Monday, March 24, 2014

One Fine Day

There is a point in many traveler's journeys when they say to themselves, "Okay this was fun, but I'm ready to go home now and sleep in my own comfy bed."

Curtis and I arrived at this point last week.

The Beijing subways were feeling too pushy and squishy.
The hotel breakfast buffet lost its luster. 
Also, no good tacos. Anywhere. 

I would list all the things we miss from back home, but it would be much shorter and equally accurate to simply say, "Everyone and everything." 

I know, I know. We are lucky to be having this experience! We are lucky to be living abroad and be immersed in a whole different culture! There is so much for us to learn, see, and do! All of that is true. But the only thing I've been wanting to do lately is fly back to Hawaii and smooch my very smooch-able nephew who I haven't seen in seven months.  

See? Irresistibly smooch-able. 

Things got really bad on Thursday. Curtis and I sat around staring at each other, hoping we could maybe tap our heels together and get Wizard-of-Ozed back home. When that didn't seem to be working, we came up with the next best brilliant plan.

We decided to pay our first visit to Ikea Beijing. 
At 452,000 square feet, it is the 4th largest Ikea in the world. 

A subway and taxi ride later, I was doing some extreme smiling. As we got closer, Curtis started pointing at the building and shouting "Na yige! Na yige!" (That one! That one!) to the taxi driver, because that is about one of three Mandarin phrases he knows and he could not contain his excitement. I think the driver was a little annoyed by this because: 


It would be an understatement to say that stepping into Ikea was like stepping into beauteous heavenly perfection. The air smelled fresh, everything looked cheerful and clean, you could actually sit on the toilets, and they had a huge food court filled with delights like spaghetti bolognese and their famous swedish meatballs. Most amazing of all-- they had WINE (de France!).

Oh the happiness!

We ate and drank until our pants struggled to contain us, then decided to work off our meal by wandering through the massive showroom. What a great escape from the city this was! It felt like we could be in any Ikea in the world! Except...


Beijingers were sleeping all over the furniture. They were in REM sleep on sofas! They were curled up under the quilts on the beds or playing with their babies post-nap! At first we just snapped a bunch of pictures out of total amusement-- then it occurred to us with our very full, afternoon bellies that this was, in fact, the BEST IDEA EVER! 


Eventually we got around to picking out bedding for our future apartment, which, as you can imagine, was endlessly fun for me and Curtis. Then, before we knew it, it was time for Ikea happy hour! Followed by romantic Ikea dinner for two! 

Woot! Woot!

We left this oasis-in-the-city feeling floaty, refreshed, and rejuvenated. Sure we still missed home, but a bit of the heaviness had lifted. We were all like, "Yay, adventure!" all over again. 

And not even our super-packed subway ride home coulda changed that. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Honeymoon Stage

So I finally got around to reading (most of) the "Welcome to China!" manual provided by Curtis's place of employment.

I'd been putting it off, thinking it wasn't actually a thing people read-- like mutual fund prospectuses or fine printy things. Turns out it is loaded with tons of useful information for getting settled here in Beijing. Who knew??? One thing I learned is that based on the short amount of time I've been here, I am in the Honeymoon Stage of culture shock. This is fantastic news! It is the first and best stage, because apparently I think everything about my new country is exciting and wondrous.

Time out for honesty: Even though this was great news, I did not believe it for a second. I mean, seriously? Everyone smokes here, which is driving me just a teensy bit insane. People are constantly hocking up loogies and spitting them everywhere (everywhere!) on the ground like they don't even care that you're wearing your brand new Franco Sarto boots that you love. I have personally witnessed 4 people very publicly picking their noses with gusto in the last 36 hours, and Curtis heard a man shamelessly and rhythmically farting with each step as he walked past us the other day (step poot step poot step poot).

(deep breaths. deep breaths.)

Okay fine. Maaaaybe I'm noticing some other stuff, too. Like how you can be exploring the old, maze-like hutongs (alleyways) of Beijing, when suddenly you find the most shockingly lovely, scrumptious little restaurant that just charms your socks right off.

Or how spectacularly efficient and clean the public transportation is that always gets you where you wanna go for just $0.33 per ride. Just prepare to cuddle with your neighbors during rush hour. Hard.

And while I wouldn't really call this a pretty city, you can be wandering down a street one day looking for something remotely recognizable to snack on, when you happen upon an absolutely stunning Chinese mosque built in 996 AD for the 10,000 Chinese Muslims that apparently live in the area.

Do you see what China is doing to me? Just when I'm ready to pack my bags and move back to clean air and treasured friends and Orange Julius, it reveals something INCREDIBLE to me that makes me wonder what else I'm gonna find if I just hang around a little bit longer. Dammit, China.

The thing I'm really understanding is that this country will not lure you in under false pretenses. There is absolutely no padding in its bra. You either love it as it is, or you go home. Either way, China's all like, "cool."

So yeah.

Stage 2 of Culture Shock according to the manual is apparently the part when I think EVERYTHING about this country is utterly frustrating and generally sucks. After that, it'll be two more stages before I'm emotionally stable-ish again. So, something to look forward to, right??? A couple of our new friends have been here for two months and are pretty deep into stage two. The other night at dinner, one of them said to the other, "Honey, when were we crazy Americans? Was it Tuesday?" Of course, we all thought this was very funny, and it kinda made me wonder when, where, and how Curtis and I will go all Crazy American on China. Will it happen in a grocery store when we can't find the dang Honey Nut Cheerios? Or perhaps on the subway when someone pushes me out of the way at their stop, at which point I'll act like I think personal space is even a thing in this city?

Whatever the case, it'll be something to write home about. Or blog about. And probably laugh about.

Eventually, anyway.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Beijing: Week One

I have discovered the secret to feeling young again!
All you have to do is move your whole life to Beijing and then try to survive there.
Seriously-- that's it!

Curtis and I have now been here for one week and we have transformed into toddlers. Everything is brand new to us, and it's either fascinating and exciting, or ridiculously frustrating. In order to cope, we have employed several techniques used by two-year-olds around the world that I shall explain here should you ever need to use them:

1) Vigorous pointing
Want the thing that THAT guy has? Vigorously point!
Want to explain where you wanna go on a map? Vigorously point!
We use this all the time with reckless abandon. Just be warned that sometimes vigorous pointing can end with you getting two big bowls of the most spicy, mouth-numbing noodle soup you've ever had in your life, because you couldn't actually read the menu explaining that this particular restaurant you wandered into specializes in SUPER HOT food using a certain spice that makes your whole mouth tingle like crazy and then go completely numb. So fun! And terrifying!

2) Look adorable and maybe a little bit dumb
Babies have known for centuries that this behavior will let you get away with a lot. Curtis is good at looking adorable and I am good at looking kinda dumb, so together we are invincible! If a guard questions the water bottle you have on the subway, keep smiling and nodding until he gives up and lets you pass. If the doorman at the apartment complex you wanna check out is getting all hung up on the fact that you don't have a key to the front gate, put on a cute face and shrug while muttering in English and voila! You're in!

3) Learn to use the potty
Not to brag or anything, but back in the states I was kind of an expert potty-goer. I mean, I could practically go in my sleep. And then I moved here and came across this:

Oh jeebus. When I encountered my first squatter the other day, I just stared at it suspiciously while mentally gauging how much I really needed to go. (Pretty badly.) Then came the questions... Which way do I face? (Toward the wall.) Why is there no toilet paper? (It's BYOP.) Why is the little open trash can filled with crumpled toilet paper? (You can't flush used paper. LOOK AWAY from the trash can.) Will the tight jeans I squeezed into allow me the luxury of squatting all the way down? (Thankfully, yes.) Why is the ground all wet? (Roll up your tight jeans and quit asking questions.)

Not all the toilets in Beijing are like this, but seeing what kind of toilet a place has is always an exciting adventure!

4) Try (mostly) everything just in case it's fun and/or delicious
Riding the equivalent of a tin can down a busy Beijing street: Partly fun but mostly crazy.

Meeting a new friend to have a wonderful hotpot experience with all sorts of interesting veggies: Fun AND delicious! Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

5) Take time for naps
Pointing, squatting, and all-day adventuring can be so draining. Here is Curtis wearing his sexy smog mask whilst napping on a crowded subway ride. He's a good little napper, that one.

6) Finally, when things don't go your way, scream and cry
Okay, so we haven't actually had to do this yet, but I was tempted to this morning when I woke up to this view of "hazardous" levels of smog from our hotel room:

The air is expected to be better by this evening. Until then, we'll probably just stay indoors and watch one of the awesome $2 DVDs we bought from the tiny, hidden back room of a marketplace we stumbled upon.

Oh China.
I can't wait to see what you have in store for us next.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

First Days In Beijing

I can't sleep. 

Right now it's somewhere between 3-5am, which United States Melissa would consider to be an outrageous time to be conscious.
China Melissa wakes up at 3am (Thank you, jetlag!), waits around for the hotel breakfast buffet to open at 6:30am, and then takes four-hour naps in the middle of the day.
Curtis and I have been living here for about three days now, and as you can probably tell, it has been an amazing life so far!

In the days leading up to our move here, I mentioned to a couple of people that moving to Beijing felt like getting ready for a first date. Yeah sure, I was here two years ago for three days, but that didn't count. I mean, at that point, Beijing was just a fling to me. I didn't think it would ever turn into a serious, long-term thing.

My hope was that upon our arrival, Beijing and I would run toward one another in slow motion with arms outstretched.

Forget the fact that we don't speak the same language. 
It would be love at first sight.

The reality was that after traveling halfway around the world for an entire day, my hair was bad and my breath wasn't much better. So maybe that's why Beijing didn't feel like trying very hard to impress me.

Fair enough.

The day we landed, the air quality here was measured by the U.S. embassy to be "Very Unhealthy." What that means is that the air looks thick, brown, and soupy. I've been trying to think of how to describe what it tastes like when you breathe it... dirt? metal? filthy grossness? You get the idea. We put our masks on, but I could still smell it. I tried my very best to breathe as little as possible and only when absolutely necessary. It was like a game! Only not fun.

The next day was the same, so we stayed in our hotel room with the drapes pulled shut. It was just too depressing to look outside and not be able to see anything but the heaviness of the air. I mostly just slept and counted down the minutes to the next breakfast buffet. I've never been an emotional eater, but hey-- new country, new habits, right?

Thankfully, the air got much better yesterday.

Curtis and I ventured outside hand-in-hand to explore our neighborhood and breathe in all the clean-ish air we wanted. We wandered into a market and ooh-ed and aah-ed at the variety of strange-to-us foods being sold... from the teensiest bananas I've ever seen, to a bin of what we think might have been live silk worms, to big piles of chicken and pig's feet. (Yum!) We tried what turned out to be a custard tart and a strawberry-filled pastry (descriptions are all in Chinese, so we just had to guess), which were both very good.

For dinner, we caught a taxi to a different area of the city, filled up on beer (Curtis), wine (me), and some pretty dang good Italian food. Then we had a Taiwanese dessert of mochi balls in hot, sweet, black bean soup. It was delicious.

So yes, it's been a bit of a rough start, but I think me and Beijing are starting to warm up to each other. Will it ever be love? Who the heck knows. But Beijing is (kinda sorta) trying to learn my language:

Sure, we've got a ways to go before really understanding each other, but we've gotta start somewhere.
And speaking of starts, I think it's time to go and start my day with my favorite breakfast buffet.