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Since I’ll be moving to Beijing for the next two years, I figured it would be fun to do monthly recap posts talking about the highlights and challenges of my time in China’s bustling capital (or wherever I may be that month.) I’ve noticed that the more I travel and the busier I become, the more impossible it becomes to keep up with my travels in real-time. Well, never fear monthly recap posts are here!
What I’ve Been Up to This Month
I know this post is more than a week late, but as I say every month, this month was crazy-busy!
I spent the first half of December in Beijing, working every day to get all my kids ready for their college applications which are all due January 1st. My two western co-workers went out of town earlier than I did, so I was left to meet all the students while also leading two writing seminars.
I was so busy at the beginning of December, I don’t even really remember what I did besides participating in an office Secret Santa, shopping for Christmas presents at a bargaining market, and spending my weekends being more social/ trying to make friends. Expat life is super interesting, am I right?
On the 22nd of December I flew all the way back to America for the first time in over a year and a half!! I thought I’d get to relax, but with only 2.5 weeks at home I spent the majority of my time running around, seeing family and friends, eating all the foods I can’t get in China, and shopping for all the crap that’s 5X the price here.
Where I’ve Been
Like I said, I spent the first half of the month in Beijing. I mainly spent my time working, but I also tried to be social and even put together a little hutong bar crawl that didn’t quite go as planned. Just before Christmas I flew home to Seattle and spent the holidays with family.
Christmas with My Family!
This was the first time in 3 years I’ve made it home for Christmas. Last year I celebrated with Shuffle Crew after our Christmas performance show, and the year before that I ate a jalapeno cheeseburger that hospitalized me with food poisoning. So it’s safe to say I was happy to be home for the first Christmas in forever!
It was also just nice to be home for a little while. A year and a half is a really long time to go without seeing your family or visiting your home country. Hopefully I can get home again next Christmas, or at least go home in February for the Chinese New Year!
A Free Ticket Home
I think we all know the visa situation in China is a mess. So many people bend (or break) the rules, not because they want to, but because it’s such a bureaucratic hassle to get a work visa here.
Long story short, I had a residence permit from my MA program that expired at the end of December. I needed a new visa, but in order to qualify for a work visa in Beijing, you have to have two years of work experience in your field. Apparently teacher and college counselor are not similar enough for me to qualify as a foreign expert, so they have to make stuff up. I stopped asking questions a long time ago…
So since (for some unknown reason) I can’t get my work visa just yet, I had to get a business visa, which I’ll work on (technically illegal) until I get my work visa. Apparently Hong Kong doesn’t give out business visas anymore (wonder why…) so I needed to go back to the US.
What does this mean for me? FREE FLIGHT HOME.
I ate all the foods while I was home. Americanized Mexican food, authentic Mexican food, homemade Mexican food… I also had Ethiopian, Italian, and a mini Thanksgiving dinner! I even baked homemade apple and pumpkin pie while I was home…. I miss ovens.
Seeing High School Friends
It’s been years since I hung out with friends from high school. They live all over the country now (and I live in China) so it was really nice to catch up and see what’s really going on outside of social media. I was the most behind since no one can text me all the way over here, and my Facebook feed is flooded with travel blogging stuff and liberal/feminist articles.
We’re going to make a better effort to stay in touch now, and we even created a Whatsapp group chat yesterday!
Not everything this month was perfect. Here are some of the things that went wrong.
I got sick and couldn’t afford a doctor
I have health insurance in China that actually covers me everywhere but the USA. For some reason I didn’t think to get travel insurance before heading home, because I figured since I’m a citizen there’s somewhere I could go to get treated if something went wrong. Nope. Nope, nope, nope.
Now that everyone in the USA needs to have health insurance, all the cheap walk-in clinics have been closed. I also tried to get birth control pills from Planned Parenthood based on a sliding income scale, and that’s gone now too! $50 a pack is a bit too steep for me, so I’ll just have to figure that out in China, I guess.
In order for me to be covered while I’m home, I’d have to apply for a year-long plan which is a complicated process, and not worth it if I’m only home for 2 weeks. That whole “you can be on your parents’ plan” thing? Yeah, but you have to pay for the privilege. Approximately $150 USD/month for me! Oh, and you have to sign up for the whole year upfront.
Even World Nomads, my go-to travel insurance, is TWICE THE PRICE if you’re heading to the US than it is anywhere else in the world. Thanks, America.
The worst part of being home was getting really, really sick and not being able to see a doctor. For almost 3 days I could barely get out of bed due to extreme stomach pain. At first I thought it was from eating too much greasy, fried food and carbs, but it must’ve been something else. The pain stayed in my upper stomach and never actually continued down to my intestines. I still have no idea what was wrong with me, but thankfully I got better in a few days so I didn’t have to shell out $175 just to SEE a doctor.
I even tried buying travel health insurance when I got sick in the US, but most companies have a policy that you either have to A) buy insurance before you leave for your trip or B) you can’t use your insurance for medical problems within three days of buying it unless it’s an emergency. Probably to fend of cheapskate idiots like me.
Note to self: next time you go the US buy travel insurance.
Working all Holiday
Part of the deal with me going home for Christmas was that I had to still edit essays while I was home. However, we told all of the students they needed to have their essays pretty much done before Christmas. Of course, this did not happen. I spent at least an hour almost every night editing essays. I would be enjoying dinner with my family, or watching a movie only to get a text: “did you see those 5 essays I sent you an hour ago??” GIVE ME A BREAK.
One day I actually edited 20 essays. I’m not kidding.
Thankfully 5 days I was home counted as work days for getting my visa, so I didn’t have to count them as vacation days. If I didn’t have these 5 days I would’ve been really pissed. When I agreed to edit “some essays from home” I didn’t know I was agreeing to 1-3 hours of work every single day I was home.
I’m thinking next year I’m either going to have more communication with my students (I tend to communicate through their Chinese counselor) and force them to get their essays done earlier, or I’m just going to go home during the Chinese New Year rather than Christmas.
I was hoping to relax while I was home and get a bunch of blog posts written, but that definitely didn’t happen. With everything closed for the holidays, I felt constantly rushed. I sent out my passport to the visa service company the day after I arrived home, and even though I expedited the process and used overnight shipping both ways, I still didn’t get my passport back until the day before I had to leave!
I also wanted to order a few things online, but was barely able to get everything in time due to the holidays. Fitting in a dentist appointment, a haircut and other things I normally do while I’m home was almost impossible. Talk about stressful!
I have to say I felt a bit guilty while I was home for being gone so long. Everyone keeps asking me “When are you coming home?” and I honestly don’t have an answer for them. I feel really bad about not seeing my grandpa for so long, especially since my grandma passed away over two years ago. He’s 91 now, and I think he’s a bit upset over how little he sees me.
I know that if I was able to sustain myself online, or work a job remotely, I could go home much more often. My round-trip flight to the US was only $500! My problem is the lack of vacation days right now. I haven’t even technically used any of my 20 vacation days since I worked so much overtime this fall, but I still feel guilty taking time off. The work culture in China is even worse than the US!
My Cat Died
My childhood cat who I bought as a kitten in 4th grade passed away a few days before I was supposed to fly home. This is the second time I found out a pet had died before I even knew he was sick, but at least I didn’t find out over Facebook this time (you can thank my brother for that one).
As much as I’m really sad he’s gone, I’m happy he at least lived this long. This cat had bladder stones when he was a kitten, and wasn’t supposed to live very long. Somehow he made it 15 years!
In the spirit of the circle of life, I actually applied to be a foster mom to cats in Beijing, but we’ll see if this ever works out because the woman who runs the place is somewhat infuriating with her constant emails about what type of diet I’m going to feed the cats.
My Most Popular Post
For some reason my old post: My Epically Horrible Cambodian Night Bus Adventure randomly sprung up into popularity this month. This is the story of how I got scammed out of my bus ticket and ended up sleeping in the driver’s bed. Read on for more delightful horrors.
This post was closely followed by “Getting Robbed in Cambodia“. I guess a lot of people are worried about Cambodian scams this month?
Since Beijing was pretty ugly and polluted this month, and Seattle was nice and rainy, I decided to post photos from some of my past trips to Hong Kong. This photo of the Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Harbor’s Avenue of Stars was the most popular this month.
My second most popular shot was of an old junk boat sailing Victoria Harbor. If you go to Hong Kong you can take one of these boats out to a fantastic beach. They have family friendly cruises as well as crazy-party booze cruises you can partake in.
A photo posted by Richelle (@adventuresaroundasia) on
Song of the Month
After rocking out to Kizomba for a solid month, my new favorite song of the
month week is Outside by Calvin Harris featuring Ellie Goulding. Can’t get enough!
What I’m Reading
The 4-Hour Workweek- Tim Ferriss which not only inspires me to create my own business after I finish this job, it’s also incredibly frustrating that I can’t do it right now!
5 Things a Korean Fortune Teller Told me- Teacake Travels I already wanted to go back to Korea for the food, but now I have another reason to go!
On Travel and Trusting Strangers- La Mochilera Diaries This blog has been on my list of favorites for the last few months now. Strangers aren’t all bad!
Did I Just Fall in Love with Winter?- Unlocking Kiki Our lives as expats are just about as different as it gets (granted, it is pretty F-ing cold in Beijing right now)
Coming Up in January 2015
Well… since January has already started, I can let you know right now that there will be a few crazy stories coming out about how I was infected with parasitic worms, scammed out of $50 USD and I was arrested by the Chinese police (not my fault!!)
Nothing too big is happening in January besides me religiously working on my blog now that work has slowed down. However, I will be prepping for a big trip to the Philippines in February!!!! I’ll also be apartment hunting since I want to move into a cute little hutong house by the end of February.