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.


  1. ((((((((((((((hugs)))))))))))))))
    Proud of you!!!

  2. Wow, I don't know how you do it! Good for you in keeping a positive attitude and not giving up in spite of the language and cultural barriers. Good luck with the internet and missing items; glad you were able to post an update at least.

  3. Thank you guys for your words of encouragement! I really appreciate it! I'm going to keep moving forward! :)

  4. Hope you had a good Christmas and hang in there! I always find it helps to keep my mind focused on the positive and it sounds like you're doing just that. :) You're a terrific storyteller!