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.

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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!

 

Terminal Annoyances…

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

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

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

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.

 

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!

Crossing the border…

Added another stamp to the passport this weekend. We made our first trip to Hong Kong. I had heard great things about Hong Kong-it’s so Western, a nice city, easy to get around, familiar; it’s just awesome. I honestly did not feel any of these things. To start things off, the train was delayed about 30 minutes. In Asia this should not happen. So the train was ride itself was ok. And it was made even better by the selling of food and beverages…ie. bimg_0019eer. Once we got there it was easy enough to find a taxi and the driver spoke English, something we hadn’t experienced yet while being in GZ. It was refreshing.

Our evening included checking in to the hotel, wandering around the streets to find Brew Dog taproom (this was the most exciting thing for Joel to experience in Hong Kong), eating pizza and going to bed. Big Friday night in HK.

Our trip to HK was not just to visit a city and be underwhelmed, it was to celebrate Joel’s colleague/friend Rachel 30th birthday. We were treated probably to the fanciest 30th, or any birthday party, I have ever experienced. We were treated to a day on a Junk Boat, aka a yacht. A junk boat is a tradition boat, ours was not. The yacht was complete with 2 staff plus the skipper who threw us beers while we swam, a massage therapist, a constant supply of food and beverages and all around luxury. While I was too busy swimming and socialising, others were able to snap pics while on our harbour cruise…

 

The fun continued that night at dinner at a cute little (and expensive) spot called Mrs Pound. Quirky waiters and decor, this place was one of a kind and had a unique entry system: one must push a stamp to open the door, but you must pick the right one!

Sunday we spent wandering the tight little streets-although some felt more like allyways-of Hong Kong. Like mainland China, HK does not wake up early. It sleeps, very late, but we were lucky enough to find a greezy spoon open 24 hours (we went at 10am). Huevos rancheros were an amazing breakfast and made it feel like home (even more so than Oz!). Our wanderings didn’t take us to many places where we felt like shopping so we enjoyed seeing and exploring.

The trip home (also delayed) wasn’t too exciting, luckily I downloaded Yahtzee, which kept me very happy, along with the constant changing scenery-mostly different types of apartment buildings.

The trip to Hong Kong was a nice break from constant Chinese culture (both good and bad) and a great way to spend a weekend on the water with friends. We won’t be rushing back anytime soon especially since we now have our foster pup and our shipment from Oz. Time to settle in and make this place a real home.

Cycling Canton…

Cycle Canton (both the literal meaning, Canton the city, and the business name) is amazing. There is not an adequate way to describe the cycling tour of Guangzhou because ti was just that good. There are too many words and too many descriptions so instead this post is going to be pictures…

Alleyways, old buildings, new temples, fresh meat market (disturbing photos for the vegetarian, animal lover, or normal human being), dancing, playing, and cycling all made up this fabulous day in the hot sun on some bike. It was all here in our 15km bike tour around the heritage sites of Guangzhou!

 

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Cycling Selfie