Details, how to get your stuff to China, shipping fees, and the Chinese Prime page and WeChat account, coming soon!
I know, I know, I know...
I have seriously slacked on my blog the past few months. Soon, you will learn why! It has been a rough-ass start to the school year. November marks my 8th month in China, and it seems a month, a week, and sometimes a day does not pass with some kind of insane drama in the form of struggle, misunderstanding, daily tasks-too-hard-too-accomplish-here, work problems, injury, or illness! AAAAGH!
But yes, I still love China!
Despite that fact that I lazed around during the entire October vacation (1 week), and only left the house twice to venture to the grocery store, I still managed to capture a case of bacterial bronchitis. This took me down for the month, and I only stopped coughing, finally, last week. I missed 7 days of work during the worst two weeks and spent a hellalot on doctors, seeing as I refused to visit the People's #1 Hospital (should be called the #2 because it is shit) that is provided for all ciitizens and treatment there covered by school. After the arm break --oh yeah, on September 11 I fell on the way to work and snapped my ulna--I told my friends and coworkers to let me bleed out on the street before I am ever taken to that hospital again! Seriously! Envision overcrowded, dirty prison in the third world and that is Chengdu's People's #1 Hospital. I was sure I would catch hepatitis just being in the building and sitting on the waiting benches, or instantly get cancer from their circa 1930s x-ray machine. It seemed I was transported back to The Great Leap Backward era, ugh! Anyhoo, there is excellent healthcare available here, from modern hospitals and clinics where the staff speaks English, the care provided is comparable to that in which I received in Korea (which easily surpasses the US!), and the environment is clean! I found that care from Dr. Leo and his staff during the bronchitis spell! Of course, for that high-quality care in a clean space, one pays out of pocket and the cost is triple that of the "#1" Hospital. Understand that this triple-the-cost amount is still a fraction of what I would pay in the US, whose healthcare system is run for-profit by the insurance companies so that their boards and CEOs can get rich from Americans' illness and injury. I will describe the details of costs and that horrid hospital visit in another post. And so, my arm had just about healed when I came down with the worst bronchitis in history. I was lucky it did not turn into pneumonia, but we took chest x-rays to ensure this. What resulted from harsh coughing for one month (despite taking 20 pills per day (no joke!), was a torn rib cartilage/intercostal muscle that then prevented full breaths or more than an hour of sleep for two weeks. My new TCM recommended cupping which just about cured me and ended 96% of my pain. Last night was the first night I slept without waking but twice do to chest pain!!! As it is currently mid-November and I have been both ill and injured since the second week of September, I am hoping the run of bad luck has worn itself out!
In the meantime, here is a brief synopsis of latest events in the Life of G: the communication issues in class have been resolved, so the environment there is much more positive, winter weather has descended into the basin that surrounds Chengdu (40-50F), the pollution has increased as it does every winter, I am seeing a new TCM and drinking interesting herbal decoctions, I am planning for a Thanksgiving potluck with friends and coworkers, a visit from my friend Captain Andy, who has sailed over from Turkey and is currently travelling overland from SE Asia to China, deciding what I want to do for our 5 day Xmas break, making SCUBA vaca plans in Indonesia for Chinese New Year Holiday, still organizing my apartment, and trying to get my discipline and habit back to exercise regularly after all this time off! More soon!
I still like seeing the city when I arise or go to bed. I love to leave my curtains open at night—all the static hues and blinking stars of fluorescence from man-made light twinkling across the city-scape—but the light keeps me awake, so I must sadly close my curtains. I have a spectacular view of my part of the city, just below the “Third Ring” road, from my 18th floor; my windows start at the floor and ready nearly to the ceiling. On clear days, of which there are few, I can see mountains. They are shaded grey far in the distance to the southwest. My flat faces almost due west, looking outward to the town that I love so much —and am visiting for the second time since my arrival in China: Kangding.
In reference to travel— and this is one of my favorite aspects of living in China—I have been able to make four separate 3-4 day sojourns around 3 of China’s provinces in the 3 1/2 months since my arrival! There have been four holidays since my arrival (including this upcoming weekend’s Dragon Boat): Qing Ming in April, Labour Day in May, and Dragon Boat in June. These are only one-day holidays, but they are tacked onto a weekend, making for a 3-4 day weekend! Additionally, I took a short weekend trip to Yunnan province with a friend. So I’ve visited Hunan, Sichuan (where I live), and Yunnan. Travel is very inexpensive, as I’ve mentioned in numerous other posts, and relatively easy. But I’ve only taken the train once; I mainly fly because bus trips eat up a full day or more of your travel time.
And of course, along with traveling, it seems everything else in China is relatively inexpensive! I mean, it’s almost ridiculous the amount of money I can save each month whilst living like a Queen—or so it feels. I can buy what I want, eat out, order take-out, shop for clothes, furnish my apartment, use a car service daily... and still have 30-50% of my income left over for savings! From food to living expenses to rent, unless you buy a lot of foreign imports, the cost of living is low (for an expat making a decent professional salary; I do not have info on income-levels and QOL (quality of life) or SOL (standard of living) of Chinese locals, or my chinese co-teachers. I can only speak of certified teachers).
Upon reflection, after 15 weeks in China, life is good here. It’s not easy, but it’s inexpensive. The air quality is terrible and it makes me cough constantly, but I can afford to travel each month to mountains and clean air. Life is good here; my quality of life is much, much better than it was in Texas and I’m glad to be here! I am grateful for this job opportunity, for this city, for my new friends, for my school, and for much, much more!
Oh, P.S., and my final resident permit was not complete and in-hand until Thursday, April 26, 8 weeks after my arrival!
Today is my 3-month anniversary of arriving in Chengdu! Wow! So much has happened I am unsure where to begin! There have challenges and frustrations, wonders and new experiences. The small frustrations seem to add up to one humongous irritation, but then get balanced out by all the awesomeness of something like the fact that I travel every month now!
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to learn the language! My life would be 80% more chill if I could speak Mandarin. I am glad I started lessons, but you just can’t imagine how hard the “zh” and the “j” sound can be—so alike but with distinct differences that completely change a word and its meaning. The same with the “four tones” : flat, up, down-up, down. These intonations give each word its unique meaning. For instance, the word “ma” has four distinct definitions, depending on tone (Mom, numb, horse, to cuss)! I have been in multiple situations where my lack of ability in comprehending what is being said to me and expressing my needs has created frustration, tears, and a feeling of powerlessness. I am still amazed that people can live here and never learn anything beyond “Hello, goodbye, thank you, stop here”. For myself, I am still trying to undo the habit of saying “thank you” without the proper tones; luckily it is easy to understand “xie xie” with or without the tones (Can you believe xi is pronounced “sh”? Whomever translated all the sounds into the English lettering system did a shoddy job with xi, qi, j, and zh. They are pronounced nothing like our Roman alphabet...aaargh!). I think with many languages (this being my opinion as a native speaker of English), pronunciation and tone and vocabulary is added to pre-existing knowledge. But with Mandarin, those three have to be unlearned and re-assimilated. But it is doable!! Take lessons, study, and practice! Makes life in China 100% easier!!! I love watching my friend from Buffalo argue with a local. “Are you mad?”, I ask her. “No.” Yet she gets the tones and expressions downs pat and makes a price squabble look like it will come to blows (for she is fluent in Mandarin)!
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Feeling super-frustrated at the continual problems I have been having with the internet and cable. My wifi works for sh$$, so I have been unable to continue consistent work on my blog; nothing uploads. The speed of my wifi is like dial-up and it dials-up my frustration—that’s the only thing fast! I stopped using my TV after month one, when everything I had been watching was costing me extra and they shut off my wifi because I owed money. There’s another fun fact: China Telecom doesn’t say “Hey, you are at your limit, pay some yuan”; they just shut it off and you are supposed to figure out why. Figuring out why, and possibly even knowing beforehand is probably simple if you speak Mandarin! Add to that the fact that I purchased an expensive router with built-in VPN that is supposed to make my upload/download speeds superfast and that doesn’t work for sh$$ either. Just as slow and who knows if the VPN doesn’t work either. I need to ask for my money back.
(Not to worry; the bitching ends in gratitude!!)
My frustration level has been at its highest these past weeks, when every single day brings a new challenge and frustration and something going wrong. I’ve been late to work twice because I can’t get a car service (poor me), but I couldn't use the bikes because they wouldn’t accept my ID or something. My fire alarm keeps going off and the tell me nothing is wrong with it, that I should open a window. Well, the air has been bad for two days and I’m not opening my damn window. Plus, it’s not a nice and easy battery-powered alarm of which I could simply pull out the battery—it’s wired connected. I’m seriously thinking about cutting the wires. Then there is the AC in my bedroom which only blows warm air and will not shut off, so I have to crawl up on my bed to stand, reach up, and unplug it to switch it off.
Oh, and there’s mold in my AC system, so i get to pay someone to come clean that out too.
All these little things add up, when they happen one after the other, especially if I’m feeling sensitive and moody and vulnerable due other reasons already. I have felt seriously fed up and at the end of my rope last week and so far this week; damn, it’s only Tuesday at 6:30am, too. Ugh!
But all of this is not to say that I don’t love China and I don’t appreciate everything else that is such a gift here, financially, friendship, travel, other conveniences (that are not wifi and AC). I have received so much support from my coworkers and staff at school and friendships have emerged that I treasure. I have had two out-of-town vacations in the short weeks I’ve been here, and by week 12, I will be traveling on my third! Since my Dad died, I have stopped taking the bus, and gotten in the lazy but inexpensive habit of using car service to and from work and during lunch. This Chinese version of Uber has only set me back 590 yuan ($100) for the month, and that is using it to go everywhere, including 4 trips to/from school 4-5 days weekly! I’ve finally figured out how to order various items online, including dinner delivered in 45 minutes or bubble tea to work after lunch. I have everything I need and I feel prosperous here—which is the exact opposite of how I have felt in the US since my return from Korea.
When I weigh the ups and the downs, the scale tips toward the positive side; I just need to keep my mind and perspective on that side as well. Perhaps THAT is the greatest challenge of living in China!
Photo: Roof detail of one of the temples at Namwusi Buddhist Monastery in Kangding, from my June 2018 visit.
Finishing up up my 8th week in Chengdu; month 2. At dinner a few nights ago, a friend reminded me to give myself credit and be gentle and congratulatory too myself instead of so hard on myself. I have accomplished so much and learned even more these 8 weeks. I managed the loss of my Dad from afar and separated from family support. I’ve been sick twice—for weeks—due to the air pollution.
Little, simple tasks take twice to thrice as long in China, since I do not speak the language (and perhaps due to some bureaucratic processes!) For instance, I JUSt received my resident work visa on Thursday! Not only did it take months to obtain required paperwork while in the US, it took multiple visits to government agencies and 2 months to receive the work visa! Since I have yet to learn Mandarin, everything takes 5x as long, as I have to translate everything using one of two phones, and one of two laptops. Thank goddess for visual translators that work with a phone camera! Since almost everything is electronic here, I spend most of the time translating apps using Google translate on my old phone or iPad. For instance, ordering food, online shopping, utility payments, deliveries... all in Mandarin, so I have to translate everything first. I love that everything is web-based, though! Every single item needed (excluding fresh groceries and food delivery) can be found on taobao.com! Although we have large supermarkets and stores and malls, it is not always easy or quick to navigate these places and find what I need. Although the same can be said of ordering online and from apps, I have learned to find what I need on Taobao: nail files, clothing, kimchi, dishes, towels, sheets, etc. Luckily, I can type what I seek into the search bar, or upload a photo, and the selection pops up—although that can also be overwhelming, since it’s like a million items that come up from general searches! I’ve learned how to save favorites for later, add items to my cart, purchase, and pay! Sound simple? You try it in Mandarin! Some expats I know that have lived in China for years still use the english version baopals.com, which,— while easier— charges about double on most items.
I can now pay all my bills with the online apps as well, of which there are several! (I’ll include some screen shots.). WeChat is the main messaging platform, where not only do you text,, but you order food,, pay bills, reserve rental bikes and cars, pay utility bills, keep a balance like a bank, book flights and trains, buy movie tickets... we each have a unique QR code that vendors can scan for payment, exchange contact cards with new friend4098s, send money when you split a the dinner bill, and a twitter-like platform to post pics and “what’s up with me now” type blurbs. It is awesome! Then there is Alipay, which is mainly a payment app similar to WeChat to pay bills, order taxis, tickets, etc. Oh, and on both, you can access “Kangaroo” which is the food delivery app. Speaking of food delivery. Kanga and other apps enable online grocery shopping and delivery from major grocery stores, convenient stores, and local grocers. I’ve avoided it so far, but could order a blizzard from the DQ a few km away if I wished. I have yet to find delivery of food other than fast food, junk food, fried food, and Sichuan-style Chinese (more on that and why I avoid it, later! It is delish but too oil- and meat-heavy for my tastes!), but through much searching, found several Korean banchan (side dishes) such as kimchi, danmuji, and more, to eat with rice. I’ve reverted to eating my Korean meals again, which feels healthy and palatable. I might be getting bored with food rather quickly here, so I’ll be looking for more options soon! Again, I’ve only been in China 2 months, so I will figure it out!
Through the help of many new friends at work and through various WeChat groups, I’ve found doctors, grocery stores, movie theaters, film groups, thai restaurants, places to visit out of town, and more!
As with everything in life (at least my life), it will become easier and I have to accept the ups and downs, be flexible... and learn Mandarin!!!
Yes, obviously there are challenges that come from the move to a foreign country: language, culture, transportation, food, purchasing, etc. All of these challenges can be overcome with varying degrees of ease. One aspect that is really giving me a hard time though, is the air pollution.
I am trying to direct my thoughts to focus on positives and healing thoughts, rather than focus on how bad I feel: the fact that my lungs are healthy and strong (after all, I've been a runner most of my life), the fact that my lungs will adjust and clear out all the pollutants, and the truth that I need to give my self and my body time to adjust (as my friends and co-teachers here keep reminding me!) The air will continue to clear during spring and summer, while my lungs and body learn not only to purge the pollutants but defend against them. For me, I must hold fiercely to the thought that the feelings and reactions I am currently having will NOT last forever. I do tend to forever-ize circumstances, especially if they are negative or if I bring fearful thoughts into the equation. Luckily, I am surrounded mostly by positive and supportive people who are encouraging me to rest and take it easy; who remind me of the unavoidable adjustment period, and my work schedule allows plenty of time for rest.
I will be okay, if I remember that I will be, and that this period of not-feeling-good will pass. I also need to remember to give myself permission to take it easy, and allow myself time to adjust to life in China in all areas. I want to focus on the good parts, of which there are so many! After all, everything is pretty good here in China; the only down side really, honestly, is the air pollution! And once again, the government is making huge strides to reduce it! I will count on the rest of the year being better, and next year as well. Right now, I will focus on rest, hydration, allowing myself to take it easy, and all the good aspects I am experiencing... more on that coming up!
One of the aspects of travel and living abroad that I LOVE is rummaging around foreign (to me) grocery stores! As a former Chef, I still love looking at ingredients and food stuffs; I find what non-American cultures eat incredibly interesting, amazing, and not uncommonly completely unknown and new to me! It's so fun!
That said, I spent yesterday (literally, 4 hours) in Ito Yokado, our local Japanese supermarket chain. And it was definitely super! Three floors of overwhelming super-ness!
...After wending my way through the store two nights ago after the movie, getting lost, and finally having a store clerk walk me to the exit (!), I was determined to return and conquer Ito! Fighting! (Don't have Hangul keyboard so I can't translate that properly.) Ito is connected to a multi-story mall that contains the cinema where me and a group of new friends went to see Black Panther Friday night. I was sure I could follow P.'s simple directions to exit the mall and walk through Ito to the street that would lead me home, a short two blocks away. I was wrong! It took me a while to navigate the mall's escalators, which were nowhere near eachother going down or up! Then, I became confused by the entrance of Ito (a separate entrance on every level), because I couldn't see the "grocery" floor, and knew that floor led me to the street. So, up and down, down and up, around and around...finally! Found the grocery level, but could not find the damn exit. It was amusing at first, but then, I just wanted to go home after a long week! This wonderful clerk who spoke a bit of English escorted me personally to the exit and I walked home, relieved, exasperated, and feeling like a bit of a dolt! Next time, I will allow my friends to walk me exactly where I need to go until I am truly familiar with my surroundings. Perhaps being too independent is not a strength in all situations. I am so used to doing everything on my own that I do notice my tendentiousness (sorry, that's one of my fav words LOL! Have to use it when I can!)...
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Ok, had my first big challenge of the week last night; the challenge that comes from not being able to speak the local language, not being able to reach any English-speaking help, and thus, feeling powerless, afraid, and anxious. Not to worry, it was not an emergency, but resulted in a lot of frustration and heightened anxiety, and was too reminscent of some experiences that happened in Korea. When my mind started racing about all the negative results and bringing forth memories of times I was alone and helpless in Korea, I started to feel upset.
Basically, my power went out. Long story short, it was restored within 30 minutes, after much hand-gesturing and the help--big help-- of our complex's maintenance man. But the experience made me decide to prioritize buying a new phone that can work on 4G so I have service outside my damn apartment, and getting more info immediately on what utility bills need to be paid when. More on this first true challenge in Chengdu later!
For now, I have power, literally and physically/emotionally/mentally, and I will focus on that! :-))
... with Chengdu, that is!
... and my new school!
... and my coworkers!
... and the ease and modernity of life here in China!
Down the elevator from my 18th floor flat, a delightful walk over garden stones, underneath shapely trees shyly offering buds to Spring, and past a calming pond, a short set of stairs leads to an underground shop in my complex where I order WiFi service. Within an hour, the service man knocks. He does his magic, and I have WiFi and cable. He kindly follows my gestures and shows me how to work the flatscreen controls and even my heater. Next is the order for bottled water, to refill my 5-gallon system. The future procedure will be to text the water service and wait; they arrive within 15 minutes. Today, my relocation assistant, Yan, sets an appointment, and they arrive. On time. I discover a problem with my shower, and maintenance is called. The response to my query of whether they will come the following day or next week is a perplexed grin from Yan and "No, we will wait, they will come now." And within 10 minutes, another knock. "Oh my! [Thank the gods] we are not in Kansas anymore, Toto!"
Much of this happens on Sunday, too!
WiFi costs 199rmb per month.
Bottled water is 22rmb, including delivery and machine maintenance.
Monthly cell service is 80rmb, which includes a new SIM.
100rmb=$15 for perspective.
Transactions occur via text on WeChat, which is linked to your bank account. Text the water company, the fee is paid electronically the dude shows up with a 5-gallon bottle and takes away the empty bottle.
15 minutes and $3 later.
There is so much more, too much more; it's all a jumble in my brain as I am still slightly time-zone-change-zombified (It's Wednesday, I woke up at 3:30 :-))
I don't know which amazes me the most: the friendliness of the locals, the modernity that surpasses the US in every way, the ease and speed of services, the helpfulness of my co-teachers, the physical beauty of my new school... there is too much to appreciate! Strangers walk past, openly stare (I stick out slightly;-)), but offer a smile to match mine and greeting "Nihao!" The stares do not appear rude or intrusive, but openly inquisitive and surprised--as though I am a new species of zebra with purple stripes, or a Unicorn! LOLOLOL! (Of course, I am!) I can't get over how friendly everyone is, I mean, not every single person, but 90+ percent of all ages and genders! This is a way of relating I have sorely missed. Texas has changed over the years, and people no longer meet your eyes on the street: when passing someone, I seek eye contact, and most avert their eyes to their phone or elsewhere and only respond with a greeting if I shock them out of their self-imposed box with a "hello". This experience was magnified in Austin, no longer a friendly city in a friendly state. I experienced the same in Korea, where it was rare to be met with eye contact and a smiling greeting on the street. But here, Chengdu, oh my Shangri-La! I am bombarded by wave after wave of connection and welcome and friendliness, so much that I feel a sense of happiness rise from walking down the street!
My apartment is amazing, though I am not settled nor comfortable yet (It's only Day 3, G!). Although it was relatively clean, I want it spotless and new, to match my desire to start fresh and new. My amazing co-teacher, P. --oh, I must tell you about how much she has done for me and helped me and guided me and wlecomed me and befriended me-- referred her cleaning service to me, so I will get a deep clean on Sunday. Can you guess how much it will cost? No, you cannot, because it is too unbeleiveable. The woman I connected with, after inquiring as to the size of my apartment and what I needed, quoted my a price of 40rmb per hour, with a minumum of 5 hours required. Sounds right to me! Those are hours of my time that I don't have to spend cleaning, since I am transitioning and every day is new with new challenges and new duties at school, and so much to do...5 hours at 40rmb is $30US. Yep, you heard it, $30US. This is why P has the cleaning service come every week or two, and her apartment only needs maintenance cleaning of an hour or two! OMG Like I said, Shangri-La!!! I have a huge (to me) two bedroom flat, with wood floors, an enclosed balcony, and laundry room with washer. The flat came furnished with a king-size in the master bedroom and a full-size in the guestroom, a flat screen TV, and pretty much everything I need except kitchenware and decor. If I was penurious, I would need to buy nothing except cookware, dishes, and towels and such. But there is an IKEA four miles north, and my friend will be sending me my artwork in the future, and I will soon learn the magic of ordering everything from WeChat off TaoBao, so I will have this lovely flat personalized soon!
Speaking of ordering online: Chinese and foreigners living in China buy so much online. All bills, services, and fees are paid via apps, food and groceries that are delivered to your door at a specified time and day (on time!) are ordered via apps, taxis and bike rentals are paid through you bank account connected with WeChat... pretty much everything is done via WeChat or apps! I (finally, thank you all the gods) can rid myself of this POS iPhone, because all of China is on 4-5G, so my phone, even with new SIM, doesn't connect to the Net very well out of the house or away from a WiFi signal, so I get to buy a new truly smart phone - either an excellent Chinese brand, or a Samsung. (You know I hate this iPhone and wanted a Samsung in the first place, so "having" to buy a new phone is more like a gift!) My co-workers try to convince me to get the Chinese brand, it is less expensive than a Samsung, so I will try to be open-minded and not such a Korea-loyalist, LOL! I am in China after all, so it is time to become a China-Loyalist, which becomes easier every day, with each interaction! (I still sarangae daehan minguk!) And bikes... oh you should see the people on bikes... more bike riders than drivers! There are rental bikes everyewhere! You rent one, and leave it on the sidewalk. No hyperbole when I say everywhere! And the traffic congestion on the bike lanes is high during peak times, LOL!