Sunday, January 30, 2011

01/18/2011

     I am finishing my third week of Chinese classes today. After three weeks of learning 200+ words a week, I feel that I have the speaking ability of a 2-3 year old Chinese child. Compared to where I was when I started, that is saying a lot. I still don't understand 90% of what people say, but I am able to pick up on key words which is surprisingly helpful. Next week is Spring Festival, so I get one week off of school, then I go back for one final week. Fun's over after that...time to get a job. I have already applied for tutoring positions and have emailed a local western hospital's hiring manager about the possibility of trying to get a family liaison type position.

     So, back to Spring Festival...for those of who have never heard of it, it is a two week long holiday for the Chinese. This is typically the only holiday that they get off of work, and they take that opportunity to go home. It is custom to bring back whatever percentage of your yearly income you can part with and give it to your family, either in the form of straight cash or gifts (the sales right now are great by the way). The subways on the other hand are not great...everyone either has 50 shopping bags with them or they have multiple suitcases. Another holiday custom is to give children red envelopes with money in them. They have a saying here “紅包拿來” or in pinyin “hong bao na lai”. Give me money please. I will update you more on Spring Holiday once I have experienced it if I am not deaf or blind. What I mean by that is that fireworks are illegal in China except for during the Spring festival...so they shoot off fireworks for 2 straight weeks ALL DAY.

     Today got off to a rocky start. I ordered some vitamins on Amazon China several weeks ago and after two weeks I started to wonder where they might be. I finally found a number and had a friend of mine call the postal service that delivered it. After quite a while on the phone, they told her that they delivered my vitamins to a post office (I do not live in a post office). They told her that this is where my package now resides. So I went there with my order number and after being shuffled around between several postal employees I was told that they were going to ship it to me. So why did the postal service tell my friend to go pick it up at the post office? In the end, who knows! It was about the same helpful experience that you encounter going to an American post office (or any social service agency)...except with the added issue of the language barrier. Not fun. Every time I tried to speak in Chinese they would either laugh (great for my confidence) or scream at me in Chinese. Screaming here is the regular speaking volume, but it still shocks me from time to time. If they don't understand what your saying, I have been instructed to scream at them quickly and its like a light goes on in their head. No joke.  

Sunday, January 23, 2011

01/15/2011

     Well, we've been in Beijing for almost 2 months now. It already feels like we've been here for so much longer. I've already made more friends here than I made in a year living in Atlanta. I have one major thing in common with every girl I've become friends with and that is that they all moved to Beijing for their husband's career. That takes a certain kind of wife and a certain kind of marriage so we all get along great.
                                                                  Beijing Subway
     I see some very interesting behavior on a regular basis here. Some of it is getting easier to ignore, while some of it still makes me stop and stare. The spitting is gross, but you get used to it. Mostly older men, but older women and everyone else will suprise you with their spitting. They will cough up some nasty spit and just spit it whereever. Trash cans are a nice suprise...and I see that occasionally, but not as much as I see it all over the sidewalk and sometimes even inside. One thing I have not yet gotten used to is the children's public peeing etc...they have these special pants here that are cut from one end of the undercarriage to the next, so that if nature of any form calls, you can just squat down. Peeing on the sidewalk is not at all uncommon to see here, but peeing on the subway, in the supermarket and in the trash can is still stare worthy. I'm sure that sounds better than alternatives...but there is a bathroom not 100 feet from the trashcan and someone is going to get a nasty suprise when they have to take that trash bag out.

     Behavior on the subway takes some getting used to as well. Not only are the subway station and trains sometimes very crowded, but people will mow you down to stand in the front of the line to get on the subway...even if its not rush hour and the subway is completely empty. One thing I find impressive, is the fact that (to my American eyes) I see a rush hour subway train that is completely full, but they manage to shove themselves in and get 4-5 more people into literally no space.

     Food is hard for me here. Well to be fair, food is hard for me everywhere, but it is especially hard for me here. I am allergic to gluten and less severly to milk. I need to eat...but for the first few weeks here, I either went with something I knew might make me sick, or I ate oranges and bananas. I have eaten a life time supply of oranges and peanut butter covered bananas since we arrived here. There is no Whole Foods here with gluten free bread and goodies and food at the Western markets is easily twice as expensive as regular Chinese markets. I found one place with gluten free bread already made...and it was disgusting. My husband agrees...and he is much harder to disgust. It was hard as a rock and once you broke it, it crumbled to pieces...and then you ate it...and it tasted like week old rotten cheese with yeast in it. Not pleasant. Ovens are not common in housing here, so I think I am going to buy a bread maker and try to make it myself. Thankfully I have found stores here that carry other gluten free things. One place has cereal, several have Silk soy milk, all western stores seem to have gluten free bread mix...so I can make it. Some things I will just have to make by myself...and I am not much of a cook. Not great at it, and I don't really care for complicated recipes. But I'll keep you updated.

      Look for housing here is a semi nightmare. Real estate sites are hard to navigate if you don't speak Mandarin and many of the English pages are limited or have broken links. People post on Thebeijinger and City Weekend, but the pictures are horrible most times and/or were taken when the place was built...5 years ago. Places don't stay nice that long. Migrant workers building highrises sounds great...but unskilled workers do not tend to build things that withstand the test of time. We finally found an apartment, but its not someplace we want to stay for all three years...so we may let our deposit go and move sooner rather than in 9 months. Turns out that the commute to my husband's office isn't that great. Only thing now is that we want to be super close to the subway, in a nice area, in a nice building and close to his work. Wish us luck...we will need it.

     Cab drivers can make or break your day here, says a friend of mine. The subway is cheaper, but cabs are better with a lot of groceries in hand. They do not speak English (none of them) and most can't read a map...makes for interesting trips. We know how to say our street, “subway”, right, left and straight...so we do ok, but we both are excited for the time when we can speak and understand Mandarin. Today was the first trip where I felt like I understood 50% of what the driver said. He asked us what country we were from and which part of america. After that we didn't talk much.

     I plan to start language learning on the 10th of January. 40 hours in a month, ten a week, 2 hours a day on the week days. I am hoping that I can start to feel more comfortable soon. Again...wish me luck.

Taken from our apartment