My on the Run Tour-From China to America and Back to China Again Pt. 1

Where to start… Well first let me explain why I haven’t written in so long. The reason is, in short, the environment in America and race relations has been so heavy on my spirit that I felt I wasn’t in the right headspace to share my thoughts on anything else in a constructive manner. Oh yeah and Covid. I am back though because I really wanted to share my experience of forced repatriation during this time of Covid. I will start from the beginning, when I left China for my Chinese New Year vacation and the events that lead up to that trip-so here goes.

My mom and I thought (foolishly) that 2020 would be a great year for her to come spend an extended period of time with me in China; so, we made her travel plans during my 2019 Christmas trip home to Texas. We decided she would return to China with me after Christmas and we would tour my new city of Suzhou, Shanghai and visit Vietnam for Chinese New Year before she returned to America. Well… some of that happened.

A little Christmas fun! Poker in PJs and gingerbread mischief.

I had to get right back to work when we returned after the new year. This left my mom spending most days recuperating at my apartment during the day and doing light sightseeing after work hours. I figured we had several months to see the city and nearby Shanghai so we were in no big rush. In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year holiday, we confirmed our travel plans for three cities in Vietnam, Hoi An, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. In the last two weeks of school, a few classes in my primary school closed as several students fell ill with what we were being told was “an awfully bad flu season.” Once several students in one classroom fell sick, the school would close the class and ask all students to stay home. I had heard of this happening in my former school when students contracted lice, so I didn’t think anything of it. Two days before the holiday, my school decided to cancel classes schoolwide and informed us to be extremely careful of the “very serious flu” and to wear a mask when in public. Friends and I went out and bought several face masks as they were becoming harder and harder to find. We also bought what little hand sanitizer we could find and thought little more about it as we prepared to enjoy our vacation to Vietnam.

[Below are some of the few activities my mom did before we left to Vietnam including my schools holiday festival, sightseeing in old town, Sunday church service and attending my schools holiday party]

My mom and I pack a few warm weather outfits in one shared suitcase in preparation for our eight days of travel through Vietnam. We were traveling with a new friend of mine I met and immediately clicked with upon arriving in my new city, Suzhou. Her name is Marni and this was her first abroad teaching experience. We had traveled to Thailand together earlier in the year and she was excited to see her second Asian country since arriving in China. Our plan was to spend most of our time in Hanoi, spend the night of my birthday, January 29th, on a boat in Ha Long Bay and then two days in Hoi An. I had a basic list of must sees in each city but other than that, we really had no plan for our trip.

We left for Vietnam thinking China is experiencing a bad flu season and things should be better by the time we returned, that is until we got a glimpse of the news in our hotel in Hanoi. That’s when we heard there was a sickness that was affecting people across the world in small numbers and that we should be extremely careful.

Our first homestay in Hanoi was a two-bedroom, two bath apartment in a high rise building quite removed from the action of the city. Once we arrived to the busy streets of Hoan Kiem Lake area, we found a banh mi and egg cream coffee to check off our must-do list.

Hanoi was our base city and we enjoyed most of our time there. Marni and I ate plenty of street food from banh mi to fresh fruit and pho (minus the mystery meat) but what I discovered is that the very best thing I put in my mouth was the iced coconut coffee. OMG! First, I love coffee but it/caffeine does not love me. It makes me talk fast and my heart race. I become sweaty, fidgety and nervous so I rarely drink it and when I do I ask for decaf. No one in Vietnam knew what I was talking about when I asked for decaf so I sacrificed and drank only caffeinated coffees. Lol! These icy, creamy and mildly sweet and bitter concoctions are simply the most delicious coffee drink I have ever put in my mouth. It was far better than the egg coffee and egg hot chocolate. My travel mates had to ration them to me because they got tired of me complaining of heart palpitations. If I ever get my hands on one of those fancy espresso machines I promise to try and reverse engineer this addictingly delectable drink.

Hanoi was beautiful! We hung out mostly near Hoan Kiem Lake where good food, according to my mother that means western food; shopping and all around good vibes can be found. She, my mother, totally lost it on me and Marni when we discussed trying a new restaurant in the area. She was clearly hangry and tired and really didn’t want to experiment with food at that point. After reading her the menu and and asking the waitstaff about a few items, Marni and I talked her into going in. Then, she raves that it was the best fried rice she has ever had in Asia. We also did a red bus tour in Hanoi, hung out on beer street and watched a traditional water puppet show. Hanoi is definitely worth visiting but keep it to 2-3 days.

We spent my birthday on an overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay.

I started this excursion with a great deal of excitement until my mother’s complaints about sleeping on a boat threatened to ruin my day. Can you tell by the look on my face that I was over it?? She commented multiple times that she felt uncomfortable sleeping on the water… she was nervous… she can’t swim… I mean one would have thought I booked us on a plastic life raft for the night. Hell I can’t swim either but there was zero chance I was going to Vietnam and not seeing Ha Long Bay. So we went. We had a pit stop at a pearl factory on our way down.

Ha Long Bay was magnificent! The small, yet tall tree covered mountains darted from the water in every direction. The only thing that could have made it more beautiful would have been to visit on a sunny day. Even with the grey backdrop, this place seemed majestic. There were lots of boats in the bay. I found myself thinking I hope we do not ruin this place with trash and chemicals from the boats.

We visited two large islands where we did some impressive hiking. I was proud of myself and my momma-even though she lit a cigarette half way up one of the cliffs. The height made the views even better. Marni and I took a smaller boat into one of the caves. There were many monkeys inside the cave areas. You guys know I don’t do well with wild animals. They stayed on land, luckily.

When we returned from Ha Long Bay, the news that this “very serious flu” was spreading all over the world. At this point, I don’t think there had been any deaths in America but we knew it was indeed serious and highly contagious. More people were wearing masks in the streets. Around this time, my mom started to feel more tired and was having trouble with both of her eyes. She was beginning to get a stye on the top of one eyelid and the bottom of the other. I warned her to stop wearing her makeup but she refused for several days. Within two days both of her eyes were almost swollen shut and she couldn’t keep her hands out her face. We got the name of an over-the-counter eye cream that we picked up from the pharmacy. It didn’t work so she unfortunately had to have a minor procedure done in a small medical center were the doctor lanced and drained one of the styes. It was painful to watch and she screamed and cried but managed to make it through. They gave her a nifty little eye patch to rock for the rest of the day. I accidently left her in the middle of the street leaving the doctors office. I forgot she couldn’t see from one side. I had to run back and grab her because the traffic don’t play in Vietnam. She began to feel better almost immediately despite how crazy she looked. Lol!

My mom enjoyed the rest of our tour through central and northern Vietnam so much more after having that stye lanced. She was much more fun to be around too. Lol! From here, we visited Hoi An and Da Nang. I will tell you about that adventure in part 2 of My on the Run Tour-From China to America and Back to China Again. See you then.

It’s the End of the School Year… Time to Reflect Pt. 1

I ended my last science unit today and will end my poetry unit on Tuesday.  For some reason I thought about the school year ending more this week than I have ever thought about it before in my teaching career.  It feels significant.  This year has been one of the most challenging in my career so far for many reasons.  It is safe to say that I travelled all the way out of my comfort zone this year, moving from Texas to China and from teaching business to college students to teaching Intensive English, Science and Cultural Studies to 2nd graders.  I took a serious leap of faith and it has paid off in spades.

I am most accustomed to teaching high school special education and older people in general so the thought of teaching little kids terrified me early in the year.  I tend to begin each year with an idea of the kind of growth I’d like to see in my students and then throughout the year I adjust my approach for each student or group of students to best fit their learning style and strengths.  This year I went in completely uninformed about the background and ability of the students I would teach and unware of how the cultural differences and language limitations would color their perception of me and my approach to teaching.

The Pictures that inspired my Landforms Project.

The first science unit of the year was landforms.  I saw a picture of students making 3D models of countries on  They looked so cool, we just had to do that.  We started the unit by discussing and discovering “What is a landform?” I introduced a couple of different landforms each day using pictures and video.  After students became familiar with each of the landforms they did a landform flip book were they drew each landform and wrote its definition.  Once they were comfortable with the information I introduced the Landform Project.  The project required students to work in groups were each group of students would plan and create their own country that fit specified criteria. The criteria included a minimum of three landforms, map key, country name, climate and location in the world.

We started by making the dough.  Of course I hadn’t made playdoh since I was in elementary school myself so I looked up a recipe for salt dough and we made it happen. 

After the dough firmed up the students went about using their planning sheet to draw and mold their fictional country.  It was such a joy to watch them.  I was amazed by their creativity and their excitement to learn.  I would see them in the hall and they would tell me they were so excited for cultural studies.  This made me feel really good.  I was having fun and so were they, and the best part is, they were learning at the same time.

Students mold the dough into the outline of their country.

Time to paint!

The landform unit and project took about five weeks to complete. When the groups finished their country they presented it to their classmates and answered questions to demonstrate mastery of the information.  At this point in the year, their presentations were a little awkward.  They were not used to speaking in front of the class.  I am happy to say they got better at it as the year progressed.

Students put the finishing touches on their countries.

I hope you will come back and see how some of my other units were delivered and received this school year.  Please like, share, comment and follow me at International Super Teacher.

Bali Vacation – The city of Ubud



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Day 1: Are we there yet?

My friends and I were very excited to go to Bali last month during our spring break. It is a beautiful island. Let me tell you about it… I had to be at the Hong Kong airport ahead of my friends so I could stop by the Cathay Pacific Airlines office to pick up a refund for the damage they did to my luggage during my last trip from Los Angeles to China. I met the girls early in the morning for a little mani-pedi pampering to get our nails beach ready. After nails, I headed home to collect my bags and get to the port for the 2:15pm ferry to Hong Kong. When I got in, I packed a few more things and called my mom to give her my flight details. I took a taxi to the port where I boarded the ferry to Hong Kong. When I reached the ferry station on the Hong Kong side I of course stopped for two bags of chocolate caramels from Marks & Spenser’s. After that, I went to Maxims Cakes for my ham and cheese bun but they were fresh out. Sad face!! I settled for a BBQ pork bun from Aroma Bakery. Sad to say their BBQ pork bun was not on the level of Maxim’s but I ate it anyway. From the port station I took the airport express train for the first time. The train ticket was $100 Hong Kong Dollars ($13 USD) but the trip was extremely fast. I was impressed by how nice the seats were and how empty the train was. Once I arrived at the airport, a security guard directed me to the Cathay Pacific offices where they very quickly settled my complaint with cash. Getting cash was a great way to begin my trip. After that I hurried to check my bags and get through security. Once I found my gate I ordered a sandwich, fresh fruit and a juice. I guess I was still kind of hungry.   I managed to eat my food and get in the boarding line well before my friends arrived. I thought I was going to have to cause a scene of some sort to delay the plane if they didn’t hurry. Luckily they arrived just as the second group boarded the plane. They all took a page from the China play book and cut in line with me instead of going to the end. We boarded a rather packed plane where I somehow was seated a dozen rows back from the rest of my friends. I of course was seated next to the nastiest people on the plane.

About 15 minutes into the flight the couple across the aisle from me pulled out a rather large bag of the funkiest snacks anyone could think of bringing onto a pressurized confined space like a plane. They proceeded to open three different kinds of sausages and a packet of spicy tofu, each more stinky then the next. The combination of food smelled like shrimp, feet and spicy dog or cat food. About an hour into the flight the skinny man to my left began picking his nose and eating his boogers as he read through the in-flight shopping magazine. When he finished snacking on boogers he started picking at a bump on his forehead.  I was so discussed by my fellow passenger’s behavior that I thought it best to close my eyes and tune everyone out. I decided to put my music on, wrap myself tightly in my blanket and hope that it would provide an impenetrable barrier from my nasty neighbors.  About this time I paused the music to start writing this post while these disturbing behaviors were still fresh in my mind. About 10 minutes into writing, the booger guy on the left passes some terrible gas. I am in total shock so I plug my nose and look at him crazy. He continues reading the magazine like its all good. Now I’m leaning all the way to the right, into the aisle.  I just think to myself Kai try your best to get some rest. You will be on the beautiful beaches of Bali in a few hours. I watched a movie and soon I was in a busy and beautiful Bali airport. It was after midnight when we landed and 1:30am before getting out of customs. I knew we had a pretty long ride to the hotel from the airport so all I could think of was buying water and using the bathroom before getting in a van for more than an hour. Jasmine found our van driver and he walked us to a parking lot across from the airport where we split up into two vans for the drive to our Ubud homestay. The ride was very long and dark. We were all so tired but the small amount of crazy in me wouldn’t let me go to sleep during this ride. I felt like I needed to pay attention to where I was and what was going on. I had a somewhat irrational fear that we would be kidnapped and possibly have to fight our way to freedom. Not sure if this fear was due to exhaustion or maybe I’ve just seen to many crazy movies were the unsuspecting expat plays the victim. Anyway a little over an hour later we arrive at a very empty street and our drivers directions to enter the neighborhood he was pointing too and follow the signs to Dewa House Bisma. So we paid our driver and wait for the second van to arrive with the rest of our friends. The second van pulled up about 15 minutes later and we dragged our tired selves and our bags down a paved trail flanked with flowing water and rice fields towards our homestay back from the main road. Our host met us at the gate and showed us to our rooms. It was dark out so we only got a small glimpse of the beauty of the place. Katie, Joscelyn and I arrived to the rooms first so we took the downstairs room in front of the pool. It was about 3am when we got to the room so we all showered and hit the sack quickly.


Day 2: The beauty of Bali…

Sunday morning the girls got up early and got in the pool. My body and mind were moving slow so I joined them outside about an hour later. I was amazed at the view when I stepped outside. It felt so peaceful. In that moment I could see how people come to Bali, fall in love with the place and never return home. I could absolutely live in that place for a long time. I felt extremely grateful right then. I sat down with my book and watched the girls swim when one of the house ladies walked up and asked if I wanted tea or coffee with my breakfast. I enjoyed my poolside breakfast before changing into my swim suite and joined everyone in the pool.

I was relieved to discover that the pool was all one depth and I could stand in it flat footed. I cannot swim and absolutely panic in water so this was comforting for me. After our swim we showered and went for lunch around the corner from homestay. I was astonished by the crazy exchange rate. I paid 94,000 Rupiah for my chicken avocado salad and juice. During lunch we also got to see a woman feed the gods at one of the many outdoor alters. I am always pleased to see people take pride in worshiping God, even if it isn’t the God I believe in.

Day 2 Continued: Monkey Attack!

After lunch half of us took a taxi while the other half walked to the nearby Sacred Monkey Forest. As you might have guessed, I took the taxi. So Katie, Sean, Tiffany and I arrived to the forest at a different gate from the one Jasmine, Joscelyn and Erin arrived at. I have a hate-hate relationship with wild animals so it I was not totally surprised when I was attacked by a monkey shortly after entering the park. It was a traumatic experience so I will only say a few words about it. Keep in mind, I had no desire to touch or feed the monkeys so I was not carrying any food or drink with me. I was there purely as a non-participatory bystander. As I discovered later, I was apparently videotaping a baby monkey trying to hijack a corn cob from a cage when the Monkey attacked me. Another monkey climbed up my right leg and latched on to my arm and backpack. I remembered little else about the attack until I saw the tape. I believe my thinking was that the monkey that was now sitting on my shoulder grabbing at my head was going to rip my hair from my scalp and scratch my eyes out. So according to the videotape, I apparently thought the best course of action was to close my eyes, scream profanities at the top of my lungs and spin slowly in circles. These actions alerted the entire park that I was in distress but unfortunately only Tiffany came to help me. She tried to grab the monkey on my shoulder when it jumped off. I opened my tear-filled eyes and ran to Sean in a hysterical laugh-cry. Immediately after the attack a man approached me and said “That was the funniest thing I have ever seen, you made my trip!” Yeah I was blown away by his lack of sympathy too. I am extremely surprised I had the willpower to continue my walk through the park but I did. Unfortunately the video is full of profanity (my apologies) so it will not be included in this post. In my defense I thought I was going to be grossly disfigured by the monkey. After leaving the Monkey Forest, we ate gelato and shopped for a while. Then we split up. I stayed to shop longer with Erin and Jasmine while the others walked back to the homestay. Later that night we walked down to the main street to a temple to see a traditional Balinese dancing show. The costumes were beautiful but the heat was distracting. We were all sweating like crazy. We stayed about an hour and a half before we couldn’t stand sitting there any longer. We crossed the street and ate dinner at International Ristorante. We all ordered seafood. It was over cooked but the flavors were okay. I had my first drink of the trip, a red wine sangria. We were all pretty pooped and we had a long and hot trek planned for the following day so we headed back and to bed after dinner.

Day 4: The Death Trek

Okay so about this trek… Let me start by telling you that I was skeptical about the tour company’s explanation of the trek and my ability to complete it even before boarding the plane to Bali. This trek came highly recommended from When Joscelyn mentioned it for some reason it sounded fun. Looking back, I am not sure why I ever thought that. A day of walking in the heat with trees and grass and bugs does not sound fun but it turned out to be even worse than that. I will preface this explanation with the thought that this may have been an enjoyable experience for someone; that someone just wasn’t me. Let me start by telling you what the tour company said about the tour and maybe that will help explain why we all agreed. The tour promised a view of the sunrise at Mt. Batur, one of three inactive volcanos we would see, trek through the rice terraces of Lemukih Village, a swim under the cascades at Sekumpul Waterfall, complimentary snacks, drinks and lunch with hotel pick-up and drop-off. Sounds nice right? Wrong!!! It felt like a death march in the wilderness. I literally ran out of gas mentally and physical at least four times during this ten hour trek/tour. The tour company picked us up at 5:45am, twenty minutes later than advertised. We drove to our first destination all the while thinking we would miss the sunrise at the volcano since it went from dark to light outside during our hour long drive. We made it just in time to rush out the van and snap a few pictures of the sun breaking through to hills of the volcanos. As peeved as we were at our late arrival the beauty of the moment settled our spirits. I once again felt a peace and calm inside, the way I felt looking at the view of the pool and countryside from my breakfast spot at the homestay. We posed for a few pictures, ate the breakfast provided (two cheese croissants, tea & an orange) and said hello to a few local families that were dressed exquisitely in their festival attire. We learned from the tour guide that the locals were all celebrating a holiday were families dressed up and gave offerings of fruits and veggies to the gods.   We saw large processions of worshipers on our drive to the rice terraces.


We stopped at a local hospital to use the restroom during our drive to the next destination. I was astonished that the hospital had no running water. The people there were very nice, they let me roam around and take a few pictures. We piled back into the van and soon arrived at the entrance to what looked like an enchanted forest. You would think I had learned my lesson with forests during this trip. The trek started out rough for me at least. The tour company warned about wearing proper hiking shoes in the advertisement so I purposefully bought a pair of hiking books before the trip which did me little good. Our first half mile of the trek was on paved road covered in slippery damp moss. I lost my footing in the first ten minutes and almost ate concrete. I managed to catch myself but then I immediately had to go pee. A few girls stayed back with me as a relieved myself on the walkway because I was too afraid to go into the thick of the forest. Not one of my proudest moments. I followed the tour guide and local guides for about an hour before my mind had a full on anxiety attack in the middle of the rice terrace. I was so afraid of falling that my body was tensed as I walked, bracing myself for impact. I figured it would get better as we left the concrete for the softer grass of the terrace but I was mistaken. I envisioned myself falling off the wall of the terrace down a five foot drop, planting my feet firmly into the water and mud and then falling over in a way that caused me to drown in six inches of water. That thought terrified me and it didn’t help that the patch of land we walked on was only 1.5 feet wide. Misstep to the left and fall down five feet to the next level terrace, misstep to the right and get stuck in the mud. Tiffany experienced the unfortunate misstep to the right and her foot sunk down into the mud to her knee. With help she pulled her foot out without her shoe attached. The female guide had to dig her arm down into the mud to fish out her shoe.   Sometime after that incident, we passed a stream where they both washed the mug off.   After having to stop and rest a minute to get my brain and body right the local guide offered to carry my backpack. He also found me a big walking stick to help me navigate the steep terrain. The steps and valleys were so steep that the guide had to walk ahead of me and offer his hand as stability for me to jump down hills and steps. When we finally arrived at our first resting place I was done physically and mentally. I had zero energy. All I could think about was that we were not done going in and how I would not have the energy to get back out of the wilderness. I started to panic a little but was able to get it together after praying for energy and calm. The fresh coconut water helped my dehydration. The owner of the terrace we were crossing climbed a coconut tree quickly and with ease. He dropped half a dozen coconuts to the ground, cut them open and handed us a piece of lemon grass to use as a straw. I was extremely impressed. I thanked him and drank most of the juice from my coconut. He then broke it open and served me the flesh with a coconut shell spoon. I ate some and shared the rest. I felt the beginnings of a second wind, perhaps enough to get myself out of the wild. We left the large rock we were resting on to begin the descent on what seemed to be a never ending steep concrete stairway. I almost fainted when I saw all the stairs. We took the stairs down the equivalent of about 15 stories to a small covered gazebo. The tour guide said we would go to two waterfalls from there then climb the stairs on the other side on to another paved climb back to the van. At this point my head was spinning, my breathing was shallow and I could feel the heat radiating from every part of my body. My brain started to believe that I was going have to be life-flighted out of the jungle. That’s right this trek has now been upgraded to the jungle in my mind. I know there is no way I can make it to the waterfalls and out of the wilderness to the van. I asked the guide how long it would take to get to the waterfalls and if they had to come back passed the gazebo to climb out to the van. She says it will take ten minutes to get to the first fall and about twenty minutes to the next one and she adds “but it will take you about twenty and forty minutes to get there.” I couldn’t even argue with her-she was right and that’s if I made it at all. She also said that they had to pass back by me to leave so I jumped at the opportunity to stay put. At that moment I didn’t care how beautiful the falls were. They could have promised a unicorn at the falls I wasn’t moving. The male guide that had been carrying my backpack and acting as a human cane stayed with me and Sean at the gazebo. After about thirty minutes we started up the stairs. After 15 minutes of climbing we realized that Sean left Joscelyn’s backpack at the gazebo and had to go back for it. I tried to keep climbing while he turned back for the bag. He eventually caught back up to me and we climbed stairs for another 30 minutes before we got to another rest stop where a lady was selling drinks and fruit. I ate some fruit and rested about 20 minutes. While resting I heard the rest of the group approaching so we started up the mountain again. During this last stretch the skies opened up and the rain poured down. I tried to move as fast as I could but the road was slippery. The gel from my hair stung my eyes as it ran into my face from the rain. After walking in the rain for a while we finally reached level ground. Each of us changed into dry clothes and loaded into the van for lunch at our next stop. I was so thankful to have made it out of that trek alive and without incident. I remarked to the group that I faced some serious doubts and fears during the trek and that I was so proud that I made it. About an hour later we arrived at a nice restaurant where we ate lunch outside. When we arrived back to the homestay we all showered and rested out bodies. I was lucky I felt numb at that point but the pain was not far behind the numbness. We dined alfresco that evening we saw another parade of worshipers fill the streets with celebrations and offerings for the holiday.

Soon I will return to tell you about the last few days of my Bali vacation as we left the city of Ubud for Gili T Island. Please continue to read, share and comment on International Super Teacher.



Is Having a Wanderlust Spirit a Bad Thing?


So I’ve been talking about getting a travel tattoo for months, since I first moved to China. I hadn’t given much thought to what I wanted since realistically I might never get it. A few weeks ago my friends and I were vacationing in Bali when in a tipsy tirade, we decided we should all get little turtle tattoos during our trip. We all like turtles and I collect small turtle figurines when I travel but none of us professed to love the animal or pledged to become activist on behalf of endangered sea turtles. You catch my drift right? We had no real reason to get or want a turtle tattoo other than the fact that those of us who were brave enough (not me) to venture out past waist deep water saw a few while snorkeling. We ran out of time and never made it back to the side of the island with the tattoo parlor before leaving. Thank goodness- otherwise, too many Mai Tai’s might have led to bad decision making. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What does this story have to do with wanderlust?” Well let me tell you…

I was familiar with the word wanderlust in a vague since. I had certainly heard it before and within the context it was being used, I always imagined someone kind of flakey, naïve or maybe a bit lost. So imagine my perplexity when months before moving to China my mother told me that I had a wanderlust spirit. Keep in mind my mother is my biggest fan. She boasts of my accomplishments to whomever will listen but she wants many things for my life that have little to do with my career and education which is mainly what I have focused on for the last decade. She said “Kai you have a wanderlust spirit and I guess that is okay because you have gotten to do many things and see many places but it’s okay to have wings and roots.” I agree with her; I want a family and a house one day, but as of right now I have no desire to settle down where I am currently in life. Our conversation confirmed my bias about the word and left me feeling like it carried a negative connotation.   Fast forward eight months and I have moved abroad and am once again thinking about what travel tattoo I want. I ran across the word wanderlust as I searched, and this time I was strangely drawn to the word even with my prejudgments of it. I kept seeing it and it interested me. I liked the way it rolled off my tongue and the way it looked in print. So I decided to get the actual definition instead of the meaning I had made up in my head. I could like the sound of the word schmuck but I don’t want it permanently tattooed on my body. So I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, wanderlust is “a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.” defines wanderlust as “a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.”   Both definitions perfectly explained the desire I have within me. When I left Texas, where I grew up for New York, where I call home, the desire to leave was extremely intense. I can only describe the need to leave by describing the feeling I encountered when I considered staying. At the time, living in Texas one more year or even one more month made me feel like I would literally suffocate. I couldn’t think of anything but moving my life completely across the country. My focus remained singular until I did just that and I haven’t looked back since.

Anyways, back to my tattoo. My friends and I thought we would all get a travel tattoo together this weekend. Keep in mind, I have not sat for a tattoo in 21 years so it was completely probable that I would chicken out at the last minute. In fact, my friends were betting on it. I have two pretty small tattoos that I got at sixteen and seventeen years old. I was in absolute agony then so I imagine my tolerance for pain has probably not increased with age. My friends and I all searched the internet for tattoo pictures sending them to a group chat where we all made comments to each other. We each made our decisions before our Saturday appointment. Well for the most part. I was torn between two and so was Erin. I was really leaning toward the wanderlust tattoo for two reasons; first I really believe the word describes me and second, it allowed me to get a color tattoo. I have always imagined a color tattoo would look beautiful on my skin color.

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So let me tell you how my friends and I spend the day we got our travel tattoos in China. We all (me, Erin, Katie, Joscelyn and Tiffany) met near our apartment office at 10am to stop at Starbucks before starting our day. We met two other teachers, Becky and Karen at Starbuck’s for a quick drink and pastry before heading to Old Shekou to meet a lady about a magnet. Tiffany had arranged for us to meet a lady who sales China souvenirs for our families, in preparation for our upcoming summer travels home and elsewhere. We met her in front of a popular expat restaurant called Willy’s Crab Shack. I had visited Willy’s once since moving to China but I never paid attention to any of the amazing art in the area. I am not sure why I don’t remember noticing it before but it was beautiful. We took a few pictures in front of a giant crab and then headed up to the ladies small shop. I bought a purse because I never seem to have enough of those and some small souvenirs for my former college students that will be graduating during my visit home. After leaving the shop we walked out to the main street to wait for two Chinese teacher assistants that work at our school. Ling Ling and Jo Jo were coming to get tattoos with us and to act as our translators when needed. We jumped in two taxis for the 40 minute ride to Louhou. I felt my blood pressure and heart rate increase when we arrived at the building but I was certain I would get a tattoo as soon as I walked into the studio. It’s hard to explain but I had a peace about it. I chose to go third. I watched Joscelyn get a paper airplane and the words “be brave” on her foot and Tiffany get a seahorse on her ankle before I sat down for my tattoo.

I felt reassured that they remained calm during their tattoo. When I sat down I immediately started sweating. The tattoo artist started by outlining the word ‘wanderlust’ in black ink. It stung really badly and I sweat even more. I started to hold my breath as he dug the needle into my wrist. I knew holding my breath was a bad idea since I didn’t want to faint. Sweat is now seeping from my fluffy afro onto my forehead. That’s when I started yelling for a fan. It took no time for the lady to plug in a fan pointed at my face. It hurt really badly when he moved the needle over my very visible veins. I said out loud that I wanted to punch him in the ear. That was the image playing in my head, punching the tattoo artist in the ear. I knew that violence wasn’t the answer so I prayed and breathed deep. About 10 minutes into my 27 minute tattoo the pain started to subside until he crossed a vein. It was now mostly a tolerable situation. I had stopped sweating and started admiring the process. This was about the time that I realized that I would probably be getting another tattoo in the future. Although I am sure I will not wait another 21 years. Even though, in 21 years with technology they will have probably manufactured a way to make tattoos completely pain free. As I was starting to enjoy the process, the artist changed needles to begin adding color. I noticed that the color had five separate needle points. The look of it scared me but it hurt less than the single needle in my opinion. I chatted with my mom and my friend Mike during my tattoo sending pictures as it was being completed. Mike liked it while my mom asked questions like “Where is the rest of the colors?” and “Why is the water colored instead of the continents?” Ultimately she liked the finished product but thinks I could have selected a better looking world. In summation, I made some interesting faces and noises and one or two improper hand gestures but the experience was fun. I enjoyed the bonding time with my girls. It will be a memory for the books to commemorate my time in China. I finished strong without punching my tattoo artist so both he and I were a happy campers. Katie got her airplane at the same time as me.

We were all starving when we got to the shop but I can’t remember if we ate lunch before or after my tattoo. We let our Chinese friends order the food so everything was fire hot. Everyone who was not of Chinese decent was coughing and sniffling as we ate. It all tasted good but was tongue scorching spicy. We were all still hungry after eating lunch so a couple of us ran across the street to the Seven Eleven for bags full of snacks and drinks. It was strange we all had the munchies from our pain high. We must have looked so crazy to the people who worked at the parlor and even to our Chinese friends.

After eating, Ling Ling got some stars on her shoulder corrected, while Jo Jo declined a tattoo because she couldn’t make up her mind. Erin went last. She had the biggest and most detailed tattoo. She already has a substantial travel tattoo of the world in Mehndi style on her upper back so she selected another favorite pastime to commemorate. She loves to read so she got a colorful stack of books with pages that fly away, literally. When Erin finished, we cleaned up the huge mess we made eating and paid our bills before catching cabs back to our side of town. Our taxi driver was very funny, he had a great time correcting my Chinese directions since I was pointing right and saying left. We got home tired and a little sore. We made plans to attend an all-you-can-eat BBQ on Saturday and retired to our individual apartments.

I will end with this… I do not believe having a wanderlust spirit is a bad thing or something to be viewed in a negative way. Those of you who possess it may not be able to put your finger on what it is until later in life (like me), and that’s okay. When you do figure it out, be fearless and embrace it. It will stretch your understanding of people and the world. Use it to enlarge your territory and leave your mark across the world. Also, don’t always feel the need to explain it to everyone because those who don’t have it my never understand you; and that’s okay too. To those who don’t have it but know someone who does, step back and see what they do with it. They may surprise you. It is my prayer that one day I find a husband who embodies the same wanderlust spirit as I do and we will be happy seeing the world together.

Tell me what you think of our travel tattoos? Please share your thoughts in the comments, like and share. More to come soon.

“Black Stanley” takes Hong Kong

Flat Stanley turned out to be a dud this year but “Black Stanley” had a grand time making memories in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year holiday. This post has been a long time in the making. I started writing it at least a month ago but have traveled to several places since and began writing on other topics soon to come. Finally, I set my sights on finishing this post so here it is.

It never fails, my students always ask me why I color all of my people brown and my answer is always the same. “What color is Ms. Smith’s skin?” So as expected, my students recently inquired why my Flat Stanley was brown. One of my other students answered for me this time, “Because Ms. Smith is Brown; she’s an African American.” A new word they learned during Black History Month. This “brown skin thing” is a revelation and mark of progress for them because at the beginning of the school year there was no convincing them that my skin was not actually black. They now agree that my skin is brown only after extensive research and plenty of in class color comparisons.

Let me start by saying that my knowledge of “Flat Stanley” was virtually non-existent prior to this year. I do not have any children and I taught in the business department at a junior college in Texas last year and high school special education in Brooklyn and Los Angeles for years prior to moving to China where I now teach 7 year olds.   I had never in my life heard of Flat Stanley, until a few months ago when a colleague of mine shared her lesson plans and pictures from her classes Flat Stanley adventures last year. When I saw the “Flat Stanley and the Firehouse” book at Barnes and Nobles during my last visit to the states, I thought reading it to my class would be just the introduction both they and I needed to start our project. Little did I know then, with my limited “little kid” experience, that my students knew all about Flat Stanley. One of my students said she had the very book I read at her home. Sounds like I would have had great outcomes from this lesson right?? Wrong!!!

Well let me back up and tell you how the lesson was received. The first thing I did was read Flat Stanley and the Firehouse aloud to the class. The entire class was very interested in the story. We discussed the text and they answered comprehension questions during the discussion. The following day, I told them that Flat Stanley had traveled a long distance to spend the Chinese New Year holiday with them. I showed them my colleague’s pictures on a PowerPoint presentation that included stories of Flat Stanley’s travels from Florida to Vietnam and China. The presentation included student journal samples to demonstrate how they should take pictures with Flat Stanley and write journal entries about the activities they do with their families and Flat Stanley during the holiday. After the presentation we began working on decorating our Flat Stanley’s in preparation for the New Year holiday. Both the students and I enjoyed coloring our Flat Stanley’s. When they saw I was coloring my “Black Stanley” brown they asked if they could make their travel companion a different color and of course I said “yes.” We ended up with some green and blue Stanley’s that some students said looked like zombies.

I am fairly certain my students understood the assignment and I sent home a letter to parents the week prior explaining the assignment and how they could help their child complete the assignment. I am sad to say that I only received pictures from one student and no one wrote in their Flat Stanley journal. I was terribly disappointed with my student’s lack of participation. Most of them said they forgot to bring their Flat Stanley with them on their trips. I am not really sure why I had such a terrible response to the project. I am certain that I will do more to get buy-in from my parents and students next year. Perhaps sending letters and emails to parents in Chinese will help them keep their children accountable to completing their Flat Stanley assignment next year.

Since I have very little student work to show you, I will share mine and “Black Stanley’s” Chinese New Year’s holiday together. Black Stanley and I woke up early on Saturday morning and headed for the Shekou Ferry port to meet my co-worker, Vince. Vince, Stanley and I took the ferry across to Hong Kong where we would meet Tammy, another teacher, and her son Josh an 8 year old in my Science and Cultural Studies class. We all took some photos in the Hong Kong port with a very festive year of the monkey background and then headed to our usual Causeway Bay hostel to check in. After dropping our luggage at the hostel we caught the 260 express bus to the Stanley Market area. I have wanted to see this side of Hong Kong since moving to China. Partly because I love shopping but also because I heard that it was a very beautiful area. Everything I heard was true. I really enjoyed shopping and hanging out in Stanley Market. The beach near the market was especially pretty. Stanley and I followed my student Josh’s lead on my first attempt at boulder hopping, something I had never heard of before. It was a little terrifying and a whole lot of funny. I didn’t realize just how ridiculous I looked jumping and scooting myself from rock to rock, I am sure making all kinds of ungodly noises trying to keep up with an eight-year-old. That is until I saw the pictures Vince took of me in the process. I laughed so hard I cried. The pictures are so funny. Every day I’m learning more and more about the things I can do that I would have never done in the past. I can only imagine what the people I scooted passed where thinking as I tried to fit all of my loveliness into small crevices as I followed my little friend. As you can see from the pictures, we both relished in the victory of my arriving at the perfect rock for a great photo opportunity. You cannot tell from the pictures but Black Stanley was with me the entire time. I thought it best for him to ride along in my backpack as I needed my hands free to help me maneuver my way between the rocks. I hit the sack early that night. I was a little sore.

The following day my friends and I walked around the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. The city was buzzing as performers prepared for the upcoming New Year’s Parade. All of the festival prep looked exciting and very colorful but it did nothing to peak my interest in attending. I managed to live in New York for 10 years without attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the New Year’s Eve ball drop. Packing thousands of people into small areas all trying to see something only the front three rows are meant to see does not sound fun. I was happy to be heading out before the craziness began. So for my send off my friends and I went on a night cruise around Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s skyline is almost as pretty as Shanghai and New York’s.

Mine and Black Stanley’s Chinese New Year vacation was just the right amount of excitement and rest. We got to experience new places and activities together. It was so much fun that I am sure I will invite him to travel with me again soon. I was disappointed that I did not hear about my students Flat Stanley adventures. Live and learn, right? It is all a part of being a reflective practitioner. I will do a better job eliciting support and buy-in on my next Flat Stanley assignment.



Hong Kong Weekend – Day 1





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My phone woke me up earlier than I wanted but it gave me time to wash my hair before leaving town. I took the short bus ride to the port and boarded the hour long ferry to Hong Kong. I felt a little anxious in route to Hong Kong this weekend as it was my first time traveling there solo since moving to China in August; granted my other friends would be arriving just a few hours later. After arriving safely, I went straight to the Marks & Spenser grocery store inside the ferry terminal to get some of the most delicious chocolate covered caramels on the planet. I know it was a true “fat girl” move but unfortunately a move I repeat time and time again when I go to Hong Kong. I blame Reini, my co-worker for introducing the caramels to me. I also found some granola, another staple from the states that I miss dearly. I have not seen it in any of the international stores in Shenzhen yet. I have seen muesli in Shenzhen but I am confused on what makes it different from granola. They look the same but I am a creature of habit and haven’t been curious enough to try muesli yet. Since it was on sale at Marks & Spenser I bought some. I guess I will give it a try. It was close to 4pm and I had only eaten an apple and a granola bar so I headed over to Maxim’s Cakes to pick up two ham and cheese buns. I usually get pork bbq buns but I happened to taste the ham and cheese during my last visit and loved it. I sat and ate and watched people watching me. It is always interesting to catch people seeing me for the first time. The look on their face is priceless, their jaw literally falls open and they motion for whomever is closest to them to look at me too. It doesn’t happen as much in Hong Kong as it does in Shenzhen but when it does its just as funny or irritating depending on the day. My hair was in a big afro so that could have accounted for some of the looks. After eating I packed my new goodies into my rolling suitcase and headed out of the ferry terminal to Nature’s Village, a health food store that was holding some supplements for me, or so I thought. Of course I didn’t leave the terminal without sampling several of my chocolate covered caramels first. Yummy!!!

I hopped on the HK MTR for a short train ride from the ferry terminal to the Central stop to Nature’s Village Organic & Natural Food Store. The store is located in the trendy SOHO area of Hong Kong. I exited the Central station and was really clueless about which way to go so I called the store for directions. They directed me to go towards the mid-level escalators which is basically a bunch of escalators that lead to a popular shopping and eating area. It is one of the many tourist sites in Hong Kong that I still hadn’t seen. When I arrived I was not impressed and questioned to myself why the mid-level escalators are deemed a tourist site at all. Nothing especially cool about them. So I followed the signs pointing towards the escalators and road them two flights up and exited at Graham Street. The store was easy to find after exiting but that is where my good fortune ended. I walked straight to the counter and asked for the supplements they were supposed to be holding for me and was told, “Sorry we sold them.” I tried hard not to raise my voice when I asked why they sold my items when they confirmed they were there the day previous. I could have cussed! The lady; no doubt the same lady who agreed to hold my items, pointed me in the direction of a Chinese health food store that might stock the supplements I needed.   So I grabbed my purple roller bag and headed in the direction of the next store. I walked for about 20 minutes pulling my suitcase and popping my head into every store that even remotely resembled a health food store. After walking a few more minutes I stopped in the middle of the street, looked around and realized that I was terribly lost in a foreign country other than the already unfamiliar country I live in now. That was not a comforting thought. I took a deep breath, snapped a few pictures and kept on walking. I was surprised at myself and how calm I was. I can’t stand the feeling of being lost. I had prayed for peace earlier in the day and thank God it showed up. After searching for almost an hour, I realized I was not getting what I was looking for and decided to switch my focus to trying to find my way back to the train. I needed to meet my friends at the hotel soon. I have only ever stayed in Causeway Bay when visiting Hong Kong so I was in danger of being lost for a second time that day. I took the MTR to the Wan Chai station and looked for the Charterhouse Hotel using the directions I found on the internet. I was unsuccessful for at least 40 minutes. About the time my ankles, knees and wrist started hurting from walking and dragging my rolling bag all over town I employed a bystander to locate the hotel using his phone GPS. BINGO! He was very nice and pointed me in the right direction with his map. I was five minutes away in the opposite direction of course. So I turned around for the last time and soon spotted the rather posh looking hotel across the street. I was so excited to see the hotel that I darted into the street towards the hotel. From the middle of the street with a truck barreling towards me I realized that it was a two way street and I had only looked in one direction before crossing. So now I’m running up the middle of the street pulling my bag trying to beat the truck racing for me. I arrived to the hotel safely and sat in the lobby for quite some time while my friends waited to be brought from the ferry.

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I decided to get dinner at a yummy Thai restaurant until they arrived at the hotel. When I entered Bangkok Thai it was packed which was a good sign. The waitress sat me at a small table at the base of the stairs with a pregnant woman who was talking on the phone. Many restaurants in China and Hong Kong make the most of their space by sitting strangers together to fill every chair in the place. The lady I sat with smacked her lips loudly as she ate her broth soup, chicken and rice. I ordered my usual Pad Thai and Thai Tea. The pregnant lady left a few minutes after I ordered my food. The food was excellent! I haven’t had Pad Thai that good since leaving Los Angeles, oddly enough not even in Thailand. I ate my food and headed back to the hotel to meet my friend who had finally arrived. I dropped my bags in the room, talked for a few minutes and headed back out for one last thing in the Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) area. It was late so I took a taxi there and back. LKF is an expat pedestrian hotspot famous for its lively nightlife, bars and restaurants. I stumbled upon a really nice art installation in LKF. It was very colorful and a pretty kind of edgy with a positive message. I enjoyed walking through it, it made me miss New York a little. I am far from an artist but I have lots of artist friends and I always enjoyed going to their shows. I make it a point to make friends everywhere I go and Hong Kong was no exception, I met two very nice travelers Afonso from Brazil and Thomas from Germany. They were extremely interesting and a lot of fun. I only stayed out about an hour before returning to the hotel to rest up for the big day at Hong Kong Disneyland. Please come back to see how my day at Disney went.

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Some of the unbelievably funny…and not so funny things that have happened to me since moving to China. Pt. 1


I might love you, if I knew you…

Tonight I took a bike taxi home from sea world (no whales there, just an expat hangout) after my massage. Any time I walk past a bike taxi or they drive past me they ALL feel the need to slap their back seat and yell “HELLO!” So to be fair when the five bike drivers I was walking towards all did the customary slap and yell, I felt obligated to take a ride from the first person who offered. When I swung my leg around the back of his bike and sat on the seat all the other drivers gave out a gleeful cheer as we drove away. I began to put the death grip on my driver’s jacket, as I tend to do on bike taxis when he grabbed my hands and wrapped them around his rather large waist so I could ride like he was my man. I laughed out loud literally and so did he. He then proceeded to speak to me in Chinese. My response was “wo ting bu dong,” which means “I hear you but I don’t understand you.” He laughed as all Chinese do when I respond that way. So he says in English, “I love you!” several times as I laugh hysterically and try not to fall off the back of the bike. Then he says, “English, wo ting bu dong. I love you!!” He was so comical and genuinely happy to be giving me a ride home that I asked for a picture when we arrived at my apartment. He was happy to pose with me and I posed with him for a picture on his phone. We parted ways happily without proposal of marriage or even a date which I hear often follows repeated declarations of love. Oh well no Chinese romance in the cards for me this week…



Cheese, how I love thee…

One of my colleagues posted this picture to Facebook with the caption. “In case you haven’t looked at the cheese section of Walmart recently, the selection has greatly improved!” For real… No lie… And it may seem that I’m poking fun but I’m not, I promise. This is real life in China. Cheese is like gold bullion. I wish I would bring cheese to a gathering in China and leave the left overs. No ma’am! If I and anyone else I know is asked to bring cheese or salad dressing for a communal dinner, best believe we are leaving the house with the few shreds of cheese left in the package and the corner of dressing left in the bottle. Scenarios like,  “That’s enough cheese for an omelet” and “I can add a little milk (ranch) or vinegar to that corner and top my salad tomorrow.” True life.


It’s nice to meet you too but can you stop touching me?

Went to get a foot massage a few weeks ago. FYI…The massage parlor automatically becomes more lively when foreigners walk in. All of the extra staff come to the front and motion for you to sit down and get comfy. So I did. Then they all began talking about me, pointing and smiling. Not sure if the talk was good or bad but I smiled anyway. Once my massage was done and I was at the counter payi