Mold problem? What Mold Problem?

So, remember when a year ago I wrote that there was a leak in the wall (coming from my bathroom) that was soaking through the concrete, and despite my repeated attempts at getting it fixed, nothing was done?

The view from my front door. Notice the wet patch on the wall, and the darker patch on the landing. It's not a shadow, but rather the wet concrete.

One year ago

And then remember when a few weeks ago, they came and fixed it (because a dean complained about it) and while the plumbing to repair it was less-than-professional, it still fixed the problem (and saved the structural integrity of the building)?

The ever growing mold/water stain.

A few weeks ago 

But they didn’t clean the wall, and the oozy, gooey mold was still all over the wall outside. Well, no longer! Someone actually came in and repainted the hallway. Not just my hallways, but the entire stairwell hallway from the first to sixth floor. Amazing! And he actually did a decent job. It took several days, and he did constant sanding to take the old layer off, and the new layer was painted pretty smoothy. (Which was another bit of professionalism I didn’t expect. In the apartments, between tenants, they just add a new layer of paint without removing the lower layers, so when a piece flakes off you can see all the layers of paint underneath like rings on a tree.)

The painter, an obvious chain smoker, left a trail of cigarette butts in his wake. One on almost every step, and a few on the landings.

Now I no longer have the “my apartment is the one after the slime wall” convenience (and it has actually confused one friend who couldn’t remember where I lived without it) but it’s clean and shiny and new. The next person will just have some wonky plumbing to wonder about, but no clues to tell them what happened.

The wall, all painted shiny and new.

And that’s how you solve a plumbing problem in China. It only took a year! *sarcasm*

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mid-Semester Life

Things are humming along, as they tend to do in the mid-semester mark. The flurry and excitement of the break and new semester has worn off, and the end of the semester is just a bit too far away to get worked up about yet. But life goes on in its quiet way, and actually, I like the unexpected meetings, the nights out, the helping the students with their projects.

After being in China for almost 5 years, there are not many major surprises or shocks anymore during the semester, but there are pleasant moments. Here are a few:

Running into students in the darndest places

On the bus to Hangzhou to see the dentist, I sat down next to a middle-aged guy, put on my headphones and settled in for the hour long ride, when I heard someone come over to my seat and ask to sit next to me. I look up and it’s Jorsen (One of “my boys”) who was on his way to a job interview. We sat and chatted and when we arrived he said he’d stay with me until my appointment. (In fact he slightly chided me for not telling him or some other boys in his class because he thought someone should come with me the whole day.) We went to a store to get a bottle of water and a snack first, which he tried to pay for, and then he sat with me until the dentist called me in.  As a strong independent woman, I certainly don’t need constant care or companionship, but these guys have been really attentive to me lately, and I’m beginning to accept it as a sign of love, not babying. Plus, it made the day more fun.

Jorsen sat with me, got a magazine for me to read and made sure I was comfortable while we waited for the dentist. Then he kept trying to play with the fish in the fish tank behind us.

Jorsen sat with me, got a magazine for me to read and made sure I was comfortable while we waited for the dentist. Then he kept trying to play with the fish in the fish tank behind us.

 

Shopping with my co-workers. Angus, from Australia, had only ever been to Walmart so I took him along one day when I went to a cheaper, local supermarket. He ended up buying packs of chocolate, steamed bread and slices cheese. He confessed he doesn’t own any cooking equipment, or even a cutting knife, so he just eats cheese on bread, or eats out. For those of you living in China you know how bad the cheese and bread here is, so the fact that he hasn’t keeled over and died from malnutrition is a surprise.

Hard to see but after I took out my fruits, vegetables and meat from the cart all that was left was Angus' bread, cheese and chocolate.

Hard to see but after I took out my fruits, vegetables and meat from the cart all that was left was Angus’ bread, cheese and chocolate. (And some cans of baked beans.) 

Dumpling lunch! My friends who live right above me often make homemade dumplings. I make fun of them because when they chop the pork filling I can hear them hammering away at the cutting board (the walls aren’t thin here, but something about chopping on a cutting board goes right through the whole place). Because they are nice, and because they know I can hear them, they sometimes invite me for dumplings too! Yummy.

Diana is master of delicious dumplings.

Diana is master of delicious dumplings.

Lunch with my friends. The good thing about going to Hangzhou for doctors appointments is I get to see my friends. Luckily there is an amazingly delicious restaurant right near where my bus is, so I get to spontaneously meet my friends for lunch. Double yum.

One of my favorite places to eat is called "lucky Kitchen' and is right near my bus.

One of my favorite places to eat is called “lucky Kitchen’ and is right near my bus.

Hanging out with my students. I used to treat my students as kind of a precious thing. Like, “professional Becky” in front of them, and “casual Becky” with my friends. But a few years back I took a group of students out to a club (and maybe got them a bit tipsy) I realized I didn’t need to separate the two parts of my personality with them. So now when we go out on the weekends there are almost always a few students or chinese friends with us. It helps that my current group of co-workers (my favorite group in the 5 years) also like hanging out with chinese people. (It might sound strange but often the foreign teacher create a tight clique and don’t go out with their students because they act a little too crazy. Or because they want to keep distance between themselves and their students.) So this year I’ve got to spend a lot of time hanging out with people, seen them a bit more than just “students” and have fun.

One day Blue, the monitor (or class leader) of a junior class came with us. As luck would have it, it was her birthday too!

One day Blue, the monitor (or class leader) of a junior class came with us. As luck would have it, it was her birthday too!

After a big test, my "boys" took me out to dinner before they left campus to find a job. Usually dinner with them is a crazy affair but faced with their future of impending graduation and job hunt, it was a more somber affair. But it wasn't all serious, as you can see from this pic.

After a big test, my “boys” took me out to dinner before they left campus to find a job. Usually dinner with them is a crazy affair but faced with their future of impending graduation and job hunt, it was a more somber affair. But it wasn’t all serious, as you can see from this pic.

 

My best friend Color! Not much to say here, just happy that we got to hang out during the recent 3-day tomb sweeping holiday. I feel lucky to have been able to see Color a lot recently since he is so busy working.

Color! He got to meet my co-workers for the first time. "What's Becky's deepest, darkest, secret?" they asked him. Sorry folks, Color ain't telling!

Color! He got to meet my co-workers for the first time. “What’s Becky’s deepest, darkest, secret?” they asked him. Sorry folks, Color ain’t telling!

I know people think living in China is crazy and exotic, and maybe for the first year it is. Everything is new and different. But now, it’s just daily life. But it’s a good daily life, so I’m not complaining.

 

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

You’re on Color! (Our new bet)

Color and I during the recent Qing Ming holiday.

Color and I during the recent Qing Ming holiday.

A few months ago, I said that my best friend Color won a bet we had started almost two years prior. (My punishment is going to be that I have to cook thai food for him. It could have been worse!)

A few years is a long time to continue a bet, but now we have another one that won’t be settled for 5 years. The bet? That I can’t read and understand a Chinese poem.

You see, weixin (WeChat), my favorite chat app, has a feature called ‘moments.’ It’s kind of like the wall of Facebook. You can put up a picture, write a little something, and all your friends can see it and like it or comment on it.

I’m getting pretty good at reading and understanding them (mostly written in Chinese) but for some reason I never understand what Color writes. Which is weird because we speak chinese to each other it’s not a problem. But when he writes these status updates I can never understand them.

His most recent update said: 忧卿烟火熏颜色, 欲觅仙人辟穀方。 While at this point I am familiar with a few thousand characters even I couldn’t read much of this. I recognized the words; color, smoking, place and I knew there was a god in there, or a magical being. I tried google translate without much success. (It translated it to: Emily worried fireworks smoke color, he who would search refraining fairy party. Reeeally good job google translate.)

So I gave up and asked him what it meant. He said it was a poem.

“Poems are hard,” I answered.

“Totally,” he replied. “You can never understand it.”

I said that someday I will, and he said “You can’t. Unless ten years study.”

Challenge accepted!

I’ve been here for 5 years, and while I’ve never dedicated myself solely to studying Chinese, I’ve been doing okay. And five years from now? Well, reading poetry shouldn’t be such a herculean task. But what kind of poetry? Over dinner we hashed out the details.

In the spring of 2019 Color will select a modern poem and I have to understand not every word, but the basic idea of it. 

The last bet wasn’t in my control. It was just a questionnaire kinda one. But this one is, and 5 years?! Easy-peasy.

 

Categories: China, Learning Chinese | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

And the Winner is……….

……not me.

So remember when I begged for you to vote for me in the Lotus Blossoms Award a few months ago. Well, the winner was announced and it was some other woman. (Ember Swift to be exact. She’s more than a blogger, but a rock star. How can I compete against a rock star?)

But the creator of the award said some nice things about me in the announcement video. (youtube video)

While I would have loved to win, a little birdie told me I didn’t do so bad. And seeing that I was up against some pretty heavy competition, I can’t complain.

So I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for reading and thanks for voting for me too. I really appreciate it.

Categories: China, Writing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

10 Signs You’ve Lived in China a Long Time

I’m fast approaching my five year anniversary in China and I find it almost laughable when people ask me if I’m accustomed to life in China. If I wasn’t I should just pack it in at this point! In fact, I take many aspects of life in China, once considered weird or annoying, for granted now. Here are 10 little ways life in China has changed me.

Squatty pottys are just toilets now

While I’ve heard the tales of some guys living in China for years and never using a squat toilet (They just hold their deuce till they get to their apartments which have a western toilet) girls are not so lucky. Even just to pee we need a toilet and most of the time, when your away from your house, you just can’t find a western toilet. At my school, it’s all squat toilets as well as at bus and train stations, fancy malls, most restaurants and even nice hospital. If I got squeamish about this I’d be squeamish a lot. On a related note, I always carry a pack of tissues with me, another thing a foreign women learns to do quickly. (No toilet paper provided!)

Just because I'm accustomed to it, does;t mean I always like it. While many squat toilets are fine, and clean, sometimes you get this trough style toilet. It's best to get as high "upstream" as you can with this style as other peoples poop and pee pass by on the way to the drain at the far end of the line.

Just because I’m accustomed to it, doesn’t mean I always like it. While many squat toilets are fine, and clean, sometimes you get this trough style toilet. It’s best to get as high “upstream” as you can with this style as other peoples poop and pee pass by on the way to the drain at the far end of the line.

You look at the weather report to figure out your laundry schedule

With dryers rarer than the Giant Panda, you are at the mercy of the weather to dry your laundry. If you ever make the mistake of washing your sheets on a less than perfectly sunny day, you might be going to bed wrapped only in a blanket. But the bonus for this extra work is having clothes smell fresh and “sunshiney.”

Almost all apartments in China have a balcony (less a luxury add-on, and more of a necessity) or the very least several pipes outside the windows for laundry. And I apparently have a thing for striped turtlenecks...who knew?

Almost all apartments in China have a balcony (less a luxury add-on, and more of a necessity) or the very least several pipes outside the windows for laundry. And I apparently have a thing for striped turtlenecks…who knew?

You no longer are annoyed when every restaurant serves you hot water, you actually enjoy it

Water is hot in china. You gotta get used to it. Summertime, wintertime, a million degrees or freezing cold outside it makes no difference. Traditional chinese belief says that hot water is a cure for everything, and “good for health” while cold water will make you sick as hell. In winter most coolers are turned off, the soda and drinks sitting inside at temperatures sometimes warmer than the outside winter air. As a frosty cold drink loving american, this has been the hardest to get used to. But I always bring a thermos cup with me because I know no matter where I am, train station, hospital, friends house, classroom, I can have access to hot water any time of the year.

You look both ways before crossing, and check the sidewalk, all while glued to your phone

The street is a chaotic mess of bikers, mopeds, pedestrians and drivers all going willy-nilly in all directions. Bike lanes, sidewalks, stopping in the middle of 3-lanes to get out is a common occurrence. So you gotta keep you eyes peeled, but at the same time,who has time to pay attention to thing?! I got my phone to check! Another little trick I picked up in China.

You dont bring wine to a friends house but a bag or oranges or other fruit

Fruit is not only a polite housewarming gift, but good for any situation. In fact, I’ve never seen a chinese person bring any other gift than fruit when they visit someones house. And when I have stayed at a someones home, they buy even MORE fruit to share with their guest. If you go to the hospital expect to be inundated; bags of oranges, apples, dragon fruit or whatever is in season. Make sure to share it.

This is about 2/3rds of my bounty during a recent hospital stay. I had eaten, and given away quite a bit before I took this picture. And all of it was given to me in only 2 days!

This is about 2/3rds of my bounty during a recent hospital stay. I had eaten, and given away quite a bit before I took this picture. And all of it was given to me in only 2 days!

You dont ask someones age, but what zodiac sign they are and calculate it yourself

Yes this includes doing some math, which is tricky, and knowing the order of the animals, also tricky, but you can guess a persons age that way and its a bit more polite than to just ask how old they are.

You eat things from two or three wheeled carts and dont worry about getting sick

In Thailand I offered some cut and bagged apples to a fellow traveler. He looked into the bag and said “do they use local water to wash those? I’d better not.” After all the things I eat in China, from the backs of carts with no water or electricity, from dirty restaurants and unclean food stalls, a little Thai water doesn’t scare me. In fact, nothing does. I must have the intestinal flora of a rock star.

Chicken sitting outside all day unrefrigerated? I'll take two!

Chicken sitting outside all day unrefrigerated? I’ll take two!

You dont pick up a call from an unfamiliar number unless they call 3 times

No voice mail in china. At first I thought this was insanity, how could an entire population not have voice mail?! And then I saw the brilliant genius behind it. I now no longer pick up the phone if I don’t recognize the caller. If it’s a telemarketer, they don’t call back. If it’s a real person they will call back 2-3 times if I don’t answer. So by the third time I know it’s a real person, not a seller, and I know they want to talk to me. Or I figure if someone wants to contact me they can text if I don’t pick up.

You can cook a 4 course meal only using one pan and one electric cooker

Kitchens are less than robust here in China. Most have just one electric cooker and no oven. I myself have a tiny toaster oven, which is called an “oven” but just one burner. I’ve seen a grandmas cook a 12 dish spring festival meal with just one cooker. Sure, the first dishes are cold by the time the final ones are done, but that’s just the way it goes (eating lukewarm food here is also not a problem.) As for myself, I made an entire Christmas dinner for 2 with just my toaster oven and cooker. And it was all hot when served. Quite proud.

This is how I get a meal out of one pot and one pan. The key is timing and knowing how long certain foods stay hot.

This is how I get a meal out of one pot and one pan. The key is timing and knowing how long certain foods stay hot.

Youve forgotten most english words more than 3 syllables long

Just last week I told a friend that he had to come over and watch a movie. I told him I’d invite our other friends, but even if they couldn’t come, he had to. “For you it’s mandatory. For them its……um…..” I couldn’t remember the word. I asked him for help. “What’s a word that means not mandatory?” We stood around stupid for a few moments and then parted ways. “Voluntary?” he texted me later. There it was.

Due to the long amount of time talking to non-native speakers, you tend to simplify your english. First intentionally, then automatically and soon all the big words disappear from your vocabulary. You notice it most during the first 6-months, but it slowly ebbs away as time goes by. Once me, and all of my foreign friends, couldn’t remember a word that we tried to think of for days. Eventually, I had to take it to facebook. (It was “seminal.”)

So that’s just some of the things off the top of my head. Truth is I think there are some things that I’m so used to that I forget that it’s just a chinese thing, and not done anywhere. And how about things I’ll never, ever get used to? Well that’s a post for another day.

How about you? Have you lived in China for a long time and just take things for granted now? Tell me what in the comments below.

Categories: China, Chinese Culture, Chinese Food | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Bloggers Unite! How Blogging Has Enhanced my Life in China

Bloggers Unite! Behind the Wall and Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker, together at last!

Bloggers Unite! Life Behind the Wall and Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker, together at last!

Last Saturday night found me surrounded by women from ages 20-mid-40′s. Mostly from America, mostly old China hands, mostly into Chinese guys (either married to or interested in), mostly African-American. We had come from different places in China, a few even traveling for 5 hours by high speed train to celebrate a birthday. We ate dinner at a Korean place and then partied 80′s style, with neon clothes and 99 luft ballons. It was the first time I had met them, and yet we chatted like old friends and I walked away a few sisters richer.

So how did I get an invite to this group? Thanks to my blog. The reason for the party, and the group in general is Jo Gan, blogger behind the award-winning Life Behind the Wall. Several years back, through our blogs, Jo and I started a kinda blogger friendship. When she moved to Hangzhou we chatted on Weixin. I helped her with a project for MTV (which my friend Jason had a small bit) and we talked, always promising to meet up.

Then she added me to another weixin group of other women in China (in different parts) and we have been chatting on a regular basis for months. Most of the time it’s just fun stuff, but we’ve helped each other through sickness, divorce, guy dramas and celebrated pending nuptials, new relationship and new babies.

But I had never met them. Until this week.

It was Jo’s *ahem* 21st birthday, and Jo doesn’t do anything small. It was the perfect excuse for almost all of us to get together for the weekend. Because I have to work on Saturdays I could only join them for dinner and the party, but I was so happy to finally be able to put names to faces, and voices to the texting we had been doing.

Jo was decked out in 80's neon glory.

Jo was decked out in 80′s neon glory.

And they were such an awesome group. Foreigners tend to be young or old, as most people try out china right after school, or after they retire. But in this group I was one of the younger ones but they were mostly from my generation, and it was awesome to be around people who knew my childhood pop culture references and could sing Prince not because of some retro admiration, but because they danced to it in the 80′s like me. A lot of them had grown kids (Jo has grandkids) so they had this maturity to them but at the same time had this total freedom and nonchalance about life. This is a very rare demographic in China.

To be around this group of kind, supportive, fun-as-hell women was just what the doctor ordered. And it is all thanks to blogging.

Of course blogging helps me in many ways: it gives me an outlet for my thoughts, a place to share my experience with others, a chance to do writing that other people read. But actually it has done a lot more.

Blogging has really enhanced my time in China and even my understanding. I’m just one person, with my own thoughts and experience, but through blogging I learn about so much more. When I went to Taiwan I got to spend the night with Niel (from Confused Laowai) and his girlfriend in Taipei, and someday when I go to Guangzhou I’ll hopefully meet Sara (from Living a Dream in China) and her new husband. And if Jocelyn (from Speaking of China) ever leaves her small village I’m hoping to meet her too.

Me and Niel sipping fancy people drinks together in Taipei.

Me and Niel sipping fancy people drinks together in Taipei.

But even if I don’t meet them face-to-face, we have struck up a digital friendship and we encourage each other. We’ve written on each others facebook, leave blog comments, and even have a Facebook group to pass info and ask each other for help. It’s awesome.

And I’ve made a lot of friends with non-bloggers as well. People who have read my blog and contacted me. I’ve made a lot of chinese friends not just in the country but outside as well. We might never meet, but just talking to them and getting to know them makes me understand China, and Chinese people in a way that I couldn’t otherwise.

I know some people who are reading this right now are in China, and have been thinking for a long time they have wanted to start a blog, but just “never got around to it.” Well, I want to encourage you to do it! There are a lot of added, offline, benefits to doing it. And I think the more voices that are heard the better. There is a lot of misunderstanding between the East and West, and people who are in the middle of these two cultures, like us expats, can add a tiny bit of understanding that might slowly add up to a waterfalls worth. Blog on, my friends!

Categories: China, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Getting Tricked by the Trickster

Wendy and Suchun got to meet a few of my current favorite students who are about to graduate. Seeing current and former students together makes me realize how long I've been teaching.

Wendy and Suchun got to meet a few of my current favorite students who are about to graduate. Seeing current and former students together makes me realize how long I’ve been teaching.

I’ve mentioned one of my former students Wendy several times on this blog. She is responsible for one of the best surprises I’ve ever helped pull off, and she’s even been to my hometown in America.

She loves surprises, and tricking people and despite knowing that, she finally got me.

The other day she contacted me on weixin and asked what I was doing. Every time I get a text saying “what are you doing?” from a former student it is always followed by “I’m back at school! Let’s hang out!”

So I texted back saying, “Uh-oh, is this one of those ‘I’m at school,’ surprises?”

She said no. She was home bored and just wondering. I said okay, and believed her. She told me her grandma was coming to her house soon, bringing some special tea and would I like some? I of course said yes and Wendy asked for my address.

I told her to just send it via express mail to the schools general address and I’ll pick it up (different companies have different drop off areas but now that I am a master Taobao shopper I know all the areas and companies.)

She said that a student, the assistant of Fairy, one her friends and one of my other former students, would be coming back to school the following day and could bring it to my house directly. “Door to door,” Wendy wrote.

Now, knowing Wendy I should have been suspicious. But I wasn’t because actually one of my students had recently told me that she interviewed to be an assistant for Fairy but didn’t have the time for the job. So hearing that another one of my students had gotten the job wasn’t surprising. “Is Fairy’s assistant one of my students?” I asked. Wendy said yes, but she didn’t know the girls english name.

So I told Wendy my address and wondered who the student was. “Guess I’ll find out tomorrow,” I said.

“She’s very pretty,” Wendy said.

So even when I heard a knock at my door I still wasn’t thinking about Wendy. Until I opened the door and saw Suchun, one of Wendy’s classmates standing there giggling like crazy. I started laughing, looked behind the door and there was Wendy. “Surprise!”

She tricked me. (“Wait,” I said later. “Does this mean I’m not getting any tea?” she laughed.)

This illustrates a bigger picture for me. There isn’t a month that goes by without receiving a “what are you doing?” text from a former student. Sometimes several times a month. Some by friends, like Wendy, who I chat with and see regularly. But sometimes by students I haven’t seen in years.

I ran into Simon when I went to do some writing in a coffee shop. He graduated a year before and now has a job where he gets to travel to Europe often.

I ran into Simon when I went to do some writing in a coffee shop. He graduated a year before and now has a job where he gets to travel to Europe often.

You see, most students come back to school eventually. They need things like a transcript, or a copy of a certificate or they just come back to relive memories. And I tend to get a call at some point and we hang out and catch up. It’s one of the best benefits of being at the same school for such a long time.

I got a "what are you doing?" text last one night which led to this BBQ.

I got a “what are you doing?” text last one night which led to this BBQ.

But I’ve decided I’ll change schools, and cities, next year so no more surprise visits. It’s a shame because even though these visits don’t come with a lot of warning (and I am almost always in the middle of something when the former students texts me), I still am really happy. I am finally seeing the joy of teaching and watching my students grow up from kids to adults. But wherever I am, my door will always be open to them.

When Fran and Christy came back, Fran picked me up in her fancy car. Not bad.

When Fran and Christy came back, Fran picked me up in her fancy car. Not bad.

 

 

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Chinese-Style Plumbing

The ever growing mold/water stain.

The ever growing mold/water stain.

About a year ago I complained about a small leak from my bathroom into the hallway. My bathroom is fine, the leak is in the wall, and despite numerous more complaints over the year, I was told it was “too difficult” to fix. I even has an engineering student check with his teacher about the safety of a water soaked concrete wall. “Teacher said it is okay,” was the report back.

Obviously, the leak hasn’t healed itself and it’s only gotten worse, especially as the cold weather hinders evaporation. I’ve gotten quite accustomed to the green slime and actually now use it as a marker. (“The door after the disgusting mold is where I live.”)

The water has soaked down to the floor below me, and began to pool so much on the landing that it dripped down the stairs to the level below. The pool on the landing was also so big there was no way to avoid it, and you’d have to get your shoe wet. Someone put a brick on the ground to use as a sort of stepping stone to keep your foot dry. That’s how bad it got.

Then out of the blue I get a bunch of phone calls and texts from the office. “Becky, the plumber needs to look at your apartment right away! Can you let him in?” I had several people come to my place, crowd into the bathroom, talk for a minute, and 24-hours later it was fixed. Yep, fixed.

But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. I stayed in my bedroom while two plumber I affectionally called Beavis and Butthead went to work. I poked my head out a few times and every time I did it was like watching a Laurel & Hardy skit. They had this comically long plastic pipe they were going to reroute my hot water with, and just watching them get it into my apartment was hilarious. They had to get it past the stairwell railing while trying to fit it into my door which included a lot of backing up, lifting it high, lifting it low.

At one point the main plumber left, and the other guy was just kinda walking around my apartment, back and forth. He got very quiet for awhile and I was about to go out and check on him when the sounds of snoring reached my ears.

There was also a lot of smashy-smashy sounds, which turned out to be my ceiling, and by the time they swept up and finished I had the craziest patchwork of pipes.

The pipe for my hot water now runs on the outside of the wall. It runs directly to my shower, and then takes a quick turn north.

The pipe for my hot water now runs on the outside of the wall. It runs directly to my shower, and then takes a quick turn north.

The new plastic pipe runs from my hot water tank to the shower. Then it shoots up and disappears through a smashed hole in my ceiling.

The new plastic pipe runs from my hot water tank to the shower. Then it shoots up and disappears through a smashed hole in my ceiling.

 

It then re-appears outside the toilet shower area to connect to my sink.

It then re-appears outside the toilet shower area to connect to my sink.

Instead of connecting directly to my sink, it has to go around the side of my counter because it is this gargantuan counter that is attached to the wall, a million pounds and totally unmovable. So they had to cut the long plastic pipe they brought and kinda jerry rig it to go around the table. There are so many joints and twists and turns this pipe takes I'm just waiting for the day it begins to leak.

Instead of connecting directly to my sink, it has to go around the side of my counter because it is this gargantuan counter that is attached to the wall, a million pounds and totally unmovable. So they had to cut the long plastic pipe they brought and kinda jerry rig it to go around the table. There are so many joints and twists and turns this pipe takes I’m just waiting for the day it begins to leak.

These buildings aren’t even that old, built just a few years before I arrived (not even 10 years old) and already most are crumbling. The building I teach in recently got a facelift as the entire facade crumbled off, and half of the foreign teachers have had their pipes re-done because of shoddy workmanship.

Things are jet not built to last here in China. Buildings go up and go down so quickly, they don’t take the time or spend for quality. And then you get crazy bathroom set-ups like this. I know this patch together pipe is going to begin leaking pretty soon. The good thing that this is my last semester here, so I figure it’s the next guys problem!

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Spending Time in a Chinese Hospital

In a chinese hospital. No one can avoid the doctor forever and with almost 5 years under my belt, I finally landed myself in a Chinese hospital.

Well, I guess I should say a hospital in China, as the one I went to was a western style hospital in Hangzhou. They had a high level of hygiene, nurse brought your food to you (though you had to bus your own plates), they had top notch equipment and some of the head doctors could speak English. (Though not many nurses could beyond  ’good morning.’)

So what was it like? Well, my first room was a triple, 3 beds, which actually meant a sextuplet room. That’s because in China the family is very, very involved. There is at least one family member who stays with the patient at every moment. All day and night long. In the smaller hospitals the family member is responsible for everything, getting food, changing sheets, giving medicine.

So my little room was much fuller than I expected. And much louder. They have a special fold out chair that becomes a bed at night so the family member can sleep next to the patient. And my female roommates had guys helping them. One woman had her adult son, the other her husband. And while I think it’s really nice the family is so involved and helpful, those two guys drove me nuts. The son snored so loudly all night long I could get no sleep (yes I had earplugs, no they did nothing) and the other guy hocked loogies in 5 minute intervals.

Meanwhile one of the sick women was having some sort of lung problem and coughed and then loudly brought up phlegm for about 5 minutes before she spit it into a bed pan which her son would empty into the toilet (and then not flush). This went on all hours of the night. Of course I had sympathy for these sick women, but less so when they started watching Beijing Opera on the TV at 7:30am. You know, the loud, screeching style singing? That’s Beijing opera. Culturally very cool. At 7:30am on a static TV? Not so cool.

In China privacy isn’t really a big thing, and being the only foreigner in the entire ward opened me up to a lot of stares and scrutiny. People would shuffle slowly by the room staring at me the whole time. Or just stop and watch me sitting in my bed. A few would even come in and ask my roommates about me (and my roommates would talk about me as if I couldn’t understand even though they knew I spoke Chinese.)

I feel like a bit of a snob, but I really couldn’t take it and after 3 days I changed to a VIP room. Now this place was more like it. Total privacy, a big nice bathroom, leather couch, thick wooden door that kept strangers at bay (they stared a bit through the window opening but not so bad). Not surprisingly the cost different was huge. The common room was $8 a night, the private room was a $100. But it was worth it.

My swank VIP room. It was like a Marriot hotel room, with Kohler bathroom appliance and a huge flat screen TV.

My swank VIP room. It was like a Marriot hotel room, with Kohler bathroom appliance and a huge flat screen TV.

As for the actual medical experience it was a lot like the west with a few changes. People don’t exactly have appointments. Instead inpatients and outpatients have to kind of fight to get the test they need. Like when I went to get a CT scan the nurse brought me to a check-in window where I was immediately stuck with a needle to add a line to my vein during the procedure. I was still wearing my normal clothes (jeans and a sweater).

The crowded hallways of in and outpatients vying for the tests. (And this a private hospital. The public "people's hospitals" have more patients (but aren't as good quality I think.)

The crowded hallways of in and outpatients vying for the tests. And this a private hospital. The public “people’s hospitals” have more patients (but aren’t as good quality I think.)

 

We waited outside this heavy, metal door and as it slowly started to slide open my nurse and about 5 other people rushed in all waving papers trying to be next. The doctor chose my nurse and kicked the others out. We weren’t in a waiting room, but the actual CT room, and they made me lie down, still fully clothed, on the table. They hooked up an IV, left the room, told me to hold my breath and in a few short minutes I was back out in the hallway and the doctor was choosing the next person from the small mob.

Once I had two tests lined up and one had a bit longer of a wait and the nurse was getting really anxious because she was afraid the doctor of the second test would go home. So we practically ran, me in hospital clothes with a needle in my hand, to get to the second test in time. No peaceful, quiet, calm tests. In almost every case the next patient was standing next to me the second I was done, impatiently waiting for me to leave so they could get their turn. A bit chaotic but maybe a good way to deal with the huge numbers of patients.

And you know how hospital food usually sucks? It’s really bad in China. The only time I ate a meal was one breakfast when they served me rice porridge. Now, rice porridge is a little like oatmeal in that if made right, it can be delicious. But, if you just pour some plain unflavored oatmeal in a bowl with a ton of water and no flavor, it’s not so good. Thats what this was. After that I decided food from outside was better. For the first couple of days they let me go out at night and after that my friends hooked me up.

One of the things I thought was better than the west was staff. In America the nurses and doctors always seem in short supply. When you ring the bell, or go out looking for a nurse, they are usually busy or harried, totally overworked. But here in China labor force is not a problem and there were also several nurses and aiyi’s ready to help you at a moments notice. Also, the doctors seemed to have less patients than in the west. Instead of the brief 3-minute consultation my doctor seemed less harried and more willing to spend time with me, talking to me and checking me out which I really appreciated.

Also, the truth is being in a hospital in a foreign country, where you only kinda speak the language, can be a scary thing. I checked into the hospital myself and felt incredibly overwhelmed because  I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just kinda walked where people pointed and did what they wanted me to do, not sure of the reason. Even when I had a friend with me to translate I didn’t totally understand what was going on, especially with more technical stuff like names of medicines. After one painful test I had 3 IV bags of different medicine and to combat the pain they gave me a “big drug.” (Morphine? I’ll never know.) So there is an element of huge trust when your in another country.

But my friends were amazing. The first night my friend Jason came to help me and he helped me understand what the doctors were saying (while my head doctor had great English I didn’t see her much and instead relied on younger doctors who’s english was not so perfect. As one examined me he said, “let me check your lips,” while going for my eyes.)

Since he lives in Hangzhou Jason came a few times to hang out.

Since he lives in Hangzhou Jason came a few times to hang out.

The boys of class 5 visited me and Lindy, on the left, stayed the night and took care of me the next day.

The boys of class 5 visited me and Lindy, on the left, stayed the night and took care of me the next day.

The boys from my other favorite class, class 6, came to hang out with me on Sunday.

The boys from my other favorite class, class 6, came to hang out with me on Sunday.

My “boys” (my favorite students) were also a great distraction. I wasn’t allowed to leave my bed so one day the boys from one class came to visit me and keep me company all day. (It took then 3 hours to get to the hospital because they got lost. It should have only taken 2.) Then one of the boys spent the night in a hotel and took care of me the next day bringing me breakfast, lunch and playing cards with me. Then, later in the day another group of boys from a different class came. They hung out chatting for awhile and then left to get me dinner.

One boy comes back with dinner and I ask where the other boys are. “They went back to school,” he said.

“What? Without you?” I asked.

“I’ll stay here and take care of you tonight,” he said.

It was so nice of him to offer, but Jason was coming back the next day so I told him to go home. They kept calling me and texting to make sure I was not only okay, but had someone to take care of me.

But the true hero of the week is my best friend Color. When I told him I was sick he immediately dropped everything and came to the hospital where he stayed for 4 days taking total charge. He took care of my bills, talked to the doctors, made sure that I was as comfortable as possible. During a MRI instead of the doctor saying “hold your breath,” they asked Color to do it. “Hold, Becky!” I’d hear while in the long tube. “Breath, Becky!” Theres no better way to make a test less nerve wracking than having your BFF’s voice in your ear.

Color talking to the head nurse while I was still in the triple room. While some nurses could speak a little english they really couldn't express themselves and preferred to talk to Color first.

Color talking to the head nurse while I was still in the triple room. While some nurses could speak a little english they really couldn’t express themselves and preferred to talk to Color first.

After one test I wasn’t allowed to move for 12 hours, not even lift me head or sit on my side. I was flat on my back, and Color helped me the whole time. When I was thirsty he opened a bottle of water and realized that if I tried to drink it horizontally it would splash on my face. So he took a big swig, looked at the bottle, took another swig and then apparently happy handed me the bottle. It didn’t splash on my face at all.

He also spoon fed me dinner while I was on my back. Patiently feeding me rice and corn with chopsticks, one tiny bite at a time. When something fell on my face he picked it up and threw it away. At night before he left he peeled an orange and put it withins arms reach, along with a bottle of water and a washed apple just in case I got hungry before he came back in the morning.

He never acted embarrassed, or annoyed or impatient. Just slowly and patiently he helped me when I needed it. He was even willing to help me use a bed pan, and told me that if I had to go pee, he’d help me. That’s where I, an American who considers going to the bathroom quite private, drew the line. I said if I needed to do it, the nurse could help me, but the simple fact that he was willing to do it means a lot.

During our downtime we played some rummy.

During our downtime we played some rummy.

And when he finally had to leave, to go to Beijing to work, he arranged for a student to take care of me, and gave the student his hotel room, and even slipped him 200rmb to pay for my food and other things. Color and I don’t get to see each other that often anymore, because of work and distance, but just to know he’d skip out on work, and come immediately when I need him helped me more than amy medicine could.

So overall the hospital was okay. I know my experience was better than most because of the hospital I chose. I have heard horror stories of some of the small, local hospitals who’s floors are caked with dirt, sheets are stained and doctors practice medieval medicine. But this place was clean, spotless and bright with the latest technology and up-to-date doctors. (I used my phone to kind of check the tests and they were doing everything the major medical websites from America recommended.)

As for my actual medical problem I don’t really want to talk about it here, but it’s okay now and my next hospital stay will hopefully be very far in the future, another 5 years at least. But now that I’ve done it, and lived to tell the tale, I’m less worried about it in the future. Even after 5 years there is something new for me to experience in China. Life here is never boring…..

 

 

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Food of Thailand

Fresh, fresh, fresh! That’s the only word I can use to describe Thai food. If you’ve ever eaten at a (good) Thai restaurant I think you’ll know what I’m talking about. But of course, in the native land the cuisine always tastes better. Simple pad thai cooked on the street by an old man was better than some of the nicest Thai restaurants I’ve been to in America.

In many ways Thai food is very similar to Chinese food. Noodles and rice are staples and they have many of the same vegetables.

But the way they use them is of course different. Chinese food tends to be a bit more salty and oily. Everything is cooked, even things like cabbage and cucumbers. But in Thailand there are last-minute additions to almost every dish so that you have some crunch of fresh, barely cooked veggies.

Thai food is very flavorful, a mix of sweet, savory, sour and spicy. In fact having all four flavors mixed together is a staple of Thai cuisine. But knowing that everyone likes their flavors just a tad differently, all restaurants and food stalls leave the exact mixture up to you. At each table, or counter, there will be 4 containers of ingredients.

Even in the most humblest of street stalls offers al the flavors. This food stall was in the middle of the road, and there were GIANT rats running around the sidewalk. But the noodles were cooked hot and fresh and the place had several locals eating there.) I was given a plate with cilantro, bean sprouts and a few lime wedges to add to my pad that. Also on the table were condiments to add.

Even in the most humblest of street stalls offers all the flavors. (This food stall was in the middle of the road, and there were GIANT rats running around the sidewalk. But the noodles were cooked hot and fresh and the place had several locals eating there.) I was given a plate with cilantro, bean sprouts and a few lime wedges to add to my pad thai. Also on the table were condiments (fish sauce, chilis, salt and something else–I’m not sure what it was) to add to get the flavor just right.

 

In China the main condiment of choice is soy sauce. But in Thailand there are two other common sauces instead of soy sauce: fish sauce and oyster sauce. Both are dark brown and tangy, but both also have slight sweet flavor.

I tend to prefer sweet over sour, and I was right at home in Thailand. In fact, in almost all things their sweet tooth put mine to shame. Especially with some of the deserts and lemon teas.

Thai cuisine is also heavily influenced by India, which is evident by the spices and curry. In a cooking class I actually learned to make my own curry. (From scratch!)

The fresh curry ingredients. We chopped all the spices and veggies into teeny, tiny pieces and then with a mortar and pestle smashed the chills and spices together until it made a smooth paste.

The fresh curry ingredients. We chopped all the spices and veggies into teeny, tiny pieces and then with a mortar and pestle smashed the chills and spices together until it made a smooth paste.

 

The final product. The four curries are red curry, green curry, massaman and Panang curry. Mine was the panang (the lightest red one) and had peanuts mixed in to lessen the spice.

The final product. The four curries are red, green, massaman and panang curry. Mine was the panang (the lightest red one) and had peanuts mixed in to lessen the spice.

Another surprising thing about Thailand was all the Carnation condensed milk tins I saw. Yeah, you read that right. Carnation. The red and white tins. It goes into everything! Coffee, tea, deserts. Kudos to Carnation for recognizing a willing market. In most countries places have Coke signs everywhere, but in Thailand it’s Carnation. You could spot all the tea/coffee places from a mile way because of their Carnation tin towers. But I’m not complaining. This is a vital ingredient to my beloved Thai iced tea.

Carnation tin tower

And I haven’t even talked about the street food yet. Succulent BBQ, dumplings, veggies, noodle soups and others. I think Taiwan still gets the Becky “Best street food in Asia” award, but Thailand is a close second.

Thai street food

Thai street food

This was some sort of popsicle making machines used on the street (with no electricity!). They would pour soda into these thin metal tubes (which were in a big bucket filled with ice), stick in a straw then swirl, swirl, swirl. Within a few minutes the soda would freeze onto the straw and you had a popsicle.

This was some sort of popsicle making machines used on the street (with no electricity!). They would pour soda into these thin metal tubes (which were in a big bucket filled with ice), stick in a straw then swirl, swirl, swirl. Within a few minutes the soda would freeze onto the straw and you had a popsicle.

I didn’t even talk about the amazing fresh fruit. Everywhere had vendors selling cut up apples, pineapple, melons, berries and more. You could buy a bag for about 50 cents. Or, for a buck you could get a fresh fruit smoothie. Fresh fruit, a little ice and water and a blender. (This was the one time vendors didn’t add sugar to something. Although, I think the water they used was sweetened slightly.)

A fruit drink vendor. The "fancy" fruits (aka strawberries, mango etc) was a dollar a cup, while the more common fruits (watermelon, apple, orange) was even cheaper.

A fruit drink vendor. The “fancy” fruits (aka strawberries, mango etc) was a dollar a cup, while the more common fruits (watermelon, apple, orange) was even cheaper.

Usually when I travel I end up eating a lot of western food that I can’t get in China. You know, pizza, burgers that kind of thing. But aside from a tex-mex meal and a few Krispy Kreme donuts I stayed away from western food. Thai food was just too good to pass up. I didn’t want to waste my stomach space on anything but fresh, local food.

More please!

More please!

Categories: Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment