Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Friends In China ~ Episode 2 ~ Carrie

I am so proud to present my wonderful friend, Carrie. 
She has been a saving grace for me here in China. I hope you have fun learning about what an amazing woman, wife, mom and friend she is!

Where did you move from?

We were living in the Washington D.C. area before we decided to take a different employment path that would take us to China.  We had an in between period of figuring out all the details where we stayed with my husband’s parents in Idaho, so technically we moved from Idaho.

How long have you lived in China?
We just passed our three-year mark last month!

How long do you plan to stay in China?
Well, our initial plan was to be here for two to three years, but since we have already surpassed that time period, we’re kind of winging it now.  Our oldest son just started school, so we’ll be here for at least another year, but it will probably be another two… that is unless there is some drastic change and we don’t suddenly have to move back to the States! (I only say that because that is not that uncommon an occurrence here!)

Have you lived in any other countries before?
NOPE!  I had never even left the country (America) before we moved here.  Not even to Canada!

What brought you to China?
My husband took a job with an agricultural manufacturing company named Double L who makes potato harvesting equipment.  They are based out of American Falls, Idaho, and have been shipping equipment to customers in China for several years but were hoping to open a factory here to manufacture locally.  We have been here for three years and have yet to get a factory up and running though, but that’s a whole different can of worms!  My husband has been focusing on keeping customers happy and selling equipment in the meantime.

How did you make the decision to move here?
When the opportunity to live in China first became even a possibility, I was absolutely positive that we would NEVER move here.  Like, it wasn’t even an option.  But then my husband and I both had individual, personal, spiritual affirmations and we couldn’t deny that we were supposed to go.  Once I truly felt that Beijing was where our family was supposed to be, we just started making the arrangements to move and never looked back.  Once we got here I would remind myself of that confirmation I had already received and that helped get through the hard times.

What are the ages of your children?
I have two boys aged five and two and a half.

My oldest just started kindergarten this year at an international school.  He has a Chinese language class every day, but the rest of his courses are taught in English.  About 90% of the children in his class are Chinese.  I am very excited about the learning opportunities that are available to him here; as early as Kindergarten he already has opportunities to learn music, swimming, Chinese as well as the basics like reading and math.  The school fees here are outrageous, and we are lucky that his tuition is covered by our company – if they weren’t we wouldn’t be able to afford it, so we are very grateful for the blessing of excellent education for our son!

Did you have pre-natal care or child birth in China? How was it?
Yes!  When we moved here I was five months pregnant with my second child.  As you can imagine, this caused some serious distress and anxiety on my part!  We were in between insurance policies during that time (still covered on our previous employment’s plan, but we had to pay all expenses out of pocket then submit them for reimbursement) so that actually kind of disqualified us from delivering at the local “western” hospital that most expats use.  Their costs for delivering a baby were anywhere between $10,000 to $20,000 US dollars, so we knew we couldn’t afford that!  We checked out a couple local, more Chinese style hospitals and found one that is a good mix of western and Chinese… actually it was more like a Chinese hospital that’s a little nicer than most.  We were the only foreigners there, and for the most part the other patients were wealthy Chinese.
When we were looking into prenatal care we realized quickly that they do things differently here!  They offer prenatal care “packages” as well as delivery packages for which you pre-pay (and on which you can get discounts for signing up early!)  I felt like the prenatal care was if anything more thorough than in the States.  I think we had four or five separate ultrasounds, which was kind of exciting to see the baby growing and make sure everything was healthy.
It’s hard to compare my China birth experience with my America birth experience because I don’t know if things are different solely because it was my second child or because of being in a different country.  That being said, my birth here was actually so much better than my first!  Everything went a lot quicker, my actual hard labor was much more manageable, my epidural was excellent (just enough numb to take the edge off the pain, but I could still feel everything) and my recovery time was SO much faster.  I was walking around on my own a few hours after delivery!  It was also an added bonus that we were kind of treated like celebrities because we were the foreigners! (Our delivery room was upgraded to a “VIP” suite and all of my meals were actually ordered from the nearby Italian restaurant!)

What do you miss most about living in America?
As funny as it sounds, I think the thing that I miss most is being able to bargain shop!  I hate that I can’t buy the generic brand at the grocery store or find coupon deals and especially that I can’t go thrift store shopping!  It is really difficult for me to pay full price for anything (being raised in a super frugal family will do that to you!) so having to pay even MORE than you would in the states for imported items kind of stresses me out.

What do you like most about living in China?
The thing that I like most about living in China is our church organization here.  We are all expats and no one has family nearby, so we have become incredibly close and know that we can always count on each other for anything and everything!  I couldn’t have survived here without my faith and my church.
Aside from that, I really enjoy some of the perks of big city living, like walking to the corner market to pick up some fresh produce or riding my bike to the grocery store.  I’m also grateful for the opportunity for my children to learn to speak Chinese while they are young.

What are the biggest challenges of living in China?
Unfortunately along with the perks, the obstacles of big city living are really hard for me to deal with.  I HATE having to deal with Beijing traffic, the horrid pollution that is so bad some days that you can’t even go outside, and the congestion of SO MANY PEOPLE!  Although I speak enough limited Chinese to get by, it is so challenging for me to not be able to fully express myself to people here.  I wish that I could really communicate and connect more with people (and be able to defend myself better in conflict situations!)

What is your most common mode of transportation?
For the most part I ride my bike around.  We have a rusted out child seat on the back that one of my kids can ride in, but as my kids get older and we have more places that we need to be, we had to upgrade our situation and get a driver.  For the first three years that we have lived here though, we mainly relied on bike, subway and taxi.  I still prefer riding my bike around the city though; although it is so chaotic and highly dangerous, I feel so liberated pedaling around downtown!  I also actually kind of enjoy taking the subway.  Taxis are my absolute least favorite mode of transportation - they stress me out!

Do you have an ayi? How many hours a week? What are all the things she does for you? How is it to be an employer to someone?
For the first year that we lived here we didn’t have an Ayi, except for while I had my Chinese class so I could get a base on the language.  Once our second child was born we did hire the Ayi that worked for our good friends who had just moved back to the States.  She works for us part time (20 hours a week) and she helps clean up the house (dishes, sweeping, laundry etc.) as well as occasionally cooks for us and watches/plays with the kids.  At first it was strange for me to employ someone in our home, but now I don’t even think of it that way.  Ayi is part of our family and we love her like an aunt – which is actually what the word “ayi” translates to!

Do you have a driver? How many hours a week? Where does he take you regularly?
Yes, we hired a driver a few months ago, mostly because we knew my husband would be out of town about 95% of the summer, and my oldest was starting school so we would need a way to get him there and back.  He works five days a week, Saturdays are off and then he has one weekday that he is restricted from driving (due to traffic regulations, they have to restrict the amount of drivers on the road in Beijing) that rotates every three months.  Currently Monday is our restricted day, so on Mondays I have to either have Ayi come early and bike him to school, or leave extra early and walk both boys to school in the double stroller (a 4km round trip!)
Our driver usually takes us to school and back, to playgroups, to the store, etc.

Where do you grocery shop? What are some things you buy regularly that you didn't buy in the US?
For the majority of our groceries we actually shop at the little corner markets or local fruit stands.  We also regularly go to an import store that carries western items.  I have found that I now buy and cook more produce items that I never cooked in the States, like fresh sweet potatoes, eggplant, cabbage and pumpkin!

What types of restaurants do you eat at? How often do you eat out?
We eat at all kinds of restaurants: Chinese, street food, Thai, Middle Eastern, American, pizza.  Our favorite place that we order most often, mostly because it’s close and has free delivery, is an American style diner that has everything from burgers to burritos to pasta.  We eat out a lost more often than in the States, whether that’s good or bad!  It is quite a bit cheaper to eat out here, and most places have free delivery.

What does your typical day look like?
A typical day consists of: kids wake me up around 6:00-6:30, get them dressed and fed breakfast, take my oldest to school and come back home, get showered and ready myself, head to playgroup (Tuesdays and Thursdays) at a friends or my own home, get home in time for lunch, put my youngest down for a nap, try to work on any current projects or answer emails/blog for the couple hours of free time while he is sleeping, when he wakes up we have to go pick up my oldest from school, then we either watch a movie or go play outside, come back and I make dinner, we eat dinner, clean up dinner, get the kids in the bathtub and then pajamas and stories, bedtime for kids, then I BREATHE… ;)  That is when my husband and I actually get to spend time together and watch a movie or talk, then I try to be in bed by about 10:30 or 11:00 because 6:00am comes fast!

Are there any new hobbies you've picked up in China?
YES!  I have been in a crazy crochet mania since moving here!  I found a local market that sells yarn for fairly cheap and basically taught myself how to crochet from online tutorials and YouTube videos!  Now it has kind of become my tradition to give all my expectant mother friends a baby afghan for their shower present.  I LOVE the way that I can create so many different patterns and shapes simply by how I loop the yarn over my hook differently.  It fascinates me… and to be honest, it is totally therapeutic for me!

How do you communicate with loved ones back home?
We try to set up regular Skype sessions to video chat with grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins, but other than that mostly through email or Facebook.  I have a blog but I have become a miserable failure at keeping it current… one of my “to-dos” is to be better at updating it more regularly!

Where is the most interesting place you've visited in China?
I think my favorite trip was to Guilin and Yangshuo, which are kind of sister cities along the Li River in Southern China.  If you think of the stereotypical Chinese scroll paintings of the bamboo rafts floating along the river with amazing, mystical looking mountains in the fog – THAT is where I’m talking about!  It was absolutely beautiful and magical and I would love to go back someday.

What is the weirdest thing you've witnessed in China?
Oh man, I’ve seen some things you wouldn’t believe since living here… I think the craziest thing that has happened to me personally was when I was trying to take both boys (my youngest was still an infant – probably only a few months old at the time) to a friend’s house for playgroup.  We couldn’t get a taxi to stop for us (they very commonly will wave you off and refuse to stop when they see that you are white and especially with young children) so we hopped in a rickshaw (little metal cab attached to a motorcycle) and headed on our way.  Suddenly out of nowhere, our driver flipped a quick U-turn and started trying to drive away from something.  When I looked out the side window a saw a man running after us with a 4-ft long piece of metal rebar in his hand that he was jabbing at the wheels of our rickshaw!  He chased us for about 20 feet, swinging at our cab, until we were out of range for him to chase anymore.  I have NO IDEA the reason for his actions, but all I do know is that had he connected with the spokes of our tire, we would have flipped upside down on the road and probably have been killed.  Needless to say, I don’t take my kids in rickshaws anymore!!

If you could move to any other city in the world, which would it be?
I have always wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking country, either in South America or in Spain itself.  I took Spanish from junior high school all the way through college, and really love the language and culture.  I think it would be excellent payback to move to a place like Argentina where I can pick up my Spanish again and have my husband experience what it is like to live in a country where he doesn’t speak a lick of the language and I can actually communicate with people! (He speaks fluent Mandarin.)  

How have you changed while living in China?
I think the thing that I have noticed the most is my ability to roll with the punches and be more flexible with life in general since moving here, and for that I am truly grateful!  I used to be more meticulous about things and worried about specific details and planning, but you learn quickly while living here that it is impossible to plan for life in China, so you have to be able to adapt and improvise!  It makes me happy to think that my husband and I both are much more laid back than we used to be.

1 comment:

LaDeana Wilke said...

Thank you for shaing Carrie's story. I learned a lot about her and life in Beijing.