I’m baaack (said in a singsongy tune in my head, much the same as Honey, I’m hooooome.).

I haven’t really felt like blogging since we got here because our situation hasn’t been stable at all. We were put onto an emotional rollercoaster that is only now beginning to come to a slow. I think somewhere in the middle I may have gotten sick on someone or something…that’s how I felt. Emotionally.

But, I don’t want to dwell on the negative right now. One day I will attempt to write a very neutral account of things so that it’s somewhere out there on the world wide web and available to future prospects who wish to come to China with as much knowledge possible, but I don’t think that is possible for the moment, and I think I finally feel good about things here.

So for today. Let me just say that China is an extremely friendly place. Yes, you get stared at. And yes, being the only foreigner in a neighborhood can sometimes make you feel like you are green with three eyeballs and you make large squawky noises as you walk down the street.

But mostly, living in China is extremely nice because people from all walks of life will say hi to you or ask you questions-even when you can’t understand them. This week, Noah and I were walking at the same speed as a lady on a bike who was leaving our residence. She looked at Noah and called him xiao baby (little baby in Chinglish) and then asked me how old he was. I answered her and then couldn’t understand anymore, so I abandoned ship, but with a smile on my face and a skip in my step.

Yesterday, a young man in a new bakery walked over to me and asked me in decent English what flavor I liked my pastries to be. He went away after I had chosen and then hesitantly came back to talk to me as I was checking out. I left knewing I’d come back.

At the pulled noodle shop, my colleague needed to find an ATM, and so she just shouted out her question to the other 4 diners and the cooks. The cooks didn’t know but one of the diners looked up and gave her directions.

And this morning, I walked past a filled bun (baozi) and smiled at the lady and said hi. She said hi back with a great big smile and I continued walking.

These are little nothings. But these are little nothings that didn’t usually happen very often in France. Sure, a perfuntory hello can sometimes be in order as you enter a room, but to get a smilem I feel like you had to know the person. And sometimes even then, if they weren’t a clos acquaintance, then…and I played that game. I’d look past people on the metro and mutter a quick hello without stopping in the halls at work. But, it was a dreary way of living. This little thing makes me smile a little more each day, which kind of automatically lifts your spirits.

The human behavior version of chocolate folks!

 

So, here are some more HK pictures for you. You can tell we don’t live there…I think I took more pictures there than I have here in Chengdu. Bad Chrissie.

 

Yes, this is Jackie Chan. We had a fun time here.

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He really got into it. I think he could be a Chinese movie star…between the dashing good lucks, his amazing martial art form, and the attention the Chinese love giving him…

 

 

victoria harborWalking along…Not as many people as you’d expect.

 

 

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This is the colonial clock at the end of the main drag along Victoria Harbour. Bitty, they had ducks…

 

 

 

ducknmJealous? If I took a fair amount just for you!

 

 

 

 

birdcage

 

He gets to people watch…I wonder if he sees any exotic species from his little perch…

 

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We went back to the harbour for a night view..we were also promised fireworks…little did we know that it was a five minute show, thousands of tourists and a 40 minute subway trip…

 

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Noah was a bit squirrelly…

 

 

tourists

 

I’ll leave you with this question…who was the tourist here, them or us?

 

 

I’m finally uploading pictures from our trip to Hong Kong last month. We got to walk around the city a couple of times, but not as much as we had hoped because it was raining the first couple of days.
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Here are Noah and Juan perched illegally on a fountain not too far from Victoria Harbor.

 

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The taxis…’wrong’ side of the street of course.

 

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One of the charms of Hong Kong were the lush, green mountains that battled for our attention on the HK skyline.

 

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Of course, I thought this picture was a bit ironic…

 

chinese pig

On the walk of stars, we found this pig and Noah blew his admirers a kiss…or maybe it was for you…

Stay tuned for part 2…

 

 

DSC_0028Yesterday, after a little over a month of living in China, we finally went downtown.

I would wince if I read that. How can I be so close to Chengdu and not have gone downtown? I am not a bat, a little old lady or a complete ignoramus. I promise.

But, it’s been an action packed month-complete with a trip to Hong Kong, lots of rain and a full time teaching job. Not to mention, I have a neighborhood to explore. My first little triumph was finding the best little baozi stand on this side of the Pacific (or Atlantic?). But it hasn’t stopped there-we’ve tried everything from steamed rice flour beef to chicken feet and beef tripes in our hot pot. We have a favorite noodle place and I have had bubble tea from at least three shops all within a few feet of each other. I know where to get water, gas, books, trinkets, photos and where to find an open air market.  My neighborhood is immense, and I think I could spend another month discovering the shops and restaurants here.

Chinese cities are a little overwhelming. Mostly, I imagine it is because I don’t speak Chinese very well (although I’m trying). When I go into town, I have to get very specific directions from my co-workers and then I hope that they’ve given me the right side of the road for the bus I’ve just taken. I have to count the bus stops on my fingers and hope there will be a seat close to a window so I can make sure that we are indeed stopping because people are getting on and not because there is too much traffic. Then, were do we go? If we don’t know, how will the taxi driver (for example).

Chinese names are also a little harder for me to remember. A lot of time in a language we speak, we connect the names with ideas. If you tell me that I have to go to Lake Street to get to Big Lake Park, I’ll associate the two. Obviously.  ChengTianDianHaiJie really doesn’t mean much-although I will sometimes dutifully copy down the advice I get in pinyin, only to find that the sign I’m reading is strictly in Chinese characters.

So, getting around is a little difficult.

But also, you need to have a destination in mind. This isn’t Europe, and not every building gets a separate ‘ooh’ or ‘aww’. You have to know where to look and what to do. Are you going to a market? Are you going to eat? Is there a museum? An old road?

So, those are some of the reasons it took us one month just to go downtown.

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I think going downtown has eased that fear. The subway helps with that too. You can get on and off and as long as you remember your way back to where you came from, you know you’ll get home! Everything is also in Pinyin and even bears an English translation sometimes…so it’s just comforting to know it’s there.

DSC_0049(Noah had fun in TianFu Square, which has a lot of fountains.)

 

 

DSC_0061(I also had fun taking pictures of the fountains)

 

 

 

DSC_0051(Who had more fun?)

 

 

 

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Anyway, another goal during this holiday is to see something else in Chengdu. I am very happy-I might go someplace with a Chinese girl I’ve been talking to.

 

 

This is TianFu Square…You can see Chairman Mao in the background.DSC_0002

 

 

 

PS-Am feeling nostalgic for my teenie bopper days…Apparently in Chinese coffee shops, the Backstreet Boys are still popular…the one….desire…it’s too late…but I want it….

You know you know the lyrics!:P

 

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I used to be proud of myself because I had gotten to a point where I could use less than a teaspoon of sugar in my morning coffee (never mind the fact that I was drinking two or three cups to get ready). And in tea, I can even go without anything.

Now, we have yet to buy ourselves a French press (although for 40 USD you can buy a fairly large one at  the local department store) and should probably even suppress the urge to keep drinking coffee and get used to the local drink…of course I’m talking about tea.

Except on one of our first stops into our little corner supermarket, Juan wanted to buy coffee. We were faced with a very special dilemma in the coffee aisle (or coffee section, head of aisle or whatnot)…there was an extremely small soluble jar of black Nescafé for 25 RMB or what Nescafé’s translators call ‘Milky Coffee’ (could this be a ‘Latte’ in English?), 41 packets for 35 RMB. Well unknowingly, we took the milky coffee…(it reminds me of what Stef, Laura and Bitty all like-that French vanilla gunk…)

Which has almost no coffee flavor and is pure sugar. If I make it with milk, at least I get a little foam and mentally I am able to associate it with a coffee drink…

I thought perhaps this was just Nescafé, and until yesterday Juan came back with Carrebian Nut coffee…And it came out the same. Notice that everything is written in English-what Chinese person would by Carrebian Nut coffee knowingly? I mean, I don’t even think that the Carrebian exists, much less is it one of the world leaders in the coffee industry. I’m not sure I would go there to vacation…although perhaps tickets to the Carrebian are very cheap?

Anyway, I did see an ‘organic tea shop’ just next to my school the other day on my way to the travel agency. They had three entire walls and a few tables lines with tea in zip bags and even barrels where you could buy your tea by weight. I need to find a good cup, where I can seep my tea leaves and take them out when I’m ready to drink, but I’m pretty sure my body will appreciate the effort of leaving sugary, watery coffee-flavoured drinks aside.

Of course, if I can’t get used to green tea, I know we are only 20’ from Starbucks and a department store full of different ways to seep and store hot liquids…so splurging on some real coffee might be an actual solution should need be…And dad, I know, Starbucks does not make ‘real’ coffee-or actually it does, although it might not be the best quality. But, I am not sure green beans, a roaster, and a coffee grinder would be the cheapest of solutions here, smack dab in the middle of China…

I started typing and had quite the scare…I didn’t see any letters!

So, we arrived in Chengdu and were brought to our neighborhood, which is about 40 minutes by bus into downtown. It was really strange because we actually couldn’t see much since it was 10 pm. I remember seeing a bunch of red characters lit up, crossing a street and seeing a big red pagoda style entrance, stopping in front of our green gate and climbing the stairs to our second floor apartment.

That first night, I didn’t sleep a wink because it was so humid, so hot…and I saw a spider in the shower and was terrified to go in the bathroom again. We got lucky though and they came to install two AC units in both bedrooms the very next day (enter shock number one: our landlord came in without knocking-although she has been very couteous ever since…).

The first three days included lots of running around and getting set up with the essentials: a cell phone, money exchange, food and cleaning our apartment-which was dirty in a way that even the city air in Chengdu can’t explain. Nope, it looked like someone had thrown a bucket of meat juice onto the wall paper, or coffee…I kept imagining a girl coming in and finding her boyfriend in bed with another person and throwing a coffee mug or two at them…It came out…for the most part and ever since it feels a little more like home. Everything else is pretty good though. We have space, closets, and the Chinese seem to like their lights. I’m tempted to try to make a light show and invite some friends over…but I doubt I’ll have time!

We’re going to Hong Kong for three days tomorrow to deal with visa things…but we hope to see the city while we are at it!!

Wish us luck. Will write soon!

 

Noah at hospitalWhen you are alone, this is one of those things where you can make a personal choice. When you have a child, it’s something that never wanders very far from the corner of your mind-especially if your child has recurrent health problems.

Our son is happy and he is healthy, but we do have two health issues that we have to keep an eye on. First he was born with only one functioning kidney. The doctor’s have kept an eye on this as the one he does have is larger than it should be (which is fine) and shiny…and they have no medical explanation as to why it shows up shiny on the ultrasounds Noah has had done. So, we do need to see a specialist once or twice during our year in China.

Second, he recently had surgery and will need to be seen by a different specialist once or twice a year until he is sixteen. This is not going to keep us from living our life, but we do want access to the follow-up he needs just in a case anything should happen. That goes without saying I think and I’m sorry for stating the obvious.

So, when moving to China perhaps the most stressful part of our initial decision was how much healthcare would run us if he would need check-ups or even an unforeseen, emergency surgery.

Our employers have been really helpful with this and ultimately, put our minds at ease:

A consultation with a Dr. (specialist or not): 15-30 rmb

*Which might be interesting for anyone, although most ESL teachers should have some form of coverage for the little things that you catch and for which you’d need medical care.

Surgical operations in general and for his particular case, for which I won’t go into major detail on the world wide web (although if you should have any questions, feel free to contact me)

A “touch-up” surgery: 2,000-3,000 rmb

*this is something we will budget for as between this and the surgery cost mentioned below, this is the most likely to be needed)

A full-blown surgery+2 weeks of in patient care post op: 10,000-15,000 rmb

None of this scares us too badly. We put it relatively, right now at the end of the month, we basically don’t save any money. In Zhengzhou, which is supposedly one of the cheaper cities in China, we will collectively earn 16,000-17,000 RMB after taxes-and yes, we have an extra mouth to feed, a full-time care giver to pay, but we’ve estimated that we should be able to live off of around half of that and maintain a lifestyle similar to the one we lead in France. Which means that every month we should be able to put aside about 8000 RMB. If any one of our health’s should deteriorate to the point of needing regular surgery/extensive care, we probably would not stay in China-but not of that is foreseeable at this point and honestly, we’ll only be there for a couple of years tops.

Furthermore, his major surgery should (knock on wood) be taken care of-we expect a few doctor’s visits and in a worse case scenario a “touch-up” for the surgery he has already undergone.

So, cross your fingers, knock on wood and include us in your prayers…hopefully we won’t have to do anything more than the odd check-up and cold medication, but know that we have figured out the costs for this kind of thing just in case.