A Travellerspoint blog

June 2008

School

We're checking out the school right now. It's beautiful and big. There is NO AIR CONDITIONING...REPEAT...NO AIR CONDITIONING!!!

It's great, though.

Posted by venisha 19:07 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

It's just another day in China...:)

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Just got back from my 2nd run of the trip. Today I felt more comfortable to look around. We are staying in the business district, which I hear is a lot cleaner than downtown Shanghai. The new modern concrete buildings are interspersed with pagoda rooftops and corn patches. I didn't stop and do Tai Chi with the group today. I almost did, but at the last minute I backed out. There were only tiny old Chinese men. Hopefully tomorrow. The road has a separate lanes for pedestrians, a separate lane for rickshaws, vespas, and motorized bicycles. I, of course, run on the road for pedestrians. Today this elderly Chinese man gave me a double thumbs up while riding his bike. He almost fell over.

The rest of the group never made it in until last night around midnight. They got stuck in Tokyo, Japan and were put up in a hotel. I'm a bit jealous as I haven't seen Japan. I'm not, however, jealous that they are trying to get their body clocks set up for the work that needs to be done today.

The staff members that were here yesterday and I worked on putting together a program for the parent show tomorrow for IBM. We are going to perform 4-1 hour shows to give IBM parents a taste of who we are and what we do. It should be pretty intense. If they like what they see, they'll sign up their children. If they don't like what they see, our days in Shanghai will be very slow as we won't have any students. We are also going to start training the counselors who will be assisting in teaching the language groups, dances, arts and crafts, and sports sessions. We never really left the hotel yesterday so I'm VERY happy I woke up early and explored.

The food is AMAZING! Yesterday for breakfast I ate steamed bread with red bean curd in it! Basically steamed dumplings with a sweet chocolate like paste. The Kong Pau Panda ate these in the animated movie. I could have eaten about 10 of them, but thought better of it and only ate 3. I also ate this sweet rice wrapped in a bamboo leaf. The other dishes were foods that we would eat for lunch or dinner like different types of noodle stir fries and hot dog looking things. Breakfast for our group starts at 8:00. I'm counting the minutes to the steamed bread. There is no coffee--only tea. At first I was craving a nice cup of a light roast, now I'm excited to drink tea. We will be eating all of our breakfasts and dinners at the restaurant. Lunch will be at the school starting today. I think it'll be nice to get a change of pace because although I LOVE the chicken peanut stir fry, it could get old.

My roommate Kylie arrived late last night. She brought a laptop, which is what I'm using in the hotel room. YIPPEE! Now I just need to figure out how to upload photos without my own computer. Perhaps I'll tackle that at the school today.

Hope everyone is doing well. Thinking of you tons!

Posted by venisha 16:20 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Shanghai

rain

Well, I'm here. I made it. I wasn't sure I was going to because 1) I overslept. Luckily Kristin was at my house and helped me do all the last minute things I needed to do to get out the door. 2) When I arrived at the airport the ticket agent said my ticket was not actually in the file. Ugh! They had to make some calls and they finally decided I really had a flight with AA.

The 14 hour flight was relatively uneventful. I was unable to sleep. I do, however, think the Airborne I took 2 times really kept me feeling strong. When I finally did doze off, I kicked a can of gingerale over and poured it all over my lap, blanket, and my seat. Their were no extra seats on the plane and no extra blankets so I was required to stand for about 20 minutes to airdry my quick drying pants, put a plastic bag on my seat, and ride it out. It was really quite hilarious. I'm an advocate of quick drying light colored pants. When my pants dried, there was a tiny stain at the end.

When I arrived in Shanghai, a representative from Concordia Language Villages was waiting for me. I didn't realize there was going to be anyone there. It really was sweet. Hei Fong taught in the Chinese Concordia Language Village in Bemidji, MN, so he spoke good English. I was surprised by how clean and calm the airport was. I envisioned masses of people and smelly bathrooms. This airport was so clean I could have eaten off the floor.

When the rest of the group arrived an hour later, we shuttled to our hotel. The hotel is REALLY clean. It's called JinJiang Inn. http://www.jinjianginns.com/en/inn/chains.aspx?unitid=090&cityid=450000
It has a laundry room, internet room (with one computer), and a restaurant. We at in the restaraunt last night. There were seven of us and the entire "family" style meal was 18 dollars. AMAZING!! The food was incredible. We ate noodles, rice, chicken with peanuts, beef stirfry, sour potatoes, string beans, and some spinach-like vegetable that was YUMMY!

I was in bed at around 8:45. Luckily I had a sleeping pill on hand to take because I tossed and turned for awhile. I finally fell asleep and, although I woke up every 2 hours, I fell back asleep immediately. I woke up at 4:55 AM ready to go. I can't believe I lost an entire day. It's Monday right now at 7:17 AM. For you it's Sunday night around 6:17. My body is adjusting fairly well given it's almost my bedtime in the States.

When I woke up, I drank some green tea in my room. Instead of a coffee pot there is a water boiler for tea. I ate a Kashi bar that I brought and got ready for a run. Thought I'd get right on the exercise plan. The receptionist at the hotel desk in my all-too-funny Mandarin finally decided he'd speak English to me to give me directions about where to run. He gave me an awesome 5k route. Since I was so early in the day, people were biking and walking to work. All the factories were letting out and the new workers were going in. There were soup carts set up for the workers to eat breakfast. I took a turn down a narrow alley and got to see people in their homes who had their doors open. It was the coolest run I've had in a long time. On the street back to my hotel there was a group doing Tai Chi. I really wanted to join in but wasn't sure culturally how that would look. I've spoken with the hotel desk and they said that "old people" do Tai Chi all over and I could definitely join in without a problem. We'll see tomorrow when I attempt it. The streets are SOOOO clean and there wasn't really any pollution in the air that I could detect. Perhaps because it was early Monday morning and the traffic hadn't started. I don't know.

My group that I'll be working with is splendid. The dean of the program's name is Brian. His wife's name is Kate. Jessica, Breeza, and Bryce are there children and are also on staff. They are all very kind people. Today we'll meet with the rest of the group. Dave and Jamie (from the photo), Matt, Justin, and Kylie are the missing members. They came in late last night. Actually Kylie and Justin didn't make it in last night. Kylie was flying standby. She'll be my roommate. Justin could only change his ticket to fly in today. We're meeting for a breakfast meeting (it's buffet) at 8:45 AM. This afternoon we'll be going to the school to see the facilities.

I feel very peaceful here. I think the job will be very hectic once we get going, but there is a good vibe going in.

I think China will be a good place for me.

Posted by venisha 16:07 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Ah...Visa

I will hopefully have the visa in my hands tomorrow. Dave (see the picture in an earlier blog) called and told me that the visas were approved and he should have them by tomorrow (Friday). Yippee! I'm off to China.

Posted by venisha 18:59 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

2.5 days and counting

Will I get a visa?

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My new visa application has been submitted. Most of the people travelling to China as part of this program sent their visas to Chicago on Monday. My flight itinerary has been changed. The plan as of today is to arrive in Shanghai on June 29, start orientation on June 30, start teaching the following Monday for 2 weeks. On July 20 a group of us from the camp will travel to Beijing to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square. Then off to X'ian to see the Terracotta Soldiers. Kristin is flying to Thailand a week early. For the first week we'll travel to northeast Thailand up to the Mekong River to the border of Laos. Hopefully we'll be able to cross over so I can get a Laotian stamp in my passport. The second week we're off to southern Thailand to Phuket and the Islands. The third week we'll travel up the the northwest region where I think I have Kristin convinced to do a 3-day bike trip with a tour group. I'll have that visa in my hands on Friday. (Cross your fingers!) I can't wait to see what the visa looks like. Since it's for China, I'm sure it will have a beautiful picture with lots of red it it.

So, that's the latest plan.

I've started to pack. I had a final dentist appointment stateside and I had a bon voyage gathering with work friends. Lupe, Mary, Barb, Isis, and Kris met for a happy hour on Lake Minnetonka. IMG_0541.jpg

On Friday my two best buddies, Puck and Friday, are off to my sister Laurie's house. She's not too happy about getting their hacienda, but I know that not having the cats on her couch will be worth the hassle of transporting it.
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Posted by venisha 11:39 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (1)

Challenges, Challenges, and Challenges

all seasons in one day

My request for a visa has been rejected...yet again. None of the staff members in the Twin Cities have been issued a visa. I need to resubmit a new itinerary with my new visa application to the Chicago Consulate on Monday that shows only a maximum stay of 30 days. Hopefully by proving we'll only be in China for 30 days or less, we'll be granted a visa. Since my $2447.49 plane tickets to China, Thailand, and around Thailand are non-refundable, I'm really hoping the powers that be expedite the process of getting a visa...and my passport...back in my hands by a week from today.

Now, if you remember the headache I had trying to get a flight out of Guangzhou, China to Phuket, Thailand when Cheaptickets and China Southern changed my ticket, you'd know how stressful it is to change my ticket again. Every time I call Cheaptickets, it seems I've been connected with an overseas office. The connection is not the best and the English is often challenging to decipher. As I type this blog entry, I'm on hold with Cheaptickets. If all goes well I'll be able to change my ticket to leave Shanghai, China on July 27 instead of leaving Guangzhou, China on August 3.

Given the denial of visas to the majority of staff, the program Hometown China, USA has been shortened. We will have an orientation in Shanghai for the first week and will have a 2-week day camp in Shanghai. We are finished working on July 20. Since I'll have about 7 days before my 30 day maximum stay is over, I'm planning on trekking up to Beijing to see the Great Wall, The Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Terra Cotta soldiers. From there I'll fly to Bangkok and either hang out there until Kristin arrives on August 3 or I'll go to Cambodia, Mayalasia, Laos, or Vietnam. The possibilities are endless as none of these countries have visa requirements. Kristin has mentioned the possibility of changing her ticket to meet me earlier in Thailand to travel to another country or around Thailand. She is, however, fearful of spending more than 2 weeks away from home. She's learned from previous trips that she is always ready to come home after 2 weeks. When I was younger and "less worldly" :) I seemed to always be game to travel alone. Now...I prefer to have a travel companion. Traveling alone just doesn't have the allure it used to.

Ok, I was told by Cheaptickets that I can't change any tickets with them because I...yes, they said, "I" changed my ticket already. Ugh! They gave me a new confirmation number and passed me along to American Airlines. I've been on and off hold with them for about 22 minutes. They typed in my new travel needs and now, I'm on hold waiting for the fee for the ticket changes. I'm a bit frightened by the long wait time. I'm hoping it is under 150 dollars as that is what a representative at Concordia Language Village has informed us that IBM might reimburse for ticket changes. I just spoke with the "nice" native-English speaking lady on the phone. She informed me that they have to figure out my change fees by hand because China Southern, Thai Airways, American, and the airlines that I was on prior to my first change all have different rules and regulations about cancellation and change fees. It doesn't seem as though I have much of a choice at this point to choose to pay the price or not. I would love to tell them..."No, that is too expensive. I'll pass." I am not, however, too willing to find out what the Chinese government does to someone who overstays her visa. Well, I'm going on 42 minutes of hold and "conversation" time with American Airlines. The last conversation I had with Christine at American Airlines was about how Cheaptickets really screwed up my itinerary and I was booked on a standby flight out of China from Guangzhou. The numbers and codes for my flights were a bit messed up, too. Go figure... I still haven't been given a price. I'm anticipating between $500 and $900 dollars. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that it is $150 or lower. Ok, so the grand total is $557...AND $20.00 for having American Airlines take over for Cheaptickets. WOW! Lesson learned...I'm now flying out of Shanghai into Bangkok on July 27 and down to Phuket on Aug. 3, where I'll pick up the rest of my itinerary.

Now, I just hope I get a visa.:)

Posted by venisha 13:38 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (1)

Planning, planning, and more planning

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Today the "fabulous four" met at Caribou Coffee to work on curriculum. We've been meeting for several months to plan the daily events and activities. Dave and Jamie (left side) are married. Dave is the assistant dean and has been the "Mac.King" typing and organizing the sometimes "all too random" thoughts about language, various holidays, and cultural activities. Jessica (front right) and I took Mandarin classes through community education for our language prep. We got to see first hand how different the Chinese approach to education can be.
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I found out today that my visa application has been rejected...AGAIN. Everyone from the midwest has been rejected for a visa. Now what? This seems to be the big question of the day.

Posted by venisha 10:37 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

The preparation begins

sunny 0 °F
View New Itinerary & China and Thailand 2008 on venisha's travel map.

I leave in less than 2 weeks for Asia...China and Thailand. I will be teaching English to Chinese kids of IBM employees. The job is through Concordia Language Villages and IBM. The program is called Hometown China, USA and is an immersion English program for Chinese youngsters. My trip to Thailand is strictly vacation. My friend Kristin is meeting me in Thailand for 2 weeks of R&R.

I always knew I'd travel to Thailand one day, but I never thought I'd travel to China--let alone live there. I've started making the list of all my "to-dos". It gets longer and longer instead of shorter and shorter each day. This will be the first extended trip I take as a homeowner. There's a lot more prep involved than just ending a lease or saying goodbye to gracious hosts like sisters and parents.

My biggest stress today is not having a visa. Counting the business days until departure, I have exactly 11 days. I'm hoping that the powers that be intervene in the red tape and the delays of the US Postal service and get the federal documents into my possession ASAP.

My next biggest stress is trying to get a flight into Phuket, Thailand on August 3. China Southern Airlines decided it was best if I leave Guangzhou, China a day later than intended and that my destination should not be Phuket, but Bangkok. Cheap Tickets has graciously tried to contact this airline while I've been on hold several times. My longest wait was 55 minutes and 43 seconds. My blood pressure went up every time I did the math for my monthly cell phone allowance. As I work on this first blog entry, I'm on hold. It's been 32 minutes. Fun times in Minnetonka. My friend Kristin is planning on meeting me in Phuket on August 3. Hopefully she will not be waiting too long for me.

Ok, so the update on the trip. I have a flight from Guangzhou, China to Bangkok on August 3 in the AM. From Bangkok, I'll be on Thai Airways to Phuket. The airlines is not able to send me any documentation of the flight. I was told that I need to check in and get confirmation when I arrive in Guangzhou. I guess I just have to have faith. Could be an adventure!

I've mapped my route for you to see the plan.

Posted by venisha 10:52 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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