In The Way

October Update: Highs and Lows

Things in China are going pretty well for the most part. I haven’t updated in a while besides lots of pictures on Instagram / Facebook, but I figured it was high due a new blog post. I would like to write about our first Taobao order, which was a whole blog post worth of experience in itself. So, without hesitation, here’s some current highs and lows of our experience in China.


 

HIGHS

  • We got paid! Our first payday came October 10th, and it is nice to have some cash in our pocket here. While we have plenty of cash saved in our emergency fund to fly home at any point, we had not been paid since the end of July in Milwaukee, essentially going all of August and September without any income.
RMB, Yuan, Kuai, Money, complete with our Dave Ramsey style Envelope system. Budgeting gone global!

RMB, Yuan, Kuai, Money, complete with our Dave Ramsey style Envelope system. Budgeting gone global!

  • Figuring out how Taobao works. Thanks to a very helpful post on Reddit we figured out how to order things on Taobao, which is basically like Ebay for Everything in China. We got lots of American food including BBQ sauce, spices in little baggies that look suspiciously like drugs, CHEESE!, butter, whole wheat flour, all sorts of stuff like this.
Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, yummy Italian seasonings!

Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, yummy Italian seasonings! Definitely not drugs!

  • We finally got a vacuum & an air purifier! While our apartment was relatively clean compared to many Chinese apartments, it had not been vacuumed since we arrived. Being able to vacuum gave us a bit of our sanity back as there was hair and other dusty particles on our couch from whoever lived here before us. The air purifier, I’m not really sure how much it does, but it takes out some of the pollution and dust from the air. Since we are trying to treat our apartment like its own contained International Space Station with plants and an air filter, this is nice to have. Makes our air more pure in our apartment.
Our air purifier. The blue light at the top means the air is relatively clean right now. This was about $110, but compared to lung cancer is quite cheap.

Our air purifier. The blue light at the top means the air is relatively clean right now. This was about $110, but compared to lung cancer is quite cheap.

  • We have found food that we like! We typically eat cookies for breakfast, but there is also sometimes 包子(BaoZi), which are a hot steamed bun stuffed with meat and sauce on the inside. There are also 热干面 (ReGanMian), which are a kind of hot noodle slathered in sesame butter. The Ramen noodles here are surprisingly good and there are about 100 varieties of them at the store. We also enjoy some street wraps, which are called 卷并, which literally translates to Rolled Tortilla Frybread, or something like that. We told the school that we didn’t really like the food they were serving us for lunch and they have succeeded in fixing it by making it hot, having more, and making it taste better, honestly. So now we eat at the Kindergarten for lunch most days. The food here is SUPER SUPER cheap. We can go out to eat at a restaurant for anywhere from 园10-25 RMB, or $2-4 USD. This is, for the most part, cheaper than it costs for us to cook within our own home, so we end up eating out probably about 1/2 of the days and eating in the other half.
  • We are learning some Mandarin, so can now sort of kind of communicate with people. Valerie and I meet with a teacher from the school on Tuesday nights for about 2 hours to study mandarin. We are focusing on questions, basic grammar, food vocabulary, pinyin spelling, character and stroke order, and pronunciation. All very helpful. While I typically do not understand hardly anything they say back to me, we now have learned some of the basic ways to form and pronounce questions.
  • We really enjoy our jobs. Working with 3-5 year olds is very rewarding. Kids are able to love and appreciate you as a teacher in a way that I did not even know possible. Several of my students run up and give me a hug spontaneously each day. We really connect with our students and the work is rewarding most of the time. Obviously, with any job, it has its challenges, but we really enjoy working at the school.
Chinese Fire Drill at school! A real live Chinese fire drill!

Chinese Fire Drill at school! A real live Chinese fire drill!

  • Our internet is good so we are able to Skype and call people in the USA pretty easily and consistently. We try to call someone almost every day despite the 12 hour time zone difference. This is really awesome, and I have started videoing with people on a very regular basis. This has been really nice, as we were skeptical about how good this would be before we came. China + Internet do not always get along very well, but thankfully Skype and calling over wifi works most of the time.
  • Badminton. We have been playing 2-3 times a week, and we both really enjoy it. There is a pretty OK gym at the school that we go to and play at, often with Wesley and Marissa, our friends/coworkers, and sometimes withsome of the Chinese teachers and other ESL teachers as well. They take this very seriously here and I really enjoy the sport.

    A badminton tournemant at a local university. Unfortunately they had the entire rock climbing wall closed for some reason in the other room due to this event. We asked the people at the front desk if they have a schedule of events for the gym so that we could check if it was going to be closed before travelling 1 hour across the city to go to the gym, and they said no. We asked them if it was on their website somewhere, and they said no. We asked them how we were supposed to know when the gym is open and she said the only way to know is by asking the rock climbing professor.

    A badminton tournemant at a local university. Unfortunately they had the entire rock climbing wall closed for some reason in the other room due to this event. We asked the people at the front desk if they have a schedule of events for the gym so that we could check if it was going to be closed before travelling 1 hour across the city to go to the gym, and they said no. We asked them if it was on their website somewhere, and they said no. We asked them how we were supposed to know when the gym is open and she said the only way to know is by asking the rock climbing professor.

 


LOWS

  • Air Quality. The air quality is really unbelievably bad. It is overwhelming at times. Last weekend we wanted to go out and do something instead of staying inside our apartment all day but as soon as I stepped outside I got a headache. I am very health conscious and so rather paranoid of things like lung cancer and other issues. It sometimes burns by eyes, and throat, and will leave me with a sore throat and cough for days. This is incredibly discouraging and we are trying to figure out ways to cope with it, but in my opinion, this really affects the quality of life for everyone in a city in China. The best way I can describe it would be to be walking next to a person grinding concrete with dust flying in the air, except that it tastes like dirt and chemicals. It’s really the worst. We are even considering getting a Wii so that we can do more physical activities within our apartment without exposure to the polluted air.
    Nice day with blue skies our second week in China. It was like this for about two weeks straight at the beginning of October.

    Nice day with blue skies our second week in China. It was like this for about two weeks straight at the beginning of October.

    More average day with pollution outside. I swear it is not natural clouds, just smog. Notice the lack of sunlight.

    More average day with pollution outside. I swear it is not natural clouds, just smog. Notice the lack of sunshine.

  • Mandarin is really really hard and can be quite discouraging at times. Sometimes when I try and talk to someone in Chinese they will just not talk to me at all and go find someone who speaks English. And I don’t mean try and talk to me, I mean, they will completely stop talking and go find someone else. Very discouraging. Anyways, we have learned some food, but conversation is difficult. Just today I took this picture below to memorize what is on this menu at the Baozi (steamed bun with meat inside) restaurant/tienda.

    Baozi menu. I will learn all of these characters so that I can try all the different kinds!

    Baozi menu. I will learn all of these characters so that I can try all the different kinds!

  • Making friends is difficult. I would really like to make some Chinese guy friends to be able to play badminton or soccer or something with, but there are not very many opportunities to do so. There is literally one male teacher at our school who is Chinese, the rest of us guys are English teachers. We have connected well with the group that we meet with on Sunday mornings for church, but I am having a hard time meeting new people and making friends. My plan for this is to just be really outgoing at the gym and join some people in basketball or badminton, as well as starting to play Xiangqi, a funky and very popular Chinese chess.
  • Traveling anywhere in any mode of transportation can be really frustrating. Biking is dangerous as people, scooters, buses, taxis, and vans will come out of nowheresville and cut us off. It is constant conflict management and it really stresses us Americans out. People walk out without looking to see if traffic is coming. It takes FOREVER to take the bus anywhere. Taxis are the best way to get around as they only cost about $3-5 USD depending on how far we are going, but in certain parts of the city it is just basically impossible to get a cab so we end up taking the bus which can take literally like 1.5 hours to go something like 6 miles.

    This was a car accident on a very major road. They were completely stopping traffic, and traffic was backed up for, literally, like 3 miles on this road. When people get into an accident, which happens very frequently, they stay in the exact spot until the police arrive. On this day it delayed our bus for about 40 minutes. Ugh.

    This was a car accident on a very major road. They were completely stopping traffic, and traffic was backed up for, literally, like 3 miles on this road. When people get into an accident, which happens very frequently, they stay in the exact spot until the police arrive. On this day it delayed our bus for about 40 minutes. Ugh.

  • Backwards China. Many things are done very inefficiently. Banking is a nightmare. Websites are buggy. Sanitation is a complete joke. Children are undisciplined. Bikes are super slow. People avoid saying no, instead of communicating directly. This list is long, but a lot of this is just culture shock, not right or wrong. Just challenging to adapt to.
  • Missing America, especially friends and family. 

 


That’s all. I am still posting consistently on Instagram, although I am considering switching to wordpress as a platform for the photos instead of Instagram for all of the people who are interested but not on Facebook or Instagram.

Questions? Want pictures of something in particular? Let me know!

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9 thoughts on “October Update: Highs and Lows

  1. Yes, yes, yes! I understand everything on your list. I especially remember the banking nightmares! The bank thought my “6’s” looked like “4’s”.

    • Yeah. Wow. Banking is ridiculous. Ordering on Taobao was ridiculous. When we first went to get a bank account they put my middle name (Robert) as my last name. I told them that was wrong, and that it wasn’t my last name, and they tried to persuade me that it would be OK if my name was wrong at the bank. I told them no and insisted that they get my name right, especially since I had already filled out their form on what my name was. They just didn’t take the time to look at the form they had me fill out. So we had to restart the entire process and cancel the previous thing.

      The banks here are really bad. It’s ridiculous. You can only take out 2500 yuan at a time from an ATM? What? And people constantly trying to cut in lines. Geeze.

  2. Linda Rhyne on said:

    My sister and brother-in-law just got back from 3 weeks in China. They were in Shanghai, Xian, Wuhan, Beijing, and took a Viking cruise down the Yangtze River. She said it was the trip of a lifetime. I’ll learn more about it next week. You are in my prayers!

    • Linda, yes, China can be a pretty cool place. And now that we’ve been here for a while I actually am really enjoying the food more and more each day. There are certainly many beautiful parts of China, just not so much where we live. It is a dirty city, and hard to get out of the city.

  3. David, I can relate to everything here, with two exceptions. The internet access is terrible and I haven’t figure out how to use toabao. Nice job on ordering the goods.

    • Dan, sorry about the internet. That is indeed a big bummer. There is a really helpful post on reddit about using Taobao here: http://www.reddit.com/r/China/comments/19rrlw/how_the_hell_does_taobao_work/c8qpzyb

      however, there was still some stuff on there that I had to figure out on my own. You can’t use Chrome to complete the transaction, I used firefox. My mac wouldn’t work with it at all so I had to use my work computer (Windows XP). And you really can’t use Google translating the whole page because it mistranslates certain things. Like in some spots you need to enter in your passport #, others your username, other your PIN#, others your username password, etc… Took me a long time to figure out which was which.

      I believe you need to setup online banking with a Chinese bank first. Amazon you can order stuff with your US banking card, mine charges me like a 2% fee, but before we got our Chinese bank card to work, was worth it. It’s nice to be able to buy things like Cheese and stuff that would be really impossible or difficult otherwise. The only option would be the Metro, which I hear is quite expensive.

      • That’s great info. I’ll study up on it. Katie has a Chinese bank card so maybe we can order a cheap air filter online. The cheapest ones at the local mall are 3500 rmb.

  4. Really good post, David. I still 100% relate to all of this stuff, so – and I hope this is somehow encouraging – much of it is not culture shock or novelty. In other words, these good things remain really interesting/fun/rewarding/exciting, and the bad things remain annoying/scary/depressing. However, you do get used to it all more and more, and several months from now you will absolutely see how far you’ve come, maybe even sooner than that.
    This post gave me a fresh look at so many of these things that have almost become not much more than “the way things are”, so thanks for that!

    • Yeah. I think one of the more exciting things is liking the food more and more each day. I still wish there was more variety, but it definitely makes being here more enjoyable.

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