Monday, December 23, 2013

Hired Help in Beijing (Driver)

This is part of my two part series on Hired Help in Beijing.  You can check out the first part in the series here: Hired Help in Beijing (Ayi).


Most expats that are not living in downtown Beijing have a driver. Others in town, have a driver or even share a driver with another family.  Other options of transportation are taxi, subway/train or bus.  None of these options appeal to us and I don't like to take a taxi unless I have no other option because taxi drivers speak no English and I don't like the safety risk of a child in a taxi without a car seat going up to 100km/hr.

Our driver takes my husband to work and occasionally takes me into the city when needed.  We have our driver's licenses so while we don't NEED a driver, Beijing traffic is dangerous and drivers are crazy, getting around is difficult, China has a 0 alcohol policy, parking is IMPOSSIBLE inside Beijing, and my husband gets extra work time on his commute.

Most drivers work 5-6 days a week, and while some do stay with the working spouse at work, others work primarily for the trailing spouse so he or she can run errands, and other various things.

Hired Help In Beijing

I sense an expectation of the "rich" expats helping the locals and supporting the community by hiring these low wage workers.  This may not be true, but I have heard that this is the case, that it is expected that you "give back" by hiring Chinese.  While this doesn't affect my decision to hire locals, I can see some people being swayed by this pressure.

Luckily, the drivers and ayis are able to make a living wage, it may not be first world standards, but on average with wages increases these workers are making as much as some college graduates in entry level positions with companies working 60-70hrs a week.  Now don't get me started on what this says something about how little companies pay college graduates starting out, that is a whole other post.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa in Beijing

Kiddo didn't want to see Santa this year, but we did see this guy parading around in one of the malls, Indigo, as Santa for a train ride.  I think he's wearing the beard wrong but none of the kids seemed to notice. :)

Beijing has a lot of decorations and music for Christmas.  While most people in Beijing don't identify as Christian, they seem to enjoy celebrating the materialistic part of the holiday versus the religious side.  I see lots of Christmas decorations in our neighborhood.  Not sure if the Chinese actually give gifts or just enjoy the decorating and music.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hired Help in Beijing (Ayi)

This is a two part series on hired help in Beijing.

This has taken me a year to write because I feel so uncomfortable with the idea of hired help.  In Beijing, the majority of expats (read ALL, or at least 99% of the ones I know) have both a driver and an ayi.  I don't know a single expat that doesn't have an ayi.


An "a yi" (阿姨), it is pronounced like "i e," which translates into "auntie" in Chinese is someone
who does housework and helps with kids, or does just housework or just helps with kids. I've also notice the kids call a lot of the Chinese cleaning or cafeteria staff at school, ayi.

When my husband first brought up the idea of having an ayi, I was totally against it, he forced me into it and I still have feelings of being ashamed at having hired help, it often feels like an uncomfortable superior, imperialistic power role.

We are lucky because our ayi speaks English, most ayis don't, or expect to pay more for one that does. We managed to fit an affordable ayi would speaks really good English.


There are some down sides though for me personally.  One hard part is that I am rarely alone in the house.  I enjoy being able to be alone in my house to do whatever.  I don't get that here, except for an hour in the morning.  If you want to lie down and take a nap, you worry about how you look to the ayi, such as lazy.  I tend to work out in the evening because I don't want my ayi to watch me work out.

Another concern is stealing.  I know a few people who have had things stolen or go up missing, I've heard of ayis moving their families into their employer's home when they are on vacation to live, and I also know someone that fired their ayi after coming home and finding the ayi wearing her clothes.  It isn't all rainbows and lollipops.

Worker dissatisfaction is another common complaint with expats, as the ayis when unhappy with their job or pay can get surly and passive aggressive.  This part of this is lack of communication since most ayis don't speak English and most expat don't speak fluent Chinese.  Also the Chinese  often seem to communicate by beating around the bush versus being up front.

I think one of the worst parts though for me is worrying if your ayi thinks you are a filthy slob.  I find myself rationalizing our habits similar to watching Hoarders and feeling better about your own cleanliness.  I especially laugh at myself when I find myself cleaning on Sunday evening just so my ayi doesn't quit at 9am on Monday morning when she shows up and sees the weekend mess.  It always seems to look like a tornado went through the house come Monday.


I can now say I am glad I have our ayi. Our ayi helps with the housework, she does laundry, ironing, food prep and also helps with the dog and kiddo if needed but most importantly she helps me communicate with the maintenance workers and others. It really helps with the stress level to be able to communicate better with everyone.  Also, once a week she cooks us a yummy authentic Chinese dinner.

With the pollution and dust it is hard to keep things clean, she helps me keep the house dust and dirt free.  Our ayi has become a part of our family. She treats my kiddo as her own and my kiddo loves her and misses her when she isn't around.  It will be a sad day when we have to leave ayi and go home, but I am sure we will stay in touch.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Movie Theaters in Beijing

This weekend I had the opportunity to go to my first movie in Beijing.  Catching Fire!

I'd wanted to go to a movie for a while, but unfortunately none of the theaters in Beijing have websites in English and even with Google Chrome, it is really hard to get any good information. You either have to show up at the theater to read the movies/times or you have to find someone who can read or understand Chinese to look up the information.  I chose to go to a new theater in Indigo Mall (颐堤港) called CGV Theater, it just opened a year ago, so I knew it would be nice.

China has a lot of movies that are made and produced in China that are HUGE blockbusters.  But, they also get the world favorites.  This weekend three imported movies that were playing were Epic, Gravity and Catching Fire.  They played in English with Chinese subtitles.

First surprise:

Seats are reserved, so you can show up just before showtime and snag your reserved seat.  I have no idea how I'd go about doing this online, but I was row 7, seat 4 when I went.

Second surprise:

You can go in and buy concessions without buying a ticket to the movie.  The food is separate from the tickets and the theaters, so anyone can walk up and buy a popcorn or soda.  

Great idea, I wish the local theaters in the US would do this, some days you just want good popcorn or soft pretzel without seeing a movie.

Third surprise:

My popcorn was sweet like kettle corn, not buttery and salty.  It was good, and luckily, I'd had advance notice from a friend, otherwise I would have been very surprised at my first bite.


My theater experience was really nice. I loved the reserved seats and the theater was really nice.  Seats were on the small side for as luxurious as the place was but they didn't build the seats for me, this is my problem for being almost 6' tall in China.

I didn't even notice the subtitles after a while and the only thing that made me chuckle a few times was the difference in laughter between people reading versus people listening. A couple times I felt like the only person laughing for a second before everyone else caught up with reading.

I'm excited to go back again, now I just need to find someone to help me book tickets!  I'm hoping Frozen comes before Christmas and we can watch it over the holiday break.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

10,000 pageviews!

I have hit 10,000 pageviews this week, WOW!!

Thank you to everyone who is reading my blog. Sometimes it feels like no one is reading so it helps to see the stats.

I try to be humorous as well as slightly educational (and by slightly, I mean my own experiences which aren't always 100% accurate) in this blog and about Beijing expat life in general.  I'm by no means an expert, but I hope everyone enjoys my thoughts and experiences.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Beijing in Pictures

I've found quite a few funny pictures this week.

Nothing like a little "Children" Steak for a good meal.

Bart Simpson hanging out on some graffiti in Beijing

"Ass" meat anyone? With garlic sauce of course!
Lettuce growing on the top of a pile of dirt in a big empty field.

In the US you'd see a football team on the side of a truck, in Beijing it is what
I'm assuming is a political leader, present or past, sadly I don't know.

For sale in the grocery store.

I bet you ladies didn't know when you do your makeup you are "face painting."
Feeling sorry for this poor shoe saleswoman!!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pictures From Beijing

Some pictures from around Beijing!

Saw this at a friend's compound, their entire front yard, as seen, is a putting green.

As seen at Auchan, no young women needed down this aisle.

I think I know what they are saying?

CCTV (China Central Television) Center, nicknamed "big boxer shorts."
Random cool building with a Melody KTV location at the bottom

Friday, November 1, 2013

Would you Divorce Your Spouse to Save Money?

Imagine deciding to get a divorce to save money on selling your home.  This is just what some couples in China are doing to get around a new property tax rule.  I'm thinking this is tax evasion, especially since the couples are staying together, but hell what do I know.

To read the whole article, check it out HERE.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween from Beijing!

Happy Halloween!
Our Halloween is winding down, but I wanted to say Happy Halloween to all my friends and family in the US and tell you about Halloween Beijing style.

We had trick or treat in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is about 3/4 Chinese, 1/4 expat I would guess. I'd say 10% of the neighborhood homes participated by handing out candy, not sure how many kids participated.

Halloween is definitely a Western tradition and holiday.  Not much happened at school, the kids were not invited to wear their costumes and there was no Halloween party.  I'm not sure how many European countries celebrate Halloween, but England and Australia seem to celebrate.

Trick or treat itself was pretty normal, the funny part was the candy.  Check out the picture.  What looks different??


Halloween candy, Beijing style!
Parents despair, I can't tell you how disappointing it was to not find ANY chocolate besides 2 Hershey Kisses, and the tiniest bag of M&Ms in the world, in kiddo's candy bucket. The majority of the candy is chewy like gummy worms or suckers.  Made me sad just looking at it!!

Fun was had by all, minus the fact that we had to wear our air masks to keep everyone safe. Quite the look with Halloween costume and air mask.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Expat Child (Language)

Growing up in small Midwestern USA, I'm pretty sure I didn't even hear a foreign language until I was in elementary school.  At that point, say maybe third grade, I remember learning some numbers or maybe colors in Spanish.  That constituted my entire foreign language learning until I was in high school.

My daughter on the other hand, has grown up in a multicultural family, up until we moved to China hearing three language on a regular basis, and now hearing four language regularly.  Oh how are lives are different!

I'm sure we often put ourselves in a position of thinking back to how our childhood is different from our child(ren's).  While I had an amazingly simple and happy childhood, I wasn't traipsing around the world like my child, learning a foreign language and meeting people from all walks of life. I often wonder how this will change the person my child is long term, for good or bad.

I think one of the most amazing things about being an expat is all the experiences the children get living abroad and immersing themselves in another culture.  I love that six days a week, my daughter is learning Chinese.  Even if she never goes on to speak Chinese after our assignment, I hope this learning had helped her brain to form new paths and allows her other opportunities, ones that I never had.

One of my favorite stories so far is from last year and a nod to language learning of all kinds while abroad.  Our daughter was going to a British school, and she says to my husband very excitedly one afternoon, "Daddy, guess what trash can is in Chinese?"

Hubby says, "What is it kiddo?"  At this point, I can tell he is super impressed not long into our move and she already knows words in Chinese and can remember them.

Kiddo says, "Trash can in Chinese, is RUBBISH BIN."

Now for anyone confused, rubbish bin is a trash can in British English.  Not quite Chinese, but hey she is learning!  She isn't just learning Chinese, she's learning many different things.  I think you would be hard pressed to find quite the same experience, with world class learning, in the US.  Just one of the many reasons we choose to move abroad.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pop (Soda) in Beijing

One of my gripes about Beijing is the lack of "good" pop. Or whatever you call it in your part of the world. Yes, this is probably better for me in the long run NOT to have access to my addiction of Diet Coke but damn I want it!

So you have a couple choices here, local pop, which is Coke, Coke Light, Coke Zero, Sprite, Pepsi, Mountain Dew to name some of the most popular. Coke is definitely more popular in China. You can find these by the can for around 2RMB, which in US$ is $0.30/can. So $3.60/12 pack. Ironically this seems cheap to me now, when in reality I NEVER pay more than $3.00 for a 12 pack in the US.

Via Easternblot on

The other option is imported pop.  Sadly, the majority of the imported pop in Beijing is not from the US, I'm guessing it is from other Asian countries, or Europe.  You will pay closer to $1.00/can, which for those of you slow at math is $12/12 pack

Not having US pop may not seem like a big deal to you casual pop drinkers, but the reality is that they don't use the same sweeteners which makes the pop taste off.  When I first visited and moved here I wouldn't even drink local or imported pop, it just tastes gross to me.  Coke tastes different all around the world, depending which country you are in.  Sadly, I now drink the stuff for lack of other options.

Here are some pictures I took at the local store.  I'm not sure where either of these are from but they are imported as you can see by the price.  What I thought was funny about the Pepsi cans is that they have covers on the tops.

I'm not sure what this is, maybe flavored water, but it reminded me of the Pepsi Clear back in the day.  Not sure if you can tell but those are see through cans.

Don't even think about finding Diet Coke, Diet Mt Dew, Diet Pepsi, Sprite Zero or even most of those options in caffeine free.  Pepsi is the only thing I've seen caffeine free, but it isn't American. I have seen Dr. Pepper and Cherry Dr. Pepper, but rarely do you see Diet Dr. Pepper.  It is all very random.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pictures from Beijing

I take a lot of funny pictures and some just to show the life of Beijing.  Here are a few I've taken over the past few months.

sheep in Shunyi
Sheep crossing a 5 lane highway near by home.

small truck
Delivery driver, like UPS but MUCH smaller version truck

Lane sign, see the bus lane (right), with a right turn to the left,
this might cause a slight problem when
turning right with a bus going straight.

I thought this was mint chocolate chip, boy was I wrong.
Try mint with red beans.

Fish, or amphibian? As seen at the flower market

One of many car accidents I've seen.
If only they followed the rules and signs, I'd see less.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chinese Knock-Off of Walmart

Here in Beijing we have four big Walmart type stores, Carrefour (French brand), Auchan (French brand), a Sam's Club like store called The Metro (German brand) and Walmart, oh and then the Chinese created their own, Wumart.  Now before you get all excited and think that I have three very nice stores to choose from, understand that these stores are the Chinese version which means live things swimming in the meat section, dirty, slippery floors, and all things Chinese.

So basically they took the Chinese Walmart and made their own version.  If possible, it is even stinkier than the Carrefour and Auchan.  I'm not sure what makes them so stinky, but I know selling this fruit doesn't help.

Via Oldandsolo on

This is called Durian, and I liken the smell of it to rotting sewers. I bought some, trying to be adventurous one day and by the time I got it home, I took it straight outside to the trash and threw it away.  OMG does that fruit smell.  The guy I used the picture from on Flickr says that it is banned in hotel and restaurants all of Asia because of its smell.  I believe that! The fact that someone had courage enough to eat it, after finding it somewhere and smelling it is beyond me!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sentosa Island, Singapore Review

One of the best parts of living the expat life seem to be the exotic vacations.  This month, we spent some time on Senotsa Island, in Singapore.

Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort

This was my first visit to Singapore, and while I will say the place wasn't as "clean" as I'd imagined, I still saw trash on the side of the roads, it was very nice!  Really nice weather, really nice people, and wow does it get hot that close to the Ecuador though!

We opted for a resort type vacation with beach and pool being our main objectives.  We stayed at the Shangri La on Sentosa Island.  Sentosa is made up of a bunch of hotels, beaches and Resorts World which has Universal Studios, S.E.A Aquarium, 60 restaurants and a casino on property, just to name a few activities.

I enjoyed the S.E.A. Aquarium the most, over 800 species of water life, and the largest aquarium in the world. We saw some beautiful and unusual fish and other sea life.  It was amazing!

S.E.A Aquarium, world's largest aquarium

Some local wildlife that beg at the restaurant at the resort.

My stay wouldn't have been complete without a trip to the local McDonald's to see what different things were on the menu. I tried a cheeseburger which was WAY better than the ones in China, and then we tried Seaweed Fries, which were just regular french fries with this seaweed/salt combo added.  Not too bad, but I won't be requesting it in the U.S.

Last but not least was a very nice dinner on a cable car, overlooking the water and the entire island. Quite the experience, eating and moving at the same time, very high up!

I would definitely go back to Sentosa, and Singapore!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Walking Your Dog Across the Crosswalk

The other day I would have loved to had some Google Glasses or something similar that could take a picture as I'm seeing things.  I was too slow for a real picture.

Driving along the street, I see people standing at a crosswalk.  Normal right?  Then all of the sudden a woman with a border collie type dog, drops down, lifts her dog's front paw, so she has a hold of both his front legs, he is standing on his hind legs, and proceeds to "walk" him across the street.

Kinda of like, only much funnier as the dog was hopping along quickly with her walking him.

Photo thanks to Wonderlane via

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mid-Autumn Festival (Mooncake Festival)

We are getting ready to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival this week.  All Chinese festivals are based on the lunar calendar.  The 15th day of the 8th month is called Mid-Autumn.

For most expats I think Mid-Autumn Festival is lovely called Mooncake Festival because of the tradition of eating and giving mooncakes during the festival.

Mooncakes are a round pastry, about 3" in diameter with an inside filling, traditional of red bean paste, and/or a salted duck yolk but more recently they are made with many different yummy, and sweeter fillings.  They are difficult and labor intensive to make so most everyone buys them in the stores.  They typically sell for a moderate priced box of 4-6, for $40, they aren't cheap.

Out in the expat community I've seen Starbucks and Mrs. Fields getting into the festival with their own take of mooncakes, coffee flavor and cookie filled, respectively.  Pretty funny.

Here is a box that we were given for the holiday with 6 and an individually wrapped mooncake.

One of the French style pastry shops in Beijing is offering a fruit jelly filled mooncake, those are what I am most excited to try this year.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival everyone!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

McDonald's in China

Never fear my McDonald's loving friends they have plenty of McDonald's in China. I'm guessing most of the 2,000 locations by the end of 2013 are located in the major cities, but you can find your Big Mac and french fries if that's what you desire. They even deliver within the city, 24 hours a day on bicycles.

bicycle McDonald's delivery in Beijing
Artistic blur shot I did for a photography class
McDonald's delivery by bike
Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the hamburger meat in McDonald's in China so I stick with chicken McNuggets, french fries and hot chocolate sundaes.  

I also think it is really odd that they sell Coke Zero instead of Diet Coke in the stores. I don't like the sweetener used here so I don't drink local pop.

black and white burger at mcDonald's
One thing about McDonald's around the world is they are always having niche market foods.  This is one the latest advertisements around Beijing.  I think this looks disgusting, but obviously they aren't marketing to me, so I'm not a good judge. 15RMB is about $2.50, so I think they are offering the meal for that price, probably only during their happy hour pricing though, which is during lunch. I can't tell for sure since I can't read it. Anyone know what it says?

pink, and yellow mcdonald's drink
Straight from McDonald's China website
There is also a really interesting looking light brown, pink and yellow drink that I'm too scared to try after asking for a cherry pie at a McDonald's in Northern ShunYi last year and ending up with a red bean pie, super yuck!  I have no idea if it is sweet, coffee, beans? I'm just not adventurous enough!

VIP McDonald's
What I REALLY want to know though, is how to get one of these! I wanna be a McDonald's VIP. What do you think I'd get???

  • doubt it is a discount
  • free pop with purchase?
  • they know your order by heart?
  • you're just there often?
I'm clueless, but sometime, I'm going to have ask a local.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Beautiful Weather!

We have had some beautiful weather over the past few weeks, with low AQI (Air Quality Index), although it has been really hot.  I'll take hot and clear air over nothing! We haven't worn our masks (worn if the AQI is over 200) once since we've been back.

The weather has even been nice enough for a few days for fun outside, including kiddo running the track at school and today kiddo and daddy even went to the outdoor pool. That may not seem like a big deal for most of you but to have the AQI at a level for the PE teacher to even take PE outside, let alone allow the kids to run outside is a first since I've lived here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Translation Funny

A friend saw this in our neighborhood this afternoon.

Wet Paint

The sign says "WET PAINT," I guess they are worried about the wet paint, just ignore the open manhole!! :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Batcave on Top of a Building?

So it looks like Superman has taken over a penthouse in Haidian, deciding he would rather be on top of the world versus underneath it.

Check out this place which has been ordered by the Haidian local government, in Beijing, to be torn down.  I guess the guy who built it is the owner of a huge traditional Chinese medicine chain and maybe the Chinese medicine has made him lose his mind?

See my red circle, yep that guys is a 800 meter squared penthouse made up of rocks, trees and goodness knows what else that is this man's batcave.  I just hope the place doesn't fall down and crush all the people underneath before they deal with the crazy guy and his insane idea.  If nothing else, he is damn creative!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jet lag and Flooding

We are back in Beijing for 2013-2014 school year and school is in full swing. Jet lag is rough going this time around for some reason but we are getting back into the groove slowly.

Four days into coming home the mother of all storms broke loose in Beijing. It was raining so hard and the thunder and lightning was incredible. Last year, in July, Beijing had horrible flooding, I believe over 20 Chinese were killed in the Beijing area, mainly because there doesn't seem to be any type of city infrastructure to deal with water, snow...well just about anything to be honest.

 Fast forward to 4pm on Sunday and I'm in the basement checking sewer drains, bathrooms and such, worried that all hell was going to break loose and it does. I hear the sound of water rushing, go back to our mechanical room and we have what looks like a fire-hose stream of water rushing from the side of the house, near the 10' ceiling, into our mechanical room. I quickly grab a bucket and scream for my hubby. He starts on a two bucket brigade, filling, replacing, emptying and repeat every 30 seconds, while I run up the stairs to try to contact the management company. I call, they barely speak English and I could tell didn't understand just how much water we had rushing into our basement. Luckily, friends of our were home and offered to bring buckets and come help. Sadly, were were in emergency mode and I didn't get a picture or video of how much water was rushing in, I swear it was unbelievable.

Right at the top corner on the left is where the water was coming in!
See the electrical box too?
Yeah that was also all wet!

After three frantic calls to the property management company, the blue smurfs, as we call the property management workers show up with their toolbox (looks like a tackle box and you're lucky if it has a screwdriver in it) and immediately start scratching their heads. Fast forward, they come back with a water pump, set it up on the West side of the house, turn it on and NOTHING happens. Did I mention the water is pouring in at the NorthEast corner of the house at a rate of a bucket every 30 seconds?

Here is a picture of the flood of our side yard.

So all that water, and more is pouring into our basement and the blue smurfs, lovely called that because of their bright blue attire can't get their pump to work, or even get it within 30' of the problem for that matter. 

Praise God because the same neighbors that came to help us had brought with them, to China, a North American pump, we had a transformer to allow it to work with the 220V power supply here, and after an hour and a half, and a lot of struggles we had the water being pumped away from the hole where all the water was coming into the basement.

Now you ask, why was there a huge hole in our wall from the outside? Well it looks like the plumbing lines for the A/C were coming from the A/C units into the house and someone just left the big ASS hole open, without closing it.  Worse part, it was supposed to pour cats and dogs for the rest of the night and next day and we still had a hole in our basement wall.

Bring in the blue smurfs who have done NOTHING, by the way, it terms of help yet.  They bring some cement and proceed to put wet cement in the hole from the inside. For anyone who doesn't know physics realize that if we would have had another flood of water, said cement would have just fallen into our basement with a rush of water like some wet poop. It was a band-aid when we needed a cast.  

Luckily for us, we didn't get any more large rains that night and the next afternoon the workers came and did something out back. Last night it rained and we didn't have rain in the basement.  Problem fixed? I'd love to go see what they did, but I have a mud wrestling pit in my backyard right now.  Check this out:

We are so lucky that a) we were home when this happened, b) we were in the basement and I heard it within 2 minutes of it happening, c) we had buckets and friends with a pump.  I shutter to think how long hubby would have continued emptying buckets if our neighbors wouldn't have come to the rescue with a working pump and if the rain had continued.

The moral of this LONG story, the expat community rocks, we take care of our own, and in China expect the unexpected, ALWAYS.  It truly feels like the Twilight Zone over here. Nothing goes as planned, we are very lucky that our basement full of stuff didn't get trashed and ruined in the flood.