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!

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.

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.

 

Don’t say ni hao in Vietnam

We finally got out of China (for more than a weekend). We ventured to Vietnam for a week for a beach holiday, which was much needed. The only downfall to this was I missed Halloween. Six Halloweens in Australia with very little in the way of festivities, and here I am amongst an expat community filled with Americans and others willing to do the trick-or-treating and decorating and dressing up and I get outta here to a resort filled with Russians. So Halloween was a dud, but the Vietnamese holiday was not (even if both of us kept saying hello in Chinese).

To begin with, leaving from China is an even more rigorous endeavour than the US. You begin by getting a bomb testing before you even enter the airport. As a large group you’re swabbed at the door, wait for the all-clear, then proceed inside. Once you check in, you must stand in line for your own personal pat down, no diplomatic immunity here! Luckily there is a female and male line, but if you really don’t care then join the queue and wait your turn. They are quick, but thorough.

And although I have heard horror stories of delayed-extremely delayed-flights, our was one time, exactly. The most efficiency I have seen in China yet. When we arrived, less then 3 hours later, Joel was confused as to how we have travelled to another country in such a short amount of time in the air since he had only finished his second beer. Typical Aussie.

Airport pickup was a private shuttle to transport us 4 hours (or 150km) up the coast of Vietnam. We opted for the private car because we’ve heard the dangers of travelling in a large shuttle bus in Vietnam. We still had about 27 near misses on the roadways and saw the remains of a motorcycle smashed by a bus (the same kind we would have travelled on). Road safety is not a term I think used in this country. I thought GZ was chaotic and dangerous but I have now changed my tune-it is tame and safe, and I appreciate the lack of motorcycles on the roads. Motorised bikes are fine by me, even if they don’t obey any traffic “laws” or “recommendations” or even “suggestions”.

Once safely to our destination, concluded by a situation where we were asked for a tip from the driver, but unsure if it was an actual practice in Vietnam especially when you risked our lives on multiple occasions, we got into our swimmers and pretty much didn’t get out of them until the last day.

While the resort was not noteworthy and the township of Mui Ne (about 5 km from our resort) was a typical foreigner holiday spot, the clientele was what made our trip interesting. Russians. Everywhere. Literally. We were the only non-Russian speakers (including the staff) at our resort. English was very hard to come by and Joel looking like he does, part Estonian, we were thought to be Russian. Correction was easy when we just replied “English”. They caught on very quickly, even more so when we said we were Australian.

The only touristy activity we embarked on was a 4 hour tour of the top spots to see around Mui Ne. Four hours was generous and we only used 3, most of which was driving, either in the jeep or on a sand dune quad, nearly scaring us to death. The tourist stops were as follows: Fairy Stream, Fishing Village, White Sand Dunes and Red Sand Dunes. Nothing spectacular, nothing amazing, but we had to be tourists for just a few hours.

 

 

 

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If nothing else, this holiday gave us an entire week away from China. Not far, but away. Joel had a great time swimming, every day, all day (when possible) and drinking cheap and nasty beer.

And with all that I hear about Vietnamese food, we were only exposed to food that it was lacked flavour, spice and anything interesting…except for the translations and actual food (we blame the Russians for this because they are the main tourists).

My favourite part, however, was Joel’s reaction to our “assistant” on our quad rental, taking over and running through the steep dunes. And again asking for a tip for nearly killing us. I have never seen Joel so scared. It was pure entertainment, this is when a body camera would have been amazing. Screaming the entire time. We probably scared some other patrons from trying the bikes.

The week was mainly spent on the beach. After we caught on that you must go early and reserve your beach chairs under the umbrellas, because the other holiday goers save the chairs then don’t return for hours. Only took us 2 days. We had prime spots every other day. That is until we decided why use beach chairs when we had two of our own chairs on our little deck facing the ocean. Really paid off having this space when the rain started (nearly every day at some point). The rainy afternoons were then spent playing cards and mixing drinks. The rain probably saved us from some nasty sunburns. And so our holiday ended with a rainy day spent on the deck. Perfect, especially when the pool is so close for a quick rain swim.

After our frightful trip back to the airport in Ho Chi Minh, another 3o near misses, we had our on time departure to GZ and a safe car ride back to our apartment where our foster pup was anxiously awaiting our return.

Sunday morning was an early one with a “Charity Helipad Boot Camp”. Yes, on a Helipad at a hotel in GZ, a little over 62 floors above the busy city. Views were terrible, as was the air pollution, but we all survived and made about 15,000 RMB for The Wilbur’s Foundation. Great fundraiser AND exercise!

We are now back into the daily grind, working, dog walking, and exercising. Tough life we lead here. Now I’m just waiting to see who are first visitors will be!

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.

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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?

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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.