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).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How Expat Life is Like Summer Camp

I was thinking the other day about the hierarchy and stages one goes through as an expat and realized that expat life is a lot like summer camp. For expats the location is temporary just like summer camp.

New Place, New Rules

Just like that first day of camp, no one is really sure what they are doing when they get to their new location. Different surroundings, rules, and schedules.  You walk around in a daze and just follow the crowd.
Picture via @FirstBaptistNashville on Flickr

There is a definite hierarchy among the expats from the newbies to the seasoned pros, and a pecking order. I started last year as a newbie and I now feel like I've moved to the next stage where I'm no longer a newbie, but by no stretch have I become a seasoned pro.

I think the seasoned pros are like the camp counselors, they are the ones heading the committees at school, they give out advice on which moving company to use, or where to go to buy good meat. On the other hand, they are very hard to become friends with, they've made their friends and they realize the ship is going to be sailing soon. Expat trailing spouses can be very cliquish.

The folks that have been here a few years are like the counselor-in-training, ready to take over when the counselors move on and learning all the tricks of the trade from the counselors.  These folks are the ones that keep all the newbies from losing their minds and jumping the next plane back to where they came from.

Temporary Living

Everyone knows all good things must come to an end. Summer camp ends in the Fall and with the start of school just like an expat assignment can only last for so long.

I was reading an article written by an International School of Beijing (ISB) graduate (Five Things Growing Up in China Made Me Appreciate) and I really connected with her comments about all the "temporary friendships." Now don't get me wrong when I say temporary I don't mean that when I leave Beijing I won't keep in contact with some of my friends, but at the same time the likelihood of us ever being together for more than a vacation, or Facetime calls is not high, and for the most part the acquaintances you make becomes just that, temporary friendships, they don't survive.

New Experiences

At summer camp you may learn archery, do a polar swim, eat wild raspberries from the woods and camp outside next to a fire. Here in China, and as expats we also have amazing experiences and opportunities. From trying new foods, learning a new language and customs to being able to afford amazing vacations, the experiences are awesome.


I think this is the most obvious way that expat life is like summer camp. Whether you are 10 and away from your parents for the first time in your life, or 42 and missing aspects of home, your old house, or even missing your parents, we all deal with being home sick.  

With the good comes the bad but luckily in both summer camp and expat life the good outweighs the bad and you are left with many happy memories and you finish as a new and even better person when you leave.