“Why are you here?” Is what two of my work colleagues asked me. I was working at a fortune 500 company and would burst into tears because of angry customers I couldn’t satisfy. I was unmarried with no children. I decided to fulfill my lifelong dream of traveling abroad. I remembered my best friend telling me she was thinking of teaching in English in China. After doing some research, I decided to pursue a job in China due to the demand and lack of strict requirements compared to other East Asian countries. In 2016 I jetted off to China. Oh, if I only knew then what I know now.
The way seafood and meat is prepared is quite different. My new manager took me to a small restaurant and we had a stew like seafood soup. The shrimp still had the heads and shells on it. There were small eggs which I assume were quail eggs. My manager asked if I like fish. I do. He ordered some, and this grey rubbery meat on a stick was presented to us. IT WAS NOT FISH. Later, I found out it was sheep intestines. My manager said it was fish so I would eat it.
We went to a grocery store to buy food. The chickens still had the head on it. I was a bit taken a back. I bought a few things I needed and went home. Let us just say when I went home to my new apartment I was a bit overwhelmed and terrified. Hopefully, after this article about my tale of woe…full ignorance you will be better prepared.
My first apartment was quite spacious. It had three bedrooms. It was quite clean except for the bathroom and kitchen. I spent three hours scrubbing black mold from the floor and soap scum from the walls. The bathroom area did not have a bathtub. There was a shower head and the water flows into a drain on the floor. My third apartment had a bath tub. When I told my friends they both told me to go f*$%# myself. That tells you how rare it is.
The kitchen had a build-up of grease on the vent over the stove. There was a cutting board with mold on it. I re-washed the cutlery, pots, and pans. They were a little sticky. The bathroom in my other bathrooms also had to be cleaned also.
Takeaway: BE PREPARED TO CLEAN.
I made a very quick decision to go to China. Chinese for Dummies was my only language aid. I did not have enough time to learn the language, but there are apps that can help for translation. Pleco is like an English to Chinese dictionary. Translation apps are abundant on Google app store. Baidu and Google translate are my personal favorites. Words and sentences can be spoken into the phone and can be translated form English to Chinese and vice versa. Pictures of Chinese characters can be translated to printed English. So, if you meet some nice Chinese person, who will likely want to be friends with you, just have them speak into the app and translate. Better yet! Take a few Chinese classes if you have time before you jet off to China. You can find a local tutor or an online tutor if none are available in your area.
Takeaway: Download translation app and take Chinese classes.
After I first landed in China I had an overnight layover in Beijing. A taxi driver speaking English approached me and asked if I needed a ride. I was so happy I would not have to struggle to communicate where I needed to go. He was a private taxi and I saw the price guide on the dashboard. I guess he is used to driving long distances because his fares started at 400 RMB. Long story short, the hotel was only ten miles from the airport and I had to pay 400 RMB for a ten RMB cab ride. I know this because a foreigner told me he only had to pay ten RMB from the airport to the hotel.
I have travelled frequently to different cities in China by bus and train There are usually a group of taxi drivers waiting for prey, I mean people, who are foreigners or from out of town right in front of the bus, train, or airport. People shouting taxi is usually what you will be met with. I call it the shark pit. These drivers will usually try to get as many customers in their cab at once. This may not sound bad, but if you have three people in a taxi going to different places you may end up paying more than what is usual.
The best thing to do is walk about 100 feet or more away from the terminal and catch a taxi on the main road.
Takeaway: Take a little walk away from where you arrived, when you get off the plane, bus, train, etc. and catch a taxi so you don’t get scammed.
I CAN’T GET NETFLIX
So, after I get to my hotel room I busted out my trusty laptop. Expecting to watch whatever on Netflix, I got an error. I try Hulu and Facebook. No luck. I could not even get on the search engine Google. I go on yahoo and type I China and Facebook. After I skimmed the results, I realized that many popular sites are banned. People used something called a VPN to get around this. VPN is an acronym for virtual private network. VPNs tricks websites into thinking you are in another country. For example, if you are in China the VPN can say you are in Hong Kong and you can access a banned website like Facebook.
I spent two days with a very nice virtual support representative who helped me install the Ivacy VPN. I assume I had so much trouble with installation because I was in China and I was being blocked. I started using my friend’s VPN when my yearlong subscription to Ivacy ended. VPNs cost money. Usually a good VPN may cost you no more than ten to twenty dollars a month.
VPNS can be searched for in any internet search engine. Simply type in VPN, search the web results, and choose the very best one.
Takeaway: If you want to go facebookin’, download a VPN before you go to China.
CHINESE NEW YEAR
The biggest holiday in China is the Lunar New year. Many Chinese people are on leave from work. The holiday leave period lasts around two weeks for many school children. Celebrations can last a month. Many Chinese people try to be with their families on the first day the new year starts. Let’s just say people get ghost…. quick. Shops close and towns turn into ghost towns.
My training school needed me immediately. The minute my visa came through I booked a flight thinking I would save the day. When I arrived, my new employer informed me it was the New year. The school was closed and the school employees would all go and spend the holiday with their family. I was ok until…. my electricity went out because the bill had not been paid in sometime. Well let’s just go pay it. It is not that easy.
Because the people that take care of the electricity for the building were off for Chinese New Year. I somehow used gestures and very poorly spoken Chinese to book a hotel room. It was too cold to stay in my apartment.
Today, I make sure that I stock up on food and water before Chinese New Year.
Takeaway: Do not go to your new job during the first few days of Chinese New Year.
Hopefully your apartment will not scare you off, you won’t spend a fortune on a taxi, Black Mirror will be there for you to binge on, and you won’t end up in a temporarily abandoned town. There will still be surprises and things you may not be prepared for, but you will get through it and be pleasantly surprised by the Middle Kingdom just like I did.