Friday, November 14, 2014

Moving Within Beijing

When I moved to Beijing, I couldn't even have imagined that a little over a year later, I'd be moving my entire house into another Beijing home. Our landlord decided to sell our house, in the middle of our three year lease. I assumed we would be fine, the reality is that consumers (especially expats) are at the disadvantage and have little protection. We didn't want to handle all the showings of the house and potentially getting kicked out of our home without much notice so we decided to find another house.

The Search 

I enjoyed another depressing round of house of hunting in Beijing. The expat rental market is a bit ridiculous. The first questions a renter is asked is, "what is your budget and what company do you work for?" With these two questions answered, most agents then pigeonhole you and the landlords artificially raise the prices of their houses to match the housing budgets or make them even higher. The market is just crazy and so many houses have lots of problems, it is depressing. We were lucky and ended up finding a really nice home, but it took a lot of time, and a lot of step-sisters before we found Cinderella.

Moving Hell

moving in beijing
Check out the guy on the right, sitting on my furniture.
We hired a local moving company based on the recommendation of our relo company.  They came out to the house to give us a quote and after getting two quotes we decided on one company.

The day of the move, six movers showed up.  They asked to see the house, and immediately went outside and got on the phone.  While I'm not fluent in Chinese, between body language and picking up words here and there I could tell they weren't happy.  My guess was that they thought there was too much furniture.

After 2 hours of yelling between, the relo agent's assistant, the manager and the guy who gave us the quote (both via phone calls) and the movers, nothing was moved and the movers took a lunch break.  They came back an hour later, after being promised more money from our relo company and they started complaining again.

american expat in beijing
By the driver's door you can
see a guy's legs, he is sitting on my LA-Z-BOY.
One more hour into the madness, now 2 pm, not a single item has been moved and we fired them. They basically tried to extort extra money from us, and once things got ugly we were afraid we were going to lose items, or even have things purposely broken.

Our ayi gets on the phone and by 3:30 she has basically hired a local truck, driver and he's found 3 guys and they showed up at our house to move. So between 2 days, 6 trips and a lot of funny moments we got moved to our new home.

It was super stressful, the air was horrible on the second day but we got it done and only lost one side table. No clue where it went, no one knew.

Enjoy the pictures from our move, including the movers sitting on and in my furniture on top of the truck.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Starbucks crackdown?

After my post weeks ago about the new coffee shop Barkstars that opened in the neighborhood, Starbucks or Barkstars, I thought you'd all get a kick out of the fact that suddenly a few weeks later the sign came down and a new sign replaced the old version in a bright lime green. I'm hoping this means that Starbucks somehow logged a complaint against the obvious trademark infringement. There is so much of that here it is nice to see someone fight back and apparently win. Way to go Starbucks!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Beijing Tourist Tour

I've enjoyed some sight seeing in the lovely city I call home, Beijing.

We had some beautiful weather over last Chinese New Year which allowed us to get out and see some of the sights wit visiting family however the uploading of pictures is so slow here that often I couldn't load the pictures for my blog. Here are some of the beautiful pictures, better late than never.

National Stadium - Bird's Nest 
Water Cube

Mutianyu-Great Wall of China

Great Silver Pagoda - 

Silver Pagoda bell at the top of the mountain
Tianamen Square Subway crush

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Starbucks or Barkstars?

So there's a new coffee shop in town, and boy does it look similar to my local favorite, Starbucks. Gotta love trademark infringement within China.

Barkstars unlike Starbucks is "dog friendly."

Monday, August 25, 2014

China Starbucks

Starbucks in Beijing is pretty close to the US, except for some of the crazy drinks they also offer like stuff with red bean and I bet we have WAY more green tea drinks than the US. What surprised me when I got back was that the drink prices are almost exactly the same. Beijing is more expensive by $0.50 at the most for most drinks. I'm not sure about the food stuffs.

A friend in Shanghai posted a promotional poster that had some more interesting flavors, sadly I haven't seen these offered in Beijing. The strawberry cheesecake frap sounds good but that's way more calories than I'm normally willing to consume for a drink.

Starbucks emails I receive for being a Gold card holder.

I did notice in the US this summer that my go-to drink gets a lot more sugar added (iced caramel macchiato) by way of the caramel. I now prefer the Chinese version and had to ask for less caramel back home. Funny how tastes adapt and change.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Packing to go back to China, the randomness!

I was lucky enough to come back to Beijing this summer flying business class, and thanks to my Delta status that meant kiddo and I both got 3 bags, each 70lbs.  This called for extra random packing of things most would find funny. I thought I would post some of the things I chose to bring back.

  • no sugar added jam
  • roasted almond
  • packets of oatmeal
  • herbs/seasonings
  • dance shoes for kiddo
  • clothes for kiddo for winter, next spring/summer
  • OTC medications
  • yeast
  • trash bags
  • chia seeds
  • canned chicken
  • underwear
  • dog leash
  • cat collar
  • Apple cables
  • shavers
  • lotion
  • car seat
The reason for bringing things can vary.  You can have stuff you can't find like the no sugar added jam, or a certain type of herb. A lot of the stuff is just very expensive over here like good quality trash bags, canned chicken, quality clothes, or even chia seeds (about $50.00/lb). Others, you just can't find the right brand or a good quality/size like yeast, underwear, Apple cables.

Luckily this year I didn't need to bring much food back, as I have plenty from coming over in previous years. I focused more on getting through the year and the things I needed that had broken or I was missing.

Note: I don't really know what the Chinese government allows to be brought into the country. I know the obvious like raw meats, agriculture stuff like fresh fruits/vegetables. I'm willing to take my chances and I don't think bringing dried almonds or canned chicken is dangerous or bothering anyone although I may be close to the line. I've heard of people using dry ice and packing meats, cheeses and such, which I would most definitely not recommend. I'd assume if caught, you would be in BIG trouble for those kinds of things.

Monday, July 28, 2014

No Fortune Cookies in China!

A friend from Beijing just posted a picture of a fortune cookie on Facebook with the caption, "our first fortune cookie in a year," and it reminded me how differently Americans view Chinese food compared to reality.

As with any international food prepared in another country, Chinese food in the US is not generally going to be authentic Chinese food.  Even within China, the region you are visiting will have different food just like in the US the South is known for fried chicken and BBQ, the Southwest TexMex and the Northeast for seafood.

A few common misconceptions from my time in China.

1. Fortune cookies are not given in China

I'm guessing this is a made up American tradition.

2. Many dishes you won't find in a Chinese restaurant in Beijing.

  1. General Tso's
  2. Beef and Broccoli
  3. Happy Family
  4. Almond Boneless Chicken
  5. Sweet and Sour Chicken

Picture by veryliciousness on Flickr
Hell, let's be truthful, most everything you find in a take away Chinese restaurant, in the strip mall, won't be found in China.  Fried rice, yes, but it isn't even quite the same.  They cook with a lot of very fatty meat, including a lot of fish and something I found quite interesting is that chicken breast in Chinese dishes is unheard of, the breast seems to be a "throw away" part of the chicken, they much prefer the darker, fattier meat, or feet.  You can find foods that seem like an American dish, but then there always seems to be a twist, like it is made with ox, brain, or even pig snout.

While very unique kinds of meats are used in China, I've personally never seen cat or dog offered on a menu. My husband has almost ordered dog off a menu a few years ago, so I do know they do use these meats, but I'm guessing it is more rural areas, or it isn't in the restaurants we've been frequenting.

3. Chinese eat a lot of rice.

While this doesn't seem surprising to most people, I think the fact that most Chinese eat more rice and vegetables than anything else and only a tiny bit of meat (mostly because it is expensive I believe) will come as a surprise.

Bottom line, I'm sure Italians think Italian food in the US in horrible, just like Mexican food in Nebraska doesn't taste like Mexican food in Mexico, or Greek food in Greece is quite different from the Greek food found in Washington D.C. This is one reason, I for one, was happy to get my American Chinese food when I got home this summer.

Monday, June 9, 2014

6 Reasons I'm Excited to Go Home for the Summer!

OK so of course I could be all mushy and go on and on about seeing family and friends. Let's be honest, none of you want to hear that kinda stuff.  So, this list is going to be completely not mushy and honest.*

1. Diet Dr Pepper/fountain Diet Coke from McDonald's.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned my love of Diet Coke from McDonald's before so this one should come as no surprise. After not having Diet Dr Pepper in Beijing since May of 2013, I'm also excited to have a can of that particular beverage.  Hell, let's be honest, normal tasting pop that isn't full leaded sounds good all around.

2. Not having to check my utilities to make sure I'm not going to run out of ________.

This may come as a surprise to you first world country folks, but here in Beijing I have to use cards to buy electricity, gas and water, and I have to prepay for the utilities and load them into machines in my house, oh and there are rules on how much you can buy, when you can buy and when you can load them into the machines. If I don't pay attention, the house will go black, have cold water, or no water at all. Talk about a PITA!! Oh and of course you get no email notification, SMS, or even beeping machine, they just run out.

3. Less Traffic.

I can't wait to complain about Midwest US traffic. It's all small stuff when you compare to Beijing.

4. Food.

If you came to this blog via China and you are an authentic Chinese food lover we will not be friends. Sorry, move on. I love myself some N. China dumplings, otherwise I could never eat another bite of "authentic" Chinese food and be just fine. Sorry to all you snobby Chinese foodies but NMS. I've got a list of restaurants i want to eat at and foods I want from the U.S. and I can't wait for my Chipotle.

5. Blue Skies and Clean Air.

I can't wait to not need to check my iPhone to see if the air is good enough NOT to wear masks, or to let my child take the dog for a walk. We've had a really nice Spring overall, but still not great air. So excited to let kiddo outside to run around and have fun without worrying she is going to get lung cancer in 20 years.

6. Shopping.

Excited for all the STUFF I can buy that I can't get here like Chia Seeds that don't cost me $50 for 3oz, or organic fruits and veggies. Whole Foods, I'm coming for some Lemon Hummus and Ohio made corn chips.  Being able to walk into a store and buy a pair of shoes will be nice. Lucky for me, I don't need shoes, but if I did, I wouldn't be able to find them in Beijing. My feet are too big.

Ironically, through all the anticipation and excitement there is still a lot of fear, anxiety and sadness at leaving friends and "home." I'll be coming back to a few less friends which is never easy and going "home" to the U.S. leaves me feeling like something is missing because I'm not "home." Very psychologically deep and confusing, and hard to explain to someone who hasn't lived the expat life. 

*I am excited to see my family and friends, I just don't think that's what you guys were looking to hear.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A al Carte Grocery Shopping in Beijing

As I get ready to go home for the summer, I've been in a thoughtful mood about the past 10 months since I've been in the U.S. I'm not sure if all people are like me, but I'm so interested in the psychology behind being expats and our experiences, how it shapes us.

So as I was thinking last week, one of things little things I realized I would miss going home this summer is the completely a la carte grocery shopping experience.

Market at one of the ShunYi communities
While grocery shopping here is a laborious and often frustrating process for expats, I really enjoy the ability when shopping for meat, veggies, fruits, spices and some other items to buy just as much as I need.  In the US, I often feel that I overbuy certain items because I have no choice but to buy the smallest size and it is still WAY more than I need.

An example, shallots.  I rarely use shallots, but I have one recipe that calls for shallots and I've only found one way to buy shallots in the MidWes U.S. and that is by the bag.  It isn't a large bag but it is still way more than I need.  I can't just buy a shallot or two, I've got to waste an entire bag of shallots.  Yes, I'm sure someone out there has a way that I could freeze my shallots and not let them go to waste but as a mother with young ones, that's really the last thing I want to have to worry about most days.  I just want to buy 2 shallots and get on with my money and day.

If I want 25g of curry spice, 50g of almonds, 1 small cucumber, 5 cans of Diet Coke, 2 stalks of cilantro, or 1 chicken breast I can very easily buy it.  And while I'm sure in some stores I shop, I might be able to find things piecemeal like this, it seems much more a hassle versus here in Beijing.

Imported Pepsi cost 7.50RMB which is about $1.25 a can
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there never seems to be a discount on buying MORE of something.  Whether you buy 20 yogurts or 2 yogurts they are the same price per yogurt (priced by the container).  You want a 12 pack of Pepsi, it's the same price per can as buying 3. The same could be said for pretty much anything.  No buy 2 get one 1 free deals to be had in the stores for the most part.  I think if you buy a 10lb bag of rice you might get a slight discount over a smaller bag, but this isn't by sale just by volume.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Karaoke in Beijing, K-TV

K-TV is a nickname for karaoke. A while back I got my first experience at Asian karaoke thanks to a friend. I've always heard Japan is big into their karaoke but I didn't know what to expect in Beijing.  Asia knows how to do karaoke right. Let me tell you, I walked into this K-TV joint and I thought I was at a 5 star hotel.  There were halls and halls of rooms like this one.  It was beautiful and amazing. There was a life-size horse sculpture in the foyer, and a small 20 seat movie theater right off the foyer.  

So this was what our room looked like. Two TVs for the lyrics including the music videos, microphones, a stage including a disco ball.  They had a full menu of food and drinks.  The rooms ranged from our small room for a group of four all the way up to a large group.  We went on a Sunday afternoon and it was funny to see groups of 20s-30s Chinese folks belting out the music in large rooms, drinking. 
Disco ball over the stage

Chinese song a friend sang. I can read 1 character!

I think the funniest part though was the bathrooms. We went with the family, so I took my kiddo into the bathroom and this was one of the first things I saw.  I'm thinking, "Playboy bunny, trashcan, OK this is a bit confusing.

Then I see this right next to the sign. I kid you not, this was a throw up sink.  I was flabbergasted. Can you see the little cups afterwards to clean your mouth?  Only losers throw up in the karaoke room, cool kids go to the bathroom and use the special sink. I guess the family joint can turn into quite the party central. OMG, has anyone seen something like this in the US???

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pictures of Beijing

How about some French fried squid?
Taste different than just plain fried squid.

How about an IV for your tree?

even includes a drip container!
Signs don't stop bad parking in Beijing, this is what they have to do!

Man purse!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Great Firewall of China: VPN

Part of normal life for an expat in China, at least in my world, is having a VPN that allows us to get around the "great firewall of China" which means major bans on major websites.  No Facebook, Twitter, CNN some days, blogs, and other random and various sites.

Lately, since China's last large government meetings, our internet has been even slower, and our VPNs are having problems working correctly, or even staying connected.  I've heard of VPN websites getting blocked, but this is at a whole other level.  I don't know if it is from the local terrorism a month ago, the govt meetings, MH370 going down, or what but DAMN is it getting OLD.  To write this post for you guys, it took about 5 minute for the webpage to load via VPN (lucky I could get on one) and if I even try to upload a picture for you, I should just quit now.  It is worse than dial-up, I swear.

I think expats who are used to FREE SPEECH should have a "get out of jail card" while living here.  Just give us are darn internet as we expect and stop trying to mess with our ability to read and see what we want to see on the internet.  If only it were that easy.

Remember ladies and gentleman, communism isn't freedom, or even free speech.  Be thankful for the rights you have in your own country.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Car Brands in China

One thing I've enjoyed in Beijing is seeing all the different car brands on the road. I've been to Europe and other countries around the world so I have seen car brands that aren't available in the US, but China takes it to a whole other extreme.

My favorites are the brands who have a logo so similar to other well known brands around the world they should be sued for trademark infringement.  Regardless whether they are domestic or foreign there are a lot of choices.

Here are some different ones I've seen and don't know.  Sorry the pictures aren't great quality. Most were taken while moving in a car with dirty air or car windows, or even both. I promise I wasn't driving!

Feel free to comment below if you know the brand.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Matte Cars in China

One popular cosmetic feature for cars, in China, is a matte paint job.  The first time I saw it I thought someone had forgotten or didn't have time to finish the paint job on their car. It seemed odd though because it was quite an expensive car.  I've now seen these dull looking cars all over and they are usually black/grey and quite boring looking. I guess if you are trying to stick out or be different this might be for you.  To me the car just looks dirty and unfinished.  

Here are a couple examples I've seen around town.

Fancy BMW

VW on the go

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Beijing in Pictures

From the international hospital, I guess it is OK to smoke
next to the toilet, or in front of the toilet, just not in it?

The "hotel market" including mini toiletries
and linens with chain hotel logos

Chinese style table including turntable in the middle and decorations.

Chinese drinking game with shots, wish I would read it!

Russian restaurants serve omelette style eggs
with a Caesar salad, or only in China?

Beautiful Silver Pagodas just North of Beijing.
It was beautiful and a beautiful day.

A kitchen in a hutong house in S. Beijing.
Notice the gas line running out from under the cooktop?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

10 Things I Miss Most About Home

Since a lot of the folks reading my blog at this point are potential expats and curious friends I thought I would write about the things I miss from home while I'm here in China.

1. Clean air

8:30am, the sun under smog
I have to say that I took this for granted living in the Midwest of the United States. I'd heard of L.A. smog, otherwise it was just something on TV.  Smog and serious cancer causing smog is here in China and threatening the whole world if we don't get serious about our environment.  I'm not normally a soapbox kinda girl, but people we need clean air to breathe and I'm worried for the entire Earth if China and other countries (I know the US doesn't probably top the list of clean emissions countries) don't get serious and protect us and our planet.

2. Family

I doubt this comes as a surprise but I miss my family.  I see my expat friends as an extended family because we are all isolated we are all very close and act as family to each other, but it doesn't replace your real family and being away through the good and the bad even more, is hard.

3. Friends

Finding new friends, unless a serious extrovert, can be difficult for expats.  It is a serious mathematical equation to find the right friends with the right location, age of children...etc to make close friends. I miss being involved every day in my friends' lives, being there for them, having someone who knows everything about me without having to explain, and just that closeness.

4. Whole Foods

Vegetable and fruit market in ShunYi
I find buying meat, dairy and fruits and veggies stressful in Beijing because if you wanted imported it is very expensive. Meat is easily 2x more expensive and not as good quality compared to what I would pay in the US, and dairy is about 5x more expensive.  You hear stories of exploding watermelons, banned chemicals used to grow ginger, gutter oil, dying pigs and H7N9 chickens and it can be overwhelming.

I miss Whole Foods with all my lovely organic and grass fed meat.  I miss being able to shop at that one store for everything and being able to find all the ingredients I need for a recipe.  I miss trusting that the food I'm eating is as safe as can be for my family and not laced with chemicals.

5. One Stop Shopping

Grocery shopping is so stressful in Beijing.  I find needing to go to 5 different stores and praying that one of them have the imported food I want stressful.  One time you can go in find sour cream, the next time you can't find sour cream.  Or you find a good bag of chips, and you go in to buy them two days later and they no longer have them and you never see them again.  Last year I could buy Diet Dr Pepper, now I haven't seen it since May 2013.

I also miss being able to read the nutritional facts on an item.  Here if an item is imported the Chinese require certain information to be on the item, in Chinese.  Sadly, they place this sticker over the English and use a different system for calculating the data.

6. Dining Out Non-Chinese

Restaurants that are safe to eat at for foreigners in Beijing are expensive and while there are a lot of options they come and go like the seasons, and sadly they don't replace the quality or value you can find in the US.  Maybe I'm not always wanting Chinese, which tastes NOTHING like "Chinese" food in the US by the way, and I want a good steak.  Good luck with that, I find good quality beef to be the most expensive and hardest thing to find in Beijing.  You can find 20 knock off Mexican, Italian, Japanese, or even Thai restaurants but I just don't find them as good as what I'm used to. 

If you want some authentic Chinese eating, you've found a great city.  Beijing has all the different regions' specialties and you can find plenty of options if you like Mongolian, Sichuan, Hunan to name a few.

7. and Prime shipping

I miss the ease of my Amazon Prime membership and being able to find just about anything I can need with the click of a mouse.

China has Amazon, which sadly isn't in English and is difficult to use IMHO, TMall, China Amazon and, they just don't rival US Amazon nor are they easy to use for non-Chinese readers, or foreigners without Chinese bank cards or online paying options. I know of some services that will buy things on Taobao for you and then charge you a fee on top of the price but I've never tried it.

8. Target/Kohls/Meijer

You also cannot buy a lot of items at a grocery store, like pharmacy items.  Need aspirin, deodorant, pantyhose, cold medicine?  You are going to have to find a pharmacy or local store, not the imported grocery stores.  You can find super stores like Auchan, Carrefour, and Walmart but they don't carry pharmacy items and I don't enjoying shopping at those stores for the pure masses of people and smells.

9. TV shows

I miss watching TV as it is happening, or football not at 9am in the morning on Sunday. 

We are lucky that we have a Slingbox which allows us to watch our TV from the US and with a DVR we can record shows, but often our Internet isn't good enough to stream.  You also have to stay off the internet sometimes for 24hrs so as not to find out the score of your favorite team's game before you get a chance to watch it, or the comradery of watching with a group of people.

10. Clean water 

In China, being able to drink water out of a tap, brush my teeth and drink the water from the sink
and shower without getting eczema is a luxury. Washing clothes is also difficult because the water discolors your clothes.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mini Cars and Ebikes of Beijing

This is a pretty typical tuk-tuk most likely used to
taxi people from a bus stop to their
home much more cheaply than a real taxi.
One of the cutest things driving around Beijing (believe me with traffic you need to find something cute) is all the little mini-cars and modified eBikes.  I'm sure they have a real name, but I'm not sure what to call them.  I love to take pictures of them, and I tried to talk hubby into buying me one, but I'm mini-car-less.

Some of the expats that live here and don't have a car or license drive a tuk-tuk for things close by, which is a motorized three wheeled vehicle.  Lots of tuk-tuks are used as cheap taxis, but lots are privately owned and used. I've noticed the expat tuk-tuks are a bit nicer than some of the locals.  I often see used tuk-tuks for sale by other expats for anywhere from 3,000RMB-6,000RMB depending on the type and condition which is US$500-$1,000.

Other locals have ebikes to get around which are electric run bikes, for going long distances and not having to pedal.  You have to plug the battery into the electric to charge it and then it can go for say 30 minutes without being charged again. I'm sure it varies based on how much you pay for the bike.

They also seem to park where ever they want.
This car is often sitting at Yosemite, a neighborhood
in the area we live. I can't figure out if they are trying to sell it?
As you can see, none of them have license plates.
One thing about all these various modes of transportation is that they rarely follow the rules of the road.  They drive on the side berm, don't follow traffic lights, traffic rules, or even the direction of the road so you have to be careful and always look both ways before turning right. It is downright dangerous, especially late at night because a lot of the ebikes don't have proper lighting so you can't see them on the roads.

There are plenty of ways for people to get around in Beijing, car, taxi, bike, ebike, Subway, public buses and good old walking.

They drive on the side of the roads with the ebikes and bicycles.
This one was going SO slow the other day, no way more than 10MPH.

This is kinda like a pimped out tuk-tuk.

This "car" only has 3 wheels, so technically it doesn't
have to follow any traffic rules (well they don't).