Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chinese New Year, Chiang Mai.. ( & a bath too!)

"Can we talk about vacation now?!!! Can we get excited about it???!!" - *me here - sitting on my hands trying my hardest to contain my excitement*

Truth is, I am SO ready. 
I'm treating myself SO well this time around....for this upcoming vacation... let me tell you.

Yes, I've already been to Beijing and Hong Kong and Macau while living here in China...
and even though I've done some different tours and casinos and shopping while in each of those places, it has never completely felt like a "vacation". I've had good times.... but each time was almost like a "forced choice" you know? Like while in Beijing, I was there for "teacher training", and so "obviously" I would take advantage of that time and go tour The Great Wall and see the night markets, etc. I went to Hong Kong and Macau because I HAD to ... ( because of my visa, requiring me to leave the country once per month) and SINCE I had to .... why not play a few slots at the casino or tour the Temple Street Market and hike up the Tian Tan Buddha?

This time no one is asking me or telling me to leave. I'm going because I want to and because I can. It's holiday time! Chinese New Year is here! 2012 is The Year of the Water Dragon. Dragon years are supposed to be especially powerful and lucky. Typically there are more births that take place during a dragon year in China too because everyone wants to have a dragon baby. 2012 is already feeling lucky and powerful to me. I'm happy and excited to welcome the Dragon.

Chinese New Year ( also, more commonly called "Spring Festival" here in China) is the biggest holiday in China. It reminds me of a combination of "Thanksgiving" ( without the "turkey") and "Christmas" ( without the "Jesus" emphasis). It is very much about family - about going home and reconnecting with family who you typically do not get to see much of during the rest of the year. Eating, drinking, watching "New Year's Specials" on tv, watching Dragon/Lion dances being performed in your community, etc. People will ( and have been) take buses and trains and whatever means necessary to find a way to get home to reconnect with their loved ones and old friends. It is considered good luck to wear lots of "red" during this time. If you are a "Dragon" ( or whatever animal year is being celebrated ... Monkey, Snake, etc. ) You are supposed to wear something red everyday that year ( if you don't want to wear it on the outside, wearing red underwear or a red bra also counts/works supposedly). Lisa is a Dragon ...and she gave me a red scarf for Christmas .... so I'll have that as well as my red jacket... and maybe some dark red nails if I go get a manicure/pedicure tomorrow ... to carry me into the New Year.

People might have anywhere from 1 week to 10 days to 2 weeks to a month of vacation during this time (depending on your job, working in the public vs. private sector,  etc. I'm not sure what the exact differences are). At my school we are getting 9 days of paid holiday vacation for the New Year. However some people are taking more - like my TA Metis - she went home one week early (and took that extra week unpaid). Or like me, I am taking 3 extra days - but I will put in some "extra work days" - a few Tuesdays in February- so I can get paid for them.

Going on vacation as a family, is also a popular thing to do during the New Year. I would think especially if you live in your hometown and you see most of your family on a regular basis, this would be a good alternative.

I've saved up some money ( I paid for my flight, my travel insurance,  my one week stay at the Elephant Nature Park, and am bringing some spending money) along with some Christmas money for 5 nights at 2 different hotels ( thank you "Santa" - aka Mom & Dad, Aunt Joan & Aunt Anne, and Aunt Mary & Uncle Stuart)  ......

and I am going to Chiang Mai, Thailand!!!! 
Taking a bath!
Thai Food!
Thai Massage!   
Living and Playing with Elephants for a week!

and yes, "taking a bath" gets an exclamation point because it's been 9 months since I've taken one. Now you know. LOL. I don't HAVE a bathtub in my apartment in Foshan, I only have a shower.  I've TAKEN PLENTY OF SHOWERS over the past 9 MONTHS- BUT taking a "nice bath" has been out of the question. Until now. Incase you need to find me .... here's a brief itinerary below.

I will be getting picked up at the airport by a car from my hotel and staying here at the Bodhi Serene Hotel for two nights - January 21st and the 22nd. I'm staying in an "Executive Room" here (booked early and got a sweet cheap deal) and I'm excited about taking a bath here in what looks like a big, round bathtub. :)  I've also booked a tour of the temple Wat Pra Thart Doi Suthep  ( see some pictures here ) for the afternoon of the 22nd as well as a traditional Khantoke Dinner/Show for that night. The hotel will also transfer me to the Elephant Nature Park office in the city (at 8am on the morning of the 23rd ... and the team of volunteers will leave together for the park from there.)

Then I will be back to ( possibly cold?... I don't know) the "shower only" (and "shared bedroom/tent") status for the week of January 23rd to the 29th while I am living/working/playing/volunteering HERE . I'm sewwwwwww excited to meet all the mamas, papas, and especially the baby elephants as well as the dogs/cats/ other rescued animals running around. I've really missed being around animals. I'm also excited and curious about meeting other volunteers from around the world. Animal Lovers are good people ... so I'm sure I'll be in good company all around.

THEN it's back to luxe life here  with 3 final nights - the 29th, 30th, and 31st- at The Sirilanna Hotel. I'm in a Deluxe Room here... annnnnd my bathroom has a JACUZZI BATHTUB! Totally making up for "lost tub time"with this one. I hope I remember to get out and ummmm ya know.... see some sights and stuff.  If any friends are reading this, have some free time, and a little spare cash, you are more than welcome to crash with me here! FOR REAL. Thailand in general is actually a great deal in terms of the exchange rate ( for US dollars and Chinese RMB). Once you get past the "airfare" part ...  you can get some decent hotel and tour rates and plenty of high quality massages ( for really cheap!). I'm laughing to myself because I'm remembering my friend Masha's story about almost accidentally getting a "naughty massage" from a woman in Bangkok. I will definitely make it clear when I'm in Chiang Mai that I want a "Non-Naughty Thai Massage" and/or  a "Non Naughty Foot Reflexology Treatment". ;)

I'm just.... really content and excited about it all. Trying to just think one step at a time. Putting one foot in front of the other. Making my way from the airport in Guangzhou to Bangkok then (after a three hour layover) to Chiang Mai. Just PRAY that I make all of my connections quickly and easily and that I have a safe and fun/amazing time. I'm not excited to be taking a 7am flight back to China on February 1st .... but it's a small sacrifice to make after a trip like this.

OK, that's all for now. Just pray that I make all of my connections quickly and easily and that I have a safe/fun/ good time. I will try to upload some pictures onto Facebook at some point while there. I will have wireless access in the hotels ( and as far as I know Facebook is NOT blocked in Thailand).

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2012! WELCOME THE WATER DRAGON!  I look forward to celebrating his/her "element" by enjoying many wonderful  WATERY baths over the New Year. :)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New ( and different) Year 2012

No Dick Clark. No Glittery Lighted Ball Drop. No A List celebrity performances. No D List celebrity surprise guest appearances. No champagne. No countdown ....

But it came anyway. 
Each of our cell phones was a little off- maybe by a second or two - but we were there.

and 2012 arrived.

It was a very different New Year celebration this year, but it was very festive and felt just as nice as any other that I've celebrated at home with friends. Last year I was on the UWS ( the Upper West Side of New York City for any Canadians/Non-New Yorker's reading this :)) at my friends apartment with her and her girlfriend. We went out to dinner and chit chatted with some friendly "neighbors" at the table next to ours. Then we went back to my friends apartment for drinks and snacks and watched the craziness of Time Square ( from the tv in a much warmer, less crowded spot several blocks north of that madness) I slept over and we went out for bagels and coffee in the morning... just a nice comfy New Year. ( I think I sadly might have had tea instead of coffee ... because for 2011 I had this crazy idea to try to make a new resolution for EVERY week in January and the FIRST week was "No Coffee". Very sad/bad idea.) 

This year  was just as warm and comfy but in a different way. My boss Linda, my TA Dona, our new teacher David, and several of the Best Learning staff along with Dona's husband, went out for dinner and KTV from about 6pm-9:30pm. It was a buffet dinner- so you could just load up your plate and then go back to the KTV room that you had rented to eat/drink in there while you sang songs. I sang, what is becoming "my standard"- "Zhi Shao Hi You Ni"- (At Least I Still Have You) by Sandy Lam. I really wished that Lisa was there to duet with me. Somehow it just didn't quite feel the same singing it without her. Even singing it twice... it wasn't the same song. But I also sang a lot of English songs ...  everything from "Stickwitu" by The Pussycat Dolls to "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" ( yes, we found a version and thought it was hilarious that we found that there... and so of course Dona, Linda, and I sang it together).... so that made it easier to forget that small missing piece for a minute. There was no champagne, but there were plenty of cans of good ol' American "Budweiser" to go around. It's not my beer of choice, but I had a few .... Dona's husband started this drinking game and we all played a few rounds with the beer.

Then we went back to Dona's apartment for more food and drink and to officially "ring in the new year" when the clock struck midnight. A couple, two friends from Uzbekistan, also came over to the apartment with their son Bek who is the same age as Zora ( around 3 yrs old). So the kids ran around and played together ( no sleep ... til after midnight). "The adults" chatted and watched some home videos of Zora's "baptism" that Dona had. I'm not sure what the official name of the ceremony is, but it is the Muslim equivalent of a Christian baptism. My boss Linda commented how funny it was that "I am the only Chinese person here!" .... at a party in China. It WAS kind of funny ... but also really cool I thought. In a small city like Foshan, to be able to have a party like that .... so many different languages floating around the room - Uzbek and Mandarin Chinese ( after being here for 3 yrs, Dona's husband speaks it fluently along with Uzbek and some English) and English. I LIKE that. I love parties like that. It reminded me of New York .... where something like that would not be uncommon at all. I have Italian-American friends, African-American friends, Jewish-American friends, Greek-American friends, Lesbian friends, Gay friends, Straight friends..... and it's really nice when a handful of all different friends can just get together and have a good time.

When we got closer to midnight - around 11:58pm, we all kept a close watch on our cellphones. Then, out of nowhere,  2011 became 2012. In Mandarin, "Happy New Year" is "Shan Dian Kwai Luh" ( all 4th tones - all 4 words get the same emphasis). So we all toasted with some red wine that Dona had and wished each other a "Shan Dian Kwai Luh"... a "Happy New Year" .... and "cut the cake" - Dona had bought a cake for the party too. 

A part of me really appreciated the fact that China is 14 hours ahead of New York .... it made me feel like I didn't "miss" New Year's in New York. Like "they didn't get there before me", I wasn't "too late". I could still go home on my computer and wish friends and family a Happy New Year. 

2011 - starting off was .... a lot of madness. A lot of rushing "to nowhere" and running in circles without much sleep. My lease to my last apartment in Brooklyn was up in August of 2010. Because I knew that I could not commit to another year-long lease on an apartment, and because I wanted to save a little money before going to China, I moved my stuff back to my parents house for the last 8 months before leaving for China. I was commuting from my parents house to NYC for work everyday ( a 1 hr 40 min train ride) and staying in NYC most days... ALL day. Like until 11pm .... getting home at 1am .... and doing it all again at 6am. I stayed down for dance class most nights after work .... at least 4 nights per week. So that accounted for the long nights. But .... it was so crazy and I WASN'T sleeping. My parents were worried... "you must be exhausted"... "let me drive you to the train"..... "I will pick you up tonight" - became typical in the course of a daily conversation with my Dad and/or Mom. I don't know what it was. I know that I wanted to dance/workout regularly ... ( but honestly I've lost more weight here in China without any gym/dance class). Maybe I was worried that I would let "my life" slip away too quickly .... like I was STILL living in New York and not in China ... and so I still wanted TO BE living that same life in New York (city).

I think that's how I "killed the morning person" inside of me. I used to get up in the morning SO easily. As a kid even - I was always the first one awake in the morning ( and bored,  often going to play with my friends toys or reading books) at sleepovers...  AND I was typically the first one to crash/fall asleep/want to go home once the clock struck midnight at night... even into my twenties. But this last year- at least from August 2011 to March 2011 ... changed the circadian rhythm completely. 

I LOVE SLEEP now. I can sleep until 11am. I can also stay up until 3am or so without a yawn or a blink of an eye. So it's definitely completely reversed ... and I blame 2011 for that. But it's ok now ... it's no worse or better being a "night person".... it's just different.

In 2012 I just want to take it "day by day", like I said earlier .... no BIG "resolutions". Just some more traveling, learning more Mandarin, ...  but to let everything come/happen/flow ... easily. No pressure. No judgement. TRY not to worry about "missing out" on something/anything/everything. Just let each day be itself ... kind of like I said before. 

I am frustrated by my friendship with Lisa ( and yes, I am just going to call it a "friendship" for now, because at the end of the day, that's what it is in the "here and now") I wish that things were easier and different, but if I can use the time that I have each time that we're together to express myself clearly and share my feelings with her, then that's a good start and that's the best I can do in the "here and now"... 
She has one day off per week, and she never knows when it is, it changes every week, and she's living in Guangzhou. So "regular contact" is not an easy thing to come by. (When I asked her  on Christmas Eve- "Ni ping chang see hwen jaw shuma?" - ("What do you usually like to do?" - in Guangzhou) She answered "Sleep and Work". ) 

But sustaining a friendship .... sending QQ messages.... seeing each other once a month..... is a good first step to keep that connection alive. 

No countdown, no anticipation, no champagne ..... just let it be, let it happen. 

That's what I'm doing. 

I am ALSO getting ready to give my boss here my notice that I will not be returning to teach in Foshan for a second year, taking my 10 DAY CHINESE NEW YEAR TRIP to CHIANG MAI, THAILAND!, updating my resume/cover letter for teaching at prospective schools in Taipei, Taiwan starting in late June 2012...

AND looking at flights online and booking my flight HOME to New York in April ( given that my visa here expires on April 3rd, 2012, I might end up leaving China on April 2nd and then landing in JFK on April 2nd... it's kind of nice that flying home I "get a day back" due to the time difference. )

One day at a time, One step at a time, one breath at a time. It's ALL good.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day By Day

Each day has its own fingerprint with its own unique set of characteristics that sets it apart from any other.

Comparing this day to the "awesome" or "awful" yesterday you had and/or  dreaming of the "better" tomorrow you will have just doesn't make sense.

If each day is designed to be different and special with it's own set of lessons to learn, comparing it is kind of like sitting down to a dinner of steak, potatoes, and broccoli  and saying "this prime rib is the WORST tasting piece of pizza I've EVER had!"

This (above) is the "moment of zen" that I've been reflecting on going into 2012. As cliche as it sounds, each day IS a brand new day and there is always something to learn. Always something to get happy about, get confused about, get mad about. In the moment it may feel like the greatest frustration/despair/happiness/etc... but then that passes and something else, something different, happens.

The combination of confusing text messages, my own fear of time moving too fast, and my own frustrated desires and impatience - got the better of me over Christmas. BUT - I talked it out - with LL - and Helen and Quinny ( two friends of mine here who I was also having frustrations with - in making Christmas/New Year's plans) and I feel a lot better today. I love LL and I'm not going to let my mind completely take the reins and win this one. It's too easy for the brain to get lost in translation. It also has the occasional habit of dancing with its own self-made boogeymen. My heart and my soul are the brains of this operation, the ones to co-pilot and take over this journey. At least, they're trying to.

Even if you can't change the course of a day, you should always attempt to "be yourself" in that day. In that moment. Whatever you are feeling ( and yes, in sharing your feelings, you might look like you took a trip to "crazytown"... but it's better than holding it in and actually taking that trip) it's important just to share it and own it ... so you can release it.

I woke up two mornings ago laughing at myself because.... I woke up in a "straight jacket". You know that "sleeveless coat" that some people in psychiatric hospitals are forced to wear to restrain them? I had subconsciously done that to myself in my sleep. It is still a little cold in my apartment and so I was wearing two light sleep shirts and a zip up hooded sweatshirt jacket to bed. In my sleep I had put my arms through the jacket and also through the two t-shirts so that my arms were folded against my body, against my skin, and it took being fully "awake" and "alert" so that I could figure out some conscious maneuvering around to get my arms free. I think my spirt knew that my mind needed a serious reality check and a minute to slow down and focus on .... something else. Something tangible. Something other than the outrageous stories it was creating for itself.

I am really liking 2012. ( Do you find yourself calling it "Two Thousand Twelve" or "Twenty-Twelve"? I'm finding that I'm a "Twenty-Twelve" kinda girl. I was typically one to say  "Two Thousand .... five, six, ten, etc". up until now. )

I am taking it "day by day". I have booked it and am pretty sure that this year will include a trip to Chiang Mai Thailand ( spending a week playing/feeding/bathing the elephants here and then 3 nights in a hotel in the city ), possibly a trip to Taipei, and definitely a trip HOME in April. But other than that? ... it's an open book.

Today in 2012 - I took a bus to Macau and was driven home to China in a Mercedes.

(SO BIZARRE - I completely randomly met up with my boss and then her cousin and her cousin's husband at the Casino that I went to in Macau today. My boss was leaving for a conference in Beijing today and was meeting up with a friend there, to leave together.  Her cousin and her cousin's husband went to play the slots there for the day. They had lost money and were heading home and so they DROVE me home TOO - ( in their big comfy Mercedes...that I took a nice comfy nap in.) back to Foshan. But COMPLETELY random .... when I first arrived in Macau this morning I could have boarded ANY bus waiting outside of the bus terminal, to go to ANY of the 10 DIFFERENT casinos.... and I picked "Galaxy Casino". I was originally looking for "The Venetian" - that I went to last time, but there was no bus or bus attendants for it waiting outside. )

So.... let that show that you never know how a day will end up.
Own what you're feeling in the moment. See the lesson. Release it.

SO much easier said than done I know. But try ....
don't let straight jackets become the fashion statement of 2012.