Monday, May 28, 2012

A Glossary of Our Life in China

Below are just a few words or phrases that have become part of my vocabulary while here.  Some of them are real words or phrases, while others are just ones I hear frequently from other expats or Clif and I have found ourselves using. 

Ayi: Hired helped who may do the following tasks: clean, babysit, run errands, and cook.  Some people have Ayis 5-6 days a week all day.  These particular Ayis do it all.
Blue Sky Days: Literally what is says. I have never seen a blue sky day like back in the US, but there are days when the blue sky and a few fluffy clouds can be spotted.   
China Junk: The 4-5 spam texts I get every day. 
China Life: Reference to how day to day tasks are different or made more complicated here.  As an example I have previously posted, when I try to communicate with people who do not speak English.  They speak to me in Chinese, I speak to them in English, neither of us have a clue as to what the other wants and it ends with a stare off.
Have a "China day" or "China moment": A China day is a bad day. When nothing goes right and everything is a frustrating battle to accomplish seemingly simple tasks due to differences in culture.
Kan-Kan: The phrase you use to let venders know you are just looking, so they will stop trying to sell you things. Note: I have no idea if I spelled this correctly.
Pulled a Wang: Not what it sounds like, this is a daring driving move our driver (Mr. Wang) has perfected. He's a professional and pretty good at his job.
Saving Face: The common act of telling little white lies in order to avoid the fact that you don't actually know the answer and/or understand.  
Smells like China: This originally referred to any place with a distinct smell of sewage. It has evolved to be a good description of any place that smells bad.
Split Pants: Many Chinese toddlers and babies do not wear diapers.  Instead, their pants are split from front to back with just a bare bottom visible.  This allows them to go the bathroom anytime and anywhere they choose.  ANYWHERE. I am suspicious of every puddle I see. 
Tai Tai: It has multiple meanings. Most simply: a married women.  To others it means a wealthy married women who has time to sleep late, lunch with the ladies, and spend her husband's money.
They're Honey Badgers: in reference to the manner in which many people, at times, behave. This may make sense to only those who have seen the honey badger video.
Westerners' Price: The amount of money you are asked to pay for items or services merely because you are a Westerner. This is where negotiation skills come in handy, I am slowly developing mine.  I am becoming better at just walking away because one of two things will happen...1--You can probably find the item somewhere else and try again or 2--They will come after you suddenly willing to accept your offer.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Anyone hungry?

Dear Friends and Family,

I have generated a list of all the restaurants I would like to eat at upon my return. I know it has only been a few short months, but I can't seem to get it off my mind.  I thought maybe putting it down on paper, or blogging in this case, might make me think about them less.  You know, like when you can't sleep because you have too many things on your mind?  Some people think of creative new ideas, I prefer to spend my time pondering all the food options I no longer have available.  I think I included something for everyone.  Please feel free to sign up to accompany me to any venue as eating at each of these places by myself might be a little depressing. You will have plenty of time to clear your schedule, I will not arrive in the States until December. 

Arby’s-Clif will probably lay claim to this one.
Steak n’ Shake
Sushigawa-This may require a two trip minimum.
Jimmy Johns
Ice Cream Shack (This will have to wait until 2013, but you can be thinking about it as an option)
Buffalo Wild Wings
La Gondola

I will also take suggestions as I am sure I am missing a few important places. Clif thinks I am spending too much time daydreaming about food, but I am sure he is spending just as much time thinking about all the fishing he can't do as I as am about all the food I can't eat. 

Peace from the Far East, 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cebu City - a Philippines Vaction

About a month ago, we realized that having a baby would limit mobility for about three months on either side of the big day. If we want to see more of this half of the world, we would have to actually go somewhere soon.

We started with the Philippines.

Coconut juice doesn't taste great, but it comes in a coconut

And it were awesome.

The room's view

Taking the recommendation of a few other ex-pats, we decided to visit the Shangra-La Mactan Resort in Cebu City. The place is super nice, super laid back and super pricey...but you get what you pay for and we were looking for someplace like this.

Two months doesn't seem like a long time to be in China, but we hear the first months are the most stressful. Clif was certainly ready for a break and Shayne was getting dangerously close to the flight restrictions of the final trimester. Two months deep into our assignment was a perfect amount of time to take a vacation.

This was to be served in a pineapple...imagine his disappointment!

Other than Clif's sun burnt feet and some interesting airport experiences (more on that in a bit), the trip was a huge success. We spent an immense amount of time at the beach, where tropical fish hung out in the shallows waiting to be fed. The resort had a little sign to identify all the species we saw, and we saw many.

Clif brought his water proof video camera, and we took a lot of video of the fish. The problem with under-water video is the sound is ear splitting. Rather than simply mute the audio, I overdubbed a recording we took from the lobby bar band...all bootleg style. I encourage those of you at work with fast internet to enjoy the video in HD.

Other than amazing clear ocean water and friendly fish, the resort had plenty of other things going on. We played mini-golf, we swam in the endless pool, and we ate meals at the restaurants and bars. We opted out of the Filippino cultural show, but could hear the drums from the lobby bar. Shayne forced a stalemate on the giant chess board. And one day we took the shuttle bus into town to do some shopping and see the city.

Add caption

Going to the city!

Compared to other places we've been, the city reminded us of Mexico with a little China sprinkled in.

Lopez eatery and tire storage.


There were swarms of these funny looking vehicles called "Jeepneys." Some seemed to be for hire, others looked like they were owned by companies to shuttle workers and some operated more like a city bus.

The only thing common among the Jeepneys was the fact they weren't common. Each one had a unique paint job and looked to be custom fabricated.

Now...about the airports...

We flew Philippine Airlines (PA) from Shanghai to Manila, and then on to Cebu city. The only reason I mention the airline is because they are the only reason we were able to make our connection in Manila.

We didn't do ourselves any favors and scheduled layovers of approximately 1.5 hours. The flight from Shanghai was delayed 20 minutes and the nice people at the desk knew what hell we were about to endure.  So they gave us stickers....

The mark of a man about to miss his flight
We didn't know the reason, but we were told to wear them on the plane and someone would contact us. So we wore them on the plane...we noticed no one else wearing stickers and started to wonder when nobody contacted us. But after deplaning a representative from PA grabbed us on the jetbridge and hustled us through the Manila boondoggle airport. Somehow the rep got our bags off the plane first so we could be first through customs. The gate personnel were waiting for us and shut the doors immediately behind us. Without help from the airline, we never would have that connection because....

The Manila and Cebu City airports are operated by drunken two-year-old chimpanzees of inferior genetics. I won't go into details about our experience specifically, but to get on a plane you have to:
  • go through security (printed itinerary required)
  • check in and get your boarding pass
  • use a currency exchange or ATM to get cash for "airport fee"
  • pay an "airport fee" in cash (local currency), at each airport visited
  • fill out immigration forms (entering and leaving) 
  • go through security again (boarding pass required)
It is not obvious how to do any of that.....and in what order. Plus all the normal hassles of being at an airport also apply. If I were in charge of those airports, I would quit due to embarrassment. My only advice to those who follow is to make sure the connection time is plenty. We stepped foot in those airports three times and nearly missed three flights.

For some reason they get away with it...stuff like this can make you forget stuff like that.

The other phenomenon we noticed was our eagerness for the trip to end. In the past, a week was about right before we wanted to go home. But we weren't going "home" so a week didn't feel like enough time. I suppose when China feels like home, we know the transformation is complete.

Baby Gerke at the beach

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tid Bits

Just a few pictures of things around China....

Ever wonder where your tea leaves come from?  On our weekend trip with Clif's work we were in a mountainous region and you would see these clear cut, terraced sides of the hills.  Many times you could see people way up in between the rows picking leaves, we believe.  I also can't seem to locate the pictures, but the hills we also dotted with tombs that were decorated with flowers and ribbons. There did seem to be an official grave yard, just random groups of tombs here and there in the sides of the hills. 

Dunkn' Donuts are not hard to come by here in Suzhou, but I am not sure the selection is quite as appetizing as back in the States.

Something else I find interesting about life here...
In Suzhou there are no parking meters, instead there are these workers dressed in grey at about every city block where parking is available.  Their job is to take money from the people who want to park alongside the road. I suppose this is a better job than having to sweet the roads with twig-ish brooms.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jin Ji Lake Boat Parade

 We went across the street last weekend to see the opening night of Jin Ji Lake's boat parade. I tried to take pictures, but our camera didn't do well in the low light conditions. With a few exceptions, most of the pictures look like this:

At some point I realized the video quality was great and I started taking more video than pictures.

If you listened to the sound in that video you'll have heard two things. First, the place was a mad house, shoulder to shoulder. Shayne and I arrived early enough to grab a prime spot behind a bush so nobody could stand directly in front of us.

Secondly, you may have heard an amusing conversation between the two of us regarding one float. Did it say "2012" or "Jon?" Maybe both?