Buy my photos!

Notecards for $2.40

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Back from the Philippines

I just got back from a company off-site conference in Cebu, Philippines. I went with almost 200 employees from my office. Those that stayed behind must have felt pretty lonely. We stayed in a 5-star hotel, ate lavish meals, swam on a private beach - all expenses paid.

It may sound like a vacation, but this was definitely a work-related affair - there were Power Point presentations & team building activities day & night. But we were in a lush tropical location instead of in the office, which was okay by me.

One of our Filipino co-workers was getting married in Manila the weekend before the trip, so a handful of us decided to fly out a couple of days early so that we could attend. The wedding was in a beautiful cathedral built by the Spanish in the late 16th century . The entire wedding party looked amazing in their gowns & formal wear.

It rained buckets the whole time we were in Manila, but we were able to see a few of the sights while we were there, including the old fort where a museum holds the vertebra of Jose Rizal, showing the bullet wound that made him a Filippine martyr.

On Monday, we went to the airport to meet the rest of our co-workers who were flying in from Shanghai. The plane was packed with EF employees, the team leaders herding us to our seats. In Cebu, our group took up five tour busses, & we arrived at the Shangrila hotel boisterously.

We spent the next few days at the conference, & the evenings were occupied in town at the local bars. At the end of the week, the group flew back to Shanghai utterly exhausted. I'm thankful that I still have the weekend to recover before going back to work on Monday.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Business Trip #2: Cebu, Philippines

One really nice perk of working a 9-to-5 is that you get to go to some pretty amazing places on the company dime. Last month I went to London for a week, & this month I'm going to Cebu, an island paradise in the Philippines.

Nearly 200 employees are going there for a conference. We're staying in a 5-star hotel with a private beach & free-flow mai tais. Of course the purpose of the trip is work - training, team building, etc. - but we're going to be on the beach with fresh fruit & sunshine all around. I can't wait to walk around in flip flops all week.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Language Learning Plateau

Flat Iron - Phoenix, Arizona

I've been living in Shanghai, China for a year & a half now. Since I got here, I've been diligently studying Mandarin Chinese in hopes of adding it to my linguistic repertoire. It's been slow going, but I think I've finally reached a new level.

Learning a language is never easy, but there are times when it can seem impossible. In the beginning, people often learn new words quickly: red! yellow! blue! one! two! three! It's fun & encouraging to learn the basics in just a short period of time.

Inevitably, however, you reach a learning plateau, when you don't feel like you're advancing in your language abilities. After all that success in the beginning, it's frustrating to reach this stage, & many understandably give up when they find themselves stagnating. It's hard to push on ahead when you're walking in mud.

Even so, it's important to get daily exposure to the language you're studying, even if it doesn't seem to be producing results. A balance of active & passive exposure is best. My own language learning has a little bit of both.

Every morning, I listen to a ChinesePod lesson on my commute to work (passive), I go to the Chinese classes offered at my office (passive), I try to make small talk with my co-workers (active), & when I get home, I spend about 20 minutes practicing characters (active). In spite of all this, I feel like I've been stuck at the same level for a while now.

Sometimes the language just needs to incubate - we need to process what we know in order to move on to the next step. The harder the concepts are that you're learning, the longer it takes to process. So the more advanced you are in your language skills, the longer the learning plateau will be. But I keep at it because I know that I will eventually reach the end of this plateau - & the reward will be so worth it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shaoxing, China

This past weekend was Dragon Boat Festival, which meant that the whole country got Monday off from work. I didn't expect to see any festivities in Shanghai, since holidays like this are more an excuse to spend the day relaxing at home or shopping at the mall. So I decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend & go on a trip.

I found an outdoor adventure tour with SISU, a local outfitter & tour company. Plans for the weekend included biking & hiking in Shaoxing, a city about two hours southwest of Shanghai. Transportation, one night in a five-star hotel, all meals & bike rental were included in the 1300 RMB fee (about US $200).

The tour participants included Americans, Canadians, Brits, Finns, Danes, Dutch & Germans in the bunch - & two Chinese women - all friendly & outdoorsy. It wound up raining for most of the weekend, but we were able to do a short hike between downpours through the nature preserve next to the hotel on Sunday morning. There we saw pagodas & Buddhas & canal boats a-plenty, & we heard birds chirping - real birds!

We also visited a traditional huangjiu distillery in town where we sampled the famous Shaoxing wine in various stages of aging. When the Chinese say "wine", they don't mean the kind made from grapes. Instead, Chinese "wine" is a kind of liquor, though it's often not as strong as whisky or vodka. Some of it can be pretty harsh - along the lines of white lightning - & our first taste at this distillery wasn't exactly the smoothest. But each sample got better & better until the final sample, the creme de la creme - the 20-year-old wine selling for 800 RMB per jug (about US $125).

After I got back, I was looking for links about Shaoxing & stumbled upon this self-guided tour itinerary, perfect for those who don't have an extra 1300 RMB to spare. The site has some other routes that look interesting as well. I'm looking forward to trying some of them out on my own. 

My hotel room
The view from my hotel room
Hiking through the nature preserve
Buddha carved into a huge rock
Traditional canal boats
20-year-old Shaoxing wine

Friday, June 3, 2011

Two Years

It has been two years since I left the US to travel the world. In that short amount of time, I have experienced all sorts of wonderful, beautiful, stressful, amazing, crazy, inspiring, frustrating, exciting things - & I treasure every day of it.

My first year out of the country was spent half in south Vietnam & half in Shanghai, China. Click here for that story.

One major change this year was my job. I decided to take a break from teaching English for a while & became an editor for my school. It's been interesting trying to switch from talking to people for a living to sitting in front of a computer all day long. I haven't quite gotten used to it yet, but it's a good challenge to try.

Even though I have been rooted in Shanghai for the last year & a half, my second year abroad was filled with lots of adventures. I went to the World Expo & the Literary Festival, entertained several visitors from home, & had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with the local vegetarian group.

There were opportunities to travel outside of Shanghai too. I went to Hangzhou to see the vast West Lake, to Beijing to walk on the Great Wall, to Harbin for the annual Ice Festival, & to London on a business trip. I even spent a long weekend at a Buddhist monastary - not your typical vacation destination!

Of course, my favorite trip this past year was home. I was so happy that I could be there to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday, & to celebrate my own birthday surrounded by people I love. It really was nice to be home after being so long away.

With so much yet to see out there, I'm excited to see what my third year abroad will bring. I already have plans to go to the Philippines at the end of this month & to Tibet in September. After that, perhaps I'll head to the southern hemisphere for a while. The great thing about life as a wanderer is that the possibilities are endless.