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.


Just go with it…

I feel as if the blog posts are going to get more and more boring. Life here is not the most exciting. It is always interesting and most days I wish I had my camera/phone out ready to document the things I see. The more time we spend here out in the real China world (away from our bubble of Canton Place) the more I have to accept how things go here. It’s not always easy to keep my mouth shut and go with it, but I am learning, as is Joel. He, of course, is much more patient than I am.

Things that drive me absolutely insane are, in no particular order, nose picking, spitting, snot rocketing, coughing loudly, bike riding on the footpath, no one stopping at cross walks, everyone walking slowly and most importantly nose picking and spitting (yes I repeated this because it really drives me crazy/grosses me out).

Annoyances are one thing, interesting, odd and just weird day to day happenings are another.

For example, down the road from us is a very small rubbish transfer depot (or something along those lines). There is usually a large garbage truck and small piles of rubbish on the ground of the bay it’s backed into. It’s like a carport where all this rubbish from the area is taken to and one truck takes it away, but not before it is sorted. Things are sorted out into things like plastic bottles, cardboard, and my favourite, styrofoam. These items are then piled onto the back of a bike and taken to another location by an individual on a bike (peddled or motorised). I do not know the logistics or details of these transactions, but it seems to be a private enterprise taking these things away. So, last week it was quite windy and as I walked down to street I saw a massive plastic bag tumbling down the road filled with styrofoam. This was a huge bag, two people could fit into this bag, and it was rolling into the street. As I walked nearer to the corner I saw the bike to which it was supposed to be attached, which had another 2 bags strapped on. This is what happens here, people collect these items to be redistributed (recycles, reused or re-purposed). And they don’t want to make more than one trip, so the largest amount possible is attached and cycled away. In this instance, the three bags were visible but I am sure there were another 2 waiting to be carefully piled onto the rider and peddled away.

On the topic of not wasting things, being annoyed and just going with it, apparently bin bags are not thrown up when full, only sorted through (note story above). I have discovered this only today when I was walking around our garden level with the pup. My new method of collecting dog poo is one I learned here. People just place a piece of newspaper (or in my case, a magazine page) under the pup’s bum and when finished, the paper is delicately collected without having any contact with the poo. This works great when a) you have a small dog and b) when there are bins every 50m. So this is how we have been doing it for 4 weeks. Today I was caught (not in the middle of the poo, only in preparation when I carry the paper) by the cleaner/landscaper/gardeners that takes care of the level 2 gardens, and bins apparently. Whether he was speaking Cantonese or Mandarin, yelling or just telling me calmly (one can never tell because of the language) I deduced he does not like me using paper as it allows the poo to get all over the bins. And maybe it stinks and tastes bad or something like that because he mimed hands and fingers near is mouth and nose. So, now I must use a plastic bag. Well, this made me feel awful. For two reasons: I am so good at cleaning up every bit of poo and never leaving any out which makes his life easier and cleaner, and how dare he criticise me for actually picking up poo! It’s not my fault that the bins are hand-picked through.  I use the rubbish bin, not the recycle one, and it’s better for the environment, less plastic floating around out there! So I think a battle is going to ensue. Picking up poo is nasty either way, I just have to figure out how to do it the right way.

Other interesting things that happen here…Starbucks does not open until 730am. I finished a boot camp last week and thought a coffee would be great to walk home with. It was quite a cold morning and I wanted to treat myself. Well, never mind that because at 645 NOTHING is open. Good luck finding a coffee, even if it is from Starbucks. I had to trudge home and make it myself. Other things that open late, our gym. The huge club we’re members of doesn’t open until 7am. This is frustrating for those that work and catch a bus at 8. Luckily the small gym in our building is open at 445am. Not that Joel and myself will get up that early to use it. But if you stay up late, everything is open late. Cafes, at least 11pm. Restaurants, at least 11pm. But it appears the staff doesn’t work til all patrons have left. Regularly the tables at the restaurants below us have bottles of wine and glasses and sometimes plates left out in the outdoor seating area. When I say regularly, I mean every night there are people sitting outside. Mostly I just think of all the wasted wine on the tables. It’s an expensive beverage to leave half a bottle of.

And to bring it back to the beginning, going with the flow is difficult. Getting used to all the differences in culture is difficult. Not speaking the language is difficult, but as I have seen with other expats here, the more you go with the flow and try not to stress too much, the easier life will be here. I need to take a page from Joel’s book: just relax and ignore it all.


The new additions…

Addition number 1…Moppy.

Mr. Foster Pup Moppy is a lovable rescue dog with some issues but always means well, except when he steals socks. I picked him up from the vet last Tuesday after he had his big shave.

With a new doo and a new lease on life he was welcomed into our home. And let’s just say it’s been challenging. Let’s start with the fact we’ve never had an indoor dog let alone in an apartment. Toilet training is not something we have had to deal with but luckily this little guy had it covered. No accidents or marking in the house. Outdoors only and in the right places, mostly (we bring a bottle of water to wash the wee away when he goes in the middle of the pathway, which is most of the time). Indoors he is awesome-a little shadow following us or wandering around each room to see if any food has been left out. His favourite spot, other than his cozy crate, is the kitchen because that’s where food is made and even though it’s not given out he’s always hopeful. He’s learning how to play, a lot. The few toys he has he brings to us when he’s ready for some play time or he’ll find a towel laying around and play tug-of-war. Socks are also a specialty for him. His personality is becoming stronger and stronger each day and he is super entertaining. One thing that is not entertaining is his dislike towards the leash. Torture or just plain ignorant and mean behaviour from previous owners or just people in general have created a connection in Moppy’s mind between pain and the leash. Luckily the trainer came yesterday and we now have a lovely teal harness on the pup at all times.


Our goal is to get him trained, nicely behaved and a great walker then help him find a perfect home. I know he will be an awesome apartment dog. He doesn’t need a backyard, just a balcony and some love (with a few walks a day). Any takers from the US?


So other than spending time with a dog (which is always a great use of time) I have been doing a few others bits and pieces, one being finding a steady way to spend my time a few times a week: boot camp training. I am now a coach for K2Fit. I love training people and love working out so it’s a great way to do both. Because of this fitness challenge I have really focused on getting healthy and training hard and it has paid off. I’ll actually be comfortable in a swim suit on our holiday next week!

Also this week I spent a few hours at GETCH. I was able to watch some presentations by students (with German students here for a few weeks) about dating and relationships and sex (both safe sex and sexual harassment). I was educated on these subjects regarding the differences in cultures and experiences and it was amazing. It was very eye-opening as well. Stigma around people with physical disabilities is huge in China. I didn’t realise how significant the family role is when people choose partners and how this impacts people with disabilities. Not only was I floored at their presentations and how well spoken they were (it was all in English), I was amazed at what these young adults need to over come in order to live a “normal” life in China. I am really looking forward to spending more time with the students at GETCH in the years we are here. It will be both fulfilling and very helpful to them I think ( and hope)!

As I find myself settling into life in GZ, I honestly have to remind myself where I am and why I am here. Sometimes it’s a bubble here, especially at our residence. We see the same people nearly every day. We do the same activities together and we eat at the same western restaurants. Sometimes it’s not a China day and it’s a great day to be here and have this experience. Sometimes I go outside and love the culture and the people and how different it is. And other times I miss everything about everywhere else I have lived. Sounds all encompassing and it is-I miss many places in the states and so many people. I miss Australia and cafes in Melbourne and my in-laws house in Sydney where it’s all family all the time. But as I miss the people and places I also and learning to cherish them even more. I cannot wait for my visits and the little things that make places feel like home. Now that all our stuff has arrived I can make this place feel like a home. It is not home and never will be but for now it can have bits and pieces to make us comfortable.

For now, we have a beach holiday week ahead of us. Vietnam is our recharge spot next week. I may be missing Halloween but at least I am getting a week with my husband, no China days included.


The servicing…

Two times a week my apartment gets serviced. Never having grown up with a housekeeper or maid (except my mother, of course), this concept is strange and awkward for me. It is going to take some getting used to. The month at the other apartment was an easing into the servicing. Because it was a smaller apartment they took a relatively short amount of time and it was usually at the same time (morning, about 9am). Here, at Canton, I can’t run away every time the sweet little ladies knock on the door and announces “housekeeping”, not announce so much as say it with a little inflection almost asking if they can come in to clean my apartment. The past few weeks I made myself scarce, going out to the shops, walking, gym-ing, eating, anything to stay out of the way and out of the apartment. I have sat on the balcony reading, but it’s also been very hot so I usually just sweat myself silly until they finish. And they aren’t as consistent on the timing. I think they clean all apartments on this floor the same days so they may just choose at random (between the 4) which to start on. Monday, mine seems to be last, usually starting after 1pm and finishing up after 3. Thursday (second week in a row) it is first on the schedule with a knock at 930am. Today I cannot leave, I need to use my apartment. Luckily my coffee was just done brewing…so this is my first day staying in my apartment the entire time it is being serviced.

While the wonderful cleaner is doing her job today, I plopped myself in the little study to give a detailed account of this bi-weekly event. My study has a lovely balcony and the weather today is perfect. a breezy 26° with a light cloud cover. And this is my view…


But, let me start from the beginning of these servicing days. As I have learned from others that have had cleaners, you clean before it gets cleaned. I do this too. I put all the used towels in a pile ( I should strip the bed, but I have to make it every morning so I won’t do both). I make sure all the dishes are put away. The tables are cleared of all our crap (probably won’t be possible when all our crap is here from the shipment). All the clothes are put away and laundry sorted. This is how I prepare the apartment twice a week. Overkill?

So these wonderful little workers (one usually) come bustling in and turn on every light. They check every light bulb to make sure it is working. And there are a lot. 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a study, the kitchen, the balconies and the living area. Then the beds (we only use one so it’s quick) are stripped and remade. Towels are changed over. The bathroom is scrubbed (I think. I haven’t seen it done but she has been in there a while with gloves on). She then moves on to the next bathroom (rarely used but it’s closer to the living area so it can be used occasionally). The kitchen is cleaned followed by everything else dusted and wiped down. Finally the floors are vacuumed or swept and then mopped. And I can’t stress this enough, this is a large apartment. The whole thing has shiny dark timber-it takes a long time to do ALL the floors. I have complained about the quality of work but really, it gets done and I am not doing it. I do love my cleaning time and enjoying tidying, but mopping is my worst enemy so if someone else will take care of it, I will sacrifice my need to clean.

And because my time is not spent cleaning this place, I have time to do things like go shopping with new friends (grocery shopping but still it’s getting out). My newest friend is a fellow American, an Oregonian in fact, and from Beaverton. Her husband works for Nike. Small world it is, but since manufacturing is massive here it actually makes sense. She has a driver and offered to take me to Metro for some shopping. It was a huge relief since it was going to be a massive outing for me with taxis and grocery bags and all that rigmarole. Having a driver meant buying a nice little coffee maker. And getting to know my new friend better.

My social outing today is spent celebrating another new friend’s 50th birthday. A lovely ladies lunch at cafe in the 4 Seasons Hotel. It’s a pretty flash spot so it means dressing up and all that stuff. No ball gowns this time fortunately. But no flip-flops either.

This weekend we have two outings planned. The first is visiting a dog shelter My Paws and Me. We are hoping to find a sweet pup to foster for a few months and help it find a permanent home, also know as its “furever home”. I am prepared for a tough visit but also know these dogs were saved and have a better life at this shelter than any other place they’ve been. Sunday we have a day outing with friends to Kaiping. It was planned for us so I have no idea what is there or the reason for going. Joel, of course, has done his research, but I like to be surprised.

And finally, my biggest accomplishment this week is stocking our fridge, freezer and fruit bowl and vegetable drawer. There is not really a “one-stop-shop” like home (Australia or US) so I shop around..and around and around. I made a few online/We Chat orders for fruit and veg, another for some dairy and dried goods and more fruit, a trip to the super market for meat and another outing to the wet market for more veg. It is an all day event when attempting to organise food and meals here. I’m pretty sure my sweet husband thinks I just sit around sipping coffee and snacking on almonds (which he would approve of) and although some days are like that, days like yesterday, were a lot of planning, organsing and shopping. It really does make you appreciate those simple things back at home…but I feel so much more accomplished after making a simple meal here.