In a week from today, we will begin our trip back to Canada for the summer! First, we’ll be stopping by Las Vegas to see some friends get married (more on that next week!) and we also have plans to drive around the area a bit to see The Grand Canyon in all its glory. We were originally planning to take a 10 day road trip back to Manitoba, but those plans fell through when we learned that the car rental alone would cost us $1500. So, instead, we’re going to take a camping trip at our favourite park (Rushing River in Ontario) while we’re back.
Fantastic Sunsets over the Canadian Shield
The View from our Favourite Campsite
I am excited to cook over the fire, and wake up to the sound of loons, but mostly I look forward to the smell of fresh air and being surrounded by trees. I miss the smell of trees a lot. I actually played a gig a few weeks back at a large park just outside of Shanghai. It was the most grass I’d seen in about a year. Since then, I’ve been dying to get back into the Canadian wilderness.
The gig was outside at a community BBQ of sorts.
My band performed a few sets..and I’ve gotta say, we killed it!
I know so many awesome people…
That’s not to say I don’t love Suzhou though! Lately, it’s been quite rainy, but for about a month before the rain hit, we had gorgeous clear skies and (mostly) clean air. I took advantage of that time to snap some shots of the city we currently call home. I thought people might like to see Suzhou the way I see it.
Suzhou has plenty of beautiful parks and gardens. I know I’ve posted some of these pictures of them before, but they’re just so pretty, I have to show you again!
Central Park is about a 10 minute walk from our Apartment
Speaking of our apartment, this picture is from our ‘back yard’. Our apartment complex (which probably has about 20 buildings in it) has a park, tennis court and a playground in it
Various parks around the city
Suzhou also has some interesting architecture outside of their gardens. For some reason I don’t understand, China is obsessed with creating replicas of famous buildings from around the world. Beijing has a replica of Sydney Opera House, and Shanghai has its very own copy of the Eiffel Tower, and Suzhou apparently, didn’t want to feel left out. So they made a replica of London Bridge (sort of).
There are definitely some inaccuracies, but over all, it looks pretty cool. The bridge is mostly used for wedding pictures, and the surrounding area has plenty of places for photo-ops.
This red bridge was lovely
One of many happy couples
They even have a Cinderella horse and carriage!
Although Suzhou is pretty during the day, I find this water-town most beautiful at night. Dave and I have spent many evenings walking around, taking pictures of the high-rises that are popping up all around SIP (we live in Suzhou Industrial Park). I love the way the buildings here are all lit up.
The building in front will be done in the next few months. I think it’ll look really nice when it’s complete
A replica of the Wall Street bull
The view near our apartment
Xinghai Square, where I catch the metro every day
The canals are also gorgeous at night. The reflections from the buildings give them a dream-like feel.
Of course, Xinghai Square is such a buzz of lights and traffic, it makes for some very interesting night photos as well.
The city recently replaced the lights along the street outside of our apartment complex, which was a nice change. The old ones, though pretty, were getting pretty rusty, but the new ones are nice and bright white.
A street lamp right outside our building
The street that runs alongside our apartment
The guard house outside our building. These guys are so friendly and nice! I don’t think they’ve ever not welcomed us back when we return home from going…anywhere!
We live on the 12th floor of this building in the back left corner.
Central park is also very pretty at night. We often walk through there on our way to (or from) one of our favourite restaurants: Lu Yu. They specialize in a type of roast fish that’s unlike any fish you’ve ever eaten in your life.
Kao Yu has actually become a bit of a weekly tradition we have with some friends. We walk down there (it’s about a half hour walk each way), and meet up to discuss our weeks and enjoy some good food and draft beer. The walk there takes us through Suzhou’s Central Park, and I’ve brought my camera along a few times now.
I love this fountain. Last week there were 50 or 60 people around it, all dancing
Xinghai Square is about a 10 minute walk from this area
The canal we walk along on our way there
Dancing is a common pass-time here
Tai Chi is also commonly practiced at the entrance of the park
But as much as we like Kao Yu, there is one restaurant in Suzhou we love even more. A few months back, we told our bilingual friend, Kevin, that if he could find us a restaurant that makes Guizhou food (the province where we lived prior to moving to Suzhou), that we would take him there for dinner. We’ve gone there pretty much every week since he found it. We’ve brought countless friends and even people visiting from America and Argentina…every person we’ve brought has been floored by how good the food is!
At Zou Guizhou with Kim, CJ and Kim’s parents. The Chinese lady in the middle is the owner. She’s simply one of the sweetest people I’ve met in my life
A group of us enjoying some hot pot
A different group of us enjoying hot pot
The owner has a little girl who loves us. She was all dressed up for Children’s Day, so I asked her if I could take a picture with her and this is what she did. I love that kid so much!!!
In addition to the food and the company being so great at 去贵州, the view is also pretty spectacular. We usually sit outside, across from the little island near Suzhou University.
A temple over the canal in Suzhou, China
Of course, I’m not the only one that’s caught on that Suzhou is an incredibly photographic city. My friend, Kevin, also enjoys taking photos of this gorgeous place we all call home. I asked him if I could include some of his shots, and he kindly said I could. Here they are:
I have a hard time choosing a favourite picture, but I think this one is it. It’s taken about a 5 minute walk from my apartment, and love the colour in it.
This, of course, is Kevin. He incapable of taking a picture without making a silly face :p
That’s all for this post! I’ll be back soon with an update on life here. We’ve been so incredibly busy lately! There are plenty of stories to come!
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.
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.
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.
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:
New Businesses Opening
Just because they like to make noise…
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…
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.
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?
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…
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…
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.
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….
Crowds….crowds like you have never experienced…
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…
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.
That’s it for today! My next post will be an update on life in Suzhou! I’ll have pictures from my first gigs (I’m singing in a band :)), the Drama Festival at my school and all the stuff that’s been keeping me busy and away from my blog!
It’s 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.
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:
I could have given up and quit/gone home.
I could have given up trying…after all, I didn’t feel that my efforts were appreciated or noticed.
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.
My latest art project. This is my cabinet before
My cabinet now!!
I’ve recently been working on several ‘class rules’ posters that are going on this quark board. I’m laminating them so that the school can keep them when they move locations next semester 🙂
I’ve recently been working on several ‘class rules’ posters that are going on this quark board. I’m laminating them so that the school can keep them when they move locations next semester 🙂
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:
Birthday fun with Interlingua Staff
The gorgeous birthday cake that the school bought for me
On our way to the Kempinski Hotel to celebrate 3 fabulous years of marriage
Back in Zhenyuan last autumn
I’ve lost 15 pounds since then…about 7 of that was in hair!
Dave’s also lost about 15 pounds since we arrived in Guiyang. It would be more if he hadn’t GROWN so much hair!!
Received countless care packages from home, which always brighten our day (and restock our goodie bin!!
Our latest package: maple themed gifts from my dear friend Veronique
This one meant a lot. It arrived on a day when I was feeling very under-appreciated: A Thank You card from my best friend, Jamie….just saying that she values our friendship
Our Christmas haul from the Reimers!
My newest friend: Chili. He lives in an apartment in our garden. He’s very friendly and sweet 🙂
We’ve made friends at both the Guiyang Branch of Interlingua and at the Jinyang Branch. I work with some really awesome people 🙂
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.
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.
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:
And Guiyang now…
But whether isn’t the only way Guiyang likes to shock us with its extremes. For example:
Nope…not even close…
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.
And 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:
Or 5 minutes away from the school, this area is also quite new and shiny:
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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!!
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.
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!!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 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:
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.
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.
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 🙂
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!
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 🙂
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.
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…
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.
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…
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:
A stack of broken plastic stools
Teddy bears and children’s pillows that were stained with cigarette smoke (I should also add that no children actually LIVED in this apartment)
Large buckets with stagnant water sitting in them.
Old ceramic pots that had (at some point) held plants. They were still filled with dirt…
A total of 4 desks (2 of which are broken)
Mounds of old Chinese magazines and books
Several broken dishes
Drawers full of fish food, newspaper clippings burnt out extension cords
Several broken lamps
soooo much more….
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…
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….
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…
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…
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….
And some of my favorite pictures….
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!!!
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.
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!!!
First off, I must apologize for my 2 week WordPress hiatus. I hoped I’d never go so long between posts, but between trips to northern Guizhou with the school and terrible flues and colds, I haven’t had much time to sit in front of a computer. But it would appear that I’m back into the swing of things today! We have all but finished cleaning our (terrifying) kitchen, and our Christmas tree is up and glowing 🙂 We even made time to visit Grandma’s kitchen today, where we enjoyed some fantastic western food. It’s been a good weekend 🙂
So I suppose I’ll start this post on the more positive topic: our trip to Meitan, Guizhou province. Meitan itself is a tiny town that is famous for its red tea production. After spending a year in Xiamen, where Oolong and Green tea are most popular, I was eager to learn about the red tea of Guizhou province.
We made several stops in the area, viewing gigantic tea pots and statues built to honor the tea making traditions of Guizhou province. We were especially happy to get out of the school bus that transported us 4 hours north of Guiyang. Although the bus meant a free trip to the hot springs, it is designed to transport 8 year olds and even the shortest of us (myself included) couldn’t sit with our knees facing forward. It was a bit of an uncomfortable ride!!
Our bus driver must have been a tour guide in another life-time, because he knew all the best places to stop. After having some lunch in downtown Meitan, we headed for the tea fields, which I hadn’t seen since my time in Fujian.
This was a natural point for us to stop and try some of Guizhou’s finest tea. Manny, the recruitment guy for all 3 Interlingua Branches, knows how much I love tea, so he made sure to let me know we’d be doing it all traditional style. I was pretty excited, not only because I love tea, but also because a lot of the Mandarin I know is useful in a tea shop. I spent a lot of time in them in Xiamen, and being in them now always makes me feel so fluent! I don’t think anyone there noticed that I knew what she was saying (other than the poor saps who were stuck sitting beside me, listening to me yammer excitedly…Sorry Dave and Lexie!).
After making some purchases at the tea shop, we head out to our hotel, which was located quite remotely, but was clean and quite nice. It even had indoor heating, which didn’t work in everyone’s rooms, but still! It worked in some!!!
After the all you can eat buffet (where Ouyang had us try some fermented tofu…which tasted like you might think rotten tofu should taste…), we got into our bathing suits and headed down to the lobby for the main reason for this trip: Hot Springs!!! Unfortunately I couldn’t get many pictures because the steam didn’t allow for much, but I did get a few of the entertainment. Not only were there girls waving their arms (aka:dancers) to watch, but there was even a male performer who came up and serenaded unwilling females. And of course, he came over and welcomed the lao wai to the hotel!
Things were going well for the Interlingua clan at this point. We were all relaxed and enjoying the steamy baths. It felt good to unwind in the ‘wine pool’ (that smelled like sulfur and alcohol) and the ‘rose pool’ (which sounded like sulfur and flowers). But then David’s stomach started to go south…(not my David…Brittish David). By the following morning, 3 of the crew had been throwing up (including MY David) and several more of us felt under the weather. It was a long 6 hour bus ride back to Guiyang, including the hour we stopped for lunch (when Huang took the opportunity to have Ouyang find stomach meds for her ailing teachers). Of course, Chinese medicine is a tad different from ours. Dave was told to quickly drink this little vile of liquid and that it would help his nausea.
Several days later, Dave was feeling better, but then of course my time came to be sick. After a trip to the doctor to get a sick note (my first sick day in nearly 3 years…) and a trip to the pharmacy to get something to help with the vomiting, I came home and realized that I had no idea what I was even ingesting. My best guess is that one of them was ground up ginger. Other than that, all I knew was what Naveed though to ask (how many does she take?). I’ve gotta say that I’m extremely glad he was with me, because I never would have thought to ask myself!! haha!!
Being sick sucks…but being sick in another country is a completely different experience. My hope is that I don’t have to deal with anything as awful as that flu again while I live in the Orient, but in case I do, I’m sure glad my mom already has Gravol on the way!! You never know what you’re going to miss from back home until you have it!!!!
And that sums up my last week!! Nothing particularly exhilarating but they were experiences I won’t be soon forgetting nonetheless.
Thanks for checking in! I’ll be back with a post about what it’s like living in a Chinese apartment soon! (A request from my nephew 🙂 Super pumped to know people are interested in even the mundane stuff here!)
This weekend was a little exhausting, but still managed to be a lot of fun! I think I’m FINALLY getting over my 4 week cold (the joys of teaching my little germ infested monkeys!), and I finally got to participate in the school’s cooking activity Sunday night! I made deviled eggs, Guiyang style. I substituted paprika for La Jiao and boy were they a hit! I had a couple of hecklers in the front row (kids can be so cruel!!) telling me they smelled bad and were going to be gross, but BOTH of them tried coming back for thirds, so I was pretty pleased with myself!!
As much as we would have loved to spend another weekend in another corner of Guizhou province, Dave and I opted to spend this Monday and Tuesday recovering our health and tackling the daunting task that is ‘cleaning our kitchen’. We still haven’t gotten around to cleaning it since we moved in a month and a half ago. It took nearly a week to get the rest of the place sanitized, and we needed some pretty heavy duty degreasers to get the layers of filth off the walls, so until now, we’ve just kept the door shut and avoided that room.
Of course, cooking on Sunday made me miss having a kitchen SO much that we’ve decided to make that our project tomorrow. So here I am, doing the next best thing to actually traveling: writing about traveling!
After a gorgeous and relaxing night in Zhenyuan Ancient town, we set off for our River Cruise Tuesday morning. A van picked us up at the hotel at 8:30am and we traveled to the Wuyang River dam with 2 other couples (both Chinese), which is located about an hour from the Ancient town. The road there was bumpy and pretty scary at some points, but we got there in one piece, perhaps thanks to our Chinese friends in the van, who continually told the driver to slow down because they didn’t want the Lao Wai to think badly of Chinese roads or drivers! One of them spoke English, which was great. I’m very proud of the amount of Mandarin I can speak (Dave told me about a month ago that he was SHOCKED when we got here…all of a sudden I could speak a 3rd language!), but it’s so nice getting a bit of a break now and then as well!
We were the only La Wai on the cruise, which was both nice and a bit of a nuisance. It was nice being the only westerners because so many of the people we’ve met on cruises in China have been very closed minded and extremely judgmental of the Chinese. But on the other hand, because we were the only light skinned occupants on the boat, we became a tourist attraction ourselves. Although the views from the boat were terrific, people seemed to be more interested in snapping photos with US…instead of with the scenery. We obliged for a few people (the ones who had been in the van with us), but then hid away from the crowds, where it was warmer and where we could enjoy the views, just the two of us 🙂
Roughly 3 and a half hours after the van picked us up, we were dropped off at our hotel, where we had to check out. The hotel’s owner was kind enough to hold our luggage for us while we walked through the ancient town once more. This time, we viewed the south side of the Wuyang River during the day time, which turned out to be just as beautiful of an experience as it was at night!
Eventually, we found the old city wall, that was built around 2000 years ago, and has since been restored. As the sun shone down on us, we walked along the clean path and enjoyed the gardens and the sounds of the river.
We took the north side of the river back to the hotel and enjoyed such a contrast in environment! After our serene walk along the old wall, we were met with the hustle and bustle of a Chinese city.
Still, as we wound our way down alleys and smaller streets during our final hour in Zhenyuan, we enjoyed unique sights and absorbed all the ‘new’ we could. There’s nothing quite like traveling, and I feel so incredibly lucky to be in a situation where I can just pack up for the weekend and experience something like Zhenyuan Ancient Village. I’m living the dream 🙂
Thanks again for tuning in, and check back soon! I still have so many posts to write!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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!
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!!
China is an interesting place to be for a foreigner.
First, let me begin by asking you: what do you know about China? Really? The fact that dog is eaten here may have popped into your mind, and perhaps you pictured deep fried ‘honey garlic’ something or other as well. Maybe you thought about the Great Wall. But really, for a country with 5000 years of written history, many North Americans know very little about life in the Orient.
Many of my friends and family assumed that I would be going to a country with more advanced technology than we have in Canada. Many people also assumed that I would be eating nothing but rice and chicken feet. But in reality, China is an incredibly diverse country. There are hundreds of local languages here, an incredibly diverse geology and every city has it’s own specialty cuisine. In short, China is so much more than you can imagine.
But as little as you know about China, China knows less about you!
Eight years ago, when I lived on the east coast, in a beautiful little city called Xiamen, I was stared at daily. I had people point at me and yell “Lao Wei!” (foreigner) so that their friends might notice in time and get a look at me too. I had people come up to me and ask for my photo. More often still, I caught people sneaking photos of me. There were times when an interested man or woman would come up to me as I shopped, pulling things out of my cart to see what the strange ‘lao wai’ was purchasing. Everywhere I went in Xiamen, I was pointed at, shouted at and stared at. Whether I was taking a 2am stroll (the only time I found quiet in that small city of 2 million people), or walking up the path to my apartment, I was constantly met with stares and pointing. And of course, the ever-present sound of the words “Lao Wai!!!!”
I imagined it would be different in Guiyang. 8 years have passed, and thousands of teachers have arrived and left the country since I departed in 2006. Nearly every young person here now speaks at least a little English. EAL teachers are everywhere, working for private training centers (like I am), for private schools and even at public schools. There are easily a hundred of us in Guizhou province alone.
And if the presence of white teachers isn’t enough, Western culture has also permeated life here. Guiyang has several KFC restaurants, 2 Pizza Huts, 3 Walmarts, a Starbucks and H&M, just to name a few. English is everywhere! In their music, on their signs and on their T-shirts. Any company who aims to have a ‘cool’ image must have English in their name, even if no one within the company speaks a word of the language. People here are obsessed with Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, and today I even heard “Criminal”, by Brittany Spears, blasting from a lingerie store. 8 years ago, this was not the case. Sure, there was a Walmart and KFC in Xiamen, but seeing English on signs and T-shirts was hardly an every day occurrence.
Yet, the sight of a foreigner is still shocking for the majority of Chinese people.
A few weeks ago, I was driving my scooter to school, when a bus pulled up beside me. I had to focus on the traffic and ignore the commotion that my presence had caused in that bus. Windows were rolled down, and people were shouting and laughing and saying ‘Hello!’. I sometimes feel like an un-talented celebrity when this happens! (Perhaps this is how the Kardashians feel?) When Dave and I went and visited QianLing Hill Park, we were in as many pictures as we took! Even the monkeys seemed to think we were interesting and strange!
On good days, this isn’t an issue. I laugh and smile and respond to their calls with ‘hello’. A simple wave, or greeting in response to their excitement usually results in further excitement. “Did the Lao Wei just say hello to ME!!! Oh My God!!!”. I waved at a child who was staring at me from a restaurant this week. Her entire family waved back. Some of them even stood up to get a better view of me! And this, I should add, was in Zhong Tian Garden, where I live. There are between 8 and 10 EAL teachers who live in this area, yet it’s still exciting for them to see one of us.
On bad days, this aspect of life in China is less enjoyable. Being stared at while you are fighting back tears after a particularly difficult day, is not a pleasant feeling. Having a crowd form around you, while you struggle to chain your scooter to a gate because it has a flat tire, is exasperating. There are some days where I want to shout: “What’s wrong with you! Didn’t your mothers ever teach you that it’s rude to point!!!”. But I don’t. I know that even if I did, they probably wouldn’t understand me anyway, so I keep my head down and try to blend in with the masses. I’m vertically challenged so that’s easy, but it’s certainly harder for some of the tall teachers at Interlingua.
Still, in spite of these bad days, I’d say life in Guiyang is more interesting than upsetting. More often than not, people here are curious, but kind. We’ve had people bring out dishes for us that other customers in the restaurant have paid for us to try. Most people thrilled when I greet them in Mandarin, and embarrassed but excited when I respond to their ‘Lao Wei!!!’ with a ‘hello’ and a coy smile. (Yes, I know that you are talking about me…).
I consider myself lucky to be in China in 2014, during such a time of growth. In the last 8 years, many things have changed: I now see English everywhere I go, I hear English Music in cars and in stores and I can shop at H&M (I can’t even do that in Winnipeg!). But in some ways, China continues to be its cut-off-from-the-rest-of-the-world self. The people here still marvel at the foreigner as though they are something special and interesting. I can’t help but wonder whether this will still be the case in 8 years from now.