Guangzhou South Railway Station

Farewell, Guangzhou

Guangzhou South Railway Station
Guangzhou South Railway Station. #ART

Guangzhou is not a city to be taken lightly.

Again and again, I’ve had to learn that in my own unique way—unique, because while I had family and friends to support me during this period, the constant struggles that come with both living in China and living on my own in a new city (let alone country) tend to be mine to deal with personally. I’ve made my mark throughout Asia with quite literally my blood, sweat, and tears. After a year in Asia, I have produced more sweat than I ever thought possible; I have scars from a motorbiking accident; I have scars from picking at mosquito bites—heck, the various emotional scarring is unbelievable; I broke out in rashes one night alone in January, not only frightening me to tears, but also prompting a trek in the pouring rain to the nearest hospital the next morning.

51st floor lobby at the Ritz-Carlton, Macau
#instaworthy 51st floor lobby shot at the Ritz-Carlton in Macau.

Indeed, China has broken me many, many times. Whenever I reflect on these past 14 months away from home, the significance of it all weighs heavily on me. Very heavily.

But such emotions, rather than having to do with the past and inarguably negative experiences, are instead largely due to the the positive feelings I have about China—or more likely, being in Asia. I’m leaving this side of the world where I’ve collected so many memories and stories—many of which I’ve shared with the people (you readers) who still bother to catch up on my (mis)adventures. And I now reluctantly understand the fear and pain that come with leaving, whether it’s people or places.

I get it. The act of leaving hurts not necessarily because we think about all the great times or even about the departure itself, but more because we can’t bear to think about the future without said people or places. Because it’s what I’m leaving from that scares me.

Haeundae Beach, Busan
Escape to Haeundae Beach in Busan, South Korea.

I am thankful for the experiences I have had, the people I’ve gotten close to, and the places I’ve been. It blows my mind how much one person can experience in a year, let alone a year in China.

Let’s pause for second. China. Yeah. While it’s easy to default to the “even I don’t know how I managed to survive” line when foreigners ask, I don’t want to perpetuate the negativity that surrounds the oft-misunderstood country. This isn’t to say I support this also oft-shitty country, but I also don’t hate it. Yes, even after proving my mind and body couldn’t handle life in China by breaking out in rashes and sobbing, I’m saying China really isn’t that bad. I admit I laughed to myself after typing that. But it doesn’t make it untrue. As with Western media, it’s just easier to bash China, when I actually appreciate a lot about life here and find incredible joy in the constant discoveries I make here.

Chinese wedding tradition
Chinese wedding tradition of giving tea in exchange for red envelopes.

There are the little things I’ll miss.

I took a taxi last night after attending my first Chinese wedding in China. The windows partially down, the night’s cool wind lightly blowing in my face, that weird Chinese EDM pumping through the stereo, I looked at the buildings flashing by. Seated silently and without obligation to talk as the driver took one of the many long bridges that cut through the city’s landscape, I could’ve easily been in Shanghai, coming home from a night at Geisha or the Apartment. These late-night taxi rides make me feel simply content. There’s something relaxing, definitely nostalgic, about such rides. Two-and-a-half years ago, every Wednesday night after hosting Shanghai Expat Mixers and nearly every weekend after a night out, I would find myself in a taxi home. Windows down. Wind in my face. And only the sound of the taxi driver’s choice of music playing while flying through the city on the elevated highways. This experience I’ll miss.

C+ avocado and banana parfait via Dianping Guangzhou
Thank you, Dianping.

There are new things I’ve come to love recently and know I’ll miss, too. Yesterday, I used Dianping (China’s Yelp+) to order an avocado and banana parfait. Why I waited until literally my last days to finally try ordering via Dianping in Guangzhou beats me, but the fact that I hadn’t done it definitely made me go for it.

AND OMFG HAVE I BEEN MISSING OUT.

For 18 RMB, the delicious parfait arrived straight to my door in 30 minutes. That’s literally $2.75. Not needing to tip also made me feel bad, since I paid basically nothing for such happiness. Of course, as with any food in China, I was slightly fearful of potential digestive issues, but I am proud to report that 24 hours later, my body has not rejected this miracle parfait LOL. I’m also pretty sure my digestive tract has taken quite a beating in China, so it could handle something like a parfait, right?

No doubt, in addition to experiencing the wonders of China, I have learned a lot about myself, my identity, my family’s background, and much, much more. Although I’m prepared to close this Guangzhou chapter, there will always remain so much to learn and gain from life in China. Does it not make sense that I am afraid of leaving a place that has given me countless opportunities, a place that has provided some of my best experiences, a place that makes me feel like an independent adult?

Returning home will help me refresh a bit until my next adventures. I’ve learned that I can’t be the type to live in any one place for too long. How long is too long will inevitably depend on a lot of factors, but it’s safe to say that I don’t see myself settling down in any one city for more than a couple years.

The world is out there for us to explore, and whether you believe it’s possible or not due to perceived limitations, I believe it’s too important not to keep moving, keep exploring.

Guangzhou was my jumping in the deep end, from the stability of American suburban life to the chaos of a Chinese megacity, only to come up for air and realize I’ve learned how to swim.

And I don’t want to stop.

Yangshuo, Guangxi, China

Teaching English class at Elite Modern in Tianhe

Uniquely China [Life in GZ, Ed. 30]

While I am so ready to leave China at this point, I of course have to take the limited time I do have left to enjoy what I call Uniquely China Things.

What I will miss about China is the ability to learn and experience things about the country and its society from an outsider’s perspective but with the insider’s advantage of having a Chinese face and being able to speak and understand the language—albeit at a rudimentary level.

In the instances I successfully blend in (usually involves my not opening my mouth), I usually feel relieved that I don’t have to be treated differently. Sure, having others know that I am a foreigner has its advantages (foreigners—save for blacks,#racism—are seen as superior; we can speak English instead if they can, too; among others), but I find that the attention just leads to the bromide conversations about me and my background. I can’t count how many times I’ve repeated the phrase, “I’m American but my parents are from Guangzhou.”

Besides, being able to pass as a local makes life here seem that much easier. Effortless. No doubt, I still encounter many situations in which I severely wish my Chinese were better to articulate beyond a fifth-grader’s level, but I find that many locals are graciously patient, even when they never end up realizing I’m not a local. Sorry, I’m normally not this slow/mute/incapable, I find myself quietly begging.

But then I look around and see that I’m not alone. Although they might not see it as such, it’s a struggle for everyone, and it’s a wonder the service industry has so much patience to handle the masses, which often seem even more incapable than I am…

Anyway, this is all to say that I find that my life in Guangzhou has been incredibly valuable, largely thanks to my Chinese face. Many stories, hastily typed notes on my phone, and unedited photos have not made it on this blog, but I have tried to record as much as possible over the past year, with countless unfilled promises to expand on this or that eventually. The truth is, life is impossible to record in full, let alone life in Guangzhou.

So with that, I highlight a few Uniquely China Things from this past week+.

Teaching English class at Elite Modern in Tianhe
Teaching English class at Elite Modern in Tianhe.

1 — Spreading Good Ol’ American Values as an English Teacher
I’m amazed at how easily I find myself teaching English in front of a class of high school students as a one-time thing, simply because of who I am and what I do: an American working for the TV station. After substituting for my coworker last time, the same contact wanted me to try one class with another group of students, frankly because of the status I can help bring to this modest English learning center. In China, one’s perceived status is worth way more than any apparent experience, and while I should only be grateful for what this means and has meant for the opportunities I’ve been given based on such an idea, it’s clear how wrong this is, especially when others who are much more qualified than I am should be getting these opportunities. Then again, what is seen as “qualified” here? As long as perceptions are fulfilled, standards are ignored—although unlikely to have been established in the first place. #CHINA

2 — Ride Hailing
Especially as a foreigner, it’s easy to think that taking Uber and Didi in China is annoying as hell, because once you call one, the drivers always call you immediately to confirm your location, no matter how precisely your entered your address on the app. Moreover, you often have to adjust your own location to make it easier for the driver to find you, despite, you know, GPS. While I hate having to describe exactly where I am to sometimes incapable drivers, I can’t complain too much, because I’ve never had to pay more than a couple dollars taking a taxi in Guangzhou.

Anyway, the more important observation here is the switching between Cantonese and Mandarin within a ride. Whenever I answer a call, I speak in the preferred dialect of Cantonese. When they answer in Mandarin, I can expect that they’re a non-local driver.

Today, although I had answered in Cantonese, we spoke in Mandarin on the phone. Once I got in the car, however, he switched to Cantonese, which always makes me question whether it’s because my Mandarin has a strong southern accent (definitely). Because I had chosen the carpool option, we went to pick up someone who at first clearly spoke Cantonese to both me and the driver, asking where I was heading and whether I would be dropped off first.

Then came the call.

This passenger picked up his phone, only to be apparently berated by someone who had been waiting for a while for him. This man responds in Cantonese that we were stuck in traffic (we weren’t) and then immediately after he hangs up, he asks the driver to hurry up in Mandarin. The driver responds in Mandarin.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in the back, wondering why this man who is apparently late chose to be cheap and not spare that extra few yuan to get his own car, and why he thinks he can switch from Cantonese to Mandarin and assume we didn’t just witness him lying to someone about being stuck in traffic. Sure, traffic was slightly slow, but we were moving at a decent pace. #thingsillneverunderstand

3 — Guangzhou-born Celeb Chef Martin Yan at TEDx!

Guangzhou being a surprisingly expansive city, there are several TEDx events organized throughout the year, but from what I hear, the one I attended Saturday was better than the one in Zhujiang New Town last December. With nearly 600 attendees, TEDxXiguan was hosted in the beautiful Garden Hotel and boasted an impressive line-up of speakers, including the architect behind Shanghai’s beautiful Xintiandi, an impressive Hong Kong-based a cappella quartet that made the day-long event worth it, and the hilarious celeb chef Martin Yan.

Born in Guangzhou and having spent most of his career on TV in America, Chef Yan speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, and English and did exactly that during his talk. He switched among the three, sometimes to clarify but mostly just made him hard to understand for those who didn’t know all three. So since I could understand all three, I’ll be honest, I felt special. This was something he could really only do in a city like Guangzhou where anyone who speaks just one of those three can fairly easily get by. I only wish I had more actively tried to talk to him directly and tell him how much I loved the first video I watched of his, a recent one because I’m too young to have known him during his peak years.

China's Cash-Free Day
Lead-up to China’s Cash-Free Day.

4 — WeChat WeChat WeChat
On the days leading up to the auspicious August 8, WeChat held a “Cash-Free Day” promotion throughout select stores that gifted what ended up amounting to just a few yuan to use on August 8.

In other news, I recently got my hair color retouched, for which I paid my stylist through WeChat. In China, it’s rare for me to use anything other than mobile payments, whether it’s to my landlord or hair stylist.


5 — Voiceovers for Crazy English
Again because I do voiceovers for the TV station, I was recommended to help record voiceovers for Crazy English magazine. For those who don’t know, this magazine’s founder has an insane and infamous history, but according to my coworker, this particular branch has “nothing to do with the crazy guy.”

So despite my reluctance to help an infamous company, I took the opportunity anyway. I figured I might as well see what kind of people work for such a company—turns out, all women who, as expected, have an excellent command of English and unfortunately work in a shitty office building.

I admire their efforts to create interesting, topical WeChat posts for English learners, and I appreciate that they “love” my voice, but companies like this are too #CHINA for me, in that standards are lower than what I’d prefer but, at the same time, low enough for me to gain experience and insight into China’s workplaces.

***

I’ll leave those who have made it to this point with:

  • These lovely screenshots of that weird Chinese “expert” teaching us how to massage our pelvises on television.
  • An article on burnout
  • Chinese Olympic swimmer Sun Yang with a selfie stick in an obnoxious ad in Tianhe

    Sun Yang selfie add at BRT station in Guangzhou
    Sun Yang selfie add at BRT station in Guangzhou.
  • And shots from the hilarious Shrek The Musical at the Guangzhou Opera House, thanks to free tickets from Hazza 🙂
《汉语桥》Chinese Bridge contest on CCTV

Exploring Chinese TV [Life in GZ, Ed. 29]

Summer in South China is swelteringly suffocating, so the solution? Stay indoors and use the TV I have only been using to watch my own shows and CCTVNEWS 😛

Seemingly perfectly timed for me to watch while still in China, the Rio Olympics have also helped me explore more shows, particularly Chinese game shows. And boy, have I been missing out.

While it’s no secret that smartphones have permeated Chinese society, I’m surprised—and yet shouldn’t be—that it includes the TV. My first of several experiences with Chinese people actually using the WeChat feature of shaking their phones was at an event at the Canton Tower, where I learned that people are truly not ashamed (when are they ever) of shaking their phones violently in public just in hopes of winning some obscure prize. And today, I found myself shaking my own phone to see what would happen… #china

Some observations:

1 — Rio Olympics
While watching the Opening Ceremony, the TV kept prompting me to rate the show by giving points from 1 to 5 (the option for 5 had to be on a second page). After the second time the message popped up, I decided to try it. I was amazed. I got points for voting, and I don’t know how to use them, but #COOL.

Watching TV in Chinese is…conflicting. On one hand, I don’t need to pay too much attention to what they’re saying since that would require a ton of effort and can instead focus on the events. But on the other, in those instances I do try to understand everything, I simply can’t enjoy it. So I find myself listening passively and watching, occasionally feeling proud to understand enough without straining.

2 — Foreigners on Chinese Game Shows
I must thank the Olympics for helping me discover the wacky world of Chinese game shows, because in the whole year that I’ve been here, I somehow never watched game shows, instead only using the playback feature to watch CCTV’s English channel…and my own shows on GDTV World 😛

Especially now with the Olympics on every day, I find myself waking up to start my morning routine to the TV playing in the background. And I like it.

The first game show I came across was Chinese Bridge 《汉语桥》, a Chinese proficiency contest on steroids. College students under 30 from around the world show off (and repeatedly say) how much they just love the Chinese language and China and OH MY GOD THIS IS THE MOST NATIONALISTIC, PROPAGANDIST SHOW I HAVE EVER SEEN. I mean, serious props to the Chinese government for managing to organize (brainwash) masses of foreigners to embarrass themselves on national television by performing skits based on ancient Chinese stories and “talents” that include singing in Chinese and showing off questionable kung fu moves.

This is not to say that I don’t have enormous respect for these foreigners whose knowledge of China and its language is far superior to even many Chinese nationals.

This past week, I also came across a well-known Chinese story on Zhang Liang on Mark’s China Blog. Then in a complete coincidence, one of the groups of competitors performed a skit based on this exact story! So while I couldn’t get the references for the other skits, I felt happy to have at least known this story. Now I need to read other important Chinese tales… Any readers who can point me in the right direction?

Somehow, a portion of the very episode I saw is already on YouTube, so feel free to get an idea of the propagandist BS that’s being broadcast in China 😛

Here’s a full episode from an older season.

Now I want to know what these other Chinese talent shows for foreigners are like, too.

3 — “Science” Show
I tuned into another game show just in time to see a live band wearing scuba gear being submerged into a pool still playing their instruments, prompting me to literally get out of my seat and practically yell at the TV over what an absurd experiment that was taking place.

The premise? The contestants needed to guess which instrument would cease to make sound while under water. And so, why not destroy precious instruments by conducting an absolutely unnecessarily wasteful experiment, all in the name of “scientific entertainment.”

*rolls eyes*

I admit, the show is entertaining, but all the “experiments” to answer silly questions—such as which string would be able to withstand the weight of a human dangling in mid-air—are so ridiculous that this would be a show in China.

Get a taste of it yourself:

What was cool about this one was that, again, viewers can open their WeChat and shake their smartphones play along with the contestants. The questions and answers are conveniently right on your phone as you watch the show and actually win stuff! In my case, I only got so far to get a 45%-off coupon that can be used at an online bookstore on the WeChat platform. LOL.

4 — Traditional Chinese Medicine Show
Mind you, I only spent a couple days observing Chinese TV shows, and I am only just beginning to scratch the surface. Imagine what else I’m missing.

Here’s another that I didn’t spend as much time watching but found it noteworthy, nonetheless.

It involves a beautiful host, some innocent man subject to test out the Chinese health-related techniques, and some “expert” offering the advice. Literally, the “expert” teaches the live audience of middle-aged women how to massage their temples correctly. Cue every single lady massaging their temples on camera. I admit I myself tried it, too HAHA. It’s too funny.

If you’ve watched some weird Chinese TV shows, what am I missing? I’ve seen some of the famous transgender host Jin Xing’s talk show, but I’m afraid my level of Chinese isn’t enough to fully appreciate her genius. Anyway, I’m open to all suggestions and hope that you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on the ones I’ve seen so far 🙂

Sunset before Tyhoon Nida hits

Taking Action [Life in GZ, Ed. 28]

As sad as I was to leave America, my time back in Guangzhou so far has been ridiculously active, so much so that within the first week+ back, I have not only checked off long-overdue items on my to-do list, but also checked off some unexpected things:

✓ Get in touch with professors to write my grad school recommendation letters.
✓ Schedule GRE exam.
✓ Book flight home!!! Seriously, I can’t wait.
✓ Download GRE materials and apps. (Sub-✓: Get Chinese GRE math materials from a local).
✓ Start studying for the GRE—which is scheduled to take place in just two months…
✓ Finish editing final “Face Time” episode. (Sub-✓: Finish editing in record time of three days).
✓ Start and finish The Search for Meaning.
✓ Publish a shocking five blog posts!!! Not even including this one.
✓ Try the two Muslim restaurants next to my apartment. (Sub-✓: Realize how much I’ve been missing out. Deliciously cheap food from family-run businesses = Happy Sonia!)

…and all of this:

1 — Meals on Meals on Meals
After suffering 15 hours on the worst airline (China Southern Airlines, why do you exist), the last thing I wanted to do was go out and eat. But of course, my aunt and uncle are suffocatingly accommodating, so while I wanted to go home, take a shower, and pass out from exhaustion, I ended up enduring a meal at the Wedding Restaurant (actual name) across the street. While I am grateful for their never-ending niceties, speaking now in a broader sense, it blows my mind how utterly out of touch adults can be toward those significantly younger than them (remember, I don’t consider myself a real adult). I’ve been thinking about that topic for a while, and I have a draft in the works, so expect more on that soon…

And then since half of my luggage comprised things for other people, I had to give all these wonderful items purchased from America to my relatives. Translation: Exchange of goods with dinner on dinner on dinner.

Luckily, not every meal pictured below was because of such an exchange, but case in point: I’ve been having many yummy meals since coming back, even a lovely business meeting over afternoon tea at the Hilton.

2 — Catching Up with Hazza
The next day, although I didn’t go to work, I ended up spending most of the day with Hazza, from shopping to enjoying a performance of Swan Lake on ice at the Guangzhou Opera House. By the middle of the performance, though, my jet lag was seriously taking over, with me desperately trying not to fall asleep immediately. Of course, I’m still grateful for the free ticket and the chance to see the talented skaters.

3 — Weather Woes
Weather in L.A. and Chicago was especially lovely. So to come back to Guangzhou’s extremely unpleasant heat and then a fucking typhoon barreling toward South China at a level supposedly unseen since the 1980s—I naturally feel as if coming back to China was a complete mistake.

And then when we all tried to stock up on food, I realized some people have literally no clue on what disaster prevention is. While others immediately think of stockpiling water and bread (as I did), the woman in front of me failed on multiple levels, making me unsure of whether to laugh or cry at her failures:

  • Her AEON membership card expired, the cashier told her repeatedly as the lady insisted on that not being possible.
  • She must have cleared the meat section with the packs and packs of discounted fresh (#OXYMORON) red meat, which made me almost want to pray that electricity doesn’t go out for her sake.
  • Her credit card got declined. LOL, I can’t make this shit up.
  • She took long enough fidgeting with her wallet after her transaction that the cashier felt the need to tell her to move her things to make room for mine.

How. can. someone. fail. so. hard.

But to the surprise of all of us, the typhoon passed essentially without major damages. Save for strong wind and rain in the middle of the night, the typhoon didn’t do shit. Even I’ve experienced worse weather here.

Stocking up for Typhoon Nida at AEON in Guangzhou
Stocking up for Typhoon Nida…

4 — Watching the China Watchers
My July issue of The World of Chinese arrived via kuaidi 快递 just in time, and I felt as if one article in particular, written by the genius Carlos Ottery, spoke directly to me.

The idea of watching China watchers is something I naïvely thought pertained to me alone, at least never thinking much of such an idea. So in a sense, I’m glad that I can at least identify myself—not without some hilarity—as a China watcher watcher 😛

Even as I prepare to embark on grad school for Chinese studies, I can’t see myself as a legit China watcher for a very long time, if ever.

The World of Chinese July 2016 issue
The World of Chinese magazine July 2016 issue

Anyway, enjoy this short documentary on how to be a Chinese tourist, produced by the place I really want to work at one day! #HIREME

GDTV World Face Time interview with GZ International Dragon Boat Team

Fun Before the Return [Life in GZ, Ed. 27]

This week’s update comes a bit later than usual, since I’ve been pre-occupied with getting my shit together before heading back home, but don’t worry—there’s a lot of fun packed into this one 🙂

Without further ado, my last week in Guangzhou before returning to America:

1 — Taiwan Tea Throwback
One of the highlights of my Taipei trip this year was all the TEA I drank, whether it was light oolong atop Maokong or the heavenly taro bubble milk tea near Taipei 101.

This week, in search for a place to chill before going to shop at the new Zara at Parc Central, I decided to check out the new tea room that opened behind Garden Hotel. Not surprisingly, a Chatime had been open for a few months in this location before this Nagi tea room replaced it. Can’t recall what was before Chatime, but this location was definitely three different businesses within the year I’ve been here.

As soon as I approached the shop, I saw through the windows a cupcake on someone’s table. After walking in, my eyes darted straight to the back, where a display of fresh cupcakes and cream puffs served as a half-partition to the small, disorderly kitchen to bake them. I chose the chocolate one.

With most of the tables taken, I took a seat right at the wooden counter, on the opposite end of where all the employees sat and chatted. I quickly decided on mint tea, realizing only afterward that mint and chocolate would be a perfect pairing.

And it was.

Even though I had my book with me, I ended up enjoying my time so much that I didn’t need the book. I simply sat at the counter, sipped the refreshing mint tea and savored the sinfully rich chocolate cupcake, all while happily Instagramming the view from my seat.

2 — GUYS, MY HAIR!!
I had been itching with anticipation over getting my hair and makeup done ever since I got my ombré. AND GUYS, IT LOOKS SO GOOD!

The only thing is that I definitely need to go back to get that back part fixed, as it’s not that smooth of a transition, but hey, not bad 😛

3 — Dragon Boat Adventure
And now the real adventure 😛

Even though this meant I worked on a Sunday, being able to check out the Guangzhou International Dragon Boat Team train was thrilling.

The interview went okay, considering the 200% humidity outside and constant threat of makeup melting off. Despite the curls in my hair inevitably flopping before the cameras rolled, some of the hairspray managed to keep the most important front curls somewhat in tact.

And then: FILMING THE TRAINING!

Even though the cameramen were worried about my wearing a dress and getting on the boat, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get on and follow the dragon boat. I am SO glad I did, even getting praise from the crew for tagging along, which I thought was a bit odd. Because this was just too fun not to do.

4 — Live Streaming Mania
The first time I was exposed to this phenomenon was at the W Fashion Week, where someone I had just met live-streamed the entire event, even adding me in it—I’m sure she got some extra money for that, because part of why it’s so popular is that viewers give the livestream stars money in the form of “cars” and other “gifts.” So if you have millions of followers gifting you these intangible items, then imagine how much money you could make…

And since then, I’ve noticed with increasing worry just how widespread this is, both in the media and in everyday observations.

Bloomberg covered it. WSJ picked it up even earlier. Forbes did a story.

And just on Monday when I got a mani-pedi, one of the young (like, high school age) employees sitting two seats away from me was on her phone the entire time. At one point, I saw that she was watching a livestream of two girls in their bedroom just talking and laughing at the camera, asking for money. And they were getting it. I can’t even imagine how many millions of viewers they had. What’s even weirder was that this girl was screenshotting the livestream—as in, she had one finger on the home button and another on the side, absolutely ready to take random screenshots for whatever equally random reason.

I’m amazed.

***

Next update to come when I’m in the U.S.?! ❤ ❤ ❤

bEnsHoP in Guangzhou

Weekeeeend [Life in GZ, Ed. 26]

My apartment has never seen me home as much as I was last week. It has to do with a combination of Guangzhou’s unbearable heat, the pulsating excitement over going home NEXT WEEK, the need to finish up two episodes before I leave, and my Serial podcast binging (more on that in an upcoming post).

So after working mostly from home last week, this update mostly concerns weekend outings 🙂

1 — bEnsHoP
Friday was my day off from the office, but again due to the heat, I didn’t feel like venturing too far off. Dianping (China’s Yelp) led me to local café I hadn’t yet been to—shocker! So I made the short but sweaty walk to this cute shop that sells overpriced trinkets and clothing but also doubles as a coffee shop.

I had planned to make some more progress on my book of the month, but ended up spending that time sitting back, drinking yummy iced coffee, WeChatting, and enjoying the view overlooking Jianshe 6 Road from the closed-off reading room in the back. The room’s bookshelf was stocked with what seemed like every single edition of some Hong Kong magazine called Milk. One even had Usher on the cover.

2 — Cute Discoveries
After bEnsHoP (typing that is a circa-2000 pain in the ass), despite the heat, I didn’t feel like going back home yet. After all, I had already spent most of the week indoors.

Instead, I walked around Taojin, an area across from the Garden Hotel that I hadn’t walked around in what felt like a very long time. During the first few months of arriving in Guangzhou, I had a habit of just walking and walking and walking, exploring as much of the city’s streets as possible. So coming back to Taojin certainly brought back memories but also, in typical China fashion, new discoveries. Apparently, a Walmart now exists in that area. Now, for anyone slightly familiar with the area, Taojin is basically a bunch of small streets and old apartment buildings with tiny shops on the first floor, selling everything from clothing to CoCo milk tea.

And somehow, the Chinese have managed to fit a sizable Walmart there by taking up a couple of these shops and building down, just like the Walmart in Kecun at the basement of a new shopping mall. Perhaps I shouldn’t have such a tone of disbelief based on my own background: Americans’ concept of Walmart is a gigantic warehouse on an island of blacktop, and in Chinese megacities, the fattest buildings you’ll see are multipurpose shopping malls surrounded by, well, even more shopping malls.

Anyway, I wandered into a 7 Eleven (seriously, I will miss actually going inside convenience stores, which aren’t a thing in the U.S., unless you’re filling up gas). I saw on one shelf what looked like pre-packed snack bags, which I thought were adorable. Plenty of locals are seen going in and out of convenience stores for quick breakfasts or even lunches and dinners, but this is the first time I saw the soy milk and Chinese bread already put into bags for customers on the shelf.

Another cute sighting: A cat? in front of the popular Saint Honore bakery. I don’t know why that was necessary, given the bakery’s already great reputation—unless I missed something in the news about a food scandal.

3 — “Little Hosts” Perform!
Remember when I pretended to be a teacher to little rich kids?

Well, Hazza has since rightfully resumed his role, and Saturday was their time to shine and perform their rendition of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.”

I brought along a family friend, who returned last week to spend his college summer break back home—he’s a Guangzhou native but has been studying in the U.S. since high school. We met for ramen at Ajisen after my brief hour at the office, then headed over to the radio station for the show to surprise the kids.

And here’s the thing about public events in China: WECHAT IS EVERYTHING—as if WeChat doesn’t already permeate every waking moment of every single person in China.

Before the performances, a giant QR code was splashed on the projector screen, with the host insisting that everyone scan the code before the show begins to enter a raffle of some sort. Imagine all the parents who came to watch their kids perform standing up, holding their smartphones up at the stage, and trying to participate in what they really came to do—win a prize. (I don’t actually know what they won, but pretty sure it was something lame). Meanwhile, I sat back and looked with utter amusement at the adults clamoring to scan the QR code, then shamelessly shaking their phones as part of the method to place on the leaderboard. Yeah, I have no idea who comes up with this shit that actually manages to gain traction at all these Chinese events.

After the winners were announced via their WeChat photos, the real show began, with “little hosts” from other classes (apparently this is a whole school of classes) kicking off the performances with introductions memorized cold and recited in a way that made me think of the show “Toddlers and Tiaras”—slightly endearing yet totally terrifying.

All in all, the event was incredibly interesting to a foreigner like me. As you can tell just by my observations, I found it very valuable to observe such an event—and yeah, mock the parents and other audience members who unabashedly participated in the WeChat game 😛

Shake it off!

4 — Independence Day: Resurgence

Guangzhou taxi grafitti
Wha

Afterward, my friend and I took a taxi to Tianhe to watch Finding Dory. (The taxi had some interesting graffiti for anyone interested and who can read Chinese. Something about prostitutes, apparently).

Two hiccups: The movie theater we wanted to go to in the new mall that houses the Apple Store wasn’t open yet (though we both agreed that given the pace of Chinese construction it probably would have in a few hours). And then the Grandview Mall’s theater didn’t have any more showings of Finding Dory that day. We ended up settling for Independence Day 2, for which we expected the worst but ended up not hating it. Low expectations FTW. I still wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone, but I give it credit for at least being entertaining enough for someone who hasn’t seen the first one.

5 — PARC. CENTRAL.
Parc Central, the new mall with the Apple and Tesla stores (seemed to have its grand opening Saturday!), is incredible and makes me want to move to Tianhe even more. On the basement level is a ridiculously cool restaurant called Asia Table, where we got delicious Thai tea to go before heading to Grandview. Note to self: Return ASAP. We also walked past a curry restaurant that looked great, but decided after the movie to take my friend to my absolute favorite Korean BBQ restaurant in Guangzhou at Liede.

6 — Xingsheng Lu

Despite having to wait about half an hour before being seated (this place always has lines), we made it inside in what seemed like a reasonable amount of time. We arrived when the number was at 59 and ours was 92. I know, sounds insane, but it turns out so many people get a number and leave, so when the poor employee standing outside in the heat is calling numbers, she literally leaves a few seconds for you to get up from the waiting stools before she moves on to the next one—hence, little more than half an hour wait for 33 numbers ahead of us.

Full of deliciousness, we made our way to Hooley’s just in time to check out its nightly live band and enjoy some drinks. With the lack of A/C throughout the day, I’m pretty sure I sweated off a couple pounds. (Not going to go into too much detail now, but let’s just say speaking of lack of A/C, not only do I have to go into work on the weekends, but I also have to bear the hell that is an A/C-less office on weekends to “save energy.” FUCK. THAT.)

Anyway, despite my friend being born and raised in Guangzhou, these spots were completely foreign to him. Even though he had helped show me around way back in July when I first arrived, we have somehow switched roles, with me acting more like his tour guide, showing him a city that’s being hopelessly transformed by the minute.

I’ll end with a shot of the gorgeous Guangzhou sky at sunset from Tianhe, where I’m currently taking offers from hotels to let me stay permanently 😛

Tianhe sunset in Guangzhou
Beautiful.
WE Events Cantonese Pastry Cooking Class

Enjoyment [Life in GZ, Ed. 25]

Most of my time this past week was spent on polishing and exporting part two of my two-part series on an Italian shoemaker in Guangzhou, so when the weekend finally came, it felt great to be free of both this episode and the HSK.

Without going into too much detail, exporting shows to tape is the biggest pain in the ass. I’m not joking when I say I’m 100% willing to pay someone to take care of that for me. It’s that terrible.

Anyway, let’s review the week.

1 — Returning HSK Books
On Wednesday, I made my way back to Sinolangue to return two prep books, one I paid for but didn’t write in so figured might as well give it to my teacher.

I had also given her my voucher for the W Guangzhou’s hair salon. Story time: I had called to make an appointment after my HSK exam, but I frankly didn’t feel like speaking Mandarin or Cantonese when booking, assuming using English at an international hotel would be totally fine anyway.

Very unfortunately, the two female employees immediately revealed their complete lack of professionalism. How, you ask? They literally laughed in my face—technically into the phone, but you get my point—when they heard that someone was speaking English.

The first woman, I could hear, laughed as she beckoned another woman to come answer the phone. Speaking in Cantonese, she’s giggling as she tells the other woman that I speak English.

While this is happening, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking of what my coworker told me about how he had given his wife his voucher for a free haircut but didn’t think it ended up being very good.

After begrudgingly making an appointment (wanted 6 p.m. but was asked for earlier because I guess they didn’t want to work so late, those whiny unprofessional bitches), I ended up complaining to my friends and family, soon booking an appointment with a stylist that a friend’s friend has been going to for years. Much more reliable, much more expensive (friend’s friend is rich, so this should’ve been expected), but also decidedly much better service. Since the process ended up taking four hours, this stylist went out of his way to make me feel as well-attended to as possible, giving me a plate of grape tomatoes, hot water with lemon, magazines, and even two mini packs of Bacio Perugina chocolates. You can check out my photos from my last post.

So now that I’m never going to W’s hair salon, I figured my Cantonese-speaking Mandarin teacher would like the voucher.

ANYWAY, long tangent aside, after returning the books, I inevitably made my way back to Feel More Coffee & Bagels (remember, walking distance from Chinese class!) and texted Randy to tell him I was going back. He had been wanting us to meet again, so I figured might as well let him know.

We ended up chatting for over an hour until he had to pick up his son from school, and then I got the chance to sit and talk to the Hongkongese owner who spent a few years in Vancouver and in the hospitality industry.

And this is key.

As I walked from the bagel shop to catch the BRT home (Guangzhou’s speedy bus service with its dedicated bus lanes), I thought about how much I value such interactions. This year of being away from home has forced me to view my life back at home in such a different way, suddenly seeing the value and joy in random interactions. Whether it’s our foreignness or ability to speak English, something draws us together with a force that I now (mostly) welcome with open arms.

That’s not to say I will go up and speak to everyone here whom I overhear speaking English, but it’s refreshing to be surrounded by this inviting openness among the English-speaking community. We Americans indeed can be selfishly close-minded.

2 — Hazza’s Birthday
Thursday was Hazza’s birthday, and despite remembering telling his class of young wannabe hosts about his upcoming birthday, I ended up completely forgetting until a few days before when he invited me to an event the day after that he’d use as a way to celebrate instead of hosting something big of his own. (Really, it’s a wonder I remember anything with this shitty memory of mine).

On his birthday, we happened to have a meeting with W4 to discuss our future plans to work with him. After English news, we had some time to kill in the TV station’s café, so while I scrambled to finish adding subtitles to my episode, he tried to read from his Kindle as some apparently famous Hong Kong-based singer/actor was being interviewed on camera right next to us.

We had no idea who he was, but Hazza was smart in asking to get photos with him, because it turns out this Kenny Kwan actually is quite famous, with a casual 40k+ followers on Instagram and Hazza’s friend’s favorite singer. OK.

Consul celebration at Oakwood in Guangzhou
Happy birthday, Hazza!

That night, we met up at Oakwood, a luxurious hotel and apartment that was hosting a special event for employees working at the consulates here in Guangzhou. He got two free tickets (worth about 700 RMB total), so we basically crashed it.

As the event was organized by That’s PRD, I saw my face everywhere—as in, they had their latest issue of the magazine blown up on a poster right at the check-in table, where copies of the magazine were also spread out.

The event was quite nice, with raffles for some awesome prizes (stays at Oakwood, trips to Chengdu), and although we didn’t win anything, I enjoyed getting to meet more people and see employees from That’s PRD come up to me, asking if I’ve seen the June cover.

That’s a resounding yes.

3 — Cashing in on My Free Massage
Finally, about two months after receiving vouchers for a free massage and a free facial, I booked and used the free massage. Definitely needed after a week of video exporting stress (really, I’m desperate to outsource this job).

Tuning spa robe selfie

What I didn’t expect: To be massaged by someone a year younger than me who says she’s been working in the industry for three years. The massage itself wasn’t bad but wasn’t great. I guess I found it weird just because I still have that American mindset of upward mobility for all, but in a country with a population of over a billion, that’s not quite possible.

What I did expect: To be harassed by the employees afterward to sign up for a membership. As I saw waiting to be taken in, the sign on the table haunted me with its membership pricing list. Surprisingly, as soon as the massage ended and I changed out of my comfy robe and back into my clothes, the 22-year-old masseuse led me straight to the elevators to leave. Legitimate shock.

I suppose they still have the opportunity to harass if I choose to cash in on my free facial, but we’ll see.

4 — Saturday Shopping

Dongfeng Road in Guangzhou

Since the weekends leading up to the HSK have been mostly spent studying and stressing, I really just wanted to go shopping again. Remembering that China Plaza is a walkable distance from my apartment, I took advantage of Saturday’s sunny blue skies to enjoy a walk to the mall, with the idea to also grab a bite to eat and read. Note: The walk also involved plenty of sweat—the humid heat in Guangzhou lately has been unbearable.

Chinglish at Capital Café in China Plaza

The Hong Kong-style restaurant Capital Café recently opened downstairs from my apartment, but China Plaza also has a location. I only took a quick glance and decided to avoid the noisy crowds there. But then something on the menu caught my eye: “Remove the previous D Porkneck.”

LOL.

I bought a fitted long black dress from Mango—clearly with high hopes that I won’t be gaining the slightest weight and will be keeping up with this workout regimen 😛

On the way in and out of China Plaza, I saw a giant tent promoting Galaxy C outside, where super-thin Asian models were scantily dressed holding the products and walking up and down the area between two display tables. The only gawkers in this extreme heat were nerdy men standing by the tables.

Lottery for data on WeChat5 — Mystery Online Treasures
If there’s any reason for you to learn Chinese while in China–if it’s not to use for survival—it would simply be to unlock all the fascinating treasures found deep within WeChat, Taobao, Dianping, and even Didi. As any Chinese learner would understand, even if you know each character in a given phrase or paragraph, it’s likely you still can’t understand its meaning. So while I am able to understand enough to navigate to “secret” passages, I end up stuck in not knowing exactly what treasures I may have unlocked or how to use them.

WeChat: Official Accounts can be incredibly impressive in how flexible WeChat’s platform is for brands to create versatile portals—or apps within the app. Wallet and W4 Deals are about as far as I go in terms of getting discounts, but as I’ve discovered this week, you can play your luck and spin what looks like digital penny slots to get free data from China Mobile. I still am not sure how it worked, but I didn’t win, apparently.

Taylor Swift relationship Taobao insuranceTaobao: Shocker, Taylor Swift ended a relationship with yet another man? A coworker sent a screenshot of—no lie—what he calls Taylor Swift break-up insurance. Buy it for 1 yuan, get 2 yuan if Taylor ends her next relationship within a year.

Dianping: I’ve been using China’s version of Yelp so much more often these couple of months. Thanks to Dianping, I’ve been able to find so many cool local spots to eat. Even better, the addresses are always correct—unlike Foursquare’s—so when I bumped into a familiar face today on the street who told me about a new bakery, literally just by going off the store name and street name she casually mentioned, I immediately Dianping’d and made my way over to this shop down a narrow street to buy the most delicious buttery chocolate croissant. Other discoveries just this week: A Vietnamese pho shop and a Thai noodle shop that I discovered also on Dianping a couple weeks back in Tianhe and was so overjoyed to find that there was a new location within a five-minute walk from my apartment. YUM!

Didi: This discovery was a couple months back, but every ride taken adds points or “Didi money” that you can use to actually buy stuff in its own online store within the app. Imagine Uber having its own online store for you to spend points and buy everything from wine to clothing. I’m not kidding. What is this crazy Chinese world we live in. I haven’t actually bought anything, despite the not insignificant number of points I’ve collected, because the last time I checked, actually using points involves quite a bit of fine print that even my cousin thought was confusing.

6 — Cantonese Pastry Baking Class
I learned how to make 老婆饼 laopo bing,老公饼 laogong bing,and 花生酥 huasheng su (wife, husband, and peanut pastries?) at an event for both foreigners and locals on Father’s Day on Sunday 🙂

The last time I made pastries was in Morocco with Kelly, where we had a blast, so I jumped on this opportunity as soon as I heard about it. For the long afternoon at an eclectic co-working space with an open kitchen at the Yuancun metro station, I enjoyed not only knowing what goes into these yummy pastries, but also meeting cool, new friends in Guangzhou!

After sharing a few of these photos on WeChat, the cameraman who loves me asked me about it, so I inevitably brought the whole box of pastries to the office today. After having already gifted the office my aunt’s desserts and eggs, I feel like I’m being known in the office as the girl who brings delicious snacks lol.

What a long update 😛 and I still have lots to record, e.g., my weird-ass dreams lately.

Until then, I’ll leave you with this one last photo that captures pretty well my new ombré, heh.

Hair :D
Look, you can actually see my color 😛
Screenshot from Face Time show at W Hotel

The Deets [Life in GZ, Ed. 24]

While going through this past week’s photos and notes, I had initially thought that it had been a rather calm week. Fewer photos. Fewer notes. More time spent on cramming for the HSK.

But then I realized that no matter how “calm” I may think a week may seem in comparison to some recent crazy ones, there will always be moments worthy of recording.

I think this speaks volumes—that what I thought was a calm week actually wasn’t all that calm, especially when I think back to my days in the U.S., especially during college breaks at home, when I would find myself sitting on the couch watching TV for hours, playing with my dog, taking pictures of my dog, maybe walking my dog (RIP), generally being lazy as hell.

This laziness isn’t possible in Guangzhou—as much as I may want the peace that comes with it.

In fact, I miss these less socially active weeks, because I feel I’ve been slacking on noting the minute details of life around me. Recently, I’ve focused more on the big picture, with a few details here and there. But when it comes to those unique portraits of my life and the lives of those around me, I haven’t been as diligent.

So allow me to ease my way back into it a bit.

1 — blk #2
In an effort to pack lightly before moving to China, I had left behind my signature red blk glass water bottle. Yes, for almost a year, I had no reusable water bottle, i.e., was an environmentally terrible citizen—though, arguably aren’t we all.

I’ve mentioned my love for W4 before. They’re all about offering a wide range of deals in Guangzhou through their platform on WeChat, and I keep a pretty close watch for anything I might like. Especially being in China and without Amazon Prime or guts to splurge on Taobao, I’ve been filling that shopping void with occasionally browsing W4 deals (lol, such an #ambassador. Don’t worry, I actually will start working for them soon, hehe). And this week, I ordered and received my second blk bottle, this one in a more classic bottle shape but with such a cute cover and brush to clean it!

The design wannabe-nerd in me also loves it for the typography ❤

2 — Lead-Up to HSK
This past week felt like cramming for a college final all over again. I rushed to and from classes, took as many practice tests as possible, and worried a whole lot about nothing.

View of Tianhe at dusk from BRT bus
View of Tianhe at dusk while riding the Guangzhou BRT bus home from Chinese class.

3 — 汉语水平考试
These past two months have been marked by a refreshing jolt of productive passion, and I’m so happy to have managed going from not even being able to take the HSK 5 practice tests just a couple weeks ago to thinking I at least passed 😛

My thoughts: As another blogger put it years ago, the listening part is still crazy easy, making me wonder what the listening for HSK 6 and even HSK 1 is like…

“Ni hao.” “Ni hao ma?” What are the two speakers doing? A) Saying hello. B) Saying goodbye. C) Arguing. D) Saying good night.

And the HSK 5 isn’t much harder.

“Oh, no! My flight from Beijing to Shanghai is canceled!” “Why?” “Because the weather is bad.” Where is the man going? A) Beijing. B) Shanghai. C) Hangzhou. D) Xiamen.

Not joking.

HSK5 exam at SYSUBut I’m glad, because in comparison, the reading part—for my current level of preparation—is impossible to ace. For the longer reading passages, it was legit a toss-up. I found myself rushing to answer all the questions in time and pretty much guessing for at least half of them.

Fortunately, I think I also did pretty well on the last section: writing (typing, heh, because if I actually had to write, I would definitely fail).

I think all the prep had made me quite adept at bullshitting in Chinese, e.g., using five words (in bold) to write an 80-character essay: Little Ming thought that his job wasn’t meaningful so he quit. He then saw information for a very interesting job opening online. So he sent his résumé and applied. After interviewing, he didn’t feel that he had a lot of special experience and thought that his interview wasn’t that distinctive. He was very worried. So he didn’t expect that after a month he would receive a call from the company. He was very happy.

The second essay is even easier, simply based on a picture. Luck seemed to be on my side, as the picture I got was of a celebrity being interviewed, meaning I could use the characters I’ve learned from work about interviewing and reporting 🙂

In general, writing essays for such tests usually just means you have to bullshit some story to make it believable enough. Add a touch of warm-hearted, cliché life lessons, and you’re golden, e.g., In life, there are many different paths to take. But as long as one has the confidence, success will surely follow.

*pukes*

Anyway, one month to wait until results come back. Eeek. Hope the reading section wasn’t too terrible.

4 — Chinglish
Speaking of terrible.

Chinglish
Chinglish at the new coffee shop at work.

5 — W Hotel Episode Uploaded
Didn’t edit this one, so I couldn’t edit out some of my awkwardness, but if you’d like to watch it, I’ll share it with you on WeChat or Messenger. Otherwise, enjoy these screenshots 🙂

I like the intro of me walking in to the hotel with the general manager and enjoying a drink, i.e., taking a sip of the non-alcoholic beverage. The experience was definitely awesome—one of the best ones so far!

6 — #OnlyinChina
I have a love-hate relationship with this, but I know I’ll still miss it: The ridiculously fast-paced openings and closings of shops and restaurants. At least five new restaurants have opened downstairs of my apartment building all within these two weeks or so.

I love it, because convenient, new, yummy, cheap food choices.

I hate it, because construction, instability.

New Thai restaurant next to Central Plaza Guangzhou
New Thai restaurant downstairs 🙂

This week, I tried the newly renovated new (that extra new is no mistake, the place had opened for a couple months then shut down to renovate after no business, #withwhatmoney) Thai restaurant downstairs. Before the renovations, I never saw any customers. But now that the space has been divided into at least two different, reasonably sized restaurants, I noticed they were packed with people actually waiting outside with numbers and all. A new noodle shop downstairs was also packed on its opening day. Why? Because they gave out free noodles. LIKE, WHAT. Of course, I like to avoid those crowds, so I ended up trying the Thai place before the lunch rush this week. Food was average, but I liked the ambience and the staff greeting you in Thai. Sawadeekah! #authenticity

7 — Plume PollutionPlume pollution warning for Guangzhou

It isn’t a real update without another photo about pollution alerts, huh.

I just liked this because of the emoji. I also realized that the Plume app, in particular, pretty much says it’s high pollution every day, even if AQI is under 90, which I consider a good day. It seems that anything above 20 or so is “high,” according to this depressing app. Ironically, I like the Airpocalypse app better.

8 — #Ombré At Last!!
The best update for last, eh?

Yeah, after years of contemplating ombré, I got it done immediately after taking the HSK. They bleached the bottom first to make the ashy brown color pop more, and the top is a “chocolate brown.” I actually LOVE the chocolate brown and can’t wait until my darker brown roots start growing out. The bottom half turned out darker than expected, but it’s for the better, as it will eventually fade and get lighter 🙂

Can’t wait. I love it. As my hair stylist pointed out, can you believe a “big girl like me” waited this long to dye my hair?

Took four whole hours…but YAY FOR CHANGE! 😀

That's PRD June 2016 cover

70% Good, 30% Bad [Life in GZ, Ed. 23]

The Chinese absolutely love their statistics, which initially gave me headaches whenever I had to proofread English news stories littered with them.

They go something like this: “According to officials at the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Silly Domestic Statistics, the rate of excellent local residents following the Internet+ strategy and Belt and Road Initiative has exceeded 99.98%, a year-on-year increase of 0.88% and a month-on-month increase of 0.66%, which ranks No. 1 in the whole country, contributing to the over 6.88 million talents in the Pearl Delta Region that produce over 8.88 billion yuan a year, a week-on-week increase of 68 million yuan.”

Mind you, that is only a slight exaggeration of the types of stories I edit at least five days a week, contributing to 50% of my annoyance and 50% of pure exasperation.

Last year, I sat in on my first-ever Chinese press conference for the Canton Fair. Having only recently arrived in China and only having had an inkling of the Chinese people’s obsession with statistics, I was struck with incredulity, as the Chinese official on the podium listed percentage after percentage. All I could hear was “percent”—10% more people from Africa, 15% more exhibitors, 100% bullshit—as everything else he said went in one ear and out the other.

So I think it’s appropriate to describe my experiences in China—especially this past week—as 70% good and 30% bad.

Now for those China-uninitiated, this 70-30 ratio mocks the official verdict regarding Chairman Mao’s legacy, which states that Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong. As NPR puts it, “That assessment is controversial, given the tens of millions of deaths Mao caused through economic mismanagement and political terror.”

In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to compare him to Hitler and Stalin.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. Let’s get to how this past week was mostly good, with some bad.

That's PRD June 2016 cover
#covergirl

1 — #COVERGIRL
June has arrived! Along with yet another Chinese holiday (for which I can’t take off), the latest issue of That’s PRD is now available in Shenzhen and Guangzhou! I kid you not when I say that I laughed to myself for a good minute when I saw, right there on the cover, my sheepishly smiling face against a dark teal square.

Having lost the crazy competitive writing contest, I totally did not expect to be on the cover.

But hey, it does feel pretty awesome to at least be recognized 😛

2 — More. Networking.
My coworker invited me for some more networking, as if the past weekend at Imperial Springs wasn’t enough already. This event was specifically for those who graduated from Australian universities, so I found myself pretending to be a Griffith alum, while chatting to actual Australians. Various representatives, including the deputy secretary general of the Guangzhou government, spoke for the first half, and let me tell you, that deputy secretary general was the epitome of a Chinese public speaker.

Imagine that English news sample above. But spoken aloud. First in Chinese. Then in English. #DEATH

While I enjoyed the networking afterward, those speeches killed me and made me think about how people need to be taught GOOD public speaking—for the sake of the poor public.

3 — BAGELS IN GUANGZHOU!!
Can you tell how excited I am about bagels? One of the things I miss most from America is a good ol’ bagel sandwich, specifically from Pavement Coffeehouse in Boston.

So when I heard about this new bagel shop in town, I had to try it.

Not surprisingly, America still reigns in this regard, but I’ve already been twice these past few days and will keep returning to this heaven.

Feel More Coffee & Bagels, Tianhe, Guangzhou
SMOKED SALMON BAGEL SANDWICH GET IN MY BELLY

Thursday was my day off work and my first time visiting the shop tucked inside a pleasant and quaint residential community in Tianhe District. After enjoying such a lovely meal and then walking to my Chinese class conveniently a couple blocks over, I remember thinking to myself what a wonderful day I had—such vivid consciousness only made me appreciate the day—although rainy—even more.

When I went today after having placed my order in English, this nice white-haired man in—no, lie—faded blue overalls came up to me, asking carefully, eyebrows furrowed and all, “Where are you from?”

Randy is from Missouri but has been in China since 2004. He has a Chinese wife, just retired last year from teaching English in Henan, and has a son who looks like he should be his grandson. Randy speaks with a pace that immediately makes me painfully aware of my own youthfulness and the sometimes too-fast paced lives we lead. While we millennials tend to ramble and stumble over our words, rushing to get them out often incoherently, Randy carefully selects his words, even pausing to say, “I’m sorry. I’m trying to think of nicer words to describe Americans, but…”

After chatting about America’s shortsightedness in terms of accepting “people not like them,” we’re naturally now WeChat friends and will likely bump into each other at this shop soon.

4 — The Low
So it surprised me that two days later, I experienced one of those lows that hits me every now and then as someone living alone in China.

It’s that sudden rush of loneliness that makes me desperate to search for available ears at which I can spill out my feelings. It’s not uncommon for me, even back at home, and it’s not uncommon for many people.

And honestly, when we think we aren’t at these so-called lows, it’s only because we’re too busy distracting ourselves from the fact that they exist. Whether good or bad, this idea was inspired by Ezra Klein’s podcast interview with someone who went to a retreat to unplug for 10 days. No electronics. No communication at all. Just you and your silence in the middle of nowhere. This guest said that just after a few days, he found himself suddenly overcome by the extreme burden of the return of his painful childhood memories. Without life’s distractions, he could reflect on what exactly his distractions were distracting himself from.

I think that this is the reason why I feel occasional lows. After such a clearly happy day, my mind was able to free itself from distractions, ironically soon revealing the pain I still feel and still try to hide beneath it all.

Because sometimes, you can only distract yourself so much.

Anyway, that’s all to say that this is just life, and I’m not depressed 😀 Just a transitioning 20-something.

5 — Air

Airpocalypse app

Case in point: Air in China.

The air was unbelievably amazing this past week, especially on my best day on Thursday, thanks to the torrential rainfall lately.

But today, the skies looked particularly murky again.

We have to learn to appreciate the sunny ones before the storms return.

6 — Substitute Teacher Sonia

Casual example of the randomness/opportunity in China: My coworker asked me to sub for him as a foreign teacher for a class of rich kids/wannabe TV hosts.

Now, anyone close to me or anyone who has witnessed me being around kids knows exactly how awkward I am around them. In fact, it looks like I straight-up fear kids.

In truth, if the kids behave well and aren’t hyperactive, then I likely will not avoid them like the plague (again, only slightly exaggerating). I surprised myself (and my sister and relatives who saw my mom post these pictures on WeChat) with how well I think I handled teaching 11 kids who are 8 to 10 years old.

Unlike the Chinese kids I’ve encountered who reveal how fearful I become when around kids, these were extremely well-behaved, listening intently and answering questions promptly. Gotta give their parents respect—or, more likely, their ayis or grandparents.

7 — Life Coach

The night before he planned to leave Guangzhou and head to Hong Kong, I added one of my parents’ friends on WeChat. We first met in Guangzhou last fall when my mom was here and are Facebook friends. Then this week, my mom told me about how he posts a lot of Guangzhou art-related things on his WeChat moments, so I added him and just said hi. The next morning, he invited me to lunch with another friend at the W Hotel’s Japanese restaurant.

Having spent 30-some years in London, he exudes an air of well-off Englishman—and sure knows how to enjoy life.

We had such a nice conversation that we both felt that it was such a shame I only added him the night before he planned to leave! One of the most important things I got out of that lunch was to not think too much into the future, whether regarding relationships or careers.

It’s one of those pieces of advice we hear often but don’t truly understand until we find ourselves lost, confused, and over-calculating that this suddenly makes sense. When we suddenly start nodding our heads in agreement, hoping that understanding will lift us from the fog.

Something I also hear frequently from people much wiser than I: Now is the best time in my life. I have no obligations. I’m not tied down by the M’s, which, according to the rad Randy, are Marriage, Mortgage, and Mom. LOL. And unlike some of my peers, I like to think I’m fully taking advantage of this, having moved to the other side of the world to a country of frustrating contradictions.

***

My sister is also in what my mom calls—Google Translated to—a transitional period. While we are lucky to have more freedom than we ever will have, we don’t know how exactly to take advantage of it because it’s all so new to us.

So to Eva and anyone else who reaches The Low: know that you’re not alone. This period, after all, is temporary. Embrace the freedom you have now, because you’re going to miss it sooner or later. Take this time to develop yourself, your interests, and make sure to keep in touch with those you care about—something I need to keep reminding myself of. Be open to meeting new people, making new experiences, but be warned that the road is a bumpy one. Shit happens. You’ll feel terrible one day—maybe one week—but remember the 70-30 rule. As long as it’s 70% good, don’t worry about the 30% 😛

Go, and live your own life.

Plus, at least you’re not in China.

Canton Today filming

Growing Up [Life in GZ, Ed. 22]

Canton Today filming
Interrupted another filming going on just to take this pic 😛

Another month in Guangzhou has come and gone.

Despite my increasing workload, I managed to finish Hessler’s Country Driving, review coming soon. I think May was the hardest month so far to find time to fit in reading, but if I managed to finish such a lengthy book this time, I feel ready to tackle the rest of these months no matter how busy I get 😛 (I’ll regret saying that).

What I’m not so sure about tackling is the HSK exam in less than two weeks—literally aiming for a 61 on all three sections, although I have slightly higher hopes for the listening section. As for reading comprehension, judging from the one practice test I’ve taken (yes, only one so far #screwed), it feels like taking the SAT but in Chinese—meaning it involves all the stupid tricks to test not only your level of Chinese, but also your attention to detail and ability to follow directions. It’s killer.

Anyway, in between reading and freaking out about the HSK, I’ve been spending so much time with my coworker this past week—literally daily, whether it’s filming for work, meeting for work, working outside of work, or networking. It’s been nice to see more of the hectic life he leads, but I’m also totally aware of how I have a long way to go in many aspects.

I’ll highlight two main moments (impossible to cover all).

1 — Filming for the Canton Today YouTube Channel
Hazza and I filmed the pilot show for Canton Today, a new endeavor to reach U.S. audiences via a website that’s blocked in China. Yeah. Working in China = just go with it.

The show is about the five weirdest Chinese eggs. After writing the script and hosting it, I’ve been spending way too much time editing this eight-minute video, but I AM SO EXCITED TO SHARE IT. Compared to when I first started in September, my video editing skills are infinitely better. Never could I have imagined being where I am now back in September. I’m constantly amazed at the personal and professional growth I’ve been able to obtain thanks to such unbelievable opportunities—not without equally unbelievable headaches, of course.

The only problem is that this video will be uploaded on the new YouTube channel, which has to go through the horror of Chinese bureaucracy for approval and all, meaning it might take another two, maybe three agonizing weeks before I can even upload. Otherwise, I would totally share it as is.

As for the filming itself, there’s so much to note, but for now, I’ll just share the photos and screenshots from the raw video clips.

2 — Note Taking for World Leaders at Imperial Springs
This past weekend, Hazza recruited me to be an official notetaker for this forum featuring actual world leaders (former prime ministers, presidents, etc.) at Imperial Springs, the same place Bill Clinton once stayed at.

The resort was so large and ridiculously extravagant that we rode golf carts to and from venues within this haven in Conghua, a 1.5-hour drive from downtown Guangzhou but still somehow considered a part of Guangzhou.

I have so much to say about this amazing opportunity, but again, I’ll just leave you with photos for now. Maybe after these next few weeks are over, I’ll dedicate the time needed to reflect fully on these unforgettable weeks in May.