A Travellerspoint blog

Tai Chi and Running

101 °F

Tai Chi and running made it back into my schedule this morning. It was a short run and I FINALLY joined the Tai Chi group. They were really sweet. Because of the Tai Chi I did in the States, I was able to follow most of the movements with the exception of one or two. Of course, I'm not touching all the pressure points I should or grounding myself equally on both sides, but hopefully they have a routine and I'll be able to get more detailed as I go. I was definitely the youngest one there. Everyone was in there 50s or 60's or older. I'm not sure why the young-folk have given up such a wonderful meditative practice.

Al (Chinito), emailed me that the name of the city, "the Venice of China" is Suzhou in the Jiangsu province. His maternal grandfather is from that province. I've heard that the people from Suzhou and the Jiangsu Province have exceptionally fine skin are are extremely beautiful, which is one of the reasons the emperor wanted to search throughout the city for women. Al, I guess that explains why your skin is as soft as it is. :)

The good news from home: Kristin found me a camera on eBay and is bringing it to the Thailand. Now, I'll for sure have to scrounge some photos from my co-workers in China.

Off to breakfast so I can fuel up on dumplings and noodles. Another hot day in China is underway.

Posted by venisha 16:25 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Day 2...Check

110 °F

Day 2 is finished...only 8 to go. Today was much better than yesterday. I was able to get the language lessons planned for all 6 groups for both language sessions. I didn't participate in the morning or evening program, but we were able to leave school at 7:30 PM instead of 9:00 PM. Our day was only 12.5 hours long. Not bad! The kids really warmed up to us today. They are starting to talk to us. It's hard to understand them since they've really only been reading and writing English. It's fun when they discover how to say a word that they thought was said in a certain way. Today was Thanksgiving and we were in Boston. Each day we have a theme/festival we focus on and a state we are traveling in. Yesterday was New York City (Ellis Island for customs) and New Year's Eve. We had a ball drop from the balcony at the evening program while we did a countdown, gave toasts we prepared during language class, and told what our resolutions were (also created during language class). Today we had a traditional Thanksgiving lunch with roasted chicken in a Chinese sauce, green beans with lots of oil, mashed potatoes Chinese style, milk soup with winter squash, and a banana for our postre. I pretend we were eating banana cream pie. It was quite a fun game for me. The villagers in my family were a bit confused, but at our table or in my family is one other counselor, Dave, and 6 villagers aged 6-14. One of the 6 year olds who chose to be grandma (all of us have family roles) lost her front tooth yesterday during the meal. She was way too shy to tell any of us so she kept it hidden until one of the other kids saw the blood (yep, real blood) all over her hands. She seemed to survive (as did Dave and I) and she wrapped the tooth in a napkin and tucked it away into her bag to bring home. I tried to ask the kids in my family if the tooth fairy would come. The only thing I managed to get from them is that they put the tooth in their shoes. Not really sure if that is what they were trying to say. I didn't really press too much for information.

The "naughty" boy got a bit worse today and punched another 6 year old in the face. He was escorted out of the room to our Chinese translator who gave him hugs and wanted to send him back into the program. We put our foot down and said that he had to stay with her. If after 30 minutes he was behaving, he would be allowed to participate. He never made it back today. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

Our dinner routine has stayed consistent. We haven't tried any new dishes. Dave, Jamie, and I have taken to ordering for the whole group since our Chinese translators rides the bus home with the kids. Our latest dish which started yesterday and will be a constant for the rest of our stay is breaded and fried apple slices with coconut sprinkled on top. Yummy! The rest of the food is the peanut chicken, beef with peppers, sliced, raw potatoes with some buttery oily sauce, some noodle dish with a Chinese sauce and a few green leaves (not sure what), and rice.
A few of us were wondering today if we would ever get tired of ordering these dishes. They are so familiar to us. After our travels on Sunday, we were happy to get "home" to the hotel and eat "our food". We order platters and we all dish up our plates using our chopsticks (dropping food along the way) or we just eat from the communal platter. It's really hilarious.

Today was again over 100 degrees. I think it will be this temperature for the rest of the summer. Eventually my body will get used to it...I think...ok, hope.

Until tomorrow. Thinking of you all. By the way, it's 9:30 PM on July 8 for me and if you are in Minnesota, it is 8:30 AM on July 7. I lost a whole day when I came here. I'll never get it back. So sad. I will gain a day, though, on my return. I leave on August 18 and I arrive on August 18 almost at the same time. Some people in my group will arrive to the States before they even left China. Weird.

Posted by venisha 06:16 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)


112 °F

On Sunday we bussed two hours to see a city nicknamed "The Venice of China." It was the coolest thing I've seen in China so far. I would have loved to stay for awhile and sit by the canals. The story goes that a long, long time ago an emperor wanted to have the canals dug so he could move easily through the city looking for a wife and his concubines. We took a boat trip and were able to understand his logic. It's so much easier to see all that's going on on the banks when you are slowing floating. We were able to see into the back alleyways and into peoples' homes. I swear I was in the National Geographic magazine.

On the way to the Venice of China we stopped off at some amazing Chinese gardens that used to be the homes of the emperors. Our mansions in the States are all extremely private and have lots of enclosed spaces. In China the mansions are all open. They have windows that frame the bamboo plants or plum trees from the outside. It is called, "natural art". There are ponds dug and little caves for privacy. Of course everything is facing particular directions for the seasons.

We also stopped at a silk factory. The city we were in (I have a hard time remembering the names) and the province is the biggest silk producer of all of China. We saw the process of the silk worms eating Mulberry leaves. Silk worms only live for about 60 days. They eat for the first 25 days. Then, they start making the cocoon. The cocoon is baked to kill the moth inside. Then, the cocoons are soaked in hot water. After that a person (usually a woman) finds the beginning of the thread of the cocoon and unravels it. Once it's unraveled, it's joined with others treads to make the fabric. Of course the process is way more tedious than I've described. It really is an amazing process. I felt very bad for all the women working. The 110 degrees outside was intensified inside. It really was unbearable. I'm not sure how they coped. They weren't even sitting.

So, that was Sunday. We arrived from our trip very late on Sunday night and were up and ready to head to school at 7:30. Our "customs" was a success. The kids entered the United States by going through a language interview, changing their names to an English name (most already had them), stopping at the health post, and making a name tag. I believe it was similar to "Ellis Island". After that, the parents who came with their kids, stayed for an hour long program to demonstrate our teaching talents. Kate and I didn't participate too much in that program as we had to have all 35 kids placed into language groups before it ended. The language interviews were about 2 minutes long so the placement piece was tricky. Overall our language groups are nicely divided. We'll make a couple of changes today, but I think we did fairly decent job.

The hardest part of the day was the sports rotation. It was about 110 degrees yesterday (and has been for awhile now). The kids got really not playing soccer. We brought a huge container of water and that disappeared in a mere hour. We'll be better prepared today.

The kids are soooo cute. Most of them are really polite and sweet. We have a couple who were climbing on furniture, pinching and hitting the counselors, and pulling peoples' hair. Their families would be very ashamed. I'm glad we only have a couple of those kids.

Most of the kids have been studying English in school and can read and write fairly well, but they can't speak or listen. That, I guess, is going to be our role. I wonder if we'll be able to do it it 2 weeks. :)

Well, time for me to put on the skort and head down to breakfast. My breakfast now consists of toast with jelly (they've increased their supply for us as it's really the only non-grease saturated food there), and watermelon. I'm in love the red bean that is in the pastries and sticky buns, but I need to limit that intake cause it's just not so good for me. I'm going to start running tomorrow. That'll help me feel like my red bean curd intake can be higher. Kylie, my roommate, runs daily to stay in shape for soccer. She's on the team at Bethel College. My neck is still sore. I think it'll take some time to heal. I'll take it easy out there. Even a solitary walk with thousands of Chinese will be me good.

Thinking and missing you all!

Posted by venisha 15:35 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Venice of China

School's pretty much ready to go. I'll send some pictures of our customs when some China buddies upload some photos. Kate and I (the language folks) are still writing our interview questions to place villagers into language levels and classes, but we'll do that on the bus to the Venice of China. More on that later. We are taking a day off of work and a 2 hour bus ride to this little village the Chinese call the "Venice of China."

Posted by venisha 16:09 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Papa Johns and Walmart

Yesterday for the 4th of July (I had my days mixed up on the last blog) we ate at Papa Johns in this really fancy mall and went to Walmart to buy American-type supplies for camp. Papa Johns was SUPER FANCY. There was a sink in the restaurant area to be able to wash our hands without going into the bathroom. The plates were these very beautiful white square ceramic ones. There were no chopsticks so for the first time in a week I ate with a fork and knife. It was weird. Walmart didn't have very many American products. Oh, I guess they did have a special "imported section" but it was really small. We were able to get quite a few supplies for camp and we'll have to make do where we couldn't find the supply. I bought some instant Nescafe similar to what I could buy in Latin America. Nescafe really has a monopoly on coffee products around the world. I just can't drink one more sweet hot beverage for breakfast... I should do some research to see if Thailand has coffee otherwise I might have to coerce my buddy Kristin to bring over a small french press and Starbucks grounds. :) Today we are heading to the school for our last day before camp preparation. I was able to get the two rooms ready for language groups yesterday. The rooms are white with grey desks. The Chinese don't hang ANYTHING. It looked like some sort of sterile institution without the "sterile" part. We found a dead bird in the corner while moving the desks around. My first thought was, "Cover your mouths so we don't get bird flu!" I'll keep you posted on that one.

Today we'll set up customs/entry point for the kids coming. Should be a FUN HOT DAY! My running starts again on Monday as my neck should be pretty healed up by then. I'm hoping that there is a cold front that moves through.

My uniform so far on the trip has been my black skort and my "airport shirt" and a pink tank. (That comment was put in for Kristin.) Oh, the cameras were too expensive at Walmart so no pictures, yet.

Posted by venisha 16:57 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Much Better

sunny 100 °F

Thank to all who emailed or responded to the last email. My neck feels much better today. The Chinese cream seemed to help. I didn't get in for a massage last night. I wanted to type up some last minute materials for today. Plus, I was worried the Chinese ladies would hurt my neck more. Plus, dinner was a bit traumatic for me. We went to a new restaurant attached to the hotel. They walked us upstairs into a private room with a table with a lazy Susan the size of my Subaru. The room was soooo hot and the food was sooooo spicy. When we sat down they immediately served us very weak hot tea. Matt, one of the counselors, was sweating so profusely he needed to wipe his face on the bottom of the table cloth (not so sure about that one...:) He would have used a napkin but those cost extra in restaurants. It took about 2 seconds for my eyes to start watering with the food. The Dean of the program had ordered a couple of bottles of beer, which came ICE COLD!!! I asked the servers for cold water. They looked at me perplexed and went to a hot water heater behind me, poured me a nice tall glass of boiling water. Ugh! I asked the translator if there was anything cold we could order to drink that wasn't alcoholic he looked at me like I had asked the most preposterous question in the world and didn't really answer. Nothing cold EVER appeared. Needless to say I was able to drink some of the hot water, eat some rice, and just hang out in the sauna until others finished eating. I think I'm going to lose weight. :) So, when we came back to our hotel to get ready for massages I opted out and decided to sit in my air conditioned room, type up some materials, and drink some warm water from my own water bottle.

Today we are off to the school for our last day of prep before the villagers arrive. I believe we are also going to Walmart. I'll be buying a new camera, some instant folders coffee to drink in my room (all the Chinese stuff is very sweet and artificial or weak tea), some insect repellent, and some extra water bottles.

Hope you all have a fabulous 4th of July! It was the 4th here yesterday. We didn't do anything but participate in the "sauna, spicy food weight loss plan". I haven't gone running in two days because of my neck. Hopefully I'll be able to get out in the heat and enjoy some peaceful early morning alone time with hundreds of Chinese people soon. My Tai Chi has also been put on hold until further notice.

Posted by venisha 16:35 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)


Camera left at market yesterday and I pulled a muscle in my neck! That should pretty much sum up my day. I think I was just a bit overwhelmed by all the noise and madness as I've been pretty sheltered on this trip. I left the camera on the counter in a shop. BUGGER!!! I had some amazing photos. I pulled a muscle in my neck when I woke up at 3:30 in the morning and was looking for my glasses to get up and go to the bathroom. I felt a sort of "pop" and really felt my eyes water up. Today Flex, our Chinese translator, bought me some "special" Chinese cream to rub on it. So far it still hurts. I'm happy that I don't have to be a counselor today cause it hurts. I think the group is planning on massages tonight. Flex found a place that does massages for about 5 dollars an hour. I'm a bit worried, but at this point I think it might be worth a shot.

is a link of Dave's blog. He is posting pictures of the trip. I'll also try to get pictures from my roommate to put on the blog.

Yesterday was a wonderful AND busy day. We presented two times to IBM employees and the kids. The room didn't have air conditioning and we were in costumes. Let's just say I think I've lost some weight. :) I think the presentations went well. The reason we did them was to inform the parents of our program. The teaching philosophy for Concordia Language Villages is different from regular Chinese education. We teach language through music, games, sports, skits...and just all around good fun! A lot of the questions from the parents focused on how we would know and be able to teach to the language levels of the kids since we aren't planning on a formalized test. The are also concerned that their son or daughter would not get a certificate.

After the IBM presentations we went to the market. It was amazing. There were scooters jetting through the streets and people everywhere. The buildings were all old pagodas with stores on the bottom levels and people living in the upper levels. The best past was the sign for McDonalds mixed in with pagodas. There was a Starbucks and a Dairy Queen tucked down a narrow street.

We also went to the Bund, which is a popular destination for night life. The tallest building in Shanghai called the Oriental Pearl Tower was in the background of all the pictures I took. Too bad you won't see them. :). The building is shaped like a pearl. We walked around on the slippery tile (all of China is tile it seems) and then returned to our hotel.

I'll finish in a minute. I need to go and change money and the bank is closing.

Ok, the bank is closed. The only thing I have spent money on so far on this trip is a mango passion fruit smoothie from Starbucks (yep, gave into the capitalism for an icy drink) and some chocolate covered cherries--also from Starbucks. The smoothie was the first drink I have had since the airplane that was cold. NOTHING is cold around here! It's like I live, breathe, and eat heat. Like I said earlier...think I'm losing weight. :)

Today we are putting together the language lessons and preparing the first day customs. Students pass through customs to enter camp. They'll get a passport, an English name, drop off any "contraband" (Chinese music, candy, etc), buy some American money, and make a name tag. We've also worked on finalizing the daily schedule and putting together a supply list for Walmart. Again...giving into capitalism so we can buy supplies we have in the states.

Breakfast today was at the hotel. The restaurant hooked up a coffee maker that has a coffee/milk like drink come out. It's sort of like a gas station coffee maker. They also put out a toaster, jam, and butter. Guess we are giving them a lot of business. There was also a place of french fries next to the bean curd pastries. I didn't eat any steamed buns today. I'm kinda tired of them. I also did touch any of the fried dumplings or random noodle dishes. For lunch we at the cafeteria at the school. We had peanut chicken, some bean curd dish, a HUGE clump of white rice, a bowl of steaming egg drop soup with tomatoes, and a fried piece of meat with mayo on it. No beverage is ever served at lunch. Again I received a metal tray with the food on it. The only choice I got was for my wooden chopsticks. We'll eat dinner at the hotel. We've gotten the same food at every meal at the restaurant...peanut chicken, beef vegetable stir fry, spicy cabbage, potato noodles, sour potatoes, RICE, hot water to drink???, and some green plant like dish.

Ok, time to finish typing up some lessons to present to staff tomorrow.

I miss you all and hope you are enjoying fresh salads and fruits.

Posted by venisha 00:44 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)


sunny 90 °F

Today's the big day we are performing for IBM. We have prepared a 1.5 hour show for them. We'll perform it two times. If it goes well, we'll have lots of students. If it doesn't go well, we'll have only 30 students.

Yesterday was a VERY busy day. We were at the school site for the entire day and then back at the hotel for some ice-breakers. Brian, the dean, loves touchy-activities and wanted to get the staff bonding. He's super cool and friendly. We started yesterday at 8:30 and finished at around 9:00. It was a long day. I crashed pretty hard, especially after sweating all day and being chewed up by mosquitoes at the school. I forgot to bring bug spray. I'm not sure why the bugs were so bad, but I got nailed.

The cafeteria at the school is where we ate lunch. We were served a tray of food (no choice), with a bowl of soup, and an apple. The chopsticks were mismatched wooden sticks tossed into a box. We did get our choices on those and I dug around for awhile looking for one without a splinter. I'm just hoping they have VERY strong cleaners because I've heard wood holds bacteria. All of the Chinese workers and students use these same chopsticks. The kitchen at the school is amazing. They had huge woks the size of a stove and huge steamer baskets the same size. Not a typical school cafeteria in the states. The food was ok. It wasn't as good as the restaurant, but I have a feeling it is more typical.

Today I got in a short run. I overslept. It was SO hot out I was fine going for a shorter run. I stopped and sat down and watched Tai Chi. The people doing Tai Chi waved and smiled and laughed. Tomorrow I'm definitely going to join in. I'm trying to warm them up.

I have some awesome pictures I trying to figure out how to upload. Stay tuned on those. Ok, off to eat some sticky buns at breakfast.

Missing you all!

Posted by venisha 16:52 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)


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...:)

sunny 87 °F

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)



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)


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?

sunny 0 °F

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.

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


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.

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)

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