Quito – the world’s highest capital!

WE LOVE QUITO!! This city is seriously amazing. It is beautiful, the people are friendly, patient and helpful (slowing down their Spanish, gesturing to help us understand and greeting us at every turn) and the climate is to die for. This city is nearly on the equator somewhere around 10 000 feet, meaning that it is essentially spring year-round with daily temperatures hovering around 18-20, dipping to around 10 at night. I can’t think of a better way to transition from the cold Canadian winter to the balmy weather that is sure to await us in the next couple of weeks. The temperature is perfect for wandering the streets and exploring, which is exactly what we have been doing….

Day 1 – Wandering the city

View from Casa Gardenia

View from Casa Gardenia


The bed and breakfast we are at in Quito’s old town is absolutely delightful! The staff at Casa Gardenia are amazing, the room comfortable and we are a short walk from so many things.

We left in the morning with a map and without much of a plan. The number of cathedrals is astounding and the architecture is an interesting mixture of old and new with everything perched along narrow, hilly streets surrounded by mountains. It is truly breathtaking.
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The altitude didn’t slow us down much and after exploring some of the plazas we decided to head up to the Virgen de El Panecillo, perched up between the old town and the new. It was worth it!

Walk up the hill towards El Panecillo

Walk up the hill towards El Panecillo


There she is!

There she is!


Paddy at the top!

Paddy at the top!

In the afternoon we visited the Basilica del Voto Nacional. You can actually climb all in and around it, up the belfry and various towers… A slightly harrowing experience at times, but overall super cool!

Here you can see the towers of the Basilica in the distance

Here you can see the towers of the Basilica in the distance

Day 2 – We decided to explore some museums….

The morning consisted of a trip to the Casa de la Cultura to the Museo del Banco Central which housed a seriously impressive collection of ceramic and gold artefacts as well as various works of art. It was very neat to learns. Little more about the indigenous peoples of Ecuador.

A tiny portion of the collection

A tiny portion of the collection

There was a school trip there at the same time as us and we were frequently greeted by a cheerful chorus of “hello!”

We also explored the Museo de la Ciudad, situated in an old hospital. This museum showcased a lot of Ecuadorian history as well as modern art and an exhibit surrounding the hospital that was there. Quite an eclectic mix that made for a stellar visit!

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So close and yet so far!

We had a tough time choosing our honeymoon destination – neither of us being strangers to travel we knew we wanted it to be somewhere neither of us had ever been. We also knew we wanted to start a family and that this might be our last semi-rugged adventure for a while.

After much debate, we finally settled on Ecuador. It seemed to have everything: mountains, forest, city, country, islands, coast; plus, it’s a relatively safe place to be! We decided we would be able to do a little bit of everything – lots of adventure and lots of relaxation. To boot – it’s pretty much in the same time zone (only a couple hours difference) and it doesn’t require 30+ hours of travel.

We each packed a backpack on Saturday and were ready to go. Luckily we beat the snow leaving Fredericton and were only delayed by a couple of hours heading out of Toronto. Everything else was smooth sailing through Bogota and we finally arrived in Quito on Sunday evening. Stay tuned for the first couple days of exploration!

Bogota airport - well on our way!

Bogota airport – well on our way!

Homeward Bound

This is the post that I wrote in the Beijing airport on my way back, but neglected to post before now (I really have to work on doing things right away)…

Once again, it has been a while… Since my last post Paddy has come and gone and Momma made it out for a couple weeks to visit. I have been very spoiled and it has been great!

Some of you know by now that I am on my way back to Manitoba. Sitting in Beijing airport right now.

Paddy and I got word that we will be moving to New Brunswick this spring. As such, we came to the decision it would be a lot easier if I were hope to assist with the whole process. In order to make everything a bit easier, I have left my position in China after the first semester. That way, when students return to class on February 25th, they will have a new teacher and a fresh start!

This means that I am returning to work at Harrison on February 4th! Crazy how quickly things can change.

My time in China has been much too short and it will be strange to step back onto Canadian soil for the first time in 6 months, but I am looking forward to being back and everything that being back will bring!

Much love and I look forward to seeing some of you before too long!

To make an update since January 24th…

It has been great starting to get back into routine in Brandon. Although I miss Beijing (minus the air), it is great to be back home. I also had my first day back at Harrison to plan for next week and it was like I had never been away!

Shanghai!

Our trip to Shanghai was wonderful. It felt so different from any other city I have ever been to in China. To boot, I had my favourite travel buddy to share the experience with (Paddy of course).

Day 1: Get to Shanghai

We departed Beijing early on Saturday morning in order to arrive in Shanghai by mid-afternoon. Sadly, something was wrong with the high-speed train we were on and a trip that should have taken 5 hours took 10. Not a great start to our little getaway, yet due to Paddy’s excellent prior planning skills we quickly found our way to the subway, to our stop, and to our hotel.  This was very lucky, as unfortunately, I was exceedingly tired, hungry, grumpy and irritable (do not expect apologies or reimbursements from a Chinese high-speed train mishap – apparently they could take a lesson from the Japanese) and I am sure that despite Paddy’s infinite patience, my whining was probably starting to get to him.

We had booked a room at the Bund Riverview Hotel, which was a very close walk to the subway.  The hotel staff was exceedingly helpful upon our arrival and we quickly arrived in a beautiful, luxurious room.  Side-note for anyone ever planning on making the trip, the hotel rates were relatively high, yet we were able to book at a low off-season rates through Hotel Club prior to our arrival. As it was late and we were tired, we headed to one of the hotel restaurants for dinner. There are a few different restaurants and we chose Shanghainese, which turned out to be delicious! It also meant we didn’t have to face the snow and gale that were beginning to blow. The shower was enormous and hot and there were gloriously cushy bathrobes in addition to a very soft and comfortable bed. I felt incredibly pampered and seriously considered exploring my options and becoming a kept woman.

Day 2: Shanghai Museum and a stroll around the Bund.

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Inside Shanghai Museum

Given that Beijing is anywhere between 10 and 20 degrees colder than Shanghai, heading south was wonderful! Due to our hotel’s ideal location, we were just a short walk from the Bund area and headed out in good time. After grabbing a quick street breakfast we headed over to the Shanghai Museum. It was definitely worth the trip!! Hands down my favourite museum in China so far. The main reason is not necessarily the quality and diversity of the collections, but the fact that dates and explanations are provided in English, making it a more informative experience.

By the time we finished with the museum it was already close to 2 o’clock and we were starving.

We found a little hole in the wall restaurant to eat at. It was delicious! We had a serving of roast duck and a serving of pork. Both were served on a bed of rice with a side of vegetables and a side of soup and cost us a grand total of about 46 quai. Seriously – when traveling you have to explore the dives!

It was still a beautiful day when we finished up with lunch, and we headed out for a stroll around the Bund. We were both stunned by the beauty of the architecture and the Shanghai skyline and enjoyed a few hours of fresh air before heading back in for the night.

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Both of us at the Bund in front of the Shanghai skyline

Day 3: River cruise and stroll around old Shanghai before celebrating the New Year on the Bund.

We decided that a river cruise was a must-do and took a boat cruise sometime around noon. It was surprisingly pleasant given that it was December 31st. There were hardly any people on it (go figure!), the sun was shining, it was relatively warm and the views were lovely.  We still got a bit of a chill from the breeze off the water and decided a walk would warm us up.

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Part of the view during the river cruise

Rather than stick around the Bund again, we moved off towards old Shanghai, which had a much different and more rustic feel. We managed to find a noodle place nearby, as well and that definitely warmed us up!

After a lazy couple of hours back at the hotel we braved the cold to head down to the Bund for New Years celebrations! By chance, we found a very good spot and ended up right underneath the fireworks. It was spectacular seeing the whole city lit up in addition to the sky. It was definitely a New Years to remember! The crowds were INSANE! Not only were the streets filled with people, but they were also filled with police officers, trying to control the crowd and blocking off sections of the city. Definitely worth venturing out, though!

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Shanghai by night

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The crowds at the Bund on New Years Eve

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Happy New Year!

Day 4: Get to the train station and head off to Suzhou!

Our last day in Shanghai was short-lived, as we booked a hotel in Suzhou to explore another city before heading back to Beijing. After a lazy sleep-in (post-New Year of course) we headed off to the train station for our next adventure!

Learning Chinese

As you might imagine, Chinese is pretty tricky to learn. At least, it is for me! Seeing as the alphabet used is not the same as ours, I feel like even though I see Chinese constantly, I am not making any headway.

After about the first month I was here, I realized that I could easily continue pointing and saying “thank you” for the remainder of the year and learn nothing else. Believe me, time flies and it is both easier and harder than you think! English is not as common as you might imagine, and knowing some of the language is seriously helpful. Yet, there are many people who are here for years and still speak little to no Chinese. As such, I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t do something else to make language learning happen, it never would.

I enrolled in language classes at the Culture Yard in Beixinqiao (a lovely little corner of the city, not far from the Lama Temple), and that helped get the ball rolling. There are always some funny things that come up when learning a language, whether they are expressions or difficulties. In Chinese, for me anyway, it was usually difficulties. Our Chinese teacher was quite tolerant of our constant questions; yet sometimes we elicited some amusing responses as well. For example:

Teacher: “ji” means “how many”, as in Xianzai ji dian?

Emily: Doesn’t “ji” mean “chicken”?

Teacher: Looks at me like I have six heads. Well no, they have two different characters.

(Sooooooorry.)

It suffices to say that the more I learned the less clear many things became. Yet, I seem to have reached a level of Chinese that I would deem “survival”. Well – I guess it’s better than nothing!

The gym.

Normally, this would not seem like the most riveting topic for a blog, but after a few months of working out at a Chinese gym I feel authorized to comment. Plus, some of the observations I have made are just funny! 

The gym I found was on recommendation and is located a short distance from the school. It is called the Shichahai Fitness Club and is at a Sports College, so there are a lot of athletes that train there regularly. It is pretty cool because you can see students practicing Wu Shu, Kung Fu, boxing and other martial arts on your way by the various gyms. They are often also in the central gym area with their trainers doing various exercises.

All of this activity sounds pretty normal. And, don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy working out there! However, there are many occurrences that are far less common in Canadian gyms than Chinese ones. 

Observation #1: Many people don’t seem to enjoy breaking a sweat. This is very unfortunate for me, as I attract enough attention at the best of times, let alone when I have been on the stairclimber for an hour…

Observation #2: People don’t seem to need to pretend to workout when they are not in the mood. They will often simply sit, or sleep on benches. Occasionally people will even sit on the stationary bicycles just to watch TV! I mean, I have witnessed people working out very slowly, but not at all is new for me!

Observation #3: No matter how empty the gym – the change room will be busy! Apparently people enjoy showering at the gym rather than showering at home. As such, people seem to come in just to shower… and then stand around naked for a good half an hour afterwards.  

Observation #4: Girdle’s are very popular. Another unfortunate change room happenstance. Enough said. Oh wait! While we are on the topic of change rooms, I actually had to ask a male worker to leave as he came in to work on the sauna while I was changing… either he was really creepy or very different things are acceptable here. 

Despite the obvious cultural challenges, this gym is a good little find! It has everything you need and the personal trainers are very friendly. The coaches are a little chatty sometimes and welcoming as well. Sometimes you just have to see the humour of the situation. 

A little gluttony…

Food in China is, in a word: delicious! The diversity is incredible. Different regions are also known for various specialties and flavours, which makes eating in China a never-ending experience!

One of the great things is that when eating at a nice a Chinese restaurant, all of the dishes are placed on a LazySusan in the middle of the table, allowing everyone to try many different dishes! Some favourites include jiaoze (dumplings), spicy green beans, eggplant and lots of stir-fried meat and veggie combos!

A variety of dishes

Of course, the most famous Beijing specialty is Beijing Duck. We all went a few weeks ago and it was AMAZING. Definitely not something to skip out on if you ever find yourself in this great city!

Beijing Duck

Evidently, one doesn’t eat out every day and when one does, one doesn’t always have time to sit down. That is where the little restaurants and food stands come into play. They are decidedly delicious and usually quite hearty. Daily quick go-to meals include noodles, chuanr (Chinese barbecue) and various other street foods.

These can be bought close to the school for only 2 quai and are a nicely seasoned ground meat wrapped in a delicious bread.

The people are usually quite helpful and friendly as well. At our favourite chaunr place, the people greet us with enthusiasm and usually know what we will order. Last time they even brought us a free dish to try!

Lamb Chuanr!

I feel as though I can’t blog about food in China without mentioning food poisoning. Some people live in constant fear of food poisoning while in China and avoid street food and other things they feel uncertain about. I have decided that this is no way to live: therefore, I will pretty much try anything once. I have been fortunate (and unfortunate) enough to get food poisoning only once so far. I mean, it was the worst food poisoning ever and did incapacitate me for a full 24 hours. Ironically, it was from a sandwich at a western-style bakery.

A big perk of living in Beijing is having access to anything and everything you could ever want. For the days that Chinese food just isn’t going to cut it there are many other options. Not only is it possible to buy foreign groceries (cheese, for example!), but there is a slew of western restaurants as well. Pizza, burgers, Greek, Indian, Italian, German, Thai – you name it, you can find it here. No craving goes unanswered.

Good thing I joined a gym – I can continue to eat my way through the year.

(Of course, I have to do my research so I know where to take visitors! )