New City, New Challenges

It took almost two weeks longer to get my Z visa to China than expected. The good news about that thoroughly frustrating situation is that I got to see more of my family and friends. The bad news about it is that I arrived in a new country only a few days before starting classes with my students. These two and a half weeks have been a blur of medical appointments, lesson planning, teaching, meetings, bank trips, trips to WalMart and IKEA to get my apartment set up, figuring out WeChat (which I am still working on because it is the main mode of communication and payment here – and I just figured out that it even translates messages!) and the simple process of learning the wheres, whats, and hows of a new country.

 

What is the best way to get to work?

Where do I catch the bus home?

How do I get a water dispenser in my apartment?

Where do I find food I can order when I don’t speak the language – who speaks English or, at least, has an English menu I can point to?

Where do I get coffee? Something I’m finding is hugely challenging unless you want to pay $4 at Starbuck’s!

Where is the bank?

A new city always means learning the basics – and a new city where you don’t speak the language creates its own set of challenges. I also discovered that the VPN issue in China is real. Without a VPN, many helpful websites are blocked. WeChat and a VPN are your best friends.

Fortunately, I live directly across the street from a WalMart and a mall so I have access to anything I need and won’t starve. These past few weeks – fighting jet lag, preparing for classes, and trying to get the paperwork for my residency – it’s just been hard to find the energy and time to get things done. But, thanks to a typhoon day and a few good nights of sleep, I am finally starting to feel normal.

I haven’t had a chance to see much of my new city other than the paths to and from work or other obligations, but the area I’m in is beautifully green. I love the trees that line the sidewalks and the water fountains placed in strategic locations and the street cleaners with their stick brooms and big hats to protect them from the glaring sun. I love the little kiosk huts that dot the sidewalks in place of the convenient stores that I became accustomed to in Taipei. And I have had no problem finding Western food if I am craving a good pizza or French fries or even a salad. But I’ve only found one street food cart serving buns and dumplings and feel as though I haven’t yet seen the true China.

 

Shenzhen is what I expected and not what I expected. There is construction going on everywhere as it is the fastest growing city here. There are tall, modern buildings near older, somewhat dilapidated buildings and others in between. There’s English but not everywhere or even as much as I found in Taipei. And there has only been a little bit of culture shock.

The first week here felt like a picture that was out of focus. The people looked different and dressed differently than in Taiwan. But the humidity and the heat were the same. The city smells different. The food is similar but different – more meat, less vegetarian options, less tofu, more potatoes and pasta. There aren’t 7-11s on every corner or drink shops side-by-side, but there are pizza joints and cafes and other restaurants everywhere! The people are kind but more aggressive with less smiles. The scooters are different, smaller and less prominent than the cars. The buses are a better option most of the time than the subway, at least where I live. And taxis don’t always have their light on when they’re available so you just stick your hand out every time you see one.

The picture is more in focus now. I’ve adjusted. I don’t expect it to be just like Taiwan now. I knew that intellectually when I arrived but, in my tiredness and in trying to adjust, I still emotionally expected it. I literally compared everything to Taiwan…and it always fell short. Now I am starting to look at it as its own city with its own pros and cons and not keep score. I can’t wait to see more of the city and discover what makes Shenzhen unique and special in its own right.

A new city and new challenges – I see good times ahead!

 

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Yang Shin: A Review

Yang Shin – I am about to rave about Yang Shin. If you are looking for a delicious, unique vegetarian restaurant in Taipei then go to Yang Shin. If you are not vegetarian and you want some good dim sum, go to Yang Shin. Since I am not the only person who has discovered how good the food, the service, and the ambiance are at Yang Shin, make a reservation or you won’t get in to enjoy the deliciousness.

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Yang Shin is located near the SongJiang Nanjing MRT Station. It was easy to get to but took us a minute to figure out to get into the restaurant as it is on the second floor of another building and the entrance in at the end of narrow hallway through a bakery. Once you see the sign outside, just go in and look around, and you’ll figure it out.

We arrived a few minutes before our reservation, and they seated us on time. We sat and looked through the menu book – and it is a book, I kid you not. The menu is in English as well as Mandarin with plenty of pictures. Unfortunately, there were only two of us which was so difficult because we wanted to try so many different things and only had two stomachs to fill. *sigh*

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We finally settled on five dishes: kung pao deep fried spicy stinky tofu, baked shaobing  with ji-cai, vegetarian xiao long bao, steamed vegetarian dumpling, and steamed rice noodle roll with day lily and lily bulb.

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Kung pao deep fried spicy stinky tofu: The tofu was fried on the outside and soft on the inside, slightly sweet and a little spicy served with cashews and peppers. There was a lot of this, and we couldn’t finish it.

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Baked shaobing with ji-cai: There were three buttery, flaky pastries with sesame seeds on top and a buttery, salty spinach filling. Truthfully, these were my favorite.

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Vegetarian xiao long bao: There were three tiny, perfect dumplings that were made of silky, soft pasta with a savory, juicy mushroom filling.

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Steamed vegetarian dumpling: There were three of these as well. They were slightly bigger than the shaobing and beautifully made in a shell shape with the same silky, soft pasta and a filling of greens (not sure what kind exactly but very good).

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Steamed rice noodle roll with day lily and lily bulb: These were long, soft rice noodle rolls with the day lilies and lily bulbs inside. The texture was nice, but there was very little flavor. Out of the five dishes, this was my least favorite and the only one I wouldn’t order again or recommend.

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Even though we were quite full, we still decided to get a dessert so we tried the pan fried pumpkin flannel cake. If you are looking for something really sweet, this is not for you. It is very good but only slightly sweet on the fried bottom with sesame seeds, a light pumpkin flavor to the dough, and a taro filling.

The texture and taste was very satisfying once I got past the expectation of a super sweet dessert. It does not resemble what I consider cake in any way but is more of a gooey, chewy mochi texture. I probably wouldn’t get it again only because there are so many other things to try, but it was very good.

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Fortunately, I have a good friend here who is great at research and loves me! So when I did the 30-Day Vegetarian Challenge, she looked up interesting places to go. We didn’t make it to Yang Shin during that time frame, but it looked so good that we decided to make a reservation and go last night. It was such a treat. Thank you, Blair!

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Learning Mandarin

Learning Mandarin Chinese is hard. I’ve read it. I’ve heard it. I’ve experienced it.

Learning another language is always difficult, but Mandarin takes it to a whole new level. For one thing, the characters look different. They sound different. Then throw in tones, and it’s on, baby. The same word can have different meanings depending on how you pronounce it – and some of the sounds are nothing like the sounds we use in English!

Needless to say, I’ve lived in Taiwan for two years where the primary language is Mandarin Chinese, and I’ve barely gotten past a few words and phrases. The only thing I consistently order in Chinese is coffee. The rest I point and motion to explain what I need.

I’ve been lucky living here in Taiwan because enough people speak English or, at least, have enough English skills to help me that I haven’t had to learn Mandarin. I’ve tried. I’ve half-heartedly tried. When it started making me feel stupid, I quit. Then I would try again a few months later and so on.

I haven’t made much progress.

However, I got a job in China.

Yes! I got a job!

And it’s in Shenzhen, China.

From what I’ve read about China, English is not as readily spoken. So I’ve started trying to learn Mandarin. Again.

It’s still hard. But this time I’m more motivated because I have a feeling I’m going to need it. I feel like I’m picking it up faster than before because of my past sporadic studying. It’s somewhat familiar. I’m trying to study at least once a day.

After my lesson today, I was feeling really good about it.

Until I went to a restaurant I go to a lot and tried to order my usual salad in a different way. *sigh* I had no idea how to explain it in Chinese and resorted to lots of pointing and hand gestures until the owner figured it out. I immediately felt like a failure.

But this is what learning something new is like. The progress is slow. And you may feel stupid at times. But you can’t quit. If you quit, you definitely won’t learn it, but, if you keep trying, you will eventually get better.

I mean, how else will you spend your time? If the choice is between watching television and learning something new, pick the learning something new option. Ask yourself: at the end of the day, which one is going to be more memorable, not to mention more useful and, quite frankly, more interesting?

So what skill have you been putting off learning?

Maybe now is a good time to start.

Morning Pages

Morning pages was introduced to me by my friend and fellow blogger Dana Holt but the original idea came from Julia Cameron. Dana loves it! Here’s how it works.

  1. Wake up (or, rather, open your eyes).
  2. Grab a pad of paper strategically placed by your bed.
  3. Pick up the pen also placed for convenience.
  4. Start writing.
  5. Write three pages of stream of consciousness before you do anything else (including waking up all the way).

I decided to try this and see what happens. It’s supposed to unlock your creativity, get all your negativity out on paper first thing in the morning, clear your mind and work out issues you may not even know existed. It’s not about writing well. It’s simply about clearing your head.

The first morning I didn’t wake up and really start writing until I got to the end of the third page. And then it was over. And I wanted to keep writing, but I had to get in the shower to go to work.

The next day, I woke up a little more quickly, but, again, don’t feel like I really got going until the third page. Regardless, it felt good. It’s always nice to write.

I skipped a few days. Okay, I skipped four days. Then finally got myself up and did it again this morning. This time it was the top of the third page when I felt like I got going, and it felt really good because the first two pages were actually painful to write.

I need to make this a habit because it does make me feel more alert and ready for the day. The problem is, I am soooo bad at getting up in the morning.

Speaking of getting up, the explanation I read of morning pages was that it would take 15 minutes. Not for me. Maybe I’m a slow writer, but it takes me about 25 minutes to write three pages.

My time did improve so maybe it’s like running, and I’ll get faster. It took me 30 minutes on the first day. I know, not much of an improvement but I’ll take it.

I’m curious to see what I think about it after I’ve done it longer.

I’ll let you know.

If I manage to get myself out of bed early enough and often enough to actually see benefits from it.

If you want to look this up for yourself and see what others think, simply google “morning pages.” It’s pretty popular, and people have very different things to say about it. Some love it and have seen benefits in their business and lives; others think it’s a waste of time. Here’s an article about it in Inc. online magazine.

Or you can simply try it yourself! If you do, let me know what you think.

 

Plants Eatery: A Review

Yesterday I had the chance to catch up with a friend for lunch, and we met up at Plants Eatery, a vegan restaurant near the Da’an MRT station.

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This place is adorable and all about clean, healthy eating as the name implies. We were immediately seated at a tiny wooden table, brought water, and given a menu. The wait staff did speak English and were very attentive.

Liesl and I ordered the same drink, Bunny Loves Your Eyes. It had turmeric, ginger, rosemary, carrot, pineapple, banana, lemon and activated cashew milk. The drink was served with a metal straw for environmental purposes. I loved that they lived their talk down to the smallest details! The drink was delicious, kind a sweet and tangy carrot juice. We loved it!

 

For lunch, we ordered different salads. I got the seaweed salad with heirloom lettuce, mixed seaweed, carrots, cucumbers, activated raw caramelized seeds, onions and green onions. It was served with a maple apple cider vinaigrette. Since I love seaweed, I was curious about this salad. It did not disappoint! It was tangy and sweet with a very strong seaweed flavor so only order it if you like seaweed. I would go back and order the same thing again.

Liesl ordered the quinoa salad which had quinoa, pears, cucumbers, baby salad greens, sprouts, and housemade pineapple vinaigrette. I didn’t taste it, but Liesl ate every bite so I can only assume it was good! Both were beautifully plated as you can see below.

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I love a pretty plate!

The prices were higher than eating on the street but very reasonable for the fresh ingredients and good food. They had a big letters on the wall that spelled out “Count Nutrients Not Calories.” I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a healthy meal with timely, professional service in a spotless environment. I was impressed with the food, the service, and the general atmosphere of the place.

It was a lovely lunch!

 

 

A Perfect Day

Sunday was one of those perfect weather days. The sun was out and it was hot, but it was also windy so you didn’t feel hot – one of those days. I love the feel of the warm wind and the sun on my skin. I decided to go for a bike ride on a bike path I knew of in Taipei.

One of the great things about Taipei is that you can rent a U-bike from different stands all over the city – and it’s very inexpensive. In addition, there are parks and trails all over the city as well. I went to one with a U-bike rental and entrance near the Beiman MRT.  It’s right smack in the middle of the city but feels like you left for a little while.

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The views were amazing with the river trailing beside me (although the river was low and a terrible gray color but still glittery from the sun so beautiful in the way of water and sunlight). The city line surrounded the river and the trail and bridges arced over it, a constant reminder of the busy world beyond the trail. There were sections that were covered in trees with the viney trunks that I love offering shade and rest. A few spots busy and I nearly ran over someone once, but others were fairly empty and open.

I passed people fishing in the river, playing basketball and baseball and tennis in courts and fields placed in different areas along the way. There were children on scooters and passengers of their parent’s bikes, dogs running beside their owner’s bikes, people flying kites in open fields, putting on an amazing show complete with sound effects. It was a magical day.

Days like this make me forget about the cold, rainy days during winter when I’m shivering in my coat at my desk because there’s no heat at school. They make me forget about typhoon days when I’m sitting alone at home listening to the wind shake the building and howl outside for hours and wishing I could just go to sleep. They make forget about the terrible, humid heat of summer when I’m dripping sweat walking for five minutes from the mrt station to my apartment.

They are all the more joyful because they are not the norm. Days like this make me happy and grateful because they are a contrast to the days when the weather is miserable for one reason or another. I make sure to go out and embrace these days because I’m not sure when another will come along.

I went home after my bike ride and literally felt full to the brim with happiness. I know tomorrow may not be as perfect, but that’s okay. Another day like this will come along again, and I will make sure to enjoy it just as much when it happens.

Job Hunting

It’s been two days since I’ve written anything, and I’m antsy. I love that! I’m not sure I still have anything interesting to say, but I miss saying anything at all.

I’ve been job hunting. Job hunting is so fun! Actually, job hunting is the exact opposite of fun, but there is something exciting about it. Looking for new positions, interviewing, it lets you peek into and imagine yourself living different lives. That’s especially true for me right now as I look for a position with an international school.

Here in Taiwan, I have been working for the public school system. Although I’m teaching ESL, I teach grades 3 through grades 6 – all of the students. I am a supplemental teacher to the local English classes they get, and I don’t see the students often enough to really get to know them. I miss having my own students and building relationships and seeing progress.

However, I love teaching abroad so I’ve decided to move into the international school world. It’s been an interesting experience so far learning about the different curriculums and expectations. Teaching in an international school will give me the opportunity to further my teaching skills, develop relationships with students to really impact lives, and move forward in my career. Pretty awesome.

I’ve had two interviews so far – one in Turkey, one in Tawain outside of Taipei – and I have another one next week in Colombia. I have to research each country and imagine myself living there to see if I think it’s a good fit.

See, exciting! But also a bit stressful. There are so many unknowns, and life here in Taipei is so easy and nice. The people are friendly. English is common enough that I don’t worry about not speaking Chinese. I never run out of things to do and see. And I have really good friends.

But the job situation is not challenging enough.

So it’s time to move on next year. And moving on is always a mix of both exciting and sad as new beginnings also mean an ending. In the meantime, I get to keep peeking into new worlds until I find the next one I’ll be living in for awhile.

Wish me luck!