Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ni Hao!

Have you ever tried to learn something that goes pretty much against every principle you've ever learned?  If you speak English and have tried to learn Mandarin, then the answer is yes.

There are many reasons Mandarin is a very difficult language to learn, but these are the reasons I've learned during my first 3 lessons.

1.  The sentence structure is completely different than English.  They order their words in a very different way.

2.  The literal meaning of their words is not what they use them for.  For example, the phrase "ma ma hu hu" is how say you or something is just ok/average.  The literal meaning, however, is "horse horse tiger tiger".  That makes sense right? : )  It's fun to say, though.

3.  You thought "there, their, and they're" was difficult?  How about háo, hǎo, hāo, and hào.  They have tones instead of different spellings and that tiny symbol changes not only the meaning of the word, but also changes the inflection you use to say the word.

There's a lot more reasons I believe the language is incredibly difficult, but those are the 3 major struggles so far.  At least while it's difficult, I find it very interesting!

Oh, and I got very excited the other day because our Sherpa delivery guy (food delivery guy - another post) knocked on our door again after he delivered our food because he forgot to leave ketchup for Todd's french fries.  Todd opened the door and the delivery guy said "du ìbuqǐ" (pronounced "do-boo-chee").  It took it one second too long for me to process it, but as soon as Todd closed the door, I yelled "He said "I'm sorry"!  You should have said "méi guānxi"!"(pronounced "may-goo on-she" and it means "That's all right")  Then of course, me being me, I yelled "I KNOW MANDARIN!!"  I was very proud of myself.

Basically I probably will never be able to carry on a conversation with someone in Mandarin after this class unless I take a more intense class, because to understand someone speaking in sentence form I lean my head forward and focus so hard I look like my eyes are bugging out of my head.  Plus, the person speaking must be saying one word per one to two seconds, and in Shanghai, people talk a mile a minute!  I don't understand how people understand each other's tones because it's ridiculously fast, and like I said, it's only thing when you speak English quickly because no matter what tone you're using, you can understand the words, though you may not understand the full emotion behind them.  When speaking Mandarin, if you don't hear the tone, you could completely miss the meaning of a word because the tone differentiates the meaning for many words.

I know just enough to be dangerous and to make it even harder to get around.  By that, I mean because I've learned how you're supposed to pronounce the different combinations of letters (in Mandarin it's initials and finals), I try to use the proper pronunciation for streets when I get into cabs.  And I thought the drivers had a hard time understanding me when I didn't know anything... they have a hay day with me now!

I recently grabbed a cab that was stopped at a red light.  I hopped in and read the intersection I wanted to go to from the map on my iPhone.  The light turned green and the driver started driving.  I again repeated the two street names to the driver.  He proceeded to pull over in such a way that made me read his thought "This is going to take a while.  I'm going to need to pull over to figure out where I'm going".  After apparently butchering the names of the streets using my newly acquired knowledge of the language, I showed the driver the intersection on my phone.  He repeated the street names and they sounded COMPLETELY different than what I had said.  They were so different, in fact, I said "dui" (means "yes", pronounced "dway") and then sat with my iPhone map open, tracking where we were going because I thought he was taking me to an entirely different intersection.  To make matters worse, the driver thought my pronunciation attempt was so bad, while driving he started repeating the names of the two streets over and over.  I kept telling him yes, until I realized he wanted me to repeat him to say them properly.  He didn't let me stop until I pronounced them properly 3 times in a row.  Then he of course laughed... hard.  It was humorous, I mean, the asian girl with the thick american accent trying to overly enunciate Shanghai street names.  At least this driver was nice and was truly trying to help, regardless of his laughing.

I'll keep everyone posted on my Mandarin speaking adventures as they come up, but until then, Zàijiàn!  (That means "goodbye", but literally it's to see (you) later)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I Love Ellen!

For anyone who hasn't seen The Ellen DeGeneres Show, you're missing out.  It's a show I DVR using our Slingbox and LOVE.  It's sure to make me smile.  I love how it's a little piece of every talk show combined.  You get the celebrity guests, amazing give aways for the audience and viewers, she helps people in need, she supports amazing charities and non-profits, she plays hilarious games, and she dances (plus so much more)!

I just wanted to quickly share some of the funny segments I've enjoyed lately as I've been catching up on the 50ish episodes on the DVR (my mother-in-law and I both watch them so there's confusion on who's watched what so we don't delete any of them!).

I heart Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, so of course I love this video.  And may I please say, Zac Efron is hot!

I had to include this because this is the "scare" Taylor referred to in my previous video.

I love her "Clumsy Thumbsy" segment.

I LOOOOOOOOOVE Sophia Grace and Rosie.  If you haven't seen them before, you need to go to Ellen's YouTube Channel and search Sophia and Rosie.  They're hilarious.  Ellen first brought them on because their parents put a video of them rapping to Nicki Minaj's Super Bass.

Kristen Bell is crazy... at least when it comes to sloths.  And my husband and in-laws think I'M weird!

The original video received so many views on YouTube (almost 10 million at this moment), it got auto-tuned into another entertaining video.

Hope these videos made you smile! : )

Translate Server Error

While many people in Shanghai speak at least a very small amount of English, there are many who don't speak any.

This is a story of some people who opened a restaurant and didn't speak any English.

There are TONS of chinese restaurants in Shanghai who's signs only have Mandarin characters making up the name.  Then there are restaurants whose names are only in English.  There are also the restaurants that meet in the middle and have their signage in both English and Mandarin.  This is the route the owners of a specific restaurant took.

Since they didn't speak any English, the owners decided to get some help translating the name for their sign.  This is the end result.

Don't trust Google Translate all the time!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I Heart Movies

In my last post I talked about how I miss going to the movies, and this made me think about all the movies I want to see that have been, are, or will be in the theaters.  I love movies... all kinds. Give me drama, action, comedy, anything! The movie UP was just on here in Shanghai and I LOVE that movie. I cry every single time I watch it. I don't know how you can avoid it if you are the least bit emotional.

Then he learns life IS the adventure...

Too good not to share!  Anyway...

I really want to see all of the following movies:

I LOVE Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams.  This movie is also loosely based on a true story and I love movies imitating reality, no matter how loosely.  There's a book about the real life couple who went through this experience that I want to read.

Again, I love the actors in this movie!  I especially love Chris Pine and Reese.

Another movie loosely based on a true story.  And who doesn't love whales?

I want to see this because I do like movies/shows with Katherine, but also because it's based on the first book of a series I want to read by Janet Evanovich.

I want to see this because I love Dr. Seuss so I think it will be cute.  Also, I love that they used a Polyphonic Spree song for the trailer because one of my best friends is in that group! ; )

It will probably be a really dumb movie, but again, I love Channing Tatum and combined with Jonah Hill, I will at least laugh.

The Hunger Games... I hope it will be even half as amazing as the books.  I read the entire series of books in 2 1/2 days.  They are soooooo good.  I can't wait to see the movie!

Lastly, American Reunion.  I have to see it because the franchise started the summer before my Sophomore year of HIGH SCHOOL!  How can I not see it to the end?  Plus, it's not like it's Saved by the Bell: The New Class (all new people trying to live up to what was a hit originally)... it's the original people.  So I will go see it.  It's a must regardless of how horrible it is.

Besides, I won't think anything in horrible as long as I'm in a real movie theater with a soda and popcorn, or maybe some nachos. : )  There are a lot more movies coming out that I want to see, but these are the ones coming out in the near future.

Friday, February 17, 2012

It's the Little Things...

OMG I got to bake!  Like, use an OVEN.  You don't understand... in Shanghai, we don't have an oven.  There's lots of things we don't have in Shanghai, but I'm just going to touch on a few.

Like I said, we don't have an oven.  Nor do we have a toaster oven.  It's difficult.  All cooking must be done on the stove, which means no staples from our US life like biscuits or delicious home baked treats like chocolate chip cookies or brownies.

We also don't have a clothes dryer.  Our washing machine has a "drying function" which is much better than many people have here, but it uses convection heat.  It also takes 4 hours to "dry" our clothes, many of which still come out damp.  A full wash/dry cycle takes 5 hours.  You cannot throw clothes in just to dry or to fluff... you have to wash and dry, which completely defeats the purpose.  Again, we're much luckier than many of our friends because many of them only have a washer with no drying function, meaning they must air dry all of their clothes, sheets, towels, etc. on drying racks which takes a minimum of 3 days to be completely dry.  They also say they end up being "crunchy" because they weren't fluffed.

You see this all around Shanghai because dryers are scarce due to their high price
Another thing we miss is American TV.  While we do have cable here, there are only 5 channels we watch due to content or availability in English.  Thank goodness there are 2 good movie stations, or I would be very bored while around our apartment.  It's strange to have to search for American news via the internet instead of just turning on the television.  Thank goodness for the internet and our Slingbox.

OK, you don't know what a Slingbox is?  Well here's a funny story.  Todd doesn't ever lie to me, or lie by omission of information.  He just can't do it.  One, he's a very honest person, and two, he's a horrible liar.  He smiles or his eyes bug out of his head and I can read him like a children's book!  There are only 2 times he's almost gotten away with a lie and it's been about a purchase of an electronic device both times.  For anyone who knows Todd very well, you know he LOVES electronics.  About 5 years ago when blu-ray players and movies were still quite expensive, Todd had wanted to get one.  I thought we should wait a little longer for them to inevitably take a price drop, especially since the movies were still pricey and that only meant spending more money because we're movie lovers and I knew he would want to purchase a lot.  He agreed.  That is until he moved to Texas for a job after he graduated, and I was still in Kentucky finishing school.  The first time I visited him, as soon as I walked into the apartment and sat down on the sofa, I said "What is that?"  Of course, it was a blu-ray player.

The second time, I was still in KY and he was already in Shanghai.  I was talking to his dad on the phone and unbeknownst to me, Todd had ordered a Slingbox from Best Buy and had his dad go pick it up to install at his house.  His dad started telling me how he had just gotten back from Best Buy and was going to try to install the Slingbox for Todd.  He and Todd were also texting at the same time I was speaking with his dad, and his dad starts laughing after receiving a text from Todd and wouldn't tell me what was so funny.  I text Todd to find out what it was, and Todd had conveniently just told his dad to not tell me about the Slingbox because he hadn't told me be had purchased it yet.  Oops.  Too late.  However, it is an amazing investment for our situation and I would probably die without it.  Below is a video that was literally created to make fun of my husband. ; )

A Slingbox is a device you connect to an existing cable box and internet connection, then you can view and control the cable from your iPhone or computer.  What that means is we not only watch, but also control a cable box in Todd's parent's home from our iPhones, iPad, or computers.  We can even set the DVR to record shows, and rewind, fast forward, etc.  We have all the capabilities you would if you were sitting in the living room with the remote in your hand.  I love it.  While many shows are online and we do utilize Hulu Plus and other internet sites to keep up on our American shows, the Slingbox allows us to watch the UK games and many other shows not available via the internet.  The best part is you just purchase the Slingbox device and don't have to pay a subscription fee after that, so we will be able to use this when we're back in the states so we never miss a UK game because we're out running around.  It was the best purchase Todd ever made without telling me. ; )
There are lots of other little things I miss about the US, like being able to go to one grocery store and find anything I could need for any recipe except maybe a very specific, foreign ingredient.  Here, you're lucky if you can find what you're looking for after going to every store/stall/market you can think of.  If you can find everything, you're probably paying an arm and a leg for it, as mentioned in my previous post.  You know one thing I can't find no matter where I've shopped and I never expected to miss but do?  HOT DOGS!  I would love to have a good ol' Oscar Meyer Beef frank on a hot dog bun with yellow mustard, ketchup, and relish!

I also really miss going to the movies.  As mentioned earlier Todd and I are movie buffs.  We love movies.  We buy tons of movies, and have always loved going to the cinema.  We have gone to lots of midnight showings just for fun and really enjoy it.  In Shanghai you can purchase pretty much any DVD you can imagine (including movies that have just been released in the theater in the US... LOL) for very cheap.  Todd found a DVD store we frequent so often now, one of the main guys who works there tells us if one of the DVD's we've picked up to purchase is bad quality and we should wait to purchase it (always a movie that is still in the theater so someone has made a very shaky video recording of it in and burned it to DVD).  It's great to get a DVD for 10 RMB (about $1.50) or a blu-ray for 25 rmb (about $4), but it's not the same as going to the movies.  I want to be back in the US in a 300 person+ capacity CLEAN (yes, gum/butter covered floors are now clean to me) IMAX 3D ETX AMC Theater where I can use my STUBS card to earn and redeems points, buy an $7 popcorn, $6 Diet Coke, and some nachos.  I want the option to go to a dine-in theater like Studio Movie Grill in Dallas or the Cinema Suites at AMC Grapevine.

Oh, and how can I forget about DRIVING!  I miss my car.  I miss driving A car.  ANY car.  Todd has been in Shanghai much longer than I have, and gone much longer without driving and it doesn't really bother him.  It doesn't bother our friends either.  But I MISS DRIVING.  Yes, I miss the convenience of just jumping in my car and running somewhere, instead of having to grab a taxi or walk to the metro, but that's not the main reason I miss driving.  I miss it because it was "therapeutic" for me.  If I had a bad day at work or was in a funk, I could get in my car and take a long route home while listening to some great music and be completely better by the time I got home.  I will miss it even more come Spring because I loved driving with the sun shining and "singing" some upbeat song on the radio.  I say "singing" because I am one of the most tone deaf people on earth.  Just ask my husband.  He gets to hear it ALL THE TIME because while I'm a horrible singer, I LOOOOOOOOOOOOVE making up stupid songs or "singing him to sleep", AKA figuring out a way to make him laugh/bug him so he'll stay up longer with me because I'm not tired.

Related to this, I miss the radio!  I miss not having to think about logging on and listening to internet radio, but just automatically knowing I will listen to the radio on a daily basis because I will be driving somewhere in my car.  I don't like having to seek out new songs that have been overplayed on the radio in the US, but I haven't even heard yet.  The only thing that saves this is I have the iHeartRadio app and I listen to 106.1 Kiss FM every day while I'm in the shower and my "getting ready" routine.  It makes me almost feel like I'm back in Dallas.  If I put it on in the evening and I hear Kidd Kraddick it makes me smile.

If I'm being 100% honest, I also miss my celebrity gossip.  I miss talking with my girlfriends about who's dating who, or how awful someone looked at the Grammy's, etc.  While I do still check out TMZ and E Online, it takes honest effort to remember to check it and that's just not fun.  I remember a while back Todd came home and in all seriousness, I looked at him and had the following conversation:

Me: "I officially feel disconnected from the US."
Todd: "Why is that?"
Me: "Beyonce and Jay-Z's baby was born 4 days ago and I didn't know.
Todd: (Rolls his eyes) That's my wife.

Ok.  I understand how ridiculous it sounds, but that's why this post is titled "It's the Little Things" because it is!  It's those little things that give you goofy enjoyment, especially when you're a 28 year old female.  Everyone always says you don't know what you have until it's gone, and usually they're referring to much larger "things" like relationships, jobs, etc. but I'm talking about all the little things that added up to my life!

OH!  One last thing I have to mention about the little things I miss... A BATHTUB!  In our last apartment in the states, we had a separate tub and shower which was awesome.  I loved our bathroom.  I got into a routine where if I was stressed or had a headache or just wanted to relax when Todd was working late, I would take a hot bath.  I would take my computer into the bathroom and put it on the counter across from the bathtub so I could watch a movie or listen to music, then I would put on the really dim light that only lit the shower and get into a hot bath with my awesome bath pillow my MIL bought me.  It was amazing what it did for my mood, as well as my skin since I would usually use a bath oil and I'm normally horrible about moisturizing.  I sincerely miss doing this, especially since I'm not working while in Shanghai so I could be taking a bath on a daily basis!  My recommendation: Lush Products Butterball Bath Bomb!

Ok.  I'm done ranting... for now.  Consider this part 1. : )

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


If you ever have the chance to go, you HAVE to go to Koh Samui, Thailand.  I've heard Phuket is amazing, too.

Todd and I were blessed enough to be able to spend a few days there recently and I wish I could live there.  It's paradise.  The people are so nice, and their service is beyond most you would receive in the US.  It was also amazing to speak english the entire time we were on our trip.  You realize you miss doing so while you're in Shanghai, but you really realize it once you're able to do so again.

Below is a little video I put together of our trip.  I'm sorry for the shakiness of some parts, but walking in flip flops + filming on a point and shoot camera + major breeze = hard to stay still.

The video doesn't do the view justice.  The water is a Tiffany blue.  It's absolutely breathtaking.  It was so wonderful to completely relax in the sun.  The high each day was between 85 and 90, and the lows were around 78.  It was perfect all the time. 

Our hotel was wonderful.  It's set up to where you can literally not lift a finger the entire time you're there.  You don't have to walk anywhere if you don't want to... just call a buggy.  You can order the entire menu from any of the restaurants to your room, and the rooms are so great you just want to stay in all the time, or lounge by your private pool instead of heading anywhere.

The best part about the vacation was Todd was finally able to truly relax.  For anyone who knows Todd, it's hard for him to relax.  While he enjoys sitting around watching sports on TV or a movie, he has to leave the apartment at least once a day purely because he gets restless.  The last "lounge-ish" vacation we took, he came to the pool with me and laid out for 15 minutes before getting too restless and going off to find something else to do.  This time, he stayed out at the beach with me for hours, swam in our pool, lounged on our day bed on our deck, and really relaxed.  It was wonderful to see.

While in Koh Samui, we had some of the best food we've had in a very long time.  Todd has been in Shanghai since the middle of May and the city definitely doesn't have the best food we've ever had.  We've found some pizza we like, some chicken, burgers, items like that, but not anywhere we go for a really good meal.

Todd had an amazing ribeye steak with truffle mashed potatoes.  It was delicious!  If I hadn't loved my meal so much, I definitely would have stolen more than just a taste of his.  But I had this...

It's a lobster and caramelized pineapple red curry with rice.  SOOOO delicious!  The curry was spicy, but had a coconutty flavor that complimented the pineapple and lobster.  It was amazing.  I wish I could eat it every day!

We also loved the breakfast buffet.  Todd eats Pop Tarts or cereal every morning for breakfast in Shanghai.   I made pancakes and scrambled eggs once, and will make them again, but it's so expensive!  We paid $8 for syrup (an off brand... Aunt Jemima was $13) and $9 for pancake mix.  Of course we'll get multiple servings out of each, but it's still hard to swallow when we know how much we would pay in the US.  So every morning in Koh Samui we would go to "The Kitchen Table" and have fresh squeezed juice, and anything our heart desired.  Todd would have cheesy scrambled eggs, pancakes, fresh fruit, and REAL BACON.  I say REAL bacon because in Shanghai, bacon is typically a piece of lunch meat ham, fried in a skillet.  Otherwise, it's a fatty, disgusting piece of bacon-looking meat.

Our view at breakfast
I LOVED being in the sun.  When we left Shanghai, the weather was dreary and cold.  When we came back, it was drearier and colder.  It's amazing what a little vitamin D will do for your mood and overall health.  Todd and I had never been in the sun this close to the equator before, so we had to be very careful.  Honestly, I laid out a total of 3 1/2 hours in the sun the entire time I was there, and got burnt.  I used SPF 50 and reapplied, and I even used the timer on my phone so I wouldn't lose track of how long I'd been in the sun.  The sun is just SO STRONG!  The rest of the time I laid in the shade.  The amazing thing is I look as if I've laid on a beach for days.  I guess the sun penetrates so deeply I tanned much faster than if I were on a beach in Florida, not that that's a good thing from a health perspective, but I am loving having a tan again.  It's too bad I'll be covered from head to toe in pants, boots, jackets, scarves, and gloves. : (

So if you know me very well or have read my previous blog posts, you know I have a stuffed lavender monkey named Elliott my friend's son gave me when my mom passed away.  I take him everywhere, so he came along to Koh Samui.  Our hotel room had a red bear stuffed with tiny foam pellets like those pillows everyone sells.  Each night, "twilight service" would come and turn down our bed and prepare our room for sleeping, and they would dress the bear in his robe.
Elliott and the bear from our room
The bear was so cute and comfortable (makes a great pillow!) I had to have one.  Todd was nice enough to buy me one, and he picked the color, so now we have another addition to our family.
Elliott & Thai
We named him Thai W Strawn.  Get it?  Thai?  Thailand.  W?  W Hotels.  Creative huh? LOL.  He even came with clothes including the tie pictured above, and an equally as tacky, shiny robe.  I love that my husband is as goofy as me and embraces my emotional attachment to stuffed animals.  Here's what he did with Thai's robe when we got home...

Doesn't it look good in the closet?

If anyone is looking for an amazing, international, tropical vacation, please consider Thailand.  It was a wonderful trip I'm so thankful we were able to take.  Here's a few more pictures from the trip...

This is the view from our gate at the airport.  The entire airport is open air.  To walk to your gate you walk outside down a street filled with shops, and suddenly come to security.  It's wonderful.

These are the little trams that take you from your gate to your plane.  The airport only has 1 runway so the plane lands, turns around on the runway, and goes and parks.  Then trams take you to and from the plane.

OOH!  I almost forgot.  Bangkok airport had 2 things Todd and I had desperately been missing...

Auntie Anne's pretzel and cheese with lemonade for me, and 

Popeye's biscuits for him.

If you know me very well, then you should know I LOVE soft pretzels and cheese.  I will make a meal of them.  I used to get one practically every time I was at the mall, and even hunt down the reheated ones at amusement parks like Disney.  I had read an article before moving to Shanghai and it said there was an Auntie Anne's here.  When I arrived, I was sorely disappointed.  It went out of business.  I don't understand why, because Chinese are obsessed with fresh items and they're freshly made.  Maybe if they made a disgusting fish pretzel with soy dipping sauce it would sell.  Anyway, I was thrilled to get an Auntie Anne's pretzel and lemonade even if it wasn't as good as in the US.  A mediocre pretzel and cheese is better than no pretzel and cheese at all.

As for Todd's biscuits... we don't have an oven.  I'm going to elaborate on this in my next post, but because of this, Todd can't make biscuits and he LOVES biscuits.  He would eat biscuits and cereal for breakfast practically every single day in Dallas, and sometimes for lunch or dinner, too.  Therefore, he was thrilled when the airport had a Popeye's and he was able to get biscuits.  What can I say?  It's the little things in life. ; )

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lil Blue Boo

We have all had times when we feel our life may not be going the way we want it, or we've been tested and we think we're at our limit, or we just want to have a pity party for ourselves.  I've had a few of those moments while being here in China, whether it's because I'm being very closed-minded and letting myself become highly agitated by the Chinese culture, whether I'm missing my mom and dad, or whether I'm just being generally grumpy one day for no reason or a lot of little reasons.  This all changed one day when I came across a blog I'd never seen before.

The blog is written by a woman named Ashley and she quickly became an inspiration to me through her heartfelt, open, and uplifting posts.  Ashley is a talented woman who makes quality, handmade clothing for kids.  Her designs are adorable!  She has also been through a lot in her life including losing her father unexpectedly, enduring the heartbreak of a miscarriage, then finding out she had a molar pregnancy that was really a huge cancerous tumor.  She is so strong and keeps such an amazing outlook on life.  She CHOOSES JOY every single day through all of her struggles.  Her father left her with that perspective after his death when she found a devotional page on his desk with that title at the top.

I find myself checking her website daily for a new blog post.  I look to her to help me set the tone for my day, or to check my attitude or perspective when I know it's not where it should be.  She's an amazing person going through a horribly difficult journey at the moment.  I encourage you to read her blog posts.  When I first came across her blog, I sat there for hours and read as many as I could.  Just click any of the links above to take you to her blog, as well as her website to view her amazing clothing designs.

She shared this video of shaving her head which makes my eyes well with tears every time I watch it!  So amazing! (The other amazing woman with the shaved head in the video is Ashley's mother.  She didn't want Ashley to have to do it alone so she showed up at her house and surprised her to show her support)

As everyone knows, cancer is not only difficult emotionally and physically, but also financially.  Ashley hates asking for help, but some amazing women have put together an auction to help her with her medical bills.  Please click on the picture below to learn more about the auction.

Team Ashley

I hope everyone enjoys Ashley's blog as much as I do, and comes away with some inspiration and perspective.