Thursday, 23 April 2009

The art of mindfulness ....

Since living in China, I've taken up the practice of writing down my goals and sticking them to the fridge to help motivate myself and keep me on track. I'm on my second lot of goals, after Amy ceremoniously ticked my last lot off for me, and one of the goals is to 'Practice the art of mindfulness'. This goal stems from my interest in Buddhism and my enjoyment from meditating regularly. Being mindful is important to me because I am always so busy and often find it difficult to step back, see the bigger picture and really enjoy life. I find it hard to switch off and calm my mind. So, by practising the art of being more mindful, I am trying to live in the present moment, enjoy life and appreciate the fortunes I have.
So, the point of writing about my new goal, is to let my dear readers know that, for the next week, I won't be writing my blog - I will be 'living in the present' whilst on holiday in the Phillippines. I'm not taking a computer, a phone or any work documents with me. The holiday is about pure relaxation and enjoyment. As Amy and I get each other worked up with excitement over escaping Wuxi to a sunny destination for a week, here are some of the things we are looking forward to - cocktails on the beach, trashy magazines, runs on the beach (For me at least! Must keep up my training!), enjoying the hotel's private beach cove, relaxing next to the swimming pool, eating fresh fruits, sleeping in, going on glass bottom boat trips, chick lit books, playing games of 'Uno' and playing with the new frisbee I bought. Unless, of course, I find an internet cafe to load some photos to make everyone back at home jealous!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Training update

I hope I'm prepared for the 'steep incline'!
It is just over three weeks until I venture up to Beijing to run the Great Wall half marathon. I'm starting to get a little nervous about the whole thing and lots of questions are running through my mind - Am I fit enough? Can I cope with all the hills and steps? Will I cope with the heat? How do I make sure I drink enough? What time should I aim for? Why am I doing this?
Lots of steep, steady inclines on uneven ground.

I've been training pretty hard and on most days, I feel fit and ready to take on the challenge. I think that half the challenge of the run will be not physical but mental - the idea of running about 9km on the Wall, followed by another12 km on the flat is a little daunting. The weather will be a huge factor, it is likely to be very hot in Beijing and particularly on the Wall because it is so exposed and it will be difficult to find relief from the shade. I had a little scare on Monday when I ran at the gym. I stupidly had a Starbucks fruit slushie and a chocolate muffin before I ran - not good when you have a sore tummy and your body doesn't really tolerate wheat products anyway. But, I still ran and managed to complete 12km, despite feeling queasy. When I got home, I soon discovered that I was dehydrated - I was dizzy, didn't want to eat anything, felt extremely fatigued and generally felt very ill. This continued all of the day and I even had to have a sleep at school just to get through the afternoon. So, I have learnt my lesson for keeping myself hydrated when running, particularly in the heat.

It just goes forever!

Am I prepared? I hope so! Despite the fact that I haven't done any really long distances (longest is about 12km), I think I will be okay. I have spent a lot of time running up and down the stairs in my apartment building and have recently starting including more hills on my indoor runs (there are no hills outside in Wuxi). In my mind, I've broken the run into several sections and I will try to talk to someone who has completed the run before to get clarification - There is the run uphill to the Wall, the run along the Wall and then through the local villages, which is on the flat. So, I'm hoping that I can get through the distance with some mental fitness as well as the physical side of it.

I hope it's a little bit more even than this!

The training experience has been amazingly motivating so far and I've learnt lots of lessons about my body, my willpower and my determination to achieve a goal. After this run, I'm going to aim towards completing the Shanghai half marathon in November, and apply the things I've learnt. What have I learnt? I've learnt that I need to listen to my body and what it's telling me to do - I've discovered the importance of rest. I've learnt that I need to be more disciplined with my diet - I need to say 'No!' to dinner and drinks out more often. I've learnt that I can find 'the zone' when running for longer periods of time and that 'the zone' is a good place to be after a long day at work! I've learnt that long distances are not really for me (other than to achieve my goals) - my body has been quite sore and I just get so bored! I've learnt that keeping a training diary is extremely motivating and enjoyable. So, now I have three weeks to go - a week of running in the sand in the Phillippines, a week of training hard here in Wuxi and a week of tapering leading up the race. Bring it on!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Red Label (aka Dookie, Spookie, Spooks) ......

Dookie and I at a dressage competition some time in 2007.

Yesterday was a sad day for me here, as it marked the 1st anniversary of my beautiful Dookie's death. It only feels like yesterday that I went to go for a ride and discovered Dookie with his entire hock (back 'knee') split open, barely able to walk. The next few days were awful, as I visited daily to assess the situation until finally, on 21 April, I had to make the horrible decision to put Dookie to sleep. I was lucky that I was able to have such an amazing 13 years with Dookie, he was an amazing horse, full of character and spirit (read - very naughty!). I am also very lucky that Anita and Ben were so kind as to let us bury both my special horses - Fantasy, who passed away in February, 2005 at the ripe old age of 37, and Dookie, another 'oldie' at 24 - at their farm under the gorgeous trees, Fantasy by the Yarra River, and Dookie in his paddock. The whole Davidson family will always have so many memories of both Dookie and Fantasy.

Rob and I at the State Dressage Championships in 1998. He is on my old pony, Aquila.
Rob and Fantasy - Pony Club Christmas rally dress up parade!
Rob, Fantasy and Charlie on the beach in Tasmania.
Rob and Fantasy - not sure where this was taken.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Another weekend in Wuxi ....

Bubbles anyone?

..... and to be honest, I'm getting a bit bored of weekends in Wuxi. Most weekends are the same - go out to the same places, see the same people, inevitably drink too much (not too over the top though!), feel tired and lazy the next day. I'm a little bit over it. So, I was very happy when I did some research this week and found a hockey club in Shanghai. As soon as Mum sends over my mouthguard and shinpads, I will be there! It sounds like a lot of fun - training and friendly matches on Saturday afternoons, followed by drinks at a nearby pub. Every now and again, there are trips organised to various parts of China and other expat cities in Asia for hockey tournaments. I'm sure it will be a great way to get out of Wuxi on weekends, do something different and meet some new people.

Peter and Chris.
Hmmm, which songs will we choose?
Despite my complaints, the weekend was fun. After an extremely busy week at work, which culminated on Friday with the IB PYP preliminary visit (which went extremely well!), I had a quick nap before heading out to have dinner with Justy, Chris and some new Wuxites at the Paulaner. It was a relatively early night, because I was absolutely shattered after such a big work week.
Lovely singers with crazy Chinese man. Justy's new friend - 'Ting bu dong'
Saturday turned out to be a very hot day - Summer is finally here (well, so I thought, it's pouring today!). I ventured out to Decathalon to pick up some new items ready for the GW half marathon (only a month to go!) and to Metro to collect some bubbles for the Saturday night festivities. Amy, Steffi and me.
The 'papps' at the Paulaner.
Such hot days always turn into beautiful, balmy evenings, so I headed over to Amy's apartment to sit on her 'balcony' for a few drinks before heading out. Most of the apartments here have 'balconys', which are really our laundry areas - small tiled spaces which floor to ceiling windows. It was extremely pleasant sitting there with the warm breeze floating in, drinking bubbles, eating sushi and listening to laid back NZ music. We then went into downtown to Kalinas, where there was a party to celebrate Sisco and Tam's fourth wedding anniversary.
Pretty view from Amy's 28th floor apartment.
A must do in Wuxi - fairy lights in the apartment.
Today has been a lazy day. It's just after 3.30pm and I'm still in my PJs, having spent most of the day alternating between my bed with my book and the couch and a DVD. I think I'll get a shock to the system once I start playing hockey - it will be good for me though, much more satisfying and enjoyable than spending days on the couch. I'm contemplating going for a run on the stairs now followed by some massage, another DVD and an early night I think!
Classy dinner on the balcony - sushi, potato salad and Bacardi Breezers!
Look at my 'balcony'!
I've felt a little down for a few days now, mainly over friendships here in Wuxi. I have met some lovely people here in China and have developed friendships with people I think could become life long friends. But, most of the time, you meet people when you are out at bars and clubs, which is fun, but does get a little bit repetitious and boring. Surely there are better ways to spend every weekend other than drinking too much in loud clubs? Maybe I'm just becoming a nanna! It would be nice to meet more people outside of these environments, and meet people who you can hang out with during the week, not necessarily just while intoxicated on the weekend. Hence, the hockey club in Shanghai will be a lifesaver I think! I hope everyone at home has had a great weekend!
Very cautiously lighting the fireworks out of the window.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The people you meet .....

Travelling is an amazing way to meet new people. During all of my 'big' travels (UK 1999, NZ 2000, Thailand 2005 and now China 2008-?), I've met some fascinating people from all over the place. Some, you just hang out with and then move on, others you stay in random contact with and a small number become life long friends.
Chloe, my oldest travel friend.

There are, of course, my GAP year friends, a huge group of people from Australia, NZ, South Africa and the UK, who were my 'family' for the 6 months I worked at PGL and many who I am still in contact with, albeit infrequent contact. I can't mention this group, without mentioning my dear friend, Chloe, who I was lucky enough to see in February during her stay in China.

New friends in Tibet.

Then there are the other random people you meet along the way. In New Zealand in 2000, I shared a backpackers dorm with 5 guys (looking back, probably not the wisest move for a 20 year old single girl). One of them, Jody, was heading to Australian and I said, 'Hey, come and stay', not really thinking it would happen. But, sure enough a month later, Jody was camping out on my living room floor. Ben, my Aussie friend from Japan, also fits into this category - we met travelling then were able to meet up again down the track. I'm hoping to make a trip down to Hong Kong in September to see him (and Amy of course!) again.

Rainer, who I met in beautiful Yangshuo.

There is a point to this story and it all comes back to an experience I had today (and yesterday). Yesterday, the receptionist here at school told me that 'Mick from Chengdu' had called. I immediately thought, 'Oh, Mick must be the PYP co-ordinator at EtonHouse Chengdu. How nice of him to make contact.' Then Lishan said, 'No! He said that he travelled with your little brother!'. 'Hmmmm,' was my response. I thought that Rob may have met someone, passed on my details and said they could stay at my place. So, I called Rob, who informed me that he hadn't done that, but after some more talking, we thought it might have been a guy (whose name we couldn't remember) who we had met who had been on his way to a Tibetan Buddhist convention in Lhasa. I didn't think anything more of it and left it there. But, today, as I finished teaching in the morning, I walked back to my office, where I was accousted by two Chinese men. 'Hi, I'm Nick. I met you and your brother in Chengdu!'. So, it was the guy Rob and I thought. I was a little freaked out that they had both turned up at my workplace and were casually sitting in the staff room waiting for me! It turns out that Nick wants me to teach a group of his friends English every day for one hour! I said that I would consider it and get back to him. I will definitely consider this but definitely not every day. Nick is involved with a Tibetan Buddhist group here in Wuxi, so if I take up his offer, I could become involved in this, something that I had wanted to do during my time in China.

New Aussie friend, Ben, in Japan.
While it was lovely that Nick had thought of me, surely that's taking the 'I met you travelling' friendship a little too quickly by turning up unexpected at the workplace?! But, I really do love meeting people travelling - I love the travel stories, the stories of people's lives and the carefree attitude that we all possess while travelling and having fun. On that note, bring on the Phillippines!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Normal people in abnormal situations

My beautiful Mum and brother in Italy.

Yesterday, during a discussion about the challenges of living in China, a friend pointed out that 'we are normal people living in an abnormal situation'. Everyday things that are not normally a big deal are magnified immensely here in China. Sometimes they feel totally normal but other days, they get to you and it's those moments that I have to remind myself that I am living in a developing country, with a huge language barrier and that it's normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Mum and her bloody fountains!

Nice car Rob!
I'm also missing home quite a lot, probably because I'm in the process of booking flights home for the summer holidays. I really can't wait to get home and spend time with family, friends and pets. The clean air and beautiful fresh food will be an absolute dream. Travelling up the NSW coast with Mum and the dogs will be amazing - I'm already dreaming of running on the beaches! There is about 3 months to go, which I know will just fly by.

Casual Rob. Italian town square.

Mum returned to Melbourne on Monday night, after several weeks in Italy with my baby brother, Rob. They went to a village in northern Italy for a family friend's 60th birthday party and by the sounds of it had a brilliant time. So, I thought that I would indulge in another 'I love my family' moment and share some pictures of their trip! Enjoy!

Coffee in the sun. Cherries in Wuxi - this one is for you Anita and Ben! Look at the wonderful packaging (the bike ride ruined some of it though).
In dealing with my feelings of 'I miss home' (I'm not going to call it homesickness because it's not a constant thing - homesick was when I called my mother in tears from the UK when I was 18!), I've turned to a few creature comforts. Firstly, I found cherries at the fruit store last night and just had to buy them for old times sake. The box was so beautifully packed and made me think of summers on the farm, helping Anita and Ben with selling their cherries - ask me anything about cherries, I know it all now!

A home cooked meal at last!

Cooking at home has been another comfort, particularly now that the weather is warming up. The last few nights I've enjoyed smoked salmon (very cheap here) and salad - yum! I think that more frequent trips to Shanghai are required in order to pick up all the yummy vegetables from City Shop (oh, and maybe more Tim Tams!).

New Kayanos!

Lastly, although it doesn't seem like a creature comfort to most, I treated myself last night by pulling out my new Kayano runners that I had bought before I left Australia. Is it sad to admit that I've looked forward to a run all day, knowing that I can run in my new shoes? Speaking of running, I've had a new burst of motivation after my run in Shanghai on Sunday. Being the competitive person I am, I was thrilled to see that I'd come in at 39th out of 376 other female runners. Hopefully this motivation will keep me going - 4 more weeks till the big event.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Playing with the Wii ....

The way tennis should be played - with a glass of wine in one hand.

After a busy start to the week, I found time to relax last night by having some dinner, wine and Wii at Amy's house. Amy bought her new Wii at the fake markets in Shanghai, but as all products from here are, this is 'genuine'! No really, it is. Genuine from Korea but translated into English. In order to play a game, first we had to set the Wii up - which we thought would be a challenge for two non-technical girls drinking wine. But, we surprised ourselves and were very quickly playing tennis.

Amy films the first outing of the Wii.

After moving everything out of the way (wine glasses included!), we went on to play a few games of tennis, some boxing and finally some 'Dancing with the Stars', muddling our way through as we tried to learn how it all worked.

They have obviously done many tests on the Wii and broken many objects!
I never thought that I would be 'into' video games such as these, but it's so much fun! Hmmm, I feel a trip to the fake markets coming on!
Those tennis lessons haven't paid off!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A gloomy start to the week!

The weekend just seemed to fly by as usual. It was such a beautiful weekend here .... 29 degrees on Saturday and 32 degrees yesterday, according to the weather man on the train to and from Shanghai. Unfortunately though, the week has begun with rain and grey skies. I thought that the 'Wuxi Weather' switch had been flicked and it was now summer time, apparently not though.
I have decided to put a password on my blog as I would like to keep a closer eye on who is actually reading it. I know that it is extra work for you to have to log into my blog so I am very sorry for that. I would love everyone I know to keep reading the blog though - family and friends from home as well as people I know here in Wuxi. I love writing it and hope that it's giving everyone an insight into my life in China.
If you would like to read my blog, please send me an email so that I can 'invite' you to be a reader of my musings on life in China. My email address is
I hope that everyone at home is enjoying their last day of the Easter long weekend!

39:48, 418, 176

Western style candy bar at Shanghai train station.

Time, calories, average heart rate. This sequence is what is providing motivation for my training in the lead up to the GW half marathon. I would be lost if I misplaced my heart rate monitor now. These particular numbers are what I can record on my training schedule for the Jinqiao 8km race in Shanghai today. I set myself a goal of 50 minutes which I thought would be a reasonable goal considering I haven't run outside for ages and there were so many people there. So, I was thrilled to have run nearly 11 minutes faster!

Chinese style candy bar - preserved eggs and radishes.

I had several reasons for wanting to run this race. Firstly, it was a good chance to practise running in a group under 'race' conditions. I have been slightly worried about my panic attack issues limiting me with the GW run, but was happy to find that I was perfectly okay this morning (with a little help from my bottle of Rescue Remedy, lots of water and my ipod!). The start line was a little stressful but nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Secondly, it was good to practise running outside - the sun was shining (albeit through the smog) and it was hot (32 degrees today), good training for the GW run which will be stifling hot on an exposed wall in summer. Lastly, it was great to get out of Wuxi for the weekend and do something 'normal' - I didn't realise how many local and expat runners there were in Shanghai!

10 kuai dinner - rice noodles with beef and celery.

I headed up to Shanghai last night and had a quiet night after a late-ish night on Friday night. I enjoyed some dinner at a local cafe and then went for a foot massage - good race preparation, I figured! The massage was totally normal until the girl pulled out this set of what looked like a cross between drum sticks and croquet mallets - wooden sticks with little rubber ends. She then proceeded to hit these across my feet and up and down my calves - very sore, considering I'd run the stairs yesterday!

Workers cafe where I ate dinner.

After the race today, I headed back to the hostel for a shower before braving the subway to have a western fix. I enjoyed a beautiful, fresh lunch at Element Fresh before spending some time browsing the bookstore, where I bought a cool pack of Shanghai cards that have a heap of different locations on taxi cards - very handy! Then, I met Ash in the City Shop, where we gossiped in the milk aisle before heading back to Element Fresh for another smoothie and more chit chat. We have rarely seen each other since we both moved to China, so definitely need to make more of an effort to visit one another. Whilst at City Shop, I bought some treats since it's all a bit stressful here - Tim Tams and Monte Carlo biscuits. Yum! They will be treated like gold as they cost about $10 each! Naughty. There were no Easter eggs to be found unfortunately, so it's lucky I had some left from earlier purchases. Planning on an early night tonight, ready for another week of work - only 2 weeks till the Phillippines! Bring it on.

Lovely massage lady. Playing the drums on my calves - ouch!
Just popping out for some milk!
Pre-race entertainment.
There were many different costumes. Here are the Subway boys ....
....and the PJ people.....
....and Spiderman!
Race start.
Before the race.
During the race. Not flattering but it's hard to take a picture of yourself while running!
End of race!