So, You’re Moving to China…(Part 2)

As promised, I am back with part 2 of my post!
5. Kiss Comfort Goodbye

Whether you’re in your apartment or at a restaurant, the standards of comfort in China are very different from out west. Beds are often rock hard, couches are frequently nothing more than a wooden bench, and restaurants (in certain areas of the country) forgo purchasing conventional tables and chairs, and have everyone sitting at child-sized tables, with plastic stools.

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Our couch in Guiyang. My butt would go numb within about 10 minutes.
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One of our favourite hot pot places….not exactly the most comfortable restaurant…

And it’s not only your butt that will miss the comfort. People here have a different idea of what ‘public space’ means. I frequently see people watching movies on their tablets in public spaces (in the metro…at Starbucks…in restaurants…), without using ear buds. When you have several people doing this in the same space, the room becomes so cluttered with noise that it’s difficult to think.

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After taking this picture, and posting it online, I saw someone post an article about how it’s wrong to take photos of strangers. I agree…except for in cases when those individuals have forsaken their rights to privacy by taking away my right to focusing on my blog…

Smoking is also common place here, and you will see it everywhere you go. Restaurants, shopping malls and even some schools all allow smoking and although Beijing and several other cities are beginning to make smoking illegal in public spaces, China still has a long way to go before you can enjoy a meal without choking on someone else’s cigarettes.

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Without reinforcement, signs like this don’t actually do very much. There are ‘no smoking ‘ signs in most elevators, after all…it doesn’t stop people from lighting up in them…

And even in private spaces, China finds it’s way in. People in our apartment building frequently leave their front doors open to air out their personal spaces….this often results in my own apartment smelling like cigarettes. Our neighbours across the hall have apparently run out of room in their apartment, so they’ve begun storing personal items outside of their door, in the hallway…They are currently keeping their baby stroller and several other objects (including open umbrellas…) right outside of our door.

And Fireworks….The Chinese use them to ward of evil spirits and the following events all merit their use:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Birthdays
  • New Businesses Opening
  • Festivals
  • Holidays
  • Just because they like to make noise…
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Fireworks are a constant here. When you live on one of the higher floors of a building, you’ll wake up to the sound of these things going off right outside your windows. One day, when we were living in Guiyang, our apartment got smoked out when a new business had opened up downstairs. We’d had our windows open…

Even babies don’t get any break from the discomfort of living in China. I can’t help but wonder what this sort of thing means for this poor kid’s neck muscles…

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6. Traffic Laws are Non-Existent…and Mayhem most Definitely Ensues…

It’s rare that you will see a police officer pulling people over for bad driving. It’s so rare, in fact, that the only time I can remember it happening was in Guiyang, when police officers caught on that they could get bribe money from e-bike drivers who aren’t wearing helmets.

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Take Note: There are no drivers in many of these cars. In Suzhou, people frequently park in the areas meant for uturns….because… why not? Sidewalks are another very popular place to park and double parking is common. There’s no end in sight for this behaviour, because nobody gets ticketed for these types of things. It’s beyond me…

The results of this lack of enforcement are terrifying. In Suzhou, the driving isn’t TOO bad. There are e-bike lanes and for the most part, people pay attention to stop lights and stay in 1 lane at a time…Well, ok, that might be a little generous…

I don’t have many pictures of this stuff, because, I’m usually trying to jump out of the way of drivers who are busy taking selfies instead of watching the road, but this video that I took in Guiyang should give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like driving, or ever walking, in China…

7. You’ll Begin to Appreciate the Most Surprising things…

The most mundane things in Canada become the most appreciated in China. Something as simple as Shake n’ Bake chicken is the cure to culture shock and bad days. Although I was never really big on Deviled Eggs back home, I’ve grown to love them in China, because they remind me of Christmas and Thanksgiving.

One of the best things is getting care packages from home. Getting Coffee Crisps, clothes that fit and western spices is such a great event! It’s like the best Christmas gift you can imagine!! I especially love getting letters from my nieces and nephews, though it’s common that China Post loses those. I’ve had countless letters mailed to me over the past 2 years, but I’ve only every actually received 2. Most of our family and friends have given up sending things, and I can’t say I blame them. Canada Post charges an exorbitant fee to send packages overseas, and when they likely won’t even make it to us…what’s the point?

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China Post workers going through their mail deliveries…this could be why so many packages go missing….

On the subject of ‘stuff from home’, I realized something amazing about myself while I was finding pictures to use for these posts. I apparently have a need to photograph any western-brand sign I see. It must be the excitement of seeing something from Canada or America IN China…


8. Signs: The Good, The Bad and The Incomprehensible

This category doesn’t need much explaining….Let’s start with the good…

The Bad…

And, of course, the ones we can barely understand…


9. Things are Just Done Differently Here… (Part 2)

Of course, there are a few things I forgot to write in this section of my last post, so here they are…

  • Public space is used differently here…Below is a photo of a man shaving. In the metro. On his way to work…

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  • Advertisements are weird. These women are serving pie…in a glass cage..to promote a new restaurant. They’re white…and it was weird…so people stopped.

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  • Products are also weird. The grossest one I’ve seen are the facial creams that are supposedly made of human placenta. They have a rejuvenating quality to them….yeah….no thanks….IMG_20160319_224523
  • Crowds….crowds like you have never experienced…

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  • Chinese medicine can be questionable. I have tried acupuncture here and it did not go well. I wound up passing out and I think the guy did more damage than good. I’m a pretty firm believer in scientifically backed treatments, but if you want to try eastern remedies, I do urge you to seek out professionals. Cupping is one of the most popular thing for westerners to try out. It’s pretty harmless, and it leaves some pretty wicked (temporary) scars that you can show off. Every Chinese person I’ve asked swears that it does wonders…
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A friend of mine, after a Cupping session. The welts go away after about a month…

Some Final Tips for your Time in China

  • Buy clothing and shoes before coming to the country. Even petite girls can have a difficult time finding clothing here, because generally there is NO ROOM for curves in Chinese clothing. If you’re busty…shop at home accordingly, because you will not find anything above a B cup here. Similarly, it’s difficult to find shoes bigger than a lady’s size 6 or 7 (36 or 37 in European sizes).
  • While the Chinese are perfectly ok wearing mini skirts where you can actually see their bums when they bend over, cleavage is a nay nay…Be prepared to have pretty high cropped shirts here, ladies. It’s inappropriate to show off your goods (on the upper part of your body anyway…)
  • Learn how to use Tao Bao! It is truly a life saver. You can use Bing Translate or google translate if you have a VPN. ***Tip: Translate whatever it is you want to buy into Chinese (Google Translate works very well). The prices are much lower if you search in Mandarin.
  • Buy bedding foam. There’s very little worse than having a bad sleep. The first time I lived in China, I was able to get used to the hard beds, but now…I find it unbearable. There are all sorts of foam mattresses you can buy (Tao Bao is your best bet!) to soften up your bed. They are invaluable and I HIGHLY recommend buying one!
  • Find a local store that carries western goods. Metro, Carrefour, Walmart, Decathelon and Euromart are some of the best. Tao Bao also carries a wide range of western brands, so that’s always an option as well. It’s amazing how comforting it can be to find taco seasoning or salty popcorn when you have had a bad week.
  • Get a VPN (preferably before you enter the country)! I couldn’t blog or keep in touch with anyone on Facebook if it weren’t for my VPN. For $100 a year you can get set up with Astrill or Express, and both are reliable and fast. The government does sometimes crack down on that stuff, so expect the occasional glitch in service, but for the most part, I feel that they do pretty well.

My last piece of advice before ending this post: surround yourself with positive people. There’s nothing worse than spending time with people who do nothing but complain about the culture and the country. Of course, it’s inevitable that you will need to rant now and then, and that’s totally okay. But I’ve met so many foreigners who spend their time abroad angry that the people here won’t conform to what THEY think it normal. Those types of Lao Wai kinda suck…so don’t be like them. Remember that there are good things and bad things in EVERY culture, and you don’t come from a perfect country any more than the Chinese do. Be tolerant, and when it gets REALLY bad…grab some western bevies (because Chinese beer is pretty terrible) and chill out with people who are going through the same things you are.

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Having a positive group of friends is key to surviving overseas. I can’t claim that we’re all positive all the time, but we all count ourselves lucky to be having this incredible experience, and when all else fails, beers at Euromart, or a night out at KTV can go a long, long way for the spirit!!

That’s it for today! My next post will be an update on life in Suzhou! I’ll have pictures from my first gigs (I’m singing in a band :)), the Drama Festival at my school and all the stuff that’s been keeping me busy and away from my blog!

It’s the little things that help…

The last week has been fantastic!  The atmosphere at the school has been far more positive this week, we got out of the city last weekend and had a mini adventure and today, I got to hang out with an adorable kitten at my favorite restaurant:)

Meet Romeo...the sweet kitten that Kevin and Loman took in a few weeks ago.  He's a confident boy now, and he spent most of supper today curled up in my lap, purring.  Talk about comfort for the soul!!!
Meet Romeo…the sweet kitten that Kevin and Loman took in a few weeks ago. He’s a confident boy now, and he spent most of supper today curled up in my lap, purring. Talk about comfort for the soul!!!

But I think the biggest thing that’s made this week awesome, is the little bit of extra money we’re making tomorrow doing overtime for the school.  We save this money so that we can treat ourselves to some of the little things we miss from back home.   Of course, we can’t find everything we miss from Canada in Guiyang, but the things we can find are always a big deal.  A chocolate bar can make up for missing some of the things you can’t buy on Tao Bao or at Carrefour…

Seeing our Maple turn red in the fall, for example... I miss that!
Seeing our Maple turn red in the fall, for example… I miss that!

We officially hit Month 3 in Guiyang on November 15th (My brother’s birthday!), and the end of this first quarter abroad is notorious among travelers for being when you really begin to miss things.  I’ve mentioned some of those things in previous posts, but today I’d like to focus on the things we HAVE managed to find in Guiyang, that have made our stay here a little less ‘homesicky’.

If you listen very closely, you can hear the cushion on this chair whispering 'I'm pointless...I'm pointless..'.  We still have not discovered comfort in China, to my dismay...
If you listen very closely, you can hear the cushion on this chair whispering ‘I’m pointless…I’m pointless..’. We still have not discovered comfort in China, to my dismay…

1.  Western Stores

I’ve mentioned in past posts that Guiyang is home to several North American food chains, such as Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, KFC and Mcdonalds.  But we’ve also found some western stores that have made our stay here easier.  Walmart is common here, and Guiyang now has 4 locations.  Walmart has come in handy for household items, such as: spray bottles (couldn’t find one anywhere else…), soft pillow cases (the ones that we originally had actually hurt my face), drain cleaner and stationary supplies.  Carrefour is a weekly lifesaver as well.  We were able to find everything we needed there when we left for China while our luggage stayed in Vancouver.  Carrefour also has a fantastic ‘foreign foods’ section, that sells Cuban rum, Perrier sparkling water and salty popcorn.

We also found these babies in the import section last week.  Too bad we didn't find them 2 months ago...could have saved my mom sending me a box full of them from Canada!!! lol!!!
We also found these babies in the import section last week. Too bad we didn’t find them 2 months ago…could have saved my mom sending me a box full of them from Canada!!! lol!!!

And there are even many western clothing stores here!  H&M was a lifesaver during our first week in Guiyang.  The biggest problem I had when our luggage went missing, was that I had no clothes.  I’d been smart enough to pack some deodorant, my tooth brush and dental floss in my carry on…but I only had 2 pairs of tights and 3 shirts (that did not work with tights!) with me, so when I had to start work the next day, I would have been screwed if it weren’t for H&M.  Women in China are tiny, so finding clothing that fit my Canadian Curves was a huge deal.  I’ve since learned that China’s gained weight (probably from all the western fast food that’s popped up in the last 8 years), and it isn’t as much of a problem to find clothes that fit now, but at the time I had no idea where else to go, so it was a relief to find a familiar store, with familiar clothes.

2. Coffee: The Nectar of Life

Oohhhh..you beautiful beast, you!!
Oohhhh..you beautiful beast, you!!

There are many small cafes in Guiyang that make excellent coffee; definitely more than there were 8 years ago in Xiamen.  There are times when my monthly Venti Caramel Machiato with an extra shot of espresso is my reason for living, and although I’d love to have this wonderful liquid more often, it’s monthly for a reason…coffee costs the same here as it does in Canada.  That’s ok, for someone who’s making a Canadian salary, but for me…well, I just can’t justify it.  So coffee is one of those things that we do rarely, and only when we’ve stuck to our budget for a while.  Don’t get me wrong…I’m paid well here in Guiyang…but we are trying to save our pennies (or jiao, rather) so that we can do as much traveling as possible, so daily coffee is out of the question.  But we do treat ourselves when we can!

Today's Caramel Machiato at Void Cafe.  PS...Denara...this is ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!!  (She got me hooked about 4 years ago on the things...)
Today’s Caramel Machiato at Void Cafe. PS…Denara…if I go broke, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!! (She got me hooked about 4 years ago on these things…)

Any time I work overtime I save my money for coffee.  No matter how crummy my week has been…1 whiff of that delicious espresso and it all fades away.  We actually spent 4 hours at Void Cafe today, here in Zhong Tian.  We sipped our coffees and I corrected my students tests.  It’s funny how such a seemingly boring day can be such an amazing one.  Plus…correcting tests is always more entertaining than I expect it to be…

It would appear than in order to empty the trash, a Cheshire Cat must first be found....(it was suppose to be 'trash can'
It would appear than in order to empty the trash, a Cheshire Cat must first be found….(it was suppose to be ‘trash can’

3. Online Shopping

I’m not sure how many people in Canada are aware of Alibaba, or it’s extremely popular shopping site, Tao Bao…but for us…it’s a life saver.  Last week was China’s ‘Single’s Day’.  Some students in Beijing decided to name November 11th (11.11) singles day, so that people who have no significant other can feel justified to buy something for themselves one day a year.  Of course, online shopping companies turned this holiday into a money making monster and this year’s Single’s Day broke records.  Over 80 billion RMB was made on Tao Bao and other Alibaba sites, and I have to admit, we took part in that great feat.

This was a postal sorting sight the day after 11.11 in 2012.  The real accomplishment here is that I've received any of the things I actually ordered!  Some items came in 2 days after they were ordered.  China's a neat place...
This was a postal sorting sight the day after 11.11 in 2012. The real accomplishment here is that I’ve received any of the things I actually ordered! Some items came in 2 days after they were ordered. China’s a neat place…

Online shopping is a huge industry worldwide, and it’s easy to see why.  You can shop from the comfort of your living room and you can find almost anything you could possibly need online.  And you don’t even need to lug all your items home…they come right to your doorstep!!  But online shopping is even more awesome for Lao Wei living in China.  Here’s a breakdown of why Tao Bao is a lifesaver for the expat:

One of the items we bought was a foot warmer for Dave.  There’s no indoor heating in Guiyang, so while he’s at home, working on the computer all day, his feet get very cold…even with slippers and an area rug to help.  But to find a foot warmer in China isn’t as easy as just going to the store and getting one!  First, you need to find a store that sells them.  This isn’t always easy, as was proven during the month it took us to find a spray bottle in Guiyang.  Then you need to find the right product IN the store.  Once more…it might seem simple from where you’re sitting, but in China, finding the right product is an ordeal.  The packaging on most items is in Chinese so you have to base everything off of the picture on the box .  When looking for something of good quality (that’s actually going to warm your feet without catching fire), you can’t even rely on brands here, because all of the brands in China are foreign to us.

This is almost the exact footwarmer we ended up buying.  And this is what kind of information you're given on the box....not overly helpful...
This is almost the exact footwarmer we ended up buying. And this is what kind of information you’re given on the box….not overly helpful..

Buying things online is just SO…MUCH…EASIER.  For starters, you can punch what you’re looking for into Google translate, and search websites in Chinese.  Then, Google Chrome translates the entire page for you so you can find out the wattage and other important stuff, and even check reviews online from other buyers.  Best of all though, is that you don’t have to deal with a Chinese sales person trying to help you.  They try so hard to be helpful, but they hardly ever speak any English (retail doesn’t pay well here either, so if you speak English, you’re most likely working somewhere that ISN’T a store…), so they talk to you in Mandarin…constantly…no matter how many times you tell them that you don’t understand.  It gets very frustrating, and I often end up walking out of stores as a result.  On Tao Bao…I don’t have to worry about that!

My absolute favorite thing ever, is when a sales rep or waitress is trying to tell us something in Mandarin and we tell them they don't understand.  Then they pull out a notepad and start writing it out in Chinese, thinking that maybe we'll understand THAT!  It happens all the time...I'm unclear on the logic...
My absolute favorite thing ever, is when a sales rep or waitress is trying to tell us something in Mandarin and we tell them they don’t understand. Then they pull out a notepad and start writing it out in Chinese, thinking that maybe we’ll understand THAT! It happens all the time…I’m unclear on the logic…

And when Google Translate or Chrome fail you, it’s easy to bring your laptop over to someone at the school and ask for help.  The Chinese staff at Interlingua are great, and they are always happy to help translate if we need.  One girl in particular, Lumi, has helped me on several occasions.  Just this morning she called a number that had been calling me all morning to find out what they needed (It was about a tao bao delivery haha!).  Today is her day off, but she was happy to help.  So I try very hard not to abuse that help and I can tell you this:  It is much nicer to bring your laptop over to Lumi while she is at work, than it is to have her play translator via cell phone on a Monday afternoon!!

She may seem sweet,  but Lumi is kinda terrifying when she gets angry!  So far I've been lucky and have never been on the receiving end of her rage.  I'd like to keep it that way, so I shall keep translation requests via telephone to a bare minimum!!
She may seem sweet, but Lumi is kinda terrifying when she gets angry! So far I’ve been lucky and have never been on the receiving end of her rage. I’d like to keep it that way, so I shall keep translation requests via telephone to a bare minimum!!

So there you have it folks; 3 of the things that make our lives in China easier.  Now I need to head to bed because I’ve gotta make some coffee money first thing tomorrow morning!!!  Goodnight, my lovely friends!!!