*(a wall of fuego, as they say)
Today it has been four months since Brian and I boarded the plane that would take us across the Pacific Ocean to Hong Kong, from where we would hie ourselves up the road a piece to our new home for another year of teachin'-in-Asia. As I mentioned in my last post before disappearing, we accepted a job in Guangzhou, also formerly known as Canton by ye olde foreign westerners, and so it has come to pass that we are now living in the Pearl River Delta and learning the ins and outs of life in this big, crowded, brightly lit, restaurant- and skyscraper-filled metropolis. It has also come to pass that we have learned very few of the linguistic ins and outs ... but more on that in a later post devoted to language troubles.
In fact, our first four months of living in China have been an insane whirlwind of taking forever to get settled and kind of being forced to travel all the time, thus dragging out even more the time it takes to get settled. I know, poor us, right? Oh, we've just been forced to take these international vacations, boo-hoo... but seriously, I would not plan it this way if I had my scheduling druthers. First and foremost, this is because I am a complete and total save-the-best-for-last kind of gal, and I would much much much much much rather start out my year contract in Asia by diving into weeks of work work work and then, a few months in, start having holidays, and I would take my annual leave vacation and my long holidays as late in the year as possible, whereas we of course had quite the opposite by arriving in January because that meant Spring Festival was right around the corner.
- February / Spring Festival / Lunar New Year / The Philippines
Therefore, we had to start planning a vacation before we even had internet in our apartment and practically before we even had an apartment and definitely before we had received our first paycheck. This is not as easy as it looks, my friends! But the alternative would be to sit at home for our 9 days off in a row (shudder to think!) and furthermore to squander the biggest holiday of the year. It would be like moving to the U.S. on December 5th and not figuring out what to do with yourself for Christmas break. Unheard of! But because of the aforementioned lack of even one paycheck, we had to plot this carefully, and that's where Expedia saved us by popping up in my inbox with a last-minute deal from Hong Kong to Manila, and so we were off to the Philippines for the Lunar New Year holiday, and we rang in the Year of the Snake on the beach at Boracay, followed up by a few days of strolling around Manila. And we planned the whole thing using Starbucks' wi-fi. (This concludes your corporate shout-outs paragraph.)
- March / Hong Kong
Of course, this meant we had now passed through Hong Kong multiple times without ever being able to really stop and smell the Hong Kong roses; we just kept arriving and departing at the airport and the Guangzhou-Kowloon train station and even riding the subway and having lunch at an Indian restaurant or grabbing a coffee but not getting to explore the city. The city a mere couple of hours down the road from us, this fabulously exciting, beloved-by-every-traveler, one-of-the-greatest-cities-on-Earth city. And so it was time for a proper trip, a "weekend" in Hong Kong (our weekend actually being on Wednesday and Thursday, due to our work schedule - but also we don't work until 6 p.m. on Fridays, which is awesome). So we got back on the train and spent a couple of days checking out all the glories of Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbour, Tsim Sha Tsui and Admiralty, happy hour in Causeway Bay, the steep and winding streets, the dim sum, the laser light show, the art museum, the tailors who whip up a custom-fit suit in 24 hours or less, and not least of all the markets and shops and street of kitchen supplies where Brian had his sights set on wok shopping. In fact, Brian had basically been talking about buying a wok since the day we had our first job interview for this China gig back in Mexico in September, and he had determined that a particular street in Hong Kong would be the best place to procure a wok, and so procure it he did, along with some other wok-cooking utensil essentials including a knife that had to be checked as luggage on the train back to Mainland China. Since we had traveled with only our backpacks, the authorities took the big ol' chopping knife -- one of those rectangular deals that you might have seen being whipped around on a "But wait there's more!" infomercial in years gone by -- and wrapped it in newspaper and put a little tag around it and off it went down the luggage conveyor belt, to be retrieved by us back in Guangzhou.
- April / Macau
And back in Guangzhou, we had another holiday on the way. I really wanted to catch my breath, get into a routine, attend my Wednesday ("Saturday") morning Chinese class more regularly, and start saving up some freakin' money, but instead we had to decide what to do for Tomb-Sweeping Day on April 3rd, which gave us a three-day "weekend" April 2-3-4. The obvious answer, of course, was to head to the other kinda-sorta-China-but-you-cross-a-border-to-get-there Special Administrative Region hereabouts, that being Macau. And I am here to tell you that Macau. Is. Awesome! So much awesome is the Macau! It was Portugese, you know, or perhaps you don't, seeing as Macau kind of flies under the radar in terms of Places the World Often Jabbers About, but like Hong Kong, it, too, has reverted to being part of China. Sort of. This is actually an ongoing debate, as to whether it counts as going to another country when we go through immigration to Hong Kong and Macau. All I know is that Macau now offers the following: cobblestone streets, Portugese egg tarts and other ridiculously delicious cheap food, and gambling galore! "The Vegas of the East," they say. (They who? I don't know.) Massive big name casinos -- Wynn, Venetian, MGM Grand, you name it, and I have rarely enjoyed wandering around any city for two days quite as much as I enjoyed wandering around Macau. Oh, yes, I will be back there.
- April Redux / Vietnam
But no rest for the weary!! Because now our company was suggesting - strongly suggesting - that if anyone would please like to take a couple of days of unpaid leave during the month of April then we should definitely take them. Please do so. Please. And maybe some teachers might be forced to reduce hours if we didn't get enough volunteers, please, and thanks. What's an English-teaching couple to do, but realize that May 1st is going to be YET ANOTHER holiday (Labor Day/International Workers' Day -- you can thank Grover Cleveland for it not being celebrated on that day in the U.S.) and therefore if one were to take a mere three days of unpaid leave (highly appreciated by one's regional director!) and switch one's days off in the previous week, one would find oneself with eight consecutive days off that are clearly meant for one to travel to Vietnam...? And so, there we were again, eking out a budget for tickets, hotel, visa, etc. in order to not lose this time-off opportunity (I know, I know, such problems...but SERIOUSLY why did this all have to be in our first three and a half months?) and then we were off to Hanoi! By the way, if you have yet to look at a map, Guangzhou is very close to Vietnam -- closer to Hanoi than to either Shanghai or Beijing, for example. Anyway, Vietnam just may have been the most revelatory trip yet, largely because of Sapa. Holy cripes! This mountain destination is ten kinds of amazing, and I can't believe that before whipping out Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring I had never even heard of it. All I know is that a wise man would do a lot less dropping of bombs on northern Vietnam, and a lot more sitting in a hotel on the Sapa hillside sipping his beverage of choice and staring at the stunning view.
Which brings us to mid-May. Which means it's our birthday month! Which means that Brian and I totally have to spend another weekend in Hong Kong, right? (Right?!) I mean, what else would one do for one's birthday when one lives a mere two-hour, $24-ish dollar train ride from the H-K? So that's where we'll be. Next week. And then I am going to just absolutely sit still for a minute and ... plan my celebration of the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival.
Meanwhile, you want to know what it could possibly be like to live in China. Isn't it an interesting question? Sure it is. However, I'm so close to the situation that I'm having a hard time at the moment figuring out what to talk about. But now that I'm back on the blog (praise be!) I will happily answer all your questions. So what are they? I would love to know what you want to know about life in Guangzhou. Ask and ye shall receive -- especially if you ask in the form of a comment here -- because the blog is back! Check in every Monday and Thursday for all the latest and greatest Linda Without Borders happenings. Although lately it feels like a more appropriate name might be Linda With Lots and Lots of Borders to Cross...