Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On Christmas Spirit.

My second Christmas away from home. Home and family which is kinda, in my opinion, what Christmas spirit is all about. One of my favourite Christmas quotes: 

"It came without presents! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!" He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more."

It's so interesting being a teacher in another country teaching students who have never really experienced Christmas, Christmas spirit, and the gift of giving. When trying to teach these students about what Christmas is and why it's so important to their Canadian teachers, it's hard not to emphasize the packages, boxes, and bags. I love telling them about the beautiful decorations, the lights and colours, and the atmosphere of people bustling about buying presents, seeing family and friends, and having Christmas parties. 

I think it's important to tell them about those things, because they are a part of Christmas. But it's not what Christmas is ALL about...

For me, and what is most difficult about being away from home during the holiday season, is missing out on the family time and the warm feeling of being surrounded by the people who love you unconditionally. I don't feel homesick on a regular day, but this week there is a homesickness shadowing over me. 

A few weeks ago, my students did an interview project with my cousin Rebecca back home in New Brunswick. Their task was to find out how life for Chinese students is the same and different from that of Canadian students. During the interview, the students had a period of time to ask Rebecca questions that weren't related to the topic. Students were very curious to learn about what Rebecca had for traditions during Christmas. As she answered the questions, describing the events that take place in her household on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I sighed, pretended to cry (putting on a show for the kids), but in actuality, I teared up and had to hide it from the kids. Rebecca was quick to apologize, but I assured her I was fine. But my heart hurt a little bit. Because all of those traditions, events, and moments she spoke about - from eating cannelloni's on Christmas Eve at her house, to opening the box of gifts from Uncle David labeled with their jokes and one-liners, and playing Taboo after dinner - are things my family is involved in, and things I'm missing out on when I am here. They are the things, that when Christmas is approaching, I remember and cherish the most, and make me feel warmest. Because they are embodied in the Christmas spirit. It's what Christmas means to me - being with family. 

These are the things I try to teach my students about during the Christmas season. That Christmas is much more than presents and the amount of money you spend. It's about giving and being with the ones you love the most. About being thankful for the things we have in life and the things that can't be wrapped in beautiful, shiny paper and bows. 

The thing I've been finding myself saying the most this December: I can't WAIT for my first Christmas back home! 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Being a Teacher.

This week has been quite a week at work. It's challenged me and it's made me so grateful to be in the profession I am in. I love my job. I've said it time and time again. I am one of those lucky people that always knew what I wanted to be. And that's being an educator. Working day in and day out with some amazing students who continue to inspire me and confirm that I'm doing exactly what I was a meant to do. I can't imagine having any other job. 

Now, before I continue, I need to make a disclaimer. I am in NO WAY writing this post today to toot my own horn, to make myself seem like some almighty human being, to be self-righteous. And if you think otherwise, than I suggest you don't read any further for you will only become angry and annoyed (haha!). You should know, I'm writing this today because I experienced something I want to remember. Because when I started this blog, I started it for me. So that I would have a place to write down my thoughts and experiences, to look back and see how I've grown and remember the things I've had the joy of doing. And that's why I'm writing this post today. 

At our school, the students in grade 10 take part in an english speech competition. This year, four of my students were of the five chosen to represent our school in the competition. For almost two months now, the students have been writing, rehearsing, and practicing their pronunciation in anticipation for the competition. Some of them have been coming to see me twice a week for extra help on their speech. It's easy to say that they have been working diligently and meticulously. They were motivated. 

Tonight was the competition. I was so proud of them as they stood up there and did their speeches. They listened to my advice, were poised and spoke so eloquently! As a teacher, I've honestly NEVER felt so proud. In the end, two of my students tied for third and two of my students got honourable mentions. 

Afterwards, I went to them to give high fives and congratulations. Three of them looked and me and said, "I'm sorry." My heart dropped to the floor. I said, "Don't be silly! You did awesome! And I'm extremely proud of all of you." Their heads dropped and they walked away. 

My heart broke. Into what felt like a million pieces. We took pictures and the smiles on their faces were so forced. I tried again to cheer them up by saying, "Way to go! I'm so happy." And they again said "I'm sorry." 

I was so dumb-founded. Why were they sorry? So I asked. And the response I got will forever be engraved on my mind. "I feel like a disappointment. That I am a shame to the school. Because I didn't win." I could have cried. I still want to cry. I felt like it was a reflection on my teaching. I racked my brain trying to figure out how they got the impression that if they didn't win that I would be so angry or disappointed in them. Whenever we rehearsed, I was sure to tell them all of the things they did well with before offering my suggestions for improvement. I high-fived, told them how much they had improved, and commended them on their hard work. I honestly can't think of a time where I ever displayed any other emotion. 

What I have learned over the last year and a bit is that the culture of the Chinese education system and Chinese students is very, very different from that of the western lifestyle. Much of the classroom culture here revolves around competition and being number one. It's engraved in their minds that if you're not first, you're last and you've failed. And I know that these pressures are felt in students and children all over the world, I've just never experienced it within such a large number of students in one classroom. If nothing else, this pressure and mindset makes the students highly motivated, involved, and conscious of their grades and progress. This is a refreshing attitude to see in students as a teacher and in most cases, makes my job very enjoyable. But today was not one of those days. 

I also know that at age 15 or 16, you can't always see the bigger picture and look on the positive side. That ability comes with growing up. However, once I got the three students out of the auditorium and in to a more private area, I spoke to them about how it's okay for them to be upset, angry and frustrated with their performance. I've been there. I've gone in to something confident and aiming to win and didn't achieve my goals. I've been upset with myself and beaten myself up about my performance. I still do it. But there has to come a point where you look at something and say "Okay, I can't go back and change it. But I can move forward and decide how I can be a better person because of the experiences I've had."

And this is what I (attempted) to teach those students tonight. I gave them examples, spoke to them about how to be grateful for the experiences you get to have, and what they can do to move forward. I know they listened, because they nodded and responded with their own opinions. I told each of them how I thought they had grown over the course of doing this assignment. And I ended by challenging them to go home tonight and think of at least one thing that they can be thankful for because they got to have this experience. 

And as they walked away, one student turned around and said to me "Thanks for being my inspiration, Melissa..." Two of the other teachers were standing there as he said that to me, and I turned to them and fought back tears. They patted my back and said, "You are such a great educator with special talents when you talk to the students. They respect you." I never thought that as such a young teacher would I ever impact any students the way some of my teachers did in high school. 

I had the word "Inspire" engraved on the inside of my T-ring for many reasons. But the most important one was that I wanted the idea of inspiring to motivate me to grow and to impact others the way some of the most influential people in my life have inspired me. I want someone to look back years after graduating high school and remember that they had me as a teacher because of the way I inspired them to follow their dreams. And tonight, when that student said those words to me, something sparked inside of me that's hard to explain. Something that makes me want to grow more, do more, see more, and be more. Those words made me proud. Of him, for being so brave and standing up in front of over a hundred people and saying a speech in a different language and doing it so professionally and confidently. I was also proud of myself, of the work I do, and of the profession I get to share with so many others. Teachers are such influential people in a young persons life. For some, they see their teachers more than they see their parents. We need to lead by example, inspire them to be the best version of themselves, and shape them in to well rounded human beings. Being a teacher is so much more than the curriculum, tests, and grades. It's also about the morals, values, and lessons you teach them about life, love, successes, failures, and the world. Teachers inspire. 

I love my job. So, while today was difficult, I can use it to reflect, grow, and motivate myself to continue to inspire these students to go out in the world and be the best possible version of themselves as they can be. I get to be a teacher. And I am so lucky. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Life Lately.

// Getting over a cold that had me sneezing, sniffling, and coughing all of the time. Lost my voice one day. That's a great thing to happen to a teacher...

// Reading more often. Trying not to watch as much television at night time when I'm going to bed. 

// Also trying to be healthier. Small steps. I have stopped eating McDonald's when I have a hankering for western-style food. Now I'm working on not snacking after 9pm. So far, I'm two weeks free of both. Next goal, start going to the gym again!

// Planning a trip for February. Flights are booked! 


// Getting in to the Christmas spirit (*longer post about this soon!*)

// While trying to watch less television, at the same time, I've started watching more movies. But they are holiday movies and I gotta watch them this month, so doesn't count right? 

// Helping my brother edit his resume and cover letter in the evenings. I can't believe he is graduating college soon and will be starting his career. When I read his cover letter, I honest to goodness shed tears! For two reasons: A) the writing he did blew my mind. So professional sounding but at the same time honest and personal. I didn't know he had it in him! Maybe he's taking after his literature major, english teacher sister! and B) I can't believe he is 22 and I am 25 and this is where life is now. Growing up. 


// Still loving my job. I love my students. I love what I teach. And I love getting to introduce them to the joy and happiness that is Christmas. And while I don't get to spend it with the people I love the most, I do get to see the excitement and amazement of the students' faces when they decorate a Christmas tree for the fir
st time, when they get to see the traditions I have with my family at home (thanks for the pictures Mom & Dad), and when they decorate and bedazzle my classroom with paper snowflakes, paper chains, and handmade Christmas ornaments! I love my job.

// Being an old lady and cross stitching a lot.

// Cooking! Curries, pad thai's, slow cooker meals like roast beef, soups, and more curry! (I'm going back to Thailand in February so I'm preparing myself for the glorious thai food I'm going to eat). 

// Teaching myself how to bake. In a toaster oven. Now that's a challenge! So far, a few burnt muffin & cookie bottoms, but the end results have still been pretty tasty. Especially the chocolate brownies with peanut butter chocolate ganache. (Did I mention I'm trying to eat healthier. OOPS! Baby steps). 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Having an Allergy in China.

A: I brought a gift back for you from my hometown.

Me: Really?! That's so nice of you! Thanks for thinking of me.

Student pulls out two apples (which might I add, were very sweet and delicious!) from a grocery bag.

A: My hometown is known for two things. One of them is apples. I hope you like apples!
He grimaces a little bit looking for approval. 

Me: Thank you so much, A! I eat an apple every day. I'm looking forward to my afternoon snack now!

A: My hometown is also known for seafood.

My heart sinks a little bit because I know exactly what's coming. 

A pulls a big box of seafood snacks out of the grocery bag. 

A: They are called...(pauses to translate what the box says)...dried shrimp?
He says it like a question because he is unsure of his translation.

Me: Oh, A! Thank you so much. This is so thoughtful of you. However, I can't accept the dried shrimps.

A: Oh. Why?

Me: Because I am allergic. They will make me very, very sick. Not because they are bad, but because my body doesn't like them.

A: Begins to open the box of shrimps. Ok, but maybe try just one?


Living in China with an allergy has been an interesting experience. A little back history - about 10 years ago I developed an intolerance/allergy to some types of shellfish. My doctor called it an allergy to red-veined shellfish (lobster, crab, and shrimp). Sometimes it results in being sick to my stomach for hours on end. However, most commonly, it ends in a cut-off airway, hives, and a lot of panicking. I'm equipped with an Epipen at all times. And while I've never had to use it, there have been some close calls (including a scare this summer where my brother...and my mom...and my dad...and well, my whole family, got a little upset with me when I chickened out of using it. Obviously the lectures came once I could breath again...)

What I have learned while living in China is that many locals don't understand what an allergy is. They can't comprehend how you can't eat something because it could kill you. The Chinese culture is a very giving culture, I find. They want you to experience and be a part of everything. They want you to understand what you are seeing, be a part of the activities that are happening, and taste all of the food. The insist, and pressure, and insist some more. But it's only because they don't want you to miss out. It's all coming from the kindness and generosity in their hearts.

One story sticks out in my mind so clearly. I was on a staff retreat in the Spring and we stopped at a restaurant on the way home. We were served this enormous lunch full of rice, soups, vegetable dishes, tofu, chicken, duck, and of course...shrimp. Lots and lots of shrimp. Everything sits on a "Lazy Susan" in the middle of the table and rotates. I was sitting beside one of my Chinese co-workers. When they shrimps went by, he stopped and offered me a piece. I politely said "No, thank you." He then picked a piece up with his chopsticks and set it on my plate saying, "These are very delicious. I'm sure you'll like them. Try!" This is roughly how the rest of the conversation went: 

Me: "It's not that I don't want to try it, it's that I can't. It'll kill me." 
Co-worker: "Ok, but it's delicious!"
Me: "I'm sure it is, and I wish I could try. But I can't. I'm sorry!" 
Co-worker: "But maybe just try a little bit?"

He just kind of looked at me and said, "Oh." And I felt bad. For something I can't control. I also felt so bad that morning last week when my student was so proud and pleased to be sharing a piece of his hometown with me. I paused before telling him I couldn't accept the second piece of the gift trying to decide the best way to deal with the situation. Some of the other teachers told me I shouldn't have said anything and just accepted the gift. But I didn't want to lie to him. I knew he'd ask me the next day if I tried some and if I liked it, and I didn't want to lie and say "Yes, they were delicious!" Also, I'm sure he (or his parents) spent a bit of money on these snacks. Seafood isn't cheap! And I wanted them to go to someone who would actually enjoy them and appreciate them. In fact, A said he would give them to his homeroom teacher because she loves seafood! I was happy that they found a good home! 

Hey! And maybe I've had it wrong the whole time! Maybe they are just all pretending to not understand. And when they insist that I try just one bite, even after telling them what the consequences would be, they were intending for the worst to happen...NAH! I'm just kidding.

What do you think? Should I have just accepted the treats? But when you're that allergic to something...you just don't want to handle them at all. I guess I could have given them to another teacher. I would have still had to explain to A that I couldn't eat them and they were wasted on me. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Trip to Xi'an.

Sometime in October, we found out that there was to be an international conference (APEC) held in Beijing in November. Much of the city would be shut down, there would be restrictions to who could drive and when, and the government was asking for schools to close for a short period of time. As such, we ended up with an impromptu holiday which gave students and teachers 3 days away from school. My first thought - time to explore!

I have a travel bucket list for Asia that I aim to complete before leaving. So far I've been to Shanghai and Datong (which wasn't on my list, but I'm so glad I went!). Now I can check Xi'an off that list. 

Xi'an is most famous for being the site of the Terracotta Warriors. In my final year of my undergrad at St. Thomas University, I needed some courses to fill up my class schedule. I decided to take a first-year history class. In this class, we spent a period of time discussing ancient Chinese history. I don't remember a lot about this class, but I do remember learning about the Terracotta Warriors. I remember being marveled by the concept of it, and thinking to myself "Man, this is amazing! Imagine what it would be like in person." 

For those of you unfamiliar with what the Terracotta Warriors are, they are an army of terracotta soliders (and horses, weapons, and carriages) built by Emperor Qin (rather, the men he hired), who ruled over China from 259 BC - 210 BC. Emperor Qin is also the man who ordered the construction of the Great Wall of China. Essentially, he wanted these soldiers built so they would protect his tomb and himself in his afterlife. It is speculated that over 750,000 men worked on this terracotta warriors over 39 years and all of them were killed afterwards as the Emperor wanted the army to be kept a secret in fear that someone would try to destroy. 



In 1974, farmers who were out in the fields attempting to build a well, dug up one of the soldiers. They were very afraid when they first found the piece of the solider, and immediately began to bury it again. It is said that digging up someone's tomb leads to bad luck for eternity. During the process of re-burying, they found a piece of bronze. This brought them to a new realization as they knew that bronze was associated with importance and power. They reported what they found, later to discover that they had happened upon something so rich in history they would be forever famous. Since then, the area has been taken over and archeologists, researchers, and the government have spent the last 30 or so years digging up the soldiers and piecing them back together. And the work is not finished. They expect that it will take another 20 years to uncover all the soldiers (expected to be about 8000 of them) and piece them all back together. 




I can't find the words to best describe my experience getting to see the Terracotta Warriors first hand. I tried to describe it to my mother via text message and this is what I said: 

"It was cool to see it all, but the history and the things I learned is just mind boggling. Seeing something that is over 2000 years old, just...no words!"

We purchased a tour guide to take us around the area. It was the best impulse buy I've made in a while. All of the information I have written here on the blog came from our guide. No Wikipedia, no history books, all from her mouth and knowledge of the subject. She had been working as a guide at the Terracotta Warriors Museum for 10 years. She knows her stuff! She answered every question we had, and gave us way more information than what was provided on the minimal signage around the museum and displays. The combination of the dense history lesson and seeing it all first hand is what makes this probably one of my favourite historical experiences I've had in China (next to the Great Wall).

























One of my favourite things about living in China is how much history there is to learn about and soak up. Beijing itself is just swimming in history. What I have quickly come to learn about myself since moving here about 14 months ago is that I am becoming quite a history nerd. It gives me goosebumps and sends shocks through my body to witness first hand the things that make China what it is today. The things that shape its culture.  And in return, I am becoming more worldly and knowledgeable about the different ways of life in this big world of ours. It makes me want to travel more, to learn more, to see more, and to do more. Who knew that that fourth year student sitting in a first year history class marveling over pictures and words in a book, remarking about how amazing this piece of history is, would now be sitting in her apartment in a small village in Beijing reflecting on the history she had just seen? I guess dreams can come true...


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy Birthday, Amanda!



You're 25! We're the same age for a little while, until January rolls around again. This is now the fourth birthday post I've written to you. Going back and reading those posts from 2011, 2012, and 2013 are a treat! I remember sitting in the living room of the house we rented on Windsor Street in Fredericton. You had started a blog and had been trying to convince me to do the same. I was sitting on the big couch in front of the bay window, and you were sitting in the smaller one kiddy cornered beside me. I created the blog, wrote my first "get to know me" post, and was convinced the blog would be a thing of the past in about a month. Here we are, just over three years later and the blog is still going strong. Seeing me from an education student, to moving to the other side of the country, to moving to the other side of the world while starting my career and seeing through my dream to see the world. 


We have this little tradition that I was introduced to when we were living and working together as RAs in Vanier. It's called "Here's the time time..." We pop a bottle of champagne with our friends, and take turns telling a memory that we have of the birthday boy or girl. Then we cheers them and take a sip (or gulp!) of the champagne. So, on Amanda's 25th birthday, I want to look back on a few of those memories that have brought us to where we are today. 

Amanda, here's to the time...

/+ You greeted me in "The Pit" of Vanier on my move in day as my first day as an RA with a giant hug. We had known each other for a while at that point, but that embrace was definitely the beginning of what has become a cherished and important friendship in my life. 

/+ We won the cheer off together! (and all the other residents in Vanier. But let's be honest - we were DEFINITELY the loudest and most exuberant!) 

/+ We were studying in your room with Cara and we asked her to open the window because it was warm. She cracked it approximately 1 cm. I remember how much my midsection hurt from laughing so hard! 

/+ You held me while I cried and listened to me while I talked after finding out Grandad had cancer. It was the hardest days of my life, and your bright smile, kind heart and warm hugs made it a little bit easier. 

/+ We moved in together in the house on Windsor street...and spent our first night in the house cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. 

/+ We made a homemade advent calendar for the month of December which saw us watch Christmas movies, drink hot chocolate, and get a real Christmas tree.

/+ We drove to the Irving and got blue slushies (you a mixed one of blue and red I believe) on the first day of Spring. 

/+ I couldn't find the turn off for the truck stop in Bangor and it was dark, and the GPS was being crazy and making me U-turn, and you were giggling, and I was yelling and freaking out. But we made it, you told me stories about how you went to this particular truck stop when you went in the truck with your dad, and we laughed at a lady who brushed her teeth at the table, and I drank coffee, and we were just us. 


/+ (this one is "the times") we were driving around New Brunswick, PEI, and through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont singing John Mellencamp, "Blurred Lines", Michael Jackson (me), and you the country songs you put on the play list that I agreed to! 

/+ (again, this one is "the times") you fell asleep while we watched Friends, Gilmore Girls, or during a movie night. I tried not to get annoyed or frustrated because I know it makes you feel warm and comfortable to fall asleep while a TV is playing and people you love are in the room. How can you get mad at that?!

/+ You got engaged and I was there and I know it might have been weird and maybe it would have been more romantic and intimate if it were just the two of you. But I'll never forgot that moment you walked towards me on the beach, and I heard a lady say "Congratulations" as you walked towards me, and I looked up from my book, and there were still tears in your eyes, and you held up your hand and smiled and I said "No way!" and we hugged and I hugged Tony, and now your getting married, and I am so so so so happy for you and that you found your person. 

Happy Birthday, Amanda! I love looking back and seeing how our friendship has grown and how much I've grown since knowing you. You have taught me so much about love, life, and being a good friend. I am also so incredibly thankful that I get to share my China journey and adventure with you. That we are getting to see another part of the world together while also working and being adults. You are my best friend, and I love you always and forever. 

Here's to ALL of the times, and the many more to come. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NOT Worrying.



Amanda had this print in her apartment the last time I visited. I pointed at it and said "I like that. A lot." Later in the week, she sent me the print. I have since printed it off and placed it on my bookshelf so I see it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. (I plan to put it in a frame, but that's not a 5-minute kind of errand to Wal-Mart here in Beijing). 

Life can be stressful. Life can throw all kinds of curveballs. I can freely admit (and people who know me well will agree) that I am a controlling person. I have a hard time letting go. I have always had a hard time giving up control and delegating. I know how I want things to be done, and I can see the finished product ahead, and I feel more comfortable completing it myself then letting others do it because I don't want them to let me down and I don't want to make them feel stressed by my looming over them. How controlling of me was it to say that? And reading it back it sounds so harsh! But I think that (maybe?) other people who have these controlling characteristics like I do can relate and agree. 

Let me rephrase what I mean. I have a tendency to delegate and let others help, and then in the end I tweak and redo things. In return, that probably makes them feel bad, frustrated, angry, and annoyed. And on my end I feel anxious, sad, frustrated, and annoyed. 

So, since seeing this print in Amanda's apartment, I'm trying harder to remind myself to not worry about things so much. To not be so controlling. If you can't fix it or do anything to make it better, stop worrying about it. If you can fix it and make things better, then don't worry about it. Everything gets done in time. Stop stressing so much. 

In fact, I've started showing other people this print in my room when I hear them getting stressy. I don't know if it is impacting them the same way it is impacting me, but I think it's starting to make a difference in my life. 

Print by elisejoy.com 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Club: "The Giver"

I've always wanted to join a book club. It's probably that "literature major going to a liberal arts school" bone in my body that causes part of the urge to want to join one. So, in my latest blogpost about how I want to be living my life lately, one of those things was being more involved in the city I'm living in. Feeling more settled and that I live here, not just that I'm visiting for a prolonged amount of time. I decided before coming back to Beijing at the end of the summer, that I'd finally join a book club, something that I've been talking about doing for a few years now. A great way to motivate myself to read for pleasure, to meet new people, and to talk about and discuss good books (#nerdalert). 

Luckily for m, my friend Amanda, who also works in Beijing at another school, was also looking to join a book club and invited me to join some of her work friends at a monthly book club meeting at her school. There's the comfort of already knowing one person, but also the opportunity to meet many others. And we are all teachers, so we have that in common too which makes for great after book talk discussions with a glass of wine. 

This week we had our first meeting. Well actually the second meeting after reading our first book. I didn't attend the first meeting which is when they chose the first book we'd read: "The Giver." I was excited that they had chosen that book. Since the movie was released, it had been on "to read" book list. And now I had the push to do it. 


I first read this book when I was in the 8th grade. I remember when I read it then that I didn't understand it and therefore didn't really like it. Honestly, though I can't ACTUALLY remember, I probably didn't even finish the book because 13 year old me was so bored with it. Now, 25 year old me is laughing at the 13 year old me. But I totally get why I didn't understand nor like it at that age. It was too complex with too many underlying themes and meanings for me to really appreciate this award winning book.

So, point blank: I love this book. It's a short book. Only 180 pages. And while it deals with this "perfect" world with "perfect" people and the "perfect" solution to everything and anything, I found myself having so many different emotions in this little book. Happiness at the thought that the characters in this book don't have to experience pain and anguish and heartache. (Sidenote: I'm a big fan of a good feelings circle. Talking about your feelings, listening to others talk about their feelings, and then discussing what those feelings mean. I'm fluffy and sentimental like that). So, I loved the idea of how it is mandatory for the citizens of this "perfect" world to share their dreams that they had, to talk about how they were feeling at the dinner table, and they never questioned why they had to do so. It is just how their world is, so they do it.

But Jonas (the main character) is different then his family, friends, and neighbours. He questions why things are this way. He knows that the world must have been different at another time. And when he is appointed as the new Receiver, his questions start to be answered and he starts to learn that there is a whole lot more to life then the mundane and routine of his. And so begins his journey, where he receives memories of a time before, where he experiences love, pain, heartache, sadness, overwhelming joy and happiness. He knows things that others don't. And it's pleasure to read how he grows and how he deals with these new memories.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is a short read, but it is filled with so much depth and feeling. It was awesome discussing this book with others who love reading as well. We discussed the use of colour in the book, the idea of being released and what it meant, the way the book ended and how it made us feel, and our favourite memories that were described in the book.

Our next book (WHICH I AM SO EXCITED TO READ AND THEREFORE TOTALLY DESERVES THE USE OF ALL CAPS) is Lena Dunham's "Not That Kind of Girl."

Have you ever read "The Giver"? What did you think? What were some of the themes that resonated with you?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Life I Want to Live. Question Mark.

This week is National Holiday in Beijing. We have the week off and so does the rest of China it seems. While I would like to go away for the week somewhere beachy, sunny, and peaceful, I need to save my money for the month I have off in February. So I stayed in Beijing, have been spending time with friends, and focusing on me. The latter activity was not planned in any way, but it has been very refreshing and much needed. 

Amanda and I have spent a lot of time together this week. Talking, laughing, playing games, eating good food, and watching good television shows and movies. In one of our talks, Amanda said something to me along the lines of living the life she wants to live. I often find myself saying in my head or out loud "I wish my life were like that" when I browse the internet, see other peoples pictures, or watch movies and TV. It comes in all variations. Big things like living in New York, taking a vacation to somewhere extravagant, or falling in love with your soulmate. Little things like having matching dinnerware, buying decorations for your home that suit your style, and having Sunday brunch with friends. I find as I'm getting older and sailing through my mid-twenties (ugh, saying that I am in my mid-twenties makes my head dizzy and I become short of breath) that I want different things in life, things that say to me that I'm ready to settle. Which surprises me, because I spend so much of time preaching that I'm not ready to settle at all. 

I love routine. I love doing things that make me feel immersed in the place I'm living in. I love doing things that make me feel like an adult (and saying THAT makes me feel SOOO immature and the opposite of adult). I want my life to be a certain way. I want to get up in the morning and stop hitting snooze 3 or 4 times. I want to come home from work at night, pour myself a glass of wine and read. I want to go out with my friends for happy hour and laugh at the ridiculous things that are said and memories that are shared around the table (I'm writing this while watching "Friends" and maybe that's a bad influence as those people never work as much as the play). I want to stop feeling anxious, stop feeling unsettled, and start feeling like me. Whatever that's supposed to feel like. 

So, I've been reflecting. Looking back on the last couple of years and thinking about what I want this later part of my twenties to be like. I'm going to start being the person I envision. The person I keep pointing at and saying "I want my life to be like that." I'm going to stop worrying about the "what if's" and start treating myself like the 25 year old that I am. Start doing the things that make me happy without feeling guilty or saying to myself "Is this normal? Am I missing out? What would others think?" Because as easy as it is to say "I'm going to stop over thinking so much!" It's definitely easier said that done. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Summer.


What a whirlwind seven weeks at home I had. On the beginning side of it, seven weeks at home was something to be excited about. What a long time that would be! I could see family, friends, take little trips, and surely check off everything on my to do list. SEVEN WEEKS! At home. What a treat! Well, I'll tell you now. I shouldn't have blinked, because those seven weeks flew by just like that *snap!*


First of all, can I just say, jet lag is a...bitch! Sorry for the bad language, I just don't know how I can express my sentiment towards jet lag in any other way. It sucks. No wait, it doesn't just suck, it is awful, no good, and screws up a lot of things. So, after traveling for almost 24 hours, and arriving home in Florenceville at almost 5am (which was 4pm that night in Beijing), I was NOT ready to go to sleep. Mom and Dad collapsed. So, I unpacked, had a snack, watched TV, and puttered until they awoke. I felt like a pet animal chomping at the bit waiting for their family to wake up so we could play fetch - in my case, so I could talk their ears off. I knew I was going to crash at some point, but it was suspenseful waiting cautiously for it to hit. And it hit hard! At about 4pm that afternoon on the way home from running errands in Woodstock. I dragged my feet into my bed and was out like a light. I could have slept until the next day. But I made my parents promise me they'd wake me up for supper. Which they did. I don't remember eating, but apparently I did and promptly went back to bed. For the next week, I was going to bed between 7pm and 11pm and waking up before sunrise. IT SUCKED! But I got through it and had fun in the meantime while my eyes were able to stay open. 

What a memorable summer I made. Mind you, it didn't consist of much relaxing, but rather running the roads and trying to see and do as much as I could with the limited time I had. (Which is a large reason why I did not post on the blog this summer. Oops!) Also, remember how I said at the beginning that I had SEVEN WEEKS at home and it was just amazing and blew my mind how long that was. Well, I take that back. Seven weeks isn't long at all when you spend 11 months of the year in a different part of the world. Nope, not long at all. 

In those seven weeks, I had family gatherings, Christmas in July, birthday celebrations, reunited with friends, went on two short trips to PEI (one with better weather conditions than the other), campfires, bumbles, best friend sleepovers, game nights, rounds of golf (can I just add here, that while I'm in no way a great golfer, I played the best rounds of golf in my entire life this summer), tried to get a tattoo, witnessed a beautiful engagement and a beautiful marriage (two separate occasions and not related), and ate some delicious, delicious, mouthwatering food. While I was able to accomplish almost everything on my to-do list while I was home, I certainly in no way came back to Beijing three weeks ago feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready for a new school year.









OK! Now, please don't read all of this thinking I'm whining. I know it's coming off that way, and I thank you for pushing onward and continuing to read this far. I envision many people hitting escape and saying "What a brat!" I can't say it enough, I'm so thankful that the company I work for gives me the time off and option to go home for the summer holiday. I'm also so thankful that I work in an occupation that allows me to take that much time off at once. Not many people get to do that, I understand this. And I also know that I am the one who chose to move to China, and I am the one who also decided to come back for another year. But have you heard that saying "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." (In my case, it's more like "You don't know what you've got until it's not accessible anymore"(?)) Well, after living in a foreign country for a year and coming back home to the western lifestyle, I'd kinda forgotten how good it was to live in the same country as the people you love the most, and I'd also forgotten how "easy" life is at home. "Easy" in the sense that the things you like the most in your day to day life are accessible in so many ways. Craving a burger? Go get one. Need a checkup? Go see your doctor. Ran out of milk? Jump in the car and go to the grocery. Easy peasy. Also, being in the majority again is a nice luxury. No more being starred at, having your photo taken unknowingly, not understanding what people are yelling at you. It's pure bliss. I tried to remind myself on many occasions while I was home not to settle. Because I was going to have to pick up and go back to Beijing at the end of August. But the more time I was home, the more trips I took to Fredericton, the more laughter I shared with my longtime friends, the more comfortable I got and the less excited I was getting about going back. It wasn't until someone would ask me about my job that I would feel that excitement and yearning for my life back in Beijing. 

As the final week of my summer vacation was winding down and the packing began, I felt a mixture of sadness, heartache, excitement and anxiety (both the good kind and the bad kind - I HATE PACKING!). It was time to return to my life in China. I was excited. I was excited to see my friends there and share stories of our summer, I was excited to see my students and hear about their adventures over the summer and share in the happiness of reuniting, I was excited to meet my new students and create a new classroom community, and I was excited for the new adventures that would be sure to unravel over the next year of my life in Asia. At the same time, I was sad to leave my family again, I was sad to say goodbye to my friends (because who knows if we'll all be in the same place again this time next year), I was sad to say goodbye to clean air, I was sad to say goodbye to being in the majority, and I was sad to say goodbye to the comfort of home. Ah, the dynamic of bittersweet events. But I'm back, and it's good. It's always good to be back! I love my new students, I'm so happy to be back in the classroom, and trips are being planned for the coming months and I'm so excited for new adventures. 

What a whirlwind seven weeks at home I had. On the ending side of it, seven weeks at home was something to be excited about. But what a short time it was! I saw family, friends, took little trips, and checked (almost) everything off on my to do list. SEVEN WEEKS! At home. What a treat! Well, I'll tell you now. I shouldn't have blinked, because those seven weeks flew by just like that *snap!*

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Brad!

As my Thursday, September 11th is quickly coming to an end, it's just beginning back home in Canada. And that means that it is my "little" brother's 22nd birthday. I was sure to wish him a happy birthday in China time, and I wished him a happy birthday in Canada time, too (gotta make sure I cover all the bases because believe me, he'd hold it over my head if I forgot it...he's kinda like that!) So, I'm writing this blog post today to wish my brother a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 


My brother is a very chill guy. He has said on many occasions that he hates drama. Maybe that's why we clashed a little bit when we were younger, because I can be a dramatic person in that I experience my emotions on an extreme high or an extreme low. Let's just say I am an emotional person and my brother did not inherit those traits in our family genes. He is one of the most laid back, chill people I know. 

Common phrases that come out of my brothers mouth that are heard on a semi-regular basis include (but are not limited to):
"Don't worry about it so much." 
"Meh, I don't know." 
"Masel." (May as well) 
"Whatever."
"I don't care."
"Sure. Whatever." 







Despite  how furious, frustrated, and crazy it makes me feel when he rubs something off or shows no emotions of any kind, I love him nonetheless. However, after being away from home for a year in China and coming back to Canada, I experienced something with my brother that I'll remember perfectly for a long time to come. 

When I saw him for the first time this summer, I was in a bit of a daze as I had passed out on my bed from an extreme case of jet lag whilst trying to will myself to stay awake for another hour or two while I waited for him to get home from the golf course (I had already been awake for 36 hours). When mom came in to my room to wake me up (as I had instructed her to) once Brad had gotten home, I slowly got out of bed, opened my eyes and made my way to the hallway just as Brad was rounding the corner from the kitchen. We both smiled at each other and I said "Hi there!" and we hugged. I didn't cry, but I did have a big lump in my throat. And we just hugged. It was the best hug I had ever shared with my brother. He didn't get awkward and let his arms hang down while I held on tightly. He didn't sigh or huff and puff while I laid my head against his chest. He just hugged me back. And it felt SO good. (Remember, my brother doesn't reveal emotion like this very often - so it was a pleasant and welcomed surprise). We spoke for a few minutes, caught up really briefly, then I headed back to bed as my body was caving in. I walked away and turned around and said to him: "Hey. It's good to see you." And he replied with "You too." It was perfect, simple, but at the same time was full of love and warmth. I remember it perfectly. I remember the tone of voice, the way things were said and what exactly was said. Because for me, it symbolized how much we have grown in our brother/sister relationship over the last 3 or 4 years. It's the relationship I've wanted for us for a long time. And on his birthday, I am filled with so much love, respect, and joy that I get to share this life with my brother, Brad. 

Brad,

Happy Birthday! I am so proud of you. For always doing what you want, how you want, and when you want. For fulfilling your hockey career as you did. For impacting lives the way you do. And for choosing and pursuing a career that is what YOU want to do, not what you feel you HAVE to do. You are an amazing man, friend, and brother. And I am so excited to see what the future holds for you, for our family, and for us. (And don't get made me at me and roll your eyes when you read this with all its gushing, sappy, heartfelt sentiments!)

Enjoy your day! 
xo
Melissa

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I'm Back!

I'm back in Beijing for year 2. I'm excited, happy, and so looking forward to this new school year and what the future holds for me in Asia. I plan to do some exciting traveling this year to places like Hong Kong, Xi'an, Japan, and Indonesia. I plan to grow as a teacher and further my knowledge of ESL/EFL teaching. And, I plan to connect with, be inspired by, and make memories with my new group of grade 10 students. I love my job, I love what I'm doing, and I love this experience I am having and I am so happy to be back! 

Coming soon - a post about my summer vacation and time back home in Canada. I know it's been a while since I posted. I wanted to focus on having fun and seeing and spending quality time with all my family and friends back home in Canada. As a result, the blog fell to the wayside. 

Thanks for continuing to read!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dad!



Today is my Dad's birthday. I am so happy that I get to be home from China to help him celebrate his birthday and to make him feel just as special as he makes me feel every single day of the week. See, here's the thing...I'll let you in on a little secret: I HAVE THE BEST DAD IN THE ENTIRE WORLD!! Whether it's lending a helping hand to anyone in need, or cracking a joke at the best possible moment which surely makes everyone smile - my dad has the most generous, kindest, happiest soul and I feel so lucky every day to get to call him my father. 

I have written a blog post in honour of my Dad for the last 2 years (here and here - I brag a lot about my Dad). Today, I want to add to the growing list that let's you all in on the amazingness that is my dad. 

Dad, here's to you: 

-- You give the greatest, warmest hugs known to man. I'll always remember how you, Mom and I embraced each other when I arrived home from my first year in China at 3am at the Fredericton airport. We cried, we hugged, and I know everyone around us was jealous of the love our family has for each other. 

-- You have amazing patience. I don't think there has ever been a time in my life where I've heard you raise your voice or get red-in-the-face mad. Really, though! You are calm, level headed, and give sound advice even in the most stressful of times. I can't say I inherited every bit of the quality from you, but I certainly learned how to be patient from the best. 

-- You are so kind to others. Maybe that's why you are so fantastic at your career. You offer a friendly face, you bend over backwards for just about anyone deserving of your generosity, and you are loved amongst your family, friends, and community because of it. I so admire this trait about you. 

-- You like good music. That's all. 

-- Our Skype dates I look forward to so much. Mostly because I feel so loved, at ease, and warm afterwards. We never hang up on a bad note. In fact, we always hang up laughing because we've started this whacky, new tradition where we make faces, funny actions, and act like fools until Mom finally says "Ok, love you! Goodnight!" I love those moments. I will always cherish those moments. 

I love you, Dad! Happiest of birthdays to you. May you feel as special, loved, and warm as you make everyone else around you feel. 

xo

Sunday, June 29, 2014

#lifeinchina

"Living in the pollution will make you question how so many can live like this, to have days where you can't see the sun because of the smog."



"Experience the pushing, the cutting in lines, the yelling, the honking, the gawking, the thumping in your heart as you play Frogger with your life every time you cross the street. You'll learn patience."


"If you're a foreigner who doesn't look Chinese, experience the fangirl club of being stopped so often to have a picture taken with you that you might be in the cellphones of hundreds of giddy Chinese girls." 


"Exhibit your strength as you fend off men who think they can do or say whatever they want to you; hold your ground when you get passed over for your male counterpart."

"Embrace the nation with two arms, and laugh it off when you get bogged down by so many frustrations that you just want to scream at the nation. Because you will."

"Observe the juxtaposition of towering skyscrapers next to dilapidated apartment complexes, of streets lined with luxury stores such as Louis Vuitton and Fendi when right around the corner are shacks and stands of cheap Chinese goods." 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A friend of mine posted THIS article entitled "Everyone Should Live in China at Least Once" from the Thought Catalogue website. It does a better job than I ever could at explaining the ups and downs, the joys and frustrations that come with living in China. I found myself reading it and nodding and saying "Yes!" and "Exactly!" numerous times. All of the quotes I noted above are from the article. They are only a select couple from a pool of genius that is this article. If I could, I'd just rewrite the whole thing here on my blog for you. But I think you should check it out and get an idea of my day to day life here in Beijing. 

Again, if you didn't get the first link I posted, here is is again. CLICK HERE!

PS - 9 days!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Being Canadian.

In honour of it being TWO WEEKS UNTIL I'M HOME, I thought I'd post a little something that reminds me of why I love where I am from, why I love my home, and why I love being Canadian...



I was browsing around on Buzzfeed yesterday, when I stumbled on a post about the new Canadian beer fridge. Something as simple as a fridge full of Molson Canadian cold ones can bring out the pride and "happy-go-luckiness" of true Canadians - the people of the north. I love this. 

Stay Golden, Canada. See you in 13 days! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Shanghai Memories.

In early May, Amanda and I went to Shanghai for a long weekend. And it was a wonderful weekend getaway with a wonderful friend!






















Shanghai is a fantastic city. Clean, scenic, peaceful, and shiny. There were even times when Amanda and I were walking around an area called the French Concession where we stopped and looked at each other and were both thinking the same thing - it sorta felt like we were walking around the streets of Fredericton, or some other Canadian city. Which is a scarce feeling when you are living in China...

We played the role of tourists while we were in Shanghai. We explored the Bund, the French Concession, the Pearl Tower, the Aquarium, Yu Garden, People's Square, and ate some delicious food. We have both agreed that we would love to come back to Shanghai and spend more time relaxing, taking in the Bund (which is the walk along the river that splits two major sides of Shanghai - see second to last picture), and just BEING IN Shanghai. You know what I mean? 

We even had a chance to meet up with some old university friends while we were in Shanghai. My friends Mallory and Andrea, who I went to University with for 5 years, work in another city in China. They were traveling to Shanghai that weekend as well with some of their friends (who also happened to go to STU at the same time) for Mallory's birthday. We ended up getting together for a couple of meals and went to this AMAZING bar called "The Boulevard." Unique, classy, and a perfect throwback to the 20s. 

While Amanda and I had a blast doing things, seeing things, and experiencing things, some of my favourite memories from this trip was just from the little things: 

* laughing about little China-isms

* running and making the train with only 4 minutes to spare

* squealing about the "Love Letters of Great Men" book in a Tiffany's store ("They have ALL OF THE SEX AND THE CITY THINGS!")

*  having pearl tea for the first time

* eating watermelon while people watching in People's Park

* also eating some great Thai food - twice

* and eating some great burgers at wonderful western pubs

* and drinking original brewed beer

* holding up a map at an intersection that made us look like a-typical tourists

* singing songs while in line to go up the Pearl Tower and being laughed at and not caring (but at the same time, we made a new friend who was slightly rude about my figure...)

* attempting to help a lost child, but doing a better job at yelling at the Security Guards for not doing their job (actually...that was mostly Amanda...I just kept following the crying little boy around hoping we'd stumble upon his parents...which we did...eventually). 

* laughing off the poor customer service when all we wanted was an extra towel. ONE EXTRA TOWEL.

The little things...

PS - 17 days!