Homesick.

“Excuse me”. An elderly gentleman of about a metre distance from me says these two words in my direction, as he walks towards the bread in the distant back area of this particular supermarket aisle we are both standing in.

Wait, what did I just hear?

Was that…manners?

What a foreign concept this is to me. When did that surprise me?

Reverse culture shock is the process of re-adjusting to the area you used to refer to as ‘yours’. That place which used to be comfortably natural, and a good reference to what the base definition of the word normality is.

That place that just made sense.

I honestly cannot call any place my own place with certainty now. And I quite enjoy admitting that.

There is a difference between a place of your own and a home though. I do have a home. It is filled with my wondrous family, who are graciously putting up with my broke 22 year old ass for the two months I am living there. This is the place I learnt life, and will forever be a valuable nostalgic place with which I can remember all the beautiful and terrifying emotions when the words ‘grow’ and ‘up’ are mingled together.

But it is not my own.
I am still looking for that place.

This is a very interesting and unusual transitory phase I am experiencing now. Because I am in New Zealand for two months (in between contracts) I will have time to explore and write about these new feelings, and get to know my home all over again. It has only been four days as I write this, so I feel the best is yet to come. Or maybe I’m still in shock about being back in New Zealand. Ten months in China really flew by.

What do you call a home? Is it different from what you call your own?

E.

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Puddles.

Small note, part writing practice/part emptying the mind tank, concerning a mindset I’ve noticed flaring up and dying down amongst fellow foreigners I know. Including myself.

Loneliness.

That unavoidable void devoid from, well, people.
Or person. Usually one.

Some label them as ‘The One’.

Now I don’t subscribe to the theory that there is only one person destined to be your husband/wife/partner/co-habitant/blanket thief. I think it’s silly. There are far too many interesting people out there that I often have a hard time being attracted to just one person. This really comes out when my selection pool of whom I find attractive is dehydrated down into a puddle when moving to a city such as Shijiazhuang.

Frankly it’s easier not even thinking about it, and busying myself with other things. It works most of the time. Travel has become easier with the Internet; I can talk to almost everyone back home at every time of the day/night and keep relatively up-to-date.

I think back enviously terrified to my aunty, who traversed the world many times over, back to when her postcards were like gold and A2 sized maps were almost torn in half by the leftover pinholes of past towns she visited. I wonder how she felt, going to these amazing places with no safety communication blanket.

And I wonder if the Internet has in some way ruined my own experience.

Can I never feel fully complacent being by myself when I know there is so much technology out there being used to connect us all? Can I never want to be alone because being alone is now a twisted privilege accessible by those we call dysfunctional and peculiar? I know I don’t want to be alone forever, but I don’t want to feel guilty or confused because I don’t feel like I have the choice to be alone.

Don’t get me wrong; I’d love for a ‘someone else’ to enter my life.
But I’m also content with the fact that the time for that is probably not now.
I need more pin holes in my own map.

E.

Goodness gracious Great Wall of China.

I wasn’t going to become that foreigner who lived in China for ten months without visiting the Wall. The amount of ridicule I would have had to endure back home would be enough to build a gigantic wall of shame. So, with time running out and one more holiday to celebrate (China you really do enjoy your holidays) I along with Lisa, Dan, Ollie and Lucy set off to Qinhuangdao, Shanhaiguan and the most eastern part of the Great Wall of China.

Our first train ride was an eight-hour chug through many small towns and one or two larger cities. I was in charge of ticket acquisitions, and in the days previous I thought I had purchased sleeper tickets for the rides there and back. There are many different tickets you can buy for trains here, some are seats (hard or soft) sleeper beds (hard or soft) and, if you’re lucky, a dining cart table on some of the more expensive trains. We were all looking forward to lying down in a bed, playing cards, reading, and nappng away the eight hours ahead.

Plot twist: I purchased seated tickets. Whoops.

(Travel companions are all still talking to me at least).

We passed the time playing cards and napping in obscure origami inspired sleeping/crouching positions. We arrived ~4pm, caught some cabs after fighting with multiple drivers about the exact location of our hotel, and made it to what is definitely in my top three of hotels to never stay at again. Kirin Hotel, nope, just nope. Lisa had some professional students living in Qinhuangdao who after being contacted by her were far too cute in wanting to take us out to dinner. I can still confirm that Beijing Duck is one of the best Chinese dishes you can have (duck skin and sugar, mmmm). The night ended with us all playing Articulate, a game where you describe a word without saying the actual word. It’s highly addictive and a great way to kill an hour or two.

Woke up to day two and rain.
Disappoint.

We hunted out some coffee/breakfast at ol’ reliable McDonalds and then went to the bus station. Bus number 25 or 35 will take you from Qinhuangdao to Shanhaiguan in about half an hour. We got off and purchased tickets to the main attraction and the highlight of my post – LaoLongTou aka Old Dragon’s Head. Its name comes from the extension into the ocean, which is meant to represent a dragon’s head drinking the water. For more information about this specific part of the Wall this link here is quite good –

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/scene/hebei/shanhaiguan/laolongtou.htm

Emotional summary – BADASS! I’m really jealous of countries whose history extend into the four digit category (silly New Zealand, you aren’t even 1000 years old) and seeing such magnificent structures from time periods my country doesn’t know is really rad.

The first part you could walk around consisted of a lot of rooms dedicated to the soldiers that would have worked and maintained the area. Many grain storage shelves and weapons get appreciated here. Then, through the final room, we gazed across and saw a magnificent stone maze just sitting before us. Naturally we filed into it and proceeded to race around for half an hour. Part of the Wall ran alongside it, so there were a lot of Chinese watching us get lost (we asked for their help in exiting, they helped by getting us even more trapped >__< ).

Finally, we walked up a ramp towards the main temple and the first sighting for me of the most eastern part of the Wall, Laolongtou. Completing the final step I looked out, followed the dragon neck towards the head, to be met with a beautiful sand barge beached up alongside the freakin head. China, what were you doing parking a boat there, honestly. However it didn’t cull the excitement I felt and I am very happy to tick the Great Wall of China off my list of viewed badassery, especially a non-traditional part of the wall with great constructional history and restoration. Now the next goal is to go to the most western part of the wall.

For the remaining day in Qinhuangdao Dan, Lisa and I met up with Agata, a lovely Polish girl who transferred from Shijjiazhuang to Qinhuangdao. We went to Beidaihe by bus and walked along the beach. I do not like beaches with fences, or ones with a fee to actually set foot on it, however that is China for you and we obliged. It felt calming to touch something that wasn’t gravel and concrete though, and we had a great time splashing and walking barefoot (even got sunburnt, whoops).

The sleeper train for the ride home actually was a bed; only it was 8-9 feet off the ground with a pathetic excuse for a safety barrier. But Lisa and I talked ourselves into a sleep coma and I ended up having a reasonable rest, much better than the stupid Kirin Hotel.

As I am in China another year I need another epic monument or five to visit. What would you suggest? Do you think the traditional tourist ones are the way to go, or is there some interesting place you’ve heard about that would be worth checking out?

E.

For everything else, there’s Mastercard.

When I came to China the process of legally entering the country, with the intention of working there, went like this –

1. An invitation letter/working permit from your employer was to be delivered to you (at the 11th hour I received mine and drove straight to the Chinese embassy for same day visa processing).
2. A medical check-up to the standard the Chinese Government wanted has to be performed (even though you are to have another one when you land in China anyway).
3. An up to date passport.
4. $200 NZD.

The first visa was relatively easy to acquire. You enter China with an ‘L’ visa, this is the tourist visa, and you have one month to change it to the resident visa or ‘Z’ visa. Your employer should help you with this and should pay for it (my school asked us to front the money which would then be added back to your pay at the end of the month, slightly annoying process but it meant less paperwork for them and in China that can mean a lot of time saved).

One small annoyance was that the new ‘Z’ visa expired after six month, whereas my contract was for a year. The official reason I was given was that Hebei, the province I work in, has very strict visa rules (especially pertaining to foreigners). My guess is that it’s easier for your employer to have a lot of leverage over you if your visa is so short and requires continuous renewing.

This leads onto my second (well, third) visa acquisition, the reason for this post, and what has been a huge headache for the past month.

Your visa is aligned with your employer, which makes sense, as they are the ones who employ you and house you in China. My first and second visa was with my former employer, Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School/43 Middle School. At the conclusion of one years work they offered us another contract. Before signing it I explicitly told the Foreign Affairs office that I had been looking for other work and that the visa paperwork should be a more open process so that, if the situation arose, I could pay for the current processing and transfer it to a new employer should it be needed.

Well I did get another job, at Kede College Art Institute in Beijing (and quite frankly one of the coolest employment opportunities I have ever had). Did my soon-to-be ex employer follow up with my initial requests? Hahaha, nope.

‘Apparently’ there is no paperwork that allows transference of ‘Z’ visas between different employers in China. Your visa is important for another reason, it’s the dates that you are legally allowed to be in China. My plane tickets had already been bought and paid for so 43 Middle School knew my leaving date (24th June) and knew my visa date expiration (15th June).

In a perfect world the scenario would’ve gone like this –

1. Erin gets a new kick-ass job.
2. 43 Middle School extend the working visa for eight days to cover my legality of leaving China/give me time to pack my things.
3. Z visa transference to kick-ass job in Beijing.
4. Sweet mental bliss.

In reality here’s how it went –

1. Erin gets a new kick-ass job.
2. 43 Middle School outright pulls my passport from the visa paperwork.
3. 43 Middle School says you have until the 15th of June to acquire an ‘L’ visa or you cannot live at the school anymore (huge hassle as I finished work on the 14th, not a lot of time to pack).
4. Kede College need me to sign the contract asap (travel to Beijing, sign four contracts, ask what paperwork is needed for them to start the ‘Z’ visa, siphon it via multiple emails).
5. Travel to Shijiazhuang police station to start ‘L’ visa process.
6. Need photocopies of my passport.
7. Travel back to school for it.
8. Need photocopies of my working permit.
9. Travel back to school for it.
10. Need bank statements.
11. Travel back to school area for it.
12. Need a release letter from 43 Middle School.
13. Travel back to school for it. (I love how the school neglected to tell me this part for the entire process).
14. Need photographs at a specific size of 48x33mm.
15. Collect all my strengths and deliver it to the police at the nth hour of processing application delivery.
16. Have a friend collect it for me the next day as I had to work.

However all is well now, and I can stay in China for another eight days before I vamoose back to New Zealand on the 24th June. Getting back in should be relatively easy, but I said that once before. Hope this information helps some of you who are considering moving to another country and need visa work for it.

E.

How to get a perfect score.

Kids say the darndest things.

We are currently performing the end of year exams. The students have to read aloud a passage we’ve chosen, tell us the meaning of two words and answer one question. It’s pretty easy.

Until things like this happen:

The phrase as it’s meant to be read aloud – “I have always wanted to go fishing. Last summer I went on a trip abroad. On the last day of my vacation I went fishing on a beautiful lake. Unfortunately I didn’t catch any fish and I got bored.”

Now replace the word fishing with fisting.

Have full marks, take them. Take them all.

E.