If you take a look at my Instagram or read too many of my travel posts in a row, it might seem like I’m constantly gallivanting around the globe, but the reality is much different than that. I’m a China expat, working a 10-7 job as a college counselor helping Chinese high school students apply to American universities. I have an apartment, a monthly salary, a private office, and a breakfast vendor who knows my order by heart.
So to give you all a glimpse into the life of a China expat, I thought I might show you my daily schedule (aka what I did yesterday.)
8:45 AM- Good Morning Beijing!
After a 10-minute snooze I force myself out of bed and into the shower (unless I oversleep and then I just apply extra deodorant.) After slathering an insane amount of lotion all over my body to combat the dry Beijing winter, I coat my face in foundation to cover up my dark circles and pale skin that hasn’t seen the sun in weeks.
After I finish up in the bathroom, I head over to my wardrobe to pick out the day’s outfit. It’s still freezing cold in my office, so I opt for something practical, but not too casual. Maybe a nice sweater with jeans tucked into boots. My apartment is always a million degrees for some unknown reason, so I’m forced to open the window while I’m getting ready, enjoying the fresh (surprisingly) pollution-free air while I shrug on my puffy coat and slip on my hat.
9:40 AM- Head to Work!
When I’m finished covering myself in multiple layers, I lock up my apartment and squeeze into elevator full of working professionals and package delivery men. When I finally make it to the ground floor I run across the street to the stall selling breakfast dumplings, tofu, porridge and tea eggs. The young man instantly recognizes me. With a smile he scoops two tea eggs out of a pot of boiling broth as I hand him 3 kuai (50 cents.)
I tie up the plastic bag and stick it in my purse so the eggs won’t get cold as I begin my 15 minute walk to work. Today is a bit treacherous due to yesterday’s snow. I’m wearing flat lace-up boots, slipping and sliding everywhere. Somebody buy me some snow boots, please.
Today I’m especially cautious of the cars that are driving like the roads are perfectly clear. I know there’s a big possibility they’ll slide on the snow and ice as they come to a sudden stop, so I’m significantly less ballsy than usual, letting them have the right-of-way (even if they have a red light.) Better safe than dead.
10:00 AM- Chinese Class
Today I have my weekly office Chinese class which started a few weeks ago. I grab my Chinese notebook from my desk and run to the classroom upstairs where my other foreign coworkers are waiting. While most of the class is review for me, it’s still a great way for me to practice my characters and I always learn a few new vocab words. The teacher does a great job managing our different Chinese levels, and always makes sure to be super hard on me, asking me complicated questions and correcting my tones, while going easier on my beginner classmates who barely speak a word of Chinese.
I honestly think it’s really awesome that my boss has provided us this Chinese class, and it’s a great way to bond with my other foreign co-workers I don’t work with directly. I think this is the first time in my life I’ve actually enjoyed learning Chinese and doing Chinese homework. Reason #397 why teaching to adults is awesome.
11:00 AM- Back to Work
After class I make myself an americano in our fancy office espresso machine, and settle into a long day of work. I pull up my Foxmail email (the worst email provider ever) to see the latest drafts of my students’ UC admissions essays which are due this weekend. Of course, all my kids are horrible procrastinators, so we’re rushing to get these essays done as soon as possible.
Most of my students are having difficulty with the first UC application essay: Describe the world you come from and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
The main problem is that most students are using this essay as an excuse to talk about an activity they did in high school to sound more impressive, but they’re failing to actually answer the question.
For example, one kid said she came from a world of business and entrepreneurship because she was in the economics club at school. While this is a cool and creative spin on the question, she basically just spent the rest of the essay talking about how she made her department of the economics club more impressive.
……Okay? Well, good for you but that doesn’t answer the question at. all.
Usually I spend my mornings crafting these essays into something that’s remotely acceptable. For example I had this same girl talk about her disappointment with her department of the economics club, and how it wasn’t the “fully-formed world of business” she was hoping for. She eventually realized that if she wanted this “world of entrepreneurship” at her school, she would have to create it herself. Fixing this club not only inspired her to follow her dreams of becoming a prominent business leader, it has also inspired those around her to take initiative, helping her invite speakers and organize events.
This is why they pay me the big bucks.
1:00 PM- Lunch
I usually head out to lunch with my Chinese co-worker Amy. We like to explore different restaurants around the mall where we work. Now that I’m not extremely broke, eating fried rice for every meal, I can actually afford to eat decently well. This time we went out for Korean, ordering spicy kimchi soup to share. Amy likes bringing me along to this place because apparently the service is better when laowai are present.
Somehow during lunch we got started talking about which US cities were safest in terms of natural disasters. When Amy told me she thought the west coast was dangerous because of all our earthquakes, I pointed out that she’s from Sichuan, a place that experienced a devastating earthquake a few years ago. The reason this earthquake was so horrible was that the buildings in Sichuan are not built to withstand any sort of quake. The hardest hit buildings were the shoddily constructed schools surrounding Chengdu, which collapsed on top of all of the children.
While Amy was studying in America during the earthquake, her younger cousins were in one of the hardest-hit schools. The school completely collapsed, crushing the majority of the students under the rubble. Thankfully her cousins were on the top floor, but even then only half of their classmates survived. Her cousins were stuck under the rubble for two days because the police refused to let parents and community members anywhere near the school, preferring to wait for the army which couldn’t reach the area due to extensive damage. While her cousins survived, they didn’t speak for two years after the incident.
While yesterday’s lunch was a bit of a heavy subject, I always learn something new about Chinese culture or politics every time I have lunch with Amy. We talk about Chinese business culture, the differences between China and America, and what it’s like raising a family in China.
2:00 PM- Back to Work
My afternoon is usually a mixture of working on essays, meeting with students and pretending to get work done. Today I had two student meetings, which is pretty light compared to last week. I met with one Senior 2 student (11th grade) where I printed out an article about America’s gun debate, which we used to practice his reading comprehension for the SAT. We also used it for oral English and critical thinking practice, discussing the article and American politics for about 20 minutes.
My second student was a high school senior preparing for her Carlton College admissions interview. She was pretty nervous since Carlton is her dream school, but she answered all of my questions really well! I’ve been trying to make myself a scary interviewer, asking extremely tough questions to make sure the kids are overly prepared. Apparently it’s working! Last year kids used to lament over how horrible their interviews went, while all of this year’s students said their interviews weren’t as hard as they were expecting.
7:00 PM- Time to Head Home
When the clock strikes 7, I bundle up and start the 15-minute walk home. On my way back to my apartment I stop by my favorite malatang restaurant for dinner. Malatang is basically a spicy Sichuan soup full of ingredients you select. I load up a big bowl full of lotus root, lettuce, spinach, bamboo, quail eggs, tofu, and bean sprouts. I especially love this malatang place because you can add peanut sauce, which you typically only find in hot pot restaurants.
I whip out my reusable container so that I can save 1 yuan (and the environment) and take my malatang to go. I bring it home and eat it on the world’s most comfortable blue couch as I watch some sort of addictive TV show, probably How to Get Away with Murder.
9:00 PM- Poker with the Boys
Rather than work on my blog or exercise to Latin dance workout videos on Youtube, yesterday I played poker with my coworkers who live in the same apartment complex. We sat around sipping a few light Chinese beers, betting 5 yuan into the pot (less than $1 USD.) I was actually winning for a decent percentage of the game, which was unexpected, considering I’ve only ever played a few times. At least my victorious co-worker had a nice big lunch on us today.
12:30 AM- Goodnight Beijing!
After a long day of work (and a very long poker game,) I finally collapse into my large, hard bed. I post a photo to Instagram in my sleepy haze, and set my alarm for the next morning, promising myself I’ll find a way to write this blog post sometime during work tomorrow.
If any of you were wondering, I failed.
Get a Glimpse into My Beijing Life
For the past few months I’ve really been enjoying following other travel bloggers on Snapchat, getting a glimpse into their everyday lives; however, I could never participate because my atrocious Chinese smart phone had a non-functioning camera. Now that I finally have a new phone, I’ve been loving taking snaps of my everyday life, uploading them to give you all a little glimpse into my life here in Beijing.
Whether it’s rants about how the office building takes away the toilet paper after 6pm, or lessons on Chinese swear words, you’ll get a little glimpse into aspects of my life that don’t often make it into my blog posts.
If any of you are interested in following along, you can find me at Adventures_Asia (!!!)
Want to Teach in China?
If you’re at all interested in teaching abroad in China and want to learn more, I highly suggest grabbing my free guide: 10 Steps to Landing a High Paying Job in China (that’s not a scam).
This step by step system is designed to help you land a high paying job you LOVE and rock your first year in China! Trust me, if you want to teach abroad in China, you need this guide ASAP!YES I Want to Teach in China!
Are any of you really into Snapchat? If you post awesome Snapchat stories be sure to leave me your Snapchat ID in a comment or private message on Facebook. I’m always looking for new people to follow!