We’ve never officially climbed on the blogging bandwagon that is the monthly update post.
This is probably because I could never quite justify an entire post that mostly included things like ‘worked, went to the gym, made dinner, repeat’, which is honestly what our lives look like. Ok, maybe life is a little more exciting, but I just never got on board that daily minutiae are worth reading.
But you know what? I love reading monthly updates!
Seriously, I look forward to them every month. I think it’s because I like knowing what people are up to in real life, not just more edited and polished pieces they put on their blogs normally. Special shout outs to Alex, Kristin, Leah and Kate, who lead pretty amazing lives but manage to make monthly updates interesting even when they spend the whole month in one place.
So, it is with all that in mind that we are embarking on an experiment. If ever we had enough to say to justify a month in review, now’s the time.
Where We’ve Been
China: Shenzhen (25 nights) Guangzhou (1 night), Shanghai (4 nights)
- We’ve accomplished a lot this month. We have working cell phones, gym memberships, an apartment, a bank account, a source of (cheap) drinking water, and a Mandarin language school where we’ve been taking classes for two weeks. I can type those things with such ease, but know that each of those items required a ton of effort and many moments spent entirely out of our comfort zones.
- We went to our first big expat event. After the event, we went to a second bar with a few people we met, all of whom have interesting and far flung lives and backgrounds. Chatting with a girl who is from Taiwan but lived for years in both Paris and Singapore made me remember why we seek out a similar sort of path.
- It felt amazing to spend the first night in our new apartment. We made a few trips out to IKEA in the preceding days so our place was ready for us when arrived. We cooked dinner in our actual kitchen, with new pots and pans, and put music on Spotify. It felt so good to be home.
- We took our first train ride in China on a high speed train and it was incredible. We booked first class tickets (because they were $12), and were treated to lovely, huge, reclining seats. When the train leveled out at 310km/hr, and yet remained completely silent and smooth, we just watched the scenery whoosh by. It used to take 2 hours to get to Guangzhou, now it takes 30 minutes. We’re planning on more train travel this summer because it’s just that much fun.
- We took our first intra-China flights to and from Shanghai. We have friends there so we definitely lived it up. You know when you have friends visit your hometown for the first time and you take them to all the best spots? Yeah, that was pretty much our experience of Shanghai. Amazing local restaurant? Check. Out-of-control American-style brunching? Check. Cocktails in the greatest hotel bar ever? Check. We loved Shanghai, and can’t wait to go back soon.
- We survived our first typhoon. I didn’t even realize there was a typhoon heading our way until someone told me to lock my doors and secure anything that was outside. Um, what?? A day of heavy rain was all we really ended up having to deal with here, and I didn’t even really take notice of strong winds, though others mentioned that they were kept up at night by them. But now we can check typhoon off of the list of natural phenomena that we’ve been part of.
- The internet struggle is real. China and its stupid firewall are the worst. We have VPNs on every device we own, and we thought we came well-prepared to circumvent the hurdles the country has put in place to limit Google-ing and Facebook and whatever else. Weirdly, the internet in our apartment slows to a crawl in the evenings, rendering any video streaming impossible. My work computer is super fast but the VPN on it doesn’t allow access to certain things and the VPN on my phone limits others. It’s pretty much a crap shoot. Don’t even get me started on Netflix and why they feel the need to block VPN access. We’re thinking that our best bet to stream Breaking Bad at night might be through Drew’s phone, hooked up by a cord to the TV. Maybe. We’ll see if that works.
- Each big Chinese task takes a bit of gearing up to tackle. The first time you try and figure out how to do something, it’s a ton of effort, usually embarrassing, but in the end, the feeling is almost euphoric. Here are a few things we have been avoiding figuring out that we will hopefully get the courage to work on in July: ordering something off of Taobao (the Chinese Amazon, but prohibitively only in Mandarin), taking a Didi car (like Uber), adding Drew to our bank account or opening a second one in his name to make payments easier, finding a doctor/dentist and figuring out what to do if we have a medical emergency.
- On my first day at work, someone said, “The first word you need to know is fapiao.” What’s that, you ask? When you buy something in China, you may get a receipt but it doesn’t count as an ‘official’ receipt unless you get a second one – one called a fapiao. For foreigners, who can get tax breaks on certain items, you always, always need a fapiao to claim reimbursement, and the same applies for business travel expenses. Fapiaos need to be in your name (if for personal tax purposes) or in the company’s official name (I have it written out in four places in Chinese). It is essentially ensuring that whatever you apply for reimbursement for, whether it is a hotel or a meal, the appropriate taxes have been paid to the government from that business. What is also means is that at the end of every meal, we spend five to ten minutes waiting for a fapiao to be printed off. It’s a strange, and rather annoying system, but one that we can’t avoid.
What We’re Loving Lately
- You can’t live in China without WeChat, the app that rules them all. Here’s what we can do via WeChat: text, call, voice text, buy water, pay rent, pay at restaurants, call a car, pay utilities, donate to charity, rent a bicycle, buy movie tickets, get food delivered, anything else you can think of. When you meet someone, you immediately ask for their WeChat ID. It’s that ubiquitous. What happens if you lose your phone? Now that, my friends, is the real question.
- They’re in season, a very short season, and they’re everywhere. What are? Lychees. Our goal is to eat lychees every day, but not too many. We hear they’re a “warming” food, and thus, not good for you in excess.
- Shanghai brunch. When we were sitting at brunch last weekend in Shanghai, a sizzling cast iron skillet of rueben-themed home fries, I literally said, ‘This is the best moment of the past month.’ I stand by it. We may have felt terrible about ourselves after the pastrami hash, smoked salmon rösti, and pork sausage, but brunch alone was worth the 2-hour flight.
Coming Up in July
- Chill time in Shenzhen. The first two weeks of July will be quiet in Shenzhen, as we wait to get our passports back. Our residency permits are being processed, but we will have them next week.
- ‘Merica. On the 4th of July, I am planning to bring a straight up American-style sheet cake (with the American flag in fruit) to work. My co-workers have been so nice to introduce me to Chinese food culture, I should really return the favor with Betty Crocker vanilla cake mix and frosting in a can. You’re welcome Chinese co-workers.
- Visiting our neighbor, Hong Kong. We each plan on visiting Hong Kong once this month, but we probably will be forced to visit alone, thanks to our complex travel schedules. Luckily, we live a few minutes from the Shekou Ferry Terminal, so we can just hop on a 45 minute ferry to the heart of Hong Kong!
- Back in the US of A! Drew leaves China on the 18th for two family reunions in the US, and I will join him on the 28th for the second one. We will meet in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, me fresh off a flight from China and he, relaxed after seeing his family for ten days in Florida.
- The big reunion. The last few days of July will be spent state-side, making small talk in matching T-shirts with innumerable cousins, and then hanging with my immediate family in Indiana, taking turns holding the baby nephew. (To my relatives who are reading this: despite my sarcasm, I really am looking forward to the reunion. The T-shirts are just epic.)