This month has been the most eventful, with both ups and downs. We experienced our first Spring Festival (Chinese Lunar New Year) and our first real struggles as expats in China! I hope this helps others understand what they are really signing up for as being an international expat!
The beginning of the month, I was completely focused on getting out of my comfort zone. I had already made a huge change in my life by moving to China, but now I was getting used to it and felt like I had to embrace more change in my life for happiness! I had decided over this break that I was going to get rid of my pride and joy, my hair. My luscious locks had grown all the way down past my waist and I was so tired of styling or taking care of it! With help from my friends, Jen and Maxine, we took the plunge together to cut all of our hair off and finally get it over with! We went to this lovely lady that only spoke Korean and wasn’t too outrageous with her prices. After 14 inches of my hair was cut, my son and I realized we had about 2 hours of waiting for the other girls to finish (I went first). I suggested that we go and get a one-hour foot massage and he was so against it. However, I forced him and it was so lovely! We were ushered back into this area that was designed like an ancient Chinese garden. We sat and had our feet soaked before we began the massage. About halfway through, I heard light snoring from the chair next to me and realized that Calvin was so comfortable he had fallen asleep! The lady massaging his feet was giggling and I was so happy that he was able to relax! When we finally finished, I asked if he would ever get a foot massage again and he said, “Of course!” We went and and enjoyed an expensive European lunch, this boy ordered a giant seafood pasta dish and it was amazing! I ordered a quarter of roast pig and it was delicious, although I admit I would still prefer the duck!
My family and I used the break to explore the area and enjoy the snowy weather. We have been told several times that it never snows this much in Beijing and we feel so fortunate to have this kind of weather, especially coming from living in a desert. School eventually started on the 3rd, but it is very different than coming back to school in the states. Back home, the two-week break is done as soon as you come back to school and you get right to work. At Kaiwen, however, you come back to school January 3rd and leave January 18th for another 3 week break. Sure there are 2.5 weeks and a few Saturdays in there you have to work, but it means that the kids’ minds are already on their next vacation. It makes it even more difficult to prepare and complete finals, not to mention beginning on new content. The kids were crazy the full 2.5 weeks and then off we go again! I tried to make it as meaningful as possible and not waste time but it is so hard because they all know they will be leaving again! On another note, my birthday is in late January during the 3-week Spring Festival break. It is also the birthday of three of my other co-teachers and we were surprised with an AMAZING group birthday party! My best friend Maxine orchestrated this party in a rentable apartment that had vintage and Xbox games, karaoke, pool table, etc. It was an amazing time and my hubby ordered me a chocolate cake (pictured above) for this chocolate lover. I have never had a party planned by others before and it did not disappoint!
The last day of school at Kaiwen was the kids’ Spring Festival celebration, as well as the flea market to raise money for the Volunteer Club. I had no idea what to expect and this school party was unbelievable! The afternoon began with the middle school and high school kids running events for elementary. My class did lantern-painting for the elementary kids and they had so much fun. It was amazing for me to watch my sixth graders plan and help out the younger kids paint their Chinese lanterns for the holidays. Even for 10/11 year olds, they did an outstanding job helping those kids. Later on, we went to the flea market that all of the middle and high school classes put on. I thought it would mostly be items these kids didn’t want…but I spent over 500 rmb at this market!! The kids were all buying items and there were performances going on in the background. I bought Calvin action figures, bought myself hand-made soaps, etc. The flea market started to trickle down and I convinced Calvin to sneak off with me to the primary party. The primary part was even more amazing. They had all of these freebies that they were giving out like cotton candy, caramelized sugar in the shapes of animals, and miniature clay figurines. Calvin and I scooped as many items as we could and made off with our goodies into the sunset!
The teachers’ last day of work took place on a Saturday and was meant to be a work day and a party day. We were about to be gone for three weeks so it was a good opportunity to say goodbye to a few friends or to plead with them to bring goodies back from the states. The party started out great with activities like creating your own dumplings (which was way harder than I thought it would be) or making your own Chinese lucky knots. The celebration included performances by teachers/administration, some of which were absolutely hilarious. They had games in between and raffles for a bunch of AMAZING prizes. I didn’t win anything, but almost everyone else in my department did. They had items from electric toothbrushes and bluetooth headsets all the way to iPads and an iPhone 11! The prizes were great and over 50 people won amazing prizes. It was a great way to head into the break and I think everyone had a fantastic time. I can not wait until next years’ party, if karma is any good than I will win big time!
Calvin was leaving the next day for the states and I was super panicked. It was the first time he has ever flown alone, not to mention internationally. I kept double-checking to make sure he had everything he needed like his passport and tickets. We had purchased the tickets months ago through American Airlines and only had to pay $150 extra for him to be moved alone (which I thought was great at first) to and from the US. We took him 3 hours early to the airport and were not allowed to take him all the way to the gate like we were promised, which was a little annoying. So we spent another 1.5 hours walking around the airport and eating a late dinner with him. When it finally came time to let him go to the gate, I was tearing up so bad. We were able to view him going all the way up to security and I could barely hold it together. Having him 24/7 for 6 months made me really appreciate his little quirks but I knew it would be good for him to go home to his family. Besides, we were planning a trip to Shanghai alone as a couples’ getaway anyway and were excited for that! It took Calvin 15 hours or so to get back home but he did and had a great time!
A few days after Calvin left, I got a message from a friend in the United States about a virus that was spreading in lower China. I thanked her for the information but did not think that it would go further than that (in all honesty I NEVER read the news anymore, even celebrity news, so this would not have gotten to me unless a friend sent it). We were leaving for Shanghai and we were completely obsessed with planning our tours and going to the station to get our train tickets. Korey was excited because this was the first trip that he planned to celebrate our birthdays. Literally 2 days before our trip to Shanghai, our tour guide reached out to us to inform us that almost all of our tour sites were closed to prevent the spread of this Coronavirus. I didn’t know what to do about visiting because while I wasn’t scared of the virus, I was pissed that the major attractions like temples, observation decks, and even Disneyland would all be closed. Another friend informed me that train tickets would be refunded completely (against normal policy), so Korey and I decided to take advantage of that and cancelled our trip without losing a single cent. We can always go to Shanghai and see everything we actually want to see, not settle for other venues like the financial district! Rumors were spreading all over the internet and I didn’t know what to believe because nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. Korey and I spent a few days traveling to the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace enjoying ourselves, being happy just being together. Check out my blogs on both to see our pictures and fun!
As the week progressed, we noticed changes being instituted by the government of China to protect everyone against the spread of the virus. Before I continue I just want to say, I am extremely impressed with what China has done to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Keep in mind that this virus began in Wuhan, far South compared to Beijing. Even so, Beijing began to encourage citizens to wear protective face masks, scanning for temperature before entering the subway or even the grocery store, and giving refunds on travel to prevent spread of the disease. Many people think this is too much, but as a country of over 1 billion people, they needed to take precautions that other countries wouldn’t and I am extremely appreciative of that. Eventually, we got word that the schools may have to be pushed back a week and a half to prevent the spread of the virus. Doctors say that it takes anywhere from 3-14 days to see if the virus is present and so a 14-day self-quarantine is necessary before returning to school. We got word from the school a little while later that a pushback would be necessary, but we were required to be in Beijing for 14 days before the start of school or we wouldn’t be able to start with everyone else. Korey and I didn’t let this prevent us from going out and went out for a walk or to the grocery store everyday. Many stores were closed already due to the 3-week holiday, but grocery stores were still open, and were selling out vegetables quickly for the two-day period where everyone was in panic-mode. Ordering food is a very important part of the culture here and I think many didn’t want to chance eating food others had prepared for them. I think it is a little funny that only vegetables were sold out, not meat or fruit. It all cooled down quickly and now the stores are fully stocked again, but it was a little surreal. Face masks were impossible to purchase but luckily our family had those before we came to China.
For weeks I was getting messages from old students, friends, etc. asking if we were okay and if we were scared. I kept assuring them that we were not near the quarantine area and that we were fine. Apparently, the Western media was that bad back home and I had people commenting on my posts, emailing me, etc. I completely understand that Wuhan is having an awful time under quarantine right now, but we are not there. I was talking to other teachers and they said that this was the life of an expat. I have co-teachers that were in Egypt during the Arab Spring or during civil wars in Africa. When you decide to become an expat, you have to understand what you are signing up for. Life will not be like what you had back home. You think it will just be as simple as the culture or the toilets being different, but it could be as big as something like this. When the flights from the USA were cancelled, that was when I really began to panic. My 11-year old stepson was stuck on the other side of the world and I had no idea how to get him back. There were very few airlines that were going to take responsibility for an eleven year old and it would not have been possible for him to get back on his own. American Airlines was just awful, telling me they couldn’t help me although Delta was willing to at least give me options on how to do it but there wasn’t enough time. Luckily, my husband could easily get a flight out there and I had so say goodbye to him within 16-hours notice. He is now in the USA with his mom and trying to work out how he and Calvin will get back to China. Am I afraid of China? Absolutely not. I am so impressed with how China has been handling this, including building a new hospital in a matter of days in Wuhan. Am I now frightened of Western media and the power it has to cause an international panic? Yes. Even The WHO (as of now) says that the virus is still containable. But Western media has captured this story and has run away with it. I live in a city of 23 million, and there have been 200 cases. People in the USA have told me that the media is reporting thousands of people ill in Beijing, which is just not true. China is taking many measures to protect their people and I just hope my family can return soon. Do I understand that this had the potential to get worse as the months go on? Absolutely. My family and I will act accordingly if the virus were to get worse and keep everyone posted!