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?