All about the bling

I spend a lot of time shopping since I’ve moved to China. I’m not really sure how that happened because I was never much of a shopper in the States. I think it may have something to do with the fact that there is so much cool stuff that is so cheap. I’m a big bargain shopper and I love to hunt for a deal. I really have a hard time passing up something cool that is absurdly cheap, even if I don’t really need it. The other day I bought this pair of shoes for $1.50. I probably won’t wear them but a couple of times, but really… $1.50?! Pretty sure I’ll get my money’s worth if I wear them more than once. There is no shortage of deals to be hunted in Shenyang.

The other reason I enjoy shopping in China is the amazingly interesting sights you come across. Continue reading

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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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The one that almost got away…

Eating in China
Photo by benketaro.

The food here is different than it is in the US.

Sometimes it’s just a little bit different, but sometimes it’s a matter of life and death – literally. For example, I was at a seafood restaurant with a bunch of my Chinese colleagues. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet, hot pot style. Hot pot is a lot like fondue back in the US but instead of oil, they use broth. Usually you order lots of raw foods and have them delivered to the table. But at this buffet, you could go grab whatever you want and come back and throw it in the pot of boiling broth on your table to cook it.

So, I happened to be one of the last ones in the restaurant and when I got to the bar, most of them were heading back to their seats, plates loaded down with food. (It is really no wonder the Chinese guy always wins the eating contest.)

I grabbed a plate and walked up behind one of the guys. I noticed he had a crab on his plate and was picking up another one with some tongs. As he dropped the second one onto his plate he turned toward me with a look of panic. When I looked down at his plate, I realized that he was desperately trying to twist his plate around like a tilt-a-whirl trying to keep both crabs on there…

They were both desperately trying to make a break for it!

I’m not sure what the next three seconds means but you’ll have to judge for yourselves. My reflexes led me to reach my empty plate out just in time to catch the crab on the front in midair as he jumped off the plate. My colleague instantly reached down and grabbed my plate. In one smooth motion, he flipped it over, slammed it (and the crab) down on top of the other crab on the original plate. We stood staring at each other for half a second and then he grinned, gave a quick “Xie xie” and walked back to the table.

Only in China…

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I was the seafood…

A little story from the Left Brain of this operation:

Last weekend the company hosted a workshop/retreat for my department. Part of the deal was getting to visit some hot springs a couple of hours outside of Shenyang. First of all, nearly every other guy there was wearing a Speedo (or the Chinese equivalent). It was a little awkward. But that’s to be expected. I already stand out like a beacon just being American, having on my bright orange board shorts didn’t really make much of a difference.

So we’re going around trying out these different pools and I realized that they add stuff to all of them for different therapeutic purposes. I hopped into a coffee bath, a red wine bath, a beer bath, and a milk bath. They kept reminding us not to drink the water.

Really? You’d have to be pretty desperate to get buzzed off a hot spring but whatever. Apparently someone must have tried it at some point or they wouldn’t need to warn you, right?

In one of the other rooms, I jumped into a mint bath and an aloe bath. Then, we’re getting ready to head up to the lounge and grab some food when we run into one of the other German expats. He tells us we need to join him in the “Fishbowl”.

Now, I’m not sure what the “Fishbowl” is. It sounds pretty harmless, right? Probably just a big pool that’s got glass around it so everyone can see you or something. So…of course I agree. In the month we’ve been here I’ve already learned that this is a very dangerous thing to do – agreeing to something you don’t understand. Bad idea. I should have listened to my gut.

In this case, the “Fishbowl” turned out to be a pool…

Full of fish.

That nibble on you.

Traveling China: the fishbowl
Photo credit to Pilotgirl

First thought – “Oh, that’s not so bad – it’s like scuba diving.”

Second thought, “The fish don’t bite you when you scuba dive.”

Third thought, “How the heck can I get out of here?!?!”

Now, it should be mentioned that there are 2 other Chinese guys and 3 Germans in this group. And as I’m looking for an escape route, one of the Germans proceeds to pay for all of us to use the “Fishbowl”. For half an hour. Fantastic. All hope of escape just went out the window.

I figure, what the heck, I’ll just dip my feet in or something. So I sit on the side of the pool, trying to look inconspicuous. Which works for about 45 seconds. Until one of the Chinese guys asks when I’m going to get in. I figure I can’t play it off for another 29 minutes so I bite the bullet.

Up until this moment, I’ve never in my life had a fish bite me before. This changes very quickly. These fish are like flesh-seeking missiles – with teeth. So, the first few bites are kind of interesting. It’s like a puppy nipping at your finger or toe. But after you’ve been in the water for a few minutes, it’s like 101 Dalmations all nipping at your fingers, toes, legs, back, stomach, etc.

Not so interesting anymore.

More like horrifying.

As if all this isn’t bad enough, think back a minute and remember that I’m an American. So, unlike all of the other guys in the pool, I’m not wearing a Speedo. I’ve never been so jealous of a Speedo.

I spent the next 25 minutes clutching my shorts to my legs with a death grip.

Eventually I realized that if you keep moving, they don’t latch on as much and will move to easier targets (aka my work colleagues). I start doing laps. Not really, but let’s just say I’m not really sitting still most of the time.

Finally our time runs out and I jump out of the pool. Just to be certain I don’t get roped into anything else, I head over to get some food.

I figure that whatever Chinese food they have has got to be better than the reverse, where I am the Chinese fish food.

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Would you like to know what I had for dinner?

Yeah…

…so would I.

This was one of the things that made it home with me on one of my first shopping trips to Carrefour. I couldn’t read any of the packaging, obviously, so I just got the one that had a cartoon chicken on it. I crossed my fingers and prayed that it was some indication of what was inside the breading. I was just hoping they don’t do mascots here like Chick-fil-A. You know, like the cute little chicken is saying “Eat More Brain” or something and I just can’t read it.

And how are you supposed to cook these?

I’m from South Carolina so you know what I did with them.
Deep fried in peanut oil.
Yum. That’ll make any kind of meat taste good. Doesn’t matter what it is.

I thought about trying to bake them (for about 2 seconds). We do have an oven in our apartment which is VERY rare in China. However, I can’t read the dials. And the temperature is in Celsius, which I still can’t convert correctly.

Just ask my family about my conversion skills. For about 3 weeks I thought we were only allowed 125 lbs in our air freight. We were told we got 275 kg. I packed all kinds of things into storage I would have brought because I thought we didn’t have space. Turns out 275 kg is actually 600 lbs.

oops. (should’ve been my middle name.)

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Be careful of the taxi you pick after breakfast.

Warning: You should also be careful of the blog you read after breakfast.

This is where I normally insert a photo. You’re going to thank me for leaving it off today…

So this morning I checked us out of our hotel and we now are officially living in our apartment. In reality, we have been staying here most of the time for the last week but kept the hotel a couple of extra days because they have been working on the hot water here. Anyway, I had to get a cab back to Riverside and it was rush hour (around 9 am). At this time of day, you are just happy if there is a cab that will stop and let you get in. Sometimes they won’t let you get in when they find out where you are going. It is very interesting to me. I’m going to pay either way so I don’t really understand why they won’t drive me. Sometimes they just don’t want to drive that direction. It’s odd.

Anyway, this morning, a taxi stopped for me. Now it wasn’t the nicest taxi I’ve ridden in. Let’s just say it was a little rough around the edges… driver included. But he stopped. And was willing to drive me. So I tossed my bags in the back and got in the front.

People ride in the front of the taxis here. It took us a while to figure this out. But now, I really like it. It’s much easier to point, explain where you’re going, and I like to see the city as we’re driving.

Anyway, I got in this taxi, and he asked (in Chinese) if I was German… or American. I replied, “Mei gua ren” meaning American. He seemed very excited about this, smiled really big, and gave me a big thumbs up. I was pleased. Not really sure why that’s so great, but they really like Americans here. So I explained where I wanted to go (in Chinese… and he understood the first time, without the taxi book. I was very proud of myself.) and we headed off.

It’s actually a pretty quick little ride, usually only 5 minutes or so except it takes a little longer at rush hour. I was also pleased because this particular driver didn’t attempt to stare at me while driving. They usually do. Which I tend to ignore (what else are you going to do?) although it can be a bit stressful if the traffic is bad. I almost died yesterday because the driver was staring at me instead of the road and all the cars in front of us were stopped. Luckily, instead of dying, I only had to eat dashboard. On second thought, maybe the back seat is better. Then they just use the mirror but at least their eyes are forward.
But I digress… (ha. I’ve been hanging out with some British folks around here. Can you tell?)

We get about halfway down the road, and he starts to cough and clear his throat. I tried not to listen because I knew what was coming next…

For those of you who don’t know, spitting and “ridding your body of phlegm” is something that happens very often here. Apparently, the Chinese believe that any kind of mucus that collects in your body is a bad thing. So it’s expected you’ll get it out. And spit it on the ground, wherever you are. “Watch out, they spit.” (Quick. Name that movie!) I’ve heard the “farmer’s blow” is also popular, (you can click that link if you aren’t familiar with the term. However, I wouldn’t advise it.) although thankfully I haven’t witnessed this one.

So anyway, this taxi driver proceeded to cough up the biggest phlegm wad I’ve ever heard. I mean, it had to come up from his stomach or something. I don’t think your throat goes that far down. It was obvious he’d had some practice at this.

At this point, I’m trying not to gag.

THEN…

he started chewing on it. I swear to you. He was smacking on it like it was gum.

Now, I’m just debating on whether I need to roll MY window down so I have somewhere for my breakfast to go in case the contents of my stomach decided to join his. On the outside of my body. I gave up trying not to gag. There was no use. I was definitely gagging.

I wonder if he saw me. I’m very glad this driver wasn’t one who stares at white people.
I wish you could close your ears like you can your eyes, without something so obvious as sticking your fingers in them. I think he would have noticed that.

At some point, he rolled down his window and finally spit it out. I’m not sure when, I was too busy trying to think of something else… ANYTHING else.

On a happy note… I did make it back to my apartment with my breakfast still in my stomach. It was quite an accomplishment I thought.

And now you know why Chinese people don’t wear shoes in the house.

And see, I told you. Aren’t you glad I didn’t post a photo?

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