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A walk by St. Paul’s Cathedral…

19 Nov

Since I took my hiatus from the blog earlier this year, there are lots of places that I have visited in the last six months – both for pleasure and business – that I’d like to share now that I have some more time to go back through my memories.  Enjoy!

In June I visited the UK for work.  I was there nearly a week, first flying into London Heathrow and spending not quite 24 hours in London, then heading to Scotland, then back to London for three days of meetings.  Since I was coming from the farthest away, I needed that night in London to balance myself instead of directly transiting to Scotland.

The hotel that I stayed in had a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral – so I decided to take advantage of the summer-like weather and the blue skies to try to combat my jet lag and take a walk – both right after I arrived, but also the next morning before I headed back to the airport.  I wandered around – not quite aimlessly, but tried to hug the Thames and soak in the sunshine.

Here are a few of my favorite shots.

View outside my hotel window

View outside my hotel window

The shard in the distance from another bridge

The shard in the distance from another bridge

St. Paul's peeking from the bridge

St. Paul’s peeking from the bridge

Puffy clouds and classic building silhouettes

Puffy clouds and classic building silhouettes

I really liked this view from under the bridge - a different point of view

I really liked this view from under the bridge – a different point of view

My time in London the weather was amazing – no dreary skies.  It wasn’t a standard visit – I didn’t take the Tube, visit a museum or have afternoon tea, but I managed to have a great time.  As the weather turns cool here and the air quality goes down, looking at these photos take me back to that visit.

I’d like to also call out a Happy Birthday to my father who has always encouraged me to talk the walk by the river or sit in the café in the square.  Happy birthday dad!

Where have you wandered recently?

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Friends across the sea

12 Nov

One of the wonderful things about all the travel I’ve done this year was the opportunity to see people that I don’t get to see very often.  As long as I know I’ll be in an area and have a little free time I will reach out to people to see if we can spend some time together.  This year was a new record for me.  I have been blessed with wonderful friends who are now scattered all over the world – I like to say that I “collect people” through my life, like the pearls of a necklace.

In February I got to spend a weekend with my sister in Austin, Texas between two sets of meetings for work.  The last time I was in town she was recovering from a knee injury – this time we enjoyed local barbecue at Rudy’s and took a long walk down by the river.  I would go back again for the barbecue in a second – and the banana pudding!  It was a great weekend.

Barbecue!  They even let us try samples before we ordered.

Barbecue! They even let us try samples before we ordered.

Nobody does barbecue like Texas!

Nobody does barbecue like Texas!

A couple of months later I was back in the States again and got to spend a weekend back in my hometown with my best friend and her kids.  We had hamburgers and ice cream and went to the park.  It was the quintessential American weekend – one of those days that made me wonder why I am still living in Shanghai so far away from friends and family and blue skies.  The weekend also made me thankful that I have the resources to travel and the experience to appreciate going home.

Blue skies at the park

Blue skies at the park

In June I managed to connect with a former colleague in the UK at Paddington train station in London before heading off to the airport.  We had a long brunch and traded stories since we had last seen each other, nearly a year before in Singapore.  She has now retired and looked fabulous – rested, relaxed with a bit of a tan.  I hope when I get to that phase of my life I have that many stories to tell.

At the end of June I was in San Francisco and managed to connect with many old friends – both at the actuarial conference that I attended,

An old friend from Chicago who worked in Hong Kong, visited me in Shanghai and went to the same conference in San Francisco.

An old friend from Chicago who worked in Hong Kong, visited me in Shanghai and went to the same conference in San Francisco.

but also a friend from Shanghai who moved back to Canada and was randomly in town for the weekend when I was there.  That connection even surprised me – we both put a photo on social media of the beautiful day in San Francisco and then realized our hotel rooms were on the same street!

Also in San Francisco I met up with a friend from Shanghai who lives there now.  She spent a day taking me to Fisherman’s Wharf where we had seafood and visited the famous Boudin bakery where I bought myself a sourdough roll.  We rode the trolley and explored the city – I even bought a T-shirt.  Sometimes being a tourist is the best way to see a city.

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In July I had a friend come to me – Carissa from Everyday adventures in Asia.  She was in town for work and I was actually in Shanghai that week and volunteered my spare room.  We stayed up way too late to squeeze in every moment of time together  because neither of us know the next time we’ll have the opportunity.

And finally I managed to squeeze in a quick breakfast with an old friend from Shanghai who was in my first Chinese class at Miracle Mandarin when I was in Jakarta in August.  She’s Indonesian, married to an Australian who has lived in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Australia.  Her daughter was born in Shanghai and they moved a couple of years ago back to Jakarta.  We hadn’t seen each other since, but we connected as if we had seen each other the previous weekend.

We even remembered to snap a photo!

We even remembered to snap a photo!

Friends are that way – even when they are across the sea.  Shared experiences and special relationships come together to make a wonderful, welcoming place for me all across the world.  If you’re in my neck of the woods – I’m happy to welcome you too!

Do you have friends across the sea?

There’s always time for sunsets

1 Oct

Autumn is my favorite season in Shanghai.  The winds blow away the pollution, the nights get cool and there can be beautiful, beautiful sunsets.

The first glance out the window

The first glance out the window

We saw this one from our kitchen window on a recent weekend.  Dinner waited as we both stared in awe at the colors that splashed across the sky.  The sunset felt prophetic – the light leading into the heavens.

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Ten minutes later – it was gone, only a memory.

Just before it disappeared

Just before it disappeared

I’m glad I took the time for this sunset.

Happy National Chinese holidays to you all.  Today kicks off a week of vacation during the best time of the year.  We’ll be staying in Shanghai – too much travel for me this year – and enjoying the fall.

Hopefully there will be some more sunsets soon!

Replacing things in the new year – part 2 (the scary story)

6 Feb

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about needing to replace things.  I also made a comment saying I wondered what else was going to need to be replaced.  Unfortunately, my premonition was correct.

The next thing to break – our main air conditioner/heater.

The air conditioner - estimated to be around 10 years old - which may have been the root of the problem

The air conditioner – estimated to be around 10 years old – which may have been the root of the problem

One Saturday morning I woke up and realized that we had forgotten to turn off the heater in the main room before going to bed.  It sounded a little funny and there was a bit of a strange smell.  I thought that it had quite literally “overheated” and so turned it off and didn’t think much more of it.

Later that day when I turned it on again, I still smelled the funny smell and so told my husband we needed to have the repairman come to check it out.  As loyal readers know – this past summer the air conditioner in our bedroom broke and it required the addition of more coolant so that was my self-diagnosis of what needed to happen again.

Li called the air conditioner hotline to ask a repairman to come – but their advice was that we first needed to clean the inside of the air conditioner to make sure that nothing was stuck inside and that would fix the smell.  After an hour of cleaning out the air conditioner – it was filthy and really needed it, we both thought the smell had disappeared for the most part and agreed to wait to see if it would improve.

The following Monday night we were watching TV together with the heater on and the fumes became overwhelming.  We both agreed that the next day the repairman needed to come.

I was working from home and when the repairman came I explained what I thought was the problem.  He added coolant, tweaked the internal computer and told me that I needed to run the air conditioner full blast with the doors/windows open for the rest of the day to clear the smell and make everything work.  In hindsight, that was not very good advice.

Because the weather was chilly, I bundled up in our small office and shut the door, warm inside the small room.  Simultaneously, I did as prescribed, opening the doors and windows to the main room – getting a good cross breeze – and putting the heat on at full blast.  A couple of hours later after I came out – I realized the air conditioner was no longer on, the smell was even more overwhelming and the circuit breaker had flipped.  I then, for the first time, looked carefully at the plug.

The plug

The plug

The plastic between the plug and the socket had completely melted through.  What I had been smelling the last several days was melting plastic – and we were only saved from fire by the fact that our circuit breaker was set appropriately!

I was scared to pull the plug out and so then had to call the electrician from my complex to come take a look.  He was finally able to get it out and luckily, that was about the time Li came home.  I abdicated responsibility to him as I had a previously scheduled dinner engagement and he had to go out and purchase a new plug, new socket and then get the electrician to replace both.

Would you use this plug?

Would you use this plug?

The source of the smell

The source of the smell

Getting home that evening I saw that all had been replaced, but it took me over a week to get comfortable turning the heater on again.  I still am a little skiddish, but right around Chinese New  Year there was a spate of warm weather – in the 50s – so we didn’t need to use it as much as during a normal January.

Hopefully I am now through replacing things for a while.  I also now know that I need to trust my instincts when there is something wrong and I should have insisted further when the repairman was there.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

What has been the strangest repair you’ve needed to do in your house/apartment?  This one is right up there for me.

Back to Beijing

28 Nov

I haven’t been in Beijing for about six months and recently had the opportunity to go back for work twice in the last month.  The first time I went I had heard that the pollution was bad, but I hadn’t realized just how bad until I landed.

Getting in to the car I immediately sensed a strange taste in my mouth.  It was as if a little bit of dirt had gotten into it.  I didn’t notice it at first, but even after a drink of water the taste just wouldn’t go away.  The visitor who I was accompanying took it pretty hard and I knew in his mind, Shanghai was a better city.  It’s funny how the pollution can change your view.

A perfect cup of tea - and a way to wash out my mouth from the grit

A perfect cup of tea – and a way to wash out my mouth from the grit

Because it was his first trip though, I was able to revisit some of my favorite places in Beijing – Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  Even with the gray skies, I still had a good trip.

Posing with Chairman Mao - note the gray sky

Posing with Chairman Mao – note the gray sky

The lions in front of the Forbidden City are just as imposing under gray skies

The lions in front of the Forbidden City are just as imposing under gray skies

This shot was taken just as we left the Forbidden City - I noticed the reflection in the water and thought about how I could capture it.  One of my favorite photos recently.

This shot was taken just as we left the Forbidden City – I noticed the reflection in the water and thought about how I could capture it. One of my favorite photos recently.

My more recent visit the situation was flipped – Shanghai has had high PMI 2.5 levels for the last week and Beijing was clearer.  I flew in the evening and I picked up the most beautiful sunset out of the window as I skimmed across the sky.

The sunset welcomed me back to Beijing on my second trip

The sunset welcomed me back to Beijing on my second trip

I’m happy I’ve made it back to Beijing.  It is a completely different city depending on the weather.  What places fall into that category for you and what times of year should be avoided?

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

19 Sep

Today is the full moon, so the official mid-Autumn festival day.  Shortly we will be heading out to Li’s hometown (wedding still TBD).

The weather in Shanghai lately has been absolutely gorgeous – blue skies and cooler nights with some killer sunsets from my office window.  I haven’t been able to stop from snapping photos as I see a blue sky or a building highlighted against it.  Here are several that I have taken in the last week.

The first shots are from an afternoon excursion to Yu Yuan Garden with a friend of my sister.  He happened to be in town for less than 24 hours and said he had already seen the Bund, so I swept him along through Yu Yuan Garden and Xintiandi and we had a grand time.  The blue skies that day made me stand up and notice.

The classic dragon at Yu Yuan Garden

The classic dragon at Yu Yuan Garden

Traditional architecture in the garden highlighted by the sunny sky

Traditional architecture in the garden highlighted by the sunny sky

The second cluster are shots taken while either at work or on my way to a meeting.  I especially paid attention to the Pearl Tower (the TV tower, the round ball thing) which is a symbol of Shanghai because I saw in the paper that after October holidays they are going to renovate it.  I wonder how long it will be under construction and whether this symbol of the city will be dark for a while.

The others – my view will change soon at work and I continue to be amazed at the beauty I see each day.

A snap out of a cab window - the pearl tower with a couple puffy clouds behind

A snap out of a cab window – the pearl tower with a couple puffy clouds behind

Clouds gathering to the north of my office - skies of promise

Clouds gathering to the north of my office – skies of promise

A stunning sunset over Yan An elevated road

A stunning sunset over Yan An elevated road

The final shots are of moon cakes – couldn’t avoid them!  This is a beautiful package that Li’s company gave him with 12 moon cakes in it.  Since I received some as well, this box is currently in transit with us to his hometown.  I like moon cakes, but after two or three, that’s enough.  This package is even more special because from the pictures it looks like the moon cakes are made with precious materials like abalone.  Even more of a reason to share with his family.

Moon cakes in a gold box from the Shanghai Postal service

Moon cakes in a gold box from the Shanghai Postal service

Moon cakes with precious fillings ready to be shared

Moon cakes with precious fillings ready to be shared

I wish all of you a happy, healthy mid-Autumn festival.  May you be surrounded by family and friends during this beautiful time of year to celebrate how you see fit!

On a technical note I may not be able to keep up a regular posting schedule over the next couple of weeks with the different trips we have planned.  Will do my best, but if I miss a post here and there, consider yourselves warned!

Downpours and blue skies

10 Sep

The last couple of weeks as the heat has finally broken, the weather has gotten more erratic.  We have had tremendous thunderstorms followed by blue skies with puffy clouds.

I was at work on a Friday after lunch and looked out the window.  I could see the rain coming towards me from the east.  The skies got blacker and blacked and the wind picked up.  I grabbed my camera and shot a couple of photos.  The difference in the view from the clear summer day that I showed you before was complete.

The storm approaches

The storm approaches

Black clouds waiting for the rain to pour down

Black clouds waiting for the rain to pour down

Later that afternoon I went downstairs to get something to drink.  The glassed in ceiling over level the basement level sounded like war drums were beating – the rain was that hard.  I stood mesmerized, watching the drops bead above me.  I wished I was in my childhood bedroom listening to the rain beat down on the skylight.

The rain drumming on the roof

The rain drumming on the roof

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Instead I took some more photos and sat on a bench watching the rain until my conscious pushed me back upstairs to my next deliverable.

The next weekend I was reading by the window at home and happened to look out over my shoulder.

Blue, blue skies...

Blue, blue skies…

The blue skies had returned and the clouds had made a beautiful pattern stretching over the apartment buildings to the south.

Where are the clouds leading?  They remind me of a sea.

Where are the clouds leading? They remind me of a sea.

Depending on my mood – either view can be appropriate – and telling.  My China days continue to happen – but I know that blue skies will return.

Which do you prefer – the pent up burst of the thunderstorm or the ever changing clouds in the blue sky?

Summer skies from 43 floors up

25 Aug

Despite the heat, there have been some beautiful blue skies over the last few weeks.  It seems like every time I glance out my office window I see views that make my heart expand.

I look north – north east typically, but there was one day recently that had me scurrying to our conference room with a view east towards the Bund.  The sky was so clear that it looked like I could jump out of the window and land on the TV tower.  Here are some of the photos from that amazing afternoon.

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Then on another occasion I was about to go home from work when I glanced west out of another set of windows.  The shades were drawn because of the intense heat of the day, but I saw amazing colors of orange as the sun set over the elevated highway.  My phone was close by and I snapped two photos.

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In both of these cases it required me looking up from my computer and looking around me.  I am so glad I did!

I use photos like this to remind me how beautiful Shanghai can be – and to carry myself through the gray skies to come.

How do you capture the beauty in your every day?  Do you take time to notice?  Which shot is your favorite?

Without a care in the world…

22 Aug

Our time home in Michigan earlier in June made me remember so many of the wonderful things that are summers “Up North.”  Even though our trip was too short (they always are), we found time to do many of the things that scream “summer” to me.

Summer is having the time to watch a sunset,

Sunset with airplane trails

Time to sit out on the dock and count the pebbles under the clear water.

Classic dock

Summer is playing mini golf (and eating fudge)

He did hit a hole in one on one hole

He did hit a hole in one on one hole

and going to the beach and only worrying that your hat will blow away.

Yellow hat at beach

It’s wandering over to watch the windsurfers do amazing tricks as the sun starts to sink down.

Windsurfers

Summer is finding time to lay in the hammock with your sweetie

Hammock with feet

and finding animals in the clouds floating in the big blue sky.

Puffy clouds & hammock

This post is in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree – to see how others posted about this topic, please click the link.

Thinking about this topic, China is not a place where I can be carefree.  I have many good times, enjoying life with friends and family – but it’s different.  Enjoy this version of carefree from me.

Where are you without a care in the world?

Gazing at the moon

8 Aug

Moon pathIt began with a text message and a challenge.  My husband wanted to know if I could read the “junk text” that the phone company had just sent him.

The characters were basic and I slowly puzzled it out.  “Can we ever see the dark side of the moon? Reply 1 for “Yes” and 2 for “No.””

My husband beamed – I had read the text, then he said, “Of course we can’t see the dark side of the moon. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see the old man chopping down trees every night.”

I looked at him blankly.  This required further explanation.

He then told me some of the legends of Wu Gang, the man in the moon.

In the first legend Wu Gang offended the gods who then sent him to the moon to chop down trees as punishment.  Every night he almost finishes and every day the trees grow back.  He is continuously trying to finish his sentence but has been chopping down the same trees now for thousands of years.

In another legend Wu Gang is actually a god himself and he was dating the goddess of the moon Chang E.  Unfortunately the two of them got into an argument with the head God who sent Wu Gang to the moon to chop down the trees and keep him from his true love.  Each time he was nearly done a raven was sent to distract him- first by snagging his clothing, then with a loud noise, then with other ways.  In the moment he was distracted the trees grew again.

Legend has it that each year on the 16th of the Eighth lunar month a single leaf will fall to earth from the tree on the moon.  He or she who finds it will be blessed with treasures.

I have never heard these stories, they belong to a culture that I am just figuring out, but one may argue that I have found my treasure already.

This post is in honor of my husband.  It was five years ago today that he came back to Shanghai to start a new career after living in the UK.  It also is the day that the 2008 Olympics began in Beijing.  Eight is an auspicious number – it brings good luck and good fortune.  I don’t necessarily believe in the superstition, but if he hadn’t made that move we never would have met, so perhaps 8 is a lucky number for me as well?

What stories have you learned from your partner or friends that change your view of how the world should be?  Is it the man in the moon or the best cure for a cold or what children should or shouldn’t do?

These local customs are the things you never find out unless you happen to be in the right place at the right time.  Or, you get a strange text message.

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