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.

To Xi’an & beyond…

There is no beyond, we just went to Xi’an and back but it doesn’t have the same ring to it…

Second round of visitors (only 10 days after the first) arrived safely. After a 13 day tour of China, Joel’s parents Richard and Tracey, took a high speed train from Beijing to Guangzhou. They had a surprise greeting by us at the train station and we arranged a van to pick us up, hoping that some extra space would be appreciated for the hour long drive into the city. Unfortunately this was lost in translation (or something like that) and our vehicle was a sedan. Luckily the two suitcases fit in the trunk and three of us squeezed in the back. The in-laws took this in stride and had no complaints about the cramped conditions of this car ride (I had enough for all of us I think). After 2 days of rest at our apartment we headed off to Xi’an for a long weekend. Luckily our van was organised and delivered. No cramped ride to the airport. Smooth travels up (no delays) and easy taxi ride to our accommodation. This is where the fun starts. We decided to get an Airbnb so we had more space to spread out and room to hang out and play cards at night (which we did every night). We also wanted to be in a good location, able to walk around easily and not rely on taxis. The only positives to this stay. The apartment, while spacious, was a bit dingy on the outside, giving our guests some apprehension about where we decided to stay. Once inside we discovered an apartment with two decent sized rooms, a nice sitting area and a bathroom with an opaque window. How lovely for 4 people to share a place with a view into the loo. The beds also were misleading as they weren’t mattresses, they were the hard base of a mattress. While the window to the toilet could be covered with taped up papers, we had to suffer on the beds for 4 nights. Again, our fellow travellers took it in stride and had very few gripes and groans (mine were enough for 4 people). Once I got over the fact that this apartment was not up to our standards, I was able to enjoy the reasons for taking this trip: to be a tourist!

We visited Terracotta Warriors (along with 30,000 other people), the Muslim Quarter, The City Wall, Muslim Quarter, The Bell Tower, The Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter,  a brewery and the Muslim Quarter. A favourite spot was definitely the Muslim Quarter.

On our way to the Terracotta Warriors, we stopped in to a factory where they make the souvenir warriors. Quite impressive with the detail and hand-crafting that goes on with each warrior.

Once at the ‘museum” as our guide called it, we were awed and impressed by the sheer vastness of this army. Of course I don’t remember any of the actual numbers of each or size or importance of this terracotta army, it was still amazing (even if it was my second visit).

Before launching into everything awesome and amazing about the Muslim Quarter and why we visited multiple times, I’ll share the other activities we did while in Xi’an:

We made it 2/3 of the way around the City Wall of Xi’an. A two hour rental is not enough to make it 13km, with a gift shop stop or two, signs to read and people to dodge on the wall. It was enough though as a few of us had not been on a bike in many many years (sore bums were not uncommon after this activity).

The next activity we did was visiting the Bell Tower and Drum Tower. The history of this city amazes me. We live in a relatively “young” or “new” city. Things here just aren’t old. All old things have been destroyed, torn down and built over, then a new version of the old temples, family halls or buildings are reconstructed, usually including neon lights of some sort. Being in a city that has held on to it’s historical sites and attempted to preserve them (with enhancement of neon lighting) makes you appreciate the true and vast history of this country. We are faced with the manufacturing and trading, markets and shopping and plenty of factories here and forget that this country has been through a lot and has a lot to offer. Xi’an opened our eyes up to that and it was a great experience.

 

Another amazing piece of history we heard about, then stumbled upon, was the Great Mosque. Although we were in the middle of a bustling city and market area, once inside the gardens at the mosque, everything was peaceful and quiet. Amazing pieces of architecture covered the grounds and we wandered through the gardens amazed at the age of the entire mosque. While I enjoy a bit of history and stories about the past, my favourite part were the playful kittens, of course.

So we hit the big tourist spots of Xi’an, mostly inside the city wall. Between visiting those places, we either wandered through or stopped to eat in, the Muslim Quarter. Have a look at the link to read about it. The history is very interesting, it is very unique to China and makes for a great place to visit (over and over again). We enjoyed the street food several times, although never daring to eat the meat (which hangs on hooks in the street). There was plenty of places to shop at, with a mix of tourist trinkets and art and traditional Chinese items. Because we were staying just down the street from this area, we were able to visit time and time again, trying a new food each time, or repeating a favourite (potatoes for Joel). During the day the area was relatively calm, however at night the streets literally filled up with people (locals and tourists alike) queuing for a Chinese hamburger or skewers of (what we assumed was) lamb. Amongst the crowds were also motorbikes, zooming through the narrow streets, blaring horns and occasionally yelling at people mesmerised by the energetic food holders calling people in (or maybe only focused on their phones). Either way, it’s chaotic. Bright lights also stuck out from every restaurant front, flashing neon words in Chinese. Overwhelmed was an understatement for me. Let’s just say I stuck to daytime visits. Plenty of stimulation for me there. Minimal photos because we always had food in our hands.

We had a great family trip to Xi’an. We all survived. No one got lost, and most importantly both our flights were on time (this is a very big deal in China).

Did I mention they like their bright lights on the ancient buildings? Not much of a heritage site, but it sure looked pretty!

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!

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.

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.

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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.