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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Things I've Learned 2011

What an interesting year 2011 has been!

The most influential thing to happen this year was the office job. I've always had unconventional jobs - waitress, retail sales associate, adult education teacher, small business owner - so I thought it was time to try out salaried employment for a while.

In my office chair, I learned so much about writing & editing course materials for online English lessons. I learned about spreadsheets & timelines, PowerPoint & office politics. & I learned that - although I really do enjoy being a content editor - working a 9-to-5, enduring the daily commute, & sitting in a lifeless office all day are not exactly my thing. Thank goodness for freelancing!

This year, I was able to travel to London & the Philippines for work. (My first business trips!) I got to spend a month at home with friends & family. I traveled within China to Harbin, Xian & Tibet. Yes, Tibet! Amazing adventures.

But all this stimulating travel & discovery has contrasted starkly with the daily grind. People ask me why I would leave Shanghai when it's so easy to live here. Lots of people speak English so learning Chinese can be a hobby rather than a survival strategy. Western food & culture are widely available. Many people have drivers & maids because money is worth more here. Frankly, we don't really have to put any effort into living here at all. That's true. Maybe too true.

But Shanghai can be overwhelming with it's hustle & bustle, the traffic, the noise, the pushing & shoving, the shopping - oh! the shopping. I find I can handle it much better with my MP3 player on & my head down. I move around the city, I move through my life here in a bubble, without really paying attention to it - stimulation overload.

& so I'm leaving. I don't want to coast through my life, & I don't want to spend my days in a bubble. Instead, I want to pay attention to what's happening, & I want life to be challenging. I want to see beautiful places, meet interesting people. I want to learn what it's like out there. I want to have to solve the kinds of problems that I will only come across when traveling to a new place.

I want to do things the hard way. & that might be the most important thing I've learned this year.

Things I've learned 2010

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Butterflies in my stomach

One of my Chinese friends asked me if I had everything ready to leave for New Zealand. I told her I'd been waking up every morning this week with butterflies in my stomach. With a concerned look on her face, she asked if I felt sick.

Friday, December 23, 2011


I'm getting ready to move to New Zealand from Shanghai, China. A new year, a new country.

For the past several weeks, I've been doing my own sort of research on New Zealand. I've been watching movies from New Zealand and reading novels by New Zealand authors. I've also secured a place to stay, & have contacted friends of friends who live there.

In addition, I've been investigating social groups in the area near where I'll be staying. I've found a book club that meets in Auckland. I've contacted the local photography club. I've looked up a list of vegetarian restaurants in town. I've even investigated volunteering for the Chinese New Year festival happening at the beginning of February. People say I'm a joiner.

Even though I'll only be in New Zealand for three months, it's still long enough to be able to meet local people with similar interests to my own - something we don't have the chance to do on a short vacation. I'm excited to have the time to be able to linger, to possibly do some things twice.

Even so, I'm glad to be on the move - I'm happiest when I'm traveling. But it's important to make certain things in my life continuous. I can join book clubs wherever I go, & continue the discussion online after I'm gone. I can take photos of the places I go, share them online, & learn from others who are more experienced than I am. I can seek out others & celebrate their culture with them. Most importantly, since I've begun teaching English online & doing freelance writing on the side, I can now keep the same job as I move from place to place.

These are the consistencies that I maintain as my life becomes happily inconsistent.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

10 Things to give a traveler

During the holidays, we like to remember our friends & family with cards & gifts. But what do you do when there is a traveler in your life? They might not stay in one place long enough to receive anything you could send through the mail. It might seem hopeless to include them on your holiday card mailing list.

But there is still a way - the internet is a wonderful thing. There are so many digital gifts & e-cards out there. Besides, your traveler probably doesn't need any more stuff. Here are ten things you can give a traveler without weighing down their luggage.
  1. Credit at for Kindle e-books, digital music & more
  2. Virtual language lessons - a couple of my favorites: ChinesePod, Lo Más TV
  3. Online exercise classes -
  4. Netflix membership - the streaming only option
  5. A membership at Hostelling International
  6. A donation to their favorite charity - I like 
  7. Your unused frequent flyer miles
  8. A tour in or around their current location
  9. A visit - meet them somewhere!
  10. A phone call -
Wishing you a happy holiday season & a new year filled with adventure.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

10 Things I'm going to miss about Shanghai

1. Three-dollar taxi rides
2. Five-course meals for less than five dollars
3. Stuff on sticks
4. Hello Kitty motorbikes
5. Thames Town & the Sightseeing Tunnel
6. Random wedding photo sessions
7. Couples dancing in the park
8. Old men walking the streets at night in their PJs
9. Old ladies walking backwards to keep in shape
10. Speaking Chinese

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wouldn't that be the coolest?!

I wonder how much the fare from Auckland to LA would be.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I spent Thanksgiving with a few of my American coworkers at an American restaurant here in Shanghai called Southern Belle (owned by a Bostonian). The food was delicious, the company was pleasant, & I was happy to be able to share this day with others.

I am blessed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Online teaching

I'm really excited about my new job as an online teacher. I'll officially start in January, but to get used to how it works before I leave China, I've been teaching a few online classes after work for the past several weeks.

It's been really interesting to teach a class online. The dynamics are completely different from an in-person class, but it's still a lot of fun! The classes are 45 minutes long, & seem to fly by. I'm enjoying the contact with students, & the discussions that we have based on the material.

The students are from all over the world, but at the moment, most of them seem to be from China or Russia. That's probably more because we're in a similar time zone rather than being an indication of the state of the ESL industry. When I move to New Zealand in January, the students' origins might be different.

This is definitely a positive step forward for me. It's a new dimension in my career, & I'm excited about learning something new - not to mention the freedom of mobility that the new job will give me. Who knows where this will lead. For now, it's taking me south of the equator.

Friday, November 11, 2011

New Zealand plans set!

I've just booked my flight to New Zealand! I'll be leaving Shanghai on January 1st.

NZ visa - check.
One-way ticket to Auckland - check.

I'll spend three months in New Zealand (the limit of a tourist visa), then fly to Australia in April, where I'll spend another three months.

Australian visa - check.
One-way ticket to Sydney - check.

What a way to start the new year!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Experiments of elimination

I recently read a book called The Year of Living Biblically, in which the author recounts his attempt to live as near to the Bible's teachings as possible. He stops eating pork & starts growing his beard. He even throws a few pebbles at his friend who is having an affair because the Bible says we should stone adulterers. His friends bring up the question: What is the purpose of doing something like this? It's a good question.

Disconnected, a short documentary put together by a group of college students hits on a similar theme. They try to spend five weeks without using a computer. At times, it's difficult & frustrating for the students, especially when a research paper is due. During their experiment, their friends ask: Why go computer-free? It's not a real-life scenario - you will never be the only one without access to a computer. Another good question.

It made me think of my (as yet unsuccessful) attempt at owning only 100 things. When my friend Michael was in Shanghai last month, I showed him my apartment. His comment: "100 things, huh?"

Right. So what's the point of me trying to reduce my possessions? It's not a realistic scenario, & 100 is an arbitrary number. All true.

But these kinds of experiments have a greater purpose: to become aware of how things affect us. A year of living by the Bible might have been interesting - a bit quirky, & sometimes annoying for friends - but at the end of that year, the author suggested that he felt like a nicer person, & that he was much more accepting of other people's religious beliefs. The students who spent five weeks without a computer are now more aware of just how much time they spend with their laptops, & probably are more likely to step away from them when they're just killing time.

As for me, I haven't reached 100 things yet - not even close. But as I continue to strive towards that goal, I make smarter buying decisions, I look for ways to consolodate my stuff, & I'm much more aware of how much of our stuff is just stuff. It's all part of the process of awareness.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Research: New Zealand

Since I will be moving to New Zealand in January, I've been doing a bit of research - looking online for novels, short stories & movies set in New Zealand or written by New Zealanders.

In the movie category, I've found Whale Rider, The Piano and Rain, all of which I have already downloaded.

Books have been a little tougher to find. I found a short story by Shayne Parkinson called All I Want, which I really enjoyed, but that seems to be all I can find. I'm sure I'm just not looking in the right places.

Maybe you can help me. Can you recommend any good movies or books about New Zealand that aren't tourist-focused?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Next: Online teaching

My contract here in Shanghai is up at the end of the year. I'm staying with the same company, but starting in January, I will officially be an online teacher & freelance writer.

I'm really excited about the new job! It will get me back in touch with my teaching self (which I have dearly missed this past year), & my class schedule will be flexible - much more my style. Most importantly, it will allow me the freedom to move about the planet, which I've been striving for over the past few years.

Shanghai has been good to me, there's no doubt. But it's time to move on. Next stop: New Zealand.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tibetan prayer flags

Yep. It's true. Prayer flags are everywhere in Tibet - as if the whole country had a silly string party.

I had thought that people wrote their own prayers on the flags before stringing them up. But it turns out that the flags are pre-printed, & it looks like every string of flags has basically the same thing on it.

Our guide told us that the flags are always printed in five colors: blue for the sky, white for clouds, red for fire, yellow for the earth, & green for water. I always find it interesting how other cultures perceive colors.

White scarves are also ubiquitous. Our guide greeted us on the first day with white scarves. People drape them around statues of Buddha in the temples. & they add them in to the mix of prayer flags on mountain tops.

I didn't ask our guide the significance of the white color, but I know that many Asian countries use white for funerals or to represent death. Here the white scarves seemed to be good-luck talismans, so maybe they are used to evoke good spirits for protection. If you have any insight on this, I'd be interested to hear it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Yak poop

On our road trip through Tibet, we passed between beautiful rocky mountains, past fields of barley. A few times we stopped at a farming village to get out & stretch our legs. The houses were simple square structures of one or two storeys, with little adornment except for brightly painted decorations above the windows & doors.

In the middle of the day, when we stopped at these villages, there was no one in sight - as if the towns had been abandoned. But later as we were driving past the barley fields, we saw whole families bent over among the stalks, wielding sharp scythes and stacking the cut grain into neat little teepees.

Several of the houses had disks of yak dung drying on the outer walls. At first, I thought it might be part of the building materials - a resourceful way to keep the stones together. But our guide told us that Tibetans use the dried yak dung cakes as fuel in the winter time.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

If I were to die tomorrow...

Three things to remember:

1. You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.
2. The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.
3. Death is the destination we all share.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tibetan Road Trip

My favorite day in Tibet was the day we took a six-hour road trip through the mountains. I love road trips.

Near the beginning of our trip, we stopped at a police checkpoint where our guide got a time-stamped voucher. We had to take a minimum of two hours to drive the 96 kilometers to the next checkpoint. If we arrived early, we would be fined by the minute. The system ensures safe driving without having to employ an abundance of public safety officers. Although at various intervals, we were greeted by very friendly police mannequins.

We started our trip near 12,000 feet - the highest I had ever been before going to Tibet. The two-lane road took a windy path up & up through the mountain tops. We crossed over three or four passes that day, each a little higher than the last.

The final pass brought us to more than 16,000 feet, where we found a rest stop with simple bathrooms, vendors selling jewelry, & Tibetans dressed in traditional clothing looking for someone to take their picture. There we sat in front of a beautiful glacier clinging to the mountain side as our guide took a photo.

Back down the other side of the pass, more beauty as far as the eye could see.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Debating Monks

One of the most interesting things we saw in Tibet was what they called a "debate" at a Buddhist monastery.

We arrived at the monastery in time to see the afternoon prayer session, the elder monks chanting deep in their throats while a few hundred monks followed along. Well - most of them, anyway. Some of the younger monks on the peripheries were distracted by all the tourists who had come to watch.

After prayer, several monks came into the hall carrying huge cauldrons of cooked rice & beans, & doled out a handful to each of the men. Some monks had wooden bowls & spoons, but most simply used a small plastic grocery bag to eat out of.

The debate was supposed to start at 3:00. While we waited for the monks to gather in the courtyard, our guide told us that they would be debating the doctrines of the religious texts they were studying - an exercise in free thinking.

As they entered the courtyard, the monks paired up, one sitting on a cushion, & the other standing in front of him. According to our guide, the standing monk would pose questions about their studies to his seated partner, & the other would answer.

Of course, we couldn't understand the details of the debate since it was in Tibetan, but the monks were all very animated in their discussions. The standing monk would raise one leg as he asked the question, & stomp it down as he clapped his hands together enthusiastically. The courtyard was alive with the murmer of discussion.

Painted on the wall at one of the temples, we found what our guide called the circle of life. An evil-looking monster grabs at the circle from the outside, while humans go about their daily life on the inside. At the center are three animals: a snake, a chicken and a pig.

The three animals represent the three negative characteristics that humans must transcend if they are to reach nirvana. Our guide couldn't remember the English words for them, but we pieced together his descriptions, & decided on ignorance, jealousy & desire. This debate that we witnessed was the monks' attempt at overcoming their ignorance, bringing them one step closer to enlightenment.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The New Kindle Fire!

It was only a matter of time.

Kindle announced today their new Kindle Fire, Amazon’s answer to the iPad. I can’t tell you how excited I am! I’ve only just seen the announcement, & have not actually held one in my hands, but I can see that this new device is going to be awesome.

Of course, the best thing is that it has the same touch technology that an iPad or iPhone has. It runs on Google’s Android software, making Android-compatible apps & games available for download on the Kindle Fire. Also, it’s smaller & cheaper than the iPad. Its 7” display makes it much lighter & more portable than the iPad, & at $199 it’s so much more affordable.

Still, reading on a backlit screen is not ideal. One of the reasons I love my Kindle is because I can read on it for hours without getting tired. Kindle thought of that, though, & along with the Kindle Fire, they also have announced the new Kindle Touch, which has touch-screen technology combined with the very readable e-ink, but it’s available only in black & white.

Although the Kindle Touch is available with 3G technology, the Kindle Fire does not have it yet. So you can use it to play games, watch movies & listen to music, but you can’t browse the web without a wi-fi connection. It also doesn’t come with a camera or a microphone, so you can’t call anyone or take any photos.

Even though it’s not the iPad’s equal – yet – I’m really excited to see this new alternative. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start. I can’t wait to see the second and third generations of the Kindle Fire. Oh! The possibilities!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Potala Palace

One of the first things we did in Lhasa was to see the famous Potala Palace up close & in person. I had pictured it being on a remote mountain top, difficult enough to reach so that pilgrims could feel they had accomplished something by getting there. Instead, it was smack dab in the center of town - the focus of attention as we rode down the main thoroughfare.

We climbed the stairs to the entrance & took a look out over the city. Across the street from the palace was a large concrete plaza with an obelisk stabbed into the middle of it. We later got a closer look at the monument & learned that it commemorates the founding of the People's Republic of China.

There were hundreds of pilgrims circling the palace, spinning their portable prayer wheels & chanting, some prostrating every few feet, looking as if they hadn't bathed since they started their journey to Lhasa from the countryside. Outside the palace there was a long line of fixed prayer wheels that the pilgrims spun as they passed.

The palace was decorated with colorful images of Tibetan gods, most of them fantastically monster-like. We were not permitted to take photos inside, but we were able to take some pictures of the painted walls just outside the entrance.

Inside it was dark & musty. Everything was brightly painted with a coating of smoke from the butter urns burning at various intervals inside the palace. Each pilgrim added a little bit of butter to each urn as an offering, ensuring the flame would continue to burn. Our guide told us that the fuel the pilgrims were using was actually vegetable-based since most people can't afford to give real yak butter.

Each pilgrim placed money in small bills in front of the butter urns, on the altars or between the slats separating them from the golden statues - in every nook & cranny available - bowing in prayer as they did so. The place was littered with money that would be used to make repairs to the palace, buy more Buddha statues & feed the monks living there.

Among the stashes of bills & coins, we saw hair clips, strings of beads & other every-day baubles - even grains of barley. Our guide explained that those who don't have money to offer the gods choose to offer what they do have, sacrificing what they can to ensure good fortune in the future.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Altitude Sickness

The first day in Tibet, our guide instructed us to take it easy - no sightseeing or walking around too much. We needed to rest & acclimate to being at 12,000 feet. We took his advice & settled for a nice quiet dinner & a welcome Lhasa beer.

We were bushed from traveling, so we decided to call it an early night. Crawled into bed, lights out, deep contented sigh...

Turn to the right. Try the left. Uf! On my back, on my stomach. Back to the right side. Not sleeping. Close my eyes really tight. Think of Tibetan sheep jumping over Tibetan fences. Nothing. Not one wink the whole night.

The next day our guide asked us if we slept well. No, we moaned. Did you have beer? Yes, we muttered. You shouldn't have beer, he chided. Good to know. The next night we avoided the beer & were able to sleep much better.

It was the third day that really affected me, though. We had been out in the sun for two days, without a thick atmosphere or layer of pollution to protect us from the sun's rays. By the end of the day, I felt weak, lightheaded & a little nauseous. I spent the afternoon in bed with a slight fever, & that evening I skipped dinner altogether.

It took a few more days after that before I felt normal again. By the end of the week, I didn't notice the altitude at all. I started to wonder if going back down would have an affect on us, since we were now used to being so high up. But it turns out that altitude sickness only works one way. Thank goodness.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tibetan Food

I had no idea what Tibetan food would be like, but I figured it might not be very vegetarian friendly - not much grows at 12,000 feet. I imagined that yak meat & yak butter tea & potatoes might be the only things to eat there. Just in case, I brought a stash of granola bars with me from Shanghai so that I'd be able to suppliment whatever we found in the restaurants.

There were indeed lots of yak-based dishes on the Tibetan menu, but I was delighted to find a long list of Indian-style vegetable offerings as well. There were curries & naan & samosas a-plenty, all of which I happily gobbled up & washed down with a nice cold Lhasa beer.

Monday, September 19, 2011

First views of Tibet

It was a seven-hour trip from Shanghai to Lhasa, with a stopover in Xian. Both legs of the flight were delayed, which wasn't much of a surprise. Reasons range from the weather to air traffic control, but flights are reliably late in China - a good thing to know if you're rushing to catch a plane.

Flying into Lhasa was an incredible sight. The Tibetan capital lies 12,000 feet above sea level. I expected to see snow on the mountains & lush vegetation below. Instead I saw a beautiful landscape of rocky peaks & trickling river beds with lots of little villages populating the river valleys.

As the plane approached the airport, I got a closer look at the matrix of streams braided across the landscape. I thought of Alaska - could that be glacier melt? I wondered where all the glaciers were.

I stepped off the plane into a bright sunny afternoon. It was much warmer than I expected - I didn't need my light jacket at all.

Outside the airport a throng of tour guides held up signs, each with a different name printed on it. I found the sign with my name & nodded to the man holding it. I spoke to him in Chinese at first. He seemed taken aback, but quickly recovered.

Once we had our bags safely packed into the back of the all-terrain vehicle that would be our transportation for the week, our guide welcomed us to Tibet with traditional white silk scarfs.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Back in Shanghai

I'm back in Shanghai after an amazing trip to Tibet & Xian.

Tibet was incredibly beautiful - blue skies, rocky mountains, hairy yaks, sheep & goats everywhere, monks in dark flowing red robes & funny yellow hats, pilgrims spinning prayer wheels as they circled holy sites, & yummy curries & naan.

Xian was interesting from a historical perspective - the terra cotta warriors were fascinating - & the top of the old city wall made for a nice evening bike ride.

I'll be spending the next few days sorting through photos, so be watching for more details of the trip soon!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Going to Tibet

I leave for Lhasa on Saturday.

That's something I never thought I'd have the opportunity to say. Like, who ever goes to Tibet, right? TIBET, for cripes sake!

I had to get a special visa to go since Tibet is officially an autonomous region of China, but it was a fairly painless process - the tour company took care of all the paperwork - so I'm all set.

I can't wait to see yaks & prayer flags & monks & mountains & stars & pagodas & throngs of tourists!

Monday, August 29, 2011

39 Steps: A photographic experiment

Inspired by a photo challenge on Red Bubble, & the title of the book by John Buchan, I decided to conduct a photographic experiment over the weekend. Starting at my front door, I took exactly 39 steps (the elevator ride counted as two - one in, one out) & looked around.

At first, it was difficult for me to find an interesting subject to photograph. Since I pass by this scene every day on the way to & from my life in Shanghai, everything looked so... usual. I decided to just start taking photos at random & see what happened. I snapped continuously for a few minutes, taking 70 photos total before I started drawing curious stares from the neighbors.

Back inside, I uploaded the shots to my computer. With very minimal tweeking - auto fix mostly - I wound up with five usable images.

It was a good experiment for me. It forced me to look at a very familiar scene a bit more closely - to notice the details - & I found some pretty interesting stuff.

Perhaps the point of this type of exercise is, instead of always looking to the future - the weekend, the next vacation, retirement - to notice where we are. Even if we've seen it hundreds of times before, it's still worth a second glance.

This is probably a large part of why I have such insatiable wanderlust - my inattention to where I am. I feel more comfortable with a constantly changing backdrop. When I see the same scene day after day, I get restless, longing for a new view. But what would happen if I zoomed in every now & again, & took a closer look at now?

What do you see 39 steps from your front door?

starting point
39 steps from the front door
worker ants
沪 (pronounced "hu") is the official symbol for Shanghai
ginko leaf
between a rock & a hard place

Monday, August 22, 2011

POT: The Program for Online Teaching

The internet is so cool. I just enrolled in a 24-week online teaching certificate program offered at Mira Costa College in Oceanside, California. The course is completely online & it's free, free, FREE!

Our first assignments are to download the e-textbook for the class (which I can read on my Kindle!), create a blog that we will use as our course journal, & create an account on Diigo for sharing links & other information from the internet with the participants in the class.

So far, I've been successful at only one of the three. Google e-books & Diigo are apparently not China-friendly. I'll have to see what I can do to work around the Great Fire Wall.

In the meantime, I'm really looking forward to the course. It will give me the opportunity to learn more about online teaching while trading useful ideas with teachers around the world. Plus, it will be a great way for me to stretch my boundaries & exercise my brain a little.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Virtual Groceries

Since I've been away from the US for over two years now, I'm not really ever sure when I see something new or strange or crazy, if it's an Asia thing or if it's all the rage at home as well.

Case in point: I had heard about vending machines in Japan selling live crabs & used underwear. What will they think of next, I thought. But when I was in the US for a visit earlier this year, I was surprised to see, live & in person, a vending machine selling electronics in Dallas (how many quarters do you need for a Canon?), & one in LA selling fresh cut flowers. Vending machines. Like Coke & Fritos vending machines. Does no one else think this is strange?

The other day, during the morning push-n-shove on the Shanghai subway, I passed by a billboard that caught my eye. At a glance, it looks like the shelves of a grocery store, with brightly packaged food lined up in neat little rows. But a closer look reveals more.

Each product has a scan code pattern next to it that you can scan with your mobile phone. The scan places an order with the store, & the products then get delivered to your door later that day. You can shop on your morning commute & by the time you get home, your groceries are waiting for you. Not only groceries - electronics too. You can get a Canon for 6648 RMB (US $1038). What will they think of next?

So what's going on back home? Do they have this kind of shopping there as well?

Monday, August 8, 2011

The New Office

My office moved over the weekend, from downtown to the international business district. The new office is bright and clean and funky-Swedish-designed to the nines. EF is big on making their spaces look cool.

We have rooms built of glass walls, elevated spaces with cushions to sit on for impromptu meetings, columns of green plants growing up through three floors of anti-cubicle desk arrangements, & a track of monkey bars bolted to the ceiling for an alternative mode of transportation between departments.

It's all very exciting & new. We're having a great time playing around on the rock climbing wall, making chalk drawings on our personal lockers, & experimenting with the new cappuccino machine. Woohoo! Google ain't got nothin' on us!

Today we received our shiny new security badges, complete with photo & job title - the kind that you clip to your belt & swipe to get into the building. I'm an official nine-to-fiver now, complete with membership card - something I never thought I'd be.

It's been quite an interesting experience - being an office grunt. In many ways it has posed challenges I never knew existed. For one thing, I've discovered that staying quiet, focused & seated for eight hours a day is difficult for me. Really difficult.

But It's been a good project for me to spend this year in an office. I've gotten a greater insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Not only do I understand the mechanics of curriculum development better, I've also gotten a glimpse into how office politics work - it's a whole new culture for me. 

But most of all, I've realized that I really do love teaching. I love the interaction with students. I love creating a lesson & getting immediate feedback in the classroom. I love moving around as I work. I love the creativity that comes with teaching. & I love being personally invested in what I do for a living. Let someone else climb the ladder to VP of Academics. I'm quite happy in the classroom, thank you.

So I've started looking for ways to meld my two loves together: travel & teaching. EF offers online teaching - like having a Skype call with students - & the teachers have the opportunity to live anywhere in the world. I just need a healthy internet connection. I've already started teaching a few classes per week, & hope to continue with that full time after I leave China at the end of the year.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Memrise: A vocabulary study tool

I've recently discovered a website called Memrise. It's a fun vocabulary study tool that lets you study in short five-minute chunks. The interface is based on growing your vocabulary "garden". When you want to learn new words, you "plant seeds", words that you're studying need "watering", & words that you've gotten right consistently are "harvested".

Here's my greenhouse:

As you can see, I have three wilting plants in my garden - the ones that I got wrong during my last study session - but I can water them (study some more) to make them healthy again. 

It looks like Memrise started as a Chinese language study tool, but lots of other languages are available as well, including Spanish, Polish & Biblical Hebrew. You can even use it to increase your vocabulary in English so that you can finally ace the Sunday crossword puzzle.

I've been using Memrise while I'm at work to exercise my mind at the beginning of the day or when I need a short break from editing in the middle of the day. It's a great way to jump start my brain & much better for me than Angry Birds!