Sunday, December 4, 2011

Accepting Suggestions

I was talking to my friend Elizabeth recently, and she asked me if I'd decided yet about keeping up my blog, and I realized I'd missed it. I know life in Knoxville isn't always as adventure laden as our stint overseas, but I thought I'd try this out anyway.  We were both in agreement that "Foreign Territory" is no longer an appropriate title, but I couldn't think of anything off the top of my head to change it to. Then I decided I should try something new and just offer the naming up to anyone who comes across my post.  Please name my blog! I welcome your suggestions.

So, we're in Knoxville. Joel and I are both taking classes at UT. I'm full-time and he's part time. We both have jobs outside of school, and spend the majority of our time at home studying. I'm not in love with Knoxville yet, but I am coming to really like certain things here, such as:

1. Fall perfection. I have to hand it to these trees. They were stunning. I'm really sad it's over now, but it was gorgeous while it lasted.

2. I have a public library card, and I'm not afraid to use it. Did you know that most libraries now have online databases so you can download e-books and audiobooks strait to your kindle or iPhone from home? Free audiobooks! What a marvel. I've really been taking advantage of that.

While we were in China I got spoiled by the amount of reading time I had on my commute. I spent about 2 hours a day on the bus to work, so I got in a lot of quality reading. I read over 50 books while we were in China. I'd always intended to make a separate post about that with my 2010-2011 recommendations out of the huge pile of books in my "finished" stack, but I never got around to it. I've had to slow it down a bit here. I'm still reading constantly, but mostly books like Speech and Language Development and A Guide to Narrow Band Phonetic Transcription. Not quite as enthralling. I recently finished the first book in the Mitford series by Jan Karon and I'm working on Kate Morton's The House at Riverton. I really enjoyed The Forgotten Garden, so I thought I'd give another of her books a go.

3. McKay's Used Books. I love a good used book store, so I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that Knoxville has one. When Joel and I merged our lives we quickly realized our combined book collection was out of control. Going through our up-teen boxes of books from the last move we discovered we had duplicate and triplicate (but there are only two of us? I blame Joel.) copies of the same book on our shelves. I made it my mission to sort them all out and then we took boxes full to McKays to sell. In exchange we got gift certificates so that we can buy...that's right more books!

That's all for now. Joel is at work, and I'm supposed to be studying for finals to finish up the semester this week. Instead, I have homemade oatmeal bread rising pleasantly in a bowl next to me, a recipe of my mother-in-law's that I love, and I made some deliciously spicy hummus (another first). Earlier I made laundry detergent from a recipe that I found on pinterest. At least my studying rebellion has been a productive one, right? Don't forget to leave me your suggestions for my new blog title.

Happy Holidays everybody!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Exit Interviews

Well, it's here. It's finally time to pack our bags and head home.  Actually, I've always been a little overzealous in the way of packing--I just can't help myself; I really love it--so we're already packed, technically. Anyway, when we tell people that it's time for us to go we get a lot of the same questions, so I thought it might be helpful to answer a few here.


You're going home after one year. Are you sick of China already?
No! Not at all. It took some initial adjusting, to be sure, but I love it here. There are so many things that we will miss about our life here. The city, our friends, the food, my refrigerator to name a few.

If you like it so much then why are you leaving?
The simplest answer is graduate school. We knew when we decided to come here that we could only stay one year, or two at the most, but we both agreed it was better to come for one year than not to have the experience at all. The tipping point to go home was my decision to go back to school. With both of us pursuing degrees instead of just one, we decided it was time to get started.

Reason #2- Beginning in December, we have at least three weddings to attend this coming year, and the price of flying home for those events would completely wipe us out. And no, crazy incredulous person, I cannot possibly miss any of them. The very idea!

What have you missed the most about America? What are you looking forward to the most about coming home?
Aside from the obvious answer which is people, our families and friends that we've missed like crazy, I would say...the grocery store and my oven. (One does me little to no good without the other). I love to cook, and in many ways living here has made me a much better cook, or at least a more knowledgeable one. Having so few of the things we're accustomed to in America forces you to ameliorate yourself with all kinds of substitutions and new recipe quests, and opens up another world of ingredients. But truth be told, I'd trade the challenge for the conveniences of home in a heartbeat. The idea of walking into a clean, nice or non-smelling grocery store where I can read labels and price tags and buy cheese and cereal whenever I want...that just sounds like heaven to me right now. And Target.

What do you think you will miss the most about living in Shanghai?
Honestly, this is a fabulous life. I love walking around the corner to buy my vegetables in an open air market. I enjoy knowing that prices are never fixed, if you have a will to bargain. I will dearly miss the public transit here. The metro is great, and cabs are cheap too. I'll miss having a fabric market and a country full of tailors at my disposal, even if I don't utilize them very often. I'll miss not tipping and not paying sales tax. I'll miss the marketplaces that spring into existence every day around lunch in our neighborhood and every weekend. I'll miss buying flowers off the back of someone's bike, and I'll miss the rice. It's just different here. I'll miss having Thailand and Cambodia a few hours away. I'll miss our flexible schedules, and of course our friends.

When do you come home, and what are you doing?
Joel and I arrive back in Memphis on Monday, July 11th. We'll scramble around to see everyone and find an apartment to move into in Knoxville before school starts August 17th.  Joel is starting his graduate degree in English. My programs is for Speech Pathology.

Are you going to keep up your blog when you come home?
I'm not sure.  Here there's just so much to write about. So much time for travel, so many hilariously unusual things....but home is home, and you know it as well as I do.

So how did I do? If you have a question I didn't cover please let me know. I'm happy to answer all inquiries. And if by chance, you're reading this as someone about to move to Shanghai or any part of China, I've compiled a little list of things you might find helpful. Email me and I'll send it your way.

The countdown has begun. We are 13 days away from flying out and 15 days away from arriving home to Memphis. Frankly, I'm perplexed by the two day lag seeing as we're traveling backwards through time, but there you have it. See you soon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Great Minds...

A couple of posts back I mentioned that we were going to be doing a little bit of an apartment swap.  What we didn't realize was that the move would be pushed until two days before our company arrived.

That was exciting. Here's the new set up.


I guess the saying is true that great minds think alike, because the same week of June my sister-in-law and niece, Sarah and Reed, Bill and Jessica (cousins) and Jon and Mary Catherine (friends!) all decided to come to Shanghai. We had the honor and delight of hosting Sarah, Reed, Bill and Jess here at our apartment. I can't begin to tell you how much fun it was being surrounded by family.

We tried our best to give Sarah a good smattering of the sites of Shanghai. Out we would venture, day after rainy day into the city, umbrellas in hand and little Roo nestled happily in her carrier on Sarah's back. We went to all the markets, our favorite restaurants. Sarah even went with me to buy vegetables from my regular vendors to witness my mediocre Mandarin skills first hand.

Now I must tell you about my favorite new China-life discovery.  Think with me for a many times have you gone to get your hair cut and while sitting at the shampooing sink thought to yourself, "This really would be so delightful if..." If the water weren't so cold/hot. If your neck didn't have to rest right on the rim of that blasted basin. If the person washing your hair weren't quite so harsh with the washing. Well, here in China, I was very pleased to realize that hair washing is a salon offering all of its own, and they have it down to quite the art. Obviously I had to go try it once I heard of its existence.

After carefully rehearsing and memorizing the phrases necessary to request my hair washing, I strode confidently into the salon and said my peace to the obliging salon hostesses who stand in matching Jetsons-esqe outfits at the door to take your hair order, so to speak.  I was quite pleased with myself, until I saw that they were sitting me down at a chair in the middle of the salon far away from the sinks at the other end. Drat! Foiled. I hailed a nearby worker and attempted to correct the mistake, but was told no mistake had been made. Before I had time to protest another space-suited employee appeared at my side with gobs of shampoo in one hand and a tiny bottle of water in the other.

Mystified, I watched as she began to slowly lather a small bit of my hair, then more, then more, until I thought my hair could not possibly get any bigger or sudsier-and yet she kept going. More water, more shampoo, until I had the Mt. Everest of suds atop my head, and still no sink in sight! Then, she did the most fantastic thing. She proceeded to make some deft motion and extricated the vast majority of the sudsy mountain into her hands then walked away with it, leaving me alone and still very sudsy in the middle of the salon. Soon after she returned with, you guessed it, more water and more shampoo. Rinse and Repeat. So, yet again I was lathered into a foamy helmet. Eventually it did become necessary to rise all the suds. Once again my spacegirl scooped up handfuls of my suds and I was instructed to follow her (and my suds) back to another room that had the sinks. I was surprised to find even during the rinse I was perfectly comfortable. It sounds very odd I'm sure, but they hold your head with one hand and rinse with the little spout with the other so you don't have to strain to hold your neck up. A few times I instinctively lifted my head so she could rinse the back of my head and I was chastised. "You must relax! " I was told. Ok, if you say so.

After all the suds were gone, and my hair was thoroughly scrubbed to a cleanliness I could never before have fathomed possible, I was led back to my original seat for a five to ten minute neck, shoulder and arm massage.  Then, just when I was feeling so relaxed I could have fallen asleep in my chair, I was met with the horrible intrusion of another person spinning a q-tip into my ear. I didn't know what to do with that, so I just sat as still as possible and hoped I wouldn't have any permanent hearing or brain damage. I have since learned how to politely decline this portion of the service, even though I forgot to warn Sarah before we went. Unluckily, she was q-tip attacked while I was still in the rinse portion at the back of the salon, but so far she seems to have survived any permanent damage.

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