|From Jamie's Philippines Pics|
We have also had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bali. We have archived all of our travels and living experiences abroad; and if you wish, you can read about our adventures by finding the archives on the right of this page and by checking our Photo Album.
We appreciate all of our family and friends who have stayed in touch and emailed us with encouraging words throughout the year. We hope you will continue to keep us in your thoughts as we continue our adventure of living abroad teaching at an international school. For those who have stumbled upon our site, check out the "About Eric and Jamie" section on the right for more information.
Thanks for checking us out!
- Mark Twain
- Maya Angelou
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Jamie and I found a decent deal on a brand new 2009 Chevrolet Trailblazer that we liked. You are not allowed to test drive a vehicle, so you simply rely on the warranty they give you. Nonetheless, this one is fully loaded and we liked it. On December 5, we put down a small deposit on the car. We received the paperwork from the dealership to take back to the finance department of our school for the loan.
On December 6, I dropped off the paperwork at the school and amazingly received a check the next day. I also received the paperwork to fill out regarding the insurance and dropped by the government relations office to receive what they call a "good boy" letter basically stating that I am employed by them and a good person in Saudi Arabia.
The good boy letter was going to take 6 days to receive, so I had to wait that long. In the meantime, I dropped off the loan check and the remainder of the car's balance in cash to the dealership on December 6 and simply waited until I received my good boy letter and official copy of the insurance form.
I received my good boy letter the next day without a stamp from the Chamber of Commerce. I tried going to the dealership to see if they would allow it but they did not. They told me the letter was wrong anyway, so it worked out well that I went over there without the stamp. I went back to GR and told them to revise the letter, which they did, but could not give it to me for 6 days. So we waited...
Finally, on December 12, I picked up my official good boy letter (the correct one) and my official insurance documents and went to the dealership to drop them off. They assured me that it would only take a couple of days to received the registration and license plate.
It did, and on December 15, we went again to the dealership, signed a couple of papers, received the registration card, a receipt for a free tank of gas and a free car cleaning, and drove away very happy in our new car.
Upon entering the vehicle, Jamie noticed the there was a fire extinguisher underneath the floor mat on the passenger's side. it was literally bolted to the floor with the floor mat placed on top of it. Her feet were sitting higher than usual. Single handedly, the worst engineering design I have ever seen on any object in my life. See the picture above. We were told that we could remove it later; and luckily, I was able to just unscrew it and throw it in the back compartment with the tire changing tools. Crazy!
Overall, we are very happy with it. It drives great, but most importantly, it gives us the freedom to go wherever we want to go in town without using a taxi, a neighbor, or the compound bus.
Friday, November 19, 2010
On Wednesday of our vacation, we checked out of our resort and met our guide and driver at 5:00 am for a 4 hour drive inland into the mountains of Sri Lanka. Jamie and I usually take a dramamine of some sort before we take bus or van rides, especially through mountains, but we didn't have any for this trip. Luckily, we were able to stretch out and lie down in the van seats as we swerved, bumped, and jerked throughout the countryside. We arrived at our first stop 4 hours later green faced and ready for some solid land.
Our first stop was the St. Clair Tea Castle, so named because of the British family who owned the tea plantations in the area and built a castle to commemorate it. We sipped on some tea and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and waterfalls below. Our next stop took us by more waterfalls and tea plantations through what is called Little England, before we picked up some dramamine at a local pharmacy, and finally jumped onto a train that had been booked by our guide.
As our guide said... "Sri Lanka is friends to all religions, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhist." For the Muslims, this week was an espcially busy time for them, the the trains were packed with all sorts of people. Our guide bribed his way into getting us into the first class train car and where we had nice cushioned seats for the 3 hour train ride. The train only went about 20 mph and wound its way through the countryside through the various tea, rubber, cinnamon, and herbal plantations of Sri Lanka. We finally arrived at a train station in Kandy, a large city in the center of Sri Lanka and its cultural hub.
We ate a quick lunch at yet another buffet before checking into our hotel, the Thilanka Hotel, which had a wonderful view overlooking the city. We took a quick nap before meeting our guide once again and going to a gem factory and store. Jamie was able to buy some nice emerald and sapphire earrings and a ring. That evening, we enjoyed some Kandy cultural dancing. Be sure to check out clips of the video on our Picasa Photo Albums. I'll upload it soon, but it'll take some time. We absolutely crashed after the performance and dinner after a long long day of traveling.
The next morning was early yet again as we first visited the Buddha Tooth Temple, a Buddhist temple in Kandy that claims to house the actual tooth from the remains of Siddhārtha Gautama, or Buddha. There had been some bombings there in previous years, so security was tight and there were hundreds of people there early in the morning to catch a sight of the tooth. Because of the long lines, we didn't get a chance to see the tooth, but I don't think it would have meant that much to us anyway.
We ate some breakfast and checked out of the hotel before departing to the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens. It was a perfect day, and we caught the gardens at a good time where it wasn't too crowded and the flowers had not died because of bad weather. The highlight of the gardens is a 100 year old tree that covers 2500 square feet. Be sure to find the picture in the photo album. Pretty amazing.
We then went to a tea factory where they showed us how they process all of the tea we saw at the tea plantations. We picked up some tea to take home with us and will enjoy it in the months to come.
Our last stop was the herbal gardens, where a guide showed us all sorts of herbs and spices they use for a variety of home remedies. Of course, we picked up some to take home with us as they were unique and apparently pretty costly in the western world.
A 2 hour drive to the airport, a 3 hours wait there, and a 5 hour flight back home followed by a 45 minute taxi ride had us back in our villa at 11:30 that night. A long end to the holiday, but we enjoyed our stay in Sri Lanka. We hope to return in the future if our travel plans allow for it.
On November 11, Jamie and I caught a late overnight flight to Columbo, Sri Lanka to begin our next vacation. We had originally thought of going to Athens, Greece or Jordan for this holiday, but decided on a beach vacation instead. We had heard nothing but great things about Sri Lanka, so we finally decided to make it our destination for this Eid break. The reason for the break in November is for the Islam hajj, or the annual pilgrimage that many Muslims make to Mecca, one of the holiest cities of Islam.
The flight on Sri Lankan Airlines took us non stop from Dammam to Columbo, where we arrived at 6:00 am. We had pre-arranged a pickup at the airport via our hotel and he met us promptly. 3 hours later, we arrived at our resort and home for the next 5 days, the Mermaid Hotel and Club in Kalatura (on the western side of the island below Columbo). We had arranged a delux room with an all inclusive package, so we didn't have to worry about spending any money out of pocket for meals and drinks.
Each day was pretty much the same for Friday through Tuesday at the resort. We woke up, ate, relaxed by the pool or or villa with drinks, played some beach volleyball, water volleyball, ping pong, croquet, napped, and read in our Kindles. Everything a vacation should be. Jamie treated herself to a 70 minute massage and pedicure, and I worked out as best I could until my cracked rib got the better of me.
The only blemish was the constant harrisment you would recieve from the beach boys who would try and sell you packages to go somewhere on the island. We were going to do something, but it was annoying being asked all day long about it.
Each meal was a buffet which had a variety of Eastern and Western choices. Overall, it was great food for the money.
We then booked a 2 day/1 night tour of inland Sri Lanka through one a tour guide by the name of Anura (email@example.com). He arranged everything for us for the next 2 days, which I'll let you read about in the next post.
Be sure to check out the pictures on our Picasa Photo Album.
Monday, November 8, 2010
A productive afternoon of wiring money back to the USA brought me downtown Khobar with a friend who introduced me to a shop where I could buy my very first Saudi clothing. I was very excited and it was a marvelous purchase and birthday present for myself.
As you can see from the picture above, this is what you will see most Saudi men wear in town. Taken from a website on Saudi culture, the following explains the clothing:
"Today, as in antiquity, men wear a thawb, a simple, ankle-length shirt of wool or cotton. Traditional headwear includes a ghutra, a large diagonally-folded cotton square worn over a kufiyyah (skull cap) and held in place by an igaal, a double-coiled cord circlet." (LINK)
Great day overall as I had a record number of students wish me happy birthday and even received 3 free cinnamon rolls from Joffrey's, the coffee shop located on our school campus.
After ordering a decent hamburger from Shane's Rib Shack (yeah I know), we were invited over for a birthday celebration complete with a box full of goodies from a new friend and to play Settlers of Catan, which has quickly become our favorite game to play. Another teacher also has a birthday today and a friend of ours hosted and invited other players over for 2 games. I amazingly won the game I played (after blowing the lead 3 times), but I pulled it out for a great birthday victory.
Furthermore, my Ken Burns Baseball DVD is almost downloaded, so I hoping to start that series soon.
Thanks for all of the birthday wishes via email and Facebook. Jamie's birthday is in a couple of weeks, so don't forget about her. We are off to Sri Lanka in 3 days, so we'll be celebrating both our birthdays there too.
Monday, October 25, 2010
|From Kathmandu Nepal 2010|
By default, I was able to take a trip to Kathmandu for a leadership conference. Middle school teachers were asked if anyone wanted to go to the conference. No one responded, so we were asked again. Finally, after a 3rd attempt by administration, I submitted a slight interest in attending. I knew I would be busy, but thought it would be a good experience.
The school provides some money for professional development funds, but Jamie and I had hoped to use that money on tuition. However, trip to Nepal sounds pretty appealing at this point, and I think it’ll be a good experience for me.
A van picked us up from our villa at 3:00 am and we took a 35 minute flight to Doha, Qatar. After a 2 hour layover, we were on our way to Kathmandu, Nepal. Upon landing, it was a pretty quick line through customs, the hassle of dealing with dozens of guys asking you if you need a taxi, and then a ride through the crazy streets of Kathmandu to our hotel, Radisson, near the center of the city.
We dropped our bags off and headed out immediately downtown to meet our superintendent at a nice little restaurant called Fire and Ice, complete with cold beverages and a great pizza. A fairly long day, but we walked back to our hotel where I completely crashed.
Today was the first full day of sessions for the conference, but our hotel was about a 20 minute ride to the Hyatt, which was a bit of a hassle, but something we dealt with.
Each day of the conference, we basically had a morning speaker followed by 2 – 2 hour sessions. The first and second day of the conference dealt with grading and grade reporting, while the last 2 days focused on instruction. They served us a marvelous buffet lunch each day with some Nepalese and Indian dishes. NESA brought in some pretty big names in the educational research community with Jay McTighe, Charlotte Danielson, Thomas Guskey, and Art Costa all leading sessions and making keynote addresses.
After the conference each day, we usually went out to see some of the sites of Kathmandu. We didn’t have a ton of daylight hours, but enough to go to a few places.
The first day, we walked from the Hyatt to the Baudu Stupa, a Buddhist stupa, and quite extraordinary. There were locals and tourist walking around clockwise and spinning the prayer wheels. Around the stupa was a variety of shops where you could buy all sorts of souvenirs if you so desired.
Dinner that night was catered by our conference at the Hyatt with a variety of finger foods and free drinks. Great conversation and times were held by all.
One the 2nd day after the conference, a colleague and I went to Pasupati, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. We were not allowed to go into the temple, but were able to visit and witness the live cremation of bodies. Funeral pyres were built of wood and the bodies were wrapped in white cloth and burned in 7 different pyres, historically representing the 7 levels of the caste system. The ashes and any remaining body parts were then thrown into the river along with flowers and other items the family offered. The river, the Bagmati, flows into the sacred Ganges River, so it is considered sacred in Nepal.
We went back to Thamel to do some shopping along with dinner at a place called Roadhouse, which had some pretty tasty pork. My shopping included Northface coats, singing bowls – READ HERE, prayer wheels – READ HERE, baby yak shawls, and pashmina scarves.
After the conference on the 3rd day, NESA took us to Bakhtapur, a town about a 45 minute bus ride from Kathmandu. The city greeted us as we participated in pretty much a “parade.” I called it the “parade of white people” as the locals lined the streets and watched us walk by. We wound through the old streets of the city before finally ending in a city square where a dinner was prepared for us as we watch some local costumed dancing. We were also able to see a “living goddess” take her reign. This young girl is raised from birth to become a living goddess when she reaches a certain age and serves until she reaches puberty.
On our 4th and last night after the conference, a few of the guys ended up in Thamel once again and hung out downtown, walked the streets, and shopped for our wives before finally meeting up with the whole school to eat at Everest Steakhouse, where they prepared some delicious filet mignon for us all. I turned in early that night and packed up because we were leaving early then next morning.
Kathmandu and Nepal is definitely a place I’ll go back, especially with Jamie or even other family members. Next time, I would like to do some sort of flyover of Mt. Everest or particularly a hiking trek into the countryside toward Everest.
Nice people despite such a poor, hectic, and quite dirty town. A huge contrast from Saudi Arabia, and as I type this, I am making my descent on the plane back into Saudi. Be sure to check out the pictures in our PICASA PHOTO ALBUM.
STC offers 4mb speed, which the US offered a billion years ago but is pretty fast for Saudi standards, but STC is hassle to deal with and the connection can be less reliable. It is also more expensive running almost $100/month for just Internet, ouch.
ITC has only a 2mb speed, is a little cheaper, and more reliable. I had really wanted to use the higher speed Internet, but after speaking STC on the phone a few times and really getting nowhere, I resigned to using ITC.
I had a taxi driver take me to where everyone else signed up for ITC. It was in a Novotel Business Center near the next city about a 15 minute taxi ride away. I waited until after the afternoon prayer and figured the door would open. I called the number on the door and they said they would open at 4:30. After 4:45, I called again and was told I was actually at the wrong location, so in the taxi I go back to Khobar where the location was actually only about 2 miles from the villa.
I paid cash for 6 months of 2mb speed and was told that they would be there the next day to hook it up. I was excited because I thought we might have Internet in our villa for the UT/UGA game. My TV was ready to go!
They did not come on Saturday and was told they would come on Sunday. They did come on Sunday… at 9:30 pm and proceeded to drill into the concrete walls on the roof to install the satellite. They finally stopped drilling at 10:10 pm and left at 10:40 promising the technician would come in the next day. General labor contracting and technician contracting.
Our 2mb runs just fine and is somewhat reliable. Slingbox doesn’t work that well, but we are hoping that ITC bumps up to 4 or more mbs soon so we can have a stronger signal and faster downloads.
Overall, another frustrating experience dealing with hooking up Internet. We’ll stick with ITC in hopes that they can increase their speed.
Later, a friend took me to some dealerships to start my search for a new car. Since I’ll be the only one driving it, Jamie has pretty much left it to me. I think we’ll go for a small SUV and probably buy new. Our school gives us a 2 year no interest loan and simply deducts the amount from our account each month. Nice and most everyone takes advantage of that deal.
We go into a few new car showrooms, Hyundia, Jeep, Chevy, and walked around looking for my perfect car. Unfortunately, like everything else in Saudi, the workers could care less if you ever purchase a car from them and didn’t even stand up or look our way when we entered. Imagine going into any dealership in the US and being ignored. Strange…
My car search continues, and I’ll be in full purchase mode when I return from Nepal. I’m sure the paperwork, bureaucracy, and overall frustration continues when it comes to purchasing a car in The Kingdom.
Why do you need a bank account in Saudi? You don’t really. Our school pays us in Saudi Riyal, and you can go to the bank and simply cash your check. Since we are sending most of our money back to our US bank account, we’ll need to set up an easy way to transfer money bank home. The banks here allow for online banking and we could easily have our check direct deposited and then transfer the funds home online.
Jamie and I both went to the bank one day after school by taxi. We met with the Saudi manager and filled out the necessary paperwork. We gave them our Iqamas and the letter from school stating our salary. If you make so much, you are considered “VIP;” and after this story, you’ll see why that is funny in and of itself. We were told that we needed our marriage certificate to open up a joint account and that we would have to return. We said that was fine and made plans to return the next day.
Jamie went to the bank the next day to drop off our marriage certificate and was told that it could not be a copy that it had to be an original. This might or might not be true, but she told them we’d try and obtain one. Since we’ve learned from previous experiences to try and always have originals, we actually do have a our original marriage license with us, so I was able to go back the next day.
I was told that they would not accept one form that had been written in red. Granted, you probably shouldn’t use red to fill out a form, but it was the pen that the bank manager handed us. I explained that it was fine in red 3 days ago and it should be fine now. I told them they needed to accept the red ink and work it out. I was sent to another manager who told me that the red was fine… but… Jamie’s signature was wrong. Now, I knew they were just screwing with whitey westerner. I told them they could either accept the forms the way they were or I could find another bank.
Since my salary is probably beans compared to all the other salaries they see at that bank on a daily basis, they didn’t seem to concerned about me not opening up an account. I guess I showed them.
A friend helped us transfer money to home using another wiring only bank, so I think we’ll go that route for a while. It is easy, perhaps takes a bit longer, but our first wire went through without a problem.
Such is the life here in Saudi. Generally speaking, it is not a customer service oriented culture. The foreign workers who work here are very helpful, but any Saudi could really care less if you do business with them or not.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Not many people on the compound left for this break since it was so close to the beginning of the year, so there were lots of compound activities. At times, it seemed as though we were bombarded with requests of things to do, place to go, etc. The compound next door to us is an old BAE compound complete with its own restaurant and beverage facility. We are invited over there occasionally to partake in the fish and chips and frosty beverages, which is a nice outing because it is not like you can go “out” here in Saudi.
Other activities this week have included rides to town and stores. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you do not have a car, you have to rely on either a) the compound bus which only goes at certain times during the week b) a taxi which is fine but can get pricey or c) a neighbor who offers or you simply ask. Fortunately, we have been paired with a buddy couple who have been very generous, but everyone has been very nice to give us lifts when needed. With the end of Ramadan a few days ago, the stores are now on regular schedule. By regular schedule, I mean they open at what we would call normal hours, but remember, they still close for prayer times, which are becoming closer and closer together as the days become shorter. This can be hectic when scheduling your shopping times.
There of course have been a couple of poker nights and yoga classes and I went to the driving range in the desert again, but Jamie and I have both enjoyed learning how to play Settlers of Catan, a simulation board game which can be very addicting. It is a big hit here on the compound and a few people even have the expansion packs. A bit nerdy, but very fun.
The weather has been cooling down, especially in the morning. This morning was the first one where I actually ran outside. A loop in our compound is .23 miles, so a little over 4 times around becomes a mile. It gets a bit monotonous running around, but not as bad as running on a treadmill, plus I can vary my speeds easier. A few people play tennis and basketball and we have some decent courts here, so I’m looking forward to playing soon as the temperature cools even more.
Jamie and I have worked on our dissertations a little bit this week, although not as much as what we should have. I am right in the middle of Chapter 4 (of 5), while Jamie is rewriting her Chapters 1 – 3.
Our big news this week was the great flight deal we received for Christmas break, so we’ll be coming home. We haven’t made it home for Christmas since moving overseas, so we are excited and I believe our families are too.
Have a great weekend, but it’ll be the start of the week for us!
Thursday, September 9, 2010
1) It is hot, although people keep claiming that it will cool down and 9 months of the year it will be very pleasant. We are still waiting for those days.
2) It is a sexist, chauvinistic culture. This is evident by the fact that women can't drive, men have more freedoms with what they can do and where they can go, and the overall general attitude of male Saudis. We don't experience it on a day to day basis, but when you are out and about, you certainly do get that feel. Some women cover from head to toe with only their eyes showing. It all depends on what their husbands require of them. This is something I'm not sure I will ever really be comfortable with, and Jamie tolerates, although she does like the fact that she doesn't really have to worry about what she wears to town.
3) Shawarmas are delicious. So is hummus, tabouli, flat bread, and tea that really isn't tea, but just spiced water.
4) The food isn't too different from Chinese food, but it does have a different flavor with some different spices.
5) Not have pork and alcohol isn't that big of a deal because people still get it. Not so much pork, but alcohol is readily available to the point where they sell shot glasses, beer mugs, and wine glasses in kitchen stores.
6) Prayer times in Saudi cramp your shopping experience. You have to constantly check the prayer schedule before going out. If you show up to a store 5 minutes before prayer time, you better run around and grab as many things as possible. Otherwise, you'll be waiting for prayer to be over.
7) Beef bacon really isn't that bad. In fact, it is really good, but doesn't have the same bacon smell.
8) The best part of wherever you are is alway the people. Our co-workers have been very gracious. We miss our friends from the US and China but are quickly making new friends.
9) Compound life can become dull, but with a variety of activities, you can keep yourself busy just about every night (poker night, Sultans of Catan, bocce, tennis, swimming, working out, movies, eating out, ordering in)
10) Swimming pools in Saudi Arabia feel like bath water.
11) Air conditioning is a gift from God. I would like to personally thank Mr. Michael Faraday for inventing the air conditioner and Mr. Willis Haviland Carrier for making it commercial. I'm not sure how people lived prior to it.
12) Driving in Saudi Arabia can be quite hectic, but not nearly as bad as China and other southeastern Asian cities. Nonetheless, you better be careful.
13) Things here are expensive. There is probably about a 25% price markup on most items, although you can find just about anything here to purchase as you would in the States. We even found a cast iron skillet today, and there is a shot downtown that sells very old Barbie dolls for very cheap. I'm thinking of buying them, taking them back to the States, selling them on Ebay to all the crazies who collect them, and paying off our student loans.
14) You can get just about anywhere from here, and we are very excited about all of our travel opportunities. You basically have 3 entire continents you can travel, and we fully plan to hit up all 3 of them.
15) Ramadan is a very exciting time to be in the Middle East. While it can be a pain working around the crazy shopping hours, it is all part of the experience. Today is the last day of Ramadan, so things after this weekend should be pretty much back to "normal," whatever that is.
All for now. Decent list and I want to share some thoughts. Not really any pictures yet, although I've got some great ideas for when we purchase a car and I can drive out and about. Just taking pictures in a store of all of the women blacked out is enough to fill an album.
Let me know if you have any questions!
Thursday, September 2, 2010
We've had a busy week here with school in full blown session, lots of compound activities, and trying to rest in the process.
Let me first say that we are still really enjoying living here. The temperature, or at least the humidity, has dropped off a little bit and going outside at least becomes bearable. Our villa is coming together nicely as we purchase small items to fill it out. We purchased a new printer that can print some photos, so we'll be adding some photos and frames around the villa to make it look a little homier.
Last weekend, we were hosted by our friends next door to a delicious pancake breakfast. We then had some brunch of scones and other Kiwi snacks with some other friends a few villas down. This seems to be the thing to do with the newbies here, and Jamie and I have already discussed having a good southern meal for our compound friends some day.
Our kitchen is coming together nicely as we purchase small items to help us in there. We still haven't purchase dishes. We received 4 plates, forks, spoons, etc when we arrived, but it is getting old washing the same 4 things over and over again. Our trip to IKEA last weekend came up empty on something we liked, so we'll try another home store somewhere. There are only a dozen in the city, so it shouldn't be too hard.
Tamimi's, which is like Safeway back home, drives to our compound to take us to the store. Jamie and I have used this before and it might be something we do often from now on. It is very convenient. There is also a compound bus that leaves 3 days per week and takes us pretty much wherever we need to go. This is also a great option to get us out of the compound so we can shop. Of course, all of these procedures will change once we get a vehicle, but it is nice to know we have the option.
On Monday night, we went to the compound next door for "night out." The compound next to us is the BAE (British Aerospace) compound. BAE is HUGE around here and employs probably hundreds of people. They are actually building a super compound outside the city, so Las Dunas will be vacant. We are hoping we can move in there as the facilities are nicer. They have a "pub" inside their compound, so we were able to go over there for some drinks as well as take home some. Good food of fish and chips were delivered and we overall had a wonderful time with our co-workers and new friends. Since Saudi has really no nightlife, this is just another example of the type of activities one can do here. It isn't much, but it is fun.
Tuesday nights are poker nights here on the compound and apparently have been for years. I participate and really enjoy it. When the weather cools, people also play bocche, tennis, and of course more of the pool. I have done OK at poker, but there is always room for improvement. A group of ladies went for yoga on another compound, but Jamie didn't participate.
Wednesday night, we had a pot luck meal for the newbies on the compound. There is actually a small compound committee that organizes these events and I believe they organized Thanksgiving meals, Christmas dinners, and other holiday festivities for those who want to participate. It was a good showing last night and we enjoyed it. Great food. Props to the single male who made the pizza spaghetti!
Since everything comes to life during Ramadan at night, I was driven around by a nice family to purchase some necessary items like a vacuum cleaner, surge protectors, and other things necessary for our villa. We have a shipment still coming in from China that will round out our belongings, but so far so good here.
Thanks for some of the questions I have received. I believe I have answered all of them personally. I'll answer some on sometimes, so continue to shoot them my way. I was approached by an international teaching organization to write for their blog. I think I might and just post everything on there and a shortened version for them. They have some rules of things I can't put on there. I'll provide a link when I get it up and running.
Hope everyone enjoys there weekend.
Tuesdays are poker nights here on the compound.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
|From Golfing in Saudi Arabia|
A new colleague and neighbor of mine found a driving range and desert golf course about 30 minute drive outside the city. He had been previously and was telling me about it, so I just had to go.
As you will see from the pictures, it really does seem as though it is out in the middle of the desert. Well... it is. There are some sort of warehouses around where we were and plenty of electrical lines, but for the most part, it was all sand, sand, sand.
My first impression was of the quite funny sign that told all ladies to make sure they had "male protection." Women can play out there with no problem and even do not have to wear an abaya, but do have to wear long sleeves and pants. No one was playing today, but my friend tells me that women do play out there. The South Koreans who live in Saudi love to play golf.
We arrived and as you can see from the pictures, it is a small 2 shack operation, but with a solid cover for driving range balls, a small putting "brown," and even some mats thrown down so you can hit on the range. The yardage is marked accordingly. There is actually 18 holes on that course complete with rules and everything. Apparently, you purchase your own little square piece of artificial turf, drive the ball down the lightly packed fairway, and then try and your ball on the finely packed "brown" (green). Walking only.
We only hit about 50 balls each, but we will definitely go back when the weather cools down. Not a bad rate to play either, and it will certainly be an experience. Check out the pictures closely in the PICASA Photo Album of Golfing in Saudi Arabia Album and follow my little experience in pictures.
Welcome the Kingdom!
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Thursday night, we were invited to the U.S. Consulate for a party. This was a cool experience and needless to say, security was very tight getting into the U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia. Several little checkpoints. I guess since it is technically US soil, they were allowed to serve alcohol, but Jamie and I wondered how they even got it into the country unless they have their own landing strip. We mingled for a few hours and met some new people and headed home. It was a nice outing, and they said they have those gatherings about 1 time per month, but you have to be invited.
Friday was an off day for us and we were able to catch a ride to the Hyper Panda (like WalMart) for some household items. The store was closing for the midday prayer and wouldn't open again until later in the afternoon, so we just headed home, where I worked on some school stuff. That evening, we ordered out to Baba Habbas, a "fast food" type restaurant probably similar to KFC, except it has Arabic food. We were introduced to Shawarma (Read about them here). Theyare delicious and pretty inexpensive, so they might become a stable in our diet. It came with some hummus, so that made it even better.
Today was our first day of school with the kids, so since I have some Internet here at school, I thought I'd post this quickly. Still no Internet at home. Successful day with the students so far, and I'm sure I will be putting more up about the school in later posts.
Still no questions from anyone, so I guess I am doing a bang up job with the posts.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Since it is Ramadan and practically no one is on the roads, it only takes us about 15 minutes to get to the school. Before going into the school, the bus has to go through the U.S. Consulate security gate. This was an interesting process the first time we went through, but no it is just part of the whole ordeal. We just have to stay on the bus and show our school ID.
Our school is rather large and has a perimeter of about 1 mile around. It sits directly next to the U.S. Consulate and the land is actually leased from King Faud University of Petroleum and Minerals. The lease expires soon, so we don't know what will happen then. Our campus actually contains 3 schools, the Dhahran Elementary and Middle School, Dhahran High School, and Dhahran British School, all operated by a non-profit organization called International Schools Group (ISG).
Jamie has a classroom in a normal high school type building while I actually have more of what looks like a mobile room, only perhaps a bit nicer than what you see in the States. The students will have to walk from building to building for their classes and lunch, which makes it a bit different than most set ups back home.
Our schedule is pretty similar and we teach an American curriculum. School ends at 3:30, and we really can't work past 5:00 because they close the gates to the school, and you have to go through the U.S. Consulate to get out. Jamie and I hop back on a bus at either 3:30 or 5:00 and head back to our compound.
Lately, we've been pretty much crashing and napping or going shopping in the evenings. We still do not have a vehicle and have to rely on others to take us around.
I received my schedule today and I will be teaching 7th grade math and science as well as one "elective." I do not know yet, but I believe I will do either Journalism or Model United Nations as my elective. Jamie is teaching 10th grade Modern World History and 11th grade U.S. History at the high school.
So far so good at the school, but our school implements several new software programs that takes getting used to. These include Moodle, Skyward, Atlas Rubicon, and First Class. All have the strengths and weaknesses is appears, but it is good to know the school pays for quality programs to help teachers with record keeping.
I haven't received any questions, so if you have any, email them my way!
Saturday, August 14, 2010
This was our first time in “public,” so we experienced firsthand the women wearing their abayas and hijab. The abaya is the long sleeve black robe that women must wear whereas the hijab is the headscarf. Some women were dressed head to toe and veiled, some had an opening for their eyes, and some their head uncovered. Jamie had borrowed an abaya so she was wearing it. I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable with this scenario, but we’ll see. More on this later I’m sure.
As we were leaving, it was time for the call to prayer. All of the stores in Saudi Arabia shut down for the call to prayer. If you are in the store at the time, they will allow you to stay and wander around, but you won’t be able to purchase anything because no one will be there to help you. We left just at the 3:15 call to prayer was beginning. The Muslims pray 5 times per day beginning just before sunrise and ending after sunset. The prayer times change constantly, so we’ll receive a schedule so we’ll know when the prayer times are. If you are outside, you know because you can hear the mosques’ loudspeakers throughout the city.
Our next stop was a hardware store similar to ACE hardware, not quite Home Depot, followed by a trip to Tamimi’s, which is the new name for a Safeway. Here, you can purchase many Western products, so we stocked up on groceries for the week. As a reminder, there are NO pork or alcohol products in Saudi Arabia AT ALL. They are illegal, and they take it seriously. There are some families that make their own beer, wine, and liquor inside the compound, and we can do whatever we want inside the walls.
What fascinated me with the grocery store was all of the men shopping. Because women can’t drive, they really do not go out as much to shop. Men conduct the business for the most part, so the stores are full of men. You do see plenty of women, but it just seemed to me the checkout lines were full of men, particularly on Friday, their holy day.
We dropped our stuff off and then rested for a few minutes before being hosted by our buddy couple that evening. We had some of their home made spirits and some traditional Ramadan snacks, fried cheese and a delicious minced chick pea and meatball. We then headed to a more traditional style Arabac restaurant where our meal consisted of flat bread served with dipping sauces of hummus, baba ganoush, tabouleh, and one other I can’t remember. Served with 2 large servings of rice as well as a family platter of various grilled vegetables, meats, and potatoes. It was very good and we’ll definitely like going back.
Stores are open during Ramadan at night, sometimes as late as 3 or 4 in the morning, so we then went to “Ladies Street” to purchase Jamie an abaya. There are several stores pretty much identical that sell abayas anywhere from $25 to $100. I’m sure the wealthier Saudi families have fancier ones though. Jamie settled on one for about $30 and received a good deal.
Not many pictures yet because I haven’t been really taking any. We also aren’t really quite sure about the customs of taking pictures in public and it might be hit or miss. We are going to try though. We have the 2 videos of the compound if you haven’t seen those, but we have been so busy with actually buying things that we haven’t really taken any pictures. We also won’t have Internet in our villa for probably more than a month, so I’ll be posting either at school or borrowing Internet at someone else’s villa.
Tomorrow, we start school and we are very excited. I’m actually typing this at 4:00 am because I can’ t really sleep. You all will read this several days after it all happened, but I am trying to go ahead and write so it will be fresh in my mind.
We woke up early and worked out and caught the bus to school. The drive takes about 20 minutes, but then you have to go through the security at the U.S. Consulate. Our school is actually right next to the U.S. Consulate, so security is tight with what we were told were brand new, more powerful machine guns.
After meeting administration, we were taken to the local hospital to receive our medical exams necessary for our all important Iqamas (green card). It was easy enough and the school was excited we were able to complete it so early in the process. We still won’t receive our Iqamas until after Ramadan anyway, but it was nice to get it out of the way.
Jamie and I then split up into our respective schools and had the typical first day of school stuff to do. We saw our classrooms and toured around the school a bit. It is an older school built in the 1960s, so the most of the buildings have that style, but are well kept and clean.
We left promptly at 3:30. We have to vacate the school at 5:00 anyway, so there won’t be any late nights working at the school. We then immediately fell asleep because of sheer exhaustion, but as I type this, Jamie is preparing a wonderful meal of grouper, rice, and steamed veggies. We’ll relax tonight and hit the grind again tomorrow.
After returning, we went straight to unpacking and settling all of our belongings. We then made a list of the necessary items we’ll need to completely settle in and really just relaxed the remainder of the day.
Jamie and I, more so me, will have to wait for our residency visas to process before we can pretty much do anything. We can’t set up our Internet, purchase a car, drive a car, set up our bank account, or leave and re-enter the country until we receive our Iqama. The Iqama is pretty much like a “green card” and allows us to fully work in the Kingdom. Until then, we have a letter that serves this purpose, but you still can’t do any of the above without it.
This can be a bit frustrating because we are at the mercy of others for rides to the store, but everyone has been very helpful at offering their services, so we feel that we’ll be just fine for the month. A bus will take us back and forth to work until we can finally purchase a car. For Jamie, it is illegal for her to drive, so that won’t be an issue for her anyway.
We enjoyed the rest of the day and ordered some lamb and chicken curry for delivery for dinner. We were able visit another villa and Skype with our parents to fill them in on most of these details.
Tomorrow, Friday, is a very slow day in the Kingdom as it is their holy day, similar to Sunday for most of the Western world. However, there are a few larger stores that are open, so we’ll venture out with our buddy couple to buy some much needed supplies for our villa.
Shoot me some questions via email or comments. I’ll try and get them onto the blog at some point in time. I think it would be a good way to answer some questions if I in fact have the answers.
Jamie and I finalized our packing today and crammed everything into 13 bags. My parents drove down; and along with Jamie’s parents, we headed down the airport. We had hoped for a discount on our excess baggage, but we didn’t receive it. That took some time as we had to wait for supervisors, but we finally checked out bags and only had 2 overweight. The cost was more than what I had wanted, but we had budgeted correctly for it. Our school provides a shipping allowance anyway, so it is all good.
We had dinner at Houlihans before saying our difficult goodbyes to our family. Our KLM flight took us through Amsterdam where we had a 2 hour layover. There, we actually met some families with whom we will be working. The Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is different because you actually go through security at the gate. That and all of the women are much taller.
Our two flights were good and we arrived at 9:00 pm in Saudi Arabia. Customs was a breeze and we worried about all of our stuff for no reason. We did have 1 bag that didn’t make, but hopefully we’ll receive it in a few days.
We were met by our superintendent, high school principal, middle school principal, and others as they helped us load our bags into a bus before we loaded onto another bus. The drive to our compound was about 45 minutes and we were showed some of the sites around the area despite it being dark. Al Khobar, the name of the city in which we will live, is actually very modern with many western restaurants and stores. More on this I’m sure in later blog posts.
Today is the first day of Ramadan, the holiest holiday for Islam. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and it is actually illegal for anyone to be caught eating or drinking in public. Most stores do not open until after sunset, so the whole country somewhat shuts down. Jamie was wearing long sleeves and pants when she arrived, but will purchase an abaya in a few days.
We arrived at our compound and were pleasantly surprised at the surroundings. We enter through a large electronic gate, but the inside of the compound looks somewhat like a nice retirement community you might see in Florida. The huge difference is that our gate is guarded by Saudi National Guard reserves with machine guns ready at a moment’s notice as well as a large concrete wall with barbed wire surrounding the compound. Makes me feel safe. I don’t want this to sound bad, because the villas are VERY nice.
On our compound, we have a pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, a recreational center with ping pong, pool, foosball, air hockey, a small library, a TV room, and a nice little gym.
Our villa is 3 stories, but Jamie and I will occupy the 2nd and 3rd stories as well as the rooftop. There is a single female that lives in the 1st floor. Please see the VIDEO of our villa tour for detailed information as I believe it will be better than me typing everything out.
Our school provides all of this as part of our package; so needless to say, we were shocked at the size of the place as well as what was furnished for us. We didn’t really unpack this night, but were visited by several families offering help over the next few days. I will speak more of this tomorrow, but I hope this first blog post lets you know of our tiring yet exciting first evening in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
The sign above was in my hometown of Calhoun, Tennessee. A nice gesture to wish us luck on our next adventure.
Jamie and I have spent the last 2 days packing. As of now, we'll have about 11 bags total that we'll take the airport for our trip. We had decided not to ship anything and just simply pay for the excess baggage fee at the airport. We hope this will be a good strategy, but I think if we had to do it over again, we'd have shipped these bags ahead of time. Oh well...
We have been saying our goodbyes to family and friends, which is always hard to do. Most of them are excited for us on this new journey, but I feel that some just can't quite understand why we'd want to move to Saudi Arabia of all places.
I'll remind my readers that Jamie and I attended a job fair in Bangkok, Thailand last January where we interviewed for seveal jobs in several countries, including China. ISG in Saudi Arabia offered us a job, we felt very comfortable with them and the package they were offering, so we decided to getive it a shot.
I do hope that everyone will keep checkig the blog for updates especially when we do arrive in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, our new home.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Jamie and I have had a great summer, but our next adventure is just around the corner as we move to Saudi Arabia in just one week. This summer has been busy as we have bounced around from Cartersville, Myrtle Beach, Tennessee, South Georgia, and St. George's Island visiting family and friends. We now have just one week to finalize appointments and finish packing before we fly out on evening of August 10th.
The visa process for going to Saudi Arabia was tedious as the medical forms took over one month to complete. The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington DC was very particular with our documents and everything had to be just right. It took us a couple of mailings, but we are now approved with a 90 day work visa. Once we arrive in Dhahran, our school will help secure us a full one year work visa. Unfortunately, this process runs into our 1st vacation, so we'll have to stay in Saudi Arabia for the duration of our first school break. Can you say, "Desert Vacation!"
To refresh everyone's memory, Jamie will be teaching high school social studies, specifically Modern European History and AP United States Government. She is very excited about the latter as it is a subject that we both enjoy teaching. I will be teaching 7th grade Math and Science.
We have found out quite a bit of information about our compound and the city in which we will live, but I'll save those details for when we actually arrive in Saudi. There is no shortage of Internet, so I should be up and running with Internet immediately, and I'll do my best to post regularly and often. I am betting that many people will be wondering what it is like to live in The Kingdom.
As you can see, I have revamped the blog site with an all new look and name change. This officially closes the book on the China blog. I just used a template design and then fiddled a little with the html code. I hope you like it and hope you can give me some feedback.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
|From CNY 2010|
Jamie and I left our lives in Cartersville, Georgia, USA, for Shekou, Shenzhen, China on July 31, 2008. Since then, we have been working at Quality Schools International of Shekou as middle school teachers. These last 2 years have been amazing as we have had our first overseas living experience. It has been nothing short of spectacular as we have had the opportunity to work with amazing students, teachers, and administrators, see the world, and experience various cultures. I believe we have both grown as people, and it has also brought us closer together as husband and wife.
While working and traveling, we have been both been writing our dissertations for our PhD's in Curriculum and Instruction. Our host country of China and city of Shenzhen was a perfect match for us for our first international teaching experience. We lived in Shekou, China, a city within the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. It was also the first time we lived in a large city, so we lived in a high rise apartment, walked everywhere, and took public transportation. We didn't own a car and didn't ever need one. Living in Shekou was a great lifestyle as we were able to afford a housekeeper (AYI) and live comfortably on just a small amount each month. This way, we were also able to save some money and traveled extensively in southeast Asia. While the teaching at QSI and living in Shekou was a wonderful experience, we decided to seek other opportunities abroad. We went to a job fair in January 2010 in Bangkok, Thainland and interviewed with 7 schools.
We have accepted new jobs are moving to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in August to take new international teaching positions at International Schools Group. We are both very excited for this opportunity and the many new adventures that we will no doubt experience while living in the Middle East, but also we are also sad to be leaving China, a country that in itself has been a wonderful and enriching experience all to its own.
We have had the opportunity to travel China and southeast Asia with both of our parents, my niece, and even brought my wonderful dog Griffey over here to live with us. Griffey was sent back to the USA in May 2010 and has not circumnavigated the earth.
If this is your first time visiting the blog or if you haven't visited in a while, I've compiled a list of all of the places we have been and briefly things we have seen in our 2 years of living in China. We left China for good on June 20, 2010, but will forever have the memories of that wonderful country in our hearts and minds.
Enjoy the list below and be sure to check out our 11168 photos that have been taken on our journeys. If you wish, you can search the blog site for the details of what happened at each place.
Shekou - our home for 2 years
Shenzhen - "The largest city you've never heard of"
Hong Kong - one of our favorite places (too many sites here to list)
Beijing - Great Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Hutongs, Summer Palace, Acrobat Show,
Macau - Portuguese influence, Coloanne, Lord Stowe's Bakery (egg tarts), Venetian, ZAIA
Xian - Terracotta Warriors, Cycling on top of the city walls
Guilin - Longji Rice Terraces
Yangshuo - Karst landscape, Light Show, Caving, Hot Air Balloon Ride
Lijiang - Old city, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Snow Dragon Mountain
Dali - Marble, Cangshan Mountain, Celebrating Xmas with Food Poisoning
Kunming - Stone Forest
Chengdu - one word - Pandas!
Chongqing - Beginning of our Yangtze River Cruise, genuine Hot Pot
Yichang - Three Gorges Dam and End of the Yangtze River Cruise
Shanghai - The Bund, History Museum, Nanjing Road, 2010 World EXPO
Suzhou - canaled city, Venice of China
Phnom Penh - National Palace, Killing Fields, S21 Prison Camp
Siem Reap - Angkor Archeological Site (Angkor Wat), Water Village
Bangkok - once for vacation (too many sites to list), once for hospital (kidney stone surgery), several times through the airport, once for the job fair
Chiang Mai - great little city in Northern Thailand
Chiang Rai - starting point to see the Golden Triangle
Golden Triangle - border between Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma)
Koh Chang Island - island vacation
Bali - Jimbaran, Kuta Beach, Scuba Diving, Kopi Luwak
Manila - Intramuros, Jeepneys
Coron Island - beautiful islands, lagoons, and teal/turquoise water
Cebu - Site of Magellan's Cross
Panglao Island - Bohol, Tarsier Monkeys, Chocolate Mounds, World's Largest captive Snake
Boracay Island - beautiful beach and vacation spot
Hanoi - "Hilton", Water Puppet Show, Ho Chi Minh Museum
Sapa - Hill Tribes, Rice Fields/Terraces, Place of Kidney Stone Attack
Halong Bay - Junk Boat Cruise along beautiful water and karst landscape
Ho Chi Minh City - War Museums, Tet Holiday celebrations
Hoi An - charming city with beach and shops
Danang - Marble Mountains, My Son Sanctuary (Vietnam's Angkor)
Hue - Citadel, Emperor's Tombs, Thien Mu Pagoda
Luang Prabang - laid back city we liked so much we stayed an extra 4 days
Vientiane - capital city of Laos
United States of America
Cartersville, Georgia - our permanent residence
Calhoun, Tennessee - hometown for Eric
Panama City Beach, Florida - vacation spot 2009
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - vacation spot 2010
I have calculated that we have been in a place other than Shekou or the USA once out of every 9 days for the past 21 months.
In 21 months, we have taken 47 flights as best I can count. This may sound expensive, but flying in Asia can be amazingly cheap. Some of our flight in the Philippines were only $9 per one way ticket.
We have traveled every mode of transportation that you can possibly think of with the exception of a helicopter. This includes a private leer jet that was arranged for me to fly from Hanoi, Vietnam to Bangkok, Thailand for my kidney stone surgery.
We aren't sure what adventures we'll have in Saudi Arabia, but we can only hope that those experiences can compare to what we have been able to see and do the last 2 years while living in China.
As always, I appreciate comments you may have. This should be posted on Facebook in the next couple of days and you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, be sure to check out our online Picasa Album for over 11,000 pictures taken in these marvelous places.
Monday, July 5, 2010
July 5 - 8 = Cartersville, GA
July 8 - 17 = Tennessee
July 17 - July 18 = Cartersville
July 19 - July 23 = South Georgia
July 24 - July 25 = Cartersville
July 26 - August 4 = Tennessee
August 4 - August 10 = Cartersville
August 9/10 = Leave for Saudi Arabia
Myrtle Beach was great as Jamie rested, I played golf, and we both enjoyed time with our families on the beach. I was able to purchase and entire new wardrobe of school/work clothing as all of my previous clothes were too large for me.
Some things that we miss so far about China (in no particular order):
1) Not needing a car and the ability to walk everywhere
2) Cheap stuff
3) Our friends
4) Our AYI
Some things we are enjoying in the USA:
1) Seeing family
2) The FOOD
3) Clean air and no city sounds
4) The temperature
5) Cheap golf
I think this would different if we were coming back to stay, but this is a decent list that will let you all know a little bit of what we miss and enjoy.
Be on the lookout for a rather lengthy post outlining what Jamie and I have see the last 2 years. I will also be updating the blog site with a new look and of course changing the name as we transition to Saudi Arabia.
Monday, June 28, 2010
We woke early the next morning and made our way to the airport for our 9:15 flight. We were surprised that none of the bags were overweight and they did not charge us. Our flight took us 14.5 hours to Detroit where we had a 3 hour layover. We had to go through customs in Detroit where we were almost fined for my fake golf clubs. Luckily, the guy at customs was cool enough. We then had to made the connection to Atlanta arriving at 5:30 pm on June 20. Our families were waiting for us at the airport, and we headed straight back to Jamie's parents house for some dinner and a good night's sleep.
The next 2 days were a blitz as we had to purchase items needed for the summer as well as take care of a ton of paperwork that was necessary for us to complete our work visas for Saudi Arabia. This included a medical exam and a trip to the police station for a background check and letter. The evenings were spent hanging out and trying to relax, although we had some crazy jet lag.
On Wednesday, we headed toward Myrtle Beach. We had to cancel our annual trip to Panama City Beach due to the oil spill conditions; but so far, Myrtle Beach has been great. My parents and family arrived on Saturday, so we have 2 families of 14 people at the beach in 2 condos.
When we return on July 3, we have to finalize some of the visa process paperwork. We'll then head to south Georgia for a while before heading to Tennessee for a couple of weeks and then Georgia for the final 2 weeks. It is expected that we'll leave for Saudi Arabia on August 10.
We have a new cell phone if anyone wants to call and chat while we are in... 404-693-7439.
I'll keep up with the events of our summer on here as we prepare for Saudi.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
So, on Sunday afternoon June 13, I decided to join his class for the day. I had been to Shenzhen University the previous week to meet with another professor, so I thought I knew my way around. I had told my research assistant/translator that I did not need her to go with me because the students and professor both spoke English (or at least enough to understand me). My assistant nonetheless gave me detailed directions and seemed worried. Little did I know that she would be correct.
I took the 30 minute bus ride and arrived on campus 20 minutes early. I actually walked in to a different gate from when I had gone previously, so I was immediately lost. I asked about 10 different people and they each gave me about 10 different answers as to the location of the teacher college. I fast-walked for 30 minutes before finally finding the correct gate and knowing my bearings.
Let me pause a minute here to discuss the humidity in Shenzhen. When you walk outside, it is as though you as going to drown because you might suck in water. A simple stroll a block away will leave you sweating profusely. Needless to say, when I arrived at the professors room, I was a soaking wet sweaty horrible looking American disaster. I had even gone to the restroom to wash up a little bit, but of course this being China, there were no paper towels.
I eventually caught my breath, joined the class, and had a valuable experience. I'm sure I looked like a complete idiot arriving 20 minutes late and soaking wet, but I believe I did well in leading the discussion on education research. They seemed pleased enough and really wanted to know the differences in the American and Chinese educational systems. I am becoming somewhat of an expert at this.
Decent story that I'll never forget for joining in a Chinese university class and showing up a sweaty mess.
Just thought I'd share.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Saturday and Sunday, Jamie and I went to Macau for the last time. For those that have never heard of it (I haven't until I moved over here), Macau is a special administrative zone much like Hong Kong is. It was a Portuguese colony (the first and only European colony in China) for a while and there is still an influence there, although only 1% of the population speak Portuguese. Macau is now a sprawling tourist town known for its casinos. The Venetian, the world's largest hotel, is there, as is the Wynn, Rio, Hard Rock, Lisboa, among others.
Jamie and I headed there Saturday afternoon, checked in to our favorite hotel there, the Hotel Royal, and then went to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. We thought there would be a cafe there, but it is not built yet. We bought some shirts anyway and headed to the Blue Frog, a great bar/restaurant in the Venetia with good food. Our next stop was the newly built City of Dreams. It is a shopping complex, but has a show called The Bubble, a 4D experience (see video above for a scene from it as well as our Picasa Photo Album for more videos). It is a dome similar to a planetarium that shows a 15 minute 4D show. They change the showing every now and then, but this one was about a dragon who goes through several geographical scenes. It was really cool. I'll upload some videos of it so you can check it out.
We checked in for the night, slept in for the morning, and headed out to the old part of the city for one last look at the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral. We tried to go to the dog tracks, but it did not open until 5pm, so we headed back to the hotel so we could check out before heading to the horse tracks. I bet on a couple of races, although they were not racing in Macau that day, only in Malaysia and Hong Kong. I lost both unfortunately. I accept the fact that the horses I bet on were just not as fast as those that won.
We then took the bus down to Coloanne for one last look at one of our favorite villages and the world famous Lord Stowe's Bakery Portuguese Egg Tarts. We bought 3 to eat there and 6 for take away (to go). We walked the village one last time, headed back to the Venetian to eat at Fatburger, then it was time to go.
Macau is a wonderful place for a weekend getaway, and we'll miss going there. They are building new casinos and resorts, so the next time we go to Macau, it will be very different.
We have just 11 days remaining until we head back to the US. There is a ton to do before then: final grades, literacy folders, pass on folders, clean up our classrooms, check out procedures, packing up our apartment, Chinese teachers to interview for my dissertation, and goodbyes to say.
I'll keep you posted on how our last few days in China are, but it is fast approaching and will be gone soon.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
|From Hong Kong May 2010|
Jamie and I spent Saturday and Sunday afternoon in what will be our last time visiting Hong Kong. I have really fallen in love with that city and would move there in a heartbeat. It wasn’t in the cards this time, but perhaps down the road, we’ll find our way back there.
Saturday afternoon we took the ferry across to Central, had lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Tequila, and checked into our hotel, Bishop Lei International Hotel. It is a great place that is half a block from the mid-level escalators in Central with a usually great price for being in the center of the city.
We had wanted to catch the nightly 8:00 pm light show that projects across Victoria Harbor onto the city skyline, so we took the Star Ferry across to Kowloon and checked out the Hong Kong Science Museum. Great museum that we wish we could take our students to, but several of our students have only Chinese visas and can’t enter Hong Kong and re-enter China, so field trips to Hong Kong are sometimes pretty iffy. After the science museum, it was pouring down rain, so we didn’t catch the light show. Instead, we headed toward Lan Kwai Fong, the famous bar street in Hong Kong, and ate at a great place called Bulldogs.
We slept in because our bed was very comfortable, but after lunch at Just Salad (wonderful salad only restaurant) headed out to see an art exhibition called Hope and Glory by Simon Birch. It was a multi-media abstract art exhibition that was really way over our heads. We both agreed that we weren’t artsy or art intelligent enough to understand or appreciate it that much. Nonetheless, it was free and only cost us the metro ride over there. We then headed to the horse tracks where I bet on 2 races and won 1 of them. Sweet! I paid or my lunch with that one. Our next stop was a place I had been wanting to go every since I saw the map of Hong Kong, the cemetery.
I have been amazed by cemeteries ever since a project I had to do in an undergraduate Tennessee history class in college. The Hong Kong Cemetery is right in the middle of the city and sits on the side of a mountain, so the graves are terraced, very old, and has sections for the different religions, mainly Jews, Muslims, and Christians. We found some cool headstones and some that I need to research further to understand their meaning.
We headed on the trolley (still the best way to get around Hong Kong Island), and headed back to Soho and the mid level escalators and found lunch/dinner at Build a Burger (wonderful hamburgers), picked up our stuff at the hotel, bought our ferry tickets, dropped by IFC Mall for some dessert, stopped by Dymocks one last time to purchase more magazines (entirely too expensive), and waved farewell to Hong Kong for what could be the last time on the last ferry back to Shekou for the night.
Be sure to check out a few of our pictures. Some cool ones of Hope and Glory, the cemetery, and just us having a blast in Hong Kong.
Friday, May 21, 2010
|From Shekou March 2009|
Griffey was picked up at our apartment at 2:30 on May 21 and taken across the border of China and into Hong Kong. He left Hong Kong airport on a KLM flight to Amsterdam and arrived there later the next day. He stayed overnight in an Animal Hotel at the Amsterdam airport before flying to Atlanta in the morning.
My parents have agreed to take care of him until we can get home, so they met Griffey in Atlanta on Friday afternoon, but the animal customs had closed at 5:00 and Griffey's plane arrived at 5:15. My parents had to stay in Atlanta for the night and Griffey was boarded at the airport.
I just got off the phone with my parents, and they finally received Griffey on Saturday morning about 9:30. So, Griffey left me at 2:30 pm China time on Thursday and arrived at 9:30 am Saturday Atlanta time, a total of 55 hours, including 2 plane rides across Asia and Europe and the Atlantic Ocean and kennels stays in Amsterdam and Atlanta.
Not bad for a beagle! Griffey has now traveled completely around the world!
I miss him already, but it'll be a month or so, and I'll get to see him again.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Another early morning as we wanted to try and be at the gates of the EXPO just as they opened at 9:00. We arrived at the Metro Station that leads directly to the center of the EXPO at 8:50, plenty of time. Apparently, the entire city had the same idea as thousands of people waited at the metro station gate that also served as an entrance into the EXPO.
We had planned to try and see as many of the country pavilions as possible in two ways: just seeing the outside and the ones we really liked, go inside and view. We first went to the center of the EXPO and the China pavilion, an enormous upside down pyramid. We didn’t go into this one because we figured that half of the Chinese visitors would be there. So we headed to the Asia area and toward the pavilion of our future home, Saudi Arabia.
IT WAS PACKED. Probably the longest line of the entire EXPO, and we have no idea why. Perhaps they were giving away free gasoline, but we found out later that it was the 2nd largest pavilion behind China, had a desert and sea in it, and the largest cinema screen (1600 square feet) in the world. Hundreds of people had lined up there and we were told it would be more than 2 hours. Instead of waiting (we only had 6 hours total), we decided to walk around the other pavilions and try to find shorter lines. There weren’t any. All of the lines were at least a 45 minute wait. We finally made our way to the Africa combined pavilion where you could just walk in without a line. It was pretty cool and brought about some interesting discussion about certain countries and continents’ wealth.
We walked around Europe and the Americas. We were very unimpressed at the US pavilion. As you can tell from the pictures, some countries went all out on the outside of their pavilions to make them look appealing. The most boring person in the world must have designed the US pavilion. Again, the lines for these amazing country pavilions were so long that we didn’t take the time to go in them. We didn’t want to waste time in lines. We did hungry, so the first place we thought of to go eat (except the US) was… you guessed it – MEXICO. Apparently, many of the Chinese had the same idea the Mexico pavilion was also pretty crowded. We waited in line mainly just to get in to the restaurant inside. We were vastly disappointed and they must have been taking tips from Disney World on what to charge for crappy food.
We then walked to a close up view of the China pavilion and around some of the others, tried again at Saudi Arabia, and decided to try one of the theme pavilions across the river. The EXPO was divided into 5 zones: A, B, C, D, and E. We ended up going through all of them in a whirl, but we figured it would take someone 3 straight weeks going 8 hours per day actually see all of the pavilions. Our last stop was the “Future” pavilion, which was very cool as it discussed the various new technologies that were going into future city planning.
We are very glad that we went to the EXPO even though we didn’t really get to see much of it. Just being there was a great experience and something we won’t forget. We only wish we had more time to spend there in order to truly enjoy it. We envy our friends who live in Shanghai as they will have 185 more days to experience it.
As this vacation comes to close, it will be our last one of our adventures in China. Our plan is to visit Hong Kong at least one more time and Macau again. We might make a trip to Guangzhou too. We are running out of time. I have written a list of all of the places we have visited and seen in the last 2 years. I’ll be posting it along with some cool statistics in a few weeks. We actually get a lot of people who read this blog who are searching QSI and Shekou. Nice to know someone reads it.
Be sure to check out the pictures of the EXPO and remember that this was only a small fraction of it.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
We woke early so we could catch an early train to Suzhou, a city only 40 minutes south of Shanghai via the bullet train. Great train and seats on the short 40 minute ride. We immediately visited the North Tower Pagoda and had a great view of the city from 9 stories up in this giant pagoda.
We had read that getting a taxi in the city was very easy, so our goal was to simply take a taxi around the city of the various gardens. No problem. Well, it was difficult all day to find a taxi where sometimes it would take us 20 minutes of waiting trying to hail a cab. We walked all the way next to the Suzhuo Museum which was designed by I.M. Pei. Unfortunately, the line was way too long as it was wrapped through the walkway for more than 100 meters. We decided to move on down to the Humble Administrator's Garden, but again, the line was long and the price was a bit too steep. We hated to miss this one, but there are literally dozens of gardens all over the city, so we figured we'd be able to see others.
We did find a cab to take us to the central part of the city where the famous canals are. They were nice enough, but we weren't blown away by them. I guess we had in our minds an ancient area like all others in China except on water, but it just wasn't that impressive. We walked down a little more and finally found the Lingering Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These gardens were beautiful and I strongly recommend you check out the pictures we took around these. We had fun posing with the flowers, bonzai trees, and rock formations.
It took us forever to find a taxi to take us to our lunch destination. When we finally did find one, the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed. We opted for a nice Italian restaurant instead. It was about time to go, we headed toward the train station where we finally found a bus to take us. We stopped by the Suzhou Silk Museum, an excellent museum that took us through the history of silk in China, including the Silk Road. The highlight was seeing actually silk worms - see video.
A 40 minute train ride back to Shanghai, a quick shower, and we headed out again to the Yu Gardens for dinner. Took some cool pictures of this place at night and we ate some great and cheap sushi. We ended our great but tiring day by checking out the Shanghai skyline once again along the Bund.
As I type this, I am planning our day tomorrow at the EXPO. Check back for I'm sure some outstanding pictures of the pavilions and the 2010 EXPO.
Friday, April 30, 2010
|From May Holiday - Day 8 - Shanghai|
We awoke this morning, but had to wait around on our laundry to finish. For some reason, our hostel took 2 and a half days to do our laundry. We had pre-purchased tickets for Alice and Wonderland in 3D at Xin Tian Di Cineplex, so we took a quick cab over there to see the movie. Great film if you haven’t seen it. I downloaded the book and plan on reading it after I finish my current book. I have started downloading some of the classics on my Kindle, so I’m reading Gulliver’s Travels right now and plan to read Alice afterward. As a kid, I didn’t quite have the love for reading as I do as an adult.
Our next adventure was to find the Hard Rock Café Shop and try and find a t-shirt. The HRC of Shanghai closed in February, but there was a store that still sold the merchandise. After roaming around for 45 minutes trying to find it, we discovered that it had already been converted into another store. What was fascinating was that they had closed down the entire street around the Shanghai Center. I believe some high ranking officials or someone obviously more important that us were exiting the center and probably on the way to the EXPO.
If you haven’t checked the 2010 Shanghai EXPO online, please do. We bought tickets today for only Sunday. We will only have about 6 hours to walk around the EXPO, but I believe it will be well worth the cost of the tickets. The Chinese government has pumped in around 40 billion dollars into the EXPO, more than what they spent for the Olympics. 194 countries have built pavilions, some amazing beautiful, artsy, or architecturally unique. Our goal on Sunday is to see as many as possible, but the EXPO covers a rather large area, so I doubt we’ll be able to see even half of them.
We are sitting here watching the opening ceremonies on TV as I type this. They are showing the flyover of the pavilions and they are enormous. These are pavilions, these are large scale buildings. The US’s pavilion costs 61 millions dollars and they were late getting in the game. They weren’t even coming to this EXPO until Hillary Clinton encouraged some people to donate for the pavilion.
Back to our day, after our failed attempt to buy our t-shirts, we checked out of our hostel and into a much better one that is right next to the Bund. Great location. We dropped our stuff off and headed out toward the Yu Yuan (Yu Gardens). This area of town does have some beautiful gardens historically, but it has now been really converted into a shopping and restaurant district but decorated with traditional architecture. I took some good pictures of some of the buildings including Dairy Queen, KFC, and Starbucks all keeping with the style.
Jamie decided to stay in for the night, but I headed out to the Bund to try and take some pictures of the Shanghai skyline at night. If there are 20 million people in this city, I bet 18 million were out on the Bund along the riverfront. I had previously read that you probably wouldn’t be able to see any of the fireworks from the opening ceremony along the Bund, so I wasn’t planning on staying out there for that. I guess the zillion people thought otherwise because it was packed with people hoping to see them.
I don’t know if they could or not because I decided to come in and watch it on TV. As I sit here and type this, the fireworks and laser show is going on live on TV, but we can actually hear the fireworks 5 km away from our hostel. Amazing show along the riverfront where they have used the 2 bridges as launching pads for some of the fireworks as well as for a laser show. The centerpiece of the ceremony is the LCD screen that aligns the waterfront that they are claiming is the largest LCD screen in the world. I haven’t heard the dimensions. The ceremony is a mixture of laser lights, water show, LCD television, and fireworks. They just got through have little small boats float up and down the river carrying the flag of every nation.
Enough about the ceremony. I only wish we could have gone, but it is more of a VIP thing. It is a shame that most of the people in the US have not even heard about the EXPO much less have the ability to tune in to see this ceremony. I think it is just as good if not better than the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing. China should be proud.
Tomorrow we’ll take a 40 minute train ride to Suzhou to tour that city for the day before heading back to Shanghai tomorrow evening. Sunday will be a jam packed day of EXPO where I will take a zillion pictures before sadly flying back to Shenzhen that evening.
I’ll get the pictures from today uploaded although there aren’t many.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
We then took a long long trip north of city central to purchase train tickets for our trip to Suzhou in a couple of days. We finally found the ticket office and it was pretty easy, but the signs pointed us in the wrong direction at first.
Lunch was very tasty at a chicken curry restaurant on Nanjing Road. We then headed out to try and find 2 things: Expo tickets and an agency selling night river cruises. We went 0 for 2 in our search, so decided to get some rest. Walking around the entire morning had exhausted us and I believe our trip has worn on us some.
After some rest, we headed toward Xin Tian Di street, a renovated street of ritzy restaurants that was also the site of when Mao Zedong first began meeting with his friends discussing the soon to be created communist state of China. Dinner was Italian before heading back. We'll be back at Xin Tian Di tomorrow to see a matinee of Alice and Wonderland in 3D.
Tiring day without getting really anything accomplished. That's OK, because Shanghai is rapidly becoming one of our favorite cities. The city is a buzz because of the EXPO which starts on May 1 and will run for 187 days. We'll try and get some tickets to it for May 2, but if not, we still plan to walk around seeing the country's pavilions.
Not many pictures today, but keep reading...