Friday, May 26, 2017

The great surprise

This past weekend I set out on quite a journey. I left Beijing about 8 pm on Friday night and took the train overnight to Baotou. Usually when I travel by train I travel hard sleeper (硬卧) but this trip I decided to travel soft sleeper (软卧).
My compartment.  I had to bottom right bed.
 In the hard sleeper there are six berths to a section (three high on each side) and the section is open to the train car. In soft sleeper there are only four berths to a section (two high on each side) and the section is closed off. I decided to travel soft sleeper because the ticket wasn't very expensive, only CNY 263 or about USD 38) and my trip was only for the weekend and I needed to be able to survive work on Monday.
I arrived in Baotou about 7:15 in the morning and took the bus to the Baotou Medical College where my friends L and T both work and live. I showed up at L and T's front door at about 8:15 in the morning. T knew I was coming, but it was a birthday surprise for L. When I knocked on the door T had L stand in front of it with her eyes closed.
The soft sleeper car. You can see that each
compartment has a door and can close.
Then he opened the door and told her she could open her eyes. L was glad to see me, but not super surprised. She had learned that she was having her birthday party that day (it was supposed to be a surprise, but surprise parties are SO hard to keep a surprise) and T had to tell her and the kids to get dressed by 8 am on a Saturday morning. She didn't know it was me and thought it might be a couple of American friends who live in Baotou, but she told me she did have an idea it might be me.
Nonetheless, we had a fabulous time. T had pre-ordered this amazing feast at a local Hong Kong - style restaurant and was able to order New York style cheesecake (now I don't think it really tasted like New York style, but it was definitely cheesecake. A BIG improvement from what we could find back when I lived in Baotou).
After lunch we went back to T and L's along with a couple of other friends and the 5 of us plus T and L's two kids played Killer Bunnies and then had more cake. This time it was a chocolate cake I had brought from Beijing.
There is a coffee shop located within my school and each teacher gets a food allowance each month that is tied to our ID card. In the cafeteria breakfast is 5 yuan, lunch is 20 and dinner is 10. Thus, for every work day in a month we receive 35 yuan. I almost never eat dinner at school. Sometimes I don't eat breakfast and/or lunch. I was also out of school for two weeks because of my surgery. As a result I have a lot of
The wash area
money left on my card and at the end of the year we will lose any money left on there. Thus, I ordered a cake from the coffee shop and carried it all the way from Beijing to Baotou on the train. The cake was chocolate with a chocolate mousse filling and chocolate ganache on the top (it was the same cake M had gotten me for my birthday). It came with happy birthday candles (that actually spelled happy birthday this time) and an ice pack to keep it cold. It was 96 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course) in Beijing that day. The train was air conditioned, but not in the least bit surprising the ice pack completely melted before I made it to Baotou. The mousse also melted a bit and as a result the cake shifted, but when I got to T and L's we put it in the fridge and by the time we finished all our other celebrating the cake had re-solidified quite nicely.
On Sunday I got to see several of my Chinese friends living in Baotou before flying back to Beijing. It was really weird though, because I not only had dinner with L's (a different L) family, but then L #2 and I went to X's house and stayed until 9:30 pm. My flight didn't leave Baotou until 11:55 pm and arrived in Beijing a little after 1 in the morning. By the time I fought my way out of the airport (through the crowds) and wound my way to a taxi in the taxi stand and got home it was 10 minutes to 2 in the morning. I was shocked to see people outside my apartment complex eating barbecue. (basically in the pop up on the street type of restaurant/ street food.)
The western style toilet. Hard sleepers and hard seat
 (the only kind of seat on this type of train) do not have 
western style toilets. I actually do not prefer the western
 toilets because the bathrooms in China
 (and even more so on Chinese trains) can 
get really grimy and gross and there's nothing 
with which to clean the toilet seat.


On Monday, I was of course tired, but very happy because I had had such an awesome weekend and it was so much fun to reconnect with good friends (I got to see a total of 6 of my good friends while in Baotou for a total of about 40 hours).
A squatty potty

The fields of Inner Mongolia
Approaching Baotou
I made it to Baotou! Unfortunately, I had forgotten
my contact lens case. When I discovered this in route, I
ended up putting both lenses together in one corner of a plastic
bag (along with solution of course) and the buying a new
case in Baotou.
The two cheesecakes T bought. There was still an entire cake
uncut when I left their house on Sunday.
It shifted and cracked in transit from Beijing, but tasted great. 
The two cheesecakes T bought. There was still an entire cake
uncut when I left their house on Sunday.
This is at nearly 2 in the morning on a
Sunday night/Monday morning






The Baotou airport at 11 pm. I cheated a bit with this photo though.
I intentionally didn't show my gate. There actually is a good size
crowd there.








Thursday, May 4, 2017

Interesting Recollections

So, one of the cool things that happens in teaching in general, and teaching abroad in specific, is that you have lots of interesting and somewhat random stories to tell. I usually try to write these posts on a specific topic or to tell a specific story, but that's a little bit difficult for telling these interesting stories because they are too short to make an entire post about each one, but also not really closely tied to each other to be one post. Nonetheless, I'm going to group them together today under the title "Interesting Recollections."

When I first returned to work after having surgery my students really made me feel good. First of all, every morning I get greeted in the hallway by choruses of "Good morning, Miss  Cannon" and other similar refrains. On my first school day back I not only got the standard greetings (which by the way come from many, many students, not just the 26 I currently teach) I also saw a lot of faces light up as students exclaimed, "You're back!" One student walked into the chemistry lab and saw me there and said, "Yes!" with a first pump. That definitely made me feel good.

Today as I was walking down the hall I heard a really loud roar coming up behind me. I turned around and saw one of the 10th grade classes coming down the hall. I indicated with my hands that they needed to lower the volume by taking both hands palms out and lowering my hands down. Several jokesters in the front of the class then lowered their bodies down. A moment later another student in the class shouted, "power walking." All the other students immediately went, "shhh!" They had all understood what I meant, but the one student (whom I had taught how to power walk yesterday) hadn't caught on...

One day in class I was working with a group of students when all of the sudden one of the students I was working with exclaimed, "我太帅!" (I'm so handsome!) When I replied (in English), "Really you're too handsome?" he just looked at me in shock. The rest of the class grew silent. I then said, "Why are you guys so surprised? You know I speak Chinese." One of my students then piped up with, "my mom returned home [from parent-teacher conferences] and declared, 'your chemistry teacher doesn't need a translator. She's the only teacher that doesn't.'"

One of my colleagues broke his hand a while back. As a result he was out for several days in a row and I covered his 6th grade classes (he also has 7th grade). The second day the students had me they started to wonder what happened to their teacher. When I told them that he had broken his hand they began to tell me that they were the trouble. They had already had 4 teachers that  year and this was the second one to break their hand (actually the first one injured her shoulder) and that one of the students had also broken her hand (I suspect from the story it was actually her arm). At the end of class I told them they had an additional homework assignment, not to break any bones over the weekend. Several students in the class then told me that they cursed me and I would break a bone over the weekend. I laughed and told them, "Get out of here." When they didn't leave the classroom, "No. Seriously. Get out of here. Class is over." When I saw them the next week I told them, "Look your curse failed. I didn't break any bones."

My favorite lesson plan in chemistry class is a limiting reactant lab where I give the students a recipe and a box of ingredients. I've already measured out the ingredients and using the recipe the students have to figure out which ingredient they will run out of first, how many cookies they can make, and how much of each ingredient they will have leftover after they are finished. Then they get to make the cookies (and eat them of course). Afterwards they have to write a paragraph analyzing how effective the analogy of stoichiometry to a recipe is (if you don't understand or don't know what stoichiometry is that's not important to this story...).

This is a fun lab and is usually the favorite with my American students, it was even more fun in China. In China not only are cookies not really a part of the standard cuisine, but people don't usually have ovens. Thankfully, the school has one in the teachers' lounge. As a result, this lesson became not only a chemistry lesson, but also a culture lesson and an English lesson. I had to explain terms like cream the butter and sugar together. I also showed them how to properly measure flour and other things. The students had a blast (and so did I), but they also made it more interesting. A couple of my students brought things to add to their cookies. One brought sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Another brought marshmallows. The funny thing is they were making different kinds of cookies (more or less randomly assigned by me) and the students happened to each be assigned cookies that their extra ingredients rather worked for. The student with the marshmallows had chocolate chip cookies (using M&Ms rather than chocolate chips because M&Ms are widely available whereas chocolate chips can only be purchased at import stores). The student who brought the seeds had peanut butter cookies. Some of the cookies had problems (not enough flour, too close together, too salty etc.), but most were still tasty and a good time and lots of learning was had by all.

Can you see the marshmallows on
top of some of the cookies?
peanut butter cookies with sunflower seeds,
sesame seeds (black) and even a few M&Ms.
Obviously these are only a handful of examples of the laughter and enjoyment that fills my day. As with an teaching job there are of course things that sadden, frustrate and upset me, but I chose to linger on the happy memories. I hope you enjoyed these recollections.

Monday, April 24, 2017

No papers? No papers.

There is a scene in the movie Hunt for Red October that I often think about. If you’re not familiar with the film, it stars Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin movie from `990. Sean Connery plays a Soviet Submarine Captain who, along with his officers, is planning to defect to the United States. Alec Baldwin plays Jack Ryan a CIA analyst who figures out the captain’s intent.
The scene that frequently comes to mind is one where the captain and one of his officers are talking about what they are going to do in America. The officer says he wants to move to Montana and buy a pick up truck or maybe an RV. They then have the following conversation.
“… And I will go from state to state… they let you do that?”
“Oh yes.”
 “No papers?”
 “No papers.”
Now, you may be wondering why in the world I’m writing about a nearly 30 year old movie and some random scene. Well, when I was a kid I didn’t really understand the significance of this scene. I remember asking my mother what they meant about papers and she explained to me that the Soviet Union wasn’t free the United States and so you have to have papers to do things. I really still didn’t understand this and I honestly think my mother and most Americans don’t truly understand its significance. However, I am now thoroughly acquainted with the concept.
In China all Chinese people have something called a Hukou (户口). A hukou is a family registration that is tied to your hometown. If you live outside of your hometown you have to register in the city that you live. If you want to get a passport (or renew it) you have to return to the city of your hukou. I’m sure there is even more to this concept, but I don’t fully understand it and the hukou isn’t really the point of this post.
Everyone who live in Beijing (or any other city) and doesn’t have his or her hukou in Beijing must register with the local police station. As a foreigner I must also register with the local police station. Matter of fact, every foreigner who even visits Beijing  (or anywhere else in China) must register, they just don’t usually realize it because the hotels take care of it for them.  Every time I leave China and re-enter the country I must go to the local police station and complete a new registration. I must also do this every time my visa status changes or I get a new passport (I will be picking up my new passport from the U.S. embassy tomorrow. I will then have 10 days to get to the Entry Exit Bureau to get my residence permit transferred to my new passport. After that I will have to return to the police station and once again update my police registration).
Here's today's registration form (with some important information redacted)
Every police station has different requirements for what you have to bring. Every time I register I have to take my passport along with copies of the photo page, my residence permit (or visa) and my most recent entry stamp, my original lease, a copy of my lease and copies of a whole bunch of my landlord’s documents. I’ve never met my landlord. I rent my apartment through an agency, but I have a copy of his national ID card and a bunch of other documents. I have no idea what these documents even are. To me they are rather strange looking. The office at the police station where I register is only open from 9-12 and 2-5 so every time I return to the country I have to leave work to go during their limited hours.

Now I think you understand why I started with the scene from Hunt for Red October. As you can tell, I am intimately familiar with the papers that they were talking about in that scene. I am also so much more appreciative of the freedoms we have in the United States (keep in mind I have to use a VPN to post on this blog because all blog sites outside of China are blocked because the government can’t control them).

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Your gallbladder was rotten

As you probably know from my blog post A rough few days, I discovered back in early March  that I had a rather large gallstone (1.8 cm). I had had a lot of rather excruciating pain, but the doctor in Beijing told me it could wait until July when I was finished working for the summer. I questioned this because this was the second really bad attack in three weeks and both had lasted days not the minutes or hours that I had read about. He assured me that it would be okay.
Nonetheless, I started speaking to my family and coworkers getting their thoughts on things in order to help me make a decision on what to do. Several people made some really good points. Among them: 1) "you don't want to wait and have it become an emergent situation and then have no choice on where you have it done." 2) "Gallbladder surgery is routine, but things do go wrong. If you're in a hospital in Beijing your family might not be able to find you" (because taxi drivers don't speak English and my family doesn't know their way around at all, but this one got me also thinking about the delay as my family tried to get an emergency visa to even enter the country). And one of the biggest deciding factors, 3) "As a Chinese [person], I would choose to have surgery in the States if I could." Thus, I decided to have surgery in the US and to have it sooner rather than later.
Having made the decision to have surgery, I now needed to figure out how to schedule surgery in a country I'm not currently in and get everything squeezed into two weeks because that was really all the time I could afford to take off from work. This is the point where I was really blessed (or used a concept the Chinese call guanxi). I have a brother-in-law who is a hospital administrator at a hospital not only close to my parents' house, but also where my Dad used to work and in-network for my health insurance (Thank you so much to my friend M who convinced me it was worth the extra cost to upgrade my insurance from worldwide excluding the US to truly worldwide - her main argument, if you need treatment for something you'll be able to go home for it). My awesome brother-in-law got  everything set-up for me. He found a surgeon who was willing to take my case with only minimal information coming out of China. The surgeon was also willing to schedule my surgery before he even met with me.
Thus, I departed Beijing on Friday evening the 7th of April (after having worked that day) and thanks to a beneficial time difference arrived at the airport closest to my parents on Friday evening (needless to say it was a LONG day). I met with the surgeon at 9 am on Monday and had my pre-op appointment at 11. My surgery was scheduled for Tuesday the 11th and my return ticket was for Thursday morning the 20th.
Of course things simply could not go that smoothly. Monday afternoon (before I'd even gotten the call telling me what time the surgery was scheduled for) I received a phone call from the financial department at the hospital telling me my preauthorization had not yet been granted. I asked her what I should do next and she said the procedure hadn't been cancelled, but I should call the office of my provider doing the procedure. Having not scheduled anything myself I wasn't sure who to call so I called my good ole brother-in-law. Super brother-in-law directed me me to a woman named Christina.
Over the next few days, Christina, a woman I've never met, practically became my best friend. To make an incredibly long story a bit shorter Christina harassed the US side of my insurance company for days, the surgery got postponed 3 times (from Tuesday to Thursday at 6:30 then Thursday at 6:30 then Thursday at 10:30 and finally to Thursday at 12:30), and I called and emailed the Shanghai office all night long Wednesday night to Thursday morning. Thursday morning at 7:30 I called the Shanghai office and was told it had been approved. Unfortunately, even when I checked in at 12:30 the hospital had not yet received the preauthorization and I had to sign a waiver. My surgery ended up not starting until about 2:45 and from something the surgeon said at my follow-up appointment it appears he did get notice it had been approved prior to starting the procedure.
Everything went really well. I woke up thinking I was in China and my first memory is someone telling me I wasn't in China and my replying, "I understand what you're saying about me not being in China, but I can't shake the feeling that there's where I am." I don't know if that conversation started with them asking me where I was or not. They asked me a bit later after several other conversations and actions had transpired where I was and I correctly identified both the hospital and the city. I suspect that is what started the previous conversation.
Several other things happened when I woke up including me having both my hands tightly clenched. They told me to unclench my hands, but I refused. They then proceeded to put the blood pressure cuff on my leg and a pulse ox monitor on my ear. Oh I did not like having that on my ear (remember my actions are all while coming out of general anesthesia)! I asked them what I had on my ear and after they explained I said, "well then if I unclench one hand will you take it off my ear?" "Yes." "Fine, which hand do you want unclenched?" They indicated the left. I unclenched it an spread my fingers wide. "There, it's unclenched."  They removed the pulse ox monitor from my ear, but didn't have to put one on my finger because there actually was already a thin disposable one there.
I declined all pain meds. I was in far less pain than many times before my surgery ( I estimated my post-op pain at 4 and at the doctor's office before my diagnosis I had estimated it at an 8.) i met my goals for release very quickly (pain control, eat with no nausea and pee). When I was in the PACU (post anesthesia care unit) one of the first things I asked was for the time. It was 4:45. By 7:45 I had eaten, gone to the bathroom twice, proven I was steady on my feet, asked for my IV removed (they hadn't done it yet) and was pacing my room in the day hospital. My nurse and the new nurse (it was shift change) came in and founding me pacing. They immediately began trying to get me discharged and by 8:03 I was dressed with discharge papers in hand waiting for my parents to return from dinner (and possibly a bit of shopping). I walked out of the hospital (having twice declined a wheelchair) on no pain meds and only wishing for a throat lozenge (the nurses said they'd find me one, but forgot) at 8:15 pm. In China they said I'd have to stay in the hospital for a week!
I got to go to church the following Sunday, which was Easter, and my sisters and their families all came over. I had an awesome time, but may have slightly overdone it, especially with the 5 inch wedges and running around the yard with the Easter egg hunt. After everyone left, I took three ibuprofen and fell asleep on the couch for about 3.5 hours before getting up and going to bed. I had to take Monday easy.
On Wednesday I saw my surgeon for my post-op follow-up. It was a couple of weeks earlier than usual, but necessary because I had a 7:25 am flight on Thursday. When I saw him he told me my gallbladder had been rotten and he couldn't believe it hadn't come out sooner (in the PACU a resident told me it had been really inflamed and that it was surprising it hadn't caused me a lot more pain). The pathology report showed in addition to cholethiasis (gallstones) I had both chronic and acute choleocystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder). I had feared I might be being a wimp pushing to have my surgery done now instead of waiting for summer, but clearly it couldn't have waited.

A foreign land within its own country

Oh no!
I found a cool place where you could take
your picture with drawing that looked
3-D. Unfortunately, I didn't
have anyone to take my photo so
I got a couple of the posed photos
that you had to pay for. I'm actually
in part of a fake tram...
After I left Thailand I headed to Hong Kong for six days. Hong Kong is a very interesting place because it is part of China, but it isn't part of China. Hong Kong Island was a possession of the British. Then they added Kowloon (which is Cantonese for nine dragons). Finally, the British leased the New Territories from China for 99 years. This lease of course was initiated before the founding of the People's Republic of China. In 1984 it was
Hong Kong Island has these really narrow
trams often called ding dings because of the
sound of the bell.












Here comes the tram




decided that all of Hong Kong would go back to China on July 1, 1997. Part of this agreement included that Hong Kong had to remain the same for fifty years. So far it has been 20 years and there are already a few changes (largely related to putting in a more and more pro-Beijing leadership), but Hong Kong is classified as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) and banking-wise and in a few other ways is considered a foreign country from the mainland (for example Hong Kong passport holders can attend international schools and other things only open to foreigners in China).
The tram logo
Me on the tram
This trip was my second time to Hong Kong. The first time was 14 years ago. Several things have changed. First, as an American, I don't need a visa to go to Hong Kong (never have), but last time Chinese citizens needed a visa. Now I don't believe they need a visa (although I'm not positive). Before I had to have a re-entry visa and ended up with 8 stamps in my passport! I had a stamp for exiting the mainland and then one for entering Hong Kong. One for exiting Hong Kong and then one for entering Macau (another SAR that was returned to China in 1999 by Portugal), a stamp for exiting Macau and one for entering Hong Kong again and finally a stamp for exiting Hong Kong and entering the mainland. Now. this time I arrived in Hong Kong from Thailand so it was a little bit different, but I didn't get any Hong Kong stamps at all (a little disappointing). When I arrived in Hong Kong they just gave me a little arrival card with the information that is usually in the stamp and that the papers said I needed to hold on to until I left.
While I was in Hong Kong I did most of the usual things - I took the tram up to the Peak, took a cruise through Victoria Harbour and so forth. There were two main highlights for me: a guided tour of the Hong Kong history museum and catching a Lion and Dragon Dance. The Hong Kong history museum had free tours. It was really nice. We had a tour guide who took us throughout the museum not only telling us about the history of Hong Kong, but also sharing his personal family experiences as they related to the history. The Lion and Dragon Dance was also really cool. This is a quintessential Hong Kong Chinese New Year celebration that I happened to wander across (I actually had to do quite a bit of waiting, but it was pretty cool). One thing that was unusual was that the dance I saw had purple lions in addition to the traditional yellow and red ones.
Finally, the last thing I did was also kind of interesting - I took public transportation to the China -China border at Shenzhen and crossed into the mainland on foot. I then took Shenzhen public transit to the high-speed railway station and returned to Beijing via high-speeded train (about 10 hours as opposed to 24 hours from Hong Kong by non-high speed train).
The view from the top of the peak




Another picture from the top











Me at the top - the headphones are because I
am listening to an audio tour.










A woman asked me to take her family's photo so
I asked her to take a photo of me.
This was a display in the mall at the top of the peak. These
are all candles.

The purple lions

The dragon

Go lions, go!

A night view of Victoria Harbour

I took the ding ding all the way to the other end. There I ran
across a fun market. These are common on the mainland
too.

Meat anyone?

The midlands escalator. It's a series of escalators that take people up
the hill in the central part of Hong Kong Island.

Approaching the intra-China border





Monday, March 13, 2017

A rough few days

I usually keep my blog posts happy and upbeat. I like sharing the adventures and I usually leave out the day to day stuff. After all, even though I live in interesting and unusual places I still have a lot of the typical same ole same ole. Unfortunately the last few days have not fallen into either the adventure category or the everyday life category. This story is going to have a number of stages that all came together last Friday so give me a chance to introduce all the important preceding events before I actually get to the rough few days...
I move to Beijing in August and I found an apartment I really love, but the commute was rather killer. I had to walk 10+ minutes to the subway station. Take the subway 1 stop then walk about 8 minutes within the subway station to change lines. The next line was always super crowded and then when I got to my destination I had about a 15 minutes walk to the school. Altogether my commute took 50 minutes and was hot, stinky and frustrating. So in November I bought an electric scooter she was a beauty (I'll try to find the picture of her) and she changed my life. My commute was shortened to just 15 minutes! Oh, it was wonderful. I was now saving 1.5 hours off my daily commute. Unfortunately, exactly 2 weeks after I bought her, I discovered someone had stolen my wonderful scooter. I told my neighbor who helped me tell the security guard who said we needed to go to the complex's service center. They arranged for me to go to a room that was labeled fire protection but was actually all the security camera feeds. Unfortunately, it turns out they didn't have one for where I had parked my scooter. Both my neighbor and the guard were like you should park by the security guards at the gate. I replied (in Chinese of course), "If only I still had a bike." Three days later I purchased a cute red scooter and started parking it next to the gate. The guard saw me the first time and was like, "absolutely, it won't get stolen here." Each day he greets me and moves the cones for me. When there are too many scooters and motorcycles for me to park he moves them around to make room for me and life was good.
My original scooter
(In a completely different story line) three weeks ago I woke up in the early morning to terrible pain like I'd never felt before. I called in sick to work and tried to get comfortable, but I couldn't. My abdomen felt awful. I called my parents and they said I needed to go see a doctor. I got an appointment for about an hour and a half later, ordered the Chinese equivalent of Uber (didi) and bare-knuckled it to the clinic.  For a while, I thought I would never make it. The doctor diagnosed it as a stomach virus, gave me some anti-nausea meds and told me I could go home, eat (I hadn't eaten all day because I just felt like I needed to throw up and it would be fine). The meds, however, made me feel worse and the next day (Wednesday) I took them in the morning and then never again. I made it to work on Thursday, but only managed to teach my classes (first and second periods) before I had to go home. Friday I felt okay and Saturday I was back to normal.
Okay, so now you have the background. Let's fast-forward to this past Friday. I woke up a little after 12 in the morning with terrible pain. I was able to go back to sleep a few hours later, but when I woke up in the morning I was definitely tired. I was running a little slow and I got out to my scooter a little late. I bent down to unlock the U-lock on the front tire and realized something was wrong. Someone had tried to steal my scooter! They had drilled out the lock and now my key wouldn't open it. I showed the guard. He and I both tried to open it. It is now 7:30 and I start work at 8 and class at 8:15. I cannot make it to school on time via the subway. The guard suggests a car (taxi, didi, etc). I tell him, this time of day traffic is too bad. A car will stuck in a traffic jam and I won't make it to work on time. He then suggests a bike, which was exactly what I was thinking. There are these bikes all around town that you can borrow. They're very cheap and you download an app onto your phone, verify your identity and put down a deposit.
My current scooter
Then you can rent the bike from anywhere you find one and ride it wherever you want. You can then leave it in any legal bike parking area and you only pay between 0.5-1 yuan (about 7-14 cents) per half hour for the privilege. It's great for short distances, but the bikes aren't very adjustable and they are fix gear bikes. Nonetheless, I pulled out my smartphone rented one and took off. I made it to school in 25 minutes (it's about 10 km or 6 miles) and got to the cafeteria just as they were closing up breakfast (which ends at 8). I convinced the worker to let me take a couple of egg sandwiches to go, ate 1 bite put the rest on my desk and went to get the lab demos I was doing that day ready. My first period went great and my day improved. Second period went pretty well. We were in the last five minutes of class and I was cleaning up and discussing things with a student while the other students were supposed to be working in their groups on their lab papers. All the sudden I saw one student on the floor in a fetal position while another was kicking and punching him! Now, I teach in a very nice private school. We have some violence like this with the middle schooler, but never with the high schoolers. I ran over and shouted at him to stop. He did not respond and was beating the snot out of the other student. I decided I had to break it off and pulled the kid off of him while sending other students for help. Two of my male colleagues arrived to help and while the three of us were standing with the two kids they went at it again (this time both throwing punches). We got them separated and took them to the office separately. I dealt with giving my side of things (today I saw the video from the security cameras and while I got the important details mostly right, I was WAY off on a lot of details. It rather amazed me, just how faulty my recollection of the event was). Meanwhile, I started to see purple spots on my arm and thought I had been injured. However, as they turned black I realized I had accidently gotten a chemical from the lab on me, but it wasn't anything serious, thankfully). After all this, I was beat. I collapsed at home (and remember I'm still not feeling really great).
The next day (Saturday), I feel even worse. I am chaperoning a field trip to a concert at the National Center for the Performing Arts (amazing, I can hopefully write a post on that later). After an hour on the subway to get there I was sick! I was nauseated and miserable. Thankfully, I recovered some while sitting in the concert hall, but then the ride home was torture. The smells aggravated my stomach. My abdomen hurt, and so many people stunk of sweat, alcohol or both. I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I didn't go to church or small group the next day. Nor did I get my lock cut off my scooter and replaced. I just didn't feel well. I was in so much pain last night I only managed to sleep two hours. Today, I still didn't feel well (and still couldn't ride my scooter to work, not to mention I'm sure the lack of sleep didn't help). I went to work, but made an appointment to see the doctor in the afternoon and was diagnosed with gallstones. At least, I now know what it is. I need to have my gallbladder removed and I need to work out when and where I'm going to do that. I will be cutting nearly all fat out of my diet (which also means I pretty much can't eat school food) to try to stave off additional attacks. Thankfully, my small group is praying for me as are other friends around the world. I'm so glad I have a support system and I know eventually it will all work out okay.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Kristin goes to Phuket

So I want to start this post off by letting my readers know that while there is no defined standard way of converting the Thai script to the Latin alphabet a "ph" combination does not indicate an "f" sound like it does in English, but rather a hard p. So now that you're not accidently sounding really vulgar let me tell you about my awesome trip to Thailand.
I arrived in Phuket pretty late. I think we landed around 11:15 pm and I'm not sure whether or not the clock had rolled past midnight when I cleared immigration, but I suspect it had because my passport was stamped with the next day's date. Most of the people in line were Chinese, Korean (my flight came out of Seoul) or Russian (I didn't know ahead of time, but it was very apparent that the majority of the tourists in Phuket were either Chinese or Russian) and a lot of people seem to have some trouble. They all got cleared, but it took a long time. I had no problems at all.
After clearing immigration I exchanged some money and bought a SIM card (it was very useful and only about USD 12) and then used maps on my phone to find my hotel. I had booked a hotel in walking distance from the airport since I was arriving so late at night. Obviously it was after dark and as a result,  it had cleared a bit, but I was dressed for winter. I had on jeans and a sweater as was carrying my winter coat. The walk to my hotel wasn't long, but I was dying by the time I got there. The first words to the gentleman at the front desk were, "I'm not dressed for Thailand."
The next day I got in touch with some friends and we met up in Patong beach. We were able to find a small hotel which was able to accommodate them and me in a quiet part of Patong beach (known for being quite the party spot) that wasn't too far from the ocean. We had originally thought we might hop around to different hotels, but it was such a good price (less than USD 25/night) with great people and in a quiet area that we stayed there the whole time I was in Phuket and then my friends, who were staying longer, went to another island and then came back to the same hotel.
While we were there we explored the markets, went to the beach, went elephant trekking, went snorkeling and I took a cooking class. It was all so much fun and I estimated that excluding my airfare my 10-day vacation cost me about 500 U.S. dollars.
Our first big adventure was to go elephant trekking. At first, I wanted to go swim with the dolphins, but as best as I could figure out you had to first pay to watch a dolphin show and then to swim with the dolphins and it was all incredibly expensive and I had no desire to watch a show. I had simply seen a billboard advertising swimming with the dolphins and thought it would be cool. My friend T wanted to go see the tigers. We looked into that, but it seemed kind of ridiculous, especially since you only got to stay with the tigers for 10 minutes. Then we asked about the elephants and we knew that's what we wanted to do. The elephants were MUCH more reasonably priced and we quickly narrowed our choices to a 45-minute trek through the jungle or an hour trek through along the cliffs. D and I voted for the hour along the cliffs, but we were out-voted. I don't think it would have mattered which one we did. It was so awesome! T and I rode on one elephant and D and the kids rode on another. After a while our guide (who like the rest of the guides was wearing jeans and a sweater because even though it was in the 80s, it was winter for them) offered for one of us to move out of the seat and directly onto the elephant's back. I jumped (not literally of course) at the chance and carefully climbed down from the chair and onto the elephants back. It was so much fun! I had a bit of a struggle at first because I felt off balance and felt like I was shifting every time the elephant walked (I could feel his back moving with his legs). After a while, I got the hang of it and enjoyed it. I rode for about 20 minutes on the back before the guide stopped and offered T a turn. She didn't want to take one, but I was ready to return to the easy seat of the elephant (it was from this seat that I posted the picture of me riding the elephant onto facebook).
The next day, my friends and I went our separate ways for the day and I did something that I loved; I took a cooking class. My class was relatively expensive, but an absolutely awesome splurge. I took a 3-hour cooking class where you got to make three dishes or your choice. In addition, we learned about the four basic flavors in Thai cooking (prio - sour, wan - sweet, kem - salty and pet - spicy) and the typical things used to achieve each of these. We also learned about the herbs for different types of dishes, how to make both green curry paste and red curry paste and finally about sauces. The food I made was amazing and I picked up some dried herbs at a local store (obviously I couldn't carry fresh ones over the border) and I hope to start trying to replicate the dishes soon.
On another day we took a full day snorkeling tour. The first stop was near an island, but she just jumped off the boat into the ocean and went snorkeling. That was my first time ever snorkeling and it took me a bit (maybe 5-10 minutes) to get the hang of it. I love to swim and even swam on a swim team last year, but using a snorkel is just a bit different. After about 45 minutes we left and went to our next stop an absolutely gorgeous island. We spent two hours here swimming, snorkeling, having lunch and just enjoying the beach. Then we went to another gorgeous island for two hours and here I had the most awesome time. Here there were some amazing coral that I even saw opening and closing, incredible diversity in the fish. It was so amazing I never wanted to get out. Unfortunately, at the same time I was feeling myself burn (I left my shirt on this entire island because my back was already burnt, but my feet, legs, arms, everything was getting sunburnt by this time and so after a while, I left the ocean to find some shade. I will share a few photos from the beach, but unfortunately, I didn't have an underwater camera so I can't share with you the most amazing part.
The rest of my trip was filled with eating experiences, market experiences (we went to the gigantic night market) and just enjoying the beach and swimming in the ocean. After this trip, I can see why a friend of mine told me, "for some people Thailand is like a drug. You can never get enough of it."
Mom and I first saw something like this in Copenhagen and I had
no desire to have little fish nibble on my feet. This time, however,
I gave in to peer pressure. 
At first we both sat up on the seat, but when the
opportunity to ride bareback arose, I took it.


Outside of the touristy areas we stayed, this is some of the housing
I saw.

Good 'ole feet in the sand picture.

Me at my awesome cooking class.

More or less an action shot.

My tom young gong soup

This was the day we went snorkeling. I didn't take
the phone in the water though.

The whole family including the dog on the motorbike.
They caught be taking the picture and smiled and waved.

Everynight these trucks came around blaring advertisements
for the Muay Thai boxing.

One of several beaches I went to.