À la Chinoise moves elsewhere

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If you’re reading this now, I guess you follow my blog — thanks! You should know that I will continue my blogging pursuits under my Pathbrite online portfolio at this URL: https://pathbrite.com/portfolio/PPzw9UPwTg/blogs-personal-and-professional/

Here you can find my personal blog, as well as links to my blogs written for Armada Education. If you click “Portfolio By Ryan Campeau” in the upper lefthand corner, you can go explore my other portfolios, including reflections and photographs from my international travels; videos I’ve edited to contribute to the portfolios of Armada Ed learners; videos and PDFs regarding the innovative ESL program I developed at Armada; photographs and descriptions of my ongoing projects for continued learning and self-betterment, be they online courses, baking projects, French creative writing… So many goodies! Please, do reach out if you see things that inspire you, or have any ideas/suggestions/comments/constructive criticism to offer.

Green Spaces: What I Miss from Home

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A couple weeks before coming back to the States, I had the opportunity to see an incredible theatre production called “Made in China.” This was a collaborative project between French and Chinese artists, part of an annual French arts festival in Beijing. The résumé for the show bills this as a production that explores humanity’s relationship to objects in a world that increasingly mass-produces and how our culture of consumption has grown to change how we perceive and interact with the objects around us. It sounded fantastic, very philosophical and culture-critiquey and very, ultimately, French. I couldn’t wait!

While the show wasn’t without its “?!?” moments (as to be expected with French theatre, based on experience), there were several stand-out scenes that I have been eager to write about. I have decided to give them scene titles to describe more easily – I hope you enjoy. J

War on Green

Construction workers dressed in orange jumpsuits go about their daily work. Suddenly, a small chunk of foliage drops from above. It hangs down feet below the ceiling. As it drops, an emergency siren erupts. Lights flash. The orange-clad workers go ballistic. They employ endless tactics to bring down the green. They spray chemicals, climb a ladder with shears a-snipping, hoist one worker on top of another to try to reach and bring down the enemy. Ultimately, they can’t do it, and they flee the scene. Why the fear, why the extreme determination to eliminate – or at least tame and control – the green?

Communication Overload / Technology Meltdown

A sweet, stodgy man enters carrying one suitcase and wearing a watering can on a chain around his neck. He wears glasses, is smiley and dopey-looking, and walks around appreciatively picking up, examining and playing with the mundane objects that litter the stage.

A woman dressed professionally enters. Her phone rings; she answers. Very crisp, quick, hospitality services-esque. Another phone rings. She pulls it out of another pocket, answers, quick, juggling. A phone rings again; she pulls out a third. Fast, perky. Juggling phones, switching languages. English. Chinese. French. – “Paris? Bonjour! Oui, non, oui, merci, au revoir.” The scene degenerates as she continues juggling phones, switching languages, running around trying to do it all, working herself into a frenzy until she literally has a meltdown. The special effects were beautiful – a smoke machine in her jacket began emitting a cloud of smoke, and the actor collapsed onto a table center stage, unable to go on. The pudgy, concerned man looked on, unsure what to do.

The Calming Effects of Dirt / Get Dirty

He walks toward the collapsed, smoking woman. He sets his suitcase on the table and opens it, revealing a suitcase full of dirt. Beautiful, natural, dirty dirt. He picks up her hands (she is completely out of it, not even aware of his actions) and plants them in the dirt, piling up a mound over each hand. From somewhere appears a handful of flowers and he plants one bunch over each of her hands. Suddenly the meaning behind his bizarre necklace becomes apparent, as he pours the watering can to water the flowers and the woman. The smoke emanating from her jacket slows to a halt. She visibly relaxes and looks up to take in the flowers and the man. It is a beautiful moment, until once again the awful siren explodes and she jumps, uprooting the flowers and slamming shut the suitcase of dirt like a contaminated thing, running offstage to presumably dispose of it.

The Stuff around Us

The final scene returns to the construction workers. They slowly move objects about the stage, constructing and then tearing down a mini world of stuff, from toys to toilet paper rolls to old stereos. The beautiful collage of things and the workers’ strange relationship to them is fascinating and unsettling, somewhere between worship and total disconnection or apathy. It puts into strange perspective our current culture of stuff, why we must have so much and how we feel (or don’t feel) about all the clutter. How did we get here?

This production was a clear critique of the culture of overconsumption, waste, and the slow degradation of nature that our world has cultivated. Seeing the show in one of the world’s largest cities, which, though it has a great deal of green space, also crafts cultivated, tamed, and controlled green spaces over any true nature, was a fascinating and difficult portrayal of contemporary city-driven society. It prompted me to reflect on my gardening project and why little Black Thumb Ryan felt so strongly inclined to try planting a potted garden in polluted Beijing; how I am so sorely nostalgic of my mother’s garden now that I’m living in the city; and what, other than family and friends, I miss most about home. There is so much that we give up by moving to the city, forsaking gardens and green spaces, and disconnecting ourselves from nature. I feel it, and have felt such joy in being able to yet again bike out to Bennington Lake; trot out back any ol’ time to cut a few rhubarb stalks or pluck up some beets; or take a long country stroll in the early morning or sunset hours and marvel at the gorgeous Walla Walla skies. Oh, my heart! Nature! How special and truly humanizing you are!

On Being Home

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I have been back in the U.S. for just over three weeks now. When planning for this summer trip home, I thought I would have only two and a half. We made the decision to extend my time at home to almost SIX weeks in late June, just one week before I flew out… It was a flurry of wrapping up work projects, putting our apartment on AirBnB to find a renter to take my place while gone (bless my wonderful roommate for dealing with the bulk of that), cleaning and organizing my things to the max, purchasing gifts to bring home, all the while trying to recover from an awful cold… Yep, it was a doozy. And now I’m home with more time than I had imagined or hoped for to once again be a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece and friend, to work on personal projects and make progress on those many career-oriented (think LinkedIn and online portfolio) to-dos that I have been putting off, and most importantly to reevaluate my work in Beijing, my career and education goals, and my general life trajectory and how time in Beijing fits into the big picture. It has been fantastic, and much-needed, and I feel clarity and focus as to where I am now and where I am headed in a way that I never have before. It’s great. And while there’s still obviously wiggle room for the future – I won’t post here an announcement of my big life plans, not just yet – I will say that I expect to be in Beijing for some time longer (1 to 2 years); probably head to Seattle next for a good chunk of time to work in education, continue to dabble in different pedagogical philosophies, and build my skills as an educator; fit in grad school for an official degree in education relatively soon; and work toward affecting change in the American education landscape in a more impactful way. I have some dreams a-brewing, even some BHAGS (a term my coworkers introduced to me – “Big Hairy Audacious Goals”) that I don’t really want to announce in blog or Facebook posts but that I am currently obsessed with researching, mulling over and refining, and will chew your ear off about if you give me the chance to talk about it. I am ultimately so happy I had the chance to be home for this long time span, allowing me the space and time to arrive here. I expected to be happy to have the family and friend time, but the benefits are more than that. There is something about being at home, and being with the people who know me best, that leads naturally to seeing things more clearly for what they are, and even facing myself and what I truly want with more open and understanding eyes. So bless the circumstances that prolonged my home visit. Bless the people I have gotten to visit and chat with longer, feeling more at ease and present than I would have during the originally planned two and a half week stopover. And hurrah for my remaining time in Beijing, the people there and the experiences yet to come, and the time I will have to continue to reflect and plan the next stage of my life, Stateside. There are so many exciting things to come! And thank YOU for riding the waves with me!

Learning to make dumplings

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Last night a friend walked me through the steps of making dumplings, or jiaozi, a surprisingly easy feat considering how delicious they are. We made your standard pork dumplings, heavy on the garlic, ginger, mushrooms, and shallots; a Thai version with lots of lemon grass and coriander, and you’ll notice the peanut coconut milk sauce in the saucepan photographed below to accompany it; and a Mexican variation, for which my friend blended up a salsa and pulled out the Sriracha! So it was anything but a traditional dumpling night, but oh, so good! We made the dough and hand-rolled the dumplings and everything! Expect me to be whipping up dumplings like nobody’s business when I am back in the States. Oh yeah, if you haven’t heard, I will be back MUCH earlier than expected! Catch me somewhere between Walla Walla, Seattle, and Portland for a six-week stint starting June 29. I may be seen carrying plates of these little guys, who knows… 😉

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Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

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This weekend marks the annual Dragon Boat Festival! This festival celebrates the death of poet and minister Qu Yuan, who fell out of favor with the emperor, lived in exile writing poetry for years, and finally committed suicide by drowning. The local people rushed out in boats to try to find him — the beginning of the annual dragon boat races — and, unable to find him, they threw balls of sticky rice into the river so the fish would eat them instead of Qu’s body.

I won’t make it to see any dragon boat races this year, but one of the most important ways to celebrate is by making and eating zongzi, sticky rice and other fillings wrapped in bamboo leaves and then boiled or steamed. Here are photos of the zongzi that I made (well, okay, boiled). Untying them felt like unwrapping a precious gift, I couldn’t wait to try the treat inside!

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Lama Temple and Ditan Park

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A pretty easy-going week lent the right excuse to FINALLY go visit these two landmarks! I have been aching to visit for some time. Every time you pass by Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple or Yonghegong) on the ring road, it looks astounding. The views from the inside did not disappoint!

Yonghegong was actually an emperor’s palatial residence back in the day, but half of the building was converted to a lamasery, or monastery for Tibetan Buddhist monks, in the year 1722. Later in the 1730s, the Yonghe Temple became a residence for a large number of monks from Tibet and Mongolia, becoming the national center for the Tibetan Buddhist faith. It has remained a stabilizing presence throughout China’s turbulent history, and continues to connect Beijing to Tibet in a significant way (Brendan and I met Tibetan monks in town to visit Yonghegong just the week before!).

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Gobs of incense smoke from the worshipers here to pay respect to the famous statues of Buddha and co.

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A spontaneous rain/lightning storm had me trapped in the temple! It was an incredible moment to focus on the sights, sounds, and smells of the temple under rain.

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Once the rain let up, I ventured forth to Ditan (Temple of Earth) park. As others said before me on TripAdviser, it’s just so-so – Ritan Park (by my work) wins in a coolness competition – but it was still a treat to visit, and definitely featured some beautiful spots.

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See that little statue? A Walla Walla sweet onion, anyone? 😉

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Poor guy, just trying to study and his lap all full of water…

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The elderly Chinese are an important feature to any park, but this was the first time I saw something like this fenced-in ping-pong area! Too cool!

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The adventures continue! It took me four months to make it to the Great Wall, after all, almost ten before I saw the Forbidden City. Keep reading as I continue to visit Beijing’s incredible wonders, and discover myself along the way.

My Neighborhood: Sanlitun, the Embassies, and Sanyuanli

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It hit me this weekend, as the weather gods looked down favorably upon the residents of Beijing, as I happily jogged and biked around my blue-and-green neighborhood, that I haven’t shared much at all about the area I live in! So here it is, a photographic collage of my new home surroundings:

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The alley behind my apartment building: long, verdant, bike-filled, and normally packed with little old ladies and their dogs, or groups of elderly playing mahjong.

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And your standard pile of junk and trash that greets me on my way out.

Turn left upon exiting my apartment building and you are welcomed by ever-stretching tree-lined streets home to the majority of Beijing’s embassies. Here are some favorite shots.

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UNICEF, my neighbor.

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Cheers, the ubiquitous Chinese wine and beer chain. Their slogan: “Cheers makes you smile!”

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An American diner just under our apartment. I still haven’t been there… I pride myself on making enough unhealthy American things at home, I don’t need to go out for them 😉

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Notice the potted plants above lomography? Our home!

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My favorite embassy by far, the Belgian, for this poster of Tintin escaping a Chinese ceramic vase.

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Schwanky expat grocery stores EVERYWHERE. Pictured here, the “Friendship Supermarket.”

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The yellow building is a French école maternelle!

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High security embassy buildings.

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Soldiers galore in embassy-land! See how safe I am here, ma? 😉

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Everywhere in Beijing, you will see these characters dressed in orange, cycling around and doing a variety of maintenance jobs (picking up trash, pruning the bushes, etc.)

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Just a piece of trash I found on the dock. I also found it humorous.

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The river just north of my neighborhood. It WOULD be a good place to jog, if it wasn’t obstructed by the third ring road here, construction there! Grr. And why are the trees painted white? But it IS pretty gorgeous, isn’t it?

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Men fishing at the river. Safe to each fish from Beijing’s waters? Skeptical. But notice their umbrella hats. How fashionable!

[Interlude to explain Chinese culture and umbrellas. There are more umbrellas out during the sunny months than any other time of year. The Chinese value fair skin, so you will see everyone (women, especially) carrying umbrellas while bicycling or walking around and covering themselves with shawls and sweaters despite the ridiculous heat. The sunscreens, lotions, and body washes contain chemicals to bleach your skin, which Colleen and I accidentally purchased, so expect my skin to be pastier than ever when you next see me…. But by Chinese standards, I will be beautiful!]

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Just a scoach farther north is Sanyuanli Market. Despite my love of markets, this weekend marked my first trip to Sanyuanli, a market touted for having all your expat needs. Now that I realize I’m about a 5-minute bike ride away, I feel rather sheepish. On my first visit, I discovered a delightful-looking French bakery, an award-winning fromagerie (Chinese cheese-maker bringing down awards in Paris!), established MY nut/dried fruit vendor (generous samples = I am yours), made a friend in the produce section, and discovered the most exciting imported cheese selection I have yet to encounter in Beijing. Praise be!

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I picked up some mulberries to make my first crisp of the season last weekend! I didn’t even realize they were mulberries. I have been calling them Chinese blackberries. The things you discover abroad!

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How they do meat here. Yum. Nonetheless, I picked up the least sketchy fish I have yet seen in BJ. Made Colleen and me a nice salmon meal. Yum 🙂

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Turn right out of my apartment complex and you are greeted with more embassies, malls, more malls, and the most ridiculous bar/club strip in Beijing. I cycle by this every night, and have yet to enter in a single one of these establishments. Why did I choose to live here again? 😉

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The Moroccan embassy, just across the street. Makes me nostalgic for my March 2014 visit… (and yet so much barbed wire!)

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It looks so calm and lovely by day and then at night…

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One of my favorite buildings, Nali Patio, featuring Moka Bros (GREAT café), Miga’s (featured lunch in Finding Balance and Strength, location of the rooftop salsa classes… and just around the corner!), and a spectacular, artistic courtyard.

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The mojito stand! Mojitos on-the-go made with fresh fruit for 15 RMB (that’s about $2.50). Yessss.

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The sweet musician who plays on our block day-in, day-out. Hearing him play Christmas tunes on this traditional Chinese instrument is always pretty hilarious.

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I hope you have enjoyed the tour of my neighborhood! It’s not the hutongs, but it’s also a great, exciting place to be.

Capital Brew

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I can’t take full credit for the title. “Capital Brew,” as in great beer brewed in the capital city, was borrowed from Jing-A Brewing Co.’s website, and speaks well to Beijing’s burgeoning beer culture. This city (as most major cities now, really) is experiencing a craft beer explosion. There are your top dogs of Beijing beer, namely Great Leap Brewing, Jing-A Brewing Co., and Slowboat Brewery, but even since I have arrived, many microbreweries have joined the scene. Last week, Colleen and I were walking along a hutong on our way home when we stumbled upon a great little brewery called HiBeer. They advertised a chocolate stout and pomegranate cider, and with those plus some Nuremburg sausages (throwback to last summer in Bavaria!) we were easily won over. This week marked Beijing Craft Beer Week, with breweries visiting from all over China and celebratory events at all the city’s breweries. The major breweries even joined forces to create a collaborative beer, a nice, light ale with hints of tea (typical). It was a great excuse to get out and sample more of the truly phenomenal local beers.

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I started with Arrow Factory Brewing (photos of the taproom above). This is a pretty new one, and I hadn’t yet made it over to Andingmen to find it in the hutongs, although I did get a few tastes at the Hutong Summer Fayre (see photos below for cuteness).

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Arrow blew me away! I went with a coworker, and between us we sampled a fair number of their beers. They were also holding a strength competition, and if you happened to see the photo of my guns in a previous post, you will understand why I thought I could take the guys drinking beer around me. You had to hold a liter glass full to the brim with water at arm’s length (arm parallel to the bar counter) for as long as possible, and alas, I could only manage a minute thirty. But I digress. The beer was exceptional, and Stuff’d, the restaurant that shares their space and expectedly features all food of the stuffed variety, has the best pulled pork sandwich I may ever enjoy in my life. Good night, indeed.

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Friday’s beer appreciation started at Rager Pie (their adorable mini-pies photographed above). An expat in the city, who incidentally threw many a rager in his day, also makes exceptional pies, and found himself a hole in the wall in the hutongs to sell them to expats nostalgic for pumpkin and pecan pie. That’s how they hooked me, back in the fall. Their pies come in baby tin pans to eat on the go, and I gotta say their meat pies and other fruit pies are INCREDIBLE. They also now have a special on Fridays – if you and a friend are willing to pie each other in the face, you get a pie for free. Challenge accepted.

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From there, we went to Great Leap Brewing in the hutongs. This is their original location, one of the coolest spots in the summer. It has a great outdoor courtyard, the hutong vibe, and dang good beers.

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For the record, the first photo is not actually Great Leap, but a photo of a random hutong building just to give you an idea of the “hutong vibe.” You walk through such a door into the open courtyard and then into the taproom pictured. On a gorgeous summer day, it’s heaven.

They have since opened up two spots dangerously close to where I live, one of which makes some of the best pizza I have eaten. I snapped some photos of the taproom and rooftop seating when Colleen and I went there today to practice Chinese and French. We are going to teach each other our second languages J A mighty fine roommate project, I’d say!

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Today we also went to Jing-A, one of the sweetest spots (also featuring courtyard seating) close by our apartment, for the Brewer’s Brunch. Here’s a photo of my egg/bacon baguette sandwich with charcuterie and hummus, our appetizer, in the background, just to make your mouth water.

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All of this to say, it has been one great week of beer sampling. There are a handful of other breweries that I didn’t feature and/or haven’t been yet to try, plus the active Homebrewers Society that is constantly experimenting and organizing events in the way of meet-ups and festivals. This city has a lot to offer in many respects, and I am so thankful that a craft beer community is one of them!

Finding Strength and Balance

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Three months ago, I started an unlimited class pass to the Yoga Yard in Beijing. At that time, I considered 20 minutes of yoga a long session. Since then, I have practiced for 5-8 hours per week under the guidance of instructors (for the first time in my life!) and felt an incredible change in my body, particularly in my arm strength. Before I thought it impossible, but today I can do plough pose (easy, but before I had a mental block — I was sure that putting my legs that far over my head would snap my neck!), crow pose and arm balance for a few seconds, a headstand (with some wall assistance)… I can do a ridiculous number of chaturangas with the best of ’em, hold my warrior poses with strength and ease, and generally feel strong and graceful in a yoga class. I am still working on quieting my mind and breathing with regularity and ease, but I think it’s normal that the mind and spirit are harder to cultivate than the body 🙂 Here’s a shout-out to celebrate the wonderful experience I had at the Yoga Yard, and a sad goodbye for a time. I will try out Heyrobics, a phenomenally popular exercise program started in Sweden, with the delightful tagline, “Sweat like a Swede!” All the expats are doing it these days – it’s time I join in! As great as I feel for the many sweaty yoga routines, my body needs more cardio, so we’ll see what the mix of strength and aerobics does for my body in this next period. These last few months have also marked a shift in my eating patterns, with some pretty positive effects. Since I am now feeding myself and can therefore control what I eat, I decided to try eating six small meals throughout the day, one every 2-3 hours. I started with a meal plan developed by Cassey Ho, a fitness trainer who puts out POP Pilates workout videos, which I love. Each meal was mainly veggies and protein, with some healthy carbs like oats and sweet potato thrown in there. It was a COMPLETE shift from how I normally eat: heavy on the dairy and carbs, plenty of fruits but not always enough veggies, and doing my best to get protein in, but not focusing on lean proteins or regular protein consumption. I also could ONLY drink water, which meant I went without coffee, without my guilty pleasure bubble tea, and generally without tea, wine or beer (sacré bleu!). What I most appreciate about Cassey is that she is NOT about weight loss or building a hot bod for a hot bod’s sake. Almost every video is full of messages about loving yourself, feeling strong and confident and PROUD of the hard work you do to make your body look and feel great! And for me, this shift in diet was very much motivated by wanting to feel good in my skin, wanting to make the most of my newfound ability to control what I eat, and not getting lazy and just making brie and tomato sandwiches as my general go-to lunch tends to be. I remember the recommendation from my Coursera Nutrition class to break your meals into six smaller meals in order to maintain a steady level of blood sugar and energy throughout the day, another great motivator unconnected to weight loss. I tried this system for two weeks, then took my trip to Hong Kong, tried it out for another two weeks, and then generally let go of the rigidity but maintained a general 4-6 meal per day routine. And I really think it’s proven healthier for me. I continue to eat a great breakfast of oats, walnuts and fruit, a couple tiny lunches of veggies and protein, and whatever I feel like for dinner, but with an eye too on nutritional quality and portions.  Ultimately, while I appreciate what the really strict diet did for my body appearance (I can’t lie) and energy levels, I cannot ignore how much I like quality food and drink, and what a phenomenal foodie city Beijing is… Case in point, I shared a fantastic lunch today at Migas, one of Beijing’s top restaurants, where I go now for rooftop salsa dance lessons. Duck once again prepared in European fashion, and the prettiest of desserts you ever did see! Mm-mmm!

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A trip to America is on the horizon (late July – I CANNOT WAIT!), which will inevitably throw my body for a big loop once again. But ultimately, paying attention to every little thing I eat is just NOT WORTH IT. I kept a journal for awhile, trying to get in the habit of noting all my food and exercise choices. In the end, I realized that even if this comes from a good place of wanting to be more accountable and mindful of my choices, it also takes some of the fun out of life. I don’t want to be ever mindful of the things I eat and drink. I want to have balance, I want to make sure I get nutritionally great food in my diet and don’t over-indulge in the things I am always ready to eat more of, and I definitely want to keep my body active and my mind refreshed with good amounts of quality sleep. So, once again, cheers to yoga for helping me find my strength these last three months. And here’s to the balance that I found while trying new ways of eating! I hope to retain the best parts of my yoga routine and diet, and continue to build on my strength and nourish the balance in all areas of my life.

The Forbidden City… Finally!

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289 days since my arrival in Beijing on August 18, 2014. That is how long it took me to visit Beijing’s top attraction. Not that I haven’t tried. Day 1 in Beijing, Cassie tried to take me, but the crowd was monstrous on that summer day, and we opted to just explore the hutongs. A Monday soon after, I went for a visit, but wouldn’t you know the Forbidden City is closed Mondays, hence my visit of the wonderful Jingshan Park back in September. Since then I have been preoccupied with everything else that happens in this crazy life, and haven’t thought seriously about visiting except when complaining to friends that I haven’t made it yet! Finally, having made a great friend who leaves Beijing in July, we planned an afternoon excursion. This particular friend is French, so not only did I spend a great day exploring La Cité Interdite, I got hours to practice my French speaking skills and free help with my sometimes odd anglo-fied expressions J

One of the funniest moments of the day happened when my friend, who I consider a very handsome young Frenchman, asked a group of Chinese women to take our photo. They, in turn, asked if he could take a photo of them with ME, shyly telling me they thought I was very beautiful. HA! My poor friend 😀

Snapshots of The City, in no particular order:

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A perfect hobbit-sized (or Chinaman-sized) door hidden in the Imperial Palace.

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This three-storied structure is where they would perform Beijing opera for the emperor. It was incredible! The structure and surrounding courtyard reminded me of the Globe Theater, and I could just imagine the peasants standing around the stage watching the show… although, of course, peasants wouldn’t be invited to the Forbidden City opera!

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The classic statue of mama lion, squashing her lion cub beneath her paw. Sweet.

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What I thought was a forest of very short trees proved to be ONE tree, twisted and bent with time to the point that they had to build this structure to hold up the branches. You will see metal supports for ancient trees all over Beijing!

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