23 October, 2016

Five Minute Friday: Park

Once again, I am following the one-word prompt from Kate at Heading Home. These are actually useful for me to find simple ways to convey my new life in Beijing. 

If you're interested in trying it, click that link to her blog. Every Friday is a new word, and the only rules are: Write for 5 minutes. Link your post on hers. It's pretty cool, and I find a new blog every week.

(Now if only I would make the time to revisit more often during the week.)

This week's one-word is "Park".

Timer starting...

In Indianapolis, I would often drive up to the nearest park to take a nice long walk in the woods. I am a nature lover, and used to work for State Parks. I was afraid I would lose my connection to nature in Beijing.

What I have found is that Beijing is a much greener city than most US cities I know. There are a few large parks, like the Olympic park with two 5K paths through beautiful greenery, or the zoo, or the grounds of Beijing University, and many others I see on the map but haven't visited. 

But there are small parks along every street, the small areas between hotels and the canal, back streets - so many parks! And trees everywhere. There are teams of workers sweeping up fallen leaves every day along major roads, but the trees stay.

Along streets, in many areas, they have free exercise equipment set up. Not weights, just resistance, and you may see many elderly out at any time, just working their muscles and maintaining movement. It seems very wholesome and helpful.

I do miss taking long walks through parks, but at least my many walks to and from schools and bus-stops are among greenery!

...Timer stopped.

16 October, 2016


Let's talk toilets.

The W.C., to most of the world.
The loo.
The throne.
The John.
The porcelain princess.

The crapper.

At my school
Before moving to Beijing, we heard horror stories that their toilets were basically holes in the ground. When we looked at apartments, we found that was not so. However, the (ubiquitous) public toilets are that way. No worries! I'll just go at home!

A week or so ago, we found a high tech department store - imagine all your appliances, on Techno-steroids. The perfect, single glass pane, giant TV, high powered phone gadgets, kitchen appliances, and fancy TOILET seats! Want your seat warmed? Want a splash of water on your hind-quarters? If you can read the Chinese characters on the control, you can have it!

Our own toilet is not one of those. But it is also not a hole in the ground. We were happy with it. Until our crapper crapped out on us two nights ago.

We plunged, and the water level seemed to diminish.

Next morning, one flush and it rose again. Dangerously. So we called our building manager. Well... we sent him a message on the Chinese app we use that includes translation. 

Fortunately, today was a day off for me, so I could stay home and wait for someone to come. But I had to pee! Fortunately, public toilets are everywhere in this city. Unfortunately, they are the afore-mentioned, sunk-into-the-floor toilets, which I cannot use without fear of splashing all over myself! I got to a point where I had to use the one on our corner.

It wasn't awful! Maybe it was just the relief because I needed to pee SO BADLY, but really, you bring your own toilet paper, do your thing, wipe, throw away in the bin (kinda gross), and flush by tapping a foot-pedal. It was painless, and now I can pee whenever I need to.

But not at home for one day.

In the western world, we take our plumbing and subsequent sewage systems for granted. It is assumed that toilets will flush. If not, it is trusted that a plumber will take care of the issue while respecting the property.

Shortly after Brett returned from work, a plumber arrived. He had already made a huge mess in the bathroom (where I had stupidly left the mop for quick access) before he disconnected the toilet and flooded even more. Ultimately, he cleared the clog and re-caulked the toilet into place, leaving us with two pieces of advice:

1. Don't use the toilet for at least one day (for the caulking to set).
This mess. It stinks.

He also left a humongous mess that I will be up late trying to clean - because I refuse to stand in it, so can only mop as far as I can reach, then wait for that part to dry.

The picture doesn't do the mess justice. It is behind the toilet, jammed up under the washing machine. Just gross. And stinky. 

Oh, and the shower is just built into the end of the bathroom, no tub. So on the one hand, the grossness is in the shower. On the other hand, I can just push it all down that drain!

At the end of the day... we will now have to take down the trash every morning and every evening - maybe more often - because I refuse to leave stinky toilet paper sitting around. I have my standards!

Five Minute Friday: Mail

Has it been a week already? I haven't written about anything that's happening right now, and it's time for Five Minute Friday! (Although it's Sunday, for me.)

Five Minute Friday is a one-word writing prompt, provided by Kate at Heading Home. Fortunately, we are given one week to fulfill the challenge of writing about that one word for Five Minutes. "Five Minute" Friday, you see. Only Five minutes. It's about Brevity. 

Starting my timer... Now!

International Mail in 2016

I am an actual letter-writer. When growing up overseas in the 80s, it was the only way to stay in touch with people back home in the States. I wrote less by the time I came back for college, but picked it back up with a few select friends as an adult.

I have always sent Christmas cards in my adult life, in addition to the 3 or 4 people who get a written letter or card a couple times a year. I don't write letters a lot, but I do write more than most people in this day and age.

I thought that habit would serve me well when my husband and I recently moved to Beijing. Much of social media is (theoretically) blocked, so I updated my address book and planned to spend quality time writing.

OOPS! Best-laid plans.
In our nearly three weeks here, I've not seen a post office. We've been told our mailbox is so defunct we don't even get a key. If anything is "mailed" to us, it will be delivered by courier.

Two of the people I write to are not on social media at all. One doesn't even have email! I have yet to determine how to get a letter back to the US.

...And absolutely no clue how I will do Christmas cards this year!  

~~Five minutes, done.

10 October, 2016

Five Minute Friday - "Test"

Thanks to Paula at Smidgens, Snippets and Bits, I am trying this weekly challenge from Heading Home. I'm supposed to link at the bottom of her post, but my linking has been tested lately (see what I did there?) so I can only hope it will work.

Each week she Kate posts a different one-word prompt, and the challenge is to write for 5 minutes. This week the word is "Test".

The word "Test" brings to mind many things, especially as I am starting a new job as an English teacher in Beijing this week - My entire life is a test right now, and I'll be testing students, or preparing them for tests. Tests. Everything gears on the test, doesn't it?

But just getting here, to this country a full 12-hours ahead of my home timezone in the US, was a test in itself. There were so many hurdles to just getting our visas, and figuring out what we would be doing, and what to pack or not pack. 

Several weeks into the process, a sense of peace came over me. We were committed for "at least one year". After that, if we hated it, the school would pay our return trip. We both have student loans, and were hoping to begin paying them off by saving money in a lower coast-of-living location, so had figured 5 years was a reasonable expectation.

In my private meditation time, I suddenly felt confident about 10 years. Beijing could be our new home. A new start.

I mentioned this to my husband, and he said that he, too had come to that sense of peace with our decision to move to China.

Less than a week later, the tests started in full:
We can't get a medical check up in the US, which is required for the work visa.
Wait! It may not be necessary.
Oh yes, it's definitely needed.
We can't get an answer about where in the US is a qualified facility.
My car is not sold yet.
Finances don't transfer from China easily. What to do?
Still no answer on the medical check up. Can I buy tickets with confidence?
Time is getting short. We are committed to break our lease at a certain date, so we HAVE to move!
Okay, maybe just get the tourist visa and finish in China.

All the while, I had to remind myself: This is right. This will work. The confusion may just be a different culture at work, and a symptom of my American-ness.

We are here, and there are new tests daily, but it is good.

08 October, 2016

Settling in

Hello again, Blogosphere! 

The Chinese National Day holiday week is over, and Brett started working today. Saturday and Sunday are school days to make up for missing Thursday and Friday. Interesting. I have another week before I go to my school. Still, it's very exciting to feel like we are starting something new. He pointed out before leaving this morning that it was exactly one month ago that he left his job in the US. That's nice and neat.

I have a sort of routine. I'm back to doing my morning yoga, and then my morning usually entails cleaning. The smog of Beijing is a fine grey dust, and it's everywhere. I sweep daily, sometimes more often. With a very short broom. Interesting. 

About every other day I move the few pieces of furniture to sweep under them. Mopping is slightly less often, depending how much splattered. We have an extremely small galley kitchen, so there can be no tolerance for mess.

I'm trying to develop a habit of taking the stairs at least once a day. We are on the 11th floor, and I am winded by the 4th floor, but hopefully this will improve my cardiac endurance! 

We have a washing machine in our apartment, which is nice. There is no dryer, but an enclosed balcony with a hanging bar for drying clothes. Interesting.

We overlook two schools, and today was the first day there was exercise out in the courtyards (because the past week was holiday). Interesting.

My big struggle is grocery shopping. I loved doing the groceries in the States. It was somewhat calming after a busy day to pop in and grab whatever was needed, and relax pushing a cart down the aisles.

Here, it's not that the stores are smaller, which they are, or that there's no one-stop-shop, which there isn't. It's that I can't read the packaging. I do just fine with the produce vendors out along the streets, but in the store, where everything is packaged...Interesting.

Is that package squid? tofu? pork?
If I want dumplings - available in the freezer section, I have to use google translate to determine which are veggie vs. pork, and cooking them? Well, good luck guessing because the instructions do not translate into clear English. 
Cheese is available - well, sliced cheese-food anyway - in 6 slice packages for about a $1.40. No thank you.
What, precisely, are these flavors of Oreos?
Remember the Black Whopper?


I finally caved and bought some peanut butter for my apples.

I am abundantly aware that I need to learn the language, and learn to read it. But no fear. We will not starve. There are Burger Kings and KFCs in abundance. 

On the plus side, we bought a comforter yesterday. The nights are getting chilly and the government turns on the city's heat on November 15th. Interesting.

Now that school is in session, I hope to get into a better blogging routine. Meanwhile, I must go cry in despair in the grocery store for a while!

30 September, 2016

Across the Sea

Greetings from beautiful Beijing!
 We arrived Tuesday evening, and were taken out for "Beijing Duck" and many other dishes, by our one known friend here, two people from the main school we'll be working with, and another friend. There is a right and wrong way to eat the duck, which kind of cuts the greasiness. It was delightful.
Carving the duck

The next three days were a blur. We went to meet the principal of the (main) school. (Between the two of us, we will be teaching at 4 schools.) Then we were taken around to look at several apartments that had been selected for us. We liked one, but were supposed to look at more, selected by our one friend. I'll call him M.

We went up to M's school, and told him what we'd seen, and when he heard we found one we liked within our price range, he urged us to just take it and not look at his, as they were more expensive. One of M's staff took us to get a Chinese sim card so that we can use our phones here. HOWEVER, the phones cannot yet be unlocked from our US account, so... we have no data plan.

Oh well.

That was just Wednesday!

On Thursday, we spent the morning going to get the medical check-up for our work visas. What an eye-opener! It took an hour to get there, but we saw about 10 medical professionals in a half-hour. It was so stream-lined we only spent a few moments with each. Actually, that half-hour included getting pictures taken and queuing to pay! America could really learn something there. The sacrifice? No bedside manner. It was very abrupt, but that is, to me, a worthwhile sacrifice.

We spent the afternoon wandering through an historic, yet touristy area, and saw a wild selection of trinkets to send back as gifts someday.
I love the funny English

Long story short, yesterday we signed a lease and took over the biggest suitcases. Today we will finish moving in, clean, and explore our new neighborhood.

In our neighborhood. There are trees throughout the city, actually.

Joy of joys - Today begins a week-long holiday for Chinese National Day. So we can settle in, buy necessities like bedding, and visit some well-known sites (I'm looking at you, Tienanmen and Forbidden City)!

Tragedy - We do not yet have wifi at our new home, so it will again be at least a week before I can post.

14 September, 2016

Into the Abyss...

I just realized I know *nothing* about my life after September 27th. 

That is the day we arrive in Beijing. Apparently someone is going to put us up in a hotel...for that night at least.

At some point we will sign paperwork (I assume) with the schools who have promised to hire us.

At some point - hopefully the first day - we will look at apartments that have been selected as good options for us.

No idea how we will eat, what we will eat, where we will live, where we will work, or how we will get around.

We do not speak the language. 
We cannot read the language.

Imagine seeing the entrance to a very dark cave that you cannot see into at all. You step into the entrance and cannot even see your hands in front of your face. All you can hear is a friendly voice saying, "Come on in! It's awesome! You'll love it!"

You answer, "I can't see anything - give me some directions!"

They shout back...from way in the depths of the cave, "Don't worry about it - just keep walking!"
And then, "Oh! But try not to fall into the giant potholes!"

"...WHAT potholes? I can't see anything!" you say.

And the greatest reassurance you get it, "Meh. You'll be fine." 

That is the best description I can give for what this is like.