Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Stress relief in Wuxi

Newly renovated change rooms at Better Fitness.

I like to think of myself as a proactive person - if I have a problem, I deal with it. So, to protect myself from going mad from stress during the somewhat tense work circumstances at the moment, I've resorted to several stress relief methods.

Skewers of garlic - look out boys of Wuxi!

First one - exercise. If I could find a way to bottle the endorphins from exercise, I wouldn't need to work again! Exercise seems to cure most stress related feelings. The gym has finally finished their renovations, so I can exercise without breathing in fumes of who knows what. My training is going reasonably well for the marathon. My heart and lungs are feeling really fit and strong, but sometimes my legs just seem to die on me and get really tired and sore. I am going in a race next week in Shanghai, so that will be a great place to test my fitness!

Only the best sushi in Wuxi.
Second one - food. Mostly healthy food, so that's okay. But it's food all the same - not really a good stress relief when you're training for a half marathon and attempting to get a 'bikini' body ready for a beach holiday! After the news on Monday, I headed to a local Japanese restaurant to debrief over endless rounds of sushi and Kirin beer. Yesterday, I was so desperate for chocolate, I biked to the closest convenience store and upon discovering their lack of chocolate, bought several varieties of chocolate biscuits. But, today, I'm back on track with my healthy diet, having a 'detox' day to kick start my system again.
Looking extremely sexy in the massage outfit - the price you pay for relaxation!
Third stress relief method is massage. On Monday night, after stuffing myself with sushi, it was off down the road for a head and shoulders massage, where I was very close to falling asleep. And the last stress reliever is meditation. I have been meditating on and off for about 18 months now and I can really feel the benefits, particularly during times of stress. So, now I just have to continue looking after my body and my mind and see what the future brings!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Hey, I live in China!

Hong Kong at night.

Yep, that's right - I live in China! Sometimes it's a little hard to believe that I do actually live here. Five years ago, if someone had told me that I'd be living in China now, I wouldn't have believed them.

At the Olympics! Potala Palace.
I feel so lucky for the opportunities that I have had whilst I've been here. At work, I've been thrown into two completely different roles, that of ESL teacher and PYP co-ordinator, both challenges that are frustrating and enjoyable at the same time. Living here has provided so many opportunities - learning Mandarin and meeting so many amazing people, all from completely different backgrounds. The travel has been fantastic and although I have always loved it, I'm becoming more and more addicted here, constantly thinking of where to go next. Mt. Everest.
Yandi to XingPing.
Before arriving in China, I had never had the urge to travel to the Middle Kingdom, but now that I'm here, my mind has been opened to so many unique Chinese experiences beyond the Great Wall and the panda bears. The warmth and generosity I have experienced from so many people on my travels has been uplifting, and far out weighs the pitfalls of living here - the stares and occasional rudeness. My new goal is to travel to every Chinese province at least once.
Great Wall with Rob.
Good friends.
A new adventurer from NZ arrived on the weekend (welcome Ricardo!) and it's only when someone new arrives that I realise that the sights I once found strange and scary are just so normal now. On Saturday night, we were sitting in the cab on the way home and while the three girls were busily chatting away, poor Ricardo was clutching his seat, face white with terror, as the cab went into the lane of oncoming traffic, the driver's hand firmly on the horn. To us, that situation is totally normal, but to a newcomer, it is totally bizarre and terrifying!
More good friends.
Fun times in Shanghai.
Whilst sometimes the 'Oh my goodness, I live in China!' thought hits me, so too does the 'Oh my goodness, I am so far away from my family and I miss them!' thought. Last night I had one of those moments (note to self - don't drink wine at home by yourself when feeling tired and a little emotional). I probably had this thought for several reasons - I had spoken to my mum and grandmother who were on their way out to a family dinner, my mum is heading off to Italy on Wednesday to meet up with Rob, my other brother is having an operation tomorrow, I haven't spoken to my dad for a bit and I desperately miss my animals. I miss playing with the dogs and it's coming up to the first anniversary of Dookie's (my horse) death, which will be a sad day for me. So, after two glasses of Everton, the tears were flowing.
The pretty side of Wuxi.
Random places to sleep.
But, when I feel like this, I always am reminded by how lucky I am to be here, experiencing these amazing opportunities which are making me learn and grow as a person. And, I have lots of things to look forward to - I'm off to Beijing this weekend for 4 days, in a month I will be sitting on the beach in the Phillippines, Mum will be arriving at the end of July for a much anticipated trip to Mongolia and here is the big one .................... I'm coming home for a holiday!!!! I wasn't planning to come home until Christmas but have decided that a dose of normality (whatever that may be!) will be much needed by the end of July.
Vain pet owners.
Regular massages.
PJs in public.
A city of 22 million people.
The newcomer - How cheap is the beer?!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Finding our own entertainment in Wuxi ......

90 minute foot massage with a chick flick.

Finding entertainment in Wuxi is sometimes hard to do, so yesterday, Amy and I set out to find our own entertainment in 'normal' Wuxi events. The day began with 3 hours worth of massage - an excellent way to deal with tiredness from having a late night. We began with a 90 minute foot massage whilst watching a chick flick followed by a 90 minute full body oil massage, which is where the giggles began - who would have thought that the words 'boobies' and 'fart' could provide so much laughter to two intelligent, mature girls in their twenties and their Chinese masseurs?!

Comfy outdoor chairs. BBQ anyone?
The giggles then continued as we made our way to Metro, a huge wholesale supermarket on the outskirts of Wuxi. I only make it out here about once a month, to stock up on Western things such as tins of baked beans, herbs, cheese, yoghurt and more recently, organic vegetables (although I'm a little suspicious of their real origins, I'm not taking my chances after hearing about the treatment of regular vegetables). Sometimes, you find some real treats - yesterday I found smoked salmon, blueberries and Easter eggs! The closest I'll get to camping in China I think! Washing the windows. So, the silliness continued as we shopped and searched for silly photo opportunities, much to the amusement of our fellow shoppers. To end the day, a group of us headed to Blue Bar for a quiet dinner before an early night. Am already looking forward to next weekend, when I head to Beijing for four days - two for fun and two for work.
My favourite aisle, the 'Imported Candy and Chocolate' aisle where I discovered Easter eggs!
A new addiction - Swiss Miss hot chocolate.
The Australian wine collection - we want it all!
Weight lifting baked beans.
Fresh fish?!
Hmmm, unidentifiable food.
Rice anyone?
Mmmmmm, a normal shopping trip!
Keep running Amy - those chips are within reach!
Rehydration is very important.

Single ladies ....

Romance issues in Wuxi! This is what women are driven to - kicking and screaming on the floor!

A couple of weeks ago, there was a comic version of Beyonce's new video doing the rounds on Facebook and YouTube (now banned in China!). The song title is 'Single Ladies' and Amy and I have taken the song on board as the anthem for her last few months in Wuxi, for two reasons. The first of course is obvious - we're both single ladies! The second is the fact that the video is so funny, it has helped both of us get through what has been a really tough month at work. So, it was in this spirit that we headed out to celebrate Sam's birthday.

Taxi trip to the city - these laowais are dangerous and must be kept behind bars. The birthday girl makes a speech .... and has a dance.
The night began at TGI Fridays, where we were spoilt for choice with the cocktail menu - $15 all you can drink - not a smart move for the bar when the majority of clients were Aussies and Kiwis. The night then proceeded onto Kalina's where we spent an eventful couple of hours. It was here that I witnessed my first game of beer pong, a complicated looking drinking game - maybe next time, I'll give it a go! After a few drinks, some lovely chats to new and old faces and a dance with my new Brazilian friend, it was time to head home.
Me and the birthday girl. Only in China ....
My Mum and Dad are bound to say, 'It looks just like your GAP year Anna - same people, same locations, same drinks, just different nights'. Well, after the week I had at work and the fact that I live in China, it was a well deserved night of fun for the single ladies of Wuxi! The pictures say it all - happy times! The three trouble makers staying on in Wuxi after July - Sam, Ricardo and I. It was Pete's lucky night ..... ...... until he said something to stuff it up!
Tam, Sam and I.
Beer pong anyone?!
Fun and games on the dance floor.
We are the dancers ...... warmed up like dance biscuits.
Firewoman Anna?? (wearing Pete's fire brigade hat)

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Queen of the stairs

Not a very inspiring training location.

Back in Melbourne, during training sessions with my brother and Nick, his business partner, I loved running the stairs. It sounds crazy, but I really enjoyed running up the 'spew stairs' at Como Park in leafy South Yarra and the less steep stairs nearby. Maybe I love stairs because they offer a great workout where you get your heart rate up quickly and you don't have to train for so long?

View from the 11th floor.
So, here in Wuxi, I am continuing to maintain my title of 'Queen of the Stairs' by running up and down the stairs in my apartment building. I began this about a month ago as part of my training for the Great Wall half marathon which is held in mid-May. The race consists of about 9km of running on the actual wall with over 1000 stairs. So, each week, I spend about 40 minutes walking and running up the stairs of the apartment building. I am up to running 120 flights - at 16 steps per flight, that is 1920 steps! The next step in my training, will be to add a run before and after my stair climbing efforts.

View from the 31st floor.

The Tan! A much nicer training location.

It's not a terribly stimulating training environment, with dark and dusty concrete stairwells that smell of cigarette smoke. I also have the added benefit of being stared at by the business men who wait in the halls for the lifts to arrive. But, with the help of my accidental purchase of a 3 CD set of 'Pumping Iron', I manage to remain motivated!
A great location for a (tough) run.
I am off to Beijing next weekend for a conference on Monday and Tuesday, so may possibly go out to the wall on the weekend for a walk that will either terrify me (how can I run 9km on this?!) or inspire me to keep training hard. Fingers crossed for this weekend that the rain will hold off so I can venture outside for another run.
So steep!