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!

 

 

 

Hitting the Ground Running: Part 1

At this point I should probably give up apologizing for the long gaps between my posts.  Though my intentions have been good, I’m finding it difficult to make time for the things that were my life-savers last year:  blogging, journaling and photography.  And, although these difficulties can be partially explained by this blog post, there is another element to our lives in Suzhou that has made it nearly impossible to keep the momentum I had last year.  I’m actually happy.

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See how happy we are!  It’s ridiculous! :p

Last year at this time I was merely trying to find ways to cope.  I was trying to make friends with people who didn’t necessarily want to be my friends.  I was trying to impress a school that didn’t care what I had to offer and I was trying to force myself to fit into a city that was just very much NOT me.   Blogging and journaling was a way for me to stay positive about the things I was going through.  This year, I don’t find myself needing the same things.

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In Guiyang I sort of felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole…

Because Suzhou has been so welcoming and such a good fit for Dave and I, we find ourselves making friends easily and doing things that involve growing a certain amount of roots in this city.  In Guiyang, the idea of getting a gym membership seemed too permanent to me.  I felt like we could be leaving at any moment (I was honestly afraid of being fired for a long time) so I didn’t think signing a yearlong contract at a gym would be wise.  Here, that isn’t an issue.

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After receiving countless flyers from several gyms in the area, we decided on the one that had English on the cover

The same thing goes with the newest editions to our home:  Hugo and Poe.  We ventured down to an animal shelter a few weeks back and found 2 cats that quickly became ours.  Now that they are healthy and well-fed, they are quickly becoming family.  I would never have dreamed of getting a pet in Guiyang.  Moving an animal across the country is stressful and Dave and I both knew that Guiyang was not going to be our last stop in China, so pets were off the table.

So I guess what I’m saying is that although blogging is still a project that is very important to me, I find myself being stretched in other ways as well.  Improving my health further is high on my ‘to-do’ list this year, so Power House Gym will be getting more of my time.  My cats are also high on my priority list.  Keeping my apartment clean is essential for my survival (have I mentioned I’m extremely allergic to my cats?).  If the fur or dander build up, I can’t breath, so I’m spending a lot more time vacuuming and sweeping than I was last year.   And lastly, it’s kind of nice having a social life again!   Now that I’m not a depressed, anxious mess anymore, its great going out with some of the teachers from my school.  As I’ve mentioned before…I work with some really great people!!

So that sums up the last month.  New family members, gym memberships and of course, I’m still keeping very busy at the school (which I still love!!).  September and October were their own brands of mayhem that need some explaining.  I’ve already written about Beijing, but that’s only 1/3 of our travel in those 2 months.  In total, we were on 6 airplanes, 5 high speed trains and slept in 4 different hotels within our first 60 days in China.  That may sound like fun, but we also security checks becomes a bore after that many trips…

Trip #1 – Shanghai

2 weeks after arriving in Suzhou, I had to travel to Shanghai for a week to complete a 60 hour TEFL training program for the Chinese government.  I had already completed 240 hours of this training over the past few years (through a Canadian company), but still, in an effort to weed out any undesirable teachers, the government requested that I complete their program before I would be granted a fully legal visa.  I obliged because the last thing I wanted was to be kicked out of the country after finally finding the right job!

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A fairly good depiction of how Chinese Visa requirements can feel.

The training itself was pretty useless.  Because I’d already taken several of these courses (3 of them being in-depth training for specific age levels: adults, adolescents and children), I already knew most of the material.  I can definitely see how this training would be valuable for anyone who has never taught before, but for me, it was a waste of time.  I showed up, did my best not to lose my temper on our teacher (who insisted with raise both hands in the air any time he wanted us to be quiet…) and made it through the week without losing too much of my sanity.

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Me doing my practicum class. We visited a local university which was sort of fun
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My graduating class.  I met some swell people here 🙂

The supposed bright side to all of this was that I got to see Shanghai.  The reason I say ‘supposed’ was because I didn’t actually like Shanghai all that much.  Most foreigners see Shanghai as a haven from ‘old’ China, and in a lot of ways, they are right.  There are countless western brands there where you can find everything from cosmetics, to western food to western clothing.  Still, this wasn’t all that impressive, given that I’d been in Canada 3 weeks earlier and I was all stocked up on my ‘western’ stuff.

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We didn’t actually eat here…but it just sounded SO American!
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We DID eat here! We were craving Guiyang food far more than we were craving western food!

But Shanghai is simply not my cup of tea.  The city is just too much ‘city’ for this small town girl!  With a population of 30,000,000 (yeah…that’s slightly less than all of Canada), the subways are always packed, the pollution is nasty and the noise is unbearable.  I hate the crowds and there was nothing worse than the metro station where people routinely push their way onto the trains.  Our only refuge from the crowds was our hotel room, which stunk of cigarettes and was nearly as noisy as the outdoors.

I’m grateful that Dave was able to join me on that trip (the beauty of being able to work anywhere where there is internet access).  We had an OK time in the shopping district, walking around and seeing the sights, and we found ourselves some good restaurants and had a nice time down at The Bund. Mostly, I met some really cool people while taking my class, so that was good.

When the course was over, I was thrilled to head back to Suzhou and get back in to the swing of things at the school.  I still hadn’t really had a chance to get my classes in full swing and I still had plenty of ‘beginning of semester’ projects on the go, so it was important for me to be present at the school as much as possible.  But of course, 10 days later, National Week arrived…

Trip #2 – Beijing

Beijing was somewhere I had never been but had always wanted to visit.  When the National Day came upon us, we had to make a decision:  Stay at home for a week with nothing to do…or head to Beijing for a mini holiday.  We chose the latter, mostly because I hate being bored…

Beijing was somewhere I had never been but had always wanted to visit.  When the National Day came upon us, we had to make a decision:  Stay at home for a week with nothing to do…or head to Beijing for a mini holiday.  We chose the latter, mostly because I hate being bored…

Now, I’ve already written about the Great Wall, so you might be wondering why I’d bring up Beijing at all. After all…how much could we have seen on a 4 day holiday? Well…the answer to that is that we saw enough to know that we are happy that we don’t live in Beijing!

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Though, we did meet several nice cats!

As some of you may have seen in the news, the pollution in Beijing is atrocious. You can actually taste the pollution in the air and there’s always a bit of a haze to see through…even when it’s sunny.   Out on The Wall, we had clean air, but the two days we spent IN the city made me very glad to live in Suzhou, where the pollution is bad at times (it comes down from nearby Shanghai), but where I don’t feel like I’m actually in danger by being there!

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As the weather gets colder, the pollution in northern China becomes so bad that school is actually cancelled. It wasn’t this bad when we were there, but at the moment, it’s worse than it’s ever been. And on an interesting note…filtration system advertisements keep showing up on my facebook feed…

You can read more about Northern China’s pollution woes here

But the pollution isn’t the only part of Beijing to leave a bad taste in my mouth (so to speak).   Dave and I felt like targets from the moment we left the airport. Everybody wanted our money. Everybody EXPECTED our money.  From the moment you step out of the airplane, you are a target…and I can’t think of a group worse than the taxi drivers of China…

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Although there are so many ways to be ripped off when you’re traveling, it’s difficult to choose just one…

In western countries, it is expected that the taxi driver use a meter when taking you anywhere.  Taxi drivers will still find other ways to rip you off (taking the long way around, for example), but they are still limited by their meter.  In many Chinese cities…that isn’t he case.

What’s worse is that people here are so accustomed to this sort of behavior from drivers, that they don’t even question it.  Drivers refuse to use their meters and they will not take you unless you agree with their price.  Worst of all, most cabbies work for a small number of companies, so they all agree on a minimum price, so no matter which taxi you go to, you are paying AT LEAST double what a metered ride would cost.  This is infuriating…especially when there are really no other options at 11pm when you have luggage and have just gotten off a flight.

'Nonsense dear, what do we want with a taxi? The walk will do us good.'
Dave trying to stay optimistic, while I get ready to slug a cabbie for being rude to me…

But taxi drivers are not the only once looking to make a buck off the tourists…

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This restaurant was so awful I actually ran back over here after I had time to calm down, so that I could take a picture to warn future tourists. Unfortunately, this is what nearly every restaurant in China looks like…

The restaurant business reportedly did well over the National Holiday, and nowhere was that truer than in Beijing. One restaurant was actually handing out 1500rmb bills ($300 Canadian) by charging people ‘per shrimp’ in their food orders. It’s sad that we live in a world where this is common place – tourists all over the world deal with this treatment. It doesn’t only happen in China.

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It’s even been known to happen in Antarctica!

Our personal experience was at a restaurant near the Forbidden Kingdom. We wanted to have Beijing Roast Duck while in the city (it’s hardly a treat for Dave and I…we have a fantastic ‘duck place’ in Winnipeg…) so we ventured out to find somewhere that wasn’t going to overcharge us.

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This is what Peking Duck is suppose to look like

We saw a sign advertising the dish, so we went into the restaurant. It was a bit of a hole in the wall, but we often seek out those restaurants, as they often have the best food in China. We ordered the duck along with a favorite bean dish of ours, and could hear the staff nervously laughing while watching the ‘crazy lao wai’ from their little desk at the other end of the restaurant.

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When they served us this canned, slimy, salty duck on a plate…I almost screamed. That’s when we realized that they weren’t laughing because they were nervous at our ‘whiteness’. They were laughing because we were being taken for a ride…

We ate the little bit we could tolerate before asking for the bill…in Chinese.  You see, at this point, we hadn’t been given much opportunity to demonstrate that we weren’t their average tourist.  We do, in fact, know the difference between real Beijing Roast Duck and the canned, slimy sludge they’d served us…

The staff actually huddled together to see what they could charge us for the meal.  I could HEAR them discussing how much to charge us for the meal (the restaurant DID have menus…and we DID check the prices…).  When the waiter came over, our conversation went something like this (done completely in Chinese.  I am VERY proud).

Marie:  Why is our bill so high?  Our duck never arrived.

Waiter:  Your duck is right here

Marie:  THIS is your duck?  This is NOT Beijing Roast Duck!  Beijing Roast Duck is delicious.  This tastes terrible!

Waiter:  Well, this is our Roast Duck.

***Moves uncomfortably, shifting his weight from foot to foot***

Marie:  Ok, well, even if this IS your duck, our bill should only be 140rmb…why are you asking for 190rmb?

Waiter:  Wait one moment please.

***He runs to the back…to speak to a manager, I imagine.

Waiter:  The additional charge is because you used our dishes.  There is a 50rmb fee for using our plates. 

Marie:  I’m sorry, but you are a racist. 

Waiter:  What!?  I am not!?

Marie:  So, you’re telling me that you would treat a Chinese person this way?

This is the point where Dave wisely gave the man 150rmb and we walked out of the restaurant.  We created quite a scene and several customers had quickly paid for their dishes and left.  We’d actually even scared some new customers away from eating at the restaurant.  I felt good about myself.  I also felt angry, so we walked around for a little while longer and then went back and got a picture of the place.  I half-hope they saw me take it.

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I should also add that this restaurant had a picture of legitimate Beijing Duck on their sign and that they shouted ‘we have Beijing Duck’ at us when we walked by. So I think it’s safe to say that this is an ongoing scam these people run…

The rest of our time in Beijing was less eventful (thank goodness!).  We saw some parks and some old buildings.  We really weren’t up for anything overly touristy so we never made it down to the Forbidden City or Summer Palace, but some day we’ll head back down there to see the rest that China’s capital has to offer.  Beijing is only 5 hours away by high speed train, so a visit would hardly be difficult to organize.

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BeiHai Park is definitely worth the visit if you are in Beijing. The willows and the old architecture make for a nice walk in a fairly quiet space. The park is also home to many ‘wild’ cats (probably to keep insect and rodent populations down). I say ‘wild’ because they are all super friendly and nearly all were happy to be pet.
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You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get this shot! It’s nearly impossible to take a picture without tourists in it!
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I love Chinese architecture
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Dave and I in front of a very impressive carved mural

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My love for Suzhou is showing through in other areas of my life. I am now obsessed with archways.

Our last grand adventure in Beijing was to do some Christmas shopping.  We braved this night market and found some goodies for our family and friends back home.  Now we are faced with the challenge of finding a post office so that we can ship these gifts!  The strangest things are struggles in China…

IMG_6911I’ll be back soon with Part 2 of this post.  I’ll be writing about our trip to Hong Kong!  (Spoiler:  It was fabulous!)

 

 

Xiamen: Gate of the Grand Mansion Part 3

I never had a chance to write this weekend, and I regret it but also know that it couldn’t be helped.  We had to pack up the rest of our Christmas presents and bring them down to the post office so that they make it to Canada in time for the Holidays.  This may seem simple: buy presents, pack them up, and ship!  But in China, nothing is simple.  It takes hours sometimes to find even the most basic things.  When everything is unfamiliar (from language to brand names), finding the ‘right stuff’ can be difficult.

There's no lack of selection in China, but when all the name brands are unfamiliar, and when there is little English on the packages, it can be a little overwhelming.  It's much better now than it was 2006, but still...to find drain cleaner, we had to look at each individual bottle until we found a label with a drain on it.  The most simple tasks in Canada can be a nightmare out East
There’s no lack of selection in China, but when all the name brands are unfamiliar, and when there is little English on the packages, it can be a little overwhelming. It’s much better now than it was 2006, but still…to find drain cleaner, we had to look at each individual bottle until we found a label with a drain on it. The most simple tasks in Canada can be a nightmare out East

We purchased a lot of our Christmas shopping in Guilin, while we were on holidays.  So it might seem like all we had to do was stick it all in boxes and ship it off to Canada.  But customs can be quite difficult…so if they decide to open our box up, everything might end up a mess when it arrives.  I experienced this in Xiamen, so this time I labeled everything as best as I could, so that our friends and family on the receiving end know whose gift is whose.  I also included a letter with each box detailing which item was for which person as a back up.

Oh...and when I say I made '46 labels'....this is what a 'Marie' label looks like.  I don't half-do anything lol!  I got paint...construction paper and glue (2/3 of those items too ages to find!)
Oh…and when I say I made ’46 labels’….this is what a ‘Marie’ label looks like. I don’t half-do anything lol! I got paint…construction paper and glue (2/3 of those items too ages to find!)

Then, we had to go to the post office and ask for boxes and wrapping materials (in Chinese).  Of course, this should have also been simple, but the women there sold us boxes that were too small for their labels, so in the end, we had to pack everything up twice (as well as buy a second round of boxes).  Oh China!

Just some of the boxes we have left to ship/have left over.  In total, I had 46 labels to make, including all of our nieces, nephews, siblings and our close friends.  Our living room looks like the cardboard monster threw up in there!!
Just some of the boxes we have left to ship/have left over. In total, I had 46 labels to make, including all of our nieces, nephews, siblings and our close friends. Our living room looks like the cardboard monster threw up in there!!

Then, of course, there’s the long list of items that cannot be shipped anymore.  Although we were careful with our purchases, knowing that they’d have to be sent via China Post, several items were removed from our boxes, leaving certain family members and friends with half-gifts.  Some things in particular were especially confusing.  Milk products aren’t allowed to be shipped.  We were told this rather abruptly today, however, we have no idea which of the gifts we were sending contained milk!  They didn’t take the item out.  They left it in and scolded us instead.  It is all terribly confusing.

This is a blank copy of the form we had to fill in before we could ship each box.  Behind it are 8 carbon copies.  When I finished writing it all up, (after we'd already been there for an hour), the guy told me to fill in the right side of the page in Chinese.  I looked at him, pointed to myself and snapped 'lao wei!!' He got the point that I wasn't happy and said 'Ingwen ye hao da' (English is okay too).
This is a blank copy of the form we had to fill in before we could ship each box. Behind it are 8 carbon copies. When I finished writing it all up, (after we’d already been there for an hour), the guy told me to fill in the right side of the page in Chinese. I looked at him, pointed to myself and snapped ‘lao wei!!’ He got the point that I wasn’t happy and said ‘Ingwen ye hao da’ (English is okay too).

But have no fear, we will manage to ship the rest of them before too long.  Tonight, I’m taking a break from that stress so that I can finish writing about our last 2 days in Xiamen!  I bet you thought I’d never get around to it, eh??

We only had 3 days to enjoy in Amoy city, so we had to spend them wisely.  We woke up early on Friday October 3rd and checked out at the hostel.  We weren’t too terribly sad to go, as the hostel wasn’t the greatest we’d stayed in.  It’s only redeeming quality was the excellent bartender who was both friendly and nearly fluent in English.

Unlike the sheets in our room...
Unlike the sheets in our room…

Our first stop was Nanpu Tuo or “The South Temple”.  The location of this temple goes back 2000 years, and it has been called Nanputuo since the 1600s, when it was rebuilt.  It received another facelift since I’d seen it last, and it now has even more elaborate wood structures and its old stone statues have been replaced by newer ones.

Nanputuo Temple from afar.  Years ago, I climbed the mountain behind it.  This year, it was too busy and crowded so we decided to skip the trek up.
Nanputuo Temple from afar. Years ago, I climbed the mountain behind it. This year, it was too busy and crowded so we decided to skip the trek up.
One of the new structures.  It is very well painted and the woodwork is beautiful.
One of the new structures. It is very well painted and the woodwork is beautiful.
Me at Nanputuo in 2006.  The entrance and the elephants were both a lot more plain then.
Me at Nanputuo in 2006. The entrance and the elephants were both a lot more plain then.
I'm not the only one who got an upgrade!
I’m not the only one who got an upgrade!

After escaping the crowds, we head back to the hostel to pick up our luggage.  Along the way, we ran into some fellow Lao Wei on the street. The following story is one I shall name:

“OMG…as…freaken….if” (Said in the tone of the ValleyGirl)

They were dressed up, done up and wearing excessive make up (not really a culturally appropriate thing in China, aside from at clubs…).  They were lost and asked us if we live in Xiamen.  I told them that I used to, and gave them some directions to where they were headed (the shopping street I mentioned in my previous post).  We chatted there a little while and I asked them if they were also staying at the hostel (we were right outside it when we ran into them).  One of the girls laughed and said ‘oh wow no.  We’re staying at so and so hotel’.  We uncomfortably laughed with them and congratulated them for having the money to stay in a hotel (the cost of accommodations triples during National Week).  They then asked us where they could eat on Zhong Shan Lu.  I piped up (because food is my favorite thing ever) and recommended trying some of the fantastic street food found on the strip.  The same girl laughed again and replied “yeah…we don’t do street food”.  At that point we moved on and left them to find their way.

These three honestly came to mind during this conversation...
These three honestly came to mind during this conversation…

A word of advice to any fellow travelers reading this blog: Don’t be THAT Lao Wei!!!  It’s fine if you’d rather stay in a swank hotel and it’s fine if you don’t want to risk street food, but don’t be the type of traveler that looks down on those of us who stay in China, wanting to STAY IN CHINA!!  That’s one of the big draws this part of the world still has after all:  it hasn’t been sanitized, westernized and robbed of it’s culture yet (well…not completely!).  And THAT’S why I love it.  It hasn’t turned into North America and that’s awesome.  So don’t be the type of Lao Wei here that only eat western food, do western things and act western.  It’s not cool….

Back to the rest of our trip…

I’ve already written about the insane trip over to Gulang Island, so I’ll keep this post short (er) by leaving that info out.  (You can read about it in my post: Chinese National Day).  Once we arrived at our hostel, and checked into our room, we set off to wander the island.  What I was most looking forward to showing Dave, was the view of Xiamen Island from Gulang.  At night, the buildings are all lit up and it’s absolutely beautiful.

From here you can hear the crowds and the music on ZhongShan Lu.
From here you can hear the crowds and the music on ZhongShan Lu.

As I've mentioned before...Xiamen is a TALL city.  4 million people are crammed onto an island 1/4 the size of Winnipeg.  The buildings here are high!

This is my favorite of the night shots I took (our camera didn't do the view justice, which is why I included a professional pic as the feature image for this post).  In the foreground, you can see a small boat.  It is carrying supplies either to or from Gulang Island, most likely for one of the many restaurants there
This is my favorite of the night shots I took (our camera didn’t do the view justice, which is why I included a professional pic as the feature image for this post). In the foreground, you can see a small boat. It is carrying supplies either to or from Gulang Island, most likely for one of the many restaurants there

As our stomach’s began to grumble, we made our way into the island’s center, where there are shops and food vendors waiting to be explored.  I had my heart set on some fresh Xiamen Seafood, so we spent some time looking for just the right place.

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The live seafood is kept outside restaurants on GulangYu. You can choose your fish, eel, clam, oyster etc…
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The fish we chose. It may not look like much, but it was very tasty 🙂

We spent the rest of the evening drinking beer, journaling and relaxing after a hot day in the sun.  We did get adventurous at one point and tried to find some wine to enjoy out on the terrace.  We did find some wine, but it was a tad difficult to enjoy.  I love many things about China: the food, the beer, the people….But I do not enjoy Chinese wine!!  We called it quits at around 1am and jumped in the most comfortable bed we’d slept in since we arrived here in Mid August (a western style bed is a HUGE selling point for any hotel in the Orient!!)

The terrace where we sat writing and enjoying some Chinese beer :)
The terrace where we sat writing and enjoying some Chinese beer 🙂
A view of the hotel from where we were sitting
A view of the hotel from where we were sitting
Gulang Island is beautiful any time of day
Gulang Island is beautiful any time of day

The following morning, we set out to explore the island some more, but with 80,000 people in such a small space, it was a bit rough to get anywhere.  We did manage to enjoy some very good skewered potato as well as some steam dumplings and other treats as we walked the paths and squeezed through the crowds

I pity all those who do not 'do street food'
I pity all those who do not ‘do street food’

Eventually, we began to feel the effects of the sun, so we set off down a shaded path that was mostly empty.  The lack of tourists lead us to believe that there wouldn’t be much to see, but I can say that the time we spent in that shade was the best I had on our last day in Xiamen.  There is so much interesting architecture on Gulang Island, and it’s all so well kept!  We took our time, taking photos of the beautiful walls and the winding path.  Eventually we found our way into a mini-shopping area, where we discovered a bar with free Wifi.  We spent about an hour in there, trying a Chinese iced cream dessert and chatting with Dave’s brother William on Skype.  This was definitely another highlight of our day!

Part of this wonderfully quiet path
Part of this wonderfully quiet path

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Nice place to stop for a photo :)  This tree was growing up against a wall
Nice place to stop for a photo 🙂 The tree behind us was growing up against a wall

This quiet path eventually lead us back to our hotel, where our bags were waiting to be taken with us to the airport.  It was time to leave.  But this time, at least I left Xiamen on my own terms.

I can’t say enough times how lucky I felt to visit this hometown of mine.  Part of me has always stayed in Xiamen, and it’s hard to put into words how much this trip meant to me.

Stay tuned!  I’ve got many more stories and pictures to come!!