Welcome (back) to America!

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I’m back in the US. With Alex. And it’s sort of surreal. In fact, it still feels like we’re just back visiting, although I’m sure that’ll change once I find a job. Usually I’m not jetlagged, but the first few days back, we slept away every single afternoon. So I’m giving myself a week to rest before getting more aggressive in my job search.

The process at customs was super anti-climatic. One big tip for people holding immigrant visas: there is a separate Immigrant Visas line at customs. Ask someone where it is once you get to Customs/Immigration. Also, apparently the American citizen can stand in that Immigrant Visa line with the immigrant to cross customs together. I wish I’d known before Alex and I separated into two different lines (Visitors/Foreigners and US Citizens/Green Card holders) and waited like 25 minutes each.

Anyway, so first the customs officer took Alex’s passport and his unopened packet (which you get from CITIC Bank once your passport is returned to you with the immigrant visa inside), and entered his info into the system. Then he “processed” him, which meant he had Alex sign some form, then stamped his fingerprint on the form, and then did some more stuff on the computer. Since I was there, he asked me the questions, which weren’t many. He asked “How long have you guys been married?” and “Is this address correct?” which was our home address in the US. In total, the process took about 20 minutes, which isn’t too long, but we’d already wasted time standing in the other lines, and we almost missed our connecting flight.

It’s nice to be back in the land of the free and the blue skies, but also a bit scary. So we’re going to take things one day at a time :)

The “2-Choice” Trick

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When I was in college, I used to eat out. A lot. Eating was a social event, and if I was going to eat lunch or dinner anyway, I might as well do it with a friend (or group of friends), right? The only problem was that it took FOREVER to decide where to eat. I don’t know if it was just that nobody wanted to be assertive, or that we just did not care what we ate. Though I don’t think the latter is true, because my friends and I enjoy good food. It was a constant cycle of “What do you want to eat?” “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?”

Enter my previous sales experience to solve this problem of indecisiveness. Something few people know about me is that for two summers after high school, I used to sell Cutco knives. As in, the best kitchen knives ever (okay, I’m a bit biased). It was such an invaluable experience. So I would call up my mom’s coworkers and friends to ask for an appointment to demonstrate the knives. One of the things I learned from my Cutco team was not to ask “When would be a good time for you?” but to give a choice of two different times. For example, “Are you free tomorrow at 10am, or would 11am work better for you?” That way, in the customer’s mind, the appointment is a sure thing, it’s just up to them what time to meet. Later in college when I got tired of nobody deciding where to eat, I realized I could apply the 2-choice trick.

I started asking people “Do you want to eat at Robertos or Aloha Sushi?” And amazingly, decisions were made SO MUCH FASTER. Before and even during college, I spent a lot of time trying to accommodate to everyone. But something I’ve learned is that it’s not always possible to cater to everyone, especially a big group. Sometimes you just have to make a decision that benefits the most people. So after four days of no coffee, I’m celebrating the realization of a new, more assertive me with a mocha latte. At least, that’s my excuse for this cup of coffee. Now I just need to think of one for my next cup…..

The Village Chronicles – Day 3

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7am – I wake up at the same time as Alex so I can attempt to exercise and go for a morning run with him. We’re only out and about for about 20 minutes, and it’s not as cold as I had anticipated. Nevertheless, that’s both the first and last time I go running with him.

8am – We walk about 6 minutes into the town square, where we have a traditional breakfast of chōng tàng 冲烫 at the morning market. Alex says it’s his village specialty. I would describe it as “meat soup,” as it’s basically thin strips of beef or lamb in a soup base filled with green onions and hot sauce. It was a bit heavy the first time I had it three years ago, but I’ve acquired a taste for it and am looking forward to the first chōng tàng of the year.

On the way to breakfast, we pass by relatives and neighbors, who greet us with a “You’re back! When did you come back?” in the local Henan dialect. As many times as I’ve been back to the village (about eight times), it’s still hard to remember who I’m related to by marriage and what to call them. In English, uncle is uncle, aunt is aunt, and cousin is cousin. In Chinese, there are different names for eldest uncle on father’s side, second-eldest uncle on mother’s side, youngest aunt on mother’s side, older cousin, younger cousin, and more. Traditionally, when you see a relative, you should greet them by their name. Additionally, Alex always has a pack of cigarettes when we go out. Not because he smokes, because he is one of few guys I know in China who doesn’t smoke, but because it’s customary to offer a cigarette to a male relative or friend when you see them. I don’t condone this, but I understand how it’s almost rude on his part not to offer one. China has so many people that it’s going to take years and years for some of these customs to change.

It’s kind of nice to come back to the village and have people recognize me as part of the community. Granted, I don’t think I could ever live here permanently, but it’s nice to have a home in China to come back to whenever we want.

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Ellen’s Oscar Selfie Most Retweeted Ever

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Times like this I wish I was back in the US. Because, if I had been, I would have obviously been a part of this EPIC selfie. AKA the most retweeted selfie ever.

I think one thing people would be surprised to learn about me is how obsessed I am with television and movie stars. Not in like a, sit outside their house for days without eating until I find the security breach and sneak in to watch them sleep, kind of way. But seriously, pictures like this remind us that celebrities are just normal people. I think that’s why I’ve got such a huge girl crush on Jennifer Lawrence. Because she’s so normal. She loves to eat, just like me. And just like me, she has also gotten hangry (hungry + angry) when there was supposed to be pizza but there wasn’t.

I would love to go The Ellen DeGeneres Show (there goes my random train of thought again). She’s my favorite comedian, and of the clips of the Oscars that I’ve seen (since I didn’t watch it live), it looks like she killed it. And the fact that she turned the Oscars into a giant pizza party pretty much affirms how awesome she is.

So to recap, my goals for the short-term future are: 1) Go to The Ellen DeGeneres Show and 2) Become best friends with A-listers like JLaw, Julia Roberts, and Bradley Cooper. Easy as [pizza] pie.

Welcome Aboard My Train of Random Thoughts

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I realized a long time ago that my train of thought is incredibly random. Additionally, I tend to have a problem with assuming people hear my thoughts. As in, I’ll think something, and then say something to somebody, but they get confused because they needed to hear the first part that I was thinking in order to understand the second part which I said aloud to them. If that makes sense.

Anyway, my train of thought becomes most random right before I sleep, when I can’t sleep. Last night was one of those nights. Maybe because I’d had a pretty strong coffee that morning and hadn’t had anything besides Nestle instant coffee in about a month.

Here was my train of thought. Try to follow it. Or don’t.

- The Walking Dead is such an awesome show.

- I love how nothing on the show is random.

- I can’t believe I didn’t notice that episode 10 was filmed out of sequence and Alex noticed.

- He ALWAYS notices things like that.

- I would make the worst detective. Even though I love detective shows.

- Like in high school, when Mom bought that huge plant for the living room and it took me like a week to notice it.

- Reminder to self: Google “How to be more observant” tomorrow.

- I should totally go live in Atlanta, Georgia because that’s where two of my favorite shows, The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries, are filmed.

- I would love to be friends with Nina Dobrev. But I’d love even more to be friends with Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder.

- Atlanta is like the new Hollywood. Except less superficial.

- How does one “become friends” with a star anyway? Unless you knew them before they were famous, isn’t everyone else just a fan to them?

- I think I’d really enjoy working “on set”.

- I love behind-the-scenes videos.

- Reminder to self: Watch the Hunger Games behind-the-scenes videos I saw briefly the other day.

- Jennifer Lawrence is so cool.

This went on for about an hour or so before I finally drifted off into sleep.

How Your Relationship Status Impacts Your Career Path

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FB statusWhen I was in the third grade, I learned how to play the recorder because the entire class was required to take recorder lessons. In the fourth grade, I decided to try the violin. I remember how proud I was of myself when I showed my music teacher how fast I could play Flight of the Bumblebee on my new instrument. The following year (fifth grade), I switched to the clarinet.

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The Village Chronicles – Day 2

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The courtyard of our home

The courtyard of our home

8am – Alex’s parents prepare breakfast for us. Breakfast is typically corn porridge, which is nice and warm, and some stir-fried vegetables. We eat a lot of cabbage, since they grow it themselves and it’s always on hand. It’s also incredibly fresh and incredibly sweet. A great combination. We eat our meal, as we eat practically every meal, outside in the courtyard on a short, square table. An assortment of different chairs and stools lie around the yard, and I grab one and sit down at the table. Since there isn’t central heating, I guess it’s about as cold outside as it is inside, so it doesn’t make much of a difference to eat at the taller dining table indoors.

8:30am - After breakfast, the hours before lunch are usually spent pacing around the courtyard. Partly as an effort to stay warm, and partly to pass the time. Alex spends this time chatting with his family. As I can only understand bits and pieces of their local dialect, I soon find myself tuning out. I’ve discovered that it is indeed possible for me to go hours without speaking, as is common when I am in the village. Particularly because nobody actually talks to me, just about me.

10am – In order to pass the time before lunch and stay warm, I’ve created a routine the past several visits to my in-laws’ home of having a morning coffee. I still have some leftover instant Nestle coffee from my visit in October, so I add some hot water and sit in the courtyard reading news on my phone.

12:30pm – Lunchtime. Another porridge (usually rice porridge) and stir-fried vegetables. Today’s stir-fry includes fresh cabbage and carrots.

5pm – Most of the afternoon is spent in the courtyard. I alternate between reading on my phone and pretend-boxing with Alex to stay warm. The weather is warmer than Beijing but still way too cold for my California-raised body. Luckily, the sun was out today, so I grab a chair and “sunbathe” in the 20-something degree Fahrenheit weather. It’s been a pretty low-key day, which is nice after a full day of traveling.

The solar-powered water heater on the roof

The solar-powered water heater on the roof

8pm – After dinner (more porridge and stir-fry), I get to shower off the dirt and grime from our previous day’s travels. Alex’s home was renovated before we got married, which is the custom, and there is a small building across the courtyard with a squat toilet and a big shower room. It’s a private bathroom, if I wasn’t clear. I remember my visits to the village before we got married and were blessed with a new home. The bathroom was also outdoors, but was more of an outhouse with no shower. It was literally a small brick building slightly taller than me with a bucket. Yep, just a bucket. I gained a lot of respect for village-folk like my in-laws who spent years dumping out their own waste. Oh, and the bucket apparently was for #1 only. I learned the hard way that there’s a separate place to take a crap.

Back to the present. It’s always a gamble whether or not we can shower here, especially in the winter. Something that’s super cool about village housing is that almost all the houses here use a solar-powered water heater. It’s this really big unit that sits on the roof and has multiple pipes lined up next to each other. It almost look like a musical instrument. For an area where most people don’t have internet or know how to use it, they’re surprisingly ahead of their time. The solar-powered water heater is used for the simplest reason, though: to save money on electricity. On a day like today, where the sky was clear and the sun shone brightly, the water reached 50 degrees, meaning the temperature was just right for us to shower in.

After my shower, I go inside and spend the rest of the evening watching some TV. I can’t understand a lot of what we’re watching, but I’m just grateful to be cuddling next to Alex under a blanket.

10pm – Just as in Beijing, by 10pm it’s lights out for us. I don’t know if it’s getting older, or being married, but I don’t mind if it means I get more sleep each night. Bedtime is the only time of day when I’m truly warm. Our bed is covered with two down quilts. When I snuggle into bed, my hands and feet are still icicles, but after about 15 minutes, I start to warm up and settle into a deep sleep.

The Village Chronicles – Day 1

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As an expat with a Chinese husband, I have the opportunity to spend extensive periods of time each year in my husband’s village, and it definitely gives me a unique perspective on living in China. So I decided to chronicle some of my days spent in the village. It’s not super eventful, but while each day seems to pass by pretty slowly, the time spent in the village goes by quickly. Here’s Day 1, with more to come next week when I return to the world of 24/7 internet (AKA Beijing):

The sleeper train where we spent the day

The sleeper train where we spent the day

4:30am - Alex and I wake up, double-check our luggage and make sure we didn’t leave anything behind. We’re on our way back to his village for a three-week stay for Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year. By 5am, we flag a taxi and head to the Beijing West train station.

7:20am - Our train leaves Beijing, headed for Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province. We were lucky to get tickets at all, as many are unable to purchase tickets. Train tickets can be purchased online 20 days in advance, but 20 days prior to our trip, tickets to Pingdingshan city (Alex’s hometown) were sold out by 8:30am. Fortunately, there are many trains, including the sleeper train we booked, to Zhengzhou.

12pm - I’ve spent the past several hours watching episodes of The Office, which I’ve saved on my computer. Daytime trains aren’t as convenient as night trains, where you can just go to sleep once you get on, and arrive at your destination by the time you wake up. Alex and I pass the time by watching TV, eating snacks (instant noodles for lunch thanks to the availability of hot water on the train) and chatting with our cabin neighbors, a couple also headed to Zhengzhou for Spring Festival.

4:20pm - We arrive in Zhengzhou, and on to the next leg of our trip. From the train station, we go upstairs to the long distance bus hall, and buy two tickets for the 5pm bus from Zhengzhou to Pingdingshan.

6pm - For reasons unknown except TIC (This Is China), our previously scheduled for 5pm bus doesn’t end up leaving until 6pm. Commence a two-hour ride to Pingdingshan city’s long distance bus station. There are several televisions on the bus, showing previous Spring Festival TV gala performances, but I can’t read the subtitles. So I pass the time reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on my phone.

8:15pm - We finally arrive in Pingdingshan – the city, that is. We still have the journey from the city to his village. Normally, we’d take a taxi from the long distance bus station to the number 29 bus stop, take the bus all the way to its final stop (about a 20-25 minute ride), and then Alex’s dad would pick us up in a 3-wheeled motor vehicle and take us the last 15 minutes of the way home. Fortunately, the last number 29 bus leaves at 7pm, so we just take a taxi from the long distance bus station straight to his front door. Convenient, but pricey at 80RMB for the trip (not the meter price, but the inflated Spring Festival fee as set by the driver).

9pm – By the time we get to Alex’s home, it’s nearly 9pm and I am starving. There is some leftover soup for us to eat. We each grab a bowl as we settle down with his parents, brother, sister, and sister’s baby in the small room his father sleeps in to watch some TV. It’s cozy, but also slightly amusing as I think about the giant living room just a few steps away with its comfy couch and 42” screen.

The Great Migration

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This past year, more and more of my expat friends have been leaving Beijing. I blame the smog. In the years since we’ve all been here, the pollution has gotten exponentially worse, if that’s even possible.

What I’m calling “The Great Migration” seems to have begun last year, with one friend moving away to Shanghai. Then another friend moved with her company to Shanghai and I found myself with one less coffee-drinking buddy. A few months later, a good guy friend of mine moved back to Hong Kong. He said the main reason was because of the pollution, but there was a girl in the picture, so….I know the real reason :P

Then there’s the friend who is going to travel for a month and then move to Shanghai (there seems to be a southward trend…), and another friend possibly going back to Australia in a couple of months. This past week, one of my good friends flew back to LA, leaving China “for good for now”, as I call it.

With expats, it’s hard to ever say you’re leaving a place for good. Or moving to someplace else for good. Not only have we all been bit by the travel bug, the little critter has entered our bloodstreams and won’t leave. And actually, when I think about college and high school, I realize I’ve always been a nomad. In high school, most of my friends were up in the Bay Area, so I’d drive up in the summer or winter to go see them. In college, I made pretty frequent trips to other schools in the state to visit friends. They all think it was because I missed them. The truth is that I was just restless staying in one place for too long.

Most of the people who have left Beijing have been here for an average of 4 years. I’m going on my 5th year (crazy!!), so I guess it’s about time for me to move on as well, hence Alex and my plans to move back to the US in May. Here’s hoping the adventures will continue no matter where we end up!

Welcome to life in transition

In case you haven’t noticed, I changed my blog header text from “welcome to life in Beijing” to “welcome to life in transition”. First of all, “life in Beijing” doesn’t apply anymore since I’m no longer living in Beijing. Secondly, I feel like my life is constantly in transition. But then again, isn’t everyone’s? After college, I spent some time in San Diego before moving home for a month, then moving to China for a year. Then back home for six months, then back to China for the next four years. And now I’m back in Socal. Job-hunting. Maybe it’s a sense of entitlement that I built up in Beijing, but this is taking far longer than I anticipated. Why isn’t every single company I apply to begging me for an interview? I can speak fluent English!

It’s a humbling experience, to say the least. Things are slowly settling into place, at least for my husband. He’s enrolled in free English classes for 6 weeks (yay America) and will probably move on the next level after he finishes this one. He’s also gotten his driver’s permit and I think he’s totally ready for his driver’s test :)

I’m not sure if he’s experiencing culture shock because we spend most of our time together at home, just like in Beijing. As for me, I find it’s hard to adjust to grocery shopping. Which sounds ridiculous, I know. But it’s a real [first-world] problem. There were so many things that I could never find easily in Beijing, like butter, granola, Greek yogurt, frozen fruit for smoothies, that I just gave up on finding them overseas. So when I go grocery shopping here, I find that I only look for the same things I bought in Beijing, like vegetables, milk, apples. It overwhelms me when I see how many different types of bacon there are. There are like twenty or more varieties! Not to mention if you go to places like Sprouts, there’s smoked applewood bacon in the butchered meat section. And there is a butchered meat section! In the same store as the vegetables, milk, and apples!

I don’t even look at my favorite cereals, like Honey Bunches of Oat with Almonds, because they only sold them in specialty imported goods stores in Beijing, and even then it was super expensive. So in my mind, this cereal is super expensive so I don’t think about buying it. Or buying steak at a regular grocery store. I wonder how long it’ll take for my mind to adjust.

In other news, it is lovely and sunny here and I can actually breathe!