Posts Tagged With: China

‘Ringing’ in the new year

1 January 2015

Today marks the beginning of a new blogging adventure: A Year in Jewelry.

Several years ago I was living in Beijing, China, when my younger brother, N, came to visit. We spent a week exploring the city, eating strange foods, drinking, and generally having a blast.

On December 31, 2012, I decided that it was time to get my nose pierced. I’d thought about it for a while, and decided it was high time. So, I plucked up my courage, gathered my brother, and headed to the nearby shopping center, Golden Towers.

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“20 Things That Change After Living In China” via Wander Onwards

A friend of mine that I worked with in Beijing found this. It’s spot on, even though I now live in Egypt. Especially #2.

20 Things That Change After Living In China | Wander Onwards.

 I can feel my opinions of what is socially/morally/economically acceptable change as my experience in China continues… Here are the main 20.

1. Hot water is king. It’s cured everything for generations and will continue to do so into the future.


2. There are indoor shoes and outdoor shoes. You’re not a barbarian.


3. It is 100% acceptable to eat an entire meal out of a plastic bag.

plastic bag

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Categories: China, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

‘In China, it’s never like this’: An interview with Peter Hessler about his move from China to Egypt

While doing a little net surfing I came across this article on The Washington Post about a journalist who recently moved from China to Egypt; much like myself. It’s nice to see someone else’s perspective on the same situation.

‘In China, it’s never like this’:

An interview with Peter Hessler

By William Wan, Updated: September 23, 2013


BEIJING – Recently transplanted to Egypt after many years in China, New Yorker correspondent Peter Hessler has a unique perspective on both countries. To many China watchers, Hessler represents a kind of gold standard for intimately reported pieces on lesser-known people and parts of the country.

He’s out with his fourth and latest book – published this spring – a compilation of standalone pieces written both from China and after his return to United States in 2008. I caught up by phone with Hessler this summer, just before the military-led coup against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, to talk about his brand of reporting, life in Egypt and what it would take and look like for an Egyptian-style political movement to come to China.

Washington Post: Now that you have some distance from China, do you see things differently, or do you see things there you didn’t before?

Peter Hessler: I think it’s very different now. I don’t think my basic opinions about the place and my gut feelings have changed. But I recognize it as something more distinctive or more remarkable than I realized before. It’s also interesting to be in a place like Egypt, which is in a totally different moment, a political moment not at all an economic moment. It’s totally the opposite of China, in that there is incredible interest in politics and incredible freedom for that basically. It’s something that I never saw in China and it’s interesting to experience that.

Another thing that I recognize of being here is how hard these transitions are, and Egypt in some ways is a more civil society than China. They had a strong religious tradition here. And they did have basically political groups that were some ways in opposition to Mubarak, like the Muslim brotherhood and some political parties and activists group. These are things that China didn’t have and still doesn’t have. Even so with all that in place, it’s been a pretty rough transition here. You can see how many places were damaged, how hard it is to shift people to a new way of thinking, and we are still waiting basically.

It’s sobering, basically, and I don’t think China will have such a kind of transition. It would be difficult because these kinds of groups haven’t developed. If the communist party collapses, there’s nothing at all to take its place. To me, it suggests that it’s not going to happen that way. Perhaps it will be a more gradual thing.

WP: What other differences have you found since arriving in Egypt?

PH: The demographics. You go to protests in Egypt and the population is really young here. You still have big families, it’s like 53 to 55 percent of the population is aged 25 or something. That is clearly what is driving these protests. You have incredible groups, sometimes almost like gangs of young people and even kids and teens. Especially my first arrival here, I was thinking “No kid in China would skip school and go for rocks and police, with tear gas!”

You think about all the pressure on young people in China. Their lives are incredibly regimented. It makes me think that it’s a true revolution. You have a lot of grassroots activities, a lot of street-level protests. It looks much different in China. We get the big statistics on protests that happened in China, but it really matters who those protesters are and what they are asking for. Here [in Egypt] at every protest people would ask for the regime to step down and the president to resign. They demand complete overhaul. In China, it’s never like this, and it’s always specific things, localized demands. You never have a protests asking for the downfall of the communist party.

In China, you don’t have that core of young people, and I think that pushes things to another level because then they’re not experienced and can be extreme. I have seen kids doing things here that are pretty sobering, bodies carried back, and kid getting killed. And it is hard for me to imagine the same happening with the current generation in China.

WP: Why do you think there’s such a difference in China’s youth?

PH: The education pressure is so high in China. Urban kids are often their parent’s only children, so they are pretty heavily monitored. I think also the society is intensely competitive with true opportunities, and a lot of people in Egypt are complaining they don’t have many opportunities. It’s not like that in Egypt. I think when kids have that deep frustration and are not motivated to work, they look for alternatives and are more willing to make commitments to political movements.

WP: As a foreigner, you had advantages and disadvantages in China. What are those for you in Egypt? How have you adapted?

PH: The big difference is language. I’m starting from scratch here. In China, at the end of two years, my Chinese was good enough and I didn’t use a translator when I transitioned to work as a journalist. In Egypt, my wife and I have worked hard and I think we’ve done quite well. We’ve been here one and a half years now, and I’m at the point where I can do a really good conversation and I can do pretty solid basic interviews. I am still a big step away from working without a translator. But I can see that’s going to happen in maybe six months if I put a lot of time into it.

I really like being alone when I am reporting. In China I rarely even worked with a photographer, because I feel the fewer people there are with you, the more natural it’s going to be, and the more you can observe and notice because nobody else occupies your attention.

One of the reason that I made this transition [first to the United States before Egypt] is that I felt there are risks in moving from one book to another. And I wanted to step back a bit and have some time, when I wasn’t researching to study about the language and learn about the new place. I have been glad to do that kind of work.

I think the journalist community in China was unusually skilled, and I think probably it’s the best covered part of the developing world in terms of the American press. There are a lot of people, and many of them speak Chinese. But here it’s very unusual for a foreign reporter to speak Arabic, or even to be learning.

WP: How long will you stay in Egypt and Middle East, and what is next?

PH: Our original plan was to be here for five or six years, and then to move back to China. And I think it still feels that way to me. Basically when I moved out from China, it wasn’t because I was burnt out or sick of the place. I think I was still learning a lot, getting better as a writer and researcher. I did also feel I didn’t want to reach a point where I was tired of it, where I felt I knew everything, no longer appreciating it with a fresh eye. And I also wanted to spend some time in the U.S., and find and establish myself writing about other subjects. It’s one of the reason I wanted to put this collection together, of stories I liked most, including non-China stories. That was important for me to be able to write about a small town in Colorado and the farmers there. Just to prove to myself that I can do this kind of work anywhere and not be limited to just being a China person. But I do look forward to going back to China someday when times are right.

WP: When you go back to China, what do you hope to bring new? What kind of perspective do you hope to have?

PH: I think having seen the political transition is going to be very useful. It’s going to happen someday in China. I think it’s good to see how it happens in another place. I don’t expect the things to be the same, but it will give you a little bit perspective and preparation. Also, being in a society where religion is important, where they didn’t have the huge cultural disruption that China had has given me a different perspective.

WP: When you say transition is going to happen here in China. How do you see that happening?

PH: It’s a big question. I don’t think it’s going to happen soon. I never felt like that in China. From things I hear, the stories have gotten darker. A friend of mine in Beijing told me that among people in Beijing and Shanghai the feeling is down, but people in the provinces seem more up. Maybe people in Beijing and Shanghai have hit the stage where they recognize the flaws or the society and problems. Maybe they’re ready for something different. But compared to what’s happening here, I think China is a long, long away from the same intense unhappiness and energy that has led to changes you have here. The commitment here people make on the street is often sobering.

In China. I never felt that this place is about to collapse. But being here, I really understand it. But China will change, and I think it is inevitable. Every time I go back to China, I just feel people are so much aware. So many of them have sort of an idea of what’s going on outside of their country, they are able to travel, they are able to get more information about other places. They are getting other reference points. When I was living there, the only reference point was really the past. People would say it’s better than 10 years ago, or five years ago. It’s not strictly that way anymore.

Another way that I feel Egypt makes China look good is, given the size, there is a degree of control in China. It’s a real functioning system. But Egypt even under Mubarak wasn’t a true system. In China the party runs the show. In such massive developing country, you have a level of governance. It doesn’t mean good and moral governance, but it means that they are in control.

WP: The way you look at the Muslim Brotherhood and the Communist Party, how is it different and are there any similarities?

PH: The brotherhood is a very weak organization. It scares a lot of people. But I don’t feel it is truly there. They tell you they are in the rural level, grassroots, in villages. But it’s total [BS]. But how long can they last? [Within weeks of this interview, the brotherhood had been ousted.] Some villages may have 7,000 people and there’s not a single brotherhood member there. From that standpoint, there’s no comparison to the party at all.

Categories: China, Egypt, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to my Egyptian adventure

It’s official, I have moved to Cairo, Egypt. My next adventure has begun. Though not without a few bumps along the way.

It started in late June when I received an email from the director of the International School of Egypt asking for a Skype interview. I had to backtrack and lookup who was emailing me and from where. In the process of leaving my last job at Disney English I had signed up for a number of programs that aid teachers in finding international jobs and ended up emailing every school with a position and an email address that I could find. When ISE contacted me, I had to look back and remember just what I had signed up for.

The interview went swimmingly, and a few days later I was offered a position as a 5th grade teacher in Cairo. Calling my mother to let her know that I would no longer be spending a few years on her couch, attending graduate school was a tough conversation, but overall she was incredibly supportive. She posted this on her Facebook page:

Anybody else get a call from their daughter today saying that instead of coming home from Beijing for good, she just may be here for ten days before taking a job. In Cairo. Like, as in Egypt. No one? Just me? Thought as much…

People’s responses upon learning I was moving to Cairo, especially when things started to heat up, were varied and often funny. From my fellow expats in China I got mostly surprise and congratulations, though my dear friend Tom, upon hearing that I was moving to Egypt, said “Really? Why? Aren’t you afraid?”

My favorite response that I’ve heard is this one: “Wow, KIRO! Will she be working as an intern? Will she be on television?” KIRO is the local television station in Seattle, where my family lives, and both my mom and brother heard this response when describing my good fortune. Hilarious.

As my time at Disney English drew to a close I did my best to tour Beijing and see things I’d previously missed, including the Temple of Heaven, an acrobatics show, and 798, the art district.

Finally it was time to fly to Seattle and spend some quality time with my family before moving to Egypt. The  13 days I was in Seattle flew by in a flurry of shopping, laughter, and misadventures. There was so much to do, and quite a bit was left undone. I spent a lot of time with my family, but alas I did not get the chance to visit with many friends. They’ll just have to come visit me!

My last night in town my brothers, parents, and I went out to dinner and spent a few glorious hours reminiscing about our childhoods and our collective family memories. I haven’t laughed so hard or enjoyed myself that much in a long time. I will surely miss my family with an ache that cannot be measured.

My flights to Egypt were rather uneventful, though it took 22 hours. Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to Amman, Jordan, and finally Amman to Cairo. In the Chicago airport I had a little trouble finding the connection to Royal Jordanian airlines, so I stopped to ask. In my tiredness (I hadn’t slept much the night before) I mistakenly asked for directions to Air Jordan, “No wait, that’s a shoe. I need to get to Royal Jordanian airways.” The woman smiled and pointed me in the right direction.

In Amman I met up with a few other teachers on their way to Cairo. Guy and Lindsey would be working with me at ISE as the music and middle school language arts teachers, respectively. The few other foreigners would be teaching at the American International School of Cairo.  We almost missed our flight to Cairo because we misunderstood the final boarding calls. We were all sitting in the airport checking in online and dawdling on the Internet when a Royal Jordanian crew member came over and let us know that we were about to miss our flight. We all made it to the mostly empty flight, though.

We left Jordan just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon so my first view of Cairo was a little disappointing, just lights in the darkness below the plane. The heat hit me in a wave as I exited the plane and I said to myself “Welcome to the desert.”

We rode a bus to the terminal and before we could pick up our luggage the three of us teachers for ISE had to buy tourist visas for $15 each. Due to some confusion in finding the bank we were a little late to the baggage carousel and there were no luggage carts available. Not a big problem for me, having learned my lesson flying from Beijing to Seattle. While heavy, I could still move my entire luggage myself if necessary. Not so with my companions, whose baggage reached epic proportions. I began to worry that I hadn’t brought enough with me. Oh well, too late to do anything about it now.

After a brief stop for inspection (backpacks only) we made it out to the kiss and cry area of the airport and were met with signs with our names on them. The head of school was there, along with her husband, the art teacher, and their daughter, the 3rd grade teacher, another weary traveler, the middle school social studies teacher, who had arrived a few hours earlier, and an Egyptian logistics expert, Margaret. We piled our luggage into the school bus and journeyed to our apartment building.

On the bus ride Luke, the middle school social studies teacher, and I discovered we had both served in the Peace Corps. Myself in Mongolia, he more recently in Indonesia. It also turns out that on his post-service travels he had toured Mongolia and met a friend of mine who still lives in the city. *Cue music: It’s a small world after all…

First impressions of Egypt:

  • Heat
  • Friendly, helpful people
  • Construction everywhere
  • Curfew (7 PM to 6 AM)
  • Huge apartment
  • Dust
Categories: Egypt, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

42 Things You’ll Only See In China

42 Things You’ll Only See In China

Brought to you by BuzzFeed:

1. A tiger on a leash taking pictures with a baby:

A tiger on a leash taking pictures with a baby:

2. Crocodiles for sale at Walmart:

Crocodiles for sale at Walmart:

3. Sharks for sale at Walmart:

Sharks for sale at Walmart:

4. Giant racks of meat for sale at Walmart:

Giant racks of meat for sale at Walmart:

5. And whatever this is for sale at Walmart:

And whatever this is for sale at Walmart:

6. Headphones like this:

Headphones like this:

7. A hotel shaped like a ping pong paddle:

A hotel shaped like a ping pong paddle:

China is making a bunch of stadiums shaped like various pieces of sporting equipment. The ping pong paddle will be a hotel.

8. A water park this crowded:

A water park this crowded:

9. A pool this crowded:

A pool this crowded:

10. A beach this crowded:

A beach this crowded:

11. This meal:

This meal:

12. This meal:

This meal:

13. And this meal:

And this meal:

14. Old/new world bathroom options:

Old/new world bathroom options:

At a hotel in Shanghai.

15. A sign warning you not to light off explosives at a gas station:

A sign warning you not to light off explosives at a gas station:

16. A jacket with a fake scarf:

A jacket with a fake scarf:

17. Photocopies of originals for sale:

Photocopies of originals for sale:

18. Batman toys like this:

Batman toys like this:

19. Whatever this thing is:

Whatever this thing is:

20. Award winning chicken:

Award winning chicken:

21. Starbucks… but for tea:

Starbucks... but for tea:

22. A duck on a leash:

A duck on a leash:

23. Monkeys with human heads:

Monkeys with human heads:

24. Pandas doing manual labor:

Pandas doing manual labor:

25. Trucks upon trucks upon trucks upon trucks:

Trucks upon trucks upon trucks upon trucks:

26. KFG:


27. OFC:



28. A scooter with this much sass:

A scooter with this much sass:

29. People this passionate about chocolate peanut butter:

People this passionate about chocolate peanut butter:

30. Multiple TVs on the back of a scooter:

Multiple TVs on the back of a scooter:

31. Magical drug stores:

Magical drug stores:

33. Cheese babies:

Cheese babies:

34. Banana babies:

Banana babies:

35. Donald Duck selling duck heads:

Donald Duck selling duck heads:

36. Some dude taking a nap on a chain:

Some dude taking a nap on a chain:

37. Statues of people in the ’80s:

Statues of people in the '80s:

38. This animal:

This animal:

39. Awesome signs made by the government like this:

Awesome signs made by the government like this:

40. Grain condoms:

Grain condoms:

41. A cat with wings:

A cat with wings:

42. And a pig that can walk on two legs:

And a pig that can walk on two legs:

Categories: China, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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