Shots Around Hanoi: Fifth (Tet Special)

We’re in Colorado for actual Tet, but there were plenty of festive things to see out in the flower fields near Tay Ho last weekend. I finally got around to editing the photos, so here you are!



All of those are my favourites, so that you can see them in more detail. The flowers are mostly peach blossoms, which bloom this time of year. People in Hanoi buy branches or whole trees with the blossoms to put in their houses. They hang ornaments on them just like a Christmas tree. I had no idea that was a thing until this month. It’s a great festival out there in the fields, and the farmers who live in the shacks on the land get a big bonus in income just before the Lunar New Year.

I also tried out a little Lightroom black and white on these ones.


Happy Tet, Everyone!

The Last Bits of Shanghai

It’s nearly time to head out of Shanghai, and on to the next adventure.

Although in reality, Shanghai hasn’t felt much like adventure a lot of the time. It’s important to make money for reasons like student debt and computers that get sweated to death by the house itself in this city, but it sure has felt like I spent most of the last year working and very little of it travelling.

My husband is currently reading Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, which I believe I’d heard of a few times before but never read myself (yet). He talks about ‘anti-sabbaticals,’ where you work crappy shifts for long hours to save money for the next trip.

In many ways, that’s been Shanghai.

I’m sitting here in our now-too-sterile-feeling apartment, which seems a little like being in a hotel that also happened to be your home for a year (somehow not a contradiction in my mind at the moment). It’s now exactly one year since we woke up at 5AM in Colorado and began the journey to China.

A lot has changed in that time, and a lot hasn’t.

Things that haven’t changed 

  1. My eyes are still blue, and still slightly scary to small children over in this hemisphere.
  2. My husband and I are still in love and even closer than before!
  3. My hair colour, despite really, really wanting to dye a blue streak into it to make up for my classroom-friendly filtering of my usual language.
  4. My school, which may seem like a contradiction given the high staff turnover since I arrived. I have a theory that secretly the school is conscious and runs itself. Similar problems as always, yet somehow it keeps going.
  5. Shanghai’s air quality, unfortunately.
  6. The stubborn scar left by shingles, which will never go away, over my left eye. Shanghai’s early mark, I suppose.

I’m not sure what words best qualify the year spent here. My own journals put forth a repetitive mantra, ‘So tired. So tired. So tired.’ And then this, from 1 December:

“Here’s hoping Shanghai gets better before we leave. There is a lot of good here, but so much annoyance. Not even badness, just annoyance. I actually think it has to do with Shanghai attracting migrants from all over China and all over the world. It’s as if it’s no one’s city.

The history paved over with concrete and LEDs, and desperately attempted to be forgotten except in hackneyed ‘mobster’ photo booths.

It felt very old Shanghai when I met some folks at Bistro Burger on Sunday. Fog. Quiet. Walking old lanes at night with colonial houses on them. A Xi Jinping poster at a dubious street sushi place, kittens clumsily playing below it.

Despite that glimpse, it’s clear that Shanghai is long gone. And this Shanghai may be underwater by 2080. It’s not a home, but it will do for now.”

Unfortunately, that feeling did not change. In fact, it may have merely intensified.

Things that Have Changed 

  1. My weight. I’ve lost about 35 pounds. Wheeeeeeeeeeee! (Don’t I look well in this picture?).


    Tonsillitis makes my natural pallor shine

  2. I have ticked off or will tick off everything except yoga 4x per week on my list of things to do in China that I wrote over the Pacific on the plane over. Highlights include saving money, writing Beer in Situ in Shanghai, and learning 300 characters.
  3. My immune system. It’s utterly shot. I kid you not, I have been sick every single week since October 1st. My runny nose and cough have simply never cleared. I was fine during the summer, and as soon as it got cold and damp it was all over. 


    Couldn’t quite capture the yellowy colour of the clouds

  4. I took the HSK 2 test last Saturday. If I pass, that means I now have certifiably less-than-completely-shitty Mandarin Chinese skills.
  5. I have more teaching experience now, and way more tricks up my sleeve for all levels and ages.
  6. I have had the pleasure of managing coworkers and a fair bit of on-the-job training for how to run an English School.
  7. Donald Trump is a serious candidate for the November Election. I ignored him all summer, but it is beyond ignoring now.
  8. My perception of China. In many ways it is portrayed negatively or highly positively in Western media, and I will need a lot more writing to parse out what exactly has changed about my idea of China. But I know it has changed.
  9. I am now a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu white belt!

In many ways, I’m not too sure what I was hoping would come from Shanghai. I wanted a way to work and save money while living in the same country as my husband. It fulfilled all those requirements, but somehow is so much less than fulfilling in itself.

It’s not the intensity of China or of Shanghai that has gotten to me. In reality, there isn’t much intensity to speak of. It’s the lower, longer, grinding stuff that has made it difficult to live here and that makes me excited to leave.

We fly out on Sunday to see a few more bits of China, and then we fly from Shanghai on May 6th in opposite directions (London and Denver) to meet again on the other side of the world in Iceland for the summer.

Thanks for what you gave us, Shanghai. Still not a home like other places, but something less than a strange and foreign land, too.


Our apartment is way over to the left in the low brown building

Late Winter Outfit


Revolution Mug

This week it’s Chinese New Year, which is like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. We’ve been enjoying warm weather for a couple days, but early in the week it was freezing cold (as is usual in Shanghai’s winter).

It’s hard to be fashionable when you are cold all the time, but I’m managing.


Outfit for work. 

It goes like this in the winter time: bra, shirt, other shirt, dress, other dress, sweater, coat, scarf. On the bottom: long underwear, tights, other tights, knee-high socks, skirt. I’ve taken to wearing colourful skirts as petticoats for extra layers. And yet, one will still be cold as the humidity means it just cuts right through it allllllll….

I did a little DIY for CNY, too. Lanterns made from Hong Bao, the lucky envelopes that people use to give gifts of money at this time of year. One I managed to do backwards, but it looks like a red sun (sorta).

It’s the Year of the Monkey, so our Christmas monkeys are in style still.

We made a Wishing Tree and wrote things we want for the new year, and made a feast of fish and cheese (much better than it sounds) for the night of the new year. Happy 2016!



Beer In Situ: Cannonball Creek Brewing

We find ourselves spending a lot of time in brewpubs, brew places, breweries, and tap rooms now that we are doing the visa waiting game for our next move abroad. It’s amazing to have so many places available to us in the Front Range of Colorado. Every time I come back from living abroad, new places have opened and new beer is waiting to be discovered. We drove up to Golden, Colorado to see a brewery that I’ve passed many times and never tasted. 

The Pertinents

  • Cannonball Creek Brewing Company
  • 393 Washington Ave, Golden, Colorado, USA
  • Founded in January 2013


Their Self-Description

“Cannonball Creek Brewing Company was founded in January of 2013 by Jason Stengl and Brian Hutchinson.  Jason and Brian met in 2004 at the Mountain Sun family of breweries in Boulder, Colorado were they both learned to hone the craft they love.  With over 15 years of combined professional brewing experience and an uncanny ability to tolerate one another, they decided it was time to take a leap and chase the dream of opening their own brewery.

With both Jason and Brian calling Golden, Colorado home, the choice for a location was obvious.  After settling on a property on the north side of town, they wanted the brewery name to reflect the home town they loved.  After doing some research they learned that the original name for the majestic Clear Creek that runs through the center of Golden was Cannonball Creek.  The historical significance paired with the duo’s love for the iconic Cannonball made the decision a no-brainer and Cannonball Creek Brewing Company was born.”

Bar and brewery.

Bar and brewery.

The Space

It’s a big space, with a lot of windows out onto the road that passes on its way into the mountains. The hills are in view from practically anywhere that you could sit, and the space has an open and airy feel to it. The bar itself is long and wraps around from the side where the brew kit sits. Kids are very welcome, and many young families were wandering around enjoying St. Patrick’s Day.

There is an outdoor seating area with even better views.

The interior of the brewery is simple. I don’t believe that it was meant to be the focus, which is a good thing. Occasionally microbreweries get too ambitious with their decorations and it distracts from the actual beer. Cannonball Creek definitely doesn’t have this issue. The brewery grew out of the Mountain Sun brewery in Boulder, which has a huge amount of slightly garish but thoroughly endearing hippie decor…I’m sure that the aesthetic is part of Cannonball Creek differentiating itself from its roots.



The Beers

We tried everything that was on draft that day, for a total of eight beers. They made a pretty picture on the tray, and the variety of colours was particularly pleasing. Almost all the beers are in the 6-8% ABV range, which means that they pack a bit more of a punch than some beers. In tasting all of them, I noticed that there was a certain booziness for some styles that wasn’t perfectly balanced. I like strong beers with lots of taste, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a 5% hoppy red ale from time to time.

The beers are tasty, but no one beer stood out for me as superior. We missed out on their award-winning black IPA, which made me very sad. The hoppy beers on offer would have really benefitted from some roasted malts to balanced out the mega-piney tastes. I hope to find the black IPA to sample before I have to leave for China.

Beer Rainbow!

Beer Rainbow!

Tasting Notes

A selection of the beers, lest this get too long.

Solid Gold 

  • Style: Belgian Golden
  • Geekery: 7.4% ABV, unknown IBUs, SRM = light for a golden ale
  • Basically, this is Super-Leffe. Unmistakably golden, highly carbonated, and almost overly Belgian-y. Spicy notes from the yeast and residual sweetness make the beer border on Tripel territory, but it mostly tastes like a souped-up version of that tasty Belgian beer.
  • Overall Rating: 4.0 pints (out of five pints)


  • Style: American Pale Ale
  • Geekery: 5.0% ABV, unknown IBUs, SRM = Caramel
  • Mega grapefruit on this one. Almost too much. For a pale ale, this has almost Stone Brewing levels of bitterness and persistent taste. The hops are verrrrry forward, with a tiny hint of leafy/woodsy tastes at the end. Not the most balanced beer I’ve ever had.
  • Overall Rating: 3.5 pints


  • Style: India Pale Ale
  • Geekery: 7.5% ABV, unknown IBUs, SRM = Falls in the same range as the Featherweight, Single-Hop Nelson, and Solid Gold
  • For an IPA, this has remarkably little body. It’s deceptively strong and highly fruity, with strong flavours of lemon, orange, lychee, and pomelo. As it blends to the finishing taste, it begins to taste a little bit of flowery essential oils. This beer would be awesome in black IPA form.
  • Overall Rating: 3.5 pints

Single Hop Nelson 

  • Style: Single-Hop IPA
  • Geekery: 6.6% ABV, unknown IBUs, SRM = Oddly similar to that of the other beers mentioned above
  • Basil and thyme in the aromas, and none of what I think as the characteristic Nelson Sauvin tastes. Light and thin on the mouthfeel, but well-carbonated and easily drinkable. It grew on me as I drank the sample, but the herby notes were a little too aggressive.
  • Overall Rating: 4.0 pints

The Munchies

Food trucks park outside and offer light snacks or larger meals. The area that the brewery is in doesn’t have a huge selection of restaurants, but the burgers looked tasty!



Russell’s One-Line Review

“Not bad. A little creeky.”