Migrant workers in Beijing.

What you see above is a migrant worker hut. A frame of bamboo or off-cut metal tubing pieces surrounded by sheets of weathered plastic all held together in the hopes it will stay intact till the next morning. There’s basic electricity running to it through thin lines that enable a couple of string lights to illuminate, and a hot plate or two to heat food with. Bedding takes the form of free-stand cots and people are sleeping two or three heads high. Insulation is whatever blanket you can find. Tonight will be about three degrees Celsius, and temperatures are dropping daily.

I was told about two hundred million citizens fill the lower-class title in China. Many were born in the countryside and traded toiling land for turning concrete in hopes of becoming a part of the high-rise economy China is heavily invested in cultivating. In all honesty, I think most of them become a part of the high-rise economy when their overworked bodies are thrown into the churning mixer and poured back into a new building – an oversized tombstone if you will.

It’s mind blowing seeing the vicious treatment of class here, and how it’s controlled. A co-worker and I walked past the building site you see above and wondered why there isn’t any consideration for unions, for outcry, for riots against this unjustness. With over a hundred million people being worked to the bone, the efforts to change their circumstances appeared to us as nonexistent.

We came to this conclusion – if you price basic rights like education and healthcare outside the financial realm of the lower-class, then what little of a bone they’re thrown is enough to drive production forward. More than that, the tiniest increment in finances is enough to give many of these people something more valuable that an extra .20c in the bank account – it gives them hope by providing security for their child. More money means their kid might have a chance at education, at aiming for a better life. Whether that actually works I cannot comment. But by shifting hope to the future, you certainly guarantee the complete obedience of the present day sufferers.

E.

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Watermelon eating competition.

watermelon

In the furthest corner of the Feige vintage fair a table filled with cut watermelon slices lay in the sun while a crowd of about a dozen gathered closer to it. One gentleman, a pot-bellied Chinese lad in a white t-shirt, black trackies and dark RayBan-esque sunglasses, approached and lifted from the table one of the larger slices, a crescent that arced the entire length of the now dissected fruit.

He stood back and off to one side of the table, holding his piece close to his chest, and surveyed the crowd. He was looking for a challenger.

I and a small group of friends had also gathered around the other side of the table when seeing such a spread of abandoned fruit, and, sensing this was about to turn into an eating competition, Chris, my software developing British friend, stepped away from us and selected a similar watermelon slice; a nonverbal agreement that he was to be the other competitor.

A judge appeared, stepped between the two men, and counted down.

3…

2…

1…

EAT!

Gnashing growls filled the air and the juices of eviscerated watermelon sloshed down from the mouths of both men. As the battle quickly drew to a slippery conclusion the steely-faced determination of the Chinese national proved to be too much for Chris, and he slowed down to accept his defeat graciously (and possibly burp up one or two watermelon seeds). The Chinese national accepted his DVD reward, and walked away a champion.

While Chris cleaned himself off with a wet wipe, two new challengers stepped forward. Younger girls, one about 14 years, the other maybe 11 years, chose two smaller pyramidal shaped pieces to duel with. The older girl giggled and held her piece in one loosely gripping hand, smiling and waving at her friends. The younger girl stood in silence, before sliding her legs out to the side in a semi battle stance. Her piece was held with both hands just under her lower lip, and her eyes narrowed.

The judge appeared again and began the countdown.

3…

2…

1…

EAT!

I have a question to ask now: Have you ever been so excited to win a watermelon eating competition that your eyes rolled to the back of your head and your facials became so intense that you would make a prime candidate for a remake of ‘The Exorcist’?

If I had known the fate that would befall that small, innocent, watermelon slice, I might have asked for a moment of silence. The juices exploding from the ravaging this young competitor was giving to her watermelon was hypnotic to watch, a pink waterfall of carnage falling down. I don’t think she was chewing, merely mashing her face into it with the force of how a woodpecker turns a tree stump into sawdust.

As victory approached for the young girl her final bite into the fruit turned into a victory fist, the skin of the now defeated watermelon held tightly in her right hand as a show of triumph. I imagine she took it home to add to her trophy pelt collection that is stacked up against her DVD winnings.

On a side-note I also rode a penny-farthing at the fair! This was undoubtedly the oddest balancing act I have ever performed. What should have resulted in a dapper moment turned into me being stuck in a left-only rotation to which the bike did not want to relent.

E.

Chaoyangmen.

The apartments are stacked how a three-year-old sticks Lego worlds together, all blocked and boxed side by side, with uniform height and outlandish colour clashes, but ultimately leaving little in the way of practical landmark visibility. Alleyways are navigated strictly with right-angled turns – North, South, East, and West are how you get out of the labyrinth. My flat is pretty easy though, enter from the East side, turn South, turn West, and go straight until the 12th building. Enter door number six, walk up four flights of concrete stairs, and done.

Decaying confetti decorates the sidewalks; tossed sunflower shells, shriveled orange peels, shiny plastic pieces of red and blue that will keep their colours long after the rest have shriveled to a burnt brown and smudged into the charcoal asphalt and sidewalk cracks. Forget China’s Communist Party, it’s the newly fashioned consumerism party who litter the streets with trash and unwanted-ness. Leftover smells of grease and waste ebb and flow in the artifical breeze that blows every time a bicycle or car rolls by, barely an inch away from wayward footsteps strolling everywhere but where they should be.

The flanks of the apartment block are antipodal societies. To the East is Galaxy SOHO, a shiny architectural sight of non-conforming buildings showing off their curves and sky-bridges and fancy American branded convenience stores. To the West, compacted collapsing stores filled with pharmaceuticals, sweatshop clothing, and MSG laden rice bowls bunch up and blend into a mash typical of Beijing town.

Morning sun, on days where the blanket of smog has been drawn away, aligns perfectly with the street I walk to get to the subway for work. Warm pink and orange hues reflecting on beige buildings paint the drab high-rises temporarily. The apartments are guarded by three gentlemen (there are probably more, but I have only seen these three), who man the single entry/exit point every hour of every day. One is a seasoned elderly with a gruff exhale for communication; the other two are very young, drowning in oversized jackets with overly pointy shoulders their muscle mass don’t fill. They don’t talk all that much, though I don’t really have much to say to them. We exchange swift dips of the head to acknowledge existence, and leave it to our imaginations to fill in the rest.

Other residents come in and out of my vision at all hours, but I pay more attention to their four-legged friends in tow. Unleashed and often dressed up in gaudy decoration, they sniff and scamper up and down the paths constantly double-checking to see if their human is obediently following. At night however the paths become a war-zone as one tries to avoid little squishy leftovers untrained owners have rudely left behind.

I plan to buy a bicycle soon to widen my wandering boundaries, but for now this is a small extract of Chaoyangmen, the area I call home.

E.

Coast to comedy.

A random half-thought I’m going to leave here –

Living in land-locked Beijing I’m often reminded of the coast.

The crunch of sunflower seed shells under my feet as I walk to the supermarket.

The heckling caws of ‘dachelema?’ from the swooping blackmarket-taxi drivers

(I’m tempted to throw my yi jiao at them in mimicry of my lack of fish ‘n’ chip fries).

The whiff of that faraway smell of yonder distance, though in China that smell is often caused by the filthy wasted ends of humanity, and not the waves of the ocean.

The rocking pull of the subway cart as it swells under the weight of 5pm chaos.

Things about life so far –

On Sunday I went to a literary event run by a café/bar/library called The Bookworm. Star guests were two Australian writers Nick Earls and Jesse Brand, Jimmy Qi a Chinese turned Canadian, and the MC was a comedian who talked about ex-pat quirks called Cherry Denman. The event was a discussion by these four writers/comedians about the nature of comedy in literature, a genre they all dabble in with success.

Nick Earls was by far the most outspoken of the four and wielded his microphone like a gladiator about to do battle. Unfortunately he negated to critically answer some questions posed by Denman, and instead hid behind his battle worn shields of well-rehearsed anecdotes about the comedic instances he has experienced in his everyday life. His narcissistic displays were made comedic when he stated that it is ever so funny to attack people he knows who are narcissists in his book, as a narcissist never think it is they who are being attacked. I assume he gave this quip due to a lapse in his personality judgement/brain fart.

Jesse Brand was brash but in that way where you enjoy being rubbed the wrong way. The other two gentlemen frequently subdued him when it came time to answer questions openly. A case of minding your elders? Perhaps. But when he did have a spare moment to talk he managed to fill it with the rushed staccato voice of someone who understands the crunch time of slam poetry performances (he is the currently Australian Poetry Slam Champion).

Jimmy Qi was eccentric as anything and spoke often of his twenty two years experience (I was waiting for the exact month/week/day calendar but he refrained). He glued the discussion together by having the ability to empathise with the other speakers but also inputting some original content so as to keep himself on point.

What did I take away from this? Raise the stakes. How high can you place a character, or indeed your own writing, so that if when it falls you push it the comedic values are enhanced to their fullest potentials. I’m not really a story writer, but I enjoyed thinking about that quote in situations relating to caring for personal embarrassment or not.

I met one co-founder of Beijing’s biggest food delivery network –Jinshisong. He joined in our Rummikub card game and adapted quickly to it, this might be because he successfully used some online poker sites to make money just cause he could (software engineers, watch out for them at the table).

I have gone from days on end with nothing to do, to days on end-to-end because they are so crammed up they overflow their 24-hour boundary. The Beijinger is still an amazing internship to have in this city. I’m hoping I can approach the topic of permanent work in a few weeks. Until then it’s still that good ol’ 21st century semi-scam of great experience. If it doesn’t work out come late May I’ll most likely stay in China and hunker down with some online study for technical writing. I think it’s something I’d actually be good at and enjoy, not many people can say that about jobs these days.

I wish I could write more, but that means things worth writing about need to have happened. If I think of any more I’ll write them soon. This head-cold is clogging my mental filter. Apologies.

E.

The Killers.

I failed seeing The Killers twice back home, and thought I’d missed the opportunity forever. About a week ago, as Lisa and I were hunting out Indian food in the maze that is Beijing City, Lisa spied a small advertisement saying The Killers were playing on National Day (October 1st).

 

Third times the charm, right?

 

Instantly we planned out how we were going to travel during what happens to be China’s busiest week of the year (whoever decided The Killers were to play on the most important day, you fool). More travel plans were added and taken away, and at one stage it looked like we might have missed our ticket purchasing chances, but with three days to go we secured some middle-class tickets and were in with a grin and off to see those magical boys. The night of the 1st we navigated the Metro and headed towards Wukesong, and the Beijing Mastercard Stadium. The Metro is always a hit-and-miss insofar as judging how busy it’s going to be. We made it out of our final destination with ten minutes to spare, and after copious ticket and bag checks we entered the stadium to the unfortunate closing bars of Mr. Brightside. China is the only country I know who start their concerts on time (this we should have realised, as everything in China is countable down to the last minute).

 

The Killers are absolutely, undeniably, beautiful. Brandon Flowers spoke some cute, yet recognisable, greetings in Mandarin to which the crowd exploded. He also mentioned their eclectic dress sense was due to a market they visited (still fabulous in your cut off freedom star shirt there Mr. Flowers). They played a full 90-minute set filled with most of their successful back catalogue top hits, and left the crowd (including myself) filled with that rare happiness you feel when you experience a band who sound exactly as they do on album.

 

Because I witnessed The Killers in China (their first China appearance no less) I feel there were some outwardly Chinese aspects to it that are worth mentioning –

 

The tickets were all seat allocated. In China it seems you sit for any and all events. This would be okay if the seats were built in a layered formation, not flat on the stadium floor, as ours happened to be. We sped past our central located seats to stand in the side aisle next to the VIP section, and promptly piss off the Chinese security to no end as more and more people had the same idea as us.

 

Crowd interaction was a little lacklustre. Brandon tried to get the crowd to sing with specific pauses thrown into many of the songs, but I think the inherent language barriers were too strong to overcome, even with a large expat presence.

 

 

Overall I still regard The Killers as one of the best bands I have seen live. Read my mind was played to perfection, and the finale song of When you were young (which I called before the concert started) was an absolute killer song to end with (nothing is ever complete without a pun).

 

 

 

 

E.

10 day blog challenge!

The votes are in. If I continue to write (and have non-China posts) you guys said you’d stay for the ride!

Woot! Have a cookie.

I am taking baby steps and starting a ’10 Day Challenge’ because quite frankly there is very few material out there on the Internets for a ’30 Day Challenge’ which isn’t completely narcissistically driven, entirely self-absorbed drivel (ain’t nobody got time for that crap).

So the headlines for the next 10 Days (courtesy of http://blog.wendycphotography.com/2012/05/ten-day-blog-challenge-ten-reasons-you-love-your-job/) are:

10 reasons you love your job.

9 things about yourself.

8 ways to win your heart (ugh).

7 things that cross your mind a lot.

6 things you wish you had never done (ruh roh).

5 people who mean a lot (in no particular order).

4 turn offs.

3 turn ons (reowr).

2 emotions describing life right now.

1 confession (gulp).

Let’s get cracking then!

10 reasons I love my job:

Reason one: It’s new. Starting September I will be working at an art institute in the great city of Beijing. I have officially left my job of English Teacher in polluted Shijiazhuang, and am looking forward to a different flavour of smog in the big smoke capital of China.

Reason two: I will be surrounded by art people! This makes me immensely happy. The creative vibe will be buzzing 24/7 and I cannot wait to channel it.

Reason three: The art institute, also known as Kede, is rather rich. Think ‘we just built a brand new 3D capable cinema for our students to showcase their work because we can’ rich. The campus is also very gorgeous and well designed (very few hints of terrible Chinese architecture).

Reason four: I will be officially contracted to three working days per week. Hello free time, how you doin?

Reason five: The pay for such an absurdly low amount of work is actually real world money! And the location of the institute, being very isolated from the centre of Beijing, means I will actually save it.

Reason six: I am nowhere near finished with traversing the world, and being able to stay in China because of this job means I am a wee bit closer to every other country than NZ is.

Reason six: Networking potential in China is immeasurable. There is just so much happening here and I want to be a part of it.

Reason seven: I can continue learning Mandarin in an environment which will help me a lot more than NZ could. I really want this skill to develop

Reason eight: I will be working with someone I know, a radtastic girl from Iowa called Sarah (she will read this and probably laugh/accept me as the coolest being ever/laugh some more).

Reason nine: The institute has ties to international school such as New York Film Academy and California Institute of Art and Design (fingers crossed the foreign teachers can go on ‘school trips’).

Reason ten: I think it will lead to something much bigger for me. Don’t ask me what that is. But I have a hunch this could end up being much more than I expected.

E.

The day I became an illegal alien.

Some lessons I learnt about the trials of coming home.

  • Check your visa status. My visa for legally being in China expired June 24. My ticket home was split across two journeys, one from Beijing to Guangzhou at 1730 – 2045 on June 24, and one from Guangzhou to Auckland at 0030 – 1600 (+1) on June 25. Already Chinese Customs saw a slight mathematical problem. I was going to be an illegal alien for half an hour.  I was warned to go through Guangzhou Customs very quickly, as once you’re in no-mans-land you’re technically out of such jurisdictions.
  • 7kgs overweight check-in baggage equals NZD $200 fine. I wish suitcases came with a built in scale in the handle to show you how much it weighs as you pack.
  • Travel pillows are the difference between passing out on a plane and genuinely sleeping for at least two hours. Beer also aids the sleep process. Abuse the free alcohol.
  • Free wireless in airports is great, but don’t mess with the password system or it will lock you out and you will be forced to people watch in airports. TIL: people in airports are the epitome of weirdly dressed individuals.
  • Pack your carry-on with laptop accessibility in mind. You will feel like you are the one individual who holds up the entire security line if you don’t. Tip: cameras are also another tech accessory that need special security scanning. (Why you would make a camera shaped bomb is another question entirely).
  • Chinese security are genuinely very nice and don’t make you feel like a hindrance.
  • Unless you have scissors in your bag. In which case they become very protective.
  • Always clean out backpacks you use on a daily basis before packing. There could be a sneaky pair of scissors. Or eighteen (inside joke).
  • Chinese do not understand space. We were herded onto a bus that connected us to our place (BJ-GZ flight) and naturally they all head for the first of three doors. I walked to the end door of the bus and stood in the back as I watched the first third of the bus become more and more like a sardine can. Finally the driver said something in Mandarin I can only think is the equivalent to ‘you idiotic morons, move down to the very back!’ And finally all was well.
  • Delayed planes can really mess up an already sticky visa situation. The first plane was grounded for as long as the film ‘Great Expectations’, the one starring Helena Bonham Carter, takes to screen, which was almost three hours (terrible choice China Southern, terrible). Finally after four hours from original take-off time it finally taxied onto the runway and took off.
  • Chinese kids are too damn smart. One six year old wunderkind whooped his mum in xiangqi (a chinese variation of chess that has cannons!) and was always five moves ahead of her.
  • It is totally acceptable to stand and watch people play cards/chess/any game on any Chinese domestic flight.
  • Four hour flight delays means you definitely miss your connecting flight.
  • All English supplied in China is purely courteous. To my knowledge (and from my limited Google searches) English is not a registered official language of Greater China. So for all you foreigners (I’m looking at you large obnoxious Danish man I encountered), who complain about the service provided (which I thought was exceptional given it was 1am and hotels are hard to access at this time), remember what country you are complaining in and that there is no one language to rule them all.
  • Being a solo white female traveller has its perks – you are the only one allowed a room to yourself in the hotel the airline provides you with when you overstay your welcome (silly weather).
  • A good way to kill time in a hotel – slow mo videos.
  • Smiles are a universal currency, and also a good way to score free breakfast lunch and dinner courtesy of the friend I made at the front desk.
  • Sometimes being a solo white female traveller sucks, I’m looking at you random Nigerian guy who approached me asking what flight I was on. ‘Err, I’m from Paris’ (bolt).
  • China is a stickler for the details, almost detained because of visa, finally allowed to board the plane I PAID FOR TO GO HOME because the manager actually thought it was a good idea.
  • China doesn’t believe in duty-free alcohol. Much sadness was felt.
  • Airbuses don’t always come with in-flight entertainment.
  • If you are on a Chinese airline and can speak some Mandarin, use it to talk to the flight attendants (for food, drinks etc). They genuinely get a real kick out of it.

Job interview questions.

So I might be moving to Beijing.

 

And this thought (irrationally) terrifies me.

 

Update: I am progressing upon the idea of not working at 43 Middle School next year. I cannot deny that it has been a great learning experience, but the time has come for me to move on to something that gets me closer to what I actually want to do.

 

(I’m not sure exactly what it is I want to do, however a change of pace usually gets me closer to it; do not attempt to dislodge this logic as it’s all I have going for me).

 

I have had two prospective work places contact me so far. One is for a high school graduate training school in Shijiazhuang. The other is for an oral English teacher in Kede College, Beijing.

 

Pros for Shijiazhuang:

 

I know the city already.

The city is very cheap to live in.

I have friends here.

 

Pros for Beijing:

 

Hi-tech art school (with their own fricken 3D cinema mayun).

Two days work for twice the money I currently make.

Capital of China.

 

They both have their respective cons as well, but I want to look on the bright side of life when making this decision do doo bedoop bedoop bedoooop.

 

But I must pause on this discussion, and write the reason for today’s post:

 

Today I had to give a demo lesson to the job in Shijiazhuang. They gave me an elementary level book that they have in their curriculum (published by Oxford, so already very promising), and asked for a half hour lesson to be provided. So I biked over with a .ppt in my pocket this afternoon and showed them what I came up with. There were no students to test the lesson on, so I had teacher’s sit in and watch/discuss my methods and approach to the book. One teacher, and the main character of my story, was named Liam.

 

Liam arrived late (already promising) but was polite during my lesson completion. At the end, when we had time to discuss various points, he was very interested in listening to a native English speakers opinion to how the Chinese textbooks continuously have damaging English mistakes, which permeate within the entire English development of China.

 

Then this question appeared.

 

“Are you religious?”

 

While somewhat taken aback, I answer truthfully and said “No.”

His reply to sum up was “That’s great, most of China is not religious either.”

 

I have had this question before, and while it is a little rare it’s still something foreigners are expected to be asked once or twice in China.

 

Then another question, “What is your blood type?” Again a little taken aback I say “B negative.”

 

“B is what a lot of Chinese are!”

 

Ok this is getting weird. But then conversation resumes back to the job so I think the strangeness is over.

 

Alas it was not. The grand finale, complete with a dead-pan serious face, “What is your star sign?”

 

“Aries.”

 

“Ah, the fire sign, I knew it.” And he proceeded to rattle off the many reason he knew I was a fire type. (I didn’t know I had stumbled into Avatar). Then he asks, “What do you think I am, I’ll give you a hint, I am a water type.”

 

And so my brain, not knowing how to play this game, automatically things Aquarius, logic being aqua=water=correct.

 

“Aquarius?”

 

The look of sadness and horror as I said this to him is unbelievable, and hard to describe using the limited vocabulary I know.

 

“Aquarius is an air type actually.”

 

Well shit son, my bad.

 

/story.

 

So that’s a quick update about my brain. Chat to me, what school do you think I should look into? I’ll put on record saying I would be immensely happy with the Kede College job. My inhibitions are currently stuck in the whole ‘moving to another place where I know absolutely NOBODY’ phase. How do I get out of this, any tips guys?

 

Until next time, China you stay classy (and crazy).

 

 

 

E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Job fairs, and opening my eyes to how big the world really is.

It’s the beginning of May now, which means my adventure in China is now approaching an end. My contract to Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School is almost up.

To be brutally honest, I don’t want to go home.

It’s not because I don’t want to see friends, family and everyone in between. I do, more than ever. But New Zealand is so, so small, and trying to develop any sense of identity and worth is difficult. It is also a relatively poor (yet developed) country especially after the global financial crisis, so earning money becomes a chore and not something to enjoy and develop within a career setting.

China however has proven to be one of the better decisions I have made in my short 22 years of life. Granted there have been unexplainable, almost breakable, points about it. It would take the rest of my life (and then some) to be able to give you a concise and accurate description of China, and even then it would not do it justice. Regardless of all this, I want to stay in China and ‘find myself’ in a more global setting.

Sarah, an expat better versed in the China scene, mentioned a job fair that was happening in Beijing. I had never been to a job fair before, and asked if I could come. Luckily for me she is a gracious individual (and possibly delighted at the thought of some travel company) so she said yes.

Catching the G train (oh NZ, how I wish you had such a magnificent rail system) we arrived in Beijing close to 11am. After navigating the subway using our paper maps and an app I downloaded (Explore Beijing) we arrived at the swissotel Beijing for the job fair relatively on time.

The job fair was specifically designed for foreigners in China and had ~50 stalls spread around the second floor conference room. Most were for teaching jobs through various universities, understandably. Others though were for marketing, finance, engineering and many other areas. I had no idea what to expect from a job fair and found myself quite unprepared for some encounters, especially regarding my outdated and unavailable CV (I managed to break the printer, whoops). I am definitely applying for the marketing and writing opportunities I discovered and left my contact information at, and have been re-designing/updating my CV today for further opportunities. Overall I found the day quite successful, and I now have a wider understanding about jobs, careers, and how to begin finding myself in such a large country like China.

Wish me luck!

E.

Hello.

I have been living and working in China for almost seven months now.

To say I missed the initial blogging boat would be an understatement. That ship must’ve sailed past a good half dozen times or so, and smacked me with its boom each time. However, living and working in China for this long has let me assess what information I want to people to know.

What I don’t want to write is another ‘backpack teacher’ type blog. There are already enough of those, and to be honest none of them helped me. Frequently I have said ‘I wish I had known that!’ and wondered why the vast Internet had not relinquished any answers. I feel the passing of said seven months, and experiences gained thus far, can back me up with what I will publish henceforth.

Now, let me describe the city I have lived in for these past months. Shijiazhuang is located South-west (or West-south as China would say) from Beijing, which is easily accessible by the new bullet train ‘G train’. It is a city of ~7-9 million people, double the population of my home, New Zealand. The rate of expansion is one of the fastest in China, as it is the city destined to protect Beijing should something happen (why did the chicken cross the road? To get out of North Korea’s missile range). This also means it is the most polluted city in China (read in the world). Underneath this layer of dust and soot do lie many delightful treasures that I promise to describe in depth very soon. Shijiazhuang has grown on me how fungi grows from that yoghurt carton you forgot was beside your bed and fell down the side. But without fungi there would be no penicillin, so it’s a good thing, I promise.

As this progresses expect topics such as –

The actual Visa process, and unnecessary love of stamps.

How to deal with not speaking a word of Chinese prior to arrival.

The places that feel surprisingly like home.

The places that remind you that yes, you are in China.

Q&A’s with foreigners who are not teachers.

Q&A’s with foreigners who are teachers (well, we are everywhere).

What I actually do in China and how you can do just the same.

Everything in between.

E.