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!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

MOVE: Invisible Children's new film from the creators of KONY 2012

"...because the world has a tendency of forgetting, moving from one thing to another." 

In the beginning, scam or no scam, what is happening in central Africa and the LRA are both critical issues. I'm sad to see the media trivialize such an important cause and then turn around and negatively refocus and lash out on those people that were just trying to do something about the atrocities of the LRA. I've got the time and the means to be in DC on Nov 17th, so if anyone wants to join me - let me know. I'll be traveling from Illinois to DC. Let's be part of something bigger than ourselves, let's use our voice to make a difference. Kony2012.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Lost Post or My Life in Bullet Points

(This should have been posted circa late March 2012) I'm alive! I swear I am. No, I have not been eaten by zombies, gotten taken hostage by Chinese body snatchers, nor have I hit my head too hard and contracted amnesia and now think I am a 47 year old Chinese man name Feng Weiwei!

I am alive and well and busy as...heck.

Basically, the last two months have been like this:
1. THE ETERNAL NEVER ENDING RAINY SEASON OF HANGZHOU - seriously, this is the most consistent deluge they have had, well, since many Hangzhou-nese can remember.
2. I got a new job.
3. I took a leave of absence due to health issues from my old job, because quitting in China is not Kosher.
3. I got a new apartment (Penthouse baby!)
4. I moved out of my old apartment.
5. I've been dealing with the same Chinese social oddities at my old job that I encountered at my new job, but they are no much more tolerable because of a few things: more monetary compensation, normal work hours, weekends free, better neighborhood, better work environment, English TV channels, to name a few.

Now, I give you pictures of my new apartment! It is small, but mighty, and perfect for one person.

The view of my living room and behind that my bedroom.

My bathroom - there is a shower/tub combo off to the left.

The kitchen - which I will rarely ever use, but it's a nice thought.

The living room and my HUGE TV!

The bathroom walls are kind of see through, but on the bright side - washer/dryer combo!

Hope you enjoyed these. I know I did. More to come soon!

Apologies and Apropos obviously I haven't written in a while. I am incredibly sorry. I ended up switching jobs while in China right after returning from my trip back to the US during the Chinese New Year about six or seven months ago. After some subterfuge and a slight bout of depression this blog just kept getting put on the back burner.

Well, now that I'm back in the good ole U.S. of A, I'm going to try and catch everyone up on what transpired post-year-of-the-dragon. I think this will be good for me as well as allow me to reflect and document everything in a more complete format. I have hundreds of pictures with hundreds of stories I can't wait to share with you...but those will have to wait until my next post.

For now I give you: Claire's Top 10 Non-Essential (but should be) Travel Items

Aside from the obvious things you need to take on a trip - money and debit/credit cards, clothes, toiletries, tickets and identification, necessary technology and accessories, etc. - there are some things I've found myself needing again and again. Travel priorities are different for everyone, but these are the things I find useful whether it's for a weekend at a friend's house or a year-long adventure half-way around the world.
  1. Playing Cards - these are more frivolous than anything, but if you are traveling there are going to be parts of your trip where you are just waiting...and that get's boring, so make sure you bring something entertaining along. Reading material can also help you pass the time, but card games give you the choice of a solitary or group activity. Make friends.
  2. First Aid - prescriptions aside, bringing along some common over the counter drugs can help you cover all the bases of traveling's less glamorous side effects. Pain killers (Ibuprofen), anti-diarrhea meds (Imodium), allergy meds (Benadryl), a laxative (Milk of Magnesia), bandaids, neosporin, etc. are good things to consider. Different cultures prescribe and practice medicine in different ways, so keep something with you that you know will work to avoid a medical mix-up.
  3. A Map or GPS - I appreciate getting caught up in culture as much as the next person, but I also like being able to find my way back to my hotel or hostel. My sense of direction has gotten keener with each trip I take, but I cannot tell you how many times Google Maps has kept me from ending up on the wrong side of the tracks or the other end of whatever city I'm in. A must for men - haha.
  4. Hand Sanitizer - You are most likely going to get sick when you travel, but that doesn't mean that you still can't take steps to prevent it from happening. Don't be patient zero. Plus, bathroom amenities are different everywhere in the world and sometimes those amenities do not include soap. Better sanitary than sorry.
  5. Small Umbrella - good for rain or shine. You can always try to check the weather before you leave for a trip, but that is not always going to be what you want it to be. And as I have learned from Asia, umbrellas aren't just for rainy days. You can beat the heat and avoid that unpleasant sunburn you weren't prepared for by just chillin' under your umbrella during the hottest part of the day.
  6. Empty Water Bottle - staying hydrated is important. I know this, you know this, stores in touristy locations know this and that is why they severely mark up the price of water. Plus, storing up drinkable water in questionable places is definitely a must. So save yourself some money and a potential parasitic infestation and bring a water bottle with you.
  7. Towel -The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy says, "A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have" and I completely agree. Interstellar hiker or not, a towel is not just a towel - it can also be a pillow, blanket, bandage strips, tinder for a fire, converted into a pack, binding or rope, shelter, etc. You can even origami them into little animals for companionship if that floats your boat.
  8. Backup Documents - Print copies or carry a USB with scans of your passport, itinerary, reservations, driver's license, etc. Keep a few copies in a few different places. Should you get pick-pocketed or mugged, this will really come in handy.
  9. Make-up Removing Wipes - Not just for make-up. I've cleaned off everything from wine to blood to mud with these things. Whether it was freshening up from a 13-hour cross-country train ride or getting gum off the bottom of my shoe, these babies come in handy. Plus, should you find yourself without TP, these will suffice. I guess you can substitute moist towelettes if you want to seem less girly.
  10. An Open Mind - Cheesy, I know, but matter where you go or what you do, you are going to encounter things that are so incredibly different. You should never let that stop you or deter you from making each trip a learning experience in some way. If you are confused by something, ask questions. If you try something new, make mistakes. It's all part of the experience and it will definitely make for a great story someday.
*Honorable Mention: Flip Flops - avoid shower fungus, questionable carpet funk, and sore feet with these little suckers. If you are going to a tropical location, then I'm guessing these are already packed, but if you aren't they are small and relatively easy to squeeze into the cracks of your bursting luggage so it's not a big deal to include them.

And if you don't like my list, here is an article that lists 50 more lists for your pre-travel perusal: 50 Articles About Things You Don’t Dare Forget When Traveling

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My New Philosophy....and Hong Kong Happenings!

Hong Kong has been crazy! Actually, the whole visa process has been crazy.  Mainly because I realized right after Christmas that NO ONE at TEFL had said anything about my visa. I had told Tina, head of the foreign teachers, that I was going home during the Chinese New Year and double checked the dates to make sure they were okay. I also stressed that my Tourist visa expired before the holiday as well. Apparently, communication isn’t a strong point of TEFL. It wasn’t until I drew a calendar up on the board in my office detailing the countdown until I leave did it really hit them if they didn’t act fast, then they’d lose me to visa complications. There is no possible way to cover 10+ classes on such short notice, so yeah, that kind of shocked them into motion. It was like lit a fire under a bunch of ants. I had my plane ticket booked, hostel booked, and promised money upfront to pay for my trip but the end of the day Friday. Awesome…but still ‘Strike One’ for me having to remind them to do their job.

Also, as they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, I was compiling information on the side. You know: addresses, phone number, directions, English and Chinese. Things that normal people do to prepare for a trip? They turn to tell me what I would be doing and I show them my sheet and they were so amazed! It’s like they couldn’t fathom someone preparing something ahead of time – what is this thing called ‘organization’!?!

I had classes all day Monday and most of the day Tuesday. I left right after work on Tuesday and hopped on a plane from Hangzhou to Hong Kong. I will say, since my flight was so late, I really appreciate them booking a direct flight instead of a flight to Shenzhen and then having to take a train into Hong Kong. The flight was no problem, had some movies downloaded and I made friends with the guy sitting next to me. Charlie is a financial adviser here in Hong Kong with family south of Hangzhou. He also lived in Australia for about 10 years, so no communication issues. Got his numbah too!  Unfortunately, I don’t have a phone. I’ll probably email him after I post this blog. It’s nice to have connections. Anyway, I got in late Tuesday night to my hostel after taking a shuttle from the airport. It’s small and super hard to find but nice? Downside: there is no internet and the owners speak like ZERO English. Strike Two TEFL. Next time I’m booking a hostel closer with an English speaking attendant….mainly because I tried to ask them a bunch of questions (where’s the nearest Starbucks since your establishment doesn’t have wireless, where do I catch the bust back to the airport, what time do I need to check out). How much did they understand, even when I tried to ask in Chinese, NONE! Gah, frustrating!

But I told myself, if I can survive this, I can survive anything.

I got to downtown Hong Kong no problem on Wednesday morning, but had a hard time finding the Visa office. I walked past a line outside the Chinese Resource building and asked the people in it what they were lining up for. One effeminate man told me 'This is for tickets to Lady Gaga.' Made sense, so I walked around the building, no luck. Walked into the building, still no luck. Walked past the line again and crossed the street...only to be stopped by the guy that told me the line was for Lady Gaga. THEY LIED TO ME! I am so incredibly much for the kindness of strangers.

Oh well, it was a great laugh and the guy and his two other cohorts let me butt in line as an apology and we kept each other company and freaked each other out by telling stories about people who had passport problems and got stuck in Hong Kong. [cue dramatic foreshadowing]

It was all fun and games too….until they mentioned, as I was flipping through my papers, that it looked like I didn’t have my health exam. That’s weird, I thought, I definitely got one of those back in November specifically for the visa application process…why wouldn’t TEFL include it?

I go ahead and fill out the application, where I feel like they ask me a lot of redundant questions. Waited for my number and when I got to the desk, the lady asks me where my heath exam sheet is. STRIKE THREE TEFL, STRIKE THREE! I have to have this sheet to submit my paperwork. No health exam, no visa, big problem.

I rallied the troupes! I told myself, if I can survive this, I can survive anything. I was not going to get stuck in Hong Kong (as cool as it is).

I put on my action pants and ran across the street to the Starbucks and tried to use what little battery was left on my laptop to frantically spam everyone at TEFL to tell any of the people in charge about my problem. I then ask around Starbucks to see if anyone knew where I can get a voltage converter so I can plug my computer in. Found a place nearby and grab one…but then realize I left my chord at home.

NoooooooooooCOPYMAX store. I run over there and then have to buy a USB so I can transfer the file from my dying computer to their system.

Finally, get it printed out. I run back to the consulate, get another number to wait in line right before the cut off time, re-fill out the paper work, and submit my application! SUCCESS…until I learn that I will have to pay double of what we thought ($1400hkd instead of $700). Oh, and we only guesstimated that amount because I looked up the prices on the horribly behind-the-times P.R. of China Hong Kong Consulate website (I don’t think they’ve updated their site since the Beijing Winter Olympics)…but still, TEFL should know this information.

They are saying now that ‘no one knew it had to be included…’ LIES! Someone is definitely lying. I understand Laura not knowing, they have kind of shoved taking care of the foreigners and the foreigners’ visas off on her, because Tina isn’t the best manager (and that’s putting it in Chinese terms…where ‘fine’ actually means ‘horrible’). Putting together visa applications isn’t her actual job. If we are going to point fingers, I’m going to go with the hiring/paperwork department that put together my application papers in the first place. This is their job to know how to do this. Plus, the only reason they had me get a health exam in the first place was FOR this visa. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had to get one. You don’t do health exams for kicks around here.

It was a big sigh of relief to get everything submitted…let’s just hope that all of the bad karma today yields a bunch of good karma tomorrow. I want my Z visa and I want my passport back with little to no hassle. I don’t want to get stuck in Hong Kong, even though it’s a pretty cool city. I went and walked around the Harbor and up and down Nathan Road after all the madness this morning.

I think the ultimate thing is this, though: don’t trust anything TEFL does or says as far as I can throw the building it’s located in. Sad, but true. I’ve got about 8 more months of this. So my mantra is always: If I can survive this, I can survive anything!

This pretty much was my day.
Image (c) Allie Brosh (

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Merry Christmas (圣诞快乐), Happy New Year (新年快乐), and a Surprise!

Hey everyone! These last few weeks have been crazy! What a way to usher in the New Year. I can only think that my life will continue to challenge me with new experiences and adventures.

Christmas was spent working. I made a deal with my boss that if I worked Christmas, I could get  few days off of my choosing elsewhere. I didn't really mind working Christmas anyway, because I really wanted to be busy and not thinking about being a half a world away from my family and friends during the holiday season. I kind of kicked off Christmas with a Christmas Eve Skype date with my family where my dad read about the birth of Jesus - a tradition we do every year. We also open one gift (always pjs), which had been sent to me a few weeks back as part of my birthday gifts. The next day I got to school bright and early and put little or no effort into my 5 classes. We mostly played games and talked about Christmas. I really didn't teach anything. Oh well, the kids loved it and that's what matters.

That night, I gave a presentation to a packed room of 40+ students and their parents about Christmas - the history, traditions of the world, US traditions, and taught some Christmas vocabulary. I also showed them a video of synchronized Christmas house lights and music (YouTube: 'Frisco Christmas Lights - Wizards in Winter'). No one expected that many kids to show up. Tina actually had to run out and get more candy and presents. All in all, it went really well. Afterwards we headed over to do KTV, which is basically karaoke Chinese style. I sang a few songs, but seriously I have no idea where they got their English song list. It was incredibly random. I finished up the night with another Skype with my family and we all opened presents together. I got socks and little make-up things. It was wonderful.

New Year's Eve was also a blast! I got together with a few friends from work and we got a little something to eat before heading out on the town. We started the night at Coco (1) and I stood out like a sore thumb (blonde hair). Plus our group was dancing, dancing, dancing, something that is not unheard of in clubs (like in Athens, Greece where people stand around and shout to each other while really loud synth music blares in the background) but not always typical. It was really fun to see some random Chinese people loosen up and dance with us! I made some friends too! I ended up chatting with a few of the girls that came and danced with us. And right after the clock struck midnight and everyone was yelling 'Happy New Year' or ' / Shin-Knee-In-Kwai-Lah,' I got invited back to the table that we had been asked to move from because another party had already reserved it and I met some really nice Chinese guys. Whoot, free drinks. Also, I got a pen pal out of it too. Two of the guys worked in international fashion trade and the other two were students. One of them, Skye, had studied in Birmingham, UK, so his English was pretty good.

Then we headed over to Coco (2), a branch version of Coco (1) with a much more modern feel. There I met up with a coworker, Arslan, and a bunch of students studying south of Hangzhou who were from India. They were so nice and now I have a multitude of tour guides should I ever head their way! So the New Year was brought in with a bevvy of new friends. That's not a bad way to start 2012.


Now onto something a little different and my silly, little gift to you: I've come to realize I'm a collector, but not of Beanie Babies, angels, stamps, etc. like some people. I find these little nuances everywhere here and they are always a joy to find. You can't really find these things in the United States for various reasons, so I try and cherish every little one that pops up.

What I love is Chinglish. I adore it when China butchers the English language. It's the funniest thing ever and never fails to put a smile on my face. It also makes me want to walk into establishments and ask the owner to let me fix their sign's grammar and/or spelling, but I usually resist that urge. Alas.

Whenever I see one of these little Chinglish presents, I try to whip out my camera as fast as possible and snap up a shot. I don't always get everyone, especially since I've recently found myself without a camera, but I do try my hardest. 

So here you go, a belated and comical Christmas present to all my readers, a little Chinglish to brighten up your day:

'Let's merry.'
I was actually a little surprised by this one, since Starbucks originated in the United States and should have a grasp on it's native language....but this little gem may have slipped passed the marketing team over in corporate.

'Dwelling? Why Lotus Fragrant Home'
You see these Lotus Homes advertisements all over Hangzhou, usually displayed at bus stops and bike racks. I just love how literal is is: Dwelling?

'Drink The Water Machine'
Again with being literal. This is on our water cooler at work and I can't help but giggle every time I go refill my glass.

'Write a piece of gentilesse for u.'
This was on a card (which are unending sources of Chinglish) that HR passed out for Thanksgiving. We were supposed to write to another coworker who we were thankful for. Or in this case we would 'write a piece of gentilesse' to them. WHAT IS GENTILESSE? Is it French? Is it a word? ...upon further examination (aka I googled it), it is a noun meaning 'refinement and courtesy resulting from good breeding' from Old English/French origin and it is also a poem by Geoffry Chauser.

'Nordic Casual Style'
Okay, this really isn't Chinglish, but I do want to know what exactly is 'Nordic Casual Style'? Is that like Alexander Skarsgard's awkward short tie and red, courderoy tight pants? Maybe a fur hat?

'I'm no problem.'
I think they mean 'it's no problem,' but if that is not the case then I'm glad their male employees aren't too fussy either. I walk by this one everyday on my way to and from work and I finally got up the courage to run up and take a picture. I got some really weird looks from the sales people, but thankfully, they're no problem.

'France Crocodilian Shirt Group Limited'
I have NO IDEA WHAT THIS MEANS. Well, I kind of do? It's a company that makes crocodile shirts from France? Or are they French crocodiles that make shirts? Or is it a French company that makes shirts FOR crocodiles? I guess we'll never really know.

'Gift Dreamer / Vitality Fashion Taste'
This reminds me of those nifty little Magnetic Word Poetry sets. Someone, probably blindfolded, reached into one of those sets (with words relating to sports and/or food) and pulled some out at random and slapped it on a water bottle! Tah dah! Instant win.

'Saliva squid must'
This one is from the Shanghai vaults, which I have yet to post about. Food, though, is one of the most interesting as far as translations go. I've noticed it usually goes one of two ways: literally or with a lot of creative liberty and very little explanation as to what it really is. For example, mango juice in one restaurant was called 'Happy Golden Dragon Drink.' ...saliva squid must...I know it has squid in it and that is all I want to know.

'Dwell in your plesant hoard your / gold Lest you with me.'
WHAT DO YOU MEAN!?! It might be a quote from an old English novel or poem of sorts...okay, upon further inquiry (aka I googled it) this is from a poem called 'From Sunset to Star Rise' by Christina Rossetti. I'm guessing she wasn't consulted when this was put on a bag that had nothing to do with this poem. It's so out of place!

There are a million other gems out there like this. I feel like I stumble upon a new one at least every other day. Yesterday, when I was shopping at INTIME (a mall) there was an advertisement that was, what looked like, a jumble of made up words! It was fantastic. I need to go back and get a picture.

So, happy New Year everyone. May jubilate your daily wishes and merry peoples think gentilesse!