We Saw the World in a Day

I first heard of Window of the World (世界之窗, shìjiè zhī chuāng)theme park when researching China before we ever moved to ShenZhen, and when I heard of it, I knew that we had to go sometime. The concept of the park was one I found highly amusing: they took just about every landmark you could possibly think of from all over the world and recreated them in the miniature.

Attending this park reminded me a bit of my visit to Epcot in January, only I wouldn't say that attention to detail was quite on the Disney-level (i.e. all the food served in the park is Chinese food, nearly all of the performers are Chinese), but who would expect that? Disney is quite unique.

Still, we had a grand time. The concept of making an amusement park based on the idea of collecting famous sights from all over the world and putting them in one place caused me to be overcome with giggles from time to time, but it was an awesome day, giggles and all. The park also boasts a couple of rides for which you need extra tickets (we were at the park for about 6 hours, and that was going at high speed to see everything, not stopping for food or extra ticketed rides). They have "cultural shows" in different regions of the world. We went to a "cultural show" that took place in a European church, as you'll see below.

Quite frequently, this park reminded me how very much not a traveler I actually am, because I've seen a grand total of 1 of the sights in the park in real life. However, many sights reminded me of friends and family who have been to the real places. Let me know in the comments which of these real places you've been too!

Window of the World Louvre Pyramid
 The Pyramid from the Louvre was the exit from the metro. My family was there last year.

Window of the World Ishtar Gate
 I'll be honest, I had no idea what this was, and there was no sign, but I was very intrigued so I googled "ancient blue brick wall" and discovered that this is the Ishtar Gate.

 My family was here, too, a year ago. And Joslin, what do you think of our Eiffel Tower selfie?

 I love being the master of the map.

 I still haven't figured out what this is. I Googled "fancy Chinese gate" but apparently that's too vague a description. Does this look familiar to anyone?

Window of the World Angkor Wat
 Angkor Wat, another adventure my family went on without me...

Window of the World Stonehenge
 It's Mini-Stonehenge!

Window of the World Niagara Falls
 Niagara Falls.

Window of the World Mt. Rushmore
 This was the one sight I've seen in real life, Mt. Rushmore. Amanda just went there, by the way.

Window of the World New York
 Angel hadn't been to Mt. Rushmore, but he had been to New York, so we've each racked up a total of 1 famous landmark a piece. Note that their New York is pre-2001.

Window of the World Lincoln Memorial
 I was yelling, "Abraham Lincoln is so tiny!" and Angel said "He's even tinier on the penny." 
True.

Window of the World Tower of Pisa
 Yep, it's leaning.

Window of the World Washington Monument
The Washington Monument made me think of Sam!

 This was the one "cultural show" that we made sure to get to--a 15 minute "Christian wedding ceremony". The choir sang several hymns in Mandarin, including one that I recognized as "Holy, Holy, Holy." The priest/man in the hat said a short message about marriage in Christ (in Mandarin, of course), and the very non-enthusiastic bride and groom bowed to each other after exchanging rings. It was extremely intriguing to see this interpretation of something that's part of my own Western Christian culture (although I believe this is intended to be a Catholic wedding, or else liturgical Protestant--in any case, it didn't really resemble weddings I've actually been to, was slightly depressing due to lack of enthusiasm on the part of the actors, but was extremely interesting).
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Windows of the World didn't have every cool sight of the world, though they had a large number (around 130 is what they advertise) of them. Given my biases, I thought that they should have had Devil's Tower, the Petronas Towers and maybe a few landmarks of Israel, and more from the continent of Africa, which was largely ignored except for the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Which of these landmarks from around the world have you seen in real life? And what do you think would be most cool to see in miniature?

Living Expenses Comparison: Michigan vs. ShenZhen

Today I'm joining up with The Rachael Way to present you with a slice of #ChinaLife. I'm talking about how the ways in which we spend our income have changed since the move, check out her space to see what she's talking about!


I can imagine that when I publish posts like "How to Move to China", plenty of people wonder, "And why would anyone want to do that?"

There are plenty of reasons. The financial side of it wasn't a key reason for us, honestly, the best financial decision to make last year would have been for Angel to finish grad school and start working as an NP, but we chose a different route.

Wherever you are in the world, there's ways to save and to spend money--some who teach ESL spend every penny they make, others use this as a strategy to pay off debt or start a savings fund, it's up to the individual.

Today, I wanted to do an open comparison between our living expenses in Michigan and our living expenses here in ShenZhen:

Let me start out by saying that I know that we kept our monthly expenses during our life in Michigan rather low. We had our splurges and little extras, but we were blessed to live in an old home owned by my parents (that explains the low rent) and made plenty of lifestyle choices and used strategies aimed at keeping our regular bills as low as possible. Here's what they were:

Estimated Monthly Bills in Michigan:
Rent: $400
Car insurance for our two cars: $150
Gas (cars): $200
Groceries (just what we ate at home): $300
Gas (house): (summer) $20, (winter) $80
Electricity: $30
4 AT&T cellphones (just talk, no text): $100
AT&T Internet: $30

Total? Over $1200 in fairly basic living expenses. This doesn't include health and dental insurance premiums which were deducted before we received Angel's paycheck, or all the "Extras" of life such as dates, going out to eat, or hosting parties or car maintenance or vacations or buying clothes or stuff just for the fun of it, that's just the bottom line of what we basically "needed" to spend.

Estimated Monthly Bills in ShenZhen:
Rent (housing provided by our employer): $0
Utilities (water, electricity, gas, internet, provided by employer): $0
Groceries (including eating at home, restaurants, and the cafeteria): $250
Public Transport (bus and metro tickets): $30
1 Cellphone (talk and text): $5

Total? Under $300. For basic living expenses--although we do splurge a little on food (Men like to eat, I've found). Obviously, the numbers are skewed because we are earning our rent and utilities, but they're considered part of our compensation package, and our paycheck is separate. Our living style has changed a lot since we moved--I can't even imagine how much it would cost to own two cars and rent an 1800 sq. foot home here (it would be a lot). I didn't know how I would feel about having to use leg power or public transportation to get everywhere, but while it takes some adjustment, I like to highlight the benefits:

1) I never liked driving anyway.
2) We never have to look for a parking spot.
3) ShenZhen's public transportation goes just about anywhere, and is very inexpensive.
4) All of this walking is getting me into the best shape of my life.

Cars are expensive, aren't they? I'm appreciating this inexpensive season of relying on public transportation!

It Runs in the Family

Excessively large, curly brown hair.

Telling stories of  past adventures for hours on end.

Healthy appetites, or the ability to consume mountains of fried chicken, veggie curry, and rice in mere minutes.

3-way Skype calls.

Getting really, really angry about matters of injustice (those Irish tempers...).

Hiding food. Because if your siblings find it, it's gone.

Knowing that there's always room in the car for more.

"Adopting" other kids because there's only seven of us.


Quoting lines from movies we've all seen more times than we can count.

Believing that sleep is a waste of time. "You'll sleep when you're dead."

Being ready to go anywhere, anywhere at all, at a moment's notice because you never know when Dad'll say: "Waterpark! Be out the door in 5 minutes."

Side note: Believing that if we say, "We can still make it to the waterpark!!" twice a day, Dad will eventually believe us and take us there.

Considering the word Boring just about the worst insult there is. Either that or Chikabuhbuh. The horror.

Refusing to speak in sentences that contain only words found in the English dictionary. Too boring.

Thinking that preparing food for a dinner party of 20 is no big deal because we've all been able to do it since we were preteens.


Being either kind of gigantic or miniature. There's not much of a middle ground.

Accidentally heading straight for the sink and washing stacks of dirty dishes as soon as we enter a friend's or relative's home because we've been conditioned to have a perhaps unhealthy fear of dishes left in the sink.

Secretly laughing at people who think Malaysia is the same thing as Indonesia.

Being super happy every time Mom and Dad are gone even though we love them because there's just something awesome about having the house to yourself and doing things that the parents probably wouldn't appreciate if they were home (like science experiments that involve dropping eggs off the balcony). 

A love/hate relationship with Pizza Saturdays

Being pretty much convinced that Angel's always been one of us and that the main reason he joined the family was because he always wanted a half-dozen extra little siblings.

Surprises in the Living Room (secret code word that means all of the kids are in trouble)

Believing that popcorn is the greatest meal in the world except for chicken butter masala with naan bread.


 Being mistaken for another member of our family because too many people can't tell us apart.

What kind of traits run in your family?

Being Sherlock

 
 Let's just accompany this post with Sunday's outfit: Baju Kebaya done casual.

I've lived my whole life with the conviction that people in general, if they really knew me, wouldn't like me. This stems from a fact I've experienced time and again: people don't actually like smart people (especially smart women, but that's a topic for a completely different post), they just find them convenient and useful.

I am unusually academically gifted. It was extremely hard to type that sentence, and I can already feel a physical reaction of anxiety rising as I think about people reading it. Most likely, you'll read it and think, "Okay, you got As at school, so did I."

If you want to translate it as that, that's totally fine. But that's not really what I mean. I have a feeling, that, all over the world, there are unique "smart-alecs" like me, hiding behind a facade carefully created out of purple hair and a reputation for being a conscientious student.

I managed my own education from the time I was about 8 years old until I started college. Mom bought the books and graded my tests and essays, but I chose my courses and chose how fast I finished them. My parents held me back a grade in middle school so that I would graduate high school at 16 instead of 15. I scored in the 99th percentile on both the ACT and SAT exams without really studying. I never had a course in college where the academics really, really challenged me. A few classes took a little more time than others, but I never did homework past 7 or 8 at night and one could say I had a social life...I was married for nearly half of my college career (and there was that wedding one week before final exams). I routinely had research papers written and ready to hand in weeks before they were due. I am really, really good at multiple choice tests, especially, as I have an exceptionally strong ability to guess--Angel and I have joked about me possible being able to pass the NCLEX without ever stepping foot in a nursing class because I've taken some of the little "practice tests" he's had for different certifications and have gotten remarkably good scores based on pure guesswork and no actual knowledge about the medical field--but really, it's so easy to figure out the answers when you just apply logic. I took the written portion of the Michigan Cosmetology Exam (100 multiple choice questions) in 19 minutes and got 100%...but to be fair, I think I could have done the exact same thing without even going to cosmetology school.

I was very surprised on the occasions when I got less than 100% on an exam in college--but when my classmates bumped into me in the hallways before a test and told me how stressed they were about our final I'd say, "Yeah, I know right? Sounds like it's gonna be ridiculously hard, I've been studying a lot."

When I had to work in a group project, I'd routinely write the entire paper, present it to my classmates, turn it in to the prof, and then act surprised when my group members told me, "Wow, look at the grade we got! Hey, you wanna be partners for the next project?"

I never begrudged doing a group project by myself--honestly, I wouldn't have wanted my classmates' lower-level work to lower my GPA, and writing papers that got As was easy for me, so i was happy to do it.

But college was where I really began to hide my academic abilities from my peers. Because I learned from those group projects that people really like classmates who know their stuff when final exams come, but outside of asking you to email them your class notes, they don't really want to be your friend.

I made a point of not pursuing any extracurricular academics during college. I never wanted to be known as someone who was "smart." I didn't do the school newspaper or get my degree with extra honors. I did ballroom dance club, theater club, Bible study club. I acted in student films. I dressed in every color of the rainbow and wore my bellydancer scarf bedecked with jingly coins on exam days to make people laugh. I ignored the academic side of me as much as one possibly can while taking 16 credits (no more, no less; good enough to graduate on time with ease, but nothing ambitious) a semester.

I cringed when my professor would hand me back my exam in front of the whole class, with 100% emblazoned in red across the front and the comment "As usual, La Perfecta." My Spanish prof used to give me a wink and put his finger to his lips in a signal that meant, "Yes, Rachel, I know you know all the answers so I will call on everyone except you." My Greek Mythology prof wrote me a rather incoherent love letter about how it was students like me who made the field of academics a worthwhile profession.

So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe some people like you if you're bizarrely good at school. But it's mostly your profs--it's definitely not your peers.

I got an A- once, from a prof who said snottily to a student who was complaining about her B+, "I don't give As. Be happy with your B+, that's an exceptionally high score for this class." At that point I decided to take my A- and be happy about it.

The fictional character I have always related to most has been Sherlock Holmes--only I think I like people in general a little more than he does. And I do like them, very much. Like Sherlock, though, I can't relate well to most people, and I find that when I reveal how different I am, they tend to keep their distance.

I can't give my siblings or cousins or closest friends advice on strategies for learning a language, or taking a college class, because they write off anything I say with, "I'm not like you, Rachel. Everything is easy for you, okay? No one else is like that."

And I guess they're right. I often feel, with Elementary's version of Sherlock, that it doesn't seem like there's anyone else out there who's just like me, although I know there is, there's just not a lot of us. Unlike every version of Sherlock that exists, on a daily basis I choose to hide the way I observe and learn and seemingly "just know" stuff.

People don't like people who learn effortlessly. I imagine it's because they feel that I might look down on them because they don't learn as fast as I do. I don't. Being academically gifted doesn't give me any right to look down on others and because I am so smart I can recognize lots of skills that other people are better at than I am (i.e. parking large vehicles). I'd never say people are jealous of me. I wouldn't necessarily wish this on anyone. I wouldn't wish to be different myself, not really, I like myself very much--and never ever even the slightest bit having a hard time at school is not truly a heavy cross to bear because I got the good grades and I got to play all the time--but still, it's not the sort of thing that makes people want to be your friend.

I'm not claiming I'm the smartest person in the world. In fact, for the most part I actively try not to encourage my brains. I spend my time going on adventures at the park and reading fiction and watching movies and playing games and being a class clown of an ESL Teacher. I don't want to encourage myself to keep learning more because that's only going to widen the gap between me and all the people I love.

(*side note: Maybe, since I'm lazy with this brain of mine, I'm actually more like Mycroft than Sherlock...but then again, I'm extremely physically energetic, which is Sherlock all the way. Never mind.) 

I know that my family (immediate and extended) loves me. But they also roll their eyes when I go into a rant about how people totally miss the point of the Ru Tradition, popularly known as Confucianism. They send their papers to me to edit--but they just click "accept changes" and ignore my beautifully worded notes about WHY they needed to use the subjunctive mood of the verb in that particular instance. And they openly claim to hate me when I come back to Malaysia after 6 years away and can figure out the general meaning of written signs in Bahasa when I haven't done anything with the language in years.

So there it is. I'm Sherlock--with a habit of pretending to be dumber than I am. I love people, but I'm often lonely, because I find it difficult to build deep relationships. And yet I've found that the only close relationships I've ever been able to form have formed with the relatively few people who both know this little fact about me and accept me, too-big brain, and all. So maybe, after all, secrets like this are worth sharing.

A Rainy Vacation

Our few days in Malaysia happened to coincide with early October, historically the rainiest time of the year in my hometown, which meant that we had a much more laid-back trip than it is in our nature to have, simply because our plans got rained out on several consecutive days. But that's okay-- perhaps a little relaxing at home on vacation is not such a bad thing.

We did successfully consume mountains of delicious food (my family found my reaction to delicious homemade fresh popcorn highly amusing), and even got to check out a few shops, museums, and artwork around town that are new since I moved away.

I have to say, I think my best memory from the trip is the afternoon that the whole family spent sitting around the dining room table, playing the card game Golf while listening to sad songs. It turns out that playing sad music can be an effective strategy for card sharks, as we found throughout the game that certain players made some very poor plays when distracted by their own tears, so we took turns suggesting the saddest songs we could think of in an attempt to make the other players cry to give ourselves a chance at winning. Maybe it's only a coincidence that Rebekah, generally known as the most heartless of us all, managed to win and not be distracted by songs that had most at the table weeping. And dad just rolled his eyes at the weirdness of his house full of women.

"It's your turn!"

"But he lost his job and now he's going to lose his home and how are they going to pay the medical bills...."

"Play the card!!"

 It's a long standing joke that my Dad doesn't exist in photos since he always takes them. Angel captured this rare shot!

 When hiking, it is necessary to carry sticks to threaten monkeys with. Seriously, there are monkeys everywhere and it's true, we might laugh when we see tourists carrying open food containers get attacked but we take no risks ourselves. Always walk with a stick and don't get too close to monkeys.

 Steamboat BBQ wasn't on the list of must-eats but it was our final dinner in Malaysia and worth every delicious bite. We definitely get our money's worth at the buffet. Besides dinner, I believe Angel had three ice cream cones and a popsicle from the dessert table. Everyone else opted for ais kacang, while I ate a couple pounds worth of honey chicken and called that 'dessert'.

Penang Hill Hike
 We hiked up a little mountain but morning haze obscured the view of the city. This hike isn't a particularly easy one, at least not for me--but I can tell I'm healthier and stronger than I used to be, as I finally made it to the infamous "Level 5" stopping point--for the first time in 10 years! Hurray!!

Made in Penang Museum
 A little bit of trick photography at one of the new museums downtown.

Penang Street Art
 New since I left for college are little piece of street art like this one, popping up on pre-war buildings in the downtown area. Dad, Angel, and I went out scouting for paintings....during a torrential downpour so we just drove past, didn't even get out of the car.

 We tested out the water at the forest park--a little cold, actually, for my taste.

Teluk Bahang Forest Eco Park

 My sister Anna has a mini-Anna glued to her side at all times, so baby Anna joined us on a number of adventures.

And we decided we needed a truly "special" family photo. Let's just say cousin Shannon and baby Anna are temporary placeholders for my two missing siblings, until the next time we're all together again!

It's always hard to leave--but leaving this time wasn't quite so bad--possibly because we do love our little home in China and it doesn't require a 36 hour transit time from our home to theirs.

What's your favorite thing to do when it rains on vacation?