Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

01/03/15: I Might as Well Move-In Here

Once again, I am staying in my go-to hostel in Beijing (Leo Hostel, if you’re ever in the area). I’ve been here for a week now, if you count last night when I went home to do laundry and grab some stuff to go to Hong Kong tomorrow (today? It’s 2:30am…). I know the staff by their first names, including the manager, and I’m trying to convince Angus to let me stay here for free on the weekends during the school year in exchange for my A+ English skills. I think he’ll come around.

For the past week, I’ve just been hanging around in Beijing. I made some friends who I saw every so often, since we were all on our own schedule. I met up with Lisa (who I met in Shanghai and had been in Japan) and Tai for pizza, bringing along a slew of people that I had met throughout the week and missed pizza/cheese. Other than that, I’ve just been consuming tea and speaking English, which is really all a girl like me could ask for. In a fit of “Golly, I hate it here” I booked another trip to Hong Kong, which I leave for in a few hours.

In preparation for that, I went back to langfang for a night and half a day so I could do laundry and pick up clothes for weather that isn’t related to snow and being freezing cold. I also wanted to pick up my Octopus card (the train/bus pass for Hong Kong) and my various papers and maps I have from when I went over the summer. So far, my plans consist of going (back) to Disneyland, going (back) to Macau, and going (back) to Shekou. A few people have expressed an interest in meeting up for food at some point, but they’re all back in school, so we might not get the chance. I’m also going to try to spend more time out in the non-city part of Hong Kong, like the big Buddha and maybe a beach.

My Hong Kong iPhone also got stolen a few hours ago, so I’ll need to go and drop another few hundred bucks on a phone. I have resigned myself to the cost because I really love my iPhone and it’s either pick up one in Hong Kong, unlocked, or get one in Ireland and end up buying a phone for China again. Ugh. I just keep reminding myself that it could have been worse, since my passport and my wallet were in the same pocket. Plus, I had backed my phone up and gotten all of my photos off the night before. Plus plus when the thief tried to reset my Apple ID, they were unsuccessful because it was linked to my gmail account and gmail no longer works at all in China. It’s the little things.

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

19/02/15: Imagine All the People

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
Imagine, John Lennon

My trip to Shanghai was a lot more than the places I visited because they were secondary to the people I met and spent time with. I guess I want to start out by saying to those people:
Thanks.
I don’t think you have any idea how much that time meant to me.

I’ve been in China for nine months now and, in all of those nine months, I have spent a maximum of three consecutive days with the same English-speaking people. (Until Shanghai.) Usually, it’s meet-and-go, either I head on my way to somewhere else or they’re passing through Beijing. It’s really very lonely. I had a blast the night I spent in Beijing and met some awesome people, but it was a night and then we were on our ways again. Standing on the platform of the train to Shanghai, it really hit me how temporary my life has been since I got here, and how lonely. Bernard is the only recurring English-speaking person and I’ve only been able to meet up with him twice since we met over the summer and only for a few days. Then I spent a weekend with Pippa. Then the weekend with the Troxell siblings (and Bernard). But that’s been it. It’s sucked.

The week started with another meet-up with Bernard, who left after 2 days, I think? It wasn’t long, he had to get back to work. When I thought about how I would spend the rest of my week in Shanghai, it was sort of depressing. I figured I’d hit some museums, bum around English-speaking places, and mostly pretend I didn’t live in China. What actually happened was way better and way less depressing.

When I checked in to the hostel, I had the great fortune of meeting Lisa, who was checking in at the same time as me and was also staying in the same dorm room. Now, I don’t want to sound superstitious and call it fate, but at the same time if the shoe fits… It was totally fate. We went with Bernard and his new Vishal to get dinner (and Bernard is not allowed to be in charge of anything because we always end up lost) and then the next day, Vishal went to Beijing, Bernard and I got breakfast (I seriously almost wrote brekkie, I hate Bernard and Vishal and all the other Aussies I keep meeting for that), and Lisa slept in. It was, actually, a pretty perfect day. (Except that part where Bernard was in charge and we got lost.) We got bagels for breakfast, went to a great bookstore, went back to the hostel and convinced Dean and Lisa to go to the Science and Technology Museum with us, hit 221b Baker St, and then went back to hang out at the hostel some more. I think this was the same night we met the Spaniards? I’m not trying to say it was fate…. No it totally was. Let’s not even pretend here.

Turned out, Alex and Victor (brothers whose age difference matches me and my bro, except the younger one is literally 17 days younger than me fate) were staying the same amount of time as Lisa and I was (originally) leaving a couple days earlier than them. I think we may also have met the Swiss guys at this point? My memory was hazy even before we all left because I always felt like we all arrived at the same time fate and were leaving at the same time fate, so there was never a point in my memory that we weren’t all hanging out in the hostel café together.

Over the rest of the trip (a total of 10 days, I think? I ended up changing my train to leave the same day everyone else was leaving), Lisa, Alex, Victor, and I went to Suzhou, Hangzhou, ZhuJiaJiao, and spent some time in Shanghai itself. Lisa and I became instant besties in a way only girls can (my best friend from back home asked “You talked about boobs, boys, and periods?” and the answer was “actually, boobs, boys, and birth control…”) and ended up switching from our 4-bed dorm to a private twin suite together. Over the course of the trip, we got used to “the Bro Show” as we called it, where Alex and Victor would be doing whatever brothers do in Spanish while Lisa and I planned what we did next. At the end of the day, I would hang out in the café with Sandor, Manuel, and Friend (except Dimitri never really hung out and always went to bed, hence me calling him Friend all the time) and whoever else was staying in the hostel at the time.

I honestly couldn’t remember what we did or where we went when I got back to the quiet hostel in Beijing. (There were something like 30 people staying in the hostel when I returned.) It didn’t really matter to me. Usually, I go to a new city armed with a list of restaurants and museums, but this time my list was discarded for the sake of socialization. And I couldn’t have had a better trip. I’m so thankful for social media and VPNs because it means we don’t have to lose contact with each other as easily as we would have before Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp, etc. And since Lisa studies in Beijing, we met up two days after we left Shanghai to go shopping. And we’re planning on meeting up again when she gets back from Japan.

So, again, to those people with whom I spent a fantastic week in Shanghai, thanks. It meant so much to little lonely me that we were such fast friends.

Safe travels, hope to see you all again,
<3 April

Posted in 2014 (China), Articles, Blog

Article: The Sounds I Hate (but might miss anyways)

  • The Class Bell What is this? High school? Why do we need to have a bell that signals class starting, break starting, break ending, class ending, and everything in between? More importantly, why is it a fifteen-second song that still plays on the weekends and over the holidays when the students have all gone home and the school is closed?!
  • The Back-up Sounds of carts, cars, and various other motor vehicles It’s a sentence. Not just a beep beep but like an entire sentence. I imagine it says “Watch out, bitches, I’m backing up and if you don’t move, I’ll back up right over you.”
  • Car horns A taxi drives past me, it honks. Oh, but there’s three people walking ahead of me, so it honks at them, too. And those two people across the street? Honk. Oh great, here comes another taxi. IF I WANTED A RIDE, I WOULD’VE RIDDEN WITH THAT TAXI YOU CAN STILL SEE YOU DON’T NEED TO HONK AT ME
  • High-pitched screaming and squealing I live at a school inhabited by teenage girls. ‘Nuff said.
  • “Hello, teacher.” This sentence usually is uttered when I am well past the person and walking in the opposite direction or when I’m peacefully trying to eat my dinner and someone sits across from me to stare at me with big blank eyes as I try to eat my noodles. It’s usually followed by my second-least favorite sentence: “I’m sorry my English is so bad.” Then go away, I’m eating.
  • “Hello, picture?” I don’t know you, please don’t ask me for my picture that’s really weird please let me just walk through the Summer Palace/to the store/through the store/outside on the side walk/to the bus/off the bus/everywhere in peace. I have a feeling at least one-fourth of the Chinese populace have seen my picture by now, with the number of people who want to take it. They really don’t think it’s weird.
Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

24-28/12/14: Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!

Okay so. I’m not very good at updating this blog and I am so sorry. Or am I? ANYWAYS, the point is I’m going to try something a little different here so I’m sorry if I get rambly. That’s just sort of how I talk.

I started off my weekend trip in Beijing just so I wouldn’t be worried about ending up missing my train. I’d bought the tickets a couple weeks in advance because I was meeting my friend Bernard in Xi’an. (Bernard teaches in Wenzhou and I met him in Beijing. No, it’s not like a “oooOOOooooo you met a man in China?!” No offence to Bernard, mainly because he already knows this, but no. Nope. No. Friends. Men and women can be friends without all that weird “you must be interested in each other” bullshit. But like, as props to Bernard, we are actually friends. So it’s gotten to the point of friendship where hugs are o-k!) He called me a couple days before we were meant to leave to tell me his flight got rescheduled and he couldn’t make that flight, but he got it sorted in the end. Since his school isn’t as flexible as mine, our plan was to meet in Xi’an on Christmas Day since that’s when he would actually have off. Originally, I was only supposed to get three days off for Christmas, but because of the way I’d worked it out with the school (I would have off Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday and “teach” the Christmas “party” on Tuesday), when they rescheduled the Christmas “party” to be exactly the same time as my train left Beijing for Xi’an, I ended up having the week off. Which was fine with me, haha.

Anyways, I went to Beijing on Christmas Eve and got pancakes at Grandma’s Kitchen (like I do literally every time I go to Beijing for anything) before wandering around a bit. I was wearing my new boots, so my legs/feet hurt more than normal but I COULD HANDLE IT. I went back to the hostel to hang out a bit and there was a Christmas Eve party happening where the other people staying in the hostel paid for the dinner (I had pizza nearby where the little girl of one of the people who worked there came over while I was waiting for my dinner and played with my phone, it was super sweet) and played games and stuff. I went and sat at the table with them anyways and used my wiles to help the other people. Mainly, they needed bowls and I tricked the Chinese guy who worked at the hostel to give them to me and then I would hand them to everyone else. I also spent a lot of time putting food into bowls since my chopstick skills are A++ now. After the food was finished, we spent the rest of the night chatting and dancing. (Apparently the way I was dancing in my cupcake pj pants was seductive because a very, very drunk guy propositioned me and then spent a good 30 minutes sulking when I said no. But seriously, cupcake pants that are at least three sizes too big.) Literally the rest of the night. The dance party ended at 4:30am.

I got into bed in the 14-bed dorm at 5am and couldn’t sleep because other people sleep so loudly and I’m a really light sleeper, so by the time 8am rolled around, I decided it was time to give up and take a shower while there weren’t many people up. At 8:45am, I climbed back up into my bed to get my stuff from the other end of it (phone, keys, glasses, etc) and debated going back to sleep but eh. Instead, I went down to faff around the hostel cafe for a while. Luckily, someone from the party was already up and I sat and talked with him before we went off to get breakfast. Just before we were leaving, though, we saw someone else for the party and I mentioned my lost skirt (Bart said it was because I drank all that tea so I must’ve been drunker than I thought, but I told him it must’ve been that half-sip of vodka someone brought me because the party insisted I get vodka instead of more water for my tea). Luckily, his sister had my skirt, so it wasn’t lost, just temporarily misplaced. When Bart and I got back from getting breaky, I sat at the table and chatted with the folks as they got up before I got my skirt back and headed to Beijing West Railway Station to catch my train to Xi’an. I got to the train gate right as the sign went from “Waiting” to “Checking”, so it was really perfect timing. The train was one of the high-speed ones, so it was a 4-5 hour ride instead of 15 and when I got to Xi’an, it was a 30min subway ride and a 10min walk to the hostel. Bernard was already there so when I got a little lost, I called him and he gave the receptionist his phone to give me directions and I got unlost. But then when I got there, he had gone back to his room even though it was really only two minutes or less later, so I kept saying how he and I weren’t friends anymore. The receptionists laughed at me because I kept fumbling the money and muttering to myself honesty, I’ve been in China for this long and I still struggle with the money but I got checked in and went to find Bernard. I played Marco Polo and he said he could hear me coming, which was totally the point. I set my stuff in his room before we headed off to the Muslim Quarter for some food. Unfortunately, because of my lack of sleep the night before (although I did have a 2-hour nap on the train), my new boots, the dancing, all the walking, and the usual aches of being me, I was really hurting when we got back to the hostel. My feet were all swollen and it was not good. We hung out a bit and headed off to our respective rooms to sleep because we were going on the Terracotta Army tour in the morning and had to be in the lobby by 9am.

When I got up the next day and went down for a bit of food before we caught the bus, Bernard was already up and working in his Chinese workbook. nerd. I zombied out with my tea and my breakfast and Bernard kept having to repeat things because I was still mostly asleep, but we made it to the van thing on time and two other people from our hostel were going as well. They were American and we’re totally friends now. 🙂 We picked up one other person from another hostel and the tour guide and then we were on our way. I wasn’t really impressed with the tour guide’s personality because we were all introducing ourselves to each other (me, Bernard, Erin, Steven, and Phina) and having a lovely chat and she interrupted us to have us introduce ourselves… Then she told us history of Xi’an and the Terracotta Bros (as I called them the entire weekend, much to Bernard’s dismay) and I was looking out the window the whole time because why not? But at the end of her lecture she called me out and asked me to name the four types of statues, I remembered two of the four, but honestly it’s a tour I paid for on my holiday, if I don’t want to listen, what does it matter as long as I’m not interrupting the lecture and making it so others can’t listen? Ugh. But we got to the park place for it and we started in Pit 2, I think. We definitely did Pit 1 last…  ANYWAYS the statues in that pit were mostly crumbled because they hadn’t restored them yet, but she told us how a farmer was looking for water when he found the first statue, a kneeling archer who was still in one piece. There was one of each statue type all put back together and on display for us to see in that pit, but the tour guide kept disappearing so when I wanted to ask why the horse had a very deliberate hole in its side, I could only speculate since she wasn’t around for me to ask. (My speculation was correct, the hole was to keep the hollow horse’s body from cracking during the firing process, but still. I had to wait until we were in Pit 1 to find out!) The next pit was special because it was separated into “rooms” where different things happened, like the meeting room and the ritual sacrifice room. That pit wasn’t finished before the emperor who made the people build the warriors died so some of the statues didn’t have heads because they were unfinished. Pit 1 is the famous one with all the warriors in it, though, and it’s the most restored one, too. Some of the statues we saw were in the process of being restored (some had saran wrap cling film around them and I speculate they were glued and drying). There was a section of statues where each statue represented a different minority in China and then there was the big main section of the restored ones.

After the tour, we went back to our hostel and Phina came with us to our hostel and we walked around the Muslim Quarter again. I tried to find the tea lady from the night before to say hi because I bought some Jasmine tea flowers that bloomed and she gave me some of her favorite tea for free because I love tea and had to leave before I bought it all. I perfected my Chinese man squat by this time because I kept needing to rest my feet/knees/legs but there weren’t many places to sit. I bought a couple of cute keychains and some post cards and ate tofu and plum juice. I love plum juice. Then we went back to our hostel and Phina went on to hers and we hung out in the cafe until it closed at 11.

The next morning, I got up around the same time and went down to the cafe for breaky. Bernard was the next to get up and then Erin. Phina ended up coming to the cafe before Steven even though he was staying in the same hostel as us and she wasn’t. We gave him shit for it the rest of the day. We decided to go see the Forest of Stelae Museum and the Giant Goose Pagoda before touring around the wall. Of course, our plans changed a bit after we went to H&M for some warmer clothes and the ATMs and Steven decided to eat before we left, which of course we gave him shit for the rest of the day. Then we went to the Forest of Stelae Museum, which had statues of Buddha carved in the stelae style. My legs were killing me by that point, though, so I was hobbling around and squatting or sitting as often as I could. We then went to the Small Goose Pagoda after catching a subway train there. I hoped to find a place to get a knee brace, but hadn’t seen any. After we ate some pretty spicy noodles and walked in the wrong direction to the Gian Goose Pagoda, we did find a place I could get some knee braces to try and help with the pain a bit. Phina went to the train station to get a ticket to go to wherever she was going next (I forget) and we caught a taxi to the Giant Goose Pagoda since we’d spent a couple of hours trying to find it and Erin, Steven, and I were leaving in the morning. After sitting in the little plaza thing and talking for a while, we tried to catch a cab back to the hostel, but it took about 30min because it was changeover time and we were four. Phina was meeting us at our hostel at 8pm and so we were planning on going up on the wall, but it was 50元 and about to close, so we decided against it. (I was actually very, very glad because I had been almost in tears a couple of times that day from how bad my legs hurt, but I didn’t want to miss out on anything and I didn’t want them to try to miss out on anything in an attempt to accommodate me, so not going for a bike ride on the wall was great for me…) We ended up just hanging out in the cafe the rest of the night and said goodbye to Phina, although Bernard saw her the next day.

In the morning, Steven, Erin, and I went to the little outdoor market we passed on our way to the Forest of Stelae Museum and did a bit of shopping. I had to go earlier than them, though, because I was taking the subway to the train station and didn’t want to miss my train. I got there in enough time to get a Coca Cola from the McDonald’s above the gate, which was perfect. The train ride was 5-hours again so I finished half of a book, read another book in its entirety, then read some of Sense and Sensibility, and had a bit of a doze. The trip home had pretty perfect timing, though, because I got off the train, took the subway from Beijing West Railway Station to Beijing Railway, stopped at KFC to grab some chicken nuggets and fries for the road, managed to catch the quick bus that had only 1 seat left, got back to Langfang in time to pay my phone bill AND catch a bus back to the school. Once home, I tossed all my super gross clothes into the wash (which I still need to go start, shoot), unpacked half-heartedly, made my bed, and played video games before I went to bed.

Even though I was in super pain the entire weekend, it was totally worth it. 🙂

Posted in 2014 (China), Articles

Article: A List of Things I’m Really Glad I Brought with Me (and Some I Wish I’d Brought)

  • Nasal Decongestant
    • Okay so I had trouble with breathing through my nose when I was in the US but it was nothing like living near Beijing. There are days when the pollution here is so bad I can’t see the line of trees just across the road from my bedroom window. Those days, I stay inside. But when I get back from Beijing, I’m so happy I can clean out my nose and get all that black air out of there. If you’re coming to China and living in/near a city, this is a must!
  • Alka Seltzer Cold Plus
    • My family swears by this stuff when we’re getting sick and I am so happy I brought some with me. Now when I can feel the tinges of a sickness coming on, I don’t have to hear about “Chinese Traditional Medicine” from the adults, I can say “Oh, no I’ve got some medicine, thanks.” If you’ve seen Chinese Traditional Medicine, you’ll know what I’m talking about….
  • Aspirin
    • I did not bring enough with me because I can’t buy just a bottle of ibuprofen at the supermarkets here. When I can find it, it’s expensive and there’s not many tablets in the package. I now am hoarding my aspirin.
  • Sunscreen
    • Not really a problem on the super pollutiony days, but when I was in Hong Kong my ginger paleness could not handle that sun. But I left my sunscreen at home. Thankfully, I found my favorite brand in a shop by chance because all of the Chinese sunscreen has whitening agent in it. (AKA snails. There’s snails in the sunscreen.)
  • My Laptop
    • The computer supplied to me by the school is old and slow along with every other computer at this school. At least the one they gave me is in English? I guess…
  • Kraft Mac and Cheese Powder Packets
    • I’m definitely buying some Kraft Mac and Cheese before I go to Ireland because I know for a fact macaroni and cheese isn’t a thing there. I could still make stovetop mac at least because I had access to cheese, but there is a disturbing lack of cheese in China. I just want cheese!
  • Non-Chinese Tea
    • It’s so expensive here and kind of hard to find a variety of, so when I moved here I brought with me lots of Irish tea. When I leave China, I plan to buy lots of Chinese tea to bring back with me. I really have a thing for tea. Like, my apartment has no food, but it’s got tea!
  • Perseverance
    • I spent the first few weeks in China absolutely terrified. “What if I can’t get to the supermarket? What if I can’t go to the bank? What if I can’t get home from where I am?” A lot of it was self-doubt. I cried a lot. I wanted to go home. I was ready to give up. But I said I would do this, and so I would. Maybe that’s stubbornness. Maybe they’re the same thing. All that matters is seven months later and I’m still here. There’s nothing I can’t do. Well, except speak Chinese.
  • Taking “It’s Good Enough” for an Answer
    • “60 students?! for 2 hours?! Most of whom speak as much English as I speak Chinese?!” Now we do 1 hour of lecture and 1 hour of a movie in English with Chinese subtitles. I slow down how I speak and simplify my grammar and use incorrect grammar because that’s the grammar they use and are used to, so watching a movie in English will help them get used to listening to it at full speed. Plus, what the hell am I supposed to do with them for two hours (from 7-9 at night) after they’ve been in class since 8 or 9 in the morning? I feel bad for the kids when I think of my university schedule.
  • Not Taking “It’s Good Enough” for an Answer
    • I’ll be honest. I’ve always been that way. I lived on campus all four years at university and I was always the roommate to call maintenance. I bet I annoyed the shit out of them. But if I was given something and told it would work, guaranteed, I was going to take them up on that guarantee. So when I was told my apartment would be up to my foreign standards, I was going to take them up on that guarantee. (Plus, it was in the contract.) When autumn was becoming winter, my apartment was unbearably cold. (Imagine a standard 4-person dorm apartment on campus with tile floors, blank white walls, and large windows and you’ve pretty much got my apartment. Which I live in alone.) I found that using the toilet with my winter coat was still too cold. So I complained. They brought me another duvet, which helped. Then it was winter. The radiators weren’t on. So I complained. Now my radiators run and my apartment is warm.
    • Basically, people will take advantage of you if you keep your mouth shut. If you’re unhappy and were given different expectations, don’t keep your mouth shut.
Posted in 2014 (China), Articles

Article: The Book Continues, Chapter by Chapter

As I sit in the little cafe I found in the University City, I read my book and drink my tea (Earl Grey), realizing that I like the sounds of Chinese coffee shops better than their Western counterparts. This one is full of students, if rather small, but they’re all so easy to tune out. Granted, it wasn’t difficult when I was in the US, but it’s considerably easier here. And I know why: I can’t understand them.

When I first got here all the Chinese was overwhelming, but I’ve reached the point where I’ve gotten used to it. I can sit with a group of people who don’t speak English and feel only slightly out of place. Partially because the people I now sit with occasionally translate for me, but mainly because I’ve gotten used to the way Chinese sounds. Even though I still can’t understand even half of a conversation that’s happening near me, the language doesn’t really sound foreign anymore.

Before I came here, my experience with culture shock was limited to hearing about it or reading about it online. Now, I’ve lived it. And after six months here, I’m beginning to imagine how the reverse culture shock is going to go. It won’t be as bad as the initial culture shock because I’ll only be in China for a year, but I can already tell I’ll go through it, if only to the extent of jet lag and wonder at how clean even the dirtiest thing seems in comparison.

Along with these realizations is an awareness of how much I’ve changed since I’ve been here. Although China isn’t the place for me and I haven’t enjoyed being here as much as I thought I would, it’s still been a great experience. In getting a fresh start in a country where the people don’t understand me, I’ve learned who I am and who I want to become, even though I graduated from college without a boyfriend and without trying to obsessively hold on to what we are told are the “best years of your life.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a single day, a single choice, or a single experience of my college career, but it’s over.

If I’ve learned anything from my obsessive reading, it’s that all chapters end. My college chapter has ended and so too will my Chinese chapter. And that’s okay, because the book’s not finished yet. I was terrified when I graduated because I thought I needed a plan, I needed something next, but I don’t. The book will continue, chapter by chapter, and some days I know what chapter is next and sometimes I have no freaking clue.

That’s okay. Life goes on.