Reasons why I love China… my ‘ayi’

There are many things I really love about China. One of those things is…

how my laundry looks like this.

Ironing in China

And I’m not the one who did it.

It’s amazing!

I go out to lunch with friends and when I get back, my laundry looks like that. And the floors are clean and mopped. And the kitchen is sparkly. And so are the bathrooms.

And did I mention… I didn’t do it. Continue reading

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10 things you should pack when you move to China

Packing for ChinaI remember one of the biggest headaches when I found out we were moving to China was figuring out what to pack. I had no idea what to expect and was completely overwhelmed. Will I be able to buy what I need when I get there? What is and isn’t available? What if I don’t pack it and then they don’t have it? What if I forget something and then need it???
Continue reading

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“Chun jie kuai le!” or “Hey ya’ll, watch this”

“Chun jie kuai le!” means “Happy Spring Festival!”

Spring Festival is the most important holiday in China. (Spring Festival = Chinese New Year = Lunar New Year) Very much like Christmas in the US. It is a time for family reunions, celebrations, and vacation. Pretty much the whole country shuts down and heads home (to wherever they grew up or their family lives now). It makes for a really interesting experience for foreigners as the cities empty out and the party begins.

In case of destroy by fireworks

On Monday night, the hubby and I were headed out to dinner and we noticed this sign posted in the elevator.
Who doesn’t love some good chinglish? Make sure you move that car.

The fireworks had already been going off for several days. All hours of the day. I still haven’t figured out the point of shooting fireworks in the middle of the day. But they do it. 6 am… 8 am… noon… midnight… Literally all day long.

New Year Firecrackers

These were given to some friends by their driver. We don’t know for sure, but I’d guess this particular 2000 round set of crackers cost a few yuan (probably less than $1). They don’t have restrictions here on who can buy fireworks. They sell any kind to any one. Huge boxes that would only be sold to professionals in the US are readily available here.

Wednesday was “New Years Eve”. We’d already been warned that there was no way you’d get any sleep until at least 1 am. And that’s if you’re a heavy sleeper.

Fireworks for Spring Festival

Turns out that was a huge understatement.

Fireworks line the street

This is the street right outside our apartment. Taken from our bedroom window. They started laying them out around 10 p.m. These boxes were huge, and they had dozens of them. Traffic just drove around them.

**Note: it is 2 days after the New Year as I’m writing this… and I literally just jumped out of my skin as ANOTHER firecracker went off just outside our window. I feel like I’m in the middle of a war zone.**

Celebrating Spring Festival

Our apartment is on the 11th floor. Turns out that’s right at explosion height for most fireworks. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. You can’t even imagine.

But maybe this will give you an idea.

This went on for a solid hour and a half non-stop.

Across the whole city.

Did you notice the guy walking down the middle of the street? And the cars driving by right at the the base of the fireworks? Safety is really an afterthought around here.

**Ok. This is getting really annoying. We’ve now just had to pause the movie for the 6th time because we can’t hear over them.**

Can you imagine the aftermath of such an explosion?

The aftermath of the Chinese festival

Well, it was just as amazing…

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Chinese Medical Exam: Part 1

China requires that you have a full medical check in order to get your residence permit to move into the country. Or maybe it’s the visa. I’m really not sure. To be perfectly honest, I still haven’t figured out the difference in all of these different types of documents you have to have to move here. I do know there are a lot of them. And they take many, many stamps and signatures and passport photos and weeks of time to get it all sorted out. I’m so glad that the company takes care of this sort of thing for us. I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to sort it all out ourselves.

Anyway, back to the medical check. We were told up front that in order to move to China the government requires you to get a full physical, including bloodwork, EKG, chest x-ray… the works. We’d already heard stories from another family who’d been for their look & see visit a couple of months before and had to get their medical check in Beijing… let’s just say we were sure we wanted to avoid getting the physical in China if at all possible. Walking around a hospital from treatment room to treatment room wearing one of those sexy hospital gowns in a place where everyone stares no matter what you’re wearing, was NOT our idea of fun.

Keep in mind… we’re the guinea pigs. Our company has never sent anyone from the US to Shenyang before. We get to be the practice run, work out all the details for future expats moving to China. (p.s. I just learned that the term “expat” is a term that a lot of people aren’t familiar with… actually before this experience, I didn’t know what it meant either. “Expat” stands for expatriate… a person who is living outside of their native country. A foreigner. An outsider in a lot of ways. A “laowai” is the term in Chinese.)

Then we found out that if we print out the medical check forms and take them to our doctor, we can have the physical done in the US. Woo hoo!

Oh wait…

We don’t have a family doctor.

Yes, I know. Everyone should have a doctor. What if you get sick? What if there is an emergency?… blah, blah, blah. Bottom line is, we’ve never needed one, thankfully. And with moving every couple of years, changing jobs and insurance companies multiple times it just never happened.

So I’m scrambling around trying to find one that will get us in for a physical. Who knew that would be such a difficult task?! I mean, we’re not even sick, you’d think that would be the easiest patient to see. Apparently, doctors aren’t really in a hurry to see healthy people.

(Although, to see a doctor when you’re sick, you have to have first seen them when you were healthy. But if you can’t get in to see them when you’re healthy because you’re aren’t sick yet, how do you ever get to see a doctor? It’s quite a quandary. Things that make you go “hmmm”.)

Finally we got in at Doctor’s Care in Greenville and they performed our physicals and filled out the necessary paperwork (which took hours by the way. Hours we didn’t really have to spare, but we made time so we wouldn’t have to get the physicals in China). We were pretty nervous waiting on the bloodwork. It normally takes a couple of days and we almost didn’t get it back in time.

Just it time, we got the paperwork in order, packed it in with several passport photos and got ready for our look-see visit.

Then, several days before our flight out, we got an email with our itinerary on it.

But wait.

There’s got to be a mistake. First thing Sunday morning has someone from the visa office picking us up for our medical exams. No problem, we send off the email explaining that we’ve already got the paperwork filled out here in the States and we’re bringing it along.

Then we get the reply from China.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I do not think you can have the paperwork filled out correctly. It must be notarized by the Chinese Embassy in New York to be accepted. That takes many months. It will be better if you get the medical check here in China.”

ummm…. yeah.

That sucks.

So here we are, having just gotten physicals in the US, ridiculously long physicals including x-rays, EKGs, and bloodwork… just to get them done AGAIN in China.

Great.

And as it turns out, the medical check in China is just as interesting as I expected it would be.

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Living in China: Comforts from home

When you live in China, after a while you start to miss little things from home. Things you don’t really expect to miss. You expect to miss your family, friends, and pets. But when you’ve been living here a while, you start to realize things that you never thought were important become important.

Like food.

You never really appreciate an ice cold Coca-Cola and a Snickers bar until it’s one of the only things in your diet that tastes exactly like you expect it to. Every time.

I went to the Riverside Grocery a couple of days ago to pick up a few things for dinner. It is a great little shop, and one of the best in the city for finding American and foreign import goods. Fortunately (and unfortunately, considering the prices) its within our compound and a 5 minute walk from my apartment. Whenever I go in, I always take a complete walk around the store. (It’s really not very big, more like a convenience store in the US.) You never know what they’ll have it stock. It’s always changing.

The rule we follow here says that if you find something you’re excited about, buy them all. They may not have them tomorrow (especially since all the expats follow this rule) and they may not get them in again for another six months… or ever.

So today, when I happened upon the next to last isle on my systematic trek around the store, I literally jumped for joy. Seriously. I may have even squeaked.

It’s really no wonder they stare. We just think it’s our skin color. Actually, it’s because we jump and clap over products on the grocery isle. Or maybe it’s just that now we have no problem making such a display in public because we realize they are going to stare anyway so we might as well give them a reason to. The chicken or the egg? What do you think?

But in this case, I really just didn’t care… (ok. ok. In most cases, I just don’t care. But that trait turns out to be pretty beneficial here.)

…a light shone down from heaven and I’m sure I heard angels singing.

Riverside Grocery. Shenyang, China

Shells & Cheese!!

To understand how exciting this is, just try this out.

Fast from cheese for the next 4 weeks.

Eat rice. And noodles.

Then you’ll see.

Oh, and the one thing I went to the store to buy…

Shopping for food in China

This little grocery trip only cost 110 RMB.

For those of you who are as bad at conversions as me that makes it $16.56 USD.
More than $5 each.

What do you think? Would you do it?

If not for mac and cheese, what food would you fork out the cash for no matter the cost?

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Shipping air freight to China: Part 2

This is the rest of the story from LB’s exciting trip to Customs. If you haven’t read the first part, start there: Shipping air freight from China: Part 1

At this point, we’re sitting in the car in the middle of the street. Some guy has just ran off with my passport, and now a Customs lady has just let me know she needs me to answer a few questions. ok…

Even though the office is closed, Customs Lady says that they can still have me sign some forms and answer a few questions. She should be able to finish the rest without me coming back down. Great, at least I won’t have to repeat this experience again. Hopefully. I’m still not holding my breath to be honest. Apparently, they didn’t provide enough detail on the list of our items. Customs Lady hands me a list (entirely in Chinese) and our conversation goes something like this:

Customs Lady: “How big was this computer thing?”

Me: “What computer thing?”

Customs Lady: “What you see with.” *Making hand motions*

Me: “Huh?”

Customs Lady: *More hand motions*

Me: “You mean the monitor?”

Customs Lady: “Oh yes! Monitor!”

Me: “Um, we have two monitors.”

Customs Lady: “Oh. I see two here. How big is this one?” *Pointing at the Chinese list*

Me: “Sorry, I can’t really read Chinese.”

Customs Lady: “Oh. Can you guess?”

Me: “Um…are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Customs Lady: “Yes, it’s ok.”

Me: “So, it doesn’t really matter if I’m right? Then why am I here? Couldn’t you just make up a number?”

Customs Lady: “No, you must say.”

Me: “OK, fine. 19 inches.”

Customs Lady: “19?”

Customs Me: “Yes, 19.”

Lady: “Oh. Are you sure?”

Customs Me: “Not really, but one is 19 and one is 24. You can list them however you like because I have no idea which monitor is which.”

Customs Lady: “19?”

Me: *Wanting to smack myself* “Yes, it’s 19.”

Customs Lady: “Are you sure?”

Me: “Yes, I’m sure.” *Note that I still have no idea which monitor it is – or even that she’s talking about a computer monitor for sure*

Customs Lady: “OK. And how big is the other one?”

Me: “24.”

Customs Lady: “Oh, are you sure? This one says it is 19.”

Me: *Wanting to smack her* “Then it is 19. And the other one is 24.”

Customs Lady: “Oh, ok. I’ll have to change the other one.” *Glares at me*

Me: *Rolling my eyes* “OK.”

This type of conversation was repeated for about 4 or 5 different items. Then, she smiles and tells me that was all they needed from me. I don’t have to worry because she’ll make sure that when our things arrive in Shenyang, they call us and bring them to our apartment. She takes me back outside. Random Guy is out there talking with Broker and Driver. Broker hands me back my passport. Random Guy and Customs Lady leave.

I’m really not sure what my passport was used for, I’m just hoping that there aren’t any other copies of my passport running around. Oh yeah, and I’m hoping that we actually get our shipment… with 2 monitors in it.

Welcome to China…

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Shipping air freight to China

Our air freight is late.

Like 2-3 weeks longer than many of our expat friends. They told us it might take 4-6 weeks. I figured they were probably estimating on the safe side. You know how they do in the States. Tell you 4-6 weeks just to CYA just in case something happens, but normally it would only take 2-3 weeks. Yeah, they don’t really do that here in China. Apparently 4-6 weeks REALLY means… “if you’re lucky, you might see your stuff in 6 weeks.” At this point, I’m kind of over it… I mean, the stuff shipped 2 weeks before we left. I’ve been living without it for 2 months now. Heck, I don’t even remember what’s in there.

oh crap… WAIT!

I have DUNKIN DONUTS COFFEE in there!!

Dunkin' Donuts Coffee
Photo by QFamily. flickr

Where the heck are those boxes?!

LB has been calling and emailing every 2-3 days for weeks to check up on it… Nothing.

Finally, I get a call on Monday afternoon while I was getting a mani-pedi. (wow. I just said “mani-pedi”. If you know me, you know how strange that is. China must really be affecting my brain or something.) At 4:00 in the afternoon. In case you weren’t sure, the working hours are about the same in China as they are in the US.

*******

Phone rings and I don’t know the number. Always a tricky one…

Ni hao?

This is Irene. From the shipment. I email your husband earlier today, but he has not replied back with me. Shenyang has a new policy and he must go personally to the airport to sign for the shipment.

ok… I think he’s in a meeting.

He told me he doesn’t have a cell phone so I call you.

That’s correct.

Can you call him please and tell him that we will pick him up at 9 a.m. at the plant tomorrow morning?

(umm… you just answered your own question. He doesn’t have a PHONE. If you can’t call him, I can’t call him.)

umm. In the morning? At 9 a.m.? (thinking… it’s already 4 in the afternoon.) I’m not sure if that will work or not. He’s had a lot of meetings lately.

Ok. Can you just talk with him and call me back today…

uh. ok. I’ll see what I can do.

I was able to pass on the word to LB right at 5. Luckily, he happened to be home early that day. He worked things out somehow. I just left it up to him to deal with it. I’m not allowed to receive a shipment like that anyway since I don’t have a work visa.

********

LB here to finish the story…

So they want to pick me up at 9 AM Tuesday. And it’s already the end of the day on Monday. I’ve been here almost 7 weeks, I figured out this is how things operate around here. I ask if they can delay until 11 or so for a few meetings but apparently the customs office closes early. Like 11 AM early. OK, whatever.

So I meet Broker at 9. She’s late but I call around and eventually find her and get into the car.

**CF here… In the meantime, I get a call from Irene again.
“Broker is trying to pick up your husband, but she can’t find him. I don’t have his number. Can you call him to see where he is?”
umm. No. He still doesn’t have a phone. I can’t call him either.
“Oh. ok…”
*hangs up**

The shipping company has their own driver that is going to take us both to the airport. Of course, neither Broker nor the driver speak English. Through some various hand signals, she explains to me that she wants my passport (Note that acting out passport in charades is harder than you might think). I’m thinking this is going pretty smoothly for the first 30 minutes or so as we’re driving to the airport. That is, all the way up until Driver stops the car in the middle of the street and gets out.

This isn’t quite as uncommon as you might think here. However, he begins speaking to, what appears to me to be some random guy. They talk for a minute and he gets back in. Turns out it was some random guy. He’s lost.

Now, the airport is really only 45 minutes or so from my company. I’m thinking we’re pretty close because I recognize a few landmarks as we’re driving (I’ve been to and from the airport a couple of times already). So we drive for 5 more minutes and then it happens again. He pulls over to ask someone else directions. They point him down the street. 15 minutes of driving this time. We’re now outside of the city. We pass a herd of goats. Broker is arguing with him. They make a phone call (I’m thinking back to the office so that we can get someone that knows where we’re going). Driver turns around. Drives 10 more minutes. Stops again and asks another random guy. He points back the way we just came from.

We turn around again, drive another 10 minutes. They’re making phone calls constantly at this point. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, we see a taxi. Thank goodness! We pull up. The taxi driver is standing next to his taxi… relieving his bladder on the side of the road. Driver decides it isn’t awkward enough for us to wait in the car. He gets out and walks over to guy and starts talking with him. Gets back in the car a minute later.

We turn around again. Past the herd of goats in the other direction. A total of 7 stops and 6 phone calls later and we arrive at the general area of the airport. As we’re driving through some back roads Broker is talking furiously on the phone. All of a sudden she yells at Driver and he slams on the brakes. Some Random Guy runs out from some bushes and sticks his head in the window. Broker gives him my passport and he runs off the way he came from.

Now, I’ve been fairly calm up until this point. Worried we might miss this 11 AM deadline, but calm.

This is not the case after Random Guy runs off with my passport.

Driver pulls around to a back road and just puts the car in park. Then, we just sit there. For 10 minutes. It’s now a few minutes after 11. Broker makes another call. We pull around to a back gate that surprisingly enough has English on it. We’re at some random special gate for Customs. The gate is closed. We wait for a few minutes. Then some guard comes running out, yelling at us. Apparently, they’re not happy with where the driver decided to park (in the middle of the road). So we pull down another side street. Ten minutes later, a Customs Lady walks out of a building nearby.

She says that they have to ask me some questions about my shipment. However, we have a problem, because the Customs office is now closed because we’re too late.

Now, I really just want to scream.

The story continues… I’ll finish up the rest of our conversation tomorrow.

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Life in China: Random Thoughts

1. Found a new market a couple of days ago… very interesting.

China Meat Market

2. This is not a pet shop…

It’s dinner for some Chinese family.
This meat market sells all kinds of meat.

Literally, all kinds of meat.

These were also available. Freshness guaranteed.

Shenyang Meat Market

No, I did not purchase anything from this market. I prefer to buy my meat already “prepared.”

3. Woke up this morning to this sight outside my window…

Weather in Shenyang, China

Pretty awesome.
Except that I really wanted some McDonalds for lunch. And it is a 20 minute WALK.

4. We still don’t have our shipment of winter clothes.

5. Luckily, it was all melted by 2 pm. I guess not everything is different from South Carolina.

6. Went to see a movie this evening. I’ve never been so happy to see Denzel in all my life. I’m so glad he speaks English.

7. Today, I got to watch my sister strut her stuff in the high school beauty pageant.
In South Carolina.
Yes, I’m still in Shenyang.

8. The new iPod Touch is awesome!

Apple Facetime connection

We should be Apple’s next commercial. “Separated by the diameter of the earth, and we still don’t miss out on cheering on the little sis.”

9. Apple, are you out there? We’ll let you use our story for really cheap. A new iPhone 4 is all I ask.

10. I’m really sad this photo didn’t turn out any better, but I had to share it anyway.

Because really…

Shenyang Randomness

It’s a Basset Hound.

Peeing on a street corner.

Wearing a Santa costume!

What can I say? This is China.

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