Sunday, November 20, 2016

You're calling yesterday...

One of my coworkers got a cake for me and another coworker
with birthdays really close together. The cake came with the
candles, but the last two letters were hidden inside the box.
When we opened it we saw that it said "happy birthdaa"
instead of birthday.
Yesterday was my birthday. Yesterday is also sort of right now. As I type my Facebook feed is filling with birthday wishes. Here, in China, it is about 10:30 in the morning, the day after my birthday. On the East Coast it is 9:30 in the evening the day of my birthday. In Alaska it is only 5:30 in the evening the day of my birthday. According to my dad, I can't even celebrate my birthday until 5:03 pm tonight here in China, because he says that you can't celebrate until the time that you were born and you have to adjust for time zone changes (I tell him that's hogwash). I was born at 11:03 pm in a time zone that most of Alaska is no longer even in (only the aleutians and Hawaii are in that time zone).
My birthday started on a slightly sour note. I woke up and reached for my phone to check my email, the weather and the pollution (yes, I check the pollution levels when I wake up). I pushed the home button on my iPhone and nothing happened. I tried again. The screen stayed dark. I tried pushing the power button. Nothing happened. I checked that there was power coming through the charger, by plugging in another device. I tried charging it using another cable and another plug. Nothing. Now, I'm getting concerned. I have plans that involve meeting up with people. I can send them messages from my iPad, but once I leave the house
Chinese birthday cakes are a little different from back home,
but the friend who procured this one worked really
hard to find something similar to what we would find
at home and it was fantastic!
 (and subsequently my wifi) I cannot reach them. I must admit I was a little surprised by how panicked I was. I not only remember the world before cell phones, but I lived in China (and Germany) before cell phones were ubiquitous and before smart phones existed. I tried to do an online chat with Apple support, but they want my IMEI number which I can't look up because I can't turn on my phone. They give me the option to log in with my Apple ID and I do, but then I'm faced with a second level of verification. They tell me that they have sent a verification code to my trusted devices, but I didn't get it. I google how to get a verification code and learn that I can do it even with a device that is offline. Following directions, I try to get a code, but it won't let me because I apparently have not set it up previously and so it sends a verification code via text message to the phone that of course is not working. I do not have another cell phone that will work with my Chinese nanosim card. I cannot receive a text message, I cannot make a call, but I am growing frustrated. The Apple store will open at 10 and I'm thinking of going there, but then I'm afraid I'll be late for church and without a working phone I won't be able to message anyone. I then realize I can use Skype to call Apple Support. So I call Apple Support in the US from Skype. When the representative answers the phone he asks for my name and then a call back number. I replied, "I'd love to be able to give you a call back number, but I'm calling from Skype because my phone won't work." He understood and we proceeded. As I'm explaining what happened, I realize I don't make a whole lot of sense. He's in the U.S. where it is evening and I'm talking about having just woken up this morning. So, I told him I was in China, but I'm not sure if he didn't catch that part at all or if he just didn't realize the implications of that statement. Thankfully, he successfully helped me do a hard re-start of my phone and it works just fine. At the end of the call he needs a phone number. I tell him its country code 86 and then the rest of the number. He's like, "What was the area code?" I said, "there's no area code, but the country code is 86 because I am in China. My U.S. iTunes account is registered with my Chinese cell phone number." He figured it out and it was all good, but as often happens when I call these customer service places, my unusual situation leads to several questions (and I'm sure a lot of talking about my call after they go home from work - or probably even while they're at work). So after a minute he says, "so you're calling yesterday." I laughed and replied, "Yes and you're talking to tomorrow."

The food was sooo good!
Luckily all that happened quick enough for me to shower and still leave for church nearly on time (altogether the ordeal took about 1.5 hours, but I'm an early riser). That afternoon I had lunch at a 春饼 (chun bing) restaurant with some friends. Chun bing is kind of like the Chinese version of a soft taco and one of my favorite foods. It's not very common in China, but when I lived in Baotou there was a chun bing restaurant just down the street from me, so its something I use to eat a lot, but hadn't had in years. We were really impressed we found the restaurant via a Baidu search (not only is Google blocked in China, but even before it was blocked the most common search engine in China was Baidu) and it turned out to be really awesome. The food was both really good and also quick, the service was good and the place was clean. We plan to go back again.
Then yesterday evening as I was going to bed I started to get Happy birthday messages (in all fairness I had a few friends who are either in non-US time zones our made an effort to send the message on my actual birthday where I was). I went to bed at the end of my birthday with the messages rolling in. I woke up this morning to a bunch or waiting messages (and a couple of adorable videos).
It's very interesting, this isn't my first year living overseas, but it is my first time since the advent of social media. When I lived in Germany I was pretty cut off from things back home. I would talk to my family on the phone once every 2-3 weeks and would get letters from family and friends, but that was pretty much it. My second host family had Internet and my family had CompuServe and so I learned how to send email to them on CompuServe from the Internet (first time I sent an email using @), but otherwise I was cut off. When I lived in China before there was Internet (although the first 1.5 years I only had dial-up), and while I was living in China I think MySpace may have been created, but there wasn't the large social media presence one finds today. I chatted with some friends and family using Instant Messenger and my parents called me most every week, but that was about it. When I would come home in the summers one of my favorite things to do was to watch commercials because that would give me good insight into how a lot of things had changed.
Today, things are very different. I know what's going on in my friends lives via Facebook (the same method I used for a lot of people even when I was in the States), I chat via WeChat with some of my family and friends (including voice calls), which is the same way I chat with most of my friends here in China and I even stream a lot of the same videos. Personally, I'm excited that the 3 am EST release of the Gilmore on Friday. The timing will be perfect for me because that is 4pm on Friday and I get off work at 4 pm.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Observations from abroad on U.S. elections

As I write this it is Wednesday night November 9th here in China. It has been a very interesting day because with the time difference today was the day that the United States voted. This is only my fourth year living overseas, but it just so happens to be the third U.S. presidential election I have experienced from overseas. Living in a foreign country during a presidential election is a unique experience that I felt warranted a post. This post is going to be on my observations of how people abroad perceive the U.S. elections. It is not about politics. I have never stated my political beliefs online and I do not plan for that to change.

The first presidential election I experienced from overseas was the last one I could not vote in.  In 1996 I was 15 days too young to vote (a number I calculated years before the election, because that’s just the kind of person I’ve always been). However, even as a not quite 18 year-old, I was intrigued by how interested people of other countries were about U.S. elections. My school asked me to speak to the 12th grade class and explain how the elections in the U.S. worked. A lot of people were curious because elections in the United States work very differently than elections in most other places (not only because of things like the electoral college, but also because you are voting for an individual rather than a party). There were a number of people who asked me questions about the election, but
they were simply questions on how the system worked. The media covered the election in what to me at the time felt like great detail (but is nothing in comparison to what happens today), but it really wasn't that big of a deal.
My next experience with living overseas during a presidential election was in 2004. In 2004 I was old enough to vote so it was a more personal experience. I had to plan far in advance and request an absentee ballot to arrive by mail and then mail it back in in plenty of time for it to be received. I remember being excited to cast my first ballot and I had a few Chinese people who asked me about the election. China is not a free country, but I learned that they do have elections of sorts. I was also informed by my friends back then that they had no choice, but to vote and that they were given a list of names that they knew nothing about to chose from. The other interesting (but not surprising) thing about the elections in China is that they are not done by secret ballot. During this election there was some interest and curiosity amongst my Chinese friends and like the 1996 election it was a little surprising at how interested the rest of the world was in the election. I still remember after Bush was re-elected seeing the headlines from the British papers and being surprised at just how much the rest of the world cares about the U.S. elections.
Fast-forward now to 2016. This summer I was in Europe just after Brexit and during the national conventions. The two topics that people wanted to talk about were Brexit and the upcoming U.S. election. I wasn’t as surprised by how interested people were because not only had I already experienced it with two previous elections overseas, but I could see how interested I was in Brexit and how much I wanted to talk about it with the various Britons I met during my travels. However, none of this prepared me for today. 
Yesterday was November 8th and to me this was the important day because even though we are 13 hours ahead of the east coast, November 8th in my mind was election day. Yesterday I downloaded the I voted “sticker” that I’ve included on this blog (and tried, but failed at posting it to Facebook). Yesterday, in my mind was the important day. Yesterday, had some questions. I had a couple of co-workers from South Africa who were asking me questions about the election (I refused to give my opinion on who I though would win or who I was voting for). They were especially intrigued about the fact that you could write-in a candidate. I learned from them that apparently (this is hearsay after all) that in Australia you get fined for not voting and in South Africa a non-vote is counted as a vote for (I believe they said) the opposition. It was interesting because this information came after they asked me what would happen if I didn’t vote. I wasn’t sure how to answer the question and was like, “then I don’t vote…” Yesterday, was an interesting, but not all that surprising a day...
 I don't think anything could have prepared me for today. The world has changed a lot since 2004. One of the greatest changes is social media. Because of social media I have a better feel for what is going on back home than I ever had before. Another change is live-streaming. Right before I left China in 2005 I tried to stream my first video ever (it was a movie trailer). The Internet speed was too slow to actually see anything in the video. Today, you can easily watch live updates and stream video commentary (although from China that can still be a touch difficult) and with the time difference lunch time (noon) was right when most of the west coast polls were closing. 
My morning was lived in a state of normalcy. My afternoon was not. I got to school and spent a little longer on breakfast than I had planned to because my Chinese co-workers were asking me questions about the election. One of the questions they asked me was who I voted for. I explained to them that we vote by secret ballot and that oftentimes we don't tell people who we voted for (possibly not even our families). They then told me similar stories to what I had heard in 2004. One of my coworkers told me the only time she had ever voted was in college and the teacher handout the ballot and told the students which name to pick. She told me she was sure that the teacher was just passing on the instructions that had been given to her and that the election had no meaning to her. My other coworkers agreed.
I left breakfast and figured I was done with election talk. I taught my morning Chemistry classes, graded papers for a while and then went to lunch. As I mentioned above, noon was when the west coast polls closed and I quickly realized two things 1) my international co-workers were watching the election results very carefully and 2) they felt a vested interest in the election. Throughout lunch every time a state was projected to be won by either Trump of Hillary you would hear cheers or sighs (I'll let you guess which way the thoughts were going). I got asked quite a few questions about how the electoral college and other related things worked. After I explained several aspects to one co-worker his response was, "now I understand so much more about what I've seen in American television programs."
The most interesting part though was how frustrated my International (read non-Chinese and in this case non-American) co-workers felt. They were frustrated because I think they feel just as strongly as Americans do about the results of the election (they feel that what happens in America greatly effects them, and I think they are probably right), but also feel helpless because they don't have a voice.
On Wednesdays we have staff meetings and the first thing that happened in the staff meeting is one of my Chinese coworkers sat down beside me to show me a Chinese website that was calling Trump the winner (none of the U.S. media had done so yet). Throughout the meeting everyone was watching phones and computers to keep up with the results. While the principal was telling us about report cards and other typical things one of my co-workers informed him Trump had won. My principal is an American and he looked at the guy who said it and replied, "aren't you a Canadian?" (Knowing full well he was). As he said this another Canadian walked in to the room and he turned to her and said, and what update on the U.S. elections do you have for us. I have to admit with so much focus on the election I was glad to go home (not that my whole subway ride wasn't about politics - it was). Thus, being overseas doesn't in anyway limit how much the election is talked about or the strong feelings. I for one am at least glad it is now over. Hopefully, we can unite and end the divisiveness that I've seen of late.
One last side note. I mentioned in 2004, I applied for an absentee ballot that was mailed to me and then I mailed it back. This year, I could receive my ballot by mail and mail it back or I could receive my ballot electronically or by fax. In all three cases you had to complete a voter identity confirmation and have it witnessed by someone over 18 (I witnessed for a friend and had a fellow American colleague witness mine), then if you received it electronically you could mail it back in or return the ballot electronically (if you received it by mail or fax you HAD to mail he ballot back in)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Kristin (barely) makes it home from the China Open

So as I mentioned in my last post, my school is located within the National Tennis Center. Our school building is actually underneath most of the "ground" (it's not really ground because the school is located on the ground and what I'm talking about is actually the roof of the school) around the Lotus Court (The National Tennis Center has three courts. In order of increasing size and importance, they are Moon Court, Lotus Court, and Diamond Court.) Our school building is used once a year for the China Open. This of course, means we are closed during the China Open. It also means we get some free tickets to the tournament. The teachers got two tickets each to Moon Court, but I learned tonight that some people got tickets to the Diamond court (I learned this from a student I ran into in the Diamond Court who got apparently three free tickets from the school - yes, I'm a little jealous).
Since Moon Court is the smallest court I assumed (correctly I might add) that as the tournament progressed fewer and fewer matches would be held in Moon Court. Thus I chose October 5th and 6th for my tickets (I returned from Baotou on October 4th). On Wednesday I had a fantastic day. I arrived at Moon Court during the first set of the first match of the day. I watched three matches, two women's singles matches and one men's doubles match. The men's match was two Chinese players against Carreno Busta and Nadal.  It was an excellent match and I had a fantastic time. I decided not to stay for the final match because I was coming back the next day and I felt a little tennised out. Unfortunately, my trip home was quite a struggle. I live 3.5 miles from the National Tennis Center. There is however, no direct mode of public transportation. To get from my house to school (aka the National Tennis Center) you have to take line 13 and transfer to line 8. This means that you are taking a rather circuitorious route (and is also why I have plans to get a scooter). When I arrived at the subway station yesterday I found a surpise: line 13 was not running. I had to take line 5 down to line 15 and then to line 8 (except I forgot to get off at line 15 and so I went to stops further to line 10 - which is a shorter transfer, so I did the same thing on purpose today). When I went to leave the China Open yesterday, there were a bunch of people who taking line 8 south so I decided to go north. I thought maybe it had been temporary or I figured I could take a bus from Houying or something. Well, when I got to Houying there were some professional signs that I'm guessing were explaining about the closure. I can't read Chinese very well and after reading the name of my stop and line 13, I stopped reading. The signs at the entrance to line 13 in my direction had been removed (they were still there going the opposite direction), there were signs (written only in Chinese) which said do not enter (I can read the important stuff afterall), and there was a woman standing at each entrance. I went up to one of the women and told her where I lived and asked how I should get home. She told me which bus to take and which exit from the station to take to find the bus. I followed her directions and found the bus stop. Then I proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Quite a crowd gathered, I apparently was not the only one who needed to get my stop. Finally, the correct bus came. We all started heading towards it. Then it turned off the engine, turned off its lights and shut down for the night. To say I was frustrated was nothing. I looked on my Uber app and it would cost a whole lot more to take an Uber from Houying home than it would from school so I decided to go back to the National Tennis Center. Along the way, I debated about whether or not I should just keep going and take the metro all the way home. In the end, I decided to get off and call an uber. Well, that didn't work. When I tried to call an Uber I was told my payment method was invalid. Now, I'm extremely frustrated. I left the tennis center about an hour earlier and I'm right back where I started. It's also well past dinner time and I'm hungry. I pick up some street food and a bottle of water and take the subway home. Two hours after I left the National Tennis Center the first time, I'm home.
On Thursday, I debate back and forth on whether or not to go to the tournament. I take a nap and when I wake up its 2 pm. As I'm looking at the schedule, I see that nothing in Moon Court even started today until 2 pm (rather than 12:30 the day before). Around 3, I'm bored and decide there are still plenty of matches to see. I eat a late lunch and head out. I get there are watch the end of a doubles match. I'm waiting for the next match to start and it starts raining. At first it is just spitting, but it gets a bit heavier and they announce that the match is postponed listen for announcements. I then spend sometime wandering around. I map out where different parts of the school are underneath us. It was actually a really cool thought exercise. Then I heard an announcement playing several times, but only in Chinese. I cannot understand the annoucement (between some specialized words I don't understand and the fact that it is a PA system, I simply cannot understand - something that frustrated me terribly). After I heard the same announcement numerous times, I decided to ask in the information center. The English in the information center isn't very good (the first woman couldn't do much more than greet me), but they were able to tell me that the matches were post poned until at least 7 pm. It was already 6:30, so I figured I would stay around. I wandered the booths (very elaborate booths more like actual buildings rather than what one would think of as a temporary structure) and contemplated buying a ticket to see the matches on the Diamond Court. The Diamond Court has a retractable roof (that was of course closed) and was the only court where matches were still playing. Evening tickets (from 7:30 onward) started at only 200 yuan ($30) and Shuai Zhang who upset Venus Williams in round 1 was playing at 7:30 and Rafel Nadal was playing at 9:00. I decided I had already ventured all that way, I should go ahead and enjoy it. I looked at the seat map on my phone and decided to buy the 400 yuan tickets (The best grandstand ticket you could get. Matter of fact, it was the best single day ticket still available). I went into the upgrade both and asked in English for a class A ticket. I got this panicked look and the two women in front of me started looking around. I then told them in Chinese that I speak Chinese, but I don't know how to say class A (meaning I don't know what term the use because I had read it only in English), but I want to buy a class A ticket. Did she understand class A? They replied that they understood and told me that it was 400 yuan. Then they told me they would give me a 10% discount (I don't know if that was because in order to be there I already had a ground pass which costs 30 yuan or because it was raining or why). I got my ticket and still had some time to kill.
At 7:30 I went into the Diamond Court building. It is nice (both the building at the court). Matter of fact the bathroom even has both toilet paper and soap. I took pictures of both (Strange, I know, but in China bathrooms don't usually have either of these items and the bathrooms for the other courts sure didn't have them).
Shui Zhang upset another person, much to the delight of crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if she wins the tournament. She seems to be on fire. Nadal beat up on Mannarino in the first set winning 6-1. I was starting to think it was going to be a blowout and perhaps a waste of my money, when Mannarino came alive in the second set. The second set ended up going to a tie-breaker. Nadal won the tie-breaker and thus the set (7-6) and the match).
As it was getting later and later I started checking the times on the last trains and getting more and more nervous (the Beijing subway shuts down sometime after 11). I couldn't find any information for line 8, but after a while it became a moot point because I wasn't going to make the last train on line 5 and I didn't want to risk it since my route home involves me getting a lot further away from school. Additionally, at the beginning of the match I reached 20% battery life and realized that after charging my powerbank I forgot to put it back in my purse. I was going to run out of battery if I wasn't careful and have no way to get a car to take me home. I switched the phone to airplane mode until the end of the game. I then switched it back to try to get an Uber to take me home. I had made some changes to my Alipay and so I thought it would work, but it didn't (Alipay is an app linked to my debit card that can be used to pay for things). I can't use my debit card directly in Uber because I do not have a national ID card (Alipay gives me the option of changing it to my passport number, which is the number my account is registered under). I then tried to link my Chinese paypal account to my Uber account. It wouldn't accept it. Now, I'm getting really nervous. It's pouring down rain. It's 11:30 at night. My battery is down to 14% and I don't have any way to get home. There is no way I will be able to hail a taxi the old fashioned way because thousands of people are using apps to call taxis and ride app cars and there simply are not any available taxis. They are literally all pre-booked. I'm praying and trying to figure out what to do. I cannot get my Uber to work. As I'm looking in my Alipay app (the first screen on which is in English, but anytime you move past the first screen it is no longer in English) and I see Didi Taxi. Now I know that Didi Dache (Dache being one way to say taxi in Chinese) is Uber's biggest competitor in China (actually they are merging) and since this is within my working Alipay app I think I can use it to get a car. I click on the icon and of course it now switches to Chinese. Thankfully I can read enough Chinese that I successfully call a car (I can type my address is, but it's a very slow process so I always copy and paste it). Unfortunately, I have 2 problems (or maybe three). 1) There are a lot of people and so even though it is almost midnight  there is a traffic jam on this road 2) the drivers always call and ask where you are and 3) its pouring down rain (I know I've said this one before, but I don't want you to forget it. It adds so much to struggle. Just using a multi-touch touch screen as water keeps getting on it is very difficult). When the driver is about 1 km away he calls me to find out more precisely where I am (I guess the maps in China aren't as accurate at placing you as they are in the states. I've never had this in the US, but it is standard procedure in China). I try telling him, but I don't know very well how to identify where I am. I tell him I'm accross from the Lincuiqiao subway station, but he doesn't seem to like that statement. I also try to tell him I'm just south of Lincuiqiao bridge (qiao actually is bridge in Chinese), but again that doesn't seem to satisfy him. So I tell him, I don't speak Chinese very well, please wait a moment. I go up to a random young couple and in Chinese ask them if they would tell him where I am. The girl takes the phone and spends a long time speaking to the driver explaining where we are. I am growing very nervous as she talks longer and longer because I can just seen the battery dropping further and further (figuratively of course as I can't actually see it). She gets off and tells me the last two numbers on the license plate are 62 (something I already know because it shows the entire plate number in my app) and which direction he's coming from (by the way after I didn't know the Chinese word for license plate, she switched to English. See, there is some English in China. Oh and in my defense she didn't use the word license plate in English so I think she didn't know it either).
After a while the car came (explaining that it took him so long because of the traffic jam), he got me home driving me all the way to the door (he was insistent I told him he could let me out at the gate, but he wanted to take me all the way to the door) and paid him through my alipay app. I have never been so happy to make it home. It was about 1.25 hours after the match ended and the drive home took less than 10 minutes, but boy was I thankful to have made it home!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Kristin Returns Home

Stop. The title doesn't mean what you might think it means. I have not given up and I am not leaving China. What I mean is I returned to my second home, my Chinese home. When I decided I wanted to write this post and give it this title I simply meant that I had returned to Baotou, the city where I first lived (for three years) in China, but while I was in Baotou I discovered that the friend of several of my friends (both American and Chinese friends) actually lives in my old apartment and so I got to visit my old apartment too. Boy was that weird (but also really cool)!
Here comes the train!

Let me back up and start at the beginning. My school in Beijing is located in the National Tennis Center (国家网球中心). By in the National Tennis Center I mean our school building is the building that surrounds the Lotus Court. Usually, this doesn't mean much except that it's a long walk through the National Tennis Center to get to the school building (I need to buy a scooter!) and that the elementary kids actually have recess on the Lotus Court (I've got a post coming soon about the school itself). There are, however, two weeks out of the year when this has a very significant impact and that is the last week in September and the first week in October. During these two weeks, China hosts the China Open, an international tennis tournament that as you can guess is held at the National Tennis Center. Several of our classrooms and offices are taken over by the China Open. Our students use the lockers in the China Open locker rooms as their regular lockers and so, of course, they have to empty them out prior to the China Open. As you may have guessed by now all this means that we cannot hold school and so we get a two-week break! Now all of China has the first week of October off to celebrate Chinese National Day (commemorating the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949). However, having the week before off is awesome because you get the opportunity to travel without the masses (the so-called Golden Week is a crazy time travel-wise). I took the opportunity to travel to Baotou, Inner Mongolia.
Each car has a conductor who after a while collects
all the tickets and exchanges them for a card. She then
wakes you up before your stop (unless it's at the end like
mine was in both directions, then they wake everyone up
about an hour before arrival)
My berth is top left through this window.
I left Beijing after work on Friday, September 24th and took the train overnight to Baotou. When I first arrived in China in 2002 this was a 16-hour train ride. Now you can take it in about 8 (and I heard that a high-speed railway will open next year reducing the travel time to only 4 hours!). I chose to take a slightly longer train ride, 10 hours because this would be more conducive to sleeping. A friend of mine ordered my tickets online for me, reserving me a top berth in the hard sleeper section. I prefer the middle berth, but apparently, none were available. I was able to then go the Beijing Railway Station a bit early and pick up my tickets. This is a big improvement from when I lived in China before when you had to go to the railway station or a ticket office and you could only get tickets one-way (although in Beijing you could get return tickets to Beijing) and you could only get the ticket 6 days in advance (I think it was 12 in Beijing - I'm not positive because I didn't live in Beijing back then). This time, I ordered my tickets about a week before I left (we weren't worried about the trip to Baotou because that was before the holiday, but needed to order the ticket for my return because that fell within the holiday week).

The view down the train car.
The train was not quite as nice as it used to be (you might be thinking this is a product of memory, but I know at least to a degree it is not because there used to be carpets in the aisles that they would roll up at the end of the trip and those weren't there), but the prices I think actually went down (not sure of this, though) while people's earnings have gone up. Thus, the hard sleeper tickets that were once the realm of the middle class are probably now the realm of the lower middle class (the bottom in China is still incredibly poor). I also noticed people didn't seem as interested in talking to me (usually, but not always, in the past when people discovered I spoke Chinese they wanted to talk to me). However, I also spent a higher percentage of my time on my berth because of the shorter trip duration.
In Baotou, I got to spend a lot of time hanging out with friends. I was able to work around my friends' work schedules to spend almost all of my time (over the course of 10 days) with various friends. I visited my foreign friends (and made some new ones), my former co-workers (and one former student who now works at the university) and my former students (my first year in Baotou I worked with the Iron and Steel Company's training center and my students were all adults, many of whom became good friends). I stayed in a hotel two nights and with friends the rest of the nights and I had a great time. I'm going to let the pictures (and their captions) do the rest of the talking. Enjoy!

I went to Saihatala park with one Chinese friend
and four American friends (who are also blondes).
We attracted a TON of attention.

I decided to take pictures of the people
taking pictures of us.

They were not the least bit covert in their
picture taking.

I had deluded myself into thinking this
didn't happen as much because it doesn't
usually, happen in Beijing but in Baotou the
foreigner is still the fish in a fishbowl.

Baotou is known as the city of deer. However, this park and a statue
in the middle of a traffic circle are the only places where one can find
any deer in Baotou.

You thought the picture taking was over, but you were

This is a really cool market street near the university where I used to teach. The market wasn't there back when I taught there...
Meat on a stick, anyone?

On Saturday, October 1 I went hiking with a group of my friends.
We went to Ma'An Mountain (马鞍山), but because it was
National Day it was unbelievably crowded! I'm glad we went in the
morning because as we left the crowds were a LOT larger
and there was a HUGE line of cars trying to get into the

Just when you thought you'd reached the top you turned the corner and saw that there was more!

I got asked (at least they asked) for SO many pictures! This was a group
of middle schoolers who talked a lot about asking me, but for the longest time
didn't ask. I told them (in Chinese) that they had to ask me (one of the people
with me tried to tell me they wanted to take a picture, but I insisted they had to ask
me personally). I didn't mean they had to ask me in English, but after I said that they all
worked on figuring out how to ask me in English. When one of them got it right, I took a
photo with all of them.

I ran into a woman I had known 11 years ago (the on
the left. The one on the right jumped into the photo.
After this photo, she wanted one of just the two of us,
however, it wasn't until that point that she realized this
was my camera)

Behind me is a screen made of water. They are
showing a Monsters Inc movie on that screen
(in English). When I lived in Baotou they would
show videos on this water screen, but it was usually
just pictures of Inner Mongolia with music.
Occasionally it included cartoons, but never
a full-length film (and never in English).

It's kind of hard to see because of the lights behind us,
but this is my former university student and her mother.

This donut shop belongs to a friend of mine. Unlike Beijing, Baotou
doesn't have Dunkin' Donuts, but these donuts have a pretty
authentic taste.

I couldn't resist a picture of this dog. I thought its
grooming was unique, to say the least.

Here comes my train back to Beijing!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Kristin Joins the Peking Opera

Okay, okay, the title is a lie. I didn't join the Peking opera, but I did get made up like I was in it. The school brought in the professional make-up artists and a professional photographer all from the Peking opera. The photographer was so good he could look at an outfit and immediately spot if there was a missing hairpiece, ring, broach etc. He knew each character perfectly. I haven't seen the professional shots yet (I'm excited to see them) so you'll only be able to see the shots made on my cellphone here, but it was so cool. Each character had specific poses and he would put you into those poses and then take the pictures. Some of the poses were really awkward and difficult to hold. After you completed one outfit you changed into another and did it all again.
The process took a really long time and I grew frustrated (I ended up waited 5 hours before they began on me and then my process took a total of 3 hours - some of that was just time waiting). Later they brought in more artists to try to speed up the process. While, I didn't like the wait, it was a really cool experience. Here are the pictures. Enjoy.
First one of the women did my make-up. As you can
see it is really heavy and man it was difficult to wash off!

Next, this guy added the hair pieces. As he did it he
put a strip of cloth around my face that pulled my eyebrows up. Apparently for a lot of people they did even more using
a bunch of strings taped to their face to pull it back.

He used an adhesive made from bark to attach all of this.

My first headpiece is done. Now I'm waiting to get dressed.

I even had to add whitening to my hands. Actually, Peking Opera make-up
is really light and is designed to make people look pale and "beautiful" the make-up
matched my current tan, but was actually darker than areas like where my watch goes that
aren't tanned. If this had been winter, the face make-up would have been making me darker rather than lighter!

The photographer posing me for one of the shots
in my second outfit.

Renting an apartment in Beijing

Before I moved to Los Angeles I thought apartment hunting was easy. Finding an apartment in Los Angeles was a whole new experience, but it was probably a useful one because it was so simple in comparison to finding an apartment in Beijing. Like Los Angeles, finding an apartment in Beijing was complicated by the fact that I don't know they neighborhoods. However, apartment hunting in China is also different in several aspects.
The first part of my search was to decide on a location. Like anywhere unfamiliar this can be difficult. I knew I wanted to be fairly close to school and fairly close to a number of my colleagues, but of course this still allows for a lot of possibilities. Most of the teachers were living in studio apartments in an area called Houying. This was a problem for me. Not only was I not willing to live in a studio, but I also wanted an actual kitchen. The apartments many of my coworkers were living in had nothing more than a hot plate (Chinese kitchens don't have ovens and only have two burner stoves anyway), but I like to cook and I greatly prefer a gas stove. An additional complication to my search was the fact the school only provided five nights hotel accommodation (a fact they neglected to tell me until the morning after my fourth night). The final complication was I started working before I even started looking for an apartment. On Friday night (a couple of weeks ago) I went to the neighborhoods where a couple of my coworkers live and looked at apartments there. My co-worker's wife (who is Chinese) had contacted a real estate agency in the area and told the agent I was looking to rent a one bedroom apartment. The first apartment he showed me was a studio. I told him that wasn't acceptable, but he said he had some two bedroom apartments. I looked at a couple of two bedrooms that were quite nice (and about the same price as the studio), but I had a few concerns. One of the concerns was the location. To get to these apartments I had to take the metro five stops and then take a bus (although I could have gotten a bike and gotten to the station a bit faster that way). Another concern was one of the landlords had changed the price after one of my colleagues had negotiated a deal and this concerned me about what kind of nonsense she might pull as a landlord. The other place still had the owners living in it and they were taking a lot of the furniture with them. They told me that they were replacing it, but of course you never replace the furniture with better things and so I had no idea what the furniture would actually be like. The final strike against that place was I was afraid they would not be out quickly enough for me to move in. Thus, my search moved to another area.
I live on the 15th floor, but there is no 4th,
13th or 14th floors. This is because
4 sounds like death in Chinese
and 13 is unlucky in the west.
This new area was highly recommended by one of my coworkers, but I was concerned because it required changing metro lines twice. However, it wouldn't be too far for a bicycle or would be a fairly cheap Uber ride. So I went to look on Saturday morning. My coworker was supposed to meet me there, but I took the metro from my hotel and she took a car from her house. I beat her there by about an hour and a half because she got stuck in traffic. As a result, she called the agent to meet me and I toured apartments with him by myself. He doesn't speak English so my Chinese got quite a workout. Unfortunately the apartments were not clean enough or large enough or any number of things enough. Having lived in China before I felt I didn't really have high standards, but I struggled with the apartments. After looking for hours we found one that was in a slightly different area. It was actually a little closer to school and would only require one metro transfer. It was a decent size and had an air conditioner in the living room and one in the bedroom, but it had some problems with the furniture. We were able to negotiate for some new furniture and came to a deal. We then had to deal with all kinds of paperwork. I had another issue though. In Beijing, when you rent an apartment you have to pay five months worth of rent up front. It's one month's rent for the agency, usually one month's deposit and you pay rent three months at a time. My apartment was two month's rent as a deposit and then the rent is paid two month's at a time! However, I didn't have five month's worth of rent and it would be rather difficult to get that much from the States. My rent is 4,900 yuan a month and the school provided us with 10,000 yuan as a settling in allowance, but the total I needed to pay was 27,187 yuan (including Internet, cable and a couple of other things. In other words I needed to pay a little over 4,000 USD up front! Luckily, I was getting paid in a few days and they agreed that I would pay for the deposit and two months rent after I got paid.
After all the contracts and paperwork details (which were far more than anything I ever encountered in the States) you would think that was everything, but you would be wrong. I moved into the apartment on Sunday. The furniture came on Monday. The Internet guy arrived on Sunday (I had to pay for the entire year up front). On Monday someone from the agency came with the cards for electricity, reclaimed water (used for the toilet - I think the US may be the only country in the world that uses potable water for the toilet) and gas. I was shown how to pay using an app called Alipay and told that my potable water bill would come taped to the door.
Unfortunately acquiring gas was a very big ordeal. When I was given the gas card I asked where I could buy gas and was told the Ping An Bank (Ping An means peace). I didn't know where this was and couldn't find it. I tried paying with Alipay using the number written on a sticker on the front of the card, but it didn't work. After nearly two weeks I asked a couple of my Chinese coworkers during lunch (on a Friday). They said I could use Alipay, but we once again tried with the number on the card, but it didn't work. So they said well the number would be on a receipt. I gave them the pouch of receipts I was given and said, "well, I can't read the receipts." They looked through the pile and told me none of them were gas. One of them called my agent and asked him. He didn't know, but he texted me the number of someone else. My coworker talked to this person who told her that I needed to go to the Bank of Beijing and let her know it was near the Carrefour near my house (thankfully I knew the Chinese name for Carrefour, because my coworker didn't know the English name). So on Saturday I went to the bank. I found a bank employee near the machine where you take a number (standard practice in China to have a person there to answer questions). I told him I had heard that I could add money to my gas card there. He informed me that was true and asked if I had a debit card. I told him I didn't have a Bank of Beijing card and he said that was fine I could use any card. He told me there was a machine and he'd show me where it was. On the way I informed him that I couldn't read a lot of Chinese (this whole conversation was in Chinese). He said, "no problem, I'll help you."
We got to the machine and went through the whole process until we got to the payment part. He's swiping my card and it isn't working. Then he looks at it and sees that it doesn't have a magnetic strip. He tells me that it only takes cards with magnetic strips. I ask him what I can do. He said, "you only have the one card, don't you?" "Yes, I replied. What can I do?" He tells me there is an ICBC (my bank) around the corner. Go there and ask for a card with a magnetic strip. I find the ICBC and explain the problem to the woman there. She explains it to another woman and then they tell me they only have chipped cards. I ask them what I should do, I need to buy gas. They don't have an answer for me.
I'm now highly frustrated. It's my 14th day in my apartment and I haven't been able to buy gas. I consider opening a bank account at the Bank of Beijing, but then I remember my passport is at the PSB (Police Security Bureau) until the 21st getting my resident permit. I can't open a bank account (or buy train tickets, or do a lot of things). I leave the area defeated.

The view from my apartment.

Good morning Beijing!
That afternoon I text the coworker who helped me the day before because when she was helping me I needed to show her my address and she said she lived in the area. On Sunday she met me at the bank and paid for the gas using a card with a magnetic strip and I paid her back in cash. Unfortunately, neither one of us (the machine had Chinese and English prompts) understood that when it asked for the amount it meant the amount in cubic meters of gas, not the amount of money (which is how most of these cards work) so I ended up buying more than twice as much as I meant to buy and now have gas that will probably last longer than I live in the apartment, but at least I can now cook!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The first week - living in Beijing

The first word that comes to mind as I reflect on this past week is wowsers. It has truly been quite a week. One week ago right this moment I was awake and getting ready to depart for the airport. In the week that has gone by I have done so much I can hardly believe it.
So close - if only I could have somehow jumped
up into the plane
First, I flew east to Seattle (and south) and then I flew west (and north and then south) from Seattle to Beijing. The flights to and from China always frustrate me because I spent 3 hours flying from Anchorage to Seattle and then the first 3 hours of my flight to Beijing were flying right back the way I came. According to the in-flight map, we flew within 3 miles of Anchorage. Since that is based upon whatever arbitrary point is defined as the city, I would say we flew right over Anchorage. I arrived and made through passport control quite quickly. It took a little bit longer for my suitcases to come out and then as I was putting them on the x-ray belt to go through customs a man stopped me and asked me I was transferring (catching a connecting flight). When I wasn't he wanted to know where I was going and how I was getting there. He even asked me if I was sure someone was meeting me. Well, I didn't know any details, but I also didn't have the address of the hotel I was going to so I was definitely dependent on someone picking me up.
Unfortunately, when I came out, there was no one waiting for me. I looked around. I tried to connect to the airport wifi and check my email. Everything was unsuccessful. I decided my best bet was to turn the data on my phone off, bit the bullet and make a phone call. I called the HR director and she told me she was stuck in traffic. I haven't seen the bill yet to know how much that 17-second phone call is going to cost me. C picked me up at the airport, but while she was finding me the driver left and so we tried to take a taxi. None of them were willing to take all of my luggage and so we needed a minivan. There were these men near this minivan who tried to act like it was there. C left me standing near there with my luggage to go and actually hire a minivan and one of the guys hid my luggage and was generally teasing me (I think he was enjoying the fact that because I spoke Chinese he could tease a foreigner, but I was exhausted and was not enjoying it AT ALL).
Wednesday and Thursday were filled with things like getting a SIM card, a metro card, going to the hospital and doing all of the things required for a medical check (that was a dehumanizing experience) and beginning the search for an apartment. During this time, I also went out with a number of the foreign teachers at my school.
Then came Friday. Friday was my first day at my new job. I really enjoyed it and really think this will be an interesting first day. The morning was filled with speeches. While I usually find speeches very boring, I enjoyed these because they explained the structure and history of the school. After the morning speeches, I finally felt like I had a grasp on who/what Tsinghua High School International (funny that the name includes high school when it is a grade 1-12 school). Friday afternoon was a blast! The director of "everything else" (he has an official title that includes extracurricular activities and a bunch of other stuff) had organized the Tsinghua High School International 2016 Olympics. The entire staff (except those who were judging or in some other way facilitating) were divided into 10 teams. The teams were comprised of both Chinese faculty and staff and International Faculty and staff (they really emphasize that we are one staff, something I appreciate). Each group went to each of 10 stations for 5 minutes at a time. At these stations, you had to work together to complete a task. The tasks varied greatly. We had to do things like create a cheer, perform a song, solve riddles and build a tower out of our shoes (and only our shoes). We also had to duct tape one group member to the wall (using only 1 roll of tape) and get them to stay there for at least 10 seconds. I really enjoyed it. I think my group had it a bit tougher, though. The Chinese teachers are all bilingual and the International teachers, for the most part, don't speak Chinese (I appear to have the best Chinese, possibly by far). The Chinese staff speaks widely varying levels of English. Our particular group had a number of members who did not speak English at all, one who spoke about the same level as my Chinese, and two who were fluent. Add to this three American women where I have the best Chinese, one speaks a decent amount and the third doesn't know Chinese at all and you have a very interesting combination. Each task assignment was written in both languages which helped, but our conversations reminded me of the tower of babble. I had a blast. I hope everyone else did too.

After the "Olympics" we had dinner and then I went with one of my coworkers to meet his wife (who's Chinese) and an agent to look at apartments. The apartments were really nice (and 2 bedrooms), but I felt they were a little too far removed from this. Thus, on Saturday I continued my apartment search. It took all day and the first hour and a half or so were just the agent and myself, thus requiring me to use Chinese exclusively. My co-worker C came later and actually, we still kept most of the conversation in Chinese (except when I wanted to talk to her without the agent or others understanding) unless I couldn't follow even with an explanation (in Chinese). By the afternoon when we were signing the contracts I was so worn out! Not only was the search itself difficult, but then doing it all in a foreign language too.
My apartment is a one bedroom located about 3.5 miles from school. I plan to get an electric scooter so that I can get there quickly. With the walking and the metro it takes right at an hour to get to school with 35 minutes of that being on the metro/ in metro stations and 25 minutes being walking to and from the stations. I'd like to shorten my walk.
We negotiated a new couch (and boy is it nice and comfortable) and new chairs. I got my Internet installed and today I learned how to deal with the gas, electricity, fresh water and toilet water (2 different water connections). All of this was done using only Chinese (and a few translations). While I must say I'm proud of how much I've been able to communicate, I am also frustrated that it is so hard. Setting up an apartment has shown me a whole set of vocabulary words.
Today at work involved more typical school meetings, getting my teacher's edition of the textbook and discussing lab set-up (they are still assembling the labs, remember the school is brand new). I also got my school email address, a brand new Macbook Pro (it belongs to the school of course), and my meal card (we get breakfast, lunch and I think it we are there dinner). I believe this is also the card that I will use to access the building, the classrooms, etc.
As I write this, even I'm amazed at everything I've done in a week and I only mentioned Wednesday's dinner out in passing and didn't even mention Sunday's dinner. I still have a crazy amount of things to do including registering at the police station, applying for my residence permit, buying sheets and a pillow (last night I slept on my winter coat and used a hoodie as a pillow, tonight I plan to sleep on the brand new couch and use a cushion as a pillow. Tomorrow, I will hopefully find time to buy pillows and sheets), and of course get ready to teach. School starts on Monday.
I will try to write individual posts on subjects like my apartment (once I'm more settled) and my school (once the lab is assembled) and include pictures as I can. I sometimes can't believe I lived in China for three years because there are so many things I'm having to learn how to do that I've never done before, but there will also be some opportunities for Chinese experiences too. One of those will be tomorrow. Throughout the week at different times, people are assigned to what the school calls an opera workshop. What it is is a time where a Peking Opera make-up artist makes you up like you're in the Peking opera and then you have some sort of photo shoot. I'm excited. They did something like this on the Amazing Race and not only do I get to do it, but I get to have time to enjoy it. And with that, I bid everyone adieu. Until my next post.

The school building is very large and confusing...

But somebody with quite a sense of humor...

Left these messages...

Posted on the floor...

Along the way to the library...

Where the first day's meetings were held

The view from my apartment this morning

Sunrise in Beijing - the view from my bedroom window

Monday, August 22, 2016

T-7 hours and counting

My flight to Seattle is scheduled to leave in 7 hours and 15 minutes. My uncle is supposed to arrive to take me to the airport in 5 hours and now 14 minutes. My alarm will ring in 4 hours and 44 minutes. I think it is safe to say that my time remaining is growing very short.
I think I have everything finished and ready to go (well except my backpack isn't packed). As is typical, things haven't gone quite as planned. I have a tendency to put off packing. One time when I was living in Kobuk I didn't start packing until the plane was on the ground (I did have everything already laid out, but nothing was in my bag. The plane was on the ground before I got home and I had two students and a coworker waiting to help me get to the airport. The four of us all smashed my things into the bag as quick as possible and then I jumped on the four wheeler and the students drove me to the airport - which was really just a gravel runway about 100 yards away). This time, I was determined to be more on top of things. I even started packing on Saturday. Packing on a Saturday for a Monday flight is definitely preparing in advance. However, I didn't finish, but I wasn't worried I had all day Sunday with only two things planned: church in the morning and a family dinner at 6 pm. I figured I would have plenty of time. However, as seems to be the norm for me there was a surprise in store for me. This morning while I was at church I caught sight of a woman out of the corner of my eye. It was a good friend of mine from Kobuk (and the rest of her family)! I hadn't seen them in several years. It was so great to see them, but I spent five hours with them after church. By the time I left it was time to go home and pick grandma up for the family dinner. So much for packing.
After dinner, I resumed my packing. I had decided that I was going to check three suitcases instead of my allowed two because it is both cheaper and quicker than shipping a box and I want to take more with me than I can fit into two suitcases. In Bush Alaska, people do not use suitcases much of the time. Oftentimes boxes and plastic totes are used instead. I decided a long time ago that I was going to travel to China with two suitcases (I bought a new one on Saturday) and a tote. However, I got cold feet this evening. I had already packed everything into a 24 gallon Rubbermaid roughneck tote. When I lived in the Bush, I typically used 18 gallon totes, but I had moved to California checking a 24 gallon tote on the plane and then I checked one when I returned here, but I believe it is actually just a little bit larger than allowed total size. Thus, I began to worry that they wouldn't accept it. I decided instead to pack on old suitcase (I've only flown with it twice - the airline messed it up pulling the foot most of the way off of it the first time I flew with it). This, of course, meant I had to rearrange. Then, I couldn't quite get everything into my carry-on suitcase so I rearranged again. This time, I moved some heavier, but smaller items into the carry-on and moved the bulkier items into the bigger suitcase. Voila, I was done. Or was I? I then remembered I hadn't packed a couple of my swim items. I got them squeezed into my carry-on suitcase. Then I was finished, right? Oh no, I found a couple of clothing items I forgot (luckily they are pretty small); I will have to fit them in my backpack.
Then I took a shower. My hair dryer is packed, but I have a hair straightener that isn't going with me because it only works on 110V. Therefore, I decided that I would shower tonight let my hair dry overnight and use the hair straightener to fix the damage in the morning.
Unfortunately, I still wasn't done. I had a bill I needed to pay (online) before I leave the country and forget about it and I needed to install my VPN on my computer (I bought a yearlong subscription a couple of days ago). Now my more techie friends and my friends with experience in China know what I'm talking about, but some of my other readers may not. China has a "project" officially known as the Golden Shield Project. Most people refer to it as the Great Firewall of China. This firewall blocks Facebook, Twitter (I don't use it), all Google products (including of course this blog), all oter major western blog sites, most major western news media and anything else that they deem harmful  to China. The Chinese government also will temporary block things when there are topics trending that are negative about China. One way to get around this is to use a VPN (virtual Private Network). A VPN obscured your location. You pick a server (for example in the US) and log into that server and it gives you an IP address in wherever that server is located. As a result, I will be able to use this to get around the Great Firewall. Now, hopefully it will work. China is always working to block these VPNs and there is never a guarantee that even if it works one day that it will work the next. Also, a VPN slows down your connection and from what I understand can be a pain (the last time I was in China these things were not blocked so I am not experienced at using a VPN in China). Therefore, I would recommend that if you enjoy reading my blogs you sign up on the follow me via email button. That way, if I have trouble getting to Facebook to post the link you can still get the update (remember though Blogger is also blocked so if my VPN isn't working, I won't be able to post at all).
I'm excited and nervous. The adventures are about to start (again? Continue? I actually seem to be having quite a few adventures lately) and I will try to do my best to update my blog with them. I have a post started about Croatia so at some point I will at least get that finished and up.
Goodbye for now. Next time I post, I will be on the other side of the world!