjin seems very exciting. It’s right in the middle of TEDA, which is a newer development of Tianjin. Apparently we are 45 minutes from Beijing on the bullet train and only 30 minutes from Tianjin. There is a huge expat community there and that means that it’s possible that I won’t need to only hang out with other Maple Leaf teachers all the time (not that there’s anything wrong with them…they are awesome. But it’s nice to have non-teacher friends too)
I’ve talked to my new principal this week and I am excited about working with a good, solid admin team who has such a clear vision for the school. It all sounds great and I am very happy to have the chance to move up into admin at such a great location with such amazing people.
So…in two weeks I am off to Canada for the summer. My daughter is flying to Vancouver and her, my son, and I are going to tent camp across Canada again. We are going only as far as Ontario this time and then my son and I will fly back to Vancouver before flying to our new city. It’s going to be a blur and I am looking forward to every minute of it.

What is Thailand Like? - May 1, 2014

Thailand is the land of the polite people. What a huge cultural difference from China! People actually wait in lines here when getting on the skytrain instead of trying their best to shove the little kids and old people out of the way so they can secure a seat (Like they do in China). People bow to you wherever you go because it’s polite to welcome someone into your store/restaurant/hotel before you try to sell them something. Same with when you leave…the manners are important here.
However, I don’t know how they manage to be so polite all the time. At times, when sweat was dripping off of every surface of me and my face was flushed from heat and I was tired from being in a new country, I could not imagine how these amazing people could manage to be so nice all the time.
I have a hard time describing this city. It definitely defies pictures although perhaps I’m just not a good enough photographer. There are sex toys for sale on the street alongside the purses and dresses. There are ‘lady boys’ for sale on the street and the men who react badly to them (guess which country those people are from?). Food and drink and toys and clothes are incredibly cheap, even more cheap than China. Everywhere I go, men are trying to figure out if I’m available or not. I thought it was flattering until I was in the hospital, awaiting surgery, and had some old Arab men hitting on me. Gross. (Not the Arab part…the old part and the ‘waiting for surgery’ part). This place is beautiful, it is open, and it is religious. There are the Asian women in short skirts shopping alongside the Arab women who only have their eyes showing in the slits in their headdress (HOW do they manage to smell so good in this heat? I want their secret!) There are religious symbols and places to pray, light incense and commune with God, on every street corner. It is green and lush and yet parts of it has rats and smells like “garbage juice”, as my son describes it. There are gold palaces and temples, vast air conditioned markets and streets packed with people trying to make deals and make a living. There are babies being used on the street corner, begging for Baht (money), used so that the foreigner will feel more sorry. I don’t know how they keep those little kids sleepy all day (actually, I have a pretty good idea…)
There is even more of a downside to this culture too: Sex is everywhere. Now I know I am from a fairly repressed country and that is not healthy either. Usually I don’t judge but I saw a young girl about 10 years old the other day for sale on the street so I AM judging. Shame on the men that bought her virginity and shame on her parents for not protecting her from this life. Also for a culture and country that is allowing such horrors to take place on a regular basis. Also, in the downtown core there are these low-lifes that slink around the downtown core, trying to snare Marks for their various cons and schemes. I’m judging them too.
Then there are the hospitals. Medical tourism is very popular in places like Thailand. Surgery is cheap (my surgery cost $8000 and in Canada it would have been four times that). Treatment is cheap. You can choose one of the international hospitals or one of the street side ‘plastic surgery’ stands. People come from all over the world to access the best medical care in the world. Tests happen fast, doctors are super careful and hospitals like Bumrungrad have built an international reputation on being safe, effective, efficient and good.. However, that being said, when I was in the pre-operation room, I overheard the young woman next to me NEGOTIATING the price of her new boobs. She was pre-op too and I, personally, was terrified. She came in wide-eyed and scared and i was horrified as I overheard this doctor taking advantage. I could not believe she went under the knife under those conditions. So maybe it’s not all good…before she went under…she was still trying to make sure the doctor gave her the right size instead of making sure she came out the other side of it ALIVE.
Well that is the good, the terrible and the ugly. I kind of wish I had been more adventurous on this trip because now it’s over and all I’ve seen are the night market, the cheap (Bargain for it) mall and the nightlife. I have a feeling there is way more. I never did get to see the palaces or the temples. I spent the first week too worried about surgery and the second week recovering from it.

I am so looking forward to seeing my son tomorrow. I do NOT look forward to the familiar challenges of China and the wealth of things I need to do once I get there.
Thanks for reading!

Thailand - May 1, 2014

Hello there readers (if there are any after the terrible way I have been keeping up my writing):
I am currently in Bangkok Thailand after undergoing surgery for a rather large thyroid gland tumour. There have been some tense moments in the past few months, mostly due to that. When I announced I would be going back to Canada back in January, I had just received the news from the doctor that I might have cancer and that leaving the tumour inside me was not advisable.
So I went back to China intent on getting back to Canada and having surgery. However, since then I have discovered that it is faster, cheaper and better to get surgery in Thailand so I came here. What did I do with my son, you ask? Some very kind hearted souls in China have taken him under their wing in a team effort and he has been staying with colleagues and friends while I am away.
Good news first: It was not cancer! I found out three days ago, after the surgery was completed. Right up to the surgery, despite a biopsy, they did not know for sure. They found hurthle cells neoplasm in the tumour and couldn’t be certain if it was malignant or not until they tested the tumour itself.
I must say, this was, by far, the scariest and loneliest thing I have ever done. Travelling to a new country by myself to have surgery…terrifying. Leaving my son behind while I did it…well I don’t even think there is a word in English to describe that. It was awful. Scary. Heartbreaking. It was hard. Nope…none of those words are good enough.
So I have a dilemma and I don’t know how to decide. I have a choice between Canada and China for next year. The offer is on the table now and I have to decide fast. I have been tearing myself up over this again and again for months now. I do not know what to do.
On one hand: I love myself as an expat (free!) and I love being able to give my son these amazing experiences. I would love to bring him to Thailand next holiday and show him monkeys, bananas on trees, palm trees, fruit vendors, the lovely Thai people. I would also like him to see other things in the world and I hate for him to give up his learning of Chinese. This is the last year he could be in the Chinese kindergarten school and it is an opportunity lost. For myself…I would have a chance to get into administrative work in the school I am in. I would be able to learn a new job and even if I didn’t suit it, it would give me insight on schools and education that I cannot get any other way. The people at the school I am in now have been so supportive. People who barely know me took my son in and looked after him. We were treated as though we were family. I feel incredibly guilty even thinking of leaving after all they did for me because they are hoping that I will stay. Then there’s the money thing. I make a LOT more money here in China because the cost of living is so low. Technically…I could end the awful cycle of debt I’ve been caught in for years if I stayed for a while longer.
On the other hand: this other job I have been offered today is also an opportunity that probably won’t come around again. I accepted the job back in January when I thought I might have cancer and needed to have surgery. I am afraid that disappointing them may lead to me losing the opportunity ever again. It’s not necessarily the job I would be losing that bothers me, its the opportunity to have a job in Canada if I ever want to move back. Right now I’ve known that its kind of available and it’s comforting to know I can go back anytime I want to. Also…life in Canada is infinitely better in so many ways. I have a car there, my family is there, I could go running and breathe clean air, etc. Also, the job would require far less hours than what I have to work right now, leaving more time for my son and I to spend together. As for the job itself…it’s working with students who really need good teachers in a community where they accept you as their own once you are there. On the other side of this: China isn’t the greatest place to be. The air and country is dirty. I struggle to understand basic things almost everyday and my learning of Chinese is super slow. Also…this was the scariest, loneliest thing I have ever been through and I do NOT want to be this alone again.
There are a multitude of reasons why this job is good or bad and the same with the other one. It has been an impossible decision so far and now I need to make it fast.
People have offered the following advice:
1) “Do what is best for you and your son.” Okay…no problem. Priorities realigned. Now what’s best for us? Is it learning a new culture and not being ignorant people in this world or is it building cultural capital in my own country? Is it having halloween and Xmas or is it experiencing new places every few months?
2) “Choose the one that makes you feel the most excited/least disappointed”. I cannot use this criteria because how I feel about either one changes everyday. One day Im excited about building my life in Canada and the next I am excited about expat life in China.
3) “Where do you want to live?” I don’t know! Maybe neither of these options are good enough. I just don’t know.
You get the idea.
I’ve tried rolling dice. I’ve tried giving myself a set amount of time to make a decision. I’ve tried almost everything I can think of and I still don’t know what’s best. Neither of them? Both of them?
Anyway dear reader…I wanted to give you some insights into the struggles of expats.

Vacation in Canada - January 27, 2014

We are currently in British Columbia, Canada. Enjoying a month off from work in China. Today I made the difficult and somewhat heartbreaking decision to move back to Canada for the next school year. This has been a difficult choice because I was starting to enjoy China and am extraordinarily proud of having succeeded despite some huge obstacles.
Some of the things I am proud of:
-a year ago I knew exactly one Chinese word: Nihao. Now we know many words and can order in a restaurant, order a cab, and navigate seamlessly around in the country with little difficulty. In less than a year. Months really.
-my son is becoming fluent in Mandarin and I am VERY proud of him. I regret that he will not be able to continue when we move and this was a huge part of why I was going to stay. However, I’m not sure his fluency would stay with him anyway since he is so young.
-We both made it through culture shock! From the first stage of enchantment (which was like being on a drug!) to the second stage of unhappiness and discomfort all the way through to acceptance and admiration. We both made it and I have noticed some big differences in how my son perceives CHina now. He went from crying in the car on the way to the airport to telling me that “China is good. Canada is good. They are both good and bad”. Big wisdom for a five year old.
-I can negotiate and bargain at markets. I love going to the market in our little town and next year I am going to miss it so much.
So why would I want to leave? Well some of it is obvious: the air is terrible and even considered hazardous. It’s dirty and uncomfortable there most of the time. It’s hard to be a single mother overseas alone, especially in a country where single parenthood is unheard of. The biggest reason I am coming here is for a job. I was offered a job at a school that really needs talented teachers and they tried their best to recruit me while I was here.
In hindsight I will laugh at the words ‘heartbreaking’ I’m sure, because no decision and no move is ever totally final. Things in life ebb and flow and change so I know that this decision is really only for 10 months and things will change and I will make decisions through this year. For some reason it felt like some kind of a failure though and I’m not sure why. I was so set on staying in China for another year before i left and to have changed my mind so completely in just a couple of weeks…that is hard to imagine.
Anyway…I have been so terrible about keeping this blog up to date that I thought I would try a little bit today. Until next time!

A month from the Chinese holiday January 27, 2014

I got a trackback on this blog and realized I havent written since I was on the road in North American this summer!
I think one of the reasons I havent written is because I didnt want to see my own negativity splayed across such a public forum. I was finding it really hard to be positive so I withdrew from making my opinions known.
When I got back from my cross-Canada and USA trip I had little time before I left for China. In that time I realized that I had spent almost my entire vacation in a CAR. I am glad we got to see everything but sad it was out of a car window in many cases. I think it might be beneficial to go slower and see more in depth. Maybe it’s a good metaphor for life too (especially for me).
My son had a difficult time with the idea of leaving Canada and going back to China. He is fine now that we are here but he really didn’t want to come back here. On the way to the airport he was crying in the seat of the car saying things like, “I don’t want to go back to China. Canada is better!”.
-Dec 2013

Almost home, whatever that means. - August 18, 2013

Well we have almost finished our cross country trip. I have discovered two countries and multiple hidden agendas of my own for doing it. I have had plenty of time to think over things that needed to be thought about deeply, I have read multiple books (audio books) and learned some Chinese through Pimsleur. I have realized that spending two weeks in a car might not be the best idea for a 6 week vacation but I am glad I did it.
When I got to Prince Edward Island I knew I didn’t have much time there. I went around to the few places I knew about and met some family I haven’t known very well. My parents moved west when I was 2 years old and I never really got to know my dad’s family. I was there for three days. I went to the beach, saw the very red sand, swam in the Atlantic Ocean, and had the best lunch beside a lighthouse. However, 3 days after my arrival I had to turn back because I need to get back to BC with a couple of days before my flight to China on August 19th.

I thought about how to go back to British Columbia and decided that while i would like to see my daughter again, it might be faster to go through the United States. It would be more interesting to see new things and I could use the time to challenge my stereotypes of Americans. I don’t know if you know this (well…you do if you are Canadian) but Canadians are taught a brand of anti-Americanism throughout their life. I’m not sure if it’s a reaction of fear of being lumped in with them and not being distinctive, or maybe it’s because their culture is so big and ours is so small that we are afraid it will totally take over. (Elephant and mouse syndrome). Our radio and TV corporation have to monitor what we are shown on TV and it has to be a certain percentage of Canadian programming, for example. Netflix is different in Canada because it has to show a certain percentage of Canadian shows before it’s allowed to market to us.
I don’t think there is any doubt in any Canadian’s mind that we have a unique culture and character and it bugs most of us that the world doesn’t really see a difference. We have stories in our culture about how sewing a Canadian flag onto your backpack will garner better treatment in some countries. Or how some Americans do it because they know this too. What I’ve found so far is that most people overseas just see us as North Americans. The same. Arrgghh! So I digress…we have a culture of anti-Americanism in Canada and after meeting intelligent, successful and nice Americans while overseas, I started questioning that attitude. I also started wondering about it’s validity when I was in China teaching Canadian history and realized that the history textbooks make Americans sound crazy, makes the French sound incompetent, and the British sound like they are above reproach. Hmmm.
You may be wondering what Canadians think of Americans. Most Canadians think that Americans are arrogant, ignorant and violent. I was cautioned numerous times how dangerous it would be to tent camp in the USA on my trip. As if it were safer in Canada somehow. There are jokes in our all Canadian programming about ignorant Americans who don’t even know where Canada IS let alone that it is as diverse a country as theirs. Americans who feature on Canadian TV shows are usually arrogant and/or ignorant and when I’ve challenged this in conversation I am told ‘But they ARE ignorant. Well…most of them”. So unfortunate.
However, to be honest, I WAS afraid of going to the USA for a whole week. I did somewhere deep inside believe USA citizens were ignorant and arrogant. I know logically this is wrong but after being brainwashed for years it’s hard to over ride. Part of my trip was to really challenge those ideas and it worked.We started our trip in PEI, drove through New Brunswick and entered the USA in the state of Maine. I drove through New Hampshire and Vermont, then drove through New York State for a day. I was sad to be so close to NYC and not be able to go! Pennsylvania was next (briefly) then Indiana and Ohio. We stopped in Cleveland for a break because we were tired and met a nice man on the boardwalk who was fishing. It was beautiful there.

Cleveland, Ohio:

After this we went through Illinois (where I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get by Chicago) and stopped next in Wisconsin. I loved Wisconsin and they really do have the best cheese.

I made the mistake of trying to go to Wisconsin Dells in Wisconsin. Well…late at night we found out that that particular place is one of the most expensive that I’ve ever seen. One of the rooms was $2000/night! A campsite was $65/night for a TENT. Crazy. So we kept driving and went to another town in Wisconsin.
The next day we drove through Minnesota and ended up in Fargo, North Dakota. We loved the scenery in North Dakota, particularly the badlands. It’s the same as the badlands in Alberta with the sage brush, the feeling of desert and the signs warning against rattlesnakes and scorpions.

Then we went through what is probably my favourite state: Montana. I love the cowboys and the rolling hills and the diversity of the land. In the east they have flatlands and ranch lands and in the west they have mountains.

After my two nights in Montana (and spending the night at a fantastic hotel called “C’mon Inn”)

After that last hotel we drove for an entire 13 hours to make it back to BC.
At the beginning of this post I was in Montana and now I am in BC after going through a type of jet lag that can only be caused by 8 days of straight driving. Soon we will be leaving for China and will have more posts to write.
Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Almost to Prince Edward Island! - August 2, 2013

Well…it would seem this might be the last day of driving before we get to our destination! I say that but I don’t know if I really had a destination. I think my purpose was to see the country with my little son, meet up with people along the way that I’ve met in person over the last few years, and then drive back through the USA to see that part of the world. (Our next door neighbour, foreign country)
Since I wrote last I spent a week in Kirkland Lake Ontario. It was tough to leave and I seriously considered finding a job there, giving up my teaching career for the time being, and becoming a Kirkland Lake-er again. I know that sounds crazy to most of you (because I assume most of those that read this blog are living vicariously and love the thought of having a life of travel) but I miss KL and I miss my daughter. There are other reasons that I won’t go into here…
However, I was informed while there that the chance of getting a teaching job there, even for supply teaching, would be around -10. 5 teachers who were teaching full time when I lived there 5 years ago just got laid off, probably permanently. I am not sure I am ready to give up my career just yet so I decided to wait on that particular decision. However, I decided that I would spend next summer there as a compromise to moving there.
Here is a reason I love it there so much:

Anyway…here we are in Quebec City so obviously I didn’t stay. Here are some pictures of Southern Ontario:

It is quite beautiful down there and I regret not stopping and taking more photos. By the time the second day rolled around (which was yesterday), it was POURING rain. It was raining so hard that I actually didn’t see the sign to let me know I had entered Quebec. I figured it out when I noticed that all the road signs were in French.
I absolutely love Quebec, the province. It’s beautiful and the French is such a lovely language. (I really want to learn it!) I would love to live here someday and really learn the language and culture. That being said, it is so much like being in a foreign country when here. I say that because now I’ve BEEN in a foreign country and I know what it feels like. I can see why the French feel so alone and desirous of separation now. It must be frustrating to travel in your own country (Canada) and not understand the language (English). Fortunately, I know enough French and it is close enough to English to not be much of an impediment to my getting through daily things while here. I have found that being in China has made me more brave in many ways I did not anticipate when leaving Canada.
I will say this about myself: as brave as people think I am there were some things I found very difficult to do that now I find a lot easier. A year ago I would probably have avoided Quebec City, afraid that not knowing the language would make it too difficult to rent a hotel room or order off the menu. Now I know for sure that those things can be overcome with ease. Well…maybe not with EASE…but overcome at least. And French is really not that different than English (compared to Chinese). I also would never have gone to a party like I did in Kirkland Lake at a stranger’s house. I was invited to an international party where all the guests were residents of Kirkland Lake but had international origins. I have always been paralyzed with social fears when it comes to things like that. However, I didn’t think about it too much, said I would go, and I met so many new and interesting people there and had a great time. China has definitely changed me and made me more fearless about things I should never have been afraid of.
This summer has been quite a journey, both geographically, emotionally and for my growth as a person. I started off at the airport in Vancouver wishing I hadn’t signed up for another year in China because of all the luxuries of my own country. I went through the fears of leaving for my cross country trip with only my son, a tent and a car only to discover it was the most peaceful way to travel. I went to a house party and met fascinating people, went through indecision about whether to not to stay near my daughter and am about to enter the final phase of my trip. I am glad to be going back to China now because I recognize how much it has made me stretch my own comfort levels. I am excited to see PEI and to see the northern United States. Until next time, dear readers!!

Camp 'Cross Canada trip (so far) - July 28, 2013

I have written several times for this blog but each time something happened and it got erased or didn’t get saved. So finally (and hopefully) I am here, writing about my camping trip so far.
The first day we drove from Chilliwack, British Columbia to a BC town called Golden. We stayed in this little campground with a fantastic view of the mountains. What a lovely view to wake up to!

When sitting at the campfire with my 4 year old son and reflecting on the trip, I thought about how lucky I was to have this life right now. I can go to a different country each year, explore the culture, the food, the geography and be totally engaged in learning about that. Then in the summers I can come back and partake in the best part of my own country and culture. Bbq’s, campfires, summer, swimming at lakes, etc. I felt lucky and so very glad I had decided to do the trip. I was a little afraid at first because my daughter decided not to join us but she was the one that helped me last year. I wasn’t sure I could do it on my own so I almost cancelled the trip entirely. Now I know that I can easily set up a camp and take it down by myself. We did great so far.

The second night we had driven through the rest of the mountains and broken into the flatter geography of the Alberta badlands.

The second night we stayed at a place in the badlands where they have found the most dinosaur bones in the world. On hindsight we should have stayed a day and went on a tour but I was driven to get to Manitoba where my friend was waiting for me. The dinosaur park was awesome. It was like a desert, complete with sage brushes everywhere, scorpions, black widow spiders, and rattlesnakes. We did not, thankfully, run into any of those.
The badlands are beautiful in a completely different way than the mountains and I love each kind of beauty.

We did manage to see the dinosaur bones too, they were encased in glass for the tourists.

More photos of our stay:

The next day after a 12 hour drive, we finally made it to Brandon, Manitoba where we stayed at my friend’s house for a week. While there we went to a reptile house and went to a beach where we got to finally swim in a lake. It wasn’t the nicest beach because of the dirt and leeches.
Manitoba has another kind of beauty yet again.

After the week in Manitoba we were on the move again, heading to a small town in Northern Ontario where my daughter lives. It was a beautiful drive through Thunder Bay and we even stopped at Kakabeka Falls for about 2 hours.

We spent two nights at 2 different campgrounds. The first one was nice but it was in a town that rolled up their sidewalks at 5 pm and therefore we couldnt buy food, beverages or ice.

Northern Ontario Lake: woken by loons.

The second campground looked the nicest but it was full of people intent on partying. So we spent a sleepless night, surrounded by loud parties and then in the early morning, fed up campers who left early to get away from the campers. My last day driving before arriving here was not a pleasant one.

Lake Nipigon:

Currently I am staying at a friend’s house in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. My daughter’s 17th birthday is on Monday and I wanted to spend that day with her. Afterwards I will be heading to southern Ontario and then making my way through Quebec to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI. I think we will have only a few days there before starting the trek backwards through the United States (because it’s faster).
Until next wifi!

My favourite beach in the world: Crystal Beach in Ontario.

Back in Canada - musings - July 6, 2013

I am now back in Canada and have been for about 5 days. It was surprising to me how much I missed it because when I was actually in China, I didn’t feel homesick like I thought I might. Here is what I have learned from coming back for this summer:
-We are very, very lucky in Canada and the USA. We have things that people overseas don’t have and don’t expect/miss. We have bathtubs, clothes dryers, ovens, clean streets, clean water, stores packed with food luxuries most people don’t even know exist, air conditioning in every building and every car, health care we can rely on, medicine that is safe, a food supply that is closely watched for safety, toilet paper in the washrooms, soap next to every sink, paper towels, and many other little things that I noticed since I’ve been back.
Bathtubs in China are seen as a luxury that costs too much not in monetary value but in water supply. Toilets (if you are fortunate to find a “western toilet) have very little water in them because conservation is very important. Same goes for paper supplies. I haven’t been able to figure out why there is never any soap, maybe businesses want to cut expenses…
So we are very lucky here to have these excesses and to not think about them as excesses. However, I will also note that it is very expensive to live here. Food is very pricey and so is gasoline, rent and other necessities of life. Poor people in Canada have a very difficult time to afford both housing and food. On the other hand, the poorest of Canadians would be considered rich in most parts of the world because they have so much more than the truly poor in other lands.
All that being said, I missed my home. I missed air that wasn’t smoggy, streets that werent caked with dirt and human body fluids, stores that are filled with things in my own language so I know what I’m buying, and my son REALLY missed bathtubs. Before I left I was thinking that maybe after this year I would stay another in China but after coming back and some reflection, I think it is best that we move on to the next adventure after this coming year in China. It leads me to wonder where I will be heading off to this time next year! I have even considered coming back here to Canada for a year or so in between but if I am honest with myself, I would get bored too fast and walk around like the rest of my countrymen, just trying to amuse myself, instead of really learning about the world like I set out to do 10 years ago when I first got my teaching degree.
We set off in our camping trip in 3 days and I am excited to see a part of the country that I only vaguely remember from my teenage years. We are planning to cross this great country to the Atlantic Ocean to a small province called Prince Edward Island. Along the way I am going to visit all the people I have met in the past 20 years in all my Canadian travels. I also get to see my best friend in Manitoba, my daughter in Ontario, and my father’s family in PEI and Nova Scotia. I will try my best to keep you updated.

In a bubble - June 21, 2013

In the past week or so I have started to think about how I’m going to experience China when I come back and 10 months of it stretches out before me. In a week and a bit we are leaving for the summer, going to Canada where I plan on going on a cross country tent camping trip with my son. We are going to start in BC and end up in PEI. I was hoping to see Newfoundland but that may be too ambitious.
I wonder about how I’m going to see it when I come back because I am amazed at how much I have gotten used to since I got here. I am completely used to ordering in restaurants not really knowing what it’s going to be. I am used to not being understood (or understanding) absolutely everywhere and having to mime things when it’s really important. I am used to being stared at, photographed and talked about right in front of me (in Chinese of course). None of these things bother me and haven’t since I got here. In fact, I think I am starting to like it…it’s like living in a bubble. I feel like everything that is happening around me is out of my reach of understanding and I am not being totally understood, just stared at. I guess part of the charm is that I don’t feel RESPONSIBLE for what’s happening because it’s not in my control or in my scope of understanding. People talk about me when I’m standing there and I know it because I know what it feels like to be discussed. I just don’t know exactly what they are saying (I know it’s not nice when they laugh but other than that…no clue). I can walk around with my friends or with my son and talk about whatever we want and the chance that someone will understand our rapid-fire English is slim so we can talk about anything we want. Many times when we aren’t allowed to do something (like take photographs at the Life Museum), I can’t read the signs and the guards can’t explain what they are talking about so I don’t always have to follow the rules. (I may have taken advantage of this a few times). It’s an odd way to experience life.
I am excited about our trip and a little sad to leave here. I am getting used to it and sometimes I am so proud of being able to do this move to China thing. It was so scary and I just did it anyway and although that’s always been my style of living, I can’t help be proud of it. I am also proud of my son who is so adaptable and charmed by everything in this new country. I can’t wait to show him the rest of the world!

Two months already! - June 4, 2013

It’s been over two months since we arrived in China and time just flew! The learning curve is intense when you move to a new place and a new country is even more so. I feel like I have come a very far way from the girl who sat down at a restaurant on her first night and realized for the first time that, “OMG…I can’t read the menu! I didn’t even THINK of this. What if I get fish?” (I’m severely allergic to fish) Then I pointed at something on the menu, said “ye” (meaning one) and pointed at another thing and said “Ye” and then hoped that whatever came wasn’t totally disgusting. Ha!
I was also the woman who was TERRIFIED of taking a taxi because I just felt so lost and vulnerable. I didn’t want to get into a cab with my son and not be able to tell him where I needed to go. I didn’t know how to say it at all. I wandered around on my first weekend here (also known as my 40th birthday), lost and unable to find the Qing Gai (LRT) that everyone said was ‘just over there” and ended up going nowhere. If I had gone a few feet more instead of turning around I would have found the Market. However, I didn’t find that until 2 weeks later. Now I am able to figure out what on the menu probably isn’t going to be terrible. I now know how to ask to go to multiple places in a taxi as well as get to the Qing Gai and when I get there, I know how to use it to get elsewhere. I figured out how to get a Qing Gai card ALL BY MYSELF and also found the Market by myself. I have had some new friends show me things I couldn’t figure out myself and have learned, despite my long, hard-to-break-habit of NOT asking for help, how to get people to come with me so it’s not quite as terrifying the first time. That in itself is a big move for me. I am desperately independent and have worked extremely hard my whole life to NOT be pathetic and to avoid being the stereotype of a single parent. “I am NOT lost, I do NOT need help,I do NOT need anyone” I scream in my head when I feel the most vulnerable. It doesn’t really work when moving to a new country when you cant speak a word of Chinese.
I have to say that one of the benefits of being an ex-pat is learning how to rely on people and discovering just how nice people are at their core, usually. I think when you are in a community of expats it’s easier to pull together. Since I’ve been here I have seen a few people go through really hard things. One person had some scary health problems, another broke her foot and has to hobble around on crutches and is trying very hard to be brave but it’s hard to be hurt and in another country, far away from family and friends and reliable health care. However, I have seen those same people helping each other in a way that would never have happened back ‘home’ because everyone would be so busy with their own things and would expect that one’s family and friends would help.
On another track entirely, one of the nice things about being in China and away from North America is the LACK of bad, scary news that happens in abundance in Canada. I knew we were under constant barrage of bad news but didn’t realize how QUIET the lack thereof would be. I don’t hear about the recent stabbings or shootings in Toronto, Surrey or wherever. I don’t hear about news I have no control over and can’t possible help with and yet frightens me and makes me afraid of my neighbours. It’s nice to not hear that chattering anymore of the 24 hour, constant bad-news-source.
Another good thing about China is the food. It is delicious! I am going to really miss Chinese food when I get back to Canada this summer. The Chinese food they serve us in Canada is not real Chinese food because it is not delicious in the same way at all. I will also miss how cheap everything is. I know that copyright is important…yadda yadda…but I do delight that I can buy “Dr Dre’s” headphones for cheaper than the cheapest headphones in Canada go for. (They aren’t real of course, but they look real!) I have also seen very real looking Prada, Gucci and many other looks-real knock offs.
Well…I meant to say a lot more stuff in this post. I feel guilty that I am ignoring my blog since I really thought it was important when I started it. It’s annoying to try and get photos on here so I have neglected it a little. I am also annoyed with the spam I get every time I post. I will try harder, I promise!

Beijing - May 3, 2013

We just got back yesterday from Beijing. It was just as crowded as I thought it would be but what a rush to be in such a huge city that is so famous! We went to Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, The Great Wall, and the Beijing Zoo. We also visited a government jade store, a government silk factory and had a tea ceremony at a government tea store. The last few were all part of a tour package where the tour is very cheap ($18 CAD each) but they take you to government stores to sell you things to pay for it. I think the tour guides get a commission from it. It was an experience.
Of all the places we went, the Great Wall was definitely my favourite. It was quite a rush to get to the top. We chose the hardest climb, the Badaling portion, because I heard the view was better at the top. If I ever do it again we will definitely take a gondola down though. My legs are more sore from the climb down than the one up! The entire climb I was so impressed with my little son, he was such a trooper! He also got a lot of attention from everyone, as always. He has had hundreds of photos taken with various Chinese people who seem very interested in photographing a foreign child.
The worst part of our trip was the Zoo. I wouldn’t recommend it for any animal lovers. All zoos are a bit inhumane anyway but this one was worse in a few ways. First of all, people bang on the glass cages to drive the animals crazy. They also throw garbage at them to see what will happen. I saw a lady dribbling coke down a wall of a bear enclosure, giving the grizzly bear a drink. I thought the behaviour of the visitors was appalling. Some of the conditions were pretty awful too. The polar bears were kept in an enclosure that was painted white and blue but it was so hot outside that day. The air conditioning was two windows that were propped open a bit. I know that polar bear fur is designed to keep the heat in so I felt so sorry for those bears. The camels were in awful condition too. The fur was falling out in clumps, matted and dirty and their humps were completely fallen over. Anyway, I think it’s turned me off going to zoos for a long time.
To be in Tienanmen Square was interesting. There were so many people that day and security officers everywhere. We went through several security checkpoints to get in the square. I’m glad we went to see it. walking in downtown Beijing afterwards was neat too. So many people!!
Well…two more days and we go back to work. I have heard that the next two months will fly by and then we will be home in Canada for the summer. I look forward to being able to read the cereal boxes again although I do NOT look forward to paying Canadian prices for everything!
Here are some photos to tide you over until next time: ;)

Beijing here we come! -April 27, 2013

Well we’ve only been in China for a month and a bit and already we have a holiday! China doesn’t have long weekends like North America but they do have a few really long holidays. In October and May there are national holidays (A week long for us), in February we get 5 weeks off but I think the national holiday is actually only 4 weeks. We work a lot of Saturdays in order to have these holidays. Then for the teachers, we also get the summers to go back to Canada, see our families, take professional development courses, etc. So a lot of time off…it’s nice.
Brogan and I are planning on going to Beijing. We were going to go to the Gobi Desert but I keep hearing that my language abilities thus far are not developed enough to travel that far inland so it’s better if we go to a more international place. In the Gobi there will be no one who can speak English. Most of the time here in Jinshitan that isn’t a problem because I know where I’m going and can point it out to a cab, or point at something on the menu and hope it’s good. The problem with going so far away with no Chinese language is that if something goes awry, it will be difficult to get help. So I will wait until I know Mandarin more and go next year. Oh but we wanted to ride a camel so much! :)
We are still loving it here. There are things I don’t love of course. The horking is kinda gross, the way people paw at Brogan is annoying and sometimes I feel like Im a zoo animal on display. People do not seem to think it’s rude to poke your child, or take photos of you without your consent, or point at you and talk about you while you are right there (oh yes, I may not understand your language but I know when you are talking about me! Duh) I also don’t love when I need something but really can’t ask for it and my hand gestures aren’t working. I get frustrated easily sometimes because there is just no way to communicate when even the hand gestures are different.
There are things that are good though: food, movies and shoes are super cheap. I bought real running shoes yesterday for 150 RMB which is less than $40 CAD. In Canada they would have been $150. We eat out all the time and rarely pay more than $6 Canadian for our meal. Rarely I have paid 100RMB ($18) but that was for an all-you-can-eat Thai buffet. I bought an entire season of a TV show the other day for 45 RMB and most of the movies were 15 RMB (So around $2) Life is a little free-er here too. Alcohol doesn’t seem to be restricted too much, you can walk down the street drinking a beer for example. Alcohol is for sale everywhere. People smoke in restaurants and although I don’t like being exposed to the smoke when I’m eating, I appreciate the fact that they are allowed to. Living as an ex pat is really awesome. Here we have a community of Canadian teachers who really help each other out. We all know what it’s like to live in a foreign country and how alone you can feel so they really come through for you when you need them. Most people here are fairly nice to us and they all LOVE Brogan. He has learned that if he smiles at the teenage girls when they take his picture, they give him candy. He often comes home with his pockets stuffed full of candy. He even takes his hat off when they get close because he knows they love his blonde, soft hair. It annoys him sometimes when they surround him but I think he secretly loves the attention. He does NOT love it when old ladies poke at him and has told a couple of them off (“Get your hands off of me”, he yelled when someone pinched his cheek one day)
I am excited about Beijing and also a little nervous. It’s such a huge city! I know so little Chinese and I have never been there. A bit scary. I also have to find my way to the airport, hoping that I can ask a taxi to take me there when I get to Dalian off the subway/train from Jinshitan. I worry about pickpockets, which are in abundance in big cities like that. I worry about losing my son, or getting hopelessly lost, or any of the other crappy things that can happen when travelling to a new place. However, it is one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s probably incredibly crowded and dynamic and I am excited about seeing a piece of the world that I have only seen photos of.
Anyway, I will let you know how it goes and hopefully have some photos to show.

A month! -April 20, 2013

I marvel how fast time can fly sometimes. Time in Nunavut was draaaggggiiinnnggg on forever but here it’s just flying! Part of it is that this experience is very far from boring. It is quite challenging but in a way that engages your entire mind.
I am a little more used to things now and have even learned how to get back from the train station to my house using a cab with my very limited Chinese. ( My pronunciation must be just horrible because they keep asking me to say it again.) I think it’s the tones…maybe I’m not saying it using the right tone and it means something else. I can also say “no spicy’ at a restaurant, ask ‘how much’ at the market and say ‘too expensive’ when I want to bargain. I was lucky to have a friend teach me all the numbers before I left Canada so that has been an obstacle I don’t have to leap over since I’ve been here.
One of the big challenges since I’ve been here (aside from language) is to find things that I need. Recently it has been a heater. They turn the heat off on April 1st and it was FREEZING in here. My hands were constantly cold everywhere I went and I was really, really tired of being cold. (They turn the heat off in the schools too, of course) I even considered asking for a transfer to Wuhan for next year purely for the heat, despite the fact that I’ve been told I wouldn’t like it there (although no one has given me a good reason why I wouldn’t like it) However, the other day I ran to the market in between work and picking up my son and after running through quickly before they closed, I found them! Heaters! I almost cried on the way out of that store. I probably paid way too much for them but I didn’t care…I would have paid almost anything to be warm again. Another thing I hadn’t been able to find was plastic or silicone spatulas. I bought a frying pan with a non-stick coating and have only seen metal spatulas since then. A little thing but oh-so-annoying! Yesterday I went to Dalian to Ikea and finally found one! Next thing I’m looking for is a drain cleaner for clogged kitchen or bathroom sinks. My bathroom sink is partially blocked and I want to unclog it myself. I have looked everywhere to no avail yet. Oh I miss Canadian Tire so much!!
That being said, there are more good things than bad, even now. The food is still absolutely delicious, the people are mostly nice and helpful, everything is still new and interesting and we are having a great time. In a week (only four weeks since I started working here), there is a week long holiday. My son and I are going to go to Beijing since I found cheap tickets and cheap hotels (compared to North America, that is). We are staying for four nights and I can’t wait to see one of the busiest, biggest cities on Earth on a major national holiday. I know…I know…there are going to be moments when I regret this decision but I think there will be pretty cool moments too.
With that I leave you some more photos and hope everyone is having fun wherever they are!