Saturday, January 10, 2015

Happy New Year

Hey, remember me? I know it's been quiet around here for the past two months but I thought I would pop back in to wish you a happy New Year and recap the awesomeness that was 2014.

The winter in Shanghai is chilly, making it perfect hot pot weather. But Shanghai apparently wasn't cold enough so we traveled to Harbin for the Snow and Ice Festival, where temperatures dipped down to negative 30. Brrrrr. While the ice was the main attraction, we also enjoyed the Russian cathedral and eating ice cream.

Harbin - Ice and Snow World

February started with an ill fated trip to Cambodia. The month improved though with the Lantern Festival and a Bean Valentine auction.

Lantern Festival in Xujiahui Park #cny

In March, I indulged in a decadent brunch at Vue and shared my feelings about being a housewife. I also found out I was born to be an expat.


I came clean about my addiction, attended the Formula One race and participated in the Jinqiao 8k. The highlight of the month was when I volunteered to teach English in rural Henan Province and visited the hometown of my childhood hero, Mulan.

May is my favorite month since it's the annual celebration of my parents blessing the world with their youngest child (that would be me). I celebrated the demise of my twenties dressed as a giant cat and also indulged in lots of dumplings. But May also sucked this year because it marked the beginning of an exodus of expat friends from Shanghai. At least May had lots of pretty flowers. And a weekend in Hong Kong.


We spent a relaxing weekend in Moganshan with college friends where I realized I had become far too local and returned to America for a detox.

I was feeling a bit lazy from finally figuring out how to ride ride the bus, so I ran a Half Marathon in Inner Mongolia. Normal.


August was hot and busy. I'm sure I did something interesting but all I can remember is attending Shanghai Supper Club.

Tonight's special #shsupperclub #shanghaieats #fields

September was a month of travel with a hike up Huangshan, a weekend in Seoul, and a tour of Beijing with my sister.

I was a bad blogger this month but I did return to Cambodia. So there's that.

The moment I had been dreading arrived and we said our goodbye to Shanghai by running through it in the Shanghai International Half Marathon. Then we boarded a plane and left this crazy life behind.


December was a flurry of settling into our new house, new jobs, and new lives. It was a time to celebrate with family and friends but also a time to reflect back. Not only on 2014, but on the entire three years in China. For the first time in three years, I was stateside for New Year's Eve.

As we begin a new year, I'm excited for what is ahead, the next adventure we undertake. But I'm also sad that this piece of our journey is over. Looking back over the last year, I cannot fathom the things I have done and the places I have been. I can't imagine 2015 will top 2014, but the same could have been said for 2013 I suppose. Let's hope 2015 has a few surprises in store.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Love Letter

Dear Shanghai,

You and me, it was love at first sight. You offered me new opportunities, a new culture, a new country. I had never lived more than 4 hours from where I grew up and frankly, I was scared out of my mind. But you dazzled me from the moment I stepped off the plane. Your beautiful skyline, your delightful foods, and your endless possibilities.

You've taught me so much over the past three years. Sure, sometimes you made me feel awkward and out of place but you also showed me that I'm stronger than I ever thought possible. You forced me to try new things and embrace new cultures. You even convinced me to eat pork again.

You haven't always treated me the best. There was the case of e.coli and numerous bouts of food poisoning. And sometimes you made it toxic for me to breathe. Other people didn't always understand my fascination with you or my ability to look past your faults. But I thought those flaws gave you character. The spitting, shoving, and public defecation. Those were just your ways of asserting your independence. Your unwavering lack of interest in conforming to others' standards.

And through it all, I loved you. Your weird smells, your bustling streets, your cultural differences. I learned to embrace them all. Heck, I even started to do some of them.

But now Shanghai, it's time to move on. You'll always hold a special place in my heart, one that I didn't know was empty until you came along. I hope this isn't goodbye forever. I hope I come back to you. But life happens and it might be awhile until I see you again. I hope you won't forget me. Because I will never forget you. You've changed me, and it's for the better.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hiking Huangshan or How I Made Myself Sore For 5 Days

When Matthew and I realized that our time left in China was limited, we began scheduling lots of weekend trips. One of those trips was to Yellow Mountain, or Huangshan.


Before heading to Huangshan, I wrongly thought that Yellow Mountain was a single mountain. But in reality, Huangshan refers to an entire mountain range in southern Anhui province.

There are literally hundreds of peaks and thousands of ravines in the Yellow Mountains, 72 of which have been named. Heavenly Capital Peak (1800m), Lotus Flower Peak and Bright Summit (1841m/6040ft) are the three major peaks, all rising more than 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) above sea level. That means that at times, I was standing next to a cliff that dropped down over a mile. For this heights adverse gal, the trip was often harrowing.


We arrived Friday night and spent some time exploring Tangkou, the town situated at the bottom of the mountains. That took about 10 minutes because Tangkou is TINY. With more time than we knew what to do with, we took the suggestion of our hotel and headed to the hot springs to relax for a few hours. Heaven. My only regret is that we visited the hot springs prior to ascending the mountain and not after. But soaking in a pool of hot water scented with wine and coconut milk wasn't a bad way to spend a Friday night.

Early the next morning, we joined the masses in line to take the buses into the park. As Huangshan is a national park, the only way to enter is on foot or via the National Express bus. We arrived at the Yungu Cable Car or Eastern Steps and then rode the cable car to the top. I don't remember much of the 12 minute cable car ride, though Matthew claims it was beautiful. I had my head between my knees and was trying to ignore the Chinese people pointing at the foreign girl who was freaking out. Like I said, I don't do heights.


After nearly meeting my death (I'm sure the cable cars are totally safe, but it FELT like I was going to die at any moment), we spent a few moments getting our bearings and then began the hour long hike to our hotel. Some of the best views on Huangshan are sunrise and set, and staying on the mountain meant that we could enjoy them.


We arrived at our hotel only to find there was a small snafu with our room, as in they didn't have one for us. But we were able to sort things out and received free accommodations in the single sex dorm rooms. Not what we had planned but it just added to the experience. We dropped off our bags and started off on another hike.


We then spent the next five hours going up paths that looked like this:


And down stairs that looked like this:


It was beautiful, thrilling, and at times terrifying. The guard rails were only often knee high and a small stumble could send you tumbling over the side of a mountain. Thankfully, while there were thousands of other tourists with us on the mountains that day, the crowds thinned considerably once we were away from the cable cars. At one point, we hiked for over an hour without seeing another soul.


Our original plan had been to watch the sunset at Fairy Walking Bridge, but once we made our way there, we knew there was no chance we would want to hike back the same way in the dark. We instead headed back up the trail, closer to our hotel and settled in for the show.


We could see the masses of people sitting far away on Bright Top, but enjoyed our empty spot along the trail, even if the sun disappeared behind a mountain before it reached the horizon.


As the darkness began to settle, we headed to our hotel for showers and much needed food. We had managed to skip lunch amid the hotel mixup and were famished after over 6 hours of hiking.


Staying in the hostel section of the hotel meant that we had little choice as to when we awoke the next morning. At exactly 4am, the lights in my room came on and everyone began to prepare for sunrise. We slipped on some thermals (despite wearing shorts during the day) and joined the masses en route to Bright Top. Why isn't there a photo of the sunrise in this post? Because there wasn't much of one. Thick fog and crowds of people meant that we couldn't even get close to seeing the sun come up. Back in our rooms, we showered and prepared for another long day.


We spent the next five hours hiking down the Western Steps of Huangshan. While Saturday had given us blue skies and beautiful views, Sunday proved to be wet and foggy. But it meant the trails were fairly empty and the temperatures were moderate on the way down. Around noon, we arrived at Mercy Light Pavilion and happily jumped on a bus back to Tangkou. As our flight to Shanghai was not until much later that evening, we checked into a hotel for showers and an afternoon nap. After we devoured a bowl of noodles that is.


Afterwards, we realized we had walked over 13 miles/21 km, mostly on stairs, over the two days on the mountains. I consider myself to be in fairly good shape (I teach 2 spin classes and run an average of 15 miles a week, plus I'm about to run my third 1/2 marathon in a year), and I have to tell you, Huangshan was no joke. While I never felt unable to make it, I was sore when we woke up on Sunday. And I was even more sore Monday morning. In fact, I found it hard to go down stairs even on Thursday. But the views? Well, they made everything worth it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

5 Excuses For Being A Bad Blogger

I realize I'm been a bad blogger the last few months. When we first moved to China, I was posting 2-3 times a week. I'm lucky if I manage 2-3 posts a month lately. So why the decrease in content? Here are my totally valid but still lame excuses for why I've been absent.

1) I got a job. I was unemployed the first few months here which meant that I had lots of time to edit photos and write entries. Now I work, a lot, which leaves me with a lot less free time to talk about myself online.

2) I got a life. I also didn't have any friends or hobbies when we moved to China. But now I've got a thriving social circle and have enrolled in numerous classes throughout the city. So when I'm not working, I tend to spend my time with friends and family.

3) I got lazy. Did you know it takes a lot of time to be this witty online? Seriously though, a blog entry usually takes me a few hours to pull together between the photo editing, writing, and coding. Some days, I'd just rather snuggle my cat and watch Scandal on Youku.

4) Things stopped feeling strange. When I first moved to Shanghai, everything was new and exciting. But sometime over the past three years, my life here began to feel normal. I often don't look twice at things that would have been perfect blog fodder back in 2012.

5) I'm leaving China. We always knew our time in Shanghai was finite and we've come to the point where it's time to say goodbye. It's hard to write about a place you are leaving when you aren't quite ready to say goodbye. So instead of staying inside behind a computer screen, I've been out making the memories that I plan to take back with me to the motherland.

You may be wondering what does this mean for D2D? Not much right now. I still have tons of things to tell you about. There are trips (like a weekend in Hong Kong, a climb up Yellow Mountain, and a glorious return to Cambodia)  as well as daily musing (matching t-shirts anyone?) that I still want to share. My computer is loaded with photos just waiting to be uploaded.  So have no fear my friends, I'll still be around for awhile. You didn't think it was that easy to get rid of me, did you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to: Use Didi Dache

Kristin December 2013: I hate taxi apps. They are ruining my life.

Kristin September 2014: I looooove taxi apps. They are the best thing ever.

Yes, that's right. I'm totally switched sides and am now addicted to using Didi Dache to get around Shanghai. I'd be hanging my head in shame if it weren't for the fact that I'm sniping taxi cabs off the street on a regular basis now.

The main reason I resisted the taxi apps for so long was because my ability to read Chinese characters is pitiful. However, Didi Dache is fairly straight forward and easy to use. You must be able to speak basic Chinese to use the app. Fair warning.

You can use Didi Dache to book taxis in advance or as needed. This tutorial will simply cover booking a taxi for immediate use.

Step 1: Download the app from the app store (available for both Android and iPhones)

You'll need to search for it using the Chinese name so either change your phone's language to Chinese or simply copy and paste the Chinese name (滴滴打车) into your search box.

Step 2: Register your phone

After you download the app, you'll need to sign up for an account. This simply means inputting your phone number the first time you open the app. If it doesn't automatically ask when you open the app, click on the person icon in top left corner.


After you enter your phone number, press the button immediately to the right of your number. Within seconds, you'll receive a text with a confirmation number in it. Enter the confirmation number as shown below and then press the button marked 开始 (Begin).


Step 3: Call a taxi

Yes, you are all ready to call your first taxi! The home screen will display a map showing your location (the blue dot) and the location of taxis in the area around you using the same app (the little taxi icons). Your address is technically listed in the middle, after the characters 我在, meaning "I'm at...". However, you can ignore this and state in your message where you are located. Make sure you know your current location as well as where you want to go. And yes, you must say it all in Chinese.


Press and hold the orange button with the microphone icon on it, located at the bottom on your screen.


The screen above will pop up, recording your voice. This is where you need to state your location (example: Wǒ zài Huaihai Zhong Lu Sinan Lu) and where you want to go (example: Wǒ yào qù Yueyang Lu Dongping Lu Lùkǒu).

When you are finished, release the microphone button. You will be brought to the following screen. If you press on the blue dot, you can listen to the message you recorded. If happy with it, press the orange button on the bottom on your screen. If you want to record again, press the < button in the top left corner. At this stage, you can also decide to leave a tip if you would like by pressing the ¥ icon. I usually do not.


Step 4: Wait

You screen will display how long you have been waiting in addition to the number of taxis that have received your message. If your wait time is long, you have the option of adding a tip again.


Step 5: Confirmation!

Fairly quickly, you should get a response from a driver. The following screen will pop up, showing you the license plate of the cab, the driver's rating, and a phone icon if you would like to call your driver. 


Step 6: Jump in your cab

Make sure you are in the location you specified to the driver. You can view the location of your driver on the screen and should look for the license plate number on the car. Your cab driver may call you so keep your phone out. Generally they just want to confirm your location. 

Step 7: Enjoy your ride

Technically, you can pay for your fare using Didi Dache but that gets more technical than most people want. When you ride ends, simply pay as usual. If you feel like it, leave your driver a review.


While it might seem complicated at first, using Didi Dache is quite simple. Try out my steps above and let me know if you have an easier time catching taxis in Shanghai.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Grasslands Extreme Marathon

The first weekend in July, fresh off a trip to the US, we boarded a plane with some friends for the Grasslands Extreme Marathon in Xiwuqi, Inner Mongolia.


Getting there was a bit of an adventure, so I'll save that for another post. But the half marathon itself? Well, that was also rough.

I should start by saying that Inner Mongolia is simply stunning. We left Shanghai among some intense pollution and grey skies. Inner Mongolia had none of that. Blue skies, fresh air, and rolling hills. Yes, I said hills.


Simply put, this was not my race. Having trained on the flat roads of Shanghai, I was challenged by the constant change in elevation. Additionally, it was hot. I don't do hot well. Previous years had seen more moderate temperatures, but the day of our run was quite steamy. This course isn't one for personal records, and I certainly did not set one that day.


But the scenery was beautiful. At numerous points along the route, we were greeted by sheep, cows, and horses, all seemingly immune to the race taking place around them. 


For someone who usually runs in the city, seeing endless green in front of me was a nice change. However, it also meant limited water stops and non existent bathroom facilities. For most of the race, the only spectators were the previously mentioned cattle.


Despite a less than ideal personal time, I enjoyed the Grassland Marathon. Would I do it again? Probably not, but it was a nice way to see an area of China that I otherwise might have missed.


Interested in taking part in the grasslands marathon? Registration is already open for the 2015 race.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shanghai Supper Club

Last Saturday, Matthew and I were thrilled to be a part of August's Shanghai Supper Club.

Tonight's special #shsupperclub #shanghaieats #fields

What exactly is SSC? You can think of it as an underground foodie group that meets monthly around the city, each time boasting a new location, chef, and group of people. Founder Camden Hague started the club last fall and previous events have brought together graffiti and Mexican food as well as burgers and a skate park. For each dinner, Camden invites ten different people, each of whom brings one guest. The result is an eclectic mix from Shanghai's expat scene. Our dinner included well known faces from the F&B scene, teachers, and an adorable engineer (that would be my husband).

Shanghai Supper Club #shsupperclub #midsummernightsgreen

This month's event was held in a beautiful lane house, owned by Shanghai native and chef Anthony Zhao. The intimate setting had us laughing with other guests like old friends in no time and left me with some serious kitchen envy.

photo courtesy of Fields

Fields, an online grocery store, sponsored the evening. Looking to highlight their fresh produce, Fields partnered with chef Kimberly Ashton of Sprout Lifestyle to create a healthy vegan meal that left even the meat eaters at our table satisfied. Though I did miss the alcohol (Kimberly opted not to have any served in order to keep in line with her principles for healthy living).

Ending on a high note #shanghaieats #shsupperclub #midsummernightsgreen #parfait

While the food was good (not surprisingly, my favorite dish was dessert), the company was even better. We heard fascinating tales, met unique individuals, and even received a hot tip on where to buy the best coffee smoothie.

Want to join an upcoming Shanghai Supper Club? Fill out your information here and cross your fingers that Camden invites you to her next even in September.
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