You Never Know Where Life Will Take You

Welcome! This is a blog about a girl, who got a job, and moved halfway across the world to teach English. Read and enjoy!

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Sanity: When Things Go From Missing to Lost

This might be a bit of a ramble, but bear with me. Lots of things have happened since my last update.

I went to visit my friend Maggie in Shanghai from the 11th – 14th of this month (post to come soon). I didn’t want to leave. It was just so much...more than Hangzhou. I am such a city person and Shanghai was a city among cities. It had everything I wanted: There was an amazingly extensive bus and subway public transit system that was relatively on time and functional. I could live in my tiny western (English) bubble if I ever got overwhelmed, but at the same time, I had to use Chinese the moment I walked out the door. Also, there was so much more to do and to see – the city rarely slept. It was perfect and I fell a little in love with it.

I regretted leaving, but I had to. I thought about quitting my job in Hangzhou and relocating to Shanghai for all of 5 minutes, but realized that 1) it would be a cop-out and life there wouldn’t really be any easier despite what I thought, 2) I have a decent, stable job that actually pays me (a little, but it’s enough), and I get a work (Z) visa, and 3) I really needed to prove to myself that even if my situation isn’t the most hospitable, I have to stick with it and adhere to my contract. Just because this job isn’t my favorite sometimes, doesn’t mean I should up and quit.

We westerners expect certain things out of life sometimes. From the people I’ve seen come through here, there have been many complaints – some of them well founded, some of them stemming from entitlement. One thing I have learned here is: IF IT ISN’T IN YOUR CONTRACT, DON’T ASSUME YOU ARE GOING TO GET IT. It’s a hard lesson (i.e. the mattress debacle), but one I’ve had to learn. I know exactly what to ask for next time.

I had to buy my own dishes, hangers, trashcans, containers, cleaning supplies, other odds and ends, because I didn’t specify having those in the contract….that mistake probably cost me over 500rmb. Also, I can’t take any of them home with me. This irked me at first, but now I see it as another lesson hard learned. Here you have to be specific and thorough. You have to pick your battles – figure out what is important to you and explain it rationally and firmly. The main thing, especially in China, is be diligent, but not annoying

Claire-fucius Say: Lambasting doesn’t win you any popularity points.

So, the current battle I’m fighting is for decent internet. I originally started out with a LAN line (a cable that hooks my computer directly into the internet port) – it worked great and had very, very few problems. I was finally able to communicate, to study Chinese, to learn about Hangzhou, to find resources to plan for lessons, etc. I paid a company 300rmb for installation and for 3 months of 2M (decent) speed internet.
Then my new roommate came along. She wanted internet – understandable, the internet connects us and makes us feel not so alone – but the way TEFL went about getting her the internet is something I am not so happy about. Last Friday, Henry, our sub-par IT guy, went out and bought a wireless router. He then proceeded to take my LAN line, connect it to our router, and convert my VPN to a wireless internet connection.

This did not work out so well. When he first hooked it up, it was fine…came home that night, no internet…tried everything I could think of, nothing worked. I figured out that while my computer could connect to the router, the router could not connect to the internet. Tina had to tell Henry that, because Henry doesn’t speak any English. How much he understands, I still don’t know. On Saturday, I have to run with him, during my short break, during my busiest day, and pantomime to him what was wrong. He figures out that the router he bought was faulty. While I’m in my second marathon of classes, he goes out and buys another one, comes back to our house, and installs it that night after work. It was such a long and ridiculously time-consuming process.

So we had internet? …oh, wait. Very, very, very slow internet. 2M is not made for 2 people to share on a wireless connection that is originally intended for one person using a LAN line. I mentioned it to some coworkers…what I was paying for before was fine. I wanted that back, especially since Monica can’t pay me until next month because her money management skills suck. Nice lady, but I’m practically babysitting a 46 year old. I decided to tough it out for a few days, I could deal with slow internet for a while. Better than no internet…then the connection started cutting out. For no reason, it would just stop working and I couldn’t trouble shoot it. It just keeps malfunctioning and, since there is nothing I can do to fix it, we always have to go back to Henry and we have to set aside time to let him in and let him tinker around. Plus, I refuse to pay for something that doesn’t well or, in this case, at all.

I miss my good internet. I also miss common sense: why couldn’t they just call the company that provided my internet and have them install a wireless router and use my money towards payment for 2 people? Efficiency: apparently just another cultural difference and definitely a topic of a future post.

So with the stress of dealing with Monica, the internet problem, my increased workload (I’m teaching about 15 classes in the space of 2 days), and dealing with holiday-separation-blues...I wasn’t totally focused on the things that were important, like my purse. Ania, who was leaving to go back to Poland, and I were having a dinner in between this last Sunday’s classes in a food court in the mall our office is adjacent to. I went to treat myself to a smoothie and took my billfold out of my purse and when I returned, I didn’t put it back in. I was so stressed out about whether I should go to Shanghai for Christmas, whether TEFL would have my visa papers ready and would they pay for my plane ticket, what to do about the intrusive jabber-mouth Monica, and how to approach Tina about changing the internet situation that when it was time to rush off after our quick lunch, I grabbed my billfold, but not my purse. I wasn’t until three hours later that I realized something was wrong.

I had my phone, my iPod, and my billfold, but where the heck was my purse. I realized I had left it in the food court. I went back with Jolin to check the lost and found, but they had seen nothing.
I lost my camera, my keys, a USB Luke had given me that had some important information on it, and my bus pass. I realize it could have been so much worse and I’m thankful that it wasn’t, but still… I felt so stupid to have forgotten my purse. I ended up emotionally shutting down to save my sanity until I got home. Then I cried. A lot. I kept telling myself: things like this happen, you can do it, tomorrow will be better.
And it was….On Monday, my tutor Effie helped me get a new apartment key, which I paid too much for. I knew I was getting ripped off, I just didn’t have the energy to argue. It was from this little stand in a back alley - people just copy keys on the street, it’s pretty neat. I wish I could show you a picture, but my camera got stolen.

I also was looking forward to shopping with Joy and Candice on Tuesday morning – they also mentioned helping me get a bus pass. We wandered through this really cool, but really overpriced touristy area near West Lake. It was a very gray, blustery day, but we had fun. We walked around and then ate ourselves into a food coma. I tried pig’s ear (a weird chewy and crunchy combo) and jellyfish (like a thin, tasteless gummy bear) – my food adventures in China are never ending. Our meal consisted of seven dishes and it only cost us 30rmb each. A really good deal!

Things went downhill after that, I think we ate too much or something bad, because when we came out and went to go find the bus card kiosk place, I started to not feel so good. I decided I could get it later, I just wanted to go home and curl up and sleep. I think it was the stress and the excessive amount of food that made my body want to hibernate. All three of us were falling asleep on the bus. From the bus to my apartment and into my bed was a haze….which explains why I can’t find my phone.
Another thing I miss: my phone. I realized that it was gone when I couldn’t find it to call Tina about our internet problems for the umpteenth time. I ripped my room apart looking for it, but the last place I remember having it was in my pocket in the market. It either fell out or someone stole it. It was just gone. That’s when I feel like I might have lost my sanity for a few seconds. I my emotions smeared together to the point I didn’t know what I felt. I was just overwhelmed.

I went straight into work and managed to keep it together to talk to Tina, but then when I sat down at my desk, I felt my eyes start to water. I quietly got up, grabbed my iPod, and found an empty classroom where I could just breath deep and be alone.

Unlike my phone, my camera, my bus card, my flash drive, and my keys, my sanity was not lost, only missing. I found it, huddled in a corner of my mind, calmed it down, cajoled, persuaded, reasoned, and practically dragged it back to the forefront of my mind to where it belonged. My sanity and I were going to put our big girl pant on and deal with the situation. And deal with it we did:

-I decided not to go to Shanghai. I need to save my money and I will be there next month before I fly back to the States anyway. Fiscal responsibility: acquired.
-I worked out my visa problems with TEFL and they will be buying my plan ticket down to Hong Kong. Persuasion: acquired.
-I will buy a new phone/camera down in Hong Kong or with my next paycheck if I need a phone sooner. Numbers can be replaced. Rational: acquired.
-I have my old bus pass application and I can either go with Effy, my tutor, next Monday, to get a new one or learn how to say “I lost my bus pass, can I get a new one?” in Chinese and do it myself. Resourcefulness: (decently) acquired.
-I will attend a CouchSurfing meeting Friday and maybe make some other friends to spend this Christmas with! Optimism: acquired.
-I will breathe over Henry’s shoulder the next time he messes with our internet and make him show me what he is doing! I will fix the internet situation! Patience: eventually acquired!
-I can do all the things! Determination: acquired.

Actually, writing all of this down really helped me feel better about my situation. I encourage you, if you find yourself in overwhelming circumstances, either now during this holiday season or in the future, to write things down – get it all out. Write down what the problem is, why it is a problem, how you feel. Then take a deep breath and then write how you can deal with it. Overwhelming problems are like knots. Being able to unravel issues one string at a time, rather than pulling futilely at the whole knot, not only makes me feel calmer, it makes me feel more accomplished and ready to face the next task.  Organization: acquired.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Google Translate Told Me 生日快乐 Means 'Happy Birthday' in Chinese

YAY! December 4th was my twenty....third? fourth? Oh, crap. I forgot how old I am. [goes and gets a calculator]. Okay, it's official. I'm twenty-four....I can't believe I actually forgot how old I am! Hahaha. My coworker, Ania, asked me, 'how does it feel to be older?' I believe the more appropriate reply, rather than, 'It feels the same,' is, 'I feel like my numerical brain functioning is deteriorating much more rapidly now.'

The confusion was probably brought on because I actually celebrated my birthday on the 3rd at work. The reason being that, in order to prevent myself from sitting at home and crying over a lonely, single piece of birthday cake, I decided to bring a cake to work to force invite everyone to celebrate with me. Plus, I can't eat an entire cake by myself. That stuff stays with you forever...on your hips and butt.

...oops. Maths. Who needs them?

Most people work on Saturday, so to optimize my impromptu birthday festivities, I brought the cake in on the 3rd. Plus, it was like a gift to myself - I love cheesecake, it's my birthday. Why shouldn't I have my cake, eat it too, and share it with all my friends? Haha. Once I had explained why I had brought in the cheese cake-y goodness, Jolin asked if they should sing 'Happy Birthday?' I said that was not necessary...until Ania suggested they should sing it in Chinese. My response: LET ME GET MY CAMERA!

Here's a link to the lyrics: Shenri Kuaile. It's pretty much the same song we sing in the US, but it was a cool experience nonetheless.

Then some unexpected things happened. During one of my breaks Ms. Mei (another teacher and supervisor) comes up to me and hands me a pair of fancy hose. 'For you,' she said, 'happy birthday.' I was not expecting that. I told her she didn't have to, but she insisted. I was happy with just that - I never expected any presents. At all. BUT, I also ended up receiving vouchers from Victoria in HR (that paid for my cake), carrot juice from Daisy (it's my new favorite drink), and the cutest mirror from Richard and Tina! It was so unexpected and just really thoughtful of them to do that. For the first time, I think I felt like I belonged....and that was a gift in itself.

The card is hilariously creepy....see a closeup below.
'Even if you can't see me, I can see you.'

On my actual birthday, I got even more surprises! Ania and I had planned to go to Pizza Hut on the 5th to not only celebrate my birthday, but to have 'you-studied-your-butt-off-for-the-HSK' congratulatory pizza in honor of her taking the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi or the national Chinese Proficiency Test. If she passes (which she probably did), she is qualified to work in or with any Chinese company. She had originally canceled, because her dad all of a sudden needed her to run some quality checks in some of their factories in China, but she had some time after her test before traveling south, so we got to meet up! Also, I know what you are thinking, 'Pizza Hut? That doesn't sound very exciting?' OH BUT IT IS! China's version of Pizza Hut is much crazier than ours. The things they put on their pizzas will astound you. We ordered a stuffed crust pizza - one half had popcorn shrimp on it, the other half had oysters and crab. The popcorn shrimp side was much better....and both of these were considerably tamer than some of the other choices: chicken feet, salmon, corn, etc.

Not what we ordered, but it has mini hot dogs?!

And to top it all off, I got to Skype with my entire family. Trust me that is nothing short of a miracle to gather everyone in one place during a specific time. I really appreciated it. Also, more unexpected presents - I say unexpected because I specifically asked for a plane ticket back to the US over the Chinese New Year for birthday and Christmas from my entire family. So sweet of them!

Possibly the warmest pajamas ever and a book!

So, I just want to tell everyone that made these last few days really special: Thank you. 谢谢 . I feel so blessed.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Story of "The Great Mattress Debacle!" or "Cleanliness Rant"

[Oct. 21-Oct.28, 2011] When I arrived at my apartment and walked into my room all I saw was on this slab of a twin bed. There was no mattress, just what looked like a solid bed frame. It's like if a camping cot and a sheet of plastic had a baby. Maggie said something along the lines of 'very sorry, we get new mattress.' I thought, okay, I can live with this for a few days. Then I took in my surroundings and inhaled. The curtains were stained, the walls scuffed and splattered with dead mosquito guts, and there was this permeating odor of bad BBQ/beef jerky - it was horribly unpleasant. I almost started crying right there in the room, in front of my bosses. They whipped out some new (thankfully), cheap sheets and a thin cotton pad of sorts. 
And only a thin blanket like mattress to go on top.
A better view.

It was just so much to take addition to the culture shock and thinking 'this is my life for the next year?!' I feel like I sound selfish and horrible, but the lack of small comforts kind of got to me...also, I wasn't warned before hand about needing to buy a mattress. Surprise! Extra expenses!

Thankfully, they let me take a shower and I cried to myself in that horribly disgusting bathroom. There was mold where the sink met the wall, the drain smelled and was almost clogged with muck and hair, the shower had a moldy residue all over the shower walls, mildew and gunk lurked along the shower's floor edge, little glass bits from where the shower door was completely broken off (we didn't have a shower door, just a gaping opening) were scattered here and there. 

It festers right under the surface of the caulking...

Evil things live in my drain.

And since I'm already on a roll, I give you the kitchen. The people that lived there a mere day before had better thank hell and highwater that I wasn't there while they were or they would have gotten such a dressing down - they would have wished for deafness. I swear that space hadn't been cleaned for the entirety of their residence in the apartment. The fridge had molding food in it and indistinguishable splatters...more mold too. The counters were sticky with residue. The entire wall behind the stove was slick with oil splatters, the rest of the walls were not exempt from a nice dusting of oil and grime, even the bottom of the wall-cabinets had a thin film of oil under them - they glistened in such a disgusting way when the light hit them right. The floor looked like someone wanted to plant a garden - there was so much dirt and mud built up around the base of the fridge and in the rooms corners. They also had the gall to take all of our pots and pans and leave their dirty, empty, disgusting food containers for us to clean up.
This was after we removed the smelly food packages.
The walls were shellacked with oil spatter.
I'm pretty sure something died in there and it did not go quietly.

I've been told that the different standards of cleanliness is just a cultural difference. At first, I kept thinking, 'well cleanliness isn't about culture, it's about a choice - a choice to clean!' To a certain extent that is true, but what I've come to realize, seeing life go on around me here day to day, is that the decision that is socially okay here in China is to choose to NOT clean. I may look at a piece of trash or dust bunny and think 'I need to pick that up' or 'I need to sweep that up'. The Chinese just think 'it could be worse, I don't care about that piece of trash' and thus they won't do anything. Also, especially with outside garbage and the state of some shops that would have the have the Health Inspectors shutting them down 7 ways to Friday in the states....I feel like I can sum it up in one useful Chinese excuse: 'Méi bànfǎ, rén tàiduō' or 'There's nothing you can do, too many people.' China might literally have too many people to clean up after. I'm still not okay with the cleanliness situation, but I've come to understand why it is the way it is better.
The corners....where no broom or mop has gone before!
When I opened the doors, a small army of spiders jumped out at me.

Anyway, I wish I were over exaggerating, but I'm not. Victoria and I gave the whole place a scrub-down the next Saturday morning and now it is much more livable. I spent half my pocket money on cleaning supplies that I don't think I'm going to get reimbursed for, because it's not in my contract goddammit. Now, I digress, back to the later on they reported that a new mattress would be delivered on Sunday. I waited with baited breath! A good, comfortable night's sleep, not some chiropractic nightmare!  So, after work on Sunday I prance home and walk into my room to see....nothing has changed. 'Hmm, okay,' I thought, 'must have gotten the rooms mixed up...' So I walk into my roommates much nicer and larger bedroom and see a new large wooden bed frame (a double or queen sized one), but no mattress. 

A view from above.
I'm going to bet that this bed was not purchased new....origin: ignorance is bliss.

I go over to look at it...the middle was made of this odd interlaced, almost fibrous material and was trampoline-y in nature. But still no mattress. And then I wondered if, what it, mattress is just one of those things that is lost in translation. What if this is just the way common folk here in China are expected to sleep. In Japan they sleep on cotton mats on the floor sometimes. Oh joy. I laid down on it and wasn't too displeased. It was better than that plastic, unforgiving nightmare I had been tossing and turning on. When Victoria came back she was confused as I was about the 'new mattress' / 'better bed' we were supposed to get. Since the new mattress freaked her out (she kept saying, "We don't even live like this in Ghana!") we ended up switching rooms because she didn't want to sleep on the new bed and opted to keep her own little stone table. 

I must say, the bigger room was much nicer and I felt a lot better in there. Actually, after spending a night in my old room Victoria came to me and asked, 'how the hell did I live in there?' [insert hysterical laughter] HAHAHAHA...kinda wanted to cry again. She only stayed for a few more days before returning to Ghana to complete some visa paperwork. I really doubt she's coming back...

...and speaking of backs. Thank god I have a chiropractor in my family. I'm starting to have a lot of pain in my shoulders, despite my awesome family sending a few foam mattress pads my way. They are like little heavenly clouds that I sleep on each night - in comparison to NOT having them. I really didn't realize how integral a decent bed was for being able to stand where and how I live. A normal, western bed: probably one of the things I miss the most - call me spoiled, but it's true. 
Or maybe I will choose option B? Merry Christmas to me?

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Chinese Thanksgiving

[November 24, 2011] Thanksgiving! I woke up feeling horrible – which is why I haven’t written in a while. Most of my free time in the last week has been spent sitting in my bed feeling miserable as my chameleon of a cold goes from terrorizing my swollen throat, to wracking my chest with bone rattling coughs, straight up to my head to strangle my sinuses and turn my nose into a faucet. It’s been an unpleasant week for my immune system…

Despite my state, I was not going to let a bug derail my Thanksgiving plans in which I was somehow going to try and concoct a festive meal. Now, I’m not a stellar cook to begin with nor can I really follow a recipe…but I have this uncanny ability to whip up things from scratch using basic ingredients.

Not Possible: I'm no miracle worker or Martha Stewart

I mapped out the most basic holiday meal I could think of:
1.       -Chicken – a good substitute for Turkey (they don’t have this bird in China) which I knew how to cook
2.       -Mashed Potatoes – decided to flavor with garlic instead of gravy because I could not find flour
3.       -Corn – I had seen some at the store, sounded easy enough
4.        -Fruit – self explanatory
5.       -Pumpkin Pie – easier said than done, the Chinese don’t make this dish

Also known as 'China's 3-Story Walmart'

I had grabbed potatoes, onion, milk, salt, fruit, and garlic on earlier trips. I was just going to go to TESCO after work on that Thursday to grab the remaining things: chicken, corn, and pumpkin pie. I mentioned this to Tina, a coworker, and she said she would go with me to help me pick out a chicken.
This was good, because fruits, veggies, meat, and bakery bread is organized differently here and has to be packaged by an individual at the store. Also, the places is so freakishly huge and most things are in Chinese, what takes a native 5 minutes to find can take me up to 30 minutes sometimes.

Meat-a-polooza: It's like this x1000.
Tina, once we started our grocery shopping, tried to convince me to get a whole black chicken…head, legs, everything. I told her no. It’s not that I didn’t want to try it, it’s that I didn’t know how to cook it nor did I think it would fit into my pan. We ended up finding some chicken breast! Success. Then we found some corn…that was shrink-wrapped and microwavable. I figured since I didn’t try the black chicken, I should at least humor Tina and get the corn-in-a-bag. Corn, check. She talked me into getting some 5rmb (~$1) white wine and some garlic to cook with. Which inspired her to add some sugar to that, since a glass of warm wine with sugar and garlic is said to be good for health. Didn’t take long to convince me! Onto the pumpkin, which pie made of that squash is not available here, so I went with these little pumpkin croquettes.

As I was leaving, I decided to take a detour to Starbucks and got myself a congratulatory Cranberry White Chocolate Mocha and a piece of cherry cheesecake (just in case the pumpkin croquettes didn’t work out).

I can't read any of the labels...

Cooking went off without too many mishaps. The garlic mashed potatoes turned out great. The chicken with a wine/garlic/onion/ginger sauce was a pleasant surprise! I sliced up some kiwi for my fruit portion. The only fail was that after microwaving the corn…when I began to cut it, I noticed a weird texture anomaly. It was hard, so I tasted one of the kernels. IT TASTED LIKE WAX.

This belongs at Madame Tussauds under 'bad idea'

 It was disgusting. Awesome, I had bought mutant corn. Oh well, the dinner portion was a success nonetheless and I was too full by the end of it to really miss the corn.

Garlic mashed potatoes, chicken in a hodge-podge sauce, kiwi, and coffee

Now, onto dessert! My first attempt to fry the pumpkin things was a failure

The top one looks like a hockey puck. Probably tastes about as appetizing as one.

…but failure is the mother of success (and it also helped that I had a lot more for some more tries) and eventually produced to lightly fried pumpkin croquettes with a drizzle of honey for good measure. I also boiled the wine with some sugar and ginger in it…and voila!

Fork courtesy of Starbucks!

 The wine ended up a bit too booze-y for my tastes, but all in all the whole debacle was a success! Go me! This evening I'm thankful that I didn’t burn my apartment down. Also, I was ridiculously happy to be able to Skype with my family and friends later that evening as well – a really special treat to see everyone I miss!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Travel and First Day in China, Part I

[10-21-2011] Packing Monday and Tuesday morning of this week was ridiculous. I don’t think people realize how many things they accumulate that define their life until they have to move their entire life elsewhere. Trying to fold, arrange and re-arrange, and smash all of my clothing and toiletries into three suitcases proved nearly impossible except for the wonderful creation of space bags that you vacuum or roll the air out of.  Finally, after much finagling, Emily, Natalie, Mom, and I fit everything into the three containers that my life was reduced to.

Leaving sucked. I cried. A lot. I don’t think I realized, amidst the feverish need to leave, to just get out, that a part of me desperately wanted to stay. I guess I didn’t realize how much I love what I had, until I left it behind. Familiarity is a safe and wonderfully reassuring thing.

I drove to St. Louis with my mom and dad. I was on the phone mostly with the credit card and phone companies concerning my departure – I really wish I would have talked to them more. I didn’t realize how much, with the lack of communication that I am experiencing now, I would miss their voices. We finally get to the St. Louis airport and try to check my bags at the wrong airline at my urging; finally, we find my way over the right place and are 7lbs. over weight on one of my suitcases. So we start taking things out to re-weigh it and find that the vacuum bag containing my pillow, towels, bedding, etc. is a perfect candidate at 8lbs. My poor mom was trying to do the motherly thing, despite my earlier protests that those things would be provided for me. So out those went (which was a big mistake I realized later on), my bags were checked, we met up with my cousin for some farewell airport pasta, and after some waterworks, I was through security and on the plane to LAX. It was an uneventful flight, got lucky that the seat next to me was open.

Once I arrived, walked halfway across LAX, got my boarding pass, passed through security again, and found my terminal, I was eye-bleedingly tired. When I booked my flight I didn’t really take into account time zones. So what I thought to be a 1AM flight, was actually a 1AM flight California time – a 4AM flight EST, which is what I’m used to. I made some more tearful calls and then grabbed some food and coffee and prepared myself to stay awake. My methodology consisted of much walking in circles. It was the only thing that really kept me awake. I must have looked ridiculous doing it, but it was the most effective. Finally, we boarded, just when I was about to pass out/shoot myself from boredom. I was unfortuitously seated in the middle row in a middle seat (something I had no control over), but I was tired enough that I could have slept anywhere.

I got out my travel pillow and earplug/eyemask combo, ready to sleep, when the Asian lady next to me decided to be my friend. It was like a hippie exploded. Good lord. She talked on and on and on and on about being vegetarian, living a clean life, recycling, the methane gas bubble in the Caribbean, plate tectonics, her yogi-guru person (whose picture she wore around her neck)…I didn’t know what I was getting myself into at first, I thought I was just going to be polite and respond accordingly to a few phases and then ignore her for the rest of the flight, while I hopefully slept like a baby. Maybe even get a few tips on Chinese language and culture. Nope, what I got was a series of environmentally-charged college lectures. I eventually cut her off before I started twitching and drooling on my seat, saying that I needed to sleep. Which I did well enough through the din of the plane’s engine roar; when I woke up, I immediately started reading to prevent anymore discussion.  I evaded the well-meaning chatterbox for a few hours, until we got our food and then it was off to the races again with diet, pesticides, the unnecessary abuse of livestock, etc. I was familiar with most of these topics, but I didn’t want to dig myself a deeper hole of conversation to fall into. Thankfully, we soon deplaned – me a sweaty, tired mess. I know she was just trying to be nice, but I was tired and just wanted to get to my next plane in time. I had to go through customs and security again and did not want to have a scheduling mishap this early in my journey. I evaded her at customs, changed clothes, grabbed my bags, went through airport security for the millionth time and got to my gate. Beijing’s International Airport is frickin’ impressive, it seemed to span forever it was so huge! So many shops for everything you could have wanted! I ran by all those though in an effort to get to my gate on time.

I made it, took a deep breath, powered up my phone, and realized I could get FB on it! YAY!

At the cost of data charges though. BOO!

One weird thing was that I thought I heard the soundtrack from the first Narnia movie everywhere. It was so surreal. I’ve listened to that CD so many times that when I heard familiar parts or something that sounded like it, I couldn’t help but stop and wonder why the heck were they playing it here?! I definitely heard it at my gate in Beijing – the track ‘Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus’ or ‘Evacuating London’. I guess China is like my Narnia though, a completely new world full of wonder, discovery, and complete governmental control…new friends, danger, adventure, talking animals (this one I have yet to verify), etc. Though I doubt I will be a Queen of China anytime soon. So weird! Music and movie references aside, 

I finally found myself on the plane to Hangzhou, tired, but still in one piece. At the airport, after grabbing my bags, I met Maggie and Richard – I thought Davs was supposed to be picking me up, but I just went with the flow. We drove about 30 minutes to my apartment and that is where all the fun began….

Coming soon: Pictures and Part II

Monday, November 7, 2011

I'm baaaaaaaack! Also, buses.

Okay, I'm back. I knew blogging for me was going to be a challenge in the beginning, because throughout my life I've always found 'better' things to do with my time than write. And by 'better' I mean I make up excuses so I don't have to write. I don't know why I put it off...well, I have an idea - writing reminds me of all the times in school I was made to compose lengthy papers on subjects that I didn't give two 'poops' about. Also, I somehow have a bevvy of friends that are far superior writers, which makes me view my own compositions as menial and uninspiring. Therefore, writing for me sometimes is like pulling teeth. For this, I apologize. Hopefully, one thing China will do for me is instill in me a greater dedication and commitment to chronicling my time abroad!

Also, it wouldn't hurt to remember to carry my camera everywhere...well, as soon as I find where I misplaced it. That is why there are no pics in this text heavy post. Thankfully, I have a back up - it's a bit older, but it works.

I have been keeping a diary of sorts from the day I arrived til now, but I will start posting those entries with dates tomorrow. What you are going to get now is what I like to call CLAIRE'S GREAT HANGZHOU BUS ADVENTURE! Our story begins....

I realized within the first 24 hours of arriving in China that learning Chinese would make my life about a 100% easier. After talking with my coworker Ania, she suggested one of her friends to me: a student, called Effy, who is studying to be a Chinese teacher. After a few exchanged calls and texts we decided on 1pm Monday (today) at a centrally located Starbucks.

She sent me directions. I was to take the No. 212 bus from North Qingchun Square Station and get off at the Kaiyuan Lu stop. Okay, no problem. I arrive at what I thought was the station (it had a 212 schedule) and wait for 30 minutes...I call Effy to tell her that I think there might be a problem, because my bus hasn't shown up yet. She says she'll look up the schedule on the internet in broken, but vaguely understandable English. During that time I'm waiting for the call, I realize I might be at the wrong station - the characters aren't the same as to what she texted me the day before (turns out I was waiting at East Qingchun Rd. Station). Thankfully, my work was located right behind me...I walk back there and talk to a few of my coworkers. The receptionist tries to send me back to the same bus stop. Eventually, someone goes with me and uses the GPS on her phone to find the bus stop and we STILL end up at the wrong one. Finally, after about 10 minutes of walking we find the right place. I wait some more...then Effy calls. Apparently, the NO. 212 bus only runs at NIGHT!

English only gets you so far...

She gives me new directions: take bus No. 45, get off at the 7th stop (Zheyi Yiyuan), then take No. 68, get off at the 4th stop (Kaiyuan Rd.). Now that I have information for buses that are actually running, I have no problem getting to Kaiyuan Rd. hour and a half late. Oh well - the entire thing was just a bunch of miscommunication and misinformation. I meet Effy there and we have an awesome session. I feel like I have a minute grasp on pronunciation and tones now. I depart an hour and a half later, 200RMB poorer (50RMB was for a course book), but richer in knowledge!

Bus Stop!

I figured that I'd just retrace my steps and ride the buses back in an opposite fashion to get back home. No problem, right?! WRONG! I take the No. 45 back to Zheyi Yiyuan and end up in a weird side street. That should have been my first clue things weren't going to go as I planned. I walk back to the road and try walking east up Qingchun Rd., more towards where I live, hoping to stumble across a bus station. And I do, only one that doesn't have any of the buses I know. So I cross back over and just decide to take either No. 186 or No. 45 for the fully loop, because I figure I'll eventually end up back where I started.

This was a bad idea to go the wrong way during rush hour. I sit there for at least an hour on the bus in crazy traffic til we there are only two others on the bus at the end of the line. The last stop comes up and we are no where near anyplace I recognize and the bus driver is saying something in Chinese and motioning me to get off. So I do, I really don't have a choice.

As I get off the bus, I look around and am not too happy with what I see. Very few lights, very dirty, very 'in the middle of who-knows-where' and then some guys starts talking to me in broken English. Uh-uh, this is how bad things in movies begin. I make a split second decision, run across the road and start back tracking, trying to see if there is a bus station that is running the same bus I just took, only in the correct direction. As I approach the second bus station I came across, a No. 186 bus pulls up! AND THE ANGELS SANG! I was very lucky. A half an hour later I got off at my stop. No harm, no foul, no lost limbs, just tired and supremely more educated on a fraction of the bus lines that transit Hangzhou.

Also, I will post pictures of the bus stops and signs, etc. once I find my camera.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Stranger in a Strange Land

So, after days of confusion, tears, questions, and lack of sleep, I somehow made it back here faithful readers!

It has been absolutely insane and eye-opening, disappointing and exciting....I think I have completely explored the complete range of emotions I am capable of in these last few days, maybe except fury and loathing (almost though).

I am coming to you from a proxy server - China doesn't want anyone to blog or use ANY social networking sites - I said screw it and paid for some anonymity, because none of the other free proxies wanted to work for me. Here I am again, connection re-established and I'm feeling 10 times better! Once I get internet at my apartment I will almost be back to 100%. Once I get paid and reimbursed then I'll truly feel better. I have at least 6 pages written on my laptop to be posted here and some photos I have to upload to my computer as well. That I hope to get around to in the next couple of days or so.

With love from China, Claire

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Challenge Accepted!

I have accepted the Hangzhou offer! I will be teaching at the TEFL Academy there.

I think these are of the right place...

The deciding factor was this: the school in Wuxi apparently doesn't get the greatest reviews from their employees. They don't get two days in a row off either. Also the school in Hangzhou upped my travel compensation, gave me a week off to go back for a friend's wedding, and will give me any OT I want! This is acceptable.

I'm pretty sure B is the TEFL Academy

I will be leaving next Tuesday! And we are back to square one with me in a tizzy because this is all happening so fast. How I am I going to get everything done?! With magic? I wish. Mary Poppins? Unfortunately, not British enough. Then, I guess it will have to be with a list!

Here you have it:
Top 10 Ten Things Claire Has To Do Before China! (there is a story behind the repetition in the title)
10. Book a flight
9. Call my bank and phone company
8. Apply for Tax exemption thing-y (can't remember the form number)
7. Get an International Driver's permit
6. Party like it's 1999
5. I will meet Draco Malfoy while riding a unicorn and brandishing my lightsaber of awesome
3. Laundry like WHOAH!
2. Pack my life into 3 suitcases (and maybe a box to send over later)
1. ...this is the same answer every time, but it shall remain between Tiffany and myself.

Now, guess which one doesn't belong? Laundry really isn't that important. Just kidding.

Clap for me, future coworkers!

I will admit this post is a little spaz-y, but I'm running on endorphins after a power 6-hour drive to Chicago and back to pick up and pay for my L (travel) visa. Well, time to get things done! Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Frackity Frackin' Frack.

Well I find myself in a pickle. I have to choose between two jobs. Both have their strong points and weak points and truthfully I'd choose Wuxi if I didn't have to wait a month....

Here's the comparison/run-down/whatever:

                     Hangzhou                                    Wuxi                                          
Hrs/wk          30 (25 class)                               40 (25 class)
Salary/mo      6000-6500RMB                        7000-9000RMB
                     ($950 - $1025)                           ($1100 - $1400)
OT/hr            120RMB ($19)                           100RMB ($15) or equal number hours off
Airfare           $1250 at end of contract            $400 after 6 mo, $400 after 12 mo
Housing         Provided or 1000RMB               1500RMB allowance + placement help
Holidays        Paid/5 occurrences/13 days       Paid/8 occurrences/13+ days
Vacation        ???                                             5 days after 7 mo.
Sick Days      3 days                                         3 days
Leave            Now                                            In a month

Pros:                                                    Cons:
1. Better pay                                        1. Leave in a month - - -
2. More established program               2. More hours/week
3. More holidays/vacay
4. Seems like a more interesting program

Pros:                                                    Cons:
1. Leave now +++                               1. Less pay
2. Less hours                                      2. Don't know as much about the program
3. Prettier city                                     3. Don't know if I have vacay time/ raise potential
                                                           4. Might get there and not get the job...

Truthfully, I'm leaning towards Wuxi. Though, that is dependent on the fact that I can cancel my tourist visa - I'm going to call tomorrow and see if this is possible. Can I even do that?

[After some internet research: I now know the visa fee is non-refundable. (insert explicit words here). Though, the bright side is that I might be able to convert my travel visa to a working one and not get charged another $140. If I can call and ask if that is okay, then maybe crisis averted? If not, Hangzhou here I come!]

It's complicated, I was so ready to leave now. I didn't realize that a work visa takes a month. What would I do in that month. I've already said my goodbyes and quit my jobs...I could stay with friends and crawl back to my other jobs or I could move back home and live rent free and get a temp job? I really don't know. Is it weird that going home feels like I'm failing? It's nothing against my family or people that live at home, it's just something I thought I'd never do...If I stay in Indy, I don't have enough money without working a job to pay rent, utilities, etc. I could get a part time job teaching ESL here in Indy through a friend for $15/hr, but only if  that position is still available.

I'm going to sleep on it tonight and see what tomorrow brings....if I can sleep at all. I'm so indecisive. Is it funny that I thought there was going to be a clear winner?

Time Difference

The time difference between China and the US just hit me like a hammer. Mainly, because I realized I missed my interview last night.

When I scheduled the interview with Wuxi Training Center, she said the 8th or 9th were good dates. I thought she meant the 8th or 9th US time. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I was prepared for an interview tonight, when in fact it was last night. You know how China is approximately 12 hours ahead, well that also puts them a day ahead as well. That is where I made a big fat boo-boo.

My potential employer sent me an email expressing her confusion as to why I wasn't online. I sent her back an equally confused email stating that I thought it was tonight. Luckily, I was able to reschedule, but now I will always remember exactly what kind of time difference there is between these two places.

Let this be a lesson to you all. If there is something important going on, say, November 22nd at 7:15pm, that means that I will be contacting you in China on November 23rd at 7:15am. Awesome.

Click to enlarge!

Also,if you have problems with time math, I give you the internet:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Traveling is always full of's nice because I'm going to be so busy over the next two weeks that I won't be able to think too much about leaving everyone and everything behind. Trying to look on the bright side...

I've run into a little problem, but first I must give you some back story. When I traveled to Greece earlier this year, I misplaced my passport. I started getting my stuff together for the trip a few weeks before and discovered it "missing". I panicked and thought I had lost it - I even scheduled an immediate trip to Chicago to rush order a new one. I tore my room apart the night before in one last hopeless attempted to make sure the dang thing wasn't there and low and behold I found it. In an effort to allude any would be passport thieves, I put my small little blue book in an empty Pirates of the Caribbean CD case. It was such a good hiding spot that I even fooled myself.

After that I made an effort to put it in an obvious, yet safe I bought this little safe. It was cute and I figured I could hide it easily. In hindsight, probably should have bought something maybe a bit bulkier, so that a potential felon had a bit more trouble than just picking it up and walking off with this little guy.

It's travel size for your thieving pleasure!

Unfortunately, during the move to my new place I lost the keys. Here I am now, a day away from going to get my travel visa and my passport taunts me from inside a little black box. First, I tried a hammer to pry it open with no success.

Probably shouldn't have done this at 7am.

Then I used the internet to learn to pick locks. Unfortunately, I lacked the basic component: paper clips. I tried multiple things: safety pins, nails, scissors, but none led me to the desired outcome.

A potato?! Is this real?

Anyway, it seemed too complicated to begin a life of crime and lock-picking, so I settled for something more cathartic. I threw it off my roof.

Think ridiculous!

Didn't work. A friend of mine suggested hammering a screwdriver into the lock to bust it open, so I thought I'd try that next. I went downstairs to retrieve it from the yard and in a fit of frustration and caveman-like urges, I threw it onto the rocks at a closer angle. Low and behold - SUCCESS!


So that is how to open a safe. Tune in next time to see me fit all of my worldly possessions into 3 suitcases and a backpack!

Monday, October 3, 2011

I Got a Job...Yay?!

I always knew I wanted to travel. I just never thought I'd end up in China....I wanted somewhere in Asia for sure, but always in the back of my mind Americanized mind China has been full of dog kebabs, communism, and bad drivers. I don't know why I secretly thought this - I have met some wonderful people from that country that have never tried dog (that they know of) and are perfectly good drivers.

Thankfully, I am not a baby...
I've been in a kind of weird limbo lately. I've been working odd jobs and pondering my direction in life, trying to put off becoming an adult with, God forbid, responsibility. I'm a horrible procrastinator (so I hope this blog pans out - just a heads up), so after taking a TEFL/TESOL certification course via Oxford Seminars I conveniently ignored activating my placement services til about a week ago. I think I was just frickin' scared. Then I realized that I was going to have to 'man up' and change my own situation, because no one else was going to do it for me. Also, my ceiling fell in, winter is coming (which is not a good time for me), and I knew something had to change. It did and now it's all happening so fast. I submitted my papers on Tuesday, received a reply on Friday, interview and job on Sunday night. I'm getting my visa and plane ticket on Thursday and could be gone by next Friday. Bing, bang, boom!

The ceiling: Before
The ceiling: After

I am extremely lucky, but still paranoia is starting to set in. I can't help but think that I'm going to end up abducted and sold the sex slave industry or arrested for some ridiculous reason by the Chinese government. I feel like I should have more sense and realize the worst situation I could find myself in is some freak occurrence where I don't have a job. My mind is really good at over exaggerating. The thing is that I'm buying a one way ticket, so this is it! I'm doing it. It's happening.

I'm in it for the long haul.

I'm definitely going to miss everything familiar: people, places, everything being in English, etc. And I'll miss shopping. They have such cute clothes over there - for people that are size 0! Gah, but I guess that's going to be my life for the next year: getting used to differences in culture, daily life, language, food, EVERYTHING.

Well, maybe not everything is different.

I am so excited!!!