The Beginning of the End

Lately, everyday here has been so bittersweet. The first thought that comes into my mind every morning is the number of days we have left, and the after that I feel extremely emotional. I am anxious to come home and see our family and friends, who we miss so much.

But I am also extremely sad to leave this chapter that has been our life the last 3 months and all of the amazing people who have filled it. I could write an entire post about the impacts that spending everyday with 30 strangers, and 80 adorable kids has had on my life, but I will save it for a later post.Last weekend, Derek and I joined our friends; Tanner, Jessica, and Trevor to a shopping day in Shanghai. We woke up extremely early and caught the early train. We all had a list of the last souvenirs and Christmas gifts that we needed to buy. And after a couple of hours, all five of us had our arms full with new things.

In the last 3 months, we’ve been to Shanghai four times. Knowing that this time was our last made it a little different. We have finally got used to how the bargain markets work, what subway station to go to, where to find lunch. And now that we are finally comfortable in this once unfamiliar city, we are leaving it. Next time we visit Shanghai, we will be boarding our plane and heading home.We came back Saturday night and all grabbed dinner at one of our favorite little restaurants by the school. We are enjoying all of the Chinese food and time spent with these friends of our’s as much as we can. On Sunday, Derek and I decided to go exploring once again. The weather was amazing! With a high of 65, we knew we didn’t want to waste the day sitting inside our dorm. We took a taxi to a place called Wuxi, which is about a hour from our city. There is a sight seeing place there that we have been trying to make it to since we came to China. And it did not disappoint!There was a giant Buddha there that stands at 289 feet, along with other beautiful statues, and a Chinese theater show that we enjoyed. We also experienced completely vegetarian, tofu noodles for our first time.Along with all of the man made beauty, the park was filed with natural beauty as well. The leaves were all bright yellow and red and the sky was bright blue. It was the perfect fall day. And the perfect little break that Derek and I needed to have together after spending the previous day being extremely busy shopping with our friends.

In the last couple weeks, the rest of our time has been filled with Derek trying to get over a head cold, (that I gave to him..whoops) going out to dinner with friends, having game night as a group, giving way too much love to our students, and celebrating the littlest moments together.

Just like time makes the leaves change in the fall, time makes things change as well. Change brings new beginnings. It brings growth, adventure, and memories. And with all of that, change also brings endings…and if you’re really really lucky it brings the happiest of endings. Here’s to the last 21 days in this beautiful chapter of life we’re living in!

“Watch the beauty of your life tree, old leaves falling and allowing new ones to sprout !”
-Joy Lima

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

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“So, Let us be Thankful”

Here in China, the leaves are changing, the air is permanently cold, and the count down for our time here has officially begun. We hit our “One More Month” mark a few days ago, and with only 26 days left in this beautiful country, we are trying to squeeze as much beauty and fun in as we can.Last Saturday, we joined a few of our friends and explored a bamboo forest about a hour and a half away from our home. It was FREEZING, but so amazing to see an abundance of the plant that fills up so much space in China.

We hiked for a while and also rode a cable car up to the top of a mountain in the forest. The temperature on the top of the mountain was even more unbearable, but like most miserable hikes or hard times, it paid off in the end. The views were incredible, I already know that I am going to miss this lush green landscape.On Sunday, knowing well how cold it was outside, we decided to go explore again. Like I said, with only 26 days left we are trying to do as much as we can, even if it means not being able to feel our faces, fingers, or toes.Being as crazy as we are, our friends Tanner, Jared and Montana joined us again. We went to lunch at our favorite noodle place and took the city bus to downtown Changzhou. We’ve lived here for 3 months, and haven’t seen the downtown of our home city, so we decided it was the perfect day to do so.We explored a Buddhist temple, and the beauty it held was way beyond any of our expectations. I’ll let these pictures do the talking.

After walking around the temple grounds, admiring the Chinese locals paying their respects to their Buddha, snapping way too many photos, and feeling like we had frost bite; we decided to get back on the city bus and go more downtown to a mall.

Our friends wanted to check out a DVD and CD store and they also heard of a Wal Mart being in that location. I mean, what’s more exciting than shopping at a Wal Mart that has Chinese prices? We found the DVD store, and they purchased a few movies for a very great price. After attempting to ask a few Chinese locals, and getting laughed at for being “Silly, Beautiful Americans” we never did find the Wal Mart. We ended up grabbing dinner and heading back to the school.With Thanksgiving being here, I am feeling a lot of emotions this week. One of them being; homesick. I am sad I am missing out on my Grandma’s mashed potatoes, laughing too hard with my in laws, drinking too much wine with my friends, and spending time with my sister and nieces who are in town this week.

I am also feeling happy. I am feeling happy that even though there will not be mashed potatoes or turkey, I will be able to indulge in authentic Chinese food that I know I will crave the second I step back into America. I am also happy to spend this week with my Chinese students who have filled my heart more than I ever thought was possible.

And I am happy to have my China family. Who were once all strangers, but are now a bunch of the craziest funnest friends I have ever had And the sweetest.And of course, grateful to spend this week with my husband who, even after spending every second together, for the last 11 weeks, somehow still enjoys my company and wants to be with me at all times. (Don’t worry, I feel the same about him.) 😉Above all I am feeling thankful. Thankful that I have not a lot, but a little more time in this country that has become my second home. Thankful that I have family, friends, and my fur babies who are SO excited to see us next month. Thankful that I am able to experience all of sounds, smells, and incredible sights of this world. Thankful for all of the moments, the good and bad, big and even small. And extremely thankful that I have my best friend by my side for every step of the way.“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us be thankful.”-Buddha

Happy Thanksgiving American Friends!

Onto the next adventure, Wren

Memories in Yangshuo

You know those type of days that make you fall in love with being alive and every single thing around you makes makes your happiness grow a little more? The weekend that we traveled to Yangshuo was filled with days like that. I will be going into detail about our peaceful time in Yangshuo in a later post, but to sum it up… and since it is November, here are three things I am thankful for.

1.Strangers who grow into friends

2. Having the ability to see and explore the beautiful places this world has to offer

3. Being able to capture, share, and look back on the little moments that I hope to remember forever

Thanks for watching and onto the next adventure,

Wren

 

 

A Wild, Growing Love

Like most of the places we have explored and visited, Derek and I had researched the Shanghai Wild Life Animal Park before we came to China. I had read that it was a zoo, but that you could interact with the animals…Feed the animals, play with kangaroos, hold baby lion and tiger cubs, and the main attraction at the park: ride an elephant.In the past year I have heard of and have read a lot about the tourism industry and the sad effects it has on riding elephants, especially here in Asia. I knew that the park would be fun to visit if we got around to it, but I also knew that riding an elephant would be something that I was not participating in. We went to the park a few weeks ago, and after a long week of having a head cold and no energy, I am finally finding the time to post about it.After our long day in Disneyland, we met up with a few other people from our group who were also in Shanghai that night. The next day, we all went to the Animal Park together. The Park had a lot of animals, way more than what Derek and I were expecting. We took a bus tour and went through different animal “homes” including lions, tigers, bears (OH MY!) wolves, giraffes, zebras, etc. It was fun to see a lot of those animals up close since I have only ever seen them far away, in cages, at zoos. The park also had ligers! Which I hardly knew actually existed.We saw about 150 different species of wild life, including reptiles, birds, and big & small mammals (like these cute little meerkats….Hello Timone! ) 

Some of group decided to ride the elephants. Which I do not blame them, when else in your life will you get that opportunity?? But knowing what I know, I just personally could not do it. My opinion about it grew stronger when I saw the baby elephants, who were in a separate cage from their mother, with gashes from hooks on the side of their faces. Because it was proof that what I have read about, is the truth.I know that one or two people not riding elephants isn’t going to stop the way the tourism industry is, and I have no judgement towards the tourists who participate in this once in a lifetime ride. Up until last year, riding an elephant was number 3 on my bucket list. But since I have the knowledge that I have now, I was happy with just feeding this gentle giant and wishing I could save her from the tourism industry.

 

Derek decided to sit out on participating on interacting with the animals. He was tired that day (I mean he spent 10 hours with ME in Disneyland the day prior, so do you blame him?) He also didn’t care to spend the extra money interacting with these “depressed, sad animals” as he called them.A couple girls from our group fed these hungry hippos. They didn’t seem too depressed about it. 😉 We also fed the baby and adult tigers together. The tigers seemed to enjoy the steak on the stick that we were feeding them, but we could all tell that after 2 1/2 hours of constant random people feeding them, they were over it.

 

We didn’t make it on time to hold the baby lion and tiger cubs, we actually missed it by 10 minutes. We were pretty sad about it, but being able to see the cute little things through their glass cages made up for it. And by that time, I was actually relieved I didn’t have the chance to give this place more of our money. 😉

 

 

 

 

I know that zoos and animals are a big part of the world’s entertainment and tourism industry. I know that in the past five years, people have grown more aware of the effects these places and attractions have on animals. I know that even with proper education, people will continue to spend their money and time at zoos and animal parks. I am guilty of it, but I know that the older I get and the more I know, the less happy I am at these type of places. Visiting the panda sanctuary earlier this month made me notice the difference in the animals’ happiness at zoos versus sanctuaries and the effect the animals’ happiness had on my happiness. I’ve always loved animals, but living in China has made my love for them grow so much more. It has opened my eyes a lot to how a lot of animals are treated in this world, and if I had the power to save them all, I would. I know that it’s impossible to do that, but educating myself, and making a decision to not participate in a “once in a lifetime chance” for a picture, is a start.If any of you are interested in learning about the effects that the tourism industry has on elephants, I will put a link below, but if you google “elephants and tourism” there are tons of articles!

https://www.elephantvoices.org/elephants-in-captivity-7/-in-tourism.html

PS: How do I get a job with National Geographic? I had way too much fun capturing these photos.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

Happiest Halloween in China

Derek and I had no idea if Halloween existed here in China. We quickly learned that it does indeed exist, but it is not as big of a holiday as it is in the US. Not knowing if we would have the chance to celebrate the holiday, we decided to go to Disneyland in Shanghai while it was decorated for Halloween, since we wouldn’t have the chance to go at this time of year back home. Since time keeps slipping away from us, we decided on a Monday to go to Disneyland that Saturday. (Thanks China for making me spontaneous!)

We’ve both been to Disneyland quite a few times. In fact, this time marked two times just in this year. We went back in March to celebrate my birthday…little did I know that six months later, I would be in Disneyland again on the completely other side of the world. It was so fun to experience a different park. It made me want to visit all of the Disney parks. Maybe one day. 😉

 

To our surprise, Disneyland was decorated for the holiday just like it is back home. In fact it was all very similar to Disneyland back home. But It was half the price to get into the park, half the amount of people, half the line wait times which meant double the magic for us. Derek and I didn’t know what to expect so the day easily exceeded any expectations we had.

The Shanghai park is the newest Disneyland park in the world and we could definitely could tell with the way they used technology and had the park organized– like it was built to accommodate a lot of people. I can now say we’ve visited the oldest and the newest Disneyland parks in the world. In my opinion, that is an accomplishment to brag about.

*These are photos of us with our Disney Chinese yearly horoscope animals.*

 

 

Our day in Disneyland was one of my favorite days that we’ve had in China. The park had pumpkins and Halloween decorations everywhere. The air smelled like kettle corn and churros. Every employee could speak English and we even ate real pizza which we haven’t had in months. It was the perfect day to celebrate fall time and Halloween.

We visited Disney on the 21st of October, and leaving the park I thought that that would be all of the Halloween celebrating that we would get this year, but like a lot of things in China, I was surprised and I was wrong.

A couple of days before Halloween, we were told that we would have the day off from teaching and instead participate with the kids in their Halloween party. We were told that we could dress up if we wanted to, but didn’t have to.

If you know me, you know that if there is a reason to dress up, it’s going to happen. We found some items in our school supply room and in less than two hours we had our last minute costumes put together.

The Halloween party was only a couple hours long, it was like a trunk or treat where kids had booths and were handing out candy. All of the kids laughed at us teachers in our costumes and gave us all hundreds pieces of Chinese candy. It was so fun to take a break from teaching and celebrate with these kids that we’ve learned to love so much.

 

After the party, a few of us teachers made home made Oreo popcorn and started the second season of Stranger Things. We finished the day with game night. This year Halloween was way different than what we’re used to. It made us a little homesick from our friends and family, but it was so fun to learn that even on the completely opposite side of the world if you give a hundred kids candy and costumes, or if you decorate Disneyland with pumpkins and kettle corn…You are bound to have a very happy Halloween.

Also….My grandma sent me this picture of Harvey…he’s on the other side of the world, but he still matched me for Halloween. It made my whole day.

 

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

Chengdu & Leshan

If I could go back to any place that we have been so far in the last two months, it would be this area of China. The weather was perfect, there were so many beautiful sites to see, the people were friendly, and all of the food we ate was delicious.

When I think of China, a few things come to mind. Rice, Dragons, Buddha, Calligraphy, beautiful architecture, and of course….bamboo and Pandas. The cities of Chengdu and Leshan were filled with all of these. I loved it all, but my favorite part was the pandas. Pandas have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember. And coming to China has made my love for them grow even more than I thought was possible.

I remember researching a few years ago where in the world I could see a real life panda. I had seen one in the Washington D.C.  zoo when I was younger, but it didn’t fulfill my want to see more. I remember reading about a panda research center where tourists could pay a fee and learn about and watch pandas. It was located in China though, and when in my life would I ever make it to China…right?….Funny how things work out.

The research center was FILLED with pandas. Everything from the decorations, souvenirs, and snacks were panda themed. It was like a zoo, but just with pandas, and hundreds of them. From new born babies to 20 year old pandas. Since they are at a research center and not a zoo, they are treated like celebrities and are very happy and active. I was on cloud 9 all day.

 

It was so fun to witness so many happy healthy animals, especially because they were my favorite. I learned a lot too, and Derek was so nice to make this day “my day” and try to enjoy it as much as I did. I have already looked into volunteer programs at this place, because I was very envious of all of the workers who were interacting with these precious animals. It will be the perfect excuse to visit this beautiful part of the world again. 😉

*Shout out to our friends that we met in our taxi, who didn’t speak any English, but kept telling me that “I am beautiful when I smile” and Derek “is so so handsome” *

The next day, we took a train ride about a hour away to a smaller city called Leshan. We had researched about a giant Buddha statue there, which is the largest stone Buddha in the world. Since it was still the Chinese National holiday, the place was jammed pack with locals and tourists, but it was still very enjoyable to see the Buddha. It was absolutely beautiful.Leshan was one of our favorite places in China, not only because the Buddha was located there, but there were also many Buddhist monks walking around; practicing ceremonies, and singing songs. There was incense burning, Chinese locals and tourists bowing down to the monks, and peaceful songs in a language that we didn’t and still don’t understand. The experience was so peaceful and so beautiful.

The day was so peaceful, and it was much needed after our long week of traveling to Beijing, Chengdu, and Leshan. I wish the following day was just as peaceful, but that’s not how life works. There are good days, and there are not so good days.

We woke up extremely early to make it to the train station on time. We had a 13 hour train ride ahead of us, so we were prepared to wear our sweats, read our books and do nothing, but sit all day. After a couple unexpected long lines, not being able to ask anyone for help with the ticket machine, and a very stressful half hour, Derek and I missed our train by 5 mins with a weeks worth of luggage in our arms.

 

Since it was the national holiday, the next train “home” was on Tuesday, which was 3 days away. We needed to be home by Sunday to teach on Monday morning. Starting to panic, we looked up other options of transportation. Fortunately, there was a flight that left Sunday morning at 6AM. Unfortunately, it was $500 that we were not prepared to spend. It was our only option, so we quickly booked the flight and tried not to let this stress and frustration ruin our perfect week spent together.Since we still had 24 hours left in Chengdu, no hostel booked, and all of our luggage…we decided the best option would be to take our luggage back to our hostel to store it and try to have a nice relaxing day. We researched a few spas, and ended up at an all inclusive resort type of place. We had an all you can eat buffet, got a hour massage, played table tennis, had unlimited wifi, and spent the whole day being lazy and doing absolutely nothing. It was much more enjoyable than a 13 hour train ride would have been.

The resort was fairly cheap..it was high end and pricey for China, but not even close to the amount that we would spend at home for a place like that. We slept at the airport that night, and were home by 8AM on Sunday morning. Sometimes missing your train home and having to spend a little extra money is worth it.We are passed our halfway mark in China, and even though I can’t find the right words to describe the experience we’ve had so far, I can tell you…It’s been worth it.

 

Onto the next adventure, Wren