So You’re Moving to China…

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I got around to blogging! Life has been nutty here again…but I’ll have more on that in my next post.

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I also haven’t forgotten about my poll. It was a 3 way tie, so I’m going with ‘The Best of Suzhou’. I’ve been collecting material for weeks

Tonight, after realizing that I had bit of spare time, I decided to write a post I’ve been considering for a long time. This particular post was inspired by an old friend of mine who’s thinking of moving to China. I was giving her advice this morning and it got me thinking about all the crazy stuff that I’ve gotten used to dealing with living in this strange country.

So here it is…a list of all the stuff that you should know if you’re moving to China!
1.) The Food is Amazing…and Amazingly Weird….

Item #1 on my list isn’t a shocker. Chinese food is popular around the world, so there has to be something good about it! I love Chinese food and I doubt I’ll ever tire of it. There are many different varieties, depending on the regions of origin. In Sichuan province, you’ll get spicy hot pot, for example. On the east coast, you’re more likely to get sweet sea food. No matter where you go in China, the local cuisine is worth a try because WOW…there are some amazing things to eat out here!

Then again, when you say you’ll try a local delicacy, you might get more than you bargained for…

I think most of the world is aware that people in China will eat anything and everything. From chicken feet to pig face, and everything in between…nothing is off-limits in this country. I can proudly say I’ve tried everything that’s been offered to me since I got here (still no dog…that may be the one I turn down…), and some of it isn’t bad.

Strangely enough, I enjoy barbecued chicken feet. There isn’t a whole lot of meat on them, but they’re alright. I also like chicken tail a lot. They get nice and crispy on the barbecue. Organ meat has become far more normal for me to eat as well and I’ve become particularly fond of liver, though brain still grosses me out and chicken gizzards seem pointless and rubbery.

Most of it, however, I simply don’t ‘get’. I can understand how a starving person might think that pig intestines are the most delicious thing they’ve ever eaten, but for me…they’re kinda gross. There isn’t much meat in them, and every time I’ve had them…they always faintly taste like poop….maybe it’s in my head…but I swear I taste it. So I now avoid them when I see them on the menu.

2. Sanitary Standards are VERY Different in China

Currently, I’m teaching a Food and Nutrition class at my school. It’s basically home economics, but I mostly just teach the students how to cook. The biggest challenge for me has been teaching them about bacteria, food poisoning and basic sanitation. It isn’t as easy as it may sound…

There’s no hot water in our kitchens (a norm in China) and I had to teach them to boil water for doing dishes. When classes other than my own work in the kitchen, the dishes are left a bit oily because cold water just doesn’t clean that stuff off, and soap is often an after-thought…

Teaching them about meat safety has also been a huge issue. In China, meat is frequently left out, unrefrigerated and uncovered. Even in the western type stores, like Carrefour and Metro (if you are new to China, seek out those two stores! They are a must-have for anyone living abroad), you’ll frequently see questionable meat sitting out on the counters.

Similarly, the ideas about personal hygiene are different here. By the time you are finished your first (of many) colds here in China, you will grow very tired of people telling you to ‘drink hot water’. It seems to be the cure to everything here in China, while preventative measures, like hand washing, are never discussed.

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Throwing rubbish in the drain….no problem. Cold water….TERRIBLE idea!
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At the gym, cold water isn’t even an option. The best you can get is ‘warm’ water (which is still pretty hot), because apparently, cold water is bad for your health…

There are also some pretty nasty habits here, that I have never grown used to. Spitting, for one, still grosses me out. People don’t like to swallow their saliva here, so they just spit it out. This is especially true in poorer areas (where people are less educated regarding the spreading of germs) and with the older generations. Similarly, Chinese people think that sitting on a toilet seat is dirty, so they will often hop up on top of the seat and squat over top of the toilet, when an actual squatter isn’t around. The result is usually that urine ends up everywhere (because sit-down toilets aren’t made to be squatted over), which, to me anyway, seems a lot less hygienic than sitting on a toilet seat!

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Furthermore…flushing your toilet paper here is a no-no. The sewage systems can’t handle the tissue, so public restrooms always smell because of the tp sitting in bins…

3. Be Prepared for Pollution and Pollution Related Illnesses

Everyone knows that China has a pollution problem. It’s a topic frequently discussed out here, and Chinese citizens are really starting to pressure their government to regulate factories better for the sake of the air. In Canada, I’d never really experienced pollution before, and until I moved to Suzhou, I’d never really given air quality a second thought. Here, students actually know the names of the different air pollutants and what they can do to your lungs. For example, I had a 13-year-old girl tell me that the PM2.5 levels were very high one day, and that I should wear a special kind of mask so that the particles don’t end up in my lungs. PM2.5, she informed me, is the most worrisome pollutant because your body doesn’t have any way of flushing it out…the particles stay trapped in your lungs for years.

When I was 13…pollution was hardly a concept I’d ever even considered!

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A smoggy day in Suzhou

I don’t know a single teacher that doesn’t catch at least 1 or 2 terrible colds per term here. I was so sick back in March that I had to be put on oxygen after a short walk to the a nearby clinic. They put me on 5 different medications to combat the viral infection I had in my lungs and I was honestly really scared because I’d never had such trouble breathing in my entire life! Even pneumonia hadn’t been as bad as that lung infection was…

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My many meds

4. Things are Done Differently Here

If health hazards are shrugged off here, I don’t even know how to explain how people here feel about safety. Workers frequently wear minimal or no equipment went doing construction, and I don’t even want to think about the repetitive strain injuries that some of those people suffer. I’ve seen women in their 40s and 50s hauling broken concrete out of demolition sights in wicker baskets hanging off their backs…

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All of this was hauled out of the building by hand…on the backs of manual laborers…

And those are just some of the long-term consequences of having no standardized regulations for safety in the workplace. Sometimes the consequences are much more current

In funnier instances, some things just don’t seem to make sense here. Such as:

  1. Our hot water tank being right above our washing machine…but our washing machine wasn’t connected.
  2. Escalators being built outside, instead of under the roofed area…causing them electrical damage every time it rains.
  3. Having air conditioners in every room at a school, but forbidding anyone to turn them on because the cold (or hot…they do heating in the winter) air is bad for your health…
  4. At the school, we use paper so thin that the students have dubbed it ‘toilet paper’. It’s done because they are trying to use less paper and save the environment…yet no one sees anything wrong with having between 20 and 30 flyers left in your e-bike every week
  5. The government telling employees to smoke more to boost the economy…
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I can’t stress enough: Cold Water = Bad……transporting food in dirty-cut-up-old containers…FINE!!!

Well, that’s all I have time for tonight! It looks like this one is going to be a 2-parter! Come back soon to see the rest of my list which will include:

  • Traffic Laws (and lack of traffic laws)
  • Signs: The good, the bad and the incoherent

and plenty more!!!

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.
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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…