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Monday, January 31, 2011

Harbin Ice Festival

A dream is realized.

I went to the Harbin Ice Festival last night with a group from the hostel where I'm staying. 280 RMB (about US $42) got me entry to the festival, plus transportation to & from the festival grounds. 

Our guide dropped us off at the entrance, saying that we should meet her back at the van in two hours. She said that we were lucky because it was warmer today than it has been recently. Instead of minus 30 degrees Celcius (about minus 22 F), it was only minus 20.

In addition to taking photos of the ice & snow sculptures, there were several other things you could do there.

Ice sculptures
Snow sculptures
Reindeer rides
Yak photos
Ice slide

I zinged down the ice slide more than once. Wee!

Even though I had all my state-of-the-art snow gear on, my fingers & toes were pretty cold after about an hour. I ducked inside the warm-up tent, happily paying 40 RMB (about US $6) for a Lipton tea, & sat down to watch the goings on in comfort.

There is apparently another festival grounds where they have many more snow sculptures on display. The ones I saw were pretty impressive. Since the snow sculptures aren't all lit up with neon like the ice sculptures, I think I'll go over to that one in the day time, when it's a bit warmer.

Stop Two: Harbin

I've been looking forward to coming to Harbin for a long time, & I'm finally here! & yes, it's friggin' cold outside! Even the inside of my nose is frozen! The good news is that, unlike in Shanghai, all the buildings here have central heating, so it's not so bad to be inside.

I'm staying a Kazy Hostel, which has taken over an old synagogue. It's an imposing old Russian style building, which you see a lot of up here since Harbin is so close to the Russian border. Although there are several foreigners staying at the hostel, there are also a lot of Chinese guests here, which is unusual, especially during Chinese New Year when everyone goes home for the holiday.

I took a walk around the vacinity of the hostel this morning & wound up at a gorgeous Russian style church. I love churches, temples, pagodas, & all manner of religious installations. I'm not a religious person, but I love to go inside these buildings & marvel at the architecture. When I go inside a functioning house of worship, I can feel the spirituality in the air. It's palpable & humbling.

This church, however, is no longer a functioning house of worship. Instead, it's been turned into a museum. The architecture is still amazing, but I definitely noticed the absence of spirituality when I went inside.


Even though I had on all my super warm anti-winter clothing, I had been out in the cold for several hours, so after seeing the church, I headed back to the hostel to warm up. I'll be going back out tonight with a tour hosted by the hostel to see the Ice Festival, the motive of coming to Harbin in the first place. Hopefully I can snap some good shots before I turn into an icicle.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stop One: Beijing

I spent all day on Saturday packing & picking up some last-minute items before I left Shanghai to travel for a month. My flight was to leave at 10:00 pm, so I had plenty of time to dilly dally. Even though it was a late flight, getting into Beijing after midnight, I expected the airport to be a madhouse with everyone traveling home for the holiday.

Chinese New Year is much like Christmas in the West in that almost everyone takes time off from work, & people travel to their hometowns to be with their families. They spend most of their time relaxing at home & eating traditional New Years treats, & everything closes up for a week or two.

It's the most important Chinese holiday, so people are willing to endure incredible travel hardships in order to get home. I've heard of people buying a standing room only ticket on a train for a 30-hour ride because there were no more seats left. I love traveling by train, but 30 hours even sitting down would be too much for me. These people are serious about their Spring Festival.

Thinking there'd be a lot of people bustling & jostling at the airport, I got there three hours early for my domestic flight. I was pleasantly surprised to see only three people in line at the airline check-in counter. & since I got there so early, I was able to hop on an earlier flight, which turned out to be only half full. Where were all the people? Maybe they were all standing on the train.

I arrived in Beijing & was easily able to tell the taxi driver where the Happy Dragon Hostel was. I had been there with my friend Debra last October & liked it enough to come back. For 45 RMB (about US $7) I got a bed in a snuggly warm dorm, complete with locker & bathroom. I snuck in with my headlamp on & slipped into bed under a fluffy comforter, & soon drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, I met my dorm mates - two European girls slow traveling around Asia. They shared some oranges with me before they headed off to the Summer Palace for the day. I decided to spend the day relaxing in the cafe at the hostel, since I saw most of the tourist sights here in Beijing the last time I was here. Besides, my flight to Harbin leaves today at 4:00 pm & I wouldn't want to tempt fate. Anyway, it's nice at the hostel.

In Chinese, a hotel is called a 酒店 jiǔ diàn "wine place". The origins are similar to the idea in English of an "inn" - a place where travelers can rest for the night, have a bite to eat, share a cup of wine with fellow travelers. When I hear the word "inn", I think of dusty men on horseback - or even camels - stopping in the middle of the night to rest their weary bones. In novels, they always wind up by the fireside with the patron, philosophizing over brandy. The next day they pack up their belongings & continue on their way.

The modern-day version of that is the hostel - a place where travelers stop for the night on their way to somewhere else. There's almost always a cafe or bar where the guests gather to share stories of the road or wax philosophic together. The next day many of them move on, continuing their journey to other destinations. Some of them stay a little longer, making connections with other hostel guests for a few days as they tour the area. It's all very transient, yet there is an unmistakable sense of community - the community of travelers. This is where I feel most at home.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I'm Going Home!

This past week I've been getting my affairs in order so that I can go home for a month. A whole month! It's been over a year & a half since I was back in the States. I'm so excited to see my friends & family. I'm also curious to see how things have changed since I've been gone. And I'm anxious to see how my perspective has been altered since I've been living in Asia.

Before I head to the US though, I'm going to spend a few days in Harbin for the Ice Festival. I'm really looking forward to that too - all the ice & snow sculptures & insanely cold temperatures. I can't wait to unleash my camera on it all.

Wow - travel, new sights & sounds, then home, friends, family, birthday parties... This is going to be such a great month!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Random Thoughts by China Man

I went to a language exchange meeting over the weekend, where we spent several hours helping each other practice English or Chinese. It was fun & I met a lot of interesting people.

One man was particularly interesting. I guess he was around 65 years old. He'd had a lot of diverse life experiences & was happy to share them with us. He'd been in the army, suffered the Cultural Revolution, seen Shanghai turn into a bustling metropolis, & much more.

He said he had learned to speak five or six foreign languages so that he could have access to books & newspapers that hadn't yet been translated into Chinese. His life philosophy seemed to boil down to this: Knowledge is power.

As I listened to him, he just kept spouting off one great quote after another. I was able to write some of them down, but many more escaped me. Here are just a few.

"Foreign languages are like windows. I live in a black house & I want more light."

"In America, they have a weak government but a strong society. But in China, we have a strong government and a weak society."

"Modern China is made by Japan."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Barbie Shanghai

I was strolling down Huai Hai Lu, one of the major shopping streets here in Shanghai, & stumbled upon Barbie Shanghai. It was three stories of pink. I was awestruck.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Compulsory Chinese

So far, I've been keeping up with my New Years Resolution #1, to study Chinese with more focus. I've been posting lessons every day on my website Language in Real Life, as well as regularly posting my writing on Lang-8. & I still meet with my language exchange partner once a week to study Chinese & Spanish together.

Last week at work, we got an email from the boss: Since we work in the language learning field, everyone has to study & improve their second language (be it Chinese or English), & we have to do it during work hours. Sweet! I'm getting paid to learn Chinese! Is my job great or what?

I agree with my boss that being a language student gives you a perspective on teaching a language that being bilingual just doesn't give you. If you can speak two langauges fluently, you're no longer a language learner but a language speaker, so your learner empathy is muted.

As a Spanish teacher, I think I lost sight of the struggles, joys & frustrations of learning a language. But now that I'm learning Chinese, I am reminded of what it's like to be a language student. I am able to take my successes & failures in my own learning & apply them to the lessons that I'm writing for English learners, thereby using class time in a much more productive way.

I'm so glad that I've found a job where I can make these kinds of discoveries, where my boss encourages my hobbies & my co-workers actually enjoy shooting the breeze about language structures. Now if only I can get them to let me work remotely (New Years Resolution #2).

Friday, January 21, 2011

More Snow

It's been snowing non-stop for the past two days here in Shanghai. It's not supposed to snow here at all, but it's been coming down in a steady powdering of big fluffy flakes.

When it snowed here last month, everyone was excited to see the city covered in white, & it melted the next day. This time there's slush on the sidewalks & ice on the streets, & it has the whole city a bit testy.

People totter gingerly down the street as if they're learning how to walk. Umbrellas bounce off each other as people trudge to work. More people than ever are packing themselves onto the subway, choosing to get smushed rather than brave the outdoors - even though half of them decided to stay home today anyway. There were several empty chairs in the office today.

I'm looking at it as a chance to practice for Harbin & the Ice Festival. Too bad there are no hills here for snow sledding. Maybe I'll go out & make a few teeny snowmen to help liven things up a little.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fritos in Shanghai!

I found Fritos in Shanghai! Now, this might not seem like such a big deal to you, but to me this is a momentus occasion.

Fritos are one of my comfort foods - they have lots of good memories attached. Fritos are road trip food. They go crunch as I ride down the highway singing Randy Travis at the top of my lungs. I wipe the Frito dust from my fingers as I sit around a campfire telling jokes under a starry night. Fritos are part of my happy place.

As soon as I left the US for the Great Beyond & discovered there were no Fritos there, I quickly added them to the top of my care package wish list. Concerned friends & family members started sending me bags of the crunchy goodness along with heart-felt notes expressing empathy for my Frito-less-ness. My parents even cleared a spot in their luggage for a big tub of Fritos when they came to visit last September.

But now I am saved! Fritos do exist on the other side of the globe after all! What a wonderful world it is!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sunday Brunch

Over the weekend I met the Shanghai Dolls for Sunday Brunch at Mi Tierra, a Mexican restaurant here in Shanghai. The restaurant is in a beautiful three-storey building in the French Concession, an area of the city filled with gorgeous turn-of-the-century European architecture. Inside there is a sun-lit courtyard where they set up the brunch buffet. The owners are purported to be Mexican, but I didn't see any Mexicanos while I was there.

There were about 20 Dolls (or should I say Muñecas?) at brunch. We had a great time chatting & noshing on the buffet offerings, which included a few authentic Mexican dishes, like tamales & churros, as well as some China-fied dishes, such as tomato & egg in red chili sauce. Everything was yummy, especially the homemade salsas!

The buffet cost 145 RMB (about US $22), which is pretty typical for a Shanghai all-you-can-eat. Although the restaurant reviews aren't the greatest, I thought it was a nice brunch - the food was tasty & the service staff was attentive.

At one point, I asked the waiter, "¿Habla español?" He shook his head no. Then I asked, "Do you speak English?" -"Yes, of course!" he said. Silly me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What to Wear to an Ice Festival

On my way home at the end of the month, I'll be stopping in Harbin for the Ice Festival. It's way up north, a three-hour plane ride from Beijing, & it's going to be unbelievably cold up there. Last I checked, the low was going to be about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the high a balmy one degree.

So I headed over to Decathlon, Shanghai's mega-super outdoor store, over the weekend to look for some ice festival gear. Apparently, everyone else had the same idea.

The store was huge! It had two massive floors full of outdoor gear, apparel & sporting equipment, & everything was pretty reasonably priced. It reminded me a lot of Big 5 but ten times bigger - more like Big 50.

For 1230 RMB (about US $186) I got a pair of really warm snow pants, a new winter jacket, some toasty winter boots, a fleece under shirt, a hat, gloves, & a few other things. Not bad, eh? The jacket alone would have cost at least $200 in the US. (Of course this skews my numbers for the 100 Thing Challenge, doesn't it?)

Armed with all this warm paraphernalia, I think I can handle any kind of weather that Harbin can muster. Bring it on Harbin - I'm ready for you!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Subway Pinball

Since I started working at a normal job a couple of weeks ago, I've been trying to figure out the best way to handle the morning routine. Most importantly, I've been looking for a way to avoid all those people on the subway every morning.

It's like being trapped inside a pinball machine - 20 million people, who all need to be at work by 9:00, pushing & shoving & bouncing back & forth as we grapple for purchase from one stop to the next. Although it's certainly an interesting way to start the day, I thought I'd try going to work a half-hour earlier. Perhaps if I got on the subway before everyone else I would at least get a seat as we rode in the sardine-mobile.

Bad idea. It turned out to be even more crowded at that hour, & people seemed to be particularly irksome as we made our way to work. Instead of bumping around a pinball machine, I was a really thick sweater being squeezed through a laundry wringer.

The next morning, I left the house 15 minutes later than normal (now 45 minutes later than the wringer experience). That was sooo much better. There were still a ton of people on the train - probably several tons in fact - but they weren't as grumpy as the earlier morning bunch. I got to stand in a relatively decent-sized space where I could breath freely, & I still made it to work with time to spare.

My experiment yielded especially good results actually. I'm really really not a morning person, so getting to sleep 15 minutes longer is going to work out just fine for me. Now I just have to work on going to bed at a decent hour.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

18 Happy New Years

How many languages can you recognize?

Friday, January 14, 2011

5 Ways to Simplify Your ESL Lesson Plans

My latest post on the GO! Overseas Blog tells you how to stop preparing for class & still give a great lesson. I used to spend hours researching handouts & activities to do with my students, but...

Then one day I decided to try something completely different. I went to class with nothing prepared beforehand.

...& it was one of the best classes I'd ever taught. How did I do it? Click here to read more.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shanghai Vegetarian Club Dinner

Last week I met the Shanghai Vegetarians Club for dinner at a great organic cafe tucked into the back reaches of a Shanghai alleyway called Melange Oasis. It was in a cute little shopping area with twinkly lights & lilty music, but you'd never know it was there from the street.

For 100 RMB (about US $15) we got a three-course organic vegan meal including a scrumptious choco-delight, & a thought-provoking movie, both stimulating a lot of chatter.

It's nice hanging out with the vegetarians. They're a friendly bunch & there's always really good food. Now that I have a job with normal hours I'll be able to attend a lot more of their events. Looks like I won't be eating quite so much street food any more.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mongolian Art Gallery

My friend Jerry the banjo player is from Inner Mongolia, where Ghengis Khan ruled in the 12th century. When he's not playing kick-ass bluegrass music or throat singing, Jerry is a photographer for an art magazine here in Shanghai.

In his free time (ha, ha) he takes trips back to his hometown collecting examples of Mongolian art. He's amassed quite a bounty of pieces & just last week opened an art gallery to display them all. I went over with some of the other bluegrass groupies to have a look.

Jerry served traditional Mongolian snacks (which were mostly various forms of goat cheese), tea with goat milk poured from a copper pot, & even whiskey made from milk. I opted for the milk-free version of the tea, which was delightful.

As I browsed the gallery, musicians played traditional Mongolian music, twisting their voices like a warped vinyl record. Everywhere I looked there was raw wood, leather & sheep's wool. There were saddles to sit on if you were so inclined, & whips with handles made from antelope horns decorating the shelves. A massive yurt stood in the center of the room, where you might hold a private Mongolian tea party, sitting on pillows embroidered with mirrors, & listening to the sounds of the horse head fiddle.


Mongolia - what a different life! Nothing grows up there because it's so cold, so they depend mostly on sheep for sustentance - meat & milk. In the far reaches of the steppe, there is nothing like the infrastructure I'm used to - no subways & shopping malls or light pollution. Horses are their only transportation.

I'm reminded of the movie Mongolian Ping Pong & wonder if it's really like that up there. I'd love to go see for myself one day. I'll be sure to bring granola bars along with me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Digs

I moved into the new apartment over the weekend. A couple of students from my former school helped me with the grunt work. I haven't counted my things yet, but I'm sure that I have well over 100. Much of this will be left behind when I leave China - books, pots & pans, a space heater - but for now, it's all part of my material realm.

Pile o' Possessions
I'm still looking for a way to slow travel without having to buy the utilities of living each time I land some place new. This woman likes to make long-term deals with hostels instead of renting an apartment. She says it's much easier than apartment hunting & much nicer too. Hostels almost always come equipped with a well-stocked kitchen or a cafe attached - or both, & they have maid & laundry service. Plus, you're much more likely to meet people in a hostel than if you live by yourself.

For now, I think I've done pretty well with my new home. The apartment is cozy & it's much cheaper than the one I just moved from (2300 RMB per month = about US $350). The roommates are friendly but quiet, & I live right next to the theater where they hold the best acrobat show in Shanghai. Really, what more could I ask for?

Take a look at the new place.

The view from the balcony
The acrobat theater is the shiny dome to the left

Sunday, January 9, 2011

One Year in Shanghai

Today marks one year since I moved to Shanghai. It seems like a lifetime ago that I stepped off the plane, looking around nervously for the representative from my school who was there to pick me up. Everything before that is a blur of memories - real or imagined, I'm not sure.

When I first arrived I was excited to be in this huge urban environment with so much to offer - the lights, the traffic, the people, the the whole city a bursting metropolis. Even now, a year later, I'm still in awe - I still gaze in wonder all around.

Shanghai is a great place to live. It has everything you could possibly want - bars that stay open all night, restaurants serving every type of cuisine, shopping malls a-plenty, decent public transportation, the most beautiful skyline I've ever seen. Lots of people speak English & those that don't will try anyway. There are thousands of foreigners here, all with fascinating life stories, & the locals are so welcoming & friendly. Sometimes I feel like Mary Richards - we're gonna make it after all!

Even though Shanghai is so comfortable, I don't feel an incredible urge to settle here. Instead, I find myself still dreaming of traveling around, still trying to find a way to work remotely so that I'm not tied to one place, so that I can see the rest of the world, so that I can go home for Christmas.

Perhaps my current job will lead me in that direction, or maybe I'll go in a different direction all together. I'll just have to wait & see how it turns out. That's the joy of being a vagabond - I can only see six months into the future. Beyond that is a world of possibilities.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Benefits of a Normal Job

I've been working at the new job for the last couple of weeks now, & I'm discovering tons of things I never knew about working in an office.

I've never had a job with normal hours before. I've always had jobs working nights & weekends. First, I waited tables on the night shift to help get me through school, then I started teaching at adult schools, where the classes are offered when people with normal jobs are available - nights & weekends. I've been lazily rolling out of bed at 9:00 or 10:00 every morning for the past twenty years. It's been really nice.

Now that I have a job with normal working hours, I'm finding the time adjustment difficult. I feel like I'm suffering from jet lag because I have to reset my body clock three hours earlier.

Every morning I am jolted awake at 6:30 - I hit snooze a couple of times before I drag myself out of bed. I step into the shower, eyes still half closed, & try to rinse off the film of sleep. I stand in front of my closet staring at the choices for longer than I should. Somehow I manage to put on clothes that match reasonably well. I trudge to the subway station, steeling myself against the cold morning wind, & squeeze onto the subway car with 20 million other Shanghai inhabitants, all on our way to our normal jobs. I wonder if I can handle doing this every day.

But once I get to the office, I start to realize why people subject themselves to the morning jostle day in & day out. The job certainly comes with benefits. A typical day at the office starts with social hour. My co-workers & I hang around drinking coffee, talking about what we did the night before, & telling jokes.

Gradually we start turning toward our computers, checking emails, talking about our projects for the day, & one by one, we detach from the morning revelrie & get down to work.

Once we're all in work mode, everyone seems to be focused on whatever project they're working on. For a good couple of hours, I go into my own work bubble & forget about the rest of the office for a while.

Around noon, people start popping up on Skype (we use Skype to communicate within the office) with lunch invitations. We bat around ideas for a few minutes before deciding where to go & who's going - & then we gather up in search of sustenance. After lunch we head back to the office - bathroom break, refill on tea or coffee, chatting about what everyone else did for lunch, general comradery all around.

Then there's another intense work session in the afternoons when everyone once again goes into their work trance, getting things done. Then around 5:00 people start coming out of their offices & cubicles to chat again - problems of the day, plans for tomorrow's work day, what happened in the news today, what's for dinner.

At 6:00 when I leave the office to stuff myself back into the subway car along with the rest of Shanghai, I look back at my work day. I hung out in a comfortable office, laughing & joking around with my co-workers, all of whom are language geeks just like me. I did roughly five hours of productive work, & no one hassled me about it. I was able to focus on my work without interruptions for extended periods of time - no one was looking over my shoulder or demanding immediate results. I left work at a decent hour, with plenty of time to have dinner with friends or maybe go to a Chinese class. All this & a decent wage. It's surprisingly gratifying.

That's much different from teaching, & certainly different from waiting tables. In those jobs, every minute that you're at work, you're working. "If you have time to lean, you have time to clean." Now that I have a normal job I'm realizing that if I have time to lean, I can just lean. That 45 minutes of being crushed between briefcases on the subway doesn't seem so bad right now.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Language in Real Life

As part of my New Years Resolution #1, I've created a new website dedicated to langauge learning called Language in Real Life.

Right now I'm focusing on Chinese since that's what I'm studying, but eventually I would like to expand the site to other languages as well. That might mean traveling to other countries to collect realia or turning the site into a wiki so that other people can contribute...

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The idea at Language in Real Life is to use real-life examples of language (or “realia”, as we say in the biz), like the one pictured here, as a basis for a lesson. To help keep myself on task, I aim to post a new lesson every day.

Each lesson starts with a photo of a road sign, billboard, restaurant menu, magazine ad, or any other realia available. I include the Chinese characters, the pinyin transcription, a vocabulary list, & a translation of the text into English, along with occasional cultural notes.

Lastly, there is a writing assignment to complete that uses the vocabulary from the realia, which people can answer in the comments below the lesson. I'm also posting my own answer to the writing assignment on Lang-8, a really cool language learning community which I've posted about before.

Of course the Language in Real Life site sprang from my own language learning project, as a way to motivate myself to stick to studying, but I'm hoping that other people will use the site too. If you or someone you know is studying Chinese, or if you've always wanted to pick it up but never got a round to it, take a look, see what you think, & let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's It Like?

Every so often, someone from home asks me, "What's it like?" 

But what does that mean, really? Do you mean, what's it like to live in China? What's it like to live in a communist country? What's it like to be a foreigner in a strange land? What's it like to live far away from your own country, from your friends & family? What's it like to be a single 40-ish American woman teaching English to adult Chinese students in Shanghai?

These are all good questions, & many of them are answered here on this blog, but the true question that you're asking when you ask, "What's it like?" is "What would it be like for me if I did what you're doing?" This is the question that I try to answer every time I write a blog post.

A while back I read an interview with a man who travels the world climbing mountains. I thought: How exciting (that would be for me)! When he said that most of the time his life is pretty boring, I was disappointed. It didn't fit my idea of what it would be like to travel around the world climbing peaks.

But I guess that's true of anything that seems exciting from the outside. Sure, there are plenty of interesting & wild & unbelieveable things that happen to me here in China, but they come in spurts. Most of the time life here is pretty normal.

Of course, my idea of normal might have evolved over the last year & a half to include things like crossing the street among a throng of motorbikes & dodging projectiles of phlegm as I'm walking down the street, but I try to take that into consideration as I'm adding my two cents to the blogosphere.

So, what's it like? I can only give you a glimpse of it here. If you really want to know what it's like, you'll have to take off on your own adventure. & be sure to send me a postcard.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Apartment Hunting - Year 2

Chinese real estate office
I'm apartment hunting again. Ugh.

Since the lease at my current apartment will be up at the end of January, & I'm now working downtown Monday to Friday, I've been looking for a place to live that's closer to the new office.

Apartment hunting in Shanghai isn't like it is at home. In the States, you choose an apartment complex where you'd like to live, then ask the complex manager to show you the available units. If you like it, you sign a lease & you're done.

But here in Shanghai, apartment hunting is more like house hunting because almost all apartments are privately owned. The apartments available for rent are listed with real estate agents, so you need to find one of those first.

The first & second times I was apartment hunting, it was early on in my China Experience, so I had no idea how to recognize a real estate office here - I needed lots of help from the other teachers at my school.

Since then, I've noticed that almost all of the real estate offices look like the one shown here, with lots of pages posted neatly on the window. So for this round of apartment hunting, I was able to spot a real estate office pretty easily. & thanks to my improving Chinese language skills, I was able to explain to the agent there what I'm looking for.

My new contract is only for six months, so I don't want to sign a one-year lease if I'll be leaving in half that time. However, most apartment owners add a couple hundred RMB (the Chinese currency) to the rent for shorter leases. Not such a big deal, but I have some time, so wanted to see if there's a better solution. After a couple of days of apartment hunting together, my real estate agent suggested that I move into her spare bedroom.

So I went over to check the place out. Although it's a little farther from the office than I would like, it's right next to a subway station, so getting to work would be fairly easy. The apartment itself is cute with all the amenities (washing machine, cable TV, internet connection), & Emily is a nice person. Plus, she's Chinese, which might be handy when I need to talk with the plumber or the gas meter guy. All this for about $100 less than what I'm paying for my current apartment.

Not bad, but it's now January. I'm leaving for a visit home in less than a month (YAY!), & I will be gone for the whole month of February. Does it make sense to move to a new place now? Or should I just ask a friend to store my stuff & then look for a place when I get back?

What would you do?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Although it's important to continually reassess ourselves throughout the year, the start of a new year is a particularly apt time to rethink our personal goals.

It's especially important to me to set realistic, achievable, measurable objectives for myself that I can work toward. Call it a New Year's Resolution, or an Action Plan if you like, but I find that I need a structure to work by, a purpose to work toward.

I also find that I'm more likely to accomplish a goal if I let other people know what I'm working on. It makes the goal more real for me, & it makes me accountable to others, which is a great motivator.

So in honor of new beginnings, here are some things I'll be working on this year.

1. Study more Chinese by meeting with a Chinese person (either a tutor or a friend) for at least one hour per week. Build & maintain a Chinese language learning journal online. Write at least one entry per week in both Chinese & Spanish on Lang-8
When are you going to sign up?

2. Work toward becoming a location independent freelancer by taking on at least one writing, tutoring or translation job per month from websites like Verbal Planet, oDesk, Wyzant, Elance, Guru, ProZ, & DoMyStuff.
Do you know of any others?

3. Nurture my creative side by drawing more, taking more photos, writing more creative pieces, & dancing. Even though it's important to be able to measure your goals, I feel that, in this case, putting limitations on creativity would stifle it.
Do you agree with me?

What about you? What is your Action Plan for 2011?