Happy Birthday to Me and a trip to DisneyLand


This was the first time in more than a decade (not since my days at LSU) that I spent my birthday away from my family. If you know me, you know that my family means more to me than anything and that we’re extremely close. I will admit, I was feeling a bit melancholy at the thought of not being able to see them on the big day, but between my fabulous friends and amazing students, I hardly had time to even remember I was so far away.

It started a few days before my actual birthday. First a package, perfectly time, from my family, filled with cards and a gift. I was outside my classroom talking to another teacher as my students were coming back from specials one afternoon. I turned to enter the classroom and they were all sitting very quietly. Now, I know I have great students, but even I had to be suspicious. I walked to the front of the classroom and one of my vocal students spoke up. She handed me a card and informed me that since we—as in all of my students—would not be able to spend my actual birthday with me (it was conference day), that they wanted to give me this card together. Then they burst out into the Happy Birthday song. No one forced the students to do this, but they thought of this on their own. Later, on my actual birthday, I had students bring me a chocolate mousse cake (homemade), beautiful gifts, and cards. I was so touched that my students and their parents thought of me.

The Friday before my birthday, Sunia asked me to keep the evening free. I was nervous since she wasn’t spilling the beans about what we were going to do that night. I’m not one for surprises. We went to dinner at a local favorite and then she took me to the Hilton. Now, I know the Hilton may not mean anything to you, but it does for me…to me it means the real spa! She had purchased a two-hour package at the spa for me! There were so many great options to choose from! In the end, I went with a rose and milk bath, plus the hot stone aromatherapy massage. Oh my goodness, it was delightful. First, the atmosphere was tranquil. And the tea! OMG, the tea was out of this world. Usually, I have to put like three cubes of sugar in my hot tea, but this was so smooth! The whole evening was absolutely amazing. I plan on going back to the Hilton to treat myself to another spa day at the end of every quintile now.


The next day, Saturday, Sunia was taking me to get my nails done. Our other friend, Sheryl, decided to join us, as well. Sheryl is such a light in our lives. She has been a huge help in settling in and adjusting to our new lives. I’m not sure what I’d do without her. All three of us got manicures, and then Sunia and I got pedicures, too. Afterwards, Sunia and Sheryl mentioned dinner at one of my favorite burger places—The Tavern. I could never say no to The Tavern. We got there and imagine my surprise to run into some of my favorite ladies! Sunia had planned small girls dinner for me to help me celebrate. The girls pitched in for my meal, too! And they even brought gifts for me! I was super touched that they would take a break from their busy schedules and lives to spend the evening with me. Again, I am so lucky to have met these ladies here in China.

On the day of my actual birthday, which I actually share with another close friend (Joscelyn), some of the other teachers we work with that also live in the same apartment complex took us out to dinner.



Birthday girls!


Me with Sunia, a kindred spirit

Friends are truly the best gifts of all, and I feel so blessed that on this birthday, one I wasn’t planning on really celebrating, these “gifts” took the time to help me enjoy my birthday.

The following weekend, last weekend actually, Joscelyn had decided she wanted to go to Disneyland Hong Kong for her birthday. We’re both from Florida, home to a ton of theme and amusement parks, one being Disney World. We wanted to see how it would compare. So, Friday as the kids were leaving, we left to head to the ferry. We decided to a night early so we could get up early and head to Disneyland first thing in the morning. Growing up with the parks in our backyards, we just grew up believing that you went to the park as soon as it opened and stayed as late as you could. We went into this particular park with the same mentality. We got up early and took the metro to the gates, where Mickey could be seen surfing atop the spray of water from a whale’s blowhole.

IMG_3368At the gates, we met Elaine. This was her first time visiting Disneyland. Visiting a Disney park with a first timer is always fun. Their wonder and excitement is almost contagious. The first thing I noticed entering the park was that the layout was almost identical to the Magic Kingdom (the Orlando equivalent to Disneyland). You enter the park on Main Street, lined with stores and shops. In the center of the park is a castle. Here was the big difference…our castle back home, Cinderella’s castle, is HUGE compared to the one at Disneyland. I’m not even sure if someone could classify it as a castle. After taking the obligatory pictures near the “castle”, we allowed Elaine to choose which direction she wanted to go. She chose to the left, Adventureland, home to the Jungle Boat Cruise (a local favorite at home), Tarzan’s Tree House, and the Lion King show. The Jungle Boat was just as cheesy as it is at home! But the Lion King show was amazing! The bilingual telling of Simba’s journey to being lion king was actually an interesting way to approach the possible language barriers of the guests. I particularly enjoyed the men in the leather kilts juggling the sticks of fire. If I had any suggestions for the show, it would be to have more of those men in the show.

After the show, we were starting to get hungry. We walked along and came to Mystic Point…we were sidetracked and decided to ride the Mystic Manor. It was based on the tale of a mischievous monkey whose owner had tons of treasures and artifacts from all over the world. The monkey touched something and the treasures and artifacts came to life, causing trouble. Though it was not my Haunted House back home, this ride definitely ranked as one of my favorites of the day. Afterwards, we went to the restaurant, Explorer’s Club, next door for lunch. The options looked good. I ended up getting a chicken dish that included rice and a soup that had melon at the bottom of it.

Our next stop was Toy Story Land, where Buzz, Woody, and all the toys in the movie towered over us. We rode the Slinky Dog Spin before meeting up with a few other friends, including Sunia. Then I was forced to go on the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop. I will not ride this again, as I cried on the stupid ride (which I am aware is totally horrible for a 36 year old to admit). I hate rides that make me feel like I’m falling. I guess it didn’t look that bad from where I standing on the ground…but once the stupid thing actually goes up—yeah, not again.

One of my favorite lands at the Magic Kingdom back home is Fantasyland because it brings all the characters I loved growing up to life…back home you get to be a part of the stories of Peter Pan, Snow White, Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, and more. It is the same here. One of my favorites in this Hong Kong version was Fairy Tale Forest, where all the princess stories come to life in miniature displays. I think I will try to convince my mom to make our garden at home a bit more storybook like after visiting this one. We also enjoyed the 4-D experience of the cute show Mickey’s PhilharMagic. We rode The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, seeing the bouncing Tiger and wise Owl. And a visit to any Disney theme park is not complete without a ride on It’s A Small World. One difference I noticed right away was the fact that they had Disney characters placed throughout the countries based on where they came from. For example, Wendy and Peter were seen in Europe. Pocohantas was seen in North America. I am disappointed that China did not have Mulan, though.

Our final stop for the day was in Tomorrowland, the land of the future. We competed against toy robots on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and raced through space in another favorite, Space Mountain.

Disney has a way of making each adult feel like a child again, allowing us to forget our worries and concerns, even temporarily. I hope to visit more of the world’s Disney theme parks as I travel more…Shanghai, Paris, Tokyo, California. I will say that this particular Disneyland is quite small compared the Magic Kingdom at home (Florida) and is totally doable in a day. At home, we have to strategize and plan our priorities to make sure we hit the rides we want to see/ride since some lines can be up to 2 hours long sometimes!

After the long day acting like a kid the day before, Sunia and I decided to take it easy the next day. We shopped around the IFC near the ferry and ate lunch at the Greyhound Café. The food was wonderful! We sipped on longan tea and dined on clam chowder, complete with real clams! Definitely a place I plan on dining at again. Soon, it was time to depart Hong Kong and make our way back to Shenzhen.

What is the next adventure you ask? A week in Vietnam!


Xīnnián kuàilè


I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written, but this girl has been busy! So, please forgive me for the tardiness of this update.

February 2016~A time for new beginnings

One of the weekends leading up to the Chinese New Year, our apartment complex held a get together for its residents to help celebrate. At the celebration, a man was showing people how to do Chinese calligraphy. A few of us tried it, though our talents were far from those of the calligrapher. He said I actually did pretty good, though I’m sure he was just being nice. They also handed out some paper lanterns for us to keep. It was such a lovely gesture of our complex to set the gathering and celebration up for us.

During the time leading up to the big Chinese New Year, there were some traditions (and a story or two) that were new to me that I want to share…First, there is this red envelope tradition. This is where you buy a red envelope, fill it with with a certain amount of money and then hand it out. My friend and I decided to go halfsies with the ones to our apartment guards. So, the morning before we were let out for our break, I held out the envelopes for the guards at the gate. This guy in plain clothes was talking to a couple of them and he started to go for one of the envelopes. Without thinking, I simply slapped his hand and said no. They  all looked at me, most likely in shock. I said I didn’t know him and therefore no red envelope for him. We all laughed awkwardly then (I’m sure the guards laughed at this blonde hair girl slapping the hand of someone and my friend laughed because she didn’t know what else to do) and went about our way. Another tradition I noticed is tangerines everywhere. They’re a sign of prosperity and luck, I think. The girl at our school’s Dragon Cart was kind enough to offer me one. And the final tradition is the damn firecrackers. They go on for days…at all hours of the night. I was under the impression that they were not suppose to be set off in the city limits, but I guess some things can be overlooked for the sake of tradition…even if it’s a friggin loud one.

For our week off during Chinese New Year, I was invited to spend time in Hong Kong, a short ferry ride from where I currently reside in Shenzhen. Part of me wanted to jump onto a plane and fly somewhere I had never been before, but the idea of spending a Chinese holiday in China, with the cliched images of dancing lions and dragons, also appealed to me. So, in the end, Hong Kong won.

Sunia and I took the ferry the morning of Sunday, February 7th. That night, we met up with some friends to view the Victoria Harbour Light Show. Now, I’ve seen the light show twice now, and in my opinion, it does not live up to its hype. But this time, we weren’t going to be pushed or shoved to get a chance to see the lights because we were going to be on a junk boat for the show. Junk Boats are old traditional fishing boats with large fin-like sails. The red sails of the junks sailing around Hong Kong provide an iconic image of this bustling city. I was super excited about being able to do this, as I have wanted to do this since reading about Hong Kong when I learned I was going to be living so close to the city…plus, I figured it would improve the light show for me. The boat pulled up to the dock and passengers had to climb up a small set of portable stairs, a man on each side took our hands and helped us jump onto the red-sail boat, that was swaying along with the waves. When the boat swayed relatively close, we quickly moved onto the boat. Once on the rocking vessel, I headed for the top deck, with red lanterns hanging from the ceiling. We enjoyed one free beverage (wine, beer, soda) as our boat sailed along. Now, it didn’t improve the actual light show, but I did enjoy sailing about Victoria Harbour for the hour even though it was quite breezy.


The famous red sails of our junk boat

The next evening, Sunia and I met up with another friend, Joscelyn, and her sister, Jenn. There was a parade scheduled and we wanted to see it! Another image I associate with China and celebrations are vibrant dragons and dancing lions; this parade was sure to have both in it. Though the parade was to start at 8pm, the four of us made camp around 5:30pm outside Joscelyn and Jenn’s hotel room since it was right on the parade route. Hong Kong is usually crowded, but the parade was ridiculous in terms of crowds. I have already learned that the locals do not appreciate the idea of personal space, but seriously. It took a couple of hours for the middle-aged lady next to me to realize that I wasn’t going to budge to the right anymore. We finally came to an understanding that she wouldn’t push me and I wouldn’t glare or elbow back. And I am pretty sure the twelve year old behind me had his hand on my butt for the majority of the parade. Despite the lack of room or space, I enjoyed the parade and would not mind going back the next year. Before the parade, as we waited, the time went by quickly as performers went down the route entertaining those of us waiting for the real show. Finally, shortly after 8pm, the parade approached, and it did not disappoint! The floats came from all over the world and were full of color and sparkle and pizazz and life! Performers danced and sang…floats dazzled the crowd. And most importantly, dragons and lions soared. The moment the parade was over though, Sunia and I headed back to our hotel, which was only a couple of blocks away. I would love to report that it was easy to navigate through the herds of people, but then I would be lying; people pushed and shoved to try to get to their destinations. I did not, however, let it dampen the spirit and excitement of the night.

The next morning came early, though, as we prepared for our day tour of Lantau Island, courtesy of Grayline Tours. When I first learned I was moving close to Hong Kong, I researched things to do and see…one of the things that came up was a big Buddha on the island of Lantau. It was on my list of Top 5 things I wanted to do while I was living here. Since her sister was visiting for the first time, Joscelyn asked if Sunia and I wanted to join them for the tour they had signed up for. I could find no reason to argue so we agreed to join them. Our tour guide was obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio (in fact, he is probably going berserk since Leo just won the Oscar), but he was also informative. After a few stops at the clock tower and a jewelry store (with gorgeous jewels and diamonds), we took a van to Lantau Island where we would take a cable car to the big Buddha statue. The lines for tickets and the cable car were super long and looked as if it would take hours to get through. Fortunately, the tour company treated us like VIPs and we did not have to wait in line like the other people. In fact, we only had to wait for maybe 10 minutes.


The line for the cable car…thankfully, we did not have to wait in this long line.

When we signed up for the tour, we decided to take the crystal cable car over the hills towards the Buddha area. The particular cable car is like glass. You can see through all of the walls, the ceiling, and the floor! It was completely worth the extra cost for that car. Finally, after about 15 minutes, we disembarked the cable car and we headed towards the temple and monastery.

The monastery has a restaurant where we ate soup, rolls, vegetables, and more! It was much more delicious than I had anticipated.IMG_2448

Next, our group was bused up to the giant Buddha. Once we joined the other masses of people already there, we were given a few minutes to walk around and take pictures. We didn’t stay long at the big Buddha.

The tour had multiple stops and the schedule was packed! Our last stop for the tour was going to a stilt village. The smell was…overwhelming, and not in a good way. The stench of fish filled the air as we walked through the alley towards a waiting boat. The boat took us out into the bay for a chance to spot pink Chinese dolphins. It felt good to be on the water, the sun was out and not many clouds in the sky…a beautiful day. Suddenly, our boat captain pointed to somewhere not far off. A dolphin appeared! It wasn’t exactly pink, but it was a nice opportunity to see this sea creature rolling through the bay’s waves and a wonderful way to end the tour.


Once the tour ended and Sunia and I were dropped off back at our hotel, we tried to plan for the Hong Kong’s biggest fireworks show of the year. The hotel we stayed at had boasted on its website that one could see the Victoria Harbour from one of its lounges. Well, the fireworks were scheduled to be lit from there so we assumed there would be no problem seeing the display from the comfort of our hotel. We were wrong. The hotel, The Salisbury, failed to tell us that you needed to make reservations or that one lounge had been rented out, so our plan did not come to fruition. We tried walking across the street, but hordes of people had the same idea. After much deliberation, we decided to head back to our room and see if by any luck we could see any of the display. We were in luck…we could see 1/3 of the display from our window! Needless to say, next year we will plan accordingly so we can see the other 2/3 of the show. I will say the 1/3 we did see was beautiful!

Sadly, our time in Hong Kong ran out the next day as we took the ferry back to mainland China. The few days we spent in the exciting city, though, were filled with energy and excitement of the new year. I’m glad I was able to experience it with good friends. And as I look back on this past year, I find myself so grateful this opportunity. I cannot wait to see what this year brings!