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!

Catching up… August

It has been far too long since my last post, and I apologize to all my readers!  But, if it’s any consolation…the reason I haven’t been writing is a happy one!  I have been far too busy enjoying life to have the time to sit down and write about it!  But I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, so I better get to it!!

Saying Goodbye

We left Guiyang on August 3rd and I finished my class at 8pm on August 2nd.  I knew it was going to be hard; I’d grown quite attached to my monkeys…but I didn’t realize just HOW hard.  It took everything for me not to cry and in the end, it was the apology and the hug from my boss, Huang, that did me in.  She thanked me for all my hard work and told me that she had been very wrong about me when she thought I was a bad teacher.  That meant more than I can really explain.

Huang and I at the goodbye dinner the school held for us
Huang and I at the goodbye dinner the school held for us. She and I came a long way…
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Second last day with my babies. I miss this guys so much! I still get voice notes from many of them on WeChat…China’s bbm. It makes me smile every time I hear their little voices telling me how much they love me and miss me.

My final day at Interlingua was the hardest, because I taught most of my favorite classes on Sundays.  My Reading and Writing class was particularly difficult because I loved teaching them so much.  The mood in the class was blue, and I ended up bringing in Sylvester…the school’s kitten…to cheer them up.  It worked for a little bit, but eventually the bell rang and we had to say goodbye.

The most surprising thing for me was the parents…I expected to feel sad about saying goodbye to my students.  They are who I was closest to.  But Some of the parents are the ones that made me truly well up.

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This is Jason. He started off in my kindergarten class and eventually graduated into the level 1 primary school level. His dad had tried to get him to switch teachers at the beginning of last term, because the other teacher’s time table suited him better. Jason tried it out and then begged his dad to come back to me. This little boy…for whatever reason…thought I was the cat’s meow. I guess his dad started paying attention more after that, because on my last day, Jason’s parents came in, with a speech they’d written me (in English!) to thank me for all the hard work I’d done and how I’d helped Jason so much with his confidence. They said that I was a big part of why he’d won a speaking contest at his school recently and they showed me his performance. Talk about a rewarding job!!! I miss Jason a lot.
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This is me with Martha’s grandmother. Martha has always been special to me…she started off so sweet and shy…afraid to say a word in English class. But after some time, she blossomed into this funny, quirky, confident kid. Her grandmother feels like it was me who brought her out of her shell, and she broke down and cried a few minutes after this picture was taken. She was more upset that I was leaving that even Martha was….and Martha didn’t take it all that well either…
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She didn’t cry. She just wrapped her little arms around me and wouldn’t let go until she had to. She sends me messages through her grandmother’s WeChat account every week and I love getting them and responding. She’s such a great kid. I’m so happy she’s in my friend Chris’ class now… Chris is an awesome teacher and I know he’ll keep her out of her shell and keep her confidence up.

After saying goodbye to my wonderful K2 class, Dave and I head down to Trip Smith’s for a few final beers with the staff from the school.  Before we knew it, it was 2pm the next day and we were boarding our plane to Hong Kong.  From there….we were on our way home…

Our Trip Home to Canada

Goodness it was good to be home!  We only had 3 weeks, but WOW did we make the most of it!!  We were able to meet up with everyone who put in an effort to meet up with us and got to spend lots of great time with our wonderful families and friends.  The only downside to our trip home was the food poisoning I had for the last 5 days of our trip.  Other than that, we had a magnificent time and can’t wait to return again next year!!! (For a longer stay!!)

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I was so happy to see my grandparents, who drove out from Quebec to visit with the family while we were home! I love those two so much and it was so great to spend that time with them!..
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Our fantastically wonderful friends Nathan and Dianne. We had such great Friday nights with these two…cooking and playing Charades. I miss them both so much already!
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The only picture I got of Kathleen, and it doesn’t even have her fabulous hubby, Cory in it! They put in such a huge effort to spend time with us while we were home and it was so great going for Dim Sum with them and seeing them at our bbq
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My beautiful siblings and I. Ellie decided to photobomb us!  It was my sisters and my brother Josh planned our whole BBQ along with my BFF, Jamie. Although Dave and I showed up 2 hours late (the cost of keeping it a surprise!!! haha!!), we had a wonderful time that afternoon!!!
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I honestly don’t know if I could have gotten through last year without this girl in my life. My best friend in the world, Jamie, and our boys. Life is good when you have a friend who is always able to help you see the positives…but who knows when to let you rant!! LOVE YOU TO BITS!!!
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Another dear friend, Veronique. I don’t see her nearly often enough, but when I do, it’s as though we were never apart.
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Jamie and I with our friend Tiffany, who is about as good of people as you can find! These gals are too fabulous for words!
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A beautiful shot of my beautiful girls, Ellie and Addyson 🙂
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I missed this kid more than anyone else over the last year. My gorgeous niece, Ellie
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Being an Auntie is one of the best parts of my life. I love these kids to bits and I can’t wait to see them all again next year!!!
My mum and I at Pepere's birthday party. I'd love to have a picture of my dad too, but he's so 'anti-camera' that I learned years ago that it's best not to try...unless he's not looking. Then all bets are off!!
My mum and I at Pepere’s birthday party. I’d love to have a picture of my dad too, but he’s so ‘anti-camera’ that I learned years ago that it’s best not to try…unless he’s not looking. Then all bets are off!!

It would be impossible to choose just 1 highlight from our trip back home, but if I absolutely had to choose, it might be the day we spent in St. Malo park with our families and a few friends.  Even though we were late for our surprise party, it was such a blast and when I think back to our time in Canada, that’s always the memory that sticks out.  I grew up in St. Malo and it was so wonderful being back there, at the provincial park, walking the same stone paths that I walked with my dog, Trace, as a teenager.  I love my country and when I think of Canada, this is what I think of.  This is home to me.

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Nothing quite like a sunset over St. Malo lake. Better yet…there was a family of geese hanging out in the water. I walked along the shore with them for a while. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so calm and relaxed.
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When you grow up with this as your surroundings…it’s hard to get used to life in a city as loud and dirty as Guiyang. The fresh air here did me so much good.

The rest of the scenery we saw in Canada was fantastic as well.  I missed the big skies and the open fields that make Manitoba the beautiful province that it is.

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There’s nothing quite like a Manitoba sunset!
Loved seeing so many sunflowers and adored seeing the fields back home!
Loved seeing so many sunflowers and adored seeing the fields back home!

Our trip home was finished far too soon and before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye again.  Next year we plan to be home for closer to 6 weeks (twice as long) so perhaps we’ll be able to find time for a camping trip at Rushing River.  I’m so grateful that so many people took the time to spend their time with us while we were home and I really can’t wait to for July of next year when we can do it all again 🙂

The Trip to our New Home

We arrived in Suzhou on August 27th after a long trip back to China.  We got to know the LeQiao area of Suzhou, which is actually a lot like the nicer parts of Guiyang.  We quickly found the essentials…a BBQ place, a noodle place and a milk tea place.

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Our favorite “Nai Cha” joint from Guiyang is everywhere in Suzhou!
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We craved these the entire time we were in Canada
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I forgot to take a picture of the BBQ place but I did get one of the walk there.

We spent our first day in Suzhou apartment hunting.  Eight apartments and three real estate agents later, we found our new home.  We are SO thrilled with it!!!  The building is gorgeous and secure and the area is quiet and very modern.  Just outside our apartment building is a EuroMart, which sells everything from blue cheese to port wine to taco seasoning (all things we’d never seen in China before!).

The first thing you see when you walk into our apartment. Yes...we have 2 floors :)
The first thing you see when you walk into our apartment. Yes…we have 2 floors 🙂
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This is the upstairs bathroom. Do you notice that there’s no telephone line running through it???
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We have two bathrooms. The downstairs one has a western style washing machine. Quite the upgrade from our laundry facilities in Guiyang, which basically required us to hand wash all our clothes!!!
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Our gorgeous, clean and USABLE kitchen!!!  We even have hot water in the sink!!
Our bedroom. The bed is super comfortable and King Sized :)
Our bedroom. The bed is super comfortable and King Sized 🙂
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One of my favorite features of the apartment. This is the desk in our bedroom…
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It opens up!!!
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Our dining room tables folds out into double this size. And that big thing beside it is a heater/AC. We have 4 of them in our apartment….fantastic! Also…I love the bay windows we have!!!
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My office/ Yoga Room. It leads out to the balcony, which is nice 🙂
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My office is also the extra bedroom, so if anyone’s planning on visiting us…………..this whole space can be yours!!!!
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The daytime view from our balcony. You can see the lake and even one of Suzhou’s many canals from there 🙂
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Dave discussing the details of our apartment with Jean. Notice the couch? IT’S NOT A WOODEN BENCH!!!!!!!
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Our gigantic TV 🙂 It’s actually a flat screen! First time in my life I’ve had one!! We have used it a whopping 1 time in the last month lol!!
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Our upstairs ‘den’ that we turned into an office for Dave. The landlord bought us this desk when Dave wasn’t happy with the size of the one that was originally up there. He also bought a brand new Air conditioner/heater for the room so that Dave would be comfortable working there.

I should also note that both our landlords and our real estate agent are amazing.  It was Jean (the agent) that suggested the air conditioner in the upstairs den and the landlady had 2 women come in and clean the place til it was spotless before we moved in.  And we moved in the day after we saw the place, so she did that with very little notice.

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The view from our balcony at night

The whole process of moving out here has been so easy.  Last year, we arrived to find a run down apartment with mold and bug issues and when I asked for some help getting it set up I was called negative and told that I shouldn’t complain so much.  This year, I’ve been welcomed to Suzhou with a clean apartment, kind coworkers and wonderful students.

But I’ll have more on that in my next post!  And I promise it won’t take me 2 months to write it next time!!!

An Update on Life in Guiyang

It’s beautiful and sunny  here in Guiyang, and it’s one of the hottest days we’ve had this year.  We chose to spend our day off scooting around the city and enjoying the beautiful scenery that Guiyang has to offer.  Guizhou’s rugged beauty is something that I know I’ll miss as we move on to the next phase of our travels.

Life here has definitely improved.  Part of that is because the worst of culture shock has passed…we’ve become accustomed to some of the things we find difficult in China (the last minuteness of everything…the terrible driving…the lack of customer service) and as a result we are both feeling a little more relaxed than we were back in October and November.

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See my post about culture shock here

So I suppose it’s true…time heals everything.  But I wouldn’t be giving myself due credit if I said that time alone helped my circumstances.  After all, with all the problems I was having at the beginning of my contract, there were several routes I could have taken.   The way I see it, I had 3 options at the time:

  1. I could have given up and quit/gone home.
  2. I could have given up trying…after all, I didn’t feel that my efforts were appreciated or noticed.
  3. I could power through and continue being the best I could be, in the hope that that would eventually be recognized.

Of course, given my tenacity, I chose the 3rd option.  Instead of sulking or giving up, I turned my focus to the classroom.    I transformed that bland room into an engaging environment where my students can learn.  I also started spending more time on my students themselves…creating customized worksheets to help the ones that were struggling with spelling…learning new songs for the students who love music…looking for new activities and games to ensure everyone is getting the most out of their classes.  And it paid off.  I’m now considered one of the top teachers at the school, and that means a great deal to me.

So I suppose I’ve been keeping busy.  I’ve spent hours on these displays and sometimes I don’t even bother going back to the staff room for breaks, I just tidy up the classroom and add posters to the walls.  And while I’ve been been so busy powering through the last six months, life outside the school continued…

We’ve celebrated milestones:

Undergone transformations:

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Anyone who thinks marriage is lame, by the way, is not married to the right person.

Received countless care packages from home, which always brighten our day (and restock our goodie bin!!

We’ve made friends…both of the human and furry variety:

And, of course, we have tried many new foods 🙂

One of our favorite new restaurants is in the Future Ark area of Guiyang.  Dave made a video to show you all what street food in Guiyang is like:

I have experienced so much in the last 6 months.  There have been highs and lows, but no matter what has happened, I’ve had a constant positive in my life:  my students.  They are really the best part of being here.  I know I should be exhausted every Sunday night, after back to back 10 hour days…but I always find myself energized at the end of it all.  I have no doubt that teaching is my true calling…I have never loved a job as much as I love this one.

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How could I ever complain when I’ve got kids as cute as Poppy, who brought me a rose on Saturday…just because 🙂

Sadly, it really hit me this week that I’m going to be leaving soon and that although I’m excited to move on, I don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to some of these kids…

But I suppose, once more I need to remind myself not to complain.  I’d rather have met these kids and have to say goodbye, than have never met them at all.  They’ve all taught me so much.  Smile (a little boy in one of my kindergarten classes) has shown me how he can be brave, no matter how scary it was for him to be away from his parents when he first began coming to class.  Lee taught me that no matter how bratty a child may be, they can ALWAYS turn it around.  And Chuck…Chuck taught me that 6 year olds can get brain cancer, and that I should cherish every moment I have with all of my beautiful students.

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He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer 3 months ago. His classmates still ask where he went. I have no idea how to answer…

Bangkok’s Grand Palace

Guiyang is truly a city of extremes.  Just yesterday, the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius, and I had the windows in my classroom open so I could enjoy the cool breeze and the sun’s rays.   Today, the view that lies before me as I blog at our favorite hang out (I’ll give you 3 guesses…) couldn’t be more different.   People are bundled up, with the arms around themselves trying to stay warm.  There was a 20 degree drop over night and Guiyang is once more overcast and dreary.  I’m grateful for the little bit of sun we did get, but I am a tad mournful that our two nicest days were the days that I spend inside, teaching back to back classes.

Here are some pictures from our lovely weekend:

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People are planing vegetables
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Our garden in Zhong Tian is green and beautiful once more
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Even the buildings weren’t as drab this weekend. Everything was brighter when the sun was out.

And Guiyang now…

But whether isn’t the only way Guiyang likes to shock us with its extremes.  For example:

"Is this a dump", you might ask yourself.
“Is this a dump”, you might ask yourself.

Nope…not even close…

It's the entrance to the school where I work
It’s the entrance to the school where I work

To be fair, the area isn’t usually THIS bad, but one of the businesses in the building is renovating and decided to dump all their garbage outside the back doors.  I’m terrified a rat is going to jump out the garbage heap and attack me.

IMAG1651And if garbage heaps aren’t enough for you, there are also these open gutters to scare the bajeepers out of you.   The local noodle place and many other little businesses (as well as pedestrians) throw their garbage in here and it’s developing quite the collection.  This could be solved by putting a metal grate over the gutter, but that would probably be too much work, so instead I have to hop over this to get to the school daily.  I’m not going to lie…the first time I saw it I gagged a little lol.  Scooters sometimes drive over it and splash people as they walk by….when that happens, you have to walk around smelling like garbage water all day.  Not fun…

But not all of Guiyang is open sewers and garbage piles…if you drive for 10 minutes to HuaGuoYuan, then you get this view:

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Fountains and lit up buildings

Or 5 minutes away from the school, this area is also quite new and shiny:

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And then of course, there’s the nicest building in Guiyang…
Whiiiccchhhh caught fire the other night...
Whiiiccchhhh caught fire the other night…

So yes, Guiyang is the city of contrast.  But I suppose I should get on to writing about a place that has no contrast at all.  The Grand Palace in Bangkok Thailand has one mode:  Go Grand, or Go Home!!!

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In addition to gorgeous architecture, the Palace is home to many gardens and carefully trimmed trees.

The Grand Palace has been home to Thailand’s Royalty since 1782.  Today, the grounds are more of a tourist attraction than anything, but Royal ceremonies and State functions are still held there several times a year.

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Despite the high fees to get into the palace, tourists flock here. Trip adviser probably has something to do with it, as the palace is considered Bangkok’s #1 attraction.

I was surprised to learn that The Grand Palace is not a singular giant structure, but really a large number of small buildings that vary in a great deal of ways.  In the 200 years that the Palace has sat in Bangkok, pavilions, chapels and halls were erected, all reflecting the time period in which they were built.  The resulting diversity within the grounds is fascinating.

For example...
For example…

Also worth noting is the sheer size of the Grand Palace.  At 2,351,000 sq feet, it would take several hours to view the whole Palace, a feat neither Dave or myself were ready to take on.  We arrived on February 19th, under a scorching Bangkok sun.  Between the heat, the tourists and our long pants and shirts (there is a strict dress code at The Grand Palace), we weren’t up for seeing the grounds in their entirety.  So we hit up the major attractions and took lots of breaks in any shaded areas we could find.

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The perimeter walls were covered in elaborate murals. Seeing as how this was one of the few places where we could find shade, I spent a great deal of time admiring them.
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Most of the murals showed Buddhist mythology and war stories during different king’s reigns.

But if I were to tell you that the diversity of the buildings or the size of the place were the most remarkable things about The Grand Palace, I would be doing it a great disservice.  No amount of photography could possible capture the elaborate detail here.  Every inch of every building was designed to be beautiful and ornate.  It was so Grand that if you didn’t stop and actually look at it, you might not even notice the level of detail at all.  It is all THAT detailed!!!

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You can easily see that this building is gorgeous without even having to look at it closely.
But up close, you can see that all the colour on the columns going up the building are actually designs made one small piece of stone at a time.
But if you move closer, you can see that the colorful parts going up the building are actually elaborately designed flowers…

 

Similarly, this building is covered in small stones..it isn't just paint that makes it look so ornate...
Similarly, this building is covered in small stones..it isn’t just paint that makes it look so ornate…
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This steeple is beautiful in of itself.
But if you zoom in closer you see an insane level of detail on each of the mythological creatures
But if you zoom in closer you see an insane level of detail on each of the mythological creatures
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Here is a close up on one of the tours of one of the smaller buildings on the grounds

We walked around for about an hour, taking pictures of different halls and structures.  We went into a few buildings as well, although we weren’t allowed having our cameras out in them.  I understand the reasoning, to an extent.  Having cameras flashing while Buddhists try and pray in front of the sacred Emerald Buddha would be incredibly disrespectful.  Still, as a non-Buddhist I was a little sad I couldn’t get a shot or two in while in Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha).  I did manage to get one decent shot from outside the building though, and I found a picture online of the different robes he wears, depending on the season.

He isn't very big, but he is very beautiful.
He isn’t very big, but he is very beautiful.
Emerald Buddha
There are 3 distinct seasons in Thailand, so there are 3 robes for the Buddha to wear

We also saw some of the Throwns that former Kings used while living in the Grand Palace, which was sort of neat.  We also weren’t able to take pictures in those buildings, but one of them had a massive fan where I was able to cool down!  It was a highlight of the day for me!! haha!!

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More of the beautiful buildings we saw
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The cloud cover didn’t help very much with cooling us down.
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To understand the size of these buildings, look at the people in the front of the building for reference.
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A photographer’s heaven 🙂
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I love the style of this building

 

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The guards at the front gate
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A close up of one of the guards

There are actual guards at the Palace too.  Just like you’d see at Buckingham Palace, tourists were making faces and taking pictures with the guards, as they solemnly stood guard to some of the more important buildings on the grounds.

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We couldn’t go into this building. I think this is one of the places where Government meetings are still held now.

So that is The Grand Palace.  I’m not disappointed that we went, but I can hardly say that it was the highlight of our Bangkok experience.  I suppose Dave and I tend to not like the really ‘touristy’ stuff, so that could be why I didn’t enjoy it more.  But on the other hand, the history lover in me LOVED seeing the different buildings.  It’s definitely worth a stop while you’re in Bangkok!!

My next post is going to be about night life in Thailand!  I’ll be writing about the famous Bangla Road in Phuket, Kao San Road in Bangkok and of course, the famed Thai Lady-Boys!!

Thanks for stopping by!!

 

Home Sweet Home Away From Home – Part 2

I’ve just returned from a gorgeous stroll around Zhong Tian Hua Yuan.  My heart rate is still elevated, and my cheeks are still a little flush, and I feel like a million bucks!  Over the past month, Dave and I have been upping the ante in maintaining a healthier lifestyle.  This has, of course, been partially in anticipation for the inevitable bathing suits that we will wear in Thailand, but it’s also more than that.  For the past 3 years of my life, I’ve been terribly unhealthy.  I’ve picked up some nasty habits (both nutritionally and physically) that have resulted in gained weight, a weakened immune system and overall sentiments of discontent.   My health fell low in my list of priorities while I juggled my university degree, a demanding job, home renovations and a variety of other factors.  It was unfortunate, certainly, but as any university student can tell you…some times all you have time to eat (or can afford to eat!) is a burger!

I fell victim to McDonald's Dollar menu more times than I'd like to admit. Seeing as how I was relying on their coffee a great deal to get through the long days at school, it was just so easy to pick up a burger with my Lg double double.
I fell victim to McDonald’s Dollar menu more times than I’d like to admit. Seeing as how I was relying on their coffee a great deal to get through the long days at school, it was just so easy to pick up a burger with my Lg double double.

But since I finished my exams in April, I’ve bumped health back up to the top of my priority list, and I couldn’t be happier about that decision.  In the last 8 months, I’ve lost 30 pounds and I’ve lost 4 inches around both my chest and my hips.  But more than that, I have more confidence than I’ve had in ages.  Not only because I’m looking better, but also because 30 pounds is a HUGE accomplishment.  I feel like I can do anything!!  It’s such a great feeling!

So far, I've lost as much weight as this cat weighs!!
So far, I’ve lost as much weight as this cat weighs!!  30 pounds is also the weight of 240 eggs, a human head, or a flat tire!!

And in addition to all the fantastic endorphins my body releases while I take these long walks, I’m seeing more of Zhong Tian, and Guiyang is feeling more like home, as I explore the gardens here and begin recognizing the owners of the shops I pass by each night.

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The view from our bedroom window. I’m looking forward to springtime when I can journal from inside that pagoda 🙂
The night market where we go for bbq. I often go by this alley when I go for walks at night
The night market where we go for bbq. I often go by this alley when I go for walks at night
This was the view from the bedroom of our old apartment. The dome is Zhong Tian's pool and the courtyard in front of the dome is where the neighbors excercise in the morning, dance at night and practice gong fu daily
This was the view from the bedroom of our old apartment. The dome is Zhong Tian’s pool and the courtyard in front of the dome is where the neighbors excercise in the morning, dance at night and practice gong fu daily

If you’d like to see more of Zhong Tian Hua Yuan, please check out the video we made this week!  We gave a mini tour of our garden and a bit of the community park.  We’ll be posting many more like it and I’ll be sure to update you as I blog!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19M6S577mMA

But living in Zhong Tian isn’t always a walk in the park.  As I mentioned in my last post, our apartment does leave some things to be desired.  The cockroaches and grease drenched walls definitely made me want to cry, but still…there are more things that have made me laugh (and shake my head) in Zhong Tian than have reduced me to tears.

See previous post for more information on how we broke these pipes by cleaning them!
See previous post for more information on how we broke these pipes by cleaning them!

Take, for example, our walls when we first move in.  For us, it was a no-brainer to paint them, but clearly the apartment’s previous tenants hadn’t thought that way.  Instead of patching holes in the walls, they stuffed Kleenex into the holes and then covered them in tape (that they covered with white out so that the colour sort of matched the rest of the wall).  Another popular technique to hide stains and holes in the walls at our apartment was to cover them up with posters and calendars.  We had several big bulky calendars in our living room (some of them for the wrong year) and many old, faded posters.  When we took them down, it was easy to see why they’d been placed there, but we still didn’t want to put the smelly paper back onto the walls (the previous owners smoked so everything smelled).  The worst thing about this form of ‘covering up’ issues though, wasn’t the posters themselves.  It’s that all of these ‘quick fixes’ had been stuck onto the walls with scotch tape, which couldn’t actually be removed from the walls.

Our bedroom door. We took the red poster off, but the tape remains...
Our bedroom door. We took the red poster off, but the tape remains… Our whole living room and dining room looked like this prior to our painting…

We discovered soon that a wide variety of things here are remedied with tape (and I’m not talking about duct tape…it’s usually packing tape, scotch tape or two sided tape…).  For example…we had water coming into our kitchen from an upstairs neighbor. The repair guy showed up to fix it, and decided that cutting a hole in our ceiling was the best way to figure out what was going on.

For example...we had water coming into our kitchen from an upstairs neighbor. The repair guy showed up to fix it, and decided that cutting a hole in our ceiling was the best way to figure out what was going on. He did replace the missing chunk of ceiling though! Any guesses how??
He did replace the missing chunk of ceiling though! Any guesses how??
Yup...he taped it right back up there...
Yup…he taped it right back up there…

Unfortunately, not everything in our apartment is so easily fixed….before we moved in, the school had our fridge and our toilet replaced because they were in such bad shape.  Those were two major things for Huang to replace for us, so we’ve let other things go unrepaired because there’s no point in trying to fix everything when we’re only living here for a year.  Some examples…

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The light above our dining room table is frustratingly non-functional. At first, we thought that it just needed a new light bulb, which was the case in nearly every other light socket in the apartment, but a new bulb didn’t do anything. Luckily, as we replaced the bulbs in the adjacent living room, the dining room also got brighter.
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The A/C is still a bit of a sore spot for us. Most apartments in Guiyang don’t have them, so when we found out this one did, we were thrilled and willing to overlook the cleaning we’d have to do as a trade off. We confirmed with the land lord that it worked (he said it did) but we never thought to check it ourselves.  We did ask the landlord to fix it, but property owners in Zhong Tian don’t seem to like to invest money into fixing anything in their buildings…

My favorite ‘unfixable’ problem in our apartment though, is in the kitchen.  We only discovered this particular issue after living in the apartment for 2 months.  It took us so long to discover the problem because that particular light socket is an odd shape and it took ages to find a light bulb that would fit it.  Even when we did find this odd light bulb (Naveed informed us that they are actually quite popular in England…), we could only find one that was far too long for the light fixture, so we had to leave it off.

The lightbulb only comes in size 'ridiculous'
The light bulb only comes in size ‘ridiculous’

The easiest way for me to explain what’s wrong with the lights in our kitchen is to show you, so we’ve made another video 🙂  I’m going to learn how to embed videos right into my blog soon, but as some of you know from my FB page, this week has been a little frustrating for me as I learn how to set up my blog in a more visually appealing way.  So for now, just follow this link to see the silly way our lights act in the kitchen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-8MEMvYcpM

But it the entertainment (and headaches) our apartment provides for us doesn’t end with quick fixes and the unfixable.  China hasn’t yet implemented much in the way of ‘safety standards’, and as a result, we have a phone line that runs through our shower, electrical sockets hanging out of the walls and flooring that has absolutely no texture, so if you are wearing socks, or are coming out of the shower, the likelihood of slipping is astronomical.  Slippers or shoes are nearly always worn indoors.

I'm pretty clumsy as it is, so the fact that Dave hasn't put these up around the apartment everywhere to remind me to be careful is a little surprising!
I’m pretty clumsy as it is, so the fact that Dave hasn’t put these up around the apartment everywhere to remind me to be careful is a little surprising!

We have definitely refrained from complaining about all these small things to the school, because we know that this is just what life is like in China.  Landlords don’t HAVE to fix things…your lights don’t ALL have to work…leaky ceilings are only a big deal if they’re causing damage in your apartment…things are just a little different here.  But in spite of our attempts to complain as little as possible, the school’s accountant grew very tired of us in the weeks after we moved into the new place (she is in charge of fixing problems in the teachers’ apartments).  The final straw was when I told her the washing machine didn’t work.  Now, in all fairness, that’s sort of a big one…..without a washing machine, I can’t come to work in clean clothes.  I’ve yet to see a laundrymat in Guiyang so it wasn’t something we could just live without.  But, as it turns out, our washing machine wasn’t actually broken; we simply had no idea how it worked.

In our defense, everything is in Chinese, so we didn't know that the middle dial needed to be turned all the way to the left for the machine to work...
In our defense, everything is in Chinese, so we didn’t know that the middle dial needed to be turned all the way to the left for the machine to work…

We soon discovered that it would have been better if our washing machine actually WAS broken, because now that it works, we have to take the following 14 steps to doing our laundry every week.  For your enjoyment, we photo-documented the process 🙂

2 - Laundry
Step 1: Face the beast…you will be dealing with her for the next hour or so….
1 - Laundry
Step 2: Begin boiling water, because although our hot water tank is directly above the washing machine, it does not provide hot water FOR the washing machine. We can take water from the shower, but only if neither of us plan on showing for the evening…the tank isn’t big enough to do both laundry, and shower…
Step 3: Remove the lid for the washing side (because it doesn't stay upright on its own). The blue circle at the bottom of the washing machine is what does the work, by the way. It spins both clockwise and counterclockwise to clean your clothes...
Step 3: Remove the lid for the washing side (because it doesn’t stay upright on its own). The blue circle at the bottom of the washing machine is what does the work, by the way. It spins both clockwise and counterclockwise to clean your clothes…
Step 5: Round up your clothes and throw them in the washing machine. Make sure that you don't throw in too much because the blue circle will only spin with a key amount of clothing in the washing machine
Step 4 : Round up your clothes and throw them in the washing machine. Make sure that the amount of clothing is exactly right because if there’s too much, the blue circle doesn’t spin, but if there isn’t enough, the spin section of the washing machine doesn’t work (yup…spin cycle is in a different part of the machine.  We’ll get to that…
Step 5: Add your first 2 kettles full of boiling water (make sure the drain valve is closed first...). Refill your kettles (yeah, we have 2) and get them boiling again.
Step 5: Add your first 2 kettles full of boiling water (make sure the drain valve is closed first…). Refill your kettles (yeah, we have 2) and get them boiling again.
Step: Add some cold water (by hand, with a hose, because the hole kinks up and sprays water all over the kitchen if you don't hold it just right...)
Step 6: Add some cold water (by hand, with a hose, because the hose kinks up and sprays water all over the kitchen if you don’t hold it just right…)
Step 7: Roughly 20 minutes later, you have warm water to wash your clothes in. Turn the far left valve all the way counter clockwise and let the machine do it's thing for 35 minutes
Step 7: Roughly 20 minutes later, you have warm water to wash your clothes in. Turn the far left valve all the way counter clockwise and let the machine do it’s thing for 35 minutes
Step 8: After 35 minutes (25 of which are spent just allowing the clothes to soak between clockwise or counterclockwise spins), your clothes have been 'cleaned'. This is what the water looks like. China is very dusty by the way...
Step 8: After 35 minutes (25 of which are spent just allowing the clothes to soak between clockwise or counterclockwise spins), your clothes have been ‘cleaned’. This is what the water looks like. China is very dusty by the way…
Step 9: Turn the middle valve all the way to the right, to let the dirty water drain out.
Step 9:  Get more hot water boiling and turn the middle valve all the way to the right, to let the dirty water drain out.
Step 10: once the water is drained, turn the middle valve back to the left and fill the machine with cold water. Turn the far left dial about 1/3 around so that you get about 10 minutes of swishing to rinse the clothes. While this is happening, start boiling more water
Step 10: once the water is drained, turn the middle valve back to the left and fill the machine with cold water. Turn the far left dial about 1/3 around so that you get about 10 minutes of swishing to rinse the clothes.
This is what the water looks like after the first rinse. We rinse it a second time (using hot water) because I'm pretty sure the clothes still aren't actually clean at this point.
Step 11:  This is what the water looks like after the first rinse. We rinse it a second time (using hot water) because I’m pretty sure the clothes still aren’t actually clean at this point.
Step 12: Let the water drain out one final time. I should also mention that when the water drains, it goes down a pink plastic tube that leads into a drain in the floor of our kitchen. This pink tube has been knocked out of the drain before....it can be a bit messy when that happens...
Step 12: Let the water drain out one final time. I should also mention that when the water drains, it goes down a pink plastic tube that leads into a drain in the floor of our kitchen. This pink tube has been knocked out of the drain before….it got messy…
Step 13: The clothes are now ready to be moved over to the other side of the washing machine, where they are spin dried.
Step 13: The clothes are now ready to be moved over to the other side of the washing machine, where they are spin dried.
I do have to admit that this feature works quite well, and probably saves us a day or two of drying time. Oh yeah...did I mention that they don't have clothes dryers here? You hang dry it all... Oh...and the plastic piece you put on top of the clothes so they don't fly out while they spin!
I do have to admit that this feature works quite well, and probably saves us a day or two of drying time. Oh yeah…did I mention that they don’t have clothes dryers here? You hang dry it all… Oh…and the plastic piece you put on top of the clothes…it’s there so they don’t fly out while they spin!
Step 14: Hang up your clothes to dry. We are lucky enough to have inherited a couple of dehumidifiers that speed up the process.
Step 14: Hang up your clothes to dry. We are lucky enough to have inherited a couple of dehumidifiers that speed up the process.
The key is to spread out everything as far as you can. In winter, it can take 2-3 days for everything to dry, so you also do laundry with that in mind.
The key is to spread out everything as far as you can. In winter, it can take 2-3 days for everything to dry, so you also do laundry with that in mind.

So that’s what it’s like living in a Chinese apartment.  As I mentioned in my last post, we live in the poorest province in China, so it’s definitely different elsewhere in the country.  The laundry was a pain at first, but once you get into a routine, it gets much easier.  The worst is when Dave throws the clothes in the wash, because he hardly ever checks to make sure I have a pair of pants to wear while the clean ones dry.  I came to China with 5 pairs but I now only have 2 that properly fit me (and they’re already pretty loose), so that’s always a bit of a struggle.  He’s pretty happy though, because I’ve forbidden him to do this part of the laundry routine again….you’ve lucked out this time, Reimer…

We are only 20 days away from Thailand now, and we’re both getting VERY excited about the trip!  Between now and then I hope to be writing some posts regarding what it’s like to be a teacher here.  It’s the end of the semester, so as I do my progress reports and correct tests, I’m beaming with pride as I see how much my students have learned in the last 5 months.  I think it’s a good time to write about the wonderful experience teaching can be!

Stay tuned and be sure to check back soon!

Home Sweet Home Away from Home – Part 1

Well, another weekend is coming to an end and I must say we spent it well.  A good portion of our time was spent in coffee shops, where I was either working on my blog, organizing pictures or finishing up some test corrections.  This may not sound very adventurous, on the surface, but it was all about the location this weekend!  We’d been hearing about a cafe that had several cat occupants for a while  now, so we decided to go hunt it down on Monday.  As an animal nut, I’ve gotta say I was pretty stoked to spend my day off surrounded by purring and fur 🙂

Favorite shot of the day.  This sweet girl became our bestie when I gave her some kitty treats :)
Favorite shot of the day. This sweet girl became our bestie when I gave her some kitty treats 🙂
She has the softest fur and the bluest eyes!!
She has the softest fur and the bluest eyes!!
This little man came over for a visit shortly before we left.
This little man came over for a visit shortly before we left.

Although it is great going on adventures and discovering new things,  it’s also just so fantastic to sit down and relax like we did this weekend.  The whole time I was finishing my degree, we worked like mad so that we could get our butts to China and slow down.  I feel like this is one of the only weekends where we’ve actually done that…slow down….since we got here.  It was well deserved and very appreciated!  And best of all, it was relaxing but still productive!  I had time to go through several hundred photos and figure out exactly what I wanted to show you about our apartments in Guiyang.  It turned out there is A LOT I want to show you, so this is probably going to turn into two posts.  I’ll make sure that they are posted closely together though, so that you don’t have to wait 3 weeks before the comedy portion of my story (SPOILER: this post is the tragedy portion ;))

First off, I need to give a bit of back story for those of you who don’t already know about our first apartment in Guiyang.  We moved in our second day here (after spending our first night at a hotel) to find the place moldy, damp and spider infested.  It was a beautiful apartment, and had so much potential if the land lord had been willing to maintain the place, but unfortunately, that hadn’t been the case.

5 Upstairs bathroom mold
The upstairs bathroom was particularly bad. There was mold everywhere and the entire room smelled of sour yogurt and rotten fish. We spent a great deal of time trying to pinpoint what exactly we were smelling…
6 Upstairs bathroom mold
the same counter after an hour of scrubbing, done by yours truly.

We tried to make the best of it, and did our best to clean the place up.  The apartment did have some wonderful features, including a balcony and a rooftop terrace (SO BEAUTIFUL!!).  It looked like it was all going to work out in that big apartment.  We had to climb 10 flights of stairs to get to our bedroom, but the exercise was doing us some good.  The spiders were terrible but were improving as we cleaned the place up.  We spent hours cleaning up the terrace and bringing the plants up there back to life…  I actually started to like the place…

But then it started raining…

7 Leaky Ceilings
And the rain started coming in…. It didn’t take long for us to realize why half the lights in the place didn’t work…
8 The results of that leaky ceiling
And the ceiling started to crumble…
9 - A growing problem
And then it got worse….

As a result of our ceiling starting to fall apart, our land lord decided to increase his efforts in selling the place.  He’d spent a small fortune trying to fix the apartment’s many problems already, and he wasn’t willing to spend anything more.  So he started showing the apartment 4-5 times a day, several days a week.  He was really friendly with us, so we put up with it for a while…

Then the mold started coming back…

That was my final straw.  I broke down and told the school how awful the place was and asked them to move us to a more suitable apartment.  We were fine with a smaller space and we were perfectly ok giving up the rooftop terrace.  After all…what good is a rooftop terrace, if you’re battling fungal pneumonia??  (2 of the teachers who’d lived in this apartment in the past couple of years had developed lung problems as a result of that mold…)

My boss felt awful about the whole mess, and began searching for a new apartment for us right away.  After several days of searching, she found us something that had 2 bedrooms (a requirement so that Dave could work from home) and that was in the school’s price range.  And that’s how we ended up where we are now!

I have to admit…it wasn’t love at first sight.  The stairwell left a lot to be desired, but I’d already learned in Xiamen that stairwells hardly ever reflect the individual apartments that they lead to.  So as I climbed the 3 flights (only 3 flights!!) to my new apartment, I kept that in mind.

10 Stairway to Our New apartment
The stairs leading up to our apartment
11 The entrance to our new place
Apartment 302. The outside of our door also has lots of red banners on it, presumably for good luck.

Step 1:  Remove Current Inhabitants…

The place was much smaller than the 3 story ‘rooftop-terrace’ space that we’d been occupying for nearly 2 months, but it was mold-free and had a lot of potential.  My first task was originally to wash the walls, because the previous tenants had been smokers, and the walls were all stained yellow…

Yum...right??  They had about 20 posters and banners up all over the apartment and this is what the wall looked like behind each of them...
Yum…right?? They had about 20 posters and banners up all over the apartment and this is what the wall looked like behind each of them…

Of course, my priorities quickly changed upon our first night-time visit to drop off some of our things (when you are moving everything down 10 flights of stairs…you do it bit by bit!).  We opened the door and turned on the lights, only to see about 10 cockroaches scurry under the furniture and into nooks and crannies.  I’d gotten used to cockroaches in Xiamen (they were EVERYWHERE there!), but in Guiyang we’d only seen a handful in 2 months, so this came as a surprise.  When we witnessed the same thing the following evening, we knew that the apartment we’d agreed to move into was far dirtier than we’d originally thought.

At this point, I definitely just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry…but I’m a ‘doer’, so instead of giving up, we found some heavy duty cockroach killer and got rid of the little monsters…

There are many ways to kill a cockroach, but the quickest and most effective way is to smoke ’em out.  You buy this stuff that sort of looks and acts like incense: you light the end, wait til the thing actually catches, and then blow it out.  The smoke does the rest!  It’s very important to get out of the apartment quickly after lighting the sticks, because they can seriously damage your lungs, but they work amazingly well at killing the roaches.  You basically let the stuff work for a few hours, come home, open the windows and sweep up the carcasses…yummy…I know….

Step 2: Declutter!!!!

Now, I realize that there is value in keeping things and fixing them when you can…but the Chinese take that to a new level.  When we moved in, there was so much stuff left over from the previous tenants, that we filled between 5 and 6 big black garbage bags with trash.  Among the things we found are:

  1. A stack of broken plastic stools
  2. Teddy bears and children’s pillows that were stained with cigarette smoke (I should also add that no children actually LIVED in this apartment)
  3. Large buckets with stagnant water sitting in them.
  4. Old ceramic pots that had (at some point) held plants.  They were still filled with dirt…
  5. A total of 4 desks (2 of which are broken)
  6. Mounds of old Chinese magazines and books
  7. Several broken dishes
  8. Drawers full of fish food, newspaper clippings burnt out extension cords
  9. Several broken lamps
  10. soooo much more….
This was how the spare bedroom was originally set up.  There were several desks , and many many broken stools in the room.
This was how the spare bedroom was originally set up. There were several desks , and many many broken stools in the room.
15.2 Decluttering
It’s still a little cluttered now, but it’s all neat and actually clean. The water dispenser you see was left here by the previous tenants. It’s listed as one of the items that are covered by our damage deposit, so we can’t throw it out…
The other side of the room, which Dave uses as an office.  I really like the way we set up this room.  It looks so much better!
The other side of the room, which Dave uses as an office. I really like the way we set up this room. It looks so much better!

We also swept up a garbage bag worth of dust, hair and dirt from behind and under all the furniture and spent hours wiping everything in the house down, because pretty much everything was covered in a layer of dust (and in some rooms, everything was covered in a layer of grease AND a layer of dust).  I don’t know if the people who lived here before us had ever cleaned anything…ever…

Our very cluttered bedroom.  It started off with teddy bears, pillows and a tonne of old books (that were missing pages and covers...).  We also found a gigantic hanger in this room...shoved behind the armoir.  Not sure why they didn't just throw it away....
Our very cluttered bedroom. It started off with teddy bears, pillows and a tonne of old books (that were missing pages and covers…). We also found a gigantic hanger in this room…shoved behind the armoir. Not sure why they didn’t just throw it away….Oh…and btw…that’s Timore 🙂  She is the Chinese Staff Manager.
I never got a before picture of this side of the bedroom, but this is how it looks now.  Pretty standard as far as bedrooms go...except of course that we've bought like 4 different pads for the bed so that it doesn't feel like we're sleeping on a piece of plywood.  Chinese beds suck!!
I never got a before picture of this side of the bedroom, but this is how it looks now. Pretty standard as far as bedrooms go…except of course that we’ve bought like 4 different pads for the bed so that it doesn’t feel like we’re sleeping on a piece of plywood. Chinese beds suck!!
Our very cluttered kitchen.
Our very cluttered kitchen.  To be fair, it looked like this because we’d moved one of the broken desks into here as well as the water cooler…we were a little tight on space until we got the place organized!
Our kitchen now.  Once more, there are certain things we couldn't throw out because of the damage deposit.  We needed counter space anyway, so one of our broken desks became just that :)
Our kitchen now. Once more, there are certain things we couldn’t throw out because of the damage deposit. We needed counter space anyway, so one of our broken desks became just that 🙂 Of course there is more to our kitchen’s new look than simple decluttering…but I’ll get to that in a moment….

Step 3:  Paint!  (Because washing the walls just wasn’t an option!!)

After killing all the cockroaches, and getting the dust and dirt out of the place, our next mission was to wash the walls.  The light switches were all filthy and the walls all had tape stuck to them and stains everywhere.  Of course, when we started to wipe down the walls, we quickly realized that our apartment had never actually been painted.  Instead of paint, a thin layer of plaster covered the concrete walls, and as we wiped away the dirt, we also wiped away the plaster.  This why we had to paint…it was honestly not in our original plans….

The light switch outside our 'sink room' before I cleaned it...
The light switch outside our ‘sink room’ before I cleaned it…
The same light switch after approximately 30 seconds of work...
The same light switch after approximately 30 seconds of work…

On top of the damage we did to the place while trying to WASH it…the previous tenants had stuck posters and banners on the wall with scotch tape, and as we tried to remove all these ugly posters, a lot of plaster came off with them…  It’s probably for the best that we painted the place.  I don’t know if we would have gotten our damage deposit back if we hadn’t…

The living room wall before we painted...
The living room wall before we painted…
The same wall after we painted
The same wall after we painted
The other side of the living room.  I love how much warmer this place got with a bit of paint, and some replaced light bulbs...only 1/5 of the light bulbs in the living room worked when we moved in...
The other side of the living room. I love how much warmer this place got with a bit of paint, and some replaced light bulbs…only 1/5 of the light bulbs in the living room worked when we moved in…

4.) Scrub…Scrub….Scrub…..

So, I’ve already mentioned that there were a lot of cockroaches here when we moved in, and I also mentioned that cockroaches aren’t a huge problem in Guiyang so their presence indicated a problem with the cleanliness of the apartment, right?  Well…step 4 was the most unpleasant of all the steps we took to making this place livable.  Yes…it was worse than the cockroach carcasses and even more gross than finding old, moldy underwear hiding in a closet (that actually happened at the first apartment, but still…).  I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Dave, wiping the mold and grime off of the bathroom ceiling...
Dave, wiping the mold and grime off of the bathroom ceiling…
Our bathroom before....(we actually had them replace the toilet because there was NO WAY I was sitting on that thing!!)
Our bathroom before….(we actually had them replace the toilet because there was NO WAY I was sitting on that thing!!)
24 Bathroom After
Our bathroom now.  Notice that there is no shower in the room.  That’s normal in China.  Instead, they just have a shower head in the middle of the bathroom.  We added the shower curtain so that our toilet paper would stop getting wet…
The 'sink room' that's right outside the bathroom.  We put up a shower curtain here as well...mostly to hide the ugly, rusty pipes that we simply couldn't get clean....
The ‘sink room’ that’s right outside the bathroom. We put up a shower curtain here as well…mostly to hide the ugly, rusty pipes that we simply couldn’t get clean….

After spending an entire day scrubbing these two rooms so that they were useable, we decided to wait a while before tackling the kitchen.  Eating at restaurants is cheap here anyway, and we weren’t in a hurry to cook yet.  Of course, we did eventually have to open that door and deal with the grease and filth.  Once more, I will let the pictures do the talking….

What our kitchen originally looked like.  Notice the grease stains on the far left wall?  Yeah...that was basically everywhere...
What our kitchen originally looked like. Notice the grease stains on the far left wall? Yeah…that was basically everywhere…
31 A Greasy Kitchen
Some wonderful ‘mid way through’ pictures. Notice the wall in the right part of the picture has been wiped down. I still hadn’t gotten to the left side yet…though it made for a good visual….
32 A Greasy Kitchen
It took us several weeks to get the kitchen completely clean. We had to stop and take a picture as we finished up on the first day. And yes…this is all just grease. What bothered us both the most is how easy it was to clean all this…All it really took was some degreaser and some hot water, and most of it just wiped off.  Apparently the previous tenants weren’t up to that task though, so they’d just let the filth build up instead.  I don’t even understand how they cooked in there…

And some of my favorite pictures….

Our hot water tank, before we cleaned it...
Our hot water tank, before we cleaned it…
And after.  Oh, and yes...our hot water tank is in our kitchen.  We don't actually get any hot water IN our kitchen, but there just wasn't enough room for it in the bathroom, I guess...
And after….
The hood to our range before (at this point I actually thought that the glass was frosted...)
The hood to our range before (at this point I actually thought that the glass was frosted…)
And after...well...kind of in between...I just took a picture at this point because I couldn't believe that the glass had just been that dirty!!!
And after…well…kind of in between…I just took a picture at this point because I couldn’t believe that the glass had just been that dirty!!!
The ceiling above the range...
The ceiling above the range…
Annnd after...
Annnd after…
You can feel free to be grateful for the way damage deposits work in Canada now...
You can feel free to be grateful for the way damage deposits work in Canada now…

Step 5:  Fix what you broke while you were cleaning!!!

In addition to the grease and dust and cockroach poop (yup…lots of it…in the kitchen…..Bleach anyone!?!?!?), we also had a lot of lime build up that needed to be cleaned off the pipes.  Of course, we didn’t realize that the only thing keeping these old pipes from leaking was that very build up.  So after a day of scrubbing, we had to laugh when the pipes started leaking, making a mess in the kitchen.  Luckily the school fixed it quickly, but I never thought that cleaning a kitchen could actually MAKE a mess!!!

The pipes above our kitchen sink.  They carry the water from the hot water tank to the bathroom.
The pipes above our kitchen sink. They carry the water from the hot water tank to the bathroom.
42 Woops!
The pipe closest to the wall began to leak at the joint when we had the audacity to… GASP…clean it!! lol!!!

In total, we spent nearly 3 months making this place home.  It was a lot of work, but it was all worth it in the end because now this place is ours.

As I finish this post, I want to leave you with 3 thoughts:

1.) China is a crazy place.  Their cleanliness standards aren’t the same as they are in the west, but this apartment is not the norm for foreigners living in this incredible country.  I happen to live in a poor part of the country and our boss was trying to get us out of an even worse apartment, that could have made us sick if we’d stayed there much longer.  So PLEASE don’t think that Chinese people are all this filthy, or that schools here don’t care where they put their foreign teachers.  We just had some bad luck…

2.) I’m not writing about this all to gross you out, or to make you never want to come see us…I’m writing it to show you that the things you take for granted in Canada just aren’t ‘a given’ here.  When you move out of an apartment in China, you don’t lose your damage deposit if the place isn’t clean.  That means that you sometimes have a massive mess to clean up when you move into a new place.

and 3.)

I wrote this to show you what you are capable of (and to remind myself what I’M capable of), with a bit of determination.  A lot of people I know would have refused to live in this apartment, but we worked with what we were given.  This whole “China Experience” is about confronting all the difficulties of living in a foreign culture after all…it can’t all be trips to Guilin and walks along ancient walls!!!

So that concludes the ‘drama’ part of my Apartment Post.  Stay tuned for my next post, which will show you all the nutty ‘quick fixes’ that are common place in China!  This apartment sure has character!!!

Merry Christmas and 新年快乐

I’m baaackk!!!

I had hoped to write more often during the month of December, but I also knew it would be difficult.  Between Holiday parties, the school Christmas event and New Years, life has been pretty hectic in Guiyang city!!  But I’m back here now and that’s what matters most, I think!  Also, it is my goal for 2015 to write 50 blog posts, which means I need to be very dedicated all year long…or I’ll end up having 35 posts to write next December!!!

Dave and I are currently sitting in a small cafe on You Yi Lu, because the internet is down at our apartment again.  It happens a lot but it’s been pretty frustrating lately, because it’s been happening at such inconvenient times.  On Boxing day, the internet went down just as Ellie was opening her Christmas gifts from us.  I’ve never been so upset to have a Skype call drop!!  But tonight we refused to let the lack of internet change our plans, so after enjoying some fantastic Fish Hot Pot for supper, we headed on down to Meet Cafe where the wifi works and where I can enjoy some delicious Nai Cha (milk tea…my favorite drink here)

Fish Hot Pot!  We go here at least once a week :)
Fish Hot Pot! We go here at least once a week 🙂
The only this restaurant lacks is proper tables and chairs.  Like many restaurants in Guiyang, you are given tiny chairs and tables to eat on!
The only this restaurant lacks is proper tables and chairs. As is the case in many restaurants in Guiyang…the furniture is designed for children…
This is basically soy sauce with chilis in it.  You dip the fish in when it's done boiling in the hot pot, and it adds such a great flavor to the meat!!
This is basically soy sauce with chilis in it. You dip the fish in when it’s done boiling in the hot pot, and it adds such a great flavor to the meat!!

Our holiday festivities began the Monday before Christmas, at the Kempinkski Hotel in downtown Guiyang.  They have a huge western food (and wine!) buffet there, so we got dressed up and met our friends from the school for a night of wining and dining.  I am fairly certain I ate my own weight in Sushi while we were there (omg…I missed Sashimi!!!!!!) and our wine glasses were probably refilled more often than was necessary (or wise), but I think we all had a magnificent time!

Maggie, Jumoke and I
Maggie, Jumoke and I
Later on in the evening...you can walk around with open liquor here...it's the funniest thing!!
Later on in the evening…you can walk around with open liquor here…it’s the funniest thing!!
David (left) and Andrew (right).  I don't see it, but these two are mistaken for one another constantly at the school!  David is crazy tall (6'7 I think) so I'm not sure how he can be confused for anyone...ever lol!  Also...Andrew was being a goof.  He usually doesn't look like that :p
David (left) and Andrew (right). I don’t see it, but these two are mistaken for one another constantly at the school! David is crazy tall (6’7 I think) so I’m not sure how he can be confused for anyone…ever lol! Also…Andrew was being a goof. He usually doesn’t look like that :p
Maggie (from the JinYang branch) and I.  She was my sous chef during the cooking event in November and we was so great that she joined us for the evening at the Kempinski!
Maggie (from the JinYang branch) and I. She was my sous chef during the cooking event in November and it was so great that she joined us for the evening at the Kempinski!

After a day off to recuperate, the Interlingua staff were back into the Holiday Spirit at our school Christmas party.  Of course this time, the party was more ‘fun focused’ and less ‘wine focused’, which was probably for the best!  Dave and I were in charge of face painting, which turned out to be a total blast!  We were also told that our face painting skills were the best the school had seen in several years, which was pretty awesome 🙂  After the activities and games, Santa and Mrs Clause (David and Lexie) handed gifts out to all the students, which was very exciting for them!  I was really stoked that so many of my students were there.  Watching each of their faces light up as they saw me was so awesome!  Teaching HAS to be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done!!  (Aside from being an Aunty, of course!)

IMAG1101
David and Lexie as Mr. and Mrs. Clause. If you’re wondering what exactly David is using as a beard, it was formerly a rabbit puppet. We realized at the last second that Santa was beardless, so Mauricio…the doer that he is…grabbed his Swiss Army knife, gutted the puppet, beheaded the puppet and tied it to David’s face. Yup…that’s how we roll at Interlingua!!
Steven and I.  This kid is so sweet...
Steven and I. This kid is so sweet…
One of my youngest students, Smile.  I especially love Ouyang's photobomb lol!
One of my youngest students, Smile. I especially love Ouyang’s unintentional photobomb lol!
Me and one of my students at the party.  Barbie is such a sweet girl :)  She's one of the first students I met here and we've been besties every since!
Me and one of my students at the party. Barbie is  one of the first students I met here and we’ve been besties ever since!

Our Christmas day was a little uneventful, other than some Skype calls to family back home.  We did treat ourselves to some Starbucks though, and spent the day walking around downtown, which always interesting!  For supper, we went to Romeo’s (we’ve now named our favorite hot pot place after the cat who lives there) and enjoyed Doache.  Sweet little Romeo came and hung out in our table, which was a wonderful Christmas gift in of itself!  It’s so nice being around an animal that loves me as much as I love him! Most pets here are afraid of people so having him jump up into my lap for pets puts me through the moon mood-wise!

Here he is under our table!  Hot pot tables usually have two layers so that you can keep food down there if your table is full.  We leave that level empty so Romeo can chill with us
Here he is under our table! Hot pot tables usually have two layers so that you can keep food down there if your table is full. We leave that level empty so Romeo can chill with us

Our next Holiday adventure took place in our very own apartment.  After a lot of hard work, Dave and I managed to clean the grease and dust out of our kitchen to a point where we could actually cook in there.  We scoured Tao Bao and Carrefour for all the necessary ingredients (cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy etc…) and put together a Christmas feast for all of my colleagues and friends at Interlingua.  Nearly the entire Guiyang staff were there and a good portion of Jinyang’s staff, and I think everyone enjoyed the food.  David’s girlfriend, Yolanda, even entertained us with her lute.  She had an exam the following day so it was a good opportunity for her to practice, and we all enjoyed the live entertainment (she’s REALLY good!!!).  It was great eating western food, and introducing mashed potatoes to our Chinese friends.  I was thrilled when Ouyang went back for seconds as soon as he was done his first plate!  My boss, Huang, even came and loved my honey dill carrots 🙂  She even said she was going to have the cook make them at work she liked them so much!  The dinner was a lot of work but I’m so glad we held it for everyone.  It was a lot of fun to prepare and even more fun to eat it all!

My deviled eggs 'a la Guiyang'.  I switched the paprika my mom uses for La Jia.  They went over very well!
My deviled eggs ‘a la Guiyang’. I switched the paprika my mom uses for La Jia. They went over very well!
Jumoke made sure nobody else would drink out of his cup.  It was an effective method!
Jumoke made sure nobody else would drink out of his cup. It was an effective method!
Yolanda, playing her loot
Yolanda, playing her lute
Manny in his snuggy-type Christmas gift.  He was thrilled to receive it, because he'd wanted to buy one for himself anyway! haha!
Manny in his snuggy-type Christmas gift. He was thrilled to receive it, because he’d wanted to buy one for himself anyway! haha!
IMAG1159
When dinner was done, most of the guests went off to do their own thing, but a small group of us head down to Trip Smith, a local Brittish-style pub.  Among us were the Jin Yang crew (who I couldn’t get a proper picture of due to lighting) and the four of us from Guiyuang: (from left, Me, my dear friend Lumi, Lexie and Ouyang)

Once Christmas was over, and our classes were back in full swing, it was easy to forget that there was another day to celebrate on its way. New Year’s Eve arrived before we knew it and it was time to plan another evening out in Guiyang.  Other than Naveed and his wife, Sherry, I don’t quite fit in with the Interlingua staff.  I’m quite a bit older than the rest of them (I’m 28 while my coworkers are mostly 22 or 23).  They are all single and living up life in Guiyang city, so we weren’t really involved in their New Year’s Eve plans.  But when Naveed sent me a We Chat message at 11 oclock, asking why we weren’t at the Paullaner bar yet, I was pretty excited to go out.  We hopped on the scooter and arrived about a half hour before midnight.  I got to spend my last moments of 2014 with good people and listening to good music.

Naveed, Sherry and I at Paullauner Bar.  Nav was pretty stoked to hear some Metal (Enter Sandman....we don't get a lot of rock out here!)
Naveed, Sherry and I at Paullauner Bar. Nav was pretty stoked to hear some Metal (Enter Sandman….we don’t get a lot of rock out here!)
New Year Selfie!!  I love this picture...mostly because it looks like my head is just floating there :P hahaha!
New Year Selfie!! I love this picture…mostly because it looks like my head is just floating there 😛 hahaha!

On our way out of the bar, we shared an elevator with a European man who had lived in Guiyang for 8 years.  The number of Lao Wai we saw New Year’s Eve was probably the highlight of the evening.  As much as I love being here, I miss striking up random conversations in elevators that aren’t just about ‘where I’m from’.  Also, the people you meet while traveling are like minded.  They are adventurers and they are interested in culture and new experiences.  It was great meeting so many people that night.

This picture was taken once we got onto our scooter to go home (don't worry...we'd each only had 1 drink in the hour we were there!).  The man we met in the elevator made our day when he said "You drive a scooter!?  You're basically locals!!"
This picture was taken once we got onto our scooter to go home (don’t worry…we’d each only had 1 drink in the hour we were there!). The man we met in the elevator made our day when he said “You drive a scooter!? You’re basically locals!!”

So that’s what the holidays are like in China.  Both Christmas and New Years are celebrated here, but only in a superficial way.  Still, there are things you can do to make yourself feel less ‘far away’ from everything normal during the holiday season.  The biggest thing for me was cooking that dinner for my coworkers.  I know that not everyone may have enjoyed it like I did, and I know that not everyone appreciated the work it takes to put something like that together, but I do know that Christmas can’t be Christmas without mashed potatoes.

I’ll be writing again in the next few days about our little Chinese apartment and all the ways we’ve turned it from a cockroach infested dump, to the cute little place we now call home 🙂

Zhenyuan: Guizhou’s Eastern Gem

There’s nothing quite like sitting down to some tea after a productive day.  Guiyang saw sun and blue sky today for the first time in over a month and the whole city seemed uplifted.  The scooter ride to work had less honking than normal and it seemed that anyone who was able to, spent their day outside, soaking in the vitamin D!  Thursdays are my ‘get stuff done day’ though, so I spent most of my day indoors cleaning the teacher’s office, chatting with my fabulous coworkers and then teaching my  wonderful kindergarten students whom I love very much!

This little monkeys are my heroes :)  Not only are they a tonne of fun, but they are incredibly sweet too.  I went into a coughing fit today in class and little Sufei (the cutie in the middle) came over and put her hand on my arm and asked "Marie, are you ok?".  Teaching is just so.......rewarding!!!
This little monkeys are my heroes 🙂 Not only are they a tonne of fun, but they are incredibly sweet too. I went into a coughing fit today in class and little Sufei (the cutie in the middle) came over and put her hand on my arm and asked “Marie, are you ok?”. Teaching is just so…….rewarding!!!

What is this sudden shift in mood, you might be asking yourself?  My last few posts have been centered around how I’ve been ‘getting through’ this part of living overseas.  October and the first half of November were tough.  Culture shock, finding my ‘place’ at work and being constantly sick had definitely been putting a damper on my mood.  Dave is my rock, but even the best couples get nippy with each other when stresses run high for long periods of time, so we decided to do what we do best: travel!  What better way to improve moods and remind us WHY we’re here!  So Monday morning (I teach all day Saturdays and Sundays so my days off are Monday and Tuesday) we packed up, hopped onto a train and headed down to Zhenyuan Ancient Village!

Zhenyuan is located in the eastern part of Guizhou province.  This is roughly the route we took by train to get there.  The trip took just over 4 hours but the scenery was beautiful and time fly by
Zhenyuan is located in the eastern part of Guizhou province. This is roughly the route we took by train to get there. The trip took just over 4 hours but the scenery was beautiful and time fly by

We arrived shortly after noon, and caught a taxi to the old part of town, where our hotel was located.  After a few minutes of waiting to check in, a woman arrived to show us to our room.  I took out my passport so that she could match my reservation but she just laughed and told me that ‘she knew’ (as it turns out, not many Lao Wai visit this town).

The road where our hotel was located.
The road where our hotel was located.

She lead us outside and down an alley, to a locked door.  She called for someone who was cleaning his mop in the river, and he came and unlocked it for us.  As it turned out, he was the hotel’s owner.  He had just finished cleaning our room (which was spotless!) and he came up to welcome us to the hotel.  He spoke roughly 10 words of English, but he’d gone ahead and written down several things for Lao Wai to do in the town in English.  Judging by the way it’s written, he probably copied it down from something he translated in Google, but it was such a thoughtful thing to do and it really impressed us because China isn’t exactly famous for its customer service.

He wrote this all out in English, after translating it all through a website.  Such amazing service!
He’d memorized it as well, so he could point to thinks when we asked questions.
Dave, sitting on our room's balcony, overlooking the river
Dave, sitting on our room’s balcony, overlooking the river
A little girl being taught how to row a boat by her grandfather.  This was happening right under our balcony :)
A little girl being taught how to row a boat by her grandfather. This was happening right under our balcony 🙂

After planning out our days in Zhenyuan with him, we sat down and had some lunch at a local restaurant and then set off to explore the town a little.  I can’t really say we did anything terribly exciting, but there were so many beautiful things to see that it all felt like such an adventure!  Zhenyuan is a 2000 year old town, and the buildings have been built and rebuilt in the Miao minority style.  We wandered down cobblestone streets and eventually found our way to the busier part of town, where citizens there work, go to school and shop.  It was such a beautiful mix of old and new.

One of many stone archways in Zhenyuan.  This one led to an area where several tour boats (built in traditional Miao style) were docked for the evening.
One of many stone archways in Zhenyuan. This one led to an area where several tour boats (built in traditional Miao style) were docked for the evening.
A wooden tour boat
A wooden tour boat
A woman loading up her horse with gravel
A woman loading up her horse with gravel.   She was one of several people we saw with horses in downtown Old Zhenyuan, where taxis also cruise the roads
This bridge was the object of many of my photos.  It connects the north and south ends of town, which are divided by the Wuyang River
This bridge was the object of many of my photos. It connects the north and south ends of town, which are divided by the Wuyang River
One of several pagodas in Zhenyuan
One of several pagodas in Zhenyuan

After our stroll in the afternoon, we head back to the hotel for a much needed nap.  After all, what is a vacation if you don’t get to rest a little??  The view that greeted us as we left our room to find supper was incredible.  I’ve told my family and friends more than once that China, at nighttime, is too beautiful to really explain.  Here are some photos to back that up.

The view from our balcony
The view from our balcony
The same bridge at night
The same bridge at night
The same pagoda we walked by during the afternoon, lit up for the night.  All the red lights on the right are lanterns and the blue lights are of the boardwalk along the river
The same pagoda we walked by during the afternoon, lit up for the night. All the red lights on the right are lanterns and the blue lights are of the boardwalk along the river
Fishermen's boats under the bridge
Fishermen’s boats under the bridge

For supper, we enjoyed one of Guizhou’s most popular dishes: Sour Fish Soup.  It came with an assortment of vegetables, tofu and of course, rice!  We enjoyed Chinese beer, a spectacular view and fantastic food.  I’d recommend this restaurant to anyone…if for no other reason than the location!!

Our view while we ate
Our view during dinner
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Our waiter was kind enough to take a photo while our food was being prepared 🙂
Too much food for 2 people to eat!
Too much food for 2 people to eat!

After this feast, we head back to the hotel, taking the North side of the river back.  We got up close to the Green Dragon Cave (which is actually a temple..not a cave), and got to see the pagoda to the west of our apartment lit up.  No pictures could ever really capture the  beauty we saw in Zhenyuan Monday night, but I think my camera did alright in showing what it was like 🙂

An up close photo of the temple
An up close photo of the temple
The west pagoda.  Behind it, is a mountain.  Guizhou is famous for its rugged countryside, and its mountains are stunning.
The west pagoda. Behind it, is a mountain. Guizhou is famous for its rugged countryside, and its mountains are stunning.
A close-up of the same pagoda
A close-up of the same pagoda
We met fishermen all along the path back to our hotel.  I thought of my dad every time I heard a line hit the water :)
We met fishermen all along the path back to our hotel. I thought of my dad every time I heard a line hit the water 🙂

Stay tuned for part 2!  I always think I can fit it all into one post, but I want to share so many pictures so I always run out of time!  I suppose I’ll have to get my butt back online soon to tell you about our Wuyang River cruise and our lovely afternoon walking along an ancient wall 🙂

Culture Shock: An Experience of Growth

After spending the last hour or so organizing our Christmas presents for loved ones back home, it’s time to sit down and visit my good old neglected blog.  I’ve been wanting to write all week, but I always try to write when I’m feeling positive.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been feeling too positive as of late.  But thinking about it today, I realized that my blog is suppose to be story about Adventure and Growth.  And maybe some of my readers would like to hear about the bumps we’ve had during our first 3 months in Guiyang.

I think this picture shows it best.  Adjusting to a new culture is such a crazy mix of emotions!!
I think this picture shows it best. Adjusting to a new culture is such a crazy mix of emotions!!

Culture shock can be rough.  According to the text books, the worst stage is when the honeymoon is over, usually around the 3rd month.  Things aren’t exciting anymore, and although your routine keeps you sane, you sort of resent the routine because it means the adventure is over (well, on the surface anyway).  Around month three, you begin to notice the little things that annoy you about the new culture you find yourself in.

Like rat poop...in your desk and on the school's bookshelves.  That's getting REALLY annoying...
Like rat poop…in your desk and on the school’s bookshelves. That’s getting REALLY annoying…

Aside from the small annoyances I’ve been feeling, I’ve been missing certain things from home too.  Some days I just want to hop on a plane and go hug my nieces.  Some days I want to close my eyes and wake up with Hobbes wrapped around my head.  I miss his purr.  Most days though, it’s the little things I miss.  A comfortable place to read, a soft bed with soft sheets, good hairspray…

Our couch.  This is an improvement from the couch in the old apartment, which had no cushions.  The back isn't angled at all, and the cushions don't really help much, so 20 minutes after sitting down, your bum is completely numb.  I miss comfort
Our couch. This is an improvement from the couch in the old apartment, which had no cushions. The back isn’t angled at all, and the cushions don’t really help much, so 20 minutes after sitting down, your bum is completely numb. I miss comfort

What’s made my last month difficult though, isn’t the culture shock or home sickness.  These are things I expected.  I knew that I ‘d get sick of hearing people spit.  I knew that the beds were hard, and I cherished my last nights in Canada accordingly.  I even knew that Skype could never replace a hug from Ellie, or seeing Addyson crawl towards me the first time.  What’s made it difficult is the amount of negativity I’m surrounded by at work.

The school where I work has a lot of great things going for it.  I work with some REALLY awesome people.  The visa process was also done properly and the owner here takes great pride in her 100% legit team of teachers.  Last month, 19 Lao Wei were deported for having the wrong visas in Guiyang, so to work for a company where those legalities are taken seriously is a HUGE win for any teacher.

The foreign staff at Interlingua :)
The foreign staff at the school where I work
Lexie and I hiding behind a counter at the Halloween party.  We stayed hidden and jumped out at the kids as they entered the cafeteria :)
Lexie and I hiding behind a counter at the Halloween party. We stayed hidden and jumped out at the kids as they entered the cafeteria 🙂
My wonderful TA Talia and I.  She is really great.  I never need to ask for things twice and she's always there when I need someone to translate for a parent.  She's also super sweet and so nice to my students :)
My wonderful TA Talia and I. She is really great. I never need to ask for things twice and she’s always there when I need someone to translate for a parent. She’s also super sweet and so nice to my students 🙂

But Z Visas and great coworkers aren’t always enough.  When your work atmosphere is a negative one, it can be hard to overcome that negativity, no matter how hard you try.  When you are overseas, missing your nieces and worrying about a friend’s health, that negativity is magnified a hundred fold.  When you do your very best, coming in early to make sure the Halloween party is a success and staying late so that each of your students’ parents feel heard, you expect a certain degree of gratitude from your boss. But in China, that’s not how things are always run.

One of the haunted houses I came in to finish on my day off.  I can't complain too much, seeing as how I love arts and crafts :)
One of the haunted houses I came in to finish on my day off. I can’t complain too much, seeing as how I love arts and crafts 🙂

China is all about ‘saving face’.  When I got a flat tire on the scooter, and the thing fell over as I tried to get it to a fence where I could lock it up, nobody  helped me.  This wasn’t  because they were mean people.  This was because they didn’t want me to ‘lose face’.  Similarly, tipping isn’t a norm in China.  To tip a waitress implies that the owner of the restaurant doesn’t pay him/her enough.  This makes the owner ‘lose face’.  This is also why verbal appreciation doesn’t come naturally to many people in China.  Your paycheck is the ‘thank you’ you receive for doing your job.  Anything more than that is to imply that you NEED your staff, which means you aren’t in control of your business.  This makes the owner lose face.  I think a lot of the negativity where I work is due to that culture norm.

Apologies are hard to come by here...
Apologies are hard to come by here…

But there’s more to it than just that.  If I simply not being thanked for going above and beyond, I wouldn’t be struggling like I am.  I work for a Chinese woman.  It’s harder for women to ‘make it’ here, in the business world.  The culture is very sexist and women here are basically dolls; they wear high heals and are always dressed to the nines.  A teacher who used to work at the school summed up China with the 3 Hs:  Honks, Horks and Heels.  The men in China are a whole different story though.  There is a very clear difference in expectations where the sexes are concerned.  Women are dolls.  Period.  They aren’t suppose to be much more than that…

Even Police Women wear skirts!  Appearance here is so important for women, that I worked with a girl who had been rejected from a Chinese airline when she applied for a job as a flight attendant.  The reason: her ears stick out too far from her head.
Even Police Women wear skirts! Appearance here is so important for women, that I worked with a girl who had been rejected from a Chinese airline when she applied for a job as a flight attendant. The reason: her ears stick out too far from her head.

So for my boss to have made it to where she has, running a VERY successful English School, I know that she’s had to work HARD!  I respect that about her, I really do.  But her success also means that she has to be taken seriously ALL THE TIME.    Even in Canada this is still a bit of an issue.  My 5 years as a retail manager taught me that women are not treated the same way that men are.  My boss didn’t shake my hand, like he shook the boys’.  He’d go in for a hug…and I am NOT a hugger.  I had to be better than the boys to be noticed, and my boss has to deal with that same sexism in a country where equality is even more of an issue.

ARG1087.pvw
Rule with an iron fist, ladies…

So when someone at work steps out of line, or doesn’t do what they’re suppose to do, I know that my boss has to yell louder to be heard.  I know that she thinks that the only way she can be taken seriously, is to be serious all the time.  This creates a very negative atmosphere.  To only ever hear the bad (because saying the good can mean losing face) and to be jumped on for every small misdemeanor (even the ones you didn’t realize were a faux pas until it was too late…) becomes exhausting.  Add the fact that the honeymoon phase is over, and it’s a pretty raw deal.

I'm sure not...
I’m sure not…

So why don’t I just pack up and move home, you might ask?  Well, there are two reasons.

#1

I am able to recognize that many of these issues I’m having at work are due to cultural differences.  I recognize that my boss isn’t  just a bad person.  So much gets lost in translation here, and so many other things get mixed up because we have different expectations of what the boss/employee relationship is suppose to be.  At the end of the day though, KNOWING THIS is what gets me through.

number2

To help you understand my second reason, I need to tell a little back story here…

In 2006, when I left Xiamen, it wasn’t on my own terms.  I was working for a school where the visas were not legit, and I was caught working with that bad visa.  After 5 days at the immigration bureau, signing papers and answering questions in an interrogation room, I was handed back my passport with a big red stamp across my visa: REQUESTED TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY WITHIN 5 DAYS.  It was heartbreaking.  I was kicked out of a country that I’d learned to love so much.

Rejected_Stamp_by_Ashlyntear

When I returned home, my family and friends couldn’t understand why I missed China so much, after I’d been treated so badly here.  People couldn’t see why I’d want to return to the cockroaches and language barriers and uncomfortable beds.  But the thing is…once you’re back home for good…you miss everything about your life overseas; cockroaches, deportation and all!

Knowing that one day I’m going to miss every moment of this helps a lot.  In a few years, I’m going to look back at my time in Guiyang and see how these bad days shaped me into the person I’m going to become.  We’re all growing after all…we’re all becoming new versions of ourselves.  My most important goal in life is to make sure that my next ‘version’ is an upgrade from the last.

Marie V.28.4 - The 'in control' edition
Marie V.28.4 – The ‘in control’ edition

So I’ll take these experiences in stride.  Hopefully, the school will begin to see me for the teacher that I am: a hard working, caring and dedicated educator who wants what’s best for her students above all else.  And if that doesn’t happen, well, I’m all about growth and moving forward.  The best thing about Marie V.28.4 is that she’s been in these situations before.  My experience and my determination will get me through any rough patch that shows its ugly face 🙂

I got this tattoo as a grad gift to myself.  In spite of how terribly painful it was to have done, I love what it means to me.  Grow, no matter what is trying to keep you down.  Oh and of course, I'm a musical junkie :)
I got this tattoo as a grad gift to myself. In spite of how terribly painful it was to have done, I love what it means to me. Grow, no matter what is trying to keep you down. Oh and of course, I’m a musical junkie 🙂

I haven’t forgotten to write about my last few days of holidays!  They’ll be coming soon, I promise!

My Love/Hate Relationship with Guiyang City

It’s a green-tea-drinking, guitar-music-playing and blogging type of night!  After a fabulous day off spent scooting around Guiyang with Dave, I’ve decided to postpone my final piece of the National Holiday Saga for a night when I have less recent events that need telling.  So today, I shall write about Guiyang, the city where I am living 365 days of my life.

Talking

Guizhou Province is the poorest province in all of China.  People who know about Guizhou province don’t have very fond opinions of the place, and while we were on vacation we received quite a few negative reactions from Chinese people when we told them where we live.  However, the majority of westerns have no idea where Guizhou even is.  It’s sort of like Saskatchewan in Canada…internationally, it isn’t very well known, and within the country, nobody really wants to talk about it!

For the kind people who are following my blog, but whom I have never actually met in person, THIS is Saskatchwan.  They are really only known for two things: flat, endless fields and an insane obsession with their CFL team, the Roughriders.  We drove through there last summer and passed towns named "Elbow" and "Eyebrow".  We kept waiting to see if we'd find 'armpit' but we sort of already felt like we were there :P  Just joking my Sask peeps!  Your province in lovely!
For the kind people who are following my blog, but who may not know of the lesser known prairie provinces in Canada, THIS is Saskatchwan. They are really only known for two things: flat, endless fields and an insane obsession with their CFL team, the Roughriders. We drove through there last summer and passed towns named “Elbow” and “Eyebrow”. We kept waiting to see if we’d find ‘armpit’ but we sort of already felt like we were there 😛 Just joking my Sask peeps! Your province in lovely!

We live in the capital of Guizhou province: Guiyang.  And although it definitely has it’s flaws, we feel safe here and I most definitely never scoff at it’s scenery.   Guizhou may not be as rich as Xiamen city , or as scenic as Guangxi province but the scenery here is so ruggedly beautiful.

There are dozens of minority villages in Guizhou province, and many of them are nestled in the mountains.
A minority village nestled in the mountains of Guizhou province.
This was the view from our living room window in our last apartment.  Guiyang has basically been carved into the mountains.  Today we scooted through 3 tunnels as we explored the city.  If a mountain is in the way of progress...they carve a hole into it
This was the view from our living room window in our last apartment. Guiyang has basically been carved into the mountains. Today we scooted through 3 tunnels as we explored the city. If a mountain is in the way of progress…they carve a hole into it

Still, Guiyang does have its flaws.

It’s an up and coming city…In the last 6 months, there’s been a huge influx of western restaurants and stores.  As of now, Guiyang has many KFC and Dairy Queen locations, a Burger King, a Starbucks, 3 Walmarts (with another being built), a Carrefour (a French Grocery store chain) and most recently, a Subway (it opened here last week).  There are even western clothing stores in Guiyang, such as  H&M and designer stores like Diesel and Calvin Klein.  Guiyang is moving up in the world!  The only problem is that many of the citizens of Guiyang haven’t caught up to their city’s progress!

Imagine living in a city where everybody is 'new money'.  They've gone from eating possum, to eating Beijing Cao Ya (Peking Duck) and gone from taking transit everywhere, to driving BMWs.  It's a pretty interesting place...
Imagine living in a city where everybody is ‘new money’. They’ve gone from dog, to eating Beijing Kao Ya (Peking Duck) and gone from taking overfilled buses, to driving BMWs. It’s a pretty interesting place…

I know that Guiyang will eventually be fabulous in all ways, but the city is currently very lacking in the sanitation department.  Parents allow their children to urinate in the streets (they sometimes hold them over sewers so they can relieve themselves…but often it’s done on the sidewalk), and people spit constantly.  It’s not pleasant to hear, and it’s not pleasant to see on the ground. Walking in Guiyang is a fun little game…you need to watch where you’re going, but at the same time, you need to have your eyes on the sidewalk so that you can dodge spit, urine and loose or uneven tiles in the ground.  How so many women here walk around in 3 inch heals is beyond me…the sidewalks are an obstacle course!!

a normal sight in Guiyang.  I saw it in Xiamen too, but NEVER to the extent it's done here.  It also happens indoors.  One of my coworkers scolded a mother for allowing her child to pee on the mall floor, when the bathrooms were within eyesight.
A normal sight in Guiyang. I saw it in Xiamen too, but NEVER to the extent it’s done here. It also happens indoors. One of my coworkers scolded a mother for allowing her child to pee on the mall floor, when the bathrooms were within eyesight.
These signs are necessary.  People spit everywhere, and although it's becoming less common in the more tourism-minded places, in Guiyang, 'horking' is alive and well.  Littering is also a problem, as proper trash cans were only set up around the city a few years ago.  Many people aren't used to having to throw their waste in bins and find it inconvenient to have to do so.  The result...a lot of garbage on the streets
Although spitting is banned in Hong Kong, it is commonplace in Guiyang. Littering is also a problem because trash cans were only set up around the city a few years ago. Many people aren’t used to having to throw their waste in bins and find it inconvenient to have to do so.

Surprisingly, there aren’t many cockroaches in Guiyang.  When we first moved into our new apartment, they were a HUGE problem, but since we got the place cleaned up we haven’t seen a single one.  Rats, on the other hand, are an issue.  The school is infested.  My desk often has poop in it, and I find myself constantly wiping everything down with sanitary wipes.  We find chew marks in our books and we sometimes see them running along the pipes above the teacher’s office.  Worst of all, I can often hear them moving around in the walls behind my desk.  Lexie and I will just look over at one another and shudder at the sound.

If rats were all this cute, it wouldn't be a problem.  I can't imagine Remy pooping on my notepad, or chewing threw my spare La Jia (the spicy condiment that has replaced my love for salt)...
If rats were all this cute, it wouldn’t be a problem. I can’t imagine Remy pooping on my notepad, or chewing threw the La Jia stash (the spicy condiment that has replaced my love for salt) that I keep in my desk.

And Guiyang’s lack of sanitation isn’t its only problem.   The queue situation isn’t quite as bad as it was in 2006, (the main issue in Xiamen was that queues didn’t even exist…), but still, people often cut in line.  Just today, I had a women cut in front of me at Carrefour.  She had a cart full of items, and all I had was a bottle of MeiJiu in hand but still, as soon as I looked away, she pushed her way past me.  The smug grin she gave me after made me so angry I wanted to backhanded her.  But the Canadian in me took over and I just gave her a passive aggressive dirty look instead.

And took a picture of the back of her head, because at that point I already knew I wanted to include her in my blog tonight!
Annnnnd took a picture of the back of her head, so that I could blog about her later.

But there is something even worse than urine on the streets, or people cutting in front of me at Carrefour.  Traffic in Guiyang is insanity.  The infrastructure here is so bad that it makes Winnipeg’s streets look logical, but even THAT isn’t the worst of it!  People here have absolutely no regard for other drivers on the road, to the point where signaling isn’t done (EVER!) and instead of doing shoulder checks, everyone just honks to let others know that they are there.  Guiyang is a LOUD city!

Can you feel my road rage from where you are??
Can you feel my road rage from across the ocean?

Just today, we saw someone make a U turn from the far right lane of a busy 6 lane road.  I should add, that this U turn was NOT made at an intersection.  We were driving in the lane to his left and had to swerve and slam on the breaks to avoid T boning him.  Did he look scared or regretful, you might ask?  Nope!  He just kept driving.  I’m not even sure he realized that there were other vehicles on the road, or that a beautiful white scooter had nearly been injured due to his insane expectations of what driving should be.

This is our scooter.  She's swell :)
This is our scooter. She’s swell 🙂

So why, you might be wondering, am I still living in this city?  Why do I continue to work in a rat infested building and continue to navigate horribly designed streets under fear of sudden insanity brought on by road rage?  Well…that’s the thing.  Amidst all this craziness, we both find ourselves happier than either of us have ever been.

These are two very happy people standing on the corner of a busy intersection, waiting for the light to turn green.
These are two very happy people standing on the corner of a busy intersection, waiting for the light to turn green.
This is Dave, happily holding up a statue of Chairman Mao.
This is Dave, happily holding up a statue of Chairman Mao.
Me, happily hanging out on the back of the scooter, a few minutes before Mr. Brilliant did his world class  moronic U turn
Me, happily hanging out on the back of the scooter, a few minutes before Mr. Brilliant did his world class moronic U turn

There are so many things here that contribute to this happiness.  The food is a big one…everything here is flavored with an abundance of spice.  The only bland food I’ve had has been when Chinese cooks try to prepare dishes for the western palette.  Hot Pot is especially delicious and we’ve found several restaurants that have really made living here a tasty and fantastic experience.

Our favorite restaurant in Zhong Tian Hua Yuan (the closed community where we live) happens to be a Hot Pot restaurant near the bus loop.  The dish is incredibly spicy and just gets tastier as you make your way through the meal
Our favorite restaurant in Zhong Tian Hua Yuan (the closed community where we live) happens to be a Hot Pot restaurant near the bus loop. The dish is incredibly spicy and just gets tastier as you make your way through the meal
This is what it looks like when we are done.  A pot of soup is put on an element (that is built into your table).  You add ingredients as it boils (pork liver, seaweed and mushrooms happen to be our favorites) and the soup cooks these items for you.  By the end of the pot, there are bits of everything left over.  The soup takes on the flavor of everything you've put in, and as the water evaporates, the mixture gets stronger.  Our first time here, we couldn't make it through the meal.  Now we pick through the final bits, hoping to find one more mushroom or one more piece of tofu!
This is what it looks like when we are done. I’m planning a whole post on local food, so I’ll explain more about how Hot Pot is done then 🙂

Even better than the food at this restaurant, are the people who work there.   Their restaurant is always clean and well maintained, and the staff work very hard.  The owners, Kevin and LoMan, greet us by name every time we arrive.  They are two of the nicest people we’ve met here and I hope our friendship grows.  I always told everyone back home that the two things I missed the most about China were the People and the Food.  At our hot pot place, we get the best of both 🙂

Kevin and Loman.  They are so nice to each other!  Most couples here aren't overly romantic but these two are adorable.  I love being around them :)
Kevin and Loman. They are so nice to each other! Most couples here aren’t overly romantic but these two are adorable.
IMAG0495
I believe that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals. This kitten strolled into their restaurant 4 days ago, looking for a home. They took him in and he’s already made himself very comfortable 🙂

But honestly, I think even more than the people and the food, what makes me so happy here is how much I LIVE!!  Every day is an adventure…every adventure is a challenge.  Whether we are trying to mail post cards or trying to find some western ingredient for a dish we are craving…every moment of our lives here is interesting.  Seeing the way people drive here is interesting.  The cultural norms here, that are so drastically different from our own….are interesting!  We went to Walmart today to look for a Halloween Costume for Dave, and saw the funniest things.  We saw strange meat, and asked what it was.  The woman replied that it is rotisserie rabbit.  You can also find stools at Walmart, that have the middle section cut out.  These are built this way so that they can be placed over squatter toilets so that you can sit comfortable instead of crouching, while trying not to get pee on yourself!

Roasted ducks hanging at Walmart
Roasted ducks hanging at Walmart
Smoked pork fat, sitting in a wooden crate.
Smoked pork fat, sitting in a wooden crate.

So I suppose what I’m trying to say here, is that I love my life.  I love that everything is difficult.  I love that I’ve learned so many new words in the last 3 months.  I love how exciting it is to say something in Mandarin and have the other person understand what I’m saying!  I love how the people here can be so amazing!  Our waitress at the hot pot place didn’t speak a word of English when we first started going there.  Now, she has a friend teaching her so that she can ask us simple things in English, even though we know how to ask for them in Mandarin.

I love how I’m building meaningful friendships here.  I’ll never be able to talk about those rats with anyone like I can with Lexie!!  I’ll never be able to stand on a street corner in the rain and rant about work and students and craziness like I can with her, because she’s going through the same things I am!

I love what I’m discovering about myself, and what Dave and I are discovering about our relationship.  We are learning what we are like under the most stressful circumstances, and I’ve gotta say…I am SO happy to be here with someone I love so much!!

I love my life here…Urine and Rats included…