Where Exactly I’m Going

Well obviously, I’m going to China. China is in Asia. I hope you know that. Not everybody does.

I’ll be in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province. Think of Provinces like States.

Here’s Guangdong Province in relation to the rest of China:

Map showing the location of Guangdong Province

That tiny section sticking off the bottom into the ocean? Hong Kong. Right next door. It neighbors the city Shenzhen, which is in Guangdong. But we’ll get to that in a second.

Here’s Guangzhou in relation to the rest of Guangdong:

Location of Guangzhou in Guangdong

Again, notice that little green section at the bottom – Hong Kong. That inlet you see is the Zhujiang River Estuary, which feeds into, you guessed it, the Zhujiang River.

Within the city of Guangzhou, I’ll be living on the island district of Haizhu. Haizhu is smack dab in the middle of the Zhujiang River! Here’s another map, Haizhu is the dark orange section smack dab in the middle:

“But I can’t see the river very clearly on that map!” you cry. Fear not, my friend, I’ve got you covered:

Notice that spot where it says HECUN in all caps? I am not sure why this particular map says Hecun, because the spot in pinyin (romanized Chinese) is Kecun, but that is exactly where Ruiwen and I have an apartment! As you can see it’s on the North side of the island.

Compared to California, my rent is SUPER cheap. I’m paying 1800 RMB/month, which is roughly $266/month. Amazing. Even compared to other major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, life in Guangzhou is very affordable. By total metropolitan area, it is the largest city in China with a population of over 44 million. By urban population alone it houses “only” 19 million, putting it in third place. Only 19 million! Can you imagine?

Thank you Wikipedia for all maps except the last, which I got from ontheworldmap.com

T-Minus 28 Days

There’s but one month left until I move and I find my heart and belongings scattered. I’ve bought a plane ticket, created a packing list, informed School of Rock of my last day, and started selling excess possessions I cannot bring to China nor keep in the US. What was before not completely believable is daily more obvious and inevitable – one month from today I will be waking up in Guangzhou, in the apartment I’m sharing with Ruiwen.

For those of you who do not know, Ruiwen is one of my Chinese exchange sisters. She lived with my family in San Ramon in the 11th grade for the entire school year (2011-2012). She fit in with our family perfectly and has visited us twice since then, once when we lived in Arizona (2014) and again this past winter (2017) with her boyfriend Ouyang after studying at Columbia University as an exchange student for a semester. She is incredibly smart and very goofy. She is passionate about travel and is always up for adventure and trying new things. One of the most remarkable things about our relationship is how truly sisterly it is – we are definitely good friends but more than friends we are really family. We can live and travel together easily, making our imminent housing situation ideal.

I visited Ruiwen in Guangzhou during December 2016 for two weeks, fresh out of studying abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea for one semester. I had been to Guangzhou in 2011 for three days to visit a childhood friend Michelle but really got to know the city a bit during this second trip. Since I have wanted to live in China for so long I was at that point “shopping” for a goal city to move to and fell in love with Guangzhou. There are gorgeous tall buildings (but then again, what city in China doesn’t?), a temperate climate, a prominent river winding through the city, an amazing public library, and DIM SUM. FYI Dim Sum is from Guangzhou.

One of many skyline photos I took during my 2016 Guangzhou trip.

A little more about Guangzhou – depending on your criteria, it is either the most populous or third most populous city in China. The 2017 census put its urban population at 19.8 million but the greater population at 44.5 million!! Wowza. If you’ve never left the US it’s basically impossible to fathom, considering New York City has a mere population of 8.5 million. The language spoken in Guangzhou is Cantonese. Yes, I know, I have taken 10 years of Mandarin, not Cantonese. The relative ridiculousness of this is not lost on me – however, Mandarin is still taught in school, so my ability to communicate will not be totally hindered. Eavesdropping and listening comprehension will take huge blows for sure, but I hope to be able to speak Cantonese by this time next year. No, I don’t hope, I will!

with Guangzhou Tower in 2016.

I have already been reminded of the open-mindedness and flexibility required of spending time in China. I signed a contract with my employer that is good from September 1, 2018 – July 30, 2019, and thought I had selected a school to teach at. I was just informed after a further inquiry that I actually have another interview with that school I will have to complete after I’ve arrived in China.

Are you familiar with Myers-Briggs? It’s that semi-pseudoscientific way of categorizing people’s personalities by a four-letter combination representing different scales of temperament. The last letter in a Myers-Briggs type is either a P or J, P standing for perceiving and J standing for judging. Perceiving, in this case, indicates someone who is plan-adverse and does best in a more spontaneous, loosey-goosey situation. Judging people are more reliant on schedules and definite courses of action. I am one of the more J people in my friend group, I hate not knowing what is happening! I keep a tight schedule, and then heavily procrastinate within that tight schedule. One of the best things about China for my personal growth is being forced to let go of my expectations and plans and ideas about what will happen and just let China do its thing around me. It is easy to feel existentially insignificant looking at the stars, in China, it is impossible to cling to one’s ego and perception as somehow totally true.

a beautiful building Ruiwen, Ouyang and I stumbled across while going to dinner in 2016.

There remain a few major things to do before moving: sell my car and computer (I bought a new laptop to take), get a VPN, cancel my subscriptions, pack, say goodbye to friends and family. I won’t have easy access to any social media or websites I use frequently in the US except for Reddit. I’ll have to shift from using Spotify and my physical music collection for my daily music diet to services like QQ Music, which have a vastly different selection of tunes. I’m bringing some instruments but transitioning from teaching music every day for many hours to teaching English and just playing music for fun will be jarring. When I studied abroad in Korea, I dreamt of School of Rock weekly. I’m sure it will be the same when I move this time.

If you have any suggestions of essential desert island books/records you think I’d enjoy, please comment them below! I’m making a digital stockpile.



Navigating the San Francisco Chinese Consulate

So you’re a Northern Californian going to China soon – congratulations! Your Visa application journey will probably take you through the Chinese Consulate at some point. At various points of my experience with the Consulate I wished I had been better prepared or known what I was getting myself into; now I present to you a collection of precisely that – what you are getting yourself into.

The consulate is located at 1450 Laguna St, San Francisco. However this address will take you to the main entrance, which is irrelevant to you. Go around the corner and depending on what time you arrive, the true entrance will be made obvious by a blockbuster line. The consulate is open 9am-2:30pm and I would recommend getting there as early as possible. There are two lines that often bleed together into one. On the left side of the entrance is the line for Chinese passport holders who already have an appointment, to the right is for everybody else. I recommend bringing something to entertain yourself with that does not need cell phone service, as there is none inside the building. Food is also prohibited.

In line to get inside the building you will be given a number by a very nice and understanding security guard. If you arrive even at 9:45 you risk getting a number higher than 100, which will give you a wait time of numerous hours. My first attempt at getting my paperwork turned in resulted in a number of 134 and 4.5 hour wait time total.

The line to get in the building is truly just a line for a metal detector that can only take one person at a time. Inside the consulate, seating is limited. I found a good spot to sit on the ground and lean against a pole near the passport photo line.

I do not know if this works for your first time at the consulate, but if you have tried and failed to turn in paperwork because of an error or having an incomplete form, you do not need to wait for your number to be called. Someone informed me of this while we waited in line during my second attempt to turn in paperwork and it saved me two hours of wait time. Simply go up to window 6 and turn in what you have. You will pay when you pick up.

If you are in my situation and are at the consulate specifically for authentication purposes, here is what you need:

  • Authentication form
  • Notarized Document (in this case, college diploma notarized by both the university and the state department, city criminal background check notarized by the state department). This will be 2 pieces of paper stapled to one another, the first page will have a form filled out by the apostille and will feature a stamp that should go onto the second piece of paper.
  • Photocopy of said notarized documents. Do not remove the staples when you photocopy these, otherwise they will be invalidated. If you forget to photocopy the docs at home, they have a photocopier at the consulate which is 25 cents a copy, cash only. The security guards can make change for one dollar.
  • Color Passport Photocopy.

If you are unable to skip the line, there are luckily come-and-go privileges once you’ve gotten through the metal detector a first time. Your hand will be marked with a blue highlighter. Official, I know. The two security guards are good at giving wait estimates if you’re curious.

The Japantown Mall is walking distance. If you have a long wait ahead and can’t skip the consulate line, I’d suggest biding your time in the Marufuku Ramen line before the restaurant opens.  A very yummy way to spend your lunch hour.

I hope this helps make your Visa application process easier!

One Month Later

Four weeks ago, I was in a Beijing hotel room. I had said my goodbyes that morning to those I love in Changsha, and was trying to put on a happy face. I went out to dinner with some other exchange students going home, and we had Korean food…a cheap replacement for the meal Sangmin still owes me, but good food none-the-less. I was trying to  focus on the present, and was surprisingly successful. Now I wish I could really say the same…

I’m here. Back in California, where I was born and raised.

I’m surrounded by an overwhelming culture, and everyone looks the same. No matter where I go, I feel surrounded by people with straight hair. It was cold today, and I wore an outfit that just seemed so out of place…it felt like everyone was staring at me. I rode a public bus after school that was completely packed.

It’s things like this that are the strangest. I’ve been here almost a month but it still feels like just a few days. So many things in this country are strange…and so many people aren’t as great as I expected them to be. The troubles I faced in China were different in specific ways from each other, but now I’m seeing that overall the same things are always coming up. I… I don’t really know what to write, other than I miss China a lot. Not China as a whole country, really, just Changsha I suppose. That city became as much of a home to me as where I live now, which is impressive, considering I’ve lived in the same house here as long as my memory. Looking at that last sentence, I’m not all together sure whether or not it’s correct. My English really has gotten a lot worse.

Anyways. From what Pauline and Moritz have told me, a lot has changed at Tongshenghu..both for the better and worse. Their schedule is different now, and they’ve got homework. Midori changed families. Sangmin gets back from Korea today, Karina got back from Yunnan (a different city in China) sometime last week. I haven’t gotten to talk to Giulia or May yet… my friends set up Skype on the library computer, but it didn’t work when they tried to call me last night. Hopefully tonight it will work. Honestly, I think I miss them much more than I missed anyone from the US when I went to China in the first place. When I went to China, I knew I would be coming back, and that things wouldn’t be too different upon my return…whereas now, who knows when I’ll return? And it’s obvious that it can never be the same way again.

But that’s the thing with life, isn’t it? It’s always growing and changing;forever moving on. You’ll never be able to relive this exact moment. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and other times bad obviously, but that emotion or opinion is completely irrelevant to the fact of it’s validity. This all sounds so cliche but it’s so true…there’s a reason cliche’s exist. Sometimes it just takes a while to know really what they mean, and not just remember what they say..

The Last Night

Well, here we are. The last night in Changsha.

It’s something I’ve always known would happen, obviously, and admittedly some days I yearned and yearned for this day to come. Compared to many, I actually didn’t get too homesick during my stay here, and sometimes actually had the opposite–California was the last place I wanted to be. Five months ago, I was on a plane headed towards Beijing..and in less than 48 hours I’ll be on a plane to San Francisco. Tomorrow morning I fly to Beijing, then the next morning I fly back to SF. Honestly it’s pretty crazy for me to believe.. yes, I’m packed now, I’ve said most of my goodbyes.. but it’s still incomprehensible. I feel so at home here. My host family has turned into as much of a real one as my parents in the US. My friends here, though I’ve only known them five months…I really feel like it’s been my whole life. And in a way, it has..my life in China. Maybe my whole life was leading up to this, my first fifteen years were only the first chapter in the story of my life. I thought “so much” had happened to me in my life, and then I came here. And I began.

I’ve grown so much as a person through this experience. I barely recognize the girl I was when I first came here.. sure, a lot of me is the same I suppose but honestly I feel like a completely different person. I’m a person I love. I finally feel confident about myself and who I am..

Today it snowed a lot (it started yesterday) and it was so so beautiful. My mom woke me up just to see the snow falling outside my window, Sabrina’s school blanketed in white. The whole city looked really pretty..though it made transportation take longer and my feet cold, I loved it. And this is saying something, because usually I really don’t like snow at all. Ahh I don’t know if I can even put my transformation and just how I feel into words..

What I Learned in China: what love is, how to restrain myself, what I can and cannot stand, how to communicate without language, who my friends are, what Chinese culture is, how to wear two layers and never be cold, how to make instant noodles taste better, how to sprint one hundred meters, why respect is important, what America is like, what Chinese people dress like, how to haggle, when to speak, which kinds of people that will change and which kinds that won’t, how to eat really spicy food, what it feels like to move, how to survive while being illiterate, not to complain, live in the moment, how to let go, the virtue of indifference, the way in which jealousy taints relationships, how to wash my face, the plot of Gossip Girl, why I’m thankful I was born in the US, ways in which living in the US is a disadvantage, what it’s like to be around drunk people, that who I always wanted to be isn’t all that different from who I already am.

I hope I never forget the way I feel right now.

The Only Ones on the Ferris Wheel

Well I just got home. Not really, but I’ve been meaning to write this since I got home, so let’s pretend! I was driven home from Hypermart by a taxi driver who told me his eyes weren’t good so he couldn’t read my cell phone description of where I live, since he didn’t know where Sabrina’s school is. Just how such a person became a taxi driver is beyond me but hey, it’s China.
I spent the last two nights at Karina’s house. Wednesday evening she, Moritz and I went out on an adventure. Moritz left on Thursday for the AFS Yunnan trip, but he’s coming back before I leave so it wasn’t the last time I’ll see him. Anyhow, we first went to the large Ferris Wheel that we’ve seen all the time since we came here but never gotten a chance to go on–and boy, was it nice. We were the only people on the whole wheel! Now how many times has that ever happened to YOU? The wheel was enormous and went very slowly. Also, each of the boxes were heated, so we were kept plenty warm. There are (hopefully) pictures on my flickr that you can look at!
After the Ferris Wheel we went rollerskating at this place in a mall on Walking Street near No Sunset Play Game. Karina and I got let in for free because we’re girls (or so the security guard said) and Moritz had to pay thirty yuan. The rollerskates themselves were SO OLD and there were no inlines, though they were free so I can’t complain. The only rule at the rink was no pushing, which meant that there were a lot of people skating backwards and holding hands making chains of five people while smoking their cigarettes…but you know what? It worked. In American rinks I feel like we have so many rules, all of which are constantly being broken causing chaos. But here we have only one and it doesn’t get broken, and surprisingly chaos does not ensue. I like it.

Girl’s Night and a Chinese Dream

Technically it’s Monday right now, but I’m just staying up really late. On Saturday night all of the girls had a sleepover and it was really, really fun. We’re all so close now it’s just crazy to think we’ve known each other for such a short amount of time! Really, I feel like we’ve all been friends our whole lives. Though really, being here has been a life in and of itself, so I guess we have.

The theory of our sleepover was one that apparently Pauline and Giulia’s friends had done before–basically buy a bunch of junk food and stuff yourself. I know, what I’ve been doing while I’m here! But no, everyone else was going to too, but we didn’t really buy enough food. And plus at a certain level of tiredness two people kept talking about how “fat” they were…which is basically my least favorite conversation topic of all time. Because lo and behold every time that said conversation takes place in front of me, I get ‘accused’ of being skinny. Now, to anyone who has never been unhealthily or almost unhealthily skinny at some point in their lives, this is not going to sound like a bad thing. But really, often ‘skinny’ is used with negative connotations, especially in todays society. Some will still argue that it’s better to be ‘too skinny’ than ‘too fat’ but really both are equally bad and I think they’ll both get you bad looks. Anyways.

We played UNO for almost two hours. Well, one hand was almost two hours…I won in the first seven minutes of that particular hand and then was just bored for a while, eventually taking over for Karina so she could dye Midori’s hair. The hair dye wasn’t a success like it had been with me though, since she was trying to dye it lighter. Oh well, we all told her it would be more obvious in the sun, and it’ll be overcast for a while. We’re good.

Since I just remembered now, I feel like I should tell you all because it’s exciting–at the sleepover I had my first ever dream (that I remember) in Chinese! I was with all my friends at some old woman’s house and she kept trying to give us tea but we didn’t want it. And I dreamt that Sangmin was really drunk and so was Midori and she kept wanting more beer so we all went to KFC. And at KFC, I ordered in Chinese! And then the guy was trying to give me really small drumsticks so I told him I didn’t want them, I just wanted cookies, and I was expecting Subway-esque cookies but no, there were Oreos. We eat so many Oreos in China! Pauline even gave them to me for Christmas. But anyways.

Tomorrow, or today technically I suppose, all the foreign teachers and students are getting together for a going away party for me. I think that’s what it is? I think there’s going to be a surprise element of some sort because I know for sure Karina’s mom was physically hiding something in her room that I couldn’t see at the sleepover last night. I guess I’ll find out!