a rigmarole

Usually a post office is one of the first things you notice when you are traveling in a different country. Usually they are quite noticeable and are as numerous as a McDonald’s family restaurant.

It occurred to me about two weeks ago that I had not yet seen one in China and had no idea what it would look like if I were to need to visit one. Of course, that reminded me. I did need one! I needed to send something back to Australia!

I looked for 郵局 on Baidu Maps and a few options came up. The next day, I went on a walk to visit one and ended up in a bank! Not a post card nor envelope to be seen. It turns out, China Post is also a bank and I would need to find the actual China Post post office.

Well, I needed an envelope to send the document anyhow, so I went home and decided to make the next day my day for finding envelopes. Thinking it would be rather easy to find, I headed out and visited my nearest department store. In the stationary department, there were pens, pads of paper and everything else one would need to write a letter – all except for envelopes! I went into shop after shop after shop, looking for envelopes but had no success.

I asked my colleagues and they said the Miniso may have them, and if they didn’t, I should just order some on Taobao and have some delivered to my door. Miniso had no envelopes and I didn’t want to have to order them online. Surely someone sells envelopes somewhere!

This morning, I looked at my Baidu maps again and noticed there was a post office closer to my apartment that I hadn’t visited yet. Surely they would have envelopes, postage stamps and postcards! I ventured out, with my letter in hand, and when I arrived at the post office, it was beside a China Post bank but the section I was in was definitely a proper post office! A woman was having her enormous parcel weight at the counter, so I was sure that I was in the right place.

When I went up to the counter, I asked if she had any envelopes. The lady said no and said something in Chinese, pointing to the street. So, a bit perplexed as to why an actual post office wouldn’t sell envelopes, I walked down the street, wondering to myself what I should do. There was nothing else I could do except to go into each little local shop that I could find and ask if they sold envelopes.

After three or four shops, I had nearly lost hope, but then I went into a shop that had a photocopier service. I asked the lady and finally she said yes! I bought two envelopes for 2 元. I popped my letter in one and headed back to the post office.

Presenting the letter, I said I wanted to send this and if I could buy a postage stamp to Australia. She lady shook her head and threw an enormously long-winded sentence my way about what I needed to do. Shazui…. something, something, shazui. I repeated – Shazui? She nodded. I asked her to write it down, which she did. I send a photo of the words to my colleagues and they told me that it read “Shazui Post Office”. One of my colleagues kindly sent me a map and it wasn’t too far.

So, despite feeling a little frustrated that I hadn’t made much progress and already an hour had passed, I walked to Shazui Post Office which was hidden away in a very industrial area, with shops selling doors, toilet bowls, windows and light fittings. There was Shazui Post Office – the biggest post office I had seen as of yet.

I went up to the counter and asked the lady if I could get a postage stamp. She shook her head and said I didn’t need to worry and that she would take care of it for me. She spoke a little English and directed me in where I needed to write the address and return address. Then, she asked if I wanted it sent by ship or plane, weighed my letter and finally asked for 7元. Then she said it was all done and that I could go! Hurray!

I felt exhilarated! I had posted something and two or three weeks of confusion and running around not knowing what I needed to do was over!

I rushed to 85度C, bought myself a croissant and a 美式咖啡 (Americano coffee), and spent an hour or so reading Madame Bovary. The poor woman has just been financially ruined and, if I have understood the French correctly, has just given her a dose of arsenic and perhaps died! I will read the rest tomorrow on my way to work.

To add to the excitement of my day, I also bought myself a mini toaster oven. I love toast – especially hot, buttered toast – and I am rather sick of “toasting” it in a fry pan and ending up with fried bread or bread drenched in burnt butter. (My gas cooker is very hot and the low setting is not so low…)

I found one for 118元 – which I thought was an OK price for a fairly well-known Chinese brand – but there didn’t seem to be any stock left under the display model. I asked the shop assistant if she knew if they had any. She replied that they did and asked me to wait. After about one hour of waiting and listening to them squawk loudly into their phones to send and receive WeChat voice messages, finally a man appeared with a box. It was all very amusing.

To top it off, when I got it home, the cord is too short to read the powerpoint, so I will need to buy an extension. But, it does look handsome in my kitchen and I can’t wait to use it!

rice balls and salty coffee

Although a little delayed, I finally got to try 汤圆 or 元宵 (yuanxiao or tangyuan) which is eaten to celebrate 元宵节 or Lantern Festival. They are delicious, glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste, and sometimes other fillings.

As I missed out on buying fresh yuanxiao on Lantern Festival, one of my colleagues took me to the supermarket to buy a pack. I thought they were a little expensive at first – 28元 for a packet of like 20 or 25 – however, after trying them, I have a feeling they will last me quite a while!

I love black sesame and go just a little bit crazy for it until – after having gorged myself on it – I realise just how incredibly rich it is. So rich that I think I will have to leave the rest in my freezer for another time. That night, I had decided to cook eight and ended up forcing the last few down. I think four would have been more than sufficient.

My week at work passed quite quickly compared to the week before which seemed to drag – probably mostly due to a dreadful sore throat which made it hard to speak in class. This week, I felt much better. My classes ran more smoothly, despite the bizarre lesson plans I had to work with.

Most evenings after work, I ended up eating something simple at home. I have been making congee quite a lot, as it is cheap, tasty, filling and fairly healthy. I’m trying my best to save money this month. My next payday falls on a Sunday and I am still not quite sure whether my company will pay me in advance or on the Monday. If they end up processing the payment on the Monday, I will be unable to pay my rent on time.

If I could go back in time, I would have saved up much more money prior to my departure for China. Set up costs have been much more than I had expected and unfortunately this has somewhat tainted my first few months in China. For my apartment, I had to pay one month rent plus three months deposit.

I really don’t know how I survived in January. I had hoped that this month would have been a little more financially sound compared to January, but the housing allowance I received in February was not as much as what was written in my contract. Perhaps this is because it was my first month and next month will be the correct amount. Yes. I hope that is how it will be. Then, I will be able to relax and breathe a little easier!

Despite my attempts to save, it is hard. I had breakfast today with a new friend I had made a few weeks back, and ended up spending a rather hefty sum on a very nice but small serving of muesli and yoghurt.

breakfast

I also ordered a coffee which was one of the more unusual coffees I have ever consumed. The coffee itself was nice and, to my surprise, quite strong.  Sitting on top of the coffee was a thick layer of creamy milk foam, the same as the milk foam that comes with a milk tea from Gong Cha, except that this milk foam was prepared with a generous sprinkle of sea salt.

If I had the chance, I would be able to eat the milk foam from Gong Cha by the bucket-load, but this milk foam was too salty. I stirred it in to my coffee and ended up with a most peculiar cup of salty coffee. I somehow don’t think I will be ordering it again in the future.

sunny day

I am a snack-a-holic! I have no self-control when it comes to food. When I buy snacks, I swear I don’t intend to eat them all in one sitting. I like to think I can make them last. Biscuits! I buy biscuits so that I can maybe have one or two to accompany my morning coffee. But no. I end up eating the whole packet.

I bought these puffed rice snacks which I have had before in Australia. You get about a dozen cakes in the pack. They’re oblong cakes made of puffed rice glued together with some sort of honey-like toffee. I bought two packets for my cupboard, in hope that they would fill my cupboard which has been so incredibly empty for the last month and a bit. At present, there are so many pieces of empty packaging right in front of me. Along with sticky crumbs on my coffee table, on the floor and stuck to the bottom of my socks.

So, before I clean all that mess up, I thought I’d write a little about my day. Today was a beautifully sunny day in Shenzhen. It was so warm outside, and there was a positive vibe in the street. Everyone seemed happy. As I walked to work, a huge group of primary school kids were hanging around, laughing and shouting, eating snacks and checking out the toys at the small side street stalls.

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I wasn’t looking forward to going to work today. Yesterday, I was feeling a little down, so despite the weather, it was hard to leave my apartment. It turned out that my classes today went quite well! Well, they felt as if they did. Students were happy and although I was quite busy, my plans and preparation all seemed to pay off.

I had the most delicious lunch of 炒饭 (fried rice) from the supermarket deli on the bottom floor of my building. It was so full of flavour, a tad spicy and only 10 yuan! 10 yuan for a box that was packed with scrumptious rice and veg!

On my way home, I stopped by 王子拉茶 and ordered a rose flavoured teh tarik. I was a little frustrated as it turns out I had been saying the wrong word to order something for take away. For the last three or four weeks, I thought it was 投保. Someone had muttered those words to me at one stage, and looking them up in the dictionary, the closest thing I could find was 投保 toubao -take out.

Well, today, the lady serving me my milk tea gave me such a confused look that I knew I must have it terribly wrong… The girl behind her muttered ‘da bao’ which I repeated back to her. She nodded, so I must have pronounced it O.K.  I left the shop and opened the dictionary on my phone. Typing in the words, it came up with 打包 – ‘to put left overs in a doggy bag’. Well, that makes sense. So where did I go wrong, I wondered. I decided to look up the word I originally thought could be used to ask for ‘take away’. Apparently I should have read the definition more clearly. 投保 ‘tou bao’ was indeed ‘take out’ – but not ‘take-out‘. It means ‘to take out INSURANCE’! Oh my heavens…

Well, I now feel enlightened! I can’t wait to order something tomorrow and use the correct word when I want it to-go. What a way to end a pretty cool day.

 

a coffee and a bike ride

One of the most brilliant things about Shenzhen is the mobike. Similar to the ‘velib’ in Paris or other free city rental bikes in Europe, you scan a QR code using your smartphone and the bike, unless it is in need of a repair, will unlock and allow you to ride all over town for less than one yuan per half hour. Once you’re done, you can drop the bike off at a bike rack and continue on your way. There is a small set-up process as well as a refundable deposit of 299 yuan that you must pay to be able to use the service, but ever since I got it set up, I have been riding around and loving it!

So, instead of heading to my usual cafe, I decided to head up to Coco Park 购物公园 which is about 10 minutes from my apartment by bike. A friend took me to a sweet little cafe a few weeks ago near the Shangri-La Hotel. I liked the peace and quiet there and thought it might be nice to go a little further today while I had the chance.

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I ordered a cappuccino 卡布其诺 which was a big thing as I had never used the word cappuccino in Mandarin before. To my surprise, the man understood me with no problems, so I paid and picked a nice table outside. I opened my book and began to read, however my mind was too unsettled to concentrate, with thoughts about tomorrow rushing through my head.

Although I have been enjoying my new job, I have been feeling slightly unsure if it is the right place for me. Some days, the job is easy. Other days can be so frustrating. Of course, this goes for every job, however I have noticed that I am blaming myself for failing rather than blaming the material that I am working with. I know that I shouldn’t blame myself and try to remind myself of this when I am feeling down. Time will tell. I am still getting used to the way things work.

My coffee arrived. After a few teaspoons of the chocolatey foam, I took a sip. It was just as pleasant as the last time. I wondered to myself if ‘double shots’ were a thing here and if I would have to pay more. I tried once again to focus on my book but was interrupted by a man speaking loudly on a mobile phone and by a persistent mosquito which had decided to join me.

I finished my coffee and decided to ride around for a little before I headed back home. I wanted to enjoy the beautiful city all lit-up at night! It is really impressive to see all of the modern buildings with so many different and intriguing designs. The lights are fabulous at night! I also found this beautiful window display at the Shangri-La Hotel.

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I was feeling a little hungry so I went to a restaurant near my apartment. I have visited this restaurant several times, and so, with a little too much confidence, strode in and smiled at the cashier. It often happens that I forget where I am and exactly how little Mandarin I can speak. Sometimes I go to speak in Japanese or French!

As it dawned on me that I needed to say something in Mandarin, I began mumbling and throwing words left right and centre, which made me feel even more nervous and stupid. 我要鸡肉. 这是鸡肉…吗?

I am ashamed to say that I really have no idea how to order something in Mandarin. Maybe 我要… is correct, but it feels so strange to say. One of the waitresses standing nearby was watching on and laughing nervously. I smiled and laughed a little with her, hoping to break the awkwardness with a little humour. However the awkwardness carried on and her laughter continued. Finally, one of the chefs brought out the meal I had hoped to order. I smiled, paid and turned to walk away.

The whole interaction put me down a little, but the food was tasty. All I can do is try to communicate as best as I can, and I have to accept that there will be times when I can’t make myself understood and when people will perhaps not have as much patience in trying to understand me as I would like.

Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. SZKoala’s other half is currently nestled in the fork of a tree in Australia – eating yummy gum leaves – but we sent a heart emoticon or two on chat and are both still having a nice day despite been away from one another.

It is 4 p.m. and I am considering venturing out to the little cafe down the road. It is becoming one of my favourite sitting and reading spots and has a very relaxing, chilled out atmosphere.

The first time I visited, I was very taken by the design of the cafe. It’s a very trendy place. The people were lovely as well. Then I realised that the music they were playing was in fact only one track which was stuck on repeat and never seemed to end! Despite the music, I went back to enjoy the atmosphere and was very happy to find that they had added a few more songs to their repertoire.

I have recently finished a book called Cadans, a book written by Micha Meinderts about a young gay guy growing up in Belgium in the 1970s. It is the first in the series, and after such a sad ending, I will make sure to read the next two books. As I am unsure how to order their delivery to China, I will carry on reading Madame Bovary, which I have had since July last year and have found so incredibly hard to get into that I don’t find so much pleasure in reading it. I usually read books in order to practice the languages I have learned, so this book is naturally the original French version. Admittedly, it is my own fault that I find it hard to read. Flaubert uses so much descriptive language, and his sentences go on and on. I must persevere.

Reading is one of the goals of my trip to China. I have several books I did not get a chance to read last year, so hopefully I will be able to read them all this year. Of course, reading is not my only goal. If it were, it would be a very odd goal to have for someone traveling in another country. That said, I am still working out my goals to be honest. I know that I want to improve my Mandarin Chinese. I know that I want to improve my abilities as a teacher, and I know that I want to save money for the future. They are my main goals, but I still feel a little strange here. As though I am not sure really why I have come.

Perhaps this is why I find that cafe so comforting. It is a place where I can sit and just be. I can become lost in the worlds created by my books. A respite from my nagging, questioning mind which is constantly hassling me about my motives, my actions and my intentions.

Shenzhen is a busy place. My neighbourhood is a noisy, bustling area that doesn’t seem to sleep. I do love cities. I love the noise and the excitement, but in these first few weeks – I have been here only one month –  it has been nice to escape from it for a little. Moving to another country is a wonderful experience, but the first month can seem like an eternity. Every day offers its own challenges and tasks that would normally take a minute to carry out can seem like a never-ending battle. In those crazy first moments, you need a zone of quiet. You need some still water. The cafe gives me that. I don’t want to be holed up in my apartment all day – I am good at making myself feel guilty for staying home – so, I push myself to head outside, to fight through the crowded streets of cars, taxis, motorbikes and bicycles, to the safety of my local cafe.

cafe1

So, I will venture out now with my book under my arm. I will order an expensive cup of coffee and enjoy the zone for a few hours.