Tuesday, February 24, 2009

If You're Lookin' for Ma Cookies Keep on Lookin' cuz My Kids Ate Them All...

So, for our end of year party, Miss Janine spent all night baking cookies and whipping up different coloured frosting so her kids could have a cookie decorating party. Did they have fun? Were their cookies delicious? Well, in the words of my students, "Yes and yes!"

Toby and Alex

Sally and Kevin








Bright Kim

Thomas J.

Thomas J.

Alvin's finished products.



Kevin and Sally


Cookie Monster

Proof of being the cookie monster




Monday, February 23, 2009

Once Upon a Time, I went to Namsan Tower

This happened... a long time ago. Like, November. Tristan, who lives in Seoul, called me up to see if Pat and I wanted to do something "touristy" in Seoul. We haven't really done a lot of touristy things, to be honest. I have enough fun without doing the touristy things for the most part. But we decided to go into the city and meet up with Tristan, as we hadn't seen him for awhile.

We found him in Gangnam, Lonely Planet Korea in hand, and he informed us that we would be going to check out Namsan Tower. This actually didn't seem like a bad idea, as I have always admired Namsan from afar and always wanted to see it close up. At night in Seoul, when it's all lit up, it's a gorgeous sight. In fact, the very first time I went to Seoul, a year and a half ago, I was mesmerized by it as we drove by in a taxi.

To get there: head to Myeongdong (on the light blue line) and then walk up the hill. There are two ways up- hiking, or taking a cable car. We opted for the latter and I went of my very first (terrifying) cable car ride. It didn't take very long.

... but it sure was a long way down.

It wouldn't have been a terrible hike, though.

At the top it's a typical Korean tourist attraction- and there are vendors everywhere selling dried squid.

The Tower.

View from the top... Seoul is so huge. It stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction.

Nice view of the Han River.

The only part of the city I recognized: Itaewon (that's just sad).

I was feeling a little dizzy, hence the stunned look on my face.

Afterwards we decided to walk back down. Only we ended up on the other side of the mountain. We went down a shady alleyway and then accidentally found ourselves smack dab in the middle of Namdaemun Market! I love markets so much.

Mmmmmmm my favourite kind of food. Street food.

Christmas had officially thrown up on the place (Namdaemun is rumoured to be overrun with the Russian Mafia).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

China Chronicles: Day Six

By the time we reached day six in Beijing, my feet had officially rejected me. I seriously couldn't walk without wincing, and I thought they would never return to normal. I mean, your average achy foot from too much walking was nothing like the pain I was experiencing by day six. Lessons of the trip? Bring more supportive footwear, because you're going to be walking a lot.

Needless to say, in my condition the last thing I wanted to do was go out for another day of walking. I just wanted to sit in a teahouse and watch the world go by. But, my friends were very convincing and of course, I didn't want to miss out on anything possibly specatcular. So off the the Summer Palace we went.

We took the subway and attempted to get on a bus we knew went to the palace, but as soon as we stepped on we were shooed off by a grumpy looking woman and the bus driver. Jerks! We got in a cab, or, rather, two cabs and were on our way. Ten minutes later, Bernie, Charlene and I had arrived at the entrance but there was no sign of Jeremy and Allison. We waited for what seemed like forever before we all found each other- apparently their cab driver had taken them to the North entrance of the palace while ours took us to the South. So, now we know there are TWO entrances to the Summer Palace (I advise you to take note of this if you are planning a trip to Beijing).

It was getting a bit late in the afternoon by the time we got our tickets, and Bernie, Char and I were unable to get full access to all of the buildings (Allison and Jer had to run through the palace grounds to find us on the other side so they had already purchased the tickets) so we split up and agreed to meet at the Silk Market later. It was freezing and my feet were in serious, unimaginable pain. I didn't really want to stick around for too long, and fortunately, neither did Bernie and Char. However, we managed to walk around the perimeter and, I must say, it was really, really beautiful. I would kill to spend my summers there.

The lake that you are able to boat around in the summer was completely frozen solid, and there were children running and skating around with their parents. Lovers were out on lover's strolls, and families were having a great time. It was nice, until we heard a distraught Mother looking for her child, who had presumably gone missing. She was calling her child's name for hours, and it was maybe the saddest thing I've ever experienced. I wish we could have helped.

After looking at the path ahead of us, we decided we would save walking time and cut across the frozen lake (other people were doing it, too, Mom). We had some fun on the ice and made our way to the other side where the entrance was located. What a beautiful walk! In one direction there was nothing but mountains, in another direction you could see the skyline of Beijing and in another you were looking back on the beautiful, ornate buildings that the palace was composed of. When we got to the other side, we found that the ice wasn't safe enough to get to the shoreline we wanted, so we had to go even further where it was safer to make the transition. When we were back on dry land we saw the sign that said "Don't walk on the ice". Oops.

We made our way back to the nearest subway station and went straight to the Silk Market where Allison and Jer were waiting for us. I had one last shopping sessions and then we had a quick dinner in Wangfujing. After that, I had to say goodbye to my friends and made my way back to the hostel.

I checked out of my room, found an honest cab driver and got to the train station without incident. It turned out that the 50 RMB cab ride from the train station to my hostel was only 10 RMB to go back. Travellers, beware of cabbies! I boarded by train at 11 PM and made friends with a business woman going to see a factory. We exchanged emails and she got off the train halfway through my journey. Luckily, I had a seat this time and didn't have anyone sleeping on me. I arrived back in Qingdao at 7 AM, cabbed to a hostel where my friend Tristan was staying, slept until noon, used the internet and watcted BBC Newsworld for an hour, took a walk downtown, had my last bowl of noodles and finally cabbed to the ferry terminal.

They had given me my return ticket before I left Korea, but apparently I needed to check in at a different location. Gawd. What a hassle. The woman at the terminal called out to this guy, who, as far as I knew, was just another ferry passenger. She must have known him personally. She asked him to take me to the right place. This guy knew a few English words but I had no idea what was going on or where he was taking me! He took me a few doors down the street, gave them my passport and ticket, and gave me my passport and new ticket. I thanked him, and made my way back to the terminal.

He followed me back, tapped my shoulder, and took me to another place in the terminal. I saw a sign that said "Departure Tax: 30 RMB". I got out the money and gave it to the woman. She gave me a piece of paper, I thanked her, I thanked the man again, and made my way back to the line.

Again, the man tapped my shoulder and motioned me to follow him. This time I knew I had everything I needed, so I politely shook my head and pointed to the line up. He insisted I follow him, pointing to my ticket. He was right before and I didn't want to risk missing my boat, so I let him lead me back to the other check in building, where he showed them my ticket, got my baggage allowance (I had a carry on and that was it) and kept it for himself. I was a little peeved! He just wanted my baggage allowance! When we got back to the terminal he said "Thank you" and pointed to all of his mother's luggage. I softened. He was a nice guy, after all.

I was finally able to board the boat after going through customs. I got to my room and realized, this time around, I had no roommates! Yes. I put the heating on low and settled in for a night of Korean TV (Big Bang concert- yesss), ramyeon and beer. So ends my journey. I encourage all expats to take the ferry to China- so much fun, so comfortable, and Qingdao is a pretty alright city when it isn't raining!

Char and I at the Summer Palace.

Making my way across...

O Hai. This is as happy as I get when I'm in constant pain.

Taking frequent rests...

Woo! Frozen ice!

It was a very sunny afternoon.

Near the Dragon Boat
My camera died after this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

China Chronicles: Day Five (Part Two)

After the Great Wall, our tour took us to a jade museum, the Ming Tombs, and a silk museum. Actually, at this point I just wanted to go back to our hostel and sleep and go to a tea house. I am glad that there was no possible way to do that, because I actually had a good time.

I've never been overly interested in the Ming Tombs, but I like historical stories a lot and our guide was full of them. Apparently, during the Ming Dynasty, a fortune teller told the first emporer that, in order to keep the Ming line going, they all had to build their burial tombs to the north of the river that runs through the valley. Consequently, every emporer (they all planned and built their tombs while they were still alive) chose to be buried to the north- except for one Emporer, who chose to be buried, after hundreds of years of the line being kept, to the south. It turned out that the emporer who built his tomb on the south side of the river was also the very last of the Ming emporers.

Go fig.

At the jade museum we were treated to a lesson on how to tell whether a piece of jade is real or if it is fake (which came in handy later on at the Silk Market) and then we had a yummy Chinese lunch in the museum's restaurant. I'm talking delicious. We started with a hot and sour egg drop soup, then along with our rice we were presented with about eight different dishes- stir fried vegetables, steamed bok choy, pork and beef with vegetables, and much more.

At the Silk Museum, we learned about the silk worm and what part of they silk they use from it (the cocoon). Then we learned how they soak the cocoon and stretch it to an unbelievable size and then repeat the process until there are countless silk layers piled on top of one another. After, we were free to browse through their selection of silk bedspreads. Of course I fell in love with one and had to buy it... until I found out it was the most expensive piece in the shop (about 500$ CAN, which was much more expensive than the average 100$ piece). Why must my taste be so expensive?

That evening just so happened to be New Years Eve, so my friends and I decided to celebrate with a traditional meal of Peking Duck. We had met a foreign couple the night previous at dinner who recommended a great place to us, located on "Ghost Street" as it is commonly called. The street is completely lit up with red lanterns and all of the shops on the street are restaurants. It was a pretty cool place to be at night. Also, at our particular restaurant, we were told to ask for "Vivian"- the English speaking manager who was a friend of the couple we met.

It turns out, Vivian gave us the ultimate royal treatment at the restaurant. She sat us down at the back of the restaurant, there was lots of entertainment and the food was delicious. As a Peking Duck virgin, I was so pleasantly surprised at the crispy skin that just melts in your mouth. Typically, your duck is served with small crepe-like thingies (for lack of a better word) and you wrap up your duck with lots of different fruits and vegetables before dunking it in one of the three dipping sauces and eating with great relish. We ordered two, and while it was expensive, it was so, so, so worth it. Delish.

After we finished eating, Vivian presented us with a free platter of fruit, which was beautifully laid out. Then she took us on a tour of the restaurant, which has three courtyards (where they serve food in the summer) and two floors. It was a really beautiful restaurant. Yet another reason why I want to go back in the summer!

Livin' it up on Ghost Street.

My friends and I with Vivian, after dinner.

Checking out the menu... so much food!

The beautiful fruit platter.

Pancake with duck.

Our duck, after carving.

Our duck, mid-carving.

At the Ming Tombs. The object behind us is filled with donation money for the Tomb's upkeep.

Before dinner, relaxing with drinks.

Our terrible attempt at stretching the soaked silk... our guide told us we were hopeless.

The Ming Tomb of the first emporer.