Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Two Year Anniversary

Photo Credit: cramasie.com

It's crazy to say but I've officially been in Shanghai, China for two years! Time truly does fly and I still can't wrap my head around the fact that I picked up and moved here with nothing that really pushed me (you can read more about that here). As I mentioned before, I don't have a true, definitive answer as to why I moved to China....I just did it!

I have to say that my second year of China was better than my first year. I got a new job which paid more and allowed more vacation/holiday time. I was able to use my time off and higher salary to travel to Southeast Asia: specifically Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei. I fell in love with Singapore and I really enjoyed Malaysia. I reveled in the tranquility of Brunei where I had a real "adult" vacation complete with four star accommodations, driver and delicious meals.

Hong Kong by Day

Hong Kong by Night

A warm, beautiful day in January...I would take this anytime Singapore!

The beautiful Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I was able to go back home to the U.S.A. for the first time in almost two years!  I wouldn't be lying if I said I enjoyed/appreciated every minute of it. I loved having random strangers engage me in conversation with a warmth and friendliness that's rare in Shanghai. I walked down the aisles of my local grocery stores with glee at all the choices, products and cheaper prices ("Almond milk for $2.99??? I'll take three boxes please!!") The best part was going shopping for clothes and shoes and seeing such a variety of things in my size, while simultaneously not being laughed at out of the store (happens a lot when I try to buy shoes in China).

Now, before anyone starts commenting that I live in China so why should I expect them to cater to my western needs; I completely understand your sentiment. But, I will say that it feels good sometimes just to do things without a hassle/breaking your budget reason behind it.

My second year in Shanghai allowed for more deeper reflection about the things that I like about Shanghai, and things that I absolutely hate (I will write about these things in a later post). I won't say "love" since I don't have a deep love for this place. It's not the love that I have for London or even Paris, places that I think about constantly, or I would gladly return to if money and visa/immigration were no issues (I guess the later could be solved by the former...but I digress). Maybe it's because I haven't officially left China in a permanent/repatriate capacity. I've only been back to America once since I came here.

A rarity...a clear, blue sky in Shanghai.

 I understand why people really like/love Shanghai, it's a cosmopolitan city that's considerably cheaper than it's other worldwide counterparts such as: New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Moscow and even Hong Kong. You can hire a domestic helper (or maid) for as little as $5 USD/per hour to cook, clean and do your laundry (something unheard of in America and even Europe). Local food is cheap and plentiful, most importantly, fruit and vegetables. There are loads of western restaurants, serve every cuisine you can think of and bars and clubs that are constantly changing. Robberies, assaults and other criminal acts are not as high as they are in the west since most people tend to keep to themselves and mind there own.

But in all truthfulness, after some soul searching and deep reflection, I finally realized that even with that great list I mentioned above; life here is not inspiring to me. In fact, I feel like I'm just living/existing here and I realized that this was no way to live. Call me selfish, but I can't see myself staying someplace feeling "meh" and content. Going through the motions of life and waiting for the golden years of retirement. I feel that this time of my life is full of the most opportunities in term of career and romance possibilities and I hate to squander them in a place that I have no love/attachment to.

So with that said, I don't see myself staying in Shanghai long term and making myself a permanent expat. In fact, I'm in the midst of making my exit plan for the next year (or at the very, very, very latest two years from now...and there would have to be a damn excellent reason for being here a fourth year). I have some plans that I'm researching now that may shock and wow those close to me. I guess all will reveal itself in the not to distant future.

Well, thanks for reading this far and have a great day!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Visiting China? Here's what you need to bring!

*** Please note that this blog post is my personal opinion and not a definitive list, so please adjust your travel needs accordingly. Also, while this post may seem geared towards women, men can take some points from this as well. ***

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about what I was bringing to China (Click here to read it). To some people that list seemed a bit long, but keep in mind I was planning to spend one year here (and I’m still here BTW).  That post became one of the most popular posts on this blog.

Since I’ve been in China, I’ve had a few friends come to visit and one of the important questions they have is “What should they bring to China?” Instead of writing an individual email, I’ve decided to write one blog post that anyone who plans to visit China can benefit from. So without further ado, here is the list on what you need to bring when visiting China: 

The important stuff
*Passport: Yes, I know it’s silly but make sure you have a valid passport and don’t forget to pack it with you (trust me, I’ve known some people who accidentally forgot their passport for an international trip). Also, make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months before it expires (meaning that if you have to travel six months before the expiration date).

*Visa: All tourists who come to China need to have a valid visa. Please consult the embassy/consulate website in your home country for paperwork and contact information. You can also use the services of a visa agent which is much faster and less hassle.  I would check the visa to ensure that all of your information is correct in order to avoid issues at immigration.
I would take 2-3 copies of the passport information page and the visa page with you in case anything happens. 

You're probably wondering what the financial situation is like so here's a brief overview... The Chinese currency is called the Renminbi or RMB for short (literally translates to the People’s Money). Note that cash is king in China and aside from many first tier cities; credit cards are not widely accepted. With that said, you can still use your credit card (Mastercard, Visa or Maestro) at some major retail shops (albeit in first tier cities).   

To obtain cash, you can go to any ATM and make a withdrawal. ATMs are quite plentiful in many of the major cities and you can usually find several ATMs in some of the smaller cities.  Just about all ATMs have an English option and you use your ATM card just as you would in any country. Make sure to contact your bank to let them know you will be abroad so you’re not left without money.  I would not recommend bringing traveler’s checks since they will not be accepted. 

***Extra Traveler's Tip:
As another precaution, bring some currency of your home country in case there are any issues with your bank cards. The worst case scenario, you can always exchange it at the bank or airport. 

***Important: As of June 2014 Google has been permanently blocked in China. So, if you use Gmail, Google Maps, Google + or any other Google products or services, you will not be able to access them in China. ***

In order to get past the “Great Firewall of China,” you'll need to have a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN will allow you to access many sites that are blocked in China such as: Google (as mentioned above), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wordpress (for you other bloggers out there!) and even some news outlets such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Usually, you purchase a VPN service for as long as you need it and it can be used on your laptop, mobile phone and tablet. If you’re only coming for a visit, a month service should be fine. You can also use a free VPN but these can be a bit of an annoyance since they run slower and they tend to be the first ones to be shut down by the Chinese government.

The ones that are used most often by other expats here are: StrongVPN, AstrillVPN and ExpressVPN.

It’s worth a mention that some VPN services offer a 7 day free trial. If you plan to stay in China for a week, then it would be perfect! If you stay for a bit longer, think about getting the one month option.

In terms of technology, I bring what’s important/ the most useful for you. I would recommend a tablet and phone only (Less weight and room in your bags).  Your phone will work only if it’s on a GSM network (so sorry Verizon customers!). You can obtain a SIM Card at one of the major mobile phone outlets here which are China Mobile and China Unicom. You can even purchase a SIM card at the airport if you need to make calls while you’re here.

WIFI is available in many places and the more western/globalized the place, the better chance it will have free WIFI.
Don’t forget the adaptor/convertor!!!

I’m partial to dresses since they are usually not to heavy and easy enough to pack (just roll it up). They are great for the really hot and muggy summer months (and even autumn) in southern China. I also pack a couple of pairs of leggings in case it’s a bit chilly/ or if you travel in winter they make a great pair of long johns (places in southern China are not heated too well). 

If you’re not into dresses, bring a couple pairs of comfortable trousers or jeans and a couple of nice tops (you can use the tops to go out in). 

A cardigan is nice to throw on in case you go to indoor places that are a bit too chilly. I also bring a scarf that can keep me warm or keep out the light if I want some darkness while sleeping.
Ladies, I suggest bringing two bras with you. One regular and one multi-way bra (one that can be converted into a strapless, halter, or one strap bra). 

Comfortable shoes are a must. I always wear sneakers since they can double up as a walking shoe and a workout shoe. If you suffer from foot problems, a pair of insoles wouldn’t be a bad idea since you will be doing plenty of walking. 

Always have a dress shoe for dinners or dancing out. I prefer flats since they don’t take up so much room in my suitcase, but if you’re partial to heels sick to one neutral pair.

Lastly, bring a pair of flip flops to use when showering or for swim purposes. 

Bring travel sized (3 ounces/100 ML) of your liquid and solid toiletries. That way you can pack all of these items in your carryon. If there is something you forgot, you can purchase these at one of the beauty shops such as Watson’s, Mannings, or the large chain groceries stores such as Carrefour, Jia Deli, Lian hua or Tesco. Just avoid anything that says white on the label since that means there are whitening ingredients in the product. 

It’s imperative to bring a travel sized bottle of hand sanitizer. The bathrooms in some places may only have a faucet and nothing else so it’s good to be prepared.

In addition to hand sanitizer, it’s also important to have a small pack of tissues/Kleenex with you. You will also find that some toilets do not have toilet paper so make sure you have some ready. These can be found cheaply in China (1-2 RMB) so don’t worry about buying a bunch in your home country. 

Ladies, if you have/will be experiencing that time of the month, make sure to pack tampons (if that’s what you use). Tampons are not really available in China, even in some of the larger cities like Shanghai, you’ll have to purchase them either in foreigner goods stores or online.  Whether it’s Tampax or Playtex, throw a few in your carryon if you need ‘em!

Medications : Of course one of the joys of travel is experiencing the food of that country. I would be careful in China since you don’t know what that person did or what you’re gonna eat (google recent food scandals in China and you get my drift). Make sure to bring some kind of upset stomach/ diarrhea medicine, pain reliever, mosquito repellent (for summer), sunscreen (it’s not that great/fake/the real is overpriced) and any other vitamins or prescription medication that you currently take. 

A travel sized umbrella or even a poncho wouldn’t be a bad idea especially with all the rain I’ve been experiencing in Shanghai recently.

Phew! That’s all I have to say on the packing subject. If there’s anything else I should add, please leave a comment below and I will make sure to include it!
Thanks for reading :)