China-versary

Well we made it a year in China. And that year has been pretty fun-filled, stress-filled, adventure-filled and busy. But here we are, into year two. Settled, comfortable, happy and (very) healthy.

The past few months have probably been the busiest for us. It began in May when we went on our first big holiday since moving to Guangzhou. But the holiday had to start with a challenge. The challenge was the Great Wall Marathon (only half for me). We decided back in November that we needed a physically challenging goal to reach in our first 12 months, apparently my fitness transformation wasn’t enough (it was also only my goal, not Joel’s so we needed something together). So we registered for the Great Wall Marathon. I knew I could never complete a full marathon so I opted for the half while Joel set his for the full marathon. Our training regime consisted of finding as many sets of stairs as possible. And run them as many times as possible. We did the run with about 12 other Guangzhou expats. We took the train up with one other family, which was a great an stress-free experience and we will definitely be using train travel again. The run itself was only about 5 km on the wall, however it was a very difficult 5km and contained over 5,000 steps (not just your normal steps either, this was big steps, little steps, long steps, short steps and very very steep steps. And this is also in 35 degree heat. It was brutal but absolutely amazing. The views were stunning and the scenery phenomenal. It wasn’t easy but we both finished. No injuries or illnesses and great recovery. We felt pretty dang good and it was a great way to begin our 3 week holiday.

So the next three weeks included Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Helsinki, Tallinn and a 10 day road trip around Estonia (the towns won’t mean much so I will leave them out, but we pretty much saw the entire country). We ate and drank our way around these cities and countries. We had a wide variety of interesting accommodation through AirBnB and really enjoyed the fresh air and sparse population. The highlights were huge, and can’t really be considered highlights because the entire trip surpassed our expectations. Basically Russia as a whole was amazing. We loved Moscow (in part because we stayed with friends and had their local knowledge, recommendations and mobile phone use). St Petersberg was also amazing. Beautiful city with so much history and culture, however much more geared towards tourists so while it was easier to explore and be tourists we actually liked Moscow more (this is surprised many people). Our next stop was Helsinki. Finland is an expensive country. Very fancy and very expensive. But our highlight of that short portion was the supermarket. Our fist stop in we just walked around with our jaws hanging open, both from salivation at the tasty array of items and also the sheer variety of what was on offer. We made a few meals in Helsinki just for this reason. We then ferried over to Tallinn. Two days in Tallinn in the Old City (which was phenomenal, and super old) and we picked up a rental car and explored the country. Estonia has significance for Joel because his grandfather immigrated from there when he was 5. As hard as we looked (mainly in cemeteries) and asked around, we found no other Kaldasauns. Even the locals we stayed with had never heard of a Kaldasaun. Only on our way home, checking in at the airport, were we asked about the surname. We were told it might be Finnish. Still checking on that one…

So our holiday was amazing. It was just the escape we needed.

Once we returned, life got a bit chaotic. We were only home just over a week and my animal lover/rescuer/passion took over our life. As many know, dog meat is a thing here. It has also been made into a festival held on the summer solstice, June 21. Unfortunately during the weeks leading up to it, many dogs are stolen and trucked up to Yulin. One such truck was intercepted in Guangzhou on June 19. This meant that every dog lover, animal rescuer in the region (and beyond) was called into the city to assist. I jumped in, without even thinking. And I am still in it today. Without giving the upsetting and sad details, I have been incorporated into part of a new rescue group in Guangzhou, Animal Action Guangzhou. We’re only about 10 expats but we are trying to make a difference to about 20 dogs. (This is a small fraction of what was on the truck, but it is what we were able to handle at the time). We have been caring for dogs, organising fundraisers, coordinating with vet clinics, feeding, walking and now fostering, many of these rescued dogs. When all of this happened in June, I was shocked that I was even part of it. But when you see something to tragic happening, you can’t just turn away. So dogs have kept us very, very busy. It is a passion project, but it is also a very meaningful way to spend our time and energy. We have had to fund-raise endlessly throughout this ordeal to pay for medicine, care, boarding, vet bills and food. I absolutely hate asking for money, but if those people out there that have an interest and a love of dogs want to help please follow our fundraising link.

While the dogs will always be taking up time, we still manage to have some free time, that is we did until I decided I needed yet another way to challenge myself physically. I have taken on a whole new way to train my body: boxing. I am entered into a White Collar Fight Night on October 21. We have 10 weeks of training with professional coaches where we learn how to be a real boxer. Our fight is to raise money for GIVES, an international expatriate volunteer organisation which helps social welfare agencies in Guangzhou. While it will be hard work (and long hours, 3 nights a week training), it is a fun way to get in shape and earn money for a charity. On top of this I am still coaching with K2Fit and working on becoming a personal trainer. And here I thought I would move to Guangzhou and be a bored housewife…

And to wrap it all up, our China-versary is also marking our step forward in filling our apartment (no, it’s not more dogs or cats or bunnies). We’re adopting! We have been working on this since last year and we are now closing in to the final stages of adoption. We are adopting two toddlers from China, hopefully by the end of the year. This will definitely change the tone of the blog, as it will be child-centred, stress-filled and probably contain a lot more stories of bodily functions gone wrong (something common in China even without children). I hope to continue to create entertaining blog posts about our life here, and even though I had a long break from before our holiday to now, I am going to keep telling the stories that keep me always entertained here in Guangzhou.

Please remove your shoes at the door …

Having guests makes you think about different aspects of your daily life. You think about your routines and your household jobs you must get done and your eating habits and especially your buffers to China.

One buffer to China I have is removing shoes. This may not seem like a buffer, maybe just politeness, but trust me, it is necessary to keep a lot of China out. But in order to get this across to any guest (long distance or neighbour) you will think about is how can I make these people that came from half way around the world or across the complex, comfortable? First: tell them to take off their shoes. No matter what. Every time. Do not walk around the apartment in the shoes you wore out in China. While my positive views of Guangzhou become stronger every day, I will always feel negatively about the variety of disgusting stuff I will be treading on. The most common “stuff” you will encounter is bodily fluids. The street are filled with bodily fluids. And this isn’t the occasional spitting type of fluids, this is everything. Spitting is a regular occurrence, you don’t just see it on the ground, you hear it everyday and mostly all day. Sometimes it’s pretty mild and you can kind of ignore it, other times, such as just this afternoon, there is a wind up, a full blown build up to the forceful expulsion of phlegm from one’s throat or lungs rather because that is what it sounds like. Luckily with the man today that had the most intense build up and multiple stages of hacking up something, I was able to get away before the final blow. My husband thinks that their level of noise and effort to complete said activity is very un-proportional to the end result. No one needs to cough and hack for 20 seconds before bringing something up. But it happens. All. The. Time. So now that I’ve severely grossed you out, you understand why shoes, which are always stepping onto this stuff, whether you like it or not, need to be removed.

Other things that will be stepped on: vomit (strangely common), food, dog poop, and sometimes human feces. Usually a baby’s but still nasty and should not be a common thing to avoid when walking around. And if you have to go to a wetmarket for your fruit and veg, always wear closed toed shoes and always remove them. Try to find a mat somewhere first to do a quick wipe. But do not find water to do a little splash for the soles because you have no clue why that water is there and where it came from. Revolted yet?

So, my guests immediately were told all of this as soon as they walked more than a meter into our apartment. They quickly obliged and eagerly (because we can all understand how gross this is) dashed back to the front door and removed their shoes. I probably scarred them but they always remembered to do it!

Aside from disgusting my guests, I think we did a pretty good job of hosting them. Like I said, having guests make you think about things in a new way. Daily life, definitely, but also daily Guangzhou. I wanted to make sure that our visitors saw GZ the way we see whilst also reassuring them that we are ok here. We are happy and healthy and doing fine. (note-it was Joel’s parents visiting so having this reassurance was key, parents worry.) So as I tour guided around I made sure to notice the good of GZ, the positive and the really cool. After nearly 9 months here, the daily things that we get used to are still interesting to outsiders, and I love that experiencing them again makes me appreciate where the heck I am. I am in China! In a crazy city that no one visits, people only work in and heaps and heaps of manufacturing and trading goes on. Everyone knows Beijing and Shanghai and even Chengdu (because of the pandas) but no one really knows GZ. People go to Hong Kong, never even thinking about crossing the border, where things are so cheap and food it super tasty and there is space (even if it is slowly being filled up with expansion of GZ and Shenzhen and Foshan so on and so forth). But still, appreciating the Pearl River Delta (aka southern china, aka Guangzhou) is something that has taken time. It is something we struggle with but can still step back and just enjoy and marvel at the immense differences between Asian cultures and Western.

But back to my point, simple differences of Australian life and an Australian in China life make for large adjustments for anyone. Reiterating the shoes issues is something I will not let up on. Just please always watch where you are stepping. Surprises on the ground are never a good thing here.

Tour Guiding…

GZ is officially a tourist spot. At least it is for the Kaldasaun’s tourism group. We have hosted our first set of visitors and it went pretty well. No one got sick or hurt or lost and I’m pretty certain they had a great time. It was also the busiest and most consecutive days out in GZ I have had thus far.

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OuIMG_2105r first visitors are direct from Melbourne. With only a 3 week lead up to the trip, they booked in, got a great deal and made the most of this city (technically it was one Aussie and one American, but both from Oz). We had 6 days together and made the most of it. Their trip started off with a walk along the river on a gorgeous Friday evening, drinks with some of our “local” friends and completed their first night in GZ with KTV.

Saturday we ventured out on bikes to a local art district and wandered around, Genni making friends with everyone and Helena using her few Chinese phrases with locals. We also had a first with the girls-visiting Canton Tower. It is the second tallest tower in China and the 5th tallest free standing structure in the world. It makes sense, then, to go on the thrill ride at the top of the tower. Which is also the highest vertical free fall in the world. My thrill seeker friend, Genni, was the brave one that conquered this and came down with a renewed love of life.

Sunday was another big day: shopping. The girls got their first taste of real China and the GZ markets. We took them to the Western Clothes Market, which is massive and overwhelming and filled with clothes that mostly only small Chinese girls fit into. The fun was trying to figure out how to let us try clothes on. If it was possible, most likely something was purchased, however neither of my friends were very good at the haggling part of the transactions. If I was there I would go for it, otherwise it was a full priced item (or even more because they were pretty easy targets even if they didn’t mean to be). Joel and I are pretty good at the bargaining thing and like to try it out every chance we get. I am more of a hard bargainer than he is-something I am proud of!

After our big Sunday out and about we stayed in and played a IMG_2147traditional Chinese game of Mahjong. This is one of my favourite games at the moment and I was so impressed my friends caught on so quickly! We actually had 2 nights of Mahjong in the end-I may have created some new followers!

On Monday I took them on my favourite activity in GZ: Cycle Canton. We spent the day riding around GZ (with only one other on the tour from the states). We pedalled our hearts out all day, exploring the temples, family halls, kung fu academy, markets and so much more!

Tuesday was a special treat: making dumplings at a local restaurant. The restaurant is a new one opened up by GETCH and run by students with handicaps that attend GETCH. It is run by a former student, has many staff members and a full time chef. We were lucky enough to be invited in and taught how to make dumplings like a local. This was not entirely successful but we all had a blast and had an amazing lunch! Afterwards we popped into a local temple for some peaceful wandering and a bit of chanting (Helena joined a prayer march in one temple, unsure of what she was actually saying but getting involved nonetheless!)

The final day of their visit, I took the girls back to the market (always more shopping to be done!) and to a local shopping mall. The mall was unimpressive but they had to see what it is like here for all types of shopping! We had a great time braving the metro (train) system and attempting only one taxi ride as people with motion sickness don’t do well above ground here in cars! It was a whirlwind of a trip and showed me how far I’ve come since moving here nearly 8 months ago! I felt like I could handle the city and everything it it entails to get around and explore! I look forward to more visitors and showing off the awesome, if exhausting, city!

 

No space in a hazy city…

Guangzhou may not be considered the most polluted of the Chinese cities, but it seems that the pollution never really goes away here. This leads to many things: trouble breathing on a daily basis, no blue sky, no desire to go outside, and a confined feeling. While the pollution levels haven’t gotten out of  hand, they are still high enough to second guess a run outdoors, or leaving the windows open all day. We tend to attempt to balance our exposure to the nasty air quality. If we spend a day outside, we spend the evening inside. We limit physical excursion outdoors. But we don’t wear masks. This may change as the months turn into years and we realise the long term affects it may have on us, or we find some super trendy face masks to wear around.

The feeling of being enclosed and almost claustrophobic in GZ doesn’t only pertain to the think blanket of smog that sits around us. Everywhere you go here, you most likely are going to feel limited. An example was right in front of me a few weeks ago. On a train, the vertical bars for holding on to are a top spot for standing against. Sometimes people lean their whole body and do not allow others to use the space, or twelve hands are stacked one of top of the other all the way up. In my example, a young woman was using the bar to wrap her arm around, so she could therefore still use both hands, to play a game on her phone. I was standing behind, trying to keep balance and there was no where to hold on to. At one stop, a woman came on and reached directly in front of the young woman’s face, to grab the bar. The young girl continued to play on her phone, with a stranger’s arm reaching across her line of sight. If this were me, I would alter my position so I didn’t have someone have more access to my phone than me, but I suppose they are used to it here and just go with it. No space.

Another place you have no space is the road. I have yet to get a video or even a picture of the roads here, but I can assure you there is no space. If there is an opening on the road, someone quickly fills it with a bus, car, truck motor bike or bicycle. When you want to cross the street on foot, your space will be filled with people on bicycles running the lights in every direction. Don’t expect space in 7-11 either, your purchase is much less important than the person behind you, and they will quickly shove their way in front, or just next to, you in order to get their shopping done first. I have learned to hold my ground in such situations. Hand on hip, elbow out, is a good stance. Probably my least favourite place with lack of space (unfortunate because I love these places) are the markets. The Western Clothes Market is amazing, however as soon as you step foot into the shop, you will be followed. No one will ask you what you need (language barrier most of the time), they will just follow, closely. You pick something up, they will be there to use their 2 or 3 English phrases to sell it. But most likely there is only one size and it won’t fit so their effort, your annoyance and the whole situation was useless.

But in terms of spaces around GZ, I have been exploring a few new ones in the past few weeks. I have gone on a few new Cycle Canton tours and seem some awesome areas around here. And space is still an issue no matter where you go. The coolest kind of spaces are the lane-ways. I’ve explored a few since being here and they always confuse me and amaze me. The tiny alleyways are never ends, never straight and never easy to find. I’ve also helped on some cycle tours and gotten to re-visit some of the areas and still would have gotten lost without a guide. Every time I wander, either on a bike or on foot, around the city I see new things. This city can be explored over and over and over again and will always amaze me.

Weather and air quality hasn’t improved either. The city gets lost is a haze of smog, pollution and rain clouds almost daily now. The most annoying thing about it is trying to figure out an outfit that will suit the inconsistent weather/pollution patterns. For now, take an umbrella, have a mask handy and always, ALWAYS bring tissues. A downpour may happen or you may sweat yourself silly.

Back in the concrete jungle…

My how time has flown by…back nearly a month from the states and it seems like yesterday I was breathing clean air, understanding the barista at Starbucks and driving on roads where rules are followed.

In the 4 weeks since returning to GZ, a lot has been going on. Birthdays and festivals mainly. My birthday was first with a lovely little party 4 days after getting back to China. Many friends came over, we ate,

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My birthday party

we drank and we watched tennis. This is what a 33 year old’s birthday looks like.

 

This was also coinciding with the Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year. And this was probably the best way to come back into GZ…a city of over 14 million shrinking in size to about 5 million. Seems like a lot still, but the whole city was empty. This included shops and restaurants with no staff so no service so no opening hours. But suited us just fine as we sat around most days, enjoying the nice weather and few friends that stuck around for the week of holiday. I am sad to admit that I didn’t take many pictures during this time. Maybe jet-lag, maybe laziness, but I wish I would have captured to enormous amount of decoration that this city embraced. Red is lucky for the Chinese, therefore red was everywhere. Mandarin trees also are symbolic of something, so every place of business had a little, or big, tree with bright orange fruits hanging off it (apparently they are no good to eat though, such a waste). More info about Chinese New Year! This is also the time of the red envelopes. Check out the link to learn more. You’ll probably end up knowing more than we do! At least we have 2 more rounds of CNY to participate, enjoy and learn from…or travel during.

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Joel’s birthday beer

Once my birthday passed and we got through CNY and the city started to buzz again, we were planning Joel’s birthday. For those of you that know Joel, you know he loves karaoke. Here, we have KTV. It is pretty awesome. You hire a room, get everything delivered to you and sing for hours and hours. 8pm-130am we spent in one room, about 15 of us, singing our hearts out and dancing the night away. I think it may have been the best birthday party Joel has ever had (sorry Joel’s mum, I’m sure his childhood parties were pretty awesome too).

 

 

And now that festivities have come and gone and we’ve gotten our parties out of the way, we are back to the daily routine of working and training and enjoying our foster dog. Joel is working the same long hours, but seems to be enjoying this line of work he’s involved in, even catching a few work trips in the meantime. We’re both attempting to get going with our running training as our marathon (Joel) and half-marathon (me) is just under 3 months away. Our Great Wall Marathon is going to be a challenge but a once in a life time experience that will be amazing. I am still involved in some coaching here on the side. My fitness has vastly improved and I am going to undertake another K2Fit Challenge in about 2 weeks. Poor Joel will go from noodles for lunch every day to a kale salad with boiled chicken. (Not really, we have amazing recipes to choose from so we eat pretty well). Our dog is still a handful but a fun handful. We are now ready to find him a forever home. He’s been with us about 5 months and he’s adjusted very well and while he still has issues he will do great in a home that is patient and loving. And if there are any readers out there that know of a good home for him, don’t be shy because we can send him anywhere! Plus he’s trained in English, not really a bilingual dog set up for a Chinese speaking owner.

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Moppy showing off…and me showing off how much free time I have.

And that is our life, up to date. I plan on being more regular with my posts and sharing some of the more interesting things I experience here. Honestly, it never ends. Every day there is something new to marvel at or be grossed out by. Never a dull day in GZ!

Terminal Annoyances…

I always thought international flight check-in opened roughly 3 hours before departure time. My departure time was 935am. A car picked me up at 6am, arrived at the airport (with no traffic delays, other than the driver himself being terrified of traveling faster than 30kmh around corners) right on 3 hours prior to my estimated time of departure (estimated is used often here as flight rarely leave or arrive on time, visitors be aware). Again, we had the group bomb testing to get in to the airport but still I found the check in counter (which I was hoping was correct) with ample time. My confusion of counter, H or J, was because two were designated for my airline, one of which was empty, the other had 4 passengers milling about. I was taking a shot in the dark but hoped I was in the correct side.

As the crowd grew around, mostly next to and in front of me, I was confident this had to be the right spot as the other counter was still empty. Plus, our counter was having some movements: staff were setting up all the barriers for queues, which is a long process. I reckon it took the girls (literally all women) nearly 25 minutes to set it all up; drawing out the lines with the retractable nylon strips and then redrawing them because it wasn’t quite right. All the while my certainty was still weak because no signage was displayed above any individual desk with flight number, destination or anything resembling the region which the plane most of us were going to get on was going. And more and more people congregated. There were no lines forming, no one paid attention to the fact others had been there 20 minutes before them, they just walked through the group to get close to where they thought the group would be let into the carefully planned queuing area. However right before check-in officially opened (2.25 hours before departure) the check-in attendants had a pow-wow for about 5 minutes. Maybe a run through of how things need to go, how to avoid conflict and how to take as much time as possible with each passenger.

Once the gate was opened, it was like sheep or cattle or even dogs, being let through into the feed trough. Pushing is a way of life here. China has no rules on pushing through or into people. No one notices when they bump you, at any time with anything (car, bike, trolley, etc. etc. etc.). It was a final China moment as Joel remarked in a message, however I still had 2.5 hours before I actually departed so I wasn’t holding out hope that this would be it. Lucky for me, it was my final “China” moment. Security, while very intimate, was quick and easy and mostly friendly. No diplomat traveling with me to use as a line cutter, but that didn’t matter. At the end of it all was a Starbucks, giving me a little taste of what is to come at the end of the journey. In the meantime however, is a nine-hour middle seat with my name on it. And a full flight to boot! All I can hope for is my luggage to make it as I have a few gifts in there I need to get to some adorable little Americans!  And it appears the Christmas gifts will make it before the Christmas cards. Wishful thinking China postal services would be efficient. More joys of China to come… but first, AMERICA!

The working life…

Amazing how having a full time job really hinders your ability to do whatever you want whenever you want. I had no time to get my nails done, go shopping, explore on my own or just sit and hang out with the dog. How do people do it?

Well I did it and it is over. I spent 12 days working in an office, for my husband, in China. And I have to say it was an experience. I am so glad for the opportunity to see what actually goes on at the consulate (but to be honest I still don’t have a clue what Joel really does or what happens every day there so don’t ask or come to me asking how to get a visa, to China or else where because it is all way above me). So within the 2 and a half weeks we also spent a long weekend together and celebrated Christmas and Boxing Day. We had 3 other wonderful families to spend the holiday with and had a great time. And I have no proof of it because we took no pictures, at all. Which I think means a great time was had by all. No phones were out to be used as a distraction or device to keep you occupied-8 adults with no phones, not even on purpose, was great. Our Christmas day was filled with nibbles and bubbles at one apartment followed by a massive turkey lunch at another. I even made greenbean casserole, two types of potatoes and homebaked bread. Joel helped with all of these things on Christmas eve, making us feel like we really participated in teh holiday preparations together. Our hosts were amazing and looked after everyone very well. We even had 6 kids wandering/running/hollering around us but honestly they were so well behaved we barely noticed them (says the couple with no kids to actually look after and pay attention to). We played games, including Twister, which I swear has decreased in size or I have increased in size. This doesn’t mean it is any easier, I guess the larger you get the less flexibility and therefore the more difficult the game even if there is less distance between dots. And I guess Christmas went so well that we are all hanging out together for NYE. This event will have photos.

So that was the holiday. Our other days off were spent watching cricket (Joel) and shopping. My sweet husband has the patience of a saint and took me out two days and helped me pick out a winter coat for my upcoming trip to the US. I give his dad credit for the amazing trait. It also may be because he wants to ensure I don’t overspend. Either way I am grateful.

The week was concluded with two more days at the office. Because I have never had an office job, this particular type of work is foreign to me (no pun intended). I have never sat at a desk, chatted over the water cooler (literally a water cooler because we don’t drink tap water), known or understood office etiquette of who to say hello and goodbye to (other than my husband, the boss), or even when bathroom breaks are ok. Needless to say, I have learned a lot. But with all those things I learned, also know that this is China. A completely foreign country with non-native English speakers. I was surrounded by Mandarin all day, every day. They all of course can speak English, but why would they when I am the only one in the office! Most of the time I had no idea what was being said, whether is was work related (something I should be aware of) or just personal (maybe something I also wanted to chat about). After the first week I decided to put headphones in and listen to a podcast. I was already in my own little world, why not make it official. So I spent a week with headphones in and laughing to myself…and doing heaps of work of course!

But every time I would leave work and either cycle or bus it home, I was always reminding myself that I am living, and now working, in China. It still amazes me that we live here. Shanghai and Beijing are a lot more westernised. There are a lot more expats and tourists and a much larger population as well. GZ is smaller and relatively young (so it will be growing and growing to the immense sizes of the other cities soon enough). Things here are always changing and being built and being torn down and rebuilt then changed more or fixed again. It is never ending it seems. And rules change all the time too. One day there will be parking somewhere, the next day nothing. Sometimes you will get yelled at for walking in a certain spot, other times no notice. My frustrations, as previously mentioned, run deep and are significant. Joel gets annoyed by how annoyed I get then I get annoyed more…a vicious cycle that will probably only be broken once we leave. Some recent annoyances I have are kids peeing EVERYWHERE! I probably have brought this up before, but in one day I saw a kid peeing (or pooing) in a plastic bag in a clothing store, another kid standing on a rubbish bin peeing into it and also many other instances of kids peeing into the bushes. And yet they still won’t let dogs in parks. At least I clean up after my dog! Another on the top of my list is cyclists on roads. Or rather, cyclists going the wrong direction on roads, particularly multiple lane roads with many cars. While I am peddling my heart out making sure I avoid any collision with cars that never take any notice of cars, people or bikes around them, a bike will be travelling directly towards me, choosing to not change position on the roadway, make me swerve around into the lanes of cars that don’t stay in lanes. Full blown rant there, probably because this is a daily occurrence and today I actually swore at someone. Not that they noticed. Whether is was the language barrier or he really did not care, my anger went unnoticed and I had to continue my trek home.

Some days you really take your life into your hands in GZ, be it with cycling or blood pressure spikes. Lucky for me, work only was included in one of those.

 

December in GZ…what is going on?

So much is going on is the answer. But mostly it’s a lot of sunshine going on. Remember we are in the northern hemisphere. Somewhat tropical, but not really. This is also China. It gets cold in China. GZ seems to have been left out of the winter weather so far. If it sounds like I am complaining, I am. I want winter. At least in Oz it was expected to be hot. Temperatures above 30°C are normal in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We’ve been hovering around the 22-26°C mark for a while now. A few cold ones here and there, but mostly warm. And mostly polluted too.

December in GZ also brings a lot of Christmas cheer, including decorations everywhere, holiday music everywhere, and parties everywhere. If it sounds like I am complaining I can assure you am I not. This is so much fun. I never expected China to be celebrators of this Christian holiday, but as it is known, all the decor around your home is made here in China, probably even in GZ itself. And they sell it here too of course. The Chinese seem to enjoy partaking in these Western traditions and holidays just as much as we do, which is nice because then it actually feels a bit more familiar around here.

And the parties. So. Many. Parties. I have never been Christmas-ed out, but parties are a whole other level to my ability to stay rested and healthy. Between work functions, our hashing group, friends, Aussie’s, Americans, etc. etc. etc…the partying doesn’t seem to end. But because of this I am given opportunities to do some extra shopping and baking. I baked cookies for Joel’s staff Christmas party and I remembered how much fun it really is. Our kitchen is quite nice and has plenty of space to spread out and make a mess, which includes over 6 dozen cookies.

And of course the dog helped too…

In addition to the Christmas festivities, we’ve also been busy with our running. Our Great Wall Marathon is next May and training has begun. One such training event was the Terry Fox Run in Guangzhou held last Saturday. It’s a charity fun run put on with support from the Canadian Consulate along with other sponsors around the city. My contribution was participating in leading the warm up for K2Fit. I was one of 10, but we had over 3,000 people following along with our fun routines before the 2km, 5km and 10km runs began. While the warm up was heaps of fun, the “run” was not. It was through a nice golf course, but only along the pathway, the width of one golf cart. And 3,000 people were on the track. Let’s just say I elbowed my way through and maybe ran a few slower participants off the track a bit. And I only completed the loop once (2km) because I couldn’t be bothered dodging my way through another loop. Joel, however, powered through and completed the 10km loop (which was only 8km). We had a great time, for a great cause.

Our next adventure was just a few hours later on another hash at Baiyun Mountain just outside of Guangzhou. It is a nice spot for locals and tourists alike. Along with the walking and/or running trails around the park, there is also an area for families to picnic and play: ping pong tables, basketball courts, soccer fields, kids toys, stairs (the locals loved using those for all sorts of activities). So it was a  cool park. The trail run (only 5km) was also pretty cool too.

We followed up this active day with a hash Christmas party at a bar across the river from us (literally, we could see the apartment complex from the outdoor bar), in an area called Party Pier. You can guess why it is called this. The night was a success and we even managed to make it home without assuming we could swim across.

Our festivities did not end there. The following day we spent the afternoon, and into the evening and night, at a friend’s Christmas party in our apartment complex. Luckily it was walking distance. We managed to stretch out the fun until after 10pm, mainly because we were the only ones without kids. Every gathering we are invited to and the parties we manage to get to and spend hours at, we both realise how lucky we are to have such an awesome bunch of people to call our friends. It didn’t take long and I am so grateful for that. We have a variety of friends from many different countries and working in so many different areas (manufacturing, teaching, marketing, fitness, and of course, consular). Every gathering makes for an interesting and fun time.

And finally, the most interesting thing that has happened this month, Joel is now my boss. I know the jokes people would make if they could directly respond to this, so let’s just leave it be. He has to have the power somewhere. For the few weeks left in December I have been hired on as a temporary employee at the consulate, and I just so happen to be on Joel’s team (in his team he manages, he is not on the same level as me). While the job is not a career changer, it is something that will keep my busy and earn me some money to spend on my trip to the states next month. Win-win. And a win for Joel, getting to spend all day with me, kind of telling me what to do.

As for the rest of the month (half way through now), it will be filled with more Holiday parties, more social outings, more work, and most importantly, more time together for Joel and me. Just have to wait for this weather to turn and I will be a happy Christmas camper.

A market full of quirks…

I have been thinking about writing a post about the odd things I encounter everyday, but I noticed this perfect article to give those people who have not yet travelled to GZ, or even China, a better understanding of things here. Just because there is some sort of explanation doesn’t make it easier to tolerate or understand: Chinese Cultural Quirks. But you need to also understand, this is another culture. It is so different than where I have come from, first the US then Australia. Even the move from one westernised country to another was difficult and I still comment/complain about “Aussie-isms”. Just ask my husband.

Being tolerant of these interesting behaviours and cultural norms is something I am working on. I would guess many of my posts seem negative. And they probably are. I am not the first person to feel that way about China or living overseas. I know I will not be the last. Just because the entire world is becoming more westernised does not mean China is going to change their customs. Everyday it makes for an interesting adventure.

For example, yesterday Joel and I used the day to go to a massive market. It’s called One Link International Plaza. Many friends here talk about it and it seems you could get anything you want there (it is also known as the toy market but that was not the majority of “stuff” there). Challenges Joel and I face when going out shopping include, but are not limited to getting annoyed with the other’s shopping style, not finding the right items, getting hungry and too many people. These are issues we face in Oz, put us in China and it is all multiplied, mostly dealing with people. But also finding the right items in a place like this is a nightmare.

I need to explain this place first. I have been to a few different markets so far in GZ (the shopping here is amazing when you have time, patience and no clue what you actually want). All markets are indoors, multiple levels and usually have a theme: clothing, shoes,, accessories, leather (bags, wallets, shoes), etc. No theme at OneLink. Except that there are lots of speciality shops. Specialities like magnets, key chains, butterfly accessories, miniature figurines, dried flowers, beach themed homewares, scarves, the list can go on and on. Photos were not encouraged so no proof of these shops but they are there. The speciality shops were one thing, the other was the two wings to the market and the many, many levels. Joel and I separated briefly for Christmas shopping and we both got lost. Overwhelming was an understatement. However, the crowds weren’t the biggest problem. in the narrow aisles between shops people would stand in the middle, sometimes smoking a cigarette, other times (or at the same time) watching their young child skate, scoot or just run amok between other shoppers. The best part is when the shopkeepers sit in front of their shop with tea or a meal, mostly ignoring you until you step into the shop and look at something closely then you are questioned, sometimes in Chinese, or they use their minimal English shopping vocabulary. If you don’t want to buy, then get out otherwise you may be harassed. But if you do want to make a purchase, always haggle. I have even gotten better at it than Joel.

Joel and I spent a few hours wandering the place, passing the same shops when we would get lost, eventually buying a few items we actually came for (throw pillows, a clock and Christmas lights). Overall is was a success. But in order to see it all, an entire day has to be given to take it all in. And maybe hiring a driver because you need a secure ride home (our taxi back home, while a woman driver, still wouldn’t use the meter and charged us pretty high). We did find another little gem before we left after crossing the street to grab a taxi. Shoes. We only scratched the surface of this new market area, but shoes. So many beautiful leather shoes. I was after some tacky boots for a dress-up party and couldn’t find any! They were all so nice (the tacky ones they did have didn’t come in my size). We didn’t have much time to shop as we had a dog back at home to attend to, but we will be back and Joel even agreed on it. I think he is actually liking shopping in China. We’ll see how he feels after I take him to the next market…

So, that is China. Specifically GZ. Sounds like I had a positive experience shopping. My limit is usually 2-3 hours out and about. This time I surpassed and got to nearly 4. You just get used to the quirks. They seem so different and so strange but I am sure the Chinese think they same of us…I should look for an article about Westernised Quirks from the Asian perspective. I know we have a lot!

A ginger in Xi’an…

This ginger has travelled China…successfully. This is a loosely defined term, successful, because China is safe and mostly easy to travel in, but there are elements to travelling here that make a simple trip so much more eventful and nearly unsuccessful.

But I will begin by first explaining why I travelled in China, and not with my husband. Again, this being a major reason why this trip could have been unsuccessful. He is my guide, my rock, my leader, when travelling. When I am unsure, he becomes super confident and takes the reigns, allowing me to have a freak out and he to have control. Therefore, travelling alone is tough for me, and in China, that is a whole other ballgame. I was lucky though, I did have a travel buddy. She is a colleague of Joel’s and now one of my buddies. And she’s Aussie. Again, can be unsuccessful when travelling with little to no Chinese in China. We were borderline unsuccessful in that area. But I need to clarify, this was successful. Not only did we get up to Xi’an with minimal delay, we got back from Xi’an with minimal delay (flights here are notoriously delayed, warning to those planning on visiting and travelling around the country).

The purpose of this trip was to represent K2Fit (the company for which I am coach) at a government sponsored fun run around the area of Xingping, just west of Xi’an. This region is attempting to increase their tourism and apparently fun-runs are the way to do it. Which includes having non-Chinese faces on stage for the warm-up. This was our job. Perform a few songs before the race to warm up the crowd and pump them up for their 7km run. Here are a few of the highlights of doing this: sitting in a bus for VIPs with top government officials and two Olympic weightlifters, standing in the freezing cold while the intro speeches take way too long, going on stage after a handful of skinny cheerleader/dancers wearing next to nothing, and top on the list of that morning’s events: messing up the entire routine. This was due to them cutting time (10 minutes to 5), rushing us on stage with my microphone barely attached (not important because I spoke English, participants Chinese) and me starting on the wrong foot. Literally. In this routine we needed to start with the right foot, I was so messed up that I stepped left, and that was the beginning on the end. But the fiasco was done in 5 minutes, because once the song ended, the runners turned around and the horn blew and off they went. I hopped off stage as fast as I could, hung my head and trudged back to the VIP bus. It was not the flashy, well choreographed set I had planned and practised umpteen times. It was a disaster. Luckily my trusty side kick was by my side and followed along and gave me a semi-positive review. Both of us were just glad it was over. I don’t think the runners minded so much as once they started coming back in, we were asked by plenty of participants for pictures. It’s fun being a no-one that people think is a someone.

Just to see what it was like, here are some pics…

 

Well that was Sunday morning. We arrived Saturday afternoon so we had nearly (once we got to the hotel and found a taxi) an whole evening to explore. But we were pretty far out from the city center. I didn’t know much about Xi’an, and still don’t to be honest, but I will say what I did see and experience was amazing and I know I will be going back. But the bits we did see were the Muslim Quarter, known for it’s street food. And street food it was…

The feel of the small streets filled with vendors selling all types of food (see above) and trinkets and tourist toys, along with the motor bikes whizzing through nearly knocking people over, made this area really feel like you imagine China. GZ has yet to show me any areas where you feel the culture and the experience it, Xi’an did that in one short evening.

We didn’t get to actual visit it, but this spot looked amazing as well…the watch tower.

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Once our evening outing was completed, we headed back to the hotel (via a very nice taxi driver that did not drive down the wrong way on a freeway on-ramp. Yes that happened on the drive to the city. The most Chinese driving experience I have had. And no one honked when we drove directly at them obviously going the wrong way. Frightening yet interesting and a bit exhilarating.

After our Sunday morning silliness (the nice way to describe it, I have other words not blog friendly), we were invited to lunch with some of the organisers (Helen is the main one, whom we were pictured with above) and a few local government officials. We had a beautiful lunch and were even given a special noodle dish only shared with people welcomed into the family. My buddy and I were quite humbled. Once we finished our tasty noodles (along with many other delightful local dishes) we rushed off the see the Terracotta Warriors. Helen had not yet been so she said she would take us as she also had a flight to GZ that night and we would all go together. This was a great idea because it meant we didn’t have to pay for a car to and from and we even got our tickets to the attraction paid for (it’s all about who you know!). The Xi’an trip was working out great, until traffic stopped. We sat in a parking lot on the freeway for what seemed liked hours. There was a terrible accident (when we passed in eventually we did see how terrible it really was) and it nearly stopped our trip to the warriors. But because we had an awesome driver that really wanted us to see the biggest tourist attraction in his hometown, he made sure we got there, even for a quick 25 minutes to nearly run through exhibits. But I did see them!

The warriors were amazing. Or there probably is a better word but that is what I am sticking with now. Thesaurus aren’t worth it. Top tourist destination in China when you visit. And this was just the tip of the tourist iceberg for the city.

The second most eventful part was rushing through the airport to make sure we got checked in. Made it by one minute. Lines for security (same protocol as going international as I described in a previous post) were long and luckily there was a line for flights soon to be departing. In this line we had to deal with “cutters” as we would call them back in elementary school. A group of men thought their flight was more important than ours and tried to push in. Sometimes in China this happens and no one cares. Not this time. At least 5 in the line gave some harsh words to these people and shamed them into going to the end of the queue. Faith restored. Made the flight with a couple minutes to spare. No wine, but the tea was nice.

So there is it, a ginger went to Xi’an, had a mostly successful trip there and back and in the middle too. I don’t recommend travelling without your rock though, sometimes you need a hard place to lean against when it all gets to be too much in China.