Saying Farewell

Obviously, I left this place hanging a little. I put off writing this for months. Not really sure why. I think it was because I didn’t really want to admit that it was time to say goodbye. That our time here was REALLY “over”. China was home my home away from home. Always different, always strange, but home, nonetheless. I am one of those who wants to bury my head in the sand anytime change is coming and that is what I did during this move. I took it as it came, little step by little step got me back to the US. I purposely never took time to think about what was really happening.

Sometimes it feels like it was all a dream. And sometimes it feels like I’m just waiting out an extended vacation before I get on a plane and fly back to China. But I’m not. At least not for a very long time. That chapter has closed for now.

And it’s time for a new chapter. Ready or not. Lots of times in the last few months, I have felt the “not”.

I do not plan to abandon this blog. There are many stories and photos and reflections that did not make it here when they happened. It all happened so fast.

And yet, I think the thing I have struggled with the most is the pace of life back here in America. Everyone has so much to do! And you are expected to accomplish 10 things in a day. Grocery store, bank, post office, lunch with friends, shopping, cooking, and laundry. In China, it’s an accomplishment to check off one, and a rockin’ awesome day to knock out two! But all those things that should be so easy, are somehow so overwhelming.

Grocery stores are huge, and everything is wrapped in plastic, or metal, or cardboard. (yuk!) And it’s hard to explain to someone who has always done it this way why it’s now hard for me. I did it for years. It’s “normal”, right? Nothing changed here. (Except the prices! Holy cow, inflation!)

Nothing changed but me.

FacebookTwitterShare

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes??

So we don’t discuss work topics very often on here but I did have a pretty big change in my role earlier this year. I moved over to managing one of our teams as my big project finished with The Company. It wasn’t a huge adjustment as I was still working with many of the same colleagues. The biggest change came as I actually have a direct line management role now. One of the first things I wanted to do was have a team building activity (always especially popular in China).

I wanted to do something that would give both a Chinese and a Western feeling to the night. So, we decided to go bowling (which they have in China but which is not common) and then go to a Chinese restaurant. And I delegated the restaurant choosing to one of my team members. Who then surprised me (and most of my team) by sending the invitation. To a famous local restaurant. That specializes in…

Did you remember the post title?

Yep. Snakes.

Now I don’t like snakes. I like spiders less. But snakes are definitely top five in my least popular animal book. I’m not sure why but the concept of eating them didn’t make it seem any better. I’m not the only one a little shocked by the choice (one of the girls on my team seemed particularly disturbed). I announced that we would still all go to this restaurant but no one had to eat snake if they didn’t want to.

So we get there and order. And we find out that each order of snake has just enough pieces for everyone to get one (10, including one lady that had to leave after our bowling). Oh boy. They bring it out and it doesn’t look so bad actually as they fry it. CFER and I are from the south (I’m adopted southerner anyway) and everything there is fried so I figure, why not, and dig in.

And find out there is one very good reason most people don’t eat snakes. They’re all bones!! It actually didn’t taste so bad, just was too hard to eat…So I finish the snake. Now, normally this is the end of the story, right? Not a chance – this is where it really starts to get good…

You see, I realize that there’s a quite engaging conversation going on between the servers and a few of my team members. They inform me that what we just ate is actually not the most important part of the snake. The real thing that you are supposed to do in China, after eating a snake, is to drink two things. Can you guess what they are? Here’s the picture below to help.

20120925-160221.jpg

If you said:

1) Snake blood
2) Snake gallbladder juice

Congratulations, you’re ready to move to China!

FacebookTwitterShare

Grocery Shopping in Shenyang… American style.

I’ve told you before about the local markets I like to buy meat and produce from, but what if you need cheese, bread, and canned goods? These items are not commonly used in Chinese cooking, but fortunately, Shenyang has some nice new grocery stores to fill that import food need.

Yoo Hoo:

  This is the grocery store in the basement of the Richgate Mall, beside the Lexington Hotel. It’s just down the street from the North Train Station so you can even get here on the Shenyang Subway line 2 (Bei Zhan stop.) This place reminds me of a Whole Foods Market. They carry only import goods from all over the world. They have a great cheese and deli section. And sometimes avocados in the produce section! It’s pricey, but if you really need a guacamole fix, sometimes it’s worth it.

Olé

This store opened about a year ago in the new MixC mall (Wan Xiang Cheng) on Qingnian Street just north of Zhanlanguan (Exhibition Hall) also accessible on Subway Line 2 (zhanlanguan stop). There is an exit from the metro that takes you directly into the basement of the MixC and right past Starbucks toward Olé. It’s similar to YooHoo but doesn’t have quite the selection they do. They are comparable on price, but Ole is easier to get to so it’s good for a quick trip. I usually buy ciabatta bread, and sometimes cheese here. They also have the best bacon in town.

Riverside Market (aka. The Little Store.)

This place was like a treasure chest and Christmas all rolled up into one when I was first introduced to it. Keep in mind, the above 2 grocery stores didn’t open for six months and a year after we arrived so this little place was IT for the good stuff.

It’s actually still a like a weekly treasure hunt because their stock changes frequently and you never know what’s going to arrive. There’s a Shenyang expat rule you better learn fast or you’ll be frequently disappointed, if there is something you see that you think you might want in the future, buy it. immediately. And probably buy several. Don’t wait and plan to come back tomorrow. It WILL be gone. And there’s a good chance you won’t see it again for months. Or maybe ever.

The is the place to find the American comfort foods. Breakfast sausage, Doritos, Tortilla chips and salsa, Kraft Mac & Cheese. Last week, they even had frozen waffles.

Carrefour

This store has been in Shenyang for several years. French owned, it is similar to Wal-mart in the US. They have the best prices on import goods although their selection is pretty slim. I usually buy milk, cereal, and a few can goods here. The one at the big circle overpass at the intersection of Qingnian and Wenhua Road has the best import section. Bring your A-game for a trip here because it is cah-razy. Like Black Friday on steroids. To save your sanity, don’t even try to go on a weekend.

Notice that I didn’t mention Walmart. While Shenyang does have several, they don’t have the import goods you’d expect. Walmart tends to cater to local tastes and in my experience tends to be kind of dirty. I usually stick to the above mentioned stores (plus the market) for most of my shopping. Although you should definitely make at least one trip to a Walmart in China, just for the experience. That’s one you just have to see for yourself.

FacebookTwitterShare

Just another reason I’m jealous of Beijing

Because for 1. They have international restaurants. Hundreds. All types of food. Even Mexican.

In Shenyang, we may have 10 (if you don’t count McD’s, KFC, or Pizza Hut). Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Chinese food. It’s good stuff (if you know what to order). I just don’t want it everyday. I need burgers in my life. And tacos.

And for 2. Because some genius started this website… jinshisong.com

Jinshisong

They have over 100 restaurants. That wouldn’t normally deliver. They set up the menus online (usually not the full menus, just the stuff easy to deliver), they place your order, and then… bring it to you. at home.

It’s genius, I tell you. Think of all your favorite restaurants. Then think how awesome it would be if you could eat that without even leaving the house. Awesomeness. No matter where in the world you are. Especially for hermits like me.

(Ok, so not really me, I like to go. But LB definitely would be a hermit if I let him. And even I like to hole up during Shenyang winters. Although, honestly, I’d probably no longer be able to leave my house I’d be so fat if this service was available to me.)

Why don’t we have this in Shenyang? Anybody out there? Will you please build this? You will have customers. Many customers. (Although, you may need to build a few more Western restaurants while you’re at it. I vote Mexican food!)

Jinshisong even delivers Kro’s Nest Pizza! Have you been there? The next time you’re in Beijing, you absolutely must! It is a top notch pizza joint. Some of the best I’ve ever eaten. in my life. (Confession: I was in Beijing last week with some girlfriends and we ate there 3 times. in one week. It’s good stuff, I tell you. But it really deserves a post all its own.)

So if you live in Beijing, you should definitely take advantage of this service. Because fo’ real, I’m jealous.

If you’re not in Beijing, sorry I just made you jealous too.

FacebookTwitterShare

The new washer

Our original lease is nearly up so I had to discuss with the realtor about extending for another year and a couple of things we needed him to fix. One of those was the washer.

It’s been on the fritz for a while now, and finally my ayi was running a load for us (normally I do the washing and she irons) and called me in to tell me that it was “Bu Hao” and “very old” and that I should ask the landlord for a new one.

Our landlord has always been great and timely about taking care of the things we need. We’re very fortunate. First thing Saturday morning, we had his “friend” (we always deal with the landlord’s friend, never actually met the landlord) at the house to look at the old washer and see if it needed repairing or replacing.

At this point, I got Ayi on the phone to explain to him what was wrong. (It doesn’t always do the thing where it sounds like a freight train coming off the tracks and stops in the middle of a load, and I sure didn’t know how to explain that in Chinese.) She went on and on with him on the phone and he just kept saying “Bu xing. Bu neng.” (It’s not possible. I can’t.) He never really agreed with her, but as soon as he hung up, he told me he was going to buy a new one. Never even looked at the current washer. (You go, ayi!)

Now I’ll mention here that I was spending this Saturday preparing for a baby shower that I was hosting at our place Sunday morning (as well as packing for a trip to Beijing that I was leaving for on Sunday afternoon). I didn’t really think it would be a big deal since I didn’t need the washer to do those things.

At about 5 pm, I got a knock on the door. When I opened it, it was a Chinese guy bent halfway over with a washer tied to his back. Surprised, I let him come on in, impressed at how quickly we had a new washer.

I ushered him to the kitchen where I was beginning to bake some cupcakes and showed him the old washer since I was assuming he was going to replace it.

At this point, I was even more surprised when he unloaded the washer in the middle of the kitchen floor, took off the cardboard box and waved his hand like he was Vanna White showing me the new washer.

I just nodded to say “Oh yes, that’s a very nice new washer.” Not really sure what he wanted from me. He smiled and nodded back.

Then turned and walked right out of my house. Leaving the new washer, old washer and box right where it stood.

And me, standing with my mouth open in the kitchen trying to figure out how I’m supposed to cook for and entertain the 12 people who would be at my house in just 12 hours around this huge new washer in the middle of the floor.

I know I really shouldn’t be surprised by anything anymore, but sometimes I still can’t help it.

And I think the landlord’s friend was just as surprised when he stopped by at 11 the next morning to drop off the receipt and was greeted by a house full of loud foreign women.

FacebookTwitterShare

Let’s take a walk

I thought you might be interested to see what our city of Shenyang is like on a typical Spring day so I thought I’d take you on a walk with me. This is the main street that brings you into Shenyang called Qingnian Dajie. It’s just outside the West Gate of Riverside Garden.

I have to laugh when I think back to when we first arrived in Shenyang. When we were choosing our apartment, we debated if this would be a comfortable walk from our place to the big grocery store, Carrefour. We finally concluded that it was possible but not comfortable. This is funny to me now because what seemed too far when we moved here is a walk I make multiple times a week. And actually much less than I typically walk in a day. And I do it now while carrying groceries.

Funny how our perspective changes.

Want to make time for more exercise in your life? Just move to a city where you don’t have a car and it’s a challenge to tell a taxi driver where to go. A 30-minute walk becomes “just around the corner”.

It’s also funny that even though I’ve been here a year and a half, I still can’t take a walk without shaking my head. Smiling at just another unbelievable sight in this crazy country. Saying “Zhendema?” (which means, “Really?”) at least 100 times a day. And asking myself, “Is this real life?” Although, I think I have finally have gotten over being surprised at what I see.

Nothing surprises me anymore. Continue reading

FacebookTwitterShare

It’s the same… but different.

A couple of days I stumbled upon this box of cookies at Carrefour, I had to pick them up.

I could tell from the packaging that they were a little taste of home. Chips Ahoy! And even better, the chewy kind. my favorite.

Now I don’t normally buy a lot of cookies or junk food. Not because I have anything against it, it just usually ends up cluttering up our pantry for months because we don’t really eat it. But in this case, I wanted a little taste of home.

So I bought them.

I was very impressed because they were only a few kuai. Less than 1 US dollar. Not usually the case with imported foods.

After dinner that night, I pulled out my box of cookies. It was a box. Not the same as the plastic trays with the crackly wrapping like in the US. And a little smaller.

And when I pulled out the little tray, I was a little surprised.

Not because the cookies were different. Thankfully they were exactly what I expected. This time. (That isn’t always the case. I bought a similar package before and was surprised to find that instead of chocolate chips, they were filled with blueberries.)

I was surprised because that whole box only contained 6 cookies.

The hubby never did find out I bought chips ahoy cookies. Six just isn’t enough to share. At least in my book. Btw, this is the OTHER reason I don’t buy junk food.

FacebookTwitterShare

Pocketcam

20120418-222509.jpg

This is a perfect example of what we’ve dubbed “pocketcam moments”… after the thousandth time I called and told my husband I needed one. (Seriously, it was on my Christmas list the first December after we moved here.) This kind of thing happens every day. I really should start posting “Random Daily Photos” because I have hundreds that you wouldn’t believe!

Instead of a pocket-cam, I got an iPhone. And now I’m really good at stealth photos. (Or sometimes, I don’t even bother with stealth.) All my friends here know to watch out if I’ve got my phone out. Even if I look like I’m texting, or listening to music.

I’m probably videoing. Or snapping photos.

I purposely keep my sound off so you can’t hear the camera sound. (BTW, does anyone know how to turn that off without putting your phone on silent? That would be really helpful.)

But sometimes the phone camera is just too slow.

I’m telling you… we need a Pocket-Cam!

FacebookTwitterShare

Naptime at Ikea in China

The following set of photos are what I used to call “pocketcam” moments. That was before I lived in China long enough to lose all shame about pulling out my camera and snapping a photo whenever and of whoever I feel like. It’s happened to me so many times at this point that I’ve lost all of the need to be discreet.

Actually, in the taxi on the way to Ikea this very day we had a group of Chinese men yelling at us from the car next to us at a redlight. Two had their phones out snapping photos. I waved. All you need is a white face and light colored hair to have paparazzi in China.

And so, I don’t feel bad at all anymore for walking right up and snapping a photo when I see things like this.

At first glance this just looks like a nice couple enjoying some time together, right?

But back it up a little… Continue reading

FacebookTwitterShare