Reasons why I love China… North Market

One of the hardest things to adjust to when moving to China is the food. It’s not that it’s bad. (Ok, some of it is, but most of it is very good.) It’s just that it’s a completely different diet than we’re used to eating. They don’t eat a lot of dairy products, including milk and cheese, so they are a little scarce. You can find them in most import shops, but they are more expensive than other parts of the world. A small 8 oz block of cheese runs about $5 here.

The milk isn’t found in the refrigerated section. It comes in a box. It is not pasteurized, but sterilized with a process called UHT, ultra-high-temperature processing. I expected for it to be very different than what we were used to, but it’s not that bad. The hardest part is that it is hard to find low fat or skim varieties.

Another difference is that canned and boxed processed foods that we use often in the States are not readily available. Again, some are available in the foreign import stores, but for the most part Chinese don’t use pre-packaged foods. For the last couple of years, I’d been cutting back on cooking with this type of food anyway. I think we consume way too many preservatives in the US, so I had started to cook from scratch more. Not all organic, just as natural as was convenient. However, I never realized how often I did just crack open a can of condensed soup or a jar of spaghetti sauce or a box of noodles.

But I guess necessity makes it much easier to change. Continue reading

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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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“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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What to wear in Shenyang: Layers

So, I’ve had a couple of weeks to get used to the cold weather here in Shenyang. Well, I guess you don’t really “get used to it” as much as learn to deal with it. I wrote a post in October on how to stay warm in Shenyang . I have since learned a thing or two more about how to deal with the super cold weather.

My tactic…

Put on everything you own.

Literally.

This was taken just before we went out on Saturday to go snow tubing. Saturday was the coldest day here in Shenyang so far this winter. The temperature topped out at a whopping HIGH of 4º F. And the wind was blowing.

It was cold. Colder than a snowman’s butt, cold.

I had on 4 shirts and 4 pair of pants and I was still cold.

What’s that?
Why did we decide to plan an outside activity for the coldest day of the year?

Practice.

We’re going to Harbin next weekend for the Snow & Ice Festival. We are really excited about seeing all the cool sculptures and going to an “ice bar” where all the furniture and even the glasses are made completely out of ice. But guess what? To pull off a festival like that… it’s got to be cold. And last weekend, while we were enjoying a balmy 4º F here in Shenyang, Harbin’s high was -10º F. Luckily, the forecast for this weekend in Harbin warms up to a high of 2º F.

Aren’t we lucky?

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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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