Category Archives: tips

South American Dreams


One month TODAY, I will be landing in Santiago, Chile!!  I have enjoyed, for the most part, my time in China but I am SO excited to be heading to the southern hemisphere and a brand new continent!

 

My South American journey has many places to see, and things to do.   I cannot wait to get started on this next chapter of my life!!  Here are just a few things I want to see and do!

 

1.       The Atacama desert – I have been doing research about the desert, and this is something I cannot miss while in Chile!!   San Pedro de Atacama looks so charming, and there are reasonably priced tours to go and observe the stars, and be mesmerized by the sky.  I cannot wait to be there!!

2.       Eat empanadas from a street vendor in Santiago – there are many street markets in Santiago, and I want to see everything, and inhale all the delicious smells of Chile, and enjoy a freshly made empanada.  
 

3.       Enjoy Chilean wine – I am not a big wine drinker but I do know that Chile has some of the best wine in the world, and I am going to try it while I am there.  

4.       Valparaiso and Vina del Mar – these ocean cities are a bus ride away from Santiago.  I want to be by the ocean, enjoy fresh seafood, and take a walk on the beach.

5.       Ride a bike through the countryside of Chile, near the Andes.  

 

There are so many things I want to do and to see in my life.  These are just a few that I know I can accomplish this year.   Any suggestions of other things I shouldn’t miss?

 

Fears of the unknown

I have many fears, as I am sure most people do. Some of my fears are common (war is on the top of that list) and some are not so common, I think.
I have overcome many fears since my traveling life has begun.  One was traveling alone ~ could I do it? Could I be happy being alone in a foreign place?   I have conquered that fear. Being alone in a foreign country is more liberating than fearful. Its an amazing feeling walking through European cities or Chinese cities and having a feeling of belonging, despite being stared at. Taking in all the sights to see, the smells, people watching. Experiencing a whole new way to live.  Adjusting as well as you can to the language.  I am happy to say that the fear of this unknown was a good one to overcome.


Last night I conquered a personal fear.  Eating out in public.  I have eaten in restaurants here in China ~ I don’t always like doing that but I have done it (the noisy eating I will never get used to!).  But there is one thing I have wanted to do and couldn’t work up the nerve to do, until last night.
BBQ is very popular here. There is a BBQ place near my place but I didn’t know what the food was. That’s another fear!  What am I eating?? I don’t usually ask, until last night.  I was walking by, on my way to get my usual chicken and rice dish when two of my students and their parents asked me to join them. So I did. I sat down, ate delicious food outside, with people watching, taking pictures and talking about me. (I know the Chinese word for foreign teacher ).

My usual chicken dish that I love!!
What did I eat?  Grilled tofu (I love tofu!!), a seafood skewer (no one could tell me what kind of seafood it was but it was good!), pork skins (yummy!), chicken (what part of the chicken is unknown but it was really good), chicken wings and a huge bottle of beer.  I overcame the fear of the unknown food and enjoyed a lovely evening with these very generous people.  And now I know I will definitely sit down again and enjoy the food there.
So when you’re traveling, take the plunge and try local food. Don’t be afraid. You may be pleasantly surprised!!  (I did say no to chicken gizzards though ~ I had to draw the line somewhere!)

​The many oddities of China

Quirks,  oddities, translations gone askew.  There are so many unique qualities of China, its hard to narrow it all down to one category.

Wearing velour sweat suits in 29 degree weather!!
From the constant spitting, to the use of the sidewalk as a toilet, to the incredible generosity of the Chinese people. It’s interesting to see the many faces of China.

Translations are my favourite. They really want to embrace the Western way yet have no clue that the way they translate does not make sense.  I make a point now to look at the signs, the food labels and the clothes.  

The authentic Chinese food is truly incredible. Some of the best food I have ever had. But I steer away from street food because pigeon isn’t at the top of my list to eat!

They have unique choices to food that is common I am sure worldwide.  While I have had cucumber chips and lime chips, some flavours I won’t try (squid flavour? No thanks!)

There are so many odd things I see here, but some things are rather disturbing.

This is a child (2 year old) size tshirt. Scary!!
It is definitely interesting to see all the unique things here!!

China quirks

I think quirks is a funny word. It’s a word I like teaching!  But in this instance it’s not a funny word. It’s unusual things that I find slightly disturbing and things I won’t miss when I leave China.

1.  The spitting/horking that everyone does. If it was just spitting and just men doing it, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. But everyone horks and its probably the most disgusting sound a person can make.  And when I see fashionably dressed women walking toward me, then hork and spit ~  they suddenly don’t appear so fashionable anymore.

2.  The constant noise. Noise pollution here is almost as bad as the air pollution.  I feel like every store is competing with each other, not for customers but to see who can be the loudest.  Seriously, it’s so annoying that I try to avoid busy areas now.  I am lucky to live in an area where I can get everything and avoid some of the noise!  My area is loud too, just not as loud as other areas.

3.  Children using the streets/sidewalks/wherever as their personal bathroom. It’s disgusting and yet parents seem to be okay with it. And the babies with no diapers and parents letting them go wherever. I just don’t get it.

4.  The smog. How the population is as high as it is baffles me. How they survive without apparently having serious lung problems is beyond me. And smoking in the smog. Double whammy.  These people must have lungs made of steel. 

5. Let’s talk about the smoking. Coming from North America where it’s illegal to smoke anywhere is a blessing. These people smoke in restaurants, bars, shopping centres, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and school bathrooms. The adults are doing this. And they think it’s funny to see kids pretending to smoke.  Frightening.

6.  The squat “toilets”.  Thank goodness almost everywhere I go has either one regular toilet or a handicap toilet.  Oh and having to carry tissue with you everywhere. Because it’s not provided. Add that to my list of things I’ve learned to never forget!

7. Washroom facilities at my school.  I am lucky there is a regular toilet on every floor at school. But there is no hot water. No soap. No paper towels or air dryer. And on the one floor, the regular bathroom does not have running water in the sink. Seriously, isn’t it time to upgrade?

8. One of the most disturbing things is street meat. There is a street vendor that I pass on my way to the shopping center.  I know what he is cooking because they are right there in a cage for all to see. I refuse to eat pigeon. So gross.

Am I going to miss anything about China when I leave? Yes of course ~ there are so many things I will miss but the above things I will not miss at all!!

Learning Chinese ~ the struggle continues

Moving to a new country poses many problems and challenges, but one of the most important things one must do is to try to learn at least the basics of the country’s language. Therefore, Mandarin has been my challenge this school break!


I have been taking Chinese lessons and it has been quite the challenge! Mandarin is not easy to learn. The tones are the hardest things to remember. But I am proud to say that I have been able to learn a few of the basic words ~ hello, thank you, how much is this, numbers and other easy words. 

I have made it a goal of mine that wherever I travel I need to learn the basics. I did the best I could in the Czech Republic (another very difficult language to learn!) and most people understood what I was trying to say. The same is happening here. But Chinese are much more forgiving and patient! 



I will be moving on to another country in August and I will be learning some of the new language before I get there!  In the meantime, my Mandarin lessons continue and I will do my best to improve.

For those of us that travel, it really is so important that we make the effort to at least learn to say hello in their language. We would expect the same of foreigners coming to our country. Just remember how difficult it is for them to communicate with us.  And we are never too old to learn something new!!

And if you are in China and are in doubt, just say “ting bu dong” ~ you will make most people laugh and they will realize you don’t know what they are saying! (It means ~ I don’t understand 😉 )

China surprises!!

​It has been over six months since I arrived and I am still learning new things each day when I am out. These are some things that may surprise you about China:

Pedestrians have no rights. Seriously we have no rights.  We walk whenever there is a break in traffic.  Cars do not slow down for you. Sometimes it feels like you are risking your life by crossing 8 lanes of traffic. I have become very good at maneuvering my way across the roads.
Public transportation.   It’s a very different experience here. At small stops, a lot of the time the bus simply slows down enough for you to jump on and then takes off before the door is closed. You need to be quick!  It is very cheap to take the bus ~ only 1 rmb (about 20 cents Canadian). They pack on the people ~ like a sardine can. People push, they sometimes are aggressive with their pushing. You learn to push back. I also have learned when the best non crowded times are to get on a bus!!
Stray dogs. This is a very sad part of the area I live in. Many people within the gated area have dogs as pets. But outside of this area, there are a lot of stray dogs. They look frightened and sad, but it is still better to keep away from them. There have been many times I have seen parents make their child run away from them. Its sad.
Snow removal. This city amazes me with the snow removal!!  They waste no time getting out the snow ploughs and shovels to clear the snow. And the amount of people who are doing the shoveling is astonishing. Men and women of all ages. Once the snow stops falling, they get out their brooms and start sweeping the snow off the roads. It really is awesome to see how they do it. They do not, however, use any salt. Its very slippery some days!!
Shopping centres.  If anyone has a noise sensitivity, you need to be aware of the noise. And this isn’t from the shoppers. The different stores have people standing there, with microphones, yelling about their sales. They talk over one another. I know this now and so plan my shopping on days when I know I can handle the amount of noise I will encounter.  And in the supermarkets, they have people offering free samples and they are very pushy!!  I know to say BU now (no) and walk away. 
These are just a few examples of surprising things I have encountered. It still amazes me that some of these things happen!!

Czech Republic ~ my top 10 places to see

​I lived in the Czech Republic for almost two years before moving to China. It is my second hone, after Canada, so I thought I would share my top 10 places to see there.

1.  Cesky Krumlov ~ without a doubt, this is the most beautiful, quaintest, peaceful town I have ever encountered. The history, the magnificent castle and its grounds, the food. Many people will visit only for a day but to get a real feel of the town, you need to take your time, walk through the alleys, visit the shops and imagine you are there back in the medieval era. Spend a weekend at one of the quaint bed and breakfasts. It is worth it! 

2. Konopiste ~ again it is a castle town. This country has so many castles to see but this should be near the top of your list. Set away from town, surrounded by trees and the prettiest lake, is a castle out of a story book. I spent about 5 hours wandering through the grounds, having a picnic by the lake, and people watching. A stunning site to see.

3.  Karlstejn ~ another castle but so much more. This castle is built above a town, and the town is a site to see on its own! The many shops selling uniquely Czech goods, the aroma of the food (sausages ~ oh the sausages!) ~ its a short train ride away from Prague and a wonderful place to spend a day.

4. Prague Castle ~ my friends will be shocked to see this is number 4 on my list! This Castle has my soul ~ it is a magnificent place. The gardens, St. Vitus Cathedral, the quiet alleys, the incredible views of Prague.  There is one special spot in my heart for this Castle. Its amazing to see anytime, but at night, when most of the tourists are in a pub drinking pivo (beer), this place is magical. Serene. Take the time to go at night and you will understand.

5.  Charles Bridge ~ you simply cannot visit this medieval city and not walk on the famous bridge!  There is much to see ~ statues, the Vltava River, the buskers, the people. It is very busy on weekends so try to go on a weekday. 

6.  Divoka Sarka ~ at the end of one of the tram lines is what looks like a big forest area. But once you wander down the hill and are enveloped with the trees and the cliffs and the bubbling creek, you will know why this is on my list. It was my place to escape. Its quiet with an occasional group of people biking, or walking, or having a picnic. Whenever I was having a stressful day, I would get on the tram and walk. You can walk for hours and I did many times.  It had an interesting history as well. Many battles happened here and you will see signs throughout the park but not in English.  

7.  Kutna Hora ~ the town with a church of bones!  I am not kidding ~ there is a bone church in this town!  It is fascinating and quite spooky at the same time. It will chill you!  The town also has a beautiful square and incredible views.

8.  Old Town Square in Prague and the Astronomical Clock ~ one of the main attractions of Prague is the Astronomical clock. Definitely stay and watch the hour chime in and watch the clock’s animation. Then go and enjoy the square. Jan Hus Statue, the horse and carriages, the aroma of food ~ try trdelnik (a pastry) or langos (its like fried bread with sauce ~ its different and popular).  Wander through the narrow cobblestone roads and turn a corner and you will find even more sites and pubs!

9.  Wenceslas Square ~ so many shops!! And this is where you will find the best sausages. Well all of Prague has amazing sausages but you will find a lot here. Oh how I miss the sausages.  

10.  Letna Park ~ in case you couldn’t tell, I love walking. And this park is the best for that because it not only has wonderfully wide paths, and parks for kids, but at the end ~ you will come to the Letna Beer Garden. I could not end my list without including this place, and Czech beer. The views of the city are absolutely the most incredible, and the beer is cold. And yes you can get sausages here too!  Try Kozel, or Gambrinus ~ its a favourite place for many people to go to in the summer.

I could go on and make this a top 100 list ~ I have such incredible memories of this amazing country.  It is not a country to miss if you are in Central Europe.