One Morning

6:25 AM – alarm goes off. I hit snooze three times.

6:54 AM – determine I can no longer responsibly hit snooze, that I have in fact already irresponsibly hit snooze.

7:00 AM – after checking the weather, don an appropriate amount of clothing while listening to KQED on my phone.

7:15 AM – leave my apartment, walk down 8 stories, unlock the gate with a satisfying UNN beeping sound. Step over the dirty puddle from the hole inside which the complex will eventually install an elevator.

7:17 AM – walk through the metal detector without taking my bag off to go through the scanning machine like a total badass. Just kidding, it doesn’t make me any cooler. The security at the Lujiang Station is all familiar with me by now and let me by. This makes me feel like a #local. I usually nod in recognition to the guard who lets me do this.

7:18 AM – swipe my dongle (is that really the word we’ve all agreed to use?) to get through the metro queue, promptly hairpin turn and head down an escalator to the platform. If I’m lucky, people will have lined up on the right side allowing me to actually walk down. If I’m unlucky, I will stand helpless behind a mass of six people while I watch the train doors close.

7:20 AM – board the metro at the second to last car. Between my stop and the next, Kecun, the train is quite packed. Fortunately, most people are transferring at Kecun so I grab a seat as everyone is leaving. I then pull up USA Today and CNN to get a start on the news of the day. I never thought USA Today would be a top-visited website for me but hey, when you’ve got the Great Firewall of China, you learn to not be so picky.

7:32 AM – arrive at my destination, Pazhou. The walls of each station on line 8 are a different color and Pazhou’s are black tile with yellow writing. I think this looks very cool. I swipe my dongle again to pass through the barrier and head to the coffee shop at which I am a regular. I greet whoever’s working (and hope it is this nice girl Wallace who makes a great latte) and get an Americano with bread for $2 or a latte with bread for $3. The coffee shop is a hole in the wall and only has one incredibly uncomfortable seat. They are always playing amateur acoustic covers of American Top 40 songs.

7:35 AM – leave the metro station and walk east towards school. Often the sun is peeking through the clouds at this time in beautiful pinks and yellows. I frequently photograph the sky here and send it to my boyfriend.

7:38 AM – pass through the gate to the housing development my school is a part of. At the gate is a small convenience shop run by a woman named Jo. I get two buns here for breakfast every morning for $0.26. She usually has them ready for me when I arrive. They come in a small plastic bag I feel a bit guilty for using. I put my finger through the handle, twirl the plastic bag around a few times and clench the twisted section against my coffee cup to keep the buns as warm as possible. Usually, Jo will tell me if the buns aren’t quite ready but I’ve many times had the misfortune of the buns getting cold during the few minute walk to school.

7:40 AM – arrive in the usually-empty or sparsely-populated office. I sit at my desk and eat my breakfast. I use the small plastic bag as a garbage bag for the day and hang it from a hook on my cubicle. If something ridiculous has happened in America, I will take this opportunity to vent to my coworkers about it.

8:05 AM – first “bell” rings for reading period to begin. By bell, I mean song, but more about that later. The kids all file into school between 8:05 and 8:25, and for whatever reason, foreign teachers are not involved with them at this time. This is a signal to me that I need to have my materials ready for class if I am teaching First Period.


Dusk in Foshan

Oh time, you slippery friend. Somehow February is not only upon us but underway. The winter in Guangzhou was brief this year – temperatures are already back to the 70s and 80s of autumn. I write to you from the back patio at Rui’s family’s house, overlooking the lake as dusk settles. The moon is a certain smile on this, the fourth day of Chinese New Year. Above me, the perfect gradient of gray to blue is peppered with cotton candy clouds. Flashing lights meet their shimmering reflections on the lake and lilypads. All of this with a breeze and I’m somehow reminded of Seattle in the early summer.

Little bats fly above the lake now. They really are quite little, the creatures dipping and darting this way and that can’t be much longer than my ring finger. Earlier this week I dreamt I was home in San Ramon but the city as it was in perhaps 2003. My friend Dan and I were in our neighborhood. At one point I turned into a bat and flew up high near a tall coniferous tree long ago chopped down.

I’ve always been a nostalgic person, but recently my nostalgia is less for particular incidents and arrangements of my life and more for feelings and colors since passed. It is not a missing so much as a re-touching of every cornerstone, to make sure they’re all there. That tree I dreamt of – how many years has it been since I recalled it? I feel certain that someday time will take that, or at least its equivalents, from me. For now, I can only smile at all the beautiful that has come before and all the beautiful still yet to.

I’m listening to Jose Gonzalez’s Veneer album while families set off fireworks across the lake. They are obscured by foliage but their lights shine through. I’m thinking about what comes next – and how to get there.

It is now the year of the Pig – my zodiac year and my golden year. On April 24 I will turn 24. Nearly a quarter century on this big old earth. I want this year to be better than I’ve had in a long time. I think (hope) all the emotional rock bottoms of this period are behind me. This year I could use a break.

I’m less in touch than I’ve been, but more alive than ever.

Cindy’s Last Day

One student, Cindy, will leave our class next semester. She’s the oldest of 3 and as a result, is often left to her own devices. Her English is extremely poor but she tries her best considering she has no support at home. She spent most of the semester sitting next to a high-achieving trilingual Russian girl and the two of them became a very good team. Cindy loves to sing and dance and was supposed to be the star of our class’s Christmas show, but around the holiday her mom randomly decided our school was not a good fit and that other obligations trumped St. Paul. As a result, she had another dance show she was supposed to participate in on the same day and her mom took her to that show instead, much to Cindy’s disappointment. An understudy sang her part.

The children usually eat lunch in our classroom, but Cindy can always be found getting seconds in the cafeteria downstairs. When they serve egg and tomato I eat the cafeteria food, and on one such day Cindy came and sat with me. I was reading Breakfast of Champions using a 50 yuan note as a bookmark. She was dismayed by the money in the book and told me her mom had given her the perfect solution, she would give it to me after lunch. Later I was allowed to pick from a small assortment of animal bookmarks a dog page-saver of my very own.

The last day of the semester I again ate lunch with her and we spoke in Mandarin about her next adventure. She told me her mom didn’t like our school and thought it was too hard, but she didn’t want to leave. In our conversation when I was uncertain of a grammar pattern I would ask her “Teacher Cindy, should I say it this way or that way?” and she would patiently pronounce each word back to me. I told her I started learning Mandarin much later than she is starting to learn English, and that even though it’s hard if she practices every day, eventually she will speak English much better than I speak Mandarin. She laughed at the idea.

After the bell finally rang to signal the semester was entirely over, Cindy loitered around the classroom. Lily and I let her and encouraged other students to hug her goodbye. Cindy asked me if I had her mom’s WeChat.

No, but Lily has my WeChat.

Oh, can she give it to my mom?

Of course Cindy!

She must have said goodbye a dozen times. She would poke her head in the open doorway, “Miranda, bye bye! Lily, bye bye!” and slowly begin walking away, only for her to reemerge through the same door but a minute later. After so many (so many!) goodbyes, I offered to walk her to her bus. She held my hand the whole way.

Cindy will be missed.

Two Kinds of Mushroom

Who can say what causes the rhythms and repetitions of life – does each October break me because I am born in April, or is it that the first chill winds of autumn give me too great a shiver? For whatever the reason, October nearly always proves long and bothersome in some regard. I remember my mom observing when I was in school that I would always fall behind in October, stop doing my homework or get sick. Halloween is my favorite holiday but as an adult I have somehow seen so many unhappy passings, made only moreso by the feeling deep in my gut – this is my favorite! I should be so happy. 

Alright, you say. Get on with it, Miranda. I’m sorry you’re so miserable, won’t you please explain?

Well, I’m not unhappy. I am simply tired. Fall is the time for that.

In September, Rui and I rescued a kitten named Punki. He was getting kicked around like a soccer ball by a drunk guy outside Kecun station, one stop away from our house. A circle had formed around him and many onlookers were horrified but no one confronted the man. I yelled at him in Chinese “what are you doing?” and he laughed. I asked if the cat was his, he said no, it has no home, do you want it? It can be yours. The kitten tried to run away into the bushes but the man wouldn’t let it go. Finally, I scooped him up from a puddle, an onlooker gave me a tissue to clean the mud off him a bit, and crying I walked back home. There’s a vet next to our apartment.

Long story short, this very vocal and feisty kitten was nearly completely healthy and with a bit of TLC, Punki has been a healthy and happy addition to our little home. His hobbies include biting, loudly meowing all the time, pawing at things on TV, and snuggling.

So October 19 when one of my coworkers texts the group chat that some students found an injured stray cat in the empty school swimming pool, in my heart I know it will somehow fall to me. Plenty of my coworkers are cat lovers and owners, but without our first paycheck all of us were strapped for cash and a Friday afternoon isn’t exactly anyone’s ideal time to get involved with an injured animal. The text arrived while I was eating lunch and by the time school got out at 4 the cat was still sitting by the school gate, pus oozing from a puncture wound on its hind leg and mewing pitifully at each person who passed. Upon seeing him I leaned down and tapped my fingers on the ground, beckoning him like I do Punki, to which he immediately came to me and curled up in a ball between my feet. How then could I leave him? As each teacher passed through the gate they apologized (to the cat? to me? to themselves?) that they simply could not afford to do anything. As if I could afford to do anything. After 15 minutes two Chinese assistant teachers felt sympathetic and helped me look up a local vet. And so somehow, the three of us became a small caravan, alternating holding the injured cat, walking on and on.

We must have walked for 20 or 30 minutes. The cat was growing restless by the time we arrived at the location listed online as a vet that was in fact only a pet store. Here I suggested the vet near my house a few stations away. After hailing a taxi, one teacher peeled off because she had to go home. Alright. Traffic was bad from the Canton Fair so it took another 20 minutes, the cat kneading my leg and purring softly. It was here I noticed truly that there was something wrong with his stomach – it was bloated and the texture felt wrong, very much discolored. After noticing I felt a bit sick to my stomach, what with the pus coming out of the disconcerting dark hole into his body and now this. I tried to not think about it and just held him, petting his head.

When we arrived, I told the teacher I would pay for the taxi and I did. We had been chatting in Mandarin intermittently, she taught me the word for zit. The vet and vet techs all recognized me, the local Lujiang Foreign Girl, and immediately started working on the cat. His puncture wound was probably from fighting with another boy cat over a girl cat, they told me, and his stomach was bloated and scabbed from some past problem they could not quite determine. After a few more minutes and worried looking-on, the second Chinese teacher told me she had to go. And so there I was again – all alone with an unknown cat and unknown bill before me. And no paycheck to speak of. Lovely.

A few months ago, I’m not sure how many, I noticed some discoloration on my own stomach. Small irregular patches of pigment, not dark or textured enough to be cancer, but wrong-looking all the same. There were three in total on my upper chest and stomach. Initially, I chocked it up to aging – I have more gray hairs on my head than people shorter than I realize, and my mother and her mother have freckled skin. Perhaps it was that. I didn’t think about it.

The spots didn’t go away, so at some point this summer I showed my mom. She told me it was not normal, I should go to a dermatologist. Without a primary care doctor for a recommendation and with China looming, I didn’t get around to it. I did some poking around on WebMD and figured it was tinea veriscolor, an easily treatable disease.

As October rolled around, so did the realization that I had lived in China nearly 2 months, and I had not sought treatment for this skin problem. Before (finally!) receiving my first paycheck on October 22 after almost 2 months of work, on October 21 I chanced the rest of my savings and went to the local hospital with Rui.

The pros: My WebMD self-diagnosis was accurate! Score! Ego boost! I am soooo smart.

The cons: This easily-treatable disease that is normally diagnosed and treated within the first month has spread throughout my entire torso, including most of my back! If I had sought treatment in the US it would have cleared up quickly, but because I waited so long the recovery process will be a bit painful and long! I am soooo foolish.

If you didn’t google “tinea veriscolor” at my mention of it, here’s what it is – a fungus that grows in your skin! Wowza! Paying for my medicine, Rui and I discussed the English words fungus and mushroom. I told her it was a mushroom in my skin, to which she said WHAAAAAAAT?, but after clarification it was slightly less icky for her to think about. I told her the joke “why is the mushroom invited to every party? because he’s such a fungi!” and she loved it.

Diagnosis for tinea veriscolor was one of the more memorable bodily experiences of my life. The fungus glows green under UV light, so in a dark room with the nurse and Rui my upper body looked like I’d been splattered with a broken glowstick at a rave. Disconcerting but also kind of cool.

Treatment, however, proved to be less cool. It involves your standard oral antibiotic and twice daily topical cream (easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy) paired with three sessions of intense UV radiation on affected areas. I was a lifeguard for five years and a swimmer for 10, I’m no stranger to sun exposure. But alas, my entire bare chest is. Because my skin is so white the nurse turned the UV level down a bit, but the outcome was still quite intense – a very very painful sunburn across my entire upper chest and breasts. My back, a sun exposure veteran, has had no problem.

After treatment number one, I left the hospital hot and unbothered. I took Rui to the vet to meet cat number two, who she nicknamed Mushroom after my newfound illness. His spirits had improved. I then went to tutor someone, after which I tripped while walking and badly skinned my left knee. Feeling like a foolish little kid, I got bandaids and went home. Burning and bleeding – what a day.

I have gone in for this treatment two of the required three times. The second treatment resulted in small hives all over my chest and a false sensation of fever. My chest was so hot, I kept getting the chills on other parts of my body in an attempt to cool down. I went home early from work and took a long painkiller nap. Each day I visted Mushroom and each day the vet texted me how much he was improving, how sweet his demeanor was.

I should have known not to call a cat by the name of something I’m trying to kill.

I’d paid for Mushroom to stay at the vet for a week, getting treatment for his wound and biding time while I figured out what to do with him. Rui wasn’t particularly keen on getting another cat – she is a dog person, and besides, what would happen to the two cats when I leave China? There are approximately a gazillion stray animals here, so most people who want a pet already have one. There are shelters, but the few I have found are already stretched beyond their resources. What to do, what to do. I did want to keep him. His personality was so much more likable than Punki’s (sorry, Punki!). It seemed his chief happiness was curling up on my lap, kneading me. His meows were softer and more a gentle call than the screaming proclamations Punki makes daily. He had a broad forehead and a big nose with beautiful orange-green eyes.

On the morning of Friday October 26 I got a text from the vet again saying how well Mushroom was doing – he was ready for me to take him home, they would set me up with a treatment plan. I told them I’d like to pay for him to stay there one more week because I was a bit sick from my treatment, to which they said okay.

That night after about 20 minutes of Edward Scissorhands, I got an urgent call from the vet around 10PM. Mushroom had a fever and was in bad shape. What? Rui and I went immediately. In front of us the vet tech performed a blood test on Mushroom that showed positive for Parvo.

What followed was, on my part, a whole lot of crying. So many questions came to mind – how had he been with them for a week and he was only now being tested for this? I thought kittens got parvo, not older cats? What was his likelihood of surviving this? How could I afford to treat him after I had already spent so much money on his wound treatment?

I had heard from my coworkers that the clinic near my house was bad. Five years ago they’d taken one of their cats to get neutered there and he’d been given too much of a drug, they thought it damaged his brain, the cat hadn’t been the same since.

Here it is important to make a distinction between the two main vets of the clinic. Female Vet has a Peter Pan cut, is very well put-together, businesslike, a bit reserved but kind. She has a beautiful pet cat that stays at the clinic while she works. We had worked with her exclusively up until that night and had only had positive experiences with her. This was not the vet my coworkers knew.

Male Vet – this was the guy who had messed up my coworkers’ cat. He made his first appearance to us that Friday night, dressed in street clothes with a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and dark marks all over his face and neck. He spoke with a non-Cantonese accent and was kind initially. As I held Mushroom he sat next to me, across from Rui, and discussed the disease with her. I looked it up on my phone and immediately recognized how serious it was, though he did not convey this to Rui. I had her ask further probing questions but the vet seemed optimistic that Mushroom could survive. Instead of putting him down immediately, we decided to help him fight – for an additional 600 RMB a day (~$86). The male vet told us at this time that to put Mushroom to sleep would be 400 RMB (~$60), so the difference between giving up and trying for one day seemed negligible. We would fight for Mushroom.

When we came in the next morning to check on him, Mushroom’s fever had been replaced by a low temperature. He was shivering in his isolated cage with a glove full of room-temperature water for warmth. Rui and I were furious. The AC was on in his little room when the vet told us he was “not doing well”. We went to Walmart and got him a hot water bottle, heating pads, and hand towels we could wrap him in. When we put the hot water bottle in his crate, Mushroom immediately climbed onto it, stumbling in his weakness, and buried his face into it.

Visiting a few hours later, his condition had not visually improved, though he did seem to enjoy the new heated amenities. Each time we’d enter the vet he would perk up, try to stand, make eye contact with me. By this point his eyes looked like he was crying. He was clearly in a lot of pain. The vet now said he might not make it through the night.

And so it was that last night at 10 PM we once again got an emergency vet call. Mushroom’s heart had stopped and they’d revived him, but he was going to die. We went immediately and saw an animal trying to die. I held him and tried to comfort him, his face felt actively cold. He was trying to escape, to curl up somewhere dark and die. I cried as it took a while to prepare the euthanasia. He needed to die, he was in so much pain. A vet tech talked softly to Rui about how high the mortality rate was for this disease, how we had done the right thing and really saved this cat a lot of suffering, not to mention saved him from infecting other stray cats with the disease.

Rui didn’t want to be in the room when it happened, but she ended up watching more of the process than I did. I felt relieved that Mushroom would not feel so much pain anymore and sad that he had not had his blood tested earlier. Perhaps he could have lived if he was diagnosed a week earlier. Alas. It’s like the Shel Silverstein poem:

All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
Lyin’ in the sun
Talkin’ bout the things
They Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda done
All ran away and hid
From one little Did

When all was said and done, the vet tech charged us 200RMB (~$30) for putting Mushroom down. As Rui and I left the clinic, anger simmered. Why had the male vet misquoted the price? Was he trying to get more money from us, or to discourage us from putting Mushroom down initially so that we’d spend more money trying to save him? Is that why he had misrepresented the likelihood of Mushroom dying to Rui? Such thoughts were, and are, infuriating and useless. There is nothing to be done about it. What’s done is done. We will not return to that vet for Punki’s future needs.

Honestly, when we got that call Friday night I thought “it’s October, the cat will die.” And here we are.

November is days away and I do feel this is the last big event of this particular season of sad. Summers and Octobers, who needs them? But I suppose life has to balance somewhere. As my skin peels, I am born again. Soon I’ll be shiny and brand new.

More on my many wonderful moments here to follow soon. I just needed to tell you the story of this cat, of this week.

Rooftop Reflection, Day Three

I am writing from the rooftop of Rui’s family home. It is nearly 7AM on Sunday Morning and the heat of the day has not yet begun. Birds chirp as middle-aged men do morning exercise around the lake – one is walking waving modified “jazz hands” through the air, another is clapping his arms and back in a loud sort of self-massage. One woman is doing taichi on the bridge facing the calmest part of the lake. The fishermen, who Rui says are a constant (even late at night) are as glued in their spots as ever. Somewhere on the hill a man is sirening “whoa” in powerful 20-second-long bouts with a projection, though amplified by an echo, that has this vocal teacher VERY impressed. Even farther off, someone plays what nearly sounds like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division on the Chinese flute.

Three days in and China is everything I remembered it being – beautiful, bustling, and entertaining. My flight was a 14.3-hour red eye I managed to sleep for a bit over half of. I tried watching La La Land but it made me miss my boyfriend so I mostly played Settlers of Catan on my phone.

There was a diverse selection of music and movies. I was most happily surprised to find “Sex & Food”, the latest album from one of my favorite bands Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The in-flight magazine had a great cover as well, a nice start to what I’ll call Awkwardly Phrased English. It’s not “Chinglish” and yet… I wouldn’t put it that way….

After arriving, I took a taxi for 50 minutes to my new home in Haizhu District. I was immediately overwhelmed by how beautiful Guangzhou is – each building has a character of its own, flora consumes pockets of the city like a true urban jungle. The giant red sun watches through gaps in the skyline as the city rushes past me.

Rui’s boyfriend Ouyang says I am easily made happy, perhaps this is true. Or I’m a bit more aesthetically-oriented than I like to let on and Guangzhou pushes all the right buttons.

The day of my arrival was long and bureaucratic. Our apartment is on the 8th floor and at present there is no elevator, so Ruiwen and I took turns hauling my predictably overweight suitcases up the stairs. I managed to somehow get a gnarly bruise on my knee. I will write more about the apartment itself once I am fully unpacked so I can do a before-and-after post, so for now here’s the outside:

After a brief but lovely nap I met up with Anson, an intern at my employer WIEChina , to get my photo taken, a phone card, and open a bank account. It’s funny to me that for all my serious selfies, my general resistance to smiling in photos, I cannot for the life of me take a passport picture without looking like a sullen chubby boy. Though I may sometimes FEEL like a sullen chubby boy, I never want to appear as one on official documents and yet there I was in a store that sells passport photos, healthy food and insulin, looking just like one.

The cell phone store was like any other – all fluorescent lights and a primary color of choice, with photos of stock models as employees juxtaposed with employees who are not stock models. The bank was equally predictable, blanketed with the white noise of pens writing and papers shuffling. Our experience there, too, was predictable – though Anson had helped a foreigner set up an account their first day in China just last week, this employee had a different idea about bank policy and so our trip was unsuccessful. I believe we will return Monday.

For lunch, we walked to a LEEDS Certified Gold building that emits a strong floral scent. From the many restaurants inside, Anson picked Japanese, so my first real meal during this trip to China was a beef curry with egg over rice. It was delicious and cost only $3.

The WIEChina office is in the building next door. There I finally met Olive, the person who hired me. I went over and signed my contract, then it was off to the police station to get this alien registered! This trip too proved unsuccessful as my landlord had not completed one final form. Another spot to which I’ll return.

For dinner later that night, Rui, Ouyang and I went out for beef hot pot, Ouyang’s favorite. It was a celebration of sorts – for my arrival and Ouyang’s recent promotion at work. He is in IT. The meat was absolutely delicious.

Jet lag has not been too burdensome this time around. For the most part it just wakes me up at six am and puts me to bed at nine. I enjoy the peace and relative cool of these mornings thus far. Yesterday after further unpacking in the early hours I hopped on the subway less than a block from my house and traveled on stop East to Kecun. Kecun has more happening at it than my station, Lujiang, because it is a transfer station. One exit goes into a mall that has a very nice Walmart. Sounds like an oxymoron I know, but what can I say – I was charmed by the place. They really do sell everything. Now, for example, I own a pillow! And a copy of The Little Prince (小王子) in Chinese!

Shopping and exploring has proved confidence-boosting. My Mandarin skills surprise even me. I am far from fluent but for daily navigation I am proficient. I don’t have to translate back what is said to me to understand, I just do. Of course when I speak Mandarin to people they speak Mandarin back which makes this process possible – casually everyone is speaking Cantonese, which I can understand only a little of. It’s something new to learn. My language strategy is to learn words as they become relevant to me. So far this includes “hai”, which is yes or an expression of understanding, and knowing that “yi”, which is one in Mandarin, is two in Cantonese. A bit confusing but okay.

A closing image for you, from my wait in the airport’s immigration line: an old man affixing a crystal snowflake broach to his grey suit jacket carrying a small black leather purse. On the back of the bag is a passport photo of him in lieu of a “if lost return to” tag.

Where Exactly I’m Going

Well obviously, I’m going to China. China is in Asia. I hope you know that. Not everybody does.

I’ll be in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province. Think of Provinces like States.

Here’s Guangdong Province in relation to the rest of China:

Map showing the location of Guangdong Province

That tiny section sticking off the bottom into the ocean? Hong Kong. Right next door. It neighbors the city Shenzhen, which is in Guangdong. But we’ll get to that in a second.

Here’s Guangzhou in relation to the rest of Guangdong:

Location of Guangzhou in Guangdong

Again, notice that little green section at the bottom – Hong Kong. That inlet you see is the Zhujiang River Estuary, which feeds into, you guessed it, the Zhujiang River.

Within the city of Guangzhou, I’ll be living on the island district of Haizhu. Haizhu is smack dab in the middle of the Zhujiang River! Here’s another map, Haizhu is the dark orange section smack dab in the middle:

“But I can’t see the river very clearly on that map!” you cry. Fear not, my friend, I’ve got you covered:

Notice that spot where it says HECUN in all caps? I am not sure why this particular map says Hecun, because the spot in pinyin (romanized Chinese) is Kecun, but that is exactly where Ruiwen and I have an apartment! As you can see it’s on the North side of the island.

Compared to California, my rent is SUPER cheap. I’m paying 1800 RMB/month, which is roughly $266/month. Amazing. Even compared to other major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, life in Guangzhou is very affordable. By total metropolitan area, it is the largest city in China with a population of over 44 million. By urban population alone it houses “only” 19 million, putting it in third place. Only 19 million! Can you imagine?

Thank you Wikipedia for all maps except the last, which I got from

T-Minus 28 Days

There’s but one month left until I move and I find my heart and belongings scattered. I’ve bought a plane ticket, created a packing list, informed School of Rock of my last day, and started selling excess possessions I cannot bring to China nor keep in the US. What was before not completely believable is daily more obvious and inevitable – one month from today I will be waking up in Guangzhou, in the apartment I’m sharing with Ruiwen.

For those of you who do not know, Ruiwen is one of my Chinese exchange sisters. She lived with my family in San Ramon in the 11th grade for the entire school year (2011-2012). She fit in with our family perfectly and has visited us twice since then, once when we lived in Arizona (2014) and again this past winter (2017) with her boyfriend Ouyang after studying at Columbia University as an exchange student for a semester. She is incredibly smart and very goofy. She is passionate about travel and is always up for adventure and trying new things. One of the most remarkable things about our relationship is how truly sisterly it is – we are definitely good friends but more than friends we are really family. We can live and travel together easily, making our imminent housing situation ideal.

I visited Ruiwen in Guangzhou during December 2016 for two weeks, fresh out of studying abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea for one semester. I had been to Guangzhou in 2011 for three days to visit a childhood friend Michelle but really got to know the city a bit during this second trip. Since I have wanted to live in China for so long I was at that point “shopping” for a goal city to move to and fell in love with Guangzhou. There are gorgeous tall buildings (but then again, what city in China doesn’t?), a temperate climate, a prominent river winding through the city, an amazing public library, and DIM SUM. FYI Dim Sum is from Guangzhou.

One of many skyline photos I took during my 2016 Guangzhou trip.

A little more about Guangzhou – depending on your criteria, it is either the most populous or third most populous city in China. The 2017 census put its urban population at 19.8 million but the greater population at 44.5 million!! Wowza. If you’ve never left the US it’s basically impossible to fathom, considering New York City has a mere population of 8.5 million. The language spoken in Guangzhou is Cantonese. Yes, I know, I have taken 10 years of Mandarin, not Cantonese. The relative ridiculousness of this is not lost on me – however, Mandarin is still taught in school, so my ability to communicate will not be totally hindered. Eavesdropping and listening comprehension will take huge blows for sure, but I hope to be able to speak Cantonese by this time next year. No, I don’t hope, I will!

with Guangzhou Tower in 2016.

I have already been reminded of the open-mindedness and flexibility required of spending time in China. I signed a contract with my employer that is good from September 1, 2018 – July 30, 2019, and thought I had selected a school to teach at. I was just informed after a further inquiry that I actually have another interview with that school I will have to complete after I’ve arrived in China.

Are you familiar with Myers-Briggs? It’s that semi-pseudoscientific way of categorizing people’s personalities by a four-letter combination representing different scales of temperament. The last letter in a Myers-Briggs type is either a P or J, P standing for perceiving and J standing for judging. Perceiving, in this case, indicates someone who is plan-adverse and does best in a more spontaneous, loosey-goosey situation. Judging people are more reliant on schedules and definite courses of action. I am one of the more J people in my friend group, I hate not knowing what is happening! I keep a tight schedule, and then heavily procrastinate within that tight schedule. One of the best things about China for my personal growth is being forced to let go of my expectations and plans and ideas about what will happen and just let China do its thing around me. It is easy to feel existentially insignificant looking at the stars, in China, it is impossible to cling to one’s ego and perception as somehow totally true.

a beautiful building Ruiwen, Ouyang and I stumbled across while going to dinner in 2016.

There remain a few major things to do before moving: sell my car and computer (I bought a new laptop to take), get a VPN, cancel my subscriptions, pack, say goodbye to friends and family. I won’t have easy access to any social media or websites I use frequently in the US except for Reddit. I’ll have to shift from using Spotify and my physical music collection for my daily music diet to services like QQ Music, which have a vastly different selection of tunes. I’m bringing some instruments but transitioning from teaching music every day for many hours to teaching English and just playing music for fun will be jarring. When I studied abroad in Korea, I dreamt of School of Rock weekly. I’m sure it will be the same when I move this time.

If you have any suggestions of essential desert island books/records you think I’d enjoy, please comment them below! I’m making a digital stockpile.