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.