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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