Where in the World? – Tianjin, China

Remember Maggie? We used to teach together in Poland. Now she teaches in China, in a city I had never even heard heard of – Tianjin. Now I know a little more.

  1. Where do you live?

Tianjin, China

2. How long have you lived there?

Since July 2015

3. If you weren’t born there, why did you move?

I moved to Tianjin to take a job at an international school.

4. What is something your city is known for?

Remember that massive chemical explosion last August in Northern China? Yep, that was Tianjin, and that explosion was the night after my first day of school.

5. When you travel outside your city (to other cities or countries) what form of transportation do you often use?

The high-speed train is so convenient to get to and from Beijing and other nearby cities, but otherwise, you mostly fly. China is much bigger than I ever really realized!

6. Within your city, what is the best form of transportation for getting around? Why?

It depends on which district you live in. They’re currently working on improving the Metro and expanding it outward, but for the area where I live, we’re not connected yet. Personally, I take taxis most of the time, but I like to walk and ride my bike (although that’s a risk with every ride! People are crazy drivers here!)

7. Name and describe three things that in your opinion are “must sees” in your city.

  • Tianjin isn’t much of a tourist city, honestly. I do think one of the must sees, however, is Gwenhua Jie, or Ancient Culture Street, a really cool street with traditional Chinese clothing, artwork, jewelry, furniture, jade souvenirs and food.
  • It’s also really nice walking down along the river or taking a river cruise at night time.
  • I’ve also heard that the Italian Concession is really cool to check out, but sad to say, I’ve never been

8. Name and describe three things that people should do in your city.

  • If you’d like to have a real local experience, go to Da Hutong, which is this crazy indoor shopping area where all the local shops are. You can get everything there, and you need a ton of time to get through it!
  • Another recommendation is going to the Tianjin Water Park, or Shuishang Water Park, early in the morning. You’ll catch all of the locals out exercising, playing badminton or tennis, line dancing, or doing Tai Chi or other martial arts, and doing rollerblade routines. I love it!
  • Any food lovers should have a meal at YY Beer House, Pizza Bianca or the Blue Frog

9. What is one thing that you haven’t seen or done in your city, but would like to?

  • I’d like to go to the Italian Concession!
  • I’d also consider riding the Tianjin Eye ferris wheel – the only observation wheel in the world that’s on a bridge.

10. Describe a special event that happens in your city every year.

This isn’t unique to Tianjin, but I feel like everyone should go to experience Chinese New Year in China. It really is great fun (though because of it, I now find firecrackers completely intolerable! Haha!)

11. What do you think are the three most common jobs in your city?

I had to Google this because I had no idea. Major industries include petrochemical industries, textiles, car manufacturing and metal working.

12. Where’s the best place to shop?

There are lots of malls in Tianjin that are actually pretty excellent, like Joy City and Galaxy (lots of Western brands and designers, if that’s your thing!) but there always seems to be these cool pop-up stores that are around for a couple months and then close. Those are some of my favourites.

13. Where’s the best place to eat? Why?

The Chinese love to eat. In fact, “chi le ma?” is a common Mandarin greeting that means “have you eaten?” So I really can’t choose – I don’t know the names of the Chinese places I like, but the Western places I like, I mentioned above.

14. In your opinion, where’s the best bar in town and why?

Not a ton of great bars that I’ve found, but if you want a solid club night out, Sitong at the Olympic Towers is the place to go!

15. If you could give a piece of advice to someone visiting your city, what would it be?

Maybe go to Beijing instead … it’s only 30 minutes away! ūüėČ

 

That’s it from Maggie in Tianjin. But why not pop over to her blog and have a look around?

When Sense Memory Delivers the Same Feelings as Homesickness

Last week I was lucky to travel to Dusseldorf for a two-day conference. I flew out Thursday after school and returned Saturday night. While I was there I experienced a few moments of a very funny thing – homesickness.

Now, homesickness in itself is not really that funny (more odd). It can be tiring, frustrating and sometimes painful. I like to tell my students that homesickness is like most sickness – it makes you feel bad for a little while, but then it passes and you feel better.

Homesickness has some very distinct attributes – feelings in your throat and your chest and your stomach – memories – smells and sounds. If you’ve ever experienced homesickness, then you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then I don’t know that I can adequately describe the sensation.

I have felt homesick for Canada before and when I go back to Glasgow and London, for there as well. But in Germany I had a moment of what felt like homesickness … for Poland.

I was walking home from the grocery store. It had just rained and the air was still wet. There weren’t a lot of people around, and I was surrounded by trees and bushes. Suddenly, it felt like I was back in Poland; back in my old neighbourhood. I thought I was back in Poland for at least a full minute before I even realized I was¬†thinking I was back in Poland – that is to say, before I realized I was in Germany, not Poland. Does that make sense? When I became aware of the fact that I had been back in Wroclaw in my mind for a few moments, but was in Dusseldorf in body it made me a bit sad for a second – homesick.

But … hang on … I’m not homesick for Poland. I enjoyed my time there, yes. I made some very good friends and taught some very nice kids, yes. But when I left Wroclaw after two years, I was done. And although I have been back to visit and would go back to visit again, I don’t want to live in Poland again. So it was strange to have that moment of homesickness¬†upon realizing that I’m in Dusseldorf and not Wroclaw. At least, the feelings were the same as homesickness, but it wasn’t. Was it?

Am I the only one who has felt this strange sensation? This powerful sense memory that throws you back to somewhere you’ve been before? That feels like homesickness but actually isn’t? Maybe. But I doubt it.

BTW – if you want to hear more about my time in Dusseldorf, check out this post on my other blog, and why not hit “follow” while you’re there?

Where in the World? – Zurich

It’s time for the fourth instalment of Where in the World? We’ve seen Tokyo, Ottawa and Regina and today we’re going to hear about my current home, Zurich. But not from me. Instead, I’ve enlisted the help of my friend, Joelle. Enjoy!

  1. Where do you live?

I live in Zurich, Switzerland.

2. How long have you lived there?

My whole damn life.

3. If you weren’t born there, why did you move?

N/A

4. What is something your city is known for?

  • Luxemburgerli – delicious, but not as good as French macarons
  • Snobby people – so sad
  • Grossmunster – so big

5. When you travel outside your city (to other cities or to other countries) what form of transportation do you most often use?

I usually travel by train or car. If it’s further away I take a plane.

6. Within your city, what is the best form of transportation for getting around? Why?

Probably tram, even though it takes ages. But driving around in the city by car is just insane and nerve wrecking.

7. Name and describe 3 things that, in your opinion, are “must sees” in your city?

  • The view from the Quaibrucke down on the river and the city is definitely a must see
  • Also the Chinese Garden at Seefeld is a must see, in my opinion
  • And if you have time, definitely pay a visit to the Uetliberg

8. Name and describe 3 things people should do in your city.

  • Definitely go up one of the big towers of the Grossmunster, the view up there is spectacular
  • Also, Lindenhof is really pretty and in a very nice area of town
  • Thirdly, I’d pay a visit to Cafe Schober for a hot chocolate. Their hot chocolate is famous in town

9. What is one thing you haven’t seen or done in your city, but would like to?

I have never ridden down the Limmat river on a rubber boat, but apparently that must be the biggest fun.

10. Describe a special event that happens in your city every year.

I grew up in Kreis 3, near Albisgutli, so the most spectacular event that happens in Zurich for me is Knabeschiessen. It’s the biggest fair in Switzerland, with lots of roller coasters and haunted houses and chocolate-covered fruits and candy floss.

11. What do you think are the three most common jobs in your city?

  • Banker
  • Teacher
  • Probably waiter/waitress

12. Where’s the best place to shop?

Everywhere¬†outside the borders of the city, I’d say. If you want to splurge you can start at Bahnhofstrasse and finish at the Shopville at the main station.

13. Where’s the best place to eat? Why?

I can recommend the Zeughauskeller at Paradeplatz, definitely try the Zuri Geschnetzeltes! Or if you’re up for a quick snack, go to the Bistrot Chez Marion at Predigerplatz, they have best crepes in town.

14. In your opinion, where’s the best bar in town and why?

I wish I knew but I really couldn’t tell you. If you go to the Jules Verne Bar you’ll have the nicest view over the city but you’ll also pay 17chf for a glass of wine.

15. If you could give a piece of advice to someone visiting your city, what would it be?

Don’t shop. Really. Just don’t. You’re going to cry. Actually, don’t look at the prices at all. Never.

16. Anything else?

If you’re lost or need to know something, just ask! People are usually really nice to strangers and are always willing to help.

Zurich1

Do You Want to Burn a Snowman?

Well, it’s that time of year again – time to build a snowman, pack it with explosives, and

Snow1

Window display

light it on fire. In case you haven’t seen my past blogs on Sechselaeuten, it’s sort of like Ground Hog Day, but not really. The snowman represents winter and he is put on a pile of wood and burned (YouTube it if you want to see what I mean). Apparently, the faster it burns, the better/longer the summer.

So, last week was the time. In the lead up to Sechselaeutan, we had several days of beautiful weather. Though it was still cold (5-7*C) in the mornings, it would get much warmer (22-25*C) in the afternoons and stay that way well into the evenings. It seemed like spring was here. Then we burned winter in effigy, and this happened:

Snow2

For two days it snowed. The international school in Zug, about an hour from us, had a snow day on Friday (granted they live a little further up the mountains than we do but still). The snow is thankfully gone now, but it’s been raining every day for nearly a week, with the temperature hovering around 12*C.

Is it summer yet?

March Madness – Survived

March is done for another year and we have all survived. It’s taken me until April 10 to write this post because I’ve been busy catching up on all the things I let fall behind last month, like sleeping, laundry, dishes, cleaning my house and showering (just kidding – sort of).

But it’s done now. 24 Hour Theatre went well, Parent-Conferences were fine, the Grade 5s did excellent on their Exhibition nights and the school play (Shrek) went well too – with a few small hiccups, of course.

Now it’s April and we have two glorious weeks off for Easter break. Normally, with two weeks off, I would definitely go away – last year I went back to Japan – but my passport was in Berne being renewed and I wasn’t sure when I would get it back, so I didn’t book anything. I ended up getting the new one about a week ago but by then it was kind of too late. I might hop on the train next week and go somewhere close by, like Como or somewhere in Switzerland, but right now I’m enjoying just sleeping in and lazing around my own house with not a lot to do.

Before I go take a nap, I’ll leave you with a photo of my contribution to the school play. I was in charge of Set and Props, along with one of the art teachers, Claudia (she worked on set and I worked on props). Our director, Tim, wanted to go for the minimalist look so I had the idea of why don’t we have¬†living set and prop pieces? So we dressed our set crew in Morph Suits and then added little bits to give the effect of what they were supposed to be. Up until the moment they put those suits on, I was concerned that my idea wouldn’t work and the whole thing would be an epic fail, but then this happened (minus the shoes):

Sunflowers

Sunflowers for the scene when Shrek goes to Duloc.

Success. And the students loved being in the Morph Suits and wanted to wear them all the time.

Where in the World? – Regina

It’s time for the third instalment of Where in the World. We’ve already heard about my home town, Ottawa, and my first residence abroad, Tokyo. Today it’s about a place I’ve actually never been – Regina – brought to you by my sister, Laura.

  1. Where do you live?

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

2. How long have you lived there?

Roughly 1.5 years.

3. If you weren’t born there, why did you move?

Mostly school, but a chance to see Western Canada was definitely part of it.

4. What is something your city is known for?

Unfortunately it’s probably known for the North Central neighbourhood, which has been reported as being one of the most violent neighbourhoods in Canada.

5. When you travel outside your city (to other cities or countries), what form of transportation do you most often use?

Depends where I’m going, how much time I have and how much money. If I had a car, that would be my first choice most of the time for national or international travel. Plane is usually the easiest and most efficient (what I use to fly home), but the bus isn’t too bad for neighbouring provinces, it just takes much longer!

6. Within your city, what is the best form of transportation for getting around? Why?

Car is the best. Bus is not too bad, but depending on where you want to go, buses can be sparse. Also, once outside of any kind of city core you’ll find it a bit tricky without a car.

7. Name and describe 3 things that, in your opinion, are “must sees” in your city.

  • Science Centre with IMAX theatre – pretty interactive and fun things to see
  • Bird Sanctuary
  • Mosaic Stadium – Even if you don’t like sports, the construction of this new stadium is a topic of controversy in the city and is probably worth a look, especially at night with the exceptionally bright lights

8. Name and describe 3 things that people should do in your city.

  • Milky Way ice cream stand – Only open on the warmer days, Milky Way is a staple in Regina
  • Paddle board on Wascana Lake – or walk the paths around the lake
  • Go to a CFL game – people in Saskatchewan take their Riders team very seriously. Like, very seriously. It’s a sight to see for sure, even if you don’t particularly care for the CFL

9. What is one thing you haven’t seen or done in your city, but would like to?

See the Northern Lights. I know there are many places you can see them, but I’d love to see them out on the prairie fields … I’m sure it’s a sight!

10. Describe a special event that happens in your city every year.

Craven (or now Country Thunder) isn’t right in Regina, so I guess I’m cheating a bit, but it happens every year and it’s definitely an event. It’s a weekend-long, outdoor country music festival and it’s a party in its own right. Great music from Nashville’s best as well as local artists. Never a dull moment.

11. What do you think are the three most common jobs in your city?

  • Farming
  • Education
  • SaskTel administration

12. Where’s the best place to shop?

Cornwall Centre is the main mall in Regina and probably your go-to for shopping. It’s located right downtown and is only steps away from a few other local shops on the downtown strip.

13. Where’s the best place to eat? Why?

  • Vic’s (Victoria’s Tavern) is a great place located right downtown. Aside from good food at a decent price, they have a different special grilled cheese sandwich available every day. Some examples include “chicken, spinach, pico, garlic butter, cream and aged cheddar” and “mac & cheese wedges, Srircha, breaded jalape√Īo and onion scoops with mixed cheese” among many others.
  • Fresh and Sweet – although they serve great food all day, the breakfast is amazing here. All your favourite classics, as well as red velvet pancakes, chicken waffles, caramel apple pie waffles, and many others! Plus their cupcakes are amazing.

14. In your opinion, where’s the best bar in town and why?

  • El Dorado’s is great and a must visit for anyone coming to Saskatchewan. It’s the resident country bar in town and out here in the prairies they take that stuff seriously.
  • O’Hans (or properly, O’Hanlan’s) is right downtown, and always busy, everybody knows it. They often have live music, which is always great to check out.

15. If you could give a piece of advice to someone visiting your city, what would it be?

Dress warm, especially in the winter! This winter we saw some -50 degrees Celsius days, so be prepared!

16. Anything else?

Regina is actually pretty rad. It’s small (population roughly 220,000?), but it’s growing all the time and it’s definitely unique!

24 Hour Theatre

This is a post I had been intending to write over a week ago but, of course, this being March Madness, I just haven’t had time or energy. As a result, there is now a backlog of posts that I would like to put up (hopefully) in the next few days. Here’s the first one:

It’s March, the busiest month of my academic year. We have school plays and parent conferences and grade 5 exhibition and on top of all that, the regular theatre and (sometimes) social stuff I do as normal filler between work and home but this month just adds to the pile of “stuff” to do.

There are four Saturdays¬†in March. Two of them were taken up with full-day rehearsals (10am-4pm) for the high school play. Plus rehearsals almost every night of the week from 3:30-6pm for the entire month. Two days of grade 5 exhibition – one going until 8pm, a play reading on a Friday evening, a play rehearsal on a Wednesday evening (after school rehearsal until 6) and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. So when I find myself with¬†one weekend, right in the middle of all this chaos, one glorious Saturday/Sunday that somehow slipped under the radar and had nothing booked, did I clean my house? No. Do groceries? No. Laundry? Nope. Catch up on sleep? YES! Just kidding, I didn’t. I decided to engage in a round of 24 Hour Theatre. And yes, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

24 Hour Theatre is pretty common in the acting world amongst college students, theatre summer campers and even professional drama groups. The basic concept is to write, direct and perform a play in the span of 24 hours. The most common way this is done is on Day 1, starting at 8pm, the writers begin writing their short (very short) plays. The plays must be completed by 8am the morning of Day 2, at which point the directors come in, read the plays and decide on who is doing which one. Then at 9am, the actors come in to work with the directors. Groups then have from 9am-8pm to block, rehearse and memorize the plays before the audience arrives at 8pm to watch the show. Plays normally last about 15 minutes each and there is an understanding between actors and audience that these plays were created within a very short amount of time so Pulitzer Prize winners they are not, but always a fun little night of entertainment (not to mention these short plays often spark a jumping off point for writers to carry on with a particular theme, or a safe place for new writers to try their hand).

There is also a second format in which plays are written as a collaborative effort by the writer, director and actors all together (like a workshop) for the full 24 hours, but this is less common.

Anyway, it has been years since I participated in 24 Hour Theatre. Years. So, back in November, when I found myself, after one of our last performances of White Out, sitting at the wine bar next door to the theatre with my friend Stephen and our new friend Shaun (an exchange student from Singapore here for one year) talking about 24 Hour Theatre, I thought it was all theoretical, right? Yeah we could do this with the theatre group here,¬†in theory. Shaun had been working the bar at that night’s performance and had started talking about the concept. Stephen had never heard of it before so we carried on the conversation next door at D-Vino’s. At the end of the evening, Shaun asked if we would be interested in trying this out with the theatre group and we both said sure, why not? (I can’t speak for Stephen but my thought process was somewhere along the lines of “This is probably never going to happen but hey, good luck to you, kid.”)

Then, when Shaun contacted us in early January, asking about people we thought might be interested in the experience I, for one, passed on some names, still thinking it was probably unlikely to come to fruition. And when he emailed me again in mid February asking me (as Secretary to the Committee at that point) to send out a call for those interested, I still thought, this is probably not going to work. More fool me.

That’s how I found myself participating in 24 Hour Theatre on my one weekend off. Finding people had been difficult for Shaun; most members had never heard of this before. But a few brave souls agreed to give it a try and I threw my hat in because he needed one more person for it to work. In the end, we had 8 people – 2 writers, 2 directors and 4 actors – the absolute minimum (normally you have about 5 writers, 5 directors and 10-15 actors).

We met on Saturday night at 8pm at Shaun’s house. We were instructed to bring something that meant something to us and take a few minutes to talk about that object to the group. This is to help spark ideas for the writers (for larger groups, where this can take a lot of time, often each person is instead asked to provide a “theme”. All themes are thrown into a hat and one is drawn out – for example “bicycles”. Then, every play that is written must incorporate that theme).

After an hour, everyone broke up. The actors and directors headed home for a good night’s sleep and the writers started writing. In the morning we met at the theatre at 8am (I’m lucky, the theatre is a six minute walk from my house, so I didn’t have to get up¬†too early on a Sunday morning). Myself and the other director, Kristina, chose our plays and actors (actors came with the plays, as the writers were writing with specific people in mind) and went our separate ways to work with what we had.

This is where things deviated from the norm a bit. Because we are not college students (except Shaun) or at theatre camp, or a professional acting troupe – we are normal, working people – we did not perform on the night of Day 2, as would normally be the case. We finished rehearsing on Sunday and then met up the following evening (Monday – Day 3) to perform for a small but appreciative crowd.

There were hiccups along the way, of course, but everything worked out and the audience responded very positively, asking many questions, after the performance, about the process and wondering if we would do this again before the summer, so more could be involved (possibly June). It was a tiring weekend, but definitely worth while. Even if it meant no clean clothes and picking up food on my way home from work each night, for another (busy) week.

PS. I recently discovered that the Zurich Film Festival do a similar thing every year where they announce a theme and hold a 48-hour filmmaking contest. That could be cool to try some day.