Real Talk: How the New Ex-Pat Life is Going

Every once in a blue moon, I decide to vlog. This means that every once in a blue moon you all get to see that in real life I am very shifty-eyed, at least when talking to a computer.


Thanks for watching! I am, and forever will be, the one-take vlogger, which means umms and sideways glances are just part of the deal. And it perhaps doesn't seem normal for me to be "confessing" that I find myself thriving in this completely new environment. I am thriving, both Angel and I are, and I'm so grateful for that. I know that's not a universal experience for new ex-pats, but I'm so glad that we are precisely where we're at. This doesn't mean that there aren't very, very confusing moments when I'm searching for my pocket dictionary and moments when I hold my breath as I enter bathrooms the likes of which could not be imagined in the USA...but I can say easily that this is a very good life for us.

A Brand-New Look!


Nothing like outfit photos while waiting for the bus--multitasking at its finest!
Welcome to the new look of The Random Writings! I'd had the last design for a year, but was feeling the need for an update to make everything bigger and better, so I went back to Angi--I couldn't, of course, have done any of this for myself because unlike many a blogger, I'm rather html-illiterate, and I'd like to keep it that way.

Also, before you mock me, I can read hundreds of Chinese characters, which are every bit as cool and probably cooler than html.

Now let me point out a few of the sweet features of the new place I have here!

#1 See that header? It's full of seemingly random symbols as a representation of the randomness that is this blog.  However, those symbols are not merely pictures for decoration, they are magically clickable and each one will take you to a different blog category. So, if you're in the mood to read about all of my posts about the country of Malaysia, for example, you can click on the hibiscus flower, also known as the bunga raya, the national flower of Malaysia. And the bear head will lead you to all posts featuring our giant pet bear, just in case you've missed him. The little angel will lead you to all posts about Angel, of course, wasn't that obvious?

#2 My pages have changed! Over there, on the right hand side, you can now find a Resources page beneath my About page. On it I've listed some of my favorite resources for travel, learning Mandarin, blogging, and other such interesting topics--some of the resources are of my own creation, others are tools from around the web that I use regularly. If you haven't checked out my pages in a while, you ought to click around and explore to see what all has changed! Sidebar advertising on this blog is still an excessively viable option.

So that's it. Welcome to the new and improved Random Writings. If you can't tell, I'm a little bit excited. What do you think?

p.s. Not that I have mountains of experience with blog designs or their designers, but seriously, guys, Angi's awesome at what she does, speedy, and exceedingly patient with crazy requests for clickable headers linked to a dozen different things. If you're in the market for any of this design stuff, you know who I'll point you to!

How to Move to China (ESL Route)

This is an overview of how Angel and I went from having the initial idea to teaching ESL in ShenZhen within a year's time. That was too long of a title, however, which explains the shorter and vaguer title.

How to Move to China and Teach ESL

Step 1: {August 2013} Decide you want to move to Asia.

Have several initial job and visa ideas fall through. Sister suggests, "Hey, what about teaching ESL in Korea? Lots of people do that!"

I respond, "Well...I don't speak Korean...but my Mandarin is pretty good. It might make more sense to try teaching ESL in China. Does anyone do that?"

Google search turns up CTLC Website among the top results.

Step 2: {Fall} Wonder if CTLC is a real thing or if it is a scam.

Peruse entire website in detail. Decide that this program sounds awesome...but remember that things you read on the internet aren't always true.

I emailed the address provided on the CTLC website to ask for a list of people who had taught with the program before and chose five random people from the list to email and ask questions about the program to. One of the questions was, verbatim: "Does CTLC exist or is it a scam?"

I believe in being direct. The detail and variety of answers I received from my emails convinced me that CTLC was either real or it was the most in-depth, genius scam I've ever come across, and therefore deserved our money.

Step 3: {November, December} Apply, interview, and be accepted into CTLC's teaching program.

*I should note that many people have found ways to just jump into teaching ESL in China without joining a program of any sort, but rather finding a school on their own and developing a contract with the individual school, and that is probably less expensive, but for us, given the fact that we didn't know much about the bureaucratic requirements involved in living and working in China, and the fact that we are not yet totally fluent in Mandarin, we decided that for us, the convenience of going in with an organization that provides TEFL training and negotiates your contract with your school was worth it. CTLC only works with schools in ShenZhen, and we liked the idea of ShenZhen as a homebase, because I wanted to be located in South China and we wanted to be close to major airports.

Step 4: {December} Start getting rid of all of your stuff.

Trust me, start early, it takes a while. If you're just planning on moving abroad for a year, maybe you don't have to get rid of all of your stuff. Our move is permanent for the foreseeable future, so we basically emptied our house. It was a process that we achieved slowly over months, through a combination of bequeathing our belongings to relatives, Craigslist and Facebook sales, many trips to the local thrift store, and one final garage sale.

Step 5: {Spring} Handle all legal, technical, and medical stuff.

Pay CTLC deposit. Gather all paperwork required to get your invitation letters so that you can apply for your visa (that included diplomas, background checks, and a few other pieces of paper for us). Make copies and scans of any and all important documents. We left all actual important documents in the USA but brought notarized copies and scans with us. Make sure you have plenty of years left on your passport and driver's license. Get a power of attorney if you might need one to help you manage finances from overseas. Decide how you are going to manage getting your taxes done while you're far away. Get any vaccines that you want while you still have a job and health insurance (we opted for Tetanus boosters and Typhoid).

Step 6: {Late Spring/Early Summer} Shop for anything you want to make sure you bring with you.

Plenty of clothes if you think you may have trouble finding clothes that fit in China (Angel and I are on the shorter side so this wasn't a big concern for us, however, I love my clothes so I brought as much as I could). High-quality sandals. You can do your research and buy whatever kind of face masks (for air filtration) you decide will be the best for you before you even arrive in China so that you're guaranteed to have a mask when you need one. Pick out your favorite kind of travel money belt--you never know where you might be in a place where one might come in handy.

Step 7: {June/July} Try not to forget all the last-minute really important things you have to do.

Send in your visa application to a visa agent that works with the embassy for your region as soon as you receive your paperwork from CTLC. Decide how you want to change your USD into RMB (we chose to order RMB from our bank before leaving the USA--but there are other options.)

Step 8: {July 23} Get on the plane!

Arrive in Asia slightly disoriented and jump right into training and life as an ESL teacher in China.

This is just a rough outline of what our life has looked like over the past year--seriously, if you have any questions about CTLC or specific requirements for moving to China, you can go ahead and ask! And, clearly, I know that the last step of moving does not end at the airport, but let's not put too much into just one post, shall we?

I have a feeling that a rather large percentage of my readers have lived abroad at some point in their lives, so let's try an informal survey. In the comments, let me know if you've lived in a country where you weren't born, and which ones. If you haven't lived abroad, do you think you'll ever try it, or are you very content where you are?

Chicken Milk

 Angel was forcing me to smile next to the fish.

We were at a different grocery store than our usual one, unsuccessfully searching for chicken breasts.

Angel said, "I'm just going to ask someone. I'm going to ask if they have any ji nai."

 With that, he walked away quickly, because he knows that I like to stop him from saying ridiculous things in Mandarin to other people when I can. I immediately chased him down, but I knew I didn't have time to explain to him that he CANNOT say ji nai because that literally means "chicken breast/milk" and while I can sort of understand his reasoning of chicken + breast milk = chicken breasts, chickens are not mammals and thus don't produce breast milk and you are really going to confuse someone if you ask for "chicken milk".

So I ran ahead of him to the meat counter and breathlessly asked, "you mei you ji pai?"

Ji pai was the first thing that came to mind as a possible translation for chicken breast. Pai gu means "ribs" so I was trying go with a "chicken rib" translation, but the genius meat counter lady said, "ji xiong?" which I immediately recognized as "chicken chest", a much more reasonable term than either "chicken milk" or "chicken rib".

Yes, ji xiong was what I wanted, it seems so obvious now, but I couldn't think of it at the time. Funny, how in 4 years of college classes they don't think to teach you the proper terms for all the cuts of meat you might want to purchase.

The best part of this story is that I did successfully prevent Angel from asking anyone for chicken milk. We have two totally different methods of language learning--I'm the slow, cautious one who doesn't want to talk unless I know exactly what I'm going to say. Angel's the learner who will just throw out words even when he has no idea what they mean or what order they should go in. Angel's method is actually better than mine since he has the guts to talk even when he doesn't know how...but still..."chicken milk" is one for the record books.

What kind of language learner are you? More like me or more like Angel?

Chacos in China

When you move to Southeast Asia with nothing but the contents of a couple suitcases, you learn to become exceedingly strategic about the contents of those suitcases.

It's a well-known fact that Westerners often have trouble purchasing shoes in Asia because of our generally larger feet. That's not a problem that really affects Angel and I, because neither of us have particularly large feet, so our sizes are available here, but that still leaves us with the problem that, while inexpensive shoes are widely available, they are generally of poor quality.

Chacos in China

Our lifestyle here means that our shoes take a beating. We walk to the grocery store, to church, to the park, to the metro station--because of our lack of a car, we walk everywhere. This makes comfortable shoes a necessity, and durable shoes that are worth their space and weight in a suitcase because they won't break after a couple months are very much desired. The climate where we live is hot and humid most of the year, which causes us to rebel against any form of shoes that enclose our feet and require socks. This heat and humidity also means that if your feet sweat at all, shoes are even more likely to become smelly than they already are by nature of being shoes. Sidewalks here don't tend to be very clean, and if we happen to be out walking and get caught in a downpour, we've noticed that the road drains can't keep up with the volume of water, which leave us wading through an impromptu stream. Because of this factor--shoes that can be washed are quickly becoming a priority!

Given all of these factors of our new lifestyle: Enter Chacos!

I know there are plenty of die-hard Chaco fans out there, and others who think it's ridiculous to spend nearly $100 on a pair of sandals. I'd never even heard of them when we got married, but Angel already had a pair, and bought me one for our 2nd summer together. He got a 2nd pair last fall because he planned on spending most of his future life wearing Chacos and wanted another color option.

That means, in the photo above: one of the shoes was purchased in 2009, one was purchased in 2012, and one was purchased in 2013. It's not easy to tell by the wear which of the shoes is the oldest, is it?

And yet these sandals haven't sat in a closet for years. They've been worn caving in Malaysia, kayaking in Minnesota and Texas, walking into Lake Huron in north Michigan, climbing trails in Hawaii, and most recently, over miles and miles of Chinese sidewalks.

I fully admit that I'm a cheapskate. And I'm no brand-lover. But I've had enough experiences with cheap shoes spontaneously disintegrating to be highly impressed by shoes that are indestructible, comfortable, and washable.

Yeah, it's pricey sandal, but in our very scientific experiments, it appears that even after  5 years of regular wear, you can expect your Chacos to be in very usable, even nearly-new condition, and that impresses me. If you're in the market for long-lasting pair of shoes that are ideal in hot climates, Chacos are it!

If you're a long standing fan, where have your worn your Chacos? If you're not, what would it take to convince you?