Sunday, December 18, 2011

Counting Blessings/Basic Survival Tips ( including how to access Facebook from China!)

Living and working in a foreign country where you don't have the strongest grasp on the language can leave anyone (especially an independent New Yorker who's used to getting things done and not needing or asking for much help in the process!!!) feeling some combination of helpless, frustrated, angry, and defeated at many different points in time.

Over the past few months living in Foshan, I've adopted the "Count Your Blessings" mentality where every time I hit a little "bump in the road" and something is NOT going right and/or NOT happening as easily or quickly as I expected it to ... I take a breath and mentally pull out my "list of accomplishments" in my head. To reflect on them. To metaphorically lift myself out of my self made little black rain cloud and get back to feeling proud and grateful. 

and no, I'm not talking about accomplishments like "getting all A's in AP Calculus" (Ha. that would NEVER happen anyway!) or "being able to recite the US Constitution word for word". I'm talking about really basic accomplishments that would not be listed as accomplishments in my home country. Things like ( my list of accomplishments here below)

1.) knowing where to buy a shaving razor. 
("Watson's" is a standard "Duane Reade/CVS type" store all over China) 

2.) knowing how to buy fruit. 
(you can't just put it in the bag and take it to the checkout counter, it has to be weighed and given a weight/price sticker by someone at a station by the fruit/vegetable section first then you can go checkout)

3.) knowing how to turn on/use my hot water for my shower/dishwashing,etc.
(you have to plug a plug into the outlet outside on my little "deck" where my washing machine is and turn two knobs to the right and ....voila!) 

4.) KNOWING HOW TO ACCESS FACEBOOK/BLOGGER/YOUTUBE, etc...  and every other website that the Chinese government has blocked.
( before moving to China, several people told me "oh, you'll never be able to get on Facebook over there"... but where there's a will  ( and/or a Gemini who needs communication and free speech like a Himalayan mountain climber needs a good supply of oxygen) there's a way. It's really easy - just purchase a VPN CODE. I would hesitate to download a FREE VPN. I don't think they are as reliable. They don't seem to work as consistently. 

I use Express VPN and I love it. You can access it here at http://www.expressvpn.info .I pay about $12 a month for the VPN, deducted from my US bank account. It's reliable and just really awesome! I have it installed on my laptop ( you can also get VPN's for your cell phone if you want to access FB, Twitter, etc. from there as well).  Maybe right now it seems like a ridiculous monthly expense, but it's really worth it. I also sometimes use this VPN at work http://www.happynewjokes.com . It's a website ( so it's not a file that will stick/ have to be downloaded to your work computer) that ... kinda feels like an old speakeasy or a secret passage way .... you might even say it's the cyber  "freedom trail". On the front page it looks like a "comic strip" ... but once you log in, you are taken to .... another world. ;)  I paid about $100 for a year subscription. 

But if you only get one VPN code - GET EXPRESS VPN.

5.) being able to get a manicure/pedicure/eyebrow wax by myself ( and knowing how much is standard so I don't feel like I'm getting ripped off). 

6.) being able to wire transfer money home to my US bank account to pay my bills 
    This actually requires a few steps, but at the end of the day, I am able to do it once every month. I have to transfer the money to my TA's Chinese bank account first. She goes to the bank with me every month and fills out the paperwork with her account information and so it looks like the money is being transferred from her bank account in China to my bank account in the US. Then I add my US Bank information and the Swift Code. My Chinese bank account here .... is really just a place where I withdraw money when I need it and/or transfer money to my landlord's account to pay my monthly rent and to my utilities account to pay my monthly utilities. I think it's because I don't have a "Chinese name". The ICBC Bank ( in Foshan anyway) doesn't recognize the English letters in my name ... something about it is complicated... I'm not sure what ... but whatever. As long as you have a helpful, patient, willing Chinese friend/co-worker, you should be able to send money home. Maybe this will be easier when I move to a bigger ( more international!) city ... like Shanghai. or to Taipei ... ( the capital of that democratic country in Asia known as Taiwan.) ;)  

7.) knowing how to pay my rent and utilities every month. ( as mentioned above)

8.) knowing how to receive packages from home (!!!!)
    This one may be number 8 here but it's definitely up on the list as being just as important and exciting as accessing Facebook. Being in a smaller city in China, the post office here generally does not understand addresses written in English. I guarantee that it will take you a month or so longer to get what is sent to you ( if you even get it ) if your address in China is written in English. Again, in Shanghai or Beijing it might be different, but to be safe.... I would suggest having YOUR BOSS SEND YOU AN EMAIL WITH YOUR SCHOOL ADDRESS or APARTMENT ADDRESS in CHINA WRITTEN OUT IN CHINESE CHARACTERS. THEN YOU SEND THIS EMAIL TO YOUR PARENTS/FRIENDS/etc. and they PRINT OUT COPIES of the ADDRESS IN CHINESE and PASTE IT  ( along with your name and ADDRESS written in ENGLISH) to each LETTER and PACKAGE that they send to you. Doing this, I've been able to receive .... brownie mix! and books! and birthday cards! and some canned/boxed Thanksgiving food goodies that I would not be able to find here! Getting those little "care packages" from home can truly make any day feel... like Christmas.

9.) knowing that whatever you are missing/frustrated about today, you will ultimately be taking for granted tomorrow.
  Just being patient and trusting that whatever you "can't do" in this new strange land, you will eventually be able to do and you'll do it and probably take for granted the fact that you're doing it and that it has become so easy and accessible. For example, I'm using wireless internet from my apartment right now. I'm doing it without thinking, and even getting a little bored and totally (unfortunately) taking it for granted. For the first few months that I was here, I fell into this pattern of religiously going to Starbucks, getting coffee and using internet from there. (sometimes going at 10pm and staying until they closed at midnight). Then I finally got internet for my apartment (paid for the high speed connection). BUT there was a snag .... something was NOT right. My poor little (relatively NEW iMac) laptop was SLOWER than ever,  the screen would FREEZE up, I had to manually shut it down every time - pressing the power button.  I literally thought it was infected with some sort of Chinese web virus. Then of course I became impatient and blamed "China" and "the censors" and chalked it up to "someone trying to spy on me" ....  when really it wasn't that at all. My TA ( as my translator) and I and the computer guy tried several things - when we disconnected the wireless my computer, I found that my computer was as fast as ever - and it played movies and songs and could shut down normally. So it wasn't a virus in my computer ... it was something with the interaction of the wireless and the computer. THEN we took the computer to the Apple Store here where the "Apple Doctors/Wisemen" discovered exactly what needed to be poked/prodded/fixed and ... viola it was fixed!  I had shut off my airport or something...I don't know... but it's... working at full speed now ( and the grumbling beast craving cyber communication is sleeping soundly inside of me. warm and satiated. )

So... I would just say try to be patient... and don't hesitate to ask for help. That's so much easier said than done... I know. But just trust that in the end it will all work out .... celebrate your small successes and know that you will be coming home stronger and wiser and with a list of "accomplishments" to be proud of. 

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