Tokyo Food Adventures

My first month in Japan was spent mostly eating peanut butter, bread and boiled eggs in an attempt to save money. Since then, I’ve made up for lost time, exploring an assortment of what I’m compiling together as the top restaurants and food to eat in Tokyo. I’ve had a great experience at all these places and recommend them to anyone who is living or plans to visit Tokyo in the future. From ramen and burgers, to light and fluffy dessert, don’t visit Tokyo without trying at least a few of these places.

Ramen

Menya Musashi

Shinjuku-ku, Nishi Shinjuku 7-2-6

Named by Frommer’s as one of the top 6 Ramen joints in Tokyo, this place doesn’t disappoint. From the Ramen I’ve tried in Tokyo, this comes in at #1. Although you can expect a line out the door, this place is conveniently located about a 5 minute walk from the JR Shinjuku West Exit. The atmosphere inside is lively, fun and the red shirt waiters occasionally chant and yell to each other as they cook. With an extremely flavorful broth and tender pork, you can choose a variety of ramen such as tsukemen dipping noodles, and miso soup ramen.

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Fuunji

2-14-3, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan (10 min walk from JR Shinjuku Station South Exit)

If you want to taste the original, unique fish and chicken based flavors of this ‘dipping’ ramen, then this is the top place to visit. The chicken-based broth is creamy and thick and if you are bold, you can try their famous added ‘kick’ that includes extra fish power. All dishes come with an egg  so it’s quite filling. As equally busy as Menya, expect the queue to wind outside. I arrived around 6:00 and managed to avoid the line. The noodles are slightly cold but the broth is warm, thick and very flavorful. Overall, a good experience and the # 1 dipping Ramen to try while in Tokyo.

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Hayama

1 Ichigayayakuojicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

This is a tiny family run ramen shop that was a bit more complicated to find since I searched for it from Shinjuku station, when instead, it’s about a 10 minute walk from Akebonobashi station on the shinjuku line. The place seats only about 7 people and is super cozy and small. The old gentlemen behind the counter looked pleased when I walked in and came running over to help translate the Japanese only vending machine. The noodles here are chewy and slightly curled which I learned is because the ramen is kneaded by hand. This keading enhances the chewiness and texture of the noodle. The broth is soy based and  includes Chinese bamboo strips and slices of roast pork. Overall, this is a great place with a friendly owner and high quality ramen.

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Tsuta- soba noodle ramen

170-0002, 1 Chome-14-1 Sugamo, Toshima, Tokyo 170-0002

This is apparently the worlds first Michelin star ramen shop in Tokyo. It’s so famous and busy, the owners have a well organized method of serving customers. I arrived at 5:00 but had to leave a 1000 yen deposit, and then return during the allocated time several hours later when they reopened at 7:00. They give all the customers a time-card in exchange for the deposit that you get back when you return. Overall, I found the waiters less friendly and the vibe a bit quiet. No one spoke while I was there! But the ramen is high quality nonetheless. The vending machine was ‘Japanese only’ so I choose the cheapest one (1000 yen) which was a basic soy broth soba noodle without the egg. Again, this ramen includes tender roasted pork, and excellent soba noodles simmering in a soy based black truffle broth. tsuta-1

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Basso-Drill Man

2-9-7 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku

If you are looking for a spicier tasting Ramen, this is the place to go. It’s a challenging restaurant to find and you must walk about 15 minutes through a residential neighborhood near to Ikebukuro Station, but it’s worth the effort to find. This was one of my favorite ramen places from the list. You get a heaping plate of noodles that you can dip into their special thick and spicy broth and they make the noodles by hand with no MSG.

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Burgers

Maybe when you think of Tokyo, burgers don’t come to mind, but I found two places in particular that were equivalent to the best-tasting burgers in America.

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Tokyo-to Shibuya-ku Yoyogi 5-64-7

This cute place is located outside of yoyogi park and has a cottage-like, hipster vibe with wooden benches and interesting art on the walls. They have a wide assortment of burgers such as avocado burgers, chili burgers and bacon cheeseburgers. This place even has an online delivery system and an English menu for easy access. Their beef is imported and they use fresh ingredients and sauces.

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Tokyo-to Suginami-ku Koenji-kita 3-21-19

This is a unique burger joint run by a huge American guy who also speaks excellent Japanese. The restaurant is located in Koenji, hidden down a small alleyway. The shop is designed similar to a ramen restaurant with customers sitting around a table with the chefs cooking in the center. The owner fries the burgers himself while you sit around the counter. Interestingly, you can customize your own burger, choosing the bun, meat and toppings to your liking. I definitely recommend this shop as the burgers are very flavorful and tender with a melt in your mouth tangy mustard sauce.

Pancakes and Desserts

Flippers

2-26-20 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku

This is more of a light snack than a pancake, but I highly recommend visiting this little shop in Shimokitazawa. What makes these pancakes unique are their super fluffy, light and melt-in-your mouth texture. They are not heavy or overly filling which is a nice change. Although, I recommend visiting during the week otherwise you will have to wait in a mile long line seeing how this shop is very busy with young, college age students.

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Bake Cheese Tarts

There is a small stall inside the Shinjuku station that sells these freshly baked, warm cheese tarts. They originated from Hokkaido and then branched into Tokyo. The texture of these cheese tarts are sublime. Not being too sweet, these tarts are warm and creamy on the inside with a perfect, crispy outer crust. If anything could draw me back to Tokyo, these would be it!

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A Thousand Different Lives

I have lived in 8 different cities, homes and countries since graduating from University and although some might think I should ‘settle’, there’s a pull to continue moving from location to location, not only because travelling is addictive, but it allows you to accumulate interesting stories and memories.

What I’ve realized from my life of travel is that taking risks is always better than playing it safe. Yes, you might end up in a bad location, isolated or with people you don’t get along with, but after you’ve left, you can look back and realize that the pros still out weight the cons. You have to take the good with the bad, and it’s better to have unique memories than no memories at all, even if things didn’t turn out ideal.

Most of the places I’ve lived have been good experiences. They were all so unique in their own ways, and although there were hardships and struggles, the people I met and the uniqueness of each place has made all the risks I took worthwhile.

  1. The first year in Tongyeong– My first year in a fishing village in South Korea really was the most epic and memorable experience and what propelled me to keep travelling. There were only 12 of us in that city, but we got along great and it was the beginning of the surreal experiences that have made me love travelling, not to mention adapting to different cultures. Tongyeong was really the ‘surreal’ and ‘crazy’ year; the year where everything was amazing, new and unique. I will always have the best memories of my first year of travel. It seems like yesterday, yet a different life.
  2. Gwangu was the party year. The year of binge drinking in Seoul all night, kissing random men in clubs, and letting loose and having fun in the crazy, party scene that goes on among foreigners in Korea. It was surreal in its own way because the party-vibe in Korea is very extreme and different than what you see back home. But I accumulated many friends and travel experiences that year.
  3. NYC– It was a crazy two years of studying as well as meeting, working with and becoming disillusioned by my favorite musician.  The type of city where you are constantly overstimulated by the non-stop action. I lived in Brooklyn, and loved everything about NYC. My favorite memories were walking the Brooklyn Bridge and the never-ending amount of restaurants and places to hang out.
  4. Asan was the ‘men’ year. I met Adam online who helped get me into the University in Korea. I fell in love in this area. The first month I was there, so much drama went on with different men, which is a VERY rare experience for most foreign women in Asia, as the dating options are slim for woman in Asia in general. It was my first year teaching University students, and we were all isolated up on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Aren’t you supposed to fall in love in NYC? No, it happened in a tiny hick place in Korea! So my memory of Asan is that I fell in love, even if things didn’t work out.
  5. Busan was the beach year. Socially it wasn’t great because there were only two females working at the University and although I have great memories of doing zumba for the first time and even a flash mob throughout the city, I didn’t connect with female friends in the same way I did my first two years in Korea. Maybe as I get older, it’s harder to relate to the younger crowd, but I did connect with some teachers who I had a few things in common with.  I view this place as my lazy year to hang out at the beach, draw and feel generally unproductive. Although I loved Busan as a city, I knew after one year that it was time to leave.
  6. Toronto was the year to experiment with dating as many men as possible to get over ‘above’ guy from Asan! I joined every dating site I could find and went on a different date each weekend, met a lot of weirdos, accumulated tons of strange stories and had no success as things were unfinished with guy from Asan! I was going to school also (a boring program I didn’t particularly enjoy) yet I needed this year to escape the laziness of Busan. I also feel I became more confident and accountable as a teacher. But my year in Toronto was my ‘extreme’ online dating year.  Although, I can’t say I miss meeting weird strangers online!
  7. Hefei was a bit of a strange year. Slightly weird people and very different kinds of teachers compared to Korea. This was my first time living in China and I compared all the similarities and differences between the two. It was also the first year I owned a cat who I raised entirely alone. I did a great job. My nurturing side came out and this cat is now living in Canada after I exported her out of China! Since being in China, I’ve had acquaintances, I’ve socialized because I happen to be around ‘other’ teachers, but I can’t say I felt close or similar to anyone I’ve met in China yet! Not in the same way I did in Korea. I’m not sure if it’s bad luck or if I’m getting older while everyone around me is getting younger, but it’s been a while since I had a female friend I’ve wanted to hang out with. Hefei was the ‘cat’ year, and the year of making no money in an ugly city.  It’s also the year I met so many great local families who invited me into their home. I got to see a more real and authentic side of China.
  8. Shanghai – speaking of female friends, I would view Shanghai as the worse, most stressful year of also not connecting with any females. My enthusiasm for cliques and partying has definitely waned as I imagine it would as you continue through your 30’s. But Shanghai was the year I taught Literature to native students so it was unique for that reason. There were a lot of struggles this year: a weird, egocentric and misogynistic work environment, micromanaged school, difficult classes and students yet you can’t truly grow and change if things are too easy. I gained new teaching skills, overcame the challenges here and thankfully had decent office mates, which really ‘made’ the year more bearable. Plus, I made more money than I have yet at any job overseas! Shanghai was also a very fun city and it was the year I got ‘over’ above Asan guy. So I guess everything got out of my system by moving to China.

Throughout all of these years, I was also able to travel around Asia/Europe creating life long memories. My next stop is Vietnam and India this summer followed by the next life change: Japan! I will most likely be teaching for 3 months with Westgate in Japan and will decide if I plan to stay in Japan and work at a University there or move on. It will be interesting how this next school/life/city compares to all the rest. Even though not every year was perfect, my advice is to take risks, go off to random places because in the end, you can go back and reflect on everything you did and experienced….Unique memories are better than no memories. Similarly, not stagnating in one place where you can’t grow is another reason why I’ve changed locations so often. But each risk has been worth it in the end. I don’t know how I fell into this strange lifestyle and it’s definitely not for everyone, but until I have a ‘reason’ to settle in one location, I think I will keep exploring as long as I can.

 

My year in Shanghai (pros/cons)

With exactly five weeks left in Shanghai before I depart on my summer travel adventures, (Vietnam and India!!) I would like to sum up my year, and the overall pros and cons of living in Shanghai.

Pros

  • Shanghai is a very fun, lively and western city to live. I was able to enjoy every comfort and luxury I didn’t have last year. There was literally no food, restaurant or shopping item I couldn’t also find back home.  Shanghai  has quite a European feel. There’s a French concession, and the Bund; a water-front area with historical buildings along the Huangpu River, that once housed numerous banks and trading houses from the UK, France, the US, Italy, Russia, Germany..etc . Each area and neighborhood in Shanghai is unique and the city has similarities with Toronto, Vancouver or NYC.

French Concession

 

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There was literally nothing I couldn’t find in Shanghai!

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  • The money was great! I was paid triple to what I earned last year in Hefei and being paid in USD currency was an added bonus, as was the free rent on campus. Shanghai rent is VERY expensive so the fact I had virtually no rent or bills the entire year was a great deal. I also gained $200 each month I transferred home in comparison to most past jobs where I typically lost money after the exchange rate. Even though Shanghai is an expensive city, I never ran-out of money or felt I needed to ‘save’. Being so comfortable money-wise was a nice change. Since the school also provided free-lunch, I really only spent money on weekends when I went downtown

 

  • Teaching Literature has been an interesting experience! For the first time overseas, I taught native speakers and we read mostly MA-level novels. Being a subject teacher, rather than teaching ESL, has increased my own knowledge. I had to research many historical events and literary periods. I felt I also received an education this year whereas in past jobs, I often felt on autopilot as I followed a simple book the school provided. This year was VERY different. Although challenging, I never had a chance to feel bored or robotic in my teaching. Below is a list of books and authors I taught and researched extensively these past eight months.

Books/essay’s taught this year:

Beowulf, Paradise Lost, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Shakespeare Sonnets, William Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge, essay’s from The Enlightenment period (Kant, Machiavelli ‘The Prince’, Francis Bacon, Rousseau ‘Solitary Walker” Descartes, Mary Wollstonecraft) Philosophies of Sartre and Nietzsche, Literary Theorist Judith Butler, The Scarlet Letter, Historical documents from The American Revolution, ‘Declaration of Independence’, US Constitution, The Color Purple, Slave Narratives, A Civil Disobedience by Thoreau, Transcendentalists and writings of Emerson,  Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje, Walt Whitman ‘Leaves of Grass’, Frankenstein, A Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, Mrs. Dalloway and Modernism, Animal Farm, James Joyce ‘Dubliners’, On The Road, Death of a Salesman, The Invisible Man, Slaughterhouse Five, Collection of Modern Essay’s (Joan Didion, James Baldwin)

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  • Maybe one of the craziest things I did this year was fly 15 hours on a plane with a cat! Travelling on a plane with a cat is something I never thought I’d do in my lifetime! Gypsy was the first cat I ever owned and raised so of course she had to be well-traveled as well! The poor cat lived temporarily in 6 homes before I had to sell her on kijiji to a nice retired guy from Belleville, where she currently lives and will hopefully live for life! But I needed to live in Shanghai to get the proper shots and government paperwork to fly her from Shanghai to Toronto. It’s hard to believe I bought her in Hefei and she now lives in Canada! It was definitely an interesting experience!

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  • I lived inside a very beautiful campus. Green trees, bushes, forests and ponds everywhere. A lot of work went into keeping the campus tidy and beautiful. The campus also had a running track, swimming pool, tennis, basketball courts and fancy gym facilities.

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180 Teachers spread out between two campuses!
  • Decent office mates! I shared the office with a Brit and American. They were also new teachers and since we all got along well, being shoved into a tiny office all day was made much more bearable. Plus, we had fun taking pics each month!

 

  • Nice apartment. No Roaches, or rats! Clean and spacious in a more modern building than where I lived last year!

Cons

  • There were many problems with the school and how it was run: Very micro-managed. For example, new teachers were constantly monitored and observed. Yet after that first year, teachers are never observed again. There were shockingly bad teachers who had been at the school 5+ years who would put on movies every day, stand and lecture in a boring fashion or who had simply stagnated, and yet they were ignored. Only the new teachers were carefully watched continuously.

 

  • Extremely egocentric and chauvinistic environment. Not only were women paid less, but there were only five females teaching in the high-school compared to 30 male teachers! Most were American and all looked the same with absolutely no diversity. If that weren’t bad enough, many teachers gave off an unfriendly, and superior air, and would walk around as though they were University professors! The head of the English department was a narcissistic and arrogant guy who thought he was ‘God’s gift’.  In my six years of teaching, I’ve never come across an environment this extreme before. I also had to share classes and co-write exams with some very difficult personalities who were controlling, domineering and unpleasant to work with. As a women I felt over-talked and as if my opinion didn’t matter among the male egos, which is partly a fault of the hiring staff! (heaven forbid they would even hire an American-Chinese here) It’s  all about image, as well as the ‘image’ of teachers appearing as intellectual as possible. But underneath that surface, there’s not much there! I should also add that the administrators who do the hiring were very cold and aloof. The teachers were nothing but a number to them.

 

  • The school was run like a business and the main objective was to keep the students happy. Teachers had little power to run the classes how they wanted. We had to appease the students constantly. Since students take eight exams a year, the whole school is exam/grade based.  Students only care about getting a high grade, so they can apply to Universities in the States, and teachers are met with constant complaints from students to raise their grade. Many teachers hand out all A’s just to keep student’s happy. If they aren’t happy, students will not hesitate to run to the director and complain about the teacher and blame them for everything that happens. The director will not support the teacher, but give all the credibility to the students. Any complaint from a student (which happened a lot) was taken very seriously and the teacher viewed with suspicion, despite that most complaints were centered around students wanting higher grades.

 

  • Although there were some extremely likable, and almost gifted students in my classes, the levels can be mixed and at least half of the students were extremely entitled, spoiled and difficult to teach. The school had very little discipline put into place and even the Chinese teachers would ‘cover for students’ and turn a blind eye to things like students sleeping in class or being on their phone. In fact, their bonuses were dependent on student evaluations so the Chinese teachers were very lenient. Teachers didn’t have enough power to kick students out of the class or send them to the office. Many students would be on their phone, or sleeping. Students knew they could get away with it, particularly the lower-level classes who didn’t care as much about grades. On top of that, grades were completely ‘doctored’ and subjectively graded!
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My fav class with only four students!

  • The school is entirely leveled and tiered with AP (advanced placement) students getting special treatment and S (standard-level students) being treated poorly with harsher rules placed on them. Therefore, AP students tend to be the most entitled. Overall, there was a general unfairness in how students were treated based on their seniority and ranking!

 

  • Very stressful workload. Not only constant reading and researching, but writing and grading tests kept us working around the clock. No additional curriculum/material was provided, and sometimes teachers would even have to make copies of the books themselves for the students! Also co-teaching and having to write identical exams each month caused many problems, particularly with the difficult people I worked with. Furthermore, the administration is far removed from what’s going on, so it’s hard to know even who is in charge. Some teachers will take over and act like they are ‘directors’.

 

  • Lack of a social life: I lived in a dormitory setting with a young crowd right out of University. The school hires many teachers between the ages of 22-24 so everyone was young, living away from home for the first time and cliquish. I often felt I was living in a frat house in the dorms. The dorms were also walled inside a gate on the campus and quite far and inconveniently located from the downtown area, which made it feel jail-like! Although Shanghai is large enough to join many groups and meetups, overall, I didn’t connect with other female teachers, who were working mostly in the middle and elementary schools. Also, the campus and buildings were so spread out, the environment was not conducive to meeting people. Teaches had ‘set’ friends/cliques and no one hung out together as a group.

Overall, I made it a full year here and I’m surprised I even managed that! This is my sixth year/placement/school overseas now! I’ve lived and taught in six different cities and schools so I guess I’m bound to get a ‘dud’ sooner or later! But each year has been very different and this is also the highest amount of money I’ve made overseas so I guess with the money, comes more issues!

Now I’m off to either Oman or Japan and it should be interesting how this next location compares!

 

Eight months in China: highlights and observations

After almost 8 months in china, I’ve grown immune to the staring, the spitting on the street and the locals who think it perfectly fine to sneak in front of you in lines. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here 8 months, and while not too culturally different from Korea, I’ve noticed many differences in how I’m treated and my overall experiences.

1) There are more diverse teachers here compared to Korea. Teachers from Europe, the Philippines, Singapore, and India teach at my University. It’s a nice change to deviate from the standard “American teacher’ and his Korean wife.

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2) I don’t get the same feeling of animosity that many Koreans gave off towards foreigners. In Korea there is more a sense of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. There is more solidarity and Korean pride. They are homogenous overall as a country whereas in China there is more diversity. China is obviously a large country and depending what region you live, you will meet very different people. My experience overall is that the Chinese people are friendlier and more welcoming and inviting towards foreigners. Through-out the 8 months here I’ve been invited into so many local homes. I never experienced this once in the four years I lived in Korea.

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3) There is no plastic surgery obsession here in China. I don’t have to see school girls giggling and looking in their hand mirrors constantly. No women with short miniskirts and heels with their butt cheeks hanging out. Women are more down to earth and natural, at least in the province where I live.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed and done more in the 8 months I’ve been in China than the entire past year I lived in Korea. Of course there are pros and cons. The city I live in is ugly and polluted. The buildings are old and crumbling. This city itself is probably one of the ugliest places I’ve lived so far in my overseas travels. The campus itself is nice and green, but venturing out too far, makes you wish you had simply stayed inside. Other than large shopping malls and a corner pizza hut, there’s not much to do. But it’s easy to tutor and save extra money and as a result, I’ve been invited to dinners, homes and gatherings which has made up for the lackluster city life. And below is a picture of the beautiful campus:

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The highlights of my year were the excellent students. I’ve never taught such well-mannered, genuine, nice graduate-level students in my life and may never again come across students like this. My University accepts the very best graduate students in the country and so I’m teaching the top 5% whose families are often farmers or not well-off. Very rarely have I met an arrogant or spoiled student here.

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Another highlight has been the great local families I’ve had the pleasure of meeting who have invited me into their homes and helped me with the language barrier. I got to visit a beautiful lake in the country side of Hefei with a Danish-Chinese family I’ve been tutoring these past few months.

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What also made this year unique was raising my first kitten. I broke down and bought an 8 week old kitten at an outdoor pet market. I’ve successfully spayed and raised her to the age of 6 months and for my first ever cat, I can honestly say I’ve done a great job taking care of her.

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Just recently I was hired to teach Literature and writing at an International High School in Shanghai! It was exciting to get this position. Not only will I be living in one of the largest cities in China, but I’ll be teaching English Literature courses for the first time overseas. Other than when I taught “Children’s Literature” in the English department at SCH, Korea, this will be my first time teaching Literature. I’m curious what the year will bring and excited to live in a more lively and modern city.

Overall, I’m glad I returned overseas. I got closure on some parts of my life and feel I’ve grown and progressed as a person through-out my year here. My constant travelling has provided me with a unique and enriching lifestyle and I’m looking forward to my year in Shanghai!

One Month in China: Setting goals and following your dreams

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in China for one month so far. Things have fallen into place perfectly since arriving here which reaffirms my decision to start travelling again. There is a tight-knit family atmosphere among the teachers who are a mix of different ages (young and old). I’ve made several Chinese friends that I see on a daily basis and who have helped me greatly with getting around (going to the bank..etc) The management at my University is fantastic as are the students. We have a great secretary who helps out the foreigners and he is prompt and efficient at his job. For example, I had a problem with my TV not working, and he came running over to my apartment in 10 minutes to fix it!! The students are great. They are very enthusiastic in class. The University where I work “University of Science and Technology of China” is ranked in the top 5 Universities in China. I teach graduate-level students who are very bright and well-behaved and have so far been a pleasure to teach. I teach about 2-3 hours a day. Two large classes and several work-shop style classes with about 12 students. The work-shop classes are based on different themes (drug use, stress, job interview) and a few philosophical type topics (Can marriage last a life-time?, Can money buy happiness?). The classes are mostly conversation based and the goal is to get the students talking about these various topics from anywhere from an hour to two hours. Classes do not run longer than two hours.

I’ve also had great luck getting private tutoring on the side since I only work 10 hours a week. I’ve been teaching private lessons one on one with two very cute 4 year olds. The parents have been taking me out to fancy dinners after our sessions on top of the extra money. I have found everyone in this city to be very hospitable and friendly. Hefei, although not yet a well known city, is one of the fastest developing cities in China and new building and shopping plazas are constantly popping up.

Some highlights so far: I tried pole dancing at a private studio. Took latin dance classes on campus, saw a musical with travelling performers singing songs from all the famous musicals (Mamma Mia..etc). Overall, I’m very happy I came to China. I know some people may have thought it’s time to ‘settle’ in one place, but I find that when you travel, you connect on a deeper level with such a diverse group of people. There’s something about travelling that makes people gravitate to one another and this social lifestyle is not the same when you stay in one place. Also, many teachers have ‘settled’ here in Hefei, started families and have been in China for 18 + years. So settling down could happen anywhere in the world if you find a place that suits you!

Really, the theme of this blog is setting goals and following your dreams. So far, every bold or risk-taking move I’ve made in life, has turned out well. (Going to NYC, the four years I spent in South Korea, and now China). Right now my two biggest goals is to become yoga certified in India this summer. I enjoy giving myself small goals that I can achieve. I always wanted to do a yoga headstand and this summer I achieved it. Now, it’s a goal to do a perfect front split. While I might not manage it completely, I’ve gotten pretty close to achieving this goal, which I thought was almost impossible! I’ve always wanted to be flexible and to gracefully go into a perfect split. I guess the point is that life is more interesting when you set these kinds of goals to achieve. After the yoga certification, my next goal is to have a job lined up in Shanghai at another top University so I can experience living in the largest city in China! As for following your dreams, I enjoy doing things that create surreal or dream-like experiences and the more dream-like the experience, the better. I believe this is why I adapt so well to other countries. I hope to spend two years in China and then I would like to head to Oman. The Middle east will definitely be a culture shock but it’s a place I would like to try teaching. After Oman, I hope to teach somewhere in Europe while opening a yoga studio where I can teach during the day and teach yoga at night. Overall, I developed this ‘five-year’ plan while in Toronto and it’s a plan that became more clear and exciting for me, the more I contemplated it. Although I’m only beginning the first year, I’m confident I made the right choice to continue travelling. It definitely makes life more enriching, rewarding and interesting.

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Roaches, rats and a hospital visit – my first week in China!

Attempting to cross the street in China is not easy. Motorbikes run through every red light, cars and buses barrel towards the pedestrians with no sign of stopping. Meanwhile, people will step into traffic from every direction with the continuous drone of honking horns as background noise.  Pretty chaotic. 

‘Chaotic’ would describe my first few days in China. By the time I went to bed my second night, ten roaches had been killed by my neighbor.  Then, I woke up horribly jet-lagged at 5:00 am to the sound of something shuffling and scurrying along the floor, which I later discovered had been a rat. I probably would have been on a plane back home had my director not moved me into a swanky, brand new (clean) apartment the very next day! I’m now in a fantastic six bedroom apartment ( along with three air-conditioning units) and a nice kitchen/bathroom.

The next calamity occurred when I was unpacking in my new apartment. I was ripping the string off one of my boxes with a knife, when suddenly it cut into my thumb almost to the bone and I had to be rushed to the hospital! All on my third day in China. The hospital’s here in China are extremely over-crowded and I remember running through the corriders with my director, holding a flimsy kleenix around my thumb as we ran in and out of elevators that didn’t work! I managed to see a doctor who cleaned the wound, put a bandage over it, gave me an antibiotic shot in the butt and sent me on my way! Now, most likely I will be stuck with a permanant scar/memory of my first week in China.

Observations

Although there are similaries to Korea, (spitting on the street, open-grated sewages, humid/hot weather), there are many differences.  When I step outside the University gate, almost every head turns to stare at me. And they aren’t exactly subtle. One man on a motorbike skidded to a stop in the middle of the road to stare, his mouth hanging open. The language barrier is much more extreme here. Simply ordering a latte at Starbucks produces blank stares! There are also stray animals, mostly cats and dogs, roaming everywhere. Today, I saw a stray dog cross the busy road and I held my breath as it nearly missed getting hit! The people here are very different from Korea. The women are not dressed up in heels, skirts and makeup 24/7. Overall, the women are more down to earth and ‘natural’ and I have connected and made friends with several Chinese already.

For some reason, I hear the sound of fireworks/fire-crackers going off every night from my bedroom window, horns a constant, distant hum. I live on the campus which is full of trees, ponds and parks! An array of  young students, along with many students dressed in green, army uniforms, rush around the grounds. Apparently, these are freshmen who need to fulfill one semester of mandatory army training. Sometimes in the morning, I’ll see groups of them marching and chanting with painted faces.

One big highlight of the week was getting invited Salsa dancing. When you think about China, “salsa” dancing doesn’t come to mind, yet there I was on my 5th day, dancing with a Spanish guy at the local Salsa club. This Monday, I will be attempting a pole dancing class.

Overall, what I’m discovering through travel is that change is good. And sometimes you need to ‘make an extreme or bold’ move (like travelling across the world) to have unique and different experiences. Risk is mostly good and you need to learn to accept the good with the bad. For every ‘negative’ experience, there will be something positive, that makes it all worthwhile in the end.

Traditional Chinese dessert

The campus is very green!!

The campus is very green!!

Yoga class at the Campus gym

Chinese food is fantastic!

Chinese food is fantastic!

Everything is white/bright and clean!

Everything is white/bright and clean!