Sunday, 10 June 2012

My first bad day in China

Everyone has bad days, so it wasn't a shock that one snuck up on me. I say this now, 2 days later, as I was emotionally and mentally exhausted immediately after the events that took place. I don't want to get ahead of myself, so let me start from the beginning....
First of all, you should know that I am alone in a hotel with a 4 year old and a 6 year old from 7am-6pm each weekday. To save all of us from cabin fever, I make it a mission to go on some sort of adventures at least 3 days out of the week. This may just be going to a nearby arcade, visitting with friends, or some stupid idea, like planning a day at the zoo. I personally love zoos and have been anticipating having one in town since we started looking into living in Shenyang. I was prepared for a long day, backpack full of picnic foods and bottled water, super excited kids and myself, and my fancy book of tourist spots to communicate with my driver on where I wanted to go. We had our driver pick us up at 9am, and we were loaded up, ready to go.
The traffic at 9am is pretty overwhelming. Kan Jian, our driver, keeps looking at the page I showed him with the zoo info on it and then back at his phone. After about 10 minutes of driving, he hands me his phone that translates, and it says, "Zoo to be removed. No zoo."   Uhhhh.. what?!?! Ok, this is not good. I'm hurridly going through my 2 flip card books and a binder of places trying to find a replacement for where we should go to.. Kan pulls over and is translating on his phone as the kids in the back sense something wrong and are asking a million questions. Kan hands me his translated message and it says, "I know a different zoo. ok?" Relief rushes through me. Ahhh.. yes, yes. The other zoo is fine. I really don't care what the zoo is called as long as there are animals and we can enjoy the day outside. I quickly relax back into my chair and reassure the kids that all is well and we will be going to a different zoo, but still going to have fun. About 20 minutes later, Kan hands me his phone again. Traffic has been crazy and he's been trying to type out this message for awhile now. I read it. "Zoo not have animals. ok?' Uhhh.. what??! What's a zoo without animals? Wait a minute; no no no. No, I dont want a zoo without animals. I want animals. I am once again stressing as I am trying to type this into my phone to translate this to him as he drives further towards this animal-less zoo. What do I tell him? Go back to the hotel? The kids have a keen sense of my anxiety. I make a mental note to get them tvs in the car so they can stop watching me all the time. They ask a million concerned questions. I have Kan pull over and tell him that I want animals. If no, animals, then fish. I show him a card for an aquarium. Yes, yes, this will do. We will just go to an underwater "zoo", I tell myself and the two eager children behind me. Kan takes the card, does some swift drawing on his GPS, and we are on the road again. I turn up the music on my iphone and allow myself to tune out for a bit. Man, this day is not going as planned. Already 35 minutes into the drive and we are just now heading to our destination. I silently pray for no emergency bathroom breaks any other things to hold us up.
I'm feeling better after about 15 minutes and start to look out the window. We are pretty much in the same place we were 15 minutes ago. What is going on? Kan is fighting with his GPS, looking at the card I gave him, and shaking his head. Oh my gosh!!! Will this EVER end?!? I am about to cry as I hear the concerned little voices in the back.
I start hastily flipping through my cards. I will just keep showing him cards until one is a YES. We are almost an hour into this trip and I am going to feel terrible if I tell him to just turn around and go back to our hotel. Finally, the next card I show him is a winner. He says, "Ok. Ok." Just like he does when he really understands where we want to go, AND he knows how to get there AND the place has not been "removed". He drives for a bit, much more determined and no more turn arounds, and then we are on the highway. Ok. This is better. I look at the card I gave him. I need to verify what I have just pointed to; It says Shenyang Ocean World. Hmmm... thats an aquarium, isn't it? I'm sure it is. He sees us all fully clothed- surely he would say something if it were a swimming place. Unless he sees my backpack of picnic food and thinks I have swimwear in there. Hmmmm. I text him "aquarium?", and he says yes. I'm praying google tranlate correctly translated that and it doesnt say "pool" in mandarin. I'm a nervous wreck as we drive for about an hour. Kan texts me "we should start earlier. this place takes all day." I think, all day to get there? to be there? I wish I could speak to him and know what I was getting us into. As I quietly stress out and feel a few hairs turn grey, I try to stupify myself so the kids dont pick up on my stress. Apparently his GPS gives bad directions and we end up on a dirt road in the middle of no where. I all of a sudden panic. I want out of the car. I am passed my limit on retaining my concerns. I call Jan, my go-to pal who I know will have the answer. I had been texting her throughout the morning, venting to her about my plans going wrong... She gives me her driver's phone number. He knows where the aquarium is and he can tell Kan. Just as I am typing into my phone translator for him to call this guy, we both see a sign for OCEAN WORLD. I think it was 16 km away. Whew! Relief washes over me,.. and Kan... I could tell he was getting frustrated with his GPS. I am excited we are close and all is going to be okay. As we get closer, there are vendors on the side of the highway selling things... I see drinks, food, toys.. Floaty rings.. WHAT?!?! Then Bathing suit, bathing suits, bathings suits. Oh no!!! This place IS a water park! 2 hours have passed since we got in the car and we are at a WATER PARK. No freakin' way! I start saying "No! No! No!" as I do my best impression of swimming, charades style. I'm holding back tears and evil laughter. What am I going to do, and what am I going to tell the kids? Kan pulls over and gets out of the car. He walks to one of the vendors and comes back. He types in his translator and it says "They have puffer fish."  I am emotional and mentally exhausted. The kids wanna see animals, I talked them into ocean animals, and now it might just be ONE ocean animal. We've driven all this way. Ok. Let's just go to it.
We park and walk up to the huge entrance. This is a major theme park, with major theme park prices. Our admission is 170 RMB/person, which s about $30 USD. Ouch! Way more than I had planned to spend today. Luckily Owen got in at a discount or maybe he was free. I don't remember. I was so flustered it's hard to recollect the details. I asked our driver to join us, but he kept saying No, he'd be in the car. I don't know if he didn't want to go, like he wouldn't enjoy it, or he wasn't comfortable with me paying for his admission, since that is a LOT of money to him. Regardless, it was just me and the two kids trying to read Mandarin symbols to figure out where to go and what exactly I just paid for. We managed to find the squatting holes, so that was a relief right from the start. We found our way to an entrance to some big attraction indoors. I prayed this was where we wanted to be going as I handed our tickets to the lady. We went through a hallway and there, before us were sea lions,  walruses, and even a polar bear (although it seemed lifeless as it laid on it's back with no rise or fall of its chest). Despite the dreary polar bear exhibit, I'm feeling much more relieved that we ended up where we wanted to be (well, kinda). We enjoy the exhibits as we venture through, and we have our picture taken a lot by people passing by. There was an older man with a video camera documenting us Americans, which was no big deal... at first. He had a bright light shining on us, which was very distracting as the walkways are very dark, only lighting up where there's another glass window to other exhibits are. After about 20 minutes of him pointing this camera in our face, I finally told him "No No" and turned my back to him and blocked the kids. I was seeing spots from that flippin' light in my face and this guy was not giving up. He followed us for about another 10 minutes until I glared at him and shouted NO!!!! He finally got the message and left us alone. I don't mind having our pictures taken, or being friendly with the people here. I think it's somewhat amusing, and Aaron and I want to portray Americans as being nice and friendly. However, this was insane and annoying. You have to set your limits and stick with them. The rest of the exhibit was really nice. Very neat and I'm glad we ended up there after all (I'm still telling myself this). After a two hour tour, the kids and I ventured back out into the sunshine. There were amazing rides surrounding us and they really wanted to do some rides. I walked by some of them, watching to see how people were getting on. Do they have a bracelet on? Are all the rides free once you pay admission into the place. After about 20 minutes of me trying to figure this out, and even attempting to ask someone, I found myself overwhelmed and frustrated again. I talked the kids into giving it a try on another day, and I was so thankful they didn't put up a fight about it. As we exitted, a man approached me. He was talking to me and trying to hand me car keys. Uh... what is going on?!?! I told him that I dont understand him ("Wo bu gi dow") but he kept blocking my path and forcing these keys at me.  He started yelling who knows what at me, so I yelled NO NO NO! to him It took me about 3 or 4 minutes to get away from him and the kids were starting to get scared. We made it back to Kan, and I was relieved and ready to go home. Kan looked confused that we were back already, then got out his translator and says that I paid for 2 attractions, so we could go back in and find something else. I messaged him back that I didn't know because there was no english- just mandarin, and I don't want to go back in today. I asked him that next time he comes with, and he said "ok ok". He took us back to our hotel, and I refused to leave for the rest of the day.
 I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted just thinking about that day. It is so hard to not be able to communicate. When I get stressed out, I can't focus and remember the few things I know how to say. My hands get sweaty, my eye  twitches, and I feel out of control. The squatting holes are not that bad, the stinky smell outside- I can live with, and being on the otherside of the planet is really overwhelming, but it's okay. I can handle that. This language barrier makes me crazy, though. I look forward to getting into our apartment, and starting lessons again. I refuse to be overwhelmed and anxious for 4 years. I want to enjoy all that China has to offer, and I need to be better at mandarin to do that.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

We live in China. Is this real life?

We've been in China for 2 weeks, and although I'm "just" a stay-at-home mom, this is my first opportunity to update my blog. I am mentally overwhelmed by the world outside my window, but I think we are doing a fine job of embracing the path our lives have taken. Madilynn, my beautiful 6 year old, has asked me multiple times, "Is this real life?' I'm sure to a 6 year-old this whole new world is more than she can fathom as being real. As a 27 year-old sufficiently educated woman, I am also sometimes asking myself if this life I am living really does exist. I must first acknowledge that we are doing well, thriving, and enjoying our time here. I make this statement to clear the air and allow my father to relax while thinking of his baby girl so far away. As much as I hope that he finds comfort in our well-being, I'm sure he's reaching for a Marlboro Red at just the thought of me out in this big, big foreign land. Madilynn and Owen seem to enjoy being here in China. They make comments of missing friends and family, to which I just agree with them that my heart aches for those people, too. I remind them that this is a gift for us to travel the world and meet new people that will touch our hearts, as we will touch theirs. As much as I wished we spent 10 months in sunny South Carolina instead of rainy Nova Scotia, I am thankful for God taking us where we were meant to be. What a beautiful place we got to see and what great lifelong friends we made. As scared and nervous as starting all over makes us, it's just the beginning to another great part of our story.
We found an apartment, but have another 2 weeks until its ready. Till then we are enjoying the plush pad Michelin has set us up in. Somerset serviced apartments is lavish and comfortable; very modern and spacious and suitable for a family of 4 to spend a month living in. If the suroundings were more children-friendly and this was closer to the school, it would be a definite possibility to live here. However, the smell outside is not very welcoming. Initially, I tried to think of how to describe the stench, and was only capable of describing it as a mob of people with food-poisoning crop dusting in front of you, in every path you take. If you try to get out of the line of fire, it only hits you double time in a neighboring air pocket. After further thought, I have come up with a more specific description. I would say it smells like mildewed water in a vase of rotting flowers with a few bursts of sewer. It doesnt smell like this everywhere outside, but it is a very popular smell on our walk to any of the nearby shopping plazas or dining establishments.  This smell, along with the constant grey sky, makes me homesick for clear blue skies and the smell of corn fields and freshly mowed grass. If anyone can bottle that smell for me and send it this way, I'd appreciate it. I know we plan to come home around Christmas, but just the thought of grass, corn fields, and grilling out makes me wanna delay our visit till a warmer time. Thats just a thought- I'm not cancelling our winter plans; we will make our trip home as soon as we can. Dad, put down the Marlboros. :)  
Since we have been here, we have met some great people, had a ton of fun at neat places, and eaten some awesome authentic chinese food. I will post pictures and details of all those memorable experiences as soon as I can, so stay tuned. :)

Sunday, 13 May 2012

My first blog.... packing, sorting, and freaking out a bit...

Crazy! That's how I describe the feeling right now. We have known about our upcoming move to China for about 18 months, but now that it's actually happening, it's a little overwhelming. I had a dream a few months ago that I was walking the streets of Shenyang and trying to find my way back to our hotel. Once inside the grand building that I thought was our hotel, I couldn't locate our room. I was completely lost and couldn't find anyone that could speak english. I have thought about that dream a lot this past week. I am contemplating using a permanent marker to write my chinese address onto my forearm just incase this scenario actually happens. I am also paranoid about losing the kids amongst the sea of people we will be surrounded by; they will probably get our address written on their arms too.
 We were told we were way over our allowed shipment, so Aaron and I have spent the past week going through everything AGAIN and making sure we are discarding anything and everything that we absolutely dont want or need. We've gone through clothing, paperwork, toys, books, junk drawers, etc.. ridding anything that isnt necessary to take with. Its been quite the process. We are not allowed to ship any food/nutritional items, liquids, aerosals, or batteries; all those things go in our luggage or stay here in nova scotia. I'm ready to just get packed and go, as it means this annoying process will be over with. My eagerness to get going is met with the sadness of the reality of the friends we leave behind. It was difficult saying goodbye to family and friends back home in Indiana, but its a different sadness when you say goodbye to someone knowing you will probably never meet again. We have met some amazing people here that will be near to our hearts forever. Another thing swaying my eagerness is the long journey to get to the opposite side of the planet. We will be travelling for roughly 36 hours; 40 hours if we include drive times/customs. Apparently other people have done this before and survived, so I'm hoping we can make it as a family. I have been emphasizing to the kids how important it is for them to listen, hold hands, and pay attention on our trip. I'm sure I will be bribing them for their continued participation. Our last time travelling Owen decided to take a seat on the escalator about 4 seconds from the bottom... bags were thrown and chaos broke out as i threw him out of the way before we were all trampled by the 100 other people packed on the escalator behind us. Fond memories like those make my stomach churn as I think of what lies ahead for us.
Madilynn is sad to leave her friends at school, but looking forward to the excitement of living in China. She has been doing great at school and her teacher said she should be just fine with leaving school 5 weeks early.Her class is having a party for her on Friday; she's super pumped!  Owen cannot wait to get to China. He wants to go to school like his big sister; he knows China is where his school is at, so he's ready. What an exciting life these kids live! Owen is not yet 5, but will have lived in 3 different countries.
 Just threw out all my spices, which was heart wrenching. Our meal times are dissapointing, as I'm trying to use up our grocery supply, so its odds and ends that have been hiding in the freezer and cupboards for months. It's extra difficult to force foods we don't care for, especially since we know it will be months before we can get our favorite foods again. I cant wait to take pictures and share with you all the random weird foods we find there. I saw someone posted dried pork flavored dunkin donuts. I told Owen they had hotdog donuts in China and this boy is pumped to try them! hahaha. That will definitely be documented, I promise! :) Thanks for reading my first blog. I hope to get better at this soon. love to you all!