Monthly Archives: August 2012

Not what I expected (not the first time nor will it be the last)


I noticed a huge cultural difference in one of my recent classes (the kind where I’m the teacher and not the student). I teach a small group of women from a large corporation and they LOVE social English, not so much the business English which is what they’re supposed to be learning. Anyway, for the first 15-20 minutes I try to do something fun with them. This week I did the “Your apartment is on fire, your family and pets are safe, but you can only take 5 items with you that will fit in a suitcase” game. The answers were surprising.

Person 1


cell phone

ID card

Person 2

backpack (which contains money, cell phone, and ID card)



house deed

Person 3


ID card

cell phone


Person 4

wallet (which contains money and ID card)

hard drive storage unit


Person 5



tea cup

postcard collection – postcards she sends herself  when she travels (I wish I had thought of that!) and postcards from her friends and family.

*****They couldn’t all come up with 5 items so I made allowances for that. I’m a nice teacher like that. 😉

I know Chinese people are practical but only one person chose all sentimental items. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not judging their choices but their answers were different from what I was expecting. When they asked me (I had not planned on offering up my answers but they asked so I did) I answered: my photo CDs, Bible, treasure box (which contains all the great little cards, letters, and small sentimental gifts from Kiersten, Andrew and Anders, my mom and dad, friends, and former students), and my old passport.  I was using the exercise to learn more about them individually and as a springboard to more conversation. As usual, I was the who had my mind opened.

4PM – 93°

Chinese haircut


For the first ten months in China I had my hair cut by a very nice Australian woman. She worked out of her apartment and it couldn’t have been better. Communicating was a piece of cake and she knew exactly what to do. The day that I was dreading arrived and she left Guangzhou. There were a lot of ex-pats that were sad to see her leave. She had a loyal following because she spoke English, did a good job,  AND worked for herself which meant that she was cheaper than if you went to a “western” salon (not saloon ;-)).

Before she left she recommended a place where she got her hair cut (always good to know who cuts your stylist’s hair) but he was expensive because he was in one of those aforementioned western salons. Anders found a place in the building where he works and I thought I’d give it a try. He told me that when I called to make the appointment there would be someone who spoke English and they’ll just call them to the phone. He also told me that his stylist doesn’t speak much English but again, there is someone there that will help translate the first time. (Insert loud, obnoxious buzzer sound.) I called several times and was able to determine in Chinese that there was no one that spoke English and was unable to get past that. D, lovely D, made the appointment for me. Guess what? There wasn’t anyone there when I arrived that spoke English either. It’s just all part of the fun. It’s hair, it will grow back if the cut’s awful. So after much “communicating” which consisted of pointing, making cutting motions with our fingers, a little Chinese, and even less English we were ready to start.

It started with a 15-minute scalp massage/shampoo. It’s heaven! I’m falling asleep writing this because I’m thinking about how relaxing it was. Like any massage in China, they are doing things under the guise of a massage but I think I got my  kidneys cleaned as well as my hair. The person that does the shampoo is not the one that cuts your hair. OK, I can deal with that, that’s not so uncommon in the US. Winnie, not the Pooh, cut my hair. She did a fantastic job, no doubt about that. It just took 50 minutes! I was kind of nervous about having someone who wasn’t as familiar western hair cut it but she did a great job. She was meticulous but it paid off. To be honest it’s the best haircut I’ve had in years. I thought I would be on my way but no…wait…there’s more. How about another 7 minute scalp massage/shampoo? Why thank you very much. A different person provided that. So this was the third person to touch my hair. I’m wonder if that’s the norm or there were that many people who wanted to touch it. Makes no difference to me because…here it comes…I know you’re sick of hearing it…THEY ARE ALL SO NICE! I went back to Winnie’s chair and finally the translator showed up. At that point we didn’t need her, we had managed and I had a great haircut. Somebody else dried it, Winnie put in the gel and FINALLY, 90 minutes later I was on my way.

To recap:

4 people either cut, shampooed, or dried my hair

Combined I had 22 minutes of massage and shampoo

Got a great haircut

How much do you think it cost? This is not Chen’s barbershop on the corner near the wet market where I know you can get a haircut for 75¢, no lie. This is a salon in a large office building. It cost $11 and no tip! Talk about value for money: all the above and a clean set of kidneys. Yep, there are some things that will be difficult to give up when we return to the US.

3PM – 95°

Birthday hong bao


Ben’s daughter turns 1 today!! and we wanted to give him a hong bao (red envelope with money). Gift-giving in another country, especially one as different from America as China, presents a dilemma or four.

Dilemma #1: Is it OK to give a hong bao for a birthday gift to a one-year old? I don’t know, but I’m going with the “I’m a stupid American and therefore you have to excuse my stupidity” excuse. It comes in handy for a lot of things and the Chinese seem to accept it. 🙂

Dilemma #2: Is it acceptable to give “old” money? For Chinese New Year when giving RMB one doesn’t give anything but new money. It’s easy to get new money in January or February but not so much the rest of the year. So…I was worried that perhaps that tradition/superstition applies to any gift of money. I ended up giving the newest old money that I had.

Dilemma #3: How much to give? Originally I thought I would give 500 RMB. It seemed like a good number and I had it ready. As I was researching dilemma #2, I learned that it needs to be an even number. OK, I know technically 500 is an even number but the 5 bothered me. I was going to give 400 RMB but the number 4 is similar in pronunciation to the word for death so NEVER give anything with the number 4 in it or 4 of something! 666 RMB fits the criteria of acceptable but nope, can’t do that. It was decided that 600 RMB it is: no death, Satan, or odd number.

Dilemma #4: Which hong bao to use? Way back when we first moved here I bought a variety pack of hong baos. They have different characters on them and I have no idea what they say. The characters are not simplified script either so I was really at a loss. In the past I’ve asked my Chinese teacher but I didn’t plan and I needed to give it to him this morning.  That was easily solved, I made my own. It’s about time I used all the scrapbooking supplies I hauled 8,000+miles. 😉

Holy cow! I learned something today. I have been misspelling dilemma my whole life. I always thought it was dilemNa and when I spell-checked it came up dilemMa. I immediately went to that great, reliable resource Wikipedia 😉 and learned that dilemMa is indeed correct. The article also mentioned that is has been commonly taught incorrectly in parts of the US. Well I guess I lived in one of those parts. This is quite a revelation for me. Am I the only one?

3PM – 95°

Mandarin progress


I had a bit of a breakthrough today in my Chinese class. When I started lessons a year ago I took notes, feverishly too I might add. When I started the second level my teacher started writing things down. It saved time and she didn’t write as many things as I did. I have noticed in the last few classes that the writing has been less and less. Today? Nothing was written! I still have to think about every word that comes out of my mouth and sometimes my head hurts (I can only imagine how E’s head must feel having to listen to me) but I’m pleased that I’ve progressed to the point that nothing is written. As a visual learner that makes me panic a bit but it’s the Berlitz way. Hmmm…it only took me a year to reach that point. Now that I think about it perhaps it’s not something I should be bragging about. 😉

On the down side, in my Mandarin class today my teacher told me that some of my characters look like a 3-year-old wrote them. We had quite a laugh about that. It’s true. Learning to write in Chinese transported me to another minefield. If I make a stroke wrong it looks like a completely different word. I now walk in 2 minefields: spoken language minefield and written language minefield. I get blown up on a regular basis. 😦

I’m so glad that E was able to tease me about it. Our relationship has come a long way and I adore her. We laugh a lot and I love that I can make her laugh in Chinese. I don’t just mean with my mistakes either (although that provides plenty of unintentional entertainment). I get her to laugh by saying something funny. She understands me. She actually squeezed my shoulders today. I know that seems trivial but this is a nation of non-huggers. 🙂

9PM – 82°

Favorite people photos – 1st year


WOW!!! I started to go through my vast “collection” of photos and realized that condensing my favorites from our first year to just one post would require superhuman skills. There are so many that are too good not to post so I decided that I’ll milk this idea for a few posts. I decided to start with people. Everyone likes people don’t they? I’m sure that as I’m laying in bed tonight I’ll think about this and kick myself about the ones I missed. Oh well, I can always do another blog  and title it, “The Forgotten Ones”.


9PM – 82°

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First Anniversary!


I cannot believe that it has been one year since I left everything familiar behind (except Anders and my cat) in the US and jumped feet first into this amazing adventure.  On my 50th birthday I didn’t do a whole lot of reflecting. I was living  a fantastic life. Kiersten was married and “launched” as Anders likes to say and Andrew had less than 2 years of college left. I loved my life and was quite happy, therefore I didn’t feel the need to make a grand gesture for my 50th. HAH! Little did I know that before I turned 51 I would be living in China.

I have learned so much about so much in the past year!

I CAN learn another language. I never thought I could or would 🙂 have the need after learning French in my 40’s. Chinese isn’t so easy but I’m doing it. 🙂 I just started learning characters 2 days ago, kind of cool.

Very little intimidates me anymore. Not people, not adventures, not situations, lack of language, food, nothing. If I can make such a drastic move then I feel like I can do anything. (If I didn’t have FB or my Kindle I might be writing a different story, but I do have them so this is my story!)

I really like Chinese food. I have also learned that I will try any kind of food. There hasn’t been anything too weird  so maybe it’s easy for me to say that. The only thing that I’ve spit out was a mooncake but I’ll give them another go this year for Mooncake Festival.

China is huge! OK, I knew that before I came here but I didn’t know that there would be so many places on my “To Visit” list. Originally I wanted to use the opportunity of living in China to travel in Asia.  All of the usual suspects were on the list and they still are. However my list of Chinese cities and sights is just as long, if not longer. Just like when we were in Switzerland and were given the advice of not to miss out on the “home” country, I don’t want to miss out on China. Truthfully I am more interested in my Chinese list than my other countries list. Why?

Chinese people are welcoming, funny, hard-working, gracious, and happy. There are women that I buy from regularly at the wet market that I always say hello to or they yell hello to me as I walk by. I have a fruit guy that I always buy from. BTW, he almost never has a shirt on 😉 There is a cleaning woman at work that always has a grin and hello for me. Kids are the cutest. They smile and say hello and are thrilled when you notice them. Their parents get excited as well. Chinese are VERY accepting of any attempt at speaking their langauge. I can name a few countries where that is definitely not the norm, ahem France. Sorry Monsieur C. but it’s true. The people who work with Anders are all so dear and D leads the way. They have gone out of their way to welcome us. One of Anders’ peeps gave Kiersten and Steven a beautiful set of mugs as a welcome to China gift! The people who I work with are so sweet and I adore my Chinese teacher. We always have a good time, even when I think she must surely want to pull her hair out! When I think back to the trips I’ve taken in China there are people who immediately pop into my head that made the experience special.

Guangzhou is the place to be, for me anyway. I’ve been to 5 cities in China and there is no place like GZ. I’m so glad Anders ended up here. It has a more relaxed pace. It’s probably because it’s so stinking hot but I don’t need to know the why of if. I just know that I can’t wait to get back after I’ve been away.

I will NEVER get tired of my view, particularly the TV Tower. I still look at it every night and every night it still amazes me.

I can blog. I didn’t think I could. I kept putting it off before I moved here because it seemed daunting. My nephew K told me I could do it. How could I let him down? So thanks K for giving me the kick I needed to do this so that when I leave I have this to look back on. Not to mention that I made a friend through it and now Anders and I are friends with RHHOG and Mrs. RHHOG.

I will cry my big, round, green eyes out when I have to say goodbye to Ben. 😦 I’m doing it now just thinking of the day. No one, NO ONE  has had a bigger influence on my time in China. He’s my brother from a Chinese mother! 😉 For the record he thinks I’m part Chinese from high up on the family tree. He makes me laugh every day. He told me a joke today about learning characters and all because after my class I showed him my first attempts. I never would have gotten the joke before now but he probably had it in his back pocket and was just waiting for the day when he could tell it to me. It’s a cute joke too.

I wanted to include some of my favorite photos of the past year but because I’m having connection issues today I think it’s best to get this published while I can. I’ll do a photo gallery blog over the weekend.

5PM – 99°