It’s hard to believe that Dave and I have nearly been back in China for a month already! The past 3+ weeks have flown by possibly even faster than our time in Canada did! I sat down today with the intention of writing about Vancouver and realized that until I updated all the things that have been going on out here, I couldn’t focus on another topic. So here we go!!
I’ve Been Performing as a Lead Vocalist!
Until recently, I was working back up or in duets with The Chairmen. It’s been great fun playing with those guys, but when Kit (our fearless leader) approached me and asked if I’d do a duet show with our guitarist, Mark, I jumped on the opportunity. We’ve only done one show so far, but it was pretty cool singing all 3 sets by myself. Best of all, Mark is super flexible about what play, so I’ve been able to do a bunch of new stuff. It was a nice switch up after all the Adele and Stevie Nicks I’ve been doing since May!!
Mark and I at our first show
Mark, Kit and I at the Expat Talent Show
I’m Competing in the Suzhou Expat Talent Show!
This one came about in a bit of a crazy way…Back in July, one of the HR staff at my school contacted me about representing the school at some kind of school district party. I agreed because I knew I’d already be back in Suzhou by that point and all was good. They knew I cover Adele, so they recommended I do “Rolling in the Deep”. I was cool with it.
Fast forward to the day of the ‘government party’…it turns out that this was less of a school district party and more of a ‘government beer party’. There was a full band there waiting for me along with about 100 government officials and 200 teachers (etc) from schools in the area.
The real kicker was when HR Frank told me…about an hour before I went on…that if it went well, I would be representing Suzhou Foreign Language School in this year’s Expat Talent Show. Notice that he didn’t ask…
It went well. Fast forward to 4 DAYS LATER (!!!!) and it was talent show time! There was a mix up with the band (mainly, there wasn’t one) but I lucked out when I learned that The Chairmen (my band) were also going to be performing (the rest of them all work for the same school). They ended up backing me for my song too, and the performance went pretty well! Here, you can see it yourself!!!
To my credit, I don’t feel like I looked as unprepared as I felt! I was very relieved to have Kit and Mark there! I also had a student come to see me perform, which was pretty awesome. I have awesome students. Have I mentioned that?
Rolling in the deeeeeeep
A beautiful stage!
The hosts for the evening
My friend, Tom, rocking it out with a 5 song mashup!!
I have no idea what the results were for this show. From what I understand, they are going to be watching video auditions for the next month, and choosing people to go onto the second round from there. I just hope I find out with more than 4 days to prepare this time!!!
I Am Writing for a News APP and a Newspaper!!
The night of the talent show, I received a text message from an editor at Nihao Suzhou, an APP designed to help foreigners in China (it’s actually a branch of Nihao China…every city has their own, I believe). They had been for writers earlier in the week, and I’d inquired along with a link to my blog. The editor liked my work and asked me to write an 800 word piece about anything I wanted. A week later, I was published!
The article was pretty successful and received over 2000 views in the first day. Carrie, my editor, told me to go ahead and write another article if I wanted, and I submitted that one today! Also, she was so happy with the article that she recommended it for publication in the Suzhou Daily Newspaper! So there’s that, too!
I Lost the Olympics
Dave and I decided that we wanted to be more social this year, so we’ve been busy trying ot get involved in the expat community. Dave’s joined a gaelic football team, I’ve been doing gigs (and everything else above)…and we subscribed to this really cool website called InterNations.
InterNations plans all sorts of events across the city. The one we attended last weekend was held at the Kempinski Hotel, where there is a Paulaner Brewery. We got to learn about the ancient German art of beer making and we spent the afternoon playing games with a few friends we’d dragged along, and a LOT of new friends that we met at the event.
The Ladies of our team
Our friend Kevin, and his team
Lizz and I, designing our team flag
Dave and Jeff with their gold medals
I did not win. Not by a long shot. But it WAS a blast! And I feel like we met some really cool people. It was definitely a good time and we’ll be attending another InterNations event next Friday.
Musical Beers. It ended…messy…
Me..Desperately trying to get my cup to flip over and STAY UPRIGHT!!!
Mia, killing it at Beer Pong (just kidding…our team only managed to get 1 in, the whole game!!!)
Our team mate, Miguel, playing the 1 game I sat out. I can sip beer…I am not a chugger. I cheered from the sidelines!!
September 1st was our first day of classes. I am transitioned into a full-time English teacher (no more cooking classes) and am getting to know my 2 new grade 7 classes! So far, my new coworkers are upbeat and awesome, and I’m having a great time!
Our reward system for the year. Those are all the core teachers in my department
One of my new Grade 7 writing classes
So that’s been our last 3 and a half weeks! Pretty wild! Now I need to catch up on some sleep…
I spent most of yesterday working on a post about the last few months at SFLS. Just as I was in my last paragraph, I realized that I am missing some pretty crucial photos from the Drama Festival. Now, I usually wouldn’t let something like that stop me from publishing, but the Drama Festival was my baby this year, so until I get those photos (I did track them down! They’re on someone else’s camera!!), I’m going to leave that post in my ‘drafts’ folder and move onto something I’ve been working on for ages…
A few months back, I published a poll asking my readers what they’d like to see next. It was a 4 way tie, so I made the decision to write about Suzhou…the beautiful city where I live. I’ve spent the last 3 months seeing more of the city and taking photos for the post and wound up with so much material that I’ve decided it’s going to be two posts.
Post #1 – So, You’re Visiting Suzhou
My first post will be about all the famous landmarks there are to see in Suzhou. The focus will be on the top places to visit if you travel to this lovely city. The scope will be broader and more geared toward my family and friends back home who we HOPE will be encouraged to come out and visit us 😉
Post #2 – So, you’re Moving to Suzhou
The second post will be more focused on the different areas of the city and the things anyone who is moving here should know. There is a huge expat population in Suzhou and every year there are new teachers who arrive, so that post is going to be focused on helping those teachers get to know the city and helping them get settled. If you enjoyed my ‘so you’re moving to China’ posts…you’ll enjoy what I have planned for that one.
So stay tuned, friends, family and internet people! I’ll be back before you know it….
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?
The postal system isn’t the most reliable, but every once in a while, a letter makes it through!
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…
This is a Chai Latte….those aren’t around in Mainland China, so I was excited to find them in Hong Kong!
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!
I have about 10 blog posts planned at the moment, but have had so little free time that they’ve all just been sitting in my head Spring term has been a little bit crazy, and when you add in holidays, birthdays and regular life into the mix…finding downtime can be tricky! So, I thought an update on all my projects was a good idea…
Life since we returned from India has been eventful in both good and bad ways. When we got back to Suzhou, I started going to the gym again, but realized that I didn’t have anywhere near the energy I should have. I was actually feeling all around pretty terrible…by the time my lung infection hit full force, my body was having difficulty getting enough oxygen. I ended up at the Sing Medical walk-in clinic in SIP (the area of Suzhou where we live), where I was put on 5 different medication and told to stay in bed for the next week…
Since that necessary ‘mini vacation’, life hasn’t really stopped. I’ve been put in charge of the yearbook committee and the drama festival this term (two huge projects!) and I’ve also been helping out with some grade 8 exam preparation and of course, I have all my regular classes as well. It’s been a busy few months!
My favourite project has definitely been the Drama Festival. 4/5 of the classes that are participating in the event are taught by yours truly, so I’ve had my hands full preparing sets and props, teaching the students how to write a play, and of course, actually writing the plays. This festival has actually given me the chance to teach the students a whole set of new skills, and I really feel that they’ve gotten a lot out of these projects.
I began the term by teaching them about character development. I taught them a tonne of new adjectives that they could use to describe the characters they invented.
From there, I taught them about plot line and then gave them 2 weeks to prepare a presentation for the class about the play their group thought up
They all took the presentations very seriously and when each group had presented their idea to the class, we voted and chose the best play.
Now we are preparing the play that they chose as a group and they will perform it in the drama festival on April 22nd
Of course, when it came down to actually writing the plays, that was mostly left up to me. So working with their plot lines and character profiles, I got to put my creative writing skills to use! It was a tonne of fun and although it meant spending my long weekend holiday at Starbucks, it was well worth my time and efforts! I am SO looking forward to seeing what these plays look like up on stage on April 22nd!
Drama has been a blast this semester, and I have to say that Food and Nutrition has been on an upswing as well! Last term, and at the very beginning of this term, I was struggling with keeping the kitchen up to an acceptable standard of cleanliness. My students do alright, but students from the high school were using the kitchen in their free time and leaving quite a few messes to clean up.
This is my favourite class to take to the kitchen. They are learning to be so neat and organized!
I love coming in and seeing that they’ve put their vegetables in bowls instead of just having them all over the counter, like they used to do.
Making spaghetti and meatballs!
This class has been doing so well I actually took them to the kitchen for an extra week.
They LOVED the Jaimaican deviled eggs we made last term, so this term I decided to make some special Easter eggs with them
And when we were finished early (because it doesn’t take 90 minutes to make deviled eggs lol!), we got to work on our play for the drama festival!
And, in addition to the regular challenges you’d expect to face in a Home Economics-type class, there are some serious differences in culture when it comes to health and safety. It’s been quite the battle trying to teach the students about mold and bacteria. While in the past, it’s been perfectly acceptable to just stack up wet dishes into the cupboards (that aren’t finished…they have raw wood inside), the mold problem I faced in September made me determined to teach them the value of properly cleaning up. My students learned these skills pretty quickly, but as I mentioned earlier, I share the kitchen with other classes, and not all of the other classes were so quick to catch on.
Notice the sign?? At least they didn’t put them in the cupboard! lol!!
The worst is when I come in after being out of the kitchen for a week…students often leave behind things like this and they begin to rot. The worst is when I find open bags of bags of pasta sauce or open tubes of mayonnaise sitting on the counter…
My writing class continues to be one of the most rewarding things I do at the school. I love teaching those kids and they’re so engaged and interested in my lessons that they are making leaps and bounds as far as their writing is concerned. My biggest success has been a student named Jared, who went from getting 30-40% on his homework last term, to 75-80% this term! Something clicked for him and now he’s finishing 3rd place in the class on tests! That’s huge for a mainland kid, because it means that he beat kids from Singapore and Malaysia, who have been learning English most of their lives. I’m very proud of him.
And of course, in addition to being an incredibly hard-working group of students, they’re funny too! They played a very cute trick on me on April Fools day!
Life outside of the school has been busy too. With both Dave and I having birthdays in April, it’s already usually a busy month. As it turns out, our good friend, Jeff, also has a birthday in April and his friends Matt and Lisa came out for a visit as well, so we’ve been having lots of parties as of late!
Dave and I, reading for the Kempinski
At the Kempinski with some lovely friends!
An ‘oh China’ moment on the way to the bar to see Lizz’s Samba band perform (we missed the actual performance :()
I made a friend that night…this is my friend Eric’s son, Alex. Such a cute kid!!!
I’ve gotta say though, the best part so far was the one we had last night. I turned the big three oh, and some of my favourite people took me out to Beijiang (a Chinese Muslim restaurant with INCREDIBLE food!) and then to KTV! It was such a great night! I can hardly talk today because my voice is so tired from singing…but it felt so good to be out! I have met some awesome people in Suzhou and last night I felt incredibly lucky to be out with them.
Our dinner group…Jeff is incapable of taking a nice picture :p
Dave and I! Dave did such an amazing job making my birthday special this year! I’m spending 2 hours at the Kempinski spa tomorrow as a birthday gift!
My GORGEOUS birthday cake! It taste even better than it looks!!!
Michael, Karsten and I. Karsten’s rendition of ‘I will Survive’ suited his German accent so well! It is officially my new favourite version of that song!
I don’t know what I was singing here..probably Gaga…I did a lot of Gaga last night lol!
Lizz, Jeff, Dave and Piyush! Some of my favorite people in Suzhou!
Katie killing it rapping!!!
Dave killing it doing AC/DC! lol
So that’s been life lately….it’s been full and awesome and 50 shades of crazy! Oh, one last thing…I already got Dave his birthday present! I found them for sale on the Suzhou Buy and Sell and I’m SOOO happy I did!!!
I’ll be back soon…though I’m not sure if I’ll be around again before the drama festival on the 22nd. As always…thanks for reading!
I love my life in Suzhou. I’ve made some incredible friends and adopted some awesome cats. I’m working at a great school in a well-run department where I am respected and valued. I have opportunity for growth here in Suzhou, both professionally and personally and I’ve even been able to focus more on my health here, going to the gym and being more careful with my diet. I’ll be 30 soon and I need to stay healthy so that my 30s are as rockin’ as my 20s were. Still, today I’m not feeling much love for the Venice of Asia. Perhaps it’s the smoggy weather or maybe I didn’t sleep very, but China is getting on my nerves today!
It didn’t feel great being outside today. I took an underground tunnel most of the way home
This morning Dave and I met a friend for breakfast, and as is often the case with Michael, we got into a discussion about what it’s like living in China. Michael’s still on his first year here and he is still noticing some of the things that Dave and I have learned to ignore and his perspective on life here always reminds me of the things that foreigners live with on a day to day basis out here in the orient.
And all things considered, there really isn’t very much that we need to worry about. China is safe and the people here are kind and friendly, the countryside in this country is diverse and stunningly beautiful and the expat community is quite large so it’s easy to make friends in Suzhou. But, as is the case anywhere, China (and Suzhou) has its problems…
The Great Wall of China
Gardens in Suzhou
The Li River
The LongJi Rice fields in Guangxi
The Sun and Moon Pagodas in Guilin
As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve been going to the gym. I’ve been pretty good about going 3 days per week and although I haven’t lost much in the way of weight (I think I’m building muscle), I’m becoming noticeably more toned and I’ve been slimming down. I’m very proud of the way I’ve been looking lately and I feel good about doing something positive for a body that has treated me pretty well so far in my 29 years. But I’ve gotta say…as much as I love working out and feeling energized, it is EXTREMELY difficult to love Chinese gyms!! Where should I start?.
The Equipment: Although there are about 20 treadmills at Power House, they only have 6 eliptical machines, 1 stair master, 10 bikes and some weight side to side machines that kind of make you feel like you’re skating. Now, I have no problems with the treadmills…there are more than enough and they are in good shape…but I also don’t use treadmills very often because they kill my knees. So that leaves 20 cardio machines that I CAN use…except 8 or 9 of them are almost always broken. The ones that AREN’T broken are such poor quality that they always feel like they’re about to fall apart underneath you. Out of all the elliptical machines, only 1 of them accurately tracks distance and calories…1!!! It’s the same with the weights and the resistance machines. Many of them are missing pins so you can’t adjust the resistance without first hunting down a pin from some other machine. Plus, nobody puts their equipment away after they use them, so there are random weights just hanging around on the floor…a little bit dangerous…
Standard Operating Practices…
There are 4 machines down just in this shot alone…
Sanitation: This is a big one. There are no towels or spray bottles anywhere at Power House so people don’t clean their equipment like they do in Canada. I can’t tell you how often I get onto an elliptical and realize that the handles are covered in someone else’s sticky sweat. I bring my Norwex towel with me to help with that kind of thing, but it’s still pretty gross. The bathrooms are also pretty dirty. People don’t flush their dirty toilet paper in China (something about the sewage systems not being able to handle it), so the garbage cans are full of that dirty toilet paper. It smells awful and the cans get emptied so rarely that the entire hallway around the bathrooms and change rooms stinks like urine. Not pleasant…
The People: This is the worst part of going to the gym. I can’t even tell you how many times I haven’t been able to finish my work out because someone is sitting on a machine I need, texting or checking their WeChat accounts…it’s infuriating but I often feel like I’m the only person who cares. This kind of thing was especially bad in January and February, when all the New Years resolution memberships started up. Girls (the worst offenders) would hop on a treadmill and spend 10-15 minutes going back and forth between stretching (on the machine!!) and taking selfies to post on WeChat. This isn’t a huge gym, and while there are plenty of treadmills, that can’t be said about any other machine in the building. Yesterday I gave up after waiting 5 minutes for a guy to get off the crunch machine I wanted to use to target my upper abs. And that one elliptical machine that works…the one I mentioned before…people hog that machine for 50+ minutes…some of them hardly even breaking a sweat they are going so slowly because they are too busy enjoying their favourite TV show on their cell phones.
And this is where the title of this post comes in…a lot of these problems are annoying but forgivable. After all, I know my standards are high…I’m lucky and I was born in a wealthy country where I have the luxury of having problems as shallow as ‘not having cold enough water’. I also know that the sewage issues in China are complicated and that not everywhere in the world is as sterile as North America (it’s weird coming home for visits by the way…everything feels too clean…the whole country feels like a hospital). There are absolutely things that can be explained by pointing out cultural differences…and foreigners who have been here for a while are always quick to point out that you’re being judgmental for getting upset about some of the things we deal with here in China. I always feel bad when someone says that to me, because I try very hard to be understanding of cultural differences…
But this morning, when we were having breakfast with Michael, he said something that really rang true with me during my work out today: When can we stop pretending that EVERYTHING is about culture? How many things can we blame on cultural differences, really?? When does Culture become an excuse?
I don’t think that the selfie taking at the gym is forgivable just because I’m in China and “things are different here”. I also don’t think people have to leave their equipment all over the place for others to trip on. And I definitely don’t think that a gym like Power House, who claims to be the ‘western gym’ and charges western prices, has any excuses as far as buying terrible equipment is concerned. None of these things are cultural…they’re just people being inconsiderate of others. And maybe it’s my Canadian background…maybe it’s just my upbringing…but I really have very little patience for inconsiderate people. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone just paid attention to other people’s needs and tried to be more aware of the world around them?
So those are my thoughts today. Living overseas can be very hard some days, and although it’s gotten ions easier for me since moving to Suzhou, there are still thing here that tick me off. I guess I still have not succeeded in becoming the Super Wizard that I long to be… a Super Wizard who is annoyed by nothing and can aparate to Canada any time she wants to go to the gym or meet her gorgeous new nephew, Zachary.
There’s still more about India on its way! Thanks for checking in!!!